Jesus’ Kingdom and Mutual Aid

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18.29,30)We will be continuing our focus on the life and teachings of Jesus this week. Remember that the purpose of our time in this series is to try and get into the actual headspace of Jesus and discover more deeply what His kingdom was to be all about.

Many have misunderstood Jesus’ words that we are looking at this week. They mistakingly think that He meant that if we give up something for Jesus in this life, we will somehow have more, materially, even in this life, than we could possibly imagine. This has led some to embrace what others have labeled a pseudo “prosperity gospel,” where if one follows Jesus one will have the best life now! This has created a source of puzzlement for others though, because this idea does not exactly match up with the ideas of those who chose to follow Jesus in the first century, and who, in losing all, even their very lives, clung tightly to the hope of a resurrection. And it does not match up with the experience of many today who have lost everything to follow Jesus.

What was Jesus saying in the above verse when he mentioned receiving many times as much, not just the age to come, but even in this age?

It may be helpful to look at Mark’s record of these words:

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10.29,30)

Did you catch it?

A hundred times back in this life, oh, along with persecutions!

Unlike us, today, in our individualistic, westernized, Americanized Christianity, the early church understood exactly what Jesus was saying. Look closely:

All the believers were together and HAD EVERYTHING IN COMMON. They sold property and possessions TO GIVE TO ANYONE WHO HAD NEED. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They BROKE BREAD IN THEIR HOMES AND ATE TOGETHER with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2.44-47)

Jesus’ followers in the first century formed tightly knit communities where people took care of each other. If I had lost my home for having followed Jesus, as I looked around the room there would have been ten other homes, possibly more, in the room that were mine to live in with my fellow brothers and sisters. If I had been rejected by a father or mother, as I looked around the room, I would have found possibly twenty fathers or mothers who would have stepped up to the plate to be a father or mother to me. This would have been the same with a brother or sister. And if I had lost my job for following Jesus, there were others in my Jesus community whom I could have leaned on till I got back on my feet and found other employment.

This is hard for many today to visualize because we are so individualistic in our contemporary culture, but this was not The Way of the first century followers of Jesus. They held all things in common, which simply meant, if someone lost something for following Jesus, within their own Jesus community there would be 10, 20, or 100 more at their disposal.

It is vital that we break out of our individualism to see this. Let me illustrate it this way.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6.19, 20)

How does one reconcile this teaching of Jesus with 401ks and other retirement accounts? Western individualism keeps us from truly being able to get our heads around this. Certainly, if we remain individualistic in our thinking and living, a retirement account is a must. But what if we were to actually begin to create communities of Jesus followers where we took care of each other again? I’m not saying, throw away your retirement account. What I am saying is, and it won’t happen overnight, but rather, over time, let us begin creating communities of Jesus followers where we actually stop living individualistically and start living together in such a way that retirement accounts become obsolete, and where the above teachings of Jesus in Mark and Luke can actually come true. They will never be true as long as we do not also practice the community element of Christ’s Kingdom.

Before we end this week, let me answer some questions that surface every time the teachings of Jesus begin to be taken seriously.

This sounds like socialism!

Remember that this is not something that is enforced by a kingdom of this world on unwilling subjects, but something that is voluntarily embraced, to one degree or another, by groups that covenant with each other to follow Jesus together and take care of one another.

Follow closely the words of Stuart Murray in this book The Naked Anabaptist:

“However, the majority of Anabaptists did not practice “community of goods” but “mutual aid.” This meant that they continued to own property and possessions, but made these available freely and gladly as they encountered others in need . . . economics and spirituality are connected for reasons of justice rather than charity. The backdrop to this conviction is a global economic order that is profoundly unjust, in which vast numbers are kept impoverished within a system that benefits and protects the powerful few. Charitable giving to offset some of the worst effects of this unjust system is laudable, but this can appease our consciences and distract us from working toward a more just world. The Anabaptist commitment to mutual aid recognizes the prior claim of others in need to what we possess-as a matter of justice, rather than charity . . . the practice of mutual aid confronts the pervasive individualism of contemporary western societies. Nowhere is individualism more apparent than in the economic sphere. Our property is private. Our possessions belong to us and are jealously safeguarded. Our homes are our castles, well-defended against any intruders. Most of us do not disclose the level of our salaries or savings to others, nor do we invite others to help us think through where we might live, what standard of living is appropriate, or how we might utilize our resources. It is quite unnecessary for our churches to conform to these cultural norms. If our churches are not institutions but communities, and if we recognize our need for each other’s help in discerning and resisting the economic pressures of our culture, mutual aid will consist not just in sharing resources but also in working out together how to be disciples of Jesus in the area of economics. This economic practice will impact our spirituality. (Kindle Edition, p. 122)

What about those who will abuse our sincere desire to follow Jesus?

