“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’”   Leviticus 19:2  NASB

Another amazing TRES DIAS RENEWAL weekend! Wow! This was amazing. If you have never experienced one of these with me- with us. Please ask. I invite you. They are every spring and every fall.

At one point in the weekend Pastor Matt and I were commenting on the exegesis of a passage in the morning chapel and the word “perfect” came up. We went on to share that the Biblical definition of perfect is not what the modern view usually means. I have taught on this a lot in x44. Biblical perfection means the journey (or expedition) to be complete or holy as God is holy. To take on the image of Christ – Christoformity.

Today the word translated perfect seems to be the source of condemnation and guilt. How we (the modern church) have abused this verse. We see this quote from Leviticus in Matthew (5:48 in the Greek version, not exactly what it says in Hebrew).  We have been taught that Jesus preached that the goal of a religious life is holiness and that anything less than perfect holiness is sin, missing the mark; and as that is true – we are also taught to not wallow in the filth. Don’t live in it, you have been set free! Oh, what trauma we have caused for all who fell under that burden of continual condemnation!  Because we didn’t pay attention to the Hebrew grammar or the meaning of qādôš. (The English transliteration is Kadosh.) Don’t live that way! You are free from this shame! You have been redeemed, renewed, and completely set free, own it and live it!

The definition of qādôš generically means to be “set apart.” That was a theme of a tres dias weekend a couple years ago, but has sort of stuck with the community as an ongoing metaphor for life, as it should be. When you dive in to study this word, you find that the same word was generic word that could mean set apart for anything, in fact a regular use of the term was that an animal sacrifice would be “set apart” for death, or prisoners were “set apart” waiting for their sentence. As it does mean this in the ancient world, words often take on a deeper biblical meaning or find a second skin, per se in redemptive thinking. In this way, the word qādôš means spiritually to be completely “devoted.” We are dead to sin that we might be alive in Christ which is characterized by devotion.

That means this crucial passage in Leviticus should be read as God’s desire for reciprocity or multiplicity.  We are to be as devoted to Him as He is to us.  It’s not about being perfect.  It’s about being committed. A heartset to be all in.

John Walton (my Hebrew mentor from my early days at Moody Bible Institute) points out that the verb tense in Leviticus 19:2 is an imperfect form/indicative, not an imperative.[1] I know I am speaking Greek to everyone here, actually Hebrew… but hang in there with me. You can do this! I am going to shepherd you to a new level of depth before the Lord. Understanding the grammar has a startling implication. 

God is not commanding platonic perfection or even holiness.  Walton suggests that the verse should be read, “You are holy because I am holy.”  In other words, according to Walton, this is a declaration of the character of His people, not a command for moral improvement. It is not something we achieve but something we are, based entirely on the declaration of God.  God declares Israel qādôš because Israel is “HIS” in the same way that today you are “HIS”, you are God’s recreated “holy ones”, the very image of him to a broken world. You are the very representation (or manifestation) of Jesus to those that come in contact with you. You are Holy because God is in you. Your room is the sacred temple of the holy spirit. That is your sanctuary, the body of Christ. Does your house look holy to others? Do you need to clean your room?

This view of holiness and exegesis of these verses has some amazing truths that I want you to see. God is not judging us on some standard of what the philosopher Plato defined as perfection which is what we think of the word today.  Holiness (perfection) is not commanded, having a heart to be made complete is.  Devotion (the real idea of holiness) is an imperfect verb, that is, a continuous progressive activity not yet completed (an expedition of pursuing holiness and praying that you might be found faithful).  It is here and now, but also te be attained. It’s what we are while we are on the way.  “On the way” toward YHVH is what qādôš is all about.

If you were on this last Men’s tres dias weekend, Dave Donehay gave you a verse towards the middle of the page in his notes for the study talk- rollo. It was Isaiah 30:21. You will notice a few verses before in verse 16 Isaiah quotes Exodus 34:6 (again, it is a better quote when read in Hebrew, you can hardly tell it is a quote in English but don’t get me started) where God gives the description of himself as gracious and compassionate. This is what I shared in the tres dias weekend closura. The Hebrew Idiom for Hesed and Shalom means a balance in living – Chanan/Racham embodies a life that looks like Jesus: loyalty, faithfulness, mercy, compassion, love, grace, devotion, sacrifice, and allegiance. (HESED)

A few verses later you come to the verse that Dave shared, Isaiah 30:21 which has another Hebrew Idiom for living in devotion to this life. If you are a STAR WARS person this is going to blow you away- The Hebrew words are “Zeh Hadderek” which is translated, “THIS IS THE WAY” – walk in it. Sound familiar? Anyone finish the book yet this week?

You are hereby exempt from the burden of holy perfection! That must feel good, but don’t thank me, thank God!

Live redeemed today! Claim it, take a step in the right direction. One small step at a time. Align your trajectory. Walk straighter with Jesus. Avoid the “cowpath” of life. Let the Holy Spirit deliver you into a better walk of life. This is the way.

Dr Ryan

PS, if you want a double portion study today, try this- It is a post after a previous tres dias weekend: TRES DIAS RENEWAL WEEKEND – KOINOS | EXPEDITION 44

[1] John Walton’s “Lost World”

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Considering a better Resurrection “Easter” Theology

As a theologian Easter is the hardest time of year for me. Poor theology is rampant from social media posts to good-willed pastors and praise and worship songs sung being belted out with no reserve. Most of people’s theological understanding likely comes from what they have been told or taught casually without really thinking about it for themselves. Most people truly desire to have good theology. In fact, I find well intentioned people that often think they are “theological” taking on some pretty “bad theology.” I truly believe most Christians are well intentioned in their fervor, they just haven’t been taught or presented with a better consideration in regard to Christ’s “work” on the cross and usually can’t identify the problems within what I would consider to be a poor theological framework. Unfortunately, some of the most respected pastors and Christian leaders have fallen into this snare.

Some of what I am going to share will be a surprise to many of you and some of these points are major issues in your understanding of who God is. They are things that people have wrongly attributed to “ALL OF CHRISTIANITY” and in some cases have been the responsible agent of people even leaving the faith.

Here is a brief non exhaustive survey of the main issues within “easter” theology. I think if you consider yourself a fervent follower of Christ you should care and desire to know better about how to understand the way your Jesus loved you and gave his life in a beautiful but gruesome plan for our redemption and why. Let’s focus on the resurrection!

