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Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

The other day a strange feeling came over me.

Don’t get me wrong about what I’m about to talk about here. I’m not claiming any powers of discernment or certainty.

I got the distinct feeling that there’s something wrong with a lot of people who say they are Jesus-followers/believers.

If you wan to supply your own vocabulary, like “aren’t saved” or “aren’t Christians,” do so at your own risk. I’m not saying that. (There’s other blogs for that, if you want to pursue that game).

No, but it was plain as daylight to me that when I hear a lot of people talk about Jesus, I feel like I’m hearing… an abridged version… an abbreviation if you will…

I said abbreviation. A shortened version of a real word. You see the abbreviation, you’re supposed to know what it means – yes, we all agree, we know what abbreviation means –

Don’t we?

We all know what the shorthanded version stands for.

Right?

Or perhaps, we don’t.

I’m beginning to think that when people say Jesus, the definition they mean can’t be trusted.

I’m getting the feeling that we’re talking about a kind of “mini-Jesus.” A diluted, declawed, demoted savior who is a symbolic representation for a kind of anemic, watered-down, unbiblical, culturally acceptable Jesus.

I get the feeling that if you move beyond the standard biographical paragraph, you’re going to discover that the Jesus you’re hearing about has considerably less to say than the Jesus as we meet him in the Gospels.

You’re going to discover that he has little or nothing to do with most of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and the more demanding parts of the New.

You’re going to discover that there’s a remarkable resemblance between the abbreviated Jesus and the current version of political correctness. (Isn’t it unusual how Jesus takes an interest in whatever happens to be the current rage of the mainstream media these days?)

I’m not sure this abbreviated Jesus believes in hell.

He seems considerably more flexible on sexual matters that one would believe reading the Bible.

Living together before marriage? The abbreviated Jesus seems to have not issued a statement on that one.

I actually think the abbreviated Jesus doesn’t like to be bothered with issues of morality, character, or behavior. He’s mostly interested in larger political and cultural issues, or your experience at your local church, or how you’re doing in your relationships.

The abbreviated Jesus has quite a bit in common with contemporary “life coaches,” talk show hosts, political apologists, faith-based advocates, teachers of “principles,” community organizers and family value lobbyists.

The people who talk about the abbreviated Jesus don’t seem to know much about the Bible. Not at all.

But they still have a surprisingly strong opinion about the meaning of all kinds of things Jesus said and did in the Bible.

The abbreviated Jesus can convincingly seem like the real Jesus, until you look and listen closely. Then it appears that he’s lost his laptop, his luggage, and his cell phone. So for right now, he’s reading it all off the teleprompter.

The abbreviated Jesus doesn’t vary much from the script.

In fact – and this is what really got my attention – the abbreviated Jesus would only get crucified if there were some terrible mix-up.

The abbreviated Jesus is Jesus without the Biblical context, Jesus without church history, Jesus without Jesus theology, Jesus without costly discipleship, Jesus without offensive teaching or mysterious parables. The abbreviated Jesus is so easily explained, so comprehensible and user-friendly that anyone can follow him, even without instructions.

In millions of cases, the abbreviated Jesus is Jesus without the church. He’s Jesus who lets your pick your friends, pick your community, and pick your comfortable seat. He’s OK with whatever your plans are for the weekend. He’s not making demands of your time. He’s a major spokesperson for unplugging the fourth commandment. He’s not making any demands on your money that don’t follow your emotions. He wants you to feel personally fulfilled about whatever you choose to support. The abbreviated Jesus seems to always need one more book to really get down to what he actually means.

He has a lot of preachers who understand him, and a lot of churches where his way of doing things has become very popular.

Aside from abortion and gay marriage, the abbreviated Jesus is pretty happy in America. There’s so much for his friends to do and enjoy!

I don’t trust this abbreviated Jesus.

Sometimes, he’s been in my house, my head, my heart, and my ministry. I don’t like him.

He’s flat. Empty. Easy. Moldable.

He’s not full of the Holy Spirit. He’s full of US.

Frankly, he’s seems to be full of … well, my daddy might use those words, but I’m not going to use them, especially in a blog. If you don’t know what they are, ask a farmer who knows the real Jesus what the abbreviated Jesus is full of…

I’m announcing that I’m afraid of the abbreviated Jesus and his followers. I’m afraid of his “church”, his books, and his kind of “discipleship”. I’m uninviting him from my life, and my interactions with other Christians.

