About Gregg Caruso

I have enjoyed the privilege of serving the Church as a co-church planter, pastor of multi-staffed churches, coach, mentor, mission’s executive, trainer, interventionist, diagnostician, and intentional interim pastor. I have served in such varied places as Carson City (NV), Santa Barbara, Oceanside, Boone (IA), London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, the North Shore of O’ahu, the SF Bay Area, Manchester NH, Temecula CA, Torrance CA, Taunton MA, and now in Rehoboth MA. My all-time favorite book on leadership is “Leadership is an Art” by Max DePree. What a great and humbling topic... Specialties: Intentional Interim Pastor (IIP) Gospel-centered theological 'reboot' Change management Organizational development Analytics (3 tiers of diagnostics available) Policy-based governance Conflict management and reconciliation

What About My Brokenness?

Owning What I Can Own Plus a Look at Nehemiah 1

(This post is adapted from a sermon given on June 7, 2020.)

In the church I am currently serving as an intentional interim pastor we have been walking through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). What we are discovering is that the sermon is NOT about moral conformity to a new set of New Testament rules (i.e., moralism), neither is it “picking and choosing” Bible passages that we think are relevant for today (i.e., secularism).

The SOTM is identifying a third way to live as a follower of Jesus… through the removal of our sin by God’s grace through faith, through the restructuring of our heart from the inside out, and through a whole reversal of values.

In this article, I’d like for us to take what we’re seeing in the SOTM and consider the events of the last few months by asking the question, “What is God trying to say to His Church in this season?

Here’s an overview:

  • Over the years, I have found Nehemiah’s response to crisis to demonstrate an appropriate and godly pattern of engagement – and I’d like for us to look at the highlights of that today.
  • I also want to begin to provide some specific action steps for us to take in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. I have also begun a list of resources on our church’s website blog
  • I also want to share two defining moments in my life – as a man, as a follower of Jesus, and as a pastor. Both of these defining moments happened when I was the permanent pastor of a church – one in the late 1980s and the other one in the early 1990s. I will share the first upfront and I’ll share the second one at the conclusion.

In the early 90s, I became involved in a 2-year racial reconciliation group for pastors from across our city that was facilitated by Spencer Perkins (the son of John Perkins) and an Anglo man named Chris Rice (Spencer’s family and Chris’ family lived in community under the same roof). In our pastor’s group, there were Anglo, Latino, African American, and a Japanese American…

That 2-year time period became, in itself, a defining moment for me but two specific occasions were particularly impacting…

One of the African American pastors grew-up on the East Coast (S.C. I believe) and the other one grew up on the West Coast (L.A. area). Both of these pastors grew-up in Christian homes. Here’s what both of them believed growing up: They did not believe that white people could be Christians because of the way they treated black people. That moment took my breath away and opened the door for me to begin to see the effects of institutionalized and systemic racism and the cocoon of white privilege.

The other profound moment came on Oct 3, 1995, the day O.J. Simpson was acquitted for the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. Do you know what my first thought was when I heard the verdict? This is the tiniest glimpse of the repeated injustice that African Americans have been subjected to in this country – for centuries!

These two related experiences were moments of profound clarity for me that grew in me a heart for reconciliation that has only become more and more impassioned over time.

The horrific video of George Floyd being murdered on a street in Minneapolis MN is, I believe, symbolic of the United States of America having our collective knee on the necks of not only African Americans, but Native Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian American people in this country.

Institutional, Systemic Racism is a gruesome and undeniable stain on our national conscience – and I believe we need to own it as Americans.

White Privilege doesn’t mean that the average white person hasn’t needed to work hard for what we have attained; White Privilege means that us white folks have, generally speaking, have (present tense) greater access to power and resources than people of color [in our same situation] do.

Let me speak in the “I.” The question for me is not, “Am I a racist?” I am a racist. I have it in me and on me by virtue of Institutional Racism, White Privilege, and my own insensitivities. And I have come to hate it. Here’s the question I must continue to ask myself: “Where am I still a racist?”

What I have just shared may be deeply uncomfortable for you. I get it. Let me take it a step further – I would like you to engage in some personal reflection, some reading, and some praying to locate yourself in this opportune moment in history. We have a grace disguised opportunity in our country as well as in the Church. None of us would have chosen to be here, but we are.

With that said, let’s look at what Nehemiah did in one of the most severe crisis moments in his lifetime…

I would like to look at Nehemiah 1 and list for you the specifics and priority of Nehemiah’s response…

V. 2 – Nehemiah inquired. We need to ask questions and we need to listen.

I have spoken with some non-white friends to inquire about how they are doing and to get their perspective and advice. In regard to asking questions and listening, one of my friends told me the greatest investment we can make is spending time. He said time is our most valuable resource and it takes time to really get to know someone. Taking time is not quick encounters to ease our guilty conscience but a commitment to building ongoing relationships with people who are different from us.

V. 4 – “I sat down and wept and mourned for days.” We see this same calling as the SOTM begins – to acknowledge our spiritual poverty and to mourn over our own sinful/selfish condition. We need to mourn (or grieve) over the current condition of our country. And this includes not only the racism but also the 117,000+ (as of 6/15) COVID deaths in the US and almost 428,000+ deaths around the world.

I want to introduce a biblical term that most of us have heard but perhaps have not understood. Lament. One-third of the Psalms (50) are categorized as “Songs of Lament.” Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations (it comes just after Jeremiah).

What does it mean to lament? Lament is a prayer (or prayers) that believers offer to a sovereign God when life doesn’t fit with what they know to be true about Him, or the coming of God’s promises seem to be woefully delayed.

Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord, will you forget me? Forever? How long must I take comfort in my soul having sorrow in my heart all the day?”

So, a prayer of lament is a prayer from a place of pain and complete honesty that leads to trust.  One author said, without prayers of lament we tend to fall into one of two ditches — either the ditch of denial, everything’s fine, or the ditch of despair, I can’t do this.[1]

In prayers of lament we take our sorrows to God and we talk to Him about them.

V. 6 – “Me and my father’s house have sinned.” I hope you see what’s happening here. Nehemiah is taking on and owning the sins of his forefathers. I believe we must do the same.

The Church as a whole has failed miserably in the areas of justice that include race, sexism, conflict resolution and reconciliation, and immigrant care.

One of the core beliefs and practices of VitalChurch Ministry is the perspective that corporate (or, all church) renewal begins with personal renewal, and personal renewal begins with each one of us owning our own issues. (If we’re honest, we’re much better at owning other people’s issues.)

