Monday, April 25, 2011

Sunrise...on the Third Day [Third-Day Stories]

Throughout the Bible, some of the greatest stories of redemption, restoration, and renewal are “Third-Day Stories.”  On the third day of Creation, God brings forth life on the earth (Gen. 1); on the third day God provides a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son (Gen. 22).  On the third day God heals King Hezekiah and gives him 15 more years; and on the third day of the month of Adar, the desecrated temple is prophetically restored (Ezra 6). After three days of fasting & prayer, a harem girl named Esther goes to the King and saves her people from destruction (Esther 4) and when Jonah was sweltering in the belly of the big fish, guess how many days he was there? Three days. Jesus turns bathwater into fine wine (John 2) on the third day of his public ministry and then, after being with him for three days, Jesus feed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and some fish (Mark 8). But all the hope and life and power that these third-day stories hold find their fulfillment in the most awe-inspiring third-day story of all…the resurrection of Y'shua (Jesus) from the dead.

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them,  “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again" (Luke 24: 1-7).

Dr. Luke tells us that two men in dazzling white appear to the women asking this question: “Why do you look for the living [one] among the dead?  He is not here he is risen.  Remember how he told you…that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again?” (4-7). Now there are those who believe that Jesus’ story is a one day story; not a three day story; that Jesus’ story ended on Friday, not Sunday…

(i) There are those who still look for Y'shua (Jesus) “among the dead.” (Luke 24: 1-7).  Only Jesus' followers claim that their Teacher and Lord rose again bodily after being brutally tortured and put to death. The claim itself is unrivaled in its audacity.  There is no record of anyone ever surviving a Roman crucifixion… including Jesus.  Therefore it is reasonable that Mary and the other women came looking for him among the dead, to anoint his body with spices and complete the burial process. But if this is true, we still must explain a few things. 

We must explain the empty tomb -- a perplexing riddle for modern skeptics who still look for Jesus “among the dead.”  Some say the disciples hallucinated; which might be possible for one or two – but how about five hundred?  According to Paul, who was writing to the church in Corinth only 20 years after Jesus' death (AD 51-54),  the Risen Christ appeared to more than five hundred witnesses at one time “most of whom are still alive” – which is to say, if you don’t believe me, go ask them yourselves (1 Cor. 15). 

Others say that the disciples stole Jesus’ body and made up the pious story of his resurrection.  The problem is that nearly all of the disciples willingly faced execution by the Roman authorities for proclaiming Jesus as Lord, risen from the dead.  It’s hard to believe that under the strain of persecution and the threat of death, not one of them would have admitted that they lied.   

Today you can see first century tombs in the Jerusalem area that are like the one described here.  They are fitted with huge circular stone discs that are set in a transverse channel hollowed out of stone in front of a rectangular doorway. I’ve seen a tomb like this outside the Old City which matches the one described in Luke's gospel. Whether or not it is the tomb of Christ we cannot say. What we can say is that over the 300 years following Jesus’ death in which his movement was sometimes violently persecuted…his body was never found and those who testified to his resurrection were never silenced.

The other thing we must explain is hinted at in Luke 24: 1: “On the Sabbath [the women] rested according to the commandment.”  The women came on Sunday morning because they had been observing the Sabbath.  In other words, these were observant Jews; Jesus was a son of Israel; and his first disciples were Jewish, looking for the Messiah to establish the kingdom of God. 

Last Monday, I celebrated Passover with a wonderful Jewish family.  Together we drank the cup of Elijah which heralds the Messiah’s coming.  They drank to his first coming, and I to his return….and my hope is that both of us will come to truly know him and follow him before he does. But my point is that an observant Jewish family honors the Passover as Jesus did…and the Sabbath as these women did.  It would take a cataclysmic, world-altering event to change that practice…And yet for these women and the other disciples, a millennia long tradition was changed…and Sunday became their new Sabbath day.  What else explains that change but an event on the magnitude of the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection “three days after he died.”  Even so…

(ii) There are those who still assume that Easter is an “idle tale.” (Luke 24: 8-11).  
8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Luke says it was the disciples – not those who condemned Jesus to death, or even his Roman executioners, who first used the words, “idle tale” to describe the rumor that Jesus had risen.  Dr. Luke, the physician, uses the Greek medical term lhroV (leiros) here, referring to the incoherent babbling of someone in a delirium.  The notion that Jesus could defeat death seemed incredible even to those who had followed him. 

