The Three Josephs

I continue to be amazed at the mysterious story lines found within the scriptures. These centuries long, scarlet threads seem necessary to backfill God’s character. Perhaps also, to contrast the lives of those religious who profess to represent the Divine yet are so easily jaded by the politics of their religion.

This morning I seem compelled to comment on the Josephs. For years now, I have been infatuated with the stories that surround these men and their brief moments of glory. First the Joseph of Egypt, with his coat of many colors and the life of paradox now studied by so many. Sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he never gave up his dream or his heart for God.

Regardless of the era in which one lives, irony, intrigue, periodic humiliation, pain and often even death, seem common in the life tapestry of men and women of valor.*

I find it interesting that though principal in Israel’s history, this first Joseph was not included in the names associated with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Why? Perhaps the name of Joseph is being protected from the common; preserved for the more critical, transformational God moments over time?

Take the second Joseph, of Bethlehem. Betrothed to the Virgin Mary, he was visited by angels regarding an unlikely pregnancy that would soon to occur. God himself would soon become flesh. This Joseph would become the intense custodian of the Christ, protecting him from the madman Herod, and like any father, he would nurture a balance of vocational skills, academic growth and social life. However, he would have to forego what dreams he might have developed as he mentored this future Messiah, this child of heaven. Ultimately, like his ancestor Abraham, he would face the sacrifice of this son, though unlike Mt. Moriah’s ram in the thicket, no remedy would be provided this Joseph.

The third is Joseph, of Arimathea, was described as a “prominent member of the Council,” the Jewish Sanhedrin. “The Great Sanhedrin as a religious assembly of 71 sages who met in the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Great Sanhedrin met daily during the daytime, and did not meet on the Sabbath, festivals or festival eves. It was the final authority on Jewish law and any scholar who went against its decisions was put to death as a zaken mamre (rebellious elder).”

“The Sanhedrin judged accused lawbreakers, but could not initiate arrests. It required a minimum of two witnesses to convict a suspect. There were no attorneys. Instead, the accusing witness stated the offense in the presence of the accused and the accused could call witnesses on his own behalf. The court questioned the accused, the accusers and the defense witnesses.”

“The Great Sanhedrin dealt with religious and ritualistic Temple matters, criminal matters appertaining to the secular court, proceedings in connection with the discovery of a corpse, trials of adulterous wives, tithes, preparation of Torah Scrolls for the king and the Temple, drawing up the calendar and the solving of difficulties relating to ritual law.”1

Mark’s statement about Joseph of Arimathea is interesting. “Joseph… was himself waiting for the kingdom of God.” Mark 15:43 (NIV). The scriptures imply a deeper relationship with God than that found among other religious leaders. Mark’s gospel goes on to reveal that this Joseph, at the risk of his position of influence, and perhaps his own life as well, he “went boldly to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body.”

Much of what we know of Joseph of Arimathea later life is by way of words captured in text, though not included in the Canon. The story goes that he was scolded for his kindness to Jesus and participation in the burial process with Nicodemus, and then imprisoned by the Jewish Elders, with a seal placed on his cell. Upon a later visit by this band of politically sanctioned terrorists, the seal found intact, though their prisoner had mysteriously returned to Arimathea!

“On the day of the Preparation, about the tenth hour, you shut me in, and I remained there the whole Sabbath in full. And when midnight came, as I was standing and praying, the house where you shut me in was hung up by the four corners, and there was a flashing of light in mine eyes. And I fell to the ground trembling. Then some one lifted me up from the place where I had fallen, and poured over me an abundance of water from the head even to the feet, and put round my nostrils the odour of a wonderful ointment, and rubbed my face with the water itself, as if washing me, and kissed me, and said to me, Joseph, fear not; but open thine eyes, and see who it is that speaks to thee. And looking, I saw Jesus; and being terrified, I thought it was a phantom. And with prayer and the commandments I spoke to him, and he spoke with me. And I said to him: Art thou Rabbi Elias? And he said to me: I am not Elias. And I said: Who art thou, my Lord? And he said to me: I am Jesus, whose body thou didst beg from Pilate, and wrap in clean linen; and thou didst lay a napkin on my face, and didst lay me in thy new tomb, and roll a stone to the door of the tomb. Then I said to him that was speaking to me: Show me, Lord, where I laid thee. And he led me, and showed me the place where I laid him, and the linen which I had put on him, and the napkin which I had wrapped upon his face; and I knew that it was Jesus. And he took hold of me with his hand, and put me in the midst of my house though the gates were shut, and put me in my bed, and said to me: Peace to thee! And he kissed me, and said to me: For forty days go not out of thy house; for, lo, I go to my brethren into Galilee.”

