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Archive for The Seven Next Sayings of Jesus

May
15

NEXT: Wait for the Promise

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Over the past several weeks I’ve been posting reflections from a sermon series I did titled, “The Seven NEXT Words of Christ.” Each sermon dealt with the first post resurrection statements made by the risen Lord. This week I’ll cover the final post resurrection saying, found in Luke 24:49.

“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, NIV).

Jesus seventh statement concerns the important role the Holy Spirit would play in the ongoing mission of the Christian movement. My Baptist tradition in general has been a little nervous around talk concerning the Holy Spirit. That kind of theology was central to the church down the street! But the Holy Spirit is central to the ongoing story of God’s redemptive plan. The Holy Spirit wasn’t invented at Pentecost. If you read the creation account of Genesis you’ll see the active work of the Spirit in the formation of the world. The Spirit is lurking in the shadows of the Old Testament narrative, appearing here and there supporting and undergirding the story of Israel.

A more prominent role is undertaken at the incarnation of Christ and continues as such in the Gospels. But its the book of Acts and the formation of the new community of the redeemed where the Holy Spirit takes a more visible posture. The giving of the Spirit at Pentecost comes simultaneously with the sending of the church into the world. The Acts of the Apostles are really the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles. As a result a movement was born and the world was transformed through the message of the Kingdom of God.

Sometimes I get the feeling that our heads spin a little bit whenever the Holy Spirit is introduced into a conversation. The New International Version presents a clothing metaphor to aid our understanding of how the Holy Spirit relates and interacts with believers. While we may struggle a bit with the Holy Spirit, we can at least wrap our minds around clothing and what clothing is all about.

Clothing is what covers you. It provides a sense of protection from the rays of direct sunlight and warmth in the chill of winter’s snow. Clothes cover our bodies and help us from being exposed to rough surfaces that may be uncomfortable to the skin, as well as protect us during dangerous activities such as football or cycling. There is an element of comfort that is also associated with what we wear, like that old hoodie or faded pair of jeans.

What we wear is also what others see. We are able to make impressions upon others, depending on what we choose to wear. We dress for certain occasions and perhaps even have our own style that matches our personalities. In a sense, our clothes are identification markers, helping us locate one another in a crowd. Some will even go so far as to assert that “clothes make the man or woman,” suggesting that our behaviors and attitudes are closely associated with what we choose to wear.

Thinking of the clothing metaphor leads me to the conclusion that one of God’s goals for our lives is for others to see us in our redeemed version, kind of a YOU 2.0, if you will. With certainty, the Spirit continues to work on us everyday. But the outcome of that ongoing transformation is to work in us so the Spirit can work through us to make God impressions on those around us.

So maybe the question is not so much what will you wear as it is who will you wear. Each day we make the choice to put on ourselves or to be clothed with the Holy Spirit.

May
09

NEXT: Embracing Your Sentness

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Graduation season has reminded me of how much fun I had during my senior year of high school. I had more than enough credits to graduate and had one block to fill. A friend of mine and I decided we should volunteer the last hour of the school day as office aides. (It wasn’t like they would let us sign out early to go home.)

Working as a seventh period office aide was a lot of fun, but it carried a little more responsibility than I imagined. Todd and I began our work each day by walking to all of the classrooms and collecting the attendance slips affixed to the door of the room. We were sent to the bank to make the daily lunch money deposit. We were sent to the post office to deliver the school’s outgoing mail. If phone messages came in for students from their parents, we delivered those as well.

Todd and I did all of these activities on a routine basis and were never questioned as to why we were freely roaming the halls or driving off and on to the campus. The reason we were never questioned was because we were sent by a higher authority, namely our school principal. I learned that year that when you are sent by a higher authority you don’t have to look over your shoulder to see if anyone is judging you or evaluating you. I learned that as long as I was pleasing my higher authority I didn’t need to dwell on the opinions of lesser ones.

This simple story is a good illustration of how we should perceive our sentness into the world. In John 20:21, Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” I want to point our some aspects of how Jesus was sent by the Father into the world and how His sentness informs our mission on earth today.

Back in my Arkansas days I had a church member who was a police officer. We spent a fair amount of time together working on a community project for at risk kids. One day following a planning luncheon I was taking him back to work, when suddenly we were passed by a car driving at a high rate of speed. The car was easily going 20 MPH over the speed limit, swerving back and forth while changing lanes.

