Are There Reasonable Exclusions for Following Jesus into War?

The more I read the Bible, the more I see Jesus standing out.

As I have read Deuteronomy recently, I noticed so many little allusions, foreshadowings, prophecies, glimpses, etc. of Jesus. Any time I see these in scripture it stirs my soul. But, none of these were significant enough, or catch my attention enough, to write a blog post.

Until I got to Deuteronomy 20.

The start of this chapter describes a time when Israel is going out to war with its enemies. The enemies will have all kinds of horses and chariots, and their armies will be much larger than their own. However, Moses tells Israel to not be afraid of them because God is with them. And, Israel has already seen God bring them out of Egypt.

Once the people have gathered for battle, the priest is come before the people and say, “Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart be faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.” (Deuteronomy 20.3-4)

After the priest speaks to the people, then the officers of Israel’s army come before the people gathered for war. The officers give the three people outs from having to go to war – if they have a new house that has not been dedicated, a vineyard they planted but haven’t enjoyed its fruit, and a betrothed wife they have not taken.

“Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. And is there any man who has planted a vineyard and has not enjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to this house, lest he die in the battle and another man enjoy its fruit. And is there any man who betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.'” (Deuteronomy 20.5-7)

All of these exclusions for sending a man to war against his enemies seem perfectly reasonable. In fact, these sorts of exclusions from military service still exist today in many countries.

But, as I read the passage in Deuteronomy my mind jumped to the time someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” To follow Jesus is to go to war. Not a war with planes and tanks and guns and bombs.

But, it is a war against the principalities and powers. Ephesians 6.11-12 says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Those that follow Jesus do this “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3.10)

It is also a war against every thought in our own minds against God. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10.3-5)

So, when this individual said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go,” he was saying that he would a combatant in this war until all things were put under Jesus’ feet and all things were summed up in Jesus.

But, unlike Moses who wrote that there were three legitimate excuses for not going to war, Jesus gave three examples of illegitimate excuses. That is, if you want to truly follow Jesus into the battle. In each of three examples, there is either a statement that the individual will follow the Lord anywhere and/or a reason the individual must do something else first. The reasons seem, well, perfectly reasonable. And, the reasons are similar in nature to the exclusions that Moses gave.

“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” (Luke 9.57-62)

If you want to truly follow Jesus, to go to war against the principalities and powers, to take down our own thoughts and strongholds against God, then there is nothing else that can come first. There are no reasonable exclusions to this military service. It is an all or nothing proposition.

Is God’s Love Balanced by His Justice?

Deuteronomy 16.19, 20 says, “You shall not pervert justice…Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

As I read this verse the other day, I thought it was a very accurate description of how many Christians today view God. For these Christians, the thinking seems to be that God is just. Therefore, justice is going to be served by God, whether in this life or in the next. Justice is someone being punished, getting what they deserved, for their sins. In other words, justice sounds like, “Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

I see two reasons many western Christians think this way about justice. The first is our legal system. The system is designed to exact some sort of punishment, not restitution and reconciliation, for crimes committed. We fail to recognize how much this influences our thinking about God and Jesus and how they act in the world. Second, much of western Christianity is dominated by the thinking of John Calvin. Calvin was a lawyer. Not coincidentally, whether Calvin himself intended it or not, we have made Calvin out to make a big deal about justice.

As a result, many Christians set God’s justice on an equal footing with God’s love. For these Christians, when someone says that God is love, a typical retort is to say that God is just too.

But, is that true?

Are we to know God as love and as justice?

Is God’s justice like our justice?

Or, is God’s justice moderated by his love because God’s love supersedes any justice he brings about?

My answers would be no, no, no, and yes.

For starters, 1 John 4.8 and 16 both say, “God is love.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say God is just. God’s very nature, his very being, is love. But, we must know that God’s very nature, his very being, is not just – at least in the sense that almost all of us think of justice.

God’s actions flow out of love not out of justice.

Consider the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.1-11. Yes, this woman was being treated unfairly by the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus pointed out that they were sinners just like the woman was. But, have you stopped to consider that there was an unmentioned wife in the story? Was it just that the woman (and the man by the way) caught in adultery got away unscathed, unpunished? Should not there been some sort of justice for the wife who was cheated on?

Or, consider the parable of the workers in Matthew 20.1-16. The workers started at different times during the time, but they all got the same pay. Some of these workers clearly did not think this was just. But, it did reveal God’s love.

We can see that love supersedes justice in other ways too.

Jesus’ two great commandments that the all the law hangs on are about love, not justice.

God so loved, not wanted justice for, the world that he sent Jesus.

Jesus said he gave us a new commandment to love one another as he loved us. That’s how we are to love one another, not do justice.

God showed his love, not justice, for us in that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love, not justice.

Love, not justice, is the fulfilling of the law.

Love, not justice, is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not arrogant, is not rude, does not insist on its way, is not irritable, is not resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, rejoices at the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends.

We are to pursue love, not justice.

We are controlled by the love, not justice, of Christ.

