“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this…” (Mark 8:31,32a NIV)
Step By Step – Seeking Jerusalem
We have come to the end of our study on the Way of the Cross. There were many things that we did not deal with and many others where we just told the story in our own way but our goal was to bring to light the power and the glory of walking in the way of the cross. Here is a day-by-day outline, each with a summary, giving you the basic idea of what we talked about in each blog. My prayer is that you find it useful and will refer to it often as you learn how to walk the way of the cross as the heart of your discipleship with the Lord.
- The Plan – Ash Wednesday (Mark 8: 31,32a) Jesus did not use parables to teach them about the cross, he spoke plainly. It was his life that would be the lesson, his experience that would be their teacher. The Way of the Cross is always so. It is clear and plain and needs no fancy words. It is a path which we must walk, not endlessly discuss. It is the dust of the road on the way to Jerusalem that is the aroma of real life.
- The Confession (Matthew 16: 13b-17) Just before Jesus predicts his suffering and death in Jerusalem, we have this wonderful moment when Peter gives his famous confession about who Jesus is. You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Heady stuff. Especially in the context of what was going on at that point in Jesus’ ministry.
- The Rebuke (Mark 8: 32,33) Just when Peter is on a roll, he puts his foot in it. Badly. What in the world is he thinking? Is he really “rebuking” Jesus? He had just given his wonderful confession of faith against all odds, against the theology of the scribes and pharisees, against public opinion. Jesus is the Messiah and he is the Son of the Living God. That was his confession. He is not to be manipulated, nor forced to be King. He will find his own way, set his own agenda. He will lead and I will follow. And all of the other disciples (except for Judas, I suppose) felt the same way apparently.
- The Denial (Mark 6:34,35) It would be easy to leave the cross out of Jesus’ words. “”If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself …. and follow me.” To deny yourself is to deny your own selfish desires, your own ambitions and to follow Christ instead. To obey him rather than to obey yourself. To be moral. To do what is right in God’s eyes rather than merely your own. Beautiful sentiment but not what Jesus is talking about here. The words “take up your cross” gives purpose and meaning to the idea of “following Christ.” You cannot take the key words, “take up your cross,” out of the sentence.
- The Judgment (Mark 8:36-38) The problem with Christianity is that it’s dangerous. I’ve talked with lots of people who were not Christians and they all agreed. But not for the reasons you might think. They all say the same thing. Christianity is dangerous because it teaches that there is a judgment after death. If you are a non-believer, a secular humanist, you generally believe that there is nothing after death. You just die. Like turning off the TV, your consciousness just stops, goes out, loses power and disappears. That’s it.
- The Power and the Glory (Mark 8:38-9:1) I don’t know about you, but my blood runs hot and cold at the same time when I hear these words. Think about it. On the one hand, Jesus is saying that if we are ashamed to follow him on the road to Jerusalem in true discipleship, then he will be ashamed of us on the day of judgment. Then, quick as you like, he reveals the other side of the coin and says that some of the disciples standing there would see with their own eyes, before they died, “the kingdom of God come with power.” Dread on the one hand. Excitement on the other.
- Holiness (Hebrews 12: 7-10; 14) There are a few verses of Scripture that used to scare me to death (and still make me tremble). This is one of them. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord,” the author to the book of Hebrews tells us. What are we to make of that? These words come in the context of our discipleship in the way of the cross. We already know that we are to expect hardship, persecution, suffering and even death if we are going to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. Seeking the new Jerusalem life of spiritual unity, anointing and abundant life in Christ. It will not be easy.
- The Cost (1) (Luke 9:57-62) There are two further passages in the gospels which deal with the cost of discipleship, both of them found in the Gospel of Luke. The first one (above) is considered the “light” sayings of Jesus on the cost of discipleship and the second one (which we will deal with tomorrow) is considered the “heavy” one. Both are instructive and well worth taking a closer look at. After all, Jesus said at one point, you need to know what you’re getting into. Most of us have no idea.
