Saturday, June 27, 2015
Most of us hold a special place in our hearts for mom. Mom generally earned this place because as far back as we can remember, she was there taking care of us, nurturing us, and showing a love for us we could barely understand back then. Dad’s love was different, likely less expressive, but present. Dad had a natural instinct to insure the family was safe, secure, and taken care of. It meant less of his time, but always because of His desire to work for our greater good. Our siblings are another kind of love entirely. We grew up with them, fought with them over silly things, and were close to them when in times of need or sadness. We share their joys and triumphs and share with them their sadness and defeats. Underneath it all, the fights with them were more about establishing a unique identity in the family unit, than about any “real” disagreements. And so we define our family unit by blood relations, and are often taught that blood is thicker than water, and only blood can be counted on in the world. But our premise is mistaken at its core. It is not just the Supreme Court of the United States that is redefining family, it is Jesus Christ.
Our core premise of family is broken from the outset. Mom and dad are not actually related by blood (usually), unless you trace back our ancestry to Noah or Adam. Taking history back that far makes us ALL related by blood (a concept we find Jesus endorsing). So then mom and dad are family not by blood, but by choice, and by commitment. In our world choices and commitments fail regularly leading to new family unit compositions, where new partners for mom or dad equate to new roles in the parental offering. Step dads, or step moms, become part of the family unit through different choices made on the timelines of our lives. New siblings that may have no blood relation at all enter the family unit, and if things go well, and Christian charity is employed, they can become as close to us, as any blood relation ever was. The love between the new partner of mom or dad is different as well, and can be more or less intense than the original pairing. And so how do we judge (perhaps not at all), about the validity of a family unit after it was broken, and now attempting to repair itself in another way?
Our core premise of family is broken in yet another way. Sometimes children are left alone in this world, because of situations beyond their control. They may be lucky enough to be adopted by parents who so desperately want to add another child to their family unit. Those parents invest deeply in the lives of these adopted children, working hard to demonstrate a love that is intended to fill the gap left by the pain and loss found in this world. No adoptive parent ever makes a distinction in how much they love their child. While not the biological parent, they are the parent none the less. These family units are determined by choice and commitment, not by blood. They are as strong as any family unit, and the restorative love they put on display emulates the love of God as much as any we see here on earth. And blood relations have little to do with the choice and commitment adoptive parents and children make to each other.
While the Supreme Court recognized that the privileges of a marital family unit are more defined by a choice and commitment than by the sexual orientation of the two individuals making that choice; they only chose to expand our legal definition of family to those who may be a bit different from ourselves. But I submit, what they did is not new, nor did “they” actually redefine family for us or Christianity at large. How could they? We already had homosexuals in our family units, whether by blood, or by choice. The orientation of a person does not determine their place within a family, it is instead only a characteristic that self-identifies with that person. Many parents will discover that one or more of their children are in fact gay. While this revelation may be painful at first, particularly if it is at odds with the values those parents hold to; ultimately it changes “nothing” about how much a parent continues to love that child. Moms don’t stop nurturing, caring, and loving their child because they discover the child is gay (or they shouldn’t). And dads don’t stop providing, seeking for safety and security of their families, because they discover a child is gay (or they shouldn’t). So the inclusion of a gay person in a family unit was ALREADY part of our culture, and our definition of family.
It turns out, we already love people who are gay, whether as siblings, or children, or parents. Loving someone with this characteristic is NOT against the law of God, nor is it forbidden in scripture. There is no scripture that demands we ostracize a member of our family because they exhibit some behavior the Bible defines as sin. If it did, every single parent, spouse, or child who has ever told a lie should be cast out (instead of forgiven). Every single act of sexual misconduct including “lust” even if only in the mind, would be grounds for excommunication between the family unit and that person. Under these extreme conditions there would be no family units left, only single individuals who are universally guilty of misguided sexual expression both straight and gay. If our sin is allowed to separate us from each other and from redemptive love, there is no hope for any of us. Instead Christians believe and need the forgiveness our Savior offers us. It is a constant and ever present need, and it spans many more sins, than just those of a sexual nature. At its core, a family unit is composed of choice and commitment, it is not simply a matter of blood. But that lesson is not mine, it was Christ’s.
Peter recalls to John Mark an incident that proved just this point. Mark wrote it down in chapter three and beginning in verse 31 saying … “There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him.” This occurs at a time when Jesus is deeply engrossed in teaching His followers about the restorative love of God. His mission is beyond healing only our bodies, but it remains for Jesus to heal our minds, and our souls. He is demonstrating to his listeners what freedom from sin can really mean. And during His teachings, His blood relations, or His family come to see Him. Keep in mind this designation includes not only His mom, but “His brethren” or His siblings. Mary did not remain a perpetual virgin after having Jesus Christ. Instead she was a normal wife and mother. She had sexual intimacy with Joseph, and the brothers and possibly sisters of Christ were a result. Mary was like any other wife and mother, she loved her children, and her husband. She had earned a place of respect in the family unit due to her choice and her commitment. And now she was here with her other children to see Jesus. But the venue was packed, another standing room only event, and she could not even get close enough to her Son, to ask Him what she was there to ask. So they had to send in word by messenger.
John Mark records how the message progressed in verse 32 saying … “And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.” Whether it was whispered from person to person, or perhaps someone sitting there at the feet of Jesus saw His family outside waiting for Him and just assumed He needed to know, the message about His family waiting was delivered to Jesus. Of course in so doing, the flow of His sermon was interrupted. The train of thought had to by necessity pause, while consideration of this new situation was discussed and addressed. Jesus, being divine, already knew they were there. In addition, He already knew why they were there and what they wanted from Him. He had already evaluated their needs and their request in His head before they arrived; had it been more critical to Him than what He was teaching, He would have ended His dialogue early, and met them outside, or on the road to go address what they felt was important. But Jesus did none of this. Instead He had remained inside, with these people in front of Him, teaching them something that outweighed the needs of His family.
Then Jesus does what the Supreme Court could not ever do as Mark continues the account in verse 33 saying … “And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?” This is not a casual question. The parentage of Jesus Christ was “the” pivotal question of His ministry here on earth. Jesus had repeatedly commanded the demons who fled before Him to remain silent on identifying Him as the literal Son of God. To be born of a virgin was a miracle ONLY God could accomplish, and since it has never been done before or since, it remained an issue of faith to accept. You will also note in this text, He does NOT ask who His Father is. That question was to be settled as we examine His life. But questioning who is His mother, and who are His siblings was intended to shock His audience into thinking deeper about what it means to be in a family with the Son of God.
Then Jesus ups the stakes in the definition of family as Peter has John Mark transcribe the further words of Christ in verse 34 saying … “And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!” Ouch. If our traditional views of blood relations were all that defined family, Jesus Christ just blew that away. There would be no special place of respect for His mother standing outside, or for His siblings that grew up with Him. Mary would be no intercessor with Christ as our Catholic friends might like to believe, as here Jesus plainly equates NO special status to her as to any other person sitting on the floor in front of Him. To be the blood brother of Christ, did not afford His siblings any more special consideration than to be a stranger sitting at the feet of Jesus. Blood is obviously not something that defines inclusion in the family of Jesus Christ.