The only thing that counts is faith working through love, not justice.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Justice is not mentioned.

God is rich in mercy because of the great love, not justice, with which he loved us.

We are to be rooted and grounded in love, not justice.

We are to know the love, not justice, of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

We are to walk in love, not justice.

Yet, there are Christians that would say I have been brainwashed by love. They would argue that God’s love is balanced by his justice.

However, God, Jesus, the scriptures, are all about love, not justice. The scale is decisively tipped in favor of love. Everyone of the love, not justice statements above is straight from scripture. And, there are a whole lot more to go with them.

Love will bring about reconciliation, not punishment. Reconciliation is God’s justice.

 

We will never be able to lay down our own lives and pick up our own cross if we continue to insist that justice is on equal footing with love.

Are You Following a Man-Made System or Jesus?

We have a choice to make. We can follow a man-made system. Or, we can follow Jesus.

How do we know whether we are following a man-made system or Jesus?

Simply consider how you are being watered.

Consider Deuteronomy 11.10-12.

“For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.”

In these verses, we can see Egypt as a symbol of life following a man-made system and Canaan as a symbol of life following Jesus.

In many ways, the land of Egypt was like the land of Canaan. In both places, dirt, water, seed, and sun combined to produce fruit. Similarly, following a man-made system can look very much like following Jesus.

But, there is one critical difference between Egypt and Canaan – how they are watered.

The fields of Egypt were in very flat land. Therefore, they were watered in one of two ways. The first was the annual flooding of the Nile River. Once a year, the Nile would overflow its banks and water the fields of Egypt. But, for the remainder of the year, the fields were watered by a system of canals. The Egyptians had to dig out and maintain these canals. Further, the water was “pumped” through the canals by foot pedals. The Hebrew of Deuteronomy 11.10 literally says, “where you sowed your seed and water it with your feet.”

The fruit of the fields of Egypt was dependent on a man-made system to get water. But, this was not the case with the land of Canaan.

In Canaan, “the eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” The produce of Canaan was not reliant upon a single annual flood from a great river. Instead, God watched over the land throughout the year and provided rain as necessary. Instead of being flat like Egypt, Canaan was full of hills and valleys to direct the water where it needed to go. Further, Deuteronomy 8.7 says, “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills.”

Unlike Egypt’s fields that were dependent on a man-made system of canals, Israel’s fields on “the rain from heaven,” or the Spirit who is given by Jesus.

In John 4.10, 13-14, Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Notice the similarities in Jesus’ language to the passages in Deuteronomy. Jesus’ words from his conversation with the woman at the well are the reality of how we are to be watered just as the fields of Canaan were to be watered.

We learn more about this living water in John 7.37-39, which says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”‘ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

What is the living water that flows out of our hearts?

The Spirit.

Where does the Spirit come from?

Heaven.

Jesus gives the spirit as rain from heaven to water our life.

Notice that in order to receive this water you must go to Jesus. Jesus says, “Let him come to me and drink.” But, those following a man-made system do not go to Jesus.

Where do those following a man-made system go?

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5.39-40)

Those following a man-made system depend on scripture only. They don’t actually go to Jesus to receive the Spirit, living water, the rain from heaven. This scripture-only dependence treats scripture like the land of Egypt – flat. Everything in the scripture becomes equally important. But, this flat reading of scripture requires a man-made system of canals and foot-powered pumps to force water, or life, through them.

However, those following Jesus understand that scripture is full of mountains and valleys. Some portions of scripture are closer to God than others. Some portions of scripture more fully reveal God than others. Therefore, some portions of scripture are more important than others.

So, while Egypt and Canaan have many similar features, their source of water, and therefore life, are completely different. One is man-made. The other comes from heaven. Only the Spirit can show us the difference.

What Is Required for Love?

In the Old Testament, the view was that God loved his people, Israel, and would cut off his enemies.

Psalm 59.10 says, “My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.”

Psalm 143.12 says, “And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.”

But, Jesus changes all of this. Instead of wishing for our enemies to be cut off or destroyed, Jesus says we are to love them.

Matthew 5.43-44 says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Luke 6.27-28 says, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

Jesus was the image of God, the exact representation of God’s character. Jesus loved his enemies throughout his life, showing us that God loves his enemies as well.

So, we must ask ourselves what is required to love our enemies?

Identification.

I just finished watching a documentary. Paraphrasing, there was a line that said, “You cannot truly love something if you do not completely identify with it.”

To love we have to identify with the thing to be loved. So, to love our enemies we must identify with our enemies. The Bible shows that Jesus did exactly that.

God never considered us his enemies. But, according to the NIV, Colossians 1.21 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Even though we considered ourselves enemies to God, he wanted to show his love for us.

How did God show love to those who thought they were God’s enemies?

God identified with them.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” – John 1.14

“By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” – Romans 8.3

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” – Galatians 4.4

“Being born in the likeness of men.” – Philippians 2.7

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.” – Hebrews 2.14

God was able to most fully and completely reveal his love to us when he became one of us. He experienced everything we experience. God was able to fully and completely show his love for us when he completely identified with us.

