Posts Tagged ‘the cross’

Candid Cross Talk

May 17, 2014

Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 HCSB)

So much has been and is being said about the Bible that I worry anything I add to the discussion won’t really be worth the time. A pastor friend of mine sent me a video of a guy making fun of the American Christian argument for marriage. The lyric could be summed up as “I want a marriage like they had in the Bible…” sung with one voice doing all the key parts of a quartet. While I thought it was funny, the significance of his argument came through loud and clear: Christian will find it difficult to prove the American version of marriage from the Bible. Now while the dude got one fact wrong (Jehu had Jezebel thrown off the balcony not Ahab) his point is well stated and poignant.
The Christian conundrum is pretty hard to argue if in fact we try to debate on commonwealth–or may be cosmopolitan–terms. The Middle Eastern–and especially ancient ME–view of life is a mystery to most of us and quite foreign to modern thought. Unfortunately, the entire Bible is written from this perspective. Yet it shouldn’t be. Most contemporary Christians accept at face value much of what they read in the Bible and as sacrosanct truth to be adhered to without question. I don’t think it’s that simple. For us to understand what is being said we need some idea of what the connotation is of any conversation, right? I mean, if I come into the middle of a conversation without knowing the topic first and begin giving advice it might by some miracle of chance be right on but is more likely to hold no resemblance to reason or intelligent input. Too often we don’t listen before we speak to our shame. We Christians may not like the questions the world throws at us to answer but we must deal with them intelligently and with some sense of humility. I believe our job is to take the principle mores of the Bible not the ethnic or cultural customs of the era as such.

The freakish nature of our world is that we all think we have something to say in the oddest places. I’ve given advice to people without considering all the factors involved and later wondered why they even took it to heart. There’s a particular arrogance which comes with any strongly held viewpoint, at least in the human experience. I listen to some Christian apologists and marvel how easily they criticize those who think outside our box. It’s as if we believe (and far too many of us do) everyone should see our God as THE truth of the universe without question just because we do. At the same time I look at the other extreme and wonder what’s all that different besides holding a different opinion about what’s true, since many of them approach it the exact same way they criticize theists for doing.

Paul’s assertion about the believers in Corinth being the rejects of their society could be seen several ways but the one I prefer, because to me it makes the most practical sense, is he wanted to make the point of how far the gospel brought them. The message of Jesus ennobles, educates, calms, expands the mind and heart of any who accept it. If it doesn’t do any of these things for a person’s outlook, the understanding of the good news has gotten skewed by the world’s vision somehow. Anyone who becomes closed minded or emotionally distant–or any number of things which supplant the fruits of the Spirit–misses the point of Jesus mission. One simply cannot mix the world’s vision of the cross and Jesus as the Christ with what He claimed is His stated mission and expect to get a clear vision of the gospel message. Religiosity presents the same problem.

Now what does all this have to do with the wisdom of the cross?

The cross reversed the winning logic. It simply changed the parameters by which we, as Christ’s followers, understand how the war against evil/sin is fought in the world. The war is for hearts not countries, lands or power. The cross was God’s ace in the hole, His secret weapon upon which we are to pattern our lives. The power of Christ goes to the crux of the problem; the hub of reason’s source; the center of the issue to completely adjust one’s thinking about who we are and where we stand in relation to Him, first, then the rest of mankind. When we grasp the significance of “turn the other cheek” for example, we don’t become the world’s whipping posts but strong-minded followers of the way of love. Evil cannot conquer the heart which has been bought by the love demonstrated on the cross.

Fanaticism and paranoia, as well as a host of other problems the world experiences, melt down in the presence of the white hot heat of Christ’s love through the Holy Spirit. The contrast between religiosity and the gospel grows more pronounced every step for the gospel brings freedom not only from sin but to think. The very notion that heavenly wisdom closes down the mind is antithetical to the message of Christ. Jesus quotes the book of Proverbs often in this teaching, which shows He honors knowledge and wisdom, both of which promote understanding and learning.

