Friday, June 28, 2013

Nightmare Ending; A Paradox ...

Is power greater when it is used, or when it is restrained?  Until the final day when all will be revealed, we cannot know for certain the motives of Judas in doing what he did.  Perhaps one scenario was that Judas still held to his beliefs about the nature of the Messiah’s mission to be a king, and liberator of Jewish oppression from the yoke of Roman bondage.  After all, Christ Himself, had said for His listeners to come to Him with their heavy burdens, and take His yoke upon them, to find rest.  Perhaps in the mind of Judas, Christ just needed a “push” in the right direction in order for Him to stop avoiding becoming the king He was surely meant to be.  Human nature is fairly instinctual about self-preservation.  If Christ were put in a truly life jeopardizing situation, His human side would be sure to use His divine power to avoid death.  If forced into this scenario, perhaps then Christ would rise up, use the power He was endowed with, and finally and fully take control over things.  Power was decidedly within Him.  Judas perhaps reasoned that He could not just waste it, or leave it dormant, particularly in the face of imminent death.  And if God could die, how could He truly be God?
It is hard for me to accept that a disciple of Christ who experienced His love for three years, suddenly decided to betray His Lord for a mere thirty pieces of silver to satisfy his own greed.  Mary’s sacrifice spent on the feet of Christ was worth more than that.  Believers would be inclined to donate, and if needed, Judas could employ miracles in exchange for “donations” if all he wanted was to become richer financially.  There were easier ways to make money off Christ, than betraying Him to His death for a lousy thirty coins.  Why kill the golden-goose, so to speak?  In our day, many a charlatan uses the name of Christ, and preys on the faith of believers to enrich his own bank account.  All through time, ministers claiming to be sent of God, ask for money they can hoard, instead of employ, and all in the name of Christ.  It has become nearly an industry.  Judas, being a thinking man, might well have pioneered this industry if money were his only end game.  But I believe it was more than that.
What is much easier for me to accept, perhaps because I have seen it happen in the mirror; is to believe that Judas looked to his own scriptural understandings to shape the course of his life.  He was taught from youth what the nature of the Messiah meant to his nation, and to himself.  He heard no dissenting opinions by the learned-men of the nation on this topic.  Ironically, had Christ ever employed His power to assert dominance over Rome, the priests and leaders would have fallen behind Him in a minute.  Instead Christ taught a completely different version or understanding about the nature of the mission of the Messiah, one in which power was NOT the answer.  This was a message that doomed the Jewish people to remain under the power of Rome.  And as such, it could not be accepted by the teachers who daily told the people the wrong ideas.  The humility of Christ stood as a stark contrast to the struggle of the leaders of His day to maintain power and control over their religion and their people.  The love and care Christ showed for the under-class, treating them as He would a king, making no distinction – upset every cultural value they had relied on to date.  It was revolutionary.  It was undermining.  It was counter to everything the leaders taught, and perhaps too, to what Judas believed.  The decisions and actions Judas took, may well have been because He refused to accept what Christ said, and continued to believe his own ideas instead.
When we try to “help” God achieve His mission, we often take actions that instead, end in a nightmare for everyone involved.  I do not believe Judas thought the ending of this story would unfold as it did.  I believe he envisioned an ending of traditional designs, where Christ would be king, Judas would be His number two, the Romans would be banished, the Pharisees humbled, the nation saved, and Israel the predominant country to last forever under the leadership of Christ.  It was a nice dream.  It was an engrained understanding of scripture.  It was a choice to cling to his own ideas, and doctrines, and values, and it would lead him to see Christ die for it.  Instead of effecting the kingship of His Lord, he would witness the torture and death of His Lord.  His dream would become a nightmare.  As will ours, if we follow the same path of trusting to our own wisdom, instead of accepting the leadership of Christ alone.
John omits in his gospel, the agony, and the glory of the final struggle of Christ in the garden.  Instead John moves from the long communion of Christ with His faithful few, to the betrayal and how it took place.  Perhaps John thought the struggle in Gethsemane already covered well enough in other gospels, or perhaps he simply thought the pre-amble more important to emphasize.  But I do believe in John’s account there is an implied passage of time within the first few verses of Johns gospel chapter 18 as in verse one we find … “When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.”  Perhaps the final agonizing struggle of Christ occurred then, perhaps it had already taken place.  But John continues in verse 2 … “And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. [verse 3] Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.”  This part of the plan would have to be difficult for Christ by design in order for it to work in the mind of Judas.  Christ must understand His life is in jeopardy, in order for His human side to use His divine power to save Himself and His friends.
John continues in verse 4 … “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? [verse 5] They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them.”  So far, so good, for Judas’ plan – Christ steps forward, asserts leadership and asks who they want, then identifying Himself as their object.  John writes in verse 6 … “As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. [verse 7] Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. [verse 8] Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: [verse 9] That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none.”  Now things were unfolding exactly like Judas had dreamed.  Christ answers “I am he” and an entire company of armed soldiers recognizes the divinity flashing through His humanity, and they are powerless to resist, falling backwards to the ground.  The voice of God, even in only 3 small words, is more than the force of their entire armed company.  This is what Judas wants.  Christ further asserts, that those who are with him, are of no concern to this mob, so they should be let go.  No one intends to argue that point.  The power of His voice is irresistible.  No sense to debate taking men the Pharisees could care less about at this point.  So far, all is as Judas desired.
