Tag Archives: spies

You are Called, Loved, Kept – Jude 1-16, Part 1

23 Sep
Photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash

Have you ever known someone who turns out to be very different from what you originally thought?  Sometimes we get that impression about a person as we get to know them.  Other times people change.  Then there are people who just fool you. 

Malcolm Gladwell in his recent book Talking to Strangers tells the story of a woman, Ana Belen Montes, who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency for years, but during that time she was a spy for Cuba.  When word got out, it wrecked her colleagues.  They couldn’t believe it.  She had duped them.  She was an impostor. 

We’re used to hearing about stories like this coming from the world of intelligence.  But there can be impostors in many places.  Some people say that we are all impostors to one degree or another.  Who lives a truly consistent life?  In recent years, there is the trend of being a social media impostor.  That is the person who selectively curates their social feed to make it look like their life is a certain way, usually really good, when in fact those who know them in person know things are very different.  Christians can be impostors on social media, and in the church. 

All summer we’ve been reading other people’s mail.  Ancient letters in the Bible, like Titus, Philemon, 2nd John and 3rd John. This week we are reading a letter written by Jude, who is going to talk about impostors in the church.  So before continuing, go ahead and read Jude verses 1-16. 

In verse 1, the writer identifies himself as Jude, and he describes himself two ways: a servant of Jesus Christ, and a brother of James.  When he says he is a “servant of Jesus,” that’s a fairly common description that writers of the New Testament letters used, but the second label Jude uses is rather uncommon, “brother of James.”  Who is James?  James was at the time a leader of the Jerusalem church.  Sometimes people refer to him as the Bishop of the Christian church in Jerusalem.  He’s the same one that wrote the New Testament epistle of James.  And here’s where it gets interesting: James was a brother of Jesus.  So that means Jude was also a brother of Jesus. 

Two brothers of Jesus each ended up becoming leaders in the church and writers of a book of the New Testament.  I love that kind of detail.  You might think, “Well, of course Jesus’ brothers would become famous. That happens all the time in famous families.”  That is a good point, and it may have happened in this case too.  But it didn’t start out that way.  In John’s Gospel, chapter 7 verses 1-5, there is a brief story where John describes some animosity between Jesus and his brothers.  It seems they weren’t too keen on the idea of their big brother’s sudden fame.  John 7:5 says, “Even his own brothers did not believe in him.” 

But at some point, of his siblings, at least James and Jude changed their views and began to believe in him.  To the point where Jude doesn’t call himself a brother of Jesus, but a servant of Jesus. He had come so far in his thinking, when he could have taken advantage of the family connection and said, “You know I’m Jesus’ brother, right?”  But he didn’t.  We see some measure of humility in Jude.  That said, he does say he is the brother of James, so he still name drops a little. 

After identifying himself, he describes who the recipients are, and we see that it is a general letter, to those who have been:  Called, Loved and Kept.

That means Jude is writing to Christians.  Christians are called by God into his family, to a new life as a child of God, and Christians are loved by God the Father, and finally Christians are kept by Jesus. 

Do you hear the close family language in that phrase?  Called, loved, kept.  In this we observe the active role that God takes in being in relationship with us. 

I believe it best to understand God’s love as not forcing us against our will, whether before or after we choose to give our lives to him.  He’s not that kind of God.  Instead we need to see this phrase in connection with verse 21.  We’re going to study that more fully next week, but I at least want to point it out.  There Jude says, “Keep yourselves in God’s love,” which means that we have a responsibility too, we can and should live in such a way to keep ourselves in God’s love. 

Back in verse 1, though, Jude wants to remind the people that they are beloved and surrounded in care.  They are family.  As we’ll see, once he gets around to telling them his main purpose for writing, he has a reason saying they are called, loved and kept. I’ll give you a hint: they may need to be brave in what he is asking them to do, but they need not worry because they are called, loved and kept by God.

So may that be an encouragement to you. While you have the responsibility to keep yourself in God’s love, you’re not wholly on your own. God is at work, too, calling, loving, keeping you.

But why would the Christians need to be brave? And what about impostors? Check back in to the next post, as Jude will begin to reveal the reason for his writing, and why it is so important that the Christians ground themselves in God’s work of calling, loving and keeping them.

How to handle confrontation

11 Apr

Spies, taxes, a woman with seven husbands, and the most intelligent man in the world.

That pretty much sums up the next story in our ongoing series on Luke’s Gospel, which you can read about in Luke 20:20-40.  In the story, Jesus is in the final days of his life, and he has bunkered down in Jerusalem, spending each day teaching in the temple courts, and each evening in prayer outside the city.  The religious leaders hate that not only is he on their turf, but he is doing their job leading the people, and the people adore him.  They send two groups to try to take him down.

The first group the NIV calls “spies”.  Jesus had wrapped the religious up in a lose-lose situation just before, so now they are hiding in embarrassment, and they hire secret agents to try to do their dirty work.  These secret agents come up to Jesus while he is teaching in the temple courts, and after buttering him up (“You’re such an amazing teacher!”), they try to snag him with a political controversy.  About taxes.

One scholar tells us that “The secret agents are in effect asking, ‘Are God’s people exempt from paying such a tax to a foreign power? Jesus, are you loyal to Israel, looking for its independence, or should we knuckle under to Rome?’”[1]

Though the Romans did bring some benefits, the Jews hated being occupied.  As any people would. So obviously the Jews were no fan of paying taxes to Rome.  Imagine if China invades the USA and occupies our land.  Then they start taxing us.  And our taxes don’t stay here to help improve our land, our taxes go over to China to help improve theirs.  How would you feel?

