Our Foundation of Freedom

When Jesus cried out from the cross asking why God had forsaken him, the word he used to describe what had happened has particular significance. While Jesus was forsaken on the cross, after Jesus’ resurrection Peter declared quoting David from the Psalm 16:8-11 that the Messiah would not be abandoned (forsaken) to Sheol. Here Peter quoted David using the same word. He explained that David’s words could not have referred to David himself, because David had died and they all knew where his tomb was. Rather, David, as a prophet, spoke of what would take place to one of his descendants, the Messiah. In other words, even though Jesus was forsaken on the cross, he would not be forsaken to death; he would rise from the dead. Later, in the New Testament we are promised in Hebrews 13:5, that we will never be forsaken, therefore we should never live in fear of what man could do. What Jesus experienced on the cross, is something that we will never experience.

Jesus’ death and victory over death gives us the foundation to live lives of freedom without fear of what may or may not happen. Anytime that we experience fear, we should examine what is provoking our fear and address the lie that we have believed that is feeding our fear, so that we may enjoy the peace that Jesus promised us. That peace is not like what the world offers, which comes and goes depending upon our external circumstances, but a peace that is forever with us and cannot be taken away from us. Part of our journey with Jesus is discovering those areas in our life in which we are afraid, then bringing the corresponding lie to light after which we can enjoy the freedom we receive from dealing with the lie and living in truth.

The Irony of Unbelief

As Jesus hung on the cross, the majority of those who saw him mocked him, but unknowingly their mocking was filled with irony. Some mocked Jesus because he had earlier claimed that if they tore down “this temple”, he would raise it back up in three days. They believed Jesus had referred to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, but in actuality Jesus referred to his own body. They called on Jesus to come down from the cross so that they would believe. Obviously, Jesus did not come down because he would fulfill what he had said and raise his body in three days. Interestingly, both the temple and Jesus’ body would be destroyed by the Romans. Jesus rose from the dead in three days, but when the temple was destroyed by the Roman general, Titus, it has not been restored even until this day. Jesus would accomplish what the mockers said he would, but not in the way that they thought.

Even the leaders mocked Jesus, because Jesus had saved others, so they called on him to save himself and come down from the cross so that they would believe in him. Actually, Jesus would do something even greater, he would rise from the dead, but they still would not believe in Jesus. Rather they would try to intimidate the disciples who announced Jesus’ resurrection.

The ironic unbelief of those who observed Jesus’ crucifixion reveals that sometimes we can observe an event and believe we completely understand what is going on and form conclusions from those observations, only to discover later that what we concluded couldn’t be further from the truth. To his disciples Jesus had earlier said that when the Holy Spirit comes, he would teach them and lead them into all truth. Jesus’ words indicate that it is only in relationship with God the Father and with Jesus that we have access to truth, because it is only through the understanding and perspective of the Holy Spirit that we can correctly interpret and understand what we are seeing and experiencing.

The Destructive Power of Fear

The account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate makes no logical sense, until you figure in the emotion that was present. Just days before, the crowd had praised Jesus as he entered into Jerusalem, declaring him to be the son of David. The religious leaders should have followed Jesus and rejoiced at his coming, because they knew the Old Testament and that Jesus fulfilled all that the Scriptures had said about their Messiah. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent and not a threat to the Roman government. His wife had even warned him about who Jesus was. Yet Jesus was still crucified and we must ask the question “why”? Actually, it is an example of what happens when fear rules the day. The chief priests were afraid of Jesus’ popularity which could have caused the Romans to take away their position of influence, so they contradicted their own law and plotted to kill Jesus. The people were afraid of the leaders excommunicating them, because they had threatened to put anyone out of the synagogue who followed Jesus. Being excommunicated in that society meant that they would be shunned from society would not be able to function within their own community. Pilate was afraid that the crowd might riot, which would put his position in jeopardy, because he was not able to keep the peace. So in the end the fear of the religious leaders manipulated both Pilate and the crowd into sacrificing Jesus. The irony of Jesus’ death is that everything that each one feared came to pass. Pilate was removed from his position after a few years. Jewish revolutionaries became more powerful and brought the wrath of Rome down on Jerusalem and destroyed the temple and the city. The religious leaders lost their position and the people lost everything.

Anytime fear is driving our decision-making, we make poor decisions based not on reality or truth, but out of our perception of self-preservation. Driven by fear, our leaders make poor decisions, driven to maintain their position of leadership. Finally, because of the poor decisions, the people suffer and the real underlying issue is not addressed. We often conclude that people making decisions we don’t like or agree with are the problem. When leaders, whether we agree with them or not, make decisions based on fear, they are not the fundamental problem, but they do reflect and illustrate the problem. It is the fear that is driving their and our decision-making that needs to be addressed.

