"Unapologetic: Yeshua"

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Philippians 2:5-11

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the [Creator].

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I want you to imagine meeting Jesus. I know it may be dangerous to invite you to let your minds wander, but still, immerse yourself in the story of our faith this morning. For the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked a bit about how we, like everyone else, are wired for spirituality. When we embrace the full scope of our lives, when we enter into the depths of our humanity, when we know the best and the worst of us, we recognize a holy longing within each one of us.

It’s that reverence humming within us that awakens our spirits to the breath of God. The creator of creation, in whom we live and move and find being, God, is more mysterious and unknowable than we can ever imagine, and yet, at the very same time, is so known and felt by us that we feel the truth that is proclaimed time and again in the scriptures, “Don’t be afraid.”

So imagine meeting a man.

For as much as has been written about this man, no one took the time to describe what he looks like. We have a few details, but very little description, so let your imagination fill in the fine points.

We know that he is a Jewish man in first-century Palestine, so he probably has a beard, by modern standards he would definitely be smelly, so as you imagine meeting this man, get the thought of a Swedish man in a shampoo commercial out of your head.

This man likely didn’t have long hair, and it was probably curly. Most Jewish men kept their hair short in the first-century because it helped to fight lice infestations.

In meeting this man, you would likely notice that, by our standards, dental hygiene is lacking. There is a good chance that he may well have bad or missing teeth.

This man’s father was a tekton, what we would call a carpenter and while it’s fair to say he’s a woodworker, calling him a day laborer would be a more apt description of his profession. In his early to mid-thirties, this man has had to work hard since his teens to help provide for the family.

We don’t really know what he looks like, but that doesn’t really matter, because he looks like us. We have faces and bodies, we have teeth and hair, he has a face and body, teeth and hair. He is a human, just like us. But there’s something special about this man.

He doesn’t have a halo, it’s not like he glows in the dark, there is nothing in his outward appearance to suggest that he is amazing because we would have heard about something like that. And yet, there is something about him that is inspiring, that is amazing because when we meet this man we meet the creator of the cosmos. It’s not a spokesperson or a representative, or an ambassador of the divine, it is the divine presence, fully with us, fully human and fully God.

When this man was born, his parents named him Yeshua, we’ve come to know him as Jesus.

This place that Yeshua was born is a province of the Roman Empire, the empire that rules the world as far as everyone in the province knows. Rome has been in charge for a couple of generations at this point, but it’s not like Israel was independent before that. Before this empire, there was another, and before that empire, there was another too.

The odd thing about this little plot of land in Israel is that it’s not all that special. Sure, it’s on trade routes that went east and west as well as north and south, and, of course, for being in the desert there are springs of fresh water to draw from, but it’s not an overly wealthy community, the land grows crops but the topsoil there has nothing on Iowa. From the outside, it seems to be a decent city built upon the hilltop of the desert, but nothing special.

But there is something very unique about this city. It’s unique because this city is filled with worshipers that believe that there is one God of all people, all places, and all things. The one-ness, the singleness of God, commands their religious imaginations. Their God is The God, so their land is The Land, and their city is The City.

This makes the relationship between the city and the empire a little complicated. The Roman Empire has lots of God that fulfill a lot of different roles and responsibilities. The Romans have an open relationship with their gods and while the Israelites are married to the one true God.

Rome wants to exert control, they need to show people who’s boss, but at the same time, they want everyone to pay their taxes and not riot. Rome lets Israel keep their temple, but they build a military barracks right next to it, and the military barracks happens to be just a little taller than the temple. But it’s not like they were compensating for anything.

The imperial authorities, as much as possible, try to rule at an arm’s length. They empower some locals to lead on their behalf, they keep most of the military garrisons out of sight, they invest in infrastructure that still stands to this day, but the locals still hate the empire anyway. For them, the idea of paying taxes, obeying, and slowly mixing their culture in with the blended cultures of the empire simply doesn’t work.