Here is a succinct review of what we see, not only in the first chapter of Nehemiah but in the whole book…

  • Nehemiah listened
  • Nehemiah learned (he took four months to pray, fast, and to plan)
  • Nehemiah lamented
  • Nehemiah loved (Not only did Nehemiah lead in the rebuilding of the walls of desolate Jerusalem but he also helped to lead a spiritual renewal, along with Ezra, after the wall was completed – all because of a deep love for God and the Jewish people returning from exile.

I want to invite you into that space. God has been up to something since the pandemic began. As I said earlier, the SOTM is about the removal of our sin through admitting our spiritual poverty and receiving God’s grace through faith, it’s about a restructuring of our heart (individually and collectively) from the inside out, and a whole reversal of values.

There’s been a lot of fluff in the Christian Church in America. The easy believeism, the me-centered choruses, the lack of doctrinal sermons, and the lack of integrity, which the culture has noticed (is noticing?) and we have been pushed back out to the margins of society. The good news, of course, is that the Bible was written to people who resided out on the margins.

My second defining moment that shaped me as a man, a Jesus follower, and as a pastor will, I hope, will sum-up much of what I’ve been trying to say. (I hope this is the beginning of a church-wide dialogue.)

It was the late 1980’s and I was pastoring the same church I spoke of earlier and the AIDS Epidemic was in full-swing and I decided to take a class from the Gay and Lesbian Task Force on caring for AIDS patients. My mother was a Hospice Nurse, so I grew up in an environment of care and compassion.

As one might imagine, when the two guys who were teaching the class found out I was a pastor it caused a bit of a stir and I ended up staying late after a few sessions to talk about God, Gays, and the care of AIDS patients.

Here’s something I learned from them… It involves the difference between sympathy and empathy – and for the sake of time, I’ll condense several conversations into learnings…sympathy says, “I am SO sorry!” Sympathy says, “I will certainly pray for you.” Or, sympathy will write a check. Those are good, awesome, and appropriate responses.

Empathy, on the other hand, says “WE have a problem and what are WE going to do about it?” Empathy is shoulder to shoulder.

My defining moment happened when I clearly made a distinction between sympathy and empathy – and how both are necessary in their own time and in their own way, yet they are distinctive. And then these two guys told me something that broke my heart…They told me that, while they had both received sympathy from the Church, they had never received empathy.

Friends, it’s shoulder-to-shoulder time. We have work to do. Let’s start a conversation that leads to action. And I hope you see that I’m not just talking about sexual identity issues regarding sympathy and empathy. I’m also talking about racism, sexism, and immigrant issues – reconciliation of all kinds that is rooted in the gospel.

To be rooted in the gospel means that Jesus Christ, the Great Reconciler, is our greatest hope and boast, our deepest longing and delight, and our most passionate song and message. To be rooted in the gospel means that the good news of God’s empowering grace is what defines us as Christians, unites us as brothers and sisters, changes us as both sinners and saints, and sends us as God’s people on mission. When we are rooted in the gospel, the gospel is exalted above every other good thing in our lives and triumphs over every bad thing set against it.

 

Discussion/Reflection Questions

Read through the Bible verses addressing ethnicity as well as the definitions of racism and white privilege on the blog.

  1. After reading through the verses is there one or two that stand out to you? Why?
  2. After reading the definitions of racism and white privilege, what stands out to you that you either may have not thought about for a while or that you are seeing for the first time?
  3. Just like there are sins of both commission and omission, do you think there could be both explicit as well as implicit racism ingrained in American culture? How about ingrained in the Evangelical Church?
  4. What does it mean to be “rooted in the gospel”?
  5. In considering Nehemiah’s response to crisis (1:2-6), he listened, he learned, he lamented (and repented), and he loved. Which of these responses do you feel are strengths in your life and which ones would you identify as weak?
  6. In considering the difference between sympathy and empathy, where do we need to grow as a church? Where do you need to grow?
  7. Do you have specific thoughts of what God is seeking to say to the Church during this COVID and Racial Injustice Protest moment?

 

[1] Mark Vroegop. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, Crossway 2019.

What About My Anger?

 

Matthew 5:21-26.

Anger is an old foe of mine. I have struggled with anger for most of my life (mostly focused on myself with a few exceptions). The way I have come to describe my anger over the years is that sometimes I feel like a pinball machine with a ball of anger bouncing around my soul. When I was younger, I got into a fight and went into a blind rage and put another young man into the hospital. It terrified me. The upside is that it probably moved me toward Christ because I felt so out of control. The downside is that when Linda and I were first married and would get into a disagreement I feared that I could lose control. I tended to earn inward in those moments instead of engaging in a healthy and biblical way. So, I’m speaking to you as a fellow traveler today – not someone who has it all together…

Here’s what I’ve learned about anger:

  1. Anger is a good thing. God gets angry and so should we. (This seems contradictory to what the text actually says but we will also consider the larger context.)
  2. Our passage for today is one of the premier relational passages in the whole Bible.

We will be looking at Matthew 5:21-26 and before we read it, we need to grasp the context of the verses we will be looking at (context is king!).

Last week I pointed out that the keyword for the whole sermon is righteousness. Jesus says that if we want to go to heaven our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (v. 20) – a shocking statement to anyone within earshot.

To try and put it succinctly there are two overlapping ways to understand this call (not invitation) to righteousness…The most common way is to see righteousness as the effect of our conversion. At conversion, we receive the complete and total righteousness of Jesus. (The theological term is justification.) Isaiah likens justification to a “robe of righteousness” (61:10). If you have more of an accountant’s mindset you could think of it as a full and total reconciling of the books – all your bills are paid, the mortgage is paid off, and you have enough in reserves to last the rest of your life.

The other overlapping way to understand righteousness is our response to God’s gift of justification, there’s a longing or desire or hunger and thirst for God that wants to honor God, please God, worship God, and pursue God. What Jesus is saying to us in the SOTM is that our spiritual vitality, and what will get us to heaven, will come from spiritual hunger for God. [Are you hungry for God?]

This is the primary focus of Jesus’ statement about our righteousness needing to be greater than the scribes and Pharisees, who focused more on external righteousness, but Jesus is looking for heart longing. And if you were with us last week you might remember that I said if you don’t have this hunger and thirst for God (5:6), you’re probably not a Christian.

