Tag Archives: Attack

Attacking “The Jesus Problem”

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians…
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question…
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him…
Matthew 22:15, 23, 34-35 (NIV)

Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem to the praises of the fickle crowd. He challenged the powerful bosses of institutional religion by creating a public disturbance amidst their religious racketeering. Jesus is on a mission. Matthew’s eye-witness account of these events does not reveal Jesus as a helpless victim of circumstance, but rather the One driving the action.

With each word and every action, Jesus is putting the powerful religious cartel into an increasingly difficult position. His popularity among the poor and marginalized has stirred public sentiment against the religious leaders. The small riot Jesus made among the money changers was not only an embarrassment and PR nightmare within the community of the Jewish commoners, but if Pilate gets wind that there’s unrest among the Jews he and the Roman occupational force might crack down hard on them, and that would be bad for business.

The Temple leadership have a good racket going. They are wealthy, and they have carved out a lucrative niche for themselves in their Temple business. Their powerful religious authority gives them an iron political grip over the Jewish people in Jerusalem and abroad. They may be living under Roman occupation, but under the Roman umbrella they are supreme rulers of their own small kingdom. From the perspective of the Temple’s religious leadership, this pesky would-be Messiah from Nazareth is bad for business. He’s listed as a “threat” in their SWOT analysis. “It’s not personal, Jesus,” you can imagine the High Priest muttering, “It’s strictly business.”

The end of yesterday’s chapter and the continuing events in today’s chapter reveal the initial strategy of the religious leaders to deal with “the Jesus problem.” These men were all well-educated lawyers and legal scholars who made an art form out of legal debate over the Law of Moses. They would leverage their expertise in legal minutiae to engage Jesus in very public debate in the Temple courts. Surely this uneducated yokel from the North country would give them a sound-byte they could tweet, print, and repeat endlessly to stem the tide of His popularity.

In today’s chapter, Matthew records wave after wave of envoys from the religious council testing Jesus with the hot political and religious topics of the day: Paying Roman taxes (politically heated issue), whether there is a resurrection (heated religious issue among factions within the temple), and which is the greatest commandment (hot religious debate among temple lawyers). Because these topics were as controversial in temple circles as abortion and gun control are in ours, whatever Jesus says can be used politically to ruin His approval ratings with one group or another.

But Jesus deftly responds to each question with answers His enemies did not expect. Then, after playing defense for several rounds of debate, Jesus turns the tables and goes on the offense. He tests the prestigious lawyers with a question of His own, and stumps them at their own game.

“No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

This morning I am thinking about the contrast between Jesus and the religious cartel who were threatened by Him. Jesus was a simple man of simple means born in a backwater town to poor, blue-collar parents. He was raised in a backwater region of the country. Jesus was not well connected, had no impressive education, and owned little more than the seamless tunic on His back (which was worth just enough that a couple of Roman guards would shoot craps over it). His political enemies, on the other hand, were upstanding religious people of elite pedigree, top-notch education, and shrewd business acumen. They would be hailed as hallmarks of success according to our contemporary culture’s criteria.

The uncomfortable question I ask myself in the quiet this morning is: Between Jesus and the religious leaders, who do I, and my life, most resemble? If I were standing in the temple courts listening to the debate between this poor teacher with His provocative views and the conservative, successful leaders of the traditional status quo, who would I be inclined to side with?

I confess that my honest answer is as uncomfortable as the question.

Siege and Parley

But the [Assyrian] commander replied, “Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?
Isaiah 36:12 (NIV)

It was a day of doom. The walled city of Jerusalem was under siege just as everyone had feared; The city was surrounded by the Assyrian army. The Assyrian army of which so many rumors had been whispered. The large army, well-trained and well-equipped that had swept through the region swallowing up every city in its wake. The army that tortured their enemies mercilessly. The army thirsty for blood. The army bent on violent destruction.

In today’s chapter we have front row seats in witness of what historians call siege warfare. For many centuries of history cities were surrounded by walls to protect the residents from invading armies. In order to conquer a city, armies would lay siege to it. Besieging armies would completely surround a city to cut off the inhabitants from food, fresh water, and supplies. They would then wait (sometimes years) until the people of the town were starving, weak, despondent and desperate.

In siege warfare it was common for envoys of the besieged city and a commander of the besieging army to have a series of an ancient version of a diplomatic meeting, called a parley. The city’s envoy(s) would do their best to display confidence that the city would not fall. The besieging army’s commander would do his best try to play psychological games with threats, intimidation, and insults.

