Was Jesus Apolitical??

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law (Scribes) and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.”—Matthew 23:1-7

“And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”—Mark 8:15

“Then the chief priests and Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Caiaphas did not say this on his own. Instead, as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also for the scattered children of God, to gather them together into one. So from that day on they plotted to kill Him.” —John 11:47-5

First, we must consider the political environment of Jesus’ day. There were no elections, the Romans ruled with an iron fist. But, they did not want to expend any more resources than necessary to control what they called “Judea”. During the period of Jesus’ ministry the Roman appointed Tetrarch was Herod Antipas. The Roman governor was Pontius Pilate. Together with the Sanhedrin they made up the body politic in Palestine at that time. The only real influence the Jewish population had over their own government had to do with the Sanhedrin, which consisted of two warring factions, the Sadducess and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the aristocratic arm of the Sanhedrin, perhaps akin to our U.S. Senate, so typically tied to old family, old money. The Pharisees were the experts in the law. They were very scholastic and hyper-vigilant in their oversight. These two factions provided the day-to-day governance of the Jewish people, whether religious or political, and so long as there was quiet and the Jews paid their taxes the Romans could not have cared less about how they went about their business.

Whether Sadducee or Pharisee these were positions of status and power and wealth that were highly sought after. Consider the real concern of Caiaphas, “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation“. What was their place? Their status, their power, their wealth.

Did Jesus engage the Sadducees or the Pharisees? Did he comment? Did he instruct the people as to how they ought to think and act when it came to these two groups? Oh, yes He did! I would challenge anyone to cite just one positive comment Jesus offered to or about the Pharisees. Just one. He ripped them to shreds, called them names and told them they were going to hell, in so many words. He called them out on their hypocrisy and their unrighteous, unjust behaviors. He spared little. So the notion that Jesus was apolitical is simply unfounded. The members of the Sanhedrin were not elected in the classic meaning of that term, but they were selected and one can only imagine the machinations involved in the selection process. The Sanhedrin was the high water mark of Jewish prestige and influence. As always, power corrupts. Nothing more, nothing less than politics as usual.

Could it be that many behind the pulpit today do not want to speak to what they consider political issues because they are worried about offending parishioners? Are they perhaps concerned about violating the Johnson Amendment which threatens their 501(c)(3) status, read non-profit tax status, wherein they might be penalized by having their tax exempt status revoked? You might well say, “But politics is divisive.” Yes, but so is the message of Jesus. The truth is always divisive. Consider, after three years of ministering in signs and wonders how many followers had Jesus retained? Jesus was very divisive and did not apologize for it.

We live in dynamic, stormy, even dangerous times. If the church does not supply its people with perspective, wisdom, and practical insight into how to negotiate these days then what good is it? I’m not talking about allegiance to a political party or particular candidate, I’m talking about applying Biblical truth to the issues of the day and supplying wise counsel. Politics is dirty. but politics is important. Does a Christian have an obligation to vote? If so, and I assume no one would suggest otherwise, then don’t we have an obligation to vote intelligently, from an educated position? From a biblical position? Voting party line is just laziness or the product of voting for the “home team”, the political party of our family, friends, etc. Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” I submit, “Party politics is the pablum of the masses.” Where might we go to hear the truth, Biblical truth applied to the issues of the day, if not in the church?

What were the issues facing the common man in Jesus’ time? Poverty, injustice, the state of the “church”, that is the religious system of the day, that emphasized externals over inner motivation, over heart. If Jesus were living today in America would He be silent as to injustice, corruption, the poor, the hyper-religious who place the letter of the law above the spirit of the law? Would He have a position on abortion, on war, on corruption? In His time he really never addressed the Gentiles or the unbelievers, rather His message was directed at His own people. Would it be any different today? If He warned the people re the “leaven of Herod” would He not speak to the leaven of the Governor or the President?

Where was the church in Germany in the 1930’s during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis? Hitler and his party didn’t just take over, they were voted into power. Did the church ever step up and challenge the politics of the day? Nope. Silence. There were precious few Bonhoffers, willing to pay the price for speaking out.

Reading our Bible and praying are good things to do, but at some point action is required. Queen Esther comes to mind and the words of Mordecai, “Who knows that you were not born for such a time as this.” What if Esther never took action, never risked her own place, perhaps her own life, by approaching the king? The Jews would have been slaughtered. Period. I humbly submit, that if you are alive in this time and place, Mordecai’s query is still applicable… “Who knows that you were not born for such a time as this?”

In the last days…

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.”
—Acts 2:17

I can remember studying this verse back in the early 80’s with a small group of people. I wondered, aloud, “So where are these prophecies and dreams?” We were convinced then, as we are now, that we are in the last days, but there were few if any prophetic voices and none within our group. However, in the last 20-30 years there has been a change in the spiritual atmosphere such that there is now a plethora of such voices. Consider all of the prophetic words that Donald Trump would be elected, some delivered even before he declared himself a candidate. (See Kim Clement, 2014.) There were a number of prophetic voices stating that Trump would re-elected, yet that didn’t happen so many are questioning, criticizing and even judging those who so prophesied.

There are two prevailing, yet insofar as I can see, unbiblical views of the prophetic. The first is that if someone prophecies in error they are a false prophet. Secondly, that false prophets were stoned in the Old Testament. False prophets were not errant prophets, they were prophets with wrong motives, they misled the people intentionally. Hence, Elijah dispatched the prophets of Baal. And, there is nary a single verse in scripture that commands the stoning of an errant prophet. The standard under the Law of Moses is recorded in Deuteronomy 18:21-22…

“But you may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?’ If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.”

First, there is no punishment, only the admonition not to listen to or respect the word of that prophet. Second, by that standard Jonah was a false prophet. He boldly declared as he began his three day walk through Nineveh, “Forty more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown.” It didn’t happen. Does anyone believe Jonah was a false prophet? Jesus didn’t think so (Matthew 12:39). Consider, not one of the Messianic prophecies delivered by the Old Testament prophets were fulfilled during their lifetime. Messiah Jesus showed up 400 years after the last of those prophets. Were they all false prophets? I humbly submit that we should not be too hasty to judge a prophetic word or the person who delivered it.

In Ephesians 4:11-13, delineates what has come to be known as the five-fold ministry…

“And He(Jesus) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

No one would suggest that if anyone operating in one of the non-prophetic offices were to make a mistake or were incorrect at some point that they would be considered false apostles, false evangelists, false pastors or false teachers. However, if their motives are impure and they are using their office to forward their own agenda, or to lead people astray they should be held accountable and perhaps even considered “false”. Jesus called them wolves in sheep’s clothing. But, why should one operating in the prophetic labor under a different standard?

I suggest a more patient approach to the prophetic words, even those concerning the 2020 election. Nineveh was eventually judged, though long after Jonah gave the word that they would be judged in forty days. God may not be finished yet and His ways are definitely not our ways. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians are instructive, especially in these highly charged political days…

“But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” —-1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

The apostle Paul valued the prophetic, he wished that everyone would prophesy and urged all to pursue that gifting. (See I Corinthians 14.) Back in the day it was the sons of Issachar who could understand the times and the seasons and could tell Israel what to do (I Chronicles 12:32). These days those who operate in the prophetic can do likewise, strengthening, encouraging and comforting the faithful and providing much needed direction in these crazy times. The storm is coming, we need to hear Him. Thank God for those watchmen who listen and have the courage to speak out what they are hearing. Of course, we must all dig our own well, so-to-speak. We must train our senses to discern good and evil. We must take every thought captive to the Lord. As much as the prophetic can be a great blessing, it is not a crutch, our trust is always and only in the Lord. We walk by faith and believe that Jesus is still on the throne. God is good, He is always good.

