John 11:54 As a result, Jesus stopped his public ministry among the people and left Jerusalem. He went to a place near the wilderness, to the village of Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples. 55 It was now almost time for the Jewish Passover celebration, and many people from all over the country arrived in Jerusalem several days early so they could go through the purification ceremony before Passover began. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, but as they stood around in the Temple, they said to each other, “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” NLT
The Jews carved out a convenient and workable system of government for themselves even though they were actually under Roman rule. It’s a system dependent on being able to exercise their authority by maintaining a low profile. People are coming into Jerusalem from “all over the country” to ceremonially purify themselves before Passover begins. The stories of Jesus and his miracles are being repeated and many believe. Jesus has become an inconvenient attention-getting detail that has too many people talking.
They gather because this preparation is a necessary prerequisite to their eligibility to participate in the week of Passover. There are ceremonial washings in small pools filled by “living waters” fed by a nearby spring or well. In a land of dust and heat that baptismal-type of cleansing has become both a sign of their repentance from ceremonial pollution and an official pardon for their separation from God. They have evidence from their own Scripture that God has acted on their behalf. They have awareness of needing purity. They have the desire for holiness. They have firsthand stories of miracles people have seen Jesus do with their own eyes. They have the right question: “What do you think? He won’t come for Passover, will he?” Only one right response is missing in all their devoted preparation …Come, Lord Jesus!
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24 NLT
√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken
It did occur to me I could read through all the second chapters of the New Testament but it wasn’t until the first few inspirational thoughts this morning that “what’s next” became “why not? If those “Firsts” during Lent and Easter were God’s theme to direct my thoughts toward the goal of Easter – renewal – then maybe these second chapters are God’s Second Chance to explore the mystery of how renewal happens. You already know this story so here’s the cliff notes from Matthew 2.
Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem…Magi from the east came…2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him”…3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed…8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him”…11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him…12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route…16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
We’ve come from the victory of Easter Sunday only to be reminded of the reality of a worn out, run-down and broken world…then. The magi were powerful men who dedicated themselves to search for the King of the Jews: God’s provision that would renew the heart of a whole nation and ensure it’s survival. Their desire was to become part of that renewal and worship “that” King. Herod was a powerful king who’s only desire for renewal was to make certain of his own survival as king of the status quo. Fast forward from that star and the dreams that guided them to the worn out, run-down and broken world…now.
There is a definite relationship between desire and survival that can misdirect our continuing need for renewal. Renewal is the lifelong challenge of being dedicated to developing the ability to judge desires and circumstances of our world in accordance with God’s will [discernment]. Discernment is our guide today and it’s God’s provision that will renew the heart of a whole nation and ensure it’s survival.
NIV Colossians 1:19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ], 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel…28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
Maybe you’re wondering why my mind searches for such different ways to read Scripture each morning. It’s really pretty simple…I desire to do it but I have to look for ways to trick my mind into denying the lie that I already “know it all.” It’s not a particularly flattering confession but sometimes concentrating on one word or idea from Scripture is what God uses to reconcile the mystery of those two very different realities for me. That word from this Word is “fullness.”
“God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ]” “and through him to reconcile to himself all things.” Once I was “alienated from God” but God in Christ has changed my mind and given me what I need. Mystery solved! It’s a new reality that’s become a promise I can depend on from “the hope held out in the gospel: ”fullness…mine because of his.
V28 MSG The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple.
Matthew 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray:…13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Here’s my question for today. Do you believe God uses temptation to see what you’re made of? My immediate answer was “no.” I think that’s the right answer but temptation and evil are real and Jesus prayer recognizes that. I want my answer to be real too, not just a gut reaction.
Sometimes our focus is more on praying the devil out of our life than praying the Triune God into it to change us. That seems like giving that evil one more power than we should. Sometimes the devil is a convenient excuse for the bad behavior of broken people in a broken world doing awful things.
The Santa Claus Theology: Job 1:9 “Satan replied, Would Job worship you if he got nothing out of it?” Temptation is Satan’s power to destroy faith by convincing us God’s blessing is only a bribe for good behavior.
The Need Theology: James 1:13 “When tempted, no one should say, God is tempting me. For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” God doesn’t waste his power tempting us. He’s focused on building faith first, then behavior. That faith has the power over temptation to reveal our broken desires to US so when we pray “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” we’ll finally understand “desire” for the Triune God IS the blessing and gift.
Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. [NIV]
I try to find ways to read Scripture to experience it’s meaning for my life. That one word “freedom” and the association Paul made to the fruit reminded me of a study method I’d learned from William Barclay’s commentary. Jewish Rabbis would study Scripture based on these four words that formed the consonants of PaRaDiSe:
1. Peshat – literal
2. Remaz – suggested
3. Derush – investigative
4. Sod – allegorical
That idea of reading Scripture as a connection to paradise seems helpful and right. Here are my cliff notes if you want to try this method of studying the Bible for yourself.
1. What is the simplest possible meaning?
2. Is there a sub-text meaning?
3. What can I learn from references, footnotes & commentaries
And finally the bottom line…
4. Can I see how to make these truths a part of my daily life?
1. Paul tells us our freedom was the whole point of what Christ did to free us from the “law.” We have within us a willful desire to identify freedom with being satisfied that what we are doing is right if we meet certain requirements. √
2. Relying on what we think God requires of us instead of Christ changing us is an invisible barrier that distracts us from the real freedom God means us to experience. √
3. New thoughts from Rev. Bruce Puckett at Duke University. “We are a society and a culture that loves (and I mean loves) to talk about freedom… we’ve looked for the wrong fruit within a community and called it freedom. We see…desire for more and more and more — and call it ambition and success. We see strife, dissensions, and factions…and call it our right to individual opinion, and options from which to choose.” √
And finally the bottom line…
4. Pay attention to the distractions of daily life. Don’t let them become an invisible barrier that settles for “fake” fruit. “Walk by the Spirit…” and choose a serving from the fruit of freedom: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. It’s a daily thing.
John 15:14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
It’s a desirable thing to be a servant to Jesus but it’s even better to be a friend. A servant operates on a need-to-know basis to accomplish an assigned task. A friend shares the privilege of knowing the master plan. The great heroes of the Old Testament, Moses, Abraham and David, were honored to be identified as servants of God. They were faithful but their access to God was limited. For the most part they saw God as a chief-of-state they could only catch glimpses of through the eyes of the chief priest and obeying the law.
Now Christ has bridged that gap between servant and friend. This is your assurance: that friendship is yours at the most personal level; the Spirit of Christ living inside you. He did not choose you to live a life based on what someone else may or may not know but has provided all YOU need to know to be his friend. He’s chosen you as his representative so you “might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” in the world we live in – our Father’s world. The ability to know God is only limited by our desire to know Jesus Christ on the same intimate level that he knows his Father.
NIV Romans 4 18-22…a homemade amplified study using the dictionary. It’s just another way to establish our confidence in Scripture and enhance our own  complete trust or confidence in it.
 Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire
 Faith: complete trust or confidence
 Unbelief: lack of religious belief; an absence of faith.
 Righteousness: being morally right or justifiable.
18 Against all  expectation and desire, Abraham in  expectation and desire believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
19 Without weakening in his  complete trust or confidence, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
20 Yet he did not waver through  lack of religious belief; an absence of  complete trust or confidence regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his  complete trust or confidence and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
22 This is why “it was credited to him as  being morally right or justifiable.