Paying taxes was as much an issue back then as it is now!  So Jesus is in a really tough spot here. If he agrees with paying taxes, he could be perceived in a very negative light by the people who hated paying taxes (pretty much everyone).  If he disagrees with paying taxes, he could be accused of sedition and charged with inciting insurrection, arrest by the Roman governor, and tried as a criminal.

There seems to be no right answer.  It’s another lose-lose situation.

As we see in verses 23-26, Jesus asks for a coin, then asks them to tell him whose picture is on it.  They say “Caesar” and Jesus responds with genius: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

Response by the secret agents?  Astonished silence.

Then Luke tells us that the religious leaders come out of hiding.  This second group, the Sadducees, try to trap him with a theological controversy.  

What was their theological issue?  Theology is the study of God.  So a theological issue is an issue about the Bible or doctrine, in this case, resurrection and marriage.  Luke tells us the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection.  They create what appears at first glance to be a bizarre case study thinking they could trap Jesus and hopefully discredit him in front of all the people.

Maybe it was a real story, a woman who outlived seven husbands.  The theological issue? In heaven whose wife would she be?

It sounds outrageous, but their example is using something from the Old Testament Law called Levirate marriage.  You can see from this passage in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 that if a husband died, his brother would marry his widowed sister-in-law to preserve his brother’s line.  So the Sadducees ask Jesus to imagine a family with seven brothers.  One gets married first, then dies.  One by one the brothers marry their sister-in-law and one by one they die.  Sound impossible?

My grandma outlived three husbands, which would have been enough to prove their point.

The Sadducees believe they have created a situation that clearly shows the ridiculousness of the doctrine of the resurrection.  A woman in heaven with seven husbands?  Who gets her?  You can see them looking at Jesus saying “There, how are you going to respond to that, smart guy?  Resurrection, which we have heard you talking about, is stupid!  Our situation proves it.”  Basically they are saying that Levirate marriage disproves resurrection.

But Jesus theologically outduels them.  He says “Well gentlemen, you are wrong in many ways.”

  1. This life is not like the afterlife. They are different!
  2. Not everyone goes to heaven. Only those considered worthy.
  3. And what’s more, there is no marriage in heaven.
  4. Resurrection is TRUE. Want proof?  Just open your Torah which you love so much.  What do you read there?  God is the living God, the God of the Living. Disproving your faulty disbelief of resurrection.

See what he does there? Another genius response that silences the religious leaders.

We can learn from Jesus’ Way.  How did he handle people who tried to trap him?

Have you ever been confronted?  I’m sure you have.  The confrontation could be about what you believe.  Could be about choices you’ve made.  Could be about a great many things.  How do you handle it when you are confronted?

Look at how Jesus handles himself:

  1. Remains self-controlled. He’s okay when people disagree with him. He doesn’t get offended, take it personally, or get angry.  He shows us a calm confidence.
  2. Does not cave on the truth just because high-powered people are confronting him.
  3. Knows the Word.
  4. Speaks the truth in love.

In the end Jesus silences both groups.  But not by force.  Not by telling the crowd to attack them.  He doesn’t use aggression or bully tactics.

Let us be people who respond to those who confront us in love.

That is true intelligence. Let us become like the one who was the most intelligent of all.

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 1611.

Spies, Taxes, a woman with 7 husbands & the most intelligent man who ever lived

7 Apr

The most intelligent person who ever lived? 

Albert Einstein?  Marilyn vos Savant? King Solomon?  Leonardo Da Vinci?  Stephen Hawking? Shakespeare? Newton? Mozart? Marie Curie?

I researched a bunch of “Most Intelligent People in the History of the World” lists, and there are plenty more candidates.  There are lots of opinions as to who should be on those lists, not to mention who should be #1.  Furthermore, does intelligence simply refer to IQ?  What about those who have shown astounding ability in the arts?  What about people who don’t have an astronomical IQ, but they have achieved great accomplishments.

While most lists didn’t include him, one of the “Most Intelligent” lists I found put Jesus at #5.  It’s not #1, but considering all the possible names, I thought it was interesting that he even made a list.  I was surprised by that because most people and lists don’t think of Jesus when asked to name the most intelligent person in history.

As we have seen in our study through Luke, Jesus was amazingly intelligent too.  In fact when I started this series over a year ago, I suggested that we would find out that Jesus was the most intelligent man who ever lived.  Now we near the end of the series.  We have only a couple more months, about 10 more sermons.  We have watched Jesus’ way, heard his words, and seen his amazing works.  Now we are in his final days before his arrest.  Each day he is teaching in the temple courts, right in the middle of the religious leaders’ HQ.  Not surprisingly, this has them shaking with jealousy and anger.  Last week, we watched as they had him in what appeared to be a lose-lose situation, and he got out of it with ease, binding the religious leaders in a lose-lose situation in the process.

This week, they are really upset again, and they try to trap him again.  The way he handles himself, intellectually, emotionally, physically, is amazing.  What do you think?  Was Jesus the most intelligent person to ever live?  If you want to preview the story, check out Luke 20:20-40.

Join us at Faith Church and judge for yourself.  (Oh, by the way, there will spies, a discussion about taxes, and a woman who outlived seven husbands.)