This was a tough Quiet Time with God for me this morning. I hesitated to share it. But I will post it, in hopes that it might help someone else to get real before the Lord.
Look: “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” (2 Peter 2:20-21)
Listen: This is a bracing word!
It reminds me of what the preacher says in Hebrews 10:26-27: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”
They warn me and all believers against intentional rebellion against God’s will after Christ’s grace has come to our lives. Acts 17:30 says: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”
Once “love comes to town,” though, once Christ entered our lives, we could/can no longer claim ignorance of God’s will for us. As beneficiaries of what Christ accomplished on the cross, our desire should be, from simple thankfulness, to seek to live in accordance with God’s will as revealed in His Law. Obedience to the law can’t save me. But obedience to God’s law is the desire of anyone who knows how much God loved and loves us through Christ. One look to the cross should motivate any Christians to seek to live according to God’s will for human beings. Thankfulness should incite me to delight in the law of the Lord and to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:1-2)
Deliberate, intentional sin after one has experienced grace is a kind of “repentance from” righteousness, a walking away from Christ, a choice to stand outside the grace of God. It means that one removes the covering of Christ and once more stands naked before God in sin. And the wages of sin are still death (Romans 6:23).
That’s a terrifying thing!
And there have been times when I have intentionally, knowingly wandered away from You, God. I have turned to sin I knew to be wrong. I have done things I knew to be displeasing to you. I took Your grace for granted. I took the benefits of eternal life with You from Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross as my right. But I have no intrinsic right to claim life in Your kingdom. That’s a gift given to those who empty themselves of the sin of this world and tage hold of you! (Acts 3:19; Mark 1:15; Acts 16:30-32; John 3:16-18).
When, knowing Christ and His grace and Your Law, and still knowingly sin, I am, at the least, on very shaky ground.
And, as one who is called and presumes to teach Your Word, the ground is even shakier when I intentionally defy You. “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
Respond: God, in Jesus’ name, forgive me for the contempt I have shown to You and to Your Word. Forgive me for taking for granted Jesus, His painful cross, His humiliation, and His death for sinners like me. Forgive me for sinning knowingly, even as Your Holy Spirit told me, “Don’t do this, Mark!” Forgive me and restore me. I call upon You, Lord, with as much authenticity and humility as a human being is capable of, and I beg You, for Jesus’ sake to forgive these and all my sins. Help me to call on Your name and have my relationship with You restored. Send Your Holy Spirit to come alongside of me and speak Your truth--both Law and Gospel--to me, and help me to listen. Fill me and guide me with Your Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Erase from me all the feelings of hatred and contempt and disdain and all the words and actions that come from me reflecting these sins. Forgive me for my covetousness and help me to be content with You and what You have given to me. Forgive me for the ways in which I have hurt others. Forgive me for stewing over what others think of me. Forgive me for focusing on what’s unimportant and forgetting the important to which You call me. Let "daily repentance and renewal" be a feature of my life, an authentic and repeated surrender to you each day so that my life will express the gratitude I have for the gracious gift of Christ.
"...Without you, without you, it means nothing, nothing
Without you, without you, it means nothing
"It's never too late to try
It's never too late to finally find a way to make you right
I don't need nothing money could buy
I just need you by my side
I'm telling you one more time
It's never to late to begin forever..."
Today, during my Quiet Time with God, I reflected on what God has to say through the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1. God especially spoke to me in 2 Peter 1:5-11:
5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-11)
Just before this paragraph, Peter has told his audience that God, by His grace given through Christ to those who believe, has given “all things that pertain to life and godliness.”
In other words, through Christ, God gives the power of the Holy Spirit to believers to live and thrive in godliness. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to live in ways that are beyond our own capabilities, to live as people made in the image of God, set free from the sinful state into which we’re born. Jesus sets us free to love and live in ways that are foreign to the world and the power for which only God gives. (In fact, Peter uses the verb give, several times in these few verses.)
Filled with this power, Peter says, pursue the practice of qualities that will confirm--to us, to the world, and to God, I surmise--the presence and power of God’s grace in Christ working in our lives.