Beyond this, the testimony about the empty tomb was coming to them from three women… and in the first century the testimony of women was not admissible in the law court.  A woman’s testimony (sorry ladies) could always be discounted as nothing more than“an idle tale.”  But that’s exactly what gives this whole account the ring of truth! If I were Dr. Luke, and I was trying to “make up” a story about Jesus’ resurrection that would sound credible to first century ears, I would not have included the testimony of women. A far better explanation is that it really happened this way, and that Luke’s integrity demanded that this fact be included. Three women are named in this passage (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James).  The gospels are unanimous in their testimony that these and other women were among Jesus' most faithful followers...standing by him at the cross, and hearing first the good news of the resurrection.  Luke was determined to honor that witness...even if some first century men scoffed.

I want to emphasize again that it was Jesus’ own disciples who discounted the women’s testimony as an “idle tale.”  Doubt is not something that other people outside the church struggle with… doubt is something that we struggle with right here.  Let’s be honest, when we’re tempted with some sin, a lie, an illicit relationship, a silly prejudice, that’s the time that a Risen Jesus is most inconvenient.  That’s when we’d like to keep him “among the dead,” and discount his power as nothing more than an “idle tale."  But the flip side of this is also true: that if Jesus is alive, everything he told us is true as well… that when he said, “Love one another…” he was speaking the truth of God; that when he said, “Your sins are forgiven,” he was revealing the grace of God; that when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life…” he was declaring the power of God over sin, evil, and death.

Today, I invite you to stop looking for Jesus among the dead.  I want to challenge you to consider Easter as something that is truly more than an idle tale; I want to invite you to stand among Y'shua's amazed and awestruck followers, because...

(iii) There are those today who will testify, “The Lord has risen indeed!” (Luke 24: 33-34) 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened….  33 [Later that day, two other men who saw Jesus on the road to Emmaus] returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"

We read in v. 12  that after the women announced what they had heard, Peter got up, ran to the tomb, and looked in for himself; and then went home amazed.  Now we read in v. 34 that when two others who meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus [[the second half of the Easter Story that we will look at next week]] return to tell the others– they hear from the eleven disciples these words: “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon Peter!” This has to be one of the great un-told Third-Day Stories in the New Testament… because we’re not given the details anywhere in the gospels.    

This un-told story reminds me that not everything which our Risen Lord accomplished was written down.  John himself writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20: 30). John reminds me that there will be un-told stories, Third-Day Stories, right up to the present day, stories of those who will come to know the Risen Lord personally. One of the reasons I am a follower of Y'shua today.  One of the reasons that I am a Third-Day Believer, is that I have seen so many lives touched in simple and astounding ways, including my own, by the grace and power of the Risen Messiah.  

When I look around the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, I see intelligent skeptics who themselves came to a living faith in the Savior; I see men and women whose families have been restored by Jesus. I see bodies that were touched with God’s healing power. I also see tremendous courage in the face of the most difficult and discouraging circumstances.  I see amazing gifts of compassion and love that only Jesus could have inspired.  I see sinners like me who have been touched forever by the mercy and forgiveness of the Risen Lord.  I see a community of men and women, boys and girls from more than fifteen different nations…people from every walk of life, economic situation, political affiliation, educational and ethnic background and I ask myself.  What could possibly unite us?  Only Y'shua, Jesus…and what he did on the Third Day!