It would be well to remember Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be EQUALITY. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. THE GOAL IS EQUALITY, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8.13-15)

My helping them today means, once they are on their feet, they may have the opportunity to return something to help the group when they are back on their feet. But what if someone just starts mooching off the group?

Let’s look at Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every BELIEVER who is IDLE and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were NOT IDLE when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we WORKED NIGHT AND DAY, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, NOT because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as A MODEL for you to IMITATE. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are IDLE and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and EARN THE BREAD THEY EAT. And as for you, brothers and sisters, NEVER TIRE OF DOING WHAT IS GOOD. (2 Thessalonians 3.6-13)

There are a few things that I want you to take note of. First, this is a dilemma, taking place among believers. This is how followers of Jesus did life with each other. The teachings of Jesus would not be abused if they were not actually being followed. Second, notice the solution. The solution is not to abandon the teachings of Jesus and to embrace a more individualistic approach. It is that those who are mooching should go out and work in order to contribute to the group. Paul was clear, though: not only are they to stop being idle, but the group is to still keep doing what they are doing, “never tiring of doing what is good.”

Remember that in the first century, Roman culture did not have many of the social safety nets that many have in their respective kingdoms of the world they belong to today, including America. But early followers of Jesus did not need them. They, within their community of fellow Jesus followers, took care of each other.

Stop for a moment and dream with me. What a powerful testimony on how Jesus calls those who actually follow him to live life differently than everyone else. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if Jesus followers today made the social nets of our contemporary society obsolete and even unnecessary?

These teachings are not for everyone. This is simply how Jesus called HIS followers to begin living.

If you are like most, the question you are asking is, how do we begin making this transition from western individualism to Kingdom living?

Well, do not go out a burn your 401ks and ROTH IRAs. No, it’s going to take time. Where we begin today is in starting to create community again among Jesus followers, where staunch individualism is abandoned and we begin viewing each other as brothers and sisters once again, and we are not simply passing through, but we are called to establish a new Kingdom where life is lived very differently, here, now, today. A perfect place to start this is in your own HeartGroup!

HeartGroup Application:

1.Go back and prayerfully reread the verses in this eSight and take time to actually write down the thoughts, questions, and insights Jesus brings to your mind as you read them.

2.Share what Jesus shows you with your HeartGroup this next week.

3.As a group, begin praying that God will change the way you look at others, how you think toward economics, your emotional attachment to “Stuff” and how you choose to live.

(An example of this (and it’s just one example), is that recently, a small HeartGroup that wanted to lower the debt among them and begin using more of their resources to help others in need, covenanted to not make any major purchases over a certain amount without first discussing it with an accountability partner. This is just what this group has chosen to do. Prayerfully ask Jesus, the Head of each group, what He wants your group to grow in this area.)

At Renewed Heart Ministries, we are in the process of creating what we are going to be calling the RHM Mutual Aid Network. We are still in the brainstorming phase, but what we are praying toward is a closed, online network where vested needs can be posted from around the globe and each group can log in and view the needs of others and prayerfully consider whether their group can supply some needed help.

For instance, right now, I know of a dear friend in Missouri who is trained in paralegal and insurance sales who has been out of work for over 18 months. He has exhausted his own area and is willing to move anywhere where he can find some work. He even offered to turn wrenches at an oil-changing garage last week. He and his family are desperate and about to go over their own financial cliff. (Seriously, if you know of anyone hiring right now, email me and I will put you in touch with this family.)

But what if we had a community of Jesus followers desiring to aid one another when hard times hit and a network that could actually facilitate this kind of other-centered, self-sacrificial love?

Are you interested? If you would like to be a part of Renewed Heart Ministries Mutual Aid Network, where you are simply able to see other’s needs and determine whether you or your group can offer some assistance, shoot me an email this week, and just let me know whether you think this would be something positive for the Kingdom.

