Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 28

Famous Last Words.

Great ironies often describe our lives. A healthy-eating resolution is forgotten at the sight of a tasty but fattening treat; promises of a newly elected politician are either neglected or exploited to satisfy a personal agenda; a marriage vow dissolves under the pressures of daily living. Our pledges are often merely ‘famous last words.’

Famous last words of legendary people, though, are something different. They tell us what that person was thinking at the culmination of a distinguished and famous life. Groucho Marx is said to have quipped on his deathbed, “This is no way to live!”

Winston Churchill merely growled, “I’m bored with it all.”

And of course Julius Caesar’s final words at his assassination pled, “Et tu, Brute?”

As the gospel writer, Matthew, concludes the last chapter of his biography of Christ’s life, he quotes Jesus—after Christ’s resurrection, but just prior to His ascension—in what is often referred to as ‘The Great Commission.’

He recounts Jesus as saying, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day, right up to the end of the age.” (The Message).

Jesus has packed an abundance of depth into His famous last words.

He starts by assuring His followers that He has the backing of the Father in His plan and process for making true followers. He has the authority, jurisdiction and prerogative to speak into the lives of all those who are willing to have their lives turned upside-down by Him. With this mandate, He commands the eleven disciples to disciple others just as they themselves were discipled under the tutelage of Christ’s commands.

Did you notice the twofold plan of how this will be achieved in the lives of Christ-followers? Jesus says He wants to see His followers marked by a Trinity-inspired baptism and an obedience-based practice of godly living. Both are external exercises representing internal effects occurring in a life given over to God.

The baptism Jesus describes is to be a mark—a sign, symbol, and imprint—revealing a follower’s choice to be a different person than she or he was before choosing to follow Christ. It is a public act that boldly declares her new identity to be inextricably tied to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. No other identity will supersede this one. It is a one-time gesture signifying a new beginning.

The practice of godly living is the ongoing application of the Christ-follower’s new outlook on life. It is the daily work of living with integrity so that the outward signs of a follower’s Christianity mirror the inward realities. It is conformity to the very clear expectations and commands Jesus spoke first to His twelve disciples but by which He expects all true followers to abide. And of course it culminates in obeying Christ’s command to share this two-fold offer to others.

Learn one, do one, teach one. These were Christ’s famous last words. They are about how we must live our lives if we want to truly love God, love our neighbours, and thus love ourselves in the only way that really works for human lives. So the ending of Matthew’s biography of the life of Christ really brings us back to the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. It calls us to reapply ourselves to studying Christ’s life, and especially His commands. This is the essence, the heart and soul of the way in which Christ comes to live within us, not figuratively but literally; the Word becomes flesh in you and me. That, according to Matthew, is the whole reason the Son of God came to earth. The miraculous birth, the perfect life, the healing touch, the sacrificial death, and the victorious resurrection are all about inviting us to be back in right relationship with God. “And surely I am with you always,” comes the promise, “to the very end of the age.” Those are amazing last words.

(Photo Credits: By Zahrairani74 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36580049; By Unknown – Mikó Árpád – Sinkó Katalin (szerk): Történelem-Kép, Szemelvények múlt és művészet kapcsolatáról Magyarországon, A Magyar Nemzeti Galéria kiadványai 2000/3, cat. no.: V-11 (Magyar Digitális Múzeumi Könyvtár), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19342018; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ivan_Ohienko_Bible.djvu; By Wesley Fryer from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA – Cherokee Heritage Museum, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40556270)

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 27

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Saving Self.

Everyone loves a hero, don’t they? Heroes make us feel like there is hope for our species. Deep inside, we want to believe we are heroes just waiting for the opportunity to reveal our true selves—like Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent—bursting from our commonplace garb, revealing our altruistic selves. But altruism, says psychology, is nothing more than one of three evolutionary survivals: survival of the fittest (meaning ‘oneself’), survival of the genes (meaning ‘one’s children or close relatives’), or survival of the species (meaning ‘humanity in general’). This cynical view strips humanity of its soul making us nothing more than animals at best and machines at worst. So we struggle, wondering whether there really are any heroes, whether there is any hope for our species.

