I am currently finishing up a series on the seven signs in the Gospel of John. When I read the Gospel stories, it seems to be packed full of miraculous healing. Jesus would touch someone, or someone would touch Jesus, or Jesus would just say the word and something would happen. Usually the narrative will point to a person’s faith in believing that Jesus could heal…and he would act.
This morning I read through Luke 7:1-10 and it is a story of a Roman officer who begs Jesus to come heal his slave. The Roman was well-loved in the Jewish community and so some elders of the synagogue come to ask Jesus to help this man. Jesus never touches the man or even enters the house of the Roman officer…here’s the text:
6 So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. 7 I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. 8 I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”
Jesus’ response to this man’s faith and understanding of Jesus’ relationships and work really caught my attention. Jesus says, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” What did this guy get right?
First of all, he viewed his role as an “official” as one of service. Which might be why he valued his own slaves and why he understood the chain of command. Second, the Roman man realized that he was not worthy to welcome Jesus because Jesus’ rank was far above his. Third, what do we even do with the fact that this man felt absolutely unworthy to even meet Jesus…isn’t that just self-hatred or some sort of false humility? The Last aspect of this text is that the Roman understood Jesus’ power to command his soldiers of healing and help.
Jesus’ response to this man is not one of correction or comfort, but one that recognizes the faith of the Roman. Jesus is not a buddy or a friend in this text, he is the commanding Lord of Heaven’s goodness. And interestingly enough, it is a Roman who gets that truth and not the group of God’s people who seem to take God’s presence and Jesus’ power for granted. And that is my takeaway from this text, that I often fall to the temptation to think that Jesus is my servant, doing what I need; instead of Jesus is my Lord, and I serve Him.
I think the healing stories set me and us up to think that Jesus just went around healing everybody and that Jesus should always heal sick people in our lives. I mean, it’s in the Bible, we read them, and we make a link straight into the modern cases of cancer, childhood diseases, and horrific accidents that happen…among other stories. We want Jesus to heal. Yet, the Gospels claim that Jesus healing individuals are not the big picture, but signposts that allow us to see the big picture. In every story, by pointing out the faith a person has in Jesus, the stories open the window to the Kingdom of God and they allow us to peer at the King Jesus. This slave was healed, a son was healed, a lame man walks, a blind man sees, a woman stops bleeding, a boy is raised from the dead, and man is raised from the dead, demons are sent away; but don’t miss the point.
The point is that in a world where evil and death seem to slowly take the life out of us, Jesus turns it upside-down. The healing in each story points to the healing of the world. And to die in Jesus Christ, to make him Lord and to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God is to be healed. Death has no hold on us, for we are held by the one who overcame the grave. Evil has not power in our lives, because we believe and live in faith that God is not only free of evil, but is working to free the world of evil. God is bigger than the biggest evils. So, continue to pray for healing, and pray even harder for those who are dying and suffering. But remember that for those who believe, Jesus’ ultimate healing is in his return, so don’t forget to pray for that as well.
I was struck, probably by a strong dose of reality, the other day reading through this Psalm. It speaks of the entirety of forgiveness and a life lived in complete relationship with the Lord. It is a Psalm of David, but a song springing up from what event I wondered? What led to such confidence in God? What led to the outpouring of true and authentic confession and “complete honesty” as David says it in the verses below?
James Gray seems to agree with Jewish tradition that this Psalm, “Is thought to have been written after his sin with Bathsheba (you can read that in 2 Sam. 11-12). He has been brought to repentance for that sin and forgiven (David is said to have written Psalm 51 in his repentance for that sin), and now is praising God for that forgiveness, and telling what led up to it.” Christian Worker’s Commentary
Here are David’s words:
1 Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
2 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Interlude
5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (Selah)
6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
7 For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory. (Selah)
8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
10 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.
11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!
I think what struck me about this Psalm was that when God is confronted with the reality of our sin, God doesn’t react like we expect him to react. God forgives, puts it out of sight, clears our guilt, protects us from trouble, gives us victory, and refreshes us in His unfailing love.
