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Jun 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 11, 2017 – Esther chapter 5

“A Time to Every Purpose”

Now it came about on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace in front of the king’s rooms, and the king was sitting on his royal throne in the throne room, opposite the entrance to the palace. When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight; and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter which was in his hand. So Esther came near and touched the top of the scepter. Then the king said to her, “What is troubling you, Queen Esther? And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be given to you.” Esther 5:1-3

Intro: In chapter 4, Esther struggled through an important rite-of-passage

Perhaps for first time, she found herself in conflict with her cousin Mordecai
– what he ordered her to do ran contrary to her own will
• specifically, her natural and fundamental human drive to survive
• after a brief exchange of messages, Esther came to a realization;
◦ the fate of her people came before her personal concerns
– but then an interesting thing happens
• Esther found her own voice
◦ she became a real queen, not merely Xerxes’ “trophy wife”
◦ the chapter ended with Mordecai obeying her command

Dana Crowley Jack had been a therapist for several years when it became clear to her that her education had been deficient when it came to treating women suffering with depression. So she and her colleagues began doing their own research. They discovered that a common complaint their depressed female clients made in describing their depression was a “loss of self.” Some of them had been for many years silenced by others and some had silenced themselves to keep the peace with family members, bosses and coworkers. Dana Jack explains, “Voice is an indicator of self. Speaking one’s feelings and thoughts is part of creating, maintaining, and recreating one’s authentic self.” To have one’s voice constantly ignored, contradicted, devalued, or suppressed is to find one’s self excluded from important discussions and decisions. We present our ideas and point of view–in fact, one’s very self–through the communication of words. “To be willing to risk arguments . . . one has to believe in the legitimacy of one’s own point of view.”

This is what I mean by “Esther found her voice”
– she is no longer a stock character (e.g, beauty queen), but becomes a real person
• in that light, consider the irony of the last words we heard her utter,
If I perish, I perish
– her life was not more secure than it before
• but now this was her decision to make (not one that someone else made for her)


After three days of fasting, the critical moment comes

The setting here is more descriptive than we are used to finding in the Hebrew Scriptures
– why does storyteller specify the fact that Esther put on royal robes?
• because this is her unique connection with the king
◦ he is in his royal house, sitting on his royal throne
• and Esther’s royalty sets her apart from everyone else

read more…

Jun 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 4, 2017 – Esther chapter 4

 

When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly. He went as far as the king’s gate, for no one was to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. In each and every province where the command and decree of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing; and many lay on sackcloth and ashes.
Then Esther’s maidens and her eunuchs came and told her, and the queen writhed in great anguish. And she sent garments to clothe Mordecai that he might remove his sackcloth from him, but he did not accept them. Esther 4:1-4

Intro: One time, when I was still new to ministry

I went with a friend to Lake Nacimiento for weekend of water skiing
– Guy, a talented musician and singer, was in Bible College at the time
• on a lakeside bulletin board,
◦ we saw an announcement for a Sunday morning Protestant service
• we went and there we met a friendly group of people, mostly locals
– eventually a man got up and explained their preacher was in another town
• when he paused, I spoke up, “I can preach”
◦ he looked relieved and said, “Really? Come on up”
• Guy sang while I begged God for something to say
◦ the morning turned out well and the folks there were very grateful

Here’s what I think: your destiny comes to you
– perhaps at first in small and unrecognizable ways
• but it comes every day, and then one day it comes in a big way
◦ then you realize you have stepped into your destiny
– that is one of the potential lessons in today’s scripture


For now, just notice Mordecai’s clothes

We can’t help it, because of their strangeness and the storyteller emphasizes them
– in that time and culture, people wore their grief
• they let their community know their hearts were broken
• in white American culture, we tend to hide our emotions
◦ you may suffer great inner turmoil and no one ever sees it
◦ we pay a price for this silence
– human relationships are designed to:
• relieve heartache and help us regulate our emotions
• that is what we deny ourselves with our stoic silence