Every year, Christians from around the world gather for worship on Pascha or Resurrection Sunday, in orthodoxy the Holy week is the final day of a weeklong commemoration of the story of Jesus’ final days in the city of Jerusalem leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. I have a hard time even using the word Easter to describe this time, resurrection is better. Here is another article on why I feel that way.

Court Room Language & PSA

I think the main problem with most people’s Easter theology is that it is usually framed around a theological view of atonement called Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). Penal Substitution Atonement is one of the various views (7-12) of atonement theory that is held primarily by Reformed and Calvinist theologians and most Christians around Easter that don’t know any better. The early church and most of Christianity never thought this way. In fact, the legal view of the cross didn’t really come around until 1871 with Charles Hodge who built it off of unformulated ideas from John Calvin and other reformers. John Calvin was a lawyer, and saw the world through the court room. I truly believe in several hundred years Christians are going to look back at the last couple hundred years of “rampant reformed theology” being accepted as the norm and probably laugh.

However, at the same time, I don’t want to take those who believe in PSA lightly or come off with a condescending attitude for anyone who thinks this way. I have some very good friends that have been through Bible school and still hold these views. But I think most of them realize it is a “hard road” to plow. Some of them feel like they have 4 years or more invested at a “reformed” leaning college in learning how to try to reconcile or justify this way of thinking, how can they abandon it. Most people don’t know they are getting into this until they are already there. The Bible college I attended in my youth has nearly turned completely reformed since I attended, and you may remember has caused a huge shake up for them in the last 10 years. But those on the outside looking in don’t often know their hardships were caused by gravitating towards reformed theological notions causing nearly 80% of their professors to leave over the course of 20 years. I have always thought that way of holding onto to something must be hard for people. I know it may seem like a new or tough mountain to climb but experiencing truth is freeing, a true summit experience before the Lord. I also think it is worth pointing out that the great majority of Christian scholars and theologians don’t hold to reformed theology as I will point out, the top theologians in the world (and especially since the time of Christ) do not adhere to this kind of thinking. (Unfortunately, some of the most common household names of current Christianity to take on a good deal of these thoughts such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry and more recently John Macarthur, Erwin Lutzer, R.C. Sproul, and James White to name likely the most prominent.)

A better framework for Jesus’ Atoning work on the cross sees the Bible through a covenant. Covenants are about relationships built on trust and always working towards restoration when broken. Laws and contracts are built on mistrust and result in retribution when broken. I will touch more on this at the end.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t realize that this way of thinking (PSA) is primarily Reformed, and I find a lot of non-reformed Christians and pastors framing atonement this way and it doesn’t really fit or agree with the rest of their theology and often even their denominations (particularly for a spirit led theology.) Over the details of this view, many may quibble, (for instance as I will get to, most reformed thinkers also believe in ECT but not all of them) but we are often told that Jesus died in order to save sinners from the wrath of God. In other words, he was a substitutionary sacrifice—he died in our place—to appease the Father’s justice, honor, and wrath. The story of how we get to such a place where we need such a sacrifice has been framed in this way:

God created humankind in his image and saw that it was good. Then, humanity sinned and experienced a “fall.” This created a huge problem, one that finite creatures simply could not make up for. Why? Because God’s justice and honor are such that only a payment of infinite proportions could make atonement. So, God, in his infinite wisdom, sent himself in the form of a Son—one truly human—in order to be sacrificed to himself so that his justice and honor could be upheld. Thus, he fills the conundrum of needing an infinite payment from finite humans. Now, those who accept the blood sacrifice could be forgiven their sins. The rest? The wrath of the infinite Father forever abides on them.

Essays and books have been written on the problems associated with this way of thinking, and X44 has several videos that address these in detail, so let me try to keep this brief. There are several things that need to be considered in this view that will influence the rest of your theology that you likely haven’t given a lot of time to. I pray today is the day for you. You may have even thought this type of thinking was good theology or maybe even the only theology of the cross. Nether is true in our opinion.

Let’s start with the idea is that God is a debt collector. This way of thinking would suggest that a debt was accrued, and payment has to be made in order for the father’s forgiveness and mercy to flow forth into the world. This idea doesn’t agree with Jesus’ definition of forgiveness. The two ideas can’t coexist. It also doesn’t make sense. Who is the debt owed to? Does Jesus owe God? Does God owe something to Satan to buy us? Do we owe God something? Isn’t the salvation that Jesus offers a “FREE GIFT?” If it is truly free nothing needs to be paid off or purchased. When Moses took the Israelites out of Egypt, he wasn’t buying them or purchasing them, he wasn’t negotiating with a terrorist, HE FREED THE SLAVES… they weren’t in turn made slaves again, that wouldn’t make any sense, the plan was for total freedom. To frame the gift Jesus gives as something owed and needing to be bought or purchased back nullifies the free gift given.

The second issue is the way in which original sin gets interpreted by folks in the PSA camp. Indeed, their understanding of humanity’s fall exposes God as a retributive punisher. This is framed as the punishment that Jesus goes through is the punishment that all mind kind should have gotten. This is far reaching into your theology affecting many different areas. (I don’t believe that little Suzy who gets killed by a car at 8 years old and never prayed to accept the plan of salvation will burn – or be tortured in hell forever.) In the reformed camps that is how PSA continues to or develops further into the idea of Eternal Conscious Torment; that we are all damned to hell to be eternally forever tormented for essentially Adam’s sin. To that end, the punishment Jesus took was the punishment we deserve. The lashings, the flogging, the mocking, all of it –something God would do to us or have done to us if Jesus hadn’t taken the beating for us. Those of us who accept the transaction are spared. This view is terrible in my opinion. It is so far away from the story of God’s infinite love, grace, and mercy for us. It is so far off the complete story of God’s unending, unstoppable, un-relenting, pursuing love to reclaim us despite all of our shortcomings and failures. Jesus has no desire to torture you. If that is your church’s view of what God wants to do to you, my advice is to run to a better church with a better view of God’s beautiful plan for your life. Some would assert that the PSA view essentially presents God as an utter monster.

