I’ve been talking with my dad about the state of Christianity in America. My dad is a well-known youth evangelist who in his thirty plus years of ministry has lead thousands of people to the Lord.  But in recent years he’s become increasingly concerned about the church’s growing superficiality.

For example, he’s been asking Christians, both young and old, “why did Jesus have to die?”

The typical answer he hears is of course, “To save us from our sins.”

“So why couldn’t God just forgive?” He responds.


At this point most are at a loss.  He’s seen it over and over again – even among life-long believers and leaders in the church.

But of course our shallowness is more than just anecdotal.  In 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in a comprehensive study identified a new belief system among otherwise fervent “Christian” teenagers which they termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

  • Moralistic” because their Christian faith was primarly about living a moral life.
  • Therapeutic” because it’s aim was for them to feel good about themselves and therefore didn’t include things like “repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering…”
  • Deistic” because God is viewed as “one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs—especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved.”

Some of you might be thinking, “Hey wait a minute!  I’m a Christian.  And that’s what I believe!”

I know.  It does sound a lot like what people call Christianity today.  You’ve heard it said, “It’s not a religion its a relationship.”

Of course I’m not blaming you or your church.  It might just be the “Gospel” most churches appear to teach.

Think about it.  What happens if an American who knows absolutely nothing about Jesus or the Bible is suddenly provided a banquet of nothing but the “Gospel” – What Trevin Wax calls the story for an individual?

  • All have sinned.
  • Sin deserves death.
  • But Jesus died for our sins.
  • Believe in Jesus and your sins will be forgiven.
  • Now be a good person.

That is the Gospel!  And yet it’s NOT the Gospel. It’s the Gospel without an essential context.   It’s a summary for a people who already know the bigger story.

But without a clear presentation of that larger story, the new believer is left to fill in the gaps in that summary with what our culture values the most – Self!

Now shake self and that summary together and Voila!

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.   Jesus died so we don’t have to feel guilty.

My point is that it just may be our over emphasis on the Gospel as told for the individual which is to blame for the anemic state of the church.  Jesus + nothing does equal everything but in another sense it leads a real state of confusion.  We need to emphasize the Gospel without ignorning this bigger picture.

Here’s how Fred Sanders in His book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything puts it.

When evangelicalism wanes into an anemic condition, as it sadly has in recent decades, it happens in this way: the point of emphasis are isolated from the main body of Christian truth and handled as if they are the whole story rather than the key points.  Instead of teaching the full counsel of God (incarnation, ministry of healing and teaching, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and second coming), anemic evangelicalism simply shouts its one point of emphasis louder and louder (the cross! the cross! the cross!).  But in isolation from the total matrix of Christian truth, the cross doesn’t make the right kind of sense.  A message about nothing but the cross is not emphatic.  It is reductionist.  The rest of the matrix matters: the death of Jesus is salvation partly because of the new life he lived after it, and above all because of the eternal background in which he is the eternal Son of the eternal Father.  You do not need to say all of those things at all times, but you need to have a felt sense of their force behind the things you do say.  When that felt sense is not present, or is not somehow communicated to the next generation, emphatic evangelicalism becomes reductionist evangelicalism.

Emphatic evangelicalism can be transformed into reductionist evangelicalism in less than a generation and then become self-perpetuating.  People who grow up under the influence of reductionist evangelicalism suffer, understandably, from some pretty perplexing disorientation.  They are raised on “Bible, cross, conversion, and heaven” as the whole Christian message, and they sense that there must be more than that.  They catch a glimpse of this “more” in Scripture but aren’t sure where it belongs. They hear it in the hymns, but it is drowned out by the repetition of the familiar.  They find extended discussions of it in older authors, but those very authors also reinforce what they’ve been surrounded by all along:  that the most important things in the Christian message are Bible, cross, conversion, and heaven.  Inside of reductionist evangelicalism, everything you hear is right, but somehow it comes out all wrong.

What do you think?  Is it an over emphasis on the Gospel told for the individual partly to blame for Evangelicalism’s superficiality?  And if so what other things might be essential to a fuller picture of the Gospel?

