Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

John 20: 21

The presence of the living Christ in our world can be highly disturbing. He asks for a lot, and He isn’t really willing to compromise on the things that He wants from people, ether. So, it almost seems like a paradox that these were the first words He said to His disciples after He left the tomb and appeared among them. Now Christ was certainly wishing for them to be at ease and to realize and understand that the person who stood among them was the same Jesus that they had known and loved and who had loved them over the last few years, but I think that Christ had much more in mind than just that reassurance. He wanted them to embrace the fact that they were called to continue His work of bringing the reconciling love and grace of God to and into the world. So, the disciples were to go out and to bring the essential message of peace between people and God and, thus, that of peace among people in our world.

Jesus knew that bringing peace was never going to be an easy task, for it requires hard work and dedication to the purpose at hand. It is a relentless process, for there is an enormous amount of energy in our world that is dedicated to creating turmoil, separation, and animosity. People tend toward self-protection and fear of others, and these are emotions that run so deep within us as to be almost fundamental to who and to what we are. Our own natures tend toward the troubled, self-protective, and fearful sides of behavior. Still, Christ wants His deep-seated peace to rule our hearts and minds so that we will interact with others with the clear headed inner calm of Christ. When we do this, we can make a difference in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, and that difference will be a tangible expression of Christ’s love.

With this eternal peace well settled on us, we can speak the hard truths of God’s Word and still be heard as compassionate. When we interact with others, the peace in our hearts will help to filter out our human defenses and it will allow a true dialogue to begin. The peace of Christ is something to accept and it is something to diligently seek after, for as humans, we just don’t naturally settle in peaceful places. Yet, in response to our tendency Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” True peace is not something that is created by treaties, by force, or by governments. True peace is the result of individual people who choose to believe Christ and who are willing to set aside their worldly human responses and thinking in order to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunityto transform our hearts and minds into ones that more accurately reflect God’s intent in creation; thus, Christ sends us into our world as committed peace makers. 

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So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5: 23, 24

The various forms of offerings that we give to God are a sign of our trust of Him and of our love for Him. They are an important part of the way that followers of Christ live in that we are surrendering the sure thing of wealth or assets that we have in hand today for the prospect that God will grant to us all that we will need to sustain us tomorrow. Yet, Jesus is saying that there are things that come along in the course of living out our days that are more significant than the way that we express our love, trust, and honor to God through our acts of sacrificial giving. Jesus tells us that the relationships that we have with people are of even greater significance to Him than is the way that we engage in acts of trust through giving in our worship of the Lord.

In fact, I believe that God would see the act of working toward peace and understanding with other people as being one of the most important forms of worship in which we can engage. Christ should make a difference in the way that we deal with other people, and His presence in us should grant to each of His people the grace, mercy, and confidence to engage in acts of reconciliation with diminished regard for the relational or emotional risk that might seem to be connected to those acts of sacrificial engagement with a person with whom we are in a state of disagreement or dispute. I understand that there is risk involved in stepping across the barriers that we construct to keep ourselves separated and insulated from people when we are at odds with them; yet, Christ stepped over the divide between God and humanity to live among and to dwell with us in order to do the greatest of all acts of reconciliation.

Therefore, as we follow Christ, we too should step over the walls of animosity that are put up in our relationships in order to engage in doing the great work of bringing people back into relationship with ourselves and into fellowship with the Lord. This directive to be reconciled sounds simple on the surface, but we all know that it is anything but easy to do. Life is challenging and issues between people are frequently complex; still, in Christ, we have the Spirit to guide our steps and to provide the words of healing to our speech. We also have time to give to the endeavor, for according to Jesus, this sort of effort is of greater significance and has a higher priority than any other thing that we might feel the need to accomplish. Christ desires for us to get our human relationships in order as an act of deep worship to God, and He is with us for every step of whatever process is required for the completion of these acts of holy reconciliation.  

