From Slavery to Worship

The exodus of the Israelites is the great defining display of God’s (YaHWeH’s) power, love, and faithfulness. In the exodus, we learn more about God’s character and present and future plans than most stories throughout Scripture.

The song (or poem) found in Exodus 15, immediately after God delivered the Israelites from being crushed by Pharaoh’s army at the edge of the great sea, is acknowledged by most scholars to be one of the earliest poetic texts in the Old Testament. It celebrates YHWH bringing his people out of slavery and freeing them through the waters of the sea (a form of baptism if you will). This Song of Moses, and Miriam’s song at the end, show us YHWH’s character and mission that speak to the actual realities of the exodus, and foretell in a cryptic kind of way, the justice of YHWH in the end:

YHWH’s character and mission revealed through worship (Ex. 15:1-21):
YHWH is a warrior God (1-10; 14-16a) He exacts justice. He does not let the wicked go without punishment. He fights for the oppressed. He makes a mockery of world powers. He’s fierce towards his enemies, and gentle towards his people.

YHWH is an incomparable God (11-12) He keeps his promises. He has supreme power and wisdom. He leads the heavenly assemblies. He rules over the nations. He forgives sin and sets free sinners. There are no gods who oppose him.

YHWH is a redeeming God (13, 16b-17) His love (hesed) sacrificially buys his people back. YHWH is a redeemer: go’el; a Hb. word that refers to any member within a wider family who had the responsibility to protect the interests of the family or a specific member of the family who was in particular need. What’s unique about YHWH being referred at the go’el of his people, was that the go’el had the role to: 1) Avenge shed blood of family members (Numbers 35:12), 2) Buy back any land or slaves to keep them in the family (Leviticus 25), and 3) Provide an heir to preserve each family’s name (Story of Ruth and Boaz). Notice that YHWH as go’el is concerned with a home for his people.

v. 13b: you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
v. 17: You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.

The holy abode (sanctuary) and the mountain. The tabernacle and the promised land. The temple and Jerusalem. Jesus and the holy city. This is the progressive importance of the holy abode and the mountain. YHWH makes a home for his people where he is present with them, and he is preparing a home that will one day get rid of all that opposes him.

YHWH sees the homelessness of his people. Their ecological homelessness. Their social homelessness. Their physical homelessness. Their spiritual homelessness. He sees all the forms of homelessness, and through the exodus is shouting out loud to us, I’m bringing you HOME!!!

YHWH is the king (18) His throne, his kingdom, his home, will be the only ones that last forever. YHWH is king, and his rule will never end, which means what he builds will never end either.

YHWH is to be worshipped (21) The glory and beauty of his acts of redemption demand worship to him alone. He is the only one who can bear the glorious weight of worship. This is why man or other created things are not to be worshipped… they weren’t created to bear the weight of glory that comes with worship. We fold under the pressure of worship, YHWH shines!

As we have seen, the unique element about this story of the exodus is that it shows us God’s mission through his righteous character. Our mission as followers of Jesus is first God’s mission that he has invited us into, and the exodus depicts God’s mission in a way that makes our gospel much bigger and comprehensive than we could ever imagine.

But something else this song portrays is the justice that is to come. The question that rings in my ears and many other people’s ears as we read this is, “Does this kind of justice really exist? And if it did, maybe I should be the one who is drowned.”

This justice is real and at the cross, Jesus drowned all that opposes him, so that all who believe in him would stop opposing him and be freed from the waters of chaos and destruction. But not all will call on Jesus and be delivered, so there will be a day when all of Babylon (a metaphor in the book of Revelations for all that opposes God) will also be thrown into the sea and be destroyed forever (Revelation 18:1-21).

The great exodus and the crushing of the mightiest nation in the ancient days (Egypt) is a depiction and a promissory note to all of us who are longing for justice, that there will be a day, with no more tears, no more pain, where evil gets what it deserves, and we are delivered once and for all, safe and sound, HOME, with Jesus as our King and with bodies that will no longer sin or perish.

This great baptism in Exodus is a promise to you and I that evil and injustice never gets the last word. Take heart today in the midst of injustices everywhere, that your fight for justice today is not in vain, and is never going to go unnoticed, ultimately. In a day where systems are protected over people, governments oppress the masses, and terrorists threaten peace and safety, don’t forget that love alone is worth the fight.

Israel went from slavery to worship as justice rolled down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. This day is fully coming, but it has also already, but not yet fully, come in Christ. Jesus took what we deserved and gave us what he deserved. Today, justice in the courts of heaven can be a reality for you, as we wait for and fight for complete justice on earth.

So what does it mean for us today? It may mean something different to each of us, but I want to close with an excerpt from two friends who I am in fellowship with and do life with. I emailed them and asked them to give me their insight into the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, and here’s what they said this text means to them (us) today:

Philip: “I think it is a picture of how we should praise Jesus for his sacrifice. For his winning the fight for us, it means we no longer need to battle, if we lean on Jesus and put our faith in him the battle has already been won. The only thing left for us to do is to take out our tambourines and sing his praise and do this in a manner that everybody will join us. This seems so simple, too simple, but if we show our joy it will become infectious and others will want to know what is so awesome. This gives us the chance to share the good news.”

Annette: “We are to tell stories where we’ve doubted God and where we know He has rescued us.  We are to sing songs and dance all over the head of evil as we sing of God’s loving, victorious salvation.  We are to tell the stories we so often avoid telling because they are bloody and ugly and because there is no victory without loss.  War leaves behind causalities which breaks the heart of God and too ought to break our hearts.  We have to wear clothes of sorrow and desire for justice as we put on our dancing shoes and play our tambourines as we sing songs that tell the stories where even though we deserved death we have been given the gift of life.”

Praise Jesus.

Sing with tambourines.

Tell stories of our rescue.

Sing and dance over evils head.

Wear clothes of sorrow (don’t brush over our pain and loss in the midst of the battle)

Desire and fight for justice, because it’s coming, it will not delay.

Hating God

The book of 1 John is a book written not from the hand of a systematic theologian, but from a seeming creative artist with words who knew Jesus intimately and lived out his passion to teach others to encounter the same Lord he did. One verse in particular sticks out to me in 1 John that always ruffles my feathers is 4:20-21:

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What is Johnny saying here? This is a strong sentence. At first glance I sense that Johnny is saying, “Love for your brother has no bounds because it is not driven or tainted by fear of man, or what man thinks. It is a pure love that can’t be contained… love unleashed… explosive love!”

So I ask myself, “How do we get to that place of unleashed, explosive love?” Many of us have experienced the new birth in Christ and yet we are struggling to love one another (we are not doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly among our enemies). We are often times fake, we gossip, we hold grudges, we judge, we build up walls to dodge, we dismiss, and we elevate ourselves over each other and over other beliefs, we fear being found out, we run from intimacy and protect ourselves from good people.

Dan Allender in his book Bold Love (1992) writes this: “Is it possible to love and hate at the same moment? Even more important, is it possible to hate someone so deeply that love is obscured–to a point of being a functional non-entity (existence)? If that is possible in our relationships with one another, could a regenerate heart have even love for God crowded out by self-interest, fear of others, anger, rebellion, and hatred? I believe that it is not only possible, but the very reason why most of us love so poorly.”