Did you miss the sexual subtext in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman? On the surface, the conversation is primarily about water and worship. Beneath the surface, however, there’s a great deal about sex and marriage.


Of course the topic of marriage is not entirely underground. There is that awkward moment when Jesus raises the issue of the woman’s marital status.

“Go call your husband and tell him to come here.”

“Ahhh… I have no husband.”

The subject, however, seems abrupt – out of place. It’s raised suddenly with no apparent connection to what precedes it. Nothing in the conversation suggests Jesus should be concerned with her marital status. And just as quickly as its raised its dropped. Not surprisingly the woman wants to run from the issue as fast as she can.

But what exactly does the woman’s marital issues have to do with her request for living water? Interpreters regard it as a chance for Jesus to reveal His power and expose the woman’s sin. Certainly he is doing that. But is there more? Here are four things most interpreters miss or just simply don’t want to talk about.

Wait! Who’s the Groom?

Jesus encounter with the woman by the well comes after John the Baptist calls Jesus the “bridegroom.” Now “bridegroom” is just a fancy biblical term for what we today call the groom. That’s right. Jesus, John says, is the man getting married! Read John 3:28-30:

You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

And this isn’t the first time Jesus has been described as the groom either. A chapter earlier, Jesus miraculous supply of wine at the wedding leads the headwaiter to tell the bridegroom that HE has supplied the best wine. Did you catch that? Jesus was the one that supplied the wine but the headwaiter attributes it to the bridegroom. There’s nothing wrong with that assumption. The groom was indeed responsible for the supply of wine. So Jesus in suppling the wine has acted as the bridegroom!

Okay. So if Jesus is the groom, who’s the bride?

“Here comes the br…” Wait. It’s the Samaritan woman.

Wink Wink. You Know, That Thing That Happens When Men Meet Women by Wells

Jesus conversation with the Samaritan woman is the longest dialogue between Jesus and a woman found in the New Testament. It’s safe to say that it’s pretty important. But what’s just as important is the way that John sets the scene and describes the action.

This isn’t the first time a man goes to a foreign land, sits down by a well of water, meets a girl and asks for a drink. In fact it happens quite a few times in the Old Testament with the same surprising result.

Continued here – The Thing That Happens When Men Meet Women By Wells

What do you think?

In Jesus we see man as he was meant to

How do we find God’s direction?  The answer is in Scripture, of course!  But Scripture typically doesn’t have the simple answer we’re looking for.  Should I buy that car or not?  Yes or No?  That’s because the Bible, despite our expectations, isn’t primarily a how-to-manual or a list of applications.  Instead, it’s mostly a book of stories, forming one BIG story.  And stories, for a variety of reasons, are not easily copied.

Because of that, I’ve found it more helpful to read the Bible as the essential contours of an on-going narrative, a narrative that God wants to see continued in us, rather than a script which we must woodenly re-enact. Finding and then following God’s direction is more liked heeding the situational prompts in improv.  Remember Whose Line is it Anway? In that show, a group of performers were given a scenario and then based on their cues, worked out what happened next. That’s a simple picture of the situation we find ourselves in now.

God has laid out some clear applications and commands in the Bible.  But mostly he’s given us the better part of His story, a story that explains where we are right now.  He’s established the stories course and pointed to its consummation.  And now He calls us to work out our lives in ways consistent with its trajectory.

So what are the contours of God’s BIG story? How can we know if we’re getting the direction right?

Here’s the seven biblical prompts you and I must heed to find God’s direction.


1. The Kingdom is the Mission. Jesus called his followers to acitvely participate in the Kingdom of God’s arrival here on earth.  Jesus’ summarized the whole of his message and ministry when he said: “the time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (i.e. the good news!)” (Mark 1:15Matthew 4:17). He taught his disciples to proclaim the same thing (Matthew 10:7).  According to Jesus, the Good News is the near arrival of the Kingdom.

And that is good news!  Because this kingdom has been promised ever since the opening chapter of Genesis. In the beginning, God created man (male and female) not like one of the beasts, but in his own image, as extensions of his own rule in the world (Genesis 1:26-28). But sadly man surrendered to a beast and abandoned this right to rule (Genesis 3:8-19).

