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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.

man born blind icon

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.

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. 

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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.

Holy Family

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.
adam-eve-temptation

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.

 


From the Book of Common Prayer

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a  season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

How do we begin and where do we aim our journey of Lent?  I believe we can find the answer when we look at the beginning of Jesus’ own journey of Lent.  His Lenten journey was not only the 40 day fast in the wilderness but was the entire trek from his baptism to the cross.  Jesus began his Lent when he was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  At this pinnacle of his life, Jesus accepted the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the Father’s will to enter testing in the desolate place of the fallen world.  Jesus could have done anything as the Spirit-empowered, beloved Son of God.  He could have gone into the heart of Rome and begun to reign.  He could have ascended to heaven.  He could have indulged in whatever the flesh desires.  Rather, he began his self-denial of Lent.  His step toward the wilderness was a step toward the cross followed by one after the other into the desolation of sin and death. 

Lest we be deceived into thinking that Lent is an arbitrary suffering for the sake of itself or that the cross is the end of the story, we look to the resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus’ journey of self-denial and resisting temptation takes him to the cross of sin and death and to the resurrection from the dead.  Likewise, our Lenten journey begins and aims at the cross and the resurrection.    It is in Jerusalem that Jesus will die and be buried; it is also in Jerusalem where Jesus will rise from the dead.

Satan tempts Jesus to doubt his relationship with the Father and to entice him with promises of fulfillment and happiness.  Whereas at his baptism the Father embraced the Son, in his wilderness temptation the Son embraces the Father and the Father’s will.

He returns from the desert “in the power of the Spirit.”  His ministry begins demonstrated by miracles, authority over Satan and demons, authoritative teaching and love for people.  He begins his mission, that is still toward the cross and resurrection, by proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15)

In Jesus’ proclamation, his command of repentance coincides with the command to believe in the gospel—the good news of salvation in and through himself.  This gospel becomes defined by the early church as the salvation story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk 1.1).

No matter how it has come to be characterized, repentance is best defined as a turning or changing of one’s life.  Christian repentance involves a grace-empowered turning away from temporal attachments toward Jesus Christ and toward the kingdom of God which is present in Jesus.  The season of Lent only makes sense if our eyes, heart and mind are on the crucified and risen One in order to cling to him and to be conformed to his image.

The term “gospel” means good news and glad tidings.  We are not called to turn from this world to something of similar value as it.  We are embracing good news of great joy. (Lk 2:10) We are turning toward eternal life and rewards in a kingdom that will one day be the only kingdom that exists.  What we repent of and what we turn to fail to balance.  The scales are infinitely weighed in favor of the kingdom of God and salvation.

The Anglican Church’s traditional Ash Wednesday gospel reading is from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.  This series of teachings of Jesus exhorts his audience to give up the rewards of this world for the rewards that come from the Father and exist in the eternal kingdom of God.  That is what Lent entails—a turning from the attachments of this world whatever they may be in order to receive the rewards that come from an intimate relationship to the Father who sees all and alone gives eternal rewards.

Jesus says and repeats that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  He encourages us to give up storing treasures in this world that will dissolve and disappear—treasures of the world will be destroyed, stolen, lost or consumed no matter how you hold onto them.  Rather, he offers eternal treasures in heaven.  Jesus knows that this first heaven and earth will pass away, and a new heaven and a new earth will come.  Lent involves seeking and receiving the treasures that belong to the new heaven and new earth—the holy city, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21).

So let’s begin our Lenten journey acknowledging the goodness of God–that he is, in fact, a God who rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)  At the center of our journey is the One we follow, Jesus Christ.  As we follow him, we affirm God’s grace and love demonstrated in the gift of Jesus.  We affirm the subsequent truth that the Father who gave us his one and only Son also graciously gives us all things. (Romans 8:32)

We give up the lesser to receive the greater.  We let go of the temporal to hold onto the eternal.  We turn a deaf ear to deception to grasp the truth.  We turn from the broad road to destruction to take one step after the other on the narrow road to life.  As it did for Jesus, that narrow road to life leads first to the cross of self-dying, self-denial, suffering and sacrifice for the glory of God.  But just like repentance does not occur in isolation without the gospel and kingdom, the cross does not occur without the assurance of the Easter resurrection.  The Easter resurrection would never have come if the Christ was not crucified on the cross; we don’t enter the kingdom of God and receive salvation unless we repent of our sins.