Because of the shame and guilt of sin, perhaps what we have been taught about sin, and many other factors…we often think that we have to rationalize our sin away or spend energy trying to hide it. Just focus on our strengths and eventually the weaknesses will be untraceable. Maybe we could even spend more time taking the focus off of “me” and start helping “them” live a better life. David is not the first or last leader who fell for this one…ministers, pastors, elders, bishops, and deacons beware of this. (I am too aware of the hiddenness and secrecy of sin in the lives of our most beloved church leaders.) So, conceal it and don’t feel it in the words of “Frozen” Don’t let them in, don’t let them see…be the good person you always have to be…
Yep, and there we are frozen to God’s work and our growth because like David we are wasting away and groaning, our strength being evaporated like water in the summer heat. If you find yourself in this picture, then understand a few truths about God:
God knows we sin, and God knows the effects of our sin and that is why at an excruciating personal cost Jesus was sent to live the life we are incapable of living and die the righteous death that we could never die.
God forgives sin through Jesus, and that forgiveness is complete and absolute for those who live in gratitude of this reality (Listen to David’s thankfulness above!)
The only power sin has in our lives is the power we give to it by pretending we are perfect and not taking advantage of the avenues provided to us through repentance and confession.
Christians are not perfect people, we are people who trust God’s promises and run to God for forgiveness, protection, and unfailing love.
Churches and faith communities must reflect these things and practice deep faith in God. If you find yourself among a group of people and leaders who say, “I’m sorry” and understand the supreme reign of Jesus Christ, then count yourself blessed!
Finally, this concluding thought from the Psalm of David, and if true in his heart than how much more true for those in Christ Jesus our Lord. “So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!”
If you are following along with the readings in the Read Scripture App…then you like me might need a visual to go along with all the “inheritances” given out in Joshua last week. So, here is a map to help you see the land given to each tribe, remember of course that the tribe of Levi is only represented through their priestly duties and not assigned land.
Copyright “Accordance Maps Sampler”
Some notable cities would be that Bethlehem is obviously in the tribe of Judah’s inheritance and you can see that Jerusalem is in Benjamin’s land. Also, the small body of water would be the Sea of Galilee and the larger body of water would be the Dead Sea or “Salt Sea” as the scripture refers to it. Connecting the two bodies of water would be the Jordan River. If you have questions, leave them in the comment section and I’ll do my best. Keep reading!
I was asked a question about sin. Her question was, “I guess I sin all the time and how will I not just go to hell?” She was somewhat joking with me and she is a seeking skeptic teenager. However, coming up with a response made me think about sin and the fatalist approach I heard from her. I immediately responded that I sin all the time too, so she and I are not all that different. Then I followed that up. This is why Jesus is so important to our stories, because everyone has a sin problem and that is not going away. But Jesus was God’s solution to the sin problem, and when we decide to have a relationship with Jesus and love Jesus and try to live like he did; then we accept God’s solution for our sin.
I told the young lady that Jesus is important because He was a part of God and became the ultimate solution to the sin problem. However, I walked away and started thinking about Jesus’ humanity as well. So often I am confronted with the reality of Jesus being one with God, but I also have to be cognizant that Jesus embraced his human story.
What I mean by that is Jesus lived the life of a Jewish man, with Torah, Prophets, and Wisdom as his life-giving source. He was from the line of Judah, a son of Abraham. Tied to the Mosaic law and the prophets notion of Messiah and Kingship. Jesus was taught the Jewish way and he accepted it. Sure there were battles to be had and teachings to be given, but these were to uncover the intention and heart behind the laws and not so much to destroy them. We hear from Jesus and it is echoed in Paul’s writings that Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and not the destroyer of it. Sin could be seen as the destroyer of the covenants and laws.
So Jesus was deeply rooted in the Jewish story. He didn’t want to be a Roman, Greek, or to work out of some other religious system. He did not try to synchronize his Jewishness with something he thought would be better. Nope, he worked and taught and died trying to draw the Jewish life, covenants, and laws closer to the God at the center of their way of life…the god Jesus and all God’s people would call Father. Jesus accomplished the reconciliation of God’s people and God through living, teaching, sacrificing, and ultimately resurrecting. Which leads us to wonder about our story and our connection with Jesus.
I know Christians who are very connected to the Jewish way of life. I ran into a devout Seventh Day Adventist who challenged a minister friend of mine about worshipping on Sundays and not taking Saturdays seriously enough. I know Christians who keep Sabbath days, obey food laws, and Jewish holidays. On the other hand, I know Christians who make little to nothing to the Jewish way of life and express that we have been given freedom in Christ. They see the movement back to Jewish roots as a new form of legalism, a way to establish a false superiority and feel religious. I think both of these groups, and those Christians who stand in between have points to be considered, but let me offer some critique.