- The Cost (2) (Luke 14:23-27, 33-35) Do you have ears to hear? I hope so. This is important. Discipleship is serious business. Many churchgoers will simply not make it to glory because they did not take discipleship seriously. Yes, it is an expression of your walk with God and not a pre-requisite for salvation, but it is still pretty serious stuff since the expression of your life is evidence of what is within. If the quality of your walk with God does not look something like what Jesus expects, then shouldn’t you ask yourself whether or not your weak-kneed, half-hearted attempts at church work is more an expression of a religious spirit than true discipleship? This is the “heavy” stuff and Jesus is pretty blunt about what he expects from us if we want to follow him. Otherwise just go home.
- Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-4) I´m looking forward to my transfiguration, aren’t you? It will be great! What you see here today is not the real me. Yes, I have been changed and I am a new creation since I now have the Holy Spirit in me and that has fundamentally changed my nature. But I still have a transfiguration coming, don’t you? Jesus certainly did and it scared the disciples half to death.
- Desert Warriors (Luke 4: 1,2) We are going to spend a little bit of time talking further about the Transfiguration of Jesus (and us). The Transfiguration is a major theme in the latter half of the ministry of Jesus. It is all about hidden glory being revealed. It’s about getting a glimpse of the glory of Jesus as seen from the Father’s perspective, even if just for a moment, so that you can learn to recognize his glory even when it appears to be hidden from our eyes. It really is about having eyes to see and ears to hear. We are blind to the glory of God all around us, much less in Jesus and in his ministry. We are often blind also to the glory of Christ in others, in the church, and in the quality and nature of the relationships we have with the people all around us. Hidden Glory Revealed. Transfiguration.
- Revealing the Glory (II Corinthians 3:9-11) John Eldredge, in his book Waking the Dead, talks about three eternal truths that we must “see” with the eyes of our heart. 1. Things are not what they seem. 2. This is a world at war. 3. Each of us has a crucial role to play. The key concept that Mr. Eldredge uses to convey these ideas is the famous phrase from St. Irenaeus. “The glory of God is man fully alive.” I would add, for clarification, “in Christ.”
- Maturity (Colossians 4:12; Ephesians 4:11-13) Here is a truth that we don’t like to talk about. It is something that affects every church, every body of believers. We are either cursed or blessed by the leaders we have chosen. The solution is simple: Rather than choose leaders, learn to recognize the leaders that God has chosen. Here are some thoughts on how to recognize maturity in Christ.
- Spiritual Conversations (Colossians 4:5-6) I love spiritual conversations. I don’t get enough of them. I love to talk about the Lord and hear what He is doing in the lives of the people around me. I want to hear about reality. Sin transformed into life. Losers finding the humility to go to the cross. Pride junkies (like me) who are brought low and are extremely thankful for that severe mercy. Yes, I love spiritual conversations. It is one of the most important ministries in the church. Teach your leaders how to have them. Make sure to have spiritual conversations regularly with your leaders.
- Hard Questions (II Timothy 4:1-5) By now you must realize that when the Bible talks of ministry, it includes you. Perhaps you aren’t the Pastor or a teacher of the Word, but you are involved in ministry. Through your life, through your spiritual conversations, through your spiritual gifts, you have a ministry. A Life Ministry. Your discipleship is practical. And it is likely that at some point your efforts will be recognized as useful in the role of an elder or deacon in the church. Before you embark on that journey, I have a few questions for you.
- The Weakness (II Corinthians 12:10) Discipleship is weakness in the world’s eyes. Either through circumstances (hardships, difficulties, persecutions) or through a “thorn in the flesh” (whatever that was) or through the people you associate with, making you look weak. Discipleship is not about acting the “professional” but about acting like Christ.
- Spiritual Warfare (story) (Ephesians 6:12) I grabbed my phone and called Hank. Told him what I needed and hung up. Prayer cover was on its way. I sank to my knees and started to call out to God earnestly. Forget about a shower. Forget about eating. There was work to be done. The ministry of reconciliation was spiritual warfare and I was damned if I was going into battle unprepared. Not this time. Not ever again.
- Your Life Ministry (II Corinthians 3:17,18) I like those words, “Your Life Ministry.” It puts a bit of a different spin on things. Ministry is often seen as a career choice, as something that Pastors or teachers or missionaries do, but not you and me, the common folk, the simple disciples. We know better than that, don’t we? When we read the words of Paul in the Bible, very often we automatically think that he is talking about the ministry leaders whether in the church or in the many parachurch organizations (and perhaps even some NGOs). But that is not the case. Every disciple has a ministry.
