An Angry Jesus?

Jesus Cleanses the Temple
(image courtesy of cagnz.org)

No April Fool’s joke here, the Scriptures that describe the events leading to the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus give us two examples of an angry Jesus.

When last we spoke, adoring crowds welcomed Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. The building excitement of His ministry seemed destined to conclude with Him being crowned King of the Jews. The events in the narrative of the following days do little to disprove the people’s belief that their earthly king was about to take his crown.

Picking up the story in Mark’s Gospel at Chapter 11, verses 12-19, we find evidence of an angry Jesus. It is now the following morning, and Jesus and His disciples are walking back to Jerusalem. Along the way, the author tells us Jesus was hungry and walked toward a fig tree, hoping to find something to eat. As He reached it, the Lord saw that it had only leaves and no fruit. Seemingly angry, Jesus then says to the fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (Mark 11:14 NIV)

We see another example of an angry Jesus later that same day as He entered the temple in Jerusalem. If you will recall, these were the days leading up to the important celebration of Passover. Many Jewish pilgrims would have been in Jerusalem for this event, fulfilling their vows in the temple. Those travelers who did not have the appropriate animals with them for the sacrificial rituals would have to buy them from opportunistic sellers in the courtyard of the temple. Also, because these people came from some great distances, the currency they used in their home village would not be usable at the temple. Therefore, money-changers were also doing a brisk business there.

Jesus comes upon this scene and angerly disperses these merchants, saying, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17 NIV) It is not difficult to close your eyes and picture the scene: mass confusion as small animals, various coins and bewildered worshipers are scattered about.

I don’t know about you, my Most Appreciated Readers, but I rarely spend much time contemplating an angry Jesus. I would much rather picture Him smiling at small children, teaching in the countryside or performing one of His many documented miracles. Yet, there is no denying that the Jesus told of here in Mark Chapter 11 is an angry one. And as I was taught early on, “if it is in the bible, it is important.”

What, then, is up with an angry Jesus? One view might be that He simply was under considerable pressure. His earthly time of ministry was coming to a close with a horrible, painful death on the horizon. I know that when I am feeling mounting expectations, I often can act more rashly by lashing out at things and people.

This is understandable with me, a foible human. But what about Jesus, the Son of God. Why not quietly point out to the temple vendors the issues He had with them and for that matter, how about miraculously make figs appear on that leafy tree?

The Withered Fig Tree - St. George's Church Burlington
(Image courtesy of stgeorgesonline.com)

Allow me to share an opinion or two on these occurrences. With the fig tree, I believe it would have been self-serving of the Lord to feed Himself in this way. Jesus had the power of heaven at His command, and He had used it wisely throughout His time on earth as a means to point people toward God the Father. It simply would not have been appropriate to manufacture a ‘to go’ meal with this power.

Also, as we read on, we find that Jesus and His disciples walk the same path to Jerusalem the next day. On it they see the fig tree in question, and it is withered. Jesus uses this to point out that those who were merely doing ‘religious things’ for their own profit were like this tree; lifeless in spirit and producing mothing of worth.

By clearing the temple in the manner in which He did, I believe Jesus was sending a strong and clear message about how we are to worship God. As He expelled the merchants and bankers, Jesus left no doubt as to what the priority is to be for those who claim to worship God: He alone is worth our undivided devotion. The temple was not to be a market, but rather a place where the world is set aside in order that focus could be placed solely and properly on the Father.

These emotional outbursts, if you will, serve another important point as well. Earlier I mentioned how it is I normally picture Jesus. These thoughts and images are of a loving Savior, who willingly sets aside everything in order that He reach the hearts of people. While this is a true picture of the Lord, it is not a complete one.

Along with being all-loving, the Savior is also perfect and holy. His justice is perfect always. His character cannot be impugned, nor should anyone doubt the complete honesty and consistency of His actions in dealing with creation.