Therefore, in order to love those who are perceived to be our enemies but really aren’t, we must identify with them just as Jesus identified with us. Paul understood that identification was required to share the love of the gospel.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to wind Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I share with them in its blessings.”

To identify with someone, we must understand their desires and wants. We must understand their motivations. We must understand their challenges, problems, and struggles.

This is hard thing to do with someone who is perceived to be your enemy. Instead, of identifying with our enemies, we typically magnify our differences. Just look at propaganda for war around the world. Every physical difference of the enemy is magnified. The enemy is different, not like us, and therefore worthy to be cut off or destroyed.

But, Jesus calls us to do the opposite. We must minimize our differences to love our enemies. As Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ.” (Galatians 3.28) It’s not that these distinctions no longer actually exist, but we minimize them in our minds so that we can identify with the other.

So, to love our enemies as Jesus commanded, let us focus on the one thing that is required – identification. As we identify with our enemies, love will naturally begin to flow.

The Scriptures Are a Shut and Open Case

An open and shut case is a court case, legal matter, or problem that is easy to decide or solve because the facts are clearly known or plainly obvious to all.

But, the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, are not an open and shut case. The truth within them is not clearly known and plainly obvious to all. There are problems and questions in the Old Testament that are not easy to solve or answer.

So, instead of being an open and shut case, the scriptures are a shut and open case. In a fascinating way, the gospel of Luke reveals just this to us. But, Luke’s gospel also reveals the one who can solve and answer the difficult problems and questions of the Bible for us – Jesus.

Take Zechariah.

An angel of the Lord came to Zechariah and told him that he would have a son that would be great before the Lord and turn the hearts of the children of Israel to God. But, Zechariah doubted the word of the angel. So, the angel told Zechariah, “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place.” (Luke 1.20) In other words, Zechariah’s mouth was shut. But, when everything that the angel told Zechariah would happen happened, “immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed.” (Luke 1.64)

What had been shut was now open.

Take Mary.

She was a virgin. Her womb was shut. But, after Mary gave birth to Jesus, their time for purification came. So, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord. Luke 2.23 says they did this because “as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.'”

Take the heavens.

They were closed. But, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened.” (Luke 3.21) The heavens could not have been opened at Jesus’ baptism if they were not closed before it.

Take the door.

Jesus tells a parable about a man who goes to a friend at midnight asking for three loaves. The friend tells the man not to bother him because the door is shut. But, Jesus is that door. “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11.9-10)

Luke repeatedly tells us of things that were previously shut that have now been opened. This is an important theme throughout Luke’s gospel as each shutting and opening foreshadows the final opening of what was shut in Luke’s gospel.

So, take the scriptures.

They were shut to everyone. No one understood their true meaning.

Even the disciples did not understand the scriptures. Because of this, Jesus said the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were slow of heart to believe all the prophets, meaning the scriptures, had spoke. So, Jesus taught them from Moses and all the prophets about himself, how it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and enter into his glory.

Jesus simply teaching these two disciples where he was in all the scriptures did not reveal the true meaning of the scriptures to these two. The answers to they had were still hard to come by. The case was still shut and not open.

But, Jesus broke bread and gave it to them.

In other words, these two disciples experientially shared in the suffering of Jesus. They symbolically received the broken body of Jesus and ate it.

“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” (Luke 24.31-32)

After doing this for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus did it for the other disciples as well.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” (Luke 24.44-47)

Over and over, Luke shows what was shut is now open.

By the end of Luke’s gospel, the shut and open case of the scriptures has been solved.

The difficult problem of understanding the truth of scripture was solved as the disciples shared in the suffering of the Christ.

Jesus solved the shut and open case of the scriptures for us.

Jesus opens that which has been shut.

Jesus, and only the suffering of Jesus, can open our minds to understand the truth of scripture.

Does God Hate You?

If I had to guess, then I would guess that a lot of people in the world believe God hates them.

Strangely, I feel more confident in saying that a significant number of Christians believe that God hates them. They hear it preached regularly. You sinned. God hates sin. So, God hates you. But, in order to spare you from his hatred, God put your sin on Jesus. Instead of hating you, God transferred his hate to Jesus. Instead of killing you, God killed Jesus. Therefore, Jesus died the death that you deserved when you were hated by God.

God must have really hated you if he killed his own perfect, sinless son instead of you.

I could, and others have, come up many verses from the Old Testament that allude to the fact that God has a lot of hate.

Deuteronomy 1.27 says, “And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.”

Deuteronomy 9.28 says, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.”

Psalm 11.5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”

But, this morning I read Proverbs 10.12. It says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” As I thought about this verse, I saw it as a picture of those who hated Jesus and crucified him and a picture of God, who was in Jesus on the cross, who loved us so much he covered all our offenses.