But John then begins to twist the hopes and dreams of Judas as he continues the story in verse 10 … “Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. [verse 11] Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”  First, there was no need for Peter being impetuous.  Christ had already flattened this mob with His voice.  But Christ’s words were now devastating to Judas.  Instead of seizing power, He intended to be taken.  Instead of becoming King, He would accept His betrayal.  He considered this cup of woe, to be the will of His Father, and part of His mission and intended to go through with it.  This was the nightmare ending, Judas had not envisioned.  The words and teachings of Christ of a sacrificial lamb that must be offered in order for the people to be redeemed, the broken body, the wine that would symbolize His blood, all the teachings come flooding back into the mind of Judas.  And now he is left with the inescapable conclusion, Christ intends to be that sacrifice.  Instead of pushing His Lord into a kingship, He has betrayed His Lord unto death.  Judas has done this.  Judas played this role. 
John closes out the last hopes of Judas as he continues in verse 12 .. “Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, [verse 13] And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. [verse 14] Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.”  Christ allowed Himself to be bound.  He heals the ear of His enemy, though John does not explicitly state that here.  But He is carried away to the homes of His enemies to Annas, and to Caiaphas.  These men intend to kill Christ, and Judas knows that.  He was counting on that.  He needed the threat of death to push Christ into becoming king.  So the threat is real, and is fully understood by Judas, and by Christ.  But instead of wielding the power Judas knows Christ has within Himself, the power that only recently put a whole company of armed men on their backs.  Christ submits.
Power then, is not to be measured by its employment after all, but by its restraint.  Hosts of heavenly angels, much more powerful than the wicked men who now threaten and injure their Lord, are at the ready.  They long to protect He who they love.  They long to take righteous retribution on these evil men, giving to them the punishment they have earned, and keeping their Lord safe from the insults, and pain He will now endure, and is enduring.  This angelic army defeated the forces of Satan before and cast them out of heaven.  They would be happy to do it again, and foil the plans of greedy men.  But with all their power and all their might, and despite all their love for their Lord, they are restrained by the will of God, and of Christ.  Power could have solved this danger for Christ, but it would have perpetuated our demise and our suffering.  He was here for this very purpose.  He came to take on our well-deserved punishment.  And despite His ability to extricate Himself from the pain, the danger, and the imminent death, He restrains Himself, and submits.
But the ultimate power, was and remains the power of God the Father.  God who could speak creation into existence by the sheer power of His own will.  God the Father who loves NOTHING more than His own Son, His only Son.  God the Father, must now sit restrained and allow what happens to Christ to happen, without interference, without intercession, without disruption.  He will not reduce the pain of Christ in order that He might bear this punishment.  He will not take away the death that is coming.  He will not comfort His son, as now His son bears the sins of us all.  The Father must instead bear witness to what occurs without doing anything to stop it.  This is the price of sin.  This is the pain that now the Father must bear, because of the choices we embrace.  In order to redeem that which He loves, He must see His son suffer what we have chosen.  The power of the God of the universe is not used to spare His son, or keep His own son from pain.  Instead all that power and all that might is silent in the face of our pain.  He allows His son to bear our punishment, in order that we might be redeemed and reconciled to Himself.
This mission was a partnership of Father and Son to redeem us.  Both love us so much, that they would endure this to see us redeemed.  Either of them had the power to end it.  They could at a moment’s notice simply end the whole thing.  To endure this was a choice both would have to make, and see that choice through to the end.  It was not a situation where at the last minute they could be spared.  Evil had brought death into the universe, and Christ must endure death in order to see us freed from its embrace.  Judas had his understanding of power from the designs of Satan.  Satan employs power to control.  Satan preserves self above all others.  Satan uses power over others to force them into slavery and compliance.  Whereas God used power to save Himself nothing.  His power was restrained in full, allowing a weak species to inflict maximum pain, insults, and torture upon the very embodiment of power.  Christ would submit to losing His life.  Christ would submit instead of rising up.  Christ would submit instead of control.  Christ would define love, showing there are NO limits to how far love will go to save another. 
This thinking was something Judas could not grasp.  This thinking did not make sense.  It was counter to every human instinct.  It was stupid.  It was ridiculous.  It would save us.  It would redeem us.  It was simply too high a price to pay for us.  We were not worth this.  We are still not worth this.  We do not deserve our redemption at this cost.  We are unworthy.  And yet, Christ will pay this cost anyway.  Love will go this far anyway.  Christ will submit, in spite of the ease with which He could have become a king.  It was a nightmare ending for the dreams of Judas.  It was a paradox his mind could not get around.  It happened because at the end of it all, he, like Lucifer before him, trusted in his own ideas about what made sense, what was logical, and not in what Christ had said.  When we modern Christians decide that our unique understanding of scriptures is the “only” version of truth there is, we follow the logic of Judas.  When we put our faith in our great leaders to explain the meaning of truth to us, instead of finding it on our knees in submission to Christ, we follow the path of Judas.  When we attempt control, instead of submission, we become Judas.  Knowing the love of Christ in a personal relationship was not enough to save Judas from himself.  Because despite feeling the love of Christ, Judas was never willing to let go what he trusted in, and cling only to trust in Christ.  Modern Christians are no less at risk today.  When we prize our doctrines ahead of our Savior, when we prize judgment over redemptive love, when we seek to exclude, rather than to redeem – we demonstrate our own ideas are what we trust on, and submission is not in our thinking.
