Saturday, June 26, 2021

Jesus and the Church, Part III

I am using the book of John to explore how Jesus dealt with the contemporary church of His day.  I love how John, in the first three chapters, underscores four new church inaugurating events:

1.  He is the Word Incarnate:  Moses came down from the mountain with the very words of God inscribed on stone.  Jesus came down from Heaven as the very Word itself: 

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

So, for the church, the people of God, we have a fulfillment of what Moses did all those years ago:  he brought the word down to the people, and now Jesus brings down the Word as Himself.  Wow!  We are being presented with a "new and living way": 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let’s approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let’s hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let’s consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds, not abandoning our own meeting together, as is the habit of some people, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:19-25)

He called His disciples and He is calling us to embark as ambassadors of this new and living way.

2.  He Calls Us as His Bride: His first miracle is at a wedding in Cana.  By turning water (ordinary) into fine wine (extraordinary), He is reinforcing God's view of His people: His Bride will be made into something extraordinary under His touch.  

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:8-11)

His Bride will be made new miraculously quick, but she will also take time to grow and be His partner on earth.  God truly saved the Best until last:  His Son. 

3.  He Clears Out the Temple:  This is where Jesus is seeking to do a major makeover of His church.  By casting out the worldly practices and compromises with the world, He seeks to cleanse His church and bring the holiness of God back into full view of His Bride.  He so identifies with His Father's House that He calls Himself the temple in response to the leaders demanding He show His credentials:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22)

God wants His Bride clean and pure, and only the blood of His Son, shed on the cross, will accomplish this. 

4.  He Calls Us as Individuals:  Jesus sees His church, His Bride, not as one big mass of people whose faces blend into the crowd, but as precious individuals.  The work of the church will be done by individuals, saving those, through the power of the Holy Spirit, who come seeking truth. So, now John narrows the scene down to Jesus talking with one person, a Jewish leader who comes to Him after the sun goes down:     

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2)

Nicodemus is a leader in the Sanhedrin, and clearly is moved by the teachings and actions of Jesus.  I find it fascinating that Nicodemus comes after the Temple incident; he could just stay put, utterly offended as his compatriots certainly are by Jesus' egregious action against their sanctioned practice in the Temple courts.  

But no.  He comes, when it is dark (Is John possibly commenting that not only was Nic using the darkness to secretly meet with Jesus, but that he himself was in the dark as well?)

Nic is curious.  He is seeking, asking, knocking.  Good start.  He is coming from a very august body:   

"According to the Talmudic sources, including the tractate Sanhedrin, the Great Sanhedrin was a court of 71 sages that met on fixed occasions in the Lishkat La-Gazit (“Chamber of the Hewn Stones”) in the Jerusalem Temple and that was presided over by two officials (zugot, or “pair”), the nasi and the av bet din. It was a religious legislative body “whence the law [Halakha] goes out to all Israel.” Politically, it could appoint the king and the high priest, declare war, and expand the territory of Jerusalem and the Temple. Judicially, it could try a high priest, a false prophet, a rebellious elder, or an errant tribe. Religiously, it supervised certain rituals, including the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) liturgy. The Great Sanhedrin also supervised the smaller, local sanhedrins and was the court of last resort."(

So, for Jesus, anyone, rich or poor, great or ordinary, is welcome to come.  Nic acknowledges Jesus as someone extraordinary.  He sees Jesus' miracles as coming from God.  (This is a far cry from later on when the leaders will accuse Jesus of being possessed by the devil.) 

Jesus cuts to the chase.  Time is limited in this encounter.  Nic could skitter out at any time, fearing he has been seen.  He wants Nic to get on board quickly:

 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[born from above]” 

"How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” 

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8)

Central to Jesus' church, to His new and living way, is a new spirit, born from the work of God in a person's life and taken from the very words that Nic and his ilk are so expert in:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh... (Ezek. 11:19)

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezek. 36:26)

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Jer. 31:33)

Nic knows these verses.  He's a learned elder of Israel, well-versed in the sacred writing of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Yet he reacts as if he's never heard them, or maybe he is so fearful of being seen with Jesus, his mind is shutting down with anxiety.  Jesus responds that being born of the Spirit is the new and living way, the new church (really, it's the old one being fulfilled, longed for by the prophets) and that human works are never going to be sufficient to fully engage with God.  Only a new spirit can do that.  

Nic is stunned.  He cannot fathom what Jesus is saying, and asks Him, "How are these things possible?" (John 3:9)

Then Jesus gets down to business.  The new and living way is Him.  He is the ultimate fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures: 

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:10-14)

Jesus' use of the name, "Son of Man" is an Ezekiel reference and Moses and the bronze snake is from the Torah specifically, so Jesus is effectively covering the Hebrew Scriptures with His references. Nic knows these very scriptures, yet he seems to not realize what God is doing in Jesus.  