Beginning with our passage today Jesus reinterprets six commands from the OT Law and addresses the need for heart change and not just external obedience. So, with all that said, let’s look at Mat 5:21-26…

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

25 “When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.  –Matthew 5:20-26

There are four things we must know about anger in order to redeem it:

  1. The POWER of Anger
  2. The POTENTIAL of Anger
  3. The PROBLEM of Anger
  4. The PRESCRIPTION for Healing Inappropriate Anger

I will attempt to address what this passage is saying about inappropriate anger as well as looking at the larger context – why anger is a good thing.

Let’s look at them one at a time…

The POWER of Anger — Anger has been referred to as the dynamite of the soul.  It can have devastating consequences…

It can wreak havoc on our bodies — A sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones.  –Pro. 14:30 (Medical studies affirm this)

It can wreak havoc on our relationships — See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.  –Hebrews 12:15

It can wreak havoc on our capacity to make wise and intelligent decisions — He who is quick-tempered exalts folly.  –Proverbs 14:29b (Anger can actually become addictive – it’s usually masking deeper woundedness.)

The POTENTIAL of Anger — The Bible repeatedly speaks of God’s anger. Another phrase we see in Scripture is, “The Wrath of God.” A lot of people struggle here because there’s a fairly common perspective, especially among cultural critics of the Christian faith, that really wants to assume that, if God is love, God would never get angry. Here’s the problem with that perspective: If you have a God that never gets angry, you can’t have a God of love because if God never gets angry, He can’t really love anything.

If there is someone we love, and that person is threatened you will – and should become angry. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is SO succinct when he says, “our anger must only be against sin.”[1] Sin of all kinds should make us angry. First and foremost, your own sin—and then the sin in the world around us.

This is what the 2nd Beatitude up in 5:4, blessed are those who mourn is addressing. We’d say things like, “I hate slothfulness, I hate abuse, I hate oppression and greed.” We hate expressions of sinfulness. Just a reminder here that Paul reminds us in Eph 4:26, “be angry but do not sin.”

In our passage today in v. 22 it says, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”  (How convicting is THAT!) What Jesus is saying here is that we MUST separate the sin from the sinner.

And finally, anger and wrath also contain longing. Say your spouse or your kid does something really stupid and you get angry…isn’t part of that anger a longing for the person to make good decisions? The same is true for God’s anger and God’s wrath.

The PROBLEM of Anger — Anger is often a secondary emotion, not a primary emotion.  So, our anger can mask, or disguise primary emotions such as frustration, grief, fear, or offense. Here’s a crude graphic that illustrates this…

Anger becomes a problem when it gets out of control and when it hurts people emotionally or even physically. An important key to understanding the PROBLEM of anger is for us to see anger as an opportunity to look deeper into the heart of God.  Our anger can become a window through which we can discover – and deal with the woundedness we bring into our Christian experience.[2]

Another way to illustrate this is to liken anger to the engine light on a car. If the light starts flashing it tells that something is wrong.

When you feel anger let’s view it as an opportunity to explore what may be below the surface – what the anger may be masking. The purpose of examining our emotions is not merely to better ourselves, but to reveal what separates us from God and others.

The PRESCRIPTION for Healing Our Unrighteous Anger — Three quick thoughts for you to consider:

  1. If we were to condense vs. 23-26 into a single thought it would be, when reactive or contemptuous anger surfaces deal with it quickly. Again, Paul says in Eph 4:26 we are not to let the sun go down on your anger. (The longer we’re married the less we take that verse literally.)
  2. And then vs. 25-26 indicates that the proudful failure (or unwillingness) to reconcile could result in a prison sentence. This is true spiritually as wellit may be the prison of resentment, or bitterness (which Heb 12:15 says will eventually defile many people). It may be the prison or fear, or sadness, or guilt, or shame, or envy, or depression. These are all very real prisons that we can end up confined to if we’re not dealing with the emotions that result in anger.
  3. Finally, go to the blog and take the anger eval questionnaire.

The gospel tells us that Jesus absorbed our vitriol and our anger. He also absorbed the wrath and anger of God toward a proud and stiff-necked people. Because Jesus did it for us – let’s continue to be patient and kind with one another by His strength and by His power.

[1] Lloyd-Jones: 226.

[2] Adapted from Allender, Dan & Tremper Longman. The Cry of the Soul, NavPress new ed. 1999: 10.

Anger Self Evaluation Questionnaire

This week I’ve been restudying Matthew 5:21-26 in preparation for a sermon this weekend. It appears that anger has taken root in our culture and even in the Church. What can we do about that?

My thinking is that this crisis is the result of an inadequate discipleship process in the Evangelical Church over the last few decades, which has been principle-driven to a fault. Certainly, Scripture is full of principles to be learned and practiced. Where we’ve fallen short, in my opinion, is not helping people to integrate those principles into practices.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  –1 Thessalonians 5:23

This passage is not meant to be a singular proof text, it is one of many biblical texts that indicate God wants access to, not only WHAT we do but WHY we do what we do. Our spirit, soul, and body represent the overlapping distinctives of our human nature. Embedded in these distinctives are our intellect, will, and emotions. One of the late R.C. Sproul‘s descriptions of the sanctification process is the ongoing “mending of all human imperfection,” which will be completed at the Second Coming of Jesus. In the meantime, we are constantly learning principles and (hopefully) putting them into practice to strengthen our spirit, soul, and body through the teaching, convicting, and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The idea of integrating emotional health into the sanctification and discipleship process is learning how to manage our feelings and emotions in appropriate ways. One example of a failure of effective discipleship would be the guy (who might even be a pastor or a church leader) who knows the Bible really really well, yet is prone to outbursts of anger. This becomes confusing to people both inside and outside the church and waters down both our witness and effectiveness.

What is Emotional Health?

Emotional health is what occurs when my feelings are being placed under the power of the cross in an ongoing way so that they are acknowledged as present (as opposed to denying them), listened to for what they communicate about me, expressed adequately and appropriately to others, and acted upon in ways that are appropriate and (begin to) reflect the character of Christ. They exist, but they no longer dominate my behavior. I begin to respond more than I react and when I blow it, I own it and apologize. My emotions are recognized and given their rightful place in the course of godly conduct.

With the above in mind, please take some time to consider if anger has taken-up too much residential space in your soul…

Anger Self Evaluation Questionnaire

The following inventory can help you in the recognition process as you seek to determine whether your anger is reaching a destructive level in your life.