Allender is leading us to think more deeply and critically of ourselves and stop defending our goodness. Believer, Jesus defends your goodness! We must ask ourselves questions like this: Why am I an amateur lover? Why does forgiveness at times mean so little to me? Why do I harbor negative feelings towards someone and never seek reconciliation with them? How can I see brokenness and not give my life to helping those I know who are broken?

We do these things not because we are wicked people who love to hate, but because we are humans who still struggle with sin, and will always battle with this until we are with the new creation is a reality. For now, this is our reality. We need not try to seek our defense.
As sinners, even re-born ones, our hearts are either directed towards God in a loving, thankful, and worshipful way, or we are directed towards God in an angry, self-justifying, and self-loving way. Paul understands the battle of the believer to be one of a desire to do good (submit to the Spirit), and a desire to do evil (gratify the flesh) (Rom. 8:5-8). This war takes place in the same heart, often times at the same time, in every person!

This hatred in our hearts is often quiet, dormant, and masked. “How could I hate God? I mean come on, I love and follow Jesus!” But what we neglect to see at times because of our fear of judgement, is that we make decisions daily that show our neglect of God, and if we treated a friend that way, it would be hateful behavior.

Hatred of God and others in our lives is usually labeled as something more digestible to  our senses. We often dumb down the reality of our depravity and our sin against God and others, which makes the good news of Jesus seem only mildly pleasant to us, and the effects aren’t fully experienced either. We must be honest with where and who we are and allow the new birth to take it’s full effect.

And this honesty begins with being silenced by the gravity of our condition. God is love, we are not! Silence, not defense, is required for deep change to occur. When we become silent, and stop defending and fighting for our own goodness, we can look God in His eyes and discover His response, which 1 John 4:20-21 teaches us, that God’s response to His honest children is one of love, acceptance, and presence, not fear, torment and loneliness. It is at the place brokenness and honesty where we catch a glimpse of the love that the Father has for us.

To the degree that the view of Jesus dying for your sins stuns you into silence, will be the degree that you will be able to love God and love people. This is because God’s disruptive and scandalous response to our sin and hatred transforms rage into gratitude, deadness into life, ashes into beauty, dried up steams into rivers of living water. You were made to love, but to love the way you were created to, you must encounter the love of the Father.

The Best Walk Ever (Luke 24:13-27

The road to Emmaus is a wonderful passage that has a profound impact on the entire story of God. This is because it’s a type of interpretive key, meaning this passage, gives us insight to the OT more than most other passages. Let’s open it up and dig in:

To get caught up in the story up to this point, Easter has already happened, Jesus has conquered the grip and tragedy of death, and now, three days after His resurrection, He is showing Himself to His disciples and many others (1 Cor. 15:6). It’s here that He catches up with two disciples (Cleopas and one unnamed) who are discouraged, while they’re walking northwest to Emmaus.

The disciples had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21)… their way, the victorious way, by coming into town on a white war horse and crush the big mouth (Rome). Have you ever had an expectation that fell far short of what you were expecting? It’s a human emotion.

The gap between what you expected (your dreams, your desires, your plan) and reality (what actually happened), represents loss, disappointment, grief, whether real or perceived. Their expectations allowed them to see the glory of God’s kingdom (Jesus’ life), but they failed to understand the suffering (His necessary death).

Read Luke 24:13-14:
I can imagine their conversation going all over the OT, quoting various passages, wondering what that meant if Jesus isn’t the Messiah, yet did all that He did? What about the prophecies of old, of the Messiah restoring Israel, crushing the serpent (Rome, who was Satan of course)? How does this all make sense?

I would’ve loved to hear this conversation. It’s the type of conversation we all would say, “I give anything to be a fly on the wall for that conversation”, and since Jesus is the sovereign king, He can make those crazy wished a reality. So He pops into their conversation, but He doesn’t allow them to recognize Him.

Read Luke 24:15-19a:
In Christ-like humor, Jesus engages these men, and desires to look into their hearts, which looks like them opening their hearts to Him. Sometimes we think, God knows everything, and He does, but all throughout Scripture God, who knows everything, ask questions to invite the person into intimacy with Him; a conversation.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah. Psalm 62:8

This is prayer. Talking to God. Jesus longs for us to share with him our deepest desires, our letdowns, disappointments, pain, etc. He’ll even act ignorant about things to get us to open up! I imagine the brief conversation sounding something like this:

Jesus: What are you guys talking about?

Disciples: Jesus of Nazareth’s death. Where’ve you been? Everyone knows this.

Jesus: Who’s this Jesus of Nazareth and what happened to him?

I love it. We could imagine more of this conversation, but that’s for another day. So the disciples begin telling ‘Jesus’ all about what happened to ‘Jesus’ in Jerusalem.

Read Luke 24:19b-24:
Who else in the universe could brag that they preached the gospel to God in the flesh?! Well… half of it at least. They retell the story of events to Jesus, maybe in tears, but definitely with passion and sadness. At the end of it all, Jesus is dead and now His body is missing. Could it be that Jesus was cursed? After all, He dies on a tree (cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree), and now His body was dug up and stolen (a body that was crucified and didn’t have a proper burial was considered double cursed):

22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. Deuteronomy 21:22-23

An unburied body was a defilement to the land and would represent a curse to the body (Ezekiel 37 – valley of dry, unburied bones representing cursed Israel for their disobedience). It is at this point that Jesus has heard their hearts, has compassion on them, and begins to let them in on the “BIG SECRET” of the OT.

Read Luke 24:25-27:
It was necessary that Jesus should suffer, and Jesus’s death is the very means of our life. We know this, we hear this all the time. We celebrate Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday, we’ve heard over and over again, that Jesus took what we deserved to give us what He deserved. He, the only One who could take what we deserve and live again, must suffer, because we have the penalty of death over our heads, and if no one steps in for us, we are going to be left in this state of death (which is predominantly separation from God; see Genesis 3).

And now, here’s the interpretive key: Jesus! Jesus is the interpretive key to all of Scripture and all of Scripture was always pointing to Him. Telling the story of Israel, yes, but only because it was through Israel that all the other families of the earth will be grafted into to God’s family and be blessed. It was never about Israel. It was and is all about Jesus.

Let me indulge with you for a moment as we reflect on the OT, and my desire in doing this is in hopes of your reading for yourself later, and being able to see Christ, or at least “echoes” and “shadows” of Christ. Maybe you will even see those who “represent” a type of Christ, a savior. The OT is filled with types, shadows, and echoes of Jesus being the Christ, our savior:

Adam was given all he needed for life and godliness, walked with God in perfect fellowship, and still wanted more… Jesus entered into life on the other side of human history, full of pain and trial, was in the wilderness with nothing he humanly needed, and was satisfied in God.

Adam was given garments of skin to cover up the shame of his nakedness… Jesus became the slain creature who covered up the shame of our nakedness.

Adam represents the old man, sin, and death, the old mode of existence, living in the past… Jesus represents the new man, righteousness and life, the new mode of existence, living in the future.

Abel was innocently slain by a jealous brother who’s blood is crying out for justice… Jesus was innocently slain by all of our rebellion, and his blood is the justice that now cries out on our behalf, not our condemnation, even though we were the jealous brother who murdered the innocent (Hebrews 12:24).

Noah built an ark out of trees and got on it, to save his family and the animal kingdom from judgement and certain death… Jesus had a cross built out of trees and got on it, to save not just one family, but all the families of the earth, indeed all of creation.

