Friday, April 24, 2015

Identity Revealed ...

A “Monday morning quarterback” has the advantage of knowing the end of the game, and how it arrived at that conclusion.  They see the fumbles that got in their way.  They see the completions that marked their advance.  And they regret the decisions they made when facing the unknown, that in retrospect turned out to be the wrong ones.  But with the perspective of knowing these things, what a different series of events might have been possible.  Plays and decisions that “at the time” would have looked crazy, might have just been the very things that would have altered the outcome of the game.  Coaches, fans, and the TV audience looking on, without the perspective of knowing these events, would decidedly NOT have understood the call while the game was in motion.  But later, all the coaches, fans, and audience members would have cheered the outcome, and come to believe the “Monday morning quarterback” had to have been a prophetic genius to have made those calls.  How alike that is, with how our God works with us in this life.  He already knows the ending, when it will come, and what is important to accomplish before that day.  Some of the calls He makes, look crazy to us.  But in the end, when life is eternal for us once again, we will cheer His calls, and praise His foreknowledge, in the mission of redeeming us unto Himself.
When Peter began his recollection of the gospel to John Mark, He already knew the end of the story.  And He knew where the debate continued to rage.  The “mystery” of the identity of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Son of the Living God, was now known to Peter, and no longer in any question.  But the stubborn Jewish religious leadership could not come to admit this idea.  And what was the original established religion by Christ, given to Moses in the desert, had now officially adopted the position of being the enemy of Christ.  The long awaited hope of the Messiah, had been perverted into a “land grab” that would drive out the Romans, and assert world-wide domination for the Jews.  The idea that the Messiah would have bigger ambitions, in the saving of every soul on earth, even those of Roman blood, was simply unthinkable.  So “evidence” of the identity of Jesus Christ had to be covered up.  To dispute the words of men would be easy enough, simply call them liars, and attempt to enter a “he said / she said” debate.  But personal witnesses to “evidence” of the true identity of Jesus Christ, would be MUCH harder to refute.  Peter knew this.  And Peter had no interest in prolonging a debate he knew had already been settled.  So in the brevity of his recollection with John Mark, he provides evidence after evidence after evidence of the Truth of Jesus Christ, and “who” He really was.
Mark continues the recollections of Peter as he writes in verse 9 … “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.”  Peter was not there in person at that event, his brother Andrew was.  Peter does not recount the speech by John the Baptist expressing his own unworthiness to baptize the Lord, or frankly the lack of “need” as Jesus was sinless throughout His entire life.  John the Baptist craved the baptism of the Holy Spirit that he knew only Jesus could actually offer him.  But to serve as our example, Jesus goes forward with the traditional baptism by John in the dirty river of the Jordan, in front of the crowds who have gathered.  The crowds were paying special attention to this baptism, as up to now, they had never seen John greet a parishioner in this way.  Announcing Him to be the Lamb of God, and publicly stating there was no need to be baptized.  So the eyes of the crowd were intent on this particular case.
Mark continues in verse 10 … “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: [verse 11] And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Imagine the “shock” in the crowd.  For the first and only time ever, a baptism is followed by the heavens parting and the Spirit of God descending on the head of Jesus in the form of a dove.  Not just an ordinary bird, but one covered in brilliant light.  This would not be mistaken for a homing pigeon, or pet of Jesus, this was clearly a supernatural event.  And if the dove of brilliant light and unmistakable presence was not enough, it is followed by a voice from heaven stating plainly for all to hear … “Thou are my beloved Son” … the voice of God the Father affirming the very identity of Jesus Christ.  Only the long awaited Messiah “could” ever be the only Son of God.  Only “this man” Jesus standing wet still in the river itself, was ever affirmed by God as His much loved and only Son.  And further, our God affirms his pleasure in the 30 years of the life of Christ to this point.  Peter has here offered the greatest “proof” there would ever be as to the identity of Jesus Christ.  What greater witness could there ever be, than God the Father, and the Holy Spirit themselves?  Here is the testimony of 2 witnesses.
Mark continues in verse 12 … “And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. [verse 13] And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.”  Peter does not dive into the details of this event either.  Perhaps it is because he is only recalling it to further establish the identity of Jesus Christ.  “Immediately” upon rising from the waters Jesus is “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness.  No time to eat, rest up, prepare and get ready.  The time for temptation will never be a convenient one, where careful planning will help us avoid it.  No, the devil looks for our weakest moments, not our strongest ones.  He is a hunter who preys on the weak.  Forty days without sustenance, or companionship, will so weaken Jesus Christ that He will be at the point of death for these temptations.  At the end of these events, it will take angels to minister unto Jesus, or he would have died of exposure, starvation, and dehydration.  This event was not intended to be something we are to emulate.  It was to put the Son of God in His human form into the weakest state humanity could sustain (right before death), and allow only then for the devil to present temptations of ease, and alternate ways to save us.  Having resisted, Jesus collapses, and angels keep what little life remains in Him to sustain Him.  When Jesus returns to Galilee He is so emaciated, almost no one recognizes Him.  Angels as well, now attest as to the identity of Jesus Christ.
