Does God Cast You Out of His Presence?

“For because of the anger of the Lord it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence.” – 2 Kings 24.20

This verse really jumped out at me when I read it the other day. Judah had repeatedly disobeyed God. And, Zedekiah, the current king, had done what was evil in God’s sight. So, the author of 2 Kings wrote that God’s anger was such that the situation had reached the point where God was forced to cast Judah out of his presence and out of the land of Israel.

And, this is exactly how most of us view God in our own minds and lives. We sin. And, then we sin again. And, we believe God reaches a point with us that, because God cannot tolerate the presence of sin nor can he look upon sinners, God is forced to cast us out of his presence.

But, did God really cast Israel out of his presence?

And, does God you or sinners out of his presence?

In reality, Judah had been conquered by the Babylonian empire. And, they needed a way to explain what had happened to them. As was common in the culture at the time, they explained their being conquered by God casting them out of his presence for their disobedience, wickedness, and evil acts.

In reality, we drive ourselves away from God just as we do from any person in any relationship when we fail to treat the other with love. Yet, we try to explain our broken relationship with God as God casting us out of his presence because we have been bad. We explain our not being in God’s presence as God casting us out.

I will grant you that Jesus concludes one his parables by saying, “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.” (Matthew 25.30) Similarly, in Matthew 8.12, after seeing the faith of the centurion, Jesus says, “the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness,” which is to say cast out of God’s presence. But, these two somewhat vague and/or obscure references by Jesus are the only time we see anything like what was written in 2 Kings 24.20.

Instead, over and over and over in the gospels we see Jesus casting out demons, not people.

Let me repeat that.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus, and therefore God, casts out demons, not people.

“That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.” – Matthew 8.16

“And the demons begged him, saying, ‘If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.'” – Matthew 8.31

“And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, ‘Never was anything like this seen in Israel.'” – Matthew 9.33

“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” – Matthew 10.2

“And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” – Mark 1.34

“And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” – Mark 1.39

“Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.” – Luke 11.14

“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Luke 11.20

“And he said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.”‘” – Luke 13.32

“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world [Satan] be cast out.” – John 12.32

Jesus, and therefore God, casts out demons, not people.

I cannot find one instance where Jesus cast a person out of his presence. People, like the rich young ruler, may have walked away from Jesus. But, Jesus did not cast him out.

In fact, instead of Jesus, and therefore God, casting people out of his presence, people cast Jesus, and therefore God, out of their presence. This is revealed in the crucifixion and the fact that Jesus was crucified outside the city.

Jesus did not cast the woman at the well in John 4, traditionally presumed to be a sinner because she had five husbands, out of his presence. Instead, Jesus revealed himself as living water and the Christ to her. And, this woman became the first witness of the Christ in John’s gospel.

Jesus did not cast the woman caught in adultery in John 8 out of his presence. Instead, Jesus refused to condemn her while redeeming her.

Jesus did not cast Mary Magdalene, traditionally presumed to be a prostitute, out of his presence. Instead, “Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” (Mark 16.9) Whether or not Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, she was a sinner like the rest of us. Yet, Jesus did not cast her out. Instead he cast seven (the number of spiritual perfection) demons out of her.

Jesus did not cast the Gentile woman, a Syrophoenician by birth, and therefore a sinner, out of his presence. Instead, Jesus cast the demon out of her daughter.

Jesus did not cast out sinners. He ate with them and drank with them. Jesus was ridiculed by the religious elite, who routinely cast sinners out of their presence, because he did this. This is why Jesus was said to be a friend of sinners.

In John 6.37, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” Do not think that the Father has only given some people to Jesus. The Father is the creator of all human life. All people are his children. This is exactly what Paul said in Acts 17.26-28. And, eventually all will come, or return, to Jesus as pictured in the parable of the prodigal son and Paul’s confession that every knee will bow and gladly confess Jesus as Lord.

Further, Jesus said, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons.” (Mark 16.17) If we profess to be believers, followers of Jesus, then we are to cast out demons, not people.