Verses 3 and 4 of this chapter make clear that Peter is NOT saying that the pursuit of these qualities are a means by which we save ourselves. Christ is the only One Who can save us.
But when Peter says to “make every effort to supplement [some translations say add to] your faith…” with these qualities, I think he means this: The Holy Spirit implants every one of these qualities in believers. They exist latently, like barrels of beer (or, you prefer, soft drinks) waiting for the Christian to tap into and lap up. Or, they’re like blank checks of character just waiting for the Christian to cash and live out.
Even Christians, of course, who know and trust in Christ, continue to be both sinners and saints. For the Christian not lulled into fatalism by their inborn sinful nature (this is part of what Luther is describing in The Small Catechism when he speaks of “despair and other great and shameful sins”), life with Christ is a constant war between the allurements of the old self, the evil of the world, and the evil laid before us by the devil, on the one hand, and the “narrow path” of life, a life of joy, peace, and hope that only comes from Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14).
Paul speaks of his own struggle with this in Romans 7:21-25:
“21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
Christ is the only way to win this battle to be truly human!
It can’t be won by being virtuous. It can be won by tapping into the virtues that God gives to those who turn to Him daily through Christ.
So, Paul says elsewhere: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
In other words, quit asking questions like:
Am I happy?
Am I getting enough of the stuff of this life?
Am I being appreciated?
Am I honored by others?
Blah blah blah blah!
If Jesus is all I need, my daily bread, my living water, questions like these are irrelevant.
My call then is to tap into those qualities with which the Holy Spirit imbues believers in Jesus, to “supplement” my faith by living out the calls of these qualities.
By pursuing the qualities Peter talks about in these verses, rather than pursuing happiness, others’ appreciation, money, and so on, I will put all earthly things in perspective and I will be on the path of God.
So, Peter says, pursue virtue. Virtue means moral goodness, uprightness in actions, graciousness toward others. It’s living as the loving person I want, in my heart of hearts, to be.
Peter says to add to virtue, knowledge. This references both knowledge of the facts and a wise reflection on the facts.
Knowledge and wisdom are only as reliable as the sources from which they’re drawn, as we’ve learned painfully from the fake news sites that played such an important part in the past presidential campaign.
The ultimate truth source, of course, is God. Jesus says in John 14:6 that He is the way, the truth, and the the life. And Proverbs 2:6 says: “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
If I’m to supplement virtue with knowledge, I must begin (every single day) with God’s Word. I must be steeped in the Bible, God’s authoritative revelation of truth!
I must supplement virtue and knowledge with self-control. This is an ongoing battle for me. I tend to be a grazer, allowing myself to be led along from one thing to another by what interests me at any given moment, then wonder where the time has gone and why I haven’t achieved what I set out to do, or to mindlessly munch on snacks, then wonder why I’ve gained so much weight.
But God has given to me the ability to be self-controlled, if I will only tap into the power of the Holy Spirit residing within me as a believer in Jesus! Paul speaks of self-control as a “fruit of the Holy Spirit,” evidence of God having taken up residence in the life of a believer: “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Next, Peter says, we’re to supplement our faith in Christ with steadfastness. The idea here is patient endurance.
This means honoring one’s godly commitments, whether they’re my commitments to follow Christ, stay in my marriage, take care of my kids, honor my parents, doing an honest day’s work, treating my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), respecting God’s ten commandments (all of them), and so on.
Is there any Christian who has ever gone without breaking at least one of these commitments? No.
Whether in thought, word, or deed, we (I) have broken them all. But repentance is all about returning to God through Christ and once again living in His gracious power to help us be more conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
For an imperfect person like me, part of steadfastness is knowing Who to come home to when I have strayed. I need to remember to come home to Jesus Christ!
Next, I am to supplement my faith with godliness. This means devotion to and reverence for God.
When I think of a devoted or reverent person, I don’t think of someone who solemnly worships with liturgical correctness. (Though the liturgies of the Church built on God’s Word, can draw us closer to God.)
