By Linda Rex
March 29, 2020, 5th SUNDAY IN LENT—Tuesday, as my son and I made our normal every-other-week trip to the grocery store to update our pantry, we found many of the shelves empty. Things which you and I take for granted were not available and I discovered I would have to buy brands of food I wouldn’t normally buy just so we had what we needed. I also realized after looking in more than one store that there was no hope of taking any toilet tissue home that day.
As we did our best to honor the social distancing cues, I felt an atmosphere in the store of a quiet bustle mixed with anxiety. As people went about looking for items to purchase, it seemed as though there was a common effort to keep things as normal as possible in a setting which was anything but normal. There really wasn’t any conversation, and even the cashier seemed a little distracted.
It’s hard to keep track of all the details regarding the COVID-19 outbreak since they are constantly changing and people express such a wide variety of opinions on what is going on and what our response should be to the crisis. When faced with the possibility of an extreme number of deaths resulting from this virus, it is instructive that for the most part, the average person doesn’t want to die, nor do they necessarily want others to die.
I found myself asking the question this week—do I really, sincerely care whether other people around me live or die? Whether we like it or not, how we act in this crisis tells a lot about us and whether or not our love for others is genuine and real. Who is our neighbor? Truly our neighbor is that person we have never met who is vulnerable and could easily catch the disease and die. She is also that person who just lost their job or business because their place could no longer stay open due to quarantine restrictions.
My neighbor, whoever he or she may be, is a person who like myself, is facing the reality of death, whether actual death, or death to a business, or financial stability, or the comfort of family and friends. Each of us is walking step by step through “the valley of the shadow of death”, not knowing what the next month or two may bring. Our life may never be the same again. We may never be blessed in the same way we were blessed before this all began. Death is an evil which so often brings about traumatic change and leaves us wounded and broken.
Whatever may happen in the next few months, we can be certain of this—death does not have the last word. Our faith in Christ teaches us that death is not an end—it is a beginning. It is the place where Jesus meets us and brings his resurrection life to replace our death. We can look at death as a welcome birth into new life, both now through our spiritual rebirth and one day in a glorified body in the age to come.
In the Christian faith, baptism and communion are expressions of the spiritual reality that we died with Christ and are risen with Christ—he is the determining factor of our existence. He is our life. Our eternal life—the intimate knowing and being known which exists between the Father and the Son in the Spirit in which we participate in Christ—has been solidly established in Jesus Christ and been given to us by the gift of the Spirit. God’s presence in us and with us affirms that we are alive in Christ—death no longer has any hold over us.
In Ezekiel 37:1–14, a companion passage to this week’s lectionary pericope, we read about the prophet’s encounter with God in the middle of a valley filled with dry bones. These bones represented a morally bankrupt and alienated nation who had rejected their covenant relationship with God and who had, like so many of us, found themselves spiritually dead, with no hope at all of any life in or connection with God.
Standing in the middle of death in this way, Ezekiel must have felt overwhelmed by the hopelessness of the situation. But God said to him that he was going to cover the bones with sinews and flesh—and he did. Then God breathed his life into these lifeless pieces of human flesh—a simple reflection on what God did in the beginning when he first gave life to humankind. Without God’s breath in us, without the zōē life, we are but lifeless pieces of flesh, with no ability to know or be known. It is God’s Breath or Spirit breathed into us through our Lord Jesus Christ (who is the resurrection and the life), who gives us the capacity for intimate relationship with our God and one another.
Another companion passage (Romans 8:6–11) tells us that apart from the Spirit at work in us, we cannot please God. As long as we continue to focus on our fleshly human existence, we reap the consequences of that existence—death—and we are unable to live in loving relationship with the God who formed us to love and be loved. The apostle Paul says, “the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace”. He goes on to say that apart from the Spirit we will not live in godly ways. In fact, we cannot.
Our natural proclivity is to choose those ways which lead to death. So Jesus came and lived our human life in such a way as to transform our humanity—to reform our human existence into one which resembles the divine life and love. Jesus, as God in human flesh, is the reality of what it means to truly live, as he is intimately connected with the Father and compassionately connected with his human brothers and sisters in the Spirit.
We read how closely Jesus connected himself with us in many stories told by the gospel writers. John tells us of one such story, when Jesus was notified that a very dear friend was seriously ill. After hearing the news, Jesus surprised his disciples by not immediately leaving to go heal him, but remaining where he was. Later, when he prepared to go to Bethany, he was asked about Lazarus, and he told them Lazarus was dead. On face value, it would seem as though Jesus was indifferent to the suffering of these close friends. But we need to look closer at what really was going on.
What is Jesus’ response to death and dying? In this case, Jesus was setting in motion a plan to bring many people, including his disciples, into a deeper understanding of and belief in his person as their Messiah. Mary and Martha both implied their disappointment in Jesus delaying his coming by reminding him he could have healed Lazarus and prevented his death. But Jesus had greater things in mind—he was focused not on death, but on resurrection.
