Community Appeal

220px-CharlesAChristophersonPlease read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 in your Bible.

Today we want to pause and thank God for the blessing of ministering here in Sioux Falls and all the communities in which our members and friends reside.  It may help to hear what our one of our forebears said about our community.

Charles Christopherson was elected to the US House of Representatives from South Dakota’s first congressional district, serving from 1919 to 1933.  Prior to that, he served as a representative in the South Dakota house, where he was elected Speaker in 1915.

Born to Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota, Christopherson moved to Sioux Falls in 1889 and became a lawyer, living at 1000 S. Phillips Ave.  He died in 1951 and is buried in Woodlawn cemetery.  I want to read to you some excerpted remarks that he read into the Congressional Record for 1924.

Mr. CHRISTOPHERSON: “Mr. Chairman, last winter South Dakota passed through an economic storm that closed a number of our banks. In my home town of Sioux Falls, a splendid enterprising commercial city of 35,000 people, four banks closed their doors within a period of three weeks. Articles have been written that conveyed the idea that South Dakota is in financial distress.  I refer especially to the article that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of April 12, 1924 entitled ‘That Pain in the Northwest.’  That article was based upon a superficial investigation and without any real information as to the true conditions.  Perhaps the writer was indulging in a little humor at our expense in order to make his article readable; nevertheless we of South Dakota resent the implications contained in that article.

“We who live in South Dakota know that it is as sound as gold coin.  Our land and South Dakota with its broad productive acres if all cultivated intensively could [produce] enough food for all the people of our country.  For this reason we who live in the State have abundant confidence in its prosperity.”

These stirring and proud words were spoken on the floor of the US House of Representatives in response to an article appearing in the Saturday Evening Post.  Rep. Christopherson may remind you of another politician who frequently takes exception to what is reported in t media.

CONTEXT = This is the beginning of Paul’s APPEAL to the believers in Corinth to resolve their differences in a Christ-like manner.  In v. 10 Paul made his APPEAL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, invoking the name under which they were to live as one.  The word APPEAL has a range of emotions, from “exhort” (a more assertive approach) to “entreat” (a passive approach) with “encourage” in the middle.

We have the very best reasons to practice community.

  1. God’s standards for community (10).

First, persons in community must be in agreement.  Experience teaches us that agreement is a product of people doing the hard work of communicating and compromising.  This Greek word literally means, “say the same thing.”

Second, persons in community must be without DIVISIONS.  This word (schismata) literally meant “tears” or “cracks.”  This word means “cliques;” exclusive but informal social groupings, not organized parties.

Third, persons in community must be PERFECTLY UNITED IN MIND AND THOUGHT.  The word PERFECTLY obviously refers to a depth of relationship impossible in human terms. Paul is writing about a unity that only God can bestow.  MIND AND THOUGHT seems redundant but it may be Paul’s way of emphasizing the divine degree of unity.  UNITED is also translated as “knit together,” a word used for healing broken bones.

  1. The Corinthians fell short of the standard (11-16).

Their division was ostensibly over which teacher each group followed (11-13).  However, the fact that divisions existed at all was a denial that they were organized around any of the four names listed.  QUARRELS are an indicator of worldly thinking, the influence of evil.

Though there was never a quarrel between any of the names given in verse twelve, people attempted to justify their divisions by identifying with one of the four.  They might have rationalized their choice as follows:

Paul was the founder of the church and deserved loyalty.

Apollos represented the next generation and was a brilliant preacher.

Cephas (Peter) walked with Christ and commanded great respect.

Some were ultimate name-droppers and claimed to follow none but Christ.  Perhaps this covered over a rejection of the authority of the other three men.

None of these four would approve a party mentality that put the people of the church at cross-purposes.  This is what Paul meant in his rhetorical question, IS CHRIST DIVIDED?  The obvious answer is “No.”  Quite the opposite; He is one with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Two other rhetorical questions follow.  WAS PAUL CRUCIFIED FOR YOU?  “No;” such a thing was not historically true, nor could Paul provide salvation if he were crucified for them.

WERE YOU BAPTIZED INTO THE NAME OF PAUL?  “No;” according to Acts, they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  This question denies that Paul was seeking to make converts for himself.  False teachers were trying to build their own “kingdoms” but Paul was trying to build the kingdom of God.  These three questions could have easily named Apollos or Cephas and the answers would have been the same.

The divisions involved baptism (13-16).  Elaborating on v. 13, Paul went into a lengthy recollection of his own practice of baptism.  He showed that he performed very few baptisms and therefore no one could accuse him of baptizing anyone into his name.

The three names given here are also mentioned in Acts, Romans, and 1 Corinthians as being among the first converts in Corinth.  As Paul appointed leaders in the local churches, he turned over pastoral functions (like baptizing) to them.  This is the way missions should be done.

  1. What’s at stake: why living in community is essential (17).

Paul was commissioned to PREACH THE GOSPEL, not to baptize, except as baptizing served his preaching.  In his preaching, he chose to not employ WORDS OF HUMAN WISDOM.  He did not cultivate a turn of phrase at the expense of the truth.

Great orators of the time would attempt to mesmerize their audience by clever turns of phrase or twists of logic to earn the applause of people.  Paul saw this as something akin to trickery and avoided it.  He wanted conversions to be genuine; created by the Holy Spirit, not persuasive speech-making.

Reliance on HUMAN WISDOM will result in THE CROSS OF CHRIST being EMPTIED OF ITS POWER.  The word of God has its own power to persuade people to follow Jesus.  The process is corrupted if we rely on psychology, sales techniques, technology, or any other aspect of HUMAN WISDOM.  There is a place for knowledge of human nature and these other things, but it is not first place.  First and foremost, we rely on the Holy Spirit to provide the words for preaching and to reach the heart of our listeners.  There is room for all kinds of “styles” of preaching, but in all cases a preacher’s aim should be to present Christ.

We have the very best reasons to practice community.

          In the Church, we are given all we need to live together in love.  What’s required of us is to get self out of the way so the Holy Spirit can lead us in words and deeds that build community rather than tear it down.

And – we can export what we have in church to build the communities in which we live.  Good citizenry is part of godly living.  When God commanded each of us to love our neighbor, He meant that to be taken literally as well as figuratively.

“Community” is the word we use for healthy, life-giving relationships.  Generally speaking, the things that contribute to community require putting others ahead of self.  Building community is hard work.  It is achieved by joining with others, especially those with whom we disagree.

I leave you with the challenging words of Jesus;

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, even as your heavenly father is perfect.” (MTW 5:46-48)

 

(The Lakota name for Sioux Falls is Íŋyaŋ Okábleča Otȟúŋwahe; “Stone Shatter City.”)

