Monday, March 31, 2014

Gethsemane Cirsle -Roads Less Traveled #4

In my own life as a pastor and a student, I have always valued preparation. Academically, knowing full well what I was called to in the ministry, I saw university and seminary as a necessity as it prepared me to stand before you as your pastor, preacher, and leader. At least for me, without having taken time to prepare myself, I know I would have struggled to do what God has asked of me week after week in this unique role. Preparation has not only given me confidence, but it has helped me deal with unforeseen difficulties, changes, and distress. How I handle the difficult moments in my ministry is a direct reflection of how well I have been prepared to face certain challenges. Thankfully, I was blessed with excellent mentors and teachers who had been in the trenches of ministry before and demonstrated how to prepare adequately for the pastorate.

However, today I do not want to talk careers, but our unique role as disciples of Jesus Christ. The best way to learn how to prepare ourselves for this unique role is to learn from the best, Jesus Christ Himself, observing what He did and how He handled difficulty and distress so that we might know how to prepare ourselves for the same in our own lives. Thankfully, Mark 14:32-42 gives us such a lesson as Jesus heads into what would be the most challenging episode of His ministry. In the next road that Jesus takes, He finds Himself in Gethsemane. While there, He gives five statements that work together to teach the invaluable role of prayer in the life of every disciple as he or she prepares to do what God has called upon him or her to accomplish for Him.


Though many envision this scene as having taken place in a garden full of olive trees, many scholars believe that Gethsemane was a oil press located on the Mount of Olives in a spacious cave. In fact, the word Gethsemane means “oil press” in Aramaic. Such a location close to the city would have been a perfect spot to spend a chilly night (later in Mark 14:54, others are shown to be kindling themselves by fires). It provided privacy, protection from the elements, and plenty of space for Jesus and His disciples to spread out and do what He would ask them to do in this first statement.

Having been on the move for some time now (from Zacchaeus’ Street in Luke 19:1-10 out of Jericho on Miracle Way in Mark 10:46-52, and down Main Street Jerusalem in Luke 10:37-44), Jesus, after celebrating the Passover in the Upper room, moves into Gethsemane Circle and finally has His disciples “sit.” This change from movement to being stationary signals a shift in the greater story. This was the beginning of the events that would unfold leading to Jesus’ death. However, before things get underway, His requests that His disciples “sit…until I have prayed” (14:32b).

Don’t believe prayer is worth much? Feel like there are better things to do with your time? Consider that Jesus Himself stopped to pray before big events in His own life. In His final ministry moments, Jesus begins an important lesson on prayer that begins with committing oneself to stop and take time out to give oneself over to this important practice. Prayer is priority number one.


Moving out of the cave and into the garden itself, Jesus decides to bring along with Him some of His closer associates, “and He took with Him Peter and James and John” (14:33a). These were the same disciples who had been allowed to watch Jesus heal Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5 and witness Christ’s transfiguration in Mark 9. These were Jesus’ confidants, compatriots, and those closest to Him whom He hand-picked to rely on in times like this.

On this night Jesus “began to be very distressed and troubled” (14:33b). In this particular moment, Jesus was “very distressed and troubled” (14:33b). His death was around the corner, alluding to the fact that sin needed to be eradicated in the first place. That death was even present in the world at all, and that God’s judgment rested on mankind also contributed to Jesus emotion as the climax of His ministry was now in view.

Jesus communicates as much to His close associates saying, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (14:34). In so many words, Jesus tells the three that His soul was overwhelmed with such sorrow that it threatened to kill Him! “The full impact of His death and its spiritual consequence struck Jesus and He staggered under its weight. The prospect of alienation from His Father [also no doubt] horrified Him” (BKC).

In light of this growing pressure and pending series of difficult events, Jesus simply asks that His disciples would remain nearby and “keep watch” (14:34). This word means to be in a continuous state of readiness so as to learn. Jesus, knowing what lies just around the corner, hoped that His disciples would learn something as things progressed on Gethsemane Circle that night.

But what could His disciples possibly learn at this point? By singling out these three and bringing them with Him to this solitary place on this night, Jesus alludes to the importance of fellowship in times of great grief. Jesus Himself looked to others for support in the dark points of His ministry, teaching all who read this that no matter how bad things get, none should proceed through the fires of life alone.


With the larger group presumably praying in the warmth  of the cave, and His close associates supposedly giving their own support nearby, Jesus then proceeds “a little beyond them,” falls to the ground, and begins “to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by” (14:35). The typical Jewish prayer posture was to lift one’s hands toward heaven and to pray aloud while standing. When one was in particular distress, he or she would prostrate his or herself on the ground. Here, Jesus assumes this position, which, in many ways, resembled the posture many took before Him to make their requests. Jesus approached God on that night in the same manner as those who came before Him for healing—desperate, broken, and humble.

If Jesus approached the Lord God in this way, why don’t we? Entitlement, pride, and self-sufficiency have no place in prayer.    

