Mary the Mother of Jesus the Son of God
I don’t think we can come close to imagining Mary’s love for and devotion to her son. She alone among all mothers can truly be described as the mother of the “perfect child.” One day, we will know Mary, as she truly is rather than according to the historical and theological embellishments. The truth that we know of Mary testifies of a remarkable lover and disciple of the Lord. She truly is revealed in Scripture as a woman “full of grace.”
Mary’s response to the message of God’s angel Gabriel shows the humility and submission of an earnest disciple of the Lord, “Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) She fully yields to the Lord’s word and the movement of the Holy Spirit in her life.
Her cousin Elizabeth describes Mary as the “mother of my Lord” and as blessed because she believed the promises of the Lord. Discipleship begins and ends with grace from the Lord and belief from the disciple.
Mary responds to Elizabeth’s interaction with her by proclaiming her “Song of Praise” that begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47) Mary consistently demonstrates the appropriate posture of the Lord’s disciple. She seeks to magnify and glorify the Lord, not herself, and her joy is in the Lord and not the world.
Scripture describes Mary as marveling at what is said about Jesus. I imagine this describes a consistent response to Jesus’ life by his mother. From the announcement by Gabriel onward, she marvels and treasures mysteries in her heart, as she conceives, gives birth to and raises God’s son. As with any disciple of Jesus, her life includes wonderful glory and painful sorrow and trials. With Mary, these are much more extreme and felt more deeply than with others.
Mary wasn’t perfect and surely worried and feared for her son, as most mother’s do. I wonder if like my mom (and wife) she exhorted Jesus to “Be careful!” each time he ventured out the door. How keenly her eye must have been on Jesus the toddler, the teenager, the young man and then the Prophet out in the world. Still, we see Mary’s family as being large and full of life and sibling dynamics. She was a mother to more than to Jesus, and she was nothing less than mother to Jesus. She is first and foremost Jesus’ mother. In a sense, she also had to drink the cup of God’s wrath. Actually, not “in a sense;” she did drink from that cup the Father gave to Jesus, as his sacrifice and suffering must have overwhelmed her being with pain and shuddering. Her letting go of Jesus for Jesus and for all people reveals the “greater love” of giving up one’s very life.
At the dedication of Jesus at the Temple, the prophet Simeon proclaims to Mary that a “sword will pierce through your own soul also.” She knows Jesus through his entire life and follows him through his ministry to the cross. Can we even approach coming to terms with how Jesus must have honored and loved his mother during her lifetime? His devotion to his mother can only be equaled by her pain and sorrow at his death.
In the Liturgy of the Stations of the Cross, Station 13: “Jesus’ Body is Removed from the Cross” includes the text taken from Lamentations 1:12 that seems to express Mary’s thoughts at the death of her son, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.”
She was there watching, feeling the sword pierce her heart and it breaking to pieces. Darkness must have seemed to cover her world, as it covered Jerusalem during the crucifixion. John tells us, “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:25-27)
There is the time recorded in the gospel when Mary accompanies her other children to go apparently help Jesus. Mark writes, “Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”” (Mark 3:20-21) His mother and his brothers came to “capture” him and take him home. I wonder if Mary is thinking and telling her other sons something like, “Look, He’s not out of his mind; he is God’s Son; he is the Messiah! He’s doing what he has to do.” Or, did Mary give in to that fleeting hope that maybe they could get him to come home and just stay and put this whole thing off a while.
We face all of these dilemmas to a much lesser extent in following and loving Jesus. We cannot avoid the sword piercing our soul. We cannot avoid the dark day of the cross and nights of the tomb that come into our lives. We cannot live in the fallen world as Jesus’ disciples and avoid feeling sorrow and tasting bitterness. As it was to John in Revelation and to so many of the prophets, the story of God’s redemptive-salvation comes tasting sweet in our mouths but at times causing bitterness in our stomachs. (Revelation 10:9-10) This is why the call of Revelation is for “patient endurance.”
Mary walked through the heights of being the mother of the most wonderful person who ever did or ever will live. She experienced the sweetness of Jesus. At the cross, she descended into the bitterness of the valley of the shadow of death. Our discipleship may follow similar paths of sweetness and bitterness. I hope that we will be faithful to stand with and for Jesus, as Mary was faithful among all people. We will then be blessed, as she is blessed. I pray that our devotion to Jesus will honor his mother and make her glad.
The reunion of the risen Christ with his mother Mary is not recorded in the Scriptures. I imagine this intimate event was so wonderful and joyful to be indescribable while also being a private celebration between a mother who smothers in loving embrace the son she thought she had lost. Had it been witnessed and reported by any of the gospel authors, it surely would have become the second time in the gospels that Jesus wept; although, this time his weeping would be tears of joy. What joy and gladness to heal Mary’s broken heart and turn her mourning to rejoicing!
April 15, 2014
On the Sunday we call Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, the gospel reading (Matthew 21:1-11 & 27:11-54) offers the vivid picture of our Lord riding triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey to the cheers of his disciples and the crowds. Matthew writes, “The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)
The crowds are correct in their praise. Truly, this is the Lord; this is the Messiah, the King of kings who has come. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees who command that he silence the crowd. He responds, “”I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40)
This is the one through whom all creation was made. He is the one who has no beginning and no end. As the early church declared, “There was never a time when he was not.” Jesus came to the earth from the glory of heaven. In his pastoral, priestly prayer prior to his arrest, Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:5)
This hearkens back to Jesus’ birth when the angel appeared in great glory and declared to the shepherds, “A Savior who is Christ the Lord” has been born. Then heaven opened and the multitude of angels sang “Glory to God in the highest.” This glorious announcement of the Christ would seem to point to a prince being born in a king’s palace. Rather, the shepherds arrived at a manger and viewed this Christ, humble and poor with his parents, seemingly needy like us.
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem seems to be an event to precede a majestic enthronement of the Christ. It is easy for Christians to go from the Sunday of the Palms to Easter Sunday—from glory to glory, and avoid the road between; however, that is not the way of Jesus. Jesus’ birth, his triumphal entry, his journey in the flesh, occur on the way of the cross. The way of following Jesus leads to the cross.
The meaningful relationships and accomplishments in our own lives often involve glorious events marking the way of the cross. Marriage begins with glory and has glorious moments, and it also includes the way of the cross of self-denial, dying to self, bearing with one another, commitment and submission. The glory of parenthood—the birth and the milestones, coincides with taking up one’s cross and sacrificing for the sake of others. Sports, careers, education, etc., can only lead to glorious moments as much as one follows the way of the cross of discipline and submission.
Many of us Christians would say we know and understand what it means to be a Christian. “Of course, we know how to be a Christian!” we would say. I know how to play golf, too, “It’s easy…Tee up the ball and hit it until it is in the hole.” That hides the reality that I don’t know how to play golf well. I continue to play badly, but yes, I know how to play.
We might describe being a Christian as getting saved by accepting Jesus, trying to live a good life and going to heaven when you die. That is true. The Christian life involves that. Like my description of golf, it doesn’t tell the whole story. We can know about the Christian life and even how to do it and not do it very well at all. I think the biggest reason for living the Christian life poorly is because we expect or demand to live from glory to glory yet resist and reject the way of the cross. Jesus says we simply cannot be his disciples apart from the way of the cross.
We can be childish Christians refusing to mature in the faith. Like a child who picks up a guitar and strums the strings making noise who says, “Ha! I know how to play the guitar,” we play at being a Christian by avoiding the way of the cross. James Packer describes these as “innumerable converts who are existing in what seems a permanent baby stage – Christians who were never properly discipled and who spiritually have never grown up.” Packer praises the Lord for his unfathomable love and faithfulness by which he keeps such immature Christians safe in the world.
Jesus’ life is bookmarked by a glorious birth announcement and a glorious resurrection; in between these is the way of the cross. It is Jesus’ death that speaks to the centurion at the cross who declares, “Truly this was the Son of God!” We know God’s Son, Jesus, will arises from death to great glory.
The glory of the Son of God is revealed in a passage of Revelation that reflects some of the jubilation and waving of Palm branches present in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem,
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)
We see the glory of God in the victory of Jesus Christ over sin, death and the realm of Satan. The saints in heaven rejoice in his glory. We sometimes imagine or may even describe the Christian journey as from “glory to glory.” Paul writes, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)
Return to the picture of the glorious worship in heaven in Revelation 7:
“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13-14)
Only the blood of the Lamb is what allows for this glorious scene. For Jesus, the triumphal entry to the resurrection and his exaltation in heaven was traversed only by the way of the cross.
The road linking Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry, to Easter is the way of the cross. The journey from our baptism, the washing of repentance and the new birth in Christ, to our entrance into this great multitude before the throne of God in heaven is also the way of the cross. We live in the great tribulation of this fallen world. We will come out of it victorious by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The way to victory in Christ is the way of the cross.
We can only be Easter people if we are also Good Friday people. If Jesus had merely ruled in his glory on earth, we would never have been saved from sin. Because Jesus went to the cross, we can proclaim that even at the grave, “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
As Christians, we are in Christ, and Christ is in us. He is our “hope of glory.” Paul writes, “thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” (2 Corinthians 2:14) We could misinterpret this as describing a life of glory and triumph and having all we want during a royal life.
The Apostle Paul continues and describes the Christian life this way, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-11)
When we consider our lives, we can identify times of affliction that we survived. We have been perplexed, disillusioned and frustrated; life sometimes strikes us down. We go through trials, and the Christian life doesn’t exempt us from trouble. In the midst of all of these and on the way of the cross, we have victory through Jesus. We may be driven to despair; however, we don’t have to go there ever, because we have hope and salvation.
Jesus exhorts the church, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)
The way of the cross may include faithfulness unto death—that is the way of the church! Jesus was triumphant always during his pilgrimage in the flesh. He was never defeated and never failed. His pilgrimage was for the glory of God. He gave up his rights to glory and became a servant to the Father’s will. His obedience led him to death on the cross. For that faithful obedience, he is exalted in glory above all things. (Philippians 2:5-11)
I think Pope Benedict makes a poignant assertion, “Yet we know that through all the centuries, right up to the present, Christians need the Lord to teach every generation anew that his way is not the way of earthly power and glory, but the way of the Cross.” (Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict)
To worship the Lord in “Spirit and truth,” as he desires requires that we follow Jesus from glory to glory along the way of the cross. Our destiny through Jesus is certain. If we have experienced the glorious event of new birth in Christ, we are assured that we will experience the glory of his eternal kingdom of heaven. That path from the glory of new birth to the glory of heaven takes us to the cross. We are being conformed to Christ and shaped by the Lord, so that with Paul we can proclaim, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
We will be where he is. As Jesus prayed for himself to return to glory, he prayed also for us to be with him in glory, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)
It is a mystery to me why the apostles of the Lord suffered and most were martyred for their faith. I don’t understand why the Lord has allowed so many of his faithful followers in the early church to be killed for their faith. I am saddened for the Christians who have suffered under communist, Islamic and other oppressive regimes in my own lifetime. I am frustrated to hear of Christians in Syria, even children, who were tortured and killed for their faith during the month of this writing.
I know this is the way of the cross; it is the way from glory to glory. It is the way of discipleship—to take up our cross, deny ourselves, lose our lives, following in the way of our Lord. I know it is for his glory and good purpose.
A prayer from the Book of Common Prayer “collects” the calling of the Christians and the reliance on God’s grace, guidance and power.
“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.
The author John introduces the story of Jesus raising Lazarus by identifying Lazarus as the brother of Mary “who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair.” John has not yet given his readers the account of the anointing of Jesus by Mary; it actually follows in the next chapter. However, John wants his readers to know that this is “the Mary.” Perhaps they had heard of her devotion to Jesus. The early church may have already had its heroes of the faith.
Upon the illness of their brother, the sisters Martha and Mary send a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love it ill.” This phrase is similar to the way John describes himself as “the disciple Jesus whom Jesus loved.” (John 21:20) By this time in their relationship with Jesus, the women know that Jesus loves them and their brother. They also know that he is the healer and miracle worker, and they place their hopes in his response. They may have even calculated the time at which the healing would occur… “Let’s see; it should take a day for the message to get to Jesus and then about a minute for him to send the healing to Lazarus.” They waited.
John’s audience sees the reaction of Jesus. He waits, too, but he knows. He walks by the light of God, and God is orchestrating the events for his glory and so that people would believe. John’s entire gospel is written, so that people might believe and have life in his name. (John 20:30-31) Through his historical narrative, John will illustrate to his audience the passion, power and purpose of Jesus.
These four days of Lazarus being dead and in the grave were surely times of torment for Mary and Martha. As Jesus arrives in Bethany, we see their woe is fresh and fervent. How many questions would have entered their minds beginning with “Why…?” and “What if…?” or “If only…” They must have wondered what had been going on in Jesus’ mind. This is a topic that theologians continually debate: “What did Jesus know?” “When did he know it?” And “Why did he do what he did?”
