I'm always astonished at how much of the Bible we have to ignore or dismiss to believe the prosperity gospel. And yet, it dominates much of the evangelical landscape in America, even if only functionally. We really are inclined toward some sense of entitlement to a comfortable, easy life because we're attached to Jesus.
We follow a man who suffered unthinkable injustice on our behalf, and yet we think physical and material prosperity are owed to us. We trust Jesus as Lord, Savior, God and King, and he said things like, "You will be hated by all for my name’s sake."(Luke 21:17) Yet we still think Christianity is about being endeared to everyone and expect to enjoying a privileged status in our society.
Following Jesus is not glamorous. It's much closer to a guarantee of increased earthly suffering than a gaurantee of greater earthly reward. The reward Jesus promises us, and which he secures for us, is not a reward we can reasonably expect in time. For example, Jesus says in this passage to the disciples that they will be persecuted, but not a hair on their heads will perish... and that by their endurance they will gain their lives. This promise of safety and preservation is set against the anticipation that some of them will be put to death.
This is because Jesus is saying to them these earthly realities are not all there is. That suffering is coming their way on account of their identification with Him, but that's a precursor to the greater reality of eternity, where they will be physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually unharmed. Nothing that threatens them, or us, here can undermine what he has secured for us in glory.
Jesus is again expanding our perspective. Life is hard. It's painful. We all suffer. And nobody wants to suffer needlessly. We all want to to suffer less severely and less pervasively across our lives. I suspect we mostly want to alleviate suffering for other people too. That's certainly part of what we should be about. But sin has ruined everything so real pain and suffering are everywhere. We'll do anything to reduce our own experience of that. But Jesus is telling us that there's a way of stepping into the pain now that will will reduce the pain later to zero.
And because of our propensity to instant gratification, we end up desperately trying to diminish our suffering now, even if only slightly, without a grasp of the suffering we're paving the way to later, and the joy we're forfeiting. And Jesus isn't inviting us to needless suffering. He's inviting us into a worthy suffering for the sake of glory. If we live for glory and comfort now, we're headed for eternal suffering. But if we'll live for a greater glory and enduring comfort in eternity, than we're going to have to be willing to incur some suffering in the near term.
That's part of the cost of following Jesus. And it's totally worth it. But the idea that Jesus is a ticket out of suffering and hardship now is an altogether made up idea of ours. Jesus never said anything of the sort and, in fact, he said the opposite. So, once again, we're back to these competing views of reality. The ultimate reality which Jesus sets before us, makes visible and invites us into, or the fraudulent reality we construct for ourselves and which we desperately cling to despite the evidence of it's folly and futility.
A Prayer for Strength:
Lord, I am weak... embarrassingly weak. I look at what Jesus said is coming for the disciples and I shudder. I shrink back. It scares me. I don't want that future. I don't want that suffering and rejection and hardship. But I do want you. Give me courage and strength outside of myself to willingly step into the pain that comes with following Jesus faithfully. You don't call us to foolishly create our own suffering. But you do call us to willingly suffer for the sake of Christ should it be required. Rid me of the notion that life with Christ entitles me to a privileged place socially. Strengthen my resolve and faith to stand with and for Jesus no matter what the cost, and even to do so anticipating that there will be a cost. Amen.
The cross and resurrection are just on the horizon for Jesus and he's already anticipating his second coming. He's giving hints and clues about what life will be like between his ressurection and his return and about what things might signal the nearing of his return, but it's cryptic enough that the smartest and best theologians for generations have understood Jesus to be indicating all kinds of different things... this is simply an area of Christian doctrine that has many interpretations and very little certainty.
There are two things I draw out of this personally though, which are helpful and clear.
1) He is returning
That's definitive. As sure as he came the first time and accomplished the work of redemption, so he will come a second time see redemption through to its consummation. When Jesus returns is unknown, and what it will look like or be like is unsure. But that he is returning in power to claim his bride and destroy his enemies once and for all is guaranteed.
2) Our posture until he returns should be one of wakefulness
Jesus says, in light of his imminent return, "stay awake at all times." Jesus is calling us to an spiritual alertness and readiness at all times. We need our sleep physically to be sure, but Jesus is saying that spiritually, we must not slumber or sleep, but stay watchful and wide awake to the larger raelity that we're caught up in and which is unfolding.