In his conversation with these beloved sisters, Jesus reminded them of who he was—the resurrection and the life. Life was found in him—a life unbounded by the limits of our human existence. Jesus pointed them beyond the moment of loss and grief to another of hope and joy, reminding them that death is not the end. In this case, death was only a temporary problem which was going to be superseded by the resurrection of Lazarus to his former human existence.
Jesus had the opportunity, because of Lazarus’ death, to glorify his Father by raising Lazarus from the dead—thereby demonstrating the reality of his personhood as the One with power over death, the One who gave life to all things. This would set in motion a series of events, due to the fear and hatred of the Jewish leaders, which would culminate in Jesus’ own death on the cross. He knew he must die, so that all humanity might live—and he was willing to start the process by raising Lazarus from the grave.
Who is our neighbor? According to Jesus, every human being was his neighbor—someone he was willing to die for so that they could live. As it has been written, “God didn’t want to be God without us”, so he came and joined us in our humanity, lived our life and died our death, rising again to bring our humanity into the presence of Abba forever. In the sending of the Spirit, we participate in that divine life by faith in Jesus Christ.
In the midst of this time of uncertainty, while facing the reality of illness and death, we can be sure of one thing—we are not alone. As the shepherd king David wrote, we have no reason in the midst of this “valley of the shadow death” to fear evil—for God is with us. Immanuel—our Lord—has traversed this path before us and is walking this path with us. In the Spirit he is present, sharing our sorrow, grieving our losses, carrying us into a new place of healing, renewal, and restoration. It may be dark and difficult for a while, but he promised never to leave us or forsake us—and he will keep that promise. For he is faithful.
Blessed Lord, thank you for walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” before us in your death and resurrection, but also for walking with us through this difficult time of uncertainty, suffering, and death. Pour on us anew your life-giving Spirit. Give us healing. Refresh us in your Zōē—your very life, your being Jesus, for your name’s sake. Amen.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?’” John 11:25–26 NASB
By Linda Rex
January 19, 2020, 2ND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY—My daughter and I were waiting at a stoplight yesterday, waiting for the light to change, when it occurred to both of us that we rarely enter that particular intersection from the side we were on. We often enter it from the north or the south or the west, but not from the east. To us, the intersection looked strange—kind of off kilter in some way.
The reality is, though, that the intersection had not changed at all. What changed was the way in which we approached the intersection. We are the ones who changed over time as we experienced the intersection in new ways. In fact, seeing the intersection from all sides eventually made it a more familiar place as we drove through it on our way to other places.
Often our experience of life follows certain patterns, many of which were formed as we grew up. We have certain preferences, expectations, and inhibitions which find their roots in our past and in those significant relationships which impact our formation. We follow familiar paths and often choose those items and activities with which we are most comfortable. Our actions and ways of being may be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how they affect us and those around us. Because they are how we normally respond or are, we call them our normal.
When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, it is as if we encounter life from a new viewpoint. In Jesus, we have a revelation not only of who God is, but who we are as image-bearers of God. Most everything in our life is the same, but we begin seeing it all in new ways, and are faced with new ways of being and living. These are not normal for us, but rather, may at first seem very abnormal and uncomfortable.
Our encounter with the new life in Christ may be a joyful experience, but for many of us, it is also accompanied by the realization that our previous way of living does not mesh well with who God has declared we are in Christ. Seeing life in this new way creates a crisis in our lives—God’s judgment on all which does not clearly reflect the love and grace of God is that it must go. And that’s where we resist the Spirit’s work in our lives.
The truth is that Jesus came as a light in our darkness—he was to be “a light of the nations.” Abba’s purpose was to bring us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9 NASB), rescuing us “from the domain of darkness, and [transferring] us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13 NASB). As the Light of the world, Jesus illumines the darkness of our wrongs ways of thinking and believing about God and his love for us, and who we are as his beloved children.
Unfortunately, our preference as human beings is to live and walk in the darkness. We don’t want to have to change the way we think, feel, act or treat others—this requires too much of us. When we have to make changes like these in our lives, suddenly we are no longer in control of what is happening in the world. We are no longer able to hide behind what is comfortable, familiar, or convenient.
In fact, the Spirit may ask us to do what is unfamiliar, uncomfortable and inconvenient. God often asks us to love those who are unloveable—who in fact, hate us. Jesus’ way of being is that of turning the other cheek, of praying for those who do not love us, or being kind to those who treat us unkindly. He teaches us to take a stand against evil, while not resisting it. His life and ministry teach us to love and serve freely, even if it means the loss of what we humanly value most.
