Delegated Authority

Several years ago, I remember riding in the car with my sister, whose husband was an officer in the Air Force. When we drove onto the base, the guard saluted her. I asked her why, because she was not in the military nor was any of us in the car. She explained that their car had a sticker that identified its owner as an officer. The enlisted man saluted the authority that the owner of the car possessed. Since Jesus has identified us with his name, we are to treat one another with the same respect and dignity that Jesus’ name requires. While we are children of God and are therefore identified with his name, we have also received his authority as his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). We have the same authority to bring reconciliation with God as Jesus did, because we are identified with Jesus’ name. The more that the followers of Jesus grasp and internalize that which Jesus taught about who they are, the more they will see their thinking and consequently their lives transformed by the Holy Spirit who dwells within them.

The Privilege of Children

Most of us, if ever invited into the powerful atmosphere of the Oval Office, would hesitate to bring our young children (or grandchildren). If we did dare to bring small children, propriety would dictate that we require them to sit quietly before the president. However, there is a photograph taken in the early 1960’s of President Kennedy in the Oval Office with his two children, Carolyn and John Jr.—and what is he doing? He is sitting in a chair to the right of his desk, clapping as his children skip and dance before him. You see, if daddy is president, it’s OK to dance and skip in the Oval Office. This photograph gives us a glimpse of our relationship with Abba Father. We are invited into the throne room of heaven. In fact, Paul wrote in the letter to the Ephesians that all followers of Jesus are currently seated in heaven with Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). As believers and therefore children of God, we need to grasp the fact that our Abba (Daddy) in heaven delights over us in a similar manner (Zephaniah 3:17).

The Deceptive Power of Fear

In John 12:42-43 John revealed a curious aspect of men. After encountering Jesus, many of the religious leaders believed in Jesus, but refused to admit it because they were afraid of what others would do and losing their standing in society. For these men, fear was the driving force in the decision making. Fear can be a powerful force in our life, but a force that often does not lead to the best decision. Their dilemma is the basic conflict of man in regard to Jesus. We are attracted to Jesus, but hesitate to tell others about him, because what others may say. We can be more concerned about what others will say than being honest and genuine about what we really feel and believe, so we state our beliefs politically correctly, but not accurately. The reality is that others probably feel the same, but are hesitant to say so because they feel that they are alone. Contrast the religious leaders’ behavior with that of the disciples in Acts. The disciples refused to let fear dissuade them and boldly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus even as others tried to intimidate them. While powerful, fear should not be the motivator for our decision making.

Who is God; Who are we?

Jesus’ revelation of God as his Father was radical in his day as well as ours, in fact it was one of the reasons he was persecuted. Furthermore, Jesus revealed his followers as children of God, therefore heirs and co-heirs with Jesus. As children of God, we now share in the family business of Father’s kingdom, promoted from being servants employed in the kingdom (John 15:15-16). While faithful servants are dedicated, beloved sons and daughters of a loving Father are much more dedicated and motivated to promote their Father’s work and name. Paul described the struggle that we face as we work through the implications of being adopted sons. He reminded the Roman church that all of creation awaits the revelation of the sons of God (followers of Jesus). It even groans and suffers as in childbirth, waiting for our adoption as sons and the redemption of our body (Romans 8:18-22). Jesus said that those who believed in him would do greater works than those he had done (John 14:12). So, it may be that we need to work out the implication of our being sons and daughters before we can fully understand what Jesus spoke.

Paul, in his writings, often referred to God as “our Father.” To the believers, Paul began each of his letters declaring grace and peace to them from “God our Father” and the “Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2-3; Galatians 1:1-3; Ephesians 1:2-3, 6:23; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 1:3). Paul’s consistency in every one of his letters underscored his belief that God was to be viewed as Father, while Jesus was identified as either Lord or Savior. What is powerful in Paul’s example is that he was thoroughly trained in Judaism, which taught that God was Holy and Lord and he was a servant. Yet Paul’s continual addressing God as Father demonstrated that he did not allow his training from youth to distract him from what Jesus revealed about the relationship that he and all believers were to enjoy with God as Father. Understanding that we are children in God’s Kingdom rather than servants has a profound impact on how we live our lives and how we see ourselves.

