Like Father Like Son (John 5:19-29)

The Trinity, by Ukrainian painter Feodosiy Humeniuk, 1981

Jesus responded to the Jewish leaders: 

“I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. He will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel. 

As the Father raises the dead and gives life, so too does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. The Father doesn’t judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him.

I assure you that whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and won’t come under judgment but has passed from death into life.

I assure you that the time is coming—and is here!—when the dead will hear the voice of God’s Son, and those who hear it will live. Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. He gives the Son authority to judge because he is the Human One.

Don’t be surprised by this, because the time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice. Those who did good things will come out into the resurrection of life, and those who did wicked things into the resurrection of judgment.”

(Common English Bible)

So goes the parent, so goes the child. Sons look and act a great deal like their fathers. And there is no mistaking the resemblance between Father of the heavens and Son of the incarnation.

In Christianity, to see Jesus is to see God. To know Christ is to know the Lord. They are distinct, yet inextricably linked as one; each is differentiated from the other in personhood, yet united with the same divine substance.

The deity of the Father and the deity of the Son is one, equal in glory, co-eternal in majesty.

What the Father is, the Son is.

Uncreated, eternal, almighty, and sovereign is the Father; uncreated, eternal, almighty, and sovereign is the Son.

The Father and the Son are not two gods but one God.

There is only one Father; there is only one Son. Each is neither greater nor lesser than the other.

Whoever wants to be saved from guilt, shame, sin, death, and hell – and to be delivered from the injustice of the world, the failings of oneself, and the machinations of evil, should think about the Father and the Son and the Spirit, the Holy Trinity, one God.

– Athanasian Creed

So, why is all this creedal Christian doctrine of any importance? Why pay attention to such things?

Because there are many issues and problems in this world of great importance which must be addressed and dealt with. We need to have some idea of how to go about: 

  • Governing ourselves as a free people
  • Eradicating poverty and disease
  • Educating our children
  • Paying taxes
  • Providing excellent and cost effective healthcare for everyone
  • Dismantling racism
  • Seeking peaceful international relations
  • Building responsible and accountable local community relationships
  • Supporting small businesses
  • Helping workers make a decent contributive living
  • Loving our families and faith communities 

It is my unshakable conviction that all these issues, and many others, need more than our collective mental attention and physical resources; these problems also need spiritual resolutions and solutions.

Seasons, years, centuries, and millennia come and go. People are born, live, and die. Generations exist and then are no more. Civilizations rise and fall. Through it all and above it all is the person of Jesus.

Christ is alive. He brings breath from dust, beauty from ashes, order from chaos, stability from insecurity, dignity from disrespect, and meaning from uncertainty. Jesus gives life, abundant and to the full.

Christ the King, San Miniato al Monte Church, Florence, Italy

Today, this very moment, Christ is still on the throne of all creation. 

Human elections and institutions only have authority as given by Jesus, the Ruler of all.

Presently, Jesus is attentive and vigilant to people, actively interceding for us at the right hand of his Father in heaven. At this very moment, the Holy Spirit is the continuing presence of Christ on this earth, applying Christ’s redemption of humanity to the lives of millions. 

Sometimes we need to remember how important our spiritual resources are to living in this world – and to clarify what’s really of ultimate significance in this old broken world. 

My unwavering spiritual persuasion is this: People need the Lord. Therefore, it only makes good spiritual sense to live in ways that foster a connection with Jesus. 

This morning, I did what I do every morning – whether I’m sick or well, sad or happy, facing a busy day or a relaxed day – I began my day with Scripture reading, prayer, reflection, and gratitude. And I do it with the realization that Christ is King, that as the divine/human Lord of all, his:

  • authority is real
  • rule is benevolent
  • sovereignty is ubiquitous
  • reign is supreme
  • judgments are right and good
  • power is mighty enough to raise the dead

The Christian tradition holds that Jesus Christ is the exalted and glorified Son of God, the Sovereign authority over every dominion. The works of Jesus bear testimony to the cosmic reality that he is Lord of all. And, if that were not enough, Jesus shares his divine power with us, his people.

In the face of Christ’s majesty, the valid and appropriate response is sheer submission to Christ’s authority. 

