Categories
Commentary

Why Black Lives Matter

She left her water bottle at the well and sprinted into the village. Nearly out of breath, she gasped, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. He’s never met me before. How? Why? Could this man be the Messiah?”

Her life was turned upside down. That’s how it was when people met Jesus.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples rejoined him. What a day to remember. That woman’s whole village, of Samaritans no less, came to believe in Messiah! Jesus told his friends about how God was harvesting–that is, gathering–people from every ethnicity on earth to be a part of his family. Even among the Samaritans. And the disciples would reap the benefits, even though they didn’t lift a finger.

“But Jesus,” objected Peter, “Samaritans? They are, uh, unclean.”

“Half-breeds. Don’t trust ’em,” Matthew chimed in. “Can’t see it.”

“I’d only trust one as far as I can thrown one!” Andrew quipped. Other disciples chuckled. Some smirked but held in their laughs.

But Jesus didn’t laugh.

He looked each of the twelve right in their eyes, his face sad and stern.

“Samaritan lives matter,” he said.

No one said anything for half a minute. They seemed, well, flabbergasted. Samaritans?! Jesus waited, took a few sips of water and a bite of bread. Peter was the first to speak up. (He always is.)

“Master, we believe that all lives matter. It is written that in the beginning, ‘God made humans in his image.’ This is true. All lives matter.”

Jesus smiled at Peter in the way he did so often. It was a smile that pierced Peter’s soul.

“Samaritan lives matter,” Jesus repeated.

“Jesus, why do you have to say it like that?” asked Peter. “I mean, that seems to be really, well, Samaritan-centered. What about Jewish lives? Don’t our lives matter, too?”

“Peter,” Jesus said in the way only Jesus could, “isn’t it obvious to all of us right here that ‘all lives matter’? And that ‘Jewish lives matter’?”

“Yes, Rabbi, it’s obvious,” Peter said looking right back at Jesus.

“But what do you all think? Does the average Samaritan feel that his life matters to you–Peter, son of Jonah–or any Jewish man or woman for that matter?”

“I suppose not, Rabbi,” Peter admitted.

“And do you suppose that the maltreatment of, suspicions about, and snarky remarks toward Samaritans has caused this people, who are loved by God, to feel devalued and denigrated?”

“I suppose that’s true, Lord.”

“And, dear Peter,” Jesus said, “do you suppose that when you say, ‘All lives matter,’ and avoid saying ‘Samaritan lives matter,’ they still sense that you do not see them or hear them because you cannot even give them the dignity of identifying their uniqueness among all the peoples on the earth?”

“I suppose that, too, Master,” Peter said.

“And suppose you sensed that you loved and cared for one Samaritan, but another said to you, ‘I do not feel loved or cared for by your people.’ What matters more–how you feel about your actions or how they have received and perceived the actions of another Jew or Jews as a whole?”

“I suppose,” Peter said, “it’s the latter, Jesus.” This time, his head was hanging low.

“Peter, lift your head. Be encouraged. And hear me: Samaritan lives matter.”


I hope the point of this imaginative conversation is clear enough. Sometimes an experiment like this on a conversation that never happened–but could have–is helpful for me as I think about what Jesus still has to say to us today. It also reminds me that Jesus was a real person who had other conversations that weren’t recorded in the Bible.

If you have no idea of the context, Jews hated Samaritans. They considered them less-thans for a variety of religious, theological, and cultural reasons. Centuries of hate and discord. The situation is not parallel to what we are dealing with today in the United States. But the racist sin in the heart is.

You can read the actual account, as it’s recorded, in John 4.

Why, you might ask, did I pick on Peter? Well, the Bible is pretty honest about Peter’s struggle with discrimination against non-Jews. You can read more about it here and here.

And while you’re at it, consider that time Jesus asked a simple question to a man who couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan” out loud. It’s akin to saying, “All lives matter.” Of course “all lives matter.” But saying that is a convenient tactic to avoid the issue at hand. Black people have not felt honored, valued, and cared for by our system, by white people in general, and by particular white people. Neither you nor I get to determine what they have experienced and felt. This is their reality.

If you’re a Christian, we should be leading this charge with empathy and a soft heart ready to listen. Jesus is the One who brings together what is divided.