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

1 Timothy 6: 6

There is a moment or so in this letter during which Paul seems to be particularly harsh on people who are wealthy. For he will very shortly make the often misquoted statement saying, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” He also expends some ink on the fact that having wealth does not equate to contentment in this life. Yet, money, the possession or the lack of it, and even the processes that are involved in earning it are not really what the Apostle is concerned about. He cares greatly about the state of his reader’s souls and the condition of their hearts. Everything else is secondary, and all of the rest of it falls into order behind the primary issues of orientation, focus, and the application of the skills and energy that we have been given by God.

According to Paul, if we wish to be truly wealthy in this world, we need to seek after the sorts of riches that are eternal in nature. None of these eternal riches involve gold, silver, bank accounts, or investment portfolios. Yet, the lasting may be influenced by the manner in which we hold and use those perishable forms of wealth. Everything is influenced by perspective, and the net result of what we do is brought about by virtue of the motivation for our actions. Gain for the sake of personal glory, notoriety, or power is never going to bring about satisfaction for the soul. This worldly form of achievement will always fall away at some point along the journey of life. True contentment is found in giving ourselves fully to Christ. That is, we find the sort of heart and soul deep satisfaction in our lives most readily when we lay down our personal goals, wishes, and desires before Christ and yield all of our being to following Him and to service to God’s kingdom as He calls upon us to give it.

So, as we do this, the nothingness that we brought with us into this life is made into the greatest of riches imaginable. The emptiness of this world is enriched with the presence of the glory of heaven, and the vast storehouse of God’s bounty is opened up for us to use in bringing the love and the care of the Eternal Father into direct contact with the impoverished people of this world. It is in serving the needy that we find the true contentment that comes from walking in close proximity to God’s heartbeat for humanity. Those needs might be physical, financial, or spiritual in nature. In fact, they often include several elements of what it means to survive and to thrive in life; yet, all of these needs are things that Christ can deal with through the labor of our hands and the care of our hearts for others. Wealth is obtained through service, and contentment is found through serving Christ. The form of riches that does go with us beyond this world is granted to us by the Lord as we enter into His calling for the use of all that He has granted to us by way of resources, talents, and gifts.    

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1: 25

The presence of God in the world turns this place upside down, and the presence of Christ in a life sets that person right with God. The Lord’s way of viewing things is truly different from that of our culture, and what matters to Him is very far removed from all that is held as important in much of our world. It would seem that the realm of the eternal does not operate by the same rules as does the earthly one and that the ruler of heaven is not bound by the same constraints as is the ruler of the world. One of them owns all of creation and has total and absolute authority over it, and the other is living out his last moments before the certain destruction that is promised to him is brought about. Yet, people still look to the false wisdom of the worldly one and follow its death-inducing dogma to the grave. This world continues to utilize the minimal and depleted power that comes out of domination, violence, and greed rather than submit to Christ’s victory of love and peacemaking.

You see, I don’t think that it is God who has things turned upside down; instead, I believe that the Lord is going about the work of restoring the tipped over elements of the earth to their proper equilibrium and orientation. This can be challenging for us to follow along with and to join into, for the training that most of us have received since birth and the meta narrative of the world where we dwell all speak to a different approach to successful living than does Christ. He tells us to love others, to care for the weak, to free the oppressed, to embrace the stranger, to feed the hungry, and to cloth the naked. Christ touches the oozing sores of the sick without fear of contamination, and He speaks the truth of God’s Word when that eternal wisdom is guaranteed to arouse anger in those who will hear it. Then, when anger does come in response, Christ reaches out in love and stands confidently before His opponents so that He may even become the target of their continued fury and wrath. This contrary approach to engagement in our world and with its issues is risky on the one hand, but it also bridges great gaps in understanding and brings about peace where turmoil was present before.

If following Christ means that many in this world will call me a fool, then let me be the court jester for my Lord. Should living out Christ’s will and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus through actions and in words be viewed as being weak-minded and powerless by some of the people that I encounter in life, then I pray that all of my human strength and self-instigated might would be drained out of every fiber of my being. Let Christ rise to the forefront of my life as its source of power and as the substance of its expression, and I pray that all of the wisdom that I call upon to enter into the various discussions and dialogues of this day would be founded upon the eternal truths of God’s Word and be given expression with the continuous guidance of the Spirit. If all of this means that I am involved in doing things that disrupt the natural course of the world around me, then so it must be. Yet, it is true that when Jesus caused disruption and brought about turmoil, He also provided a way to healing and restoration. So, as things around me are upset or disrupted by the presence of God’s truth, I also desire to see the order of creation restored in those settings so that Christ and His love would remain and rule the day in those places and with those people.    

