The Faith of the Centurion—Luke 17:2–10

And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

—Luke 17:2–10

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The Centurion Kneeling at the Feet of Christ, by Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809), via Wikimedia Commons

Many Christians are familiar with the account of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant. His faith impresses us, as he reached out to Jesus despite the cultural barriers of his time. Roman Catholics and others from liturgical backgrounds recognize his confession of unworthiness in verses 6 and 7—“I am not worthy for You to come under my roof … but just say the word, and my servant will be healed”—as the inspiration for the last prayer recited by the congregation before receiving communion.

 

Many overlook how the centurion’s claim of unworthiness contrasts with the elders’ claim that he was worthy. We can learn a lot about faith from the centurion in this context.

There were probably few centurions whom Jewish leaders would consider worthy of any blessing. Centurions were high-ranking officials in the occupying Roman army. Few Jews knew any centurions who loved the Jewish nation: These were the people who would force the Jews to submit to Roman domination. When Jesus was scourged and crucified, it was probably a centurion giving the orders.

This centurion, though, apparently developed some kind of admiration and respect for the Jewish people and their faith. He had even provided the funds to build a local synagogue. This was particularly rare, since in many towns the synagogue met in someone’s home, much like a modern-day house church. The elders concluded that this man, unlike most Romans, deserved to be blessed.

Jesus did not argue about that point. He had come to destroy the works of the devil and to seek and save the lost. He needed no further explanation: There was a sick servant; his master requested healing; so Jesus, driven by His divine love and mercy, responded to the request by heading toward the centurion’s home.

Meanwhile, the centurion was having second thoughts about his decision to invite this man of God into his home. The elders thought he was worthy: the centurion knew he was unworthy. He knew his sins, mistakes, and shortcomings. He knew how he had failed to live up to the standards of the one true God, Whom the Jews honored and Whose local house of worship he had bankrolled. More than that, judging from what the centurion said, he recognized that he was not inviting just any holy man into his home. Jesus was not just any faith healer.

The centurion recognized that Jesus had a kind of authority unlike anything else he had ever seen. Military people understand authority. They know their rank, and they know which officers have more authority than they, and which ones have less. The centurion was a man under authority. Higher ranking officials could give him orders at any time. Caesar could send a letter ordering him to return to Rome without delay. If he received orders from Caesar or any other superiors, the centurion knew his duty: He had to obey. His wants and desires did not matter.

Likewise, those under his authority understood their obligation. If the centurion gave an order, there was only one valid response: “Yes, sir!” They would not respond, “Are you certain? Have you considered another option? I have a better idea. Can you get somebody else to do this? I don’t feel like doing this.” The centurion was a man under authority, and he had men under his authority. Perhaps he considered all social relationships in terms of authority.

Somehow, he recognized that Jesus had a kind of authority unlike anything he had ever seen. The centurion could order soldiers and civilians around. However, Jesus had been ordering demons and diseases out of people. When the centurion spoke, people listened and obeyed. When Jesus spoke, demons listened, trembled, and obeyed.

The centurion’s authority was bound by space and time. Jesus’ authority was unbounded. He realized that Jesus did not need to enter his home to heal the servant. He did not need to touch or even see him. “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” The servant would not even need to hear Jesus speak. The centurion understood that Jesus’ word could be trusted. As the centurion’s word carried the authority of the Roman government, Jesus’ words bore the full authority of the Kingdom of God, the Creator of the universe.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need that faith! Let us resist the temptations to assume that Jesus’ power and authority are limited. He still heals. He still gives new life. He is not restricted by space or time. He is not limited by our failures, sins, or limitations. His love, mercy, and sovereignty are limitless. We can trust Him to speak life into our difficulties so that we may be healed and restored.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Valiant Warrior?—Judges 6:11–14

Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The Lord looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”

—Judges 6:11–14, NASB

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An ancient Israelite wine press, like the one Gideon used to thresh wheat [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The angel’s greeting to Gideon may be one of the most peculiar in all of Scripture. He finds a man who is hiding fearfully in a wine press and calls him a “valiant warrior.” Then, he tells Gideon to “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.” At the beginning of his story, Gideon does not seem like a valiant warrior, and he seems to lack strength. One could wonder if the angel came to the wrong wine press.

