A Revolution in a Manger: (The Restorative Justice of the King); Part 4 of 4

Today a Savior has been born to you . . . (Luke 2.11)This week, I want to wrap up our four-part series. In Part 1, we discovered that Jesus came to this earth as a new King. In Part 2, we saw that this King came to give us freedom from the fear of death. In Part 3, we saw that this King called us to enact and enlarge His reign as His followers through the way of peace. In the final part, I want to look at what the reign of this new King looks like.

We get the clearest picture of what the world changed by Jesus looks like in Matthew’s sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 and Luke’s sermon on the plain in Luke 6. Let’s begin with Luke.

Luke portrays Jesus as looking at his disciples one day and saying, “Blessed are you who are poor right now for this Kingdom of God that I have come to establish here on earth is slanted in your favor. Blessed are you who hunger now for in this Kingdom I have come to establish you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, whom the present structure of this world oppresses and keeps pressed down, languishing in need that are never met, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you [and they will hate you when they see how much of a threat this new Kingdom is to their current structure], when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of this new Kingdom (see Daniel 7.13,14). Rejoice in that day and leap for joy because great is your reward in this Kingdom from heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich right now for you have already received your comfort. You are going to struggle with the changes I have come to make. It won’t be impossible, but it is going to be difficult for you (see Matthew 19.23). Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now for you will mourn and weep. You will view me as the enemy and see this Kingdom as a threat to your way of life, which benefits you at the expense of so many others. Woe to you when everyone who benefited from this world’s present unjust power structures speaks well of you for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets” (Loose paraphrase based on Luke 6.20-26).

As we covered last week in Acts 17.6-7, from the perspective of those who benefit by the way this present world is structured, it may seem as if Jesus is ruining your life! It may seem that these changes Jesus has come to make are a threat. Jesus is initially perceived to be the enemy. It looks from their perspective that Jesus, His Kingdom, and His followers are “turning the world upside down!” But remember, what Jesus is really doing is turning the world right side up once again. The world is already upside down. That’s the problem. Jesus has come to restore, heal, and turn the world over, placing it back on its feet once again. To those at the top of the pyramid, the proclamation of this good news doesn’t seem like good news at all. But to the masses at the bottom of the pyramid, pressed down and slaving to benefit those at the top of the pyramid, the coming of a new way of doing life on earth is gospel. It IS good news!

But again, to those who presently benefit from this world’s current unjust power structures, everything about this new King’s reign may seem backwards. His Kingdom will benefit the current poor, rather than the present structures, which benefit the rich. His reign will benefit those whom the present structure causes them to morn. He will bring them comfort by contrast to those who are presently living in comfort and ease within a system that gives them blessings at the expense of causing untold sorrow for others around the globe. Christ’s Kingdom will benefit the meek by contrast to the present structure, which benefits those who know how to play the game, who are competitive, ambitious, bold, brave, and uninhibited. It will favor those who practice mercy, by contrast to our present structure that is rooted in retribution and the an eye for an eye way of defining justice. It will favor those whose heart is pure, even if this present structure has judged them as inferior based on their inability to outwardly conform to society’s standards or whose exterior performance doesn’t measure up. This is in contrast to a world where favors come to those who know how to play the game, be it religious, political or economic, with little regard for an integrity that can be seen only when one looks below the surface. It will be a reign of peace makers rather than war mongers. And yes, it will be comprised of those who are persecuted by the present structure and those it benefits for simply believing life on this earth can be, and should be, different. To those benefited presently, it will look like the world is being turned upside down, but to those who have eyes to see, they will perceive the world as being put right side up once again.

All of the changes this Baby will bring to the world had been foretold by the seer Isaiah long before this Baby’s birth:

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear, but with justice he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips He shall topple the wicked. Justice shall be the belt around His waist, and faithfulness the belt around His loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy all on my holy mountain for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations shall inquire of him and his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11.1-10, emphasis added).

There are three things I want you to notice in this passage. First, He will restore justice for the poor and the meek. Second, He will topple the present structure NOT with force of arms, but with a force that proceeds out of His mouth—truth. This is what Gandhi called “Truth” force, or what Dr. King called “Soul” force. This is what we covered in Part 2 of this series. Third, this is a reign where the relationship between predator and prey is radically revolutionized. When reading this passage, remember that Isaiah was not speaking literally, but as a poet. The great problems of this world have nothing to do with predatory animals, but predatory people (Daniel and Revelation both portray visions of Predatory animals, which symbolize the kingdoms of this world, being conquered, subdued, and changed by a little Lamb who was slain.). The reign of this Baby lying in a manger brings a world where the smallest among us, the little children, will be perfectly safe (Isaiah mentions children in this passage three times as if to say, “don’t miss this.”). The world we see around us presently is a world run by lions, tigers, and bears. OH MY! But this prophecy speaks of a “child” that will lead them to a new way of doing life? Who is this child? I submit to you the Baby lying in a manger. Because of the death and resurrection of this Baby born in Bethlehem that day, this world is now ruled by a Lamb! This causes those who follow this world’s new King to rethink everything! He is the Lamb slain, now reigning and ruling, and we are called to follow Him in executing that reign, in putting on display a world where children and elderly are safe, where the marginalized are welcomed and allowed to experience empathy rather than judgment, and where the poor are fed and kept warm. As we saw two weeks ago in Part 2, the reign of this Baby lying in a manger will be a Kingdom where He “will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2.4). What I want you to see this week is that we have been called to proclaim the reign of Christ, a reign already begun, a reign that we see around us by faith not by sight, a reign that we call this world to embrace. This is not to be confused with Christian Right or the Moral Majority of the 80’s and the 90’s, which sought to simply take over the top power positions of this present corrupt structure. We are talking about a revolution where everything is rethought and radically reimagined—a world of love, justice and peace, especially for the religiously marginalized and the politically oppressed.

Take an imaginative look at these passages:

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11.15)

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give Him glory because the hour of His reign has come.” (Revelation 14.6-7)

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree. He said to me, “You are my son. Today, I have become your father. Ask me and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalms 2.7-8).

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established. It cannot be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice. Let the earth be glad. Let the sea resound and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant and everything in them. Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord for He comes. He comes to reign on the earth. He will judge [reign over] the world in justice and the people in his faithfulness (Psalms 96.10-13, emphasis added).

Coming out of his MOUTH is a sharp sword with which to topple down the nations. “He will shepherd them with an iron staff” (Revelation 19.14-15, emphasis added).

To those who are victorious and who will do my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—they ‘will shepherd them with an iron staff and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ [Hebrew idiom for toppling their governments]—just as I have received authority from my Father (Revelation 2.26-27, emphasis added).

To those who are victorious, I will give them the right to sit with me on my throne [over the nations] just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne (Revelation 3.21, emphasis added).

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5.10).

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to reign (Revelation 20.4).

The nations will walk by its [the New Jerusalem’s] light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it (Revelation 21.24).

The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22.2).

“Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to Your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before You, for Your just acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15.3-4).

A new world is coming. In fact, it has already begun!

Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King!

Our job is to 1) proclaim this good news to the world, 2) put on display what the world looked like after it was changed by this new King, and 3) call this world to receive her new King, restore justice, healing and reconciliation His reign brings. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation [new world] has come!” (2 Corinthians 5.15, TNIV)

I want this to be clear. It is the politics of Jesus as seen in Matthew 5 and Luke 6 that we are to be put on display. We are not called to force Jesus’ politics to the world. No. We are called to put on display what the joyous vision looks like and to invite those around us to “receive their King”. The church, far from being an entity that is vying in culture wars for top power positions in this presently flawed, upside down system, are to put on display the beauty of God in Jesus is as well as a radically new way of doing life here on earth that stems out of that very beauty. Again, this will not be perceived as good news to those who are in the top positions of the present power structures, who benefit greatly at the expense of those further down the pyramid. Our living demonstration will be misrepresented, attacked, and portrayed as a pernicious movement that must be crushed. It will be a threat to “our very way of life.” Lowering the standards! Unsafe! Dangerous! They will threaten with violence (John 16.1,2). They will cry out that it is “better for you that one man dies for the people than for the whole nation to perish” (John 11.50; Luke 9.23). Our call is to live in freedom and to avoid the fear of being put to death, which this little Baby from Bethlehem has given us. This Baby we follow was killed for this dream, too (Mathew 6.10), but God raised Him from the dead and has promised that to us, too! Our call is to provoke both the religious systems that marginalize as well as the political systems that oppress by putting on display how the world, which has been changed by Jesus, looks like and to voluntarily embrace the Cross, which they will put us on, for in the same enemy loving, enemy embracing, enemy forgiving our new KING so beautifully modeled for us. This is what will change the world!

It is to embrace the just and equitous, restorative reign of our new King.

It is to embrace the freedom from the fear of death, the way of peace, the way of the Cross of our new King.

It is to embrace the reality that our King is truly “making everything new” (Revelation 21.5; 2 Peter 3.13).

Our call is to believe that this world can be and will be different under the reign of this Baby born to us in that manger long, long ago. We are not just to believe it; we are to give everything in our lives to become bent, re-formed, and re-fashioned in that direction.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King!

HeartGroup Application

I have something special for the HeartGroup this week:

1)This week, with Christmas being celebrated by so many, I want you to take some time each day to meditate on what I have compiled for you here. This is a paraphrase based on the passages that I have listed at the end.

Comfort, comfort to this world, says your God. Speak tenderly to its inhabitants and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed; that her sin has been pardoned. There is a voice calling in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low. The rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together”. He has come to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. He has shaken all nations, and what is desired by all nations has come, and he has filled this house with glory. But who could endure the day of His coming? Who could stand when He appears? For He was like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He sat as a refiner and purifier of silver, refining people like gold and silver. He has given us a sign: the virgin has conceived and given birth to a son and He was called Immanuel. You who bring good news, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news, lift up your voice with a shout. Lift it up. Do not be afraid. Say, “Here is your God!” Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. To those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born. To us a son is given, and the government is on His shoulders. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Understand that there were shepherds living out in the fields near Bethlehem one night, keeping watch over their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone all around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” Rejoice and shout inhabitants of the earth! See, your King has come to you, just, fair, true and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will take away all the war chariots and all the warhorses, and the battle bows will be broken.He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. He wills the nations like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads those that have young

(based on Isaiah 40.1-5; Haggai 2.6-7; Malachi 3.2-3; Isaiah 7.14; Isaiah 40.9; Isaiah 60.1-3; Isaiah 9.2, 6; Luke 2.2-14; Zechariah 9.9-19; Isaiah 35.5-6; Isaiah 40.11).

2) Each day, as you meditate on the themes represented here, I want you to make a journal. Write down the thoughts, ideas, questions, and inspirations that Jesus, our new King, shares with you.

3) This week, I want you to share what Jesus teaches you with your HeartGroup.

For everyone else, Merry Christmas! For the final time, may the truths proclaimed by the events that this season brings to the minds of so many be ever-present in your heart.

There will be no eSight next week. I am dropping off the map for a bit to spend some much needed time with my precious family. However, we will resume the following week with a whole new series on the Kingdom for 2014.

I love you guys. I’ll see you next year!

A Revolution in a Manger: (Peace on Earth); Part 3 of 4

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2.14)A Revolution in a Manger: (Peace on Earth), Part 3 of 4

“Peace on those whom he favors.” That was the promise Rome was making to the people. (See Part 1) These were the words Luke placed in the mouth of the angelic host. Peace, not through the militaristic violence of Rome, but peace through the other-centered, enemy embracing, self-sacrificial, enemy forgiving, humble, servant love of a new kind of King—King Jesus.