A Christ-follower never forces the gospel on others. No where in the NT will we read the disciples forcing through social, political or the threat of war anyone to accept Jesus as the Way. It is simply not to be found in the message anywhere. Has it been done in His name? Absolutely. Have those doing so used Scripture to justify their efforts? Without a doubt. But the Christian’s command structure doesn’t justify such methods. We are to be children of peace, our weapons the methods of the cross. The apostles preached without requirement or coercion.

The message of Jesus Christ crucified is death to the preservation of the world’s ideal of self and resurrection to God’s new creation. The death we die is spiritual first before the physical means anything at all. God spoke the original universe we know into existence from nothing as far as we understand it. Nothing into something means there were no raw ingredients hanging around to make it. Thus the message of the cross is in the very make up of the universe itself.

The essence of Paul’s message above is simple: God takes that which isn’t and makes something. It’s far too easy to brag about human accomplishment when all the ingredients are there to make something a success–like the cross. A famous musician can draw attention to issues he or she cares about whereas us “unknowns” struggle to get our neighbors to care about what we believe is vital. Yet God chooses to use us to affect the world.

The math of heaven becomes evident when we think about the apostles’ standing in the world they inhabited. These were obscure men in an obscure and mostly despised country occupied by a nation which looked on them with disdain. Their teacher and mentor was an unknown rabbi from a small village on the outskirts of the Jewish territory. His influence only went so far as the borders of Israel’s economy and He died as scapegoat of the political elite. His views were exceptionally Jewish, defiant only in their simplicity, and focused on grace, mercy, love and justice. At the time of Jesus’ existence other teachers were far more influential, well known and effective than He could ever think of being.

Yet these powerless men changed the world as we know it and set in motion a Way of life which stood in contrast to the norms of every society of that era and since. Think about recent famous Christian apologists and teachers. Who taught them? Who brought them to the place where they could speak with such passion, depth and insight into the spiritual? Do you see what is wrong with our take on what makes a person special? The man or woman who taught Charles Spurgeon shares in his success and reach. The man or woman who influenced Billy Graham shares in his successes in God’s view because it isn’t about the fame or influence but the heart. The man who mentored Dwight L. Moody shares in his disciple’s later success by God’s estimate of things. Humans, of course, don’t remember his name but God does.

I lived in South Africa for only 3 1/2 years. In that time I met some of the most beautiful people who would influence my life ever after. Two women touched me in profound ways for which I am forever grateful. One was Mrs. Rice (at least I think that was her name) who saw in me potential for great things as well as warning me to be faithful to the greatness God placed in me for His work. She wasn’t speaking of fame or fortune but influence.

The other was a motherly woman who spoke into my life only twice. The first time is just an image of a home open to all the kids on the street where she reigned as queen of love and acceptance. She reminded me so much of my own momma that I began to call her that–which is probably why I don’t remember her real name. Once, at a retreat set in the YFC campgrounds outside Johannesburg, we got into a deep conversation about beliefs. I think it was the next day when she spoke to me again. I had been sharing my views from the denomination I grew up in most enthusiastically the day before and she looked troubled when we parted. I thought it was just because I had been so profound that she was doubting her own position. But nope! She came to me and asked permission to speak into my life. Her words struck me like hammer blows, “Please don’t take my word for this, Jonathan, but go pray about it and if I’m wrong, I will be happy. But I think you have a lot of denominational pride.”

She went on to say a few more things but that message (not the exact words since it has been nearly 30 years) stuck and shook me up. That night I agonized over this issue because my denomination dominated my life. The next morning the truth stood out crystal clear: yes, I did. I went back to her and confessed it. To my recollection she didn’t look triumphant or pleased with herself, instead she smiled and said something to the effect of, “God wants us to be His alone and free.” Much more was said most of which I probably internalized and forgot the exact words, but I lived the message after that.

Human institutions while necessary for organization and concerted effort are not as important to God as they become to us. Of course He will use them but only when it will affect the heart neither He is limited to or by them. Paul’s declaration of God’s desire to use the despised, rejected, obscure and un-noteworthy of humanity to accomplish the message of the gospel just reinforces the miracle. The doctrinal emphasis most of us get caught up in misses the point of the gospel as far as I’m concerned. The message of the entire Bible is meant to correct our treatment of others and reconnect us to God versus give us a performance based life. Love is the foundation which secures the rest of our choices, attitudes and behaviors to Christ, the corner stone.

