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.      

Advertisements

When one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

1 Corinthians 3: 4

 

Leaders are supposed to be people who we follow. This is a reality that most of us accept. In fact, it is something that individuals, organizations, and whole societies study and attempt to improve upon. As most of us regularly find ourselves in positions of leadership of one sort or another, there are books on the subject of leadership being published every minute of the day. Teaching us how to lead, and how to follow, for that matter, is a lucrative business. In light of this reality, why is Paul having a problem with these folks in Corinth and their desire to follow a leader of their choosing? Also, while I am at this process of questioning the Apostle, what gives with his concern over us being “merely human?” After all, that is what we are.

 

The problem that the men and women of Corinth had is much the same as the one that most of us also encounter. We lose sight of the true nature of the job that our leaders are called to perform, and we fail to look beyond that individual in order to examine the source of the authority that has placed him or her in this position of leading. Yet, I think that this human tendency toward short-sightedness is the source of a great deal of the tension and the difficulty that we encounter in working together in our various organizations and cultural structures. We expect that our leaders will be perfectly motivated and absolutely well-equipped to handle the task at hand. Yet, we fail to grant them the respect that should be theirs based upon the true authority that has placed them in that position. In other words, we have lofty desires for them to make our lives easier, more profitable, and better in all ways while we continually complain about their lack of clear vision and ability to get the job done.

 

Although we do follow human leaders who function at all levels of our society and the positions that they occupy have been created by various rules and regulations, God makes it very clear that He is the author and the real power behind all rulers and forms of governance. God has granted the structures that we use to create order in our cultures to us so that we can maintain a peaceful and a cooperative existence on the earth. If we believe that this is true, we need to look beyond the person and above the office in order to accurately assess the standards of ethical and moral behavior that should be expected out of our leaders. God grants the office to them, and He sets the standards for them to follow. The Lord also demands that we respect His appointments while clearly expressing our desires for them to rule righteously. In Christ we are called to be something much greater than merely human. For as we are in Christ, we also have His mind, we can know His ways and comprehend His vision. We are followers of the one true and absolute ruler of all, Jesus the Risen King.

 

Then Pilot said to Him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

John 18: 37

 

If you are a follower of Christ, you can expect to be questioned. In fact, I think that He expects for us to draw attention and to receive many inquiries into what we understand to be truth. If this is the case, then we are showing the world that there is something different about what we believe and in the way that we live out those beliefs. There is no doubt that this was how Jesus lived, for it is what has brought Him to the point in His incarnation where the servants of the world are fully focused on their futile attempt to end His influence. They are seeking to silence His voice thus muting the truth that so sternly confronts their sinful departure from God’s clearly stated way. Yet, despite their best efforts, they have no idea what it is that they are actually doing.

 

In the courtyard of the High Priest’s house and at the palace of the Roman Governor, the people are conducting a coronation ceremony. That roughly crafted crown of cutting and piercing thorns is in fact the regal headgear of the only authentic ruler in the world. This was true on that day, and it will remain so for all of time. Even the blows, the scourging, and the other forms of abuse that were poured out onto Jesus were an essential part of the ceremony. Evil does not go out without a fight. The ways of man are tenacious but doomed. So, Pilot reluctantly and unwittingly recognizes the King and follows that act of recognition up with an equally unintended act of supreme worship that is played out in the agony of crucifixion and that culminates in the glory of the risen King.

 

Thus, we come to our times and our lives. The world still asks after Pilot, “What is truth?” People continue to doubt and to question; they seek and they reject the living Word. Still, others are touched by the Spirit of Truth and yield their lives to His Christ. Our lord calls us to live in submission and in service to our King. Everything that we do and each aspect of that process of living is under His authority. After Jesus, there is no longer any separation of the sacred and the secular, and we can not follow Christ on the one hand and live under humanity’s rules on the other. When there is a divergence between those rules, we must follow Christ. So, we should be ready to be questioned, and we must be prepared to answer with the truth that is found only in Jesus Christ the reigning King.

 

 

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.

Luke 2: 7

 

Generally we make a very big deal out of the birth of a baby. This is the right thing to do. The entire process of producing new human life carries in and with it a real element of the miraculous. Also, God cares greatly about life, and each and every one of them is a gift granted from the Lord’s hand of creation. So, we tell our world about the birth, and we make careful note of all of the details surrounding it. The single fact that we take the most care with is the date of the baby’s birth. This is the one specific day that we affix to each person and celebrate throughout that person’s life.

 

Yet, with the most significant birth ever, and the most widely remembered baby in history, we do not actually know the date of His birth. Over time people have ascribed various dates to the birth of Jesus. Now most of us have settled on December 25th for the day of our celebrations. Still, through the work of science, especially astronomy and historical anthropology, it is thought that this date in late December is off by several months. You see the date doesn’t matter. The birthday celebration for Jesus really doesn’t either. Certainly the gift giving and hosting of elaborate meals are equally inconsequential. God does not tell us to worship His Son by these sorts of activities and events in and of themselves.

 

What the Lord does desire is that we recognize Jesus as God and accept Him as Lord over out lives. God is delighted when we celebrate the birth of Jesus by turning our hearts to Him and by following Christ into a life of grace, love, justice, and reconciliation. This is the sort of party that can and should take place on any day and on every day of our lives. As with Jesus and His birthday celebration, the setting and the decorations are of far lesser value than is the splendor of the glory of God that fills the lives of followers of Christ. Here is where we find the true birthday party for the Risen King. Yet, as we gather with our family and friends, hold our festive meals, and exchange gifts, this is the perfect time and the joyous place to make clear to all the great gift of new life that the baby whose birth we are celebrating has given to us.

Merry Christmas!