A Trusting Heart

vacay

Consider…

Jesus said, “Consider the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you of more value than they?” (Mt. 6:26)…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Mt. 6:28-30)

I’ve done a lot of considering this past week. I’ve seen some amazing things which have inspired contemplation. I’ve considered the birds of the air flying gracefully over rocks, crags, and rivers of the Grand Canyon. I’ve considered the wildflowers growing amidst giant Redwoods in the cool of the forest. I’ve considered the limitlessness of the ocean, the vastness of the desert, and the stunning brilliance of stars, moons, planets and galaxies.

In each wonder of the physical world, I have considered my heavenly Father and my place in his creation. With the psalmist, I have resonated, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, Amy, that you care for her?” (Ps 8:3, italics my paraphrase) The words of Jesus have played on repeat in my head, fighting their way into my consciousness, “You are more valuable than all of this!”

For Jesus, his admonishment to consider was attached to a loving command not to worry. He doesn’t say, “Don’t worry or else,” but rather, “Look at what I can do! Don’t worry; I’ve got you!”

When I was a kid and we went on a trip, I always marveled that my mom and dad knew the way there and back. It was a great mystery to me, but I never worried about getting to our destination or getting home. I loved to fall asleep in the car and wake up in my bed. I could sleep because I knew my parents to be trustworthy and capable.   I never doubted that I would get home.  I knew that my dad would carry me to my bed.  It was a great way to travel!

The Law of Hebrew Scripture fostered utter trust in God, dependence on Him that yielded peace. “I am the Lord your God who knows how to get you out of bad places and lead you to good places; don’t trust any god but me. I love you and am jealous for you, so wear my name proudly.” (my paraphrase of beginning of the ten commandments, Ex. 20:2-7)

When Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious about your life, what you will eat, drink and wear…don’t worry about your death…don’t be anxious about tomorrow” (Mt 7:25, 27, 34) he says, “Your daddy is in the driver’s seat, and He knows the way home! He even knows what you like to eat, drink and wear, and all the good stuff that you like. He loves you and wants to give you good things.” (Mt. 7:9-11)

All you have to do is look at the world around you! Consider. Seek the kingdom of God. Ask. Dig deep into the heart of the law, and find God to be a really good dad. You really can trust him!

Do you ever hear, “Don’t worry,” and then worry that you worry too much? Relax. Look out your window. It’s beautiful out there and God is taking care of it all! He loves you even more than all of his creation! Rest your head on the pillow in the back seat of the car. Close your eyes and rest. One day your dad will carry you home and you’ll wake up to a scene that makes even the Grand Canyon or the Redwoods pale in comparison. Jesus paved the way and His Spirit is with you, leading you home.

A Humble Heart

Humility-CS-Lewis1

Have you ever seen What Not to Wear, TLC’s version of a horror/makeover show? The horror part comes by way of a three way mirror, in which “lucky” participants get to see themselves up close and very personal in the clothes and “look” they usually wear. I have never seen anyone “like” what they see in this magnified reality box, especially as the world watches with them. Humiliating, made to feel foolish, is a word that seems to adequately describe the experience. The value, however, is always surprising, a look inside oneself that changes everything.

Jesus seemed to have a similar strategy when he taught his disciples how to “look” at themselves and others.  One heart condition that the law intended to shape was humility. Humility…a low view of one’s own importance; the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people…not our human default setting. It can’t develop without taking a long hard look at yourself and the state of your heart. This always involves a little humiliation. The result however is a perspective that changes everything!

Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)  This is the right way to judge.   Look intently at yourself in the biggest mirror you can find, the Law/Scriptures. (James 1:23-25) Your flaws will be obvious, your need of a savior overwhelming.  Your only option will be to lean into grace.  Then care enough to see people.

