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Breathe on Me Breath of God

April 23, 2018

If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth . . . I will not leave you an orphan; I will come to you.” (Excerpts, John 14: 15-18)

When we sing the hymn “Breathe on Me Breath of God,”[1] we are asking the Spirit to breathe life into us—to fill each cell of our bodies with God’s truth and life-giving energy and direction. We are welcoming the Holy Spirit into our hearts and souls to guide us in our everyday lives—to help us, love us and direct us to do God’s will.  We ask these things  based on our own past experiences of the Spirit living within us and guiding us, and on the authority of Holy Scripture.

The Scripture texts this week[2] provide some examples of the Spirit’s role in our lives. The last verse of the book of Psalms reads “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).  God is praiseworthy by every living thing because he is there throughout our lives—guiding, comforting, loving, and caring for us. We owe our lives—the very air we breathe, to God, our Creator.

Jesus confirmed that he would remain with the faithful: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener . . . Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (John 15: 1, 4). He clarified what he meant by his remaining in us in the 14th and 15th chapters of John, when he promised to send his Spirit to remain with us to help us, to guide us, to be our paraclete[3]—to live alongside us as we journey through life: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth . . . I will not leave you an orphan; I will come to you” (Excerpts, John 14: 15-18).

Every believing Christian has experienced the guidance of the Holy Spirit in his or her life to some extent.  Sometimes it seems as if the Spirit leads us to places that we consider a demotion. That happened to Philip, when he was led away from his highly successful ministry in Samaria to a desert road.  While on the road he met Ethiopia’s Treasury Secretary sitting in his Mercedes by the side of the road. The Spirit led Philip to him, and they engaged in a conversation that gave Philip an opportunity to explain the gospel to him, which the man brought back to Ethiopia: “So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian . . an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it’ . . . The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8: 27-28, 34-35).

There are times when the Spirit leads us away from what we or the world considers success, to do something that fits our particular skill set at that time.  God is the master chess player who sees all of the players on the board; he knows exactly where and when to send each one.

But John warns us that we should “. . . test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4: 1). He explains that the Spirit who acknowledges Jesus Christ is from God, but those who do not, are not from God (1 John 4: 2-3). This is an important lesson. When you think that the Spirit is leading you in a given direction, test it against the teachings of Scripture to determine if it is consistent with the teachings of Jesus.  If you’re not sure, consult with trusted and authentic Christian teachers and friends in Christ.  Commit it to prayer and give it time.

John explained that the Spirit testified to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ: “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; these three are in agreement.” (1 John 5: 5-8).  John is explaining that the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ was confirmed at his baptism (by water) and by his crucifixion and resurrection (by blood), both of which were confirmed by the Spirit.  They all are proof of the authenticity of Jesus as the Messiah.

And don’t forget John’s other admonition that God sent Jesus into the world because of his deep love for us.  If we do not show that love to others, our professions of faith are empty words: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. . . since God loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (Excerpts, 1 John 4: 7-9, 11)

But above all, remember to call on God to inhabit your being– to guide, comfort, heal, hold, help, lead, love, and care for you—to usher you into his presence.  Michael Smith, a current day songwriter, says it this way: “This is the air I breathe, this is the air I breathe . . . Your holy presence . . . living in me . . . I’m lost without you. . . “

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Edwin Hatch, 1835-1889

[2] The Scripture texts for the Fifth Sunday of Easter are Acts 8: 26-40; Psalm 150; 1 John 4: 1-11; 1 John 5.

[3] Paraclete means called to one’s side; it is from the Greek para (alongside) and kletos (to call).

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

April 16, 2018

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us . . . Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth . . . (1 John 3: 16, 18)[1]

When you love someone, and they love you, you act like it. You spend time with the person. You enjoy talking to the person. You share interests. You enjoy each other’s company. You do things for each other. You take care of each other. You watch out for each other. The actions of our loved ones speak louder than their words.

A person hired to care for you is likely to cut and run when his or her life is threatened, but a person who loves you will stay by you to protect you. That is what Jesus told the crowd when he said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10: 11-14). Actions speak louder than words.

Jesus set the example for his disciples.  He faced his crucifixion with great courage and knowledge of the suffering he would face—but he knew the ultimate outcome.  He knew that he would be resurrected: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again” (John 10:17).  His example gave the disciples the knowledge and the courage they needed to go forward boldly with their teaching and preaching of the gospel. Jesus had promised to send his Spirit to be with them to help them, and he had also promised them eternal life.  They had been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, which gave them the courage to go forward.  Actions speak louder than words.

