Friday, December 25, 2015

Papal Fallibility and When You will Never be Wrong Again ...

It is said, whatever must rise, must also fall.  Perhaps this is just another misconception created by our sinful state, hopelessly bound to an addiction to failure … if not for Christ.  The prophet Nahum gives us hope that affliction shall not rise up a second time, so once we are finally and fully perfected by Christ, we can trust Him that we will not fall back into the sin of who we are today.  But before that final perfection has taken hold, we remain subject to the weakness of our selfish state.  Even in matters of religion, and our relationship with Christ this is true.  The Pharisees represented the class of religious leaders who despite lifetimes of studying, debating, and interpreting scriptures; missed the Messiah who stood right in their midst.  They were members of the “right” religion, studying the “right Bible”, and worshipping the “right God”, but refused to see perfection in the sacrifice of loving others that embodied Jesus Christ.  Instead they held to their own wisdom on matters of scripture, reasoning that no one could know them better than they.
But it is too easy to look only at the Pharisees and assign blame, and avoid seeing ourselves in them from the scriptures we read.  Peter too, suffered from weakness of our addiction to sin, even while in the presence of Christ, even when only seconds before having been in direct communication with our Father God.  It is very hard for us to imagine this.  For if being in a prophetic state with the Father God is not enough to perfect us, what is?  But perhaps that is the question Peter would wish us to ask as he relays the series of event to John Mark in his gospel chapter eight picking up in verse 27 saying … “And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?”  Only recently had Jesus and his followers been in Bethsaida, where Jesus had revealed Himself in the role of our Creator as He had privately restored the sight of the blind man.  Now they were traveling again on the roads and byways near the town of Caesarea Philippi.  As they traveled, and thinking on recent events, Jesus poses a question, perhaps “the” question, to His disciples about “who” He is.
As Peter relays this gospel to John Mark to transcribe, it is obviously written from the perspective of hindsight.  Peter already knows the end of the story, he already knows now firmly who Jesus is.  In fact, as he recalls events to John Mark, nearly all of them are intended to help the reader reach the same conclusion about the identity of Christ, that Peter already knows.  But when this incident was happening in real time, things were not quite as certain.  Jesus had not disappointed his own followers by not overthrowing Roman rule as yet.  Jesus had not died or rose again yet.  So no matter how excited the disciples were about the prospect of who Jesus was, and perhaps all of Israel with them, there still existed a lack of certainty, an echo of doubt that kept them all from the potential they had yet to explore.  So comes the question of Christ to keep them thinking.  Jesus carefully words the question asking at first only “whom do men” say that I am.  In this way, He allows His disciples to offer answers that are popular, or even controversial, under the cover of saying they were only repeating what they have heard, instead of what they themselves are thinking.  It is a clever way to reduce the pressure of accountability when answering “the” question of any age.
So the disciples put forward the popular thinking of the people, and as they do, they believe these answers to ALL be flattering to any man.  John Mark continues in verse 28 saying … “And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.”  John the Baptist, the first cousin of Jesus, who also had miraculous signs even at his own birth; was “the” most popular religious figure in Israel in that day.  To assign and equate the identity of Jesus with that of John the Baptist, should have been a great honor.  The living ministry of John, the humility he adopted in his clothing, and his diet, and long hair; was echoed only in how great the Holy Spirit had infected his preaching.  John preached a message of repentance, for it was only repentance that could in any way “prepare” the people for contact with God.  For Jesus to be considered as John in resurrected form should have been a great spiritual honor.  Any man would have been flattered, but Jesus was not.
To equate Jesus to Elias was more calculating.  Elias or Elijah had been whisked away to heaven on a chariot of fire and angels.  He never saw mortal death.  He was like Enoch in this regard.  For Elias to have returned to earth again was logical, and possible, and subtly required far less faith to believe than in a virgin birth.  No one had really heard of Jesus before He was thirty (except His parents, siblings, and a temple full of astounded leaders when He was twelve and taught them for 3 days).  So to believe that heaven spit out a fully grown 30-year-old Elias to teach them again and do miracles, required less faith than to believe that Jesus was born here, and grew into “who” He was.  In any case, Jesus should have been honored to have equity of His identity assigned to the great prophet Elias, for only Moses was greater in the minds of the people.  But Jesus was unmoved by this attribution as well.  So He challenges them to get more personal with their answers.
John Mark continues in verse 29 saying … “And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. [verse 30] And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.”  Jesus now asks them directly, who do “you” say that I am.  This question will now assign direct accountability to their answers.  They cannot mask what they think behind the accumulation of what they have heard the “people” saying.  They have to fess up with a personal answer.  What if they get it wrong?  He does not seem to be pleased so far with that He has heard.  It takes a certain courage to answer this question first.  So Peter steps up, in his loud and usually boisterous way.  But He says something, that surprises even himself.  He declares that Jesus is “the Christ”.  This term is meant to say, “the Son of the Living God”.  In his declaration, Peter is stating the identity of Jesus is Creator, is God, is more than Messiah, Jesus is everything and more.  This is not something Peter could “know” at that time.  They all suspected it.  They all were teaching it to those who would listen, but not without harboring some level of doubt in themselves.  But Peter was saying something out loud for everyone to hear.  And Peter is correct.
