Tag Archives: Judgement

Jesus Goes “All In”; Seals Deal

Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Matthew 23:32 (NIV)

There are times when focusing on one chapter each day risks losing continuity of the story that is important for the sake of context. Today is one of those days.

When we left yesterday’s chapter, Jesus had been teaching in the public courts of the Temple in Jerusalem during His final, climactic week of earthly life. The leaders of the institutional Hebrew religion had sent waves of envoys to test Jesus with hot political and religious questions of their day. They wanted to get a sound byte they could use to discredit Jesus, who was a threat to their power and religious racket. Jesus deftly answered each question then went on the offensive and stumped them with a question of their own.

This is a high stakes game being played between Jesus and the religious leadership. They want Jesus dead and out of the way so that they can carry on with their lives of localized power and greedy luxury. Jesus knows this, and having successfully played the cards in His hand He now doubles down and goes all in.

Jesus turns to His listeners and begins to publicly criticize the leaders of religion, and many of them are standing there listening. He acknowledges their systemic authority and tells His followers to honor that authority while refusing to follow their example. Jesus then turns to face the religious leaders and goes off.

Today’s chapter records the most intense and scathing rant Jesus ever offered. It is angry, pointed and provocative. What is essential to understand is that Jesus’ harshest words and most scathing criticisms were aimed at the most conservative, upstanding, strict rule-following religious people.

Jesus repeatedly called them names: hypocrites, blind guides, snakes, brood of vipers, sons of hell. He condemned them for their hypocrisy, their judgmental ways, and the selective ways they used God’s rules to make themselves look good and justify their poor treatment of the marginalized. These religious power brokers had already said they wanted Jesus dead, now with every word and every public criticism Jesus is upping the ante and forcing them to see His call and go all in against Him.

Jesus knows it.

At the end of Jesus’ rant He reminds the religious leaders that it was their predecessors who had killed God’s prophets in earlier centuries. It was the High Priests and religious keepers of the Temple who had violently silenced the ancient prophets. Now Jesus ends His tirade by saying, “Go ahead, finish what they started.” 

Jesus was not a victim. Jesus was on a mission. He was pushing buttons. He was driving the action.

This morning I’m meditating on the Jesus who forgave the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. I’m remembering that Jesus broke all social, cultural, racial and religious barriers of His day when He conversed with a Samaritan woman while she drew water from a well. I’m recalling that Jesus healed the son  of detested Roman officer and healed the child of a despised and “heathen” Gentile. It comes to mind this morning that Jesus hung out with “sinful” Tax Collectors and their worldly, sinful friends at loud parties where who-knows-what sinful things were going on.

I often encounter the misperception that Jesus is all about condemnation of sin and sinners. The record shows, however, that Jesus showed incredible mercy, tolerance and forgiveness to those we would terms sinners. Jesus reserved anger, judgment, and condemnation for “good” religious people who used religion to condemn sinners and make themselves look good.

Unexpected Twists of Plot

“But I know where you are
    and when you come and go
    and how you rage against me.
Because you rage against me
    and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
    by the way you came.
Isaiah 37:28-29 (NIV)

Things did not look hopeful for the residents of Jerusalem. The city was under siege by the Assyrians. The trash-talking parley of the Assyrian field commander had instilled fear in the hearts of the men on the walls, standing in defense of the city. Inside Jerusalem’s temple courts the king of Judah, Hezekiah, held conference. The ancient prophet Isaiah was there. Once again, we have a front row seat, and eye-witness account of history.

There are two things I find fascinating about the events described in today’s chapter.

First, Isaiah repeats an earlier prophetic message: The Assyrians had been acting as agents of God. Even the field commander in yesterday’s chapter claimed that they were acting at the behest of Israel’s God:

“‘Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.'”

One of the lessons that I have learned along my journey through God’s great story is that things aren’t always as cut and dried, black and white, or simple as some would like it to be. God using the “bad guys” as His agents? Really?!

This isn’t the only place in the Great Story in which this happens. The subsequent Babylonian empire would also be prophetically tapped as God’s agents. Reading the story of Daniel, we find that God took keen and special interest in Nebuchadnezzar, the evil king of Babylon. In the story of Israel’s greatest King, David, God seemingly pulls his support of the sitting King (Saul) and sends the anointed King David as a mercenary to fight for Israel’s enemies.

The second thing that strikes me in today’s chapter is the eucatastrophic deliverance of Jerusalem. Isaiah tells King Hezekiah that the Assyrians had been acting as agent’s of God, but now the jig was up and God was going to deliver Jerusalem from Assyria’s hands. At the moment when things seemed darkest for the people of Jerusalem, hope was going to miraculously break.

The next morning when light dawns, the Assyrian army were all laying dead.

The Assyrians had actually divided their army to conquer two different cities. King Sennacherib was laying siege to Lachish while his field commander was laying siege to Jerusalem. Isaiah records that when Sennacherib hears of the mysterious death of his forces at Jerusalem he withdraws from the region and heads home.