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul T. Marsh

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 10, W. Harold Mare

The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay

The Congressional Record of 1924  (Obtained at https://books.google.com/books?id=d2m-4x-OTDYC&pg=PA10533&lpg=PA10533&dq=bible+verses+cited+in+sioux+falls+city+documents&source=bl&ots=F4WRBMFWCH&sig=ACfU3U3B2K4dNVO2ORoJe2UMux2-4slJBg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjRza7PmLDlAhVJPK0KHYJaADsQ6AEwBnoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=bible%20verses%20cited%20in%20sioux%20falls%20city%20documents&f=false).

Opportunistic Evangelism

witness

The best witness follows God’s lead.

          “A little boy built a model ship, glued all the pieces together, and worked on it for hours.  It was perfect.  Every detail was correct, down to tiny sailors standing on the deck.  He put it in a glass case.  He wouldn’t let his brother play with it in the bathtub.  He was going to keep it perfect by keeping it safe.

“His parents bought a real boat so they could spend the weekends sailing out on the harbor.  They loved it.  At first.  It was a lot of work to maintain.  Boat owners will tell you that the day you bought your boat was the happiest day of your life, and the day you sold it was the second happiest.  At first, they used it a lot.  But then they used it less.  It was expensive.  After a few months, they went to spend a day sailing and found barnacles growing on the side, algae all over it, and a dead motor.  A real boat is only kept in shape by being used.

“The two boats worked in opposite ways.  The model was preserved by being kept safe.  The real boat was preserved by being used.”

<James Miller, found at https://illustrationexchange.com/illustrations?category=631.&gt;

CONTEXT: This is the last word in Matthew’s Gospel, the last thing Jesus says to His disciples, His final instructions before returning to heaven.  They were gathered on a mountain top in Galilee, their home territory, for this final encounter.  Incredible as it seems, Matthew honestly reports that some of the disciples WORSHIPED Jesus, but some still DOUBTED.   Let’s begin there.

For those who DOUBTED, the words of Jesus had no immediate meaning.  His promises of His authority and abiding presence were not for the doubters.  They weren’t committed and at that time, had no part with Him.  The promises were not for them.

Instead, Jesus’ promises were for those who had faith and WORSHIPED Him.  They knew and believed that He commissioned them under the AUTHORITY that had been given to Him by God the Father.  They knew and believed His promise to be with them ALWAYS was perfectly reliable.  They would count on His abiding presence to inform and empower their obedience to His commands.

And so it is for all of us in this very moment.  This passage is for everyone who worships Jesus as Lord of their life.  It will sound like mere words in the ears of those who have not crossed the threshold of faith.  Do you have a model faith or a real faith?  Know which you are as we begin.

  1. This passage has been misunderstood.

Matthew 28:19-20 is known as “The Great Commission” and is frequently cited as a call to evangelism.  On this basis we have been sending missionaries to foreign lands for over 150 years.

Preachers love to cite the four verbs as imperatives to soul-winning.  GO has been understood as being assertive in seeking out t unsaved, creating our own opportunities to tell others about Jesus.

MAKE DISCIPLES has been taken as a call to “soul winning,” a term that never appears in the Bible.  The emphasis is lopsidedly on making converts.

The fact that the word BAPTIZING appears here has been taken to mean that baptism is somehow necessary for salvation.  The evidence in Scripture points to baptism as a demonstration of salvation, not a means of obtaining it.

TEACHING is the most obvious of the four verbs and Jesus Himself explained the aim of our teaching ministry; “TO OBEY EVERYTHING I HAVE COMMANDED YOU.”

The usual use of this passage creates problems.  If Jesus’ Great Commission makes every disciple responsible to assertively create opportunities to witness, then we all bear responsibility for every human contact we make throughout the day.  This is a massive responsibility that none of us is capable of undertaking.  It is not biblical, not Jesus’ intended understanding of the Commission, and produces a lot of guilt about the subject of evangelism.

  1. How this passage should be understood.

At the risk of sounding like I am splitting hairs, a correct interpretation of the passage requires translating the word GO properly. We first need to observe the order of the words.  In the Greek, the word GO has emphasis because it comes first.  Here’s how a direct translation reads: “GOING THEREFORE DISCIPLE YE ALL THE NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATEVER I GAVE COMMAND TO YOU; AND BEHOLD WITH YOU I AM ALL THE DAYS UNTIL THE COMPLETION OF THE AGE.”

Second, we must observe the nature of the word: GO is a verb and we are commanded to it, but it is assumed we are going already.

As translated above, GOING THEREFORE is not a command to get moving, but to do something as you are moving.  As you live, put your real faith to work.  To put it another way, Jesus said, “As you go, make disciples.  Baptize them and teach them to be obedient.”

Now we can move to application of the rest of the commands.

The word DISCIPLE means to make new converts and to mature those who have accepted Jesus.  Discipleship is a life-long process where followers of Jesus help each other to mature spiritually.  I believe Jesus had Deuteronomy 6:6-7 on His mind as He gave this teaching.

THESE COMMANDMENTS THAT I GIVE YOU TODAY ARE TO BE UPON YOUR HEARTS.  IMPRESS THEM ON YOUR CHILDREN.  TALK ABOUT THEM WHEN YOU SIT AT HOME AND WHEN YOU WALK ALONG THE ROAD, WHEN YOU LIE DOWN AND WHEN YOU GET UP.

Even though the word GO is crucial for our understanding of this passage, in the Gk it is the word DISCIPLE that is the main verb.  It can be said that GO, BAPTIZE, and TEACH are all explanations of discipleship.  If you live for Jesus, the reason you draw breath today is so that you can disciple and be discipled. That’s the bottom line.

The word BAPTIZE is important to all Christians but not all of them will agree with the way I am about to define it.  Baptism is an action that is both a proof of a real faith and a means of discipleship.  It serves the purposes of witness and maturing a person’s faith.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has recognized this dual role of baptism and has historically used it as a means of maturing new believers.  For example, in the first century church, candidates for baptism had to go through THREE YEARS of preparation before they were baptized.

Finally, the word TEACH takes in all forms of instruction in Scripture and spiritual disciplines.  Because the main ingredients for maturing followers of Jesus are prayer and the Bible, it will always be necessary to be taught.  Folks who figure they have no more to learn reveal they have a “model” faith, not a “real” one.  A faith that works and is not just limited to display purposes is a growing faith.  There is always more to learn.

What we teach and learn draws us closer to God.  We grow by book learning and by life experience; we must not rely on one or the other but seek both.  Teachers teach by setting an example to follow as well as by passing along information, illustrating it with personal experience.  Teachers are lifelong learners.  In this life, we are both teachers and learners.  This is our greatest duty.

The best witness follows God’s lead.

We usually see witnessing as something we initiate, an opportunity we create by being assertive.  Worse, what often motivates us to witness is a false sense of guilt when we aren’t assertive, leading us to approach people in ways that aren’t genuine.  The result is often an awkward, unproductive encounter that may cause more harm than good.

