How foolish you are

Sometimes, we as human beings, with our limited understanding, can be very good at missing the point. We misunderstand the things that are happening around us, especially the spiritual things that are happening. We go about our daily lives thinking that we understand, even making decisions that we think are right, when all along we have been foolish, not taking the time to truly open our eyes and understand what is happening all around us in the context of what God is doing.

I think that is what is happening to the two disciples who are headed to Emmaus on the third day after Jesus was crucified on the cross. Let’s recount how we arrived at this place:

First, Jesus is crucified on Friday.

Then, on Saturday, the sabbath, they don’t do anything except observe the sabbath, staying home and resting.

On Sunday, several of the women amongst the disciples wake up early and head to the tomb. They have an encounter with angels who tell them that Jesus is not there, but he is alive. Peter and John run to the tomb to see, but they don’t find him, so they are left a bit stupified about what is going on.

And now, knowing all of this, plus knowing that Jesus had told them that he was going to be raised on the third day, these two disciples give up and head out of town to Emmaus. They are frustrated, and it seems that they have given up. In fact, as Jesus joins them on the road, they ask him a very ironic question:

“Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

Luke 24:18

Cleopas, the one who asks the question, knows the specific events that have happened. He knows that Jesus was betrayed by one of their own group. He knows that Jesus was tried by Pilate, found to be innocent, and then sent to his execution anyway. He knows what Jesus had told them would happen and what Jesus had told them to do.

But then they give up. He and his partner decide that it isn’t worth it anymore. They are out of here.

And in truth, I think it would have been fair of Jesus to ask him the same question in return. Maybe he might have said:

Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened in these days?

These two disciples should have known better. Jesus had been explaining to them all along what was happening, and yet they couldn’t understand it. Or maybe we could say that they wouldn’t understand it.

The Jews were expecting a Messiah that would come and restore Israel back to its former glory. To overthrow the empire of Rome and return the nation of Israel back to its former state.

But that isn’t at all what Jesus’s plan was and he calls the disciples foolish for being slow to believe what he has been telling them. So he starts over, and Jesus begins to explain the story to them…again. He starts with Moses, and then works through all of the Prophets, and explains to them that the Messiah was to come to save the people from their sins and to establish a new type of kingdom, the kingdom of God.

Not the kingdom of Israel. The kingdom of God.

The kingdom that God had desired to establish all along.

Jesus opens their minds and gives them insight to help them understand the scriptures, to help them understand what has been happening around them and to them all along.

How often do we do the same? Not until after something is over do we look back and realize what was truly happening.

There is a saying that says that hindsight is 20/20, meaning that we can see perfectly when we look at something behind us. But when it comes to the things of God, the time is now.

Let us learn from the mistakes of these disciples. Let us stop and read what the scriptures have to say. Only in this way can we begin to understand what is happening around us. Let us not be blinded by the many voices around us, or even the voices in our own minds telling us that we understand what is happening and that we have insight and wisdom from which we can act. Let us instead understand the times in the context of history and the movement of God. He is working and he is finishing his plan. Let us not waste this gift of time that we have been given and instead use it for eternal glory given to God.



The chief priests in Jerusalem brought Jesus to Pilate. They told Pilate that he needed to kill Jesus, accusing him of being an insurrectionist, accusing him of telling the people to not pay taxes to Rome, and accusing him of being the king that would overthrow the Roman government.

Of course, Jesus didn’t say that he would do any of these things. Instead, the Jews twisted his words to make him sound as if he were saying things that he didn’t say.

To his credit, Pilate examines Jesus and even goes through the “proper channels” of sending Jesus to be interrogated by Herod, the governor over the region of Galilee, but in the end, he finds no guilt in Jesus.

Twice, Pilate goes back to the chief priests and says that he is not guilty. In fact, he says that he doesn’t even find a basis for a charge against Jesus:

Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.

Luke 23:13-14

In the case, Pilate declares that not only is Jesus not guilty, he says that he doesn’t even find a reason to charge Jesus with a crime. He is innocent!

The difference of innocence

Of course, from a spiritual perspective, the judgment of Pilate makes little difference. The judgment of man is frequently wrong and off-base. In fact, in Luke chapter 23, we see that Pilate later decides to pacify the people and kill Jesus anyway, despite his pronouncement of innocence of Jesus. Clearly this is a wrong judgment. Innocent people shouldn’t die.

Beyond this, the Jewish leaders also used wrong judgment. In their zealousness and jealousy, they created charges against Jesus out of their lies and twisting of the truth.

