Even Labor Day Isn’t What It Used To Be


Today is Labor Day here in the US.

According to the US Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

What’s ironic is that a good percent of America workers are in the “service industry.” In other words, we don’t make things. We serve others.

Along with this change to our work force, we have also changed our work habits. Seven years ago I wrote a post about Labor Day, a short piece describing how no one works on Labor Day. I would have re-posted it today, but it’s not true.

For one thing, the gardeners our apartment complex owners have hired, showed up at 8:00 a.m. Relly? On a holiday when people want to sleep in, I though.

Later I went grocery shopping. I figured it would be especially quiet with few shoppers. Instead, the place was pack, and I’m pretty sure the store brought in extra workers to accommodate the crowd—which means this is not the first year the store has had lots of traffic on Labor Day.

As I came home, I couldn’t get into my parking place right away because the trash truck was blocking my access. Yes, apparently Labor Day isn’t a holiday this particular trash company cares about. While I was waiting for the truck to move, I watched the gardener across the street do some edging. So apparently gardeners are under no compulsion to take Labor Day off.

The real surprise came when I was getting my groceries from the trunk of my car—a mail truck went by. Surely not, I thought. But when I came to get the next bags from my car, the truck came back, and parked in front of our building. Don’t mail carriers get today off? I ask. Some do, the mailman answered. But not all of us. Oohh-kkayyy.

Well, school was not in session, so that’s something.

But of course all across the country baseball games are taking place. And at each venue there will be parking lot attendants, ticket takers. security, people selling concessions, programs, souvenirs; there will be ushers, ball boys, coaches, and of course all the players who are actually working.

Of course cops work, too, and so do firemen, people working in restaurants and in movies. I suspect a lot of other stores may be open, too. In other words, where people serve the public, they still work, even though it’s Labor Day.

I find this all fascinating. It’s a big shift in our culture. I don’t want to speculate what all it could mean for the economy, but I think it gives a peek at the structure of society. Some get Labor Day off and some serve those who aren’t working. I don’t like that picture. But I think it’s likely who we have become and will be more pronounced over time.

Are there spiritual causes? Spiritual ramifications? I haven’t thought that much about it yet, but maybe. It’s worth pondering. For today, just an observation. More work is taking place today than did seven years ago. So something has changed including the way we celebrate Labor Day.

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Published in: on September 3, 2018 at 4:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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He Is Alive!


Sunday we’ll celebrate Easter. Those adventurous enough to awake in the waning hours of night and find their way to a Sunrise service actually commemorate the moment of discovery.

Grieving women, determined to provide Jesus with a proper burial, made their way to the tomb where they’d seen His body laid. They brought with them the necessary spices to preserve His corpse, but the tomb had been closed with a stone too big for them to maneuver.

According to Mark’s account this difficulty hadn’t dawned on them before they set out. Otherwise they could have asked a couple of the disciples to accompany them. Interestingly, they didn’t decide to turn back once they realized they couldn’t get into the tomb with that boulder blocking the entrance. Perhaps they kept going instead of searching for a few strong men because they knew a Roman guard had been stationed there. Were they hoping to find mercy from their persecutors?

No telling what kept them going, but their persistence paid off. When they got to the tomb, the stone was already rolled aside. That’s when they first heard the truth: Jesus isn’t in the tomb because He’s alive. Not, mysteriously missing. Alive!

While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:4-7)

I love this announcement. It carries a subtle rebuke—as if the angels are saying, Hel-lo! Weren’t you paying attention? He told you He’d be out of here in three days. And you’re still looking for Him in this tomb? Why? Why would you do that?

The_Empty_Tomb004I can only imagine the confusion those women felt. The shock at not finding His body, the questioning—yes they remembered His words; could it be true? Had He meant literally “rise from the dead”? The flicker of hope fanning ever brighter. And at last they went to report what they’d seen to the disciples.

Two at least, Peter and John, went to see for themselves. But seeing, they still didn’t totally get it. They recognized that the women had told the truth—the tomb was open and there was no body, even though the grave wrappings were still in place. It was as if His body had evaporated. Today we might think it looked as if His body had been transported elsewhere, leaving the grave wrappings undisturbed.

All they knew was that there was no explanation—apart from the one Jesus had given them repeatedly and with increased frequency: He had risen from the dead. He was alive.

The Living Christ makes Christianity unique among all other religions. And wonderfully, the Bible tells us His resurrection is emblematic of our own resurrection to new life: “and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18b).