God’s mission, beginning with Abraham and then through the people of Israel, was to reestablish His reign in and among people (Genesis 12:1-3). And yet Israel also failed by worshipping foreign idols. God, however, promised a future ruler, resurrection and exaltation of His people over the idolatrous and beastly kingdoms of this earth (Ezekiel 37:1-14Daniel 7:1-28). This is the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed as about to break out.

Is your life proclaiming the arrival of God’s Kingdom?

2. Christ is the Means. A kingdom needs a king, of course, and Jesus is that king. It may seem odd that Jesus proclaimed the near arrival of this kingdom some 2,000 years ago, especially if we equate the kingdom with heaven, which can seem very far away. But it makes sense when we recognize that Jesus actually inaugurated this kingdom in himself.

Jesus was born as the perfect image of God (John 1:1, 14) and as such he was and is the ideal ruler which God promised in the Old Testament. Jesus acted in ways consistent with the monarchs of Israel and His followers recognized this and acclaimed him with Jewish royal titles, such as “the Christ”(Psalms 2) “Son of David” (2 Samuel 7) and even the “Son of God” (2 Samuel 7). But of all titles, Jesus preferred to refer to himself as the Son of Man.  Why?  It’s the Son of Man in Daniel 7 who establishes God’s eternal kingdom.

Is Jesus the king of your life?

3. The Cross is the Moment.  Jesus’ crucifixion is His coronation, the moment He received His Father’s kingdom in redeeming his people.  There is no kingdom without a king.  And there is, of course, no king without subjects. I know we in America don’t like the idea of being subjected to anyone.  But Jesus’ reign, established in the cross, is unlike any reign of a king we have ever heard.

Jesus told his disciples, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45).

And this is what we indeed find in the cross of Christ. Jesus is crowned king in becoming the despised subject of a Roman crucifixion.  Look at the references to Jesus’ coronation in Mark 15:16-27.  The cross is an ironic reversal of what it means to rule.  Those who rejected Jesus’ right to throne actually placed him on it. Through his death, Jesus purchased a people for God, a people over which he now rules (Titus 2:14).

Because Jesus became the least, God raised him from the dead and gave him “the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

Have you received the gift of the King?

4. The Cross is the Model.. Where the King leads, his subjects must follow. Jesus said, “a servant is not greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16). In the cross, Jesus blazed a new and living way by which he calls us to follow.

The cross is not just something Jesus did for us that we can’t do for ourselves. It is that. But it is also the pattern we are now commanded to live. Jesus demonstrated the way of salvation. He taught us, “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 and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35).

If King Jesus rules as a servant who are his people to do otherwise.

Are you living in the manner of King Jesus?

5. The Church is the Movement. It’s the expanding ghetto or community of God’s kingdom people. With Jesus’ resurrection and exhalation to the right hand of God, he has begun to rule by pouring out the Holy Spirit upon his people. Through His Spirit he has united his church and empowered them to advance His reign (Acts 1:8, 1 Peter 2:10).

For those who have received Jesus as king and have become partakers of the Spirit, the kingdom of God has already begun to reach earth. The Church is the beachhead of Christ’s earthly rule.

Daily the Church practices the lifestyle that Jesus has called them to and extends the boundaries of the kingdom in teaching and witness. Weekly, they gather together to celebrate the kingdoms arrival. They gather around the throne, the feasting table, or what we call communion, to remember the sacrifice and share the living food that Christ has given to them. In the presence of him who bore our sin, they lose all bitterness and forgive as Jesus the king has forgiven them.

Are you united with the King’s people?

6. The Commission is the Method. The reign of King Jesus is spread through the commission Jesus gave to his followers. Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them all that he had commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). The Church advances the kingdom by calling people to make a decision for Christ in baptism and teaching them to live as Christ has lived and taught us to live.

Are you inviting people to the King and teaching them to live like Him?