The faithful women who came at the crack of dawn to the empty tomb, along with Peter, challenge me to get up and go look for myself…to make an honest inquiry, to ask the Lord to reveal himself to me in a way that I can understand.  As we do, he promises us that our stories will not end in despair.  They will not end without hope.  They will not end without mercy or forgiveness.  They will not end on Friday…but at sunrise on the Third Day, Resurrection Day…the Day that has no end.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On the Road to Jerusalem [Third-Day Stories]

Old Jericho Road
In first century Palestine, walking was not a form of recreation, it was a form of transportation.  The journey from Galilee to Jerusalem is a strenuous distance of 120 miles -- a trip which Jesus made on foot several times in his adult life.  The journey ends on the Jericho Road...a trail winding through the mountains to the Holy City where pilgrims ascend 3000 feet in fifteen miles.  At 20 to 25 miles a day, that's a journey that would have taken about a week...but Jesus intended to go much further than that for us.  Because the greatest Third Day Story of all, begins with suffering willingly endured…from us and for us.  Let’s begin by looking at the loneliness of Jesus as he set his face toward Jerusalem.  

(i) As Jesus went up to Jerusalem, no man walked beside him. “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them…”  (Mark 10: 32).  The fact that Jesus was out ahead of his disciples, walking alone  reveals what William Barclay refers to as the loneliness of Jesus as he neared the defining moment of his earthly ministry. Remember that Jesus had already told his disciples twice, and was about to tell them a third time, that he was going to Jerusalem to face certain death.  His disciples had already expressed their shock and fear.   This was beyond their ability to understand.  Jesus walked alone because his disciples were afraid to go up to him. 

There are some decisions which we have to make by ourselves, which no one else can make for us.  There are some burdens which we have to bear by ourselves, which no other human being can help us with.  There are times of loneliness which we will all experience… things nobody else can fully understand.  These are the times we need to remember that though no man walked beside him, Jesus knew the Father was there.  Christian psychologist Larry Crabb tells a story of a time when as a 3 year old he locked himself in the bathroom and began to scream, “Get me out of here!  I want to play!”  Minutes later, his father went around the house opened the bathroom window…and then, after climbing in, turned the lock and opened the door.  “Thanks Dad!” Larry said, as he ran out the door to play. “That’s how I thought the Christian life was supposed to work.”  To paraphrase Crabb: “When I get stuck in a tight place, when my life feels lonely or scary, I scream, ‘God, get me out of here!’ and God comes in and rescues me so that I can go out and play.  But what Crabb discovered is that when we scream for help, the Father does come in to that little room, but then (instead of opening the door and letting us out) he often sits down on the floor with us and says, “Come sit with me!”  God seems to think that what we need most is not always to be rescued but to sit down with him in the midst of our troubles… and get to know him better (see Larry Crabb, The Pressure's Off, WaterBrook Press, 2002; pp. 222-223).  Jesus was comforted by the Father in the same way. “I will be with you always,” promises the Savior.  And please know that in your loneliest hour, in the darkest valley, when you can’t think of anything else to do… the One who knew the loneliness of that Jerusalem road, still walks with you… still sits with you, and will never leave you.

(ii) As Jesus went up to Jerusalem, the cross was before him – and he knew it. “He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again" (Mark 10: 33-34).

As I said, this is the third time that Jesus described the events that were about to take place in Jerusalem, and each time the picture looks more forbidding. The first time (Mark 8:31) Jesus predicts that the religious leaders in Jerusalem would reject him.  The second time he hints at the betrayal of one of his own disciples (Mark 9:31); and the third time he speaks of how he would be executed by the Gentiles… the Roman authorities (Mark 10: 33).  In other words…It was not just the religious leaders, the pastors and bible teachers who rejected him… It was not just the political authorities who rejected him, it was his own disciples. Mark tells us as much after Jesus is arrested, “All of them (speaking of his disciples) deserted him and fled” (Mark 14: 50). The prophet Isaiah writes:  All we like sheep have gone astray…. and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Isaiah is speaking of the Suffering Servant… the One who by his death, would bear the weight not just of Israel’s sin, but the sins of the whole world…bringing God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).

