Peter 2

God’s ways, in this matter of the cross, were not only higher but infinitely better beyond reckoning.

We see the new, transformed Peter on the day of Pentecost, when Peter is among the other disciples in the upper room, as they are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking with other tongues.

Peter stands up physically and spiritually, and steps into the destiny of his life, as he boldly addresses the people and proclaims the gospel message that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  Weeks later, before the Sanhedrin, after the crippled man is miraculously healed at the gate of the temple, Peter speaks with such clarity, power, and conviction to the rich and powerful men assembled there, the very people he used to be in terror of, that even these members of the Sanhedrin were impressed with the courage and boldness of Peter and John.

In the beautiful and instructive example of this life-changing transformation in Peter, we see the contrast between our ways and God’s ways.  In his own strength, Peter cannot marshal enough courage during the intimidating circumstances of the midnight trial of Jesus, to acknowledge his relationship with Jesus to even an informal group of common people gathered around a small fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas.

Peter is experiencing what Christians today popularly call an “Ishmael”…the ill-fated doom of all self-generated plans…that go forward without the advance council or participation of God.

This is better articulated in another common saying: “Whatever man does without God will fail miserably, or succeed even more miserably.”

But then watch what God does next in this divinely salvaged story of Peter’s fall and recovery.

After the events of the resurrection of Jesus and the Day of Pentecost, Peter is now fully restored and correctly following the leading of the Holy Spirit as he was trained.  As Peter and John are walking into the temple early in the morning to pray for the strength and inspiration to fulfill their new responsibilities as leaders of the new Christian church, they perceive through the Spirit that God intends to heal the crippled man asking for alms.

Through a cascade of quickly unfolding events, this time engineered by Jesus Christ, Peter shortly finds himself not being challenged by a small group of common people standing around a fire in the courtyard of Caiaphas, but instead ably defending himself before the entire assembled body of the all-powerful, ruling Sanhedrin council.

In this second challenge arranged and empowered exclusively by the Holy Spirit, and not by his earlier inadequate self-effort in the courtyard, Peter successfully comes through this time with incredible Holy Spirit boldness in acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah.

Another important lesson can be learned from this inspired biblical episode in the life of Peter.  When we are operating according to our own plans and thinking, the glory of God is nowhere in sight.

Peter completely falls on his face in the courtyard of Caiaphas, because his plan to protect Jesus from physical harm is clearly off-track from God’s eternal plan of salvation for mankind.  But when we are operating within the will of God, God glorifies Himself in and through us.

When questioned by the Sanhedrin council about the miraculous healing of the crippled man, Peter immediately assigns the credit toward Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit glory of God on Peter and John boldly uplifts Jesus as the promised Messiah before these worldly powerful men.

God glorifies Himself in and through these two disciples, to the potential benefit of everyone present.

The unselfish love and pure righteousness of the glory of God transforms the miraculously healed man, emboldens Peter and John, further unfolds the truth about the identity of Jesus the Son of God hopefully to some open-minded members of the Sanhedrin, and blesses and instructs countless millions of people down through the ensuing centuries, reading this inspired account of the defense of the Christian faith at the dawning of the first century church.

The contrast between this God-composed and orchestrated event, and the earlier failed testimony of Peter in the courtyard of Caiaphas, is staggering.

Peter 1

“Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”                                                                                 (Phil. 1:6)

One of the lessons we can learn from the life of Peter is that while Jesus is hanging on the cross, Peter’s self-reliance in his own abilities to serve Jesus were nailed to the cross as well.

Peter has the courage to face the mob in the Garden of Gethsemane, and is willing to fight using physical force to protect Jesus, because an unruly mob of common folk is on his own social peer level.  Peter is comfortable and self-confident in a good brawl with fists, clubs, and swords (Jn 18:10).  Peter is not afraid of this motley group accompanying Judas to arrest Jesus.

But later Peter painfully discovers in the courtyard of Caiaphas the high priest, that he is overawed and intimidated by the surroundings of these powerful and important men.  Peter bitterly discovers that he cannot even muster the courage to acknowledge Jesus to people standing around a fire in the courtyard, even though only hours before he was willing to fight to the death to save Jesus.

With all of the previous trust and responsibility that Jesus had placed in Peter, at the critical moment Peter’s own strength failed him.  In this first real test on his own, in the stress of the situation, Peter momentarily forgot all about resting and relying upon the Holy Spirit for spiritual wisdom, direction, and strength.

Yet this bitter defeat of Peter’s came as no surprise to Jesus.  Jesus knows about the power of the cross to transform human nature from self-led to Spirit-led, because Jesus Christ created people.  Jesus knew that Peter’s self-confidence had to be put to death on the cross in order for the power of God to work through Peter.  Jesus knew that Peter had to experience the bitter defeat of relying upon his own abilities, in Peter’s first introduction into individual spiritual combat.

