21 November 2019

2 Chronicles 18:12-22, Mark 15:1–15 (read online ⧉)

Ahab was an interesting king. He set himself up against God and the prophets multiple times. His greatest prophetic adversary was Elijah. However, Elijah was by no means his only one. Micaiah was apparently well known to Ahab. As Ahab told Jehoshaphat that Micaiah never says anything good to him (Ahab), we can infer the Micaiah was known to visit Ahab, probably often to chastise him for continue to worship Baal (and encouraging the people too).

Knowing that Ahab could behave in a weak fashion (see the story about Naboth’s vineyard), it is interesting to reflect on him bringing a known adversary to his court for consultation, especially in the presence of another king. This is not the behavior of a weak king. On top of it, Ahab is apparently smart enough to recognize that all his other “seers” are blowing hot air, for when Micaiah echoes their words, Ahab challenges that. He’s pretty certain that Micaiah is following the crowd and not his calling.

Why Micaiah succumbed to echoing the others is never answered, but there could be a number of answers. The likeliest answer of all was that Ahab wouldn’t respond to the truth, so why bother with it. People in power might ask people of influence or morals for advice (such as in this case). However, that can be merely a checkbox to show open-mindedness and wisdom, when in fact it is just a show. While Ahab took a risk calling in Micaiah, because he sought Jehoshaphat’s military aid, he probably felt that he needed to put on an appropriate show for the God-following Jehoshaphat.

In Jesus’ time, Pilate was the theoretical ruler of Jerusalem. He was under and sent with the authority of the Roman Empire. Only by his command could death be imposed. As the Jewish religious leaders needed his approval, they set him up. In many respects, Pilate knew it. He knew that the real issue was that Jesus challenged the influence of the Sanhedrin. Pilate, though, needed the Sanhedrin to control the people without always having to resort to arms. He and the Sanhedrin played a political game of chess, and Pilate gave up. He actually had a winning hand but succumbed to the pressure of the crowd. The Sanhedrin knew the political pitfalls that Pilate had to walk and took advantage of them.

Ahab and Pilate faced hard choices. For us, we don’t see them as too hard, but both were “political animals”. We see much the same today; people who cannot not be in politics. Every person has decisions to make. What matters is which direction each one of those steps leads.

1) Have you ever had to make a political choice that did not feel like it was the correct (e.g., righteous, moral) choice? Why did you make the choice you did? What were the results politically and spiritually?

2) For “political animals” (no disrespect intended), often the political game blinds them to good or wise decisions. Where do you see that occurring? Is it only that person or people?

3) People’s wiring for decisions is often different than our own. We may even come to the same decision via a completely different route. How do we work with others whose thought processes (again, not the conclusions) are so different from our own?

20 November 2019

Matthew 23:16–22, Luke 18:31–43 (read
online ⧉
)

Jesus uses the concept of blindness as a teaching point. In the ancient world, blindness was a severe handicap. Over the years we have developed tools and practices to help blind people navigate a world of sight. This was not the way of things in Jesus’ day. All the blind were good for was consuming food, space, and getting alms. This is not to dismiss their value as human beings, but in that age, there was little they could do. Today, with help, blind people can read. Blind people can operation manufacturing machines. The blinds can navigate the world, and the world works to help that. That wasn’t so.

Jesus wasn’t being nice. He was being brutal. He was telling the world that the teachers that people looked up to were useless, at best. In Matthew, he implies that anyone that follows these teachers will not end up anyplace good. However, they vaunted religious teachers aren’t the only blind ones. His disciples were often blind too. The prediction of his death was “hidden” from them. In many ways, thought Jesus’ future death wasn’t so much hidden as denied. Why would the disciples want to think about Jesus’ death? Have you ever had a “hilltop” experience? Imagine having them for 3 years. It is likely that it got to a point that they couldn’t see beyond that. Sadly, in at least Judas’ case when he did see beyond it, he likely felt betrayed and thus betrayed Jesus.

That the future was hidden from them per the Scriptures, and then we immediately get to a story about a blind man receiving sight does not appear coincidental. In fact, according to Jesus the man’s faith had both saved him and led to his being able to see. In some ways, the 11 disciples that remained (after Judas’s betrayal and death) did not see either until they had faith. It’s not to say that they didn’t have faith in God, or even in Jesus, but that their faith matured and transformed so that they were able to look back and look forward and see God in action.

1) Have you ever lost any sense (taste, smell, sight, touch) for a time? What was it like? Did it have far-reaching effects?

2) Blindness of the heart can lead anyone down a false path. What areas of blindness have you had to deal with? How did you deal with them?

3) The world is often spiritually blind. If the world cannot see without faith, how do we get them to “see”?

19 November 2019

Luke 19:1–10, 1 John 4:10, Romans 8:22–28 (read online ⧉)

You may or may not have heard that a famous person has publically proclaimed that he has “found” Jesus Christ. Many Christians have not accepted this person’s conversion. It’s not as if this is a new thing. Not really. Over the years there have been many conversions that have been questioned. Many of them have been questioned because they were “death-bed” conversions.

It’s not so much that these conversions are questioned, for conversions should be questioned, but it was the attitude that often goes along with it. The assumption that such-and-such a person’s conversion could not possibly be real, or that it is questionable should raise our internal flags. Who are we to determine that?

Let’s take the tale of Zacchaeus. In it we see Zacchaeus promise to return what of his gains were ill-gotten. Jesus says salvation has come. Great! If we were to look at the tale of Zacchaeus with the same amount of skepticism as we look at death-bed or famous people conversions, well, we wouldn’t just “see it” with Zacchaeus. The guy has been a thief (say many today about taxes) and colludes with the government (which people don’t trust). How could such a person’s conversion ever be trusted?

Yet, one of the first responses to questioning Zacchaeus’ conversion is, but the Bible says so! Well, it tells that Jesus said salvation came but were you there to see that Zacchaeus actually did what he told Jesus? Really, what about all those other people that you know about that said it’s all for Jesus, but didn’t change?

Sounds really cynical, doesn’t it? Jesus said salvation came. One would think God would know, as only God knows the heart. Yet, people are as cynical (or even more so) today about conversions. Sadly, we’ve had plenty of examples of false conversions. We have plenty of examples of Christians doing appalling things. Why so cynical? We know humanity for we see it in ourselves.

So, what are we to do? We do have a pretty simple way to evaluation conversions…the fruit. There are the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). There is also the fruit of discipleship. Are there people being discipled by the converted? The fruit of discipleship and the fruit of the spirit, however, can be a long time coming.

1) How would “trust but verify” work in this situation? Does this concept help or hurt?

2) Many of those we would call fathers and mothers of the faith questioned their own salvation. Why do we think we would know somebody else’s conversion?

3) What are the ways that we can encourage recent conversions and help to maintain them?