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Quick Observations on John 11…

OK, I don’t have much time, but I wanted to give my SHBC readers some “landmarks” to look for in today’s reading of John 11.  Remember as you read, that the purpose of our reading John together is not only to see Jesus presented as the divine Son of God, but also for us to “catch” a little bit of John’s passion for making Christ known!  As you read John’s gospel, you must keep in mind that he had a purpose for writing it, a purpose which he clearly makes known near the end of the book when he writes in 20:30-31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John wanted first-century readers to know WHO Jesus was (the Christ, Messiah, Son of God) and HOW they could be saved (by believing in HIS name!).  The whole book has an evangelistic undertone.  My prayer is that spending a month reading and meditating on John while praying for the lost, will help to transform your thinking about sharing your faith!

With that in mind, note some quick observations:

1.  In verse 16, it is Thomas who is quick to encourage the other disciples to join him in following Jesus up to Jerusalem.  This is in light of what was already stated in verse 8, namely that the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus at this time.  What courage and faith it took for Thomas to be willing to stand by Jesus even if it meant death.  We often refer to Thomas as “doubting Thomas” and remember him only for his confusion following the resurrection (John 20:24-29), but here he demonstrates a boldness and loyalty which is often overlooked in our evaluation of Thomas.

2. Both Martha and Mary (v. 21 and 32) say the same thing concerning Jesus.  They both believed wholeheartedly that if Jesus had been present, he could have performed a miraculous healing.  Both had seen and experienced his power and testified to the fact that they believed in his power to personally change their desperate situation.  What faith they had in Jesus!

3. Martha declares faith in two notable theological truths here.  The first (v. 23) is her professed belief in an eschatological resurrection of all the dead.  This position is in accordance with old testament teaching (Job 19:25-27; Is 26:19; Dan 12:2) and was held by the religious “conservatives” of the day (Pharisees) but denied by the religious “liberals” of the day (Saducees). Martha also testifies in verse 27 to her belief in Jesus’ messianic office using language derived from Ps 118:26.  Clearly, she believed not only in Jesus’ power (see point 2) but also in his claim to be Israel’s messiah.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all use Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus’ divine office as part of their climactic presentation of Jesus, but John chooses to use Martha’s correct profession of Jesus’ identity during this miraculous event, which is John’s climactic miracle in his apologetic presentation of Jesus as the eternal Word incarnate

**(John gives us 7 miraculous events between chapters 2 and 11 to argue for Jesus’ divine nature; this is the seventh and climactic; raising the dead.  Others include water to wine (2:1-11); healing the official’s son (4:46-54); healing the invalid (5:1-15); feeding the multitude (6:5-13); walking on water (6:16-21); healing the blind man (9:1-7).

4.  Jesus uses another “I Am” statement in v. 25, pointing to Himself as the source of resurrection life.  He does not merely bring about a future resurrection, nor does he merely affirm theological belief in a future resurrection.  His words point to something stronger, namely that in HIM is the source of life necessary for the resurrection from the dead, whether this be literal or spiritual death (both are equally true!).  The latter part of v. 25 and all of 26 allows Jesus to expound on this truth by asserting that those who trust in Him, though they may (physically) die, they will know life, both through regeneration by the Spirit and future resurrection.  Further, all who are spiritually made alive (by the Spirit and their trust in Christ), will never truly be in bondage to death, for they live in light of the future hope of resurrection.

5. We are reminded in v. 35 of the deep nature of the personal relationships which Jesus developed with those who loved him.  His weeping over Lazarus’ death demonstrated outwardly the deep internal sorrow that Jesus felt for humanity because of the curse of sin.  He identified with his friends’ pain and wept not just for Lazarus, but for the curse which brought on such a situation of suffering and grief.  Only Jesus fully realized that his own impending substitutionary death and resurrection would soon bring release from this curse, and perhaps the resurrection of Lazarus (which was a temporary release, for Lazarus would eventually die again!) was intended to be a mere shadow, a foretaste, of the greater deliverance which would soon come through Jesus’ own resurrection, which, unlike Lazarus’s, would be to eternal life.