The words Jesus spoke to his disciples during his three-year ministry spoke pages, but his resurrection spoke volumes.  It was his actions that finally convinced the disciples of his authenticity, power, and his love for mankind. John explains “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us . . . Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth . . . And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”” (1 John 3: 16, 18, 23-24).  Jesus came back and visited them after his death on the cross.   They saw that he lived. He ate and drank with them. They touched him. He gave them a 40-day crash course on discipleship. He encouraged, emboldened, and empowered them to go forward into the world to preach the gospel.

The book of Acts is called “Acts”of the Apostles, not “Words” of the Apostles.   Peter and John preached to the crowds and “many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand” (Acts 4: 4).  Even after he was interrogated, Peter was bold to declare to the rulers, elders, and high priest: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that his man stands before you healed” (Acts 10).

Jesus’ example enabled them to put David’s words into action: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23: 4-6).

We who have been handed all of the eyewitness accounts in Scripture, as well as corroborating archeological, historical, scientific, logical, and other proofs of Jesus’ death and resurrection, can also move forward with great confidence that the God who sent his Son to lay down his life for us, loves us more fiercely than a parent loves his or her child, and will protect and care for us now and forever.  He will give you the courage to go forward that he gave his disciples.

God acted.  The apostles acted. Will you?

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday of Easter are Acts 4: 1-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3: 16-24; John 10: 11-18.

The Author of Life

April 9, 2018

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” Acts 3: 13-15

Our time at St. Andrews Abbey in Valyermo last February came back to me when I read the psalm for next Sunday. Singing the psalms with the monks at Lauds and Vespers are my favorite parts of the day when I am at the Abbey. The antiphon to Psalm 4 is from verse 1: “Answer me when I call to you.” [1] The New Testament is a fulfillment of what was prophesied in the Old Testament. It was God’s answer to his people’s call for mercy: “Have mercy on me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 4: 1b).

God heard the prayers of his people, and sent Jesus. The entire Old Testament points the way to Jesus as the Messiah. That is the premise of Ron Rhodes’ book, Christ Before the Manger.[2] But more than two thousand years before Mr. Rhodes wrote his book, just before Jesus ascended into heaven, the risen Christ told his disciples the same thing: “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. . . This is what I told you while I was still with you; everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:39, 44).   A few of the Old Testament examples pointing the way to Jesus as the Messiah are found in Deuteronomy 18:15 (his role as a prophet); Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 (his suffering); Psalm 16:9-11 and Isaiah 53:10,11 (his resurrection).

Peter confirms Jesus’ divinity when he refers to him as the Holy and Righteous One and the author of life in lashing out at the bystanders near the temple: “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus . . . You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead” (Acts 3: 13-15). But Peter goes on to assuage the crowd: “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance . . . But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer” (Acts 3: 17-18).

So added to all of the other evidence that Jesus is the Messiah foretold of old, is Jesus’ own testimony as well as the eyewitness reports of his disciples.

John explains that it is because of God’s great love for us that he made us his children: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3: 1). The creator and author of life humbled himself to become one of us—to live among us and to die for us because of his great love for us. And he calls us his kids. But God is more than a super parent. He is the resplendent Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the self-existent, immutable, all-powerful, ever present, all-knowing, faithful, just, loving—and most importantly—Holy God.

Our God has stood the test of time. He is the God who created and watched over Adam and Eve and their progeny. He is the God worshipped by Abraham in 2019 B.C., by Joseph who ruled Egypt in 1885 B.C., who chose Moses to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt to freedom in 1446 B. C., who anointed David king in 1010 B.C., who guided Esther in 479 B.C., who came to earth as a man between 4 and 6 B.C., and who chose Saul (aka Paul) to be his apostle. This is the same God who sent his Spirit to live within us and to help us, because he loves us.

It is mind boggling to me to think that this God—with all of those attributes— considers me his child. I am one of an estimated 108 billion people who have walked the earth since the beginning of time—yet I am a cherished member of his family—and so are you!   God knows our names. He cares about us. He knows the unique challenges that we each face, and offers to comfort and guide us in our daily lives. Acknowledge him for who he is, read his Word, talk to him, and ask him to guide you in your struggles. Ask him to send his angels to wrap their arms around you and comfort you. Ask him to hide you and protect you in the cleft of the rock. Ask him to guide you in all of life’s challenges. You won’t regret it.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday of Easter are Acts 3: 11-21; Psalm 4; 1 John 3: 1-7; Luke 24: 36-49.

[2] Ron Rhodes, Christ Before the Manger: the life and times of the preincarnate Christ (1992) Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Holy Ground

April 2, 2018

“From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! . . . We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1-3, The Message.

