The Greatest!

March Madness has arrived! As I write this, many in the United States are filling out the their NCAA basketball brackets. Games begin later this week to determine which of the 64 teams in the tournament is the GREATEST. Ours is a culture obsessed with being number one. We want to dominate our opponents, win the championship trophy and establish bragging rights. This is true in sports, business and even in churches. We want to be the greatest, and sadly, many are willing to achieve this status at all costs.

In our readings today, Isaiah and Jesus call us to a different way. God has an entirely different standard for greatness. How do you define greatness? Read on…

Read Isaiah 1:10, 16-20 – Greatness achieved by Caring for the Weakest

Isaiah begins today’s reading with a stinging indictment. He refers to Israel’s leaders and people as “Sodom and Gomorrah”. These two cities were destroyed for their rampant evil (Genesis 19:23-29). What is Israel’s egregious wrong doing? Not only were God’s chosen people relying on alliances with foreign powers rather than on God, they were ambivalent to the plight of the weakest and most vulnerable members of their society. Isaiah equates being washed clean with amending their attitudes and actions toward the underprivileged, like orphans and widows. A recommitment to God’s justice is required.

Isaiah calls them to set things straight. Though their sins are like a scarlet S emblazoned on their collective cloak, Isaiah informs them they can be washed white as snow. Their  stain of sin can become white as wool. If Israel will rely solely on Him, and learn to serve the needs of the least of the people, then God will restore them. If not, then God’s judgment will come.

Read Matthew 23:1-12 – Greatness means Being a Servant

Jesus wastes not time addressing the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. They are in the seat of Moses, an honored place of teaching and interpretation. Yet, what they taught the people differed from how they lived. They did not practice what they preached. Jesus warns the disciples to follow their teaching because of their office, but to avoid emulating these phonies. They love the place of honor. They long for the accolades and attention. They so enjoy wearing the garments of their privileged position. Then, rather than love and care for the people, they impose “burdens” on them – laying stringent requirements and extra-Biblical laws on the people that do not enhance or edify them, but weigh them down. Through the centuries, the religious elite had elevated their own importance by imposing 613 additional “laws.” They believed that they were great because of their titles and their power. Jesus summarily rejected this view of greatness.

Jesus said, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” One day, the mother of James and John came to Jesus and made a special request of the Lord. She wanted her sons to sit on Jesus’ right and left hand when He came into His Kingdom. This mother wanted her boys to have the places of honor and privilege. Jesus said in response, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus lays out a very different standard of greatness. The one who will great is the one who serves.

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus doesn’t expect of us what He isn’t willing to do. On the night Jesus was betrayed, He knelt down before His disciples and washed their feet. After he finished, Jesus said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:12-15).

As we continue to follow the Path of the Passion, we will see many holding up their trophies claiming greatness. With each step toward the cross, may we recognize that the greatest trophy of all time is not made of marble and gold. No, the greatest victory of all time was won on a rugged trophy made of wood!



Christ Have Mercy, Christians Have Mercy!

For centuries the church has cried out in her worship, “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.” These Greek words are a plea to the Father and the Son for mercy. All of us can relate to the need for mercy. For, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We can all relate to Isaiah. When he saw the Lord, high and lifted up, the great prophet was instantly convicted of his need to confess his sin. “Woe is me,” he declared. “I am unclean…” (Isaiah 6:5). God responded to Isaiah’s humble cry for mercy by cleansing him. What a beautiful example of God offering His gracious mercy. But, as we will see, God’s giving His mercy to us is only the beginning. Today’s devotion reveals not only our call to God for mercy. But, we also discover God’s call for us to show mercy to others. Read on…

Read Daniel 9:4b-10 – Calling out for Mercy

Daniel 9 features the prayer of Daniel for his people. God’s chosen people were defeated by foreign invaders in two waves. The Assyrians overtook the ten northern tribes, known as Israel, in 722 BC. In 586 BC, the Babylonians vanquished the two tribes in the South who made up Judah. Daniel, himself, was deported to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar sometime around the beginning of the sixth century. Israel, once mighty, was now dominated and dispersed. God’s righteous judgement had been meted out to His unfaithful people. In the wake of their sins, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple was laid waste. Oh, the depths to which they had fallen.

