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I know it’s been a long time since I posted anything on this blog. What can I say? Life has been busy! And that is good.

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As Paul and Barnabas were on mission sharing the good news about Jesus, the found resistance among some of the Jewish population while Gentiles were giving them more of a hearing. Luke reports some of this response from Gentile hearers explaining Paul and Barnabas announcement:

“For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.  And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.  But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 13:47-52)

The good news was announced, and those who heard it rejoiced. After the message had come home to these people, even after Paul and Barnabas had left, these followers of Jesus “were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Even when the messengers who brought the good news were driven away because of persecution, joy is what remained in their wake.

Where the Gospel went, joy followed. Where people had come to understand what God had done for them in and through Jesus, joy was the fruit. Joy followed in the wake of the Gospel.

What happens in my soul when I am not tasting that joy? Having heard and responded to the truth of Jesus’ gift of life, why am I not continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit?

Luke’s account is not a mandate–he is not telling us to “do this.” But his description of the lives of those who heard and responded to the Gospel raises questions about my own journey. If joy in Jesus is normal, what does it mean about my life with Jesus that I, at times, am experiencing little joy?

Sprinkled generously throughout the Old Testament are prophecies, promises, and pictures of the intent of God to rescue sinners from their sin through the ministry of his Messiah–a promised deliverer and king and savior who would ultimately establish God’s rule on the earth. Even in the book of Psalms, the hymn book of Israel and the worship manual of the early church, we can find words and images that bring the Messiah into view. In other words, even the book of Psalms can tell us something about our savior, the Messiah, Jesus.

Jewish scholars understand and teach that many of the Psalms are, in fact, “messianic”–that they foretell in their words of worship something about the Messiah, his ministry, his person, his coming. (Something for which many Jews are still awaiting.) Psalm 118 is one such psalm; it is even cited by Jesus as referring to his life and ministry (in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). I was reflecting on some of what is revealed through this psalm as I thought about Jesus’ death, and burial, and resurrection. (You might want to read the whole psalm before you continue with this post.)

In 118:19-21, the psalmist affirms how God is the source and grounds for salvation. In verse 25-26, we hear the psalmist cry out for God to bring deliverance and salvation–the very verses quoted by the crowd cheering for Jesus as he entered Jerusalem at the start of the last week of his life (see Matthew 21:9). And then we have verses 22-23–verses that speak of the rejection of God’s “stone” and a passage Jesus quotes and uses in speaking of himself.

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:22-24)

As Jesus applies this verse, the rejection by the “builders” speaks of the way the religious leaders turned against him. Jesus is presenting himself as the “chief corner stone.” But as I reflected on this passage and Jesus’ application of it to his own life, there was something else that caught my attention.

The rejection of the Messiah, Jesus, by those religious leaders was not an unfortunate turn of events. It wasn’t a tragic accident. It wasn’t the overthrowing of God’s plans. “This is the Lord’s doing.” This doesn’t mean that the Lord forced some, against their will, to reject Jesus when he arrived on the scene. But it must mean that the rejection (and ultimate betrayal, scourging, crucifixion and death) of the Messiah was part of God’s purpose and plan.

This idea is, in truth, what the church affirmed in the prayer recorded in Acts 4:27-28:

For truly in this city [Jerusalem] there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you did anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your purpose predestined to occur.

The rejection of the Messiah and all that the rejection entailed was part of God’s design and purpose.

And then the psalmist also affirms that this “is marvelous in our eyes.” It would seem that the rejection of the “stone” and it becoming the chief corner stone–something that is the Lord’s doing–is what is “marvelous in our eyes.”

The word translated “marvelous” is used by the psalmist to speak of God’s “wonders” (Psalm 9:1; 26:7; 40:5; 75:1)–referring to the great and awe-inducing acts of God that lead to praise and worship of God for his greatness. This must mean that the rejection of the Messiah and his ultimate establishment as God’s chief corner stone should be, for us, grounds for amazement and joyful delight and humble praise.

The rejection and suffering and the death of Jesus is nothing less than God’s intention, and in bringing about this end God puts his amazing works on display in a startling and worship-provoking way. What should be our response? Nothing less than that of the psalmist in the closing verse of Psalm 118:

You are my God, and I give thanks to you; you are my God, I extol you! (118:28)

How wonderful it is to have brothers and sisters with whom to think through, pray through, and live into Gospel truth. I am grateful for those that Jesus has kindly brought into my life. I benefit from our discussions, our “speaking the truth in love” with one another (Ephesians 4:15).

I have had a conversation with one brother who expressed concern over a recent post I wrote about “idols of the heart.” In response to my thinking out loud in that post about discussions I had been having, he raised concern that I may have crossed a line, come across too strong, perhaps too critical. Taking James’ counsel to heart that every one of us “must be quick to hear” (James 1:19), I want to listen well to what he shared and to be attentive to his concern.

I do know that there are issues over which brothers and sisters do disagree. However my intention was not to stir up animosity or foster disagreement. I do know that Jesus deals with us, individually, in ways that might differ. I was not intending to suggest that those who had been helped by how Jesus addressed “idol issues” were misguided.

I really had hoped the post might open up some dialogue about how such issues are discussed and the prominence that some–at least some I have been in conversation with recently–put on that particular way God has dealt with them. I prayerfully considered how to even speak up about the issue, as I hoped would be evident in the post itself. Yet I understand that how I raised the issue and what I wrote could have stuck some in a contrarian, argumentative way. For that I am truly sorry.

I want to live out Paul’s admonition to Timothy: “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). I want to reach that goal–genuinely living in love with others. And I want to pursue that goal the right way–from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. As Paul makes clear in that first chapter of 1 Timothy, the “instruction” has to do with the soundness of our teaching. Love, anchored in truth, lived out through hearts, and consciences, and faith that are right is what Paul has in view. That is my longing. If I have not reached the goal–the love–please forgive me (and pray for me!).

Again, drawing on Paul’s words to Timothy (but from his second letter), I do not want to be quarrelsome, I long to be kind to all and in all I do, living in patience and gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-25). May it please Jesus to work this more and more into my soul.

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