Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 24

Alert to Deception

The orchid mantis deftly reaches out, snagging a bee for brunch. The hapless nectar-gatherer is easy game for the orchid mantis of Southeast Asia for one reason: this mantis looks and smells like a delicate nectar-producing orchid blossom. One can hardly blame the countless bees and butterflies deceived by this clever hunter—even the mantis’ own predators would never imagine that behind the cloak of its petal-like body parts lurks a living beast.

Discovering the intricacies of this world’s creatures is fascinating—especially since we ourselves are not the unlucky targets of deadly predators like the orchid mantis. But what if there was a predator in our world camouflaging itself to appear not just hidden, but actually attractive and even life-giving?

Matthew records Jesus offering counsel to His followers after His public contretemps with the religious ruling powers of the day “Watch out that no one deceives you,” He warns His disciples. Two more times in the chapter he refers to the existence of predators whose purpose it is to deceive people. And twice more Jesus advises, “keep watch” and “be ready.” We get the sense that something is afoot, something dangerous—perhaps even deadly—something cleverly disguised and attractive.

Jesus calls the danger “false prophets”; it’s a term used throughout Scripture to describe purveyors of ideas that sound good but contain anti-God sentiments. Those representing these false ideas may themselves not even be aware of the dangerous territory they inhabit; the force behind the ideas, though, is intent on trapping naïve and gullible individuals with the nectar of the gods—it will use any minion who volunteers for the task.

How can people like you and me protect ourselves from something as insidious as Jesus predicts will enslave so many? With truth and vigilance.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus claims twice in the chapter. It is a favourite phrase Jesus regularly uses to precede His teachings. The phrase isn’t just a nicety, though, a euphemism repeated in monotony like Eastern religion’s empty “OM.” Jesus is claiming to know truth. More than that, He is claiming to embody and even be the source of truth—all Truth. Think about that for a moment. Is the man lying? Or is He crazy?

The only other option is that Jesus is telling the truth. His greatest claim would be to assert that following His death at the hands of powerfully evil people He would resurrect—come back to life. That claim is enough to determine whether the man is a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of all creation. The fact is, He did rise from the dead. His resurrection is better documented than the existence of Shakespeare or you or me.

Those who accept Jesus and all He taught as ultimate truth—and are willing to live by those truths—are given what we might call an unfair advantage. They will be furnished with the ability to see beneath the attractive façade of the dangerous lies abounding in this world. They will have a sort of night vision warning of ideas and activities that house soul-dangers.

In contrast, those who reject Jesus and the way of life He models will be drawn like moths to the glitter of every whim of dangerous attraction. They are fair game for deception. Truth will no longer be important to them, will be unable to protect them.

“Be ready,” Jesus advises. Be alert. Be vigilant to our own naïve tendencies to be swayed by any wind of an idea that attracts us. Jesus is the only one who truly longs for our ultimate good, who will not prey upon us but is able, rather, to lift us up to become fuller, freer, truer people than we could ever become on our own. Do you believe it, or has deception already drawn you into its grasp?

(Photo Credit: Dr. James O’Hanlon, Macquarie University. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/41605-predator-lures-prey-by-mimicking-flowers.html)

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 23

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Reprimand.

William took the reprimand from his grandmother gracefully. Apparently leaning down to chat with his young son during the Royal Air Force demonstration could be construed as disrespectful. So William straightened up when he saw the flick of his grandmother’s hand, and all was well again. It’s not everyone, of course, whose grandmother is the Queen of England.

When Matthew records Jesus speaking to a crowd, we get a chance to eavesdrop in on a reprimand. It would have been an unforgivably embarrassing rebuke because it was directed at the religious rulers of Jerusalem of the day. They had clout. Their control over the Jewish people was undisputed. No one challenged the Pharisees and the teachers of the law because the people assumed their leaders had the backing of God. But Jesus saw things differently.

“Do not do what they (the Pharisees) do,” Jesus warned the people publicly, “for they do not practice what they preach.” Ouch. That was a public reprimand no one had ever dared to deliver to the Pharisees before.

“Everything they do is done for men to see.” But Jesus was not content to warn only the crowd. Seeing a band of Pharisees striding toward Him, Jesus began a scathing chastisement that would make Queen Elizabeth’s reprimand of William look like gentle kindness.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Jesus began. Imagine how that went over. The crowd would have hushed. The Pharisees would have stopped dead in their tracks. There was no doubt the people were watching a delightful contest of power where the bullies were being put in their place for once.

“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence,” Jesus challenged them. “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

Jesus said much more of that sort of thing in that moment. Read Matthew 23 and gloat to hear the status quo being challenged by a voice of real authority. But we cannot read too far before we notice something beginning to happen. The relish with which we hear someone else being reprimanded begins to turn to dust in our mouths. Our smugness evaporates.