This morning I’m once again reminded not to place God in a box. I don’t completely understand why the Author of Life uses certain characters such as Nebuchadnezzar and Sennacherib in the plot line of the Great Story. I don’t understand why God miraculously delivers Jerusalem from Assyria and then allows Babylon to destroy it. It reminds me, however, to hold on loosely in judgement of current events on a grand scale. The Great Story is often a thriller with unexpected plot twists. Just ask the Assyrian field commander.

Over and Over and Over and Over and Over

In recent months I’ve been reading articles about the release of the script of J.K. Rowling’s production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There is a certain amount of frustration among fans who purchased what they thought was a book, only to find that it is actually the script of the stage play. Of course, a novel and a script are two very different things. They both tell a story, but in very different ways. A script requires something more of you as a reader. The author gives you the characters words, but you have to use your imagination to fill in more of the blanks. It’s understandable that many are experiencing frustration with it.

Along my journey I’ve come to understand that there is a similar frustration among those who undertake the reading of God’s Message from Genesis through Revelation. It’s not a novel. It’s not a script. It’s a compilation of writings (and different types of writing) authored across a large section of history. The content is not categorized chronologically but by author and the type of writing. It tells a story, but in a very different way than the way we are used to reading stories. It requires something of me as a reader to connect the dots and see the larger picture.

Even as I wade into the writings of Isaiah, it’s important for me as a reader to understand that I’m reading a smaller compilation of Isaiah’s prophetic poetry. I have to step back and look at the larger picture. I have to connect the dots. I have to see the patterns.

One of the patterns that emerges in prophetic writing is the repeated, cyclical themes of sin, judgement, deliverance, and redemption. I can see it already in the first few chapters:

The people rebel against God:

I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
Isaiah 1:2

The consequences of rebellion are God’s judgement and punishment:

Your men shall fall by the sword
    and your warriors in battle.
And her gates shall lament and mourn;
    ravaged, she shall sit upon the ground.;
Isaiah 2:25-26

When the people repent of their ways, God delivers:

On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.
Isaiah 4:2

Ultimately, God redeems and restores in glorious ways:

 Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.
Isaiah 4:5-6

This repetition happens over and over and over and over and over and over again. In the compilation of Isaiah’s writings this pattern can be seen on a macro level (Chapters 1-39 are much heavier on judgement; Chapters 40-66 are much heavier on deliverance and redemption). The pattern can also be seen on a micro-level within a chapter or a few verses. The theme is repeated continually.

This morning I’m thinking about the cyclical, repetitive nature of my own behaviors. No matter how hard I try, I sometimes do or say things that are just wrong or inappropriate. When that happens, things don’t go so well. Relationships are strained or broken. Sometimes I suffer from the consequences of those inappropriate words or actions. I feel guilty. I am guilty. I repent, turning to Jesus whose sacrifice for me on the cross affords forgiveness, mercy, and grace in spite of my repetitive bullheadedness and boneheadedness. Redeemed, not by what I’ve done, but what God has done for me, I humbly and gratefully continue to let go of what is behind and press on to love others as Jesus loved me.

Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over….again.

From Monochrome to Living Color

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
Romans 2:1 (NIV)

When I was a young man first endeavoring to follow Jesus, life was far more monochromatic. I was unaware just how black and white my world really was. I delineated life into binary camps: good and evil, godly and ungodly, believers and unbelievers, things allowed and things not allowed, right and wrong.

Towards the end of his ministry, Jesus said that He would, on the day of Judgement, divide the nations into sheep and goats. Those on His right would go to their reward in eternity and those on His left would go to the fire prepared for the devil and his angels. One of the most important lessons, and one that is oft forgotten, is that judgement will be Jesus’ job.

The further I get on this life journey, the more clearly I see that when I presume to sit in judgement on others I am presuming to take up Jesus’ job. If I presume to do Jesus’ job for Him then I am setting myself up to be equal to Him; making myself God. That is really the core sin of Eden. Therefore, when I do this I am proving exactly the opposite of what I presume. When I presume to sit in judgement on others I am proving that I am as much a sinner in need of salvation as the person I condemn.

Life is much less monochromatic than it used to be. While there are things that I can perceive are still clearly black and white in this world, my view from the path is a colorful place with infinite hues. I seem to have lost my label maker somewhere along the way, and I haven’t really missed it. Life is an interesting place, a mysterious place, a beautiful place. I find that I am more fascinated and feel less need to understand. I am more intrigued and feel less need to be convinced. I am more given more to faith and less concerned with my doubts. I am more given to grace and am happy to let Jesus have the job of Judge.

 

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featured image: vinothchandar via Flickr

The Big Lie

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land
Deuteronomy 9:5 (NRSV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of delivering the morning message among weekly worship with my local group of Jesus followers. In the message I shared what I believe to be the most subtle, insidious lie that we are led to believe about God and eternity: it’s about what we do or don’t do. Nothing could be further from the truth:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:7-10 (MSG)

Then this morning I read God sharing a similar message to the Hebrews through Moses. I hear in Moses’ message the concern that once the people took possession of the land they would “probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing.” Moses reminds them that it’s all God’s doing, not theirs.

