Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Problem with the Truth

 Why is it that we have such a problem with the truth?

 You may scratch your head at that statement, but hear me out.  I believe that we as humans have a love-hate relationship with the truth.  We love to think that we are diligently seeking it out or that we have found it, but, in reality, we don’t actually want to find it.  We’d rather think that truth does not exist or is so completely subjective and relative that it doesn’t apply to us.  Why would I say such a thing?

 Well, I want us to think about it for a minute as we apply the truth to some very real world situations.  Let’s take the issue of hunger in the world.  We all know there are people in this world who face hunger every day.  We also know that people die from hunger every day.  And we also know that we produce enough food in the world to feed everyone with no problem.  No one should go hungry, so why do they?  I have said before that the truth of the matter is: we don’t have a hunger problem; we have a distribution problem.  Food is not distributed to those who are in need.  That’s the truth.  We may all nod in agreement this morning with that statement, but here is where the truth hurts.  If you are like me, you have a pantry full of food.  You have a refrigerator full of food, and you have a freezer with plenty of food in it.  Most of us have enough food stored up in our house to last for months.  We have much more than we need, so we are actually part of the problem.  When the truth confronts us, we don’t like it. 

 Or, let’s turn our attention to politics for a little bit.  I know we have both Republicans and Democrats sitting here this morning. Some of you are passionate about supporting your political party, and I understand that.  Some of you are more quiet than others given that this area leans very strong Republican.  We are in the midst of a presidential election year, and the newspapers, radio waves, and internet feeds are going nuts talking about how the end of the world–or at least the end of the U.S. will be at hand if either Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders is elected.  So, what is the truth of the matter.  Well, if history is any judge, it’s not going to matter who is going to get elected.  Really.  Think about it.  Has the election of anyone really made a difference for any one of you here today?  Has your life improved substantially by the election of any particular person to office?  The reality is that elections are more about which corporate entities get richer.  You and I almost never benefit, and yet we fight amongst each other as if these elections were life and death.  And the truth hurts because we become so emotionally involved in these things.  When the truth confronts us, we don’t like it.

 And God forbid that anyone asks us what we really believe is the truth about a particular issue.  I’ve stepped in it a bit with my first two illustrations.  Perhaps I’ve gotten myself into a little bit of hot water, but that’s going to be nothing compared to this next topic.  I’m going to talk about altar flowers.  Some of you may laugh at this.  Others are already gearing up for a battle.  If you are not a Christian or are new to the Christian church, you may not realize that there are actually conflicts in churches about whether or not you can use artificial flowers on the altar.  And we pastors are oftentimes thrust right into the midst of the battle.  “Pastor, can we use artificial flowers on the altar?”  “Pastor, tell them that only live flowers are allowed on the altar.”  Believe me, you don’t want to be caught here.  It’s not pleasant.

 What is the truth of the matter here?  My honest answer to folks on this one is: God doesn’t care what kind of flowers you put up there, but people do.  Before anyone throws anything, hear me out.  Do you really think God in heaven looks at a congregation and says, “Whoa there!  They put artificial flowers on the altar down there.  That’s a huge no, no.  Gonna have to move them to the going to hell list until they repent and use real flowers.”  I mean, it’s just as plausible as God looking down from heaven and saying, “Wait a minute!  I gave these people the ability to produce very realistic flowers so they wouldn’t have to destroy the beauty of my creation just to add color to their worship services.  Why do they persist in taking the wondrous beauty I produce outside and move it inside when they don’t have to anymore?  I’m going to put them on the going to hell list until they repent and change their ways.”  Do either of these things make any sense what-so-ever?  But, this truth confronts us in our own traditions–traditions that are very important to some of us.  And if our traditions are shown to be not as important as we once thought, we are not happy about it.  The truth hurts.

 In each of the examples above, when truth is brought to the matter, we don’t like it.  It makes us dig deep down within ourselves to confront our biases and our behaviors.  The truth reveals that we are not as holy, as good, or as worthy as we think that we are; so even though we like to think that we strive for the truth (because that makes us look good), when confronted with the truth, we generally shy away from it or refuse to admit it.  It is too painful.

 I believe this is why the Jewish authorities were trying so hard to get rid of Jesus.  This is why they paid Judas to betray Him.  This is why they put Him on trial.  They could not stand that He, as the way, the Truth, and the life, revealed their shortcomings and showed how they had corrupted the Jewish faith.  Unable to handle the Truth, they chose to get rid of it.

 After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gesthemane, they brought Him to the high priest.  This move was highly unusual.  The Jews had developed a system of jurisprudence that followed the Torah.  They prided themselves on being a just people, but all of that was thrown to the wind because of their hatred of Jesus.  Ordinarily, they would meet in the daytime so that all proceedings could be public.  Not so now.  Ordinarily, they met “in the Chamber of Hewn Stone, north of the temple sanctuary, adjacent to the Court of Israel.”  (Edwards) Not so now.  They met in the high priest’s house to expedite the process and keep out public influence.  Ordinarily, they gave the accused time to prepare a defense.  Not so now.  All of their jurisprudence, they threw out the window because of their hatred of Jesus.

 And they certainly didn’t have any ideas of innocent until proven guilty.  Mark says they were seeking evidence so that they could put Jesus to death.  They didn’t have any evidence!!  But they desperately wanted some, so they tried their hardest to produce such evidence.  They failed repeatedly.  You see, according to Jewish law at the time, two witnesses were necessary to provide evidence for a death penalty, and those two witnesses had to agree on every detail–every single detail.  The Jews knew how unreliable eye-witness testimony could be.  They knew that oftentimes people saw what they wanted to see and heard what they wanted to hear.  They wanted to insure this did not happen to an accused person.  They wanted to make sure people weren’t lying just to get rid of someone.  They questioned witnesses individually to safeguard fraud.  And their own system was failing them.  The false witnesses who came to testify against Jesus could not agree on details.  Not surprising since they were making stuff up as they went.

 Mark records then, a very interesting note.  Witnesses came forth to say that Jesus had said, “I will tear down this temple made with hands and build one not made with hands.”  Nowhere in Mark did Jesus say this.  There is a reference to this in the book of John.  It’s an interesting accusation because of what it connotes.  According to Craig Evans, “Referring to the temple as... “made with hands” in itself would have been offensive to the ruling priests, for in addition to denying the divine status of the temple such a statement would even hint at its idolatrous status.  In the LXX, ...“made with hands” appears several times in reference to idols.  Such a connotation would only intensify the prophetic indictment of Jesus’ saying” The temple establishment is likened to something human, perhaps even idolatrous, that will be destroyed when the “son of man” comes and a temple...”not made with hands” is erected.”  The accusation here against Jesus is that He is claiming that the temple is an idol.  That would have infuriated the Sanhedrin, and could have carried a death sentence.  However, we know from the book of John that Jesus was not referring to the temple proper but His body.  This is most probably why, “on even this point they could not agree.”