—Gospel of Nicodemus.

Three Josephs: the first, a carrier of the dream of God, which would cost him greatly in terms of the joys one typically shares within a family. That dream, then positions Moses and the descendants Israel for the next chapter in God’s great plan, the birth a nation in which Emmanuel, God with us, would be born.

The second Joseph would then parent the Messiah, which Israel would ultimately reject, though for centuries they had modeled his-story in the sacrifices and religious ceremonies offered to the very God whom Christ, in love revealed.

This third Joseph represents a man in whom God, perhaps for a lifetime had cultivated some burning awareness that the Kingdom of God was drawing near. It would not be until after Calvary that he would recognize “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Rev. 13:8.

* Life is but a weaving (The Tapestry)

“My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.

Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned

He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.”

― Corrie ten Boom2

1 http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Sanhedrin.html

2 http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/741391-life-is-but-a-weaving-the-tapestry-poem-my-life

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Another King Story

“Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” Matthew 27:11

These last few hours have been telling as to the state of the Church, our Nation and the globe. Yesterday was packed with truth and today, as our celebrations seem only to sustain the status quo, I am even more deeply moved, given the point at which I opened the scriptures this a.m..

Just has Judas delivered his prize, only to discover that his intended purposes facilitated the very opposite, so too might our actions fail to deliver what we had hoped for our own children without prayer and prophetic follow through.

As a new grandfather, there is an urgency that may have been missed somewhat my first time around as a father. Then, I was preoccupied with earning a living or at least positioning myself and my family so that they might have a future. Now I grasp the innocence and potential for change far more deeply each time I look into John Luther’s eyes or receive those unsolicited smiles.

All those emotions compound more recent Aha’s, which before might have felt less threatening to my family, the Church at large and our nation. To quote the man whose life we celebrate today: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” MLK,Jr.

Yesterday, I was confronted with the changes that the Church is facing, such as Globalization and Post Nationalism, Urbanization and the theft of individual time; post denominationalism (a good thing); the changing economy and the coming job war. Just a few of the hurdles that will require great adjustment from neighborhoods to nations!

I had a chance to participate in a “Kneel In” and watched the next generation, summarized by an elder friend with words now decades old as “being sick and tired of being sick and tired.” These are words that imply a rightful and welcomed transformation now long overdue.

Yet the way we tend to handle reform is less than revolutionary! These writings by Carl Wendell Hines in 1965 seem prophetic:

“Now that he is safely dead,
Let us praise him,
Build monuments to his glory,
Sing hosannas to his name.
Dead men make such convenient heroes:
They cannot rise to challenge the images
We would fashion from their lives.
And besides, it is easier to build monuments
Than to make a better world.
So, now that he is safely dead
We, with eased consciences will teach our children
That he was a great man…
Knowing that the cause for which he lived…
is still a cause.
And the dream for which he died…
is still a dream….a dead man’s dream.”

I am reminded of what Christianity has done to the cross. We first incorporated it into our religious regalia, then necklaces that centuries later have simply become a part of our “bling.” As one pawn shop merchant is quoted, upon offering an assortment of necklaces to a customer: “Would you like a plain cross or one with a little man on it?”

I also watched my first beheading yesterday, a mistake perhaps on my part?  A pleading, Saudi woman was dragged to the streets by her local police and clumsily beheaded by a man dressed in sheik like attire, all caught on cellphone videoed live! Was that a wake of call as to how cruel political men in power can become, even the religious, if good men do nothing?

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

And from another King:

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – Jesus, of Nazareth.

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A few Politicians and some Pieces of Silver

This morning as I continue to work through the final hours of Jesus’ life, perhaps revealing the worst of people and politics, I am taken again by the actions of Judas, my unfortunate similarities and the predictable response of the chief priests.

Judas was in shock when he finally realized that the man he had set up to display the power of God, witnessed time after time by the disciples, now seemed powerless to deliver himself from Pilot. He had wrongly surmised that Jesus, under the threat of death, would rescue himself, come out of His spiritual closet, finally unveiling the mission that Judas and the others had hoped, the routing the Romans.

