Sunday, May 31, 2015

Emma of Pensacola, meet Simon of Cyrene — part 2

The Word for today:
Judges 2:6–3:6
Our schedule says we are in the book of Judges, but we’re still talking about Simon of Cyrene from the gospel of Mark. So what gives?
We were detained by an important question from Emma of Pensacola concerning Simon of Cyrene, so we decided to answer it before moving on to Judges. Emma’s question was prompted by the article we published two days ago. The first part of our reply was posted yesterday. We will catch up to the Judges tomorrow.
***
Q.  I am intrigued by Simon of Cyrene and I would like to know if there are any “theological implications” that we should know about.
A.  First let me say that Stand in the Rain does not consult theological textbooks. We just look to see how a character fits into God’s great Story. The Bible is a storybook, not a textbook — and when we begin to see it that way, these questions often answer themselves.
So that’s what we want you to do. We want you to see scripture as a story, and from the story derive the answers yourself…
1. We told you in yesterday’s article that Simon and his sons had traveled to Jerusalem all the way from Cyrene (in North Africa) for the Feast of Passover. This is your biggest clue from the story of scripture.
2. Now go to Exodus 12:1-7 and read what each family was required to provide for the Passover.
3. Now turn to John 1:29 and see through the eyes of John the Baptist as he identified the fulfillment of that “thing” required for Passover.
4. Now consider that it was the Law of Moses which required that this item be brought for the Passover ritual. In Simon’s brief story, can you find any representatives of “the law” --
A man named Simon from Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was coming from the fields to the city. The soldiers forced Simon to carry the cross for Jesus. (Mark 15:21)
Train yourself to see the Bible for what it is -- a Story good and true, not a textbook of systematic theology. Work hard to overcome the mistaken notion that the “moral of the story" is the point. When reading the Bible, the point of the Story is the Story itself. Let me repeat that:
The point of God's Great Story is the story — its plot, and especially its great Character --itself!
That’s why we were disdainful of reducing Simon of Cyrene to a theological precept. He is representative of way more than that…
When the solders of Rome (representative of the law) compelled Simon of Cyrene to bring Jesus to the place where his blood would be spilled on a cross, it was a virtual re-enactment of Passover.
At Passover, the Mosaic Law required that the blood of a lamb be applied to the posts and the lintel (the upper crosspiece) of a door frame. When the blood was applied, the death angel passed over the sins of those inside (who were said to be “under the blood.”)
Simon of Cyrene, then, is representative of the person who brings Jesus, the Lamb of God, as his sacrifice for sin. Simon, with the cross slung over one shoulder and Jesus, at times, slung over the other shoulder, isn’t representative of a dry idea, but of all the people who are under the beams and under the blood. And that means you, Emma of Pensacola.
And so we’ll end today’s article where we met you two days ago, when we said that you must no longer see yourself as just a Bible reader, on the outside looking in.
“There you are on the page with Jesus,” we wrote, “so walk right into the Story and become one with it.”
Simon of Cyrene, meet Emma of Pensacola. Emma of Pensecola, meet Sinon of Cyrene. Simon and Emma, meet Jesus of Nazareth.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Simon of Cyrene, meet Emma of Pensacola -- part 1

