I decided not to post this on Memorial Day out of respect for those in the United States military who fought and died for the cause of freedom.
However, while Memorial Day is on everyone’s mind, I would like to take this opportunity to share a story about some other soldiers who fought and died for another cause of freedom.
Followers of Jesus belong to a kingdom. It is the same kingdom referred to in the gospels – and Jesus is its king. This kingdom is at war. It is a war that has only one goal: extend the eternal freedom that is only found in Jesus to the ends of the earth. Every single time a person gives their life to Christ, the kingdom gets a little bigger. Each Christian, whether they realize it or not, is a soldier for Jesus in this kingdom.
A little over two and half years ago an enemy of Jesus’ kingdom entered a room and asked a simple question of everyone there: “Are you a Christian?”
Those who confessed their allegiance to Jesus – were shot in the back of head.
Those who did not – were shot in the leg or elsewhere.
In the end, nine Christian soldiers lost their earthly lives. They breathed their last as a martyr, and awoke in the presence of God.
Jesus said that those who confess Him before men, will be confessed by Jesus himself to the Father in Heaven.
Jesus turns everything upside – down. The lowliest on earth will be the greatest in the kingdom. The poor will be rich. The weak will be strong. Persecution of the kingdom makes it grow. Living for today means dying forever. And, thank God, dying for Jesus means eternal life.
The Bible is like an onion: the more you eat – the more layers you find.
“Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”
Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50 NIV
Matthew 13 contains the parable of the weeds and the parable of the net. Understanding more about the kingdom of Heaven has given these a much deeper meaning for me.
So, what is this “Kingdom of Heaven” spoken of in the gospels? Well, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t Heaven. Jesus came from Heaven. He ascended back to Heaven on the clouds. He reigns over a kingdom right now. The kingdom Jesus reigns over is the kingdom of Heaven.
It includes: 1) those who have been called out of the world (aka the kingdom of Satan) and into service to God (aka the church) – both the living and dead; 2) those who were righteous under the Law and prophets (aka the faithful of Israel); 3) those who were faithful before Judaism.
Today, people who name Jesus as their king are part of the kingdom. Whether they are true citizens or not – we don’t know. But they are, according to these parables, at least living within the borders of the kingdom.
Now, whether they are true citizens or not isn’t for us to determine. Jesus said it isn’t the workers’ job to try to separate weeds from the wheat. That will be taken care of at the end of the age.
While there are several words for “end” in Greek – the one from these passages means the final end – the concluding end – the end of everything. That’s when it hit me – true citizenship in the kingdom of Heaven will be determined when Jesus returns – and it won’t be by us.
Our efforts to “pull weeds” in the kingdom by trying to determine who is and isn’t “in the kingdom” does exactly what Jesus said it would do – it uproots many of the wheat in the process. It is akin to us trying to do the job of angels at the end of time. Is that the unity Jesus prayed for? I think not.
No. We need to be about the business of spreading the gospel. There is a famous line that goes: “Kill ‘em all – let God sort ‘em out.” For followers of Jesus it’s a little different. As we seek more and more people to be added to the church (and thus the kingdom as well), our motto should be, “Bring ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out.”
Application: Stop guessing whether someone in your church is really following Jesus. 1) It’s not your job. 2) It helps Satan in four ways: you lose focus on your real mission, you disrupt the fellowship, you may falsely uproot a citizen of the kingdom because of your own faulty theology, and you may accidentally uproot someone you didn’t mean to. Whew, that’s a load off my mind and a big chunk off my plate. Now – where’s that onion?
p.s. – Please don’t take this post and apply to the necessary action of disciplining those who intentionally and knowingly walk disorderly and refuse to even attempt to change. That said, remember: there is a difference between “disorderly” and “disagreeing” on the meaning of scripture.
Judas Iscariot was used by God to accomplish the task of Jesus becoming the sacrifice for humanity. No need to play the “what if” game – he did what he did. But, have you ever wondered why?
Was it only greed? Maybe. But, I think there might be something deeper. We are talking only five weeks worth of pay. He was the treasurer for Jesus, 12 Apostles and more than 100 other disciples who were constantly following Jesus, he surely would have been able to take the entire treasury and get more than that.
I don’t fail to recognize the significance of 30 pieces of silver being the price to be paid if someone’s slave dies. But, it seems when he went to inquire how much he would be given that he already had in mind to turn Jesus over. The Jewish hierarchy already wanted Jesus dead – badly! I think Judas could have negotiated way more money. So, I doubt that was it.