Paul clarified this in his first letter to the church in Corinth. Apparently some people were teaching that there was no resurrection. Paul said Christ’s resurrection proved this to be false:

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming (1 Cor. 15:20-23)

So, yes, come Easter morning, celebrate because Jesus has risen; He has risen indeed! He is alive!

This post first appeared here in March 2013.

Published in: on March 31, 2018 at 4:08 pm  Comments Off on He Is Alive!  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Good Friday?


When I was younger, I was troubled by the fact that Jesus said He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights and yet apparently spent something closer to a day and two nights in the grave.

When I was older, I learned that the way the Jews reckoned time, He would have been considered to be dead and buried for three days. They began reckoning for each day at sunset, not sunrise, so the day He died and was buried would be day one, the Sabbath would be day two, and the end of the Sabbath, at sunset the first day of the week would begin and that would be day three.

I’ll admit, ever since I heard that explanation, I thought it was cheating. Besides, it didn’t answer what Jesus said specifically:

for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matt. 12:40 – all caps indicates a quote of the Old Testament, boldface emphasis is mine)

Years and years ago, Pastor Charles Swindoll, who used to pastor my church, preached about Christ’s death and burial, postulating that perhaps we’ve figured His day of death incorrectly. Using the information from the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath and that He was resurrected on the first day of the week, at or before sunrise after the Sabbath.

But there’s a very good possibility that He may have been crucified, not the day before the Sabbath, but before a Sabbath.

First, the crucifixion took place during Passover–not a one-day event, but an eight-day celebration. How the commemoration was to take place is explained in both Leviticus and Numbers. Here’s the description from the latter:

Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover. On the fifteenth day of this month shall be a feast, unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work . . . On the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. (Numbers 28:16-17, 25 – emphasis mine)

These days of “holy convocation,” which could fall on any day of the week, apparently were understood to be a type of Sabbath. Leviticus 23 lists the holy convocations, starting first with the weekly Sabbath, then Passover and finally the Day of Atonement. In describing the latter, the term Sabbath appears:

You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath. (Lev 23:31-32 – emphasis mine)

Now add in the information from the gospels. Mark and Luke say Jesus died on the day of preparation, the next day being the Sabbath (Matthew simply refers to it as the preparation), but John adds some information, clarifying the day of preparation:

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14)

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31 – emphasis mine)

A High Day, one of those Holy Convocations, perhaps–treated as a Sabbath. And in this instance, perhaps falling in the middle of the week, a Wednesday, meaning that Jesus would have been buried on Wednesday night, and remained in the tomb all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, just as He said.

How important is our celebration of Good Friday rather than Good Wednesday? Should we start a campaign to get it changed? Hold boycotts of Good Friday services? It’s not an issue that should divide churches and no one’s salvation hangs in the balance because of the day we choose to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. And no one should do any of the above to try and sway others into believing something different from the traditional understanding.

There’s much more we could discuss about the events surrounding Jesus’s death: Judas’s betrayal, for instance, and his subsequent suicide; Peter’s adamant statements that he didn’t know Jesus, hours after his failed attempt to prevent His arrest; the passerby named Simon who was commandeered to carry Christ’s cross; the seven recorded statements Jesus made from the cross; the soldiers gamboling for His clothes; the thief making a statement of faith as he hung dying, and Christ’s response to him. Each event is significant and has much to teach.

There’s also a common understanding of what took place after Christ’s death, from three in the afternoon until six. When the Romans realized that Jesus was already dead, they pierced His side “to make sure.” The blood and the water that poured from his pierced heart convinced them He had died.

One of his disciples, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea, went to Pilate and claimed the body. He gave up his own grave on Christ’s behalf, then he, along with Nicodemus, wrapped the body in burial cloths with some spices, laid it in the tomb, and rolled the stone in front of the entrance.

This was a hasty burial, no doubt, because they had to finish before the Sabbath which began at six that evening.

Significantly, a group of women who we don’t hear a lot about, but who had followed Jesus also, saw where they put His body: “Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55). Mark names two of these women: Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of a man named Joses. Matthew mentions these two women also, apparently because they stayed by the tomb for a time: “And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the grave” (Matt. 27:61).

Why this is important becomes clear later. But at this point, Jesus was dead.

Of course, we know the end of the story—something none of those first century people understood. Jesus was about to do something new and miraculous and amazing and earth-shattering and death-defying—something only God could do.