Power was not the mechanism by which sin would be removed from the universe, Love is …

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Power of Prayer - Communion (part twelve) ...

 [continued from part 11] - - - Jesus then explains a concept about God and unity that many seem to struggle with as in verse 11 of John’s gospel chapter 17 He prays … “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”  First Christ prays that we be preserved unto God through the power of the name of God and love of God.  In essence He prays that we do not turn away from God or His love.  He prays that the tempter is unable to distract us, and lure us away from the love of God.  But beyond just remaining nestled in the love of God, He prays that we remain “one” as He and His Father are “one”.  Christ is obviously not praying that our molecules bind and we lose our identity, and become a massive blob of combined human parts and brains.  This is not about physical “one-ness”.  This is about the more important spiritual “one-ness” that the Holy Spirit is able to bring to us, as we let go of self.  Christ and His Father were one, in the sense that both were united in goals, in mission, in approach, and in love to effect our redemption.  If only every Christian were also so focused on that single important goal.  If only we would leave judgment to God, and place redemptive love at the top of our list in dealing with each other and the world.  We would then identify ourselves uniquely as followers of Christ and the “one” true God.
Unity does not have to deny individuality.  We do not have to become part of the Borg Collective, to be effective Christians.  Our uniqueness rather allows us to love in a unique way.  In this each of us uniquely identifies another aspect of the love of God.  When we combine all those versions of love, we get a better picture of the love of God, than we look at any one of us individually.  But this is the point, the love must be to others, not to self.  It is our embrace of self-love, that asks all the wrong questions – like … what is in it for me; why aren’t you living up to your half of the 50:50 thing? etc.   “Self” introduces conditions to love, whereas God does not love that way at all.  He loves us WHILE we are yet sinners bound in pain, disease, ignorance, and hate.  His love looks to free us from those things.  His love is the power by which we are freed.  He does not approach us with a righteous assessment of just how bad we are, and rightly condemn us for the bad choices and habits we have formed.  Instead he patiently and carefully extracts us from those bad decisions, and bad habits, and in their place, He offers us a whole new way to live, without the pain of our former selves.  His love does this.  If we are to change the world, it must be done in love, not in condemnation.  Love redeems us from the pain of sin, condemnation only deepens the pain of sin.
Jesus continues to identify His disciples as he says in verse 12 … “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.”  The loss of Judas is painful to Christ, but it was foretold in scripture, and despite every effort to redeem him, Judas refused and looked to his own wisdom.  The wisdom of Judas led him to betray His Lord, unto torture and death.  This is what happens when we take it on ourselves to “help” God with our ideas of what He should be doing.  It is not unique to Judas.  Abraham took a handmaid of Sarah to “help” God out with His promise, and much pain was the result, and none of his efforts made the promise occur.  Moses decided to “help” bring water out of the rock by striking it rather than speaking to it as God asked, and he was forbidden entry to the promised land as a result.  David decided to “help” bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and without following the proper methods, a life was lost in his efforts.  God does not need our “help” to accomplish His goals.  And often the “help” we offer is more about doing what we want to do, than truly what God wants to do, in His time or His manner.  We rush God, and try to make God do what we ultimately want, and in so doing our “help” bears the fruit of Judas, our forefather in this regard.
Jesus continues to pray for His disciples in verse 13 saying … “And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. [verse 14] I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. [verse 15] I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”  Christ prays that we might have His “joy”, not our own, fulfilled in ourselves.  Our own ideas about joy and fulfillment are almost always the wrong ones.  But when we allow Christ to alter our desires, we are able to want different things, and find joy in things that have real meaning.  Next He outlines that the word we have received through Christ, does not make us natural friends with a self-centered, self-focused world.  It rubs those notions the wrong way, and puts us at odds with conventional wisdom.  Think for a minute about the notion of the American dream for instance … if you work hard, you can succeed by the power of your determination and hard work.  Whereas our philosophy is … we will be given everything we need from a benevolent God who saves us from ourselves despite our past and present, we can depend 100% on something outside of ourselves, and learn not to ever trust in us, but only in Him.   Those ideas are completely at odds with each other.  The American dream sounds good, and makes you believe in yourself, and what you can accomplish.  This Christian ideal sounds too good to be true, and requires trust that it is possible, and will occur, but in it, your only role is to give up control, not take more of it.  This is why the world does not like what Christ teaches.