We are the ones that are filled with hate, not God. Our hatred stirs up, arouses, and awakens strife, controversy, contention. The ultimate end of this hatred is murder. The ultimate murder was our crucifixion of Jesus. This was the fulfillment of all hatred.

God does not hate. It only seems that way because we project our hate onto God.

Instead of hating, God loves. In fact, God is love. God’s love covered our hate that was fully revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus. Our hatred not only led to strife but offenses. The Hebrew word for offenses could also be translated, and perhaps better so, rebellion. God’s love covered every bit of our rebellion against him. Indeed, we were all at one time enemies in our minds against God. Note that God never saw as us his enemies, as people to be hated.

When we read the New Testament, it is hard to find anything that even alludes to God hating. Although, Jesus repeatedly says that he is hated by the world and that world will kill him because it hated him.

Do you know what the actual meaning of hate is?

Hate is an intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.

So hate comes from fear, anger, or a sense of injury.

That sounds like our thoughts, feelings, and emotions toward God and others. We fear God. We are angry at God. We feel injured by God because we don’t have everything we want. So, we hate God.

The Bible never says that God is hate. But, it does say that God is love. God can only do what he is. You know…that whole I Am that I Am thing. The Bible goes on to say that there is no fear in love. And, if there is no fear, then there can be no hate in love either. Instead of fear being in love, perfect love casts out fear. For me, that is very much like love covering all of our rebellion.

I also see Jesus in Proverbs 10.12.

Love covers all offenses. The Hebrew word for covers is also used for putting on a veil or other articles of clothing. Love is put on atop, over, or above (there’s actually an untranslated Hebrew word that means something like that) all our offenses. Love is put on atop or above our hatred, covering it up.

Colossians 3.8-14 says, “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Here we have the taking off the garment of hatred – anger, wrath, malice – and the putting on of the garment of love. In this way, there are no more groups that hate another – Jew and Gentile, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free. Instead, Christ is all and in all. Hatred is replace with love because God, and Christ, is love.

We are to forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven us.

When did Jesus, and God, do this?

On the cross.

When our hatred was fully stirred up to the ultimate strife – murder.

When love covered all of our rebellion.

And, because God has always been as he was on the cross, he never hated you.

Do You Live by God’s Mouth or God’s Finger?

We can receive from God in two ways – his finger or his mouth. The Bible actually makes a big deal about this. Although, it doesn’t come right out and say it.

The question is, are you living by God’s mouth or his finger?

Exodus 20-23 contain the ten commandments and other laws God gave to Israel while they were wandering through wilderness. Exodus 20.1 says, “And God spoke all these words, saying…”

Who did God speak the words of Exodus 20-23 to?

I think the answer is Moses…alone.

“Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood afar off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God to us, lest we die.'” (Exodus 20.18-19)

The people didn’t want to hear from God directly because they were afraid of him. Because they were afraid of God, they stayed far away from him. Instead, they told Moses to hear what God wanted to say and report back to them so they could listen.

So, Exodus 24.2 says, “Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

And, Exodus 24.12 says, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.”

How did Israel get the ten commandments and the rest of the law?

Exodus 31.18 says, “And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.”

God spoke to Moses. God wrote those laws and commandments on tablets of stone with his own finger. Moses took the tablets of stone to Israel.

When Jesus was in the wilderness, he was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger. “But he answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”‘” (Matthew 4.4)

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8.3. something that was written. But, Jesus quoted what was written to show that man does not live by what was written. In other words, man does not live by what comes from God’s finger. In yet other words, man does live by a book. Rather, man lives by every word that comes from God’s mouth. In other words, man lives by God’s voice. In yet other words, man lives by the word of God that is living and active. (Hebrews 4.12)

Jesus gave the sermon on the mount, his version or interpretation of God’s law, very soon after he said that man lives by every word that comes out of God’s mouth. But, Jesus didn’t go up a mountain by himself to hear from God and write down what God said to give to the people. Matthew 5.1 says, “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.” Jesus went up a mountain like Moses, but he had a crowd gathered around him. While it does seem that he spoke to just his disciples because the verse says they came to him, we see something different at the end of this sermon. Matthew 7.28, says, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching.” The crowds heard what Jesus said. So, unlike Moses, Jesus was not alone with God when he received and gave his interpretation of the law.

It is very important to note Matthew 5.2, which says, “And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying…”

Jesus opened his mouth.

The people received these new instructions from Jesus’ mouth, God’s mouth, directly.

The people did not receive these new instructions written down by God’s finger.

Further, in John 10.4, Jesus said, “When he brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Jesus’ people know his voice and they follow it.

What is the significance of the distinction between following what was written down by God’s finger and following what was spoken by God’s mouth, his voice?

The laws and commandments that came from God’s finger were written in stone. They were set in stone, meaning they were fixed and unchangeable. They could be known only one. There was no room for interpretation. They were to be taken literally.

Further, there was no requirement of intimacy to receive what was written down by God’s finger. The people were afar off, standing far away from God, when Moses received what God wrote down. Therefore, what was written by God’s finger implied a great distance between God and the people.