Gideon can be an encouragement to all of us. God called him to step out in faith with strength he did not know he had, to accomplish a mission for which he seemed ill-equipped. Most of the heroes of the Book of Judges are like us. They have flaws. Their human frailties rise to the surface along with their greatest accomplishments. Most of us can relate to that. We are painfully aware of our weaknesses even in our noblest moments. Many of us would like to be heroic like James Bond, but realize we are often more like Maxwell Smart. Gideon was kind of like that too.

Gideon had a few strengths that God could use. For one, he knew Israel’s heritage, and he knew about his God. He knew God had delivered his ancestors from slavery in Egypt, parted the Red Sea for them, and fed them miraculously for 40 years in the wilderness. But now, they were a defeated nation, oppressed by the Midianites. Regardless of Israel’s present situation, Gideon knew—at least intellectually—that God could deliver them. He just did not know why the Lord was not acting on their behalf.

Second, Gideon had initiative and creativity. As soon as he knew what needed to be accomplished, he would act and he was not afraid to think outside the box to get things done. We see this at the beginning of his story: The Midianites would frequently raid their fields and take all of Israel’s grain. Therefore, Gideon was beating out the wheat in a wine press. This was probably the last place the Midianites would expect to find grain! This knack for initiative and creativity would serve Gideon well as he mustered an army to conquer their enemies.

Gideon had his shortcomings as well. Although he knew God could deliver Israel, he initially looked at his present circumstances. At first, he assumed God had forsaken Israel. He also underestimated himself. He believed he was too low on the social ladder to play a pivotal role in Israel’s deliverance (Judges 6:15). Finally, he needed repeated affirmations that God was with him: miraculous consumption of an offering was not enough to fully persuade him (Judges 6:19–23); he also demanded two omens involving dew and a fleece to be certain of his calling (Judges 6:36–40).

However, eventually Gideon claimed his status as a “valiant warrior.” At first, only God saw him that way. Before long, Gideon accepted this as his identity: demolishing a pagan altar, mustering an army, defeating the Midianites and executing their leaders. When he accepted God’s perspective, he could lead his people with the strength God had given him.

What is your identity? If you are in Christ, God’s seed abides in you (1 John 3:9) and you are a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God can do great things through you. Fix your eyes on him, not your earthly status or present circumstances, and prepare to go forth in the power He gives you to advance His kingdom!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Ministry and Motives—John 12:1–8

Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

—John 12:1–8, NASB

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Image from clipartfest.com

Which is the most important ministry on this list? (a) Emotional worship; (b) hospitality ministry (serving food to guests); or (c) feeding the poor? My first choice would usually be (c). The church needs to share God’s love with the world. I would normally put (a) at the bottom of the list: Too many people seek only an emotional high from their religion.

However, as John 12:1–8 shows us, maybe the question is not so simple. Why do we do the things we do? Motives matter. Why we do things is usually more important than what we do. If our motives are consistent with the will of God and are pure, even if our efforts are headed in the wrong direction, we can be guided onto the correct path. If our motives are selfish and impure, even good efforts can fall astray.

In John 12:1–8, we see a contrast of motives. Mary and Martha were two devoted followers of Jesus. They were sisters with very different personalities. I have written previously about how they reflected the “two sides of discipleship.” Mary was a worshipper, one who preferred to spend time at Jesus’ feet, hearing His teaching and worshipping Him. Martha was a “doer,” always eager to serve (and perhaps a little too anxious about it). Luke 10:38–42 shares that story.

Luke’s story occurred earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Now, just a short time before Jesus’ crucifixion (perhaps little more than a day or two before He would enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday), He had dinner with Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. It must have been a big celebration, since Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the grave.

Martha celebrated as she knew best: Let’s have a party with lots of food! We will have a banquet to celebrate Lazarus’ return from the dead. I can imagine her returning to the table repeatedly, bringing more food for Jesus, Lazarus, and the rest of their guests (including the 12 apostles).

In the midst of the celebration, Mary brought something different. Martha probably hoped Mary would bring some roasted lamb or bread, but instead, she brought a pound of expensive perfume and started wiping it all over Jesus’ feet. We can only wonder why she chose to make such an extravagant spectacle. A pound of aromatic oil, worth one year’s wages for a common laborer, drenched Jesus’ feet.

