Posts tagged ‘Jesus’

Put Down Your Sword

When I was in seminary, I took a road trip with some buddies to the tiny west Texas town of Marfa, famed for its “mystery lights.” These lights appear regularly at dusk and before dawn on Mitchell Flat, just east of Marfa. Strange orbs hover in the night sky – joining with and separating from each other, appearing and disappearing, and changing colors. For decades, researchers, scientists, and curious onlookers have tried to figure out the mystery of the lights. Some say they’re a mirage caused by sharp temperature gradients between cold and warm layers of air. Others say they’re headlights from nearby U.S. Highway 67. Others have paranormal explanations.

The night I and my buddies saw the lights, we made it our mission to solve the mystery once and for all. We took my friend’s Camaro off-roading across the plain to catch the lights. Shockingly enough, we did not. We did, however, raise the hackles of some very annoyed locals who did not like us leaving tire tracks across their land. They let us know in no uncertain terms that the plain was off-limits and it was time for us to leave.

When Adam and Eve stray from God’s command to not eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and go off-roading into evil, God lets them know in no uncertain terms that the idyllic Garden of Eden in which He has placed them is now off-limits and that it is time for them to leave. In fact, just to ensure they never enter the Garden again, He installs what is quite literally a “flashy” security system:

He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)

Adam and Eve were able to eat from the tree of life before their fall into sin because they were designed to live eternally. But now, that tree and God’s garden is blocked by a sword that will bring about their death if they try to breach it.

The night before Jesus goes to the cross, He, like Adam and Eve, finds Himself in a garden – the Garden of Gethsemane. After He spends some agonizing moments in prayer about His impending torture and death, a coterie of Jesus’ enemies comes to arrest Him and drag Him away to a series of show trials to try to convict Him of heresy against Jewish theological teaching and treason against the Roman government. Peter, who is with Jesus, boldly brandishes his sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, who is part of the seditious mob. But Jesus, instead of thanking Peter for his loyalty, rebukes him:

Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

It was a sword that once guarded Adam and Eve from a garden. But Jesus will not allow a sword to guard Him in a garden.

Jesus, it turns out, has come to cast out the sword from the garden. As He makes His way to the cross, He is systematically disarming the curse of sin that blocks us from eternal life and threatens our eternal death. The sword is disarmed. The garden is open. As Charles Wesley says in his great Easter hymn:

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!

Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!

Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!

Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

The paradise that was once closed by a curse to Adam and Eve has been opened to us by a cross. That most certainly deserves our hearty, “Alleluia!”

April 12, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why We Need Easter

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In an article for The Washington Post, Emma Pattee writes about how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us face-to-face with the reality of our mortality:

You probably remember where you were that day in March when you first realized that the novel coronavirus was something …

I remember where I was: driving to the gym for a Mommy & Me boot camp.

I pulled up to a red light and locked eyes with my 6-month-old baby in the rearview mirror. I felt unsettled and scared. I had an inexplicable urge to go home, and also to call everyone I knew and check on them. Yet nothing had happened. I was safe, healthy and employed. At that point, in mid-March, I was more likely to die of a car accident than of contracting covid-19 …

That eerie uncomfortable feeling has been described as grief. As fear. Or anxiety. But Sheldon Solomon, a social psychologist and professor at Skidmore College, has a more robust explanation: It is the existential anxiety caused by reminders of our own mortality.

Simply put, to function as a conscious being, it’s imperative that you be in denial about your impending death. How else would you go about the mundane aspects of your daily life – cleaning the gutters, paying the bills, sitting in traffic – if you were constantly aware of the inevitability of your own death?

Ms. Pattee goes on to cite studies that have found that we seem to be hardwired to fear death and to avoid thinking about it:

neurological study was published in 2019 about a mechanism in the brain that avoids awareness of a person’s own mortality and that categorizes death as something unfortunate that happens to other people. …

An Israeli study showed some participants a flier about death anxiety and others one about back pain. When subjects were then offered an alcoholic beverage, one-third of the death flier group bought alcohol vs. one-tenth of the back-pain group.

