But a Muslim …

 

If anything, the Lord Jesus Christ – the way, the truth, and the life – was, and is …

Candid and clear. Good and gusty. Life-giving and loving. Open and outspoken. Real and relevant.

And so, if Jesus told us Christians here in southeast Texas one of our favorite Bible stories today - and I do mean right here and right now – it would not at all surprise me if he worded it this way …

A southeast Texas Christian stood up to test this one who called himself Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to be right with the Good Lord?”

Jesus replied, “What does it say in the Old Testament? How do you interpret it?”

He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you’ll have life with God.”

But the southeast Texas Christian had an agenda and wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is it exactly that is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man went down from new Mont Belvieu to the state streets in old Baytown. Along the way he got car-jacked. The crooks made him strip naked, beat him nearly to death, and then left him in shock beside the curb.

Now it just so happened that a church elder was also traveling that way just a minute after the man’s attackers had fled. He saw the injured man, but not wanting to get involved and fearing the attackers were still close-by, sped on, pretending not to notice. Likewise, a moment later, a Christian preacher drove by the man. He too saw the bleeding man, but he didn’t stop either due to the same fears. But a Muslim who was also going down that same street saw the man, was moved with compassion for him, immediately stopped his car and ran over to him. The Muslim bandaged the wounded man’s injuries with what he had on hand, placed the injured man in his own car, took him to the nearest hospital ER, and made sure he was cared for there. The next day, the Muslim went to the hospital’s billing department and gave them two full days’ worth of wages. As he did so he told the people in the billing department, ‘Take care of that man and know that I’m good for backing up whatever he gets billed.’ Now what do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered the assailants?”

Then the southeast Texas Christian said, “The one who showed the man mercy, giving him aid.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

May we not compartmentalize any part of our heart or mind, allowing anger, assumption, condemnation, gossip, hate, insinuation, judging, lies, prejudice, presumption, pride, slander, resentment, and/or suspicion to live and rule there.

May we never forget the scandal and offensiveness of the cross, the heart of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

May those of us who claim to know it best apply it to ourselves before we think of sharing it with others.

May we not blindly, unthinkingly imitate the ways of the world.

And may we ever love everyone Jesus does. No exceptions.

why Jesus? (1)

 

Why-Jesus-WillimonTomorrow marks the start of the fall Bible class quarter for adults at MoSt Church. This quarter is a “Christ quarter,” meaning we’ll spend at least two the quarter’s three months focused on some aspect of Jesus Christ.

Scripture, of course, will be our source of information as we consider the Christ, but in the class I lead (20/20) we’ll use William Willimon’s excellent book entitled Why Jesus? as an outline.

Since about the only thing significant missing from Willimon’s study is a set of discussion questions for each chapter, as I can I’ll reproduce a class intro and discussion questions here each Saturday during the course of our class journey. The following is for chapter one (which is entitled “Vagabond”).

Introduction

The question through the ages has been “What is God like?” The four Gospels seem to say that God has answered that question thus: “Hear, watch, imitate, and serve my wandering Son, Jesus, and you’ll know.”

We can use the word “wandering” because the four Gospels read not unlike something of a travel log or the journal of a road trip. They speak to us of a Jesus who was/is ever on the move.

Jesus bursts on the scene in Matthew’s Gospel as a traveling king, the roads he travels having been recently leveled and smoothed for his journey by his forerunner, John (Matt. 3.1-17).

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus comes out of nowhere. He hits the ground running. He is ever and always a man of action (cf. the word “immediately” appears 42x in Mark).

One long journey by Jesus to Jerusalem compromises the bulk of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9.51-19.44) and it’s a journey studded not so much with definitions, explanations, and arguments of God and his way, but with stories of life along the way with Jesus.

And in John’s Gospel he shows up as another world’s “Word” that enters our world and moves from place to place leaving signs and speech along the way of a totally different perspective of what constitutes real living.

Similarly, the four Gospels portray Jesus as constantly seeking to move his followers away from their comfort zones and status quo, and onward in a journey with him toward “the kingdom of God.” No one is exempt from his urging onward: men and women, the powerful and the vulnerable, young and old, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, believing or not. From his birth to his death to his resurrection and beyond, his message remains the same: “Seek me and follow me, walking in my steps.”

And so, what are we to make of all of this? Let’s think and talk about it together.

Questions

1. Are you a homebody or would you rather “never sit still?” Do you prefer change or sameness? Why?

2. The world has its understanding as to what makes for “the most interesting man in the world.” As a Christian, make the case for Jesus being the most interesting man in the world.