Mary was motivated by gratitude. Jesus had raised her brother from the grave. More than that, she knew Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. The other Gospels point out that she had a reputation as a sinner (see, e.g., Matthew 26:6-13). Others would remind Mary about her past, but she knew that Jesus offered her a future where her previous sins did not matter.

Mary felt that only her best would be appropriate for Jesus. She was willing to make an extravagant sacrifice to show her love and gratitude to Him. What about us? Do we give Jesus our best? Are we willing to surrender our most treasured possessions for His glory? Are we willing to surrender our reputation or popularity for His sake?

If Mary was motivated by gratitude, Judas Iscariot had different motives. His logic sounded reasonable. After all, a year’s wages could feed a lot of hungry people. Why pour all of this oil on one guy’s feet when it could be used to gather food for countless widows, orphans, and handicapped persons?

Yet, Judas’ motives were in the wrong place. Judas was motivated by money. Perhaps the other disciples saw his financial expertise early in the ministry and persuaded Jesus to make him the treasurer of their group. Unfortunately, that was misplaced trust. Judas would pocket a few denarii at times for his own purposes. Even now, he was not really concerned about the poor. He wanted to make himself look good to Jesus, and was disappointed that he missed an opportunity to profit from one of his good-sounding ideas.

This would be a turning point in the lives of Judas Iscariot and Jesus. After Jesus corrected him, Judas decided to betray Jesus. (See Matthew 26:14.) After three years of friendship and discipleship, Judas would sell Jesus out. What about us? Do we try to promote our own agendas at Jesus’ expense? Will we put things, projects, or ideas ahead of Him? Even good ideas, project, ministries, and activities can become dangerous when we place them ahead of worshipping Jesus.

Not long thereafter (maybe about one week later), Jesus would meet with His disciples for a final meal together. As Mary had washed Jesus’ feet with her perfume and tears, and dried them with her hair, Jesus would wash the disciples’ feet with water and dry them with a towel that He wore around His waist. He would describe it as an illustration of how we serve one another, thereby tying Mary’s worship with every other ministry we can do in His name. Shortly thereafter, Judas would leave the meal in pursuit of 30 silver pieces. The man who verbalized a scheme to feed the poor would commit suicide, and his money would go to help the poor by providing a burial place for them.

Motives matter. For Judas Iscariot, wrong motives led him on the path to the grave.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Looking Beyond the Hilltop—John 14:1–7

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

John 14:1–7, NASB

For the last few weeks, this blog focused on Lenten themes. Whereas Lent is a time for reflection and repentance, Easter is a season of celebration. Having recognized our need for a Savior, we celebrate the fact that Jesus came to save us and overcame sin, Satan, and the power of death. After several hours at church on Easter Sunday morning, my wife and I visited the cemetery where my father and his parents are buried. It is not only an opportunity to connect with my past, but also to remind myself of the hope that we may be reunited someday. Easter reminds us that the grave is not the end of our existence, but a transition to an everlasting existence, either in heaven or hell.

We tend to lose sight of this in our prosperous American culture. Many view Christianity as a path to self-actualization or self-fulfillment. Even many who reject the prosperity gospel, positive confession movement, or positive thinking philosophy will quickly define their faith by how it makes them feel, or how it makes this life seem easier or more pleasant. This would probably have sounded odd to Jesus’ first disciples, many of whom suffered intense persecution. For the apostles, a “personal relationship with Jesus” led to persecution, prosecution, and (for most of them) execution.

We need to get back to reading Jesus’ promises and the rest of Scripture with an eye on the Bible’s historical context. John 14–17 is a popular and powerful passage of Scripture. These four chapters contain some of the great gems of Jesus’ teaching: His unity with His Father; the promise of the Holy Spirit; the parable that He is the vine and we are His branches; the new command to love one another; the promise that disciples can pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, and God will answer; the high priestly prayer; etc.

What many of us forget is that this extensive teaching took place in a very short time period. Jesus had just washed the disciples’ feet and eaten the Last Supper with them. Judas Iscariot was in the process of betraying Him to the high priests. Jesus had warned Peter that he would deny Him three times. And all the while, Jesus mentally counted down the minutes until Judas’ return, knowing the fate that awaited Him.

