In Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” we are introduced to a person whose very presence is the anthesis of joy…Ebeneezer Scrooge. Described as a bitter, cold-hearted, mean-spirited and miserly old man — His nephew Fred comes to invite him over for Christmas dinner, and the conversation allows us to see the different perspectives of the two men regarding Christmas time…
Fred’s description of Christmas is the ideal is it not. That Christmas is supposed to effect us and open us up to the working of God and to charity towards our fellow neighbors…we are to live with hope, peace, joy, and love. Scrooge is pessimistic about this view of Christmas, and finds little need for it. He’s too busy to be bothered by it. Too important to waste time considering it even. And when asked to give it a chance, he would rather go about his life.
Christmas wishes to reorient our life circumstances and this is not easily accomplished. It didn’t come easy for God, and it doesn’t come easy for us. Take, for example, Scrooge in the Christmas Carol for a moment…what is about to happen to him that will interfere with his well structured life, and will attempt to upset his notions about everything? (three spirits of Christmas are coming to visit) Ok - so, let’s hear the words of Luke this morning and apply the principles of these words to Scrooge’s life as he is confronted by the power of Christmas.
Luke 3:7-8 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
You ever wonder how people get to the point where they can be called a “brood of vipers” from a notorious Bible character. Perhaps, the spirit of Christmas Past can provide some insight as to how this develops:
Luke 3:9-14 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
When God interferes in our world at Christmas time, he offers a new way of life that breaks the traps of the past. Let’s take another quick look at Scrooge as he is visited by the spirit of Christmas Present. The Spirit of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to view Christmas morning, a day in which he refuses to participate. Ebenezer is asked to SEE the world around him differently.
Luke 3:15-17 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The spirit of Christmases yet to come shows Scrooge a look into a potential future.
Luke 3:18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
To appreciate the good news, we must confront the bad news. James Pope comments in his blog Knowing the Bad News Unlocks the Good News: “Understanding sin is essential to fully comprehending what the Lord has done for us. Remembering what the Lord has done for us brings gratitude and love. Again, to those who want the Church to de-emphasize sin, Jesus provides this warning: But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little (Luke 7:47).”
By showing Scrooge the story that he was trapped in, Christmas releases him to live a different life. He resolves, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will remember the lessons of the Past; I will live in the Present; I will live toward the Future. The spirits of all three will strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me that I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
When we live in the good news of Jesus’ coming, we are free to experience deep enjoyment. At Christmas, the Lord is at Hand! Let us acknowledge Jesus’s coming to save us from our real and deep sins, and let us resolve to live in the joy of Jesus this Christmas time and all the year long — as long as God provides breath for our lungs!
The rest of Scrooge's story is one of great enjoyment and the love of life…The reason? Scrooge SEES the world differently than he did before…Experiences the world differently than he did before. He Admits his shortcomings and asks others to forgive him and behaves differently than he did before. Lord, grant us this same ability!
The Christmas Carol ends this way: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more. And to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew. And ever afterward it was always said of Ebeneezer Scrooge that he knew how to keep Christmas, and keep it well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed...
GOD BLESS US, EVERYONE!”
Usually in a conflict in which there is disagreement with a person and some of their behaviors, We give ourselves permission to treat a person poorly because it is justified.
Disagreement happens, it is actually a natural thing that occurs in groups of all kinds. Individuals bring their experiences, talents, expertise, and weaknesses to all sorts of meetings, discussions, and gatherings. As a result, there are times when conflicting ideas arise, different directions are thrown out for consideration, or even different personalities are on display. Managing conflict is something that every relationship, community, business, and entity will have to face, but there is an easier route. There is a route that avoids new ideas, or different ones, and totally gives you the upper hand. I call it Permission, and it is an effective way to dehumanize someone with whom you have conflict, quickly gathering a group of supporters and silencing those who think differently than you. Here are four ways to dehumanize someone with Permission:
When we practice these permissions, we are so far away from the words of Jesus in Luke 6. He was teaching those who wanted to become like him through discipleship when he told them this:
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Now, let’s understand that we cannot take this post and this scripture out of context. I would never suggest that persons are to stay in abusive situations, after all this is a series on dehumanization and to bully, abuse, and mistreat people is in essence dehumanizing them. We want to engage folks and talk through disagreements, and using disagreements as permissions to dehumanize is what we are fighting here…nothing more. We want to reconcile relationship and treat people with deep respect. When we fail to do that, which I have, then we want to offer apology and continue to participate. When we can seek to “do good to those who hate us” and when we can “do to others as we would have them do to us” then we will move away from these permissions to be dehumanizing and start re-humanizing each other in authentic (yeah, I used that word) engagement!
Today I was listening to Christian radio after thinking about this text in Matthew regarding the “unforgivable sin” and the speaker, John McArthur, a well-known voice in Bible study said that rejection of Jesus is the unforgivable sin. That is to say, if someone rejects Christ as Savior, then his or her destiny is Hell. Now, this is representative of what his claim was, and it puzzled me and I’ll explain by having you read a passage of scripture that is JESUS’ own words in the Gospel.
