Friday, April 13, 2012

The Hurting Lie: What I've Been Hiding From

   Over the last few days, I've been steadily and increasingly drawn to a significant, inevitable and sobering personal conclusion as I contemplate the lessons that I learned during Holy Week and Easter:

I've been keeping the Holy Spirit at a 'safe' distance, afraid of Him, because I'd been fooled by the lies of those who have misrepresented Him and abused His name. I've been hurt, and I've been hiding from the pain for the last four years.

   This is a troubling realization to be arriving at as I try to put this into words. I have a nagging feeling that this is going to be like facing the painful memories of my childhood bullying and abuse that blindsided me more than a year and a half ago. I first began processing those memories in the post "Infliction: Childhood Wounds", as God began unraveling the emotional bandages that I had wrapped my heart in, and dismantling the armor that I had erected to protect myself. I wrote about that in "Adoration: Childhood Heroes" and "Conviction: I'm not Iron Man." I felt scared as I started to work through those memories then; I'm starting to feel scared again now.

   It is an unnerving experience to be taken by God into the hidden and hurting places of my heart, where memories have been suppressed and locked away, wounds bandaged over, barriers erected, defenses at the ready. It is scary to face the truth about our hurt, abuse, fear, and the lies that we have believed about myself or others. However, it is more painful to realize that I have been scared of God as a result of spiritual wounds at the hands of false religion and teaching, and believed a lie about Him. That is the sensation I'm beginning to feel now as I think about the Holy Spirit in light of my experiences of last week, and I'm afraid. I'm afraid because I know it's going to hurt to think through those memories, but I have to if I want to find the truth.

    I first tried to describe my spiritual and intellectual confusion that took place during my teenage years, when my family shifted into the Pentecostal/Charismatic community and congregations in my post "In Search of 'Holy Ground'." It was there that I first heard all sorts of people delivering extraordinary and conflicting claims regarding the Holy Spirit and His power in the life of the believer. Some seemed biblical. But others taught that He 'zapped' people with His power, causing them to shake, shout, clap,  fall over, laugh, roll around, jump, and other strange behavior. Yet others taught that His whole purpose was to deliver anything that was asked of Him on demand, like the 'delivery boy' of the Trinity. According to them, He could be commanded at will with 'name it and claim it' language, with the intention of delivering health, wealth, big houses, cars, success, prosperity, personal aircraft, and anything else that we asked for to make us happy. All of them tried to use Scripture to prove their claims. All of them seemed attractive and legitimate.

Young, gullible and naive as a new Christian, I fell for all of it.

   The end result of believing lies built upon swiss-cheese theology was that I formed a completely wrong picture of God, His Word and especially the Holy Spirit in my mind. This influenced who I thought I was, who I thought He was, how I approached Him, and how I looked at life. In the end, it took two devastating personal crisises that shook the foundations of my world and caused it all to come crashing down to wake me out of my stupidity and "smell the burning coffee." When the shock wore off, I realized to my horror that I had been well and truly fooled. I had been taken for a ride, spiritually duped, fed and believed a delusion, a blasphemy about the person of the Holy Spirit and left a fool at the end of it all. I felt devastated, like I had woken from a bad dream; I had been used, violated, pillaged, an idiot who believed anything and everything that was told to him and robbed of innocence in the process.

   Four years ago, disillusioned and hurting but desperately wanting to live the real and authentic Christian faith, I went in search of a church that could help me lay a solid foundation in my faith and teach me the "truth." God in His mercy led me to the theologically conservative yet somewhat unconventionally Mennonite church that I attend, where I have had to unlearn much of what I thought I knew. Although I have learned much in the process, especially the precious truth about how to carefully read and interpret God's Word, I am beginning to realize that I have unintentionally kept the Holy Spirit at a safe distance. Although I pray to my Heavenly Father and think a lot about Christ, His Son, I have been afraid of speaking too personally to the Holy Spirit, asking for His help or expecting His 'power', because I've been afraid of once again opening the door to all the false teaching that I fell for before, falling into the trap and committing blasphemy in the process.

   It hurts to realize this. I have to face the fear and lie that Satan tells me about the Holy Spirit in my heart and destroy it. I know that I know the real Holy Spirit. He is not the crazy, distorted image that I naively believed in many years ago. I have to firmly establish the truth about Him in my heart, and call on His power. I'm going to stop here for now and go to bed. This has been emotionally exhausting to work through for one evening. See you in the next post.