3. As a group, brainstorm examples of how exactly in the Gospels Jesus is depicted as being “on the move.”

4. What evidence would you lay on the table that Jesus seeks to take seekers out of their comfort zone?

5. Why is it important for us to see Jesus as a man on a mission and on the move, without a home of his own and dependent on the financial support of others?

6. Jesus is “the way” (Jn. 14.6). The church is “The Way” (Acts 9.2). What does this mean … and not mean?

7. Engage the following statement: “The Bible introduces us to a living, speaking, moving Person, not to the final and fixed word on everything. … Vagabond Jesus won’t be held down by me in his determination to move freely toward you.” Is this true, false, or “it depends”?

8. Is God too big to know? In Jesus, God becomes very specific. Does this comfort or disturb you? Explain.

9. How is it that one might say “Jesus is a curious thing to say about God”?

10. In your journey with Jesus, what have you frequently felt: joy or fear? Why?

11. “Jesus tends to come to people where they are but rarely leaves them as they were. Conversion of thought and life, a whole new world, is part of the adventure of being loved by Jesus, of being invited to be his traveling companion. … That’s bad news for those who are complacent with the world as it is; good news for those who think that they may have been created for more …” What are your thoughts on this?

12. Why do we humans tend to be so resistant to God’s motion, movement, change, and correction?

13. Elaborate on this statement, imagining you’ve just said this to Jesus himself: “Here, let me thank you that, through the church, you have introduced me to lots of folks for whom the world has not been as comfortable, good, and seductive as the world has been to me and my family, adamant that I take responsibility for them and their needs, referring to these strangers as ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’”

14. Tell us of something Jesus has moved you away from since you started walking with him.

30 days with the Human One (12)

 

The Human One’s announcement that he will die just as all humans die proved too much for his disciples to comprehend. In Luke’s Gospel, three times Jesus is recorded as predicting his death and three times the disciples simply cannot conceive of such happening to the Human One. Two of the accounts come close to the start of Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51-19:27). The first prediction is worded like this:

He said, “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected—by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts—and be killed and be raised on the third day.” (Luke 9:22 CEB)

Not a single word of response is recorded as coming from the disciples.

Then there is the Human One’s second prediction.

While everyone was marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Take these words to heart: the Human One is about to be delivered into human hands.” (Luke 9:43b-44 CEB)

As to the disciple’s reaction, this time we’re told they remained silent and exactly why they were silent.

They didn’t understand this statement. Its meaning was hidden from them so they couldn’t grasp it. And they were afraid to ask him about it. (Luke 9:44-45 CEB)

The Human One’s third prediction comes close to the end of his journey to Jerusalem.

Jesus took the Twelve aside and said, “Look, we’re going up to Jerusalem, and everything written about the Human One by the prophets will be accomplished. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. He will be ridiculed, mistreated, and spit on. After torturing him, they will kill him. On the third day, he will rise up.” (Luke 18:31-33 CEB)

And once again we’re told that the disciples were clueless.

But the Twelve understood none of these words. The meaning of this message was hidden from them and they didn’t grasp what he was saying. (Luke 18:34 CEB)

The Human One, the one born to deliver many, was also born to die.

We should pray.

Father in heaven, in the name of Jesus I thank you for delivering me from the fear of death. Knowing the Human One precedes me there and trusting his victory over the grave, I now have confidence that you will see me through the same. As you overcome death through him, overcome my life so that my life becomes pure praise to you. Your ways are clearly not my ways and your way of thinking is so very far beyond mine. Where there is cluelessness in me, let there be faith. Amen.

Question: when do you find faith most challenged to well up within you, when you contemplate your life or your death?

30 days with the Human One (11)

 

Peter was the first person to put two and two together and make the candid assessment and statement that Jesus was both “the Human One” and “the Christ” (the Messiah). His declaration is recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 16:13-19; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21). After his statement, everything in the Gospel accounts begins to change.

How so? The answer is painful.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day. (Matthew 16:21 CEB)

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” He said this plainly. (Mark 8:31-32a CEB)

He said, “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected—by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts—and be killed and be raised on the third day.” (Luke 9:22 CEB)

The Human One – the one who was just like us, but who had been doing things impossible for us – giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, forgiving sins, etc. – now reveals that he will soon do the unthinkable. He will do what all of us humans do: he will die.