The culture in which we live, the way we were raised, and the way we feel most comfortable doing things is very often diametrically opposed to Christ’s way of approaching life. Jesus’ way of being was that of a servant, of doing good to others, of caring for the downtrodden, those exiled by community and rejected by society. His life was other-centered, not hedonist and self-centered, and self-indulgent. To follow Christ means participating in his death and resurrection—and this means there are some things in our lives which must die so that the new life we have in Christ may be lived out and enjoyed.
When John the Baptizer encountered Jesus on the shores of the Jordan, he pointed him out to those around him as being the Lamb of God, the One who would take away the sin of the world. John said that Jesus existed long before he did, even though he knew that Jesus was birthed by Mary several months after he had been born of his mother Elizabeth. His point was that Jesus was the divine Son of God, present in their midst, for the purpose of freeing the world from sin. The world, or kosmos, included every human being, and this was a far cry from just freeing the Jewish people from sin.
Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, and in the Spirit, immersed all humanity in his baptism. We were all included in what Jesus did that day. Our inclusion in Jesus’ baptism is our inclusion in his life and death—and we express this as we participate in the sacrament of baptism. Our baptism, being buried with Jesus in his death and risen with him in his resurrection, means the old is gone and the new has come. We respond to Christ’s call to Lazarus in the tomb: “Lazarus, come forth!” Called out of the darkness, we come into the light and begin to live and walk in the day, leaving the night behind.
This means what is normal is no longer our normal. What is familiar needs to be replaced by what is Christ-like. What we used to value needs to be replaced with what is intrinsically of eternal value and worth. This is the work of the Spirit, who, as we respond to Christ in faith, gradually washes away anything that does not resemble our Savior and infuses us with him in its place. Our participation in this process is faith and, in joyful gratitude, following Jesus wherever he leads us.
This is radical discipleship: laying down our lives as Christ laid down his. Dying to self and living to Christ is living and walking in the light, leaving the darkness behind. We are free—not to do whatever we want, whenever and however we want—but free to love God and love one another the way we were created to. We feed on Christ, drawing upon the Spirit, finding our life in God alone, and soon, after walking a while on the road with Jesus, we will be astonished to find that what was so unfamiliar to us is actually our true home.
Dear Abba, thank you for calling out of darkness into your marvelous light. Thank you, Jesus, for including us in your baptism—in your death and resurrection. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for working in us and in our lives to bring us to greater Christlikeness. Grant us the grace to follow you, Jesus, wherever you go and to obey your call to come out of darkness and to walk in the light with you both now and forever. Amen.
“John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” John 1:32-34 NASB; see also vv. 29–42
“He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant | To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; | I will also make You a light of the nations | So that My salvation may 3reach to the end of the earth.’” Isaiah 49:6 NASB
By Linda Rex
EASTER SEASON—Earlier this week I kept hearing a song playing in my mind which we sang together at GNF Sunday— “He’s Alive!” by Ron Kenoly. It goes like this:
Hallelujah, Jesus is alive
Death has lost its victory
And the grave has been denied
And Jesus lives forever
He’s alive! He’s alive!
He’s the Alpha and Omega
The first and last is He
The curse of sin is broken
And we have perfect liberty
The lamb of God has risen
He’s alive! He’s alive!
This song is very upbeat and celebratory. It expresses a profound joy at Jesus’ resurrection. And I believe it also expresses in a more subtle way the affect Jesus’ bodily resurrection has on each of us. This is not only a song of hope that one day we will live again, but it also speaks of the power of God at work in us and our lives even today.
In a family, there is a culture which affects the way in which family members interact with one another as well as how they make decisions and how they live their lives. The culture of a family can bless or harm those who are family members. It is often influenced by its generational history of dysfunction, affluence or poverty, health or lack thereof, and many other factors.
One of the most difficult struggles I have found as a family member is to live out the transition which occurs as a result of Jesus’ resurrection. What I mean is, when Jesus’ new life begins to go to work within us by the Holy Spirit, we often find ourselves at new crossroads with our families and friends. The normal ways in which we function as a family and community were supplanted millennia ago by a new way of being which Jesus inaugurated and established in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. And Jesus is empowering us to live in this new way by the Holy Spirit.
As adults, we may have a faulty self-image created within our own family culture of shaming, abuse, and/or legalistic fault-finding which clouds how we look at ourselves and others. Or we may be obsessed with success and achievement because this was the significant value of our family of origin. We may have been so denigrated and humiliated by our peers and/or parents while growing up that seeking the approval of others became a way of finding meaning and significance in this life. Within our family culture, there may have been unspoken rules about what was allowed and what was not—and we may still follow these patterns even though we are free as adults to find healthier and happier ways of living and being.
Jesus is alive, and I have come to believe this deeply. Jesus is real and has revealed himself to me in so many ways, that for me to say he is not would be an act of complete dishonesty on my part. Going beyond Jesus is alive, then, to Jesus has risen to reign over all, puts me in a place of decision: Do I continue to live my life according to the unspoken rules of my family culture (or even culture in general), or do I live it according to the truth I have encountered in Jesus and have come to believe in?