The prophecy had been given by Isaiah:

“In days to come the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2.2-4)

This was why this Baby had come! This is Jesus’ dream, his pearl of great price, for which he gave up all and asks us to do the same. It is the restoration of his reign, the reign of Christ, The Kingdom, on earth, once again, as it is in heaven. (See Matthew 13.45-46, 6.10)

But what I want you to notice in particular is what the nations would actually learn from this new King. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” A few chapters later, Isaiah refers to this King again in a passage that is quoted over and over this time of year: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority [remember Luke 4.5-6 and Matthew 28.18-19] rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9.6, emphasis added.) Yet what is missed so often is the very next phrase that follows this, “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace.” (Isaiah 9.7, emphasis added.) What Isaiah is telling us is that this little Baby lying in a Manger, in a very real sense, is not just your average baby. THIS Baby, is an incarnate Revolution of Divine origin, which would continue to grow until eternal peace would, once again, reign on earth. (Luke 2.14. Matthew 6.10)

How did this revolution begin? Not only were the angels of Luke’s story proclaiming another King other than Caesar, not only were they proclaiming peace through something other than the Pax Romana, they were pointing to a helpless Baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger as the means through which all of this would be accomplished. With keen perception, Dorothee Sollee looks into the manger of Bethlehem and has this to say:

“In Jesus Christ, God disarmed himself. God surrendered himself without protection and without arms to those who keep crying for more and more protection and arms. In Jesus Christ, God renounced violence. And of course, he did this unilaterally, without waiting for us to lay down our weapons first.”

This Baby had not come to bring peace through a sword, but peace through the way of the cross, teaching us too, how to love, forgive and embrace our enemies. This is the testimony of the early church for the first three hundred years:

“We (Christians) no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, but we have become the children of peace.” — Origin

“And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?” — Tertullian

“Anyone who has the power of the sword, or who is a civil magistrate wearing the purple, should desist, or he should be rejected.”—Hippolytus

“Rather, it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it. We would rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another.” —Arnobius

“It makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited.”—Arnobius

“When God forbids killing, he doesn’t just ban murder, which is not permitted under the law even; he is also recommending us not to do certain things which are treated as lawful among men . . . whether you kill a man with a sword or a word makes no difference, since killing itself is banned.”—Lactantius

“…no exceptions at all ought to be made to the rule that it is always wrong to kill a man, whom God has wished to be regarded as a sacrosanct creature.”—Lactantius

“In disarming Peter, [Christ] unbelted every soldier.”—Tertullian

But (someone always asks) what about Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” At face value, and taken grossly out of context, this seems to be a direct contradiction to the angelic host in Luke as well as the prophecies we have just seen from Isaiah. Just keep reading Jesus’ words in Matthew and you will see exactly what He’s saying. Here is the entire passage:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10.34-38)

What we must distinguish is peace as the means, verses peace as the end goal. I think we all can agree that Jesus came to bring peace as the ultimate end goal. We all have the hope that Christ will one day bring an end to the violence that so riddles our world. But how would the Baby lying in a manger accomplish this? This passage seems to indicate that the means whereby peace would be accomplished would not be so “peaceful.” There are two ditches that we must remain out of with this passage. The first is to say, “See, Jesus said not peace, but a sword,” and to rush into using the sword (violence) to try and establish peace. This is NOT what Jesus is saying in the least! (Verse 38 proves it.) The other ditch, which Jesus is actually addressing in this passage, is to say we are to be people of “peace” and therefore we are never to be a source of conflict in the world; we are to always simply go with the flow and not cause waves; we are to be about private piety, post mortem bliss, and personal holiness, never provoking the systemic injustice that is proliferated by the way this world is presently structured. (As a tangent, some interpret Romans 13 this way as well, but remember Paul was writing Romans 13 from a Roman jail cell.) Jesus taught neither using violence to accomplish peace nor did he teach passive nonresistance in the name of keeping the peace, which only allows evil to grow unchallenged. What Jesus taught is nonviolent noncooperation in response to evil. What Jesus is addressing in Matthew 10 could not be more clear. He is not saying that his followers should take up a sword themselves. No, NO! What Jesus is saying is in response to those who would use the label of “peace” for a veil to hide their cowardice, fear, and desire to avoid conflict. Jesus is telling us in clear tones that following Him and his revolution will produce a sword, not in the hands of his followers, but in the hands of those for whom the present structure of this world is stacked in their favor and who see Jesus and his followers as a threat.

Look at it this way. How did Rome respond to the early Jesus revolution? According to Luke in Acts 17, the disciples were accused of “turning the world upside down,” of “acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor,” and “saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17.6-8) But what I want you to notice is that this is what was spoken from the perspective of Rome, from a Roman paradigm. It is true that the disciples were acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, and it is true that they were proclaiming a different King other than Caesar, but they were NOT turning the world upside down. The world was already upside down; the disciples were working to restore, heal, and turn the world right side up once again, enlarging the reign of Christ. Herein though, lies the rub, and that which helps us understand Jesus’ words in Matthew. The way the world was structured in the days of Rome and the way the world is structured today favors a very few at the top, at the expense of the masses at the bottom. It may help you to imagine a pyramid. What Jesus had proclaimed was this Kingdom he had come to establish would be a “blessing” to the “poor,” but it would be a “woe” to those who were “rich.” (Luke 6.20, 24) Jesus had come to turn the world right side up again, which would be a blessing to those the present structure was oppressing, but it would be seen as a threat to those whom this present structure was rewarding. How would those who were being benefited by the systemic evil of this world respond to Jesus and his followers?

“I have come to set a man [whom this present structure favors] against his father [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution], and a daughter [whom this present structure favors] against her mother [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution], and a daughter-in-law [whom this present structure favors] against her mother-in-law [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution]; and one’s foes [those whom this present structure favors who are threatened] will be members of one’s [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution] own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

What Jesus is saying is that the ultimate goal of peace is not going to be accomplished by living a life of no conflict and calling it “being peaceable.” The goal of peace will be accomplished through embracing a cross, both his and ours. Yes, Jesus’ peace, in a way, will be accomplished by a sword, but a not by a sword wielded in the hands of the peace maker. No, it will be a sword in the hands of those who are threatened by the Jesus revolution being wielded against the peace maker, while the peace maker responds in nonviolent, other-centered, enemy-embracing and forgiving love.

Remember, peace brought through nonviolent noncooperation is nonviolent, but it’s non-cooperative too. Peace is accomplished by nonviolent noncooperation in three steps, the first of which does not appear to be very “peaceful.” First, Jesus calls us to provoke that which is out of harmony with His reign on earth, which is around us today. This was demonstrated in His cleansing of the temple. Second, those who are being benefitted by that which is out harmony with the reign of Christ here on earth, lift the sword against us. The sword is lifted against us because we are interpreted as a threat to their way of life. This was demonstrated by Jesus’ arrest by the Temple police. And third, we are called to respond to those who lift the sword against us by “embracing the cross.” This was demonstrated in Jesus’ nonviolent, loving response of embracing and forgiving those who crucified him. (see Luke 23.34)

I want to wrap up this week with the words of a sermon, A Christmas Sermon, given in 1967, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which I believe is incredibly appropriate entitled Peace of Earth. Read it prayerfully.

“I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”

By the time of Constantine, the Jesus revolution was growing so exponentially that it had become a significant threat to even Rome herself. Nero had tried to crush it and failed. (Remember, the way that nonviolent noncooperation works is that when the sword is raised against it, the sword/cross cause it to propagate rather than be extinguished. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the proclamation of Christ’s reign, the Kingdom.) Diocletian had tried to crush it and failed. Constantine had to do something. What did he do? With the skillful help of others, Constantine coopted the Jesus revolution from the inside out. If this had not happened, yes, Jesus followers would have still continued to have “the sword” lifted against them, and many would have continued to lose their lives. But eventually, the Jesus Kingdom would have been the last Kingdom standing. This is what Constantine foresaw and feared because it would mean the end of Rome. The kingdoms of this world would have become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ (Revelation 11.15). History has gone a different direction now for a time. But the promise still remains:

” . . . all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2.2-4)

HeartGroup Application

1.This week, I want you ponder the last two eSights along with this one. What is God saying to you this week as you ponder Jesus’ coming being a challenge to the Kingdoms of this world? (Part 1) So far, we have looked at two ways in which Jesus’ Kingdom accomplishes this. We considered how reign of this Baby lying in a manger frees us from the fear of death (or penalty), which is the very power the kingdoms of this world use to rule over others (Part 2). And this week (Part 3), we have looked at how being freed from that fear of death enables us to follow the way of peace, or nonviolent noncooperation, like the early church, in endeavoring to enlarge Christ’s Kingdom in putting the world right side up again. (Which we will be looking at in Part 4)

2. I want you to dedicate a small portion of time each day pondering these themes. Take time to look up the passages and ponder them. During this time I want you to also write down (journal) the thoughts and insights God shares with you during this time.

3.Share what you feel comfortable sharing with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

According to that little Baby in a manger, His way of peace implies voluntary submission to the penalty for noncooperation with evil.

The King of the Earth has come! (Luke 9.2)

Now let’s go enlarge His Kingdom, one human heart at a time!

Next week, we’ll wrap up this four-part series with a look at how this Revolution lying in a manger brings restored Justice. Nowhere do we see how threatening the Jesus Revolution is to those who are being benefited by the systemic injustice of our world more clearly than when we look the reign of Christ in relation to restorative justice. But we’ll get to that next week.

May the truths proclaimed by the events that this season brings to the minds of so many be ever-present in your heart.

I love you guys; I’ll see you next week.

A Revolution Lying in a Manger (Freedom from the Fear of Death); Part 2 of 4

“Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”—Mathew 2.2

A Revolution Lying in a Manger (Freedom from the Fear of Death)

Part 2 of 4

Before we look at this week’s subject, we must first review briefly what we covered last week. We looked at the first way in which the birth of Jesus challenged the culture of that day. We looked at how the birth of Jesus challenges every kingdom of this world (beginning with Rome) and the claims of every kingdom, nation, and superpower to be people’s lord and savior. In reality, the challenge the birth of Jesus presents to the kingdoms of this world is actually a very real challenge to the principalities and powers, which preside behind these kingdoms, and the claim of these powers over the masses. (Ephesians 6.12; Luke 4.5-6) You see, the Gospel, in its earliest form, was not an announcement of a private spiritual debt that had been paid so individuals could go to heaven when they die. The term Gospel was originally used by the Roman Empire. It was the message Rome gave to those who had been militaristically conquered to announce they had a new king (Caesar), which was their new lord and savior, bringing freedom, justice, and peace to their present hopeless state. This is why the Gospel of Jesus was seen as such a threat to the Roman Empire. It is true that during the time of Constantine, the revolutionary message of the apostles concerning King Jesus became domesticated. In order to no longer be a threat to the Empire, the Gospel then became about personal salvation, received into one’s heart and preoccupied with post-mortem bliss, rather than being about a new Kingdom on earth, a new King of this World, challenging all earthly kingdoms and the systematic injustice that the principalities and powers behind those kingdoms promote as illegitimate. The Gospel was a call to “the nations” (Matthew 28.19) to rethink their present allegiances, agendas, aims, and purposes, and to submit to the new universal reign of Christ. The Gospel in its earliest form was simply that there is a new King of the World and His Kingdom has come! (See Matthew 3.2, 4.17, 23, 6.10, 33, 9.35; Mark 1.15; Luke 4.43, 8.1, 9.2, 10.9.)

This is why Jesus was referred to as “the Christ.” As Egypt had Pharaohs, Rome had Caesars, Russia had czars, Great Britain has kings and queens, and the empire of America has a president, the Jews had been promised a Christ! He was the anointed one, the Messiah, who was to be born, from the lineage of King David, and to whom all the nations of the world would eventually bow to and worship as Lord. He would be given “authority, glory and sovereign power [a Kingdom]; and all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7.13, 14)

This is also exactly why the early Christians were martyred by the Roman Empire. Rome would not have given the Jesus movement a second thought if it only had to do with private piety focused primarily on afterlife affairs. But the message of the apostles was deeply concerned with matters of this life, this world. It was Earthly! The apostles were preaching another Gospel contrary to the gospel of Rome! They were proclaiming another king other than Caesar! They were proclaiming this Jesus as the Lord of the Earth, and the Savior of the World, who had come to give freedom, and establish justice and peace, rather than the Pax Romana. And to top it all off, they were proclaiming that this Jesus, whom Rome had executed (as Rome did with all political threats) had been raised back to life by God. They were preaching a God who had challenged and overturned Rome’s power to take other’s lives and that there was no longer any reason to fear what Rome could do to a follower of this Jesus. Jesus was offering a new world and Rome, with its threat of crucifixion, was powerless to stop it. As a matter of fact, crucifixion would only enlarge the reign of Christ faster. THIS is why Rome rightly saw the early Jesus movement as deeply subversive to its very existence. (When rightly understood, the Gospel is just as much a threat to the kingdoms of this world today.)

