He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs (Part 2)

Hulk trying to Smash!

As someone who collected comics years ago, I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  The decades of characters and stories created in the comics combine with modern special effects to create the ultimate “popcorn” events.  Thor: Ragnarok, released in 2017, was one I really looked forward to since I had read the original Ragnarok story line that culminated in The Mighty Thor issue #353 in March 1985.

(Caution: Mild movie spoilers follow!!!)  The movie’s conclusion is significantly different than the comic version, with a twist that the heroes decide victory lies in not fighting the “Big Bad” of Surtur, a massive fire demon.  However, after realizing this, they must convince the Hulk to follow the plan, resulting in one of the funniest exchanges in any of the MCU movies:

Thor: Hulk, no! Just for once in your life, don’t smash!
Hulk (in sullen voice): But big monster!

You can watch the 1 1/2 minute scene here:

Hulk logic is simple.  Big monster is here.  Hulk must smash big monster.  That’s the plan.

In Part 1, Jesus was pictured in Psalm 2:4 as being enthroned in heaven, laughing in derision at the rulers of the world who sought to break free from His “bonds” and “cords”.  This description of Jesus is a reassuring reminder to us that no worldly kingdom is a threat to Him, and we can trust in His protection.  The post ended with a question of whether we also laugh as Jesus does?  Do we hold our (and His) enemies in derision?

Peter Smash!
Here we began with a Marvel movie scene, because in a way, Thor convincing Hulk that fighting fire with fire wasn’t the answer is like Jesus’ rebuking of Peter for fighting back against the mob that arrested Jesus, and soon delivered Him to be crucified.  In John 18:1-11, Judas leads a “band of soldiers and some officers” to arrest Jesus, and Peter (possibly thinking “Big Monster!”) drew his sword and cut off the right ear of one of the high priest’s servants, named Malchus.  Jesus says “Peter, no!  For once in your life, don’t smash”, or as more accurately rendered in the ESV: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Matthew’s account (26:52-54) adds: “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’”

Jesus knows that He can beat any “Big Bad” the world has to offer at any time with an “appeal to my Father”.  In Psalm 2:5-9, right after He laughs, the Psalmist writes:

“Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
            and terrify them in his fury, saying,
‘As for me, I have set my King
            on Zion, my holy hill.’
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
            today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
            and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
            and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

But rescuing His people must come first, and until then final judgment is delayed.  Jesus knew when Psalm 2 was written that He would eventually judge all the nations, but He also knew what sort of death He would die to accomplish salvation for His people.  Jesus does not laugh because His enemies can be taken lightly – He is fully aware of the evil of the world.  His enemies cause real pain and suffering on earth, and He takes each offense personally.  But if He decided to spend all of history laughing in heaven, we would all be without hope.  Fortunately, He lived among us, and suffered terribly as a servant, knowing “that he had come from God and was going back to God”[1]

At the time of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus had told His disciples multiple times, citing Old Testament prophecy, that His plan required being rejected, suffering, and dying, then rising again[2], but when the mob came for Jesus, Peter didn’t make the connection.  He did not understand the plan, but later he would.  We are not alone when we don’t understand God’s will for us.  The twelve disciples were constantly out of step with Jesus.  When asked to do something against our natural impulse we sometimes drop our shoulders, and our voice becomes sullen like Hulk’s.

But we have hope.  Years later, Peter would write about his progress from his early impulsive days in 1 Peter 1:13-15:

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”

The “passions of Peter’s former ignorance”, may include the time Peter cried “big monster!” and cut off someone’s ear.  None of us are immune from the same Hulk logic when threatened.  But it might also be said that Jesus looked at Peter in derision when he did this[3].  But for the grace of God, there go I.

