Friday, October 28, 2016

To Know the Will of God ...

What are we supposed to do?  Very often we reach decision points in our lives where the path forward seems very uncertain.  Do I go left or right?  Do I vote my heart or my head?  Do we proceed with this mission work even though we do not have the funds?  The answers to our quandaries are also not readily available in scripture.  We try to apply Biblical principles to our decisions, when so often in our modern world we lack a one-for-one scriptural answer.  We pray about our questions and ask to know what the will of God is for what we face.  Prayer is the most awesome tool in our arsenal.  But for most of us, prayer is a one-way street.  That is, we, do all the talking, God seems silent to us.  The prayers give us a sense of hope that our question will be answered somehow.  But this leaves us searching for an answer in the clues of the divine, not hearing an audible response from God directly on how to proceed.
So what to do?  Our God is the same God, from eternities ago, till infinities ahead.  He is a constant.  He is unchanging.  For how could love ever change and still call itself love?  The expression of His love may seem to grow in our eyes.  Our perspective on His love grows.  But His love was always there, it is us that is growing, not Him.  But for humanity, as times change, so do priorities, and methods.  Jesus did not speak to us directly, or prophetically, about our taste in our music.  He gave no dissertations about the use of an internet ministry, or an addiction to it.  He did not directly say whether we should engage full steam ahead in a TV ministry whether by broadcast, or satellite, or podcast.  Jesus never directly spoke about the “issues” the modern church faces in ministry to the world.  Jesus gave no direction about when a fetus becomes a baby.  There are scattered scriptures that touch on this, but no direct sermon from Jesus Himself while He was here.  Nor did Jesus speak directly about homosexuality whether in or out of the church.  These issues that so perplex the mind of the modern Christian seemed to occupy no time at all in His.
So when we face dilemmas in ministry we look to the remainder of the Bible to find direction on what to do.  We apply Biblical principles and come up with Biblical doctrines based upon our interpretation of how to proceed, and what is acceptable or not.  But then, like in our personal lives, our questions seem to take up all the talking in the room.  Listening to God, hearing Him directly, is a long-lost art.  Those who claim to have heard His voice directly, are immediately ridiculed by those who claim His name, because often the messages they report appear self-serving, and reflect a lack of love that Jesus gave no example of here on earth.  Most of those who claim to know the will of God, have a message of condemnation for the remainder of us.  Is this the God we serve?  Has love that was meant to provide an escape from our sins, and our desire to sin, now become a judgment of hatred from God Himself for our sins?  Seems unlikely.  So what is the will of God.  What are we supposed to do?
Things changed after the cross.  Not the questions in our lives of how to move forward.  But the priorities and the methods of His church.  Peter recalls to John Mark in his gospel in chapter sixteen picking up in verse 15 saying … “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”  These were the words of Jesus Christ Himself, after the cross, after the resurrection.  He commands His church to “Go”.  But in our age we are content to stay put.  We prefer routine over adventure.  We prefer safety over the risk of movement into the unfamiliar.  We seek the rut of our lives, the routine of it.  Disruption of our routine becomes a fearful thing.  And Satan uses our fear to move, our fear to go, to keep the ministry locked up in the minds and hearts of those who already know it, at least in theory.  It is as the church was when only three women knew the gospel and would not speak it for fear.
If we are to make contact, we must be in proximity with others.  The gospel is not an ethereal concept.  It is a story of love, love that transforms, love that builds passion in the listener for those who have not heard it yet.  If we only crowd the pews we have ever crowded, we restrict the gospel to within the walls of the church, and demonstrate no passion for anyone other than ourselves.  The disciples already loved each other.  They had no need to fellowship together every week, once a week, and demonstrate what all of them already knew.  They had need to separate and spread the message of love to anyone and everyone who had not heard it yet.  Jesus does not even use the word men or women defining His target audience, He uses the word “creature”.  There is no-one beyond the love of Jesus.  He intends for ALL to hear, even the birds, dogs, cats, and nearby bugs if needs be, when spreading the good news of the gospel.  No matter what we think about the person we are destined to spread love to, we are to go to them, and share it.