Herein lies this week’s point. The second way in which the birth of this little baby lying in a manger cut across the culture of its own day and continues to run crossways to the grain of our culture today is in the freedom that this baby brings.

What is this freedom? According to the author of Hebrews, this little baby, who was laid in a manger, broke “the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil [exercised through the nations]—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2.14, 15) You see, this freedom from the fear of death is not a death threatened upon us by an angry God, which Jesus has successfully appeased. NO, NO! This “power of death,” the ability to take life, is that which “the devil” wields over humanity and is exercised through the kingdoms of this world, to keep humanity subservient to their reign rather than this new Christ.

Consider Pilates words to Jesus. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19.10) Pilate’s words echo the words that every empire of this world has spoken to its citizens. It is their power to take life and our fear of having our life taken that keeps us enslaved to the kingdoms of this world, the principalities and powers to whom they belong, and the systemic injustice they together proliferate.

“Death and the fear of suffering unto death…serve as the deterrent system of every empire in history…the law of violence is that death is supreme. But if death so rules the world, what about those whose kingdom is not of this world of death? What about those who through interior struggle have been given the grace to overcome the fear of death? What about those who refuse to submit to the law of violence, who refuse to pledge allegiance to the empire of death? For those liberated from the fear of death, the law of violence is powerless…Nonviolence is the overcoming of death by a fearless love.” (James Douglass, The Nonviolent Coming of God.)

Today, everything in America is about death avoidance. When we stop to look around we see the power of the fear of death everywhere we turn. One example is the inordinate amount of money spent within American culture on modern medicine to avoid death. It is the very root and pulse of capitalism in the West. Stanley Hauerwas recently said, “The American desire to use medicine in an attempt to get out of life alive is but the domestic form of American foreign policy.” We must save an extended treatment of this specific application to another time. I only mention it here briefly to try and get you to notice again the water in which we are swimming. The fear of death actually governs our behavior in every area of our life. This is what made Constantinian Christianity so appealing to the early adherents of the American Dream. Constantinian Christianity, just like American culture, is enraptured with the goal of avoiding death. But the baby lying in a manger does not offer us a way to avoid death. On the contrary, this baby gives us a way through death. He has passed through death’s grasp and opened up a passageway on the other side. This baby has conquered death, and offers resurrection from it! Then, irony of all ironies, this baby takes death and turns it inside out as something to be embraced by His followers as the very means whereby His reign on earth is enlarged. (More on this next week.) Far from being a message about how to avoid death, the early Jesus story was a story that trained its adherents in how to die early, and how to die well. This baby conquered death and gives to the world the hope of a resurrection and a renewal where all opposition to Christ’s reign will be ultimately subverted.

I don’t want to steal too much from next week, but it’s difficult not to make certain bridges, as the freedom, peace, and justice this baby’s reign brings us are all interconnected. But in the name of practicality, it is this freedom from the fear of dying, freedom from the fear of having one’s own life taken, the willingness to have one’s own blood shed rather than to stain one’s hands with the blood of another, even in self-preservation, that keeps people from being shaped by the violence of their surrounding society and transforms them into that which shapes society instead. To say that violence must be met with violence, that violence is the lesser of two evils, only allows another person’s violence to create your environment rather than allowing that baby lying in a manger to recreate us all back into the image of the nonviolent God. It is the preservation of the fear of being killed that enables all of this. And it is freedom from this fear that makes impotent the power of death threatened by others. This is the truest meaning of being set free from the fear of death. The story of this new king lying in a manger is the story of one who came to us, giving us a better way, a way of freedom from the fear of dying, rather than being governed by it. This way is the way of a death-embracing (rather than avoiding) love coupled with the power of forgiveness for those who will take our lives. This is the story that yes, begins in a manger, and yes, includes our king’s death, but the story does not end there. The story of our new king ends in a resurrection, and not just His alone. The story of our king will climax in the resurrection of all those who follow this king, who join His revolution, His kingdom, in fearless love, and the hope of a world resurrected and transformed from the inside out by a fearless love of this nature.

HeartGroup Application

1.This week I want you to ponder these words:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2.1-13)

2.As you prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ kingship of this world and His special call to embrace His freedom from the fear of dying at the hands of the principalities and powers that now endeavor to rule this world (this really is the center piece of the Advent story), consider how the coming of these Magi was seen to be a threat by Herod. Allow these themes to permeate into your thinking today. Today we may not refer to kingdoms as such, but we do refer to nations and superpowers. What does it mean to embrace the Kingdom of Christ as the revolutionary competitor to nationalistic loyalties, loyalties to the present principalities and powers? How does the freedom from the fear of death, once embraced by the followers of Christ, liberate us to follow Him regardless of the threat of nations and superpowers today? (The fact that many here in America don’t even perceive this threat demonstrates how deeply we have been co-opted by civil religion here rather than captivated by the Jesus revolution.)

3.Share your thoughts this week with your HeartGroup.

Again, it is through the freedom from the fear of death, which enables us to lovingly embrace our enemies (with enemy-forgiving love) rather than resorting to retaliation or retreat, that the restorative justice and peace that comes through our Savior Jesus the Christ is enlarged here, once again, on Earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6.10) This was true of the early followers of Jesus for the first three hundred years, and it is to be true of us today as well. To follow that little baby lying in a manger today is to live under the reign of King Jesus in the here and now. It does not mean that we go around trying to force the world around us to change. Much more, we are called to put on display, to be an authentic revelation and demonstration of what the world changed by the reign of King Jesus looks like. To follow that little baby means to believe this unique proclamation: “Out of You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, has come a King who will shepherd the nations!” His reign has come. Our first call is to let go of our fear of death, our striving to always be preserving our lives. Embrace the resurrection and embrace the cross. The cross is not simply part of the story we are proclaiming, it is the very means whereby the mustard seed of the kingdom subverts all the other plants in the garden, and becomes the tree in which all the birds of the heavens nest. Embracing the freedom from the fear of death, from being killed, is foundational to everything else Jesus’ reign is to accomplish. Compared to the next two aspects we will be looking at, embracing this freedom is where every follower of Jesus must begin.

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12.25)

Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9.23, 24)

Come join the revolution, the King Jesus Revolution! For unto you is born this day a savior, who is Christ the Lord!

Again, may the truths proclaimed by the events that this season brings to the minds of so many be ever-present in your heart.

I love you guys. We’ll see you next week.

A Revolution Lying in a Manger: Freedom, Peace, and Justice; Part 1 of 4

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11)The holiday season has begun here in America. Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, this time of year for many is a time when the story of Jesus (granted, a very domesticated version) is brought down from our attics, dusted off, and placed in our front yards for all to see. What I would like to do over the next four weeks, though, is offer you a very unconventional, non-domesticated, early version of the Jesus story, before the Roman Empire (through Constantine) was able to co-opt it and use it for the Rome’s own agenda and propaganda. (More on this in the upcoming weeks.) You see, before Christianity was turned into a religion, before the Jesus story was diverted from its original purpose and role during the time leading up to the fourth century, the story that many will be celebrating within Western culture actually could not be more countercultural. There are four ways in which the Jesus story cut across the grain of the societal structures of its day. We will be taking a look at each of these and pondering what they may possibly be whispering to us in our culture today. This week, let’s begin with the words in Luke’s version of the Jesus story that were, according to Luke, spoken by “the Angel.”

In order to get the full impact of the words used here, we must entertain, for a brief moment, their historical setting. Luke places these words in the days of “Emperor Augustus” (Luke 2:1). Emperor Augustus (September 63 BC – August 14 AD) is heralded today as the founder of the Roman Empire, and its first emperor. Augustus’ original name was Gaius Octavius. In 44 BC he was adopted posthumously by his maternal great-uncle, Gaius Julius Caesar, following Julius’ assassination. Together with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, he defeated the assassins of Caesar. They then divided the Roman Republic (not the Roman Empire) among themselves and ruled as military dictators. After a period of civil war and much political unrest between these three, Augustus gained control in 31 BC. (Lepidus was exiled, and Antony allegedly committed suicide.)

Augustus restored the outward facade of the free Republic. Yet he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. Over the next several years, through strategy and intrigue, Augustus stealthily transformed the Republic into the Empire with himself as the sole ruler. The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace, known as the Pax Romana (Roman Peace). Despite continuous wars and imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers, as well as a year-long civil war over the imperial succession, the Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries. Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire. Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states, and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign. Augustus died in 14 AD at the age of 75. Augustus was celebrated as a hero after the strife of civil war. Augustus was considered the great source of peace for Rome. Four themes that would permeate his reign were freedom, justice, peace, and salvation. Whenever Augustus’ great accomplishments were proclaimed, the proclamation of Augustus’ victories were called the Euangelizo (“good news” or “gospel”). Augustus, “son” of the “divine” Julius Caesar, was celebrated as a great, universal “savior” for all people who were described as previously being in a hopeless state, and who would have remained so had Augustus’ victories not been achieved. The “Lord” Augustus had brought freedom, justice, and peace as a “savior” to all who would welcome his militaristic reign. Scholars today have defined these elements as the Roman Imperial theology that was continually propagated throughout the empire in Luke’s day through poems and inscriptions, coins and images, statues, altars, and structures. Through these cultic means, the Empire would justify its violent dominance, as well as its imposed heavy taxation throughout the conquered territories.

Now, go back and re-read the words Luke places in the mouth of the Angel who appeared that night before the shepherds:

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you EUANGELIZO of great joy for ALL PEOPLE: to you is born this day in the city of David a SAVIOR, who is the Messiah, the LORD.’”

No statement could be more revolutionary or politically rebellious. As N.T. Wright has aptly said, “The birth of this little boy is the beginning of a confrontation between the kingdom of God – in all its apparent weakness, insignificance, and vulnerability – and the kingdoms of this world.” (Luke For Everyone)

Next, Luke has an angelic host appear in the night sky for these shepherds, proclaiming, “GLORY to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE among those whom he FAVORS!” No statement could have been more provocative than what these heavenly messengers said. To all who would have been Luke’s original audience, these words would have been heard in stark contrast to the “glory” due only to Rome, and the “peace” Rome promised to those upon whom Rome’s favor rested.

What the Messiah of Luke’s gospel brings is not an evacuation route out of earth to heaven, but a revolution where the reign of God is once again established on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). The birth of this baby, lying in a manger, would end in the proclamation that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)

How would he do it? In a way symbolized by the apparent peacefulness of a baby lying in a manger, born into a life of poverty. This baby, helpless as it seemed, would be the means through which the Roman Empire, as well as all of this world’s empires (including whatever empire you find yourself living in today), would crumble, not by militaristic might, but by a humble servant’s love. This baby would be the undoing of all the unjust social structures of this world, not through the power of justified violence or the power to take life, but through the power found in laying His own life down, to be taken by His enemies, coupled with enemy-embracing, enemy-forgiving love. When one sees how threatening the Jesus story is to whatever the current societal arraignments of the day are, it’s no wonder the Empire worked so tirelessly to reframe the Jesus revolution into a religion that actually supported the Empire in the fourth century. Through this baby, the truth about God, the truth about ourselves, and the truth about everyone else around us would be proclaimed. In John’s version of the Jesus story, John has Jesus, on the day of his death, saying to Pilate, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37, emphasis added). The revelation of the truth this baby’s birth would proclaim to the world would be the means whereby all of Creation might be reconciled once again to each other and back to God (Ephesians 1:10, 2.16; Colossians 1:20).

