Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee,
Now Jesus came to Nazareth,
where he had been brought up,
and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day,
as was his custom.
He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.
He unrolled the scroll
found the place
where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and the regaining of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him.
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled . . . " -Luke 4.14-21
In January of 49 BCE Julius Caesar paused and debated what to do at the edge of the Rubicon River, a tiny bridge extended its way over the boundary of Gaul into Rome proper. The bridge marked the point of no return for the Roman General. Caesar's popularity and wartime heroics threatened the Roman Senate. They had sent him a letter demanding his resignation as governor and disbandment of his army or he would be an enemy of the state. The Roman Republic and its laws declared that all generals must disband their armies at the Rubicon before returning home. To cross the river with the army intact was treason and a declaration of war against the Roman State.
Suetonius, the Roman historian said,
Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and said, "We may still draw back: but, once across that little bridge, we shall have to fight it out."
As he stood, in two minds, an apparition of superhuman size and beauty was seen sitting on the river bank playing a reed pipe. A party of shepherds gathered around to listen and, when some of Caesar's men, including some of the trumpeters, broke ranks to do the same, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran down to the river, blew a thunderous blast, and crossed over.
Caesar exclaimed: "Let us accept this as a sign from the gods, and follow where they beckon, in vengeance on our double-dealing enemies. Alea iacta est. (The die is cast)."
Caesar had fought in the Gaelic Wars for eight long years, they were his wilderness, now he was returning. The question he was faced with at the Rubicon was how was he going to return? The same way he left? The wars had changed him, emboldened him, and readied him to come back differently. But he had one final decision as he stood on the banks. Was he coming back the old Caesar or the new Caesar? And how he returned would not just define Caesar but would define Rome. As he crossed the river with his army he seized his destiny, defined his history, marked Rome and everything that it would become.
Every hero in Scripture has a Rubicon they must cross, a place where all eyes are on them, a defining moment that seals their fate, a point from which they cannot return. Great people often have several thresholds, moments of crossing over.
Abram leaves Haran. (Thomas Cahill shows this as a radical departure from the Sumerian norm, a foolish and irrevocable decision leaving the world of the circle to walk a linear line, defining him as a man of faith.)
Jacob Crossing the Jabbok. (Jacob crosses the Jabbok after wrestling with Angel, to face his brother, Esau, is a point of no return).
Moses stands before Pharoah. (When Moses said, "Let my people go!" He would never be able to go back to the bucolic and solitary life, he crossed a line, he was now a prophet.)
Joshua and Caleb bringing back the minority report. (Joshua and Caleb present a report to the people of Israel that pushes back against the other 10 spies. They mark themselves as unconventional, out of sync with group-think).
Ruth leaving her homeland of Moab. (Ruth's poetically rich words, "Wherever you go, I will go, your people will be my people, your God my God" was a Rubicon moment.)
David stepping out to face Goliath.
Esther appearing before the King uninvited. (The moment she stepped into the King's chamber uninvited, she did so at her own peril, Esther would either be killed or heard. There was no turning around, taking it back withdrawing into her private quarters.)
Elisha burning his plowing tools and sacrificing the oxen. (Elisha was a farmer. Elijah walked up to him and called him to follow him into a prophetic ministry. Elisha builds an altar, burns the plowing tools and sacrifices the oxen, and once he does, he has nothing to turn back to, its a threshold).
I grew up in Stockton, California, was hired by my home church as a youth worker, and over the next 15 years worked my way from youth pastor, to college pastor, to college administrator, and to Vice-President of the college. The next move for me was President. And the opportunity was offered to me on February 21, 2003. I spent that Friday evening in prayer. If I took the position I was locked in and would probably never leave. I knew in my heart what I was supposed to do, I knew it, like I knew it.
Saturday Julie and I started packing. We got boxes, took the beds off their frames, started moving everything into the living room. We had no idea where we were going. We just knew. On Monday I sat down with the President and informed him that I was resigning. That conversation was my Rubicon. Avoiding that conversation, refusing to cross my Rubicon, would have meant sequestering the transformation in the underworld.
Thresholds are a necessary part of transformative journeys. Thresholds must be crossed if we are to mature, move on to what's next, and become our true self.
Growing up Jed had a paralyzing fear of heights. When he was 14 he told me he wanted to overcome the fear, we decided we would tackle the fear by climbing Half Dome.
We camped in Yosemite Valley, woke up at 2am and started hiking toward Half Dome from Happy Isles. He was pumped, ready to seize the day.
By 9am we had reached the subdome approach to the cables. We scrambled over 500 vertical feet up the steep granite incline
The heat was coming on and the altitude was getting to us. Jed was tired but determined, until . . .
We reached the cables at the base of Half Dome. He sat down put his head in his hands and told me, "I don't think I can do it." We saw others turning around and heading back. A lady a quarter of the way up the cables was screaming at her husband for making her climb it and yelled at him as she turned around to come back down. Jed was really disappointed in having hiked 8 miles up to this point only to realize he couldn't do it.
"Dad, I know you'll be disappointed in me, but I just can't do it. I'm afraid."
