Go and Proclaim.

Christianity, Religion

“As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Luke 9:57-62

Luke 9 is, quite possibly, one of the most critical chapters of Luke’s gospel account. Within its sixty-two verses, we see some of the most important events of Christ’s ministry chronicled. The chapter begins with Christ commissioning the twelve disciples to go out before Him and prepare the towns through which He would be passing for His arrival and teaching. After this, we read of the account of Christ’s feeding of the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Peter’s confession of Jesus follows this scene as the Messiah, and when we read immediately after this Luke’s account of Christ’s transfiguration in front of Peter, James, and John. In many ways, this chapter is a highlight reel of sorts in its depiction of Christ’s miracles and ministry.

This chapter is significant for another reason, beyond that of the scope of its content. Luke 9 is the turning point of Luke’s narrative account of Jesus’ life. Chapters 1-8 dealt with Christ’s birth and ministry in and around Galilee;  Luke 9 is the point of transition to Christ’s journey to Jerusalem for the Passover and His crucifixion. We see this made clear in Luke 9:51, “When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem.” Christ knew the day–the literal day–of His ascension back into heaven was drawing near, and that it was time to head up to Jerusalem to complete the mission for which He had been sent to earth. He knew it was time to head up to Jerusalem to die for humanity’s redemption. Everything that happens following Luke 9:51 and before Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem in Luke 19 occurs on His journey up to Jerusalem. In that ten chapter span, Christ continued teaching and preaching and performing miracles, knowing that the crowds that followed Him in amazement would soon be crying out for His crucifixion. He knew all of this, and He continued to journey toward Jerusalem to His death. 

As Christ and the twelve “were going along the road” (Luke 9:57), crowds would have been following them to see what Christ would do next. People were undoubtedly trying to get close to Jesus to speak to Him, and Luke details the interactions that Jesus had with three anonymous men.

The first man mentioned approached Christ and told Jesus that he would follow Christ wherever he went. Jesus’ response was not one welcoming the man aboard; instead, the answer was intended to make sure the man understood the nature of the commitment he was making. Christ told the man that, unlike the birds and foxes, He–the Son of Man–had nowhere to lay His head. Jesus had no place of His own, nor did he have material wealth. He lived the life of a vagabond, relying on the Father to provide for and meet His needs. If this was the case for Christ, then the follower of Christ wasn’t to expect anything better. The man needed to understand that committing to following Christ was committing to living a life of total reliance and dependence upon God; it was a commitment to living the type of life that Christ Himself modeled. Following Christ does not lead to earthly wealth and comfort. Following Christ causes the follower to live out their trust in God’s dependence; it forces the follower to put their faith and trust into practice. 

The second man Luke mentions did not approach Christ; instead, Christ called the man to “Follow Me.” We are not told anything about this man, about why Christ chose to issue this call to him over others who may have been there. We only know what Luke tells us; that the Incarnate God called on this man to follow Him, and that this man could not commit to this call. The man’s response to Christ’s call reflects a misunderstanding about the importance of the call the man just received. The called-man asks for permission first to go and bury his father. The man’s request shows that he thought that fulfilling this familial obligation was more important than following Christ; that checking off some ritual duty was a better use of his time than heeding Jesus’ call. In its essence, the man’s response was “I will follow you, but not now; not yet.” Christ corrected the man’s skewed thinking. He told the man to “let the dead bury the dead,” to allow the spiritually dead–those who hadn’t just been called by God Himself–to go and attend to this less important duty. As for the man, he must go and preach the kingdom of God. Christ saw the flaw in the man’s thinking and priorities, and He quickly corrected them. The man had no more important duty than that of following Christ–who was on the way to Jerusalem to die–and preaching the kingdom of God.

The third man mentioned repeated the same mistake as the second man. He wanted to follow Christ, but he wanted to do so on his terms–he wanted to begin following after he took care of the business of saying good-bye to his family. Like the second man, this man was attempting to put conditions on his commitment to following Jesus. Once again, Jesus corrected this inappropriate thinking. Christ told the man that he would be of no use to the kingdom of God if he kept looking back at the things of his life before following. Following God must be the sole priority of the follower; they cannot look back at the old things–family included–and follow God at the same time. One cannot say they want to follow God and wish they could do other things as well. God must be the most important thing in the follower’s life.

