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HIS BLOOD BE UPON US. . .
When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this Just person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be upon us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:24–25)
Let’s think for a while about the personalities and the forces driving the events leading to the trial and crucifixion.
From the very beginning, it was the “Establishment” which drove the events. The well-established RELIGIOUS establishment which first viewed Jesus as a nuisance, then a threat. But as their suspicion and fear grew it developed into hatred and when hatred is full grown it frequently leads to murder. The sadness and travesty in this case was horribly multiplied because it was sanctioned and propelled by the “best” civilized society had at that time.
If you see similarities between that “system” and any other ever devised by man, your powers of observation are acute and accurate. The self-seeking, self-serving, greedy, self-preserving motive never has real “good” as its objective. And who’s to say that, given similar circumstances in our power hungry and power-polluted system we would not have arrived at the same conclusions? The same outcome. Who among us can honestly say we’d not have been driven along by the same tidal wave of hatred and evil?
If something big. . . really big. . . were happening downtown right now, would you stay home? Really? If you just ambled in and everyone was screaming something at the top of their voices, would you bravely step forward, calm them down and suggest a more reasoned approach? Even if that same angry crowd turned on you and told you to “Shut up, or Else?”
Don’t kid yourself. If any of us get caught up in the “herd mentality,” any one of us. . . and every one of us . . .can easily become subject to mass hysteria. I read a book some years ago entitled Rumor, Fear, and the Madness of Crowds. The central thesis was that, under the right circumstances, with the “right leader” any crowd is subjected to being manipulated. Whipped into a hysterical, insane frenzy. You don’t have to go far back into history to encounter Adolph Hitler and his monstrous Third Reich. Somehow, I cannot believe every single person who got swept along by that tsunami sized tide of evil was actually evil. Bit by tiny bit, they bought into a huge lie. They fell hook line and sinker for a line vomited from the mouth and mind of maniacal madman.
As you read the stories about Jesus’ life, you will recognize that early on he aroused the suspicion and ire of the religious leaders. “The Common People heard Jesus gladly.” Some of them said: “No (mere) man ever spoke like this Man.” He performed miracles, in addition to being a compelling speaker. He intimidated the “powers that be.” Then, He started saying things pretty clearly that people interpreted as Him saying He was the Son of God. Or even God (“He that has seen me has seen the Father.”). And he messed up one of their “profit centers,” turning over their tables, sending the synagogue profiteers scrambling for cover. The people must have loved it. And I have to confess I’d have been impressed seeing Jesus snortin’ fire and chasing religious thugs from the temple.
Admittedly, the ringleaders in this plot to do Jesus to death were the Jewish leaders. Admittedly, from their standpoint at least, they had reason to be upset. He was “messing” with their way of living. Encroaching on their “turf.” (Believe it or not, ministers can become very territorial!) Upsetting the people in general, and maybe attracting too much attention from the Romans garrisoned there. Israel was, you may recall, an occupied country at the time. An unruly, proud, very stubborn and almost ungovernable country. They hated being under the boot of Roman authority, and also feared that any uprising on their part would be cause for the iron fisted, full fury of Roman wrath to fall upon them. (In 70 A.D., their worst fears were realized.).
As you follow the career of Jesus, you can see these guys (or their spies) stalking Him constantly. Taking notes. Gathering false testimony. Exchanging knowing glances. Finding the one weak link in that original Band of Brothers, then bribing Judas to help them ‘take Jesus down.” Making plans which would find culmination on Golgotha’s brow.
In light of this it is no wonder that Annias and Caiaphas were the architects and engineers of the farce of a trial, under cover of night, and before “normal office hours” on the Friday morning of the day Jesus was legally murdered. They were the jeer leaders. They, and their plants, worked the crowd very effectively until they were chanting feverishly:
“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
“We will not have this Man rule over us!”
“Barrabbas! Release unto us Barrabbas!”
If you’re inclined toward prejudice, and if your reasoning powers are limited, you might be able to psych yourself into believing this was a “Jewish thing,” Before you seek to place blame, perhaps you should take an honest look in the mirror at the person whose face you wear. When I view the cross, I see very little occasion for pointing an accusing finger at anyone.
In fact, in answer to one of Pilate’s proposals, trying to wriggle himself off the hook the Jewish crowd seemed to have been led in a self-incriminating shout “His blood be upon us. . .and upon our children.” This is one of those statements some people use to judge and condemn Jews. That is not a rational conclusion. Prejudice of any sort is emotional. It is wrong to hate anyone whom God created. Do you remember that later that same day Jesus prayed and said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Now this raises a question. Not simply a rhetorical question. It deserves a carefully considered answer: “If the Person against whom the sin is committed asks forgiveness for the offenders. . . what room is left for anyone else to pass judgment?” Even if we think our claim is valid, what gives us any right to judge and condemn when the injured party says: “I forgive the offenders. They did not realize the gravity of their offense.”
Another unreasonable reason some people offer in attempting to justify anti-Semitism is the way they (the Jews. The entire nation of Israel) “hang together” so tightly. Even a casual observer of history can discover this. My personal opinion is they’ve had to do that for self-preservation. Through millenia no other nation o has ever been able to erase their identity. Not the snide, cutting remarks we make. Nor the Holocaust. Other peoples migrate and assimilate into almost any and every culture. We’ve prided ourselves in calling America the “Great Melting Pot.” While there are pockets of people here from every place on the planet, and while it may take generations for assimilation to fully take place, most are eventually absorbed in our culture and adopt our ways of thinking. The lone exception is the Jews who cling tenaciously to their faith, their distinctive, unmistakable Jewish identity.

