I Surrender All

After watching the dedication of his baby brother in church, little Timmy sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally the boy replied, “Did you hear that pastor? He said he wanted us boys brought up in a Christian home. The father said, “Yes, I heard him say that. Is there something wrong?” “Well, I was really hoping to stay with you guys!” 

Imagine having to decide between your family and the Lord. There are places in the world where choosing to follow Jesus means losing your family. My aunt Mary Lou and uncle Wayne served as missionaries in Japan for over 40 years. During that time, when a Japanese person was led to Christ, their Buddhist families would have a funeral for them. They were completely cut off from their families. It was as if they had died! 

When adherents to Islam become Christians, according to Dr. Ergun Caner, a former Muslim who is now a Baptist preacher, those who convert to Christianity are immediately disowned. If they are married, their spouse is expected to divorce them. They lose all rights to their children, and in some cases, a death sentence is placed on their heads. 

For many around the world there is a great personal cost for following Jesus. David Platt, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, has written about visits he has taken to churches in Asia. He speaks of Christians gathering in unbearably hot, dimly lit rooms. They had to arrive at different times, often by foot or bike so as not to arouse suspicion. You see, it is illegal for Christians to meet there. Platt writes, “If caught, the people here could lose their land, their jobs, their families and even their lives.” 

Platt tells of one pastor who shared about his church members being kidnapped. Many of them would never speak the Gospel again because their tongues had been cut out. One pastor said, “I need to know how to lead my church to follow Christ even when it costs them everything!” When Platt returned to his church in America, he saw a very different level of faith. There were no dimly lit rooms. Instead there was theatrical lighting and air conditioning. No one walked or biked to worship. Instead the parking lot held millions of dollars worth of cars. “Everyone was dressed impeccably,” he said, “as we settled into our comfy padded seats.” As David Platt surveyed the scene, he saw a stark contrast between the church here and in the places he had visited. Platt began to ask himself what is Jesus worth to us?

 As we look to the Scriptures for today’s devotion, we will consider what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus. As we respond to Jesus call to, “Follow me,” we must ask ourselves the question, “How much will it cost?”

Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9 – How Much Love is Enough?

In this passage we find an admonition to keep the statutes of God. These laws are to be passed on from God to Moses, from Moses to the people and from one generation to the next. If they will keep these commands, they will live long in the land God will give them. These words are echoed in Ephesians 6:1-3 concerning children honoring their parents, which will lead to longevity.

Within today’s reading we find the Shema, which means to, “listen,” or “hear” (Deuteronomy 6:3-4). This statement of belief stands as the core prayer of the Jewish people. For many children, this statement of God’s oneness is the first prayer they learn. “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God is One.” The passage goes on, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Clearly, God has expectations for His people. They will be obedient to His commands. And, they will love Him with their whole being.

Were the Children of Israel faithful to this teaching? Did they live long in the land? Only a few generations later, in 722 BC, the Assyrians defeated the ten northern tribes of Israel. In 586 BC, the Babylonians overran the southern tribes of Judah. They were removed from the land and dispersed into foreign nations. Clearly, their unfaithfulness to God was met with righteous judgment.

One day, Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment in the Law.  Jesus offers a two part answer.  He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:17-20). According to Jesus, God’s expectations for His children have not changed. We are to love Him with all that we are. And, we are to love others. If we are going to follow Jesus, there is a cost involved. What will it cost? Read on…

Read Luke 14:25-33 – We Must Hate to Love?

What is the cost of discipleship? Jesus said we must, Hate our Family.” Did we hear that correctly? Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be my disciple must hate his family, his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life!” Did Jesus really say that?How would that look on your church’s bumper sticker. Come to our church where we love Jesus and hate our families! Could the one who taught us how to love really say that we should hate our families in order to be His disciples? Here the word hate – miseo in the Greek means…well…to hate! But, why would Jesus say such a thing? We know that Jesus lived a sinless life, so He can’t be advocating the breaking of the 5th commandment, …to “honor your father and mother.” So, what does he mean?

There are two reasons Jesus would say this. First, Jesus uses the word “hate” to shake people up. He wants to get their undivided attention! This is a common teaching tool called hyperbole. It is Intentional exaggeration to make a point. This technique is very effective for its shock value. No doubt, Jesus got their attention. I pray that he has ours!

The second reason Jesus would have used the word hate, is that once he got their attention, once they thought deeply about what he has said, another meaning emerges. You see, “miseo”can also mean to “love someone less.” Allow me to give you an example of this. In Genesis 29 we read about Jacob being tricked into marrying Leah. You see, he really loved Rachel. Jacob committed to work seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. But on the wedding night, when Rachel was to be offered to him, Leah was brought to his tent instead. Verse 25 says, “And in the morning, behold, it was Leah!” Behold indeed!! What an understatement!!! It took seven more years of work, then Jacob also married Rachel. After Jacob and Leah had two children, Leah said in verse 33, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” Did Jacob really hate his wife, Leah? If we look back three verses we discover the answer. In verse 30 of Genesis 29 we read that Jacob’s, “…love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah.” In order for this passage to be consistent, the word “hated” in verse 33 really means that Leah by comparison was loved less than Rachel.

So, Jesus is not saying we are to despise our families in order to be His true followers. But rather, we must love Him first and foremost – even more than we love our families?

Read Matthew 10:37-38 – Oh…We Must Love Him More!

This parallel passage should clear up any misunderstanding. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Jesus is saying that to be Jesus’ disciple, we must love Jesus above all…more than our father or mother…our spouse or our children…or even ourselves! That is an amazing and demanding expectation! What kind of teacher would make such a requirement, that we should love Him more than our families? 

If Jesus was just a good teacher, this would be scandalous. But, Jesus is not just another rabbi. Jesus is teaching the same thing that God the Father said to Israel in the Old Testament. As we saw, Deuteronomy 6:5 says, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. What God is claiming in the Old Testament, Jesus is claiming in the New. He is to be loved above all other relationships. To any Jew, this would have been another shock! Jesus is saying that we should love him as we do God!! There is a simple reason for this – Jesus is God!!! 