Now Jesus tells Nic and us the very essence of Who He is, His mission, and the church that Jesus is building upon Himself as the Foundation:  

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:16-21)

This what I hear Jesus saying to Nic and to us:

You search the Scriptures, Nic, and they point to Me.  I have come not to condemn, but to save everyone who is willing to seek Me.  But be aware that disbelief in God's Son has its consequences: Your rituals will not save you as this new and living way comes forth.  One day the Temple, of which you are so proud, will be destroyed by an army, to punish and decimate the children of Israel.  What then?

You and everyone else who accepts My offer to be born from above will have new life and will be God's temple, not built of stone, but of a heart made right with God.  This person will run into the light, be forgiven of his or her sins, and live in the truth of Who I am and what I am doing.  

Come out of the dark, Nic.

You have to choose.  Yes, you will lose your posh position and receive the condemnation of your peers; but you will gain eternal life with Me!

John does not record Nic's answer.

Jesus awaits our answer. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Jesus and the Church, Part II

One of the greatest struggles Jesus had, as I look into Scripture, is with the leaders of the church of His day.  

I know all of us, at one time or another, have had to face a disappointment with someone who, as a Christian, seemed to have acted contrariwise to that claim.  We leave that church, perhaps, and then go to another fellowship, looking to restore our faith in those who walk in Jesus.

And yet...we run into another disappointment, and wonder if there is anyone we can call a role model?  I left church for a year, because Covid brought out some very prideful and divisive attitudes and behaviors in my brothers and sisters.  

I have recently found a fellowship, but I approach it with guarded optimism. 

We look to those who lead church as role models; we are not wrong to do this.  Think of the rabbinical tradition.  People gather around the rabbi, looking to learn from him, not only knowledge of the Torah but how to live it out.  

It was no different in Jesus' day.  I find it interesting that John introduces his gospel from the eternal perspective:  Jesus as the Word of God, incarnated and sent to the very earth He created to redeem us.  He is the Light; the Lamb of God; and the Beloved of the Father.  All of these designations are introduced to us in the first chapter, in the first 34 verses!  

Then in verse 35, we see Jesus as Rabbi.  He selects his disciples, His talmidim, and He calls Himself the Son of Man, and "the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth." (1:51)  They agree to follow Him.

So, now the Rabbi must face the three most important institutions of His day:  The family, as demonstrated by the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12) and John comments that this is the first time "Jesus revealed His glory."  How beautiful.  It is a metaphorical return to Eden, where man and woman had been created to love with no sin.  Originally, they had been partners with God, created for fellowship with Him, with each other, and to bring forth life as they came together.  

Jesus came to redeem the broken family, the perversion of sex, and the stony hearts of men.  

Next, He confronts the second most important institution of His day: the Temple.  The Jewish people saw it as God's House, a place of worship and sacrifice, a place of meeting the One Who is sovereign over all.  Yet, what does John show Jesus doing?  Clearing out His Father's House of its corrupted conversion to a place of commerce.  He turned over tables and the money went flying.  He angrily says, "Get these things out of here!  Stop turning my Father's house into a marketplace!" (John 2:16)  The disciples, well versed in the Torah, "remembered this prophecy form the Scriptures: 'Passion for God's house will consume me.'" (John 2:17).  

The Rabbi then confronted the religious leaders, whose have financially benefited from this arrangement and who were adamantly wanting to stay in control and not attract any attention from the Roman authorities.  Any disruption in the Temple courts could have brought the soldiers.  The religious leaders were furious and demanded a miracle to prove Jesus had the authority to have done this.  

Jesus then struck at the very heart of how far Judaism had fallen from what His Father through Moses and the prophets had revealed to the nation of Israel:

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. (John 2:18-25)

Let's see how this passage illustrates the issues Jesus confronted with the church of His day, and how those same issues plague us.  

1.  The Demand for God to Reveal Himself:  No, we are not as brazen as the leaders were in their demands, but in many churches the tacit demand for signs is there.  Jesus showing up as the gentle Good Shepherd or the Spirit coming down upon us as a gentle Dove doesn't appeal to our need to have God be there, in signs and wonders, in vocal manifestations--He must prove His presence by showing up in a kind of "holy"chaos.  In other words, many churches conduct their services on sight, not faith.  Faith is replaced with presumption, and we are like the leaders, demanding God show Himself according to our demands, and He must fit our theology.

2.  Not Using the Scriptures as the Sole Guideline for Our Conduct: Instead of saying to Jesus, "Let's see what the Word says about our conduct here in the Temple: Does it align with God's instructions?  Have we failed Him or are you in the wrong for doing what you just did, Jesus?"  No.  They demanded a sign.  They didn't use the Word to evaluate Jesus' actions; they went to their own standard to judge Him.  