This post is a combination of two previous articles: one posted originally in March 2013 and the other in April 2014.

Published in: on March 30, 2018 at 5:12 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Passion Of The Christ: The Remaining Four Trials — A Reprise


Arrest_and_Trial011The more closely I read the details of the events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, the more convinced I am that they unfolded over a period of days, not hours.

The morning after his arrest, Jesus was hauled in front of the Sanhedrin for a final religious kangaroo court. The decision had been predetermined the night before, but to simulate legality, the elders, chief priests, and scribes gathered together to make it official.

Having declared Jesus a blasphemer, they dragged Him off to Pilate. Not wanting to defile themselves by entering into a Gentile home, which would make them unclean and unable to eat the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they remained outside while Pilate came to them.

I don’t know what they expected. A rubber stamp on their guilty verdict? They didn’t seem prepared. Pilate asked them what Jesus was guilty of and they said, in essence, Trust us, he’s no good. In other words, they made no accusation at first, apart from calling him an evildoer—a fact, they told Pilate, he could believe because they would not have brought him otherwise. A rather circular argument, and one Pilate wasn’t buying.

His first ruling was, You take him and punish him if he’s broken your law.

The Jews cut to the chase, then: “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” But they still had the problem that their accusation of blasphemy was not a crime against Rome.

That’s when they changed tactics and started accusing Jesus of things that would be an affront to the Roman government: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” (Luke 23:2-3)

The last point got Pilate’s attention. Leaving the Jewish leaders outside, he went into the judgment hall and called Jesus to him. In reality, this interview began the first of the three political trials Jesus faced.

Did all these events happen in less than an hour? I have my doubts. In fact, because it was the day after Passover and the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a special Sabbath according to Old Testament law, I would postulate that the Pharisees delivered Jesus over to Pilate’s soldiers and scurried on home without hanging around the Gentile judgment hall.

I could be wrong about this. Pilate might have concluded this first trial some time that day, but I think it’s just as possible he didn’t rush right out when the Jews came calling, that he dealt with this legal matter in order, after he’d tended to the usual matters of the day. At this point he would certainly not have had reason to think the situation was an emergency.

At any rate, at some point, whether that day or whether several days later, after the Special Sabbath and the regular Sabbath, in his interview with Jesus, the governor tried to nail him down regarding this accusation that He claimed to be a king.

Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Pilate went outside to the waiting Jewish leaders or those he’d called to him and rendered his verdict regarding Jesus—not guilty. The Pharisees, perhaps growing somewhat desperate, tried to strengthen their case against Jesus, telling Pilate He was stirring up the people from as far away as Galilee.

At last Pilate saw a way out of this mess. King Herod, ruler of the Galilean district, was in Jerusalem for Passover. He could deal with Jesus.

And so ended the first trial.

Did the second trial start that same day? Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. But we are told that up to this point Herod and Pilate didn’t get along. Would Herod have rushed to respond to a message from Pilate that he was sending him a prisoner to examine?

Possibly. Scripture says Herod was eager to talk to Jesus. But did he know at once that Jesus was the prisoner?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know what the protocol was for judicial hearings. I do know that John the Baptist had been kept in prison for days and that Paul, when he was to be tried by Festus, also remained locked up for days. I don’t think there was a Roman policy about a speedy trial.

Scripture does say, Herod “questioned Him at some length” (Luke 23:9a). Was that for hours? All day? We don’t know for sure, but I suspect it was longer than the hour the traditional view of these events would allow.

The thing was, Jesus wouldn’t placate Herod’s curiosity. He refused to answer his questions. Even when the chief priests and scribes showed up to accuse Jesus of crimes He hadn’t committed, He made no defense.

Herod didn’t render a finding but that didn’t stop his soldiers from making sport of Jesus. After the official part of the trial, they decked Him out in a robe, mocked him, and treated him with contempt.

Back Jesus went to Pilate. The governor, according to Luke, had to call the chief priests and scribes together, again an indication that they weren’t standing in the streets waiting for this decision to be handed down.

I suspect by this time they realized they needed more leverage against Pilate. And if these trials were spread over several days, they would have had a reasonable amount of time to stir up some opposition to Jesus.

I don’t see the crowd who welcomed Him into Jerusalem turning against Him in a matter of an hour or so. But given time, word would get out that the Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty.

On top of that, there were a number of Messiah claimants who preceded Jesus. Were the people once again disillusioned when the Passover came and went and Jesus didn’t lead them against Roman rule? That’s what most of the Jews expected from the Messiah: He would come as the descendant of David to claim his throne.

