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Lent Readings

Readings Begin March 5

Asking Jesus: Day 42, Saturday

Day 42, Saturday
I Pleaded With the Lord

 

2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

The Thorn in the Flesh

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
 

Who’s Asking?

Saul the Pharisee had become Paul the apostle. His blinding vision of the glorified Jesus qualified him to be a witness to the resurrection. He would spend two years reworking the Hebrew Scriptures in the key of Jesus. Paul would make connections that would enable millions for centuries to understand the Lord who saved them. Paul would also suffer for his proclamation and for the astounding words and visions he received. In this passage, Paul recounted a physical affliction that tormented him. We don’t know what it was exactly. Perhaps it came from the effects of the beatings, the cold imprisonments and other trauma he had received in persecution. It hampered Paul’s work. This “thorn” pained Paul enough that he pleaded three times for it to be removed.
 

The Question Within the Question

Does it have to be this hard? Wouldn’t I be more fruitful if the ground of my life wasn’t so thorny? Wouldn’t I grow more if I got the sunlight and water of better circumstances?  
 
These questions are common to all of us. We don’t want life to be this difficult. They take a particularly pernicious turn, however, if we let them be influenced by a dangerous heresy colloquially known as the “prosperity gospel.” The idea is that if we only more vigorously named the promises of God in faithful prayer and claimed them boldly for ourselves, then the health, success and security we crave would be ours. We could live our “best life now” with all the blessings of this world, and heaven to come. 
 
The prosperity gospel doesn’t know what to do with the Lord’s words, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” If faithful Christians receive all the blessing of comfort and wealth, then what kind of Christians were the apostles? Failed? Faithless? Timid? They suffered persecution and resistance from the outset. They lived with just the day’s need for food and clothing met. All but one died a violent death, while the other lived out his days on a Greek island that was far from a Mediterranean paradise. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus refused Paul’s fervent prayers to take away the affliction. We are not promised a life free from suffering if only we have enough faith. In fact, just the opposite, “Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3: 12). We are promised joy, but not an absence of tears. Love, but not being loved by all. Daily bread, but not all earthly security. Eternal life, but not freedom from the pain of dying to self. Hope, but not ease. 
 
So Jesus told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” That can seem disappointing when we just want the pain to stop and the thorn to be taken out. But the witness of a multitude of believers is that it is true. He does not always give us what we ask for. But he does always give us himself. And in the presence of Christ “there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16: 11). Michael Reeves explains so clearly,
 
Here’s the encouragement for those who feel inadequate. God actually uses us most powerfully at the point of our brokenness. You might think, “I’ve got certain gifts, and I offer those to God. But I’ve also got this very bruised area of my life. Or this very messed-up area of my life. And I know the Lord will use my good traits, but he’s not going to use that scuffed-up part of me, or that secret garbage of mine.” My friend, it might well be the other way around. Most often the Lord uses us at the very greatest point of our brokenness and our weakness. He’s not after self-starters who go out in their own energy, strong and confident in themselves. That’s not the gospel. Rather, brokenness is the main qualification for effective service (Michael Reeves. Overflow: How the Joy of the Trinity Inspires our Mission, page 52. Chicago: Moody Press, 2021).
 
When we ask Jesus, he always hears us. He delights to receive our prayers and requests. Of course he does not always reply as we have hoped he would. Often, we realize later what a mercy it was that Christ did not give us exactly what we asked for! He never lets us co-opt him for our own agendas. He never lets us maneuver him away from his mission, the same mission he gives to us. But he does reply. For he prays for us before his Father. And he gives himself to us over and over through his Spirit in our hearts, through meeting us in his Word and at his table. He sends us brothers and sisters to care for us at just the right time. And as we ask, he supplies the strength we need to get through his will for us in the day. He proves that his grace is sufficient. We do not have to hide our weaknesses, for Jesus already knows them. Our seeming deficiencies are channels for his love and mercy. They provide occasion for us to rely on Jesus and find that he never fails us.
 

Prayer

As we prepare to celebrate his resurrection tomorrow, we make our last prayer that of Paul who prayed for the Ephesian Christians. 
 
Gracious Father, we ask now what we know you love to grant:
May we know what is the hope to which you have called us,
What are the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, and 
What is the immeasurable greatness of your power toward us who believe, According to the working of your great might 
That you worked in Christ when you raised him from the dead and 
Seated him at your right hand in the heavenly places, 
Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and 
Above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. You put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1: 18-23).
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 41, Friday

Day 41, Friday
Lord, I Have Heard About This Man

 

Acts 9: 10-19

 

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
 
Baptism of Saul. Mosaic. Cappella Palantina, Palermo. 12th c.
 
 

Who’s Asking?

Ananias was a faithful Hebrew living in Damascus, Syria who had become a Christian. Paul described him later as “a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there” (Acts 22: 12). His response to the Lord’s calling his name was classic faithfulness, “Here I am, Lord.” He echoed Isaiah (6: 8) who answered, “Here am I! Send me” and Samuel who replied to hearing God call his name, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3: 10).  Ananias was a man ready to respond. But when the Lord told him he was to go to Saul and lay hands on him, Ananias balked. Christians hid from Saul, they did not seek out this persecutor! Ananias raises his concerns simply by way of stating the facts. “I have heard of this Saul. He has done evil to your people and we know he came here with power to arrest your people in this city.” That seems a fair point to raise!
 

The Question Within the Question

Can a person really change? With some people, is evil just bred in the bone? How far does Jesus’ transformation of a person extend? Ananias had no evidence yet that anything had changed about Saul. Of all the people in the world he would never want to touch, bless and pray for, Saul would have been at the top of the list. Making a mistake about what the Lord wanted could literally have cost Ananias his life. 
 
If truth be told there are some people I don’t really want to see change. I like knowing there are some clear-cut bad folks. The only transformation I want to see in them is a fall into ruin. Thus I would be proved to be right, and my idea of justice would be served.
 
As we saw throughout last week, however, Jesus fully lived out his teaching on loving enemies. He gave his body and blood to faithless disciples. He forgave from the cross. He welcomed a criminal into paradise shortly before he breathed his last.
 
But is this really practical today? Can we expect hard hearts to be melted by our kindness? Will cranky people learn to smile if we return blessing to their curses? Do people ever reform?
 

Jesus’ Reply

The Lord did not scold Ananias for asking the question. He repeated the command along with an explanation. Jesus had claimed Saul. God picked him to carry the name of Jesus before the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Saul would suffer joyfully for the gospel of Jesus he had previously despised. Ananias decided to believe the promise of the Lord concerning his enemy.
 
Since Jesus had adopted Saul into his family, Ananias called him “Brother.” What a refreshing word that must have been to the blind, guilt-stricken Saul! As Ananias laid hands on him and prayed, scales fell from Saul’s eyes and the Holy Spirit filled him. He could see both physically and spiritually. That day he was baptized for the forgiveness of his sins and the consecration of his life to Christ. Saul became Paul and nothing was ever the same.
 
Of course we don’t want to be naïve about people who will hurt us again if we return to them. We don’t want to enable addicts with the 400th start that is only a pretense. But change does happen. Millions testify to the transformation that being joined to Jesus can bring. For most of us, this doesn’t happen in a single moment. The fruit of the Spirit grows through time. People in Christ do become more other-focused. They get gentler. They live more patiently. Health returns. Relationships mend. People start afresh. 
 
I remember asking once in a Bible study, “How do we know the resurrection of Jesus really occurred?” There were various answers about the empty tomb and the witness of the church. But one older man, who had only lately experienced spiritual renewal, looked at me with glistening eyes, and tapped his hand over his heart. He had not been an easy man. But in his final decade he softened. Cynicism became belief. Suspicion of others became gracious acceptance. He became a blesser. It was unexpected and lovely to see.
 
So what could happen if we started to be more daring in our prayers for others? Especially those we fear, avoid or simply don’t like. What if we prayed imaginatively as if this one was already my brother in Christ? What if we dared to dream of what this one could do in the world for Jesus if she were awakened to him? It’s no accident that the word the Lord used in commanding Ananias to go to Saul was the same word used for resurrection: rise! Get up. Move with faith in the resurrection of Jesus who brought new life in your own soul. Move with belief that Jesus can rise in the heart of even these others. Pray and live as if it were so. Try it for someone daily for a week or a month and see what happens!
 

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for Ananias,
Who risked his safety
To bring prayer to a new brother.
Thank you for using him to bring
The gospel to Saul,
Speaking just the words his former enemy
Craved to hear.
Thank you for pouring your Spirit
Through the prayers of Ananias 
Into Saul and for pouring 
Forgiveness like splashing water
In the baptism Ananias gave. 
Open our eyes to those you have chosen
To receive grace today
Through our presence, words and hands.
We long to be part of your transforming
Redemption. Give us courage to rise!
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 40, Thursday

Day 40, Thursday
Who Are You, Lord? 

 

Acts 9: 1-9

The Conversion of Saul

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
 

Who’s Asking?

We know him as Paul, the great missionary and writer of so many New Testament letters. But for years, he was Saul, the highly educated, blue-blooded Pharisee who lived to protect the traditions of Israel. He despised the Christians. For they blasphemously worshiped the man Jesus, as if he were the LORD I AM himself come among us. Saul “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women, and committed them to prison” (Acts 8: 3). He was full of fury at Christians, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” One day he was on the road to Damascus, Syria, bearing letters that gave him authority to arrest any Jewish followers of Christ he found there. About midday, a light suddenly shone that was brighter than the Middle Eastern sun. The mighty Saul fell to the ground in terror. Though blinded by the light, Saul could yet hear the voice that spoke, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The fierce, ever-certain monotheist Saul asked feebly, “Who are you, Lord?” 
 

The Question Within the Question

All Saul’s certainty evaporated under the reality of the light that pierced his eyes and heart. The voice that spoke to him undercut the authority he thought his tradition gave him. He thought he had God and the world figured out. He thought he was in control. He thought he was doing the right thing, the God-pleasing thing, as violence burned through his every action. In an instant, Saul knew he was dead wrong. Nothing made sense. Someone was claiming him. Rearranging everything. Pride melted into trembling humility, “Who are you, Lord?” 
 
While few conversions are as dramatic as Saul’s, the dynamics of such transformation run through many lives which come to Christ. Darren Carlson writes, 
 
A friend of mine tells of a Persian migrant who arrived at a refugee center at 6 a.m., visibly upset. He told his story to a Persian pastor: During the night he saw someone dressed in white raise his hand and say, “Stand up and follow me.” The Persian man said, “Who are you?” The man in white replied, “I am the Alpha and the Omega. I’m the way to heaven. No one can go to the Father, except through me.” He began to ask the Persian pastor: “Who is he? What am I going to do? Why did he ask me to follow him? How shall I go? Tell me.”
 
In response, the pastor held out his Bible and asked, “Have you seen this before?”
 
“No,” he replied.
“Do you know what it is?”
“No.”
 
The pastor then opened to the Book of Revelation: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” The man started crying and said, “How can I accept him? How can I follow him?” So the pastor led him in prayer and peace came over him (www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/muslims-dream-jesus/)
 
The reality is that every conversion requires a revelation of the Holy Spirit. We come awake to who Jesus is and yield our hearts. This is not our doing, though it requires a response from us. This too, is God’s gift. In such moments, old certainties fall away even as the conviction of the truth of Christ takes deep root in us. From Saul to Augustine to C. S. Lewis to the person in the pew, the Spirit creates the moment when we ask, as the first question of new life, “Who are you, Lord?” 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus pulled no punches with Saul. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This simple statement completely upheaved Saul’s life. There’s so much in this sentence! First, we note that Jesus accepted that Saul called him Lord. Every day since he could talk, Saul had recited, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6: 4). Only the one LORD I AM was the true God. Such was the basis of his passionate monotheism. But Jesus’ reply indicates that the one God is both Father and Son. Jesus’ answer in this moment underlies the brilliant affirmation Paul would make years later, “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through him we exist” (1 Corinthians 8: 6). In time, of course, Paul would realize that the Holy Spirit is also fully God. But on the Damascus Road, the Lordship of Jesus converted him. God was more, way more, than he had ever realized. Everything was being reworked. 
 
Second, Jesus’ answer revealed the organic, spiritual unity of Christ’s disciples with their Lord. We are one body with our head. In persecuting Christians, Saul was persecuting Jesus himself. Jesus corroborated what he said in his parable of the sheep and the goats, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 40). The conviction must have seared Saul more than the blinding light. Every arrest, every imprisonment, every death was on Saul’s head as having been done to Jesus. Saul who had devoted his life to serving God was totally pinned as having done just the opposite. How we relate to each other is how we are relating to Christ!
 
Just as we saw in the calling of Simon back on Day 4, Jesus implied forgiveness by giving a mission. Rise! Enter the city. You will be told what to do. In another recounting of this moment, Paul recalled that Jesus’ answer included sending him to the Gentiles, whom he would have despised, “to open their eyes . . . that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified . . . ” (Acts 26: 18). 
 
Though usually less cataclysmic, the Spirit’s work in each of our lives includes realization of who Jesus is, submission to his Lordship as well as reception of his salvation, and a sending to be Christ’s witnesses in the world. 
 

Prayer

What encouragement we gain from Saul!
If you can forgive him, you can forgive me.
If you can rework his life, you can rework mine.
If you can redeem his wasted years
And create an eternally important purpose
Then you can make something of my life.
Shine your light again, Lord Jesus!
For I have often closed my eyes
To you and your little ones.
Speak to me afresh, 
For I have been deaf to your Word. 
Let me see you for who you are.
Let me hear clearly what you want me to do.
Knock me down if you have to, but please
Quicken my heart. Renew my faith.
Turn my lost years into fruitful mission
Everywhere I go, that you might be magnified.
 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 39, Wednesday

Day 39, Wednesday
Lord, Will You At This Time?

 

Acts 1: 6-11 

Ascension

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
 

Who's Asking?

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples many times during the next forty days. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, tells us that Jesus was “speaking to them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1: 3). Now that they at last knew who Jesus was, he helped them weave together the threads of all he had taught and done. This crash course in Scripture and the life of Christ would become the foundation for all their future teaching. They got to ask all the questions they wanted!  With Jesus’ victory over death, they wondered if what he had told them a year earlier was coming true. “ . . . in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19: 28). Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, to be enthroned as the Lord of all, seated next to his Father. So they figured the new world was about be inaugurated. “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 
 

The Question Within the Question

Of course the disciples were ready for the whole world to be ordered around the Lordship of Jesus. Especially since they were promised thrones! But really, who isn’t ready for God to set all things right? The last words of the New Testament express that longing, “Amen, come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22: 20). I can still see my college suitemate standing at the window the night before a final praying, “Come back, now, Jesus!” This desire is only more intense in a world so full of chaos, violence and despair. Through the centuries Christ’s church has eagerly anticipated the consummation of his Lordship in a renewed earth.
 
In a sermon on this passage, John Calvin peeled back the layers to expose another desire in their question. 
 
It is that they wished to triumph at once and then to live wishfully without any pain. Now this vice is in us all, for there is no one who does not desire to reign with Jesus Christ in that eternal salvation which He has promised us. However, when someone speaks to us about bearing His cross, and of entering into combat against Satan, against the world, and even against our own nature, we surely would like to withdraw ourselves from the task (The Deity of Christ and Other Sermons, p. 228). 
 
The disciples, just like us, would have been happy to skip the mission of the church, with all its struggle and persecution. Let’s just get to the good part!
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus removed speculations about the “when” of his return by reminding the disciples that such knowledge was above their pay grade. Now was the time for the work of the church. This commission was wrapped in a promise. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Jesus would depart from them physically. But he would send them his Spirit. He would actually be closer to them than when they saw him face-to-face. For his Spirit would dwell in the hearts of all believers. The blessed Spirit would provide motivation, energy and effectiveness for their task. “You will be my witnesses . . . to the end of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). The mission of the church is to bear witness to what we have experienced of Jesus.
 
Think what this means. We are not sent to be Christ’s marketers, apologists, persuaders, enforcers or salespeople. We are sent to be witnesses. We tell what we have seen, heard and experienced. We also recount the witness of the earlier witnesses from the apostles through church history to today. There is an unbroken testimony of personal experience of Jesus and the power of his life, death, resurrection and ascended Lordship. We pass along the essentials of the story and tell how the Jesus of the Gospels has affected our lives. For instance,  
 
Can you express why, after an initial flood of anxiety over circumstances, a deeper peace rises in you?
 
Can you witness to the reality that though you grieve deaths, and do not want to die yourself, you nevertheless feel a mysterious confidence about life to come?
 
Can you testify to the fact that without excusing it, making up for it, or casting blame to others, your guilt has diminished because you rely on Jesus to have paid for it?
 
Can you confirm that in spite of the chaos, violence and inevitable suffering in the world, you live with hope in an ultimate restoration of all that is good?
 
 
Can you give examples of a change in you toward caring for others, forgiving someone or making more effort to be kind?
 
If the answer is “No,” it is time for you to do some serious reflection on your relationship to Jesus and its vibrancy. Please call a pastor! If the answer is “Yes,” then you have a natural, authentic witness to make when you lovingly converse with people undergoing similar experiences. You can ask to share what has been true for you.
 

Prayer

Why did you leave us behind, Lord Jesus?
You ascended into heaven
And sent us to the ends of the earth.
We’d rather be with you!
We’d rather you set all things right, this minute!
But we know that is not the way
Of a relational God, who has his life
In the love of Father, Son and Spirit.
You make that love known person to person.
One to one, life on life, you send us
To the world and send the world to us.
How thankful we are that you have not left us alone.
You pour your Spirit into our hearts.
We are as close to you as the first disciples.
Your Spirit opens doors, creates opportunities,
And gives effectiveness to our feeble words.
Assist us, then, Holy Spirit of Jesus,
First to create praise for what you have done in and for us,
Then to create words for us to express
Who you are that saves so thoroughly.
Make us witnesses to what matters most to us,
Jesus who saves, redeems and transforms
With such amazing grace.
Thank you that you are with us always.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 38, Tuesday

Day 38, Tuesday
Stay With Us!

 

Luke 24: 28-35 

At Table

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
 

Who's Asking?

Cleopas and the other disciple had walked with Jesus the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus had taught them the Scriptures concerning the suffering and exaltation of the Messiah. They still did not recognize Jesus, but they felt powerfully drawn to this mysterious companion on their journey. They did not want the day to end. But darkness was falling, so they urged the incognito Jesus to stay with them for supper and a bed. 
 

The Question Within the Question

Day turns to night every twenty-four hours. Yet evening remains poignant to us. The ending of a day reminds us of the turning of seasons, the swift passage of the years, the sundering of relationships and even our own death. We do not wish to be alone in the night. So this scene has led to beautiful prayers:
 
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of the bread (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 124).
 
And to beautiful hymns:
 
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide;
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Henry Francis Lyte. Abide With Me. 1847.
 
Though they did not yet realize this stranger was Jesus, they wanted him to be close. Their hearts were burning to know him and discover the companionship of God which alone can keep us through any and every night.
 
We want to know Jesus in a way that fills us and satisfies us. We crave the realization in our souls that Jesus who died is yet “the living one” who is alive forever more (Revelation 1: 18). 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus yielded without protest to their invitation. As he always did in his ministry, Jesus allowed himself to be interrupted in his travels. His primary errand was ever the needs of the people he encountered along the way far more than where he had purposed to go. At supper, Jesus quite naturally took a leadership role in offering thanks to God for the food. His actions resonate in the minds of every reader of Luke. They clearly reverberated in the hearts of these disciples, though the two had not yet made the final connection. Jesus took up the bread at the table, blessed his Father, broke the bread and gave it to the disciples. This is just what happened before the miracle of feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish (Luke 9: 16). That event foreshadowed the Last Supper in which we read that Jesus did the exact same thing (Luke 22: 19, also Day 29). Only in the Upper Room Jesus added the crucial explanation: “This is my body, which is given for you.” He would enact those words hours later on the cross. So when at Emmaus Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave, the truth finally dawned on the disciples. Luke tells us that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” The one who had given his body for them was alive and giving himself to them now by his Spirit. It was the Lord!
 
The two disciples returned immediately, in the dark, to Jerusalem, to let the inner circle of disciples know the truth that Jesus had risen. This episode bookends with Luke’s narration of the shepherds hastening to Bethlehem to see the baby in a feeding trough which the angels had announced. Just as the shepherds announced what they had seen and heard, Cleopas and his friend told all that had happened on the road. They recalled the Scriptures Jesus had shared. And they recounted the miracle that their spiritual eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread.  
 
We learn that three crucial elements combine to be the normal way the risen Jesus creates faith, recognition and experience of himself. 1) Scripture recounts the events of God’s saving work and his promises for the future. 2) The Lord’s Supper provides the experiential present event in which believers, in community, participate in Christ’s life, death, resurrection and anticipated return. 3) The Holy Spirit makes Jesus present to us in Scripture and the breaking of the bread, and makes us present in faith to Jesus. He is the Spirit of Jesus himself, and he brings words off the page into our hearts. He illuminates our minds to understand. He brings food from our mouths and stomachs to our souls. He unites us to Jesus and each other in intimate communion. This miracle is normal! Every time the church gathers, asking for the presence of Jesus by the Spirit, faithfully reading and preaching the Word and then enacting the Word through the Lord’s Supper, Christ shows up and works in our hearts! This is the way God chose to connect with us. This is the means he uses to turn spiritually blind, lost people into seeing believers.
 
Such a wonder is not meant to be merely cold intellectual awareness. As for the disciples, the coming of Jesus through Word and Table makes our hearts burn with wonderful warmth. And this experience is universal across time, cultures and languages. This is how Jesus answers our request. He abides with us in worship, prayer, Word and Sacrament. 
 
Four hundred years ago, a great scientist had the experience of coming to terms with the reality of Jesus and the response required of him. Blaise Pascal yearned for a deeper connection with Christ. He knew the Scriptures, but had not yet had his eyes opened to their truth. Then, at the age of 31, Pascal had a visionary experience while reading John 17. There, in a little room in his house, Christ invaded his life. For two hours, it seemed that the very room was on fire. Pascal scrawled his thoughts on a piece of paper, along with a picture of a cross with rays beaming out of it. He sewed the paper into his vest pocket and, thus, carried it with him wherever he went. It was found after his death, which occurred eight years later. Perhaps it could be your prayer: 
 

Prayer

The year of grace 1654,
Monday, 23 November . . . 
From about half-past-ten in the evening until half past midnight
FIRE
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,
not of philosophers and scholars,
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 37, Monday

Day 37, Monday
Don't You Know The Things That Have Happened?

 

Luke 24: 13-27

Emmaus Road

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
 

Who's Asking?

Easter morning was the first day of the week. The Sabbath restrictions were over. People began to move about again. So, two disciples of Jesus, who were not part of the inner circle of the Twelve, were walking from Jerusalem toward the village of Emmaus about seven miles away. As people are wont to do, they were talking about all that had happened over the last days. Jesus, acting just as another traveling walker would, caught up with them. They did not recognize him. Jesus asked them what they were discussing. Cleopas answered incredulously, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there the last few days?” 
 

The Question Within the Question

Cleopas and his companion had not realized that resurrection had occurred. They mirrored the eleven intimate disciples who did not believe the report of the Marys.  Luke tells us “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (24: 11). So beyond the believing women, all of Jesus’ followers seemed stuck. In their broken-hearted grief, in the shattering of their illusions that a new day was dawning in Israel, in the guilt of their own weakness during Jesus’ suffering, they simply could not imagine anything ever being better again.
 
Their question indicated they were living fully with the sense that the way things are is the way things will always be. They were unable to see beyond the news of the day. Have you ever felt that way after watching a half hour of national news? Huge resources are deployed to get us to feel, “Ain’t it awful? And ain’t it getting worse all the time? And I have to know just how bad it’s getting!” Much of our conversation revolves around these reports we’re hearing and people are discussing. We look where we’re pointed. And then we fret in endless blogging, tweeting and chatter. We get incredulous when someone asks us, “What things? What is it you are worrying over?” All of that makes it very hard to see that other stories are also unfolding. God is not dead and he has not ceased working. 
 
Added to their natural spiritual myopia, Luke tells us that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” The sentence is written in the passive form. We don’t know if the subject is God, their own hearts, or some other force. But we get the point. Recognizing Jesus as the risen one requires an act of God to open our eyes. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Again, we see the playful side of our resurrected Lord! “What things?” he asked them. As if the man who had been tried, crucified and raised didn’t know! For seeming to be a stranger to them, Jesus took social liberties in answering their skepticism, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” Basically, he told them that the answer was right there in the Scriptures they supposedly had known since childhood. The reply of God to their empty grief was speaking to them! The connecting of the dots that lead from the suffering of the Christ to his exaltation had been written for centuries in the Word! 
 
