Luke 22:24-30 – Just Shadow Jesus

Digital painting of Jesus and the disciples by John Mathews

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (NIV)

Jesus is a different sort of leader.

While the kings of his day were concerned with power and using their authority to ensure even more power and privilege, Jesus went about things differently. In a world of patronage where it was necessary for the lower classes to connect with and suck-up to the higher classes, Jesus operated by a different system.

Jesus, Lord of the universe, King of creation, absolute Leader of the Church, and Ruler over God’s realm was and is a servant of the people.

“Follow my example: Even the Son of Man did not come for people to serve him. He came to serve others and to give his life to save many people.”

mark 10:45, erv

On the surface, striving to be the best might seem noble and good. Yes, working toward being the greatest might motivate us to do all things with excellence. It can solve a lot of problems and issues. On the other hand, it may also result in attitudes and behavior which fosters unhealthy competition and an inordinate focus on becoming the greatest.

Think about it. Not everyone can be the greatest. If everyone is, nobody is. This results in lower self-esteem for nearly everybody. And it creates ripe conditions for leadership paranoia in which the greatest is always looking over their shoulder worrying about being toppled from their lofty position. At the least, all this ballyhoo about greatness only takes away from caring for the people who most need our efforts – family members get the shaft from someone with an imbalanced life who is laser-focused on getting to the top and staying there.

It’s as if a person is living a one-dimensional existence in a three-dimensional world. It won’t work. Fortunately, we don’t have to live like that.

Jesus shows us a better way.

Jesus was present to his disciples. He is present to us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Christ encouraged relational connections and using one’s gifts, talents, and abilities for the common good of all people. For Jesus Christ, the dynamics of power and authority are not to be leveraged for personal greatness but for collective uplift. Authority is to be carefully applied for everyone’s benefit, including those we think don’t deserve it.

The disciples understood far too little about the community their leader was trying to build. Judas Iscariot is likely the one disciple who first realized what Jesus was truly up to. The greatest are the least and the least are the greatest. It wasn’t what Judas signed up for, so he cut his losses and betrayed Jesus.

True exaltation is a gift of grace. The kingdom of God turns on mercy and operates on the economy of grace. It is those who faithfully serve who will sit with Jesus, the ultimate Servant, at the table. Peacocks and pretenders will never realize their dream to be the center of attention.

In a great twist of irony, those who wish to compete and occupy a high standing will discover they have worked to obtain the lowest rung on the ladder leaning against the wall of Satan’s kingdom.

Jesus consistently, patiently, and carefully established the kingdom of God on earth. He went about his task in a manner none of us would even consider. He focused on character, not skills; willing hearts, not intelligent brains; new life, not reformed habits. On the job orientation involved following Jesus around everywhere.

Just shadow Jesus.

Here I am washing your feet. Do the same. Here I am being present to and serving the poor, the lonely, the outcast, the moral failure, and the lowest of society. Do the same. Here I am showing sacrificial self-emptying unconditional love. Do the same. Just shadow me. Do what I do, period.

An obsession with greatness will inevitably lead to petty kingdom building enterprises. Instead, we are to love the neighbor next to us. We make room at the committee table for somebody who looks, acts, and talks different than me. We freely let Jesus live through us, thus, giving the gift of him to those we encounter. We purposely look for ways to serve underprivileged communities rather than use the people living there in ways to make us look better.

Indeed, this following Jesus thing is subversive – even for many professing Christians.

What will you do?

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, in the name of Christ. Amen.

1 John 2:18-25 – Who Is Really the Enemy?

Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, c.1540 C.E.

My dear children, the end is near! You have heard that the enemy of Christ is coming. And now many enemies of Christ are already here. So, we know that the end is near. These enemies were in our group, but they left us. They did not really belong with us. If they were really part of our group, they would have stayed with us. But they left. This shows that none of them really belonged with us.

You have the gift that the Holy One gave you. So, you all know the truth. Do you think I am writing this letter because you don’t know the truth? No, I am writing because you do know the truth. And you know that no lie comes from the truth.

So, who is the liar? It is the one who says Jesus is not the Messiah. Whoever says that is the enemy of Christ—the one who does not believe in the Father or in his Son. Whoever does not believe in the Son does not have the Father, but whoever accepts the Son has the Father too.

Be sure that you continue to follow the teaching you heard from the beginning. If you do that, you will always be in the Son and in the Father. And this is what the Son promised us—eternal life. (ERV)

Throughout Christian history there have been churches, ministers, and individuals who have advanced certain persons as being the “antichrist,” enemies of Christ and his followers.