The response of Jesus is interesting.  In this version of the gospel, the one being relayed and recounted by Peter, he records only that Jesus tells them all to keep this knowledge secret.  But Matthew has more to say on the incident, in chapter 16 and verse 17 the answer of Christ includes high praise for Peter.  Jesus says there … “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”  Jesus now calls Peter “blessed”.  This is a high honor, as the reason for his blessing is that our Father God has given this bold revelation to Peter.  Perhaps this is the first prophetic encounter Peter has had, it will not be his last.  Though the disciple John is most known for the prophetic gift, Peter too will have several prophetic revelations and record them in his works.  It is telling that this recognition is left out of Mark’s gospel.  Mark was not there, so he can only transcribe what Peter recounts, and in this case, Peter is not eager to record the high praise of Jesus as this incident unfolds.  Peter knows of a truth, that he himself is only a disciple, no more, no greater than any other disciple.  And Peter also knows what happens next.
According to how Matthew remembered this event, Peter should have been elated that he not only got the answer right.  He did so, because the Father God was revealing it to him.  In our day, we refer to this as a “spiritual high”.  It is a time when we feel as though there is no better feeling we could have.  We are as close to God as we have ever been, we feel His love and His approval, and to quote our Lego friends … “everything is awesome”.  But this is Peter’s recollection of events.  His memory is undimmed.  He knows what happened and what was said.  In the time he recalls it to John Mark, already his audience attributes too much spiritual authority to a man who is no different than you or I.  Being bold, is not supposed to translate into being right.  Being a leader, is not supposed to take the burden of taking decisions to God, instead of to men.  Peter has seen the temptation that accompanies leadership in the church, the Pharisees were living examples of it.  And Peter knows himself not to be immune.
The story continues with Jesus Christ adding to the blessing of revelation His Father has only seconds before, began in this encounter as it continues in verse 31 saying … “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. [verse 32] And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.”  God the Father had revealed to Peter who Jesus was.  Jesus took that cue, and believed the disciples must be ready to hear the whole truth about what His mission truly was.  Knowing He was God, should have allowed the disciples to know that death and rejection were not to be feared.  But in the minds of the disciples, rejection of the leadership of the “right church”, that studied the “right Bible” would discredit Jesus as the Messiah.  Not only would the people be discouraged by this formal rejection, but the disciples would as well.  Add to that, Jesus was in the same breath blowing away every hope they had, that He would rise to be the conqueror all of them knew He could be if He just tried.  Romans would stay in power.  Romans would kill Him.  Romans would be around to tax, torture and kill them forever if this all this came to pass.
These words spoken by God, went against everything Peter and the others wanted to believe.  They countered their own interpretations of scriptures they shared with the Pharisees about the role of the Messiah.  Instead of accepting the validity of God who spoke only truth, Peter thinks Jesus needs a good shaking to snap Him out of this nonsense.  So again, Peter acts in his bold and decisive manner, he will grab Christ and snap Him out of this nonsensical diatribe of prophecy that must surely be wrong, as it counters everything in scripture they all understood.  Jesus must be in some sort of shock, from the exhaustion of preaching all day and praying all night.  But the rebuke of men as to the veracity of the words of God, never goes as planned.
Peter recalls what happens next in stunning clarity, a chill still goes up his spine as John Mark transcribes verse 33 saying … “But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”  Peter has fallen from Blessed of the Father God, to equity with Satan himself.  For indeed it was Satan who prompted Peter to act in order to defend the religion he was so fond of.  Satan often prompts men to be extreme in the defense of a faith that has no basis in truth.  He goes so far as to convince them they should kill to defend the word of God, and men accept this lie and act on it.  In this case, Peter’s rebuke of Jesus is nothing next to the clear rebuke of himself.  Peter is not the greatest disciple by any means, Peter is not the stone of the church, only Jesus could be that.  Peter instead is equated with Satan, for Peter has just espoused the very doctrines of Satan, and he has done it loudly, boldly, and with confidence in front of the others.
But here is the arrogance of us … that we should believe Peter rose at all because of anything he said or accomplished.  And that we should think that Peter fell, because of anything that God did to see that happen.  The wisdom that resulted in Peters declaration about the identity of Christ came from God the Father.  Everything we “relay” that comes from God is good, is a blessing to us and the world.  We “relay” His love to others, it passes through us, it does not originate within us.  We are not infallible, only God is.  When we can submit and be transformed to be devoid of self, a perfect vessel in the service of God, we can reveal God’s truth instead or our own.  It was the truth of Father God about the identity of Jesus Christ.  It was the doctrines of Satan and Peter’s own self belief that came in the rejection of the words of Jesus about His own mission and destiny.  When Peter accepted what God told him, he was blessed.  When Peter offered his own wisdom, he was rebuked.  It was the injection of self that made the difference.  It is the injection of self that makes us fallible, everyone from abject sinner, to the pope. 
