photo taken from dailylifeverse.com
As we look out into the world, it can be easy to be discouraged, pessimistic and even cynical. Maybe the last year wasn't filled with good memories, or maybe it was, but it was also mixed with bad ones as well. Even if that weren't so, it doesn't take long to look around and realize the world is full of hurt, violence and brokenness. It can be hard to see any silver lining or light on the horizon, but it is in these moments we need to be reminded most of the greatest story of all--the story of when love came to earth, the light of the world. Jesus brings hope for all and hope for a better and redeemed future.
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. …So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
The light of the world comes and shines a light and reveals what is genuine and what is counterfeit. So, what does this light reveal exactly? Jesus, as the light of the world, reveals to the world what God is really like and sets the record straight about who God is (Col 1:15). As well, He shows us what true humanity is supposed to look like, by both redeeming it and leading us to a better way--full of life (John 14:6). Take a look at what Jesus says about both Himself and us as His followers:
Notice how He uses identical language to describe Himself and us. As His redeemed, spirit-filled followers, we are called to be His representatives, His ambassadors, His image bearers on earth. We are, of sorts, a mirror that reflects the light of Christ into dark places, illuminating the darkness and revealing what is genuine and what is counterfeit. The issue that arises is when our view of Christ doesn't line up with who He really is and in turn, we mirror someone or something that does not represent the Jesus of the Gospels, but a Jesus of our own making and in turn represent both a counterfeit Christ and a counterfeit humanity.
For some, Christ resembles more the leaders that Jesus adamantly opposed; or, for others, Christ resembles more the slavery of the religious system that Jesus came to set us free from; and even some, Christ resembles more the broken world that Jesus came to actually make new and refurbish. Let us make sure the light we are revealing is the same LIGHT that came to earth revealing what is genuine--the truth of Himself and His people.
So, let this LIGHT we carry in us, the LIGHT we are, shine into the darkness everywhere we go, this LIGHT that is full of LIFE, FAITH, HOPE and LOVE--for this age and the age to come.
Why Did Jesus Let the Adulterous Woman Go?
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus. They claimed that according to the law she should be stoned. They were right, Leviticus (20:10) and Deuteronomy (22:22) both demand that she be stoned. It was the law.
What does Jesus do? In typical fashion, He brings it back on them. He says “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Something weird happened next, they all left. Obviously they heard the truth in Jesus' words and realized that, if this woman is guilty, they are too.
The teachers of the law were doing what was right according to the law. They based their whole lives on it and were desperately trying to be justified by it, but, they got it wrong. Even though they had correctly understood the letter of the law they did not understand the meaning of it or why it was law in the first place. They were too busy with the details to understand the reason it was law in the first place. They couldn't see God's big picture.
Maybe we get too caught up in policing sin. Maybe it isn't our job to bring sinners to God for judgment. Maybe it is our job to bring them to Jesus
I think we are doing the same thing today. Just like the pharisees did, we bring certain groups to God and expect Him to punish them for their sins (or worse, allow us to exact judgment). We forget that we too are guilty and should not throw any stones. Like the Pharisees did, we should walk away confused at the magnificence of God’s radical grace.
In the story of the adulterous woman, Jesus is the only one capable to pronounce judgment on her. Instead, He shows grace and mercy and tells the adulterous woman “go and sin no more”. Because He is the only one that is eligible to throw stones, and doesn't, His message of grace shines in a world of sin and judgment. It is His goodness that leads people to repentance, not stones.
Maybe we get too caught up in policing sin. Maybe it isn't our job to bring sinners to God for judgment. Maybe it is our job to bring them to Jesus so that they may feel what true grace and mercy feels like. Maybe it is our job to bring the sinners — ourselves and others — to sit at Levi’s table.
Who Was Levi and What Does It Mean To Eat at His Table?
Levi was a tax collector. In other words, a social pariah and traitor. A Hebrew, he unfairly collected taxes for the Roman empire from his own tribe. He betrayed His own people for something as frivolous as wealth. The Pharisees thanked God that they weren't like Levi and the other tax collectors. The rest of the people probably thought so too. People legitimately hated him, and for good reason.
Jesus told Levi, “Follow me” and then, I think, He invited Himself over to eat with him and the other tax collectors and sinners. We don't know everyone that was there but we do know the type of people that would be hanging out with Levi: Misfits, outcasts and sinners. The religious people noticed this and they criticized Jesus for it. They asked, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus' only response was to tell them that only sick people need doctors.
This voluntary lowering of His status for the benefit of the people is part of what makes Christianity unique. It's what makes grace so scandalous.
Jesus calls us and then fellowships with us even though we are tax collectors, gluttons, homosexuals, revilers, drunkards or whoever.
What Does This Mean For Us Sinners?
So, if Jesus is eating at Levi’s we need to be there and invite our friends there too. We have a choice, we are either eating with sinners or complaining with the pharisees and we need to be with those that Jesus is with. It is important to remember that we do not get an invite because we are better than the other sinners. We are the tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves.
If Jesus accepted the sinner that would eventually become St. Matthew then He surely accepts everyone. It is Jesus' prerogative to transform people and everyone that encounters Him authentically will be.
A common theme in the Bible is God using the broken and unqualified, these examples are no different. We are no different.
We know how Jesus’ influence changed Levi’s life. He became a disciple of Jesus, he stuck around to witness the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Later, he would be used by God to write a Gospel. Likewise, consider that many believe the adulterous woman to be Mary Magdalene, if that is true then this woman that was caught in grievous sin became a follower of Christ and was with Him at the crucifixion and was the first witness to the resurrection. A common theme in the Bible is God using the broken and unqualified, these examples are no different. We are no different.