Noah represents one family’s trek to salvation… Jesus represents everyone’s trek to salvation.

Abraham obeyed God, left his family, his land, and all that was comfortable and familiar to be a new people of God in a new nation… Jesus answered the call of God to leave all the comfortableness of divine worship and go out into the void of sinful humanity to create a new people of God, and establish a new nation, new family, that will never perish, spoil, or fade.

Abraham was declared righteous through His faith… Jesus is the righteous One in whom Abraham placed His faith.

Abraham was circumcised to represent a new family that is pure and fertile and would circumcise all the males of Israel from that day forward… Jesus was also circumcised outwardly, but died and rose again to circumcise hearts so that all who believe in Him will be changed from the inside out.

Abraham trusted God for a different sacrifice when his son Isaac was on the alter about to be slain… Jesus became the sacrifice that saved his son Isaac, and indeed all who would call and trust on His name.

Jacob wrestled with God and was struck in the hip to be reminded the God is with him… Jesus wrestled with God in Gethsemane and was struck on the heel, so we, like Jacob, would only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us, not destroy us.

Joseph was exalted to the right hand of Pharaoh and saved the nations from famine… Jesus is at the right hand of God the Father who forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save all who call on Him.

Moses stood in the gap between the people and God as a mediator for a generation… Jesus eternally stands in the gap as the One who cuts a new covenant for people to come to God (Hebrews 3).

Job suffered innocently so God could show forth His power and redeeming grace even though he was condemned by his foolish friends… Jesus was the truly innocent sufferer, who is the power of God to redeem foolish friends (Job 42).

David fought the battle against Goliath because Israel was too scared and lacked faith in God… Jesus, who is the true and better David, allowed the Goliath of sin that we have created to kill and consume Him so we wouldn’t be killed and consumed (the story of David and Goliath isn’t a story telling us that if only we had enough faith then we could slay the giant like David did; David represents Christ, Israel represents us)

Esther risked her life and the comfort of a palace to save her people from a wicked edict… Jesus willingly gave up his life and the comforts of heaven to make the evil edict take His life so that His people would be set free.

Jonah was cast into the storm to save the sailors… Jesus was cast into the storm to save the nations.

Hosea married a whore to represent God’s love and pursuit of His people… Jesus married the church who continually cheats on Him and acts as if He doesn’t really exist sometimes, yet he loves, pursues and ultimately redeems her back to Himself over and over again.

Jesus is the Rock of Moses.

Jesus is the Bread from Heaven

Jesus is the Water of Life.

Jesus is the Light of the World.

Jesus is the eternal Passover Lamb of God.

Jesus is the true Temple where worship happens in Spirit and Truth.

Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for fallen creation.

Jesus is the divine gladiator.

Jesus is the true prophet, priest, and king.

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega (first and last).

Jesus is the Lord who heals.

Jesus is the Great I AM.

Jesus is the All-Powerful One.

Jesus is the God who sees.

Jesus is God with us.

Jesus is the Lord of all creation.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

Jesus is the Lord of Righteousness.

Jesus is the King of kings.

Jesus is the Lord of lords.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace

Jesus is the power of God unto salvation.

All of Scripture testifies to Christ! Children of God, do you trust Him? Have you trusted Him?

He loves us! He is pursuing us! He’s present right now. He’s in our story today more than we could ever imagine. He is there in the pain and loss. He is there in the earthquakes and storms. He is there in the famine and death. He is there in the daily grind of living paycheck to paycheck. He is there in the celebrations and joys. He is here, right now, beckoning our hearts to worship Him, as one people of God, acknowledging Him as the rightful king of the universe, and inviting us to trust Him afresh today, so that the world might see and trust the Only True King.

Redeeming the Graveyard

At the end of the Old Testament, the prophets of Israel were saying that God is going to send a savior, a Messiah to redeem Israel and restore Jerusalem… then God remains silent for 400 years. When the silence breaks… at least in our canon of Scripture, we are given the book of Matthew, and as he begins to tell the good news about Jesus, he starts with dead people. As Ray Bakke says, “he takes us on a cemetery tour.”

You ever noticed that? The beginning of the gospel of Jesus according to Matthew starts with a genealogy… a remembrance of those who are in Jesus’ family tree. What in the world is Matthew doing by doing with this? Well for starters, the first century church sure did celebrate the resurrection well, but totally missed the birth of Jesus. They celebrated Jesus’ death and resurrection (rightly so!), and celebrated the fact that Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of Lords, but in many ways neglected to celebrate His birth, the moment this great King became one of us pitiful humans, left glory and became a helpless (may I say powerless) baby totally dependent on adult care. Matthew here is reminding us of the importance of the birth of Jesus, and seems to be exposing the “skeletons in the closet” of Jesus’ family tree.

As one would read Matthew 1:1-16, you would realize many things, one being, this seems totally boring! But if you were forced to study this passage (as I was) because you went to school to study Scripture, you spend a little more time pondering the names in this genealogy of Jesus. The first thing that stood out was that there were five women referenced in this list. Why are they there?

The fourth century theologian Jerome say that these women are all here to show that sinners are a part of Jesus’ genealogy, but that interpretation immediately breaks down, because all of the men in the genealogy were sinners too. According to Ray Bakke, Martin Luther was the first theologian to notice that they were all foreigners, except for Mary. This is a significant thought. Let’s try to unpack that a little bot more.

The four moms (not counting Mary) in Jesus’ genealogy appear in verse 3-6: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. What’s Matthew doing by putting these women in this genealogy? What do all these ladies have in common? Here’s a brief summary of these ladies lives as is found in the Old Testament:

Tamar: a Canaanite (Gen. 38); married to a son of Judah named Er, who died because he was wicked. Judah’s second son was supposed to take his brothers wife to give her a heritage (children), but on his way to take care of business, Onan spilled his sperm on the road before he went to “lay” with Tamar. Judah’s third son, Shelah, was not given to her because he was too young, but was promised to Tamar once he grew up. When Tamar realized Shelah had grown up and was not given to her, she took matters into her own hands (remember, no sons for a woman in these days meant there was no inheritance in heaven for her; this was equal to salvation in their minds).

So she went into town after Judah’s wife had died, took off her widow clothes and put on prostitute clothes, and sat at the entrance of the town. When Judah arrived, she welcomed his “business” and she asked him for his credit card (his signet ring, a bracelet, and his staff) to “make sure he comes back to pay”. She gets pregnant that day, and when Judah finds out a few months later that she’s pregnant, the hypocrite Judah said, bring her forth, she must be burned. “As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, ‘By the man to whom these belong (the credit card!), I am pregnant.’ And she said, ‘Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ Then Judah identified them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ ” (Gen. 38:25-26).

Rahab: a Canaanite as well (Josh. 2); Again, according to Bakke, she ran a hotel where the lights were dim and the charge was by the hour, not the night. She lived on the wall of Jericho. Her name means “wide”; she didn’t miss a man who came into town. So when the spies from Israel came to scout out the city, she brought them in and hid the Israelite spies because she feared the Israelites God. Her and her family were the only ones spared in the battle of Jericho. She ended up marrying a good Jewish man named Salmon, in the line of Judah, and they bore a son together, and named him Boaz.

