The Sermon on the Mount = #YourLifeMatters

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”

— Matthew 7:21

Can you see something remarkable about the timing of this statement of Jesus’?

It’s the first time that He drops the hint that He is the Son of God — and it comes near the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

sermon-on-the-mount

I wrote yesterday that Jesus healed people — demonstrating the power of the Holy Spirit with actions directed at others — before He started talking. But if you read through the sermon, starting at Matthew 5:1, the message is, “It’s all about you.”

You are blessed when …; You are the salt of the earth …; You are the light of the world …; Better for you to go to heaven minus one hand than to go to hell …; how much more will God clothe you than the lilies of the field?; pray to your Father in Heaven ….

hashtag #YourLifeMatters.

The Bible can be just as important for what it does not say, as for what it does, and it’s noteworthy that Jesus did not open His discourse by saying, “Hi everyone! I’m the Son of God!” It wasn’t until He had told the multitude how important they are to God and how they must not worry about material things of the world that He finally gave an inkling as to Who He was.

Oh, sure: Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, had already stated, “We have seen the Messiah”; John the Baptist had already said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”; Jesus Himself said He had come not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it; but announcing that He was the Son of God? That was the first time, and really (possible heresy alert), how important was that? Isn’t the important thing to encourage people with the news that they are loved, unconditionally and eternally, by God?

You are in control of your Salvation and relationship with God — it doesn’t depend on rituals or outward signs, and especially not on the estimation of other humans, no matter how learned and religious they are.

You can choose the path to Heaven that appears to be narrow and difficult, even though others may choose the path that looks easier and wider; and as He tells us later, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light“: His way really isn’t as hard as it looks.

Better yet, when we choose that narrow path, God shall take care of all the worldly things we need. Choose the wider road, and we’re pretty much on our own.

As ambassadors of Christ, the basic message we need to convey to people is that, whatever the world may think of them, they — each and every one of them — are important to God. Let our actions and very lives, as well as our words, reflect that.


Next week’s entries on Two Minutes for Cross-Checking may bring a sense of déjà vu: that uncanny feeling that you’ve seen something before.

Next week’s entries on Two Minutes for Cross-Checking may bring a sense of déjà vu: that uncanny feeling that you’ve seen something … um … before.

Hmm.

Anyway, I’ve decided to spend some time in the Word more to strengthen my relationship with God and less to find ideas for posts. So for the next few days, you’ll see some already-posted entries — favorites of mine; seeing them again will also help remind me what this blog is supposed to be about.

By the way, I canvassed some of you about possibly changing the name of the blog to “#YourLifeMatters”. There were some great, very thoughtful, responses, which helped coalesce my thinking. If it were a vote, I think it would have been a 50/50 tie. In the end, I decided to keep the name as it is, but work the hashtag into some of the posts. 

Show first … then tell!

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics and paralytics, and He healed them.

Great multitudes followed Him — from Galilee and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond the Jordan.

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them ….

— Matthew 4:23 – 5:2

What follows, of course, is the Sermon on the Mount — Jesus’ lengthy discourse that includes the Beatitudes. Thousands of people came and listened to Him. But Jesus preceded that with healings. He spoke the Word and proclaimed the Kingdom, but what got people’s attention and drew them to Him was the fact that they were being healed of whatever their sicknesses were because of being touched by, or even coming close to, Him.

He healed all manner of diseases.

Then He opened His mouth.

We are supposed to lead others to the Kingdom, to make disciples out of people; and Jesus’ example is not only the best we can follow, it’s one we can follow. It was His actions that drew people to Him. He gave them what they needed — healing of all diseases — and used that to point people to God. We can do that, too, healing others physically or spiritually, through our actions — whatever the Holy Spirit leads us to do for them

And when the time comes, then we can open our mouths and tell them of the Kingdom and the freedom we have found in Christ.

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene

— “Ac-cen-tchu-ate the Positive”, by Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer, 1945

And notice that when He did talk, Jesus did not point out what was wrong with people or even with the “fallen world”. He focused on positive things that people listening to Him might not have even thought of as positive. Positive things about meekness? Mourning? Thirsting? Hungering? Being persecuted?

