Bread – Appearances

September 26, 2014


Readings for Friday, September 26, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 8:1-8,15-17; Acts 19:21-41; Luke 4:31-37; Psalms 88,91,92

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“Appearances can be deceiving.” Who has not heard that truism and in fact probably uttered it on more than one occasion?

In today’s readings we have three examples of different types of appearances. Two appear to be one thing when they are of another (deceiving appearances) and the the third is real. The real question is how to tell them apart.

In Esther, Esther has overcome her fears and gone to the king to protect Mordecai and the rest of the Jews. She is successful. Mordecai is given great honor and is permitted by the king to speak for him and to seal his messages with the king’s ring. Mordecai uses this power to send an order throughout the empire that, not only are the Jews not to be touched, but they now have the power to protect themselves and, on one day, to take “take vengeance on their enemies.” Esther 8:13. Our focus is not so much on this, however, as it is the last sentence – “And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.” Esther 8:17b

These people said they were Jews because it was the safe, the easy thing to do. They appeared to be Jews but they were not Jews. How many so-called Christians fall into the same camp today? It is an easy life, to say that “Jesus is my king and savior,” and yet have no meaning behind it. You get to participate in Christian things, show up in the assembly with your trappings of Christian affiliation, dine with people of like mind, and yet still have the appearance without the reality, just like the Assyrians claimed to be Jews when they were not.

In Acts, Paul has brought the gospel to Ephesus. Ephesus was the center of the worship of Artemis, one of the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods, and the people of the city made quite a living off the tourists who came to see the great god of silver. These craftsmen made a good living off of selling little silver Artemis-gods and they complained that Paul was teaching “gods made with hands are not gods.” The context of this statement is that their little gods were made with hands and therefore not gods, but the broader application is that Artemis himself was no god either because man had invented him and crafted his image as their idol. Artemis had the appearance of deity without the reality of deity; he had the appearance of power without the reality of power.

In Luke, Christ preaches with authority in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The people were astonished at His teaching, because it was with great authority. A demon proclaims that He is the “Holy One of God” and Christ commands the demon to leave and he does so. The people are astonished and ask themselves “What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out!” Luke 4:36. Jesus has both the appearance and reality of being God.

What is the difference between the first two, where the appearance is deceiving, and the third, where the appearance represents reality? I think the answer is actually pretty simple – if the actions of the person are consistent with the person’s appearance, the appearance is likely reflecting reality; whereas, if the actions are inconsistent with the appearance, the appearance is likely deceptive. In Esther, the self-proclaimed Jews likely only made a stab at compliance with God’s Word and His instructions for life; they likely said they believed in God without actually believing in God. In Acts, there were no actions taken by Artemis consistent with his appearance as a god; the actions were all by people on Artemis’ behalf. With Jesus, however, the actions and the appearance were synchronized. He was God and He acted like God would act. He interpreted Scripture with authority because He superintended the writing of Scripture. He commanded the demon to leave because as God He is sovereign.

Today, you may appear to be a Christian … you may attend Bible studies, engage in your daily moment of prayer, attend services at a the church of your choice, and chip in a few bucks toward the cause. But is your appearance deceiving? Are your actions consistent with your appearance? Are you poor in heart and humble in spirit, giving generously from what God has given you, living in gratitude for your blessings, renewing your mind on the anvil of the Word, working on your relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, loving your neighbor as yourself, setting self aside, obeying King Jesus, growing in maturity in Christ?

We like to put on the suit, read the script, live in the right neighborhood, join the right organizations, have the right friends … and make a good appearance.

It is between each of us and God as to whether that appearance matches reality, of whether our works are reflective of our appearance. If we claim to be Christian, this question, this testing must occur … or we deceive no one except ourselves.

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© 2014 GBF

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