A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Matthew 26:20-25 "God's Grace & Our Own Best Thinking"

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.  And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”
Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.  The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 
Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”
Jesus answered, “You have said so.”

It is surprising and perplexing to think that Jesus knew who was going to betray Him.  In fact, it safe to assume that Jesus knew when He chose Judas as a disciple that Judas would one day betray Him.  In fact, it is an even safer assumption that as God knit Judas together in his mother's womb, He was aware that this tiny child would grow up and betray Him.  And yet, knowing all of this, Jesus treated Judas with the same dignity and respect that He treated all the other disciples.  Jesus loved Judas just as much as the others.  Jesus gave Judas every chance possible.  But Judas, relying on his own best thinking, made a choice -a bad choice.

I believe Judas had a choice.  I don't believe that Judas was merely "pre-destined" to evil.  If God hardened Judas' heart, it was only hardening it and locking it into a position that Judas had already decided upon.  So, the question is, how did one of Jesus' chosen 12 come to this awful decision?

It seems unthinkable that Judas could have so misunderstood Jesus.  It is difficult to imagine that Judas was so completely clueless as to Jesus' identity and purpose.  So, it is possible, as some scholars believe that Judas was simply tired of waiting.  He may have betrayed Jesus simply to force His hand.  If so, Judas, no doubt, fully expected that Jesus would defend Himself at trial -that Jesus would use the opportunity to reveal once and for all His identity to the masses and would then raise His army and overthrow the Roman oppressors and re-establish Israel as God's chosen people among the nations.  But that didn't happen.  Judas was sadly mistaken -not about Jesus' identity, but about His purpose.

Jesus was, indeed, the long awaited Messiah, but He did not intend to overthrow Rome and establish an earthly, political kingdom.  His purpose was, instead, to establish a New Covenant (a new agreement between God and man) and in the process, bring God's Kingdom (spiritual kingdom) here to earth.

I think that Judas' sad mistake was natural.  He simply did not understand what Jesus had been saying.  He heard the words, but missed the meaning.  Judas entire relationship with Jesus was built upon some preconceived notions about what the Messiah was supposed to do.  In a sense, Judas already had a messianic theology.  He was not willing to set aside his own best thinking for the reality of the actual Messiah.

I wonder how often we do a similar thing?  How often do we come to God in prayer, or come to His Word with our preconceived notions of what it all means -with our pre-established systems of theology -and fail to hear what God is actually saying?  What would happen, I wonder, if we listened when we prayed expecting God to answer?  What would happen if we quit relying on our own best thinking?  What would happen if we set aside what we think we already know when we sit down to read the Bible, and let the Bible itself tell us what to think and believe instead using the party line of whatever theological camp we belong to determine how we interpret Scripture?  I'm guessing we would all be surprised.  Very surprised.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Knowing Jesus Vs. Knowing About Jesus" Matthew 26:14-16

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests  and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over. 

Some people have speculated that Judas (being a zealot who was looking for and longing for the revolution) simply got frustrated and was trying to force Jesus' hand.  Somewhere around a million people were in Jerusalem for passover that year.  Jesus was popular with the people.  If the crowds got stirred up, something was bound to happen.  So, the theory goes, Judas betrayed Jesus, not just for the money, but to force Jesus to defend Himself.  If Jesus was arrested, He would have to defend Himself and the mass of people would rush to Jesus' side and the revolution would be under way.

It is possible that Judas thought these things.  How sad.  Either way -whether Judas betrayed Jesus for money or for politics, how sad.  Sad because it is clear that although Judas knew all about Jesus, he did not know Jesus.   Judas was one of the twelve.  He traveled with Jesus, just like Peter and John and the rest.  He listened to Jesus teach.  He saw (and to some degree or another participated in) the miracles Jesus performed.  He ate with Jesus.  He heard the same parables.  He heard the same prayers.  He knew what Jesus liked to eat, what Jesus thought was funny, and what Jesus' favorite color was.  These are things you learn about someone you live with.  Judas knew all about Jesus.  Yet, somehow, knowing all about Jesus, Judas had missed the most important thing -the actual relationship with Jesus.  He knew all about Jesus, but, somehow did not actually know Jesus.

Unfortunately, I think that many of us who call ourselves by His name today have the same problem.  We know His words.  We know how Christians are supposed to think and act.  We know how Christians are supposed to vote.  We know all kinds of Christian things.  We know all about Jesus, but we don't know Him.  We don't have His heart.  And without His heart, we cannot effectively be His hands, feet or voice.