As you start noticing others through this lens, a new perspective emerges. Instead of criticizing their flaws, you’ll see yourself in them.   Maybe you’ll start thinking about what you wish others would do for you in that situation, and you’ll start doing it for them. (Matthew 7:12) From empathy is born compassion, reconciliation, and genuine love.  Instead of loving things and using people, the paradigm shifts. From a perspective of humility, we start loving people and using things, the way God intended. (Randy Harris, Living Jesus)

From this template, Matthew 5:21-26 reads like this to me:

So Amy, you’re doing awesome not murdering anyone, but how are you doing with your anger? Do your words convey arrogance and contempt or humility and grace? Do people leave a conversation with you feeling valued or shamed? This is important. Think.   Have you wounded someone recently? Go make that right.   Don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Expose your heart, feel the pain of your flaw(s), and make it right with words and action.   Reconciliation is better than what you may think is worship.   Remember, dearly loved one, when your heart is pure, you’ll see God and the people around you like He sees them.

Humility may seem like thinking less of yourself, but really it is just thinking of yourself less. (C.S. Lewis) When you see yourself clearly, that’s a welcome endeavor!  The good news is that we experience the ultimate makeover! On What Not to Wear, when someone is made over, they seem to value themselves, not because they become vain, but because they see a transformed “outside” and it seems to reflect a transformed “inside.” They submit to a humbling process and they change.

Friends, Jesus offers us more than $5,000 and a new wardrobe. He says we can “put Him on!” We can wear his perfection, because he took on our imperfection, a remarkable trade! When we look at the made-over us, our outside reflects His Spirit inside – a transformation indeed! We know Jesus was humble and we have his mind! (1Cor 2:16) We can do this!

 

 

 

The Heart of the Law

law-in-our-hearts

My husband has been in the hospital this past week. There has been a lot of pain and a lot of waiting on his part. I heard him say once in frustration, “Just tell me what I have to do I have to get well, and I’ll do it.” The unexpected answer was more along the lines of “It’s up to you,” the last thing he wanted to hear. I tried to reassure him that sometimes medicine is more of an art than a science. It’s a matter of balancing how much pain one can and should withstand while the body attempts to right itself, submitting to its master’s design.  Stopping the pain is sometimes necessary, but it can slow down the natural healing process.

The spiritual nature of man is no different. Physically and spiritually, humans desire the path of least resistance. We want to do the minimum required effort to achieve an acceptable amount of comfort. We often struggle to balance pain control of the heart, while the mind and body attempt to right themselves to the master’s design, the pursuit of righteousness at its core. We’ll numb heart pain to just follow the rules. The vulnerability of the heart, however, is the key to healthy life in the kingdom of God.

As Matthew records Jesus’ words in this famous sermon, he addresses this fundamental tension. Jesus tells his followers words that almost every directive to follow will be based upon. He says, “Don’t think that I’ve come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I’ve not come to abolish them but to fulfill them!” (Mt 5:17-20) Jesus was saying that the law is really good. God revealed his heart in the law, and Jesus came in the flesh to make God’s heart (one of justice and mercy, grace and peace) very real. Jesus wants us to radically expose our hearts so we can live like him! Our righteousness, he says, has to exceed the head knowledge, self-abasement, and rule following of the uber-religious people (scribes and Pharisees) to even step foot into God’s kingdom. (Mt. 5:20)

The God fearers Jesus encountered were like my husband, wanting to avoid pain and be well. They had been following Jewish law all their lives. They revered the Scriptures. They tried hard to follow the rules. They tried to stay away from sin. In the gospel of Mark, some of the best law followers even asked Jesus point blank, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mk 12:28) When Jesus took two treasured laws to love God and to love neighbor, he, as love incarnate, said that the whole of the law is fulfilled in living and loving like me. Trouble was that involved brokenness, submission, humility, rejection, and even willingness to die, pretty painful attitudes of the heart. Jesus was the perfect example of living out the heart of the law. He did it for us, so that he could continue to live it through us.

Tim Keller explains this beautifully. He said,

“Jesus boils all the law of God into one principle – love, directed to God and to others. Here Jesus is going to the very heart of the core dilemma of ethics. Human thinkers have for centuries felt there was a tension between “Law” and “Love.” Do I do the legal thing, or the loving thing? Jesus is not so much picking one or two rules over the others, nor is he choosing love over law, but rather he is showing that love is what fulfills the law. The law is not being fulfilled unless it is obeyed as a way of giving and showing love to God or others.” – (Tim Keller, Jesus the King, p. 146)

The remainder of Jesus’ words, in this great sermon, will boil down to living out the heart of the law in a way that shows love to God and to others. I have a pioneer who lived this law perfectly, and who longs to live it perfectly in me. My part is to expose the heart to both pain and joy; His part is to do the healing and the healthy living. Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick.” (Mt 9:12) I’m thankful that God allowed me to see myself in a hospital this week. I’m asking Him to make my heart tender and vulnerable as he reveals the healthy life he desires for me. Will you?