But the main thing to remember is that Jesus didn’t start by talking. He started by doing, and that’s what we need to do, too. Do good to people — even (or especially) those you don’t particularly like — and keep doing it until you get their attention. Then tell them that, whatever state they’re in, their life matters to God, and Jesus’ whole reason for coming to us was not to condemn us for falling away from Him, but to lead us back. “Come home! All is forgiven!”

Interestingly, Jesus tells the Pharisees that “an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign” (Matthew 12:39), but in the case of the multitudes who listened to Jesus that day on the mountain, the signs came to them, and they followed, to find the source.

When we do good to people, let the deed be the sign and let us be the signpost, pointing them to God and saying,

#YourLifeMatters

The other deceitfulness of riches

mary anoints jesus feet

Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

— John 12:3-5

Recently, an Iranian pastor who’d been imprisoned lashed out at Rev. Franklin Graham, who’d been his champion, advocating for his release. Reading the news item, it sounds complicated, but one thing that stands out is that Pastor Saeed criticizes Rev. Graham for having a private airplane.

Now, I’m not here to defend Franklin Graham, but the underlying assumption is that a preacher who lives a luxurious lifestyle is somehow less holy than one who arrays himself in abject poverty. It’s a very popular to criticize churches for spending money on finery and in so doing, dismiss what they teach and preach.

And some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. …

“Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things entering in choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.

— Mark 4:7. 18-19

The deceitfulness of riches can affect the way one hears the word, if they prefer to pursue worldly wealth rather than the Kingdom of God: we know that. But if you listen to the word of God but say, “Yeah, but look at that Armani suit! Check out the Mercedes! I’m not following his ‘Jesus’!”, then the deceitfulness of riches has also choked the word.

(Funny, isn’t it, how businesspeople and politicians don’t come in for the same scrutiny?)

Paul knew how to be abased and how to abound. Jesus says the worker is worthy of his hire. What’s important is not what one has, but what one does with it. Jesse Duplantis once said, “Don’t ask how many Cadillacs I have – ask how many Cadillacs I bought for other people!” What is Brother Graham using that airplane for? Is it to zoom off to Cannes for the film festival, or pop down to Mar-a-Lago for home group with Don and Melania? Or is it to get him to crusades in places commercial airlines don’t fly, or give encouragement to Samaritan’s Purse workers?

On the other hand, I see people ministering on the Downtown East Side: some are ordinary “just folks” who live and breathe the Word and bring it; some wear “poverty” like their personal crown of thorns, so that people can see just how humble they are. Righteousness is a matter of the heart, and the outward signs, whatever they might be, don’t mean jack.

Consider this:

tabernacle-tradional-layered

If you read the instructions for the building of the tabernacle (starting in Exodus 25), you’ll see how God specifies that there are certain kinds of skins to cover it, that the thread is to be pulled from pure gold and that other fittings, like the altar and the rings for the curtain rods, are to be made with pure gold and silver and other expensive and luxurious ingredients.

“Deceitfulness of riches” would have led someone to say, “Look at all that finery they’re using! They should have sold that stuff and given it to the poor!”

These were instructions from God. Who are we to judge that? And if the Hebrews deviated from those instructions — even to say, “We’ll use 18-karat gold to stretch it farther” — they would have been in disobedience.

What’s more, the “value” of the things God calls for in the tabernacle is only value in the eyes of the world. By using them for the tabernacle and not putting that money towards worldly things, even feeding the poor, they were obeying His instructions and assuring that He would continue to provide for them. They were taking the most highly-prized things of the world and releasing them, saying, in effect, “The love of God is worth more than gold!”

The “deceitfulness of riches” can cause you to look at someone’s outward appearance oso that the import of what they’re saying or doing gets snatched away. They also cause you to judge another person, and we’re not supposed to do that, either.

So look past the outward signs and listen to the word: as Jesus says, you shall know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16, 20) — not by the leaves.

Beware the RPC!

There aren’t very many things in this world that I despise, but Political Correctness is right up there. Cloaked as cultural sensitivity (and I’m not denying the importance of being aware of others’ feelings), “PC” is that insincere, say-the-right-thing-on-the-outside-chance-you-might-offend-someone mindset that reached its nadir when “Merry Christmas” was deemed to be potentially offensive.