I don’t think either of a person who seemingly floats above the lives of mere mortals, someone who wouldn’t, in the old phrase, “say s--t if they had a mouthful of it.”
Strong’s Concordance says of someone who is godly: “...[their] inner response to the things of God which shows itself in godly piety…” It says that godliness: “...naturally expresses itself in reverence for God.”
A godly person is one who seeks to live in accordance with the revealed will of God, who seeks to honor God by living a life of love for God and love for neighbor, including loving God and neighbor enough to be committed to making disciples for Jesus.
A godly person seeks to wipe out the disconnect between what I confess on Sunday mornings and how I act on Friday night.
After godliness, I’m to supplement by faith with brotherly affection, φιλαδελφίαν (philadelphian). This is inside baseball--inside the Church--stuff. We are to cherish each of our sisters and brothers in Christ in the Church.
The reason for this is simple. It is impossible to be a disciple of Christ without a connection to Christ’s Church. Life with Christ only happens when we rub shoulders with other believers in Christ in the fellowship of the Church.
The Bible calls fellow believers in Christ sisters and brothers, God being our Father. The Church is an extended family.
In any family, there are bound to be tensions between siblings, including the ones who live in the same house.
In fact, I think that the family (which Luther describes as “the little Church”) is designed to help form us as disciples capable of loving others even when disagreeing with others or being different from others by subjecting us to the very differences between people which, apart from Christ, would drive us into isolation and self-absorption.
Just so, God places us in the Church so that we are forced to confront our own sin, our self-absorption, and our lovelessness. Christ puts us in the Church so that there are people speaking for Him who can tell us no, when we need to hear it, and yes, when we need to hear it.
Proverbs 27:17 says: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” God gives us sisters and brothers in the Church to rub us the wrong way when we need it and to lift us up when we need it.
He does this to form us as disciples, so Christ will be more and more essential to our lives and so that Christ will be more evidenced to others in us.
The only new commandment Jesus gave has to do with His Church: “"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
This differs from the great commandment, which Jesus reiterated but goes back to the Old Testament: It commands us to love others as we love ourselves.
The new command is for Christians in Christ’s Church: We are to love each other exactly the way Jesus loves us, with a willingness to die for the sake of our sisters and brothers in the faith and for Christ Himself. Without constant turning again to Christ, I am incapable of being a true philadelphian.
Finally, I’m to supplement my faith in Christ with love. The word in the original Greek is agapen.
Strong’s says that this word describes love as a moral choice. In other words, love, as the Bible understands it, isn’t primarily about feelings. There may be brotherly affection, as mentioned earlier. But love is primarily the moral choice you make to seek what’s best for others, sometimes in spite of what you may be feeling at the moment or even what's in our own interest.
Its biggest example, of course, is Jesus on the cross. Jesus had made it clear in the garden that He wanted to avoid the cross. Yet His love for the Father and for sinners like me caused Him to make the decision to take the cross.
If brotherly affection is inside baseball, this is more about everybody else in the Christian's life. Our attitude and actions toward the world are to be characterized by love, even toward those who hate us. (Even when others force us to war against them, we must retain our love for them. If we allow ourselves to mirror the hatred of those who choose to war against us, we lose our moral grounding. Instead, when others make war against us, we must war back, but not engage in the savagery of hatred that might lead to indefensible acts like the murder of civilians or torture.)
I can only supplement my faith in Christ with these qualities through deliberately, intentionally, and daily turning from sin and turning to Christ.
The last Elton John LP I bought was Caribou (1974). That was meh and nothing he has released since then has even reached that level. After that, he adopted a kind of Anthony Newley-vocal style, employed on most forgettable tracks. (At least to my ears.)
But early in his career, Elton John's music, ranging from rockers to ballads, was wonderful. And this song, from 1970, is one of his best efforts.
From 1986. The LP, Press to Play, was otherwise unmemorable. The photos are sort of cheesy examples of Macca in that time period. But the melody is amazing and his voice was at the top of its powers, I think. (The following LP, from 1989, Flowers in the Dirt, a true classic, also finds McCartney in fine voice.)
