Pastor’s reflections – July 2018
Last month we at looked the parable of the Prodigal Son, and thought about who God is and how He regards us. This month we looked at three instances in which Jesus met others, and how he responded to them and how they reacted to Him. I wonder if we found ourselves in one of these three different people Jesus encountered. –
Ask and answer these questions:
“What does Jesus see in me?
What is my response to Jesus?
Meditation: The Three Glances of Christ
THE RICH YOUNG MAN:
Mark 10: 17 – 22 New International Version (NIV)
The Rich and the Kingdom of God
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good — except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’[a]” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
At this point in Mark, we are only told that someone runs up to Jesus and kneels before him. We do not know anything else about him, though the Greek indicates he is a male. Because he kneels, we can surmise that he is genuinely respectful to Jesus, and his address to Jesus as “good teacher” is similarly sincere. His question — “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” — is not a test for Jesus. He truly wants to know Jesus’ answer, and we as Christians should probably be just as interested.
But Jesus surprises the man by responding with, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (10: 18). We hold that thought for only a moment, before Jesus immediately launches into a recitation of the commandments. Note, however, that these commands are all related to human interactions. The man continues by claiming he had observed all those commands from his youth. Is he lying? Self-deceived? Or does he believe he is really telling the truth?
Jesus does not challenge his claim, so I think we need to accept it as true, probably in the same way that Paul claimed to be blameless with respect to righteousness under the law. (Philippians 3: 6). Again we must pause to evaluate what we think of the man. The narrative also pauses for a moment by noting that Jesus gazed at him … and then reports that Jesus loved him! If we want to be like Jesus, then we need to love him too, but has the man’s initial question been answered?
Jesus says he lacks one thing. (Is it his failure to keep the commandments related to God?) He is to sell what he has and give it to the poor in order to obtain treasure in heaven. Further, he is to “follow” Jesus, a typical characterisation of discipleship in Mark. (Is this what a proper relationship with God looks like?) What will this man whom Jesus loves do?
The text says he became dismayed, and he went away (the opposite of following) grieving. Doubtless Jesus commanded a hard thing, but why this overly sad reaction? Only now are we told, “For he had many possessions.” (If we had been told this detail from the beginning, would it have altered our perceptions of him?)
- The man is living the “good life” and searching to do God’s will.
- Jesus invited him to remove the one obstacle that prevented growth in his personal relationship with God.
- The rich young man failed because he put his trust in something other than Jesus.
- Out of his love for the young man Jesus let him go on his way.
- Jesus gives us the strength to meet the challenges.
- Is this your story? Do you feel trapped between your desire to live for the Lord, and your attachment to material things?
Now we come to our second person Judas:
John 12: 4 – 6
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to the poor?” Such thoughtful, generous words. Words, oozing with righteousness, Old Testament faithfulness, purity. But ultimately words that betray a raw grasp for power and wealth, words that betray a heart corrupted and wicked, a heart that cares nothing for the poor or anyone else.
A group of people sit down to eat together. All the characters are present: the Disciples, Lazarus—the dead man brought back to life, Martha — ever the servant, Jesus — the saviour, Judas — the betrayer, and Mary — the one who loved lavishly. The characters are almost larger than life. They leap off the page, and in some ways represent battles that continue to live on today — between doing and being, between giving and taking, between loving and using.
It’s a risky prospect to go to a dinner party with Jesus. The masks that we wear seem to unexpectedly get stripped away leaving our true selves exposed for the entire world to see. As readers of this story many centuries later, we see not only the disciples, Lazarus, Martha, Mary, Judas, and Jesus sitting down to dinner together, but also an ominous foreshadowing of what lies ahead. At the heart of this story lie the values of two competing kingdoms.
Judas represents his kingdom — the world’s kingdom, our kingdom. His bid for wealth and influence was subtle, couched in terms of pious Torah observance. In other settings, Judas probably looked pretty good. But when he came face to face with Mary’s lavish, over-the-top, wasteful generosity, his cold calculations were exposed. “It was worth a year’s wages!” Judas knew the value of things. He was no fool. He calculated and counted his way to wealth as the keeper of the purse, and he wasn’t about to let go of that much wealth without a fight.
We live in that world. We are surrounded by subtle bids for power and wealth, bids that are couched in terms of righteousness, justice, and responsibility. We see this language in politics, in corporations, even in churches. Anywhere that power and wealth are available for the taking, there are cold calculators saying the right things, getting themselves positioned to have access to the money bag.
And then there is Mary’s kingdom — a kingdom that seems like it can’t last. Giving away a year’s worth of wages in a moment? People who live like this will be destitute in a matter of weeks. This kind of kingdom cannot stand up against the calculating, power-hungry, wealthy kingdom. This kind of kingdom doesn’t stand a chance!
But Jesus turned Judas’s so-called Torah righteousness on its head. He responded to Judas’ criticism of Mary with a nod to Deuteronomy 15: 7 – 11.
7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard hearted or tight fisted toward them. 8 Rather, be open-handed and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbour this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for cancelling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
This kingdom isn’t based on a strategy. It’s based on a power that goes deeper than the number of zeroes in a bank account or the position in the political hierarchy; it’s based on the lavish generosity of the One who sustains the universe.
- We may fool others into believing we are devoted followers, but we cannot fool Jesus.
- Jesus leaves the door open for us to return just as he did for Judas (see John 13: 30)
- In the beginning, Judas was enthusiastic to share Jesus ministry.
- Although Judas abandoned Jesus, Jesus never abandoned Judas.
- Has this been your story? Have you grown deaf to His call? Are you afraid to ask forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation?
LASTLY WE COME TO PETER:
Mark 14: 27 – 31 New International Version (NIV)
“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today — yes, tonight — before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.