John Mark continues writing in verse 14 … “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, [verse 15] And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”  Peter summarizes the remainder of the real mission of the Messiah and believes it begins immediately following these events.  Even ahead of having disciples, Peter believes the Messiah has begun His work for our redemption.  And thus far, Peter has offered the word of God the Father as to the identity of Jesus Christ.  Peter has also offered the interest of the devil himself, in tempting the Messiah to fail in His mission by pursuing an alternative means.  So from Peter’s perspective, both God and the devil, have affirmed who Jesus Christ is.
Mark continues in verse 16 … “Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. [verse 17] And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. [verse 18] And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.”  John Mark records Peter’s participation in these events under his original name “Simon”.  He also extends the invitation of Christ to become fishers of men to Andrew Peter’s brother, who had been a disciple of John the Baptist.  John Mark offers that “straightway” they forsook their nets, not elaborating on the miracle Christ offered Peter in catching fish after he had failed on his own.  He does not recount the initial disbelief that following the directions of Jesus would yield a different result;  though these events are recalled in other gospels.  But the intent of these verses is to establish the witnesses of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew as they enter the story.
Mark continues in verse 19 … “And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. [verse 20] And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.”  James and John were sometimes known as the “sons of thunder”.  Perhaps Zebedee had earned this reputation from his voice, or from his “colorful” language when expressing displeasure.  Peter takes note of the lineage here. 
But he also recounts that following Jesus Christ was not something to be done after careful consideration, planning, and attending to other matters to make ready.  The four of his first disciples, left everything they owned, knew, or were familiar with to “follow” Jesus Christ.  They had no idea where they were going.  They had no idea what they would be doing, other than perhaps to gather others to their cause.  They had no money, brought no food.  They were promised no reward.  What they would do, where, and how, were all going to be up to Jesus Christ.  “They” were simply going to be there “with” Jesus as events would unfold.  Jesus would be doing all the “real” work.  They would be watching what He did.  They would be observing and attending to Jesus in any way He asked.  There was no advanced agenda, or preplanned curricula, or predefined list of activities, goals, and accomplishments.
How unlike us!  We want to know every particular before we make a decision, and even then, we vacillate endlessly.  We promise God, or claim to follow Christ, but only as it suits our own convenience and preferences.  We are not prepared or inclined to leave everything we know, everything we are familiar with.  We cling to our families, our jobs and careers, and particularly our things.  Our “version” of following Jesus Christ distills down to “admitting” we are Christian … only when asked.  We will occasionally part with our tithes and offerings, but only as we are “able” to give, rarely when we are “unable”.  Perhaps there is a good reason why modern Christians are not known as “disciples”, but rather just as “believers”.
Peter has set the stage in his recollections to John Mark.  He has been brief in the events that lead up to the ministry of Jesus Christ.  But he has also been very conscience of revealing the identity of Jesus Christ in every passage and text.  There is no real mystery as to who Jesus was and is.  The doubts that may linger in the minds of those who refuse to believe are there by choice.  Keep in mind, that Jesus has thus far not proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God.  Others have proclaimed Jesus so.  The message of Jesus was that the time is at hand, the prophecies are being fulfilled in living 3D color, and that the gospel of the kingdom of God has arrived.  Repentance; like the message of John who preceded Him, is still the first step towards our salvation and the message that Jesus Christ brings to His hearers.  Jesus has gathered disciples who He will teach to become fishers of men.  The stage is set, the ministry will begin immediately, and “who” He is, can hardly be contained …

Friday, April 17, 2015

Gospel of Mark: Prelude to the Messiah ...

To prove your own identity to others in our age requires a number of “facts” and in the end, a fair share of “faith”.  We rely on our history, a recounting of places we lived, places we worked, things we accomplished, and people who knew us.  We cite documents that ideally are only held in our possession.  Producing our birth certificate or passport may be our last line of defense in attempting to prove we are who we say we are.  But if someone is determined to challenge us at every point, our task of proving who we say we are becomes much more difficult.  For instance, our work histories are usually enumerated in our resumes which often are posted in publicly available forums.  Social media, for some, offers details of our day-to-day lives, and even when we are absent on it, our friends and associates often mention events where we too were participating.  Public property records and assessable financial records provide additional context to our identity and are not uniquely available only to us.  Copies of birth certificates and social security cards can be requested and obtained.  In short, nearly everything about a person can be counterfeited.  A determined identity thief can forge almost everything about us, except the people in our lives.