McCartney simply couldn't sing this song any longer, at least not do so and do justice to it. "Life goes on."
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
This is the Jesus Prayer, which comes to us from the Orthodox tradition. In its few words, we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to confess Jesus as Lord and Messiah, Jesus' deity, our sin, and both our need for and faith in His mercy.
The Jesus Prayer is both a simple heart cry and a profound statement of mature faith and theological truth. It's a humble submission to the God we know in Christ for all who say it, not as a rote recitation, but as an honest call out to the God.
Read here and here to learn more about this historic prayer.
We Americans evidently can’t get enough of royalty. The British royals--the queen, William and Kate and their kids, Harry, Prince Charles and wife Camilla--can be seen on magazine covers whenever you’re checking out at the grocery story, for example. The Crown is the latest Netflix sensation. Recent popular movies include The Queen and The King’s Speech. We seem to love royalty, even though the royals are little more than government-subsidized celebrities, walking photo-ops who, like Kim Kardashian, are only famous for being famous.
We even apply our love for royalty to our politics. Every four years, we elect presidents who, voters hope, will act like imperious kings or queens, waving their magic wands and veto pens to enact everything we want from them. We want kings and queens...as long as they give us exactly what we want and tell us exactly what we want to hear.
And if a king isn’t willing to be that sort of king, choosing instead to provide people with what they need rather than what they want, we human beings can be brutal to kings who disappoint us.
That, friends, is why we killed the King of kings, God in human flesh, Jesus.
In Jesus’ dying, portrayed in today’s Gospel lesson, we see that while Jesus isn’t the the king the human race wants, He is precisely the King we need.
He is our daily bread, our living water, the way, the truth, and the life, all that we need.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to make promises like those of Pedro when he ran for class president in Napoleon Dynamite.
Jesus instead, came to save us from ourselves. He came to give forgiveness and new life and a reason for living to those daring enough to confess their sin and their need of a Savior.
Our Gospel lesson for this Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church Year, finds Jesus processing on the first Good Friday to the only throne this world has yet offered Him: the cross. Yet even there on the cross, the eyes of faith see that Christ is our King!
Look at our lesson, Luke 23:27-43, please. “A large number of people followed [Jesus as He bore His cross to the place of crucifixion], including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then [quoting prophecy from Hosea 10:8, Jesus said:] ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”and to the hills, “Cover us!’”
“Look,” Jesus is saying, “My cross is all part of the plan. I came into the world to go to the cross, to erase the power of sin and death over those who repent and believe in Me, offering Myself as the sinless sacrifice for your sins. I’ve warned you of the fate that awaits those who reject Me. They will stand naked in their sin and be condemned to life without God when judgment day comes. They’ll wish they were never born. They’ll wish they'd never had children as they, following their parents’ lead, also turn from Me and turn from life, and experience eternal destruction.
"Those who endure in following Me live eternally with God, have God’s loving presence in their lives here. So, don’t cry for Me; I’m doing My Father’s will and will be with Him eternally.
"Cry for yourselves and your hardness of heart, your stubborn desire to be like God, your stubborn insistence on having God only be the King you want.
"Cry for yourselves because your rebellion and indifference toward God are the way of death!”
Jesus' words to the grieving, weeping women are remarkably fearless and loving, especially coming from a man marching to His execution to say. As always, Jesus thoughts were not for Himself, but for us. That can’t be said of any other king, president, emperor, or prime minister in the history of the world, no matter how good they may have been by earthly standards.
Verse 32: “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”
In Jesus, everything is turned upside down. We honor our earthly kings. We give them parades and honor guards, parades and limousines. But Jesus is subjected to humiliation in many ways.
In the original Greek in which Luke wrote his gospel, the word translated as criminals is κακοῦργοι, (kakourgoi) literally, evil workers. These two guys are notorious public enemies and Jesus, treated with contempt despite doing no wrong, is crucified between them!