Good night, Holy Spirit. I love the real You.
- The Wisdom Seeker.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Post-Easter Convictions

"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,
and a light unto my path." - Ps. 119:105
   This will be a quick and short post, before I end the day in prayer before God and head to bed. Easter is now two days behind me. As I look back on the last week, I'm left with the question:

Where to from here?

   This Easter was unlike any other in my life so far. It was the first time that I, by the grace of God, made a determined effort to follow the events of Holy Week in detail and depth. I earnestly sought Him to personally speak into my life through what I read in Scripture. God has been more than gracious; He has touched and my heart and my ignorant mind in a very powerful way during the last week. As I reflect on the lessons learned, I want to make a note of what God is bringing to my attention in my life that needs the power of His Spirit to change: 

  • The Holy Spirit - I really need to know Him more and need His power to live a godly life
  • A need for sanctification and holiness in my inner man
  • Faithfulness and discipline in my public and private life, for the glory of God
  • My pride must be crushed, with a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Ps. 51:17)
  • I need the humility of Christ, who humbled himself and became a servant (Phil. 2:3-8)
  • "What is desired in a man is kindness..." (Prov. 19:22). Is that seen in my character?
  • "...full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). I really struggle in this area and I want to change
  • Walk alongside those who are weaker; offer my strength and support as Christ did for me
  • An end to "self" - self-image, self-confidence, self-wisdom, self-effort, self-seeking, self-help
  • My prayer life - disciplined, fervent, humble, and persevering
  • Watch my tongue. Talk less, read the Word, pray and meditate more.

   This are some of the major things that I can think of at the moment. I really need the help of Christ to change and live the life of a godly man.  I'm going to commit these in prayer to Him and end the day. Good night.
- The Wisdom Seeker

    Sunday, April 8, 2012

    Personal Reflections on The Resurrection

    Christ Has Died. Christ Is Risen.
    Christ Will Come Again.
       Today is Easter Sunday, and Holy Week is almost over. Today morning marked the remembrance of the bodily resurrection of Christ, more than 2000 years ago. As I have been reading through the accounts of the resurrection in the Gospels, I wanted to write about how this is personally relevant to me. 

       Reflecting upon the words of the liturgy today morning, I realized that too often, I find much meaning and cause for reflection on the cross while not as personally impacted by the resurrection. Perhaps I have fallen into the ignorant trap of taking its message for granted.
    So what does the power of Christ's resurrection mean to me this Easter?

       The reality of suffering and death was brought home to me through a number of events last year. As an example, the tragic and sudden death of Yeswanth, my friend and second-year room mate from university, at the age of 27 last January hit me very hard [1]. As I, along with others waded through the shock and grief over the following days, I tried to process the implications of his death [2], the presence of God in the midst of devastating pain and grief [3] [4] and the answers that my faith gives me through my Bible about the hope of life beyond the grave [5]. I still think about Yeswanth often, and some of the lessons that I learned through his death about life, purpose, meaning, pain, suffering, hope and healing.

       As I remember Yeswanth and others close to me who suffered through the loss of loved ones last year [6] [7], I need to remind myself of what Jesus' triumphant exit out of the tomb three days after His brutal torture and crucifixion means to me, because like others, I too need hope. And I remember now the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church:

    "But someone will say, 'How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?' Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain - perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body....So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven...And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man." 
    - 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, NKJV

       I really need to hear this and let it sink in. My body is what I am now, but it is not what I will finally be. My body is a seed. It is fragile, weak, corrupted by sin, mortal, made of cells that age and die. It suffers sickness, deprivation, tiredness and hunger. It burns in the heat and shivers in the cold. It will wither and die one day. It will be laid into the earth and disintegrate into atoms. "Kevin", as he is now, will be seen no more on this earth.

    But there is hope! It is not the end! Kevin, it is not the end!

       One day, my spirit will hear the thundering voice of Almighty God and the trumpet that sounds as He shouts the command from heaven for His saints to awaken. On that day, the little seed that was my body, though it be scattered into dust unto the uttermost parts of the earth, will burst forth into new life by the power of His Holy Spirit who lives in me now. Paul writes about this following his previous thoughts that I just quoted:

    "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality...The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 
    - 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, NKJV

       This is the promise that I hold on to this Easter Sunday. I will live again! I will live by the mighty life and power of the Living One who lives in me! The Creator who spoke me into being and wove me together in my mother's womb will also re-create my body in an instant one day with one tremendous shout! This is great news!