We should give the Pharisees a bit of a break though. Obviously they didn’t know how to understand Jesus. It was a major paradigm shift for them whereas we are firmly in the new covenant, what is our excuse?
Spread the gospel, even to sinners. Let God convict and transform them. If not, we may find that our Lord is reclining at their table enjoying a meal and we are outside wondering “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
by Charlotte O
Violent, loving God
A lot of people think of Christianity as a violent religion, and it certainly does have a violent history. This is a topic I normally wouldn’t tackle with a 10-foot pole because it is way too controversial for my normally people-pleasing self. But we’ll see where this takes us.
A lot of people I know here in Taiwan are Buddhists. In fact, I visited a Buddhist temple last week and it was a very peaceful (if solemn) place. Most Buddhists I know can’t really understand a God who would order his people to kill others. And increasingly, neither can I. When I look at what ISIS is doing, I pray that Christians will not be painted with the same brush. But I also wonder what the response must be.
After watching The Imitation Game, (slight spoilers ahead) I was pondering the grave responsibility that fell on the team once they made a major breakthrough. They became directly responsible for saving one group of people and sacrificing another. All for the greater good of winning a war. Later, Benedict Cumberbatch muses: am I a war hero, or a criminal? Soon after we learn that their actions actually did shorten the war by at least 2 years, which saved more than 14 million lives. But it came at a cost.
In some ways, I wonder if human history is God’s response to cracking Enigma. Did using the means he has until now ensure the highest possible rate of salvation, despite what looks like thousands of years of needless suffering? Does the only way to save a lot of people while preserving free will require sacrificing some? I’m not sure if I totally accept this premise, but I do believe that God’s ultimate goal is most certainly the redemption of humanity and not its destruction. Maybe we just need to see the big picture. But what does that mean? Does the end justify the means? If the violence displayed by Christians was only limited to post-biblical actions like the Crusades or Westboro Baptist it would be a lot easier to simply blame flawed human interpretation of God for it all, and that is the default I tend to find myself in.
Of course I don’t have all the answers, but for me, looking at the big picture is helpful.
But there is the slight problem of the Bible. In the Old Testament, we have a seemingly severe God ordering complete destruction of entire races, the killing of innocents in a worldwide flood, and so much more. In the gospels we see God’s wrath being poured out on his Son as he suffers the most violent death possible. How does all this fit with the God who says in Jeremiah, during a time of horrific destruction, “I have loved you with an everlasting love”?
Of course I don’t have all the answers, but for me, looking at the big picture is helpful. What is the purpose of the Bible? It is a record of God’s interaction with humans, as told through the human lens. A lot of things in the Bible are valuable more for the principle behind them rather than the direct application. An example of this is something I read in the Old Testament that must be very important, because a similar commandment occurs up to five times in two books:
Don’t cook a calf/goat in its mother’s milk.
Being a curious person, I actually Googled it because it just seemed so random to me (plus I have a taste for milk-flavored hot pot which is quite popular in Taiwan). The ideas behind it seemed to be showing that God wanted to honor the sanctity of life and the bond between mother and child, and to show some respect for the animals that gave their life to feed us. And also, as is so often the case, to set his people apart from the practices of the neighboring nations. Those very people whom God would soon order the Israelites to kill: man, woman and child.
So what about Jesus? He seemed like such a nice, turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. What are we to think?
The first explanation I ever heard for this is that these people were in fact, far from innocent. The Canaanites weren’t just hanging out at home watching Netflix and posting cat pictures on Instagram. They were a brutal people with brutal gods who would sacrifice their own children in order to get favor. And that was something God could not abide by. As I recall a professor in Bible college saying, after 400+ years, it was enough and they had to be stopped. It was actually a judgment on their wickedness and Israel was the instrument, and the ‘People of God’ got to learn valuable lessons in the process. The comfort I gain from this lies in the fact that this was a very different time in history, a time of wars and tribes and scarce resources, and that there are so many provisions made for the ‘foreigner living among you’ which is both a foreshadowing to the New Testament and a reminder that God was actually quick to forgive those who were willing to choose Him. There are other explanations and a LOT more that could be said, but maybe I should save that for the scholars.
So what about Jesus? He seemed like such a nice, turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. What are we to think? Is it just too bad, as others have said, that his dad was such a meanie? A lot of times people say that the God of the Old and New Testaments seems like a totally different entity, though I tend to disagree as I see examples of love and wrath in both. I was listening to a podcast called Ask Science Mike who discussed both of these issues. (He also approaches the above Old Testament problem in a very different way if you’re interested). And he said something very profound about the cross. So profound that I had to keep rewinding the podcast so I could write it down. It reminded me of the days before searching for lyrics on the Internet when I would listen to CDs (or even cassette tapes) over and over to write down the words to my favorite songs. He said:
The cross was not God’s invention – it was ours. In all our need for an eye for an eye, I have to wonder sometimes if God listened to us cry for blood and offered his own – If Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not to sate God’s wrath, but to show God’s response to ours.
As we stumble toward Easter, this idea gives me great pause. This could change everything. Maybe it already has. It seems as though we have a God who is willing to suffer violence in order to make sure there can be a day when no one will ever have to experience violence again. As Cumberbatch said in The Imitation Game, “Humans like violence because it feels good. For a brief moment, we carry out justice, regardless of the consequences.” I don’t think God likes violence any more than He likes injustice. But he is willing to suffer right alongside of us in order to show us a higher way.
Where in my world, can I be an instrument for peace instead of violence?
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