What is God calling you to do during this Lenten season?  We know that it will be congruent with Jesus’ call to repent and believe the good news of himself and his kingdom.  If we give up earthly things during this Lent, may we also take up heavenly things and live according to our citizenship in heaven.  This Lent, may our lives anticipate the new earth and the new heavens by living according to God’s rule now.  In that city, the light will be the light of God who dwells in the midst of it.  The water will be the water of eternal life.  The air will flow from the leaves of the tree of Life that are for our healing.  The food will be the fruit of the tree of life that gives abundant life.

Something that is often overlooked when it comes to repentance and especially during the time of Lent is that as we turn to God he heals us.  We are repenting (turning from and giving up) of those sinful things that cause death which is the punishment for sin.  When we turn to God in repentance, God heals our woundedness and brokenness.

John records Jesus citing Isaiah 6:10, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”  (Jn 12:40)  In our repentance and turning to Jesus, our eyes our being opened, our hearts softened and enlightened, and we are being healed spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.   The Father is a rewarder of those who seek him and serve him.  He rewards us with what only he can give…eternal, abundant life and the treasures of heaven.

 

ash wed prayer

The historical event of Jesus’ transfiguration is one of the seminal events recorded in the New Testament.  The image of Jesus on the mount clothed in glorious light, talking with Moses and Elijah and the overwhelming voice of the Father startle readers of the Bible. We become like the three disciples, Peter, James and John who stumble and bumble in their bewilderment.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount this story with similar words in their gospels.  Peter verifies its accuracy and glory in his letter. (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Like many of the events and parables of Jesus, the narrative accounts of the transfiguration of Jesus reveal endless riches, mystery, and instruction for the church today.  I want to explore the events relation to prayer and communion among the followers of Christ in the context of the noisy, crowded and busy world. 

Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray.  Jesus must have been praying for a while during which the disciples fell asleep.  As he is praying, his countenance becomes brilliantly bright, his clothes become dazzling white and he is clothed in splendor.  Moses and Elijah appear also in the cloud of glory, and speak with him about his departure.  The disciples who were asleep suddenly wake up and fearfully behold this.  As the cloud of glory covers them, they hear a voice from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5) And then it is quiet and the disciples are alone with Jesus.

Wow! What is the meaning of this? That is what Peter, James and John wonder, too.   This glorious event occurs while Jesus is in prayer.  In one sense, we see the kingdom of God that is present and active whenever Jesus prays. 

Jesus has communion with his Father whose presence and glory are revealed to the three witnesses.  This event also reveals what is within Jesus.  Jesus’ being displays the bright glory of heaven that is within him.  Here, we and the disciples get a glimpse of who Jesus really is.  He is the one from heaven where he has lived in glory with the Father for eternity.  As the early church Fathers proclaimed, “There was never a time when he was not.”

Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus.  Moses, author of the first five books of the Bible and conveyor of the law and Torah of Israel, represents the authority of the law and teachings of Israel.  Elijah is one of the greatest prophets of Israel.  He never died. He was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot.  He represents the prophets of Israel’s Scripture.  Jesus fulfills the words of the Law and the Prophets.  Here he is in fellowship and communion with the greatest of Old Testament saints during a prayer event over which the Father presides.

The cloud of heaven is the glory of God’s presence.  The voice of God from heaven declares that Jesus is his beloved and chosen Son, and he commands the disciples to listen to him.  This confirms what Peter confesses in John’s gospel, that Jesus has the words of eternal life.  The way to life is to follow Jesus and to keep his word.  After hearing the voice of heaven, only Jesus and the disciples remain.  Jesus, embodying the Law and the Prophets, is the way, the truth and the life.  The disciples must follow him.

John later writes of Jesus’ glory in his own gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Jesus is the tabernacle of God, he is the tent where God meets with all people.  Jesus is the gate and ladder between earth and heaven.  He is the Word and the person in whom we must abide.  All that has ever been holy on earth finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Most Holy One of God who makes people holy.

This, however, is not the mountain top experience for which Jesus came to earth.  Even in the midst of the glory, he is speaking to Moses and Elijah about how he is going to fulfill their words by his departure in Jerusalem.  Jesus is about to perform a new exodus that will deliver people from their bondage and slavery to sin.  Like all of Jesus’ life and ministry, his transfiguration is pointing to the cross and the resurrection.

This prayer event occurs in the context of a fallen world that Jesus will die to save and renew.  He follows his Father’s will and walks off the mountain into the valley of human sin and despair.  What he is on the mountain, he is in the valley of the cross—the Son of God and man, fully God and fully man, obedient to the Father.