After assuming this posture of humility, brokenness and desperation before God, Jesus voices His prayer before the Lord and begins with adoration, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You” (14:36a). Knowing what lied ahead and the suffering, pain, and betrayal that waited for Him outside of the garden, Jesus takes time to praise the Lord! This commitment to praise satisfies Psalm 34:1 (“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth”) and Paul’s later encouragement in Thess.  5:18 to “Rejoice always;  pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Here, Jesus praises God because He has a close relationship with Him (“Abba”) is in total control and possesses all authority (“Father”) and is all powerful (“all things are possible for You”). 

Jesus commends God in these specific areas perhaps because these attributes were sympathetic to the nature of His supplication, “remove this cup from Me” (14:36b). Jesus asks for this in light of His intimate relationship with Him, because only the Father’s authority would authorize such a request, and because only God in His power could turn the events in a different direction than where they were headed. This cup that Jesus’ asks to be removed is the cup of God’s incredible wrath against sin—the very cup that Jesus anticipates being spilled on Him while hanging on the cross. Jesus, who had enjoyed a perfect and intimate relationship with God from eternity past did not now want that to be broken with wrath and judgment. He had never experienced God’s wrath before and more than anyone else wanted to avoid it if possible.   

However, in spite of His own desires, Jesus concludes that ultimately it is not up to Him and submits Himself to the God’s will saying, “yet not what I will but what You will” (14:36c). This is true submission. Christ-like submission recognizes that while God can do anything, preference is given to His will over our desires. The same Jesus who said "All things are possible with You" and "Let this cup pass" also said "yet not what I will but what You will."

Here, Jesus demonstrates in the most grievous and desperate situation He has faced up to this point, that there is always room for prayer. Even further, He has shown that there is always time to praise God in distress, ask for whatever it is that you want, and ultimately submit yourself to God’s will over your own desires. To pray in this way is to pray like Christ.


Though we can benefit from what Jesus did by reading it here, the disciples who were supposed to be alert and learning these things for themselves firsthand were missing their opportunity, “and He came and found them sleeping” (14:37a). When all the world is about to change and the greatest challenges are about to be confronted, the disciples are sleeping on the job.

Jesus confronts this slumber head on and while incredibly frustrated, Jesus graciously asks Peter, the spokesperson and pseudo leader of the twelve, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?”(14:37b). In other words, Jesus says, “could you not even stay alert for a little while?!”

Jesus then requests, once again their alertness and involvement in prayer, saying, “keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation” (14:38a). In this request, Jesus spells out for his disciples exactly what it is that they should be doing at this time of great significance, praying. Specifically, they are supposed to be praying that they may not come into temptation. However, what “temptation” is Jesus referencing? The answer might most nearly be the very temptation that He now faced, the temptation to side with His own desires and back out of God’s will. Truly, this is at the heart of any and all sin. Sin, by definition is the rejection of God’s will for one’s own pursuits. Whether these pursuits include self-preservation, satisfying lusts, earthly success, etc., if they are contrary to the will of God, they are sin. Therefore, Jesus asks His disciples to, like Himself, pray that God would give them the strength to choose God’s will over their own, knowing full well that although the “spirit is willing” often times the “flesh is weak”(14:38b).

Immediately after waking His disciples to remind them of what they should have been doing, Jesus returns to prayer, demonstrating what He hoped to see in the lives of the twelve.

What Jesus encourages here is the very same thing He encourages of us as His disciples today—vigilant, persistent, alert prayer that God’s will, not our personal preferences, would be realized on the earth.  Anything less opens us up, as it would His disciples, to falling prey to giving in to the flesh over the spirit. We too must recognize how weak our flesh is and remain alert in prayer so that when pressures rise we may not be found asleep. Jesus looks at His church today and says “Wake up! Give yourselves to prayer! The times are desperate and things are about to get really hard.”

Romans 12:12- "Rejoice in hope, persevere in tribulation, be devoted to prayer."

Ephesians 6:18- "Pray at all times in the Spirit . . . with all perseverance."


May we not be guilty of what the disciples were guilty of in verses 40-41, “and again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.” It is obvious that the disciples did not understand how serious things were, what was about to happen, and the urgency that was required.

Jesus “came the third time, and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners” (14:41). Though Jesus had encouraged His disciples to be alert in prayer, knowing full well what they were about to face, they neglected this sacred and most precious privilege in order to catch some Z’s. There was no time to fix this and soon all of them no doubt would wish they had spent their time in Gethsemane Circle more wisely.

“Get up” Jesus says “Let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!”(14:42). “Start Out, it has begun” and by “it” Jesus was referring to the events that would inevitably lead down the road we will soon come upon in our series, the road to Golgotha. Having prostrated Himself before the Lord in fervent prayer, Jesus would be able to stand before His accusers, remain faithful, and proceed in the Spirit, never giving in to the desires of His flesh. However, because the disciples had neglected to do the same, one would betray Him, one would deny Him three times, and all would cower under the pressures they would soon face.