If all we have ever known is our family’s dysfunction, we could believe that this is the only way things are done. This can be so much a part of the way we do things that we don’t even give it a second thought. If our parents always communicated at the top of their lungs in hostile, angry ways, then it is only natural that this would be the way we conduct our most intimate relationships. If dishonesty, manipulation, or controlling behavior was all we saw and experienced in our families, we may quite naturally follow this pattern in our significant relationships. But is this the risen life? It may feel normal and comfortable and it may come easy, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination an expression of the life of the risen Christ.
We find in Jesus Christ that our humanity is rebirthed. Jesus after the resurrection manifested a transformed humanity which not only was modeled after the divine order but also bore the marks of his crucifixion and enabled him to continue to participate in mundane human activities like eating, walking, and talking. He was still completely human, though glorified, and entirely divine.
Jesus’ risen life meant that the old humanity which was destined only for death was redirected onto a path which led to eternal life. This eternal life Jesus described as intimately knowing God the Father and the Son whom he sent (John 17:3). It was a way of being that was the abundant life Jesus promised us (John 10:10). We as human beings were created to “walk in the garden” with God, sharing with him our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, no matter how intimate. From the beginning we were meant for relationships with God and one another which were other-centered, mutually submissive, loving, and serving.
The risen life is empowered by the Holy Spirit and grounded in Jesus Christ. He was and is the perfect image-bearer of God in his humanity, and we, by the Spirit, are growing up into Christlikeness. We are called to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and … be renewed in the spirit of [our mind], and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22-24 NASB). The reality is that the life Jesus lived which fully reflected the Father is now ours, and we can participate in it by the Holy Spirit.
The gift of the Spirit enables us to live the risen life and participate with Jesus in his mission in this world. As we experience more and more the healing power of Jesus within us and our relationships, we share those experiences with others—bearing witness to and sharing what he is doing in and through us with others. We pray for them and care for them as the Spirit guides and Jesus leads us. All of life, then, becomes an expression of God’s love for us through Christ in the Spirit, and our response of love and gratitude in return.
Thank you, Jesus, for giving us new life. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for making real in us the life of the risen Lord. Thank you, Abba, for giving us your Son and your Spirit to enable us to experience your real life and participate with you in your mission to share your love and grace with everyone through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“I will not die, but live, and tell of the works of the LORD.” Psalm 118:17 NASB
By Linda Rex
RESURRECTION SUNDAY/EASTER—I’ve been noticing how often we act as though Jesus is still hanging on the cross or laying dead in the tomb. As Christians we can talk a lot about how Jesus died on the cross for us and our sins and how he rose from the grave, but do we live and speak as though this is actually true?
As I was sitting in the last session of a recent GCI women’s leadership forum, I was invited to write myself a permission slip. We had written one on the opening session, and now we were going to write one as we prepared to leave. I closed my eyes and asked the Lord what he wanted me to write on my slip. The still small voice said, “Be free.”
As I wrote this down on my yellow post-it note, I thought about this statement. Why would God ask me to give myself permission to be free when in Christ I already was free? I was struck by the reality that I could know quite well that I am made free from evil, sin, and death through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and yet be thinking, feeling, and living as though this were not true.
This is similar to Paul’s direction to us to be reconciled to God because we are reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20). There is the spiritual reality of our reconciliation with God on his side and spiritual reality of our freedom from evil, sin, and death in Jesus. And then, on the other side, there is our personal experience of and participation in these spiritual realities through Jesus in the Spirit.
The apostle Peter had told Jesus he believed he was the Messiah, his Lord. He had refused to believe that he would ever betray Jesus. But standing in the courtyard trying to stay warm the night Jesus was taken and was being tried, Peter denied vehemently that he knew him. When the rooster crowed and Jesus caught his eye, Peter was devastated. He was caught between the two parts of himself—what he meant to do and what he did, what he believed and how he acted—and subsequently found himself in a place he never meant to be and experienced sorrow and deep remorse as a result.
As we read the Easter story in Luke 24:1-12, we find Peter again caught between what actually had happened, and what his human reasoning would have him believe and do—Jesus was not in his tomb. Were the women right? Had he indeed risen from the grave? How could that be? Peter saw the empty tomb and went away marveling—but apparently, not believing.
All of these experiences including his subsequent encounters with the risen Jesus, and his calling to be a shepherd to God’s people, helped to form and shape Peter. It was this Peter, the one who not only knew Jesus had died and risen again, but who had personally experienced Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, who was praying on a rooftop in Joppa when the men sent by a centurion stopped at the gate and asked for him.