PSA also puts (or pits) the trinity against each other. In one corner, you have the wrath of God (going by a more modern definition), which needs the shedding of blood in order to forgive sins (Hebrews 9:22). In the other corner, you have Jesus, who forgave freely (Matthew 9:2; 18:22; Luke 23:34; John 8:11; 20:19–23). In other words, Jesus forgave even though blood hadn’t been spilled. One major issue with this is that the New Testament is fairly clear that both the Father and the Son are, in nature, eternally the same (Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; 4:34; 5:19–20; 6:38, 46; 10:29; 12:49; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 13:8). That is essentially the doctrine of the trinity. Most of PSA also views God departing from Jesus at the cross, Jesus clearly wasn’t separated from God which would be a major trinitarian problem. If you need more on this, here is a video.

The last PSA (major) problem is wrath, or their more modern definition of what that means. We believe in the wrath of God but the biblical definition of wrath is God handing people over to their own device. When God handed Israel over to reap what they sowed they were conquered and enslaved. God didn’t torture them through their aggressors, He simply removed his hand of providence and protection from them. PSA has redefined wrath into a modern version of torture making God a wrath monster and a slave master. God as a sovereign all powerful entity essentially become not only the author of good but also the author of Evil.

THINKING MORE CLEARLY: Matt and I (and nearly every theologian we quote) typically lean towards a Christus Victor view of atonement (but also see some value in other theories such as McKnight would say) partially because it deals a blow to the principals, powers, and authorities of the fallen world as being defeated by Christ’s atoning work (a Deuteronomy 32 view). PSA leaves the powers still reigning as it is focused on simply the individual and their failures. That’s a problem. We know at the cross Christ is victorious, reclaims the power of life over death, sets the captives free, and shackles the fallen spiritual beings. We think that’s pretty important!

Substitution Language

To be clear, Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Substitutionary Atonement should be handled separately or as different theological perspectives. Most theologians don’t believe in PSA but do adhere to a basic understanding of substitution. As we have no place for PSA, we do have a slight consideration that Jesus serves as a simple substitute on the cross for us. Most scholars are going to give credence to some form of Jesus being a substitute for us. However, I would contend that we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on any thoughts of substitutionary kind of thinking. Many of the problems of “PSA” are also going to be an issue for simple substitutional thinking as well. For instance, you might notice that NT Wright certainly will not give much or any credence to PSA, but also is hesitant to affirm or oppose the simple idea of substitution. I think Scot McKnight does the best job here by framing the atonement theories as each possibly having some merit but not necessarily putting too much value in completely adhering to any of them as a complete doctrine. In this way, I can agree that in a basic sense Christ gave fully of himself on our behalf to accomplish somethings -life- that we can’t accomplish on our own. But is that really substitution? That is my hesitancy in using the word to describe what Jesus does for us. The word itself isn’t really found anywhere in the Bible and there certainly aren’t any passages that simply frame Christs work that way. If it was meant to have been communicated clearly this way the scripture would have described it significantly better in that way and certainly would have used that exact word. I think in a better lens of theology there are more proper terms to describe what God does such as kippur in a more sacrificial sense of the atonement of Jesus. We shy away from using the term substitute or “in my place” because it opens the door for PSA and doesn’t really seem to adequately fit what Jesus does on the cross as well as other biblical words do.

Debt and Ransom Language

Much of the above PSA conversation is also connected or overflows into debt or ransom language, here are some further bullet points of consideration:

-God doesn’t need to appease his wrath with a blood sacrifice. God regularly forgives people without demanding a sacrifice. In the Old Testament he did ask for “atonement” as a stop gap to until the Messiah came to keep Israel on a holy trajectory relationally with God. It is what was asked but not what was/is necessarily needed. What was/is needed is Jesus and nothing else could actually suffice.

-“If God the father needs someone to “pay the price” for sin, does the Father ever really forgive anyone? Think about it. If you owe me a hundred dollars and I hold you to it unless someone pays me the owed sum, did I really forgive your debt? It seems not, especially since the very concept of forgiveness is about releasing a debt — not collecting it from someone else.” (Greg Boyd)

-There is no Biblical framework theologically to say that sin and guilt can be literally transferred from one party to another. Which is a problem with “Adam” in regard to the way Calvinism handles its pillars of beliefs (TULIP) – Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Someone being punished in the place of another is against the Torah (Deut. 24:16; Ex. 32:30-34; Ezek. 18:18-22).

-If the just punishment for sin is eternal conscious torment hell (as most Christians have traditionally and tragically believed), how does Jesus’ several hours of suffering and his short time in the grave pay for it? Instead of a Great sacrifice, wouldn’t the idea of one person dying and being enough for every person throughout all of time actually be a really “weak” or cheap sacrifice? If Satan and God are making a deal, then God really got a great deal there. I mean if you asked me to go through what Jesus did so three or 4 people (especially my own family) wouldn’t have to -I would, OFF COURSE, anyone would – not just Jesus. But saying that Christ’s life can be traded for everyone’s lives actually doesn’t really make sense in framing it as an adequate payment or debt (if that is what you’re trying to prove). In fact, that way of thinking makes zero sense. It makes what Christ did actually really undervalued or cheap. (“Have I got a deal for you!” kind of stuff.) If one human person (completely underserving) suffers immensely for a day and dies in severe punishment is that enough to “BUY” eternal life for everyone? If you think that way you have missed the major message of the cross.

Furthermore, if Christ is actually taking what should be coming to us according to PSA (being tormented in unending hell) wouldn’t that mean He would or should be damned to eternity in hell according in the trade? Yet He isn’t, He rises in 3 days. He didn’t get what we were to have said to deserve -so the trade didn’t really work. Again, this kind of thinking doesn’t logically hold up.

– If it’s true that God’s wrath must be appeased by sacrificing his own Son to settle a debt of some sort, then don’t we have to conclude that pagans who have throughout history sacrificed their children to appease the gods’ wrath had the right intuition. I don’t think God sold His son to pay a debt. God didn’t crucify Jesus in some bad deal, humanity and the systems and powers of a fallen earth put Jesus on the cross. Some would call that way of thinking cosmic child abuse.