This passage in Matthew’s Gospel indicates a better biblical way to approach witnessing.  Witnessing encounters start with the knowledge that God is the Initiator.  He will guide us to persons on occasions where He has already prepared their heart and ours.  He will give you words to say.

The second step is ours.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit for the urging to speak and the words to speak.  Awareness of a God-directed opportunity to witness will come to us quietly, a gentle urging that can be easy to ignore or overlook.  What’s needed is active hearts, eyes and ears to sense the opportunities as He sets them in front of us.

The third step is also ours.  We must speak up, say something.  What’s needed here is obedience, not eloquence.  These opportunities are time-sensitive immediate obedience is necessary.

The final step involves the witness, the other people, and God.  We need to fully see and hear the others as we enter into conversation with them, so we can find points of connection to them as people and points to connect them with God.  We need to be awake and aware of the Spirit’s guidance as the dialogue develops, and follow His lead.  In these instances, our book learning (the Bible) and our experience (testimony) will be useful, so we need to be prepared to talk about both of them.

Be forewarned.  These opportunities will not arise in moments convenient or comfortable for you.  Your adult skills of flexibility, risk assessment, and sensitivity will be required.  It will be tempting to “pass by on the other side” ala Luke 10, but you will not be obedient if you do so.

If you have never sensed God leading you in this way, then something is wrong at the center of the faith you’re claiming.  Persons with a “model” faith will not sense God leading them in this way; they’ve schooled themselves on how to ignore it.  Persons with a “real” faith will want to have this experience and will grow from it when they take a chance that Jesus’ promises of authority and abiding presence are true.

Presentation of the King

 

The King has come!  What is YOUR decision?

John 6 is an interesting study because it records the rise and fall of Jesus’ popularity.  If you read it carefully you can see His popular acclaim rise and fall like a presidential approval rating!

The absolute height of Jesus’ popular appeal is found in John 6:14-15.  Not surprisingly, it came after Jesus fed 5000 people.  Give folks a filling free meal and they’re more likely to be your pal, right?

But here’s where it gets strange.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Jesus had supernatural knowledge of what was on the minds of the people around Him.  He knew that crowd of about 10,000 people were ready to drag Jesus along to Jerusalem, using FORCE to make Him their ruler.

This was not God’s plan, so Jesus disappeared and thereby thwarted this crowd that was becoming a mob.  Now here’s the ironic thing: Jesus once fled from the people to avoid being made a king, but now He creates a crowd who openly acknowledge Him as king.  Why this 180?

I believe this dramatic event served many purposes, one of which was to give God’s people one last chance to receive Him as their King.  It was one last powerful demonstration of His true nature.   It was a call to decision.

  1. There were divided opinions on the King.

First, there were the pilgrims who were coming into Jerusalem: they received Him.   Who were these “pilgrims?”  The Gospels make a clear distinction between the people who welcomed Jesus (the out-of-towners) and those who rejected Him (the residents of Jerusalem).  A VERY GREAT MULTITUDE THAT HAD COME TO THE FEAST.  People traveled to Jerusalem from all parts of the ancient world just to celebrate the Passover.  THE MULTITUDES answer the residents of the city who asked who He was.

Why did they receive Him as King?  They heard the WITNESS of the people who had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  Miracles are referred to as “signs” because they are supernatural acts that verify the claims of people who say they are from God.  They believed He was the Messiah, God’s Promised One, selected by God to save His people.  This is indicated by the things they shouted.  They believed Him to be a PROPHET, but of course, He was so much more.  Even the CHILDREN among them offered praise to Jesus.

The second group takes in the religious leadership (including the Pharisees and scribes): they rejected Him.  They realized their earlier attempts to entrap and discredit Jesus were too meager and ineffective.  They feared the crowd coming into the city and the devotion they were expressing in this worshipful procession.  They demanded Jesus stop the procession and tell the people to cease offering worship of Him.  The religious leaders must have realized there was no way the Romans could not take notice of a gathering of this size and this loud.  They feared reprisals from the Romans and riots by their own people.  When they learned of the miracles Jesus was performing in the temple courts and heard their voices joined in worship, they BECAME INDIGNANT.  (INDIGNANT means they pretended to have righteous anger but they were actually just wound up and anxious because they saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo.)

The third group we observe in this account: the people of the city of Jerusalem: they wondered about the Jesus guy and all the commotion He was causing.  The residents of the CITY did not fail to notice all the commotion and asked who was riding into their city at the head of this noisy parade.  They may have recognized Jesus and were asking, in effect, “Who does THIS GUY think he is?”  It was a crabby kind of rhetorical question.  However, as most of Jesus’ ministry was conducted in Galilee, a province several miles to the north, it is possible most people in Jerusalem would not know Jesus on sight.

The distinction between pilgrims and residents is important in the whole scheme of the Passion Week; it helps us understand how the “crowds” could welcome Jesus like this on Palm Sunday and call for His crucifixion on Good Friday.  The answer is that they were two different groups of people.  On Palm Sunday, the “crowds” were pilgrims; people coming to the city for Passover.  It seems likely to me that some of them had come that year especially in the hopes of seeing Jesus.  On Good Friday, the “crowd” was made up of residents of the city, people hand-picked and recruited by the religious leaders for their loyalty and obedience.  Their job was to stage a near-riot to intimidate the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, into ordering Jesus’ crucifixion.

  1. The King had one opinion: He loved them all.

Jesus inspired their worship by fulfilling prophecy: that is the purpose behind the whole donkey-colt aspect of the story.  There is a lot of information about Jesus’ choice of these animals that we’re not going to cover because we don’t have time.  To summarize, all these details eventually contributed to the understanding that Jesus came to Jerusalem as a king.  This is one of those occasions in the Gospels where Jesus acted deliberately to fulfill prophecy:  most of the time He fulfilled prophecy without any input (i.e., His birth), or while doing things that had a more immediate focus (i.e., miracles of healing). For reasons I don’t know, the Jews of this time locked onto Zechariah 9 as a prophecy of the Messiah.  It can be said that those who were there understood the actions of Jesus as a fulfillment of prophecy and happily joined in. The Gospels tell us Jesus’ DISCIPLES DID NOT UNDERSTAND these things in the moment, but after Jesus ascended to heaven, they remembered this chain of events and understood its significance.

Jesus received their worship because it really was due Him.  We shouldn’t let the fact that Jesus started this whole chain of events deter us from getting the real point of this statement.  His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem was part of God’s plan and therefore inevitable.  But it was also something He deserved.  Jesus deserved to be honored this way.

– Because of who He was: King and Creator.

– Because of what He did: throughout His ministry, including that very day in Jerusalem, Jesus healed and taught in the power of God.

Would the STONES have really raised a cheer?  I guess we’ll never know.  Habakkuk 2:11 uses a similar image.  There the STONES of a WALL would CRY OUT against injustice perpetrated against the poor.