Prayerfully consider the words of John, someone mentored by Jesus for three years:

If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3.17,18)

I have three children, Ali, Emarya and Christian, and I guarantee that if I were to see one of them on the street as an adult, I would not stop until I drug them home with me to have a warm meal, a dry place to sleep, and some help. The thought that I cannot escape this week is that each person out there tonight is an Ali, an Emarya, and a Christian to God. I can’t save the world, but I must let this confront me and prayerfully ask Jesus, what percentage of this world’s pain and need DOES He want me to take responsibility for?

The Kingdom Jesus came to establish is centered on one thing: manifesting the beauty of God’s Character. It’s much more than simply preaching (or listening to) a sermon. It’s a way of life. It’s about humbly and lovingly serving the world the way Jesus did. It’s about loving the world the way Jesus did. It’s not so much about going to church, as it is about being the church.

Much to ponder for sure.

This week, keep living in love, and loving like Christ! Now go enlarge the Kingdom.

Let me know if you feel the RHM Mutual Aid Network is something that, if done properly, would be a great idea!

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

The “Gospel” of The Kingdom!

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1.14–15, TNIV).Last week, we took a look at how Luke’s version of the Jesus story begins Jesus’ teaching ministry. This week, I’d like to take a look at how Mark, in his version of the Jesus story, denotes the opening of Jesus’ ministry; I pray it produces for you the paradigm shift that it has for me since I first caught a glimpse of it.

Mark, according to church tradition, is really Peter’s testimony of the events of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry. Much different from Luke’s, Peter was actually one of the characters within the story. Mark (Peter) gives us a much more straight-to-the-point version. It’s what I call the “skinniest” Jesus story we have. Many details of the story are left to the other three gospel authors.

A word about the gospels, too, that I believe would be wise to keep in mind: Remember, once recorded, each of these documents—which we know were written within the 1st century—were given back to Jesus’ community. This was during a time before the sad history of Constantine and abandonment by Christianity of the ethical teachings of Jesus. This is a time when Christians were not a persecuting majority but still very much a persecuted minority. These communities of believers were dying for believing the story that had been told and retold through oral tradition within their communal gatherings. These new written versions better be the same story because following the person in this story would be costing them their lives. (For more on oral traditions and the historical reliability of the canonical gospels, please see the presentation Why Think This Is True at RenewedHeartMinistries.com.)

Now, let’s get into how Mark (Peter) begins the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus.

“After John was put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1.14–15).

Let’s break this down by looking at four elements found here:

1) The Time has come!

2) The Kingdom has come!

3) Repent!

4) Believe the euangelion!

The Time Has Come:

The long-awaited day had come. But as we discovered last week, the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah would, contrary to popular belief in Jesus’ day, not be simply delivering Israel from Roman oppression (by inviting them to embrace dying on a cross themselves rather than picking up a sword); the Messiah had come to deliver the entire human race from the oppression of their truest enemy, the Accuser (see Ephesians 6.12; Revelation 12.10).

Remember Jesus’ words that we read last week:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor [the good news that a NEW Kingdom has arrived]. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners [they are set free from the Kingdom of Darkness] and recovery of sight for the blind [through Jesus, we will once again be able to see through the Darkness of Lies that have been perpetrated by the Accuser about God and ourselves], to set the oppressed free [Humanity was about to be set free from the “charges”—see Colossians 2.14–15—being brought against them by the Accuser]” (Luke 4.18).

The Time had come for Humanity to be “rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son” (Colossians 1.13).

At this stage, it would also be well to remember the words of C. S. Lewis:

“I freely admit that real Christianity . . . goes much nearer to Dualism than people think . . . The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel” (Mere Christianity).

I know the idea of a “devil” has been abused by many, but as a Jesus’ follower, I cannot escape the reality that Jesus taught not just the existence of a God but also the existence of an enemy.

The Kingdom Has Come:

Remember in the Gospel of Luke, once again, the enemy makes a claim that Jesus does not refute:

“And he [the enemy, after showing Jesus all the kingdoms of this world] said to him [Jesus], ‘I will give you ALL THEIR AUTHORITY and splendor; it [this world] has been given to me [according to the Genesis narrative, by humanity], and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours’” (Luke 4.6–7, emphasis mine).