 The trial at this point is not going well for the Sanhedrin.  The false witnesses cannot come up with a proper accusation.  Jesus is not cooperating with His silence. Ordinarily, an accused person would speak up and defend himself, but Jesus does not.  If He opens His mouth, it is very likely, the Sanhedrin will find something to accuse Him of, so Jesus lets things play out.  He will not answer falsehood.  There is no need.  It will always undermine itself.  Therefore, since the witnesses cannot agree, and Jesus remains silent, Caiaphas, the high priest takes matters into his own hands.  With the thought of this trial slipping away and the distasteful prospect of having to release Jesus, Caiaphas speaks, “ 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ 61But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

 Let me read to you Walter Liefield’s comment here, “The silence of Jesus to the first questions prompted the high priest to ask him another.  The question “Are you the Christ the son of the Blessed One?” indicates that by this time the religious authorities either knew or suspected that Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah.  “The Blessed” is a reverential circumlocution to avoid the pronunciation of the name of God and stands in apposition to the title “Christ” or “messiah.”  “Son of God” was understood by the Jews of Jesus time solely in a messianic sense; and since the Messiah in Jewish expectations was to be a man, the question of the high priest was about Jesus’ claim to messiahship and had nothing to do with deity.  The question proved to be a stroke of genius.  Blasphemy was a capital crime.  If the religious authorities could not effect an accusation by the testimony of others, Jesus’ own testimony about himself would do.  Had Jesus refused to answer this question, the Sanhedrin would have had to devise some other plan.”

 If Jesus would have remained silent, some other plan would have needed to been devised.  If Jesus would just have remained silent.  But He did not.  At this crucial junction, Jesus spoke.  And He didn’t pull any punches.  “I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power”, and “coming with the clouds of heaven.”  Now, if Jesus would have simply admitted that He claimed to be the Messiah, there would not have been much of an uproar.  There were people who claimed to be the Messiah all the time, and the Sanhedrin didn’t accuse them of blasphemy.  There is something more to Jesus’ statement here.  There something that truly sets Him apart form these other wanna be Messsiahs.  Let’s start with the first two words of Jesus’ answer. “I AM.”  Some scholars debate this particular response as to whether Jesus is simply self identifying or if there is more going on because the Greek words here: ego eime are the exact words used for God’s name in the Greek translation of the Jewish Bible.  If Jesus is using the name of God right here, it is no wonder He is accused of blasphemy!  He is telling the Sanhedrin He is God!!!

 And Jesus does not quit there, He continues by quoting Psalm 110 and Daniel 13.  N.T. Wright says this, “...these two biblical texts, taken together, answer all the questions simultaneously, and add to them the assertion that Jesus will be vindicated, exalted to a place at God’s right hand.  The answer says, in a tight-packed phrase: yes, I am a true prophet; yes, I am the Messiah; you will see me vindicated; and my vindication will mean that I share the very throne of Israel’s God.  At last the masks are off, the secrets are out, the cryptic sayings and parables are left behind.  The son of man stands before the official ruler of Israel, declaring that God will prove him right, and the court in the wrong.

 Throughout the book of Mark, there has been a Messianic secret.  Jesus has commanded the disciples to silence about His identity.  Jesus has commanded the demons to silence regarding His identity.  Jesus has commanded those whom He healed to silence regarding His identity, but here, in front of His accusers; in front of those who are waiting to put Him to death, He reveals Himself.  “I AM!” 

 And the high priest tore his robes.  This is a sign of deep distress.  This is a sign of anger and grievous wound.  This Jesus has placed Himself in a position only reserved for God.  Jesus has elevated Himself far too high.  Indeed this is blasphemy!!  All the rest of those gathered agreed and condemned Jesus to death.  They couldn’t handle the truth!  And so convinced of their rightness; so convinced are they of their position, they begin to slap Jesus and hit him.  Jewish law required that if a man is condemned of death, those who have accused that man are made to cast the first stones.  The members of the Sanhedrin are following through on this.  They are unabashedly killing the truth. 

They cannot stand in its presence. 

 It’s not surprising, because when we are confronted with the truth, we don’t like it either, and now I am going much deeper than those opening illustrations I used at the beginning of this sermon.  I am going straight to the source of all truth.  I am going straight to Jesus, and I am telling you this morning that if you stand in the presence of Jesus, you will find it a very painful experience.  You will find yourself cut to the core.  You will find yourself revealed in all of your weakness.  The truth hurts, and being in front of Jesus is no different.



   But...  Jesus is love.  Standing in front of Him won’t hurt.  He simply loves us; unquestioningly; without reservation.  Yes.  Indeed He does love us without reservation, but He loves us not because of who we are but in spite of who we are.  Let me say that again, Jesus loves us not because of who we are but in spite of who we are.  It is this that hurts most deeply when we come before Jesus because we are truly revealed.

 We are revealed as those who have murdered others simply by being angry with them.–Matthew chapter 5.

 We are revealed as those who have failed to give up our possessions and follow Him.–Luke chapter 14.

 We are revealed as those who did not love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.  We are revealed as those who chase after false Gods.

 We are revealed as those who have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves.

 We are revealed as those who have failed to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us.

 We are revealed as those who talk the talk but fail miserably to walk the walk.

 We are revealed as those who want to justify our actions and make excuses instead of accepting our faults.

 We are revealed as those who would seek to escape the truth or have it silenced.

 If you ever stand in front of Jesus, these things cut you to the core, and you know deep down your failure.  You know deep down your own darkness.  You know deep down your sin.

 And it is at this point, where the great I AM stretches out His arms and dies for you.  It is at this point where you know you are not worthy of the truth, that the truth sets you free by saying, “I will take your sin upon myself.  I will offer you forgiveness.  I will clothe you with my righteousness that you may be blameless; you may be flawless.”

 The truth will go to the cross to right all your wrongs.  He loves you that much.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved by Him.”

 Ah, and once you experience these two things: once you are condemned by the truth and then embrace by it with its great love: no longer will you run from it.  No longer will you avoid it.  You will stand in it and upon it.  And you will unabashedly point to it–not as something you own or claim, but as the person who was unafraid to announce it; die and then rise as it.  You will point to the truth.  You will point to Jesus.  Amen.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Fight, Flight, or...