When the texts say Jesus LOOKED AROUND AT ALL THINGS, we’re to picture a leader surveying his followers or a king inspecting his holdings.  Jesus was checking to make sure all was in readiness for the important events that were to occur in the days ahead.

Jesus rebuked their falsehood.  Jesus responded verbally on two of the three occasions the religious leaders confronted Him during His Triumphal Entry.  To their demand that Jesus quiet His disciples, Jesus said that if they didn’t worship Him in this way, the STONES beneath their feet would raise up the cry!  This may sound flip, but I think this is meant to show that God chose this day to be Jesus’ day to enter Jerusalem in triumph.  It was so inevitable that the STONES sound forth praise if the people failed to do so.

Later, Jesus quoted Scripture in response to their passive-aggressive protest.  He paraphrased Psalm 8:2.  This is the approach Jesus used in rebuking Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

One important effect of this event is that it forced the hand of the Jewish religious authorities.  This was a very public event and it was in their backyard, so to speak.  They’d already been plotting to kill Jesus, but these events at this time made them push up their timetable and seek Jesus’ death in a hurry.  It’s certain they would NOT have picked the Passover as the time to do this, not the annual time when the population of the city swelled to 1000 times its usual size.  Historically, the city was a powder keg and they saw Jesus as a lit match.  So they were suddenly very motivated.

Jesus warned them about their future sorrows.  I picture Jesus stopping just down slope from the summit of Mount of Olives.  Even as the CROWD surged around Him and kept on partying and celebrating, Jesus looked at the city through tears and predicted the demise of the city and the intense suffering of her people.

This prophecy was fulfilled in AD 72 when the Romans sacked the city and reduced it to rubble.  The Siege of Jerusalem began in AD 70, when the city was surrounded, trapping inside people who’d come to celebrate the Passover.

The reason?  “BECAUSE YOU DID NOT KNOW THE TIME OF YOUR VISITATION.”  In other words, the people of the city rejected Him as their King.

In the Gospels there were two other occasions when Jesus WEPT over the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34).  This shows the tenderness of Jesus’ heart for the City of God and her people.

Jesus healed their hurts.  That Jesus went immediately to the temple courts was obviously also part of His plan for the day.  How wonderful it is that the acclaimed King of the Jews stopped to bless His people.  It gives us insight into Jesus’ character that His ministry of healing continued up to the last days of His life.  It is a good reminder of what He was about, that His mission was not just the cross, but to save people along the way as well.

The King has come!  What is YOUR decision?

This day we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, calling it “Palm Sunday.”  The event itself is called the “Triumphal Entry.”  Think about that for a moment.  That’s a BIG EVENT.  A big event like that goes by the name “Triumphal Entry” is NOT something to be overlooked.  It was loud, splashy, and in the face of the authorities of Jerusalem.  More than any other single event, it is what propels Jesus to the cross.

It is the kind of event that demands a decision.  The residents of Jerusalem asked, “Who is this?”  The Triumphal Entry demanded an answer to that very question.  Today we’ve seen that the pilgrims welcomed Jesus as King, Prophet, and Messiah.  He is all those things and many more.

The people of the city were confounded.  They wondered what all the fuss was about.

The religious leaders decided Jesus was a danger to an order that gave them wealth and power.  He needed to go.

It turns out that today is a day of decision for you too.  Who is Jesus?  Being confounded is not an option.  You must decide to accept or reject Jesus as your king. In order to live, you must honor Him as the pilgrims did on that day, even with your life.

 

A Book Review of “Jesus” by Marcus Borg

A review of JESUS: UNCONVERING THE LIFE, TEACHINGS, AND RELEVANCE OF A RELIGIOUS REVOLUTIONARY by Marcus J. Borg

 

borg

It turns out sometimes you CAN judge a book by its cover.  One example is Marcus Borg’s 2006 book, Jesus.  On the cover of this book is a photograph of the massive statue, “Christ the Redeemer.”  (The one that was adored from all kinds of camera angles at last year’s summer Olympics in Rio.)  This time the statue is surrounded by scaffolding.

The photograph perfectly depicts Borg’s thesis: Jesus is a construct of the Church.  Beliefs about Jesus have determined by culture and historical circumstance, not recovered from inspired Scripture.  The Jesus you think you know is a construct of the last couple centuries, vastly removed from the actual, historical Jesus.

Borg’s thesis will not surprise anyone familiar with “The Jesus Seminar,” another incarnation of the tired quest for the “historical Jesus” begun a couple centuries back among European Bible scholars.  What purveyors of this heresy attempt to do is, ironically, what they accuse traditional scholars of having done: creating a Jesus that suits them.

It goes like this; exalt reason above revelation, deny anything that can’t be proven scientifically, and save what’s “left” of the biblical record that suits you, lending an air of authority to your preconceptions.  With this self-appointed largesse, you have latitude to keep what you like and discard the parts you don’t as “unhistorical.”  Traditional theological conclusions can then be discarded as “provincial,” “archaic,” or “not credible.”

As we’ve heard from too many Bible scholars, Borg asserts the Bible in general and the Gospel accounts in particular are “metaphor.”  They are not to be taken as historical accounts (which sets aside that pesky issue of historicity), but as metaphors, expressing spiritual truths that are “trans-historical.” There are at least two problems with this assumption.

One, the Bible writers never viewed themselves in this way.  As the beginning of Luke’s Gospel makes clear, their intent was to set forth orderly and factual accounts of the life of Jesus.  What use is “metaphor” in fighting heresies in the first century Church?  Can you picture Paul teaching that the Old Testament never intended to relate the truth about God’s great acts in history, but instead to pass along noble sentiments by way of metaphor?  Borg’s imaginative approach reduces Jesus to a figure who lived and died in a first century Roman province.  His followers were jazzed by “visions” they’d had of a resurrected Jesus and set about to form a religion based on these clever metaphors.

Two, “metaphor” is a far too elastic term.  It is too subjective, too prone to flights of fantasy and manipulation.  That is why, for centuries, Bible scholars have moved away from allegorical and metaphorical methods of interpretation.  It is, however, very suitable to “progressives” (Borg’s term of choice for his assumptions) and to the Emergent Church, who are keen to remake the Church into something that is a better fit with postmodern culture.

While our modern approach to historical writing is more strict (“scientific”) than the authors of the Bible, that does not condemn the Bible as unreliable.  With his imaginative reconstructions of New Testament formation, Borg moves away from the self-testimony of Scripture as inspired, to a man-made writing.  I suppose he takes exception to 2 Peter 1:20-21 which explains that no prophecy has its origin in the will of man, but inspired by the Holy Spirit.

His assumptions are that events covered by more of the Gospels are more likely to be historical, that Mark is older than Matthew and Luke, that events in John are more likely to be embellished, and that an ancient document that sourced material shared by Matthew and Luke is explained by an undiscovered document referred to as “Q.”  (It is only an argument from silence, but the fact is that “Q,” nor any document remotely like it, has been discovered.  When one considers the hundreds of surviving scraps of manuscript evidence for the real Gospels, one has to wonder how it is that nothing of “Q” survived.  Might it be because it is only a theory?  It is a moot point either way.)

