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We Don’t Want You Here

Matthew 8:34  Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Does that “jar” you? A whole town is stirred enough to go see Jesus. They break away from their jobs, their daily struggles, important activities, whatever occupies their time and go into Jesus’ presence. Not a surprise; but then they “pleaded” with him, not just asked him, to leave. “We don’t want you here.

I think we are inclined to attribute that to the immediately preceding story where Jesus casts out demons and sends them into a herd of pigs who then run into the sea and are drowned. (I know I am.) We think he’s threatening their lively hood. But I wonder.

There is nothing to indicate that they were angry or went with negative intent. In fact, on the surface it seems to indication there was an attraction to him. But “when they saw him” everything changed–“We don’t want you here.” It seems so different from common reactions to him or what we would expect. But it should “give us pause.” When people encounter Jesus, all reactions are not positive. And a short time later, Jesus puts it in perspective: “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble [fall away] on account of me.” (11:6)

 

Unbelievable?

“they did not believe the women, because their words seemed…like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11, NIV)

Those are some of the most telling words in the New Testament concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Forever they should dispel the notion that Easter was created by the wishful thinking of gullible, unlearned, poor fishermen and such. The first reports that Jesus was alive did not seem credible to them.

These people had to be convinced that what seemed impossible to them was really true. Only when they saw him with their own eyes did they believe it. And this Jesus, once dead but now alive for ever, changed their lives and the world. He has changed me and he can change you too. Because he lives, he offers life to anyone willing to follow him.

He is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

Don’t Forget. He Died for You

“They crucified him….Jesus said, “It is finished.” –John 19:18, 30

Strangely enough, many Christians will arrive next Sunday at Easter having missed any real talk about the cross/Jesus’ death. Yesterday was Palm Sunday and in many churches that was the focus of the service. Unless, a special service on Thursday or Friday is attended (which for a majority of Christians is unlikely) little mention of the cross will be made. That is a major distortion of the Gospel message.

The New Testament is clear we are saved by Jesus’ death. Consider just a few examples:
— Jesus’ own words on the cross- “It is finished.”
— We are “reconciled by his death.”
— We are “baptized into his death.”
— In communion- “we proclaim the Lord’s death.”
— He “suffered for our sins.”

Easter may be more exciting and more appealing but the message is “he died for me and for you.” (Romans 5:8)

Of course, Easter, the resurrection, needs to be proclaimed and celebrated. In no way should it be minimized or diminished. However, without the cross, an essential element is missing. The early Christians did not disconnect the resurrection from the crucifixion. Without a real understanding of Jesus’ death Easter loses its meaning.

 

Just Like Us

He…[was] fully human in every way. –Hebrews 2:17

Several weeks ago, while visiting a church out of state, I heard a sermon that has had me thinking ever since (watch it here). Now being a preacher for more than 40 years, that’s a high compliment for a sermon.

Specifically, it highlighted Jesus as a human being—nothing unusual there. Orthodox Christians have always maintained that Jesus is both God and human. But in my experience, as a practical matter, the emphasis rests on Jesus as God (“who being in very nature God”-Phil. 2:6). We believe that is crucial to our hope.

The sermon was “When Uncertainty Comes.” And it specifically related it to Jesus. What that sermon did was remind me that to forget Jesus is “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17) misses an important part of the good news about him. So as we journey through the season of Lent, I’ve been trying to grasp some of what that might mean.

I’m acquainted with human struggles as are all of you, some of us more than others. I have observed suffering but thankfully not experienced very much. My wife, Alana, knows pain as a constant companion and has for a good part of her life. Others experience hunger, fear, persecution and every imaginable human misery.

What we need to know and what the Bible tells us is that Jesus knew it all personally. Everything it meant to be human he experienced, with one exception—sin. And “because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18). I don’t know your personal struggle—uncertainty, physical pain, emotional turmoil, betrayal or questions about life, about God, or anything else. Even death, he knows. And because he knows, he can help. And because he loves, he will help. Maybe he will deliver you from the struggle but maybe deliver you in the struggle.

Just call for help.

Made Whole

Luke 17:19-Your faith has made you whole.