Once I worked with the parents of Autistic Children. One of the things which impressed me early about them was that they were their own best and only friends in lots of instances. The enigmatic disorder their children had was so demanding, so cruel, that no one really understood what caused it. Much less could others understand the difficulties the families of autistic children had to face. In addition, a nearly Neanderthal German scientist had concluded the problem of autism was caused and promoted by what he called “Refrigerator mothers.” He was a “scholar.” And he stated his “findings and theories” so emphatically they were accepted by many as absolute fact. So, in addition to the incredible demands placed upon the families by the children, they were now faced with the added burden of feeling the problem was of their own making.
And every consideration they gained required that they fight. Hard. Together. Can you wonder why they drew so closely together, held tightly to that, and seldom allowed “outsiders” to see their pain.
Other minorities have endured the same kind of isolation. Often shut out of mainstream society, they had to find ways to preserve their way of life, as well as their very lives. What we view as arrogance or isolation may, in fact, be their means of self- preservation.
If you think the Jews in this scenario are evil, take a long, good, honest look in the mirror. The “sins” of which they were guilty are the same kinds of things we do every day. Every one of us. Every day. The Bible teaches that sin is what made Jesus’ death necessary. Not Jewish sin. Not White sin, or Black, or American sin. Sin. The same kinds we commit.
Just as Christ died so all may be forgiven, so all of us…and each of us…is culpable in His crucifixion. Why would anyone and everyone need to be “forgiven” if, in fact, they’d committed no offenses? The truth is it was the sinful human nature (Jew, Greek, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc., etc.) which did the Son of God to Death.
I believe it’s important to think about that. The Jews were no more the reason for Jesus’ death than I am. No more than you are. Their “sins” were no more, and no less, sinful than mine. Or yours. The truth of the matter is that He died for all of us because all of us “have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Think about the kinds of sins they committed. They were “religious” people. Not a murderer among them probably. Certainly none who’d committed financial thuggery of the AIG and Madoff proportions! They were the very best that their society had to offer. They were preserving their jobs. Their religion, their thought. Their traditions. Their way of life. And they fought the only way they knew how to fight.
If a light shines too brightly and hurts your eyes, you either adjust to it, or put it out. In this case, the Light of the World was simply so bright they had to adjust to the Truth. Or kill it. Being Jewish had little, if anything, to do with it. Being human, and therefore sinful, had everything to do with it.
Would you and I have handled the situation differently?
Do we handle it differently today?
Really?

HIS BLOOD BE UPON US

 

“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands and said, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this Just person. You see to it.’ And all the people answered and said, ‘His blood be upon us and on our children.’  (Matthew 27:24–25)

Let’s think for a while about the personalities and the forces driving the events leading to the trial and crucifixion.
From the very beginning, it was the “Establishment” which drove the events. The well-established RELIGIOUS establishment which first viewed Jesus as a nuisance, then a threat. But as their suspicion and fear grew it developed into paranoid hatred and when hatred is full grown it frequently leads to murder. The sadness and travesty in this case was horribly multiplied because it was sanctioned and propelled by the “best” civilized society had at that time.
If you see similarities between that “system” and any other ever devised by man, your powers of observation are acute and accurate. The self-seeking, self-serving, greedy, self-preserving motive never has real “good” as its objective. And who’s to say that, given similar circumstances in our power hungry and power-polluted system we would not have arrived at the same conclusions? The same outcome. Who among us can honestly say we’d not have been driven along by the same tidal wave of hatred and evil?
If something big. . . really big. . . were happening downtown right now, would you stay home? Really? If you just ambled in and everyone was screaming something at the top of their voices, would you bravely step forward, calm them down and suggest a more reasoned approach? Even if that same angry crowd turned on you and told you to “Shut up, or Else?”
Don’t kid yourself. If any of us get caught up in the “herd mentality,” any one of us. . . and every one of us . . .can easily become subject to mass hysteria. I read a book some years ago entitled Rumor, Fear, and the Madness of Crowds. The central thesis was that, under the right circumstances, with the “right leader” any crowd is subjected to being manipulated. Whipped into a hysterical, insane frenzy. You don’t have to go far back into history to encounter Adolph Hitler and his monstrous Third Reich. Somehow, I cannot believe every single person who got swept along by that tsunami sized tide of evil was actually evil. Bit by tiny bit, they bought into a huge lie. They fell hook line and sinker for a line vomited from the mouth and mind of maniacal madman.
As you read the stories about Jesus’ life, you will recognize that early on he aroused the suspicion and ire of the religious leaders. “The Common People heard Jesus gladly.” Some of them said: “No (mere) man ever spoke like this Man.” He performed miracles, in addition to being a compelling speaker. He intimidated the “powers that be.” Then, He started saying things pretty clearly that people interpreted as Him saying He was the Son of God. Or even God (“He that has seen me has seen the Father.”). And he messed up one of their “profit centers,” turning over their tables, sending the synagogue profiteers scrambling for cover. The people must have loved it. And I have to confess I’d have been impressed seeing Jesus snortin’ fire and chasing religious thugs from the temple.
Admittedly, the ringleaders in this plot to do Jesus to death were the Jewish leaders. Admittedly, from their standpoint at least, they had reason to be upset. He was “messing” with their way of living. Encroaching on their “turf.” (Believe it or not, ministers can become very territorial!) Upsetting the people in general, and maybe attracting too much attention from the Romans garrisoned there. Israel was, you may recall, an occupied country at the time. An unruly, proud, very stubborn and almost ungovernable country. They hated being under the boot of Roman authority, and also feared that any uprising on their part would be cause for the iron fisted, full fury of Roman wrath to fall upon them. (In 70 A.D., their worst fears were realized.).

