Sunday, January 22, 2017

How Love Overcomes Evil: Luke 4.1-13

Very few things - maybe even nothing is more important than knowing the love of Christ. Ephesians 3.14-21 serves as a hinge between the the two major sections of Paul's letter. In Ephesians 1.1-3.13 Paul tells us what is true. To over-generalize, his is the "doctrinal" section of Ephesians. Ephesians 4.1-6.20 comprises the "practical" section of the letter. In this portion, Paul tells us what to do. Paul transitions between what is true and what we must do, by praying in Ephesians 3.14-21 that we "may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" (3.18-19). Did you catch that? The foundation upon which obedience is built, is knowing the love of Christ. The only hope we have for obeying the commands of Ephesians 4-6 is to comprehend the love of God in Christ described in Ephesians 1-3. This directly relates to this morning's study of Luke 4.1-13. Only because Jesus had absorbed the unconditional and affectionate words of his Father at his baptism (Luke 3.21-22), was he empowered to defeat evil in the wilderness. This is the same truth Paul teaches in Ephesians 3. Comprehending the love of God in Christ is the indispensable key to seeing sin defeated in our lives. What's more, we must believe God loves us before we begin to obey God in the way God desires. This is counterintuitive for most of us, because we accepted a false narrative about love. Indeed, we have reduced the definition of "love" to an emotion that is on display when Jerry Maguire says to Dorothy Boyd, "You complete me," to which she responds, "You had me at hello" (insert eye roll). Brothers and sisters, love is so much more than this sappy and emotional sentimentalism. It is love that gets a parent out of bed at 2:30am to comfort a feverish child. It is love that leads aged parents to rush to the side of their daughter whose husband has just suffered a major heart attack. It is love that drives an eighteen year old soldier to storm the beaches of Normandy. It is love that smothers a live grenade to save fellow soldiers. Beloved, the biblical concept of love is so much more potent than the fickle emotions on display in most romantic comedies. C.S. Lewis is helpful when he writes:
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
To love is dangerous. To love is to take a risk. To love necessarily includes pain. To love means your heart might be torn apart. And this is what God was doing in Christ on the cross. And thanks be to God this act of love defeated the Devil forever. May we never underestimate the evil-defeating power of sacrificial love.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Searching for the Unsafe Jesus: Luke 2.39-52

Near the end of C.S. Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he narrates this conversation between Susan and Mr. Beaver. 

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

This exchange captures the essence of what Christ was saying to us yesterday through the Scriptures from Luke 2.39-52. Luke emphasizes Jesus’ wisdom in this, the one story we have from Jesus’ childhood. In the Jewish world, wisdom can be described as the art of skillful living. In the Jewish Scriptures (a.k.a the Old Testament), we encounter an entire genre that is devoted to teaching us how to live a good and wise life. Some of the Psalms can be described as wisdom literature. Proverbs is the most common form. Other wisdom books include Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. These books, in quite practical ways, teach us how to live well within the orders the Creator God has established in his world. The goal of wisdom literature is “to teach men and women these ‘orders,’ so they may know how to act in harmony with the world around them” (Elizabeth Achtemeier). 

Indeed, the Bible has much practical advice that we would call, “Wisdom.” However, when Jesus comes into the world, we learn even more about God’s wisdom. Paul, who never really got over meeting Jesus (see  Acts 9), writes to the Corinthian Church that Jesus has become to us, “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1.30, ESV). Did you catch that? Jesus is the wisdom from God. He is the “order” to creation. He is the arc of the universe. He lived in complete harmony with the world, not as it is, but as God intended it. The problem is, we sinners have messed up the order and so twisted the arc that it is no longer recognizable as God's good design. The good news, however, is that God loves us twisted and twisting sinners, so he sent his Son to live in harmony with what God had designed and his life’s mission was to straighten things out. This is why Jesus’ life was a battle. It was no easy task to restore the world to his Father’s original vision. But that is what love does. Love suffers to give the beloved what the beloved needs. When we treasure Jesus, not only as Savior and Lord, but also as Wisdom, he will teach and lead us toward what life was supposed to be. Jesus’ life is the life we are called to imitate. His life establishes what the good God always intended for us. Jesus is the wisdom of God.

This is where Mr. Beaver’s words to Susan ring true. Because Jesus’ work of restoration is not yet complete, it can feel quite dangerous to literally follow Jesus. To really follow Jesus means we might have to increase in humility. Most of us can say from experience that learning to grow in humility is never pleasant. To really follow Jesus means we might have to be generous to those who might take advantage of our generosity.  And who enjoys losing stuff to ungrateful people? Furthermore, to really follow Jesus means we might have to walk with him directly into the face of danger. But the good news is that Jesus promises by his Spirit, to walk with us and that he will never take us to a place he has not gone before! Indeed, Jesus possesses the experience and the power to defeat hell itself, because after he walked to the cross and stared death in the face without blinking, he rose from the dead on Easter and began to reshape the arc of the universe so that all its inhabitants would always be humble, generous, and never afraid. Brothers and sisters, Jesus is the true wisdom of God. His life is good and beautiful and worthy of imitation. Please follow him. Jesus isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you. Thanks be to God.

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