Peter had to learn this lesson in the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, where it really did not matter, so that he would not similarly fail later when it did matter in front of the entire assembled body of the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-22).

In Matthew 26:33 Peter says: “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.”

Here Peter is separating himself from the other disciples, as if he is above them in terms of fidelity and commitment.  These words coming out of Peter’s mouth reveal an elevated opinion of himself, exclusive and special above everyone else.  Peter has unwittingly set himself up for his personal fall.

To be of any use in the kingdom of Jesus Christ, Peter has to be a vessel empty of self so that he can be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

As Peter (probably) looks from afar at Jesus hanging on the cross, Peter experiences the crushing defeat of human self-effort to live for God.  But the part that died within Peter is the part that is supposed to die when we look at Jesus on the cross.  The part of our spiritual make-up that has to be crucified when we look at the cross…is our self-in-control nature.

The whole of Peter did not die on account of the crucifixion of Jesus.  The better part of Peter, humbled and stripped of pride, survived to go on to faithfully and correctly serve God for the remainder of his life.

After the utter failure in the courtyard of Caiaphas, Peter went out and wept bitterly, because his way did not work.  Peter believed he had failed Jesus…because he was not aware of another option.  Peter could not clearly see the upcoming resurrection three days later.  Peter was partially unaware of God’s alternate, higher way.  Like the other apostles, Peter did not fully understand the words of Jesus regarding His crucifixion and resurrection, as they traveled toward Jerusalem for the last time (Mk. 10:32-34; Lk. 18:31-33).

Peter wept bitterly over the failure of his own way to commendably protect Jesus, according to the natural realm of thinking, because at that point in his Christian career Peter was ignorant of God’s ways regarding the cross applied to Peter’s life.

How could Peter know this fully ahead of time?  The events of the cross and the resurrection were occurring in real time in-the-moment.  After the resurrection it all made sense in hindsight.  Peter’s well-intentioned, self-generated plan to physically protect Jesus from harm, otherwise commendable in every way, had to give place to the higher ways of God in Peter’s life…from this critical time forward.

Even though Jesus told the disciples upfront what was about to happen in the coming few weeks ahead, Peter could not see beyond his own ideas and plans.

The exceedingly good news here is that the faithfulness and loving kindness of God toward Peter and all of the disciples… transcended far above whatever they were thinking as they viewed… from afar…Jesus hanging on the cross on Calvary Hill.

Joseph & Mary 2

The plan of God for the life of Joseph was narrow and well-defined in the duties that God gave him to do…as briefly described above.  Joseph does not live long enough to become a leader in the early Christian church.  Joseph did not have the opportunity to leave us inspired writings like Peter, Paul, John, or his own son James.  Joseph was not called by God to be a great evangelist after the death and resurrection of Jesus, with a unique perspective that only he could give.

But does anyone think that the degree of honor and gratitude that will be given to Joseph in heaven will be small?  Like a lifelong faithful servant who performed his assigned duties well in the service of a great king, Joseph served the eternal Son of God in the role of a step-father from the birth of Jesus through sometime into the teens or possibly middle twenties of Jesus.  Joseph after all taught Jesus, the Creator of the universe, simple carpentry.

Joseph knows Jesus like few people can claim to know Him.

I believe that Joseph will cherish for all eternity the opportunity and responsibility that God the Father placed with him to protect and watch over the Son of God during His childhood, and that God’s unique plan for his life was and will be a source of immeasurable value to him.

I believe that Joseph will be one of the most sought-after guest speakers in heaven, if there is such a thing, with his social calendar booked for eons, because of the special relationship he had with Jesus during the “silent years.”

One of the lessons that we can learn from the life of Joseph is that it was the will and plan of God that Jesus the Son of God stand alone to accomplish the great work of salvation on the cross.  For reasons that will probably only be fully understood on the Day of Judgment and the final demise of evil, God knew that the task of presenting love to the universe by the example of the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, could only rightly be done by Him alone.

No human agents can appear to be aiding Jesus during the trial and crucifixion—not apostles, disciples, a mother, family members, or possibly even a faithful and courageous step-father.

At basic issue was right and wrong…love and hate…goodness and evil.  As Jesus hung in agony on the cross hour after hour, no one present there at the time knew that the most beautiful example of divine character in the history of mankind, or indeed for all eternity, was taking place.

Mary, on the other hand, is quite human in that she appears to have problems understanding the second half of the cross in the ministry of Jesus her son.

No one can be any closer to this issue than Mary.  Like all mothers, Mary wants to see her son Jesus…succeed in life.  Mary has good reason to be confident in the abilities of her son, because both she and Joseph know the true parentage of Jesus the Son of God.  Mary is therefore deeply shocked and staggered by the opposition shown from the powerful Pharisees, scribes, and rulers in Jerusalem toward her son’s ministry and message, people she would otherwise respect and admire.