Today our ability to produce information about ourselves is enhanced by the internet.  And the internet can equally serve as a tool for the demise of our reputation, destroying publicly, “who” we are.  We use the same electronic medium to both substantiate and to counterfeit a person.  But the one objective standard remains the people in our lives, those who we grew up with, or those who we are related to, or those who spent years with us getting to know us personally.  To attempt to authenticate gospels and their authors that were written nearly 2,000 years ago relies on historical recounting, “facts” as best we know them, and quotes believed to be attributed to people who lived in those times.  As with today, a determined skeptic will always find room for “doubt” about the authorship, or authenticity of the published Word.  The Gospel of Mark is generally anonymous as Mark was never listed as a disciple of Christ.  Therefore anything recounted in this gospel would have to have been “sourced” from someone else.  It is impossible to prove if the author was “John Mark” a relative of Barnabas who was Paul’s companion.  Though John Mark is mentioned in Peter’s letters to the church as it appears Peter had taken him on as a Mentor, making John Mark his mentee. 
What Christian tradition holds (though debated) is that the Gospel of Mark was written first.  The other synoptic gospels of Matthew and Luke written later and only agreeing with each other when they also agree with Mark.  The Gospel of Mark also appears to have unique circumstances related to the disciple Peter.  There are both omissions and inclusions that would be uniquely related to the perspective of Peter.  Omissions tend to include incidents where Peter reacted brashly to a situation as if to protect the legacy and reputation of Peter in the early church.  Inclusions appear to include extraneous facts related only to Peter that do not significantly relate to the story at hand.  And finally the messages that Peter preached in the book of Acts appear to begin at the point of John the Baptist and end at the Ascension of Christ.  This is the time that Peter spent with Christ personally.  Though there may never be “concrete” proof that the Gospel of Mark may well be a memoir, or biography of Peter written by his mentee John Mark, there is enough circumstantial evidence to warrant its examination in the context of a knowledge of Christ by those who knew Him well.  Peter was perhaps second on that list outside of family, and so we begin a study of what is recorded in the Gospel of Mark.
Mark begins his recording of Peter’s recollection of Christ not at His birth but at perhaps the most culturally significant pre-amble of the days of Christ, at the prophecy announcing His first coming.  Mark writes in verse one … “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;”  We are not out of chapter one and verse one, before the ending has already been given away.  There was significant debate and opposition by the religious leadership of the day related to “who” Jesus Christ was.  Accepting “the man” as a Rabbi, or perhaps a Prophet, might have been tolerable to the Jewish religious leadership.  But as “the Christ”, “the Messiah” was just more than they could bear.  What was considered blasphemy and a stoning offense, was the concept that “this man” could literally be the “Son of God”.  But there is no doubt in the mind of Peter as to who Jesus was, and in Mark’s opening line of the “good news” of the gospel of Jesus Christ it is plainly stated that “this man” was also the literal Son of God.
Mark continues in verse 2 writing … “As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. [verse3] The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  The basis for the identity of Jesus Christ begins in the foretelling of how he would come, and how he would be announced.  The ministry and proclamation of the Messiah was not be self-serving.  Jesus did not need to stand on a mount and scream at the top of His lungs that “He” had arrived and all should acknowledge that “He” was the long awaited Messiah.  Instead, another servant of the Most High, would have the honor to announce His coming.  A Nazarene, and a cousin of Jesus Christ, John was born into a religious family where his father served in the Temple, and his mother was a known prophetess.  This was not just some random mad-man in the desert preaching repentance and preparation for the Messiah.  John came from as Spiritual a family as one could come from. 
The message of John too is equally important.  It is the message of humility.  John the Baptist wears simple clothing made of desert construction.  He eats locusts and honey, bugs as it were, or a diet of simple desert abundance.  He does not cut his hair, or keep himself in the fashion of the day.  Instead he presents himself in as humble and simple appearance as is possible.  His life matches his message.  He preaches for the people to “prepare” for the Messiah.  What form is that preparation to take?  It is for us to humble ourselves, or to repent of what we have done, or more profoundly for “who” we have become.  It is not just our deeds that require our regret, it is our motives, and our desires.  Our addiction to pleasing self, underlies the core of what we do.  Our slavery to me pleasing me, is the underpinning of every sin.  It is this addiction, this slavery, and the deeds it inspires that warrant the need for repentance.  To “repent”, I must acknowledge there is something greater than myself.  To “repent”, I must acknowledge that my best efforts at saving myself, have simply not been good enough.  To “repent”, I must acknowledge that even today I continue to exist in a state of sin, and it is this current state I wish to see changed.  This is not just about my past, it is about my present, and to change my future.
We who face the second coming and return of Lord Jesus Christ, are also taught a similar theme of “preparation” and being “ready” for going to heaven.  But instead of the simple and elegant and humble theme of John the Baptist, we are taught completely different methods.  We are taught to keep our doctrines pure from the influence of the world, and the corruption of other Christian denominations that are not our own.  We are taught that our choice to sin is a choice, and that we “should” be making a different one, implying our perfection is something we can achieve based on the strength of will.  Our failures only indicate a lack of will.  Thus self lies at the center of our salvation.  But these teachings were never uttered from the lips of God’s messenger in making straight the way of the Lord.  His message was far more simple and profound.  It was only to “repent”.  If we are ever to be saved from ourselves, we too must begin with “repentance”.