 I had a friend on Facebook post one of those wonderfully sentimental sayings on his news feed.  The saying read, “Nothing in nature lives for itself.  Rivers don’t drink their own water.  Trees don’t eat their own fruit.  The sun doesn’t shine for itself.  Flowers don’t spread fragrance for themselves.  Living for others is the rule of nature.”  It kind of brings a tear to your eye doesn’t it.  And it would be wonderful...if it were only true.

 I was not necessarily in the most charitable of moods when I read the post, so I responded, “Nice sentiment. Tear invoking. But hardly reality. Rivers aren't alive. Trees produce fruit to propagate their species. The sun isn't living. Flowers produce fragrance to attract bees and other insects so that they can be pollinated and the species will survive. Real world observation has shown us that nature is survival of the fittest; fight or flight; dog eat dog. Happy Wednesday!!”

 Personally, I get frustrated by those who believe nature works in perfect harmony; where everything balances out; where everything works together.  Nature is cruel and nasty at times.  In the midst of the beauty and grandeur, there is a constant battle of survival.  We, as humans tend to forget this amidst the safety and security of what we call civilization.  We are mostly protected and insulated from the law of fang and claw.  Think about that saying that I began this story with, and then reconcile it with this next story, which is an unequivocally true observation that has happened many times.

 Many years ago, I was sitting in a deer stand hunting.  As I sat there, a covey of quail came out to eat corn.  They were playfully hopping around, minding their own business, filling their craws, when a hawk swooped down out of nowhere and sank its talons into one of the quail.  There was a loud squeal that was suddenly silenced, an explosion of feathers, and then the hawk rising into the sky holding onto a dead quail.  Living for others is the rule of nature?  What nature are you looking at?

 Mankind evolved in this kind of environment.  Our roots are deep within this nature, and because of it, we are literally programed to respond to threat.  Our bodies undergo physiological changes whenever we feel threatened.  A burst of adrenaline surges through our system and it prepares us for a very particular response: fight or flight.  Perhaps you remember learning about this in high school or college.  This reaction isn’t governed by thinking.  It’s instinctual.  Whenever we perceive a threat, we automatically gear up for fight or flight, and depending upon the person, you will actually see fight and flight responses to the same situation.  We see this happening in our Gospel lesson this morning from the 14th chapter of the book of Mark.

 This segment begins right after Jesus has engaged in hours of prayer facing the knowledge that He will experience God’s wrath on our behalf.  He has come out of that time of prayer with a steadfast resolve to give His life in exchange for our own.  He is steadfast that in order to save the world, He must be separated from the things that have sustained Him for all eternity.  He has found His disciples sleeping, and He has thrown down the gauntlet, “Enough, get up, my betrayer is at hand.”

 And indeed, Jesus’ betrayer is at hand.  Judas is leading a militant group of people who have come to arrest Jesus.  This group is from the chief priests, scribes and the elders.  William Lane comments about this group by saying the following, “That the Jewish authorities alone were responsible for the measures taken against Jesus is corroborated by the detail that he was taken directly to the house of the high priest.  In addition to the Temple police, who were Levites, the Sanhedrin had at its disposal auxiliary police or servants of the court who were assigned the task of maintaining public order beyond the Temple precincts.  They were authorized to make arrests, lead accused persons to the court, guard prisoners and carry out sentences imposed by the court.  The arresting party in Gethsemane must have consisted of armed court attendants of this kind.”

 Again, it is important to point out that it is the religious authorities who are pushing the arrest of Jesus.  Jesus is very popular with everyday folks, but it is those in power and authority who do not like Him; who want to get rid of Him.  He has exposed them for the frauds they are, and so because Jesus is a threat, fight or flight kicks in.  They have power.  They choose to fight, and Judas would lead them to their prey.

 44Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ 45So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him.”

 This act is putrid.  It’s horrible.  Why would I say this?  Remember the term “Rabbi” during this time was a title of profound respect.  It was a title of profound honor. Kissing is another sign of respect and honor.  The Greek word for the kind of kiss Judas gives is a kiss of passion and adoration.  This act becomes an act of mockery.  It becomes an act of show.  Passionately adoring Jesus and giving Him a title of great respect, Judas betrays Him.  It’s essentially saying, “I love you,” while driving a dagger deep into one’s back.   It. Is. Ugly.

 And the crowd seizes Jesus.

 Not surprisingly, we see the fight or flight response kick in.

 First comes those who are willing to fight.  Mark records, “47But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.”  Mark gives us the bare minimum about this event.  He records the activity, but nothing else.  The other Gospels flesh this out and tell us this disciple is Peter.  They also tell us that Jesus decries the action by first saying, “Put your sword away because those who live by the sword are destined to die by the sword,” and then secondly by healing the man whose ear was cut off.  The fight response isn’t appropriate.

 Jesus then addresses the crowd. “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.”  Jesus here is fully in control of Himself.  Jesus is not fighting.  He is not fleeing.  He is able to assess the situation calmly.  He is able to see it for what it is.  He knows their intentions.  He knows what is about to befall Him.  And He faces it head on.  Without fear.  Without anxiety, and with a tone of mockery toward His assailants.  He shames them by His statement.  “If you tried this in public, you’d never get away with it.  You had your opportunities to handle this in the light of day, but you choose the dark of night.  But let the scriptures be fulfilled.”

 And now, we have the flight part of human nature kicking in.  The disciples flee, and so does a neoniskus.  That is the term used for a young man who is following Jesus.  This incident is really intriguing, and I think it important.  You will have to wait a few weeks to see exactly why, but for the time being, let’s flesh this incident out.  A young man, or neoniskus, is following along.  The word here is significant.  Again to quote William Lane, “Of greater importance is the fact that in the LXX, the Jewish Apocrypha and Josephus, the term used by Mark designates young men who are exceptionally strong and valiant, or faithful and wise.”  This is a strong, valiant, faithful and wise young man.  And he is also wealthy.  How do we know this?  To quote William Liefield, “Ordinarily men wore an undergarment called a chiton. This young man had only a sindon, an outer garment.  Usually, this garment was made of wool.  His, however, was linen, an expensive material worn only by the rich.” 

 What an interesting bit of thought thrown our way by Mark.  A young man who has all the marks of bravery and civilization is stripped bare of everything.  His wealth fails him at the time of crisis.  His strength fails him.  His youth fails him.  His wisdom fails him.  Nothing is left.  Nothing.  He is naked.

 There is only one left standing in this scene.  There is only one who is not affected by fight or flight.  There is only one who stands firm in resolve and understanding.  There is only one who assesses and faces the danger.  Jesus. 