Mary probably had profound confusion over the disconnect between what she knew to be the true nature of the person and the abilities of her son Jesus, and the failure of the Jewish authorities to likewise recognize this and accept Jesus as the Messiah.

The official rejection of Jesus during His trial and crucifixion must have been heart wrenching.  Mary was the only person alive at that time other than Jesus Himself, who knew about His conception, birth, and the extraordinary prophesies that were pronounced about Him by angels, shepherds, wise men, prophets, and the Old Testament scriptures.

Being a woman in the first-century Jewish patriarchal culture, if Mary had come forward and told all that she knew, few people would have believed her.

Like the rest of the apostles, Mary had to painfully wait for the unexpected Resurrection Day to be able to fully understand through hindsight that Jesus her son died on the cross as the sacrificial Passover Lamb of God.

The long-awaited Messiah of Israel took away the sins of the world, in order to become the resurrection life that lifts us up out of death into a new spiritual life with God.

Joseph & Mary 1

“Enter in at the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in that way;  Because narrow is the gate, and hard is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”                                                  (Mt. 7:13-14)

Joseph in the New Testament, the step-father of Jesus, is a person who does not get a lot of mention in Protestant sermons or books except around Christmas time.

The second half of the cross, however, sheds light on the life of Joseph that can further instruct us about our godly calling and the Christian life.  Joseph, the step-father of the Son of God, deserves more credit than he generally gets.

Joseph and Mary are obviously the first people recorded in the New Testament to believe in Jesus as the Christ.  Joseph intends to wed Mary in the city of Nazareth, only to discover before they are married that Mary is pregnant.

In a dream an angel explains to Joseph that the child in Mary’s womb is conceived by the Holy Spirit, and to not be afraid to take her for a wife.  After the angel informs Joseph of the situation, we can reasonably assume that Mary discussed all that she knew with Joseph.  We can assume that the couple discussed the visit Mary had from the angel Gabriel and all that the angel told her, and the subsequent visit Mary had with Elisabeth and Zacharias, and what they had said to her about the baby she was carrying.

Joseph was present and assisted at the birth of the baby Jesus.  Joseph heard what the shepherds said about an angel telling them to go and see the baby that was born who is the Savior, Christ the Lord, and about the multitude of angels praising God over the birth of Jesus.

Joseph was present when the three wise men from the east came bearing gifts, and heard what they said about the baby Jesus.  Joseph was in the temple when Simeon spoke about Jesus, and the scripture in Luke says that “Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken by him.”  Joseph was there in the temple when Anna, a prophetess, spoke about Jesus regarding redemption in Israel.

An angel appears to Joseph in a dream and warns Joseph to take his wife Mary and the young child Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s attempt to destroy the future “King of the Jews.”  After Herod’s death, an angel again appears to Joseph in a dream telling him it is now safe to return to Israel.  Joseph returns with Mary and Jesus to live in Nazareth.

We see in Joseph an excellent choice to be the step-father of Jesus.  He accepts this huge responsibility given to him by God the Father, and manages all of the challenges with quiet resolve and leadership.

Joseph is apparently a man of character, as we see no signs of him bragging to the town of Nazareth about any remarkable talents of his oldest son, or trying to exploit or benefit in any way from the natural abilities of Jesus.

Joseph and Mary show such self-restraint in keeping the divine conception of Jesus a secret that even the half brothers and sisters of Jesus appear to be totally unaware of the full story.  It is only after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that two of His brothers, James and Jude, come to believe that He is the Christ.  It was probably only after the resurrection that Mary told her other children the full story about her first son and their remarkable half-brother.

One of the interesting and instructive elements in the ministry of Jesus is that His step-father Joseph is not on hand for support.  It is not the will of God that Joseph still be alive when Jesus starts His public ministry sometime in His early thirties.

Joseph is therefore not present in the synagogue in Nazareth to defend Jesus when He stood up to read the messianic Isaiah 61:1-2 scriptures about Himself, and the townspeople were violently offended that they had not previously been given the inside information about Jesus that would support such astounding claims.  Joseph could then have given them the reasons why he and Mary had kept this information from family and friends, and this might have defused this volatile situation.

Joseph is not present during the many visits that Jesus made to Jerusalem, where he could have cleared up the pivotal question by the Pharisees and scribes regarding the birthplace of Jesus and their complaint about Jesus that: “we know this man, from where he is”, meaning Nazareth and not Bethlehem, the scriptural birthplace of the Messiah.

As head of the family, Joseph could have been there to pull aside each of his children…and privately tell them the real story about the conception and birth of their half-brother Jesus, to prevent the painful situation described during the ministry of Jesus: “For neither did his brethren believe in him.”