We don’t like death. And the day we celebrated yesterday – Easter – gives us an answer as to why.

Scripture’s story is that we were created not to die, but to live. But when our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell into sin, they reaped the wage of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). But this wage disordered the way creation was designed to be. It was designed to be filled with life – not marred by death.

Our dislike and fear of death, then, can be rightly said to be a yearning for the way we know things “should be.” We should not have to mourn the loss of our loved ones. We should not have to struggle and suffer through a pandemic. We should not have to endure horrific acts of violence that lead to death like wars and mass shootings. We should not have to deal with death. We can sense that dealing with death is, in some way, profoundly unnatural.

This is why we need Easter. Easter is the beginning of a return to the way they were always supposed to be. As Timothy Keller puts it in his book Hope in Times of Fear:

The resurrection was indeed a miraculous display of God’s power, but we should not see it as a suspension of the natural order of the world. Rather it was the beginning of the restoration of the natural order of the world, the world as God intended it to be.

In other words, death is wrong. Resurrection is right. Life is what the world was designed for, which is why it’s what we yearn for. And our yearnings will be fulfilled.

Christ’s resurrection is not only a feat against death, but a forecast that death will not have the last word. Christ’s resurrection, the apostle Paul says, is a “firstfruits” of our own resurrections (1 Corinthians 15:20). As Christ is risen, we will rise. And death will die. This is the message and the promise of Easter.

I hope you celebrated Easter well yesterday. And I hope you’ll hold on to all that Easter is today – and every day.

April 5, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Jesus’ Love For Children Lost

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One of the most moving moments of being a pastor is sitting with a family who has just lost a child. Perhaps they had a miscarriage. Perhaps their baby never made it out of the NICU. Perhaps their child lost their life in a tragic accident. There are many questions that a family asks at a moment like this:

How could God allow this to happen?

Did this happen because we did something wrong?

But there is one question I want to focus on in this blog:

Is my child in heaven with Jesus?

This is a weighty question because it reaches beyond a parent’s present pain and cries out desperately for an eternal hope. It deserves our serious consideration.

There is a famous episode in Mark 10 that gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ relationship with children:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And He took the children in His arms, placed His hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

There is an interesting debate over Jesus’ words in verse 14 when He says, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” What is the referent of “such as these”? Some say the referent is found at the beginning of verse 14 in “the little children.” This means that Jesus is not only welcoming a particular group of little children into His arms at this moment, but making a broader declaration about how the kingdom of God belongs to many other little children who are like these but who are also beyond these. The phrase “such as these,” then, reminds us that “Jesus loves the little children – all the children of the world.”

There are others, however, who argue that the phrase “such as these” is better informed by the word “anyone” in the next verse. In this interpretation, Jesus is not declaring that little children can enter His kingdom. Instead, He is only calling people in general to have a childlike faith. Though Jesus is certainly calling people to have a childlike faith in verse 15, syntactically, the specific referent of “such as these” is quite clear. In Greek, the word for the phrase “such as these” is tointoun, which is neuter. The word for the children who come to Jesus is paidia, which is also neuter. The word for “anyone” in verse 15 is hos, which is masculine. It is important to note that the genders of each of these words are incidental features of Greek syntax and not determinative of which genders of human beings can and cannot enter God’s kingdom. Syntactically, however, Greek pronouns and nouns do need to generally match in their genders. Thus, the first interpretation of which referent is the appropriate one for the phrase “such as these” is correct: it is children like the ones who are coming to Jesus in Mark 10 who can enter God’s kingdom. Age is no barrier to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Of course, I would not walk a grieving family who has just lost a child through the technicalities of the Greek syntax in Mark 10 like I did in this blog. But a careful consideration of the syntax is important for my pastoral ministry because it allows me to confidently proclaim:

Jesus welcomes children into His kingdom.

Just because a baby cannot intellectually assent to the great truths of the Christian faith does not mean they are barred from eternal life. Indeed, one of the reasons that adults can have a faith like a child is because there is such a thing as a faith of a child (cf. Matthew 18:6). Children – and even babies – can sing babbling praises to the Lord (Matthew 21:15-16). Babies – and even infants in the womb – can respond to God’s good news of a Messiah (Luke 1:41-42). A child lost to a parent does not mean a child lost to the Lord.