Jesus was not in a hurry to reveal himself. He wanted to rebuild the house of faith from the planks of Scripture before he gave them the key (himself) that opened the door. So he walked them through the Hebrew Bible. Luke tells us Jesus interpreted “to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (vs. 27).
 
What would you give to have been part of that Bible study?! 
 
As we wait until tomorrow for the resolution to their doubt, we realize that God’s first answer to all our yearning to know him is given to us in his Word. That’s the information we must learn, internalize and ponder. But also, something else is required to turn information into intimate relationship. Paul wrote:
 
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4: 3-7).
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, how slow we are to believe!
We have so much information
Swirling in our brains: scores, stats, charts,
News, trivia, tidbits and weather.
But how little Scripture!
Jingles hum in our minds,
But how few hymns!
Bible resources on our phones
Would be the envy of the most brilliant 
Scholars through the centuries.
But we have no time to go deep!
O forgive us.
We are too caught in the news of the day.
We miss the news that is the good tidings
Of great joy about you.
Send your Spirit!
Open our eyes!
Enact a work of creation to raise us
From lethargy to energy
From spiritual death to life
That we might see you for who you are.
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 36, Sunday

FROM RESURRECTION TO MISSION
WEEK SIX

“Window on the Heart of God” is the title of Steve Wilson’s vivid stained glass window. He based this rendering on words we read from Thomas Torrance last Lent: “And when the Father did not spare his own Son but freely delivered him up for us all in atoning sacrifice, the Cross became a window into the innermost heart of God and the nature of his love. It tells us that God loves us more than he loves himself.” (A Passion for Christ, page 14).  As you look closely, you will see that the face of Jesus is set within a heart. That heart is located at the intersection of the beams of that cross. That cross is set within the cosmos in all its physical and spiritual beauty. Our loving Savior connects the vertical beam of his relationship to his Father and the horizontal beam of his connection to humanity and the world. In Jesus we realize that at the center of the universe, there beats a heart of love.
 
I’ve been looking closely at the face of Christ in this window while writing this book. I’m struck by the depth of his gaze. Perhaps Jesus is looking down at Bartimaeus on his knees or at Jairus’ little daughter on her sick bed. Jesus seems pensive, but not angry. He is sad at the sight of the world’s suffering. But not daunted. For he sees more than the suffering this world presents. He sees his Father’s love that sent him. He sees to the other side of his passion that will lead to his rising as the firstborn of a new creation.  
 
This Holy Week as we prepare to celebrate Easter, we follow questions we asked Jesus about his death, resurrection, ascension and promised return. We will follow his replies about our mission to the ends of the earth. And we will conclude by discovering how Jesus continues to answer our deepest needs throughout this difficult time before his return by supplying sufficient grace to help in every time of need.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Steve Wilson. Window on the Heart of God. 2021. Stained glass. Private collection of Rhonda and Gerrit Dawson. 

 

Day 36 Sunday
The Unspoken Requests of Grief
 

Matthew 28: 1-10

At the Tomb

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
 

Who's Asking?

Several women came to the tomb of Jesus near dawn on the first day of the week. The arrival of the Sabbath on Friday evening meant that Jesus had been placed in the cave in haste. Not all of the burial ointments had been applied.  So these faithful women went to fulfill what Robert Hayden called “love’s austere and lonely offices” (Those Winter Sundays, 1962). Only along the way did they consider the problem of rolling the stone away from the tomb (Mark 16: 3). This was not a mission planned in strategic detail. The Marys desperately wanted to see Jesus again. To give love that had been so violently interrupted. To do what they could to bring dignity and honor to the shame of being crucified. Their request of Jesus was silently asked, for they did not expect to hear a reply: May we just do this last thing for you?
 

The Question Within the Question

There really was no urgency to get to the tomb at dawn. Nothing the women did would stop Jesus from being dead. The spices would preserve the flesh for but a while from decay and reek. But grief, and the love which gives rise to it, operates according to engineering efficiency.
 
Their unspoken request ran deep. Perhaps we can give words to their actions:
 
May we do what little we can to bring a bit of right to this horrible wrong? 
 
We didn’t stop loving you because your body stopped in this world.
Don’t think you’re forgotten.
 
Would you let us tend you? To honor you and care for you, to say “No” to the swift decay of the heat, to ask your body to stay your body for a bit longer.
 
At the end of the second series of the BBC’s show Sherlock, it appears that Holmes has died. In the final scene, his colleague and best friend John Watson visits the cemetery. Standing by Sherlock’s tombstone, Watson speaks to the grave,
 
I was so alone . . . and I owe you so much. But please, there’s just one more thing, one more miracle, Sherlock, for me, don’t be . . . dead. Would you do that just for me? Just stop it. Stop this . . .  [He walks away. Sherlock watches him go, then leaves.] (https://www.quotes.net/show-quote/70998)
 
Please don’t be dead! That’s the heart of the unspoken, impossible request made from the depths of grief and expressed through the apparently futile gesture of bringing ointments and spices to the sealed tomb. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

The women arrived to see the stone rolled away. The Roman guards lay in a paralyzed heap. A glorious angel sat on the stone like it was a stool. The cave contained no body. In Luke’s narration, the angel jests with the startled women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24: 5). As if anyone would expect Jesus to be alive! It’s the grandest surprise of all time. Angels cannot contain their mirth. “He has risen, as he said.” They interpret the scene for the bewildered women, making it as clear as words allow, “Go tell his disciples that Jesus is risen from the dead.”
 
With a constantly interchanging mix of fear and joy, confusion and clarity, the women rushed away. Then, they bumped into Jesus. His first word contained his full reply to their unspoken request that he not be dead. The one word he spoke to them, chairete, can be translated various ways. It comes from a root word that underlies both “joy” and “grace.” But it was used as a common, positive salutation: Greetings! Hail! Grace!
 
I like to think that Jesus himself was full of mirth. When I envision the expression on his face, I imagine he was having the best time. Jesus had all the joy of surprising a loved one when you were totally longed for but completely unexpected. I think he played with them a bit. “Hiya! Looking for someone? ‘Sup? Hey there! Aren’t you the ones who asked me not to be dead? Well here I am!”
 
C. S. Lewis captured the joy of resurrection in his classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The great lion Aslan, deliberately a figure for Jesus, returns from the dead. The lion greeted the children Lucy and Susan who had been so distraught over his sacrificial death:
 
“Oh, children,” said the Lion, “I feel my strength coming back to me. Oh, children, catch me if you can!” . . . Round and round the hilltop he led them . . . It was such a romp as no one has ever had . . . and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind. . . . 
 
“And now,” said Aslan presently, “to business. I feel I am going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.”
 
And they did. And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare to look at it. And they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.
 
Jesus answered the inconsolable sorrow of the death of the Son of God with the oceanic mirth of a resurrection that overcame all the forces of sin, death and evil in the universe. That’s worth a laugh. And it’s worth a roar!   
 

Prayer

Lo! Jesus meets us.
Risen from the tomb!
Lovingly, He greets us,
Scatters fear and gloom;
Let His church with gladness,
Hymns of triumph sing,
For her Lord now liveth;
Death hath lost its sting!
Thine be the glory,
Risen conquering Son;
Endless is the victory
Thou o’er death hast won!
     
Edmond Budry. Thine Be the Glory. Translated by Richard Borch Hoyle. 1904. 
 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 35, Saturday

Day 35, Saturday
Jesus, Remember Me!

 

Luke 23: 39-43

The Good Thief

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
 

Who’s Asking?

One of the most beautiful conversations in the Gospels occurred on the cross. Jesus was crucified between two criminals who had been condemned for robbery. At first, in Matthew’s recounting, both men railed at Jesus. But then, according to Luke, one thief had a change of heart. Tradition calls him Dismas. He realized that he was being executed for actual crimes committed, but Jesus was innocent. He believed Jesus would come to reign over a kingdom, and he entreated Jesus to “remember” him on that day.
 

The Question Within the Question

We may imagine that the thief had a traditional Hebraic view of death as portrayed in the psalms. What if that darkest lament, Psalm 88, was on the minds and hearts of both men on the cross? The psalmist writes as a man whose “life draws near to Sheol” (vs. 3). He feels already discarded to the pit. He has become a man who is:
 
Like those whom you remember no more,
For they are cut off from your hand (vs. 5).
 
One of the great fears of death was being cut off not only from life in the world but from God himself, as if we get expunged even from God’s thoughts. When the thief entreats Jesus to remember him, it is a plea to remain in existence, not to be left to utter darkness. For to be forgotten by God would mean being cut off from God’s presence. 
 
David Garland suggests that a desperate Dismas was moved to make his bold request because he overheard Jesus’ praying for those who mocked and crucified him (Garland, p. 926). He knew his crimes merited this punishment. But Jesus embodied a forgiveness that went beyond “eye for eye” justice. If Jesus, under unjust condemnation, could draw from a reservoir of such deep forgiveness, perhaps there was enough left for him as well. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Isaiah 49: 14-15 recounts how an exiled people felt that God had forgotten them:
 
Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
 
They deserved the exile they entered, and knew their sin had brought this judgment upon themselves. A just God was right to discard them. But then the LORD replies, 
 
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you. 
 
Our God does not forget us, not in life and not in death. Jesus taught that his Father noticed even common sparrows (Matthew 10: 29) and encouraged the people that we were infinitely more valuable than the birds! 
 
What does God forget? Our sins! Right where the LORD makes the promise of the new covenant (see Day 30) with the creation of new hearts for his people, he assures, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31: 34).
 
Jesus was completing the atonement that would bring this new covenant into effect. Even in his pain, he rejoiced to include Dismas in all he would accomplish. So on the cross Jesus replied to the thief with all the compassion of his ever remembering Father. 
 
Further, it amazes me to consider how deeply Jesus’ reply matches the mirror-like parallel of Psalm 88: 5. The thief asked to be remembered. Jesus answered, “You will be with me.” In other words, “You will not be cut off from God’s hand. I will enter the experience of that utter forsakenness so that you will not. I will companion you through death and into my Father’s presence.” 
 
For us, this means that it is never too late, as long as we have breath, to turn to Jesus. He longs to answer this request. We need not be theologically sophisticated. We can call out as simply as Peter sinking in the waves, “Lord, save!” Or as rawly as the tax collector in the synagogue, who beat his breast and cried out, “Have mercy on me a sinner!” We can say, even if we have willfully forgotten Christ all our days, just as Dismas did, “Jesus, remember me!” If such words connect to the heart’s depths, they are sufficient. They are enough to hear, “You will be with me in paradise.”
 

Prayer

I hated you at first, like I hated myself and everything else. 
I cursed you for doing nothing to save yourself or us,
Though people had said you were a king with power.
But just the way you took our insults, even then,
Closed my bitter mouth.
I knew I deserved to die and never see God.
The abyss opened below me.
The land of shadow.
The land forgotten by the living,
The land without the light of God.
As I hung, I knew my type of people and how they died.
You were not one of us.
What if you were a king that would reign in heaven?
What if you would not be discarded but exalted?
Could you, would you save me from the Pit?
Lord, remember me!
From your agony, you gazed at me,
Weighed my sincerity, believed my need.
You promised that I would be with you.
In the land of the blessed. 
In the company of God and his saints.
In a kingdom that never ends. 
I was falling into the grave and you grabbed my hand.
I was slipping into darkness when you shined a light.
I was tumbling into everlasting loneliness
When you made me your own. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 34, Friday

Day 34, Friday
Save Yourself!

 

Luke 23: 32-39

Mocking Demands On the Cross

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
 

Who’s Asking?

Religious rulers, Roman soldiers and a condemned criminal all snidely urged Jesus to save himself from death by crucifixion. The Jewish official taunted him by denigrating his ministry. What good was a healer who couldn’t keep himself alive? The soldiers mocked the idea of his kingship. What emperor gets destroyed by a small army in a backwater country? The criminal denigrated Jesus’ role as savior. How could Jesus redeem Israel when he couldn’t even get himself out of this lethal captivity? The man hailed as Messiah was derided for his utter failure to live up to his titles.
 

The Question Within the Question

We rightly think of Psalm 22’s connection to the crucifixion because Jesus quoted the first verse from the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” The Gospel writers, though, found many other links with this psalm. In today’s passage, we hear deliberate echoes of Psalm 22: 7-8:
 
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
 
Luke narrates this taunt as being literally on the lips of scoffers (the link is even clearer in the Greek Old Testament where the word for “save” is used). We have seen throughout our days reading the Gospels that “save” can have several layers of meaning. One can be saved out of illness or saved out of dire circumstances. One can be saved by being made whole from the ravages of sin. One can be saved out of spiritual death into eternal life. Jesus was soon to die on multiple levels. His relationships had been broken by betrayal and denial. His body would be killed. He would “become” sin in all its horror (2 Corinthians 5: 21). The beloved Son would undergo the hellish experience of feeling forsaken, forever, by his Father. Even the world around him was going dark. 
 
Jesus was becoming “lost” in every sense of the word. The taunts of the rulers, soldiers and the criminal baited him to follow natural instincts of self-preservation. These taunts, uttered through quoting the psalm, tempted Jesus to abandon his mission. As we saw on Day 15, Jesus foretold this day of suffering. And he laid it down as the pattern for all true discipleship. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16: 25). By his own principle, saving his life would be worse than dying. For his purpose was to save the world by losing himself to the fatal wrath of man and God caused by sin. Through the mouths of these onlookers, the evil one made one more attempt to urge. “Just give it up. They’re not worth it. And this won’t work. You’ve already failed.” 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Luke records no answer from Jesus to these taunts. The insults followed the script of the Psalm Jesus knew was written for him for this moment. He would cry out that prayer in a resolute hope that the deliverance narrated in Psalm 22’s second half would apply to him after his death. Meanwhile, Jesus defied those who rejected him by loving them in the midst of crucifixion, praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus lived out what he had taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5: 44). My first reaction is to feel that Jesus gives us too much benefit of the doubt! I think I might well know what I am doing in rejecting Jesus. Even experiencing all I have of the tender love of my Savior, I might still look him in the face and reject him. 
 
But Jesus knows more than we do. He has already accounted for the worst in our hearts. Jesus replies to our cynical, tempting scoffs with a resolute determination that he will follow the plan. He will complete the mission. We don’t have the capacity to understand what it cost him to endure God-forsakenness amidst excruciating torture. We cannot grasp the eternal nature of this plan, that before we were made and fell into sin, the Triune God had already determined how to redeem us. We could not know, wicked as we are, that Jesus’ mission was to recreate humanity in himself and then offer to share that redeemed life with all who trust in him. 
 
Throughout this study, we have seen how, since his boyhood, Jesus would not be deterred from his mission by any errant requests we made. He would pour himself out to answer the requests that arose from human brokenness and need. But he would not take the bait of temptations to betray his Father’s will. For he knew that to satisfy people in the moment would leave us ultimately unredeemed. He knew that he came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19: 10). For we surely could not save ourselves. So Jesus endured the mocking with silence on his lips and forgiveness in his heart. 
 

Prayer

Who was the guilty
Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.
      Johann Heermann. Ah, Holy Jesus. 1630. Translated by Robert Bridges. 1897.
 
 
Behold the man upon the cross,
My sin upon his shoulders;
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held him there
Until it was accomplished.
His dying breath has brought me life;
I know that it is finished.
      Stuart Townend. How Deep the Father’s Love. 1995.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 33, Thursday

Day 33, Thursday
Mourning And Lamenting

 

Luke 23: 27-31

From the Daughters of Jerusalem

And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
 

Who’s Asking?

Egged on by the priests and elders, the crowd gathered before Pilate vehemently shouted for Jesus’ crucifixion. Then, many followed along the sad way to Golgotha to witness the spectacle. But just a few minutes (and 4 verses) later, part of the crowd no longer cried for Jesus’ execution. A group of women wept and wailed in Middle Eastern mourning for the dead. 
 
Jesus addressed them as “daughters of Jerusalem.” Perhaps he meant a particular group of women in the city that habitually protested crucifixion through public lament. Perhaps he meant only women literally from Jerusalem. I think rather that Jesus meant all those women for whom Jerusalem was a spiritual home. Those who drew life from the LORD’s particular presence in Jerusalem, even from far away, could say, “This one was born in her” (Psalm 87: 5). These women were any who had been joined to the LORD through faith.
 

The Question Within the Question

Such lamenting does not make an overt request. But such anguished cries do speak. “Don’t believe you deserve this! Don’t think you’re alone! Don’t imagine we all agreed with this injustice!” Their distress requested Jesus to feel comforted not abandoned. Their mourning requested Jesus to keep trusting that he was the righteous one keeping faith with his Father on our behalf. The unnerving sound of lament, still practiced in the Middle East to this day, opposed Christ’s condemnation. “This is wrong! This should not be! We don’t want you gone from us. We will miss you. With every painful step, know that we love you.” 
 
In Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI notes that weeping shames unjust power (page 88). Without raising violent protest, lament reminds those in charge that their actions are wrong. Evil authorities want people to shut up and take whatever is dished out. The wails of grief communicate powerfully, “No! We will not go quietly. Your decree is wicked. You have caused great harm.” Demonstrative wailing stands against injustice even as it communicates compassion to the one being wronged. 
 
Many of us engaged in this study were raised to feel that loud public crying is unseemly. Rather the stiff upper lip than the hysterical scene! But in stuffing painful feelings, we miss the connection we can make with Jesus in times of sorrow over injustice, violence and death. We have a companion in a savior who got a sham trial, an unnecessary beating and a wholly unjust, torturous execution. But more, our tastes of the world’s imbalance and cruelty give us spiritual access to Jesus’ own experience. When we cry out, we can also connect to a bit of what Jesus went through in his bearing of the sins of the world. Our sorrowful outrage can be taken up in his redemptive suffering. And still more, that union with Christ can propel us back into the world to stop just taking it. We can cry, sometimes loudly, over abortions and misuses of power, over the crushing of the poor and the taking advantage of the elderly or vulnerable. We stop living in a bubble of distraction and comfort. We enter the agony of the world with Jesus and truly feel our feelings of sorrow for the way things are. This, by the way, does not lead to dismay if we are connected to Jesus. For, as we shall see further on, we also get connected to his victory over death and the hope of his return. This is not depression. It is tearful joy, and hopeful sorrow. It is a life that is awake, aware, vivid and engaged. Comfortable? No. Connected? Yes!  
 

Jesus’ Reply

Somehow, in spite of physical pain and exhaustion, under supreme spiritual pressure, Jesus managed to receive their compassion and return it to them. He spoke tenderly in his address, “Daughters of Jerusalem.” The King acknowledged his loyal subjects as family. The Shepherd did not want to leave his sheep exposed to the wolves. 
 
At the very same time Jesus sorrowfully reissued his warning that calamity would fall upon Jerusalem. Soon, as history goes, circumstances would get so tumultuous that mothers would wish they had no children. For in AD 70, the Romans would destroy the temple and the city of Jerusalem. 
 
Would this be some form of divine retribution for crucifying the Son of God? No! But it would be the consequence of political choices Israel made that are related to her rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. The people wanted Rome gone. They wanted political and military action, whether overt rebellion or guerilla strikes. The zealots outnumbered the followers of Jesus. Eventually Israel pushed Rome too hard and the Empire struck back with devastating consequences.
 
We get a better sense of how Jesus felt about this future when we look back at his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Instead of savoring the moment of acclamation, Jesus wept. He lamented over the unbelief and spiritual blindness he would encounter. Luke narrates, 
 
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19: 41-44). 
 
Neither Jesus nor his Father wanted what would befall Jerusalem. The Roman destruction was consequence, not punishment. Jesus felt for those faithful ones, those who loved him, who would have to endure such trials. He offered them his own lament. His own tears for the city were given as a gift of communion in sorrow. Even in his passion, Jesus the faithful shepherd, cared for his people. 
 
In her poem “Good Friday” (1896), Christina Rossetti prays that the laments of the daughters of Jerusalem would soften our hard hearts. 
 

Prayer

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
 
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
 
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.
 
Yet give [me] not over,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 32, Wednesday

Day 32, Wednesday
Are You the Christ? Are You the King?

 

Luke 22: 66-71 

Questions from the Jewish Authorities

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.”
 

Who's Asking?

At daybreak on Good Friday, leading Jewish authorities assembled to question Jesus. These were the most influential elders, be they priests, scholars or aristocrats. This quickly arranged meeting of the council served as a kind of religious trial. They asked Jesus questions in order to find reason to condemn him. 
 

Luke 23: 1-5

Question from the Roman Authority

Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” 
 

Who's Asking?

Pilate was the Roman prefect, or governor, of the region. His job was to keep the peace. This was not always an easy task as Israel resisted the rule of a pagan empire and its soiling of their holy sites and traditions. Pilate knew that with the city of Jerusalem swollen with pilgrims, Passover was a time to expect trouble. The occupying Romans alone had the power to issue a death sentence. So when the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to him, Pilate had to ask questions to determine if Jesus was guilty of inciting rebellion.
 

The Questions Within the Question

The Jewish elders asked Jesus to tell them if he was the Christ, the long awaited Messiah. That’s not because they wanted to welcome their king and follow him! To them, Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies that the Christ would free Israel from enemies and usher in a time where all the world knew that the LORD alone is God. Rather, Jesus seemed to be a pretender, with delusions of a unique intimacy with the LORD whom he audaciously called Father. They asked him questions hoping he would answer “Yes” so they could charge him with blasphemy and take him to Pilate for execution. A “Yes” from Jesus would trigger their vigorous “No!” to his claims. 
 
Today, we know our own hesitancy to affirm that Jesus is uniquely the eternal Son of God come to us as a man. We ask questions, “Are you really the only way to the Father? Do we have to obey everything in the Bible? Were you serious about loving enemies?” People intuitively get that if Jesus is really who God is, then other ways of understanding God pale in comparison. Jesus is the one with whom all people have to do. He demands that we, and the world, bow the knee to him in order to find life. That offends people now just as much as it did then. In fact, it offends my own mind and heart, because I resist his absolute claim on me. I’d rather find a way to take the edges off this bold identity of Jesus as Christ and Son of God and all he sends us to do.
 
Pilate wanted to know if Jesus had a messianic delusion. After all, other Jewish leaders had internalized the national hope for a messiah. As popular leaders, they believed their press and so would reveal their revolutionary dreams under questioning. Asking Jesus if he was king would reveal his intent toward Rome. Pilate knew that the Jews had no king but Caesar, and as governor he was the embodiment of that rule. A “Yes” would show how far Jesus had come to believe he could lead a revolt. So it would help Pilate determine the level of threat. Interestingly, the Roman governor did not find Jesus to be the seditious menace that the elders said he was. He seemed politically harmless. We too may have a benign view of Jesus. He doesn’t really seem to effect the realms of business or self-interested pursuits. So sometimes, Christ’s enemies recognize more than his followers, that his presence in the world is a threat to all rule and authority that will not acknowledge him as the one King. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus knew the elders’ questions were not “faith seeking understanding.” Their queries were unbelief looking for more reason to reject him. So, as ever, Jesus discerned and exposed the trap. He would not reply directly about being the Christ. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, Jesus had been demonstrating for three years the proof of his identity. Jesus does, however, make an astounding claim that his future has begun now, even while bound and beaten: “From now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22: 69). Here the “Son of Man” alludes to Daniel 7 in which a mysterious “son of man” is given an everlasting dominion over all people. Jesus portrayed confidence that God’s plan was past the point of no return. His very suffering meant that his exaltation was inevitable. 
 
Jesus’ answered the elders’ next question the same way he would answer Pilate. He gave an enigmatic “You say” that turned the question back on the askers. He let their question stand as an affirmation from their own lips of his identity. Are you the Son of God? You say that I am. Your very words have made a confession of a truth that you don’t believe! Are you the King of the Jews? You say. Your own lips give the answer. Whether you believe it or not depends on you, not on my assertions. You seek to condemn me by my own words. But actually, your very questions contain the truth that condemns your unbelief. So make of me what you will. It doesn’t change the trajectory of my faithfulness in the next few hours. But it will make an everlasting difference in your own life!
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we marvel
That under stress and accusation,
You kept your composure.
You are the Son of God!
No human court has jurisdiction.
You answer only to your Father.
You are the one true King.
 