  • I become impatient easily when things do not go according to my plan.
  • I tend to have critical thoughts toward others who don’t agree with my opinions.
  • When I am displeased with someone, I may shut down any communication with them or withdraw entirely.
  • I get annoyed easily when friends and family do not appear sensitive to my needs.
  • I feel frustrated when I see someone else having an easier time than me.
  • Whenever I am responsible for planning an important event, I am preoccupied with how I must manage it.
  • When talking about a controversial topic, the tone of my voice is likely to become louder and more assertive.
  • I can accept a person who admits his or her mistakes, but I get irritated easily at those who refuse to admit their weaknesses.
  • I do not easily forget when someone does me wrong.
  • When someone confronts me with a misinformed opinion, I am thinking of my comeback even while they are speaking.
  • I find myself becoming aggressive even while playing a game for fun.
  • I struggle emotionally with the things in life that aren’t fair.
  • Although I realize that it may not be right, I sometimes blame others for my problems.
  • More often than not, I use sarcasm as a way of expressing humor.
  • I may act kindly toward others on the outside yet feel bitter and frustrated on the inside.

Scoring: If you recognize 4-8 of the above, your anger is probably more present than you would prefer. If you identified with 9 or more boxes, there is a strong possibility that you have an ongoing struggle with anger or rage, whether you are aware of it or not.

(Adapted from “The Anger Workbook,” written by Dr. Les Carter and Dr. Frank Minirth)

What About My Righteousness?

The print above could be purchased here.

A sermon for Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth MA on April 26, 2020. Last Fall we went through the Beatitudes one at a time in a series entitled Read the Red and in these weeks following Easter we’re back in the Sermon on the Mount with a series entitled “What About __________?

Today we will be looking at Matthew 5:17-20 and if you’re joining us for the first time, we are in a series considering what is likely the first extended sermons of Jesus called the SOTM.

I like to remind people that Jesus was the most radical person who ever lived and that He came out of heaven and into our brokenness to launch a revolution. The SOTM has been called His manifesto-like our Declaration of Independence or Martin Luther King’s, I Have a Dream speech.

The SOTM is only 109 verses and takes about 10-15 minutes to read so it’s widely thought that Matthew is giving us the “Cliff Notes” version. If I were to provide you with a simplified overview of the SOTM it would be that, with this inaugural sermon, Jesus dives into our innermost being probing the heart and raising the question of motive.

Today, we will look at what scholars have described as the “thesis statement” of the sermon. Most of us remember learning about a thesis statement in high school or college. By way of review, a thesis statement is (usually) a one-sentence overview of the main idea of the essay, or manifesto, or book. Most often it appears at the conclusion of the introduction or preface, but sometimes it can appear in the first or second paragraph of the first chapter. A good thesis statement will describe the intention of the author and will prepare the reader to begin to see and understand the main ideas that will be presented.

So, with that said, I would like to read Matthew 5:17-20 and then pray. See if you can identify the thesis statement for the SOTM.

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [what we know today as the OT]; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke [KJV “jot and tittle”] shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes [Gk word is the root of our English word grammar] and Pharisees [religious police], you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Those four verses are packed with meaning and implications, but scholars agree that v. 20 is the thesis statement for the whole sermon. It would have equaled a gut-punch to the soul of anyone who heard what Jesus said.

The legalistic scribes and Pharisees had shaped the Jewish legal system to focus more on external obedience and Jesus shows up with a deeper version of reality that was always pretty clear throughout the OT, which says motive matters. An OT verse that many of us are familiar with is 1 Samuel 16:7: “…for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Today we only have time to consider two questions this important passage addresses. I’ll give them to you and then we will go back and look at them one at a time…

  1. What does it mean that Jesus fulfills the Law? There’s a lot of confusion about this both inside and outside the church.
  2. What does it mean for our righteousness to progress beyond the Scribes and Pharisees?

Again, we’ll look at them one at a time…

  1. What does it mean that Jesus fulfills the Law?

The purpose of the OT Law was to point God’s chosen people forward to the promised Messiah (Jesus). The short version is that once Jesus came, the Law’s purpose was fulfilled, and much of the Law became obsolete. It was not deleted, but fulfilled by a more penetrating Law, the Law of the Gospel contained in God’s radical and revolutionary kingdom.

It’s pretty common these days for the cultural critics of Christianity to dismiss Christians as inconsistent because, from their perspective, we follow some of the laws in the OT and ignore others. The challenge usually sounds something like this: “When the Bible talks about certain sexual behaviors as sin, you quote that; but when it says not to eat shellfish or not to get a tattoo, you just ignore it. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what suits you best?” That’s a legit question, right?

As far back as the mid-16th century, John Calvin saw that the Mosaic Laws could be distinguished into three categories—and then the scholars who wrote The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) followed Calvin’s lead identifying three categories of Mosaic Law: Civil Laws, Ceremonial Laws, and Moral Laws.

Let’s take a brief look at each.

  • Civil (or Judicial) Law were given for the nation of Israel in its particular circumstances at that time, which described how the people were to order their behavior in relationship to others, including what they were to do and not do. The Civil Law was fulfilled when Jesus came and established the KOG on the earth – it was/is a new spiritual Israel, that we now identify as the Church—and as such, we’re no longer bound by the Mosaic civil codes—they are now obsolete.
  • Ceremonial Law concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices and all the ritual and ceremonial worship practices. These laws are no longer in effect if we accept Jesus as the perfect sacrifice. In fact, it would actually be offensive to go back to them, because that would communicate that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t sufficient.
  • Moral Law consisted of the Ten commandments and the great moral principles that have been laid down once and forever. The Moral Law is permanent and perpetual[1] and still applies to us. While we are called to still adhere to the Moral Laws of God, they too were fulfilled by the coming of Jesus, in that He kept all of them perfectly, every day, for His entire life. In fact, whenever Jesus, in His teaching, mentioned the moral laws, He either reaffirmed them or intensified them—as we’ll see in the coming weeks., God has graciously given to the believer the Holy Spirit to supply us with a growing love for God’s Moral Law AND the power to live by it.[2]

If this is new information or a new perspective for you, I hope you can begin to see how important it is to comprehend how Jesus fulfills the OT Law—and renders the Civil and Ceremonial Laws obsolete. It is also important that we are able to respond to the cultural critics of the Christian faith.

Does this mean we can, or should, abandon the OT as unnecessary? The NT cannot be truly understood except in the light provided by the OT.[3] Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim 3:16 that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”  So, the OT was not written TO us, but it was written FOR us.

I came across this quote in some notes: “So, eat your shrimp and get that tattoo without guilt, but don’t throw away your 10 Commandments just yet.”

  1. What does it mean for our righteousness to progress beyond the Scribes and Pharisees?

Righteousness is that which satisfies the demands of the Law. It is doing what is right. To be called righteous means that one is in right standing with God. What Jesus is saying in v. 20 is that the purpose of God’s law was to show us that we needed more righteousness than we could come up with on our own.