Christian, really??

The disciples of Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch in the first century AD. (See Acts 11:25-26) Of course, these disciples were not just the twelve chosen by Jesus, but converts, followers of the way. They are frequently referred to as the first century “church”. You may find it interesting, perhaps even surprising, that those two terms “Christian” and “church” are used very sparingly in the New Testament. “Christian” is used just three times, and the actual Greek word for “church” just twice.

The word “church” derives from the Greek word “kuriakos” which simply means “of the Lord”. It is used to describe the “Lord’s supper” and the “Lord’s day” in the New Testament. (See 1 Cor 11:20; Rev 1:10.) Over time the word devolved to “kirka” in the Germanic languages, and “cirice” or “circe” in Old English and, finally, to our modern day “church”. And, “church” has come to mean a building, an organization, the whole of Christendom as in the universal church. It is important to note that for reasons of tradition, and only tradition, the English Bible translators have insisted in translating the actual Greek word, “ekklesia” as “church” 115 times in our English Bible. It’s simply incorrect, an inaccurate translation. If you were to pick up a Spanish translation of the Bible you would see the word “iglesia” where the English translations write “church”. The Spanish speakers have it right. “Ekklesia” is the Greek word Jesus chose, quite intentionally, when He said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church(ekklesia), and the gates of Hades not will prevail against it”(Matthew 16:18 BLB). And, He only used it twice, here and in Matthew 18:17. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God. That was His focus, not the “church”. “Ekklesia” is not even a religious word. It is a Greek word that literally meant citizens called out to serve as a body, a group, such as a council that was convened for the purpose of governing. And, in this context Jesus stated that He was going to build a body of people “called out” and “Hades” (that is the place of departed spirits, not hell, the place of torment), death itself, would not prevail against. Or, perhaps it could be restated… this ekklesia that He would build would not die.

Note that He said He would build this body of those called out. He would say of this body that it would be unified such that the world take note. (See John 17.) He said that this body would do greater works than He. Now compare that description with what we here in America call “church”. Anybody can start a church and build an organization, and many have. There are literally thousands of denominations, sects, divisions all claiming to be the “church” of Jesus Christ. Most are program based wherein the great majority of the members attend once a week at a “service” wherein there are announcements, music/worship and then a sermon. Are these organized bodies built by Jesus or by man? Did Jesus supply the pattern of having a single man, the pastor, running the show or being the front man? Or is this simply western church tradition?

It is not my goal to denigrate the “church”. It is easy to focus upon a church history that has been marked by cruelty, injustice, racism and even murder. It takes no special skill to point out the weaknesses and frailties of the current church system in America. Also, it is grossly unfair to point out the blemishes without highlighting the good that committed men and women have accomplished via the church down through time. But, there is no denying that we live in treacherous times wherein we will face challenges that will require something more than the status quo. Old wineskins will not hold the new wine that God is going to pour out and that is necessary for the “ekklesia” to survive, and even thrive.

As for the term “Christian”, it is derived from “christos”, anointed. Typically in that day, to be anointed meant to have olive oil poured on to one’s head as sign of a special calling or assignment. As when a king or a prophet was anointed. Jesus was the “anointed”, the Messiah. It should be noted that Jesus never called His followers Christians. He called them disciples. He repeatedly called them and others to simply, “Follow Me.” While the word “Christian” is found only three times, once simply stating when the Christ-followers were called Christians while in Antioch. There is no indication that they called themselves Christians, rather it appears that the label was supplied by non-Christians, perhaps derisively. The second time the word appears it is used by King Agrippa when conversing with the apostle Paul, again perhaps not in a positive light, but more like sarcasm. The last time the term appears it is found at I Peter 4:16, the context is suffering as a Christian. The unbelieving world had taken a dim view of this group, addressed them as Christians and the persecution was significant. Peter encourages his readers not to be ashamed when undergoing this suffering. By contrast the word “disciple” and/or “disciples” is found 263 times in the New Testament! The word “saints” is used over 60 times in the New Testament, mostly by Paul when he addressed his audience. To which word should we give more weight?

If most Americans were asked to define what a Christian is, it is highly unlikely that many would incorporate the words disciple or saint in their definition. More likely, a Christian is considered to be one who attends church, has “accepted Christ as their Savior” or has been “born again”. While all those things may be true of a Christian, I submit that the word meant something very different to the first century disciples. The notion that a Christian is one who has “accepted Jesus as my Savior” is simply not Biblical. Search for it there and you will not find it. Jesus never said “accept” me, He repeatedly said, “Follow Me.” His first and last words to Peter were “follow Me”. (Matthew 4:19; John 21:18ff). Giving mental assent to the claims of Jesus is good, but if that is all that was required why did Jesus teach the parable of the sower? If the issue is a one time decision to believe and thus be “born again” why did Jesus deliver a whole chapter on discipleship? (See Matthew 10.) I am not intending to be picayune, it’s just that there is so much more to being a true Christ-follower than “accepting” Jesus. To accept is to simply receive or approve of. To follow requires action, continuing positive action. Is it honest to suggest to an unbeliever that all they need do is “accept” Jesus as their Savior? Where is counting the cost? That simply is not the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus preached. Just sayin’…

Even the phrase “born again”, which came into vogue during the Jesus People Movement (late 60’s, early 70’s) wherein yours truly decided to follow Jesus, is typically taken out of context and poorly applied. The phrase is first found in the recorded conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus was describing to this man of the law what it was to be “born of the Spirit”. He was trying to move a learned man, who had committed his life to the study and teaching of the law, to a spiritual plane for which he had no construct. Frankly, the phrase “born again Christian” is not a Biblical phrase. Look for it there and you will not find it. More importantly, is there any other kind of Christian? Is it not an indictment against ourselves? Does it not imply that there is another type of Christian that is not “born again”? In truth, the phrase “born again” is found only in John 3 and in I Peter 1, that’s it.

I am not suggesting that we strike the words “Christian”, “church” or “born again” from our vocabulary. Neither am I suggesting that church organizations and/or denominations disband. Rather, I submit that from time to time we must go back to the beginning and re-read the words of Jesus in order to keep our understanding and application of those words fresh and consistent with His message.

If not “Christian”, then what shall we “followers of Jesus” call ourselves? Why should we call ourselves anything? Do we really need a brand or a label? Moreover, do we want to wear a label that has become synonymous with all sorts of evil, corruption, religious practice. Why employ an old, tired label that not only allows others to put us in a box, but has become a trigger word for many wherein at the mention of the word “Christian” they turn us off.

In these days we must be wise, discerning, even shrewd. Jesus was no one’s fool, neither should we be. I refuse to give myself away to a brand, or a label. As an example, I am neither democrat nor republican. I owe no allegiance to anyone, but Jesus. And, as to that allegiance I can only truly testify to that which I personally know and have experienced of Him and/or have read about Him in the Scriptures. I need not defend a church or a label or a theology. Let them scratch their heads and say as some have in response to my replies, “You are … different.” Or, the one I really enjoy, “I’m not sure what to do with you.” I love one of the lines Jesus speaks in the newly developed online series “The Chosen”. In response to one of the disciples He says, “Get use to different.” Wonderful. Dare I say, the old wineskins (the old brands, labels, organizations, theological structures) will not hold the new wine.