I want to know Jesus. The untamed, old school, offensive, mysterious, demanding, awe-inspiring, transformational, life-altering, crucified, risen, ascended, revolutionary Jesus.

I’ll spell it out: He’s the Creator. The Mediator. The Fulfiller and Establisher of the Law. He’s the Passover lamb. He’s the Head of the Church. He’s the heart and key to the Holy Scripture. He’s the meal on the table. He’s the life in the living waters. He pours out the Holy Spirit. He’s the rider on the white horse. He’s the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords.

He is the Eternal God.

He doesn’t need my explanations, endorsements, or euphemisms. He isn’t reading my note cards and nodding. He doesn’t tolerate my sins. He’s the life of God for the sin of the world. He’s righteous, sanctification and holiness. He’s the Kingdom bringer, the executioner of judgment, the one who is worthy to open the scroll and read the books. He’s the light of Heaven and the conqueror of hell, death, sin, and the grave.

He’s the one in whom all history, poetry, story, and theology come together into the Great I AM. He’s the mystery and the Word that reveals God to all persons. He’s the Gospel itself, the meaning of every message and the open door of God’s mercy.

You can’t abbreviate him.

You fall at his feet and worship. You get up and follow. You die and he raises you on the last day.

That’s Jesus, and I have a feeling that a lot of people really don’t have a clue.

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“Measure thy life by loss and not by gain, not by the wine drunk but by the wine pourth forth. For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice and he that suffereth most hast most to give.” – Ugo Bassi

As I was perusing some of the quotes, comments and status updates on the popular social-networking sites of the day, I ran across this quote posted by a former student who is now a missionary in Thailand.

Immediately I was struck by its profound message of sacrifice and service, the essence of the missionary life. It is a concept and lifestyle that might come easier to one on mission, but should be applied by all that call themselves Christian.

We are called to serve and sacrifice. Sometimes following Christ means making painful sacrifices – possessions, friendships, relationships. But God will not forget those who have been forced to make such sacrifices for his sake.

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” – Matthew 19:29

Even though we are promised a reward for sacrificing in this life we should have other motives for wanting to serve and sacrifice for others. The early Christian church is an inspiring model for us to follow today: devoted to the teachings of the Gospel, committed to worship and fellowship together, and faithfully celebrating communion in memory of Christ’s sacrifice.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Acts 2:42-45

The writer of Hebrews extols us to the same virtue of sacrifice. He invites us to offer sacrificial praise to God continually.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:15-16

When we sacrifice our own comfort, our own needs, our own pride for others, we are remembering who we are. It’s easy to forget that when our lives are so full, so busy that one becomes self-focused just to get things done or to get our needs and wants met. A sacrificial life is one that reflects that God will provide.

A bloody, physical sacrifice of a paschal lamb, goat, or calf is not what God demands. Rather he wants us to sacrifice our own selves to Him by committing to do His will in our lives. The worship God wants from us is to serve others in His name.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the patter of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” Romans 12:1-2

Our need to sacrifice is based on the Christian requirement to love others as we love ourselves, as Christ loved us. To love, unconditionally, requires willful sacrifice. We can learn how to love from the example of Christ, and get a refresher from 1 Corinthians 13, but to truly love so deeply that we begin to “cover a multitude of sins” requires a life lived in daily submission to the will and lives of others.

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God maybe praised though Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 4:7-11

To what limit should we serve, to what limit sacrifice? God plainly supplies that answer as well. What greater act of love is there than sacrificing yourself for others? Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice not for one of us, but for all of us. To gain the gift of that sacrifice, all we have to do is accept it, by accepting Him. He laid down his life for us. We, as Christians – Christ followers – should be ready and willing to lay down our lives for others if it becomes necessary.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no on than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:13crown-of-thorns

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orchard

The Garden of Gethsemane is not really a garden but an orchard. Olive trees still grow there today. During Jesus’ day it was a place of business, an olive press producing the local areas supply of oil. This is where the word Gethsemane comes in. A gat (Hebrew) is a press, a large five-foot high square stone pillar, and a semane, or seman, is oil. So on the evening before his crucifixion he went to the orchard of the Olive Press with Peter, James, and John, to pray.