The Scripture texts for next Sunday[1] are so rich and powerful in meaning, poetry, and truth that it is hard to know where to begin. John’s compelling eyewitness testimony to the Risen Christ is a good place to start. It reminds me of a quote from Tozer’s The Crucified Life: “Yes, we walk by faith. But occasionally there are some glorious moments in which God reveals himself to us. I tell you, this is holy ground. This is an area of sacredness incomparable to anything else this side of glory.”[2]

The disciples walked on holy ground with the resurrected Christ. They began to understand the significance of their time with Jesus, when he appeared to them in their locked rooms on the first Sunday after the crucifixion. They were quaking in fear of what the Jewish authorities might do to them when they were found, so they locked themselves in: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side . . . A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out  your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” (John 20: 19-20; 26-27).

Jesus revealed himself to many others in the 40 days between the Resurrection and his ascension to heaven. Many people walked on holy ground with Jesus during that time. The disciples wrote about their experiences so that centuries later, we might also know the truth of what happened, and trust in the revelation of the Word through the person of Jesus Christ: From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1-3, The Message.

John explained that the reason that they were writing about it is so that others could experience the communion with Jesus that they experienced first hand. He wanted to ensure that the followers of Jesus in the ensuing years could also walk with Jesus on holy ground.

The revelation to the disciples of Jesus’ divinity was a great honor and blessing, but with that blessing came responsibility. Luke confirmed that the disciples, now apostles, took up the mantle to spread the good news that Jesus was the Messiah: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4: 33). One of the clearest and poetic communicators of the group, John, states the gospel message in a nutshell: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1: 5-7).

God is pure light. There are no shadows around him—ever. Sin is more than eons away from God. There is no darkness in him. It is that fact that permits us to trust him completely. God is completely and purely love and justice, which are not mutually exclusive. As John tells us “But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2: 1-2).

When we sin, Jesus is our pitch hitter. He will go to bat for us—he went to bat for us when he died for our sins on the cross. He took our place. When Jesus takes our place he hits a home run for us every time. He brings us home. He will advocate for us when we are weakened by our own sin. And we never need to change advocates. He will never be traded or retire. He never gives up on us, no matter what we have done. He is our forever advocate.

God reveals himself to each of us in Scripture. There we can read and soak in the truth and power of the gospel message. When we meditate on the words of Scripture, we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives to comfort and guide us.  While we cannot physically walk with Jesus in our daily lives as the disciples did before his crucifixion and after his resurrection, we can experience the presence of God in our daily lives.  Brother Lawrence was a 17th century Carmelite monk in Paris who worked in the monastery kitchen. Yet, he practiced a form of constant communication (also known as prayer) with God, and regularly found himself in the presence of God. Brother Lawrence lived his life on holy ground. Those who knew him recorded their conversations with him and published them so that others could benefit from this ordinary man, and his extraordinary walk with God on holy ground.

The entry to walking on holy ground with God is in learning to praise him. The psalms provide many examples of praise, including next Sunday’s Psalm 148:

“Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights above, Praise him, all his angels , praise him all his heavenly hosts . . . “ (Psalm 148: 1-2). This week, praise God for who he is—the almighty, everlasting, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, loving creator. Dedicate each task you begin to him. Then pray that his will, not yours, be done in your life.   Pray as Jesus prayed just before he was crucified, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Invite him into every aspect of your life, asking him to guide you according to his will, and experience the power, comfort, and blessings of living in the presence of the living God. [3]

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday of Easter are Acts 4: 32-35; Psalm 148; 1 John 1: 1-22; John 20:19-31.

[2] A.W. Tozer, compiled and edited by James L. Snyder, The Crucified Life (2011) Bethany House, p. 208.

[3] See these blogs also on the subject of living in the presence of God: https://dianereagan.com/2016/07/20/yes-virginia-god-answers-prayer/

https://dianereagan.com/2016/07/14/close-encounters/

 

The Easter Promise

March 26, 2018

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces . . . “ Isaiah 25: 6-8

The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead is the hinge upon which salvation rests. No Resurrection, no salvation. A couple of years ago, I laid out the major arguments in support of the truth of the Resurrection (Week-End Tomb: https://dianereagan.com/2016/03/25/week-end-tomb/). Last year’s Easter blog focused on the revolutionary nature of Jesus’ ministry (The Revolutionary Christ: https://dianereagan.com/2017/04/10/the-revolutionary-christ/).  This year, we focus on the promise of salvation secured by Jesus’ crucifixion.[1]