So What?

These five statements that were given on Gethsemane Circle work together to teach the priority and primacy of prayer in the life of Christ. Prayer proceeded His most difficult episode, was encouraged in a group of like-minded individuals, was offered from a heart that was humble, broken, and desperate, included adoration, supplication, and submission to the Father’s will, and was persistent in its desire to see God’s will executed over fleshly desires. Jesus succeeded in praying this way; however, His disciples, when given the opportunity failed miserably and were therefore unprepared for what was in store. Truly, all of them would soon choose self-preservation and other selfish pursuits over God’s will and demonstrate their inclination toward the flesh instead of the Spirit.

May this not be said of US! May we not be caught asleep or dreary-eyed when we should always be watchful, alert, and prayerful! May we, like Christ, adore God for who He is no matter how bad things may be, ask for Him to do incredible things on our behalf, and ultimately submit ourselves to His plan over our desires. May we always approach God out of desperation, humility and brokenness as we, like Christ, head into difficult situations in order to bring life to this dead and dying world. May we always spend time kneeling before the Lord so that we may have the strength to stand before any and all oppression, difficulty, and tribulation for the glory of God. Wake up Christian! Wake up Church! It is time to be like Christ in the way that we pray!


Monday, March 24, 2014

Main Street Jerusalem- Roads Less Traveled #3

A man fell off a cliff, but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down. The following conversation ensued:

"Is anyone up there?"
"I am here. I am the Lord. Do you believe me?"
"Yes, Lord, I believe. I really believe, but I can't hang on much longer."
"That's all right, if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch."
A moment of pause, then: "Is anyone else up there?"

Faith is an easy thing to talk about but another thing entirely to practice. Even when practiced properly, the quality of faith is entirely dependent on what or who the faith is placed in.  This important theological idea has proven to be the deciding factor in every one of the episodes described on Jesus’ way to Calvary and beyond as He has taken the roads less traveled. The faith of a tax collector and a blind man have been awarded with restoration and healing because they discovered Jesus Christ. The road the follows after Jesus Christ is paved with faith. Would this theme continue as Jesus finally arrives in Jerusalem? As Jesus turns on Main Street, we see a people who, because of their “faith,” were giddy and excited. However, the responses found in this passage will reveal the true nature of the “faith” that is expressed.

As we enter into this story Jesus’ disciples have already made the final preparations for His entrance into the city. This passage describes the ascent to Jerusalem from the town of Bethany. The responses described here took place once the city of Jerusalem was in sight as they descended down from the Mount of Olives, “…as soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives,…”(19:37). This small range of mountains stands 2660ft above sea level and lies directly across from the Temple. Luke, in his own style, includes these and other details to add to the drama that is about to unfold. The more frequent use of geographical notes heightens the excitement and suggests that the anticipated key events in Jesus’ life are drawing to a close just as Jesus drew close to the city. It is almost as though the pace of the story goes into slow motion so that we don’t miss any details.

It is important to realize that the “disciples” mentioned in verse 37 included the “whole crowd” that had followed Jesus for some time now on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The two Greek superlatives used to describe the immensity of the group are literally translated “the whole of the multitude of the disciples.”

Think back to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton at St Paul’s Cathedral. If you rose early enough to watch or observe any of the coverage, you would have seen thousands of people lining the streets on either side, in celebration of the occasion. This is the picture we get here.  

This enormous crowd comes complete with loud cheering and joyous praise—something that Luke alone mentions (19:37d). It is clear, as Luke reveals, that their cheers found their source in God’s miraculous works. Jesus’ ministry had been characterized by a continuous demonstration of God’s power: The deaf spoke, the blind saw, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, and the gospel was preached! Their praise was in response to these wonders they had beheld in these last three years of ministry. It was obvious that the crowd understood that Jesus was extraordinary based on what He could do. 

Luke then gives us the content of the crowd’s response, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (19:38). The use of Psalm 118:26 here depicts a leader leading pilgrims to the temple and receiving a greeting of welcome from the priests at the temple, probably on the occasion of some major victory. The key difference between these two passages is the addition of “the King.” While Luke has already made mention of Jesus’ Davidic connection in his gospel, here he explicitly calls Jesus “King.” Truly, the implication was that Jesus, the King of the Jews, was coming to reign and for the time being, these Jews were excited.

The phrase, “peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” acknowledges God’s work in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ message was a message of hope for the future and peace between man and God in the present, which, in its entirety brings glory in the highest! As Jesus entered the city He presented Himself as the King who brought the nation the hope of peace for which they had so desperately longed.

While the crowd sang its praise, a few were standing in a shadowy corner in no hurry to jump on this bandwagon. Some of the Pharisees quickly tell Jesus to silence the chorus that is growing louder with every stanza, “teacher, rebuke your disciples” (19:39). This presumptuous command given by the Pharisees suggests that they were offended by the confession the crowd was lifting up. They regarded this praise as inappropriate because they could not swallow the fact that Jesus is the Messiah who has been prophesized. This is why they were quick to call on Jesus Himself to put an end to this hellacious carnival outside Jerusalem’s walls.


