What Defines You
"And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him."
Mark 15:20 (NIV)
The gospel of Mark conveys the sobering account of Jesus being mocked before His crucifixion. Mark tells us, “The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.”
You and I both know, don’t we, that Jesus wasn’t the purple robe that those soldiers put on Him. Nor was He defined by His own clothes. We know that He is so much more than either. What Jesus wore did not define who He is.
Jesus Christ has been given a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee must bow and every tongue must confess that He is Lord. So it didn’t matter, on that fateful day, if they had put that purple robe on Him to spit on Him and hit Him. He was still the Christ. And it didn’t matter if they disrobed Him and put His own clothes back on Him to be crucified. When He died and was raised from the dead, He was still our savior and redeemer.
And last I checked, not only is He still savior and redeemer, but He’s also prophet, priest, and king. He’s also provider, sustainer, and friend—a friend that sticks closer than a brother.
Just as you are not defined by what you wear physically, you are also so much more than the attitude and the disposition and the personality faults and the mistakes and the sin and the flaws and the failures that you carry around. You’re so much more than your doubts and your fears and your idiosyncrasies. You’re so much more than your job and your status and your title. You are so much more than your material possessions and your money and your car and your house. All of these are like garments that can be taken off and put on. They do not define you.
So if you can’t be defined by any of those things, then who are you?
I will tell you who you are: you are a child of the Almighty God.
From God’s Perspective
"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)
If you could only see yourself from God’s perspective, you would attempt and accomplish so much more in life. God is saying to you,
“I know you can grow from the pain. I know you can emerge from the dark place. I know your mistake won’t cancel out your future. I know that just because you get tripped up, it doesn't mean you’ll stay tripped out. I know that your experiences will cause you hurt at times, but I know you can overcome a broken heart. I know you can face a closed door and not give up checking for the next door. I know that you can have trouble and it will cause you to go to your secret closet and pray. I know that you will be able to testify that weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning. I know you can prove to others that you are so much stronger than they have ever imagined. I know you can prove to yourself that I'm greater than the doubts and fears and hesitancy that tries to freeze your attempts and deflate your beliefs. You’ve got to get up and try again. You’ve got to get up and show up. You’ve got to get up and put your hand to the plow, because I see capacity in you that you don't even see in yourself.”
My brother, my sister, God has so much confidence in your ability.
I wish I had time to testify to you of all the times He has proven this in my life. Almost every platform I've ever stood on was a platform I didn't think I was capable of standing on. But because God would push me to the platform, I had no choice but to perform once I got there. And after performing, I had to go back and apologize to God for thinking too small, for aiming too low, and for listening to the counter-reports of people who said I didn't deserve it.
You’ve got to believe that God believes in your capacity, and then give Him an offering of your best attempt. God knows that you have it in you and, if nothing else, He wants you to be a steward of the belief that you ought to try. Even if in the trying you fail, try it, and watch God prove His omniscience in your life.
God Keeps His Promises
I will also bring them back from the land of Egypt,
And gather them from Assyria.
I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon,
Until no more room is found for them.
Zechariah 10:10 (NKJV)
Zachariah is sharing prophecy with Israel as they learn to adjust to life on the other side of exile. It’s actually been 70 years since God delivered them, but over those 70 years since returning to Judah, it’s been anything but easy. In fact, it’s been such a hard 70 years that it causes Israel to wonder if God is going to fulfill His promises, including making of Israel a new nation, with a new Jerusalem.
Through several visions, the prophet Zechariah is trying to encourage the people to remain faithful to God. Seventy years of hardship is not easy, particularly after enduring painful captivity. And it’s even more difficult trying to feed excitement and stoke spiritual loyalty when there’s been nothing but hardship since being delivered.
It’s hard to keep one’s focus in such circumstances. It’s understandable that doubts are rising and hope is waning and discouragement is dominating. It’s understandable that spirituality appears anemic and worship is at such a low pitch. There is very little talk of deep abiding trust in the God who delivered them from captivity.
Zechariah therefore shares his visions to encourage the nation: Remember the covenant you share with God. Stay faithful to living devoted to God. Don’t give up on it. Don’t let the struggle of the times make you forget the strength of God, which is always at work in your lives.