Jesus died on cross during the 9th hour after sunrise—about 3 o’clock p.m.  Joseph of Arimathea immediately sought permission to take custody of his body.  He and Nicodemus retrieved the body, anointed it with spices and “wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his [Joseph’s] own new tomb” (Matthew 27:59; Mark 15: 46; Luke 23:53).[2]   The hour was late. The men probably didn’t have time before the beginning of the Sabbath at sunset to do the customary tight wrapping of the body to absorb the body fluids and keep the odor of the decomposing body at bay.  The women who had kept watch over Jesus throughout the day continued their devotion to Jesus after his death, and prepared the spices for the body.  Early Sunday morning, at the end of the Sabbath, “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they might go to anoint Jesus’ body“ (Mark 16: 1). They intended to further anoint the body to show their respect for the Master. The burial ritual involved wrapping and anointing the body, before it was left in the tomb to decompose.  After about a year, when the body had decomposed, the tomb would be re-opened to remove the bones, and the bones would be placed in a stone box, called an ossuary.  But Jesus’ body never decomposed, and the bones never made it to an ossuary—because it had vanished by the time the women arrived early on Sunday morning. The women were told by the angel: “He has risen! He is not here” (Mark 16: 6).

In next Sunday’s epistle text, Paul makes a point of summarizing some of the reasons to believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead: “By this gospel you are saved . . . For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.” (1 Corinthians 15: 2-8).  In these few sentences, Paul cited many of the key reasons to believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, thereby securing our salvation.

But what does eternal salvation mean, and why do we want it?  Because we do not want to be separated from God.  And why is separation from God so terrible?  Some people actually believe that they would prefer to be separated from an all-knowing and seeing God.  But you should not want even your worst enemy to be eternally separated from God.

God is light and warmth. Where God is there is light, love, harmony, and peace. In heaven, our relationships with each other will be transparent, open, accepting, and loving.  God is inviting and welcoming.  The Spirit connects, heals, forgives.

Separation from God is the opposite. Where God is not, it is dark and chaotic. The evil one is the opposite of the Spirit—he is divisive, wounding, hostile, accusing, cold, and unforgiving.

Would you rather spend eternity with a loving God, or in an eternal black hole?  Isaiah describes our heavenly home like this: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25: 6-8).

God is the perfect host. His surround love will envelope you as you step from this life onto the threshold of the next, where he will welcome you to the forever feast of love and friendship with God and his family.

With God’s love and warmth in mind, David wrote: “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure . . . Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead . . . You make known to me the path of life; you fill me with your presence, and eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Excerpts Psalm 16: 5, 9-11).

The author of Hebrews wrote: “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews10:10).  The significance of the cross cannot be overstated.  Jesus’ atonement for our sins in his blood was perfect and complete.  Nothing can be added or taken away. His action on our behalf was selfless, flawless, and perfect.  There is literally nothing we can do to improve our chances for salvation by one iota.

He did it all.  Embrace the Easter promise.  Accept God’s gift of love and eternal fellowship with him.  Reach out to him as he opens his arms to welcome you into the family of God, and begin to enjoy the peace that is yours in Christ Jesus.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for The Resurrection of Our Lord/Easter Day are Isaiah 25: 6-9; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11; Mark 16: 1-8.

[2] It was against Jewish law to leave a dead body exposed overnight (Deuteronomy 21:23.).

Choose Jesus

March 19, 2018

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus . . .” (Philippians 2: 5)

On the first Sunday in Advent we remembered the crowd’s excitement over the prospect of the coming Messiah as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as predicted by Zechariah in the Fifth Century B. C.:[1]See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey . . . He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9: 9-10). [2]

The Passover crowd was delirious with joy, expecting Jesus to lead them to freedom from the Romans: “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting ‘Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!’” (John 12: 12-13).

But Jesus knew what his fate would be, and on their hike up to Jerusalem for Passover he had warned his disciples of what was to come.  A few days later, when they were in the upper room, Jesus reminded them that he would be betrayed: “’It is one of the Twelve,’ he replied, ‘one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born’” (Mark 14: 20-21).

Everything occurred as Jesus had predicted it would occur; he was betrayed, condemned to death, mocked, spit upon, flogged and killed: “[T[he Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him” Mark 10: 33-34.

The excited crowd who had welcomed him in the parade five days before, now turned against him, and shouted to Pilate: “Crucify him!” (Mark 15: 13, 14).   They didn’t understand that he had come to free them from their sins, not from the Romans.

Jesus not only knew what was coming—he engineered the events that led to his death: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 5-11).  Jesus wasn’t a victim of circumstance.  He wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was in charge of how the events played out that week—and during his whole ministry.