The question I have for you  is this, “Do you love Jesus more than anyone else in your life?” Do you love Him more than your parents…more than your spouse…more than your children…More than yourself? What is the cost of being a disciple of Jesus? We must love Him supremely. Jesus goes on to say, if you want to be my disciple…you must take up your cross.This had to be another absolutely stunning statement! You want to be my disciple…Love me more than anyone – including yourself, Love me as God, and now He says – take up your cross. Remember, this is before Jesus’ crucifixion. Anyone listening to Jesus would have known about crosses. They meant Roman execution. Those who carry their cross were processing to their death. And what’s worse – according to Deuteronomy 21, “anyone hung on a tree is cursed!”

So, what does Jesus mean? If you want to follow me – it will cost you your life!! In a day when preachers are telling people that following Jesus is a matter of saying a few words in prayer, Jesus says, “take up a cross”. In a day when crosses are worn as fashion accessories, Jesus says, “carry your cross!” In a day when people want all the benefits of commitment without all the cost, Jesus says, “It will cost you your life!”

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran Pastor who lived in Germany during World War II. Because he opposed Adolf Hitler, he was executed by the Nazis in 1945. Bonhoeffer knew a little something about laying down his life and he had no tolerance for those who would make following Jesus little more than obtaining an insurance policy from hell. In his famous book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” Bonhoeffer wrote…

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness, without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. In contrast, He writes, Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'” 

It’s really quite simple. If you want to follow Jesus – you must die to yourself. For it is in dying that we are raised to new life – real life – in Christ.  

Mark 8:34-36 states it perfectly. And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Jesus gives us two examples of counting the Cost. First, He tells us to consider the builder of a tower. When our family lived in Saint Augustine, we had a house built – it was our dream house. We were told that nothing tests a marriage like that does. After it was finished it became clear why Renee’ liked this floor plan. It had separate closets in the master bedroom. We learned quickly that everything that went into the plan had an expense. We had to count the cost very carefully! Jesus is making it very clear – if we are going to follow him we must count the cost!

His second example is of a King going in to battle. The message is the same. Before the king commits his forces, he must count the cost. Verse 33 begins with, “so therefore”.  Whenever we see therefore, we must ask, “What is it there for?” Therefore links what Jesus has just said with what’s coming. Now, Jesus is going to reveal the point of his two examples. …and in so doing, He will reveal the cost of being His disciple. Verse 33 says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

What does Jesus require of you to be His disciple? Jim Elliott understood. He went to Ecuador back in the 1950s to minister to a violent tribe called the Aucas. His parents thought he should go into youth ministry in the States. But, Jim felt like the home folks were already “well fed.” His desire was to share the Gospel with those who had never heard it. On January 8, 1956, while on mission in Ecuador, ten Auca warriors ambushed Jim and his four companions. Jim’s slain body was found floating down the river. In his journal Jim wrote that, “Work dedicated to Jesus was more important than his life” Jim also said this: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

What is the true cost of being a disciple of Jesus? Far more than saying a few words in a prepared prayer, or signing a commitment card, or even walking down the aisle, the bottom line is this: Jesus requires nothing less than all of you! If you want to be my disciple, Jesus said, It will cost you EVERYTHING! 

We must love Jesus above all other relationships, and we must value Jesus more than our resources. He must be preeminent. As we journey toward Jerusalem on this Pathway to the Passion, may we learn to sing with all of our hearts, souls and might…All to Jesus, I surrender, all to him I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him. In His Presence daily live. I surrender all. I surrender all. All to Thee my blessed Savior. I surrender all.


A Son, A Sanctuary and a Seat

“Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Why is this significant? Jesus taught Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus all about Himself using the writings of Moses and the Prophets – that’s the Old Testament. In this passage, we see that what Augustine taught about studying the Bible was exactly right. The great church leader of the late fourth and early fifth centuries, said, “The New Testament is in the Old concealed and the Old Testament is in the New revealed.” As we look at our readings from 2 Samuel and then Luke 2, significant truths will leap from the page – if we will study the Old with an eye toward the New. Read on…

Read 2 Samuel 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16 – An “Heir” Raising Experience

King David was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). From shepherd boy, to slayer of a giant, to mighty warrior and King of Israel, David had been highly favored and blessed of God. But, David had also sinned grievously. By following his own desires, he had conceived a child out of wedlock by an adulterous affair with Bathsheba. He compounded his sin by effectively murdering her husband. When Uriah would not come home for a visit with his wife, providing cover for David’s sinful actions, the King had him sent to the front of the battle lines. This ensured Uriah’s death.

Later, when David desired to build God a permanent dwelling, the Temple, God declined his offer. However, God did make a covenant promise to David before He died. God assured the great King of Israel that He would raise up an heir for David. This son of David would be the one to build the temple, establish David’s Kingdom and inhabit his throne forever. David’s son Solomon, the wisest man in the world, was the one to partially fulfill God’s promise. But, there was another Davidic Son who would fulfill God’s promise to David perfectly. Who is it? Read on…

Read Luke 2:41-51 – Losing Your “Heir” (At least for a few days)

Jesus and his parents went to Jerusalem for Passover, as they did every year. Usually, pilgrims would travel in a family or community caravan. There was safety in numbers, and the children could be together to entertain themselves. This is most likely why Jesus was not missed for a day after Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem with their cadre of travelling companions. Jesus had remained in Jerusalem at the Temple. Once they realized He was not in their caravan, they decided to retrace their steps back to Jerusalem. After three days of searching for their boy, they finally found Jesus in the Temple. What was Jesus doing? He was sitting among the teachers, astounding them with His insightful questions and His deep understanding and wisdom.

You can imagine how they must have felt when they discovered Him at long last. They had to be feeling a mixture of relief, incredulity and irritation. Mary asks, “How could you have done this to us? Your father has been looking for you with great anxiety.” Jesus responds with words that stand among his most remembered and cherished. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus returned to His home and was obedient to His parents.

Anyone who has children understands the fear of losing your child, even if for a few minutes. Whether it is in a crowd or on a hike, to lose track of your little ones is traumatic. Mary and Joseph were perplexed. Why would Jesus do this? Well, there are some astounding truths that come from this passage. But let’s go back twelve years and begin to put this all together.