But … why? Why would someone who had personally gone on a mission trip, healed people, thrown out demons, spread the gospel, and witnessed Jesus walk on water, raise the dead and tell the weather to calm down want to turn over Jesus to officials? What did Jesus do or not do that made Judas pursue the end of Jesus’ peaceful ministry? I think that greed is absolutely part of it, but I am skeptical that it is the only motivation – especially when the consequences would be so public.
It would be like a bank manager, with access to large sums of money, decides to sell the bank owner’s office furniture. And, he actually unlocks the door to the office – while the bank owner is in there – to let in the people buying the furniture. I mean, he knows he is breaking the law. He knows everyone will know that he did it. He knows he is about to be unemployed and nobody will trust him. Why would he do that? Greed? Sure. But I think there has to be something deeper.
So what was it?
I think Judas might have been disappointed with Jesus’ form of the kingdom. He knew Jesus was the Messiah. But, I think he was just like the other apostles and he thought the Messiah was going to violently and physically restore the nation of Israel to prominence by dominating the world.
Jesus came into Jerusalem to the cheers of thousands. People thought the revolution was about to begin. And then … nothing. This trip to Jerusalem was supposed to inaugurate the rebellion against Rome and establish Jesus as a conquering king. But … no talk of war … no talk of strategy … no whipping people into a battle frenzy.
Maybe Judas concluded that if Jesus the Messiah was going to overthrow the bonds that Israel was being subjected to by Rome – maybe Jesus needed a little help in starting the war. And – if Judas got a little money on the way to making that happen – I’m sure all would be forgiven once Jesus was on the throne. And, he might be rewarded with way more than 30 pieces of silver for thinking up this brilliant plan.
Maybe this was Judas ‘ plan:
Conspire with the Jewish authorities to bring a small Roman army to arrest Jesus.
Once the authorities and 600 Roman soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus, identify Jesus with a kiss and watch the fireworks.
When they attempt to grab Jesus, watch as the Messiah does whatever he is going to do and kills these 600 Roman soldiers with an angelic army (it seems Peter was willing to start the attack with an act of faith).
With 600 dead Romans soldiers killed via a miracle, watch as hundreds of thousands of Jews join the Jesus Army so they can not only escape Rome’s oppression, they can replace Rome as the dominant power of the world.
Watch Jesus be made king – and proudly take the seat of prominence that Jesus has reserved for Judas Iscariot.
If that was the plan, and it is purely conjecture on my part, it failed.
Jesus healed instead of killed. He acted the part of the Sheep instead of the Lion. The crowds did not come to the rescue, they condemned Him to death. But … why?
Why would people turn so quickly against Jesus? He was quite famous. Why? Because he kept talking about a kingdom and backing up His legitimacy with miracles. But when his entrance into Jerusalem didn’t culminate in a revolution, it was easy to listen to the rulers who were calling for violence.
By the time they were whipped into a crucifixion frenzy, the Jews hated Jesus for disappointing them. They hated Jesus for His love and His lack of hate. Jesus didn’t deserve the honor He had obtained over the last three years. He didn’t deserve the freedom to walk around and talk about a kingdom but never attempt to violently establish one! He didn’t deserve to live.
But someone did. Someone did deserve honor. Someone did deserve the freedom to establish a kingdom. Someone did deserve to live!
The revolutionary who had already backed up his words with violently trying to start a war – his name was Barabbas.
Application: Sometimes we think our plans are better than the plans God has for us. The toughest thing I’ve ever done is submit to whatever plan the Lord has in store for me. I don’t understand it. It doesn’t work when I write it down on paper. But some how – some way – I look back and I see the progress.
Doors open that wouldn’t,
Things come in the mail that shouldn’t,
Coincidences occur that shan’t,
Contacts are made that can’t,
Opportunities happen that won’t,
People do things they don’t,
In spite of all the impossible I find,
It’s God’s plan working – not mine.
I sit here on the balcony of my hotel and look at a beautiful lake. To my untrained eye it appears peaceful, tranquil, even serene. It fills my mind with awe and reverence for the mysteries of God.
Yet, that is not the entire picture is it? There are times when wind and rain will make it terrifying to even the most skilled man and woman. The thought of being in a ship that could capsize in the midst of a storm makes my stomach turn. What would I do if I found myself in waves and swells that kept me from being able to see land? Would I struggle to swim? Just stay afloat? Or simply give up?
The sea is often portrayed as a negative in scripture.
