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Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” 13And again,
“I will put my trust in him.” And again he says,
“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2.9-18)

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whosoever shall lose his life

October 26, 2010 1 comment

The greatest lesson that the world teaches us, the greatest lesson that we have to learn from all worldly pursuits, is that we may save our life only to lose it. This is a worldly lesson, built upon a worldly understanding of life as what can be accomplished in a lifetime, what we can attain, the “mark” we can leave on the world, whatever that means. This viewpoint reveals itself as despair when we realize that, from the worldly perspective, all must perish in the end. Really we can’t leave a mark. If we really and truly learn this lesson, then we are “not far from the kingdom of God…”; that is, we are ready for Christ, for his rule, for his way of living. The man in the gospels who Jesus told this to was a person who had realized that love of God and love of neighbor were more important than all religious ritual (cf. Mark 12. 34).

And so Christ comes along and solves the puzzle, by telling us two facts. First, he tells us that we actually do leave a mark. But it isn’t the mark we were trying to leave. Every deed, every word, every thought and action will be remembered. Really this could not be otherwise; God does not forget. And because of this, and by his grace in other ways, we come to see that how we have been living–our efforts to have led the good life, to have left our mark, to have made the most of things, etc–are not necessarily pleasing to God, the good judge of all things.

The mark is not what we thought it was; we didn’t really know the things that mattered. In the things we had pursued, we forgot about loving our neighbor. And we hadn’t honored God in what we did, but rather sought to glorify ourselves. This can be horrifying, and is horrifying, but he gives us the second fact, which is the comfort: whosoever shall lose his life shall save it. We didn’t really know what life was, you see. We strove after the sort of life that perishes, but he gives us his life, the eternal life, the sort of life that will not perish. He gives us this by giving us himself. But we had to give up the life we thought we had, in order to gain it.

Many people think that if they come to Jesus, if they become Christians, that they are giving up something that they could never give up, and thus that it’s not worth it to pursue God. And indeed, much of religion conveys this message, making it seem as if we have to choose between God and pleasure, between God and joy. But it is not so. This is not the offer. Jesus’ words confirming this are as follows:

“I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19.28-29)

The parallel in Mark has a valuable shift of emphasis that helps us understand the meaning:

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10. 29-31)

Everything in this world that is of value that we give up will be replaced. In fact, “replaced” is not the right word. Mark makes it clear that the we get the same things back, including things that are irreplaceable (for example, mothers). The point is, everything that really has eternal value in the present age will be given to us now according to God’s good love for us, and will survive into eternity. It’s just, at this point in time, our hearts have very mixed up priorities, so that the call to follow Jesus will seem like a loss. It seems like many good things will have to be absolutely abandoned. What Jesus is telling us here is that this is not actually so.

The renewal of all things will feature abundantly more of what we had clung to, and if we hope for the redemption of these things that we cling to, we must abandon them as our idols in order to follow the one and only God. So we do have to abandon many things in the way that we had considered them, and this will be difficult. We ought never trivialize this. And we ought never pretend that the things we have selfishly pursued are actually God’s blessing. For these things do perish, and we along with them, if we make them our gods. Jesus tells us above that the good in the present age comes “with…persecutions”–we must take this to heart and realize that even the joys of this age come with difficulty and strife. But strife which we can endure because we know the promises of our great king, that the goodness he is building on earth now will survive and blossom in the new heavens and the new earth.

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Have you not known? Have you not heard?

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

6A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

9Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
or what man shows him his counsel?
14Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
15Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.

21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

27Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah ch. 40)

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…and he will guide them to springs of living water

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment

9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7.9-17)

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moralistic idolatry

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

You will sometimes hear a preacher say, “now, created things are not bad, mind you, but we can’t let them get in the way of our worship of God!” This is a true point in its own right, but I also think it is a severe understatement, and contains a danger in that understatement. I would venture to say that the proper counterpoint to this statement is the following, which may itself be a bit overstated: without creation, we cannot worship God at all. Angels, perhaps, can praise God as pure spirits, but that is not what we are. And that is not even my point, really–angels themselves are created. They cannot worship God, either, without reference to the created modes of interaction that God has ordained for them (which remain a mystery to us). But my point is that, without creation, we are nothing, and hence worship is nothing. God exists apart from creation, but he is the only being with this property. For all created beings, their interaction with God is mediated through creation.

Further, as long as we view creation in competition with our worship of God, we will let the one get in the way of the other. To do so itself breeds idolatry, because it paints a picture of a moralistic and gnostic god who is opposed to the goodness we see around us. There is no essential conflict between created good and the worship of God. The conflict is contingent. What is it contingent on? It is contingent on our rebellious hearts.

Thus when a moralist rails against some created good, what we are really seeing is the idolatry of his own heart: the secret desire he has to abuse creation has been unconsciously wed, in his mind, to the creation itself. His own idolatrous impulses have become, in his mind, intrinsic to the object of his potential false worship. This is one of the dangers of “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.”

The beauty of the gospel is that it sets us free from this. We are no longer pitted in an impossible battle against the created things we have abused, and the hold they have on us. Rather, we hold tight to Jesus Christ in faith, and he will set the rest aright.

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He will swallow up death forever

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ll never forget the first time I heard this passage read aloud, and I heard it read again today in church:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the LORD; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25.6-9)

Amen.

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