See To It Yourself

Today, my pastor preached on Deuteronomy 18:9-22, where we find instructions to Israel regarding how they are to know God’s will for them as a people. They are not do what the Canaanites do.  When the Canaanites wanted to know the will of the gods or attempt to manipulate the gods to get the outcome they desired, they engaged in all sorts of abominable practices. Israel was not to listen to these people and follow their ways. Rather, God would provide something simple. Instead of sorcery and incantations or brutal sacrifices, God would tell His people what they needed to know. He would raise up a prophet like Moses and this prophet would speak the Words of God to the people. He would tell them God’s will for their lives. In verse 19, God gives a warning of judgment for any those who would not listen to God’s prophet. They would be held accountable for not listening and obeying the prophet. What was laid before the people is God’s way, or their own. One way led to life, the other led to judgment. 

In my Bible reading this past week, something jumped out to me that I had never noticed before. In Matthew 27, when Judas realizes his guilt, he goes to the temple to return the blood money he received for betraying Jesus to the religious leaders. The response of the religious leaders leapt off the page. “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” See to it yourself. What a cruel and indifferent response to a confession of sin? And what does Judas do? Wracked with despair, he hangs himself. A few verses later, Pilate is failing miserably at satisfying the mob’s bloodlust. And when it becomes clear that he cannot sway them, he declares that he is innocent of Jesus’ blood and if they wish to see him crucified, “see to it yourselves.” There it is again. See to it yourself. The cruelty ratchets up. Jesus is flogged and then crucified. 

The end of “seeing to it ourselves” is always death—whether our own or another’s. Judas changes his mind and goes to the religious leaders and confesses his sin. Will there be forgiveness for him? Will there be an atonement? No. He is guilty before the Law and deserves death. And so, Judas dies. Pilate, raging in frustration at the mob in front of him, knows that killing an innocent man won’t change a thing for these people. But desire fully grown cannot be contained. So he relents, and Jesus dies. Likewise, we who seek to “see to it ourselves” will be tainted by death—either our own and of those around us. But there is another way.

The miracle of the gospel is that death does not have the final say. Jesus does not stay dead. He is the Prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18. He has the Words of God. But not only does He have the Words of God, He came to fulfill the Word of God. He came to redeem those who could not redeem themselves. He came to pay the debt of death we all owe and since he had no debt himself, death could not hold him. He rose from the grave in power to save to the uttermost those who could not save themselves. He did not coldly leave us “to see it to ourselves.” No, he stooped down into the muck of the world we broke to make all things new.

We have a choice. We can “see to it ourselves” and give up in despair or hopelessly grasp at power—seeking to manipulate the gods of our day (and maybe even get what we want for a while). But that way leads to death. Or we can seek out God’s Prophet and listen to him. For only in his words—the Words of God, will we find life.

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:66-69, ESV

Rehearsing the Promises

I am only rehearsing and I know it. I am sitting on my back deck. The sun is shining. A gentle breeze is blowing. The temperatures are warm and pleasant. It’s a perfect day for a ball game. On the radio, Jim Powell reads the Louisiana Hot Sauce ad during a pause in the action (“the hottest prospect of ’em all”). Today is Opening Day—at least it was supposed to be. I am dressed in my Braves’ best. I’m grilling brats and dogs for dinner tonight. And I’m listening to the Atlanta Braves play the Cincinnati Reds. The game was actually played on April 24, 2019. Why am I listening to a game from last year? Because there is no live baseball on today. And until the virus ravaging our country is contained baseball will remain dormant. So I’m rehearsing. I’m practicing. I’m reveling in the sacraments of the game as I wait for the real thing to begin. I want to make it to a ballpark—that “enclosed green field in the sun”. One day I’ll get there.

“Baseball is game about going home,” writes Bart Giamatti, “and how hard it is to get there and how driven our need. It tells us how good home is.” The batter begins his journey at home plate. He leaves in a fury with the sole intent of returning. You win by getting home. You win by helping others get home. Baseball is game about going home. This is why this extraordinary pause in the beginning of the season hurts. It is the indefinite delay of the long anticipated journey home. I’ve felt this before. I feel it every Sunday now.

“Remembering is a spiritual discipline.” I’ll never forgot those words from my pastor. Remember. If we would live a life that honors God and his gospel, then we must be a people who remember. Remember what? Remember the promises and remember our future. It’s too easy to forget. The Kingdom we have been promised isn’t here yet. There are outposts for sure, but the daily grind in a fallen world makes those promises seem elusive and we forget that this world is not our home. We have received a promise of a far greater one. And if we want to make it home, we must remember and we must rehearse.

Repetition is the key. First you learn the drill at a slow speed. Practice is done slowly as you learn the form and the process. Then the drills speed up. But the repetition never goes away. Ground ball after ground ball. Swing after swing. Repeat. Do it again. One more time. End on a good one. Why? Because baseball is a game you cannot think and play. It’s pure reaction. It’s muscle memory and instinct. The same is true of life.

