Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rejecting the King of Kings

“But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.  And the LORD told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king’” (1 Sam. 8:6, 7).

“‘Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.  ‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the chief priests answered.  Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified” (John 19:15, 16).

            Israel asked for a king and was told the king they chose would take and take and take (1 Sam. 8:10-18).  Contrasting this with the Lamb of God—who gave until His body was broken and His blood spilled—gives us a sense of what Israel lost when they rejected God as their king.  They traded a God who loved them for a king who loved himself at their expense.  Why would anyone do this?  It is quite simple.  We must submit to a king.  Despite the bankruptcy and enslavement that comes with the king we choose, we prefer him because we prefer to submit to a reign which authorizes us to love ourselves first.  If we submit to God and accept His rule, we must give as we have been given to, we must love as He has loved us (John 15:12).  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  To choose another king is really to choose self as king.
            The self-king always calls for the extinction of the God-king.  Those who traded Christ for Caesar screamed for Jesus’s crucifixion (John 19:6, 15).  Saul sought David’s life unrelentingly (1 Sam. 19:1).  Self is a dictator, par excellence.  It can admit no competitor, no rival.  Saul allowed David to rise in prominence and to excel as long as he was a benefit and made Saul look good.  But the moment his reign was threatened, his murderousness manifested (1 Sam. 18:8-11). 
            Whether we follow the self-king or the God-king, our path will lead to the cross.  But which king we serve will determine if we are those shouting, “Crucify him!” or those who are silent before their accusers.  

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Masquerade

Human religion is God’s greatest enemy and Satan’s greatest instrument in his assault on God & God’s people.  Human religion is not just non-Christian faiths or certain Christian denominations.  It is found in varying degrees in every Christian church just as Christ is.  More pointedly, human religion is found in every person’s heart (Matt. 15:18, 19).  It is the sinful nature’s attempt to be spiritual.
Regardless of where it presents itself, human religion puts itself in God’s place.  Consequently, it cannot tolerate when God or His true representatives show themselves.  The exposure of its charade, its counterfeiting, and its hypocrisy cannot be countenanced or it will lose all the control, self-worship, and parasitic preservation secured by its ruse.  So called “clergy” are certainly to blame as perpetrators of the power structure of human religion, the fa├žade which keeps people from entering the kingdom because it poses as the gate (Matt. 23:13).  But human religion can’t exist without a laity which can be appealed to by leaders who justify the rule of self, the religion of the stomach, and enmity with the cross of Christ (Php. 3:18, 19).  To these and to all Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23, 24). 
            We cannot serve Christ and human religion.  We must choose.  While Christ and human religion coexist (not only in churches but in ourselves) they will be drawn inexorably into conflict, and we will be on one side or the other—laying our lives down in Christ’s image or thinking we offer service to God even as we attack those who are His flesh and blood (1 John 3:11-16; John 16:2). 

“[F]or Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14, 15). 

            One final consideration: The first murder was religiously motivated.  Cain offered God the best fruit his talents and effort could produce.  God rejected his offering but accepted Abel’s—an animal from his flock.  John tells us Cain murdered Abel because “his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (1 John 3:12).  The counterfeiter couldn’t tolerate the existence of the authentic.  Cain and Abel demonstrate one of the basic differences between human religion and Christ.  Cain’s “gospel” is that of human religion: work hard for God and give Him your best.  Abel had nothing of himself to offer.  Instead, he offered another life from his flock, which God accepted.  Cain says it’s about being good enough.  Abel says someone else must die for us.  Human religion heaps burdens on men which it won’t lift a finger to carry itself (Matt. 23:4).  Christ, who lays down His life for us, says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Prescribed for His Dwelling

1 Sam. 2:29—“Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling?  Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering…?”


“Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering…by fattening yourselves…?”

The house of Eli scorned and dishonored God’s sacrifice because they fattened themselves.  They violated Christ, in type.  “This is how we know what love is—Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).  John shows us that the reality of love (and God IS love, so this is the very person of God) is demonstrated and known in Christ’s sacrifice.  This is the very essence of God, to which John adds, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers as well.”  Instead of fattening ourselves, serving ourselves, and pursuing our own interests, instead of scorning the person of God in Christ’s sacrifice, God would have us love, lay down our lives for our brothers, and honor the offering of the Son.  After all, the Lord also describes it as, “the sacrifice and offering prescribed for my dwelling,” showing that we—the church and temple—are the place where Christ, God’s offering, resides and remains.  What a violation it is, then, if self is preferred among us when God intends us to be the very house of His sacrificial love.  This was the sin of which Eli’s house was guilty: they were to be the temple of the Lamb but enshrined personal gratification.  “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things” (Php. 3:18, 19).  We are of the house of Eli to the extent we are motivated by our appetite for earthly things.  These can be sinful things, but in Philippians, Paul is referring to those who took pride in their religious piety.  The house of Eli, too, were priests who did not merely gratify themselves, but used their spiritual positions to that end (1 Sam. 2:12-17).
God has designated His church as the dwelling of Jesus—His sacrifice and offering.  This is what we are, this is our calling, the reason that we have been set apart as a unique people.  Not long after the above words were spoken to Eli, the ark of the covenant was captured, and God’s glory departed from Israel (1 Sam. 4:21).  We too will live apart from God’s glory if we scorn His sacrifice: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom. 8:17).  To think that we have any purpose other than suffering with Him and sharing in His glory is self-pleasing deception and opportunism.   Lord, let the glory and sacrifice of your Son shine through us!    