He knew that it was the Father’s plan for him to die on the cross for the sins of all.  He chose to come to earth as one of us.  He chose to move the events to his crucifixion.  He chose Jerusalem as the place of his death.  He chose the Passover festival as the time of his death when Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims.  He chose to give us the gift of his body and blood in the sacrament.  He chose to give us the gift of salvation.  He chose to leave his Spirit with us to help us.  These are a few of the choices he made to carry out God’s plan of salvation.  It wasn’t easy, but it was his choice to be obedient to the Father’s will.

Now it is your turn to choose.  Paul suggests that “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus . . .” (Philippians 2: 5).  Choose humility.  Choose obedience.  Choose love.  Choose forgiveness.

Choose Jesus.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] See Saved, published November 27, 2017.

[2] The Scripture texts for Palm Sunday are Zechariah 9: 9-12; Psalm 118: 19-29; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; John 12: 12-19; Mark 14: 1-15.

Do You Hear?

March 12, 2018

“Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 43-45)

Parents are quite sure at times that their children aren’t listening to them and vice versa. How many times has a parent said “no” to a request only to be asked the same thing by the child a moment later? How many times has your child said to you, “Weren’t you listening to what I just said?”   We all get distracted from time to time and fail to listen to people who are talking to us. Listening is a key part of effective communication.  As someone said: “That’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth.”

Today’s gospel lesson is an example of the disciples failing to listen to Jesus, who referred to himself as the Son of Man.[1] The Son of Man is a phrase Jesus used throughout his ministry to explain that he is the Son of God. When Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man, he is emphasizing his heavenly origin and home.[2] By this time, the disciples knew full well that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but they still expected him to be the conquering superhero who would deliver them from their Roman rulers.

So on his final trip to Jerusalem, he tried to explain to them for the third time what was about to take place: “Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.   ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise’” Mark 10: 32-34.

Pretty strong stuff.  Jesus had just told them that he would be betrayed, condemned to death, turned over to the Romans who will mock him, spit on him, beat him, and then kill him. After all that suffering, he will be resurrected three days later.

In all fairness, who could grasp what he was saying? The disciples may have thought it was a metaphor.  Yet, he identified himself as the Son of Man, and listed his sufferings, hardly following his usual story-telling mode.  So you wouldn’t expect them to react the way they did: James and John asked to be his Vice-President and Secretary of State! Instead of pressing him for the details of his upcoming trials, they were thinking of themselves and the elevated positions they could negotiate for themselves: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10: 37).

Can’t you just see Jesus’ thought bubble: “Did you hear what I just said?” before he said: “You don’t know what you’re asking” (Mark 10: 38).   Still not comprehending what he had told them, they assured Jesus that they could do whatever is required.   This often happens in organizations where people who seek prestige and power represent that they can do what is required in the position sought, but really have no idea what is required of a good leader. They are simply thinking of the corner office, the title on the door, the increased paycheck and other benefits.  So Jesus gathered them together and told them: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 42-45).  Jesus was telling them that in his kingdom, greatness lies not in the number of people you control, but the number of people you can help.

Throughout history, the prophets had emphasized that God’s laws and ways were instituted by God for the benefit of his people by the God who loves and cherishes them: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people . . . I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Excerpts, Jeremiah 31: 33-34).   The psalmist emphasizes the importance of seeking God with one’s whole heart as the key to contentment: “I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you . . . I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches” (Psalm 119: 10-11, 14).

The author of Hebrews emphasizes Jesus’ humility, as the sign of a great leader: “Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest, But God said to him, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ . . Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Excerpts Hebrews 5: 5-10).

When we are assured of God’s love and our place in his kingdom as his child, we do not need to jockey for position in the world.  Title and position no longer have a hold on our souls.  These texts teach us to listen to the words of the Master—to pay attention to Jesus. When we seek Jesus with all our heart, and truly want to follow him, we will find ways to serve others, not our own interests.  We will find ways to help others.  We will find ways to assist where needed.  We will offer our services, resources, and energy to those in need.  Listen to the Master, and follow his lead.  You will never go wrong by following the path that God has laid before you.

I woke up early this morning to hear the hooting of a neighborhood owl: “Whoo-whoo;  whoo-whoo.”  Who indeed.  It is almost too inconceivable to comprehend–that Jesus lived and died for you and me.  God, in the person of Jesus Christ, loves you so much that he went to the cross to pay for your sins.  Do you hear?  Do you hear?

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fifth Sunday in Lent are Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 119: 9-16; Hebrews 5: 1-10; Mark 10: 32-45.

[2] When Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, he is referring to the heavenly figure described in Daniel 7:13: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.