Perfection was not a pre-requisite either. The crowd sitting in front of Jesus were not well educated wealthy, religious leaders who committed little if any sins. They were common folks. The Pharisees who were deeply religious, wealthy, and obsessed with the keeping of the Law, had largely abandoned following after Jesus to learn. They were instead plotting how to kill Him. The people here on the floor were common sinners of every variety. They were not there to justify their sins, or deny them, or make false claims about having already gained perfection. They were universally guilty of sin. But the focus there was on restoration and redemption. To free these listeners from even their desire to sin, was the paramount goal of Jesus Christ. In that mission, He could not be interrupted for trivial concerns. And just because you had a blood relation, did not make your request more important that the restoration of one who is bound in sin.
Then Jesus made a declaration that would redefine family forever as John Mark records in verse 35 saying … “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” It would not be about blood, it would be about choice and commitment. Those listeners there had chosen to find Christ and learn at His feet, they had committed to being restored by Jesus Christ, and in so doing were named as part of His family. When we choose to submit ourselves to Jesus Christ and let His will become ours, let Him remake our desires, our thinking, and ultimately our choices … we are making a choice to enter the family of the Son of God. He considers us family as we unite with both Jesus and the Father God. When we become in harmony with His Laws of Love, we become part of His family. This can only happen, as our sin-sick diseased and addicted minds are remade by our Creator God. We need re-creation, if we are to be brought into harmony with the Law of God which reflects His entry-level definition of what it means to love others.
Being Jewish was and is not enough to be considered part of the family of Christ. Being of the bloodline of David or Abraham was not enough. Being Christian was and is not enough to be considered part of the family of Christ. It is not just about making a declarative statement that we “believe” in Christ. It is about taking that belief to Christ and surrendering “who” we are to Him to be remade. For many a Christian does NOT do the will of the Father God, as instead they cling to the sins that define their characters. This is not just a gay condition, it is a straight one. It is not just about sexual expression or behavior, it is about loving self more than loving others. We could completely abstain from sex altogether and still be found lacking in the pursuit of the will of the Father God, because we have not surrendered our desires to Him to be remade.
Those who focus on sex as the discriminator of proximity to Christ, ignore every other sin they are bound to. Both gay and straight people lie. Both steal. Both love themselves more than they love others. Both have pride, arrogance, and can reflect a coldness to those in need. Christians are supposed to be the antithesis of these characteristics yet they are not. It is the un-surrendered heart that keeps us at odds with the Law of God. It is our pride in “who” we are that prevents us from being willing to put even our spouse or our sexuality on the altar of God. We wish instead to retain the things that are important to us. We wish to retain the things about us that define who we are. We cherish our characters instead of looking at them with the disdain they deserve. The only good in us, can be found as we reflect the Love of God to others. This love does not originate in us, it is only reflected through us. And that reflection is made dim or non-existent because we refuse to let go of who we are, choosing to try to retain ourselves and find a “partial” salvation instead of a full one.
It is as if we wish to get better from our cancer rather than find a cure for it. It is as if we are comfortable being HIV positive as long as our condition does not evolve into full blown AIDs. Jesus was not here to dispense so many spiritual pills to make us feel better about our diseases. He was here to cure them all, fully. He was here to restore us to the condition He had in mind for us. When we are ready to put our sexuality on His altar, even if that means we live the rest of our lives in abstention, or are compelled to find another partner, or must forgive and recommit to the partner we have no matter how bad they treat us … to allow Jesus to reshape what we desire and how we love … is at the core of a full cure from our disease of sin. Lest straight believers think I am only talking to our gay brothers and sisters, I am not. Adam withheld Eve from the trust of the Lord to save her. Eve was the one thing Adam was not willing to give up, and in joining her, he initiated sin into our world and our genetics from then to now. Original sin was not found in homosexuality, it was found in the love of a husband for his wife, over that of his Creator. That test remains for us all. Is there anything, or any part of us, we love more than we love God? If we hold back any part of ourselves from the restoration Christ offers, we cling to the cancer that kills us.
But, if we are willing to bring all of ourselves into surrender to Christ, then there is no difference between any of us in His eyes. Our perfection will be the journey Christ brings us to. It does NOT matter what sins we suffer from today, as ALL of them are to be a thing of the past as He remakes who we are, how we love, and how we think. In this process, our sole job remains to love each other. We are to be a family by choice and commitment, not by blood. I am to love you, no matter what condition of sin you suffer from, or that I suffer from. I am to love you without precondition, or demands upon you. For it Jesus Christ who will free both you and I from our sins. No need to judge your progress on that path, only to encourage you to remain on it, and ask that you encourage me to remain on it as well. It is not our sins that exclude us from restoration, it is our unwillingness to see those sins disappear. Letting go all of ourselves to Christ, frees us to love each other without condemnation or judgment.
The Supreme Court redefined legal marriage in our country this week. But what spiritual marriage is, remains a concept no law of our land will ever fully be able to comprehend or enumerate in legal language. The relationships that God blesses of family units begins with an entirely different understanding of what it means to love others like He loves others. If we are not in harmony with how He loves, how we could possibly hope to understand what a true spiritual marriage is all about. Instead we bring our selfishness into our weddings, and our lives, and look to see what marriage has to offer us; instead of holistically re-evaluating marriage through the eyes of Christ, and what it means to have intimacy between ourselves and our God as the underpinning of any choice and commitment. The intimacy between each of us and our God must occur prior to the success of anything we call marriage. If we are distant from the source of Love, how can we hope to truly love each other, as a spouse should be loved?
Before Christians decry the breakdown of the family unit because our country made something legal, they should take a serious look at why the concept of divorce exists, and the damage it causes to our families and our nation. Divorce exists (and will now impact the gay community), because of the selfishness in how we love others. It is a reflection of our addiction to loving self, and unwillingness to love another beyond the limits of our lives. Divorce is enabled because Christians are unwilling to have their desires remade, and be taught a new way to love another. If we were willing to submit the entirety of who we are in surrender to Jesus Christ, we would be making better decisions before marriage, and better decisions once in a marriage. It is not the legality of our marriage license that determines the spiritual validity of marriage, it is determined in how much of ourselves we are willing to surrender to Jesus Christ to be remade by Him. Full surrender will yield full restoration, and we can trust in Jesus to save us from ourselves. To be part of the family of the Son of God, remains only about choice, and about commitment. How much of who you are, are you willing to relinquish to Christ? Or perhaps better stated … how much pain would you like to let go of as our Lord offers a full cure just for that asking?
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Our nation grieves again this week, as deranged hatred was put on display. In an act most believe is nothing short of demonic, a young man sat for an hour in a bible study group and then proceeded to execute those who had just opened the Word with him, for the crime of being born with black skin. To carry this level of malevolence for anyone requires a commitment to hate that exceeds most “normal” human boundaries. To carry this level of hate is to be in league with the kingdom of Satan; to be at the very least, a soldier in his army. The question that remains is only … was the young man possessed by a demon; or was he simply this committed to hate all on his own, after an indoctrination in hate propagated by groups who at their core espouse the righteousness of God in the hateful actions they take and language they speak so carelessly. The response to this man’s actions runs the gamut from full forgiveness offered to him by the surviving victims of this heinous crime and yet another appeal to seek Christ … to proposals to arm deacons with guns in order to kill threats in church if they are perceived to be threats. It is Christians who offer ideas on both of these spectrums. But this is not the first time, the question of how Satan and his forces operate.