At any rate, when Jesus returned to Pilate, the Jewish leaders were prepared. They had the charges they could bring and the people primed to do their part.

Pilate again declared Jesus to be innocent and turned to the people, hoping they would side with him. Instead they clamored for the release of a real insurrectionist named Barabbas, and cried for Jesus to be crucified.

The governor had one ally, though. His wife had had a dream—which fits more perfectly into the timeline of events if she had heard about Jesus appearing before her husband, then had a dream in the night. Whenever this dream occurred, it unsettled her for some time, (“last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him” Matt. 27:19b) to the point that she had to warn Pilate not to have anything to do with “that righteous man.”

Pilate settled on a different punishment from crucifixion—scourging. His soldiers beat Jesus, mocked Him, feigned obeisance to the “King of the Jews”—the people they hated. None of this satisfied the Jewish leaders.

Again they threw the original charge at Jesus: “He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” Now Pilate was terrified. But he was more terrified of Rome. When it looked like he’d have a riot on his hands, when the Jewish leaders accused him of being no friend of Caesar’s because he was allowing this rival king to live, he relented.

And so, after all his findings of not guilty, Pilate washed his hands of the matter, literally, and told the Jewish leaders to do what they wanted to do.

Three political trials and one religious trial, all in the space of three hours? It doesn’t seem likely. But if these events were spread out over days, not hours, it’s easy to see them unfold logically—particularly the crowd growing more and more hostile and Pilate’s resistance wearing down.

A non-traditional view of the timeline of the Passion events

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April 2014.

Published in: on March 29, 2018 at 5:12 pm  Comments Off on The Passion Of The Christ: The Remaining Four Trials — A Reprise  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Arrest And First Trials – A Reprise


The events leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion were kicked off by what we’ve traditionally called “the last supper.” Jesus instructed some of His followers to get things ready for the Passover meal, the first of the eight days of celebration:

Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.” (Luke 22:7-8)

Much happened at that meal: Jesus instituted a remembrance ceremony:

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)

He also outed Judas—or at least made it known that one of the twelve would betray Him. At some point in the evening, Satan entered Judas.

Another important event during this meal was Jesus confronting Peter with the truth that despite his protestations of loyalty, he would deny Jesus that very night.

Amazingly, in the face of doubts and denials and betrayal, Jesus spent a good deal of time talking with His followers about what was about to happen. He also washed their feet, prayed for them, sang a hymn with them, then headed out to a quiet garden where He could pray.

After a time of fervent communion with His Father and a period of ministry by angels, during which His disciples slept, a group of Roman soldiers and a mob from the chief priests, scribes, and elders, led by Judas, came looking for Jesus. His arrest was nearly without incident.

Peter tried to back up his bold words earlier and took a sword to one of the Roman servants. I used to be bothered by the Biblical record that Peter lopped off this guys ear. It seemed so odd. I couldn’t picture how or why Peter would go after the guy’s ear.

Except, the word for sword, machaira means “a small sword, as distinguished from a large sword,” or “large knife,” the kind a person would most likely use to cleave downward. A possible explanation, then, is that Peter intended to cleave this man’s skull in two, but either he wore a helmet which deflected the blow or he moved to evade it. At any rate, his ear took the brunt of Peter’s action.

After Jesus restored Malchus’s ear, his disciples ran off. I imagine the appearance of a sword riled up the soldiers and they wanted a little payback. At any rate, Jesus was alone with the crowd of Jews and Romans who led him off to his first trial.

He actually had three religious trials of a sort and three political trials. That night after his arrest, He faced the first two religious trials.

First He was led to the house of Annas whose son-in-law was the current High Priest. Here’s what Strong’s Lexicon says about Annas:

high priest of the Jews, elevated to the priesthood by Quirinius the governor of Syria c. 6 or 7 A.D., but afterwards deposed by Valerius Gratus, the procurator of Judaea, who put in his place, first Ismael, son of Phabi, and shortly after Eleazar, son of Annas. From the latter, the office passed to Simon; from Simon c. 18 A.D. to Caiaphas; but Annas even after he had been put out of office, continued to have great influence.

I should say he had influence—over his son, then his son-in-law, if not with the other high priests and elders.

How long did this phase of Jesus’s trial last? We don’t know. But at some point Annas sent Him to Caiaphas, the sitting high priest. He was the one who had counseled the other leaders that they needed to kill Jesus (John 18:14).

