Luke makes a point about Judas’ ending and the ignomy of his legacy. And it isn’t pretty. Falling headlong, bursting open in the middle and bowels gushing out is not a pleasant description. Judas’ infamy is well earned for betraying Jesus, selling him out for the price of a slave, then trying to take it all back. Then comes the sad end of suicide and the ugly end described here. His legacy is one of deceit, ungodly regret, and death.
The Bible is no fairy tale book. It does not sugarcoat sin. And whether it’s the harsh reality of David’s sin with Bathsheba (the death of their child), or Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), or this description of Judas’ end, we’re not spared the realities of sin’s consequences. The wages of sin is death. A man reaps what he sows. God punishes sin with sin. We cannot say we have not been warned.
Paul writes to the Church in Corinth:
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. – 1 Corinthians 10:6-12
It’s easy for us to distance ourselves from the kind of evil displayed in the life of Judas. But we must take this as a warning. We must not imagine that we are invulnerable. We must guard our hearts, and not give in to temptation. And if we do give in, we must repent immediately, and return to the paths of righteousness on which God leads us. May we not leave an ignominious legacy!
I’ve enjoyed my encore ministry, working with congregations in strategic planning and in the process of calling a new pastor. One of these congregations is in need of some scenario planning. That involves considering several possible scenarios for future ministry decisions and making some plans according to those scenarios. Some of these end up with clever names: He stays/We Grow; He stays/We decline; He leaves/We grow; He leaves/We decline. Or, School thrives/We expand; School thrives/We limit; School falters/We recruit; School Falters/We limit. We don’t know what the future brings, but we make plans that take into consideration the possibilities of which we are aware.
The Apostles were not doing scenario planning on this occasion. They were doing scenario living. They were living out a deflection in the trajectory of God’s mission they did not know they would need to consider. They trusted God and were committed to the Great Commission Jesus had given them. They realized, also, that they needed to have a 12th Apostle to join them in giving witness to Jesus’ resurrection, and providing leadership and stability for the fledgling church.
Little did they know how dramatically this need would become evident in the years to come. The Day of Pentecost was at hand. Three thousand new believers would be baptized that day. The message of Jesus would spread to foreign lands and even the Gentiles would be brought to faith. This would create a crisis that would require the Apostles’ guidance and decision as to how the church would receive these new believers.
And there is the matter of Jesus’ resurrection. The Apostles would serve as witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. This was the cornerstone the Christian faith. That message would be an essential part of the witness of the church, and the truth that would define Jesus’ followers, and drive his mission.
These men were no longer fishing for fish. They would be fishing for men, women, and children. They would not be hanging around for long waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit. They would be filled with the Spirit and would speak the word of God in the languages of the various people gathered on the Day of Pentecost. The needed to restore the number to 12, based on the scripture: Let another fill his office. (Psalm 109:8)
God is setting the table for a remarkable expansion of his kingdom. He is using these Apostles in a singularly unique manner. All this was unfolding in real time for the 11, soon to be 12. It was the same for the other 100 plus believers.
The believers were living in times of defining moments. And so are we. What was guiding them should also guide our decision-making processes. Prayer, discernment, and a desire to further God’s kingdom should be top on our list of decision-making criteria – if we want to be part of God’s work in the world today. That is God’s will for us. And it is right, blessed, and good.
Join me in praying these psalms on this Lord’s Day
Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.
Have mercy on me,[a] O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right[b] spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! 9 There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. 10 I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it..
Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. 2 Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. 3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. 4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. 5 He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. 6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. 7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; 8 they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. 9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! 2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!
3 Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! 4 Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!
We’ve been praying a lot these last few days. Traveling with friends who share a common commitment to calling on God and praying for one another has added a new facet to our prayer life. When our 3:33 PM alarm goes off, we stop and each of the four of us offer a prayer for the people in our Life Group. We also pray at noon for a sister in Christ who is leading an important ministry with InterVarsity. Then comes my 9:00 PM alerts. Texts from two different call committees, plus an additional reminder on my calendar for a third remind me to pray for these three churches and the pastors who will one day serve God’s people there.
Prayer is the life-breath of a follower of Jesus dedicated to seeing his kingdom come. It is the life-line for those who are facing challenges, troubles, and needs. Prayer is the discipline of the believer who is living life in his or her god-given vocation as mother, father, baker, barber, banker, or beautician. It’s what we do as we wait to see how God is going to act, as well as what we do as we are in the vortex of God’s work in and through us.