We can be perfect, we can make no more mistakes, when we can submit ourselves fully and know no more of self, revealing only Him in us.  This ultimate state of perfection is possible, it is the journey we are on.  The issue Peter faced was no different for you or I.  For too often we savor not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.  This doctrine is the doctrine of Satan.  The wisdom of men is the mouthpiece of Satan.  The reason why the identity of Jesus is “the” question of any age, is because the role of Jesus as our Savior and our Creator are the basis of our salvation.  As our Savior, Jesus died in our stead, and paid the price of justice Satan demands for our choices.  As our Creator, Jesus re-creates the core of our character, of who we are, as we submit to Him.  In this, he not only pays for our sins, He provides us the means never to want to commit them again.  That is salvation, to be saved from who we are.  If the identity of Jesus is not God, not Creator, not Savior, then we are destined to remain slaves to self.  This is why every other competing ideology lacks a viable plan to achieve utopia.  Man must be saved from himself, he cannot do it himself.
Whether we are an abject sinner, a regular church attendee, or leader of a large congregation, our fallibility is determined by how much of His revelation we accept, and how much of our own, we interject …

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Bigger God ...

Ever had a project at work that was important to you, that you wanted to not only do well, but to do better than anyone, maybe even yourself, thought possible?  Or perhaps you wanted to make Christmas for your child, an event they could not even begin to estimate, something beyond their wildest expectations.  There are times when the efforts we take on, we take on with an internal passion, a drive to make the results something spectacular, something epic.  Our measuring stick is not one imposed on us by other people, or even by convention.  Instead we plan to far exceed anything “normal” convention may have imposed and attempt to pull off something singular.  If we were to do this regularly, it might have the effect of raising the expectations of others that this is “just what we do”.  Doing something spectacular might get lost in the perceptions of others because we do it so often.  But what happens when exceeding expectations is not just a periodic goal we undertake, but a core part of who we are?  Jesus faced this.
But Jesus faced perhaps a bigger dilemma, how to contain the infinite in the limited package of humanity, and effectively teach us who God is, and how much God loves.  The people in the days of Christ had preconceived ideas about who the Messiah was, and what the Messiah was supposed to do.  The most important role the Messiah was supposed to play was that of liberator-in-chief.  The Messiah was supposed to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and establish Israel as the eternal kingdom, based in Jerusalem forever more.  This goal pleased the hearts of the people.  It had a very direct and personal impact on all of them.  No more taxes.  No more unjust torture and crucifixion.  No more influence of pagan gods, and idols strewn throughout the land.  Getting rid of the Romans would help “purify” the Temple, and allow the people to lead better lives, where they were independent, and in need of nothing.  This view was scripturally based.  It was in error, but it originated from reading and interpreting their existing Bible, the same one we use today.  They had simply misread the texts having to do with the “second” coming of Christ, with those having to do with the “first” coming.  Because this interpretation was pleasing to them, they stuck with it, ignoring all the other texts that seemed to be in conflict with it.  Are we any different today?
So Jesus had a compounded problem.  He would NOT be filling the role of conqueror at this time, and establishing His final kingdom forever and ever.  In this, the people were going to be inclined to completely reject Him as the Messiah, indeed the religious leadership already had.  But Jesus was going to show us the role of Physician-in-Chief.  There was not a single malady, a single illness or condition, that Christ would not heal and restore to perfection.  Even death was not an obstacle to Christ where it came to restoring us and removing our pain.  But our God is bigger than just the ultimate doctor who knows our bodies and minds better than anyone who ever lived.  Jesus would also take on the role of Teacher-in-Chief.  In this Jesus would teach the scriptures as they were meant to be taught, in perfection, with clarity and authority, as it was He who had inspired them in the first place.  Then there was the challenge of revealing to us the love of the Father, of revealing to us His motives, and His love.  Living a life of perfect love for others, never once prioritizing love for self in any way, in fact, He seemed totally devoid of it.  This contrast between sin (the love of self), and perfection (the love of others), was so deep, our diseased souls could hardly grasp it.
Jesus would not be doing what the people expected, and they were sure to be disappointed.  But He would be doing so much else, exceeding so many expectations, that trying to “understand” who He was, was sure to be tough.  Then the tougher conundrum; Jesus was our Messiah, but He was also God, a much bigger God than man could ever understand.  Jesus was our Creator.  That was a role, that would boggle the minds of the people in His own day, and now in ours.  The Bible begins with Moses attempting to quantify in human words, our origin founded in the act of Creation performed by Christ.  In seven days, Moses takes us from the abyss, to a fully formed planet teeming with life, including the first man fashioned in the image of God.  None of the people in the days of Jesus had any notion of the Messiah being the Creator.  They had lost sight of that.  They forgot that the original promise was made in the garden of Eden to Adam and Eve.  It was “that God” who was coming to save them.  It was “that Creator” who was destined to finally put Satan out of his place in this world.  This role was not one the people would expect or understand.