Attempting to identify a particular enemy comes from a theological disposition that believes an antichrist is the first link in a chain of end-times events. Typically, a ruthless or dictatorial ruler, like Mussolini, Hitler, or Stalin received the label of “antichrist.”  For some Protestants, the papacy continually gets set apart as being the antichrist. Even recently, Pope Francis received the dubious title from a group of end-times watchers because they claimed he allowed people to treat him as if he were Jesus, accepting worship and praise.

Yet, the term “antichrist” has not typically been used as a title for one enemy setting-off a bomb of world-ending trauma. The earliest church, following the teaching of the Apostle John, understood antichrist not as an individual, but as a class of people who deny Jesus is the Christ. Indeed, John plainly said the antichrist is anyone who forsakes the Father and the Son. What is so disturbing about John’s talk of antichrist is that these persons arise from within the church, not outside of it.

It has become much too vogue in some circles of Christian evangelicalism to identify and label enemies outside their small groups, leading to a xenophobic attitude of distrust and finger-pointing toward all kinds of people. 

The fingers, however, must first be directed within our own house. It behooves us all to take up the instruction of John to let what we have heard from the beginning abide in us. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 

We are to embrace basic core cardinal truth given us. Then we will not be deceived by some supposed enlightened teacher who detracts from Trinitarian theology.

It is the last hour – but not because of some politician, tyrant, or even religious figure. It is the end-times because Jesus has accomplished redemption for us, and the only event left is the return of Jesus to judge the living and the dead. 

Therefore, we must all live with the possibility and tension that it could be today. We are to be prepared. That preparation comes through proclaiming Jesus in all we say and do – not by obnoxiously ginning up fearmongering through pointing fingers at those we don’t like. Rather, we emulate our Lord in the way of loving God and neighbor.

When a person or group gets labeled by us as “enemy” or “antichrist” then our hate for them seems divinely justified and sanctioned. God, however, is the judge; not us. We are to follow the ethical instruction of Jesus to love our enemies, not curse them through slapping a moniker of “monster,” “devil,” “animal,” or some other non-human label on them.

Weaponizing words in a verbal war which supposedly defends Christianity only shifts the focus off Jesus and onto how horrible another is. One of the great problems of our world, including many corners of Christianity, is that we assume we already know what another believes. So, we fail to listen. We cannot care as we ought because we’ve already formed our judgment.

“The moment someone attaches you to a philosophy or a movement, then they assign all the baggage and all the rest of the philosophy that goes with it to you. And when you want to have a conversation, they will assert that they already know everything important there is to know about you because of that association. And that’s not the way to have a conversation.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Within Christianity, there is much more we have in common with one another across the various traditions than that which is different. Yes, spiritual charlatans exist. Let’s just make sure we have done our due diligence in listening to another and being curious before we form our opinions.

Despite our differences, the exchange of ideas and debate among various Christian groups in the early centuries of the church helped to clarify and form a sound Christology. While it may be difficult to avoid labeling individuals in an increasingly complex society, we must act in good faith.

Mighty God, you sent the Son to this earth to fulfill all your good promises. Let me embrace Jesus so fully and completely that the truth of his reality comes pouring out of me in every area of my life.  In his name I pray. Amen.

John 12:44-50 – The Light of Christ

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So, whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” (NIV)

Jesus is the light of the world. (John 8:12)

Jesus told his followers they are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

Simple observation: Neither Jesus nor his followers become light. They are light. So, what does that mean?

To be light means we take a particular posture toward the world. It means we have a unique role in society.

Sometimes its important to say what something is not before we talk about what it is. To be light means we are not:

  • The Judge. The incarnation of Jesus was not for the purpose of playing Sheriff in the Old West, riding into the town of this world and gunslinging the bad guys either out of town or into the cemetery. Just because the world shot the sheriff, does not mean they’re off the hook for not shooting the deputy. There is judgment coming. It’s just that you nor I are the judge. “Do not judge,” said Jesus, unless you’re interested in getting judged yourself. (Matthew 7:1-2)
  • Cave-Dwellers. Rabbit-hole Christians. Dorm toads. Or any other metaphor for separating oneself from society and hiding out. Cave-dwellers want to hide out and start little fires that will only warm themselves. A rabbit-hole Christian scurries from hole to hole trying to avoid the world. Dorm toads never leave the friendly confines of their apartment swamp.