We are not told what happened to these men. We are not told that they followed Christ, nor are we told that they turned away from Him that day. We are only told what we need to know, and the accounts of these interactions serve to teach us a crucial message about the nature of following Christ: saying that we will follow Christ means nothing if we do not back up that profession with our actions. It is not enough to merely profess Christ with our lips, our hearts and actions and lifestyle must also reflect this commitment. To do otherwise is to repeat the same mistakes as ancient Israel. We would be acting no differently than those in the days of Isaiah, when God said “this people draws near with their words and honors Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me,” (Isaiah 29:13). Saying we want to follow Christ requires us to do just that—no ifs or buts.

So often we make the same mistakes as the three men depicted in Luke’s gospel. We find ourselves attempting to put conditions on our commitment to following Him. We attempt only to submit parts of our lives to Him, while we try to keep control over other aspects. We allow other things to take priority over being a follower of Christ. We think that following Jesus will be comfortable and don’t understand the nature of submitting to Him. We say we want to follow Jesus, but we keep looking back to other things and long for those things. If we say we want to follow Jesus, we must submit entirely to Him. We must remember that our usefulness to the advancement of His kingdom is dependent upon our entire submission. Then, once we submit and follow, we can do nothing else but go and proclaim the kingdom of God.

Artwork: “Still Life with Skull and Writing Quill,” Pieter Claesz, 1628.

Trust.

Christianity, Religion

“In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;

    let me never be put to shame;

    in your righteousness deliver me!

Incline your ear to me;

    rescue me speedily!

Be a rock of refuge for me,

    a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress;

    and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;

you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,

    for you are my refuge.

Into your hand I commit my spirit;

    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.” Psalm 31:1-5

“But I trust in you, O Lord;

    I say, ‘You are my God.’” Psalm 31:14

David’s psalms are some of the most heart-wrenching writings in all of Scripture, and yet they are also some of the most relatable. When reading his work, the reader never has to wonder what emotion David is trying to communicate; the emotion of the text leaps of the page. David’s psalms of sorrow and anguish hit us in the pit of our stomachs, and his psalms of joy leave us feeling as happy and invigorated as he was when he penned them. Ever the poet, David understood how to express and communicate whatever emotions he was experiencing.

The thirty-first psalm is no exception to this rule; in this psalm, David laid bare his soul and expressed to God–and to later readers–the emotional and spiritual toll he experienced as a result of the numerous trials he went through. 1 Samuel recounts the saga of David and Saul when David had to stay on the run from an ever increasingly paranoid and deranged Saul, who was bent on killing the anointed future king of Israel. Samuel’s account tells the reader of David’s hiding in the caves in the wilderness of Israel, his having to periodically flee Israel, of doing absolutely anything to stay always one step ahead of Saul–the king whom David had sworn to serve and who at one time found such solace from David’s music. Saul would stop at nothing to kill David. Despite this, David had numerous opportunities to kill Saul, and yet he spared Saul’s life every single time. On more than one occasion, David had to flee to the land of the Philistines–Israel’s mortal enemy at the time–because it was safer for David to live in the land of his enemies than to live amongst his people. While Saul lived, David was a vagabond; he lived a life of exile. Those who aided him did so at a high cost; helping David elude Saul warranted death. Saul did everything within his power to ensure that David had no one to turn to for help or protection–or so Saul thought.

It was during this chapter of David’s life that he penned Psalm 31. In this psalm, David cried out to the One who would not forsake him, to the One who had aided and protected him all along the arduous journey. David knew that, had it not been for God’s protection, Saul would have captured him and killed him long ago. God alone had been David’s refuge, his stronghold. David also knew that he had done nothing to merit God’s favor or protection; God had been doing so purely out of love and mercy, and because it was what He desired to do. God had foiled Saul’s plans and intentions every step of the way, and David trusted that God would continue to do so. David understood that God had saved him–ransomed him–for a purpose, and so he knew he must entrust his life and soul to God’s care; he must commit his spirit into God’s hands.

David did not hold back from crying out to God in this psalm. Though he was trusting God’s providence for the outcome of this trial, David was still being crushed under the weight of his ordeal. He was reaching his mental and physical breaking points; his life was nothing but sorrow, distress, and sighing. His body was withering away. Those who knew him avoided him; those who were once his friends looked at him as a danger and threat to their own safety. People had forgotten about him as they would a person after their death. David–the man the people once cheered for and celebrated–was now an object of scorn and rebuke. The man who slew the giant to save his people had now been forsaken by them. In spite of this, he continued to trust in God. The world may attack David and shake him to his very core, but God would remain his rock and refuge.