“As far as king’s gate” – not because appropriate attire was required
– but so king would not be exposed to human misery
• to hear that “the queen writhed in great anguish” must have sounded absurd at time
◦ no one lived in greater luxury or isolation from anguish
• the royal family was shielded from even the sight poverty or pain
– part of Abraham Lincoln’s appeal was his humble background
• how many politicians today have come up from the working class?
◦ people passing laws with no idea how they affect the avgerage family
◦ their families do not have to live on an average income
• so the king can throw the capital city into confusion and go off to drink
◦ for all its flaws, today’s news media would not tolerate this from a leader

Before Esther knew the nature of the crisis, she writhed
– it was for her cousin and the great misery his behavior indicated
• she had an unbreakable bond with him and with her people
• even in king’s palace, she could not escape those ties


Vv. 5-8, Esther’s and Mordecai’s first communiques

Esther is behaving like a queen, summoning servants and giving orders
– when she sent nice clothes to Mordecai, he refused them
• so she sent a courier to find out the what and the why
• Mordecai returned an explaination with a copy of the edict
– he not only informed her, but he ordered her what she had to do
• this had been nature of their relationship (2:20)
◦ him giving her orders and her giving humble obedience
• meanwhile, she was also giving orders–to Hathach
◦ this bouncing back and forth of commands reveals a change taking shape

read more…

Jun 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 28, 2017 – Esther chapter 3

Enter the Villain

After these events King Xerxes promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his autority over all the princes who were with him. All the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage. Esther 3

Intro: As stories go, the Book of Esther is put together really well

In fact, I sometimes get lost in the details of its complex structure
– that is not supposed to happen
• if the story is told well, you get lost in the telling of it
◦ that is because structural elements are doing their job
◦ in creating atmosphere, plot development, building suspense, etc.
• we do not pay attention to how a good story grabs us
◦ we just go along with it
– but sometimes we need to look closely at the literary details
• otherwise we might miss a deeper meaning

What are we tracking in Esther?
– the way God works in a story where he is not mentioned


Notice how key characters are played off of each other

Clear contrasts are drawn between them, roles are reversed, etc.
– I’ve entitled today’s episode: “Enter the Villain”
• Haman is introduced immediately becomes the antagonist
• he is set over against Mordecai, one of the protagonists

After these events is a vague time reference
– biblical stories use this phrase to let us know time has passed
• but without indicating how much time
• in the gap between one scene and the next events happened
◦ but they are not mentioned, because they are not crucial to plot
– in story-time, Haman suddenly appears
• but there must have been a build up that is not reported
◦ there must be a reason why he is given this prestige and power
◦ but we are not told what it was
• how he got there is not important – what matters:
◦ he is there now, and his being there changed things

The next turn in the story brings overwhelming crisis
– that makes these time stamps important
• crises affect how we experience time
◦ in an emergency 1,000 things can occur in nanosecond
◦ grief, however, can make every tick of the clock feel like a lifetime
• it can be helpful for us to notice how time passes in our own lives
◦ and train ourselves to make adjustments
◦ so that we travel with time rather than get run over by it


Vv. 3-4, How are we to understand Mordecai’s (un)civil disobedience?

One colorful possibility is that it reflects a conflict that ran for generations
– before Israel entered promise land, they were attacked by the Amalekites
• God told Moses to keep record of this even
◦ and that he would “blot out” the memory of Amalek (Ex. 17:8-16)
• Later, Israel’s first king was ordered to destroy Amalek (1 Sam. 15:2-3)
◦ but Saul failed by sparing the Amalekite king, “Agag”
◦ some scholars think that Haman “the Agagite” was a descendant of Agag
– we have already observed Mordecai’s sketchy genealogy (Est. 2:5-6)
• he was from the tribe of Benjamin, and a descendant of Shimei and Kish
◦ King Saul was also from Benjamin and the son of Kish (related to a Shimei, 2 Sam. 16:5)
• if we are to conclude that Haman and Mordecai descended from these two kings,
◦ then they brought that ancient feud between Israel and Amalek to Persia
◦ so for both of them, the insult and hostility would be personal (like the Hatfields and McCoys)
– personally I think this is a stretch, but it may be what the storyteller intended

read more…

Jun 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 21, 2017 – Esther chapter 2

Persia’s New Queen

After these things when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s attendants, who served him, said, “Let beautiful young virgins be brought for the king. Let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom that they may gather every beautiful young virgin to the citadel of Susa, to the harem, into the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let their cosmetics be given them. Then let the young lady who pleases the king be queen in place of Vashti.” And the matter pleased the king, and he did accordingly. Esther 2:1-4