Let me repeat that. If we are believers in and followers of Jesus, then we are to cast out demons, evil spirits or attitudes, not people.

This does not mean that others will not drive themselves out of relationship with us, just as we all at one time have driven ourselves out of relationship with God. But, we should always be working, in some way, perhaps even just prayer, to cast the demons out of people to redeem them and restore them to right relationship with God and us.

True Worship: The Cultivation of Life

“But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God,’ is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?'” (2 Kings 18.22) These were the words of the Rabshakeh, part of the court of Syria, to Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah. The Rabshakeh was challenging Judah on their trust in God because Hezekiah was calling Judah to worship God at the altar in the temple in Jerusalem.

The implication of statement by the Rabshakeh is that Judah (and all the nations at that time) believed there was one, and only one, way to worship their God, or gods. In Judah, you had to the temple in Jerusalem. There was only one site you could worship God. You could only present certain offerings or sacrifices for thanksgiving, peace, purification, cleansing, or atonement at the temple in Jerusalem. The book of Leviticus is all about the rules and regulations of worshiping God in one specific way.

In other religions, there may be rules about how to pray – certain positions, certain directions, certain times, certain words that need to be repeated. Others require specific activities or specific foods to be eaten on specific days. So, for every religion, including Christianity, there is only one way to worship to God.

Is that true?

Is there only one way to worship God?

Are these religious practices and rites even truly worship?

For most Christians, worship is simply singing songs to God, particularly slower songs. If you asked, I’m sure most Christians would disagree with that, but their words betray. Worship leaders lead people in song. Only the singing part of a service is referred to as worship. Or, “The worship was really good today” is said in response to the singing used good songs or had an electric quality to it. But, in truth, singing songs has nothing to do with worship.

True worship is the cultivation of life.

In John 4, the woman at the well said to Jesus, “Sir I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” The woman, who was a Samaritan, believed that there was one mountain in Samaria where God could be worshiped. However, she also knew that those who lived in Judah said you could only worship God in Jerusalem. Worship as tied to specific places with specific practices.

But, Jesus responded, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus told the woman worship wasn’t about a specific place. This also meant that worship wasn’t about a specific practice or rite because that’s what the specific places were for. Worship could be done anywhere. But, it had to be in spirit and truth because God is spirit.

Jesus wasn’t saying that if we sing in the Spirit we are worshiping God in the spirit.

God is spirit.

In John 6.63, Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Romans 8.10-11 says, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness, If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

God is spirit means that God is life. The Spirit gives life.

This is why Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12.49-50) Everything Jesus said and did was about bringing forth the life of God.

Have you ever noticed how little the gospels focus on Jesus practicing the Jewish religion? How little time is spent telling us about the religious practices of Jesus?

But, the gospels continually tell us about Jesus bringing life to people – all people. Jesus brought life everywhere he went. Jesus worshiped everywhere in every situation to everyone because he did the one commandment his Father gave him and he knew that one commandment is eternal life.

To worship God in spirit is to worship God in life. We think of worship as singing or specific religious practices, but the Greek word for worship (proskyneo) means falling down, giving reverence, prostrating oneself before. Jesus isn’t talking about our physical position. However, he is talking about the attitude of our hearts. To worship is to lay down our own lives, to lose our own lives, so that we can give life to another.

True worship is creating the conditions for life in others.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4.11-12, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Paul is saying he has lost his own life, laid it down. He carries about the death of Jesus in him in order that others may have life. Paul’s whole life, once he had turned away from breathing murder, was about cultivating life in others.

True worship is the cultivation of life.

Jesus is the image of God. He was the true Adam, the fulfillment of man. But, how was the first man, the first Adam, supposed to worship God?

There were no instructions about a temple, sacrifices, or any other religious practices. But, God did give mankind a command. In Genesis 1.26, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God is not saying that man should rule, plunder, rape, and pillage the earth for his own benefit. No, man should have dominion over the earth in God’s likeness and image.