Jesus knew that this was the night that his passion would happen, so he informed the disciples that they would all leave him and no longer be disciples—they would forsake him. Jesus didn’t say this because of some insight in their character (although that might have come into play) but because of the fulfilment of Scripture. In Jesus’ reading of Zechariah 13: 7, he sees himself as the shepherd struck down by God, and the disciples are the sheep. Thus, he says that the disciples would leave him when he would be struck.
Peter, one more time, made the bold (but wrong) statement, proclaiming that he would stick with Jesus, no matter what. Jesus then makes his famous prophecy that Peter would deny Jesus three times before the early morning. Peter (true to form) denied his denial claiming that he would die with Jesus. Of course, Peter was thinking of dying in a battle, not humbly surrendering himself to the authorities to be killed, which is what Jesus had in mind.
One thing in the midst of this passage is sometimes missed, which is that Jesus also prophesied his resurrection here, and told his disciples to meet him in Galilee. The disciples must have missed it as well, because they didn’t know about it when the event happened.
It is one of the most depressing facts of being a person who follows God that, at one point or another, everyone will forsake you. This happened to Job, to David, to Paul, to Francis of Assisi, to Elijah, to Jeremiah, to Ezekiel, and on and on. Perhaps it’s because God’s path is so difficult. But Jesus never promised it would be easy. We must remember that when we are isolated, we are never alone. Often our period of isolation is right on the edge of our greatest victory, because God has not forsaken us. God is the one who pulls victory out of a situation that seems a couple steps past defeat. Never think that God’s plan has failed. We just don’t see the end game.
Luke 22: 54 – 62 New International Version (NIV)
Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” “Man, I am not!” Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
“Peter followed at a distance.”
Luke uses a Greek word which translated means “to follow as a disciple.” Peter puts himself in danger because he is a disciple. He has been following Jesus for three years and he isn’t stopping now. Yes, he follows, but he doesn’t follow up close for fear of arrest. For the moment he is a “closet disciple,” afraid to disclose his true identity. Sound familiar? Not a few Christians do such a good job at blending into their surroundings, that their co-workers and friends may not know that they are believers for months or years. They follow, but at a distance.
There in the high priest’s courtyard, surrounded by temple soldiers, Peter sits. Peter is sitting with them for some time. That in itself is a courageous act. If he is recognised as a disciple, particularly as the disciple who has drawn blood resisting them in the Garden, he is likely to be arrested.
It is a precarious place in which to be. Peter is courageous and bold — he wants to be near his Lord in his hour of need. But Peter is terrified, also. He is in danger and knows it. And so Peter’s courage and bravado give way to fear. Each of the Gospel writers tell of Peter’s denial, and the accounts vary some.
Why does the story of Peter’s denial strike such a chord in us? Why can we relate so easily to Peter? Probably because each of us has in some way been false to our friendship with Christ. By disassociating ourselves from our allegiance to Christ in the presence of unbelievers; critics, but too often by our silence. By professing Jesus with our mouths, but excusing ourselves when we do things we know are contrary to Jesus’ teachings. The Holy Spirit within us is grieved, we feel guilty, we are ashamed.
But then Jesus intervenes:
“Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ “
At that moment Jesus is visible, turns and makes eye contact with Peter. Peter is struck by the knowledge that Jesus knows what he has done. Jesus is aware — Jesus who has predicted this very lapse. Instantly Peter remembers. Jesus had told him, the result in Peter’s heart is overwhelming grief. “And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
Only the love of Jesus for us, and our love for Jesus can heal us. A desire not to disappoint him and let him down is stronger than the fear of guilt. As Jesus looks at Peter, he sees afresh the necessity of the cross that lies before him. His love determines to redeem from sin the Peters among his worldwide band of disciples by forgiving our offences, taking our penalty, healing our sin-damaged souls, and restoring us to fellowship with God.
Jesus looks at Peter and knows that his life’s work lies just ahead. His hour has come.
John 21: 15 – 17 New International Version (NIV)
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
Three Questions for Peter.
This passage is related to Peter and his relationship to Jesus. In this moment, Peter was bearing the weight of his denial. No longer could he rely on his own strength to carry him through. No longer could he forcefully advance the Kingdom of God. He was blameless no longer. His cowardice had been on full display, and any reasonable man would know him to be unsuitable to carry the Kingdom banner. His strength had failed him, and everyone in that circle knew it.
And in response, three times, Jesus invites Peter back into the fold- into the sacred life of the shepherd. Care for my sheep. Love them. Tend to them. Nurture them and walk beside them. And it was then Peter and every other disciple in that circle knew that Peter had been reconciled back to Christ. For in the darkness of that courtyard, Peter had denied Jesus three times; and in the breaking light of morning, three times, Peter had declared his love for Jesus. Of course this made sense, for this has always been the way of Jesus.
He reminded Peter often that the first would be last, that weakness was strength, and that the kingdom was for the broken hearted, but it wasn’t until this moment, until this invitation back into the fold, we see Peter understanding the kingdom in a new way. A most beautiful way.
Did Jesus really ask Peter a fisherman to do something that might seem absurd to others, and one who denied the Lord to become the rock that leads a church?
- Peter, a typical human being, was devoted to Jesus.
- The problem for Peter was trusting too much in his own efforts to live the Christ-like life.
- By Peter trusting in his own efforts, he experienced failure when he encountered a major challenge.
- Peter did learn how to repent. He learned that Jesus understands our human failings and forgives us.
- Peter learned through Jesus he could have the strength to overcome obstacles.
- Peter discerned that he needed to love Jesus in order to serve Him.
- Is Jesus reaching out to you today?
- What is your response as He speaks to your heart and you see in His Glance?
- Are you afraid to encounter Him? Even though you are imperfect, are you willing to love Him and trust Him?