There is something else to be aware of, and it was years before I saw it in myself and started to shake it off: RPC — Religious Political Correctness. When I first made my commitment to Christ, I felt that I had to impress others, especially Christians, by demonstrating what I despised. Anything that appeared to be forbidden in the Bible, from cheating in business to divorce under certain circumstances, I was against. 

Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” Peter answered, “Yes.” Jesus said to him, “then hunt down the lousy rats who did this to Me and make them pay for it!” 

Then Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” Peter said again, “Yes, Lord, I do.”  “Then track down everyone who doesn’t believe in Me now and shake a finger in their nose and say, ‘Sinner! You are going to hell!'”

And a third time, Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” Peter was getting grieved to hear this question again, and said, “Lord, You know all things: You know I love You.” “Then seek out all things that you think offend God and march and protest and declare how much you HATE them in My Name!”

You know what really happened, right? Jesus told Peter three times, “Feed My sheep”. Christ is not about what you’re against, but what you’re for.

A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

— John 13:34-35

Loving one another — especially known sinners (that is, people who are in the same position now that you were before meeting Jesus) — is not RPC. Hanging out with, talking with and sometimes even witnessing to people you might disagree with takes a fair bit of tongue-biting. It might make others at church mutter things like, “if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas,” but that’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

RPC makes us feel superior.

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even as this tax collector.”

— (Pharisee, praying next to a tax collector) Luke 18:11

RPC leads us to overlook the beauty in people, tempering our appreciation for their gifts and talents and what should be our unconditional love for them by saying, “Yes, but they’re —— (fill in the blanks).”

It’s RPC, too, to complain that Christians are marginalized or discriminated against, forgetting to “take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) It’s RPC to want to be seen as a victim, just like others; ignoring the fact that Jesus told us it comes with the territory.

RPC makes us focus more on impressing other religious people than on impressing Jesus.

In other words, RPC can make us just as blind as the “guides” Jesus calls out in Matthew 23, and just as much in need of crying out “have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 9:27 & 20:30-31).

And the thing we can be most blind to, is the one thing we’re called to: love one another as He loved us.

It’s worth spending that two minutes for Cross-checking.

Your own personal Dueteronomy

On Friday, I mentioned retired footballer Gary Lineker’s comment, calling religion “bonkers”, and suggested that it was an opportunity to re-examine what we believe and why.

It’s important to do that anyway, even when there hasn’t been a direct assault on our faith or religion, because the “cares of this world” (Matthew 13:22) can be relentless in their attempts at diverting our attention away from God and our relationship with Him.

The funny thing about testimony is, while you might have no problem telling someone else about the miracles you’ve seen and your experiences since Jesus Christ came into your life, you may have trouble telling yourself.

We all go through a “personal Egypt” — a time of being enslaved by our sin and separation from God. It’s a time when we thought we could do everything ourselves and that if we slipped and fell, we just needed to “pick ourselves up by our bootstraps” and “get it together”. And if we couldn’t, well, that was our fault.

Then we see Jesus and start heading towards Him, leading to a time of wandering through the wilderness. Eventually we reach the Promised Land — our own salvation and a deeper relationship with God.

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second telling”, and in one sense, it’s a reminder of the laws and commandments Moses brought down from Mount Sinai after his meetings with God. But it’s also a second telling of the experiences they had gone through over the previous forty years. In that book, Moses recaps all the things they had experienced, the trials they had witnessed, and the ways God had pulled them through. They would face even more trials as they possessed their Promised Land, and they needed to know that God had brought them this far, and would take them the rest of the way — so long as they remained faithful and obedient.

And that’s what we need to do from time to time — and especially when we face situations that seem to be beyond our control: we need to remind ourselves what God has done for us, even speaking out loud, so we can hear it from our own lips — as if we were the other person we’ve testified to in the past.

Recently,  we were chatting with a young friend whom we hadn’t seen in a while. She told us about the good things happening in her life, and everything — and I mean, everything — was credited to God. Even her career success, the promotions and praise from her managers, were attributed to “God’s favor”. There was at least one person listening to the conversation, who I could sense was a little uncomfortable with that theme and was possibly scoffing at the idea; but that was this girl’s testimony.

Your experience with Christ and is your testimony, which no one can deny. They might question what the Bible says or scoff that religion is “bonkers” and “brain-washing”, but they can’t take away your experience.

