“Then Judas, His betrayer,….was remorseful…saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’  And they said ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’  Then he departed and went and hanged himself”  Matthew 27: 4,5

“Woe to you…For you load men with burdens hard to bear and you, yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”  Luke 11:46

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”  Matthew 5:44

You’ve made your bed, now you’re going to have to sleep in it!  Those responsible should have to pay!  There’s a commercial out from an insurance company that has “rate suckers” that is people who’s bad driving record drives up everyone else’s rates!  Over and over again there seems to be a desperate cry in today’s society to differentiate the blamed, separate out the wrong doers, isolate and punish the responsible.  There is a moaning and groaning taking place all throughout society concerning the lack of accountability; the lack of condemnation for wrongdoing, the need for harsher judgement.  Even in the church, too often we seek to want to divide out the “wicked” based on our definition and cast them from our midst.

I think if I listen hard enough, I can hear the groaning that might be happening as you are reading this post (if you haven’t already clicked off).  Yet I’d ask you to understand this; I am not “anti-casting”.  That is so say, I believe that there is evil and wickedness and that we should not sugar coat its existence nor try to justify it in some way.  Also understand, scripture is very clear; Sodom and Gomorrah, Pharaoh, the priests of Baal, King Saul, Ananias plus Sapphira his wife in the Book of Acts and yes Judas were all held accountable; were all destroyed.  However, notice Who destroyed them; Who passed judgement on them; Who it was, Who had the unstoppable judgement of condemnation; Our Heavenly Father.

Yes, the world has much wickedness in it, much hatred and pain.  Yet here’s the question for us Dear Sisters and Brothers:  What’s that got to do with us?  We, who have found a peace and joy, in the midst of trouble, that surpasses all understanding; What have we to do with this unbelieving world?  I believe Jesus Christ would answer to us: Everything.  You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, one of the things that strikes me about the account in Matthew 27 about Judas, is that Matthew says that Judas was remorseful.  Now whether it was true repentance or the attempt of some earthly dodge I can’t say.  Yet in some sense Judas was sorry for what he had done.  So where was Judas to turn?  Where would someone go who wanted to find forgiveness and/or some aspect of redemption?  Would they not, at that time had gone to the synagogue?  Would they not today come to our church; or at least seek out a believer?

But what if our response is like the response of the leaders of the synagogue: “What is that to us? You see to it.” What if we were to either outright say to them or at the very least imply; you got yourself into this so it’s up to you to get yourself out of it?  What if we gave them the impression that we were a group of saved, righteous people who can only be joined by other already saved, righteous people?  I don’t believe Jesus Christ would be pleased.  I believe He might address us by saying “Woe to you………!”  I believe He’d be likely to include us with the Pharisees, Sadducees and lawyers of the time He was on earth, calling them and us hypocrites.  Explaining to us that we were piling burdens on the hurting, shutting up the kingdom against them, yet by our own actions not entering in ourselves either.

What has it to do with us?  Everything!  Why?  First because, to any extent that we might call ourselves or be called righteous, it is a gift of Grace from Almighty God.  We have not earned our salvation.  Our salvation was a gift freely given by Jesus Christ to us while we were yet sinners as well.  God’s Grace, not our innate goodness, is the only difference between us and the world.  Second, Jesus did it.  We must remember that so much of, if not the majority of Jesus’ time on earth was spent in the company of sinners.  I imagine that we think that those were rather harmless sinners, maybe a few lies, some petty thefts, but from the intense reaction of revulsion that the Jewish leaders had, I think there were some people we’d put in the “pretty disgusting” category.  While we hardly scoff at adultery today as a society, back then it was a capital offense, yet Jesus forgave it; did not trivialize it, but forgave it.

So where are the hurting to turn today?  Where are the remorseful to go?  How would those who are mad at God or who, today, are against any and all precepts of God ever get any sense that they have not burned all bridges with God? Where might they be able to look to, to see that God still loves them today; still longs to forgive them and have a loving relationship with them?  Would it not start with the very people who say they are children of God?  Would it not start with you and I, desiring nothing more than to be like Christ, earnestly attempting all we can to bring love and peace into their lives?

Finally, Dear Sisters and Brothers, do not think that this is either easy or able to be accomplished solely (or souly) on our own.  Should we try to have the love of Christ, the forgiveness and grace of Christ without abiding in Christ; we will fall back to our worldly judging ways.  Yet we have a Heavenly Father who does not want us to fail in this.  We have a Heavenly Father who is willing to send us a wise counselor of infinite strength; the Holy Spirit to reside in us and through Jesus Christ accomplish the love, even and especially for our enemies, that He desires us to have.  If you have ever had the experience of going on a service mission trip as I have, you’ll experience and witness the pain of people hurting.  Yet even then, the joy and peace of being able to share the Love of Jesus Christ with them will so surpass the sense of worldly hurt that you see around you.  What has this to do with us?  By and in the Grace of our Heavenly Father; everything.

Our most Gracious Heavenly Father, we humbly proclaim that it is only through Your Grace that we are saved and have come to know You.  Forgive us when we believe in our own righteousness and turn our backs on those we deem to be less worthy.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would have the strength to love our enemies, help those who are hurting even if they do not follow you, risking persecution and ridicule in this world.  Bless us with Your Favor as we try to be beacons of Your Light, shining on this dark world.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them…..Then God saw everything He had made and indeed it was very good”  Genesis 1:27,31

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.'”  Exodus 3:14

God is the Creator.  God is the only Creator!  Please do this for me; look up.  What do you see?  God created that.  Now, look to your left and look to your right.  What do you see?  God created that.  Now, look down (I know, you know what’s coming next but I’m going to ask it anyway). What do you see?  God created that.  Okay, about this time some of you may be wanting to push back saying: Now Doug, when you tell me to look all around I’m seeing things I built, that I “created” or at least were created by another person.  So while I completely acknowledge that it may be true that you or some human being manipulated God’s initial creation to reform it, to build it into something different, that does not alter the fact that God created the initial components of it.  So now that we’ve established the precept that God is the Creator, take a  moment just to be silent and contemplate that all things, visible and invisible, God created………..                                          (okay times up)

Where am I going with this? First, God created some amazing, stunning, powerful beautiful things to be sure.  Yet of all the countless things, stars, flowers, waterfalls; and on and on, only one thing did He declare, upon its creation, that He created in His own image.  Again, stop and really ponder this for a moment.  Of all creation, we are the only things, you and I, that were created based upon God’s image

Next, and this may seem particularly obvious, God is talented at what He does.  Not only is He talented at it, but scripture tells us in Genesis, that God was happy with His creation.  That five out of six days of His creation, He saw what He had created and pronounced it “good” (and when God says something is good you can take it to the bank).  Yet after creating You and I on the sixth day, He, God that is, pronounced something different.  He looked at what He had created in His own image and didn’t just pronounce it good; He pronounced it, that is You and I, very good!