We live in dynamic days. While the darkness is increasing, God is on the move. God is doing a new thing. There is a remnant. God has always kept a remnant for Himself. The times in which we live require that this remnant must be “different”, just as those first century disciples of Jesus were different. Isn’t that why we began to follow Jesus to begin with? We all needed something different, very different… like a new start on life. Let’s get our “different” back. Let us eschew brands and labels. Let’s become the “ekklesia” once again, those “called out”, those willing to “go outside the camp” to where Jesus is still calling, still speaking, still inviting us to, “Follow Me!” I hope to meet you there…

“The Land of Off”

Have you ever found yourself in the not-so-wonderful “Land of Off”? It is a spiritual state more than a place. When I find myself in the Land of Off. I am “off” my game. I am “off” myself. Worst of all, I am “off” from Papa, my Heavenly Father.

When I am “off” my spiritual sensitivity is missing in action. My conversation with the Lord is reduced to some pro forma blather. I tend to fall back into a very common lifestyle, really no different than that of the world. It is a life of some compromise wherein I become conformed to the unbelievers with whom I am associating. Therein lies a common thread.

The context for “off” almost always finds me alone in the company of unbelievers for an extended period of time. For me this may be playing tournament softball, especially tournaments out of town, and/or fishing/golfing trips with my old high school buds, whom I love and have known for over 50 years. These are people who know I am a Christ-follower, or at least a man of prayer/faith. Some have heard the story of my transformation to Jesus. They are either nominal believers or not at all, either way they are not interested in God-talk. I am not one to push. I have been one who pushed, but no more. It doesn’t work. I have watched with great discomfort as other Christians have pushed their faith. Ugh. In any event, by the time I have been a week in that context without any spiritual input or conversation I find myself firmly planted in the Land of Off. That’s when “the man behind the curtain”, aka the accuser of the brethren, takes over. The accusations begin to roll in. And, for years I have tended to simply give in to the condemnation that comes from within… “You are weak, fleshly and are a terrible witness for Christ to your friends.” I would beat myself up until I could get home, go through some kind of repentance to deal with the guilt, and get back into my routine.

I just returned from just such a week. In fact, it was both fishing and softball, both major groups of friends who are predominantly unbelievers. The perfect storm. However, this time as I was mulling over my sad state and began to thank God for my return home, while feeling diminished before Him. Then the Holy Spirit broke in. It is as if He said, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Ah yes, the accuser of the brethren who accuses night and day whose primary tools are guilt and shame that he deftly employs to isolate us from the Lord.

As I mused I was struck by the thought that Jesus Himself was somewhat diminished, if you will, by His association with those in His own hometown of Nazareth. According to Mark, Jesus “was amazed(astonished, shocked) at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:1-6) The very Son of God was so surprised by the contempt that His friends, neighbors and even His own family had for Him that He could do very little in the way of signs and wonders. “A prophet has not honor in his own hometown.” Or, as the worldly adage goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” If Jesus was negatively impacted by the lack of faith of those around Him how much more must I expect the same. The pupil is not greater than the teacher.

I am not blaming my unbelieving friends. Nor am I suggesting that I have no responsibility for being conformed in speech and/or conduct while living in their midst. But, my decision to be in their company for an extended period of time carries a great risk of compromise. It is not a neutral spiritual environment, there is no such thing. When with them I am in enemy territory, isolated and therefore vulnerable. It is not that they are evil, rather they simply have no sense of the continual battle of good versus evil and its many manifestations. The isolation from Godly influence makes me vulnerable.

So what are my options? I can choose to cut off future association with these friends and teammates. In so doing I will remove the risk of returning to the Land of Off and will thereby preserve my own spiritual health. In all honesty, that is not an option for me. I like these people, I love many of these people. I care about them. I will not reject them to save my own skin. I did that once when I first believed. It was necessary for I would have certainly fallen away from Jesus had I continued to live the lifestyle that my unbelieving friends embraced some 50 years ago. But, now that I have walked with the Lord for these many years the danger of rejecting Jesus is all but unimaginable. While I may find myself in the Land of Off from time to time, I will not allow that experience to drive me away from these beloved lifetime friends. Also, aren’t we commanded to take the good news to the world?

So what then? By the grace of God, not just unmerited favor, but the empowerment to see through the devices of the evil one, I am now armed with a new perspective. Understanding always seems to bring a measure of peace. Am I relieved from the responsibility to walk in a manner worthy of Christ? Of course not. But, neither do I need to give into the accusations of the evil one and/or his minions. Rather than simply hoping that the next time will be different, something akin to doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, I can now see the battle a little more clearly which allows me to prepare accordingly. As with any battle, a strategy is required. If any man lacks wisdom… ask. I must gain the necessary wisdom and insight to employ the full armor of God effectively in whatever circumstance I find myself. I may well take a hit, I may be wounded, but I will not die. I need not heed the accusations hurled at me from below and meekly sink into the Land of Off. No, I need to fight back realizing that “no weapon formed against me shall prosper”. I need to form a real strategy before placing myself in that context again. (A subject for another blog.)

It is important to note that even Jesus’ own brothers doubted Him and spoke to Him in sarcastic tones, even though He was their older brother. (John 7:1-9) Yet, later at least two of them not only believed but became important cogs in the early church, James and Jude. My hope is that my “brothers” will, also, one day believe and follow Jesus. To that end I will continue to venture into the Land of Off, but now armed with a fresh awareness, a renewed hope and a strategy supplied by the Holy Spirit via the grace of the Lord. Amen.

Guilt and Shame

“”Guilt and shame is false humility, and it introduces you to an insulation to breakthrough… .” —Bill Johnson

How are guilt and shame a form of false humility?

Does God employ guilt and shame as means of discipline and/or motivation?

Did Jesus?

Scriptural examples?

What is “false humility”? It is a form of underliving. How so? There is a tendency in Christendom to downplay our successes so as to protect others from feeling bad about themselves. Also, it can be a means of flying under the radar so as to deflect scrutiny. It is a means of appearing “acceptable” to others… good, but not great; never perfect, but good. False humility is all about how I project to others. False humility is religion in action. True humility is a gift.

How is false humility related to guilt and shame? To the extent that I am willing to entertain guilt and shame I denigrate the work of the cross by seeking to atone for my sins by my own emotional suffering. I punish myself for a while so that I can feel good again. It is not only a false sense of humility, it’s a slap in the face of the Savior. And, of course, if I allow the guilt and shame to take root in me such that my very identity, my sense of being someone, is denigrated I might find myself in a state of despair, hopelessness that can lead to suicide, the perfect will of the evil one.

Guilt: feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : SELF-REPROACH. “Wracked by guilt, he confessed his affairs.”—Merriam-Webster

What then is the remedy for guilt?

“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?” —Heb. 10:2 (NASB)

The word rendered “consciousness” simply means “a persisting notion.” The implication, the reasonable inference, from Hebrews 10:1-2 is staggering. If the law was able to cleanse, make perfect those who drew near then there would no longer be a need to offer sacrifices year after year and those who draw near, those for whom the sacrifice was offered, would have no consciousness of sin! No awareness or persistent notion of being a sinner. Not only was the law unable to cleanse once and for all, it actually served as a reminder of their sinful state because they had to come back to the priest repeatedly. The writer of Hebrews consistently compares and contrasts the law and the work of Messiah Jesus. In this case, what the law could not do, Jesus did once for all! He does cleanse and make perfect those who draw near. Consequently, there should be no consciousness, no persistent notion of sin for believers. We are truly free from guilt, both as a judicial determination and as an emotional state.

