Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Lion of Judah

“and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”  (Revelation 5:5)

                I’ve never read the Chronicles of Narnia (I’m a disgraceful excuse for a preacher, I know).  But I know that in the Narnia stories, Jesus is represented by a lion named Aslan.  Which is a great representation for at least two reasons.  First, Revelation 5:5 (above) refers to Jesus as not only the son of David from the tribe of Judah, but as the lion of Judah, a picture of authority, strength, and even fear.  And second, I’m told that the citizens of Narnia have a consistent description of Aslan which I love: He is not a tame lion.  Notice this description of Aslan, from WikiNarnia:

As he appears in Narnia, Aslan is a large talking lion who is terrifying, magnificent, and beautiful all at once. Aslan appears different sizes to different people, such that he is always larger than everyone; as people grow, he grows with them. Aslan is very wise, and a powerful force for good, but as Narnians often say, “he’s not a tame lion.” He can be dangerous, and is an unconquerable enemy.

This description is very different from what you often hear people say about Jesus today.  In fact, I am constantly amused – and saddened – at our culture’s attempts to redefine who Jesus was.  If you listen in to religious conversations, media soundbites, and even many church pulpits, you might be tempted to think Jesus was just a meek man who walked around telling people to love each other and not judge each other.  Jesus loved people, so He would never tell anyone they are lost or wrong, so we are told.  He loved everyone, so He just went around helping people and didn’t really make a big deal about truth or correct doctrine, so we are told. 


Friday, January 18, 2013

Strange Choices
“In these days, he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.  And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom He also called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”
 – Luke 6:12-16.

Jesus could’ve chosen anybody, and yet He chose these guys.

That’s my gut reaction whenever I revisit the choosing of the twelve apostles.  If I were Jesus, I would’ve walked into the best rabbi school in Jerusalem (Gamaliel’s, perhaps, who Paul studied under?), and asked him for his 12 best students.  With the most talented Bible scholars available, who knew the law better than anyone else, and who likely could speak publicly better than anyone else, we’d change the world for sure.  Give me the best of the best.

But that’s not what Jesus did.  He took men who were far from the best scholars or speakers.  In fact, they had no ministry experience at all.  Their best qualifications were that at least some of them had been followers of John the Baptist (John chapter 1), and that they were…well…available to go.  They would follow Him, not just some of the time, but 24 hours a day.  And if they weren’t with Him, it would be because He sent them to preach somewhere (as nerve-racking as that must have been for men who had never preached before!).   Not exactly who we would’ve chosen.

If you were reading the gospels for the first time to this point, all you would know is that Jesus chose at least 4 fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James, and John), and a former tax collector (Matthew).  You might recognize that the other Simon is a “Zealot,” part of a political faction that was basically a first century version of political terrorists against Rome.  Not exactly a group that suggests ‘set-the-world-on-fire evangelists.’  Jesus, what are you doing?!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Winning Your Brother

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you,
you have won your brother.”  -Jesus, in Matthew 18:15

                I’ve always loved the wording of Jesus in this passage.  For one thing, Jesus says that we should go directly talk to the person who has sinned, one on one.  We keep the matter as private as possible, and only make it as public as it needs to be to bring repentance (as verses 16-17 show).  We sadly get that backwards oftentimes, telling it to everyone else first, and maybe after the gossip has spread, we’ll actually get around to discussing the matter with the person who sinned.  Jesus has a different command: go to him first, and talk about it.  So that’s the first challenging lesson here: we need more Christians who care enough to talk to those who have sin in their life. 

                But a second lesson is the one I want us to think about a little more.  When we go talk about the matter with our brother, I love the goal of the discussion given by Jesus: to win your brother. 

                Notice that the goal is not to win the argument.  Or to win a confession.  Or to win the perception that our goodness is better than theirs.  The goal is to win…your brother.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Why Did Sinners Love Jesus?

Why Did Sinners Love Jesus?

Although He had some powerful enemies, Jesus was extremely popular, with crowds gathering around Him everywhere He went (Mark 1:45, for example).  Luke 15:1 gives us an interesting insight to the way sinners reacted to Jesus:  “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”  So the crowds were not simply made up of righteous people who wanted to hear God’s word, though that was part of the crowd.  The crowd also included many whose lives qualified them as open “sinners” before God.  Which brings up the question: why did these “sinners” gather around Jesus to hear Him?  It seems like sinners would stay as far away from a preacher as possible!  Why did sinners love Jesus?

Well, first we should notice what it was NOT.  It was NOT because Jesus hid the hard truths from them.  Some Christians, in an apparent effort to make sinners will like them the way they liked Jesus, believe Christians should soft-pedal or even hide the truth from them, only treating sinners as friends without addressing what God considers right and wrong in their life.  That’s not how Jesus treated sinners.  If we are to follow the example of Jesus, we aren’t going to try to simply “friendship” people into God’s church, hoping they won’t notice what we believe about right and wrong until – presto! – they find themselves accidentally a part of God’s people, and then maybe we can convince them to stay when they hear the truth about Christian ethics.  That’s not what Jesus did.

So what did He do that appealed to sinners?  A brief look at how Jesus interacted with the sinful woman at the well in John 4 might be instructive.  First of all, He initiates a conversation, letting her know that He does not consider her to be beneath His company (v. 7-9), and she noticed that simple extending of a conversation as an unusual kindness.  Second, He discusses spiritual matters with her, the most important, personal topic that can be discussed, and discusses it in a way that inspires hope that she can have a great spiritual future (v. 10-15).  Third, He shows interest in her life (v. 16).  And fourth, He tells her the truth she needs to hear about changing her life and what God truly desires from His people (v. 17-26).

Perhaps you can notice other aspects of the conversation as well.  But what stands out to me is that Jesus begins a simple, personal conversation with a sinful woman who needed hope in her life, and by the end of the conversation she is running off to tell others about Jesus, even leaving her water pot behind in her joyful rush (v. 28-30)! 

The attitude of Jesus to this sinful woman stands out even more when compared to the way other religious leaders of His time looked at sinners.  The religious leaders were angered at Jesus when He simply extended the courtesy and friendship of eating with sinners (Mark 2:15-16), so they apparently believed they should keep a chasm-wide distance from anyone who resembled a sinner.  The religious leaders looked at sinners with a self-righteous arrogance and an almost-comical pride in their own goodness (Luke 18:9-12).  And they seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time telling sinners what they were doing wrong, in a way that did not even attempt to extend kindness or hope (John 8:1-5, John 9:22-34).  It’s not difficult to see why Jesus stood out. 

So perhaps the main reason sinners loved Jesus can be best summarized in a simple phrase: Jesus genuinely loved people, and they appreciated that.  Here was a man who was good, who taught hope-filled yet serious truths, who helped people, and who genuinely showed interest in their lives and even their faith.  He would spend time with them.  He would help them.  He would encourage them to change their lives for the better.  And they loved Him for it.  Even though many would not agree to change, it was difficult not to at least grant Jesus a hearing.  He had earned a voice in their life by genuinely caring about them. 

As God’s people, let’s make sure we always treat “outsiders” (Col. 4:5) with a spirit of Christ-like love.  If we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we won’t think we’re too good or too busy for sinners.  Neither will we hide the truth from them in a pandering attempt to make them like us.  Instead, we will show a genuine, love-motivated interest in their lives and even their faith.  We will show kindness to them.  We will encourage them to align their lives more closely with God’s truth.  If we genuinely care about people, they will know it.  And caring about people earns us a voice in their life. 

Why did sinners love Jesus?  Because He showed love to them first.  I pray that you and I will do the same.