The Red Words #14 March 19, 2019

Jesus gathered them all together and said to them, ‘Those recognized as rulers of the people and those who are in top leadership positions rule oppressively over their subjects, but this is not the example you are to follow.  You are to lead by a different model. If you want to be the greatest one, then live as one called to serve others. The path to promotion and prominence comes by having the heart of a bond-slave who serves everyone.  For even the Son of Man did not come expecting to be served by everyone but to serve everyone, and to give His life as the ransom price in exchange for the salvation of many.’  Mark 10:42-25

Your local bookstore presents you with all kinds of self-help books that promise to make you ‘great’, ‘successful’ and ‘outstanding.’  But in these three verses, Jesus succinctly lets us know precisely what greatness is all about: serving others.

serve

In the previous verses, James and John request privileged places of authority in seats at Jesus’ right and left. They recognize that glorification awaits Jesus. The authority He has exhibited in His ministry will lead to something big, perhaps to a royal rule, and they conspire to capitalize on that.  However, they’ve missed key principles that He has been teaching His disciples along the way.

But they are not the only disciples enticed by visions of a triumphant reign, for the rest of the disciples are fuming over the request of James and John to be chosen for prominence.  With His typical patience,  Jesus corrects their attitude by referring to abusive rulers as negative examples, rulers who depend on coercion and control to maintain their power.

In absolute contrast, the Lord explains that greatness is measured by the ability to live as servants.  Jesus’ final line — “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” — connects to his preceding words about service, indicating that His death will be exemplary for such a way of living.  His death will exemplify the resistance that His teaching and ministry elicited from those who held power over society, and it will exemplify a radical renunciation of ‘privileged’ authority.  And what makes this last statement so utterly radical is that the very Son of God is the One declaring it!

The word for ‘ransom’ indicates that his death does something; it secures a release.  But that release is not simply to set free, but to set free for a purpose!  We are set free from the grip of sin and selfishness in order to become like Him, the One who came to serve.

Serving others is a magnificent expression of several virtues, including humility, patience, gentleness and self-control.  In fact, all of the fruits of the Spirit outlined in Galatians chapter 5 in one way or another are related to our interactions with others, how we treat them, how we ‘serve’ each other.

In the book, SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP, by J. Oswald Sanders, we read, “True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing men to one’s service, but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.

Key word – selfless.  The great leader leads by becoming a servant of all.

A servant leader is not looking for status, position or prominence.  A servant leader just looks for opportunities to serve.  And we are ALL ‘leaders’ in some way or fashion – in your home, in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your church, etc. because leadership is not measured by title or position, but by INFLUENCE.

Leadership is about directing or motivating others in the right direction.  Leadership is not about dominating, but about ministering to the needs of others.

A leader for God is different than the crowd. Why? Because his heart is different.

What are the characteristics of a godly leader’s heart?

● Christ rules it.

● God’s Word transforms it.

● Integrity guides it.

● Trials reveal it.

In this serious hour of history, the Lord is looking for disciples with a different heart; a heart to INFLUENCE those around us by our example.

There is a saying attributed to Francis of Assisi that I have always liked: ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.”

In keeping with today’s RED words, let me re-phrase it this way: ‘Go into all the world and demonstrate Jesus; use words only when necessary.’

 

 

The Red Words #13 March 12, 2019

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and having set her in the midst of the courtyard, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman; what then do You say?’ They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard this, they began to go out, one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone and the woman, where she was, in the center of the courtyard. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord’. And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on, sin no more.’  John 8: 3-11

In this account in John 8, Jesus confronts a band of cold, self-righteous religious leaders and a woman who was guilty of sexual sin, and He handles both with such wisdom and grace that we marvel at Him.

While some scholars argue over this passage, how much more important it is to meditate on ‘the Red Words’.

He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?

I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on, sin no more.

It is clear the Pharisees and Judges of the Law felt that they have Jesus trapped by this; they have an airtight case, this “let’s get-Jesus” committee!

You cannot read this, however, without asking yourself, “Where is the man in this adulterous union?” They had been caught “in the very act,” and yet only the woman is brought before Jesus. Some of the commentators suggest that perhaps they knew the man and let him go. We do not know. But this indicates that a double standard was very much in effect in those times just as it is today.