Over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas, we will be looking at how this baby’s birth (rather than the empires of this world) bring to us the justice we hunger for, the peace we so desperately need, and the freedom to make it all happen. We will begin next week with freedom, for it is through the specific freedom given by this baby, lying in a manger, that the peace and restorative justice of the reign of Christ was realized within the early Jesus revolution. The first thing we need is freedom—freedom from the fear that the empires of this world lord over us, freedom from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14, 15). It’s a game-changer once it dawns upon your heart. But we’ll pick that up next week.

HeartGroup Application

1.This week, as we enter the holiday season, take a moment to notice the water you’re swimming in. Step back and make the comparisons necessary between the Roman Empire that reigned in the days of Jesus’ birth and whatever governing structure you happen to live under today. Make a list of five similarities between Rome and whatever ruling structure you find yourself living in (for me it would be America).

2.Now look at that list of five similarities. One such example for me is the repeated slogan that democracy is the last great hope of the world. And although I will be quick to add that democracy is preferable to me than any monarchy, aristocracy, or dictatorship, it still is not the last great hope of the world—Jesus is. Now take a look at each of the five comparisons you’ve made and prayerfully meditate on how they may compete with Jesus in our heart’s devotion, and on where we have bowed to our own empires today as idols in which we hope for freedom, justice, and peace, rather than the baby “wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

3.Be prepared to share your insights this week with your HeartGroup.

Taking time to contemplate the Advent of Christ and its meaning in its own historical context, as well as ours today, is the most revolutionary thing one can do. It is in the meditation on these themes that the early Jesus revolution was born, and Jesus’ followers were “turning the world upside down,” “acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor,” and saying “that there is another King named Jesus.” (Acts 17:6–7) May that also be said of Jesus-followers in our day.

Happy Holidays to each of you, and may the Truth proclaimed by the events that this season brings to the minds of so many be ever present in your heart.

I love you guys.

See you next week.

 

Thanks, Repentance, and Confession Giving

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied . . . Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. (Luke 6.21-25)We are just a few days away from a time spent in America around a table with good food, friends, family, celebration, and thankfulness. When I was a child, I was often accused of thinking about things too hard. “Lighten up, Herbie,” they’d say. “It’s just about having some fun.” And although I agree that I usually am looking at things way too seriously, I can’t seem to shake my thoughts about Thanksgiving this year. I want to say from the very beginning that I am in NO WAY saying anything negative about Thanksgiving, nor am I against celebrating this day to the fullest! What I’m suggesting is a more “holistic” Kingdom way through which a follower of Jesus might approach this day and the history it represents.

Let me explain. Recently, I heard a joke told by Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University. And although Hauerwas used the joke in relation to patriotism and the followers of Jesus, I believe it is also relevant to our subject this week.

The story is told of a day when Tonto and the Lone Ranger find themselves hopelessly surrounded by hundreds of aggressive Indians. Looking down at his trusty, silver six-shooter, and knowing it was not going to be enough, the Lone Ranger looked at Tonto and said, “What do we do now, Tonto?” Tonto calmly looked at the Lone Ranger and said, “What do you mean ‘we’, white man.”

In a sense, this is where I am too this year with Thanksgiving. Everywhere in America, I hear the rhetoric that surrounds this time of year where “we” as Americans celebrate how our Christian, European, pilgrim, immigrant forefathers were befriended by natives and taught how to survive. It’s a time where “we” celebrate with family and friends. And I want to just pause and sincerely ask the question, as a Jesus follower, “What do you mean ‘we’?”

Yes, I’m a white male, living in America, of European descent, but is this the only lens through which I, as a follower of Jesus and one who claim’s Christ’s Kingdom, can see? Is this the only lens through which Jesus calls me to see this holiday and its history?

You see, in the United States, the American Thanksgiving holiday tradition is very loosely traced by most to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in Massachusetts. In the 1620s and 1630s, pilgrims and puritans from England carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. What strikes me is how religious these immigrants were. This year, it is even more striking to me as my attention has recently been drawn to the deep contradiction between religiously worshiping Jesus and ethically following Jesus. (You’ll have to pardon me, I just finished The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonheoffer again.) You see, the “Christian” newcomers to this land, as religious as they were, were not as committed to what it meant to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus found in His landmark sermon on the mount. History is typically told from the perspective of the victors, the ones who have taken over a new territory. Rarely is history seen through the glasses of those who were defeated, those who had their homes taken away. I recently asked one of my American Indian friends what Thanksgiving means to them from their perspective. What I heard was a rich history of indigenous people who lived here long before this land was called America. I heard the story of how the Wampanoag, who had already experienced raids and slavery at the hands of Christian Europeans, nevertheless, embraced their “enemies” and taught these foreigners the skills necessary to grow their own food and survive. Whether intentionally or not, the reward they received for this was to suffer from diseases they had never known and against which their bodies had no immunity, ultimately suffering hunger and death themselves. Yes, this day stands for the survival of white immigrants as a result of the grace given them by this native tribe. But the celebration also lives within a story told upon the backdrop, sadly, of treachery, racism, and violence against millions of indigenous people that was justified then, and continues to be justified today, by Christian rhetoric.

Today, for some, this holiday is not simply a time to remember the survival of Christian pilgrims, it is also a story that includes small pox blankets, “civilizing” schools, and broken treaties. Although there are those who will endeavor to downplay and even deny these story details, they are bound together with our Thanksgiving celebration no matter how we try to reinterpret the day’s meaning and baptize it with Christian language and metaphors.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but this year, I’m choosing for my Thanksgiving celebration to also include Repentancegiving,, and some Confessiongiving. I want to experience more than simply gratitude, I want to be reminded of how easy it is for religion to be used for agendas other than those of the nonviolent Christ. At the very least, I’m choosing this year to embrace the complexity and contradictions of this day, honestly. Rather than giving in to myth and legend, I want this day to be a time, yes, spent with family and friends in laughter, celebration, and thankfulness. But I want this day to also be a reminder to continually analyze the water in which we are all swimming. I want this to be a day when I remember those who are not on the winning side of how life on earth is currently orchestrated. I want to see their stories through their eyes. And to stand in solidarity with them. This year, I want to be part of the cure, rather than the disease. Till the only world that remains, is a world where love reigns.

HeartGroup Application

1.This week, I want you to make a list of ten things for which you are thankful.

2.I want you to then, alongside each of those ten, consider those around the globe at whose expense those blessings might have come and take a moment to look at life through their eyes. Spend some thoughtful time in prayer over what this might mean and what Jesus, your mentor, would have his disciple (you) think, feel, and do as a result.

3.Share what you discover with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you. And to all those who hunger and thirst for justice, you will be filled. The Kingdom Jesus has come to establish here on planet earth is slanted in your favor.

We’ll begin next week on a special four-part series on the birth of Jesus, which sparked what I consider to be the most beautiful revolution in all of human history—The Kingdom!

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

 

The Pre-Constantinian Mustard Seed

“It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” (Luke 13.19)

The last time I had seen this place was in the midst of a hasty departure when I was twelve. Many of you are aware of my childhood. When I was only seven years old, my mother and stepfather became enamored with the then-famous TV evangelist Jim Bakker and his PTL (Praise the Lord) Club. Shortly after encountering his television program, my parents sold almost everything we possessed and moved from West Virginia to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I would spend the next five years of my life. In 1988, when the ministry was in the midst of a full unravel, my mother decided it was time to leave and return to West Virginia. That was the last time I would see PTL. When I was a child, it was a place that was larger than life. It was a virtual, Bible-belt, evangelical, fundamentalist’s vacation paradise. From luxurious “Grand Hotels,” monstrous water parks, Christian dinner theaters, roller-skating rinks blaring Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, outdoor Passion-Plays, Bible-based children’s amusement parks to an elaborate television studio and a Mega Church. Even the streets had names from the Bible. Everything the prosperity Gospel could promise and more. It was quite a production. (It’s no wonder that today I have such a low tolerance for most things religious!). When we left that place in the late 80s, it looked much different than it does now.

A few years ago, I was driving through Charlotte, and I thought, “Why not? I’ll just swing by and see the old place.” I was not prepared for what I would see. Today, most of those beautiful structures have fallen through. The horticulture of the area, once tamed by an extensive grounds crew, left to itself has overgrown many of the buildings. The bricks of which many of the hotels are comprised are worn away and chipped. The grey slate roof atop the giant auditorium called “the Barn”, where weekly church services were held, has fallen in, leaving an entire auditorium now with a giant sky light, or rather, just an unobstructed view of the clouds. Vines are growing uncontrollably up the sides of buildings. Sidewalks are barely distinguishable. Roads have completely disappeared. It once had the smell of new carpet, new construction, and now has the smell of wildlife. Where the sounds of children and families laughing and celebrating once filled the air, there now is an eerie, haunting silence as if you are the only person left on the planet. It has become a ghost town; a post-apocalyptic world that looks more like the set of a zombie film than the remains of a once vibrant Evangelical, Christian ministry.

What I want to draw your attention to is that as mighty as these edifices were both physically and ideologically, from dust these things had come and to dust they have returned. Flora’s (and maybe even fauna’s too) ever present pursuit of growth, if not vigilantly and continually opposed, will eclipse and overtake the mightiest inventions of humankind.

A fitting illustration of this point is my family’s return home this past summer after being gone for a six-week speaking tour. We came home to find a veritable jungle surrounding our home rather than the manicured state our “lawn and garden” had been left in.

Recently, I had the chilling experience of seeing some “before and after” pictures of Chernobyl, the site of a catastrophic nuclear accident on April 26, 1986. On that day at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine (then under the direct jurisdiction of the Soviet Union) an explosion released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR and Europe. The Chernobyl disaster is widely considered to have been the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event (the maximum classification) on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

To see pictures of Chernobyl today is even more chilling than a visit to my childhood stomping grounds. This truly was an apocalyptic event that destroyed an entire city that today, due to radioactive pollution, is deserted, devoid of inhabitants (save for a very few who are still too poor to leave.) Chernobyl, which was once a thriving metropolitan city, today stands empty, silent, and still. The streets are empty. Commercial buildings are shells of their former glory. Residences sit vacant. Within these pictures, Chernobyl is decomposing right before your eyes. What used to be a beautiful city is now a haunting example, once again, of how flora and fauna quickly work together to reclaim, slowly and determinedly undoing the work of human kind. If left to their will, they will eventually, given enough time, make the presence of humanity and the nightmare humanity created here, wholly undetectable.

The most chilling picture for me, even above the empty city streets, was that of an indoor Olympic swimming pool, which once was a beautiful symbol of lifestyle, wealth, and plenty, now standing there empty, abandoned, with tiles having been eroded over time, and the giant clock on the wall, no longer keeping time, but silently standing guard and collecting dust while it too decays.