Jesus reacts to this desperate command with deep irony. In an ardent refusal to stop this messianic confession of His followers, Jesus claims that if they ceased in their praise, creation itself would cry out in testimony to Him (19:40). Creation itself is aware of Jesus! Inanimate, base, lifeless creation, is in tune with Jesus’ authority and yet the leadership of the nation of Israel was not!  (Luke is the only one of the gospels to portray the Pharisee’s rejection as a tragic stinging indictment of their lack of judgment).

A triumphant entry to say the least! Jesus is greeted by those already in Jerusalem with a king’s reception, songs of praise, and all of the honor due His name. Not even the Pharisees could ruin this moment! However, there is something insidious lurking under the surface of this joyful spectacle—something that Jesus alone can see when He looks out into the crowd. As the camera zooms in on Jesus we are taken into the mind of Christ and made aware of His response to Jerusalem.  


Undeterred by the Pharisees, Jesus continues down Main Street. Once again the word, for drawing near appears in order to suggest that Jesus is inching closer to His destination (both physically and ministerially as He headed to the cross). However, as soon as Jesus sees the city, He weeps, “When he approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it.”(19:41). But why?

Have you ever been privy to something that others around you weren’t. Maybe you knew the outcome of some competition before the results were announced and watched all of the participants anxious and hopeful that they would win the prize. It is difficult to see. Parents, especially mothers, have you even been asked your child to do something, knowing full well they were going to disobey or divert from your instruction. I imagine it is not a fun thing to go through. This is similar to what Jesus is facing here.

However, what does know that upsets Him?  Jesus mourns because Jerusalem as a whole has missed the nature of the times. Although this day held potential for God’s restoring peace, their failure, the same failure that Jesus had warned them about, cut the celebration short. The note of sadness is introduced by this contrary to fact condition, “if you only knew,…but you didn’t.” This reference to peace is a reference to the gospel message, which, much to Jesus’ dismay would be ignored, or refused by the same people waving their branches. The Gospel, was hidden from the city’s eyes. Blindness was a result from their failure to know Jesus and instead of enjoying the peace that comes from salvation, they would be destroyed. These are the tears of one who knows that the people have already turned their backs on God’s message. Though they acted like they knew Jesus, all they pretended to understand was His works.  

Jesus, like an Old Testament prophet, suggests that important events are about to take place. This would be the payment for Jerusalem’s rejection. Just as the nation had been taken into exile after God’s judgment in the OT, Jesus predicts judgment for the generation He is staring at along the sidewalks. What was supposed to be a visitation for salvation, would become a visitation of judgment.

 “…For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you an every side…” (19:43). Jesus uses war terminology, primarily of a siege in which barricades are raised and an impenetrable perimeter is established. The historical event in view is clearly the attack that led to the collapse of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.              

Jesus follows the three descriptions of verse 43 with two more portrayals of the nation’s demise. First, the nation and its children are will die. The image invoked here of “level to the ground” is a scene of corpses filling the streets (19:44a). Secondly, the description of one stone not being on another pictures the city being completely leveled. The defeat is total. Nothing is left standing. While the stones might have cried out in praise, they are now spoken of being completely obliterated.

This is the antithesis of what God desired for his people, (peace, protection, salvation). But the choice would be theirs and Jesus knew that they would chose rejection. 

The reason for this horrific prophecy and ultimate fulfillment in A.D. 70 is that the nation missed the opportunity to respond to the moment of Christ’s visitation for all it meant. Jesus would not prove to be what they wanted Him to be, (a political figure). Although they should have welcomed Jesus as the Savior of their souls, their blindness proved fatal and less than a week later, this same crowd full of praise and love, would be cheering not for salvation but for the death of the man who triumphantly entered on a donkey days before down Main Street.
So What?
Having looked at these two responses, it is clear that praising Jesus is not enough for salvation. Acknowledging Christ for His miracles won’t bring peace to your life. Joining the bandwagon of worship will not satisfy God’s wrath. Faith must be in the person of Christ Himself after having learned exactly who He is! He is God, King, Savior, Deliverer, Messiah, and Lord. Some reading this today may be living in Palm Sunday or on Main Street. Life has dealt you a good hand, things are going well, and praising Jesus fits easily into your personality, schedule, and behaviors just like it did for these Jews for the time being. But if you really examined your life, you would discover that you do not know Him intimately. Jesus looks at you and weeps because He knows that it is just a matter of time before life changes or some event rocks your world and causes you to turn on Him and curse His name! For many, Jesus won’t be what they want Him to be, do what they want Him to do etc. and because of this, they will turn on Him. We are not called to have Palm Sunday faith (fickle faith that does not save). Do not let the spectacle of Palm Sunday fool you. For the most part, those who lined Main Street would line the path to Calvary.  We are called to resurrection Sunday faith (faith that remains when the miracles cease, when God can’t be heard, and when all hope seems lost). That is where we are headed in our series. However, there are still a few more roads we must take first.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Miracle Way-Roads Less Traveled #2

Today we are going to continue to take the roads less traveled by Jesus on the way to Calvary and beyond as we prepare for Easter. Last week we took a stroll down Zaccheus’ street, an ignored boulevard by all who knew Him, and discovered that Jesus’ purpose for coming to the world in the first place was to seek and to save the lost (yes, even people like Zaccheus). The unmerited grace Zaccheus was given also set Jesus apart from every other deity. While all other deities require works for rescuing, we learned that Jesus gives undeserved graces.