How many churches apologize for what they see as the uncomfortable passages in Scripture, or ignore them altogether, in their effort to be relevant, relational and real?  As if God's Word is not relevant (every generation needs the Savior); relational (God commands us to love Him as well as our neighbor) and real (God's ways are not our ways, but they are a "new and living way" that meets us at our deepest need).  We have lost confidence in our Savior and His Word to really transform lives, so we dress Him up in cultural gear and send Him out to do our bidding:  to be our Life Coach, our Guide to our Best Life, and make His work all about me, me, me.  The church is there to make us feel good about ourselves, and woe unto anyone who confronts us about our sin as outlined in His Word.

3. Jesus Came to Redeem Us: Tying back into the earlier names for Jesus in the first chapter of John, Jesus' response to leaders about being Him being the Temple are an allusion to Him being the Light (to drive away the darkness in the religion of His day); being the Lamb of God (The Sacrifice for the people's sins, the final offered Lamb for all sin, for all time) and the Beloved of God (Who will give the people the ultimate proof of Who He is:  He will rise from the dead).  

We have forgotten the original purpose of the Word: It reveals that we are sinners and that the Messiah will redeem us. He comes not to redo our hearts, but give us new ones. The Father then seeks to conform us to the image of His Son. We live now in the Son and by the Son: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."(Gal. 2:20)  

The leaders were protecting their interests in the Temple and missed the true essence of their faith: "You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!" (John 5:39)   Do our churches get lost in the marketing of Jesus and lose what His original mission truly was and is?

4.  We Bloviate, Opine and Not Ask the Essential Questions, Waiting for the Essential Answers:  The leaders just seem to stop in their interrogation of Jesus.  He stumped them with His analogy to the Temple; no more questions. The disciples only later will realize what He was referring to; at least they got it--thank You, Holy Spirit!  But in the meantime, Jesus goes out to minister to the people, with His signs underscoring His claims.  His primary mission was to come and seek and save the lost, not entertain them, or appeal to their fleshly desire for spectacle.  

Why didn't the leaders pursue Him with a greater hunger for answers?  Because Jesus knew what was truly in their hearts, and He was not about to engage in a debate as to His authority with those with hardened hearts.  He also knew how fickle people can be--to quote a Janet Jackson song:  "What have you done for me lately?"   

We have not because we ask not.  We don't give a vigorous sincere knocking on the door, because like the leaders, we may be afraid of the truth on the other side.  We'd rather talk than listen, opine rather than learn and leave rather than be confronted with the truth.  Why is that?  Jesus told Pilate (and us):

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." (John 18:37-8)

Jesus tells us why His light is so disconcerting:

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.  And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants." (John 3:18-21)

The church in Jesus' day ran from the truth, ran from Him, and ultimately put Him to death.  Do we demand our churches downplay the truth of the Word (by getting angry at those pastors who preach the full counsel of God?) and do we church consumers demand a kind of shadowy mixture of dark and light that makes us feel comfortable and good about ourselves? 

But Jesus meets us as individuals, wanting us to ask the hard questions, for He is the answer.  Next time, we will walk with Jesus to explore the third most important institution of His day: Those who lead and influence others in the faith, with His encounter with Nicodemus in John 3. 

Do we come in the dead of night, seeking Him too?

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Jesus and the Church--Part I

We are examining how Jesus' struggles are our own and how He understands what we are going through more than we know.

A little back story here.  I became born-again at age 14, back in the 70's.  My family was Christian because that was the general atmosphere in the 40's and 50's in America.  When I was little, we went to church but once I grew a little older, our family stopped going.  

I met Jesus in Hawaii.  After a long and arduous search for meaning in this life, having watching a Holocaust film in the 8th grade, I prayed one night and a warmth permeated the room.  I had met God and began this walk.  I still am a seeker of truth in all things.  I believe there are two reasons for this.  First, I grew up in an alcoholic home and that remained our family's secret.  My dad told me that my mother was slowly committing suicide by drinking; her own mother had committed suicide and she never recovered from that trauma.  That was her family's secret.  So, we had one also.  Truth was not at a premium in my home; keeping the domestic peace was. 

The second reason I seek out the truth of things is that justice is rarely meted out in our world; people literally get away with murder and the Holocaust proves that.  How many people were convicted after the war versus the number who participated and snuck off into history?  If this world is it, and there is no transcendent Court, then evil won. then and still wins now.