Twelve years earlier a virgin girl named Mary received a visit from the Angel Gabriel. Luke makes clear that she was betrothed to Joseph, of the house and lineage of David. “And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 

Joseph was betrothed to Mary. All was going well, until Mary became pregnant. Joseph, who was an honorable man, was thinking about putting her away privately. An angel of the Lord came to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (Matthew 1:20). The angel addressed Joseph as “son of David.” Truth be told, Joseph and Mary were both in the line of David. This means that Jesus was a son of David by lineage and by law, for Joseph was his step-father. To confirm this, Matthew 1:1 begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David…”

David was promised that He would have a Son in his royal line. Wasn’t that Solomon? Well, Solomon was the son of David, but David was promised that his son would make his kingdom “firm,” and that he would build a house for God – the Temple. What’s more, the Son of David would sit on David’s throne forever. But that is not what happened! In 586 BC, the Babylonians defeated Judah, destroyed Jerusalem and demolished the Temple. The last Davidic King, Zedekiah was deposed and his sons were killed in the Babylonian uprising. Was God being dishonest with David? Absolutely not!

The Son that David was promised would fulfill God’s promises eternally. The One to fulfill God’s covenant vows can’t possibly be Solomon. Listen to Gabriel’s description of Mary’s Son. He said she would bear a son and, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end’” (Luke 1:32-33). So, Jesus, the Son of David, would be the One. He will sit on David’s throne forever. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. He will make David’s kingdom firm. But, what about the Temple. Wasn’t the Son supposed to build the Dwelling of God?

In John 2:18-22 we find our answer. Jesus has just cleansed the Temple. The people want to know by what authority He has done this. So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. Jesus would indeed “build the Temple” for the Temple was His resurrected body. In 70 AD, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. The only Temple that remained was “The Body of Christ!” I can’t help but think of Revelation 21:22 when the New Heavens and the New Earth appear. John wrote, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”

What have we learned? God promised David a Son who would build a Sanctuary, and take His Seat forever. Jesus fulfills all of these promises perfectly. He may be considered the new Solomon. For, Solomon was the wisest man in the world. At 12 years old, Jesus was in the Temple teaching the teachers. What Solomon did imperfectly, Jesus does perfectly. He is the Son, the Sanctuary and He is the Lamb standing as if slain on Heaven’s throne. And He shall reign forever and ever.

What a journey we are on. As we make our way to Jerusalem, we begin to recognize that the Son of David must become a sacrifice. That the Sanctuary must be torn down to be rebuilt. And the royal Seat will include a crown of thorns and a blood stained robe. At first glance, this royal Son is not what we expected. But, He is exactly what we need!




Worship in Spirit and Truth

God seeks worshipers. That’s what Jesus says in our Gospel reading. Israel was called out of Egypt to worship. But, at Sinai, they proved unfaithful. The Samaritans, who worshiped on Mount Gerizim, incorporated foreign gods, along with Yahweh in their sacred assemblies. The Jews worshiped God in Jerusalem. But, even in the Holy City, worship of God was not pure. Many laws had been added to God’s commands and statutes. The leaders became legalistic and power hungry. When the Messiah came, they did not worship Him. Rather, they rejected Him. Would mankind ever truly worship God in a way pleasing to Him? An hour was coming and has indeed come! Read on…

Read Exodus 3:1-18 – Come and Worship

Exodus 3 contains the famous “burning bush” meeting of God and Moses. In this encounter, Moses receives a commissioning from God to return to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God is moving to fulfill His promise to Abraham – that His people will have a land. Genesis 17:8 reiterates God’s vow. “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

But God’s purpose for the Exodus was more than just a “get out of jail free” card. And it was more than setting up his covenant family in a prime location with a view. Exodus 3:18 reveals another intention behind the extraction of the children of Israel from Egypt. God instructs Moses and the elders to, “…go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’After 400 years of living as slaves in a foreign land, the people had adopted pagan practices and worshiped the false gods of Egypt. Hosea 11:1 states, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.” So, it should come as no surprise that the first matter at hand is leading the Israelites into the wilderness so that they might sacrifice to the Lord and return to the exclusive worship of God.

God desired for the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be His faithful worshipers. But, even after God extracted His people from their plight in Egypt by dramatic and unmistakable signs and miracles, within days, they returned to worshiping a golden calf – a god of the Egyptians. God’s anger burned against the people because of their unfaithfulness, but Moses reminded God of the covenant He had established with Abraham – to multiply his offspring and give them a land. Moses inquired what kind of testimony it would be to bring the Israelites into freedom merely to slay them in the wilderness. God relented, but a plague fell on His people because of their sin (Genesis 32). In this horrendous scene of false worship and unfaithfulness, a pattern was set in place for generations. God would deliver His people and they would be faithful for a time. But as they grew complacent, they turned to other gods and other ways. God would bring judgment. The people would repent and return to God. God would restore them. The people would become complacent. And so it goes. Would the people ever learn to follow the covenant perfectly? Frankly, no they wouldn’t. Not ever. NEVER.

Now, before we become too pious, we cannot keep the covenant perfectly either. We also have things which take the place of God. They go by different names than Baal, Dagon or Ashteroth. But they are worshiped nonetheless. We bow down to sports, technology, entertainment, leisure, prestige, beauty, food, fame, fortune and everything that goes with it. So, what is the answer for unfaithful humanity? We are unable to relate to God on our own merits. Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We turn back to Egypt and the old way of life every time. So, how will we be set free from our bondage to the repeated pattern of infidelity? We need someone who will accomplish this for us! Wouldn’t it be great to have Someone who could take our place and represent us before God? Someone who could lead us into a purity and holiness that we would never discover on our own!

