February 15 - Mark 1:1-28 - The Christ Ultimatums

They still have a drive-in movie theatre in Sacramento, and that's where I saw the Matt Damon action-thriller, "The Bourne Ultimatum." I gotta tell you, the action in that movie moved so fast sometimes, it made my head hurt. The gospel of Mark is not quite so frenetic, but it does move apace. In the first 28 verses we have the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus' baptism, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, John's imprisonment, Jesus initiating His preaching ministry, Jesus calling His first four disciples, Jesus initiating His teaching ministry, and an exorcism!

During this swift sequence of events, John defers to Jesus, God the Father endorses Jesus, the Holy Spirit guides Jesus, Satan is resisted by Jesus, angels minister to Jesus, disciples follow Jesus, and evil spirits obey Jesus. Hmmm, that last one is an interesting one. Evil spirits obey Jesus. He gives orders to demons and they comply. Wow. Demons obey Jesus and people don't. How bold are we? How bold and foolish.

I look at the passage again and notice that so far, Mark has only recorded commands from Jesus' lips. Christ came with authority and with imperatives:

"Repent and believe! The time is now and the Kingdom is here."

"Come follow Me! We've got more repentant believers to gather in."

"Be quiet, demon, and come out of him!"

Mark's gospel moves with urgency and doesn't mince words. And why shouldn't it? There is evil to be quashed; there are souls to be saved; there's a new community to be formed. The time is now and the Kingdom is here!

Those same dynamics exist today, too; always will. The Kingdom is here and the time is now. What are we doing to drive out the evils of our society? To heal its victims? What are we doing to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God to the people arounds us? What sort of disciple-making disciples are we? Have we learned to be fishers of men?

Life's events run swiftly by us. Everything seems to scream for priority and urgency. It is a kind of tyranny. But that's not the realm God calls us to. He calls us to His Kingdom. The domain of peace, love and joy. And the domain of obedience to the Savior and His imperatives.

The demons comply.
Will you?

Pray: Jesus, you are as Mark says, the Messiah and the Son of God. And what you bring to us is good news. Even if that good news comes in the form of imperatives, they are the divine imperatives that guide us toward everlasting life. Help us all to defer to you like John. Help us to follow you urgently like Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Help us to learn every lesson you have for us. And to live out those lessons in your Name.

February 14 - Matthew 28:1-20 - RISEN

There isn't nearly enough space here to discuss the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ. For those who would like to dig into about 400 pages of pros and cons regarding the Lord's emergence from the tomb, you could try the recently published Defending the Resurrection, edited by James Patrick Holding. Suffice it for me to say, my life has been transformed and continues to be impacted and blest by a lively Son of God, so instead of dis-believing until someone proves it to be true, I'm going to believe it until somebody proves it to be false. I'm open to receive all comments for and against the resurrection.

This leads me to a couple of observations for the last five verses of Matthew's gospel. From both the angel that rolled the tombstone away and the risen Christ Himself, the promise went out that the disciples would all see Jesus alive on the mountain in Galilee. So they travel to the designated place, and Jesus shows up, they go to their knees, their faces, in worship, and then the text records - "but some doubted." Wow! Really? They doubted? Doubted that it was Jesus? Who else would it be? It says they all worshipped Him, so apparently they recognized Him as their Jesus, their Master. They revered Him as God, because you don't just worship any old body. So, those who doubted -- what were they doubting?

Looking up the word in the Greek text, I found edistasan, which literally means to stand in two places at the same time. Like walking past someone at an airport halfway around the world and swearing it's an old buddy you haven't seen in thirty years. "Is it him? No it can't be. But it sure looks like him. What are the odds? No, he just favors him. But wouldn't it be something? He's looking knowingly at me. Should I approach? Nah, what if it isn't? But ... what if it IS?" At a crossroads and halting back and forth, that's the idea behind the word translated "doubting."

I don't think the disciples doubted it was Jesus back from the dead. The hesitancy wasn't about the 'who,' the hesitancy was about the 'how.' The cruelly tortured, drained and lifeless Jesus, wrapped and sealed -- how ... how? It is truly incomprehensible. But it is not unbelievable. I cannot comprehend how a plant turns toward the Sun to drink up its light. The plant has no brain, no nervous system, no musculature. How does a plant know that the Sun is a necessary element in photosynthesis? How does it translate the rays of the Sun into data sent to the stem cells to tell them to flex and relax to twist the leaves toward the light? I cannot comprehend that. But I certainly do believe it.

