Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gnostic America by Peter Burfeind – Book Review

The sub-title of this book is: A Reading of Contemporary American Culture & Religion according to Christianity’s Oldest Heresy.  Peter Burfeind has accomplished that by identifying Gnostic traits and following the movement of this heresy as it was vigorously opposed and suppressed in the early church, through to emergence during the Reformation and Enlightenment, then coming to full bloom in modern manifestations both politically (fascism, communism, and nazism) and religiously (Liberalism and Neo-Evangelicalism).

The interplay between political and religious elements was fascinating.  Early on, the close ties of Church and State suppressed gnostic ideas from becoming a force.  As this barrier began to crumble across Europe and into the U.S., gnostic thought flourished and became more ingrained in the psyche of whichever society had as its head a leader adhering to the principles. Gnostic traits would then seep into the Church causing multiple splits, as more and more splinter groups sought (and seek) to work toward the utopian “other” not bound by the strictures of any specific doctrine or practice.

Especially disheartening is the role of Anabaptists in fomenting gnosticism.  Most of my Christian years have been spent in this part of Christendom, and it causes me to question some of the truths I learned, while reinforcing what had already been changing in my mind.  In addition, the author shows how music has been used to subvert the Church from within, leading to the current state of Contemporary Christian Music and its use in worship.  Western Christianity needs a “gut check,” and this book can do it.

A great deal of research and analysis went into this work, and it is written at an academic level.  I was glad for my previous reading of Irenaeus which gave me background to follow, as the author traced the movement and pointed back to the early heresy.  The reader needs to keep the gnostic traits and the spirit entities in relationship while going through this, but the reward will be a solid understanding of how Western Civilization got to this deplorable state.

There are some proofreading errors in the text, but nothing prevents comprehension.  All in all, this is definitely worth reading.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Give Me a Soapbox!

Praise the Lᴏʀᴅ!

I will give thanks to the Lᴏʀᴅ with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lᴏʀᴅ,
    studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
    the Lᴏʀᴅ is gracious and merciful.  (Ps 111:1-4)

Would that it were allowed me to deliver this argument with the whole world formed, as it were, into one assembly, and to be placed in the hearing of all the human race!  Are we therefore judged guilty before you with an impious religion, and because we approach the Head and Pillar of the universe with worshipful service, are we to be considered—to use the terms employed by you in reproaching us—as undesirable godless?  And who would more properly bear the odium of these names than he who either knows, or inquires after, or believes any other god rather than this God of ours?

Do we not owe to Him this first, that we exist, that we are said to be men, that, being either sent forth from Him, or having fallen from Him, we are confined in the darkness of this body?*  Does it not come from Him that we walk, that we breathe and live, and by the very power of living, does He not cause us to exist and to move with the activity of animated being?  Do the causes not emanate from Him, through which our health is sustained by the bountiful supply of various pleasures?  Whose is that world in which you live, or who has authorized you to retain its produce and its possession?  Who has given that common light, enabling us to see distinctly all things lying beneath it, to handle them, and to examine them?  Who has ordained that the fires of the sun should exist for the growth of things, lest elements pregnant with life should be listless by settling down in a stupor of inactivity?

Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Pagans I.29

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cultural Pressure: Stand or Fall?

On April 7th, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts wrote a piece proclaiming that conservatives have lost the culture war on same-sex couples and are foolish for continuing to push “discriminatory” religious freedom laws.  We, as a society, have allegedly become more enlightened concerning same-sex relationships, and conservatives need to get over themselves.
Somebody needs to sit them down and explain that when you have taken an execrable stand and been repudiated for it as decisively as the right has been, you only have two options: Change your stand, or shut your mouth.  At this point, either one will do.
Major organizations—media, professional bodies, corporations—approve the agenda, so it must be correct.  Now go away.  As Americans, we are not accustomed to this, because there had formally been a free exchange of ideas in this country.  Open, and often heated, debate among individuals, but increasingly, the West has eschewed individualism for a populist or fascist collectivism.  But this is really nothing new.