In contrast, a voice is living. A voice has easily detectable tones and differences. A voice can provide shades of meaning. A voice can mold the teaching to the situation so that it can be followed. To hear one’s voice you must be close enough to hear it in the present moment. Therefore, a voice implies a greater level of intimacy than what is written.

In the new covenant, God says he will write his laws on our hearts and minds. But, this means that God has given us his Spirit. And, the Spirit speaks to us so that we can hear the voice of Jesus moment by moment instead of living by a book of God’s writings from thousands of years ago. Remember Jesus said exactly that in Matthew 4.4.

All of this is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3.3-6, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

You can try to live by what is written in book. But, you will be living by God’s finger. You will be living at a distance from God, which means you won’t have the deepest intimacy with God.

Or, you can live by God’s voice, which means you are receiving directly from God’s mouth. This requires us to listen moment by moment. We have to be very intimate and very present with God. To live by God’s mouth requires a continual trusting of God in each and every situation.

Of course, Jesus always says it best. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5.39-40)

What Work Is Forbidden on the Sabbath?

In my last post, we saw that the man supposedly killed by God for picking up sticks on the Sabbath was actually a picture of Jesus. In the New Testament, we see that Jesus, that is God, heals rather than kills on the Sabbath. Jesus, that is God, gathers his people rather than casting them out on the Sabbath. Instead, it was Moses, Aaron, and the congregation that stoned the man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. While there was no specific law against gathering sticks on the Sabbath, Numbers 15.32-36 indicates that Moses, Aaron, and the congregation came to a mutual decision that the man should be killed.

How did they determine that the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath should be killed?

They based their decision on what Moses thought he heard from God.

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”(Exodus 32.12-17)

Moses, Aaron, and the congregation deemed that gathering sticks on the Sabbath was doing work. Working on the Sabbath profaned the Sabbath as the Sabbath was to be a day of solemn rest. The Sabbath was a day of solemn rest because the Lord made the heaven and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh day. By working on six days and resting on the seventh day, Israel would be imaging, emulating, mirroring God. If one’s life did not image God, then their soul should be cut off from the people and they should die.

But, is this what God really instructed Moses and Israel to do?

Did God really say to Moses that anyone who gathered sticks on the Sabbath was profaning the Sabbath by working on it and should be put to death?

Or, did Moses misunderstand God?

Does Jesus help us understand God, work, and the Sabbath differently?

In John 5.1-17, Jesus comes across a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. Every day the man would lie by the pool at the Sheep Gate so that when the water was stirred he could get in the pool and be healed. But, you had to be the first one in the pool, and someone always beat him into the pool. Even though it was the Sabbath, Jesus told the man to get up, take his bed with him, and walk. At once the man was healed, but carrying his bed on the Sabbath was against the law. This man was profaning the Sabbath by doing work. Further, Jesus was profaning the Sabbath healing the man. Verses 16-17 say, “And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Jesus is clearly saying that the Father works on the Sabbath. “He is working until now.” Therefore, because the Father is working on the Sabbath, Jesus says, “I am working.”

What is going on here?

Exodus 32.12-17 is clearly referring back to the creation accounts in Genesis 1-3. Verse 17 says, “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh he rested and was refreshed.” Genesis 2.1-2 says, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” The two passages are quite similar.

But, there is something very interesting about the seventh day of creation that you might not have noticed.

It never ended.

Each of the first six days of creation had a clear ending.

  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1.5)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” (Genesis 1.8)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1.13)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.” (Genesis 1.19)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.” (Genesis 1.23)
  • “And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1.31)

But, in Genesis 2.1-3, this phrase is not stated regarding the seventh day. In other words, for God the seventh day, the day of solemn rest, the Sabbath, has continued forever without end. So, Jesus said that even though it is the Sabbath, and always has been the Sabbath for God, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” because I am the image of my Father.

Hold on.

Genesis 2.1-3 says “on the seventh day God finished his work…he rested on the seventh day from all his work…God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

So, which is it?

Did God stop working or not?

In Genesis 2.1-3, the Hebrew word for work is melakah. This word does mean work. But, it can also mean possessions, or what is owned by the expenditure of work. The idea behind melakah seems to be that when you work to create something you own what you have created. God worked to create for six days. At the end of six days, God rested from the kind of work that creates. There was nothing left for God to create and own. All of it had been made. And, God owed all of it. But, God did not stop working altogether.

Exodus 32.14-15 says, “Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath shall be put to death.” Three times the word work is used and three times it is the word melakah. Therefore, the work that is forbidden on the Sabbath is the work of creating to take ownership of what is created.

Why?

Because God had created and owned everything on the first six days of creation. As the seventh day of creation never ended, there was nothing left to work to create and own. God had created the earth, all the land, and given it to man. Man was merely a steward of what God had created. Man did not own the land himself. Therefore, for man to work to own the land on the Sabbath would profane the Sabbath, or profane the work God had already done in creation and rested from.