At times, it is difficult for us to have this same level of trust in God. In times of joy and plenty, it is easy for us to say that we trust in Him, but that confidence does not always readily carry over into the times of sorrow and anguish. In the difficult times, we more closely resemble the disciples in the boat in the midst of the storm when they cried out “Save us, Lord!” (Matthew 8:25). What was Jesus’ response to this plea? “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26). There the phrase “little faith” could also be translated “little trust.” Our trust in God is directly related to the faith we put in Him; we will never be able to trust in Him fully if we do not place the entirety of our faith in Him. Our trust in God reflects our faith in Him. If we have great faith in a great God who can do all things, then we can boldly endure the trials of this life, regardless of their impact upon us, just as David did.

God does not count our failures to always trust in Him against us; He loves us and sustains us in spite of this. Furthermore, He knows what these moments of anguish and turmoil feel like, for He experienced them firsthand. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each detail in their gospel accounts Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane before His betrayal and arrest. The Gospel of Luke says this: 

 “And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray,  saying, ‘Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’ Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:41-44).

The miracle and the beauty of the Incarnation is that Jesus was fully man and fully God. His deity allowed Him to know exactly what was going to happen and what would befall Him; He understood everything that He was going to endure. His humanity allowed Him to feel the emotions that would accompany such knowledge. He knew the pain and the torture and the cruelty that awaited Him. He knew He would be mocked and ridiculed and scorned. He knew to defeat sin and death and the grave that He must first die. He knew that He would be forsaken by His friends and neighbors. He knew all of this, and He was scared. He asked the Father if it were possible to achieve the salvation required for humanity to be accomplished another way, then to allow it to be so. Yet, He prayed for the Father’s will to be done, not His. His faith was in the Father, and He trusted in the Father, just as his forefather, David had. Christ took the cup that was set before Him, went forward on His mission of salvation, and with His dying breath, quoted the words of His ancestor David:  “And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last,” (Luke 23:46). Christ’s last words, as He hung dying on the cross, forsaken by all humanity, were those that His ancestor David had penned at a time when he too was forsaken by all, except God. In their moments of agony, David and Jesus both trusted God. 

The sin-slayer and the giant-slayer, both scorned and forsaken by men, knew that they could do nothing else but trust in God.

The echoes of Psalm 31 in Christ’s crucifixion are one of many of the amazing and unbelievable threads of continuity within Scripture. One final detail to point out is that Psalm 31 is one of the many psalms which are dedicated to “The Choirmaster.” outside of the psalms, this phrase appears many times, but only one other instance is it translated from Hebrew into English as “choirmaster.” In every other situation, it is translated as “Eternal One,” or “The One Who Overcomes.” Additionally, these particular psalms–the ones to the Choirmaster–have messianic themes, and often have the highest view of God’s majesty. With this understanding, it makes Christ’s last words even more powerful. Not only was Jesus quoting David; He was quoting a work that was dedicated to Him.

Trials and grief and sorrow in this life are plentiful and sure to come. But take hope in the One who has been your rock and your refuge. Trust in the One who knows how hard it can be to trust. Commit your life and your spirit to the One who took your damnation and who died to slay sin to save you.

Artwork: “Crucifixion,” 1964, Marc Chagall

Trust Issues.

Christianity, Religion

“Then the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.’ So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height’…” Numbers 13:31-32

“When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.”  1 Samuel 17: 11

Though these two texts seem as if they could be taken from the same account, they are not. In fact, the events they recount are, by most estimates, separated by at least four hundred years. Both of these texts come from crucial moments in Israel’s history, and each demonstrates a tragic failure on Israel’s part to trust in God entirely. The fact that these events transpired, though separated by a considerable amount of time, reinforces the fact that people do not change.

In the Numbers passage, we find Israel on the verge of one of the greatest moments in its then brief history. It had been roughly over a year since Israel had been led out of Egypt by God and His servant Moses. Since then, God has provided for Israel in the wilderness, and led them to Mount Sinai, where He gave Moses the Law, which Moses would then relay to the people. In that same time, Israel would be grumbling almost continuously against Moses and God, continually desiring to be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt rather than living free with God in the wilderness. But now, Israel is on the border of the Promised Land, the land which God swore to their fathers to give them; in a sense, they are on the doorsteps of being home. There is only one catch: the land is inhabited, and Israel will have to fight to possess it. God, however, has already promised it to them and has vowed to go before them and aid Israel in their quest to capture this land.