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of his purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

Mark 15: 20

At the end of His short and blameless life on earth Jesus was granted no respect. The treatment that He received from the Roman soldiers and officials was harsh but was not all that surprising under the circumstances. For now, Jesus was a convicted and condemned criminal in their eyes. He no longer owned any rights, and in their sense of things, He was no longer even due the dignity that might be granted to a fellow person. After all, Jesus was already dead in their way of seeing things. What was much more troubling was the fact that the Jewish crowd outside of the governor’s palace was also caught up in this same sort of loud, mocking, and utterly dehumanizing destructive frenzy. The crowd wanted to see this man destroyed, and they didn’t really care what the truth might be or whether they were doing what was right. 

Although this extreme a form of opposition is not necessarily the normal reaction, Jesus still causes similar types of anger to come to the surface in our world. His gospel message is one of love and of reconciliation, but it is also one in which truth, justice, and righteousness are called out to all as the only way to live that is acceptable to God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls upon people to repent of our sinfulness and to surrender ourselves fully to the work of the Spirit within our hearts and minds. This call to holiness in the totality of how we conduct our lives is not an easy thing to follow; yet, Jesus does truly demand it of everyone who follows Him. In this manner, it is not easy to follow Christ, but He has an answer for that difficulty in the fact that the Spirit is with each and every person who does so commit to Christ.

In those terrible hours of trial and persecution, Jesus found strength and even a form of comfort in the presence of the Father with Him. In our own experience of the angry rejection that this world can pour out upon followers of Christ, He gives us His Spirit to journey through it all with us. Most people do not encounter the form and the degree of attack that Jesus did on that final day, but we can take it upon the authority of Scripture that antagonism and harshly unfair responses are likely to come our way as we engage with our world for the sake of the Gospel. Regardless of the way that we are treated, we should not ever be deterred from speaking out in truth and from doing so with the redemptive love of Christ as the platform for our words. Jesus went humbly yet bravely into His crucifixion, death, and resurrection so that His blood would set us free from sin and His return to life would empower us to live for the sake of the Gospel in all situations and under every circumstance that we might encounter. In Christ we know His victory over all that is angry and opposed to Him in our world, and through Christ we can live out each day in bold humility for the glory of the Lord.    

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Mark 8: 33

These are harsh words. These is the sort of thing that most people are very uncomfortable with saying to someone else; especially, to someone that we are close to and that we care about greatly. Yet, this was exactly what Jesus needed to say to Peter and to the rest of His close group of followers. When Jesus had stated the reality of where they were headed and of what that destination would mean for Him, they were troubled to the point of completely rejecting the idea of sacrifice. They seemed to be pleased with the miraculous healings and even with the way that Jesus managed crowds and fed their physical bodies while filling the souls with new life. They didn’t necessarily understand most of this, but they were delighted to participate in it all. But now Jesus reveals the balance of the story, and with that image of suffering and of pain came the sobering prospect of their own participation in that same self-sacrificing service to God.

Yet, that sacrifice is what was to be required of Jesus in order to overcome humanity’s sinful rebellion against God. The antagonism of the world would need to be poured out upon the perfect love that God gave to Creation in the form of the spotless lamb of glory, the Christ. By extension and by virtue of inclusion this same antagonism is something that all people who follow Christ do encounter. In conjunction with healing, deep joy, peace, and fellowship with God and with His body of faith comes pain, rejection, grief, and real loss. So, these last elements of life in Christ are things that Satan would have us join with Peter in attempting to reject. “Surely an all-loving and caring Father, God would not demand that His beloved children undergo such hardships. Either you are misunderstanding what God is requiring of you, or He is not all that great and caring a being. Regardless of which is true, God’s commandments and His direction for life and about living it are to be questioned and set aside when they disagree with personal comfort, pleasure, or happiness.” So, spoke the Serpent to Eve and Adam, and so too we hear Satan’s whispered lies in our ears.