The idea of the One God getting a seat on the bench with all of the Roman gods is unthinkable. Remember, their religious writings, their spiritual leaders, the poets and the prophets of the faith have told them time and again that we are married, in a relationship and covenant with the One true God, so we cannot even flirt with the idea of an open relationship with all the Roman gods, no matter how much we like the idea of a god of wine.

The prophets and leaders of the people warned them about being unfaithful and by now the metaphor has been set in everyone’s mind – to think of worshiping any other god is being promiscuous. The solution to promiscuity, as they see it, is being as pure as possible.

This puritan desire brings about disgust because life wasn’t supposed to be this way. The world was supposed to be dignified, righteous, and governed with law. But not just any laws – Rome has plenty of laws dictated by people, and those laws have their place, but it’s not The Law.

The Law, the One True Law, was given by God to these people and a copy of the law is in every village and town in Israel, where every Saturday people gather to pray and debate and practice their faith, reminding themselves of what they believe and why it matters.

While the law is demanding, it helps them to find a pattern in their lives. When everything else is falling apart, they know what to wear, what to eat, how to dress and how to please God. It lets them know how to make amends, how to find their way into good standing with one another and with God.

With the purity code focused on faithfulness, comparing anything less than absolute observance to adultery, much of the rules and regulations of the law start o feel like recipes for regaining purity. But even the law cannot remove one impurity – the occupation of the empire.

Roman Eagles appear in synagogues and the temple. The money of the empire declares that not only is Caesar Lord, but Lord of Lords and a god amongst gods. It becomes impossible to buy something as simple and innocent as bread without committing blasphemy. With as much that has been lost and surrendered to the Roman Empire, the Jewish people begin to wonder if they are being punished, if their favor has been forfeited for some reason.

What they want the empire will not simply give them – independence. They want the kingdom their law demands, they want a land that is their own like they used to have, long ago before the empires came and went. The longing for freedom is their focus, but it cannot be achieved. The empire is too strong. That doesn’t stop people from trying to prove a point, it doesn’t stop anyone from fighting back, but everyone knows the price that will be paid.

It is into this world that Yeshua comes, with a love that abounds around him, telling everyone, don’t be afraid and don’t be careful.

Certainly, Yeshua isn’t careful. On one Saturday, a day that was holy and set apart, a day where you were to do no work, no restoration, only rest, Yeshua and his friends walk into town, picnicking in the streets as they stroll along. The religious authorities challenge Yeshua and his friends, wondering if they know how many laws they are breaking. But Yeshua challenges them back, with a mouth full, arguing that rules were made for the people and people were not made for rules.

Word of this response begins to spread and people start to wonder about this new person inspiring outrage and awe. Some wonder if he is another prophet and teacher. Others wonder if he’s a gorilla fighter seeking recruits.

When the crowds gather he sits them down and teaches, calling them blessed. He tells them that the One True God is with them when they are helpless, when they are afraid, when they are worried and lost, God is there and they are loved. Yeshua tells the crowd that their behavior matters, but it doesn’t change how God sees or cares for them. He goes on to tell that they can live as if nothing could take away their riches or add to their poverty, to live in such a way where they can never run out of what they share. He says don’t cling to this life so tight that you lose track of today, don’t plot or scheme or worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will come while today is all we really have.

He goes on to challenge the people, to speak in an almost unimaginable way about turning the other cheek, refusing to retaliate, choosing to be the person that ends and never adds to the violence of this world. Yeshua challenges the laws and virtues that have shaped the peoples’ lives. He tells them that God doesn’t want our virtue if it’s only mindless observance, Yeshua says God desires mercy and reckless generosity.

It’s not that Yeshua is saying everything goes and we don’t have to worry about the consequences. He never says do whatever you want to do because nothing matters in the end. Yeshua teaches about good and evil. He knows the tendency in us to make a mess of things, the self-deceiving that overshadows us.