Peter, the same who was first to identify the Human One as also the Christ, is now the first to object to the Christ being human! The Human One simply can’t die! But Peter could not be more wrong. Matthew and Mark record their clash with these words:

Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” But he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” (Matthew 16:22-23 CEB)

… But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” (Mark 8:32-33 CEB)

Pay particular attention to the last sentence in both of those accounts and you’ll come away with something like the following. (1) The Human One was thinking God’s thoughts. (2) The Human One desires the rest of us humans to do the same. (3) The worst thing we can do as humans is to think merely human thoughts.

Read that last sentence again and let that soak in.

“So how exactly are we humans supposed think beyond our merely human thoughts, Human One?,” we ask?

By ceasing to live for ourself and to begin living after the Human One by putting our whole being under his rule. By replicating the Human One’s way of living as much as is possible for us to do so. Or in the words that immediately follow in Matthew, Mark, and Luke:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? For the Human One is about to come with the majesty of his Father with his angels. And then he will repay each one for what that person has done. I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see the Human One coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28 CEB)

After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38 CEB)

Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them. What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see God’s kingdom.” (Luke 9:23-27 CEB)

We need to pray.

In the name of Jesus, Heavenly Father, I want to die to myself and live to you. May none of my ways shame you. Let me unashamedly proclaim you with my thoughts, my words, and my ways. Amen.

Question: in what do you find yourself most often settling for thinking human thoughts, rather than thinking the Human One’s thoughts?

30 days with the Human One (10)

 

Who do you believe the Human One to be? Who, indeed.

Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One is?” (Matthew 16:13 CEB)

The disciples’ answer is interesting, primarily because it reveals in some ways how little has changed over the course of two millennium.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” (Matthew 16:14 CEB)

Now while I’ve never heard anyone today claim that Jesus was actually just one of the great prophets from Israel’s past, I’ve heard many people claim may times that Jesus was simply a great teacher or one of those rare, inexplicable charismatic figures that dot human history. Folks who think this way don’t see the Human One as anyone substantially different from other humans past. Disciples, however, see things very differently.

He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16 CEB)

To those who believe, Jesus isn’t an instant replay or modern adaptation of someone gone before, but s the walking, talking fulfillment of the promise of someone, altogether fresh and new. He’s not one who merely speaks of bringing God’s ways into our life, but is God himself bringing us to himself who is life. He’s not merely a prophet, but is the fulfillment of the prophecies.

Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19 CEB)

People who see the Human One for who he truly is are the truly happy people in this life. They see his church not as a place to go to reinforce good moral values in their children, but as the Human One’s own community of people in this world. They see their life not as something tossed about by chaotic winds that make no sense or as something determined by the dark things in this world, but see instead their life moving forward with God, sailing into the wind, as it were. They see their life not as something far removed from heaven and the God who may or may not be there, but as being in constant, intimate contact with the God who is there, and here.

For you see, the way you see the Human One makes all the difference in the world as to how you see everything in this world.

God of heaven and earth, I do believe. In the name of Jesus, help me overcome my unbelief. Amen.

Question: who do you believe the Human One to be?

30 days with the Human One (6)

What might we learn about Jesus if we zoomed in examined the instances in which he used the phrase “the Human One” to describe himself? Mark’s Gospel is likely the earliest Gospel written and Jesus is recorded as using the phrase “the Human One” thirteen times in Mark (2:10,28; 8:31,38; 9:9,12,31; 10:33,45; 13:26; 14:21,41,62). When we look at all of those instances, they fall into three categories.

First, on two occasions when Jesus refers to himself as “the Human One” his great authority – deity really – is highlighted. Who can forgive sins? God alone. Who is Lord of their own decrees? God alone. And in Mark’s Gospel, who do you suppose is depicted as doing both of these things. Jesus, “the Human One.”

“… know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins … (Mark 2:10 CEB)

“… the Human One is Lord even over the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28 CEB)

Second, on three occasions Jesus, “the Human One,” is depicted as having tremendous position and power – God-like position and power – at the end of things as they are now.

“Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38 CEB)

” The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor.” (Mark 13:25-26 CEB)

“… the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed one?” Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Human One sitting on the right side of the Almighty and coming on the heavenly clouds.”” (Mark 14:61-62 CEB)

Third, the remaining instances of Jesus’ use of the phrase “the Human One” in Mark’s Gospel underscore his selfless, serving, suffering, and self-sacrificing way of living and dying.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” (Mark 8:31 CEB)

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One had risen from the dead. (Mark 9:9 CEB)

Why was it written that the Human One would suffer many things and be rejected? (Mark 9:12 CEB)

This was because he was teaching his disciples, “the Human One will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up.” (Mark 9:31 CEB)

“Look!” he said. We’re going up to Jerusalem. The Human One will be handed over to the chief priests and the legal experts. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles. (Mark 10:33 CEB)

… for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people. (Mark 10:45 CEB)

The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born. (Mark 14:21 CEB)

He came a third time and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? That’s enough! The time has come for the Human One to be betrayed into the hands of sinners.” (Mark 14:41 CEB)

What can we learn from all of this? We learn that when Jesus uses the phrase “the Human One” to describe himself he does so with a simultaneous awareness of (1) his preeminence in the scheme of things and (2) his deliberate lowering of himself to suffer and die. Or to put it another way, though “the Human One” is the one who brings supreme justice, he is the one who suffers the gravest injustice of all.

Wow.

Let’s pray, and in doing so today, let’s sing our prayer of praise to “the Human One!”

“You came from heaven to earth, to show the way.
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay.
From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky.
Lord I lift your name on high. Lord I lift your name on high.”

Question: in what sort of scenarios can you imagine yourself laying down your life for those who would not even appreciate your sacrifice?

30 days with the Human One (4)

 

Jesus Christ is “the Human One.” In fact, Jesus is the one who makes nearly sole use of the eighty plus occurrences of this phrase in the New Testament. The two exceptions are found in John 12, on the lips of the confused, and Acts 7, from the mouth of one ultimately committed to Christ.

Appreciate the first setting (John 12). Jesus has just entered Jerusalem and the people, hearing he has arrived, mob him and begin to shout praise.

They took palm branches and went out to meet him. They shouted, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the king of Israel!” (John 12:12-13 CEB)

While the people laud him as their king, their understanding of Jesus’ kingship is mistaken. They’re looking for a champion who can throw off the yoke of Roman rule and they see in Jesus just that one.

Jesus counters their thinking in a startling and vivid way, not calling for a war horse to ride on, but for quite the opposite, a donkey’s colt!

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Don’t be afraid, Daughter Zion. Look! Your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12.14-15 CEB)

This surely has the crowd scratching their head a bit, perhaps thinking, “Okay, so he’s a bit eccentric; he’s still our champion!” This is certainly the case with those who thought they knew him best.

His disciples didn’t understand these things at first. (John 12:16a CEB)

From there, things move on and among the happenings, God speaks from heaven to verify what Jesus says and Jesus begins to converse with the crowd. He says:

“Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.“ (He said this to show how he was going to die.) (John 12:31-33 CEB)

Now the crowd is completely confused. Their expectations and Jesus’ words don’t match up. As they put it:

The crowd responded, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Human One must be lifted up? Who is this Human One?” (John 12:34 CEB)

The crowd was expecting a messiah, a champion – perhaps the “human one” spoken of in Daniel’s prophecy – to deliver them from Roman oppression. They had become persuaded that Jesus was this messiah, the human one. Imagine their absolute delight when he said, “Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out!”

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Now, upon encountering Jesus, he doesn’t appear to them at all to act like a leader alive with command and power, for he chooses to ride, of all things, a half-grown donkey. Further, he quickly begins to speak not of the death of the people’s enemies, but of his own death (“when I am lifted up from the earth”). At the hands of his enemies, perhaps? Understand, this phrase (‘listed up”) is such a plain reference to crucifixion that the crowd would not miss it, men being “lifted up,” being crucified, being a rather common thing around Jerusalem at the time. Surely now they thinking, “Who is this guy? He’s not at all who we thought he was.”

And so, their misunderstanding of the intentions and work of “the Human One,” trips them up. Their mistaken expectations are their undoing.

Notice Jesus’ response to their question, “Who is this Human One?”

Jesus replied, “The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going. As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.” After Jesus said these things, he went away and hid from them. (John 12:35-36 CEB)

Now I ask you, “Which is more surprising: the fact Jesus does not simply say, “I am” or the fact that he leaves them and hides from them?

Heavenly Father, expectations and understandings of all kinds fill my head. Time and again I’m made to understand that some “understanding” of mine is mistaken. No doubt some of my “understanding” and expectations of you are badly mistaken as well. As I seek to walk in light you give me, and as I struggle with my eyes to grow accustomed to your light, deliver me from missing your Christ along the way. Help me to not impose my expectations on Jesus, but to simply accept him for who is and to follow him wherever he would lead me. This I pray in his name. Amen.