It was in this context that Jesus told His disciples to “believe also in Me.” Some time earlier (perhaps near the beginning of His ministry), Jesus had said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 14:20). Now, as He awaited death, Jesus promised His disciples a dwelling place. Peter had earlier said that he would follow Jesus even unto death; now, Jesus assured them that they would remain with Him in His Father’s house.

The point is this: Jesus’ promises are most completely fulfilled not in this world, but in heaven. Yes, we receive a foretaste of those blessings now, but our eyes need to grab the bigger picture.

When I was in seminary, I would minister once per month with a group from my church, conducting services at a nearby nursing home. We would sing hymns selected by the residents during the song service. Many of their selections focused on the afterlife and heaven. We sang songs like “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “Sweet Bye-and-Bye” almost every time. The songs reflected their longings and hopes. Every month, we would pray for the family of a resident who had been present the previous month, but had passed away since then. They knew they could not cling to this world. They realized that their best life is not now, but was just over the hilltop.

We tend to seek our best life now, but Jesus offers us a better life later. His promises are meant to empower us to serve Him today, but the greatest rewards come later. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). May all of us who call on the name of the Lord gain His perspective, rather than trying to force Him to yield to ours.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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The Christian’s True Identity

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:2–5, ESV, emphasis added).

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Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. He could assume the lowliest servant’s role, because He knew His true identity.

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a one-day retreat organized by one of the ministry teams at my church. Throughout the day, we reflected upon and discussed several questions about our identity as Christians. “How am I known in heaven? Who do I say I am? Who does God say I am?”

Such questions about identity guide our lives. A person with a distorted, diminished, or deficient understanding of who they are will act on that sense of self-identity. A person who views himself or herself as a “loser” or a victim will expect to fail. (Sadly, many people make the opposite mistake; with a delusional, inflated self-image, they may try to be something they are not and fail at that.)

As Christians observe Holy Week, we note that Jesus had a clear awareness of His identity, which was necessary for Him to complete His mission of redemption. John notes that, as Jesus prepared to eat the Last Supper with His disciples, He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God. He knew who He was. He knew He was operating from a place of victory: indeed, even a place of omnipotence.

He had lived His entire life with this keen awareness that He was the Son of God and that He had been sent from heaven. Luke 2:41–51 tells the story of Jesus, when He was 12 years old. After celebrating the Passover feast in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary started the journey home, only to realize later that Jesus was not with them. Finally, they found Him in the temple, discussing theology with the pre-eminent rabbis of their day. Mary reprimanded Him for causing them to worry. Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 12:49). Approximately 13 years after angels told Mary and Joseph that they would raise the Son of God, they seemed to forget. However, Jesus remembered Who He was, Who His Father is, and what His purpose would be.

Without knowing His true identity, Jesus probably would have been happy to open a carpentry shop and build stuff for the people of Nazareth until He was old and gray. However, He knew He was sent for something more significant. Because He knew Who He was, He could accept the most mundane, demeaning task of a household servant and wash the disciples’ feet. Knowing that He was the Son of God, for the joy set before Him, He could endure the cross, despise its shame, and obtain eternal life for all who would follow Him.

What about us? Do we truly know our true identity as Christians? Perhaps most Christians have a false spiritual self-image. After church today, a few men from our church’s drug and alcohol recovery program addressed the congregation during the post-worship coffee hour. At one point, one of the men said, “Well, I’m no saint, but….” A member of the congregation responded that none of us are. Scripture says they were both wrong.

The Bible says that we are saints. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul addresses his letter to “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” It is true that the Corinthians Christians were imperfect; much of the letter corrected them for their shortcomings. However, he still called them saints along with all those who call upon the name of Jesus. As Christians:

  • We are saints.
  • We are holy and blameless in God’s sight (see Ephesians 1:4).
  • We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17): In other words, we are Jesus’ little brothers and little sisters, loved by God the Father.
  • We are alive in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:4–5).

The list goes on, much longer than I can include in a single blog post. We once were sinners—that was our identity before we came to know Jesus—but that is no longer our true identity. Even though we struggle with sin,  it is no longer how God sees us. He does not define us by our sins, our failures, our defeats, our mistakes, or the mistakes of our parents. He defines us as His children, saints who are blameless because we are alive in Christ.

Let us each claim our true identity in Christ, believe it, and live by it. This is a major element of being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). It is e a lifelong journey. I expect to devote many hours of prayer, Bible study and reflection to learning more about my new identity in Christ. A one-day retreat is a great place to start, but habitually embracing one’s identity in Christ takes a lifetime.