The Word for today:
Judges 1:1-2:5
Stand in the Rain is gratified by the response to yesterday’s article about Simon of Cyrene.
One faithful reader made the following request, with which we are happy to comply:
Dear Sir,
I read Stand in the Rain every day, so I think I’ve earned this request. I know that tomorrow we leave the gospel of Mark and turn to the book of Judges. But could you please delay your Judges introduction for a day in order to respond to my question…
Your Simon of Cyrene article contained this quizzical comment:
“I’m not sure of the theological implications of helping God get up so he could die on a cross instead of the street. I’m not sure there are any theological implications. And, to tell you the truth, if there are I don’t really want to know.”
With all due respect, Sir, I am intrigued by Simon of Cyrene and I would like to know if there are any “theological implications” that we should know about. Your comment “begged the question,” so now I’m “begging for an answer.”
Thank you,
Emma of Pensacola
***
Dear Emma,
We’d be happy to delay Judges for a day in order to reply. So taken are we, in fact -- by both you and your question -- that we have decided to honor this teachable moment with a two-day article. The Judges will just have to cool their heels ‘til we get there…
We’ll begin our answer by looking at your question again:
Q. I am intrigued by Simon of Cyrene and I would like to know if there are any “theological implications” that we should know about.
A. First let me say that Stand in the Rain does not consult theological textbooks. We just look to see how a character fits into God’s great Story. The Bible is a storybook, not a textbook -- and when we begin to see it that way, these questions often answer themselves.
So that’s what we want you to do. We want you to see scripture as a story, and from the story derive the answers yourself. We will help you find the answers about Simon of Cyrene by first giving you some questions to ponder (and look up in your Bible) overnight:
1. We told you in yesterday’s article that Simon and his sons had traveled to Jerusalem all the way from Cyrene (in North Africa) for the Feast of Passover. This is your biggest clue from the story of scripture.
2. Now go to Exodus 12:1-7 and read what each family was required to provide for the Passover.
3. Now turn to John 1:29 and see through the eyes of John the Baptist as he identified the fulfillment of that “thing” required for Passover.
4. Now consider that it was the Law of Moses which required that this item be brought for the Passover ritual. In Simon’s brief story, can you find any representatives of “the law” --
A man named Simon from Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was coming from the fields to the city. The soldiers forced Simon to carry the cross for Jesus.
(Mark 15:21)
Ponder these questions overnight, Emma. We can answer them tomorrow, but by then you will already know exactly who it is that Simon, theologically, represents. I daresay, Emma, that you will even know her middle name--and even some of her secrets!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, May 29, 2015

just for an afternoon

The Word for today:
Mark 16: 9-20

And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.
 (Mark 15:21)
In my footloose, bohemian days, I went to New York City all the time. Maybe a dozen times a year, I used to go to New York just for an afternoon.
When I say “just for an afternoon,” I’m not referring to the length of my stay. I mean that the afternoon was what I went there to do. And New York was the perfect setting for an afternoon perfectly played.
Beginning in the wee hours of Saturday morning, I’d drive from Buffalo to New Paltz, where there were college friends who would take me in for the night. Then I’d take the train to New York, where I did what I came for—the afternoon.
Then I’d get on the train back to New Paltz and sleep through what was left of the night. Then I’d drive back to Buffalo on Sunday. Ahh, youth.
As I said, I didn’t just spend the afternoon, I did the afternoon. It was sort of like performance art before there was such a thing.
Most of the time I did much of nothing, which was the best part of the whole production.
But sometimes I actually went somewhere specific. I sometimes went to the public library, which is my favorite place in New York. I went to the Metropolitan Art Museum. I sat in the bleachers in right field at Yankee Stadium, which is a lot like going to the zoo and a baseball game at the same time.
Now and then I went to experimental theatre or improvisational comedy clubs. One time I walked into an improv place and I had no sooner gotten a beer and was making my way across the room to an open table when I was whisked away by two extremely attractive women!
They sort of guided me between the tables towards a storage room behind the stage.
When we got there they wanted to know, “Are you ready to be a star?”
“I was ready to drink this beer.”
“Oh, we’ll get you more of those if you’ll play a part in our play.”
Those were fair terms, so a deal was struck. I was to play a rather artsy professor. I was given a tweed coat, eyeglasses without lenses, a black beret, the gist of a plot, and a few examples of the situations that might arise. Then they told me to put on the coat and the glasses and “become” the character. “Respond with a sentence to whatever sentence we speak,” I was told. “Say the first thing that comes to mind.” So I did. And for 20 minutes, I was a star, with two free beers to boot.
***
Simon of Cyrene was impressed into duty in much the same way. From his home in North Africa, he’d come all the way to Jerusalem for the Passover. He’d brought his sons along for their very first time.
Turning a corner, they were met by a gruesome procession. Battered and bloodied men were making their way through the narrow streets, carrying heavy beams that must have weighed 50 pounds.
Though he himself was a very big man, he was suddenly nearly lifted off the ground by two burly centurions, one at each side. They hustled him forward until at his feet was a man who’d been so severely beaten that his face was a featureless pulp.
He was ordered to carry the beaten man’s beam. So he placed one of its ends over his left shoulder. Then he offered his right hand to the condemned man.
The heat was rising, the road was uphill, and the suffering man was unable to stay on his feet for more than a few minutes at a time.
Over the final steps of their ascent, Simon had to carry the man in the same way he’d sometimes carried his sons when they were too tired to walk.
With a beam over one shoulder and a man over the other, it was almost more than Simon could bear, but there were just a few steps remaining. Then he dropped the beam to the pavement and slowly lowered the man to the ground.
***
I’m not sure of the theological implications of helping God get up so he could die on a cross instead of the street.
I’m not sure there are any theological implications. And, to tell you the truth, if there are I don’t really want to know.
What I do know is that there will come a day when, suddenly, you are offered a part in God’s Story. You’re no longer just an onlooker, just a Bible reader. There you are on the page with Jesus.
Above all else, take the cue. None of us, in any cosmic sense, are playwrights. We are bit players at best, who know not the whole, just our role. So you will not understand what is going on as you are swept along into circumstances that are neither of your making nor of your choosing.
There will be time to ask questions later, but for now just play the part you’re called to play. Play that part with all your heart. Lend God the hand he gave you. Put your back into it if need be. Walk right into the Story and become one with it, even if it’s just for an afternoon.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday, May 28, 2015