Intro: Last week we saw that the message of Esther’s story is:
For such a time a time as this

We were introduced to Xerxes, the king of Persia
– he was a comical character starring in a comical role
• self-indulgent, spoiled, over-protected,
◦ unable to think for himself or make up his own mind
◦ he was easily influenced by others

This word pleased the king and . . . the king did as [his counselor] proposed (Est. 1:21)

• we have just seen this same decision making repeated in verse 4
◦ whatever advice pleased him, that is what he did
– when Queen Vashti refused his command, he became furious
• we will see how, at specific points in story, the plot is turned by anger
◦ here, it was as his anger subsided that the king had a change of heart
◦ I get feeling he regreted losing Vashti
• his attendants picked up on it and were quick to resolve his sadness
◦ earlier, male fear regarding losing control was projected on all women in all the provinces
◦ now a search is made for a new queen in all provinces among all young women
• the criteria for the “contestants”: beautiful, young , virgin
◦ nothing is said about intelligence, talent or creativity

This proposal created a rare opportunity for ordinary families
– queens were usually chosen for political reasons
• to enhance the king’s status, consolidate political power, form an alliance
• so candidates came from a royal line or the aristocracy
– the only concern here is that she please the king
• any woman from any class was eligible if her foot fit the glass slipper


Vv. 5-7, Here we meet Mordecai and Esther

First, we are given their background (we’ll return to this later)
– for now our interest is in the plot’s development
• Mordecai’s ethnicity is specified, “a Jew”
◦ he had taken on the role of a parent for his cousin, Esther
◦ he had filled this role ever since her mom and dad died
• Esther fit the criteria for the royal audition


Vv. 8-9, Right away, Esther was a hit in the palace

In the development of stories, there is often a “helper” who assists the hero
– Hegai is that character in Esther’s story
• that she pleased him means she was off to a good start
• even more important, she found favor in his eyes
◦ this is a special grace that Joseph and Daniel also enjoyed
◦ it turns out to be a critical factor that made promotion possible
– Esther was provided with seven maids–another good sign
• then Hegai moved them to the best place in the harem
• immediately Esther is given unique advantages

read more…

Jun 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 14, 2017 – Esther chapter 1

The Time of Their Lives

(When introducing the Book of Esther,
I felt it was important to hear it first as a story.
For that reason, I began by reading the first chapter
from the Good News Bible, which begins . . .)

From his royal throne in Persia’s capital city of Susa, King Xerxes ruled 127 provinces, all the way from India to Sudan.
In the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his officials and administrators. The armies of Persia and Media were present, as well as the governors and noblemen of the provinces. For six whole months he made a show of the riches of the imperial court with all its splendor and majesty. Esther 1

Intro: Esther is the last of the Hebrew Scriptures’ books of history

In fact, it was possibly the last book to be written prior to the New Testament
– it also belongs to another special category:
• stories that reveal how God’s faithful people live in exile
• as such, Esther shares important features with Joseph (Ge. 37-50) and Daniel
◦ all three characters “found favor” with important people who assisted them
◦ all three experienced radical reversals with those who tried to destroy them
– these three stories also share a similar yet subtle theme
• and that is, the way events unfold is exactly the way life “ought to be”
• in other words, if Yahweh is God over all the earth,
◦ and if his people are faithful to him and do his will,
◦ then they should always win and their enemies should always lose

In spite of these common threads, each story has its own message
– that message is revealed in a defining verse

  1. Joseph
    • his survival through his trials is explained by the phrase, The LORD was with Joseph (Ge. 39:2, 21)
    • but the defining verse reveals the truth of his trials is, As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good (Ge. 50 20)
  2. Daniel
    • his survival as a faithful Jew is explained by the phrase, Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself (Da. 1:8)
    • but his defining verse explains how he maintained his orientation to God, . . . he had windows open toward Jerusalem . . . and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God (Da. 6:10)

– what is the message of Esther?
• a consensus today is that her story serves to explain the origin of Purim (a Jewish holiday)
◦ but that doesn’t explain how made it into Bible
◦ Esther did not make it into Dead Sea Scrolls
• someone discerned a spiritual message in Esther–a word of God revealed
◦ but that brings us to an unusual feature in this story
◦ God is never mentioned in Esther
(not even a generic reference or by a pagan-friendly term, as in Nehemiah; e.g., the God of heaven, Neh. 1:20)