Monday, April 05, 2010

He Has Done It!

Hebrews 11 is known as the faith chapter or “The Hall of Faith” and is a list of deeds done by Old Testament saints.  Many of us privately define faith as the effort required to remain convinced of what is essentially unreal.  However, this is not faith, nor is it spiritual; it is an attempt to manufacture feelings of certainty.  Such “faith” does not build the house of God, it only builds a house of cards, something threatened by every wind of emotion or circumstance.
What, then, is faith?  The translation of Hebrews 11:1 in my Greek dictionary is, “Now faith is the realization or reality of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen.”  This means faith is the same “stuff” as the unseen things for which we are hoping.  When we believe, we get a piece of reality, not just a whiff of possibility.  When we believe, spiritual things are made real, or are realized in us.  This is why Hebrews 11 is full of things people did.  Unseen things were being realized in them.  More to the point, perhaps we could call these acts of faith the making flesh of what is unseen.  
            What, then, is the unseen reality made flesh in the deeds of the saints?  The crucified Christ unlocks the unseen reality manifested in the faith of the saints.  By grasping this reality, Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain because his offering was in the image of Christ’s offering to come.  The ark built by Noah prefigured Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Peter 3:20, 21).  When Joseph’s bones were taken from Egypt to the promised land, this also foreshadowed the resurrection.  Similarly, by faith, Rahab marked her window with the scarlet thread, predicting the saving blood of Christ.  This isn’t to say that each of these understood, with utter clarity, that the death of a Jew in the first century AD would be their salvation.  What can be said is that these saints, by faith, touched something of spiritual reality in Christ and allowed their lives to be shaped by that reality. 
            We tend to see the scriptures as divided into different subjects or stories.  When we read Hebrews 11 from this point of view, we walk away having little sense of what is spiritually real or what it means to live by faith.  Our only sense may be of a multiplicity of promises.  Why God spoke all these different things to people we don’t know.  All we know is that God says different things to different people at different times (this is starting to sound like Hebrews 1:1!), and they believe Him.  Yet, the scriptures don’t teach us to see the many promises of God as ends in themselves but as leading to Christ.  “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:20).  God’s goal, then, in every promise, was/is to testify of His Son.
            In sum, each act of faith in Hebrews 11 somehow embodies Christ’s death and resurrection.  Chapter 12 begins with an image that perfectly encapsulates these things: we are running our own race of faith, joining with a great cloud of onlookers whose eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, the One crucified in the center of the coliseum of heaven and earth.  The cheer of the crowd that urges us on is not “You can do it!” but, “He has done it!”

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

If Anyone...

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

            At times, I am grieved because it seems that, for many believers, this verse means nothing.  Many of us are walking along with Jesus but have no idea what we’ve signed up for.  More importantly, we have no idea who it is we follow.  We’re part of the church because we grew up in it.  We’re involved because we’re pursuing our own ambitions in music, ministry, or whatever else interests us.  We think being religious is the right thing to do.  A thousand motives, a swarm of reasons, yet no inkling that we have been called to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.  We take the name of our Husband but have no intention of following the Lamb wherever He goes (Rev. 14:4).  We call Him Master but find His example beneath us (John 13:15-17).   
            Jesus has only one destination throughout the gospels: the cross.  While He marches steadily closer to His end, the disciples get excited that the demons obey them, they try to one-up each other, they criticize those outside their group, they fight amongst themselves, they turn away people who need ministry, they pledge their unwavering devotion to Him.  Jesus’s entire focus is on Calvary.  The disciples are focused on everything but.  To put it another way, they are focused on all that Jesus is bearing to the cross for judgment.  Then, when the cross comes, the disciples scatter.  The cross reveals that their devotion is to many things besides Him, and in the shadow of its judgment, there is nothing left that binds them to Him.  
            God help us repent of being engrossed in things that God has judged (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:15, 16).  God help us repent of thinking God will be satisfied with anything less than our whole selves (Mark 10:17-22).  God help us see that any gospel which says, “Never!  The cross shall never happen to you!” does not have in mind the things of God but the things of men (Matt. 16:21-23).  God help us put aside our thoughts and our ways as we see His face set like flint toward the giving up of Himself (Luke 9:51).  “[L]et us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1, 2).