As we observe Holy Week, I will remember that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). I have been crucified with Christ, so that I may live in the power of His resurrection (see Romans 6:6–11). This is the privilege and identity of all true saints who call upon the name of Jesus.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Why We Seek Jesus—John 6:26–27

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

John 6:26–27, ESV

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“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes,” by Lambert Lombard (1505/06–1566)

Only two miracles are mentioned in all four Gospels. Jesus’ is one of them. The other is the feeding of the multitude with five loaves and two fish. The fact that these two miracles share that distinction shows that they are both very significant. In John’s Gospel, the miraculous multiplication of a meal precedes Jesus’ in-depth teaching the following day about the bread of life.

Jesus had spent an entire day teaching the multitude. After a long day in the wilderness, the crowd was hungry, and Jesus did not want to send them home like that. Having only five loaves of bread and two fishes available, He multiplied the food to feed the entire crowd, leaving more leftovers than they began with. Then, He dismissed the crowd, sent the disciples off by boat to the other side of the lake, spent several hours in prayer, and walked on the water to catch up with His disciples.

The next day, the crowd searched for Jesus. They eventually found Him on the other side of the lake, and asked Him how got there. This led to Jesus’ response, which we see in the verses above.

They asked him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” They had seen the disciples leave in the boat without Him. How could He get to the other side of the lake so quickly without a boat? Jesus did not directly answer their question. He knew they were only mildly curious about that. He went straight to what they really wanted to know. Jesus knew why they were really there.

Throughout His ministry, many people sought Jesus because He performed miraculous signs. It must have been amazing when Jesus came to town. The sick would be healed. The lame would stand up and walk. People who had been blind for years would suddenly be able to see. Then, as now, people would be impressed with showmanship, drama, and extravagance. Sudden, dramatic, and unusual displays of indescribable power will always draw a curious audience.

Jesus performed signs and wonders to display God’s love, not to entertain. He often criticized those who came to Him seeking miraculous signs. On at least two occasions, He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:4; cf. Matthew 12:39).

At least the present did not seem as interested in the miracle itself. They may have noticed that He used such a small amount of food to feed them. They might have been impressed if Jesus told them how He crossed the lake overnight (by suspending the laws of physics so that He could walk across the lake during a violent storm). But apparently, they were more interested in the fact that Jesus actually fed them. Perhaps people thought, “He did not actually have to feed us. He only had one meal. Isn’t it wonderful that He cared enough to share a meal with us?”

Jesus thought this was a step in the right direction, but He urged them to move to the next level in their pursuit of Him. It was great that they were not seeking signs and wonders, and were grateful to Him for meeting their earthly needs. However, all of this merely points to His desire to meet their eternal spiritual needs.

Even today, many ministries settle for second best. Some “healing ministries” make dramatic healing the center of their mission. They are satisfied only if people are instantaneously healed of physical ailments or delivered from life-controlling addictions. It must be dramatic and exciting: something that will work on television. Some ministries do not want God to begin to gradually remove an illness, or to guide an addict to a recovery ministry. It has to be instantaneous, so that the crowd can be impressed with how God is working in the ministry.

Others emphasize that God meets our worldly needs. Some claim that Jesus died so that we can enjoy material prosperity. Some churches and ministries preach about how we can be free from depression, discouragement, and despair, or how Jesus can give us purpose and meaning in life. While all of these have some truth—Jesus will answer our prayers for bless our finances, or to give us joy and peace—there is something more that He wants us to seek.

“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” We want earthly blessings. Jesus offers us eternal blessings. We want daily bread to fill our bellies. Jesus offers us that, but He also offers us the bread of heaven to nourish our souls and the living water of His Holy Spirit to well up to eternal life.

Some seek miracles; others seek Jesus because He meets a worldly need. He rejoices when we seek Him because He offers life. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Honesty and Unity—Ephesians 4:25–27

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:25–27).

ephesians-4-26-27.jpgIn December, I posted an article entitled “Renewed Mind and New Self—Ephesians 4:17–24.” This article follows up on that post, in part because the verses cited above immediately follow those. Furthermore, having your mind renewed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God will not only empower you to live like the “new man” God says you are when you come to Christ: This leads to a transformation in your relationships with others.