Matthew 12:31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
This is puzzling to me because Jesus actually contradicts the notion that those who reject Christ cannot be forgiven…and seems to place more emphasis on a more abstract notion of “blasphemy” or rejection of the Holy Spirit over and above His own treatment. So, if you are scratching your head, then you are in good company because I think this goes against the Evangelical notion that those who believe in the Lord will be saved and those who “believeth not” will be condemned. And this is why context is so important…in any scripture study that we can do! You might notice that our text begins with the word, “Therefore” and so as Mike Cope used to preach, when we see therefore we should stop and ask, “What is that there for?” So, leading up Jesus’ teaching on the unforgivable sin was this…
Matthew 12:22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
When the Pharisees heard it they decided that this could not be the work of the Holy Spirit but the work of the prince of demons. This is a striking judgment…one that is motivated by their need for power and control, enticed by their religious superiority, walled in from any experience of the divine that was outside their theological boundaries. The question that was raised by the people who saw the miracle was asking if Jesus was the Messiah or Son of David…and the Pharisees do not speak against Jesus, but against the power, or empowering force, that makes the miracle possible. Jesus sees into their thoughts and motivations, and provides a lecture correcting their terrible logic and even worse understanding of the spiritual world. Then comes the hammer…
Jesus essentially says, “It is one thing to question who I am and to make claims about my validity…but when you question the very working of God, that being the Holy Spirit, and judge God’s action to be something else, you make an eternal mistake.” It makes you wonder who would have that type of arrogance? Who would place themselves as judge over the actions of God? Well, the Pharisees would…that’s who and that is why Jesus speaks so harshly to them. You see, the unforgivable sin is not the one time rejection of Jesus, because as long as there is breath in our lungs, we can choose to come to Christ. Speaking against Christ was not the issue here, but the issue was making oneself the judge over the Son of God’s action, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
The thing that is clear to me is that the unforgivable sin is not something that the faithless commit…because they are ignorant. I’m not suggesting they don’t sin, I’m simply suggesting that the Bible and Jesus do not argue that the lost, or those outside of Christ, act in a way that is beyond the forgiveness of God. Therefore I must also conclude that God forgives many of the sins that some of our more conservative thinkers might see as a challenge to the church's purity. So, who does? Well, whether it is this passage or the warnings in the book of Hebrews and elsewhere, it is the religious person whose righteousness is prized over the Lord God to the point that they become the judge of whether or not God is acting or working in a particular case…those are the ones most at risk of committing the unforgivable sin.
It seems that those who are empowered by the Holy Spirit and in Christ Jesus should be able to see God at work as discern it correctly. And yes, sometimes we miss it due to distraction or apathy or a myriad of other reasons. But that is not the same as a blatant condemnation of something God is doing among us that doesn’t fit our theology or our experience of religion. Let’s be cautious not to misrepresent the one who has been given as a gift to us empowering the work of God in our time, in our world.
In the writing of Zephaniah, there is a recurring theme of the “Day of the Lord.” Two points to be made about this “Day of the Lord” is, first, the prophets use it to point us to a particular moment in which the Lord’s intended order of things will replace the brokenness and corruption we know and live currently. Second, there may be several “Days of the Lord” before the grand and never changing “Day of the Lord” in which God’s justice and will correct a piece of the whole, but not the entirety of the world.
Zephaniah displays this in his oracles against nations and cities, using flood and fire language to talk about wiping them out and leaving them desolate for their arrogance and complacency. In fact, one line that stood out to me was from 1:12 which reads:
“I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem’s darkest corners
to punish those who sit complacent in their sins.
They think the Lord will do nothing to them,
either good or bad."
In the midst of this alarming and terrible imagery, there seems to always be a way out of the judgment that is eminent. For example, Zephaniah, shares this with the people at the beginning of chapter 2:1-3
Gather together—yes, gather together,
you shameless nation.
Gather before judgment begins,
before your time to repent is blown away like chaff.
Act now, before the fierce fury of the Lord falls
and the terrible day of the Lord’s anger begins.
Seek the Lord, all who are humble,
and follow his commands.
Seek to do what is right
and to live humbly.
Perhaps even yet the Lord will protect you--
protect you from his anger on that day of destruction.
One of the aspects that we must face in thinking about the “Day of the Lord” is the fact that God has feelings and the “Day of the Lord” is prompted by God’s pain and anger that peoples have not responded to God’s actions in their lives…God’s care and protection and victories have gone unappreciated. God speaks in Zephaniah 3:7 and listen to his words, you may even begin to sense the pain that God is feeling here:
I thought, ‘Surely they will have reverence for me now!
Surely they will listen to my warnings.
Then I won’t need to strike again,
destroying their homes.’