For Christians who want to live a more religiously Jewish lifestyle, I have to ask if it draws you closer to Jesus? I want to make sure it doesn’t offer you a since of pride in living the “right” life or a more justified life than others. We must remember that our adherence to law and sabbath and holidays don’t make us righteous or holy, Jesus alone does that because he fulfilled the system that we will enviably mess up. When a preference becomes sin…we must remember the words of Paul about celebrating holidays and eating food. The Kingdom of God is bigger than these things, and the key to unlocking it is fellowship with friends and family and connection to God. Any lifestyle that puts up walls between people and makes God something we can control fails to reflect the life of Christ, in whom our everything exists.
For Christians who live in freedom, I have to ask you if the freedom of Christ has moved into a new category of unengaged permission. Perhaps we somehow think that God no longer cares what we do or who we are. Does God still care that we rest, instead of working consistently and controlling everything? Does God want us to be healthy, strong-minded, well-loved people? Does sin still exist, or does it only exist outside of Christ and as long as you have a salvation experience then you can live as you please and ask forgiveness? Should we synchronize Jesus with other things so that he makes more sense; after all, many Christians are not Jewish so maybe Jesus should lose his Jewish story in favor of a more American story? Any lifestyle that reflects a laze-faire attitude toward how we live in Christ can’t possibly be taking Jesus seriously as both Lord and Savior of the world. Jesus has both the relational and authoritarian influence to demand our allegiance and challenge our behaviors.
I think we often miss the point in this debate about how much Old Testament we should incorporate into our lives. Jesus embraced the story and in so doing, provided us with a New Testament. Jesus gave us teachings, fulfilled ancient covenants, and promised us new realities from God. It was all deeply rooted in the Old Testament, but found new meanings in Jesus. That is where the Christian community now lives…cultures apart from the writings of both testaments, yet deeply rooted in the Old and deeply devoted to the New. The challenge remains for us to stop arguing about it, and start helping each other live it. Ultimately, I ask myself if I am deeply rooted in Christ because Jesus’ story of service, love, sacrifice, resurrection, and glory is the one in which I want to share. You?
I was reading in Matthew 19 the other day, and I came across a confrontation Jesus had with some Pharisees. The topic at hand was divorce, which I know can be very daunting, but I want to show you an interesting thing Jesus does with these religious leaders. So, here is the text:
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
So, the Pharisees want to trap Jesus by asking him an essentially unanswerable question. (Note to church leaders and ministers…if asked this question you may want to consider what I just wrote there!) Jesus gives the standard answer, the one we all know. God’s intention is for two people to be faithfully married for a lifetime. It is interesting because I don’t know many Christian folks who would argue that marriage is a life-long commitment and that it is God’s intention that we be blessed in our marriages.
However, after Jesus gives the standard textbook answer, the Pharisees see an opportunity and throw out the name that is above every Jewish name…Moses! Then why did Moses say that we could get out of marriage?!?! And Jesus’ response also takes a page out of the story of Moses. Jesus says that Moses made an exception to God’s intent; not because God decided to be more permissive, but because of the people’s “hardness of heart.”
Hardness of Heart…Moses…where have I seen this image before? Wait, is Jesus comparing the people of God with the Pharaoh of Egypt? Pharaoh who had the hard heart and would let God bless his people and act on their behalf. Does this same condition exist among God’s people? It wasn’t a one time thing? Pharaoh destroyed his whole people with his hardness of heart, I wonder what we destroy with ours…
You see, God wants tender hearts. Marriage is a good example of a prime arena that this needs to be lived out because there are very, very few who enter into their marriage commitment without tender hearts. Yet, over time and life experience, and other factors…our hearts can turn hard against our spouses. The same could be said of our relationship with God. This is a lesson that the Pharisees refused to learn as we read through the pages of the Gospel stories. There hardness became the very core of there teachings and communal interactions. Yet for us, in our marriages, we need to stay tender toward one another and not be a closed off, hard-hearted…stubborn and self-focused. In our relationship with God, we also need to be tender so that God can do his work in us. To harden a heart is to be closed off to the movement, work, and will of God—it is to lose God’s intention.
I love how Jesus uses the story of Exodus to combat the Pharisees here, but the image is terrifying in that divorce which continues to be commonly practiced is more a condition of the heart, and less an intention of our God. But before we think that divorced people are the only hard-hearted folks, don’t lose the overall principle while pointing at the specific people! (And look at the passage that follows…understand the seriousness this discussion aroused in the disciples)
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.