We, too, live much of our lives “for men to see.” We are experts at presenting our best face, going out in public looking the part, wearing a façade to make ourselves appear as we want to be seen: trendy, intelligent, exclusive, ethical, self-assured. Choose the adjective that fits.

But Jesus calls this fraud (see Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of “Woe to you…you hypocrites!” in The Message). God sees the interior. He knows each of us for who we really are, and He sees the mess we hide deep inside our hearts and minds. He is telling not only the Pharisees but us too that something must be done to clean up our interior or we’ll become nothing more than “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones…”

“Keep me from deceitful ways,” penned the psalmist David, “be gracious to me through your law. I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.” The psalmist is not talking about the external law of Judaism, or about social laws, or about politically correct conventions. He is referring to God’s moral requirements for us as humans that we be authentically honest with ourselves and with Him. It means accepting the truth of God’s sovereignty not only in the vastness of this universe but also in our day-to-day lives. It means recognizing that we don’t make reality and we don’t make the rules. It means seeing ourselves through His eyes, humbling ourselves and asking His forgiveness for our misplaced pride.

Ultimately only God can clean the inside of our ‘cups’ and keep them clean. It takes the daily work of Christ’s once-for-all redemption and the Holy Spirit’s transforming power in us to do the otherwise impossible task. The reprimand is not intended to bring humiliation, but humility. Are we willing to listen to it? What better time than this to have an honest conversation with God…

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 22

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Dressing Down

The banquet had ground to a halt. The man who had been singled out was ashen-faced and speechless. The host, father of the groom and a very important man, had singled him out causing the room to fall to a hush.

“Friend,” the host had asked, “how did you get in here without wedding clothes?”

Every eye turned upon the man who stood facing the gracious but stolid host. A defiant flush burned up the man’s neck and across his face replacing the grey pallor. He opened his mouth to retort but not a sound came out.

Looking out at the crowd of guests he could see he was out of place. Everyone wore splendid clothes of silk and satin, Egyptian cotton and Argentan lace, tulle and taffeta and tweed. Every outfit had been provided by the host in the receiving room, wedding favours of the most exclusive and unequaled kind. But this man had not come in through the grand arch-covered gates. He had slipped in through an open side door, drawn by the flickering lantern-light highlighting a table-full of magnificent wedding gifts. But he had been caught—his gig was up. In a word, the party crasher was dressed down, parceled up and sent packing.

Matthew records Jesus telling this parable to a large group of people who had yet again surrounded Him, longing to hear words of wisdom that would give hope for their weary down-trodden lives. As always, the dictatorial religious leaders were hanging about keeping surveillance on the scene. They wanted only to catch Jesus saying something to justify their arrest of Him.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son,” Jesus had begun the story. The parable had allowed Him to communicate to his listeners truths about God’s design for humanity. The religious leaders understood. Jesus had revealed them as the sort who would be escorted not into but out of God’s kingdom banquet. “For many are invited, but few are chosen,” Jesus had ended His parable. Words like these would eventually bring about His execution, but not today. God had other tasks for Him to complete first.

As we hear this parable recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 22, we see the focus of the story is on the ‘wedding clothes’ the guests were wearing. In absence of these a man is excluded from the great heavenly wedding banquet. There is no excuse for attending the banquet without the host-provided garments. What is it about the clothes that is so important?

We are helped in understanding the allegory of the clothes by other references in Scripture:

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10).

“…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” (Philippians 3:9).

“Then each of them was given a white robe and they were told to wait a little longer” (Revelation 6:11).

Our own attempts to be ‘good enough’ for God, for entering His presence, for being part of His eternal kingdom are cast away “like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Instead, a ‘robe’ of righteousness is the only garment necessary and available to allow us access into the great banquet of community with God.

These verses picture Jesus’ perfect sinlessness being accredited to those who entrust their eternal future to Him. The truth permeates Scripture; it’s the classic rags to riches story, the prince to pauper transfer of apparel, birthright and privilege we thought was only found in fairy tales. But this story is for real. Saying we are righteous in God’s eyes is not a matter of being ‘holier than thou’—only Christ is truly that; it’s a matter of realizing we are totally incapable of being good enough on our own—we need Christ’s salvation.

So today, as we dress for the day, let’s remember to accept Christ’s provision of His robe of righteousness to be our spiritual garment. There’s a banquet waiting; who wouldn’t want to be dressed and ready for the grandest celebration ever held?

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Silar; [[File:The ZORA Folkdancegroup of Mohács in Hungarian traditional ethnic costume, 2008 Wisła 01.JPG|thumb|The ZORA Folkdancegroup of Mohács in Hungarian traditional ethnic costume, 2008 Wisła 01]])