If you lived in the first century and worked with a gethsemane your day would be spent gathering olives, placing them in a woven fishnet like bag, and putting them on top of a stone table. This specially designed table is round with beveled edges that curve down to a trough. The trough is angled and funnels into a pot which holds the oil. The top is designed to receive the gethsemane. The tall square stone is lifted up and set on top of the basket and for several hours its tremendous weight is left there to crush the liquid from the olive.

olivepress

It is no mistake that Jesus spent his last evening in the Garden of Gethsemane. From there he would leave to go to the cross and receive the weight of the world, the gethsemane of our sins, blood crushed from his body running down the cross to the world below. Luke describes the pressure Jesus suffered that evening: “Being in anguish his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” It is an image of the gathsemane crushing the oil from the olive fruit.

olive press ooze
Gethsemane ever since has come to symbolize suffering. And my friends the world is crowded with gethsemanes, Herods slaughtering the innocent. Look around the United States: Oklahoma City, Heath High School, Columbine, New York City. And around the world: Dunblane in Scotland, Halabja in Iraq (i.e., the gassing of the Kurds), Srebrenica in Bosnia, and the town of Beslan, Russia.  The world is full of gethsemanes, times when and towns where the innocent have suffered.

In the face of such unspeakable horror we ask ourselves these questions:

I

First who do we turn to? It is safe to say that all of us here mourned with those mothers and fathers in Russia who lost over 300 of their children, just as the world suffered with us on September 11, 2001. In a small town the loss of 300 children turned that village into a mausoleum. A thousand years from now people will say, “Beslan, the place where all those children died.” So who do we turn too? Can anybody help in the face of such a dreadful thing? It doesn’t seem like it does it? The sorrow is so deep God seems absent.

Psalm 77, written in the Iron Age more than 2,500 years ago, stares straight in the face of some unspeakable horror that occurred to Israel. “Will the Lord cast off for ever?” the Psalmist asks. “And will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone forever? Doth his promise fail forever more? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? And I said, this is my infirmity.”

Who do we turn to when things are unexplainably painful? God? How can we when even he seems to be absent? My friends. I am not asking this question the Bible is. The Psalmist in essence is saying that there is no consolation, not even in God, when your soul has been torn from you. But even in great despair something faithful is happening. Even when we cry out “God is not there” we reveal our deep desire for God.

John Donne experienced his own Gethsemane. Donne was a 17th century poet, who experienced great pain. Because he married the daughter of a disapproving lord, he was fired from his job as assistant to the Lord Chancellor, yanked from his wife, and locked in a dungeon. (This is when he wrote that succinct line of despair, “John Donne/ Anne Donne/ Undone.”) Later, he endured a long illness, which sapped his strength almost to the point of death. In the midst of this illness, Donne wrote a series of devotions on suffering which rank among the most poignant meditations on the subject. In one of these, he considers a parallel: The sickness, which keeps him in bed, forces him to think about his spiritual condition. Suffering gets our attention; it forces us to look to God, when otherwise we would just as well ignore Him.

That’s it. Suffering gets our attention. Suffering forces us to look toward one another; forces us to ask the deeper questions about life; forces us to turn toward God. Even if it is to express our displeasure and despair, we turn to Him and in those pleas we display our faith in Him.

II

The first question is: Who do we turn to? The second is: What are we to do? The answer here is obvious. We are to pray. When Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane he went there for one reason, to pray. Why are you sleeping, Jesus asked his disciples. Get up and pray! Prayer prepares the soul for suffering. Jesus understood what lie ahead and he knew that prayer was the only way to prepare them.

Prayer does two things for us. It helps us cope with hardship. There is a story about a missionary family in Pakistan who lost their 6-month-old baby. A wise man in the area heard of their grief and came to comfort them. He said, “A tragedy like this is similar to being plunged into boiling water. If you are an egg, your affliction will make you hard-boiled and unresponsive. If you are a potato, you will emerge soft and pliable, resilient and adaptable.” It may sound funny to God, but there have been times when I have prayed, “O Lord, let me be a potato.”

