Category Archives: The Bible

“Received Him Joyfully”

Two bits of narrative have been really stuck in my head recently. First, a few days ago I read the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. There are many remarkable parts to that story, but I cannot seem to shake this bit: Zacchaeus “received [Jesus] joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled.” Of course just a little bit before that in Luke we read of the father exuberantly receiving back his lost son. Now it is the wayward son of Israel receiving the savior who has come to him.

Zacchaeus is a mess, and everybody knows he is a mess. Still, something about Jesus’ reputation has compelled him to draw close. In Jesus, he finds “salvation” and receives it joyfully. Given the care Luke takes in his research, I think we can take his inclusion of this story as a testimony to a genuine and lasting change—a conversion—in wee Zacchaeus. The joy with which this man receives his Lord must be evidence of true faith and trust. He had no doubt heard for ages how sinful he was as a tax-collecting collaborator and how angry God must certainly be with him.  Nonetheless,  he “received him joyfully.”

* * *

Elise and I have been watching the Great British Baking Show (or for the legion of UK viewers out there, the Great British Bake Off) thanks to my parents. In the season we are currently watching there is a young woman named Ruby who had a very rough start to the season. No matter how good her bakes actually are, she seems unable to gain any confidence. She hears only the criticism of what she has produced. She approaches the judges with a downtrodden countenance, blurts out every flaw she can think of (sometimes even inventing problems which do not actually exist), and speaks in such a self-effacing way that one has no doubt that she does not believe she deserves to be in the tent with the other contestants. She is desperate for approval, but even when receives validation for what she has done she seems to receive it only with a sense of relief, not with joy.

I can only describe Ruby the Contestant, because I do not know Ruby the Person. TV producers have a way of showing us a story they want us to see, and it is likely that they have helped to create a character. It’s entertainment after all!

How many of us, though, receive Jesus with only a sense of relief? How many of us continue to worry that what we produce isn’t good enough? How many of us worry that we haven’t attended enough church events, haven’t volunteered for enough things, haven’t given enough money,  haven’t done enough random acts of kindness, haven’t built up a big enough church? How many of us approach God with so much trembling that it excludes the profound joy exemplified by Zacchaeus? How many of us, anticipating that sort of dread, simply do not approach our Heavenly Father at all? How many of us grumble at what God is doing in the lives of others because we do not recognize our own salvation looking upon us?

How can we manifest the power of God in a broken world if we do not believe what he spoken to us and over us? May we recognize not only the offer of forgiveness presented to us in Jesus and our need for us, but the trustworthiness of God’s “fatherly goodness towards us,” so that we may show others whatever it was Zacchaeus saw in the Son of God that caused him to “receive him joyfully.”

Isaiah 44

Today’s Old Testament reading in the daily office is a favorite of mine.1 The reading is Isaiah 44:9-20 and it’s a little long to reproduce, particularly in poetry form, so here’s a link.

It has a nice dose of prophetic judgment, but it’s the incredulity of Isaiah that really stands out. “Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?” (v. 10, ESV). Who does that? No, seriously, who does that? The passage follows immediately after YHWH’s reminder of his character, his essence. Looking upon God and his nature—proven by his acts among and for his people—how could these people make idols?

Isaiah continues, decrying the very absurdity of any idol-making. You cut up some wood, you throw some in the fire. Get yourself warm, cook up some vittles. And with the leftover bits, carve yourself a nice god!

Who. Does. That.


Me. I do that. We do that.

It’s easy to think that I don’t since I don’t do any actual idol-carving. But we as residents of “the developed world” are in fact quite quick to look to our own achievements for salvation. There is a common rhetoric about about idols that decries setting any particular thing up in the place of God as the one we ultimately serve. The downside of this sort of talk is that it neglects all of the small idols we make and set out for ourselves. We are quick in our personal lives and as a society to identify a problem (or, more likely, misidentify a symptom as a problem) and then figure out how we can fix it. It’s easy to see this in technology, medicine, politics, education—you name it. If we just had a new tool. If we just had a new medicine. If people only knew. If we all just banded together.

But the Bible is quick to point out that our problems are far deeper than they appear. “Humans striving and failing to fix problems by themselves” is a repeated theme of the Old Testament. Humans misidentifying symptoms as root problems is also a repeated theme.

The things we build are not deserving obedience or obeisance. We are deluded when we think that what we fashion can save us from problems that are in fact bigger than we are. They are powerless and they make us powerless because they separate us from God.

  1. You probably know by now I have a lot of favorites. #sorrynotsorry

Lighthouse shining

“To Bless You by…”

Elise and I have been reading through Acts in the mornings of this Easter season. It’s been a while, but a passage from Acts 3 has really stuck with me (emphasis added):

Acts 3:17   “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.

#blessed is a thing these days. Free champagne at my hair stylist #blessed. Found my coffee rewards punch card with only one to go #blessed. Got that promotion I was really hoping for #blessed. Or maybe we identify blessings apart from the material world. I feel true peace about this decision #blessed. I had an amazing quiet time I know Jesus loves me #blessed.

None of these #blessings is opposed to the Christian faith. How many of us, though, feel “blessed” to be turned away from our wickedness by somebody else?

Too often, we consider any external constraints to be encroachments on our freedom and, as Americans, on our happiness. Freedom, after all, is a fundamental American virtue.1 Freedom, one might surmise by listening to the way American speak, is to be equated with autonomy and control; the less control we have, the less happy we must be.

This is not the way of the Christian disciple. Politics and political philosophy aside, this is not the message of the Bible for those who are a part of God’s kingdom. “Wickedness” is not a term we want to use—lest it be pointed back at us, I suppose—but the very first of the Ten Commandments forbids us to have any god except for the Triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The “greatest” commandment2 Jesus gives is to love God with everything we have, but there is no Hebraic understanding of loving God apart from obeying God.

Each and every time that God turns us aside from loving false gods—from placing our faith on anyone other than Jesus Christ, from putting anyone or anything before God, from making our ultimate allegiance to anyone or anything besides God—we are to count ourselves blessed, no matter how unpleasant. We are not to begrudgingly return to our loving Creator—we are to count ourselves blessed or even, dare I say, happy.

Such a blessing may feel unpleasant when it arrives—how many times is #blessed appended to unpleasant narratives, do you suppose?—but St. Peter here offers a clear rebuke to us for understanding God’s correction as anything else. A ship may not feel like altering course based on what some land-lubber says, but shipwreck awaits one who disobeys. In the life of the Christian, such a course correction may come from prayer and silence before God, from the guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit at the reading of the Scriptures, or through the godly counsel of other Christians.

When Christians are being  led thusly, when they are truly sitting at the feat of their Lord and learning to follow and obey him more fully every day, the natural outcome of the blessing of God’s correction is that those around them will also be blessed—until the whole world is covered in that blessing. That is, the blessing of turning aside from false worship, from idolatry, from wickedness. This is the covenantal promise to Abraham.


  1. There are many asterisks, exceptions, and exclusion to this statement that I wish I could unpack!

  2. Matthew 22:36-38