At the risk of over simplifying or stereotyping, liberals like Borg assume that the biblical texts must serve logic, especially the contemporary fads in philosophy and culture.  Conservative scholars insist that logic serve the texts.  Borg attempts to reverse engineer the texts to make educated guesses about first century communities, while traditional scholars use historic information like detectives to discern the intended meaning of the passage.

Borg also resorts to a line of reasoning familiar to “progressives:” since there are similarities in cultures and religions contemporary to writers of Scripture, the Bible writers must have borrowed these to form their own writings.  This seems like a left-handed way of denying the inspiration of Scripture while at the same time authorizing the syncretism of the Church: our faith being re-formed in the image of our own culture.        As Borg is not critical of his own assumptions, the reader must be.  We must be careful to “test the spirits” as 1 John 4:1 commands.  When tested, Borg’s heresy is to deny the divinity of Jesus.  Here it is in his own words; “the pre-Easter Jesus was not God, but God was the central reality of his life.”  To make certain this artificial distinction of his is not lost on the reader, it is presented in italics and stated on p. 109 and again on p. 136.  If one accepts this premise, it is then up to Borg to decide which Gospel texts are “pre-Easter” and therefore more historically accurate, and which are “post-Easter” and therefore more prone to embellishment by the Gospel writers in order to justify the beliefs of the churches in which the Gospel writers lived.

One final concern is his frequent citation of “the majority of biblical scholars” (you’ll find an example on p. 73) as evidence that his positions are well-founded.  I find this kind of unsubstantiated, unqualified statement to be asides, toss-offs that do not contribute anything to rational discourse.  It’s the kind of thing people put in papers when they wish to pass themselves off as well-informed but haven’t got any research or actual numbers to back it up.  While Borg’s credentials as an academic are there for all to see, these kinds of statements detract from his writing, they do not support it.

In his epilogue Borg takes a jab at those who disagree with him using the usual broad brush of the stereotypical “religious right.”  While he claims to only want to add to the “conversation” about Jesus, what Borg wants us to clearly understand is that only those who adopt his “pre- and post-Easter” dialectic are capable of truly perceiving Jesus.  My advice to the reader is to take a look at the cover and pass on this book.  The cover will tell you all you need to know about its contents.

God the Father Rejoiced

(Please read John 12:20-36.   My quotations are from the NIV.)

MESSAGE: By an audible voice, God the Father expressed His satisfaction with Jesus and His ministry.

In December 2010, a church erected a Nativity scene in their yard. One night, the folks came across the scene pictured in your message notes. An abandoned dog was looking for a comfortable, protected place to sleep. He chose baby Jesus as his comfort. No one had the heart to send him away so he was there all night.

doggie nativity      We should all have the good sense of this dog and curl up in Jesus’ lap from time to time. And did you notice that the dog is a “Shepherd”? Inspired by this photo I’ve written a new Christmas carol. I call it, “A Stray in a Manger.”

 

 

  1. The occasion was not particularly joyful.

The context: some Greeks wanted to see Jesus (20-22).  They were likely Gentile converts to the Jewish faith, as they were AMONG THOSE WHO WENT UP TO WORSHIP AT THE FEAST (20).  Philip is a Greek name, so they may have decided to approach him as a kindred spirit.  “WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE JESUS,” they asked (21).  For some reason, this had to go to committee, but ultimately the request was approved (22).

No doubt part of the buzz-kill was Jesus’ prediction of His death: HE SAID THIS TO SHOW THE KIND OF DEATH HE WAS GOING TO DIE (33).  Jesus used an illustration of a kernel of wheat (24-26).  The planting of a seed is a symbol of burial; the germination of the seed is a symbol of resurrection (24).  Jesus warned them that in like manner, He would be killed and raised to life (32).  He went on to explain a general principle that gaining eternal life requires sacrificing this life (25).  It’s a matter of priorities.  In v. 26, Jesus applied that principle to those who would be His disciples.  There is no true discipleship where a person does not follow Jesus.  God will bless everyone who follows Jesus.

And yet, His heart was TROUBLED (27-28).  This sounds a lot like the inner struggle Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane, prior to His arrest.  (Interestingly, the Gospel of John does not record Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, so this is it for John.)  Verse 28 is an apt summary of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry; to GLORIFY the NAME of God the Father.

– To GLORIFY means to draw attention to God, to worship Him and encourage others to do the same.

– The reference to God’s NAME includes His character & purpose. It’s a different way of referring to God Himself.

  1. God the Father expressed His approval.

Jesus saw His death as His time to be GLORIFIED (23).  The purpose of the cross is to make God known, to bring people to Him so they can be saved.  Jesus was GLORFIED because of His obedience to the will of God.  This means that He was identified with God the Father.  Of course, they are as one.

In this, Jesus gives us an example to follow.  If we will faithfully obey God’s will, we show that we are truly His children with a heavenly home and rewards.

God the Father affirmed Jesus with His words (28).  This is our key verse.  It is here that we see the joy of the Father expressed in His complete satisfaction with the work and person of God the Son.  In each case, the purpose of the voice is to confirm the identity of Jesus as God the Son and to affirm that His message is true.

This is the third time in the Gospels where God the Father speaks from heaven.  Each of these occasions represents a turning point in the ministry of Jesus, a time when additional affirmation was needed.

– Jesus’ Baptism was the beginning of His public ministry. We can use extra support getting started.

– Jesus’ Transfiguration was the turning point when Jesus’ steps began to lead to the cross.

– This occasion is John’s version of the Garden of Gethsemane. This would be a time when confirmation and affirmation would be especially necessary.

Jesus’ mission – and ours – is to lead people to God.  We do this by following His example of sacrifice and by grace.

  1. Some didn’t get it, so Jesus explained it to them.

People who heard the voice had different reactions to it.  Some didn’t even hear it as a voice; they thought it was THUNDER.  Others did not understand that it was the voice of God the Father; they attributed it to an ANGEL instead.

It is clear in v. 29 that they were questioning this teaching.  Maybe they just didn’t understand and/or maybe they didn’t WANT to understand.  In vs. 30-32 He rephrased His teaching, restating it in different terms.

He said, “THIS VOICE WAS FOR YOUR BENEFIT, NOT MINE (30).”  Because He was in close fellowship with the Father (14:10), Jesus was constantly aware of the Father’s approval.  However, no one else was aware of this and so God the Father spoke from heaven to let them know clearly that He was fully satisfied with Jesus.

Jesus elaborated, “NOW IS THE TIME FOR JUDGMENT (31).”  THIS WORLD will soon be judged.  Unlike the Son, all of us will be found wanting, falling short of God’s standard.  The only way to avoid judgment against you is to accept Jesus as your Savior and follow Him all the days of your life.

