Sunday, March 25, 2018

King Jesus and King Jehu

I am fascinated by clear links between the Old and New Testaments. One such link is Jesus' quotation of the opening line of Psalm 22 while He is on the cross. If you read all of Psalm 22, you'll see that the entire psalm relates to his crucifixion experience. It's amazing. 

I see such a link between King Jesus (Luke 19) and King Jehu (2 Kings 9). We're going to start with the narrative of Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, a passage that is traditionally read on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. 
[The disciples] brought [a colt] to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:35-38 NIV)
This familiar scene is remarkably reminiscent of a particular episode in the history of Israel when Ahab was the king. He was not a good king. In fact, Scripture says that Ahab "did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him" (1 Kings 16:30 NIV). Ahab was married to Jezebel, a woman whose name is still synonymous with evil. Jezebel was a worshipper of the false god Baal, and she convinced her husband to lead the people of God to worship Baal. Together, they endeavored to kill all of the Lord's prophets. At last, God instructed Elisha to anoint Jehu as the new king of Israel. Through Elisha, the Lord instructed Jehu to “destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel” (2 Kings 9:7 NIV).

Do you know how the people responded to the anointing of Jehu as their new king? “They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, ‘Jehu is king!’” (2 Kings 9:13). Doesn't this response sound extremely familiar? Jehu received nearly the exact same response as Jesus did when He rode into Jerusalem that day.

During the days of King Ahab, God's people were ruled by an evil, murderous leader. God sent them a new king, King Jehu, who was eventually responsible for the deaths of Jezebel and all the prophets of Baal. He even turned their temple into a public toilet area (2 Kings 10:27). 

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, God's people were oppressed by evil, murderous leaders. They had been awaiting the promised deliverer who was foretold by the prophets. They firmly believed that God would send a Messiah rise up against the Romans, defeating them and ushering in a time peace, restoring Israel to their former glory days under King David.  

The crowds that praised Jesus on the way to Jerusalem had witnessed Jesus healing the sick, freeing the possessed, and raising the dead. These miraculous displays of power must have raised their hopes that perhaps Jesus was the one who would deliver them from the Roman occupation. When they saw Him riding into Jerusalem on the donkey colt, they may have recalled Zechariah’s prophecy, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9 NIV). 

Everything must have appeared so clear to the people in the crowd that day. Jesus must be the deliverer who would depose Rome, set up an earthly kingdom, and rescue them from their oppressors. They may have even hope that Jesus would turn the Roman temples into toilet areas in the same manner as Jehu. They began to praise Him and hail Him as king that day. Unfortunately, they misunderstood the Scriptures and the prophecies. 

They thought they knew God’s plan and how it would unfold, but they were mistaken. They are not the only ones to make this mistake. Over the centuries, many have tried to analyze current events in an effort to predict the end of the world or determine when Jesus will return. All these dates have come and gone without incident. They were all wrong. 

On a more personal level, sometimes we are so sure of God’s plan for our lives, but then events don’t unfold how we believed they would or when we thought they would. Sometimes we believe we have the only correct interpretation of Scripture, and no one can tell us any different, but our interpretation is wrong –just like the crowds who believed Jesus was riding into Jerusalem in order to overthrow Rome and set up an earthly kingdom.

The crowds were praising Jesus, and He is most deserving of praise. He is the King of all creation, and He is worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:12). The crowds on the way to Jerusalem were honoring Him as King, and He is the King. Just not the way they had in mind. Did Jesus stop them and correct their theology? Did He stop them and say, “No, no, no. You’ve got it all wrong. It’s not going to happen like this. Let me set you straight”? No. He accepted their words of praise even though their theology was amiss.  

Jesus knew the people in the crowd had ill-conceived expectations. He knew their interpretation of Scripture was inaccurate, but He still accepted the praise and honor they bestowed upon Him. 