So I’m going to slightly deviate off topic for a moment to cover an aspect, sadly at least for me, which seems to come up within some people of faith when we discuss the creation story.  This particular aspect is that, really only man, that is the male was created in God’s image and the female was created in man’s image so, in some way she is an inferior creation to the male creation.  Or perhaps the male is more “very gooder” (I earnestly and deeply apologize to all English teachers out there) than the female.  However, scripture seems very clear in the passage quoted directly out of Genesis; ….male and female He created them.  It was only after creating them both, did He pronounce their creation, very good.

Now let’s get down to the crux of this posting.  You may be feeling insignificant.  The world may be telling you, you don’t matter.  You may have people tell you that, to make a difference, to be important, you must dress a certain way, act a certain way, step all over your fellow person, have more, be more, make more.  If you don’t fit into the world’s more; you are of little to no value.  You are inconsequential.  Don’t you believe it!  You and I are the only things created in the image of God and proclaimed to be very good.    Also, that Image we are created in did not include big houses, fancy cars, fine clothing or expensive jewelry.  Hardly, in fact we were created nude, with the provisions of God to take care of us.

Yet before we get too high on ourselves and too vain concerning our existence, we must remember; an image is not the same, is not equivalent to the original thing.  You and I are not God.  We are not the Creator.  We are not equal to the Creator.  You and I are not as wise, as powerful, as loving, in short; we are not perfect like the I AM, Our Father in Heaven, God Almighty.  Tragically, we sometimes fall victim to the temptation to believe that the image is as good as the real thing.  Jesus Christ warned of that when He replied to the rich young man who came to ask Him a question and called Him a “good teacher”.  Jesus rebuked the young man telling him that no earthly man is good; only God in Heaven is truly Good.

So the paradox of being the only thing created in the image of God is this; we can be confidently humble.  Confident that God sees value in us.  How do we know?  Because God saw so much value in us that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, do die for us and take away our sin.  Humble in that, we are not God.  We can not defeat the power of Satan on our own.  Our plans, our judgements our knowledge, our ability to love is not perfect and, unless we abide in Jesus Christ we can do nothing.  Conversely though, we are promised, and may be the only thing in creation to have this promise, that if we abide in Christ, we can do all things.

Dear Sisters and Brothers; scripture tells us that God created us.  That upon seeing us, He declared His creation very good.  That God loves us and will never abandon us and His Grace will be there for us regardless of what we do.  However, we must also be humble in our understanding that we are not God.  We are fallen and do sin.  That we must have Jesus Christ as our Savior to accomplish anything.  That we are only the image of the I AM, yet even that is enough to find peace and joy and bring praise to the Creator’s Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are humbled and thankful that You saw fit to create us in Your image and pronounce that creation, very good.  Forgive us when we forget that, although created in Your image, we are not You or equal to You.  Also forgive us when we count Your image to be nothing and value the images of this world more.  Pour out Your Spirit of Truth upon us, testifying of Your Love for us and Your desire to be with us every moment of our existence.  Give us the power to resist the temptation of this world to seek after our own image and instead abide in Yours.  That, in living into Your image, we would bring about Your will for us and the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord and in His Most Holy Name we pray.  Amen

Which is the first commandment of all?” Mark 12:28

“Jesus answered him, ‘The first commandment is Hear, O Israel, the Lord Your God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength.  This is the first commandment. And the second like it is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:29-31

This exchange, the question and the answer is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In two of the cases, the religious leaders, those who are supposed to be the most knowledgeable ask Jesus to try and trap Him: What is the greatest commandment?  (Matthew and Mark)  In Luke, it is a lawyer, again a learned man of the people, who asks what it takes to inherit eternal life.  What I think is important to point out at this juncture is that those who are asking expect that there is one primary thing; one greatest commandment, one primary way to earn eternal life.  Jesus, as the Christ, the One true Son of God, who was with the Father from the beginning, who knew every word that preceded out of Mouth of the Father was uniquely qualified, and in fact the only One, truly qualified to answer this question.  Thus it is extremely important that we heed His response.

For Jesus Christ makes it clear to, not only the ones who ask the question, He pauses in Mark and calls our for all of Israel to listen and in that same way is calling to You and I to be attentive and listen today.  There is not just one commandment but there are two commandments that we must abide by.  There are two commandments which are the only way to truly have eternal life.  There are two commandments on which all the rest of the laws of and teachings of the prophets are built on.  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Now understand, Jesus taught about considerably more.  Jesus taught about not becoming angry, loving our enemies, not lusting, not worrying, honoring father and mother and much, much more.  Yet all that He taught was based on the two commandments that came from His and, through Him, Our Heavenly Father.  Love God with all your being.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Also realize how consistent this is.  For Jesus is not giving an unheard of commandment here.  Loving the Lord Your God with our entire being is layed out in Deuteronomy 6:4 and loving your neighbor as yourself is stated in Leviticus 19:18

Another of the most classic parables is taught by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke after He gives His answer.  For the lawyer isn’t done testing Jesus.  So the lawyer continues to examine Jesus by asking Him the question: “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answers with oft quoted story of the Good Samaritan.

Dear Sisters and Brothers; as I write this, there are five families grieving the loss of their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, friends who were police officers slain in a mass shooting.  In the days leading up to this we’ve witnessed the tragic deaths of civilians slain in interactions with police.  That is sadly only one manifestation of the opposite of love; hate, which is racking our neighborhoods, our country, our world.  Out of hate, people are walking into schools, nightclubs and yes, even churches and carrying our merciless killings.  Out of hate people are strapping explosives to themselves or driving vehicles packed with explosives and detonating themselves, killing scores in some twisted philosophy of service, which is truly only a service to evil.

If that was not tragic enough, much more often now, the response to these spasms of mayhem and hate is to build rage and hate in response, believing that acts of hate in response are justified in a sense of eye for an eye.  Our Heavenly Father, in the Old Testament declaring that vengeance was His and His alone,  as well as Jesus Christ’s teachings about how we should treat and love our enemies is diametrically opposed to those who feel that hate and rage in return for hate and rage is justified and worst yet, somehow righteous behavior.

