cross, death, forgiveness, Jesus Christ, love, separation from God, temple, will of God

The Skull, #102

“Two criminals were also led out with him for execution, and when they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified him with the criminals, one on either side of him.

“But Jesus himself was saying, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” Then they shared out his clothes by casting lots.”

Luke 23:32-34, Phillips

This is easily the darkest and evil point in human history. The Son of God, (the second person of the Trinity) allows himself to be crucified. Do we have the slightest idea what that means? Is this really something we can grasp?

The word “Calvary” means “place of the Skull.”

When criminals were put to death that’s where it took place. Since Romans liked to execute people, I imagine it was semi-permanent, with vertical poles set in place. The “skull” was visible to all, situated on a main highway. The men who were lifted up would’ve been able to see Jerusalem’s walls, and perhaps even the Temple.

Jonathan Edwards comments about putting people to death like this:

“Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering.”

“Maximum pain and suffering.” Doesn’t that bring it into perspective?

Jesus spends his last few hours praying for his enemies. While he was suffering and dying, the soldiers were rolling dice for his robe. But as he was hanging, the nails holding him in place–he was praying. The pain must’ve been beyond belief. (It’s worth noting that we get our English word “excruciating” from the Latin word meaning “from the cross.”)

Jesus took my sin–he took yours too. He absorbed every ounce. And yet taking on all that, he was still innocent. He did not sin, but he carried every single drop of it. Why would he do this?

At that precise moment, the Father turned his back on him.

With all of that sin (my sin, and yours) God turned away, (Isaiah 53:10). He was now totally alone, and the wrath of God was poured out on him. Jesus, at that moment, was in our place–he substituted himself for us. He died, so we might go free, (2 Corinthians 8:9).

What more can I say? The darkest moment for him became the brightest one for us. He hung there, completely horrified–he was now all alone. God left him at that moment.

I now must live differently.

Once I really truly understood this, everything changed. God is now my friend, I’m at peace with him. When Jesus died on “the place of the skull” he substituted his life for mine. He died, and now I live. It was the greatest exchange in all of history, (1 John 4:9-10).

I now choose to turn away from those things that Jesus Christ went to the cross for.

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authority, contamination, death, discernment, hypocrisy, money, religion, temple, unclean, worship

Crooks and Robbers, #89

“Jesus Cleansing the Temple,” Jeffrey Weston

45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

Luke 19:45-46

People detest hypocrisy. I’ve discovered that no matter who they are–pagan or devout believer, there is an awareness of this kind of religious evil. As I considered art for this post, I came across dozens, and dozens of different takes on this passage. One could open up a large gallery simply on “Jesus Cleansing the Temple.”

The priests and the merchants had a corner on the market. There was a need for pilgrim to have animals for sacrifices. But it was said that you could buy a pair of doves for 5 cents outside the temple, but once you entered they sold for 75 cents. The pilgrims also needed to change over their native currency to the temple money. That too, made a tidy little profit.

Jesus had visited the temple numerous times. He was dedicated there, and as a boy he taught the elders and priests. On his own pilgrimages 4 times a year, he witnessed the steady commerce that was done. Since the temple work went on 24 hours a day, the tables had to be constantly manned.

The issue here was authenticity. Keep in mind that this would be Jesus’ last visit. In a few days the authorities would publicly beat and then execute him. In some sense, Jesus was making a clear statement. Being fully God he had the right to declare the validity of what was going on. And it wasn’t good.

The temple was there for prayer. It was the place where God and man could meet each other. Every block laid, every pillar set, was a declaration of this idea. God and man reunited, with a sacrifice for sin. It was to be the official place where this would happen. And it would require a sacrifice for sin to open up a way to worship and pray.

“Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst.”

C.S. Lewis

Faith was hijacked by men who really didn’t believe. A flourishing industry had developed–religious language and ideas became the way to fleece those who really did believe. The greed of certain men had compromised real worship. Evil had worked its ugly way into the very core of the faith. It was an terrible thing.

The tables were located in the outer courts. These courts were as far as Gentiles could go–it was for them who wanted to pray. Jesus understood Isaiah, and quotes it in his rebuke, (Isa. 56:7). The religious evil that developed there was truly an abomination–and it had to stop.

We need to be aware that we’re definitely attracted to this kind of hypocrisy. We dare not point the finger too quickly –yes, we need to see it–not to pass judgement, but to understand the hatred God has for this sin. The temple of our bodies belong to him. He will enter our lives–he will flip our tables if he has to, he won’t tolerate our hypocrisy.