You Are

saltlight

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” – Kathryn Stockett, The Help

If you read The Help or saw the movie, you know the formational impact of these words. This is the creed that Aibileen, a black housekeeper and nanny to white children, used to reassure herself as well as the often neglected and psychologically damaged children in her charge. Spoken in love and affirmed by action, these words provided a stable framework on which identity and self-worth could be built in an otherwise tumultuous and confusing environment.

Jesus builds a similar platform for his disciples to stand on as he begins to deconstruct and rebuild the law they thought they knew so well. In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:13-16), Jesus follows his personal blessings with this creed: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You really are. (emphasis mine) Spoken in love and affirmed by action, Jesus’ words are a solid foundation on which to build a difficult life of discipleship.

There is much to be said about the qualities of salt and light, but they are best understood by virtue of what they are, not what they do. Salt is one of the Earth’s most abundant minerals found predominantly in bodies of water. Even fresh water has trace elements of salt, but the oceans have an almost unlimited supply. Salt is salt by nature of its composition – sodium and chloride. It doesn’t have to try to be salt, it just is and always was. “In the beginning, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the (salty) waters.” (Genesis 1:2) Salt dispels decay and promotes life, even from earth’s beginning.

Light is a natural agent of illumination. It dispels darkness. Wherever it is, darkness is not. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep… And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3) Light was at God’s command. It marked the beginning of creation. It wasn’t the sun, but God himself that enabled visibility before there were any eyes to see it.

Salt and light are at God’s discretion. He does with these elements what He wills. When Jesus, son of God, called his followers salt and light, that is what we are, not what we are trying to be. As Paul once put it; our lives are now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3) Through Christ, by our new nature, we are now God’s incarnate agents in the world. As salt, God uses us to dispel all the bitterness, decay, and dullness the world has to offer. As light, God uses us to dispel all the darkness, evil, and death that the world can muster. Our light is not our good deeds, but rather the means by which people see that they are good. When they see goodness, all the glory goes to God! We can either accept this truth and by the Spirit submit to life as salt and light, or by the flesh, dilute and hide what God has made us to be.

“You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”  You can almost hear Aibileen say to Mae Mobley, “Don’t let anything else define you; I see something great in you. Live well, child.”

“You are salt. You are light.” You can almost hear our Father God say, “I see myself in you. Live well, child of mine.”

We Shall Overcome

th (8)

I recently visited the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. I was moved by a speech I heard in its entirety.  Johnson gave this address to the nation after the march and subsequent violence in Selma, AL as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others faced civil inequality head on.   Many civil rights leaders, black and white, described this speech as giving them the courage to continue on.  Here is the ending:

This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, or no hesitation, or no compromise with our purpose. We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in.

And we ought not, and we cannot, and we must not wait another eight months before we get a bill. We have already waited 100 years and more and the time for waiting is gone. So I ask you to join me in working long hours and nights and weekends, if necessary, to pass this bill. And I don’t make that request lightly, for, from the window where I sit, with the problems of our country, I recognize that from outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.

But even if we pass this bill the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.

And we shall overcome.

To summarize, Johnson was saying, “This is going to be really hard, but it is worth the struggle. You (insert any name) can do this.” In Matthew’s inspired recollection, Jesus opens up the first of five recorded discourses, what we know as his sermon on the mount, in a similar way. Jesus is laying out some challenging instructions in this sermon for life in his kingdom. To follow will require joining him in working some late nights and weekends carrying a heavy cross.  He lovingly bids us to overcome with him, the confines of sin and death.