Out of the devastating darkness of their dispersion comes the prayer of Daniel. The prophet begins by praising God and reminding God of His merciful covenant to those who love Him and observe His commandments. This is reminiscent of Moses’ appeal to God to spare Israel after they had worshiped the golden calf (Exodus 32:13-14). Moses “reminds” God of the Covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God is ALWAYS faithful to keep His covenant promises. So, God relented from destroying Israel. Now, Daniel makes a similar appeal for God to remember His covenant and to have mercy on His covenant people.

Daniel proceeds to confess the sins of His people. They had sinned, been wicked and done evil. They had rebelled and departed from God’s laws. The people, the kings, the princes and the fathers had disregarded the prophets. Daniel proceeds to affirm that God has an open and shut case! The prophet then returns to his confession. The entire nation – Israel and Judah – are filled with shame for their sins. He repeats that the people, the kings, the princes and the fathers are ashamed. But, rather than lauding God’s air tight case against them, this time, Daniel cries out for God’s mercy. To conclude, he adds one more mea culpa barrage to his contrition. We have rebelled, ignored Your commands, and not lived by Your laws.

Daniel’s prayer for fallen Israel reveals the depraved state of all of mankind. All of us have sinned, been wicked and done evil. We have all rebelled against God. Every last one of us has departed from God’s laws. “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).  What we deserve is destruction. But, when we repent and turn to God, crying out, “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison,” then His gracious mercy is extended to us. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way in Ephesians 2:1-5, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among who we all lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.

God has extended His mercy to us when we called out to Him. What should we do when He calls out to us? Read on…

Read Luke 6:36-38 – Called to show Mercy

Those who have tasted of God’s mercy, who know His grace, and have been brought from death to life, are not and cannot be the same as they were. 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” That old rebellious way has been put to death. Galatians 2:20 reveals, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We do not deserve this new life. It is purely a gift of God’s grace and mercy.

What does the Lord expect from His new creations? Jesus teaches us that we are to be merciful to others as the Father is merciful. I am reminded of the parable of the servant who owed the King a great deal of money. The King called the servant in and  demanded repayment. When the borrower cried out for mercy, the King forgave his debt. The borrower went immediately to another servant who owed him a small amount. He demanded the money be paid back and when poor man could not, the he had the poor man thrown into prison. The King found out and said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you” (Matthew 18:32-33)? The man who cried out for mercy did not extend mercy – and he ended up right back in debt and in prison. If we have truly been transformed by God’s mercy, we will show mercy to others as He showed it to us.

Jesus then compels us to stop judging others and not to condemn. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” If Jesus didn’t come to condemn, what right do we have to stand in judgment of others? We are told, rather, to forgive others. I can’t help but think of Jesus on the cross. As He looked down from the tree, he saw below him the very men who had crucified Him, nailing his hands and feet to the wood. These are men He had created. Yet, they are taking the life of the One who had given them theirs. And, what does Jesus say of these killers? “Father forgive them.” If Jesus can forgive those men, what right have we to withhold forgiveness?

Jesus said to His disciples in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me so send I you.” Paul said, “We are ambassadors for Christ…He is making His appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). As we show mercy to others, we are continuing the ministry of Christ. As we give ourselves away in self-sacrificial love, our acts of service and ministry will result in eternal dividends and rewards! By giving these good gifts, “…gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.” Indeed, we will be blessed with every “spiritual blessing” in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3).

Oh, how we depend on God’s mercy being extended to us. We would be so lost without it. God has answered our call for mercy. As we walk the Pathway to the Passion, may we answer God’s call for us to show mercy to others.