No surprise then, that Jesus faced a series of trumped up charges brought by false witnesses. And yet, they couldn’t get the required number of two to agree.

Caiaphas resorted to another illegal tactic—he directly questioned Jesus. The accused was not to give testimony against himself. However, when Jesus answered, Caiaphas declared Him guilty based on the “blasphemy” they’d just heard.

But there were a couple problems. Among the illegal aspects of this trial was the fact that only the Sanhedrin, the group of seventy elders, could determine guilt and only during the day. In addition, Jews, living under the authority of Rome, couldn’t carry out the death sentence. On top of that, blasphemy was not an offense Romans cared about.

Hence, trial number two was not sufficient to accomplish what Caiaphas wanted. There had to be a third religious trial, and then they had to deal with the Romans.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April, 2014.

Published in: on March 28, 2018 at 5:30 pm  Comments Off on The Passion Of The Christ: Arrest And First Trials – A Reprise  
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Jesus, Facing Death


Jesus knew His time had arrived, not for a coronation but for a trial and an execution. But knowing what awaited Him, He still went into Jerusalem.

I imagine most people, including those closest to Him, thought things were pretty much as usual. Sure, they had hopes that Jesus would publicly declare Himself to be the Messiah and seize the throne. But things didn’t start off so well.

I mean, His first stop was the temple, as it so often was, where He once again kicked out the merchants and money changers. I suppose some people might have seen this as an act of defiance toward the powers that be, and perhaps a foreshadowing of the Messiah exercising His authority over the nation. I don’t know. Clearly the Pharisees saw His actions as unwelcome.

The thing that catches my attention most of all is the Passover meal Jesus shared with His disciples. In reality, Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor and treated with special respect. Instead, He played the role of host which involved washing the feet of the group. Tradition had the host arrange for the foot-washing when the guests arrived. After all, people mostly walked from place to place, but when they ate, they reclined. In other words, their feet could easily end up in someone else’s face.

At this meal, no one washed feet when they arrived. I don’t know what prompted Jesus to get up from the table and start washing feet. Maybe someone’s feet smelled, but I doubt it. I think He wanted to take the opportunity to teach one of the most important principles He wanted His men to learn: to love one another.

After all, they’d been arguing about who was the greatest and about who would sit on his left and His right hand. He wanted to give them a living example they would remember of selflessness: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13-14).

The fact that Jesus washed their feet is amazing enough, but when I realize that Judas was still with them and Jesus washed the feet of the very man who would sell Him out, seems shocking. Peter was there to, and before the night was out he’d swear he didn’t know Jesus. Of course, the rest weren’t much better: they all left Him when the mob came to arrest Him.

And Jesus knew those events would take place—the betrayal, the denial, the desertions. Yet He washed their feet.

John, at the beginning of his account of that last supper, included this statement, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1b).

His act of washing feet had to be an act of love. He was doing servants’ work. But who could miss His injunction to go and do likewise. I know some churches in the past took that idea literally and had feet-washing services.

I attended a few of those when I was growing up. The way it worked was like this: men went in one room and women in another. Then the people paired up. So one woman washed the feet of one other woman, and then they reversed the role.

Jesus washed the feet of twelve men.

I’m guessing they stayed reclined at the table while He moved from person to person. I wonder if any of them looked for another towel and tried to come alongside Him to get the job done. We certainly have no record of that, and I wonder why. Wouldn’t it have been shocking to see Jesus bending over those dirty, calloused feet, scrubbing away the road dirt, and drying them so they could continue their time around the table without irritating each other with the filth that did not belong at a meal. I can’t imagine all those guys just sitting there munching away at the Passover lamb while the Lamb of God did the work of a servant.

But that’s what He wanted to show them. I know some people mock the idea of servant leadership, but that’s precisely what Jesus modeled for us, and then commanded us to do.

Lots of people understand the verses in Philippians 2 about Christ’s humility, and they are very important.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In reality, this simple act of washing the disciples’ feet fits in with those verses in a powerful way. Not only did Jesus give up the glory of heaven, come to earth as a man, and ultimately died the death we deserved—a huge sacrifice—He also did the small sacrifice, the private sacrifice behind closed doors, the act of service that demonstrated His love in the face of indifference, at best. Because clearly, none of those men cared enough to wash His feet.

