Saturday, March 20, 2021

Following Jesus

 If the Promised Land is one of victory, then that implies that hardship precedes the victory.  God, in instructing Joshua, tells him to be "strong and courageous."  Those are terms of engagement and striving.  God is saying, in essence:  You will face difficulty, but receive the strength that only I, the Lord, can give:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Receive the courage that I, only the Lord, can give:

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

You will succeed.  You will have victory, but it will come out of doing battle. 

A pattern emerges in Scripture of Eden, Exile, Engagement and Elevation.  Let me break these down.  The world is an unkind place.  After being here for over half a century, I have seen moments of joy, love and true fellowship with a larger helping of death, destruction and dreariness.  But that is the world and that is the pattern.

Let's look at Adam:  Placed in a beautiful garden, he chose his own way, and not God's way.  So, he was exiled out of Eden.  As an exile, he had to engage with a fallen world.  He had to separate the thorns from the fruit, and pull out the weeds that choked his crops.  His elevation came from God's promise  that despite the corrupting influence of sin, God would continue the cycle of seed-time and harvest, and God would walk with him.  Adam had to cling to that promise especially when he faced the death of his son.

Let's look at Noah:  Placed in a safe and secure ark, he could ride out the storm that poured judgement on the ground and cleansed the earth of its sin.  But the flood waters receded; he had to return to a world where human nature still had not fundamentally changed.  He still had to engage with fallen humanity.  His elevation came from knowing that God was faithful to His word: the earth again bloomed, and God walked with Noah until his days were done.

Let's look at David:  He was anointed King--a kind of Eden of status.  His heart greatly pleased God.  But he was exiled into the desert and lived a life on the run.  Saul sought his death.  God provided help along the way with Jonathan's friendship; but David still had to fight to sustain his crown.  Jonathan then dies.  David's elevation came from knowing that God never abandoned him, even in his darkest days of adultery and premeditated murder; God promised his throne would stand forever, and his Descendant, the Anointed One, would be the King of Kings.

Job:  His Eden was a large family, wealth and prosperity.  But destruction of his world drove him into the exile of woe, despair and having to explain his life from friends, who, in their fear that they'd be next, try to distance themselves from him though argumentation and accusation.  His elevation came from declaration that he knew his Redeemer lived; he saw his fortunes restored, but he would never be the same man. This world leaves its scars us.

Moses:  Saved from death, he was placed in a palace, where he was pampered and given the best of everything.  But the suffering of his people led him to murder and exile into the desert, where he lived a life utterly opposite from the opulence of his youth.  He had to engage with an arrogant king, an ungrateful people and a task so huge that it still boggles our minds: leading a nation of slaves out of bondage and into being a nation of priests, prophets and kings.  His elevation came from hearing from God in fire and smoke.  Even though he disobeyed God, He still showed him the Promised Land.  God kept His promises to His leader and to His people.  God then took his servant home.

Mary:  A young girl, living an everyday life in an everyday village is exiled by being blessed:  She would carry the Messiah.  But she faced social ruin; the Lord had to use dreams to teach her husband to believe that she was not an adulteress; she was carrying God's own Son.  She would raise her Son in a hostile world--His own infancy was punctuated by the death of little innocent baby boys.  She would stand beneath His cross, and had to draw upon all the strength and courage God could give her to endure such pain of watching her Son suffer and die.  Her elevation came when she saw her Son utterly restored on that Sunday morning.

Jesus:  He left the very court of Heaven, having been from eternity His Father's Beloved, and exiled Himself from His "Eden" to our sin-filled, corrupted and lonely planet.  He would be misunderstood, accused, betrayed and ultimately murdered for His message.  The voices that sang, "Hosanna," would soon turn to "Crucify Him!"  He would engage sin on all fronts:  He would be tempted as we are; He would drive out demons; He would heal diseases that destroyed, caused death and alienated the victim from the community; He would seek to strip away all the man-made traditions that had so horribly obscured the face of His Father and He would find Himself confronting the worst sin of all in those He tried to save: pride.  His time away from His Father--the only time ever in His eternity--was when all of the world's sin descended upon Him and He, like us all, felt forsaken. But His resurrection was His elevation and in His is ours: We too, if we have accepted Him, will rise to new life for eternity.

But what about now?  

Battles, and lots of them.  If we think we can bring heaven down to earth now, we are trying to mix clean with unclean.  Jesus brings heaven down into us--we are now citizens of the Kingdom of God.  But when His light in us meets the darkness in the world, battles will ensue.  

Let us watch the epitome of the interaction between His light and the world's dark:

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” (John 18:33-40)

So, Pilate goes on a "fact-finding" mission by interrogating Jesus.  Fair enough.  That's his job.  But Jesus immediately controls the mission by asking Pilate questions.  Jesus cuts to the core of the matter:  

Who do you think I am?  You have been keeping tabs on me, Pilate.  You have heard from the leaders.  You have spies everywhere.  So, you are not ignorant of the facts surrounding Me.  So, you need to assemble all the facts, right here, right now, and give Me your conclusion.  

But what does Pilate do?  He distances himself from any responsibility of determining who Jesus is by saying he is not a Jew; so he doesn't have any opinion.  That is rather disingenuous; he is an informed leader and does has an opinion.  He wants to absolve himself of any culpability in this matter, for he can see that Jesus has run afoul of the religious leadership and they want Pilate to exert his power to kill Jesus.  The Jewish leadership does not have the power to exact capital punishment; only Rome does.  But Pilate can't see how this Man, however deluded He may be, is deserving of death.  

Jesus boldly reminds him that His kingdom is not of this world.  God's kingdom is not an earthly kingdom writ large; God's kingdom is run by entirely a different sets of principles.  Those principles reflect God's own character:  integrity, truth, no compromise with sin and a love that desires mercy, not sacrifice.  Redemption characterizes the Kingdom of God; retaliation characterizes the kingdom on earth, that both Pilate and the Jewish religious leadership are serving.

Jesus is not a king in any worldly sense; He is not contending for Caesar's power.  His mission is to teach, live and die for this truth:  That God so loves this world that He has sent this Son, who now stands before a skeptical leader, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

Pilate's reply?  The world's reply?  

"What is truth?"

The darkness of the world seeks not truth, but a fulfillment of its own agenda. It looks for its own truth, but with a sinful nature directing the pursuit, only chaos, confusion and darkness can occur:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom. 1:18-31) 

Feeding the flesh leads to an ever-deepening darkness in the soul, a futility in thinking and a world that boasts and manifests the very worst in humanity.  

"What is truth?"

Jesus made the audacious claim (if it's not true) that He is Truth.  He embodies it, lives it and when He was on this earth, He didn't compromise it.  

Some yelled, "Hosanna" and some yelled, "Crucify Him!" to His claim.  

In our exile on this earth, should we, who are following Jesus, expect anything less?


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