Therefore there is now no condemnation (penal servitude, penalty) for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”—Romans 8:1-4 (NASB)

The tenses of the verbs are significant… “is now no condemnation”; “has set you free”; “He condemned sin in the flesh”. All of the benefits of the atoning blood are ours in the here and now. Jesus already accomplished it all. It is ours for the taking now, not just in the hereafter. Guilt has been defanged, disempowered, gutted, by the atoning blood of Jesus.

Shame: disgrace, dishonor. Literally, without grace / without honor.

“It is just as the Scripture says: “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” —Romans 10:11 (BSB)

“For it stands in Scripture: “See, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and precious cornerstone; and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” — I Peter 2:6 (BSB)

“Behold, I am going to deal at that time With all your oppressors, I will save the lame and gather the outcast, And I will turn their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.” —Zephaniah 3:19 (NASB)

Inasmuch as the promise of God for those who believe in Him is that they “will never be put to shame”, we can surmise that this is God’s will for all believers. Never means never. God even limits Himself by this promise. How then could He ever use shame to motivate or discipline us? He doesn’t. Consider 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love.” Likewise, guilt and shame have to do with punishment, there is an element of fear involved. One who believes that God is making them feel guilty or ashamed has not been “perfected in love”, they are not mature in the sense of properly understanding the love of God. Can you think of even one instance where Jesus used guilt and/or shame to motivate someone?

What of the “guilt/shame” we feel when we sin? Paul spoke to this very issue…

“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”— II Corinthians 7:10 (NASB)

There it is. Godly sorrow is healthy, it produces repentance leading to a life without regret. It is not an emotion, it is rather a state of being in violation of the will of God. Worldly sorrow is deadly. It is the tool of the evil one. He takes that which is God ordained, our conscience, and perverts it so as to not just accuse of bad acts, but of being bad people. The “accuser of the brethren” comes to “steal, to kill and to destroy” and he does it primarily via accusation. He even accuses God, mocks God and impersonates God. When we agree with his accusations, whether of ourselves or others, we partner with the evil one and become a tool in his hands.

God, on the other hand, does not accuse. He does not demean. He does not shame. The Holy Spirit convicts, in a judicial sense, bringing to our consciousness our violation of His precepts only so that we would confess, repent and be reconciled to God and/or our brothers and sisters. The purpose of this conviction is to protect us, not to shame us.

One of the great manifestations of God’s grace is His ability to take that which was intended for evil and turn it for our good. So consider, once properly understood guilt and shame are disarmed and if they should rear their ugly head they become a sign. A “stop” sign. We must stop and consider the source. They are an indicator that I am listening to the wrong voice. One more moment spent in guilt or shame is a waste of time and energy. They are not God’s will for my life. Paul says it best…

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”—Galations 5:1

Sin and the Believer…

Is the primary battle of the Believer with sin? Should our focus be our own personal holiness? Did Jesus secure our pardon for all sins; past, present and future? Is it not written that in the new covenant God says, “and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”? Does not the Psalmist write, “Our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west?”

How often I hear Christians say that they have to work on their pride or their patience or their selfishness or their fear of man. Who can take issue with that desire? Of course we who claim to be followers of Jesus should be like Him. But, after walking this out for nearly 50 years I can tell you it doesn’t work.

Perhaps the best example is when I have tried to be humble, I find I simply end up demonstrating some form of false humility. Where then do we find true humility? Consider, Paul says love is not boastful or proud, therefore love is humble, right? The first of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galations 5 is love. Therefore, humility is fruit, the natural byproduct of walking in the Spirit. A friend of mine was going through some significant trials and said to himself, “I guess I just need to learn humility.” That very day a friend from out of state, who had no idea what my friend was struggling with, called and said, “I was taking a shower and the Lord told me to call you and tell you that humility is a gift.” When I first heard this story I struggled with the notion that humility could be a gift. But, in a sense it is because love is a gift. We love because He first loved us. Love is the first fruit of the Spirit, it has preeminence over all that follows. The law of love is the law of the new covenant. God is love and He alone can supply the love necessary to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Humility lies in love.

In the same way, whether it be selfishness or fear or whatever, the remedy for our failing is not found in trying to rid ourselves of these less than Christ-like attributes. To the extent that we take the bait and choose that battle we will lose. First, we become distracted from the real battle. Paul tells us quite clearly that our struggle is not against flesh and blood? Are we not flesh and blood? My struggle should not be with me or with you. Rather it is against evil. (Ephesians 6:12) We are charged to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and destroy the works of the evil one. Further, Jesus charged the disciples with going. He did not tell them to bone up on scripture or to establish some sense of personal purity or holiness as an antecedent.

Could it be said that there are two forms of evidence that the Holy Spirit is active in the life of a believer? The first is the obvious demonstration of power that Paul spoke of when he said, “The kingdom of God does not consist of words but of power.” (I Corinthians 4:20) The word power is dunamis, dynamite. Forgive me if I assume too much, but I would suggest that this form of evidence is lacking in the western church today. Lots of words, not so much power. The second mark of the Holy Spirit in our lives is found in the oft-quoted, oft-preached fruit of the Spirit found in Galations chapter five. In the West that list of nine attributes has become a litmus test for authentic Christian living. Who can argue against such things against which there is no law? Okay, but let’s take a look at the context.

The first word in Galations 5:22 is “But”. That means that the fruit of the Spirit listed in verses 22 and 23 is presented as a contrast. Contrast to what? To what came before…

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”—Galations 5:19-21

Note Paul stated, “that those who practice such things” will not inherit the kingdom of God. Practice, as in habitual, not sin from time to time. Not falling off the path occasionally. My guess is that if you are reading this you do not practice “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. Jealousy? Anger? Envying? Some of these may jump up from time to time, but the great likelihood is that you and I aren’t “practicing” such things.

Check out the verse following the fruit of the Spirit… “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Note the word “crucified” is past tense, already been done. The entire context, the chapter, is all about being free in Christ and staying that way, hence the reference to the fact that “against these things there is no law”.

So given the context we see that Paul was not setting up a list as a litmus test or a list of attributes for believers to seek for, or aim at, or measure themselves by. Isn’t it the case that when we are not engaged in the real battle, the battle out there against evil and all its manifestations, that our fall back position is the fruit of the Spirit? Do we not, perhaps consciously or subconsciously, look to the fruit of the Spirit for confirmation that we are doing okay in Christ? My bet is that there are a lot more sermons focusing on the fruit of the Spirit than there are about the demonstrations of power, the dunamis, that Paul wrote about.

Let’s face it we can neither produce nor fake that power of God… miracles, healings, etc. But, and herein lies the temptation, we can by our own effort, devotion and commitment attain to, at least in some small measure, the attributes we know as the fruit of the Spirit. Don’t we all know unbelievers who manifest love, joy, peace, kindness ever so much as the Christians we know? We see the list and then we go out and try to live the list. It’s called works, religion at its finest, and the result is never good. It is the absolute opposite result Paul was trying to effect when he wrote the letter to the Galations.