So after the disciples see Jesus taken up into the clouds of heaven, having been told to wait in the city to see the promise of God come true (the gift of the Holy Spirit), they pray. Luke tells us that the eleven Apostles “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” These were exciting and challenging times. The Mission of God was on the cusp of take-off. But they were waiting. And praying.
Many times we must wait: For the birth of a child. For the return of a son or daughter. For a job promotion. For a vacation. For the results of a medical test. While we wait we might choose to stew and fret. Or we can pray. To that end, I love to pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I especially think about the first few lines, concluding with Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
When is the last time you’ve asked a silly question? Have you ever been asked a silly question? Do you have favorite responses to questions your children ask? My favorite answer to our children’s “Why?” questions was, “Because the sky is blue when the sun shines.” Our sons did not like that answer. I was saying, in effect, “Because that’s just the way it is.” I didn’t want to explain myself to them. I didn’t want to answer to them. Sometimes I should have obliged.
This passage has one of my favorite questions in the entire Bible. “Why do you stand there looking up into the sky?” I have an answer to this question! “Because we’ve never seen anything like this before in our lives!” The angels’ question is more telling than you might think. For 33 years the angels have seen things that they cannot comprehend. What is God doing? Why did he take on flesh? How is it possible that the Creator, the Son of God lets himself be treated so horrifically? These are the sort of things that into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12). For the angels mysterious and intriguing things have been happening for 33 years. Now things are returning to the way they should be. Christ is risen and reigning.
For the disciples this was no cheap trick. This wasn’t just a curiosity. This was a remarkable display of Jesus’ true glory and exaltation. His work as a man on earth was done. This was the visible display of the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. To at least some extent this would be difficult for them. He was being taken from them. Soon the Holy Spirit would be poured out–a gale-force wind would fan into flame the spread of the Gospel. But for now they are left staring into the sky.
As a result of Jesus’ ascension we no longer see him on earth. True. But we can take great comfort that Jesus is reigning with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is interceding for us (Romans 8:34).
Today is Ascension Day. Ascension Day occurs during the week rather than on Sunday. As a result, many people miss this feast and the great importance it has for the life of the believer. Remembering this day is of no apparent importance to the followers of Jesus. But perhaps I can ask a question of you: If Jesus is on the throne in heaven, is he also on the throne of your heart? Does his reign and rule bring comfort to you in times of difficulty? Do you need to celebrate that today?
We’re exploring Big Bend National Park. It took an hour to get from our hotel to the entrance of the park, then another 45 minutes to get to the visitor center. From there we made our trek using the maps the park rangers provided us – along with some helpful recommendations. Tomorrow our circuit will be a 5-hour trip, not including any stops, hikes, or delays. I’ve mapped it out on my phone. Should be quite a day. The maps and planning will help us make the most of our time here, and allow us to see the sights we are interested in.
When it comes to our walk of faith, however, roadmaps are seldom available, and often unhelpful. We map out our lives, our plans for job, family, career, and retirement. We may even have a plan for our final days and even our funeral. Those may also be good and helpful.
But there are always adjustments to be made – unless we hew stubbornly to a path in spite of the danger or warning signs we encounter. Tom Peters observed, in fact, that companies that have strategic plans and adhere to them are not as successful as those who have strategic plans and make adjustments to them along the way. We may think we know where we need to go, but we may be mistaken. We may need to make adjustments.
When the disciples ask Jesus if this was to be the time he would restore the kingdom to Israel, he not only didn’t answer. He told them it was not for them to know. A roadmap to the future would be a hindrance, not a help to faith. Jesus would supply a different sort of roadmap. Start in Jerusalem, go on to Judea, proceed to Samaria, and go to the ends of the earth. That’s not a roadmap. But it is a plan they were to follow…one step at a time. He also promises the Holy Spirit to them as their source of power for their journey.
Ours (yours and mine) may not be as daunting as the disciples in Jerusalem. But it is no less a calling, requiring the Holy Spirit’s power and strength. There are no maps for this life’s journey. But Jesus promises to be with us every step of the way. Wherever we go and however we serve him.