Ruth: a Moabite (Ruth 1; Gen. 19), from the country of Moab which was started by an incestuous relationship. Lot (Abraham’s nephew) was spared from Sodom, his wife died, and Lot left the city life and ran to the suburbs, but in doing so, he neglected to find husbands for his daughters, which again, was a duty of a father. So the daughters, seeing that their dad had brought them to the suburbs where there was no hubby to be found, had a plan to gain an inheritance of children from their dad. On two consecutive nights, they got their dad drunk and each slept with him, each conceiving and eventually gave birth to two sons, Moab (father of the Moabites) and Ben-ammi (father of the Ammonites).

So here’s the Moabite Ruth, meets the family of Elimelech (names means “My God is King”) in Moab, because he took his family and left Bethlehem (name means “city of bread”) because there was “no bread” in Bethlehem (oh the irony!). His wife Naomi (name means “pleasant”) and their two sons Mahlon (names means “sick”) and Chilion (name means “dying”) arrive in Moab, and “My God is King” dies. So “Pleasant” has her two sons, “sick” and “dying” take Moabite wives. “Sick” marries Ruth (name means “friendship”) and “Dying” marries Orpah (name means “gazelle” or “fleeing”). To no ones surprise, “Sick” and “Dying” die, and “Pleasant”, “Friendship”, and “Fleeing” are left in Moab, during the time of the judges (everyone did what was right in their own eyes; wicked days) with no men, no hope, no safety.

You can tell by the daughters-in-law names what happens next: “Friendship” stays with Ruth to return to “The City of Bread” because bread is there once again, and “Fleeing goes back home to her family in Moab. Long story short, Ruth becomes noticed by the most eligible bachelor Boaz (son of the prostitute Rahab), who’s wealthy and next in line to redeem (marry) Ruth as her kinsman redeemer (giving Naomi’s family a heritage). Naomi spices Ruth up one night, tells her to shower, shave and put on some perfume and go down and sleep next to Boaz in the middle of the night (as if that’s not creepy or anything!). She obviously does a great job, and the story ends with Boaz marrying Ruth, redeems Naomi’s family, and they had a son named Obed. Obed had a son named Jesse. Jesse had a son named David (later to become the “King David”).

Bathsheba: a Hittite from the region of modern day Turkey (2 Sam. 11). Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, the best soldier for king David. Uriah is out at war in the spring and David should have been with his soldiers, but he’s wasn’t, he stayed back at home, hadn’t written any poetry in a while nor killed any men, so on a leisurely afternoon in the palace he sees Bathsheba bathing because she’s menstruating, and sees that she’s beautiful and calls her into his palace and has an affair with her. Lo and behold, she gets pregnant (surprise, surprise!), so David calls Uriah home to cover this terrible thing up. Uriah, being a good dude that he is, denies to sleep with his wife because his men were in the battle field fighting. Even after Uriah gets drunk by David’s decree and still honors his troops, so David sends Uriah to the front lines of the war to die. Then David conveniently marries the grieving widow, and the whole kingdom sees David as a hero. Bathsheba’s son dies, but then gives birth to King Solomon.

Mary: a Jew (Matthew 1) and a teenage girl who is engaged, but gets pregnant by the Holy Spirit and carries the Savior of the world, a story everyone would believe, right? Teen mom, is supported only by her soon to be husband who was persuaded to stay with her because an angel visited him and told him the whole story. They had to leave their home town before she gives birth to Jesus and are on the road as refugees as she gives birth to Jesus, the King of the world, in the line of David.

What’s similar with all of these women? First of all, all of them had question marks and irregularities in their marriages or in the way they conceived a child, or struggled to conceive a child, which could be a way that Matthew is making room for the irregularity of Jesus’ virgin birth that is unique in and of itself, from an unmarried mother. Maybe Matthew is saying, “Mary, I know you’ve struggled with your role in carrying the Christ and being blamed and accused of many horrible things, so here’s some history for you and some mentors who can bring you comfort in your distress.”

We see that four out of five of these moms were foreigners from a Jewish point of view, as Luther has pointed out. Maybe in our context it would be right to call them immigrants. All the nations that these women were from could very well represent all the major regions of the known world at that time. Either way, we know Jesus’ family tree has international blood. Jesus is born with the blood of all the nations, not just Jewish blood. Jesus the Jew, and the Jewish Messiah, had Gentile blood from every part of the world! His plan for all time was all nations (Gen. 12:1-3), after all, they were all created by Him.

This is an urban text that ought to speak to the urban realities that we all face in our city, Christ our savior not only has Gentile blood, but he came out of a dysfunctional family, and he made sure these women who have suffered were honored and remembered, and he died to redeem their pain and loss.

Jesus is the mixed-racial (mestizo) Savior of the world! Jesus’ family is Middle Eastern, Asian, European, and African (and likely more), nations that many Americans love to hate, but the gospel won’t allow this. This genealogy of Jesus crushes racism. It wasn’t only my sin that was atoned for, but the sins of every ethnic and racial class in the world.

Jesus’ arrival marks a new beginning with the very reason of His existence to restore shalom (the way things were supposed to be). Matt. 1:1 says: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” The word “genealogy” in Greek is the word “genéseōs” (genesis; beginnings, origin) which the reader would have been immediately reminded of Gen. 2:4 and 5:1, where the exact same expression was used in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint; LXX). With this echo from the book of Genesis we were meant to hear and realize that the arrival of Jesus as the Messiah marks a new beginning, a new creation, a new way to be human. This is good news indeed, especially coming from a cemetery tour.

And finally, at the end of this genealogy, we learn that Jesus is the end of the time of preparation (Israel waited and prepared for the Messiah to come, and Jesus fulfills the end of their wait). Here’s verse 17: “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.”

Let me explain this to you. 3’s and 7’s were considered to be marks of completion and perfection in Hebrew and Greek cultures. 7 days of creation (complete creation); Jesus died and rose again 3 days later (perfect Savior), etc…

When you double three 3’s and seven 7’s, you make a statement of being “as perfect as you could ever get; the end of the line.” Matthew gives us three spans of time, and then he tells us there are 14 generations in between each span of time (in case Math isn’t your gift, that’s double three’s and double seven’s; pretty perfect and complete!).

Maybe Matthew is trying to tell us that “Jesus is the end of the line.” As far as the OT story goes, it has run its completed course in preparation, and now its goal and climax is found in Jesus. Jesus, the Savor with Gentile blood from all the nations, dies to give us His blood for all the nations. This is not just a good Christmas text, but an Easter one as well. And because this Jesus offered this for us, He has freed us to move into other people’s family trees (their pain and agony and loss) with equal intention and love, and be the presence of Jesus to those who are suffering and broken. And all this from a boring genealogy!

Jesus and Kingdom Growth

Jesus came for a purpose, a mission, so He continues to be on the move and now He begins to give us some parables to help us understand the kingdom, and the inclusion of His true family, not just Jews. The Greek word translated “parable” means literally “to set one thing beside another”; to draw a comparison between two things and show an analogy. The parables of Jesus all teach us about the kingdom of God by comparing it with relevant, real life situations in our world. Parables have endless new insights. If Jesus asks: “How is the church like a ‘city on a hill’?” (Matthew 5:14), the answers are endless. Thus, parables invite deep thought, personal reflection, and a call for action.