He warns against the temptation toward escapism and frivolity because the cares of this world tend to deaden our senses and charm us into spiritual slothfulness. The world anesthetizes us to the coming Kingdom and Jesus is pleading with us, to live with an ever-present and wakened anticipation of his future return as a necessary means of keeping our spiritual wits about us.
A Prayer for Anticipation:
I want so much to see Jesus face to face. And yet, even the promise of that seems distant and almost unreal. It's just so easy for me to et caught up in whatever else is right in front of my face so that Jesus faades into the background. Father, keep me prayerful and watchful and wakened, as Jesus calls us to be, to be mindful and alive to eternal realities. Give me a perspective here on earth of your kingdom and your glory coming to fill all things and your justice which reorder all things. Let me live today and each day with a wakened sense of your imminent return and to live each day in light of that day. Amen.
There is so much happening in these verses... The big irony in the passage is that the Scribes and Pharisees are literally deliberating over how to about killing Jesus, and Judas, inspired by Satan himself, is ready to help them accomplish those ends. In essence, these are the guiltiest of the guilty. They are contemplating the evilest act in all history. They are those most in need of an atoning sacrifice, and in their ignorance and wickedness they don't even realize that they're menacing deliberations are over preparing the true Passover sacrifice... they are getting ready and making arrangements to slaughter the Lamb of God, which in itself will be the darkest act ever committed.
And Luke makes the dark irony so obvious when he moves directly from these details to Jesus' instructions to Peter and John to make to go get their Passover feast ready. The Jewish leaders are preparing for the ultimate Passover. But instead of the blood of the sacrifice covering their guilt, the blood of the Sacrifice will cover them with guilt. Meanwhile, the sacrifice Himself, Jesus, is having his disciples prepare for the meal and celebration of God's redemption of Israel, while he prepares himself for the true redemption of Israel which God's saving work in Egypt foreshadowed so many generations before.
Jesus' face is fixed on the purpose for which he came and Luke is connecting these dots masterfully. I could expand on a lot here but the bottom line is this... we are all in one of these two camps. We are either among those participating in the religious exercises and rituals while tragically missing their meaning and effect altogether. Or, we're listening to Jesus, obeying Jesus and walking with Jesus, looking to him as the focal point of all of our "religious" exercise. Either we're laboring against Jesus, silencing Jesus, opposing Jesus, trying to get rid of Jesus, or just using our association with Jesus for personal gain. Or, we're looking for how to honor Jesus, follow Jesus, trust Jesus, make room for more of Jesus, and orienting our whole lives around Jesus.
I wonder which direction your life is moving today and characteristically.
A Prayer for Protection:
Father, Judas was with Jesus personally every day, doing ministry and sharing life with him. The Scribes and Pharisees were doing ministry and holding positions aimed at advancing and guarding Israel spiritually. And it's these very people who betrayed and killed Jesus. They were so deceived... so hardened... so blind to their blindness. Oh Lord, that capacity for such evil and blindness is in my own flesh too. Holy Spirit, please fill me... guard me... protect me from seeing Jesus as an obstacle to my religion and pursuits. Protect me from desires for earthly gains and pleasures that harden me to Christ. Protect me from man made religion and cultural, counterfeit spiritualities which would set me against Jesus. Keep me tethered to your Son, Father, and keep my heart softened to him, and my life oriented around him. Give me sweet communion and fellowship with the One who became the Passover Lamb, slain for sin and for sinners. Amen.
I get chills reading this text... Jesus eating this meal with his disciples which all Israelites ate each and every Passover for so many generations, commemorating Israel's exodus from Egypt, and God's mighty saving work on their behalf, culminating in the first passover. Each and every year, Jewish boys and girls are reconnecting to this old, old story, and their history as a people, remembering God's love for them, faithfulness to them, deliverance of them and provision for their need.
And Jesus would have done this his whole life too... I wonder if he knew each and every time what the true meaning of Passover was. I wonder if his clarity of purpose meant that every time he ate thi meal, he was fully aware of his very personal connection to it. Whatever the case, on this occasion, Jesus is eating this meal and celebrating this event which was always pointing beyond itself to himself, and beyond what God had accomplished already for Israel, to what God was going to accomplish through Jesus for the whole world.
And Jesus is re-interpreting this meal, this festival and celebration, in light of himself and what is about to take place. He's reaching back to this sacred and foundational piece of Israel's history and redemption, and he's re-applying it to the greater redemption which he is about to accomplish through the cross. In this moment, Jesus is bringing the Passover meal to a close, not because what it commemorates didn't really happen or wasn't really significant, but because it's history defining significance is being surpassed by the work of Salvation which his death and resurrection secure.