The expectation is not for the hurting, dying, and erring ones to magically decide to come to church to hear the good news.  It is a command from Jesus that we “Go” to them.  That we take the love of Jesus directly to the person who needs it.  The gospel is a story of the love of God.  It is the story of Jesus Christ.  The life of Jesus Christ is unencumbered by the doctrines of the Pharisees, or the traditions of the Jewish faith in His day.  It is a more pure story, a living one.  It is the story of Jesus Christ, that causes us to re-look at scripture through His lens, not through the filters of our own preconceived ideas.  The story of Jesus Christ is not encumbered by the doctrinal beliefs of our day of our denominations.  Jesus was not a Catholic, or a Baptist, or a Mormon, or and Adventist.  Jesus is God.  Jesus was and is love incarnate.  Jesus carries no denominational affiliation.  He is Jew by birth, but God by religion. 
The story of Jesus, is the story of the gospel.  And what will happen when we Go?  John Mark continues in verse 16 saying … “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”  Those who hear must believe first.  God the author of our faith so longs to spark it in one who has never heard the gospel message, or seen love demonstrated by a follower of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit, so longs to bless the ministry of love to one hearing and in need.  To create belief when none existed before.  When we demonstrate a passion of love for the listener, really care about them as Jesus cares about them, we create a lure of love that our God uses to fan the flames of belief in a heart where none existed before.  But this effort by our God is so horribly dampened, when our message and our example is distant, cold, unfeeling or apathetic.  When we truly do not care for our listener, we represent our God of passion, as a God who could care less.  So far from His truth.  When we seek to meet our own needs before we dare to inspect the needs of another, it is we who need the message of truth.
But a real demonstration of love from a follower of Jesus to one in need, positions the Holy Spirit to fan flames of belief and reception.  When there is no hate in us, and no hate in our words, or our message, our God can work miracles as never before.  This is not a message of judgment and consequences for sin.  This is a message of love, reconciliation, and transformation that Jesus brings to any who believe.  Those flames of belief grow from a small fire to a forest fire in the heart of the new convert.  Until love for God is so strong, the new convert wishes for a public recognition of it through the tradition and ministry of baptism.  John the Baptist held his ministry in the Jordan river.  Jesus baptized there as well.  And now as we Go into the world, we must find places we can dip the new converts into the water submersing their old lives of sin, and bring them forth new creatures and new creations unto God.  The symbolism deepens faith in the one who is baptized and the ones who witness it.  It deepens belief.  It is why Jesus requests it of us.
For the curse of our lives is unbelief.  A refusal to believe will be our undoing.  A resistance against the Holy Spirit who aches to fan flames of belief within us.  Hearing the fantastic story of Jesus Christ calls for faith to believe; it calls for the suspension of human logic, and the embrace of divine logic.  Few accept these stories without a demonstration of what it has done in the life of one who does believe.  If the life of the disciple or follower of Jesus is not one bit better than the life of the unconverted, why should they believe.  Transformation is real.  Transformation brings with it witness.  Our own testimony is what God has done for us, not what we have done for ourselves.  Our own testimony is unique to us.  It is a statement of what the gospel has done for us in practical terms and why we love another so much.  It is what drives us to go, and what drives us to care.  That fire is something tangible that others can see.  It is a difference that is discernable.
The story of Jesus is the story of the Son of God coming to reconcile man to God because of love.  It precludes all other methods of finding God the Father.  There is no method of meditation or self-sacrifice or enlightenment that leads one back to God the Father.  Buddha will not get the job done.  None of the Hindu Gods will do it either.  Attempting to worship God the Father without recognizing His Son as our Jewish and Muslim brothers attempt to do, will inevitably result in failure.  The transformation of the heart to lose the desire to sin, can only happen if you believe Jesus can and will do it for you.  A lack of belief in Jesus cuts off the only source that can relieve you from your desire to sin at all.  Without the embrace of Jesus as the Son of God, there is no mechanism to do it that works.  Those who believe they can be “good people” without embracing any religion, will find their subjective goodness is just not enough.  The embrace of the gospel is about more than just forgiveness, it is about transformation into something else, something better.  And Jesus is the singular mechanism for seeing it done.
John Mark continues in verse 17 saying … “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; [verse 18] They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”  These signs, these miracles, these tools to aid in meeting the needs of others, and deepening belief in those who have never heard.  All these signs follow “them that believe”.  Think about that for a moment.  Jesus does not restrict this to pastors, preachers, bishops, members of one faith or another.  Jesus does not restrict this to men only, He includes women, the aged, the youth, every race, from every culture.  The only prerequisite is belief in the gospel story.  In the name of Jesus is the key that unlocks these signs.  Not in the name of a generic God.  Not in the name of God the Father even, but in the name of His Son Jesus Christ.  This is a reaffirming of belief once again.