Isaiah 53 references & language

We often read that Jesus died as our substitute or even that it was God’s will to “crush and bruise” him (Isa 53:10), I actually don’t disagree with this, but again, I think there are better words to describe what is taking place Biblically. (For instance, I have no problem saying by his stripes we are healed.) Isaiah 53 has sparked debate amongst Jewish and evangelical Christians for many years. Most scholars would admit that they don’t know exactly who the passage refers to in its original context. There are too many references that DO NOT equate to Jesus in Isa 53 making it problematic, yet some of it seems to point to the Messiah. According to basic rules of hermeneutical textures of interpretation the primary context of the passage would not have been Jesus. Can we theologically in hindsight make these prophetic connections to Jesus? I think the answer is yes, but I think we need to be more careful with how we use them. Modern Rabbis of Judaism and evangelical theologians alike, believe that the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53 refers perhaps to Israel, or to Isaiah himself, or even Moses or another of the Jewish prophets. (Jesus does embody the story of Israel, so there is a bit of a connection worth mentioning here.) In theology we say there is someone that the text speaks of primarily, but that person also serves as a foreshadow of what is to come. In backwards view the passage is nearly undeniably Messianic, but at the time of its writing I doubt anyone would have been reading that into it though. With New Testament eyes we may be afforded to read that back into the texts prophetically, but again I caution about getting too comfortable with that sort of exegesis. It is better to dwell on the primary interpretive message in most cases of theology.

Most scholars also recognize the identification of two voices in Isa 53. The crowd is viewing the scene as if God is punishing the servant as if God was pleased to crush him (“We considered Him”); but the voice of reality shows them that their own actions (transgressions actually) are against the servant (not God.) God heals the servant (LXX) and brings healing to others through Him. This is the same message that we hear over and over in the gospel presentations in Acts, “you killed the Messiah, but God raised Him up.”

Dwell on the Victory – for a better Theology

So what is a better view of the atonement and resurrection? It is actually pretty simple. (I usually find simple truth is freeing) -The victory of the cross is framed by primarily 3 things:

Sin- not as a legal status but as a disease that has infected humanity. It is OT kippur or purity sacred language- Atonement purged sacred space of the forces and stain of death (Blood [force of life] covered over death). At its root sin is idolatry, and our immortal acts are the symptoms of the disease. You can’t punish a disease out of someone, the need to be completely healed. That is what Jesus offers and makes available through the cross and resurrection for us.

Death- death is the consequence of living by our own wisdom (trying to be like God without God). It is the results of being separated from the tree of Life- God’s own life. This was a consequence of a loving father that should be framed by not wanting his children to live forever in a state of sin rather than a legal consequence. We are being reclaimed and made new so that we may reenter into the deep relational communion that was lost and the entire Bible is the story of how it is being pursued and reclaimed.

The Principalities and Powers– these are the systems and rulers (spiritual) of the fallen world that held humanity captive. The cross is framed by the exodus and is a rescue and victory from slavery. We are delivered and now can live free here and now for Jesus to build a culture of “all in” intimacy through discipleship with our father to covenant with those that follow the way of the cross, resurrection, and ascension into new life, community, and Kingdom.

The Cross is not a transaction but a transformation!

The cross and resurrection of Jesus was a victory over the world that we might be empowered by Him to become the recreated spiritual beings returning to the Edenic plan of walking with the Father bringing order from chaos and being His representatives or ambassadors of light to a dark world as we seek to reclaim the lost into light introducing God to the people and the people to God. Eventually as a royal priesthood of believers we will reinhabit a new heaven and earth in the unending presence of God’s holiness. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross gives life to us here and now and throughout the ages, reaching both forward and backwards in His kingdom.

  • written by Dr. Ryan and Matt
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Which Messiah Will You Choose?

This week we’ve been thinking about a story of Jesus’ trial that is in all 4 gospels. All the gospels include the story of a choice being given between Jesus and a man named Barabbas. Likewise, this week we’ve seen comments from Marjorie Taylor Green and a person on Trump’s legal team comparing the arraignment of President Donald Trump to the arrest of Jesus in the gospels. There have even been Christians in our circles that have shared these and this connection on social media- some positively and some negatively. In some cases, the term “evangelical” has become better known by its connection with a certain political party and Christian Nationalism instead of or better than being recognized as the ones who are about sharing the Good News of Jesus. Because of this many Christians shy away from the term evangelical. This “nationalistic” version of evangelical Christianity has been coopted with the enticement of political power and what it can give them (and force on others).

This brings into question many things X44 has written about in the past. Who is your king? Can you serve two masters? Are you more loyal to the kingdom of Jesus or the nation of America? Has American nationalism become a religion? Should Christians vote? Should you vote for a party because they represent more Christian values than the other party even if the people representing the party are far from Christian or even represent good morals? Should you only be aligned with people in the same covenant relationship in the Lord (are you unequally yoked?) These are all great questions and as X44 typically doesn’t get overly political, (we try to focus on Jesus’ kingdom only), but occasionally these more political questions arise. Today we are writing to question our/your political consideration based on a better theology or cultural understanding of the Bible.

So as usual, we are going to be far more theological than political in this article. The point of this is not to bash Trump or smear him, it’s actually not really about Him personally at all, it’s about an ideology that is behind Him and within many in the evangelical church.

Let’s better examine the story of Jesus and Barabbas.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted. At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you? Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, “Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. But the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!” And he said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they kept shouting all the more, saying, “Crucify Him!”

When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Matthew 27:15-26- see also Mark 15:6–15; Luke 23:18–25; John 18:39–19:16)

All 4 gospels tell us that was Pilate’s custom to release a prisoner during Passover. What was this? It was to pacify the people because there had been many riots and revolutions that had started during the time of Passover in previous years. The Passover was the remembrance of the Hebrew’s liberation from slavery and from the evil empire of Egypt.

On this Passover preparation day there is a choice between two prisoners, you might even say it was a choice between two Jesus’.

Who was Barabbas?

 Some of our manuscript traditions have “Jesus Barabbas” and not just Barabbas. The gospel writers are trying to make a distinction between two types of messiah the crowd gets to choose between. Now, who was Barabbas? Movies like Passion of the Christ have done us a disservice here depicting Jesus Barabbas as a deranged serial killer but let’s look at what the gospel writers actually say about him: Matthew says he was a “notorious prisoner”, Mark and Luke speak about Barabbas being involved in a “riot” (stasis- the word for “stand”) in which he committed murder. John 18:40 points out that Barabbas was a bandit (lestes), which is the word Josephus, an ancient historian, always used when talking about revolutionaries and the zealots. The zealots were a group that wanted to presumably “take back Israel for God,” or just cited this as an excuse for insurrection. Barabbas was not some Jeffery Dahmer, he was more like their George Washington, William Wallace, or Che Guevara. 