Jesus knew that this was his mission. For he says that they will “mock him, spit upon him, flog him (referring to the terrible Roman scourging that left a man half dead) and then (as would often happen after scourging) they would kill him by crucifixion… a practice so inhumane, that it was abolished in 315 AD. Jesus knew all this was before him…and yet he continued to set his face toward Jerusalem.  Barclay observes that there is a courage which is an almost instinctive reaction; a kind of reflex that responds in the heat of the moment. Then there is the courage of the one who sees the moment approaching but far ahead; the courage of the one who has plenty of time to turn back or avoid the issue completely…but decides to confront it anyway. This is the courage we see in Jesus.  As he went up to Jerusalem, no man walked beside him, the cross was before him…and nothing could make him turn back.  And yet, and yet….

(iii) As Jesus went up to Jerusalem, his disciples still followed him.  “…they were amazed and those who followed were afraid…” (Mark 10: 32). As Jesus walks alone, we see the loneliness of Jesus.  As Jesus walks toward the cross, we see the courage of Jesus.  And as Jesus’ disciples follow we see the love of Jesus.  Consider this: Jesus’ disciples were sure of two things.  First, they were sure he was the Messiah, as Peter had declared days before (Mark 8:29); the One whom God had sent to deliver Israel and the whole world.
Secondly, they were sure he was going to die if he went to Jerusalem.  Now these two facts, when put together, made no sense …and yet they followed him anyway.  

They didn't yet understand the reason for the cross… they didn't yet understand how God would lay upon his Son, the iniquity of us all.  They didn't yet understand how Jesus would get from the first day to the third day; from the cross to the empty tomb, from despair to hope… and from death to risen life. All they knew was that he loved them, and that they loved him; that they intended to follow him and to trust him as Messiah and Lord no matter what. Jesus does not ask us to analyze him.  Jesus does not ask us to write theological treatises about him.  Jesus does not ask us to debate him.  He asks us to follow him, which means he wants us to trust him, to place our faith in him, to imitate him…to love him… and to know that in him all the promises of the Third Day have come to glorious life.

The walk from Galilee to Jerusalem is 120 miles… but Jesus walked much further than that to show you his love.  He walked all the way to the cross. Two thousand years ago, the cross was a symbol of oppression, death and despair, an emblem of suffering and pain that no man walked toward….but Jesus did; he walked toward the cross, he walked toward what other men shrunk back from with appalling and terror.  But because he did walk toward it; because he was willingly crucified there, and not only died but rose again on the third day, this cross has been changed into the greatest symbol of faith, hope, and love the world has ever known. Therefore, we do not walk to the cross alone but with God, we do not walk to the cross in fear but with courage, we do not run away from the cross, but follow HIM there….because at the foot of the cross we receive his forgiveness, we experience his healing, and know at last the truth of his self-giving love.  

King Jesus, when you set your face toward Jerusalem, you could see beyond the celebration to Friday’s shame. Those who followed saw you walking alone, facing down fear and death itself; so that lifted up, all people might be drawn to you (John 12: 32): “Surely, you have born our grief and carried our sorrow. For you were wounded for our transgressions, and upon you was the chastisement that made us whole” (Isaiah 53: 4-5).  Responding to your sacrifice we turn from everything we know is wrong.  We honor, bless, and praise your holy name.  We thank you for bearing our sins upon the cross, for offering us forgiveness and the fullness of your Spirit.  We ask you now to come as Savior and cleanse us; to come as Lord, and take control of us, that we might serve you with your other disciples, forever.  Amen! 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eye-Opening Grace [Third-Day Stories]

Over the past 12 weeks, we’ve been exploring some of the greatest stories of redemption, restoration, and rebuilding in scripture: Third-Day Stories. And before we look at the greatest third day story of all, the Easter Story, beginning next week, we’re going to look at a story that could not have happened but for the miracle of Easter: the story of how Saul was converted from a sworn enemy of Jesus and his movement to its greatest missionary in Acts 9.  When Ananias meets Saul in Acts 9: 17-20, after his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, "he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank" (you guessed it) "...for three days."   He is blind and in shock. Listen carefully to the words of eye-opening grace that Ananias speaks to this shattered man, and to all those who seek his healing today: "So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:17).