Shakespeare, in Henry V, dramatically stages one of the best examples of a parley as, between attacks, King Henry of the invading English army parleys with the mayor of  the besieged French town of Harfleur …

The field commander of the Assyrians in Isaiah’s recounting uses the same classic parley tactics in taunting the envoys of Jerusalem’s King Hezekiah. He insults them and threatens them. He threatens their God, and tries to instill fear in the common soldiers on the wall. It’s a fascinating exercise to deconstruct the envoys speech and discover all of the psychological tactics he employed in his two speeches.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways these very base tactics are still employed. From trash talking on the athletic field to advanced siege and interrogation techniques of the modern battlefield  in which subjects are bombarded with negative audio stimulation while not being allowed to sleep or rest.

This isn’t very different than the way our spiritual enemy continues to attack on an on-going basis. Spiritual attack is an attempt to lay siege to heart and soul. The enemy attempts to isolate me from any network of support, surround me so as to feel there is no escape, then bombard me with an steady attack of messages designed to heighten my shame, shake my faith, cast doubt, and instill fear.

I am reminded this morning that, along life’s journey, I’m going to be spiritually besieged. Recognizing the enemies tactics is the first step in thwarting them. Once recognized for what it is, sometimes the best response (just like Hezekiah’s envoys employed in today’s chapter) is silent assurance.

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Featured image by MKorchia via Flickr

Stand Tall and Carry On

walking alone

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 59

But as for me, I will sing about your power.
    Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.
For you have been my refuge,
    a place of safety when I am in distress.
Psalm 59:16 (NLT)

Yesterday I spoke to a friend who, like David in today’s psalm, is experiencing a full frontal assault on their character. Having done nothing wrong, they are suddenly at the center of a maelstrom of ill intent and malicious slander. I’m sure many of us have experienced being the victim of false accusations, and I’m feeling all sort of compassion for my friend.

I could not help but think of this person as I read Psalm 59 this morning, it prompted me to have a conversation with God about their predicament. Nothing reveals our heart and character more than how we respond when we are falsely accused. Natural human inclination is to either fight or flee. We can go on the attack (e.g. American pre-election and political advertising), or we can slink away to lick our wounds and medicate ourselves with any number of unhealthy diversions.

But, as discussed the other day, we also have the option of choosing to swim against the tide of circumstance and respond to our attackers by placing our confidence in God. I’m reminded this morning that in the original Greek language, God’s Holy Spirit is called a Paraclete. Literally translated it means Advocate. Think of Advocate as an attorney; the person who pleads our case and defends us. Pretty good counsel to have on our side.

When faced with false accusation, I’ve learned over time that the best thing to do is resist my natural urge to fight back or to flee. Instead I tell myself to stand tall, trust God and carry on faithfully. I’ve got the best Advocate on my team, and time tends to reveal the truth of things to those who matter.

 

Chapter-a-Day Acts 28

from things_to_remember via Flickr

As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.” But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. Acts 28:3-5 (NLT)

When Taylor called me from Africa a few weeks ago, we enjoyed a long conversation about the conditions where they are staying and what they are experiencing. One of the things I’ve consistently heard from friends and family who have travelled to remote, undeveloped areas of the world is that spiritual forces are much more visible in every day life compared to our own culture that tends to deny and suppress spiritual things. When I asked if this was true where they were staying and working, Taylor said that it was true without a doubt. As an example, she related the story of a local woman who had been possessed and had screamed non-stop at the top of her lungs for days.

It is impossible to journey through God’s Message and read the first-hand accounts of Jesus’ life without being faced with an uncomfortable realization about the spiritual realm. There are forces of Light and there are also forces of darkness. Jesus regularly encountered and confronted individuals who were possessed by spiritual darkness.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, his classic book about the forces of spiritual darkness, that there are two equally foolish mistakes we can make when approaching this sensitive subject. One is to give too much consideration to the forces of darkness, the other is to give too little consideration to them. I often ponder this. While I do not doubt that many easily explained phenomena are incorrectly labeled as spiritual issues, I equally believe that many truly spiritual issues are incorrectly dismissed as easily explained phenomenon.

I loved the image of Paul getting bitten on the hand by the poisonous snake, holding it up and then shaking it off into the fire. Of course, the snake has been the metaphorical symbol of spiritual darkness since the Garden of Eden. Jesus taught that those who believe and receive Him into their hearts and lives are subsequently filled with Light, and where there is Light there is no darkness. That doesn’t mean that darkness cannot attack us. Like Paul, all who follow Jesus are susceptible to spiritual snake bites. We can take courage, however, that those who are in Christ have nothing to fear in these attacks; We can simply shake it off.