Early in the ministry of Christ, it was plainly evident that evil spirits who possessed men in his day, were powerless to resist the love of Jesus Christ. When confronted with this love, the evil spirits declared his identity as the literal Son of God publicly. Jesus commanded them to silence, and without exception, the demons obeyed and left their hosts. It is unknown to us, whether the hosts of these possessions were willing participants or victims who had refused the protection of God; only that having been possessed, they were made free in the presence of Jesus Christ. In all of recorded history, this had never occurred before. There had never been a Rabbi, or Prophet, who compelled demons to leave their hosts without exception, and of his own power. Demons, outside of confronting the power of Christ, do not seem to need to listen to the will of mankind. They appear to be able to supersede our desires and take up residence within us, if we refuse the protection of the power of Jesus Christ. This is unnerving both then and now. And whether these victims were even aware of their possession, or whether it was unknown to them until they were in the presence of Christ, is equally unnerving.
What was and is beyond question, is the Jesus Christ never so much as had a debate with any of the demons he came in contact with. They were driven from the power of love of Jesus Christ as being in close proximity to it was too painful for them. It reminded them of the absolute contentment and joy they had once known in the peace of loving others. It was contrasted by the infinite hunger and emptiness they now found in the pursuit of loving only self. Demons do not understand balance. “Balance” is a lie the devil preaches to mankind to attempt to deceive him into thinking we can love both self and others, it is not an all or nothing choice, but in fact, it is exactly that. Demons do not love us at all. They have no sympathy. They spare no believers, the heinous crimes in a Connecticut daycare / school, and recently in Charleston SC are evidence of that. When once the love of self is embraced it takes over everything within the consciousness. It represents the death of love for others in full. There can be no “balance”. So demons have no love for Satan, any more than they have love for God, or us. They, like their “leader” love only themselves. So the new question that emerges is, “how do they remain in league with each other”?
Peter recalled to John Mark in chapter three an incident where this topic was discussed. It began in verse 20 with a description of runaway sized crowds attempting to get into the presence of Jesus Christ. John Mark transcribes in verse 20 saying … “And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. [verse 21] And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.” The size of the crowds who pressed in on Jesus were so enormous there was not room to sit and eat, sleep, or take any normal human comforts. The response to being made free from possession, made free from the desire to sin, and restored to health no matter what the disease was overwhelming. The people saw in Jesus Christ salvation for their entire being. He restored their bodies, their minds, their wills, and their thinking. He was more than just a healer of body, he was a spiritual healer that offered hope in place of condemnation. And the lure of the love of Christ was so strong it drew all men unto Him.
His disciples feared all the demand on Christ was going to overcome Him. They worried about His ability to hold up under this kind of press. So they sought to get Him away from the crowds and give Him some relief and quiet time for a while. But this was not to be. The Sabbath Wars had begun, the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day had determined that Jesus Christ was a threat to their traditional way of thinking. This “Upstart” defied their traditions about the observance of the law, and as a result they determined Jesus was a threat to the Law, and to the Temple. He must be stopped at all costs, killed if possible. Imagine the irony of seeking to kill the author of the Law, because He did not agree with how “you” thought it should be kept. But none the less, Jesus had to die, and His words along with Him. However for the religious leadership, the inconvenient truth of seeing demons flee from the sight of Jesus, declaring Him to be the literal Son of God, was a tough nut to crack. The people witnessed these events in startling regularity. So how could the religious leadership declare Christ to be evil, while at the same time demons were fleeing His presence declaring Him to be the literal Son of God? This created quite a conundrum for the Pharisees.
They did however, come up with a strategy to defeat Christ and humiliate Him in front of the people. They sent agents down to discredit Him publicly. John Mark recounts in verse 22 saying … “And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.” The hatred of the religious leaders for Jesus Christ was so great, they accused Him of being possessed by Satan himself. The logic being, since Satan was the leader of the demons, he would have the authority to cast out demons himself. He would also have the cunning to have those demons declare him to be the Son of God, in order to further deceive the people. In effect the Pharisees proposed the first anti-Christ, was actually Christ. Keep in mind, this entire concocted strategy came into being, because Jesus Christ kept Sabbath with Himself and us differently than the priests imagined He should. Jesus had the temerity to heal and restore a man in need on Sabbath, and this was a bridge too far for the Pharisees. To show love on Sabbath was less important to them, than to rigidly adhere to the traditions of keeping the Law as they had outlined. So their opinions of Jesus degenerated to the point where they believed Him to be possessed of Satan, and carrying the authority of Satan over his troops. There is no limit to where hate will carry your thinking, when once love of others has been rejected.
But the Pharisees did not understand the way a league of demons really works. It is not built on authoritarian hierarchies as no one is willing to submit; it is instead built upon common cause and common purpose. The love of self unites the league of demons only in an equal desire to see God suffer because they know they face their own demise and will see no redemption. They cannot hurt God Himself physically as He is much too powerful for that. They cannot defeat Him or Jesus in open conflict which is why demons flee from His presence so quickly and without struggle. They can however hurt us, the object of the love of Jesus and His Father God. Through hurting and deceiving us into hurting each other, they can and do cause pain to the heart of God. It is their only weapon. They have none other in their arsenal. If demons were to stop working to hurt mankind, God the Father would stop suffering. This is an outcome that none of them wish to see. So the battle to hurt mankind must rage on, and the hate they can inspire within us must continue.
Jesus however, was intent on demonstrating to them, the fallacy in their thinking. Peter recalls to John Mark in verse 23 saying … “And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? [verse 24] And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. [verse 25] And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. [verse 26] And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.” A common cause, and common purposes only succeeds if all the members continue to pursue it. If Satan were to cause others of his league to stop their efforts to hurt God, it would offer God relief from the pain of watching us hurt each other. This would bring comfort to God, and damage the only weapon Satan has against Him. It makes no sense to see Satan pursue this strategy, and Jesus Christ is calling attention to it to those who sought to concoct this strategy to humiliate Him. He is trying to enlighten them. But His message has a deeper application for us.
The common cause of the league of demons is founded on hate. It is the uniting principle behind the pain that will greet the heart of God who knows only love. When mankind reeks acts of violence and hatred on each other, it is the heart of God who breaks to see what our free will allows for when we choose to love self over loving others. The acts of the man in Charleston are horrific and based on a deep and abiding hatred for others that closely aligns him in cause with the league of demons. However, the response to his acts of hatred often elicit hatred in the hearts of those who hurt, or those who merely observe. In either case, when hate spreads like a virus, it is only the kingdom of Satan who gains ground … in common cause to hurt the heart of God.
When religious leaders like the Pharisees of old, or the modern Christians of today, espouse hatred in response to evil (whether real or perceived), it spreads hate like a virus and works only to hurt the heart of God. It is the temptation of Satan to greet violence with more violence, and hate with more hate. It is the temptation of Satan to assert you could possibly “prevent evil” if you had weapons and willingness to kill at all times, even in church, even while worshipping the God of love. To kill those who choose to kill, is at best, a strategy that promotes killing. It forces the Christian to murder, and live with the pain of ending a life before it could be redeemed. It may seem like the better choice, it may “feel better”, it may be viewed through the lens of preventing further or greater violence, but in the end, it is only uniting in common cause with a weapon that brings pain to the heart of God.