At some point our minds just cannot absorb any more.  It would take faith to believe in a virgin birth, in the ability for our God to be big enough to create Himself in the womb of Mary without the aid of man.  It would take faith to believe that our God could be both man and God at one time.  It would take further faith to accept that our God was big enough to heal anything wrong with us, including our desire to sin.  It would take further faith to accept He was going to be killed, and then be resurrected as our Savior.  In the days of Christ, having just this much faith and understanding was enough to contend with it.  Adding to that, the rest of who Jesus is, our Creator, and an Infinite God was simply too much for the people of His day.  So frequently, Jesus revealed this part of Himself, but asked those who saw it, to keep it secret, and keep it to themselves.  The last thing He needed, was a distracting debate about the power and role of our Creator in the guise of the Messiah.
Peter recalls some of this dilemma to John Mark in his gospel in chapter eight.  Peter further sets an interesting context.  Jesus has just rebuked the Pharisees who wanted a display of His power, before they would believe.  Christ had told them there would be no sign given, but in the very next verses we see here, yet another miracle is performed.  Perhaps this miracle illustrates a union of the roles Jesus had within Him.  Mark chronicles the events picking up in verse 22 saying … “And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. [verse 23] And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.”  Having Jesus perform a miracle to heal someone was common place by now, the spectacular had become normal.  So why was this healing called out by Peter as worthy to be in the gospels?  What was it so special here?  Perhaps the first clue is in the sequence of events, the first thing Jesus does is lead this blind man by the hand until they are out of town (away from the people).
The healing for this man is somewhat unique in that Jesus is looking to do it away from the crowds.  This will be a personal interaction between our Creator and the created.  The second clue is that in the mechanics of healing this man, He does not simply speak the words, or drag His garments over the man.  He takes the very personal action of putting spit into the eyes of this man.  I believe the difference between this blind man, and perhaps others He opened the eyes of (and there were many); is that this man perhaps had no eyes to start with.  Either from birth defect, or accident, or Roman torture, I believe this man’s eyes had been removed.  So Jesus takes him completely away from everyone, and only then puts spit into his eyes and asks if he can see yet.  The man replies in verse 24 saying … “And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. [verse 25] After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.”  Complete healing does not come at once in this case.  It took 2 actions.  I believe the first was restoring or re-creating eyes that had been lost or removed.  The second action by Christ was fine-tuning the vision and nerves to give him 20:20 sight.  The role Jesus was playing here was bigger than Messiah, bigger than Doctor, or Teacher, or Revealer of the Father.  Jesus was enacting His role as our Creator, fulfilling a promise given directly to Adam and Eve way back in the garden.  What happened next was a further clue in this regard.
John Mark continues in verse 26 saying … “And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.”  Jesus wanted this re-creation kept completely secret by the man.  In fact, by the next few verses it would seem Jesus left the city and the area immediately following this event.  The Pharisees had demanded a sign of Jesus as if He was some circus performer doing tricks for the crowd for the compensation of acceptance.  But Jesus was our Creator, who had given His promise to Adam and Eve in a very personal way all the way back in the garden.  He was here not performing tricks, but doing the work of creation, making something out of nothing once again.  Not all of His healings required privacy and secrecy, but some did.  Jesus may not have asked His followers in His day to accept Him in the role of Creator as well as that of Messiah, but it did not prevent Him from being both of those things.  Our God is far bigger than how we like to picture Him.  To be God, is to be something the created will perhaps never fully comprehend, as only the Creator has that knowledge.
In our day, many Christians have come to accept that perhaps our world was never “created” at all, let alone within seven days.  They believe that science is at odds with the notion of a fully functioning, fully aged universe that comes into being in 7 days, by a power that is infinite.  Instead, they substitute trillions of years or “time” to replace what Moses said our God did in a week.  Time allows natural evolution to occur that follows a big bang that no scientist can fully explain the origins of either.  While single cells of a living organism can divide and grow into virtually anything, the combination of periodic elements generated from a big bang has yet to produce even one of them.  If we have life, we can reproduce life, but getting life in the first place seems to be elusive.  Then comes our aging cycle, or “why we die” is another mystery outside of a Biblical explanation, for if life could evolve, why should it decay at all?  But no matter the questions or information we do not know; it all boils down to a decision one makes about what to believe.  When Christians discard the role of Jesus as our Creator, they discard the original promise He made in the garden to Adam and Eve.  By denying God the ability to create, we deny Him the ability to re-create, or restore His creation.  Once we embark on denying how big our God is, we eventually make Him no more than equal with ourselves, in fact elevating ourselves to be God.