- The Gift of Significance (story) (II Corinthians 5:17-21) The story that I am about to tell you isn’t true. I wish it was. When God uses you to intervene in the lives of people, anything can happen…and that’s what makes life interesting and our lives significant. Who cares about making money, having a large house, getting to the top of your career ladder? Once you’ve tasted the gift of significance, being involved in the transformation of the human heart, there is no going back. You are hooked for life. It makes me wonder what He might do next…..
- Joshua (story) (Joshua 1:6-9) Joshua listened quietly, thinking of the adventure they had lived together, from slavery in Egypt to a nation on the edge of conquest. But it wasn’t just that, it was the daily miracle of their lives, surviving and, yes, even thriving in the presence of the God of Sinai, learning the ways of holiness. It had shaped him and molded him into the man he was today.
- True Confession (I John 1:8-2:2) Confessions are scary business. For everyone. So when it comes to the church, most of us are rather uncomfortable with the idea of confession. Isn’t that a Catholic idea anyway? We don’t do that in my church. The Pastor might talk about it once in a while, but it is always a silent confession just between God and myself. Nobody else’s business. It’s a private thing, not public. Thank God.
- The Courage of Confession (Romans 10:9,10; James 5:16) The truth is that nobody talks about sin much anymore. We have been forgiven. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Sin gets relegated to the background. We think it is spiritual to just love people and “cover over a multitude of sins” (which is a total misunderstanding of that verse in James 5:20). For some reason we seem to think that God just set aside his justice in the name of love. If it was that easy, we wouldn’t need the cross. But we do it all the time. In the name of love, justice doesn’t matter, sin doesn’t matter. Just be nice. If you are nice and don’t take offence then there is no problem. Not true.
- Brokeness (Psalm 51: 10-17) Today I want you to help me solve a mystery. It is a mystery, I suppose, of our own making but it is a deeply shocking revelation of the human heart. I know, I know, it’s nothing new. The Bible says that the “heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). And that especially applies to mine. The mystery is really about the ways my heart is deceitful, the manner in which my spiritual blindness manifests itself and what I can do about it. Let me try to describe the problem in some more detail….
- The Culture of Grace (Ephesians 2:4-10) The question is whether or not the church has a culture of grace or a culture of shame, rooted in judgment and accusation and unfullfilled expectations. Sad to say, most are rooted in shame, and grace only shows up by accident once in a while. Shame based relationships and families (and even churches and organizations) are far more common than we like to admit. And it is devastating for the gospel. It is not healthy and reflects a misunderstanding of what ministry is all about. When it is prevalent in the church, it brings about spiritual abuse and the abuse of power by the leadership.
- FaithWalk (II Corinthians 7: 8-13b) We often talk about confession, then repentance, then forgiveness, then reconciliation. I’m not sure why we put it in that order. Perhaps it’s because there are two sides to the relationship. One side confesses and repents and the other side forgives and reconciles. Perhaps. But for most people this is a thorny issue and repentance is often seen as a prerequisite for forgiveness. It becomes performance-based and we know that can’t be right. We either fall into some form of legalism (a bunch of rules and obligations or expectations) or moralism (just be nice) and cheap grace (faith without true acts of love). We need to get it right. It will affect our entire progress of sanctification for good or evil. The answer is easy on the one hand and very difficult on the other. Like many theological truths, it is difficult to understand in theory but so simple in reality.
- Dr. House. Brilliant. Idiot. (story) (Romans 1: 18-20; 28,30b; Hebrews 11:6) Dr. House is an idiot. A brilliant idiot, no doubt, but still an idiot. For some reason we like him. He is fascinating and utterly dedicated to both rationality and reality. No time for games. Except his own. Of course he isn’t real. That’s not the point. He is all of us and none of us. He is the epitome of human scientific achievement and, at the same time, a personal, relational disaster. He is a train wreck that we can’t take our eyes from. He is the doctor we want when disease threatens but don’t want as a friend, a lover, or even a next door neighbor. He’s too unpredictable, even dangerous.