Yeshua loves the law, so much so that whenever he’s asked about it, he usually ups the ante points us to a profound ideal of perfection. We shouldn’t kill, and we also shouldn’t be angry at one another. It’s one thing to commit adultery, and at the same time, we should know what desire does to us, how it can be as much of a betrayal.

There are times when Yeshua seems like a downer. Someone dared to call him “good teacher” and he responded by saying that no one is good but God alone. The virtue and the value, the love that he speaks to is almost unachievable, but it’s still the goal. Not just a goal though, a lived reality, where if we have a problem with bits of ourselves, we should chop them off and throw them in the fire. If your hands cause you to sin, get rid of them. If your eyes cause you to sin, gouge them out.

To which, someone in the crowd, inevitably said, “You can’t be serious, if this is how God wants us to live we will never be able to achieve it.” But Yeshua says back, “With God all things are possible.”

Yeshua is annoying like that.

The implication of his perfectionism is that we are all guilty, together. No one is perfect, no one is good, we are all a mess. No one gets to congratulate themselves on how good they are just like no one can be shunned and cast aside.

And that’s the interesting part of how much Yeshua talks about our unclean lives. He has nothing to say about same-sex relationships, contraception, marriage equality or how far is too far on the first date. He takes a first-century feminist stance on divorce arguing that it unfairly cuts women off from community and economic support, but other than that, there is not much he denounces. In his life, there is almost no one, other than a select few of religious hypocrites, that he seems to be disgusted by. Shockingly, for Yeshua, it seems as if what we do in bed isn’t all that important to him, as long as our lives continue to be centered in mercy, justice, and grace.

While he has very little to say about sex he has a lot to say about self-righteousness. Some of the religious experts of the day come to him and he compares them to graves that look nice and neat on the outside but are full of death and maggots within. The point is not only that we should avoid hypocrisy, he seems to be saying that being sure of our own righteousness and virtue is close to being dead on the inside. It’s as if he is saying we have to accept the bad news about ourselves before we can live into the best news about ourselves. If we are filled with a false sense of confidence and virtue, when we know we are right so they have to be wrong, what kind of evil can be done in our names?

One day, Yeshua comes to town and sees a public execution begin to unfold. A woman has been ‘caught in adultery’ but amazingly, it seems, she was caught in adultery alone because she is the only one on trial in the crowd.

All the ‘good’ people have gathered to stone her to death, rocks in hand, ready to throw the first stone. Yeshua intervenes, asking the people to explain what this woman has done, and they tell him. You can almost imagine the delight they have in their rage at her. Once they finish, he says, if you’ve ever made a mistake you can throw the first stone, and since you’re all here clearly none of you have been stoned to death, so go ahead, since you’re perfect, throw the first stone.

There’s a pause, can you feel the anxiety of this moment? Slowly, the hollow sound of stones hitting the ground begins to echo in the crowd. One by one the would-be executioners walk away, and when there is no one left to condemn her, Yeshua helps her stand up.

You would think that this sort of behavior would make him popular, and to some extent you’re right, but the self-righteous leaders of the day aren’t fans. Yeshua’s refuses to show respect for anyone’s sense of self-centered spiritual accomplishment. It’s how he treated the self-righteous and questioned those in power, always asking if anyone in authority really knew what they were doing that got him in trouble.

Just imagine eating with him. In this time, it was common for a popular prophet and preacher to accept an invitation to dinner from the local dignitaries. Those that spent their time studying the law would get a chance to see what the rising start had to say. But Yeshua keeps ignoring their invitations and either inviting himself over or inviting those from the crowd to eat with him. It’s the unrespectable citizens, the sex-workers, bar owners, the down and the out that Yeshua spends the most time. But every now and then he does accept an invitation from the upright, and when he does, he’s almost always casually insulting to them.

One person like this asks him, “Teacher, what must I do to be saved?”

Surrounded by wealth and prestige, Yeshua looks around the room, his eyes almost glaze over as he estimates the value of everything he sees, and says, “If I were you, the first thing I’d do is get rid of all this stuff.”