So forgive us when we attempt
To soften the edges of your rule.
Forgive us when we let others
Intimidate our confession 
Of your full deity and lordship.
Rule in us, Lord Jesus!
Subdue our pride, quell our fear
Send your incomprehensible peace
To raise a good witness for you
In every place and time.  
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 31, Tuesday

Day 31, Tuesday
Who Struck You?

 

Luke 22: 63-65

Questions from Soldiers and Priests

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.
 

Who's Asking?

These were the bullies. The small-minded people with big fists. The ones who love to make others feel helpless. These were the same kind of people who would steal the coins you dropped as a child, set you up as the butt of a joke in middle school, or give you a swirly in the high school restroom. Then there come the bureaucrats who seem to delight in holding up your business, your loan or your title change until every form is perfect. There are also the haters on the internet who scorch your beliefs and reputation with enflamed rhetoric. 
 
The temple soldiers had heard about the crowds who adored Jesus as he rode into the city just four days earlier. They knew the rabble loved him. Supposedly Jesus was a miraculous healer; some said he even raised the dead. Others claimed he was a great prophet returned to Israel. Or maybe even the Christ, the promised, anointed king. Clearly, this Jesus had gotten too big for his own good. What’s more, Jesus infuriated their bosses with his thinly veiled stories that accused them of being against God. Now it was time to take Jesus down a few pegs. They bound him and blindfolded him, then spun him around while they threw punches at him. “If you’re really a prophet, tell me who hit you last?” They poured all the bile from being paid thugs onto Jesus. It made them feel strong to hurt him. The longer it went, the more the thugs believed Jesus had no power to stop them. 
 

The Question Within the Question

“Who struck you?” is not a query for information. It’s deliberately unanswerable. The purpose is to prove powerlessness. “Why are you hitting yourself?” my older brother would ask as he forcibly took my hand and smacked me with it. He made me feel that I was helpless before his ten-years-older strength. No answer or protest I could conjure up would satisfy him; it just fueled the game until he was satisfied that I agreed to my hopeless position. In a much more serious way, of course, these soldiers had license to humiliate Jesus. They were to “soften him up” before he faced the real trial. 
 
Such violence may seem foreign to most of us. Even the elder brothers among us put aside such cruelty in adulthood. And yet, we all love a scapegoat. We thrill to see someone who is truly wrong get caught red-handed. “Ain’t it awful?” we titter. We love to pile on, to oust a villain. It’s such a relief to find someone who must carry the evil for us. Whether it’s a family or a community, it helps us when someone else has to carry the negative energy for the rest of us. 
 
And, if truth be told, we feel that hostility toward God. One part of us may be shocked at the blasphemy of angry atheists. But another part of us realizes they might have a point!
 
Where was God when he let my sister die at 19?
 
If your God is love, why do you call my love for someone sinful?
 
What kind of all-powerful God accepts thanks that you were spared when others took the full brunt of the storm? 
 
How can God be real if his believers have done such horrible things to people?
 
Why would God send someone to hell who’s never heard of him? Or whose parents abused him in the name of God until he refused to believe?
 
Tough questions. They render us speechless. And in our hearts, we know they touch on the rage we feel for all the suffering, violence and chaos in a world supposedly ruled by a benevolent sovereign. We get angry at the way things are, and sometimes we want to join the “haters of God” (Romans 1: 30) in lashing out at the one who made all this.
 

Jesus’ Reply

All of the Gospels record the soldiers beating and mocking Jesus. None of the gospels record Jesus saying or doing anything in reply. He could have stopped them. Instead, he just took it. Such acceptance of abuse was part of bearing the sin of the world. It is true that Jesus bore the wrath of God against the sin of humanity. It is also true that Jesus bore the wrath of humanity against God. He took it from both sides. His reply here actually arose from the determination he expressed earlier when he predicted his own passion: 
 
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said (Luke 18: 31-34).
 
Judas was guilty of handing over Jesus to the authorities. But really Judas was never in control. Long before we were made, the Triune God determined the method of our redemption. The Son willingly let himself be handed over. Handed over to join our humanity as truly man. Handed over to receive our rejection and rage. Jesus was God himself, as planned, answering humanity’s wounded, raging questions. He took responsibility for the sin that resulted in such death that led to such human hatred for God. Jesus let himself be handed from disciples to Jewish authorities to Roman governor to having his own hands nailed to the cross. In these last hours, Jesus submitted willingly, even passively, to supposed human control. He took the blasphemy, mocking and beating as part of bearing the full guilt of humankind. 
 
In short, Jesus took responsibility for the angriest questions of humankind. But not by overtly answering our intellectual objections. His answer was his life given in substitution for ours through his passion and resurrection. Who struck you, Jesus? We did. And he took it. Just as he had planned all along.
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, King of Love,
Good Shepherd,
I am grieved to hear you mocked.
I sink to see you handled so roughly.
Gentle of heart, you were passed
From fist to fist.
Light of the world,
You were blindfolded.
Living water of salvation,
You took our spit
That was the same as venom. 
It makes me sick.
 
And even more when I know,
In my heart of hearts,
That I might have participated.
Oh to make the mighty helpless
Answers all that has been done to me.
To make the righteous one 
The object of shaming
Makes me feel less empty.
To taunt you with hateful questions
Deflects the deeper question
You ever ask me:
Do you love me?
 
Do you love me more than these?
Jesus, you answered their mocking
With quiet acceptance.
May your peacefulness
Still both my anger and my grief.
Cause me to answer wholeheartedly,
Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 30, Monday

Day 30, Monday
Satan Has Asked To Sift You

 

Luke 22: 31-35

Jesus’ Prevailing Prayer 

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” “Lord,” said Peter, “I am ready to go with You even to prison and to death.” But Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me” (Berean Study Bible).
 

Who's Asking?

Satan, the devil, had been lurking in the background of Jesus’ ministry since his temptations that we read about on Day 2. The evil one desired to sift each and all of the disciples, the way chaff is separated from the kernels of wheat—by vigorous threshing. The devil expected to blow away their resolve like worthless husks during Christ’s passion. He meant to utterly discourage Jesus by insinuating that his whole mission had been a failure. Not even his closest friends would stay with him. Might as well give up, give in to disaster and give them over to the evil one.
 

The Question Within the Question

Literally, the devil demanded to have the disciples for his own. It’s not clear of whom Satan was demanding. Did he come to Jesus the way he did during the testing in the wilderness? If so, perhaps Satan whispered in Jesus’ mind that the disciples were not worth saving. They would prove so faithless that Jesus might as well give up on them. “Just leave them to me; I’ll give them what they deserve.” Perhaps the devil made his demand of God the Father, the way he urged the LORD to test Job (Job 1: 10-12). In that case, Jesus “overheard” the appeal during his prayers. 
 
We can’t know the depth of communication that went on in the prayer life of the Son of God. But we do know that our struggle is not “against flesh and blood” but “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6: 12). We are the prize on which the Triune God set his heart. We are the prey the evil one desired for himself. Satan does not want us to succeed in fidelity, or even in hope. Though he had no authority over Jesus, the devil nevertheless audaciously asked to seize for his own destructive ends the men Jesus had personally chosen for his own. Satan insisted he owned what eternally belonged to Christ. Such are his lies. The request was outrageous, and chilling. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus singled out Simon Peter to reveal the spiritual struggle going on behind the external events of his imminent passion. Jesus first used Simon’s original given name, the name he had when Jesus called Simon to himself (as we saw on Day 4). This was the name that signified Simon Peter’s whole life from infancy. Simon was under threat from the spiritual tidal pull of Satan’s demand. But Jesus had dropped an unbreakable anchor: But I have prayed for you, Simon. Jesus had interposed his own prayers against the desires of evil. Jesus would go forward in giving his life for the world. If Jesus remained faithful, Simon and the disciples could recover from their unfaithfulness. 
 
Jesus knew Simon Peter would deny him. As we listen carefully, we realize Jesus switched to the nickname he had given Simon. Jesus had renamed him Peter, which means “the rock.” So we feel the sad irony in his saying, “I tell you, Rock . . . you will deny knowing me not once but three times.” But that failure would not be the total abandonment of faith. It would not be a spiritual renunciation of Jesus. Rather, Jesus’ prayers would keep Simon tethered to him even throughout the bitter tears Peter would weep. Jesus wanted him to remember that when his heart turned back and his faith rekindled, Peter was to be the rock for the others, strengthening them to carry on in the darkness.
 
Jesus countermanded the devil’s illegitimate but urgent demand to sift the disciples. Christ would prevail in prayer just an hour later during the agony in the Garden. He faithfully prayed to his Father, when everything in him screamed to turn away from the cross, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Jesus’ resolute prayer of fidelity became the very foundation for our own assurance of perseverance. We will prevail because of Christ, in spite of our weak and wandering hearts. Christ has interposed his faith and his prayers, so that we need not fear ultimately being separated from him by the devil or any other power.
 
No doubt this scene echoed in Simon Peter’s mind as he wrote years later, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5: 8-9).
 
Truly, we continually rely on the prayers of Jesus as he is at the Father’s right hand, “who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8: 34). Jesus delights to do this. For his presence in heaven as the new Adam, the still fully human Son of God, is our surety: his sacrifice and his victory secure our connection. Hebrews joyfully reminds us that Jesus “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7: 25). Jesus prays for you right now!
 

Prayer

Today, we will let James Torrance lead us in prayer that joins us to the prayers of Jesus:
 
I know not how to pray, O Lord, 
So weak and frail am I.
Lord Jesus to Your outstretched arms
In love I daily fly,
for You have prayed for me.
 
I know not how to pray, O Lord,
O’erwhelmed by grief am I,
Lord Jesus in Your wondrous love
You hear my anxious cry
And ever pray for me.
 
I know not how to pray, O Lord,
For full of tears and pain
I groan, yet in my soul, I know
My cry is not in vain.
O teach me how to pray!
 
O take my wordless sighs and fears
And make my prayers Your own.
O put Your prayer within my lips
And lead me to God’s throne
That I may love like You.
From A Passion for Christ. 1999. p. 53.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 29, Sunday

PASSION WEEK
WEEK FIVE

Now we enter the difficult days of Holy Week as we follow Jesus through betrayal and trial to the cross. Much awaits us! We will see how he continued to answer us with faithfulness to his Father and forgiveness for our deepest sins. We will pause to marvel at his composure under pressure. We will listen amazed at the brilliance of his introducing the Lord’s Supper as the sacrament that ties together all his redemptive work. We will bow our heads in tears and wonder at the prayers he makes on our behalf. We will adore Jesus as we behold the fidelity of the Son of God on our behalf. He simply would not be turned aside from his determination to save us. 
 
Plautilla Nelli and her school of artists created an enormous canvas of the Lord’s Supper in the 1560s. The work measures almost 25 feet in width and six feet in height. Our portion evokes a sense of the tenderness, devotion, sadness, confusion and bluster at the Last Supper. Jesus gently clasps the beloved disciple, John. The disciple to the right feels the holiness of the moment. Below, two other disciples are disputing something; perhaps they’re saying “Surely not I!” to the prediction of betrayal. Judas in the foreground receives the morsel that indicates he is the betrayer. The painting evokes the flood of emotions on that final night and anticipates all that will soon occur.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Plautilla Nelli. The Last Supper. 1560s. Oil on canvas. Museo di Santa Maria Novella, Florence. 

 

Day 29 Sunday
Is It I?
 

Mark 14: 17-27a

At the Last Supper

And when it was evening, he came with the Twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
 
And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away . . . ” (Matthew 26: 31).
 

Who's Asking?

Jesus shocked the disciples in declaring that one of them would betray him. They replied literally in the form of a negative question, “Not I?” The ESV translates it, “Is it I?” while the NIV renders “Surely not I?” The phrase can be read as either or both: determined denial and frightening possibility. Jesus’ words made his closest friends grieve to realize he could think such a thing about them, even as they worried it might be true.  
 

The Question Within the Question

The Gospel makes sure we know that each and every one of the Twelve voiced the searing question of the heart: could it be me? The word translated as betray literally means to hand over. Judas brought the soldiers to the Garden to arrest Jesus. But the other disciples would “hand over” their loyalty by fleeing the scene or denying any connection. Commentator David Garland notes, “The hand that betrays him has twelve names. One will hand him over, but the others will betray him in other ways” (Garland, page 865). So I know that this episode is just as surely about me as it is about Judas or anyone else. Even as I ask the question with a negative answer already implied (Not I?), I know my heart is already implicated even in the denial. I miss the point, make it all about me, go silent, go numb, run, doubt, mock or simply fail to stand. Surely, it is I, yet again. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

It is crucial to set the context for this scene. Jesus and the disciples kept the Passover. In this sacred meal, the people recalled the LORD’s saving his people from slavery and passing through the Red Sea. They remembered that the story of Exodus continued in the giving of the Ten Commandments. Soon after, the people entered a solemn covenant to obey the LORD who had delivered them. The ceremony was sealed in the blood of a sacrifice. In Exodus 24: 7-8 we read, 
 
Then [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
 
The sacrifice of blood implied cleansing of sins. The blood thrown on the people (!) signified staking their whole lives on obedience. 
 
The Gospels narrate the Lord’s Supper from slightly different perspectives. Mark recalls Jesus’ saying, “This is my blood of the covenant.” We are meant to hear echoes of Exodus 24! Blood offered obligates to obedience those who partake of the sacrifice. Drinking the cup given by Jesus bound them to him in a sacred way. As they fell away, each and all, having shared the wine with Jesus only made it worse for them. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the worst humanity would do to the Son of God: betray him to death. We cannot keep our covenant obligations of obedience.
 
Yet, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant.” He was offering himself as the covenant keeper on our behalf. He undertook the obligation for us and fulfilled it. Luke’s narration clarifies, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (22: 20). The old covenant that condemns our betraying hearts is being replaced with a new one! Jesus obeys from the heart. Jesus does not betray his Father, nor us. He freely gives his blood to establish a fulfilled covenant between God and humanity in which we may participate! So the Lord’s Supper signifies the best Jesus would do for us.
 
Worst and best, our betrayal and his faithfulness, combine as the new covenant replaces the old. The Lord’s Supper inaugurated the days of the new covenant promised in Jeremiah, “I will make a new covenant . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (31: 31, 33).    
 

Prayer

Is it I, Lord?
Surely it is!
I wilt, I fade, I fail.
The blood of the covenant
Seals my condemnation.
I cannot meet the terms
Of obedience in heart or life.
I hand you over again and again.
 
Yet, in worship I am staggered
To see that at the Table
You hand over yourself to me.
Bread is body broken.
You speak in your psalm, 
“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
“With the finest of wheat . . .
I would satisfy you.”
 
Into the cup blood has been poured,
Not to obligate me to failure
But to claim me in the mercy
That you, God, are the sacrifice,
The covenant fulfilled for me.
 
You answer my falling away
By staying pinned to the cross
And giving yourself to me
Every, every time 
In the bread and the cup.  
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 28, Saturday

Day 28, Saturday
Why This Waste?

 

Matthew 26: 6-13  

Anointing at Bethany

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
 

Who’s Asking?

Matthew tells us that during his last week, Jesus was staying in Bethany (Matthew 21: 17). This was a village about 2 miles from Jerusalem, not far from Gethsemane.The siblings Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived in Bethany, so perhaps Jesus stayed with them. In celebration of Lazarus’ being raised from the dead (John 11), they gave a dinner for Jesus (John 12: 2). Yet, this dinner was at the house of Simon the leper. The Lazarus family could have underwritten the feast at the residence of another recipient of a miracle. He is called Simon the leper, but today we would probably say “the Simon formerly known as a leper.” As we noted on Day 5, lepers had to live apart from the community unless they were certified as restored to health. Simon surely would have felt festive to be back in his own home. During this dinner, a woman anointed Jesus with costly nard. John’s Gospel identifies her as Mary (John 12: 3), sister of Martha and Lazarus. The rare nard, or ointment, she used would have been worth almost a year’s ordinary wages. This was a once-in-a-lifetime present; a gift fit for a king. Its use meant expending an heirloom. The shocked disciples exclaimed, “Why this waste!?” They rightly note the nard could have been sold to feed many poor people. They were outraged at the extravagance of this gesture.
 

The Question Within the Question

Was concern for the poor really what motivated the disciples? Or was it jealousy that Mary had soothed Jesus with tender care they could not give? Were they embarrassed by the intimacy of it all? Envious? 
 
Of course, they have a point. Why waste a year’s wages on an hour’s massage? Any expensive but non-essential gift could be put to more pragmatic compassionate use. 
 
So, why does a man give a woman a $25,000 ring? You could pay a year’s mortgage with the value of that ring. Or, you could fund two students on full scholarship to Gardere with that money. If it just sits there on her finger, its value is not being put to work. So why give such a gift? We all know the answer: love! Love inspires us to make grand gestures. We want to bestow gifts worthy of the beloved that express the depth of our feelings. We want to say, “This shows my heart is yours.” People lay tribute at the feet of a ruler, not only to curry favor or avert wrath, but to express fealty. To express heartfelt allegiance. Mary gave Jesus a costly, extravagant gift of loyalty and love to her king. This made the other disciples crazy. She out-loved them and they resented it.
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus received the gift in all its awkward intimacy. He accepted the love in the gesture. No doubt Mary felt vulnerable to their challenge. A stripe of guilt for using the heirloom might have snaked through her. But Jesus fiercely guarded her. “Leave her alone! Why trouble her?” Don’t even think about shaming her for this! She has done a good, honorable, virtuous, noble work. This action is beautiful, and wherever people hear about me, throughout the whole world, they will hear about Mary’s kind act to me before my trials. And so it has been for two thousand years! 
 
Jesus also exposed the hypocrisy in the disciples’ objection. Mark’s record tells us that Jesus added concerning the poor, “Whenever you want you can do good for them” (Mark 14: 7). In effect, Jesus said, “Mary’s gift does not stop you from caring for the least. As long as the world endures in this form, there will be people in need. I want you to care for them as if you were caring for me (Matthew 25: 40). In fact, I will judge you based on how you love the least of these. But Mary understood that you will not always have me in flesh and blood before you. She grasped what mattered most in this moment. She prepared me for my burial. This was the right and lovely thing to do!”
 
What did Jesus mean by this? The days of the Son of God walking the earth in our flesh and blood were brief (just 33 years) and drawing to a close. Jesus knew that he was unique: the God who had become man, and the man who was also God. His incarnation and soon resurrection were what physicists might call “singularities.” Unrepeatable. Not testable by recreating conditions. But verifiable by their effect. They changed everything.  
 
But to get to the defeat of death in resurrection, the incarnate Son would have to pass through horrible suffering. His precious flesh would have to be beaten, nailed and torn, then buried in a tomb. Mary anticipated Jesus’ death and tended both his body and soul which were already under so much stress. And she, perhaps without realizing it, began the anointing that was part of the Jewish burial process. The aromatic oil would have lingered strongly on Jesus’ body through the week. He would have smelled like a king. The scent would be released all the more strongly as through his pores came both the sweat and the blood of his passion. Even in his utter weakness, both Jesus and those around him would have a powerful olfactory reminder that here was a king going sacrificially to his burial. 
 
The care of Jesus’ body in no way diminishes the disciple’s care for the poor. Quite the opposite. The Christian regard for the body—this frail, mortal body—has inspired great works of compassion throughout the world. Just to take one example, I think of the ministry of Threads of Love. Beautiful garments are sewed to fit the little bodies of babies who were born and died prematurely. Is it a waste to care for a tiny body that will be buried before ever seeing the light? Or rather, is it a gesture of love recognizing the unique, precious flesh of each human being? Such is service to the King.  
 

Prayer

We say we love you, Jesus.
But our passion is often wan and weak.
We show little extravagance.
Too often, we only think of your giving to us.
And we resent those who show you such devotion.
Forgive us.
Send your Spirit to release our hearts
That we may show you in word and work,
In joy, dedication and sacrifice.
That we love you most of all 
And want to be joined more and more
To you, even this day.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 27, Friday

Day 27, Friday
Whose Wife Will She Be?

 

Luke 20: 27-40

Challenging Resurrection

There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” 
 
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.
 

Who’s Asking?

This third Holy Week challenge came from the Sadducees, an aristocratic class who exercised great influence among the ruling council (the Sanhedrin), the temple trade, and even the priesthood. This savvy group had adjusted to life under the Romans, maintaining their wealth even amidst the occupation. The Sadducees, then, could not brook Jesus’ interruption of business at the temple, nor his teachings that challenged the status quo of their position. So they too tried their hand at posing a theological challenge to Jesus which would trap and then discredit him. 
 

The Question Within the Questions

Having life in the present age working to suit them, the Sadducees ridiculed any belief in the resurrection of the dead. They held to the authority of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) as superior to the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures and the other rabbinical writings. The Sadducees used the fact that life after this life is not overtly mentioned in the Pentateuch as the justification for their cynicism.  
 
They manufactured a question based on the Levirate Marriage Law (Deuteronomy 25: 5-10) which stated that if a man died, his brother should take his widow in marriage. The first son of this new union would then be named after the deceased, thus carrying on his name and memory. The Sadducees asked Jesus to imagine a situation in which seven brothers consecutively married the same woman, each one dying without issue. So, in the resurrection, whose wife would she be? The Greeks called this kind of arguing sophistry. One reasons based on the most extreme or absurd possibility in order to ridicule the core value. It’s voiding the rule by elevating the extreme exception. 
 
For us as believers today, we live in a culture that considers the afterlife as a fantasy. The reasoning runs along several tracks. 1) YOLO (You only live once) is the slogan for seizing the moment to do what you want. There are no next-life consequences and the only future value to consider is No Regrets. 2) Meeting God face-to-face after death is considered to be merely an idea used by the church to control people. A hope for a future new world is but a way to pacify the poor and oppressed to accept their lot while the rich continue to prosper. (Too bad the Sadducees hadn’t thought how they could have used resurrection to maintain their power!). 3) People also use science (an antiquated view of science) as a way to dismiss thoughts of the life to come. Everything about us can be explained chemically. Once the organism dies, all its mind and memory and hopes also cease. 
 
So we have to face the strong challenge, “How can you actually believe in the resurrection?” 
 

Jesus’ Reply

We have seen all along how Jesus, gentle and loving as he is, never allowed anyone to deflect him from his mission. No one could out-reason his knowledge or faithful interpretation of Scripture. He knew the reality of his Father so intimately that no other way of seeing the world could move him. Once again, Jesus refused to play the game offered by his challengers.
 
Whose wife will she be? None of theirs! Once we are resurrected into eternal life, we do not marry. Nor do we need to. We become like the angels. They do not need to procreate because they live eternally. We will not need exclusive intimate relationships. Not because intimacy will disappear but because human capacity will be raised to a now unimaginable level of fulfilling, creative, ecstatic relating as we live in the direct presence of God and uninhibited communion with each other.  (Some, of course, make the mistake of trying out this way of life in this world, a venture always doomed to create relational chaos and misery). For those who have not known marital intimacy here, this may be exciting. For those whose marriages were difficult, this may be a relief. (I once heard a woman say, “Look, I married you for this life, but certainly not for the next: enough is enough!" ?) For those who have found deep fulfillment in marriage, this may seem daunting or unimaginable. We’re called to trust in the God who, by his own definition, is love (1 John 4: 7). Indeed the Triune God of grace, who is himself a communion of love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit intends us for more, not less, love in the realm where sin has ceased to undo us. 
 
Jesus answered the Sadducees from the Pentateuch in order to give them no wiggle room. He quoted from Exodus 3: 6, in which the LORD addresses Moses through the burning bush, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Jesus reasoned that his Father spoke in the present tense of those patriarchs who had long ago died in this world. “Those who no longer exist can have no God” (Garland, page 809). But the LORD is the God of life who calls into being the things that are not, who gives life to all, and who keeps us alive, even after our departure from these bodies. 
 
Thankfully, we have an even greater witness. Jesus himself rose from the dead, as predicted, the third day after he was crucified. This is the unbroken witness of his people. In the real world where we live, toil, laugh and love, the dead Jesus got up. His disciples saw him. They went to violent deaths themselves sticking to this testimony: Jesus lives. Century after century, a miracle happens in the life of every believer. The witness to Jesus’ resurrection is proclaimed. We hear. The Holy Spirit creates faith. We believe. Christ by his Spirit enters our hearts. We experience spiritual resurrection. We have then, a double testimony: the historical record of the reports of resurrection and the internal transformation that occurs when we believe. We know Jesus is risen in the flesh because he is risen in our hearts. Therefore we have confidence that produces a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4: 7) that we will join Jesus in resurrection.  
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus we know that if
We confess with our lips
That you are Lord
And believe in our hearts
That God raised you from the dead,
We will be saved.
We have learned that salvation
Begins now, in body and soul.
Redemption lights us up with joy,
Frees us from sin and bondage,
Creates peace even in suffering 
And continues when we depart this world 
And enter your presence,
Awaiting resurrection bodies
In a renewed world.
Give us the energy of faith,
And boldness to proclaim 
What we know of the history 
Of your people’s testimony,
The truth of what we have lived
In spiritually resurrected lives.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 26, Thursday

Day 26, Thursday
Is It Lawful For Us To Pay Tribute To Caesar?