Communion, or the Lord's Supper, functions for us now, as the Passover did for Israel prior to the cross... we eat in rememberance of Christ's finished work and reconnect ourselves to the story of our Salvation, through repentance and faith, finding our place again in the unfolding drama of redemption. Jesus' broken body, and Jesus' shed blood, on our behalf, represented by the bread and cup of the Lord's Supper, breaks into our world and our lives again every time we take it, to remind us of what's real and true and what matters. Each time we take these elements, we recenter ourselves in the purposes of God for our lives and our world, to reconcile us and all things to himself, through Jesus.
I hope you and I will take each and every Communion seriously, and explore the richness of this meal, this means of grace which God has given to us.
A Prayer for Communion:
Father in heaven, there is such depth here. Thank you for your salvation. For the beauty of your story of redemption and for inviting me into that. Thank you for Jesus, your precious Son, my mighty Savior. Thank you for the ordinance of Communion, this personal, tangible means by which we are reminded of the price paid by Christ, the love displayed and grace shown through the cross... thank you for a deliverance which surpasses the original Passover and reaches to all people in all places... even to me. Lord, I pray for a fullness of heart and opened awareness each and every time I take communion with the gathered church... let me come to your table appropriately sobered and celebratory for all that it represents about what's real. And even more than that, take me beyond the ritual of receiving communion, and participating in communion as an exercise, into the intimacy of deep, abiding communion at the relational level with Christ. Lead me into a deep, personal, rich and satisfying enjoyment of the living presence of Jesus as my moment by moment, day by day sustenance. Let me dine with him continually. Amen.
Jesus is moving toward his inevitable death. Things are intense for him at this point. He's in the closing hours of his life. And in that space, the disciples revert to their boyish, adoloscent bickering over their status and positions. They still misunderstand the very nature of the Kingdom Jesus is bringing and which they presume to be entering into themselves. Their mindsets are still earthly. Their ideas and categories are still shaped by worldly values, ideas and systems. They are still trying to conform Jesus to their cultural forms.
And Jesus again, as he so often does, interrupts their thoughts and aspirations to flips their paradigm on its head. Jesus essentially tells them that all of their ideas of power, position, status, pedigree, and leadership are wrong. It's all conformed to the pattern of the world and needs to be transformed by a comletely new way of seeing and understanding things.
So, Jesus points to himself as the new and right expression of legitimate leadership. He is a King who came not to lord authority over his people, but to serve his people. He is worthy of and has the highest position, the place of honor, and yet he voluntarily took the low place. Leadership, according to Jesus, isn't power imposed on people, it's the power to influence people. Leadership isn't requiring things of others, it's doing things for others.
If we aspire to leadership, and we should in some sense, than we aspire to follow Jesus as the chief of servants. And if Jesus hasn't demonstrated that posture of heart and orientation of life yet, he is about to do so to the fullest extent possible, as he empties himself out in the most painful way imaginable, for the good and flourishing of others.
It's funny how Peter, in virtually the next breath, after this obvious call to humility, exaggerates his own commitment to Jesus. I suspect Peter really wants to be as loyal as he professes to be, but a lack of awareness regarding our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities will always lead us toward in inflated view of ourselves. That same over inflated view of ourselves is what keeps us from taking the low place, and serving selflessly and sacrificially. Jesus is all the way to the cross displaying humility and leading them toward humility... Humility is the essence of Christian character, and yet everything in us resists it.
A daily apprenticeship with Jesus means a pursuit and nurturing of humility, which drifts into. Humility is unnatural. We'll only grow in selflessness by intentionally emptying ourselves. And Jesus thinks that's the stuff of real leadership, real greatness and real influence.
The best part of this, is that it isn't a self-emptying just to be lifeless. It's a self-emptying which will fill with all his fulness and the fulness of life. Who doesn't want that?!
A Prayer for Self-Emptying:
Lord, I'm so full of myself. It's ridiculous. Teach me and empower me to empty myself... to pour myself out in service to others and for the good of others. And fill me with your heart, and your life. Displace my ego and self-importance with mindfulness of others that flows from the mercy I've received from you... let all I've received from Jesus and in Jesus, ooze out of me as I give myself away. Let me enjoy and bask in the all-important, totally satisfying status of loved child of God, so I can make a greater impact for your glory. Amen.