A result of that judgment is that THE PRINCE OF THIS WORLD WILL BE

DRIVEN OUT; there will be no room for the devil or his followers in heaven. Jesus warned them not to be found a member of the wrong team when Judgment Day arrives.

The reference to being LIFTED UP in v. 32 is clearly about Jesus’ crucifixion.  By means of His death on the cross, Jesus drew all people to a saving relationship with God the Father.  Why say this?  The text explains, HE SAID THIS TO SHOW THE KIND OF DEATH HE WAS GOING TO DIE (33).  Jesus warned the about Judgment Day and the means to avoid the righteous wrath of God the Father that will be poured out on all wickedness on that day.

Some refused to understand; even so, further explanation was given them (34-36).  Truth is, they only knew enough Scripture to be dangerous.  What they thought they knew was that when he appeared, the Messiah would lift forever.  They understood Jesus to say that the Son of Man was going to be killed (LIFTED UP).  These two facts did not square up and in v. 34, they asked him who he meant by the SON OF MAN.

Jesus’ answer (35-36) was couched in symbolism and His response was to give them a taste of what life would be like without Him around.  He is the LIGHT.  Just as it is easier to walk in the light than in the darkness, so it is easier to navigate life in general with the illumination of Jesus guiding our steps.

After that, the text says, Jesus not only LEFT them, but also HID FROM them!  He provided these people with the opportunity to experience firsthand the things He had just taught them!

Here are a couple of news stories that form a commentary on the sad condition of American culture:

Entire School District Closed Over Calligraphy Lesson

By Arden Dier, Newser Staff                                                                                             Posted Dec 18, 2015 7:01 AM CST

           (Newser) – Students of Augusta County Public Schools in central Virginia are enjoying an early winter break thanks to outrage over a lesson in Arabic calligraphy. During a world geography unit on Islam on Dec. 11, Riverheads High School teacher Cheryl LaPorte asked students to practice calligraphy by copying an Islamic statement of faith known as the shahada. Some refused, with at least one parent calling the lesson “indoctrination.”

The Virginia Department of Education and Superintendent Eric Bond found her lesson involving the shahada met state standards and didn’t violate students’ rights because they weren’t asked to “translate it, recite it, or otherwise adopt or pronounce it as a personal belief.” (The translation: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”)   However, an abundance of “profane” and “hateful” calls and emails followed, says a sheriff. Based on the “tone and content” of the communications, the district on Thursday announced the Friday closure. School officials say a non-religious sample of Arabic calligraphy will be used in the Islam unit in the future.

< Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/217726/entire-school-district-closed-over-calligraphy-lesson.html?utm_source=8at8&utm_medium=email&utm_content=2188322&utm_campaign=20151218 on 12/18/15.>

Kentucky School Edits Christmas Play to Remove Bible Passage; Protests Ensue

Bill Young byoung@waaytv.com

The scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where the character Linus quotes from the Bible has been cut from an elementary school production.  In the Charlie Brown play, as well as the classic TV special, Linus said, “Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”

That is the part being cut from the play.

The Superintendent of Johnson County Schools said that Christmas programs district-wide were being edited for any religious references.  He also said that past performances where religious references were made lead to complaints to the district.

The decision lead to protests outside the district administration building. Despite the anger, the superintendent told CNN that he checked with the district attorney who advised the changes be made to honor law that requires separation of church and state.

<Retrieved from http://www.waaytv.com/appnews/kentucky-school-edits-christmas-play-to-remove-bible-passage-protests/article_81fd263c-a519-11e5-8827-e33cba797e4f.html on 12/18/15.>

It’s remarkable how convenient the doctrine of the separation of church and state can be, isn’t it? Our objective as Christian citizens should be to ensure a level playing field, a uniform application of the doctrine of separation.  This nonsense of Islam receiving favorable attention and Christianity being ignored is nothing like a level playing field.  We must be vigilant and assertive without being offensive.  Especially in this Advent season, the world needs us to reflect the light of Jesus Christ.

In Silence He Suffered

(Please read Isaiah 53:1-8 and Matthew 26:57-68.)

Message = Jesus suffered His sorrows in silence; we should be as intent to fulfill the will of God, as gracious and others-oriented.

             Sometimes silence is golden in comparison with some very costly words.

During a trial in a small town, the local prosecuting attorney called his first witness to the stand. The witness was a proper, well-dressed, elderly lady, the Grandmotherly type, well spoken and poised. She was sworn in & then the prosecutor asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?’”

She responded, “Why, yes I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy and frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, cheat on your wife, manipulate people and talk badly about them behind their backs. You think you’re a rising big shot when you haven’t the sense to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper-pushing shyster. Yes, I know you quite well.”

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?”

She again replied, “Why, yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, has a bad drinking problem. The man can’t build or keep a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. Yes, I know him.”

The defense attorney almost fainted. Laughter mixed with gasps, thundered throughout the courtroom and the audience was on the verge of chaos.

At this point, the judge brought the courtroom to silence, called both counselors to the bench, and in a very quiet voice said, “If either of you morons asks her if she knows me, you’re going to jail.”

(http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-mark-eberly-humor-65479.asp)

Maturity is knowing what to say and when to say nothing at all.  Silence is our subject today!

 1. In silence He would be the sinners’ substitute. (ISH 53)

CONTEXT = after a chapter and a half of God’s promises to restore Israel, the means of restoration is revealed, starting in 52:13.  However, the Lord’s Servant is not at all the conqueror or charismatic figure one would expect.  Instead, it is by means of His suffering that the will of God is fulfilled.

Verse 1 asks a pair rhetorical questions to the effect of “Who knew?”  The obvious answer is “no one.”  No one has believed the Servant is God’s arm of salvation precisely because He is not what they expected. Still, no one should be shocked at God doing something unexpected – a truth addressed in Isaiah 55:8-9.

Verse 2 tells us that He became vulnerable for our sake. The TENDER SHOOT & ROOT OUT OF DRY GROUND reminds us of the SHOOT & BRANCH from last week’s reading.  The difference is that these images are vulnerable, not vigorous; the TENDER shoot and the root in DRY GROUND.  Also, the Servant is not a man of BEAUTY or MAJESTY; nothing in His APPEARANCE made Him desirable.  He will not be believed because He will not be a “movie star” or “championship athlete” or “conquering soldier.”

Verse 3 teaches that the Servant would be rejected was because of all He would suffer.  People sometimes cannot look upon the suffering of others.  It makes them uncomfortable so they turn away.

In verses 4-6, and 8 we are surprised to learn that His suffering was for our sake.  To our error, WE CONSIDERED HIM STRICKEN BY GOD, SMITTEN BY HIM, AND AFFLICTED.  It was assumed that people suffered because of sin and those who suffered the most were the worst violators of God’s will.