 

Luke 20: 19-26

Render Unto Caesar

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.
 

Who’s Asking?

Early in his Gospel, Luke recalled a world-wide tribute tax imposed by Caesar Augustus. The story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem revealed how the decrees of an absolute despot played right into the plans of the sovereign LORD. The census on which the tax was based caused Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem, the town in which it was prophesied that the Christ would be born (Micah 5: 2). During Jesus’ ministry, Tiberius had succeeded his father as the Caesar. The coins with his likeness included inscriptions to his divine status. For the Jews then, every Roman coin was a miniature idol promoting the worship of the emperor. So paying tribute to Caesar could be construed as breaking the first commandment to have no other gods but the LORD I AM (Exodus 20: 3). Of course refusing to pay the tribute could bring the wrath of Rome down upon any rebels. This was the choice the scribes posed to Jesus when they asked him if it was lawful to pay tribute. Deny the sovereignty of the LORD who alone was to rule over Israel, a blasphemy punishable by death, or deny the status of the emperor as deserving of tribute, thus promoting sedition worthy of capital punishment. 
 
For us, the question arises whenever we experience the conflict between the revealed will of God and the values of a world in rebellion against God. 
 
What happens if the government, through your tax dollars, pays for abortions?
 
If you were a baker, would you make a cake to celebrate a same-sex union?
 
What’s your position on transgender participation in high school athletics?
 
What complicity do we have when we buy products from countries that abuse child labor?
 
What responsibility do we have in regards to curriculum at our children’s schools?
 
How do we balance the demands on our time, the tribute asked by our employers, with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be there for our families?
 
How do we enact our Christian values when it might mean our children won’t play on a team, or we won’t get a promotion at work, or our peers might ridicule us? 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Once again, Jesus displayed his perceptiveness in listening and his creative brilliance in replying. He asked to see a denarius, a coin whose value was the standard day’s wage. When the coin appeared, he asked, “Whose image and inscription are on it?” Without seeing Jesus’ counter-trap, they answered the obvious question quickly: “Caesar’s.” So, there in the precincts of the sacred temple, where Jesus had been teaching, the religious leaders had brought the graven image of a man who pretended to be a god. This in itself could be considered a sacrilege! We can paraphrase and expand his answer:
 
Well, then, you obviously participate in Caesar’s economy. The coins he mints ultimately return to him. The laws he enforces ultimately undergird his regime. You want to use his laws to dispense with me. Go ahead, but remember Caesar always wins the game in which he makes the rules.  
 
Meanwhile, consider the coinage in which God stamps his image: human beings! The LORD made the man and the woman, unique in creation, in his own likeness (Genesis 1: 26-27). We are inscribed with the character of God. He issued us! Therefore, in our deepest identity, we belong to the Triune God. We came from him and we return to him. Meanwhile, in these days in which we are in circulation in the world, like currency, we are to serve God’s economy. We trade and are traded in his exchanges of love, mercy, goodness, fruitfulness and kindness. We render back to him our worship, reflecting his image and so glorifying God throughout creation.  
 
It’s hard not to think here of the NIL (name, image and likeness) ruling issued last year for college athletes. The Supreme Court ruled that players have the right to be remunerated for use of their NIL. They get to trade in the currency of their image. As Christians, we know that no matter how much our NIL may be worth in the world’s currency, ultimately, we belong to God in Christ or we are lost. We know that no man can “give to God the price of his life . . . that he should live on forever” (Psalm 49: 7-9). All the money in the world can’t stop our mortality. But the psalm goes on, “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49: 15). Ultimately, we are accountable only to God, and only in him is our hope of forgiveness and everlasting life. Therefore, we think through all those thorny questions we noted above with reference to the one essential task: “present your bodies [your NIL] as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12: 1). 
 

Prayer

Thank you Triune God,
For creating us in your image,
To glorify and enjoy you forever.
You have made us for yourself,
And our hearts are restless
Until they find their rest in you.
Forgive us for trying to shape
Ourselves, others, the whole world
In the likeness of our sinful desires
And self-focused dreams.
What a distorted world this would be
If all conformed to our devices!
Today we present ourselves to you.
You have ransomed us in Christ Jesus.
You have given us a new humanity,
Remade in the image of Christ,
You have stamped us with the Holy Spirit.
Today we would render unto you
Our thanks, our submission, 
Our refusal to be conformed to Caesar’s world
But rather to be transformed 
By the renewal of our minds ever
Reshaped by Jesus our Redeemer.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 25, Wednesday

Day 25, Wednesday
By What Authority?

 

Luke 20: 1-18  

Official Challenges and the Parable of

the Tenants

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
 
And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
 
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone’?
 
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
 

Who's Asking?

Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus were the last recorded new disciples before Jesus entered his final week. Now serious, lethal opposition began to rise. Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Early in Holy Week he taught daily in the temple to great crowds. The religious establishment jealously viewed Jesus as an interloper and a threat. After all, he had no formal training. He came from the north. He was not well-to-do. He was too young. Yet he spoke like he owned the place. Jesus displayed what the British call “cheek” and southerners call being “too big for your britches.” Jesus challenged everything they had worked for and all the traditions they had known. They decided to challenge him directly. They asked for his credentials. 
 

The Question Within the Question

It’s a bit too easy to look at the priests, Bible scholars and religious rulers as smug and obvious enemies. True, becoming entrenched in their position had blinded them to their original mission. These were “fat cats” and had grown too comfortable to recognize in Jesus their Savior and Lord. Yes, they were obstructing the work of God in their midst. It’s easy to scoff at them. But then, weren’t they just displaying what’s inside every human heart? Beneath their official indignation was the rebel heart common to all. They were asking, “Who are you, Jesus, to tell me what to do?”  
 
I remember hearing of a man who objected to a church’s food program to which the poor of the small town came every weekday. He didn’t want the riffraff dirtying their fine building. The pastor replied that Jesus taught us to feed the poor. Indignantly, the man replied, “Well, Jesus was wrong!!” That sounds outrageous, but I’m sure I act that way when I won’t practice turning the other cheek, controlling my tongue, forgiving fully or giving up my fierce will to have my life happen my way. I act as if Jesus just didn’t know how it is with us today.
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus gave a double response. First, he stood up to their challenge by refusing to name the source of his authority (that he claimed it was his Father would have been known to any who’d paid attention the last three years). For he knew they would use that against him. So he answered with a question of his own, but only giving them two choices for an answer. Was my cousin John’s preaching and baptizing the plan of God or just an idea from himself? Admit John prepared my way or face the wrath of the multitude who knew John was a prophet.
 
Then Jesus told the parable of the tenants who refused to give the portion due the owner from their harvest. Transparently, Jesus referred to the history of Israel’s leaders rejecting and even killing the prophets God sent them. In a not subtle conclusion, Jesus implied that he was the owner’s beloved Son and would soon be killed as well. Then the owner, the God of Israel, would have no choice but to dismantle the whole nation and its system, recreating his people in a new way. They could hardly believe he had been so offensively pointed. But Jesus stared them down. Then he quoted from Psalm 118: 22 about the stone rejected by the builders becoming the cornerstone. This connects to Christ’s identifying the temple with himself (John 2: 20-21). 
 
Both Paul (Ephesians 2: 19-22) and Peter (1 Peter 2: 4-8) would develop the idea of Christ’s people forming a temple of living stones built on Christ the cornerstone. So Peter would proclaim amidst fierce opposition from the religious establishment, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4: 11-12).
 
Jesus challenged their authority. He challenges my personal sovereignty. Tripping over the cornerstone brings a mighty fall. Jesus came to gather the lost, forgive the sinful and heal the sick. However, persisting in finding home in myself, counting myself righteous by being true to my desires, and generally thinking I am perfectly fine without Christ actually guarantees ruin, both now and in eternity. No wonder they were furious with Jesus! I also get angry that I am not allowed to have my way over Christ’s. Until I realize that submitting now lifts me out of myself and into more life than I ever imagined.
 

Prayer

I call you Lord,
But sometimes I don’t mean it.
I like to stay in charge.
I want choices, just in case
Your way proves too awkward
Or diminishing to my dreams.
Jesus, you are a threat
To my personal sovereignty.
That’s when I find appealing 
All the ways scholars and pundits
Twist your words, soften your edges
Or delegitimize your claims on me.
 
Of course life built on myself
Is a house on sinking sand in a flood.
A collision course with ruin lies ahead.
 
Help me find my feet 
On the solid rock.
You are the beloved Son,
You are the mighty God,
Your way is the only way
And all my hope is in you.
Alone.  
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 24, Tuesday

Day 24, Tuesday
Today I Must Stay At Your House!

 

Luke 19: 1-10

Zacchaeus

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
 

Who's Asking?

We met Levi the tax collector on Day 7. He left everything and became one of the twelve closest disciples. Today we meet Zacchaeus, much wealthier and more powerful, and therefore even more despised. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, located in the prosperous bustling town of Jericho. The irony in his name is that Zacchaeus is a variation of the name Zechariah, which means “righteous one.” Luke had already introduced his book with the story of Zechariah the priest who was “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments” (Luke 1: 6). He would, in his later years, improbably become the father of John the Baptist and the speaker of one of the great hymns of Scripture (Luke 1: 68-79). But this Zacchaeus was anything but blameless. He grew in wealth at the expense of his brothers and sisters in the LORD. Like Levi had been, Zacchaeus was compromised, isolated and despised. But not without a spark of hope! He had heard enough of Jesus to feel desperate to see him when Christ passed through Jericho. 
 

The Question Within the Question

An occupied nation can do little by way of overt resistance. But when the opportunity came to block out the short Zacchaeus, the crowd nimbly kept the tax collector from getting a view of Jesus. So, he climbed a tree. We don’t know if Zacchaeus intended to call out to Jesus or to make a request. Perhaps he did not have any conscious plan beyond an ardent desire to gaze upon the Lord. But his action was itself a request to receive the mercy of Jesus.  Even today, normally only children climb trees. Almost never do you see a middle aged wealthy business man in a suit perched in the branches above a parade! It was undignified and even physically risky. A surge of energy had gone through Zacchaeus. Perhaps he felt young again. Possibilities opened once more. After all the dull years of counting coins and the deadening of his spirit from extorting his kinsmen, Zacchaeus felt his heart race once more with excitement. He wanted to be saved. Redeemed out of his present life and into something new. He wanted to be remade in spirit and restored to community. His unspoken request shouted as loudly as Bartimaeus through his ascent of the tree. 
 
Zacchaeus’ insistence on finding Jesus raises crucial questions for each of us. How badly do you want to see Jesus? How much would you do to have a genuine encounter with him? To what lengths will you go to gain Christ, even if you must lose other things?
 

Jesus’ Reply

Somehow, Jesus intuited Zacchaeus’ need. Just as he stopped when Bartimaeus was calling, Jesus looked up from the crowd to see Zacchaeus in the tree. (As a guy who used to climb a lot of trees, I can tell you that grown ups almost never look up!) He regarded him and understood his need. Now Jesus replied with a request of Zacchaeus. He invited himself to dinner! Hurry and come down; today I must stay at your house! How shocked the crowd must have been. Of all the fine citizens Jesus could have graced with his presence, after all the elegant invitations he may have turned down, he demanded to have table fellowship with the worst scoundrel. He answered Zacchaeus’ mad, faith-filled, questing climb up the sycamore tree with the blessing of his friendship. 
 
Later that day, without any hint that he had been asked, Zacchaeus volunteered to give away half his wealth to the poor and repay any he defrauded four times over! It’s hard to calculate if that was even possible! What matters is that Zacchaeus was like Scrooge on Christmas morning. He was a changed man, so relieved and joyful to be accepted by Jesus that his hard heart changed to open generosity. This was repentance in graphic abundance. 
 
Of course everyone (not just the religious leaders this time) began to grumble that Jesus cavorted with a notorious sinner. But our sin never contaminated Jesus. His holy love overcame our sin. Jesus gave Zacchaeus back his essential identity. “He too is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19: 9).  Zacchaeus could now be restored to the people of God, once more an heir of Abraham, the man of faith, and all the blessings of knowing God. 
 
After calling Levi, Jesus had assured the doubters that he came not for the well but for the ill. As a bookend of grace, he now declares, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19: 10). This once again is an expression of his essential mission. Jesus heard the cries of beggars by the roadside. He saw the disgraced in trees. As his mother Mary sang, he has regarded our low estate (Luke 1: 48). For Zacchaeus this was the day that all the prophecies were fulfilled for him personally. We hear that lovely, all-encompassing word again, “Today, salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19: 9).

 

Prayer

I heard you were in town.
They said you were passing through.
You come when we gather for worship.
You show up when we go out in ministry.
You are there when we pray,
Attending to us in the slow dark hours
Of long nights alone
And in snatched quiet amidst
The noise and haste and press of every day.
So they tell me.
But I hardly dare to look from my life.
I don’t think you want to see me.
I’m not sure I will give what you ask.
I don’t want to be just another
Sickly pious, bloodless, platitudinal churcher.
But if you would find me,
And call me to come to you,
If I am, beyond hope, the one you want,
If you can give me real life, 
Freedom again, a fresh start, cleansing and hope,
I’d run, crawl, scratch, climb, claw my way.
Do you see me?
Did you come for me? 
Oh call me by name
And I will come down 
To make you a feast!
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 23, Monday

Day 23, Monday
Have Mercy On Me! Let Me Recover My Sight

 

Mark 10: 46-52   

Blind Bartimaeus

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
 

Who's Asking?

Blindness defined Bartimaeus. He was nothing more than the begging posture of his disability. He didn’t even go by his own unique name. He was just known as son of Timaeus. Such a person would sit by the busier roadsides, begging for alms. He would spread open his cloak to catch coins tossed carelessly his way. The daily humiliation of sitting, pleading, waiting and depending comprised his life. On a day when Jesus was passing by, such a local blind beggar would seem to be a nuisance. Especially when he started bellowing for mercy. 
 

The Question Within the Question

Bartimaeus was blind, but not deaf, neither physically nor spiritually. He had heard the talk about Jesus, the rabbi from Nazareth who forgave sinners and healed the infirm. When he heard that it was Jesus stirring a great crowd, he shouted to be heard above the din. As a beggar, he was used to raw asking. Now he was all the more urgent because this man could give him more than coins. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is primal prayer. We’re very close to the famous Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer has led Christians for centuries to a deep place of intimacy, faith and trust in Christ. In the same way, Bartimaeus’ prayer takes us right to the heart of human longing. He cried forth faith in that the very nature of our God is merciful.
 
Bartimaeus appealed to the heart of the God of Scripture. For example, Moses longed to know God more directly. He yearned to partake of more of his glory. In reply, the LORD I AM hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, and passed by, proclaiming the truth of his own divine name: “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity . . . ” (Exodus 34: 6-7, NKJV). God’s nature is to show overflowing mercy. The repeating refrain of Psalm 118 exalts the God who has acted to save by declaring, “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever” (vs. 1). This can also be translated “His mercy endures forever.” Love, mercy, faithfulness, goodness and salvation are wound together in the heart of God. Bartimaeus cried out to this God and would not be silenced. He clamored for Jesus, the promised Christ, David’s heir and David’s root, and God’s only begotten Son. Though physically blind, Bartimaeus could spiritually see who Jesus is. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

The crowd nearby tried to silence Bartimaeus. This was not the time for more begging. But Jesus heard his cry above all the noise. He stopped. This man resolutely journeying to Jerusalem halted his march and attended to a voice of faith and need. To everyone’s surprise, Jesus commanded, “Call him.” He summoned the least likely.  
Bartimaeus did not hesitate. Mark tells us he threw off his cloak as he leaped up. His coins would have scattered everywhere. That coat was the very means of his livelihood. Yesterday, we saw how the rich young ruler could not give up his wealth. By contrast, in shedding his cloak, Bartimaeus risked both all he presently had and the instrument of future income. If this did not work, he could never retrieve his money or clothing. He was all in.
 
Curiously, Jesus asked Bartimaeus what seems like a too obvious question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus demonstrated that he did not define Bartimaeus by his blindness. He saw first the whole man. There are worse things than not being able to see. And, Bartimaeus already exercised essential faith in Christ, which is the most important thing of all. In effect, all of this was already done. Bartimaeus was right then connected to Jesus. He was saved in the deepest sense. So what else do you want? James and John, as we saw yesterday, had asked for glory. The lawyer wanted to be justified in himself. The leper wanted to be cleansed. What do you want Bartimaeus? That, of course, is a good question for all of us. If we stood before Jesus and he asked us what we want, what one reply would we give?
 
Again Bartimaeus did not hesitate. I want to see! We read of his regaining physical sight almost as an afterthought. Healing power was never in doubt. Of course. Because something more important had occurred: your faith has made you well. Literally, your faith has saved you. Once again, we have that multi-layered word whose depths rise from the heart of the God who came to save us and works out that salvation through present circumstances into eternity. 
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
Son of David,
Have mercy on me!
I want to see!
Don’t pass me by.
I need you.
They tell me to shut up,
To keep out of the way,
Just to stay how I am.
But I know you will see more.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
Have mercy on me! 
I want to see!
I want to see your glory,
The blazing light of your heart
Of steadfast love and faithful mercy.
I want to see you and know 
That I have seen God in the flesh,
God with us, Immanuel. 
Have mercy, Lord Jesus
And shine light in my heart
And I will be well.
Save me through and through.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 22, Sunday

THE LAST DAYS
WEEK FOUR

Scripture promised that the Messiah would open the eyes of the blind (Isaiah 42: 7). The spiritual return of sight was every bit as important as gaining physical vision. In this contemporary painting by Brian Jekel, we sense that a deep connection occurs between Jesus and the blind man. There’s a joining and a relating that indicates the blind man “saw” Jesus with faith before his eyes were opened. The power of Christ is palpable, as is the earnest yearning of the man on his knees. As viewers, we feel the exchange of faith and healing power occurring between them. We want to be part of this connection! It could bring us all we ever longed for. 
 
This week, as we follow Jesus’ ministry drawing to a close, we will meet Blind Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus, two of the last people who became followers of Christ before his passion. For any of us who have known what it is to feel compromised, excluded, unseen or lost, these are treasured stories of how Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.
 
We’ll also realize how Jesus strove against the stubborn spiritual blindness of hard hearts. We’ll hear a bone-headed request from Jesus’ intimate disciples, as well as see their envy and jealousy uncovered. We will also see the authorities ramp up their challenges to Jesus. For once he reached Jerusalem, Jesus took on the very heart of temple power and authority. His brilliance will shine through as we overhear the way he parries their attacks. In fact, Jesus not only deflected their blows, he revealed greater depths about his Father’s reclaiming of the world that had rebelled against him.  
 
Finally, we enter the room where Mary tenderly anointed Jesus before his upcoming arrest and crucifixion. Of all Jesus’ responses, how precious are his words about her, “She has done a beautiful thing” (Mark 14: 6). May you be moved to love Jesus beautifully, more and more, as you ask and hear him answer this week.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brian Jekel. Jesus Healing of the Blind Man. 2008. Oil on canvas. 

Day 22 Sunday
Do For Us Whatever We Ask Of You
 

Mark 10: 32-45

Disciples Seeking Glory

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the Twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
 
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
 

Who's Asking?

Earlier, Mark recorded that the disciples had quarreled over which one of them was the greatest (Mark 9: 34), only to be embarrassingly found out by Jesus. Now, they have experienced the wonder and fear of traveling with Jesus, so resolutely set on going to Jerusalem though he knew he would meet his doom there. A great conflict was coming and all felt it. Jesus even described graphically the steps of his rejection. He openly predicted he would rise on the third day. But Luke lets us know that the meaning of Jesus’ words were “hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18: 34). They had significant spiritual blind spots. These disciples thought Jesus would dramatically vanquish all Israel’s enemies and usher in an age of glory. They wanted to partake of the victory spoils. So James and John, the sons of thunder (Mark 3: 17), came to Jesus with a demand. They asked to be his main men, his besties, his home guard, seated to either side of him when he came to reign. 
 

The Question Within the Question

If they mature in a healthy way, children grow to learn when to ask for things and when to refrain. As a parent, I had to deal with little ones who asked at the wrong time. Driving in intense traffic, late as usual, I’d hear from the backseat, “Dad can we get pizza tonight?” That’s understandable in little ones. Not so much for maturing disciples. Yet here are two of Jesus’ three most intimate disciples making an outrageous demand. James and John had witnessed the glimpse of Christ’s true glory on the mountain of transfiguration (Mark (9: 2-8). They heard him repeatedly predict his sufferings. They felt the awe and fear along the way to Jerusalem. Yet they dared to say “ . . . do for us whatever we ask of you.” It’s just embarrassing!
 
But not unlike us. It’s like asking the doctor to look at the little rash on your hand while he’s in the room checking on your relative who had a heart attack. Really? Can it really be all about you? And blushing I must answer, “Yes, it’s always about me. I may not say it aloud, but I am always considering how present circumstances will affect my comfort, my position or my future. I’m always pondering when I will next be fed and how I can next receive due recognition.”
 
Jesus goes to Jerusalem to die and we want to know how it will work out for us. How will this serve my personal, ever present desires to have everything my way? Jesus, I know you’re busy and all, but I just want you to do whatever I ask you. Give me my dream. Help me have the life I imagine. That’s all I want.
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus had a lot on his mind: soon bearing the sins of the whole world. Yet, he remained able to focus on others. Patiently, he probed their hearts. He told them they did not know what they were asking. Would they be able to drink the cup of the wrath of God he would drink? Did they want to undergo the baptism in blood he would face on the cross with the crown of thorns jammed on his head? Their reply seemed to say, “Sure, sure, whatever. Just give us our desire.” So, patiently he re-explained his mission and their part in it. 
 
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. This is the pattern he set for us. People with power get used to its privileges. Many come to expect to control circumstances and have people serve their goals. Jesus, however, emptied himself. He gave himself away. He was the master who washed the feet of his disciples like a servant (John 13: 5). He lived for others, enabling their lives to flourish through expending his healing power, his touch, his forgiveness, his wisdom.
 
We can scarcely realize how revolutionary this was! Our western civilization has been infused with a value on charity and service that was previously unknown in the Greco-Roman world. Hospitals and health care, housing for the poor, job and skills training, prison reentry, universal education, food banks and so much more, all arose from the ethic of service Jesus embodied.   
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
It’s so not about me!
Forgive my preoccupation
With securing my comfort,
Advancing my recognition,
Maintaining my place,
And having enough resources
To get out of anything unpleasant.
I’m ashamed to admit how often
I have prayed asking you 
To give me what I want, 
Not what you want.
Embolden me to release myself
Into service today.
For your sake, inspire me
To give away power,
To uplift others,
To stretch myself both
Godward and outward
To the least and the lost. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 21, Saturday

Day 21, Saturday
What Must I Do To Inherit Eternal Life? Who Can Be Saved?

 

Mark 10: 17-31 

The Rich Young Man

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
 
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
 

Who’s Asking?

An unnamed man approached Jesus. Luke identified him as a ruler (18: 18), though he doesn’t say whether the source of his authority was nobility of birth or power of position. Matthew identifies him as a young man (19: 22). And all three Synoptic Gospels note that he was rich. In Mark’s account, the man runs up to Jesus, indicating earnestness and urgency. He kneels before Jesus as an act of deference and submission. He laid aside detached dignity in both his comportment and his speech, flattering Jesus with the salutation, “Good Teacher.” He urgently wanted to ask Jesus a question we heard Tuesday from the lawyer who challenged Jesus. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But Mark tells us that Jesus doesn’t view this man as hostile. Rather, Jesus loved him. He felt affection and regard for this earnest seeker who so clearly wanted to do right and be aligned with God. 
 