Immediately after he came down from the mountain of his transfiguration, Jesus enters the midst of a chaotic scene of conflict, arguments, failure, despair and finger pointing.  All of this is indicative of the enemy’s territory.  The enemy has possessed a boy.  A demon flaunts darkness’ power and slams him to the ground at will.  The boy suffers seizures and the humiliation and abuse of being thrown to the dirty, rocky ground.

The boy’s dad brought him to the disciples for healing and deliverance, but they were unable to help. Their failure led to controversy and conflict.   The boy’s father is one of the most desperate people in the Bible. Upon his arrival and assessment of the situation, Jesus seems to rebuke them all for their unbelief and impotence in the face of Satan’s realm.

The father pleads with Jesus that, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (Mk 9:22)

Jesus responds with a measured rebuke of the man, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” (Mk 9:23)

The father answers hopefully, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

Jesus, of course, rebukes the unclean, tormenting demon and heals the boy instantly.  Upon his healing, the boy lies stiffly on the ground for a few seconds causing the crowd to assume and announce that he is dead.  Jesus alone takes him by the hand and raises him up and returns him to his father.

Once away from the crowds, the disciples eagerly question Jesus about why they could not accomplish the healing and deliverance.  The gospel accounts record Jesus making two points in explaining their failure: because of a lack of faith and because of a lack of prayer.

On the other hand, faith and prayer are two elements that are not absent from the transfiguration event of Jesus.  The event establishes Jesus’ own faith in the Law and Prophets and in the Father.  The event itself is Jesus’ prayer life—earnest and consuming.

Regarding the lack of faith, Jesus explains that they could not cast out the demon and heal the boy, “Because of your little faith.  For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20-21)

Mark records Jesus also answering the question by explaining that, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” (Mk 9:29)  Most Bible editors will comment in Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels’ notes that some manuscripts include something like “this kind cannot or never comes out except by prayer and fasting.”

I want to relate the above narrative to our contemporary Christian culture and context.  In this story, there is a stark contrast and dichotomy between Jesus’ experience in prayer and ministry and the disciples’ and crowds’ experiences.  Both instruct us regarding the power of prayer versus the experience of chaos and impotence without prayer and faith.

Jesus prays anywhere and everywhere.  Here it is on a mountain in the midst of a wilderness.  When the followed Jesus up the mountain, the three disciples had no idea what was about to happen.  Heaven was about to open to them.  The inner circle of Peter, James and John get up on the mountain and appear to be hanging around until they fall asleep, as Luke reveals in his account.  In fact, Luke writes that they were “overcome with sleep.”  The phrase implies that sleep took control of them, and they were helpless in the face of it.  It is not until they are “fully awake” that they see Jesus in his glory with Moses and Elijah.

I believe that the Bible and Christian Tradition teach us that when Christians pray we are in the midst of the kingdom of heaven with all of its glory.  We pray in communion with the saints of God before his throne.  As we pray, angels surround us ministering to us and guarding us.  We pray in the midst of God’s presence—his very glory.  Experience of Christians, teaches us that when we ought to pray, we are too easily overcome by actual sleep or a figurative sleep that precludes earnest prayer and revelatory discernment.  If only we could become fully awake, alive and aware of the kingdom of heaven in our midst.

Imagine having a call to prayer.  Announce it like a worship gathering.  We don’t categorize worship music as for some specific purpose.  We just say, “Let’s worship God.” What if you announced, “This Friday night we are going to gather and pray to God for an hour.”  Or “This Sunday, we are going to begin the service with 30 minutes of quiet prayer.  We are bringing in a great prayer leader who is going to pray with us.”  Have you ever seen a church position description for “Prayer Leader?”  Either have I.  I believe there is a deficit of sustained, earnest corporate and individual prayer in the church; therefore, there is a deficit of faith and power that has led to a derelict and impotent church in general.

Our Christian media culture has produced celebrity worship leaders, preachers, pastors, speakers, authors, etc.  Something cool about prayer is that any Christian can do it.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t have skill or eloquence, you can join with Jesus in prayer.  You can have stage fright and be the most earnest prayer warrior in the church.  It doesn’t have draw, though.  We associate prayer with a lack of sensory stimulation.  We can’t look at pretty or cool musicians, no lights, no smoke, no slides or videos, no joke or stories—just quiet stillness…and God.

In the centuries of humanity, the transfiguration event must be in the top ten of sensory-stimulating events.  The cloud of glory, Jesus’ brightness, seeing “dead” people and hearing the voice of God!  It doesn’t get much better.  Yet, pastors can’t get more than a faithful few to a prayer meeting where this happens every time on a spiritual level at least.