As inspired some are by Yeshua’s teachings, others are afraid and annoyed. They recognize the cost of discipleship and would rather not pay.

And who can blame them? He wants our love to expand beyond the tight circle of our self-interest, beyond our charity and altruism too, because, let’s be honest, we like to give knowing that it means we get some kind of roundabout love in return. But Yeshua isn’t concerned with love in return, he is passionate about love for the sake of love, gifts that are given without any expectation of anything in return. For Yeshua, God wants to love us wildly and without calculation. God wants us to love the people we don’t like, more than that, God wants us to love the people we hate and the people that hate us.

This teaching isn’t practical, it doesn’t seem safe, to many it even sounds deranged and dangerous. But Yeshua insists that God’s love is with us so we can be with one another, no matter what.

He says that the law was never enough, that it was necessary, but not sufficient. It is a gift and one that we should cherish, but the law is not the whole pattern of what God wants for us. We need laws, we need justice, we need a way to order our life together and settle quarrels. Innocence and guilt must be acknowledged, punishments and boundaries and necessary because restitution and reconciliation don’t simply happen on their own. Yeshua has nothing against the law, he just keeps insisting that the law s needful for us, not for God.

The law says everyone should get what they deserve, and we have used the law to give and take more than that. God knows what we deserve and gives us only love, hoping that we will do the same.

As Yeshua describes what it’s like to live with this love, he keeps talking about a kingdom, a new family and community, a kin-dom, but he never tells us what it is, only what it is like. Sometimes it’s like a tiny seed, while other times it’s like a large tree. It looks like how children see the world. It looks like a servant using their master’s money well. It looks like getting paid a full day’s wage even if you worked less than an hour. It looks like a judge fixing a case in your favor. It looks like a wedding party, like yeast in dough, like a treasure, like a harvest.

To show us what the kin-dom is like, Yeshua tells a lot of stories and some of them are strange. The stories don’t always make a lot of sense, they can bother you like a rock in your shoe, they stay with you, and keep your attention. While sometimes the stories are clear, other times they are mysterious. The stories are about people’s everyday life and experience – they are about sheep and work and money and weddings and bosses and parents and children. There’s a story about a person that gets mugged, and how a foreigner was the only person to care for them. There’s a story about a son that says to their dad, I wish you were dead, give me everything that’s coming my way, and amazingly it’s not a punch. The dad gives the son money, and the son wastes it, squanders everything, but when the son comes home, the father welcomes him with open arms and throws a party. With a wink and a nod, Yeshua says this is what God is like.

He tells a story about sheep. Yeshua says, “Imagine that you have one hundred sheep, and you lose one. Wouldn’t you drop everything, leave the ninety-nine, and search for the missing one, never stopping until you found it?”

When Yeshua tells that story, just think about how the people would have responded to him. They might have said, I appreciate the point you are trying to make but if I have ninety-nine I don’t really need one more. They may have said, have you ever worked with sheep before? Sheep have a way of wandering off so maybe we’d go searching but only after we locked up the ninety-nine.

To these retorts, Yeshua smiles, because even if they missed the point, he knows what matters most, and recognizes that they’ll figure it out too, because what is lost can be found, what’s broken can be redeemed.

That’s why more and more ‘lost’ people start to follow Yeshua. People that don’t have it all together, whose bodies and minds aren’t working properly, people that have been cast aside, outside the usual bonds of empathy because they are sick or boring or dangerous or just weird. Each person that finds themselves with Yeshua is, at least for a moment, a lost sheep that has been found. He’s never disgusted with them, no matter what they’ve done, no matter what has been done to them. No one is too dirty to be embraced.

This all-embracing love changes people – all are healed but some of the healings are more obvious than others. Leprosy, epilepsy, paralysis, schizophrenia, all sorts of demons that seek to destroy lives are no math for the love that created the universe. What seems impossible occurs. The blind see, severed nerve cells reconnect, infections go away, pain ceases.