But if God will one day sit in the ultimate Supreme Court and will not send people to hell, but sadly watch them receive the logical result of their choice of having lived without Him in their lives, then goodness wins.  Live without God now, live without God in eternity.  Choose Him here, choose Him for eternity.  It's quite simple, and I find peace in knowing that eternity is the final righting of wrongs.  That is why the Word declares:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev. 21:1-8)

Wow.  What a lovely vision of the future.  This is a future where justice and mercy has prevailed.  

So as a new born-again Christian, I walked up to a little neighborhood church and spent eight years there, being discipled.  I had wonderful role models of how to walk in the Lord, with people who really cared about this awkward teenager.  I was well grounded in the Scriptures and enjoyed church as my second home, because mine was falling apart, with my father leaving us when I was 16.

Only until recently had my church experiences been anything but positive.  Yes, there were a few skirmishes here and there, but nothing to make me doubt church altogether.

Then, in 2015, our church saw our pastor retire and a new one came on board.  This was the beginning of my slow but sure disenchantment with the church.  

This new pastor knew his Bible extremely well and that inspired me to dig deeper.  We studied the Word in a group and studied the art of preaching.  I preached a few times and loved it.  He didn't.  I led worship, which he appreciated, but at times, when he felt threatened, he would put me down.  So, I was praised then punished.  This roller coaster started getting to me, but being a codependent person, I kept adapting and making mid-course corrections.  His displeasure triggered me because I had that same dynamic with my dad.  Then this pastor blamed me for something I did not do, and he was furious with me.  Despite my effort to reconcile and clear the air, he maintained his anger.  When I got an opportunity to lead worship at a new church with my daughter and son-in-law, I took it.  The church had decreased significantly in size and I wanted a change after serving there for eight years.  This pastor never spoke to me again.  

Strike one.

I then went to a new church and served on the worship team.  My life at home was having its challenges but I enjoyed the pastor there, and sought to expand my service.  The pastor's wife had me teach a Bible study, but wanted to critique how I was doing it after each session.  It's hard for me to stay on script if I feel led to share something.  She was not supportive of this, and wanted me to limit my personal input.  So now church and home were pulling me down.  My depression had been increasing and my tolerance for any kind of conflict was very low.  I left.  

Strike two.  

A few months later, Covid hit.  This church opened back up way too soon, even allowing an inside  wedding in the middle of the pandemic.  So, sadly, my days were numbered there, because I would not have supported the pastor in his conduct during the pandemic.  Later on, I did attend one more time, and I was able to reconcile with the pastor and his wife.  But because I just couldn't bring myself to trust their judgment in some areas, I left for good.  

But this church was not alone.  An angry line was drawn in the sand by many churches in Idaho.  Many Christians here were divided over wearing masks.  We went to another church wearing our masks, and one woman sat in the sanctuary while we waited for the service to start talking loudly about people who wear masks in less than supportive terms.  The pastor was a keen young man with a love for the Word, but the church folks were so unfriendly that we stopped going after a few visits. That was last summer.

Then I watched over the course of the year the accusations, angry and acrimony waged in the Body of Christ.  Wow.  I was stunned and stopped going to church altogether, even watching ones online.  I just couldn't watch, in good conscience, those churches who were acting as if nothing was wrong, while many people were dying here in America and around the world. 

Strike three.  I was out.  

I was so disenchanted with how the Body responded to the pandemic in Idaho and in many states that I deeply questioned Church altogether.  For a long time, I have had serious misgivings about business models informing the creating and running of a church.  The rise of the mega-church with all eyes on a charismatic preacher and an emphasis on branding and production has bothered me as well.  But when Covid hit, and some pastors mocked the pandemic, along with many Christians who took umbrage with the government, going so far as to call it a hoax, I was flabbergasted.  To add to the excitement, we saw secular news reports of several prominent pastors who were called out for immoral behavior. 


To walk away from church has been hard.  I will not be a hypocrite and sit or watch online a church where I cannot agree with their course of action or current attitudes.

Yes, to be forgiving as a Christian is central; I have really struggled to be so.  Forgiveness is especially hard when it's your brother or sister in the Lord, because you expect them to know better, right?  They stand on the same ground won for them by Christ as I do.  They have built their lives on the Word--so when the world starts yet another storm (and it will) we all stand tall together, right?

I am not proud of how I responded at times, with a lot of pride mixed with hurt and utter bewilderment.  At times, I felt like that Pharisee; at other times, I felt like that publican, in Jesus' parable.  

Jesus gets it all too well.  His biggest challenge was not those who did not believe; His biggest challenge was the "Church"--that organization erected by men in the name of Judaism with a mixture of all-too-worldly values and a serious desire to uphold the Torah and serve God.  


I would like to, in my next blog, look at His encounters with religious leaders and see how He responded.  I would like to understand His Body better, and I am praying His Spirit will give us insight as we look at Jesus' life.

Blessings to you.

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