His words convey empathy and love, “You’re blessed when you live like me in this kingdom.” We often read the opening list (the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12) as if, then statements. If you are poor in spirit, then you will get the kingdom of heaven. I think they are better understood with the template of the last one: blessed, when statements, “You are blessed when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt. 5:11-12) Read this way, the Beatitudes are personal and courage giving, characteristic of Jesus’ words.

I read them like this:

Amy, you’re blessed when you are left out and rejected. It hurts, I know, but the kingdom of heaven, a great home, is yours, love.

Amy, you’re blessed when you mourn. You live on earth, where sorrow abounds, but you’re part of my kingdom. Comfort here is like no other, because I’m redeeming it all!

Amy, you’re blessed when you demonstrate my humble nature. Even though it seems like you’re getting stomped on, we know something they don’t: we (as God’s children) inherit all the good stuff of creation!

Amy, you’re blessed when you’re hungry and thirsty for me. The hunger pains and dehydration are perfectly satisfied by me, the bread of life and eternal, living water.  You have access to me, my Spirit, 24/7.

Amy, you’re blessed when you show mercy – even when they don’t deserve it. When you forgive, you are reminded that you have undeserved, unearned mercy, new every morning, in me!

Amy, you’re blessed when you struggle for purity in your heart. It’s worth it, because you see God through a lens of purity!

Amy, you’re blessed when you do the hard work of making peace. That’s God’s nature; when you do it, you reflect your Dad!

Amy, you’re blessed when you suffer loneliness, hurt feelings, and deep pain from other people. I know how that feels. It’s devastating, but we can still rejoice and be glad. We’re not alone in his kingdom. Others have gone before us, and have overcome. A crown, proof that we are son and daughter of the King, is ours already and awaits us in the future.

Amy, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise…what I’m about to tell you is a really good way to live!

The kingdom of heaven is ours, friends, and WE CAN do what Jesus will ask of us in his sermon on the Galilean mountain side.

We shall overcome.

Holy Words

Jesus words

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ― Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

Jesus’ first spoken words in the Gospel of Matthew highlight a theme of the book, “One does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4, NRSV) The Word values words. He is sustained by the words Father, Son and Spirit spoke through prophets and poets and historians of old, recorded in ancient Scripture, even as he, God’s Word made flesh, now speaks them. The author of the text, Matthew the tax collector, one of Jesus’ closest twelve disciples, records more words of Jesus than any other gospel account. Perhaps the words of his teacher, friend, and master pierced his skin, entered his blood, and worked their transformative supernatural power.

My dad is a great storyteller. He can put words together in ways that engage listeners young and old. I’ve watched him push my children, nieces and nephews on a swing for hours, engaging their minds and their hearts with stories that reveal truths about God. They are mesmerized, and remember the stories long after my dad has forgotten them. They trust my dad because he invests in them, loves them, and speaks in words that they can understand, about topics they know and care about.

I think Matthew encountered a master storyteller in Jesus, a rabbi like no other. He and other listeners were blown away because Jesus spoke with great authority, yet connected with them personally and with loving simplicity.  His words revealed deep truths about God while mesmerizing the listeners with stories they could understand. They remembered his words, because God the Son invested in them and loved them, modeling and then expounding on life in the kingdom.

Jesus’ words, however, were never docile. They always created tension. He called his followers to be all in, sold out to laying down their lives, and taking up a daily cross (a representation of humiliation and shame). He demanded they leave everything behind to follow him. He compelled them to live counter-culturally, to take the law to a new standard of radical purity. He infuriated religious people. He claimed to be the Son of God and Son of Man, the anointed one, Christ, Messiah (a king in the line of David), a teacher, a servant, a friend, Lord of lords, and Savior to all. If his claims were true, then his words were the very words of God! This truth caused listeners to either hang on every word, or run away.

God spoke through prophets, priests, judges, and kings, but he spoke a life-giving Word, himself in flesh, and his words change everything. We have the words preserved by a guy who remembered hearing them! We can still hang on every one, read and apply them, meditate on them, and let them work their mysterious inner miracle inside of us! The Spirit of God continues to speak, as he and his words now reside in us, as living and active as we are! I hope the words of Jesus in Matthew, over the next few weeks, will take us prisoner and simultaneously set us free.