- Healing Power (II Chronicles 7: 13-15) People don’t wish that they spent more time at work or made more money when they are on their deathbed. They just want to be with their loved ones. They wish with all their heart that they could recapture those wonderful moments with their children on Christmas eve when they were young. They regret the hurts and misunderstandings that still hover over their heads and relationships. They want nothing more than that their estranged children, their brother, their ex-wife or friend would come back, that somehow, someway, a miracle would happen and love would be in the air, that Christmas would come in the middle of summer, something, anything that would close the distance and heal their hearts and make it better again. Relationships. That’s what matters. Everything else pales in comparison.
- Spiritual Unity (I Corinthians 12: 12-13; Ephesians 4:15,16) I suppose it could happen. There is no reason why we can’t have a potluck dinner as a spiritual body of reconciled believers. Except that it isn’t true. That old lady over there complained that one of the other men stinks and she avoids him like the plague. She doesn’t even want to shake his hand. You see that guy in the corner? He sings in the choir but he is living with the woman sitting next to him and they aren’t married. I just heard that he is planning to leave her when he gets back from his next trip. That girl over there, had her baby out of wedlock and hasn’t said a word to anyone. No one seems to care one way or the other. The older gentleman in the corner is upset with this guy sitting beside me because he had the gall to suggest that he should give his life to Christ. He’s been in the church for fifty years. If he isn’t a Christian, then nobody here is. And I could go on to talk about divisions, disagreements, disunity and a general lack of reconciliation. It may be a fellowship dinner but that doesn’t mean that there is much spiritual unity.
- Spiritual Trust (I Corinthians 14:26; James 5: 13-16) I have a bone to pick with Pastor Rick Warren. I like him a lot and I promote his daily devotionals on my facebook page and read all of his material. He is a wonderful Pastor. I’ve read his books and I would normally say that he is “dead on” in his ministry. But not this time.
- The Anointing (story) (Psalm 133) It was still dark outside when I arrived at the church that morning. I opened the big doors from the inside with the ancient key that was as big and heavy as a gun. A gun? I moved on, checking doors and windows, turning on the heat to take the dampness out of the air. It was still early but people would start to arrive in a couple of hours and I wanted to be ready. Really? Who was ever ready for something like this? I shook my head. Keep moving, I told myself. I turned the lights on in the sanctuary even though it was almost dawn. The early morning light was struggling to show itself through the dark clouds. Even the heavens were weeping today. My mind was numb and my heart cold.
- The Sanctification Gap (Romans 8:28-31a) When I was a young pastor, full of ideals, studying at a great seminary, wondering what the Lord had in store for me, I used to pray that God would show me where the fighting was the fiercest, the issues essential, where lives were being transformed, and put me right there in the middle of it. It took me a while to understand that alot of that came from arrogance and that I was woefully unprepared for ministry, that I was educated far beyond my obedience, that I was easy prey for the schemes of the Devil. Still, God in his wisdom and grace gave me a glimpse of the heart of the gospel and the reality of how far the church, in general, was from that strategic center. It tore me apart and I had no clue what to do about it. I, myself, shed away from the battle like a newborn foal afraid of his own shadow. I was weak and untrained and didn’t even understand what God was going to do about it, much less through me.
- The Sweet Spot (John 8; 28,29,31,32) I remember the early years of Bible College when I was surrounded by other young Christian students and we studied and prayed and discussed and argued to our heart’s content. We went on Mission trips together. We sang songs with our guitars, the Sound of Silence right along with Amazing Grace and Hallelujah. We ate pizza and watched movies but most of all we talked about the reality of God. It was great.
- Hosea and Gomer (Hosea 1:2,3,6a,8a; 2: 1,4,5a; 3: 1-3) Who knows how Hosea might have breached the subject of marriage to Gomer. You have to take into account the culture, the fact that he was known as a prophet of God, and the fact that she was a loose woman. Talk about a rebound. Apparently, she was married before and committed adultery and had children by her other lovers. The timeline isn’t all that clear. The storyline is a bit confusing but something strange was going on.
- The Wedding (story) (Revelations 19:9; Matthew 25: 1,10b-13) Tanta Corrie was back. The house was full of people, family members and friends. There was laughter and the clinking of glasses and the squeals of the little ones as they ran through the house. The screen door at the back of the house slammed shut repeatedly until someone thought to prop it open with a pair of boots they found on the back porch.