I cannot comprehend the Incarnation. I cannot comprehend the Trinity, nor the resurrection. But I believe in them. And that's why I believe that Jesus' authoritative command is for me. "Go make disciples of all peoples ..." Go live like a believing follower of Jesus Christ so that others may, though doubting, worship and follow Him also. And seeing as He's alive, not dead, He is with us all the way.

Let's go turn some people toward the Son!

February 13 - Matthew 27:32-66 - I'll Believe in Him on My Terms

Have you noticed that arguments are frequently won or lost at the very beginning of the exchange; at the framing of the question? If I get to establish the approach to the question, and continue to dictate the terms of the discussion, I will probably win the argument. That's why you'll often hear an interviewee on television answer a different question than the one that was asked. They prefer to frame the question and dictate the terms of the discussion. Hard sell sales people use the same approach.

When we observe the crucifixion of Christ as described by Matthew's gospel, we see a variety of people talking to Jesus. Some said, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." Others challenged, "Come down now from the cross and we will believe in you." And, "He's God's Son, so let God rescue him." Most of them thought that to authenticate His claim to Messiahship and deity, He should save Himself.

You see what they're doing? "We'll set the terms, and if you comply, then we'll believe in you." "We'll accept you as God if you'll defer to our terms." Now, does that even make sense? If God, by definition, is the Supreme Being, then He does not defer to anyone. If God is sovereign creator and sustainer of life, then life is lived on His terms not mine. This is the primary problem that people have with accepting Jesus as Lord. Lordship means Jesus gets to frame the question; Jesus gets to dictate the terms.

The fools at the foot of the cross didn't understand the purpose of the cross. Jesus was dying to save their souls. If they understood the question, they would never have asked Him to come down. Jesus didn't live His life on man's terms for man's shallow desires according to man's myopic view of the  world. Jesus lived and died and rose again to open our eyes to the expansive dimensions of life on God's terms.

Many have re-framed the life and teachings of Jesus to make Him more palatable. We just want a God we can manage. We want a God that doesn't challenge or threaten us. We want to fit neatly and comfortably into our God's parameters, so we shape Him rather than make changes in ourselves.

Jesus said, "I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father accept through Me."

You can challenge His terms. You can ask a different question.
Or you can bow down and worship Him.

Pray: Jesus, You are God and I am not. I defer to You. Help me to see that Your way is the best way. It is the way of discipline and of sacrifice, and some suffering. But it is the only way to anything abundant and joyful and eternal. Thank you for Your death, which opened the door to that blessed life for all who believe.

February 12 - Matthew 27:15-31 - Who's Yer Daddy?

My Dad enjoyed football. Played for the Clason Point Rams (google them and you get zip; does anybody know anything about the Clason Point Rams?) He followed the pros on TV. When we moved from the Bronx in December of '67, one of the first great memories to be made in our home in Centereach was Dad and I watching the famous "Ice Bowl" victory of the Green Bay Packers over the Dallas Cowboys. I enjoy football. Played for the McCarville Ford Mustangs, and still follow the pros on TV.

My Dad was an artist, too. And he loved vocabulary and plays on words. He was the PunMeister. I'm also an artist, and a wordsmith of sorts. I see the imprint of my father in who I am and what I do. In today's text, we are presented with some father-son pairings and we are presented with a key life decision.

One of the ways the Romans attempted to keep the fringes of the Empire intact was to allow a certain degree of autonomy to local jurisdictions. A bit of freedom to decide and act; a bit of appeasement on the part of the Romans to keep the locals from insurrection. The Roman governor, Pilate in this case, would release on a feast day a prisoner of the mob's choosing. So, two native sons were put up for the crowd to pick from - Barabbas and Jesus.