I believe it to be essential in our spiritual growth to maintain this more complete picture of who and what God is, for it is in His perfection that we can completely place our trust. As we consider more of His character, we become able to better understand His love for us.

Yes, He is all-loving. But it is in the completeness of His nature that this total love can best be seen. He is holy. There is no part of Him that can abide with sin in any form. Yet, He loves us infinitely.

This is a love we cannot hope to earn, and blessedly, we do not have to. God, in His total wisdom, knows full well that you and I can never perform enough pious acts to win our way into His grace. Therefore, because His loves knows no bounds, He simply loves us because we are His creation.

This universal love was/is on display clearly upon the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion. The fullness of deity is found in Jesus (Colossian 2:9-10). He was both fully God and fully human as He walked the earth. This fullness includes everything we have considered here today, and so very much more.

Please take a few moments this week as you prepare to celebrate the Resurrection to consider more deeply the full nature of the God who saves.

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

Hey God, are you listening to me?

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(Image courtesy of WordPress)

Generally when I, or I suspect most people, ask another, “Are you listening to me,” we want to make sure our point was received or to get a positive response way more than simply wondering if what was said was in fact heard.

I believe the same principle applies when we pray. Our desire is to not only get the Almighty’s attention, but also to get the response to our prayer that we want.

I am also aware that many followers of Christ have spent lots of time earnestly praying for others as well as themselves. I have been asked more than once by these folks if God really listens to our prayers. I realize that the companion question to this is, ‘Does God answers all our prayers?’ Though I am confident that He does, the purpose of this particular blog is to address the inquiry of whether or not God is listening to our prayers.

Though the anecdotal evidence I have gathered through years of ministry point to a resounding ‘Yes!,’ that God is listening, I believe going to the one true source, the Bible, will give us the clearest and infinitely more reliable answer. Please know that the following in no way exhausts the truth found in Scripture pertaining to God hearing our prayers, but it is my hope that these few examples will eliminate any doubt lingering in your heart or mind (Spoiler alert: God is always listening!)

Clear proof that God is listening can be found in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 9, verses 22- 23 record this message being delivered to Daniel by the angel Gabriel: “Daniel, I have now come to give you understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.” (NIV)

Notice how quickly the answer was made; as soon as you began to pray. There is no call waiting with God, no need to leave a voice mail, He is listening.

Here’s an example of one of those long time, devout people I mentioned earlier found in the beginning of the Gospel of Luke learning that God is always listening. Zechariah, who was to become the father of John the Baptist, had been praying to God for a son. He continued this fervent prayer even though he and his wife Elizabeth were now quite old. As we soon learn, age and circumstance pale in the face of the Almighty’s power and plans. One day, as Zechariah, a priest, was about his duties in the temple, an unnamed angel appeared to him: When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” (Luke 1:12-13 NIV)

Once again, prayer was heard. There is so much more to consider here in this particular passage, but I’ll leave it for another time except to say isn’t cool that the angel knew both Zechariah and his wife by name? This tells me that our prayers are not going to some faceless call-center, but rather are being received personally and with great care.

That is just two examples of prayers being heard. I take great encouragement from them (even if an angel has not been sent to me to deliver the answer!). As if the evidence of Daniel and Zechariah having their prayers heard were not enough, Jesus Himself shines the light of truth on the matter. Immediately before calling His friend Lazarus back to life, the Gospel of John records Jesus saying the following about being heard by the Father: So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42 NIV)

Jesus, in complete assurance of what He said was heard by the Father, spoke those words for the benefit of the crowd gathered there and for us. God is listening, always.

Here is one more example, this time from Father God Himself. In 2 Chronicles Chapter 6, there is recorded a long prayer that King Solomon prayed as He and the people dedicated to God the newly completed temple. Please take the time to read this prayer as it is a wonderful example of what our heart position should be when we approach the Almighty in prayer.