What is done through these signs is casting out the bondage to sin in the form of possession.  This is a recognition that our enemy is real, unrelenting, and no less active in our day than he was then.  Speaking in new languages facilitates communication of the gospel message to those you would otherwise not understand.  Serpents and deadly drinks were common ways in which people were poisoned in those days.  Jesus here offers protection against the assassin’s chief weapon.  And finally, healing others, healing the non-believers in the name of Jesus.  As with the ministry of Jesus, no conversion was required first.  Meeting the needs was done first.  A demonstration of the love of Jesus Christ was done first.  Only then was the heart more open to belief in what seems like the impossible.  There was no time constraint put on these signs and tools.  There was no restriction of who could utilize them, only that we utilize them in His ministry.
John Mark records the post script to this commission in verse 19 saying … “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. [verse 20] And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”  Jesus ascends not long after this commission.  And this time, the church did as the Lord had instructed.  The gospel was spread in that day.  But what about in ours?  Are we asking the right questions?  Given that these instructions are no less relevant than in those days; are our questions we ask of God for His will reflective of this fact.  Do we go left or right?  Does this include the directive by Jesus to Go and to spread the gospel.  Would that fact influence which way we think follows the will of God?  When it comes to questions of ministry, are we designing methods and systems to follow up our electronic outreach with personal outreach behind it?  Are we still going, or now only sitting?
Have we constrained our message of outreach to the pure gospel of the story of Jesus, or have we indoctrinated it with the tenets of our own denomination?  If our testimony is not unique, but reflective of others, then what have we to say personally.  What Jesus did for my mom or dad, or wife, is a good story, but what has He done for me personally is more impactful.  The gospel is an infecting virus that creates a passion to love others.  If it is not creating that passion in me, I have likely lost sight of what the real gospel is.  And this commission was given to ALL who believe.  The signs and tools of the ministry were granted to ALL who believe.  No age limits.  No racial implications.  To both men and women.  Perhaps it is time for our church to refocus on the pure message of the gospel; to Go, to reach out, and find ones that still need a tangible demonstration of what the love of God can do for them through you.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Three Strikes But NOT Out ...

There are rules in a game.  There are rules in the physics of the universe.  It is how we understand things are supposed to function.  From a baseball perspective, if you break one of the rules you are cheating, and will be penalized up to and including forfeiture of the game entirely.  From a physics perspective, if you break one of the rules … we re-write the rule.  As it turns out, science is less precise than baseball.  Every time a rule of physics is broken, we consider this a break-thru, where our understanding is said to have increased, and we set about trying to figure out how the rule was misunderstood in the first place.  A long time ago and in humanity’s usual arrogance, the common thought was that our sun rotated around us, just as our moon does.  The earth was thought to be the center of our solar system or perhaps the universe itself.  But as our powers of observation increased, and we began to realize just how little we know, our understanding changed to recognize that our earth rotates around the sun not the other way around.  Ergo, knowledge expands.
But then this begins to beg the question; is a rule really a rule?  From a physics perspective, it is only a current state of thinking.  From a physics perspective, we have to admit we don’t know everything, and what today we accept as a rule, tomorrow we have to adjust to a new reality.  So for everything we “know” about physics is actually just a matter of perspective.  Now from a baseball perspective, a rule is a condition or behavior that we all mutually agree is a rule.  The rule is a rule because we say it is.  We can make new rules, change old rules, or alter ones currently on the books.  All it takes is a general consensus from the leagues, the owners, the players, and the fans that this is the right thing to do.  Breaking a rule though, will always be considered cheating, and therefore bears some level of punitive response.  We use umpires to judge whether a rule has been broken when the situation presents a very close call.  Is the pitch a ball or a strike.  Is the runner safe or out on base.  We leave the arbitration of these calls up to the umpires, the referees, the disinterested judges of the sport to determine.  But determine they must do, there is no half ball, half strike pitch.  It is either in or out.  There is no half safe / half out runner on base, it is one or the other.  The call is left to the perspective of the umpire, whose job it is to negotiate close calls.
So what kind of game would it be, if after the third strike, the hitter was NOT out?  It would be … the game of souls.  The message of the gospel was given by God to man to preach to His followers, and to the world.  The message itself was like one of those physics rules, where the more we study it, the more our knowledge is increased, and we learn to adjust our thinking to the reality of God’s love.  Over time, we begin to realize just how little we have scratched the surface of how much we know about God’s love.  The basics remain steadfast, but the depth of it seems nearly un-knowable.  But the commission by God to preach this gospel was not offered as a casual directive we are free to ignore at our leisure.  It was more like one of those baseball rules where we all agreed to follow God, because He loves us, and do what He tells us to do.  We can break that rule, but it usually comes with us hurting ourselves in the process.
