Category: Jesus (Page 2 of 54)

A People Person

When we follow Jesus through the Gospels, it’s impossible to miss that Jesus is basically just moving from one dinner party to the next. On every page of the Gospels, Jesus is either at a dinner party, just leaving a dinner party, or about to go to a dinner party. We notice early on in the story that Jesus is not a silent, high-minded, stoic priest lighting candles in a dark sanctuary; he is a rowdy rabbi who does his best teaching and pastoring among a big group of people at a party.

Of course, he was criticized for it. He was called a glutton and a drunk. One of the main things Jesus was known for was his very public eating and drinking.

Yes, there were times when Jesus went alone to the desert or up on a mountain to pray. But it’s much more typical in the Gospels for Jesus to be eating and drinking with big groups of people. Eating and drinking with five thousand folks in the wilderness. Having dinner with two strangers in Emmaus. Dining with his twelve closest friends in an upper room. Feasting with Levi and his friends at Levi’s house. Preparing a picnic on the beach. Jesus was all the time eating and drinking with sinners and saints, with prostitutes and Pharisees, with men and women, with Jews and Gentiles.

These big meals are illustrative of our Lord’s character as a people person. Jesus was with people all the time. Praying with people. Worshiping with people. Walking with people. Fishing with people. Teaching and debating with people. Laughing and crying with people. Attending weddings and funerals with people. Jesus was very deliberate about this, very intentional.

John 4 says Jesus had to go through Samaria. Well, no, nobody has to go through Samaria. Most people like Jesus went out of their way to avoid Samaria. But Jesus purposefully goes to meet that woman at the well and he stays in her village with her and her people for two days. And at the end of those two days, everyone in Sychar declares that Jesus truly is the Savior of the world!

Our Lord Jesus is a people person. He is a supremely social and communal person. Whatever the Father sent the Son to do, Jesus had no interest in doing it by himself. Jesus is a people person. And if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father.

Remember, Exodus 24. The very first communion meal. God has come down to his people on the mountain. He comes to be near them, to be with them. Moses is sprinkling blood on the people to cleanse them: “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you!” Then they go up on the mountain and they see God. The Bible says it twice because it is so astonishing. “They saw God and they ate and drank.”

But as good as that was, it wasn’t good enough for God. It wasn’t close enough. Or near enough. It wasn’t physical.

So our God decides to come to us in the physical flesh and blood of Jesus. And now, through Jesus, God himself is eating and drinking with everybody! All the time! At Zacchaeus’ house with all his friends. At Mary and Martha’s house with the community in Bethany. God in Christ is now eating and drinking with everybody, together, in person!

And Jesus says, “This is the Kingdom of God! The Kingdom of God is like a wedding banquet, like a giant feast! It’s just like this!”

You might read the Bible differently – the whole Bible – when you realize that our God’s eternal goal is to eat and drink with his people. To be so close to us, to have all the barriers to relationship between you and God removed so that you and we can eat and drink together in perfect community – you might understand the Kingdom better when you understand the goal.

Peace,

Allan

Are You a Fig Tree?

Jesus tells a story in Luke 13 about a frustrated farmer stuck with a lousy fig tree. For three years he’s had this fig tree and it’s never produced any figs. I’m not sure why he’s so upset – Fig Newtons had not been invented yet and you can’t do anything else good with a fig. But, this guy’s finally had enough.

“Cut it down! This tree’s done! It’s nothing but a drag on my dirt!”

And the man’s servant says, “No. Forgive the tree.”

The Greek word in the original language is “aphes.” Leave it alone. In other contexts, the same word means forgive. Forgive the tree. Give it another chance. Let me work with it some more, the gardener says. Let me add some mulch and some Miracle Gro and let’s see what happens.

Have you noticedĀ  that Jesus’ stories don’t really explain. They just start, almost out of nowhere, almost out of context, almost in the middle of the story instead of at the beginning. And the endings are never as clean as we want them to be. At about the time we figure out what’s happening and take some interest in the story, it abruptly ends, in what we thought was the middle of the tale.

Maybe the Lord’s parables aren’t meant to explain. Maybe he tells the stories to make us think, to make us dig a little deeper. Then God turns on the light bulb so you can see. Maybe this is why Jesus tells his stories.