Then in Chapter 7, we read that the dedication is over and the people have been dismissed to their homes. It is then that God appears to Solomon and says, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.” (2 Chronicles 7:12 NIV)

No angel was sent to Solomon with an answer. Rather, God Himself delivered the message that the prayer offered had been heard.

As stated earlier, this barely scratches the surface of biblical evidence of God hearing prayers. But, you might be thinking, Daniel and Zechariah were notable characters. Maybe their standing moved their prayers up the line faster than those of ordinary folks like you and me.

Not to worry. Our limited and finite abilities as humans to take in information influences how we think God can. Never forget, He is omnipotent. He is limitless, we are limited. Because of His infinite capacity to care for us, He is able to hear all our prayers as we pray them.

I hope these thoughts on whether God hears us when we pray brings you some comfort in this regard. Next time we’ll consider if God answers all our prayers. Until then, keep on praying: God is listening!

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

Footprints

 

Footprints-in-the-Sand-Poem.jpg

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Many of us are familiar with Footprints.  It hangs in many offices and fellowship halls.  It serves as a reminder that God keeps His promise to never leave nor forsake us, no matter how tough the going gets.

Like many things I get familiar with, however, the purpose of this poem gets put into the back of my mind.  I may see it on a wall, but won’t stop to read it because I already know what it says.

I caught myself walking by Footprints the other day as I hurried to my next appointment.  Allow me to tell you what happened next.  I recognized (and more unusually) listened to the still, small voice of God telling me to stop and look at it.  I did.  The words were the same as always, yet something appeared to me that never had before.

The premise of this beautiful piece is that God carries us Himself when we can no longer carry on.  I have known this truth in my life and have witnessed it many times in the lives of others.

Here’s what grabbed my attention like I had never seen this before: The depth of the Lord’s footprint never changes.  Regardless of how much of our burdens He collectively carries, He is not slowed in any way.  Also, His gait never changes.  The stride remains consistent.  He carries our burdens, never having to stop and re-adjust the load.

The Lord can, does and will carries us along.  The question becomes, why don’t we let Him?

Blessings,

Pastor Chuck

image re-printed from onlythebible.com

Jesus is Mighty God

(The following is an excerpt from a message I preached at Lakeside Christian Ministries a few years ago.  It is the second in a four-part series that examines the four different names the prophet referred to the Christ child as, some seven centuries before His birth.  This one is titled: Jesus is Mighty God)

The world around us proclaims with excitement that this is the holiday season.  On the simplest of levels, I suppose it is.  If you start the clock, if you will, at Thanksgiving, over the next six weeks there is Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa.  Each of these traditions hold their own unique celebrations, keeping many people busy and filled with expectations of merry times with presents to be exchanged.

I’m not here to put a damper on anything, but at the same time I am here to speak as clearly as I can about what the birth of Jesus meant and means for all people and for all time.  How Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies, like the one I’m writing about again today, points to the power and love of God, who predicted and then fulfilled His awesome salvation plan through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, the world has successfully turned this incredible time into a materialistic mania. This has caused much spiritual darkness, so much so that many who know that God has given the Light of the World, Jesus, still live in fear of the darkness.  It is my hope and prayer that by considering the prophesy of Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah, we can all experience more of the awesome light of God in our own lives, and thus be able to shine it better into our hurting world.

Let’s continue with our discussion of Isaiah 9:6 as we consider the four titles the prophet gave to the coming Messiah.  Please recall that these words were first uttered some 700 years before the Lord was born.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)

In my previous blog I examined Jesus as the fulfillment of the Wonderful Counselor.  Jesus was/is the incomprehensible and perfect counselor, full of all the wisdom and knowledge of everything.  His counsel is divine, and ought to be sought by us in all things.

This time let’s uncover some more of who this Mighty God is.  Let’s start by not overlooking the obvious; this child born is God.  Ray Pritchard of Keep Believing Ministries says it this way: Who is Jesus Christ?  This baby born in the manger is not just the Son of God, he is also God the Son.  He goes on to say; if he is not God, we are fools to worship him.  If he is God, we are fools not to.