What we forget, and Christ remembers, is that the life of the victims is no less precious than the life of perpetrator. God cares equally for both, as both are His precious children. He grieves for both. He wishes for “none” of us to know the pain of taking life. He wishes for “none” of us to choose to so love self that we would even entertain the idea of hurting others. But this wish extends far beyond matters of life and death. When Christians choose to espouse hate to others in how we speak, and what we say, we equally align with the league of demons. “Hate” itself is the disease. Hatred enabled the psychotic killers of our day to do what they do. When people are bombarded by the language of hate day after day, because we believe them to be making bad choices, we only propagate the weapon of the enemy. Redemption and restoration cannot be accomplished through the means of hatred, only through the means of love. It is not love to spout condemnation and ridicule; that is the language of hate. We do not need to excuse sin, or think sin is in any way permissible. But to focus on sin and be free with our condemnation of it, does nothing to show the victim a way to see the pain of sin removed from their lives … instead it only perpetuates their misery in the very sins we enjoy condemning.
Instead, when we point the erring to Christ, and LOVE them through their journey to Him, we enable them to find a way of relief. When we hold our tongues of condemnation, and instead empathize that surrender of who we are is equally difficult for us, as it must be for “them”, we join them in the journey towards perfection. It is not a race, but a journey. It is a destination all who seek Christ will find. But it is found in how we love others along the way. “Hate” must and should be the enemy of the Christian in any form. We should avoid embracing it, adopting it, or being perceived as speaking it in any form. We must be extra vigilant to keep our speech free from it. To love like Christ is to overcome evil, not embrace it. Christ did not meet the hatred of the Pharisees, and the very real threat they posed to His life, with weapons of war. He met them with the only weapon in the arsenal of God to defeat evil, He met them with love … for them. Christ genuinely sought to redeem the lives of those who sought to kill Him, both then and now.
Peter continued relaying the counsel of Christ in verse 27 … “No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.” Here Jesus is telling the scribes sent to discredit Him with a doomed strategy, that Christ is able to bind Satan and hold him powerless, while He casts out demons who align with Satan in common cause. Neither Satan nor any demon aligned in league with him will be able to resist the power of love Jesus offers. The memory of how perfect life was in heaven, with how wonderful loving others makes you feel, in comparison with how painful and empty loving self leaves you, was simply too much for demons who once knew what it was like to live eternally in the perfection of God’s love. They do not want to be reminded of that perfect love. They flee from it. What they have now is only misery, and misery is what they seek to spread in revenge to God for crimes they alone are guilty of. But the method of how demons are removed and by what power was still a question that required an answer.
Jesus continued speaking in verse 28 … “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: [verse 29] But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: [verse 30] Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.” It is the power of the Holy Spirit that frees us from our sin, and our desire to sin. It is the power of God made manifest through His love within us. It is the Holy Spirit that changes the desires of our hearts and brings them into alignment with the Law of God, and an abiding love of others, not self. When we cast aside the power of the Holy Spirit, when we accuse Him of being Satan, we cut ourselves off from the only power capable of removing sin. In so doing, there is no repentance, because there is no desire to repent. The still small voice within us goes silent. We embrace our sin with full abandon, and want no part of God. Without the Holy Spirit, our desire for something more goes away, and we become in league with demons aligned with Satan in the common cause of hurting the heart of God.
Jesus was careful to point out to his accusers that they could blaspheme His own name in any way they chose, but to reject the Holy Spirit, cut them off from the path of repentance and restoration. Nothing has changed today. When we embrace supernatural power for the purposes of control, we are embracing Satan’s power. When we seek to heal others for the credit we would get for doing it, for the fame of being known as a great servant of God, we are attempting to “use” the Holy Spirit for our own selfish purposes. When we reject the existence of God, and of His power, and deny the God of the Bible in favor of a more nebulous God, who “cannot be defined” in only one set of scriptures, but exists on a plane of many writings with many ideas, and paths to God, we are in danger of rejecting our only path to restoration. God is not just a concept. He is not just an abstract. He has been defined, as has His Spirit, and the work of the Trinity for our redemption outlined in scriptures. When we reject the work of the Holy Spirit, we cut ourselves off from the protection of God, the power of God, and our path towards restoration. We embrace self in its stead, and wind up looking eerily similar to demons who league together to seek the common cause of hate.
If the shooters in Charleston, and Connecticut, and around the world have rejected the Holy Spirit and joined in league with demons, they will not seek redemption or restoration for themselves. To see them redeemed it is we who must intercede with prayer on their behalf. God cannot overcome their will and choice to reject Him, but He can reach out again to them in love in answer to our prayers on their behalf. I imagine many, including me, will be praying for comfort for the victims of these shootings. I wonder how many Christians will pray for the perpetrators of this hate, to see their hearts reformed and their lives redeemed and restored. To see these shooters find redemption and restoration so that in the Kingdom of God they can be reconciled to their victims, and apologize with broken hearts for the evil deeds they did on earth is what restoration and forgiveness are all about. When you think about it, how will our responses in heaven be any different than theirs? We may not have killed another, but we have inflicted so much pain on others in the actions of self-love we chose to embrace while in this world of sin. Through the lens of perfect love for others in heaven, it is our hearts that will be broken as we encounter the victims of our pain, and beg forgiveness for what we did to them while here in this world of sin. If our future looks similar, can our present find common cause to align with the restorative mission of Christ for us here as well? Can we look to end evil and hate, by surrendering to God, and allowing the Holy Spirit to put an end to hate within us? Only in this way, can evil be truly defeated forever…
Friday, June 19, 2015
Have you ever considered “if” perfection of who you are, of your character, is something you want at all? Many of us have become quite contented with who we are today, reasoning that we are indeed “better” now than we used to be. While all of us might crave the perfection of our bodies, and a life eternal without ever facing sickness, disease, or death; how many crave a perfection of character for whatever time we have left in our mortal existence? Scripture promises us perfection of both body and character as we are resurrected, but can it be achieved before then, and does it matter? Assuming there is no “if” in our minds where it comes to craving perfection of character, have we then determined “when” we expect to see it? At the end of all things is an easy answer. But sooner than that perhaps; next year, next month, next week, tomorrow? Seems like today has already blown that chance, but perhaps “soon”. Seems like tomorrow, or next week is unlikely, but sometime. In the meantime, before we reach the state of perfection, we will indeed make mistakes. Our mistakes will encompass everything from what we eat, to what we say, to what we “think we know” about scripture. How can God use us in His plan of redemption, if our doctrine remains imperfect? This is a lesson Peter was keen to insure that readers of his gospel, transcribed through John Mark, would decisively answer.