When man was created he was living in the seventh day, the day of rest that never ended. Yet, man was given work to do. Genesis 2.15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Wait a minute.

How did God put the man in the garden “to work it” when God had rested from his work?

The Hebrew word for work in Genesis 2.15 is not the same as in Genesis 2.1-3. Here the Hebrew word for work is bod, which primarily means to serve. Also, the Hebrew word for keep is samar, which also means to watch over or guard. In other words, man was to serve and keep, guard, or watch over what God had created as his own possession. Again, man was a steward not an owner.

Some food for thought. These two Hebrew words, bod and samar, are regularly used of the priests serving in the Tabernacle. The priests, by the way, worked on the Sabbath as sacrifices still had to be offered. And, Jesus tabernacled among us (John 1.14) and was always working as God’s servant.

In a restatement of the 10 commandments, Deuteronomy 5.12 says, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The word observe is the Hebrew word samar. Also, Exodus 32.12-17 says, “you shall keep my Sabbaths…you shall keep the Sabbath…the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath.” Each time the word keep is the word samar.

Therefore, on the seventh day, the Sabbath, Adam was to serve and keep, guard, or watch over the garden. Similarly, Israel was to keep the Sabbath in the same way as Adam. There was still work to be done, just not the kind of work that would take ownership of what the work produced.

Exodus 32.12-17 says “everyone who profanes it shall be put to death” and “whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.” The phrase “shall be put to death” is the same phrase that we find in Genesis 2.16-17 after Adam was given the command to bod and samar the garden of Eden in Genesis 2.15. Genesis 2.16-17 says, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

So, Adam was to work and keep the garden. As long as Adam did that, he could eat from everything in God’s garden, including the tree of life, which meant he could benefit from what God created and owned. But, if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life, then Adam would surely die. In other words, Adam was to work and keep the garden to extend it throughout the earth. And, he would do this as long as he did not try to own anything himself. In this way, Adam would spread life throughout the earth. But, if Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge good and evil, if Adam stepped outside his role as steward so as to make his own judgments and own what was not his, then he would surely die.

Perhaps, this is why in the beginning of Solomon’s book on wisdom, which is Jesus, who is the tree of life, Proverbs 1.18-19 says, “But these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.” To be greedy for unjust gain is to work to own that which is not rightfully yours. As we have seen, that is what is meant by working to create on the Sabbath, which profanes the Sabbath. Men that try to possess land that is not theirs through violence are working to own that which is not theirs. It results in death.

Further, we see an allusion from the life of Jesus back to the command God gave Adam to work and keep the garden to spread life throughout the earth and the command to keep the Sabbath. However, if Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then he would surely die.

“On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?’ And after looking around at them all he said to them, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

Jesus’s work of healing on the Sabbath was an one of working, or serving, and keeping the garden of God by restoring or extending its life. Because the man’s hand was withered, he was not able to fulfill the command God gave to Adam. Therefore, the man was not able to image God, which meant that he could not express God’s life. Knowing that the scribes and Pharisees believed it was wrong to heal, to work, on the Sabbath, Jesus asked if he could do good or give save life on the Sabbath. He was asking not if he could work to create so as to own the fruits of his labor but if he could work and keep the life that God had created and owned. Jesus was seeking to liberate the life that God had created. To not do this kind of work on the Sabbath, to not extend God’s kingdom and the life it brings, would be to do harm and to destroy life, to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So, through the lens of Jesus, I think we can see that not all work was forbidden on the Sabbath. Working to own the produce of our work was forbidden. But, if that work was the kind of work that saved life, restored life, and extended God’s kingdom then that work was not only allowed but actually commanded by God to be performed. This is the kind of work that God still performed on the Sabbath according to Jesus. Therefore, it was the kind of work Jesus did on the Sabbath since he only did what he saw his Father doing. In this way Jesus imaged God. As we enter back into that day of rest, the day of rest without end, meaning every day is a day of rest, this is the same kind of work that we are to do. And, we are to do everything as if we are doing it for the Lord. In other words, everything should we do should be an act of serving and keeping God’s garden. It’s all work on the Sabbath. Then we to will image God and be his sons.

Did God Kill a Man for Gathering Sticks on the Sabbath?

Did God kill a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath?

Isn’t it obvious that the answer is yes?

Numbers 15.32-36 tells us that while Israel was wandering in the wilderness, the people found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath. So, they brought this man to Moses and Aaron and the entire congregation. Because it wasn’t clear if the man had violated the Sabbath, they kept him in custody. Verse 35 says, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.'”

So, there you have it. Right there in black and white it says that God told Moses to have the man killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Typically then, Christians go on to assume that the fact that God would kill a man for merely picking up sticks on the Sabbath shows how seriously God takes the Sabbath. Therefore, God killed this man to show everyone that they must keep the Sabbath or else.