Tormented by his error, Judas flings the money at the feet of his religious leaders, hoping to right their joint wrongs, only to witness the epitome of politics. I can imagine the ceremonial fashion these “church leaders” had become so adept at, silently conspiring with each other to protect their institutional image, simply adjust their religious regalia, bending their knee almost prayerfully, as they slowly begin to pick up the coins. They recite the regulation that prevents blood money from being received in their treasury, though they were the very source of the blood money. Then in a self-righteous move that will play well in the “newspaper” they offer the money to a “non-profit” for purchase of a burial place for foreigners. These guys were good!

I love the fact that God had already predicted just such a move in the conversations of Zechariah 11:12-13 (KJV):

“If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.

And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.”

The distraught Judas then took his own life as indicated might happen in Matthew 26:23-24 (NIV): “”The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” These words from a compassionate Christ, not of condemnation perhaps but one of caution, for Jesus already knew Judas’ personality, what he had done and what he might be inclined to do to himself..

I wonder if Judas had missed the merciful side of the Lord, in his zealous distraction and scheming efforts to help the leader he so admired? His life might have gone differently had he been more intimate than strategic.

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The Politics of Easter

I will never cease to be amazed at the extent to which well-meaning people will go to justify their agendas. I do not remove myself from that lot, for we are all sinners, “apt to wander, oft to stray.” It’s just amazing to read about ourselves and more so, when that reading is from centuries, even millennia past.

This morning was no different, as I read again from Matthew, still processing Chapter 26, with the various political and religious power players circling their wagons on The Christ.

From the Chief Priests, the most informed of scriptures yet the most blind, to the brutal Roman soldiers to whom this God-man was given over for execution. The latter were very adept at lining the streets, if need be, with crucified criminals and even the innocent at times, to get across the point of who was in control.

We have seldom experienced such blatant cruelty in America, at least not since the lynching days of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, it seems that more and more, religious zealots, regardless of which major Abrahamic religion one may represent, are hard at work with just such possibilities in our nation. Meanwhile, the majority, most often the more moderate, set back and says little; or worse yet, stir the drama that often surrounds those who do speak out; arm chair quarterbacks.

We may not be as far along as we think given all that has happened of late, particularly with a new generation of leaders, unwilling to allow America to act out institutional racism, protestant privilege or classism, without challenge.

Edmund Burke is credited as saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I do not want to be counted in that lot at the end of the day, whether in local politics, broader racial issues or the proclamation of the gospel, the love of Jesus Christ.

As I said in the last blog entry, I am amazed at how God, in the flesh of Jesus Christ, could carry out his own execution, then preserve His body in a tomb preselected and announced by the prophets… “A large percentage of Messianic prophecies are found in Isaiah, including prophecies about Jesus’ virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1-2), lineage (Isaiah 9:7, 11:1, 11:10), announcement by a forerunner (Isaiah 43:3-5), disfigurement (Isaiah 52:14, 53: 2), rejection by His people (Isaiah 53:1-3), voluntary atoning death (Isaiah 53:7-8), scourging and crucifixion (Isaiah 53:5-12),burial in a borrowed tomb (53:9) an appeal to non-Jewish people (Isaiah 11:10).1

Surely, there is a message in here for those who would both neglect justice for the sake of politics or remain silent in the face of such? Particularly of concern should be those who name the name of Christ, given His brutal demise.

Of course, He not only died but as was also prophesied, but was raised again, as a testimony of who truly is in control!

“My flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:9-11).

Finally, I’ll employ this old hymn, whose words perhaps speak louder than my own:

Jesus, whose blood so freely stream’d,

To satisfy the law’s demand;

By thee from guilt and wrath redeem’d,

Before the Father’s face I stand.

To reconcile offending man,

Make Justice drop her angry rod;

What creature could have form’d the plan,

Or who fulfil it but a God?

No drop remains of all the curse,

For wretches who deserved the whole;

No arrows dipt in wrath to pierce

The guilty but returning soul.

Peace by such means so dearly bought,

What rebel could have hoped to see?

Peace, by his injured Sovereign wrought,

His Sovereign fasten’d to a tree.

Now, Lord, thy feeble worm prepare!

For strife with earth and hell begins;

Confirm and guard me for the war,

They hate the soul that hates his sins.

Let them in horrid league agree!

They may assault, they may distress;

But cannot quench thy love to me,

Nor rob me of the Lord, my peace.2

  1. http://people.opposingviews.com/messianic-prophecies-bible-4267.html

  2. http://www.ccel.org/c/cowper/works/olney.htm

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Strange Birds

This morning I realized how privileged I was to have some modicum of appreciation for the contemplative; some small quantity of awareness of the reality of the Spirit. Respectfully, I seem to have more than just some inherited belief system with its typical trappings of ritual; much more than necessary for some simple boot strap living. I possess a real felt sense of presence in my life. Can I get a witness?