Why Barabbas instead of Jesus?

Since the Maccabean revolt (167-160 BC) there had been many revolts and stands against Rome and none were successful. The Jews were looking for another Judah Maccabees (means Judah the Hammer), who overthrew the Seleucid Greeks. This is why days before the crowds were shouting “hosanna”. This phrase has come to simply mean something like “hallelujah” today but in reality, it meant “Lord save us NOW”. It wasn’t a necessarily religious rendering of the term, as it was often adapted by insurrectionist, in fact it was likely more closely rendered to taking the Lord’s name in vain. The palm branches were a politically loaded symbol. It was the flag per se of the revolutionaries in the days of the Maccabees. They were asking Jesus to be their new Judah Maccabee and “stand” against the Romans like Barabbas. This is why you may read (or better, should read) a subtle adversity in the Biblical texts of the triumphal entry. Jesus didn’t come into Jerusalem riding on a war horse with pride but on the colt of a donkey with humility. Even as Jesus was entering the city, he was crying over the scene saying, “you don’t know the things that make for peace” (Luke 19:42). I can only imagine the crowd, probably saying something like, “What the Hell is this?” As I even feel uncomfortable writing the phrase, it would have fit their mantra well. But they didn’t care, if there was any chance of this person starting a revolt, they were going to cheer it on. I am sure some of them even wondered if he had the power to summon the angels to war, which I am sure they would have loved to join in battle with. That is what the world was looking for in a Mesiah, but that wasn’t the plan of Jesus. His plan actually looked opposite of that plan, backwards, or upside down to what the revolutionaries wanted.

When it came to the prisoner exchange, the choice was obvious for the crowd. They wanted Barabbas. He was a “real” mercenary with a proven track record, not this “peace loving preacher riding a donkey.” But there is more to this story and it is found in the names. Jesus means “salvation” and Barabbas means “son of abba” or “son of the Father”. The crowd has the choice between Jesus “the son of the father” or Jesus “the son of God” (the Messiah/King). Would “salvation” come through their definition of political and national victory (taking back Israel for God) or through the way of Jesus the Christ, who laid down his life, with radical self-giving and co-suffering love? Christlike peacemaking does not come by the way of Rome, the way of the Maccabee, or the way of the Zealot revolutionary, this is what it meant to be the son of their fathers. But Jesus’ was showing them a new way- the upside down kingdom way.  

It has been assumed that Barabbas was a prominent figure in a movement resisting the Roman empire. It has even been posited that he belonged to the Sicarii (literally “dagger men”), a group of radical Jewish patriots who pledged to murder Roman rulers and their collaborators whenever possible. Barabbas’ supporters would have perceived him to be a freedom fighter.

Robert H. Gundy (1.) (b. 1932) suspects that knowing the specifics of Barabbas’ crimes would only distract from the narrative. This is the more traditional way that we think of Jesus. He was Innocent and Barrabas wasn’t. Gundy frames that way of thinking:

The placement of ἐν τη στάσει, “in the insurrection,” and φόνον, “murder,” before the verb calls attention to the criminality of Barabbas and his fellow prisoners. Against this foil Jesus’ innocence stands out in bold relief: Barabbas deserves to be bound and crucified; Jesus does not. Mark avoids obscuring this apologetic contrast with details concerning the insurrection. (Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross, 926)

As the text leaves his sins to the imagination, Barabbas becomes an abstract but more relatable figure – At first, it seems that he is the one who deserves the punishment that Jesus receives (Almost as if Jesus takes his place), but as we dive more into the descriptions of both Jesus figures, we are actually going to find that they are equally “guilty” of insurrection in the eyes of Rome. In one sense Jesus was morally “innocent” but in another (nationalistic) sense, he will be deemed equally guilty. You will notice Gundy points out that the Greek may point to the criminality of Barrabas; but to be clear the Greek does not point to innocence or guilt in the description of Jesus. (I would theologically assert that you would have to read Jesus’ innocence into this text as Gundy seems to do, despite making a statement that Marks apologetics don’t allow that way of thinking.) I usually like Gundy, but this one leaves me scratching my head. (He allows the hermeneutic “law” for Barabbas but doesn’t interpret the Greek in the same hermeneutic when approaching the text with Jesus.)

In Hebrew names often tell who some is historically. The name Barabbas means “son of a father.” John R. Donahue (2.) (b. 1933) dissects:

The proper name here consists of two Aramaic elements: bar meaning “son” and ’abba’ meaning “father.” The derivation from Bar-Rabban (“son of the master”) is less likely. There were rabbis known as “Bar-Abba,” and the practice of using bar plus the father’s name is witnessed in the cases of Simon bar Jona (for Peter; see Matthew 16:17) and Simeon Bar Kokhba (or Kosiba) around 132-135 C.E. Some manuscripts supply Barabbas with the first name “Jesus” in Matthew 27:16. Since one would expect him to have a first name and since it is unlikely that early Christians would have created the name “Jesus” for him there may well be a historical basis for this tradition. In either case the choice presented to the crowd—between Jesus of Nazareth (the real “Son of the Father”) and (Jesus) Barabbas—is rich in irony and in theological significance. (Donahue, The Gospel of Mark (Sacra Pagina), 432)

Joel Marcus (3.) (b. 1951) analyzes:

Some texts of Matthew 27:16-17, mostly of a Caesarean type… read “Jesus Barabbas” rather than “Barabbas,” and Origen [184-253] acknowledges that some of the manuscripts known to him attest this reading (Commentary on Matthew 121 [on Matthew 27:16-18]). Many scholars think that “Jesus Barabbas” was the original reading in Matthew and that the forename was later suppressed by reverential scribes who felt, as Origen did, that no sinner should bear the name of Jesus…This theory is made more plausible by the observation that the forename has been erased from several manuscripts (see F. Crawford Burkitt [1864-1935], Evangelion da-Mepharreshe 2.277) …Some exegetes…even suggest that “Jesus Barabbas” may have been the original reading in Mark, since “the one called Barabbas” is awkward, and elsewhere ho legomenos is usually preceded by a personal name and followed by a descriptive title or nickname (Matthew 1:16, 4:18, 10:2, 27:17, 22; John 11:16, 20:24, 21:2; Colossians 4:11). There are instances, however, in which ho legomenos is not preceded by the personal name (Matthew 26:3, 14; Luke 22:47; John 4:25, 9:11, 19:17), and awkward expressions are common in Mark. (Marcus, Mark 8-16 (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), 1028)