Just as Jesus listened to the Father and obeyed the Father’s will, so we need to listen to Jesus and carry out his will. 

Just as Jesus enjoyed his relationship with the Father, so we are to bask in our wonderful relationship with Jesus. 

Since Jesus submitted to death on a cross and rose from the dead through God’s power, we now have access to that power by God’s grace through faith in Christ. And we are to use that divine power to take up our own cross and bear the great issues and problems of our day with all the spiritual resources granted to us in Christ Jesus.

Like Father, like Son. Like Christ, like Christians. May all followers of Jesus resemble their Lord in each word and in every way.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Mark 10:17-22 – Jesus Intervenes

Eastern Orthodox mural of Jesus and the rich man

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth. (New International Version)

We are all addicts. 

We all have our own sin addictions which keep us stuck in guilt and shame.

We may not all struggle with the same sin. Yet we all have some besetting sin(s) that we must be weaned off of. The most pervasive addiction found in Holy Scripture is neither substance abuse nor alcohol – it is the addiction to wealth and money.

Maybe your initial response was of someone else, besides yourself: “I don’t have as much money as____” or, “So-and-so has a real problem with that!” Those statements are what we call, in terms of addiction, denial. 

In truth, all of us are in some sort of denial about how much we really trust in paychecks, bank accounts, investments, and owning material stuff. I’m no exception. I own more books than I’ll be able to read in a lifetime, and yet, I tend to believe I don’t have enough of them.

Even the poor can have an addiction wealth and money by thinking about it and wishing for it to an unhealthy degree, as if wealth is the thing that will ultimately make them happy.

People in denial rarely have any idea how much they are hurting others, themselves, and God.  In fact, the consistent witness of the early church fathers is that the sheer accumulation of stuff is the same as stealing from the poor. 

Because of denial, people need an intervention. They need to be jolted back to their senses. Intervention is a gift. Someone cares enough about the person to intervene. Yet, interventions don’t always work. The person can choose to walk away and refuse to change.

Jesus did a gracious intervention with a rich young man. The man was addicted to wealth and money, but he didn’t see it. In fact, he thought he was quite godly and spiritual. It’s a sad story because the man walks away untransformed by his encounter with Jesus and did not accept the gracious invitation to follow the Lord. 

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man, 1879

The man simply did not see himself as hopeless and desperately needing to change. He held to his denial.

The man approached Jesus with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Whereas I would probably get all excited about being asked a question like this and launch into some long-winded gospel answer, Jesus immediately picked up on the attitude and the need behind the question. 

What must I do to get? It’s almost as if the man wants to acquire eternal life like he would acquire wealth. “I am a successful businessman with plenty of money, and a respected citizen with lots of wealth – now I want to be a success with God, as well.” 

The question may have been sincere, yet it was misguided. Eternal life is not spiritual real estate for an upwardly mobile person to acquire and possess. The man seems to believe he can purchase eternal life, as if everyone has their price, even God. “After all,” he may have been reasoning, “I have gotten everything else in life, so why not obtain eternal life?”

Jesus questioned the question. He went after the underlying assumption of doing something good to obtain eternal life. The fact of the matter is that the man cannot do anything. He can’t because only God is good. Jesus points him to God by changing the action from getting to entering. And he changed the language from a market acquisition to entering into a journey.

Jesus was inviting the man to walk with him.

Eternal life is a journey of faith in the God who is good, and not a transaction to get it. And, we too, must be careful not to treat eternal life as if it were a transaction, as if we must get a person to sign on the dotted line through a “sinner’s prayer” or some other formula that will seal the deal for eternal life. 

Instead, eternal life is a walk of obedience with God and his commands.

Jesus responded to the rich man with the Ten Commandments, specifically the ones which focus on human relationships. Jesus wanted him to realize that the path into the kingdom of God and eternal life goes through and not around how we treat our fellow human beings.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889

The Lord sought to expose the impossibility of continuing in life on the rich man’s terms. The guy just could not imagine what he might be lacking. So, Jesus helped him out. Christ gave him some major interventional language…. Sell. Give. Follow.

Sell everything. Give to the poor. Come, follow me.