It’s like a microcosm of His offer of salvation. He came to save even the people who nailed Him to the cross. In the face of their rejection—Pilate caring more about the approval of Caesar than true justice, the Jewish leaders concerned more about keeping Rome out of their business, the Roman centurions concerned more about doing what they were told, the people more concerned about their dashed hopes—Jesus offered forgiveness.

Just as He does today.

Published in: on March 27, 2018 at 5:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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Save Now!


Hosanna! the people cried as Jesus made His way up the road to Jerusalem crowning Mount Zion. Those thousands of Jews gathered from all over the area, making their Passover pilgrimage, had heard about this miracle worker who raised the dead and healed the blind and fed thousands with a few loaves of bread.

Wasn’t he the one they were waiting for? There had been others and even more in the future, all claiming to be the One God had sent to bring the people of Israel back to a place of independence and relevance.

In the years before Christ’s birth, the desire for a savior grew along with the hated Roman rule. So no wonder the crowds who witnessed the signs and wonders Jesus performed, who heard His stories and teaching about the kingdom of God, looked to Him and expected Him to take the next step. They wanted Him to declare Himself, to rally an army or to call down God’s miraculous power and judgment against Israel’s enemies.

They wanted to be saved.

The problem was, they didn’t understand that their real need was the enemy within, not an enemy without.

So on that fateful day when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, the people were convinced their Messiah had come. They joined the parade of His followers, adding their cloaks to the path and waving palm branches as they would for a conquering hero. Because that’s exactly who they thought Jesus was. And they cried, Hosanna!

Save now!

And He did.

But no walls fell. No fire and brimstone. No miraculous defeat of the Roman forces.

Oh, sure, Jesus chased out the money changers from the temple. That was promising. But where was the judgment hurled against the Romans?

What the people missed amid their cries of Hosanna was that the judgment they looked for was the judgment Jesus took upon Himself. The innocent one, who knew no sin became sin for us.

The people looking for victory missed the victory over death that Christ’s own death secured.

The crowds were right to cry, Save now! That’s what Jesus came to do. But the spiritual kingdom of the Christ looked far different from the one they expected.

His kingdom included Gentiles and extended for centuries into the future. In fact, it makes possible everlasting life. And it’s built on forgiveness, mercy, compassion, love. Not revenge, judgment, exclusion.

But the people didn’t know that then. They cried Hosanna because they wanted a hero. God’s man who they’d read about in the prophets and the psalms. And this Jesus was clearly from God, wasn’t he? I mean, no sinner would be able to cleanse a leper or make the lame walk.

So cry Hosanna, they did. And they were right, because Jesus does save. They just didn’t understand what He wanted to save them from, not then, and not in the days that followed when the crowd became a mob instead and started chanting, Crucify him, crucify him.

Well, today we can see the irony. Those first century Jews were saying the right thing, but they didn’t understand what it meant. We understand, but are we still saying the right thing?

Published in: on March 22, 2018 at 6:21 pm  Comments Off on Save Now!  
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Spring


Here in SoCal, winter came late this year. We had one devastating rain storm in January, and then nothing until March. Since the storms have come, we’ve had a series of them one after the other. Never much rain, but definitely cooler temperatures.

And now it’s likely over. After tomorrow, there’s just no rain on the horizon. Of course we could break the mold and have rain in April, but that would be a bit shocking.

Elsewhere in our country, people are enjoying a final snow day, but they, too, realize, spring is just around the corner. The signs are there. The old growth is sporting new, birds are singing, squirrels are cavorting from tree to tree, buds are blossoming.

Spring is the greatest testimony to new life that we can possibly imagine.

New life is precisely what Easter celebrates, only on a much greater scale—new life that is everlasting. New life that goes beyond the physical, new life that changes things now and changes things forever after.

Interesting that the Bible uses the metaphor of a seed “dying” only to bring new life up from the soil. That’s the picture of resurrection life, the very thing Jesus experienced so that we would know what’s going to take place in the future.

Because a lot of the fear or dread of dying comes from not knowing.

Jesus simply erased that by showing up so we know. When, that’s still in question. But the fact of the new life, that’s as certain as the dawn.

So is the new life that we enjoy now as people set free from the Law, from guilt, and from slavery to sin. The new life now is just as much a part of Easter as the new life then. It’s not as dramatic, perhaps, though it might be.

