Radical Grace

Daily Reading
Genesis 21 (Listen – 3:59)
Matthew 20 (Listen – 4:22)

Matthew 20.11-12
“When [those who had worked longest] received their wages, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’“

Jesus has no interest in helping the religious enshrine their pride. The parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard strikes directly at the heart of religion. The storyline follows the workday of three groups of day laborers. The first begin working in a vineyard around 9:00 a.m. (“the third hour”), the second around noon (“sixth hour”), and the final around 5:00 p.m. (“the eleventh hour”). In a way that seems unjust even today, the master of the vineyard pays all the workers the same wage.

Jesus’ parable isn’t about fair wages, but radical grace. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day shaped every action in their lives around earning the most in God’s kingdom. All of the friction between Jesus and the religious elite comes from this pain. “The first are in danger of becoming the last when self-denial is reduced to a system, and practiced ascetically, not for Christ’s sake, but for one’s own sake,” comments Scottish theologian Alexander Bruce. [2]

The heart of religion wants to be reimbursed for its sacrifice as it earns its own way. Like those in the parable, the religious in Jesus’ day focused more on the difficulty of their labor than on the privilege of the master’s invitation. The messiah stood in front of them, offering himself freely to all who would accept. The messiah wept away from them after they rejected him as their salvation. 

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere,” sang the psalmist. Those who labor longest in the courts aren’t slighted, but blessed. Relationship with a glorious God yields transcendent and material peace and joy that the world simply cannot offer. The psalmist concludes, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” 

Prayer:
Thank you God for inviting us to join you in your kingdom. Thank you for welcoming even those who come last with the same grace. Thank you for running to embrace the prodigal with the same love you embrace the righteous. Truly we cannot earn a love like yours. 

This week: For These Things, I Weep
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Footnotes

[1] For more see, David B. Gowler. What Are They Saying About the Parables? Ch. 6: Parables and Their Social Contexts. Paulist Press, 2000. Oxford College of Emory University. | [2] Alexander B. Bruce. The Training of the Twelve. Cosmo Classics, 2007. p. 279.

 

For These Things, I Weep

Daily Reading
Genesis 20 (Listen – 2:39)
Matthew 19 (Listen – 4:04)

Matthew 19.24
[Jesus said,] “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 

We should not mistake Christ’s clarity for callousness. It is easy to miss the weight Christ felt when he said things like, “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus extended his clarity in calling to everyone he met. Their spurning of him as Savior was never easy. This section of teachings culminated with Jesus weeping over a people that rejected him.

Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The gospels record that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. The night before his execution Christ cried out in such deep distress that the blood vessels under his skin ruptured, joining his tears and sweat with his blood. Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends and abandoned by all his disciples. He suffered physical beatings at an unjust trial, and was left to die by crucifixion; the most agonizing death the world had then conjured. Finally, with the weight of the humanity’s evil on his back, Christ endured the ultimate pain of God’s rejection — something so painful he immediately breathed his last.

“God could, had he pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the stoic sort who lets no sigh escape him,” observes C.S Lewis. [1] The Bible goes to great length to show Christ’s familiarity with pain. The author of Hebrews reminds readers that this is important to faith. God is not distant from his treasured creation. Because Christ suffered he can relate to us in suffering.

Jesus knew the weight of what he called the rich to do. He was intimately familiar with the path of self-denial. Jesus’ invitation to the rich wasn’t to orchestrate their own way into his kingdom. Earning is normative for the successful. His request, the one he knew so many would eschew, was to trust him for their salvation. 

Prayer:
Father, thank you for not leaving us alone with the burden of self-denial. Christ’s invitation is clear, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Thank you that you suffered on our behalf. Through your suffering we find life. Thank you that in sacrifice we discover the joy of your salvation.

This week: For These Things, I Weep
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Footnotes

[1] CS Lewis, Letters of Faith through the Seasons, p.36. Also see Isaiah 53.3 ESV, and Hebrews 2.18

The Emptiness of Scrapping the Supernatural

Daily Reading
Genesis 17 (Listen – 4:02)
Matthew 16 (Listen – 3:43)

Matthew 16.15-16
“But what about you?” [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In 1819, while sitting in Monticello, Thomas Jefferson finished working on his book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. The book would later be given the moniker, The Jefferson Bible. For countless nights Jefferson painstakingly worked his way, with razor and glue, through English, French, Latin, and Greek copies of the New Testament piecing together his own account of Jesus. The book holds Jesus as a key leader in thought and ethics, scrapping any reference to supernatural works or divine claims. 

Jefferson looked to Christ exclusively as a moral guide. The Founding Fathers’ Naturalist views informed his work as he helped lay the foundation for American government and thought. (He began talking about the book two decades prior to its publication, in the years preceding his presidency.) Reading through Jefferson’s creation as an American is enlightening. Much of our culture’s tendency to reduce religion to moralism is set like an orchestra to the tuning pitch of Jefferson’s perspective of Christ. Reading The Jefferson Bible as a Christian, however, is disheartening.

Jesus is never given the chance to connect speech to action in Jefferson’s account. I found myself startled  at the end of the Jefferson Bible. Jesus was hung on the cross and breathed his last. He spoke nothing to the heavens. After the account of his death, I turned the page and the book was over. The earth did not tremble at the loss of its redeemer. No women anointed the body of their lost friend and savior. There was certainly no resurrection in Jefferson’s account. As I sat in silence I realized that the Jefferson Bible leaves its readers only with a moral burden. 