I believe Peter included this story to show us that Jesus was more than just Messiah; that our God is bigger than the capacity of our mind’s limitations.  I believe stories like this one were in effect, a nod to Adam and Eve that the promise made to them was kept by the Creator who made it.  Because we have such a hard time wrapping our minds around these ideas, says more about us, than it does about our God.  No matter how great we think our God is; He is bigger than that …

Friday, December 11, 2015

Misplaced Priorities ...

A magician uses the art of distraction to make the illusion more realistic.  A beautiful assistant, or magic words said at an opportune time, are all meant to draw the eye and allow other actions to remain as concealed as possible.  This is done by intent.  But what happens when the focus is meant to be on one thing, but is drawn to something else no matter what you do?  How frustrating is it, to try to explain something to a friend, and have the friend focused on what you are wearing, or the bird outside the window, anything but on what you are saying?  Imagine the patience of Christ, to attempt to explain to us how salvation works, and have us focused on anything but that topic.  An excellent example of this phenomenon was relayed by Peter to John Mark in his gospel chapter eight.  Most Bible’s rightly classify the first section of verses with the header “the Feeding of the Four Thousand”.  This would be an excellent summation.  It also has the benefit of keeping the event distinct from the prior feeding of the Five Thousand (though both events only seem to count the adult males in the crowd, the women, children, and old folks make greatly inflate the total number of people at both events).
As we begin to read, we expect to see a story about a miraculous feeding of at least Four Thousand men, plus women and children.  Our attention is rightly focused there, as that is exactly what Peter will describe.  But there is far more buried in these verses.  There are several points that are concealed here if anyone just takes the time to look.  We will give these verses a second look and discover perhaps the greatest frustration of Jesus Christ while here on earth working in ministry to save us all.  Peter begins by recalling the facts of this event in verse 1 recounting to John Mark and saying … “In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, [verse 2] I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat:”  It is right here.  In the first 2 verses of this section.  Yes, having a large multitude gathering around Jesus is nothing new.  His fame is widespread no matter how He may attempt to conceal the fullness of who He is.  People want to do more than be healed, they want to hear Him speak.  And of course the compassion of Christ to sympathize with our human weaknesses is ever present, so wanting to feed this crowd is not new either.
But the biggest mis-direct, the biggest illusion of these verses, is the focus on the food.  Peter is recalling a gospel, a letter of good news to the readers of his day.  What is completely absent in the story he is relaying, is … “what” Jesus had been saying or preaching for the last 3 days!!  Imagine the sermon it must have been to so captivate the multitude of this size, that no one even thought of food up till now when it was time to go home.  This crowd had fasted almost without knowing it.  This crowd has been so captivated by what Jesus said, that they literally forgot about hunger, and stayed there riveted to listening to Jesus.  They may have slept at night, but there was no thought of supper, or of breakfast when they awoke, they only craved to hear the words that came out of Jesus’ mouth.  And you and I have NONE of them recorded here.  Instead, we are treated to a story of miraculous physical feeding, and completely MISS the 3-day sermon that was so good, no one thought of feeding themselves.  They came to the edge of the Sea of Galilee and Jesus gave them a tutorial on the mission of salvation, but our story remains on the food.
John Mark continues recording the words of Christ to this situation in verse 3 saying … “And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far.”  Many of these listeners did not go home during the 3-day sermon because home was a long journey off.  Jesus knew if He released this crowd without feeding them first, they could be overcome by their natural human weakness, and may not make it home again.  From the perspective of Christ this was not just a casual need the crowd had developed it was a critical one.  But despite it all, despite the sermon that so moved a crowd that it would forget its own hunger; and despite the miracles Jesus had performed before, and the miracles the disciples had joined Him in, they still thought of solutions only in human context.  So they respond in verse 4 saying … “And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?”.
Where is the Denny’s out here?  Where is the iHOP?  How do you (Jesus) think you are going to feed a crowd this size, in this place?  Or in other words, you are talking non-sense.  The crowd is just going to have to gut-it-out, go home, and fix food when they get there.  They all knew this would be the case.  They made their decision to stay and listen to Christ without bringing sufficient food with them.  It is their collective fault they are hungry now.  If hunger were so important, they could have simply gone home, and re-located Christ at another time, in another venue.  But here we go again.  The sermon Christ was preaching about was so revolutionary, so radical, so filled with the love of the Father God … that not one of the crowd made the choice to let food or bodily needs supersede listening to Jesus.  What on earth did Jesus say?  Don’t you want to know?  Have you ever been to church and heard a sermon so good, you would be willing to stay there for 3 days to hear more?  Why is Peter telling us about the food, instead of the content of the sermon?