 Oh how wonderful it would be for me to stop right here and tell you, “Be like Jesus.”  How wonderful it would be for me to say, “Jesus is our example.  If He can do it, you can too.  Stop worrying.  Stop letting threats cause you to fight or flee.”  Be like Jesus and calmly assess the situation.  That is the equivalent of me standing up here and saying, “Reprogram your brain.  Make your brain think differently.  Change your humanity and transform yourself.”  There are many who say that we can do this.  The book shelves in book stores are full of self-help books.  There are more than a few books that Amazon.com would love to sell you to help you do just this.

 Amazingly enough, despite all the books that have been written; despite all the insights of psychology and medicine; fight or flight still reigns.  Fight or flight dominates our discussions and our actions.  Our adrenaline seems to be in a constant state of arousal these days.  From bathrooms to politics to terrorism, threats abound.  And we are anything but calm.  We ready ourselves to fight or to flee.  How can we do anything different?

 The answer to this problem is not in self-help books.  It’s about realizing what Jesus has already accomplished.  Jesus stands with utter resolve because He knows He is going to become the difference maker.  Jesus knows that He is going to make things right.  Jesus knows that He will face abandonment from God.  Jesus knows He is going to face hell.  Jesus knows He is going to face the worst thing possible so that we do not have to.  Jesus is going to pour Himself out for you and for me because He loves us.

 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world might be saved through Him.

 There are two ways in which this love reprograms our brains.  The first is that it removes and substantially lessens any threat we feel.  The reason fight or flight kicks in is because we feel threatened.  We feel like we will be harmed.  Through Jesus, we have nothing to fear.  I know that’s tough to enact, but think about it for a moment.  Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God and our sinfulness.  Because of Jesus we do not have to fear what will happen to us after we die.  We know that a place is prepared for us.  This offers great comfort in facing death.

 But there is more because there is also the resurrection.  The resurrection is the promise that all that is evil will be unmade.  All that is dark will turn to light.  All that is bad will be transformed into good.  From death will spring forth life.  Will bad things continue to happen?  Sure.  Will we face times of trial and tribulation?  Absolutely.  But we know that the end of the story will be rewritten.  We know that should evil win a battle, God will win the war.  Placing our trust in Him will lead us to have much less worry and fear.

 Secondly, we will be filled with Christ’s sacrificial love.  He will pour His Spirit into us.  Why does this matter?  Love, true, sacrificial love will reprogram your brain.  Love, real, sacrificial love will lead you to walk through the fires of hell.  Love, real, sacrificial love will make you act in a way you would normally never, ever act.  Think about someone you love dearly.  What wouldn’t you do for them?  What wouldn’t you face for them?  Would you gladly give your life for them?  Would you go out of your way to please them?  Would you set aside your fears, your wants, and your desires to honor them?

 Of course you would.  When you are motivated by this kind of love, you change deeply, and when you come to the understanding of what Jesus has done for you; when you come to the understanding that Jesus died for you when you least deserved it.  When you come to the understanding that Jesus stood when you would fight or flee, your heart begins to change.  Your brain begins to be reprogrammed.  Your actions begin to be governed by something totally and completely different because whatever threat arises, you are no longer motivated by fear, you are motivated by love; by thankfulness; by a desire to fulfill the will of God.  By a desire to do the things God would have you do instead of what nature would have you do. 

 You will not change your human nature.  You cannot reprogram yourself.  Only Christ can do that.  Only He can reach down into the depths of your heart and change you.  Only through His love can He convince you to stand when you would rather run or fight.  And the good news this morning is: He has already acted to bring that change about.  He has already done great things to transform your heart.  He has already died for you.  He has already been raised from the dead.  He has already done all these things for you.  Amen.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Agony of Facing Death

 This morning, I am going to be very real with all of you.  I am going to confront the one thing that each and every one of us will face one day.  I am going to confront the one thing that I have helped people to face year after year after year.  I am going to confront the reality of death.  For some, this is a very morbid topic.  Many would prefer to put it out of sight and out of mind.  It brings to the surface fear, dread, anxiety, especially since we neither know the day or the hour.  Death in our society and in our culture is seen as the great enemy–something we battle and rage against.

 Why do you think we argue so much about health care and how we pay for it?

 Why do you think we argue about guns and the violence that is associated with them?

 Why do you think we emphasize safety at airports?

 Why do you think we pass so many laws regarding traveling in cars?

 We strive to protect and preserve life even at great cost.

 And so, when people face the very real aspect of their own deaths or the death of a close family member: when terminal cancer strikes, when a major surgery is on the horizon, when a funeral must be planned for a child, I am called.  How does one deal with the immanent threat of something that one has worked so hard to avoid?

 The answer to that question varies by person.  Some rage against the coming night fighting with all their being to hold onto whatever bit of life they can manage.  Such deaths are horrible to witness.  They scar the brain.  Others peacefully accept what is happening, and most of the time, I hear people say, “Wow, this person was very peaceful about their death.  They handled it just amazingly.”  Most family members pray that their loved ones simply go to sleep and die in peace without struggle or pain or suffering.  For most of human history, the one who faces death with bravery, courage, and peace is greatly admired.

 The history of Christianity is full of stories of those who have died without fear; without worry; without anguish.  Many of these folks who have faced death in such a manner are called the martyrs–people who have been killed strictly for following their belief and trust in Jesus Christ.  Interestingly enough, most of these martyrs are remembered because they were very peaceful as death approached.  Even as they were burned at the stake, tortured, or fed to wild animals, these Christians are celebrated as having faced death while proclaiming the Gospel or singing hymns and praises to God.  Many think, “May I have such courage.  May I face death with such bravery.”

 I want you to contrast this thought with what you see happening in our Gospel lesson from the 14th Chapter of the Book of Mark.  This snippet is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spends several agonizing hours in prayer.  Compared to the martyrs; compared to many who face death, Jesus is not at all peaceful.

 The scene begins with Jesus taking his disciples to Gethsemane which means olive press.  Apparently, this is a garden with an olive press where olive oil was produced.  Jesus asks His disciples to sit while He goes to pray.  I want you to take note of how Jesus begins distancing Himself from the disciples.  There is a real sense of a shrinking circle of support.  Remember, Jesus had just decreed that all of the disciples would abandon Him.  That process is starting.

 For after leaving the majority of the disciples behind, Jesus asks Peter, James and John to follow Him.  Then, Mark tells us that Jesus “began to be distressed and agitated.”  This is extremely vivid language here.  Nowhere else is Jesus described in these terms.  Walter Liefield writes, “The two verbs translated “deeply distressed and troubled” together “describe an extremely acute emotion, a compound of bewilderment, fear, uncertainty, and anxiety, nowhere else portrayed in such vivid terms as here.” 