7. The Coming is the Motive. The eternal kingdom which Jesus inaugurated and over which he now rules is not complete.  We, his subjects, continue to  pray as he taught to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

The Gospel, or Good of News, according to Jesus is the arrival of the Kingdom!  The kingdom is both now and not yet.  It’s arrived in Jesus and is presently being lived out in the confines of the Church. But the future completion, and the arrival of Jesus in bodily form is what we continue to hope and pray for.  And thus its something we ceaselessly work towards.

Jesus has equipped and empowered his church to bring about the unification of heaven and earth. And as we live His kingdom, we will see Christ exalted and Him come again.

Are you longing for and working towards the King’s arrival?

I think that’s simple enough.  In fact, simple enough to memorize.

  1. The Kingdom is the Mission
  2. Christ is the Means
  3. The Cross is the Moment
  4. The Cross is the Model
  5. The Church is the Movement
  6. The Commission is the Method
  7. The Coming is the Motive

This is God’s BIG picture! Your God-given-direction is found in living a life consistent with this trajectory.

Is all sin the same?  Not according to 1 John. There are sins and then there’s a SIN. Though James of course tells us that every violation of the law makes us guilty (James 2:10-11), that’s not to say God judges all sin the same. According to 1 John 5:16 there “sin that does not lead to death” and then there one that does.

If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 

What specific sin is John referring to? That, of course, has been a thorny question. In the immediate context, John gives no clear indication as to what he might mean. Which has lead to differing opinions.  Many, for instance, have found in this passage a reference to the “unpardonable sin” from Matthew 12:31-32 and Mark 3:22-30. But I disagree. I think 1 John does define this particular sin.  We just need to expand our contextual horizon. Here’s how I read it.


1 John deals specifically with a division that has occurred in John’s church (1 John 2:18-19). Some have left, denying that Jesus’ had a physical body (1 John 4:1-3). The young men of the congregation (2:12-14) are zealous for righteousness and want no part with the world. They possibly see the older men of the congregation (i.e. the fathers, 2:12-14) as capitulating with the world. John emphatically agrees with the young men; no true Christian ever sins.

“No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God…”

But then John turns his aim at those who claim to be without sin.

“…nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”

By love, John isn’t talking about a feeling or an emotion. He’s talking about a concrete action with a material effect.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

John stresses the fact that God loved tangibly in Jesus. The life that God gave in Jesus was able to be seen, handled and touched (1 John 1:1-2). The Anitchrists have denied that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 2:22, 5:1) which is to say they have denied that he is the Son of God (1 John 4:15, 5:5) which is to say they have denied that he came tangibly in the flesh (1 John 4:5). They believed he was water but not blood (1 John 5:6). And thus they practice what they believe, claiming to be spiritual without having to exhibit tangible, material love. And it is against this heretical belief and practice that John lashes out.

In 1 John 1:7-11, John tells his readers why he wrote this letter.

7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

The command they have had since the beginning is that they “love one another” (1 John 3:11). The new command is that anyone who does not tangibly love the children of God is still in darkness. Their sins are not forgiven.

John states in 1 John 3:12-15,

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

The “sin that leads to death” is thus revealed to be a lack of tangible love for ones brothers and sisters. When we tangibly love those whom God loves, the sin in our lives is muted.  It proves we are no longer dead but have passed from death to life.

John says,

18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

But when we lack tangible love it proves that we have “not passed from death to life.” This is the sin that leads to death.

Why did Judas betray Jesus with a kiss?  The simplest explanation is of course the one we find in Matthew and Mark.  It was the prearranged sign by which Judas identified Jesus to the arresting soldiers (Mark 14:44, Matt. 26:48).  Ok.  But that explanation still leaves a major issue unanswered.  Why a kiss?  There are certainly far less intimate ways to identify someone, pointing or a simple tap on the shoulder being among them.  Why a kiss?  The answer has everything to do with Jesus’ claim to be king.


When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey days before the betrayal, he publicly proclaimed himself the Christ/Messiah, the Son of David, the rightful king of Israel.  The crowd of people present that day certainly understood his actions. Their interpretation is found recorded in each of the four Gospels.  In Matthew they shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” In Mark they say, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” In Luke we hear them proclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!  And in John they cry, “Blessed is the King of Israel.”