All of this brought home to my heart this week the words of Jesus in our featured text this week from the Gospel of Luke:

“It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” (Luke 13.19)

I, unabashedly, subscribe to a form of Christianity that is decidedly pre-Constantinian. Before Christianity was coopted by Constantine and made into a religion, it was a movement, centered on the person Jesus the Christ, and focused on what that Jesus called “the Kingdom of God.” As I look at Christian history, the Constantinian shift has done untold damage to the original Jesus movement of the first century. But in a strange way, my childhood home at PTL, and these pictures of Chernobyl, strange as it may seem, give me hope. Today, Christendom (Constantinian-Christianity, where Christianity became the whore of Empire) has died in both Europe and Canada. It is dying here in America as well. Today, many believe we are living in a “post-Christian” era, and I agree. The “culture wars” here in America are over, and the Fundamentalists have lost. But what many Christians today are seeing as a cause for mourning, I see as a cause to celebrate. You see, given enough time, the mustard seed will, slowly and determinedly, grow. To just say it simply, if grass can find its way through cement sidewalks to grow toward the sun once again, then maybe, the Kingdom, the original Jesus movement, can find its way through the wreckage of Constantine to humanity once again today. Christendom, even with all its accomplishments, has left each of the societies where she has reigned supreme in as desolate a condition along the spiritual landscape today as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant finds itself along the physical landscape of the city of Chernobyl. And yet, just as the flora and fauna in this once-beautiful city seeks to return Chernobyl to its former state before the abuses of humankind, the Kingdom, the mustard seed is still growing almost imperceptibly today. If one will stop and listen, if one will place their ear to the ground, one can hear the rumblings. There is a movement afoot within Christianity that transcends the boundaries between Eastern Orthodox, Western Catholicism, and Protestantism, as well as the divisions of denominations (or “names”, as Paul calls them, see 1 Corinthians 3) within Protestantism. In almost every group mentioned above is the sound of those who are awakening to the fact that something is wrong. Somewhere we have strayed. And among many within each of the divisions just mentioned is an awakening, as almost to a new thought, that we must return to a pre-Constantinian Jesus and become reacquainted with Jesus’s central teachings in the Sermon on the Mount to find out where we have gone wrong. Many, from various and different traditions, are coming to believe that it was Jesus and His landmark teachings in the Sermon on the Mount that were marginalized by Christiandom in the fourth century with the arrival of the influence of Constantine. I find this most encouraging! After all, we believe in a story that when all hope was gone, from the tomb came a resurrection. And where many believe that Constantinian Shift killed the original Jesus movement, and I believe it did, we are witnessing the resurrection of that movement in our lifetimes today.

If the flora can triumph over the man-made “Christian” edifices of my childhood home, as well as have the power to undo, given enough time, the wreckage of nuclear technology gone awry in Chernobyl, then maybe, just maybe, the fauna of the “Kingdom”, of the “Son of Man,” of the “narrow way” of the early Jesus movement, of the “Mustard Seed” of enemy-embracing, enemy-love and forgiveness, united with concern for the sick and hope to the poor, can undo the damage of Christiandom on our world. More blood has been shed in the name of the nonviolent Jesus than any other name in human history. It’s time for that to be reversed. Jesus came possessing hope, through His teachings, for this world (see John 3.17). If we are going to return to being His followers, embracing the early Jesus movement once again, the question we have to answer, as His followers, is “Do we?”

HeartGroup Application

1. This week I’d like you to spend some time prayerfully contemplating the following passages from the Jesus story:

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.” (Matthew 13.31)

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17.20 [21])

It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. (Mark 4.31)

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.’” (Luke 17.6)

2. Take a look at the context. What was the “mountain” Jesus’s Kingdom of nonviolent enemy-love and concern for the poor could overthrow? What was this “mulberry tree” Jesus was sure could be uprooted by the mustard seed like faith in Himself and His teachings? Write down any insights that come to you as you pray over these questions.

3. Be prepared to share any new insights you receive this week with your HeartGroup.

Jesus foresaw that His Kingdom, centered in Himself and His teachings, His new way of doing life here and now, of which He was the template, could significantly impact this world. Jesus was not so much concerned with helping people escape to heaven, as he was with reestablishing heaven on earth once again. Eighty-one times Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man.” Even secular scholars today are almost unanimous that this is original to the historical Jesus himself. They also agree that this is one of the clearest insights we have to Jesus’s own headspace as to what He believed He was accomplishing. Lastly, they are agreed that this is a vision of the purpose of His own mission, rooted in Daniel 7.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a SON OF MAN, COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN. He approached THE ANCIENT OF DAYS and was led INTO HIS PRESENCE. He was GIVEN AUTHORITY, glory and sovereign power; ALL NATIONS and peoples of every language WORSHIPED HIM. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7.13, 14)

“But I say to all of you: From NOW ON you will see the SON OF MAN sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One (see Psalms 110.1) and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” (Matthew 26.64)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All AUTHORITY in heaven and on earth HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME. Therefore go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS . . .” (Matthew 28.18,19)

The Kingdom has come. . . now go heal the sick. (see Luke 9.2) Until the only world that remains is a world where Jesus’s Love reigns.

I love you guys.

I’ll see you next week.

Part 9: The Coming of the Son of Man in an Unexpected Way

Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them—it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.” Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Luke 17.22-37)This week I want to wrap up this nine part series on the eight final prophecies of Jesus in Luke’s gospel by returning to the fifth prophecy in Luke 17. I want to warn you. This final ninth part is twice as long as any of the other eight parts that have preceded it, but I want to promise you it is worth the read. Let’s begin.

What must be kept in mind from the beginning is that just as Matthew 5-7 is a Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus to his “disciples” and Luke 6 is a sermon on the plain spoken to “the people,” so the Olivet discourse given to “the disciples” in Matthew 24 is a Temple discourse given to “the people” in Luke’s gospel (Luke 21) , as is the passage we are looking at this week spoken to both a Pharisee and Jesus’ disciples in Luke 17.

Where I believe the majority of modern commentators run into problems is that they try and force Luke 21 and Luke 17 (as well as Matthew 24) into either being primarily about the destruction of Jerusalem or primarily about the Second Coming. They are primarily about neither, but rather about the coming of the Nonviolent Kingdom and Reign of Christ on earth as it is in heaven. Two quick words of caution for both audiences. First, I want you to know from the very beginning that I believe in a literal second coming of Jesus that is still in the future, although I believe the passages in the gospels that are traditionally believed to be speaking of Jesus’ second coming are really speaking of the coming of the Bar Enasha (the Son of Man and the new community centered in him; see Daniel 7.13,14 which is also about the coming of Christ’s Kingdom and not the “second” coming. Christ’s coming in this passage is to the Ancient of Days, not the earth at the end of time.) and the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom instead. In other words, the second coming and the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom are not the same event in the gospels. Christ’s Kingdom, according to Jesus, was actually established on this earth through the events of the first coming of Jesus, although His kingdom today is in its obstructed form. Also, secondly, the destruction of Jerusalem (which actually was the result of Judaism’s rejection of a nonviolent Messiah and the possibility of a nonviolent Kingdom, and their choice of violent, militaristic revolution against Rome instead) would now be a part of the history that would surround the coming of Christ’s nonviolent, enemy-embracing Kingdom. In other words, certain pieces of these passages may refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in so much as it plays a part in the overall scheme of the prophecies, yet these prophecies are not primarily about the destruction of Jerusalem, but the coming of Christ’s nonviolent reign on earth. This will become clear as we progress through the passage. Let’s start to unpack the passage this week. Please keep in mind, problems arise with these passages only when we try to make these words primarily about either the destruction of Jerusalem, or the literal second coming, rather than the establishment of Christ’s nonviolent Kingdom on earth.

Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.”

Within the cultural context of Jesus’ message of nonviolent, enemy embracing, enemy love, and forgiveness, was a document highly regarded by the Pharisees entitled The Rule of the Messiah (or The Rule of the Congregation, depending on your source). The coming of the Messiah, and the establishment of the kingdom of the “Son of Man” (see Daniel 7.13,14) would be ushered in by a violent war between the Messiah and Israel’s enemies. Jerusalem would be established through the violent destruction of Jerusalem’s enemies. When Jesus uses the phrase here, “the days of the Son of Man” of which the disciples would long for, Jesus is referring to the contemporary beliefs surrounding how the kingdom of the “Son of Man” would be established. Jesus clearly says that a coming of the “Son of Man” that looks like The Rule of the Messiah that “you will not see.” It won’t be happening like that at all. On the contrary, he says that because of Jerusalem’s rejection of a nonviolent Messiah in favor of a violent one, Jerusalem will now be the victim of destruction at the hands of her enemies, rather than the other way around. This was a blatant contradiction of the contemporary beliefs of the coming of the Kingdom of the “Son of Man” as presented in The Rule of The Messiah. To give you a taste of how this document reads, after the mass destruction of Jerusalem’s enemies, there is a banquet spoken of, of which it reads:

“At a session of the men of renown, those summoned to the gathering of the community council, when God begets the Messiah with them: the chief priest of all the congregation of Israel shall enter, and all his brothers, the sons of Aaron, the priests summoned to the assembly, the men of renown, and they shall sit before him, each one according to his dignity. After, the Messiah [War Lord] of Israel shall enter and before him shall sit the heads of the thousands of Israel, each one according to his dignity, according to his position in their camps and according to their marches. … And when they gather at the table of community or to drink the new wine, and the table of the community is prepared and the new wine is mixed for drinking, no-one should stretch out his hand to the first-fruit of the bread and of the new wine before the priest, for he is the one who blesses the first-fruit of the bread and of the new wine and stretches out his hand towards the bread before them. Afterwards, the Messiah of Israel shall stretch out his hands toward the bread. And afterwards, they shall bless all the congregation of the community, each one according to his dignity. And in accordance with this precept one shall act at each meal, when at least ten men are gathered.”

It is this document, this portrayal of how the Kingdom of the “Son of Man” will be ushered in, that Jesus repeatedly contradicts in passages such as Luke 14 and in his last supper in Luke 22. But the comparison of these will have to wait for another time.

What Jesus is sharing in this passage in Luke 17 is that not only will Jesus’ Kingdom not be established with this type of violence, but because of Jerusalem’s rejection of enemy love, enemy forgiveness, enemy embracing, and nonviolence, in Jerusalem’s future now lies her own destruction, rather than that of her enemies.

They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.

Please see Part 5 for a full treatment of this section. Suffice it to say here that Jesus is saying that the Kingdom will not come through a violent insurrection against Rome as Jesus’ contemporaries were expecting.

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.

I believe Jesus is saying here that the Kingdom of the “Son of Man” rooted in Daniel 7.13,14 would not come the way The Rule of the Messiah had spoken, but rather it would be a light in the heavens, lighting up the dark night sky, from the east as far as the west. It would be radically more inclusive than they had understood or were willing to embrace. It would include those in the east as well as those in the west, as a light to both, bringing reconciliation, restoration, and healing.

But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.

In this passage, Jesus clearly believes he will be rejected rather than embraced. This makes the next passages extremely insightful.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them—it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

Look at these stunning parallels Jesus is making. Noah had preached 1) of a coming destruction, 2) of a way to prevent that destruction, and was 3) rejected by his generation, which 4) lead to that generation’s destruction. In the exact same pattern, Jesus had come 1) warning of a coming destruction upon Jerusalem if they continued on their current path of an eye for an eye retaliation and violence toward their enemies; 2) presented a way to prevent that destruction through embracing his “narrow path” of nonviolent, enemy embracing, enemy love, and forgiveness; just like Noah, was 3) being rejected by his generation; and 4) this rejection would also end in the generation of Jesus’ day being annihilated by Rome.

The parallels between the days of Lot and Jesus’ ministry are just as stunning. Jesus, just like the messengers in Lot’s day, had come to Jerusalem warning of a coming destruction and of a way to escape that destruction by abandoning the way of eye-for-an-eye retribution and retaliation, and instead, embracing the path of nonviolent, enemy love. Just as with Sodom and Gomorrah, as a result of the path of violence, Jerusalem’s fiery destruction was now in Jerusalem’s future too. Jerusalem would see too late, she would become aware; it would be “revealed” to her in the midst of this fiery destruction that Jesus was right. There is a violent path that seems right to mankind, but the end thereof is death. Jesus’ Kingdom, the way of nonviolence, would be seen (would be revealed) to truly be the way of life when Jerusalem’s reluctance to let go of violence would end in her going up in smoke—a smoke that would ascend forever and ever.

On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them back; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.