Moses sent twelves spies into the land to scope it out and see what lay before them. They came back forty days later with a report of land abundant in resources and fertility–flowing with milk and honey as they said. The abundance and richness of the land wasn’t enough to encourage the spies, though; many fixated on the strength of the walled cities and the size of the people who inhabited the land. Of the twelve spies, only two–Joshua and Caleb–thought Israel could take the land; only two of the twelve trusted in God to deliver on His promise. The other ten couldn’t get past the giants and the obstacles, and in turn, they turned the people against going into the land. They spread dissension and bad reports throughout the camp, and they set the people of Israel against going into the very land that God had promised to them. These ten spies convinced Israel that these giants were too great for them to defeat, and in turn, that God was not big enough to aid Israel.  Nevermind the fact that God had just previously intervened in a way unseen before in all of human history to save Israel from slavery; He sent plagues of blood, frogs, lice, flies, diseases on the Egyptian livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of all the Egyptian firstborns. He parted the Red Sea so that Israel could escape when Pharaoh’s armies were closing in upon them, and he caused that same sea to engulf those same armies after His people passed through safely.

Israel had seen God’s presence descend upon Sinai and upon the Tabernacle; they witnessed God provided manna and quail and water from rocks. Here Israel was standing at the doorway of the land that God had promised to Abraham that his descendants would inherit, and those descendants are saying to God “we don’t want it.” Their ingratitude is staggering, but their lack of faith in God to give the land to them is even more so. It is for this that Israel would be punished to wander in the wilderness for forty years. The Israelites had to wander until everyone from the ungrateful generation of the Exodus died; only Joshua and Caleb–the two faithful spies–would live to inhabit the Promised Land.

Fast forward about four hundred years; Israel has possessed the land and has established a kingdom for themselves. They live in a continuous cycle of following God and then straying away from Him, and this passage from I Samuel represents a moment in which their faith is waning. Israel’s first king, Saul, though a decent warrior, is a weak and vacillating leader; seldom does he seek after God. In fact, just before the events of this passage transpired, God withdrew His blessing from Saul and informed him that a new king would soon be taking the throne.

In this passage from I Samuel, the Israelites are being confronted by their nemesis of this era, the Philistines. At this particular encounter, the Philistines bring out their secret weapon, a 9’9″ giant named Goliath. The giant came out every day for forty days and issued a challenge to the Israelite army, a one-on-one fight between him and Israel’s best fighter, with the loser’s army becoming the victor’s slaves. All of Israel, Saul included, are disheartened and dismayed. No one thinks of God; no one seeks Him. All Saul and the armies of Israel can focus on is the giant before them and the fact that they have no answer for him. It is quite nearly the same scenario as was previously seen with the ten spies convincing the rest of the camp that they could not take the Promised Land from the giant Canaanites. Saul and his armies exhibit no faith in God. However, the Lord was with a shepherd from Bethlehem named David, and he, like Caleb and Joshua, knew who had already won the battle. It was this same David who had just previously been anointed to be Israel’s next king, and it is he who would who God would use to deliver Israel from the Philistines and their giant.

Israel in Saul’s day commits the same sin as their forefathers did in Moses’ day: just as the Exodus generation did not have faith in God to deliver them from the giants to help them possess the land, Saul’s generation did not have faith in God to deliver them from the giant Philistine to help them remain in the land. Saul and his armies were no better than the ten faithless spies; they never learned.

Are we any better than the Israelites of Moses’ or Saul’s day? Are we like the masses who see the obstacles before us and count the reasons why we–why God–can’t do something? Or are we like Caleb and Joshua and David, counting the reasons why God can and will do something? Do we trust in God when it isn’t easy to do so? What is our faith like in the moments when the “rubber meets the road?”

Sadly, far too often these texts presented to us as a prosperity gospel of sorts in which we are told that “if we trust in God, He will deliver us from the giants in our lives.”  Yes, God has the power to deliver us and, yes, He can deliver us–if that be His will. Our faith, however, is not a bargaining chip to be played with God; we cannot go before the Creator of the universe and say “I will believe in you if you do this for me.”  These texts are about trusting in God, regardless of what the situation is. Sometimes the giants aren’t to be slain, and even then we must still trust in God. We must have faith like Job demonstrated when, in all his anguish, he cried out “though He slay me, still will I hope in Him,” (Job 13:15). Do we do live that type of faith, or do we lose our faith at the first sign of opposition? Do we view God as being bigger than our circumstance, or is our situation bigger than God? Do we have big faith in a big God or a little faith in a small God? Is our God one who cannot be contained by the heavens, or is our God one who fits in the box in which we try to put Him?

God promised Israel that he would give them the land, and He promised to keep them in the land, as long as they had faith and served Him obediently. They forgot this promise. Christ promised that He would be with us always, even until the end of the age. Do we live with the security and peace that promise affords us in every situation, regardless of the outcome, or have we, too, forgotten His promise?