As you follow the career of Jesus, you can see these guys (or their spies) stalking Him constantly. Taking notes. Gathering false testimony. Exchanging knowing glances. Finding the one weak link in that original Band of Brothers, then bribing Judas to help them ‘take Jesus down.” Making plans which would find culmination on Golgotha’s brow.
In light of this it is no wonder that Annias and Caiaphas were the architects and engineers of the farce of a trial, under cover of night, and before “normal office hours” on the Friday morning of the day Jesus was legally murdered. They were the jeer leaders. They, and their plants, worked the crowd very effectively until they were chanting feverishly:

“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
“We will not have this Man rule over us!”
“Barrabbas! Release unto us Barrabbas!”
If you’re inclined toward prejudice, and if your reasoning powers are limited, you might be able to psych yourself into believing this was a “Jewish thing,” Before you seek to place blame, perhaps you should take an honest look in the mirror at the person whose face you wear. When I view the cross, I see very little occasion for pointing an accusing finger at anyone.
In fact, in answer to one of Pilate’s proposals, trying to wriggle himself off the hook the Jewish crowd seemed to have been led in a self-incriminating shout “His blood be upon us. . .and upon our children.” This is one of those statements some people use to judge and condemn Jews. That is not a rational conclusion. Prejudice of any sort is emotional. It is wrong to hate anyone whom God created. Do you remember that later that same day Jesus prayed and said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Now this raises a question. Not simply a rhetorical question. It deserves a carefully considered answer: “If the Person against whom the sin is committed asks forgiveness for the offenders. . . what room is left for anyone else to pass judgment?” Even if we think our claim is valid, what gives us any right to judge and condemn when the injured party says: “I forgive the offenders. They did not realize the gravity of their offense.”

Another unreasonable reason some people offer in attempting to justify anti-Semitism is the way they (the Jews. The entire nation of Israel) “hang together” so tightly. Even a casual observer of history can discover this. My personal opinion is they’ve had to do that for self-preservation. Through millenia no other nation o has ever been able to erase their identity. Not the snide, cutting remarks we make. Nor the Holocaust. Other peoples migrate and assimilate into almost any and every culture. We’ve prided ourselves in calling America the “Great Melting Pot.” While there are pockets of people here from every place on the planet, and while it may take generations for assimilation to fully take place, most are eventually absorbed in our culture and adopt our ways of thinking. The lone exception is the Jews who cling tenaciously to their faith, their distinctive, unmistakable Jewish identity.

Once I worked with the parents of Autistic Children. One of the things which impressed me early about them was that they were their own best and only friends in lots of instances. The enigmatic disorder their children had was so demanding, so cruel, that no one really understood what caused it. Much less could others understand the difficulties the families of autistic children had to face. In addition, a nearly Neanderthal German scientist had concluded the problem of autism was caused and promoted by what he called “Refrigerator mothers.” He was a “scholar.” And he stated his “findings and theories” so emphatically they were accepted by many as absolute fact. So, in addition to the incredible demands placed upon the families by the children, they were now faced with the added burden of feeling the problem was of their own making.

And every consideration they gained required that they fight. Hard. Together. Can you wonder why they drew so closely together, held tightly to that, and seldom allowed “outsiders” to see their pain.
Other minorities have endured the same kind of isolation. Often shut out of mainstream society, they had to find ways to preserve their way of life, as well as their very lives. What we view as arrogance or isolation may, in fact, be their means of self- preservation.

If you think the Jews in this scenario are evil, take a long, good, honest look in the mirror. The “sins” of which they were guilty are the same kinds of things we do every day. Every one of us. Every day. The Bible teaches that sin is what made Jesus’ death necessary. Not Jewish sin. Not White sin, or Black, or American sin. Sin. The same kinds we commit.
Just as Christ died so all may be forgiven, so all of us…and each of us…is culpable in His crucifixion. Why would anyone and everyone need to be “forgiven” if, in fact, they’d committed no offenses? The truth is it was the sinful human nature (Jew, Greek, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc., etc.) which did the Son of God to Death.

I believe it’s important to think about that. The Jews were no more the reason for Jesus’ death than I am. No more than you are. Their “sins” were no more, and no less, sinful than mine. Or yours. The truth of the matter is that He died for all of us because all of us “have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Think about the kinds of sins they committed. They were “religious” people. Not a murderer among them probably. Certainly none who’d committed financial thuggery of the AIG and Madoff proportions! They were the very best that their society had to offer. They were preserving their jobs. Their religion, their thought. Their traditions. Their way of life. And they fought the only way they knew how to fight.

If a light shines too brightly and hurts your eyes, you either adjust to it, or put it out. In this case, the Light of the World was simply so bright they had to adjust to the Truth. Or kill it. Being Jewish had little, if anything, to do with it. Being human, and therefore sinful, had everything to do with it.
Would you and I have handled the situation differently?

Do we handle it differently today?

Really?

DREAM ON . . .

S

Genesis 37: 16 – 20  “And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.  And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan. And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.  And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”    (Genesis 37: 16 – 20)

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”  (Joel 2:28)

“Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17]

 

         While hospitalized some time ago, I watched a couple of documentaries on the surprising emergence of Susan Boyle.  Judged by outward appearances, she looked like the deck was stacked against her from the start.