Our relationships with other Christians should especially be affected. Jesus commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This should especially occur in our relationships with other Christians. Paul says each of us should “speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Whether we like it or not, we are united with other Christians, and this should affect how we live. Paul writes that we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

This spiritual unity should guide our entire Christian walk. We do not go to church: We are the church. We are members of the body of Christ and, as such, members of one another. If I attack or abuse my brother or sister in Christ, I attack or abuse Jesus and, in the process, I abuse myself.

Many evangelical Christians speak of having “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” However, while the relationship is personal, it is not individualistic. It is a familial relationship. My relationship with Christ unites me with other people who are part of the family of God, the same way other family relationships unite us with others.

This relationship with Christ demands us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as much as we love ourselves, because God is love. It also calls us to live honestly and truthfully with other Christians, because Jesus is the Truth.

This does not mean we must admit every sin and struggle to every other person in the church. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect, and some believers can be terribly critical or judgmental, and may be horrible gossips. However, we should be honest with ourselves, with God, and with others: Particularly, we should not deceive anybody, and we should find those mature brothers and sisters with whom we can be completely honest. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

james-5-16

In some churches, you may be able to go to a member of the clergy for sacramental confession. The priest or minister is required to hear your confession, remind you of Christ’s forgiveness, and never mention your sin again. They should model forgiveness, so that you may be empowered to live a holy life.

If your church does not have sacramental confession, find a mature believer whom you can trust: Someone who will listen to you without demeaning or judging you, who will remind you that you are forgiven, and who will guard your darkest secrets as if they are his own.

We should be honest about our emotions and our conflicts as well. “Be angry and do not sin” does not mean we should look for opportunities to get ticked off. Rather, it means we will get angry eventually. People will say or do things that hurt our feelings. However, that does not mean we should act out sinfully to resolve a situation. We should not bottle up our feelings. However, when we express our anger, we should do it in such a way that we work toward restoration of the relationship as quickly as we can. Do not give the devil an opportunity to inspired bitterness, grudges, hostility, or conflict within the church, the family, or the social circle. Speak up, speak honestly, speak the truth in love, and allow the God of truth to work in your life and heart.

Christian unity is not based on our feelings. It is a supernatural result of our unity with Christ. Because we are members of His body, we are united with other believers. Because of this, love and sincerity should characterize our relationships one with another.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Good Deed Must I Do?”

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Matthew 19:16–22, ESV

At first glance, the story of the rich young ruler seems to contradict the teaching of the New Testament about salvation. The writings of Paul and John make it very clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. However, when the rich young ruler asks Jesus how he can have eternal life, Jesus’ first answer is “Keep the commandments.”

I believe there is a lot more to it than that. The rich young ruler (Luke 18:18 calls him a “ruler,” i.e., a leader in a local synagogue) held certain assumptions about how one earns God’s favor. As a religious Jew, he probably believed that “Keep the commandments” was the way to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus repeated the young man’s expectations, allowed him to confess his dissatisfaction, and then showed him what he really lacked.

To obtain eternal life, he needed to move beyond his expectations, set aside the one thing that was holding him back most, and then follow Jesus.

As I shared in a recent post, the rich young ruler seems to be seeking one good deed—one quick fix—to obtain eternal life. He has been obeying the Ten Commandments all of his life. He had diligently followed the Torah and the traditions passed on by previous generations of rabbis. Yet, he knew something was missing.

Our society continues to seek quick fixes, and much American Christianity baptizes this cultural craving into our theology. Many treat salvation this way: Come to the altar, say a quick prayer, and go back to your seat. Now, your salvation is eternally secure.

Perhaps we are wisest to recognize that the sinner’s prayer is merely a milestone, not the entire solution to our spiritual problem. Milestones punctuate key turning points in our lives, but we usually remember that they are only transition points. The milestone leads to a new prolonged process of living. The newborn baby, who has just passed from the uterus to the outside world, has experienced a milestone, but life has only begun. Newlyweds who just completed a wedding ceremony have completed the milestone to begin married life; now, they must spend the rest of their lives building a happy marriage. The milestone was just the beginning.

