Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Devotional for the Thirty-Third Day of Lent

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you; they are deluding you. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, they say, ‘No calamity shall come upon you.’ (Jeremiah 23:16-17)

But turning and looking at his disciples, [Jesus] rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:33-34)

In the ancient world, it was common for a runner to be dispatched from the front lines of a battle to report the status of the troops to the military leaders. There was a Greek word used to describe the message when it was one of victory, and in English we usually translate that word as good news, or gospel (gospel is the Old English word for good news). It is the word used when Jesus says,

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

If that runner, however, brought his message of victory to the side that was losing, his message would he received as bad news, and he would probably suffer for bringing it. What is good news for one may be bad news for another.

The prophets of Jeremiah’s day seemed to be in denial over the plight of Israel. They claimed to have dreams and visions of everything being alright when in fact they were about to be overrun by foreign invaders. As a result, the people had no motivation to turn back to the Lord. The delusion allowed them to return to business as usual. The prophets claimed to have good news, but they were wrong.

In the weeks following the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the US, people flocked to churches, looking for answers, hope, and comfort. Soon, however, most churches returned to their usual, familiar congregations as those visitors drifted away. It is very possible that these visitors wanted a return to what had been normal, and being part of a congregation wasn’t a part of their business as usual.

Most of us can relate to that. Good news for us is often having things the way we prefer them to be. Jesus recognized this with his own followers. When he spoke of his impending suffering and death, Peter got after him. To speak of such a thing could not possibly be good news. But Jesus challenged Peter rather harshly, and then told the crowd that had gathered that to follow him would be to take a path that was very different than “business as usual.”

In Jesus Christ, there is good news. The good news is that the kingdom of God has indeed broken into human history, and the twin powers of sin and death have been disarmed. But this good news does not translate into “life as I prefer it.” It is a new life under the rule of God, and that takes a very different form than can be considered normal in any nation or culture. That is one reason that following Jesus can be perilous: When the status quo is challenged, danger is a distinct possibility.

It is a good thing for us to reflect on the meaning of this good news of God’s kingdom, and to try to disengage it from our American, British, Bulgarian, or Chinese cultural preferences. The call of the people of God is to bring blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3), but that includes the proclamation of good news. This is the good news that comes from the victory of God, and it may be very different from business as usual.

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