One day as Jesus travels he is encountered by ten men who are lepers. The horror of their predicament is illustrated by the fact that they cannot even approach Jesus but, from a distance, plead for his pity.

Jesus issues simple instructions to go show themselves to the priests; a requirement for anyone healed of leprosy to have it verified. And the text says, “as they went, they were cleansed.” Interesting—not “they were cleansed and went” but as they went. They obeyed and were healed.

Then one of them, only one, seeing he was healed returned to praise God and thank Jesus.

Does this incident surprise you?  It did Jesus!  I find it hard to say that and wondered if I could (I know the theological difficulty).  In one sense Jesus is never surprised.  He is God.  But, he is also human and in a human sense, he was surprised.  He was also apparently very disappointed.  It shows in his words: “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Then Jesus adds the words that put a whole different light on this story.

“Rise and go; your faith has made you well [whole].” Did you notice? All were “cleansed” or “healed.” But only this man was said to be made whole. Or as the Message has it: “Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Physical healing is great but it is not salvation. Fixing some problem we have, helping us be a better person, giving us insight into a puzzling situation all are things for which to be grateful. But only our faith in Jesus provides salvation, makes us whole.

The point of it all is to be made whole.  To stop short of that is to accept a treatment that deals with the symptoms rather than radical surgery which produces a cure. God wants to make you whole.

The nine received a touch from God, and they probably went on to do what they were told, but they were not made whole. It made them better able to fit into the community, better citizens but it did not produce the indelible stamp of faith: gratitude. When God touches us, then our praise, gratitude takes precedence over everything else!

God, don’t let me settle for anything less than being made whole.

A Week Like No Other

Christ died for our sins,
He was buried,
he was raised to life -I Corinthians 15:3 & 4

This week is different than any other time in the Christian calendar. It is the only time when several specific events are directly connected to form a whole.

There are seasons in which the emphasis looks to a specific event in the God story. Advent looks ahead to the birth of Jesus. Pentecost is a season where an event is celebrated. Even Easter has a season, Lent, connected to the actual event.

But this week is different. From the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), to the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday), the crucifixion (Good Friday) and the resurrection (Easter) historical events are uniquely joined. They are all components of The Passion. The events of that week in Jesus’ life clearly are the focus of God’s action for our salvation. Notice how much of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are dedicated to telling about that week. Beyond that think about how much of the rest of the New Testament is predicated on it. I don’t mean to imply that all history is not in some way the stage for God’s work. But this is where it all comes together.

I challenge you to read it this week. Then be “mindful” of it and all that includes. Think about it, absorb it and live in response to it.

What an amazing message—“He died for me (you) and my (your) salvation.” And He lives.

Jesus Could Not

He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. -Mark 6:5, 6a (NIV)

“He can do anything, anything.” Those words, applied to Jesus, were the words of a song in one of the most powerful children’s musicals I remember from my years as a pastor. It is a sentiment you’ve probably heard repeated many times if you’ve been around Christians for any length of time. I would guess you’ve probably expressed it yourself or at least thought it. I know I have.

The only trouble with that is, the Bible says differently. In a text, that “stops me in my tracks,” whenever I read it, we are told, “He [Jesus] could not do any miracles there, except” heal a few sick people. “Could not” is not a phrase we connect to Jesus/God. It took a while for that to register.

My initial reaction to that text was focused on the “except” heal a few sick people. That’s not an absence of miracles. It is a powerful expression of God’s power. And it was done in spite of opposition and lack of faith. How we would rejoice to see that. Only after thinking about that for years did I begin to hear “could not.”

The implications of that are sobering to say the least. I don’t understand all it means. But for sure, in some important way, human beings who resist Jesus, who lack faith, hinder His work. Of course I believe that God is sovereign and that His ultimate plan will be fulfilled. However, it surely means some things God wants to do are limited by people just like you and me. And that probably explains why it took so long for that text to really sink in. I am responsible for preventing some of what God wants to do for me and through me. I don’t really want to hear that.

But the good news—you, I can make a difference, in the church, in the community, in the world by cooperating with and trusting Jesus.

What does God want to do where you are?