Ben Witherington III  (4.) (b. 1951) adds:

At Mark 15:7 we are introduced to Barabbas, whose name according to a textual variant at Matthew 27:16 was Jesus Barabbas. This, in turn, has led to the suggestion that Pilate misheard the crowd when they were shouting for the release of Jesus Barabbas, thinking they were asking for Jesus of Nazareth. But there is no clear evidence for such a conclusion here, and most of the earliest and best manuscripts do not have the name Jesus appended to Barabbas. (Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 391)

What we have is two radical (Jesus) figures that stand in opposition to the national government and power of the systems and rulers of Rome. In one sense, one is innocent morally and one likely isn’t but, in another sense, they are both guilty of not being allegiant to Rome and make no mistake, both stood in complete opposition to “worshiping” the Roman authority, one by peaceful means and the other by physical harm and insurrection.

N.T. Wright (5.) (b. 1948) resolves:

The story of Barabbas invites us to see Jesus’ crucifixion in terms of a stark personal exchange. Barabbas deserves to die; Jesus dies instead, and he goes free. Barabbas was the archetypical Jewish rebel: quite probably what we today would call a fanatical right-wing zealot, determined to stop at nothing to bring in a version of God’s kingdom which consisted of defeating Roman power by Roman means – in other words, repaying pagan violence with holy violence. No doubt many Christians in Mark’s community, and others who would read his book, had at one stage at least flirted with such revolutionary movements. Reading the story of the guilty man freed and the innocent man crucified, it would not be hard for them to identify with Barabbas, and to view the rest of the story with the awestruck gaze of people who think, ‘There but for God’s grace go I.’ (Wright, Mark for Everyone, 209)

Brian Zahnd (6.) sums up this thinking saying:

“Recently a well-known megachurch pastor said, ‘When I’m looking for a leader I want the meanest, toughest son of a gun I can find.’ Whether he understands it or not, this evangelical pastor is saying, “Give us Barabbas!” For many American Christians the politics of Jesus are dismissed as impractical and so they kick the can down the road saying, ‘maybe someday we can turn our swords into plowshares, but now is the time for us to build more B-2 bombers and stockpile nukes so we can kill all our enemies.’ The crowd that gathers on Good Friday shouting, ‘Give us Barabbas!,’ is far more plausible and numerous than most of us imagine. If we think that killing our enemies is compatible with Christian ethics, we are in effect saying, ‘Give us Barabbas!’ But Lent is the time to rethink everything in the light of Christ. We are not called to scrutinize the Sermon on the Mount through the lens of the Pentagon; we are called to follow Jesus by embodying the kingdom of God here and now, no matter what the rest of the world does.” (Zahnd, The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey, 123)

Likewise, today some evangelical Christians want to trade Jesus for “strong man” politicians who will do what it takes to “make America great again” and enforce “Christian values” on the people. Thus, in doing so we’ve created Christ in our own image. This is political idolatry and what Christian nationalistic idolatry looks like.

We’d rather have a “strong man” leader like Barabbas than the turn the other cheek, riding on a donkey, “go to the cross as the battle” savior Jesus.

Benjamin Cremer notes in his article “Trading Jesus for Barabbas” that “history shows us how devastating the consequences can be when we Christians choose ‘strong man’ leaders like Barabbas to lead us instead of Jesus in order to “take our country back for God.” Leaders who promised to do whatever it takes to conquer imagined enemies for the sake of Christianity. Enemies who Christians were convinced by such leaders to often fear and hate rather than to love. It should break our hearts to see this same trend in our world today.” He goes on to quote a democratically elected leader who in the recent past gained the support of the Christians in his nation promising to do these exact things.

This frightening quote on the same topic could sound like something coming out the mouths of many politicians and some in pulpits today:

(7.) “The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests. It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality. Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit. We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in entertainment, and in the press – in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during recent years.”

-This is a quote from a radio address that Adolf Hitler gave to Germany on July 22, 1933. (From “My New Order, The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-1939”, Vol. 1, pp. 871-872, Oxford University Press, London, 1942)

Some Theology of the Cross

As we turn our hearts and minds to Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection this Holy Week, let us be aware of what was going on leading to the cross. Many in the Evangelical tradition like to frame the work of the cross in a court room setting where we are pardoned of sin and our debt “payed off”.  I’m not going to get into the deep theology of the cross in this short blog, but we do have a whole series on it on YouTube and our Podcast. These ways of viewing Christ’s work on the Cross, specifically the Penal Substitutionary (Governmental) and Ransom theories of atonement are largely reformed and Calvinistic views; but unfortunately, most Christians have “grown up” thinking this is “just theology” and thinking that there aren’t other Biblical options. There are at least 5 other Biblical views of atonement to consider. X44 takes a Scot McKnight “Golfclub” approach to them, but we lean more on a Christus Victor way of thinking than any of the other views and in this article, you will see some aspects of substitutionary atonement theory, although in a traditional sense we don’t often agree with much of the theology that is tied to substitutionary atonement theories.

I think we can all agree that in some way Jesus was a substitute for us. What we need to realize is that it was the crowd (empowered by the government) that killed Jesus, not God (see Acts 2:23-36; Acts 3:13-18; Acts 4:10-11; Acts 5:27-28; Acts 7:51-52; Acts 10:39-41; Acts 13:26-41, as well as Isaiah 53- we see 2 perspectives [the crowd’s and reality] and it was at the hands of the crowd the servant would suffer, not God’s hands). In the gospel of Mark and John Jesus is said to be a “king” or “King of the Jews” by Pilate. The Crowd responds with “We have no King but Caesar” (John 19:15). The way of the Kingdom is backwards and will look like treason to the kingdoms of this world (Acts 17:6-7). In this way Jesus was definitely guilty of Treason before Caesar.

Leading up to the cross and on the cross Jesus presents a new way and a new kingdom: a substitute for the ones of the World that exist in a framework of power-over rather than power-under. Jesus on the cross shows us the true revelation of God and the way of the Kingdom- rather than hate, fear, violence, and grasping for power we see love, forgiveness, hope, redemption by redefining of what conquering and victory looks like. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus explained to his disciples: the way of empire is to seek domination and “It shall not be so among you” (Matt 20:26). “The kingdom of God is a kingdom of love, not domination. As followers of Jesus, we are called to the practice of radical patience, because the kingdom of God is without coercion. We persuade by love, witness, Spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, by martyrdom, but never by force.” As Alan Kreider says, this is “the patient ferment of the early church.”

