Monthly Archives: February 2021

The Plan

John 19 NIV7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid,  9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.  10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” 13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).  14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.  “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.”

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The plan of the Jewish priests and leaders had always been clear – they wanted Jesus dead.  Pilate’s wife has had a dream and warned him about judging a “righteous man.”  His own superstitions have forced him to consider the possibility that Jesus may in fact be a “little g” god.”  He can find no sin in Jesus but Pilate is trapped by circumstances.  He’s tried to set Jesus free but now his choice has come down to who he fears most; Rome, the Jewish leaders, the anger of the local people, or Jesus himself.  Pilate’s decision based on threats, sin and fear was used by God to set in motion His plan of promise, forgiveness and hope:  It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.  “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.”

Avoid Ceremonial Uncleanness

John 18 NIV
28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” 30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”  31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 

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This is the story of a power struggle between legalism and truth.  The thing that shocked me most in this passage was the phrase “to avoid ceremonial uncleanness.” The goal of the Jewish leaders was the execution of Jesus through manipulating the power systems in place, not justice or truth.  The grim reality of their legalism is their shockingly clear response to Pilate’s question – “What charges are you bringing against this man?” – “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”  Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.”  The proof of their legalism was Pilate could achieve their goal to get rid of Jesus so they could avoid ceremonial uncleanness.   It was their choice to justify hearts that had found a way to work around God’s truth; “Thou shall not kill.”

I admit it, I have rules! The whole purpose of rules is to regulate behavior and exert influence. Neither of those is necessarily bad…until…they replace the truth that life with Jesus is how we are justified, not rules.  Have you even thought about “ceremonial uncleanness” in terms of your own behavior?  I certainly hadn’t, but I know I’m guilty of having used rules to justify my motivations and behaviors.  Legalism is believing rules or personal motivations can help you avoid ceremonial uncleanness. The truth of the Grace of God in Jesus is that the “the life I now lived in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”a  

a Part of Galatians 2:20 

Misplaced and Misspoken

John 18:15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door.  So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. 19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. ESV

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One of the first words of Jesus’s ministry was “repent.”  Jesus told his best friends at their inner circle supper just a few chapters earlier that one of them would betray him.  “Simon Peter motioned to this disciple [Jesus loved] and said, ask him which one he means.”a  All but one man in that small group probably heaved a sigh of misplaced relief when Jesus revealed the identity of the betrayer; it’s Judas – it’s not me!   

Later when Peter stood outside the courtyard where Jesus had been taken, the other disciple “known to the high priest,” used his credentials to bring him into another inner circle place where his misplaced relief of innocence became his misspoken words of denial – “I am not.”  Peter surely heard those words of betrayal from his own mouth and realized they belied the innocence he’d been so sure of  earlier…because it was him!  

Judas is the one we usually condemn as the guilty betrayer.  He betrayed Jesus to the guards and Pharisees.  That’s Gospel truth.  Peter’s denial of Jesus was for a different reason and to a different crowd but it was betrayal too.  That is also Gospel truth.  Judas and Peter both came to recognize any relief they might have felt about their innocence was misplaced.  Both felt the anguish of the guilt of their betrayal, but only Peter had the courage to face Jesus, confront his denial, repent and accept forgiveness.  God has chosen those startling similarities and that one big difference between the experiences of Judas and Peter to remind me this Lenten season of something important about innocence and repentance.  

We are human. We cannot escape the results of that brokenness. It’s easy to accept misplaced relief as the standard of innocence when it’s clear someone else is guilty.  We excuse misspoken words as something other than betrayal because judging intent is easier than admitting guilt.  I think the comparison of Judas and Peter has revealed another Gospel truth; repentance is not about relying on innocence, it’s about seeking purity.  Jesus offers so much more than innocence.  We have a Savior who promises to receive the pitiful offerings of misplaced relief and misspoken words into His own heart as an act of repentance from a human heart that longs for true purity.

aJohn 13:24

Three Little Words – John 1:2-8

John 18:2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he…” ESV

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Today is the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday.  The observance of Lent is considered a time of repentance observed through personal denial.  It’s so easy to see in this passage how Judas’s betrayal has separated him from God. I ask you to consider two things to remember about observing Lent: 1) Betrayal is what separates US from God and 2) repentance requires acknowledging OUR betrayal. 

Jesus has provided us a simple example of three little words with so much power they knocked his betrayers to the ground; “I am he.”  Don’t miss the power of those three little words when recognizing your sins have been a part of that betrayal too.  “I am He” acknowledges the reality that our identity with Jesus is what turns a simple act of personal denial into an act of repentance with the power to change us.

Psalm 119:169-176 Taw – Mark, Sign, Signal, Truth

Psalm 119 Taw
169 May my cry come before you, Lord; give me understanding according to your word.
170 May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise.
171 May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees.
172 May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous.
173 May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation,Lord, and your law gives me delight.
175 Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.
176 I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.
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These twenty two sections of Psalm 119 and their relationship to the Hebrew letter the Psalmist chose to “mark” each of them have challenged my thinking from mid November through Advent, Christmas and into this new year, 2021.  Transposing sentences has been a way to pay homage to the Hebrew method of reading Right to Left.  These last eight “right to left” verses were organized with that in mind but with a twist; writing all the right phrases, one after another, and then stringing all the left phrases together after them.  My intent is for them to be read as a whole that gives these important old words a new expression and then consider why the Psalmist marked them with last letter of the Hebrew Aleph-bet, “Taw.” 