These scribes and Pharisees referred to the law in the book of Leviticus in which God, speaking through Moses, had said that adultery was to be punished by stoning. They knew that Jesus was “The Friend of Sinners,” that He was always on the side of the unfortunate and that He spent His time, not with the righteous, the wealthy or the respected, but with publicans and sinners. They obviously expected Him to forgive her and the minute He did, they would accuse Him of contradicting the law of Moses. They were sure they had Him trapped.

What he did was to stoop down and begin to write with his finger on the ground. Wouldn’t you love to know what He wrote?

Some have suggested that perhaps Jesus wrote a verse from Jeremiah: ‘O Lord, the Hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord.’   Jeremiah 17:13 .  This could be but we don’t know for sure.

Whatever he wrote, the scribes and Pharisees apparently misunderstood him. They thought he was stalling for time, and they kept pressing him, asking him again and again to answer them. So, standing up, Jesus looked them right in the eye and stunned them when He uttered these famous words, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Actually the word he uses is “sinless,” “let him who is sinless…” This is the only time Jesus ever used this word.

Jesus does not minimize the seriousness of the sin, but He refuses to align Himself with the harsh and arrogant attitude of the Pharisees toward the sin. What He says, in effect, is, “You are no better than she is. Your hearts are filled with murder and hatred.”

adulterouswoman

The haughtiness and hatred for Jesus that was evident in their eyes and demeanor clearly revealed that they were willing to use this woman in order to ‘get’ Jesus.  They really cared nothing about her sin; she was a convenient means to their evil agenda.

Jesus saw right through them and addressed the corruption of their hearts.  When He stooped down to write, could it be that He quoted from the book of Daniel? “You are weighed in the balance and found wanting,” (Daniel 5:25-29).

Whatever it was that He wrote, it utterly derailed their carefully laid out plot.  One by one, they started walking away.

And you know the rest of the story.  With no one left to condemn the adulterous woman, Jesus uttered these remarkable words: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’

Notice how Jesus calls her attention to the fact that she has no human accusers. He has dismissed the jury; their own malice disqualified them to judge her.

As the only Sinless One, Jesus alone fulfilled the qualifications to stone her. But He did not do so because He clearly forgave her.

Without forgiveness, justice must be satisfied. God never dismisses sin as trivial. His own truth, his law, his holy character, demand that any deviation from righteousness be punished. Justice must be satisfied — unless sin is forgiven. So it is clear that the basis on which our Lord said these words is that he had found a way to forgive this woman her sin.

A legalist will protest, “How could he do this? There was no basis for it. In fact, she doesn’t even confess her sin, or repent of it, or even say she’s sorry. Didn’t Jesus himself go about preaching, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”? What do you say to that?

The answer is, “Yes, there must be repentance.” God is not a grandfatherly type who says, “That’s all right. Forget it. I won’t hold it against you.”  There must be repentance. Even God cannot forgive sin which is not acknowledged.

But when you say, “Yes, I did it. It’s wrong. I agree with you,” that is repentance. Then forgiveness can come. “But where does this woman do that?” someone may ask.

The answer has to be, “Within her heart!” Remember we are dealing with One who knows the hearts of men. He knows what is going on in the inner thoughts. He knew her heart. Somewhere in the course of this incident she had to have repented.

Perhaps it was when she saw how Jesus handles this crowd of hypocritical judges, and she sensed the mercy and love that was in His face. Perhaps it was then, in His presence, that she realized how wrong she was, that she had sinned, and she repented. When she did, Jesus forgave her, obviously anticipating his death upon the cross for her.

The cross is always an eternal event in the mind of God. In anticipation of that cross, Jesus forgave her sin. The proof of it is in the words he next said, “Go, and do not sin again.”

If we have acknowledged our guilt, and received God’s forgiveness, the Lord is saying to us, “Go, and do not sin again.” He could never have said that to this woman unless something had happened within her.

This amazing scene speaks to all of us. When our sins are forgiven it is to free us that we might begin to live a different lifestyle; never to go back to the things that we have left behind. Forgiveness is always designed to set us free. That is why it is given.