We should be reminded by Jesus’ own sorrow that human relationships are meant to be deep, meaningful, and passionate.  Our love for one another and the lost should move us to such compassion and depth of emotion.  Also, this reminds me that it’s OK to weep at the death of those we love.  It is an outward demonstration of our love for the deceased (note v. 36).  However, when our loved one is a believer in Christ, we weep differently than those who weep with no hope of eternal life (1 Thess 4:13)!  For though we may grieve over our temporary separation from the individual, and though we may grieve that the curse of sin has such an effect on humanity, we grieve at the death of a believer knowing that there is hope in a future resurrection which will be a resurrection unto life eternal!  This is Paul’s hope in 1 Thess 4; it is the hope Jesus offers Mary and Martha, and it is the hope that should define how Christians approach death and grief.

6.  Finally, the closing words of chapter 11 (v. 55-57) transition us to the pivotal chapter in which Jesus enters into Jerusalem (chapter 12) and begins the final week of his life (chapters 13-20).  John truly arranges his gospel with apologetic intent.  In chapters 2-11, his goal is to present to his readers an argument for who Jesus is (ontologically).  Through using personal encounters, public discourses, and miraculous events, John has argued for Jesus’ divinity and messianic purpose.  Now that the final and climactic miracle has been presented from Jesus’ ministry, John turns his thoughts to the days approaching the final Passover.  It is significant that so much of John’s gospel is given to the final days of Jesus’ life, but this is because of his desire to draw attention to the great significance of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection for sinners.  Having argued for his PERSON, John now turns his attention to the Messiah’s PURPOSE.

Keep reading and let us see what we discover together in the chapters to come.  Press on prayer warriors!

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So SHBC family…how are you doing with your 21-day commitment?  Today marks the just-over-half-way point of your commitment to pray, fast intermittently, and meditate on John’s gospel in preparation for intentionally sharing your faith with (and inviting to church) three people that you believe are unsaved.  Are you beginning to get the sense that constant prayer for the lost is difficult work?  It really is a discipline that must be developed over time!  I dare say that some of you have missed a day or two by this point; I know it’s been a struggle even for me to remember my commitment to this day to day!  First, when you miss, I hope you’ll get back up and recommit, but secondly, I hope this project serves to remind us that kingdom-work and spiritual warfare is actually hard work!  It does require discipline.  It does require time commitment.  It does require sacrifice.  And these reasons are exactly why so many today simply don’t want to get involved!  In a world where time is at a premium and individuals have to prioritize among so many choices, it seems that daily cross-bearing just gets shoved aside for the many other activities that matter more to us.  Personally, I think that says something very sad about our priorities.  But alas…

In reading John 10 yesterday, I hope that you picked up on the “I AM” emphasis once again.  Jesus emphasized this language in chapters 6 and 8 and does so again in chapter 10, where he refers to himself by saying “I am the door,” and “I am the good shepherd” (referencing OT language in Is 40:11, Jer 23:1-4, and Ezekiel 34, among others).  We can characterize the “I Am” statements of Jesus in John into two camps, first, those absolute statements in which he refers to himself as “I Am” (6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 18:5).  In these, Jesus is identifying himself with the self-revelation of YHWH in Exodus 3:14.  Secondly though, there are the metaphorical “I Am” statements which appear throughout the book.  There are a total of 7 different “I Am” metaphorical statements, all of which point to profound spiritual realities about the person and office of Jesus, the Christ (e.g. the bread of life; the light of the world; the door of the sheep; the good shepherd; the resurrection and the life; the way, the truth and the life; the true vine) and all of which are grounded in old testament language and images which the Jews would have associated directly with the LORD.

Don’t miss these “I Am” statements; they are one of the keys to John’s emphasis, structure and style and they tell us significant information about Jesus and his own self-identity to others.