the church of Barabbas

The Word for today:
Mark 15:42-16:8
Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" And they cried out again, "Crucify him." And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him." So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)
I usually don’t feel comfortable in a church. I’m probably wrong to think this way, but whenever I go into a church I feel that I’m among a bunch of squeaky-clean people who will never know me.
I once had a long talk with a pastor who was reputed to be doctrinally and personally pure. Over the course of a long afternoon, I guided him through a tour of the twisted passages in my mind. Attempting to empathize, he confessed to me that he, too, was a sinner.
This was not news to me, but it sounded like news to him. “I have searched my past,” he began, “and it reveals that I am a glutton. That’s my sin.”
He had a nearly perfect physique and could probably beat everyone his age in a 5k race, but he looked right at me and told me his besetting sin was common gluttony. In confessing his sin, he was patting himself on the back.
I waited for his confession of other sins. He was visually struggling to come up with something — anything — else to confess. But, honest as he was, he could not tell a lie! There was no other way in which he could admit that he had fallen short of the glory of God.
I wish he had asked me, because I knew a long list of ways that he fell short. And over the course of the next year or two, I got around to telling him some of the items on that list. I even got around to telling him that the only sin I could think of that he had not committed was gluttony!
Churches are full of people like that, who manage to pat themselves on the back even while, ostensibly, in the act of contrition.
That’s why I spend more time in my Bible than in a church. In my Bible are some people who understand me. For example, both thieves on the cross understand me (though only one of them understood Jesus.)
In my Bible live a whole congregation of ne’er-do-wells like Samson and Rahab and Jacob and David and Nadab and Abihu and Ananias and Sapphira and Barabbas. I’m at home when I am with them.
Barabbas, especially, understands me. He is a notorious sinner like I am, and the cross Jesus died on was literally meant for him. I mean that if they were to find the true cross of Jesus Christ, on the back of the beam somewhere they would find Barabbas’ name bespattered by the blood. I feel more than just a kinship with him. We might as well be twins.
If ever I were to start a church, I would call it the church of Barabbas. In order to be a member, you would have to verify that somewhere in the Kidron Valley, beneath the accumulated garbage and rubble of twenty centuries, lies a cross with your name on it.
If you meet that single criterion, you are always welcome to join. I hope you do, ‘cause you will love the church of Barabbas. You will swear it’s exactly like heaven, where only a “Barabbas” ("son of Abba”) is allowed.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

