Friday, May 31, 2019

A positive greeting: Luke 1:28

In the narrative of the angel appearing to Mary to announce that she would bear the son of God, the angel announces himself to her by saying, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28) What is interesting in this greeting is that, in the Greek, the word translated here as “Greetings” is the Greek verb meaning to rejoice and is spoken here as an imperative which, in the Greek, is a command or exhortation. The angle was not simply saying “Hello” to Mary, he was commanding, or exhorting, her to rejoice! His greeting was focused on her and was intended to remind her of God’s favor and blessings in her life and to exhort her to rejoice in the reality of these blessings.

This scripture makes me think of those people I’ve met who are the exact opposite of this angle. When you encounter them, they project a lack of joy and a sense of defeat and despair. They are like Eeyore, whose greeting went something like this, “Good morning… if it is… which I doubt!” They are so consumed with their own problems that they never consider how their greeting could be used to encourage someone else and to be a reminder to them to rejoice in the Lord. They are inward focused and project that focus towards others. This is not to say that we should be hypocritical in our greetings of others, but the truth is that there is always a reason to rejoice in the blessings and favor of God, regardless of how we might feel.

This scripture causes me to ask myself, “When I meet other people, am I a blessing to them, or do I burden them with my own cloudy disposition? In greeting people, do I lift them up or drag them down?” Sometimes, the key to blessing others is to learn to be positive and encouraging when we greet them.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Living out faith and obedience: Luke 1:6

In telling the story of the birth of John the Baptist, Luke notes that both his father Zacharias and his mother Elizabeth were “righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (Luke 1:6) What is interesting in the Greek is that the verb translated here as “walking” is not the normal verb for walking. Rather, Luke uses a verb that simply means to “go.” In other words, one could translate this, “they were going in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”

God never meant for us to live our religion hidden away of some secluded cloister fighting our inner demons alone. Rather, God meant our religion to be live in the world, as we went about our daily lives. To live a religious life, we need to live our life; keeping the commandments as we go. It is interesting to note that, in rebuking the religious elite who had a knowledge of religion but not a lifestyle of religion, he counseled them, “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.’” (Mat 9:13) Sometimes we never fully come to understand and appreciate the commandments of God until we go forth to do them. It is in the going that they begin to make sense.

In seeing this scripture in this light, I must ask myself, “To what degree am I truly living the faith I confess or is it merely head knowledge to which I have added my agreement?” Life must be lived, and true life must be lived in the knowledge and obedience of God.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Go tell my brothers: Mat 28:10

On the third day after Jesus' crucifixion, the two Marys went to the tomb see the place where Jesus was laid. However, when they got there, the tomb was open, and Jesus' body was no longer there. As they were leaving, Jesus met the two Marys and said, "Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me." (Mat 28:10) What I find interesting in this verse is how Jesus refers to his disciples. Jesus uses the Greek word for “brothers,” which can mean a naturally born brother, a fellow countryman, for simply a fellow man. Jesus did not refer to them as his disciples, his servant, or his underlings, but his brothers. We often think of God as our father and Jesus as our Lord, but rarely think of Jesus as our elder brother. Yet the writer of Hebrews says, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” (Heb 2:11)

Understanding this verse in this manner causes me to ask myself, “If Jesus views us as his brothers and sisters, how should I view others around me?” Jesus told us to be careful of titles and of seeing ourselves as being over or above others. He said, “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Mat 23:8) In our western model of church where we so often overlay a business model upon the church with its many layers of authority; with each layer being over another as each layer is beneath another. Within such a model, it is tempting to see people in terms of how they fit into our authority structures rather than simply brothers and sisters. I believe that any church structure or model that erodes the universal brotherhood (and sisterhood) of believers runs counter to the message of Christ. Let us cease looking at others in regard to their position relative to us and let us resume seeing each other as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Choose for yourself: Mat 27:20

When Jesus was on trial, it was the custom of the governor to release one prisoner to the people during Passover. In jail, along with Jesus, was a man named Barabbas, who had committed murder and insurrection. However, “the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death.” (Mat 27:20) What is interesting in this verse if the infinitive “to ask.” Each verb in the Greek language can be spoken with one of three voices. There is the Active voice where the subject does the action. For example, “The teacher taught.” The teacher did the action of teaching. There is the Passive voice where the action is done to the subject. For example, “The student was taught.” The act of teaching was done to the student. Finally, there is the Middle voice. This is where the subject does the action for themselves.

In this verse, the people were persuaded to ask “for themselves” to have Barabbas released and for Jesus to be put to death. This was more than political gamesmanship. This was more than a strategic move to have Jesus put to death. This was a personal decision, on the part of the people, for whom they wanted for themselves. For themselves, they wanted Barabbas.