When someone has been abusive and no longer is, or addicted and is suddenly set free, their new lives are pretty dramatic and notable. A pastor here in SoCal who I hear from time to time on the radio, admits that his life was headed in the wrong direction when he was a young man. He did any number of things he isn’t proud of, but today he’s the teaching pastor of a church that has as its mission, “To proclaim to the city of Los Angeles that ‘there’s God in heaven who loves you.’ ”

That’s new life in the here and now.

No, Christians don’t suddenly become perfect. But when we blow it, when we revert to the old life, we have God’s love and forgiveness and power through His Spirit so that we can change.

The movie I Can Only Imagine is the true account of another man whose life was a disaster. He wasn’t just heading the wrong way, he was already there. Abusive to his wife and son, to the point that she up and left him, his hard heart only turned harder. Until he met Christ.

Then this “monster” became the kind of man his son wanted to become.

Here’s the movie trailer, which gives an idea of the transformation that took place.

That’s what new life looks like in the here and now. Young or old, rich or poor, male or female, any ethnicity or skin color or language in all the world, and God can transform what we were to the likeness of His Son.

Jesus was the one who welcomed children, who fed the hungry, who invited the outcasts to join him, touched the diseased, brought health and healing to the “crazy man,” praised people the religious folk didn’t even notice. Why? Because just like His Father, He loves the world.

So He wants to bring new life. On a grand scale. On an eternal scale.

He did so by giving up His life so we might be declared free, clean, new.

Published in: on March 21, 2018 at 5:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Need For The Cross


As we approach Easter, I’m well aware of the fact that many people will simply ignore the day. Some (at least those in the northern hemisphere) will also celebrate it as a “spring is here” day, commemorating the new life in nature demonstrated by buds on trees, green replacing the colorless world of winter, baby birds pushing out of eggs.

But the resurrection of Jesus? No need for such “myths,” many will say.

The resurrection, of course, hinges on the cross. Jesus had to die first before He could be raised incorruptible.

In fact His death was not an act of martyrdom. It wasn’t the tragedy that spawned a movement.

Rather, Jesus did something no one else could do. The nails that crashed into His hands and feet, essentially nailed the “certificate of debt” owed to God by every sinner, to that cross.

The blood Jesus spilled that day was that of a Perfect and Unblemished Lamb—chosen to make redemption possible. His blood did exactly what the blood of the Passover lamb did: it covered those “under the blood” so that the angel of judgment would pass over that place.

Jesus paints His own blood over the doorposts of our heart, so that we who believe He did what He did and promised what He promised, will be redeemed in the exact same way.

Because Jesus went to the cross, anyone of any race or gender or culture or age can now receive remission of that debt we could not pay—the wages of sin which is death itself.

Some people think that God unfairly judges, that “nice” people or “good” people should go free. But that’s like saying the nice rapist should go free or the good business man or great basketball player who abuses his wife should go free.

Because the truth is, we all fall short of God’s standard.

Some people think God is terrible for “sending millions of people to hell.” But the truth is, those “millions” who make themselves God’s enemies, don’t want an eternity with Him.

Some people claim God is cruel for allowing suffering. But again, He has only given way to what people who oppose Him want or have earned:

“Your ways and your deeds
Have brought these things to you.
This is your evil. How bitter!
How it has touched your heart!” (Jeremiah 4:18).

Which brings us back to the debt of sin and the cross that cancels it.

If someone says God is “unfair” for giving laws He knew we wouldn’t keep, they’re missing one important ingredient: holiness. God is perfect, without spot, righteous. A different standard simply would be other than perfect, not holy, marred. Fellowship with a perfect God is not possible for imperfect people.

Unless God makes it possible.

The cross did just that.

Couldn’t God have just changed the rules, waved away the requirement for sin?

Well, that leaves out an important ingredient too: justice.

God is as just as He is holy. When His law is broken, when the debt is owed, He requires payment.

So Jesus paid at the cross.

It’s kind of funny. Of all the objections I’ve heard about Christianity and God’s plan of salvation, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an objection to God loving humanity so much He was willing to die.

Sure, I’ve heard that God the Father was committing child abuse by sending His Son to die. But that’s all wrong. His will was to save the world. He didn’t send a “second god” or a “lesser god” or a human iteration of Himself to die. Jesus is God and Jesus went to the cross even though He could have commanded legions of angels to come rescue Him. He didn’t because “of the joy set before Him.” That joy was each and every person who would love Him back.

The cross is the greatest symbol of God’s love. There Jesus showed God’s love, cancelled the debt of sin, washed away sin, provided a way of escape from the result of sin, and reconciled all who believe in Him to God.