In the light of this reality, Jesus does not sound so harsh. As I consider that the alternative to listening to Christ is following Satan’s guidance, even a verbal slap in the face from the Lord is not too much to handle. In order to truly live as a child of the Risen King, I must be willing to set aside the easy and the comfortable things of this world and follow Christ to His cross and beyond it into a life that is guaranteed to be unpopular and troubled. In so committing myself to serving Him, I am placing truth above conformity, love as greater than safety, compassion in the role of guiding principle for embracing people, and loyalty to justice as supreme to any other form of allegiance that might attempt to call my name. Jesus loved Peter and His disciples greatly, and He loves each of us with the same depth of passion and absolute commitment to caring for our hearts, minds, and souls as He did them. That is why He was so direct with them in matters such as this, and this is why the Lord is also direct with us. We must be willing to trust Christ enough to follow Him into the sacrificial living that seeking to make a difference in our world requires. We are called upon by the Lord to love when that is unpopular, to give away what we hold dearest, to speak and live out truth even as it is held in disdain by our culture, and to give up all human rights for the sake of eternal glory. These are the sorts of actions that leave Satan and his whispered lies behind and that relegate him to the dust of his destiny.      

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mark 4: 23

Although Jesus speaks about a physical feature that almost all people possess, He is not talking about our physical bodies. The Lord is restating a comment that occurs several times in the words of the prophet Isaiah and that also run deep in a Jewish understanding of the way that God desires for His people to respond to Him. I think that a key element in what Jesus says two times in this section of Mark’s gospel is found in the all but universal presence of hearing in people. We were meant to hear. This is the way that God designed people, and that hearing is an important part of the manner in which we are intended by our Creator to navigate our way through this world. People can operate successfully with diminished or even absent hearing, but this takes extra effort, training, and on-going practice to do well. When it comes to hearing, Jesus is saying that God gives us all the equipment with which to hear, the ability to decipher this auditory input, and the capacity to use what we take in in order to live righteously in the manner that God desires for us to do.

The fact that we all fall short of this last aspect of what God intends for us is the result of our own rebellion against God, of our selfishness, and of our unrelenting need to go through life making our own decisions and following after our personally desired and fabricated gods. We don’t hear God’s word of truth and life because we refuse to listen to His voice. We fail to live as redeemed people in this fallen world because we shut off the receptivity that God designed into our hearts and our minds. In too many instances we become the fool, the person who should know better but who still acts as one who does not know Christ at all. This can be true in big things and it can also be the case in the small elements of life. Jesus is saying to those of us who know Him that we need to engage the full concept of the hearing that we have been given as a gift from God. That is, we need to let God’s word in, and we also need to surrender ourselves to obedience to the call to love others, seek justice, grant mercy, and hold righteousness as more precious than breath itself. In addition, people who do not know Christ are provided with an opportunity to hear Him in the expression of our lives when we follow Christ as He would have us do this.

For people who struggle with hearing, and I would guess that this includes most of us, there is hope. Jesus would not have made such a point of this if He were not also providing a way to redemption from the manner in which we have deviated from God’s will. In Christ, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who grants understanding to us and who counsels us in all aspects of following God. We are also provided with God’s Word and the wealth of truth, wisdom, and descriptions of righteous living that are contained within it. Then, the body of faith invites us into its presence and provides followers of Christ with a place to dwell where support, accountability, instruction, and opportunity to use the gifts that God has given to us are formed together into common worship of our Lord. Thus, Jesus points to the obvious presence of ears on our heads, and He instructs us to truly hear, which means that we are to seek out the face of God, to meditate deeply upon His Word, to pray regularly and routinely, to listen even more intently that we speak, and to engage in the fellowship of the body of Christ even when those associations may seem hard or troubling. As Jesus said to us, “Hear and obey and commit your life to following what it is that God is continually saying to you through the ears of your heart.” At least that is how I heard His words in my heart.