Peter continued his recollection of events following the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leadership of His day, over Sabbath observance, as he transitions the venue and relays how the people responded to the newly revealed truth in the messages of Christ. John Mark transcribes in chapter 3 and verse 7 saying … “But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judaea, [verse 8] And from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and from beyond Jordan; and they about Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, when they had heard what great things he did, came unto him.” Jesus had been teaching in the temple in Jerusalem on Sabbath. His message of restoration of our spiritual condition, combined with the miracle of restoring the lame man’s hand exactly like his other one to full normality, spread like wildfire through the multitudes who had come to worship. It was not just His miraculous ability to heal that intrigued the crowds, it was His ability to reveal truth and love that put aside the traditional “wisdom” of the Pharisees, and left them unable to beat Christ with logic, the Law, or on any other grounds. Jesus’ words were so powerful, and His message so pure, there was no “alternative” line of thinking that could surpass it.
The message of Christ was and is perfect. The life of Christ was and is perfect. His love of others trumped every other concern. Christ lived His human existence fully dependent upon His Father for direction, for mission, for strength. The perfection of Christ living in a sin-stained world was upheld and maintained by His submission to the power of the Holy Spirit. In heaven, Jesus was an equal member of the Godhead. On earth, His humanity had to submit its own will to the will of the Father, and His power would be sustained by the work of the Holy Spirit. He did not live this way because He had to. He lived this way because He was here to show us, how we could do, what He was doing. Full willing submission of Christ to His Father, kept Christ upon the path of perfection. Our full willing submission to Christ, can put us on that same path. Jesus did not assert His dominance to achieve perfection in Himself, instead He surrendered in humility to the full will of His Father. And because He so perfectly reflected the love of His Father for us, what resulted was nothing short of phenomenal.
John Mark continues in verse 9 … “And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him.” The crowds were so desperate to be close to the source of all love, that Jesus had to step into a ship and row a little offshore to remain in speaking distance to the multitude but lessen the temptation to “throng him”. The apostle John in his gospel recounts how often crowds like this one wanted to crown Jesus as King of Judea. Jesus did not want this, and many times in the gospel of John, Jesus had to miraculously escape from the crowd bent on this result. Here He moves away offshore to avoid being taken by the crowd and “made” to be their King. Instead He wants to continue to share with them, the truth of what it means to love others. But the love of His Father continued to flow through Him as He perfectly reflected it.
While arrangements for the boat are being made, the crowd continue to press close and Peter recalls to John Mark in verse 10 what transpired … “For he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues. [verse 11] And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. [verse 12] And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.” Those who sought restoration were finding it, just by touching Him. It did not matter what their ailments were. Cancer, AIDs, orphan-diseases, leprosy, there is not a single disease that cannot be cured by contact with Jesus Christ (then or now). The love of God the Father is restorative, it does NOT leave us in the condition in which it finds us, it removes that which causes us pain – be it our sins, or our diseases. The motivation of God the Father is NOT to see us suffer from our choices, or our genetics, it is to see us restored to the perfection He intended for us. In the presence of the love of Jesus Christ, and His perfect reflection of the love of God the Father for you and me diseases (including the desire to sin) just melted away.
Perhaps there was no greater example of this spiritual healing than the words of Peter in verse 11 above recalling that even unclean spirits could not tolerate His presence falling down in submission before Jesus Christ, and crying out publicly that Jesus was the literal Son of God. How sad that many worshippers who were seeking Christ had so digressed from truth and love, that unclean spirits had taken up residence within them, and they likely did not even know it. Our contentment with who we are, and our rationalization about how “good” we see ourselves to be, allows for the devil and his minions to encroach upon us, until we permit entry through continued indulgence and do not even know what we have done. Our minds are warped by repeated indulgence of sin, until we come to believe sin is no longer sin. We see our choices to love self as natural, and we turn a blind eye to the pain our choice to love self causes others. We make self number one, and all others secondary to me. In so doing, we adopt the philosophy of Satan, and our distinction between us and him becomes difficult to determine. In this condition, we may talk of righteousness, but the evil within us is so deep it is nearly indistinguishable from the unclean spirits that fell with Lucifer in heaven so many ages ago. Whether they reside within us, or whether we choose to just behave like them, our character looks the same. But even in this depth of depravity, there is hope from the perfect love of the Father God, reflected through His son Jesus Christ.
When the perfect love of the Father God is reflected through humanity, great things can be accomplished. The redemption and restoration of mankind is ever the goal of the Father. God the Father is not sitting around, waiting for us to screw-up again, so He can inflict the severe and just punishment we have earned. That image is the one Satan paints of God, and it is yet another lie. Our God desperately loves us with His entire being, and yearns to set us free from the pain of our choices. He longs to instill in us perfection, not because He demands it, but because WE need it. God is not looking to just cure 90% of our Cancer, or 95% of our AIDS, He is looking to cure ALL of it. There is not just one “little” sin that does not result in enormous pain, they all result in that kind of pain. It does no good to cure only a part of disease and leave something behind that will eventually kill you anyway. You need to cure it all, in order to get rid of the pain reoccurrence causes. This is why God seeks to give us perfection. It is His greatest gift to us. He does not ask us to cure ourselves, only to let Him do it for us.
And the love of our Father God yearns to do this today. He is not looking to wait for some future far off date to see us rid of our pain, He wants to see us healed today. It is a process He can start today. It is a process that begins with proximity to Jesus Christ. Just like those crowds, the closer we wish to get to Jesus Christ, the more our disease just melt away. God does not demand perfection first, He gives us perfection as fast as we are willing to accept it AFTER we come to Him. It is His love and His Holy Spirit that transform us from the sin-sick, self-loving-addicts we are, into the perfect creations He intended us to be. And He understands that our disease will likely prevent us from embracing the whole of perfection instantly, but it does not diminish His goal of seeing us FULLY rid of our pain.
Peter remembers and recalls for our witness, that despite their human frailty, and full lack of perfection at that point in time, Jesus Christ STILL chose to embrace and use His disciples to further His mission for our restoration. John Mark transcribes in verse 13 … “And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. [verse 14] And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, [verse 15] And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils:” We are in chapter three of this gospel folks. This is nowhere near the end of the story, or the end of the transformation these disciples are going to experience. In short, they were nowhere near perfect yet. They were simple followers of Jesus Christ and did NOT have a wealth of experience reading the scriptures, or debating their meaning. They were NOT paid professional speakers, with college degrees, and formal instruction on how to address crowds of people. They were common men that shared an uncommon experience. They had been close to Jesus Christ, and were “personal” witnesses to how He restores broken men and women back to normal.
Your testimony is what matters. Your accounting of how Jesus Christ has made you free from some long embraced sin you were once enslaved to, is the testimony that matters. If you have not yet experienced this, then you do not yet have something to say. Your depth of scriptural understanding is meaningless, but your personal account of restoration Jesus has performed in you is priceless. Jesus did not appoint Pharisees and keepers of the Law to preach His gospel of love. They had rejected love in favor of their wisdom. They had rejected the Author of the Law, because He was too obsessed with loving others and did not conform to their ideas about “how” the Law must be kept. Religious leaders were unqualified to preach the Gospel of the Love of Christ. I will say it again, Religious leaders, were unqualified. They did not have a personal experience with being made free from sin, by the transforming power of the love of Jesus Christ. The disciples did not have good enough resumes to have gotten this job. They were the least qualified from a perspective of education, training, and preparation. But they knew Jesus. They saw Him love others. They saw Him restore others. And they could bear personal witness to what it means to come and surrender all to Christ. That testimony was ALL that mattered. Could you love others, and could you point them to Christ, then Jesus has a mission for you.
