Being Prepared

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matthew 25:1–13)

The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared.” Jesus’ parable about the ten virgins was about being prepared. Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to ten virgins with lamps who went out to meet the bridegroom so that they could lead him to his bride. They had oil for their lamps, but only half of them carried extra.

Notice that all the virgins, both wise and foolish, fell asleep as they awaited their delayed bridegroom. Jesus’ point was not that we should be on constant alert. Rather, we need to always be ready.

The foolish virgins who did not bring any extra oil, ended up excluded from the wedding that followed. Paul writes that the wisdom of the world is foolishness while what seems foolish to the world is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:20-21). In Jesus’ parable, the wise virgins are those who burdened themselves with what seemed to the foolish virgins unnecessary extra baggage. There was no reason to anticipate running out of oil.

Parables are not allegories, with each bit in them standing for something else. Rather, there is a “moral to the story.” The moral to the Jesus’ parable is simple: Jesus wants us to be prepared to wait for him a long time, however long that might be. And while we wait, he expects us to live according to his law of love.

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Habitable Earth Cousin?

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Transfiguration

Bear with me. I’m toying with some oddities in Scripture and wondering if they somehow go together. This is what is called speculation. Blue sky thinking. Brainstorming. And I’m doing it in public.

I know, right?

Just before the people of Israel enter the Promised Land, God shows it to Moses from the top of Pisgah:

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. (Deuteronomy 34:1-5)

On the Mt. of Transfiguration, the apostles see Jesus transfigured, and they see Moses and Elijah.

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 16:28-17:8)

So what happened there? Are they only witnessing a change in Jesus’ appearance? Or are they “seeing the Son of Man coming into his kingdom”? That is, are they seeing into the promised land of the eternal kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven–from their perspective, still in the future–where Moses and Elijah happen to be?

When the witch of Endor brings up Samuel, is he a ghost–or is what Saul witnesses something akin to what the Apostles saw with Moses and Elijah on the Mt. of Transfiguration?

When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”

“There is one in Endor,” they said.

So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”

Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.”

Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

“Bring up Samuel,” he said.

When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”

The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”

“What does he look like?” he asked.

“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.

Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.

Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”

Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has departed from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”

Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night. (1 Samuel 28:5-20)

Was Samuel a ghost? Or was he like Moses and Elijah when Jesus was transfigured? Was this a vision, or a visit to the eternal kingdom? What does it mean that Samuel was disturbed by being brought up? What is actually going on? Can these odd and difficult to make sense of events be linked in some way?

Is it possible that Moses saw the promised land as it would be when Israel was living in it, or as it would be in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven? Did Jesus take his three disciples up Mt. Tabor and give them a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven? Especially given the context where he explicitly announces, just before the story of the transfiguration occurs in the text of Matthew—that “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

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Reusable

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Good News


“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21–26)

The Pharisees had thought long and hard about who deserved to go to Hell. They had come up with an obvious list of crimes: for instance, murder.

But Jesus indicated that it wasn’t a question of who deserved judgment. The question was, is there anyone who doesn’t deserve judgment? Jesus explained that even the best people of all still deserved God’s condemnation. Everyone has been angry with someone. We’ve all called people “fools” or worse. The word rendered “fool” simply means, “empty headed.” Calling someone “stupid” or “idiot” is not okay just because we didn’t call them “fool.” You’re just being worldly–that is, legalistic, you know, like a lawyer or a politician. Jesus’ point was that it was wrong to insult people at all. Doesn’t fit in with the whole loving people which is the whole point of the Bible (Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8, Matthew 7:12, Colossians 3:12-14).

Then Jesus turned up the heat. Even if we’re not angry with someone, there might be someone who is angry with us, so we’re still in trouble with God. We’re simply never free of guilt.

Jesus wants us to understand that we all deserve God’s judgment. No matter how well behaved we are, we still fall short of perfection and there is nothing we can do about it. But God has a solution. He came up with a way for us to avoid his judgment: by punishing someone else in our place: Jesus Christ, his Son. Thanks to Jesus dying on the cross, God forgives us of all our bad deeds and even our bad thoughts, which are legion. He knows we’re bad. So he took care of the issue:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

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Giving Up to Gain All

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he went to Galilee. But instead of staying in Nazareth, Jesus moved to Capernaum. This town was beside Lake Galilee in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. So God’s promise came true, just as the prophet Isaiah had said,

“Listen, lands of Zebulun and Naphtali,
lands along the road to the sea
and east of the Jordan!
Listen Galilee, land of the Gentiles!
Although your people live in darkness,
they will see a bright light.
Although they live in the shadow of death,
a light will shine on them.”

Then Jesus started preaching, “Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here.”

While Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers. One was Simon, also known as Peter, and the other was Andrew. They were fishermen, and they were casting their net into the lake. Jesus said to them, “Come with me! I will teach you how to bring in people instead of fish.” Right then the two brothers dropped their nets and went with him.
Jesus walked on until he saw James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in a boat with their father, mending their nets. Jesus asked them to come with him too. Right away they left the boat and their father and went with Jesus. (Matthew 4:12–22)

When Jesus asked his disciples to “come with him” they dropped everything and followed. The disciples had already spent time with Jesus, talked to him, perhaps even witnessed a miracle before Jesus asked them to follow. They were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. They thought that meant he was going to re-establish the monarchy, become king, defeat the Romans and rule the world. So the chance to join the Messiah’s team was an opportunity not to be missed.

Over time, they discovered that they had misunderstood just what he was offering them. What he offered them was infinitely better than a petty earthly kingdom with physical prosperity and power. He in fact, offered them the chance to become the brothers of the creator of the universe, to join in God’s eternal kingdom forever.

When we understand clearly what it is we have been given in our relationship with Jesus, the problems and trials of life become vanishingly small. It doesn’t seem odd at all that Peter, Andrew, James and John would leave behind all their physical belongings, their businesses, every last thing they had, in order to join with Jesus. In Christ, we get not just the opportunity of a lifetime, but the opportunity of all of eternity.

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To Mars

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Alpha Omega

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:12–20)

Jesus will come back soon. He is coming with a reward for everyone, “according to what he has done.” But Moses, David and Paul took part in murder. The thief on the cross never performed any good deeds. And what about the woman caught in adultery, or the prostitute who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears? Will they all be locked out of the city?

Jesus’ words allude to those of the prophet Isaiah, who announced that God would come to his people Israel with his reward (Isaiah 40:10 and 62:11). That “reward” was not based on anything that Israel deserved. The “reward” referred to God’s work of bestowing the blessings of salvation on his faithful people. That “work” is actually God’s work of forgiveness (Isaiah 40:2).

Only the Lamb was “worthy” to be accepted by God (Revelation 5:22), while “those who washed their robes and made them white by the blood of the lamb” (Revelation 7:14) are those to be saved. We will be rewarded by Jesus when he returns for us and we are saved not just from our sins, but from their effects. Our reward is the inheritance we have in God’s Kingdom as his forgiven and adopted children.

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Learning Trust

His mother and brothers showed up but couldn’t get through to him because of the crowd. He was given the message, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside wanting to see you.”

He replied, “My mother and brothers are the ones who hear and do God’s Word. Obedience is thicker than blood.”

One day he and his disciples got in a boat. “Let’s cross the lake,” he said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”

Getting to his feet, he told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!” They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.

Then he said to his disciples, “Why can’t you trust me?”

They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, “Who is this, anyway? He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!” (Luke 8:19-25)

Without trust, there can be no obedience. Jesus’ mother and brothers didn’t believe him to be the Messiah. They looked at how Jesus lifestyle and all they could see was a problem. They believed that Jesus was behaving in an irrational way. They were concerned for his health and welfare. Jesus used their concern for him to point out that belief involved hearing and then doing God’s word.

But his disciples were not any better than his family at the doing of God’s word. Although they were obedient when it came to getting in the boat and heading across the lake, when a problem came up, they were as quick as his family was to doubt him. Neither Jesus’ family nor his disciples trusted him. Hearing God’s words and doing them depends upon trusting them.

There was no thought in the disciples’ minds, when they awakened Jesus about any hope, any way out. Instead, they merely informed him that they were doomed to drown. Their situation overwhelmed their ability to see who Jesus was. Of course, their inability to see past their situation did not prevent Jesus from doing what had to be done. The disciples had no faith, no expectation, no hope. Jesus acted anyway, because Jesus’ ability to save is not dependent upon our ability to believe that he can do it. Jesus does what is necessary regardless of our panic.

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Faith

When [Jesus] had concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. A centurion’s slave, who was highly valued by him, was sick and about to die. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Him, requesting Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they reached Jesus, they pleaded with Him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this, because he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.” Jesus went with them, and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Him, “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, since I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be cured. For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

Jesus heard this and was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found so great a faith even in Israel!” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health. (Luke 7:1-10)

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The Centurion didn’t feel deserving, but he asked anyway. In Luke’s presentation of the story of the Centurion with the sick slave, some elders encouraged Jesus to come to the Centurion based on what a good man he was.

Did Jesus go to heal the Centurion because he was a good man? No. Jesus didn’t heal people based on their goodness. It was only after he healed them that he told them to “sin no more.”
The Centurion told Jesus that a word from Jesus would be enough; Jesus didn’t even have to come to him. In Luke’s telling of the tale, Jesus doesn’t even announce the healing. Instead, we only get Jesus’ reaction to the Centurion’s great faith, followed by the news that the slave was, in fact, healed.

The Centurion didn’t believe himself worthy of Jesus’ presence. But Jesus marveled at his faith. The Centurion, though the builder of a synagogue, remained a Gentile. He had not converted to Judaism. The Centurion’s faith, and Jesus’ healing of his slave, demonstrated that the grace of God was available to the entire human race. The Messiah that was supposed to destroy the Romans healed the slave of a leader in their armed forces.

Jesus is far more than we think. Jesus reaches beyond where we think he would go. Or could go. Or should go. He is not bound by what binds us.

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