Hidden Messages
So speaking plainly, and plain miracles are still part of His plan, but not for now. Jesus is hiding some of His message now in parables, but if you are not an insider (a true family member; see chapter 3), then you won’t get the parables. They are coded with certain images that demands belief in Christ for one to understand. With that, open up your Bibles to Mark 4:10-12:

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

The disciples ask Jesus, “Why in parables? Why would you not want them to turn and believe?” At any moment God could come down and say “Believe in me and follow me homie!”, but the reality is, God has already done this, and it hasn’t worked. God knows that just like Israel in the OT, that when He shows Himself, they will follow him, “for a little bit” and then they will turn and worship other gods (Abraham’s family, Israel in the wilderness, time of the Judges, the Kings of Israel, where only 2 kings got a passing grade, the rejection of the prophets, etc…).

God isn’t into forming hypocrites, He’s into forming family members, kingdom citizens. “You ‘12’ have been given the secret to the kingdom, you see me as the Anointed One of Israel. The Israelites who have seen my good deeds and have contributed them to Satan, they are the Israel on the outside, and I will not allow them to half-heatedly believe in me. I’m doing a new thing: those on the inside will hear because they believe in me and the Spirit of God will teach them (new covenant; Jer 31).”

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)

“And you ‘12’, you have been given this new covenant, and you will bear rich fruit that will feed many. My plan for all time has been the inclusion of the other nations, whom I created (Gen. 1-2; Gen. 12:1-3). I’m bringing in new Israelites, and the Gentiles are included in this whole thing, the way it was always supposed to be.

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! (Psalm 67:1-3)

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Cush, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. (Isa. 11:10-11)

Israel is now veiled because they are hearing Jesus through the veil of the Law of Moses, which no man can keep without error. This is why Jesus came, to keep the Law perfectly and be judged for us. Israel, so far with Jesus, has held the Law out in front and it has blinded them to who Jesus is:

14 But [the Israelites] minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the [Law], that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (1 Cor. 3:14-16)

So Jesus isn’t saying, “I don’t want them to believe.” He’s saying, “I want don’t want them to believe that the Law is saving them. I am their hope, not the Law, not obedience, not deliverance from Rome. It’s all about me!”

So as we read these handful of parables, remember, Jesus isn’t trying to hide them from us… He looking for those who will trust and follow Him.

1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty-fold, sixty-fold and a hundred-fold.”

Did Jesus Read the Old Testament?
This is the first parable that Jesus has told in Mark, and you will notice that Jesus didn’t speak this way until His miracles were directly ascribed to Satan (chapter 3). The Jews hear this and say, “If this is supposed to be the Kingdom of God, I’m out!” This was not what the Jews were expecting. Jesus’ good news of great joy that was to bring much fruit to Israel was supposed to be a “big bang”, and Israel was to be delivered and restored right then!

It wasn’t supposed to be a slow tedious season of tilling, planting, watering, pruning, and harvesting, all the while watching many seeds and plants go to waste because of bad soil, thorns, and weeds! I can just imagine the faithful Jew saying to himself, “Jesus hadn’t been reading His old Testament lately, has He?” What’s Jesus saying here? He’s teaching about His kingdom that has come partially, but not yet fully, and at that, it hasn’t come in the form of dismantling the Roman government!

Old Testament Clues
The codes and images in this parable was taken from Jesus’ biblical background. A sower sowing seeds would have been a very familiar picture to His listeners, but would also be familiar to the Jews who knew their Old Testament:

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Is. 40:8)

For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Is. 61:11; see Is. 55:10-11)

God’s Word will be like rain or snow, producing good harvests, bearing much fruit when it comes to Israel again. This was a future longing in Israel during the time of Isaiah. This is a story about the Word of God coming back to His people, His Word that produces fruit, even though grass withers and flowers fade, but it’s not what the Jews wanted, so their soil wasn’t ready… there are some thorns and weeds. Other soils have rocks and hard ground that needs some tilling.

The Deeper Meaning
So Jesus shares the parables, but the disciples wanted Jesus to unpack more for them. So He does:

1) vv. 13-14: The sower sows the Word – Jesus is the sower. He has brought the Word.

2) vv.15-20: There are 4 different kinds of people who hear the Word and there are three different forms of evil which robs the Word from people “the devil, the flesh, and the world” (see 1 John 2:15-17):

a) Some hear and then quickly forget or stop caring; Satan takes the word away from them (the path and the devil).
b) Others receive it and think they have it now and they selfishly wanted it and more; they are all pumped up on Monster drinks, but they crash quickly (the rocky soil and the flesh).
c) There are still others who have too much skin in the game elsewhere, and their cares and worries choke out the message; they want the seed, but not the sower (the thorns and the world).
d) But within all this “not yet” part of God’s kingdom, there will be good soil, where seeds are planted and grown, and produces much fruit, 30, 60, even some 100x more than was sown. That would make any farmer happy! (the good soil and the believers)

All three scenarios boil down to two outcomes. One hears the word and becomes fruitful (to varying degrees; thirty, sixty, hundred-fold), the others hear the word and are not fruitful. It’s only fruitful when it sinks in and can bear fruit. Just like the prophets who spoke of the fruit of the kingdom, so will the people be fruitful, those who hear and receive God’s word with joy, for the gospel is always growing (Col. 1:5-6). Again, Mark chapter 3 gives us great context for seeing those in whom the seed has sunk in, and those who are one of the first 3 soils, at least up until this point.

Herein lies part of the deeper meaning: The kingdom is coming, indeed it is already here, but not in the way they have imagined. It wasn’t going to be an automatic thing. Being born a Jew wasn’t going to include you in to the kingdom the same way being born in the back of a car will never make you a spare tire. As is true with all divine revelation, you can only understand it if you believe, if you trust.

“He who has ears, let him hear!” (v. 9). That is, the kingdom comes only to those who have gone to great lengths to listen (verses 3, 9, 13, 23, 24). This strongly suggests that the gospel is not something you simply pick up and do. No, you must wrestle with it, reflect on it, think it out until it “sinks in” (like a seed into the soil). By using the seed metaphor with the repeated call to “listen”, Jesus shows us that it is extremely possible to think you understand the gospel when you really don’t (Matt. 7:21-23). “The penny has to drop”. You may think you “get it” and yet it has not truly penetrated your heart, it isn’t changing you and bearing fruit. The veil is over your eyes.

The Fruit of the Word Being Received
The Word of God is meant to cause us to bear fruit of righteousness beyond what we can ever imagine: thirty, sixty, even one hundred times what was sown. One little seed of God’s Word produces an abundance of grain for the masses to feast on. A grip of fresh fruit will explode from your life for others to see it, that they also may believe in the Son of God (Col. 1:5-6). This is what the next three parables are painting a picture of.

A Lamp
21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

The kingdom of God wasn’t meant to be kept in a closet… No! It was meant to be put on a stand, on a hill, in the middle of the darkness… It was meant to get out, indeed, it cannot remain hidden. You ask, “How do we get it out?” Well I’m glad you asked, by first letting it sink in… good soil allows seeds to not just germinate, but to blossom and bear fruit. It’s not predominantly head knowledge, but heart knowledge that must become public knowledge. Jesus didn’t come to hide under your bed!

When the Word gets out of you (or when fruit is shared), more will be imparted to you… more vision… more fruit… more faith… more capacity… more joy! If the Word of God not going out (His fruit not being shared), He will conceal it… He’ll take it from you… Good fruit spoils… expires. The same goes for our fruit as well.