Even though Jesus came and lived among, us, and died for our sins and rose from the dead and conquered sin and death forever -even though Satan has been defeated and authority has been stripped from him -even though there is now nothing (because of Jesus) that keeps us from the Father's love -the Church is largely ineffective because we know all about Him without actually knowing Him.  And this is particularly sad because most Christians don't even know that we don't know Him.  We assume that if we go to a building on Sunday mornings and put some money in the offering and sing the songs and affirm the sermon that we know Jesus.  All the while, the lost remain lost; the brokenhearted remain brokenhearted; the sick remain sick; those in bondage remain in bondage.  Something is wrong.  We don't know Jesus.

Lord Jesus, help us.  Help all who claim Your name to hear Your voice and understand Your heart.  Help us to see others as You see them and to love others as You love them.  We are tired of knowing all about You.  Help us to know You.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Matthew 26:6-13 "The Importance Of Knowing Jesus"

     While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper,  a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
     When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.  “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
     Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.  When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

 Jesus had just been teaching that at the final judgment part of the criteria He will use in separating the sheep from the goats (those who actually know Him from those who do not), is based in how we have treated the poor and the hurting.  It makes sense, then, that the disciples would object to this waste of money.  The expensive perfume that was poured out on Jesus' head could have, in fact, been sold and the money used to help the poor.  The disciples were not mistaken in their assessment, except for one detail.

Even at this point when the disciples had walked with Jesus for 3 years and heard Jesus teach and knew more about Jesus than any other people possibly could have, they still did not understand who Jesus was.   And they would not (could not) fully know Jesus until after His death and resurrection.  I'm not blaming the disciple here, just pointing out the obvious.  They knew all about Jesus, but they did not know Jesus.  

The woman in this story intuitively understood something that the disciples at this time only understood in theory: Jesus was and is worthy of our worship. If they had really grasped who Jesus was, they would have known that the glory of who Jesus is and the majesty of why He was among us trumps everything.  If they really knew Jesus, they would have understood that even our treatment of the "least of these" (the poor and hurting and marginalized of society) must flow out of our love for Christ -we love because He loves us; we treat others with respect and dignity because He treats us with respect and dignity; we forgive because He forgives us.  

Lord Jesus, teach me to love You more.  Help me to know You more.  Let my love for You overflow into the lives of others who need to know You too.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Matthew 26:1-4 "Hearing What We Want To Hear"

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples,  “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest,  plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”

Jesus clearly understood the path before Him.  He knew what was about to happen.  He knew what the religious leaders were plotting.   He tells His disciples that He is about to be handed over to His enemies and that He will be crucified.  The disciples, somehow did not catch on. 

The book of Luke tells this story even more bluntly.  There Jesus lays it out in detail.  He says, "We are going to Jerusalem where I will be arrested and handed over to the Romans -I will be mocked and flogged and spit upon and treated shamefully and then killed, but on the third day I will rise from the dead."  Luke goes on to say that the disciples did not understand the significance of His words and failed to grasp what He was talking about. (Luke 18:31-34)

It is not that Jesus was being evasive or unclear.  Yet the disciples did not understand, and, apparently heard what they wanted to hear.  We have the ability to do that -to pick and choose what we hear.  

I regularly minister to people who are angry with God because some facet of life did not happen according to their expectations.  I have, no doubt, occasionally been guilty of this myself. This little story is a reminder that sometimes my expectations are simply a matter of me hearing what I want to hear instead of hearing what God is actually saying.  When Jesus says that we must pick up our crosses and follow Him, does that actually sound like a life of prosperity and ease?  How about when He says, "If they hated Me, they will hate you too?"  or that whoever clings to life will lose it, but whoever gives up his life for the Kingdom's sake will gain?

We hear clearly when Jesus tells us that He came to give us "abundant" life.  We don't hear as clearly when He tells us that we must die to ourselves or when He says, "If they hated Me, they will hate you too."

Of course, all of what Jesus told us is true.  In Him we have abundant life and joy and peace -and at the same time we will be hated and persecuted and misunderstood.  Both are possible -just as when Jesus said "I will be crucified, but on the third day I will rise again."  And not only are these seeming contradictions possible, they are connected.  Before Jesus could rise from the dead, He had to be killed.  Maybe before we have abundant life we have to surrender the lives we have.  Maybe before we experience the fulness of His love and joy and peace in the spiritual realm, we must experience the absence of those things in the physical.  Maybe the true Christian life is both difficult and good.

Lord, help me to lay down my expectations of what I think ought to be for the reality You have lovingly put before me.  Help me to hear You more clearly and follow You more closely.   In Your reality I find love and peace and joy in the middle of my brokenheartedness.