Jesus’ disciples with him don’t know either. They warn him that he is entering an area of opposition that may even lead to his death. Thomas speaks up and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” We cannot determine whether this is inspired by courage or surrender.
What we see in this historical event narrated by John is that nobody knows what Jesus is doing—not his disciples, not his friends, not the villagers. Each person has his or her image of Jesus, who he is and what he is doing, and some are nearer the truth than others. Knowing Jesus begins and ends with clinging to him, trusting him and loving him. We cling to Jesus, so that we can keep our eyes on him and learn of him. We trust him because he is the Good Shepherd leading us to abundant life. We love him because he has first loved us and continues to lavish his love upon us and others. We cannot, however, figure him out.
Martha runs to Jesus first, as he approaches their village. Jesus assures her that her hopes have not been dashed but will be fulfilled, even now. How similar his conversations with Martha and Mary sound to his discussion with the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus following his resurrection. Jesus’ ministry restores hope of life in the face of death and the grave. Surely, Martha’s heart began to burn within her at Jesus’ words of hopefulness, “Your brother will rise again…I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. ”
In the midst of the story, Jesus gets to the point with Martha, “Do you believe this?” Do you, today, believe this? In the midst of your story, do you believe that by faith in Jesus you have eternal life and shall never spiritually die?
Martha is then sent to Mary. Listen to her message to Mary, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” Jesus calls for Mary. While she has been wondering where Jesus is and calling for him, he comes and calls for her. Mary is on Jesus’ mind. We, his children, are on Jesus’ mind. Jesus doesn’t act according to our dictates or egos’ desires, but we are on his mind. He is working, so that we might believe and receive life to his Father’s glory. What a wonder?! This is Jesus’ purpose.
Mary goes to Jesus quickly and immediately. How do you respond when Jesus calls? How do you respond to knowing that you are on his mind. Mary comes to Jesus and falls at his feet. This is a posture of worship and possibly exasperation. At the feet of Jesus is an appropriate place for either. He is worthy of our worship and competent to handle our exasperation.
Through tears, Mary expresses her faith in Jesus and her unfulfilled expectations, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Can Jesus handle our disappointment in him? Should we hide it or confess it? Does he get angry at our doubt and unfulfilled desires of him? John makes sure that his audience sees Jesus’ passionate emotional and gut reaction,
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled,” and, “He wept.” Jesus loves this woman weeping at his feet pouring out her heart to him. He becomes deeply moved by her. He is deeply troubled by the presence of sin, death and sorrow in this world that was made through him for his Father’s glory. He has come to overcome these evils. It has not been in stoicism or with a robotic response that Jesus has come from heaven. Jesus loves deeply and hurts deeply. He has come for an eternal purpose. His passion and power are demonstrated in fulfilling his purpose.
When Jesus comes to the tomb, he is “deeply moved again.” This is the passion of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will come with earthquakes, thunder and lightning. He is the one whose passion will cause the stars to fall from the sky and the entire old order of things to pass away to make room for the new heavens and new earth. He has come to conquer sin, Satan and death for the glory of God and to give eternal life to all who believe.
Martha’s protests are firmly rebuked by Jesus, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Sometimes rather than follow Jesus up a mountain to see the glory of God we are asked by God to merely wait in faith. We wait in faith by staying close to him and his promises. We keep our eyes on him looking for him to come. We keep our ears open to his words listening for his voice. We continue in the fellowship of the saints surrounded by the “cloud of witnesses” and worshipping God with our fellow servants the angels.
And we wait for the door of heaven to be opened into our lives. God hears us, as he heard Jesus offering prayers while he was on the earth. God answers our prayers, so that we and those around us may believe in Jesus.
After commanding people to take the stone away, Jesus calls Lazarus forth from death back to life, restores his body to health and returns him to his family and the world. The one whom Jesus loves is with Jesus again. Jesus, the resurrection and the life, has come and all is well.
We cannot minimize or dismiss the anguish that Mary and Martha endured for the four days of their brother’s death. In his sovereignty and love, God not only allowed it but brought it about for a higher and better, eternal purpose. Jesus did not exempt himself from their anguish; he entered it and experienced their pain and sorrow himself. If Jesus does not seem to be present or acting according to your expectations, do not fear, doubt or become angry. He is present, and he has taken in your pain, sorrow and fervent pleas. He sees the victory and will bring the revelation of God’s glorious workings. Mary and Martha learned that with Jesus their mourning may last a period of time but rejoicing is sure to come. Faith in Jesus leads to rejoicing and life.
All of Scripture prophetically proclaims the coming glory of God. If we believe, we can rejoice now at the assurance of Jesus’ coming. The message of Revelation encourages readers to have “patient endurance” in light of their trials and the certain coming of their Savior and King to make “all things new.” The strength, faith, patience, endurance and assurance comes only from Jesus and our intimacy with him. The story of Lazarus, if it teaches us anything, teaches us to keep the faith in Jesus, even against all odds, even against the reality of the burial stone placed before the tomb.
We live in a fallen world in which even “the one Jesus loves” can suffer in pain or trouble, even to the point of an untimely death. We may face severe anguish and mourning in our lives. In all of these things, Jesus comes in passion, in power and with purpose. He comes so that you might believe and have life.
If the Lazarus story shows what Jesus can do with a person dead four days and hidden away in a tomb, what can he do with you when you place your life in his hands? He is passionate for you. He has demonstrated his willingness to use his power to fulfill God’s purpose in your life. If you put your life in God’s hands, you are sure to see God’s hands in your life.
Pray, as the psalmist prays, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Psalm 138:8)
March 31, 2014
Jesus sees the man blind from birth. The disciples seem to casually comment on the man’s state in life. Jesus responds that the man’s blindness from birth exists that God’s works might be revealed in him. Jesus doesn’t pass by the man. Jesus truly sees him; and, in fact, he has seen him from the time he was formed in his mother’s womb. God has seen his blindness; it has occurred in God’s sovereignty. His blindness did not occur due to evolution gone wrong or as punishment. God has been seeing this man from before the foundation of the world.
Not just this man’s blindness but all creation exists, so that God’s glorious workings might be revealed and known to all beings. Jesus sees you today. He sees your state; he knows you and has known you from before you were created and formed in your mother’s womb. Jesus isn’t passing by you either. He has come to you to reveal God’s glory in your life.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
We are satisfied in Christ not when we get what we want or achieve our own glory. We are satisfied in Christ when we seek his glory and pursue it by our works and devotion. Jesus includes us in his works, “We must work the works of him who sent me,” Jesus says. Our lives exists for God’s glory. It is our good news that what gives God glory is for us to be fully alive. So Jesus has come to give us abundant life. He comes to us for this reason.