By analogy, if I ask you to draw a horse, you will probably sit down and start drawing a what a horse should look like given your experience with horses. Unless your a horse person and an artist with experience drawing horses its probably not going to look too good. But, if we took a photograph of a horse, turned it upside down and simply followed the lines and shadows with our eyes and reproduced those on paper you would be surprised at how much more accurate your drawing would be. My point is that if we try to reproduce something for which we have a preconceived notion it is probably not going to go well. Whereas if we simply keep our eyes on the Holy Spirit and follow the line He provides day by day, moment by moment the fruit of the Spirit will be the natural result, or better, the supernatural result.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that personal holiness is not important. I am saying when it becomes our primary focus we become our primary focus. I don’t want to be my primary focus. “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these shall be added to you.” I have found that I am most content when I am not thinking about me. I am most content when I am hearing and obeying, following the Holy Spirit and engaging in a meaningful way in the lives and issues of those around me.

The real role of personal holiness comes into play in the realm of spiritual warfare. When we are properly engaged in the battle against evil we know that we cannot afford to give a foothold to the evil one, for if we do we become vulnerable to attack. If we give into temptation while engaged in the battle that we are called to as soldiers in Christ we place at risk not only ourselves, but our families and our fellow soldiers. Holiness is not a goal or a qualifier, rather it is an essential defense, even a weapon. That may be nuanced, but it is a very different perspective than seeking to be holy because we are suppose to be holy. When we put personal holiness first we put the cart before the horse, become distracted with ourselves, and are of little value to the kingdom. It’s the wrong fight and it’s exhausting. The evil one is happy to see us so distracted with our own issues while the world goes to hell in a hand basket.

Lastly, the battle against sin has already been fought and won. Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice for sin. Do we really believe that? He has already secured our pardoned, for sins past, present and future. To the extent that we don’t believe and rely on that sacrifice we denigrate it. The writer of Hebrews spends a lot of time comparing the priesthood as it operated under the Law of Moses and that of Jesus, our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. One of the most astounding and absolutely freeing trues is found in chapter 10…

“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, an offering for sin is no longer required.”—Hebrews 10:11-14, 18 (NASB) (My italics)

We say, we sing, Jesus did it all, but do we really believe it? Don’t we act like it is the sacrifice of Jesus AND my obedience? Don’t we act as though it is all conditioned on our sanctification, which somehow has become our responsibility? Jesus specifically asked the Father to sanctify the disciples in His high priestly prayer (John 17:17). He did not tell the disciples to bone up on Scripture and live a holy life. He did not pray that they would sanctify themselves. How is it that we feel that sanctification is primarily our responsibility? I mean isn’t it true that the unspoken goal of most Christians is not to make any mistakes? Again, the accuser of the brethren likes nothing more than to see me all hung up on how I’m doing and feeling disqualified because of my personal failings, sin.

I leave you with Paul’s admonition, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”

Who’s Afraid of the Mark of the Beast?

The Mark of the Beast has been the focus of much speculation, consternation and deliberation for centuries among Christendom. The Apostle John, aka John of the Apocalypse, recorded his vision, the Book of Revelation, 2,000 years ago while living on the isle of Patmos. There have been untold numbers of books, treatises, essays and now blogs claiming to understand this grand Revelation of the end times. That is not happening in this writing. I neither pretend to know or understand much of the book, especially when John starts writing about seven scrolls, seven seals, seven trumpets, six bowls, three woes, etc. The imagery and the language is such that I question anyone who says with confidence that they “get it”. So why write?

As I was perusing this mystical book I came to Chapters 13 and 14. There I found something that I had never seen before. Yes, an “Aha!” moment. This new observation has provided me with some encouragement, perhaps more a sense of relief, especially given the dark times which we are now entering as a nation and as a world. My hope is that it may provide the same for you. I encourage you to read the text for yourself, context is always necessary. So you may wish to stop here and read Revelation 13 and 14 or, if you so choose, you can take my word for it.

The context is the appearance of two beasts. The first arises from the sea and then the dragon, earlier identified as Satan, gives this beast his power and authority. For followers of Jesus this beast is our worst nightmare. A second beast arises out of the earth. It seems his primary purpose is to make the first beast look good. He supplies healing to the first beast’s “fatal wound”, he performs miracles, calls down fire from heaven and makes “the earth and all who dwell in it to worship the beast”. His coup de gras is to tell the people of earth to make an “image” of the first beast. He then “gives breath to the image” such that it speaks. And, here comes the punch line… he “causes all who do not worship the image of the beast to be killed”.

As an aside, it should be noted that Satan has no power to create. He is not a creator, he is a copy cat par excellence. He has, or will, establish an unholy trinity, if you will. He is a counterfeit of the Father, the source of power and authority in his evil kingdom. The first beast who arises out of the sea, receives a fatal wound, but is miraculously revived is a picture of the Christ. In fact many refer to him as the Antichrist. (A word which by the way is not found anywhere in the Book of Revelation.) The second beast lives and works to aggrandize the first. His presence and assignment are much like that of the Holy Spirit who has revealed and glorifies Jesus as the Christ.

Back to the subject at hand, we need not identify with any specificity who or what these beasts may be in order to be certain that they are powerful, evil and hate God’s people and/or anyone else who refuses their dictates. Either worship the image of the first beast or die. Period. What then of the Mark of the Beast?

The first mention of the Mark of the Beast in all of scripture is found in verse 16 of chapter 13. This mark will be given to everyone… the small, the great, the rich, the poor, the free, the enslaved; without which no one will be able to buy or sell. This Mark will be either the name or the number of the beast and will be placed on the right hand or the forehead of the marked person. Many assume it is the number 666, which it is not. John tells us, “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.” The number has to be “calculated”, it is a bit of a riddle. [Inasmuch as the number 3 is the number of God and the number 6 is the number of man, this beast appears to be one who is a man, but makes himself out to be God.] In any event, it will be exceedingly difficult to survive if one cannot buy or sell. But, that predicament pales in comparison to the fate of those who take the Mark as described in chapter 14, starting in verse 9…

“Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.’”

No interpretation is required. For those who have read this prophecy there has been, and still is, much fear and consternation surrounding the taking of the Mark of the Beast. It is this fear that is the focus of this blog.

First, if anyone refuses to worship the image, which will come to life and be empowered to speak, he/she will be killed. This conundrum is presented in the chapter 13 before the Mark of the Beast comes into play. Therefore, those who refuse to bow down to the image of the beast will be killed and therefore be saved from the predicament presented by the Mark of the Beast. This then is a case in point where one actually loses their life in order to save it.

Of course, it does require martyrdom, the giving up of our lives, and in truth no one knows how they will react when threatened with their own death. For humankind it is the ultimate fear. I’m sure many will be persuaded to bow to the image of the beast in order to save their lives. But for a follower of Jesus who has read this book the issue is not one of courage it is simply a matter of knowledge. How so?

If one decides to worship the beast to save their life what have they gained? Only delay. For soon thereafter they will be faced with another life or death choice. The Mark of the Beast. If one refuses the Mark they may well starve to death as they will not be allowed to buy or sell. If they capitulate and take the Mark they will have sealed their hellish fate, as described in chapter 14. Therefore, it makes no sense to save one’s life from one fatal threat only to face another, and that in short order. One who chooses to worship the image of the beast has not saved their life at all, rather they have simply prolonged the inevitable and assured themselves of further torment, in the short term and the long.

At the very beginning of the book John writes, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3) I have often wondered what specific blessings could or would flow from the reading of this mystical, apocalyptic tome. I now can say with some confidence that I know of at least one. After reading chapters 13 and 14, the fear of taking the Mark of the Beast, either intentionally or unintentionally, should be dispelled. That is a great blessing.