For those who believe in isolationism to avoid sin and “contamination” of the pure church … pay closer attention to the prayer of Christ Himself.  He asks NOT that we be taken out of the world, but instead that we be kept from evil.  We are not to withdraw from others who are still suffering from the disease of sin which we have found a Doctor for.  Instead we are to remain in the hospital and share the good news of our Physician with them.  We do not become more holy by removing ourselves from the influence of the evil around us.  Our problem is not with the evil around us, it is with the evil within us.  Our submission is to have Christ remove the evil from within, it is difficult to be tempted by something you do not want, or find yourself despising, or come to see with only pity.  When that occurs, what was formerly temptation carries no more weight.  When that occurs, the evil around you has no more power over you, and instead the love of Christ you reflect changes evil.  This is how His power works.  The goal is not for us to run off to the woods and preserve only our own souls for His Kingdom.  In so doing we lose out on the most valued treasure in heaven – other people, the objects of the love we are learning to reflect.  Isolation is no more the answer for righteousness, and any other self-focused method of curing sin.  Focus on Christ alone kills temptation.  We are to stay in the world, and reflect that light and love, not just squander it on ourselves.
Jesus continues in verse 16 … “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. [verse 17] Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”  Christ makes the distinction for those who follow Him, that they are no longer of the world.  Instead we belong to God.  We present ourselves to Him as a gift, and He gives us more than we could possibly receive.  But perhaps more worthy of note, is the continuation of His prayer where He asks God the Father to “sanctify” us through His truth, His word.  Notice we do NOT sanctify ourselves.  There is no time limit on this activity, He does not ask that we receive this gift over the course of a lifetime, nor does He remind us that sanctification is a process we are supposed to do for ourselves.  Instead He asks His Father to do the work of Sanctification.  It is done through His truth … Jesus said of Himself that He was the Truth.  It is done through His word … John opens His gospel by saying Jesus was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.  We are sanctified through our acceptance and submission to Jesus Christ, a work that is performed for us, by His Father, at the request of Christ.
Jesus continues the mission of our redemption as He continues in verse 18 … “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. [verse 19] And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.”  As Christ was sent by God to us, so He sends His disciples to the world.  Our sanctification must also come from Christ.  If we are to be effective, if we are to be remade, it must come alone from the power of Christ.  Jesus goes on in verse 20 … “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; [verse 21] That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”  Our unity in a mission of love is a witness to the world that Christ is real, and our God is real.  As Christ and His Father united in a mission of love in action for us, for others, for His creation – with no thought to Himself; so we can be united with Christ and His Father in a mission of love to others that will change our world.  Families can be healed.  Communities can be changed irrevocably for the better.  Peace that follows love can result.  And all of it can point back to Christ and His Father, a perpetual witness to the unity that is only possible when founded in a mission of love to others based in Christ.
Then Christ does something very powerful and meaningful to us, He extends His familial relationship to us as He prays further in verse 22 … “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: [verse 23] I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”  We are to be bound in love to Christ, nestled in His love, and in the love of His Father.  We are to be made one with God, unified with God, participants in His mission of redemptive love.  In this, we are to be “made perfect”.  Perfection is attainable, it is more than that, it is a guarantee.  But only as we are “made” one with God, one with Christ.  There is no room for self in that equation.  It is the absolute absence of self and self-interest that characterizes the love of God.  It is how Christ lived.  And it is possible for us to live this way as well, as we recognize we do not “make” it happen, we “permit” it to happen.  We submit to Christ, and He “makes” us perfect, makes us one with Him and His Father.  This is a perfect unity we have so longed to see and experience.  It is the heart of the good news of the gospel.
Jesus concludes His prayer with a profound request in verse 24 saying … “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. [verse 25] O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. [verse 26] And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  No longer are heaven and earth to be separated by any distance.  Christ tells His Father He wills that we be with Him, where He is, that we may see Him with our own eyes.  We can then behold the great love that the Father has for His Son, and for us.  Christ declares the nature of His Father to us, and in His life of selfless love, He reveals the Father to us in fullness, that we might begin to know Him, and to know His Son.  This is the eternal life, and eternal gift that is given to us.  A gift offered before our perfection was achieved, a redemptive gift that would see us freed from the power and temptation of sin and self; this is what He puts on the table for us to take. 
There has never been so powerful a prayer uttered in the Bible.  We are offered here a private first-hand audience in the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ to His perfect Father God.  And all throughout this prayer is every imaginable gift He asks for us, and for those few who were still with Him.  Imagine how selfless this prayer was, as it was uttered only moments before He would be tortured to death.  Despite knowing what is about to happen, He focuses the entire prayer on us, and our needs, not asking anything for Himself, except as it benefits us.  This is the power of prayer that cannot be denied.  This was a fitting end to the communion He had with us just before the end arrived …

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Power of Prayer - Communion (part eleven) ...