It was a forgiving wordAnanias…entered the house and said, “Saul, brother’….”  Did you catch that?  Ananias called Saul his brother - a word that spoke of the forgiveness of God, and his total acceptance as a member of Christ’s family. I imagine these words shook Saul to the core.  If Ananias had somehow come across Saul before his Damascus Road experience, he would have been immediately arrested, even killed; but now, confronted with his sin by the Risen Christ – he was ready to hear the stunning truth: “Saul, you are my brother, and you are forgiven."  Some people think that forgiveness means pretending bad things never happened.  What it means is choosing to live as one of the truly forgiven… and treating others likewise. That’s what Ananias did! Ananias forgave because he knew he was among the forgiven… and Saul, discovering the same, was able to communicate God’s grace from that day forward, with incredible power. 

Not long before her death in 1988, atheist Marghanita Laski said: “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me" [John Stott, The Contemporary Christian. Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 7.But Saul later says, “Forgive one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you/me” (Eph. 4: 32).  

Secondly, it was a restoring word. “…Jesus sent me so that you may regain your sight" says Ananias.  In v. 17 we read that Ananias “laid his hands on Saul” as he prayed for God’s restoring touch.  When Jesus blessed the children (Matt. 19) he placed his hands on them.  When Jesus set his disciples apart for ministry (Luke 24) he placed his hands on them.  When Jesus healed the sick (Luke 4:40) he placed his hands on themSometimes God brings restoration through hands folded in prayer.  Sometimes God brings restoration through the hands of a doctor.  And sometimes God uses both at the same time.  I often pray before I take my insulin…just as I would advise someone to do before taking a medicine to regulate normal brain chemistry.

Two elders I knew at a previous church experienced a sensation of heat and power flowing through the top of their heads and out through their hands as they prayed for a woman who was filled with anger and had left the church three months before.  When she came back one evening during a prayer service, feeling led to return out of a great sense of personal need, she experienced God’s healing both in her body and in her relationship with her adopted son!  A few weeks later she stood up in the worship service and made a public confession and testimony to her newfound faith.  There is an epilogue to this story: one of the men who prayed for her that night was addicted to tobacco, and he later confided in me -- as he looked at the hand which often nervously held a cigarette -- that he had completely lost the desire to smoke.  God had healed his hand, the hand that held a pack a day, as well.  No wonder David says, “I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.”  As we use our hands to bless, to hug, to inspire, to pray and praise God…we will experience God’s healing touch too.
Thirdly, it was an empowering word. For Ananias says to Saul, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Luke tells us that up until this moment, Paul had been “breathing threats and murder against Jesus’ disciples” (Acts 9:1).  The word Luke uses (Greek: em-pneuo) lit. means “to breathe in, to inhale.”  Don’t miss this!  Until now Paul had been breathing murder and hatred: that’s the atmosphere Saul breathed and lived on. Now listen to what Ananias says in v. 17, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit, that is, the Holy Breath (Greek: Pneuma) of Christ.”  In other words, “Saul, the Breath of Christ is about to fill that void which only hatred had occupied.  You are about to become a Spirit-breathing man, filled with the Spirit (Pneuma) of Christ!  

We may not need healing for our bodies, or a broken relationship, or the lifting of a financial burden… but all of us need spiritual healing.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way (Is. 53:6). Did Paul receive this healing?  Yes!  Luke tells us that “his eyes were opened…and immediately Saul began to proclaim Jesus….” (20-21). But before he was able to do that, I think Saul heard one more word…

Finally, it was a sensible word. “Take some food…”  No, Luke doesn’t  actually use these words, but Ananias must have said something like them, because we read that “after taking some food, [Saul] regained his strength.” Remember that Saul had not eaten anything for three days… and it was on this third day that he began to eat again.  Not long after this, Saul is welcomed into the homes of his new friends for several days (v. 19).  Food and hospitality is a basic expression of genuine care and concern; and the gospel doesn’t ring true without it. When you and I love one another in practical ways…we show that the healing and redeeming power of God is for real.