Galatians 3:24-26 addresses how the Law works on our behalf: Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

The purpose of the Law was to show us that we couldn’t do it on our own. It’s like a dentist’s mirror, which can point out decay, but it can’t do anything about it.

So, this perspective of righteousness becomes the thesis statement of the SOTM[4]. The goal is to show us what true righteousness is – and to show us that we can’t get there on our own. Last Fall when Pastor Chris taught us about hungering and thirsting for righteousness he said that an appetite for righteousness is a desire to align our lives with who God is and all that He is doing, seeing Jesus as our representative and example, while guided by the movement and power of the Holy Spirit. That’s very good…

So, how do we gain this righteousness? Let’s go back to the Beatitudes…

The first three Beatitudes inform us of how we can enter into the KOG. Another way to say this is they tell us how we can be converted.

To be poor in spirit means that we recognize our spiritual poverty and that we need the resources of something, or Someone, to become the people that we long to be.

Another word for mourn is repent. We repent over the selfish tendencies and sinful condition of our soul – and the woeful condition of the world around us.

To become meek means that we become humble learners. As we’ve heard, meekness is not weakness but strength (or giftedness) that increasingly comes under God’s control and direction. Remember, disciple means learner.

As we recognize our spiritual poverty, repent over our selfish and sinful condition, we become humble learners, a hunger and thirst for God and God’s ways begins to grip our soul. The psalmist provides us with an excellent metaphor in Psalm 42:1-2a, As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God…” This is how we know conversion has taken place.

If you don’t have a growing hunger to honor and please God that results from acknowledging your spiritual poverty, mourning over it, and becoming a humble learner, you’re probably not a Christian. Certainly, like the moon, our hunger for God can wax and wane, but if it’s just not there, I think you should be concerned for your soul.

The final four Beatitudes address our sanctification and are a lifelong process.

We experience God’s mercy and as we receive it we begin to give mercy to others. God’s mercy begins to purify our hearts and cleanse us from the brokenness of sin – both the sins that have been committed against us as well as the sins we have committed. This, in turn, leads to a peace that passes understanding – and then, access to a wisdom that helps others make peace with God and one another. And finally, we need to expect persecution. Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it—and usually it’s “religious” people.

Overall, the big idea of these four verses that we’ve looked at today informs us that Jesus is inviting us to surrender afresh to an internal moral law and that through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, we can re-orient our values, vision, and habits from the ways of external righteousness to a growing whole-heartedness toward God.

 

Study Questions

  1. What are your thoughts regarding Jesus being the most radical person who ever lived and that He came to launch the Kingdom of God as a revolution? (Being part of a revolution requires that we be “all in.” Where do you feel lax and where do you feel focused?)
  2. Jesus fulfilled the Civil, Ceremonial, and Moral Law. Is the idea that most of the OT Law has been rendered obsolete, or fulfilled by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus new to you? (Over the last several months we’ve been talking about the whole Bible as one story, with Jesus declaring the whole OT is really about Him—see Luke 24:27. Has this changed the way you are reading your Bible?)
  3. Do you feel like you could adequately respond to a cultural critic of the Christian faith who asks why it appears that we keep some of God’s laws but not all of them?
  4. Does it make sense to you that, while we are called to still adhere to the Moral Laws of God, that we now have the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to grow in us a love for God’s Word and sanctifying power to increase our responsive obedience?
  5. There are (at least) two ways to talk about our righteousness. One is how we are fully justified by grace through faith at conversion and the other is (growing in) our longing to love and honor God and be more like Jesus. Do you feel clear about the distinctions? If not, what seems confusing to you?
  6. The fourth Beatitude is hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Talk about your current hunger and thirst. Has this shelter at home season enhanced or hindered your hunger and thirst for God?

Bonus Questions for Pondering: Could we assume that most of the scribes and Pharisees were sincere in their intention to keep the Law even if they were primarily concerned with outward appearances? For millennia women have been considered second class citizens (even in the Church), even when we see clearly how both Jesus and Paul elevated their role. And if we assume that many slaveholders in the 17th – 19th centuries were sincere in their belief that the Bible justified slavery, where and how did these groups misinterpret Scripture? Do you think there might be any theological perspectives that our grand- and great grand-kids might look back on and wonder why we believed the Bible was saying such a thing?

[1] Lloyd-Jones: 195.

[2] Lloyd-Jones: 194.

[3] Lloyd-Jones: 191.

[4] Pennington: 177.

Encountering God in Anxious Times

The Emmaus Road Discourse Luke 24:13-36

I’m very aware that we live in anxious times—yet, as I begin, I’d like to raise your personal anxiety a few more notches…There is a phrase that deeply affects every person on the planet: When God is silent. We’ve all had seasons in our lives when we have longed for God to speak and found God to be silent. Even confirmed atheists would admit that if God clearly spoke, they would believe.

There was a German scholar/theologian named Helmut Thielicke who lived through the Nazi holocaust[1] and one of his books is titled, The Silence of God., [2] which was published in 1962 after a period of research and reflection. In a nutshell here’s what Thielicke found:

Anxiety is the “secret wound of modern man.”[3]

Initially, he thought our natural tendency was related to a fear of death. But, he said, World Wars I & II proved otherwise…an example is that Russian soldiers were more afraid of pain than death. Thielicke traces our anxiety to a “fear of emptiness” and that our anxiety can actually be traced to a longing to know where God is. Thielicke’s hypothesis for his research was:

“Where is God in the face of the mass slaughter of war, or the frightening development of [universal pandemics] which seems to press us inexorably towards destruction and final catastrophe?”

The 4th-century theologian and theologian and philosopher, Augustine came to the same conclusion as Thielicke when he prayed:

“God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”[4]

In this essay, I would like for us to consider how a personal encounter, with Jesus Christ, will push back the anxiety of our lives. We will consider what’s called the Emmaus Road narrative found in Luke 24:13-35.

What we have on the road this Easter morning are two downcast, dismayed, and devastated disciples, who couldn’t recognize Jesus. It seems they had become spiritually blind. (I think it’s important to notice that even committed disciples can suffer from spiritual blindness.)