The image of the ancient letter, Taw, was used like a signature mark to verify the truth of what was said.  Taw is pictured by two sticks crossed but I don’t see two sticks.  I see a cross!   It’s amazing to consider the Psalmist purposefully chose a mark all those centuries ago to verify the truth of his words and become a recognizable sign of the cross, chosen by God, to verify our future.  Read on please…
                          – Psalm 119:169-176 All Right then All Left –
Give me understanding according to your word. Deliver me according to your promise, for you teach me your decrees.   All your commands are righteous for I have chosen your precepts. Your law gives me delight and may your laws sustain me.  Seek your servant for I have not forgotten your commands.  May my cry come before you, Lord; may my supplication come before you.  May my lips overflow with praise; may my tongue sing of your word.  May your hand be ready to help me.  I long for your salvation, Lord. Let me live that I may praise you.  I have strayed like a lost sheep.
                                                 –––∞ My Thoughts ∞–––
Jesus IS the  Word!  That’s the understanding of God we need.  God’s promise to us lives in Jesus Christ; the way, the truth and the life.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s precepts, laws and commands and He will remove the condemnation of those same laws from those who place their life in Him.  Jesus has completed everything God required to sustain us.  He is our reminder that the truth we now have can hold us firmly while our lips learn to overflow with praise and our tongues find words to sing the song of salvation for lost sheep; being crucified with Christ.  I long for your salvation, Lord. Let me live that I may praise You, glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Psalm 119: 161-168 ש Shin – Tooth

Psalm 119
161 Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word.
162 I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil.
163 I hate and detest falsehood but I love your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.
165 Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble.
166 I wait for your salvation, Lord, and I follow your commands.
167 I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly.
168 I obey your precepts and your statutes, for all my ways are known to you

>§§§> Reading Right to Left but using Columns today

My heart trembles at your word
Like one who finds great spoil
But I love your law
I praise you for your righteous laws
And nothing can make them stumble
I follow your commands
for I love them greatly
for all my ways are known to you

Rulers persecute me without cause but
I rejoice in your promise
I hate and detest falsehood
Seven times a day
Great peace have those who love your law 
And I wait for your salvation, Lord
I obey your statutes
I obey your precepts and your statutes

TAP ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO EXPAND IT FOR READING

Psalm 119:153-160 ר Resh – Head

Psalm 119:153-160 ר Resh – Head
153 Look on my suffering and deliver me, for I have not forgotten your law.
154 Defend my cause and redeem me; preserve my life according to your promise.
155 Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek out your decrees.
156 Your compassion, Lord, is great; preserve my life according to your laws.
157 Many are the foes who persecute me, but I have not turned from your statutes.
158 I look on the faithless with loathing, for they do not obey your word.
159 See how I love your precepts; preserve my life, Lord, in accordance with your love.
160 All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal.

Right >§§§> Left

I have not forgotten your law, look on my suffering and deliver me.  Preserve my life according to your promise, defend my cause and redeem me.  The wicked do not seek out your decrees, salvation is far from them.  Preserve my life according to your laws, your compassion, Lord, is great.  I have not turned from your statutes but many are the foes who persecute me. The faithless do not obey your word, I look on them with loathing.  Preserve my life, Lord, in accordance with your love, see how I love your precepts.  All your righteous laws are eternal, all your words are true.

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Resh – Head might be the Psalmist’s acknowledgement that he knows God is his Head.  He is confident God always acts in accordance with His character.  He is truly certain of what his heart knows about God but his words show us that isn’t always what is in his head.  God has chosen to show us the honest words of this man “after His own heart” because they clearly reveal a struggle between the faith of his heart and the words of his head.  That is the struggle people of faith still confront today.  

The Psalmist knows every circumstance of his life is exposed to God’s own heart. I think that’s what he wants us to learn too.  “We [must] let our mind descend into our heart and there stand in the presence of God.a    Standing in that presence our heart and head can finally recognize the gaps in our faith. That is the place God’s own heart transforms our faith from what our own heart and head know into faithfulness based on knowing God’s law is always balanced by His promises; His decrees by His compassion and His precepts by His love. 

a Henri Nouwen in Spiritual Direction

Psalm 119:137-144 צ Tsadhe – fish hook?

Psalm 119 צ Tsadhe – fish hook?
137 You are righteous, Lord, and your laws are right.
138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy.
139 My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words.
140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.
141 Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.
143 Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.
144 Your statutes are always righteous; give me understanding that I may live.

Right >§§§> Left

Your laws are right.  You are righteous Lord!  Fully trustworthy are the righteous statutes you have laid down.  My enemies ignore your words and my zeal wears me out. Your servant loves your thoroughly tested promises.  I do not forget your precepts though I am lowly and despised.  Your law is true.  Your righteousness is everlasting.  Your commands give me delight when trouble and distress come upon me.  Give me understanding that I may live your always righteous statutes.

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Obviously there isn’t much efficiency in working on two sections of the Psalm at a time if you end up having to say “sorry this section is posted out of order.”  I have been “caught being human too.”

The Psalmist had his own reasons for choosing Tsadhe – fish hook as his title. Today it’s a stepping stone, a mental path, to find truth that makes old words real for contemporary life.  Fish hook is only one step away from the idea of being “caught.” Is the Psalmist caught thinking his zeal for God is what changes his enemies?  Is that what’s wearing him out? Is he caught by his own perception of what others think of him? Is he caught by his own trouble and distress? Is he caught being human? The answers to all of the above may well be yes.

That’s why his words seem familiar – they’re still struggles of being human today. Maybe Tsadhe – fish hook – is the Psalmists’ way of remembering being “caught” is also what makes it possible for him to find a positive response to those negatives.

He’s “caught on” that despite thorough testing, he still loves the promises of God. He’s “caught on” that God’s righteousness is everlasting but his circumstances aren’t. He’s hooked by these truths that allow him to live, to believe, to be faithful…even though he’s caught being human too. He’s been caught and firmly hooked by a righteous and trustworthy God.a

aReposted from September, 2016