That’s why we need to get this right.

That’s why Black Lives Matter.

Categories
Life

Day 20: Let There Be Sight!

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39)

Have you ever been frustrated at someone who cannot see what you see? Perhaps it’s something in a sports game, a movie, or a math problem. It can be maddening. But what if it’s something more serious, like their character? The truth is that we all have things about ourselves that we do not see. That’s the nature of being human. We are blind to our most glaring personal deficiencies.

In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man. Echoing the creation account of Genesis 1-2, the one who said, “Let there be light!” now says, “Let there be sight!” and takes mud and rubs it on the man’s eyes to help him see. But that’s not the only point of the story. There’s more going on than what meets the eye (see what I did there?). There is a group of people called the Pharisees who are angry that Jesus did this so they cast this healed man out of the synagogue. Jesus goes to find the man and says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Jesus was born for judgment’s sake. You might be thinking, But I thought Jesus came to save us? Of course he did. But he cannot save without simultaneously judging. In other words, he draws a line in the sand. Those who do not see—that is, those who realize they are in the dark because of their own spiritual need—will be given the light of eternal life. On the other hand, those who see—that is, those who self-righteously think they are righteous on their own—will actually become blind.

The physically blind man in the story gets healed, but he is representing a greater reality. He illustrates that we are all spiritually blind and need to hear Jesus’ gracious word, “Let there be sight!” May he open yours eyes and mine this Christmas.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read John 9:1-41

  1. What surprises you about this passage? What disturbs you? What encourages you?
  2. John, the author, is trying to make a bigger point than just a physical blindness being healed. What is it? Why does it matter for you?
  3. Why are the Pharisees so angry? How would you feel if you were in their shoes? How would you feel if you were in the blind man’s shoes?
  4. Read v. 39 again. Are you one who “sees” or do you know you are blind and need healing?
  5. Jesus is clear that he came for judgment’s sake. How does this change your view of Jesus? How should this make you appreciate his grace more?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent

Categories
Life

Day 6: The Word Became Flesh

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The unique thing about John’s Gospel is that it predates the birth narrative of Jesus. Not just by a few years or decades. It goes back before the foundation of the world, into the annals of eternity.

John introduces us to the Word—logos in the Greek language. Logos does not really mean “word,” as we know it in English. We simply don’t have another word that expresses its meaning. In Greek philosophy, logos carried with it the idea of a central, divine, organizing principle of the universe. What John does is connect this idea to the beginning of creation (“In the beginning…”, Gen. 1:1) to convey the notion of God’s divine self-expression. Thus, John goes beyond the Greek philosophers who came before him. The logos is indeed central to the origin and purpose of the universe. But it’s not an impersonal force or an idea. This Word, this logos, this self-expression has found fulfillment and completion in a person. John identifies this person as the “the only Son from the Father” (v. 14), the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.

God’s solution to the brokenness of this world was not to ignore it, start over, or let us fend or ourselves. He entered. The God who created the universe and everything in it, took part in his creation. It’s like Shakespeare entering Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth and participating in the story he’s writing. Can you believe it? A Creator who lives not only among created things but partakes of flesh and blood, skeleton and muscle, tendons and ligaments? One who gets hungry, stubs his toes, enjoys sunsets, and, yes, even goes to the bathroom? It seems to good to be true.

But it’s not too good to be true. It’s the miracle of the incarnation. Advent means the end of vague spirituality, it also means the beginning of God-in-the-flesh spirituality. Christmas is the celebration that God has acted in time and space. And this changes everything.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read John 1:1-18

  1. How should the fact that God enters creation in flesh and blood change your outlook on the physical and material?
  2. Read v. 11. Who are Jesus’ “own”? Why didn’t they receive him? How is that a warning to you?
  3. Have you received Jesus and become a child of God? If not, what’s holding you back? If so, how should your life be different?
  4. If you know grace and truth through Jesus, how then should you live today?
  5. Read John 14:9. How can you cultivate a desire to look at Jesus, and therefore God, more and more?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent

Categories
Life

Foot Washing and Cross-Bearing

Have you ever washed someone’s feet? I have. A couple times in various contexts. It sounds gross. But it wasn’t. Really. In our day, our feet are protected from wear and tear. We drive or ride to get to work, school, and home. We rarely walk more than a hundred yards and when we do, we wear Nike or Keen. What’s more, our streets and sidewalks don’t have slop and feces and trash on them. Feet today are as clean and cared for as they have ever been. So washing someone’s feet today is not as offensive and disgusting as it could be.