That is not something someone can just conjure up in one short lifetime; it is the gift of generations. As I age, the cumulative evidence of a Being superior to the challenges that we face as creatures on this small globe, continues to grow. That is worth sharing, even at the risk of sounding arrogant, especially given the day to day raw evidence of man’s constant but unfruitful struggle to manipulate his environment. The statistics are unfavorable physically, socially, economically and politically and yet the Presence is assuring, and all is under control.

This morning as I read from Matthew 26, I was struck by two verses in particular:

Matthew 28:61& 67: “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”; “Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him.”

Perhaps, what moved me to write was the hope I find in these isolated and opposing comments. Imagine knowing that you had the power to control the systems of this world in the face of those exerting cruel force to demonstrate otherwise. On top of that, within the mantle of sincere love, seeing through hatred and working for the good at the same time.

These verses seem to bookend a religious reality. First, there is a God who is able to completely dismantle his own flesh, even controlling the powers that be, both religious and political; delivering upon His own death in a way that fulfills the numerous specifics found in the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi. Secondly, to see the tremendous hatred demonstrated among those who professed to be the most knowledgeable and righteous within their religious system.

People are strange birds!

Imagine living in a body that was destined to be ripped apart, desiccated on a cross, and then reconstructed miraculously as a demonstration of the power possessed by the being that lived within that body! While the body was cold and dormant, the true King of Creation was controlling the very place it would be laid, while actively righting Hell’s cruel plans, as He awaited the soon coming empowerment of the new Body of Christ, The true Church!

“I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days!”

That was God speaking about Himself, His own physical body, while the religious authorities mistakenly thought He was threatening their brick and mortar!  Hello!

Another comment by the Master: “Even greater things than this shall you do in my Name!”

Selah!

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Press On!

This morning seems another amazing example of how the Lord can order one’s steps, when time alone with the Spirit is sorely needed. Scheduled for an in home mechanical installation, I had left the morning open, only to have that cancelled on Monday. Then, given that cancellation, I had made arrangements for another early morning gathering today, only to be called at 7:30 by the previously cancelled technician, now in route.

Once he arrived, I found out that this very pleasant young man,raised in the Bronx was interestingly enough also named John. We were able to share a cup of coffee after we discovered that the installation would not work! That too was a blessing, and after he left, I then had the privilege of an open morning.

So, I sat down with my old leather backed companion and opened its book mark to Matthew, chapter 14. Of course I have read it scores of times, but as alive as this book surely is, the emotion that came over my spirit was fresh and new. I excitedly ran to the computer to capture my thoughts.

Here we find the story of John the Baptist, beheaded by Herod the tetrarch. John, was the cousin of Jesus, the babe that leaped in the womb of Aunt Elizabeth, the one who had taken significant prophetic risks before Jesus came on the scene. Now in some twisted climax, his head is lifted for mere entertainment, before a group of wicked dinner guests following some lewd dance. Herod, previously threatened by John’s gut level, open honesty and public truth telling, had wanted to kill this prophet for some time, but like most politicians, “he was afraid of the people!” (Matt 14:5 NIV).

Herod had held John the Baptist in prison for some time, as John himself had begun to wonder about Jesus, given his apparent abandonment to a prison cell. You see, I am sure John was not immune to the thought that Jesus’ mission was to deliver Israel from the Romans. Many of the disciples had followed The Christ with that same aspiration, even up until the time that Judas forced the play!

The message I wish to convey is what I saw in the stamina of Jesus once told of John’s beheading. Surely he could read the writing on the wall, if God would allow John’s head to be served on a platter, the cup Jesus had committed too was suddenly becoming more real. As an aside, I would think we modern day Christians, safe for centuries in this great nation, can see some correlation as this demonic means of punishment, beheading, is now being pulled out of mothballs in the name of religion!

Jesus, unlike many of us, was not caught off guard by this dastardly deed, for he understood the challenge before him and did not hold himself apart from the centuries old crises faced by those similarly “thrust into the harvest!” Yet, surely this had an impact on him, as God could have delivered John the Baptist but chose not too. Apparently his beheading was a necessary part of a growing narrative, regarding the resolve required when pushing Kingdom initiatives into a world deluded by sin. I hope you are hearing this, as it relates to our day also!