The cross is not a symbol of cool example of martyrdom but a demonstration of sacrifice for others those who follow Christ are emulate in the way they treat others. It states emphatically our lives belong to love first–or Love, as another name for God. Love as an emotion is not god but God is love, and I would dare to postulate that one of His names is Love. I can’t emphasize enough how the cross changes the way we think, reason, and live. Sacrificial love is not about dying physically as much as it is about dying to our ties to human attitudes and methods.

Next blog entry I would like to take on the wisdom of the cross by using the Sermon on the Mount, for I believe Jesus explained it best.


Fooled By Appearance

February 23, 2014
What is behind the mask is always more important.

What is behind the mask is always more important.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. (1 Corinthians 1:18 HCSB)

So what is real wisdom? Paul claims there is a contrast between the truth of the cross what the religious and logicians think. Where is the line drawn and why? What makes heaven’s wisdom so different from the conventional earth-bound variety? And, anyway, didn’t God make it all, so what’s the fuss?

This will be my key verse for the next while. Studying Ecclesiastes set me on a path for about a year to deconstruct reality and reassemble it into a Christ-centered truth. Since 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 speaks directly to this point I want to focus on the book to see how Paul expands on it. He spends nearly 2 chapters dealing with the contrast between human wisdom and God’s. I need to refocus my own heart on heaven’s wisdom because while I see the contrast and understand the difference, my understanding of Jesus took a beating. I recognize in myself many preconceptions born of unsubstantiated or supported traditions lurking in the corners of my psyche which needed to be brought out into the light and put into perspective.
I’m sure many people would be scared for me. Admitting to doubt and frustration with the gospel’s wisdom seems to be blasphemy in certain circles of Christian thought. To me, however, doubt is the beginning of searching for truth and wisdom. Before we can turn to Christ as the Light we have to doubt our own understanding of what we believe to be light. Far too often that which we believe illuminates our path turns out to be darkness reflecting enough light to fool us, disguising the dangers. Quite frankly I don’t doubt the gospels or scripture just some of our interpretations of it.
Too often I have been fooled by the polished arguments of those in authority with a seemingly endless knowledge of truth. What I found behind the stage, pulpit, books, memorized scripture and authoritative stance made me doubt their conclusions because they didn’t practice the very things they preached so hard. I’m not cynical merely aware that if an ethic or teaching is not practicable to those who preach it, there’s either something wrong with them or their understanding of the teaching.
Since I believe no one on earth is infallible or complete in their grasp of God, the natural thing to do for me is to hesitate to swallow what anyone wants to feed me without first examining it. I also don’t doubt an ethic just because those who teach it are hypocritical (the Greek word for an actor is hypocrite) about practicing it only in the public eye. I know my own struggles with righteousness due to my sinful nature and therefore also refuse to condemn anyone who finds it difficult to practice it.
But I believe there is light for those who want it while also recognizing our inability to handle or understand what we see. I can’t remember where I read this next thought, but I believe it came from C. S. Lewis: A person who has lived all their lives in the dark caves and confusing tunnels underground will not be able to handle or grasp the light in its fullness when they finally find the way to the surface. Our eyes grow accustomed to the light as we walk toward it yet still the full force of the sun will take some getting used to before one can live on the surface under the open sky. Sadly, because of the brilliance and power of the light from the sun (Son) most of us will remain in the cave to varying degrees–the mouth of it where there is shade; back a few feet so all we get is a glimpse of what is available; or as far back as we can and still see a speck of light.
So there are some issues and preconceptions I want to address in the coming study within myself and the world around me. By no means do I intend or ever even declare that I’m outside the cave and living fully in the light. I wouldn’t really know how to measure where I am positionally and refuse to waste my time attempting to know what only God could reveal. What I can tell you is I see a light in front of me and I am continuing to walk, stumble, crawl, or run as I have energy, but in no way do I think I’ve reached the mouth of my cave. And since I know human nature pretty well by now, I doubt anyone reading this has reached it either. I expect some to be further ahead in their journey, some just a few feet in front, some even with me, and others behind. Whatever! Hopefully, my journey will help someone in the process. Let’s see if we can step a little closer to the light of heaven together.