James 1:6 describes a person who doubts like the “surf of the sea – driven and tossed by the wind.” I love that picture. Our life is like water – and our faith keeps it peaceful – but the winds of this world will create turbulence in our life if we don’t have faith.
Jude 1:13 depicts men who cause strife and division among believers like “wild waves of the sea” that cast up shame like foam. What a vivid word picture! Even after the wave recedes back into the sea, the foam remains on the shoreline for everyone else to deal with.
Paul talks about the “dangers of the sea” in 2 Corinthians 11:26. Historically, we can understand the perils of the sea if we simply read Luke’s account in Acts 27 of Paul’s journey. Even the disciples of Jesus were terrified when a storm came upon them while they were in a boat on the sea – Mark 4:35-38.
In the Bible, the “sea” regularly depicts a chaotic scene. It contains beasts and creatures; it changes with winds and storms; and it presents challenges and obstacles. Yet, Hebrews 11:29 says the Israelites passed through the sea! In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, Paul says, “… our fathers … all passed through the sea and all were baptized … in the sea.” So, not only can the sea be scary, it is also something that God can use to test our faith and prove our devotion and commitment.
But, this is what I want to focus on as I look out at this beautiful and calm lake: God is more powerful than the sea! Jesus walked on the sea. The disciples witnessed the Christ calm the sea with his voice. Our Lord can use the craziest things (like a whale) to save us from the sea!
And here is the best part: in front of the throne of God – there is a sea of glass (Revelation 4:6). It is completely calm. It is completely still. All chaos and struggle is gone when God is on the throne in our lives.
And, as if that wasn’t good enough, read Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … and there is no longer any sea.” Did you catch that? How can there be no sea? Because if Jesus can calm the storms of our life now – in Heaven our seas of worry and struggle won’t even exist.
Jesus was both sides of the same coin: Crown and Cross – Son of God and Son of Man – Conquering King and Sacrificial Lamb.
I have no idea how Jesus did it. He was able to fulfill two drastically different views of what the Messiah had to be: Liberating Warrior and Suffering Savior.
Here is a small comparison of just two descriptions: one from Psalms 2 and the other from Isaiah 42. When you finish reading, ask yourself: “Is MY Jesus both of those? Or only one?” If you only see one, then you may not have a full understanding of Jesus.
He will speak to them in His anger (Psalm 2)
He will not cry out … [He will not] raise His voice (Isaiah 42)
And terrify them in His fury (Psalm 2)
[He will not] make His voice heard in the street (Isaiah 42)
You shall break them with a rod of iron (Psalm 2)
A bruised reed He will not break … A dimly burning wick He will not extinguish (Isaiah 42)
You shall shatter them like earthenware (Psalm 2)
He will faithfully bring forth justice … I will appoint You as a covenant to the people (Isaiah 42)
Worship the LORD with reverence (Psalm 2)
[I will appoint You as a] light to the nations (Isaiah 42)
Rejoice with trembling. (Psalm 2)
[I will appoint You] to open blind eyes (Isaiah 42)
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way (Psalm 2)
[I will appoint You] to bring out prisoners from the dungeon (Isaiah 42)
His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2)
[I will appoint You to bring out] those who dwell in darkness from the prison (Isaiah 42)
If we were to study Jesus every hour of every day for our entire lives we would never come to a complete understanding. I thank God that we really don’t need to know much to follow Jesus – but a good place to start would be faith and obedience and love. The key word being – start!
Jesus wasn’t crucified between two guys who were petty thieves.
It’s true. They were insurrectionists. Death by a cross was a punishment reserved for political rebels – not common criminals. Their crime was probably similar to being first century Robin Hoods who, along with their ring leader Barabbas, plotted, plundered and murdered in the name of rebellion against Rome.
But, that’s not the point of this post. One of the men who was tortured to death next to Jesus will be someone I want to speak to in Heaven.
He started off the day bloodied and battered like any other man being crucified. A toughened zealot who was extremely familiar with all of the Messianic texts, and who had been ready to die for Israel ever since becoming a rebel. He was expecting the pain and might have thought of himself as a martyr – at the start.
Imagine his surprise! He may have been one of the people putting palm branches down in front of Jesus while He rode a donkey into Jerusalem. Jesus was certainly famous. And most of His followers expected THIS trip to Jerusalem to be the one where Jesus would go to the temple, declare war on Rome, and then inspire hundreds of thousands of men to revolt.