- The Delivery (John 15:1,5,7,8; Ephesians 3:20,21; Romans 8:11) This little story is making the rounds on the internet and on facebook. I love it. It’s a wonderful way to describe our situation as we live in darkness and grow and prepare for our delivery. It is very well done. But the metaphor isn’t perfect and I would like to improve it a little bit. Let’s talk about the umbilical cord….
- The Struggle (Romans 7:21-25a; Ephesians 6:12) Until we come to terms with war as the context of our days, we will not understand life. We will misinterpret ninety percent of what is happening around us and to us. It will be very hard to believe that God’s intentions toward us are life abundant; it will be even harder not to feel that somehow we are just blowing it. Worse, we will begin to accept some really awful things about God. That four-year-old little girl being molested by her daddy—that is “God’s will “? That ugly divorce that tore your family apart—God wanted that to happen, too? And that plane crash that took the lives of so many—that was ordained by God?
- The Helper (John 16: 7-13a; Romans 8: 26,27) The Gospel as a true fairy tale. Now that’s an interesting perspective. The point is to understand the Bible not as a set of do’s and don’t’s or even as a series of propositional truths about life or as a manual for living well. We need to understand the Bible as God’s story, God’s great rescue operation. It’s about people and relationships and plots and counterplots and battles against sin and evil. It’s about saving people. It is the greatest story, the greatest drama ever told. It’s fantastic to be sure but it is true.
- The Secret (Romans 12:1,2; Hebrews 12: 1,2) Do you remember the book, The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne that they also made into a movie? It was really popular for a while and promoted what they called The Law of Attraction which claims that thinking positively about something can make it appear in your life. A dubious idea at best. It was clothed with some religious language (ask, believe, and receive) and fits well into the Prosperity Gospel that has swept through the American churches in recent years. It sold 20 million copies at least and was translated into more than 50 languages. Rhonda Byrne certainly attracted a lot of money and fame into her life. Maybe it does work!
- Messianic Prophecy (story) (Isaiah 53:2-6) The cloud by day and the fire by night; the banners, the regiments of foot soldiers, the women, the children scurrying about, the bleating of sheep, the lowing of cattle. It was a wondrous sight to behold. Gabriel looked down on the people marching through the desert in a long, serpentine column of humanity. Well, not marching exactly. It had dwindled from marching with heads held high, to walking, to trudging through the endless sand and heat. That was to be expected. It didn’t change the fact that every step, every move was an audacious gamble, a daily miracle. It was a testament of faith in the power of God.
- The Gathering Darkness (story) – Palm Sunday (Luke 19: 37, 38, 41. 42, 44b) The halls of Heaven resounded with shouts of jubilation and rejoicing as the angels leapt and danced and shouted their delight at seeing their beloved King enter his Holy City. It was about time, Gabriel thought. It was time for all the spiritual forces of wickedness to see who they were dealing with. It was time for the Jewish people, God’s chosen nation, to recognize the coming of their King, their Maschiach, their God. And the heavenly celebration mirrored the joyous singing of the disciples down below on the dirt road leading to Yerushalayim.
- The Dark Night of the Soul (story) (Luke 22: 7,8, 14-16) “Yochanan, sit over here.” James kept his voice low. He pointed at the place where he wanted his brother to sit. Expectations were high among the Twelve. It had been a spectacular week and they were filled with the heady emotions of great events. Although they had hoped that Jesus would make his move sooner, Passover had come upon them and it could not be ignored.
- The Divine Irony (story) (Luke 22. 47-53) It was time. The mob of Roman soldiers and Temple guards, together with some of the chief priests and elders and their servants had arrived. The Roman soldiers marched in a double file, two hundred in strength, with a Tribune at their head. The rest of the mob was scattered along the line with the majority lagging behind, lacking the discipline for a quick, hard march. Only the temple guards with their robes of purple and red, only dimly visible in the light of the Paschal moon, tried to imitate the discipline and march of the soldiers.