"Hey, don't worry about it. It was a nice hike and we can totally go back now if you want. This is your trip so it's up to you. Think about this, though, tonight when you lay down and go to sleep what will you wish I had said to you in this moment?"
"I will wish you had encouraged me to do it, to face my fear, to make it to the top."
As soon as he said that he got up and started making his way up to the cables. And that was his Rubicon, once he started up the cables, he faced his fear and made his way all the way to the top. When we arrived at the top he said to me, "You know how I made it up to the top? I took a step and said, 'Jesus died and then came alive after death so that I would see that death is nothing to be afraid of. I said this each step all the way up. Over and over."
When we come out of wildernesses there are always thresholds that must be crossed. Fearpoints. Bringing to the very public world that reality that is within. The only way to bring to the surface the victories from the underworld is by crossing a threshold, bringing the invisible into the visible, the spiritual into the material, the eternal into the temporal, by the "word becoming flesh."
Lookback. The underworld was the place we became aware of the Spirit's power, and we observed that it wasn't held hostage to possessions, prestige or politics. We may have been duped into thinking that the Spirit's power was a spiritual force aiding us getting the 'real' power of possessions, prestige or politics, as if the Spirit's power was a kind of utility, something useful but not beautiful, rewarding in and of itself.
The cultural-world proposes a power through "the quality and quantity of possessions that can make us or make our family happy." The work-world suggests a power through "ascending the pinnacles of prestige, the corporate ladders of influence as the way to significance." The societal-world demands a power by "taking control of our external worlds through politics or positions as the way to freedom and security." And it's easy to see how without an underworld exposing us to these sinister entrapments even we as Christians can think that the Spirit has brought us a power to competes against the world in some kind of quest to arrest these other powers.
The wilderness exposed those powers as lies and revealed the truth that the Spirit's power is something internal empowering our weaknesses not by making us strong but by making our weaknesses strengths. The Spirit's power is the internal blessing and approval we live in, not because we are prestigious or applauded by the world, but because the Father blesses and approves of us in the baptism of Christ. The Spirit's power is the Kingdom of God that is within, not the political clout without.
Before we traversed the underworld we too defined power by the world's contagion. But all of that is changing. We are aware of a different kind of power, the Spirit's power. We are aware of a different kind of kingdom, Heaven's kingdom. Armed with this new awareness we are called to cross the threshold.
Jesus shows us where the thresholds often lie, how we cross them, and what happens when we do.
In full awareness of the Spirit's power, Jesus returns to his home. On the Sabbath day he stands to read the Scripture. He finds the place where Isaiah prophesies about the Spirit's power (61). He reads it, all the gloriously shocking details of the Messiah's inauguration.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
. . . to proclaim good news to the poor.
. . . proclaim release to the captives
. . . regaining of sight to the blind,
. . . to set free those who are oppressed . . .
You can see it if you look closely. The antithesis of everything he was tempted with in the wilderness right there in prophetic prose. He has refused the world's powers and the Scriptures on that Sabbath, coming from his lips are declaring the Spirit's power. It's a power of using his voice rather than politics, prestige and possessions, a voice for good (news), for release, and for freedom to oppressed.
"The eyes of everyone were fastened on him." (i.e., this is a threshold moment. What will he do?).
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled . . . " (Boom! He crosses the Rubicon. There is no going back. He has just declared that today is the day. Now is the time. He is the man.)
"But isn't this Joseph's son?!?!" (The buffeting, the pushback, the resistance. This is to be expected. They are the same ol' them. You are different you. Much water has passed under the bridge between the last time you saw each other. Crossing thresholds can be jarring, confusing and bewildering to the eyes fastened on you as you reenter the new world.)
Five minutes later the men of the synagogue are pushing and shoving, thrusting and kicking Jesus out of the synagogue, and they don't stop. Their rage and anger escalates into a contagion as the mob pushes him out of the town limits. A violent judgment possesses them as they rush to perform a public execution.
"But he passed through the crowd and went on his way."
And those are the words of passing through the threshold. And just like that he is on the other side. He will walk 10 miles, adopt a new family, Peter's household and the world--you and me--will never be the same.
A Different You, But the Same O'l Them
Here's the thing with transformations in the heart--you got the same skin, the same countenance, the same history, the same family, the same personality, and at first glance, your world in its mindless and hypnotic state has no other recourse but to react to this alien-you. What they cannot see, but what you know is that deep down in the utterly naked part of your soul you are different. Y O U A R E D I F F E R E N T ! ! ! Down in that memetic core where desires are forged and decisions are blaze to life you are not the same. You are not reflecting, imitating the rest of the world, you are reflecting and imitating Christ's heart. You are not striving and stressing for approval and glory, you are resting in the Father's blessing. The only tactic Satan is left with, at this point, is to get the crowd and the mobs, Legion and various group-thinks to challenge your identity and in doing so to get you to question it. Because the Spirit's power lies in the identity, and the only way to stop its force is to April Fools you out of it.
So where is your rubicon? Where is your threshold? What line marks the demarcation between underworld and world?