It is Finished

January 18, 2011

When He had received the drink, Jesus said,  “It is finished.”  With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.  John 19:30.

He had finished His work on earth, which was to pay the price of sin.  That’s it, that’s all He finished because, obviously, history has continued.

Being a Christian all these years and attending a myriad of churches throughout, I realized I didn’t know for certain what He meant by the words “It is finished” until I took it context with what He was doing at the moment.  The reason being I hear and have heard so many interpretations of what these words mean I find it hard to make up my mind about who to trust.  All the sources are reputable people so making a decision based on character just won’t cut the mustard.

In my previous entry I spoke of Jesus considering the last thing from Scripture He must fulfill before giving in to death.  Once this was done He had finished the puzzle, completed the maze, solved the riddle, illustrated the metaphor, to the point that the only thing left for Him to fulfill Scripture was to die.

There are those who claim the entire work of salvation was completed on the cross, that nothing else needed to be done.  In a way they are correct, but on the other hand, they miss a key element in the redemption story—the restoration of all things and the redemption of our bodies.  Now this may seem to these folk to be of less importance than the primary goal of redemption’s price, yet they either fail to realize the implications of their conclusion or ignore anything outside of it.  The death and resurrection of Jesus set the work of redemption on its final course, the grand finale of  His return and recreating the heavens and the earth.

There are those who claim He went into a physical sanctuary to plead the case of humanity before an avenging God.  This, of course, ignores Jesus claim that “the Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” God doesn’t need a ritual (though He might use it, I don’t know) to be reminded of Jesus’ death.  He is in all times and all places at once (that’s what omnipresent means), so it’s not like the death is happening yesterday for Him but in the eternal “now” of His existence.  I don’t grasp this because I am as linear as everyone else, though I accept it by faith.  Their assumption also ignores Jesus’ statement that “God is Spirit, and His worshipers will worship [Him] in spirit and in truth.” This suggests to me the physical tabernacle on earth wasn’t an exact replica of one in heaven but symbolized the nature of heaven itself.

Rabbit Trail with Me…

Take Paul’s statement that we as the church are God’s temple and so are the individuals who make it up.  His presence is among the people; His temple is human hearts.  The seat of God’s throne finds its anti-type in the spirit of the human “heart” where the essence of our person dwells.  It is also evidenced among His people when they are of one mind and heart for His glory.  C. S. Lewis postulated in “The Great Divorce” that we are the dream, heaven is the reality.  In other words, what we consider to be the “spirit” world is more real than our “physical” world we cling to so desperately.  What this means, of course, is that for God all things in creation dwell under the umbrella of His Sanctuary or tabernacle when that creation is harmonic communion with Him.  No sin to separate us from Him puts us directly back into communication with Him again.  The Biblical tabernacle symbolized what had been lost—access to God.

Back to the Point…

The cross was the crux of the whole plan, for sure, but there is more, otherwise we wouldn’t still be here.  I’m not certain what it means for human history to be marching forward for so long, but then I’m not God and barely have an inkling what is going on in His mind—and that’s with Scripture to give us the hint.  What I do believe about this passage is Jesus declared the work of salvation a huge success and made it clear He had fulfilled everything the Christ would do according to Scripture.  There could also be other layers of meaning here as well.  For instance, the dispensation of the Old Covenant came to an end so the new era could begin.  The other meaning I get out of it is prophetic:  Jesus is declaring for all the powers that be His victory over sin, which points to a new heaven and earth.

All this depth comes in a loaded three word sentence.

So that Scripture Would be Fulfilled

January 12, 2011

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said,  “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  when He had received the drink, Jesus said,  “It is finished.”  With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.  John 19:28-30.

The Scripture John is referring to is found in Psalm 69:21They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. Jesus knew the Scriptures, they were His guide on the journey.  There’s this sense I get when I read Jesus’ desire to “fulfill” Scripture which gives me pause to think.  Was Jesus simply interpreting prophetic language to fit His circumstances or was He following a guideline laid out for Him through their experiences.  Each of God’s servants felt the sting of sin in various ways.  Some were wealthy, comfortable and powerful, others suffered greatly.  In both cases God brought them through some tough times by demonstrating His power.