Peter writes of the implications of understanding Christ’s mission on the cross, that Christ’s followers are part of the plan, as active participants in the mission.  He calls the church to be holy, set apart for God’s purposes, to pursue the mission of the church, most succinctly spelled out at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (28:19-20).  In this kingdom, the two most important commandments are: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[4]

To answer to the question at the end of Part 1, the prescriptive truth that is like Proverbs 14:21[5] is love.  Love defines how subjects in the kingdom of the One who laughs should behave.  A love more thoroughly defined in 1 Corinthians 13 as patient and kind, and not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude[6].  Or, as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:1: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”  Paul adds in Rom 12:14 – “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”

Jesus laughing in heaven is only a comfort to us if He is our King, and if He is our King, we seek to follow the laws of His kingdom.  The laughter of Jesus is not a model for us, but is a source of comfort and strength if we are His.  In contrast, the nations, kings and rulers of this world refuse the “bonds” and “cords” of the Lord, which are these laws of love.  They make up their own system of “righteousness” by laws, and therefore “the Lord holds them in derision.”  Their earthly rules and systems cannot measure up to His righteousness and are at best narratives and at worst tyrannies.

Love When Bad Things Happen
Jesus’ laughing is precisely what enables us not to hold people in derision, and to not mock and laugh at them.  It is a key to achieving the “Us for Them” ethic described in an earlier post.  Jesus laughing tells us that there is no monster scary enough to make His plan to love the wrong answer.  Whatever your circumstance, “Love God”, “Love your neighbor” and “Love your enemies” apply to it.

To illustrate this, consider Jesus’ prophetic speech in Mark 13:5-23 from the framework of descriptive vs. prescriptive truth.  I paraphrase and categorize some of the points below:

DescriptivePrescriptive
Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’See that no one leads you astray
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, and nation will rise against nationDo not be alarmed
Earthquakes and famines in various locationsBe on your guard
You will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sakeBear witness before them and do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say
Brother will deliver brother over to death and you will be hated by allEndure
False christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wondersBe on guard

To Jesus, none of the things in the descriptive column are new information.  All were included in the plan.  The actions He recommends are not new information either.  The “Prescriptive” column means keep doing what you were doing before these bad things happened – Love God, love your neighbor.  Even if your neighbor is “bad”.

False christs and prophets will cry “But big monster!” and offer to save us.  But the true Christ calmly says “be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand”. (Mark 13:23). The false prophet takes the descriptive of evil in the world and creates their own false prescriptive.  They recommend an incomplete and inaccurate narrative as an ultimate solution.  Their own Babel which God must “come down” from heaven to even see (Genesis 11:5).  The true Christ comes down from heaven and demonstrates how to create a true ladder all the way back to heaven, offering forgiveness to all, even those who refuse to accept it or practice love.  He will be thoroughly and eternally glorified by manifesting His kingdom as the only eternal kingdom, ruled by love.

God doesn’t turn our Muerte into Morty by having us laugh at him and beat him up with a stroller (although that might be fun).  He doesn’t tell us to Smash!  Every time we try to follow the plans of the world to fight the battles of God’s kingdom, we are testifying that the world’s kingdoms are greater than His.  Our rage will be futile and our plotting will be in vain.

Witness to the Cross
Note that the presence of false prophets, national rivalry, and natural disaster provide an opportune backdrop for proclaiming the superior kingdom of God in Christ, where none of these things will occur!  We testify to the imagined utopias of the world – which are all at best narratives and at worst tyrannies – that the real utopia is one where people love so much that they are willing to die for specific others, not one where the “Pax Romana” is illusory and pointing that out is a crime.    Jesus even died for the tax collector Zacchaeus, described by his Jewish peers as a traitor and cheat, a representative of a secular enemy power.  Everyone He died for was once His enemy, and His sacrifice enables a paradigm shift from “Us vs Them” to “Us for Them”.

In our ability to do this, we all lie somewhere between the impulsive Hulk, the Peter of Matthew 26, the Peter of his New Testament letters, and Jesus’ obedience on the cross.  We each are a narrative of our own “intricate matrix of beliefs, at different levels of truth and of conviction on every possible topic.”  We all cry “But big monster!” at different things, at different times, and for different reasons, but Jesus guarantees our destination is holiness when we follow Him.  Jesus cares about His people more than he cares about all the kingdoms of the world, and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10.