Even with all that he can do, he can’t mend all the world’s sorrows, and he weeps. The healing of bodies is only a sign of what he’s come to do. Our hearts must be mended. Yeshua sees in each one of us the sin that we hold in common, our human tendency to mess things up, to know what’s right and still choose to do what’s wrong. That’s the disease Yeshua is seeking to cure.

The prevailing thought at the time was that the only way to be free from the stain of this disease is to make a sacrifice. It worked like this – when you do something wrong, when you break a commandment of the law, you look at what the law requires of you and go to the temple, pay a tariff and buy a pigeon or bull or ram, and give it to the priest who kills it on your behalf. Because you have come with penitence and offered this sacrifice, the wrong that you did dies with the animal and you are free to go back to your life, on God’s good side yet again.

But Yeshua insists that no number of dead doves can rewrite our history. These sacrifices might make us feel better, but if they don’t inspire us to be better they haven’t done anything. Yeshua starts to forgive people.

One day someone comes up to him and says, “Don’t you know that only God can forgive?”

At that moment, bits and pieces of the roof start to fall in and suddenly a light shines into the darkness of the house where Yeshua has been teaching. It’s not a sign of divine favor, it’s a hole in the roof created by some friends that wanted to jump the line and make sure their friend can see Yeshua. They lower their friend from the hole in the roof, not sure what will happen next but trusting that Yeshua will live up to his reputation.

Yeshua thinks back to the question he was just asked, “Don’t you know that only God can forgive” to which he responds, “Yes, but we must all agree it would be more difficult to heal this man. So, friend, why don’t you get up and walk, don’t forget to take your bed too.”

Some people start to call Yeshua a king and they give him a parade as he heads into town. He goes to the temple and is devastated to see how faithfulness has been turned into another commodity that can be bought and sold. Yeshua grabs a whip, flips some tables, and burns a lot of bridges.

Some think he’s finally sparked a riot that will get rid of him, but no one joins in. They contemplate what he said, looking at the coins scattered on the floor, wondering if forgiveness could still be found there.

Slowly people scatter away, and Yeshua has marked himself as a menace to society, not only a heretic but a threat to Rome. The Empire already has one king, and even though they have many gods, they don’t have room for many kings.

That night, Yeshua shares a meal with his friends and the mood is just a little…off. They eat lamb, they drink wine, they have bread and bitter herbs. They tell the story of how God liberated them from Egypt and brought them into freedom.

Everyone around the table grew up with this meal, they knew the story well, and they longed for this freedom to be theirs. That’s when Yeshua changes the script. He grabs a piece of bread and says this is my body, broken for you. Then he takes a cup of wine and says this is my blood, poured out for you and for many. Remember me.

The finality of Yeshua’s words up the anxiety in the room. His friends ask, “Why do we have you remember you, you’re with us? Where are you going, because we will go there with you.” They try to say that they will never abandon him, but in a couple of hours, they all do.

Yeshua is in custody and for the rest of the night, he is marched from place to place, beaten as they go back and forth. Interviewed and mocked, this kind of treatment is what any rabble-rouser would expect to receive. He’s punched a few times to keep him moving, worked over to encourage some cooperation in the conversations that he has with those in power. Throughout it all, Yeshua stays, for the most part, silent.

He had been so eloquent before, his wit and banter, his stories and sayings worked so well before, but now he says nothing.

When he’s accused of planning to destroy the temple Yeshua simply says back, “You say so.” When they call him a blasphemer he says, “You say so.” When they call him an enemy of the people and a self-proclaimed king, all he says is, “You say so.”

With the bruises and beatings he’s received, by the next morning no one would confuse him with a king. He had saved others, the people that see him in this state start to wonder if he will save himself. Like countless others in the empire, Yeshua will be crucified. He stumbles under the weight of the crossbar. As he walks by, whispers spread of the company he kept, how these things happen to those people.