I’ve heard many reasons why the soldiers gave vinegar to Jesus.  In one of the other gospels the vinegar is mixed with myrrh, which some interpret to be a pain killer or suppressant for those on the crosses.  What’s interesting to me about how this went down is that Jesus didn’t ask for vinegar but water.  He said He was thirsty and they gave Him vinegar.  I drink ale and wine at times so I can tell anyone with authority that they absolutely don’t quench anyone’s thirst.  Vinegar is like wine in that it is fermented to its usable state, but it definitely isn’t thirst quenching.

Here’s what I believe about this “fulfillment” issue:  Jesus knew human nature and the Scriptures guided Him in that knowledge.  He knew what the result would be if He called out for water, which means He wasn’t programming the situation itself, just following protocol to prove the point of the cross.  He died for sinful men that they might be reconciled to God—even though that meant being aware that to His dying breath they would abuse Him, break His heart with their callousness and demonstrate cruelty beyond the pale when they felt they had power over Him.  This is the true nature of sin as well as a succinct illustration of how far it will go.

The Master didn’t even have to nudge those who gave Him His “drink” in order to fulfill prophecy, for the practice was well established long before they put Him on the cross.  No, we demonstrated our collective heart toward God when we served a beaten, bleeding, dying, innocent man by answering His last request with bitterness rather than mercy.  Instead of grace and water mankind fed God bitterness and cruelty.

This is what the final analysis of the nature of sin reveals.  This is the outcome of those who reject God.  This, in my estimation, is the best reason for following Jesus.

The Hour

February 23, 2010

Jesus replied,  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Again, we must note that timing is everything to God, for He sets up these specific things to be road signs for those who would follow after and to bolster the faith of anyone needing to be reassured.

 Jesus uses the word “glorified” in a most peculiar way.  In this context we know it refers to His imminent death, which doesn’t sound much like glory to most of us, I reckon.  The word used in the Greek is doxaso which means to honor or extol.  In this context it means that through His death God will bring Christ’s glory to light.  The very reasoning of it sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  How can one be honored through a humiliating death like the cross?

Today so many people wear the cross as a symbol of coolness, sexiness or just an ornament among other ornaments.  We have lost the humiliation of that death, for anyone hung on a tree was considered cursed by God per the Law and the teachers of Jesus’ age.  Thus when Jesus pronounced that He would be lifted up the Jews reacted incredulous.  At the same time, many play with the dramatic nature of His death wringing every drop of blood, pain and humility out of it to move the hearts of their listeners.  I don’t object to either being done because I’m not that concerned with drama nor am I gonna’ get all tied up in knots about blaspheme.  My point here is that God is using that chess master brilliance again. 

What we would have thought as defeat, God used to win.  What we would never have imagined as a good tactic, God used as His ace in the hole.  What we would have considered to be the worst possible plan, God designed as His main goal from before the foundations of the world.


The kingdom of heaven isn’t built around a grab for power but submission through faith to His love.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

We see more often than not people looking at these verses glassy eyed and unaware of what they signify.  Jesus used His own creation to illustrate how life would be restored to us.  Contrary to some opinions He isn’t recommending esthetic living or monastic isolation here, instead He’s showing that through the most innocuous, lowly and degrading circumstance known to mankind God would produce fruit so far beyond the investment it would boggle the mind.

Through a childless couple, God brought a great nation.  Through an old man, past his prime, along with a wife long past her child bearing years, God made many people.  All through the history of God’s people He raised up the most dubious and likely to fail as His heroes, then glorified Himself through these weak vessels.  The world laughed at their efforts until God started to act.

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

To the cross on through to life eternal.  I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, our cross is not some burden we drag around with us as a sign of godliness or God’s testing of us.  The cross signified one thing and one thing only:  death.  When we take up our cross, we die to everything we could be for this world’s sake and move to a higher calling.  What comes with this may leave us without any worldly means to accomplish what God has in mind for us, but that’s the beauty of it.  Through our weakness His strength is made perfect.  Gideon, a coward, youngest son and least likely to succeed takes on an army of 100,000 with 300.  The odds against him succeeding?  333.33/1 against.  Do the math.  This means every soldier in Gideon’s army had to slay or rout over 300 men on their own to win the battle.

