Tag Archives: Jesus

What Jesus Never Got To Say

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What Jesus Never Got To Say

We have four gospels in the Bible that record Jesus’ words, at least in part. I’d love to know what else he said in the last few years of his life. Obviously it was much more than what is recorded in the gospels.

One thing I’ve always wondered about is this: Why did Jesus say these words on the cross? “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” What kind of a loving father turns their back on the death of their son? I’ve heard it explained in several ways. I’d like to toss one more possible explanation into the mix.

First, let’s look at a text from Luke chapter 4, beginning in verse 16.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Here’s Jesus, in the temple of Nazareth, announcing to the people that the scripture from Isaiah was written about him, and he was the fulfillment of that scripture. Wow! Those are some bold words! Needless to say, the people assembled there did not appreciate what he said. They would have been fine if he had just stopped with the reading. But saying “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing” was over the line.

Fast forward to the crucifixion. Jesus says those famous words: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” What I’ve never heard any preacher say is this: Jesus was once again quoting scripture! The full text of Psalm 22:

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. 3Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 4In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.

5To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. 7All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 8“He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

9Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. 10From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 13Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.

14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. 15My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. 17All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

19But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. 20Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. 23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
25From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. 26The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him—may your hearts live forever!

27All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
29All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

There are SO MANY things in this chapter that directly correlate with the gospels’ accounts of the crucifixion! Verse 7: All who see me mock me. Verse 15: My mouth is dried up. Verse 16: They pierce my hands and my feet. Verse 18: They cast lots for my garment. And there are more parallels in the text as well.

So, two thousand years after the fact, let me say the words Jesus never got to say from the cross.

This day is this scripture fulfilled.

Labels, Labels Everywhere

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“He’s a liberal.”

“She’s gay.”

“He’s gifted.”

“She’s a Republican.”

“They’re freeloaders.”

“You’re a slut.”

“She’s a Christian.”

“He’s an addict.”

Labels. We use them all the time. Sometimes they are positive, sometimes negative. But what’s in a label? What do labels do?

In general, labels are used to help us categorize things. If a steak is labeled USDA Grade A Choice, we have a high degree of confidence that the meat is top quality. If a movie star is labeled as “a train wreck” we’re pretty sure there are some serious issues. We don’t have to see the steak or the movie star to make these assumptions. We base our expectations on our interpretations of the labels.

But as useful as labels are, they can also be detrimental to a well-rounded understanding of the object being labeled. How big is the steak? What kind of steak is it? Is there a lot of fat on it? How much does it cost? Is it still fresh? If we look only at the label, we miss a lot of information we may find useful.

So maybe we put a second label on things. “Bone-in porterhouse” might give us more information. “6.99/lb.” provides still more information. But all the labels in the world won’t tell us how good that steak is. We only know when we take a big honkin’ bite of beef. Experience is the true test.

Now think about the labels we use on other people. “She’s a Christian.” How do you evaluate that label? If our past experience with Christians has been positive, we likely assume that she’s a good person. If our past experience has been negative, we may see the very same label and come to the conclusion that she’s a self-righteous bigot. In either case, we have ascribed a quality to the person that may or may not be warranted.

So just like we did with the steak, we add more labels to the person to minimize confusion. “She’s a liberal Christian.” So she’s either a progressive or an oxymoron, depending on your point of view. Once again, adding more labels is a failed attempt to explain just who she is. If you really want to know who she is, get to know her. See for yourself.

What happens when we attempt to label God? Savior. Great Physician. Lord. Prince of Peace. Mighty God. King of Kings. All of these are labels. Each one has its own meaning and its own connotations. Each label is an attempt to describe some facet of God. We may as well attempt to rope the wind. How can we describe the ineffable majesty that is God? How can we convey His greatness?

Moses once asked God for his preferred label. “Who shall I say sent me?” he asked. God’s answer may seem cryptic until we realize that it completely avoids the limitations that labels place on our understanding. “Tell him I AM THAT I AM sent you.” I AM. The very essence of identity, unclouded by labels.

God invites us to know him. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” the scriptures tell us. Forget the labels, and just reach out to I AM. He’ll leave the Light on for you.

Finding Grace Between the Lines

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Recently I was invited to attend St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Gastonia, NC. It was a new experience for me. I’ve been to several different denominations, but I had never been to an Episcopal church before. It was a visit I won’t soon forget.

Some things were familiar from personal experience. I learned the Nicene Creed in the Methodist church of my early childhood. The responses to the readings of Scripture were the same ones I learned listening to Cardinal Dolan’s mass on Catholic radio. The candelabras had seven tapers, common symbolism in Christian churches.

Other things were familiar only by proxy. I knew of the Presence Lamp only from reading my favorite fiction author, Katherine Kurtz. Likewise, only through my reading did I recognize the Cantor bowing respect to the High Altar.