Implications of Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer

Because of Jesus’ teaching on prayer, the believer does not come to Father as a beggar hoping to convince him to do what is right or good. Rather, the believer comes as a beloved child whom God the Father loves and delights in providing for. Jesus is not in any way describing a formal relationship, but one that is familial and close. When we understand that Jesus gave his followers the command and authority to make disciples, then we also understand that his followers have the right to direct Father to provide for their needs in order to fulfill his commission and proclaim the gospel to all nations (Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20).

Not only do we pray because Jesus commanded and taught us to pray—but through prayer, we can be a blessing to others. Through our prayers, we assist others in their tasks. Paul requested that the Thessalonians pray with him for the purpose of spreading the gospel through Silas, Timothy, and himself. Paul also had them pray so that Silas, Timothy, and he would be rescued from evil people—specifically those who did not have faith (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2). The Thessalonians were in only one location, but their influence through prayer extended through the actions of Paul and his co-laborers.

Jesus’ Identity

I was reflecting on Jesus’ identity. Even when he was a boy of 12, he understood who he was. Mary and Joseph had taken him to the temple (Luke 2) for the festival. When they left they didn’t realize that Jesus wasn’t with them so they began a frantic several day search for him. When he was found later in the temple, Mary confronted him and rebuked him telling him that she and his father had been searching for him. Mary revealed her perspective of Jesus, that he was hers and Joseph’s son. Jesus’ response was different. He reminded Mary that she should have known that he would be in his father’s house. Jesus wasn’t referring to Joseph as his father as Mary had; he referred to the temple, God’s house. Even at the young age of 12, Jesus knew who he was. He wasn’t Joseph’s son, he was God’s son. Throughout his life Jesus identified with heaven primarily while living his life on earth. He is the opposite of how we tend to live. We tend to identify primarily with our earthly families, our national identity and the places where we live and work. That means we are quite often troubled by our circumstances and what we see taking place around us. While Jesus engaged with and had compassion for the people around him, he was not troubled by those things, because he was anchored in heaven not on earth. When Jesus calls us to him, he also changes our identity to be like his, rooted in heaven, where Paul said we are seated with him. Later Paul wrote the Philippians that our citizenship is in heaven from which we await our Savior. The more we identify with heaven, the less we will be troubled by what we see taking place around us, but can address those situations in a similar way to how Jesus addressed his situation. Jesus’ life is instructive to us on how we are fulfill his instruction to be in the world, but not of the world.

Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer

Over my years as a pastor, it was not uncommon to hear people asking how to pray. Their question resembled the command/request that one of the twelve disciples posed to Jesus in Luke 11:1. “Teach us to pray like John taught his disciples.” Jesus responded with what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is curiously simple compared with the disciples’ longing for knowledge. Frankly, for many years, I considered Jesus’ response a bit disappointing. If I were one of the disciples listening to Jesus, I would desire a “deeper” lesson on prayer. Shouldn’t Jesus’ response to such a deep question have been more profound? Yet, what made the Lord’s Prayer so special in the disciples’ eyes? Perhaps I’ve taken this simple prayer for granted and missed something important. When I began to study further the Lord’s Prayer, I discovered that it is quite outrageous. In a sense, Jesus’ teaching on prayer exploded my “black box” of traditional prayer. Upon examination of the Lord’s Prayer in both Matthew 6 and Luke 11, a question arises. Why did Jesus teach his disciples to pray by primarily using commands rather than requests? Since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, what might be learned from the Greek use of commands? For example, how do we account for the Greek imperative (command) being used? Greek scholars have noted the unusual usage of the imperative in the New Testament. The ancient Greeks regarded the imperative form as inappropriate to use with superiors. However, modern grammars of New Testament Greek interpret imperatives used in prayer as a form of request or asking permission, but this explanation does not address the reluctance in ancient Greek to use the imperative in addressing a superior. The question arises: if the imperative merely reflected asking permission and not necessarily giving a command, then why was it not used in communication with a superior in Greek culture? Furthermore, on what basis do we interpret a command as asking permission, and when is it truly a command? For example, if it is possible to interpret imperatives as asking permission, then how do we know Jesus is not merely requesting us to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34), rather than issuing us a command to do so? To a Greek-speaking first century reader of the New Testament, the abundant use of the imperative in Jesus’ teaching on prayer to God must have been shocking. At the very least, the New Testament writers were pushing boundaries by using Greek imperatives to describe their relationship with Jesus and with God our Father. The implications of their writings require us to reflect further on what type of relationship our heavenly Father desires to have with us.