But His blessing is not granted under all types of persecution.  Persecution is not evidence of righteousness, but a result of it.  Christians are not blessed when persecuted for unrighteousness, which sadly they often are.  They are blessed when persecution comes from testifying to, and striving to live, a righteousness that is unachievable by any earthly kingdom.  Jesus did this on the cross, and we do it by bearing the cross He assigns us.  When we do this, His kingdom comes, because his will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.[7]  Logically, earthly kingdoms do not like this.

Therefore, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”  (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Don’t accept the cross anyone other than Christ assigns to you – it may crush you.  The specific work God assigns for you is enough and comes with His power.  Our cross will not kill our soul; it will enable us to truly live.

For the last enemy to be defeated is Muerte.  Which means death[8].

Next post: a “minor’ prophet finds peace

Post Script
To close out the discussion of Psalm 2, the last verses (10-12) describe the Psalmist pleading with the kings and rulers:

“Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
            be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
            and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
            lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
            for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

Finally, as Paul urges us in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we should pray for our rulers to God, who is sovereign over the nations: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”


[1] See John 13:3, and a previous post about this idea.
[2] Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22 and elsewhere
[3] As in Matthew 16:23, where Jesus refers to Peter as Satan for saying suffering was not necessary for our Lord.
[4] From Matthew 22:37 and 39
[5] “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor”
[6] 1 Corinthians 13:4-5
[7] Adapted from Matthew 6:10
[8] 1 Corinthians 15:26

The Apostle Peter, Son of Gomer?

Peter is one of the most fascinating characters in the New Testament.  His struggles and flaws are written for all to see, but so is the patience and love Jesus had for him.  In Peter’s two letters, we get to see examples of his growth and maturity.  One of Peter’s struggles was how Jews who had become Christian should treat Gentiles.  In Galatians 2:11-21 is a story of Paul rebuking Peter for his hypocrisy toward Gentiles, and in Acts 10 and 11 is a story of Peter receiving a vision from heaven telling him not to treat Gentiles as unclean, because God can make anyone clean.

Peter ponders whether the key is for letting people in or keeping them out.

In 1 Peter 2:9-10, he shares this lesson with his readers:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (emphasis mine)

The bolded words clearly call back to the story of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, who God told to marry a prostitute named Gomer to teach a lesson about idolatry.  Hosea’s children by Gomer are named in Hosea 1:6-9 –

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, ‘Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.  But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.’ When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son.  And the LORD said, ‘Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.’” (emphasis mine)

As Peter grew in Christ, he learned the same lesson Hosea learned: that all of God’s people are like Gomer and her children: once estranged from God in spiritual prostitution and adultery, but now a beloved people, betrothed to one faithful God.  Jesus, our Holy High Priest, made the necessary sacrifice for the salvation of anyone and everyone who will come to Him.  Those He saves join His “royal priesthood”, proclaiming His excellent work to all people who have not received mercy, but who His blood covers.

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” – Matthew 7:1-2

A Spiritual Lesson from a Roller Coaster

Intimidator 305 at King’s Dominion. The first hill at the top, with the following airtime hill in the middle.

My teenage son is a roller coaster enthusiast.  He memorizes how tall they all are, how many inversions they each have, who the manufacturers are, how they work, and anything else he can find out.  He takes lots of pictures of roller coasters, including the one I used for this post.  Fortunately, I like them too.  We’ve been on well over 100 different coasters together and will ride anything, but we do have slightly different tastes.  Usually, he likes airtime more than I do, and I like intensity more than he does.  As an enthusiast, he’s the one who told me what a greyout is: “a transient loss of vision characterized by a perceived dimming of light and color, sometimes accompanied by a loss of peripheral vision.”[1]  Caused by low brain oxygen levels, a greyout can happen on roller coasters and can be a precursor to fainting.