Some struggle with this notion. In the Old Testament there were times where God Himself fought the battles. But at other times He asked the Israelites to act as His physical manifestation to “fight” the battles. Jesus reconciles a lot of things at the cross. That is part of His atonement. Something happens at the cross that “changes” the course of Christianity. The power of life is regained at the cross, and the victory is won. We don’t understand everything that takes place spiritually in the cross, resurrection, and ascension, that is why theologically we call them “atonement theories.” We do know Jesus sets the record straight in many ways.

Theologically we have to ask, “what changes?” It is interesting that in the New Testament (including the book of Revelation) that there isn’t one place that asks us to physically fight as Christians, but we do get some battle language describing spiritual warfare. It seems that physical fighting of Christians was reconciled at the cross, and perhaps that was never the way it was supposed to be. Does Jesus need you to physically fight for Him or His kingdom? Does he need you to fight politically? What about abortion? Should we exercise our dual citizenship to fight abortion politically? What about when government schools say God isn’t welcome there? Should we fight? What if America says you can no longer open the doors of your church to worship. Do you fight? What about when you are being persecuted for your moral convictions. Will Jesus ask you to fight physically, politically, or metaphorically? Does the Bible teach perhaps simply defensively or give permission in the name of God to “fight” offensively?

When we look at the cross this weekend do we just see a savior forgiving a sin debt or do we also see the enthronement of a King and the entrance into a new kingdom and new way of life? Dallas Willard states that we need to rethink our gospel from one of simply sin management to a gospel of a kingdom and a king that results in discipleship and transformation. We are happy about Jesus forgiving us but often reject the upside-down kingdom way of life he calls us to. Do you believe Jesus brought life here and now?

Now, coming full circle, do you see the irony (idolatry and blasphemy?) in the comparisons of Trump paralleled with Jesus during Holy Week? If anything, maybe we should compare this ideology in the church with Barabbas. Benjamin Cremer sums this though pattern up:

We want the war horse.

Jesus rides a donkey.

We want the bird of prey.

The Holy Spirit descends as a dove.

We want the militia.

Jesus calls fishermen, tax collectors, women, and children.

We want the courtroom.

Jesus sets a table.

We want the gavel.

Jesus washes feet.

We want to take up swords.

Jesus takes up a cross.

We want the empire.

Jesus brings the Kingdom of God.

We want the nation.

Jesus calls the church.

We want the roaring lion.

God comes as a slaughtered lamb.

Is there a place in Christianity for a fight? That sounds more like Jesus Barrabas than King Jesus. Some preachers and teachers believe this comes down to calling and gifting. Are some called to fight and some called to be disarmed? What does Jesus say and do? Is there (still) a place still for a disciple to carry a sword?

I pray that the church can choose the way of Jesus versus the way of Barabbas this Holy week. I pray that we can know the things that make for peace and repent of our idolatry. Lord have mercy on us!

Which Messiah will you choose?

Written by Matt Mouzakis and Dr. Will Ryan @X44

  1. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross, 926
  2. Donahue, The Gospel of Mark (Sacra Pagina), 432
  3. Marcus, Mark 8-16 (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), 1028
  4. Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 391
  5. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 209
  6. Zahnd, Unvarnished Jesus, 18-19
  7. “My New Order, The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1922-1939”, Vol. 1, pp. 871-872, Oxford University Press, London, 1942
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edification = appreciation

The gifts of the Spirit were given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ Eph 4:12

When I was a kid in my undergraduate studies at Moody Bible Institute I “worked” as a youth director and later pastor at a Reformed Baptist church where I was first ordained. This may strike you as “odd” if you know anything about me. I am far from reformed and never have been. So, then what might even strike you as odder is that my experience at that church will forever go down as the best churching experience of my life. It was a small church, just the main pastor and me, (the youth director kid, I was 18 when I started there and 23 when I left.) The pastor, John Elifson, was one of the most edifying encouragers I have ever known. He never let our differences in theology or anything else keep Him from discipling me and building me up in Christ. I tell amazing stories of my time with him often and still count him as one of the greatest mentors of my life.

As humans I think appreciation is what spurs us on to continue to do better for each other and for God. A good pastor is a good shepherd, and a good shepherd brings maturity and transforms people through edification. Unfortunately, in the years that were to come I would also experience the other side of the shepherd pendulum – leaders that don’t appreciate and therefore essentially are agents of ungratefulness which turns into people being hurt and bitter rather than being joyful and productive in the kingdom. Some leaders think that partitioners should do everything unto the Lord and therefore no appreciation is needed from them. In my nearly 30 years in church leadership, I have found this to be the trademark of poor shepherding and in some cases, the singular agent that halts fruitful discipleship.

-the three graces

Each person is designed with a primary function to represent the image of God on earth. Our purpose is to be the physical manifestation of God (Jesus) to others. I pray that I might be “Jesus” to you “bringing” heaven to earth. Have you ever been asked to do something for the church and weren’t appreciated for you gift? How did that make you feel? Perhaps your gifts were almost treated as if they were debts that were owed and were waiting to be repaid. (Ok that was admittingly a loaded -anti ransom theory- statement! Which is why theology matters.)

If you have ever been the unfortunate reciprocate of this, I am sorry and ask that you might receive my apology on behalf of the body of Christ and church leadership; receive the apology and be healed and free of the bitterness and hurt that came as a result so that you may be restored to give of your gifts and have them joyfully received.

As rampant as this kind of poor thinking is within the leadership of churches, it isn’t right, it isn’t scriptural, and it certainly isn’t how Jesus would wish his physical manifestation of thanks to have been passed over you. I am the father of 4 boys, can you imagine if they never received encouragement when they offered their gifts to me or others? That isn’t a healthy image of the Father. The father accepts gifts to Himself and others and then “builds” on them encouraging the continued development of the gifts that they might come to maturity within the body of Christ.

Jesus desires to edify, encourage, and admonish His people as they are shepherded to better service and maturity in their gifting. Shepherding is edification.