God’s ways take what’s impossible for us and make it happen.

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name!”  John 12:23-28a.

His heart was troubled?  He was sad, afraid, and vulnerable in this moment.  He didn’t want to die on a cross.  He saw all the examples along the main road into Jerusalem of kind of death it was, so there could be no fantasy about a noble death for Him.  It would be slow, agonizing and humiliating—the latter because everyone passing by would throw rocks, mock or shake their heads in shame.  The Jews knew the Law cursed anyone hung on a tree so those on a cross must have been pretty evil to get put there, in their opinion.

Jesus, however, answers His own question with an affirmative “yes!” to God.  He knew the scorn and pain coming would bring glory to God for it would take that which should be a defeat and turn it into an eternal victory.

The lesson for today is:  Stop looking to human methods for success.  I’m not saying God hasn’t ordained hard work, vigilance and dedication to one’s duties as a good method, but we need to recognize the message of the cross reminds us that succeeding in God’s eyes may not bring worldly profit.  Our reward in Christ is far more complex and satisfying in the long run than mere money or acclaim.  We receive a life without the need to fight for a place, scramble for shelter or sweat for food.  Isn’t this what the world promises wealth will bring? 

We have a higher calling, one which will lead us to success through humility and loss.  In the end, however, we gain a crown of life, for those who follow Jesus will be where He is…


February 10, 2010

Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews.  Instead He withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where He stayed with His disciples.  John 11:54.

Even with all His power to thwart whatever plot came up to hinder or hurt Him Jesus had the wisdom to lay low.  Timing is everything for God and I don’t think He was scared to die just not ready.

In the NIV the very next paragraph begins with, When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.  Notice John makes sure we know what Jesus was waiting for and by telling us which Sabbath came next he’s setting us up for what Jesus’ next step will be as well.  Since the Passover was symbolic of Christ’s mission to earth, Jesus waited until it came around before He exposed His neck.

Timing is everything in the kingdom of God.  There’s a saying in the church, “God is never late, He’s always right on time.”  This is truth we would do well to get used to because our sense of timing is based on our desires, fear of death and loss.  We exercise caution in the some places we should be courageous and fearlessness (or spiritually speaking “carelessness”) in others where we should run like heck.  God’s timing in Jesus’ situation had more to do with His prophecies and purpose for mankind, however.  God set up the date the messiah would die, and, true form, Jesus died on the Passover.

The Passover lamb symbolized the deliverance from the avenging angel in Egypt to the Jews.  They remembered that God passed over the homes with the blood on the door posts and header.  Even though this is a deep abiding meaning for this Sabbath, the deeper significance was lost on them as a whole, for the lamb symbolized the messiah’s mission on behalf of sinful humanity, of which deliverance from Egypt was but a metaphor.

Jesus died on a high Sabbath, or in other words a Sabbath other than the weekly 7th day rest.  The reason the Jews wanted Him in the grave was so that they would be able to take part in the Passover, for the law stated anyone who touched blood would be unclean and unable to take part in the ceremony.  Remember what Jesus told John B about being baptized? 

“Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”

The Law and the prophets declared the messiah would come; yet they did more than that, I believe, for they gave us a script by which to trace His mission and work on earth.  The Law declared the Christ as a prophet like Moses (see Deuteronomy 18), who performed miracles in the Name of God.  Unlike the expectations of the Jews, however, the Laws were specifically set up to point the way for anyone inquiring into the nature of God’s work on behalf of mankind.  Every sacrifice, every custom, every single difference between the Jew and Gentile set up in the law declared Christ’s mission.  The clothes the Jews were to wear had to be a single fabric, they couldn’t mix say polyester and cotton like we do.  That symbol alone should be recognized by every Christian since the garment of our righteousness is pure white washed in the blood of the Lamb.

The prophets told where He would be born, the Law set up a time table for Him to follow.  I don’t know how this worked, I only know that Jesus died on the eve of the Passover exactly when the lamb, who’s blood would be spread on the doorpost of every house in Israel, was set to be slain.  This cannot be a coincidence.  Isaiah’s prophecy stated He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent would completely baffle the Jews but give Jesus guidance as to what He should do during His trial and conviction.