So when the Angel of God tells Mary the mother of Jesus, and Salome the sister of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene the devoted follower of Jesus to go tell His disciples that Jesus is arisen and will meet them in Galilee.  Heaven, the Angel, and God kinda expected them to follow that agreed upon rule.  But the ladies struck out afraid to hit the ball.  They were too afraid no one would believe them.  Strike one.  But Jesus loves us way too much to end the game on one strike, so another pitch must swiftly follow.  Peter recalls the immediate actions for the second pitch opportunity to John Mark in his gospel in chapter sixteen, picking up in verse 9 saying … “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” 
Since the word of the Angel was not enough, Jesus decides to make a personal appearance.  To measure the depth of His love, other gospel accounts include the words of Jesus to Mary not to touch Him yet, because He had not yet ascended to His Father to see if His sacrifice was enough to purchase our redemption.  Imagine this.  The most important work in the history of the universe, where Jesus must be so entirely eager to know if it has worked.  He delays knowing.  He delays in order to reach out personally to Mary Magdalene.  This honor does not go to Peter, or John, or any of the other disciples.  It goes to the woman with the broken heart.  It goes to end her weeping, and begin her praising.  It goes ahead of His own needs, as it has always been.  This first preacher of the gospel, this first missionary to the church itself, is a woman who used to be a prostitute.  It is a woman who had in her life 7 demons possessed inside of her.  A woman we would all shun for her past.  A woman many of us could never really accept, forgive and embrace as our own.  Too afraid of our own unbridled passions to recognize the changes Jesus has brought about in her life.
We the upstanding Christians of the modern age, would rather debate the scriptural integrity of woman in ministry on par with men.  And yet God slows the entire work of redemption, to commission a woman with a horrific past, to be His first emissary to the church and the world.  Peter does not record for us the conversation between Mary and Jesus but he does record what comes next.  Mark continues in verse 10 saying … “And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. [verse 11] And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.”  Foul ball.  This time the message was not encumbered by fear of unbelief, but it was met by it.  The people who should have known the most, remembered the most, failed the most.  The church failed.  The whole church, short the three women who knew, and among them Mary who had seen.  The women were the church at this point, as the men … believed not.
The gospel was still confined to the three women who first heard it.  It had not spread.  Twice the commission was given, the first time not at all, the second with no acceptance.  In the spiritual game of baseball, there must be one last attempt made.  Mark continues in verse 12 saying … “After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.”  Jesus ascends to His Father, and finally realizes His sacrifice was enough to cover our sins, enough to redeem us from them, and enough to change in us the desire for them.  But the gospel was still not going anywhere on earth.  So for a third pitch, He decides to spend some quality time with 2 disciples who were journeying from the upper room to Emmaus.  Jesus picks 2 disciples to reveal scripture and himself to.  In Jewish tradition 2 witnesses were all that was needed to assert the truth of a thing.  The angel picked three but only Mary Magdalene had spoken up with no success.  Now Jesus was teaching personally 2 disciples, both men in case there was too much cultural bias to believe a woman with a sordid past.  So for this third pitch, there must have been a home run right?  Mark continues in verse 13 saying … “And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.”
The church failed again.  This time 12 men, down to 11 with the loss of Judas, were hearing 2 of their own preach the gospel of love and life.  And the nine men left refused to believe.  Those nine guys knew these two guys.  They spent the better part of the last three years with them.  And nothing.  Strike Three.  After three full chances to accept this pitch this church should have just struck out right?  It is after all three strikes by people who of all the ones on planet earth should have known better.  You would understand if you told some random Roman guy walking down the street that Jesus, a recent torture and crucifixion victim was now risen, and the Roman guy was little skeptical.  That you would expect.  But to tell the church of Jesus, to tell the very disciples of Jesus, the ones who later refer to themselves as the Apostles of Jesus … and nothing.  Just an invisible satanic umpire echoing beyond what they can hear … strike three.