But back in the first century, it was. It was down right rank chore. It was reserved for the lowest person on the household totem pole. Nobodies, house servants, washed feet. Feet which had more than jam between toes (let the reader understand). If this kind of foot washing was a profession today, you can bet Mike Rowe would give it a shot.

In John 13, Jesus and his disciples eat their last meal together. Things were tense: Jesus said someone was going to betray him. But at one point, it got a little awkward. Master Jesus strips himself of his outer garment, drapes a towel around his waste, gets on his knees and starts and starts scrubbing the filthy, fecal feet of his disciples. And then he says, “If I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Everyone is offended. Or perplexed. Later in John 13, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (v. 34). As a matter of fact, if the disciples love as Jesus says, the world will know they follow Jesus (v. 35).

So what’s this all about? Was Jesus really telling his disciples to become literal foot washers? Didn’t Jesus know that shoes and boots would be invented and our feet would be protected and clean(er)? Is Jesus saying that the ultimate sign of love is to wash someone’s dirty feet?

Foot washing is a parable. An illustration. A foreshadow. Of what?

The cross, of course. That’s where John’s story is going. On the cross, Jesus goes low in humility–much lower than he deserves–and deals with all the muck and mire and trash and feces in the disciples’ lives and ours. That is “how” Jesus loved the disciples. Not merely by washing feet but by washing them in giving himself up for them. Elsewhere, John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). As a servant who washes feet strips down and forfeits their personal dignity, Jesus was striped of much more than his robes and dignity. He lost his connection to the Father because he became sin, a curse for the disciples, for us so that we might come to God. He washed away the muck, yes. But he became the muck. He lost it all. He radically gave himself up. In washing their feet, he gave up his rights to be “the man,” and he became the servant. In dying for their–our–sins, he became the man on the cross. That is love. Foot washing equals cross-bearing.

But Jesus doesn’t just give up himself so we don’t have to. He gives himself up so that we can. And if the disciples, if we, love this way–radical, self-giving for the good of others–the world will know we belong to Jesus. You want to follow Jesus? You get to wash feet. You get to die. That’s what true love is. We love without any fanfare. Without any recognition. Without anything in return. Friends, this is a high calling. May God help us!

And then there’s that word in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world might be able to argue against our doctrines and worldview, but it will not be able to argue against our love. The world may object to justification by grace and prayer to a God we can’t see, but it will not object if we lay down our reputation, power, control, resources, comfort, convenience for others. The world may not like the idea of a Triune God being worthy of all glory and praise, but it will always be attracted to radical, humble, everyday self-sacrifice.

People may not join us, but they will know we have a different Master. A Master who serves. A Master who washes feet. A Master who bears a cross. Let’s be people who follow our Master.

Categories
Theology

Making All the Sad Things Untrue

A message on John 11:17-27 and Rev. 21:1-4 given to the Brookside Church Senior High Ministry in Omaha, Nebraska.


Over the past two months, I have been surrounded by tragedy, yet curiously, I have not been directly affected.  Some of these tragedies have happened to close friends, and others of them have happened all over the world.

  • A third-cousin, who I am very close to, lost his wife to cancer which was so aggressive that she only had it for about 6 months.
  • My wife and I have friends in our small group who have not been able to get pregnant because of infertility.  They are now starting the adoption process.
  • The earthquake in Japan killed over 10,000 people within minutes.  The fifth most powerful earthquake in recorded history.
  • A tornado in Joplin, Missouri, killed 153 people—the 7th deadliest tornado ever recorded.
  • The Missouri River is having unprecedented flooding, and at one point, in Southeastern Nebraska, the River was measured at a record 44 feet deep.