The people enjoyed the circus and drama more than anything else.  It was something to gossip about, discuss, argue over and accept or reject.  So their curiosity wasn’t necessarily spiritual in nature, although many would be interested in this aspect.  They talked about it out of earshot of the priests and Pharisees because these men had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest Him.  Oddly they gave no reason, and probably didn’t need to because it was enough that they thought Him dangerous.

Most people follow the leaders pretty well.  Oh, we like to gripe about them, oppose them privately and argue over who’s best, but in the end we won’t rock the boat.  Jesus calls us to stand for Him as our only goal.  We are not to seek anything but His approval.  The odd thing about Christ is His desire for our motivation.  Our motive should be for Him alone, all other goals are secondary.  If we rock the boat, it is as a result of being loyal to Christ and obeying Him, not our goal.  We don’t set out to rock the boat or stand against anyone, yet by default standing up for Christ accomplishes all these other things.  In other words our goal is not to defy the world but to love and stand for Christ.

The motivation of our hearts is vital here for it will dictate how we approach those who oppose us.  Yet think about Jesus’ move in this passage:  He withdrew from Jerusalem and would not enter a city openly because of the Jews.  He wasn’t merely being cautious, folks, He was being purposeful.


April 16, 2009

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Luke 9:23.

I know I’ve explained to myself (and those who read this blog or have been in personal discussions with me) what it means to take up our cross.  The meaning for the disciples would have been clear in their day and age, for the illustration burned the lesson into their minds every time the Romans executed someone by crucifixion.  To take up a cross meant to them they were going to die an excruciating death in shame and disgrace.  Paul claimed that which was shameful (the cross) to the world, however, became his glory through Jesus.

I think we’ve lost much of the significance of the cross today, simply because we don’t execute people this way anymore.  So we see pop stars, strippers, gangstas and a host of other people wearing crosses to be cool or simply as bling.  Some Christians find this offensive because to them it robs the cross of its import.

I don’t.

Like the Pharisees and leaders of Jesus’ time, who decorated the tombs of the prophets and honored them with lavish gardens and such, the people of our day testify to their guilt and complete disregard for Christ by decorating their bodies with a cross.  In other words, it’s fitting they should do this for it our sins which crucified the Creator of heaven and earth.  They wear this as a symbol of wealth, sexiness or whatever, rarely realizing the actual message they send heaven, which is:  “We don’t care about the truth of the cross nor do we recognize how awful a death it represents.”    And, as Jesus said to those who decorated the tombs of the prophets, they testify they are the children of those who crucified the God of heaven.

They glory in the shape of it without ever thinking of the cruelty of this object of torture.  And I did the same until a work associate pointed out through her question what a horrible symbol it was.  She said,  “Why do you wear such a disgusting symbol of death around your neck?  Don’t you realize that the cross was means of torture?”  I did realize it but had never put it into those kind of words nor thought of it consciously as an artifact around my neck.  From then on wearing the cross meant far more than just jewelry.  (We ended up having quite deep discussion about why I wore this cross as well.)

Yet, as much as I understand this verse and concept, I must confess I don’t know how to be unselfish.

O, I get the basics of the truth of it, I just don’t know the balance of unselfishness versus taking care of myself.  It’s a constant tug of war in me to find that place where I am *zen* with serving others while making sure my body and mind remain healthy.  I am sometimes at a loss as to how to accomplish both.  I find myself distrusting most voices who speak to this subject because they come at it from either a monkish/monastic tilt or the “I’m ok–You’re ok” camp.  I don’t want either one, to be blunt, for both represent man’s efforts to please the gods or themselves.

To love others as I love myself is a hard balance to strike, that’s why I study this subject so much.  I want to grasp in practice what Jesus says in principle.  The common explanation is:  What would Jesus do?  Yet this doesn’t exactly explain whether I should take this job over that one or whether or not I should be a missionary to a far country or to my neighborhood.

So for a while this subject is going to be popping up and I’m going to explore it as thoroughly as I can—or as the Spirit inspires.