I’m not really good at waiting…unless I have my iPhone or iPad and a good connection to the internet. I can check my email. I can play a game of solitaire. I can read news articles. I can listen to a book or a podcast. All while I’m waiting. But that’s not really waiting, is it. That’s more like killing time. Filling the void of boredom rather than waiting in the fullest sense of the term.
Waiting in the best sense of the term involves also hoping and trusting. For example, “Those who wait/trust/hope in the LORD shall renew their strength,” says Isaiah (Isaiah 40:31). When we wait on the promises of God, we also hope for their consummation and trust God to fulfill them.
So when Jesus tells the Apostles not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father (the Holy Spirit), he is calling for them to do more than kill time. He is promising them something (someone) to engender trust as well as for which they might hope. He is also reminding them to rest and prepare themselves for the adventure of a lifetime. They will need their energy. They will be pressed into service in ways they cannot imagine. Even Jesus’ promise that they will be his witnesses is beyond their comprehension. How would they witness of him to the ends of the earth? So Jesus says to wait.
I’ve long appreciated the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to faith. I love Martin Luther’s explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed: I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel… The Holy Spirit has engendered faith in my heart. Thanks be to God. But that’s not all the Holy Spirit does. He compels me to share my faith. He propels the good news of Jesus to more and more hearts. He furthers the Mission of God. We who are reading this are testimony of the Holy Spirit’s work to that end.
There is a mystery here: we, like the Apostles, are to rest, wait, hope, trust, and prepare for this great work to which God is calling us. We are to engage fully as God gives us the opportunity in witnessing to Jesus’ work in our lives. We are to devote ourselves fully to his work. And it is God who is at work in us to do all this. In other words we are to wait and rest in anticipation and preparation for our work in God’s mission. But it is his work to bring people to himself.
I think I need to wait and ponder, and pray about all this. How am I to wait today, heavenly Father? Help me to see the opportunities you provide and act on them; for your glory, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A small Lutheran church in another state has recently called a new pastor. They had raised money for a needed expansion of their facilities; specifically for a place for the youth to gather, study, and connect. But some have decided that they don’t want to expand their facilities because they like it the way it is. They don’t want more people coming to their church. I’m not making this up!
At a leaders retreat the church secretary grew more and more concerned about the way in which the conversation was going. We were talking about opening the doors wider, inviting more people to attend, and enlarging our church’s footprint and influence in the community. Finally she couldn’t hold back any more. “We don’t just want all these people to come in, do we?!?,” she said…in a fearful and anxious voice. I’m not making this up!
Someone near and dear to me (not Diane!) remarked to me years ago about her church. She said, “I’m not sure I want our church go grow. We’re big enough.” I’m not making this up!
If, in the first and third case the conclusion was to plant more churches that would be one thing. But it didn’t seem to be the case. Self-serving fear and a lack of love will guide such thinking. A smug self-righteousness will prevent people from rejoicing when more and more people come to a church. And don’t even talk to me about getting upset when someone sits in your pew!
Sadly, however, there is a little of the older brother (Luke 15) in each of us. Push hard enough and we’ll all succumb to a selfish desire to have a life of ease where we don’t have to engage people different from us, or welcome real sinners into our midst.
Thankfully that is not God’s attitude. The entire book of Acts is testimony to the fact that God wants lost people to be found, and all people to be saved. God has been on a mission since the Fall into sin. When Adam and Eve hid themselves behind fig leaves and in the darkness of the garden, God went looking for them. “Adam, where are you?” he calls. He seeks them out. All this culminated in the incarnation. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.
Now that Jesus’ work on earth has been completed, he leaves the task to his followers. And he promises the 11 and us, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” You are I are testimony of the truth of this promise. And it must not stop with us.
In fact, it will not stop with us. The message of the gospel will be preached to the end of the world and the end of the age. We can try to stand in the way, but we will not succeed. We will not thwart the plans of God, for this is of the highest priority with him. He wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
It could be a selfish desire to have things the way we want it with little care for the lost and dying. It might be fear of people we do not know or who will be difficult to love. Perhaps we just don’t understand the Great Commission and how it applies to all of us. Some of us may just be ignorant of God’s heart and mission.
Whatever the case, we must repent of anything that stands in the way of others learning about Jesus and being brought into fellowship with him, and do all we can to help others to learn of Jesus and believe in him. I’ll be reflecting on this great challenge and awesome opportunity and honor this week. I hope you will too!