God is not present in story of Esther

Not as a character on stage who speaks or acts
– not even as someone who is known, but absent or off stage
• we could read Esther as a secular story
◦ where we find fasting without prayer and feasting without praise
• God’s absence was not an oversight
◦ the storyteller had to work at keeping God out
– providence plays such an important role that there would be no story without it
• we could assume it was easy for them to see God’s providence
◦ but the fact is, they could not – the outcome of circumstances was uncertain
• their risks were real and deadly
◦ and God was hidden from the world of sense experience
◦ the same as he is hidden from our daily experience


So what is the message of Esther?

What is the defining verse of her story?

read more…

Jun 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 7, 2017 – Acts 2:42

We Become What We Eat

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

Intro: In Acts chapter 2, the Church is a newborn baby

God poured his Spirit into a group of men and women
– followers of Jesus, waiting for this moment,
• though I doubt that they knew what to expect
• it was sudden, loud and supernatural
◦ when they spoke in “tongues,” it was first cry of the baby church
– later in the chapter we get glimpses of the community created by this event

  • the apostles’s teaching: the twelve chosen by Jesus to be with him (Mk. 3:13-14)
    ◦ they were now sharing Jesus’ wisdom and insights
  • fellowship: Greek, koinonia – shared experience, a shared life
  • breaking of bread: – they took meals together (cf. v. 46)
    ◦ the context would also suggest the “sacred meal” (i.e., “Communion”)
  • prayer (and praise, v. 47): the heartbeat of their relationship with God

Communion meets essential spiritual needs

I apologize that we don’t celebrate it more often
– I’m not certain how to relate its transcendence and sacredness
• or help you experience its full impact
– it can be so intimate that I have wondered about the best environment
• perhaps it would be our smaller, evening meetings


The Communion ritual serves a specific purpose

It represents a historical event that we were not present to experience
– the night Jesus formed a covenant relationship with his disciples
• in the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel had a way to bridge history
• to connect people to an event that occurred many years later
– the Passover event was re-presented every year, re-lived
• that way, later generations could also experience its life-giving grace
◦ “remember” in scripture is not merely to recall 
◦ it is to bring into awareness, “to be conscious of”
• Communion takes us to the upper room and Jesus’ presence
◦ we become aware of his nearness

What made God’s relationship with Israel wonderful was his covenant
– boiled down to its essence, it was their intimate belonging to God

I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people (Lev. 26:12)

• it seems that Israel consistently missed that part
– the weight of Jesus’ new cov rested entirely on him
• “This is my body,” “This is my blood”
• he was telling his disciples (and us),
“You can live in relationship with my Father because of this”

In times of spiritual awakening, Israel returned to covenant
(there are three examples of this in 2 Chronicles and one in Ezra)
– it was always a sacred and solemn event
• they observed it with absolute seriousness
– what this did for them:
• it corrected a wrong situation and changed their heading
• it returned them to a right relationship with God
• it restored them to God’s favor and God’s favor to them
◦ they could once again enjoy his presence


What is it that we are about to experience?

Looking at the three or four words used of this ritual in the New Testament, it is:

  1. Communion with God and each other
    Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread (1 Cor. 10:16-17)
    – we are brought into a union with God, Jesus, and others
    • most everyone who stands out in Christian spirituality
    ◦ had profound experiences of Jesus in Communion
    • they came to depend on it for spiritual vision and renewal
  2. The table of the Lord and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:21; 11:20)
    – Jesus sets this table – gives himself to us
    • as we receive the bread and cup he enters us
    • we cannot imagine a more intimate connection
    – but receiving him this way works differently than any other meal we take
    St. Augustine, in his confessions, relates a moment when it was as if he heard God’s voice, “I am the food of the full grown: grow, and you will feed on Me. Nor shall you change Me into your substance as you do the food of your body; but you will be changed into Me.”
  3. Eucharist – give thanks (1 Cor. 11:23-26)
    – this turns us in the right direction
    • I was thinking about this Friday morning
    ◦ preparing for Norm’s memorial service
    ◦ he was full of light – he was positive –and thankful
    • in Romans 1, Paul listed some of the evils in human society
    ◦ the roots of the evil that people do are surprising
    For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened (Ro. 1:21)
    ◦ not being thankful is a turn toward evil
    ◦ it darkens the human heart
    – it was customary to give thanks over each meal
    • but Jesus’ giving of thanks is exceptional
    ◦ he did this in a world that rejected him
    • he has given us every reason to give thanks