Again the church failed.  The men failed.  They refused to believe a woman.  They refused to believe two of their own.  This could have easily been the end of the game.  In baseball it is.  But in the game of souls, the true Umpire is not looking to count how often we fail.  He is looking to help us stop failing.  The mission is not to end the game and watch us rail in the pain we cause ourselves.  It is to help us play differently.  To help us think differently.  To change who we are from the inside out.  Sometimes that takes more than just three chances to get it right.  The ones who get it in 3, are blessed.  But those of us laggards who just keep piling failure on top of failure, find ourselves contending with a God who just keeps pitching His love to us until we finally understand.  To lose at this game you have to leave the stadium, go off the grid, and tell God “no” every time He keeps on trying to lure you back on the field.  The style of Jesus is not to count strikes, but to create home runs.
So Jesus does what He must do to fix His church.  He makes a personal appearance.  Mark concludes this section in verse 14 saying … “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”  Jesus had to call a little time out with His own disciples.  Peter says He “upbraided” them for their lack of vision, their lack of belief.  Jesus gives the fourth pitch Himself, to make sure it goes according to plan.  When humans seem incapable of believing, Jesus can make them believe.  When humans lack the vision to see the divine, Jesus alone can open their eyes.  This is the whole point.  It is not our job to guard His church, it is His job to do that.  Only He can.  The church failed three times.  It took Jesus to fix it.  It takes Jesus to fix you. 
The pattern of sin and unbelief in your own life are like one of those physics rules we don’t fully understand.  They are lethal to us, but we don’t see it.  They are a spiral downwards causing pain to ourselves and everyone we love, and everyone who loves us, but we refuse to acknowledge it.  In truth, we don’t really want to understand our sins, and Satan is all too happy to keep it that way.  But Jesus knows the truth, and Jesus is The Truth.  We are not bound by the physics rules of sin.  Jesus breaks those things we could not break ourselves.  Our knowledge is increased in that Jesus expands that knowledge.  When we start wanting other things besides our sins, we begin to realize how much better our life is without those sins we were once chained to.  But that vision may seem like a mystery now.  It is only clear, after how Jesus transforms our hearts, and how we love.
There are no three strike rules in place with Jesus, but there are home runs He wants to hit on our behalf.  While Satan screams for the justice we deserve, our God quietly fixes the flaws in us, accepts our punishment for us, forgives us, and brings us home to him no matter how sordid our past has been, or how many demons he has to relocate to do so.  The only outcome to any spiritual game, the only physics rule that cannot be broken, is that the love of God is greater still and will find a way to bring you home.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Biased Media ...

What happens when the messenger wants something to be true?  Is the message corrupted by desire, or is the audience simply more skeptical of the messenger?  How could desire not impact what is said.  In this election cycle, there are strong opinions on either side.  But then, listening to those with strong opinions is not quite the same as listening to the source.  Once upon a time, our country had a news media not obsessed with corporate profit.  News organizations were largely loss-leaders for the entertainment divisions.  The news was considered a public service, mandated by the FCC to serve that interest.  To do news properly, one had to be extremely vigilant not to insert opinion, or preference, but to be devoid of it.  News was supposed to be a recitation of facts in order that an informed public could create its own opinions.  But today, news has become a corporate machine designed to create our opinions, providing only enough select information to do so.
Media itself has changed as well.  The internet has offered an explosion of personal opinion, bias, and anonymity.  Being responsible for the words you say in a face-to-face conversation, is a far cry from what is typed on a screen in absolute solitude.  Electronic friends are not the same thing as ones who could reach out and touch us in person.  Electronic friends are those of like mind, like preference, like bias on a particular topic.  Those of like mind congregate together reinforcing each other’s opinions but considering no new information that might alter them.  It would seem in our age, the only delivery system capable of offering information in a format we might consider when different than our own, are the comedy shows that focus on news related topics, despite the bias.  If we can laugh at reality, perhaps we can accept reality may not be exactly as we imagine it.
The world faced no such dangers in the time of Christ.  For news to travel it had to be face-to-face, or carrier pigeon mail to its recipient.  There was heavy responsibility for what words you said, for the person you said them to, knew it was you, and remembered what you said.  Bias still existed.  Preference still existed.  But friends in that day, had the luxury of knowing each other, understanding the history, putting the bias in context.  And so, news, while not centrally distributed, was still effective face-to-face despite the bias.  But stories of the impossible are still harder to believe, even when you know the source of the story.  To overcome common sense, takes great faith.  To believe what history, logic, and common sense say is impossible takes greater faith.  This is what our God asks.  He asks it still.  His messengers face this rĂ©sistance still, because in addition, they want what they say to be true.