The Question Within the Question

Rather than cast the question back on the young man, as Jesus had done with the lawyer, Jesus named five of the ten commandments, specifically the laws about how to treat other people. In doing so, Jesus sought to excavate what was blocking the man from the assurance of faithful obedience. Intriguingly, Jesus did not mention the first four commands related to loving the LORD exclusively, nor the tenth which relates to the heart condition of coveting. Rather Jesus focused on the clear laws regarding external behavior. The rich ruler replied that he had kept these all his life. He acted as a good and faithful Jew. But something was missing. Inside the man’s question was a sense that he was blocked from truly living, cut off somehow from truly knowing the LORD. The key, of course, was not in external behavior, but in the heart’s singular devotion demanded from the other commands.
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus had discerned that what the man possessed was actually creating what he lacked. To a man who had nobility, power, attractiveness, good speech and great wealth, Jesus said there was one thing missing. You lack the fulfillment of a deep connection to my Father. Because you are too attached to the idols, the substitute gods of your wealth and position. So, get rid of your stuff. Shed. Downsize. Liquidate. Give it to the poor and be free of it. Then, unencumbered, you can follow me. You can accumulate treasure in heaven. You can know my Father. You will find in such surrender the eternal life that begins now and goes on forever: in me, with me, through me and for me! 
 

The Next Question

The earnest enthusiasm faded from this appealing man’s face. Gloom set in. He had expected to be affirmed, or at least to be told something he could do or acquire, something that suited his heritage and ability. But Jesus had asked for the very thing that had defined his life. He would have to step out of himself in daring trust that being with Jesus was worth that loss of power and place. How could he know? In the moment, he just couldn’t commit. The young man who had run to Jesus hopefully now walked away dejectedly. 
 
Jesus sorrowed too. Riches make it so hard to enter the kingdom! Two thousand years later, we can scarcely imagine how shocking this was. Riches, if honestly acquired, seem a clear sign of God’s favor. If anyone would inherit eternal life, it would be those already prepped by current blessing. If this guy can’t get in, no one can! So they asked the very question on our minds, “Then who can be saved?” 
 

Jesus' Next Reply

Jesus left a crack open for this man and indeed for all of us. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Matthew 19: 26). Indeed, just a few years later, the Pharisee named Saul, who would have been voted “Least Likely to Follow Jesus,” became Paul the apostle of Christ. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3: 8). The Triune God had to blind Paul’s eyes with a bright light in order to illumine his heart with the truth. God saved him. But Paul also had to give his life fully to Jesus, every day through the remainder of his days. The demands of Christ on the rich young ruler have not been relaxed. It may not be wealth that blocks us. It’s whatever we keep apart from Christ, or above him in our hearts. Ever he says with gentle steel in his voice, “Give me that so you can come with me.”

 

Prayer

We crave eternal life
To light up these dark days
And lead us onward in hope.
We know that life is in you, Jesus.
We run to you and ask you to guide us.
You look upon us, seeing everything.
You know us to the depths.
Yet, looking you love us, 
And desire to take us from death to life,
Through surrender.
You name what we lovingly clasp
That has us in its death grip.
“That,” you point, “Give me that.”
The struggle ensues.
Do we choose a dead thing
Or the Lord of life?
This moment, this day, would you
Pry open our fingers that hold 
What kills us
And lead us in the way everlasting. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 20, Friday

Day 20, Friday
Will Those Who Are Saved Be Few?

 

Luke 13: 22-30

The Narrow Door

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
 

Who’s Asking?

Jesus made his way toward Jerusalem, teaching the crowds as he went. One day, an unnamed person asked about the number of people who are being saved. As we’ve seen, the Greek word for “to save” works on multiple levels. It can mean to rescue from physical peril as we saw when Peter was sinking in the waves. It can mean to heal, even from death, and restore to health as we saw with Jairus’ daughter. It can mean to save from sin, both its power and its consequences, as we saw with the paralytic. To save can mean to intervene in present circumstances or to bring ultimately into eternal life in communion with God. This man seems to be asking about the number of people who will enter into a final, full and everlasting salvation in the end. 
 

The Question Within the Question

Such an issue has plagued the people of God through the centuries. Today, we ask a lot of questions: What about those who have never heard the gospel? Or those who heard a distorted story of Jesus? Or those who were victimized by someone purporting to act in his name? Will some get a second chance to accept Christ in the next life? What is the extent of the salvation accomplished in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus? What is required to get in on that redemption? Though most believers have theological curiosity about who will be saved, the actual question is much more personal: Am I going to be all right? Are my loved ones included? Are my enemies excluded? Tell me so I can feel secure and comforted, so I know if I can let down my guard and relax. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus refused to answer questions about other people. He always turned a speculative question back to the asker. He ever called us to the responsibilities of faith and love. So he answered this man, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” The word there literally means to agonize, and it refers to the struggle in warfare or an intense athletic contest. Wrestle. Fight for it. Strain ahead. The issue is not calming our curious minds. Or answering our curiosity about other people. It’s about provoking our hearts to what Paul would come to call the obedience of faith (Romans 1: 5). Jesus described the door to life as narrow, but the road to destruction as being wide and easy (Matthew 7: 13-14). He challenged his audience that mere acquaintance with him was not enough. One could well be told at the door “I never knew you.” And we’ll be surprised to see so many we never expected at the master’s great banquet. But will we be left out?
 
Just earlier in this chapter, Luke records some other questions asked about people who suffered martyrdom or tragedy. I’ve highlighted Jesus’ reply:
 
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13: 1-5).
 
Earthly suffering by tragedy does not mean that one deserves it for being worse than others. Just the same way, earthly health, success and prosperity do not mean one will escape judgment. Working out a theology that comforts us with “once saved always saved,” or even “If I’m elected, I’m elected,” will not satisfy Jesus. He calls us to repent, to change our minds and change our lives. To repent of our righteousness as well as our sins, trusting wholly in him. True faith is not easy believism. It’s not all done once we have “walked the aisle” or “slipped up the hand” at an invitation. Believing trust issues in obedient, ever pressing, ever growing responses of faith working itself out through love (Galatians 5: 6).
 
The answer to how many will be saved and who they are was not given to this man. Jesus replied with the call to active, vigorous repentance and faith. He called us to a lifetime of cross-bearing discipleship. I love theology, it’s a great language of praise. I love theological questions; no faith on earth gives such deep replies. But theology does not precede or ever replace pressing into Jesus with our whole hearts. Ever he calls us back to engage him personally, obediently and totally. 
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, 
Let’s talk about them!
These bad ones.
I continue to get shocked afresh
By their behavior. 
And these suffering ones,
Surely, this is at least partly the result
Of poor upbringing, willful ignorance and bad choices.
And these unbelievers!
They’re just stubborn and arrogant. 
What will you do with all these others?
It sure seems the number of saved must be few.
{Silence}
Why do you not reply to my musings?
I’m ok, right? Me and my own?
We’ve got ancestors who started the church!
We sing your praises in worship!
(At least on the weeks we’re not busy).
We support the right causes.
We’re not freeloaders; we’re responsible,
The people holding it all together.
We’re yours, right?
{Silence}
Why do you not reply to my musings?
You’re gentle Jesus—
Why do you seem so quiet, so stern?
Why do you just stare at me,
But not meet my proud gaze?
You just look right at my heart
With the burning fire of truth.
What are you waiting for?
What do you want from me?
{Silence}
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 19, Thursday

Day 19, Thursday
Teacher, Tell My Brother

 

Luke 12: 13-23, 30-31

The Rich Fool

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
 
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. . . . For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
 

Who’s Asking?

An unidentified man in the crowd interrupted Jesus demanding that the Lord resolve a family dispute. It is likely he was a younger brother, as inheritance passed in double portion to the older son. Probably the elder brother wanted to keep the estate intact. Land, animals, and servants were not easily divided without disrupting the entire farm and thus diminishing the wealth of the family.
 

The Question Within the Question

This man sought Jesus as a wise rabbi, one who understood the Scriptures and taught with authority. So sure was this man of the rightness of his cause, that he expected Jesus to make a moral pronouncement in his favor. He wanted to use Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute. If we are honest, we know that we have gone to Christ in hopes that he will fix a situation on our behalf. It might come out like some of these sentences:
 
Tell my spouse to love me again.
Make my family do what’s right.
Tell my boss to pay me more.
Give me what’s mine; just what’s fair.
Don’t let them get away with cheating me.
 
Our priority becomes what Jesus can do for us. We turn wants into needs and desires into demands. Yes, Jesus desires to heal us from the inside out, to make us new creations full of love, life and light. But that doesn’t often come on the terms we imagine. Our part is not commanding Jesus. It is offering ourselves to him. The Triune God calls us to respond to his love by loving him with all our heart, mind and strength. We are to be a living sacrifice. The focus of a disciple of Jesus is what we are called to do for him. It’s very easy to forget that. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

First, Jesus refused to accept the role projected onto him. “Who made me a mediator in your disputes?” Jesus knew his mission was to seek and to save the lost as he taught about the kingdom of God which had arrived in the world. His time of ministry in our world was limited. He would not be deflected by stepping into conflicts over non-essentials. Second, Jesus saw beneath the man’s protests that he had been wronged. Jesus named the man’s motivation as greed. He wanted desperately what he did not have, believing that having more would satisfy his life. Jesus, mercifully but sternly, redirected him. Third, Jesus replied with a simple but shocking parable.
 
The story of the rich man reveals the deep human desire to be satisfied and secure without having to rely on God. This fool’s quest is perennial. And it never works. A moment’s reflection reminds us of what we repress: we are mortal. We will die. And the moment of our death could be any second. Then, an account of our souls will be required. We are not our own. We will stand before God and his priorities will be the only ones that matter.
 
The man in the parable had a huge harvest, yielding way more than he needed even for a rich lifestyle. His solution was to build bigger barns so he could keep everything that came to him. Then, “eat, drink, and be merry,” secure in the future. Wealth, then as now, seemed to many to be a sign of God’s favor. Jesus warned that wealth deceives us about what matters and what makes for security. The goal of life is to be rich toward God, not ourselves. Even if this man got the inheritance, it would not automatically lead to a life that matters. In fact, it could ruin him.
 
At the very same time, Jesus understood that people do have basic needs. We may ask God to give us this day our daily bread. Day by day we live in a reliant relationship upon him. That may frustrate our innate idolatry to be secure and satisfied without needing God. But it is the way to peace and true security.
 
Jesus would go on in that same teaching to tell his disciples,
 
“All the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves . . . a treasure that does not fail” (Luke 12: 30-33).
 
The opposite of demanding is divesting. Instead of grasping, give. Seek security in trusting your Father’s love and provision. Realize his faithfulness as you give to others instead of clasping all for yourself. Your Father will fill in what is lacking, wrapped in assurance and peace. 
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
I confess with C. S. Lewis that 
In my heart of hearts, 
“I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through: 
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.”1
This leads me to the delusions that 
I would trust you if I could just not need you;
I would give more if I just didn’t have to get any more;
I would worship you only if I was not dependent on you.
O such foolishness!
Teach me that all things are more ours
When we realize they are yours.
When I know I have nothing that does not come from you,
That I own nothing, expect nothing, claim nothing,
Then I join Paul who rejoiced,
“For all things are yours, whether . . . 
the world or life or death or
the present or the future—
all are yours, and you are Christ’s, 
and Christ is God’s.” 
1 Corinthians 3: 21-23
 
1 C. S. Lewis. "As the Ruins Fall.” Poems (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2017).
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 18, Wednesday

Day 18, Wednesday
Lord, Do You Not Care?

 

Luke 10: 38-42

Mary and Martha

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
 

Who's Asking?

Martha, Mary and Lazarus were siblings who became close to Jesus. Besides the twelve disciples, Lazarus is the only person Jesus called friend (John 11:11). In this scene, their home is identified as Martha’s. She offered hospitality to Jesus and prepared a great dinner for him. Anyone who has ever hosted a dinner party, and especially someone in charge of the food and other details, relates to Martha. There’s a lot to think about and even more to get done. When her sister Mary left off any domestic responsibility to sit at Jesus’ feet, Martha grew frustrated. Scholars tell us that in that culture “male space and female space were divided . . . and [they] usually did not intermingle even in the home. Women only crossed into the male world to wait on men and then retreat . . . ” (David Garland, Luke, p. 653). So Mary seemed to have forgotten her place, taking the posture of a disciple sitting at Jesus’ feet (as Luke 8: 35 tells us the Gerasene man had done after his healing). Meanwhile the older sister bustled about. When she had had enough, Martha interrupted the teaching to appeal to Jesus. She began her complaint with the guilt-inducing “Lord, do you not care . . . ?”  
 

The Question Within the Question

As a preacher, I know I’ve gotten out of my share of domestic tasks because I had to “study” for a sermon! There are those who contemplate the meaning of actions and those who actually do something. There are also those who toil faithfully only to see others get the credit. In front of every star quarterback are the lineman protecting him with their bodies. Invisible to the audience are the tech folks without whom the headliner could do nothing. Most servers love their role most of the time. But when the stress piles up and others seem to have left us holding the fort, we can wonder, “Lord, do you not care that she has left me here to serve alone?” 
 
Scratch deeper and we can find in many of us the elder brother syndrome: fuming that we seem to do all the work and have no celebration, while the winsome irresponsible one lives it up (Luke 15: 25-30). God does not always seem to distribute gifts and rewards in a way that seems fair to us. We can feel isolated and taken for granted. Bitterness can eat up the joy of the very moments we try to create. Does God even notice how much is on our plates? 
 

Jesus’ Reply

The same Jesus who ate with tax collectors and made Samaritans the hero of a story also blessed a woman who had crossed into the male territory of a rabbi’s disciple. Jesus loved Martha and this would not be the last time he ate at her home (John 12: 1-2). So his rebuke was meant to bring her back to joy. Jesus called her name twice, implying both intimacy and emphasis. I hear him saying, “Martha, this is really important! Only one thing is required. Just one thing is necessary in this moment. Mary has chosen it. The good portion, this time with me. Don’t miss it by getting distracted with the serving. Hosting is excellent, but it is a means to a greater intimacy. I haven’t forgotten you. I’m appreciative of your efforts. Thank you for giving to me, but now don’t miss receiving from me.”
 
Jesus’ words about Mary choosing the good portion remind us of David, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup . . . ” (Psalm 16: 5). The Lord Jesus is our first choice, the one that in our heart of hearts we want the most. David would also sing, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire into his temple” (Psalm 27: 4). 
 
What Jesus wanted to give his host was himself! The Word of God incarnate wanted to speak gracious words of blessing in this house. He wanted to lead these friends into the intimacy of knowing his Father through him. Sitting at his feet, they could truly gaze at the beauty of the LORD in flesh and blood. 
 
Yesterday we saw the importance of doing. The neighbor is the one who sees need and meets it. But we also noted that we require the compassionate heart of God to move within our hearts if we are to have the energy and focus for such love. That can only come through gazing upon Christ Jesus in his Word, partaking of him at his table, lifting our praises to him in worship and simply being with him in personal prayer. Mary chose the good and precious portion of God’s giving himself to us in Christ. She received him. At another time she would prepare Jesus for his coming passion as she poured the precious ointment upon his head (John 12: 3). Because she had received from sitting and listening to Christ, she could enact extravagant love at just the right time.
 

Prayer

Indeed Jesus does care. And he bids us come into his presence, to receive from his Word and from his heart, the love that fuels our service. As Jean Sophia Pigott wrote in 1876, 
 
Oh Jesus, I am resting, resting
In the joy of what thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid gaze upon thee,
As thy beauty fills my soul,
For by thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.
 
Jean Sophia Pigott. Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting. 1876.
 
Jesus, at your feet we rest,
Awaiting your Word to resound in our souls.
The psalmist praised you,
“My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart
And my portion forever.”
You are what we want.
You are what we choose.
You are the pearl of great price,
The treasure beyond compare.
And you are what we get!
Our portion in life is you!
Whatever else comes to us,
The toil we cannot evade,
The loss that breaks our hearts,
The suffer laid on our backs,
The mortal end we all meet,
We have you, now and forever.
So we say with the psalm,
“For me it is good to be near God,
That I may tell of all your works. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 17, Tuesday

Day 17, Tuesday
Who Is My Neighbor?

 

Luke 10: 25-37 

The Good Samaritan

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
 
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
 

Who's Asking?

In the gospels, a “lawyer” meant not a civil advocate but an expert in the Hebrew Scriptures and the interpretation of the laws God had made known. Such a trained scholar would be concerned to get it right about what makes for a righteous life now and in the future. He wanted to be a legitimate heir to all the LORD had for his people. Curiously he asked Jesus a question whose answer devout Jews would have recited every single day: Love God with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 6: 5). To this passage Jesus added another Scripture, “And your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19: 18). That raised a pertinent theological question about how far such love should extend in the world, “And who is my neighbor?”
 

The Question Within the Question

Luke tells us the inner motivation of the scribe: “desiring to justify himself.” The man wanted a stamp of approval for the limits of compassion he applied according to tradition. These boundaries were set: you help your own kind, you help those who are good people and not in trouble for their own sins, you help when it won’t hurt you yourself. His very question meant to justify what we might well call a proper balance on expending yourself for others. In reality, of course, he wanted justification for reigning in his obligation to others.
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus, however, declined to set such limits; in fact he refused a direct answer and instead set up a more important question. Jesus replied with what became one of his most famous and transformative parables, that of the Good Samaritan. 
 
Bible scholars remind us how difficult it is for moderns to feel the shock in Jesus’ story. We can scarcely grasp the animosity between Samaritans and Jews. Just earlier in Luke 10, a Samaritan village had refused hospitality to Jesus and his disciples. The disciples wanted to call down well-deserved fire on the half-breed, heretic Samaritans but Jesus forbade it. We come closer to understanding if we imagine a story told in 1865 to residents of Pennsylvania about “The Good Rebel.” Or told in 1944 Germany about “The Good Gestapo” or told today in Ferguson about “The Good Supremacist.” One just doesn’t speak this way!
 
The priest and Levite passed by the robbed man. Scholars offer us many reasons why they might have done this, but of course none of them actually matter. What counts is that here was the Samaritan stopping to help a man wounded, naked and robbed from an attack. In yesterday’s story, we encountered this word translated as “compassion,” and here it is again. By his use of this word, Jesus intended us to see the Samaritan acting with the heart of God. He saw a person suffering and in need. He looked long enough to be moved in the guts of his soul for the plight. Out of that feeling, he acted in a sacrificial, messy, lengthy and effective way. 
 
Jesus drove home his meaning by asking the lawyer, “Which of these . . . proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (Luke 10: 36). 
 
The question is not “What are the limits to whom I should treat as a neighbor deserving help?” The question is “How can I act with mercy as a neighbor to one in need?” I am to “neighbor” anyone in need! The range of love extends to any whom I encounter that are injured or broken. For I am joined to the heart of Christ, and he grows his heart-reaching compassion within me. 
 
One of the chief means of such growth is practice! “Go and do likewise,” Jesus told the lawyer. We are to recall how the Samaritan had already made himself ready to show mercy. 
 
Why keep breathing room in my schedule, and allow plenty of time to get to appointments? So I am ready to notice and interrupt my activities when I encounter need.
 
Why manage spending and keep some funds aside? So I am ready and able to assist one who has been robbed.
 
Why learn and practice skills of healing, both physical, conversational and social? So I have confidence to move into situations of woundedness with Christ’s mercy.
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
We are wounded along the way!
The great liar and thief
Tempted our first parents, 
Then left us for dead.
Such is the human fate without you:
Now our hearts are battered,
We are exposed in our shame,
We are broke in a famine,
We lack the needed skills
To improve our own condition.
We have no resource
Which can purchase redemption.
We wait helpless and hopeless.
 
Yet when all seemed lost,
You came to us, as one of us.
You brothered us and neighbored us.
You looked on our lowly estate
And felt not disgust but mercy.
You carried us in your heart
And on your shoulders from death to life.
You spared not your life to save ours.
 
So join us to your heart of mercy.
Send us with eyes open, hearts soft,
Time available and hands ready
To extend the compassion
To any still waylaid among the rocks.
Send us to search and rescue
With your love and gospel grace.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 16, Monday

Day 16, Monday
Lord, I Believe, Help My Unbelief 

 

Mark 9: 14-29 

Faith of a Desperate Father

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
 

Who's Asking?

While Jesus was on the mountain of transfiguration, a man identified only as “someone from the crowd,” had asked the other disciples to heal his son. But they could not release the boy from the evil spirit that oppressed him. In the midst of this botched deliverance, the scribes had gotten involved trying to discredit Jesus and his followers. Jesus arrived and began to sort out what was going on. The desperate father pleaded “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 
 

The Question Within the Question

The father used a word attributed in the Gospels only to Jesus or to characters in parables Jesus told. The word we translate as “compassion” meant being viscerally moved with empathy and mercy for someone, always leading to a loving response. This is God-like compassion for which the suffering one beholds. The father begged Jesus to feel and to exercise such divine mercy. But to his appeal he added the qualification, “If you can do anything.” That caveat was based on the disciples’ failure to exorcise the demon more than a raw doubting of Jesus. The father worried that this case was beyond hope. 
 

Jesus’ Reply and a Further Request

Before he acted, Jesus wanted to resolve the issue of believing trust. For the second time in this story, he wondered at the lack of faith in who he was. But then he gave the man another chance; he called the father to faith, “All things are possible for one who believes.” Jesus opened hopelessness into possibility. The father jumped on it. Immediately, he cried out, “I believe!” Then added, “Help my unbelief!” He was saying, “Don’t let any weakness in my faith keep you from healing my son. I know you have the heart to do it; I know you can do it. It’s just been such a long, horrifying time that I lost hope, but please, don’t let my lack of faith stop your work of compassion.”  I believe. Help my unbelief. This seems the very state of so many of our hearts. We look to Jesus. But we just don’t know how it all works, why some requests are answered exactly and some seem ignored. We trust the heart of the Savior to be compassionate, but we’re not sure we’re receiving properly the love in that heart. We do believe. But it’s always twisted, cloudy, hesitant, impure, self-centered and prone to wander. Help my unbelief!
 
Jesus cast out the spirit. But the effect on the boy was surprising. Though the demon left, it took a parting shot, convulsing the boy so terribly that he fell down “like a corpse.” Most of the crowd declared, “He is dead.” Jesus, however, took the boy “by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.” Jesus gave the boy back to his grateful father (Luke 9: 42).
 
This story seems emblematic of the heart of Jesus’ mission. Jesus came down from the mountain of glory into the chaos of demonic oppression in a faithless world. Jesus did not turn away from the ugly scene. Nor was he dismayed when his presence appeared to make things worse. He did not hesitate to risk the mockery of the cynical crowd as he took a dead child by the hand and raised him. Again we encounter the same word used by the angel in declaring Christ’s victory: He has risen! (Mark 16: 6). Jesus raised the boy by the power of his own indestructible life (Hebrews 7: 16). 
 
Here is the heart of the story of our lost and restored humanity. Adam’s faithlessness plunged the world into darkness, and death entered the world. The great accuser would chatter ever after that this was the fate of men which could never be undone. But all things were possible to Christ who lived perfect faith in his Father. In his ministry, he went down among us, in all our lost and forsaken circumstances in order to lift us up. Each gospel miracle previewed the Great Miracle of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When humanity was no better than a corpse, Jesus took us by the hand and raised us up in his rising. 
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
Full of steadfast love and mercy,
You are the compassion of the Father’s heart
Embodied in the midst of our lonely lostness.
You saw, you felt, you acted.
You raised the afflicted boy
From oppression and death
And gave him back to his father.
Soon you yourself would engage
The oppression of Gethsemane,
The shame of condemnation
The coldness of the tomb
Until rising, you raised us with you.
We believe!
Help our unbelief!
It seems too good to be true,
It seems so long in fulfillment,
There is still such evil in 
The world and in our hearts.
Help us! Save us. 
We believe you have the power
And the tender compassion.
Raise us and restore us to the Father
And one another.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 15, Sunday

LATER MINISTRY
WEEK THREE

The midpoint in the narrative of Matthew, Mark and Luke occurred when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” It was Peter who answered correctly that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the very Son of God. This triumphant moment was followed immediately by Jesus predicting his own rejection, suffering and death at the hands of Israel’s leaders. The Savior’s salvation would be rejected by those most in need of him. The King of kings would be bound and tried as a common criminal. The Son of God who is life in himself would become subject to death. What’s more, Jesus told them that to follow him meant denying one’s immediate safety, ambition and desires in order to take up the cross of serving him and others. The stakes were rising! Luke tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9: 51). From then on, Christ moved resolutely toward his death.
 
