Matthew 10: 1-8
“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
It’s the day after Easter Sunday. Many American Christians mistakenly assume that Easter is over, and life is supposed to go back to normal. It’s time to focus on getting through the last few weeks of school and work until summer vacation time begins! Can you hear the buzzer sounding as I write? It sounds just like when some guy in the production booth at Family Feud presses the button that displays the big red “X” on the screen and sounds the “wrong answer” buzzer! “Eeeaaaaahhhnnn!”
The resurrection of Jesus means there will be no more “getting back to normal.” It means that reality has been re-defined. What was once impossible is now possible! What we once feared we need fear no longer! The Kingdom of God is available in space and time, now, in our lives, in our minds, in our hearts, and in the lives of those around us…now! With the resurrection of Jesus comes the new normal!
If we intend to continue to follow Jesus, now that we believe in him as Savior, Lord, God of the universe, the One unconquered by sin, death, and hell, then our attention now rightfully turns to the mission he sends us on. That’s where Matthew 10 comes back into play. Here is a synopsis of the marching orders Jesus gives us disciples:
Preach that the Kingdom way of life is here, now, ready for all to enter who will have faith and act on that faith in Jesus Christ. Invite them in!
- Show the reality of that Kingdom by healing the sick, raising the dead, driving out demons. Our faithful acts of justice, service to the needy, healing, and spiritual resistance to evil are the key to showing the world that the Kingdom of God is among us!
- Stand firm, without fear of what others will do to us when we face resistance.
- Accept the challenge to give up what was normal for us to pick up Jesus’ mission for us to advance his Kingdom.
Welcome to the first day of the rest of our lives, the Easter that never ends!
Mark 8: 11-26
11The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”13Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. 14The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” 16They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”17Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?18Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. 20“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” 21He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
What grabs you in the text today? Often what stands out to you is the Holy Spirit’s way of drawing your attention to something important God wants to talk with you about. For me, it is the deep sigh of Jesus. That sigh likely reflects Jesus’ deep disappointment in the absence of faith the Pharisees display. He had already healed, fed 5,000 people starting with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and 4,000 more with seven loaves of bread. How could they have seen his power and graceful abundance and not been moved to faith?
Next, Jesus warns the disciples not to lack faith like the religious leaders, but the warning already seems too late! The disciples are already concerned about their next meal! No wonder Jesus inhales deeply and lets out a great sigh! I wonder if he is thinking, “Saving these people is going to be harder than I thought.”
So what about our faith today? What worries and concerns do we carry with us that may be laid down at the foot of the cross in exchange for faith in our resurrected Lord? Is there anything too great for our God who overcame death, Hell, and our sin to handle? Can anything separate us from his love? Paul in Romans 8 reminds us that the answer is “No! In all things we are more than conquerors.”
I’m one who believes that we should feel an appropriate concern over important responsibilities God has given us for his mission, but too often I find that I cross some line from there into worry, fear, and exhaustion. “I’ve got too much to do. How is it ever going to get done?” Today, I imagine Jesus heaving a deep sigh and thinking, “Really, dude? I’m the King of the Universe, the resurrected Lord, the one who walks on water and can make enough bread out of thin air to feed 5,000. Don’t you think I can handle it? Why not trust me to handle it with you?”
It’s not that God takes away all of our responsibilities. It’s more true that God gives us his grace and presence to do all that God calls us to do well. We are yoked with him, as a big ox is yoked with a little ox in the plowing of a field. We are not to worry or fret. The big ox is more than capable of doing what we cannot, yet expects us to use the gifts he has given us to do our part. May God give us the grace to trust him by faith the Jesus is more than enough.
John 14: 12, 15,21
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father…If you love me, keep my commands…Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
I started reading Karl Barth’s Call To Discipleship, and appreciate how tightly he wraps faith and obedience together. We have a bad habit of making faith some ethereal concept that is for books and dreams of heaven and fantasy, when the Bible is clear that faith leads to action which leads to changed lives. Faith has this-worldly, immediate, consequences to our lives and the lives of the world around us. Barth writes, “But in the faith here required we do not have a trust in the abstract or general, nor do we have the rash confidence of a hazardous journey into space. It is demanded by Jesus-the Son of Man who as the Son of God speaks in the name and with the full authority of God. And Jesus demands I trust in him and therefore, in the concrete form that this involves, trust in God. He demands faith in the form of obedience; obedience to himself.”
In this age of scientific skepticism where people doubt the existence of anything we cannot perceive with our senses and instruments of measurement, we sometimes struggle with faith which requires us to believe in reality as God reveals it in Scripture and in Jesus Christ and through his Holy Spirit’s witness to our spirits. And when we struggle to have faith in God, we struggle to act according to this other reality God invites us to. Acting on faith is, after all, not the same as acting on sight. There is a letting go of ourselves, a complete entrusting of our lives into the hands of God. Again Barth writes,”It (faith) always involves the decision of a new day; the seizing of a new opportunity that was not present yesterday but is now given in and with the call of Jesus. Inevitably, people who are called by Jesus renounce and turn away from themselves as they were yesterday.”
When I think of faith I often remember Rob Willets, our 6’6”, 250lb youth director and I standing on top of a 60 foot platform surrounded by chiding youth on the ground who were telling us to stop being wimps and to jump onto the zip lines that would take us sailing through the trees! There was really no way down that was any better. Could I believe that the zip line would keep me from falling to my death? Enjoying the thrill of the zip line involve entrusting my life with all of my weight onto the thin wire. It worked, and man, what a ride! So it is with Jesus. The thrill of life with him requires faith which leads to action which leads to changed lives and a restored creation.