It dawns on you while you’re lying in the ditch. You’re beaten up and broken, you’ve been robbed. Everything’s been taken from you and you’re moments away from death. And then you see your very best hope for rescue, your only hope to be saved – that guy from church! But he looks the other way and walks right by you. He doesn’t even acknowledge you. He doesn’t help. But, wait! Now you see it! Your true salvation, your real hope for rescue, actually comes from a lousy foreigner you’ve been conditioned by your culture to hate.

Do you see yourself in Jesus’ stories? Today. Right now. Do you see yourself wounded and broken, close to death in a ditch on the side of the road? Or are you the merciful foreigner? Or the church guy?

Jesus’ stories don’t have endings. We don’t know if the younger brother grew up and got a job or if he got mad and ran away from home again after six weeks. We don’t know if the older brother ever got over himself and went in to the father’s party. We don’t know if the manure worked around the fig tree. Jesus doesn’t end the story because these are the kinds of stories you finish yourself. You are in these stories, all of them, whether you know it or not. And you do finish these stories, even if you don’t realize it.

Where are you in these stories? Who are you? Are you in a ditch? Are you caught in a crime or a sin? Are you desperately praying to the Lord and not hearing an answer? Are you a fig tree with empty branches in need of one more chance? Are you a mustard plant only God could see as beautiful? Are you a runaway child?

And how do you want the story to end? You and the Lord both see it. You know how you want it to end. So does he. And if you’ll let him do his saving work in the middle of your mess, in the middle of your story, your branches will be full and the fruit and the shade will bless you and everyone who knows you beyond anything you could ever accomplish on your own.

Peace,

Allan

A Thanksgiving Prayer

At the end of Matthew 11, there’s a short little prayer of praise and thanksgiving from Jesus. Two short little sentences. It seems very spontaneous, like it just comes out of nowhere. It’s almost buried in the middle of a whole page of red letters, so it’s easy to miss. When people do studies on the prayers of Jesus, this one never gets mentioned.

But this prayer really doesn’t come out of nowhere. This is a specific setting, a particular time and place for Jesus. There is a reason this prayer is where it is. And it has a lot to teach us.

At the beginning of Matthew 11, John the Baptist has been thrown into prison and he questions the Messiahship of Jesus. Through his own followers, he asks Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” For John, things were worse for him now than before Jesus arrived. John is suffering and King Herod has even more power and control. You’re not getting the job done, Jesus. I’m in trouble for preaching truth and the political powers are getting away with murder. Jesus is misunderstood by John. Everything Jesus is working toward, the whole reason he came, who he is – John doesn’t see it yet.

At the same time, the fishing villages around Galilee where Jesus was raised and where he was now living and teaching, were ignoring him. The synagogue in Capernaum was Jesus’ home church. The text tells us that Jesus did more miracles in Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum than in any other towns. But they were indifferent in their response. Jesus did not matter to them. So our Lord blisters the citizens of those villages, comparing them to Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom.

Verse 25 says, “At that time…” In the middle of all this. While Jesus was dealing with this. When Jesus was going through this. In this setting. In this time and place in his life. Jesus prayed praise and thanksgiving to God.

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” ~Matthew 11:25-26

Jesus says the wise and the learned don’t get it. He’s using irony in his prayer. I praise you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the smarty-pants and the know-it-alls. What God is doing through Jesus has nothing to do with worldly wisdom or worldly values or worldly knowledge – it comes from above. So those who are entrenched in the pursuits and goals of the world, those who identify with the ways and means of the world – they miss it. Jesus knows that. And he gives thanks to God. Jesus knows that misunderstandings and indifference are not reliable indicators of the presence of the Kingdom of God. And he praises the Lord.

The powerful and unstoppable energies of the Kingdom of God are always moving. Always growing. Always surging. Just beneath the surface. All around us. Huge rivers of prayer and faith and hope and praise and forgiveness and salvation and holiness flow right by us every day. In every single nook and cranny, hidden in the shadows, overlooked in the crowds, drowned out by the noise, it’s there. It’s always there. We just don’t always see it. Or experience it.

So, when Lazarus is in the tomb. When Paul is on a sinking ship. When Peter is confronted near the enemy’s fire. When the Samaritan woman is by herself at the well. When the broken man is living among the dead outside his community. When nobody will help the crippled guy into the healing waters. When Silas is arrested. When the apostle is sent to exile on a prison island. When the crowds are shouting “Crucify him.” When Jesus is hanging on a government cross. Our God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Romans 4:17).