But no, they get up early
to continue their evil deeds.
I like the ESV that ends this verse by asserting: “But all the more they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt.” So God has poured out his love, protection, and in the law a guide to help humans live a righteous life, and in return their actions have prompted this “Day of the Lord”
Yet, in the end we cannot simply see the “Day of the Lord” as purely negative, and we must flip the metaphorical coin over on the other side and see this event as a stoppage to the broken world and as a world that truly is full of God’s order. Some the verses in Zephaniah 3 speak to this order:
9 “Then I will purify the speech of all people,
so that everyone can worship the Lord together.
11 On that day you will no longer need to be ashamed,
for you will no longer be rebels against me.
I will remove all proud and arrogant people from among you.
There will be no more haughtiness on my holy mountain.
12 Those who are left will be the lowly and humble,
for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord.
17 For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
20 On that day I will gather you together
and bring you home again.
I will give you a good name, a name of distinction,
among all the nations of the earth,
as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”
Yes, the “Day of the Lord” has a positive side, it is the world we long for and one that can only happen through the purifying work of the Lord. Which brings us to the notion that there are several “Days of the Lord” before we get to the ultimate and full “Day of the Lord” Every time we are called to deeper faith, greater service, purer hearts, and truthful speech, we are experiencing a “Day of the Lord” that is preparing us for the “Day of the Lord.” If we choose to obey and not rebel, then the “Day of the Lord” is not something to be feared and dreaded, but something to be celebrated and enjoyed. Lord, help us to hear your word, obey your will, and wait for your Day to come!
Matthew 27:32–34; Mark 15:20-24; Luke 23:26
Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount the idea of service, he said if anyone asks us to walk a mile with them, go another mile. Roman soldiers were able to command those they protected to carry their belongings for one mile…a repayment to their service. Simon of Cyrene stumbled upon this as he entered Jerusalem at the end of his pilgrimage. A man who lacked the ability to walk his cross to the place of death needed help.
The Roman soldiers, recognizing that Jesus didn't have sufficient strength to carry his cross by himself, "seized" Simon and demanded that he carry the cross of Jesus. No doubt Simon was hesitant, fearing that he might end up sharing Jesus' fate. Yet he knew enough not to provoke the soldiers, so he took the cross as ordered. We don't know much more about Simon than this, since he disappears from the biblical record at this point.
There is much writing regarding what happened to Simon after this event. Most Christian thinkers are compelled because of their knowledge of the Savior and their passion for the narrative to connect Simon with the scattered church both in the writings of Acts and of Romans. Yet, we forfeit that search today to focus on what we know. Simon joined Jesus in his moment of shame, and for that we remember him today…this Good Friday.
We ought to identify with Simon of Cyrene, who found himself a surprised participant in the crucifixion of Christ. This is especially true since many of us became Christians without really knowing that we were dying to our old selves so that we might live anew in Christ. We were pitched a gospel of salvation and eternal life without the implications of servanthood, sacrifice, and death to sin and self.
Yet what is the thought we should take from Simon of Cyrene?
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24) We All have a cross to bear…yes.
Perhaps the words of this hymn will penetrate our hearts today: Must Jesus Bear the cross Alone?
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.
How happy are the saints above,
Who once went sorrowing here!
But now they taste unmingled love,
And joy without a tear.
The consecrated cross I’ll bear
Till death shall set me free;
And then go home my crown to wear,
For there’s a crown for me.
Upon the crystal pavement down
At Jesus’ pierced feet,
Joyful I’ll cast my golden crown
And His dear Name repeat.
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
When Christ the Lord from heaven comes down
And bears my soul away.
Yet, this take goes a step further because Simon wasn’t carrying his own cross, but was joining Jesus in the shame of sin and condemnation…Like the other hymn sings: I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, its shame and reproach gladly bare…
It’s one thing to suffer for our own sins, and to pay our own consequences. But Jesus asks us to suffer for the sins of others, to take up crosses all around us and in so doing…we have served the Lord. Jesus says, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done for me.” The day of carrying Jesus’s cross has passed, and we are thankful for Simon of Cyrene and his service to the Lord…
But are we equally thankful for a Savior and Lord that commands us to search for the shame and reproach around us and to reach out to the hurting, broken, hungry, and forgotten…After all, we have to at some point acknowledge our mistake in thinking that this cross was actually Jesus’ to begin with…the perfect Son of God, carried a cross…but not his cross. It was more Simon’s cross or my cross than Jesus’ cross…
Jesus carried our shame, our sin, and when he chose to put that upon himself and go to the cross, then the old rugged cross became the Cross of Christ, and it transformed into something beautiful and Holy…Just like our lives when given over to Jesus, they too are transformed from shameful and rugged to beautiful and holy.
This was shared at a station of the cross during the Elizabethtown Carry the Cross Event, Friday, April 14. I pray that on this Saturday between death and life, we might ponder the ways of Jesus and seek to pick up crosses.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.