A Red Letter Experiment #1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I see God’s glory and a glimmer of Heaven when I’m outside

Imagein nature away from humanity’s busyness.

I’ve been reading Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. If you aren’t familiar with these men, get familiar. To admit this book (and I’m not even finished with it yet) has set me back on my heels a bit and forced me to re-examine my life after following Jesus for 47 years, is shocking to me. Yet what they are presenting makes sense to me: Read and examine and meditate on what Jesus did and said, and do it. He meant it. For those naysayers, STOP. Neither author discounts the rest of the Bible as irrelevant. It is the inspired word of God. All of scripture is good for teaching and ruminating on and discovering who God was, is and continues to be throughout history and into eternity. He was and is and ever will be.

Jesus was the culmination of God’s plan. His words are spoken to man directly from a member of the Holy Trinity. Wow. Ok. That’s hard to even wrap your brain around. I don’t meditate on that enough because after 47 years of church and Sunday School and Bible study and Falls Creek and  Beth Moore conferences and divorce and disappointment and disillusionment, I seem to find more comfort in the letters of Paul than in the actual words of Jesus. That’s screwed up.

So I’m trying something. An experiment. I’m going to start in Matthew (though there is much discussion about which of the Gospels was written first–no one has been inspired to move it), and look at those red-letter words. Not devoid of context, but still pulled out and examined as part of his words to me. How I’m supposed to be like him. That’s what this whole Christian thing is anyway–becoming–transforming–evolving into a person like Jesus. (Naysayers–I’m not discounting the Holy Spirit’s equally powerful presence to move through the words of Jesus and speak to my heart–It’s the only way that the words will come to life for me and move me to action.)

This morning after laundry, cleaning bathroom, taking a shower, bathing a chicken in herbs and placing it in the crock pot, I decided to sit down and let God take priority for a while. Shoot, I can give Him a few minutes of my day. You would think this would be easy–but it’s not. I have 104 Scarlet Letter novels to look through and grade for annotations. I have 104 notebooks full of essays that need to be graded. I have to prepare to teach Thoreau and the Transcendentalists by Monday and try to make students understand why people were so drawn to this non-religious belief system…I panic a little when I think of all that I need to do. Momentary panic attack—ok. Back to red letters. The first red letters appear in Matthew 3:15.

“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’” 

Jesus is responding to his cousin, John, who questions whether he should be the one to baptize the Messiah. Jesus replies. “Let’s do this.” And John does.

Ok. Simple sentence. Actually it is a compound sentence with prepositional and infinitive phrases tacked on. So, being an English teacher, I immediately started with the first clause. “Let it be so now.”

  • Note the authority with which Jesus replies. No hesitation. No, “Now John, it’s ok. Promise.  You are the man for this job.”
  • “NOW” The immediacy of this word. I think about the Old Testament. The thousands of years God looked for men and women who would be sensitive to Him and love Him–no Holy Spirit at work. Just God and men and women who said “yes.” The prophets. The kings. The judges. The prostitutes. The ordinary people who God pulled out of their ordinary lives to show the earth dwellers that He was the great I Am. Some believed and served God and He used them in mighty ways. Some people preferred empty man-made gods (an oxymoron) that priests controlled, to an all-consuming uncontrollable God who demanded they turn to Him and away from wickedness. So God would use someone like Joshua to show those folks just how unmanageable and omniscient and powerful He was. Somebody (usually lots of people) ended up dead. Others were convinced.
  • Back to the “NOW.“ Jesus had been walking and working and interacting with family and friends for 30 years at this point. He then tells John, NOW. Baptize me now. Let the road to my death and resurrection begin. I have three years to challenge the world’s disbelief and show them who I am and who my Father is, because to quote Jesus, “I and my Father are one.” There is an urgency to the word “now.” An immediacy. 

Time for the 2nd clause.

  • “It is proper.” I periodically like to have my students perform diction studies. They take words out several slashes in order to see the full connotation of the word rather than just its denotative meaning. So I looked at “proper.” I even looked up the biblical Greek word for it. If I do a diction study on it I start with proper and then I slash it out, I get this: Proper/appropriate/ suited for/ exactly fitting/ right and approved. Thus the 2nd clause becomes more than just “proper”—the new sentence might read like this: “it is appropriate, suited for and exactly fitting, right and approved [by God the Father] for you to baptize me, John.” 
  • The infinitive: “to fulfill all righteousness.” I’m starting with the infinitive: to fulfill. I think of completion. Something needs to be done to complete a task, an order, a job, a ministry. To accomplish. To carry through to completion.
  • Now “all”–inclusive. No exceptions. Nothing else needed.
  • Righteousness: When referring to the righteousness of God, we have to connect it to His justice. And since God is God (and we are not), His justice is always right. Always according to His nature. It is not man’s justice or man” right-living.” It is God’s holy justice. According to Bob Deffinbaugh (“The Righteousness of God”), God’s righteousness is “a natural expression of His holiness.” Through God’s righteousness I am made acceptable to my creator. His righteousness was displayed in the person of Jesus. Jesus makes us acceptable to our righteous God. We can’t make ourselves righteous anymore than we can make ourselves holy or pure or sanctified. Jesus had to do it for us, because we humans have a tendency to get a little proud and boastful when we think we are “all that and a bag of chips.”  When we love and embrace Jesus as Savior, we are seen by God. In a sense, Christ’s righteousness filters our sin. We are made “right” before God.
  • Ok. I’m going to try to put this 2nd clause together: “It is appropriate, suited for and exactly fitting, right and approved by God the Father–in order to complete or accomplish ALL (nothing lacking and nothing else needed) of God’s holy justice.”

I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. The first time Jesus’ words are recorded in red letters in the book of Matthew, He defines His entire purpose. It’s like he is saying, “So, let’s get this redemption thing going.” Thousands of years of God’s planning and working through the lives of flawed and fallible beings come to this moment in history: Jesus beginning what would become a mere three-year ministry–a ministry of salvation for the entire world. Three years. Change the whole world. And it continues.

Amen.

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