Finally, Dear Sisters and Brothers, we will not be able to, can not achieve the level of love, spoken of by Jesus on our own.  We must understand that we can only love in that manner if we first call out to and accept the love that comes from Our Heavenly Father, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t build or come upon this love ourselves but are vessels to hold, return to God and spread to others,  the love that comes from Above.

So let us pray, constantly, deeply to first receive that love and then to spread that love.  Let not the shrill voices of hate, vengeance and retribution, distract or dissuade us from seeking and showing love.  Let us call upon the promise of Jesus Christ, that as we abide in Him, we can do greater things; that is to say, we can show greater love, we can be greater examples of selfless and merciful love even than He did during His time here.  Let us not grow weary of saying “I love you”, especially to those who seem to be the least willing to hear it or least likely to accept it.  That in being beacons of His Love, we will bring ever present praise and glory to His Most Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we freely admit we are dismayed and confounded by the level of hate and the extreme amount of damage that hate is causing in this world.  We first call upon Your Love to be poured out on this world and especially upon us who seek Your most Holy Name.  Pour out Your Strength, allowing us to fulfill Your commandment to love You first and then love our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us to see and define “our neighbor” as You define for us truly who and where our neighbor is.  Finally, use us to be bold in showing love and allowing that love to be triumphant over any and all hate that comes against it.  That the world would see You as the God of Triumphant Love that You Are and sing forth praises to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah….saying; ‘Arise, go to Nineveh’….But Jonah arose and fled to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord”  Jonah 1:1,2,3

“…I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people….out of Egypt.  But Moses said to God: ‘ Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt”‘.  Exodus 3:10,11

“Do not be afraid Mary….and behold you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His Name Jesus. Then Mary said: ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word'”.  Luke 1:30, 38

Dear Sisters and Brothers; Our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and so many other authors’ within the Word of God make it abundantly clear; God’s way is not our way.  And understand this, it is not just that God’s way is different; but that God’s way, being perfect, is far beyond our ability to truly comprehend and appreciate.  As such there is much that is inscrutable in attempting to understand God.  I start with these statements because this post is not some definitive exposition on the concept of free will.  For there is much to be contemplated concerning the concepts of predestination, supremacy of God’s plan, the Creator’s control over His creation and how He employs that control which seem all to fit into the overarching concept of freewill.

Even given that enigmatic aspect of freewill, I do believe God’s Holy Word gives us some truths that we can use to further our faith and improve our lives.  To illustrate those truths, a few well known person’s and their stories come to mind.

Let’s start with Jonah.  Besides the book of the bible that bears his name, Jonah is referenced in the Second Book of Kings where he is named as a prophet.  As a prophet, he is a man of God, required to spread the word of God to the people.  As the Book of Jonah starts, he is given a command by God to go to the city of Nineveh and “cry out against it for their wickedness has come up before me”.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  As a prophet of God, we might think that Jonah would wholeheartedly accept God’s call and strike out for Nineveh.  Jonah indeed does strike out; but not to Nineveh but to Tarshish which is completely on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea!  Yet God is not to be denied and Jonah ends up being carried in a rather uncomfortable means to Nineveh.  Jonah even prays a very anguished prayer of humility to God.  So where does free will come into play?  Throughout the entire story, at every turn; Jonah contends with God.  When the people of Nineveh repent and God is merciful to them, Jonah get’s mad.  When God tries to teach Jonah about the power of mercy when He causes a plant to grow to shelter Jonah and then causes it to die; Jonah gets angry and wants to die.  We don’t get the sense at any point in the Book of Jonah that Jonah uses his free will to accept God’s plan for him or the Ninevehites.

Moving on to Moses, we see a man who also initially flees from his people.  Moses seems to have found his place as a shepherd and family man in the land of Midian.  Yet the people of God in Egypt were in bondage and crying out to God for a deliverer; and God had a person in mind; Moses.  Now initially, Moses, like Jonah before him, tried to dissuade God from using Moses to carry out His plan.  However, Moses, relented and decided to follow God and return to Egypt.  Yes, Moses often found himself contending with the people and even when Moses rashly acted outside the direction and scope of God, He always accepted the Will of God.  So from a free will standpoint, Moses came to a point of acceptance and humility toward God and His plan becoming one of the most powerful and beloved persons in the bible.

Then we come to Mary.  Mary was a humble, believing young girl who has a miraculous encounter with the angel Gabriel.  As any of us might be in the presence of the Angel of the Lord, Mary was initially fearful at even being in the presence of an angel.  She is a virgin so when the angel mentions that she will have a child, she does not dispute with the angel or try to dissuade him from choosing her, but is curious about how it might be that she will bear the Child.  Seemingly, she might have pleaded for someone else to be granted this miracle; maybe someone of noble birth or someone who was a wife of a religious authority or other great man.  Instead her free will was to respond:  “Let it be to me according to your word”.  Thus she became blessed among all women.

You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, each of these stories have as their basis; a plan, Our Heavenly Father’s plan.  In each of these plans, deliverance, mercy and salvation were at stake.  Additionally, Our Heavenly Father, in His amazing grace and mercy saw fit to include His creation in bringing about His wonderful plan.  Frankly, I don’t know if Jonah, Moses or Mary had the “free will” to respond with a no.  It doesn’t seem so to me that they could thwart the Will of God.  In my mind, our take away should be that God also has a plan specific to you and I.  It may or not may involve saving a nation, but it is perfect and important for each of us.  Will we be more like Mary or Jesus Christ, for that matter, and say with humility and sincerity: Thy will be done? Or we will attempt to run from Our Heavenly Father and His plan for us?  Will we attempt to impose our will over His?  Should we find the carrying out of His plan inevitable in our lives; will we be downcast, depressed, reluctant trying to disengage at every turn?