In the companion scripture for this Sunday in Acts 10:34-43, Luke tells us about the sermon Peter preached to these Gentiles. He began by saying that it was obvious to him that God was not someone who showed partiality. He could say this confidently because not only had God given him a repeated vision which told him he was not to differentiate between people, but also because he had been directed to treat these Gentiles as though they were brothers. What Peter had learned at the feet of Jesus, he was now experiencing in the midst of his own ministry—Jesus had torn down those divisions held near and dear by the Jewish people and had made all people one in himself.
As Peter preached and told of his experience of the life, death, and resurrection of his Lord, the Spirit came upon these people. What was true in Jesus Christ was now true for each person there. They were included—they were God’s people not just as a spiritual reality, but now by personal experience. They were baptized, showing their participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, by participating in the baptism Jesus did on all humanity’s behalf.
But even Peter struggled with what he knew to be true and making it a reality in his life. At one point the apostle Paul took Peter to task for not acting in accordance with the truth about the Gentiles being included in table fellowship through Jesus. Peter got caught up with some Jewish members’ refusing to eat with Gentiles, and even Barnabas was led astray (Gal. 2:11-14). Didn’t he know better? Obviously, yes, he did. But in that moment, he missed the mark.
The spiritual reality is that all are included in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. As Paul wrote: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:20-21 NASB) Because of our inclusion, Paul calls us to lay aside the old self and be renewed—put on the new self which has been through Christ created in the image of God (Eph. 4:22-24). Yes, we were dead in our sins, but God made us alive together with Christ, seating us in his presence in Christ (Eph. 2:4-7).
Our flesh calls to us to live in the old ways—to act like dead people. But we have been given new life, and God is calling us to act like the new creations we are. Paul says, keep seeking the things above, since that is where you (according to the spiritual realities) really are right now; keep thinking about the heavenly realities instead of obsessing on the fleshly realities of our old human existence.
Let all that is not of God continue hanging on the cross where Jesus hung. Leave the sin, evil, guilt and shame in the tomb with Jesus. Walk in the newness of life which is yours in Jesus. Cease living for yourself alone, for your own pleasure and personal indulgence and begin living as a member of God’s body—fulfilling that special place you were created to fill with your gifts, talents, knowledge, and experiences in love and service to God and others.
The truth is that, like Peter, we can be confident of the spiritual realities but fall far short in our personal experience of or participation in them. This is why we turn to Jesus and trust solely in him, and in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t count on our own ability or strength, but rather on the resurrection power which raised Jesus from the dead. It is God’s life at work in us which enables us to live in newness of life.
We trust, not in the empty cross, but in the risen Lord who died on the cross. He isn’t still in the tomb—the tomb is empty and his body has been glorified. Jesus is both seated at God’s right hand bearing our humanity in his presence and is present and near to us moment by moment by the Holy Spirit. We are reconciled to God, so by the Spirit we respond to God’s call to be reconciled to him and others. We are freed from sin, evil, and death—so we live through Jesus by the Spirit in the true freedom by which we love God and our neighbor as we were created to. By the Spirit, Abba’s resurrection power, we live, act and speak as though Jesus Christ is risen indeed.
Thank you, Abba, for the gift of new life given us in your Son Jesus Christ. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for making Jesus’ gift our very own, enabling us to participate fully in all Christ has done. Dear Abba, enable us to walk in the life which is ours in Christ, living reconciled and free, through Jesus and in the Spirit. Amen.
“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen.’ “ Luke 24:4-6a NASB
By Linda Rex
GOOD FRIDAY—Submission. Surrender. Relinquishment. Obedience. Many people in America today do not see these as qualities to embrace. What is valued is independence, freedom, and self-reliance—all stand in opposition to what really matters to God. The reality is that our way of looking at all of these things needs to be renewed so that it is driven by the spiritual realities rather than our fleshly passions and desires.
For example, freedom is a treasure we hold dearly to. Yet true freedom is much different than the freedom most people seek. There is a profound difference between the freedom to do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, no matter the cost to another, and the freedom to be that person we were created to be by God—to love him wholeheartedly and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The first kind of freedom is a movement inward, toward the self; the other freedom flows ever outward and upward—moving in unity with the divine dance of love, endlessly drawing its life from God and pouring it out freely and abundantly toward God and others.
This dissonance between the two types of freedom has its roots in our human proclivity to seek our own way—to be self-reliant and to establish our own “rules for living.” Even when we call ourselves Christians, we tend to find things we can pull out of the Bible as laws by which, we say if we just live, then God has to bless us, love us, or do things for us. Underlying such a view of “obedience” is really just another method of independent thought or self-reliance.
What Isaiah wrote is so true: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, / Each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a NASB). We may not want to admit it, but we like doing things our own way. Even when we believe and trust in Christ, we find we still have within us a stubborn resistance to God and his way of being. We prefer to do things on our own, to seek our own salvation, so to speak. When we can set things in stone—do this, don’t do that, wear this, don’t wear that—we think that somehow we can control the outcome, not realizing even so, we are trying to control God. We have missed the mark.