However, today we going to take on the next leg in Jesus’ journey in Mark 10:46-52. Here, we pick up where Luke 19:1-10 left off and find ourselves on what I am going to affectionately call “miracle way.” Some roadways afford opportunities to encounter amazing spectacles that require people to stop, get out, and take a look. This would be no different.  Therefore, without further ado, let us investigate 3 interactions that take place as Jesus heads out of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem from Mark 10:46-52.

I. INTERACTION #1: Between the Blind man and the Crowd-10:46-48

In light of what happened in Luke 19:1-10, it might be inferred that the current episode followed shortly after Jesus lodged at Zaccheus’ house. He is still on His way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast and was somewhere in Jericho (some 13 or so miles northeast of Jerusalem). It is appropriate to also mention that Jesus is at the end of His ministry, doing His best to cram all that He can before Calvary.

So far, this unbridled determination has led Him on Zaccheus’ street to a tax collector’s estate. Jesus has already made quite a name for Himself in these final ministry moments and what will happen next would be more of the same.

Jesus is now on His final leg in the pilgrimage He is taking to Jerusalem. He is joined by a massive crowd of people. Some, to be sure, are simply curious about this man who had dined with someone they all hated. Others were simply on their way to Jerusalem to worship during the Passover. All, both Jesus and these followers, were Jewish worshippers heading toward a beloved celebration.

This would not be unlike everyone heading to their respective places of worship on the biggest day of worship every year. Although I wish I was talking about Easter or Christmas, I’m referring to the Superbowl. Everyone who is anyone dresses up and meets with friends to participate in the festivities. For some it is about the game, for others it is about meeting with friends.

However, someone is being left out of the revelry and celebration, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus “a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road” (10:46c). As a blind man, he was not only physically handicapped and financially impoverished, but he also would have been excluded from participation in the temple worship. This pitiful plight is extenuated by his posture—he is sitting by the road. While everyone else is heading to the party, Bartimaeus is stuck on several different levels—he is physically stuck in his current sitting position, he is stuck in a social position far beneath what was admired or acceptable (he is a beggar), and he is stuck in a ceremonially unclean state (he is blind).

Though blind and immobile, Bartimaeus has not lost his voice, “when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” No doubt as the crowd approached this man and passed him, he investigated the source of the following that he could hear was in large supply. Depending on his auditory senses, Bartimaeus eventually discovers who had created this stir and drawn so many people; it was Jesus! Though he had never seen Him up to this point in his life, Bartimaeus no doubt had heard about Him, both positively and negatively. Stories of miracles and trips to Zaccheus’ home were probably widespread in this region. This gave Bartimaeus reason for hope. If Jesus could heal others, surely he could heal him! If Jesus entertained outcasts, surely he would pay attention to his need!

With this hope in view, Bartimaeus literally screams out to Jesus “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”(10:47b). By implementing a title used no here else in Mark, Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus’ royal authority as the promised king from the line of David. It is clear, that at least on some level, Bartimaeus recognizes that Jesus is special and is eliciting Him for help.

However, in his desperate attempt for healing, Bartimaeus seems to have offended some in the crowd, “men were sternly telling him to be quiet” (10:48a). This blind beggar is obviously cramping the style of some of the Jewish pilgrims who would have preferred to have their journey to Jerusalem uninterrupted by such loud screams, especially when they came from someone who did not have a lot going on.

I often get the same sentiment from my wife, “hush, you are creating a scene!” 

However, Bartimaeus is undeterred by the crowd’s attempts to silence him and keeps on screaming, “but he kept crying out all the more” (10:48b)(the idea here is “much more”). This time the verb is imperfect, suggesting that his screams were ongoing and would continue until they were answered.

It is obvious that this interaction is not going too well. A blind beggar is stuck in a crowd of people, who could care less about his condition, his needs, and his concerns. Things would get nowhere unless someone intervened.

II. INTERACTION #2: Between Jesus and the Crowd-10:49-50

Between Bartimaeus’ screams and the crowd’s shushing, Jesus does what He can to catch everyone’s attention, He stops, “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here’”(10:49a). It would appear that Bartimaeus’s hopes came true and his efforts paid off! Jesus had stopped for Him!