So give yourself two minutes for cross-checking: a brief reminder of where you were, where you are, and how Jesus brought you there.

Thank you, Gary!

“Funny how we get brainwashed as children into believing these bonkers religious stories. Might be true though, I suppose.”

— Gary Lineker, retired English soccer star and TV commentator

LINEKERAccording to Justin Brierly, commentator on Premier Radio — a Christian media outlet in the UK, this was tweeted on Easter Sunday to Lineker’s 5.8 million followers.

Depending on the circumstances, a comment like that could be an invitation to a protracted debate, hostile retort or a good old punch-up. We could get into a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth and even personal remarks about Lineker’s qualification to make a remark like that; we could expound, exegetically, on the reasoning behind our faith; or we could kick his dust off our feet and walk away, remembering that Jesus says it will be more tolerable to be in Sodom or Gomorrah than anywhere in that person’s shoes.

We could also follow the lead of Hezekiah’s soldiers when their faith in God was challenged by the king of Assyria: “Answer him not.”

Or you could seize the opportunity: not to challenge him back and say, “Who’s bonkers?” or “You can’t believe when it’s staring you in the face?” or “Fine talk from someone blessed by God with physical talent like yours!”, but to review why we believe what we believe.

Was I brainwashed as a child? Actually, I was, but not in the way Gary is suggesting. I was raised to avoid “religion” and look at human intellect as the standard for behaviour. Certainly, there was a Bible on our shelf but it was used for the occasional quote (when I’d get teased at school and start crying, the kids would call me a “crybaby”, so mom told me to remind them, “Jesus wept”), but not as a guide for anything to do with everyday life.

So I started coming to Christ in my thirties and made The Commitment when I was past 40. Now, I could bore for Canada on the cliché, What God and Jesus Have Done In My Life.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I doubt that I would be alive today, if not for that faith. That reality is not something that can ever be explained through human reasoning or effort. If that’s bonkers, Gary, sign me up.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

— Hamlet

Remember, too, that Jesus didn’t tell us to defend God. He told us to spread the Gospel and to feed His sheep; what’s more, some say that faith is a muscle, which only gets stronger with resistance.

One more thing: it seems to be the “in” thing among famous people in the U.K. to espouse atheism — Lineker, Stephen Fry, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, among others — and it makes me wonder if this isn’t a throwback to the old British class system? Jesus — His life, message, sacrifice on the Cross and resurrection — reinforces the message that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34, Deuteronomy 10:17).

That levels the playing field for all us human beings, as far as God is concerned. Denying God supposes that there are different classes of people, including a super elite, whose talents are earned through their own work and/or “breeding”, and not gifts from God. That, in turn, kills faith, hope and any responsibility to love others.

I digress. Whether they realize it or not, people like Gary Lineker who attack Christians for having faith in a God we cannot see or a Spirit that cannot be explained are actually providing a glorious opportunity for testimony, both to ourselves and to others. We come out the stronger, others get a fresh witness, and Gary has as many as 5.8 million Twitter followers, praying for him.

Enemies?

james-thurber-the-enemies-new-yorker-cartoon

“The Enemies”, by James Thurber

The word “enemies” came up a couple of times yesterday. I know that two of those times were in a quote from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but I used it myself, and that got me thinking about the whole idea of identifying some people as enemies.

Who is my enemy? Is it someone who I disagree with? Is it someone who has the temerity to disagree with me? Is it someone who hates me because I did something wrong to him or her? Is it someone who’s out to get me because they don’t like my face?

Can I even remember why we became enemies?

Or maybe it’s a religious thing, or a political or social matter. Is someone my enemy because they think differently or are rich or socially conservative (or progressive)? Do I have to know them personally for them to be my enemy?

The paradox of Jesus’ call to love our enemies is that once we commit to loving our enemies, they cease to be our enemies. They might still think of us as an enemy, but it takes two to create an enemy relationship. If one person hates the other but the other refuses to play along by hating back, sooner or later the first one starts to see the second one in a different light. It takes time and patience, but Person 2 has just reduced their enemy count, to the tune of 1.

That’s a very necessary principle.