Mark this truth: When Jesus forgave this woman that is what he did: He set her free to be a different kind of person than she had been before.

He does the same for you and for me. Sin is sin; it will always be sin and the only remedy we have is to sincerely repent, receive God’s forgiveness because of what Jesus did on the Cross of Calvary and re-commit ourselves to the Lord and to His Word.

I love the chorus written several years ago by Bill Gaither:

Something beautiful, something good,
All my confusion he understood.

All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life.

Perhaps it was a sentiment like this that lived on in that woman’s heart for the rest of her life.

If we have found forgiveness from the Lord, remember always that we are forgiven so that we, too, might “Go, and sin no more!”

Thank God for His amazing love!

The Red Words #12 March 5, 2019

Twice in the list of Beatitudes Jesus made the statement: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3,10.  It’s particularly interesting that this is the reward He assigned to the first and the last Beatitude.

Jesus actually repeats the words ‘the kingdom of heaven’ six times in the Sermon on the Mount.

Despite theological arguments about ‘the kingdom of heaven’ versus ‘the kingdom of God’, let’s make it quite simple.  They are the same.

The term has been defined in a number of ways but this is my favorite: it is the realm of the unhindered Holy Spirit within us.  We experience the ‘kingdom of heaven’ when the Holy Spirit rules over our life; when He is at home in us.

HS2

Now the Holy Spirit is always with us once we are born again for Jesus said: I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.  John 14:16-17 . What a fantastic promise!

We learn from these verses that the Kingdom of heaven is invisible, inhabitable, internal and inherited.

Invisible: the Jewish people at the time were looking for a visible, tangible kingdom to be established with political power to overthrow the Romans.  Even the disciples thought that way. But Jesus said: ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed…’  Luke 17:20

Inhabitable: we can actually ‘live in’ the kingdom of heaven for He promised the poor in spirit that ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’  When the Holy Spirit inhabits your spirit, heaven has come to you.  As Paul put it: Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:27

Internal: as Jesus described it, the kingdom of heaven would dwell in the hearts of those who followed Him and His presence is experienced as we learn to hear His voice and follow His leading.

Inherited: you receive an inheritance when someone dies. Therefore, no one could inherit the kingdom of heaven until Jesus died. Because He did, and rose again triumphant, everything changed for mankind.  By embracing what He did on our behalf and becoming born again, we are now able to inherit – internalize and experience – all the benefits of Redemption.  We become, as it were, the living, breathing, walking and talking kingdom of God on this earth.

Jesus also explained that this inheritance could only come to those who righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).  The only way that is possible is by the work of the Holy Spirit within the born again believer.  Elsewhere in the gospels, we are shown that the righteousness of the Pharisees consisted of external ‘works’ apart from a changed and transformed heart and mind.  Religion majors in externals – the Holy Spirit majors in the attitudes of our hearts, changing us to become more like Jesus, which opens the way for us to enjoy the ‘kingdom of heaven’ while here on earth and guarantees us eternal life with God in heaven.

The ‘kingdom of heaven’ also presupposes that there is a King!  Without a King there is no kingdom!  Jesus said: ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Matthew 11:27 . Furthermore He said, ‘For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it.’  John 5:21

That means that no one enters the Kingdom by accident but by invitation.  We choose to follow the Lord, not because our parents or our grandparents did.  It’s not a matter of human nationality – I’m Irish because my parents and grandparents were Irish.  Becoming a subject in the Kingdom of heaven is a choice, a life and death decision each of us is invited to make.

Without the Holy Spirit, none of us can grasp the depth of meaning in the words ‘the kingdom of heaven.’  It is only by being born again through the work of the Holy Spirit within us that we begin to learn how powerful this is.  Salvation does not come through performance of a list of good works but as the gift of God. It is not about what we do but what God does in us when we submit ourselves to Him.

To enjoy the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our ongoing journey through life, Paul gave us two commands: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and Do not quench the Holy Spirit. (I Thess. 5:19)

To grieve the Holy Spirit is to refuse to allow Him to do through you what He wants to do.

To quench the Holy Spirit is to refuse to allow Him to be all He wants to be through you.

May we never do either one!

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