Along that way, Jesus’ encounters became sharper. He confronted God’s people with their need for repentance. Jesus exposed pride, greed, fear and sin in such a way that people either bowed before him or rejected him. His light revealed all darkness, even as he offered healing light. As we engage the requests made of him, we begin to understand why no one could remain neutral about Jesus. Those he came to save were moved to condemn him.
 
Following a challenge by an expert in Jewish law, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. In this week’s painting, Vincent Van Gogh has vividly portrayed the compassion of this man who would have been ethnically and religiously despised by God’s people. In the spring of 1889, Van Gogh suffered a psychotic break. Exhausted, out of control and frightening to others, Van Gogh was able to enter an asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France. While there, he made this painting. As we gaze at the Samaritan lifting the wounded man onto his horse, we can feel the compassion and mercy for which Van Gogh so longed. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Vincent Van Gogh. The Good Samaritan. 1890. Oil on canvas. Kröller-Müller Museum, Netherlands.

Day 15 Sunday
Far Be It From You, Lord!
 

Matthew 16: 21-28 

Peter’s Confession and Denial 

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
 
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
 

Who's Asking?

Yesterday we saw Simon Peter’s dramatic personality. He was daring enough to ask to walk on water and yet wobbly enough to look down and doubt once he had started the miraculous trek. Just before today’s passage, we learn how Simon got his nickname, Peter, which means “Rock.” Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16: 13). Simon replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” (Mathew 16: 16). For this bold, faithful answer, Jesus blessed him and said “You are Peter, and on this rock [your faith], I will build my church” (Matthew 16: 18). Seeing in Jesus the very Son of the true God come among us requires foundational commitment to what seems to the world impossible: God took up our humanity! Peter grasped that first. It was his same faith and love that would lead him in the next moment to make his boneheaded demand of Jesus.
 

The Question Within the Question

Shortly after Peter’s confession, Jesus began to reveal more of his destiny to his inner circle. Jesus was making for Jerusalem where a final confrontation with the religious leaders would lead to his condemnation. He knew and told them he would be killed. But Jesus also predicted that on the third day he would be raised. Peter seemed not to hear that last part. He was shocked and outraged by Jesus’ seeming resigned to die. Surely this couldn’t be right! Peter loved Jesus. He couldn’t let his friend and master simply accept such a fate. Moreover, such an end represented victory not only for Jesus’ religious opponents but for Rome as well. The Jewish officials were not allowed to put law breakers to death; Rome reserved that authority. But Jesus was the Christ! And the Christ, the Messiah, was meant to overthrow the pagan rule of God’s people as he ushered in the renewal of the world through the visible reign of the LORD I AM. How could Jesus be the Savior of the world if he died publicly and shamefully in the triumph of the powers of darkness? Peter felt he had to talk his Lord out of such acceptance of defeat.
 
Matthew tells us that Simon Peter took Jesus aside for a private word. He did not challenge Jesus before the others. But he did speak insistently. The word “rebuke” translated means a strong, forceful admonishment. What Peter asked Jesus was more of a demand. “Far be it from you, Lord. No way this can happen. No, never! Don’t even think about it. Don’t dare mention it again.” He could not possibly imagine that Jesus could win by losing. 
At the heart of Peter’s protest is the ancient tradition of lament. It’s every time the LORD’s people cry out, “God, I don’t want it to be this way!” It’s the deeper truth that our questions “Why? Why did this happen?” are actually the way we say, “This hurts! Make it stop. Show me how to end this pain!” Laments range from Psalm 13’s “How long, O LORD how long?” to Psalm 90’s “All our days pass away under your wrath” to Psalm 22’s “My God, why have you forsaken me?” We do not want to go the way of pain, sorrow, death and defeat. Though it’s the way of a fallen world, we yearn for Eden lost and the new earth to come where these sufferings are not.
 

Jesus’ Reply

Peter must have struck a nerve in Jesus, because Christ answered Peter so sharply. These were the very feelings Jesus would wrestle with in Gethsemane: “My Father . . . let this cup pass from me” (Mathew 26: 39). Surely he had struggled through his own laments earlier as he realized what was coming. Though his intentions were loyal, Peter was actually mouthing the temptations of Satan. From the beginning, as we saw, Satan asked Jesus to be a different kind of Savior, to skip the struggle and dominate the world. “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16: 23). Jesus rebuked back at his beloved Peter. It must have stung! So did the explanation, “You are a hindrance to me.” All Peter wanted to be was a loyal helper. His very good intentions were making it harder. Jesus turned Peter’s request back on itself. He was thinking in human terms about defeat and victory, not the Triune God’s plan of redemption.
 
For this season of our pilgrimage, Jesus answers our complaint born of lament with a strong word, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The image was gruesome. The disciples had seen their countrymen on the death march of crucifixion. The Roman overlords added to the cruelty by making the condemned carry the cross beams on which they would die. That’s following Jesus! Mark’s account adds that we carry our cross “daily.” Every day we renew our commitment to live in the way of Jesus, we accept dying to ourselves. We agree that love’s path is giving away time, power, wealth, attention, and preference to others. 
 
The plan of the Triune God continues to shock us. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant . . . becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 6-8). How can it be that defeat at the hands of evil would lead to the victory of life? Dying, he destroyed death. In weakness, Jesus was the power of God. In the foolishness of the cross, he enacted the wisdom of God that shocked even the angels. We can never fully understand this, but we are called to it every day! 
 

Prayer

Oh Lord Jesus,
You are the Christ,
The Son of the Living God!
We are drawn to your kingship.
But we cannot grasp your humiliation.
We don’t want to lose our lives;
We want to save ourselves!
We want to gain the whole world,
Even if we have to sell our souls to get it.
 
But there is no life that way!
You call us to die daily,
To take the cross of denying self
To serve you by serving others
In love. 
To lose face, to lose power, to lose contests of will
In order to bring the redemption of the cross
To everyone everywhere.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 14, Saturday

Day 14, Saturday
Command Me to Come To You!

 

Matthew 14: 22-33

Peter Walks on Water

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 
 
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
 

Who’s Asking?

Following the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus directed his disciples to cross back over the Sea of Galilee while he stayed and prayed. As we saw on Tuesday, violent storms occur suddenly on this lake. The disciples rowed for hours against the wind and waves, unable to get across. Near dawn Jesus came walking to them on the water. At first, they thought he was a ghost. But then Jesus spoke, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” These marvelous assuring words should have been enough. But the big personality of Simon Peter had a request. “If it’s really you, Jesus, tell me to come across the water to you.” Peter asked to join Jesus in the miracle of walking over the waves.
 

The Question Within the Question

In the moment, Peter’s request was not necessary. After all, Jesus had arrived and so their fears were calmed. His words created the peace of knowing “It is I.” Soon the storm would be over. But Peter wanted more. In essence he said, “I want to do what Jesus does! Make me part of this!” Peter lived and spoke as a larger-than-life character. Here we see his audacious request to step out onto tossing, dark seas in order to meet Jesus above the waves. This was a kind of risky frivolity. Not necessary, but wonderful. Not required, but opening possibilities for things never done before. Peter wanted to see and experience more than anyone had yet even imagined. Paul echoed this expectation in his letter to the Ephesians. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us . . . ” (Ephesians 3: 20). Connected to Christ, a world of wonders opens to believers.
 

Jesus’ Reply

If there was any bluff in Peter’s request, Jesus called it! With one word he asked Peter to do what he said he wanted. “Come!” Go ahead and get out of the boat. Jesus, of course, was totally at peace standing on the water in the swells and wind. He did not rebuke Peter for his desire or request. Jesus welcomed the risky frivolity of attempting something great through faith and desire to be with him. We can imagine that Jesus locked eyes with Peter. His steady gaze drew Peter across the tossing waves. Here was preview of what Christ’s disciples would do in the power of the Spirit of Christ after his resurrection. Of course, as soon as Peter looked away from Jesus and down at the sea, his faith failed and he started to sink. 
Peter had enough humility to make one further request as he was going under, “Lord, save me!” Peter’s request went from an unnecessary but glorious attempt to dire need for immediate rescue. From “Let me be the guy who walks on water like you” to “Quick, help!” This is the very request God desires us each and all to make when our plans start to go under. It is nothing less than the sinner’s prayer for salvation and the believer’s moment by moment prayer for growth. Lord, save me! So we recall Psalm 144: 7, “Stretch out your hand from on high; rescue me and deliver me from the many waters.”
 
Of course, Jesus immediately took Peter’s hand. He was never going to let him be lost! Just as he touched the leper to make him clean or took the dead girl by the hand to raise her from the dead, Jesus stretched forth his mighty arm to rescue Peter. This is the prayer he loves to answer when we cry out in need and sincerity. Jesus, though, gently chided Peter. He called the big fisherman “Little faith.” Really, by now, Peter, you should have known how I work! 
 
Peter’s attempt inspired worship of Jesus, both for the moments when his water-walk was successful and when he needed rescuing. Risky frivolity for Christ’s glory can include random acts of kindness, crazy attempts at loving those in need, creative approaches to discipling and big ideas for mission. They may not appear necessary, but they release faith and the power of Jesus.
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you send us ahead
In contrary night winds and high seas.
You promise to come to us
But the hours drag by and we feel abandoned.
How can we go on in such storms?
Where are you and what are you doing?
 
How we rejoice when at the darkest hour
We hear your voice cut through the roar,
“Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”
 
The storm within us quiets to peace
Even as the waves roll and winds still blow.
You are here, that’s all we want.
 
Or is it? Sometimes, feeling emboldened
By your presence and power,
We feel a new energy making us dare
To pray for more of you, of your work and mission.
Call us out of the boat!
Bid us come to you on the waves of the world.
Work in us to love others even before the way eases,
To proclaim you joyfully even before anyone believes,
To reach outwards before we know if we will be welcomed.
 
Call us to the risky frivolity of walking on water,
Our eyes on you.
Remind us, that we can ever cry out,
“Lord save me!” knowing your hand
Is always stretched forth to save.  
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 13, Friday

Day 13, Friday
If I Touch Even His Garments.

 

Mark 5: 24-34 

The Bleeding Woman

And [Jesus] went with [Jairus].
 
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
 

Who’s Asking?

On his way to touch and heal Jairus’ daughter, Jesus had to push through a great crowd. Many touched him as the throng jostled and pressed around him. But one touch in particular made him halt. Luke records Jesus’ saying, “I perceive that power has gone out from me” (Luke 8: 46). Of all the people who pressed against him, one woman accessed his power by her desperate faith. She had been suffering from a discharge of blood, a kind of continuous menstruation, for twelve years. She had spent all she had on doctors. Her affliction made her unclean (Leviticus 15: 25-27) for human contact, and even unfit for marriage (Leviticus 20: 18).
 

The Question Within the Questions

Like Jairus’ daughter, this woman was reaching toward her end. She surely wondered often, “Is it too late for me? Should I just accept that I will never be well? That I will always be alone and ill?” We may well wonder if it’s too late for us:
 
I will never be free from alcohol. 
Overspending is impossible to stop.
I don’t know how not to feel guilty all the time. 
I cannot release my bitterness over what was said to me. 
Intrusive thoughts keep taking over my mind.
I will never get over this divorce. 
They’ll always hate me for what I did.
People will always look at me as unattractive. 
A normal life is impossible.
 
But then she heard the reports about Jesus. In spite of her poverty and loneliness, hope rekindled within the bleeding woman when she heard about Jesus. She knifed her way through the crowd (perhaps if she were known to many, they parted to avoid her uncleanness). She did not want the word the centurion asked for or the touch of Jesus’ hand that Jairus sought. She just wanted to touch something that had touched Jesus. After all, she knew all about how easily touch transferred uncleanness. She believed holiness and healing could come the same way. Her request of Jesus was made through her reasoning, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” Of course that’s the same word Jairus used when referring to what Jesus’ touch would do for his daughter! It means literally, “I will be saved.” Both bodily healing and soul restoration were at play. She saw Jesus as the source of cleansing holiness. She intuited that her uncleanness would not contaminate Jesus. Rather, he would reverse the flow. Touching him would stop the issue of blood from her body and restore her to community and life. This belief impelled her to take the extreme social and religious risk of mixing with the crowd and daring to touch the master. She decided it was not too late for her. She believed Jesus could be the answer. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

“Who touched my garments?” Jesus stopped and scanned the crowd to see which of the many who had brushed against him had actually touched him in an attempt to get power from him. Once again, we notice how Jesus remained in complete control of situations. Though the illness of Jairus’ daughter was acute, Jesus did not hesitate to stop. Though hundreds had touched him and his question seemed ridiculous, Jesus nevertheless was determined to find whose faith had drawn healing from him. 
 
Though she had become an expert at hiding herself in plain sight, this newly healed woman knew she could not escape the gaze of Jesus. Filled with fear and trembling, both for the awe of the healing she had received and in dread of how Jesus might reply to her presumption, she fell at his feet and told him all. 
 
Jesus replied to her story, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Literally he said her faith had saved her, and once more we see the fullness of this great term for total wholeness. And he called her “Daughter.” He loved her like Jairus loved his little girl! She was part of Jesus’ family and beloved. The angels had proclaimed “Peace on earth” at the birth of Christ. Now we see what they meant as Jesus sent this healed daughter back into the peace of acceptance by God and reentry into community. 
 
We hear an echo of this scene in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul described with unparalleled excellence the journey of Jesus to save us, from the humiliating depths of the cross to the heights of being given the name above every name. Then, in awe at such salvation, Paul turned back to his readers and urged them, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2: 12-13). The living God really has been at work saving and restoring us! It’s not too late for any of us if we pursue him now in faith. 
 

Prayer

I have tried everything.
Nothing works for long.
I cannot solve my life!
I am tempted to live now
Just for distraction, not daring
To hope for real wholeness.
 
But I have heard reports of you.
Those you freed from demons,
Those you raised from the dead,
Those whose stains you cleansed
And sins you forgave,
Those who received new purpose.
 
What if I could touch that life in you?
What if I could have a moment,
Just a brief encounter with you?
Could you change my course?
Reverse the flow?
Set me back on my feet?
Save me in every way?
I reach for you.
My last hope, my only prayer. 
 
Accept my touch!
Return this desperate faith
With a glance of acceptance,
A word of grace,
A moment of connection,
And I will be made well.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 12, Thursday

Day 12, Thursday
Come and Lay Your Hands on Her.

 

Mark 5: 21-24 

A Daughter at the Point of Death

And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” And he went with him.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.
 

Mark 5: 35-42

Reaching for the End

[Then] there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

 

Who’s Asking?

Mark describes Jairus as one of leaders of a synagogue in Galilee, the place for weekly gathering for prayer and lessons from the Scriptures. Such a leader oversaw the operation of the synagogue and its services. Yet what strikes us most about this man is that he was a loving father desperately concerned for his dying young daughter.
 
Anyone who has been a parent or cared for another who is gravely ill understands Jairus’ heart cry. He fell before Jesus’ feet in a posture of abject supplication. Everything in his words and actions cried, “Please! Please come. Please put your hands on her. Please heal her.”
 

The Question Within the Question

Jairus showed no lack of faith as he asked for a touch from Jesus while the centurion perceived that he only needed a word from a distance. The outer modes of both request and healing do not matter to Jesus. Only the substance of faith, expressed differently by the requesters, mattered to Jesus. 
 
Here the particular words of Jairus’ request in Mark’s version reveal much to us. We can paraphrase the Greek of what Jairus pleaded. “My little daughter is holding at the end. She’s at the last grasp. She’s reaching her appointed finish. Would you come and lay your hands on her that she might be saved? Your touch would make her whole and well. Then she will live.” 
 
The daughter seemed to be reaching no longer for life but for death. Too soon she seemed to be leaning over the finish line. Whatever purpose God had for her life, it was nearly complete. But the touch of Jesus’ hands could stop that lethal rush. Coming to meet her, his hands could take her grip off of death and put it back onto life. His touch would save her, in the fullest sense of the word, making her well and whole. Then, after his healing touch she could stop dying and start living. 
 
Jairus’ words reach to scenarios beyond his daughter’s particular illness. We know how mental illness impels people to reach toward their end. We know how adolescent rebellion drives people toward reckless ruin. We know how middle-age crazy unravels marriages and careers. And the despair of old age can seduce us toward a premature finish. 
 
For so many we love, we cry out, “Lord, won’t you come? My loved one, my little one, is grasping death. Put your hands over hers. Save her. Return her grip on life. Then she will live again.”
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus went as soon as Jairus asked. But by the time he reached the house, the girl had died. Jesus spoke the same words he had said to Simon Peter, “Do not fear.” Then he added, “Only believe.” His quiet words contrasted with the loud wailing of grief coming from the girl’s room. Jesus entered the room of death and mourning. He spoke confidently, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” How crazy this sounded. Jesus was too late. People knew death when they saw it.
 
But as we have seen from the first, Jesus was remarkably self-possessed, because he was entirely devoted to his Father’s mission. He shut out all of the doubt in the onlookers as he sent them from the room. Then, as Jairus requested, Jesus took the girl’s hand in his own. He took her grip off of death and placed it into his own everlasting life. Gently, he called her back, “I say to you arise.” Of course this “arise” is one of the two words used for resurrection. Immediately the girl got up. And of course this word for “got up” is the other resurrection word in the New Testament! Jesus saved her. She began to live again in the world, so touchingly symbolized by Mark’s recording that they gave her something to eat. 
 

Prayer

Ah, dear Jesus, Lord of love,
How often in this hard world
Those we love reach too soon for death!
 
We love them so,
But we can’t break the grip 
Of powers too strong for them.
Won’t you come?
Take her hand in yours.
Change her grip on death
To a clasping of life eternal.
 
Transfer his despairing reach for the end
To an embrace of wellness now.
Save, Lord!
Won’t you come?
Won’t you take hands with us?
Won’t you make us whole
That we might live?
 
Raise us! Get us up.
Still the voices that too soon
Declare our end.
Make us new within.
Take our hand and lift us up.
Won’t you come?
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 11, Wednesday

Day 11, Wednesday
Begging to Be with Him.

 

Mark 5: 1-20

The Demonized Man from Gerasene

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.
 
The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
 

Who's Asking?

A nameless demoniac, one tormented by evil spirits, lived among the tombs, away from human community. Luke tells us this man from Gerasene wore no clothes. Rather, he was in the perpetual shame of nakedness, a symbol of having his affliction completely and constantly exposed (Luke 8: 27). His conversation consisted of crying out his torment though no one was listening. He cut himself with stones, enacting the mysterious relief of self-harm, the punishment of self that momentarily makes overwhelming emotions tolerable. In the way that the abandoned do, the Gerasene ran toward this rare visitor from Israel. At the same time he yearned for company, he hated company. The demoniac wanted to scare away the new arrival with the power of his angry anguish before the new arrival recoiled at the sight of this horror. Yet, the humanity left in this man felt immediately drawn to Jesus in desperate hope that he might be healed. The demons within him felt frightened that Jesus might extricate them from the man and send them into formless abyss. 
 
Quickly, Jesus separated the man from the “legion” of evil spirits attached to him. Later, when the people of the nearby village came out to see, they found this man now “sitting at his feet, clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 8: 35). He was at peace and these Gentiles were afraid of Jesus who demonstrated enough power to subdue “Legion” with his deeper peace. The townspeople asked Jesus to leave, for he was frightfully upsetting the economic, social and spiritual balance of their way of life.
 

The Question Within the Question

Today, our request of interest came from the newly healed man. He begged Jesus that he might go with him. Earlier, Jesus had called Simon Peter and Levi to follow him. He had sent people he healed, such as the leper and paralytic, back to their community. This Gerasene man wanted to be a disciple, to follow Jesus anywhere. Community and home did not seem to him a safe, wholesome goal. These were the people, after all, who used to bind him in chains. These were the gawkers and taunters, who left him among the dead. The Gerasene longed to remain close to the man who had silenced the intrusive voices. He wanted to stay near the source of all peace.  
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus would not let the Gerasene man come with him. On the one hand, this made sense for Jesus’ mission. His work was primarily done among the Hebrews. Having a Gentile among his inner circle of followers would scandalize the Jews before he could even teach or heal. We, as readers, know that Jesus’ healing of this possessed Gentile was a sign that the gospel would advance through Israel to the world in the years to come. 
 
On the other hand, we realize that Jesus gave this man an important mission: Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you. He was to be a witness to the power of Jesus the Lord to heal even the most desperately afflicted. He did not have to know all the history of God’s people Israel. He did not have to know the Law and the prophets. He just had to tell what Jesus had done for him. 
 
This raises the personal question, “What has Jesus done for you?” You might describe the way Christ freed you from: 
 
Thinking constantly too little of self, or too much of yourself;
Smoldering anger, floating guilt, sharp regrets, guilt;
Withdrawing from intimacy or overpowering others with aggression;
Abandoning first to not be abandoned;
Manipulating for fear of being real;
Habits of self-harm: cutting, drugging, spending;
Living as if you wanted to die, like a tomb-dweller;
Over medicating and zoning out on others;
Shouting out all the time your pain and rage; 
Never trusting and never feeling like you fit anywhere.
 
We have a story to tell of Jesus and his amazing grace! Sometimes, he does not take us out of the old situations but sends us right back in, to tell to those we are now open toward as friends what peace and wholeness he brings.
 

Prayer

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.
 
O Jesus blest redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before thee,
Near to the heart of God.
 
There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place were all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God. 
 
O Jesus blest redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before thee,
Near to the heart of God.
 
Cleland Boyd McAfee. Near to the Heart of God. 1903. 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 10, Tuesday

Day 10, Tuesday
Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing?

 

Mark 4: 35-41

On Stormy Seas

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
 
 

Who's Asking?

Jesus’ twelve intimate disciples had been with him when he taught from a boat by the sea to a great multitude. He had recently told the parables of the four types of soil, the lamp under a bushel and the mustard seed. At the end of such a teaching day, Jesus asked his disciples to take him east across to the Gentile side of the lake. Sudden intense storms often occur on the Sea of Galilee. This time the water grew so rough that waves began to flood the boat. The wind howled. But Jesus had fallen asleep in the back of the boat. He slept on undisturbed by the squall until the frightened disciples woke him. His slumber seemed not to take into account their legitimate panic. Do you not care that we are perishing? They feared being swallowed by the sea. 
 

The Question Within the Question

For the ancients, water meant more danger than physical drowning. Deep seas represented primeval chaos. At the beginning of creation, the earth was “without form and void” (Genesis 1: 2). The Spirit of God “hovered” over the waters as the Creator brought forth solid ground and order. The seas ever threatened to destroy form and engulf structure in the abyss. Moreover, the realm of the dead could be described as under the sea (Jonah 2), and demonic powers which unravel goodness, life and love arise from the abyss of the deep waters. So a venture over stormy waters threatened spiritual as well as bodily undoing. Though the presence of Jesus should have given them confidence, his sleeping through the storm unnerved them, as if he did not care that primal forces threatened them.
 
Today, we still think of life’s chaos in terms of rising seas and raging storms: 
 
I’m just swamped at work.
This relationship is taking me under.
I’m always sailing into the wind.
Now everything has gone topsy-turvy.
My mind is in a swirl.
I don’t know up from down in this mess.
Nothing makes sense anymore.
There aren’t any landmarks!
My whole world is tossed to and fro.
I can’t seem to get my feet in this undertow.
My life is careening out of control.
There’s no land in sight. It’s all over. It’s hopeless.
There’s nothing that can be done.
 
With these phrases and many more, we cry out, “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” Is it not a concern to you that we are completely falling apart here? How can you stay asleep while the whole world comes undone?
 

Jesus’ Reply

At their frantic urging, Jesus awoke. He got up from sleep and spoke to the wind and the sea. He ordered silence, as if these inanimate powers could hear him, and as if they had no choice but to obey him. Immediately the wind died down and there was on the sea a “mega-calm,” a great tranquility. 
 
Then Jesus turned the question back on them. Why were you worried? Having been with me, do you still have no faith in who I am? Do you think I’d let some wind and waves undo your life and my mission? 
 
In the disciples’ defense, I think the Lord often has a much higher estimation of what we can take than we do! He doesn’t hesitate to set us sailing on seas that could suddenly swell to dangerous heights. So in their midst, I forget that storms don’t negate Christ’s sovereignty. Nor can any power break his grip of love on us. 
 
Indeed, every day is a risk. In every relationship everything is always at risk. The chaos in our minds can overwhelm us at any moment. Indeed, this life will fall apart for us. No one gets out of here alive. This present world cannot become a utopia.
 