 I want you to think about this description for just a moment.  Why would Jesus become so troubled in spirit?  All throughout the book of Mark, Jesus has been steadfast and resolute.  All throughout Mark, Jesus has embraced His mission.  On at least three occasions that Mark records, perhaps even more given that Jesus probably said things over and over and over, Jesus saying that He would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes and be killed.  Jesus has also said that He would be raised from the dead.  Jesus knows what is going to happen to Him at the hands of men.  He has known all along.  Why is He so deeply distressed?  Hold onto that question.

 And Jesus said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”  Again, we see something remarkable.  Jesus has never been this shaken throughout the Gospel.  He has never been this deeply grieved or disturbed.  Jesus even says that he essentially feels like he is going to die.  Why would Jesus feel like He were about to die?

 We get the answer in the next sentence.  35And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”  What is the cup that had Jesus so terrified?  What is the cup that had Jesus feeling like He would die?  We have already seen that it can’t be the knowledge of His impending death.  He knew that would happen.  We know that it is not His betrayal.  He knows that is going to happen.  He knows He will be raised from the dead.  What could possibly be so bad about this cup that it absolutely terrifies the Son of God?

 Imagine for a moment that you have a lifeline.  Imagine for a moment that this lifeline provides you with every bit of love, compassion, and support that you have ever needed.  Whenever you hold onto that lifeline, there is nothing anyone can say to you that hurts.  There is no sadness that grips your heart.  There is no worry or fear that can touch you.  This lifeline is like the very air that you breathe.  As long as it is there, nothing ever bothers you.  Nothing at all.  Then, imagine that this lifeline will be cut.  Would that not fill you with terror?  Would that not fill you with absolute horror.  Imagine now having to face every fear; every darkness; every insult without the thing which sustained you through them.  What would that do to your soul?

 In Jesus’ case, that lifeline was His relationship to the Heavenly Father.  For all of eternity, Jesus and the Father, and the Spirit for that matter, had been in a divine dance of love.  They poured themselves into each other.  They sustained one another.  They loved one another with reckless abandon.  Jesus never felt anything less than fulfilled.  He never felt anything less than loved.  He never felt anything less than complete and whole.

 And in just a few hours, all of that would be taken away.  All of that would be removed from Him.  The Father would turn His back on the Son, and Jesus would feel totally abandoned as He faced the Father’s wrath against all sin ever performed and ever to be performed.  Imagine all of the sin, grief, and shame this world has ever and will ever produce.  Imagine the destruction of World War I.  Imagine the Holocaust.  Imagine the pogroms of Russia.  Imagine the Killing Fields of Cambodia.  Imagine the billions upon billions of seemingly little sins committed each and every day. Imagine all of that heaped upon Jesus–the one who had never known sin, and imagine Him paying the penalty for that sin on the world’s behalf.  Would that not terrify you?  Would that not cause you to be troubled even unto death?  Would that not cause you to beg to have such a thing removed from you?  Would that not cause you to beg for another way?

 Mark Edwards puts it this way in his commentary on this text: It is one thing, fearful as it will be, to answer for our own sins before a holy and almighty God; who can imagine what it would be like to stand before God to answer for every sin and crime and act of malice and injury and cowardice and evil in the world?  In acquiescing to the Father’s will of bearing ‘the sin of many, interceding for transgressors”, Jesus necessarily experiences an abandonment and darkness of cosmic proportions.  The worst prospect of becoming the sin-bearer for humanity is that it spells complete alienation from God, an alienation that will shortly echo above the desolate landscape of Calvary, “MY God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

 And this is why Jesus begged and pleaded.  This is why Jesus wrestled with this for nearly an hour.  “But not my will, but yours be done.”  Jesus resolutely sought to follow the Father’s will.
 Three times Jesus prayed this.  Three times Jesus pleaded.  Each time, Jesus finished praying, He faced the reality of human nature.  Three times Jesus found His closest followers sleeping, abandoning Him in His need, weary from eating and drinking and staying awake long into the night.  He first speaks to Peter who at this point, Jesus calls Simon because he is far from living up to his nickname of the Rock.  Each time the disciples have no excuse.  They become embarrassed.  At the time of Jesus’ greatest need; at the time when He is facing the reality of having His Heavenly Father turn His back upon Him, Jesus faces it completely and totally alone.

 It is tempting to point fingers at the disciples here, but we must remember that this text is not about them.  This text is not about their failure.  It has been well established that we fail time and again when it comes to being faithful to our Lord.  It has been established throughout the book of Mark that the disciples just don’t get it.  This text’s focus as is the focus of every Gospel is not upon the disciples or upon us, but upon Jesus.  And William Lane articulates what is going on here beautifully.  He writes, “The remarkable element in the scene is that in the midst of an unparalleled agony Jesus...came to look after his three vulnerable disciples and to warn them of their danger of failure in the struggle which was about to overwhelm them.”  Jesus’ compassion knows no bounds.  Jesus’ love of His followers and of the world has now bounds.

 Even after three times of pleading.  Even after three times of being disappointed.  Jesus is resigned to the Father’s will.  Jesus will not be like the first Adam who in the first Garden gave into temptation.  Jesus will not put His will ahead of the Father’s.  Jesus will suffer for our sake.  Jesus will become sin who knew no sin.  Jesus will face the wrath of God against the sin of the world.  He will lay down His life for the very ones who keep falling asleep and failing to support Him. 

 And He will do it because He loves them.  He will do it because He loves us.  He will face the most horrible thing anyone could ever face because of an overwhelming love.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved by Him.”  Jesus faces the most horrendous thing possible, so that we will not have to.

 And it is because we do not have to face the judgement of God that we can be at peace and face our own deaths.  It is because of Jesus that we can become like the martyrs: we can go toward our deaths at peace.  We can know that Jesus has paid for our sin, our guilt, our shame, our failure.  We can know that He faced down our greatest threat–eternal separation from God.  Death no longer has power.  Death no longer has sting.  On the cross, Jesus paid the price.  Three days later, at the tomb, the end is revealed.  Eternal life.

 I remember vividly arriving at the bedside of one of our members who died quite a few years ago.  She was a tremendous woman of faith.  She had fought long and hard with disease.  She strove and battled.  She was unconscious at the moment of my visit, but she was still trying to fight.  I placed my hand upon her head, and I spoke in her ear, “It is okay.  You have fought long enough.  You have done everything that you could.  It is time to be at peace.  It is okay to let go.”  Almost immediately, a peace and calm came over her.  Almost immediately, she seemed to realize that her earthly journey was about to continue into eternity.  She was able to rest assured that she would be with Jesus.