When they make it to the execution site, a sign is placed over his head – Here is Your King, written in all the languages of the area. The chief priests didn’t like the sign, but the governor has to make a point – this is what happens to would-be kings.

At this moment, Yeshua cannot do anything but slowly die. His heart is as wide stretched open as his crucified arms. As his breath slows, he says, faintly, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

In the midst of all this suffering and shame, this horror and despair, he doesn’t try to escape it, he doesn’t turn away from the wretched mess he now finds himself in. Yeshua claims the cross as his own, he embraces it. The splinters gouge him, the harm of this moment cannot be escaped, because this love will go where we all go in the end.

There are glimpses of love at the cross, Jesus sees his mother and one of his friends, he tells them to take care of one another, but the pain cannot be ignored, eventually, the pain becomes too much.

For the first time in his life, Yeshua is alone, forsaken, and afraid. All that is left is a man dying in pain, a man that was foolish enough to give up their life and breath to be a carcass on a pole just outside the city limits. Through his tears, with his last breath, Yeshua acknowledges what everyone else already knows, “It is finished”. And with that, he dies.

At dusk his friends finally feel safe enough to come out of hiding and ask for his body, hoping to give Yeshua a quick burial. They only have the time to place his body in a tomb. Washing the corpse and caring for the body, giving one last act of respect will have to wait. It’s almost the Sabbath, the Holy Saturday where work is forbidden, and by now no one wants any more confrontations, no one wants an argument, so they wait.

The next day the city is quiet and life moves on. There are questions that linger, hopes and dreams that won’t go away, but there’s nothing to be done about them now. Yeshua is dead, so people go back to their old lives and try to move on.

Early on Sunday morning, one of Yeshua’s friends braces herself for the work that is before her. She’s returned to the grave with rags and a jug of water, as well as oil and spices that are supposed to help with the smell. Since no one else would pay this final respect for Yeshua, she would.

As she enters the grave, she sees the linen but she doesn’t see the body.

If the indignity of the cross wasn’t enough, being robbed of this final moment of respect is more than she can take. She’s weeping, she’s afraid, and she feels alone. As the world begins to wake up around her, as dawn unfolds, through her tears she barely notices the feet that appear just at the edge of her vision.

“Don’t be afraid”, says Yeshua, “More can be mended than you know.”

She’s weeping, and he helps her to stand up, just like he helps us to stand up today.

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the [Creator].

May it be so, and may we unapologetically embrace the great love of Yeshua as we share it with one another.

Amen.

Unapologetic was written thanks to works by Francis Spufford, Rob Bell, Barbra Brown Taylor, and Diana Butler Bass

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January 27 – February 1, 2020

Click on the day to expand the guide.

Monday

Read – Acts 2:22-47

Notice – Fifty days after Jesus’ crucifixion at Passover, Peter boldly laid out the case for faith in the risen Jesus at the feast of Pentecost. At the heart of Peter’s Spiritguided sermon was verse 32: “This Jesus, God raised up. We are all witnesses to that fact.” Deeply convicted, the crowd asked the key question we must all ask when we encounter the claims of Jesus: “What should we do?” Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives.” Scholar William Barclay wrote, “When repentance comes something happens to the past. There is God’s forgiveness for what lies behind…. When repentance comes something happens for the future. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and in that power we can win battles we never thought to win and resist things which by ourselves we would have been powerless to resist.” *Have you allowed Jesus’ power to give you a fresh start from your past, and a future decisively altered for the better?