Being Attentive

While the chief priest and scribes plotted to kill Jesus after the Passover, Jesus was at the home of Simon the Leper, when a woman, unnamed in Mark, but identified as Mary the sister of Lazarus in John, brought a flask of perfume with which she anointed Jesus’ head. However, there were some there who rebuked her, unnamed again in Mark, but identified as Judas Iscariot in John who rebuked her because the perfume could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. John commented in his account, that Judas had no concern for the poor, but criticized Mary because he was the treasurer and a thief who stole from the money box. Jesus reminded them that she had done a good thing and anointed his body for burial, but they would always have the poor with them whom they could assist. On the other hand they would not always have Jesus present with them to anoint and honor. Then Jesus added that what she had done would be remembered wherever the gospel was preached.

This account reveals some implications, that there are particular seasons in which we can honor Jesus. This was one of them. Jesus was only present on earth for a time; Mary took advantage of that time. She understood and was sensitive to the time in which she lived and took the opportunity to honor Jesus. Because of what she did, she would always be remembered whenever the good news of Jesus is proclaimed. It is interesting that this account took place right after Jesus instructed his disciples to be attentive and watch for his coming. Immediately in Mark 14, Mark gave the account of Mary anointing Jesus. The connection of the two passages indicates that Mary was an illustration of someone who was being attentive, which was to be an example of how Jesus’ disciples were and are to live. We are to be attentive to what is going on around us; what is happening in our generation. As Mary was, we are to be prepared and take advantage of our opportunities to honor Jesus with the time that we have.

Kingdom Values

When Jesus observed individuals making contributions to the temple treasury, he made a surprising observation revealing that Jesus doesn’t necessarily take quantity into account, but sacrifice. While many gave more than the poor widow, she sacrificed more, because she gave all she had to live on. This is what pleases Jesus, what we sacrifice in order to honor him. The world honors quantity and is impressed when someone gives a large amount, even though the amount given will never impact the way that they live. The world gives no notice to an individual who sacrifices much, if the amount given is minuscule. However, Jesus notices that which the world chooses to ignore and recognizes both the amount, in this case 2 small coins, and the sacrifice; it was all she had to live on. Then he declared that she had given more than all that the wealthy had given. Once again Jesus demonstrated that the values of his kingdom are quite different than the values of the world in which we currently live.

This story is an illustration of what Paul meant when he wrote to the Romans that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and not be conformed to the world. When we live according to the values of the world, we are being conformed to it. Jesus’ kingdom exists by different values, that we discover when we begin to think and value differently and in that way transform our actions.

God’s Image Revealed

It intrigues me how Jesus revealed truth in unexpected situations. When some Pharisees and Herodians came to test him about paying taxes to Caesar, they hoped to discredit Jesus before the people or accuse him before the Romans. If Jesus said that they should pay their taxes, he would have been discredited before the people, but if he said they shouldn’t pay their taxes, then they could accuse him before the Romans, who collected the taxes. Jesus perceived their hypocrisy, so he asked for a Roman coin. He asked them whose image and inscription was on the coin; they responded Caesar’s. So Jesus told them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but he added that we are to give to God what is God’s. However, that raises another question for us.

What did Jesus mean, by saying give to God what is God’s? Jesus is not implying that we should give our money to God, although that is a good thing to do, rather Jesus is revealing to us something about images. In the creation account in Genesis chapter 1 we read “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Jesus used a question designed to entrap him regarding the paying of taxes and a Roman coin bearing Caesar’s image to remind us who we are. Since the coin bore Caesar’s image we are to give that to him, but since we, men and women, bear God’s own image, then we are to give our entire being to him. It is only in entrusting our very selves to God our Father that we can discover our true purpose and our true identity. At a later time, Jesus pointed out what Isaiah had declared, that the people honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him, concluding that the people worship God in vain. What does this mean? God wants the affections of our hearts and the actions that flow from that relationship.

Avoiding People Pleasing

When the religious leaders demanded Jesus to tell them on whose authority he accomplished miracles and taught the people, Jesus responded with a question of his own to them. His question revealed the perils of living as people-pleasers. Jesus responded to the leaders’ demand by asking them about John the Baptist, whether they believed that he was from heaven or from men. He put them in a dilemma with this question, because they had rejected John and had not followed him. So they couldn’t say that he was from heaven, but because they also were people-pleasers, they hesitated to say that he was from men, because the people considered John to have been a prophet. Therefore, they lied and hid behind faux ignorance. They had an opinion, which they had revealed by their previous rejection of John and current rejection of Jesus, but they refused to reveal their opinion out of fear of the people’s reaction to them.

Their response to Jesus reveals the danger of living to please other people rather than living according to what you believe is true. When you live in that manner, you actually relinquish the power of living a life of conviction to the changing opinions of other people. The prophet Micah gave to us a superior manner to live by. In Micah 6:8, he declared that God wants us to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God. This type of life was in contrast to how the religious leaders lived; they were neither just, kind or humble. Rather, they were doing whatever it took for them to preserve their positions of power and affluence. When we do justice, love kindness and walking humbly with God, we will encounter those who disagree and criticize, but we will also live in community with those who admire our courage to live in an authentic manner. We can also live free of worry of loss of position or affluence, because those things were never the focus of our lives. Instead of relinquishing our power to the most vocal crowd, we increase in power and influence ourselves.