I find great comfort in the fact that after His death and resurrection, we find Jesus saying:

“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, emphasis mine).

Remember the words of the author of Hebrews:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, THE DEVIL [not an angry God, but the devil!]—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2.14–15, emphasis mine).

Again, Jesus Himself said, looking at the purpose of His own death:

NOW is the time for judgment on this world [I’m placing new evidence on the table, through my death, to be taken into account when considering ‘why’ Humanity has rebelled. And what will be the result?]; NOW the PRINCE OF THIS WORLD will be DRIVEN OUT” (John 12.31, emphasis mine).

John, one of the original followers of Jesus, shares this perspective on the results of Jesus’ death and resurrection:

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and THE KINGDOM of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down’” (Revelation 12.10, emphasis mine).

Even Paul, who was a Pharisee, realized that if God was like Jesus, that changed everything:

“Having CANCELED the charge [being brought against us by the Enemy] of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And HAVING DISARMED THE POWERS AND AUTHORITIES, HE MADE A PUBLIC SPECTACLE OF THEM, TRIUMPHING OVER THEM BY THE CROSS” (Colossians 2.14, emphasis mine).

“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, [one man sold us into slavery] so also one righteous act resulted in ACQUITTAL [declaration of NOT Guilty—Innocent, Righteous, charges have been dropped, “cancelled,” null and void] and life for all” (Romans 5.18, emphasis mine).

Repent!

The word here used for “repentance” is actually a Roman military term, metanoeo. It was shouted out by commanding officers when they desired the marching soldiers to do an about-face. Jesus is saying, virtually, “You were moving in one direction, following the god of this world, under his kingdom, now, freedom has come! You have been set free! I have come to invite you to turn around and begin following me, and be a part of MY radically different kingdom.” A word of clarification: Metanoe is much less about feeling emotional sorrow and much more about changing life direction. An emotional state of sorrow can be the root of someone’s repentance, but I doubt any of the Roman soldiers really felt sorry for the original direction in which they were moving. When the command was given, they simply turned around. Repentance is much more than simply sorrow; it’s about falling in love with the radical teachings of Jesus and the picture of God He came to reveal. This may lead a person to deep sorrow for the direction their life originally has taken, but metanoeo is much more about moving in a radically different life direction than one was moving before they met Jesus. In other words, metanoeois about heart orientation. It’s about more than simply becoming a “believer” in Jesus but actually of follower of Jesus, His picture of God, and the radical Kingdom He has come to establish.

As a friend of mine says (and I’m fond of quoting this): “The Kingdom of God is centered on one thing: manifesting the beauty of God’s Character. It’s a beautiful revolution. It’s not so much about a list of beliefs as it is a way of life. It’s not about conquering the world for Jesus but humbly and lovingly serving the world like Jesus. It’s not about going to church, but about being the church. It’s not about confessing Jesus, but about loving the world like Jesus” (Gregory Boyd, The Myth of the Christian Religion).

Believe the Good News:

The gospel, according to Jesus, was the good news of the arrival of the Kingdom of God that had come to set free the citizens of God’s kingdom (the human race), those who had been deceived and taken captive by God’s enemy’s kingdom! He had come to establish a kingdom that, subversively, would undo the enemy’s hold.

The gospel is not some theological construct from 16th-century theological arguments surrounding the reformation. Disciples were sent out preaching the gospel before the death of Jesus had actually taken place. I do not mean that the death of Jesus has nothing to do with the gospel—for it was the death of Jesus that delivered us from being captives of God’s enemy’s kingdom—but the Gospel itself is the good news that God’s Kingdom has arrived on planet Earth in the person of Jesus Christ, and has come to set us free from him who held us captive (see Luke 11.21–22). For the disciples, that is. For us, the good news is that God’s Kingdom has arrived and we have been set free from him who held us captive. And the call is then made to embrace the freedom of the Kingdom in its arrival and walk in the gift of that freedom, living like citizens of the NEW Kingdom—the Kingdom of Christ. Remember, Jesus didn’t come to start a religion; Jesus came to reestablish His Kingdom here, within territory taken by His enemy, setting us free, and inviting us to be, once again, a part of a radically different Kingdom that does life very differently NOW as well as in the age to come (see Revelation 21–22.)