Prayer helps us cope with hardship and then, here’s the second thing, it guides away from temptation. Notice that Jesus told his disciples to pray so “you will not fall into temptation.” Now that’s odd. You would expect Jesus to say, pray that you are able to endure the hardship to come. But hardship brings temptation: Temptation to compromise our principles, temptation to pursue pleasure over adversity, temptation to renounce our faith in God. Peter, James and John quickly learned this lesson as they denied that they knew Jesus. They left the scene of his betrayal afraid for their own lives. They did not pray so they did not stay.

Prayer helps us cope with life’s hardships and it keeps us from temptation. But here is one more thing you can do. Pray for the families of all those who have suffered at the hands of terrorist these past few years. Today, September 11, 2009, we remember the horrible events of 911. We shall never forget that day. And, I don’t think there is a parent today who doesn’t grieve for those Russian parents either. Both tragedies are horribly linked in our psyche. Terrorism continues to tear at our world. I would like to see the church in every country rise up an army of prayer soldiers to pray for the defeat of this evil. Those who suffer need our prayer but Christians must also go on the offensive and pray God’s kingdom come His will be done. The world is dealing with a cult of death the church must offer a culture of life.

III

First question: Who do we turn to? Answer: God, even in our despair. Second question: What do we do? Answer: Pray to cope. Pray against temptation. Pray for one another. And pray for the Kingdom to come. Third question: Where do we go from here? Answer? Well this one is a little more complicated. The answer isn’t easy because life isn’t. When Jesus left Gethsemane he went to Golgotha. At times we all seem to be running from the garden of despair to the hill of suffering.

Look at the stories of the bible. At some time or another there has been a Gethsemane for all God’s people. For Abraham it was when he was asked to sacrifice his only son. For Joseph it was those unjust years in jail. Paul had any number of Gethsemanes in his experience; he once listed the number of times he had been stoned, whipped, robbed and shipwrecked. The following is from the poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, entitled “Gethsemane”:

Down shadowy lanes, across strange streams
Bridged over by our broken dreams;
Behind the misty caps of years,
Beyond the great salt fount of tears,
The garden lies. Strive as you may,
You cannot miss it in your way.
All paths that have been, or shall be,
Pass somewhere through Gethsemane.
All those who journey, soon or late,
Must pass within the garden’s gate;
Must kneel alone in darkness there,
And battle with some fierce despair.
God pity those who cannot say,
‘Not mine but thine,’ who only pray,
‘Let this cup pass,’ and cannot see
The purpose in Gethsemane.

It would be dishonest to say that God makes everything all right in this world. The death of 3000 innocent souls who were simply going to work on September 11, eight years ago, tells me the world is crowded with Gethsemanes. The death of 4500+ soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan tells me that peace has an enormous price. The burial of 350 children in Beslan tells me that evil still wins in this world. Don’t get me wrong. I as much as any man find hope in the resurrection. I am simply cannot deny the picture painted by the Psalmist when he asks, “Will the Lord cast off for ever?” And will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone forever? Doth his promise fail forever more? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? And I said, this is my infirmity.”

So the answer to the third question? Where do we go from here? Perhaps Wilcox’s poem has it right: All paths that have been, or shall be, pass somewhere through Gethsemane. Amen.

sunset

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He Said “Thank You”…

As I was moderating a twitter-stream the other day, I posted a tweet that said, “Today is the day the Lord has made… Have you said ‘thank you’?” I got a couple of responses from that and an interesting number of retweets – apparently it was good for a thought in some peoples minds. But (like many things) it got me thinking:

Do you (yes, you reader) – do you say thank you before you ask for something – from God, from your boss, from your staff, from others?

and

Do you realize that having a grateful heart may keep you from needing a transplanted one?

It struck me as I contemplated this that just before Jesus commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead,  he thanked God for always hearing his prayers. In one of His final prayers, He thanked the Father for giving him Peter, John, James, Mary, Martha, and the rest of his ‘staff’. Jesus went through life with a thankful heart. Every prayer, and even the prayer that he taught his followers to pray, were full of thankfulness.

In this way He was showing us that gratitude is a key element of leadership because gratitude means an open heart, a listening heart, a faith-filled heart. how could anyone be a leader without faith and gratitude in a Higher Power or have abetter future built on better ways?