In short, without the cross, there would be no Easter.

Easter And The Declension Of Western Civilization


Easter_LilyPerhaps some will think I’m crying wolf. Is Western civilization really declining? I think we have only to look at Easter and see how our society treats it to realize that there’s been a fundamental shift.

Many Christians—perhaps most—identify Easter as the single most important event in human history. It is also the bedrock of the Christian faith–without a resurrected Christ, we have nothing. In fact the Apostle Paul said, if Christ was not risen from the dead, we are most to be pitied:

if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:14-19 – emphasis mine)

For years—perhaps centuries—Easter has been afforded a place of honor in Western civilization among “Christian” nations. Here in the US many traditions sprang up around Easter that have little to do with Christ’s resurrection.

For a time it was the Easter bonnet and the Easter dress. Then there was the Easter lily, the Easter basket, and the Easter bunny with Easter egg hunts. There was even Easter vacation for school kids. TV often put on special programing, and stores kept special Easter hours or remained closed. For years Easter cards have been available, and these often contain something of the resurrection message.

What seems apparent to me, however, is that Easter, even its non-religious traditions, is fading from the public arena.

A number of years ago a minor controversy arose that proves this point. First, Google chose Easter Day to “honor” Cesar Chavez with a doodle on its search page. As it happens, March 31, the day Easter fell that year, was Chavez’s birthday and two years earlier President Obama declared that date to be Cesar Chavez Day. The point is that Google had a choice—feature Cesar Chavez or feature Jesus Christ. Their response? We’ll honor Cesar. After all, he means so much to Western civilization.

The other part of this controversy, however, is the way some downplayed it, calling it “silly” and “much adoodle about nothing.” In other words, commenting or complaining about a business like Google ignoring the holiday that marks the singular most important event in Christianity was simply not considered newsworthy.

Of course, Google wasn’t the only entity that ignored Easter. CalTrans, the road maintenance organization here in California, was busy at work Sunday morning on at least one freeway. I don’t recall any businesses posting “Closed for Easter” signs either, so perhaps the criticism aimed at Google was not silly but misguided. It’s all of Western civilization that is leaving Easter behind.

Was striping away non-religious Easter traditions, a bad thing? Was the Bing search engine more respectful to Christians for including Easter eggs on their site? I have to say, no, I don’t think so. They were more respectful to Easter tradition, to Western culture, but not to Christ and Christianity.

As the world has become smaller, those of us in the West have learned that the East also has a rich heritage and has made significant contributions to Humankind. We’re learning to appreciate different ways of looking at the world. However, some take this learning and appreciation a step farther and denigrate that which has formed the West.

I’ve heard, for example, slams against the “Greek mind” and against Aristotle. Too linear, the accusation is. The Eastern mind understands time to be cyclical, as we see all of life to be. Look, for example, at the water cycle or the life of a plant.

Individualism is bad too, according to a recent radio commentary. Especially here in the US we have prided ourselves on being individuals, but we live in a world of community. We need fewer Lone Rangers and more group hugs.

The ironic thing is that Christianity isn’t actually a Western religion. It’s roots, of course, are Semitic. While the New Testament of the Bible was originally written in Greek, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Then, too, Christians celebrated Easter all over the world, not just in enclaves in the West.

And community is practically a Christian’s middle name. In fact Christianity provides a beautiful marriage of individualism and community. God gives each Christian a special gift, and then instructs us to “employ it in serving one another” (1 Peter 4:10).

In short, if it’s possible to wrap this weighty subject up in a sentence or two, when the West ignores Christ, we’re not expanding our worldview or becoming more cosmopolitan. We’re actually taking a step backward and denying the most unifying Power and Person imaginable. God Himself said He loves the world, not the West or the East, not Africa or North America. He loves the world. He gave His followers the commission to make disciples, not just at home but in the farthest recesses of the world.

Why else have Christians from any number of nations gone to far-away places to live and work and preach the good news? It’s not to claim that one culture is better than another. It’s to bring into the family of God people from every tribe and tongue and nation scattered throughout the world. Yes, family. I have brothers and sisters in all kinds of places, some who risk their lives to celebrate Easter.

Ironic, I think, that Western civilization seems intent on divorcing itself from the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings that influenced our worldview, while people all over the East are embracing those same truths.

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in April 2013.

Published in: on March 14, 2018 at 5:05 pm  Comments Off on Easter And The Declension Of Western Civilization  
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