So, we shouldn’t solely make spiritual decisions based on the actions and judgments of men, just as we see that we shouldn’t based on the judgments of the men in this story. However, it is instructive that Pilate doesn’t find a reason to charge Jesus with a crime because it lends to the credibility of Jesus’s claim of being a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus’s death despite his innocence makes all of the difference.

If Jesus wasn’t innocent, if he wasn’t without sin, his death would be just like any of the rest of us. He would die because he was guilty. But he wasn’t guilty. He didn’t sin. Instead, he was innocent. And because he was innocent, his death could be one sacrifice for all.

Innocent blood is being sacrificed. One sacrifice that would suffice for all who would put their faith and trust in that sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus as the Innocent One, takes the wrath and punishment from God for the sins that each of us have committed upon himself. As the Innocent One, Jesus becomes the sacrifice that is substituted for our crimes, our sins, so that we can live.


Not Just a Part, But All

Jesus routinely attracted people to himself who wanted to know how they could be justified before God, how they could go to heaven. In this particular case, there was a young man who was rich who came to Jesus asking this very question:

What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, he asked.

Jesus begins to talk about the commandments that God has given in what we would today call the Ten Commandments and the man affirms that he has kept all of these commandments, even from when he was a young boy.

But Jesus tells him that he is missing something…

What could it be? Finally, the man may have been thinking, I will understand what I really need to do! I knew something was missing, even though I have been keeping God’s commandments, the man may have thought.

Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Luke 18:22

The young man’s face falls and he becomes sad. He couldn’t do that. That is a step much too far.

Let’s get the right lesson

What is it that Jesus was actually trying to teach the man?

Was he saying that you cannot be rich and go to heaven? No, I don’t think that this was the lesson. King David, while also a sinner, was a rich man and God called him a man after his own heart.

Is the lesson that we must do social justice and through this work we can go to heaven? No, this isn’t the lesson either. The last instruction from Jesus to the man is to follow him, so the issue really isn’t giving money to the poor. Giving the money is just a step in the right direction of following Jesus.

So what is it? What is it that Jesus is really saying that the man lacks?

The problem with this man is that his heart is divided. He loves his life. He loves his wealth. He wants a little bit of God, but he wants all that he has as well. He wants his life AND what God has to offer.

But the problem is this: God does not want to share us. He doesn’t want just a part of us. He wants all of us.

Jesus wants this man to act like the man in the parable that Jesus recounted in Matthew 13. He said that the kingdom of God was like a treasure that a man found in a field and, with joy, went and sold everything that he owned to buy the field and obtain the treasure. Jesus wants this rich man to act like the man in the parable. He wants the man to recognize that eternal life is worth everything that the man has to offer. It is worth selling everything to obtain that treasure. He wants the man to give himself completely to Jesus.

But the man won’t do it. When he looks at the treasure in the field, in this case inheriting eternal life, he doesn’t think it is worth it. Instead, he has decided to believe that his riches today are worth much more than living with God forever.

And for us?

It might be easy for us to criticize this man. How could he be so stupid? Doesn’t he realize that he is turning down an opportunity to live eternally? How short-sighted could he be?

But don’t we do the exact same thing?

Don’t we make decisions every day based on short-term thinking?

Don’t we often value the things of today instead of eternity?

My physical life of a few short years instead of my spiritual life of eternity?

Yes, of course we do. We frequently live like this rich young man. We frequently think like him.

Let’s instead live like the man who found the treasure in the field. Let’s live like the one who values the kingdom of God above all other things. Let’s live as a people who are willing to sell it all, give it to the poor, and go and follow Jesus wherever he may lead.


A High Value on Repentance

Most of us don’t realize that we need to repent.

“I’m pretty good,” I might think. Or, “I’m certainly not as bad as that other guy,” and in the eyes of other people, that might be correct.

But there are some important things that we need to remember. While we might think that other people are the ones that we need to impress, they are not. Other people will pass away just like we will. God is the only one that will continue on and last forever. He and his kingdom will never pass away.

And knowing this, it becomes even more important that we understand what king David said in Psalm 5:

The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;

Psalm 5:5

If we truly believe what David says here, then we should immediately be concerned. He says that anyone who does wrong, anyone who sins, is hated by God. That doesn’t mean anyone who sins a lot, God hates. It means, if you have done wrong…you are hated by God.

In fact, it gets worse. If you are arrogant, you can’t stand in God’s presence.