Jesus, as always, does not see human limitations to solve human problems.  He responds in verse 5 saying … “And he asked them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven. [verse 6] And he commanded the people to sit down on the ground: and he took the seven loaves, and gave thanks, and brake, and gave to his disciples to set before them; and they did set them before the people.”  Jesus feeds this crowd because He knows their needs, way better than they know them themselves.  But there is more, as there usually always is.  The story continues in verse 7 saying … “And they had a few small fishes: and he blessed, and commanded to set them also before them. [verse 8] So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets.”  The bread this crowd ate, could have been all there was, it would have met the basic need.  But Jesus does not just meet our basic needs, He goes well beyond that, and satisfies us as no other love could.  He offers fish to the crowd as well.  And when the meal is ended, Peter recalls how not a single person was still hungry, and left overs were collected throughout the multitude (presumably for the poor as the last event happened).
This section of verses concludes with the logistical details.  John Mark transcribes beginning in verse 9 saying … “And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and he sent them away. [verse 10] And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha.”  The crowd was large, and right after this event concludes, Jesus takes his boat to a far corner of the seashore near a place called Dalmanutha.  But the sequence of events is not over yet.  On arrival in the new venue, the Pharisees come to tempt Him, as did Satan in the wilderness, to use His power on something that would benefit Himself.  They intimate, that if Jesus will perform a miracle, they will believe He is the Messiah and the Son of God. 
This is in effect a trade.  You perform, and I will believe.  It is a very similar claim that atheists make with glee today.  If a 50’ Jesus appears at the Superbowl on the 50 yard line, and performs a miracle, “then” the atheist will believe.  But in reality, it is an empty promise.  No miracle, would be believed, because the choice to believe has already been discarded.  A 50’ Jesus would be attributed to special effects in the video control room, or mass hysteria based on a release of hallucinogenic drugs to the crowd if witnessed in person.  The beneficiary of the miracle, would be said to have nothing wrong with them in the first place, and like a beautiful assistant for the magician, just a pawn in the deception offered.  Any miraculous event would be simply explained away using science no matter how absurd the premise must be.  For this is what already happens with the origins of life, and the complexity of our design.  How would another miracle ever trump that one?  The Pharisees had no intention of believing or holding up their end of the solicitation.  And Jesus had no intention of violating the principles of “who” He is, by using His power for a shortcut, or benefiting Himself.
John Mark records the interchange in verse 11 saying … “And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. [verse 12] And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. [verse 13] And he left them, and entering into the ship again departed to the other side.”  Now keep in mind, Peter has just gone through the trouble of telling us about a miracle of feeding the Four Thousand.  Jesus “could” have simply pointed to what He had already done, and said for the Pharisees to take their evidence of a sign from those actions.  But He does not.  Instead He declares that there will be “no sign” for this generation and then He left this area.  The miracles did not stop after this event.  So Jesus could not have been referring to Himself displaying supernatural acts of love to those in need.  No, this declaration had to have been for something else, for something deeper.  Perhaps, the great “sigh” that Jesus suffered in His Spirit, was due to the mis-direct of the Pharisees, and Peter, and You and I, always focusing on the food, and not the revival of our souls.  Perhaps His frustration, was that after a riveting 3-day sermon, that captivated the crowd, we have only the story of the feeding, not that salvation tutorial.
But there was still more to be learned from this experience.  John Mark continues transcribing the events continuing in verse 14 saying … “Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf. [verse 15] And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. [verse 16] And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread.”  This had to have been the final straw of frustration for Jesus Christ.  The leaven of the Pharisees, or the additional ideas that came from their interpretations of scriptures, had led them to believe they did not need a Messiah to be saved.  They especially did not need this Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ.  Being leaders in the “right” religion, and having the Bible in its current form, was still NOT enough for these men to be saved.  They were lost, because they rejected Jesus Christ who was right in front of them.  Their interpretations of scripture did not lead them to love others, it led them only to wish to retain power over others.  Are we different?
The leaven of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, who justified the taking of his brother Phillip’s wife, and while He was willing to embrace the message of John the Baptist, he fell short when the influence of his wife came into conflict with it.  Herod would rely upon the forgiveness, without wishing for the reformation that would change the behavior requiring forgiveness.  Herod, in a different way, would find himself having in common with the Pharisees, the conviction that he could save himself.  He too would not need this Messiah, or any Messiah.  He too, though considering himself a member of the “right” religion, and being a student of scriptures, would not find himself led to love others.  Instead he too, would wish only control over others.  Both groups would “leaven” the bread of salvation, by refusing to love others, or be changed into people who sought only this kind of love.  Yet the disciples missed the entire salvation perspective on this.  They saw only a missing quantity of physical bread.
Jesus responded in perhaps His most frustrated manner saying in verse 17 … “And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? [verse 18] Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? [verse 19] When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. [verse 20] And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. [verse 21] And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?”  These questions go unanswered in this gospel.  Peter recalls these events but does not record how Jesus answered these deeper questions.  Instead he leaves this rebuke as it stands in scripture.  But the rebuke is for us as well.  How do we read the entirety of the life of Christ, and still refuse to be changed into someone who loves others?  We have eyes, ears, and a basic understanding, but we allow ourselves to be misdirected to see the food, instead of the change.