However, readers are not immediately made aware of how Bartimaeus responded. Instead, the crowd is mentioned first, “so they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you’” (10:49b). This was a different song than was sung by the crowd before. We must have misinterpreted things before. The crowd cared all along about this poor man and was just looking for the right opportunity to help…right?...WRONG! This switch from scolding to service does not suggest benevolence, but duplicity. This crowd was following Jesus for the optics, not out of love for God and others. Though they thought this man was not worth helping before when it appeared to be an inconvenience, now they were happily willing to go along with Jesus’ request because Jesus had stopped and given His own attention to it. What were they going to do, stand there and do nothing? Proceed to Jerusalem without this celebrity? Of course not!

Such duplicity in this story is not unlike the religious duplicity witnessed in many churches. Rather than willingly helping others all of the time, we wait until a big event is taking place, service project is announced, or time is set aside. However, for the most part, the optics are not in keeping with our personal agendas to really lend a helping hand, especially to those who request it by screaming or by any other social unacceptable way.

Once called by Christ, the man leaps to his feet and takes as much of a b-line path to Jesus as a blind man could, “throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus” (10:50). Once shown the grace of Jesus’ presence and attention, this man is no longer stuck as he once was. In fact, so excited by Jesus’ grace is Bartimaeus that he throws aside his cloak, perhaps his only worldly possession and the very thing he used to collect alms from passers-by.  It is clear that by this time, things are looking up for Bartimaeus (that is once Jesus intervened on his behalf by speaking to the crowd).

III. INTERACTION #3: Between Jesus and the Blind Man-10:51-52

After making his way to the Messiah, Jesus engages Bartimaeus himself by asking, “what do you want Me to do for you?”(10:51a). Jesus probably asked this question for several different reasons. However, more than any other reason, Jesus probably wanted Bartimaeus to articulate his faith. It is one thing to wish for something in your heart. It is something different to actually ask for it if given the opportunity, believing that it will actually happen.  Another reason why Jesus asks Bartimaeus this question in this way is to demonstrate that He alone could give Bartimaeus what he wanted. This is why he says, “what do you want Me to do for you?”  instead of “”what do you want?”

Similarly, it is one thing to desire eternal life on the inside and another thing entirely to ask for it out loud. Also, it is one thing to look for eternal life and another thing entirely to discover that only Jesus Christ can provide it.

Bartimaeus replies “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” (10:51b). This gentle and faithfull request demonstrates incredible reverence for the Lord Jesus. “Rabboni” means, “my dear Rabbi.” This blind beggar dares to ask for his sight back! This is nothing short of a statement of true faith in Jesus’ healing power. How do I know? Jesus says as much in verse 52.

”Go, your faith has made you well” (10:52a). Jesus awards faith with healing. However, this blind man’s healing went well beyond regaining one of his senses. By restoring his sight, Jesus restored this man’s entire life. No longer would he have to beg. No longer would he be stuck requiring constant assistance. No longer would he be deemed ceremonially unclean. In giving this man sight, Jesus gave this man life.

In so doing, Jesus alludes to his fast-approaching work on the cross. On the cross, Jesus stopped, called the world’s sin to Himself, and provided life in its place. No longer would people have to beg for life in a million places. No longer would people be stuck in their sin. No longer would they be objects of God’s wrath in their unrighteousness. In dying on the cross, Jesus provided life for all who believe in Him. However, the story is not over and the end of this road has not been reached.

What would Bartimaeus decide to do with his new life? “Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road” (10:52b). In response to the grace given to him, Bartimaeus “began following Him” (10:52). No longer stuck, Bartimaeus directs the remainder of his journey toward Christ. Though it is not certain how he lived the rest of his life, Bartimaeus initial response to the grace of God is discipleship. Subtly, the text seems to make this case.

As Jesus is heading to his death, so Jesus’ disciples (i.e. those who have been given eternal life) are called to hand over their lives and follow Him.

Luke 9:53-“And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

So What?

If Zaccheus’ Street in Luke 19:1-10 taught that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, “Miracle Way” in Mark 10:46-52 has taught by means of these three interactions that Jesus alone can provide the life for which people so desperately long. And boy to people desperately long for life. Though they may not scream for it as obviously as Bartimaeus does here, they are asking for it in the way that they live, highs they seek, success they crave, money they spend, etc. Though they may not be stuck in physical blindness, they are stuck in spiritual blindness, caught in a holding pattern that leads nowhere. If that is you today, heed the words of Romans 10:13-“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

However, if you already following Jesus today (i.e. you are part of the crowd) the encouragement today is to take a long look at how you treat those you are passing along the way. Are you following Jesus for the optics, having to be solicited for help, sent on a guilt trip by a pastor to serve, or shushing those who are in need? If so, you are not following Jesus at all, it just looks like you are. Jesus should never have to ask us to bring people to Him.

Hitting your head: Disciples, i.e. those who pattern their lives after Christ and are bent on growing His Kingdom, follow Christ in all things because they appreciate how much grace they have been given.

Hitting your heart: A heart that breaks for those who are stuck is a heart after God’s own.