The early Church Father Irenaeus’ affirms this reality in his famous assertion, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
Jesus comes to the blind man to make him more fully alive by giving him sight and salvation. Jesus declares himself the light of the world while he is in the world. His work in the world is to set others alight with himself, so that they might become the light of the world. This begins by seeing Jesus before us.
Jesus, my God, my sweetest Love,
Strike and inflame this heart of mine,
Make it all fire for love of thee.
Whereas the disciples might have been satisfied by Jesus shining a light on the blind man’s sin and passing by him, Jesus does not become satisfied with anyone’s life until it conforms to his own. Jesus has come to overcome our sinfulness. We all fall short of God’s glory, and Jesus brings God’s glory into our lives to raise us up with him.
Jesus mixes mud and his spit and places it on the man’s eyes. Then he commands him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. He does and is healed. The blind man can see. Does Jesus heal him by this process to test him, to give him something tangible to help his faith, to send him away to avoid a circus or some other reason? Is the washing in the pool analogous to our washing in baptismal waters in which we die to ourselves and are raised to new life?
We see the command and the obedience leading to the result. It might be true that those things for which you are praying require some obedience on your part. Listen to Jesus as you present your requests to him. Is he commanding you to do something? Our faith response to his commands acknowledges that God is working for our good and his commands lead us into his abundant life.
The blind man returns to his village and those who know him. He can see, and they are amazed and in a quandary. Jesus has slipped away, and all the man knows is his story about Jesus and his healing.
Now we see the authorities of the time attempt to discredit the man, dismiss Jesus and maintain their control and positions. Why is it that worldly authorities so often persecute, oppress, ridicule and reject Jesus Christ and Christianity? Jesus Christ is the threat to every world system. He is the threat to Communists, Islamists, Secularists, Dictators and to a government that seeks to grow its power and status. He is the threat to religious authorities who have mired themselves in legalism and control.
The reason is the same one that causes you and I to attempt to dismiss Jesus’ commands, the authority of his body, the aim of his word in Scripture and the undeniable force of his unconditional love. All of these threaten the authority of the self and our world, as we have defined it and found it comforting.
The question comes to us as it did to the blind man who can see, “What do you say about him?” Is he Lord? Is he a prophet, a teacher? Today, for us the question is whether Jesus is alive and Lord. How would our life answer this question? How do our vocational actions, our family time and our alone time answer the question of who Jesus is?
Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish Christian theologian, wrote “The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? …Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”
If Jesus is our Lord, we must submit to him as disciples. Jesus says of his disciples, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
As his disciples, we must pursue sight. We simply cannot entertain our own ideas, the devices and desires of our hearts, about how to live; these invariably serve ourselves. We must live according to the mind of Christ. He is the one who rules and reigns. He comes to us to give sight, and often, we, like the Pharisees in the gospel don’t want to see or hear about the truth.
The author of Hebrews writes that “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
Adam and Eve teach us that it is a terrifying event to face God in our nakedness of sin. God calls to us, searches for us and comes to us. We hide in any covering we can find to protect ourselves as we are. Tragically, we end up hiding in our pain, shame, pride, delusions, brokenness and enslavement to sin. Jesus comes to heal us and transform us from that darkness into his glorious light.
Roman Catholic priest and activist Dan Berrigan asserted, “You cannot set up a court in the kingdom of the blind and condemn those who see.” That is what the Pharisees do for the blind man who now sees. It is what we might also do to the presence of Jesus and the living and active word of God. We condemn it before our busy, sinful, indulgent selves. “I don’t have time.” “I don’t understand.” “I’m fine.” “I just want to be inspired and encouraged—no need for a two-edged sword, just a brushing off will do me fine today.” A bit of a pep-talk is what we want. We want a preacher like a coach at halftime to give us some plays and motivation and send us back out.
What Jesus is showing us is that we are blind to him and his workings. To Samuel, the great prophet, God says, “Do not look on his appearance…For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
The Pharisees make an accurate statement to the blind man when they tell him, “You were born in utter sin” (Jn 9:34) The mistake they make is assuming that they are not also born in sin and slaves to sin. The good news of Jesus is that he has come to free us from sin that we might see the glory of God. We have been born in sin, but through Jesus we can be born from the Father in holiness.
The Pharisees assert, “We are disciples of Moses…As for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” They reject Jesus supposedly because they do not know him well enough. None of us knows Jesus well enough. We might say something like the Pharisees, “I am comfortable with what I know. I am not going further.” Or, “As for knowing more Scripture, or experiencing the gifts of the Spirit, or telling people about my relationship with Jesus, or serving in the church or praying with others, well, I don’t know about that.” In other words, we say to Jesus, “Bless me, but otherwise please don’t bother me.”
The blind man who can see has been blessed, and he has also been quite bothered. His parents have been disturbed and threatened. He has been harassed, insulted and thrown out of the religious community; he was “cast out.”
Jesus finds him. He is on Jesus’ heart, and Jesus comes again to the blind man who can see and leads him to salvation. How? The same way that we are saved or that others are saved. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus says.
The blind man who sees asks, “Who is he?”
Jesus responds by revealing himself as the One present and the One speaking. He reveals himself as the Lord who has come for salvation. He is present not to condemn but to save, not to enslave but free, not to take away life but to give abundant life. He has come for your good! He is with you now speaking to you and seeing you in love and compassion.
What Jesus desires is for us to believe and proclaim, “Lord, I believe.” And as the seeing man responds with worship of Jesus, Jesus desires our worship and obedience…this is the way to life for us and glory for God. The true disciples of Jesus will ask the Lord repeatedly, “Tell me more and show me more, so that I may believe more.”
Today, admit to Jesus your blindness, so that he can give you sight. Admit to Jesus your sinfulness, so he can give you forgiveness. Admit to Jesus your pains and brokenness, so that he can heal you. When we confess these things, Jesus will remove what hinders our relationship with him,
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
Finally, admit to Jesus your desire for true life, so that he can give you abundant life. This is why he has come and is present in the Holy Spirit today.
March 27, 2014
She is a stranger to Jesus and the Jews who soon experiences salvation and transformation resulting from a period of intimacy with the Lord of life. John tells us of this occasion in Jesus’ ministry. For John, this historical event also serves as a rich, deep parable for his audience to engage in meditative reflection to discern the revelation for their own lives.