Death, and the fear of death, is by far the greatest single issue of our short lives. No one is exempt. We will all die, we may get to choose the modality. Why not die in honor, in faith, knowing that to prolong one’s life is only to invite hell, in one form or another? Why spend another ten seconds worrying about the Mark of the Beast when we know that the only sure way to avoid it is to simply to know “the rest of the story”. Paul Harvey would be so proud…

Did Jesus really say to “make disciples”?

The last few verses of Matthew 28 have become known as the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations!” While I understand what I am about to state will be considered sacrilege by some, perhaps many, yet I feel compelled to ask the question, “Can anyone ‘make’ a disciple?”

My perusal of that passage causes me to conclude that not only can we not make disciples, but more importantly, Jesus never charged His disciples to do so! Consider the usual rendering of this passage…

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”—Matthew 20:19-20 (Berean Study Bible)

Now consider the literal rendering of verse 19 is…

“Having gone therefore disciple all the nations baptizing them in the of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”(Interlinear Bible)

Obviously, the word “make” is not present in the latter. Further, “having gone” is curious phraseology. Who is the subject of this action? I am in no way a Greek scholar, but I can read. In English, “having” is a word describing possession, “gone” is the past tense of go. The phrase presents in the past tense. Either the translation is difficult such that “having gone” describes the actions of those Jesus was addressing after they had gone or it describes an action that has already taken place, which would refer to something accomplished by Jesus. Namely, that Jesus “having gone” before them, having led the way, having defeated evil and now having “all authority in heaven and on earth”(verse 18), they could now go and successfully “disciple all the nations”.

Either way, He did not say “make disciples”, rather “disciple”. You may be thinking that is a classic case of a difference without a distinction. I submit, it is not. In the phrase “make disciples” the word disciple is a noun. It describes a person with certain characteristics. In the literal rendering the Greek word in verse 19 for “disciple” is a verb, meaning to instruct, teach, impart. I submit that whereas one can teach, instruct, even impart, one cannot “make” a disciple. The hearer must choose to obey and thus become a disciple. Jesus does not overwhelm an individual’s free will when it comes to the issue of believing and receiving. He is, as a friend of mine used to say, “pro-choice”. That is to say, we always have a choice. Jesus presented the kingdom of God, each and everyone of us who has heard must choose what to do with that presentation. The Lord has so limited Himself so as to preserve love, which must always be a product of choice. Discipleship is no different. Again, I can teach, impart, model, even mentor, but I cannot “make” anyone anything. Consider, can I “make” someone a Christian? No. I can testify of Jesus. I can evangelize. I can witness. But, I cannot “make” someone believe. If I cannot “make” a Christian, how can I be expected to “make” a disciple?

Further, the balance of that first sentence sheds light on what Jesus meant when he charged His followers to “disciple all the nations”… “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” So there it is. Baptize them and teach them to obey all that Jesus taught them. One can baptize and one can teach, but no one can make someone else obey. Is one who has been baptized and has been taught all that Jesus commanded, but who fails to obey a disciple?

Why all the fuss over being charged to “make disciples”? Because in my experience, discipleship programs are rife with the danger of cultivating a religious spirit and can even create an environment wherein spiritual abuse may follow. It is almost a truism that once a normal, natural relationship is “converted” to a formal discipler/disciple relationship the elements of expectation, agenda and compulsion enter in under the guise of “accountability”. I have been on both sides of the equation. Too many times I have observed a normal relationship being converted into a formal relationship, such as teacher/pupil or master/student or discipler/disciple, only to lead to an artificial layering of “spirituality” that can be almost cult-like. In short, this artificial relationship can easily become marked by a works orientation that results in a performance driven engagement which is not healthy for either party. The apostle Paul specifically pointed out that there should be no allegiance to a particular leader. No one should describe themselves in the mode of “I am a disciple of Paul or Apollos or Cephas”, for we only have allegiance to Jesus. (1 Corinthians 3:22)

Consider, arguably the most natural “discipleship” relationship exists between parent and child. But, I would never label the relationship and say to my child, “You are my disciple.” How weird would that be? But, I did my best to disciple them, that is to teach, instruct, model, impart, etc. in hopes that they would obey Jesus. Hopefully, I have provided my children with a healthy example, but I don’t want them to follow me, I want them to follow Jesus. One of the great promises that I hold on to is found in Isaiah 54:13, “All your children will be taught of the LORD; and the well-being(the shalom) of your children will be great.” I claim that promise because I recognize that there is a great distinction between the results of being taught of me as over against taught of the Lord. Does Jesus want us to teach others to follow us or to follow Him?

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the literal and accurate charge, or commission, is to baptize, teach, instruct, impart. Period. That I can do. I actually long for such opportunities, but the results are not up to me. I can only present what God has given me, the hearer must decide what to do with the information. I am free from any sense of ownership, no matter the character of the fruit. I am not in charge of, or responsible for, the soil of the hearer’s heart. I am simply a conduit. I believe Jesus was here charging the eleven to be a conduit of everything they had heard and seen and experienced with Jesus. Give it away to all who will hear. We are expected to obey the charge, we are not responsible for the results.

There is another form of the Great Commission found in Acts 1:6-8…

“So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (NASB)

These then are the last words of Jesus to His followers, consequently they should be given some weight. Is there a charge? Before you respond in the affirmative consider His words carefully. Jesus did not say go and witness to the whole world. Rather, He said, “you shall be My witnesses”, but only after “you will receive power”. This is more promise than dictate. The component of power is missing in the Matthew 28 passage. Here that power is promised as a prerequisite to being a witness. Why would they need power? They heard, they saw, why couldn’t they just tell others what they personally heard and saw? We can speculate, but the point is Jesus said they would need and would receive supernatural power from on high via the Holy Spirit in order to “be” His witnesses. There was nothing for them to do, but wait. Once the Holy Spirit came upon them it was more a matter of who they were, as opposed to what they did. And it was all conditioned upon them receiving some form of supernatural empowerment. Paul described it beautifully… “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power… .” (I Corinthians 2:3-5)

In conclusion, it seems to me that it is grossly unfair to charge someone with a responsibility for which they have no power within themselves to accomplish. Simply stated, we cannot make anybody anything, much less a disciple of Jesus. Jesus would never hang such an impossible burden upon His people. He said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. If we choose to continue to charge ourselves and others pursuant to what I would consider to be a poor translation of the last verses in the Gospel of Matthew, we fall dangerously close to the practice of religion. Religion always involves a sense of compulsion. Where the element of compulsion enters performance, works, expectations, agendas are sure to follow which in turn give rise either to pride, if we perceive ourselves as successful, or discouragement, if we perceive ourselves as less than successful. As been said many times, the devil pushes, Jesus pulls.

I believe, as has been stated by many before me, that we are about to witness a great harvest. I believe we are seeing the birth of another Great Awakening. We must not spoil the harvest by placing old yokes, based upon incorrect translations and traditions, on those coming into the kingdom. Baptize, teach, instruct, impart… yes. Attempt to “make disciples”… no. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galations 5:1) “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. Instead, new wine is poured into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22) Old, tired religious models will not suffice for the era for which we are about to enter. I pray that the Holy Spirit will once again fall upon Jesus’ followers such that we will become Holy Spirit empowered witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the only hope for a dying world. Amen.

“Be kind… “

I think I am probably not alone is assuming much about the twelve. I mean when one reads the Gospels isn’t there a common notion or sense that these men walked with Jesus day and night for the better part of three years, weren’t they, at least in several instances, slow on the uptake? How many sermons have we heard about poor, stupid, slow Peter? Oh Peter, always messing up. Isn’t there at least a flavor of condescension, maybe even bordering on mockery, inherent in these commentaries?