Read John 4:19-26 – Come and Worship in Spirit and Truth

In Jesus’ amazing discussion with the Samaritan woman, after offering her “living water” and confronting her sinful lifestyle, they turn to a discussion of right worship. What a jarring transition! They were talking about her five husbands and she changes the subject to worship. There may be a very good reason for this. You see, the Canaanite word for “husbands” is “Baals.” This is the same word for the male gods of the Samaritans. 2 Kings 17:28-31 reveals to us that the Israelites dispersed to Samaria adopted the 5 male “Baals” or false gods of five foreign nations. Jesus was obviously talking to the Samaritan woman about her dysfunctional family life and her five husbands. But, could there also be a deeper meaning. Let’s substitute “god” for “husband” since the word “Baal” can be translated either way. Could Jesus have also communicated to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no god;  for you have had five gods, and the one you are with now (Jesus was with her at that time) is not your God. What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18).  This reading makes for a much smoother transition to a discussion of right worship!

John 4:21-24 contains their dialogue. “Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

This passage reveals several fascinating truths. Foremost, God is still interested in having faithful worshipers. In fact, God “seeks” worshipers. But the worshipers God desires must worship “in spirit” and “in truth”. Through the annals of history, mankind has proven that we lack the capacity to worship as God desires. So, God gives us exactly what we need. He sends Himself to us through the Incarnation of His only begotten Son. Jesus comes as our representative head and to restore us to right standing before His Father. Our only hope to worship as God desires is to approach Him through Christ in the power of the Spirit. This means that we need an Exodus from sin and into the Savior. It requires dying to the old way of bondage to sin, and being raised from death to life. But how is this New Exodus accomplished? It is accomplished by being united to Christ.

Paul writes in Romans 6:6-11, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Our Exodus from sin and death is exclusively established in unity with Christ. In verse 5 of Romans 6 Paul says, For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

If we are to worship God as He desires, that is,  in “Spirit and Truth”, then we must crucify our old selves and the old ways, and be raised up to new life in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the Way, THE TRUTH, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). In Christ, we are in the Truth! And those who are in Christ also have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17). Herein is the requirement met and the blessing given so that we may worship in the Spirit and in the Truth!

The Israelites could be taken out of Egypt, but could Egypt be taken out of the Israelites? The answer was, “No!” What about us? For us to break free from the old ways, we must be buried with Christ, and raised with Christ to walk in newness of life. If we are truly to worship God as He desires, it must be “in Christ” – for Jesus is the only One who gets it right! As we walk this pathway to the Passion, may each step become a further immersion into the story of Jesus.




Living Water From the Rock

Today’s readings are intricately linked! Exodus 17 is the story of water coming from the Rock to quench the thirst of the Israelites. Our Gospel reading from John 4 is a compelling one about “Living Water”. If we will look deeply, we’ll discover that more is going on here than meets the eye. Foreign men, and women at wells meant something very special to the Jewish folk of Jesus’ day. Let’s discover how all of this is connected. Read on…

Read Exodus 17:3-7 – Water from the Rock

As the Israelites begin their Exodus journey from Egypt, they are confronted with a problem. They are thirsty. Sadly, they seem to doubt God. Why had Moses brought them out in the desert to die. How sad that they had so quickly forgotten God’s provision for them. Moses cries out to God. They are about to stone the one God sent to deliver them. In His gracious forbearance, God directs Moses to strike a rock with his staff. Water flowed from the Rock, quenching the thirst of the people. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul tells us that that Rock that provided spiritual drink for the Israelites was none other than Jesus! As we will see, Jesus is the source of living water – that springs up to eternal life.

Read John 4:5-42 – Living Water from the Rock

In our reading from John 4, we find Jesus involved in a bit of a scandal. Jesus is travelling through Samaria. On his way, he has an encounter that would have caused quite a stir. What we just read was worthy of being on the front page of the Hebrew National Inquirer. It was not that Jesus talked to a woman. He talked to many women on His journeys, without accusations. But, this meeting was different. You see, a Jewish man, meeting a Samaritan woman equals a scandal! Every year when the University of Kentucky plays the University of Louisville, (or pick your favorite rivalry) the media has to pan the crowd to find that special couple. You know – He is in a UK shirt – She is in Cardinal Red. For that one day, they may sit together, but it’s obvious, there is no unity!! That is a tiny glimpse into the division and hatred between Jews and Samaritans!

Why all of the animosity? In 722 BC, the Assyrians defeated the northern Kingdom of Israel. The ten northern tribes of Israel were dispersed into Assyrian territory. They began to intermarry with people from five other nationalities. They also adopted their ways and worshiped their gods. So, despite the fact that Samaritans were half-brothers and sisters to the Jews, their half breed status and their compromise with foreign religions made them totally unacceptable! What’s more, they denied that Jerusalem and the Temple were the rightful place to worship God and make sacrifice to Him. Instead, they set up a place to worship Yahweh on Mount Gerizim. They had their own priests. They had their own version of the Bible, and they had their own temple. in fact, Archaeologists have recently uncovered remains of a temple there. It’s interesting to note, however, that they were looking for the Messiah.

In verse 5 of John 4, Jesus, a Jew, meets a Samaritan woman. She has come to Jacob’s well to draw water. This was a difficult daily task, reserved very often for the women of that day. She comes at noon – the hottest part of the day! As she approaches, what does Jesus do? Most Jewish men would walk away. But, Jesus not only stays put, He requests of her a drink of water! This is a complete and utter scandal!! No Jewish man would do this, unless He is Jesus. You see, this is no “chance” meeting. This is nothing less than a divine appointment.

In verse 27, the disciples had gone away to buy food. When they arrive back at the well, their response to the “scandal” is very instructive. 27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”

How do the disciples respond to Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman? They marveled!! About what did they marvel? Verse 27 says, “That Jesus was talking with a woman!” Notice that they did not say, “A Samaritan woman!” What else is going on here?  Well, to those Jewish men, to see a man and a woman at a well meant a wedding might be coming! A man, plus a woman at a well meant a wedding! Any Jewish person seeing Jesus, and the woman, at the well would have remembered several key Biblical accounts in which a man meets a woman at a well and the result is a betrothal.  

In Genesis 24, Abraham’s servant meets Isaac’s future wife Rebecca at a well.

In Genesis 29, Jacob meets his future wife, Rachel at a well.

In Exodus 4, Moses meets his future wife, Zipporah at a well. 