The time for communion was at an end.  There were only a few fleeting moments left before those intent to kill Him would arrive and end this conversation.  But as He lived, so would He end His talk with those around Him, in prayer to His Father.  When all else is at an end, prayer remains.  When there is nothing left to face but death itself, prayer remains.  When what we all want to avoid becomes the unavoidable, prayer remains.  The power of prayer is not found in overcoming our fate, the power of prayer is found in meeting our fate.  There are more important things in the universe than life and death.  Our existence is not merely defined by our short time in this sin-sick world.  He came to give us a real life beyond anything we could have imagined in this context.  And so while evil exists, and while our choice to embrace it lives within us, the natural results of evil must continue to exist as well.  Christ came to pay our cost.  He would allow His life to be ended, so that ours would not end in an earthly grave.  As He would rise and conquer death, so one day, He would call us out from death as well, that through the power of His love, we would arise from death – from the death of our souls that comes from the corruption of self, and from the death of our bodies that comes from the decay in the earth.  But to do this He must face His fate.  His torture and death were certain.  He would not pray to see His fate altered; instead He would pray to see His mission completed.  This is the power of prayer.
John records in chapter 17 of his gospel, the last prayer Jesus would offer before His horrific ordeal of taking on our punishment would begin.  John must have remembered vividly this prayer Christ would offer.  It must have made an enduring impression on him.  It meant something to him.  Later in his gospel, John would write, that Christ did many more things than could be contained in this book or any other.  John acknowledged in his own gospel, that it was not a complete record of the life and ministry of Christ.  Love is truly difficult to catalogue completely in the written word.  However, these words of Christ still lingered in the memory of John as he recounts the last moments of Christ here.  And so in verse one, John remembers Jesus saying … “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:”  To be glorified is to perform love in action for another.  The Glory the Lord has earned has not come from the power of His might, but from the power of His love.  The hour had now arrived where the ultimate definition of love would be witnessed by the universe itself.  To meet this test, Christ asks that both He and His Father remain certain in the pursuit of this love.
Jesus continues in verse 2 … “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.”  Power over all flesh was not to be defined in the establishment of an earthly kingdom where due to His might, He could rule over the lives of men.  Instead power over all flesh was to be defined as His ability to change us from within by the power of His love, it was His ability to alter our desires, our thinking, and our behavior as we submit ourselves to His rule over us.  Eternal life would be the result of His power over the evil that lies within us.  Eternal life would be the gift that results from the transformation.  And lest any doubt the love of the Father, Christ expressly identifies that each of us were given over to Christ, at the will of the Father to have us saved.  We who find ourselves saved by the mercy and love of Christ, find ourselves given this gift not of our own accord, but by the will of the Father.  For it is the love of the Father that must free us to even make the choice to be saved.  If left in bondage of self, we would not be free enough to choose to break the chains of our addiction, instead it would overwhelm us.  But the power of love of the Father, breaks that chain enough for us to choose without undue influence, whether to submit to Christ and be saved, or not.
Jesus then defines what this gift really means in verse 3 … “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”  Life eternal is defined in our relationship with the only true God, and His Son who was sent to us.  It is not measured in the number of our years.  It is not measured in the total of the things we acquire.  It is not measured by our physical fitness, health, vigor, or what we refer to as the quality of life.  It is not even measured in the love we reflect to each other.  It is measured at the source.  It is measured in the context of our discovery of who the only true God is, and in the discovery of His Son Jesus Christ.  To have power, wealth, fame, and influence has nothing at all to do with what it means to have eternal life.  The wealth of heaven is not found in its abundance of precious gems, gold, diamonds, and purity of nature.  The wealth of heaven only has value in its gift to His creation.  Our lives, our bodies, our senses, our health, are only gifts to help us come to discover what it means to truly know eternal life – to truly know God.  An infinite number of years of existence denied the knowledge and presence of God, denied His company, is the definition of pain.  Death would be better, than to live in that kind of pain.  Hell, is the opposite of eternal life.  Hell is not comprised of torture by fire, it is comprised of torture by separation and choice from the only true God.  The last mercy of God is to bring those who choose that pain to the point of non-existence.  Only then can death, be no more.  Without a knowledge of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ, there can be no life eternal.  The knowledge is not theoretical, it is instead a living knowledge, an experiential knowledge of love itself.  This is His gift to us.
Jesus prays on in verse 4 … “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. [verse 5] And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”  The acts of love Jesus performed throughout His ministry were always attributed to the love and will of the Father.  In so doing, Jesus has “glorified” the Father.  Now He asks the Father to show Him the love that they have always had.  His humanity needs the comfort and assurance of the love that predates our existence, and predates creation itself.  For what He must face, Christ wishes to be grounded in the love of His Father, sure in the knowledge of that love.  He now must risk permanent separation from the source of that Love.  It is possible that having been stained the with weight of our evil, He may not be able to return to the side of His Father.  He cannot see past the sacrifice He must make to see us redeemed.  But He must proceed, for the nature of the love within Him, cannot simply walk away and see us all left to the fate we had chosen.  So though the outcome may be at risk, He presses on nestled in the love of His Father.