But, what have we come to know about God’s image and likeness in the creation?

He creates and brings life – to everything. The entire chapter is about creating life, expanding life, cultivating life. This is the command that God gave mankind, who was created in the image of God. So, it is no surprise that it lines up with the command the Father gave Jesus, who is the image of God.

Or, consider Genesis 2. Verse 8 says, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” Verse 15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Again, there are no commands about temples and religious practices – things we consider worship. But, the job God gave man was to work and to keep a garden – to cultivate life. The words work and keep are the same Hebrew words that are used about priests and their activities in the temple. To work and keep the garden – to cultivate life – was to worship God.

Perhaps this is why Paul said, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3.5-6) The imagery is of gardening. The Lord assigns who plants and waters, who works and who keeps the garden. The Lord assigns the tasks of cultivation. God brings the growth. God brings the life.

Are these tasks of working and keeping only “religious” in nature? Are they things having only to do with temples and churches, preaching and leading “worship?”

Colossians 3.23 says, “”Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” How do we work for the Lord? We cultivate life. So, whatever we do, do it to cultivate life. Everything we do is worship if we are doing it to bring life in others.

Therefore, Jesus said that apart from him we can do nothing. In other words, apart from Jesus we cannot bring life to anything. But, with Jesus we have the Spirit flowing in us and through us. And, the Spirit gives life.

How do we know what we are doing is worshipful? How we do know what we are doing is cultivating life?

We just need to ask ourselves one thing. Is what I am doing producing the producing the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If the answer is yes, then we are cultivating life and worshiping God.

Worship is not religious practices.

Worship is not singing songs in church.

Worship is a kind word to someone.

Worship is gentle hand of help to someone in need.

Worship is art that inspires love in the hearts of mankind.

Worship is work that meets the needs of other.

Worship is bringing peace to a stressful situation.

As Jesus said, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25.34-40)

Why Was the Cross Necessary?

Everything is separated and identified by the cross. Everything that aligns with the cross can be identified as Christian. Everything that does not align with the cross, that does not conform to the cross, cannot be called Christian.

What do we mean by “the cross”?

And, why was the cross necessary?

The cross is simply a symbol for Christ crucified. Or, in other words, the crucified God. It’s not so much the cross that is important, as there were numerous people crucified by the Roman empire. However, just one, and only one, of the people crucified by the Roman empire – Christ Jesus – gives the cross its meaning, its importance, its symbolic value to the Christian faith and life.

As I blogged my way through the Bible last year, the cross – that is the crucified Christ, the crucified God – took central focus. By the end of the year, the crucified Christ became the focus of every passage of scripture for me.

Jesus taught that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and enter his glory. He taught that it was necessary for the Christ to die and rise from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The gospel of Mark says that it was the one thing that Jesus taught plainly to the disciples as he made his way to Jerusalem. Jesus only taught this plainly after the disciples had identified him as the Christ. And, each time he taught it plainly was the result of the disciples’ misunderstanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ.

In addition to this being the one thing Jesus taught plainly, the necessity of the suffering of the Christ – the necessity of the crucified Christ – was the word that occupied Paul, according to Acts 17. This word of the crucified Christ was the one thing Paul made a habit of preaching and proving through the scriptures everywhere he went.

So, after two months of not blogging as I researched how to repair my health from a near massive heart attack , I found myself half way around the world with the opportunity to speak at the Sunday service in the church of two of my closest friends (two people who I consider my family). Of course, I chose to speak about the necessity of Christ suffering, dying, and rising from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. I repeated this over and over and over during the message.

As I spoke, I sensed that some of the leaders in the church were not following me. Later, one of my friends told me that my message was not really understood. It wasn’t because of any language barrier. Rather, the misunderstanding was because the necessity of Christ’s suffering, dying, and rising from the dead was not what people were used to hearing. Further, as my friend and I discussed the message at lunch, the real misunderstanding came from what this word meant for us today. I did not really address this in my message so the misunderstanding was my fault.