In those days, they didn’t go to karaoke night at the oasis to find eligible women. They didn’t log on to Bibleheroesonly.com. Isaac, Jacob and Moses all found their wives at a well! And notice that in each instance the men were in a foreign land when their wives were discovered. Is it possible that Jesus meeting this woman at the well of Jacob is also the scene of a “betrothal”? Let’s remember some critical factors: God considered Himself the husband to Israel. Jesus, came to claim His bride – we speak of it often.

But, who will this bride be? In Ephesians 5, Husbands loving their wives is compared to Jesus loving the Church, and giving up his life for her. In verses 30-31 we read that the church is one with Jesus. Clear marital language. Then, this marital union is spelled out in Ephesians 2:12-14: …remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…

 The bride of Christ will be made up of Jews and Gentiles. United to Christ, those who were far off, the Gentiles, are brought near by the blood of Jesus. Jesus, the groom, has made both Jew and Gentile one. He has broken down the bitter divide that separates. Consider the Samaritan Woman. She is both Israelite and Gentile. Could it be that Jesus has come seeking His bride, and this Samaritan woman is the perfect representative of who His bride will be?

 Let’s see what else we can learn. In verse 10 of John 4, she has just asked Jesus why a Jew would request a drink from a Samaritan! Jesus says some fascinating things here. First, he refers to the gift of God. In that day, and ours, no groom would be taken seriously with giving the bride a gift. In our day, it is a usually a ring. For instance, Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, received a gold ring and two bracelets. Jesus says, God will give her a gift!  

Jesus speaks to her of a gift. Then he offers her “living water.” What is living water? There were several understandings of this. First it could be water from a spring – as opposed to a pond. It would be running water rather than stagnant. This is clearly what she thought Jesus meant. But, Jesus adds, this living water will lead to eternal life! The Song of Solomon and Hebrew tradition reveal another meaning of “living water”. Brides were to bathe on their wedding day in “living water.” This bath was to ensure that the bride was ceremonially pure and prepared for her groom. I am reminded of Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” 

Could Jesus’ proposal of living water be the offer of a bridal bath? As his bride, Jesus was offering her a gift. He knew that she needed to be cleansed from her impurity. Starting in verse 16, Jesus confronts her about her lifestyle. How would you feel if a stranger started recounting your sins? Jesus knew all about her. She had been married five times. And the one she was with now was not her husband. As we are beginning to understand, this woman, part Israelite, part Gentile, represents the bride of Christ. She also represents us because of her unfaithfulness and her sin. Like her, all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. What we need is to be washed in the blood of the lamb. We need to be purified in living water – just as she did. But, when does that living water flow over us – and make us pure? 

John 7:37-38 helps us understand: On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

 For those who believe in Jesus, out of His heart will flow rivers of living water! When Jesus was on the cross, below him was a bowl of wine. Just before He died, his words were eerily similar to those He spoke to the Samaritan woman. He said, “I Thirst.” After he drank some of the wine, He said, “it is finished…”.  Jesus bowed His head and gave up His Spirit. A Roman soldier proceeded to pierce Jesus side with a spear. From his side flowed blood and water – living water, springing up to eternal life! What we have is a pierced side which is a cleansing flow!

Just as Jesus said, “Out of [my] heart will flow rivers of living water!”  What the Samaritan woman needed, what we need – all of us who would be the bride of Christ – is the precious blood of Jesus, and the living water that flowed from His bleeding side.

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Oh precious is the flow that makes me white as snow.

No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

I don’t know about you, but, when Jesus says, do you want the living water. The only answer to give is, “I Do.”

The rest of this glorious passage reveals the ministry of the Church – the bride of Christ. We are to worship in Spirit and Truth. And we are to go and share our faith. The Samaritan woman left her water pot (no need for that now that she had living water), and went immediately to share the good news. She was acting so much like a young fiance’, wanting everyone to know about her “gift” – living water from the Rock.

Come Home!

God, the Father, has been dealing with rebellious children since the Garden of Eden. Adam, the first created son (Luke 3:38), chose to disobey his Father. Once the Father instituted a covenant with Israel, His “first born son” (Exodus 4:22), a pattern of rebellion and unfaithfulness appears. The Father had every reason and right to give up on His son. Instead, time and time again, the Father extends His mercy and grace. God desires for His children to “come home.” It was true in the beginning and remains true to this very day. Read on…

Read Psalm 103: 1-4, 9-12 – Amazing Grace

Our Psalm reading underscores God’s kindness and mercy. Given that “all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6), the Lord could wash his hands of us. Rather than lock us up and throw the key away, He offers us pardon from our iniquities. Rather than letting us waste away in the disease of our sin, He offers us healing. Rather than letting us destroy ourselves with the growing debt of our sin, the Lord redeems us – meaning He pays our debt for us. God doesn’t give us what we have earned, rather, he crowns us with kindness and compassion.

God has myriad reasons to rail against us. Yet, he doesn’t constantly ride us. He has abundant reasons to be angry with us. Though we have broken His covenant and proved ourselves most unfaithful, God does not retain His wrath forever. His response to us is not in keeping with our depravity, nor does he repay us based on our sins against Him.

If we will return to Him, His kindness and grace to us will exceed the distance from the earth to the highest heavens. If we will repent, God will remove our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west. The Lord is kind and merciful to us. This is the opposite of what we deserve. Read on…

Read Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 – Coming Home

Jesus, as He is wont to do, is spending time with the social outcasts. Jesus is speaking with the tax collectors and sinners who have all gathered close to hear. Despite Jesus’ noble mission to, “seek and save the lost” (John 3:17), the Pharisees and scribes don’t see His cause. They choose to criticize and condemn. “How can Jesus welcome these dregs of society? He even eats with them!” Their pious arrogance is on full display. These religious elitists represent Israel, a most unfaithful son. Surveying the scene, it is not Jesus, the only begotten Son of God who has strayed from the Father. It is the religious leaders in all their self-righteous judgment who demonstrate their outright rebellion.