Now, Jesus turns His attention, to those who are closest to Him.  Having made the decision to go forward with His mission of the revelation of the so-great-love of His Father God, those who stand near Him will face the extreme wrath and determination of evil.  So Jesus begins to pray for His companions, He continues in verse 6 … “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. [verse 7] Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.”  Jesus “manifested” the name of God to His disciples.  He “showed” them the love of God in action.  He made known the motives of the Father to save and redeem.  The work of Christ was not to condemn, but to offer us freedom from condemnation, freedom from the slavery of self that we embrace.  He points out again, that these disciples “belonged” to the Father and were given to Christ from out of the world.  They accepted the testimony of Christ, the word of Christ, of who the Father was, and who the Messiah was, and how we would see our salvation received.
Jesus continues in verse 8 … “For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.”  Our reception of the word of God comes from the belief in Jesus Christ.  It was only Jesus who rightly interpreted scripture to the disciples.  He did this, by living the law, by living the love, by showing what the point of the Bible stories was supposed to be – our redemption when we trust and rely on God instead of ourselves.  Every Old Testament story is rightly interpreted only through the lens of Jesus Christ.  When we see God in person, we see love in person, we see redemption in person, and we see an escape from the evil we are bound to when we give ourselves over to the person of God in the form of Jesus Christ.  It is impossible to accept the word of God, and deny the divinity of the savior the entire book is aimed at.  It is impossible to know God the Father, and then deny that His Son was our vehicle for redemption.  It is this distinction of submission, this distinction of trusting in something greater than our own ideas and wisdom, that leads us to see the perfection He alone can create within us.  Without submission to Jesus Christ, the word of God cannot rightly be interpreted.
Jesus then accepts His disciples, and us, as the gifts given to Him by His Father as He continues in verse 9 … “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. [verse 10] And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.”  We belong to the God who accepts us as His gifts.  He claims ownership of us, and draws a distinction between those who submit to His ownership, and the remainder of the world who refuses to trust in anyone but themselves.  This distinction is not defined by denomination, or proclamation, but only in depths of a personal relationship between you and Christ.  Only you and Christ know the extent to which you will submit your will, your decisions, and your desires over to Him.  Membership in a given church does not equate to personal submission to Christ.  A theoretical knowledge of scripture or acceptance of the idea that a God exists, is not the same thing as you living day to day, placing everything about your life in hand of Christ.  Your parents cannot do this for you.  Your spouse cannot attribute this to you.  To be owned by Christ, you alone must give yourself over to His ownership, and trust in where and how He leads you.  The distinction of those who are His, and the world, happens even within Christianity, as there are many who refuse to submit whether in or out of the church.
to be continued …

Saturday, June 1, 2013

What Do You Want? - Communion (part ten) ...

What is it that you want?  Depending on your circumstances your first thought might be financial means, or restored health or just enough food to make it through the day.  When things are “good” you might then respond with items that are not critical to survive, but things you may have always dreamed about owning but were never able to find time to enjoy, or means to acquire.  If things for you are “really good” you might then think about those you love and being able to offer them things they have been unable to enjoy.  So what is it that YOU want?  Does where you find yourself influence your answer?  Can you imagine an answer that does not involve a single “thing”?  Just removing all the “things” we can imagine changes the nature of the question, what is it that we want.  Our health might still be in our answer, as we may not consider health a thing.  Our happiness may still remain in our answer, as it is hard to define happiness in a tangible way.  But what about spiritual “things”?  Are they first in our list, or somewhere down the line, or perhaps absent altogether?
The most radical answer, I can imagine to the question, what is that you want … is … nothing, or at least; nothing at all for me.  What if everything you wanted, you wanted for someone else, and not yourself, not even health.  It is hard to imagine only wanting something for another, not even to be shared, but instead wholly offered to another and only for them.  When our health is crumbling, we want our own health addressed.  We may pray for the health of others who are in need, but we also pray for our own health as well.  It is natural.  It is only human to do so.  The same is true for those in financial need, we will gladly pray for God to meet their needs.  But if we too are in financial need, we pray for ourselves as well.  In short, we ask God for the things we “believe” we “need”.  Very often our prayers BEGIN with asking for the things “we” need.  Eventually we get around to asking for others, but our first thoughts tend to be about our most immediate needs, our own needs.  But what if what we needed was truly nothing?  Can you imagine needing nothing?
Our prayers often reveal our thinking.  When the focus of our prayers is staring back at us in the mirror, the disease of “self” has crept into our prayer life.  “Me first” thinking, is not uncommon in the requests we take to God.  This is because, the most pressing concern in our lives, is our own lives.  The lives of others are not truly thought of ahead of our own.  And how we live in general reflects this reality.  We provide for ourselves, and those we love first, then, if there is time and enough left over, we think about the needs of others in the world.  When those we love are in jeopardy we pray to spare them as it is “we” who would miss them so, if they were no longer around.  We want them to be happy and healthy and doing well, for their own benefit, but also because we love them and “we” want them to be here with “us”.  This too is human.  This too is natural.  And this too is reflected in our prayer lives.