The question we need to ask is why did these people connect Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey with an implicit claim to the throne? Matthew and John of course point to a prophetic fulfillment of Zachariah 9:9,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you;

righteous and having salvation is he,

humble and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And this is typically where our answers end.

But there’s an even bigger reason to connect Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem with his claim to be king than this short verse in Zachariah.  We know that the act of riding a mule into Jerusalem was the sign by which Solomon was proclaimed king of Israel.  This event is found in 1 Kings 1.  The ride on David’s mule is there emphasized, being repeated three times. This is a particularly crucial event in Israel’s history.  It’s Israel’s first dynastic succession.  Though Saul had been the first king of Israel, he had no dynasty.  He and his sons were killed and the rule passed to a new line in David.  It’s not until Solomon’s coronation in 1 Kings 1, however, that we find David’s royal linage established.  And it’s established in none other than Solomon’s ride into Jerusalem on David’s mule. Given this events historical and symbolic importance, I believe its probable that it was repeated in all subsequent coronation ceremonies.  In the same way George Washington’s personal decision to swear on a Bible has been repeated in all subsequent presidential inaugurations, so the riding into Jerusalem on a mule formed the basis for future coronations. Jesus, by entering Jerusalem on a donkey, appears to be invoking a royal ceremony which the people recognized.

In this specific act, Jesus publicly proclaimed himself to be the restoration of the fallen house of David.  In 2 Samuel 7, God had made an eternal promise to David that one of his sons would sit on Israel’s throne. And yet by the time of the Gospels, David’s throne had been empty for more than five hundred years.  Psalms 89, bemoans this situation.  In it God says, “

Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;

I will not lie to David.

His offspring shall endure forever,

his throne as long as the sun before me.

Like the moon it shall be established forever,

a faithful witness in the skies.” (89:35-37)

And yet the Psalmist grieves the fact that God has now

cast off and rejected;

you are full of wrath against your anointed.

You have renounced the covenant with your servant;

you have defiled his crown in the dust. (89:38-39).

Psalms 89 looks back on the original promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7.  And its 2 Samuel 7 which is especially important for our understanding of David’s successors and therefore Jesus’ self understanding as He enters into Jerusalem.  It explains what it means for Jesus to be the “Christ,” “the Son of David” and yes, even “the Son of God.”

In 2 Samuel 7, David tells Nathan the prophet of his plans to build a “house” for God. David has built himself a “house of cedar” and thus finds it unbearable that the ark of God should still reside in a tent.  Nathan endorses the plan but then suddenly changes his mind when he receives a message from God. God says He doesn’t want David to build him a “house.” Instead God promises to make a “house” (i.e. dynasty – note the play on words), for David.

“Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:11-16)

Note that the Son of David has a special relationship to God. The king is here described as God’s son.  Oddly, God is the father of David’s son.  By this point you should be recognizing the echoes in the Gospels.  In the Gospels, God himself calls Jesus his “Son” while Jesus calls God his “Father.” In reading 2 Samuel 7 it’s also quite natural to see a reference to Solomon since Solomon, the first son of David, did in fact build a “house” or temple for God.  But it’s also important to see in this promise a note to Jesus’ self understanding. Jesus first act, after his entrance into Jerusalem (again, in the manner of Solomon’s coronation) is to inspect and “cleanse” the temple.  The establishment of a “house” for God is the special prerogative of David’s son. Jesus acts accordingly.  And the people respond with appropriate anticipation.

The problem, however, is that Jesus’ coronation doesn’t occur in the way the people expect. Jesus is subsequently crucified which would suggest that Jesus was just a pretender, a false claimant to David’s throne.  But that’s not how Mark and the other Gospel writers see it.  They do indeed place Jesus on the throne but it’s ironically the cross, the moment of Jesus’ greatest glory.   We know this is how the Gospel writers see it because of the details they choose to emphasize.