The rich young ruler had not one, but two great tasks before him. First, Jesus told him to sell all he owned and give the money to the poor. He had followed the letter of the law long enough. However, he had not moved on to the spirit of the law: to love the Lord God, and to love his neighbors. He had great wealth. It was easy to say his prayers and worship God in the synagogue as long as he had an abundance of possessions. His wealth had become an idol, standing between him and God. Like the rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31), he would be accountable to God for holding onto his riches when God expected him to share with those less fortunate than him.

Having sold his possessions and giving them to the poor, the rich man would face a second step in obtaining eternal life: “Come, follow me.” Following Jesus is the crux of eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Eternal life is more than a “sinner’s prayer.” It is a new, abundant life that begins at a point in time during one’s life on earth (perhaps with the aforementioned prayer) and which continues to grow and develop throughout our life in the body. Physical death is not the beginning of eternal life: It is merely a milestone along the journey. To victoriously live the abundant life Jesus offers, there may be some baggage in our lives that may need to be set aside.

What baggage is holding you down in your walk with the Lord? Is it your possessions? Is it an unhealthy relationship? Is it a hobby or habit that may be at worst sinful or at best unproductive? As I continue Lent 2017, I take time to ask myself these questions to see where God is leading me next. I encourage you to do the same. “…[L]et us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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No Easy Way—James 1:2–4

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4, ESV).

Comedian Yakov Smirnoff would tell a story about the joy of finding instant products in stores when he came to America. One could buy products in powdered form and prepare them instantly by adding water at home. In one aisle he found powdered milk: just add water and you have milk. In another aisle, he found powdered orange juice; again, he could just add water to have orange juice. Then he came to another aisle and saw a package that really excited him. It said “baby powder.” What a country!

We live in a society that craves quick solutions to everything. We have not found a way to speed up the baby-making process by just adding water to a powder, but scientists are probably working on it. One or two generations ago, most housewives would spend hours preparing dinner every night, but that is no longer the case. Now, we eat food purchased at fast-food drive-through windows. If we eat at home, it is often heated quickly in a microwave, or it might be an “instant” meal that can be cooked quickly. We expect instant gratification everywhere: entertainment, health, relationships, etc.

2010/365/77 That Old Semi Instant Gratification

An early Polaroid instant camera, which was not as “instant” as today’s cameras. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

When I was growing up, one popular new technology was the instant camera: You no longer need to send a role of film to a developer or spend hours in a darkroom. Instead, the photograph would develop within one or two minutes. Now, with digital cameras and cell phones, we can enjoy our pictures mere seconds after taking them, and freely delete the blurry shots. Instant is not fast enough!

The same instant-gratification urge prevails in Christian circles. Many of us expect instant everything. Forgiveness and salvation may be immediate, but spiritual growth takes time. We want instant sanctification, or instant deliverance from sin, bad habits, and addictions, but this does not exist.

In recent weeks, I have come across the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17–27; Matthew 19:16–30) several times during my Bible reading. He wanted an instant fix to his spiritual dilemma. “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). The Greek could be more directly translated as “Teacher, what one good deed can I do to immediately have eternal life?” Jesus’ offered no quick fix. It would be a complete change of his life’s direction from that day forth. He could make an instantaneous decision to follow Jesus, but it would have to continue for the rest of his life.

The Bible offers no easy spiritual growth. James 1:2–4 tells us to count it all joy when we face trials. These trials will test our faith and produce steadfastness, making us mature and complete in Christ. Most Christians would prefer something instantaneous. Maybe we can go forward for prayer at church, and the pastor or evangelist can lay hands on us, and voila! We are now perfect and complete, lacking nothing, within five minutes. You do not even need to add water!

Others may realize this instant fix does not exist, but we still hope for an easy way. We think that if we just pray, read our Bibles, and go to church, we will become holy and spiritual. It is true that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), but Scripture speaks much more about how that faith is forged, purified, and strengthened in fiery kiln of trials and temptations:

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7).

There is really no way around it. If you want to grow spiritually, you will have to go through something that will test, stretch, and expand your faith, forcing you to trust God to work in your life. That may not be popular in our instant-gratification society, but it is how God works.

During Lent, I have been praying specifically for growth in three of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:23–24): gentleness, patience, and self-control. Patience is an area where I definitely need to grow, but praying for it leads to opportunities to exercise it. For example, I try to be a safe and careful driver, but as a typical New Yorker, my to and from work can drive me bonkers! I can become Boanerges on the highway, ready to call down fire from heaven upon those who tailgate me or cut me off, and calling people idiots as they drive like NASCAR racers to the next traffic jam. My drive time is a good opportunity to determine if there is any growth in my patience.