We choose encounters with touchy-feely sentimental stuff everyday over encounters with the heavenly.  Christians have to train and discipline ourselves to engage with the Almighty and the servants of heaven on a regular basis.  On the Mount of Transfiguration, we see what happens in prayer and what exists around and within us.  Jesus Christ, our hope of glory, lives in us by the Holy Spirit.  The Father hears us because of Jesus.  In prayer, we are before the Father’s throne.

It is in prayer where we move mountains and overcome the kingdom of Satan.  If you have faith, you can move mountains.  If you pray, you can overcome the most dug-in demon.

In the gospel accounts of the transfiguration, due to lack of prayer and to being out of tune to the kingdom of God, the disciples and crowd are in chaos, disarray and defeat.  That is a picture of the church that does not make prayer a priority. By making prayer a priority, I mean the church that prays collectively and individually as much as it does anything else.  Have food fellowship, a concert, men’s breakfast, women’s tea, youth party night, Bible lesson (to a lesser extent) and regular Sunday service, and people come.  Have a prayer meeting, and what happens? Where is everyone? Why don’t we deem it as important?

“This kind does not come out by anything but prayer.” Jesus says.  What in your life and in your dreams and hopes is never going to happen or come out except by significant prayer time?  What will your church never accomplish except it pray in the desert and on the mountain top.  What will never change in your family or community, unless the church prays and enters the cloud of the kingdom of heaven?  What will you never know, unless you hear God’s voice in the midst of prayer?

We either feel fine with where we are at life, or we may depend on ourselves with a little help from God – the kind of help one can expect to get by showing up to Sunday service and maybe one other thing during the week.  We learn to live in the rut.  We accept the normalcy of oppression and worldliness.  We demonstrate complacency with the suffering and persecution of Christians around the world, as long as it is not us.  We convince ourselves that the poor and needy are not that bad off. The church anywhere ought to be desperate about the suffering and persecution of Christians anywhere.

Any hint of the devil’s presence in our lives, our families, our churches or our communities serves as a red flag to alert us to ask for God to move in our midst.  The reality of the harm the devil and his cohorts do to people around us is reason enough to pray for the sake of others.  Where is the compassion in our hearts that would inspire us to pray?  Where is the devotion that leads to us walking into the crowd of chaos and oppression with the power of God’s kingdom’s to heal and deliver people.

The reality of the transfiguration event invites us to enter into that realm of God in prayer knowing that he is with us and hears us.  The value of hearing God’s voice in prayer giving us sure and solid truth and counsel cannot be overstated. We have got to stop sensing with only our physical eyes and ears and discern with our spirit the reality of things around us.

The experience of God answering our prayers and empowering us will increase our faith.  The meditation on God’s word in his presence will grow our faith.  The reality of the saints and angels of God that exist around us in the kingdom of heaven will encourage us to move mountains and assert God’s victory over the enemy around us.  I guarantee you that if you live a life of mountain top and desert prayer, you will have to go looking for the enemy, because he will run from you

Jesus ascends the mountain seeking God’s will.  He does the same thing in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He seeks strength to go forward and fulfill God’s will and establish God’s kingdom.  We think that if we are currently content, have what we need, not in immediate pain or danger, then we don’t have much to pray about.  We might say a quick prayer…but no need to climb a mountain to pray today–“I’m good,” we say.   If that is truly the case, then get up the mountain, into your prayer closet, into the garden, to the church, wherever, and pray for others.  Pray for God’s kingdom to come in the world.  Pray for the persecuted church, for the unsaved, for your enemies, for the sick, for the poor, etc.  The list of prayer needs in this world is endless.  Pray for our country or for a country like N. Korea or Saudi Arabia where a Christian can only live his or her faith secretly for fear of death, and where no freedom exists for the gospel proclamation.

Jesus does not ascend the mountain or enter the garden for his sake but for our sake.  May the church today turn off the noise and enter into prayer for our sake and the sake of others.  For God’s sake, let us pray!

In his times of glorious blessing and in his times of tumultuous trials, Jesus prayed.  The door of heaven was always open for Jesus, and he was in constant communication with the Father.  Because of his work on the cross, that door of heaven is open to us too.  So, let us also pray on all occasions, scheduled and spontaneous, comfortable and grueling, alone and with others.  Add more prayer to your life.  If you are busy with anything, be busy praying.  Not only can your prayers change the world, they can contribute to changing someone’s eternity.

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