In response to the “holy” men, Jesus offers a parable. In Jesus story, a man had two sons. The younger son does the unthinkable. He asks to receive his inheritance now, while his father is very much alive! How must the father have felt? And yet, his son wants to receive “what’s coming to him.” It’s as if the father is already dead and gone. Without hesitation the father fulfills the request. Perhaps his way of dealing with rebellion children, was similar to what Harry Truman believed. The late president said, “I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”

Even worse than the rebellious act of asking for his inheritance, tragically we see a relationship surrendered. In verse 13 we read, “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country…”  To go “into a far country” is covenant language. It means to depart the protection of the covenant land and it means to venture into the place of the pagans. The son was cutting himself off from his father. In effect, he wanted all the blessings of the father without having to bother with the relationship. Pastor Simon Perry noted, Many who claim to be Christians want to have the blessings of obedience without walking the pathway of obedience. As we consider this rebellious son, recognize that there are many like him, maybe even some of us. We want the benefits from the heavenly father without the relationship. We want the promises of the Bible, without the discipline to read it. We want the best of the faith, without the commitment of believe it or live it. We want the assurance of heaven, without the call to holiness. We want the blessings of Calvary, without having to carry a cross. we want to be wise and discerning, without the practice of prayer. We want the sense of belonging and purpose, without making church a priority. We want the pot luck and the perks, without preparing and bringing anything ourselves. We desire the benefits of religion, without giving ourselves to the relationship. How heart breaking for the father. The younger son collected the father’s riches and he left home to seek his own way. Can this also be said of us?

What the younger son failed to realize was that this path would lead to profound poverty. All too soon, the son would find his father’s riches squandered. Soon after leaving the father, the son’s life begins to go downhill. Jesus tells us that in that far country he wasted his inheritance recklessly. His older brother would later accuse him of squandering his resources on prostitutes. Don’t you know that once the money was gone, the party was over! His newfound friends disappeared like dust in the wind. How far he has fallen. From the covenant embrace of his loving Father into the alluring arms of prostitutes and pariahs. His was a life of desperation and depravity. And then, to make matters worse, famine grips the land! Just how low could he go?

His next step leads to righteousness sacrificed. In his desperate need for food, the younger son takes a meager job feeding pigs. Oh, the depths to which he has fallen! There is a reason there were no Jewish pig farmers. The law included a strong prohibition against eating pork. Pigs were unclean animals. After living “high on the hog” now he is feeding the pigs!! In fact, he was willing to sacrifice any pretense to righteousness if he could eat some of the pigs food! He was self-exiled…outside the covenant…in a pagan land – but he was actually beneath the pagans. He was longing to eat the supper of the swine, but no one would even give him the pods of the pigs. He is desperately destitute. The lost son has hit rock bottom, stripped of all pride.

It is from this utter humiliation we see hope of the return of the son. Verse 17 says, “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!'” What an amazing statement of self awareness. “He came to himself”. He had a sudden return of his senses. In that instant, the truth became clear. It was a moment of metanoia – a transformation in his thinking! His life, done his way had led to complete disaster. The same is true for us! The lost son remembered his father’s love. Even the servants in my father’s house have it better than this!! Those hired by the father have plenty of bread while I am starving for the slop of the swine. The lost son then took the first step away from rebellion and toward restoration.

What happens next is critical, as the Psalmist pointed out in our first reading. The son repented of his sinfulness. Verse 18, say, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’”  Peter preached at Pentecost, “Repent…for the forgiveness of sins!!” Repentance is absolutely necessary if restoration is to occur. For repentance requires a change of direction. And that’s exactly happens with the lost son. “I will arise and go to my father!” In his book, I Surrender, Patrick Morley claims that many folks who attend church today believe incorrectly, “that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior.” He goes on to say, “It is revival without reformation, without repentance.”  So, the prodigal son heard the still small voice of the Father within,  “Softly and tenderly…come home, come home.”

And, while he would have been content to become a servant he was about to receive full restoration to sonship. While his son was in the far country, the Father was looking for his lost son. While the son was heading home, but still “far off,” two things happened. The father was looking for his son. No doubt, he was longing for his son to come home. When the father saw the boy coming, dispensing with propriety and protocol, he ran to welcome his lost son! There on that dusty road the son’s prepared mea culpa had to wait. As the arms of the father engulfed his son, his kisses revealed his heart of mercy and love. After the son cried out for mercy the father rejoiced. His son would NOT be a servant. He would be fully restored to sonship. This required the best robe and a ring and shoes.

Jesus’ parable should speak to all of us. It reveals the love of the heavenly father. For we were all created to be sons of God. But, by our rebellion and sin, we were cut off in the far country of own depravity and desire. God had blessed us with every blessing, but we squandered it in riotous living. He even gave us His only begotten Son, and we crucified Him. I wonder if we have come to your senses. Have we repented of our sins. Have we heard the still small voice? Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. Come home, come home, all who are weary, come home! If we will repent and return to the God, the Father, He will wrap us in His divine embrace! He will restore to us what was lost because of our sin. We, too, can receive a robe and a ring. And like the lost son, we can have a seat of honor at a feast prepared for us! We can be what we were meant to be – sons of God!

As we walk the Pathway to the Passion, may we repent of our rebellion. God is gracious. He is longing for us to come home!












Well Water and Wine

In our readings for today, we find an excellent pairing of related stories. Both speak of betrayal – the first by brothers, the second by tenants. In each narrative we find the beloved son of the father being assaulted. In the first story, the son is sold into slavery. In the second story, the son is murdered. In each account, God’s redemptive plan is furthered, despite the evil plot of those perpetrating such heinous acts of evil. As we read today, remember the words of Joseph to his brothers as found in Genesis 50:20. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” As you meditate on God’s Word, be alert for God’s Providential hand at work. Read on…

Read Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a – Brothers and a Cistern

Joseph is the beloved son of his father, Israel (Jacob). In honor of Joseph’s favored status, Israel made a special tunic for his son. This preferential treatment infuriated his brothers. Their hatred raged within them, to the point they would not even greet Joseph. He was despised and utterly rejected. One day, when Joseph’s brothers had gone out to feed the sheep in the pasture, Israel sent Joseph out to meet them. When the brothers spotted Joseph, they began to plot his demise. They had only words of disdain and mockery for their younger sibling. “Here comes the master dreamer, now! Why don’t we just kill him and throw him into the cistern here?” They could kill him and claim that a wild beast had slain him and devoured his body. They surmised that his death would stop all of the non-sense, the special privileges and those horrible dreams. How they hated his abhorrent self-serving visions where all of them where bowing down to him – like wheat in the wind. Or another dream where all of the heavenly hosts were bowing to him. His dreams drove them crazy with jealousy. To kill Joseph would end his arrogant displays and vile visions.