The woman from the Samaritan town of Sychar comes to draw water at noon. Jesus has sat himself at the well while his disciples have gone off to find food. Rather than ignore the woman or engage in polite mannerly greetings. Jesus demands of her, “Give me a drink.”
Jesus has been described as a “friend of sinners.” Today, this has often morphed into imagining Jesus “hanging out” with sinners; however, as a friend to sinners, Jesus engages them, confronts them and seeks to transform them into his children and disciples. “Give me a drink” begins the confrontation on the road to transformation.
The woman is taken aback. She sees the interaction in terms of “Who are you?” and “Who am I?” She sees a great divide between the Jewish man and herself a Samaritan woman. It reminds me of how 10 of the 12 Jewish spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land responded to the giants of the land. They declared defeatedly, “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers 13.33) This woman seems to have a similar self-image, “Why would you ask someone lowly and despised like me for a drink?”
Jesus gets to the point about the reality of the situation, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Jesus doesn’t respond to the labels or divide. He speaks to the reality of who he is and what he offers. Think about the two things, “If you knew the gift of God,” and “If you knew who I am.”
Do you really know the gift of God? Does your life reflect a deep awareness of knowing the gift of God? The gift of God is infinite. In fact, the gift is the one who speaks to the woman. Jesus is the gift of God who has come into the world that all who believe may have life. We think we know him and the gift, but we can never fully know him. We can continually meditate on the gift and the God. I think Jesus’ question is appropriately posed to us each day of our existence. Ask yourself daily, “Do I know the gift of God?” and “Do I know the One speaking to me?” Do you know that He is present and speaking to you?
I love the fact that Jesus doesn’t follow up the “If you knew who I am?” statement with something like “Then you would bow down and beg me not to destroy your sinful existence in wrath and torment.” Or “Then you would give me the respect I am due you sinful woman!”
Rather, he gently says, “If you knew…, you would have asked…” This amazes me everytime. Consider the grace of such a statement by the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. This is the Creator, the Word, the One without beginning or end. He says, “you would have asked.” This is why God reveals himself to us, so that we would ask! It is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. Heartwarming because it demonstrates God’s love and desire for intimacy; heartbreaking because we ignore and reject him so often.
This reminds me of what God says to David through the prophet Nathan upon rebuking him for his adultery and murder. After Nathan catches David’s attention with a parable, he says to the king, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight?” (2 Samuel 12:7-9)
Did you catch this sorrow and grace in God’s rebuke, “And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more?” All David had to do was ask. He failed to understand the gift and the Giver. We sin against God and hold his gift in contempt by minimizing it in our eyes and failing to come and ask.
Jesus says to the woman that if she would ask, then “he would have given you living water.” How good God is to us. He would have given living water. The woman has come for material water. His disciples have gone for material food. Jesus reveals the gift of God as living water.
John later records Jesus as promising that, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38) John lets his readers know that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit here. The living water is the Holy Spirit, God himself.
The living water, the gift of God, can also be all that comes from God: the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, all things we need for life and all good things. The truth of the gospel is that, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
If we knew, we would ask him. Are you asking the Lord daily for his gift and for himself in the Holy Spirit? This is clearly his desire, “If you knew, you would ask, and He would give.” Is it possible that God could do anything more for us to love him and become intimate with him?
The woman hears Jesus and objects that he has no bucket and the well is deep. She continues to look at the earthly things, while Jesus is speaking of heavenly things. Nicodemus had the same problems when Jesus spoke of being born again from heaven (John 3). I think we all have a well full of earthly things that keep us from asking God and receiving his gifts. Our deep, dark well may include the pains of being victimized by sin or the shame of our offending sins. The well may be full of our anxieties, fears and broken dreams or promises. As the woman needs the water continually, we need money for bills, help for sicknesses, recovery from the past, freedom from addiction, escape from the miry clay of impossible situations, relief from conflicted relationships, etc.
We look at the deepness of the well, and we look at our image of God, and we think, “God, you have no bucket. How are you going to draw water from this well for my problems and needs?”
The bucket could stand for anything we think we need:
“Jesus, you have no bank to help me.”
“Jesus, you don’t have a hospital to help me.”
“Jesus, you can’t help me with this broken relationship.”
“Jesus, how can you draw away the pain of the past?”
“Jesus, how can you relieve me of this addiction?”
“Jesus, you have no bucket. Who do you think you are?”
To the woman, Jesus reasserts that he is offering living water that will become in her a fountain of living water that is eternal life. Jesus speaks of gifts beyond our imagination in this world. He is speaking of eternal satisfaction and fulfillment. Jesus confronts people with the reality, “You are not setting your mind on the things of God but the things of men!” (Mark 8:33)
The woman responds surrenderingly, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” At this point, we might expect for Jesus to applaud her willingness to receive living water. We might tell someone approaching salvation, “Well, receive Jesus and you will be saved, then you are blessed and ready to go! Declare your blessing and enjoy being a Christian.”
That is not what Jesus does. Jesus offers forgiveness of sins and salvation to people. For Jesus, this includes healing and transformation. Healing and transformation require repentance and bringing our hurts, pains, perversions, distortions, sinful mind and nature to Jesus for him to transform us. Jesus neither glosses over our damaged selves nor leads us to narcissistically analyze ourselves.
Jesus confronts our sinfulness. He gets to the heart of who we are and how we have been hurt and how we have hurt others. He works for holiness and wholeness. God works in us that we might be conformed to the perfect image of Jesus.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus reveals himself as the one who says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19) To the woman, Jesus says, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
She confesses that she has no husband, and again, Jesus gets to the rub, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Jesus shines his light on the darkness of that deep well. He doesn’t need a light because he is light.
Jesus is not accusing or condemning. He is healing and saving. The Bible calls Satan our accuser. He accuses to shame and condemn. We often react by thinking that Jesus ignores our shortcomings, vulnerabilities, woundedness and offensive ways.
Rather, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment. (John 16.8) The Spirit reveals how we have been hurt by sin, how we are out of a right relationship with the Lord and how God has conquered our accuser and justifies the ungodly. The Spirit does this in his work of facilitating repentance and healing.
Jesus highlights the woman’s pain and shame. The woman has had five husbands and lives with another man. This does not occur without having extreme pain, sadness, humiliation, sinfulness and despair. This is her deep, dark well. What is your deep, dark well? Let Jesus shine a light on it, so that you can healed.