the alchemy of God

The Word for today:
Mark 15:22-41
Supposedly, Jesus was on trial. But you’d never know it by his regal and disdainful demeanor. By the time the trial was over, the reader has the distinct impression that the guy in the chains—the one who was blindfolded, beaten, mocked, scourged, spit upon, and then crucified—was in charge, even in command, the whole while.
In order to account for this remarkable role reversal, Stand in the Rain has endeavored, over the last few days, to view the trial of Jesus through the King’s eyes.
We believe that Jesus had already witnessed his trial via the prophetic scriptures. It is our hypothesis that his calm assurance throughout the entire ordeal originated in his utter trust of God’s Word, which showed him that the accusers, not the accused, were on trial—and that their indictments would ultimately indict themselves.
***
A well-known Bible verse tells us that God is not mocked (1). Believe it. No matter how much you may hear God being ridiculed, he is ultimately never demeaned — because somehow or another, mockery of God actually transubstantiates into his glory:
Surely the wrath of man shall praise Him. (Psalms 76:10)
Jesus had already seen his trial played out in scripture:
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
"Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill."
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." (Psalms 2:2-9)
He held them in derision, knowing that their accusations would one day turn against them:
The wicked plots against the just,
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees that his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword
And have bent their bow,
To cast down the poor and needy,
To slay those who are of upright conduct.
Their sword shall enter their own heart. (Psalms 37:12-15)
God says the same about us. When enemies ridicule us, they are only heaping the coals of their penal fires higher:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God,
for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." (Romans 12:19-20)
We should not set out to pick a fight with the enemies of God. Instead, we must – as Jesus did -- remember the concept of spiritual alchemy:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)
Alchemy was the medieval quest to turn baser metals (lead, tin, etc.) into gold. The alchemists never succeeded, but (just as in salvation) what we cannot achieve, God can. God has already turned the wrath of Jesus’ enemies into praise. In the same way, any derision we face for his sake he will turn into gold:
Do not fear what you are about to suffer… Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
The prophetic scriptures say that you will inherit a crown. So, in the meantime, walk like the King:
The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. (Psalms 118:6-7)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Galatians 6:7

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

The Word for today:
Mark 15:1-21
Yesterday, we saw Jesus turn the tables on his accusers. Suddenly, in the midst of his interrogation before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, Jesus made it perfectly clear to them that they were the ones who were on trial...
When Caiaphas, the high priest, asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus answered,
"I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:61-62)
Jesus' answer was far more than just a “Yes” to Caiaphas’ question. It was also a terrible warning, alluding to three Old Testament messianic passages to tell them that he was their coming Judge!
“You will see…”
Isaiah 52:8 says, “When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.”
“…the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power…"
Psalm 110:1 adds, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”
“…and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Daniel 7:13 records, "I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.
“You are judging me, but I will judge you,” Jesus was saying to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin
***
A well-known Bible verse tells us that God is not mocked (1). Believe it. No matter how much you may hear God being ridiculed, he is ultimately never demeaned -- because somehow or another, mockery of God actually transubstantiates into his glory:
Surely the wrath of man shall praise Him. (Psalms 76:10)
Jesus had already seen his trial played out in scripture:
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill."
I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." (Psalms 2:2-9)
He held them in derision, knowing that their accusations would one day turn against them:
The wicked plots against the just,
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees that his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword
And have bent their bow,
To cast down the poor and needy,
To slay those who are of upright conduct.
Their sword shall enter their own heart. (Psalms 37:12-15)
Mankind presumes to judge God. I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Galatians 6:7

Monday, May 25, 2015

I am; and you shall see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power.

The Word for today:
Mark 14:53-72
Here’s a tough one for ya:
Q. That’s my picture on the one-dollar bill. Who am I?
Congratulations! If you answered “George Washington,” then you are not brain-dead.
On the other hand, if the answer to that question somehow eluded you, then you are as brain-dead as the people who insist that Jesus never claimed to be God.
Jesus consistently and persistently said he was God, and in a variety of ways. He said it directly and indirectly, prosaically and poetically, plainly and metaphorically. Even more impressively, he repeatedly demonstrated that he is the Creator God -- who made something out of nothing -- when he fed the 15,000; that he is the Sovereign God of the natural realm (when he calmed the sea and walked on the water); that he is the Lord of the supernatural realm (when he expelled the demons); that he is the Redeemer God (when he died and rose again).
But if it’s words they want, then let’s consider a single verse from today’s reading. When Caiaphas, the high priest, asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus answered,
"I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." (Mark 14:61-62)
First, Jesus answered plainly, directly, and prosaically: “I am.”
Then he answered more powerfully. When he evoked famous images from the Old Testament, it was (for his listeners) the cultural equivalent (in our day) of being asked, “Are you the Father of our Country, the First President of the United States?” and replying—
“I am; that’s my picture on the one-dollar bill.”
***
Jesus' answer was far more than just a “Yes” to Caiaphas’ question. It was also a terrible warning, alluding to three Old Testament messianic passages to tell them that he was their coming Judge!
“You will see…”
Isaiah 52:8 says, “When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.”
“…the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power…"
Psalm 110:1 adds, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”
“…and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Daniel 7:13 records, "I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.”
***
'You are judging me, but I will judge you,' Jesus was saying to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. He’d turned the tables once again, putting them on trial. They were the words of God Himself, passing sentence on the leadership of Israel. They are the only words he spoke to them.
A person today, just as Caiaphas then, can deny that Jesus is the Son of God. But they can't deny that Jesus made that claim. And they can't deny that the Bible teaches Jesus' divinity.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday, May 24, 2015