Luke 23: 7-11
7When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. 8When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.
It appears as though Herod, having heard of Jesus’ signs and wondrous healings, was happy to see Jesus for his entertainment value. David Copperfield attracts huge crowds and advertising dollars to his events because people love to see his illusions and love trying to figure out the mystery of what they are seeing. Herod must have thought, “Great, now I get to see this magician work his magic right here in my quarters!” It doesn’t appear as though Herod was looking for the Kingdom of God. He didn’t seem interested in the life to come. He was interested in being entertained.
I worry that we American Christians spend too much time, money, and energy on entertainment. I dare say the average American Christian spends double the time watching television (or the computer screen) than is spent in worship each week. It concerns me that the practices of being entertained teach us to be passive observers with high expectations of what others will do to excite us, when what Jesus wants for us is to be active participants in the story of his salvation for us and for the world we live in. Though Jesus is fun and loving and exciting and joyful and astounding and amazing, he is also demanding. He requires us to walk with him, communicate with him, wrestle with him, sacrifice for him, serve him, and follow him. In such an active role we find eternal life, a quality of life greater than any other we will know.
It seems to me Herod expected Jesus to put on a show, and when he didn’t, he joined Pilate and the others in mocking Jesus as worthless. May God save us from the desire to be entertained and give us hearts full of desire to actively worship and serve him as Lord daily.
Matthew 4: 1-11
1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ’He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
I recently installed a new faucet in our kitchen. The hardest part of the job was getting the old faucet out! Some of the metal bolts that held it in place had rusted and fused so that I couldn’t loosen them. I yanked and pulled and greased them and finally took to the strategy of bending the copper piping back and forth and back and forth until it broke! Whew! Though metal is strong, it, too, can fail when it is under stress.
We’re back at the temptation of Jesus today as we consider Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion because this is where his journey to the cross begins in earnest. Jesus does not begin his journey to the cross until after he is tested by the devil. He must be stressed first to see if he is up to the challenge. His humble humanity is pressured to crumble when weakened by fasting and fatigue and when tempted by what he deeply desires.
When we are tired and worn out by hectic schedules, job stress, emotional stress, or the stress of being caught between what God wants us to do and we want to do is when we are most vulnerable to giving in to temptation. We, like the metal piping, are most likely to sin against God and others when we’ve been bent back and forth and back and forth. That’s really when we need God’s Spirit and each other the most to support us and keep us from breaking.
It is noteworthy to me that Jesus was tempted alone in the desert with the devil, and he likely was most tempted when all had abandoned him on his way to the cross. What did he do in those times? He leaned on the Scriptures, and he leaned on praying the Psalms. When we are under duress is when we most need to engage God in prayer and Scripture, and it is when we most need a community of faith in which to find accountability and love. Waiting until we hit a crisis is usually too late. Now is the time to grow strong so we can face whatever struggles come our way.
Sometimes people believe they can be good Christians without being a part of a community of believers. To me, that‘s just foolish, not to mention non-biblical. Hebrews 10:25 reads, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Jesus invites us now to find the strength of God in prayer, Scripture, and each other as we carry our crosses and follow him.
They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.
I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
I am reflecting on Jesus’ crown today. Here on earth, the only crown we graced his head with was a crown of thorns. It was our human way of mocking him, of belittling him, either because we didn’t understand that he was the King of all Kings and the Lord of all Lords, or because we wanted no authority but our own. He was our God in the flesh who had come to save our sorry souls. On the one hand I am appalled for all humanity that we treated him with such demeaning hostility. (And before we allow the thoughts that say, “I wasn’t there; I wouldn’t have done that to him,” get too far into our consciousness, let us remember that when we turn away from Jesus in our sins today we are essentially belittling and devaluing his sacrifice on the cross for us.) It wasn’t enough to simply have him executed. We had to spit on him, mock him, dole out extra cruelty, dehumanize, and de-divinitize the God of creation (as though we could). If worship is showing God how much we ultimately value God’s being, the process of torture Jesus went through is the opposite of worship, symbolized by our placement of a crown of thorns on his head.
On the other hand I am struck by the great dignity with which Jesus bore the hatred we spewed upon him! Before Pilate, he did not defend himself. There are no records of him crying out for mercy under excruciating pain. There is strength, resolve, divine power in his endurance of a horrific death, and there is integrity of purpose in it all, signified by some of his last words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
This talk of crowns reminds me of a great Easter hymn, “Crown Him With Many Crowns” by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Thring. The first verse is my favorite:
Crown him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon his throne,
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns
all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing
of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless King
through all eternity
As we move from opposing Jesus to surrendering our lives to Jesus, our perception of his crown changes. First, we aren’t the ones to put the true crown on his head, only our Father in heaven can do that. Secondly, it is greater than all human crowns, though they be solid gold and filled with great jewels. Revelation 4 reads,”…the twenty four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’” Third, Jesus’ crown is the crown of a conqueror (Revelation 6:2). All the rebellion and hatred we humans could pour out on him, all that hell and death could do to him could not hold him in the grave. He conquers sin, Hell, and death to make creation whole!
So how will the choices we make today reflect our understanding of the crown Jesus is wearing? Will it be a crown of thorns or the crown fit for our resurrected King? If we find ourselves wearing a crown today, may God give us the grace to throw it down at the feet of the King Jesus!