- Truth on Trial (story) (Luke 23:1-4) The fortress, Antonia, rose like a bird of prey hovering over the Temple, a constant reminder to the people of their slavery to the Roman eagle. It was a Hasmonean castle used by Herod the Great until he built his own grandiose dwelling on the West Hill dominating the entire city. The Antonia was useful for its proximity to the Temple grounds where trouble was most likely to break out. During festivals, like the Passover, a cohort of Roman soldiers would be garrisoned at the fortress as a deterrent to the more volatile and violent element of the Jewish population. Not that it helped very much. Lately Pontius Pilate, governor and procurator of Judea, had occupied it.
- The Descent Into Hell (story) (Luke 23:32-37) The cross was an instrument of torture. It was as much a deterrent to others as a punishment for the convicted person. For that reason it was a public display of the might of Rome and its attitude toward criminals, dissidents, and the generally unwanted elements of ordered Roman society. It was a gruesome, torturous death that struck fear and loathing into the hearts of the people. In Palestine it generated as much resentment and bitterness as fear and respect.
- Death Comes in Darkeness (story) – Good Friday (Romans 12:9-21) The eclipse of the sun had begun the moment that Jesus had been nailed to the cross, but it was only now that the people began to notice the shadows that crept into the caves and workings of the rock quarry giving it a menacing skull-like look. Looking around and up in consternation, the people watched as the sun hid it’s face from the earth in rejection and shame. Rejection of the king of self crucified before the Majesty, the Creator of all things. Shame for the kings of self who would crucify the Son of the Living God with mockery and contempt. The darkness was a fitting context for this most infamous of acts, this most royal of deeds.
- The Divine Sting (story) (Matthew 27: 57-61) Lucifer was stunned. The look in the eye of Jesus flustered and confused him. He was just about to swoop in to take possession of that soul but hesitated, wondering what had gone wrong. That look said it all. It was a look of triumph, a look of power and authority. It didn’t make sense. But then, all of the warnings he had not heeded came rushing back into his mind like banshees screaming for attention.
- Divine Visitation (story) – Resurrection Sunday (Matthew 28:1-10) It was still dark but the first signs of dawn had begun to brighten the eastern sky and the women would not wait. Mary of Magdala took the lead as they walked down into the garden graveyard. By common consent they had met at the foot of the cross, its eerie shadow pointing down the path as the small group of women made their way to the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid.
- Thy Kingdom Come (story) (Acts 1:3) A few days later, after having met again in Yerushalayim, Jesus brought them out of the city as far as the outskirts of Beth-Anyah. It was time for him to go. Still, some of the disciples asked him, “Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Isra´el?” They still did not understand that it was not about the Romans or about political independence and certainly it was not the time for God’s final judgment upon the nations.
- Transformation (story) (John 20:30,31) The wailing, sudden and deeply anguished as it was, startled Gabriel. He almost let go his cover to rush into the room but stopped himself at the last minute. His eyes darted about, noting the positions of the demons. The wailing came from Gamaliel but he was in no danger. The anguished sound seemed to have no affect whatsoever on the rest of the family who were still as quiet as death as they lay in their sleepy stupor.
- The Road to Jerusalem (Revelations 21: 1-4, 9-11a, 22,23,25) Why is it that so many churches do not display the spiritual unity that comes from seeking Jerusalem together as the body of Christ? There are seven reasons it seems to me. 1) The reality of Wheat and Tares in the church 2) The vulnerability of Leadership Positions 3) The Spirituality of the Pastor 4) The Spirituality of the Board Members or Elders 5) The lack of Spiritual Conversations at every level of church life 6) The lack of preaching the cross and Christ crucified 7) The lack of Prayer. There is a Religious Spirit at work in most churches that we are unaware of or afraid of dealing with. It is often difficult to detect and more difficult to root out but that is the work that is before us and must be done. Without it, we will not have the Anointing and without the Anointing we are powerless in our mission.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, it seems that we have come to the end of this journey together. We thank you for whatever truths you have revealed to us through your Word and by means of your Spirit. Our hearts are “strangely warmed” as we hear this good news and we know in our hearts that it is true. We desire your anointing and your presence but we know that we have to seek Jerusalem, seek spiritual unity to get it. We need your help in every step we take. In your name I pray. Amen.