When the doctor gives his diagnosis. When the marriage counselor says, “I’m sorry, but I’ve done all I know how to do.” When the pink slip shows up in your box. When your children have gone off the rails. When your best friends leave your church. When you have been completely misunderstood. When you’ve been hurt by that same person, again. I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

Peace,

Allan

No More Muttering

 

“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'” ~Luke 15:2

“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'” ~Luke 19:7

The religious people are pictured in the Gospels as continually muttering. When they see Jesus eating with tax collectors and “sinners,” when they observe him welcoming and socializing with “those people,” they mutter and grumble and complain. They gripe under their breath. Because a religious person would never say these kinds of things out loud.

These are the people we’re welcoming now? These are the people we’re supposed to eat with now? Those people won’t give. Those people don’t even speak English. Their kids are too rowdy. They’re going to mess things up. He just got out of prison. She has HIV. He cusses. She smokes. We have to protect our kids. We need to be careful here. Maybe those people should just go to another church where they’ll be more comfortable.

Hey, these are the very people Jesus came for! These are the very ones Jesus left his glory at the right hand of the Father to die for!

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we don’t ever dare to look down on, to distance from, to make fun of, or to ignore any person created by God, in the image of God, loved by God, and died for by Jesus. Ever! Just like our Lord, we look for them. We go out of our way to welcome them, to love them, to accept them, to come along side them in relationship – all of them. We stop our muttering and we join our God in his salvation mission.

We look. We search. We seek and we save. We’re climbing every hill, we’re turning over every rock, we’re going into the cloudy days and the darkest nights to welcome the outcast, to bring in the marginalized, to help the helpless, to defend the defenseless, and to protect the oppressed.

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” ~Ezekiel 34:16

Peace,

Allan

Not as Our Sins Deserve

There is no image more enduring in all of Jesus’ parables than that of the father in Luke 15 running down the road to embrace his prodigal son. And as memorable as that part of the story is for us, it must have been doubly striking to Jesus’ audience of Pharisees and teachers of the Law. God’s Law states clearly in Deuteronomy 21 that a rebellious son who brings disgrace to his home and his village must be taken to the city gates and stoned to death.

Yet this father ran to hug him and kiss him. He draped his arms around his son and they walked together to the father’s house. Shocking!

If anybody had attempted to stone this son, they would have hit the father who was embracing him. What a foreshadowing of what Jesus did for us at the cross! The great shepherd guards his sheep. He protects them. He provides for them. And he sacrifices his own safety and reputation and welfare for them.

Had the boy been dealt with according to the Law, there would have been a funeral, not a feast. Praise God, our Father, for his mercy and love and grace!

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
~Psalm 103:10-13

Just Say the Word

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word and my servant will be healed.” ~Matthew 8:8

The commander in the Roman army is probably stationed at a garrison just east of Capernaum. He has total control over the one hundred men in his company. He tells them when to come and go. They don’t sneeze without his permission. Not only that, he controls all the Jews in the land the Roman Empire is occupying. With just a word, this commander can order any Tom, Dick, or Larry to carry his backpack or dig a ditch. Or carry the cross of a condemned criminal.

This centurion understands power. And he says to Jesus, “Just say the word.”

Lord, just as easily as I tell Private Ted to clean his shield or mop the floor or drop and give me twenty – that easy! – you just say the word and my servant will be healed. I know that whatever you say, it happens. You just say the word and the forces that have paralyzed my servant will let him go.

“‘Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that very hour.” ~Matthew 8:13

You and I can know in our hearts that there’s no catch with Jesus. There’s no trick. There’s no limit to the goodness of Christ’s intentions or hisĀ  power to carry them out. It’s not like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown the moment he finally commits – never! You can trust God in Christ to fix everything that’s broken in your life and to make right everything that’s gone wrong.

Look at the power of Jesus. He heals this paralyzed servant from a distance. He doesn’t have to touch him, he doesn’t even have to see him. From way downtown! Bang! And it’s so matter of fact. He gave the word. And the servant was healed. Well, yeah.

Jesus, I believe. Just say the word.

The reality in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is that he is almighty, he is powerful, and he alone has both the authority and the power to heal and forgive, to reconcile and protect, to save. He alone also has the great desire. And the boundless love. He willingly went to the cross to make that ultimate reality true for anything and everything that might be broken in your life today.

Jesus, just say the word.

And he did.

In the garden. “Not my will, Father, but yours be done.”

From the cross. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

“It is finished.”

Now, there’s a word.

Peace,

Allan

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