Hitting your walk: Never substitute the selfless service of others for the optics of religiosity.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Zaccheus' Street -Roads Less Traveled #1

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

This famous poem by the great Robert Frost makes the case that to experience the best that life has to offer, one must be willingly to courageously traverse previously uncharted territory. This theme is accentuated in life experience and permeates the Scripture in phrases like “narrow is the way to life and few who find it.” Jesus Himself also seems to play upon this theme in the unusual way that He provided salvation. By taking the road less traveled in His own ministry, Jesus set’s Himself apart from every other presumed deity, carved idol, and false god. This new series will journey with Christ in His last days, following His every turn on the road to Calvary, the grave, and beyond, demonstrating that His unusual trek into previously uncharted territory makes all the difference for those who believe in Him. 

The first leg of our journey involves Jesus’ interaction with a chief tax collector. At the end of His ministry, Jesus, unlike anyone before Him, travels on the much avoided street to Zaccheus’ house in order to demonstrate His purpose for coming to the world in the first place. Join us as we pass three checkpoints on Zaccheus’ street from Luke 19:1-10. 


The story of Zaccheus together with the parable of the ten minas bring Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem to a close in the gospel of Luke. Jesus has been making His way to Jerusalem for some time now for the Passover Festival. As a good Jew, Jesus made His pilgrimage to the holy city to participate in the celebration as he had twice before; however, this time would be His last. The sun is setting on His earthly ministry, rendering His personal ministerial choices highly suspect for large amounts of foreshadowing. Making His way to Jerusalem, Jesus is now passing through Jericho, 13miles to the northeast of His destination. 
With the setting established, Luke introduces the readers to a unique character, Zaccheus. He is the first checkpoint on this particular leg of our journey to Calvary and beyond. The text describes this man in two ways, “and there was a man called by the name Zaccheus, he was a chief tax collector and he was rich” (19:2). Luke more than any other gospel  is interested in those who were normally outcasts in Jewish society. This includes gentiles (2:32), moral outcasts (7:36-50), social outcasts (19:1-10), and the economically deprived (14:12-14)(perhaps this is why this account is only given in this gospel). Therefore, this short introduction establishes Zaccheus as the ultimate of Israel’s outcasts as he is not just a hated tax collector (and outcast himself), but a chief tax collector, who made outcast of others by robbing them of their own fortunes. 

Both the Romans and Jewish local authorities required taxes of first century Jews. These taxes required the employment of individuals that managed the collectors who retrieved the funds from individual residing in Rome. Jewish tax collectors were viewed as traitors because they took the money from the Jews and handed it over to their perceived oppressors (Rome). Zaccheus was one of these managers, and a fairly significant one at that. His unique title “chief tax collector” suggests that Zaccheus may have been given charge over a greater region than normal or that he was a director over other tax collectors. 

This is the first strike against Zaccheus. The second is his financial standing. Zaccheus is “rich.” This is especially damning in the context of the first century as many people were not well off and in desperate need. Many of the rich during this time were perceived as being crooked or deceptive—especially tax collectors (one perceived cause of poverty). 

All of these contributing factors would have made Zaccheus one of the most unpopular individuals in his region. The road leading to his home was never frequented by guests, friends, or even family. Aside from messengers and servants, no one turned on Zaccheus’ street! 

To complete the image of this unique character, Luke describes his physical stature, “Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature” (19:3). Though a powerful man would have enjoyed a commanding presence before others, to his embarrassment, Zaccheus was a little man in a big crowd. 

Jesus had gained a large following up to this point in His ministry. His growing popularity along with the upcoming Passover celebration would have made the crowd that now surrounded Him massive. No doubt, no one would have been sympathetic to his requests to stand in front so that he could catch a glimpse of Jesus.  

Taking matters into his own hands, Zaccheus runs ahead of the crowd and scales a tree to improve his perspective, “so he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way” (19:4). In so doing, Zaccheus breaks convention and participates in two activities you never would have seen a rich man perform in the first century—running and tree climbing. It is clear that Zaccheus really wants to see this man that has become the talk of Jericho and every other neighboring township and the low-lying branches of this oak-like tree would have provided Zaccheus with the easy access he wanted to catch his glimpse of Jesus.  

Regardless of his motivation at this point, Zaccheus was seeking Jesus and there could be only one result. 


With Zaccheus now precariously perched in the branches of the sycamore, Luke proceeds to take the reader to the next checkpoint. This checkpoint is not so much seen as it is heard. “When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house’” (19:5). Literally, Jesus’ unusual request would have been more forceful, “come down in a hurry!” the implication being, “there is no time to lose.” Truly, the situation as Luke describes it implies, whether Zaccheus realized it or not, that Jesus knew this interaction would have taken place way before Zaccheus decided to make his attempt to see Jesus that morning.  Jesus comes right up to the very tree upon which Zaccheus is perched and calls Him of all people down, requesting him as a host. 