But then comes another revelation of love that astounds the mind. Not only did Jesus empower His disciples to preach the gospel of love, He intentionally passed on His power through them to do it. He “gave” them power to heal disease, and to cast out devils. To reflect the love of the Father God, we must be able to share in the mission and goal of the restoration of those in need. You will note, these are not tools of condemnation that were offered, they were tools of restoration. The goal was not meet a sinner in need, and explain to them how bad off they were, it was to point them to Christ to find healing from the pain and disease of sin. It was to restore their physical needs as they had them, and cast out devils that would prevent them from finding spiritual restoration in Christ. None of the disciples given these gifts of love had perfect doctrine. None of them knew scripture well enough to debate it. All of them were still imperfect but the gifts were given by God anyway.
Then Jesus took another step. In addition to commissioning them to join Him in His mission of restoration by preaching, and healing, He sought to instill in each of them a new identity in association with Himself. John Mark continues in verse 16 saying … “And Simon he surnamed Peter; [verse 17] And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: [verse 18] And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite, [verse 19] And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.” For those keeping score, Peter is listed first in this list, and the house they went into was again likely Peter’s home in Capernaum (more items relevant to Peter being the source of this gospel). Simon is now to be called Peter. A new identity. James and John are surnamed or now also known as … the sons of thunder. What may have in times past referred to the boisterous nature of their father, or a propensity to use the language of a “sailor”, is now transformed into another meaning. The preaching of the word will come like thunder for all to hear. James and John will carry the word like thunder to those in need, such that they cannot avoid hearing it. It will resonate from one end of the world to the other. The other nine disciples are identified here as well without fear, or hesitation.
You will note, Jesus commissioned them ALL to preach in His name. He gave them ALL power to heal and cast out demons that might obstruct those in need from finding Christ for spiritual restoration. This included Judas Iscariot. The man who would later choose to betray Christ, was not held in disregard by Jesus. Christ did not withhold from Judas any gift He gave to Peter. Judas was equally loved, needed, and employed in the work. None of them were perfect, and Christ had the foreknowledge of who would betray Him, yet He held nothing back from Judas. The goal of Christ was to save every man, woman, and child. Judas was no different in the eyes of Christ than was Matthew, or James, or John, or Peter. ALL were disciples, ALL were called, ALL were given gifts to restore and point men in need to Jesus Christ to be saved. So why was Judas different?
The story of Judas and Peter is not so different. BOTH betrayed their Lord in His hour of greatest need. Judas turned Him over to the religious leaders who sought His life. Peter denied three times even knowing Him. So why did it end differently? It is not our mistakes that define us, it is what we do afterwards that does. We can like Judas turn only to the mirror, and rightly point out how evil we are, and how bad what we have done is. Or we can like Peter, despite knowing our guilt, STILL turn back to Christ and look for forgiveness we know we do not deserve, but He offers anyway. Judas chose to end His life, not because He was ever treated differently. He chose to end it, because He would not humble himself and seek forgiveness for the great evil he had done. Peter too could have ended his life because of the shame of his faithlessness in the face of danger. But instead he bore the humility of seeking forgiveness he did not deserve, and accepted that forgiveness in spite of this knowledge. If we can surrender, we can find both forgiveness and perfection. If we cannot surrender, it does NOT matter how much power we have been given.
Judas was a preacher, he was a disciple of Christ, he spent time one on one with Jesus. But in the end, he could not surrender to the love and mercy of God, and chose to die instead. Judas could heal diseases, and Judas could cast out devils. But Satan entered Judas because he chose to allow it for greed and the hope of forcing Jesus to do what He wanted Him to do, become King. It was not the betrayal that marks the sad story of Judas, for if it were, Peter would be equally disdained. It was the response of Judas to his mistakes. He would not submit, and instead chose death. Peter did submit, and went on to greatly aid the cause of Christ. Yet both men were given tremendous gifts when neither of them were “ready” from a traditional point of view, or deserving, or perfect. The gifts of transformation put us on the path to perfection. Perfection is not a pre-requisite, it is a result. Constant surrender leads to perfection, we do not start out perfect, we end up that way. And no matter where we are in the journey, Christ can use us still. These were lessons Peter deeply needed to share with us, and the lessons were far from over …
Friday, June 12, 2015
How do you win a war, when you love the other side so much, you would rather die than see them experience this fate? To win a war, you must exterminate the other side. But what if the other side is “evil” itself? How do you exterminate “evil”? If it could be done by force, wouldn’t the collateral damage be freedom of choice, therefore “love” would die as well? And how do you extract the terminal addiction of evil from its host, and spare the host? The goal after all, is the elimination of evil, not the elimination of those who suffer from the choice to embrace evil. This was the quandary of our God, when He went forward with His plans to create us in His image. We were created with freedom of choice, but exercised that freedom badly. We chose to embrace evil, and have been captive in slavery to loving self ever since. We suffer from it, and in our suffering, we blame God for allowing us to choose it in the first place; never considering that if He forced us away from evil, He would be forcing us away from our ability to choose to love as well.
In our history, in our stories, and in our media, we approach war the same way every time. We seek the destruction of the other side. We label the other side as “evil”, in order to think of ourselves as being the side of God, and the side of “right”. We go about seeking to destroy those who in our eyes are evil, or associated with evil. Our strategy has never been to eliminate evil, and leave the person intact. As we have been unable to rid evil from ourselves, we believe it is impossible to eliminate in others as well; therefore leaving us “no choice” but to exterminate the host of evil, in order to see the evil die as well. In our quest to eliminate the evil other side, we kill, but we do far more than that. We seek intelligence about how best to kill the enemy. In so doing we lie, or cheat, or steal, reasoning that we must do what we “must”, in order to defeat the enemy. We will torture our enemy if we deem it necessary (the Jack Bauer scenario). In point of fact, we will become the epitome of evil, for sake of “defeating” evil. But I ask, how can evil be defeated if the side of “right”, and the side of God, have chosen to embrace evil as well?
The goal of our God was ever to see us redeemed of evil without our permanent extermination. The plan of “redemption” was to see us returned to the side of love, by our free choice to do so. The power to return and be reconciled was something no evil person would ever have within them to do; so the journey home would have to be powered by God. But the choice to turn away from evil would have to begin with us, if “evil” itself would ever be truly eradicated from the universe, with the ability to love still intact. God allows us to see the nature of evil, the depths to which evil will sink, and then He contrasts it with the heights of love, and the limitless potential loving others can offer us to make an existence worth living. But in the end, He is presenting only the facts about both Good and Evil. If we are to choose to side with Good, we must allow Him to eliminate the evil that is within us. We must humble ourselves to realize our journey home to reconciliation is one of fully trusting in Him to do the work of eliminating evil within us, knowing that job is truly beyond our control. We “choose” to allow Him to free us from evil, but then He does all the work to see this task accomplished. The perspective of God on the war against evil, is a distinction between the evil itself, and the person who has chosen to embrace evil. God will do anything and everything to save the person. But in the end, evil must be eliminated lest the disease go on forever.