 My brothers and sisters, when we understand what Jesus has done on our behalf; when we understand that He has paid the debt of our sins; when we understand what He revealed to us in the resurrection; we are free to face death with a different lens.  We are free to face death armed with hope.  We are free to live without constant worry and fear and anxiety.  Because of Jesus and His struggle, we do not have to.  We can live life without fear, and we can die at peace because of His love.  Amen.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Denial is not Simply a River in Egypt

 I love where my kids are at right now.  They are truly fun.  They are right in that middle zone where they are out of diapers, potty trained, and independent enough to dress themselves and get their own breakfasts.  Yet, they are not quite at puberty, arguably the most trying time for kids and parents.  They are right in the middle, and I am enjoying it while it lasts.

 How enjoyable is it?  In the past month or so, both of my daughters have come up to me separately and said, “You are the best dad in the world.”  It really is a heart-melting moment.  But, do you know what I have done every time?  Folks may question my sanity and parenting style because of what I am going to say next, but I’m going to see how this plays out in the long run.  Each time my girls have said, “You are the best dad in the world,” I have replied, “Thank you sweetie.  I appreciate this and I am going to remember this because in about two or three years, you are probably going to think that I am the dumbest person in the world.”

 Every time I’ve said this, my girls look at me and say, “Daddy!  Why would you say that?”

 I respond, “Because in a few years, you are going to be a teenager, and most teenagers think their parents are dumb and don’t understand anything.”

 My girls have both said, at this point, “Daddy, I don’t ever want to say or think that.”

 I reply, “I hope not either.”  I have hope, but I’m not optimistic.  I remember my own teenage years all to well.  I’ve been around more than a few teenagers since then.  The odds are not in my favor.  Human nature is too powerful.  So I confronted my daughters with this prophecy.  They weren’t happy with it.

 You may wonder why I share this with you.  I share it because I think it is related to the events taking place in our Gospel lesson this morning as we progress through the 14th chapter of the book of Mark. 

 This text follows immediately after the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and as Jesus and his disciples depart the upper room, they do so by singing the hymn.  Now, if this is a Passover meal and they are following the oldest known sequence of this meal, then they were singing what is called the Hallel Psalms.  This would have ended with Psalm 118.  It is an intriguing thought to think that as Jesus left this final meal with his disciples, He would have had these words on his lips:

 The Lord is my strength and song; he has become my salvation.  Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!  The Lord’s right hand has lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”  I will not die but live and will proclaim what the Lord has done. 

 Think about that with the knowledge that Jesus is now entering into the final hours of leading up to his arrest and crucifixion.  “I will not die but live and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”  Ironic.  Tragic?  Definitely hopeful.

 When everyone reaches the Mount of Olives, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “You will all become skandalizein.”  Skandalizein is the Greek word that is translated will fall away, be offended, be made to stumble.  Mark Edwards writes in his commentary, “Skandalizein...does not mean that the disciples will willfully defect but that external factors will act upon them and cause them to do so...We do not plan on sinning, but neither do we hold the fort when we ought.”  This is an important point–one that we will come back to in a little while.  But first, we must consider this text more deeply, for Jesus backs up his words by citing Zechariah chapter 13.  “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”

 Let me read to you this quote in context from the Old Testament so that you might get more of an idea of what is going on.  Zechariah 13:7-9, 7“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate,” says the Lord of hosts. Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. 8In the whole land, says the Lord, two-thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one-third shall be left alive. 9And I will put this third into the fire, refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “They are my people”; and they will say, “The Lord is our God.”

 Now, let me point out that in this Old Testament passage, it is God Himself who is striking the shepherd.  It is God who is taking this action so that He may purify and refine His people.  It is necessary for the shepherd to be struck down.  Now, the historical situations of Zechariah and Jesus are not the same.  They are not the same at all.  So, Jesus is taking this passage and redefining it to help us, and the disciples understand.  Unfortunately, they will not understand at this point.  Not in the least.  They will not understand until after the cross and resurrection.  For the moment, they are flabbergasted that Jesus would suggest that God would strike Him and that they would scatter.

 Before we get to the disciples’ reaction, let me point out to you a little snippet that even the disciples missed.  They were reeling from what Jesus said, and I am quite convinced they missed hearing Jesus say, “28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”  The disciples did not hear this and did not understand this because the notion of an individual resurrection had no thought in their minds.  Nowhere in Jewish literature or thought was there the idea of a resurrected Messiah.  They didn’t understand this.  They didn’t grasp this.  It was foreign, so they focused on what they did know: Jesus said they would all desert him; be scandalized by him; abandon him and be scattered.

 Jesus confronted them, and they didn’t like it.  Peter, being Peter is the first to speak up.  Peter, with his bravado and self-confidence and self-assurance stands against this prophecy.  Peter, the fisherman who had spent hours hauling in nets full of fish, steering boats, who probably had well defined biceps and six-pack abs.  Peter who believes he is tough enough to do anything.  “Lord, even if everyone else deserts you, I will not.”  Peter doesn’t exactly have a high view of his friends, does he?  Peter obviously thinks he’s better than the rest of the disciples here, doesn’t he?  Peter doesn’t like what Jesus said, and so he denies that he will abandon Jesus.

 But Jesus has none of it.  Jesus knows human nature too well.  Jesus knows what he will face.  Jesus knows what Peter will face.  Jesus knows the deep down fear and anxiety.  “Truly I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.”

 “31But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.”  All of them said the same.  Brash.  Unflinching.  Self-confident and self-assured.  Arrogant.  Remember last week when I said that betraying a friend after eating a meal with them was considered the worst kind of treachery in the Middle East?  Jesus has essentially said that all of the disciples would do this.  Judas would be the betrayer, but all would fall away.  No one wanted to take part in such treachery.  No one wanted to fall away.  All wanted to stand.  All asserted that they would stand.  Confident in their strength, they wrote checks with their words that they would not be able to cover.  They sought to justify themselves before Jesus

 And how we love to do the same thing.  How we love to justify ourselves and revel in our own strength and self-confidence and self-assurance.  How we love to pat ourselves on the backs and tell ourselves that we are strong enough to stick by our choices.  How we vehemently promise to God, to our friends and family, and to ourselves that we will do things differently; be better; do more.

 • I can quit drinking anytime I want.
 • I won’t get angry with you anymore.
 • I won’t go to those websites anymore.
 • I will eat healthier.
 • I will exercise regularly.
 • I will go to church more often.
 • I will give more to charity.
 • I will spend more time with my kids.
 • I am in charge of my life, and I will do better.

 And it all sounds good until you don’t.  Until you fall right back into the same habits; same routines; same behaviors.  And when we are confronted?  When someone points out that our words do not match up with what we are doing?  What do we do?  Let me tell you what I do.  I am the king of excuses.  I am very good at blame displacement.  I can give you a million reasons why the circumstances around me have led me to say what I say and do what I do.  In the famous words of the German theologian, pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I am all too ready to “justify my sin instead of proclaim the justification of the sinner.”