The woman turns to religion. She acknowledges that Jesus must be a prophet to know this about her. Now she wants to speak about the where’s, why’s and how’s of religion. Jesus makes two points. He asserts that her religion has been wrong, because salvation comes from the Jews. He also asserts that God is doing a new thing, and these old religious rituals, right or wrong, are finding fulfillment in the One who has come.
The hour has come, and God desires true worshippers. These true worshippers will not seek a specific place or ritual, but they “must worship him in spirit and truth.” All that comes to us in Jesus is grace and love. This does not preclude a series of imperatives that are prescribed by Jesus for children of God. Here we have one of them–we “must” worship in this way.
Other imperatives include the following: we must be born again, we must take up our cross and follow Jesus and we must receive the kingdom of heaven like little children. The way to worship right and the “right” way to do church is in “spirit and truth.” Our worship must be in accord with God’s revelation in Scripture and ordered by the Holy Spirit leading our spirits. Through the Spirit and truth, we are reborn and transformed.
The woman reacts with excitement and guarded belief. She leaves her water jar (an interesting insertion by John) and goes to town proclaiming, “Come and see!” She wonders, “Can this be the Christ?” Is it possible that this man with us now, speaking to us and offering living water can be the One?! Her life is changed.
The rest of the story includes many in the town believing in Jesus, “because we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” Have you heard from Jesus for yourself? And not just at some time, but have you heard today, have you known the gift and the Giver today? Have you received the living water today? That is what the Lord desires. The Father is seeking you! He is seeking you to worship him in spirit and truth today. This is the intimate relationship with the Father that Jesus demonstrates in his life.
In this story, the Samaritan woman comes to receive living water. She is renewed and revived as a daughter of God. Because of an intimate moment with Jesus, she helps to bring about salvation for a town. The villagers demand for Jesus to stay with them two full days in fellowship. How soon we part company with Jesus when we could remain with him longer, as he desires.
The story concludes with the town declaring that Jesus is the “Savior of the world.” The Samaritan woman and Jesus own disciples are bound to the things of the world—food, water, racial identity, approval of others, religious rituals and dependency on man. Jesus transforms them to supernatural beings born in heaven. He is the Savior of the world, because and everyone in the world needs a Savior who confronts and heals.
Sit beside Jesus at your deep, dark well today and let him light the darkness and fill that well in you with living water.
March 16, 2014
Readings: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121 Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17
A child’s self worth thrives from receiving parental unconditional love and grace that says, “You are valuable to me because you exist, and I love you because you are you.” Such love molds their self image and informs their image of Creator and creation.
None of us gives or receives perfect love to or from anyone in this world. We are broken and sinful. Some of us have been blessed to have loving, healthy and nurturing parents; while, some people have suffered from a failure to receive such love at all from their parents.
I think no matter who we are or what sort of situation we grew up in, we come to associate receiving love with having to earn or deserve it some way. Because we are no longer little children, we think we must perform for our love, change in order to get it, pay for it in some way or go without real love.
Unconditional love is hard to give; it is also hard to receive. This fact is just an indicator of how broken we are as humans. Due to our sinfulness and woundedness, we have a difficult time expressing and receiving love. In order to love God and love others, we need rescue and healing.
Our distorted attitudes and expressions of love negatively influence our relationship to God. How would you answer these questions, “Why does God love you?” Or “How can you get God to love you?” or “What does it take for God to like you?” Or “Has God ever stopped loving you?”
Often we answer these sorts of questions by answering something like, “Well, you know, you have to…” or “Well, if you ….”
We find ourselves trying to earn God’s love, make God love us, prove ourselves to God, change ourselves for God, get God’s attention or do something else for God’s love. We may sometimes think that God doesn’t really love me…How could he?
What might be even worse is when get to a point in life and we think something like, “Ahhh….Now God will love me” or “Well, I did that, so now God will hear me” or “I think I’m almost someone God will really love.” Or “I am living right, so of course God loves me.”
What is the truth about God’s love?
The apostle John is probably one of the persons in history who knew God the best during his life. He writes in his letter, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4.8) Among other attributes like holy, mercy and just, love describes the essence of God. Love flows and emanates from God. All creation exists in God’s love. To exist is to be in God’s love. To be human, is to be a recipient of God’s love—regardless of who you are or what you have done. God’s love pours out toward you.
God’s love is amazing. We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we are pretty good, and since God is love, of course he is going to love us. Even when we acknowledge that we have sinned, we may pretentiously think “God is love and ‘love covers over a multitude of sins,’ so that is what God does…he loves us. He sort of has to do that, right?”
Right and wrong. God loves us, and he is love; however, God does not have to save us and reconcile us to himself. And, we are not just sort of sinful or bad; we are the worst! And we have no chance of making ourselves better or more loveable to God.
God is a holy Creator and we are sinful created things. God says things to us like this, “Psalm 50:21 “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.” And this, Hosea 11:9 “I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst.” And this, Numbers 23:19 “God is not man, that he should lie.” Over and over, God tells his people, “I the LORD your God am holy.” And we are unholy, ungodly.
But God loves us in the midst of our sinful wretchedness. That is what is amazing about God’s love; not only is his love unconditional, it is unconditionally poured out toward absolute miserable wretched sinners who keep on sinning and destroying themselves.
The “good news of great joy” for humans is that God “justifies the ungodly.” (Luke 2.10; Romans 4.5) That is, the Lord loves sinful people so much that he declares them good, holy, innocent and righteous. How does that happen and why? It happens because God loves people. It happens through the sacrifice of Jesus who demonstrated the greatest love by giving his life for us objects of God’s wrath.
The apostle Paul, who is another person who knew God better than most people in history, writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” By the blood of Jesus, we who are ungodly sinners are justified and made as perfect as Jesus in God’s eyes. And we have not done a single thing to earn it in any way whatsoever. This love is generously and indiscriminately poured out for all people who have ever lived or will ever be conceived.
John records Jesus declaring, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) For love of people, God the Father sent God the Son into the world to die and rise again so that people might receive salvation.
God’s story in the Bible begins with God creating the universe and all that is in it including humans made in his image. The story shows how God desires for people to live eternally in a garden of paradise enjoying all his creation and having fellowship with him. He delighted to create people and called his human creation “very good.”
After humans sinned and spiraled downward into rebellion and severe perversion, God did not wipe them all out and begin again from scratch. The story of the Bible leads to God’s rescue mission in sending his Son to save humans from bondage to sin, Satan and death. Rather than starting over, God recommitted himself to these same people.