Good news, may represent the only time, when bias and truth align.  When something we have waited for, longed for, and hoped for becomes our reality; this is when bias and truth align without negative side effects or consequences.  A Father and a mother wants to see their children live, not just exist, but live.  Our Father wants this for us.  Our parents want it too.  To offer news in this regard is a great story, a happy story.  Peter recalls one to John Mark that formed the basis for the gospel story.  While Peter and John Mark wanted it to be true, it was true, bias and truth aligned.  The story begins in the Gospel of Mark in chapter sixteen, picking up in verse 1 saying … “And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.”
Peter opens with a declarative whose significance cannot be overstated … and when the Sabbath was past.  Christ has finished resting from the work of our redemption, to now begin the work of our re-creation.  Without having paid this price, we could never be reconciled to God.  But a new day has dawned.  The first day of the week has arrived.  The first day of a new week, of a new phase of our reconciliation process.  The week is not at an end, but at its beginning.  And what happens now, is about what happens when something new has started.  Women of extreme courage are present once again.  The first ministers in the new covenant, in the new testament, in the new gospel, are to be women.  A hooker (now former), a mother, and a sister of Jesus with a famous name, have all come to anoint a dead body, which will never be found dead again; for death will hold no sway ever again.
Mark continues in verse 2 saying … “And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.”  Before the sun has arisen to start the day, the Son of God has arisen to start the new day of our reconciliation.  Those pagan cultures that worship the sun in our solar system, will have no event to further commemorate their misguided beliefs.  For while it was still dark outside, in the dark of morning between midnight and before the crack of dawn; something wonderful has already occurred.  The tomb was enlightened with the light of many suns, the entire Roman garrison was laid back in the dirt at the brilliance of God emerging from this tomb.  All of these events having already transpired before the dawn.  This sunrise will not light the events of the resurrection, they have already occurred.
John Mark continues in verse 3 saying … “And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? [verse 4] And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.”  Upon arriving at the tomb, the Roman garrison has fled.  They are alone at this site, no soldier stretched out to meet them or offer assistance to them.  They begin to ask how three women will be able to move a stone at the entry of the tomb that it took nearly a dozen soldiers to place there?  If they cannot move the door, they will not be able to get to His body.  They persist in their mission, not realizing there is no need for it anymore.  And as they arrive, the stone is already moved.  This makes no sense.  The Romans have no interest in this Jew.  They resent guarding Him, and surely would have not wanted anything more to do with a rotting corpse.  Something is wrong, wonderfully wrong.
Peter continues the recollection to John Mark in verse 5 saying … “And entering into the sepulcher, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.”  Entering the tomb they encounter an angel, who remained for just this mission.  Humanity fears the divine when it is encountered.  It could be the sin in us.  It could be the realization of what true purity is when it touches the likes of us.  We recoil.  We wonder if judgment is upon us now, without further time for repentance, or reformation.  Our fear is instinctive as it comes from the deceiver of souls who also fears what true purity looks like now.  We are too akin to darkness than to light.
Mark continues in verse 6 saying … “And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. [verse 7] But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.”  Before the gospel can be heard, or understood, we must lose our fear.  We must put aside our instinctive fear, and pay attention to something greater than our fear.  The first message of the gospel is herein defined.  The angel said it directly to these women.  The angel spoke the words of the gospel, the hope of the gospel to these women of extreme courage.  You seek Jesus.  He is NOT here.  He is arisen.  That is the gospel.  That is the good news, the great news.  It is both what we long for, what we want, and it is the truth.  Bias and truth aligned, as it can, ONLY when good news is spoken.
But beyond the angel’s declaration of the gospel itself.  He gives a command, a commission … to these three women.  They are to go to His disciples (and Peter) and tell them Jesus plans to meet them in Galilee as He had said to them before His death.  This is a specific message to be delivered to the people of God.  This is the first sermon to be spoken on earth.  It is to be short.  It is to be directly to the point.  It is to be directed at those who claim to follow Jesus the Christ, those who say they are His followers.  The first sermon is to be preached by women, by these three women of extreme courage.  The spices for this body will never be needed, but the message about a resurrection will never stop being needed.  It is not His death on the cross that is to be celebrated, but it is His resurrection from that death which is.  Those who wish to honor Jesus would do better to wear a stone rolled away from a tomb around their necks, than a wooden cross that commemorates only His death, not His victory over it.