Conc: What happens now is not just words and motion

A spiritual reality passes through material substance
– the Spirit of Jesus enters us and joins with our spirits

Evelyn Underhill, “Spiritual reality is not, and never can be, cut off from the world of sense: were it so, we could never have guessed its existence. There is at every point and on every level a penetration by God of His world; a truth which underlies the Christian doctrines of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments.”

We are going to do this rather formally (in our informal way)
– so now, take a breath
– prepare yourself to receive God’s grace

 

May 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 30, 2017 – Luke 24:13-35

“Please Stay”

They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

Intro: Finally, we have our painting

It is not my place to name another person’s artwork–however . . .
– Hyatt pointed out for me some interesting details in how this came out
• for example, the motion that moves across the canvas as we follow the raised arms
– the two disciples are saying, “Please Stay”
• and that would be my choice for the title of this piece

When the five or six of us here decided to meet formally,
– I began to formulate a vision for Reflexion
• my intent was to define our community and give it direction
◦ but I got a very strong impression that was not what God wanted
◦ instead, we were to let his Spirit do as he wished and then see what shape it took
• in our first meeting, all I could say for sure was what we weren’t
◦ e.g., a “church”
– if we were to illustrate what Reflexion is with a story
• it would be the narrative of these three figures and their interaction
◦ we are the two characters standing side-by-side
◦ we are traveling–each of us for our own reasons–, but together
• and Jesus is traveling with us
◦ we are a spiritual community sharing a spiritual journey
◦ this is Reflexion


The story behind the painting

Sometime in the afternoon, on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, two of his followers left Jerusalem on a seven mile walk for a village named Emmaus. This is how Jesus had sent his followers out on an earlier mission–by twos. Since early morning rumors had been flying about how the Lord’s body had gone missing overnight and that a small group of his female followers had seen a vision of angels announcing that he had risen from the dead. To the and realistic, hard-headed apostles, this sounded like nonsense and they refused to buy it.

The two disciples on their way to Emmaus were talking about the events of the previous four or five days. That they were discussing those things, indicates they were searching together for answers. Of course, there is no way for us to know the specifics of their dialogue, but something that never entered the conversation was how all those things were a wonderful fulfillment of scripture or how so many of the ancient prophecies now made sense. It is more likely that remembering the details stabbed them with bitter grief. However, they could not hold those things in silence, but had to talk their confusion out loud.

As they went on, a stranger approached them, either crossing paths from a side road or by catching up to them. Matching his pace to theirs, he walked with them and soon he inserted himself into their conversation. Perhaps responding to their serious expressions and the dark tone of their words, he spoke as if curious regarding the subject of their discussion. They reacted as though he had exposed their bleeding hearts and for a moment the three of them stood still, frozen in silence. Clearing the lump in his throat, one of them asked the intrusive stranger, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know what’s happened these last few days?”
He responded, somewhat naively, “What happened?”
What happened, was that Jesus of Nazareth had come to the holy city. If you haven’t heard, he was a prophet who, when he spoke his words were power and when the sick were brought to him, he worked miracles. But our priests and leaders turned on him, condemned him and handed him over to the Romans who crucified. And we had been hoping that he was the One, the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel.”
“The whole thing was over quickly. His body had been laid to rest and the dust was beginning to settle. Then, this morning, some women from our group went to the tomb, found it open but did not find his remains. They reported to the apostles as story of seeing angels, but it made no sense.”

With sudden assertiveness, the stranger took the two disciples to task, “How foolish you’ve been! So slow to catch on and trust what is right in front of you. Can’t you see that everything you have described is exactly what was written by the prophets? Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer the rejection, the abuse, the cross and then to enter his glory?”