When God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, he turned our human values on their head. He didn’t value independence or self-reliance—no, he came as an infant in his humanity, fully dependent upon a young woman to care for his every need. In his ministry and life, he lived fully dependent upon his heavenly Father. He drew strength and wisdom from God in the Spirit, and spent many hours in prayer, drawing what he needed from his Abba.
Jesus lived free from human expectations and requirements and yet submitted himself to human government as necessary. He taught his disciples to pay taxes and not to resist when his life was at stake. He knew the evil inclinations of the human heart, so he did not place his trust in humans, but placed his trust fully in his Father. He lived in an outflowing way, drawing his strength from his Abba and pouring into the lives of others as they came to him for instruction, healing, and deliverance.
In his life here on earth as God in human flesh, Jesus showed us he valued the qualities of submission, surrender, relinquishment, and obedience over those of independence, self-reliance and self-directed freedom. Every moment of his life was a battle to resist the pull of his humanity into the false values of his flesh and to hold fast to the true values of his Abba.
Submission, for Jesus, was his way of being in relationship with his heavenly Father. He also lived in submission to those around him, allowing them so often to direct his daily life. When he went to a private place to pray and draw strength from his Father, the crowds followed and demanded his attention. His compassionate response was a submission and surrender not only to his heavenly Father’s will, but also to the needs and desires of those coming to him for help.
Jesus said that he only did what he saw his Father doing. He obeyed his Abba’s will in everything, not because he had to, but because he chose to. His walk to the cross on your behalf and mine was not because he didn’t have any choice but to obey. It was because he voluntarily chose to obey his Father. His heart was a heart of obedience.
The scene of agony and passion in the garden of Gethsemane is a real demonstration of the battle waged within Christ’s own being. The evil one whispers to each of us that there is a better, easier way which doesn’t involve submission, surrender, or obedience. Hang on, he says—you don’t need to relinquish anything. Yet he lies—he seeks only our death and destruction, not our salvation.
To be saved from our misdirected ways of being and from our reliance upon ourselves and our resistance to God required divine intervention. God’s love for each of us from before time began was so great, the Son of God was willing to take on our human flesh, live in full surrender and submission to his Father and in a surrender and submission to humanity that would result in his torture, crucifixion, and death.
Knowing what would happen to him, he walked forward to those led by Judas Iscariot and surrendered himself into their hands. He relinquished his rights as the Son of God, allowing himself to be falsely accused, beaten, humiliated and shamed. As Jesus hung on the cross, he had the power and authority of heaven at his disposal—he could have called legions of angels to his aid. But he chose to submit himself to the evil plans of human beings and to this ignominious death for your sake and mine.
Jesus knew what we as humans can only barely begin to understand. It is in dying that we live. It is in humility that we are exalted. It is in submission that we find our true ennobling. It is in relinquishing all we have that we receive what really matters and will last for all eternity. It is in obedience to Jesus and the Father in the Spirit that we find true freedom.
The kingdom of God is a great reversal of all our distorted fleshly values which Jesus brought about in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. This is why we are called to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 13:2 NASB). To value surrender, relinquishment, obedience, and submission is to value what really matters and what will last on into eternity.
Abba, Jesus, Spirit, thank you for all you did for us on the cross—for enduring the agony and choosing to submit yourself to the temporary will of man so that your eternal will was accomplished in Christ. Remove our resistance, our stubborn insistence on going our own way. Fill us anew with your heart of surrender, submission, relinquishment and obedience. Thank you, Jesus, that by your Spirit, you will make this so. Amen.
“All of us like sheep have gone astray, / Each of us has turned to his own way; / But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all / To fall on Him.” Isaiah 53:6 NASB
“So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?’ ” John 18:11 NASB
By Linda Rex
PALM/PASSION SUNDAY—I remember years ago sitting in a church service listening to a pastor talk about conflict and how as couples, it was important to have good communication skills and be able to handling conflict in positive ways. I had learned over the years that the best way to deal with conflict was to avoid it altogether. Now, granted, approaching conflict through avoidance does seem temporarily to create a more peaceful atmosphere in the home. The reality is, though, this method of dealing with conflict exacts a pretty steep price in the end.
When we don’t engage issues as they come up between us and the significant people in our lives, we really don’t create peace. What we create is a mound of unresolved issues that may erupt later as a destructive volcano when stressful events occur in our lives. Avoidance can actually prevent the true resolution of conflict. Handling conflict in healthy ways may in fact increase intimacy and bring healing to the relationship—we may miss out on opportunities to deepen our relationship with another by avoiding conflict.