so much for the halo

The Word for today:
Mark 14:27-52
And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.
Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely." 
As soon as He had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, "Rabbi, Rabbi!" and kissed Him.
Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him.
(Mark 14:43-46)
You will notice in the passage above that Judas had to pre-arrange a signal that would identify Jesus to a multitude who were sent to seize him. So much for the halo.
A sharp-eyed reader will note that Stand in the Rain rarely shows anything other than a stylized picture of Jesus—perhaps a line drawing, or an indistinct abstraction of his features.
We are not avoiding pictures of Jesus because we are super-duper saints who wish to remain doctrinally pristine. No, the real reason we don’t use pictures of Jesus is because we rarely find any that we like.
Every Jesus picture I have ever seen bothers me in one way or another. Half of them make him out to look like my fairy godmother. Of the half remaining, half of those make him out to look like my hairy godfather.
Of the remaining quarter, half of those stick a halo on his head.
And the remaining one-eighth are just bad art.
We mis-characterize Jesus when we give him a halo or in some other way make our Redeemer look any different than we shmoes whom he redeemed. In fact, there are theological imperatives (kenosis, incarnation, vicarious substitutionary atonement, etc.) that leave us with just one true picture of Jesus. William Blake, the great Christian mystical poet, drew that picture with these modest and half-humorous words:
The vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy.
Thine has a great hook nose like thine;
Mine has a snub nose like to mine… (1)
The closest you and I get to a scripturally-authorized picture of how Jesus might have looked is when we are brushing our teeth.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) from “The Everlasting Gospel,” circa 1818

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Is it I?"

The Word for today:
Mark 14:1-26
I am always astonished by this scripture:
And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, "Is it I?"
(Mark 14:16-19)
“Is it I?” Every one of the disciples knew they were sinners capable of betraying Jesus. To which I must say, on behalf of myself and the American church, “Look how far we have fallen!”
Most of the Christians I know see someone else in these lines. Their reactions, upon reading this passage, sound something like this:
“Why those dastardly disciples…those traitors…those fair weather friends…”
But until this passage causes us to reflexively echo “Is it I?” then the blessings of the First Beatitude -- "Blessed are the poor in spirit” -- are not yet ours.
Those men that were in the Upper Room with Jesus became the core of a cohort that was about to turn the world inside out and upside down.
They were soon to witness the resurrection and be imbued with the Holy Spirit of God. Then they would shake the planet to its foundations.
You and I have all the proof of the resurrection that they had, and we have been imbued with the same Spirit. What we don’t have is the sense of spiritual poverty that caused each disciple to ask Jesus, “Is it I?”
To a man, the disciples all fled from Jesus that night (1); the unspoken answer to “Is it I?” is “Yes it is.”
Unless the church reaches the point where we ask the same question and become convinced of the same answer, then we will never light up the world like those dastardly disciples did.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) Mark 14:50