The Hebrew word that was translated as God in Isaiah 9:6 is El.  It means the Strong One.  Once again God stretches us to consider His unfathomable power.  After all, what is less mighty than a newborn baby; and yet this is the title that the prophet gives Him.  Much the same as how this child was to be born in a town so small it didn’t even make the map of those days (Micah 5:2); here we have our all-powerful God coming to dwell among us as an infant.  God challenges us to think beyond our finite limitations to behold His magnificence.

As per Jesus’ advice, we must take these deep issues of faith as a child (Luke 18:17).  This can be difficult to do in our time with so much information available at our finger-tips.  If I thought that this wealth of knowledge was in fact bringing with it real peace for folks, I might suggest we use it exclusively in our quest for understanding of this Mighty God.  But as I do not see this happening, why not join me in taking a bit of a child-like look at Jesus.

The title Mighty God that Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah gives the indication of a conquering hero, a warrior that fights against anything that might injure His people.  Who better than a child can picture this type of hero overcoming to save the day?  Yet the comfort here goes beyond just knowing these battles are being fought for us because this Mighty God is the ultimate conqueror who cannot be beaten.

Consider what Matthew Poole’s commentary has to say about this: The mighty God: this title can agree to no man but Christ, who was God as well as man, to whom the title of God or Jehovah is given, both in the Old and New Testament,  (Jeremiah 23:6 John 1:1 Romans 9:5), and in many other places. And it is a most true observation, that this Hebrew word El is never used in the singular number, of any creature, but only of the Almighty God, as is evident by perusing all the texts where this word is used.

Understanding that Jesus is the Mighty God opens our hearts and minds to so much that the scriptures tell us about Him.  Our Mighty God Jesus is the reason to not let our hearts be troubled because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).  Our part in this is to have strong enough faith to believe Jesus meant us and our trials when He made this promise.

It is only Jesus, as Mighty God, who could/would defeat the power of sin and death by His victory on the Cross.  Once again, we see God stretching us to see that eternal life springs from physical death.  It is through the unlimited power of God that the bridge back to Him is constructed.  The vast separation sin cast between us and God could only be spanned by Jesus, the Mighty God.

I wrote last time how Jesus fulfilled the prophesy of Messiah being the Wonderful Counselor.  I have endeavored today to shine some light on to the fact that the Lord was/is/will always be Mighty God as well.  The well-known worship song Indescribable written by Laura Story and Jesse Reaves and made popular by Chris Tomlin, pretty well sums up these points about our Mighty God.

Indescribable, uncontainable, you placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name, You are amazing God.  All powerful, untamable, awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim, You are amazing God.

The child who has been born, the son who has been given, is our Mighty God.  My words cannot adequately express the might He contains, but with the child-like wonder I mentioned earlier, we can gaze upon Him and give our praise to Him.  We can offer thanksgiving to Him who has this incomparably great power. 

We do this because of all the mighty power that we’ve talked about and witnessed, there is nothing greater than what Jesus did for all mankind on the cross.  What is impossible for us to do, Jesus did, as He explained in Luke 18:31-34.

The Lord accomplished, as only God could have, the atonement for man’s sins.  What is impossible for us to achieve, Jesus has done by willingly taking our punishment on Himself.  This baby, so often pictured in a peaceful scene in a manger with farm animals looking on, came to this world to die an ugly and incredibly painful death, so that the awesome, mighty power of God could be displayed in His resurrection.

May we all come to a greater appreciation of just what this season celebrates, as we do joyfully proclaim the birth of Jesus.  A birth foretold centuries years before the fact by the prophet Isaiah, which allowed the Mighty God of heaven to take up his dwelling among us.  My we sing joyfully at the sight of His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophesy of the Mighty God.  He continues to fulfill it in the hearts and lives of believers since then until now and forever more.  He is the all-powerful creator.  He is the light of heaven shining on all people.  He is Mighty God.   Amen.