The officer looked at me and said, “Catch that car.”

The adrenaline surged and I bagan to follow the instructions of the officer. I broke the speed limit, changed lanes erratically, and did my best to catch up with the speeder while trying to preserve my own life. The only thing that saved us was the red light at the intersection.

The officer looked at me and said, “Pull up beside that car.”

I pulled beside the car and rolled my window down and yelled at the driver to get his attention. The young man looked over and saw me and gestured aggressively. He did not see the officer. About that time, the officer leaned up and displayed his badge to the driver and his passenger, and strongly urged them to exercise prudence and caution while driving. Or something like that.

I was amazed at the 180 degree change of demeanor when they realized that the middle aged man in the Chevy Silverado was accompanied by a law enforcement officer. It was like someone flipped a switch.

The moral to this story is a simple one. Jesus came into the world under the divine directive of the heavenly Father. And in the same manner that He was sent, we are sent into the world to be the presence of Christ. We don’t go on our our initiative. We don’t go by our own design. We are sent by God to fulfill His mission on earth.

Jesus not only came into the world with divine authority, He also came to the world as a model for what the missional life looks like. Think about the incarnation itself. The eternal, pre-existent Christ stepped out of the splendor of heaven, limited His glory, and became like us. During His brief time on earth, Jesus revealed God to us. His claim was, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:7-11). He was the “icon” of God, revealing God to each of us. He helped us know who God is and what He is like.

Not only did Jesus reveal God, He also communicated God to us. John’s gospel account begins with this affirmation, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God” (John 1:1). What is a “word,” other than a means of communication. Jesus was God’s megaphone to the world that He had and continues to have something to say to creation.

Finally, Jesus came expressing the nearness of God’s presence. One of the names of Jesus ascribed through his advent was Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). He tangibly represented the presence of God in the world, and did so through his words and deeds.

So how does this inform our function as missional Christians? Quite simply, as we live our lives we reveal what God is like, communicate his word and his words, and serve as tangible reminders that God is near.

May
01

NEXT: Peace Be With You

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Peace is a scarce commodity in modern culture. More and more we tend to live in crisis mode, struggling to keep our heads above water as wave after wave of adversity pounds against our lives and homes. Living in survival mode will push hopes for peace to the margins of our prayers. Frankly, most of us don’t even aspire to high ideals such as “peace that passes all understanding.” For many, the only peace we can imagine is the peace that comes from the absence of adversity.

But the peace that Christ speaks of is a peace that comes to our lives even in the midst of adversity. Which brings me to the fourth post resurrection statement of Christ, found in Luke 24:35-40.

“Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost! “Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet” (NLT).

In the Luke account, Jesus offered his scars as a means of comfort and peace. So how does that work? Think about scars for a moment. What do we know about scars?

First, scars are a sign of a previous wound; evidences of an injury that has occurred in the past. Some of our scars are visible. I have a scar, for example, on the palm of my hand that I received from a bike accident as a kid. I have a couple of other scars like that, but over all have been pretty fortunate. While some of our scars are visible, many are not. Some of the worst scars we carry are scars that cover our hearts. Some times the invisible scars represent more pain than the outer scars etched upon our bodies.

Second, scars are evidence that our wounds can be and have been healed. After all, if its not a scar, its still a wound that remains unhealed. When you see a scar there should at least be a flicker of hope for healing has occurred.

Third, some scars exist because we did exactly what we were supposed to do. I can remember as a child staring wild eyed at a young man just home from Viet Nam. He attended the church where I grew up and had been facially disfigured because he did what his nation called him to do. Jesus, of course is another example of one who bore deep and ugly scars through no fault of his own. He simply did what he was supposed to do. Maybe you have scars as the direct result of doing the right thing.

Fourth, scars are an important part of our maturity. Romans 5:3-5 speaks of God’s purposes in our adversity. Paul states that the trials of life work endurance in our lives which develops godly character, resulting in love. In short, adversity works endurance, and endurance develops character, which helps us to mature into persons who are more loving than before the adversity we experienced.