I so easily fall into the mindset that God will accept me or reject me based on my deeds, good or bad. If I fall into sin I believe God will punish me. If things are going well I get the feeling I must be doing something right for God to be blessing me. So I do extra good things to try and counter balance the bad and earn a little extra blessing. I think in the back of my head that eternity must be based on some giant set of scales that will weigh out the good and bad in my life. If good tips the scales I’m in, if my good falls short of my bad then I’m hosed. But that’s not at all what Jesus taught and what God’s Message says. Here’ another reminder I shared yesterday:

It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. Titus 3:3-8 (MSG)

Today, I’m grateful for all the God has done in redeeming me and thankful that it’s not up to me or my effort, my good deeds, or my ability to earn my way into God’s good graces. God’s gift has restored my relationship with Him and given me back my life.

Tattle-Tale

Source: Louish via Flickr
Source: Louish via Flickr

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against the Ammonites and prophesy against them. Ezekiel 25:1-2 (NIV)

I was the youngest of four siblings growing up, which meant I was witness to the mischief of my older siblings. I was also the the most vulnerable, which meant that there was a better than even chance I was going to be the one teased and picked on. This, of course, meant that I was more likely to be the tattle-tale.

There is always risk in being the tattle-tale. Yes, you get to see the guilty party punished and receive their just desserts. You run the risk, however, of implicating yourself in the telling. Once the sword of parental justice falls on the evil older siblings, it might just come around and get you in the end.

With today’s chapter, God turns the spotlight of Ezekiel’s prophetic messages of doom from the nation of Judah to Judah’s neighbors. In sending Judah through the judgement of a Babylonian siege and packing into Babylonian exile, God knew that her neighbors would be gloating like a little sibling tattle-tale. God turns the tables and pronounces judgement on these neighbors, letting them know that they will not escape His punishment.

It is interesting to note that there are seven oracles of doom, and the last one is broken up into seven parts. One of more subtle and interesting layers of metaphor that exist in God’s Message are the structure and use of numbers. The number seven has special significance. It is a number of completion. There were seven days of creation and seven days in the week. There are seven seals, seven letters to seven churches, seven trumpets and seven bowls in John’s Revelation. One of Daniel’s prophecies was of “Seventy sevens.” By implication, the seven oracles of Ezekiel represent a completeness of judgement not just for Judah, but for her neighbors as well.

Today, I am thinking about the fact that gloating over another person’s downfall is a kind of pride. The tattle-tale feels smug in watching their perpetrator be punished, but that doesn’t mean the tattler is innocent. When I point the finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at me. Three, the number of God. I get it. In God’s economy there is no hierarchy of sin. If you’re guilty of the least of it, you’re as tainted as the worst. I am in no position to judge. God have mercy on me, a tattle-tale, and a sinner.

Fire, Dross, Faith, and Joy

Aluminum Dross (source: Wikipedia)
Aluminum Dross (source: Wikipedia)

Son of man, the people of Israel have become dross to me; all of them are the copper, tin, iron and lead left inside a furnace. They are but the dross of silver.” Ezekiel 22:18 (NIV)

In today’s chapter God uses the metaphor, or word picture, of dross to describe the ancient nation of Judah, the city of Jerusalem and the people (specifically the rulers and power brokers). So, this morning I’ve been doing a little internet search on metallurgy and learning about dross.

Dross is solid waste material made up of impurities and appears when you fire metal with intense heat into it’s molten, liquid form. The impure dross floats on top of the molten metal and, in the way it would have been dealt with in Ezekiel’s day, was skimmed off as waste.

The word picture is clear to those who had been following and listening to Ezekiel’s messages. The fire of God’s judgement would reveal the impurities in the rulers of Jerusalem, marked by corruption, idolatry, and moral failure. When the heat was turned up (the Babylonians were coming to lay siege to Jerusalem) the corrupt and impure leaders would be skimmed away like dross off of molten metal.

The thing I love about the metaphors God uses throughout His Message is that they are layered with meaning across time and space. Over 500 years later God would speak through Simon Peter in his letter to persecuted Jesus followers scattered across the land:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

 Once again we find the fires of persecution blazing, this time in the form of the Roman persecution of anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus. Instead of the fire revealing and skimming off the dross, the fires accomplish a different purpose. The fire refines and reveals the genuine gold, which is the faith of those who were willing to be thrown to the lions in the Roman Circus rather than recant their belief in Jesus.

Today, I am reminded that all of our lives are subject to times of suffering intense heat in circumstances that can run the gamut from judgement to persecution to tragic circumstances that defy reason. I have learned along life’s journey, however, that there is purpose in the pain. Suffering reveals things about our souls and our character. It separates the pure metal from the dross. For those who have faith to see, we find inexplicable joy amidst the suffering.