 

Breakfast at the Beach

th (5) 

I love breakfast. Breaking the fast begun the night before has a unique quality of anticipation and expectation. Eyes unfocused. Body disorganized. Mind perplexed. Stomach unfilled. The mind and body are screaming for fuel, empowerment for direction and focus for the day. Caffeine, carbs, and protein seem to fit the bill.

As the gospel of John comes to a close, Jesus has died, but death hasn’t won. The tomb is empty, but confusion remains. The disciples’ eyes are still blurry and their minds are still baffled as to what following a risen Lord looks like.   They don’t realize that what they need is a good breakfast, a breakfast on the beach.

The epilogue to Jesus’ story, John 21, opens on the Sea of Galilee sometime after Jesus’ resurrection.   Jesus shows up at work for Peter, James and John, Thomas, Nathanael, and others.   Fishermen by trade, they’ve returned to familiar waters, unsure how to continuing “fishing” for men now that their rabbi has relocated.  Jesus returns to the very place that he called these guys to leave their nets and follow him, a place where they’ll recognize his voice and his fishing instructions. (Matthew 4:19)

Jesus finds them fasting, so to speak. They’ve been out all night and have been unproductive, no fish to speak of. At one word from Jesus and a change of direction for their nets that defies logic and common fishing sense, they haul in a mother-load.   Rather than the result of their own effort, this catch points only one direction, to Jesus himself. No one is going to beat Peter to his Lord and his God!  He grabs hold of his loin cloth, jumps in the water half-dressed, and swims ashore.

When the others meet Jesus on the beach, he’s waiting for them at a charcoal fire, a painfully familiar site for Peter. It’s here that Jesus calls them to eat with him, breaking their fast with the bread of life and living water. He restores the disarray their bodies are experiencing with fish and bread, but he heals their histories and renews their mind with the power of his Spirit!

It’s on this beach, around a warm fire and with a full belly, that Jesus lovingly restores Peter, giving him three opportunities to reverse his denials and declare his love for Jesus. Jesus empowers Peter to do kingdom work, to continue to fish for men and to tend to sheep, the church, and even to endure suffering in his name.   He empowers John and the others to do the same, and he does the same for us today. It would not be on Peter, John or any of the others’ skills or strength that the gospel would advance after Jesus’ departure, but on the collective work of the Spirit in each one as his remaining body, the church.

Peter and John understood that the Spirit is not merely a spiritual influence, but is rather the Spirit of Jesus himself living in his followers. In one of his letters, John said “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 John 3:24) Peter spoke of the Spirit of Christ in his followers that pointed the way that they should go in one of his letters of encouragement to the church. (I Peter 1:11)

Gary Burge said it this way, “The work of the church is not religious energy fueled by our sense of commission; it is a call to work, wed to a divine empowering; it is ministering knowing that Christ himself (through the Spirit) is ministering in and through our efforts.”

Just like breakfast fuels the mind and body, so the Spirit fuels the church. Jesus left both on the beach that day. Eat up and drink deeply!  Jesus is alive in you today!

Blood and Water

 

blood-in-the-water

It’s impossible for me to eat fried chicken and not think of my grandparents. Not only did my grandmother make the best fried chicken in the universe, but it’s also the only thing my grandparents ever went “out” to eat. Fried chicken and Mamaw and Grandaddy just go together.

For the apostle John, throughout his entire gospel, it’s impossible to read about water and not think about God’s Holy Spirit. The two simply go together for John, as they did for the Jews as well. When God inspired him to write his gospel, it’s no wonder that this rich symbolism would permeate the masterpiece, as he worked to define Jesus as God.