One cannot simply add Jesus to their life, like adding a new car or a new fishing rod. Rather, one’s heart must change in order to accommodate real, genuine eternal life. 

Jesus offered the rich man someone to be, rather than something to get

It’s one thing to give from what you have; it’s another thing to surrender your life and all you have. 

In the New Testament Gospels, there are no easy conversations with Jesus. He gets personal in every encounter and gets under everybody’s skin. Christ doesn’t settle with superficial small talk when there are people whose hearts are little more than idol factories. 

Jesus never leaves us alone, because there is always the invitation to “Come, follow me.”

Christ exposed the wealthy man’s divided loyalties – he was trying to serve both God and money. But he would have to choose between the two. 

And that is our choice, as well. 

The question for us is not, “Am I completely devoted to money?” Instead, the question from our Gospel story today is, “Am I trying to serve God while maintaining a moonlighting job with the world?” 

God wants from us an undivided heart; the Lord desires absolute allegiance.

Jesus is looking for those who are poor in spirit, who recognize their great need for God – instead of believing that they are okay and just need to add a little Jesus to their lives. 

God is looking for spiritual beggars who understand their desperate situation and don’t practice denial by sugar-coating their actual spiritual state.

Like a drunkard who won’t give up his vodka; like a sex addict who won’t give up strip clubs or emotional affairs; or like a workaholic who just can’t come home; the rich man would not give up his disordered love for money and possessions. 

So, Jesus did an intervention. 

The Lord Jesus didn’t ask everybody to do exactly as he called the rich man to do. He didn’t ask the very wealthy Zacchaeus to do it, and he didn’t tell Peter to sell his fishing business. 

But Jesus does tell us to do something which seems impossible. Yet, where the impossible exists, so exists grace.

Blessed Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without loving generosity are worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Revelation 11:15 – He Will Reign Forever

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

“The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.” (New International Version)

I am so looking forward to that day!

As an ordained Minister, I have done my share of weddings over the years. Working with engaged couples anticipating marriage is both exciting and awkward. It is, in some ways, a difficult time for the betrothed because they are committed to one another in a manner different from just dating. But they are not yet in a marriage relationship. 

The same is true for the Church. She is betrothed to the Lord Jesus. They are both quite committed to each other. But the marriage hasn’t yet happened. There is still this engagement period. We’re ready for permanent unending marital bliss.

The kingdom of God has been inaugurated, but not yet consummated. That’s a fancy way of saying that God’s rule and reign has come to this earth, but its fulfillment has not yet occurred. 

This present time we are now experiencing between the two advents of Christ – his incarnation and his coming again – is a weird and awkward time of engagement. We’re trying to figure out how to live in the world but not of it. 

Yet, there is a time coming at the consummation of the ages, at the end of time, when Christ will return to take his bride. Then, the Church will celebrate in a great wedding feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. From then on, the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord, and he will reign forever and ever.

Just as marriage is designed for permanence, so our union with Jesus will last forever. His gracious and benevolent reign shall never end. Christ’s rule will be complete and extend over all the earth. 

Until then, however, believers must patiently persevere with fidelity to our Lord Jesus, who loved us and gave himself up for us.

Slow and steady is better than nothing at all.

We keep going, despite all obstacles, adversity, difficulty, and discouragement – without comparing ourselves to others or making everything a competition.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV)

Persevering to the end is the goal, not being perfect all the time. Perfection is the sure road to depression and feeling defeated. Endurance, however, is able to focus on the small efforts of each day to get where it wants to go.

Even though we anticipate our eternal life, that very life has already begun, right now. So, we can live with confidence, knowing the Lord is with us.

Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, NRSV)

Perseverance can only happen with physical, mental, emotional, as well as spiritual health. We compromise our ability to keep going and remain encouraged with a lack of self-care.

We need to pay attention to our bodies because they are the vehicles by which we do the will of God.

We must attend to our minds because that is where we do battle with the enemy.

We have got to become comfortable with talking about feelings because we are emotional creatures, created by a God with deep feeling and emotion.

And we are to be disciplined with spiritual practices, just as we are with anything which requires our attention.

Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers. (1 Timothy 4:8-10, MSG)

In those times we are confused or just don’t know what the heck to do, we turn to the Lord.

With all your heart
you must trust the Lord
    and not your own judgment.
Always let him lead you,
and he will clear the road
    for you to follow. (Proverbs 3:5-6, CEV)

Keep moving. The Lord will direct you. The kingdom is coming in all its fullness.

Gracious heavenly Father, may we never lose the way through our self-will, and so end up in the far countries of the soul. May we never abandon the struggle, but endure to the end, and so be saved. May we never drop out of the race, but continually press forward to the goal of our high calling.

May we never choose the cheap and temporary things and let go the precious things that last forever. May we never take the easy way, and so leave the right way. May we never forget that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown.

So, almighty and everlasting God, keep us and strengthen us by your grace so that no disobedience and no weakness and no failure may stop us from entering into the blessedness which awaits those who are faithful in all the changes and chances of life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Acts 12:20-25 – Don’t Be Worm Food

Herod had been furious with the people of Tyre and Sidon for some time. They made a pact to approach him together, since their region depended on the king’s realm for its food supply. They persuaded Blastus, the king’s personal attendant, to join their cause, then appealed for an end to hostilities. On the scheduled day Herod dressed himself in royal attire, seated himself on the throne, and gave a speech to the people. Those assembled kept shouting, over and over, “This is a god’s voice, not the voice of a mere human!” Immediately an angel from the Lord struck Herod down, because he didn’t give the honor to God. He was eaten by worms and died.

God’s word continued to grow and increase. Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch from Jerusalem after completing their mission, bringing with them John, who was also known as Mark. (Common English Bible)

Accountability is important. People need to be held to a clear, right, and just standard of attitude and behavior – especially when they mess with the food supply.

Herod Agrippa Is Worm Food

The King Herod in our New Testament story today, known as Herod Agrippa, was a grandson to Herod the Great. Simply put, King Herod Agrippa was a self-absorbed jerk. Although he only reigned four years, he was something like a modern day evangelical huckster. Herod knew how to turn a phrase and play on the emotions of people to get what he wanted while keeping up appearances with both the Empire and the Jewish people.

Yet, despite or because of his eloquence and power, Herod was vain and ruled for self – and neither for God nor country. So, he was stricken by God and died an unpleasant death. The connection is clear: Herod used the food people depended upon as a means of controlling the politics of the region, so God hit him directly in his intestines with a complete lack of control over his own body.

Just as Herod was an unwanted agent manipulating the food supply for his own ends, so the king received some unwanted guests in the form of worms. In the ancient world, when any ruler used food to control the people, there were individuals and families who ended up starving to death. For Herod, the worm turned, it was he who died.

Jesus Is Gospel Food

The swift judgment from God was both a rebuke to Herod’s personal kingdom building, as well as a means of protecting the fledgling church from severe persecution. With Herod Agrippa off the scene, the Apostles could freely move with regularity (pun intended) and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Paul, Barnabas, and Mark were able to go on a missionary journey. Nothing can thwart God’s good news and sovereign intentions for humanity – especially not an upstart demigod king who, as a Jew, knew better than to go rogue and mess with people’s food.

The church is to give literal and spiritual food – following the footsteps of their Lord Jesus who said:

“The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh…. I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:33-58, CEB)

God’s purpose and intent is to provide sustenance. Divine retribution is likely to happen when puny humans try and play their power games, putting entire people groups at risk for starvation. Jesus came to this earth for the provision of food that will nourish to eternal life.

The Lord will provide. God shall ultimately topple all systems of repression which deny people basic life needs. Almighty God seeks to eat away, like an intestinal worm, at contemporary political regimes and oppressive governments which put people in impossible situations of trying to fend for themselves.

Jesus is both Bread and Judge. Christ came in his first advent bringing food for the hungry. There is a time coming when he shall return in his second advent to bring the worm – good news to the suffering, and bad news for the ones who create the suffering.

Be encouraged with the spiritual reality that Christ brings spiritual sustenance and eternal life. And be assured that he knows the condition of all people and will extend grace or judgment with sage wisdom.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, especially the hearts of political authorities, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace so that everyone’s need for food is met, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.