Finally, scars are a part of our authentication as human beings. They are what make us real. Behind every scar is a story, and those stories help our lives intersect with the lives around us. Scars have a way of reminding us that we are both human and mortal. Those aren’t necessarily bad things. We’re all human and mortal. Sometimes a scar will remind us of that and keep our feet firmly planted in humility and reality.

Now think about Jesus in that quiet room with the disciples. Jesus looked into the eyes of the disciples and saw the turmoil. He showed them his scars and invited them to touch them. In doing so, he invited them to come close, to take a step toward a deeper level of intimacy. Jesus could indentify with their lives, and he can identify with your life. Regardless of what you’ve experienced, Jesus can identify with your scars. To find peace in the midst of your struggle means that you’re going to have to take a step toward, not away from Jesus.

700 years before he was born, the prophet Isaiah said that Jesus would be called the “Prince of Peace.” He’s the ruler of peace and he makes it available to you. He gets the fact that you’ve been hurt or are still hurting, and he invites you to come closer.

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Jesus’ third post resurrection statement was made during his interaction with two pilgrims on the road to Emmaus. You can find the story in Luke 24:13-35. The narrative describes two disciples who had observed all of the events in Jerusalem during the first passion week. While on the journey home, they were joined by a traveller who asked them, “What are you so concerned about?” They didn’t recognize their new traveling companion and began to describe all of the events that had occurred in Jerusalem that weekend. A careful reading of the story will reveal the ambiguity they felt. You could sum up the conversation like this:

Who was Jesus?
Well, he was a prophet.
Why did he come?
We hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel from Roman rule.
What did he accomplish?
We don’t really know. We heard his body was gone, and we heard he had risen.

How did Jesus help Cleopas and his wife transition from ambiguity to faith? How does Jesus help us move from ambiguity and uncertainty to faith?

Jesus first began with what faith they already possessed. Luke 24:25-27 reads as follows, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory? Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the road to faith actually begins with faith. Three times during the last six months of his public ministry Jesus foretold his passion. The point is that faith is a building that is constructed on what God has said in Scripture. The Scriptures serve as a foundation and we build on that foundation one story at a time. The two on the road to Emmaus weren’t challenged at the point of the circumstances of their immediate weekend. They were challenged at the point of the writings of the prophets over the course of several hundred years.

When we take the first step of faith, faith will next open the door to reveal more light. Think about driving your car at night. Your car has headlights that reveal what is before you. Your vision is not unlimited, for the headlights reveal what lies before you for only a few yards. But as your car travels the light continues to illuminate your path. Even with limited vision, you as a driver are more than willing to drive 60 or even 70 MPH.

As the travel companions neared Emmaus, Jesus was invited to dine and stay with them. His words had taken root in their hearts and their faith was emerging. It was during dinner that the couple recognized Jesus through the breaking of bread. Then He was gone.

Rather than bask in the afterglow of the experience, the couple set out for the return trip to Jerusalem to share their discovery with the disciples. Jesus’ self disclosure made their faith personal. At the beginning of the story, the two pilgrims were wrestling with what others had said. But now their faith was personal because they had seen Christ for themselves. No longer did they need to live on borrowed faith. They learned that they could have their own faith and be free from ambiguity. So can we if we begin with the light we already possess.

Apr
18

NEXT: Don’t Be Afraid

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The second post resurrection saying of Jesus cuts straight to the heart of where many of us live regularly. Check this out:

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there” (Matthew 28:1-10, NLT)

Jesus second saying? “Don’t be afraid!” It’s interesting how somethings never change. What are you afraid of? Some of our fears are common place, such as snakes, spiders and mice. But many of us are gripped by fears that lie beneath the surface of our skin. What do we know about these phobias? For one, most of our fears are false. In the late 1980’s I attended a conference and heard motivational speaker Zig Ziglar say that fear was an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Not only are our fears usually false, our fears are usually negative. No one says, “I’m afraid I’m going to earn too much money” or “I’m afraid all my dreams will come true.” Fear establishes the limits in our lives. If I’m afraid of water, I stay dry. If I’m afraid of heights, I stay low. If I’m afraid of change, I stay the same.

How does the risen Lord help us deal with fear? There are three things from the text that are helpful to us. The first is worship. Worship is beneficial in that it increases and magnifies the greatness of God. One lesson we learn from the story of David and Goliath is that the size of your giant in life depends upon the size of your God. When we regularly engage in the spiritual discipline of worship, God becomes literally larger than life and all that life throws at us.