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

— Matthew 12:25

There is an enemy, and so long as we humans look at other humans in terms of friends and enemies, that enemy gets the upper hand without lifting a finger. Our house — the human race, the people God created higher than any other creatures — is divided because we choose to regard some people as enemies and others as friends and still more as People We Don’t Really Regard One Way Or The Other, and that’s just the way the real enemy likes it.

That’s another of the myriad reasons why we need Jesus and need to know what He’s about.

Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

— Matthew 11:29 (KJV)

We need to reach out and turn our “enemies” into people we love — and with that, we’ll find rest for our souls. Jesus is not about religion: He’s about the way to live and the way to build our relationship with God. He is also about unifying us, bringing us together with a strength that transcends any kind of religious observance that humankind has developed and building a strong, united house that can stand against that real enemy.

It’s a house the Lord wants to build.

Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;

Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

— Psalm 127:1

Jesus tells us “Resist not evil“, (Matthew 5:39), while His half-brother tells us, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7). We don’t respond to the evil act or consider the person committing the act as an evil person; in so doing, we resist the temptation to respond “in kind” and the devil is sent packing. The more we resist that temptation and choose instead to love those who would do wrong to us, the more we are united in Christ and the more the devil is defeated.

Enemies? More like, friends that you haven’t gotten to know.

Insanity (“According to your faith …”)

Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your children.

— Sam Levenson, U.S. humorist (1911-1980)

I suppose a more appropriate quote would have been the (overworked) observation attributed to Albert Einstein — that the definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing repeatedly, hoping to achieve a different result — but that’s been done to death, darling, and besides, Sam’s remark is funnier.

OK … so Einstein’s definition is still the appropriate one, and I keep thinking about it when I see the way people — including professing Christians — are responding to world events. We try to bar people from our countries, who are escaping conditions that we couldn’t even begin to imagine. People cheer a military assault in response to atrocities against civilians, claiming that “someone has to stand up for the innocent” — even though the time to have stood up for them was before they were killed.

Military responses breed more military responses, people who are barred from or made unwelcome in a country get angry and are more easily “radicalized”, and things keep spinning out of control, like a border collie on a triple espresso.

We’ve tried to defeat Muslims in the name of Jesus for centuries. How well has that worked? We’ve tried to defeat people who hate other people for centuries. How well has that worked? The more we “fight” terrorism, the more we seem to live in terror.

Insanity? Sure looks like it.

The things Jesus really called us to do break us out of that cycle of insanity.

Maybe it’s time to give them a try.

You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you … For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

— Matthew 5:43-44, 46-47

To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.”

— Luke 6:29

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

— Proverbs 15:1

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

— Romans 12:21

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, rather give place to wrath, for it is written, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

— Romans 12:19

See, there’s a point we keep forgetting. WE ARE ALL GOD’S CHILDREN. It doesn’t matter what someone’s race is, what their issues are, what their faith walk has been to this point. To God, what matters is where we’re going — and that we go with Him. So when we kill someone, even in the name of “revenge” or “defending others”, we’re killing someone who, like us, was made in the image of God.

Think about it.

It’s the great what if? What if we actually applied these principles to world affairs? Given determination to walk in love towards our enemies, forgive them “seventy times seven times”, without expecting anything in return, thousands — perhaps millions — of innocent lives could be saved.

In fact, why wait for some worldly government’s foreign policy to come into alignment? As followers of Christ, we all should be focusing on approaching everyone with true, unconditional love, overcoming our natural fears and instincts.

In fact, there’s no “maybe” about it.

To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

— Revelation 3:21

That’s only one of countless promises that, if we act in love without expecting anything in return, we will have God on our side. He will protect us, lead us and bring everything to a conclusion that’s to His satisfaction. It’s up to us to have the faith that He will live up to His promise and come through for us in ways we could never imagine.

One more thing: remember what Jesus tells the blind men who want to receive their sight: “According to your faith, let it be to you.” (Matthew 9:29).

That works the other way, too. If we keep on with our “natural human” responses to evil, we’re declaring that our faith in a different way: that God will not live up to His promise and come through for us.

And guess what? According to our faith, He won’t.

“Don’t cling to Me”

 

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?

She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.‘”

— John 20:11-17

jesus and mary magdaleneThere was something about this scene that troubled me for years. The King James Version says that Jesus told Mary Magdalene, “Do not touch Me …” and I had wondered for years why Jesus would be so cold-hearted as to push away this woman who had just gone from being totally gutted to elated beyond belief.