The Cost of Following Jesus

September 11, 2008

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said,  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciples.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower.  Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to compelte it?  For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying,  ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king.  Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.  In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Luke 14:25-35.

What is the foundation of our lives?  What do we consider to be the strength of it?  And, more importantly, what do we think we get when choose to follow Jesus?

Jesus was popular with the crowds because they looked on Him with celebrity status not because of His mission, message or purity.  They travelled with Him to see what He would do next, that next miracle, that next story of the kingdom of God, which most didn’t grasp the significance of anyway.

What would it have been like to be in the crowd when Jesus turned to tell us we needed to hate everyone including ourselves before we could be considered His disciple?  What would it have meant to us?  Then He not only told us to hate our loved ones, He made it clear we would be carrying our own cross, which everyone in that day and age would have equated with execution and death.  A man carrying a cross was going to be hung on it, to suffer and die.  That doesn’t sound very rewarding does it?

Then Jesus tells us through three parables what He’s driving at:

1.  Estimating the cost of a tower and building it in that era usually meant protection against raiders and thieves.  A tower wasn’t just for show but a functional reality for safety.  In the story of the gospel Jesus is considered the foundation, the walls and roof, the doctrinal building blocks (see 1 Corinthians 3).  Anyone building an earthly tower would first figure out if he/she had the means to purchase the materials and ability to erect the structure to completion, otherwise they wouldn’t even start such a venture.  Jesus is telling us that unless we are willing to invest not only the foundation but the teachings as well, we waste our efforts just laying the foundation.

2.  A ruler of a smaller nation had better be pretty sure of his army before venturing out to war against a larger force, for if he’s wrong, death and destruction will result.  Jesus makes it clear that surrender is the only option here for the last sentence tells us that anyone who isn’t willing to give up everything he/she has, cannot be His disciple.  A ruler seeking terms of peace is in essence surrendering to the more powerful king before the mayhem of war destroys his nation.  Jesus tells us that if we do not surrender to Him as sovereign Lord and Master, we will be destroyed.  Notice, however, that it is not only those who serve Him who lose everything.  One way or another we all must die to everything–either dying through the cross or at the judgment.  No one gets to keep their stuff.

3.  Salt was used as a preservative as well as flavor for food.  Salt that has lost its flavor loses its primary role in our lives.  A person who loses the flavor of God in his/her life has lost the essential ingredient needed to be identified with Christ.  When we use salt, we expect it to taste a certain way and do certain things.  Salt that has lost its flavor becomes innert and useless for the property which gives it that singular taste is also the ingredient needed to preserve even the manure pile.  Jesus calls us the salt of the earth for He is the flavor in us; His teachings give us the unique taste and function for the rest of the world.  If we lose the distinctive flavor He gives us, we can no longer be said to belong to Him but have either perverted His message or let go of it completely.  In either case we lose Him and therefore no longer represent Him.

The end of the message is simple:  God created it all so it all belongs to Him.  Unless we not only acknowledge this fact but live in harmony with it as well, we will be thrown out like the bad salt, destroyed like the rebellious and defiant king, and scorned for our failure to pay the price.  God will not be the one calling us to account in scorn, but the world which practices hypocrisy themselves will call us down for ours because ours is a higher calling.  Those who follow Jesus claim the Name and therefore must live up to it in humility.

The investment is all or nothing, God gives no credit for cautious involvement.  Speculation and consideration is something we do before we give ourselves to Him not afterwards.

Song Lyric: Until It Hurt

June 7, 2008


Until It Hurt


He was a man of means

Yet He held no earthly estate

Becoming one of His own creation

He sealed and changed their fate

He gives the gift of life

and gave to his dying breath

All for the joy set before Him

endured a shameful death


It’s too wonderful

to comprehend

How this selfless heart

broke to mend

The shattered lives

the bleeding souls

bind their wounds

to make them whole

through a love

that gave ’til it hurt


Some follow ruts too deep

Some confused end up falling down

Other’s will pay no attention

and get lost in the turn around

This man was made of clay

but God to His very soul

A mystery mix both divine and human

His love drove Him to the goal

©1995 Jonathan Varnell