Just recently as I read how James and John, via their mother, which is a commentary in and of itself, tried to secure a place on either side of Jesus when He was to come in His kingdom. [Matthew 20:20-24] Not surprisingly the other ten we’re “indignant”. Let’s be plain, they were p.o.’d. And one can understand why. So much for team unity right before the big game. Jesus and the boys are on their way to Jerusalem for the last time. He just told them in no uncertain terms what was going to happen to Him. So the sons of Zebedee take the opportunity to secure a position for themselves in the coming kingdom. Nice touch. I became indignant just reading about this transaction.

However, as I was writing out my own commentary I was struck by a thought. Were these men regenerate? Were they born anew? It is simple question. Have you ever asked the question, “When were the twelve converted, born again?” It is actually an important question. For our answer dictates how we perceive them , how we understand them, how we choose to treat them.

In the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus describes in some detail the concept of being “born again”. [John 3:1-21] A concept for which this “teacher of Israel” had not clue. Jesus states in verses 6-8…

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

I can understand why Nicodemus had trouble following Jesus. Where else in Scripture can one find this concept prior to this occasion? My point, however, is that Jesus uses the phrase “born of the Spirit” twice in this passage in defining what it is to be born again. Of course, later the Book of Acts and Paul’s epistles give us more clarity as to what it is to be “born of the Spirit”. The question is when were the disciples “born of the Spirit”?

Walking, talking, watching, following Jesus night and day for three years must have been remarkable and carried with it some obvious advantages. We all wish we could have done the same. However, that experience was no substitute for being “born of the Spirit”. There are references in the Gospels to the Holy Spirit becoming active in the lives of the disciples and each and every reference includes the teaching that Jesus would have to leave before the Holy Spirit came to them. Further, power to give effect to the charge they had been entrusted with would only be supplied by the Holy Spirit. Jesus ordered them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them. In short, the twelve were not born again until after the death and resurrection of Jesus. How could they be, Jesus had yet to pay the price for their sin. One of them, Judas, would never be born again.

So while we may look askance at some of their slowness to understand and their vulnerability to selfish endeavor, they were mere men of the flesh. They had no more power to carry out the directives of Jesus, from the standpoint of personal holiness, than anyone else in the world. Would we, before we came to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, before we were born anew, have done better? Even after being born again, do we stack up well against these men who left everything to follow Jesus, even before they were “born of the Spirit”?

It is with a new sense of grace and mercy that I hold these twelve men. I look forward to seeing them again tomorrow as I break open the Gospels once again. However, this time I will come with a different heart. I will be kind. I invite you to come with me…

“Come to Me… ”

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30

This passage is very familiar to most Believers, even to those who have but a spare knowledge of the Gospels. The passage is replete with “comfort words”, like comfort food for the soul. Words like rest, gentle and humble in heart, rest for your souls, easy, light… provide a sense of relief just in the reading. At one time or another, and perhaps especially during this season, we all find ourselves wanting to take Jesus up on His simple, compassionate invitation.

However, like many of the words and phrases employed by the Messiah which we tend to echo to one another with an air of presumption, I wonder, do we really know what He meant? Are we presently experiencing rest for our souls or are wearied by the incessant current of unrest we face in the world each day. Is our daily yoke easy? The load light? The phrasing is poetic. The feel is divine. But, do we really understand how to apply these words to actually effect rest for our souls in our broken, confusing, wearying world? If we are feeling “weary and heavy-laden” perhaps we do not really understand what He was offering or how to take Him up on His offer.

How does one come to Jesus? Was Jesus literally telling that massive crowd of people to come to Him in a physical sense? Certainly if they were in need of healing then they would want to come near, but I believe Jesus had a bigger picture in mind. Jesus would not make an illusory promise. He was not a Sunday preacher with a nice flowery message designed to make us feel better about ourselves and life. No, Jesus intended a specific, measurable effect for anyone who would “Come to Me”. So let’s take a deeper look…

First, and perhaps foremost, one must understand the historical and cultural context. Who was the audience? How would they receive these words? We cannot hope to understand Jesus’ words if we simply take them at face value based upon our 21st century understanding of an English translation of this Gospel. Who was the audience? For one, it was a very large audience.

Later in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus fed 5,000 men, not included in the count were women and children, so perhaps 15,000 people or more. While that was not this specific “multitude”, the descriptors earlier in this Gospel would indicate that this was a similar gathering in terms of size and composition. Some of these folks had come from as far away as Jerusalem and its environs, 100 miles away! They had walked to see this Jesus. No hotels. No restaurants. No showers. No water fountains. Many were sick or disabled. Further, they had been living under a yoke of Roman oppression and a Pharisaical religious spirit for their entire lifetime. These people were beat up. Jesus often described them as “the lost sheep of Israel”, “sheep without a shepherd” living among wolves. The truth is these “lost sheep” had been, were then, and still are the primary target of the evil one. He hates God’s chosen people. He had been trying to wipe them out all the way back to Egypt. He has never stopped, witness Hitler. These people were beat up and Jesus knew it wasn’t going to get better for them from a political or religious standpoint. Those were, and still are, false hopes.

Jesus just got done telling them that “all things have been handed over to Me”, that is to say He had divine authority. He had the power to give effect to His words. He had already proved it by healing the sick, casting out demons and raising the dead. The first words after making that statement are… “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Good hook, as Jesus spoke right to their felt-need. The word rendered “weary” in the Greek meant to labor until worn-out, depleted, exhausted. Frankly, “weary” may be too weak a word to describe many of those in the audience. These people had little or nothing left in the tank, physically, emotionally or spiritually. To be “heavy-laden” actually meant to be overloaded, one who was literally “weighted-down.” We have all felt the weight of the world. I have often felt that physical challenges are much easier than those that are emotional, psychological or spiritual. Physical challenges, typically, do not break one’s spirit. One can almost always manage a physical challenge, as it is external to us. But, it is exceedingly difficult to press on when one’s spirit has been broken or seriously denigrated. When we are internally handicapped or broken we are truly vulnerable. There is nowhere to run from my own head. These people were starving, both literally and in every other way. This was a very needy multitude. Where does one start? Jesus started with their essential need… food for their soul. They had need to come under the watchful, protective eye of the Great Shepherd who alone could lead them to green pastures and still waters. (Psalm 23) So far so good, but then Jesus throws a bit of a curve…

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.”

Yes, of course, the first thing that comes to mind when one is exhausted is to take up an implement of hard labor! Yokes were for oxen, beasts of burden who were the John Deere tractors of the day. A yoke was a heavy, sturdy piece of lumber strapped to the neck and shoulders of the ox. There were typically two oxen yoked together to make a team. Figuratively speaking, a yoke would unite or join two people to move or work together as one. A secondary definition of the word yoke had to do with the cross beam on a balance scale, wherein two pans hung on either side, weights placed in one pan, goods on the other. This yoke was common in the marketplaces of the time. Why would Jesus employ this metaphor in this context? We’ll get there.