The prophet’s message is: For God’s glory and always for your good, don’t forget the promises that God has released to you. Regardless of the time delay and the circumstances and the emotions, we must never lose sight of the truth that can sustain. And that truth is this: God keeps His promises.
God always guides history towards His purposes. Creation is always responding to God’s ultimate will, even when obstacles and conundrums stand in our way. Zechariah’s message is clear: Stay faithful to the covenant. God will keep His promise to you. This was the prophet’s message to Israel then, and it is God’s message to us today.
God has not forgotten His promises to you and He will be faithful to bring them to pass. So don’t lose heart. He is at work, even when you don’t see it.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and
delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another
one, to each according to his own ability.
Matthew 25:14-15 (NKJV)
Jesus told the parable of a man who went away after entrusting money to his servants to invest. The first servant was given five talents, which he turned into ten. The second servant likewise doubled the talents he was given. But the third servant buried his one talent in the ground and did not realize any return because he didn’t use what he was given to produce more for his master.
This third servant just let the season of time pass, allowing any potential to sit dormant. He sat on what he was given. Fear of losing it, fear of failure, and maybe even fear of succeeding all motivated him to do absolutely nothing. Worse than attempting and failing, this man did nothing at all.
He ends up being reprimanded by the owner, and that which was entrusted to him is taken away. Moreover, he loses the confidence of the owner as it relates to his capacity and ability.
Are we like that third servant? We may wrestle with discerning what God wants us specifically to do with our lives. We may live every day trying to fully understand our call and to appropriate our spiritual gifts. We may struggle to find the obedient place of surrender that helps us to fight the flesh and to surrender our lives to the Spirit. We may even be slow to exercise fully the disciplines of the Spirit.
What this text teaches us is that all of that is OK as long as you don't ever settle for doing nothing: No attempt to better your life or its position. No attempt to understand the reason God wired you. No thought of what your gifts are and how God intended for them to be used in the world. No attempt to feed the spirit or the brain. No desire to put away childish things in pursuit of godly things.
There is no guesswork here. The one thing there is no excuse for is doing nothing to better your life, to honor God more faithfully, or to understand more of His will for your lived experience.
No life is meant to be lived burying the gifts given to it. Not when these gifts have come from such a gracious God. All He wants you to do is try. And even if your five don’t produce another five, then so be it. Or if your one produces ten, then so be it. But you’ll never see what your faith is able to produce if you don’t activate it and put it into play.
Don’t sit around. Do something for the Lord!
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God
and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a
towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’
feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
John 13:3-5 (NIV)
What captures my attention as strongly as the image of Jesus wrapping the towel around His waist and taking the basin in His hand is what Jesus does prior to that.
The image of the towel and basin is so strong to teach the power of servanthood—that the greatest among us is the one who serves. It’s a lesson in humility and service to God and to each other. The image of the towel and the basin is so powerful.
But to me, it is equally as strong to read that prior to that, Jesus took off His outer robe. I think that image teaches boldly the necessary transitions we all must accept in life. This is how we grow and mature. This is how we move to places of increased power and purpose and all things spiritual. It's how we focus on gifts, and honor the ministry, and live to respect the calling. It's how we get over hurts and grow past our pains. This is what we do when we make those very critical transitions in thought and action and attitude and duty.
It's not always difficult to pick up what God requires, but it's extremely difficult at times to take off what we have learned to wear so comfortably: the mindsets and patterns and self-identities, the things that are easy and protective and safe and reliable. To take those things off and pick up what will change the way we think about and do things, it can be extremely difficult.
What things in your life have you thought or believed or protected or relied on or practiced or settled into or become convinced that if you have to take it off, it will be too difficult for you? Are there things that you've grown comfortable enough in that you’d rather keep on the dysfunction than to take it off and chase the adventurous ride that comes with faith in Jesus Christ?
What has kept you covered and comfortable, that you will have to take off in order to feel reliant on a sovereign God? What has defined you so much that to even consider casting it off is scary, causing you angst and fear and doubt?
This passage is a reminder that all acceptance of the next requires a disrobing of sorts. Are you prepared to take off the robe of what’s comfortable in order to receive the role of servanthood God has planned for you next?