If you are reading this and you have lost a child, this I want you to know:

Jesus welcomes children into His kingdom.

You can have hope.

If you are reading this and you have a child or are expecting one, share with them God’s Word, even from the womb. Allow them to hear the voice of their Savior calling them. It’s never too early to teach the faith because it’s never too early for someone to have faith. And it is by faith that we live – and live eternally.

March 1, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Unleavened Living

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While writing to the church at Galatia, Paul issues the Christians there a warning in metaphor:

A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. (Galatians 5:9)

Though this may sound strange to us, it would have been powerful to its first-century readers.

Yeast plays a prominent role in a seminal event in Israel’s history – the Passover. When God is preparing to rescue His people from their slavery in Egypt, He gives them some instructions on a meal they are to prepare:

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance. Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. (Exodus 12:3, 6-8, 10, 14, 17)

On the night of the Passover, God promises to rescue His people from their slavery in Egypt. Before their rescue, God calls upon them to prepare a meal. But it has to be prepared and eaten “in haste.” Thus, rather than preparing leavened bread and having to wait for the yeast to rise, they bake and eat unleavened bread.

When the Israelites slipped out from their surly bonds of Egyptian slavery, they did not have time to do much of anything – even bake properly leavened bread. But that’s okay – because God did everything. He was the One who rescued them. He was the One who redeemed them. He was the One who saved them.

When Paul writes to the Galatians, he writes to a group of Christians who have been infiltrated by some false teachers who argue that, in order to be saved, even Gentile converts must be circumcised according to Jewish Old Testament law. Paul is forceful in his denunciation of their position:

I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:3-4)

Paul argues that to follow one part of the law in order to somehow add to your salvation means you must follow the whole of the Old Testament law, which negates the need for Christ. After all, if you can follow the Old Testament law perfectly, then you are perfect and do not need a Savior. Paul follows this assertion up with his metaphor:

A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. (Galatians 5:9)

In other words, even a bit of self-salvation like, let’s say, adding a requirement of circumcision to what Christ has done won’t stop there. More and more laws will be added. These laws will work their way through the whole batch of your life. And the harder you work to follow these rules, the more puffed with pride you will become – just like yeast puffs up dough. But you will only be fooling yourself, for even your best efforts will be revealed plainly to be pitiful when measured against God’s perfection.

Paul’s invitation, then, is this: live unleavened. Don’t live puffed up. Just as God did all the work to save the Israelites on that Passover night, God has done all the work to save you on the cross. You do not need the yeast of self-righteousness and your works, but the bread of life, who is Jesus Christ, and His work.

Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:6-7)

February 15, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Perfect and Imperfect People

In Leviticus 22, we read about the kind of sacrifices that are acceptable to God:

When anyone brings from the herd or flock a fellowship offering to the Lord to fulfill a special vow or as a freewill offering, it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable. (Leviticus 22:21)

What the ancient Israelites offered to God was the be the best of the best. What is often overlooked, however, is that Leviticus speaks not only to what could be offered to God, but to who could offer it:

No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. (Leviticus 21:18-20)

These restrictions concerning who may bring an offering to the Lord may seem eyebrow-raisingly blunt to us, but their core implication is inescapably clear:

Only perfect people are allowed before God.

Not only did the sacrifices to God have to be perfect; the people who made them had to be perfect, too.

This requirement for perfection is one of the reasons Jesus’ ministry so scandalized the religious professionals of His day. Jesus gladly interacted with precisely the kinds of people Leviticus 21 barred from service to God. Jesus healed the blind, made the lame walk, and even reconstructed a man’s deformed hand. These were not just healings; they were testimonies to a new day and a new way. Under the Levitical covenant, to which the religious professionals of Jesus’ day subscribed, only perfect people could approach God. But now, Christ, in word and in deed, was announcing that God was approaching imperfect people.