Controversial Jesus

When Jesus lived he consistently created controversy, not because he intended to, but because what he said challenged the mainstream beliefs of the day. He was the Jewish Messiah, whom Christians call Christ, but he didn’t fit the Messiah theology of that day. While he did the works of God, like in John 9 when he opened the eyes of a man born blind, his words and claims offended his listeners. In fact, Jesus accomplished something 2000 years ago that even today modern medicine cannot duplicate. Today many call Jesus’ miracles myths, because they cannot understand how he could do what he did. Jesus’ contemporaries couldn’t do that because the man born blind was standing in front of them. In this case, Jesus healing the man did not offend them so much as what Jesus said about himself. He claimed to be one with God. In John 10 they picked up stones to kill him; so Jesus asked them for what good work were they trying to kill him. Their response is illustrative. They said not for his works, but because he was a man and claimed to be God. At this point their theology of God brought them to a place of missing who Jesus was; they believed that God could not become a man. Rather than considering the fact that they may have an incomplete or inadequate view of who God was and what God could do, they rejected Jesus because he didn’t fit their theological paradigm. Their conclusion about Jesus is instructive to us. Our devotion to theology and doctrine can blind us from what God is doing today. Jesus revealed something new that God was doing, but his contemporaries missed it. God can always do something new and unexpected, we need to make sure that our theology doesn’t prevent us from accepting what God is currently doing because it doesn’t fit with our theology.

The Problem of Dogmatism

Jesus’ conversation with the religious leaders in John 8 gives insight into the power of our beliefs. The Jews affirmed that their father was Abraham. However, Jesus pointed out a contradiction. While they claimed to be Abraham’s children, they also plotted to kill Jesus. Jesus explained to them that if they were truly Abraham’s children they would behave as he did and not plot against someone who had come from God. Their cold-hearted behavior leads us to consider why they plotted to kill Jesus in the first place. Previously John had revealed that they plotted to kill Jesus because they believed he violated the Sabbath by healing a man on the Sabbath. Additionally when Jesus referred to God as his father, they condemned him of blasphemy. Jesus spoke truth to the Jews, but they couldn’t accept it, because their interpretation of truth was different from what Jesus said. Ironically, their commitment to their interpretation actually blinded them from truth. At first they criticized Jesus, then they began to hate him and eventually plotted to kill him. The religious leaders decision to kill Jesus reveals the danger we may run when we allow our interpretation of truth to take such control of our lives that we fail to see how we might be wrong and miss an opportunity for growth. Such dogmatism can then slip into hatred of those with whom we disagree and then desire or seek their downfall.

Jesus’ Love

In John 13 Jesus gave a “new command’ to his disciples. He told them that they were to love one another as he had loved them. Jesus’ statement indicated that this new command was different from all the other commands and instructions that they had received before including those they had received from him. That means, Jesus’ new command was different than the second greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. It was different than love your enemies and pray and bless those who persecute you.

But how was it different? If we go back and consider the Old Testament command to love your neighbor as yourself, we realize that anyone could fulfill this command. If individuals have the capacity to love themselves, and they do, then they also have the capacity to love their neighbor in that same manner, which according to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan includes their enemy. However, in his new command, Jesus didn’t say to love one another as they love themselves, nor did he say to love their enemies, but they were to love one another as he loves them. That is a whole different type of love! Jesus being divine indicates that his’ followers are to love as Jesus loves, which means as God loves. This type of love is not possible without God’s help. Jesus’ new command may shed further light on what Jesus meant a little while later where in John 15, he told his disciples that he was the vine and they were the branches. Without remaining connected to Jesus, they could not produce fruit, that is they could not love others as Jesus loved them. Without remaining connected to Jesus, and I believe Jesus means connected relationally, we will be unable to love others as God loves them. How might the world look different if all those who follow Jesus sought to fulfill this command consistently? What would that look life in my life and your life?