Friday, May 22, 2015

the spirit of prophecy -- part 2

The Word for today:
Mark 13:24-37
Chapter 13 of Mark is known as the "Olivet Discourse" (1), so called because Jesus answered these questions while he was on the Mount of Olives:
Now as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?" (Mark 13:3-4)
Yesterday, we learned that God verified the words of his prophets with a simple test. They had to predict local current events so that the people would know they were genuine.
Isaiah, for example, told King Hezekiah that not an arrow would enter the city, even though there were 200,000 trigger-happy Assyrian soldiers surrounding the city's walls.
The prophets were to be listened to because they told the truth; the truth that would prepare the people to hear -- and believe -- the final messenger, Jesus Christ:
"For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10)
***
People ask, "Why doesn't God reveal himself today?"
Because, in the person of Jesus Christ, God put the period at the end of the sentence:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2a)
God hasn't any more to say to this world than he has said in Jesus Christ. He is God's ultimate, full, and final revelation to man. If God were to speak out of heaven at this present moment, he would just repeat himself.
As the final prophetic message of God's ultimate prophet, the Olivet Discourse completes many prophetic strands that weave their way all the way through scripture.
Even its setting has prophetic significance. The Mount of Olives is the place from which the Shekinah glory had departed, the place (unbeknownst to the disciples at the time) where Jesus would ascend, and the place to which he will return.
Furthermore, the arrivals and departures of Israel are clarified in the Olivet Discourse. Scripture prophesies three times of dispossession (when Israel would be forced to depart from the Promised Land) and three re-possessions, when they would return (2).
The first dispossession (to slavery in Egypt) was prophesied to Abraham in Genesis 15:13. The next dispossession was the Babylonian captivity, which is prophesied throughout scripture, most prominently in Jeremiah. The third dispossession is the one forced upon them by Rome, which began (just as Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse) with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. --
"Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Mark 13:2)
Altogether, scripture prophesies three dispossessions and three returns. Of these six prophecies, five have been literally fulfilled. We can be certain that the final repossession (which may or may not be in its initial stages right now) will be just as literally fulfilled.
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(1) Parallel versions of the Olivet Discourse are found in Matthew 24 and Luke 21.
(2) Deuteronomy 28 gathers many of these prophecies together.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

the spirit of prophecy -- part 1

The Word for today:
Mark 13:1-23
"For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10)
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Chapter 13 of Mark is known as the "Olivet Discourse" (1), so called because Jesus answered these questions while he was on the Mount of Olives:
Now as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?" (Mark 13:3-4)
From the Mount of Olives, Jesus and the disciples were looking across the Kidron Valley at the buildings on the Temple Mount. Jesus had already told them that the Temple would not stand:
"Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Mark 13:2)
It was Jesus' final week. The cross awaited him. The Garden of Gethsemane was nearby, just a stone’s throw away from where he sat as he gave his farewell prophecy.
Stand in the Rain has previously addressed some of the specifics of the Olivet Discourse. So over the next few days we will endeavor to leave you with a sense of where the Olivet Discourse fits into biblical prophecy at large.
***
One of the unique characteristics of the Word of God is that it moves beyond the future. (Many people consider fulfilled prophecy the greatest proof that the Bible is, indeed, the Word of God.)
God alone can predict the future, for it belongs to him. The future is an area in which man has never been given dominion. To be sure, some present-day “prophets” have predicted certain future events, but none of them have proved to be 100% correct.
False prophets, seeking the status and position that belonged to the true prophet of God, arose in Israel as well. So God laid down a test by which the people could be certain whether a prophet was genuine or phony.
Let’s look at an example. Isaiah prophesied that a virgin would conceive and bring forth a son. He then clearly marked out the coming of the Christ—his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection and their significance.
Suppose someone had asked Isaiah when all this would take place. He would have answered that he was not quite sure, but that it could be hundreds of years. (Actually it was seven hundred years.)
The crowd would laugh and say that they would never be around to know whether he was telling the truth or not. So the test was this: all the prophets had to speak into a local situation that would come to pass right away. Any “prophet” who was not completely accurate was summarily stoned to death.
We can look back and know that Isaiah was completely accurate about the Christ to come. But the proof for the people of his day was that Isaiah went to King Hezekiah to tell him very specific details concerning a local current event...
There was a great Assyrian army of “trigger-happy” soldiers surrounding the city, but Isaiah said that not one arrow would enter the city:
"And this is what the LORD has said about the Assyrian emperor: 'He will not enter this city or shoot a single arrow against it. No soldiers with shields will come near the city, and no siege mounds will be built around it. He will go back by the same road he came, without entering this city. I, the LORD, have spoken." (Isaiah 37:33-34)
Hundreds of thousands of Assyrians, and every one of them had a bow and arrows. You’d think that many of them would shoot arrows into the city for the sheer hell of it. But if even one arrow were to fly over the wall, Isaiah was not speaking for God.
All the prophets passed similar tests. They were to be listened to because they told the truth; the truth which would prepare the people to hear -- and believe -- the final messenger, Jesus Christ:
"For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10)
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(1) Parallel versions of the Olivet Discourse are found in Matthew 24 and Luke 21