Then, for the remainder of their walk to Emmaus, he walked them through the Scriptures from the early period of Moses right through to the last prophet, pointing out passages that spoke of these events in which predictions and promises had been fulfilled. The disciples were making two journeys with Jesus; the ordinary walk down a dirt road and an extraordinary walk through biblical history.

Not far from the city gates of Emmaus, Jesus stopped to conclude his speech, wish them well and made as if he intended to continue on his way. But the other two begged him, “Stay with us.” So he did, right up to the moment when they sat to share a meal. Then something in the way he took took the bread and blessed it, and broke it opened their eyes. And he was gone.


How does this serve as illustration of Reflexion?

read more…

Apr 28 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 23, 2017 – Luke 9:23-25

Taking Care of Business

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:23-25

Intro: Behind me is another painting loaned to us by Hyatt Moore

http://www.hyattmoore.com/egallery/2017/04/20/demo-feedback-and-next-show-at-the-house/

He told me that next week we will have the one painted for Reflexion
– meanwhile he showed me two that were available today
• one was inspired by Van Gogh’s “Good Samaritan”
◦ it was large and vibrant with bright colors
◦ the other was dark and moody
• he told me that I could choose either one
◦ then, in the same breath, he said, “I think this one”

I know it looks like we are moving backwards
– last week we meditated on Easter and this week return to empty cross
• but this has been one of Christianity’s unique traits through history
• to paint the cross, engrave it in stone, wear a cross, write songs about the cross, sign the cross, and so on
– the resurrection sends us back to the cross
• it makes us ask, why was this necessary?
◦ what was so important that Jesus gave his life for it?
◦ and what actually happened there?
• through the study of scripture and hours of reflection,
◦ the apostles found answers that yielded a theology of the cross
◦ and that theology is central to Christian faith


This first part will be brief because you know it well

According to John’s gospel, Jesus’ last words were, It is finished
– finished translates the Greek word teleo, which means not only done or come to end
• but also complete, accomplish, fulfill
◦ a short time before Jesus’ final statement from the cross, we read:

After this, Jesus knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty” (Jn. 19:28)

• accomplish and fulfill are two forms of this same word, teleo
– what did Jesus finish on the cross?
• there are two positions biblical scholars take today
◦ as with most major theological controversies, I drift toward the middle
• short answer: Jesus finished everything necessary for redemption
◦ that includes defeating the powers of sin and evil, and resolving our guilt


Secondly, we return to the cross because of our unfinished business

That brings us back to our passage in Luke
– the cross reaches into our lives in various ways

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the now famous statement, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

• these words were meant to shock
◦ but no more shocking than how Jesus put it–e.g., take up his cross
• we need to get behind the metaphor of the cross
◦ we have a term for when a person’s “self” is dead: vegetative state
◦ Jesus did not mean that, nor did he mean that we carry a literal cross
– in verse 24, “life” translates the Greek word for soul
• soul is the total inner life:

◦ mental intelligence
◦ emotional intelligence
◦ sensate intelligence
◦ visceral intelligence

• this is the person or the self–the soul

So how can losing one’s soul, save it?

read more…

Apr 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 16, 2017 – John 20:19-31

Reaching For Proof

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained. John 20:19-23

Intro: The painting you see is Hyatt Moore’s “Easter Night”

http://www.hyattmoore.com/blank-slate/

The scene depicted is the climax of John’s story
– namely, the experience of the living Jesus after his resurrection
• John wrote this book after years of reflection
◦ in fact, the other three gospels were already in circulation
• why did John add these particular events to the record?
◦ why did he feel compelled to tell the “Jesus story” his way?
– we do not have to guess, because he explains it to us
• we will come to that shortly


John sets the scene with “when” and “when”

When: evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead
When: the doors were bolted, because the disciples were afraid

Earlier that day, Mary Madalene had visited them twice
– the first, she brought the message that Jesus’ body was missing
• there is something lovely in the way she personalized her concern to the angels

To the disciples: “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him” (v. 2)
To the angels: “. . . they have taken away my Lord, and do not know where they have laid Him” (v. 13)

• in her mind, Jesus belonged to her
◦ she believed that his body was her responsibility
– in her second visit, she delivered the message Jesus had given her

