TBT: The Highest Right

Daily Reading
Genesis 23 (Listen – 2:34)
Matthew 22 (Listen – 4:56)

Matthew 22.21
Then Jesus said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 

TBT: The Highest Right |by Abraham Kuyper

In politics, the human element—here the people—may not be considered as the principal thing, so that God is only dragged in to help this people in the hour of need. On the contrary, God, in His Majesty, must flame before the eyes of every nation, that all nations together are to be reckoned before Him as a drop in a bucket and as the small dust of the balances.

The Sovereignty of God is the source of all authority among men. It makes it easy for us to obey authority, because, (1) in all authority, it causes us to honor the demand of divine sovereignty. (2) It lifts us from an obedience born of dread of the strong arm, into an obedience for conscience sake. (3) It teaches us to look upward from the existing law to the source of the eternal Right in God, and (4) it creates in us the indomitable courage to protest against the unrighteousness of the law in the name of this highest Right. 

A people therefore which abandons to State Supremacy the rights of the family, or a University which abandons to it the rights of science, is just as guilty before God as a nation which lays its hands upon the rights of the magistrates. And thus the struggle for liberty is not only declared permissible, but is made a duty for each individual in his own sphere.

However powerfully the State may assert itself and oppress the free individual development, above that powerful State there is always glittering, before our soul’s eye, as infinitely more powerful, the majesty of the King of kings, Whose righteous bar ever maintains the right of appeal for all the oppressed, and unto Whom the prayer of the people ever ascends, to bless our nation and, in that nation, us and our house! [1]

Prayers from the Past:
We beg you, Lord, to help and defend us. Deliver the oppressed, pity the insignificant, raise the fallen, show yourself to the needy, heal the sick, bring back those of your people who have gone astray, feed the hungry, lift up the weak, take off the prisoners’ chains. Make every nation come to know that you alone are God, that Jesus Christ is your Child, that we are your people, the sheep that you pasture.

— Clement of Rome c. 96 C.E. 

(An excerpt from the earliest known Christian prayer from outside of scripture)

This week: For These Things, I Weep
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Footnotes

[1] Abridged and updated language from Abraham Kuyper’s “Calvinism and Politics.” Lectures on Calvinism. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1931.

 

Glory in Rejection

Matthew 21.42
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’”? 

Practicing the Christian faith in the modern professional world is risky. Christian ethics can lead to social, positional, and financial setback or loss. One of the most significant roles of Christians in the workplace is not preaching (which can be detrimental in most places), but the integration of faith with work.

The rub comes not in the vision of integrated faith, but in its cost. Many Christians choose to practice honesty as an act of faith. Honesty, as practiced in far too many organizational cultures, amounts to little more than an value of convenience, negotiation tool, or parlance for any behavior which is unlikely to be indicted. Far too often the honest person pays the price while watching the mendacious prosper.

The most important work of Christ is found not in changing outward actions, but in restoring the heart within. Part of what Christianity seeks to accomplish is the reordering of a person’s life so that they chase after far more transcendent things than approval, promotions, and accolade. This makes the loss of temporal status and benefit no less real, but felt less deeply. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this costly grace. “Costly because it costs a man his life, and grace because it gives a man the only true life.” [1]

Jesus faced his own rejection and loss. In today’s teaching from Matthew, he quoted a messianic prophecy from Psalm 118. The psalmist wrestled with the cost of his faith, yet also celebrated the steadfastness of God’s enduring love. “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” The psalmist, like the Messiah he wrote about, concluded that he was not left alone. More importantly he revealed that there is joy in giving yourself fully to a God who is worthy of your life.

Prayer
Father, give us today the courage, boldness, and wisdom to live as people of faith in the workplace. Give us patience and contentment as we wait for the right opportunities to share. Give us endurance as we work in industries with realities beyond our control. Give us community with others of faith, and help us draw from our community with you so that we do not labor alone.

Daily Reading
Genesis 22 (Listen – 4:01)
Matthew 21 (Listen – 7:10)

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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