The word  “stay” means to “remain” somewhere. In some contexts, the idea involves lodging for a period of time. The idea is that Jesus wanted to take up residence in Zaccheus’ house. This word is uniquely chosen of Luke to demonstrate something beyond a mere visit. 

When everyone else ignored him, Jesus not only speaks to Zaccheus, He chooses to make the house of this unclean man his rest stop! 

Two things happen as a result of Jesus’ unusual request. First, Zaccheus responds with immediate and exact obedience. Even further, he obeys with a grin on his face, “…And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly…” (19:6). This eager and joyful response to the totally unexpected events is understandable when one remembers how much company Zaccheus had been enjoying up to this point,…um…none! No self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with him. None would greet him or extend the basic courtesies, much less offer warmth and friendship. Then along comes the man he hoped to see, declaring in front of everyone that He is going to spend time with him! This grace extended to Zaccheus, undeserved and far beyond anyone’s comprehension, is received with joy and excitement. 

The second response to Jesus’ request is from the crowd. The unfolding events surrounding Jesus’ question for unusual lodging sent shockwaves through the masses around Him and caused a negative stirring. “When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner’…” (19:7). 

Simply speaking to such a hated figure in this region would have been anathema. However, participating in table fellowship with a notorious sinner like Zaccheus would have been beyond belief. Eating and lodging with someone in the ancient world carried great social significance. In fact, for a religious-minded Jew to eat with someone like this chief tax collector would have brought ceremonial defilement as well as social ostracism. But, let’s face it, when has that ever stopped Jesus? 


Having passed checkpoints 1 and 2, Luke ushers the reader to the final checkpoint in this leg of Jesus’ journey. At this checkpoint, we witness a gift for an unworthy recipient. However, Luke does not disclose at which point the gift is actually bestowed on our small sinner. Instead, we are immediately thrust into the effects of the gift.  Once at Zaccheus house, the chief tax collector states, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much…” (19:8). What a transformation from his former practices of corruption, greed, and selfishness! Zaccheus, it would seem, is a changed man as demonstrated by his resolution. 

Almsgiving was a sign of piety in ancient Judaism. However, even in charity, rabbis considered it unwise to give away more than twenty percent of one’s goods, lest one become a burden themselves. Here, Zaccheus takes the overwhelming step of giving away half of everything he owns! Also, Zaccheus takes the unprecedented step of promising restitution for his wrongful apprehension of funds fourfold! Normal restitution according to the Old Testament for a wrong committed was to add one-fifth or 20 percent to the value of the goods lost.

What has Zaccheus so charitable all of a sudden? What has he hit his head on to make these promises? What has so affected his life that he would be transformed so radically? The answer is simple, a gift called salvation. 

Jesus says “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too, is a son of Abraham” (19:9). Grace has made the difference in Zaccheus’ life, the grace of a Savior who freely gives salvation to those who do not deserve it. Nowhere is this witnessed so acutely than here (at least in Luke). Many commentators consider this passage to be the most epitomizing episode in all of Luke’s writing. The most hated, most crooked, most neglected character in all of Luke’s gospel is given the greatest possible gift. He who was an outcast and a traitor, Jesus Himself says is now a son of Abraham (that is, in the truest spiritual sense). 

But why? “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:10). It is Jesus’ expressed purpose for coming to the world in the first place to seek out the lost and provide them with salvation (undeserved, and unmerited). Where better to demonstrate this purpose on His way to the cross than on Zaccheus’ street in the estate of one of the most infamous sinners described in the New Testament? 

So What?

In Luke 19:1-10, Jesus took the road less traveled, Zaccheus’ street, and it made all of the difference for this chief tax collector. The checkpoints along the way, the small man in the large crowd, the request for unusual lodging, and the gift to an undeserving recipient work to demonstrate that Jesus’ purpose for coming to the earth was so that He might seek and save the lost through grace. This radical notion in and of itself is a road less traveled as all other deities and worldly religious fabrications demand works of some kind in exchange for rescuing. 

Truly, Zaccheus’ story is emblematic of all who enjoy salvation. We all are wicked sinners in the large crowd of this world that for the most part ignores our needs and gets in the way of the truth of Jesus Christ. Praise be to God that Jesus took the road less traveled for you and for me. The Bible promises that those who seek the Lord, much as Zaccheus did by running ahead and scaling a tree, will find Him and the grace that He wants to bring, regardless of how much sense it makes. 

Matthew 7:7-8-“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”

Matthew 6:33 – “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

However, for those who have already been given so much, what evidence is there for your radical transformation? Hitting your head: A confrontation with God’s overwhelming grace renders someone eternally changed into a new creature. Hitting your heart: A confrontation with God’s overwhelming grace leads to a change of heart toward others. Hitting your walk: A confrontation with God’s overwhelming grace leads to demonstrations of godliness that involve your hands, move your feet, open your wallet, share your belongings, change your perspective, and put words in your mouth that need to be spoken. Quit living alone and let God take up residence in you.