Did you notice again in chapter 10, the exchange between Jesus and the Jews in verses 22- 42?  Did you pick up on v. 33, in which John tells us that the Jews were ready to stone Jesus for blasphemy because He, being a man, made himself God?  Even though many Jews in this passage didn’t accept Jesus’ words (many did according to 42), it is apparent that they understood him clearly enough.  Through his “I Am” statements and the repeated reference to his intimate relationship with the Father, the Jews picked up on the fact that Jesus was claiming to be divine.  This fact flies in the face of much of modern liberal Christian thinking which claims that “the early church created the divine Jesus” or that “Jesus never himself claimed to be God, but that was added later by others.”  Modern philosophers and students of religion attempt to put Jesus on par with other religious figures throughout history, but the facts just don’t add up.  Here he is claiming to be God and the Jews are ready to stone him over it.  Either he was or he wasn’t or he was just a raving lunatic.  You have to do something with these and other texts though (notably 8:24), because they do say something profound about Jesus’ claims.

I choose to believe that he is the divine Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior.  What do you believe about Jesus’ identity?  What do your lost family and friends believe about Him?  Do they even know who Jesus is?  Do they know about his claims concerning himself?  Do they only believe that Jesus is a good man or  an enlightened teacher?  May God help us to make his true identity known to the world!

More to come later on chapter 11…

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With all the activities going on yesterday surrounding evening services, prayer meeting, hospital visits and choir practice, I was unable to find the time to get my word of encouragement up on the blog!  I also forgot to send out an email encouragement to everyone!  While I hope you all can forgive me, the busyness of my day actually reminded me of the tremendous challenge involved in a project like the one we are undertaking.  We are calling on people to fast (at interval times), pray, and meditate on Scripture consistently for 21 days.  That’s a long time!  All of us are busy and have lives that tend to get in the way of a project like this.  In short, it’s easy for us to miss a day…or perhaps even two.  So what do we do when our initial commitment has been “broken?”  I say, get right back up and pick up where you left off!  In the context of our “Find it Here” 21-day emphasis, just know that if you miss or forget a day of prayer, you need not give up altogether.  In fact, upon realization of your missing a day, pick right back up with your commitment and continue pressing on in prayer, fasting, meditation, and preparation for sharing Christ with your lost family and friends.

What’s our other option?  To quit altogether every time we face an obstacle?  I say no.  Press on.

So yesterday, you should have read through John 4 and meditated upon Christ, the soul-winner as you read the exchange between Jesus and the woman at the well.  Is there really any better picture in all of the New Testament of what compassionate gospel engagement should look like?  If there were any passage worthy of our meditation as we prepare to share Jesus with loved ones, this one is it!  Every aspect of Jesus’ behavior deserves our emulation in this passage.  A couple of observations worthy of noting about Jesus’ engagement in John 4 (and there are TONS of things that could be said here, but let me limit my comments to only a few!):

*First, Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is a classic example of what some call “cold-call” evangelism.  Now I understand that there is a tremendous emphasis today upon the relational aspect of evangelism (i.e. building a relationship first, then sharing Jesus at an appropriate and comfortable time).  I also affirm the value of relational evangelism.  However, we must not discount the possibility that often in His sovereignty, God arranges situations in which you might have an open door opportunity to share Christ with someone whom you have only just met.  In such a case, the relationship is not necessarily there, but the opportunity for sharing the gospel is.  In such cases, we must see these opportunities as divine appointments and be faithful to share Christ with the opportunity we have.  If we neglect these opportunities by reasoning that we lack the “relational depth” to bring up Christ, we will miss countless opportunities to share Jesus every day.  Clearly, Jesus cut through the relational red-tape and did that which showed the greatest possible love for this woman whom he had just met when he addressed her greatest need, namely her need for forgiveness and salvation.  Don’t believe or perpetuate the lie that people will only listen to you when they know you.  Thousands can give testimony to the fact that an effective witness can be shared on a city bus, in a grocery-store line, or at a sporting event with an otherwise total stranger.