I believe a significant aspect of our free will is in our humble, grateful, acceptance of His plan.  We can freely use our time in prayer to Him and study of His Word.  We can freely rely on Him forsaking the ways of self or worldly reliance. And as we freely move to align our will with His; we will encounter the freely given Love, Blessings and Salvation God has planned for us.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, thank You that You have seen fit to include us, Your creation, in carrying out Your plans.  Forgive us when we try to circumvent Your Will by substituting our will in its place.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would lovingly accept Your Plan for our lives and fully live into it.  That in our reliance upon You and our proclamation of the supremacy of Your Will in our lives, we would be beacons of Your Light and Your Love to this world and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.”  Proverbs 30:5

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

I believe that there is a vital aspect of our understanding of how the Word frames our relationship to Our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ concerning our interaction with the world.  First, the world and all that is in it, of course in fact the entire universe is a creation of Our Heavenly Father.  Second, even though we are all included in and as His creation; we have the ability and sadly many have availed themselves of this ability to reject the Word of Our Heavenly Father.  Thus those who have rejected His Word have become “worldly” in nature, that is following the leader and his precepts concerning how to live without God in this world.  Make no mistake, regardless of what any bumper sticker might proclaim, the world has no desire to coexist with people of God; they desperately want us to join them and if they can’t convince us to do that; then they hate and want to utterly destroy us.  Finally and I can’t stress this enough; Jesus Christ provided us with His example, extolled and warned us with His words; that we are not to hate or want to destroy them in return.  We are to love them who hate us.

So now let me explore that interaction with the world.  For the world is going to tempt us; threaten us, attack us, try to instill fear in us, try to make us doubt or worst yet, turn away.  Knowing that, we need to know this as well, in no way shape or form, has Our Heavenly Father left us vulnerable or open to defeat by the attacks of the world.  First, God, the Creator of all things, the Beginning and End of all things, He who is perfect in every way, has seen fit to pass His word down to us.  Proverbs tells us that His word is pure.  Proverbs also reassures us that those who put their faith in God, are shielded.  Now please understand the purpose of a shield.  A shield never prevents an attack from happening.  The very fact that a shield exists is a realization that attacks exist and without a shield can be extremely injurious if not fatal.  Yet a shield can utterly defeat those attacks, can stop any injury from happening.  God is that shield for us as long as we will trust Him

Jesus is having His last supper with His disciples.  He has been telling Him about His impending leaving, the world’s hatred of Him and what the disciples are going to be facing as well.  He is speaking tribulations.  The things He is speaking to His disciples are not just for them and for the period of a few days or weeks after Jesus’ crucifixion.  No, they sober assessment of the sorts of tribulations all believers will face because of attacks by the world.  Yet Jesus instructs them to be at peace; to be of good cheer.

Now please; Dear Sisters and Brothers; this is not an exaltation to “see the glass half full” or “make lemons out or lemonade” kind of platitude.  For,. while I’m a firm believer in the fruits of having a positive attitude; a positive attitude in and of itself is not going to defeat the world.  This is not “half full”, do what I can with what I have kind of sentiment, but “my cup runneth over” with provision from Our Heavenly Father prophetic truth.  You see my attitude is all about me and my power, but Jesus Christ proclaims that to have His peace and be in sustainable good cheer from Him, those can only happen as long as we are in Jesus Christ.  Our shield only comes from trusting Our Heavenly Father.  We don’t obtain it through ourselves; we are given it from above; freely.

How do we get there?  Here again is something so amazingly love filled, so totally unnatural for us, but completely within God’s loving nature.  For do you remember when, after the transfiguration, Jesus came down and the disciples were trying to heal a young boy and could not do so?  The father begs Jesus saying “But if You can do anything…..” Jesus responds…..”all things are possible to him who believes”.  And then it happens, the man knows his limitations.  For out of the depths of his despair, out of the truth from his innermost being; the father cries out:  “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!”  Jesus Christ does, and heals the child.

You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, if our being in Jesus Christ, our trusting in God, was solely and souly based on the strength of our human derived faith; we’d be lost.  We are sinners.  That is why Jesus Christ came to sacrifice Himself for our sins.  That is why Our Heavenly Father has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts.  In the purest form of love, Our Heavenly Father makes up for the imperfect faith and belief that we have.  But make no mistake, we have to ask for that help.  We have to come to Jesus Christ and confess that He is our Lord and Savior, the One True Son of God, capable of lifting us up; of giving us peace of supplying good cheer.

So don’t be amazed, be overwhelmed and/or be disheartened by the tribulations that the world slings at you.  Be in Jesus Christ and cheerfully be at peace.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father; we are eternally grateful that You have been completely honest about what we can expect in this life as far as interaction with the world is concerned.  We are so thankful that You have provided us Your Word to guide and comfort us.  Thank You for incalculably preserving gift of Your Son Jesus Christ and the promise of peace and cheer that comes from being in Him.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father, when we try to devise our own shields or blunt on our own, the attacks and tribulations that the world throws at us.  Guide us back to the more than sufficient shelter which we find in You.  That in living lives of peace and good cheer, that we would be living testimonies to Your Grace and Love for all Your Creation.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 

“I say to you that likewise, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance”  Luke 15:7

“But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, some a hundred.”  Mark 4:20

“Come you blessed of My Father….I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in……..Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these, My brethren, you did it to Me.” Matthew 34, 35, 40

As I start out, as I have sometimes done in the past I want to state what this post is not about.  It is not a diatribe against mega-churches or some aspect of large versus small churches.

What this post is about is the pervasive fear that I hear foretold about, read about and even, at times, hear preached about as far as the decline and risk to the future of Christ’s Church.  That there is diminishing population of church goers in many countries can not be disputed.  It is also true that the influence of the Christian church in societies as far as laws that are passed and social norms that are considered acceptable are also on the decline.

Yet what I find the response within the church, especially from leadership; which I at times will freely admit to being and having this reaction, is a great fear concerning the very survival of the church.  Is that the correct response?  Does the world have the power to stop or destroy the church?  Sadly, in response to that fear, I’ve found individual and entire groups of churches who are willing to greatly modify and sometime abandon significant truths and Christ’s doctrines in order to be more inviting and welcoming to the world.  In the western world and especially in America, for most of our history, we seemed to be affiliated with the Christian church, even with a doctrine of separation of church and state.  Now that the affiliation is waning to a certain extent; we seem all the more frequently to be filled with doubt and fear for our future.

The fear seems to come from the belief that numbers are what drive church power and influence and diminished numbers is a symptom of impending death.  I’ve seen churches go to great lengths to have membership drives, which I have no problem with at all.  The trouble comes when they were hoping for triple or big double digit increases and find that perhaps only a handful have come and given their lives to Jesus Christ and they are deeply disappointed with that result.  Really?