The gospel writer, Matthew, brings us to Chapter 27, the second-to-last chapter in his biography of Jesus Christ. In the first 26 chapters he has recorded Jesus healing the sick, restoring the socially outcast, reviving the dead to life. Jesus has drawn from His limitless resources as Son of the All-Powerful One to bring healing and hope to those in His daily walk who, by faith, are willing to be healed. But an antagonism to Christ has been slowly revealing itself. There was the edict of Herod, upon hearing of the Bethlehemic birth of one “born king of the Jews”, to kill all infant boys in Bethlehem; there was Satan’s devilish oppression of Jesus during His forty-day fast in the desert; there were the religious leaders who attempted to put obstacles into Jesus’ path wherever He journeyed and who plotted his murder; and there was Judas Iscariot’s greed-inspired betrayal of his Lord bringing about Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

And as Jesus, naked, torn and bruised by the Roman soldiers’ merciless beatings and floggings, hung suspended on his cross, the cruelties took voice; the oppression culminated in the hated-filled accusations flung at him by other cross-hanging prisoners, by passersby and by the religious icons of His day.

“(S)ave yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’”

What was the crux of these angry and hateful charges? The general mob and the ruling social religionists were expressing a twisted ideology of heroism. Real heroes, they claimed, save themselves first. Real heroes always submit to the three evolutionary survivals, all of which are based on self-centred considerations. And real heroes conform to our ideas of what supernatural power should look like. In other words, if you really are God in human flesh, Jesus, you’d better behave they way we expect, or else leave our lives, our neighbourhood and our planet up to us.

What they never expected was that this Son of God was the embodiment of altruism itself. He was following God’s agenda, not mankind’s. He was saving us at the expense of His own life, taking on the full weight of God’s just wrath against a rebellious species. He was and is the Hero we all need more desperately than we often know.

But don’t think for a moment that Jesus was suffering from a psychosis of self-injurious behaviour. There was something in the horrific death that would benefit Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him…and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What was that joy? It was the joy of enabling people like you and me to be back in right relationship with God; it was the joy of giving us a real choice of heaven over hell; it was the joy of filling eternity with eternal-living humans who finally realize their true potential as worshipers of the living God and as accomplishers of tasks more satisfying than our old cursed world could ever supply.

So let’s come to the cross of Jesus today. Let’s see Him as He truly is, the hero of our souls and rescuer of our lost humanity. Let’s invite His Spirit into our lives today; and let’s live out a continuation of His mission of loving God and loving others well. That’s what Jesus’ heroism is all about.

(Photo credit; By yorkshireman – http://pixabay.com/de/kreuz-gespeichert-strand-ring-631002/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39762052)

Twenty-eight Days with Jesus, Day 26

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Worthy.

For drama, the 26th chapter of Matthew’s gospel has no equal: A last supper with a ragtag crew of twelve unable to understand their Master’s deep forewarnings; a sleepy midnight vigil in an olive garden; the Master’s struggle in prayer, sweating great drops of blood; betrayal with a kiss, vicious swordplay and a healing; a general desertion by fearful followers, a kangaroo court; a conviction; a disowning, and a rooster’s fateful crow.

There is no story like it. Narration of the angst and anger, the deceit and despair that the characters portray gives us a glimpse into the significance of this pivotal moment in earth’s history. Her only perfect son, fully God and fully man, performs the redeeming act required by His own perfect sense of justice to correct a race’s rebellion against its Maker.

“He is worthy of death,” the members of the Jewish supreme court of ancient Jerusalem pronounced. Their judgment was the product of greed and jealousy, of anger and ignorance and fear. Silent as a sheep before her shearers Jesus accepted the verdict without a word. Why?

The earlier scene in the olive garden provides us with the answer. Jesus’ struggle was never with human power or authority. In the garden before the mob ever arrived, we glimpse him wrestling in prayer in order to submit to His heavenly Father’s will that He be the scapegoat for humanity. “Not as I will, but as you will,” he conceded in the greatest mystery we humans will ever ponder. God the Son willingly agrees to pay your and my moral debt by suffering God the Father’s wrath against our rebellion. But was Jesus worthy of death as the Jewish council claimed? Heaven’s inhabitants claim He is worthy, but not of death.