This verse makes me ask the question, “Who do I choose for myself?” Some choose Jesus because others around them do. Some choose him because their parents did. But do they choose him for themselves? This choice of choosing Jesus or choosing someone else is a very personal choice and must be made, not because others do or because of outside influences, but because we choose him ourselves and for ourselves. This is not a decision someone else can make for us; we must make the decisions ourselves for ourselves.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Honor, value, and price: Mat 27:9

In reading the story of Jesus’ betrayal, Matthew writes that, after Judas had a change of heart, he tried to return the money given to him for betraying Jesus. However, because the money was blood money, the priests would not return it to the temple treasury. Instead, they purchased a field in which they might bury strangers. This was to fulfill the prophecy which said, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; and they gave them for the Potter’s Field, as the Lord directed me.” (Mat 27:9) What is interesting in this passage is that the Greek word translated as “price” is the same Greek word for “honor.” In fact, one might be tempted to translate this verse as, “the honor of the one who had been honored as set by the sons of Israel.”

It is obvious, in this case, that “price” is a better translation than “honor.” However, what is interesting is, in Greek, honor is related to both value and price. Our honor towards people and things is directly related to both the value we assign to them and the price we are willing to pay for them. For example, if we value our wives and are willing to lay down our lives for them, then we will honor them. However, if we see little value in the people around us, and are not willing to be inconvenienced by their needs, then we will dishonor them in both our attitudes and actions. We will never honor anyone or anything we do not value, and if we do not value them, we will never pay the required price demanded by their value.

Understanding the scripture in this way, causes me to ask myself, “How much do I value the people around me? And what price am I willing to pay for their relationship?” Similarly, “How much do I value God, and how much am I willing to sacrifice for him?” Honor is not some subconscious emotion; it flows from an active determination of the value of other things and it moves us to pay whatever price is necessary for having those things in our lives.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Your will be done: Mat 26:36-46

On the night Jesus was to be betrayed, he and his disciples withdrew to a garden called Gethsemane. Taking Peter, James, and John, Jesus told them to wait and pray, while he went a bit further and prayed thus, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Mat 26:39) Returning, Jesus found then asleep. Waking them, he commanded them to “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation.” (Mat 26:41) Having said this, he went back and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Mat 26:42) Coming back a second time, Jesus found his disciples again asleep. Leaving them to sleep, he returned and prayed the same thing.

What is interesting in this passage is that, in the Greek, the phrase, “Your will be done,” is an imperative (a command). Jesus was not just praying, “What every you want father…” or “If it be your will…” or “You're in charge…” Jesus was actually engaging the will of God and commanding it over his life. Even knowing full well what awaited him, he was so fully committed to God’s will that he was not content to passively wait for it. Instead, he commanded its coming into his life.

This same commanding of the will of God is also found in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mat 6:10) Often, when I pray this prayer, I think of all the positive things that accompany his will and kingdom, such as, salvation, healing, provision, mercy, grace, love, etc. However, I rarely think about what the establishment of his will and kingdom in my life might cost me. Often, the path to God’s will and plan for our lives pass through times of suffering, trial, and pain. Understanding the cost of having God’s will and kingdom in this light causes me to ask myself, “Am I just as committed at commanding the will of God over my life even if it might mean seasons of trial and suffering?” My hope is that, like Jesus, I would. No matter the cost, there is nothing that would be more beneficial nor a greater blessing to my life than having the kingdom and will of God come fully into my life.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

I am desiring but you are not: Mat 23:37

Shortly before his death, Jesus looked over Jerusalem and mourned saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Mat 23:37) In this passage, Jesus contrasts his will with those of the Jews living in Jerusalem. He does this by repeating the verb translated here as “wanted” and “unwilling”. The verb is thelō and means to actively will or to desire. This was not some remote wish in which Jesus thought it might be nice if he could gather the children of Jerusalem under his care. He was actively desiring and willing to do so. The problem was that they, the people of Jerusalem, were actively desiring not to do so. The contrast here could not be any clearer, Jesus was desiring, but they were not desiring.

In this, we see the root of so many of our troubles. Jesus is desiring to draw us close to him, but we are not desiring. Rather we are desiring to go our own way, to be independent, to live our own life. We are like those in the parable that Jesus taught who said regarding their king, “We do not want this man to reign over us.” (Luke 19:14) It is not even as if Jesus is desiring things that would be harmful, hurtful, or in any way in opposition to our best interests. But we still prefer our own will and continue to seek after the things we desire, not those he desires for us.

Understanding this scripture in this way causes me to ask myself, “Do I desire the things God desires or, like those in Jesus day, am I among those who do not desire; one who desires my own desires and does not desire after the desires of God? The key to desiring the desires of God is to grow in our relationship with him and to learn to delight ourselves in him. If we do, he has promised to “give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalms 37:4) He will not only give us the things we desire, but he will also give us new desires that we might desire after the things he desires for us.