         She was obviously very shy.  Not really very attractive.  Not young.  Unknown and to all appearances out of her element.  Completely and embarrassingly so.  Even I felt uneasy for her, afraid she might humiliate herself or trigger a cruel avalanche of boos and hisses.

         The crowd, including a cynical “judge” gasped in amazement, though, as the first notes of her song were heard. Jaws dropped.  It was that obvious.

         One thing that most of us would have failed to take into account in this kind of situation is that lady, Susan Boyle, had a dream.  In addition to talent which had lain undiscovered, unnoticed for more than four decades, she had a dream.  That was what made the difference.  That was what enabled her to overcome her reluctance.  Overcome her fears. Stand up against the naysayers. That is the extra factor that enabled her to stand strong in the face of almost certain scorn and  humiliating,  brutally embarrassing failure.

         If she had bolted off the stage before the first note, I’d have felt sorry for her.  I could almost see her at the last, weeping, rushing for the exit, hiding her face and nursing her sorrow and embarrassment for perhaps the rest of her days.  But she had a dream.  And she refused to let the dream die!

         Even her song selection, “I dreamed a dream” from the successful production, “Les Miserables,” was a dead giveaway.  She seemed inspired.  Gripped.  Driven.  Confident. Invincible almost.  In a word, she “knocked the audience back on its heels” with the power and haunting beauty of that incredible voice.

         Most folks who’ve read anything I’ve written know the simple single string I’ve strummed is the Scriptural study of people who were considered defeated, useless, human rubbish even.  I’ve focused my attention as intensely as I’m capable on why they failed or were apparently ignored and beaten down by life.  And how they were able to recover and become great leaders. 

         Joseph, for example, had a dream in his youth that was fulfilled in his later life.  He was ridiculed because of the dream, but he held fast to it.  Remember his resentful brothers out on the dessert that afternoon so long ago and so far away:  “Behold, the dreamer comes” they spat his name out on the desert sand with bitter resentment when they saw him coming with their lunch.  Joseph suffered great consequences because of that dream, but when you see him you can ask him yourself if it were worth the cost.  He never forgot that dream, and that was certainly one of the things which sustained him when he could very easily have died in despair and been forgotten by history.

         This is something to which I’ve devoted a great deal of thought.  There’s a statement in Scripture which you could easily overlook if you read casually.  “In the last days, your young men shall see visions, dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28).

         I’ve read a lot of stuff in my life about people who did not stand a ghost of a chance.  It feels as if I’m sort of on a mission now to discover as many of these folks as I can, and LEARN from them. Look at history.  Look at Scripture.  See how many you can find who succeeded mainly because they had a dream and would not be denied. Susan Boyle is just one beautiful example.

         Based on my own experience and observation, I’m guessing that someone somewhere someday will read these words and remember.  You once had a dream. There was a time and a place when it seemed that God was more real to you than than your own existence.  Closer than your heartbeat.  The fact that you couldn’t explain it does not mean it was not real.  If your mind is open, even now you can recover that dream and never let it die!

         Susan Boyle had a dream.  A vision, not of what she was but of what she could do and become.  Joseph did. Edison did. Winston Churchill did.  Steve Jobs did. Martin Luther King did.

         Do you?

” . . . IN THOSE DAYS . . . “

 

 

 

      “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.”         Luke 2:1-

               Do you mind if we take a few minutes and think about THE TIMING of what I’m calling an “Eternal Event?” Luke says the story unfolded “In those days.”  I’ve asked myself what was different or special about those days? 

         Nothing, it appears. Absolutely nothing.

          In those days, for instance, the ‘High’ (Augustus) Caesar issued an order that all those under his rule were to be taxed.  So what’s new or different about that? In our day, we have a saying that: “Nothing’s certain but death and taxes.” There’s nothing new here.  At his own considerable expense and inconvenience, each and every citizen had to go back to his birthplace to register.  We aren’t told what kind of records were kept; or where; or how the details and  totals were collected, calculated and  kept … or what the penalty might be for fraud or default.    This may have been the most convenient, most efficient way to register and pay taxes from the Roman government’s point of view.  Rome was in absolute power; what care had they for poor, miserable, inferior peasants?

         Do you get the picture?  Rome, the much despised, wielded cruel, savage power, used a mailed fist like a sledgehammer to capture and control almost all of the then known world.  The iron toed Roman boot on the necks of the Jews ground down and humiliated an intensely stubborn and proud people.  Those who had considered themselves to be God’s “Chosen People” must have felt they’d been grabbed by the neck like a chicken with taxes wrung out to the last shekel or denarius. And we grumble and complain about “hard times” and bad times and downturns in our economy and a looming bona fide “depression” and deprivation. By comparison, I doubt most of us even know what hardship, destitution, and deprivation really are. 

         In those days, they knew the meaning of suffering ~ economic, mental, physical, and spiritual ~ to the point of tortured exhaustion.  They sighed and trudged wearily along, wondering perhaps if each step and breath would be their last  . . . and not really caring if it were.

         That’s what it was like, in those days.  People were tired.  Weary. Oppressed. Crushed down, hopeless and defeated. The known world labored restlessly under the militarily enforced PAX Romana  (Roman Peace). After centuries of trial and error, failed policies, disappointed philosophical and religious quests, historians tell us a certain taedium vitae   (Latin for “tiredness of life”) hung over the entire population like a heavy pall.  Even those who held onto the Messianic hope did it very tentatively, only half-heartedly. “How long, O Lord, How Long?” they wondered collectively.  “Haven’t we had enough?”