Then that evening, Jesus himself came to them
– first word he spoke was Peace, and he spoke it into them (cf. Jn. 14:27; 16:33)
• then he held out his hands and pulled back his cloak
◦ to let them see his, still fresh, wounds
• that was their moment of recognition
– this was important to John; that they were able to ID Jesus
• in verse 14, when Mary first saw Jesus, she did not know it was Jesus
◦ when the disciples on the lake saw Jesus on the shore, they did not know it was Jesus (21:4)
• recognition came when he spoke
◦ when he said or did something characteristic of him (cf. Lk. 24:30-31)
◦ when Mary recognized him, she cried, “Teacher!” and on the lake, John said, “It is the Lord”

With recognition, came joy (which is no doubt an understatement)
– so Jesus again said, Peace be with you, perhaps this time to calm their excitement
• then he assigned them their mission:
◦ as he had been sent by the Father, they are now being sent by them
– this meeting was a stage in their final preparation
• he imparted his Spirit to them (cf. Jn. 14:17)
• he also indicated the gravity of their responsibility
◦ illustrated in proclaiming the forgiveness or retention of sin


But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25

I’m thinking Thomas was upset because he missed out

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Apr 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 9, 2017 – John 12:12-21

If We Don’t Look, We Won’t See

On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”
Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.
So the people who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard he had performed this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him.” Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
 John 12:12-21

Intro: Before we settle in, and listen to the Palm Sunday story,

We remember other Christians in other churches around the world
– they are also observing Palm Sunday today
• earlier this morning in two of those churches terrorist bombs took 37 lives
• ISIS has taken credit for the attacks on two Christian churches in Egypt
– this juxtaposition of celebration and death is disturbing
• I wonder, is it alright for us to stick to the program and keep our tradition?
• or should we cancel Palm Sunday this year in honor of those whose died?

In John’s report of this event–much more so than others–
– we see a confusion of competing and conflicting forces
• the crowds finally allowed to openly cheer for him
◦ adding to the electricity in the air, are the testimonies of Lazarus resurrection
• at same time, the Pharisees are furious
◦ they met to plot not only Jesus’ death, but the death of Lazarus too
– besides those crisscrossing issues, we learn of the inner turmoil of Jesus
• this is the biggest event of Jesus’ life (bigger than his birth or baptism)
◦ from chapter 2 on, he has predicted his “hour” that had not yet arrived
◦ now, on this day he says, “The hour has come” (v. 23)
• surprisingly, however, he is not overjoyed

Now My soul has become troubled and what shall I say, “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”  (Jn. 12:27)

◦ a week later he will be tortured and crucified
◦ those things are included in his hour

So, it is not incongruous for the shadow of death to fall across Palm Sunday
– this is, in fact, at the heart of the tradition
– Jesus’ triumphal entry is the prelude to his crucifixion


From this chaos of personal agendas and motivations, a request

John introduces the request in his own distinct way
– the Pharisees had just said, “look, the whole world has gone after Him”
• then, immediately following their statement, John says,
“Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast”
• these were most likely converts to Judaism or else curious tourists
– they came to Philip–the one disciple with a Greek name
• “Sir,” they said, “we wish to see Jesus”
• that is, to meet him and talk with him

This same wish has been the dominant theme of my entire Christian life
– in the 1970’s, I began reading books on human consciousness
• what is consciousness? how is it related to functions of the brain?
• I wanted to make sense of statements like Practice Presence of God
◦ is awareness of God’s immediate presence an innate but atrophied human ability?
◦ is it something we can develop or is the experience always pure grace?
– for twenty years my chief prayer for myself was to be given prophetic vision
• then, in 2004, I felt a strong impression that God told me,
“I am birthing something new in you”
• I literally crossed “prophetic vision” off my prayer list
◦ at the same time, I began to see Jesus
◦ not in visions, like I had wanted–it was something different


A few years ago, I spent a month in hermitage

It was one of the best things I ever did for my soul
– I prayed while walking through forests
• alone on a stretch of beach, I meditated on scripture
• I saw two dear one morning before dawn on my way to vigils
◦ and I watched sun set over the edge of the ocean each evening before vespers
– the whole time I was zealously praying, “Show me your glory”
• one morning, reading Psalms with the monks, it hit me
• I had been seeing God’s glory every minute of every day

So now I have to ask myself, “Do I make the most of vision I have?”
– do I look for beauty?

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