God does not just put up with people in as if he must begrudgingly clean up his mess and fix his mistakes. God the Father, acting as parent, actually wills to give new birth to humans from himself by his own heavenly womb through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Through the Holy Spirit’s conception of Jesus Christ in Mary and Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, we are able to be conceived and born again by God from above as his children and citizens of his kingdom.
Jesus tells us that we must be born again from God, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (John 3.3) How and where are we born again?
In the same conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus emphasizes that we are born again from the Holy Spirit. We must be born of the Spirit. Being born of the Spirit is being born in God’s kingdom having eternal life from Him, in Him and with Him forever.
God does not give birth to us reluctantly, and he does not give birth to spiritual children who will be neglected, abused or punished. God gave Jesus to sinners, because he wants them to be born again and have eternal life. John writes in the first chapter of his gospel, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
God wills for people to be born again through Jesus. God, the perfect and loving heavenly Father, decides, determines and works for people to be born again as his own. God, who is love, wills and desires for you to be born from the Trinity and really wants you to be his sons or daughters. God not only gives birth to you, He will raise you and care for you now and eternally as a Father who is good beyond our imagination.
He even gives us his Holy Spirit to live in us and assure that we have been reconciled to him as a child with his or her Father. The Apostle Paul writes, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:15-16)
The Holy Spirit works in the world to lead sinners to become born again, and when we are born again, he works to assure us that we are God’s children. We are adopted and beloved by the Father in Jesus Christ solely because of his grace and love.
If God has loved us so much to give new birth to us into eternal life, won’t he surely reveal himself to us as a loving Father during our lives? Jesus rebuked his disciples for preventing parents from bringing their little children for him to bless them. Mark writes, “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 10.14)
If Jesus demonstrates his desire to bless children this way, will not God the Father strive to bless his own children born of his will even more earnestly?
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and gave him the message that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, John the Baptizer, he referenced the prophecy of Malachi to indicate the work of God through John. Gabriel said that John would be great before the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit, and he would go before the Messiah in power to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. (Luke 1:15-17) If the work of God through his prophets and Spirit is to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, how much more will his own heart be turned in Fatherhood to his own beloved children born of his will? He will pour out his heart and love to those who belong to him. He will be the perfect Father to us throughout our lives, as we mature from spiritual infants to adulthood.
The Roman Catholic priest Father Raniero Cantalamessa describes the joy of a child who lives assured of his father’s love. He writes, “If a child is certain that his father loves him, he will grow up sure of himself and able to face life. A child out walking holding his father’s hand or being swung around by his father with exclamations of joy or who talks to his father as man to man is the happiest and freest creature in the world.”
This image describes those people born again and living in the assurance of their heavenly father’s love and presence in their lives. This is the posture we will have towards life in the new earth and heavens. This is life of a child in the kingdom of heaven. This is the life God gives us in our relationship with Him—The Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
March 10, 2014
In his preface to the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis famously writes,
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”
How do we develop the proper approach to dealing with Satan and his demons? I think our approach must be informed by the Biblical witness regarding Satan and his kingdom. Satan and his demons play a role from Genesis to Revelation—from the Fall to the end of the age, they are present in God’s creation.
Most people have a familiarity with Satan’s temptation of Eve in Eden that led to the fall of Adam and Eve and their descendants into sin. This event is recorded in Genesis 3. God had created Adam and Eve, placed them in a garden of paradise, given them all things and especially eternal life in his presence. God gave them many trees from which to eat and springs of water from which to drink; however, he forbade them to eat from one tree called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God warned Adam before the creation of Eve that if he ate of it he would “surely die.” Adam or God must have given Eve this same warning.
The Biblical introduction to Satan comes as he appears in the form of a crafty serpent bent on leading the newly formed humans into sin, death and eviction from God’s paradise. Satan succeeds in leading Adam and Eve into disobedience by seducing them to eat from the forbidden tree. The method he used to tempt them illustrates the same method he uses today. What’s worse today is that we are already fallen, broken, wounded, vulnerable and apart from God. We are naturally much more like Satan than we care to admit.
Consider Jesus’ rebuke of Satan when Jesus was tempted to forgo his march to the cross, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8.33) In addition to other lessons we learn from Jesus’ rebuke of Satan, we learn that the mind of people and the mind of Satan are similar corrupted. The commonness includes the exaltation of self in rebellion against our Creator God.
In the garden, Satan presumes to speak in the place of God. He sets himself up as judge and arbiter of what is good or evil. In response to Eve’s recitation of God’s prohibition against eating (now touching) the forbidden fruit, Satan says, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Satan gets behind God’s words, contradicts them and reissues a false assertion as truth. Jesus confirms his deceptive character when he says of Satan, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8.44) He always lies in pursuit of committing murder and damning others to death and hell.
Immediately after entertaining Satan’s conversation, Eve exalted herself to the place of God, evicting him from the throne of her life and usurping his authority to command and instruct. She says to herself that the tree seems good for food, delightful in appearance and desirable for making one wise. She deludes herself into thinking she has the authority over herself and creation to dictate what is good and what is wise. She rejects God and submits to herself, which the reader knows is really the mind of Satan.
She gives the fruit to her husband who also eats it. Their eyes are immediately opened to a world of sin and death. They are evicted from Paradise and the intimacy of their heavenly Father. This was Satan’s goal, and he achieved it. He is achieving it everyday.
The Christian theologian Stanley Hauerwas describes Satan’s temptation, “In short, the devil’s question invited them to assume that they were equal with God.” This invitation comes to the door of the heart and mind of people everyday. It comes in many forms. The messengers change, but the invitation’s host is always the same.
Let me give you an example of one such messenger. Former Roman Catholic priest Eugene Kennedy is an American psychologist, bestselling author, columnist, and a professor emeritus of LoyolaUniversity in Chicago. The seasoned theologian recently published a book titled Believing. I assumed the book would be something about the nature of faith, how people believe and why, and the outcomes of belief versus unbelief. Rather, the author encourages readers to believe in themselves as the source of the abundant life about which Jesus taught.
“Human beings need to believe,” asserts Eugene Kennedy in his book. Kennedy suggests that the human destiny depends on our learning to believe. Kennedy confidently claims that the “pervasive and intense” hunger of humans for belief is best satisfied by believing in themselves. He asserts that “the emerging consciousness of our time turns humans back to themselves.” For Kennedy, the Christian Gospel “bids us to go deeper into ourselves and our experiences, to find the kingdom within ourselves, in the powers that we can draw on to achieve what St. John describes as `life to the full.’”