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The Parable of the Good Mormon, #72

“”But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”

Luke 10:33-34

As I write this, I’m waiting for my plane in Salt Lake City, Utah. I just passed by the Mormon Temple, and that’s always disturbing to me. I guess as a teacher to the body of Christ, to see this much deception concentrated in a place like this is evil. The LDS church has a staggering 16.5 million scattered worldwide. And it’s growing fast.

Back in 1982, two Mormon security guards ushered me off of the temple grounds. But as I was escorted off their temple mount, Christian believers outside the gate gave me tracts to read, and they were praying that I would find the Lord Jesus. Their ministry is hard, but effective,

It’s strange how things work out sometimes.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was treacherous, well-known by the people as a haven for robbers and muggers. Think the south-side of Chicago; it was dangerous, and typically when you did have to make the trip, you traveled in a group for safety.

Samaritans were the unholy and the godless. Jews never dreamed of fellowshipping with them–both regarded each other with contempt and scorn. To the Jew, the Samaritan was apostate, and there was a deep distaste for them. And the worse part of it all, they believed that God agreed.

They did respect each others turf though, at least, to a limited degree. At best, they simply didn’t acknowledge the others existence–at worst, they did the jihad thing, and went to outright war with each other. It’s all very complicated. It almost always is.

We must modernize this parable in order to really understand its implications. Let’s make sure we understand a few things though:

  • The Jews and the Samaritan detested each other. Each declared that they were the true nation of Israel.
  • The priest and the Levite both had religious reasons for avoiding situations like this. They quite easily justified themselves, as their interpretation of the Law forbid them from touching a corpse.
  • The Samaritan was doing the will of God, the religious leaders were not. Plain and simple. Jesus’ parable has ruined our conceptions forever of a religion that costs us nothing, and somehow gives us everything.
  • Jesus schools the Jewish leaders with the responsibility of loving each other–no matter what the other person believes is true.

This is a present day parable. It’s lost none of its zing-and we can’t rationalize away any of its authority. It speaks to us today, as powerfully as when Jesus first spoke it. This particular passage has never lost its punch, and we dare not minimize the message. If we do, typically, it’s for carnal reasons, and we do so, it’s at extreme peril to our very souls.

Who is your neighbor? We needn’t look far for understanding–each parable that Jesus spoke was simple, and it could be understood by a child–and yet it carried the full authority, and weight of heaven. If we minimize it, we risk our discipleship. We’ll suddenly cease to be real and authentic.

Is this a Sunday school flannelgraph, or is it a real truth for real believers?

I easily could go on, and on, ad nauseam–pummeling you with insignificant details, but I won’t. The critical message is one of an active, aggressive love for each one who is made in God’s image–for the Catholic and the Mormon, the black and the white, gay and straight, republican or democrat, the homeless and the mansion-dweller–everyone who the Lord God has created. Everyone. (Even illegal aliens–egads. Not them!)

No exceptions can be made. When we serve others–sacrificially, if we have to–we’re really serving the Lord Jesus. And if a Mormon happens along, and if they do what the Samaritan did, they’re doing the will of God. And that disturbs us, and it should.

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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Show Me the Mercy, Entry #24

“I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 

‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’

you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 12:6-8 (context, vv. 1-8)

Do we honestly want to see mercy? To give it is much harder than making a sacrifice. Mercy often entails forgiving or helping someone, and that’s usually difficult. We do better by making a religious offering, than having to reach out in love and touch someone we really don’t like. To let someone “off-the-hook” grates us.

Mercy is commonly defined “as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”

Wow. Isn’t this hard sometimes? We really do excel when we try to “punish” those who hurt us, we are experts at this. We ‘automatically’ lash out at those who we feel defy or somehow cross us. I find that I can get quite defensive very fast. And usually that thing is very trivial.

Jesus said to him,

“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

(Matthew 18:22.)

On our own, it seems we just can’t be as compassionate or forgiving like Jesus. We vastly prefer religious duties over forgiveness. Jesus told Peter to forgive 70 x 7, whenever a ‘sinning’ brother asks for leniency, we have to give it. If we forgive, then we’ll be forgiven!

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:15

He wants to see our mercy. That outweighs any spiritual sacrifice we might make. One of Jesus’ own beatitudes hits the nail on the head,

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Matthew 5:7

We can’t evade this. We may try but He will keep bringing us back to it until we can pass this test, and even then we can anticipate “surprise” tests. That typically kicks us out of a false sense of maturity, and our ‘spiritual’ arrival.

We think we’ve got mercy down pat, and yet He wants to take it deeper still. Mercy for us will always be a spiritual action to a physical situation. And He brings these situations to us, to see what we do, and to reveal what is truly in our hearts at the time.

Sacrifice was a critical definition in the Pharisee’s dictionary, and Jesus more or less destroyed that entire religious concept. Sacrificing without real love, can never be part of a believer’s vocabulary. Jesus wants every disciple to show an outrageous mercy to everyone they meet.