But, upon my return home, I began reading The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann. I’m just into the second chapter, but I have been flooded with words and thoughts that convey the meaning of the cross, the crucified Christ, Jesus’ plainly taught message for us today. The following is an extended passage from the second chapter of The Crucified God.

“For ultimately, in a civilization which is constructed on the principle of achievement and enjoyment, and therefore makes pain and death a private matter, excluded from its public life, so that in the final issue the world must no longer be experienced as offering resistance, there is nothing so unpopular as for the crucified God to be made a present reality through faith…Before there can be correspondence and agreements between faith and the surrounding world, there must first be the painful demonstration of truth in the midst of untruth. In this pain we experience reality outside of ourselves, which we have not made or thought out for ourselves. The pain arouses a love which can no longer be indifferent, but seeks out its opposite, what is ugly and unworthy of love, in order to love it…

“The cross in the church symbolizes the contradiction which comes into the church from the God who was crucified ‘outside’…The symbol of the cross in the church points to the God who was crucified not between two candles on an altar, but between two thieves in the place of the skull, where the outcasts belong, outside the gates of the city. It does not invite thought but change of mind. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into the fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned…Where this contradiction in the cross, and its revolution in religious values, is forgotten, the cross ceases to be a symbol and becomes an idol, and no longer invites a revolution in thought, but the end of thought in self-affirmation…

“To make the cross a present reality in our civilization means to put into practice the experience one has received of being liberated from fear for oneself; no longer to adapt oneself to this society, its idols and taboos, its imaginary images and fetishes; and in the name of him who was once the victim of religion, society and the state to enter into solidarity with the victims of religion, society and the state at the present day, in the same way as he who was crucified became their brother and their liberator.”

So…

Why should we preach the message of the cross, the necessity of Christ suffering, dying, and rising from the dead?

What is its relevance for us today?

This message reveals and arouses a love within us that leads us to seek out those that are not like us, those that are opposite to us, those are deemed unworthy and unlovable, so that they can be loved.

This message takes us to where God is…outside the gates, outside the city, outside religion, outside the society, outside the state, outside the wealthy, outside the privileged…and puts us in the place of those abandoned and forsaken by religion, society, and the state.

This is the message that reveals God’s love for the abandoned, the oppressed, the sick, the poor, the tired, the downtrodden and creates that love of God within us when we suffer with Christ, participating in the fellowship of his sufferings as Paul says.

This message takes us out of religion, out of church, our of established patterns, structures, and traditions and puts us in the place of the strange, the unfamiliar, and the uncomfortable.

And, this message takes us to the one and only true God.

This message leads to a change in our minds of who God is.

The cross of Jesus Christ revealed God as the one who suffers with you and not the God who causes you to suffer.

The cross of Jesus Christ revealed God as the one who dies for you and not the God who causes you to die.

The cross of Jesus Christ revealed God as the one who comforts the forsaken and abandoned and not the God who forsakes and abandons you.

This changed mind about God leads us to pick up our own cross, to follow Christ outside…the gates, the city, society, the state, religion, the church…to meet “the victims of religion, society and the state at the present day.”

Just who are those victims of the present day?

The poor. People of color. Homosexuals. The homeless. The dirty. The diseased. The mentally ill. The imprisoned. And many more.

Once we have experienced the change, the restoration, that only the cross, the crucified Christ, who necessarily had to suffer, die and rise from the dead, we always carry the death of Jesus in our bodies so that we can bring life to others. We suffer with Christ by abandoning our identification with the world, with society, with religion, with the state. We suffer the rejection of what it means to be normal, approved and like by the powers, to be with those that are deemed not normal, disapproved and not liked by the powers that be.

Just as Jesus did for us.

This is how God was reconciling the world through Christ.

And, this is how God now makes his appeal to the world to be reconciled to him through us, Christ’s ambassadors.

There truly is no other message that needs to preached and heard.

There is no other message that is Christian.