Joseph might have comforted Mary regarding the cold reception that the ministry of Jesus had received at the hands of the established religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Joseph might have helped Mary reconcile in her mind what she knows to be true about Jesus her son with the rejection His ministry is receiving from the Pharisees, scribes, and rulers.

Joseph might even have been present at the trial of Jesus, and spoken up about the true origin of his step-son and His flawless character before these powerful men.

We clearly see in the life of Joseph the second half of the cross—the death of the self-in-charge nature, in favor of the plan of God for Joseph’s life.

All Joseph started out to do was marry a lovely young woman in his hometown of Nazareth.  None of us can truly grasp the magnitude and magnificence of the actual life that Joseph experienced.

If Joseph could do it all over again, would he choose for himself a different, more normal life?

David 2

One of the basic questions, which people pause to think about during some period in their busy lives, even people with economic and social stability, is: “why am I here?”

Absent specific knowledge of our purpose in life, people in our modern culture who do not personally know God through an intimate walk of faith…vote with their self-will and their pocketbooks to choose the default, conventional, pleasure-driven, self-centered, spiritually risk-averse, and worldly predictable road.

How many people do we personally know, or read about in fiction novels, or watch in movies…people who listen to God in the Spirit, subordinate their self-wills, and follow the life-plan that God could and would reveal to them as the optimum course of action?  This approach does not exist in our popular culture because it involves surrendering all to Jesus Christ, because it involves the second half of the cross.

The worldly conventional life-approach has no faith or trust in God, but instead has faith and trust in ourselves.  The type of risk, danger, and adventure that comes from faith and trust in the living God, who can compose and orchestrate a brilliantly creative life like David’s divinely planned and executed ascent to the kingship of Israel…does not exist in a God-less cultural environment.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes during the ministry of Jesus were no longer the spiritual children of Abraham, because they held on to their self-will instead of submitting it to God.  Like people of our own culture, they were afraid of the uncertainty of relinquishing their hold over the destiny of their lives into the trust of God’s care.  Instead, these Jerusalem leaders created their own form of religion based upon rules, regulations, and the performance of self-works rituals that replaced the living and more risky faith of submitting their lives to God.

We see this pattern throughout history in all man-invented, perfunctory religious experience.

People will do almost anything to avoid having to give up their self-will to God, because deep down inside they are afraid.  People are afraid to take the risk that God’s way might actually be better, because of the element of the uncertainty of what God might do with their lives.

There is security in staying with what we know, rather than venturing out into a perilous journey of faith with Jesus Christ into the unknown.  There is a sense of security in not letting go of the power we have over our own lives.

This is the case, even when the recipient of this letting go of the power of self-sovereignty…Jesus Christ our Creator God…will lovingly re-direct this self-same power back down towards us in a more intelligently designed and beneficially purposed adventure-of-faith life-plan.

This is why many people have to reach the bottom depths of failure and suffering…to have nothing left to lose and nowhere else to go…before they will turn to God for His help.

Sadly, Jesus Christ is often the last resort when He should be the first and most sensible beginning option in discovering our true purpose in life.  That many people stubbornly hang on to their own self-in-control natures, to the ruin of themselves and often those people around them…is one of the central, core problems with the human race.

David has to face Goliath in a life-and-death struggle at the beginning of David’s career, not because God sets up these types of contests for His own enjoyment, but because we must learn real faith and trust in God to see us through challenges…when failure and falsification of God’s character are live possibilities.

In a biblical quality journey of faith we sometimes barely make it through the tightest of choreographed and integrated circumstances…because this is one way amongst several ways that God uses to authenticate His direct participation in our lives.

Miraculous or near-miraculous deliverance through supernaturally choreographed events is one tool in God’s tool-box to separate His ways above worldly conventional normalcy.

We see this repeated throughout the narrative stories of the Bible for an eternally valid reason.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) because without a context of circumstances requiring committed faith in the face of discouraging appearances, God cannot reveal to us His very real presence in our lives in stark contrast to the subjective, humanistically generated false experience of self-works “religion.”

The story of David’s anointing by Samuel, and his calling, exploits, and tribulations in route to the kingship of Israel is not a man-invented myth…because the component of the active participation of God in David’s story is beyond the reach of the creative imagination and invention of human writers.

An adventure of faith like David’s is unique to the Bible.

David can write the 23rd Psalm because he actually followed God through the valley of the shadow of death.  David learned first-hand that he did not have to fear evil, when God was with him.

Five of the most important words ever recorded in all of literature are: “for thou art with me” (Ps. 23:4).

The contrast between the God-composed life of David, living on the knife’s edge of danger in faith and trust in God, and the self-led life in pursuit of security and self-preservation that will not venture out into the risky territory of faith in God, could not be greater.

The reward for David’s faith and trust is that he became Israel’s greatest king and fulfilled the purpose of his life (Ps. 139:14-18), and in doing so he came to personally know his Creator God.

David 1

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths”                                                (Prov. 3:5-6)

Like the examples of Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, when David is anointed by Samuel the prophet to become the future king of Israel, David is no longer in complete control of his life.

The second half of the cross can be seen throughout David’s life.

David was probably just as surprised as everyone else when Samuel anointed him to become Israel’s future king.

David understands from the beginning that it is God’s role to fulfill His promise that David would become king, and that he must wait upon God’s timing.  David understands that God does not need his help to speed up the process.  David’s own ideas about the plan of his life are therefore nailed to the cross of Christ, long before Jesus and the cross come onto the world scene.

David has no advance knowledge of what God has specifically planned for the intervening years of preparation before David becomes king, but David does not lose hope or faith in God despite often discouraging outward appearances.

David even rejects the worldly wise council of his friends to take the life of Saul on two separate occasions, which would have ended the constant threat to David’s life (1 Sam. 24:10; 26:8).  David will not put himself into the position of being God, of taking over the sovereignty of the events of his life.

The willingness of David to accept danger as part of God’s training program to become king sheds additional light on this concept of the second half of the cross.  Handing over our will to God, according to these biblical narrative stories, involves some measure of risk and adventure on our part.  From the safety of a comfortable chair we can read the stories of the lives of the people of faith in the Bible… and know that they have happy endings.

We can applaud Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David for their faith and trust in God that eventually lead to good outcomes.  But in the midst of the playing out of their lives in real time these people did not have the benefit of knowing beforehand exactly how their stories would end.

Abraham might not have had any children through Sarah.  Joseph could have remained a prisoner in Pharaoh’s jail for the rest of his life.  Moses could have been summarily killed by Pharaoh upon his return into Egypt.  David could have been captured and killed by Saul during any one of David’s many narrow escapes.  The participation of God in these events and circumstances is the added ingredient that transforms these life stories into extraordinary lives, which rise above the level of worldly conventional normalcy.

The 23rd Psalm allows us to look into the very heart of David as to what he was thinking about God’s leading for his life:

1    The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2     He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3     He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4      Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5      Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6       Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The storyline of David is a challenge to contemporary thinking that the worldly acceptable model for life is a self-made life…that the “real man” is a self-made man.  This pervasive worldview of self-directed, self-validation underlies one of the erroneous misconceptions of modern cultural thought about Christianity.

A biblical quality adventure of faith following God’s higher ways is not for the doubtful, halfhearted, or fearful.  God’s participation in our lives is an element that initiates the most challenging and difficult character growth life-lessons imaginable, having life-changing purposeful direction.  A partnership, with Jesus Christ in the leadership position, adds divine energy and creativity to our life-script that works to build tenacious and courageous backbone into our characters no matter where we initially start out on the character strength-scale.

The worldly, self-directed approach is to “get ahead” and stay ahead of life’s adversities through education, hard work, strength of personality, family wealth, and any other method at our disposal.  The goal is to achieve the “good life” as defined by worldly horizontal thinking…through material wealth, security, and self-validation.

In actuality this life approach is based in part upon this broken world’s fear of the uncertainty regarding our self-worth and the whims of chance.  The go-it-on-our-own, self-validation approach to life is based upon the need to avoid the outward appearance of negative failure.

The love, forgiveness, and acceptance of God through Christ sets up a new life reality and context, whereby the Spirit-born Christian is free to enter into the risky venture of a journey of faith following God…wherever He leads…even into the valley of the shadow of death like David.

The adventure of faith component in David’s life refutes the modern cultural misconception that real men do not rely upon God as a “crutch.”

The limited mindset of worldly horizontal thinking, stuck in the self-on-the-throne mentality, makes it difficult for God to break into our lives and straighten us out using a better life-script.

The self-directed life is Lucifer’s subtly deceptive counterfeit to the more daring release-of-faith “narrow way” that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 7:13-14).  Seeking material wealth and personal acclaim as the means to validate our self-worth is the inverse opposite of “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33).

If we mistakenly think we have everything perfectly arranged financially and socially, we will also mistakenly think we have no need for God.  The autonomous individualism of a journey of self automatically pushes aside a journey of faith in fellowship with God, because we cannot live two opposing lives at the same time.

Is entirely self-controlling our destiny the underlying purpose of life?  How is it that we would even independently know the real purpose of this short-in-length life for us?  Is it written in stone somewhere?  Is the purpose of life capably passed down to us from our parents and grandparents?  Are we born into a world where the life-examples of the experienced adults around us clearly demonstrate the best approach to life (1 Pet. 1:18)?

Judging by the chaotic, universally repetitive trial-and-error world around us, mankind in general has no idea what is the true purpose of our being here.

Moses 2

God knew at the beginning of human history that the life of Jesus and the lives of the Pharisees were on a deadly, head-on collision course.

The cross of Christ is not only for the clearly positive aspects of repentance, cleansing, regeneration, and salvation, but also to prepare a person for a personal journey of faith with God, made possible through the discipleship cost of the death of our stubborn self-in-control natures.  The cross demonstrates the deadly serious nature of this conflict at its core.

The Pharisees, scribes, lawyers, and Jewish leaders hated Jesus because He exposed the fact that they had the false outward appearance of being godly, without having paid the true inner discipleship costs to back it up.  They had a scholarly head-knowledge of the Old Testament, but no personal first-hand experiential knowledge of the God of the Old Testament.  The surrender of the self-will to God to make room for individual life plans tailored by God was entirely missed or rejected by them as they studied the Old Testament.

The Pharisees and scribes did not “enter in” (Lk. 11:52) to a personal life with God according to the model as set forth in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others, because they never gave up control of their lives.  They created their own self-willed religion based upon scholarly study and religious observances, leaving out the part about faith or trust in God that would lead to the imaginative and purposeful lives that God could and would craft for them.

The gulf between what the Pharisees and scribes said, and what they actually did, could not be much wider.  They said they were the children of Abraham and the followers of Moses, yet they rejected and killed the Son of God.

In Matthew 23:13, Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees:  “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither permit them that are entering to go in.”

We may ask the obvious question: “go in where?”

Certainly the Pharisees and scribes had all of the outward appearances of following the Jewish religious practices, and played and dressed the part of being holy men of God.  They cannot be faulted on that score.  They had everyone and themselves so fooled that Jesus said of them that they were as white-washed sepulchers full of dead men’s bones, or graves that men walked over without realizing it.  Jesus said they were like the blind leading the blind.

The powerful lesson for us here is that discovering and following God’s life-script for us completely like Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, or not following God at all like the outwardly religious but self-powered Pharisees and scribes…can actually separate in the extreme into totaling different outcomes.

Abraham, Joseph, and Moses accurately hear the voice of God, and follow the leading of God for their lives, serving as the correct models of God-composed life-scripts of faith for millions of believers to our present day.

The Pharisees and scribes are exposed as usurpers of their undeserved high religious positions in Israel, and end up on the wrong side of the trial and crucifixion of the very Messiah…that was prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures they mistakenly claimed to be the careful students, interpreters, and teachers of…to the nation of Israel.

It is the second half of the cross of Christ which divides and separates the two conflicting approaches to life.

The plans of God for Abraham, Joseph, and Moses…dislodge them from all previous self-made plans and goals. The designs of God propel them onward to achieve their unique positions in history.

By contrast, the rejection of God’s will and participation in their lives, propels the Pharisees and scribes to commit the largest blunder in all of eternity, exposing themselves as imposters and pretenders as the supposed religious leaders of Israel during the time of the public ministry, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.

Moses 1

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”                                                                (Eph. 2:10)

When Moses met God at the burning bush, from that time forward Moses was no longer in complete control of his life.

In the scriptures Moses is called the “law-giver” (Jn 1:17), because through Moses the Israelites received the Ten Commandments and the other ordinances that make up the Law.  Yet when Moses is delivering the Ten Commandments to Israel in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy…at the same time that Moses is delivering his speech…he is also standing there as an example of the second half of the cross.

After his calling at the burning bush, the self-will and self-direction of Moses are nailed to the cross of Christ as much as anyone in the Bible.

Paul says in the New Testament that the cross of Christ was a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Cor. 1:23).  The Pharisees and scribes expected the Messiah to be a savior who would deliver the nation of Israel from the political control of Rome (Jer. 23:5-6; Isa. 9:6-7).

The Pharisees and scribes could not conceive of a Messiah who could deliver them from something far more enslaving than the political and military power of an occupying foreign nation—namely their own self-in-control natures as kings atop the thrones of their lives.

Throughout the gospel of John the Jewish leaders and Jesus are in verbal conflict over what constitutes true worship of God and right living.  The Jewish leaders claimed to be the children of Abraham and disciples of Moses, yet Jesus said that they did not have the knowledge of God in them (Jn 8:19).  The Pharisees, scribes, and Jewish leaders stumbled so badly over the life of Jesus that they became the major players in bringing about the death of Jesus by crucifixion.

Not only did they fail to accept the first half of the cross—repentance and faith in Christ leading to salvation, but they utterly failed to comprehend and accept the second half of the cross—the death of self-will in surrender to God’s plans for their lives, after the pattern of the people of faith in the Bible.

Had they been faithfully living according to the second half of the cross, they would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah and followed Him.  The second half of the cross was staring them and us in the face, when we look at the life of Moses the lawgiver.

What if Jesus did militarily defeat the Romans, and like King David restore political freedom to the nation of Israel according to popular expectations?  The same religious leaders who rejected the baptism of John the Baptist, crucified Jesus, and persecuted the early Christian church, would still have remained in self-control on the thrones of their lives.  Without personal repentance and conversion, the nation of Israel would not have been spiritually free at all.

Reformed Israel actually became the new Christian church, of Jewish and Gentile believers, in the first century.

In considering the life of Moses…Moses was a righteous man for the same reasons that Abraham’s faith alone was accounted to him for righteousness.  By the time that the Law and the ordinances came to Moses and the Israelites, Moses had already gone to Egypt, performed miracles, delivered the Israelites, and parted the Red Sea, all through faith and trust in God.  Moses was walking in God’s life-script for him long before the Ten Commandments came along.

This was the fundamental mistake made by the Pharisees, scribes, and Jewish rulers of Jesus’ day.  They concentrated on following the Law, the ordinances, the temple services, the festivals, and other religious practices, according to their own self-efforts, and missed altogether the second half of the cross leading to a personal adventure of faith with God (Rom. 9:32).

Following the Law, and experiencing a living walk of faith, were both equally portrayed in the Hebrew Bible.  Old Testament faithful believers were supposed to follow the “law of Moses” and have a personal relationship with God.

Joseph 3

Joseph allowed God to take him to the extreme edge, to the outer limits of faith and trust within the challenge of life’s events and circumstances.  This is why the life of Joseph is such an excellent model for the second half of the cross for us today.

After Joseph was finally elevated to the position of second in command of all of Egypt, we have no indication from the rest of Joseph’s story that he became full of himself and his new found power and authority.

The years of character-building preparation in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaoh’s prison paid off.  Not only is Joseph prepared to govern the nation of Egypt, but he does so with hard-earned character and grace.

Joseph, out of the narrowness of his God-guided circumstances…learned in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaohs’ prison to interact with the Egyptians from a leadership position using humility, respect, and character.

In one of the most moving and brilliantly creative final closing chapters in all of literature, Joseph forgives his half-brothers their earlier treachery toward him in selling him into slavery into Egypt, recognizing their actions as part of God’s future plan to save lives during the widespread famine (Gen. 45:4-5).

What is this love of God for us, and our response in love back toward Him, that would cause an intelligent and highly gifted person like Joseph to go through the initial heartbreak and difficulties he did to follow the life-plan that God laid out for him?

Why would a person go along with this unusual training program in the house of Potiphar and then in the prison of Pharaoh in response to the fact that “God was with him?”  Why would a person like Joseph continue to have faith and trust in God, despite the temporary reality that the outward appearances in Egypt were in harsh contrast with the two prophetic dreams God had given him earlier as a young man?

Conventional worldly wisdom would tell Joseph to “face the facts,” recognize the current reality, give up, and admit that he must have been mistaken about his two divinely inspired dreams…because faith and trust in God had landed him in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaoh’s prison.

The account of the life of Joseph shows us that there can be an extraordinary purpose, meaning, and fulfillment to following God’s plan for our lives, which is entirely different from and far above anything that the conventional worldly approach can even imagine.

The life of Joseph demonstrates the supernatural hand of God overlaying divinely composed circumstances and events over the current situation in our lives, to bring us into a larger place (2 Sam. 22:20).

It shows the importance of having experienced the necessary, upfront preparation required for character growth.

On paper, the weakness of Joseph’s resume and his status as a non-Egyptian in Egyptian society would prevent, according to worldly conventional wisdom, Joseph from even being considered for the job opening of Governor of Egypt.

As Joseph sits in Pharaoh’s prison pondering the character of God, thinking about his two earlier dreams in Canaan, and the current hopelessness of the outward appearance of his situation, Joseph has no idea that he will soon become second in command of all of Egypt.  The leap across the gulf from where Joseph sits in Pharaoh’s prison, to becoming Governor of Egypt, is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Yet through the God-initiated dream given to Pharaoh regarding the upcoming famine in Egypt, and through an unimaginably tight series of events, Joseph finds himself standing before Pharaoh and interpreting the dream.

In an instant, Joseph steps through the open door into his God-composed and prepared destiny.  This is the second half of the cross…God’s higher ways displacing our ways for our benefit and for the good of others, that we find repeated uniformly throughout all of the life-stories of the people of faith recorded for us in the Bible.

Joseph 2

The future purposes that are hidden within God’s plans for Joseph in Egypt have a powerful holding force with Joseph, more powerful than any alternate worldly sensible argument, to rebel against the negative present circumstances, to attempt escape, and to wrestle back control over the course of his life.

This sheds additional light on another observation that can be made about the story of the life of Joseph.

A large portion of Joseph’s pride was nailed to the cross of Christ as a result of his reduced social status as a servant-slave in Egypt.  Everyone who looked at Joseph assumed that either he or his family must have done something wrong for him to be in the position of a servant-slave as a Hebrew in Egypt.  Even though Joseph enjoyed some measure of elevated status for a while as the head overseer in the house of Potiphar, he was still a slave.

Joseph could not respond to those who looked down their nose at him, that he was actually the son of a wealthy man in Canaan, or that he was in Egypt through no fault of his own.  Joseph could not answer back that God was really in control of his life and that this was just a temporary setback that would soon be rectified.  Joseph was in no position to defend his pride.  In light of his two earlier dreams, Joseph himself did not know exactly why events in his life had taken this peculiar course.

Although Joseph…being human…naturally cared about his pride and the humiliation of being a slave in Egypt…apparently God saw it differently.

This is the way of the cross.

God’s character-building investment of situations and circumstances in Joseph’s life in Egypt did not start out with the outward moniker of respectability.

For the period of his life from age 17 to 30, Joseph’s life is a study in contrasts.  He occupies lowly positions as a servant and then as a prisoner, yet in each situation the blessing of God on him is so outwardly apparent that he is quickly elevated to positions of “upper management.”  God alone knew that one day in the near future Joseph would be Governor in command of all of Egypt, because that was God’s creative plan.

God’s plan at no time was in jeopardy from or limited by the temporary outward appearance of failure, or by circumstances that seemed utterly hopeless.  God Himself was the author of these character-building circumstances, and was in control all the time.

Joseph’s part was to not lose faith in the character and competency of God, and to patiently await the working out of these events in his life towards the fulfillment of his two earlier prophetic dreams.

God is telling us through the example of Joseph that portions of God’s plan for our lives may take us down a lowly path that does not include the “pride of life.”

The low and humble road sifts out and separates the genuinely committed from all other hypocrites and pretenders.  Being a servant of God is often a thankless and unappreciated role, especially in the training-for-service orientation phase at the beginning of our calling.

The life of Joseph is a preview of the universal biblical experience of character-building that launches spiritual power, starting at a base level of humility devoid of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

This is what Paul is referring to in describing himself and the other apostles as “last” (1 Cor. 4:9), which in Paul’s case eventually leads to writing fourteen of the New Testament letters to the churches.

The false accusation of sexual assault against Joseph by Potiphar’s wife is instructive for Christians today.  Even when things are going completely wrong according to outward appearances, when God is in control of our lives, utter failure and complete catastrophe can be divinely shaped into a positive outcome.

This devastating event in Joseph’s life God uses to extend the management training of Joseph into a new prison environment for several more years leading up the time of the upcoming famine, within a new context requiring more humility on Joseph’s part than previously as the chief overseer in Potiphar’s house.

At first glance this might appear to be over-coaching…of over-doing it…on God’s part.  But in a profound way this seemingly negative experience with Potiphar’s wife actually demonstrates the uncompromising reality of the love of God in thoroughly preparing Joseph for his future elevation to the highest level of power in Egypt.

It reveals the tightest of circumstances in a God-composed life-script that is beyond our human capacity to imagine, orchestrate, or resolve, which is common to all adventures of faith recorded in the Bible.

There was something unique to Pharaoh’s prison in the advance training of Joseph that was not at Potiphar’s house.  We do not know what this difference might have been.  Perhaps the trait of pride was again lifting up its ugly head within the character of Joseph as chief servant in Potiphar’s house.  Probably looking back in hindsight as governor, Joseph recognized and appreciated the value of the unique lessons learned in the different and more humbling environment of Pharaoh’s prison.

Only God could craft a training regime for a Hebrew to become the governor of Egypt using the extremely unlikely, totally unconventional roles of servant/slave in the venues of a private Egyptian home and in the prison of a Pharaoh.

When Joseph finally sees the whole picture in hindsight as his half-brothers stand before him as governor of Egypt, Joseph breaks into tears as he recognizes God’s hand in everything leading up to that time.

Do we possess the patience and determination to persevere in difficult circumstances, when we know without a doubt that God has us there for some not yet fully revealed reason?

If Christians today place the highest value on ultimate purpose and meaning in life, beyond merely responding in the reactive mode to the challenges that chance brings our way, then the final outcome of Joseph’s story is wonderful beyond all measure.

The plan that God had in mind was beyond anything that Joseph could have imagined or orchestrated.  It demanded tenacity and a stubborn faith that would have left many less determined people behind.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter in at the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in that way.  Because narrow is the gate, and hard is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”