Jesus addresses the scandalized religious professionals’ concerns by summarizing His ministry like this:

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2:17)

Jesus takes the core of Leviticus 21 and turns it on its head. With these words, He announces:

Only imperfect people are allowed through Christ.

Only imperfect people are allowed because, if we are honest with ourselves, we have nothing perfect to offer to God in the form of either ourselves or a sacrifice. This is why the preacher of Hebrews writes:

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:11)

These sacrifices never took away sins because they never met the demands of Leviticus 21 and 22. They simply were not perfect enough. But Jesus was. And Jesus is. This is why God offers Jesus as a sacrifice for us.

The temptation to point fingers at the defects and blemishes of others can be acute. Those who are different from us can sometimes seem to almost invite criticism by us. But Christians must remember that our mission is not to demand perfection from people, but to point them to the One who already is. May we do so gladly.

January 25, 2021 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Sunshine & Branches

Tree, Aesthetic, Log, Branch, Winter Sun, Winter, Kahl
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When an elderly priest named Zechariah is chosen by lot to burn incense at the temple in Jerusalem, it marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, there were around 20,000 priests serving at the temple in the first century. Many of them never got to bring such an offering before God. So, Zechariah, when his lot is drawn, is obviously overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. But an already overwhelming moment becomes even more potent when, in the middle of Zechariah’s liturgical service, an angel appears to him, telling him that he and his wife Elizabeth, both of whom could have easily qualified to be members-in-good-standing of the AARP by this point in their lives, will have a child who will, in fulfillment of ancient prophecy, “prepare the way for the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). At first, Zechariah is skeptical of this angelic announcement, but his suspicion quickly melts into praise and hope, both at the promise that he and his wife will have a child and that his child will prepare the way for the arrival of God’s salvation. At the end of a song of celebration, he muses:

You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heavento shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

In his song, Zechariah celebrates both his child and God’s Messiah. He describes the Messiah as “the rising sun” who will come “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

This picture of light was a common metaphor for the Messiah among the prophets:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

And:

For you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. (Malachi 4:2)

In a world full of the darkness of sin, the Messiah would bring the light of righteousness.

When Zechariah speaks of the coming Messiah as “the rising sun,” the Greek word Luke employs is anatole, a word which refers to the east, the place from which the sun rises. What is fascinating about this word is that it can also be translated as “branch,” as it is when God speaks through the prophet Zechariah, who lived over 500 years before the priest Zechariah did:

I am going to bring My servant, the Branch. (Zechariah 3:8)

God calls the Messiah “the Branch,” the Greek word for which is anatole. In a world full of death, the Messiah would be like a tree that sprouts and brings life.

This one little word speaks to who the Messiah is in multiple ways. He sheds light in the darkness of sin and he branches out from death with life. Though Zechariah, more than likely, did not understand the fullness of who the Messiah would be and what He would accomplish when he sang his song, we live in what the apostle Paul once called “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). In other words, we have the benefit of historical retrospection to understand more fully how Jesus changed the world – and how Jesus still changes lives. And because of this, we, like Zechariah, can have praise to offer and hope to hold this Christmas.

December 21, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

King Jesus, King Herod, and “Three Kings”

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One of the most beloved sections of the Christmas story is when wise men come to visit Jesus and His family:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Part of what makes this particular section of the Christmas story so compelling is the evil king who serves as a foil to the so-called “three kings” who are looking to present gifts to Jesus. King Herod feels threatened by Jesus and wants to slaughter what he perceives to be the competition. This kind of ghastly plot comports with what we know about Herod historically. Herod was the king who had his wife Mariamne and his sons Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater all executed because he suspected they were trying to usurp his throne. Herod’s conduct toward his own family was so gruesome that Caesar Augustus, who was the Roman Emperor at this time, is said to have quipped, “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.” The first-century historian Josephus once wrote that Herod’s “character had nothing human to recommend to it.” And yet, if you would have asked him, Herod would have self-identified as a religiously observant Jew. After all, Herod was the one who expanded the temple in Jerusalem into a glorious showcase of Jewish religious sensibility and sacrifice.