 But Jesus doesn’t let us get away with that.  Jesus knows us too well.  He will confront us in our sin.  He will confront us with how he knows we will act.  Because He knows the end results.  We will see those results in due time.  We will see Peter’s denial.  We will hear the rooster crow.  We will see the disciples flee.  We will even hear about how one of them was caught by his clothes and wiggling free ran away naked and ashamed.

 And if we ever run into the real Jesus, we will find ourselves standing in front of Him naked and ashamed as well.  We will stand before Him and know that we have missed the mark.  We will deeply know our hypocrisy.  We will know how our self-confidence and arrogance led us to say things we should not have said and do things we should not have done.  We will know how we were never better than others despite a desperate want to be so.  We will know shame even though we have spent more than our fair share of time trying to avoid feeling shameful.  We will know how we turned our backs on Jesus and we will know that the right thing for Him to do is turn his back on us. 

 But, at that moment, when we know that He should turn His back upon us, we realize the significance of those words from Zechariah 13.  “I will strike the shepherd...”  The shepherd will be struck down.  The Good Shepherd will be struck down as He lays His life down for the sheep.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd will be struck down as He lays down His life for His disciples–for you.  For when you stand before Jesus, you will know beyond a doubt that you are not worthy to be in His presence.  You will know you are not worthy to be in God’s presence.  You are unholy.  You are broken, battered, torn.  You deserve the wrath of God–to have God turn His back upon you.  But the Good Shepherd intercedes.  He takes upon Himself your sin, your guilt, your shame.  He faces God’s anger and wrath in your place.  He has God turn God’s back against Him. 

 Standing in Jesus’ presence naked and ashamed waiting for Him to turn His back on us, He stretches out His arms and dies for us–in our place, pouring His life out for us in an act of wondrous love.  He clothes us with new garments of dazzling white as He says, “You are forgiven.  I have paid the price for your self-assurance; your self-confidence; your arrogance.  I have covered in action what you could not do yourself.  I lay down my life for you because I love you.”

 This is the Good News.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.”  God did not send Jesus to condemn you, but to save you.  And He will go before us to gather us together once again.  The sheep that are scattered will be drawn back to the Good Shepherd, and they will be vastly different. 

  At the end of the book of Mark, after the resurrection.  The same young man who ran away naked and ashamed is found in the tomb.  He is found fully clothed in a garment of pure white.  He unashamedly pronounces that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  This young man has been transformed by what Jesus has accomplished for him.  And this transformation happened to the rest of the disciples as well.  When they came in contact with the risen Lord, it changed them greatly.  Whereas they once deserted Jesus and ran from persecution, as they proclaimed the good news of His death, they later embraced persecution and even death.  They refused to run any longer.  Death, fear, anxiety no longer had power over them.  How is it that they were able to overcome these things which oftentimes still have power over us?  They didn’t trust in themselves to stand up to these things.  They didn’t trust in their own power and understanding.  They trusted in Jesus.  They trusted in what Jesus had done. They trusted in His love; in His mercy; in His grace.  They knew if they tried to have confidence in themselves, they would fail once again.  And so, they trusted in Jesus.  Their hearts rested in Jesus and His work.  And here is further good news for you and me.

 It happened to the disciples, and it can happen to us.  We too can know that type of transformation.  We too can face the challenges of life with much less fear and anxiety and worry.  But we have to stand being confronted by Jesus.  We have to stand knowing that we are broken.  We have to stand before Him and know that we have fallen short of His expectations.  We must know our weakness and failure, but we must also know Jesus’ deep love.  We must also know how much this God incarnate was willing to go through to show us how much we are loved and cherished.  You see, if you know you have failed but you also know you are deeply loved, your heart and life changes.  Arrogance, self-assuredness, self-confidence, and brashness are replaced by deep humility.  Fear, anxiety, and worry, are replaced by hope and trust that Jesus will see you through.  You brag less; love more; rest your confidence in Jesus instead of yourself; and seek as many opportunities as possible to worship the one who laid down His life for you.  When you realize the Good Shepherd was struck down for you and that He now seeks to gather you in, your life and heart is changed.  Rest in His grace, love, and mercy.  Amen.

Monday, May 2, 2016

You Were Born for...

 There is a Facebook meme that I have seen several times pop up in my feed that says, “You were born to do more than just work, pay bills, and then die.”  I would agree wholeheartedly.  But it begs the question: just what were you born to do?  That is the million dollar question that millions of individuals ask themselves on a regular basis.  Humanity has a deep longing to have an answer to that question: why was I born?  What is my purpose?  Why am I even here?  Let’s consider a couple of alternatives for just a moment.

 First, let’s take the path of the atheist.  For those who believe that this universe is all that there is, ultimately, there is no purpose.  There is no meaning.  There is no reason for existence.  Now, this does not mean that atheists don’t have some sense of purpose for their lives; it doesn’t mean that they don’t get some sense of personal meaning about things–I mean, I have come in contact with several atheists who indeed have some sense of momentary purpose that drives them in life.  But I am not talking about a fleeting sense of purpose governed by my circumstances in life at any given moment.  I am talking about an ultimate sense of purpose that goes beyond my existence today.  Ultimately, atheism cannot give you such a sense of purpose that is larger than a given moment in time.  Why do I say this?  Well, think about this: do you remember any relative of yours who lived 500 years ago?  Do you think anyone will remember you 500 years from now?  More than likely, not.  Do you think anyone will remember some random act of kindness you perpetuated even 50 years from now?  I mean unless you are massively famous, only those immediately affected will even care.  And let’s shift the time line even further down the road–a long way down the road–billions of years down the road, in fact. 

 Scientists who study the stars tell us that in a few billion years, our sun will begin expending its energy and expanding.  When it does this, it will unleash a fiery hell upon earth burning everything we know or have ever known into dust and ash.  This is the end result of everything we have ever done; all our great accomplishments; all our moral advances; dust and ash consumed with a burning flame.  So, let me ask you: if this is the ultimate end of all things, is there anything that really makes life worth living other than simply living for the moment?  Is there any higher purpose then?  I mean, why not simply enjoy life for the little bit of time we have here because in the very long run, it will not make any difference at all–if there is nothing beyond this physical universe.

 But if there is something...

 That changes the outcome.

 Let me try to explain.  First off, Christianity believes that there is a Creator who is beyond this physical universe.  It also states that this Creator is eternal or has existed forever.  This Creator exists as a relationship: a Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And, this Creator/God entered into this world to help you know your ultimate purpose and why you are here.