Mark continues writing in verse 4 … “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. [verse 5] And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.”  The symbolism John employs is no less relevant to his spoken words.  John baptizes those who “repent”.  He submerges them completely under the water, thus signifying the death of self, and then pulls them “up” out of the water representing a resurrection of new life founded in God.  It is God who pulls our existence OUT of the slavery of self, and addiction to self-pleasure.  Only God can raise us from this fate.  Only God can usher in a new life to us, and change the core of who we are.  The confessions of sin was not aimed at John the Baptist, but between each man, woman, and child, and their God.  The pain of the heart that accompanies each sin we commit was silently placed on the altar of God.  Those who heard, believed, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, they found the freedom of release that Baptism offered.
None of this was done in secret.  John had no need to travel around to become an evangelist.  He began by preaching at the Jordon river, those who came for water heard.  His words and message spread.  And as Mark recounts, people from all over the land of Judaea came to hear, repent, and be baptized.  This was a spiritual revival, not founded in a complex set of doctrinal interpretations, but in a simple message of humility.  John did not intend to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah.  But John yearned for a nation to rid itself of self, and in humility to begin searching for a source of salvation that could be found in the Messiah who was to come.  Without the core understanding of how salvation works, a debate about “how” to keep the law of God is meaningless.  Without a experiential knowledge of what it means to be made free from the sin we have so long been enslaved to, a debate over doctrinal differences is equally meaningless.  Only through the lens of Jesus Christ can scripture be properly understood.  Only those who have experienced what it means to be made free, can truly understand the promise of salvation.
Mark continues in verse 6 … “And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; [verse 7] And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. [verse 8] I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”  The humility of John the Baptist, the preacher who is calling others to repentance is once again on display.  It is not the reference to his appearance that is so striking, it is his self-acknowledgement that he is “unworthy” to assist Jesus Christ in taking off his shoes.  Later as his disciples will admit in their shame, while they debated who would be greatest among them, Jesus girded himself in the towel of servant and washed each of their feet.  Here is John proclaiming to all who would hear, that he himself is not worthy to touch the dirtiest part of the body of his Lord.  Culturally in the middle east, to expose your shoe to an enemy is considered a great insult.  As the feet are constantly exposed to dirt, animal waste, and other elements of equal disgust, centering attention on them to an enemy is to imply the enemy is equal in value to the waste found on the feet and shoes.  In John’s abject humility, he prizes the feet of the Messiah and the waste they may have on them as being of more value than himself.
But John does not leave his audience with only a profound level of self-humiliation.  He then preaches how the fulfillment of salvation will occur.  He transitions his listeners from the symbolism of baptism by water, to the literal experience of baptism by the Holy Ghost.  They function the same.  We must die to self.  Our old life, our old desires, our old choices, our old way of thinking must die (symbolically in the waters of Baptism) but then again in the reality of having the Holy Ghost enter our lives.  The symbolism of Baptism is merely a precursor to the reality of what it means to have the Holy Ghost enter our lives.  To experience the Holy Ghost, is not the random seemingly uncontrolled body movements, dancing, and gibberish no one can understand that mark His presence within us.  That serves nothing more than spectacle, and a feeling of emotional “high” that only “self” can experience.  The real evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives comes when our desires are changed beyond explanation.  When we no longer “want” to commit the same sins we were recently enslaved to.  When we “want” to love others more than even a consideration of our own needs, this indicates the presence of the Holy Ghost.  A tangible death to self, the death of me-pleasing-me; and in its place, me looking only to bring life and love to others.  This is the truth of our salvation, and the evidence that mechanism of the Holy Ghost in our lives is real.
The message of John the Baptist is no less relevant in our day than it ever was in his own.  Our preachers and teachers and evangelists would do well to examine the humility in which John taught.  Our believers who purport to carry the name of Christ would do well to examine the content of the message of John … to repent … to humble ourselves to something greater than ourselves.  It is in this way we become prepared to experience our own salvation.  Those Christians who hide their identities to those around them, “embarrassed” to be associated with an ideology based on “faith” instead of science; would do well to see the public embrace of baptism in a dirty river outside for all to see.  The symbolism of a public embrace of the death to self; is also paired with the symbolism of a public resurrection of a new life in Christ; that is a life that is made free from the former slavery to self, to the worry about reputation, and its replacement of care and concern for others.  Those who would proclaim “the Spirit” because they gyrate or speak a language of gibberish; would do well to see what loving others truly means.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is meant to reach out to meet the needs of others, not to internalize itself, bringing benefits only to the person who “has it”.  If there is no benefit to others, it is not the Spirit of God that is being entertained.  If a new life in Christ does not free us from sin, it is because our “self” is preventing it from occurring, and the Spirit mechanism we are relying on is not the Spirit of our God, but of His enemy.