When we as leaders think that people should give their gifts with no “need” of appreciation it shows that we don’t understand the heart or kingdom plan of the Great Shepherd. It shows that we don’t biblically understand the purpose of the gifts within the body of Christ.

Each gift is equal within the body of Christ. Equality in the Bible is the belief (doctrine) that all people are equal before God and in Christ, and that all humans deserve equal dignity and respect as God’s image-bearers. God loves justice and equity, inequality is the product of a fallen world and sin. The Bible instructs us to honor all people and to use our gifts and obey our calling to the glory of God for the edification of believers.

So why is it that leadership of churches often don’t feel the need to be agents of edification and say thank you or be appreciative? I honestly don’t know, but it seems prevalent within church leadership today. It is likely due to a misrepresentation of Col. 3:23 which says that we should do everything as unto the Lord. Of course, that is true, what I do for my brother or sister I do as if it where Jesus in front of me. But Jesus also was amazing at edification and encouragement. If you want to have influence to shepherd people better, you have to take it on yourself to be the agent of gratitude in accepting their gifts.

The gifts are given to you FOR THE BODY of Christ. God Himself doesn’t actually need our gifts, but the body of Christ does.

When you ask someone to give of their gifts, you expect them to give well, give fully, even eventually in maturity they give completely as a picture of what Christ gave to us. As you accept these gifts from them, you should therefore reciprocate the gratefulness that we are asked for when God presented such a great gift to us. The proper response to a gift received should be extreme gratefulness or thanks. In fact, it should look like a life that is continually lived in gratitude. It is unfortunate that church leaders today miss this; church leadership should be the mosaic image of GRATITUDE. (And some of them are!)

Remember the Ananias and Saphira story? Ananias brought the sale of his property to Peter and “laid it at his feet.”  This is Levitical sacrificial language. The offering was supposed to be an act of worship, a sacrifice to God from a broken and repentant heart. It was the picture of presenting all of yourself at the altar in the way that Christ gave Himself to the church.  But Peter saw something else.  He saw that this act was a sacrilege. I bet you haven’t considered this and why death was the result. It mocked God’s total sacrifice manifest in the life of the Messiah.  Ananias pretended to give everything.  He wanted it to look like he was giving everything. It was as if he said, “There God, I’ll give you this so that I will look righteous, but Your gift of the Savior was not enough for me to give all that I have in return.  I’ll just keep a little in case things don’t work out for me.”

The death of the Christ was the total commitment of Jesus in God’s plan of devotion and the total offering of God for the redemption of every one of us.  Offering a sacrifice that deliberately insults God’s sovereignty and sacrifice is a very serious offense. When our leaders of the church fail to honor and edify gifts humbly and sacrificially they are essentially doing the same act as Ananias and Saphira. They aren’t exhibiting the gratitude that the Lord asks of us as a response to His gift and to be continued in the body in the same way reciprocally.

At the time of the writing of the gifts in the New Testament Paul describes what was known as the three graces or the reciprocal dance of grace. I have used this expression several times in my writings (and in my second book of the This is the Way trology series. [The Roman writer] Seneca explains the image of three dancing connected by grace: a benefit ‘passing from hand to hand nevertheless returns to the giver; the beauty of the whole is destroyed if the course is anywhere broken’ (Seneca, [De Beneficiis, meaning “On Favors”] 1.3.3-4). The “three graces” picture visually represented how grace was understood to function in the first century Greco-Roman world in which Paul wrote. Grace (charis) originated with a generous giver usually thought of as the Benefactor. Often the Benefector was introduced to one in need by a mediator. The gift was then accepted by the recipient (client) who in his or her thankfulness and gratitude in turn extended the gift (grace) to others, and this in turn benefited the original giver. The recipient in many ways became a representative of the Benefactor to those in the Benefactors society. Coaching or mentoring towards what the Benefactor desired was often nurtured through the mediator to the recipient. It became a continual relationship between the three entities. In this unbroken circle, everyone was understood to benefit. The appreciation was a circle of incredible equality. Essentially it removed hierarchical barriers. Each part was met with equal gratitude. In this sense, God works through Christ in us as we freely receive the gift and continue to give all of it to others as they are then introduced in the same way through the mediator to the father. Jesus (who was and is God) emptied himself completely. Everything is freely given and should be gratefully accepted and received. At the time of Paul’s writing this was the extreme picture of thanks and gratitude. When church leaders fail to express this kind of thankfulness and gratitude, they are diminishing the gift of Christ at the cross similar to the way that Ananias and Saphira insulted the Lord. The hands of feet of Jesus are the archetype image for the response that should exert extreme gratitude.

When we don’t shepherd in edification, gratitude, and thankfulness in reception of someone’s gifts we are quelching the spirit, and defiling the sacrifice that was given.

My wife and I coach my younger boys soccer team at a Christian school. Our goal is always to build into these players spiritually through a discipleship process, soccer is just the vehicle for the work of the kingdom. Soccer skills developed are a bonus of the program. The first day I shared that each person throughout the game or practice needs to speak 44 words of encouragement around them. This is hard! Try it sometime! The first day we presented the idea it was an absolute train wreck… the students had no idea how to do this because it isn’t done well in our culture. They had a hard time coming up with 4 words of encouragement let alone 44 different moments of encouragement. At first they weren’t sincere and very shallow, but by the end of the season it was amazing. Other schools, parents, opposing coaches and everyone noticed it. The kids began to influence their culture. Their homes were transformed, they made new friends, and they actually learned to shepherd each other. There was no more fighting with other teams, and the kids looked forward to soccer more than anything else in their life. We built a culture of discipleship out of encouragement. Did I mention we also happened to win every game?! Amazing how that works.

Much of the Hebrew Bible speaks to living in balance (shalom). If we want a deeper spiritual encounter with God, we have to make appointments with Him.  If we want a healthier body, we have to schedule exercise.  If we want better relationships with the ones we love, we have to plan time with them.  The pressures of this world, the pace of this life and the constant confusing bombardment of unimportant but necessary demands will drain away all of your time unless you have unbreakable commitments to Biblical purpose. They are sacred times, set aside for special purposes fully given unto the Lord.

Living a life in balance for the Lord means to live in the circle of giving the gifts He has given us and being thankful when you are blessed as the body by the gifts of others receiving them in complete thankfulness matching the spirit of fulness they were given in. Good shepherds not only give well but accept well.

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