Rather than judging and hiding, people of the light possess are:

  • Encouragers. They speak constructive words of edification. Encouragers know there is a bit of light in everyone, so they see through the darkness to the good which can be enlightened and called forth in others. People who encourage have a glow about them which is attractive and winsome.
  • Aware. Being light causes one to see themselves in high definition. Both the image of God and the fallen nature of humanity is seen and held together. People of the light are aware of their identity. They are then able to act with humility, gentleness, and meekness. Since they know they are infinitely loved by God, this brings a great freedom to speak and act with confidence.
  • Believers. Faith begins with receiving grace. It then works its way from an internal truth to an outward expression. People of the light follow in the footsteps of their Lord Jesus. They love, lead, and linger in society as spiritual beings who help illumine the path.
  • Merciful. Since they were once in darkness themselves, people of the light set aside pre-meditated judgment and deal compassionately with those who are spiritually blind.
  • Pure. The light has its way of exposing impurities. People of the light squarely face their own reality and purposely seek purity in all their dealings with society.
  • Peacemakers. Being characterized by the light means we not only possess personal peace; we also make peace through creating and sustaining harmonious relations with others. The light enables us to be spiritual ombudsmen who carefully and effectively bring peace between warring factions.

Jesus is the light of the world. We are the light of the world. That means we do not hide but are present and involved in our families, neighborhoods, communities, local institutions, national affairs, and world problems. Being characterized as followers of Jesus causes a person and a faith community to be visible, to show the world who Jesus is, and what he is like.

The earliest followers of Jesus allowed their light to shine in the world through:

  • Taking in unwanted children, orphans, and babies left exposed to infanticide.
  • Ministry to the sick and dying during times of plague and disease, as well as visiting those in prison without families.
  • Help and kindness to the poor, foreigners, immigrant strangers, and widows, especially when no one else would.

Where light is present, no one needs to remain in darkness. Even a small flickering flame can illumine enough to make a way. And when many small flames come together, there is a great light for all to see.

Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake. We are his servants because the same God who said that light should shine out of darkness has given us light. For that reason, we bring to light the knowledge about God’s glory which shines from Christ’s face. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6, GW)

May the light of Christ, the living Word, dispel the darkness of our hearts so that we may walk as children of light and sing the praises of a merciful God throughout the world. Amen.

Mark 16:1-8 – On Big Rocks and Even Bigger Questions

Deposition, Burial and Resurrection of Christ by Guy Roddon (1919-2006)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomband they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was exceptionally large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. (NIV)

“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” So asked the three women on Resurrection Sunday when they came to anoint the dead body of Jesus. Turns out they didn’t need to find the security officers, so to speak, to come and unlock the door. The tomb was already open. What is more, lo and behold, the women did not find a dead body. Jesus was not there – he is risen!

I sometimes find myself asking the same kind of question the women were asking each other: 

Who will move this huge object (or objection!) to what I want to do? 

How can I get to Jesus so that I can do something for him? 

Who will take care of the immovable obstacles that stand in my way? 

I must admit, these are questions born more of a small faith and a limited understanding than of knowing the power of God.

It also turns out the plan the women had for taking care of Christ’s lifeless body was completely irrelevant. Which causes me to ask even more questions of myself:

Are my questions completely off the mark?

Do I have my ladder up against the wrong wall?

Is my plan of caring for Jesus an adventure in missing the point?

Is it Jesus who plans on showing up and caring for me?

Perhaps it all comes down to our expectations. The women were most certainly not expecting a risen Lord! They had absolutely zero expectation of encountering an angel who would tell them Jesus is alive. They did not anticipate their question would end up being completely unnecessary. 

Maybe believers and lovers of Jesus are asking a set of misguided questions based in our puny creature perspective on life, church, and world. Perhaps we are not grasping what God’s power has already accomplished and/or what God already has up his sleeve. 

It could be that all we really need to realize is that God has gone before us, clearing all impediments so that people can see and experience the risen Christ. Methinks our expectations are far too low for a God who has the power and will to raise people from death…. 

Because the way has been opened to a new and vital relationship with the Lord Christ. That massive immovable boulder has already been moved. Whereas we thought it was some big issue to deal with, just by showing up at the tomb we clearly see that isn’t the issue, at all.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

So, here I go again with another set of questions:

How many times have we gotten things all discombobulated in our heads and misinterpreted what’s going on just because we didn’t show up and find Jesus is not dead but alive?

When have we severely underestimated the power of God by believing we must operate in our own power and do things for God because Christ is as good as dead to us?

Are we still expecting Jesus to care about buildings, budgets, and butts in the pew because those things (we think) are within our power and control?

Do we even bother to ask Jesus what he cares about, or do we simply superimpose our wishes upon him as if they are his?

Are you yet sick and tired of me asking questions and offering no answers?

That’s because the answer is already there. Jesus is not where you are expecting him. There is power at work for which you are unaware.

The truth is that we can now encounter and explore a fresh reality with Jesus as the Author and Pioneer of our faith. We need only listen, follow, and leave the moving of big rocks to God.

When our faith stands at the grave, grieving for a stone that’s rolled away, forgive us, Lord. When our faith is short of understanding though the truth is there to see, forgive us, Lord. When our faith, beset by doubt, sees no further than an empty tomb today, forgive us, Lord. Bring to our minds the cry of Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” and grant us faith to believe! Amen.