The closing book of the Bible, known as Revelation, reveals a glimpse of the heavenly splendor to be seen one day by every eye—yours and mine included. John, the scribe of Revelation writes, “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:11-13).

The characters of that world by the thousands and millions voice their judgment of this same Jesus, Son of God, redeemer of all people who accept His gift. Did you notice what they describe Him worthy of?

He is worthy of all creatures’ bursting and overflowing song-filled worship—awestruck wonder and praise. For how long? For ever and ever. And why? Because He who was perfectly pure and right, who has existed for eternity in joyful community with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, became one of us, precisely to submit Himself to the Father’s will which was that He bear the death you and I deserve.

The angels claim He is worthy, not of death but of eternal worship.

Our choice, yours and mine—while we have that moment of choice here on this earth—is to claim one or the other. Do we discount Him, ignore Him or desert Him? In effect we are pronouncing Him worthy of death. Or do we, regardless of the struggle, hold Him in highest honour, following in His footsteps, seeking the Father’s will? That is pronouncing Him worthy of honour and praise.

Read Matthew Chapter 26 again for yourself. As we prayerfully consider the final hours of His amazing earthly life—we will discover new ways He speaks to us through His ancient and moving story. He is worthy.

 

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 25

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The Seen and the Unseen.

Our world is full of mysteries, of things we can’t see, of things we don’t know or can’t fully understand. We don’t generally like unknowns, though, so we tend to do what we can to fill in the blanks, to have the information we need to make our decisions, to live our lives.

This is the basic premise of our western philosophy of human reason: we are faced with a world of external and internal mysteries—from forensics to finance, from meteorology to astronomy to astrophysics, from psychology to sociology—and we use our human capacity for reason to solve these mysteries more or less successfully. We do it by using the known to help us explore the unknown; we employ the seen to envision the unseen.

We ought not be surprised to discover, then, that God’s plan for the world from the moment of its conception would include both the seen and the unseen. He Himself is Spirit, invisible to eyes like ours, eyes designed to capture only objects within the physical realm. Yet, His plan involved expressing Himself in human form for roughly thirty-three years—a tiny blip on the map of human history—using that moment of His visible presence to explain the millennia before and after it when His presence has been invisible to human eyes. He expects us to use our God-given aptitude for reason to fill in the blanks so that our lives are congruent with reality—the reality that He still exists, He still inhabits our world even though He is unseen by us just now.

In Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel we are given a glimpse of how the seen and the unseen are going to cohabit in our world until the time God brings a conclusion to this era.

In this chapter, Jesus tells a parable. He describes a scene, a social panorama of in-group and out-group members, of people today we would call ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. The ‘have-not’ individuals are described as wounded and needy people. They are those who are hungry and thirsty, strangers, disenfranchised, impoverished, sick and unfairly imprisoned. The ‘have’ individuals are us, you and me.

Jesus explains that in each of our lives we will rub shoulders with people who, in comparison to us, will be ‘have-nots’. They will have fewer resources than us, fewer social or emotional supports and less financial freedom. They will have suffered under more unjust systems, or they have been more carelessly treated by society as a whole than we have been. How we treat the ‘have-nots’ of our world matters, because Jesus says He sympathizes and identifies with them.

“Whatever you (do) for one of the least of these brothers of mine,” explains Jesus, “you (do) for me.” In fact, caring for others’ needs is both descriptive and prescriptive of accessing a full and eternal relationship with our Creator. Listen:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

This doesn’t negate the need for us to accept Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on behalf of us—that was the purpose of his 33-year sojourn on earth. But having become ‘righteous’ in God’s eyes as followers of Jesus, we must show proof of our faith extending into every part of our lives. We must live out our redeemed lives, giving of ourselves to our unseen Master by serving His precious ‘brothers’, the needy in our world.

We can’t excuse ourselves from reaching out to our needy neighbours, the hurting and hungry world of people around us. We can’t expect amnesty from responsibility stating that Jesus is ‘unseen’ in our generation. Jesus tells us to open our eyes. Loving Him and serving Him by loving and serving the needy go hand in hand. There’s no excuse for being short-sighted, is there?

(Photo Credit: By Nevit Dilmen – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3894055)