Jesus the man slept in the boat. But Jesus the Son of God never abandoned his disciples. He embodied the psalm, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121: 4). This is true in our living and even in our dying.
 
Paul wrote, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15: 26). The deep sea and death symbolically go together. The word used for Jesus’ awakening in the boat is based on the same word we saw when the 12-year-old girl “got up” from death. The root is one of the words used for resurrection. Jesus got up from sleep and stilled the sea storm. Jesus awoke from death and broke its power forever. The threatening, chaotic sea of death will be swallowed up in the greater ocean of resurrection. “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15: 54).
 

Prayer

How often we have been sure we are perishing!
We get overwhelmed
At home, at work, 
By thoughts, by deadlines, by emotions,
Over health, over family, over pressure
Through stress, through news, through everything.
Have you forgotten us?
How can you sleep in our storms?
Do you not care that we’re sinking?
Do you not know how fragile we are?
 
How quickly we lose faith!
We cling to the truth in the hymn:
 
Be still, my soul! 
The waves and winds still know
The voice that calmed their fury long ago.
 
Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever in God’s peace;
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Love’s joys restored, our strivings then shall cease. 
 
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.   
 
      Katharina A. von Schlegel. Be Still, My Soul
      Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1855.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 9, Monday

Day 9, Monday
Shall We Look For Another?

 

Luke 7: 18-23

Messengers from John

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
 

Who's Asking?

John the Baptist was Jesus’ first cousin, just six months older. John had been conceived in the womb of barren, aged Elizabeth. His father, Zechariah received a prophetic word that his son would be the herald of the Christ. His great work would be preparing the people to see and to receive the Lord when he came. Just before Jesus began his public ministry, John preached a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The sign of a people made ready would be baptism in the Jordan River. His words were strong, and he raised expectations that Christ would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” setting the world ablaze with making a choice for or against God’s anointed (Luke 3: 16-17). At the time of our story, John had been imprisoned for confronting King Herod about marrying his brother’s wife. He heard about the works his cousin Jesus was doing, but wondered, perhaps, why Jesus’ ministry was happening on a quieter, person-to-person scale rather than the all-at-once dramatic national redemption he expected. So he sent messengers to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” In other words, “Can I still have hope that you are the promised Messiah, or has my preaching and imprisonment been in vain?” 
 

The Question Within the Question

Are you the one, or shall we look for another? We all ask that question! In our heart of hearts, when the world seems so hostile to Jesus and his people, we wonder if we have placed our trust in the right one. Can Jesus really be God himself come among us in the flesh? Is this the way God truly is, and therefore not another way? If I suffer for proclaiming that Jesus alone is Lord, will I turn out to have been wrong? Am I really as judgmental and near-sighted as they say? If I conform my life to Jesus’ word, putting restrictions on my wants and pursuits, will I end up unhappy? Is there really such a thing as life after death? Have I really been experiencing a taste of that life now? Jesus, are you really the one who leads to human flourishing, or should I be searching for another?
 
Indeed Jesus’ own disciples asked that question even when they had him in the flesh. After Jesus’ teaching about eating his body and drinking his blood, many followers left him. Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter, as usual, answered with frank honesty, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6: 67-68). In other words, if there was an easier path to eternal life, we’d take it! If there was a less off-putting, demanding and challenging messiah who could still fill us up with real life, we’d go for him. But, “we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6: 69). 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus did not answer with a theological formula, or an apologetic of logical proofs for his divinity. He answered by asking them to tell John to consider what they had witnessed. What does your experience tell you, cousin? “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (vs. 22).
 
Our Christian faith is not first a philosophy, offering thoughts about what makes for a good life (though of course we have plenty to say about that). Ours is not first a spirituality, offering techniques for how to experience the divine (though of course we have plenty to say about that). Our faith is not first of all an ethic for a moral, good life (though of course we have plenty to say about that). Our faith is first of all, deepest of all, a witness to what Jesus has done and said in the world, and how it affected people.
 
An ancient prayer asks of Mary Magdalene returning from the empty tomb, 
 
Speak, Mary, friend of Christ,
What did you see on sorrow’s road?
Tell us your story.
 
“I saw the tomb of the living Christ.
I saw his resurrection glory.
I saw the witnessing angels.
I saw the head-cloth and the shroud.
Christ my hope is risen,
And goes before his own to Galilee.”1
 
We pass along the story. The dead Jesus rose. And more, this has changed us! Peter, one of the first witnesses wrote that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1: 3). Christians tell what they have heard and seen and how it has taken root within them to change their lives. As they tell, it keeps happening. Jesus is the One! 
 
1 From “Victimae Pashali,” Latin, 11th c., English from Common Worship Daily Prayer London: (The Archbishop’s Council, 2005).
 

Prayer

Jesus, you said, 
“Whoever believes in me, 
Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
We hear of you, Lord Jesus.
People bear witness to what you said and did,
In the world, and then in their lives. 
Something awakes in us.
Desire for you, thirst for the life you offer.
We press into you,
And space opens up within us
Into which you pour your Spirit,
An ever flowing river of life.
You go from outside us 
To inside us, in the deepest place.
Our questions are answered by your presence.
Once lost, we feel home;
Once demanding and envious, we feel thankful;
Once weighted with guilt, we feel forgiven;
Once terrified of death, we anticipate life,
Which begins now and flows into eternity.
You are the One, Lord Jesus,
We look for no other,
All our hope is in you.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 8, Sunday

AT THE HEART OF MINISTRY
WEEK TWO

This week, we take up seven stories from the heart of Jesus’ ministry. We will encounter dramatic, even desperate requests:
 
A Gentile Roman soldier expresses more faith than most of God’s own people. 
 
An imprisoned John the Baptist, knowing his doom is near, earnestly wants to know if he has proclaimed the right man as Messiah. 
 
In a raging storm, nervous disciples ask, just like we all do when things are choppy, “Do you not care that we’re going through this?” 
 
A raving, self-harming demoniac begs Jesus to leave him alone, only to end up healed, clothed and in his right mind. 
 
In a curious double-story, a ruler, heart-breakingly worried over his dying daughter implores Jesus to come. But a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years interrupts Jesus just to touch his garment and find release. 
 
Typical of his huge personality, Peter makes an outrageous request and actually begins to walk on water until, sinking, he must call out, as we all do, for Jesus to save him.
 
Edwin Long’s painting, in the Pre-Raphaelite style, conveys an air of beauty and mystery. Jesus has entered the room of Jairus’ daughter, who died while Jesus was on his way. Christ gently takes her hand in the morning light as he recalls her to life. This unique miracle contains the common essence of the transformation we all seek, for ourselves and our loved ones. Jesus raises us from spiritual death into the vivid life of becoming a new creation in him. Enjoy the conversations! 
Edwin Longsden Long. The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter. 1889. Oil on canvas. Victoria Art Gallery, Bath.
 

Day 8 Sunday
Lord, Do Not Trouble Yourself . . . Only Say The Word
 

Luke 7: 1-10
The Centurion’s Faith

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
 

Who's Asking?

A centurion was an officer in the Roman military. The centurion in this story was likely in command of the Roman guard ensuring peace and obedience in Capernaum. Instead of coming to Jesus directly, the centurion sent Jewish elders to appeal to Jesus to heal one of his servants. The elders pleaded urgently with Jesus, making the case that though this centurion is a Gentile and an enforcer of Roman occupation, he surprisingly, is a pagan who loves Israel, even to the point of financing the local synagogue. Perhaps the centurion thought that coming personally would be too intimidating. He didn’t want Jesus to feel forced. Perhaps he thought deploying religious elders would influence Jesus to perform a healing for a non-Jew. We get no indication of what persuaded Jesus. Without comment or hesitation, Luke simply tells us, “And Jesus went with them.”
 
Next, the centurion made another request, this time through his own, no doubt Gentile, friends. Only now he asks Jesus not to come to his house. The centurion said, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” The revised request is for Jesus to come no further. But the centurion still wanted Jesus’ power to be displayed: “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” He believed that Jesus can heal his beloved servant from a distance, and asks that it be done.
 

The Question Within the Question

We hear an echo of Peter’s response to Jesus when the miracle of the great catch was overwhelming his boat. Peter felt unworthy in the face of such holy power.“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5: 8). Here, the centurion seems to second guess his request, not something a military officer was prone to do. The officer asked Jesus to halt his trek to his home. Perhaps he knew that for Jesus as a Jew, entering a Gentile home would make him ritually unclean. He wanted to spare Jesus both the unholy contact and the cleansing process. Or perhaps the officer realized that a man who could heal miraculously acted through the authority and power of the living God. In the face of God’s presence on earth in the man Jesus, the centurion acknowledged a structure of command higher than even Rome. In those days, Caesar demanded to be called “lord” by his subjects. The emperor was hailed as “the savior of the world” and master of all. In calling Jesus “Lord,” the centurion submitted to the supreme authority of the true God. To this point in Luke’s Gospel, every use of “Lord” made reference to the God of Israel. 
 
The centurion acknowledged his unworthiness before the true Lord’s holiness. But his humility did not cancel his love for his ill servant. He still wanted Jesus to heal. He related his faith in Jesus to his understanding of how power worked in the military. The centurion received orders from distant Rome, and he obeyed them. He had soldiers under him who obeyed his commands even if he made them through junior officers. So Jesus, as true King, could simply “order” disease to leave. That’s all he asked. Not a full visit, but just one word of command.
 

Jesus’ Reply

Neither the earthly power of this centurion, nor the list of his worthiness provided by the Jewish leaders motivated Jesus. The Lord started for the officer’s house because Jesus responded in compassion to human need. But then Christ was startled in wonder by the faith evident in the centurion’s second request. Not even among the historic people of God had he seen such trust. 
 
The healing of the servant became almost an afterthought in this scene! Of course the messengers found the servant well. What seems to matter to Jesus, however, is a) the earnest love that motivated the centurion, followed by b) his accurate assessment of himself, followed by c) his accurate, faith-filled estimation of Jesus. 
 
Acknowledging that we cannot stake any claim worthiness for the Lord’s favor does not lead us to a poor self-image. It frees us to receive grace in wonder for what it is: freely given love. Faith moves us to look away from ourselves to the hugeness of Jesus’ power and compassion.
 

Prayer

Our hearts are no fit place for you to dwell.
No matter what others might say of our worthiness.
Within the roof of our souls
Lies all manner of disordered desire and tangled thoughts.
Yet we cannot live without you.
Our pride is undone to learn that you are on the way.
Every time we lift our hearts in prayer, you are on your way to us.
Every time your Word is opened, you are on your way to us.
Every time the bread is broken and the cup is shared,
You are on your way to us.
 
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, 
But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” 
We cannot compel you to arrive, to save, to heal.
We have no ground, no wedge, no angle, no résumé
That could entice you.
Yet you are ever on your way to us anyway.
Only say the Word, Lord Jesus,
And we are reborn, restored again
To what you made us to be.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 7, Saturday

Day 7, Saturday
Why Do You Eat With Sinners?

 

Luke 5: 27-32
Calling Levi the Tax Collector
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 
 
And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
 

Who’s Not Asking?

Levi was a man so compromised that he was locked into his life whether he wanted to be or not. He did not expect change. He did not ask Jesus for anything. Levi was a Jewish man. Levi was a Roman tax collector. So, he was accepted by neither his own people nor his foreign employers. The Romans shrewdly sold the rights of tax collecting to locals. So the collector would make his profit by charging more than the already crushing Roman rate. The chariots and spears of Rome backed him against protest. Naturally his fellow Jews hated Levi. But the Romans hated him, too. Though they ran the system, they despised a man so dishonorable that he would gouge his own people.
 
Levi, then, was rich but isolated. He couldn’t enjoy his wealth with those who had been family. He couldn’t go to synagogue or to the Temple. And the Romans would never have him. His only friends were the small circle of those like him, others who had compromised their heritage, their souls, their faith, their values until there was no turning back. They were friends by default and need. Generally, he was a despised man, and no one hated him more than himself. Of course he didn’t think about these things every day. Like the rest of us, he let the demands of the hour carry him to work, stayed late, and used whatever tricks he could to get to sleep at night. He never expected anything to be different.
 

Who’s Asking?

Once again, the Pharisees and scribes took issue with Jesus. They did not yet confront Jesus directly. Rather, they asked his disciples about their behavior. After Jesus called him, Levi threw a great party for Jesus. A crowd of other tax collectors and notorious sinners came to the dinner. The Pharisees were lay people who had committed themselves to preserving Jewish identity amidst the Roman occupation. Their passion was to help Israel stay true to the LORD while a hostile pagan culture threatened to assimilate them. Jesus seemed to have taken the side of the morally compromised, those who colluded with Rome and disregarded God’s laws.
 

The Question Within the Questions

For the religious leaders, Jesus appeared guilty by association. Their whole emphasis was on staying separate from sin by staying separate from sinners. The name Pharisee is based on a Hebrew word that means “separated one.” They strove to keep God’s people holy. But a good impulse had gotten distorted. In the same way people used to fear that congenital illness or disability might be contagious, the Pharisees feared that sin was contagious by contact. Eating with the morally soiled signaled acceptance of them and therefore of their sin. Jesus’ dining with sinners physically revolted the Pharisees. Not much different than many of us today, they felt that bad people should be spiritually canceled; silenced or worse. Table fellowship meant endorsement.Of course they had forgotten the communion of all humanity: “there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14: 3, Romans 3: 11). Their division of people into righteous and unrighteous by group association, affliction or proclivity obscured what we share in common. Their quest for holiness by non-contact led to hardness of heart against others, which inevitably leads to isolation from God himself.
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus did not ignore their challenge to his followers. In one magnificent statement, he explained why he called Levi and demonstrated how his very compassion could become judgment for those who insisted on self-generated righteousness. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (vs. 31). In other words, Jesus came for Levi precisely because he was a comprised, lost mess of a sinner. He did not come for those who think they’re fine as they are. Why did Jesus eat with sinners? They’re the only kind of people there are! Here’s the shocker: the strongest block to our reception of the Son of God who has come to us is not our sinfulness, but our refusal to admit it. Our compromises and brokenness, our poor choices and out-right destructiveness do not keep us from Jesus as surely as pretending we have no need of him. He has come for us, for those of us who will admit that we are not righteous—not right, not connected, not whole—but tired of life at this breakneck pace, and longing to be healed. He comes to answer our desperation with his forgiving, fulfilling presence.
 
The only one kind of people Jesus said he didn’t come for were the healthy and righteous. That is to say, the self-righteous. The fine in themselves. The proud. The ones who insist they are their own standard of righteousness. The ones who insist on figuring out life on their own. They’re the ones who think sinners and sick people are someone else. To them he says in effect, “Fine. Don’t worry. I didn’t come for you. You can have your choice. You can say, ‘My will be done,’ and I’ll let you alone.”
 
Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. Simon Peter got that when he fell on his knees in a boat sinking with fish. He knew during the miracle what mattered most, and when grace came to him, he was willing to leave everything. Jesus wants us to be like Peter and Levi. He wants us to stay connected to that point of need in us. To keep a line into the tax collector that is still in our hearts. He calls us to a relationship of continuing dependence on him. A life of constantly releasing our wills into his. We keep admitting all the truth he reveals to us. Miraculously, that doesn’t lead us to condemnation, but to life. Against all expectations, he calls us even now, “Follow me.” 
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we gather on Sunday mornings as 
Liars, adulterers, cheats, fakers, gossips,
Drunks, idolaters, ragers, doubters,
Sinners every one of us. 
We feel years down the wrong road,
Isolated by our compromises,
With no expectation for change. 
We don’t even ask for help anymore.
 
But you came for us! 
Your voice reaches the innermost depths 
With an invitation to return to fellowship. 
You excavate the long buried heart,
Even when we thought it was forever turned to stone. 
You find the child who still yearns to be picked up and held close. 
When we have decided that we have simply done too much wrong 
Ever to be worthy again, you call us.
We hear the precious words, “Follow me.” 
The table turns over and the coins rattle to the ground.
As we rise in a hurry,
Everything gets made new. 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 6, Friday

Day 6, Friday
Who Can Forgive Sins?

 

Luke 5: 17-26
Raising the Paralytic

On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.” (You may now wish to look back at the painting from this week’s introduction).
 

Who’s Asking?

There are two requests of Jesus in this passage. One is unspoken. The other is indirect. First, the friends of the paralyzed man asked Jesus to heal him. Their words were not recorded. But their actions imply the earnest desperation of their request, as well as their confident faith that Jesus could grant it. Taking off the roof tiles in order to let down by rope a man on a stretcher signals an ardent ask: heal our friend! 
 
The second question was more of an overheard accusation. The religious leaders did not address Jesus directly. But they spoke to one another in a way that their displeasure could be perceived easily. They questioned the legitimacy of Jesus to pronounce forgiveness over the paralyzed man. These were the experts in Scripture. They understood forgiveness to come about through the ritual sacrifices of atonement the LORD provided for his people, as described in Exodus and Leviticus. The shedding of blood was always involved in seeking forgiveness. These religious leaders meant to guard Scripture by noting that Jesus in his simple declaration of forgiveness seemed to be playing outside the bounds of Scripture.
 

The Question Within the Questions

For the friends of the paralyzed man, there was no question of Jesus’ ability to heal. They had total faith that Jesus would raise their friend. All they had to do was get to Jesus. Love for their afflicted one made them bold to go around the crowd, not being content to wait for a turn that might never come. Their loyalty overrode even the rights of the property owner as they made an opening in his roof. We know nothing of the faith or lack of faith of the man on the mat. But we perceive the urgent faith of these friends. They actually did not have a different question than the one their actions are asking. Their hearts exuded deep love for their friend and true faith in Jesus.
 
The religious leaders rightly knew that the power of forgiveness belongs to God alone. They understood the method of atonement that God himself prescribed in the Scriptures. But they seem to have forgotten the heart of the God who stood behind the methods. At the dedication of the first great temple, King Solomon prayed in anticipation of future disasters brought about by the people’s sin. So he prayed, “if they turn again and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people . . . ” (1 Kings 8: 33-34). Our ultimate appeal for forgiveness is not through the means of atonement but the promise-keeping, steadfastly-loving heart of God. All these religious leaders could see was that if an ordinary man like Jesus could pronounce forgiveness, their whole system seemed to be coming down. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

The LORD promised through the prophet Jeremiah that the days of a new covenant were coming. In those days, “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 . . . For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31: 33-34). In that blessed future, the Law would be internalized in every heart, and forgiveness would come directly from God. The praise of David will everywhere be heard. For forgiveness and healing will always be joined, “Bless the LORD . . . who forgives all your iniquity and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103: 2-3). These days of the new covenant had begun in Jesus! He linked the miraculous healing to the deeper miracle of forgiveness, all possible through him. 
 
So Jesus addressed both requests in one sweeping word of authority and action of compassionate power. “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Luke 5: 24).
 
Jesus answered the faith of the friends by meeting both the immediate and deeper needs of their paralyzed friend. Our inmost need is to be restored to communion with God. Jesus made his pronouncement because he knew his Father’s disposition. God wants to forgive sin! God wants to restore humanity. Jesus knew the days of the new covenant had come and that his blood sacrifice would fulfill and then eliminate the sacrificial system. His sending of the Spirit into the hearts of believers would be the writing of the Law into our hearts, enabling us to rise from spiritual paralysis and obey him joyfully from the inside out. 
 

Prayer

Everything happened around me,
Without my consent or influence.
I just lay on the mat of my shame,
Unable to rise, unable to change.
Though I couldn’t say why, 
I felt I deserved this.
 
I would have despaired but
Faithful friends came every day.
They kept me close, they made me real.
 
One day they picked me up.
In a great rush they carried me,
Bumping into a great crowd,
Then up. Up. So steep. 
Would I slide off my bed?
Then down, down
Before a man I had never seen before.
He looked at me and I loved him.
One glance assured me all was well.
“Your sins are forgiven,” he said.
And something loosened inside me.
 
But he seemed to be in a contest
With others in the room,
With those who held us all in iron grip. 
 
He spoke to them, “But that you may know
The Son of Man has authority . . . ”
Then he looked at me again, “Rise!
Take that mat and go home on your own accord.”
So I did. Just like that. 
Inside, outside. Healed and whole. Always.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 5, Thursday

Day 5, Thursday
Lord, If You Will, You Can Make Me Clean

 

Luke 5: 12-16
A Leper's Plea

While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
 

Who’s Asking?

Leprosy refers to a range of skin diseases, many of them highly contagious, all of them unsightly. According to Leviticus, having leprosy made a person ritually unclean. You were excluded from the community. Leprosy was truly shaming in that you were forced to live away from normal people. The uncleanness was like death. Death could not enter the camp where the living, holy God dwelt. So Leviticus tells us that the leper was to mourn himself like a dead man. He was to wear torn clothes and cry out his affliction saying, “ . . . ‘Unclean. Unclean.’ . . . He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13: 45-46). He had to self-identify as a leper.
 
So this man broke taboos to get to Jesus. He endured scorn and mocking. He approached the Lord and fell before him in a begging posture. Then he just stated a fact, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. I’m not asking you for anything. I am just telling you something about you that relates to me. You do with this statement what you will.”
 
Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. What great faith he had! The issue was never about Jesus’ power. The leper acknowledged that Jesus had power no one on earth had. He could heal leprosy. He could make the unclean accursed outcast into a member of normal community once again. Lord you can. I know you can. There’s no question. Disease obeys you. You are the Lord. The only question is your willingness.

The Question Within the Question

The leper wanted to know what we most want to know: “Are you willing, Jesus? How far down from heaven and onto our mean streets were you willing to go? What if I offer to you more than my safe sins or my acceptable faults? What if I don’t say, ‘Lord, help me to be less busy, spend more time with you and be more patient in traffic? If you are willing, you can make me nicer.’ For the truth is we are not nice and we are not good. So what if I hold up my leprosy? What if I approach you with my secret shame and bring it into the light? What if I name the thing about me that seems totally unsolvable? What if I got right down to the heart of it and said, ‘I don’t even care if you fix my external problems, just make me acceptable again to you! Just make me able to relate to people without shame.’” 
 
Moreover, the leper didn’t say, “If you will, you can heal my skin disease?” The degeneration of his skin was not as bad as being cut off from the Lord’s favor. The pain of the disease was not as bad as the shame of being excluded from normal human company. Lord, you can make me clean. Accepted. Restored. Forgiven. Of course, the healing of the disease that made the man unclean was necessary for him to be restored to ritual cleanness. But the leper’s statement tells us where the deepest pain was. We can endure most anything physically if we know that God forgives us and loves us and stays with us. We can take a lot of pain if we can have someone with us. Lord, are you willing to make me clean? Forgiven. Restored to community. Whole. 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Before he said anything, Jesus stretched forth his hand and touched the leper while he was still unclean. He touched him before he declared him well! In Romans 5: 8 and 10, we read, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us . . . while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” Jesus didn’t go to the cross for people already cleaned up. He touched our leprosy while we still had it. He died for our sins while we are yet sinners acting like his enemies. 
 
This, then, was God himself stretching out his hand to save his people. This was God’s judgment on sin: in Jesus, he took it as his own. This was God’s confrontation with our mortal frailty: he touched it and healed it. And so Jesus spoke the meaning of what he had done. He gave the words that would heal the man’s mind and spirit just as his touch had healed his skin. “I will. Be clean.” Jesus is willing. He touches us in the place of our shame. He draws us out of hiding. 
 
We feel attracted to the hope that we could be known thoroughly, and yet loved utterly. Though we tremble, we want him to see the leprosy. We want him to see the absolute worst of our uncleanness. The problem in the heart and soul is worse than any infirmity we might suffer. For in Christ, the power of God to stretch forth and save us is here. He wills your salvation. He wills your restoration to right relationship with him and one another. Go to him. Approach him. Pray to him. Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. Hear his reply. Carry it about with you all day. Jesus’ words are more precious than gold, I will. I will. I will! Be clean! 
 

Prayer

Lord, you are willing!
I can give no reason why you should be.
I can make no plea that could persuade you,
Offer no merit to move you.
It is only your compassion.
Your nature.
You came into the world to save sinners.
You can make me clean.
So I pray with David,
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
From Psalm 51
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 4, Wednesday

Day 4, Wednesday
Depart from Me!

 

Luke 5: 1-11
The Calling of Simon Peter

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
 

Who's Asking?