These are sad things.  And as I reflected on these events, Luke 13 came to mind when Jesus responded to a few tragedies in his day.  Some Jews were murdered by a Roman governor named Pilate and others died because they were in a building when it collapsed, and people asked Jesus what he thought about these tragedies.  Jesus said, “Do you think that these people were worse sinners because they suffered in this way?  No!  But unless you repent, you will all perish.”  Jesus says, “Don’t be astonished that your friend died of cancer or 10,000 died in a minute in Japan. Be astonished that YOU don’t have cancer and that YOUR house didn’t fall on you in an earthquake, because you aren’t any better than those people who died.”  Jesus goes beyond that.  He says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  This means, “Final judgment will come to everyone, whether they died in a tragedy or lived a long life.  If you don’t repent, you will perish spiritually in hell.”

One reason I love the Bible is that it is the most brutally honest book you will ever read.  Your textbooks in school aren’t this honest.  But not only is the Bible honest.  The Bible gives us what we need to deal with the brutal honesty of life.  A pastor in New York named Tim Keller wrote, “Though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair.”

I know that the resource Christianity provides is Jesus himself.  Jesus was called the “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3), yet unlike us he was without sin.  He suffered more than anyone in the world ever could. He was innocent, yet he was conspired against, betrayed, abandoned, arrested in the shadows of the night, falsely tried, unjustly condemned, mocked, beaten, and crucified.  Jesus also goes by another name—Immanuel—which means “God with us.”  Especially in our sufferings and hard times, God is with us.

The Problem
But if we think about death, disaster, and disease from the perspective of Jesus in Luke 13, we will see two very important issues with our heart: Because of our rebellion against God, 1) we deny the existence of brokenness within us, and 2) we isolate ourselves from the brokenness around us.

The Solution
The solution is found in Jesus, who took our brokenness to the cross and took judgment for us and who will deliver us from all suffering and judgment in eternity when he makes a new heavens and new earth.

The Beginning of the Story
In order to understand disaster, disease, suffering, forgiveness, and the hope of new life, you have to understand the beginning.  In Genesis 3, when sin came into the world, brokenness, pain, and death came with it.  Before Adam and Eve sinned, there was rhythm in the world.  After they sinned, there was no more rhythm.  All of the hurtful and broken stuff in this world started because of Adam and Eve’s sin.  And there is brokenness in my life and your life because we inherited sinful DNA from Adam and Eve.

Does that mean if you get cancer, it is because you had done some specific sin and God is punishing you?  No, not at all.  But it does mean that if sin had never entered the world, cancer and earthquakes wouldn’t have either.  The tragedy we see, and experience, in the world is a direct result of our rebellion against God.  We suffer because we are sinful, and so the world does not function the way it ought to function.  All sin results in some kind of suffering, but not all suffering is a direct result of specific sin.   You need to understand that.  Therefore, you need to understand that life is not hard simply because there are challenges that exist outside of you.  Life is hard, primarily because sin exists inside of you.

Well, we are going to be in a few passages tonight.  I want you to have your Bible in front of your eyes, get the big picture, and I want to help you see, Lord willing, what God wants you to see.  So let’s pray.

Read John 11:17-27, 38-44
One of my favorite moments in the Gospels is from John 11 when Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead. So turn to John 11:17-27, 38-44.

Lazarus, the cousin of Jesus, just died.  Martha, Lazarus’ brother tells Jesus that if he would have been around, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Well, Jesus wasn’t around and Lazarus did die.  So in verse 23, Jesus says to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  She replies, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

The resurrection was a doctrine in Jewish theology that said all people would rise from the dead and either go to eternal punishment or eternal life.  Not all Jews believed this, but Martha did.  She just lost her brother, and her only hope was that she would see him again in the new age–the resurrection, when Lazarus will rise from the dead and get a remodeled body.  Though Martha had the right theological belief, she was misguided.  She missed the point Jesus was making. Jesus made it clearer when he answered her hopeful (yet hopeless) confession.  In verse 25, he says:

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.

Jesus is the reason Lazarus would rise again, because he himself is the resurrection. Jesus will die and be raised—not by another’s power (as Lazarus was), but by his own Spirit’s power. He will die and be raised—not to die again (as Lazarus did), but to reign triumphantly over death.  Lazarus came out of the tomb still bound with linen (verse 46). Jesus came out of his tomb with his linens left behind (Jn. 20:7).  The resurrected Jesus will give life to all who believe in him so that even though they die physically, they will live spiritually and rise again to live forever with a new body that is not perishable like our fragile earthly bodies.  That is what Jesus says to Martha, “Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  One commentary said this, “Resurrection from the dead and genuine eternal life in fellowship with God are so closely tied to Jesus that they are embodied in him and can be found only in relationship to him.”