This passage is so closely related to Jesus’ words in Luke 9.23 that it is a wonder that so many scholars have missed it. “Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it’” (emphasis added). This is another clear case of where today there will be those who see in this the destruction of Jerusalem, as well as those who argue for an application of the second coming. I’m submitting that it is primarily about neither, but rather about the two paths we have been seeing continually in each of the eight final prophecies of Jesus concerning Jerusalem. Remember, the choice was nonviolence or nonexistence. It was a choice between two paths: 1) nonviolent, enemy embracing, enemy forgiving, enemy love; or eye-for-an-eye retaliation and retributive, violent resistance against the Romans. Luke’s use of these words of Jesus is unmistakable. To come down off the rooftop to “take back” one’s belongings that are being threatened is to try to resist Roman occupation through violent insurrection. The word Jesus uses here for those who come down to “take them back” is the Greek word “airo.” It is the same word used early on by Jesus in His Sermon on the Plain. “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away [Airo] your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods [Airo], do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus was warning of a time when Rome would come and Airo the possessions of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and even then, Jesus was saying the Kingdom response’s would be to NOT “Airo” [take] your possessions back through violent insurrection but to turn the other cheek, love, and turn those possessions into a gift. I’m reminded of Victor Hugo’s priest, who instead of “taking back” [Airo] the candlesticks Jean Valjean had stolen, simply gave them to him as a gift, thus bringing radical transformation to the heart of a thief. To come down to “take back” one’s goods was to “turn back” to try and fight against Rome’s soldiers through violent retaliation in an endeavor to “save” one’s life, to try and make one’s “life secure” through violent means against the threat of violence from Rome. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus has been saying ever since Luke 6. To be willing to let go of Jewish pride, and of a vision of the Kingdom rooted in the destruction of one’s enemies; to seek the eternal welfare of the Romans over and above making one’s own life secure; to abandon the tribal nationalism of Judaism in favor of losing one’s life, even for the coming of the nonviolent, enemy-embracing Kingdom of the “Son of Man”—THIS is what it means to choose between “taking goods back” or “turning back” to violently protect possessions and one’s life, and learning the way of nonviolent noncooperation. Jesus equates the path of violent retaliation against a Roman attack as akin to when Lot’s wife turned back to try and save her possessions from destruction.

Jesus then drives the point home:

I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.

From the beginning, Jesus has been contrasting two paths: the narrow path of nonviolent noncooperation, which could create a whole new world; or the wide path of violent retaliation, which leaves the whole world blindly escalating toward annihilation. Here Jesus personifies each option by two in a bed and two grinding meal. The one who chooses the path of violence will be “taken” away,” while the one who chooses nonviolence will be “left.” The one who seeks to “make their life secure” will be “taken,” they “will lose it.” While those who choose the path of nonviolent noncooperation, those who are willing to “lose their life” will be “left,” they will “keep it.”

Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

The question is asked “Where? Where will they be taken, Lord?” And Jesus’ answer is most likely the one phrase in the entire passage that would have created the greatest paradigm shift in the entire conversation. “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Here, Jesus is referencing Ezekiel’s prophecy in Ezekiel 39 and combining it with Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 25. Space does not permit me to quote both of these passages at length, but I would like you to go back and read each of these for yourself. Ezekiel 39 is the prophecy that Israel will be restored, while Israel’s enemies are destroyed. In verses 17-19, Ezekiel prophesizes, “As for you, mortal, thus says the Lord GOD: Speak to the birds of every kind and to all the wild animals: Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the MIGHTY, and drink the blood of THE PRINCES OF THE EARTH—of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan. You shall eat fat until you are filled, and drink blood until you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you. And you shall be filled at my table with WARHORSES and BATTLE CHARIOTEERS, with WARRIORS and all kinds of SOLDIERS, says the Lord GOD.” What Jesus is doing here is amazing. He is taking Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning the fate of Israel’s enemies, turning it on its head (Jeremiah 18.5-10), and using Ezekiel’s imagery to prophesize about what would actually happen to Israel herself at the hands of her enemies because of her failure to forsake violence and embrace the nonviolence of Jesus as their Messianic hope. Just stop and think about that. Isaiah prophesized in Isaiah 25, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for ALL PEOPLES a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over ALL PEOPLES, the sheet that is spread over ALL NATIONS; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.” Isaiah prophesized of the restoration of Israel, which would include all peoples of every nation, kindred, and tongue. Yet those of Jesus’ day would rather embrace the eschatology of The Rule of the Messiah, which spoke of Israel’s enemies being annihilated by the Messiah, leaving only the Jewish nation itself. Jesus is combining both of these “banquet” prophesies (Ezekiel’s and Isaiah’s) alongside of the “banquet” prophecy of The Rule of the Messiah, and then gives the final blow, “there the vultures will gather.” The word here for “vulture” could be translated as “eagle” equally as well as “vulture.” Rome’s national symbol was the eagle. Surely the eagles of Rome would soon be circling Jerusalem if they continued to refuse the path of nonviolence.

Luke’s continuing context confirms our interpretation of Jesus’ words. Luke follows all of this up with Luke 18, where Jesus gives the parable of the unjust judge, who refuses to be moved, for those who might feel that Jesus’ nonviolence doesn’t seem to be working, saying that they should not give up, and they should keep praying and keep loving. Then Luke has Jesus once again contrasting the two paths (narrow/life vs. wide/death) of violence and nonviolence: the two in bed and the two grinding grain, with the two who went to the temple to pray. What is deeply profound is that Jesus places the Pharisees, who consider themselves more favored by God than anyone else, in the category of the ones who are “taken,” while the Jewish tax-collector, who sought the path of “mercy,” is in the category of those who would be “left.”

Much to ponder for sure.

HeartGroup Application

1.This week I want you to take the time to take each of the eight prophecies (one a day) and dedicate a portion of your day to prayerfully contemplating what it meant for Jesus’ audience, and what each prophecy could mean for us today.

2.Keep notes of any insights you receive throughout the week.

3.Share those insights with your HeartGoup this upcoming week.

In Luke 17.6, Luke records the words of Jesus, “The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’” Mulberry trees in this region were over twenty feet tall, but something as small as a mustard seed could uproot it, according to Jesus. What was this seemly insignificant, small means of accomplishing such a significant task? Jesus was clear. Faith in Jesus’s teaching on enemy love, enemy forgiveness, nonviolent, enemy embracing, noncooperation, to believe in nonviolent enemy love as the means whereby we can change the world, is to practice a faith with mustard seed qualities. Jesus was clear, “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” Today our world is enveloped in the darkness of violence. It would be good to remember that the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn. Christ’s nonviolent Kingdom will light up the dark night sky from the east to the west, showing us a better way, the way that leads to life. I want to close this series with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but that same Christ arose and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ There is something in the universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, ‘Truth crushed to earth will rise again.’” (The Gospel Messenger; 1958)

This is the same hope given to us in Jesus’ sermon on the plain and repeated throughout the final eight prophecies of Jesus concerning Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke. The Kingdom has come! It is among us! Christ’s way of nonviolent noncooperation combined with Truth and enemy love, places the means of significant world change, of healing, restoration, and reconciliation in the hands of each of us. May the world of enemy inclusion, forgiveness, and love continue to grow through us today. We are not irrevocably fated for nonexistence. We can choose the path of nonviolence and love.

Till the only world that remains, is a world where enemy-embracing, enemy-forgiving, enemy-loving, nonviolent love reigns.

I love you guys.

I’ll see you next week.

Prophecy #8 – A Green Tree verses a Nation of Dry Trees

Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23.28–31)We’ve reached the eighth and final prophecy of the last eight prophecies of Christ in Luke’s version of the Jesus story. We will be returning to the fifth prophecy in Luke 27 for the ninth and final part of this series, but this week we are looking at Jesus’ words to the women weeping for him on his bloody march to Golgotha.

Jesus was just moments away from being crucified. Luke tells us that “a large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.” (Luke 23.27) It is difficult to discern whether these women were sincerely weeping for Jesus and Jerusalem’s rejection of him or because of the dashing of their hopes that this Jesus would be their Messiah. Days earlier this same crowd had ushered Jesus into Jerusalem. There is much that is missed in the details of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem by today’s Christians who still trust in militaristic saviors in our current global climate. Here Jesus is borrowing imagery used by Rome itself. It must be remembered that Caesar himself was referred to as the “son of God.” He was called “the savior of the world.” It was through the victories of Rome (i.e., Caesar) that the political propaganda of Jesus’ day proclaimed that “peace on earth” would come. It was called the Pax Romana, the “peace of Rome.” When Caesar would approach a city within the Roman Empire, emissaries from the city would go out to meet the dignitary and escort him on his way into their city. They would welcome Caesar and the “peace” that Roman occupation brought to their lives.

At a bare minimum, the fact that Jesus used the image of taking honor thought to be due only to the “Lord” Caesar would have been interpreted as a threat to Rome and could have been met with swift retribution. This is why “some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’” (Luke 19.39) They did not wish to bring on themselves the same retribution Caesar had recently exercised against the Galilean insurrectionists. (See Part 3.) As Jesus approached Jerusalem, the crowd was crying out, “Blessed is the KING who comes in the name of the Lord!” and “PEACE in heaven and glory in the highest!” But what must be noticed first and foremost is how Jesus was turning this imagery on its head. Where Caesar would have been riding a warhorse in his triumphal entry, Jesus came riding on the foal of a colt, a young donkey. Jesus was doing two things here—providing his own nonviolent, enemy-embracing imagery in contrast to Rome’s violent warhorse imagery and pointing those present that day to the words of the prophet Zechariah:

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your KING comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a DONKEY, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will TAKE AWAY the CHARIOTS from Ephraim and the WARHORSES from Jerusalem, and the BATTLE BOW will be broken. He will proclaim PEACE to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9.9, emphasis added)

Jesus was trapping his audience once again in a catch-22. To admit that Jesus was their “King,” as Jesus’ fulfillment of Zechariah’s words would indicate, would be to also accept this contrast between the imagery of violence used by Caesar riding a warhorse and the nonviolent Jesus riding a donkey. He was announcing a nonviolent, enemy-embracing “peace” revolution of love and enemy-forgiveness in which the “warhorse,” “war-chariot” and “battle bow” would all be laid down by Jerusalem so that the world could be healed of its violence rather than simply liberating Jerusalem from the Romans and allowing it to become another unstoppable, violent, world-dominating, empire. That was the catch. To embrace Jesus as King was to embrace the path of nonviolence.

When Jerusalem came into view, Jesus stopped and wept. “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you PEACE—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19.42–44, emphasis added.)

We covered this passage in Part 6, but suffice it to say here that this is the same crowd in our prophecy this week, not shouting in joy, but weeping in lamentation. Crucifixion meant defeat. These people did not want to embrace their enemies, to forgive the Romans, or to learn from this prophet of nonviolence how to even love the Romans. No, they wanted a Messiah that would defeat the Romans and liberate Israel. (It should be noted that Rome would, by the fourth century, be defeated by the nonviolent revolution Jesus began, yet this was not the kind of defeat those in Jesus’ day desired.) For a Jewish Messiah to end up on a Roman cross meant that Rome had won. (Little did they realize that in reality Rome’s defeat was just beginning.) Jerusalem had rejected Jesus and his nonviolence in favor of a more militaristic hope of defeating Rome. Thus, Jesus proclaimed to those weeping:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ then “‘they will say to the mountains, “fall on us!” And to the hills, “cover us!”’ (Luke 23.28–30)

Jerusalem, rather than learning to love its Roman enemies, would continue on the path of an eye for an eye, retribution, retaliation, and violence against Rome. And what would be the result? That path would end in its annihilation by Rome. Jesus here was quoting the prophet Hosea, who centuries before had spoken those same words referring to the way Israel would be destroyed by Assyria. “The high places of wickedness will be destroyed—it is the sin of Israel. Thorns and thistles will grow up and cover their altars. Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’ . . . I will come against the wayward people to punish them; and nations shall be gathered against them when they are punished for their double iniquity.” (Hosea 10.8, 10) Jesus applied Hosea’s words to how Jerusalem would be destroyed by Rome.

“As the legions charged in [the Temple], neither persuasion nor threat could check their impetuosity: passion alone was in command . . . Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heap of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom . . . Next [the Romans] came to the last surviving colonnade of the outer court. On this women and children and a mixed crowd of citizens had found a refuge—6000 in all. Before Caesar could reach a decision about them or instruct his officers, the soldiers, carried away by their fury, fired the colonnade from below; as a result some flung themselves out of the flames to their death, others perished in the blaze: of that vast number there escaped not one.” Josephus, The Jewish War, Williamson and Smallwood, p. 359 (6.5.1; 271–76)

This is where the path of violence, of an eye for an eye, of retributive justice, and of retribution ends. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind!