Yet Jesus responds differently than what the world would expect. In those days, it was routine for people about to be executed to invoke curses on their enemies. But Jesus invokes no curse. Instead, He prays that His Father will forgive them--will forgive us--for ignorantly rejecting Him.
I confess, folks, that there are many times during my quiet times that God speaks to me through His Word and I realize a sin that I’ve been perpetrating ignorantly and habitually. Knowing that Jesus prayed this prayer for ignorant sinners like me allows me to offer my repentance in His name with greater confidence in God’s grace than I would otherwise have.
Jesus is no vengeful royal. He never once said, "Off with their heads." Jesus is a servant King Who loves us enough to confront us for our sins and then give us grace when we honestly own our sins and take Him as our King each day.
Luke 23:35: “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar [this was the drink of poor people, not of kings] and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’”
“If Jesus were really a king,” the people, the rulers, and one of the criminals were saying, “He would save Himself. He’d have the ego, panache, presence, guts, and power to look out for number one.”
Their taunts echo the temptations the devil put before Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread,” the devil told Jesus [Luke 4:3]. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from [the pinnacle of temple],” the devil told Jesus [Luke 4:9].
But, listen: Jesus didn’t come into this world to save Himself; He came to save us.
And He had no reason to prove Himself; He knew precisely Who He was: the great I AM, "God in flesh appearing"; He didn’t and doesn’t need to prove Himself to anyone.
And folks, when we belong to this God we meet in Jesus, we have nothing to prove either. When we’re tempted to sin or when we’re tested by life, we can say with confidence, “I belong to the King of kings! No temptation is too great that God won’t bear it for me. No sin is so egregious that God won’t destroy its power over me with His grace. No situation is so horrible, no grief so hard, that Christ, the King Who died on the cross, can’t help me bear and overcome. Bad, inexplicable things may come to us in this life; but the Savior Who bore all of the world’s bad and inexplicable things on the cross has given me victory, life, peace, and hope."
God has already proven the Christian’s eternal value on the cross and at the empty tomb.
And He keeps proving our eternal value at the baptismal font, in His Word, and in the bread and wine--the body and blood--He gives to all repent and believe in Him.
Jesus is a King Who doesn’t care about His standing in the polls; He loves us and does the right thing by us always, whatever we may think. As our African-American Christian sisters and brothers have taught us to say, “God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.” In Jesus, we belong to that good, loving, relentlessly gracious God!
If on that first Good Friday, the disciples and the whole world had given up on Jesus being King, one man knew by faith that Jesus was and always would be King. Verse 40: “But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
The second criminal came to be a citizen and subject of Christ’s kingdom in the way all of us must. He acknowledged that He was a sinner in need of saving and by faith in Christ, appealed for forgiveness and new life.
This second criminal saw that Jesus was sinless, wasn’t acting on His own behalf, that He bore the pain and humiliation of this execution, not with bitterness or recrimination, but with love for world that scorned Him.
And so this criminal, enlightened by the good news of God’s love for unworthy humanity and filled with the Holy Spirit, asks Jesus to let him be in His Kingdom.
Jesus doesn’t hesitate in His response. He doesn’t give the man a set of religious rules to accept. He doesn’t lay down conditions. He doesn’t say that eventually the man might be able to earn his way into Christ’s kingdom.
Jesus says, “Today you will be with me.” Today!
And that’s Christ’s promise to us right now as well.
We don’t have to wait to die in order to enjoy the presence and help of Christ the King in our lives.
He can forgive us today.
He can give us new life today.
He can get us through life’s hardest times and be our good shepherd today.
He can make us part of His kingdom today and always.
When we recognize our sin and Christ’s sinlessness...when we see our need and Christ’s ability to be all that we need, Christ is our King.
Jesus won’t make our wildest dreams come true. He will give us new dreams--dreams of forgiven sin, fellowship with God, purposeful living, resurrected life with God and all the saints--and make every one of them come true!
Psalm 37:4 promises: “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” May our only delight come from worshiping, serving, and living under the rule of the only Royal worthy of praise, glory, honor, applause, worship, or a place on the covers of all those grocery store magazines: Christ the King! Amen