What did Christ teach us; extol for us to do and warn us not to?  As far as numbers are concerned; Christ seemed to be very clear.  In His very first parable, He made crystal clear that the Word was not going to take hold with everybody.  Now nothing states that the four soils were exactly 25% each; but what is clear is that the majority of soils were not going to bear fruit.  Time and time again; whether it was the wedding guest parable or the ten bridesmaids parable, entering in through the narrow gate; Jesus prophesied that the majority would not commit to following the way of Jesus Christ.  Yes thousands in Jerusalem joined the church in days, but not the majority in the city, nor in Ephesus or Galatia or Corinth or Rome.  That large churches may be brining in scores of believers every week is awesome, given that they are only preaching the true gospel of Christ.  But that in no way diminished the cheering and rejoicing in heaven; when the one person, or family sincerely repents and accepts Jesus Christ.  If heaven is rejoicing; why are we afraid?

I see a modern day parallel to the disciples experience in the boat.  In the Gospel of Mark we read that they had watched Jesus preach to thousands.  They partook in the miracle of feeding 5,000. Then following Jesus’ command they enter a boat and take off across the water.  One imagines as the journey started they were feeling pretty darn good.  Huge crowds following Jesus, miracles galore and there were the disciples right in the thick of it. But then the storm came up.  Jesus was not right there and they became afraid.  Now understand, I’m not blaming them.  Anyone who has been in a violent storm in a small boat can understand their fear.  Where is Jesus?  There He is coming, walking on water and they cry out to him and His response is to Be of Good Cheer; it is I; do not be afraid!  Here’s the parallel.  We’ve seen a considerable success in Jesus Christ’s teaching in our countries.  We seen so very many and even been a part of so many blessings.  We decide to follow Jesus Christ and where He sends us.  But now the storm, in this case the world and its prince are rising.  The boat is starting to get tossed.  Some are even leaving the boat, not sure that it is the right vehicle to carry them to where they want to be.  What we must understand is Jesus Christ is still in control, He is walking with us, He is calling out to us be of good cheer and do not be afraid.

But Doug, what can we do with such meager numbers?  How can we make an impact with a congregation 3/4’s or 1/2 what it used to be?  Again numbers don’t matter.  When Jesus Christ told of those blessed by the Father, He didn’t say they fed everyone, clothed or housed everyone in need.  No; He said that you do it for one of the least of these is what makes the difference.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, we are not going to change the entire world.  We’ve not been sent for that.  We are to preach and be examples of the Word to the world.  Those to whom  perhaps some aspect of inspiration through our word and deed come to follow Jesus Christ, is the work of the Holy Spirit and not us.  We are not the King of Kings.  But we are the King’s subjects.  Let us please act like those.  Let us be bold in proclaiming, but not in harshness or pride, but in humility and loving, the Word of Jesus Christ.  Let us be fertile soil, feeding, clothing, sheltering, visiting when we can.  Finally and most, most importantly; let us be joyous and confident in Our Savior Jesus Christ and Our Heavenly Father; knowing that Their Power is sufficient to sustain Their Church of which we are such blessed participants.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are made humble that You would think to include us and gather us together; though we are sinners in Your Great and Wonderful Church.  Thank you that You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ to wipe away our sins and to allow us to come into relationship with You.  Forgive us when we become fearful that the majority of the world, though hearing Your message, refuse to follow it.  Pour out Your strength upon us that we would continue in love, humility and with boldness to proclaim Your Word of love to all whom may not have heard it.  Let us truly rejoice over each and every person who responds to Your invitation.  That all might see the supremacy of Your Church to this world.  We pray in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

“But he was sad at this word and went away mournful….” Mark 10:22

“From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”  John 6:66

Encounters with Jesus, the Son of God had many, vastly different outcomes. In some cases miraculous healings transpired.  In some cases mighty leaders were made to look foolish.  At other times little children left having received a great blessing.  Thousands were fed in at least two encounters with the seemingly the meagerest of provisions.  And finally, nearly the final encounter, all of our sins were sacrificed for and thus forgiven as Jesus died on the cross for us and our salvation.

Yet we sadly see in scripture and perhaps even in our own experience with others who are close in our lives or maybe, in our darkest times, with us; that just an encounter with Jesus Christ does not guarantee redemption or salvation.  More is required……..on our part.

Let’s take the passages above.  The first passage is an ending of a very familiar encounter.  A rich man encounters Jesus.  Is as so often the case in scripture, the rich man, like beggars and the lame, the blind, the downtrodden, sought Jesus out.  This man comes to Jesus with a vitally important, for all eternity question:  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus takes the time to answer him, in fact answering him twice.  Also, in fact, in the passage from Mark, where this passage is taken, it says that Jesus looked at him and loved him.  However, I don ‘t want to focus on Jesus answer but I want to focus on the rich man’s reaction to the encounter.  He turned away.  Let that sink in; he turned away! The rich man had encountered the One True, Son of God.  He had asked the Son of God a question.  The Son of God, Jesus, answered him; in fact answered him in love.  The Son of God invited this man, asked him to join Jesus and follow him.  And let me repeat again; the rich man turned away and left.

In the second passage above, it was not just a man, it was a group.  Also this was not a group that had happened to one day briefly stumble upon Jesus and give him a brief moment of their time.  No this was a group of His disciples.  Scripture doesn’t give us a specific number or specific amount of time they had been with Jesus, but to called disciples meant there was a significant amount of time and effort involved in their following Jesus.  They had listened to Jesus, agreed with Jesus, gladly followed Jesus; then Jesus went too far and the wheels came off the wagon.  For Jesus spoke of being the bread of life.  If that was not enigmatic enough, Jesus went on to say that only people who truly believed in Him, would eat His flesh and drink His blood and have eternal life!  Jesus had gone too far.  As scripture puts it, the disciples complained that it was a hard saying which could not be understood.  So they turned and walked away.  These disciples who had seen Jesus miraculously heal, they had been there when Jesus fed the 5,000.  They had been in the presence of the True Son of Almighty God.  They encountered Jesus and they walked away.

Why did they walk away?  Why was the encounter with the One Christ, why was that encounter not enough to convince them to stay?  Well in the first case, giving up the world in terms of his rich possessions was too much.  In the second case, the words of Jesus were too hard to understand, too out of the ordinary to comprehend, too vastly different to commit to.  Truth in fact, in both cases, the man and the group, did not see Jesus as the Christ.  A good man? Sure. A wise man, even a prophet from God? Probably.  But the One and Only, Perfect Son of God Almighty……naah.