And I think that this is the crux of what it means to come before God. We each have sinned. No doubt about that. And we each deserve punishment for our sin. No doubt about that either. But as we come before God in our sinfulness, are we arrogant? Or are we repentant? That is what makes all of the difference.

When God sent Jesus, he sent a man named John the Baptist to go before Jesus and call people to prepare the way for Jesus to come. And what was John’s message? He called the people to repentance. Their repentance would be the attitude, the only attitude and state of their heart, that would allow Jesus to be known to the people. Without repentance, they couldn’t know him.

Jesus preached a similar message. Over and over he called the people to repentance and through his calling them and their repentance, they could approach him. Look at the message of the parable of the prodigal son:

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.

Luke 15:21-22

Jesus tells this story, this parable, showing that this younger son was repentant of what he had done. He had taken half of his father’s wealth, gone to a distant land where he wasted the money on drinking and on prostitutes, and then returned back home because he was out of options. He could no longer eat, and this drove him to repentance, to admit his sin, and to even ask his father to become one of his servants instead of being accepted back into the family as the father’s son.

But the father wouldn’t hear it. He immediately called his servants to set up and throw a party. He was so excited that his son came home, so excited that he came in repentance and not in arrogance, so excited that he was lost but now was found again.

So God puts an incredibly high value on repentance. He doesn’t want, and won’t put up with, arrogance that suggests that we are in the right. We are not. He knows it, and we know it. But someone that will approach him in repentance, he will immeditately accept him and rejoice over him!


Rejoice for the Right Things

Jesus had sent out his disciples to the various villages where he was going to proclaim that the Kingdom of God was near. When he did so, he gave them the power to heal the sick, to raise the dead, and to drive out demons and when the disciples returned, they rejoiced together because the disciples were successful in their mission and were able to drive out demons, just as Jesus had been doing and gave them the power to do.

Jesus even went on to say that he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. He saw Satan’s downfall in the midst of the work that the disciples were doing.

But then Jesus goes on to explain to the disciples that it is important that they rejoice for the right things. Yes, they have the power to drive out demons, but this isn’t the main reason that they should be happy and rejoice:

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Luke 10:20

Jesus knows that it is easy for people to be confused. We get excited about the possibility of riches. We get excited about popularity and fame. And we get excited about power. These are the things that our hearts easily chase after, and Jesus knows this to be true.

I think that this is why he tells his disciples that they should not rejoice that the spirits submit to them, but instead that they should be excited that they will be in heaven with him.

To be with him, to have eternal life, to be able to live forever enjoying to the presence and glory of God – these are the things for which we should rejoice. Money, fame, and power are all fleeting. We will one day die. All of us. 100% of us. And the money, the fame, and the power that we have experienced here on earth, or not, will mean nothing. Absolutely nothing. But those things that have eternal significance will be the things that will live on because the life of our spirits will be eternal, in heaven with Christ.



This morning, as I read Luke 8, I was struck by verse 14. It says:

The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

Luke 8:14

Jesus is explaining the parable that he gave to the crowds about the four different types of soil where the farmer had scattered the seed. In this particular case, it was the third soil where the seed was scattered and then took root and grew. So far so good!

But as the seed grew, there were weeds and thorns that surrounded it and choked the plant. Jesus said that those weeds and thorns are the things that we worry about in life – our riches, our pleasures.

This struck me for two reasons.

First, I see it everywhere. Whether it is in the US or here in Sicily where I live, I see it. Whether you speak of someone who is already rich, or you speak of someone who is poor and wants to become rich. I see it. Whether you speak of people in the church or outside of it, I see it.

The Word of God, and what it tells us to be or to do, is routinely choked out by the things of this world. As a people, we are much more concerned about our riches or our status in these few years that we have here on this earth than we are living for eternity.

The second reason that this struck me is that I see it in myself. I get worried about our finances. I get worried about whether or not we will be able to do something or not do something. I get worried… And this is, as they say, a long step off of a short pier. It doesn’t take much to lose focus on the things that matter, those things of eternal value. It is easy to do, so I must continue to focus on what God has to say so that I don’t become entangled in the thorns of this life and become choked out by those things that are temporary here on earth.

I am, instead, inspired by what Paul had to say in his letter to the Philippians. He said:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:21

Paul is indifferent to the things of the world. He knows the supreme and everlasting power of living in the Kingdom of God. He understands that there is one thing to live for, and that is Christ. Everything else is second, and in fact, if he is killed for what he is living for, that is even better. The world has no hold upon him.