In the case, of the Servant, however, He would suffer for exactly the opposite reason: for OUR sins.  This point is made repeatedly by the prophet, bordering on ad nauseum:

– HE TOOK UP OUR INFIRMITIES.

– He CARRIED OUR SORROWS.

– HE WAS PIERCED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS.

– HE WAS CRUSHED FOR OUR INIQUITIES.

– THE LORD LAID ON HIM THE INIQUITY OF US ALL.

– FOR THE TRANSGRESSION OF MY PEOPLE HE WAS STRICKEN.

This is no small thing.  It is the major chord in the song of human history.  The Servant’s suffering would be great, but greater still would be the effect it had upon the race.

– BY OPPRESSION AND JUDGMENT HE WAS TAKEN AWAY.

– He would be CUT OFF FROM THE LAND OF THE LIVING, dying too soon to have any DESCENDANTS.

What the Servant’s substitutionary suffering accomplished.

– His PUNISHMENT BROUGHT US PEACE. The Hebrew word for PEACE here is “Shalom.”  It conveys a depth of being at ease with the world and one’s self that ordinary experience cannot provide.  It is a gift from God.

– BY HIS WOUNDS WE ARE HEALED.  Healing here is the solution of the problem of sin.  “Healing” means our forgiveness and cleansing from guilt.

Verse 6 makes it clear that we do not deserve the Servant’s sacrifice.

– WE ALL, LIKE SHEEP, HAVE GONE ASTRAY.

– EACH OF US HAS TURNED TO HIS OWN WAY.

We are informed in verses 7-8 that He did not oppose his oppressors, but submitted Himself to them so they could all fulfill the will of God. Where verse 6 compared us to SHEEP because we have a tendency to wander aimlessly into sin, verse 7 compares the Servant to a SHEEP because of His innocence and meek submission to His persecutors.  (See Jeremiah 11:19, where the prophet uses the same phrase.)

In the Old Testament Law, a SHEEP was offered as a sacrifice on the annual Day of Atonement.  The blood of the lamb was spilled to atone or provide forgiveness for the sins of the people.

TRANSITION: Acts 8:26-40 records the first non-Jewish convert to Christianity.  Philip lead an Ethiopian to Christ and their conversation started with this passage from Isaiah.  From the beginning, the Church understood that Jesus fulfilled this passage.

2. The only defense Jesus offered was the truth.

CONTEXT: We are at the point of Jesus’ story where He has been arrested and subjected to trial by the authorities.  They have rigged the process against Jesus to get the verdict they have already decided upon, but He is so submissive to the will of God it doesn’t matter.

COMMENT:

Our main point is to note Jesus’ fulfillment of t prophecy of Isaiah 53:7, how the Servant would not even open His mouth for self-defense, He was so committed to God’s will.

The first fulfillment is in His trial before the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews.  Matthew 27:63a = BUT JESUS REMAINED SILENT.  In the face of all their charges, He made no defense, offered no explanation, did not argue with them.  A person could argue that silence is the most logical answer to this set of accusations that were based on gossip, half-truths and outright lies.  “I won’t dignify that question with an answer,” we sometimes say, not wanting to lend legitimacy to a query that ought to be obvious.  There’s more to Jesus’ silence than outsmarting His accusers.

The second fulfillment came in His trial by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  Matthew 27:13-14 = THEN PILATE ASKED HIM, “DON’T YOU HEAR THE TESTIMONY THEY ARE BRINGING AGAINST YOU?”  BUT JESUS MADE NO REPLY, NOT EVEN TO A SINGLE CHARGE – TO THE GREAT AMAZEMENT OF THE GOVERNOR.  In the Roman system of justice, the testimony of the defendant carried a lot of weight.  To say absolutely nothing was the same as a confession of guilt.  History tells us that Pilate was a poor ruler, a man who intended to beat the Jewish people into submission.  Pilate was capable of great savagery in putting down anything that smelled of rebellion.  So when Matthew wrote about Pilate’s GREAT AMAZEMENT, he was explaining why a cruel man like Pilate would attempt to secure Jesus’ acquittal and release.  But Jesus did, in the Gospel accounts, speak to Pilate.  He did identify Himself as the King of the Jews.  So what we’re really seeing is not complete silence.

The third fulfillment was in His trial by the Roman governor of Galilee, Herod Antipas. Luke 23:9 = [Herod] PLIED [Jesus] WITH MANY QUESTIONS, BUT JESUS GAVE HIM NO ANSWER.  Herod was merely conducting a “show trial;” he wanted Jesus to perform miracles.  Jesus did not speak to Herod at all.

Why did Jesus respond in this way?  His silence was not some tricky strategy.  It was not an avoidance of responsibility. He was silent in submission to the will of God and in order to fulfill this prophecy.  He wanted no defense because He wanted to be found guilty and condemned to death.  It was God’s plan.

A secondary point is to note that the situation was a little more complicated than that.  Jesus was not only silent, but did answer some questions and did use the opportunity given Him to tell the truth.  We won’t take time now to look specifically at Jesus’ responses, we will only note the fact that He did respond with both silence and telling the truth.

Though His focus was on the cross, Jesus did not flinch from telling the truth.  Think of it this way – telling His persecutors the truth made them more motivated to kill Him!  People who live with comfortable lies don’t like to be told the tr

Paul affirmed this understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Servant passage in Isaiah 52-53 when he wrote Colossians 1:19-20 = FOR GOD WAS PLEASED TO HAVE ALL HIS FULLNESS DWELL IN HIM, AND TROUGH HIM TO RECONCILE TO HIMSELF ALL THINGS, WHETHER THINGS ON EARTH OR THINGS IN HEAVEN, BY MAKING PEACE THROUGH HIS BLOOD, SHED ON THE CROSS.

That’s the big lesson today.  Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12.  That is important to us not just because it is prophecy and fulfillment, but because of what the Servant does for us.  As our Substitute, Jesus poured out His life so that we might be forgiven our sins.  We can be saved because He faced suffering with a determination to do the will of God.  This is the Good News.

But there’s also truth for us in the way Jesus responded to His accusers.  Knowing what was best in each case, He had the wisdom to remain silent or to confront them with the truth.

Through the Holy Spirit, every believer has access to the mind of Christ.  You and I can have the same kind of wisdom in dealing with others.  We can be enlightened to know when it is best to keep silent or confront with t truth.

Notice one other thing.  Those are the only two options.  It is not given to us to argue, to complain, belittle, speak falsehood, or attack people who disagree with us.  Whether we are silent or speak the truth, we are avoiding the sins of the tongue that can cause so many problems.

Paul affirmed this wisdom when the Spirit inspired him to write these words; DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING (Philippians 2:14).  Imagine your life without complaining or arguing.  Think about the PEACE and HEALING that would occur in relationships if people followed this simple instruction!

What’s It Worth to You?