Reuben, one of the brothers, didn’t approve of their plot. Instead, he proposed that they throw him into the cistern but not kill him. Reuben intended to save his brother and return the favored son to the loving arms of his father. So, upon Joseph’s arrival, the brothers stripped him of his tunic and threw him into the cistern. Of course, dispensing with your younger sibling can make a brother hungry. So, as they sat down to eat, a caravan of Ishmaelites was passing by on the way to Egypt. Judah came up with a novel idea. Rather than killing Joseph, let’s sell him to these passing by. In love and grace typical of many brothers, Judah said, “After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” They all agreed and Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.

The children of Israel betraying a favored son…plotting to kill him…selling him out for pieces of silver. This is all sounding strangely familiar. Read on…

Read Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46 – Grapes and Wrath

Jesus shares another parable with the Pharisees and the elders. In his story, a landowner plants a vineyard, places a hedge around it, digs a wine press and builds a tower. This is a clear reference to God establishing Jerusalem (See Psalm 80).

The Master leased his vineyard to tenants and went on a journey. When time came to harvest the grapes, the owner sent his servants to bring in the harvest. The tenants attacked the servants. They beat one, killed one and another they stoned. The Master, undeterred, sent other servants. In fact, he sent more servants than the first time. They were treated identically to the first servants.

This refers to God entrusting His Kingdom to Israel, His chosen people. He had given them a charge to bring all nations to worship in Jerusalem. They were to be a “light unto the Gentiles.” But, when the time came for the fruit to be harvested, the servants sent to represent the Master, namely, His prophets, were rejected and abused.

Jesus continues the story. The Master, after two rounds of servants have been dispatched and dealt with harshly, he sends his own beloved son. What do the tenants do? They plot to kill the son and take his inheritance. So, they throw the son out of the vineyard and killed him. What would be the response of the Master. He would kill the unfaithful tenants, entrust the vineyard to new tenants and receive the harvest that was his.

How clearly can we see God the Father sending His Son. Rather than respect and receive Jesus, the Son of God, he is betrayed by Judas and by Peter – two of his “brothers”. Then, the religious leaders and the children of Israel reject Him, accuse Him falsely, have him condemned, take him outside the city gates to Calvary and they crucify Him on an old rugged cross. As the son was thrown outside the vineyard, so Jesus is killed outside Jerusalem. Jesus goes on to say that the Kingdom will be taken away from those who reject the servants of God and killed His Son. The wrath of God would fall on those who slew his servants and His Son, rather than tread grapes into wine! Indeed, in 70 AD, Jerusalem was laid waste by the Romans. From the smoldering embers of their rejection emerged a New Covenant people who would produce the fruit of the Father.

As we reflect on the echoes from the past – the story of Joseph and its typological fulfillment in the Gospel of Jesus – may we be encouraged by the fact that God is working all of this out for good (Romans 8:28). He is not caught unaware. Despite the seeming injustice, God is bringing to pass His Providential plan for the salvation of His covenant family. “What man has meant for evil, God meant for good,” to bring about His purposes. From a band of brothers and a cistern, to the grapes and wrath, and from well water to wine, God’s will is being done. May we walk this pathway with the assurance that gives us!

Who Do You Trust?

Today’s readings present to us a very straight forward question. “Who do you trust?” American currency bears the phrase, “In God We Trust.” There is irony in the placement of this motto on our coins and bills. It seems that the meaning of the motto has faded as more and more people trust in the currency rather than the Creator. They are more apt to rely on their money than on their Maker.

Jeremiah and Jesus present strong cases for following the teaching of Proverbs 3:5-6 which implores us to,Trust in the Lord with all your heart,  and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” 

We all need to grapple with this question. Read on…

Read Jeremiah 17:5-10 – Who do you Trust?

God wastes no time getting to the point. Any one who places his or her trust in humanity, or relies upon their own strength, or depends on any other source but the Lord, that person receives God’s curse. Those in the covenant with God would be blessed if they obeyed God’s Word. However, turning away from God results in a curse. In other words, God’s judgment would fall on those who came to rely upon themselves or the things of the world rather than relying on God and His provision.

Paul speaks of this kind of perversion in Romans 1:21-25.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Jeremiah says that those who place their trust in the things of creation rather than the Creator are like a barren bush in the desert. They do not experience the refreshment of the spring rains, or summer’s fertile season of growth. They do not bear a harvest in the fall, or return to restful dormancy in winter. Instead, this withered weed is planted in a volcanic stream, and dries up in a desert of salty death.

Conversely, blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord. He is like a fruitful tree planted near a river which provides a constant source of life giving water. His root system drinks deeply from the ever flowing supply of the life giving stream. Even when the heat comes, it remains verdant and green. Even when the drought comes, this tree produces fruit.

The human heart, the seat of the will, is not dependable. It will lead us to trust in things of man. It will direct us to rely on our own ingenuity and intelligence? It will convince us to have confidence in accruing money and possessions? Our hearts will even trick us into thinking that there is salvation in man-made art, aesthetic beauty and the works of our head and hands. In the end, God will test our hearts and He will reward us according to our ways and the merits of our deeds.

Simply put – trust yourself or the things of creation – you should be warned! Trust God – you have blessed assurance! Read on…

Read Luke 16:19-31 – Where will you Go?

In speaking to the religious elite, the Pharisees, Jesus offers an illustrative story. In this amazing narrative, was a rich man who lived a lavish lifestyle. He dressed the part and he ate sumptuously. Lying at the door of the rich man was a very poor and horribly sick man named Lazarus. He was in detestable shape. Lazarus skin was covered with sores. His only comfort was when a scrap of food might fall off the rich man’s table. Or, when the dogs would come and lick his wounds. There could not have been a more stark contrast between the gaudy man of means, and the humble man of deprivation and disease.