Secondly, we see in various places in this passage that Jesus doesn’t allow himself to be side-tracked with trifling questions or debates but instead goes straight to the heart of gospel-witness by confronting the woman with the message of deliverance.  She asks questions at various points that could have led Jesus down the path of pointless debate and contention (i.e. verses 9, 12a, 19-20), but Jesus remains focused on addressing the key issues of sin and redemption by directing the conversation back to Himself and His redemptive work.  Often, it is tempting for us to “chase rabbits” and get involved in pointless debates when attempting to share Christ.  In an effort to avoid spiritual confrontation or deflect questions of eternal significance, our lost friends and family will often want to change the subject and distract us from the central message of redemption.  Have you ever been sharing the gospel and had a lost person ask a question like “why does God allow earthquakes to happen?” or “what happens to those who never hear the gospel?”  Now please understand, I am a strong believer that there is definitely a time and place for Christian apologetics.  I firmly believe that Christians should have answers for those questions and there are few things more valuable (in my opinion) than investing in a few good apologetics texts and being equipped to debate the merits of the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15).  However, when these questions appear in the context of an initial gospel witness, they are often little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to change the subject and avoid confronting the central truths of the gospel.  Don’t allow this to happen.  Tell your friends that “these are good questions, and I would like to address them later, but for now, I really want to know what you think about your own relationship with Jesus Christ.”  Stay focused.  Stay on course.  Point others to Christ.

Finally, this passage provides us with an amazing example of a truth long-known by those who study evangelism and church life, namely that newly born-again believers are our greatest source of evangelistic passion.  This woman immediately (v. 28-30) runs into town and begins telling others about Jesus.  New believers have a tendency to do this, and we must learn to harness that energy for the glory of God so that their testimony and passion burn brightly before days of difficulty set in.  We are sometimes afraid to let new converts share Christ for fear that they might not “get it right.”  We fear that their lack of theological training and time in church disqualifies them from witnessing to those friends and family who are still under their influence.  I say that when we do this, we fail to capitalize on one of the greatest resources available to us in the church.  The woman at the well was changed and she wanted her friends and neighbors to know!  Her faithful witness led to a tremendous revival in her town!  Oh that it would be so today.  Imagine if, at the end of our 21-day emphasis, dozens of our friends and family professed faith in Christ and left our church with a zeal and passion to tell everyone they knew about their new faith!  We would be wise to encourage this and to continue to encourage new believers to burn brightly and share with zeal.  Otherwise, they’ll become dull and disinterested in sharing their faith just like many who occupy pews today.

Well, for day 5, I pray that you will read, meditate, and pray for the lost.  Just a thought about chapter 5, take special notice of verse 18.  The Jews of Jesus’ day knew full well that He was claiming to be divine.  So much did they understand this that they wanted to kill him for it.  For those skeptics and outright liberals today who deny that Jesus ever claimed to be the divine Son of God, I would say that they need to reconsider the exchange in John 5:1-18.  Furthermore, verse 24 is one of the greatest evangelistic passages in all of John’s gospel.  Memorize it.  Understand it.  Use it.  For in it, Jesus states very simply what it means to have faith in Him and the eternal consequences of that choice.  He states “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

Let’s make sure this Easter that our loved ones “hear” and pray that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they “believe” so that they may obtain “eternal life” and escape everlasting “judgment.”  Let’s pray for these things together!

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Our Lord Jesus was, and remains, the greatest evangelist of all times.  In the gospels, we constantly see him dealing lovingly and relationally with lost and broken people and confronting them with truth.  Such is the case in John 3.  This chapter records Jesus’ interaction with the “seeker,” Nicodemus, and the subsequent gospel-centered conversation that follows (3:1-21).  In this passage and the one that follows it (John 3:22-36, which records John the Baptist’s discussion about Jesus’ Messianic ministry), the Apostle John records for us exchanges in which some of the essential, core truths of salvation are recorded.  These passages remind us that evangelistic encounters must be about more than just relationships, love, and invitations to church.  They are also about engaging false worldviews with theological and Christological truth.  Notice the way this is done in John 3:

* In v. 3, Jesus speaks of the absolute necessity of regeneration
* In v. 8, He speaks of the activity of the Spirit in regeneration
* In v. 14-15, He speaks of the centrality of sacrifice to the plan of redemption
* In v. 16 (and again by John the Baptist in v. 36), we are reminded of the simplicity of faith
* In v. 18-19, Jesus speaks to the difficult truths surrounding the reality of human sinfulness and the resultant inevitability of divine judgment

Jesus’ evangelistic encounter with Nicodemus leaves us with no doubt that when he spoke with the lost, he engaged them with difficult truths concerning God and the gospel.  We must do the same.  And we must pray, like the Apostle Paul, that God will not only open the doors of opportunity for us, but that He will also give us the words to speak and the boldness to speak them when the opportunity arises (Col 4:2-5).