And still the stubbornness of the men in our age is willing to proclaim that women should not preach.  Yet our God plainly thinks differently.  The prologue also being less than ideal as Mark concludes these thoughts in verse 8 saying … “And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulcher; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.”  The word of an angel was enough to make them tremble and fear.  But in these women of extreme courage, this was enough fear to make it fail.  Fear overcame commission.  Fear has always overcome our ability to spread the gospel.  Fear of our reputations being held in even less regard.  Fear that our sanity may not actually be quite intact.  Fear that our fondest hope is nothing more than self-hallucinations.  So these women believe what they have been told, but are unable to speak about it for fear.  Imagine how disappointed all of heaven must have been.
But where the words of an angel were not enough to conquer fear, this was a gospel that must get out.  The message could not be left unsaid.  The fear of messengers could not stand in its way.  The bias of believers could not stand in its way.  The limitations of the media could not stand in its way.  The gospel must be preached.  It must be heard.  It must have its chance to get right to the heart of one in need, right to you, right to me …

Friday, October 7, 2016

Sunset Changes Everything ...

At the Genesis of man, creation was completed in six days, and God rested on the seventh.  This institution was a memorial among other things for us to remember that Jesus the Christ, is our creator.  And if Jesus can create a thing, He can also re-create a thing.  Reclamation is not as hard as invention, at least not to the Savior of our souls.  But over time man forgot.  So on top of Mount Sinai, etched by the finger of Jesus into the rock tablets He carved, were the words … Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  We cannot make it holy, but we can remember that it “is” holy; as God has set aside His time, to be with us in a special way.  A time to hang out with our God.  But over time man twisted the meaning of “play time with Dad” into lists of do’s and don’ts.  Trust was lost that Jesus could restore in us what we could not restore, and hope was failing in redemption itself.
But then Jesus came to us in person.  He practiced what He had commanded.  He did not just attend the synagogues on Sabbath, He taught there on that day.  He honored His own edict that God would be with man on the special day of the Sabbath.  But Jesus did more than teach, He fed those in need, He healed those in pain.  He met the needs of His children in order that their time with Him would not be distracted by common needs, or the pain sin causes.  He forgave us.  He released us from the bondage to sin, whether by demons inhabiting us, or simply by our chains to sin and self-love.  He came to perform the work of our redemption.  And throughout this work, He kept His Sabbath with us.  But now, the zenith of His work for us had reached its peak.  And Friday sunset was coming.  The same sunset that greeted Adam and Eve when He walked with them in the garden, teaching them the mysteries of the universe, and of love itself so many years ago.  But on this Friday sunset, Jesus would greet the Sabbath at rest Himself.
Peter recalls the urgency of the Sabbath’s approach to John Mark in his gospel in chapter fifteen picking up in verse 42 saying … “And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,”  Sunset changes everything, or it should.  Preparations must be made before the Sabbath arrives.  Here is where the list of do’s and don’ts might better thrive.  Did you remember to prepare the food as much as possible?  We don’t want to miss time with God because we are distracted by cooking.  Did you remember to clean our home?  We don’t want to lessen our enjoyment with God, distracted by a messy home, with things out of place, or dirt piled up that we cannot see.  Did you arrange to insure the workers at our home have the Sabbath off?  We want to make sure those who serve us do not have to be occupied doing so, when they could be enjoying time with God themselves, we wish not to be that distraction from time with Him.
Manna fell in double portion for Israel on Friday’s and lasted through Sabbath for them without spoiling.  But on no other day was this possible.  The preparation or cleaning of the home was not meant to be a dictate of misery.  It was meant to be a liberation for those who normally serve in the home, to be free as well to enjoy their time with God.  The work of preparation was work of anticipation.  But on this Friday, Jesus could not engage in it Himself.  He was already at rest.  Someone else had to do it for Him.  Someone else had to do for God, what God was unable to do on this particular Sabbath.  And the time was growing short, for Sunset would change everything.
Mark continues in verse 43 saying … “Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counseller, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.”  Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin.  He had not been included in the travesty of the event they had called a trial.  He was not consulted in the vote to put Him to death.  He was informed only after it was done.  Joseph was suspected of being sympathetic to Jesus.  But Joseph had not been bold either.  He and Nicodemus spoke in quiet tones, at night, away from prying eyes.  They studied scripture and the more they looked, the more it pointed to the Truth of Jesus Christ.  But where caution had ruled the day before the death of Christ, it was thrown to the wind after He died.  Joseph was overcome by a desire to do one last kindness for Jesus.  And he was driven to do it quickly, as the Sabbath approached.