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

Jesus of Nazareth, Luke 6:45 (ESV)

There is something wrong with us. We have known it all along and usually we are pretty good at hiding it. But in the heat of the moment, our true nature spills out for all to see. Our hearts are out of sync with the rhythms of the Kingdom. Our instincts are broken and twisted. How did we get here? Why were we exposed and embarrassed? We haven’t been remembering or rehearsing. We have forgotten. We’ve grown accustomed to living here.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

I am only rehearsing and I know it. I am sitting with family in the church pew. The warmth of family and friends surrounds us. It’s the perfect morning to gather for worship of our savior. The waters of baptism are stirred and the proclamation that Jesus is Lord is made to the principalities of the power of the air. The Word is preached—the suffering servant has come to redeem his people. Songs and prayers are offered. We are remembering. We are rehearsing. We are reveling in the sacraments of the coming Kingdom.

Do not neglect to meet together. Why? So that we make it home. The Day is drawing near. And what Day is that? The coming of the Kingdom. The realization of the promises. We gather so that we can remember who we are and where we belong. We gather so that we can rehearse the promises. We gather to revel in the sacraments of the Kingdom—to be fed true food and true drink. We rehearse the promises in faith that they will be realized in the future.

But right now, our duty to love neighbor prevents us from gathering physically. We are scattered. The one in seven rhythm has been broken. Our corporate rehearsals for the journey home have ceased with no sure date of return. What is the scattered church to do? Keep remembering. Keep rehearsing. Keep building spiritual muscle memory and instinct.

The Christian life is about going home. We are aliens and strangers in this land. Our citizenship is in heaven. We win at life by going home and bringing as many people as we can with us. And the only way we can get home is if we lose this world—lose our life. When we give up this life for the one Jesus has for us, we die. And we are resurrected to a life indestructible. That’s how we get home—where weakness gives way to power and suffering turns to glory.

I am only rehearsing and I know it. I am sitting at my kitchen table. The sun is still below the horizon. The temperatures are cool outside, but warm inside. The coffee is hot. It’s the perfect morning to meet with my savior. On the pages of my Bible, Moses is leading an obstinate people through a vast wilderness. Those former slaves, often yearning to return to Egypt, frustrate his leadership at almost every turn. I can feel the same tug. Wandering the this broken world makes me feel the same thing. It’d be easier to go back. But that’s why I rehearse. That’s why I’m practicing and remembering. It’s why I am reveling in the sacraments of Word and prayer. I want to make it to the Promised Land—to that sacred green garden in the light of the Son. I’ll make it there one day. He has promised me that much (Phil. 1:6).

Yesterday, Today, Forever—A Constant in the Chaos

It broke my heart. I know it always will. It’s part of the game. Even if your team wins it all, the next day, it stops. Suddenly, the pattern of sun and seventh innings, of balls and strikes, of peanuts and cracker jacks breaks—along with your heart—and baseball stops. But on March 12th, baseball stopped before it had even begun. And my heart broke.

Baseball is a constant in the life of my family. Our vacations are planned around the home schedule of the Atlanta Braves. I watch almost every Braves game. From Opening Day to the final out of the season, baseball is a constant in our home. So when Major League Baseball cancelled the rest of Spring Training and pushed back Opening Day by at least two weeks, I felt a profound sadness. Like Bart Giamatti, I was counting on baseball. “I was counting on the game’s deep patterns, three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, and its deepest impulse, to go out and back, to leave and to return home, to set the order of the day and to organize the daylight.” But due to the measures our nation is taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, one of my constants is gone with no sure date of return. The unease I feel in this moment is deep and I know I am not alone.

In the providence of God, the theme my church chose for the year 2020 is “Yesterday, Today, Forever.” It’s based on Hebrews 13:8.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 

Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)

This is a core tenant of the Christian faith. God does not change. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. It’s the reality that Christians have clung to for millennia as they faced famine, persecution, and plague. It is an anchor that holds no matter the strength of the storm. It’s why the church grows when difficulties intensify. This God who bids us to come and find rest for our weary souls is the same God who called Abram, changed his name and promised to make him a blessing to the nations. This is the same God whose presence caused Mt. Sinai to smoke and quake and caused Moses’ face to shine. This is the same God who walked with David through the valley of the shadow of death. This same God spoke through the prophets and the Law and then came as a man to fulfill them both. Jesus—he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why does this comfort me? Because the God who never changes has promised us something.

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 28:20, ESV)

We have never been promised an easy life. The idea that our lives should be fat, lazy and light never came from the Bible (despite what you have heard from the religious hucksters and evangelical frauds populating television airwaves). Christians follow a crucified Messiah—one who said that following him involves picking up our cross. If you are looking for an easy life, Christianity doesn’t promise it. But what it does promise is so much greater. It promises the presence of God.

The story of the Bible is one of pursuit. Not man’s pursuit of God, but of God’s pursuit of man. God wants to be with his people. And in the coming of Jesus, we have the penultimate act in his pursuit. He has come and dealt with the sin that separated us. He ascended and sent his Spirit to dwell within us. No matter what we face, we do not do it alone. And those who endure to end are promised a new heaven and new earth away from the presence of sin and its effects and fully in the presence of Jesus “where everything sad is coming untrue.”

Life without constants is chaos. And right now, almost every constant in life is being taken away from us due to the extraordinary measures needed to contain the spread of COVID-19. It feels unsettling. It fees chaotic. But there is one constant that remains—one no virus can touch.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (ESV)

So if your life feels chaotic, if your constants no longer seem sure, come to Jesus. He doesn’t promise to remove the chaos right now. He promises you his presence in the midst of it. And he promises you a future in a Kingdom that cannot be shaken—with a few peanuts and cracker jacks thrown in for good measure.