I have to admit that, while I pray for patience, the other drivers are not changing. They may not have gotten any worse, but they have not improved either. However, I am becoming more aware of temptation. As I pray for the fruit of the Spirit, God seems to allow the same temptations to come: but with the temptation He provides the way of escape, reminding me to pray again for gentleness, patience, and self-control. (Sometimes, He has to remind me to ask for immediate forgiveness.)

Count it pure joy when God allows trials and temptations to come your way. It is your opportunity to experience true growth in the fruit of the Spirit.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Feasting Daily on God’s Word

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV).

The Holy Bible

The Book of Common Prayer‘s Daily Office readings leading up to Ash Wednesday this year included the above passage from Deuteronomy. Reflection on passage can remind us that, as we fast during Lent, we should feast upon the God’s Word and His love. If we fast without feasting on the things God has for us, it is truly an empty ritual.

Let us take that term “feast” seriously. We are not supposed to merely look at or ponder food. We are supposed to eat it. It is supposed to become part of us. The same is true of God’s Word. We read it in such a way that we are ingesting it, receiving it in our hearts so that it becomes a core part of who we are.

Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6:4-5 as the first and most important commandment:

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

Every other commandment God gave, in the Old and New Testaments, is an outgrowth of these two commands. To show us how to develop and manifest that love, God gave instructions regarding His Words in Deuteronomy 6:6-9. God’s Word should come into our minds, go down into our hearts and fill our souls, so that it guides our might and strength to righteous action. God’s Word must move beyond our minds and into our hearts to accomplish God’s will.

How does this happen? First, we feast on God’s Word in fellowship with others. Moses instructed the Israelites to teach God’s Word to their children, and to discuss it wherever they went. Those who do not teach the faith to their children suggest, by their actions, that Jesus is not important, so that the next generation does not follow Him. We should keep God’s Word and presence central in our homes, providing a link that keeps our families connected. As we discuss it with other believers (through informal conversations, Bible study groups, etc.), we can benefit from their study, meditation, insight, and experience. Those who read the Bible on their own, without connection to other believers, are prone to begin worshipping a false Jesus of their own making, formed in their own image.

Second, we feast frequently. Moses said we “shall talk of {God’s words} when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Scripture is not restricted to just one day of the week, or to a quick “quiet time” in the morning. We receive God’s Word into our hearts every day, throughout the day.

About 25 years ago, I preached for the first time about a concept I called “three spiritual meals.” Most Americans eat three meals per day, and Jesus compared God’s Word to bread (Matthew 4:4); therefore, one can suggest it is wise to partake of God’s Word three times per day. Since then, I have been introduced to the Book of Common Prayer and its four Daily Offices of prayer [morning, noon, evening, and compline (night-time prayer, shortly before going to bed)]. This provides a structure for starting and ending my day with prayer, taking a brief intermission during noon to recharge spiritually, and ending my night with prayer. Whatever it takes to keep God’s Word on your mind throughout the day, do it.

Finally, we feast with focused reminders: “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Some Christians keep Scripture reminders present throughout the day: a Bible verse taped to the bathroom mirror; a cross over the door; plaques, posters, and other decorations with Scripture verses, pictures of Biblical stories or persons, or other reminders of the faith.

So, if we want to please God by loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we need to feast on His Word. Read and reflect on God’s Word with family and faith-filled friends. Ingest it into your heart and soul frequently, throughout the day, every day. Keep it present before you.

I would like to close with a final thought about end-time prophecy. Some Christians focus heavily on the second coming of Christ. They may fixate on the “mark of the beast” described in Revelation 13:16-17. This is some kind of “mark” on the right hand or forehead. Keep in mind that the book of Revelation alludes frequently to the Old Testament, and this is one of those cases. The mark of the beast is actually a demonic counterfeit of the Word of God, which is a mark of our covenant relationship with God; God’s Word should be like a sign on the hand or frontlets between the eyes (Deuteronomy 6:8). If we have God’s Word in our hearts and we are living in that full love for Christ, we will not be led astray by Satan, no matter how cunning his deceptions may be. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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