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

that's all

The Word for today:
Mark 12:28-44
Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. (Mark 12:29-30)
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her poverty did cast in all that she had, even all her living. (Mark 12:44)
***
Yesterday, Jesus encouraged us to spend our lives. Naturally, the question arises: How much of our lives should we spend?
Today he answers that question with a story concerning a poor widow. The widow is an inspiration, for she in her own way is a picture of God.
She gave absolutely everything she had. God did no less, giving Jesus, who is all in all (1) as a ransom for sinners like you and me.
If you want to emulate Jesus Christ, throw away the calculator and decide, once and for all, that you are not going to deal in percentages and half measures any more. You will hardly believe how free you will feel on the day you decide to give it everything you’ve got.
My favorite word in the Great Commandment goes almost unnoticed, even though it appears five different times. Let’s see if you can find it:
Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment."  (Mark 12:29-30)
Let’s see if you can find the same word in Jesus’ praise for the widow:
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her poverty did cast in all that she had, even all her living. (Mark 12:44)
We may not have a lot to give, but we can give our all.  No one has more than that.
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(1) Ephesians 1:23

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

spend your life

The Word for today:
Mark 12:1-27
Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch him in his words. When they had come, they said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are true, and care about no one; for you do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?" But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why do you test me? Bring me a denarius that I may see it." So they brought it. And he said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesar's." And Jesus answered and said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they marveled at him.
(Mark 12:13-17)
Stand in the Rain will be very brief today, because we want to leave you with time to think. So let’s put on our thinking caps and fill in some blanks…
“Whose image is upon this coin?”
“Caesar’s”
"Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.”
***
We’ve all heard that part, but Jesus purposefully leaves a more important question hanging in mid-air, with its answer unspoken. He expects that we will fill in the blanks that he left us. So let’s do it:
“Whose image is upon you?”
(“___’s”)
“Then render unto (___) the things that are (___’s).”
***
Just as Jesus did, we’ve left the blanks for you to fill in. If you are stumped, bring this riddle to the attention of an experienced Bible student.
After you fill in the blanks and grasp Jesus’ unspoken message, then your assignment is to spend your life.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

"Have the faith of God." – part 2

The Word for today:
Mark 11:20-33
And Jesus answered them, "Have the faith of God." (Mark 11:22, literally rendered)
Yesterday, we saw that at the cross Jesus took all our sin--including any degree of unbelief-- and credited to our accounts all of God's righteousness--including his perfect faith.
The faith of God has been made over to us. It’s in the bank, so to speak, just waiting to be withdrawn.
So when Jesus, in Mark 11:22, tells us to "Have the faith of God,” he isn’t telling us to search for something we’ll never possess. It’s already ours, just waiting to be claimed.
Other Bible passages allude to this precept:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:8-9)
Another remarkable passage tells us that the people of Israel were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:2)
Here, it is helpful to understand that baptism means “to identify.” (When we go under the water, we identify with Christ’s death and burial. The water merely helps us to visualize this spiritual precept.)
So what could it mean that they were “baptized into Moses”?
Hebrews 11:29 says that by faith they passed through the Red Sea. Whose faith was it? It certainly was not theirs! They wanted to go back to Egypt, and blamed Moses for bringing them out into that awful wilderness. It was Moses’ faith that brought them through.
“Baptized into Moses” means that God identified them with Moses' faith. Moses' faith, in God's eyes, was theirs!
In the same way, at the cross all the righteousness of Jesus Christ, including his faith, has been credited to our accounts. Jesus' faith, in God's eyes, is ours!
So why should we count on our measly faith, when we can count on faith that knows no bounds? Just as Israel identified with Moses’ faith, we are to identify with Jesus’ faith until it becomes the operating principle of our lives.
So go ahead and start to see with his faith, start to walk by his faith, start to think with his faith. Keep on practicing until you can’t tell the difference between Jesus' faith and your own.
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