Join me in praying these psalms on this Lord’s Day
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
There is no one who does good.
The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand,
Who seek after God.
They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.
O God, we have heard with our ears,
Our fathers have told us
The work that You did in their days,
In the days of old.
You with Your own hand drove out the nations;
Then You planted them;
You afflicted the peoples,
Then You spread them abroad.
For by their own sword they did not possess the land,
And their own arm did not save them,
But Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence,
For You favored them.
Remember this, O LORD, that the enemy has reviled,
And a foolish people has spurned Your name.
Do not deliver the soul of Your turtledove to the wild beast;
Do not forget the life of Your afflicted forever.
Consider the covenant;
For the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
Let not the oppressed return dishonored;
Let the afflicted and needy praise Your name.
Arise, O God, and plead Your own cause;
Remember how the foolish man reproaches You all day long.
Do not forget the voice of Your adversaries,
The uproar of those who rise against You which ascends continually.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
He makes the clouds His chariot;
He walks upon the wings of the wind;
He makes the winds His messengers,
Flaming fire His ministers.
Behold, bless the LORD, all servants of the LORD,
Who serve by night in the house of the LORD!
Lift up your hands to the sanctuary
And bless the LORD.
May the LORD bless you from Zion,
He who made heaven and earth.
What is this that you have done? I hope never to be asked that question by God. Adam and Eve got themselves into plenty of trouble when they took the forbidden fruit and ate it. Their eyes were opened. They felt shame. They hid from God. They started blaming God, the serpent, and one another for their troubles. The results of their disobedience have traveled down through the ages, generation to generation. Blame, shame, disease, and death are their legacy to us. And we perpetuate it ourselves. We can’t point the finger of blame to them. We keep it going, passing along our sinful nature to our children, and they to theirs. The world itself suffers in the wake of their fall.
I could list any number of ways in which I’ve added to the guilt, shame, corruption, and brokenness of the world. And so can you – if you’re honest. So let’s be honest. From failing to fear, love, and trust in God above all things to failing to love our neighbor as ourselves. Perhaps this is a good time to remember some of those things (but only for a moment, and for a better purpose than a self-imposed guilt trip). All those sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus. He took them all upon himself. He suffered in our place. And then he rose from the grave to prove his sacrifice was sufficient. He has done many things that adorn this incredible sacrifice and gift of salvation. He has done things in my life for which I thank God.
He gave me godly parents who took me to Sunday School and church each Sunday. God was a part of our family’s life. My earliest memories are of standing on my parents’ bed singing “Jesus Loves Me.”
He brought Jerry and me together in high school. I was standing on my crutches in the hall waiting for our first-period class to begin when Jerry opened the door of what I thought was a closet and invited me to come in and sit down. It was a darkroom! Jerry was a faithful Lutheran Christian who knew he wanted to be a Lutheran pastor. He was instrumental in getting me to become a pastor. Jesus was the center of all of that.
Jesus saw to it that there was a power outage on the night of a crawdad supper at the Lutheran Campus Center. When Diane walked in and saw me working on the crawdads she pitched in and helped. She was a biology major and knew all about crayfish – including how to tell the difference between girl and boy crawdads! She was also a faithful Lutheran Christian. Our marriage two years later was nearly a commissioning service. We would dedicate the next 48 years of our lives to serving in the church. Jesus was right there in the process.
Jesus was also present the day we sent our youngest son to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. What we thought might have been dreaded diagnosis turned out to be nothing. Jesus attended my prayers for the six weeks we waited for tests to confirm a clean bill of health.
Jesus was with me when I sought help from a Christian counselor. I learned just how deep my need for God’s grace truly was, and how richly he provided it.
Jesus has been with me in service as a pastor for the past 44 years (though I’ve been semi-retired for over 2 years now). He has been the center of my preaching and the source of the will to go on.
Jesus has moved hearts to love me, encourage us as a family, support us in mission work around the world, and center our lives on his love, grace, truth and mission.
These are just the highlights of Jesus’ work in my life. There are many more. And there will be many more, for Jesus’ mission is not finished. Until the Great Last Day, Jesus will work in the world and in our lives for the sake of his kingdom. He wants all people to be saved, for he died for the sins of the world. Thanks be to God for Jesus’ ongoing work!