Today, pray for your lost friends to whom you have committed.  Meditate on these truths from John 3.  And pray for one another.

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“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land- not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.  (Amos 8:11)

In his somewhat recent book The Shape of Faith to Come (B&H, 2008), Dr. Brad Waggoner reveals the results of a study of the spiritual development and habits of over 2000 professed (Protestant) Christians.  He studied, over a period of two years, the spiritual formation and progress of a group of Christians by looking at 21 key areas in which every disciple of Christ should be expected to grow (e.g. prayer, Bible-reading, church attendance, service, etc…).  His findings are both surprising and disheartening.  In a nutshell, they reveal very low scores in almost every category studied.  The conclusion: that Christians today are not taking seriously at all spiritual formation and are shockingly weak in their faith.  Is it any wonder that we are not reaching the world with the gospel? 

For the purposes of this article, the findings of particular interest to me are those concerning Bible-reading.  On page 69, Waggoner reveals that only 16% of the thousands surveyed said that they read their Bibles every day.  Personally, from my experience as a pastor, even that number sounds a little high, but let’s just accept it at face value; that means that only 16 of every 100 Christians read their Bibles daily.  Another 20% said that they read it “a few times per week” and another 12% said that they read it “weekly.”  In all that means that 48% of those Christians surveyed said they read their Bibles at some time during an average week.  If that sounds optimistic, you have failed to think about the implications of the number.  This means that the other 52% (OVER HALF) do not read their Bibles at all during a week.  We’re not reaching the world with the gospel because we don’t know the gospel as given in the Word. 

Given the resources available in the day and time in which we live, I find this inexcusable.  There are literally dozens and dozens of ways for individual Christians to get their “Bible intake” conveniently today.  We have graduated from traditional reading (which is still the BEST way to get your daily Bible intake!) to cassette tapes of the entire Bible, to daily online reading programs to i-phone apps which will dramatically read your daily Scripture portions for you!  I found one a few weeks ago called Bible.is   It is an INCREDIBLE app for my i-phone which allows me to hear well-done, dramatic readings of the Scriptures in various translations (I prefer the ESV, which is available) from anywhere at anytime.  I have been using the app to work through the Book of Acts with my children in the month of February.  We listen to the dramatic reading while reading, pausing, and discussing the text in our own Bibles, and it is all available right at our fingertips from anywhere we find ourselves.  I have also been listening to the Old Testament prophets while working out at the gym (with earbuds of course!).  How much more simple can it get?  What excuse do we have left?  Should we not be MORE Bible-saavy and Bible literate than any previous generation?

The issue of Bible-intake should be one of major concern to every Christian.  Granted, there are more ways than just reading that a Christian can take in the Word of God, but reading the Bible is the primary method of Bible intake for most Christians.  Don Whitney points this out in his excellent book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  He contends that Christians can improve their practice of taking the Word of God in to their lives through developing such disciplines as:

 1. Hearing the Word preached or taught or even with modern technology, listening to the Word of God read aloud on CD or i-phone apps.  In Nehemiah 8 those who heard the Word attentively encountered God in His Word and were transformed.

2. Reading the Word.  While I am a traditionalist that still prefers good old-fashioned “Bible-reading,” this can be done today electronically through smart-phones, apps, e-reading, etc…  Some folks I know no longer bring a traditional print-Bible to church anymore, but rather carry their downloaded ESV on their phones! 