Pre-Christianity, even the words “gospel” or “good news,” just like metanoeo, were military terms. In the 1st century, whenever there was victory of one kingdom over another, a messenger was sent with the glad tidings that they had been victorious!

“Even after the battle at Mantinea, which Thucydides has described, the one who first announced the victory had no other reward for his glad tidings [euangelion – singular] than a piece of meat sent by the magistrates from the public mess” (Plutarch; Agesilaus, p. 33, 1st century, emphasis mine).

“Accordingly, when [Aristodemus] had come near, he stretched out his hand and cried with a loud voice: ‘Hail, King Antigonus, we have conquered Ptolemy in a sea-fight, and now hold Cyprus, with 12,800 soldiers as prisoners of war.’ To this, Antigonus replied: ‘Hail to thee also, by Heaven! but for torturing us in this way, thou shalt undergo punishment; the reward for thy good tidings [euangelion – plural] thou shalt be some time in getting’” (Plutarch; Demetrius, p. 17, 1st century, emphasis mine).

“Why, as we are told, the Spartans merely sent meat from the public commons to the man who brought glad tidings [euangelion] of the victory in Mantineia which Thucydides describes! And indeed the compilers of histories are, as it were, reporters of great exploits who are gifted with the faculty of felicitous speech, and achieve success in their writing through the beauty and force of their narration; and to them those who first encountered and recorded the events [e?a??????? – euangelion] are indebted for a pleasing retelling of them” (Plutarch; Moralia (Glory of Athens), p. 347, 1st century, emphasis mine).

Jesus and the Apostles lifted this word from their surrounding culture to announce that a new Kingdom had now arrived on the scene. It had taken, head on, the current ruler of this world. Through a radical move—a subversive move, through death and resurrection—this new Kingdom had been victorious, and we were now free! The gospel is the good news that we have been set free from the kingdoms of this world and their rulers; by the coming of a radically different Kingdom—Jesus’ Kingdom—we are now invited to follow Him as our new head of a new Kingdom, which at its core is about other-centered, self-sacrificial love.

What does it look like to embrace the arrival of God’s radically different and subversive Kingdom here on Earth? Not only are we now free from the claims and accusations of the Enemy, but Jesus also spent His entire ministry trying to effect paradigm shifts in three specific areas:

1)Our assumptions about God’s character

(God actually really does look exactly like Jesus; therefore, this changes even our assumptions about what God’s “Kingdom” really looks like.)

2)Our assumptions about ourselves

(God has never looked at you as a transgressor in need of punishment but as victim in need of a Savior. Whoever you are, reading this, God more than loves you; God adores you as His son or daughter. He has never held your sin against you. He has always known, in being deceived about Him, that you have never truly known what you were doing in your rebellion against Him. Regardless of what you have done, you are of inestimable, immeasurable, infinite worth to Him, and the Cross proves it!)

3)Our assumptions about everyone else around us, no matter how different they may be from ourselves

(Everything just said about you, look around wherever you are right now: It’s true of everyone around you too!)

Naturally flowing from each of these, those who were part of this newly arrived Kingdom would live radically different lives. It is with the goal of discovering this radically new way of seeing God, ourselves, and others—as well as discovering this radically different way of doing life—that we will be turning our attention to the teachings of Jesus in the upcoming weeks. Again, the God we see in Jesus changes everything. This new Kingdom is one of radical other-centered, self-sacrificial love . . . for all.

This was Jesus’ Gospel:

“I must preach the good news of the KINGDOM OF GOD to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43, emphasis mine).

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of THE KINGDOM and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35, emphasis mine).

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of THE KINGDOM” (Matthew 4:23, emphasis mine).

This was the same Gospel taught by the 11 apostles as well as the Apostle Paul!

“For two whole years, Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed THE KINGDOM OF GOD and taught about THE LORD JESUS CHRIST—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28.30–31, emphasis mine).

These last three statements are simply for you to ponder:

“When we look at passages where Jesus sends the disciples out into the surrounding area to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, it doesn’t make sense to conclude that they were sharing with the community a message of substitutionary death for their sins. It also doesn’t fit with the text to assume that they offered salvation to those who repeated a carefully worded prayer of faith so that they could go to heaven when they died. Obviously, whatever it was that the disciples went out preaching, it wasn’t anything like this. The Gospel preached by the disciples didn’t have anything to do with the finer points of the doctrine of the atonement, a subject which they exhibited zero understanding about. So, what was it that the disciples went out preaching? We see the answer in Matthew 9:5, Luke 9:6 and Luke 10:9. It was simply the Gospel of the Kingdom. The disciples were sent out to proclaim ‘The Kingdom of God is near you, and then to demonstrate this by casting out demons and healing the sick. This was the very same message that we see Jesus publicly proclaiming over and over again in the Gospels” (Keith Giles, The Power of Weakness, pp. 9–10).