       And this brings me to something really important. Looking back at the awesome event of Christ's resurrection, Paul took note of something very significant: "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." - Romans 8:11, NKJV

       The Holy Spirit. I've been thinking about Him quite a bit over the last two days. I think that's where I'll be headed next, because I really need Him. See you in the next post.
    - The Wisdom Seeker  

    Friday, April 6, 2012

    Seeing The Crucifixion Again - For The First Time

      Holy Week is coming to an end. As I reached Good Friday and the events of the crucifixion, I wanted to understand it better. I wanted not to be caught up with the familiarity of routine, and lose the impact of the grim reality of what happened on Calvary more than 2000 years ago. I came across the following excerpt from "When God Weeps" by Steven Estes and Joni Eareckson Tada. Their little description is all I want to share today, keeping in mind what one author said - "As we draw close, don't assume that you already know or understand what happened there. Come to the Cross as if for the first you read, refuse to let the scene be familiar. Let its reality shock you and break your heart." Here we go:

       "The face that Moses had begged to see - was forbidden to see - was slapped bloody (Exodus 33:19-20). The thorns that God had sent to curse the earth's rebellion now twisted around his own brow...
       'On your back with you!' One raises a mallet to sink in the spike. But the soldier's heart must continue pumping as he readies the prisoner's wrist. Someone must sustain the soldier's life minute by minute, for no man has this power on his own. Who supplies breath to his lungs? Who gives energy to his cells? Who holds his molecules together? Only by the Son do "all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17). The victim wills that the soldier live on - he grants the warriors continued existence. The man swings.
       As the man swings, the Son recalls how he and the Father first designed the medial nerve of the human forearm - the sensations that it would be capable of. The design proves flawless - the nerves perform exquisitely. 'Up you go!' They lift the Cross. God is on display in his underwear and can scarcely breathe.
       But these pains are a mere warm-up to his other and growing dread. He beings to feel a foreign sensation. Somewhere during this day an unearthly foul odor began to waft, not around his nose, but his heart. He feels dirty. Human wickedness starts to crawl upon his spotless being - the living excrement from our souls. The apple of his Father's eye turns brown with rot.
       His Father! He must face His Father like this!
       From heaven the Father now rouses himself like a lion disturbed, shakes his mane, and roars against the shriveling remnant of a man hanging on a cross. Never has the Son seen the Father looking at him so, never felt even the least of his hot breath. But the roar shakes the unseen world and darkens the visible sky. The Son does not recognize these eyes.
       'Son of Man! Why have you behaved so? You have cheated, lusted, stolen, gossiped - murdered, envied, hated, lied. You have cursed, robbed, overspent, overeaten - fornicated, disobeyed, embezzled, and blasphemed. Oh the duties you have shirked, the children you have abandoned! Who has ever so ignored the poor, so played the coward, so belittled my name? Have you ever held your razor tongue? What a self-righteous, pitiful drink - you, who molest young boys, peddle killer drugs, travel in cliques, and mock your parents. Who gave you the boldness to rig elections, foment revolutions, torture animals, and worship demons? Does the list never end! Splitting families, raping virgins, acting smugly, playing the pimp - buying politicians, practicing exhortation, filming pornography, accepting bribes. You have burned down buildings, perfected terrorist tactics, founded false religions, traded in slaves - relishing each morsel and bragging about it all. I hate, loathe these things in you! Disgust for everything about you consumes me! Can you not feel my wrath?'
       Of course the Son is innocent. He is blamelessness itself. The Father knows this. But the divine pair have and agreement, and the unthinkable must now take place. Jesus will be treated as if personally responsible for every sin ever committed.
       The Father watches as his heart's treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah's stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction.
       'Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!'
       But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not reach down or reply.
       The Trinity had planned it. The Son endured it The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son whom he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished." [1]

       I hope this little excerpt will help you see the Cross with new eyes, as it has helped me. I did this to Jesus; my sins sent Him there. My sins put the nails in his wrists and feet. My sins drove the crown of thorns into His skull, and the spear into His side. But Jesus took this punishment for me, because He passionately loved me. And because of His perfect sacrifice, I'm free. Praise God.