Not only does the practice of worship help us deal with fear, faith helps us as well. Did you notice the simple phrase, “just as He said” in the passage quoted above? Three times in the last six months of his ministry Jesus predicted that he would be killed and rise from the dead on the third day. Unfortunately the disciples forgot what Jesus had said as his claims became swallowed up in the sea of circumstances that surrounded the first Easter weekend. Until God’s voice becomes the prevailing voice in your life you will face fear after fear. In reality, we don’t overcome our fears. We replace our fears with faith in what God has said.

The final piece of the story is obedience. Jesus summonsed his followers to meet in Galilee. Why Galilee? If the disciples wouldn’t go to Galilee to see the risen Lord, they wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth on behalf of the risen Lord.

Worship, faith, and obedience. That’s how Jesus’ followers overcame their fear. After the giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, fear evaporated. While the gospels record numerous times the disciples huddled in fear, fear is virtually absent from the Acts of the Apostles. Have you ever noticed that? Do you wonder why? I think its because Jesus’ followers had such a high view of the risen Lord that no other voice mattered. Proverbs 1:7 states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. When the fear of the Lord is absent from our lives we become enslaved to lesser fears. If you’re struggling with fear, don’t focus on the fear. Focus on the God who created and sustains the universe. He’s the same God that knows you by name.

Apr
11

The 7 NEXT Sayings of Jesus

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Last week we celebrated Easter, and I wanted to follow its observance with a series of posts titled, The 7 NEXT Sayings of Jesus. Many are familiar with the seven last sayings of Jesus uttered on the cross. But I wanted to focus on the first post resurrection comments from Christ because I felt they were timely and appropriate for where we are in culture today.

While I take credit for the content of these posts, I cannot take credit for the concept. I came across a book by the same title several years ago written by a pastor named Shane Stanford. I liked his approach and immediately thought it had the potential to be an important post Easter series that would help people make the bridge from Easter up to the upcoming summer months.

It’s hard to get a clear read on the disciple’s reaction to the crucifixion. Three times during the last six months of his ministry, Jesus plainly said that he would be delivered up by wicked men who would crucify him, but that on the third day he would rise again. He didn’t make this prediction is veiled terms. He said it plain and simple.

The image that the gospel record seems to convey, however, is that the disciples and those closest to Christ were either hiding in fear or waiting for the Sabbath to pass so they could resume their ordinary existences. John chapter 20 is no exception. The chapter begins with the exciting account of the resurrection, then sharpens the focus on Mary Magdalene who had gone to the garden to finish the burial preparations for the body of Jesus.

Mary is an important character whose story is interwoven through the story of Christ. Some scholars believe that she is the woman famously “caught in adultery” in John 7:53-8:11 (look it up!). Luke reports that Jesus had at one time cast seven demons from her. She had a sketchy past, and her life of loyal devotion is evidence that she had experienced an uncommon transformation. She certainly knew Christ and was as familiar with him as anyone could have been.

The reader is surprised by her surprise that the stone has been rolled away and that the body is missing. She is confronted by a man she assumes is a gardener and inquires where the body of Jesus had been taken. It wasn’t until Jesus spoke her name that she recognized the risen Lord. Sometimes the tears in our eyes can distort the images of reality right in front of us. That is the setting of he first post resurrection saying of Jesus, found in John 20:15, which reads, “‘Dear woman, why are you crying?’, Jesus asked. ‘Who are you looking for?'”

The relevance of the questions are obvious. Like Mary, many of us have spent time, money and energy looking for something or someone who can fill the empty void of life. We find ourselves desperate, having climbed the ladder of life’s meaning only to discover we’ve put the ladder against the wrong wall. In my opinion, Mary’s tears are not just tears of grief. They are also tears of frustration, maybe even tears of anger and disappointment. Disappointments, I’m reminded often, are nothing more than failed expectations.

But with one word Mary experienced a complete reversal. Who are you looking for? The good news of Easter is that Jesus remains beside the tomb, challenging us to look inside and discover the power of a new beginning. And when we think we’ve lost hope we discover that the same hope exists in a way that we could have never imagined.