But Jesus, was and is a radical example, of the absence of self, in His thinking, and in His prayer life.  We assume the health of Christ to be good.  We assume He had no pressing needs for healing, or comfort where it comes to His health.  We assume other than at the end of His life, He had no bumps or bruises, or physical pain He endured.  In essence He goes through His life without incident, and therefore without complaint, or prayer to address His own needs.  But life, history, and scripture do not offer us quite as idealistic a view into His time here on earth.  As an infant, He was born into this world in a manger, decidedly NOT the cleanest, or sterile conditions in which to enter the world.  The temperature was not controlled, the air not the purest of smells, the environment not the cleanest to avoid germs.  Not long after His birth, His parents must flee into Egypt.  Not only is this a long hard journey, but Egypt itself is a hot dry desert region.  Growing through your early childhood years there would not have been an “easy” life.
When He returns after His first 7 years, He helps His father with carpentry work for the next 26 years.  I do not imagine his aim was always perfect with a hammer and nails.  I do not imagine He was born with perfect carpentry skills and did not, like we do, learn those skills from hard work, and making mistakes and adjustments over time.  He had no great wealth, so He would not have been raised with the finest of diets, and the widest variety of things to eat.  But as healthy as He may have ever been, the outset of His ministry begins with 40 days in the wilderness, without food.  This length of time would not just have made Him skinny.  It would have brought Him near death from starvation.  This does not make the body healthy, it nearly kills it.  He might have sustained health problems from this time forward.  He was difficult to recognize when He returned from this encounter because He was so emaciated from it.  And walking down dusty, rocky roads; sleeping outdoors in cold air nights, and in the rain (when it comes); does not tend to present opportunities for perfection, rather for periodic aches and pains, and circumstances we all tend to avoid.
Now, here facing the end of His life, He will be betrayed, abandoned, and tortured until He is dead.  So for us, the most pressing concern would be to pray for our “needs” given that situation.  But for Christ, who is continuing His communion with His disciples, He continues to think first of their needs.  Now to continue to offer them renewed hope in His mission, and in His divinity, He intends to change the nature of their prayers.  John records in his gospel in the 16th chapter beginning in verse 23 … “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. [verse 24] Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”  Up until now, prayers were offered to the God of Abraham, of Moses, of David, of Daniel.  God was a somewhat mysterious entity, whose personality or motives we could hardly fathom.  But now, there was the ability to connect a face with a name.  Now, we would ask God the Father, our requests.  We were asking a specific entity with a specific personality, who had demonstrated His interests in our healing, and in meeting our needs, both physical and spiritual since the beginning of the ministry of Christ, where ALWAYS, Christ worked the “will” of the Father.
Our prayers would now be directed specifically to the Father, who had demonstrated His love for us over and over and over again in the deeds of Christ.  But more than that, we would ask the Father in the name of Jesus Christ.  God was more than just a mysterious entity who we did not really know, He was also known to us in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ.  Our requests would now go to the Father in the NAME of the Son, Jesus the Christ.  When our prayers would be answered, it would be another living example of the true divinity of Jesus and His mission and His work here on earth.  If Jesus were just another false Messiah, or just another prophet, or just another “good man”, then asking God the Father to grant requests in the name of just another guy would have no effect.  If however, we asked God for something in the name of Jesus Christ, and our prayer was heard, the Jesus must be real, and divine, and worthy of our prayers.  If miracles were to happen in the name of Jesus Christ, then He too must actually be God.  After all praying in the name of Diana, or Baal, or Ashkod, or any other false deity yields no tangible result; if Christ were false, the prayers in His name, would do no better.  But as Jesus proclaims, when we ask in His name, and our prayers are heard – our Joy is full.  Our Joy is full because we can know His promises to save us are real.  Our prayers reveal tangible proof that He does live, and will save us.  Our answered prayers prove that He is God.
The question then, is not whether Jesus Christ is God, it is instead, what do we want?  For if our prayers are first and foremost intended to meet the needs we believe “we” have.  Then are we not following the urging of the tempter when he asked Christ who had not eaten in 40 days to turn these rocks into bread, in order to meet the very real physical health needs He had at that moment in time?  To which His response was that we live not by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Why not simply pray to meet His own needs?  Why was this a temptation at all?   Was it not more of a simple logical request – I am hungry – my health is failing – there is no food around – God please meet “my” need.  Even when the conditions were very likely a choice between life and death, even then “self” would not be present in the prayers of Christ.  Even then, He would not ask to have His own “needs” met, instead trusting to the word of God.  Instead He trusted that any real “needs” he had were already known of God, and would be met by God in God’s way of choosing, and His timing, and would need no expediting by Himself.  In the face of starvation itself, Christ deferred praying for His own needs.
Often we read the scriptural text “ask and ye shall receive” as if it were an offer to open the proverbial candy store of heaven to us.  We treat this promise as if it were intended for “us” to ask for things for “us” and that Christ is putting His own name on the guarantee of delivery to us.  But when we look at the example of Christ, we find He only ever asked for things for others, completely ignoring what we would naturally think are His own needs.  His prayers were always done for the benefit of someone else.  His joy was derived in seeing the joy in another.  His “needs” were simply left up to God to meet, and so He just did not seem to ever have to address them specifically.  He did pray that God would be glorified, as the definition of glorified was defined in the actions of love He would perform.  But each request of Christ to the Father, always had a target other than Himself as its object.  Our human eyes, our untransformed vision, reads this snippet of scripture as a child would when creating a list for the mythical Santa Clause.  But what was intended was so much more than what we find in a mirror.