The most miserable prison in the world is the prison we make for ourselves when we refuse to show mercy.

-Warren Wiersbe

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Be Clean, Entry #18

And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, 

“I will; be clean.” 

And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Matthew 8:3 (context vv. 1-4)

He lives completely devastated. Leprosy was more than physical, it had spiritual consequences. He probably had been living as an outcast for many years. When he got anywhere close to the healthy they would shout out that he was “unclean.” They were afraid of him. He was the consummate ‘boogeyman.’

Lepers were excluded from any temple services. They could never ‘sacrifice.’ They wore their sin like a heavy coat, and they were destined to wear it for the rest of their sad lives. The Jews regarded them as cursed by God; never ever to be touched by anyone. They were the damned.

Can you even imagine the awful ugliness that life had given him?

To be clean was only a wonderful dream. It evaporated when he woke; it was never, ever realized. His disease ‘stuck’ to him permanently. (He must’ve realized that it was forever and ever.) He was cursed by God to live alone, and die damned.

It throughly amazes me that Jesus reached out and touched him. Most likely he hadn’t known any human contact for many years. I think the Lord knew and understood this man’s biggest need. To be touched was a bonanza, to be healed was ‘heaven.’

What sin has hypnotized you?

What ugliness degrades your spirit? Look to Him (and His mercy) and let Him touch you deep inside. The Law insists that contamination would spread to the person who touched the unclean, but Jesus being ‘clean’ passed on His wholeness.

That’s the kind of God I serve.

“Give up the struggle and the fight; relax in the omnipotence of the Lord Jesus; look up into His lovely face and as you behold Him, He will transform you into His likeness. You do the beholding–He does the transforming. There is no short-cut to holiness.”

–Alan Redpath

 

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The Doves in the Temple, Entry #11

“And he told those who sold the pigeons, 

“Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 

John 2:16, (context 13-17)

The temple was meant to be a place where people could seek and find God. It was meant to be a place of seeking, of sacrifice, and a place of worship. It had no other purpose other than linking man to God. It wasn’t architecture, it was ‘reconciliation.’ The temple was God’s plan of making a way for sinners to engage Him.

Along the line somehow it became corrupted. Unscrupulous man had a way figured to make money off of pilgrims. The temple required temple currency, hence the money-changers who made a tidy little profit. The birds, lambs and bulls were suddenly provided to the worshipers as a convenient way to ‘sacrifice.’ (That made it easier if you had the cash to spend.)

“So he took some rope and made a whip. Then he chased everyone out of the temple, together with their sheep and cattle. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and scattered their coins.”

John 2:15

Was this wrong? Did Jesus really make a “whip?” Did He really flip over tables like some sort of ‘religious’ brawl from some old western movie? I have to believe He did do this. Chapter 2:17 explains things like this:

“The disciples then remembered that the Scriptures say, “My love for your house burns in me like a fire.”

Jesus loved God’s house, at least for what it was designed for at the beginning. (Some translations use the word, “zeal.”) God’s heart is for fellowship with man. He desperately wants to engage us, to bring us directly into the “holy place of the Holies.”

He wants us there for the companionship. He seeks “friends.”

The doves? Jesus never hurt them. His anger wasn’t directed at them, but rather at the humans who made the birds available to be sacrificed. The Lord didn’t focus His displeasure at those fine feathered ones in the cage, rather He commanded that they be removed from the temple. No whip was used here, only understanding of the need for a kinder approach. (They’re just little birds after all.)

He really wants to fellowship with you. He will do whatever it takes to remove things that should’ve never been there in the first place. He ‘discerns’ the issues, and is very gentle, not an ounce more than is necessary will be applied to your life. He is supremely wise and astonishingly kind.

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”

-Francis de Sales

   

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The Boy in the Temple, Entry #1

Art: William Holman Hunt, oil 1890

“And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49

His parents are somewhat frantic. Jesus is missing. He can’t be found in the pilgrimage crowd journeying back to Nazareth. The travel time from their home back to Jerusalem would have taken several days on foot, a trip of over 60 miles.

They find the youth in the Temple, and it’s there they questioned His decision to stay with the rabbis. Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary are somewhat astonished. Why did He call the Temple, “my Father’s house?” Why did the teachers of the Law find Him so compelling?

A lot of boys would’ve found a more exciting place ‘to hang out.’

What we learn I suppose is the primacy of the things of God. Jesus has a definite connection to the place God dwells, His presence and the rest God gives to each one who will only come. He is waiting for ‘ignited desire’ for each believer to come. Our hearts are now His home.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

(1 Cor. 6:19-20)

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