         In THOSE DAYS…I’m REALLY intrigued by some of the words and phrases used in what we consider the “Nativity Narratives.”  Those are two of them.   In my thinking, though, this is how Luke plants this story in human history.  . . in time and on terra firma (Latin for “firm ground.”).  He’s not soaring around in space in some ‘Never-Never Land.’  It is obvious what he’s talking about. And Whom.  And when.  And where.   He isn’t talking here about some lofty, unidentifiable, impersonal deity inhabiting some lofty pinnacle on a distant, mythical. mystical Mount Olympus proportions and hurling lightning bolts from that high point across the universe.  Luke is speaking about a real baby boy.  Born in a REAL place, and in REAL time.   Breathing, crying, nursing, even occasionally wetting his diapers made of swaddling cloths, and sleeping peacefully in His mother’s arms, or there nestling and snuggling on the straw in the makeshift baby bed which had been borrowed from the farm animals and hastily improvised to meet an “emergency.”  Can you imagine what it might have been like to see the animals mulling and pawing around, searching for food.  Wondering where their meal was.  Someone had invaded their turf.  It was THEIR feed trough.  Their manger!

         What a sight!  What a night!!! 

        It all took place in those days.  I’ve kept asking myself: “What was so special about “those days?”  

         Nothing.  Nothing at all.  Nada.  NOTHING!

 

         Until you take into account that on one of them Jesus was born.  Perhaps a day JUST TODAY! 

         In some sense, even those dark days provided the perfect backdrop for a miracle.  The kind of “times that try men’s souls” turned out to be, in fact, the days in which “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory.”  Those were the days, but certainly not the “good ole days!”

         However, on one of those days, a group of angels shouted or sang in harmony, or in unison: “Unto you is born THIS DAY, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” And, just think about this: That grand announcement and concert was performed by an army of angels before an audience of poor, unlettered, unimportant, unknown, common shepherds,  on an ordinary night, in a field on the backside of nowhere!

 

         The really important question is this:  What effect does this message have upon me IN THESE DAYS?  On THIS DAY?

 

_________________________________

 

         “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes … and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”        

~               Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
German pastor, educator and philosopher (1906-1945). When he wrote GOD IN THE MANGER, Dietrich was in prison, awaiting execution for his involvement in anti-Hitler activity.   Waiting, hoping, for release that never came.  He was executed less than four weeks before Adolph Hitler committed suicide

Let’s begin right here:
THE BIRTH OF JESUS

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.). And everyone went to their own town to register.
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the 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.”
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
“ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:1-20 New International Version (NIV)

In Those Days

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.” Luke 2:1-2

Do you mind if we take a few minutes and think about THE TIMING of what I’m calling an “Eternal Event?” Luke says the story unfolded “In those days.” I’ve asked myself what was different or special about those days?
Nothing, it appears. Absolutely nothing.
In those days, for instance, the ‘High’ (Augustus) Caesar issued an order that all those under his rule were to be taxed. So what’s new or different about that? In our day, we have a saying that: “Nothing’s certain but death and taxes.” There’s nothing new here. At his own considerable expense and inconvenience, each and every citizen had to go back to his birthplace to register. We aren’t told what kind of records were kept; or where; or how the totals were collected, calculated and kept … or what the penalty might be for fraud or default. This may have been the most convenient, most efficient way to register and pay taxes from the Roman government’s point of view. Rome was in absolute power; what care had they for poor, miserable, inferior peasants?
Do you get the picture? Rome, the much despised, wielded cruel, savage power, usied a mailed fist like a sledgehammer to capture and control almost all of the then known world. The iron toed Roman boot on the necks of the Jews ground down and humiliated an intensely stubborn and proud people. Those who had considered themselves to be God’s “Chosen People” must have felt they’d been grabbed by the neck like a chicken with taxes wrung out to the last shekel or denarius. And we grumble and complain about “hard times” and bad times and downturns in our economy and a looming bona fide “depression” and deprivation. By comparison, I doubt most of us even know what hardship, destitution, and deprivation really are.
In those days, they knew the meaning of suffering ~ economic, mental, physical, and spiritual ~ to the point of tortured exhaustion. They sighed and trudged wearily along, wondering perhaps if each step and breath would be their last . . . and not really caring if it were.
That’s what it was like, in those days. People were tired. Weary. Oppressed. Crushed down, hopeless and defeated. The known world labored restlessly under the militarily enforced PAX Romana (Roman Peace). After centuries of trial and error, failed policies, disappointed philosophical and religious quests, historians tell us a certain taedium vitae (Latin for “tiredness of life”) hung over the entire population like a heavy pall. Even those who held onto the Messianic hope did it very tentatively, only half-heartedly. “How long, O Lord, How Long?” they wondered collectively. “Haven’t we had enough?”
In THOSE DAYS…I’m REALLY intrigued by some of the words and phrases used in what we consider the “Nativity Narratives.” Those are two of them. In my thinking, though, this is how Luke plants this story in human history. . . in time and on terra firma (Latin for “firm ground.”) He’s not soaring around in space in some ‘Never-Never Land.’ It is obvious what he’s talking about. And Whom. And when. And where. He isn’t talking here about some lofty, unidentifiable, impersonal deity inhabiting some lofty pinnacle on a distant, mythical. mystical Mount Olympus proportions and hurling lightning bolts from that high point across the universe. Luke is speaking about a real baby boy. Born in a REAL place, and in REAL time. Breathing, crying, nursing, even occasionally wetting his diapers made of swaddling cloths, and sleeping peacefully in His mother’s arms, or there nestling and snuggling on the straw in the makeshift baby bed which had been borrowed from the farm animals and hastily improvised to meet an “emergency.”
What a sight! What a night!!!
It all took place in those days. I’ve kept asking myself: “What was so special about “those days?”
Nothing. Nothing at all.
Until you take into account that on one of them Jesus was born. Perhaps a day JUST TODAY!