This is how I want to live and the attitude that I want to carry with me each day. God help me to live in this way and not be choked out by the temptations of the things of this world!


Who Killed Jesus?

It is a strange scene. The Jewish leaders bring Jesus to Pilate and say that they want him to crucify Jesus.

Why? Pilate asks.

Well, he’s a criminal, they say. Of course he is. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have brought him here to you.

But Pilate still can’t figure out why he is supposed to crucify Jesus, so he goes to Jesus to ask him. What did you do to make them so angry with you? But Jesus still doesn’t say anything that should get him crucified.

Pilate declares Jesus innocent, so that should be the end of the story. Once you are declared innocent, you should be set free!

But the Jews know that Pilate cannot support anyone that would be considered a king, especially not a king above Caesar, the emperor of Rome. So that is the card that they play. They tell Pilate that he is no friend of Rome if they allow this king to go on living.

So Pilate gives the order that Jesus should be crucified. The Roman soldiers will take him, along with the Jewish leaders, to be crucified.

So, who killed Jesus?

Was it the Jews? They handed Jesus over to the Romans demanding that he be crucified because they claimed that he was blaspheming and that they were jealous because the people were listening to Jesus and following him instead of them.

Or was it the Romans? They were the legal authority at the time. The Jews could not inflict any punishment upon Jesus without the authority that the Romans would provide. The Romans provided the final say, the final authority.

But there is one more important figure in this story who is the one who is truly determining Jesus’s fate.

Pilate was angry when Jesus wouldn’t speak to him. He asked Jesus: Don’t you know that I hold your fate in my hands? “Don’t you realize that I have the power to either free you or crucify you?”

But Jesus sets the record straight and says:

You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.

John 19:11

Jesus points out that there is someone with much greater authority in this situation than Pilate. It is God the Father, himself, who has given Pilate the power over Jesus.

And what is worse, the high priest of the Jews has committed a great sin before as he hands Jesus, the Son of God, over to Pilate to be killed.

So, who killed Jesus?

Yes, the Jews were involved. They were, humanly speaking, the instigators to bring Jesus before Pilate.

Yes, the Romans were involved. Despite declaring Jesus to be innocent, Pilate goes ahead and kills Jesus anyway.

But it was God himself that made this plan. And it is God that is carrying out the plan. He is the one who would offer Jesus as a sacrifice. Jesus is himself God and is offering himself, offering his own blood, for the salvation of those who would put their faith in him.

It is God. He is the one who killed Jesus. He predicted Jesus’s death centuries before, and now he is carrying out his plan.


Glory through betrayal

Think about this a moment: Jesus chose Judas Iscariot to be one of his disciples. Why would he do that?

John, who was Jesus’s disciple and who wrote the book of John, wrote that Jesus knew from the beginning – from the time that he chose Judas, and even much before! – that Judas would betray him. And it seems that this is precisely the reason that Jesus chose him.

Judas was in charge of the treasury of their group and stole money from them.

Judas was the one who said that the perfume that Mary poured over Jesus could have been sold and given to the poor, although in reality he didn’t really care about the poor. He only wanted more money for himself.

And finally, Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

See a pattern? Judas loved money much more than he loved Jesus. Judas was part of this group for his own gain. He followed Jesus to be able to build up his own wealth, his own fame and power. Very likely he thought that Jesus might be the someone important, so he intended to ride Jesus’s coattails to his own fortunes.

And Jesus knew all of that. He knew of Judas’s thieving heart and that Judas would betray him and sell him for a small amount of silver. In fact, he chose this man to be one of his disciples precisely because he wanted Judas to betray him. Judas’s betrayal of Jesus would set in motion Jesus’s death, an act that Jesus knew must happen and that he was destined to complete.

I think that when you see this selection of Judas from this perspective, you can begin to understand why Jesus would see his time headed to the cross as bringing glory to himself and to the father. It is strange, isn’t it? To consider marching to your own death and calling it bringing glory to the Father and to yourself? And yet, that is exactly what Jesus says:

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

John 13:31-32

At the beginning of verse 31, it says, “When he was gone”, refers to when Judas left their Passover dinner. Jesus had just identified Judas as the one who had betrayed him and told him to go do it quickly. Judas then stands up and leaves.

That is the context in which Jesus then says that the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. Given that, I think it would be fair to ask the question: Who made this plan that Jesus would be betrayed? Is it Judas? Is it the Jewish religious leaders? The Romans?