To establish the identity of Christ, Peter witnesses, and Mark begins with a reliance on the people who knew Him in His day.  They begin this gospel with a recounting of a spiritual revival in Israel such as had never been seen.  It was a message of simple humility that is so needed in our own day.  But to establish the identity of Jesus Christ, witnesses would be cited first …

Friday, April 10, 2015

Peter's Second Epilogue ...

Our Bible is such a precious gift to us.  It is a collection of works that have been meticulously preserved throughout the history of this world until now.  Make no mistake, it is not by chance, coincidence, or good luck that we have this specific volumes of inspiration to study.  It was by design, and often by miraculous intervention, that our Bible exists today, and is available for us to learn about the deep and abiding love of God for mankind.  Our Bible records events and actions from Adam through the early Christian church in painstaking accuracy.  Both the good and the bad events are recorded and presented in clarity to us, that we might learn both the salvation that God offers, and the consequences of rejecting that salvation.  We can see all throughout history what happens when mankind trusts himself, and his own wisdom or will, in any given situation.  And by contrast we can see what happens when mankind recognizes that he is unable to save himself, and God does what ONLY God can do, saving someone when everyone else thought it “impossible”.
But despite the consistency in the themes of Biblical stories and events, there are a wide variation of beliefs that have arisen based on the same set of scriptures.  There are literally hundreds of different Christian churches that are founded on differences in the interpretation of the same book, and same set of inspired texts.  Central to all appears to be a belief in the divinity and salvation provided by Jesus Christ.  But outside of that shared tenant, the variation is wide, the differences distinct, and the walls between faiths have been built high in order to preserve the specific differences we determine from the same inspired Bible.  Each Christian church believes that “they alone” have the “best” understanding of scripture.  While Christians are hesitant to criticize each other, each still holds that the set of doctrines they believe in, are the most accurate, the most truthful, and follow closest the will of God for mankind.  But given the differences, they could not ALL possibly be correct.  Some of us, must be mistaken, because the differences are too distinct and mutually exclusive to ALL be right. 
So given this dilemma, how do we use the “word”?  If each church believes its own doctrines are biblically based to the exclusion of all others, then has our mission degenerated into debating our varied interpretations of the Bible with each other – each attempting to prove their own position is correct, and the position of their contemporaries is incorrect?  Is this the point of Christianity … that is … to be right?  In the time of Christ, the spiritual leaders of the nation were known as Pharisees.  But in that same time, were another group known as Sadducees.  The same set of Biblical writings had interpretations that differed even then.  Pharisees believed in the resurrection of mankind at the end of all things.  Sadducees did not.  Both had Biblically founded beliefs.  And BOTH were united in only one major purpose … to put to death the author of Love and the writings they both held dear.  Both sets of Biblical scholars were willing to kill God, in the name of God.  Both would rather kill God, than to cede authority to the Inspiration behind all scripture, the Truth that can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ.
Imagine how the story might have been different, if the spiritual leadership of the day, had simply humbled themselves and sought to find truth from the mouth of Jesus Christ, instead of in the mirror of interpretation of the written ”word”.  Christ had no inconsistency with scripture.  He did not deny the validity or accuracy of scripture; in fact he quoted it repeatedly, using it over and over again throughout His ministry here on earth.  The problem was not with what was written.  The problem has ever been how men interpret scriptures.  We “use” the word to establish dominance over each other.  We “use” the word to judge the actions of others, in order to make us feel better about our own comparatively less misdeeds.  We “use” the word to prove we are right, and others are wrong.  And in so doing, we inject “self” into how we read and use the word.  Christ used the word to uplift mankind, to redeem mankind, and to correct the errors of the religious leadership of His day.  His mission was ever redemptive.  It is hard to misuse the word when your goal is ever based in the redemption of another, in loving that person into the kingdom of God.
This difference in perspective on the scriptures was keenly in the mind of Peter as he faced his end.  In the closing verses, the epilogue of his second letter to the church, his last opportunity to write down his thoughts, he spoke to this issue.  He begins in chapter 3 beginning in verse 15 writing … “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;”  Peter continues his rebuke to the scoffers who challenge the validity of the return our Lord, due to His delays.  It is because our Lord is longsuffering, intending that everyone should come to repentance and salvation that He delays His return.  Then Peter again acts in concert with Paul and the writings that Paul has already provided to the church.  Peter states that the wisdom Paul has offered was “given unto him”.  Paul is not merely writing his own opinions about the state of Christianity and the emerging ideology of a new church sect.  He is writing messages to the churches with wisdom and inspiration that is a “gift” of our God. 