In some sense, even those dark days provided the perfect backdrop for a miracle. The kind of “times that try men’s souls” turned out to be, in fact, the days in which “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory,” Those were the days, but certainly not the “good ole days!”
However, on one of those days, a group of angels shouted or sang in hamony, or in unison and said: “Unto you is born THIS DAY, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”
The really important question is this: What does this message have upon me IN THESE DAYS? And on THIS DAY?

_________________________________

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes … and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
German pastor and philosopher (1906-1945) imprisoned and executed for his role in the attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

JOY TO YOU, TOO!

I tried to complete my manuscript for a new Christmas devotional study.  Just ran out of time before I could complete the task.  Instead, my plan is to put the manuscript up in its draft form, inviting you to critique it and make any suggestions or ask any questions that may occur to you.  Here’s the book title, a suggested list of chapters, and the introduction. More will follow.

JOY TO YOU,TOO

A Serious and Joyous Look at an Old Book

By don kimrey

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction
1.  In those days
2 . Sorry, no vacancy
3,  Suddenly
4.  Don’t be Afraid
5 , An Army of Angels
6. Joy to You, Too
7.  Generations of Jews
8.  A Strange Visit
9.  Strange Gifts
10. The Word
12.  Ever Looked At It This Way?
13. The Light
14. The Gift
15. The Great Descent
Afterwords
Great Gratitude

DEDICATION

This little book is being written by an ordinary guy who has grown a bit weary of cheesy, clueless, and crassly commercial exploitation of a really sacred day. A day we use in our calendars to mark the most dramatic turning point in human history. In our culture, everything that occurred prior to the Incarnation of Christ is marked B.C. (Before Christ.). The years afterward are dated A.D. (“Anno Domini,” The Year of the Lord).

Christmas is what I call and Eternal Event.
With an accumulation of traditions and folklore, should ask ourselves sometimes what the real significance of Christmas is? Is it just a celebration of a sentimental season? A commercial bonanza? Or is there deeper, more serious meaning which deserves to be explored?
JOY TO YOU, TOO is being written (and is dedicated to) someone like you, if you would like to take a fresh, new look at Jesus of Nazareth’s entrance into human history. It is an invitation to ponder the significance and magnificence of that Event, more from a personal, devotional standpoint than from a merely historical or theological perspective.
Thank you for considering my work. I hope you’ll rediscover some of the true joy of this event.
~donkimrey, North Topsail Island, North Carolina, Winter 2012

THE WEAKER SEX?

In considering the enormity of the Easter event, some things could easily be overlooked. While trying as carefully as I can to examine the Gospel accounts, I couldn’t help but notice how Jesus’ followers conducted themselves in such a crisis.

In an earlier post, I gave a rather unflattering account of the conduct of the Disciples during the ordeal of Jesus’ arrest, mock trial, and illegal execution. The account was accurate. It’s another occasion where all grounds for human pride and boasting are removed.

It was the Women who stepped forth and displayed bravery! So much for the myth about “the weaker sex!”

“And there were also women watching from a distance, among whom were both Mary the Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses; and Salome, they who when he was in Galilee used to follow him and provide for him, plus many others who had come up to Jerusalem with him. (Mark 15:40-41)

These are just a couple of verses, among many more in Mark and the other Gospel records giving account of several ladies who were present and accounted for and the band of brothers who had gone AWOL.

It’s apparent that the ladies possessed a tender and great strength which the men did not have at that time. Their love and adoration of Christ was far greater than their fear of death, or anything else. They loved Christ more than they feared the Roman soldiers.  Or their own safety. In the dark hours before the Resurrection there’s not a single reason given for  boasting among the men.  Not a hero among them!

In this connection, it was almost impossible not to recall these words by John Montgomery:

“In the hour of trial,
Jesus, plead for me;
Lest by base denial
I depart from thee;
When thou seest me waver,
With a look recall,
Nor for fear or favor
Suffer me to fall.”

EASTER AFTER-THOUGHTS (Part one)

EASTER AFTERTHOUGHTS
(This is part of a series, The focus for my thinking has been Matthew, Mark, Luke, John’s account of the Resurrection, plus Paul’s thoughts, which are recorded in the letters he wrote to young Churches. ~don)

The accounts of events surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are NOT meant to be scholarly, detailed, well-organized displays of intellectual acumen. Nor are they intended to serve as a camera, giving accurate, precise, logical or chronological photographic accuracy one might expect from a news crew on assignment for the Six o’clock Evening News.

In studying Scripture, I feel I should deal carefully always. Therefore, I seldom dash into a matter, whip off a couple hundred words, swipe my hands and slap myself on the back and congratulate me for a completely superficial piece of drivel.

In thinking about the Resurrection, I’ve been comparing what each of the writers of the Gospels saw and said. Things were happening so suddenly and at such a dizzying pace, so much was going on! Think about it: In a matter of moments, the little band went from being broken hearted, disappointed, and defeated to deliriously, joyfully realizing an entirely new order was now in place. In one moment they were singing sad songs (almost silently) mourning their loss so they wouldn’t give away their location! The next thing you see is that frightened little group shouting gloriously, victoriously. You can almost hear them full throttle singing Handel’s Messiah and the Hallelujah chorus. As the events unfolded so suddenly and unexpectedly, I almost wondered how they didn’t strip their mental gears over such a reversal of thinking .