    - The Wisdom Seeker
    [1] "When God Weeps" - Steve Estes and Joni Eareckson Tada

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    Humbled By Humility

    "...before honour is humility." - Pr. 15:33b, NKJV

       I've just settled down for the evening with my ESV study Bible and some devotional books as I try to keep tracking and immersing myself in the events of Holy Week. Yesterday's readings in the Gospels gave me much to contemplate regarding God's meticulous planning and sovereignty over the events of history, as I thought about the gathering of actors and the setting of the stage for the events leading up to Christ's passion [1]. 

       According to the timeline of the events that have been put together of Christ's final week [2], people in Jerusalem (including Jesus' disciples) have been busy during the day making preparations for the Passover, which begins at sunset. The temple has been extremely busy during the day as lamb after lamb has been sacrificed - some historical estimates place the number around a quarter of a million animals sacrificed for Passover during Christ's time. The disciples have roasted the lamb, and prepared various side dishes for the meal (including bread). They have also prepared the room for celebrating this important meal in their yearly calendar. All Israel is gathering to remember the night of God's deliverance of their ancestors from the land of Egypt thousands of years ago, with the slaying of Egypt's firstborn and his "passing over" of their houses that had been marked and sprinkled with the blood of slain lambs.

    Bread. Wine. Body. Blood.
       It is now evening, and Christ has begun the Passover meal with His disciples. During the meal, He has taken bread, broken it and instituted the future memorial of His body, with the words, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Passing the cup of wine, He has pronounced its significance: "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood" [3]. It is also during the meal that He has identified Judas as his betrayer, though none of the others understand. The Passover meal is almost over; the food is almost over, the dishes almost empty. And now, the incarnate Word of God, in whom, through whom and for whom all things exist, once again shows Himself to be a Man like no other:

    "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments and, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around His waist...When He had washed their feet and put on His outer garments and resumed His place, He said to them, 'Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right for so I am . If then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also out to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly I say to you, a servant is not greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent Him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." - John 13:3-5, 12-17, ESV

       I can only imagine the shock on the disciples' faces; washing people's feet was considered to be a task reserved for non-Jewish slaves. In that time and culture where people walked long distances on dusty roads What a Man, and yet God! What a Servant, and yet the King of kings! There is no one else like the Lord of glory. Human imagination cannot concoct such a God, who works miracles beyond comprehension, and then stoops to wash the dirty feet of His followers! This righteous and holy God, who walked the dusty roads of Palestine for thirty three years, assumed the posture of a servant and washed the dust that He Himself had created off the feet of His creation. In the gesture of utmost love for His enemies, He even washed the feet of the one who had already agreed to betray Him.

       Attempting to follow in Christ's footsteps, I once tenderly washed someone's feet and dried them with a towel, in an act of love and servanthood. It was an intensely humbling lesson and experience; it made me feel very small and insignificant, a nobody washing the feet of a somebody. I understood through that one small act the attitude and posture that my heart should adopt as a follow and servant of my Lord and Master, and have tried to keep that in mind ever since. The Apostle Paul, thinking about the servant heart and mind of Christ, wrote the following words to the Philippian church:

    "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in your which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a slave, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." - Philippians 2:3-8, NKJV

       That's the God my heart follows and obeys; Christ is the Man who leads from the front by example, not from a safe place at the rear. That's the kind of man I want to be, because I'm no greater than my Master. He humbled himself to obedience and death; so must I. I'm going to think about this as I keep pace with the events of the Passion tonight. Jesus and His disciples have left for the Garden of Gethsemane. The pace of the story is ramping up to its inevitable conclusion in another fifteen hours. Time for me to follow them. I have to run. See you in the next post. Until then, here's a great music video featuring the scenes of The Last Supper enacted in "The Passion of The Christ", featuring the song "Remembrance" by Matt Maher:

    - The Wisdom Seeker
    [1] The Approaching Cross
    [2] "Harmony of The Events of Holy Week", ESV Study Bible, pg. 1866
    [3] Luke 22:19-20, ESV

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    The Approaching Cross

       It is now mid-way through Holy Week. In my last post, I thought about Jesus' cleansing of the temple and it's significance. Following the events of the Gospels, it is now three days into the fateful week leading up to Christ's passion, and the silhouette of the cross is emerging over the horizon. Christ is occupied with furious confrontation and conflict with the religious leadership over the abuses  of their religious authority and their coming condemnation. I wonder what His feelings must have been in the midst of those events, knowing what was approaching with each passing hour.