3. Studying the Word.

4. Memorizing the Word.

5. Meditating on the Word.

6. Applying the Word.

The bottom line is that the most basic element of spiritual formation for the Christian has to do with the child of God hearing from God by daily hearing from His Word.  Anyone  calling themselves a Christian but having no desire to regularly spend time hearing from God in His Word has cause to either question their spiritual maturity or question their salvation.  When following Christ, we want to spend time in the Word of God!  It is there where we find the story of Jesus, the presentation of the true nature of man, the history of God’s people, God’s direction and will for our lives, and truth concerning every issue to which the Bible speaks (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 

Consider the following questions:

1. How much time do you daily spend in the Word of God? 

2. Have you ever read through the entire Bible and grasped its message from start to finish?

3. How confident are you that you have matured in your grasp of biblical truths and doctrinal positions?

4. How would your life change if you daily spent 20-30 minutes reading God’s Word this year?

5. What obstacles keep you from daily reading of the Word?

6.  What would a church look like where all of the membership were regularly reading lengthy passages of Scripture together as a body?

7.  How much different would the doctrinal positions of most churches today be if their membership was regularly and intently engaging God in His Word? 

8.  How would our nation be transformed if only 50% of its people regularly, daily, and intently read the Word of God?

9. How would our churches be transformed if only 50% of our people were regularly encountering God in His Word? 

10.  What is the other 52% of Christianity going to say as an excuse when they stand before God and account for rarely or never having time to hear from Him in His Word? 

I know these are weighty questions, but I ask them with sincerity and from a pastor’s heart.  I have a desire to lead our church to be more actively engaged with the Word of God.  It is a simple thing, I know, but it has the power to transform the lives of our people and the life of the Christian community.  Consider beginning an accountability group with a few other growing Christians by which you hold one another accountable on this issue of Bible-intake and regularly read and discuss common books and passages.  Consider using Lifeway’s LifeWalk magazines as a guide and meeting weekly and monthly to hold one another accountable and encourage one another to stay on course!

 Don’t wait until next January to begin your “reading-through-the-Bible-in-a-year-program!”  Begin today by committing yourself to reading 3-5 chapters per day and you will be amazed how far you get in a short time.   

Let’s start a program today of getting “Back to the Basics” when it comes to our Christian walk.  Let’s start with the simplest of things, reading our Bible regularly and intentionally, and ask God to help us develop this discipline in order that we may be in a place to hear what He has to say to us and our churches! 

Don’t be a part of the 52% in Waggoner’s study, instead, strive to be in that 16% who daily engage God in His Word and can say like the Psalmist, “your words are sweet to my taste!  Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103, paraphrased)

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Just last week in our church, while preaching through the gospel of Luke, I addressed the passage in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (6:20-26) where Jesus spoke to his followers and told them, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God (20b)…” followed by “but woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.” (24)

 

As a church, we wanted to get our arms around what this actually meant.  Could this mean that all Christians must be economically poor?  Surely not, for later in the New Testament Paul gives Timothy instructions about how to disciple the rich in the church to use their wealth wisely and by so doing, to honor God.  There is nothing inherently spiritual about being poor, especially if the poverty is caused by foolishness or laziness.  Is it speaking merely of “spiritual bankruptcy” or poverty of spirit alone, as Matthew includes in his accounting of the beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12)?  Although I do think that the greater emphasis of this verse speaks to the spiritual aspects of these qualities, I do not think that we should totally ignore the real, material implications of the passage either. 

 

I concluded my teaching on the passage by indicating that these characteristics (i.e. poverty, hunger, weeping, willingness to be ostracized for the gospel) while having literal and concrete applications, speak primarily to a spiritual reality whereby the true follower of Christ embraces these values as a real possibility when considering what it means to follow Christ.  Blessing in the heavenly and eternal sense will come to those who are willing to live lives characterized by these qualities if that is what it takes to follow Christ wholly.  Conversely, those who refuse the call to follow Christ but instead pursue the sensual and temporal pleasures of this life (i.e. material riches, sumptuous dining, a “party” mentality demonstrated by unceasing laughter and mirth, and acceptance and popularity in the world) will ultimately face “woe” because of their choices.  Their unwillingness to embrace the King and Kingdom values will result in short-term satisfaction, but eternal disappointment. 

 

But I never realized one week ago just how powerful an illustration of these principles would arise in our culture this week.

 

All week, America has heard the torrid details of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s illicit affairs with prostitutes while governing New York.  The Governor spent upwards of $80,000 on high-dollar sexual escapades with a VIP escort service out of New York City.  His family is doubtless devastated and shamed.  His professional career is ruined.  His wife is broken and certainly his children embarrassed.  His hypocrisy is inexcusable. 