 This is quite a daunting task to cover in the next several minutes as well as get us through today’s Gospel lesson from the 14th chapter of the book of Mark, but I hope everything comes together in the end and that we are not here all morning. :-)

 Today’s text begins with Mark telling us about one of Jesus’ inner circle: the disciple named Judas–who in stark contrast to the woman who extravagantly gave a lavish gift to Jesus–seeks to take from Jesus.  Judas, for whatever reason, decides to throw his lot with Jesus’ enemies and betray the Lord.  We know that at least one of the motivations is money, and so after collaborating with the chief priests and the scribes, Judas seeks an opportunity to betray Jesus in secret.

 Mark then sets the stage for this betrayal by telling us about the events that lead up to it–the institution of Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.  There are some things happening as the meal is being prepared that are quite interesting.  We know that an arrest order has been issued for Jesus–the wording of this arrest order can actually be found in the Talmud or Jewish writings about the Torah.  According to Jewish custom, the Passover meal must be eaten IN Jerusalem, so Jesus, to fulfill the law must go into the city to eat this important meal.  By all accounts, Jesus has arranged it clandestinely–at least that is what a couple of the commentaries suggested.  I mean, it makes sense.  Jesus says, “Go into town and look for a man carrying a water jar.”  This would be an anomaly.  Men carried wine skins.  Women carried water jars.  I don’t know what that says about the difference between men and women, but gender roles aren’t the point.  The point is, the man will be easy to spot.  Then, there is a password of sorts.  Jesus says, “You are to say, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” Again, this has all the marks of intrigue.  Sneak in; get everything ready and prepared; sneak out when all is over.  And that’s what happened, to an extent.  But there was some really, really important stuff that happened in the middle.

 Jesus and His disciples gather in the room to eat the feast.  After they had dined, Jesus says something astonishing; jaw dropping; something that I am positive sent all but one of the disciples reeling.  “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.  One who is eating with me.”  This was a repulsive thought.

 According to Walter Liefield in the Expositor’s Bible commentary, “To betray a friend after eating a meal with him was, and still is, regarded as the worst kind of treachery in the Middle East.”  This is why I say Jesus’ comment would have been a heart stopper.  It was reprehensible to think this would happen.  Everyone in the room asks, “Surely not I?”  We know that at least one of those was putting on a good show.  Jesus doesn’t back down.  In fact, He narrows the playing field.  “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.”  Again, Liefield sheds some light here,
“This clue does not specifically reveal the betrayer but emphasizes again that it is one who enjoys the closest relationship with Jesus–he even dips his bread into the same bowl with Him.”

 Mark Edwards reflects upon Jesus’ actions here and then writes a powerful observation, “Jesus is not a tragic hero caught in events beyond his control.  There is no hint of desperation, fear, anger or futility on his part.  Jesus does not cower or retreat as plots are hatched against him.  He displays, as he has throughout the Gospel, a sovereign freedom and authority to follow a course he has freely chosen in accordance with God’s plan.  Judas and others may act against him, but they do not act upon him.”

 I think Edwards is right on target with this statement because Jesus is going through this with eyes wide open.  He knows what is going to happen. He understands what is going to happen, and He is not running for it.  Neither is He acting with a sense of fatalism.  He understands who He is and what He is here for.  He has tried to make that known throughout the book of Mark, and He will do so once again.

 For Jesus now does something that has become a staple in every church throughout the world.  Different denominations disagree on exactly what is happening during this meal, but all celebrate it.  Jesus takes bread, breaks it and says, “This is my body.”  What is the significance of this?
 Mark Edwards says, “When Jesus said, “This is my body,” the Aramaic behind body likely meant “my person”, “my whole being,” “my self.”  Likewise, the Greek word behind “body” is not sarx (flesh) but soma “body” or perhaps “being.”  All the activity signified by the verbs thus results in the gift of Jesus himself, wholly and without reserve in his self-offering for the disciples.”  Jesus is giving Himself to His disciples.

 And while the giving of one’s self to another carries significance, it is rammed home when Jesus takes a cup of wine, blesses it, has everyone drink from it, and then says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

 Every commentary I consulted tied this event back to Exodus chapter 24.  Please listen to the story, “3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ 4And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. 6Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. 7Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ 8Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  What is so significant about this?

 Let me read to you from Edwards once more, “In Hebrew thought the life of a creature resided in its blood; Jesus’ reference to the cup as “my blood” thus implies his very life...The “blood of the covenant” cannot be understood apart from the first covenant that Moses instituted by throwing blood on the people (Exodus 24:3-8).  That covenant was sealed by necessity with the blood of a surrogate sacrificial animal.  The new covenant here instituted must be sealed by Jesus’ blood; it is not simply thrown on the community as in Exodus 24:8, but imbibed into believers.”

 So, what does this mean?  This means that the God of the universe who has come down to earth gives His very self to us and pours His very life INTO us!  The One who is ETERNAL, pours His LIFE INTO YOU!  You who are mortal, imperfect, trying to make your way in this world and in this life.  You who are sometimes cranky and angry and upset.  You who are depressed and anxious and worrisome.  You who are sometimes greedy and self-righteous.  You who are going through the motions and longing for something more.  Jesus pours His ETERNAL LIFE into you.

 Why?  Well, first, it’s because He loves you.  Despite your frailties and failings, Jesus loves you.  He loves you dearly.  So much so that He is willing to die for you.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  You see, the world that God created will indeed come to an end.  There is no doubt about that, but God loves the world.  God loves you.  He does not want to see you perish.  So, He pours His eternal life into you so that you will not perish but cross over the threshold of time into eternity to be with Him forever.

 Secondly, God wants you to sense that eternal life now.  He wants you to know that there is so much more that what we see here.  If you become so focused on the here and now and lose sight of eternity, then you will drive yourself crazy trying to do everything and see everything.  You will eventually become exhausted and overwhelmed. You will reach the point where you know you simply cannot do and see everything, and you will become depressed.  You will face your mortality and limitations with no hope.  Yet, when you know that eternity dwells within you, you know that you have forever to see and do.  You know there is more to the story.  You know that beyond this life there is a different and better reality.

 And finally, because you know this, you understand that it is your purpose to know that reality and make it known.  It is your purpose to know God and make Him known.  It is your purpose to seek the God who loves you deeply and then make Him known by loving others as you have been loved.  And it doesn’t matter what kind of job you have or don’t have; who you marry or don’t marry; where you live; or any of these things we stress deeply over.  Wherever we are; whoever we are around; whatever our lot, we have the privilege of telling others there is a God who loved this world and poured out Himself for it.  We have the privilege of knowing Jesus and seeking to make Him known.  We have the honor of being loved and then showing that love.  Indeed we were made to do so much more than working, paying bills, and dying.  We were made for eternal life.  Amen.