“If the victory over the powers constitutes the work of Christ, then it must also be a message for the church to proclaim” (John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, p. 147).

“Paul’s statement [Ephesians 3.8–11] is made in connection that with the truth that since Christ a new force has made its entry on the stage of salvation history: the church . . . the very existence of the church, in which Gentiles and Jews, who heretofore walked according to the Stoicheia of the world, live together in Christ’s fellowship, is itself a proclamation, a sign, a token to the Powers that their unbroken dominion has come to an end” (Berkholf, Christ and the Powers, p. 41–42).

HeartGroups Application:

A.Go back and prayerfully reread Mark 2.14–15 and any other passages the Holy Spirit brings to your mind as you contemplate this passage.

B.What is God saying to you in this passage this week?

C.Now go and prepare something for your HeartGroup gathering this coming week that shares this with the others. If you’re artistic, it could be a poem, a song, or a picture. If you’re more left-brained, it could be as simple as just sharing the verses God shared with you as you meditated on the above passage. Be alert and open this week, and watch for where God might bring events into your life to illustrate what He is showing you. Be sure to include these, too, as you prepare to share.

Remember, HeartGroups are like potlucks: No one person does all the “cooking” or sharing. Let’s all bring to the “table” what Jesus is teaching each one of us in our lives this week, and let’s feast together—as a priesthood of all believers—on what God is doing and teaching us in each of our lives!

As always, keep living in love, and loving like Christ (Ephesians 5.2).

Keep following Jesus.

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

Herb

A New Moral Standard

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ Truly I tell you,” he continued, “prophets are not accepted in their hometowns. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Luke 4:16–30Happy New Year!!

In 2013 we are going to be taking time each week to take a purposeful look at the actual teachings of Jesus with determined focus. And we are going to kick off this year of focusing on an event that took place right at the beginning of Jesus’s teaching ministry, according to Luke.

First, let’s look at some history surrounding the context of this event Luke records. Deuteronomy records some pretty stringent rules regarding placing boundaries between people based on the behavior of certain groups:

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live. Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country. The third generation of children born to them may enter the assembly of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 23:3–8)

We then see a movement, originated by God, away from these old laws (for whatever reason they were originally enacted) already beginning in the time of Isaiah before the Babylonian captivity: “For my house will be called a house of prayer for ALL NATIONS” (Isaiah 56:7).

But after the captivity we see in Nehemiah a fascinating, conscientious, and meticulous return to the old laws. To give Nehemiah the benefit of the doubt, I do see a sincere desire to do what is right. But without understanding the “why” behind those original laws, his fidelity becomes zeal without knowledge. He misses entirely the trajectory we find in the prophet Isaiah away from some of those old laws. Change is always scary, and Nehemiah, to be fair, was preoccupied with doing whatever it took to make sure the events of the Babylonian captivity would never happen again. But fear often clouds clear judgment. We begin to see an opposite trajectory being set for a nation than we find in Isaiah. This new trajectory toward a strict observance of laws God always intended to be temporary grew to a deep-seated racism among the Hebrew people by the time Jesus showed up.

It is not by random whim that Jesus begins by quoting Isaiah. Jesus begins by taking up the trajectory of Isaiah. It has been commented by many that a possible reason Jesus, in quoting Isaiah, left off the final statement, “the day of vengeance of our God,” was because those listening that day at the synagogue would immediately interpret that phrase as directed against anyone not of Hebrew nationality—in other words, Gentiles. But Jesus goes on to make sure his point is not missed. The deliverance he has come to bring is not the deliverance of one race (Hebrews) from another (Romans/Gentiles). No, no: Jesus has come to deliver all races, as God’s children, from their real enemy, the Accuser. (See the last eSight, as well as John 12:31 and Ephesians 6:12, Colossians 2.14-15, Revelation 12.10.)