Yes, we are told “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18 NASB). In the context of this passage, though, we are told not to give back to others the evil they have done to us and we are not to exact revenge on them for the harm they have done us. The point Paul was making, I believe, was that we respond to their evil with good—this is the best way to treat someone who is mistreating you.
This is nigh to impossible for us as humans to do in our own strength. It is definitely counter-intuitive and rubs against the grain of our fallen humanity. If we are honest with ourselves, our response to conflict with another person is make sure our position is defended, our opinion protected and affirmed, and that the other person understands and accepts that we are right and they are very wrong. The way we often do conflict when driven by our flesh involves opposition, condemnation or criticism, and unforgiveness. And when we feel unable to defend our position, we may choose to avoid engaging altogether.
During Lent, we are walking the journey with Jesus toward death and resurrection. What might be helpful is to remember that this journey began long before this cosmos was ever created. The Word of God could have said to Abba, “I really don’t want to have to deal with these humans. I know what they are like. They’re not going to live in relationship with us like they were created to—all they will want to do is go their own way and live in opposition to us. We’ll have conflict all the time.” And he would have been right.
But the Word of God did not avoid conflict by not coming to be with us. Rather he expressed a divine humility in embracing our humanity and taking it upon himself. He did not reject our weaknesses or failures to love, but engaged them fully, face-to-face with us in our human flesh. For him, this conflict would serve a purpose—to restore us to the relationship with God we were created for and to remake our humanity into what it was created to be, enabling us to truly reflect the image of God.
This Sunday we are reminded both of the events of Palm Sunday and those of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, we see Jesus intentionally walking towards Jerusalem and the events which would transpire there. In the gospel accounts, we hear Jesus warning his disciples of what he was facing—his death and resurrection. Even though all his disciples didn’t fully realize what he was saying, they believed what Jesus was doing as he entered Jerusalem that day was significant enough that they participated in the celebration of hosannas and laying down palm branches.
Symbolically, we see Jesus being treated as a triumphant deliverer. The Jewish leaders wanted the hosannas silenced. But Jesus acknowledged this was his day—this was his time. Creation knew its Maker and would honor him even if these people did not.
Jesus wasn’t interested in being acknowledged as a hero, though. He knew the path he walked was a path of conflict and betrayal. Even the one who promised he would never walk away or deny him did. And the one he knew would betray him did so, offering him up to the Jews for a few coins. Jesus did not try to defend himself, but allowed himself to be misunderstood, misrepresented and humiliated. How many of us are willing to engage in a conflict with this measure of self-effacing humility?
The journey of Holy Week takes us from triumph to ignominy. In engaging humanity on its own ground, Jesus experienced crucifixion and death. He was willing to go to these lengths in order for him and his Father in the Spirit to be reconciled with humanity once and for all. What price are we willing to pay in order to make things right in our relationships with others?
Needless to say, it has been impressed on my heart once again that there is no place for avoidance in our significant relationships. Walking in the Spirit rather than in the flesh means walking in the reality of Jesus’ complete offering of himself in spite of what he knew we would do to him on the cross.
It also means that there will be times when on our side, there is no conflict—we are fully accepting, forgiving, and loving toward the other. These can be times where all the other wants to do is live in opposition to us, pouring out on us whatever venom or destruction they can muster up. This is when we don’t avoid the conflict, but rather respond as Jesus did, in offering love and grace—God’s goodness—in place of the evil being offered us. We don’t act in our flesh and take revenge, but walk in the Spirit and with healthy boundaries in place we offer God’s grace and love. The ground of Jesus’ death and resurrection is where we take our stand, and in Christ by the Spirit we find the power and heart to love and serve the one who opposes us.
Conflict then becomes not a ground for hostility or relational destruction, but a sacred offering of openness to the power of the Spirit to deepen and heal the relationship. We don’t need to fear conflict, for in Christ it becomes a way in which Jesus’ can work to bind us together with God and with one another in deeper and healthier ways. The beauty of Jesus’ wilderness journey is that it ends up in an eternal loving relationship of God and humanity bound together forever, not at conflict with one another but in perfect unity. The humility of the cross ends in glory!
Dear Jesus, thank you that you did not refuse to engage us in face-to-face conflict but chose to embrace conflict as a means by which we would be forever united with you and Abba in the Spirit. Thank you, Abba, for participating with Jesus in this mighty work of redemption and renewal. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for working into our being and our relationships that grace and love which Jesus lived out in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Amen.
“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:8 NASB
“I gave My back to those who strike Me, / And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; / I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps Me, / Therefore, I am not disgraced; / Therefore, I have set My face like flint, / And I know that I will not be ashamed. He who vindicates Me is near; / Who will contend with Me? / Let us stand up to each other; / Who has a case against Me? / Let him draw near to Me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps Me; / Who is he who condemns Me? / Behold, they will all wear out like a garment; / The moth will eat them.” Isaiah 50:6-9 NASB
By Linda Rex
LENT—As we continue our Lenten journey, it is possible that the Spirit may be bringing to our attention areas of our lives which need transformation or healing. We may be recognizing our failures to love or our self-centered ways of being and living. We may experience grief and pain in knowing we fall short of what God meant for us to be, or we may be overcome with feelings of guilt, shame, or remorse.