Jesus is the Son of the Heavenly Father. This 'sonship' is figurative and not literal language, as the New Testament testifies to Jesus being God Himself. (see Matthew 28:17,18; John 1:1-5,14; Colossians 1:15-20). So, Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son, embodies and reflects the character of God the Father. Barabbas, however, was a murderer and a rabble-rouser. His name translates literally, Bar (son), Abbas (father). He is also a "son of the father." Odd, seeing as all men are sons of their fathers. But perhaps the name is to be understood, "his father's son," as in 'a chip off the ol' block!' Like father, like son.

My skills and preferences reflect my Dad in me and his influence over me. God the Father is reflected perfectly in His one and only Son. And perhaps Barabbas' father was a violent and unruly man like he was. Fathers impact their sons. One generation influences the next. In presenting the choice of Jesus or Barabbas, I wonder if the Scripture is asking us to make a key life decision. That is, to decide ourselves to release the life of God into our lives, embracing Jesus and pursuing a holy imitation of our Holy Father, or to decide to release the rebellious and hurtful nature of our forefathers in our lives.

We have earthly fathers, some wonderful, some woeful. We stand in the stream of many generations, and as experience and history tell us, they are generations of broken and sinful people. To rise above the common stream and be the wonderful, not the woeful, of our generation, we must reach beyond our earthly forebears to the Father in Heaven. 'Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be THY name."

I love and honor my Dad, and am proud to be called the son of that father. But to have blessed him well, and continue to be a blessing to my own children and the world about, I cannot aspire to merely imitate my earthly father. I must be a true child of my Divine Parent.

Pray: God, I know that you have created me in Your own image. You sent Jesus to love and die for me that I might have Your adoption as a true son. Stir the Spirit of the Son of God in me, that I might reflect You and honor You in all things.

February 11 - Matthew 26:69-27:14 - So Many Useless Words

We email. We chat. We text. We tweet. We post. We blog. We feed. We surf. We kindle. We self-publish. We Wikipedi-ize. And does anybody know how many titles are available on Amazon.com? We have satellite talk radio 24-7 and digital television channels in the hundreds. Song lyrics, magazines, t-shirts, point-of-purchase and outdoor advertising all add to our inundation with words. But how many of them really matter? And what about speech? What about all the words I utter every day? What does all my talking accomplish? Is there something to be said for silence?

Now, Peter was a talker. He was a first-talker and a fast-talker. Ask a question and Peter is immediately responding. He is a passionate talker. "Everyone else may desert You, Lord, but I will never leave you. I'll die wiith You before I'll leave You." That's what he said. But less than twelve hours later he is saying something quite different -- "I don't know this Jesus." "Do you hear me? I have no acquaintance with the man." "Listen, g-- d--- it, I don't know Him!"

Fearful lies. Foolish talk. Useless words. The result - he weeps uncontrollably.

Judas was a talker. He was a sly-talker. A deal-striker. And double-tongued. (see John 12:4-6) One minute he wants to sell ointment for money for the poor, the next minute he's selling Jesus for his own gain. Pangs of conscience seize him, and now he wants nothing to do with the money. His words of remorse fall on deaf ears.

Deadly dialogue. Foolish talk. Useless words. The result - he hangs himself.

Enter Jesus. As the rabble keeps raging and the religionists keep accusing and the governor keeps probing, Jesus ...

stands ...

silent.

In the cacophony of useless words, Jesus stands silent with the testimony of a life of purity, prophecy and service. The wake of His words and work swell around Him who without a sound resounds with divinity, and leaves the whole world babbling without knowledge. If only everyone would just shut up. If only the politicians and the priests and the populous would just be quiet - stop texting, stop tweeting, stop posting, stop blogging











and listen with their souls to the eloquent silence of the presence of God.

"Be still, and know that I am God," the psalmist urges us to sing. (46:10)
Finally. Some useful words.

February 10 - Matthew 26:47-68 - Then All the Disciples Deserted Him

Today's passage is so full of sad and dramatic moments - the kiss of betrayal, the impulsive violence, the 'kangaroo' court, the mocking humiliation. But to me, the real jolt of sorrow comes at the end of verse 56.

"Then all the disciples deserted Him and fled."