Herod’s willingness to build a monument to Jewish religious rituals while acting so depravedly in his relationships with his own family is manifestly hypocritical. The fact that wise men who were not Jewish would gladly worship Jesus as the Messiah while a self-identified Jew would fearfully despise Jesus because he thought He might be the Messiah just further confirms how spiritually blind Herod really was. As Andreas Köstenberger and Alexander Stewart put it in their book The First Days of Jesus:

Herod powerfully illustrates the fact that it’s not enough to identify outwardly with God’s people. It’s not enough to give sacrificially of your funds and your energy to build God’s house (or temple) and to help others worship. It’s not enough to learn about God and His plan through His Scriptures. Every one of us is confronted with a choice…Who will we serve? For whom will we live?

These are questions that still come to us. The Christmas season is not merely about favorite carols, idyllic nativity scenes, and warm religious observances, as wonderful as all these things may be. This season is about a newborn King. And trusting in and living for this King cannot be captured in just one holiday. It is God’s call to us every day. May this Christmas be a time to renew our commitment to this call.

December 7, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Election Day 2020

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Election Day is one day away. And what an election season it’s been. In what has become a quadrennial ritual, campaigns have been waged, accusations have been leveled, statements that have very loose associations with the truth have been uttered, and our nation has become even more divided over politics than it already was.

It can be difficult for Christians to navigate through what feels like an exponentially increasing number of political landmines all around us. So, as we head into another Election Day fraught with fights and frights, let me remind you of two things.

First, Christians live as dual citizens. In his famous fifth-century work The City of God, the church father Augustine spoke of how Christians belong both to the City of Man and the City of God. Sadly, the City of Man is deeply disordered because of sin. Those who care only for the City of Man often gladly and unrepentantly operate in ways that involve much deception and transgression. Thus, though we may be among the City of Man, we cannot be in league with the City of Man. Our first, highest, and final allegiance must be to the City of God. This does not mean that we run away from the world, but it does mean that, in many ways, we refuse to operate like the world.

Second, the City of Man matters. For all its brokenness, God can still use what happens in the City of Man for His glory and the world’s good. This understanding of the City of Man was key to the success of the apostle Paul’s ministry. Paul, for instance, was not afraid to appeal to his Roman citizenship in the City of Man to protect himself from being mobbed (Acts 22:22-29). He also seems to have preferred his Roman name Paul to his Jewish name Saul. This is why, in the many letters he wrote to churches in the ancient world, he introduced himself as Paul rather than Saul, though he retained both names throughout his life (cf. Acts 13:9).

Why would this apostle prefer introducing himself using a pagan-sounding Roman name instead of his more traditional Jewish name? Because he fashioned himself as an apostle to people who were pagans in the City of Man – people who did not yet believe in the God of Israel and the Messiah He sent in Jesus. “I am an apostle to the Gentiles,” who were pagans, he wrote, and “I take pride in my ministry” (Romans 11:13). His Roman name – and his status as a Roman citizen – helped him reach pagan Roman citizens he may have not otherwise been able to reach with the gospel.

Some Christians can too often be tempted to leverage the resources of the City of Man primarily to win against others – political enemies, cultural contraries, and socioeconomic opposites. Paul, however, leveraged his citizenship – a gift bestowed on him by the City of Man – and his Roman name to win over people. He used what he gained from the City of Man to point people to the City of God.

In a recent article in National Review, Kevin Williamson wisely cautioned his readers: “There’s more to citizenship than voting, and partisanship is not patriotism.” Sometimes, I think we can be tempted to fall into the trap of believing the sum of our citizenship in the City of Man is winning an election through partisanship and voting. But being a good citizen in the City of Man goes so much further than that. Like Paul, may we use our citizenship in the City of Man not only to protect and further our interests, but to love and reach others.

That’s something we can all choose to do on Election Day – no matter who we vote for.

