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.    

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And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

1 Thessalonians 2: 13

All of us are subject to various types of authority. It comes in the form of people who have power over our livelihoods or at least our success and advancement within a chosen occupation. Most of us live in communities within countries where there are laws of the land that rule over us and that direct and define what actions are acceptable and what ones will result in censure or worse. Sometimes we accept the rule of authority and at other times we struggle with it or even fight against its presence in the course of our days. Paul is immensely thankful that these people to whom he had communicated God’s Word had accepted it and its author’s authority so readily. They had not only accepted it, but they also knew and acknowledged the fact that there was a supernatural aspect to what they had received from Paul as this word from God.

Thus, the Gospel of Christ and the rest of the divine truth that was given to them has a sort of power that is far superior to any other form of wisdom, logic, or law that they may have heard or have access to. This word of truth and life comes out of eternity and into our world bringing with it the lasting wisdom of the Lord and providing guidance for all aspects of life. Now God has called people into service to Him by means of gifting them with deep comprehension of His Word and by granting to them the ability to explain both its meaning and its application to the various situations and circumstances that are encountered in living out our days. Yet, unlike any other form of instruction that we may receive, when we are taught from God’s Word we hear words that are spoken by humans, but we are listening to and assimilating concepts, ideas, and precepts that come from the mouth of God.

The source of these utterances is what matters when God’s Word is opened and taught. It is essential for people who teach from God’s Word to be humbly submitted to the Lord’s will as they are led by His Spirit into understanding its deeper meanings and its application in the lives of the specific audience at hand. As hearers of the Word of God we need to bear in mind the fact that it is something much greater than any literature that has come to us through human hands as these words are the utterances of God, Himself, that have been given to us through the hands of divinely inspired writers. Even that inspiration would have left us with nothing more than an exceptional work of history and philosophical wisdom if it were not for the connection that God makes with His people through the presence of the Spirit of Christ with and within us. The Spirit brings the written and the spoken Word of God to life, and He guides our minds and our hearts into forms of understanding that would not be otherwise possible. Thus, through the work of the Spirit within and upon us, we are continually transformed by God’s Word into people who more and more fully reflect the glory of the Lord.   

For he himself is our peace, he has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

Ephesians 2: 14

 

It seems that I have consulted with myself and granted permission to me to stretch the application of this verse some in order to make a point. Additionally, I am not sorry for my actions. This verse is part of a much longer sentence that runs across several of our verse divisions, and the point involved is a discussion about the way that Christ’s sacrifice has eliminated the Jew and Gentile divisions and separations that existed in his day and that were enforced in the Law. This point had a much broader application than just the way that people of different religious beliefs would live, for it also engaged with issues of race, nationality, gender, and societal status. I believe that God’s desired outcome in giving us the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, is far more inclusive regarding the issues that divide people than just religion or any of the other concerns and causes that might have been prevalent in the time when Paul wrote his letter to the church.

 

We live in a world today that is far more divided than it has been at any other time in history. We also operate in a manner that is guaranteed to continue existing divisions and to promote even greater ones as we go along our way. The communication tools that we have at our disposal are powerful entrenching tools when it comes to constructing these canyon-like separations, and we have fabricated rules for using these means of communication that allow for words, comments, and commentary that would have been largely unacceptable in the past to be viewed as normative today. It seems that no one holds anyone else to a standard of behavior when it comes to what is said and that none of us are willing to impose restraint upon ourselves, either. We have entered into a time when our political discourse is neither civil nor is its objective really to bring us to a place where reasoned thinking leads to mutually satisfactory processes and decisions.

 

So, here is a radical proposal. It would seem that Paul stated a concept for healthy human interaction that was one that God threw out to us a very long time ago. That is, in Christ we have our answer to all that separates and divides us. Through His blood we are all brought together before the Great High King, and it is His law of love, grace, justice, and redemption that becomes our new, final, and permanent rule of law that considers all and that prevails in everything. In this kingdom of God’s, if it does not speak Christ, I do not say it, and if my words do not seek to create understanding and unity, I rethink and restate them until they accomplish this goal as a higher purpose than just driving home my point. When I am gathered around Christ’s eucharistic table in company with those who may see an issue differently than I do, our goal is no longer winning the debate; instead, it becomes sharing in the Lord’s feast of unity that is formed around His Gospel. Even when I do not share this faith with the person that I am engaged with, my objective in all matters should be to demonstrate Christ in what I think, say, and do. Divisions are made my people, they are fueled by Satanic fire, and they are always contrary to God’s will and outside of His desire for the way that His people would live in our world.