And “gutted” wouldn’t begin to describe Mary’s state of mind in the days surrounding the crucifixion. After all, the word “maudlin” — meaning a state of over-the-top grief and despair — is derived from “Magdalene”. And one can barely imagine: the Man whose actions had delivered her from demons, possibly the only Man who actually treated her as a human being and not someone who was lower than dirt, had been unjustly accused, arrested, put through a show trial in which anyone who could have testified in His favour was nowhere to be found, then nailed to a cross and left to die there.

Worse, when she goes to minister to His body, even that is gone. She can’t even look at Jesus’ remains! Was this all a dream? Was none of it real?

So when she realizes that the Man standing in front of her is Jesus, of course she’s going to leap and embrace Him. Why would Jesus be so uncompassionate as to back away or even push her away?

But when I saw the NKJV above, the light went on.

Don’t cling to Me.”

He gives the answer in the very next breath: “I have not yet ascended to My Father“.

Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

— John 16:7

Jesus is telling Mary not to cling to that earthly, flesh-based representation of Him, or any mortal body, because He had promised to send something even more important than He: the “Helper”, the “Comforter” (as KJV puts it); the Holy Spirit. At that point, He had not gone up to Heaven: He had a few more words to say to His disciples before doing that.

This is an important point for us. The things of the world are not for us to cling to. Instead, we can reach up and receive the Holy Spirit and let it cling to us. (I’m a little sorry that the word “comforter” didn’t take on the meaning of “quilt” or “duvet” until 1832 — more than 200 years after KJV was published — because that metaphor would be fitting (sorry about that, too).)

What do we cling to? Money? Drugs? Fantasies? Personalities? Our own intelligence and education? Anyone else’s intelligence and education?

Can any of the above:

… convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:

of sin, because they do not believe in Me;

of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;

of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

— John 16:8-11

Do any of them have anything on this:

When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”

— John 16:11

There’s one of my favorite words in the Bible: “ALL”. Nothing this world offers can provide us with all truth, yet the Holy Spirit — the Comforter, the thing we must cling to — hears directly from God and passes that on, unfiltered, to us, when we let Him.

So let’s let Him. We may have had our lives gutted, torn apart, hope stripped away; reach out and reach up; ask the Holy Spirit into your life and listen to Him. Then you can truly say, as Mary Magdalene did, “I have seen the Lord!”

Jesus said, “I thirst!”

(In a liturgical calendar, we’re now celebrating the period when the risen Jesus walked among us and gave us our “marching orders” for the coming age. But this thought today has little, if anything, to do with the calendar.)

Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there, and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop and put it to His mouth.

So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up the spirit.

— John 19:28-30

The offering of vinegar is mentioned in all four Gospels, but in John, we read that Jesus said He was thirsty.

Thirsty? Jesus? This is the Man who told the woman at the well in Samaria that He was the source of Living Water, and that anyone who drank that water would never be thirsty again.

And now, the source was saying, “I thirst”.

We see two things there: one is that Jesus has come closer and closer to being human. We saw it in Gethsemane, when He asked God to take the “cup” from Him. And it also shows how He was God: He had taken on all the sins of the world – those committed at the time, as well as every sin committed since Adam stood by while his wife bit into the fruit, and every sin that would be committed until Jesus returns – and draining that living water had wrung Him dry. It was almost at that point that He said, “it is finished”.

“Almost”?

Because there was one more thing to be done. He called to the world to offer Him something to top Him up again and quench the thirst. And what it offer Him? Vinegar. It can look like water (if it’s white wine vinegar), but don’t take a long, deep drink. It’s wine, that’s become old, sour and useless for quenching thirst. Wine – the representation of His blood – that cannot be drunk.

Isn’t that what religion does to Jesus? Whether it’s the ABC (Anything But Christ) philosophies or the imposition of rituals or taking Scripture out of context to create something that “sounds” holy and righteous but misses what Christ is about, the world, having wrung Jesus dry with its sin, guilt and shame, tries to replace His living water with a cheap, rotten substitute.

And it was only then that Jesus’ work was done. He had poured out His living water on the earth, and it was now proven that nothing the world had to offer could replace it.