Kim Shin-Jo, a gentle pastor from S. Korea, used to be a trained killer. In Jan. 1968, Shin Jo and a team of assassins tried to kill the president of S. Korea. His team of 31 commandos came down from N. Korea to within a few hundred meters of the president's home before being intercepted. A fierce battle killed 30 S. Koreans and all the N. Korean soldiers, except one who escaped, and Shin Jo who was captured. After months of interrogation, and a surprising friendship with a S. Korean army general, Shin-Jo 's hard heart softened. Later he confessed, "I tried to kill the president. I was the enemy. But the S. Korean people showed me sympathy and forgiveness. I was touched and moved." The S. Korean gov’t eventually released him. Over the next 30 years he worked for the military, became a citizen, married, and raised a family.  Finally, he became a minister.  Reflecting on the day of his arrest, Shin-Jo commented, "On that day, Kim Shin-Jo died. I was reborn. I got my second chance. And I'm thankful for that."
Shin-Jo experienced the eye-opening grace of God through the power of Christ. But Christ came to him through the unexpected, surprising love of the South Korean people.  

When I think about the Apostle Paul, or my friend Jean, or Shin-Jo, I can hardly wait to see what God is going to do next; what God is going to do today!  Because on this day… we invite you to receive Christ’s forgiving word, his restoring word, his empowering word, and his loving word… 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Width of Compassion [Third-Day Stories]

The only miracle that occurs in all four gospels, is the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and feeding of the multitudes.  Evidently, this miracle made a tremendous impression on the disciples.  For those who are unfamiliar with the gospels, Jesus actually fed the multitudes on two different occasions.  On one he fed five thousand (Mark 6); and on another four thousand (Mark 8).  Now I have to confess: I’ve always been partial to the story about the feeding of the five thousand.  I don't think I've ever preached a sermon on the feeding of the four thousand!  I always assumed, like most, that the feeding of the five thousand was the bigger miracle story... that is, until I did a closer reading.  Because on the third day, when Jesus fed the four thousand, he showed us the width of his compassion…       

(i) It’s a compassion that follows us home.  Jesus told his disciples that he had compassion on the crowd “because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way…. (2-3).  As Barclay points out, the same Jesus who came to proclaim the Kingdom of God and the greatest moral and spiritual truths ever spoken; the same Jesus whose words and deeds changed the course of history… also cared about what happened when his congregation was walking home…and everywhere else our feet take us.  Jesus’ compassion follows us home. 

I was very moved by by a Sunday morning presentation at our church from Child S.H.A.R.E. as it calls Christians to seriously consider how Christ’s compassion extends beyond the four walls of the church and all the way home. Specifically, Child S.H.A.R.E. offers resources and support to Christians who open their homes as foster and adoptive parents.  Back when my wife Lisa was a case manager for Olive Crest, I was attending a picnic with her for foster parents.  The children seemed well cared for, and their foster parents full of energy and love; and one by one Lisa told me their amazing stories. 

"That little girl," she said directing my attention to one child, "was born prematurely to her homeless mom on the street.  When the paramedics found her, she weighed 3lbs.  Her mother literally gave birth to her baby in her pants.  She was unable to care for her baby, but her foster parents were... and eventually adopted this fragile little child!"  Lisa pointed to another foster mom who was a single seminary student at Fuller Theological Seminary when she adopted a tiny 5lb. baby, and later another child from the same troubled family.  She later married a Presbyterian minister who became their adopted father... an incredible story of hope!  "And those two children over there," Lisa said to me, directing my attention to a table where I saw them laughing and playing, "they were found abandoned on an LA freeway as toddlers.  The only thing more incredible than that…is the incredible love of their foster parents who eventually adopted these two girls into their family." There’s no doubt in my mind that the One who cared that we were well fed in the desert, is concerned that our homes do not become a desert, lacking food and water and, just as important, compassion and love.  