We should be craving the sermon, the words of Christ, that would rivet us to stay at His side for three days and not even think about food.  It should be Jesus asking to feed us, because we forgot the need, rather than fitting Jesus into our schedule and never seeming to have as much time for Him as we do for the restaurants and home cooked meals we enjoy.  We think ourselves devout if we squeeze in a 2-minute prayer before we eat, especially when done in a public place, in front of an audience.  But to consider spending 72 hours at the side of Christ, engaged in loving others and making a difference in their lives with nothing to gain in our own, is a new concept for most of us.  Instead of public prayers of thanks for food we have not yet eaten, perhaps we should be inviting people to join us, that would be truly thankful, because they have not the means to do so on their own.  Then when we ask the Lord to bless our food, He will have already done so.  It is the change of heart we need.  When our hearts are changed by His so great love, living this way, will not be a stretch, it will be natural and normal.  Perhaps then, we can avoid our misplaced priorities …

Friday, December 4, 2015

Secret Missions [part two] ...

Peter recites to John Mark in his gospel chapter seven two stories of where Jesus was attempting to reveal the Father’s love in secret, attempting to avoid publicity in His mission.  In our previous study, we examined the first incident which was designed to test the faith of a mother, and reveal the character of the companions of Christ.  In examining the second story here, Peter is significantly more detailed about the mechanics of the healing, than in the other miracles Christ performed.  Peter goes into the details.  The question is why?  Ultimately the publicity of the mission of the Messiah cannot be controlled or subdued.  Whether by excited recipients who simply cannot keep silent about what Christ has done for them (oh, that we had such people in our day), or by demons who work in concert to drive the people to make Him king whether He wants it or not; the missions of Christ are widely known, and widely publicized.  So Peter does not seem to need to correlate secrecy with how this sick man was healed, yet he spends time talking about both.  Perhaps it is the details themselves that warrant deeper attention.
The story begins in no special way picking up in verse 31 saying … “And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.”  Jesus is traveling again.  He moves another significant distance.  Was this perhaps to avoid publicity by moving away from a region that seemed inundated with stories of Him, or was this perhaps to find the one who would be brought to Him in so desperate a need.  It is hard to say.  The story continues in verse 32 saying … “And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him.”  Here is where a few details appear.  First, the person afflicted has more than one health problem.  He is deaf, and subsequently has a speech impediment.  Now, most people that cannot hear, also have a strange, or impacted way of speaking.  But the attention Peter pays to this condition, and the subsequent healing Christ does specifically for this man’s ability to talk, tells us this was not just a simple cause and effect from the deafness.  It was something more.
Next, the request of the people to heal this man, included the clause “put His hand upon him”.  The people in this story either have not heard of Christ healing simply by dragging His garments over someone, like the woman who started this trend some time ago across the Sea of Galilee.  Or they are unfamiliar with Christ simply speaking the words of assurance like He did to the last mother, who found her daughter healed even though the daughter never was actually in the presence of Christ.  These people bent on helping this man, wanted a personal touch by Christ.  Perhaps this was the most common way people were aware of Jesus’ healing powers, and they were simply requesting He do it for their friend.  No matter, Jesus did not refuse them.
The story continues in verse 33 saying … “And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; [verse 34] And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. [verse 35] And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.”  More interesting correlations arise in these verses.  You will note first, Jesus takes the impacted man away from the multitude.  Jesus wants a more private, perhaps a more personal interaction with this man.  Jesus is not looking for publicity; He is searching for more privacy.  If He had wanted the crowds to see it, He could have made a spectacle of this man’s healing, but He did not.  Next, the touch requested is granted in probably a more personal way, than Jews who had been told they must obsess about ceremonial cleanings would like.  Jesus did not reach out and shake hands with this sick man, He put His fingers right into the guy’s ears.  Further, He spit on His own fingers, and then He touched the man’s very tongue, where most of the taste buds, and sensitivity is in your mouth I might add.
If we correlate what is happening here with the Gospel of John regarding the lame man, we might reach a conclusion, that Christ is literally creating flesh, and organs, where they are missing either partially or in whole.  This particular healing is not about lowering a fever, or putting strength into existing organs and tissue, I believe it is about creating some, where they did not exist before.  Remembering that we are created from dirt, and are composed of mostly water, Christ our Creator, may be doing what He did back in Eden, albeit on a much more limited scale.  In this instance, our Creator is restoring something that has been messed up or is partially missing.  Not only does Jesus take these very personal touching actions with the impacted sick man, He then follows all of this with a prayer to His Father.  He looks up to heaven before speaking Himself.  This is to acknowledge that His Father is the source of all love, and all restorative power.  Then before speaking Peter says that Jesus sighed.  Perhaps Jesus too is frustrated that sin, and Satan have so corrupted our world, and our bodies, that this man suffers from more from what has been done.  Perhaps Jesus too, would have us ALL restored, both physically and spiritually, but no one in the crowd is asking for spiritual restoration, which arguably is more important. 