       It's now evening as I write this, and the events of the Gospels take note of the plot that is being put together by the religious leadership to kill Jesus. Jesus and His disciples have left Jerusalem and are on the Mount of Olives, as He tells them of the prophetic events of the future; the chief priests, the scribes and elders of the people are assembled at the palace of Caiphas, the high priest, discussing how they might catch and kill Him; Jerusalem is full of worshipers, having come from all across the empire for the Passover. the The stage is now being set; the major actors are now being brought together as the pace of action ramps up to the climactic events of Christ's passion two days later. I thought of the description of these events in Luke's gospel:

    "Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered Judas, named Iscariot, who was numbered among the twelve. So he went his way and conferred with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he promised and sought opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of the multitude." - Luke 22:1-6, NKJV

       I can't help but thinking about the meticulous sovereignty of God, in His absolute and total control over every person and event in history, as I approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The sequence of events are complex and the characters are many - God the Father; God the Holy Spirit; God the Son; his disciples; the chief priests, scribes, elders, and the high priest; Judas Iscariot; Satan; Pontius Pilate and the Roman garrison at the Praetorium, who are yet to appear; the massive crowd of worshipers who have come to Jerusalem. The actors are playing their parts flawlessly - Judas has already sold himself to the fate that awaits him, and collected his ill-gotten money. In the high priest's palace, the decision has been made. Jesus and his disciples have retired for the night. Jerusalem at night is quiet as worshipers have made their way to their various inns and residences. The temple sits silent, the great veil separating the Holy of Holies from everything else in its premises.

       Thousands of years of prophetic history that began with God's promise in the book of Genesis, to send a Saviour after the Fall in the Garden of Eden are converging to their moment of fulfillment. All of heaven watches with anticipation and bated breath, as God's epic master plan from before the beginning of time unfolds and heads towards its inevitable and promised conclusion with clockwork precision. God has left no loose ends as the greatest demonstration of His power and glory begins to appear on the horizon of history. And at the center of this mighty converging of events is Jesus.

       As I immerse myself in Scripture, allow the Holy Spirit to bring the words on its pages to life, and carefully track the story 2,000 years later, there is the accompanying tension as I know what awaited Jesus in less than twenty four hours. Somewhere in the Roman garrison, the cross has been made by unwitting carpenters and kept ready for its intended purpose. The hammer and nails, forged by similarly unwitting craftsmen lie ready to be pounded into unresisting hands and feet. The whip used for scourging lies waiting for the body on which it will be used. The thornbush sits silently, its thorns ready to be cut and fashioned into a crown. Every one of them is there for a purpose, orchestrated by God for the part that He has intended them to play. There is not one unintended object that should not be there, not one wasted moment, not one event that happens by "luck" or "chance." 

       But at the same time, there is a tremendous sense of gratitude and wonder as I contemplate God's eternal mind and plan. Before He had even willed the first events of creation, He had seen and planned my own life. Knowing the kind of sinner and fool that I am, whose life would be hopelessly lost without Him, He had planned to draw me to salvation through faith in Him at the right time. He undertook this entire enterprise with the intent that I should see His glory in the Cross, be blinded by it and follow Him all the days of my life. I could only write the following prayer of gratitude as I thought over these things:

       Awesome God. Awesome God. I have no words to describe the love that fills my heart for You, that You would thus demonstrate your love for a wretched man like me. Master, what shall I do to show my gratitude? I am poor, my possessions are miserable, my mind is foolish and my hands are empty. I can only throw my heart and my life into your hands tonight. I will lose my life, that I may find it in You.

    - The Wisdom Seeker

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Judgement Begins At The House of God

    Jesus cleanses the temple in a scene from
    "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977)
       Today being the second day of Passion Week, I wanted to look at an event that caught my attention as I was reading through the Gospel of Matthew yesterday. It refers to Jesus' cleansing of the temple on the day following His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which I reflected on in yesterday's post. On a personal note, I particularly like how this event is portrayed in the 1977 movie "Jesus of Nazareth" that I later watched as a child. The film makers imagined Christ paraphrasing the prophetic words of Isaiah 1:21 - "Jerusalem! The faithful city! She that was full of justice, has become a harlot!" - before proceeding to clean the temple.