Jesus mentions the widow in Zarephath and Namaan (Gentiles) as being the recipients of God’s favor in the days of Israel’s rebellion. These were people whom the Law condemned, but whom God favored. Paul also picked up on this point later:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two [Jew and Gentile] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh THE LAW with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself ONE NEW HUMANITY out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death THEIR hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we BOTH [Jew and Gentile] have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:14-18)

People whom the Law condemned, Jesus looked at not as transgressors in need of punishment, but as victims who had been deceived and taken captive by an enemy and were in need of a Savior. We find this pattern over and over again within the Jesus story. In John 8 we find a woman caught in adultery whom the law condemned to be stoned. Jesus did not follow the law’s strict command here. We find this with the woman at the well in John 4, and the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8. In all these stories we see the same trajectory away from certain old laws by Jesus. He understood their original reason and that these specific rules were always intended to be temporary. It would do us well to remember, though, that Jesus was crucified as a lawbreaker.

But this radical new way of looking at others, even Gentiles, was a game changer for Paul. His name was Saul when he was Pharisee, but he took up his Gentile/Romans name “Paul” once he met Jesus. He went on to write how Jesus changed everything for him: “So from now on we look at no one from a carnal point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16).

The distinctions he had been trained to categorize people with he came to see as carnal, fleshly, and “anti”-Jesus’s kingdom. Was this a transgression of previous laws? Without a doubt, yes, but notice Paul’s justification for it (within the same context of the last verse): “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin [transgression of the law; see 1 John 3:4 and Ephesians 2:15] for us [both and Jew and Gentile], so that in him we [both Jew and Gentile] might become the justification of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I know this juxtaposition between the old laws and Jesus is disconcerting for some. But I want to clarify: following Jesus does not equate to lawlessness, but being under a new law. What it means is that Jesus has become our new standard of morality. He is now what defines morality for us. Though we are no longer under the law, we still joyfully follow the “law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21). For those who are wrestling to get their head around this, I want to encourage them to read the book of James. It was for this very reason that James wrote his letter. The new followers of Jesus were being accused of doing away with the old laws, of living lawless lives. James is quick to point out that though there were parts of the Mosaic law they were in violation of, they were not “lawless” but following a higher law, the law of Christ. When reading James, make sure you take note of James’s use of Abraham and Hagar. James mentions both of these cases (Abraham’s attempted murder and Hagar’s false testimony) precisely because under the moral code of Moses, both would be strictly condemned (Exodus 20:13,16), but under the law of Christ, which had always been, these two were heroes! Did this rattle the cages of those who were heavily invested in the old laws? Absolutely! When Jesus first introduced this concept, they wanted to throw him off a cliff … literally! And ultimately, it was this very paradigm shift that got Jesus crucified. (And it has for every generation since where sincere people genuinely desired to follow Jesus and only Jesus. Nowhere, to my knowledge, is this juxtaposition more pronounced than between the violence commanded in the Old Testament and the nonviolence of Jesus. Yet that was the exact point of the mount of Transfiguration in Luke 9 as well. But I digress. We’ll get to Luke 9 soon enough in this series.)

Paul understood this, and he was hounded for it all his days. But he understood. If God is like Jesus, then Jesus changes everything (Galatians 2:20, 6:14-15). The Jesus story itself had become Paul’s new moral compass. His only goal: to be like Jesus.

What does this all mean to us today?

Let me ask you this question: Who is it in your life that you come in contact with daily that the “law” condemns?

Is it someone else? Is it you? Regardless, whoever it is, as a follower of Jesus, Jesus is calling you, dear reader, even if the old laws condemn this person, to look at him or her not as a transgressor in need of punishment, but as a victim in need of a Savior. Whatever the list of people groups, categories, and labels our society (religious or secular) has made, we are called to ignore it all and love as indiscriminately as the sun shines and the rain falls (Matthew 5:44–45).

Jesus came as Savior, giving his life as a ransom for all. We too are to follow the lamb, wherever he goes, taking up his cross, living our lives not to judge, marginalize, or condemn, but to save, redeem, and restore.

Who is it in your life that, this week, God is asking YOU to be Jesus to?

Again, Happy New Year to each of you.

Keep living in love, loving like Christ.

Now go enlarge the Kingdom!

I love you guys.

We’ll see you next week,

Herb