You might be saying right now, “Why is he talking about rising from the dead?  I thought he was going to talk about natural disasters and disease?”  Remember, the reason the world is messed up is due to sin.  The reason Lazarus died, was because he sinned.  Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.”  The hope of resurrection is incredible–for everyone, because we are more sinful than we could ever imagine.  We all deserve hell.  The truth of the matter is that if you do not have hope in a new, resurrected life, you HAVE NO HOPE.  If you do not believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead to give life and BE YOUR LIFE, you have no hope.

This promise of resurrection is particularly appealing if you are ill, poor, downcast, crippled, homeless, stricken by disaster, hungry, addicted to drugs, or destitute.  Most of you aren’t those things, but you have your own problems, just like me.

Read Revelation 21:1-4
Think about this: One day, this world and all who believe in Jesus will be restored. Changed. You and I will be made new.

No cancer. No bankruptcy. No tornadoes. No earthquakes. No floods. No car accidents. No murders. No rape. No blindness. No deafness. No speech impediments. No Downs Syndrome. No miscarriages. No infertility. No firings. No hunger. No thirst. No paralysis. No stock market crashes. No divorce. No lust. No pornography. No orphans. No widows. No selfishness. No addiction. No drunkenness. No suicide. No child abuse. No pride. No exploitation. No fraud. No greed.

Try to wrap your mind around that. I can’t.  The world as we know it (including you and me) is out of whack. There is no rhythm; shalom has been disrupted. It is not operating the way it was designed to operate. It must be restored, and it will be, at the resurrection.  There is a kid’s Bible called, “The Jesus Story Book Bible,” and the author, speaking of Jesus, wrote, “He will make all the sad things untrue.”  In this life, the sad things exist inside of you and outside of you.  If you deny the sad things inside of you, you will never come to Jesus as the only one who can forgive your sin.  And if you isolate yourself from the sad things outside of you, you will either become coldhearted to tragedy or you will become angry at God for all of the chaos you see in the world.

Remember in Luke 13, when Jesus said to those people that unless they repent, they will perish?  He meant what he said.  Listen to his words in the Gospel of John:

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:25, 28-29).

Everyone dies physically.  And everyone will rise from the dead to face Jesus.  Michael Jordan, Lady Gaga, Katie Perry, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, Adolf Hitler, Abraham Lincoln, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, Tiger Woods…and you and me…will all rise and face Jesus.  If Jesus has taken the judgment for you on the cross—the judgment you deserved—you will rise to life.  You receive this gift through trusting Jesus, confessing your sin, and hoping in him, not your good works or your girlfriend or your money or your Xbox. If you reject Jesus, and trust in anything other than him, you will rise, but you will rise to judgment, and Jesus’ death and resurrection will mean nothing for you.

Conclusion
Well, perhaps you are wondering when the “practical application” is coming. The truth is, this whole talk is practical application. This is all very intensely practical for three HUGE reasons: 1) There is brokenness inside you; 2) There is brokenness all around you; and 3) You will die.  What is your hope for after death?  Is it to be remembered?  Is it to be the best Call of Duty player? Is it to be the prettiest or smartest or most athletic person in school?

The answer to the sin inside of you and the suffering around you is found in Jesus.  Jesus took all the sad things to the cross.

He took our brokenness to the cross by dying for our sin and taking the punishment from God that we deserved.  We get forgiveness.  In his death he took judgment for us, suffering more than anyone could ever imagine, and promised us deliverance from all suffering and judgment in eternity when he makes a new heavens and new earth. We get a pain free eternity.

There is no glory without suffering.  Think about this.  The greatest tragedy this world has ever seen was this: the only innocent man who ever lived was hated and murdered by bad people.  God could have stopped that.  But he didn’t.  He did something infinitely greater than that: He raised that innocent man from the dead. And if you believe in this man Jesus, he will raise you from the dead someday and take you into his new heavens and new earth to enjoy a pain- and tear-free life with him forever.