A Sprouting Seed
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

You put the seed out, and next thing you know you got fruit… you don’t know how it happened… you love more… you have more faith… you have more passion… more compassion… you have clearer vision and purpose… your joy sustains through suffering… it’s a miracle!

We don’t produce the fruit! The Lord does. Don’t worry about how the fruit comes. Focus on the one who produces it. Get His Word in… and He will work the miracle! What a relief this passage should be to us. Trust, obey, be faithful, leave the results up to God. don’t control or manipulate the situation, and watch God slowly grow you up, and others around you as well.

A Mustard Seed
30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

The mustard seed, known to first century Galileans are the smallest all the fruit bearing seeds. It starts so small (the Word of God sown in our hearts), but grows so big and it produces fruit so big that there will eventually be so much that you won’t know what to do with your fruit… but God will.

He will use your fruit to produce a tree that will draw the birds of the air who need  shade and rest to come and sit on your branches. Many will receive & accept the Word in the same way a bird receives shade and rest when sitting on a branch of a big tree. Many will make nests in your shade. Sharing will be abundant! The Lord will draw those who need Him to dwell in your tree so that He may produce more fruit bearing trees by the seed of His Word and the power of His Spirit.

Oaks of Righteousness
The image of Isaiah’s “Oaks of Righteousness” is invoked here:
Isaiah 61:3c: that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. And just what are they planted for? To glorify God… literally, DISPLAY HIS BEAUTY! SHOWCASE THE GENEROSITY OF YAHWEH! How do they do that?

1 …bring good news to the poor; …bind up the brokenhearted, …proclaim liberty to the captives, …open up the prison for those who are bound; 2 …proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; …comfort all who mourn; 3 …grant to those who mourn in Zion—…give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; (Isaiah 61:1-3b)

Thus is the Kingdom of God, and this is the work that His laborers will be employed with. Lord help us be “Oaks of Righteousness”. If you have ears to hear this morning, receive Jesus as Lord, and allow Him to lift the veil of confusion, of doubt, of unbelief, and receive life today.

Let’s Pray!

Jesus and Family Members

Claiming a radical message of deliverance. Healing sick people. Casting out demons from freaky looking homies. Sitting with traders, lepers, and prostitutes. Large crowds threatening to crush you. Asking grown men to leave their family business and insurrection and follow you. The “Christians” are calling you “a worker of Satan”. And now you just condemned the theologians of the day to Hell if they attribute your work to Satan. Would you be a little weirded out if this was someone in your family?

Family Issues
We saw back in Mark 3:20-21, that Jesus family thought He was insane, literally trying “to seize Him” to bring Him home. That didn’t work, so “MOM” has to come on this trip. It’s like those kids movies where the goofy associates of a cartoon villain can’t ever get the job done, so the villain has to go himself. Here’s MAMA! Open up to Mark 3:31-35:

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Once again, Jesus continues to break our stereotypes. Up until now, we’re like: “Yeh Jesus, you go love on that leper. You go heal those sick people and demon-possessed. You restore the social outcast and welcome the sinner!” But now, Jesus is touching home to a different crowd. Family, and we ask to ourselves, “What the heck are you doing Jesus?”

You see, Christians are passionate about so many different things… and we tend to focus on the things that Jesus has done that we are passionate about (working out justice for the oppressed, preaching the gospel with boldness, etc.), but we leave out the things He does that we aren’t so sure about, or don’t agree with altogether.
This is one of those times. Jesus is taking His Physicians scalpel and cutting right to the heart of 21st century American Christianity: Idolatry of Family!

What is Idolatry?
Idolatry tends to be understood as idolizing bad things that are destructive, unhealthy, forbidden, gross, dangerous, or just socially unacceptable. But idolatry in Scripture has always referred to the worship of anything but God. We get that from the first two of the 10 Commandments:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, (Deut. 20:3-4)

Even good things in life that we serve over God is considered as an “other god” or “a carved image, or any likeness of anything” created. God thinks this is such a big deal that He even tells us that He’s jealous for our worship. This makes a lot of people cringe and take a deep gulp, and all of a sudden we start thinking like Oprah: What? God.. jealous? I don’t want to believe in a jealous God? If the God of the Bible is jealous, then I can’t trust Him. Especially if His jealousy is asking me to trade in my family for Him. No way! Huh uh! OHN! But here in these passages, God is jealous for out affections and worship, and anything that comes in-between or is placed above Him, is idolatry.

A Jealous God
First of all, let’s address God’s jealousy before we move on. God’s jealousy, like all of His other attributes, is utterly different than our jealousy. It’s like worship. We would never ask anyone to worship us, but because God is God, He would be unloving to not call us to worship Him. This is the same as His jealousy. God is love, and He alone has the power to heal and redeem our fractured lives and broken creation and He knows that no other solution is out there that can heal His children and cause life. So as a good daddy, He’s jealous for our affections and obedience.

If you don’t have a child, imagine with me for a moment: There’s nothing in the world that I wouldn’t do for my children’s best interest. If I alone held the key to joy, peace, salvation, and contentment for my child, and they in turn, went out, ran from home, pursued other people who hurt them and ultimately robbed from them, I would be jealous for their love and affection of me, because I know I’m the only one who holds their well-being. This is a better picture of God’s jealously than to think of our kind of jealousy. God is utterly different than us, and it’s dangerous to think of God’s jealousy, or God’s love, or God’s justice, the same as ours.

What Jesus Isn’t Saying in Mark 3:31-35
Second, in our Mark passage, it’s important to note that Jesus isn’t saying, “Disown your family and have nothing to do with them.” We know that’s not true because in Jesus’ final hours before He died on the cross, His mother was there and He made provisions for her, as He told John to look over His mother (John 19:26-27). His brother James would later become the Father of the Church in Jerusalem and eventually die a martyr’s death because He believed that Jesus was indeed His salvation. In Mark 7:9-13, when we get there, we’ll see Jesus defend the caring for and honoring of parents, in regards to the sinful way of using Corban, a type of allotment of savings.

What Is Jesus Saying?

Jesus is assumedly saying many things that we can’t claim to know, but we can clearly see some of what He “is” saying.

Jesus is saying: “Sometimes your commitment to Me will bring division within the family and you may be disowned, rejected, mocked, or killed by your own family.” (see Mark 10:28-30).

Jesus is saying: “Your family will put pressure on you to stay in the family system and altogether miss the plans that I have for you.” (Luke 9:59-62).

Jesus is saying: “Your family will think you’re crazy at times, and will try to discourage you from following me, and follow the custom of the day” (Mark 3:20-21; 31-35) (live in a safe neighborhood, don’t go to hostile Muslim countries to share Christ with them… you could die, protect your kids from bad kids, send them to the best schools, don’t sacrifice too much or you might not have a good back-up plan if something goes wrong, etc.) You tracking with me?