None of us has a perfect understanding of God or of His Word. We cannot put God in a box. Neither can we put ourselves in a box, believing that anyone outside of our little box has it wrong and cannot possibly authentically praise God until they come to believe the same as we do. We all have it wrong to some extent, but we can still praise God for who He is and what He has done for us, even if we may differ on the finer points of some doctrinal positions.

This week, as we prepare for Easter Sunday. let's avoid trivial arguments about our differences and join together to praise Jesus as King and to remember the great sacrifice He made for us.

This blogpost is excerpted and adapted from chapter six of Follow Jesus, Share the Journey. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Dearly Beloved?

If you grew up attending Sunday School, or even the occasional summer Vacation Bible School program, you learned “Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so” (wr. by Anna B. Warner). The Bible tells us that Jesus loves us, but do we act like we truly believe this? Do we follow the apostle John’s instructions to “Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us—He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children” (1 John 3:1 VOI). 

Do we rest in this love He lavishes on us, or do we continue struggling to try and earn His love? What may be even more difficult for us, is do we truly believe that He loves others in the world who are not yet followers of Jesus? The apostle John also wrote, in probably the most often quoted verse in the Bible, “God so loved the world.” This says He loved ---not just the chosen few, or those that love Him back --- but everyone in the world. Is this true? Does God really love all of us?

Henri Nouwen had a Jewish friend who asked him to write a book addressing spirituality to those who were not believers in Jesus. Nouwen considered this request, and wrote Life of the Beloved, in which he sought ”to respond to the great spiritual hunger and thirst that exist in countless people who walk the streets of big speak a word of hope to people who no longer came to churches or synagogues and for whom priests and rabbis were no longer the obvious counselors” (21). These people that Nouwen describes are the very people we need to reach with the gospel, but how can we reach those who are already turned off to all things related to Jesus and his church? How can we respond to them in a positive manner in their current spiritual state ?

Nouwen chose to do this by encouraging his readers to embrace the name “Beloved,” because they are indeed loved by God. Nouwen wrote, “We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved’” (36).

When I first read this, it struck me as a bit odd. Are the enemies of God and those who are indifferent to Him really “beloved” by Him? As I was considering this question, I recalled the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 about the Prodigal Son, a story that is likely very familiar to you.

In this story, while the younger son was still living in the pigpen, in a foreign land, far away from the Father, did the Father still love him? Of course he did! The son was off doing his own thing, living in disobedience, but the Father still loved his disobedient son. He still stood watch every day, watching and waiting for the boy to repent and come home.

The Father didn’t suddenly start loving his son once the boy could be seen walking on the road toward home, or once he was cleaned up and clothed in a new robe. The boy was his son, and he loved him from the moment of his birth. The Father never stopped loving the boy, even when the boy demanded his inheritance early and wished the Father dead. Even when the boy was living for himself in a distant land. Even when he was covered in mud, and muck, and pig slop, and whatever other disgusting substance was in that pigpen.

If the Father had an opportunity to speak to the boy while he was still in the pigpen, he might have said, “I will save you. I have traded in nations to win you back, Egypt, Cush, and Seba, in exchange for your freedom. Because you are special to Me and I love you, I gladly give up other peoples in exchange for you...So don’t be afraid. I am here” (Isa. 43:3-5a VOI).

It is unfathomable just how much God loves us … how much He has always loved us. Even when we were far away from Him. The apostle Paul tells us, “think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us“” (Rom. 5:8 NIV)

How different would our witness to the world be if we truly believed we were speaking to the Father's dearly beloved sons and daughters who were far from Him, unable to find their way home? What if we made it our mission to show them how much God loves them, just as they are, even if it is in a muddy pigsty, rather than pointing out how relatively clean we are and how much God hates them? Who would have the strength or willingness to drag themselves up out of a pigpen or a faraway land to go home to a Father who hates them? They need to know now, while they’re still far off, how much the Father loves them and the warm, loving welcome they can expect to receive when they return home to Him.