Because the Sabbath was supposedly so important to God that he would kill a man for gathering sticks on it, Christians are still arguing about Sabbath keeping today. Some denominations shun and look down upon those that work on the Sabbath. Other denominations believe that you will go to hell forever for not keeping the Sabbath. And, Christians regularly argue whether they should keep Saturday or Sunday as the Sabbath. While Christians may not see God literally killing people for breaking the Sabbath today, the belief that God has and will do so is still going strong today.

But, are we really to believe that God is so petty that he would kill a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath?

You can only answer yes to the question “Did God kill a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath?” because the Holy Spirit has not brought light and life to this passage of scripture for you. In fact, when the Holy Spirit breathes life into this particular passage of scripture and others – that is, when the Holy Spirit inspires Numbers 15.32-36 – we come to see that God has not, does not, and never will kill anyone for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

In fact, this story is not about just any man being killed for gathering stick son the Sabbath. The man gathering sticks in this story is a picture of Jesus. Jesus was the one killed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. And, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself when Jesus was crucified. (2 Corinthians 5.19)

Therefore, in an ironic twist, it wasn’t God that killed a man for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. It was man that killed God for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

Wait. What?

How did I get there?

Well, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to inspire or bring to life Numbers 15.32-36.

How might the Holy Spirit do that?

The Hebrew word for sticks is es. This word is used quite a bit in the Old Testament, but there is one particularly interesting portion of scripture regarding the word es.

“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, take a stick [es] and write on it, “For Judah, and the people of Israel associated with him”; then take another stick [es] and write on it, “For Joseph (the stick [es] of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.” And join them one to another into one stick [es], that they may become one in your hand. And when your people say to you, “Will you not tell us what you mean by these?” say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick [es] of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick [es] of Judah, and make them one stick [es], that they may be one in my hand. When the sticks [es] on which you write are in your hand before their eyes, then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer two divided kingdoms.'” (Ezekiel 37.15-22)

So, here we have the Hebrew word for stick, es, used as a picture or symbol of the tribes and people of Israel. These sticks, or tribes of Israel, would be gathered together and made into one nation and would have one king over them.

Clearly, Ezekiel is prophesying about Jesus as the son of man that would gather the tribes of Israel, or sticks, and make them one nation with himself as their one king.

Going back to Numbers 15.32-36 and with the inspiration of the Spirit, we can see that the man found gathering sticks while Israel was in the wilderness is a picture of none other than Jesus. Scripture does indeed picture Israel as in the wilderness, in exile, when Jesus comes. Jesus indeed was gathering sticks, gathering the tribes, to make one nation with himself as the king.

When Jesus was found to be gathering people, or sticks, particularly on the Sabbath by healing and forgiving sins, this enraged the leaders of Israel. In Mark 3.1-6, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Verse 6 says, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

Eventually, Jesus was brought to the chief priests and elders and put into custody until it could be decided what to do with him. While they couldn’t stone Jesus, they decided to have him crucified, which indeed took place outside of the city, or outside of the camp.

John 11.49-53 ties all of Jesus’ story right back to Numbers 15.32-36 and Ezekiel 37.15-22.

“But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.”

Jesus is the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath that was stoned outside the camp. Caiaphas played the part of Moses and Aaron, who was the chief of Israel. While Caiaphas did not know what he was saying, neither did Moses. God did not tell Moses, Aaron, and the congregation to kill a man for gathering sticks. Nor did God kill his own. The New Testament is very clear on this. Man killed Jesus, not God. Moses, Aaron, and the congregation killed the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath, not God.

Therefore, when we read the scripture through the inspiration of the Spirit, letting Jesus interpret it for us (Luke 24), then we see Moses and Aaron and the congregation decided themselves to kill the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Their view of God was veiled. They did not see God clearly. They were blinded by the God of this world. (2 Corinthians 3.12-16, 4.3-4)

Thankfully, Jesus and the Holy Spirit help us to see clearly today.

Are Christians to Defend Themselves and Others?

Jesus was non-violent.

Can we honestly read the New Testament and come to any other conclusion?

Obviously, I can’t.

The cross was the ultimate representation of Jesus’ non-violence. The cross was also the fullest and most complete embodiment of God’s essence – love. Remember, God was in Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5.19)

Jesus willingly was crucified instead of doing violence, as was expected by everyone else, including the Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and his own disciples. He chose love – “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” – over any semblance of violence. (John 15.13)

Christians are to follow Jesus.

Jesus says we should take up our own cross.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Matthew 16.24-25)

Jesus says we should love one another as he loved us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13.34)

Therefore, Christians should be non-violent like Jesus.

In my experience, I have found that many Christians will philosophically believe this and quote the scriptures above as well as others. Yet, when the discussion turns to living this out in their actual lives, they don’t really believe it and they don’t think it is possible.

Typically, when I profess that Jesus was non-violent (Isaiah 53.9 says “he had done no violence”) and we should do the same, I am almost immediately confronted with questions about self-defense. And, if I say that we should not use violence in self-defense, then I am confronted with the seemingly ultimate question, “What if a rapist broke into your home and attacked your wife?” For, isn’t it clear that everyone would use violence in that situation?