Lastly, we come to Jesus’ final sentence to these weepers:

“For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23.31)

Jesus was bringing to their minds the warning given by Ezekiel in the days when Babylonian captivity loomed on the horizon:

“Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. Everyone will see that I the LORD have kindled it; it will not be quenched.” (Ezekiel 20.47)

Jesus clearly was the green tree, bearing the fruit of nonviolent, enemy-embracing love. This was the fruit the Father desired. This was the “will of the Father” that Jesus had referred to so many times. What Jesus is saying here is: “If Rome will do this to me—a prophet of nonviolence, leading a subversive, peaceful revolution—if Rome sees nonviolence noncooperation as a threat, how much more will they do this to Jerusalem when it—a dead tree—chooses the path of violence and insurrection under the headship of a militaristic messiah!” Jesus is proclaiming, “Do not weep for me. No, no! Weep for yourselves because the violent path you have chosen will end in horrifying events that are neither imaginable nor conceivable.”

What does this mean for us today?

The greatest victories of the church were won in its nonviolent days before Constantine. This is how bloody and violent Rome was brought to its knees by pacifistic Jesus-followers. There were no Christian armies, and every true Christian soldier was a martyr. It was martyrs who conquered Rome. Today Christians and non-Christians alike have to rediscover the sources of Christianity. It began, not as a religion, but as a pacifist movement of people placing their hopes in a nonviolent Messiah or Lord, an enemy-forgiving, loving, and embracing revolution and a final resurrection whereby the world would be restored, renewed, and healed. We must come to realize that we have, to a great extent, abandoned the early Christian ideal of peace and nonviolent action.

It is a curious thing that in the twentieth century the one great political figure who made a conscious and systematic use of Jesus’ principles for nonviolent political action was not a Christian but a Hindu. What is more curious is the fact that so many Christians today continue to think of Gandhi as some kind of eccentric whose nonviolence remains impractical, a sensational fad, or at best naïve. What may lie underneath all of this is the reality that we may have to admit that a Hindu, being oppressed by Colonial Christianity wedded to Empire, understood the meaning and intent of the nonviolent Jesus’ teaching more deeply than many post-Constantinian Christians.

Today we, much like Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, still hold to the idea that evil must be met with evil. Today we are faced with the same options Jerusalem had—nonviolence or nonexistence—both in our personal lives as well as in our global lives. According to experts, we live, every day, each moment, only five minutes away from total genocide of the entire human race either through global nuclear war or new developments in ecological science that could inflict irrevocable harm. All along those who claim to follow the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are “straining gnats” while by their silent approval they are “swallowing camels.”

The question is appropriately asked: “How are we today to live at the end of the world?” I’m suggesting we do so by beginning a new one, rooted in the nonviolent teachings of the enemy-embracing, enemy-forgiving, enemy-loving Jesus. Nonviolence, as Jesus taught it, is a steadfast love, in resistance, of those behind technologically advanced violence, behind the massive oppression that causes the masses to continually go hungry, and a global debt crisis that keeps the poor of this planet in slavery to larger and stronger empires. It is to love, in resistance, the conduits of violence in our local communities, our private and public relationships, and even within our families no matter what they do. It is the force of this kind of unrelenting love that can overcome anything.

To live the prayer of desiring Christ’s “Kingdom” to “come . . . on earth as it is in heaven” is to believe in a Kingdom whose coming will cause “swords to be beaten into plowshares.” Or in language that would be more appropriate to our culture today, it is a Kingdom where technologically advanced forms of mass violence will be abolished and the world’s masses will be freed from hunger and the poor freed from oppression.

We will discuss the two prevailing views of how Christ’s Kingdom will come in the final part of this series (Part 9) when we return to Jesus’ words in Luke 17, and I will actually offer a third option. But to believe in Christ’s Kingdom is to believe that a new world will eventually come into existence (one way or another) and to be working toward that end in our daily lives today, not just putting on display what such a world will look like! The Kingdom has come! The Kingdom is at hand! The Kingdom starts now! The Kingdom of God is within your power! All of these words, spoken originally by Jesus, are to be our proclamation to the world. His parting words in Luke were the promise of repentance [metanioa] for the forgiveness of sins” being “preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47, emphasis added)

HeartGroup Application

1.This week I want you to prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6.33: “But seek first his kingdom and his justice, and all these things will be given to you as well.” This is a law of the universe, just like gravity. If we seek God’s Kingdom, God’s justice, God’s new world of nonviolence, everything we could need in life will be provided for us. To many, embracing the way Jesus tells us that life on this planet is to be done provokes fear—fear of being violated, going hungry, going without, going unloved, losing everything. What’s the meaning of Jesus’ words that if we seek to establish God’s Kingdom and God’s justice on earth as it is in heaven, all of these will be added to us? What do these words not mean?

2.Keep notes, write down any thoughts, questions, fears, anxieties, insights, or assurances—anything that Jesus gives you during your daily time of meditating on this passage.

3.Share with your HeartGroup this upcoming week any insights you have discovered about what it means to follow this enemy-embracing, enemy-loving, enemy-forgiving, nonviolent Jesus.

We live in that final time that offers humanity the same choice as the final eight prophecies of Jesus about Jerusalem in the book of Luke—the Kingdom or global holocaust. Where do we start? Put down this eSight right now, go into the bathroom, and look in the mirror. It starts right there. As the old adage goes, “As you are, so is the world.” It starts with one person at a time, beginning with today, not with Jerusalem but with each one of us. It starts with me. It starts with you. In our own lives, in our own spheres of influence, wherever this finds us today, will we be followers of the nonviolent, enemy-embracing, enemy-forgiving, enemy-loving Christ? If nonviolence does not begin here, it goes nowhere. The revolution starts now! Look deeply into that mirror, and by the power of God’s Spirit, let a new world begin today!

Till the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

I love you guys.

See you next week.

Prophecy #7 – The Coming Kingdom, By Two Possible Paths

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” (Luke 21.5-9)This week we are looking at the seventh of the eight final prophecies of the nonviolent Jesus concerning the two fates that lay before Jerusalem. In each prophecy up to this point, we have seen Jesus laying out two potential paths, each having its own outcome, either life in a world made new, or annihilation. In this part, we will see that this is the final time Jesus will lay out these two contingent outcomes. In this seventh prophecy, he will do so in greater detail than he has in any prophecy up to this point. This will be the final time. His eighth prophecy, which we will look at next week, will be given while he is actually carrying his cross to Golgotha. In that moment, he will only give a warning of what is coming, for at that stage, to all appearances, Jerusalem has rejected the way of nonviolence. They have chosen a militaristic messiah instead of Jesus, a nonviolent one. But we will get to that in part 8. For this week, we have the most extended outlay of events, in cause-and-effect fashion, that we have seen up till now. Let’s dive in!

Reread the above passage, Luke 21.5-9.

The disciples are remarking about the beauty of the temple, Jesus warns of the temple’s destruction, and then the people ask how they will know when this is about to happen. What is missed by many is that the title used by the questioners for Jesus is “Teacher.” The Greek word here is didaskale. In the book of Luke, this title is never used by the disciples when addressing Jesus. It is used 11 times in the book of Luke, and in each instance it is used by the people—never by Jesus’s disciples. This will become relevant in just a moment.

As he did in the fifth prophecy, Jesus responds by warning the people not to follow false militaristic messiahs (see part 5) placing their hope in violently overpowering Rome. Stating that these violent false messiahs will come, Jesus offers the people another path, a path of hope.

What Jesus lays out next are two possible futures. In the first, Jesus describes what the future will look like if Jerusalem should, in this final hour, turn and follow Jesus’s teachings. In the second, he describes what the future will look like if she [Jerusalem] does not.

Then he said to them:”Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life. (Luke 21.10-19)

Jesus initially lays out the great cosmic signs that would accompany the coming of his Kingdom, but he is doing so as if it would happen through Jerusalem, as if Jerusalem would still in the end embrace Jesus and be his conduit of an enemy-loving revolution. The context of this whole section is vital. Luke has couched this seventh prophecy within a time of Jesus’s ministry where the people (the ones asking the questions here) are actually receiving and following Jesus as their messiah. Just before the passage we are looking at this week, Luke is careful to point out the positive response of the people after Jesus’s behavior at the temple: “Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words” (Luke 19.47-48). And just afterward, Luke is quick to remind us, “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple” (Luke 21.37-38). The picture we get from Luke is that this was a time in Jesus’s ministry when it looked as if Jerusalem might be turning the corner and actually beginning to embrace this “narrow way” of enemy love that Jesus was offering the people. According to Luke, Jesus is speaking here to a very large, supportive audience. Those who are presently surrounding Jesus are farmers forced by taxes and debt to become day laborers. They are also the destitute and the starving who have been drawn to Jesus given his promise that his Kingdom would restructure society in their favor. (See Luke 6.20-26.) Jerusalem, at this time, was a large center of poverty, where streets were lined with “beggars.” A significant section of the population of Jerusalem lived chiefly or even entirely on charity. Jesus’s words gave this crowd hope! Therefore, Jesus’s seventh prophecy includes what a future would look like in which Jerusalem would not be annihilated by Rome, but instead would be the avenue through which Jesus’s Kingdom is established once again on Earth as it is in Heaven. Jesus speaks of the persecution, arrest, and imprisonment this nonviolent revolution/movement, growing out of Jerusalem, would encounter. Yet God would use all of this for Jerusalem to “bear testimony.” Before the great cosmic “signs” that would accompany the coming of Jesus’s kingdom, Jesus lays out the plan for the healing of the world from the self-destructive way of violence through the Jewish followers of Jesus embracing their own crosses of nonviolent noncooperation. Jerusalem, if she would in this late hour follow Jesus, she would be brought before the judges of the Roman Empire to give their testimony. (Although Jerusalem ended up rejecting Jesus and therefore not experiencing this, we do see this is exactly what happened with the Apostles who actually did embrace this movement that began in the nonviolent teachings of Jesus.) Yes, even at the hands of loved ones Jerusalem could expect that many would be put to death, losing their lives in this revolution, but they would not perish permanently. No, though they did not fully understand, Jesus was saying that even if they lost their lives for the Kingdom, their lives would be given back to them. They would find life given back to them, not in a world as it had been, but in a whole new world, renewed, restored, healed, once again under the reign of the nonviolent Christ. Here, Jesus was offering, as an alternative to Jerusalem’s destruction, a transforming nonviolent movement that would turn Jerusalem and even the entire world around. It is well worth noting that even in this, Jesus is emphasizing the way of the cross (both his and his followers’) as the means of transformation.

(For more on this, please see the presentation “A New Way” from our new series On Earth as It Is in Heaven at https://renewedheartministries.com/AudioPresentationSeries.aspx?series=40.)

Then Jesus quickly warns of another possible outcome if Jerusalem should end up rejecting Jesus. Jerusalem’s fate was on the edge of the blade during this final week of Jesus’s life. Jesus’s Kingdom could come through them if they embraced his way of nonviolent enemy love. But if Jerusalem did, in the end, choose to remain on their path of violent, eye-for-an-eye, punitive retribution toward the Romans, Jesus is quick to warn of Jerusalem’s possible annihilation and the coming of the “times of the Nations”:

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its DESOLATION [rather then restoration] is near. THEN let those who are in Judea FLEE to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. THEY WILL FALL BY THE SWORD AND WILL BE TAKEN AS PRISONERS TO ALL THE NATIONS. JERUSALEM WILL BE TRAMPLED ON BY THE NATIONS UNTIL THE TIMES OF THE NATIONS ARE FULFILLED. (Luke 21.20-24, emphasis added.)