Different Worldviews of Family
Jesus is addressing the family system in His day, which was much more familial-centered, than our culture. In fact, Jesus was on one end of the continuum with an understanding of family, and we are on the complete other side. Below is a diagram that shows the continuum of various worldviews of family:
– Individual identity distinct from family vs. Individual identity merges with family
– Individual rights valued vs. Family rights valued
– Sacrifice relationships for individual achievement vs. Sacrifice individual achievement for family
– Non-conformity admired vs. Non-conformity shunned
– Morality based on individual sense of guilt vs. Morality based on shame brought on family
– Focus on task and principles vs. Focus on persons and relationships
– Satisfaction in achieving goals vs. Satisfaction in family involvement
– Seeks friends with similar goals vs. Seeks friends who are family-oriented
– Accepts loneliness for achievement vs. Sacrifices achievement for family cohesion
– Sacrifice for personal achievement vs. Sacrifice to fulfill family expectations

So Jesus’ statement, “Who are my mother and my brothers?… Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”, would have been much more offensive and shocking to people in His day than in ours today. This chart is also the reason why we have pride about our families and the way we do things. We think we’re right, or else we wouldn’t do it that way, and anyone who does it a different way, well, we love them, but they would be better off if they held our view. So family pride runs deep, and it is very easy to have family be what we idolize as the very thing that can give us identity, self-worth, purpose, success, etc. (pressure on kids, spouses, provision for them, etc.)

Again, Jesus is saying: “There is a deeper kinship that runs deeper than blood which is characterized by obedience to Me over family. With Me, you have a new family, and you should pray that all your blood family received this kinship.”

What Does This Mean for the Church Today?
Obedience is the key to experience family with Jesus. Notice I didn’t say, obedience is the way we “become” family. We “become” family by God’s grace freely being offered to us. We “experience” family with Jesus when we act like a child of God’s. Jesus gets this point across to us over and over again throughout the gospels. He talks about it so much, it’s amazing that the church’s biggest problem is obedience to God rather than to culture, or a family system.

Early on in the ministry of Jesus, He says:
– My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (John 4:34)

– For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38; see also John 5:30; 7:17;

– “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 7:21)

If this was so for Christ, how much more for us? Are we indeed children of God, called to be obedient to Jesus first? Later on in the upper room, before Jesus goes to the garden to pray and then get arrested, Jesus says:

10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10-11)

This also means that the church family ought to start acting more like family. Fight, but don’t run and hide. You don’t divorce your family or move to a different neighborhood and get new family every time there’s crap going on in your family that you don’t like or seems fun to you. No! Family stays. Family sticks it out together. Family is patient with one another. Family is honest. Family confesses. Family forgives. Family reconciles when and where it is possible.

What Does This Mean for our Families?
In case you were not aware, but the “nuclear” family (whether that’s only your immediate family, or extended family to you) is under attack, and indeed it’s losing. With divorce rates in the church that seem to be the same as outside the church, and idolizing of children and giving them what they want, and technology that has divided the family and placed guilt in the lives of some parents, it’s no wonder families are dissolving. And our answer is to make family more of the center, then families will get better.

The American trend (whether Christian or non-Christian) is to worship family. Make family “everything”. Everyday is revolved around the family’s needs, the children’s needs, the spouse’s needs, and Jesus is passed by on the side of the road.

We have made family everything, and Jesus has been marginalized. The main question in our families are: “How will that benefit my family?” We’ve got a familial narcissism problem these days. The four walls of our home have become our church, and in it we make altar’s and sacrifices, but not to Jesus.

Many people say my family is my mission. That is good and well, but if it ends there, then you’ve missed Jesus’ mission. Every earthly loyalty, EVERY ONE OF THEM, if it is made ultimate, becomes idolatry; and idols fail you 100% of the time. Many psychologist and family therapists would say that many of our nuclear family problems can be traced to the parents who place too much weight and expectations on children and family performance, living in fear of not being “the All-American family”. Family idolatry cripples everyone and will not give you the “happiness” you are trying to work towards.

Jesus warns children to resist these unhealthy family systems that want you to contribute to the idolatry when He says: Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matt. 10:37). And parents would do well to learn from this passage as well and stop placing on your children a burden to protect and love the family more than you protect and love the Jesus.

In all truth, when a family begins to worship and idolize Jesus and not the family, then they will actually experience more intimate kinship than ever before. Jesus rightfully placed–in our lives, in our families, and in our churches–will always produce more joy, life, freedom, happiness, and satisfaction.

Who is in Jesus’ family?
First of all, when we read the “Here” in verse 35, we learn that not everyone is His brother or sister. Some people teach that everyone is a child of God. Jesus insists here and elsewhere that not everyone is in the family of God.

Second, we see in these texts that Jesus’ nuclear family “tries to control Him” (v. 21). By contrast, His spiritual family consists of people who let Him take charge of them! When Jesus becomes your King, then you become His brother or sister. Whoever does God’s will is Jesus’ brother and sister and mother. This is more than mere obedience, it is giving up the right to be one’s own master.

Third, Jesus’ nuclear family thinks He’s “crazy” (v. 21). His spiritual family is different. They listen to His wisdom, submit to His Word, and they follow Him into the craziness.

Unless we read verses 34 and 35 as deeply shocking, we haven’t got the message. How easy it is to slide back again into a sense of belonging, of group identity, that comes from something other than loyalty to Jesus. We substitute longstanding friendship, membership in the same group, tribe, family, club, party, social class or whatever it may be. But the call to be ‘around’ Jesus, to listen to him, even if ‘those outside’ think us crazy, is what matters. The church in every generation, and in every place, needs to remember this and act on it. Mark has here set up a picture of ‘those inside’ and ‘those outside’ which is going to be very important in the next chapter. The gospel, and allegiance to Jesus, produce a division, often an unexpected and unwelcome one, in every group or society where they make their way. Mark’s call to his readers then and now is to stick with Jesus whatever the cost. Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone, 40.

Jesus is telling us here that no nuclear family is ultimately necessary, no particular race or culture is ultimately necessary, and that we can know we are loved. If indeed we are family with God Almighty, then our families of origin can be more of a blessing to us because then they are not everything to us, Jesus is. And if we are in Jesus’ family, we learn in Luke 15 that the Father runs to embrace the returning son or daughter who loathed Him, and is patient with the religious hypocrite who thinks they have earned His love. We sit at the Father’s table dressed in Jesus’ clothes, with His ring on our finger, all through Jesus. We must celebrate and live out the fact that we are members of a kingdom family, and it is all at the expense of our big brother, Jesus Christ.

Let’s Pray!

Jesus and the 12 Wolverines

We have all seen great crowds surround movie stars, professional athletes, teams who have won the championship in something, and the like… but crowds surrounding a religious leader of the day? This is the text that kicks off our time this morning, Jesus is surrounded with large crowds that are pressing in on him. Seems strange, but we will soon find out that it’s the same now as it was then with humanity and our desire to be close to glory. But before we dig in, I must say a quick note about the first part of today’s text.

In Mark’s gospel, 3:7-12 is the longest of his summaries regarding the impact and following of Jesus’ ministry. This is a relatively self-contained overview which could have been inserted at almost any point in Mark’s gospel. Here’s a few reasons, among others, as to why this summary was placed where it is:

– to provide a contrast to the growing sense of opposition and conflict from the religious leaders, and by reminding us that Jesus remains overwhelmingly popular with the common people;
– to provide the context for Jesus choosing the twelve disciples as Jesus’ special companions in distinction from the larger crowd of fans; and
– to be used as a bridge, closing out a narrative that began in Mark 1:16 when Jesus first began His ministry and called His first four disciples, and to connect you to the next major narrative in Mark starting in 3:13 when Jesus solidifies the 12 disciples (apostles) to follow Him and be His special group of revolutionaries.