But, what does scripture reveal about Jesus?

And, what does scripture reveal about the followers of Jesus?

He and they never resorted to violence in any situation, even in self-dense.

Have you noticed that?

In every situation where we could expect some sort of violent reaction or self-defense, Jesus and his followers responded without violence and without defending themselves. They did not do nothing, but they responded in a way that did not involved violence or self-defense to express God’s love. And, keep in mind, that God’s love is most fully displayed by one laying down their life, literally in death if necessary, for another.

Here are just a few examples to prove the point.

In Matthew 2, the life of the baby Jesus was threatened by Herod and his edict to kill all the male children. Did God send someone to kill Herod? Did anyone rise up to do any violence to protect Jesus? No. Instead, God sent an angel to Joseph and told him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus.

In Mark 3.1-7, Jesus entered a synagogue and healed a man. This enraged the Pharisees because Jesus healed on the sabbath. The Pharisees went and conspired how to destroy Jesus. “Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.”

In Luke 22.47-53, Judas came with a great crowd with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. The crowd laid hands on Jesus and seized him. Then, one of the disciples took out a sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus said, “No more of this,” and he healed the ear of the servant. In Matthew’s account, Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Jesus neither defended himself nor needed anyone else to defend him. Also in Matthew’s account, Jesus asked if they didn’t realize that he could appeal to his Father and at once have 12 legions of angels to defend him. But, he didn’t do that.

In both Matthew 27.11-14 and Mark 14.53-65, Jesus was on trial. Yet, he said nothing in his defense. He did not answer a single accusation.

In John 8.53-9.11, Jesus defended the woman caught in the act of adultery without any violence.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested for preaching Jesus. They were threatened by the authorities to never teach about Jesus again. But, just read their words to the other disciples in response.

“‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4.29-31)

The disciples very lives were being threatened. Yet, they prayed that they would speak about Jesus with boldness. As they spoke, God will heal and do signs and wonders. Jesus had been crucified unjustly. That’s what the disciples were speaking about. It’s what Christians are to be speaking about today. How could they, and we, use violence to defend ourselves when Jesus never did.

The apostles were brought before the chief priest and the council again for preaching about Jesus. They were threatened again. They were beaten and told never to preach about Jesus again. “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5.41-42).

They were teaching that the Christ was the one who was crucified, the one who willingly laid down his to life to show God’s love and forgiveness. How could any of them use violence to defend themselves and preach that message with any integrity at all?

Stephen was doing great signs and wonders when men from the synagogue argued with him. They seized him and brought him before the council. Stephen goes on a long speech about Jesus. This enraged the council and they had Stephen stoned to death. Yet, there is no account of any follower of Jesus defending Stephen. There is no record of anyone using any form of violence to stop his arrest or execution. Surely, some of the other apostles and disciples were present at his arrest. Surely, some of them tried to hear and see what was going on at his trial. But, we have no record of them doing any violence to stop it.

Saul approved of his execution. “But, Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8.3) Here is the very example that gets thrown out by Christians in their arguments against being non-violent. Here, Saul, a great persecutor of Christians, is coming into their very homes and dragging off men and women to prison. Yet, we don’t have a single recorded instance of self-defense. There’s no statement of Christians protecting their families or their property.

Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why?

Paul, the converted Saul, went from barging into people’s homes to drag them off to prison to becoming one of those Christians that never defended himself. He was beaten and flogged. He was left for dead outside a city. He was lowered in basket over the city wall to flee his persecutors. Instead of defending himself at trial, he preached the gospel. Ultimately, he was beheaded for his following Jesus.

But, after his conversion, Paul never did any violence. Instead, he said talked about rejoicing and participating in suffering.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1.24)

“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.10)

Paul routinely and repeatedly cited his sufferings and his willingness to undergo those sufferings as evidence for the veracity of the gospel that he preached. In other words, Paul’s words about Jesus would have had no power if he had remained the violent Saul. Paul could not have spoken truthfully about Jesus if he used violence to defend himself. Paul’s message of a Christ who died for you out of love to forgive you would have carried no weight. For, how would Paul be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Galatians 2.20-21)

Just as it was for Paul, so it is for Christians today. If we want to preach Jesus Christ, Christ crucified, then we have to lay down every violent tendency and every need and reason for self-defense. For, it is the willingness to suffer, to even die, for the ones you are preaching Jesus to that lends power to the gospel.

In my opinion, there is why the American church is seemingly so weak. We have lost the understanding of the power of suffering. American Christians negate suffering at every turn. Instead, American Christians seek to defend our families, our property, our rights, our country, and on and on. And, we kill you if necessary.

Yes, this sounds foolish, but “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.18) “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1.25)

Therefore, if Christians today truly want to preach the message of the apostles, the early church, and Paul, we need to lay down all violence and self-defense (even in words). We need to be willing to lose our lives. This is to follow Jesus and pick up our cross daily. This is to have the same mind as Jesus (Philippians 2.1-11).