The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Romans in the time of Christ were amazingly similar to ourselves. They did not share the perspective of God on wars and conflicts. If a person refused to share (or submit) to their ideology, they would become an enemy. If the threat of the enemy caused fear in them, they would seek to eliminate the enemy. They would wage a war the same way we wage one, through deceit, murder, and using any means necessary to defeat the “evil” of the other side. In the ultimate irony, the leaders of the church Christ Himself established in the desert sands with Moses having only recently freed His people from the slavery of Egypt, would now seek to begin a war against the Author of their own religion and freedom. The stewards of the faith would begin this war and see it waged. Christ did not present a threat to the common sinners, He presented a threat to the power, greed, and control of the religious leaders of His day. How like us.
The lack of hierarchy with each man submitting to God alone, combined with the full socialist or communist ideas of giving literally everything to those in need with “no thought” about tomorrow, flies in the face of “church leadership” today. Our churches teach pragmatism in our charity, and personal responsibility to keep incomes flowing. Indeed, every organized Christian faith would quickly disintegrate if both power were diverted to Christ alone, and finances were diverted to the masses in need directly without a centralized hierarchy to manage it. I wonder if general conference executives, papal archbishops, guru’s, or ayatollah’s would stand for seeing their memberships leave them and flock to the side of Christ without likewise beginning a war? And if their memberships took their finances with them, would not the war come with swift ferocity; for to lose our “funding” is perhaps the greatest threat to any church in any day, from the time of Christ to now. Yet we think ourselves different.
Peter recalled to John Mark, how the war began between the religious leaders of his day and Christ. The war started over the fourth commandment. The war was started by those who believed they alone “knew” how to keep something holy. The war’s real motivation was the threat of a loss of control, but its outward mantra was one of keeping the church pure. Sound familiar? The Enemy of the church leaders would be labeled as “evil”, while the church leaders themselves would consider themselves as doing what was right, and for the sake of God. They would conspire to kill God, in the name of God, becoming the epitome of evil, in order to defeat evil. Their strategy would be doomed before it began. But such is the self-deception of evil, both then and now. When conflict arises within us between what we believe, and what God offers, it is we who are in the wrong, not God.
The story begins in verse 1 saying … “And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. [verse 2] And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.” Jesus, as is His custom, is going to the synagogue in Jerusalem this time, on the Sabbath day. Our Lord enjoys hanging out with His people in a special way, on a special day. The Sabbath is not some drudgery for Christ, it is the highlight of His week. He looks forward to sharing with us in a special way, His time and attention. He puts aside other concerns just to be with us. This is going to be an awesome day, a high-Sabbath, a monster-sized phenomenal-spiritual-experience, for those lucky enough to spend Sabbath with Jesus. The people are hoping to hear Him speak. This is the only day some of these people can take time away from their farms, or trade crafts, or other duties to come and worship. So the crowds in the temple will be higher than on other days.
The man with the withered hand is there. Maybe he is a regular. The leaders seem to know him, in fact, they are intently watching to “see” if Christ will heal this man on the Sabbath day. They have predetermined that an act of healing and love or concern for this man is “work”. They are just waiting for Christ to “mess up” so they will have a means of accusing Him before the people. This act of healing and restoration will be a means for the religious leaders to “prove” to the people that Christ disobeys the Law and therefore is “evil”. Witness how far the disease of evil has taken root in the leaders of His church, both then and now. The first concern of those leaders “should” have been the restoration of the man with the withered hand. If their love for that man trumped every other concern, and given their strongly held beliefs about “work” done on Sabbath, they could have brought this man to Christ on another day to see him healed. An inventive church leadership, despite not getting everything right, could have still been a useful tool in the restoration of this man, “if”, that was their first concern. It was not.
The religious leaders reveal their motivation, as this man is ONLY useful to them as a trap to ensnare Christ. They had no alternate means of restoration in mind for this man. Instead they intended to use his inevitable miraculous restoration as the means to bring down God. After the man was restored, they would cast him aside, in the quest to kill the bigger fish. The entire incident “could” have been avoided if they simply took the man to Christ at a different time, with the goal of seeing him restored. But they did not really care about the man who needed restoration (both then and now). Instead they allowed their positions as religious leaders to entice them into the belief (and self-deception) that the church depended on “them” to keep it pure. In a quest for doctrinal purity, they were willing to sacrifice the man in need of restoration, in order to accuse the God who longed to restore him. If a few sinners perish in the cause of eliminating “evil”, that is just acceptable collateral damage in a war with greater purpose. They have become evil to eliminate evil.
John Mark continues transcribing events in verse 3 … “And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.” Jesus is still here, not to start a fight, but to enjoy an awesome Sabbath day. He is still here to teach, guide, and reset our mistaken expectations of how great a Sabbath day can really be. But how can the ultimate God of Love enjoy His own Sabbath with us, when someone is in pain? Before He can begin teaching us, and guiding us, and resetting our doctrinal ideas – He must meet the needs of the man requiring restoration. How like us. Before we can truly understand the Word, He must restore in us, what is broken. Trying to keep the Sabbath holy, before we have the slightest idea what that means is useless. We must understand what it means to love others first; only then can we begin to understand what it means to enjoy Sabbath with our Lord. So instead of shying away in secret, Jesus as much as announces His intent to heal this man and see him restored to everyone in attendance. From the perspective of God, Christ would rather die for these men intent on murdering Him, than see them suffer this fate.
Jesus has the foreknowledge of what His “faithful” leaders have in mind for Him. Had Jesus the same philosophy on war as we do, He could have easily taken up arms, and slain every conspirator in that crowd on that day and been “done with it”. In that case, He would have truly been eliminating evil. But He would have been killing those He longed to redeem as well. Jesus cares as much for the man in need of physical restoration, as the leaders who are in such desperate need of spiritual restoration. To kill them pre-emptively does nothing to see them redeemed. To attempt to exert force, will not cause them to choose differently. Using force on them will only harden their position. It will not be through threats, or violence that the cause of God will be advanced, only through consistent acts of unselfish love that demonstrate what it means to be on the side of “right”, and the side of God.
John Mark continues in verse 4 saying … “And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.” Jesus is now reaching out to those who intend to murder Him. He is attempting to reset their expectations as religious leaders entirely. The goal of a religion of love, is to love. This is not something reserved only for Sabbath, but it is something that should reach its zenith on Sabbath. Sabbath does not diminish our opportunity to love others on the other days of the week; but it presents a unique opportunity to put aside our other “normal” concerns and focus exclusively on loving others on this singular day of rest from our normal distractions. We should not be murdering on any day of the week, but on a day where intimacy between our God and ourselves is offered, how could we possibly even think of murdering then? The only way to consider murder on Sabbath is to totally abandon intimacy with God, and focus only on self.
Peter continues his recollection in verse 5 … “And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.” Christ was so angry, and so frustrated with how corrupted we become when we embrace evil and refuse to be restored. These conspirators were not simply common men with no understanding of the Word, or the Law. These were supposed to be His finest representatives on planet earth. These were supposed to be His living emissaries of the gospel of Love. These men spent their entire lives debating the meaning of scripture, yet they were content to overlook the suffering of this man in need of restoration, and use his healing as a means to conspire to kill and accuse Christ of evil. It was not as much their hatred and fear of Christ that upset Him, it was their willingness to see this man continue to suffer when he did not need to, when healing and restoration were there for the taking.