He then speaks in front of the man, a sort of command, the word “Ephphatha” which is immediately interpreted as “be opened”.  The command is not directly to the man to speak and hear properly.  It is instead to the impacted organs to be capable of perfect hearing, and perfect speech.  The organs are no longer to be an impediment to the man’s ability to hear and speak.  And the man immediately tested his new abilities and spoke plainly.  Sometimes we miss the subtlety of God providing us gifts, and then watching what we do with them.  The organs were restored, they were re-created by Christ, but the man was not commanded to pray, or give thanks, or say “I love you” to his family.  In point of fact, he could have used foul language, and swore at his enemies, now knowing they would understand him perfectly.  Our senses are a gift to us from our creator.  How we choose to employ them is not commanded by Christ, but is witnessed by Christ.  How we use our senses reveals our hearts, to have our hearts restored and re-created by Christ is the bigger accomplishment, and the one we are each in most need of.
Then Peter resumes the recollection, for the need for secrecy, as the story continues in verse 36 saying … “And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it;” Christ tells the friends of the man, and man himself, not to publicize what He has done for them.  The first directive, the first commandment given to this grateful man, is to keep silent about who healed him, and how He did it.  The recreation of missing tissue, above all other types of healing, reveals Jesus as our Creator.  This revelation was too controversial in Israel.  People who might otherwise listen to the life-giving words of Jesus, would tune Him out, if the Creator title were associated with His name and ministry.  The people needed not to know everything plainly yet, because they were not ready to know it yet.  Even the disciples of Christ were not completely ready yet.  Knowing Jesus was our creator was just too much.  But the one thing Jesus asked of them, was the one thing they completely disobeyed Him about.
Christ had a larger goal of ministry in mind, that these men, in their gratitude, were messing up.  Jesus does not curse them for this.  Jesus does not take back His healing.  He knew beforehand that this man would not keep his mouth shut, yet He heals him anyway.  Would you have done it.?  This is part of the mystery of our salvation.  We are created by God, uniquely, even though He ultimately knows whether we will decide for Him, or against Him.  We are given free will to choose, even when the choice is a bad one.  Jesus did not restrict His love from this man, even though the man would mess up the plans of Jesus.  Jesus does not restrict giving us gifts, from our senses, to the money in our wallets, even though we often choose to mess up what we do with them.  The love of our Lord is consistent, even though ours is not. 
It is a mistake to think that the gifts our Lord gives to us are an indication of us being saved.  He gives to those who are saved, and those who are unsaved.  He loves both camps of people.  He does not love one more than the other, loving both perpetrator and victim equally.  His heart breaks because of the pain the perpetrator causes himself and his victim, and His heart breaks for what pain the sin of the perpetrator has caused to the victim, for what the victim must now go through.  We will never know the depth of pain we cause our God, who has perfect love for us, by what we choose to do, and how we choose not to love others when we could.   But perhaps, we could lift the sigh of our Lord, if we were to seek spiritual restoration, and re-creation, by asking for this kind of healing for ourselves.  Perhaps we could make His heart leap for joy, as we submit to Him, our actions, our desires, and the core of who we are to be remade by Him as He sees fit.  No matter what healing God does for our bodies, it is the healing of our souls that He most wants us to publicize.
People will inevitably seek Jesus for healing, for primarily selfish reasons where it comes to our bodies.  We want full functionality, and long life, where our physical bodies are concerned.  But to crave perfection, to crave a life with a complete lack of sin, these are the cravings that change the world, and reflect salvation rooted in Christ.  Publicizing what Jesus can do for the spiritually sick, is what it is all about.  The selfish do not run to Christ to fix that, they only run to Him for other reasons.  But if we would dare to offer the core of who we are, and what we want, to Jesus, we would find a restoration that is far more important than the state of our bodies, and one that lasts far longer.  The people could not understand this deeper mission of Christ, they saw only its physical manifestations as the story concludes in verse 37 saying … “And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.”
People, then and now, are “beyond measure astonished” to find out that our Lord is also our Creator.  Those who would replace Genesis with a more scientific origin, are in addition, removing the creating power from Jesus.  They strip Jesus of His ability to re-create, as they strip Him of His original creation.  Where science appears to conflict with the Bible, it is science that remains incomplete in our understanding.  Because compared with the miraculous transformation of the human heart, there is no scientific, or evolutionary counterpart that can sufficiently explain the phenomenon.  To be saved by Jesus Christ, is an experience that cannot be denigrated by equations and probabilities.  To have the core of who we are, altered to be in harmony with Him, and with His laws of love, is a singular experience, and the one He was trying to reveal to the people in His age, and in ours.