November 2, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Just Passing By

In Mark 6, Jesus’ disciples are sailing across the Sea of Galilee. Late into the night, Jesus decides to hit the water too, but instead of chartering a boat across the lake, Jesus steps out onto the lake. Mark tells the story like this:

Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought He was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified. (Mark 6:48-50)

Three of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and John – recount this story, but Mark adds a unique detail that is not found in the other accounts when he writes: “He was about to pass by” (Mark 6:48).

This detail reminds us that Jesus is doing much more than simply trying to work a miracle. He is offering His disciples some revelation. He is showing His disciples who He really is.

In Exodus 33, Moses requests to see God. God reminds Moses that although he cannot see Him face-to-face:

There is a place near Me where you may stand on a rock. When My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by(Exodus 33:21-22)

Moses may encounter God, but it will be only for a cursory, partially concealed moment. Moses will only get to encounter God as He passes by.

Likewise, in 1 Kings 19, when God reveals Himself to the prophet Elijah, He says to him:

Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. (1 Kings 19:11)

After the announcement of God’s arrival, there is a hurricane, an earthquake, and a fire, but God is not in any of these things. Instead, He passes by in “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).

Like Moses, Elijah gets to encounter God, but it is only in a cursory, partially concealed way. Elijah only encounters God as He passes by.

This is how God consistently revealed Himself to His people of old – by passing by. So, when Jesus begins to pass by His disciples as they are sailing along on the Sea of Galilee, He is making a claim about His identity: He is the same One who passed by Moses and Elijah. He is God!

But in Mark 6, the story takes a surprising turn. Because instead of being there one moment and gone the next like God was when He revealed Himself to Moses and Elijah, Jesus, as He is about to pass by His disciples, instead:

climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed. (Mark 6:51)

Before, when God met with His people, He only passed by. Now, when God meets people in Jesus, God gets in.

During difficult and uncertain times – like the ones we are experiencing as a society – it can be easy to wonder: Where is God? Why hasn’t He shown up? Mark 6 reminds us that Jesus does not just pass by us in our pain, in our uncertainty, and in our fear. He gets in. And because God gets in, He and we are all, as the saying goes, in the same boat.

Christianity is unique among the world religions in that it teaches that there is a God who does not just look down on our pain, but actually joins us in our pain. Jesus joins us in the boat.

The seeming absence of God, then, is undone by the presence of Christ. So, if you’re looking for God, you don’t have to look far. He’s right there. And He will not pass you by.

October 19, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Divorce Inquiries Climb as the Pandemic Lingers

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Among the casualties of the coronavirus are many Americans’ marriages. New released data indicates that sales of divorce agreements have soared by 34 percent during the pandemic. The pandemic seems to have had especially adverse effects on new marriages, with couples married five months or less pursuing divorce at double the rate of 2019. According to The Daily Mail, “the combination of quarantine life, wavering finances, mounting unemployment rates, illnesses, deaths of loved ones, mental illness and child care” has led to the spike in divorce inquiries.

As long as there has been marriage, there have been stressors and strains on marriages. History’s first marriage featured a husband who ill-advisedly blamed his wife for his bad behavior after he ate some forbidden fruit. When he was confronted by God over his sin, he claimed: “The woman You put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). His was quick to blame his wife instead of taking responsibility for his own sin. And couples have been following in his footsteps ever since.

In Jesus’ day, countless numbers of marriages were crumbling. Many Jewish rabbis in the first century permitted husbands to divorce their wives for pretty much any reason. There was one school of thought that actually taught that a husband may divorce his wife “if she spoiled a dish for him,” or “even if he found another woman more beautiful than she.” Jesus, however, was having none of this. He pointedly declared: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). Jesus wants couples to remain together, even during trying times.

COVID-19 has certainly brought its share of trials. Many marriages are struggling. Some are not surviving. But hope is not lost. Jesus, at the same time He confronts those who don’t take seriously a commitment to marriage, also comforts those who are struggling in marriage. He knows circumstances can become difficult, and He cares.

So, if you are struggling in your marriage, now is the time to ask for help. You can certainly reach out to the church where I serve, Concordia, and we would be happy to talk with you. COVID-19 has created enough casualties. Let’s not add our marriages to that sad list.

September 7, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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