Jesus’ teachings give us aspirations for a great life and clarity of our mistakes. This was Jefferson’s lone pursuit. But the jig is up for most of us today; we know moralism can’t deliver. It’s Jesus, the Son of God, who came to take away the sins of the world. He gives us hope, joy, meaning, and peace. Peter’s proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah seems odd in an age of skepticism, but it’s the heart of why everything else in the Christian faith matters. 

Prayers from the Past:
He that is immortal suffered much for us: Jesus, the Christ. 

Celestial offshoot of David’s race: Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus, the Christ; glorified throughout the world, the only Son, the deathless: Jesus, the Christ.

In His mercy he came down from heaven to earth: Jesus, the Christ. 

From all eternity he has pointed out the true way of life: Jesus, the Christ.

Jesus Christ, Son of Mary.

— Prayer in an Egyptian sarcophagus, unknown date.

Miracles and Parables Among Skeptics
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Weekend Readings

Saturday: Genesis 18 (Listen – 4:59); Matthew 17 (Listen – 3:46)
Sunday: Genesis 19 (Listen – 5:33); Matthew 18 (Listen – 4:25)

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TBT: The Miracle of Christ Healing

Daily Reading
Genesis 16 (Listen – 2:18)
Matthew 15 (Listen – 4:23)

Matthew 15.29-30
[Jesus] went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 

The tokens of Christ’s power and goodness are neither scarce nor scanty; for there is in him an overflowing fulness. He that knows the worth of souls, would go a great way to help to save one from death and Satan’s power. He sat down on a mountain, that all might see him, and have free access to him; for he is an open Savior. He sat down there, as one tired with his journey, and willing to have a little rest; or rather, as one waiting to be gracious. He settled himself to this good work.

Such was the goodness of Christ, that he admitted all sorts of people; the poor as well as the rich are welcome to Christ, and with him there is room enough for all comers. Such was the power of Christ, that he healed all sorts of diseases; those that came to him, brought their sick relations and friends along with them, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet. We read not of any thing they said to him, but they laid them down before him as objects of pity, to be looked upon by him. 

Whatever our case is, the only way to find ease and relief, is, to lay it at Christ’s feet, to spread it before him, and refer it to his cognizance, and then submit it to him, and refer it to his disposal. Those that would have spiritual healing from Christ, must lay themselves at his feet, to be ruled and ordered as he pleases. This is an instance of Christ’s power, which may comfort us in all our weaknesses; and of his pity, which may comfort us in all our miseries. [1]

Prayers from the Past:
We pray to you, God, our Sovereign, Christ, King for ever in the world of spirits,

stretch out your strong hands over your holy church and over the people that will always be yours.

Defend, protect, preserve them, fight and do battle for them, subject their enemies to them, subdue the invisible powers that oppose them, as you have already subdued those who hate us.

Raise now the sign of victory over us and grant that we might sing with Moses the song of triumph.

For yours are victory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

— Hippolytus of Rome, 235 C.E.

Miracles and Parables Among Skeptics
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Footnotes

[1] Abridged from Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1692). Peabody: Hendrickson.

 

The Real Reason We’re Uncomfortable With Miracles

Daily Reading
Genesis 15 (Listen – 2:53)
Matthew 14 (Listen – 4:14)

Matthew 14.25
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.

We’ve become remarkably good at explaining miracles. There are modern theories that posit the blind could have been healed with herbs transferred from Jesus’ hands. Others that propose those raised from the dead weren’t really dead, but in shock. There is even an academic paper which models the “hydrodynamic situation” of the sea parting in Exodus. “The Crossing is possible provided that a low-tide phase and a storm-induced drop in water level occur in the northern part of the Gulf of Suez.” [1]

Rather than saying miracles didn’t happen (Pew Research says nearly 80% of Americans believe they are possible) we explain how they happened via natural means. We’re comfortable with miracles so-long as God plays by our rules. 

God becomes dangerous the moment he does something we cannot do for ourselves. We’ve seen the ways in which we can manipulate our own world, create our own cures, and solve life’s problems through our own ingenuity. When a problem exceeds those limits we want to know that we’ve reached the impossible, not the realm of dependence. 

Increasing in understanding is a sign of a growing believer. The sign of a mature believer is that they don’t allow their pursuit of explanation to eclipse the realities of why God works and what he has done. Some of the Bible’s miracles might well have material explanation. God created everything; it’s no less a miracle when he orchestrates his creation for his purposes. Some of the Bible’s miracles likely don’t (or can’t) have such an explanation. Regardless of how each miracle occurred, natural or otherwise, the reason why they happened will always be supernatural. Christ’s miracles were practical expressions of God’s radical, persistent, and sacrificial love for humanity — and this is perhaps the greatest miracle.

This realization removes our facade of control. The single thing every miracle in scripture has in common is that the recipient had given up on, or exhausted, any natural way to solve their own problems or grow in their own faith. Our root problem is not the plausibility of miracles, but the in the belief that God is good. We struggle to trust that when we relinquish control to him our lives become immeasurably better as he does what we cannot do for ourselves.

Prayer
God, you demonstrated your own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5.8) Thank you for the miracle of your love. We cannot explain it, but it has changed us forever. Help us not only to understand you, but to trust you.

Miracles and Parables Among Skeptics
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Footnotes

[1] N. E. Voltzinger and A. A. Androsov. Modeling the Hydrodynamic Situation of the Exodus. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology (St. Petersburg Branch), Russian Academy of Sciences, 2002.

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