Do you see where that statement is lodged in the text? Right after Jesus declares, not once but twice, that what is happening is according to and in fulfillment of Scripture. "What the prophets told us about is now coming to pass. Revelation is becoming reality right in front of you." And in the face of those affirmations of Divine orchestration -- the disciples desert the Lord. Christ brings a Word out of heaven and His followers run like hell.

What?

Isn't the unfolding of the plan of God something to stick around for? Wouldn't they want to be there as prophecy comes to fruition? Ah, but it's not happening the way they expected. What they understood about prophecy is proving to be somewhat off center. Where is the power and the justice and the triumph? Where is Messiah finally flexing the arm of God? Why does this look, smell and taste like we're losing? Why are we being admonished not to fight back? Our momentum isn't gathering, it's unraveling! I'm, I'm out of here.

It's easy to follow Jesus when what He says turns out the way we anticipate. When He says 'love God,' and we anticpate that that will look like singing sweet praise songs in a low-lit sanctuary, and it does and we do. It's easy to follow Jesus then. But when 'love God' means obey His command to you to quit your job and sell your house and move cross-country; that's when we rather lace up our running shoes. Like the soldier who enlisted to get an education and job training, and goes AWOL when the combat deployment orders show up - even though it's plainly part of the commitment, it's not really what he signed up for.

What sort of Jesus-followers are we? Fair weather followers? Low-risk followers? Comfort and convenience followers? Will I run when it gets confusing or hard or scary? And what will I forfeit?



The most expensive seats at performances of the "Blue Man Group" are right up front. Those are also the seats that will guarantee that you get paint (and any other stuff the Group is using) all over you. You won't just be 'at it,' you'll be 'in it.' When it comes to following Jesus, we need to be in it. We need to shell out for the front row. We need to know that if we stick close, we will see the unfolding of the Eternal story. We will be covered in the stuff of eternity. We must not forfeit that.

Pray: Faithful God, courageous and unshakable, make me into a true disciple. One who stays close even when the chaos comes. When my mind can't comprehend and my body wants to bolt and my emotions are rattled, let my trust in You remain. I want to sit in the midst of Your miracles.

February 9 - Matthew 26:14-46 - Here Comes My Betrayer

We are moving into the final days of Jesus' earthly ministry in our readings. But these are not the waning moments. This is the height of His ministry. This is the time of ultimate victory, and the time of His greatest challenges. Jesus will now triumph over betrayal, over abandonment, over fear, over man's ignorance and inhumanity. Jesus will overcome torture, pain and death. He will accomplish all that the Father sent Him out to accomplish. For the praise of His glory, and the salvation of our souls.

First comes the challenge of betrayal. What a wound betrayal inflicts! Are you familiar with it? It is not the attack of a faceless enemy. Not the ongoing salvos launched by those who have long been your nemeses. Betrayal is that blindside blow to the heart from someone you cared for, and thought cared for you. There was history there; significant moments shared, investments made, hopes established. But now the kiss of that friend is a dagger to your soul. How do you spend three years with someone, living together and experiencing together the deep truths of God, only to have them sell you out - treat you like a thing and not a person? Betrayal is confounding and cruel.

Judas' betrayal of Jesus is out of greed, out of carelessness and selfishness. Peter's denial is anticipated in today's text and it is also a kind of betrayal, but a betrayal out of fear. Then, Jesus' closest disciples show their weakness in the face of the challenge to pray in Gethsemane. The spirit is willing, but... These critical hours are proving too difficult for them.

What happens in the critical moments of OUR lives? When prayer, loyalty, and faith are needed most, does our flesh dominate our spirit? Does Jesus find us asleep, in denial, in betrayal? All thanks and praise to the Son of God and Savior of the world who did not fail to give His body to be broken and His blood to be shed. He triumphs for us over our weaknesses, fear, and rebellion. In the Lord's Supper which He instituted that night, we have the reminder of His sacrifice for our salvation. "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!"

Yes, when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, "Here comes my Savior."

When Jesus saw Judas Iscariot, He said, "Here comes My betrayer."

When you come walking down the street, what does Jesus say? "Here comes My ________ ..."

Pray: Help me, mighty God! I want to stand with You in the hour of my testing. I want to overcome my fear, my weakness and my callousness. I have pledged my love and my life to You. Help me never to betray that vow.