There’s a special turning point in each of the first three Gospels where Jesus asks his disciples the question everyone has been asking, who is Jesus?  “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29, Matt. 16:15, Luke 9:20)  Peter declares, “You are the Anointed one.”  In other words, Peter says you are “David’s son, the Christ, the messiah, the king, the rightful heir to the throne.”  It’s a significant hair-raising announcement.  And it’s with this announcement that Jesus turns his attention to Jerusalem and his ultimate destiny.  Jesus warns them not to tell anyone what Peter has just said and at the same time begins to teach them that he will be rejected, killed and three days later rise again.  The disciples, however, choke on this prediction.  Peter rebukes him.  When he said “Christ” he clearly didn’t mean “loser.”  Instead he meant a royal kick-ass leader who would free Israel from its foreign oppressors.  But Jesus in-turn rebukes Peter, teaching his disciples that to save ones life is to lose it and to lose ones life is to save it.  This pattern is repeated two more times in the journey to Jerusalem.  When Jesus predicts his death, the disciples express pride in their earthly position and Jesus in turn must once again adjust their perspective through a paradoxical teaching.  To be the greatest you must become the least.  To be first you must be last.  To rule you must become a servant.

The last example of this pattern occurs when James and John approach Jesus with a request to sit on his right and left in his glory. Jesus has just told them he is going to Jerusalem to die but they apparently still believe he’s going up to sit on a golden throne. Jesus, however, knows that his glory is the cross and his questions to them specifically points to that. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  They, not at all understanding what’s he’s talking about, nod their heads with blank stares, saying that they are able.  But Jesus says, “to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Matt. 20:23, Mark 10:40)

This is significant because the only place we find anyone on Jesus right and left in the Gospels is in the crucifixion.  Mark 15:27 says, “they crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.”  Its clear that when the disciples ask to sit with Jesus in his glory, Jesus points them to the cross.  The cross is his glory.  The placing of the thieves on Jesus right and left comes significantly at the culmination of a long list of coronation elements (15:16-27).  With Pilates order to have Jesus crucified, Mark tells us that the soldiers lead Jesus into the praetorium and there assembled the whole battalion before him. In this act Mark’s original readers would have heard echoes of the coronation of Caesar who was himself proclaimed Lord through the vote of the praetorian guard.  Mark then tells us that they clothed him in a purple cloak (a color only rulers could legally wear) and put a crown of thorns on his head.  They saluted him, “Hail, King of the Jews,” on bended knee in mock homage.  They post his charge, “the King of the Jews.”

The Gospel writers find a further irony in the “sarcasm” of the soldiers act. Jesus is indeed receiving the kingdom in the cross. In losing his life, he’s saving it. In serving, he’s becoming Lord.  This is truly his coronation.  His inauguration. Jesus’ crown is in fact bestowed in the crucifixion.

So what does this have to do with Judas’ kiss?  The answer is found in Psalms 2.  It’s one of the psalters coronation hymns and as such it was sung at the inauguration of each new davidic king. It tells us something important about the historic coronation ceremony but in that it also tells us about the ironic coronation of Jesus found in the Gospels. Read Psalms 2 with that in mind.

Why do the nations rage

and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,

“Let us burst their bonds apart

and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;

the Lord holds them in derision.

Then he will speak to them in his wrath,

and terrify them in his fury, saying,

“As for me, I have set my King

    on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:

The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;

today I have begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,

and the ends of the earth your possession.

You shall break them with a rod of iron

and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;

be warned, O rulers of the earth.

Serve the Lord with fear,

and rejoice with trembling.

Kiss the Son,

lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,

for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

“Kiss the Son…”  Some translations hide the explicit connection by rendering it “do homage to the son.”  The action is of course homage but the literal verb is “kiss.”  And the word kiss is relatively rare in the Old and New Testament, least of all an imperative to kiss the son/the anointed king.

Is there a connection to Judas and Jesus here?  I think there absolutely is.  We know that the disciples recognized Jesus as the christ, the king, the son of David.  We saw this in Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9. They went to Jerusalem to see Jesus established on the throne.  They knew the davidic coronation script.  They knew what it meant for Jesus to enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  But for some reason Judas lost faith.  I think in light of the Gospels it’s quit probable that Judas couldn’t get over Jesus’ rejection of traditional messiah role. He realized there would be no earthly glory and thus he chose to sarcastically betray Jesus, the supposed “son”, with a kiss.  His kiss is deeply ironic. As with the soldiers, He mocks Jesus in his claim to be the rightful king of Israel.  And yet in the Gospels we find it is the Lord who turns his sarcasm into an further layer of irony and its is the Lord who enjoys the last laugh.