Hold that thought for a moment if you will.

Think of the saddest songs you ever heard. Imagine them playing in the background. All doors are locked, the lights are out and all curtains pulled, In one scene the friends and followers of Christ are weeping, forlorn, defeated, robbed of hope. In the next scene you can almost see and hear the conductor commanding baton leading with the skill and enthusiasm of an accomplished artist. The choir is full, standing, singing at the tops of their voices doing John Phillip Sousa’s “Three Cheers for the Red, White, and

At a precisely appropriate moment, someone throws a switch. The choir, conductor, the orchestra are in a spotlight. The Washington Monument is in full view with lights as the background accented wondrously by a trained team of explosives experts

Is there any wonder that the reporting of the incidents reflects their emotions of fear, surprise, excitement, and pur joy! Can’t we cut those writer a bit of slack? Come on now, they weren’t reading from an encyclopedia, preparing to write a term paper and get it in before the deadline. This is not a bunch of intellectuals preparing to deliver a lecture in Sweden, in Latin no less. They were very simple, honest people, hard-working folks who were witnesses to one of the grandest events of all time. It was an explosion of joy!

Explosive, unexpected things happened in rapid succession. Understandably, in such a situation you might get varying accounts as different writers give their own account of events they observed and recorded. I see no evidence of contradictions

If you study the Bible, there are several approaches you can take. You may read the events skeptically, trying to dissect and examine them as you dissected the first frog in your high school biology class. Put them under a microscope, take them apart, then try to make sense of all this. You can read these accounts in that way and they’ll be as dead to you as the formaldehyde soaked stinking frogs you used to study in science lab. It becomes what I call “antics with semantics;” “verbal gymnastics.” Sometimes literary critics can become so obsessed with nits, that’s all they can pick up. And in doing so, they may miss the important points entirely.

Another way you can read the Bible as it was intended. Not just a collection of data about which you could discuss and debate endlessly and purposelessly. If you aren’t a committed follower of Christ, you may at least consider it to be simple, honest accounts by simple, honest people who never changed their story. Men and women who believed what they said, tried to share the incredible “Good News,” and spent the remainder of their lives as committed to that truth on the day they died as they were when the reality of the Resurrection first burst through their grief and sorrow and unbelief.

I’m convinced that something happened there in those days that had never happened before. And only the convinced can be convincing. I can confidently repeat what the Angel told the first-comers: ‘HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.” Just as He said he would. Now we know, so let’s go and tell others, “Tell it on the mountains and everywhere.” He’s Alive! Christ rose from the grave, just as he said he would!

EASTER AFTERTHOUGHTS

During the last several weeks, while I’ve been focused on the Resurrection of Christ (and events surrounding that), some facts emerged which I’d not really thought about seriously before. They seem to deserve closer attention, so, here goes:

 1.  Almost all the men (Peter and the respected Apostles, the “pillars” of the Church,) waffled.  They crumpled under pressure.

Joseph of Arimathea  was an exception, and perhaps the reason he was not captured and punished may have been because he was a respected member of the leaders of the Jewish community.  It seems also that Nicodemus (Remember him from chapter 3 of the Gospel of John?), also emerged from the shadows, even if only briefly. For a long time, I’ve felt that God doesn’t have any secret, undercover agents.  Sooner or later, their identity will be known.

The Biblical story does not flatter this ‘Band of Brothers:’ “The disciples forsook him and fled.  A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; but he escaped naked, leaving the linen behind.”  (See Mark 14:50 & 51). Then he took off in the dark, dodging trees and bushes looking for a place to hide.   Many scholars believe this young man was Mark.**   With Peter’s help, he’s also considered to be the writer of the book bearing his name.  It seems, perhaps because of modesty or embarrassment, Mark chose not to identify himself in this scene, although the incident certainly lends creditility to his record of the events.  He was there.  Even if he failed to measure up, he knew what he’d seen and heard and reported it accurately.  I’d have been embarrassed, too!  Wouldn’t you?  It’s bad enough to feel like a coward, but to be caught sneaking around and streaking under those circumstances!?

What if one of the police had turned on a searchlight at that precise moment?  And there was no fig leaf for cover and no rock to crawl under!

While this was happening, Peter tagged along behind the ‘respected’ religious and civil authorites, but at a safe distance. (“Then took they him (Jesus), and led him, and brought him unto the high priest’s house. And Peter followed afar off.” Luke 22:54). After the arresting soldiers and brave officials arrived at their destination, Peter tried unsuccessfully to blend in with the crowd outside the place where a mock trial was being conducted.  He stuck out like a sore thumb! When he was recognized, he denied being a follower of Christ.  Emphatically!  Three times he did that, the third underscored with convincing profanity. Most sailors and fishermen I’ve known can cuss proficiently!

An Afterthought:  For the most part, the record clearly shows the men disappeared into the shadows. In spite of their boasts, they vanished. They kept a safe distance, or retreated to an apartment essentially hiding, waiting for the footfalls of the Roman soldiers coming to arrest them. John appears to be the only exception, as one of the accounts reported he stood with Mary, Jesus’ Mother, as they watched her Son die.

Not much of a record for bravery.  Not exactly an example of macho masculinity.

Given that kind of record, what could be expected of these men. . . all of them. . . in the future?  So strong, and young.  So lean and idealistic…and suddenly their best instincts are in shambles.  Instead of heroes, to the last man they appear to be cowards, rendered useless by fear.

How could you ever expect them to become the fearless leaders we now know and respect?