Pray – Jesus, those who knew you best unanimously said they were witnesses that you rose from the dead. By that same power, please continue to give me new life as I follow you. Amen

* William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Acts of the Apostles (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 29rvan. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday

ReadMatthew 8:14-9:13, 35-38

Notice – How did Matthew express the reason for Jesus’ compassion when he saw the crowds? To what extent do you think some of your neighbors, co-workers, maybe even people you see in church are “troubled and helpless…sheep without a shepherd” spiritually? How much do you care about their well-being? Is your attitude toward those with different beliefs or lifestyles one of condemnation, or more like the spirit Jesus showed in this passage? Even in this relatively short excerpt, how many types of healing did Matthew describe? If Jesus had preached good news, but not healed anyone, how do you think that would have limited his effectiveness? What about if he had healed sick people, but not offered anyone the spiritual power of God’s Kingdom? What abilities and resources has God given you that you can use to help reach people with the multifaceted good news of Jesus?

Pray – Jesus, well-being and wholeness, in many forms, seemed to spring up wherever you went. I need that, too, so I’m grateful that you continue to work in my life today. Amen.

Wednesday

ReadLuke 19:1-10

Notice – Zacchaeus was a despised tax collector. When Jesus invited himself to eat with Zacchaeus, people grumbled. But Jesus’ love, not condemnation, changed Zacchaeus’ life. Jesus saw a man who could be generous. To the townspeople’s amazement, he turned out to be right. Zacchaeus said, “I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.” Do you know anyone who radically reoriented their life after meeting Jesus? What good qualities has Jesus drawn out or magnified in you?

Pray – Jesus, you don’t condemn me? You want to stay in my home, in my heart? I welcome you, I thank you, and I commit my humbled, grateful self to follow you. Amen.

Thursday

Read – Romans 7:14-8:17

Notice – Paul told the Romans plainly about the struggle between good and evil in his own life. Gritting his teeth and resolving to do better, he said, didn’t produce the good he sought. It was only as he trusted in Jesus’ grace that he found, day by day, God’s power freeing him from evil’s grip. Paul’s picture of our inner struggles was not unique. The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote of “our helplessness in necessary things.” But Paul’s words did not end in despair. “Who will deliver me from this dead corpse? Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (verse 24-25) When have you experienced Christ’s power, not wiping out the struggle, but empowering you to more and more come out on the right side of it?

Pray – Jesus, as a member of your family, I choose to focus on you and the power of your reconciling love, rather than on myself and my feelings of shame and despair. Thank you, Jesus, for making this new life possible. Amen.

Friday

Read1 John 1:-2:6, 4:7-12

Notice – John’s claim was (and is) amazing. He said he had heard, seen and touched “the Word of life” which was “from the beginning”: i.e. God, creator and savior! This was no abstract theory. John wrote about someone he’d known. How can John’s direct testimony give you a firmer basis for your faith? Does that quality of testimony help you trust that Jesus is “the eternal life that was with [God]”? When first-century writers said, “We knew Jesus,” how seriously should you take the implications of their claim? Most of us know the words: “God is love.” Are there life experiences and inner messages that make it hard for you to rely on God’s love? What helps you trust God’s love more? Which people do you find it hardest to love as God loves them? In what ways has God’s love, and the love of other people you know, helped you to keep living in love even when you face trouble, confusion, harassment or life knocking you down?

Pray – Jesus, you are the ultimate source of love, the awe-inspiring model who shows me the lengths to which love went to reach me. Keep growing my ability to love you and others in all circumstances. Amen.

Saturday

ReadJohn 3:1-8, 16-21

Notice – Nicodemus, a member of the highest Hebrew religious council, saw Jesus’ obvious spiritual power, and wanted to talk to this new teacher. He came at night—he wasn’t ready to risk his status as a leader. John 3:16 sprang from their visit. Earlier in their talk, Jesus spoke about being “born again” (perhaps a pun with a serious point—the Greek word anothen translated “again” could also mean “from above”). How did Jesus connect the ideas of “birth” and “new life” in this section? In what ways (if at all) do you believe your eternal life has begun due to the impact of God’s love on your life? How has God brought you from the darkness into the light?

Pray – Jesus, you continually and lovingly call me to walk in your light. Keep breaking me free from any ways in which I love darkness, and drawing me to your loving, light-giving presence. Amen.

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