I’ve been asked more than once recently what I mean when I say I was “baptized in the Holy Spirit”?  In the first of 25 Random Things About Me I say, “I’ve had a wedding and I’ve seen each of my four children born, but the happiest day of my life is still being baptized in the Holy Spirit June 31, 1991 at the age of 13.”  What do I mean by that the use of that term?  Is that the day I was saved?

When I used this term for my experience I used it in the same sense that Luke uses it in the book of Acts, namely as an empowerment for witness.  I know that many Christians use the term “baptism in the Holy Spirit” as a reference to salvation.  Paul of course uses a similar phrase in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 with regard to salvation (“we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body”).  Baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit are linked in the scriptures (Mark 1:8 and many others).  The first signifies repentance and an acceptance of the Gospel and so it makes sense to see this Spirit baptism as being part of the overall transition into God’s kingdom. I therefore don’t have a problem acknowledging that all who are saved have in one sense been baptized in the Spirit.  However, I don’t think this is the only scriptural use of the term.

At the beginning of Acts Jesus tells the disciples that they will be “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5).  And of course this event is fulfilled when the disciples begin to speak in other tongues on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4).  We find this experience repeated several more times in Acts: in the Samaritans (Acts 8), among Cornelius’ household (Acts 10) and in the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19).  I know some regard these experiences as being simultaneous with conversion and therefore nothing other than what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13.  But I disagree.  Not all these experiences can be conflated with salvation.  The time lapse between acceptance of the message and the reception of the Spirit in the case of the Samaritans and the Ephesian disciples is telling.  It appears to me that Luke wants his readers to see something else.

That something is almost certainly empowerment for witness.  Acts 1:8 is universally acknowledged as Luke’s thesis statement.  Here Jesus tells the disciple that they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon” them and they will be his “witnesses.”  It’s therefore not surprising to find an opened mouth in witness or praise every time the Holy Spirit comes upon (i.e. baptizes or fills) some one in Luke-Acts.  Elizabeth exclaims in a loud voice (Luke 1:42-43). Zachariah prophecies (Luke 1:67-79). The 120 “speak in other tongues” (Acts 2:4). Peter testifies (Acts 4:8). The believers “speak the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). Cornelius and his household speak in tongues (Acts 10:44-46). Paul curses Elymas (Acts 13:9). The Ephesian disciples speak in tongues and prophesy (Acts 19:6).  Luke, following a pattern in the Old Testament, continually points to the audible results of those moved by the Spirit; tongues, prophecy, boldness in preaching, even singing. It therefore appears to me that Luke used “baptism in the Holy Spirit” among other terms not as a reference to salvation (though it certainly may coincide) but as a particular experience of empowerment which results in Spirit directed speech.

This was my experience.  While I accepted Jesus into my heart at the age of five and probably several more times after that, I struggled with my faith, even more so as I entered junior high.  I was overcome with lust.  At school I was a sarcastic bully, trying to make it to the pinnacle of popularity.  I dreamed of the freedom I would experience when I turned 18 and moved away from my families Christian home.  But in youth group, I began to pray and repent, asking God to help me change.  But the change never materialized.  I was afraid of what my friends would think.

But I did change suddenly and radically one day on a missions to Mexico.  One night after a time of worship and prayer, I asked my teenage roommates to pray for me to receive the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.”  They did.  After confessing my sin and praising God for his forgiveness, I felt a warmth rush over my head and down to my feet.  And as it passed my mouth I began to speak in a language I did not know.  I knew it did not come from me since I had tried unconvincing to fake it some years before.  This experience resulted in a strong passion and desire to share Jesus with everyone, no matter the cost.  A desire I still carry with me to this day.

I believe its important to earnestly seek this empowering experience.  I don’t however think it is simply equated with tongues.  The result of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is an opened mouth in witness and praise.  Some people are empowered with that at salvation.  Others, like myself, need a further experience.