This philosophy of believing may appear insightful. It is certainly written with gusto and eloquence; however, it delivers a prescription for either delusion or despair. It is faith anchored in self and perhaps other people rather than the firm foundation of the Biblical Creator God and Savior Christ, as taught by the historic faith. Kennedy explains that “Faith makes us whole because it draws forth the realization of the fullness of ourselves through our true personalities.”
Kennedy adeptly transcribes the message of Satan to Eve. He continues to convince people to follow and serve the exalted self. This corroborates the overwhelmingly narcissistic ethos of our culture that depends on therapeutic affirmations and pseudo-authoritative self-reasoning for escape from the miserable state of our souls. It is rare that I rate a book a one-star on Amazon.com; it is even rarer that I toss a book in the trash. Kennedy’s book earned both. You can read my full review on Amazon.
Martin Luther describes the state of the fallen world, “The world is insane. It tries to get rid of its insanity by the use of wisdom and reason; and it looks for many ways and means, for all sorts of help and advice on how to escape this distress.” Imagine the insane world looking into its own insanity for rescue. That is the world of Satan and his kingdom.
In his Preface to Milton’s Paradise Lost, C.S. Lewis describes Satan’s world as “a world of misery and a world of lies and propaganda, wishful thinking and incessant autobiography.” This is the default world of humans, and Christians are susceptible to it as long as we are in it.
Here is one more example of how we are influenced by Satan to think for ourselves. This comes from the issue of abortion and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who shares the insane reasoning behind killing the unborn. Kennedy offered the opinion in the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey that secured more foundation in America for unrestricted abortions.
In explaining his “reasoned judgment” in support of abortion rights, he opined, “Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code. At the heart of liberty, is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
That is the thinking that leads to holocaust in any form. It also leads to our private sins—be they in our homes or in our minds. This self-assertion and deluding pride only leads to misery, defeat, death and damnation.
What else does the Bible teach about Satan and his demons? Here are some revealing Scriptures:
Matthew 13:19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.
Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.
Acts 5:3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?
1 Corinthians 7:5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
2 Corinthians 2:10-11 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven– if there was anything to forgive– I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
2 Corinthians 11:13-14 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.
Ephesians 4:26-27 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
1 Thessalonians 2:18 For we wanted to come to you– certainly I, Paul, did, again and again– but Satan stopped us.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.
1 Timothy 5:14-15 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Revelation 12:9-10 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.
The above Scripture from Revelation indicates four significant truths about Satan and his demons. Christians need to keep these truths in mind.
1. Satan is the deceiver. The devil’s main mode of operation is to tempt people through deception. This is confirmed throughout Scripture. Living the Christian life depends on living according to the truth. Jesus encourages us to follow him—the Truth and to continue in his word that we might know the truth. He gives us the Spirit of Truth to be with us, and he prays that we might be “sanctified by the truth.” From the position of truth, we can identify and reject the enemy’s lies. He is an expert liar. He speaks eloquently and subtly makes his words sound like our thoughts or even like God’s thoughts.
2. Satan is the accuser. He levies accusations against believers about themselves and about others. I think these accusations make up many of the “fiery darts” we deflect with the “shield of faith.” He has been thrown down and out of the court of heaven. He no longer has an audience with the Almighty God. As Jesus said prior to his death and resurrection, “Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” (John 12:31) And he was. He still accuses and causes havoc among Christians who listen and internalize his words. We are given ears to hear the voice of God and the gift of discernment so that we can reject Satan’s voice. We have work to do, though. The author of Hebrews identifies mature Christians “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14) We must all strive to become such Christians.
3. Satan and his angels have been thrown down. There is a horde of demons who follow Satan in the world. I imagine them like a marauding gang of hoodlums who are constantly running rampant seeking open doors and windows through which they can enter to cause destruction. If they check a house that is secure, they will be back during the next round to canvass it again. Christians must be constantly vigilant to give these demons no foothold, no opportunity, no voice, no access and no time except to rebuke them, bind them and send them away. All of our figurative doors and windows must be locked and the alarm system turned on.
4. Salvation, power and authority have come through Jesus Christ to his followers. Through the cross of Jesus Christ and the resurrection, God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.” (Colossians 2:15) Satan and his demons are defeated foes allowed to function in the world according to God’s sovereign wisdom. Jesus has given believers power and authority over demons, just like he had and demonstrated during his ministry. Satan will lie, accuse, tempt and oppress as much as he can, but it is to no avail when we use the power God has given us to renounce ungodliness. (Titus 2:12)
In his book, Worship as Repentance, the theologian Walter Sundberg encourages the Christian response to the world and mind of Satan. He writes, “If one accepts a fallen world, subject to the devil, deserving of judgment, where people waste their lives and find no ultimate satisfaction. Into this world comes the promise of release, the offer of the grace of God. To receive this grace requires one thing and one thing only: repentance.”
I think James says the same thing in this way, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8) When we repent of following our own wills and sinful ways and turn to God, God draws near to us with Salvation that includes healing and deliverance.
Jesus overcomes the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, on the road, in Gethsemane and on the cross by resisting the temptation of the devil to follow his own will. Jesus rather submits to God. He always obeys his Father. This posture is revealed in his prayers from Gethsemane, “Not what I will, but what you will.” This is the assertion of God’s will and victory over Satan.
The early 17th century Italian Jesuit Robert Bellermine summarizes the victory Christians can experience in their victory over Satan. He writes, “From that victory of Christ it came to pass that not only men, as was Adam, but even women and children insult the devil and triumph over him. He is overcome by the grace of Christ, and so overcome that many display trophies of chastity, patience, humility, charity, although the devil eagerly and constantly casts his fiery darts of temptation and persecution.”
Christians overcome the devil in and through Jesus Christ. The victory for Christians is demonstrated by living holy lives of Christian discipleship that are lived by grace for the sake of others and the glory of God. Bellermine also emphasizes the reality that the devil does not give up his assault on Christians. He will not give up his fight until he and all of his demons are thrown into the lake of fire that is his end. (Rev 20:10) The above Scriptures indicate that the enemy seeks to devour, to oppress, to hold our wills captive, to slander, to tempt, to shame and condemn. Without our fierce resistance, we will be victims of these during our lives in this world.
Christians can and do reign in life. We can only reign by God’s grace, through living in the righteousness of eternal life freely given to us through Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:21) Through Jesus, we must, in fact, exercise this dominion against the enemy.