Please consider this: Under pressure, have you ever crumpled or compromised your principles and your faith?  Were you too embarrassed to stand strong during a test?  Have you been too proud or embarrassed to admit that mistake and correct it?  If I understand anything about the Bible, it’s NEVER too late to do that.

God’s son and servant, your friend and fellow student,   ><>  donkimrey  ><>

**This appears to be the same “Mark,” who had jumped ship on the first missionary journey and was the reason for the split between Paul and Barnabas. Mark had become discouraged or disillusioned during his first venture of faith and been written off by The Apostle Paul (How would you feel if Billy Graham had decided you weren’t worth the effort required to give you a ‘second chance?). Was it just a coincidence that the same Barnabas who ‘took a chance’ on the rabid Christian-killer named Saul was also the same man who was convinced young Mark was worth another try? Peter also followed suit and is considered the ‘silent partner’ in the record most feel was written by Mark.  And even later Paul had second thoughts and admitted the young man who’d deserted the mission earlier was a worthy follower of Christ.

WHOM DO YOU REALLY KNOW?

As Easter approaches, my thoughts return to the Scriptural accounts of the “Great Getting’ Up Morning.” The Resurrection! Chances are that most who read my blog have some idea about how Matthew, Mark, Luke and John give their accounts of how the Resurrection occurred. On the other hand, few of us have probably paid much  attention to the Apostle Paul’s view. It’s quite different from the Gospel writers’ approaches.

As an example of what I’m considering, Paul speaks of the Incarnation in a completely different way than the accounts recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In his letter to the young Church at Philippi (Philippians 2:5-22), he writes about what I call “The Great Descent.” No mention is made of Mary, Joseph, the over-crowded inn in Bethlehem, the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, or the foolish religious and political leaders who completely mis-read the Message God sent.

It sort of follows Paul’s pattern of reasoning that he would handle the Resurrection in a different way. Accepting it as a fact, Paul just says “above all else, I want to know this Christ, this power, and I want to experience it in my life, personally.”

So, as honestly, thoughtfully and carefully as I am capable of being, I’ve been pondering his statement. I’ve tried to weigh each word. The first thing I tried to do is grasp the terms Paul is using. At the risk of sounding like a “nit-picker,” I wanted to be sure I had an understanding of what he meant by what he said.

So, the first thing I did was try to define “KNOW.” It seems very clear to me that Paul is not speaking here of the act of simply accumulating factual information. He’s not trying to educate. He’s speaking obviously about having a relationship. It sounds more to me like he’s attempting to become intimately acquainted with someone and understand the importance and implication of facts.  Flowing naturally from that search is the complete dedication of Paul to introduce his Friend to anyone who’d read or listen to his words! Knowing Christ and introducing Him to others was the driving force behind his life and his death.

I “know” a lot of people. But have had little contact with them. Once I shook hands with Gerald Ford. But he never contacted me after that moment. I know a lot about Billy Graham, but he hasn’t the remotest idea of who donkimrey is. Somehow, I would not feel quite comfortable walking up the hill to his house, ringing his doorbell and sitting out on his front porch, sipping tea, looking at the scenery and discussing theology or world politics or chatting about the NCAA finals. I’m not even on his Christmas card mailing list. I know about him. But I don’t know him.

And he sure doesn’t know me.

How can you know Christ? One of the best ways is by reading about Him (the best source for that is in the Bible.). The Old Testament has a great deal to say about a “Messiah” (a Divinely chosen, or appointed leader.) who would come from God to heal and liberate His people. That is usually referred to as messianic prophecy. The New Testament speaks of the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jesus of Nazareth. The only source I have for such information is the Bible. So, if I really want to know about Jesus…and eventually hope to know Him better…it follows logically that I’ll become familiar with the primary source of information about Him.

Think about the things He said. And what He did. Consider how he treated people, even His enemies. And especially little children. In a world which viewed women as possessions, who has done as much as He to establish and respect their worth and identity? What has Jesus contributed to this and other important issues? What kind of influence has he exercised over his close associates, and anyone else?

In one of Paul’s references to Jesus and His exit from the borrowed tomb, he declared that his objective his life’s most important assignment, was: “That I may KNOW Him, and THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION.” In another place I write about what I believe “power” is. In this case, Paul speaks of the Resurrection as being one of the greatest displays of God’s power. The word Paul uses in his letter to the Philippian Church is the same word Jesus used when He told the Disciples they’d receive “power” after the Holy Spirit came upon them.

That I may know THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERING That sounds painful. Jesus didn’t pull any punches. He didn’t even try to hide the high cost of discipleship. Once, when he was inviting some folks to join Him, He cautioned: If you really do that, you’d better consider the consequences. If you’re serious, you must be prepared to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow.” At that very time He was heading toward the Cross.

As we celebrate Easter, I believe it’s important that we thoughtfully consider the significance of that eternal event. The facts about Jesus’ life and great love have been reported and recorded by more credible witnesses than many historical events which we’ve read about and believed all our lives. We don’t have to defend its impact on the world. It has long been considered almost universally as one of the “hinges of history.” Anyone who writes the date 2012 A.D. is acknowledging the entrance and exit of Jesus and the continuing influence His birth, life, teaching, death, burial and resurrection have on mankind.

The evidence is clear that the Jesus has entered human history and changed it forever. That is a universally accepted fact.

If that’s the case, Paul was correct in his decision to really know what that meant for him, personally. Universal is one thing. Personal is quite another.

The questions I ask myself in this kind of situation is also the question you may ask:  “Whom do I really know?  What effort or sacrifice am I ready to make so that I may personally, intimately know Christ?”