 

Following his announcement, apology, and resignation, America began to learn about another individual; the young (22 year-old), attractive, high-dollar prostitute named “Kristen.”  As the story unfolded throughout the week, Kristen became a virtual celebrity, having her songs downloaded (she is an aspiring musician) by the thousands online and having 1-million dollars offered to her by a leading pornographic publisher if she agrees to appear nude in his magazine. 

 

Now before I go any further, let me say that I truly feel sorry for this girl.  I realize that she came forth declaring that she “loves her life” as a prostitute and that she has presented herself as someone who is almost “proud” of her life as a “glamorous call-girl.”  But peel beneath those outward layers, and I believe you will find a very sad person who is longing for authentic relationship and intimacy, the kind that cannot be bought and sold.  I believe that her true heart’s longing is for the very kind of intimate love and acceptance that the Lord Jesus Christ offers to all those who forsake this world and follow him.  I, for one, will be praying for this young woman, that she will find genuine love before her life is completely ruined by a string of one-night-stands from desperate, lustful, lonely, hypocritical men who merely want to use her for temporary pleasures.  I hope you will pray for her as well. 

 

But my point is that her situation exemplifies well what Jesus spoke of in his beatitudes.  Here is a woman who will likely become a “mini-celebrity” because of her gross immorality and involvement in a sexual scandal that has ruined lives.  She will undoubtedly appear on various television venues, secure book deals, make lots of money promoting products, and perhaps even become a millionaire by posing nude in a magazine.  If so, she will have chosen her path and she will have her reward in this life and “receive her comfort in full.” 

 

Meanwhile, I tried to ponder just how many millions of authentic, dedicated Christians today (not to mention throughout the ages) have lived their lives in relative obscurity and often even in poverty because of their decision to follow Christ.  How many pastors today struggle bi-vocationally to shepherd God’s people and simply provide the essentials for their family?  How many seminary students the same age as this young woman are laboring 20 hours per day between school, work and raising a family so that they can effectively serve God in a church where they will likely scrap and scratch just to survive?  How many missionaries forsake lucrative careers in other fields to follow the call of Christ to a foreign land where they will be alone and ostracized for the sake of the gospel?  How many Christians in foreign lands today choose to follow Christ even though it may mean being isolated from their families, losing their jobs, and perhaps giving their life?  I’ll bet if you asked them, they wouldn’t trade the riches they have in Christ to be in the position of this celebrity prostitute either. 

 

When you compare the two value systems, one exemplified by a prostitute-celebrity who is glamourized and embraced by the world, and the other exemplified by millions of followers of Christ who rather choose poverty than the riches of this life, then the value system set-forth by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount becomes very understandable, real and tangible. 

 

Ultimately, who will fare better from an eternal perspective?  Jesus says that the poor obtain the kingdom (or reign) of God in their lives, both for now and eternity.  And what about those who reject the King of Kings only to follow their own twisted ethic leading them toward the pursuit of riches and celebrity in this life?  Jesus, again, says something of great significance to them.  Paraphrased, Jesus says “you might as well enjoy the riches of this life, because it is all you will get.” 

 

Ultimately, this is the same dilemma that the Psalmist faced in Psalm 73, where he envied the “prosperity of the wicked” (v. 3), until God showed him “the end” of the wicked (17), that ultimately they would face eternal judgment.  Then, David concluded that “the nearness of God is my good” (27), demonstrating that he had learned a lesson about envying those who are rich in this life, for they are often so at the cost of their own eternal good. 

 

Of course there is more to be said about what news-stories like this one imply about the state of our culture.  A passage in Isaiah comes to mind, where God condemns those who “call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness,” (5:20).  There is something inherently wrong with a culture which jumps on stories like this to raise people like a home-wrecker and prostitute to the status of celebrity.  What kind of world do we live in where the people of God are regularly mocked and ridiculed while criminals, liars, murderers, thieves and prostitutes achieve cult celebrity-status?  But methinks that is a diatribe for another time… 

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