Luke 11:14-23 – If You’re Not For Him, You’re Against Him

The Plundering of Hell by Jesus, Lincoln Cathedral, England

Jesus was driving out a demon that could not talk; and when the demon went out, the man began to talk. The crowds were amazed, but some of the people said, “It is Beelzebul, the chief of the demons, who gives him the power to drive them out.”

Others wanted to trap Jesus, so they asked him to perform a miracle to show that God approved of him. But Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he said to them, “Any country that divides itself into groups which fight each other will not last very long; a family divided against itself falls apart. So, if Satan’s kingdom has groups fighting each other, how can it last? You say that I drive out demons because Beelzebul gives me the power to do so. If this is how I drive them out, how do your followers drive them out? Your own followers prove that you are wrong! No, it is rather by means of God’s power that I drive out demons, and this proves that the Kingdom of God has already come to you.

“When a strong man, with all his weapons ready, guards his own house, all his belongings are safe. But when a stronger man attacks him and defeats him, he carries away all the weapons the owner was depending on and divides up what he stole.

“Anyone who is not for me is really against me; anyone who does not help me gather is really scattering. (Good News Translation)

Watching the Green Bay Packers on television does not make one a professional football player. Voting in an election doesn’t make somebody a politician. Paddling around on a lake does not make anyone a duck. And just as sitting in a garage doesn’t make someone a car, so sitting in a church worship service does not make someone a Christian. 

Responding to criticism about casting out demons, Jesus summarized his actions and the actions of others by saying that whoever is not with Jesus is against him, and whoever does not gather with Jesus, scatters.

Jesus was all about the kingdom of God breaking-in to this mixed-up fallen world and giving it a thorough transformation. So, that meant Jesus was going to push back hard on the kingdom of darkness. 

Participating with Jesus in his kingdom enterprise is a watershed test of whether someone is genuinely following God, or not. There are a million armchair quarterbacks who will freely give their advice and opinion about how things should have gone and what those playing on the field ought to be doing. Jesus was, and still is, calling people out to get off their butts and follow him. To merely watch him is to be against him, not for him.

Faith is not a checklist of beliefs to affirm and mark off. Rather, believing in Jesus is a dynamic participation with him in his great kingdom influence for the world. Christ calls us to leave the critical spirit, haughty attitude, and selfish expectations in the bleachers. We are to get on the playing field. To simply have our hands in our pockets is to actually work against Jesus. 

Are you willing to gather with Jesus? How does God want to you to serve? Are you only a fan of Jesus? Do you play armchair preacher on Monday morning? 

God is presently working to bring all things under the authority of Jesus Christ, the rightful ruler of the universe. Unlike so many present kingdoms of darkness on this planet, Christ’s reign is a kingdom of light, bringing benevolent grace to all.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20, NLT)

The kingdom of God has come upon us. Let us follow Jesus and participate in the renewal of the world so that truth, kindness, grace, mercy, goodness, and peace will shine.

Mighty God, Jesus is the strong man who has bound Satan and is ushering in a new kingdom. Let me be a part of what you are doing in this world so that my faith is confirmed, strengthened, and used for your gracious and benevolent purposes, through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Matthew 2:1-12 – Epiphany of the Lord

The Three Wise Men by He Qi

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (New Revised Standard Version)

“Truth, by which the world is held together, has sprung from the earth, in order to be carried in a woman’s arms.”

St. Augustine

Each year on January 6 in the Church Calendar, after the twelve days of Christmas, is the celebration of Epiphany. Christ’s coming to this earth as a child and becoming like us is much more than a baby in a manger.  Epiphany helps to bring a vision and understanding of God’s glory to all kinds of people of the world.

Epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance.”

The event associated with this season is the visit of the Magi to Jesus. The season of Epiphany has a special emphasis on the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus. The great celebration and focus of these weeks is that salvation is not limited to Israel but extends to the Gentiles, as well.

Every season in the Christian Year has its unique angle of grace. With Epiphany, we see that one of the most scandalous truths of Christianity is that God graces common ordinary people who seem far from God with the gift of Jesus. 

God grants repentance that leads to life for all kinds of people no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, class, or background. It is a wondrous and astounding spiritual truth that God’s gracious concern is not limited to a certain type of person or a particular group of people.

Grace is and ought to be the guiding factor in how we interact with people. 

Losing sight of grace leads to being critical and defensive. Like King Herod of old, a graceless person becomes enamored with earthly power and control. But embracing grace leads to the humility of seeing the image of God in people quite different from ourselves. 

Like the Apostle Peter, who learned in a vision to bring the gospel to non-Jews, old legalisms begin to wear away so that people from all walks of life can have access to Jesus and his gracious saving and healing ministry. (Acts 10-11:18)

Grace brings down barriers and causes us to do away with unnecessary distinctions between others. Our appropriate response to such a grace is to glorify God for his marvelous and amazing work.

It is a merciful reality that the Magi, or Wise Men, pagan astrologers, were directed to the Messiah. A light was provided to lead them to Jesus. Apart from God’s care and intervention they would have remained in darkness. 