Some things, like the Collects, were completely foreign to me. And yet they were comforting, like finding a pair of jeans that fit so well they don’t even need breaking in. The priest, Father Shawn, also fit this description. When I went in to worship, he was an unknown quantity. After one homily, he has earned my respect.

But what really blew me away was the centerpiece behind the High Altar. It was a large embossed bronze plaque containing the account from Matthew’s gospel of the baptism of Jesus.

Matthew 3:16-17 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Most Christians, including myself, have seen this passage many times. But this time, it took on an entirely new meaning for me.

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Another very familiar scripture. But in an instant, sitting at the far edge of a pew in the back of St. Mark’s, the two passages merged and took on a new meaning for me. I had to cover my mouth to stifle a gasp as the full import registered.

You see, when Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God fell on him and a voice came from heaven saying “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” And when we repent and are baptized today, the Spirit of God falls on us as well, saying “This is my beloved son or daughter, in whom I am well pleased.” It won’t be a visible dove nor an audible voice, but it’s still real. It’s a spiritual event.

Family. We are born into the Family of God. A new identity as a child of the King. And he is well pleased. Another affirmation, hidden in Holy Scripture, that God really does love us.

Peace be with you.

Render Unto Caesar?

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Matthew chapter 22, verses 15-22

15 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way.

The Pharisees devised a trap for Jesus. If he said yes, give tribute to Caesar, then he could be accused of accepting the coin of the Romans, which bore the image of Tiberius Caesar, who was held up as the son of Deity. Such an admission could be construed as accepting false idols, a mortal sin punishable by stoning. But if he said no, then the Romans could accuse him of sedition for encouraging his followers to not pay their taxes. Sedition against the government was also a capital crime.

Notice how skillfully Jesus avoids the trap. By acknowledging that the coins bore the image of Caesar, and saying the coins belonged to Caesar, he put the burden of idolatry squarely onto Caesar, where it belonged, for he had ordered the coins to be minted with his image. The Pharisees were defeated, and they went away marveling at the wisdom of Jesus.

Conventional wisdom teaches that this scripture means you should pay your taxes, and so you should. But what else is contained in the words of Jesus? There is more to this story than just a skillful avoidance of a trap.

Some churches use the second half of his statement “and render unto God that which is God’s” to mean you should give your tithes and offerings as commanded in the Old Testament. And it is important to support the church. Not because you are obligated, but because you have the opportunity to help the work of God’s kingdom.

But what exactly is “that which is God’s”? Use the same test that Jesus used to determine that which was Caesar’s. The coin which bore the image of Caesar was Caesar’s. Likewise, the coin which bears the image of God is God’s. And where is this coin? It isn’t minted in gold or silver. The coin which bears the image of God is the human heart. We are to bring our hearts to God in humility and gratitude, in all things giving thanks. This is how we render unto God that which is God’s.

God’s grace be with you always.

Twelve Panes

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Writing.com posted this photo on Facebook today with the following instructions: “The first chapter of your newest story starts here at this window. How does it start?” Of course, my mind went to grace. Once you begin seeing grace and ridding yourself of the old law-based mindset, you see grace everywhere and in everything. Even a window. I’ll likely never write a new story beginning with this paragraph, but I do think I could find a place for it in a current work in progress. Here it is:

“Twelve panes,” the pastor reflected, gazing sightlessly at the well-manicured grounds below his window. “Twelve panes make up the whole of the view. How like Jesus’ disciples is this window! Each pane yields a view slightly different from its neighbor. This one speaks of only sky, while its neighbor knows only leaves and grass. And yet each one contributes to the whole in beautiful harmony.” Could it really be that simple?

The Impossible Task

There was once a man who wanted to see what was beyond the horizon.  So he walked the whole day, and the next day, and the next.  And no matter how far he walked, he never got to see beyond the horizon.  There was always more to see and more to explore.

Learning about God’s grace is much the same way.  No matter how much you learn, or how wonderful the experience, there is always much more to learn and experience.  Trying to fully explore the depths of grace is like trying to drain the ocean with a thimble.  Every time you dip a little out, more rushes in.

Writing this blog has been humbling.  Grace is so wonderful, so magnificent, so abundant, so EVERYTHING that I just want to tell the whole world!  And yet, how can I convey the joy of knowing a loving God?  I could sooner explain sight to a blind man or hearing to the deaf.  I can write about it, but there is no substitute for finding grace for yourself.  I have rarely felt so inadequate as when I write about grace.  With what words can I convey the Infinite?  How can a phrase capture the love of God?

A treasured hymn from the last century perhaps says it best:

 

Could we with ink the ocean fill

And were the skies of parchment made

Were every stalk on earth a quill

And every man a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry

Nor could the scroll contain the whole

Though stretched from sky to sky.

 

May the Peace of God that passes all understanding be with you always.