Simon, who would come to be known as Peter, had recently seen Jesus heal his mother-in-law of a high fever (Luke 4: 38-39). So Simon gave Jesus the benefit of the doubt the morning after he had fished all night with no catch. Jesus asked him to take the boat back out so he could teach from the water’s edge. Then Jesus asked Simon to go further out into the deep water. This would rarely be successful for net fishers since the fish could simply swim under the net. Still, Simon obeyed. Suddenly the catch was overwhelming. The nets were breaking and the boat was sinking. The lifelong dream of a fisher is for such a haul. But Simon ceased to react as a fisher. His great, emotional heart realized he was beholding the power and presence of the LORD I AM in his midst.Awestruck, he fell to his knees. Before such holiness, he felt acutely unclean. Being this close to the fire of divine purity would surely incinerate him. He begged in terror, “Depart from me.” Your holiness will surely destroy me in my sinfulness. You’re too much. I cannot endure this much unfiltered God. 
 

The Question Within the Question

We may not realize how much we think of God as primarily existing to help us get the life we dream for ourselves. Many of our prayers may be about realizing success in our endeavors. We may well think that what will satisfy us most is some form of success as we define it. God should be the benevolent Father that is most pleased when he helps us get where we want to go.
 
But then, even when we have everything we thought we wanted, something may happen that changes our whole perspective. God arrives, though it may feel like he invades. Quite dramatically, it dawns upon us: “There’s more to life than what I have been seeing. There is a God. And God makes a claim on my life.” Perhaps, at the very same moment, you get a clearer view of yourself. “I’ve been living for me. I’ve been curved in on myself all these years and it makes me sick. All the love lost! All the betrayals by neglect as much as anything! The blindness! I’m a mess that can’t be fixed. I’ve got to close all these thoughts up and get out of here.” We want God to go away. He’s just too much. He’s sinking our boat. Depart from me! 
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus immediately took away Simon’s fears: “Do not be afraid.” Forgiveness is implied. For Jesus’ words echo the angel at his birth who told the terrified shepherds, “Fear not. . . . for unto you is born . . . a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2: 10-11). In our lives it may look like this. Just as soon as the horror of self-knowledge is embraced, there comes another feeling of presence. A gentle voice that speaks from the depths of the soul, even from the depths of the universe: “It’s all right. Do not be afraid. I know who you are. Forgiveness is mine to grant. I’m not here to destroy your life. I’m here to remake it. I am Christ the Lord.” Jesus lifts us out of the sinking boat of self.
 
In the same sentence, Jesus gave Simon a new vocation, “From now on you will be catching men.” Literally, “catching people alive.” Fish get caught alive in nets, only to die and be consumed by people. But Jesus’ mission frees us from the nets of Satan’s deceptions. We get liberated from the snares of death into life shining with forgiveness and purpose. This transformation occurs as we discover that God’s holy reality is not meant to undo us with a sense of unworthiness, but to rouse us to a higher calling. Our pasts are no barrier to God’s present and future purposes for us. The Jesus who forgives calls us to live from now on with a deeper mission: his redeeming love for the lost world. Our reply can mirror Peter’s. “OK, I’m yours. I want what you want more than anything. I need your love that much. I will serve you.”
 

Prayer

Sometimes all I ever wanted is not enough.
Too soon the victory felt empty.
Too quickly I ran through the money 
And had nothing to show for it.
In a blink the affirmation at work
Returned to midnight self-doubt.
The adventure of a lifetime
Led me back to the same old lostness.
I cannot fill the hole in my soul
With anything that satisfies.
 
And then you show up in glaring reality,
The Holy One before whom everything 
Seems vain, seems filthy, seems cheap,
Insubstantial and evanescent, nothing.
 
I’d like you to leave before the horror
Undoes me completely.
Let me go back to my dream,
To chasing an illusion of self-sufficiency.
 
But you do not leave. 
You haunt me with love,
You hunt me with forgiveness,
You lure me with a call to higher purpose.
 
All I ever wanted is never enough,
But you are. You are. Everything. 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 3, Tuesday

Day 3, Tuesday
Is Not This Joseph's Son?

 

Luke 4: 14-30
Jesus’ First Sermon in His Hometown

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,     
 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,                           
because he has anointed me                               
to proclaim good news to the poor.         
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives                             
and recovering of sight to the blind,                         
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,            
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
 
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
 

Who's Asking?

After a brief stint of ministry in nearby Capernaum, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth to teach in the synagogue. At first the congregation was so pleased. Imagine their whispers, “Such a fine looking 33-year-old! His bearing is so confident. His years in carpentry have left him strong and sculpted. What a career he could have as a teacher!” Jesus asked for the scroll of Isaiah. He found the passage (numbered today as 61: 1-2) in which the prophet describes the activities of the Messiah. Boldly, but with perfect confidence, Jesus declared that he himself was the fulfillment of that prophecy. As audacious as it was, at first the crowd was pleased. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? We’ve known him all his life! We practically raised him! Jesus makes us so proud. Why, our native son is the Christ! Think how great that is for us! We’ll all share in the glory.” 
 

The Question Within the Question

The congregation wanted Jesus to be the Christ who fits in with their idea of the hometown boy who would bring them favor. Make us proud but don’t make us change! We knew you when. So stay familiar to us. Give us the glory but not the summons to discipleship. So too, we may well have known Jesus all our lives. We’ve got the formula down about the cross taking away our sins and punching our ticket to heaven. We have figured out how to speak well of Jesus and yet keep him neatly in his place so we can live the other parts of our lives as we want. Our prayers say in effect, “Do what we want since we’re your hometown, favorite people!” We may feel we’ve got Jesus all figured out, safely in a spiritual box. So we may resent any challenge he may bring our settled lives and faith.
 

Jesus’ Reply

Jesus did not give in to their admiration. Jesus knew they wanted him to impress them with miracles. He knew they didn’t really want to follow someone they still considered their boy as King of all. So he reminded them of Scriptures describing times when the LORD’s own people ignored his prophets. But foreigners with false gods saw and believed the LORD’s power. The congregation understood what Jesus implied. His own hometown people weren’t even as faithful as pagans! Jesus didn’t trust the sincerity of the faith of those he’d known all his life. The insult was so great they grew furious enough to try to drive him over a cliff.
 
This scene returns us to Simeon’s prophecy over the infant Jesus, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed . . . so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2: 34-35). Jesus would be the great clarifier. Not a few, but most of those who heard him would not follow him. Many of the best people openly rejected him. His very presence brought both a rising and a falling among humanity. This story causes us to examine the depth of our own loyalty.
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we want you to be a certain way.
We’re happy to be proud of you.
So pleased to think that you know us.
But then we figure such association
Ought to count for favor in our lives.
 
We don’t like for you to question our sincerity.
We find it insulting that you don’t appreciate
Our level of discipleship. After all,
We’re so busy, how could you expect more?
We have so many expenses, how could you expect more?
We have to get along with so many people, how could you expect more?
Is it not enough that we sing your praise,
Give a bit to your cause, 
And even show up at your house (when we can)?
You should be more appreciative!
You’re Joseph’s son, after all, one of us.
How dare you act like the God 
Who made us and claims us!
Who has a right to us,
Who came to save us from ourselves.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 2, Monday

Day 2, Monday
Command This Stone to Become Bread

 

Luke 4: 1-13
Tempted in the Wilderness

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” 
 
And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
 
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.’”
 
And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
 
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to guard you,’ 
 
and 
 
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
 
And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
 

Who's Asking?

1 Peter 5: 8-9 tells us, “Be sober minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith. . . . ” Peter tells us we definitely have an adversary. He is known as Satan, the accuser of our souls with designs for humanity’s ruin (2 Corinthians 2: 11). He is the devil, diabolos, the one who deceives (1 Timothy 3: 6-7). He was the serpent in the garden who tempted our first parents into ruin (Genesis 3: 1-5). He’s the personal head of “the cosmic powers over this present darkness . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6: 12). 
 
Now you won’t see him dressed up in a red devil suit. Nor even in a lion’s costume, even though he is a devouring beast. He is the power of deceit. He operates like invisible poison gas that we breathe in (Ephesians 2: 2), distorting our perceptions, making us think that wrong is right and right is wrong. He wants to eat us up with lies. Lies about ourselves. Lies about our worth, either too high or too low. Lies about what makes for human flourishing. The form of the lies may change through the years, but they are always the same. To make us doubt God and exalt ourselves.
 
Jesus came to remake humanity. His mission was to live as the first fully faithful human being, the beginning of a new creation (Colossians 1: 15-20). So of course the evil one wanted to derail Jesus. He tempted Jesus to lay aside the requirements of living faithfully as truly one of us in this broken world. 
 

The Question Within the Question

The devil baited Jesus over his own identity: if you are the Son of God. His requests asked Jesus to prove who he was according to Satan’s terms. Though Jesus could have done any of the things asked of him, he declined each time. Jesus had laid aside his divine prerogatives. He lived as we do, in reliance on the Holy Spirit to empower his humanity for loving service to his Father and others. The devil urged Jesus to take a short cut, to concentrate on meeting his own urgent needs rather than the will of his Father. 
 
“Command this stone to become bread.” After forty days of fasting, Jesus would have loved some thick crusty bread in that desert. But the temptation wasn’t about solving his hunger. The devil was whispering, “Don’t do this the human way. Skip the wait. Use your Fast Pass as the Son of God. Have what you need now so you can serve them better later.” The essence of Satan’s temptation was “Don’t experience what they experience. Don’t make your way as a man in the world when you can live as God!”
 
The evil one urged Jesus to sever the connection with our humanity. In that way, of course, we would have been lost, for our Savior could no longer have fulfilled the conditions of a faithful, real, humanity. A shortcut for his own sake would have sent Jesus away from the path to our redemption. We would not be able to relate to a savior who was not tempted in every way as we are (Hebrews 2: 18, 4: 15). 
 

Jesus’ Response

The first man Adam lived in the Garden of Eden in robust health, before death, pain or decay had entered the world. Overflowing bounty and variety surrounded him. Every kind of fruit was available but one, and that one he seized. The second original man, the new Adam, Jesus, entered the world through the dangerous, painful squeeze of childbirth. He grew amidst disease, deprivation and oppression. In the wilderness for forty days, with no options for food while hunger screamed through him, Jesus resisted the temptation to use divine power as a magic shortcut. Adam fell amidst the plenty of Paradise. Relying on the truths of Scripture in his replies, Jesus obeyed in the desert in extreme deprivation. 
 

Prayer

Merciful Savior, 
When we had everything in Paradise,
We traded it all—even intimacy with you—
For the totally unneeded forbidden fruit.
Yet when you nearly starved in the desert,
You refused to trade your mission for bread.
You would not forsake the plan
That to save us you had to be one of us.
To remake us, you had to live as we were commanded,
To re-form our humanity in the way everlasting, 
You had to faithfully walk the years of obedience
With the right choice made every single moment.
 
Give us grateful hearts that trust your lead,
So we may resist the urgent, insistent temptations
To avoid the suffering of fidelity.
Teach us that the way of the cross 
Actually is the way of life.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Day 1, Sunday

FIRST QUESTIONS
WEEK ONE

Reading the stories of Jesus’ early ministry, one can’t help but be struck by his resolute sense of himself. The first questions and requests of Christ tested his identity. His future ministry was immediately at stake. All could have been skewed so early on! Yet his replies indicate that Jesus’ purpose was never compromised. His confidence in who he was and what he came to do was never shaken. 
 
At the very same time, we do not sense pomposity in Christ. Jesus was never bombastic. He was in control of himself but never full of himself. Jesus was constantly aware of his Father’s presence. His heart remained ever oriented to this reality that was the truest part of himself. He replied to all our requests out of his deep, constant connection to his Father’s will. He came to save us!
 
This week we will see how Jesus’ first miracles all had a deep purpose, from calling Peter to mission, to restoring a leper to community, or to cleansing the sins of a man before healing him. That’s the scene depicted in this week’s vivid painting from a church in Kosovo. In the upper right corner we see the friends on the roof of the house who have lowered the man down before Jesus. The disciples are gathered to the left of Christ. The crowd is behind the paralytic, with the skeptical Pharisees in the front. The action centers on the hand of Jesus stretched out in saving power while the paralytic reaches an open, receptive palm back to him. Behind Jesus, Simon Peter offers his hand affirming the words and actions of Jesus. But the Pharisee between Jesus and the paralytic wants to intervene. He points to the invalid. How could Jesus, a mere man, have declared his sins forgiven? But Jesus’ pardon came with the full acceptance of his reaching hand. Over the Pharisee’s objections, the man would rise through Christ’s command. So this week, may you encounter Jesus’ willingness to meet you savingly in your earnest need! 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Anonymous. The Healing of Paralytic at Capernaum. 1350. Visoki Decani Monastery, Kosovo.

Day 1 Sunday
Son, Why Have You Treated Us So?
 

Luke 2: 40-52
Young Jesus in the Temple

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. 
 
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 
 
And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 
 
And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
 

Who's Asking?

Jesus’ mother Mary asked the question after she and Joseph had searched for the 12-year-old Jesus for three days. The family had come south from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. People traveled in clusters of relatives and friends, looking out for each other’s children. Jesus was just a year from official adulthood. He would not have been expected to stay right next to his parents. But panic ensued when, at the end of a day’s traveling, Mary and Joseph could not find Jesus! I can scarcely imagine my parental anxiety if we had spent two nights not knowing where our child was. The word Mary used to describe their feelings implies tormenting distress and sorrowful, unrelieved grief. Where’s our boy?! We understand the simultaneous emotions in Mary’s question after they found Jesus: immense relief and anger. How could he have stayed back without telling them? She seemed so disappointed with him!
 

The Question Within the Question

Particularly with the first child, parents may sorrow the day they realize their child is his own person, who never really was theirs to keep, and never could stay always their little one. The ancient prophet Simeon had taken the baby Jesus in his arms to bless him. He had a quiet prediction for Mary “. . . a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2: 35). So it began. Her boy was becoming a man. He was growing into his identity as the unique Son of his heavenly Father and the Christ of his people. Mary knew that, but this first of many heart stabs still stung. Parents live with the sorrow that the baby who once relied on them for everything becomes an independent adult, even though that’s exactly how it should be. No matter how close their mature relationship though, there remains a touch of grief for the change.
 
Further, we see how this early story gets mirrored by Luke in one of his last stories. The disciples on the Emmaus Road did not know it was the risen Jesus to whom they talked. They lamented how they had hoped Jesus was “the one to redeem” (Luke 24: 21). But now it was the third day since he was taken from them. Jesus was still “lost” to them and their hearts were grieved.
 
So, too, at times we may wonder at what seems like the absence of Jesus. It could be in seasons of suffering or grief when Christ seems gone. Like we’ve lost him. Or it could be wondering why Jesus takes so long to return while the world heaves in its broken, rebellious agony. Christ’s church asks with Mary, “Why have you treated us so?”
 
Along a more self-centered path, I may resentfully ask Jesus, “Why must your vocation interrupt my travel plans? Why don’t you accommodate yourself to my agenda instead of interrupting my life by making me seek you?” The inconvenience of a Savior who asks us for not less than everything can make us wonder why he treats us so.
 

Jesus’ Response

For Jesus, this episode represented his discovery as a 12-year-old that he was not just an extension of his parents’ lives. He was his own person. He had a unique, intimate orientation to his heavenly Father. Mary called him “Son,” and that was true. But Jesus’ calling as a human son required him to live faithfully as his heavenly Father’s Son. The needle of Jesus’ heart always pointed toward the magnetic north of his Father’s love. 
 
Jesus was not being rebellious or thoughtless. He had found his home in the Temple, where the Word of his Father was being taught and discussed. Deep realization had come upon him. It was both necessary and inevitable that finding this House of his Father, he had to linger there. His true divinity was rising in awareness.
 
With the big picture in view, we see that Jesus’ passion for his Father made him the first truly faithful human. He was being the man we needed him to be. But that is also inconvenient to us. He won’t be swayed by our plans or worries or expectations. We can’t have any of our idolatries, dreams or ambitions and have him too. When we choose as first, something other than his Father, the connection to Jesus just recedes. We lose him until we seek him in his Father’s house. 
 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, your Father was your necessity.
You found your home in his house.
You found your purpose in his presence.
If we want you, we must orient to the Father as well.
How merciful that you share such intimacy.
You open your relationship with the Father to us
As you teach us to pray like you, “Our Father. . . . ”
 
Still, at times, we search for you and think you have left us.
We grow disheartened that we feel alone.
But you remind us of the Father’s words,
“Child, you are always with me, 
And all that I have is yours.”
Lead us, we pray, to interrupt our personal journeys
And seek you in the Father’s House (his presence in you!)
Where alone is fellowship and life everlasting.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Posted in: Lent

Asking Jesus: Introduction

Walking is one of the best ways of talking. Being in motion frees the mind and heart. Fresh air, legs moving and blood pumping inspire the back and forth of conversation. So, I love our cover painting, “Emmaus Road,” by Liz Swindle. On Easter afternoon, two disciples walk and talk with Jesus through a tree tunnel. A white light from back down the road illumines their path. Perhaps its source is the empty tomb from which Jesus has recently emerged. The tall, leafy dark trees would be unlikely in Israel. But Swindle depicts something beyond the literal landscape. This scene evokes Eden, the garden in which the LORD once walked with his beloved creation. We lost Eden through our sin. But with the resurrection, new creation has dawned. Our long estrangement from God is over. The earth greens forth deep, rich life. Once again, as the old hymn says, “He walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.” Can you imagine what you might ask Jesus if you had a two hour walk with him? That’s the inspiration for this year’s Lent focus.
 
This study has been transformative for me! Even after a half century of pursuing knowing Jesus, this year I came to see him through fresh eyes. I had never considered as a whole the range of requests made to him. Everyone asked things of Jesus, whether family or enemies, the broken or the proud, the seekers or the demonic. The more I read, the more I grew in awe of Christ’s replies. Jesus answered with brilliance, wit, wisdom, compassion, resolute purpose, true-heartedness, keen insight and tender mercy. There’s never been anyone like him in the world. Not before or since. No one comes close to this young rabbi from the north country. Just listening in on how he answered us in word and work leads me to love him more. I got so much from the preparation that I am eager to be your guide through the requests and replies of Jesus we find in the gospels. I believe you’ll never be the same either!
 
Let’s take a moment to set the context, and then we’ll see how this daily guide can work in practice.
 
The eternal Son of God came to us as the man Jesus. He was born of Mary, and she taught him the Scriptures as a boy. Jesus learned carpentry from Joseph in the village of Nazareth. He went to synagogue. He rested on the Sabbath. And all along, he interacted with people. Jesus engaged us in conversation. Even his teaching style invited interaction. This was not an aloof Savior! He was God with us, relating to us person to person. No other faith on the face of the earth describes a God such as this!
 
So Jesus is not merely a formula for salvation. He did not come just to die. He’s a person, and every part of his life is essential to the remaking of our humanity. Reading the accounts of Jesus’ life, I’ve been struck by the number of times people asked Jesus questions. He truly listened to them with full regard. Then, his brilliant answers, often in story form, changed lives. Jesus’ personality was electric and compelling. Jesus discerned hearts. He let himself be moved deeply by suffering. Yet he resolutely declined to be distracted from his mission. He parried challenges and exposed hidden motives. Many people made huge requests of Jesus. He replied to genuine need with mighty acts of love. Yet he refused to be co-opted for any agenda but that of his Father: to seek and to save the lost. So, “Christ gave significance to everything that he ever touched by word or deed, and bestowed importance on every man he encountered.”1 This he did from his birth, through his ministry all the way through his death, resurrection and ascension. 
 
Now here’s the wonder. This Jesus still meets us in the record of his words and actions! With just a little imagination, we can quickly identify with the people in the gospel accounts. This Lent, we can have a fresh encounter with Jesus by discovering how the requests others made of him remain the ones we make today. His answers to disciples and Pharisees, the wounded and the wealthy, the grieving and the self-sufficient, can become life-changing replies to us. 
 
We will be concentrating on the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three are called the Synoptic Gospels, from a word that means “with a view together.” They overlap in recording many of the same events and words of Jesus. Yet, like looking at the facets of a diamond, each also gives an important and unique perspective. 
 
1 F. van der Meer. Early Christian Art. (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), pp. 125-126.
 
How to Use This Book in Twenty Minutes a Day
If I’ve been even reasonably faithful in interpreting these stories, and if you make even a reasonable attempt at engaging them, you can’t help but be transformed. Why? Because we’re questing into Scripture, the very Word of God. Specifically we’re delving into the three gospels that witness to the events of the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, in his days among us. The Holy Spirit delights to take the words and doings of Jesus in history and make them vibrantly present in our lives. We simply cannot be the same after sincerely encountering Christ in his Word through reliance on the Holy Spirit! Jesus will comfort, challenge, overturn, establish, rearrange, settle, encourage, spur us and much more. We will meet him in our requests and his replies. What could be better?
 
So we will take up 42 gospel encounters in which a question or request was directed toward Jesus. Each day will follow this pattern:
 
Daily Scripture 
Every day, two Scriptures will appear in boxes. I’m asking that we each read these verses, both aloud and prayerfully. By the end of the 42 days, we will have them committed to memory! These passages are important. The first shows how much Jesus prized our participation in his life and ministry. He wants us to ask him! 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The second shows how reliant we are on the Holy Spirit to do the work of bringing Scripture to life inside our hearts. We don’t take for granted the Spirit’s work, but daily invite him to connect us to Jesus more and more:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Read aloud these two verses each day to show that you are indeed asking for the Spirit to bring you closer to Jesus through his Word.
 
Who’s Asking?
In this section we set the context for the story we are contemplating. We make note of those who are making the request and what we can know about them.
 
The Question Within the Question
Next, we take it deeper by exploring the motivations underneath the request. We excavate the heart motivation. That gives us opportunity to make connections to our lives today. Though we are separated by centuries and cultures, the human heart stays the same. At that level, we can presently relate to the Bible characters.
 
Jesus’ Response
Then we listen to how Jesus replied. We note what he discerned in the questioners. We explore the stories he told, the healings he enacted, the corrections and the encouragements he gave. This is where we hear Jesus speak to us!
 
Closing Prayer
Finally, we respond to Jesus’ response through prayer. I’ve provided some words for you to use, but always in hopes that you will move into your own prayers and interaction with Jesus.
 
I’m excited to take this journey with you, dear congregation, and I pray that each and all of us will experience the wonder of interacting with our savior in a personal, transformative way!
 
Gerrit Dawson
Senior Pastor
 
P.S.: A Word about Jesus’ Healings
In ten of our stories, Jesus marvelously delivers people from physical and/or spiritual infirmities. At first these can seem rather daunting to relate to because such dramatic miracles seldom happen in daily life. So it’s helpful to consider the context of these healings. They occurred in the midst of a fallen world that has not yet been fully remade. These miracles were foretastes of the Kingdom of God Jesus inaugurated but which will not reach completion until his return. In other words, the dramatic deliverances were like watching a time-lapse photograph. We see happening in a moment signs of what is to come at the end of time as we know it. In that glorious future, we will experience the resurrection into renewed bodies in a renewed world. 
 
Meanwhile, in this present age, every person Jesus healed still had to die as we all do. Further, Jesus healed many people, but not every single ill or oppressed person he saw. The healings and deliverances he performed were signs of the greater miracle that Jesus in himself was remaking our humanity, and that, by faith, we could share in that new creation. What mattered most in the healings was the connection to Jesus created by his loving action and the reaching, trusting, life-changing faith of those who were healed. Every deliverance we will read about has a spiritual dynamic to which we can relate. So, we realize that the gospels present, in accelerated form, the transformation we undergo through the whole course of our lives. 
 
Finally, as we dive into this study, I want to acknowledge my joyful debt to David E. Garland’s commentary on Luke in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series. Professor Garland writes with clarity, insight, integrity and faith. He offered a treasure trove of insights into Jesus’ interactions. 
 
Posted in: Lent

Daily Lent Readings

Everyone asked things of Jesus, whether family or enemies, the broken or the proud, the seekers or the demonic. Jesus answered with brilliance, wit, wisdom, compassion, resolute purpose, true-heartedness, keen insight and tender mercy. There’s never been anyone like him in the world. Not before or since. No one comes close to this young rabbi from the north country. Just listening in on how he answered us in word and work leads us to love him more. 
 
Get ready for 42 days of Asking Jesus: What We Requested, How He Replied. A daily reading will appear each day of Lent on this page at 4 am beginning with an introduction Saturday, March 5.  
 
You may also subscribe to daily Lent emails by texting ASKINGJESUS to 22828.
 
We pray that you experience the wonder of interacting with our Savior in a personal, transformative way this Lent!
 
Posted in: Lent