But this next section is the best part of Jesus’s seventh prophecy. Even if Jerusalem should be annihilated, even if the nations wiped her out, Jesus’s Kingdom would still come. The nonviolent reign of Christ would still ultimately triumph even if Jerusalem and the temple should be no more. Jesus is saying that the Kingdom could come through Jerusalem, if she so chose. Yet even if she rejected this Kingdom of nonviolent, enemy love, she would be destroyed by her enemies, and the Kingdom would still come. If Jerusalem chose the way of annihilation, the “times of the Nations” would then ensue. But even given this worst-case scenario, the “times of the Nations” would also have their limits. The prophecies of the Son of Man would be fulfilled: “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion.” (Daniel 7.14). Jesus describes the coming of his Kingdom if rejection of Jesus, Jerusalem’s destruction, and the victory of the Nations (i.e. “the times of the Nations”) should be the path Jerusalem would choose.

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, NATIONS will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time THEY will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21.25-32, emphasis added).

The imagery of the sea and the waves, in the culture to which Jesus was speaking, had long been used to refer to the Gentile world. “Woe to the many nations that rage! They rage like the raging sea! Woe to the peoples who roar—they roar like the roaring of great waters!” (Isaiah 17.12). “Reach down your hand from on high; deliver me and rescue me from the mighty waters, from the hands of foreigners” (Psalms 144.7). John, too, uses this imagery for the times of the Nations in his Apocalypse: “Then the angel said to me, ‘The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages’” (Revelation 17.15). The heavenly bodies were identified by the Jewish people with the gods of Greco-Roman religion and regarded by them as “the powers” which presided over the pagan nations. “In that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below” (Isaiah 24.21). “Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it! The LORD is angry with all nations; his wrath is on all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter . . . All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall” (Isaiah 34.1-4, see also Ephesians 6.12). What Jesus is explaining in the passage here from Luke is that even if Jerusalem falls to Rome, there is nothing permanent in Gentile domination. In the end, the reign of the nonviolent Christ will be restored. Jerusalem could be a significant part of that, or she could become a stepping stone herself, in her destruction, toward that end. Ultimately, all nations, including Jerusalem, would be judged in history from the standpoint of a new, nonviolent humanity centered on Christ. That the path of violence would end in destruction was not only for the Jews. Unless “the nations” would turn and be transformed, the nations too would destroy themselves by their violence, each in turn, until Christ’s Kingdom is the last Kingdom standing. (This is the mustard seed prophecy in which the Kingdom of Christ is growing subversively all while “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” till the last Kingdom standing is the Christ’s. See Luke 13.19, Revelation 11.15, and the presentation “The Revolution” at https://renewedheartministries.com/AudioPresentationSeries.aspx?series=40.)

Yet, even this second option had contingencies. Even if Jerusalem did reject and crucify Jesus, even then, she was not beyond repenting still, turning from violence and embracing Jesus’s upside-down kingdom in which the poor and suffering are given first place and in which we love our enemies: “He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name TO ALL NATIONS, beginning at Jerusalem’” (Luke 24.46-47).

If Jerusalem should reject and crucify Jesus, she would be no different from any other nation, but called still to submit to the nonviolent reign of Jesus and His Kingdom, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

What we see Jesus doing here is describing a revolution, an alternative to destruction. Every generation faces these inflexible alternatives: violence and annihilation, or nonviolent, enemy-embracing, enemy-forgiving love, and thus eternal life in a world made new. Transformation or annihilation—these are the inflexible alternatives Jesus sets before us. These are the events, the alternatives, that the “generation” Jesus was speaking to that day would see transpire before them. Which path would they choose?

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21.33)

When will the nonviolent, enemy-embracing Kingdom of God come for our generation? It comes right now. Our choice right now, globally, is the same as was Jerusalem’s. It is a choice between the inflexible alternatives, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also said, of “nonviolence or nonexistence.” Our generation too will choose either the nonviolent Kingdom that Jesus told us is within our power, thereby bringing healing to the world, our we will choose the horrific alternative of annihilation. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

I close this look at Jesus’s seventh prophecy with the hope that is found in the following passages, hoping against hope that it will give you, dear reader, the courage to believe in the healing power of Jesus’s Kingdom of nonviolent, enemy forgiveness and love as well. Our world doesn’t have to end in annihilation, but our world, as it is now, must end and a new world begin. Either way, the nonviolent reign of Christ must—and will—come. Will we be a part of that revolution, or as in Jerusalem, will it pass us by, leaving us to our own demise? I still hold out hope:

Daniel 7.14—He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; ALL NATIONS and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Revelation 15.4—Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. ALL NATIONS will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.

Revelation 21.24—THE NATIONS will walk by its light, and THE KINGS OF THE EARTH will bring their splendor into it.

Revelation 22.2—On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for THE HEALING OF THE NATIONS.

The nonviolent revolution, the enemy-embracing Kingdom, starts now! Till the only world that remains is a world where Christ’s enemy-embracing, enemy-forgiving, nonviolent, nonretaliating love reigns.

Our Lord has come! Let us follow the nonviolent Lamb.

Prophecy # 6 – The Way of Enemy-Embracing, Nonviolent Love and A God Who Changes His Mind

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”—Jesus, Luke 19.41-44This week, I want to look at prophecy number six in our eight-prophecy lineup. For me, this one is the most gut wrenching. Jesus is fully aware that Jerusalem is rejecting her only chance at life. In rejecting Jesus, this prophet of nonviolent, enemy-embracing love, she is sealing her fate. Her feet are sternly set on the path of retaliation, eye-for-an-eye, and violence toward her enemy Rome, and this path will not end well. Jesus sees where their violent path will end, and he weeps:

“Your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another.”

Yet even now, it was still not too late. Follow closely. Let’s begin with Jeremiah, who also warned of a coming destruction on Jerusalem.

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. (Jeremiah 18.7, 8)

Jeremiah had promised that God would change his mind if there were a change of path by those who had been warned.

We see this over and over again in the narratives of the Old Testament:

From the history of Isaiah and King Hezekiah:

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, “Remember, LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah, this is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: ‘I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.’” (Isaiah 38.1-6, emphasis added)

To Jonah’s angry rant after the repentance of Nineveh:

When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” (Jonah 3.10-4.4, emphasis added)

What Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Jonah present to us is the picture of a God who actually does change his mind, a God who repents and changes what He has foretold if we choose a different path. A great example within the Gospels is in Jesus’ dialogue with Peter, just hours before Peter’s denial.

But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” (Luke 22.34)

Once Jesus prophesied this outcome of events for Peter, was Peter’s future now set? Was Peter trapped within a fate beyond changing, or, on the other hand, was Peter on a path with a certain and definite intrinsic end? Yet if Peter heeded Jesus’ forewarning and changed the path upon which he was traveling, the denial would also be avoided.

Jesus words in Luke 22.31 make the point clearly: “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail.” Jesus was praying that Peter would change paths and not end up in the fate of thrice denial. Jesus was actually prophesying toward Peter, in hope that Peter would change paths, and what Jesus prophesied would then never come to pass. (Much like when the Lord told David that the men of Keilah would turn him over to Saul, so David fled and that which the Lord foretold never came to pass.) What all of this indicates is that the intended purpose of threatening prophecy is fulfilled most profoundly when its threats do NOT come to pass, rather than when they do come to pass. For if the destruction takes place that has been foretold, in this, the prophecy has failed even though it’s predication came true, for the purpose of the prophecy was that paths would be changed and the predicted destruction would never take place.

Take a moment and reread Jesus’ words in Luke 19.41-44 with all of this in mind. As final as Jesus’ words sound, they were not beyond hope. Jerusalem could still, like David, Hezekiah, and Nineveh, change paths, repent of their violence, and embrace the way of nonviolent, enemy-embracing love, and live.

Today, the most conservative experts once placed their hope in being able to deter global violence escalating into a potential global annihilation. Today, they are saying that ever since the mid-’80s, humanity today has reached, through political structures coupled with technological achievement, a point of no return, guaranteeing that at some point soon in the future the human race will cease to exist. The political structures to which I’m referring to include monopolies on resources that cause those who are hungry and oppressed around the globe to rapidly grow desperate, thus producing, to the same degree, varied forms of terrorism threats around the globe as well. By technological achievements I am referring to the rapidly advancing, daily scientific breakthroughs that allow violence to be used so massively, so efficiently and effortlessly. The mere creation of such technology simultaneously brings into being the risk of it being hijacked and potentially used by the desperately hungry and oppressed, against their oppressors. The most conservative experts, once again, are now expressing that the fears of the Cold War are miniscule compared to what will (note, not could, but will) happen once terrorism is combined with nuclear warfare.

Yet, I refuse to change “could” to “will.” A future annihilation of the human race is still simply a possibility, not a definite. I still hold out hope that Jesus and His Kingdom of nonviolent, enemy-embracing love will win in the end. Jesus is, today more than ever, the last great hope of this world. Just like with Jerusalem of old, our turning from violence and injustice would fulfill the purpose of every Biblical and Secular prophecy regarding global annihilation. Remember, prophecy is not intended to simply predict the future, but to warn of a possible future that we will definitely meet if our choices are not altered today. Are we beyond hope? I do not believe so. But I will say we have one, and only one, hope left: embrace the nonviolent, enemy love of the God revealed in the person of Jesus the Savior of the World. Again, the condition for us is the same as that which Jesus presented to pre-70 A.D. Jerusalem of old: To know the things that make for peace, to recognize the “time of our visitation from God” in the invitation to join Christ’s nonviolent Kingdom.

For most of us, we don’t have the resources at our disposal to make global change. But we do have within our power, as we looked at last week, the ability to create local change. We can start today, wherever this finds you. Within your family, within your circle of friends, even if it is simply choosing to immediately forgive the driver in front of you who will cut you off on the way home from work after an exhausting day. One person at a time, we can change the world. The revolution starts right now, with you, with me, with each of us in our daily lives.

HeartGroup Application

1. This week I want you to spend some time contemplating a section of what many have labeled, “The Lord’s Prayer.” The section is:

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6.12)

I explain what I believe Jesus is telling us in this phrase at the end of a recent presentation I gave entitled What About Prayer? that you can listen to at https://renewedheartministries.com/AudioPresentationSeries.aspx?series=36

In short, these are not debts we owe God, but debts we owe to others, given the cultural context of Jesus’ teachings here, that God will cause to be dropped by our creditors as we drop the debts of those who are indebted to us. It’s a domino effect. By our setting forgiveness in motion, we can create a revolution, by the empowerment of God’s spirit. Our forgiving of others will travel from person to person, being paid forward, until it circles back around to those whom we have hurt or offended also being willing to forgive us. What Jesus is describing in the Lord’s Prayer truly is a revolution.

2. After listening to that presentation and getting your mind around Jesus’ intent here, contemplating what this might look like, I want you to meditatively pray for God to show you ways you might set in motion His Kingdom revolution in your own daily relationships.

3. This next week, share with your HeartGroup what discoveries you wrote down.

Jesus said it best, “God did not send his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but to heal the world through him.” (John 3.17) In Luke 9.2, Jesus tells us our first job in proclaiming the arrival of this new nonviolent Kingdom is to be a conduit of healing! “Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Certainly our world is sick, infected with the disease of retaliation, of demanding eye for an eye, of punitive justice rather than the Godlike healing of restorative justice. Gandhi solemnly admonished us, “We must be the change, the change we long to see in the world.” I close this week with a statement regarding Einstein’s theory of relativity I found recently from Gandhi’s secretary:

“Einstein has given us his well-known equation setting forth the relationship between matter and energy which states that when even an INFINITESIMAL PARTICLE of matter attains the velocity of light, the maximum velocity attainable in the physical world, it acquires A MASS WHICH IS INFINITE.”—Pyarelel (Gandhii’s secretary, emphasis added.)

For AS THE LIGHTNING comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Bar Enasha, the new Humanity, the nonviolent Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.—Jesus (Matthew 24.27, personal paraphrase)

Who said one “infinitesimal” person empowered by nonviolent enemy love, can’t “infinitely” change the world?

Thanks for the hope, Einstein!

Wherever this finds you this week, keep living in love toward one person, one heart at a time, putting on display the Father’s character of love as seen in Jesus, until the only world that remains is a world where love reigns.

I love you guys.

See you next week.