(ii) It’s a compassion that is willing to confront.  In the story of the feeding of the five thousand the disciples tell Jesus to send them away, but Jesus challenges them, “YOU give them something to eat.” (6:37). In the feeding of the four thousand, Jesus challenges the disciples again when they ask how they are going to feed all these people in the desert: “How many loaves do YOU have?” (5) Jesus asks. 

I was with my family yesterday in Fresno for the Mennonite World Relief Sale.  All proceeds go to relieve physical & spiritual need. The sale is known for its elaborate quilts, which one man bid for, and won for hundreds of dollars.  But then he did something that made the whole auction hall turn their heads with awe.  He said three words: “Sell it again!”  That moment jolted me and brought tears to Lisa’s eyes; because I knew in that moment that I was in the presence of one who had passion for more than quilts… he had a passion for the kingdom!  Menno Simons, the founder of the Mennonite Church, was born in 1496 and these are his words: For true evangelical faith...cannot lie dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it...clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it."  Jesus will not allow us to pass the buck, and let someone else take the responsibility for one who is in spiritual and physical need.  Oh no!  As his disciples he looks us in the eye and says, “YOU do something about it.”

(iii) It’s a compassion without borders.  When we compare the feeding of the five thousand, in Mark 6 and the feeding of the four thousand in Mark 8, there are several obvious similarities…but there is also one subtle difference.  In the first miracle Jesus is among his own people in Galilee on the western side of the Sea of Galilee.  But in the second miracle he is in the Decapolis (see  7:31), the region on the south eastern side of the lake with a large Gentile population. Now earlier, in Mark 5, Jesus had healed a demon possessed man in this same area…and we’re told that after he was healed “he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5: 20).  Could this be why such a large crowd had gathered to hear Jesus for as many as three days, and had “come from a great distance” (3)?  I think they had heard about Jesus and wanted to see and hear him for themselves.

There is an interesting detail that does not come out in the English translation that makes for a powerful footnote to this theory.  Whenever the miracle of the five thousand is described and we read that “twelve baskets of bread crumbs were collected”; the Greek word used for basket is kóphinos.  A kóphinos was wide at the bottom and narrow on top, and could carry about two gallons or 2/3 of a bushel.  It was the typical container used by 1st cent. Jews for carrying food.  Now stay with me… Whenever the miracle of the four thousand is described, the Greek word for basket is spurís.  A spurís was much larger and wider at the top, large enough to hold a man, 6 ¼ bushels.  Which means the miracle I’d thought was the lesser, actually produced more leftovers!  Because 7 spurídas hold more than 12 kóphinoi.  It was the kind of basket that the Apostle Paul was let down in by rope when he escaped his enemies in Damascus (Acts 9:25); and it was the typical basket used by Gentiles to carry their food and belongings. All this is to say that when Jesus fed the five thousand on the west side of the lake he was in Jewish territory, but when he was in the Decapolis, feeding the four thousand on the east side of the lake, he was in Gentile territory.  His compassion reached from one side to the other. So the spurís (big enough to hold a man, or a child) will forever remind me of the third side of Jesus’ compassion… it’s wideness, extended to all who will turn and receive like children, the grace that is offered to them in Christ. 

Jesus’ compassion is a compassion that follows us home where his presence is needed, it’s a compassion that’s willing to confront us until we share it, and it’s a compassion without a basket wide enough to hold people from every nation…including you….and everyone whom he calls.

Gracious Father, thank you for revealing through your Son, the width of your compassion!  Forgive us when we've denied your care for us, when we've worried and grown anxious about tomorrow; fearfully grasping what we do have, and refusing to receive from or share with others.  Forgive us for our malnourished faith.  Please fill us with your Holy Spirit and strengthen us with the truth of your Word, that we may live in the light of your generous provision and share, with open hands and open hearts, the abundance of your gifts with those in need.  It is our desire today to feed others for you first fed us; to clothe others for you first clothed us, and to love others, for you first loved us -- through Y'shua, the Bread of Life.   Amen.