On the cross, John takes the symbolism even deeper. Water is now mixed with blood, and pours forth from Jesus’ dead side. (John 19:34) For a Jew, blood was the only appeasement for sin, as detailed in God’s Mosaic Law. Blood took on new meaning at the Feast of Passover. Just as a pure lamb, whose bones were not broken, was sacrificed in Egypt and its blood shielded a home from death (Exodus 12:45, Numbers 9:12, Dt. 21:23, Ps 34:20), so Jesus, on the day of preparation for Passover, presents himself as a Passover lamb, whose bones were not broken, producing precious, life-giving blood. This blood was shed once for all, a living stream of atonement for all who would take cover under its gracious protection. (Hebrews 9:13, 22)

For a Jew, water was a ritual source of purification in the Law, a washing and renewal system synonymous with the Spirit of God. For every condition of uncleanness, a washing with living water was required.   At Passover as at the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews especially remembered the water that flowed from the rock for Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. It became a symbol of God’s abundant, life-sustaining provision for his people, a mark of their status as his chosen people. Out of Jesus abdomen flowed the water he had promised in John 7:37-39, part of himself, his Spirit, given to humanity upon his glorification to remain incarnate in each believer, his newly chosen people.

When blood and water flowed from Jesus’ pierced side on the cross, it more than displayed his humanity. It confirmed his divine purpose, and secured life for you and me. God the Son, fully man and capable of the cruel death sin demanded, and fully God, uniquely sinless and singularly qualified to reconcile himself to his people poured over and into us blood and water. Our part is to accept the gift and walk by the Spirit he left us.

John sums it up well in his first letter. “This is he who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree…And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (I John 5:6-8, 11-12)

Paul says this way to Roman Christians and to us, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:16-17) Fried chicken reminds me that I am loved and part of a wonderful family.  So water, a basic element of our bodies and our world, reminds us that we are loved by the King, who gave his blood and his Spirit to make us a part of his family forever!

The Cup Jesus Drank

wine

Several years ago, I had a colonoscopy and was asked to “prepare” for the event. The “cleanse” this preparation entailed was not as refreshing as it sounds. I was encouraged to drink a cup of liquid dynamite, so vile it made dirt seem sweet, every two hours for an entire day. The first few times seemed bearable compared to the violent convulsions and dry heaves my body displayed knowing the bitterness that was coming with every subsequent attempt.  Years later, my brain can still remember how rancorous that stuff tasted and the terror it unleashed on my insides. It was a bitter cup.

John’s mother once asked Jesus if her son could be Jesus’ right hand man in his kingdom. (Mt 20:20-24, Mk 10:38-39) Jesus’ response was curious. He said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” When John said yes, Jesus said, “You will drink my cup…”

This same John, in his gospel, refers to this “cup” again. After he describes Jesus’ arrest by Roman guards, and the subsequent attempt by Peter to turn the event into a brawl, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Put your sword in its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (Jn 18:11) This is John’s only reference to this cup, but the Synoptic gospel writers consistently report Jesus’ use and deepening of the metaphor.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe Jesus sharing a Passover meal with his disciples prior to his arrest. (Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22) Mark records Jesus’ words when he took the third of the four Seder cups of Passover, the cup of redemption, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.  “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (14:25-25) He asked them to drink it as well.

Passover was an exercise of shared remembering for the Jews. In Exodus 6:6-7, God made four promises to his people, Israel, that they remembered in four symbolic cups of wine at this special memory meal: (1) “I will take you out of Egypt,” (2) I will deliver you from Egyptian slavery,” (3) I will redeem you (from death) with a demonstration of my power, and (4) I will acquire you as a nation/make you my people.” Jesus drank the first three cups with his disciples, highlighting the third, but what about the fourth cup? Could it be the cup he claimed he would drink anew in the kingdom of God?

The “cup” metaphor is still in Jesus’ thoughts as he moved from the Passover meal to the Garden of Gethsemane. (Mt 26:39, Mk 14:36, Lk 22:42) In his heart-wrenching, bloody-teared prayer he says, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, but not as I will, but as you will…If this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Mt 26:39,42) The Old Testament is full of imagery of God’s cup of wrath, a bitter cup indeed. (Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 31:17, Jer 25:15-28, Revelation 14:10)

Finally, with Jesus hanging from a Roman cross suffering all the agony a human body and divine soul can endure, John brings his reader back to Jesus’ cup. (John 19:28-30) Near death, Jesus said, “I thirst.” Delivered to his lips on a hyssop branch (the same type of branch used to spread the Passover blood over the Israelites doors all those years ago) was sour wine. After he drank it, he said, “It is finished,” and breathed his last.  Could this be the fourth cup of Passover, ushering in the kingdom of God anew, and declaring all who would accept this sacrificial gift as children of God?