Mark continues in verse 44 saying … “And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. [verse 45] And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.”  Again Pilate looked upon these events from an entirely different perspective than the Jewish one.  Pilate was amazed that Jesus was dead so quickly.  No man died this fast before, not ever.  That was the point of the cross.  It was meant to torture its victim over several days.  Otherwise one could just behead the victim and be done with it immediately.  That Jesus could be dead so soon represented a marvel in the eyes of Pilate.  Pilate was aware of the darkness, he had seen it.  Pilate was aware of the earthquake he had felt it, and heard about the rip in the Temple curtain.  Pilate needed confirmation from his centurion that Jesus was really dead, and not some trick to be performed on him.  So a spear was thrust into the side of Jesus, blood and water emerged from the wound, but no reaction.  He was dead.  The legs of the other two were broken, but not a bone of Jesus, as scripture had foretold.
Pilate grants the request of Joseph.  Mark continues in verse 46 saying … “And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.”  Joseph did not buy cheap materials to wrap a dead body in.  He bought the finest linen he could secure.  His purchase gives way to the Christian legend of the imprint of Jesus left within the material surviving the ages.  Joseph lays Jesus in his own best burial tomb, he will secure another for himself later.  Jesus has need of it now.  The tomb is carved out in solid rock, no scavengers will get in here.  Mimicking the Egyptians for preserving a body as close to Jewish tradition as possible for burial Joseph gives his all in this quest.  Joseph has no idea this is merely a hotel for short storage.
The round rock takes many Roman soldiers to move in front of the door, but before they do a few witnesses take notice.  Mark continues in verse 47 saying … “And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.”  The women who still refuse to leave their Lord are present.  They examine where Jesus will be laid, in order that they may come later and anoint their Lord with the spices and preservatives that will best keep Him in tact.  But while the women of extreme courage remain present, so too are the spies of the Temple.  You can imagine as the Sanhedrin learns of Josephs kindness revealed, they have other intentions.  They request a Roman garrison be put on guard at the tomb at least until the third day passes, in order to prevent prophecy, or theft and deception.  They too examine the body of Christ, and the place where He is laid.  They too witness the Roman guards move the heavy stone, and then seal it with a Roman seal, the breaking of which will mean death.  But they must hurry for sunset approaches.
Humanity does not realize the God they are commanded to take time away from everything else and be with, is the Jesus Christ they lay in this tomb.  They do not realize that the ultimate price for our redemption has been paid by Jesus, and that the separation from God that He endured on that cross, the separation that killed Him, is something we need not endure.  Humanity sees only a dead Rabbi, like any other before Him, but perhaps this one was more kind.  Humanity sees only a dead prophet, one closer to God than any before Him, able to perform great miracles, but now dead and entombed like any other.  Our vision does not discern the divine.  We see only what we know.  We measure time only by how we know it to pass.  But what we miss is that even in death, Jesus will rest upon this Sabbath day, from the work of our redemption, as He once rested from the work of our creation.
Divinity sees something else.  Sunset will change everything.  The Sabbath will be the longest portion of the three days spent in this tomb.  Jesus dies only hours before it on Friday the first of three days.  He will rise early Sunday morning only hours into the third day.  It will be Sabbath that is spent in full where Jesus will rest from the work of our redemption.  The Sabbath will begin with sunset on Friday, and then end with it on Saturday evening.  A full 24 hour day spent in rest from the work of keeping us away from the eternal punishment, the eternal separation from God, that we have chosen, and we have earned.  Here is where mercy will sleep.  Here is where mercy will rest.  This day is not spent in preparation of the resumption of the work of our reclamation.  Here a full day will be set aside to simply rest in the sleep we call death.  Divine eyes see that death does not end the Sabbath memorial, it re-establishes it through the very actions of the Son of God Himself.
The Sabbath began at the Genesis of man before sin in our world existed.  It was reaffirmed at the covenant of man with our creator on Mount Sinai.  It was demonstrated by our God Himself, in His life and ministry before death, and then in full when He died.  It will be continued as Isaiah predicts in our heavenly home forever and ever.  Divine eyes see Sabbath in its reaffirmation by Jesus Himself.  If you consider that the Kingdom of God was meant for little children.  And you combine this with idea of a day set aside with God where our Dad sets aside His time to be with us.  Then perhaps you come to the idea that Sabbath is not a list of the concerns of adults, but rather unscripted playtime with Dad.  We prepare for it, only because we do not want to be distracted by any other concern during it.  We honor our time with Him, but insuring no one else has to spend their time serving us, instead of joining us, with our time with Him.  Until we think in alignment with Jesus, until He transforms how we think in this regard, our ability to keep Sabbath is stunted at best.
Sunset has changed everything …