The first part of verse 23 is also worthy of a second look, it says,  … “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing”.  Is it possible, that Jesus is referring to what happens to our prayers, AFTER we have submitted to Christ and are transformed by the power of His love?  When we fully trust Christ, we trust our perceived “needs” to His love, and have the assurance like He did in the desert with His own Father, that our needs will be met by God, in God’s way, in God’s time.  Therefore we ask “nothing” of Christ for ourselves, because He knows our need, and is already in progress of meeting it.  But this is not an edict for the elimination of prayer, as the remaining text continues with “how” we ask.  Instead it is about answering the question … what do we want … in a completely transformed way.  After our encounter with Christ we begin to want only blessings for others and not for ourselves.  Our prayers do continue, but the subject changes from us, to those who we now love as Christ loved.  We do not constrict our requests only for those we personally know and love, but instead we are keenly interested in the needs of all men, even those who would declare themselves our enemies.  We begin to know what it means to love our enemies, like we would love our disobedient children who declare they hate us, and yet we love them.  We start seeing our enemies through the eyes of Christ, who loves the drunk driver just as much as the victims whose lives he cuts short.  That kind of love changes what we pray for.  We do not cease our prayers, but rather begin to pray for only others, just like Christ did.
When what we want changes, what we pray for changes, and our interests are transformed from the life of the person in the mirror, to the lives of those we encounter.  When we pray for others it is not about how our own lives are impacted by their suffering or loss, but instead how their lives are impacted by the pain of evil and loss.  We begin to value the eternal and spiritual lives of others, more than we value what human eyes are constricted to see.  And this kind of selflessness in our thinking, our desires, and our prayers does not happen because we work at it, or choose it.  But instead because we submit our thinking to the will and transformation of Christ, allowing Christ to alter what it is we want, and how it is we think.  His transformation of us becomes real and tangible, and is reflected in what we ask for when we pray, and why we ask it.
But the disciples were not quite ready to hear this kind of news.  They were facing the crumbling of everything they had ever hoped for.  Jesus was plainly telling them He was not going to be the earthly king they had hoped He would become.  Instead He was leaving them.  This was news that turned their entire spiritual scriptural understanding on its head.  It was akin to telling Noah to build an ark for a flood no one had ever seen, let alone rain that did not exist.  It was akin to telling Abraham to ignore everything He knew about the love of God, and instead kill His own son in the name of love itself.  It was akin to telling Moses to march His people down to the Red Sea where they would have no escape from the pursuing chariots and armies of Egypt bent on killing them all.  All through our world’s history, God often turns our understanding on its head, and asks us to do things that do not make logical sense.  Yet when we trust His wisdom and not our own, things work out in spite of our logic and ideas about what are the facts.
But sensitive even then to the needs of His disciples, Jesus speaks to them in proverbial form, in order to give them the news they need to hear, but in a form they are able to hear it.  John continues in verse 25 recording these events as Christ says … “These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. [verse 26] At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: [verse 27] For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. [verse 28] I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.”  We no longer need Christ to pray to the Father on our behalf, because the Father loves us, because we have loved the Son.  Our belief in the truth of the divinity of the Son, endears us to the Father in a way we cannot understand.  And at the same time, insures our salvation, as it is only through the transformation of our hearts by Jesus Christ, that we will ever see the perfection in us that He is able to achieve.  Trusting to the love of the Son, only makes the Father love us even more.  This should have been words to comfort us like none other.  But the disciples were still focused only on the aspect of loss they would feel from their separation from Christ.
They respond to Jesus in verse 29 … “His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. [verse 30] Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.”  They did not grasp the full weight of what Jesus was telling them, yet they declare that the words of Christ were plain enough.  And if there is any lingering doubt in Jesus that they may not yet believe He is divine, they are going to plainly state that this is what they all believe.  Jesus answers in verse 31 … “Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? [verse 32] Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: …”  Jesus is trying to gently point out to them, that they are trusting to their own strength again, instead of His.  They have just declared their faith in His divinity, yet they are all about to run in terror from the company of soldiers who are heading their way to kill their Lord.  It is this trust in self that must be overcome through submission to Christ.  “Who” we focus on must change.  What we want, must change. 
But still concerned with their fragile state Jesus continues in verse 32 … “and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. [verse 33] These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  Christ would trust His own needs to His God, who we KNEW would be with Him as He faced the end of His earthly life.  In Christ we would find peace; in the world only tribulation.  But our hope emerges not because “we” have overcome the world, but because Christ has overcome the world.  We are not saved because we are conquerors, but because He is.  Our salvation then transforms us, from the creatures of sin and self-service and self-focus that we are; into the creations of self-less-service to others that He intended and that He is our perfect example of.  We begin to want different things.  We begin to pray for different things.  And our prayers, like the prayers of Christ, are answered as we are fully submitted to the will of the Father, and not of our own.  The simple question remains … what do you want? …
But communion was not over yet …