Peter continues in verse 16 … “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”  Here Peter lays out the fundamental problem with how some of us use scriptures.  It is the unlearned.  It is the people who do not see scripture through the lens of surrender to Jesus Christ; that are unlearned in the proper use of scripture.  This is not a statement about education, or higher education, or becoming a doctorate in religious studies.  It is about studying the word without looking through the lens of the transformation Jesus Christ alone can enact within you.  The Pharisees and Sadducees were devout men, who dedicated their entire lives to the study and debate of the word.  They were sincere in their quest to discover truth.  But they refused to see the Truth of Jesus Christ.  They refused to acknowledge His supreme authority over matters of interpretation of the word, choosing instead to trust their own wisdom, history, and traditions on the matter.  How many modern Christians have an identical level of certainty around their doctrinal interpretations?
It is the unstable.  Those who have never been made free from sin through the transforming power of Jesus Christ are unfamiliar with the experience of salvation.  They wrestle with texts that espouse the need to do good works, because their inherent nature wars against such things.  They see texts that define what evil looks like, and what evil deeds we should avoid, as threats against themselves, because they know in their hearts, they are guilty of such thoughts, feelings, and deeds.  They wrestle with texts that show that salvation is a free gift of Christ, that we need only accept.  Because even though they believe that Christ can save them, they remain the same person, bound in the same sinful desires they have always cherished, unable to free themselves from the grasp of these sins, and with no clue how to see it change.  Without the lens of Jesus Christ, we cannot interpret scripture rightly.  The same words are used or misused in a variety of ways, but ultimately only leading to a destructive path.
To believe we can be saved by our good works, is to ignore the text that states that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags”.  To discard the law of God as no longer binding is to ignore the words of Christ when He said … “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill the law.”  The reason so many variations of Christianity exist, is because we have lost the fundamentals of following Christ, in favor of the distinctions of how best to do that.  Instead of humbling ourselves, surrendering to Christ, and allowing Him to lead us to truth; we assert our knowledge of scriptures and insist only we are qualified to lead others.  Everyone else is doing it wrong … except us.  Instead of allowing the transformation of Christ to reveal to us the beauty of loving others like Christ loves others … we obsess about keeping our doctrines pure from the influence of the world, and tend to cut ourselves off from the world, in order to avoid its corrupting influence.  We, like our Pharisee and Sadducee forefathers, turn away from the redemptive mission of God, and inward towards a self-focused effort to achieve purity.
It is this path that leads to our destruction.  It is this path that takes our eyes off of Christ, and focuses them squarely on our own scriptural interpretations as the means to achieving our salvation.  We lose sight of the Author, in order to focus on the words He inspired and we misinterpret.  This is the situation Peter wants his own readers to avoid.  We can find the Truth and beauty in scriptures, but only as we are led to these truths in the person of Jesus Christ.  When we love others like Christ loved others, the meaning of the words come into sharp focus.  When we do not love others, and instead love ourselves and cherish our own wisdom, we lose all the meaning of the same written words on the same inspired pages.
Peter continues in verse 17 … “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.”  Peter reminds his readers that they have not only heard the gospel message before, they have experienced the freedom only Jesus Christ can bring.  Being led by Jesus Christ is the key to discovering and maintaining the truth taught in His word.  We cannot disconnect from the Author and still expect to get the book right.  Peter challenges his readers to avoid the error the wicked inevitably make, that is putting their trust in themselves.  While we trust in Christ to save us, we can and will be saved by Him alone.  When we begin to trust self, we fail repeatedly.  Instead Peter asks that we maintain our steadfastness in surrender to Christ.  We are not to let scriptural interpretation get between our surrender to Christ, and our salvation.  For without surrender there can be no salvation.  The Law does not save us, but the Author of the Law is alone able to bring us into harmony with it.
Peter concludes his final epilogue in verse 18 writing … “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.”  “Grow” in grace.  We are not to stagnate, or come to believe there is no more to achieve.  There is always deeper love to experience.  Understanding His grace for us, is found in an experiential knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Experiencing how He loves us, helps us to know what it is like to love others the same way.  When we allow Him to transform us in this way, we find new meaning in the same written words.  Where once we saw only condemnation of who we are, we now see a promise of who He will have us become.  Where once we saw our judgment and accurate condemnation for the misdeeds we are bound and enslaved to, we now see texts of promise and hope, and a fundamental change in what we want and who we are. 
It is Jesus Christ alone who is worthy of glory and honor.  He is worthy both now, because His work is started in us today, and forever, as His work in us will forever be growing within us.  There is no limit to the love of God, His love is infinite.  Therefore we will never meet the boundary of where that love ends.  Therefore, the same love that lives in the Author of love, can be reflected in us towards others.  The absence of self, enables the experience of loving others, from the same infinite point of view.  That is, no end to how much we can love our wife, our children, our parents, even our enemies.  Think of it.  No end to the amount of love you are capable of experiencing, both to you from God, and through you to others.  That my friends is a solid reason why Christ alone is worthy of glory and honor both now and forever.  Peter understood what it means to love like this.  Peter had a taste of it.  And he wished with his final parting words to the church, that they too never lose sight of what it means to experience the transformative love of Jesus Christ.