The path we walk this time of year is the path Jesus walked as he headed towards death and resurrection. Jesus purposefully walked this path, knowing full well the suffering and betrayal he would experience in Jerusalem. This did not deter him from his goal. He had something he needed to accomplish and not even the gates of hell would prevent him from fulfilling the promises of his heavenly Father.
Jesus knew the heart of man and the reality that we were broken and desperately in need of being saved. His love for you and me and every other human being who has ever lived or will one day walk this earth was so great, he determined that whatever was necessary would be done so we would be with him forever. Nothing would stand in his way. He would finish what he began.
The wilderness journey we take with Jesus is an opportunity to embrace the reality that apart from him we are powerless over evil, sin, and death. When we look into the true mirror of our humanity, Jesus Christ, we find ourselves on the one hand as sorry, pathetic prodigals, and on the other as beloved, forgiven, and accepted children of God. That which was is gone and that which Jesus made us to be is here—this is what we learn during Holy Week.
Jesus walked the path of our human existence in order to create for us a new way of being and a new life in himself in which we would be included in his union and communion with his heavenly Father in the Spirit. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life in his humanity as the God/man and on our behalf was willing to experience death by crucifixion at the hands of some of the very people he was working to save. The betrayal of those he loved and the evil which laid him in the tomb did not keep him from achieving his objective. Rather, Jesus’ death on the cross set the stage for the redemption of all humanity. This is the glory of the crucifixion.
When we face our brokenness and our failures to love, we need to, in that moment, turn to the one who stood and stands in our place on our behalf. We are not lost—we are found. We are not rejected and forsaken—no, we are embraced and welcomed home. We turn to Jesus Christ, in his broken body and shed blood, and receive the gift of forgiveness and acceptance the Father, Son, and Spirit determined to give before the creation of the cosmos and accomplished on the cross.
Christ’s death for our death. Christ’s life for our life. His perfect relationship with his Abba given freely to us in place of our broken turning away from God. The apostle Paul says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21 NASB). Jesus became what we are so that we might now and forever share in his glory as God’s beloved adopted children.
In Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension our humanity is made new and our relationship with our heavenly Father is brought back into what God always meant it to be and even more. In rising from the grave in his glorified humanity, Jesus brought us all home to the Father—we find that our new life, what God means for us to have and be, is present even now, “hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4 NASB).
We can feel overwhelmed by shame, guilt, or just a recognition of our failures to love. It is good to realize our powerlessness to live as we ought to live. To be truly human as God intended, we need to recognize and admit to our need for him. We are created to be fully dependent upon God and we need to walk in the truth of this. Admitting our powerlessness and our need for Someone beyond ourselves to heal us and to make us what we ought to be is an important step toward transformation and renewal.
Jesus Christ walked the path we were meant to walk. And he sent the Spirit so we could participate even now in his perfect relationship with his Abba and in our perfected humanity held within his person at God’s right hand. We walk by faith, not by sight. It’s hard right now to see the glory of our true humanity because what is evident at the moment is our brokenness and weakness and the ways we fall short of our perfection.
We must look beyond our sins and failures to the truth—we are accepted, forgiven, and beloved. God is still at work. Jesus is still making all things new. The Spirit is still at work taking all Jesus did for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension and making it ours as we respond to him in faith.
The Spirit speaks to our hearts and reminds us we are God’s children, we are forgiven, we are included in God’s life and love. The Spirit is our seal or evidence of the truth of what God has done and is doing in us. We can trust that what God has begun in us he will complete. God has poured his River into the desert of our souls, and through Jesus and by his Spirit he is doing something new.
Pausing to be silent in God’s presence and to meditate on his goodness enables us to become aware of what God is doing, and how he is at work within us and in our lives. Attending to the things of the Spirit enables us to drink in God’s presence and power, and prepares us for greater opportunities of love and service. God has in Jesus given us a path to walk and by his Spirit the resources we need to walk in it. Let us turn to him in faith and in gratitude for all he has given.
Dear Abba, thank you for all you have done and are doing to redeem us, to save us from evil, sin, and death. Thank you, Jesus, for coming and living in our humanity, dying death at our hands, and rising again, including us in your perfect relationship with Abba. Thank you, God, for sending us your precious Spirit—may we always make the divine River at home in our hearts and may be with you both now and forever, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Do not call to mind the former things, / Or ponder things of the past. / Behold, I will do something new, / Now it will spring forth; / Will you not be aware of it? / I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, / Rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19 NASB