However, some stayed.  The twelve stayed.  Martha and Mary stayed.  Nicodemus, who had come to Jesus at night and Joseph of Arimathea stayed and some more as well.  Why did they stay?  Out of the words of the disciples themselves:  To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  Martha says later, Yes, Lord I believe You are the Christ, the Son of God.

You see Dear Sisters and Brothers, it is like so many of the blind and lame that he healed, when He would first ask them:  Do you believe that I can do this for you?  It was the reason that He could do so little in his own home town.  When the people first believed in Him, truly believed in Him as the Son of God, the Christ; then, and only then could they truly follow Him.  Understand, that didn’t mean they completely understood Him; no, far from it.  But their faith allowed the power of Christ to come into to them.  Their faith allowed the power of Christ to defeat the power and wisdom of the world.  Their faith that He is the one true Son of God, King of Kings, Christ the Savior, allowed them to pick up their cross and follow Him.

So first we must ask ourselves:  Have we had an encounter with Jesus Christ?  And if we have, and this is as vital as having the encounter itself; having had that encounter; who do we believe Jesus Christ is?  If He is only a good man, only a very wise human, only an extremely enlightened, spiritual man, we might as well turn away and follow another.  For all those thoughts about Him will bring us no blessings, find us no peace, will not deliver us from our sins.  We must believe that Jesus is the Christ, Holy Spirit conceived, virgin born, all powerful, all knowledgable, perfect, without sin, dying for our sins and our salvation and rising again on the third day.  Now He sits in the greatest place of power; the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty.

It is not just the encounter but the faith that comes from it that makes all the difference.  Yet even here, we are not left simply to our own devices.  For we can call upon Christ and the Holy Spirit to help us to strengthen our faith and have mercy on our weakness.  Please, for your soul’s sake, do not let an encounter be all you have with Your Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim with all our being that Jesus Christ is Your Only Begotten Son, whom You sent to earth to be our Savior.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us that each and every day our faith would be strengthened in Jesus Christ, allowing an ever greater relationship to be had with You through Him.  Forgive us when we are tempted to turn from that encounter with Christ to the enticements and ease of the world.  Have Mercy upon us, allowing us to see and receive Christ as our Savior and then partaking in the joy, peace and blessings You, through Your Grace pour out upon us.  That in living into the faith of Jesus Christ as our Savior, we might show and testify to the world concerning the Words of Life of Jesus Christ which bring glory and honor to Your Most Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we faithfully pray.  Amen

“The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore, stop contention before a quarrel starts.”  Proverbs 17:14

“And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers…..”  Matthew 20:24

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…..Yet it shall not be so among you…..whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave…”  Matthew 20:25-27

Have you ever knocked a glass of water or drink over on a table with things like books, or some cloth decoration or papers on it?  If you have then you know as soon as the water hits the table, it starts to spread and no matter what you do to herd or guide it away from the books, paper or decoration, it goes where it goes and is very hard to channel it in the way you want it to go. In Proverbs 17, Solomon is saying that the beginning of strife is like that.  Like the spilt water, strife is going to flow where it will, often damaging many things we are desperately trying to protect it from.

So how do we keep strife in check?  Solomon gives us a hint when he extols us to stop contention before it can be started.  Looking at that word contention  in Dictionary.reference.com tells us that it means a struggling together in opposition and a striving in rivalry, competition or contest.  We see this rivalry and competition played out amongst the disciples.  It is interesting that, one, there are several examples of this striving throughout their time with Jesus and two, this particular example that Matthew chronicles happens right at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry as He is approaching Jerusalem, getting ready to enter on the donkey.

The disciples had been with Jesus over three years.  They had not only heard Him preach and teach about being a servant and being humble before God, but had seen Jesus be humble on so many different occasions.  Yet here we have two of Jesus’ disciples, two that had been with Him the longest, John and James, wanting to be placed in positions of great power; to sit on Jesus’ right and left hand in the Kingdom of God.  Now whether the subject was first broached by the two brothers or by their mother is irrelevant.  It is clear the two wanted it.  More yet, they felt in some sense, that these positions were right for them to have.  Well you can imagine that the other 10 disciples had some thoughts on that subject; both in terms of the perhaps questionable worthiness of James and John, plus their own personal righteousness to be placed in those two special positions.  Scripture tells us they were greatly displeased at the two brothers.

Jesus was also displeased but not for the reason we might suppose.  You might think He would primarily be displeased at the arrogant nature of John and James and be on the side of the other 10.  Instead, Jesus is displeased by the entire display; not only John and James, but the other 10’s response to them.  You see they had been with Jesus for three long years and had shared every manner of His ministry with Him.  Yet even now, even at the end; none of the 12 disciples truly understood the nature of greatness; the overarching power in being a servant.  In today’s language they did not get why Jesus had come.  So Jesus sets them, as well as us today, straight on this position and power thing.

Sadly, not much has changed in a few thousand years.  For today, everywhere you look there is striving, there is contention.  We are spilling out the water of contention which is leading to strife in and between countries, in our businesses and even in our very families as well as within and most sadly in our very churches, which we proclaim are churches of Christ.  So often this strife is coming from our contention, our striving to be seen as first; to win the title of best, to be heralded as the greatest.  In each of these strivings, we approach the situation to quote a line from the movie Highlander -“In the end there can be only one!”. This is the way and the message of the world that we all too often buy into.

Jesus sets all the disciples and again, us, today straight.  In using the word Gentiles, Jesus is contrasting the rest of the world to His ministry, His methodology and what should be the actions of those will follow Him.  Jesus states that in the Gentile world, those who are rulers, those who have won the contention, those who, through their striving are recognized as the greatest, lord it over everyone else.  Yet the One who is the Only True Lord, says that is not the way to be.  As in Jesus and through Jesus, those who would strive to be great, instead of being able to lord that greatness over others, instead must use their greatness in service to others as a servant!  If want to be first, you must allow yourself, be content with, being the slave of the other. Ouch!!!!  Jesus is getting a little out of hand here isn’t He?  Jesus doesn’t really mean what He’s saying does He?  Well, seven short days from the day He talked about being a servant, the King of Kings would humbly fulfill His service to all of us by dying on the cross for us.

Here’s the thing Dear Sisters and Brothers with all this striving and contending.  We’re all equal.  We are all created in God’s image and we’re all fallen.  We all need the Grace of Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice to be made clean and be allowed to come into the presence of Our Heavenly Father.  As Paul, inspired by the Spirit wrote; we are all given different talents.  Within those talents we will have different positions, with some of those positions being those of leadership.  However, regardless of the position, there is nothing within that position that makes one more righteous, more worthy, more allowing for lording, than any other.  There is truly only one thing to strive for and that is to be more like Jesus Christ.  Of course here’s where the world and Satan come into the picture.  For Satan will try to change that striving from a personal growth process into a contention process of am I getting more like Christ than you are!  Silly me if I go there.