When the poor man perished, he was raised up on the wings of angels to reside in the bosom of Abraham. When the rich man died, and was buried, he was ushered into the “netherworld” – the place of the condemned.

Before we move on in the story, consider two things. First, the poor man was sitting in close proximity to the rich man. Not only was the opulent man oblivious to Lazarus hunger, he didn’t offer any medical attention to help heal his hurts. Selfishness and self-reliance had hardened his heart to the plight of the poor lying at his gate. Second, when Lazarus died, there is not mention of his burial. Even though he didn’t help Lazarus in life, surely he could have offered him a proper burial. Apparently, not even this most basic human dignity was afforded Lazarus. The rich man was all about himself. He trusted himself. He fed himself. He loved himself. He lived for himself.

Jesus addressed the condemnation of those like the rich man in Matthew 25:41-46.   “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and …you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

From his place of torment, the rich man saw Lazarus and Abraham across the great divide that separated them. He so wanted relief from the anguish he was experiencing. Even a drop of water on his tongue would have provided relief. How ironic that Lazarus survived on the occasional scrap that fell from the rich man’s table. Now, the tables have been turned. Abraham reminds the rich man that he received his reward on earth. He experienced a “heaven” of his own making while relegating Lazarus to a living hell. Now, their positions are reversed. Lazarus would be comforted in the bosom of Abraham while the rich man languished in his spiritual and poverty. From the depths, the tormented man cried out that his brothers be warned of this curse. Abraham responded that they have the Scriptures – Moses and the Prophets – to teach them. The accursed man pleaded that someone from the dead must arise and go warn them. Abraham said, “If they will not listen to the Scriptures – the Word of God – they will never be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” 

The self-reliant, self-trusting folks, who look to the creation and what it has to offer as their salvation, have no need of the Scriptures. They have no need of a resurrected Savior. No, they have themselves and their opinions. They have their own discoveries. Even if Jesus were to die and rise again, it would not be enough for some. It all comes down to the question we posed at the beginning. “Who do you trust? “Jesus said, ‘For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?'” (Mark 8:36)? As the rich man discovered so tragically, who we trust determines where we go when we die!

As we make our way along the Pathway to the Passion, I pray that with each step, our trust in God is growing. We really have nothing else that will last. All we have is His provision for us – a cross, a tomb and a resurrection. In God we trust.

The Plot Thickens!

Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.”  This is especially true when we study the Old Testament, always looking toward the New Testament. Augustine said, “The New Testament is in the Old concealed. The Old Testament is in the New revealed.” Events from the Old Testament, called types, often foreshadow events in the New Testament, called antitypes. The antitypes, or fulfillments, are always greater than their types. As we explore our readings for today, we recognize Jeremiah as a type of Jesus. Opposing forces gather around the great prophet and, as we will see, the plot thickens! The connections to Jesus are unmistakable. Read on…

Read Jeremiah 18:18-20 – The Plot Thickens

Jeremiah, like all the prophets, was given the task of speaking the Word of God. To speak prophetically often means confronting the people with their sin and calling them to repentance. Such was the calling of Jeremiah. His commission was to warn Judah of the impending judgement that would fall on them if they did not turn from their sinful ways. The people had been worshiping false gods and making sacrifices to them. You might imagine that Jeremiah’s constant confrontation of their treachery engendered ill will from those who rather enjoyed their sinful lifestyle.

When we arrive at verse 18, a plot has been hatched to dispense with Jeremiah. The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem conspired against the man of God. Despite the evil nature of the murderous plan, they rationalize, “There are other priests. There are other wise men who can counsel us. There are other prophets who might say what we want to hear.” As the plot thickens, they devise a scheme to listen to Jeremiah carefully and note his every word. They will then contrive false accusations that will serve to condemn him.

(Aside: This scenario reminds me of folks today who choose a church based on what they like and enjoy. They aren’t too concerned about whether or not the church preaches the truth or if the worship is Scriptural. In fact, for those so inclined, comfort and entertainment are much more important than faithfulness to God’s Word. While few plot the demise of the pastor, they do not hesitate to move to another church that better suits their fancy and meets their “needs”. 2 Timothy 4:3 says it well. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions…”)

Jeremiah turns to God for help. Can these folks be plotting his demise when he was only trying to help them avoid catastrophe? Were they really going to repay goodness with evil? Would they really dig a pit to take his life? Would they perpetrate such a crime, even after he had taken up for them with God and tried to assuage God’s wrath?

What a strange and bitter pill, that the man of God, they’d seek to kill. Read on…

Read Matthew 20:17-19 – THE Plot Thickens!

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem with His disciples. As they journeyed, He took His travelling companions off to the side to let them in on some “inside information.” Jesus reveals THE plot that is about to unfold when they arrive in the Holy City. In fact, this evil scheme sounds eerily familiar! Jesus, the Son of man, will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. The religious leaders will falsely accuse Jesus of blasphemy. Matthew 26:19 is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction. “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death.” Jesus went on to give more development of this thickening plot. He would be condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles (Romans), and be mocked, scourged and crucified, and on the third day, He would be raised from the dead.

The similarities with Jeremiah 18 are uncanny. Jesus had come to call the unfaithful to repent lest they fall under the righteous judgment of God. Now, those He came to save have rejected Him and are seeking His death. Jesus had come, not just as a prophet, but as the long awaited Messiah. Jesus had come, not just as a messenger of the Word of God, He is the Word of God! Jesus had come not only to warn of the curse, but, He had come to reverse the curse.  And, Jesus had come not just to offer forgiveness, but to offer a new life! What was the response to His coming? He was “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3).

With each step toward Jerusalem, the tension mounts. The pervasive undercurrent of evil, the ground swell of wicked intentions, and the whispering hiss of shadowy schemers leads to an overwhelming sense of gathering darkness. Yet, with Jesus, we move ever forward into the dark night of depravity. Just ahead, a city awaits whose citizens desperately need for Jesus to bring them salvation. Yet, this same cadre of the accursed will disregard their own sin and condemn the sinless Christ to be crucified. In every sense, the plot thickens!




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.