Two important questions we can ask of the text are:

  1. What causes spiritual blindness?
  2. How can we have a personal encounter with Jesus?

We’ll consider them one at a time…

  1. What causes spiritual blindness?

We tend to think that our greatest need is a change of circumstances instead of a change of heart. We first notice that Cleopas is speaking in the past tense in verses 19b and 21a “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed…21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

The Jewish people were looking for a Geopolitical King to liberate them from Roman oppression; instead, they got a Servant King, intent on liberating the soul. While the disciples certainly had moments of profound insight and revelation as they interacted and learned from Jesus, yet in the end, they failed to understand the primary purpose of the coming Messiah. To find true heart liberation, we must come to the end of ourselves and see our need for a Savior. This is both an initial need in order for salvation to take root in our lives—and an ongoing need for those of us who are active, intentional followers of Jesus.

A second posture that can result in spiritual blindness is, we can fail to recognize Jesus in the ordinary. Like with these disciples on the road, Jesus is closer to us than we realize. Jesus became an ordinary person to show ordinary people like us God’s extraordinary love. Right now, today, God is active in your life and using people and these current circumstances, in an attempt to reveal Himself to you—and to draw you closer to Himself.

The arc of biblical teaching—from Genesis to Revelation is that God doesn’t take us AROUND trouble, He takes us THROUGH trouble. And here’s His offer: a) He’ll go with us, b) He’ll teach us along the way, and c) we can go in His strength and power.

Remember, even disciples of Jesus can suffer from spiritual blindness.

Question: Where are your current difficulties or (unrealistic) expectations preventing you from seeing the active presence of Jesus in your life?

Unless we are willing to see Him in the routine and ordinary, we may miss Him.

  1. This brings us to our second question: How can we have a personal encounter with Jesus?

We encounter Jesus when we are humble and see our need for His grace and empowering presence.

In v.26 we find Jesus giving a succinct summary of the gospel: “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

In terms of the gospel, Christianity is the only religion or philosophy of life that has an answer to this question, how can God be both infinitely just AND infinitely merciful? At first glance they seem to be at odds. Yet what we find is that infinite justice and infinite mercy intersect at the cross.

In v.26 Jesus is saying that He had to die to make full redemption available to humankind. Again, Cleopas thought they needed a General, he didn’t fully realize that he needed a Savior. What we see in this passage is that Jesus wants to go deeper than our circumstances and heal our ultimate anxiety, which is our separation from God.

With that in mind I have BAD NEWS and I have GOOD NEWS. Here’s the BAD NEWS: God demands perfect holiness to enter into His presence. The tiniest, most minuscule sin will separate you from God forever. To miss the mark by even a millimeter is still to have missed the mark. The GOOD NEWS—and it’s actually great news, is that Jesus the Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, was brutally murdered to take away our sins and then was resurrected on the third day. As our hearts are AWAKENED to this act of perfect love, perfect justice, and perfect mercy we receive the gift of Christ’s righteousness, which is un-earnable, based on what Christ has done—not what we must do.

We encounter Jesus in the Bible. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (v. 27.) They were on a 7-mile journey, which takes about 2-3 hours depending on the terrain. What we have on this journey is probably THE most important Bible study of all time. What we learn from this verse is, the whole Old Testament is about Jesus. What Jesus is doing on the Emmaus Road is opening their minds to the meaning of the Bible. Jesus is saying, “The whole OT is actually about Me.” Once our hearts are awakened to that perspective, we begin to see how the whole Bible—both Old and New Testaments only tells one story. It’s the story of redemption and reconciliation through Jesus.

Have you seen the movie The Sixth Sense?[5] We can only really see it twice. The first time the ending is quite shocking. The second time we become very aware of all the indicators that point to the shocking ending. It’s the same with seeing how the whole Old Testament points to Jesus. The Apostle Paul articulates this thought essence well when he declares, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Jesus left the comfort and perfection of heaven to come into our brokenness and provide us with a righteousness, a peace, and a joy that we didn’t—and couldn’t—earn.

We encounter Jesus as we come together. When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him.  Luke 24:30-31a Again, Jesus is closer than we think. He is already all over our lives. These disciples had been devastated and humbled—and in that condition—partaking of what we now know as the Lord’s Supper, which is an act of worship—they encounter the reality of the risen Christ. And notice too, how the disciples immediately take the good news to somebody else. Nobody can sit on this message when it truly comes alive in our hearts. “And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, 34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:33-34).

Returning to the German theologian’s conclusions regarding the root of human anxiety and our fear of emptiness, Thielicke writes that the “positive force, which defeats anxiety, is love.”[6] This parallels with what John says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Thielicke says our anxiety is the result of a broken bond—and that God’s sacrifice on the cross restores that bond. He says, “once we know that we are loved, we lose our anxiety” and he likens it to holding on tightly to a father’s hand in a very dark forest.

In both Matthew and Mark’s accounts of the crucifixion, they record the anxious final cry of Jesus exclaiming: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Yet a closer examination will reveal that even in excruciating death Jesus never let go of His Father’s hand. Notice Jesus cries out, My God, My God…”  Jesus is bringing His anxiety to His Father. And because He did, so can we.

[1] There was an underground evangelical church movement in Germany during WW2.

[2]  Eerdmans 1962.

[3] Pgs. 17–21.

[4] Confessions (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5).

[5] An 8-year-old boy is visited by ghosts and he is too afraid to tell anyone about his anguish, except for Willis who plays a child psychologist. (M. Night Shyamalan) Available on YouTube, Google Play, and iTunes for $2.99.

[6] Pgs. 23–24.

Holy Week Devo – 7

Saturday, April 11th

What was happening on Saturday?

The body of Jesus was entombed.

Jesus Is Buried Luke 23:50-56

And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment.

Three Thoughts…

Was it Really Three Days and Nights?

According to Christian tradition, Jesus died on Good Friday at 3pm (or, the ninth hour of the day according to Matthew 27:45-46; Mark 15:33-34; and Luke 23:44). By 6pm He was entombed and then on Sunday at dawn, Jesus rose from the dead. That’s approximately 36 hours. Yet, according to Matthew 12:40, Jesus said, “For, just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” So, what’s up with that?

First-century Palestine didn’t begin new days at midnight like we do in our 21st-century cultural context. For them, it was sundown, which the Jewish people still practice. In first-century Judaism, part of a day counted as a whole day. So, because Jesus was buried on Friday evening and rose on Sunday morning, He was in the tomb “three days and three nights.” The authors of the Gospels all point to the resurrection occurring at dawn on the first day of the week (for them it was Sunday). So, it was the beginning of a new day—both literally as well as symbolically!

What Was Happening Between the Cross and the Empty Tomb?