Thus, through the Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ, let us contend together against this world, its prince and his message.  Let us strive to be more like Jesus Christ in desiring to be a servant.  The more we’re able to do those things, the less contention we’ll have in countries, our workplace, our families, our churches and yes, even in our very being.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we live in a world where contention is not only a way of life, but is rewarded in many worldly ways.  We confess, Dear Father, that we often fall into the temptation to strive and contend against our brother and sister to be seen as worldly great and be served.  Forgive us, Most Merciful Father and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would see the glory and righteousness in being the humble servant.  That our striving would be to be more like Your Blessed Son, Our Savior Jesus Christ, contending with the message of the world and seeing success in serving our neighbor, our brother and sister and lifting them above us.  Give to us a joyful heart and blessings as we serve that the world would see the power in true service and give Glory and Praise to Your Most Holy Name for the service being provided.  This we pray in the Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

“Then the sons are free.  Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first.”  Matthew 17:26,27

“But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours becomes a stumbling block to those who are weak.” “And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? 1 Corinthians 8:9,11

“Do not think I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”  Matthew 5:17

I want to start out with a statement about the intent of this post.  For this is not a post about all human actions are acceptable to those who believe or that Jesus Christ in some way has changed the Word or Commandments of God.  Nothing could be further from my intent.  I definitely believe in the statement that Jesus made in Matthew 5:17.

Yet here is the amazing thing to me.  You have God, come to earth.  You have He, who was at creation and through whom all things were created.  This is who Jesus Christ was and is.  Thus if anyone should have cared little about being offensive, of causing any angst in anyone else, Jesus Christ was deserved of that right.  Though deserved or not, He did not partake of that right.  Jesus demonstrated for us an amazing level of humility as example, I believe for us to follow.

Now what is happening in Matthew 17 at this point is a recounting of question posed to Peter by those who received the temple tax.  According to the Interpreter’s Bible, this was not a tax from the Romans as a tribute to Caesar but a tax started back in the time of Exodus.  The Interpreter’s Bible makes the point that Jesus is not saying that the temple should not be supported, far from it.  What He was saying was that as son’s, which believers become, through Jesus Christ, they are free from the law that has been fulfilled in Christ.  The desire to support the temple or church for that matter should not be a “have to” but should be a holy and joyful “desire to”.

However, that is not to me the most astounding thing.  Jesus Christ does not want to cause offense over this issue to the Jewish faithful.  Jesus knows that they would not understand His discussion of son’s being free because they did not see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.  So to keep from causing an offense on this point, He has Peter pay the tax.  Yet this was not unusual for Jesus.  Jesus, time and time again showed great restraint, especially given who He knew He was (is), when confronted with misunderstandings and misapplications of His creation, human kind.  He did not utterly destroy the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to dispute with Him.  As they talked and hurled accusations at Him, He did not raise His voice and talk over them and shut them up. When the crowds picked up stones to stone Him, Jesus did not raise a hand against them but walked unharmed, both to Himself and the crowd, right through them.

Please understand this, I am not saying Jesus Christ was not bold; far from it.  He did boldly declare, right there in the temple about the kingdom of heaven, His Father’s Kingdom and that He was the Son.  Yet His boldness was not primarily designed as a judgemental attack as it was the truthful pronouncement of the way of God.  Jesus lived into the blessings that He stated that blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth and blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.

Paul picks up that same theme when he writes to the Corinthians who are having terrible troubles with division in their church.  Paul warns and admonishes those who would use their God given freedom, to cause those who are new or weak to the Way, to stumble.  He tells us we need to look to others to see if and to what extent our actions are causing offense and perhaps driving away the very persons we are desperately trying to lead into and onto the Path of Christ.

Yet we find ourselves in a society today ever more acrimonious when it comes to our interactions with each other.  We often come to a point where, so certain of our rightness (not necessarily righteousness), that we declare if anyone has a problem with us it is their problem only and there is no reason for us to change our actions in any way.  To take into account another person’s perspective, even though more inaccurate, and modify our approach to help instruct or lead them is looked at as totally unnecessary and worse yet a sign of weakness.  Thus in ever louder volume and ever shriller tone, we come off as judgemental and totally closed to the suffering and plight of others.  Jesus Christ would not have it so.

Again, please Dear Sisters and Brothers, I am not saying at all that we should do something like live as the world lives, sin so that we would seem to fit in; nothing of the kind.  What I’m extolling is the virtue of abiding in Christ and thus taking on His example of speaking, of living our lives around those who may not yet be on the path to Christ, are newly on that path, or may be on the path yet have a different perception than we do.  That we deal with them out of Christian love.  Yes, being bold in our proclamation of Christ and Our Heavenly Father, yet humble as a servant in our status in that relationship.  It would do us well to remember the admonition of Jesus Christ, Himself, when He told His disciples not to be concerned ahead of time what to say when called to witness for the Kingdom; that the Holy Spirit would give us what to say at the time needed.

We must ask ourselves; does our speech to others, the way we treat others in and out of the faith, reflect what the Holy Spirit would want us to say and do about the kingdom?  I am asking that we at least consider our actions and what the Holy Spirit would have us do.  There are those in the world who, no matter what will take offense at us and that is the plain truth of it.  What we don’t want to happen is to give those whom are seeking after Christ as well as our Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ a reason to take offense if we can avoid it.  In doing so, we will live lives of praise and glory to God and not to ourselves.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father by Your Son Jesus Christ we are called to be sent into the world but we are not of the world.  We also understand that as the world has hated You and Your Son, it will hate us.  Yet we ask Most Merciful Father that You would give us a spirit of grace and humility as we deal with the world.  That as Your Son, Jesus Christ gave us an example, we will be patient, kind, loving and healing to our fellow person.  That some of the world would take offense at us, we would not make that our goal or aim.  That in being true to You and living in humility and meekness, we would be the peacemakers that You are asking us to be and will bless our attempts.  We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Example.  Amen

“Now when He said ‘I am He’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”  John 18:6

“You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above……From then on Pilate sought to release Him…” John 19:11, 12

The Story of Easter, for me from as early as Christmas, is a story I’ve heard repeated so many times.  Yet it is amazing how the Spirit will bless us with new avenues of learning, of new insights to living, even in the stories that seem so familiar.