So Jesus comes into Jerusalem on a donkey. People are yelling. People are praising. People are ready to anoint Jesus as their new king! He goes right to the temple. People are expecting the speech. Jesus looks around at the crowds. The men and women “shush” each other to be quiet each expecting the words that would start a revolution. And, after looking around at the temple, Jesus … just … leaves. He just walks off to Bethany because it’s too late in the day. What?
Okay. Maybe tomorrow will be the day. It IS late!
So, the next day Jesus returns to the temple. Oh boy! Maybe the man crucified next to Him was there as Jesus turned over the money-tables and made a scene. Maybe he was there when the crowds gathered around to hear Jesus make a speech about how bad Rome was. Maybe he was there when Jesus began to make the speech that would change everything … only to hear Jesus make a speech about how bad the Jewish religious leaders were. This wasn’t working out the way the crowds had planned. At least Jesus did some healing – that was certainly appreciated. He wasn’t acting very warrior like, but that was okay because it sure was a good show watching Jesus make the pompous Jewish leaders look like fools. And the parables He spoke were so full of meat. The crowds loved Him … for now.
Within days, the atmosphere had changed in Jerusalem. Jesus was no longer the man who would lead a revolution. Jesus was the man chief priests had convinced the crowds should die.
And so, here we are: Jesus – nailed to a cross – between two zealots.
Early on, the man I want to meet still has all of his strength and attitude. He is hurling insults, “Hey Jesus! I thought you were committed to God! If you were, why isn’t He delivering you? Haha! If God delights in you, let Him rescue you! Ha! Why don’t you rescue yourself if you’re God – and rescue us too?! Haha!”
After a few hours it is noon – and darkness covers the land. Can you see the man’s face? Can you see him look at Jesus in confusion? Can you hear the questions going through his mind, “What is going on here? Why is it dark? Who is this man?”
Throughout the crucifixion Jesus has been fairly quiet until the moment that helps define exactly what is happening. Jesus opens His dry mouth, and praises God with the first line of a song every Jew would know. Jesus sings the first verse of the 22nd Psalm, “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?”
Maybe it was at that moment everything “clicked” for the man hanging next to Jesus. The man KNEW that psalm – every Jew knew that psalm. It was the psalm that described a scene exactly like this:
“Reproach of men – despised by people – they crown me (in Hebrew the word for “encircle” literally means “crown”) – they pierce my hands and feet – they cast lots for my clothing – in the midst of the assembly I will praise You!”
And then the man hanging next to Jesus remembers these words from the song Jesus started to sing: “All who see me sneer at me; They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, “Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
I wonder if it is at this point the man hanging next to Jesus has a PowerPoint like slideshow that runs through his head – remembering all of the prophecies concerning the Messiah. I can just imagine how his gut would drop when he remembered these words from Isaiah 53:
“He was despised and forsaken of men … and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted … All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth … Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased To crush Him … He would render Himself as a guilt offering … the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Because He poured out Himself to death.”
I can just imagine the wheels turning in the man’s head: “The Messiah is a sheep to be sacrificed for sins? No! I can’t believe it! He was supposed to be a warrior! Wait … the Lord would give Himself as a guilt offering?! Could this be God in the flesh?”
I can almost hear him gasp when he remembers the end of Isaiah 53: “And [He] was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many.”
There is a lot of speculation about the fate of the man hanging next to Jesus in the crucifixion. Maybe you read this story a thousand times and never paid attention to what the man said to Jesus. I like to think that maybe he said these words after he realized that the last phrase of Isaiah 53 is this: “and [He] interceded for the transgressors.”
Was that what he was thinking when he asked Jesus the question that most people forget? The question the man hanging next to Jesus asks gives more insight than almost any question Jesus was asked. Here’s why:
There is a zero percent chance of surviving crucifixion. Once nailed to a cross, you ARE going to die. There are zero exceptions. You will be dead. And yet he asks a favor of Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
What? Do you realize what that question means? It means the man realized Jesus was going to die, and would still become king after death. He knew, even before the Apostles did, that Jesus wasn’t going to stay dead, and that Jesus would be a King after He rose from the grave.
He could very well be the first person to realize exactly who and what Jesus was: Sacrificial Lamb, Messianic King, and God in the flesh.
Can you hear his sobs as the tears run down his face when Jesus tells him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise?”
Can you hear him gulp as he watches the Sacrificial Lamb that would take away his own sins cry out, “It is finished!” before He died?
Can you hear him anxiously praying for his own death because he knows where he is spending eternity?
Can you hear him cry out in pain and gratitude as his legs are broken?
Can you hear his last breath before he sees Jesus again in Paradise?