The Highest Heaven

Image by WILLGARD from Pixabay

 

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

The reading in Luke takes us to the cross where Jesus suffered through hours of torture. The torture had begun before daybreak when he was given 39 lashes with a whip-like the cat-o-nine-tails, only with more tails and metal weights tied to each end. It is unlikely that he had any skin left on his back. It was the blood loss from that beating that caused him to die so quickly.

Whether your arms are tied or nailed to the crossbar, letting all your weight hang on your arms puts too much pressure on your chest. Your lungs have a hard time sucking in enough air and fluids accumulate around your heart, preventing it from working very well. What you must do is stand on your feet as much as possible to relieve the pressure. We have records of men surviving for weeks that way.

In the instance of Jesus’ crucifixion, he was too weak from blood loss to stand for long, so he died quickly. The two thieves had their legs broken so that they would die before sundown to avoid upsetting the Jewish Shabbat.

But the torture is not really the point of Jesus’ crucifixion. Look at who Jesus claimed to be. In Matthew 26:63-64, the High Priest asked him point blank: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” ESV Jesus always stated that he was the Son of Man (which in the First Century was a common name for the Messiah) and he did not refuse the title of Son of God, as in this instance. What seems clear to me is that Jesus says, “You have said I am the Son of God and I do not disagree.”

What he does not add is what must happen between the meeting with the High Priest and the time when Jesus will be seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. Jesus must not only meet the Angel of Death face to face but defeat him. He must then take on the Father of Lies, Lucifer, the Devil, Satan, the fallen Angel whose real name only God remembers. He must defeat that powerful Angel and open the gates of Hell.

Frankly, we neither know nor understand what is means to be the Son of God. Paul gives us some clues in the letter reading for today.

Now Christ is the visible expression of the invisible God. He existed before creation began, for it was through him that every thing was made, whether spiritual or material, seen or unseen. Through him, and for him, also, were created power and dominion, ownership and authority. In fact, every single thing was created through, and for him. He is both the first principle and the upholding principle of the whole scheme of creation. And now he is the head of the body which is composed of all Christian people. Life from nothing began through him, and life from the dead began through him, and he is, therefore, justly called the Lord of all. It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in Heaven by virtue of the sacrifice of the crossPhillips

This Word, this essence of the Living God, this non-human who became human, this Man above all men both created us and redeemed us. We know only of the few hours of suffering at the crucifixion, we cannot know the suffering the Messiah experiences beyond that.

In the passage in Luke, we see the exchange between Jesus and the two thieves. I like this paraphrase by Clarence Jordan. 39. One of the criminals hanging beside him railed at him, “Hey, you, ain’t you the Leader? Save yourself and us.” But the other one rebuked him. He said, “Ain’t you got no fear of God, seeing as how you’re accused of the same thing he is? And we had it comin’ to us, and got just what we deserved for what we done. But him, he ain’t broke no law.” And he said, “Please, Jesus, remember me when you git your Movement goin’.” He said to him, “I tell you straight, today you’ll be with me in highest Heaven.”

The Word of God will take us to the highest Heaven.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here and here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Are You Pistis or Pistos?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 

Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Let’s go back to the beginning of 2 Thessalonians 3, specifically, the end of verse 2, for not everyone has faithNIV All but one of the Bibles from the list I generally use have much the same wording. But when I look at the Greek, I see, not for of all the faith, faithful. The last two words in Greek are pistis and pistos. Pistis means conviction of religion, a system of religion. Pistos means believing, true.

I think that the Message has the best translation; I’m finding that not all “believers” are believersMSG While it is easy to read most of the translations as the non-Christians are not Christians, what Paul is saying is that many who claim to be Christians are not.

If we read the letter up to this statement, Paul is talking about the persecutions the Thessalonians were facing, so it is reasonable to assume that not for of all the faith, faithful would refer to those outside the Christian fellowship. But as we read chapter 3 as a standalone, the opening verse of today’s assigned reading is; On the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, we direct you, brothers, to part company with every brother who bucks out of the harness and refuses to live by the instructions you got from usCotton Patch Version

Paul does not often invoke Jesus’ name in his letters. He mostly speaks with the certain knowledge that his words are the words that Jesus would use, so he feels no need to say so. Here he feels the need to stress the point: Jesus wants you to live in harmony with the Word.

What was happening in the fellowship? If we look back to the first letter to Thessalonica, we will not see any reference to trouble within the believers. In fact, most of the letter praises their firm commitment to God and His Son. Paul does write of the hardships non-believers are dumping on them.

In this second letter, Paul continues to praise their steadfastness. Until the reading for today. It seems that the Thessalonian fellowship followed the principle of sharing everything described in Acts 4:32. The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, as everything they owned was held in commonNJB

Unfortunately, Now we hear that you have some among you living quite undisciplined lives, never doing a stroke of work, and busy only in other people’s affairsPhillips These are people who claim to be believers but who are not following through in their daily lives. To them, Paul says; Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. NIV

The fellowship in Thessalonica practiced Christian communism. I use that word in the technical sense. In their pure natures, there are three main economic forms: communism on one end, socialism in the middle, and capitalism at the other end. They are neither good nor bad. We often get upset with how we are governed, which is usually where the problems arise. We also rarely see them in their pure forms.

The Thessalonians were sharing in a pure form of communism. Now, they were each out in the marketplace, earning money in the capitalistic system, so you can reprimand me for overstating the case. Still, within the fellowship, if Joe earns 1,000 denarii and Jacob earns 100, it all goes into the pot to be shared equally.

There are today many Christian fellowships who practice sharing equally, as there has been every year since Pentecost. As I study the Word, it is clear to me that sharing is part of our Christian DNA. We should work in this world as capitalists and share as communists.

All right, no more c-word.

As to sharing, does Jesus expect us to share with non-believers? Should we be running soup kitchens? Or should we keep our giving within the family?

There is no clear statement either way in the Gospels or the Letters. When we watch Jesus in the Gospels, we see a man willing to share with everyone. He did state that his mission was to the Jews, but we have several occasions of him dealing with non-Jews. In Acts 3:6, we read Peter’s words to a man who could not walk: “If you are expecting silver or gold,” Peter said to him, “I have neither, but what I have I will certainly give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” Phillips Peter and John did not check his passport to see if he was a proper citizen.

I do not see Jesus as isolationist, nationalist, insular, bigoted, partisan, cliquish, exclusive, restrictive, antagonistic, segregated, denominational, or unjust. Jesus loves every human on earth in equal measure. Jesus loved Judas, even knowing he would sell him out. Jesus loves Baptists and Catholics, Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons and Episcopalians. He loves Moslems, Buddhists, and every other religion. He even loves Democrats and Republicans alike. In short, everyone. He expects us to do the same. He did not say it would be easy.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here and here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence