Not Peace, But a Sword

I grew up with this picture of Jesus in my head. It was probably the same as many people have–the tall guy in the white robe with the flowing, honey-colored hair and the kind brown eyes. Sometimes I’d picture him doing things like patting kids on the head and carrying lambs across his shoulders—the kind of pictures you see on tracts and velvet paintings all over the place.

But not always.

Occasionally you’ll see an almost bloodless representation of the crucifixion—with Jesus, arms spread, staring up at the sky with a beatific expression plastered on his unbloodied face.

Things like that.

But there was so much more to Jesus than any number of paintings could ever depict. He walked everywhere. He built things. He worked with his hands. He made over a hundred gallons of wine from clay jars of water for the wedding in Cana—and I imagine he probably sang and danced a little, too, though the scripture doesn’t tell us about that. He had a large group of friends, and they probably laughed together, and ate together, and cried together.

Jesus was Lord, and Savior, and El Shaddai, but He was also a man.

And he did not just walk around smiling at people. Not that he did not do the things you see represented everywhere, but that was not all he did, certainly. And not all He was meant to do.

Look at Matthew 10:34:

34“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

A sword.

And while it’s true he came to die for us, that we might live, he also came to fight for us, to intercede on our behalf. He did everything He could to give us an opportunity to choose Him—and to live. His passion for us was without measure. His passion for His father was without measure.

From John 2:

13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

It must have really been something to see—this Rabbi, this teacher, who prior to that incident, had been simply that—a teacher. But this man was also a warrior. This man, upon seeing his Father’s house not just disrespected, but commercialized and filled with….things not of Heaven, but earth, was incensed to such a degree that he sat down somewhere, and calmly braided some pieces of leather into a whip, and used it.

He came to the temple to observe the passover, and found a flea market instead. His disciples hadn’t seen this side of him before. It had to have been a little disconcerting. But then:

17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

It was written.

I had not read that verse before, had not even heard of it. My NIV tells me it was from Psalm 69–which was a psalm I’d skimmed over, but not spent any real time on.

9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

It was insulting that the…vendors in the temple had no respect or understanding of not really the temple itself, but the purpose of it. On its own, the temple was just a building, an object. It was not holy. But the presence of God made it Holy. And the people that came with the intent of worshipping in earnest, with all their hearts, should have been able to do it, to be in communion with the one true God, without navigating a crowded marketplace.

They made it worldly.

And that made Jesus angry. The moneychangers and other sellers of things were taking away from the worshippers time with God. And even then, even before Calvary, Jesus knew that none of the things being sold in the temple were necessary (or would not soon be necessary) to enter into relationship with God.

Here is psalm 69, in its entirety. NIV translation.

1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.

2 I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.

3 I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.

4 Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.

5 You know my folly, O God;
my guilt is not hidden from you.

6 May those who hope in you
not be disgraced because of me,
O Lord, the LORD Almighty;
may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me,
O God of Israel.

7 For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.

8 I am a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother’s sons;

9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

10 When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;

11 when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.

12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of the drunkards.

13 But I pray to you, O LORD,
in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God,
answer me with your sure salvation.

14 Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.

15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.

16 Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.

17 Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.

18 Come near and rescue me;
redeem me because of my foes.

19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.

20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.

21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

22 May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and [a] a trap.

23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.

24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.

25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.

26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.

27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.

28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.

29 I am in pain and distress;
may your salvation, O God, protect me.

30 I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.

31 This will please the LORD more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.

32 The poor will see and be glad—
you who seek God, may your hearts live!

33 The LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his captive people.

34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and all that move in them,

35 for God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;

36 the children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his name will dwell there.

Hard to follow that with any comments, so I won’t, other than to say that Easter is this weekend, and right now we’re in the middle of Holy Week. Sometime around now, 2000 plus years ago, Jesus was making a whip.
Just read the preceding psalm, and think about it. Chew on it. Ask God what you can take away from it.
And think about what parts of your life need to be upset in order to right your relationship with the living God.

Run Through the Jungle

We drove through the jungle twice a day, six days a week, the whole month I was in Panama.

We’d leave the hotel in our packed and uncomfortable vans, and speed along the very narrow and very bumpy and potholed roads, trying to get to the canal before it got too busy. If you got there early enough, maybe you’d only have to wait 15 or 20 minutes to cross, instead of the usual 45 minutes to well over an hour (cruise ships and freighters packed with connex boxes take a really long time to go through the locks).

We’d work for 10 hours, then head back to the hotel, often in the dark. It was fully dark the night my van almost rear-ended the taxi–not in Colon, though. In the middle of the jungle.

Our driver was a very small, very…carefree Panamanian gentlemen who didn’t give a rip for speed limits. So typically, we’d tear through the jungle and hit the potholes at speeds that would rattle your fillings and usually send my sweaty, bald head into the poorly cushioned roof of the van, often prompting various expletives from myself and the other passengers.

On this night, we came around a bend, and the driver suddenly braked, muttering violent sounding curses en Espanol. Stopped in the middle of the road was a Panamanian Yellow Cab, with the driver’s side door hanging open, and no driver inside.

After my heart started beating again, I looked about ten yards ahead of the cab, and in the yellow glare of the cab’s headlights, saw what looked like a flat monkey slowly crawling across the road. And I mean slowly. The driver was standing in front of the cab between the headlights, and I saw him step slowly forward, and pick up the flat monkey by the scruff of its neck and lift it into the air to about chest level.

“That’s a sloth…” someone in the van said.

Of course, I thought.

The sloth was pinwheeling its limbs through the warm evening air like it was made of molasses. The cab driver carried the animal to the side of the road and set it down beneath a couple of trees. I remember wondering what it was going to do with all the extra time it saved.

Then he jumped back into the cab and laid rubber, disappearing into the jungle, headed back to Colon.

“That dude almost got himself–and us–killed for a dirty-ass sloth.” My coworker said, shaking his head.

“Did you see that thing, though?” I asked, slowly pinwheeling my sweaty arms through the air. “I want to bring one home to my kid.”

Then our driver roused himself from his nap, and we tore off, too. Only a couple more weeks, I thought. Then back to sand, saguaro, and coyotes. That was the first time I really missed Yuma. The place–not just my family.

A couple days later, we almost ran over a caiman (like a crocodile) in the same place.