Perhaps for me the revelation of how hard Jesus had to work to even get mankind to fulfill their obligation in the Easter process, has to do with the level of mankind’s arrogance I see in the world today.  For over and over again, mankind turns to solely human based solutions to problems in this world as if there was no Creator, or the Creator had no power with which to intervene.

So let’s look at mankind’s dark, humiliating defeat in the time of Easter.  For three years, very long years for the Jewish authority, Jesus had been teaching, preaching and healing.  The Jewish religious authority was the pre-eminate power in their society.  While there was a Jewish King, he was a puppet of the Romans thus hated by the people.  The true leadership was in the religious leaders and they despised Jesus.  In their minds, there was no way Jesus was the Christ.  He was a fraud and had they not feared the Romans, they would have dealt with Him themselves long ago.

However, now they had Him.  The Jewish leaders finally had a man on the inside, Judas Iscariot and their plans and schemes were falling into place.  See their first failure had been that they could not turn the people against Jesus.  They could not convince the people that Jesus could not be the Christ.  They were powerless to explain His miracles and the people would not buy into Jesus being the chief prince of Beelzebub.  They couldn’t arrest Jesus publicly or the people would riot against them and the Romans would then quickly and mercilessly put down the riot.  So they had to arrest Jesus in secret and they now had just the way to do it.

Jesus like to meet with his disciples, away from the crowds at night.  Through Judas they now knew where they could find Him.  This should be easy, Jesus plus eleven men, most not armed, non trained in the art of warfare.  They gave Judas, many men, a detachment of troops, with officers.  These men came armed.  Jesus didn’t stand a chance.

Yet notice what happened.  Sure enough they found the small band in the secluded garden, Just as Judas had promised.  Better still, instead of running and hiding behind His followers, Jesus comes forward and tells them openly that He is who they are seeking.  This should be a tailor made arrest.  Take Him by the arms, bind Him and lead Him away; simple as that.  What happens? Nothing like that.  The gospel doesn’t explicitly explain why; but instead of launching forward, the men are repelled back and drop to the ground.  Why?  I believe that in that very moment; the spirits inside them understood the gravity of the moment.  The created spirits inside them knew that they were not contesting against flesh and blood but against the very Creator, Himself.  They were trying to arrest the true Son of God…..and it terrified them.  They were in such a state of turmoil that Jesus had to ask them again, point out to them that He, Jesus was standing right there and to get on with the arrest without harming any of His disciples.  Finally, at Jesus behest, they take action and arrest Him.

Okay, the soldiers are one thing but the Jewish religious establishment will have their act together more; they’ll triumph easily over Jesus, won’t they?  Hardly.  There needed to be a trial and the Jewish council had quite a long time to plan this but when the time came, the utterly failed.  Jewish law allowed that when two men would agree on testimony against a third, then that was proof enough of the third man’s guilt.  So the council called upon witnesses to testify against Jesus and many rose to give it.  The problem was, no two witnesses agreed.  They all testified something different against Jesus. On the basis of that Jesus could not be condemned, He must be set free.  In exasperation, they turn to Jesus Himself, who could have kept silent and been saved.  Yet that was not the Father’s plan so Jesus tells them plainly, as He had done before, that He was the Son of God.  Then, and only then, could the Chief Priest and the council move forward to condemn Christ.

Whew, well that’s the soldiers and the Jewish religious leaders stumbling, but the Romans, the dominate earthly power will have no problem showing their power and putting Jesus to death. Right?  That should have been the case because the Romans were known for being ruthless in putting subjugated people to death for sometimes petty offenses or just to show their power to do so.  But again, human power, no matter how seemingly indomitable, pales and shrinks back in the presence of God’s Holy Power and Jesus Christ is God on this earth.  Pontius Pilate seemingly pleads with Jesus to give him any shred of evidence, any glimmer of a case of why Jesus should not be condemned to death.  Even when Pilate declares his power over Jesus it is more of a whining whimper than it is a declaration of supreme power.  When Jesus tells Pilate that Pilate has no power except that which has been given to him from above, one might imagine Pilate would be incensed and insulted by that remark and condemn Jesus right then and there.  Instead, although Pilate will not admit it, he knows that it is true and wants desperately to find a way out of being involved in this Man’s death.

Thus across the entire human spectrum, you see the folly, the failure, the utter weakness of human power and how hard Jesus had to work to have His own death happen, to carry out the plan of His and Our Heavenly Father.  Those who would otherwise seem so arrogant, becoming completely impotent in the face of Jesus Christ.

Flash forward a few thousand years and we sadly find that our human arrogance has not diminished.  This world is hell-bent on acting as if human kind is the highest form of existence.  When human or natural calamities strike us we so often turn to our own devices; our intellect, our understanding, our force of arms, our human institutions of government, healthcare, justice and others as the sole and right solution to lift us out of our self imposed chaos.  We have so many who, in their ascendant nature, feel they no longer have “need” for God and look down and put down anyone else who puts their faith in the Almighty.

Jesus Christ will not be crucified again; once was enough.  And as the leaders of a millennia ago did not know what to do with, were completely thwarted by the risen Jesus Christ, today’s leaders, today’s world are not doing any better.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, let us strive to not fall into the trap of our own arrogance.  Let us not sink to defeat through the reliance on our own devices.  Let us humbly come before the risen, living, triumphant Jesus Christ and call and rely upon His name.  Let us abide in Him letting the truth of the Holy Spirit and the strength of Christ’s love sustain us through any earthly trial.  Let us also learn through the triumph of Christ’s humility not to be arrogant about our life in Christ as if we’ve earned that life through our own righteousness.  Rather let us share the love of Christ as He did to all, even those who rejected and hated Him. These are the lessons of Christ’s victory which the world refuses to learn.  Let us be loving, learning students of Christ allowing Him and Only Him to be the source of our redemption.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we are Your creation.  Yet we humbly confess that we are stubborn creation.  We confess that we are often tempted to go our own way, in our own arrogance, leading to our own defeats.  Have mercy on us Heavenly Father and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would return to You and be washed clean and forgiven by the precious blood of Jesus Christ which was given to us for our salvation.  Give us the desire and then the strength to abide in Christ that we may bear living fruit to the praise of Your Most Holy Name.  We pray this in the Name of the victorious lamb, Jesus Christ. Amen

 

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