No, clearly, it is God himself who has made the plan and Jesus is on the earth to carry it out.

But now take a look at the next sentence that Jesus says. He has already said that he would be glorified, identifying himself as the Son of Man, and then saying that God the Father would be glorified in him.

And then Jesus goes on to say that God will glorify the Son in himself. He explains the glory that he will receive and that the Father will receive in a circular pattern. They both are receiving glory from one another as a result of Jesus’s action. It is, in fact, another way that Jesus is identifying himself as one with the Father. Together, they receive glory for the blood purchase of many through Jesus’s death on the cross.


The many ways to God

“I respect all people and all of the different religions and ways that God has spoken to them.”

“I’m happy to learn about other religions, but you have your religion and I have my religion, you know. We can each follow our own way.”

These are both statements that I heard this last week. The first from a Catholic and the second from a Muslim. And the statements seem logical. I have my way, you have your way. It sounds nice and makes it work out well so that we don’t really have to make a solid decision, and what is more, we don’t have to offend one another.

And in one sense, I can agree with this. I can’t, and won’t try to force anyone to believe anything. So, in that sense, of course. Everyone is free to believe as they like. But they should be making their decision about their eternity, an eternity that they are choosing even now, in a way that is fully informed. We should each be informed about the truth of history and how we arrived where we are today, and we should be informed about how our faith and its beliefs and practices align with what God has been doing throughout this same history.

Jesus addressed a similar idea of multiple ways of thinking about reaching God when he spoke of a sheep pen. In this particular case, he was speaking to the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders and teachers of the Jewish law, but I think that we can apply these same words to situations like what I outlined above with our Catholic and Muslim friends. He said:

Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.

John 10:1

Jesus is clear. If you do not enter the “sheep pen” through the gate, you are a thief and a robber. And of course, that is not a good thing. The sheep pen, as Jesus is describing it here, is the kingdom of God, and no one is going to be able to enter into the kingdom of God as a thief or a robber.

Jesus goes on to describe himself as the gate itself:

“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:7-10

Jesus is saying that he is the one and only way to enter into the sheep pen. He is the only way to enter into the kingdom of God. He doesn’t, at all, discuss his respect for other religions or other schools of thought. He tells them very simply. I am the gate.

And that is it.


So if we say that we like Jesus, as many do…or we say that we believe in him, as many do…we should make sure that we know what he taught. We should make sure that we understand who he has called us to be. We should understand that Jesus didn’t bring unity. He brought division. He spoke of one way, and one way only. In him, and through him.


You do not belong to God

This is a difficult saying for me. I see it and it is clear to understand, but it is not easy for me to take on and digest…primarily because I don’t really want to. I want to believe, instead, that each person can simply come to God once they hear.

Of course, I have no idea who God will call and who he won’t, or whether he will call someone now while I am speaking to them or will call them in the future when someone else is speaking to that same person that I have spoken to.

But Jesus was clear when he spoke to the Jews as they challenged him. Jesus explained precisely why they didn’t believe:

Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

John 8:45-47

Interestingly, at the beginning of this exchange, in verse 31, it says that Jesus is actually speaking to those who had believed him. It seems that Jesus is taking a next step to even challenge their belief, to move them beyond their religiosity through their Judaism, beyond their faith in being part of God’s people, the Jews, and instead putting their faith in him.

Challenging them in this way reveals that they haven’t actually changed their minds to fully believing what Jesus is telling them, but instead they prefer to hang on to what they have relied upon from the past, that they are descendants of Abraham, and that is what allows them to be accepted by God.

Not true, says Jesus.

And this is the part that rings so true to me and why I wanted to highlight these verses today. So many people have such a hard time believing that what they are doing, even religiously, will not make them righteous before God. Muslims believe that if they go to the mosque 5 times to pray each day (even though many of them actually do not), or give money to other people, or fast during Ramadan, that God will see them as righteous.

Many of the Catholics that I meet seem to believe that if they are “good people”, or they follow the religious rules, or go to the religious festivals, then God will see them as righteous.

And yet Jesus is standing in the square telling them that he is the light of the world and they can’t hear him. It is as if they are deaf to what Jesus is saying. Their ears and hearts are closed, and what is more, they argue in the other direction, explaining why what Jesus is saying must be wrong.

I so much wish that it wasn’t the case, but I have to say that I feel at times that this sentence is true with many of these people:

The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.

I pray that God will be patient, that he will be merciful, that he will give grace, that each will be saved. I pray that many will be able to hear because they belong to God.