Living and Following Truth

The story of the rich ruler, in Mark 10 identified as a man who ran up to Jesus, reveals the cost of entering the Kingdom of God. His decision to keep his wealth and not follow Jesus, reminds me of what martyred missionary Jim Elliot had said that one is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to acquire what he cannot lose. Jesus pointed the man to eternal life, but he refused it in order to keep his earthly possessions for a season. The man’s decision reflects the human tendency to value that which we have acquired in order to stay comfortable and established on earth, but fail to reckon what it truly costs us to live in that manner.

Jesus explained to his disciples that it is hard for those who have wealth to enter into the Kingdom of God. Jesus used a metaphor, obviously known to the disciples, to describe how difficult it was for the wealthy to enter into the kingdom. Jesus spoke of a camel going through the eye of a needle being easier than it was for a rich man to enter into the kingdom. Hearing Jesus’ words, the disciples concluded that it was impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom, but Jesus clarified that what was impossible for man was possible with God. When Peter declared that they, his disciples, had left everything to follow Jesus, Jesus responded that those who give up earthly pursuits and possessions, receive much more in return through their association with the kingdom.

Jesus’ teaching here reminds us of how the values of the Kingdom of God are contrary to the values of the world. Living according to Kingdom of God values is not difficult or complicated. It can be summed up in what the prophet Micah declared: “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you, But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). We will we never be satisfied with the acquisition of wealth, fame or power, rather we will be satisfied when we live in relationship with Jesus, practicing justice, love and kindness and then receive everything we need as gifts through our association with God’s Kingdom. This is why Jesus called men to himself by inviting them to take his yoke upon them because it is easy and light. Implied in Jesus’ words is the truth that trying to live according to the world’s values wears us out, but by relinquishing that yoke for Jesus’ yoke we find true freedom. Unfortunately, the rich ruler did not grasp what Jesus offered him, so he left Jesus grieving. Hopefully, we will make a different decision.

The Mystery of Following Jesus

On the way to Caeseria Philippi, Jesus posed two questions to his disciples. First, who did men say that he was? They responded that people thought he was either John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. It is curious that no one out of the people considered him the Messiah. Jesus did not fit their mold of the Messiah. On the other hand, when Jesus posed the same question to the disciples, they responded immediately that he was the Messiah. The people and the disciples had all received the same teaching from Jesus, followed the same Scriptures, observed the same miracles, yet they came to very different conclusions about Jesus. This had always been the disciples’ view of Jesus from the first time they met him. Philip testified to Nathanial that they had found the Messiah; Andrew gave the same testimony to Peter. In Matthew, Jesus had indicated to Peter that flesh and blood had not revealed this to him, but his Father in heaven. Curiously, Jesus commanded the disciples not to reveal his identity to the people.

The realization that Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy Son of God, cannot be ascertained through study or any human means, it must be revealed by the Spirit to an individual. Even though all the prophetic evidence confirms that Jesus is the Messiah people disregard it all and prefer to put Jesus in a different category of great teacher or great prophet, just like the people of Jesus’ day. Coming to know Jesus, is a matter of spiritual revelation, not a matter of human persuasion through reason, historical or biblical evidence. While the disciples were commanded not to declare Jesus’ identity at that time, later they were commissioned to reveal Jesus through proclamation. This they did as is recorded in the book of Acts and Jesus’ followers have done the same since that time. It is now through the proclamation of Jesus that the Holy Spirit reveals to individuals who Jesus is, while some who hear the same proclamation conclude Jesus was a great prophet and teacher.

Attending to the Important

Ironically, we tend to concern ourselves with what we shouldn’t, and overlook what we should concern ourselves with. After feeding the four thousand, Jesus and his disciples got into a boat to travel to Bethsaida. After embarking the disciples realized that they had only brought one loaf of bread. As they sailed, Jesus instructed them to be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. Because they had forgotten additional bread, the disciples assumed that Jesus was referring to their lack of bread. Knowing what they were discussing among themselves, Jesus addressed their misunderstanding by reminding them that on both the occasion of feeding the five thousand and later the four thousand, they ended up with more bread left over than they had to begin with. Jesus then asked if they had understood. In Matthew’s gospel, we read that they had grasped that Jesus warned them about the teaching of the Pharisees and of Herod.

The disciples reflect our tendency to be more concerned about our immediate physical needs, or needs we think we have, rather than the more important issues of what impacts our hearts, thoughts and values. The Pharisees and Herod were more concerned about externals: the opinions of men, maintaining power and giving a good impression. They were not concerned about promoting truth and helping others. When we become so fixated upon what we think we need, we can miss the more important issues of our life. Jesus directed his disciples and ultimately us as well to pay attention to the bigger issues of life, because our physical needs will be taken care of as we focus on what is most important.