A HARMONIZATION of MATTHEW 19:16-30, MARK 10:17-31, & LUKE 18:18-30 (NIV)

Context = Jesus instructed a crowd on the east side of the Jordan River, His last teaching before going to Jerusalem for the final time.

As Jesus started on his way, a certain ruler ran up to Jesus and falling on his knees before him, asked, “Good teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good or even ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied.  “There is only One who is good – God alone.  If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the man required.

Jesus replied, “ ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus looked at him and loved him.  Jesus answered, “One thing you lack – if you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he

had great wealth.

Then Jesus looked intently at his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; with God all things are possible.”

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then shall be there for us?”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

(Inspired by John MacArthur’s book, One Perfect Life.)

An example of faith not found.

          Although he didn’t ultimately get it, the rich young man had a good focus: he was fixed on ETERNAL LIFE and how to possess it. Part of his failure can be accounted for by the fact that he didn’t understand what it was.  It is access to God in this life and in the life to come.

The intensity of his focus is seen in how he ran up to Jesus, knelt before him, and spoke in a deferential tone. I can picture this guy having gone to numerous “experts” with this question. As he’d never been satisfied with their answers, he kept looking. Jesus was probably just the latest rabbi to come across is “radar.”

He also didn’t understand Jesus’ simple statement, “OBEY THE COMMANDMENTS.” His question “WHICH ONES?” may indicate he was looking for the one thing that made heaven a sure thing.

When Jesus singled out some of the Ten Commandments and added one, the rich man made the paradoxical comment that he’d kept all those but was still sure that he lacked something.  This is at once both ridiculously confident and insecure, a mixture of hubris and humility you don’t see.

One thing he understood clearly about ETERNAL LIFE; he was sure that he had didn’t have it.  He was convinced there was some GOOD THING that he’d left undone, but couldn’t figure it out to save his soul.

Instead of focusing on ETERNAL LIFE, Jesus offered him the best focus instead: focus on GOD alone. This is why Jesus said, “THERE IS ONLY ONE WHO IS GOOD – GOD ALONE.” He effectively said, “Why bother yourself with anyone’s goodness – yours or mine?  Only God is truly good.  Focus on Him.”

The man’s question “WHICH ONE?” might reveal his search for the path of least resistance. That’s human nature isn’t it? The path that leads to God is NOT that path.

Could he have kept all the commandments and still be unsure about his salvation?  Of course.  Because of the New Testament, we understand that keeping the commandments is not a means of salvation. God offers eternal life as a gift.  It is His grace that makes it possible.

Jesus exposed what held him back: his WEALTH.  Let’s analyze Jesus’ reply.

  • “IF YOU WANT TO BE PERFECT” means having undivided loyalties. The source of the rich man’s “eternal insecurity” was that he’d placed his trust in his wealth. All his talk about commandments was a red herring.  He believed he could earn or buy anything in this world and the next.  At a deeper, subconscious level, he knew that was wrong but he wouldn’t admit it even to himself, hence his insecurity.
  • By “SELL ALL YOUR POSSESSIONS AND GIVE TO THE POOR” Jesus meant to refocus his attention on God. Any kind of self-sufficiency can come between us and God.  It can be a subtle idolatry. The world prizes independence and self-sufficiency, but God’s will is for His people to depend on Him and find Him sufficient for all needs, esp. ETERNAL LIFE.
  • “YOU WILL HAVE TREASURE IN HEAVEN” looks forward to heavenly rewards.  Jesus taught this up on the mountain; “DON’T STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES ON EARTH, WHERE MOTH & RUST DESTROY, & WHERE THIEVES BREAK IN & STEAL.  BUT STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES IN HEAVEN, WHERE MOTH & RUST DO NOT DESTROY, & WHERE THIEVES DO NOT BREAK IN & STEAL. FOR WHERE YOUR TREASURE IS, THERE YOUR HEART IS ALSO.” (see Matthew 6:19-21) This is a matter of priorities.
  • “THEN COME, FOLLOW ME” teaches that priorities precede discipleship. Eternal life is received by true faith manifest in discipleship. When we put God first, it is a life-long commitment, one that continually develops and deepens.

This command is given nowhere else in the New Testament.  It was an individualized response to this one man because Jesus LOVED HIM and knew the condition of his heart.  It was exactly appropriate to him personally.  Jesus exposed the condition of the man’s heart; the man’s reaction verified Jesus’ verdict.

  • HE WENT AWAY SAD. What an awful, dramatic picture that must’ve made.
  • BECAUSE HE HAD GREAT WEALTH. We are given no other reason.  For all the enthusiasm he’d shown earlier, this is a step he was unwilling to take.

An example of faith found.

          Jesus explains WHY the rich man’s WEALTH caused his dejection when He said, “IT IS HARD FOR A RICH MAN TO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.” It is not that poverty is automatically more spiritual – the problem is the self-sufficiency, the idolatry that was based on his wealth. The word HARD is key.

  • HARD, not “impossible.”
  • HARD for us, not for God.
  • HARD to focus God because the world has distracted us so thoroughly.

Jesus’ statement about the camel and the needle is an exaggeration and is intended to make us appreciate t difficulty.  Forget about pseudo-scientific ways you could reduce a camel to a medium that could be shot through the eye of a needle.  Forget about a “Needles Eye” gate that has no basis archaeological fact; it’s a persistent medieval legend.  Jesus is exaggerating for effect, a teaching device He sometimes employed (i.e., moving mountains by prayer).

The disciples were surprises because Jesus’ explanation challenged their assumptions. They assumed that wealth was a sign of God’s favor and poverty His curse.  This was a popular belief, not a biblical one. So what Jesus said and what the disciples heard were two different things.  What they heard was something like, “It’s impossible for the people whom God blesses to get ETERNAL LIFE!”  Shocking!  If this were true, then what chance did they, as middle and lower class folks, have?

What we learn through the New Testament is what the disciples eventually understood; ETERNAL LIFE can’t be earned or bought because it is God’s grace. It really is humanly impossible, not just improbable or inconvenient.  Like putting a camel through a needle’s eye, we just can’t do it.  (This is why the whole camel thing must be a metaphor of impossibility or we dilute the radical nature of grace along with the shock value of Jesus’ statement.)

Jesus answered Peter’s plea with a promise and a principle.

  • Peter’s plea is heard in his answer to Jesus.  He’s saying, “What about us?”
  • Jesus’ promise assures Peter that those who sacrifice everything to put God first will not be disappointed with what God gives them, both in this life and especially in the next.
  • Jesus explains a principle in His last statement. Worldly thinking ends in a confusion that is a complete reversal of heavenly truth.  The worldly person has got it completely backwards. What’s first and most important in this world is least in heaven.  People whom this world despises most  – because of their faith – are going to be first to receive God’s love.

Taken together, the promise and the principle assure Peter – “Keep your eyes on God and trust Him to handle what’s fair.  He has His eyes on you and will not forget your faith and sacrifice.”