 

For this is he who has spoken by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“’The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way of the Lord;

Make his paths straight.’”

Matthew 3: 3

 

John’s message was straight forward and rather simple, for he called upon people to repent. He pointed them toward God and to the awful difference that existed between the way that they were living and the standard of righteous life that was set out for all people by the Lord. Interestingly, John went out into the wilds of the countryside to proclaim this message from God. He left the populated centers behind and found his audience out among the open spaces and the scattered villages, long-distance travelers, and assorted wanders that he encountered in those less hospitable locales. His first and primary appeal was to the people at large and not to the powerful or the prominent. John didn’t start out speaking with religious or with governmental leaders, and his message wasn’t directed at corrupt institutions or at their ungodly leaders.

 

John was called by God to go to people who were not so different from any of us, and he was directed to call upon us to turn to the God of our creation as our only valid hope for salvation from the ruinous path that we and that all of the rest of humanity had taken. Although John went out into the literal desert places to start to preach the Lord’s call to return to Him and to the truth of His word, he was restating the words that Isaiah had set out long before when he spoke about God’s promise of restoration and of peace with Him that was given then to the people of Israel and promised in extension to all of the world. In Isaiah we see the idea of wilderness as depicting the vast wasteland of human souls and all of the barriers that we have built up that separate us from God and from doing His righteous and redemptive work in our world. Isaiah speaks of mountains made flat and valleys being raised up, of other forms of impediment gone so that God’s glory is revealed to all of the world.

 

This is done through the lives of people just like us. God works in and through His people to bring this same message of hope through repentance to the world around us. We all reside in a barren landscape like that of Isaiah’s and john’s wilderness of the soul, and every one of us rubs shoulders on a daily basis with people who dwell in the harsh and bitter lands of that wild place. Our first calling is to personal repentance as we hear God’s voice and respond to His Gospel of righteous hope, peace, and love by turning our lives in full measure to Christ and to serving Him. Then we are to turn to our neighbors and to others that we encounter and that we seek out and reveal to them the glory of the Lord as it is made visible and tangible in our redeemed and transformed manner of thinking and living. Christ calls to each of us in our own wilderness, and then He sends us forth to do this crying out to a lost and a needy world. As Christ sends, so we must respond like john did with all of our mind, heart, and soul.

Jesus said, “He (the Spirit) shall glorify me; for he shall take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

John 16: 14, 15

 

God has always had a plan for how He would become close to people again. He also knew the way that that the seemingly impossible division that sin created between us and Him would be permanently repaired. God never wanted to be separated from the people who are the pride of His creative handiwork and with whom He delights in entering into relationship; so, in Jesus, He provided the singular and the total answer to that separation. This was done by and through Christ’s sacrificial death and death-defeating resurrection. Yet, that is just the beginning of the story.

 

Jesus is God in every sense and in every way; yet, He was also totally human so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for all of the sin that removes us humans from God’s presence. He also demonstrated to us the possibility of living righteous lives in this world; something that is done only in the power and under the guidance of Christ. Then, God gave us another aspect of Himself, the Spirit, in order for us to have a continual, ongoing, and deeply personal connection to His heart and mind; thus, we have direct access to the true will of God for our lives we attain the wisdom and the understanding that we require in order to live out that will.

 

Thus, God’s plan for connection to any and all people who are willing to trust Him and to believe in Him is completed. The Father gave us Jesus, who left us the Spirit, and in all three of them we have the one and the only true God. God knows each of us completely, for there is nothing that He doesn’t see or comprehend, and His will for each of us is perfect and absolutely loving. He wants each of us to know Him and to relate to Him in the same manner; so, God is delighted when we seek Him and allow His voice to speak to our hearts and to our minds. The Lord pours His love out on us and gives each of us the power, wisdom, and understanding to go into our day with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as our message and with Christ’s love as the tone and flavor of its delivery.