Why would these Jews want to replace one yoke for another? They were already operating under a yoke of political and religious oppression. First, Jesus assures them that He, unlike the Romans and the scribes and the Pharisees, would be under the yoke with them. It was His yoke. The invitation was to be yoked with Him. He would not ask them to do anything He wouldn’t be doing with them. And, His intention was not just to give them a break, but also to teach them. The word translated “learn” carries with it not just an intellectual aspect, but also an experiential one. This may seem trite, it is not. In my opinion, one of the greatest weaknesses in American culture, including the church, is the assumption that if one intellectually knows and gives assent to information then they “know”. Do you want your heart surgeon to be someone who has collected all the information he/she can about a heart through “book learning” or do you want one who has conducted hundreds of heart surgeries before performing yours? The old adage holds true, “There is no substitute for experience.” Jesus was inviting them to be yoked with Him as they “plowed” through life together, and as they did so He would teach them, demonstrate to them, guide them in the way that they should go. He would teach them to “fish so that they would eat for a lifetime.”

Further, he was not harsh and or self-serving like the Romans and/or the Pharisees, rather He was “gentle and humble in heart”. The word rendered “gentle” is insufficient. A better translation would be the word “meek”. Unfortunately, in English the word “meek” sounds, and is too often associated with, “weak”. Biblical meekness is not weakness but rather refers to exercising God’s power, yet with restraint. The English term “meek” often lacks this blend of gentleness and strength. In truth “meekness” is a great word, a wonderful attribute. It is difficult to think of someone in the public eye who demonstrates true meekness. The reason for that is that one who operates in meekness has no need to be known or celebrated by others. This was Jesus. It is characteristic of one who has power, but chooses not to use it for selfish gain or for self-aggrandizement, which marries up perfectly with the notion of being “humble”. One who is humble operates without an ulterior motive or selfish ambition. This powerful combination of “meekness and humility” in heart would serve to ease the trepidations of any in this mass of humanity who might be skeptical due to past hurts or abuses at the hands of their so-called “spiritual” leaders. In short, Jesus could be trusted.

Jesus was not asking these folk to do anything He wouldn’t do. He was offering to be yoked to each of them. That was, and frequently still is, an unheard of or seldom employed form of leadership. He was willing to be yoked, that is to come into very close proximity with this dirty, smelly, ill and even demonized bunch. (Jesus touched a leper to effect healing when all He had to do was speak a word.) The scribes and Pharisees wanted nothing to do with this rabble, except to control them. While Jesus was saying “come to Me” and “be yoked to Me”, the religious leaders were saying “keep your distance, but pay homage and, of course, be sure to tithe.” Sound familiar? Some things never change. Jesus’ offer was, and still is, radical.

“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Where would one go to find a yoke that was easy? There was no such thing. The two words “easy” and “yoke” are simply incongruent. No one would describe a yoke as easy. Sturdy, durable, well-fitting sure, but “easy” is simply a non sequitur. I can imagine the multitude was curious to know more about this “magic” yoke. The word translated easy is “xrēstós”, pronounced “khrase-tos’”. The word means useful, serviceable, productive, well-fitted, beneficial, benevolent. Interestingly enough, a very similar sounding word, “Xrestus” was a common slave-name in the Greco-Roman world. It “appears as a spelling variant for the familiar Christus (Xristos). (In Greek the two words were pronounced alike.)” (F. F. Bruce, The Books of Acts, 368). Perhaps Jesus was here employing a double-entendre or a play on words. He had come as the Xristos, literally the “anointed one”. No Jew would expect that their Xristos, their Messiah, would come as Xrestus, a suffering servant. But He did, a stumbling block for many. He would take on a yoke that no one could imagine, that no one else could carry. A yoke, a cross-beam, that He would literally carry to His own crucifixion. (Criminals were forced to carry the cross-beam to their own crucifixion, not the entire to cross.) This yoke, also served as a cross-beam of another sort, the cross-beam on the balance-scales of God’s justice. On one side of the scales would be placed the entire weight of the world’s sin and brokenness, on the other the sinless, broken body of Jesus. God’s justice would be served. It was only because of the yoke that Jesus would shoulder in the not so distant future that would enable Him to make good on the invitation to this needy multitude. An invitation to be yoked with Him that would result in “rest for their weary souls”.

When Jesus stated, “My burden is light” He was obviously not referring to His own burden, rather the burden He was offering to everyone in the audience, from that day down to ours. He promised that if they would choose to take on His yoke, His cross-beam, that their “burden” would be “light”, especially in comparison to His. Again, the Greek is instructive. By definition, this “burden” must be carried by the individual, i.e. as something personal and hence was not transferable. This definition fits perfectly into the theology of the cross. Jesus takes on the sin of the world, but we each have an obligation, a personal responsibility, as well. We must choose to come under His yoke. We must attach ourselves to Him. We must learn from Him. We must walk where He walks. We must carry burdens that He tells us to carry. This burden cannot “be shifted” to someone else. However, when yoked with Jesus this “burden” becomes “light”. The reason that the burden Jesus would have us carry becomes “light” is because He is the one doing all the heavy lifting and He supplies the grace necessary for us to do our part.

All in all this passage, taken as a whole, is the Gospel. It must have sounded like Good News to the masses that day, and it still does. How about you? Are you weary, completely depleted, exhausted of mind, body or soul? Are you in need of refreshing? Are you in need of food for your depleted soul? Are the burdens of this world overwhelming? Is there a heaviness about your life that you just can’t shake, that is sucking the life right out of you?

If your response to any of those questions is in the affirmative then may I suggest that the yoke you are operating under may not be His. If the yoke is rubbing us the wrong way we are either wearing it incorrectly or it is not His yoke. If the burden is heavy we must ask ourselves if we are shouldering that burden in obedience to Jesus? Is the burden anchored in guilt or shame or condemnation? If so, it ain’t Jesus. We need to dump that load. Jesus does not employ guilt and shame. Rather, His tool of choice is grace. Grace is more than another nice Bible word, it is a form of divine empowerment that is attendant to all that God asks of us. When we are walking in grace we are empowered and the burden is all of a sudden very doable.

You may ask, how can it be? “I am not a lost sheep I am a Christian, a Christ-follower.” Be that as it may, Jesus always said that one can tell the tree only by the fruit. If the fruit of our life is not consistent with what He promised… peace, joy, love; then our connection to the Tree has been broken or at least denigrated. To employ a different metaphor, perhaps there is a disconnect, an electrical short if you will. The circuitry may be there, but the power connection has been corrupted or interrupted.

Jesus had the Holy Spirit without measure. All things had been given unto His hand. He was absolutely sure of His identity and His call. Yet, He frequently went off by himself to spend time with the Father. Perhaps He was going to the Father because He was “weary” and in need of rest for His soul. Perhaps He was lightening His load by unloading it on the Father. Perhaps He was “learning” from the Father from the standpoint of gathering direction and insight for the coming day, as we must always remember He was fully human having laid aside His divinity in order to accomplish His Messianic mission. Everyday Jesus was yoked with the Father. Just as it was with Jesus, being a Christ-follower is not a one-time decision, it is a daily choice. Jesus said we would have to take up His cross, His yoke, daily. We do so by saying yes to Him each and every day. We live on enemy ground. From time-to-time we may lose a battle, but we will win the war if we stay yoked to Jesus. Jesus stayed yoked to the Father by spending time alone with Him. Solomon said it a little differently, “Come away with me my beloved.” When I am weary and heavy-laden I must take Jesus at His word and do that which is counter-intuitive, stop and spend time with Him. This is not a religious practice or formula. It may be a walk. It may be listening or playing music. It may be writing. It may be taking a nap. It may be sitting and listening. It may be reading. You get the idea, we are all different and He will meet us in the way which works for us. But, we must take the time, in so doing we will take Jesus up on His offer to “Come to Me” and He will not disappoint.