Perhaps the reason Jesus wept just outside of Lazarus’ tomb was not because his friend was dead, but because he suddenly was gripped by the reality that his followers still had not understood his reason for coming to earth, nor his own pending death and resurrection!

Back to the story, Jesus gets into a boat, with his human heart needing a private moment, perhaps to get his head around his cousin’s brutal death. Instead, he finds himself surrounded by a large crowd of needy people. His response: compassion, healing and provision. We tire way too easily of people!

Something happened on that day that was pivotal in the transfer of His Kingdom to Earth. When the large crowd recognized him and began to gather in the same remote place that he had otherwise planned as a “get away”, Jesus in a “water to wine” like moment, responds to their need, even for food. I find this man amazing and struggle with the fact that he could love me, and love me as if I were the only one on the globe!

In this moment, he chooses to also bump up the engagement of his disciples with this statement: “You give them something to eat.” (Matt. 14:16b NIV). They, stunned, begin to follow instructions, as this marvelous Jesus looks up to heaven, giving thanks for what is unfolding, and begins breaking apart the five loaves and two fishes serendipitously made available by God. He begins handing pieces to the disciples for distribution to well over 5000!

He, unbeknownst to them, was providing something tangible for them to hold onto, when the time came for their own deaths! Making no big to do of this physical miracle and without hesitancy, he asks the disciples to get back in the boat and go on ahead of him; finally, a moment alone to pray.

Apparently after some time, (“evening came”…love the writing) and a storm was brewing on the lake. Of course you know this as the “walk on water” moment for Peter. Jesus was once more defying natural law, again breaking bread, but this time within the souls of the very men who would soon deliver the gospel and give their own lives, post resurrection. Despite the loss of his cousin, Jesus stayed on mission, for the disciples without a doubt, or as much as is humanly possible, now knew that He was the “Son of God” (Matt. 14:32b NIV).

They arrive on shore and another move of God breaks out as people, needy people recognize him. Many were healed by simply touching his clothing! Something had transpired in the spirit of this man, Jesus; and, in the hearts of his followers. This moment would transcend centuries, though not without the brutal beheading of Cousin John!

I must wonder what would happen within own on lives and calling if when life’s dilemmas occur, we were less likely to get bent out of shape, simply realizing that this world is not our home, and this world’s dilemma our mission, so we press on!

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Revelation

I actually attended two church services today in two different churches. I had for some time promised to drop by a pastor friend’s new church. Though my promise was two years old, this morning after first service in my own church, I kept my promise. It was interesting that on this first Sunday of the New Year, I heard two sermons, both spoke of revelation and the need for having ears to hear and eyes to see.

While working on my next book this afternoon, I skimmed some earlier blog entries. I found this post from October 1 of 2009 interesting, giving the two sermons heard earlier.

“String Theory, a 1995 concept that now indicates that the tiny particles we refer to as atoms, only appear particulate due to our limited abilities at magnification. With enhanced technology it now appears that instead of particles, they are oscillating strings of energy. That’s what magnification affords.

I wonder how much clearer our revelation of God and His creation might be if we were free from the limited “magnification” of religion. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. I Cor. 2:9 KJV

What would happen if we moved beyond religion and accepted revelation, beyond our head knowledge of Him and truly allowed God access to our hearts? We might find that our theology was simply man’s limited magnification of His awesome realities, imposed on revelation by narrow minded leaders attempting to inform the meager minds of mankind about a God who is past finding out.

Not to sound harsh, but we are so missing the mark in our churches that our nation is reeling on the brink of a lost democracy, while our churches offer a smoke and mirrors gospel that tells of a God who readily affords revelation through intimacy but fails to deliver on a people demonstrative of that revelation in the market place. Could it be that our controlled behavior on Sunday’s has distracted us from the individual callings of our lives and reduced the personal sense of need to seek this God that once afforded the depth of character for which this great country was once known?

Jesus said, “…when He, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth…for he shall receive what of mine and show it unto you.” Jn. 16:13-14 KJV

Now on January 4, 2015, given the new challenges facing our country, particularly racial and the number of folk now declaring themselves as “Dones” relative to the church, I must wonder how much revelation we have gained in these last six years? Will we continue to be “defenders of the decline” or will we open our ears and invest our resources in what God might be doing outside of the isolation of our religious silos?

And yes it was refreshing to experience the greater body of Christ, perhaps I will not wait two more years.

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