Intimidator 305 at King’s Dominion in Virginia was my first greyout.  The ride, with a 90-mph top speed on the 300-foot first drop, is themed after NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, whose nickname was “The Intimidator.”  At the bottom of that first drop, the track banks into a 270-degree turn to the right, and the first time on it, the edges of my vision began to fade as blood rushed to my legs and feet.  I felt the intensity rising, and my field of vision gradually narrowed into a small pinpoint, and I nervously tensed up.  However, before I knew it, I was fine and back to enjoying the ride.

After we got off, I mentioned my greyout and my enthusiast son explained why I recovered so quickly.  It was no accident.  Intimidator 305 was designed by people who knew what the ride would do to people, so after the 270-degree turn, there is a 150-foot airtime hill.  As the train comes up this hill, the track bends down at a lower angle than the train would go on its own momentum, which not only gives riders “airtime” as they feel weightless, but also gives a rush of blood to the brain.  So, by design, I experienced greyout, followed by an amazingly quick return to normal, without fainting. 

What’s the spiritual lesson in this?  There are times where our lives feel like we’re in that disorienting 270-degree turn at 90 mph.  Our awareness narrows to where we can only see the problems in front of us and our body begins to feel stress.  In some cases, the stress itself might become the only thing we can see, having forgotten what caused it.  That intense turn can seem like it will never end, and we can’t see the relief ahead of us.  Sometimes it comes after a great success, perhaps right after the thrill of dropping down a hill at high speed…Or perhaps after experiencing a miracle.  Peter had such faith that he walked on water, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’”[2]  Even Apostles felt hopeless sometimes.

Like Peter, when we cry out “Lord, save me” we may need a reminder of 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul wrote: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

We may need a reminder from a Christian enthusiast, or maybe from our Father Himself, that we have a way of escape by design. After every sharp turn we think will never end is a refreshing moment where we feel weightless, held by our Lord in His loving embrace. In Peter’s case, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.[3] In the Father’s wisdom, relief will not always be immediate – it may take longer than we expect, but it is inevitable because He promises it.

That day, we rode Intimidator 305 three more times and every time I wasn’t as worried about the greyout because I knew that airtime hill was coming.  It’s now one of my favorites.  Thankfully, our lives also are in the hands of a Designer who knows how to teach us to trust Him, and also how to heal us when life’s troubles feel like they’re going to knock us out.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greyout
[2] Matthew 14:29-30
[3] Matthew 14:31-32

Don’t Waste Your Sin – Sunday Share from Steve Brown

Dear fellow travelers,

Today’s “Sunday Share” comes from Steve Brown, founder of Key Life Network.  In the article shared below Steve writes about how “since your sin is already paid for, why not own it and use it?  The apostle Peter is our model here (and he’s a good one). We love Peter, not because he’s so good, but because he’s so human and sinful.”

The Transfiguration: A Preview of Glory and Delight

Last week I posted about Psalm 36:8, where David thanks God that His people may “drink from the river of your delights.”   Since the word for “delights” is the plural of Eden, these occasional sips God provides us point to a past and future paradise.  These delights strengthen our hope of heaven and strengthen us to live in this world for Him.  Jesus provided such a moment for His disciples in the event known as the Transfiguration, when Jesus took His disciples Peter, James, and John up a mountain for a vision of His future glory.  Matthew records in his gospel that Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”[1]

Moses and Elijah also appeared and spoke with Jesus, perhaps representing the law and the prophets of the Old Testament and how it all pointed to Jesus.  Peter wanted to make this moment last, and offered to “make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.[2]  But it was not intended to last long, yet.

The Transfiguration was a preview of heaven, a sneak peek into what eternity will be like, a promise of future blessing under Jesus, the glorified King.  The fulfillment of everything the law and prophets hinted at will be realized.  However, Moses and Elijah soon disappeared, Jesus and His disciples descended from the mountain, and the disciples very soon struggled as we all do, but they persevered as we also must. Pray that God will make eternity real to His people today, even if for only a moment, giving a “drink from the river of your delights” and strengthen us to live for Him.


[1] Matthew 17:2
[2] Matthew 17:4