 

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

3 John 11

 

John is giving us a proverb here. He is setting out a very simple and direct statement about an aspect of living in conformity with God’s will. This is the sort of thing that is intended to guide a follower of Christ into engaging with the world in a manner that will actually make a difference in this place and that demonstrates Christ to the people that we meet. What John tells us might seem to be very easy to agree with, for most of us would say that we do not go about looking at evil actions and embracing them as the model to follow for the day at hand. Yet, is that really true for the manner that each of us does, in fact, conduct life?

 

If I give it some careful thought and consider each interaction that happens during my day, I start to lose confidence in the nature of some of those engagements. Then, when I play back my internal audio track that records what I was thinking during some of those moments, it gets worse as I hear the negative, defensive, and down-putting words and feelings that went unspoken during those instances. So, it would seem that there are times during the course of my days when I am imitating the words, manners, and way of that which God deems to be evil, and if that is true then I am certainly not imitating Christ, who is the totality of goodness, during these times.

 

John’s proverbial warning is essentially a cautionary statement for each of us as we seek to live out our days as a follower of Christ. It is very easy to get caught up in a moment in the sort of worldly thinking and acting that pulls us off of our Lord’s righteous path and that, in so doing, diminishes the credibility of our witness to the love, grace, and redemptive nature of His Gospel. Evil does surround us, and its words of negativity and death saturate the very air that we inhale; so, it is easy to be influenced by it. However, God and His word of truth is even more present and is much more powerful than all that evil can throw at us. God’s Word itself provides guidance and encouragement to love others and to engage with creation as Christ does. The Spirit dwells within to speak truth and grace into each encounter and engagement that we face during our day, and prayer is our way and means for bringing all that Christ provides to us by way of goodness to bear upon every moment of the journey that our Lord is taking us on. So, the goodness that we are called upon to imitate is with us, and in so imitating it, we truly do see God and so does the world around us.

There is really nothing that is worth saying about this new year that we have just entered. The world is in a sorry state of affairs. Pick a country and its government is out of synch with its people and is failing to secure their futures. There is no peace to be found in the regions of the globe, and the level of terror that is coming from our warlike bent is increasing to levels that have seldom been seen in history. Across the face of the earth there are people who are needlessly starving, being taken down by preventable illness, and are homeless, and this does not even consider the millions of others who have been made into refugees due to the animosity of others and as a result of our humanity’s unchecked violence toward itself. This planet was not born into this harsh and troubled state, but its nurture under the influence of evil has taken it down this degenerative path so that by this point in its story it is very hard to see the light of hope on the horizon of the coming days.

 

Yet, this is not how God sees us or the way that He views the world where we live. He is made very sad by the way that we have taken the beautiful perfection of His creation and twisted and tortured it into the tangled mess that it is today, but that does not change the Lord’s view of what His hands crafted, and it does not cause Him to abandon His unceasing hope for our redemption. In fact, God has taken action to change it all, for He was not surprised or set back by the way that we turned away from Him in order to seek after our own way of travel through life. The need for Jesus’ sacrificial work of redemption was known by God from a point in time that precedes all of the history of our world. God’s plan for effecting our return to Him and into His righteousness was set in motion before our first ancestors were devised and created. Now each of us is called to enter into that hope for ourselves and for our world. We are invited to join with Christ in seeing this new day and the future through God’s eyes, and we are led by Christ into acting upon that hope as He desires for us to do.

 

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10: 23

 

As followers of Christ we are led by Him to love people in a manner that sacrifices all for the sake of others. We are implored to set aside violence as our answer to differences and to seek to know and to understand those who we believe are opposed to us and to our beliefs. The Gospel of Jesus Christ directs His people to seek after the restoration to relationship with God and with ourselves of everyone without regard to any internal or external concerns or issues that we may hold or have. This means that we need to be the ones who step across the barriers and boundaries of our world and reach out in peace and reconciliation to these people, cultures, and nations with whom we are at odds. As we hold fast to our confession of Christ, we are trusting in Him for the protection, courage, strength, and wisdom that this course of travel requires. In so doing, we set aside our own natural tendencies and understandings so that the greater truth of God’s way of living can prevail. There is, in fact, hope in the air as this new year begins; however, it does not come from looking to political solutions or leaders, it is not found in the news of the day, and hope is not grounded in the skills and the technology of our culture. Rather, hope is found and is given expression as we look fully and singularly on Christ. Hope is given expression as we follow His way and renounce the ways of this world. Hope is tendered as we join our Lord in sacrificing all for the sake of the redemption of others.

Blessings for this New Year.