After Jesus’s human body died on the cross, Jesus descended into death. Death did indeed capture Jesus and He entered into it fully. We read in Luke 23:43 that Jesus told the humble criminal who was crucified next to Him that, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” We also read in the Apostles Creed that, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell.” So, what was happening on this Holy Saturday? There are no specific scriptural references, but many have attempted to answer the question by examining many of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament (mostly those contained in Psalms) and what the New Testament records. My own thoughts are probably too simplistic for well-studied theologians, yet my current thinking is that Jesus did descend into hell, but not to continue His suffering. John was there as Jesus died on the cross and he records Jesus saying, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). My thoughtful speculation is that Jesus went into hell to seize the keys of death and hell from Satan. In Revelation 1:18, the risen Christ appears to John and declares, [I am] “the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” After seizing the keys of death and hell Jesus took them to His Father in Paradise—and returned to the tomb for resurrection.

Sabbath Rest

Luke 23:56b: And on the Sabbath, they rested according to the commandment. On Holy Saturday we wait. It’s a Sabbath Day, and as such, a time of quiet and restful reflection. That first Holy Saturday was anything but restful for the disciples of Jesus. There was much anxiety, fear, and depression. These emotions are processed best in prayer and thoughtful reflection.

Author GK. Chesterton in “The Everlasting Man” writes that this Sabbath “was the last Sabbath of the old creation, which was marred by Adam’s sin…What [the disciples] were looking at on Sunday morning, was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.”[1]

Thoughtful and reflective: Andrew Peterson “Resurrection Letters: One Album, Ten Years” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kx3vDBtf78E&list=PLSOArt-wtjbDxjvTK9gO62ok2EIdqZX2g

 

 

[1] G.K. Chesterton: The Everlasting Man, Part Two, Chap. III.

What Good Friday Accomplished

The gospels tell the what of the crucifixion while the epistles help us to understand the why. One of the most subtly graphic passages in the epistles is Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians (5:21),

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

This doesn’t mean that God made Jesus sinful, it means that on the cross the Father treated Jesus the way sinners deserve. Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane was a mere foretaste of the coming rejection. One commentator wrote, “Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before His betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before Him…”[1]

On the cross, Jesus endured the FULL WEIGHT of the sins of humanity. Think about it, every past, present, and future sin of every person who would ever live was beginning to smother the soul of Jesus. Someone has said that the physical suffering that Jesus endured was like a flea bite compared to the emotional and spiritual suffering of bearing our sin.

What we encounter in the gospels is that Jesus didn’t exude the peace of God on the cross. If we look closely, we see that he actually lost His peace while He was dying on the cross. He cried out in agony saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”  and then a few minutes later, in His final moment, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last” (Mark 15:34, 37).

To paraphrase what happened as He passed from life to death, we must acknowledge that Jesus died screaming. It was torturous, excruciating, and violent, fueled by unfathomable pain.

Here’s what may help us to better understand what happened on Good Friday, Jesus relinquished all of His peace so we could receive and enjoy eternal peace. The essence of the gospel is that God, out of unfathomable pain and immeasurable love became one of us and accomplished for us what we could not accomplish on our own. The Christian life is not about what we could do or should do to earn God’s favor and acceptance, it’s about what God accomplished for us. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

[1] Bill Lane. The Gospel According to Mark. Eerdmans, 1974: 573.

Holy Week Devo – Day 6

Good Friday, April 10th

What happened on Good Friday?

Several sorrowful events took place…Jesus praying in Gethsemane (either late Thursday night or early Friday morning), the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, His denial, His sham trial and flogging, and His crucifixion.

Why is this Friday Good? Certainly, as the day unfolded it didn’t look or feel good—His disciples were still expecting a geopolitical kingdom (like David’s) to be established, so this day was shocking and bewildering to them. It is in looking back that we see the resolute goodness of that fateful day. By His death, Jesus became the final and complete sacrifice for our sins. Jesus willingly accomplished what we could never do for ourselves by dying for us on that first Good Friday.

Gethsemane

Luke 22:44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

The key-word, of course, is anguish. One commentator wrote: “Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before His betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before Him…”[1]

Betrayal and Arrest

John 18:3-5a So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.”

Our tendency is to place the blame on Judas as a bad seed. But what we see later in Peter’s sermon that launched the Church (Acts 2) is that “we” killed Christ.

  • Acts 2:23 This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
  • Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you

Denial

Luke 22:60-61 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.”

Two things stand out here:

  • We’ve all heard the phrase, “If looks could kill I’d be dead.” So, when Jesus turned and looked at Peter after he denied Him three times, what did Peter see and experience? He did not see anger or pity, Peter encountered gracious love and complete acceptance in the eyes of Jesus, which caused a deep and life-changing repentance.
  • What’s the difference between Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial? Certainly, both were grievous sins. The difference appears to be that Judas did not repent, he relented while Peter truly repented. True repentance is a summons to a personal, absolute, ultimate, and unconditional surrender to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Though it includes relenting and regretting, it is so much more than that. The unresolved guilt and shame of Judas’ relentance culminated in taking his own life.

Sham Trial and Flogging

Mark 15:15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

Seven hundred years before the crucifixion Isaiah prophesied about the death of the coming Messiah: But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man (Isaiah 32:14). Wow.

On the cross, Jesus endured the FULL WEIGHT of the all past, present, and future sins of humanity. Someone has suggested that the physical suffering that Jesus endured was like a flea bite compared to the emotional and spiritual suffering of bearing the sin of humanity.

Jesus didn’t exude the peace of God on the cross. If we look closely at what Jesus endured on the cross, we see that he actually lost His peace while He was dying. He cried out in agony and said,

  • Mark 15:34 “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?”
  • Mark 15:37 “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last.”

Paraphrase: Jesus died screaming.  It was an excruciating and violent death. Here’s what this means for you and me: Jesus let go of all of His peace so we could have eternal peace.

Application: Somehow, we must allow the events of this day to penetrate the lingering hardness and complacency of our hearts. I don’t know how to do that for you. Certainly, it will take some moments of quiet reflection. Will you get by yourself to reflect? Will you read these passages and pray with your spouse and family (or housemates)? We’ll also be reflecting on this in our Good Friday service later today…

[1] Bill Lane. The Gospel According to Mark. Eerdmans, 1974: 573.

Daily Devo – Day 5

Maundy Thursday, April 9th

What was Jesus doing on Thursday of Holy Week?

The big event of the day is the Last Supper and Jesus and the disciples making their way to Gethsemane.

Note: In liturgical churches this day is known as Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, which reflects Jesus’ words, in John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment.”