       This event can be found described in all four Gospels - Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, and John 2:13-17. Of these, I thought I'd use the description provided by the Gospel of John here:

    "The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” - John 2:13-17, ESV

       Christ never ceases to amaze. The day before, we saw His soul was in distress during His triumphal entry, as He anticipates His coming suffering under the full potency of the Father's divine anger against the sins of human kind. Now, He almost seems a different man. I used to hold to the popular perception of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild", and imagine Him as a "nice guy" when I was growing up. The more I am coming to know Him through Scripture, the more that I see that He is anything but a "nice guy"; we must never forget that this Person emerging through the pages of Scripture is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, the eternally existing and omnipotent Word through whom all creation was made.

       I was struck that Jesus, after surveying the goings-on in the temple, deliberately sat down and took the time to make a whip out of cords in an act of premeditated aggression. See the fire blazing in the Master's eyes! See the sinews of His strong hands, as He fashions the instrument of His anger! Christ makes no attempt to invoke diplomacy and engage in polite, negotiated conversation. The Lord of glory storms into His temple, people and animals fleeing before the lashes of His whip, as He kicks tables over and flings their money to the ground. What has made the Saviour so angry?

       No one needs ask; Christ Himself roars the accusation with pointed finger - "a house of trade!"; "a den of robbers!"  This is the reason for the Master's potent fury - the desecration of reducing His holy house into a place of commerce and profit; a department store! a foreign exchange counter! When God had first instituted the sacrificial system for worship and sin offerings in the Old Testament, He had commanded that each person was to personally pick and bring the best bull from his herd or lamb from his flock, or if too poor, turtledoves or pigeons. By the time of Christ, worship had lost all sense of truth, meaning or spirit. Corrupted by the emptiness of an external show of religious observances and devoid of true holiness, it had made a mockery of the spirit of God's law by turning the temple into a department store for the worshipper to buy the animals that he needed instead of bringing them himself. For those Jews coming from outside Israel to worship at Jerusalem, money changers had set up business to exchange their currency and buy the animals that they needed. Oh, how the righteous anger of Jesus must have burned as He saw this the previous day!

       It was as I was thinking over this passage that the words from the first Epistle of Peter hit me like a lightning bolt:

    "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” - 1 Peter 4:17, NKJV

       Dearly beloved, let us contemplate this verse during Holy Week - God is not mocked or partial; He will set His own house in order first before He ventures to judge those who do not belong to His kingdom. Christ will cleanse His church of every evil that corrupts and distorts His gospel, with stern measures if He has to. This is a very sobering thought, for the the temple of God is not to be found in humble parishes, church buildings or impressive cathedrals; it is not a congregation or denomination. No, indeed, for the Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthian church states the truth of the matter:

    "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” - 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, NKJV

       If the Master were to come into my temple today, what would He see? Would I be able to look Him in the eye, or cast my eyes to the ground in shame? Would I hear the words "Well done, good and faithful servant!", or would I hear the kind of words that He used upon those who He drove out with whips in Jerusalem? Knowing that He will begin with me, is my conscience clear? Let us examine ourselves and if we find our temple in disorder, let us repent and confess our sins to Him, knowing that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." - 1 John 1:19, NKJV

       See you in the next post for Passion Week!
    - The Wisdom Seeker

    Sunday, April 1, 2012

    Hosanna: "God, Save Us Now!"

    "All Glory, Laud and Honour"
    Image Copyright: The Sage
       Today is Palm Sunday, and there are only a few hours left before the day ends. Passion Week has begun, and I want, if possible, to post my thoughts as I go through the week this year. 

       With all that has been happening over the last two weeks, I wanted to do something different and experience a traditional liturgical service this Palm Sunday. So early today morning, I drove out to St. John's Vancouver [1], an Anglican parish situated in the Oakridge area. St. John's had been recommended by my mentor, as a church well known for faithful gospel-centered biblical preaching, while preserving the liturgical service that I had been wanting to experience again. And thus it happened that I drove out to the 9:00 AM service, wondering what it would be like and looking forward to the experience.