Friday, April 3, 2015

To Say What Must Be Said ...

Throughout this entire second letter to the church, Peter has attempted to remind his audience; to put the church in remembrance of the transformative power of the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  He has offered the scriptures, his own eye-witness testimony, and the sure word of prophecy as evidence to the Truth of Jesus Christ.  While we do not know Peter as a prophet, in what will be his final written words, he again demonstrates a living prophetic gift powered by the Holy Spirit in what will be revealed.  The goal of these parting words was not to be “prophetic”, but prophecy would be a tool to again remind his readers of the transforming power of Jesus Christ.  Our lives were meant to be better than they are.  Our lives were meant to be fuller.  In the death of self, and absence of self-obsession, we find the perfect freedom to love others that ONLY Jesus Christ can create within us.  We are to be made free from our former addictions, and slavery to loving self.  This was the power of the gospel, Peter was so keen for the early church to never lose sight of.  Already false teachers were spreading the seeds of Satanic influence in Christian thinking.  Already there were those who taught the value of “self” in the process of salvation.  This needed correction.
So Peter begins in chapter three of his second letter, the final chapter, his last written opportunity to reach the early church.  This was it.  Consider what you might write, if you knew with certainty your death was near, if you knew it could not be avoided.  What final thoughts would dominate your own priority.  While Peter no doubt loved his wife, perhaps he was more certain of her spiritual fate, and therefore focused his energy of those who he believed were at higher risk.  He begins in verse 1 saying … “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: [verse 2] That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:”  Note the term “beloved” in his address.  Peter has come to truly love these believers.  They are not just numbers to him, a random counting of those who may have been converted at some point or another and now comprise a church of “x” members.  They are not just folks of like-mind.  They are his beloved, and beloved of Christ.  It is not a sexual term, but it is a highly intimate term.  It carries meaning to him, and it is why he chooses to say what must be said.
Peter wishes to stir up remembrance in the church, to cause “pure minds” to consider the value of the gospel message he wants them to remember.  He asks they remember what he has said in times past.  He does not discard scripture, He asks them to build upon it, to be led to its truths.  They are not to become Pharisees obsessed with their own knowledge of the word, but they are not to become heretics that avoid the guidance the word might offer either.  They are to be led because they are willing to be led, to the Truth of Jesus Christ.  They must learn to see all scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ.  He worries they will forget what he and the other apostles have said to them.  This is not an ego trip for Peter.  He is not the sole authority of the gospel, he is merely a voice in it.  He does not discount the words, letters, or teachings of other apostles or leaders in the faith.  He does not defer to them, or assert superiority over them, he UNIFIES with them and acts in concert with them for the betterment of the church.  There is no hierarchy implied here, only a flat-church with Christ as the individual leader of every member.
Peter continues in verse 3 … “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, [verse 4] And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”  Here begins the revelation of the future from the Holy Spirit, inspiring the prophetic words of Peter.  Peter longed for a return of Jesus Christ in his own day.  But he now knows he will sleep until the return of his Lord.  So the Holy Spirit offers Peter a glimpse into human nature, and the temptations of Satan that will plague the church when he is gone.  The words Peter enumerates above have been spoken not just in our own generation, but in nearly every generation between Peter and us.  It is the rally cry of the Atheists in our day.  And it has only ever been made worse by those who claimed to know the exact hour of His returning. They preach a message of fear that the hour of the Lord was near.  When the day and time passed, scoffers only amplified their cries.
You will also note, those who scoff, have not been made free from the slavery of self.  Instead they “walk after their own lusts”.  This is not just a general statement of despair about those who have not yet found the Lord.  It is a profound examination of those within the membership of the church, who have also never been made free from sin, any sin.  There are those who never allow the scoffing words to pass their lips, yet in their hearts, hold these same ideas to be true.  They believe forgiveness will cover their misdeeds, and that they have time to continue committing these sins while God delays his return.  They do not have the courage to utter words of doubt within the body of Christ, but their lifestyles are evident of the desires of their hearts.  Desires that have never been altered or re-created by Jesus Christ, because they would rather prolong His delay and continue in sin, than surrender and live differently.  These scoffers have embraced the idea of responsibility, and the role of self, within the process of salvation.  As such, they have only known failure, and failure has led them to doubt.
Peter continues in verse 5 … “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: [verse 6] Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: [verse 7] But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”  There is a key reason why Satan must attack the validity of Creation, and the Flood in the Genesis accounting by Moses.  If Christians accept the literacy of Creation, they can acknowledge that Jesus Christ could create in them new desires in harmony with the law of God.  But if we merely evolved, then perhaps our own evolution will save us as well.  If Christians accept the literacy of the Flood where the entire world was destroyed except for Noah who was willing to be saved by God; then the idea that a final end to sin will one day come upon us as well is equally real.  If the Flood never happened, then God has never really asserted His control, and perhaps He never will.