Adoration of the Magi by He Qi

It is still true for people today. This old broken world is wrapped in darkness. All kinds of people have no light at the end of the tunnel of their lives for hope and new life. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings that light to those unable to see. Jesus, in his teaching ministry, exhorted his followers not to hide their light but to let it shine for all to see. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Sometimes, maybe oftentimes, the best way to bring resolution to our own troubles and problems is through helping others make sense of their lives through the gracious light of Christ. Then, they can see an appearance, an epiphany, of what their lives could be in the gracious rule of the kingdom of God. 

As we celebrate Epiphany and journey with Jesus through his earthly upbringing and into his gracious ministry to people, let us keep vigilance to not let our light grow dim. Instead, let us hunger and thirst after Christ’s righteousness so that our joy is full, and our light is bright.

God of mercy, Lord of all, you have gifted the Church through the goodness of your grace to be your hands and do your work, to be your voice and share your words, to bring healing to broken lives. You have graciously gifted your people with the blessings of your Spirit, the power to transform lives and make all things new.

Now may our hearts receive, our mouths proclaim, our hands prepare for compassionate service so that the love we have may overflow into the hearts of others. May they receive your grace, your renewing Spirit, and your love, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Luke 2:41-52 – We Lost God

The Boy Jesus in the Temple by He Qi

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. (New International Version)

It’s a terrible sinking feeling to lose a kid. Unfortunately, I’ve done it with all three of mine – and multiple times with the youngest. I’ve even lost other people’s kids. Oy. Yet, I can say that I’ve never had the dubious distinction of losing God.

We have come through the season of Advent and anticipated the birth of Christ. We have celebrated Jesus on Christmas Day. Now, we’re looking to perhaps settle back into a more normal routine of life. Joseph and Mary were trying to do the same, too.

One year, when Jesus was young, they were traveling back to Nazareth – only to discover Jesus was not with them! They lost God.

They aren’t the only ones to search for Jesus. A lot of other people are searching for him, too. They’ve traveled throughout their lives thinking Jesus was with them – only to find he isn’t with them. They lost God. 

Too many people go about their daily lives without realizing Jesus is even missing. They simply assume he’s here. But he isn’t. So, let’s search for him. And in finding him, may we see Jesus as we have never saw him before, so that our faith in God might be strengthened and we do not end up losing him yet again.

Joseph and his family traveled in a large caravan, which was common for that day. They were on their camels an entire day before they discovered Jesus was missing. Mary likely assumed Jesus was riding on the other camel with Uncle Zechariah. 

But he was neither with him nor with cousin John or Aunt Elizabeth. So, the second day Joseph and Mary traveled back, hoping and praying they wouldn’t find Jesus in the ditch, like in the story of the Good Samaritan. Having not found him along the road, they spent the third day scouring Jerusalem in search of Jesus. 

Young Jesus in the Temple by Haitian artist Jean-Baptiste Bottex

Turns out, this whole time, Jesus was at the temple. A parent myself, I’m not a bit surprised that a twelve-year-old stayed behind and thought nothing of it. 

Jesus was curious and inquisitive with the rabbis at the temple. Those ancient teachers taught in a different way than we do today. They gave instruction more like a modern day counselor or therapist. The rabbis didn’t just impart information; they asked questions to help people discover truth for themselves. And the rabbis were amazed at Jesus’ ability to discover truth.

Keep in mind that Jesus was not a thirty-year-old adult in a twelve-year-old body. Christ was sinless but still immature. The human experience involves growth and maturation. Jesus shared fully in our humanity, not partially. When Christ was born, he was not a fully aware adult looking through baby eyes.

Because Jesus is fully human, he had to grow up just like us and learn in every way, just like us. Staying in Jerusalem was not a rebellious act by Jesus. It was typical. Twelve-year-old’s do all kinds of things without saying anything to their parents. There’s a world of difference between being rebellious and plain old garden variety immaturity. It’s unwise for adults to expect adult behavior from adolescent kids.

Jesus felt a deep need to stay and talk with the rabbis. As a human boy, he had to go through the process of self-discovery… of discovering he was the Son of God… of reading the scriptures for himself and learning… and finding he was reading about himself! 

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and became truly human.

Nicene Creed, 325 C.E.

To say that Jesus simply knew everything because he was God is to fall into a heresy the early church condemned at the Council of Nicaea called Docetism. It is the belief that Jesus is fully God and only appeared to be human. No, the Council said, Jesus was really a human being and didn’t just appear to be one. He is like us, in every way, except sin.

Well, of course, Joseph and Mary finally found Jesus. It seems Jesus got the third degree from his mother: “What do you mean putting your father and I through this? I gave you birth, and you treat us like this?  What were you thinking?  What part of meeting at the two-humped camel at 9:00 don’t you understand?”

Since Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and others, how much more do we need to put ourselves in a position to grow and learn and develop and mature? 