With that said, turn with me to Mark 3:7-12:

Fans of Jesus
7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea 8 and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. 9 And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

What’s going on here that Jesus is literally being “pressed in” on to the point where He is preparing a way of safety for Himself? It seems as if the crowds were more concerned about their agenda to see something cool or to get something from Jesus, than thinking about Jesus Himself. Nothing’s changed over all these years. We’ve got reporters, paparazzi, nosy onlookers, who gather around stars and accidents just to get an autograph, see something cool, or glean from the glory and fame of a particular person.

A certain church, I won’t say which one it is, had Tim Tebow come visit them while he was in town, and the members of the church crowded around him so aggressively and unceasingly that his friend had to escort him out of the side door of the church and get in a get away car because his personal space and time wasn’t being respected by “fans”.

In our opening text this morning, it’s pretty clear to see that the focus of this crowd was exclusively on Jesus’ healing power and authority over the demonic realm, much like many of the church attendee’s minds were on Tebow’s glory and fame that Sunday morning, and much like all of us at different times in our lives.

Demons Know Better
At this point, Jesus is not being followed for His teaching, although His teaching was different than any other leaders as well. They have not come out of pure interest and concern for truth, to hear the message of the kingdom of God. Instead, they wanted to witness and benefit from Jesus’ power in healing (v. 10) and exorcism (vv. 11–12), and in their pursuit, they clearly could care-less about Jesus’ personal space or time. They are ego-centric, self-centered followers of Jesus, sadly, much like myself in many ways.

But notice what the demons say about Jesus. These spirits know when they are in the presence of a power greater than themselves. They see Jesus, not as a great healer, though He is, but as a spiritual power, a literal presence, with authority that is altogether different from everything else. When Jesus walks by, they fall down because of the lack of freedom to destroy and can only declare what they know to be true, “You are the Son of God!” But because it’s not time for the world to know this yet, Jesus shuts them up.

So as we move on to the next scene, it’s clear to see that the verses that follow are here to show us that Jesus had a bigger agenda than to be bullied, controlled, and to satisfy everyone’s desires. Jesus is going to go up into the mountains, away from the crowds, and there He will make a distinction between fans and followers, as well as clarify His purpose of why He came.

Followers of Jesus
13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mountains and Prayer
As Jesus retreated from the crowd, we learn that Jesus went up to the mountains. This imagery gives us a couple pictures. The first picture we get from Jesus retreating to the mountain is to pray and hear from the Father. We know this because Luke explicitly states the reason why Jesus was there:

12 In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: (Luke 6:12-13).

This was a big decision, and once again, we see the consistency of not only Jesus’ words, but His actions as well. God in the flesh, and He is praying, modeling to those who would come after Him. Pray! No more really needs to said as this speaks for itself…

Mountains and Revolutions
The second imagery that one could get from Jesus inviting His disciples up to the mountain, is a revolutionary image. Think “Red Dawn”. Not the 2012 version, but the real version from 1984. The story goes like this:

The US is invaded by the Soviet Union and its Cuban and Nicaraguan allies, and the onslaught of World War III seems eminent. While in school one day, a group of American high school students see foreign troops parachuting out of the sky and war breaks out right in front of their eyes. A small band of revolutionaries who resist the occupation, the main stars being Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, and Jennifer Gray. They gather all the food and drink they can, rob a firearms store, go off into the mountain, and start planning a revolution, calling themselves Wolverines, after their high school mascot. It’s really a great movie that incites a lot of passion, but may have been a little too much political and national propaganda for it’s own good.

Anyways, at least you got the picture. The mountains have been a gathering place for many revolutions, and now Jesus has His “Wolverines” (Petros, the “Rock”, Boanerges, the “Sons of Thunder”… I mean come on, those are some guerrilla warfare names, not to mention Jesus has a few “Zealots” in His group who went around with daggers hidden up their sleeves killing Roman authorities). Jesus is in the mountains with His “Wolverines” and a new revolution is beginning, but this time, a new way to fight is being employed.

Mountains and Wolverines
14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons.

Kerusso! To preach, especially to publicly announce truth of the good news that God’s kingdom is here in Jesus Christ. But not just preach, but display with God’s power and authority over the spiritual realm. This new revolution is one that is restoring shalom, restoring the way things were supposed to be, by the proclamation of the word of God, and the display of His power, not combatting flesh and blood, but “against the rulers and authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)

And this is war. Look at verse 19: And Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. Betrayal, homelessness, rejection from friends and family, being blamed, cursed, threatened, persecuted, even murdered. This is a dark and bloody pursuit, but the war is won through sacrifice, the sacrifice of God Himself. Destroying armies through dying for their sin and offering them a chance to be a “Wolverine”, on the side that wins.

Doesn’t that make you want to run out, paint your faces with war paint, and go live in the mountains? Okay, maybe not, but least we are getting a fresh look into what Jesus is up to. He’s forming people into warriors of His kingdom. People who will “be with Him” (v. 14), go out with Him, and gather more warriors who don’t even know they are royalty yet. This is a God movement that will not stop, even when the warriors get killed and it seems that the revolution is over. God’s plan to reach the world… you and I!

This is Jesus’ multiplication plan. He’s doing the work of ministry, there’s more than God in the flesh can handle, so He gathers leaders, trains them (that’s what the rest of the book of Mark will show us as we continue in this series), sends them out, and will empower them once and for all when His work on earth is finished (Acts 2).

The Revolutionary Plan
Now Jesus is definitely doing all that we just mentioned, but there’s also more that’s going on in this passage as well. Jesus chooses twelve disciples. Not only is it a manageable traveling group, able to fit into a small fishing boat, but it’s also the same number of the tribes of Israel which seems to suggest some kind of restoration of Israel is happening.

This image is not brought out explicitly in Mark, but it is in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30. Every Jew knew that there were twelve tribe of Israel, ten of which have been utterly lost when the Assyrians invaded Jerusalem and integrated them into Assyrian life (701 BC) and eventually lost for good among the Greek (Alexander the Great, mid 300’s BC).

But the prophets of Israel had spoken of a coming restoration, a revolution if you will, and the Jews were waiting and longing for that day. They believed that the day would eventually come when Yahweh turned things around. So when Jesus goes up to the mountain and chooses His twelve “Wolverines”, you couldn’t miss what was happening.

Jesus was making a statement that was larger than life: This isn’t just a big healing mission, nor is it some kind of spiritual awakening… this is a revolution that is coming to restore what the locusts have ruined and stolen, not just spiritually, but physically, emotionally, socially, politically, economically. A new thing is here, and a new mission is starting.

Go and Do Likewise
This is why Christ Jesus gave to the Church: 11…the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Eph. 4:11-13)

And this is why Paul writes to one of His Wolverines that He raised up:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus… (2 Tim. 2:1-3)

My Prayer
I pray this morning that we can be marked as people who are “with Jesus” (Mark 3:14). People who follow Him to the mountain to pray, to be filled up, and to march in to the valley with justice, mercy, humility, not being ashamed of our Lord, publicly proclaiming the truth in word and deed, not misrepresenting Him as a religious nut who cared more about the moral code than He did about the law of love.

I pray this morning that we can discern our call and role in this battle, this revolutionary journey, partnering with Jesus to redeem that which was robbed by Satan, sin and death. I pray that we would be a body that works together, using our gifts and roles to bless, to build up, to encourage, to strengthen, to love. To fight for truth, for beauty, for life, for justice and righteousness, for peace. Wolverines!

Let’s pray!