One of the most breathtaking sights in San Diego is the sunset on the beach. As the sun sinks slowly into the horizon, hundreds of seagulls stand and turn quietly to bid farewell. Pelicans fly by in formations, perfectly spaced and shaped, skimming just the top of the waves in the sunset salute. On the bridge across from the beach, thousands of birds line up on the electrical wires, all sitting and facing the sun, saying good-bye to the day. I like to think that they perhaps are also silently saying, “Thank you, God, for declaring that even the sparrows shall be fed.”

That image is so powerful that I can still see it in my minds eye after being away from it for many years now.

So I pose the question again: “Today is the day the LORD has made. Have YOU said Thank You yet?”…

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Monday we looked at the authority of scripture….Today we look at our belief about Jesus Christ.

It is important to note that these two essentials are intertwined. The Bible from beginning to end is the written record of God pursuing a relationship with mankind. So the love of Jesus can be felt in every word, on every page. One person has said, “Cut the Scriptures anywhere and they bleed with the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” I can understand why this would be said, because the sacrificial love of God in Jesus Christ is the focal point of the Bible. The thing that Jesus shows us most clearly about God is His love.

Love has never been a normal way of describing what happens between human beings and their God. Not once does the Qur’an apply the word love to God…and Aristotle stated bluntly, “It would be eccentric for anyone to claim that he loved Zeus.” But the Bible is different. It very clearly states that love is the reason Jesus was born. I John 4:9 says, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

So it is important — essential — for us to believe that, in Jesus, God showed His infinite love for you and me by descending to our level of existence. He became a man like any man who has ever walked the face of this earth. But while Jesus was a man like you and I, He was also unlike you and I. He was different than any man who has ever been or ever will be. Like the title of this message states, Jesus was the man who was different. There are may ways that Jesus was different from any man.

But today, I want us to understand our essential belief about Jesus Christ by looking at this text from Hebrews 1 and using it to focus our study on just two of the ways that He was different.

1. First of all, Jesus was different from any man in that He was God.

Remember the words of verse 3 of today’s text. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” These words serve to remind us that in the past there had been many great teachers who had come from God, but in Jesus, in Jesus, God did something different because Jesus was not just another teacher come from God. He was God Himself come to teach.

Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus Himself claimed to be God. In John 10:30 He said, “I and the Father are one.” In John 8:58, Jesus used the same name God used to identify Himself to Moses when He said, “Truly, truly I say to you…before Abraham was born, I AM.”

He substantiated this claim by demonstrating powerful attributes which belong to God alone. During His life He demonstrated power over nature by stilling the stormy waves( Mark 4:39 ) and by turning water into wine ( John 2:7-11 ). He showed that He had power over physical disease and power over the spirit world of demons. In fact several times Jesus both claimed and proved that He had the authority and power to raise the dead. He never attended a funeral that He did not ruin by raising the corpse back to life. He also said that He had the power to forgive sins–something that His opponents pointed out that only God could do.( Mark 2:10 ) So, Jesus was omnipotent, all powerful. But, like God, He was also omniscient, or all-knowing. You see, Jesus was the man who was different because He was God.

Since He was God then Jesus was also perfect, Holy, sinless in thought, word, or deed. And like God, Jesus is eternal. He has always existed. Do you remember the words that begin John’s Gospel? “In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was with God and the WORD was God. He was with God in the beginning.” And then pay close attention to these next words, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” Since Jesus is God, then not only is He eternal, but He created all things. So Jesus is God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, in human flesh.

But that is not the only thing that distinguishes Him from other men.

2. For not only was Jesus God….He was our Redeemer.

Jesus, the creator of the world, was also the redeemer of the world.

Think of it! Even in the misty, pre-creation past, Jesus was thinking of you and me and planning our redemption. Even at the dawn of creation it had already been decided. The One who created the world would be the One who re-created that same world.

Ephesians 1 puts it this way, “…He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. … in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

L. Nelson Bell recounted a story told by a Chinese pastor as a way of explaining Christ’s redemption. He told of a man who fell into a dark, slimy pit. He tried to climb out but could not. Confucius came along, saw the man, and aid, “Poor fellow. IF he had listened to me, he would never have fallen in.” And Confucius walked away. Then Buddha came along. “Poor fellow,” said Buddha, “If he’d come up here, I’d help him.” He, too, walked on. Then Jesus came by. Seeing the man, Jesus said, “Poor fellow,” and then He jumped down into the pit and lifted him out.”