There is no spiritual zap machine in which God miraculously imparts into our brains all the wisdom and knowledge we need. Rather, emulating our Lord, we must learn, grow, read, pray, ask questions, struggle, and dialogue about the good news of Jesus Christ with each other. In short, we must discover the truth of God.

Perhaps Jesus is asking us, as he did to Mary and Joseph, “Why were you searching for me?  Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” 

One person tells the following story: 

“Back when my wife and I were dating, she worked as a temp at a bank. In the first two weeks of that job, she noticed some very unprofessional behavior among the team and their supervisor. The supervisor took long coffee breaks with the employees, sitting and gossiping with them.”

“A new employee, a woman in her thirties who came on staff a week before my wife, was shunned. If she walked up and tried to join the conversation during a coffee break, the conversation ended. The group, including the supervisor, made jokes about her behind her back and laughed at the way she dressed. They rolled their eyes and winked at each other when she was present. It was obvious this newbie worker was perceived as an unnecessary intrusion.”

“Two weeks into the temp job, my wife walked into the office on a Monday morning and was surprised to find a much different scenario. No gossiping, no kidding around, no long coffee breaks. All the employees were diligently working. The previous supervisor had been replaced. The cliquish team addressed the new supervisor with formal, businesslike respect. The new supervisor was not a stranger. It was the 30-something woman who had been shunned and mocked.”

“It turned out the bank had hired her to be the new supervisor from the first day she came on the job three weeks before, but the bank had concealed her true identity so she could observe the work style of the team.”

In some ways, this resembles the coming of Christ to earth. In his first coming, Jesus Christ revealed his true identity and glory to his true followers, but to those who did not believe, his glory was largely hidden by his humanity. Following his resurrection, Christ ascended to the right hand of God, where he rules all things. One day he is coming again to the earth to establish his glorious kingdom over everything. At that time there will be no mistaking who is in charge. 

Let us not lose our way and lose God in our every-day life.  Let us be with Jesus and with him grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and others. 

Luke 2:1-20 – The Sound of Salvation

Host of Angels by Mike Moyers

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (New International Version)

Out of all the sounds of the season, the best of all is the sound of salvation.

The Sound of Activity

The Roman census brought a crowd of people to small village of Bethlehem. Because most were related to one another, it was like one big family reunion. There was lots of noise, with people talking, laughing, and sleeping.

We are a busy society and a busy people. The Christmas season only seems to exacerbate our busy-ness. Jesus can get lost in all the noise. We can miss the point of it all because of our preoccupations with all those seemingly necessary things in our lives. And it can be hard to hear and to listen to God. The sound of activity eventually needs to give way to another sound….

The Sound of Silence

Bethlehem was so busy that no one paid attention to the most cataclysmic event ever to take place. But out in the fields, all was quiet. The shepherds were there, quietly watching over their sheep. In the silence, they were able to experience the sound of good news.

Like a good pot of tea, we must allow the Word of God to seep in us, allowing the heat to do its work so that we might listen well to the divine voice. If we come at the Word with a cold heart, it will likely not do us a lot of good – we need to be hot and receive the Word with humility and respond to the Word with wisdom. As we allow God to seep in us, we become acutely aware of a beautiful sound….

The Sound of Joy

The shepherds heard good news of great joy from the angels. And then they shared their joy and went to worship the newborn Christ. It was a great celebration. After all, how often do a multitude of angels show up with an unsolicited concert of joy!?

We can imagine the sound of the shepherds’ unbounded joy at hearing the good news that the promised Savior has come! They just had to go and see Jesus, and then told everyone about it. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

There’s nothing quite like hearing good news, then sharing good news. Sadly, however, the story does not end there because not everyone was happy about Jesus being born as the King….

The Sound of Crying

King Herod saw Jesus as a potential rival, and he callously had every baby boy in Bethlehem killed when he found out the news. (Matthew 2:1-18)

We must keep in mind that not everyone is joyous at Christmas. Past grief associated with the holiday season can make it difficult to participate in the celebration. So, we need to be aware of the lamenting folks around us and hear their sad crying so that we can be agents of comfort and grace.

And let us also not forget, another sound of crying is the baby Jesus. Yes, he really cried. Jesus is truly human with all the sounds and experiences that go with being human. (Hebrews 2:10-17)

Conclusion

The sounds of activity, silence, joy, and crying are all part of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. To truly experience a full-orbed Christian spirituality, we will pay attention to the range of sounds occurring around us at this time of year.

Eternal God, who breathed this world into being, and placed stars into the heavens: You are the God who entrusted Jesus to the care of ordinary people, becoming vulnerable so that we might know the power of Love – a mystery so deep it is impossible to grasp, and so beautiful it is impossible to ignore.

Circle us, Lord, with the light of your presence, bright within this dark world. Enable us to be overcomers of fear and temptation, and victors over sin and despair. Circle this world with the joy of your salvation. Where there is sickness and disease, bring healing. Where there is hunger and despair, bring hope. Where there is bondage, bring freedom. Lord of our salvation, circle this world with the light of your presence. Amen.