       The choir was just gearing up to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" as I made my way to a pew in the back and took a seat. After this, I had the pleasure of rising with the rest of the congregation and singing the opening hymn, "All Glory, Laud and Honour", with a beautifully accompanied organ and choir. What a pleasure it was, to sing the words of this beautiful hymn after many years! I took a photo of the words and sheet music of this classic hymn provided in the service sheets, along with the little hand-made Palm Sunday cross that was given to each of us. As the service went by with the liturgical greeting, Prayer for Purity, recital of the Nicene Creed,  Lord's Prayer and other familiar elements of the service in the old English, I was looking forward to hearing the sermon. I was not disappointed, and thought I'd share the summary here.

        Titled "Jesus: Son of David", it focused on the excerpt of John 12:1-36, covering Jesus' anointing at Bethany, triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, his message about the grain of wheat and his prediction of his coming death.

       One of the new things that I learned through this sermon was related to the meaning of the word "Hosanna", shouted by the crowd as Christ enters Jerusalem:

     "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!"
    - John 12:13, NKJV

       It was pointed out that there is a particular and important meaning to the word "Hosanna!" (pronounced, “hoshi’a na”) when translated from the original Hebrew, particularly in this passage and places such as Psalm 118:25. The word, “hosanna,” literally means, “Save us, now!”, or "Save us now, we beseech you!" Thus, in this case, the crowd was shouting prayer of acclimation to Jesus as their perceived Messiah who was going to save Israel from Roman rule, without realizing what they were saying. Jesus was going to save, but in a shocking and completely unexpected way.

       Amongst many other interesting things that the Rev. David Short pointed out in his sermon, he focused on three aspects that Jesus prophesied out about his death that I wanted to share.
    • It was a fruitful death. Jesus' famous words of the burial of a grain of wheat in John 12:24-25 are of interest here. A grain of wheat is not meant to be carefully placed in a display case, polished and dusted. It is meant to be buried. It is meant to die. The burial of a grain of wheat is essentially a funeral. Jesus' sole purpose for his entry into Jerusalem was to attend his own funeral. It was His Father's intent to send Him there for that express purpose. But Jesus also explains that in His one death, death itself would be reversed and an explosion of new life would occur - the lives of those who would be born into new life through His one death. Jesus also has this in mind for those who follow Him; it is more than self-denial, fasting, observances or sacrifices. It is facing our own funerals as grains of wheat in His hands, the complete surrender of our life and will to Him, just as He surrendered His life into His Father's.
    •  It was a deeply troubling death. Unlike what we often imagine, Jesus was anything but calm, composed and stoic as He contemplates what is to come. John records His words: "Now my soul is troubled and what shall I say? 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour." It is interesting to note Christ's great struggle with death, in comparison with those Christian martyrs who joyfully stated their desire to die for him. Some sang as they were burned alive. One who was being skinned alive said, "I thank you for this. Tear off my old garment, for I will soon put on Christ's garment of righteousness." But Jesus is afraid and anxious as He contemplates what is to come, and with good reason - the full, unrestrained flood of the divine anger of God against all of human sin is soon to be vented upon Him without any mercy. But Christ did it for us; despite His troubled and anguished soul, He did for us what we were incapable of doing for ourselves.
    • It was a glorified death. Jesus' sole intent was the glorifying of the Father's name: "Father, glorify Your name." Jesus went on to explain: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." It is important to note that Jesus' road to glory leads to the slowest and most painful way to die. His death on the Cross is Jesus' glory, because two important things will happen, both then and in the time to come - people will be drawn to salvation, and Jesus will be the one drawing them. I found this to be a really important point highlighted in verse 32 and paid close attention to what Jesus is actually saying to the people who are questioning Him. Those that are drawn to salvation at the Cross don't come by their own free will or choice. They are brought there by God, who draws them by His own unshakeable will and omnipotent power. The "all peoples" that Jesus is referring to is not the whole world; it is those who God has planned to be drawn towards the Cross. Thus, from beginning to end, salvation begins and ends with God. He takes full credit for everything that happens. Praise God, what an awesome thing that He undertakes for us on His own initiative and power!
       As the time for Holy Communion drew near, these same themes were expressed in the preceding Prayer of Humble Access:

       "We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen."

       As the service concluded with the customary greeting and benediction, I went home happy. I'm glad to be able to share these thoughts in this post, and look forward to writing more during Passion Week. I hope you all had a blessed Palm Sunday. See you in the next post!
    - The Wisdom Seeker