How many of our church leaders are likewise inclined? How many of us are? How many look at those in plain need of restoration, and instead of loving them to the feet of Jesus, we are content to use their misery to make us feel better about ourselves. Obviously, “we” are not as big a sinner as “them”. By comparison, we are on the side of the righteous, they are not. We feel it our duty, to oppress those who would deny the plain Word of God, and disobey His Law. Because they are unrepentant, they must die for the lack of interest in what we offer. But it is “we” who are unrepentant. It is “we” who refuse to love others, or see that our mission “should be” one bent on their restoration, not their continued condemnation. It is “we” who Christ is reaching out to, to get us to see that loving others is MORE important than our doctrinal purity, and vain efforts at maintaining church standards. If we are to truly keep Sabbath holy, it must begin with an interest in the restoration of those in need, not in ostracizing them from our company in order to remain pure. We cannot remain content while there is even one in need. God was not content to permit even one to suffer. Before Jesus could enjoy His Sabbath day, He longed to meet the needs of man requiring restoration.
And restoration was performed in FULL. His withered hand was restored as the other one, as normal as normal could be. Imagine the joy of this man on this Sabbath day. His entire life altered by this singular act of restoration. He could gain employment again. He could provide for those he loved. He could give back to his church. He could hold his family. He too was to be made free to love others. And it happens because Jesus Christ was so interested in his restoration that He was willing to endure the criticism of the church leaders to see it done. Jesus was willing to be put to death to see this man restored. This man may have sensed what the Pharisees and Sadducees were up to. He may have known this was a trap designed to kill Christ, and may have feared for the safety of Jesus. But when he hears the tender words of Christ, and sees that Jesus is reaching out to even those intent on murdering Him, the man knows the plans of the leaders are doomed to failure. He has a firsthand witness to the love of God that will not pass him by, no matter the danger or risks to the God bent on his restoration. Jesus will risk everything to save this man, everything. Jesus will endure the censure and false condemnation of the priests, in order that one poor man be restored. This man knows with certainty how much Jesus loves and cares about him, and this knowledge stands in stark contrast to the concern the priests have for him.
With deep sadness Peter recounts to John Mark, how the leaders responded to this attempt to redeem them, believing themselves to be in no need of restoration in verse 6 saying … “And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.” Immediately the church sought a unification with the state, in order to destroy the love of God. It was the church leaders who went to unite with the power of the state, even when they knew the state itself was corrupt. The religious leaders had no love of Herod or his sons. Herod and his offspring were put in place by Rome to keep the people subdued. They were foreigners, not of Jewish descent. They indulged all manner of lascivious lifestyle and were no strict keepers of the law. But they had military power, weapons, and might. They could take Jesus Christ by force, and kill any followers who got in the way. So the church did, what the church ALWAYS does, when it is clearly wrong, and in opposition to the love of God, it sought to wage war against that love by uniting with the power of the state.
In our day, American Christians seek the power of the state, to enforce what they believe as the law of the land. Fundamentalists seek to end abortion, oppress those whose sexual identity is considered aberrant, and keep a watchful eye (if not a restrictive one) on Islamists or other false religions. We believe ourselves to be the “persecuted”, by an atheistic state government who wishes to keep us from the true expression of our faith. So we seek to balance this injustice by voting into power, those who are meant to tip the scales in the other direction. Our plan is to right the wrongs of evil through power and control. We consider our duty to “fight” evil by every legal means at our disposal, and to create laws that will aide us in this fight if none exist. The other side is plainly “evil” and we are “clearly” on the side of “right”, and the side of God. BUT, if we are to follow the example of how our Lord wages war against evil, we will find we are doing it all wrong.
Christ did not raise arms against those who sought to persecute and kill Him, He sought to redeem them through acts of unselfish love. He never pursued the power of the state, or wished to unite with it in any form. He chose rather to demonstrate what it means to love others constantly, and never used power for His own gains. The man with the withered hand was in need of restoration, NOT just physical but spiritual. Jesus did not ask him to confess his sins and be made pure before He would be willing to heal his needs. Christ met the needs of this sinner unconditionally. He showed this man that He loved him so much, He would do anything to help him, save him, and see him restored. It did not matter what the doctrinal understanding of this man was prior to his encounter with Christ. A true encounter with Jesus, was going to result in changing the mind and heart of this man anyway. But without any encounter, no change would be possible. The point was not to keep this man away, it was to bring him to Christ. Only after an encounter with Jesus, could this man find hope for a spiritual restoration as well.
If we are to join with Christ in a mission to rid the universe with evil, we must start with recognizing there is a distinction between the terminal disease of evil and the host that has embraced it. We must recognize that we too, suffer from this disease and are in equal need of healing from it. We must learn that loving others first, takes precedence over what church leaders say or think. We must be willing to endure false criticism for our desire to love others above all else. We must be willing to die ourselves rather than see others suffer this fate; our own salvation is certain in the power and restoration of Jesus Christ. We have no fear of resurrection, because His love will see us rise in the one to bring us home, not in the one to gather with Satan for a short season. Knowing that our ultimate end is secure, we can afford to take risks in loving others now. If our lives are cut short in this war, and another is saved, then so be it. Better to bring one treasure to heaven with us, than to bring only ourselves. It is not the intent of our Lord, that all of us should suffer the martyr’s fate, but it is His universal intent that all of us should value the lives of even our enemies, that we would join Him in willingness to love this much, and go this far.
If Christians want to wage war on evil in our nation, we should begin with raging it on ourselves. We should spend our energy on learning to submit everything to Christ, allowing Him to remake us in mind and heart. If we do this, we can learn to truly assist in the war against evil, focusing on the redemption of those in need of restoration, instead of attempting to eliminate them from the planet. We are to wage war on evil, not on people. To appreciate his distinction, we must follow the example of Christ, not pursue the traditional strategies of our ideas of war. If we become evil to defeat evil, we have already lost. If we willingly choose to unite with the power of the state, which has always been corrupt, how can we hope to “win”? Even the successful exertion of control is not winning. Compulsion of conscience is only a greater form of losing the war on evil.
The fourth commandment was used as a pretense to war against God by the leaders of his own church. God did not start this war over Sabbath, men did. Religious men determined that their edicts and interpretations of scripture must be obeyed and the opposition should face death. This has always been the way of Satan, to delude men into thinking that God wishes us to kill in His name, rather than to redeem in it. Satan has always sought control, God has always sought our free-will choice to love. Which side of this conflict you will find yourself in, will not be determined on your belief in the validity of fourth commandment; it will be determined in “how” you keep Sabbath holy. If you are willing to kill men in order to see evil die, you have become evil to defeat evil, and have already lost. If you are willing to love even those who are unrepentantly your enemies, you have been blessed to follow the tactics of Jesus, and have joined with Him in a mission of redemption. The Sabbath Wars did not end in the days of Christ, they will play out, until He returns to take us home. Men will forever seek to impose their own morale ideas on the conscience of others, both inside and outside the church. Will you be found in the camp of the “pure” church leaders, or in the camp of those who love others above all else?