Other religions offer rules and regulations, guidelines to follow and doctrine to believe. But only Christianity offers a living personality who comes to where we are and lifts us out of the pit of sin. Our eternal God of all-knowing power could force obedience from us, His subjects.

But although power can force obedience, it could not summon a response of love which is the one thing God desires from us and is the reason He created us.

Can we reject so great a gift?

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47 And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and elders of the people.
48 Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.” 49 Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. Matthew 26:47-49

In Oberammergau, Germany, there is a famous Passion Play, and it wonderfully portrays the life and death of Jesus. One day I was relating to a  ministry team member what the play is like, having been lucky enough to be able to attend on two seperate occasions. That conversation brought back some memories of a similar play he’d been in some years ago. I asked him what part he played, and he answered a little sheepishly, “I think maybe I was typecast. I played Judas.” Then he went on to explain what an eerie feeling it was to play the one who betrayed our Lord. But, then, haven’t we all?

It’s an unsettling thought to consider that you or I might ever play Judas in our relationship with Christ; unsettling, but sometimes all too true. Our word for today from the Word of God focuses again on what it can look like to sell out the Son of God.

Matthew 26:14 records it this way,

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

The first thing that bothers me about this is that the one who betrays Jesus is one who is really close to Him. And most of us Christians would like to think that we’re close to Jesus. We sing the psalms, and the hymns, we say the prayers, and profess that we believe. But that closeness, the piousness, the actions, are no guarantee that you won’t sell out your Savior when the price seems right. I’m sure if you had told Judas a few months before his betrayal that he was going to do this, he would have reacted the same way you and I do, “No way I’d ever betray Jesus.” But he did.

And it’s convicting to see the value judgment that led to Judas’ betrayal. There was something that seemed worth more to him than Jesus did; something he couldn’t have and also remain true to the Lord. In his case, some silver coins. Some of us have sold out Jesus for a lot less.

I wonder what your sellout price might be; the thing that you would allow to displace Jesus – the thing you would leave Jesus’ way to get? Would you push Jesus aside to have a relationship you know He doesn’t want? Or to get ahead? To get some friends or to keep your friends? Would you betray Jesus to have more money? To get married? To keep your image? Would you sell out Jesus for a little pleasure? A little relief from your pain? Would you shove Jesus aside to have your own way? More importantly, are you betraying Jesus for anything you cannot have and still remain true to Him?

Judas betrayed Jesus and he never came back. While there’s a Judas, there’s also a Peter; one close to Jesus who turned his back on Jesus. But Peter is living proof that a denier, a betrayer, can come back! In fact, when Peter repented with all his heart, all Jesus wanted to know (He asked him three times) was this, “Do you love Me?” Peter did, and Jesus entrusted major spiritual leadership to this one who had once turned his back on Him. You know, he’ll do the same for you. With Jesus, failure doesn’t ever have to be final.

The ugliest role in any story about Jesus is playing Judas. Are you?

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Then Jesus told his disciples,

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Jesus loved his disciples as much as God loved him. Jesus loves US just like Jesus loved those first 12 who heard these words. Do you hear what he was saying to them and IS saying to us?

Life is not going to be easy. Sure, there will be plenty of times of joy and happiness and fulfillment and plenty. But none of that – other than the rain last night or the sunshine this morning – comes without cost.

Life will bring surprises our way and not all of them good.

Life will give us moments of the “incredible lightness of being” – but there will also be those times when life feels like a weight upon our shoulders, a noose around our neck, a tight band around our chest, like walking with concrete shoes.

It just is! Life is like that. And as much as a parent loves their kids, and as much as God loves us, there is nothing we can do to prevent the suffering that seasons life.

Now here is a deeper truth – Sometimes, love means we ought not stop that suffering from coming.

To deny ourselves is to be open to seeing life through Jesus’ eyes. It is to live the question, “what is God up to here?” It is to let go of the reins and accept the cross. It is to relinquish control and accept our place as followers.

It is to surrender.

Let us pray:

Dear Jesus, when the road narrows and the journey gets hard, when the weight of life presses upon us and we want to just quit, come to us with the reminder that your yoke is easy and your burden is light. Come to us with the reminder that you will never give us more than we can bear. Come to us and carry us, that we might follow you in faith and courage. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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