Jesus knew the bitterness of the contents, but he willingly drank the cup his Father gave him to drink, on our behalf, converting a cup of wrath into a cup of life.  John likely recalled that Jesus had told him he would drink this cup. It would be a cup of salvation and joy (Ps 116:13, Ps 23:5), but also one of suffering and death. He had told him earlier “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt 16:24, Mk 8:34) The irony of drinking this free cup of life, is that it costs the believer everything.

I drank a bitter drink once. It flushed out the junk, so that doctors could look inside my guts, and give me a clean bill of health.  Jesus drank the bitterness of the wrath of God. He drank every last drop of suffering and death that my sin deserved, and made it possible for God to look into my heart and declare me clean, his daughter, stamped with his unique seal of ownership, his Spirit. We can drink to that!

Why We Are All Thirsty People

thAM24ZKMY

Isolation is catastrophic.   A baby cannot survive without human touch. Elderly people who are socially isolated are twice as likely to die prematurely. Loneliness impairs immune function and spikes inflammation, so it literally makes us sick. As human beings, made in the image of relational, three-persons-in-one God, we require connection.  We thirst for it with a primal intensity. We are all thirsty people.

John quotes Jesus as saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:35-37) John comments that Jesus said this in reference to someone who was coming later in the story, someone who would connect us to God in a most beautiful and intimate way.

John, one of Jesus’ closest personal friends, knew loss and loneliness well. He watched his friend writhe in agony on the cross. He took Jesus’ mother home at his friend’s dying request.  He marveled over breakfast on the beach with his risen Lord, but then watched him leave again, this time for good.  He carried on in Jesus’ name as a leader of the church in Ephesus.   He lived long past his martyred fellow apostles. He was exiled to an island where he saw a great vision from God. I think John had experienced the Holy Spirit in very personal ways throughout his lifetime. At least half a century after Jesus’ ascension, John is penning the words of this gospel account, an old man still waiting to see his friend again.

John remembers Jesus promise of the Holy Spirit throughout his gospel, always connected to a water motif, but in chapters 14-16 John highlights Jesus’ last words of encouragement to his followers before his death. These words have no doubt shaped John’s own personal relationship with God the Father and Son by God the Spirit ever since. In intimate fashion, John made clear that Jesus promised not to leave those who believed in him as orphans, isolated and alone. God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit would now incarnate themselves in the heart of every believer, an eternal presence, like a perpetual spring of living water.

Jesus makes startling claims in regard to his Spirit in five unique references in this text! He told his disciples (including John and now including us) that if they have faith, they will do the same things Jesus has done and even greater things than he did! Say what?! He said it as better if he left them, so that his own Spirit, the Counselor, would come to them. Could this be true?! This Counselor/Helper/Holy Spirit/Spirit of Truth, will dwell with/in each believer! He will continue to teach, remind, testify, convict, and guide into ALL TRUTH each individual who collectively form the body of Christ, his church!  The Spirit, alive in people, will bring glory to God on earth and in heaven, long after Jesus leaves the earth and returns to the Father.

It is this Spirit, Paul would say, that connects us to God as a child to his daddy. The Spirit gives us breath to cry out as Jesus did, “Abba Father” (Daddy God) as the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God. (Romans 8:15-17)  This is not just good news, it’s amazing news! Just like only water can quench a deep thirst, only the Spirit of God can fill the deepest desire for connection that is inherent to humanity. Not only did Jesus absorb the wrath of God that our sin demanded on the cross and overcome death in his resurrection, but he left his Spirit multiplied millions of times over in every believer who would follow him since. We are not alone. Ever.

 

References to the Spirit in John 14-16:

#1 – I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, because I am going to the Father…If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father to give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (14:12, 15-18)

 

#2 – All this I have spoken while with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (14:25-26)

 

#3 – When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (15:26-27)

 

#4 – But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I’m going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement, in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me, in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer, and in regard to judgment because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:6-10)

 

#5 – I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own, he will speak only what he hears, and will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (John 16:12-14)