Jesus Washes The Feet Of His Friends, John 13:1-17; 34-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:31–17:26 is a unit known as The Farewell Discourse, which are the final words and instructions of Jesus before He was arrested. If we were to reduce these chapters to two words, they would be assurance and comfort. Jesus prepares the Disciples for His death and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He speaks of the opposition between the ways of this world and them as His disciples, preparing them for the hardships to come.[1] He does this by showing them that this opposition will come from their union with Himself (e.g., abiding in Him, see John 15:4).

One of my VitalChurch colleagues made the observation that the Last Supper, with Jesus stooping to wash the feet of the disciples, is the most pivotal moment in all of human history. What we witness is the culmination of the Old Covenant (or Testament) and the launch of the New Covenant (or Testament). At the official inauguration of this new age, Jesus is modeling for us a new ethic and practice—humbly serving others (see Philippians 2:2-7). Jesus didn’t want this object lesson moment to be missed, we are to find our comfort, joy, and delight in being found “in Him” and from that assurance we are to humbly love and serve one another—and “the other,” through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Application: Two thoughts…

  1. How is your assurance of salvation? Do you know that you know that you know that you are secure in God’s love and full acceptance? If not ask God to reveal to you what might be hindering that. Surrender afresh your whole life to Him and ask for that assurance to warm your heart.
  2. How is your servant’s heart? If you do not live alone during this shelter-in-place moment, you are experiencing, CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS in a whole new way, where we’re in each other’s space more than usual. How’s it going? (I’ll leave it at that.)

Deeper Dive: Jesus and the Disciples Making Their Way to Gethsemane

After the Last Supper Jesus and the Disciples began to make their way through the streets of Jerusalem to Gethsemane. Along the way, in the moonlight, they would have seen small fires burning in the vineyards that shared the Mount of Olives with the olive groves. And keep in mind that the national emblem of Israel was a golden vine.

It is possible that Jesus spoke His John 15 words with a view of the vineyard fires in the background. What were the fires about? At the end of each day the vinedressers would stack the dead and fruitless branches into a pile every few rows and then burn them at dusk. Perhaps as Jesus spoke His words, the Disciples could see the fires burning from where they were standing (or walking)??

And then Jesus and the Disciples would need to cross the Kidron Valley on their way to Gethsemane. On the afternoon before the Passover Celebration in Jerusalem, which would have begun on Wednesday, the Temple Priests would have been sacrificing of the lambs on the altar of the temple. Theologians speculate that as many as a quarter-million lambs were slain in a typical Passover season, requiring hundreds of priests to carry out the task. There would be a tremendous amount of blood drained from 250,000 lambs along with the water used in the ritual cleansings. The water and blood would have been flowing down the Kidron Valley which separated Jerusalem from Gethsemane. The word, Kidron means “black brook” or “gloomy brook,” perhaps the name was in response to the continuous flood of blood and water from the Temple.

When Jesus and the Disciples walked through the Kidron Valley, it’s likely that Jesus couldn’t help but be moved by the biblical symbolism that the valley held in terms of sacrifices made “for sins,” the river of blood from those sacrificial lambs. Jesus knew that as “The Lamb of God” His blood would soon flow for the sins of the whole world—past, present, and future. His crossing the Kidron was a confirmation concerning “the cup” of the sins of the world that He was about to drink and die for. He came to die as God’s perfect Sacrificial Lamb for our sins that we might be restored to direct access to an intimate life-giving relationship with our Father God. He is, indeed, a good, good Father.

Application: The best, maybe the only legit, application is to worship. When you have a few minutes maybe slip out of the house and take a short walk. Reflect on the suffering that Jesus was about to endure. Thank Him and worship Him.

You can also gather your household and tell them the story I just told you. And here’s a link to a video from the Bible Project about sacrifice and atonement that you can share with your household…

https://bibleproject.com/explore/sacrifice-atonement/

[1] cf. Tolmie 1995:228-29.

Holy Week Devo – Day 4

Wednesday, April 8th

What was happening on Wednesday of Holy Week?

The major event was Judas’ decision to betray Jesus.

One Of You Will Betray Me, Matthew 26:14-16

Then one of the twelve disciples—the one named Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?” They counted out thirty silver coins and gave them to him. From then on Judas was looking for a good chance to hand Jesus over to them.

Based on the median income for a full-time wage or salary worker in 2019, the equivalent amount would be approximately $5,460—not nearly as much as we might have thought!

Someone once said, “Knowing what NOT to do is just as good as knowing what TO do.” So, what can we learn from Judas? At least two things…

1 For three-and-a-half years Jesus, the only perfect person who ever lived, provided the ultimate environment for incubating a dynamic faith, yet Judas still went sideways. Parents of prodigals, or pastors, or employers who have experienced loved ones making poor choices, walking away from the faith they were raised in, or employees not living up to their potential and needing to be let go can be overwhelmed with a strong sense of shame and guilt.

(It should be noted that there is legitimate shame and guilt that humbly acknowledges our failures and points us to the cross of Christ. Legitimate shame exposes our depravity. We should feel shame when we hurt someone because we violate our relationship with them and the Lord. Take care not to justify or deny your wrongdoing. Let legitimate shame do its work. If the Spirit of God lives in you, you will be nudged into the light of His presence and seared by His penetrating eyes. It is God’s kindness to orchestrate the events of our life so that our heart will be tested and then humbled.[1])

Certainly, we must acknowledge and own what we could have done differently—and apologize where necessary, yet in the end we cannot control the decisions of others.

Application: Own what you can own. Repent. Apologize wherever it is appropriate. Ask for the Holy Spirit to be released afresh on the person/people because God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

2 Seemingly “insignificant” and unconfessed sin can snowball into addictive, destructive, and lethal behaviors if not acknowledged and confessed. There are many kinds of addictions. There are ingestive addictions—like alcohol, drugs, nicotine, sugar, caffeine, and/or food. And there are also process addictions—things like illegitimate shame and guilt, a poor understanding of who we are in Christ, and other processes like pornography and masturbation, shopping, social media, binge watching digital content, religion, making money, and working out can even become an addiction—although most of us could use a little more time at the gym 🙂

Judas had been stealing from the collective money bag, and when he kept this sin secret, Satan gained more and more ground in his life. Judas made a deal with the chief priests and then sat down at our Lord’s table with known sins that he was unwilling to own and confess, and Satan entered even further into his life. Unconfessed sin always opens the door to Satan’s power in our lives.

John 13:27a: When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him…

Matthew 27:3-5: Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” 5 And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

Application: Confess all know sin. Join a Community Group and seek out safe, challenging, and accountable relationships.

[1] Dan Allender. The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse, NavPress 1990: 63-66.