The doctrines, the truth, of the stories of Creation and the Flood, illustrate the salvation power of Jesus Christ, and the ultimate end of sin.  To discard them in favor of science, is to deny the author of science.  To discard them in favor of modern wisdom, is to trust our own common sense over the word of God, and repeat the errors of Lucifer and Adam.  Our wisdom will never be equal to God, our vision never as long or wide.  There are things we can study.  But when we believe we know “better” than God, we have crossed the same line Lucifer did, and embarked on the same path as well.  Peter here states that the condition of these scoffers, even inside the church, is to be willfully ignorant.  They do not wish to believe.  They do not want to know the truth.  They do not long for an end to evil, but instead a perpetuation of evil.  They want endless time to sin, not an end to sin within them.  This is the nature of scoffers who have never tasted the freedom from sin; the transformation offered by Jesus Christ who alone is able to bring.
Peter continues in verse 8 … “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”  Here again the prophetic influence of the Holy Spirit is displayed.  So many students of scripture have used this text to apply timelines to prophetic interpretations of other parts of scripture.  It helps set historical context, and allows timelines to be precisely formed for the beginning and ending of other prophecies.  And it is wonderful to see how the words of Peter here are used to help enhance prophecy in other places, by other authors.  But this was not the intent of Peter when penning these words.  He is simply continuing his thought about the complaint of scoffers as to the delay in the return of our Lord.  This is as much a figurative analogy as a declarative key to unlock other prophetic timelines.  Time has far less meaning when there are no limits to it.  It is our own mortality that feels the weight of passing minutes, months, and decades.  God has never known those limitations.  We had a Genesis.  God did not.  We were created therefore at some point in the infinite timeline of God we came into existence.  But our lives were never meant to be ended by an embrace of sin.  That choice was ours.  The result of that choice was inevitable.  Sin must end.  But in the light of our redemption, once again time has less meaning.  Knowing we will live forever at His return offers us a freedom from the weight of time.
Peter then offers insight into the reason why God would delay His return in verse 9 … “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  This is the fundamental difference in the thinking between God and Satan.  God uses time for the redemption of mankind, working diligently that all men might have time to come to want salvation.  Satan uses time to perpetuate evil and wishes it will never end, so that he can continue to act in evil forever.  Scoffers tend to align with Satan.  Their cries of perpetual delays and challenges to the truth of any end-state of the world, are more meant to validate their own desires to remain in sin.  They do not complain about the plague of sin that endures, they instead relish in it.  While those whose hearts are aligned with God, see each day as yet another opportunity to bring the freedom of Christ to an unreached aching soul; a chance to add one more to the number who will join them in eternity.  This is the consuming passion of the Christian, to love someone enough to find them in the kingdom together.
Peter continues in verse 10 … “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. [verse 11] Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, [verse 12] Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? [verse 13] Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”  Peter echoes the teachings of Christ stating that the day of His return will come as a “thief in the night”.  Or in other words, it comes when few are looking for it.  There are guards or policemen who keep an eye out for thieves at night.  But the mass of citizenry are sound asleep, not on guard, and content in the false knowledge that they are secure.  How many Christians are content and asleep, and not looking to be made free from the sin within them?
But what happens to the wealth of this world, and the combined accomplishments of mankind, when they are dissolved with a fervent heat?  All of the things we spend our time building, for ourselves, for our employers, for our nation, will ALL be melted away.  Our cars gone, our homes, our vacation resorts will be gone in a minute.  If these are things where we have invested so great a part of ourselves, our return on investment is to be disappointing.  Peter points this out, and says that in the light of the meaningless of the wealth of this world, we should invest our time, our conversation, and our actions in the wealth of the next one … namely in loving people to see them there.  Christians are to look past the destruction of this world, not at the wealth of the next one.  Notice he does not call attention to golden streets, but to a place “wherein dwelleth righteousness”.  It is not the structures we should be concerned about, it is the method of HOW we live that matters.  The absence of sin is the ultimate goal, not where we live when that occurs.
Peter summarizes in verse 14 … “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”  This is the message Peter has so needed to say.  This is the goal of reminding the early church.  The transformation Jesus Christ offers allows us to be found amidst the turmoil of the world, yet in peace.  The transformative power of Love Jesus Christ offers allows us to be found without spot, though surrounded by the most vile sins.  The freedom from loving self, to made free to love only others, allows us to be found blameless in world were all the troubles are blamed upon us.  It is not the conditions of our surroundings that dictate who we are.  It is in allowing the transformation process to occur within us that sees us made perfect in a world filled with imperfection and sin.  The problems have never been on the outside, they have always been on the inside.  This is the message that had to be said.  These are the words Peter must say before his time is ended.  We should cling to the gospel of hope.  We should cling to the transformative power of Jesus Christ to redeem us, and do not allow “self” to enter in and corrupt the process.  With the knowledge of his impending death, Peter chooses to write these words to the church.  It had to be said.  It must be said.  Now will we listen …
And Peter had one more epilogue to write …