During the early centuries of the Church, the prevailing political and religious organizations were condemning and abusing Christians, because they refused to accept or approve of decadent cultural norms.  These early believers were met with opposition like that related by Arnobius of Sicca in Against the Pagans wherein the Christians are accused of practices contrary to society:
You follow profane religious systems, and you practice rites unheard-of throughout the entire world. (I.25)
The opponents in ancient Rome, just like Leonard Pitts, could not understand why there might be a segment of society that would be openly opposed to the generally accepted position.  They cannot fathom standards higher than those being practiced in their philosophically-advanced culture, yet their philosophies just do not grasp the truth.
What do you, O men, endowed with reason, dare to assert?  What do you dare to prate of?  What do you try to bring forward in the recklessness of unguarded speech?  To adore the Supreme God, as the Lord of all things that be, as occupying the highest place among all exalted ones; to pray to Him with respectful submission in our distresses; to cling to Him with all our senses, so to speak; to love Him, to look up to Him with faith—is this an accursed and unholy religion, full of impiety and of sacrilege, polluting through the superstition of its newness the ceremonies established in olden times? (I.25)
In other words, he is asking: “Are you saying that to put God above all in worship and life is polluting the established norms of society?”  The inferred answer is yes, because those ideas society idolizes were not being given their due, therefore pressure needed to be exerted to bring these Christ cult into line or silence it altogether.  Sounds oddly familiar to our modern world, does it not?

Christians are not called to worship or appease the world: we are to speak of Christ crucified.  Arnobius made the case that we are doing what is good, proper, and acceptable before our Lord:
We Christians are nothing else than worshipers of the Supreme King and Head, under our Master, Christ.  If you examine carefully, you will find that nothing else is implied in that religion.  This is the sum of all that we do; this is the proposed end and limit of sacred duties.  Before Him we all prostrate ourselves, according to our custom; Him we adore in joint prayers; from Him we beg things just and honorable, and worthy of His ear.  Not that He needs our supplications, or loves to see the homage of so many thousands laid at His feet.  This is our benefit, and has a regard to our advantage.  For since we are prone to err, and to yield to various lusts and appetites through the fault of our innate weakness, He allows Himself at all times to be comprehended in our thoughts, that while we entreat Him and strive to merit His bounties, we may receive a desire for purity, and may free ourselves from every stain by the removal of all our shortcomings. (I.27)
Arnobius lays out in straightforward terms the disciple’s duty of worship and obedience, plus the privilege, as sinners, to come before God seeking His bountiful provision of mercy and goodness that we might grow in grace.  To do otherwise would be unsafe, even foolish.

The level of Christian commitment would have been understood and praised by pagans of the time, but the object of adoration and resulting life change were not.  As followers of Christ lived before the world, they witnessed of Him in the course of everyday conversations of life with the level of freedom being dictated by the circumstance.  By necessity a culture clash ensued among worldviews.  The collective mindset, rooted in polytheism as it was, would have accepted Christianity if the Christ they adored would have been been offered in henotheistic fashion, but its virtuous exclusivity ran contrary to not only all religious forms, but also as the political and philosophical that had been interwoven to accommodate the masses.  Measures were enacted to either squelch Christianity or rid the empire of its adherents and return the populace to the status quo.

The same collective plans and mindset are working within Western Civilization, so that the Church, once held in high regard for being a beacon of truth, must battle cultural onslaughts from many factions, both internal and external.  Those outside the church are increasingly fighting for normalization of relationships once considered aberrant.  Tolerance and diversity have transformed from being positions of disagreement to cultural weapons to ensure the masses are in lockstep.  Open hostility with extreme measures are applauded as proper tactics to battle so-called “discrimination” of whichever cause or person might be receiving objections to their sin.

Those inside the church recognize that something needs to be done, but have decided that the most effective tactic is to appease the culture.  Mainline Protestants began doing this decades ago, and as they continue to align with the world, their numbers showing a 50% reduction in membership since 1960.  Evangelical and Confessional groups are somewhat better off, but even here there is trouble afoot as well-meaning pastors insist on changing the format, preferring an entertainment-driven experience to solemnity.  (Consider some thoughts by Glenn Chatfield on his experience and reaction.)  In addition, sermons have been changed to be relevant (i.e., they no longer mention sin or the need of a Savior).  Rick Warren and Andy Stanley have given up on preaching truth and are now preaching nonsense (Warren’s Imagination Doctrine) or appeasement (Stanley’s Brand New).

If Christians live out their calling, culture will be affected: people will notice.  (Pastor Jordan Cooper has a few thoughts on this.)  Our attempts may be met with sincere questions, more hostility, or both.  Arnobius was writing when Christians were persecuted.  Beginning with the highest positions of government, these Jesus followers were to be run out, killed, or forced to recant—all for the common good.  Today, our society is moving that direction.  Rather than capitulate, hold fast (Heb 10:23) and stand firm (2 Th 2:15; 1 Pe 5:12).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Freedom to Sin, or Freedom from Sin?

A friend posted a link on Facebook referencing the following blog post from a Christian father offering four promises if he has a child coming out as homosexual:
  1. If I have gay children, you’ll all know it.
  2. If I have gay children, I’ll pray for them.
  3. If I have gay children, I’ll love them.
  4. If I have gay children, most likely I have gay children.
The first and third promises seem appropriate.  The author will acknowledge what is happening and not attempt to hide or deny it; neither will he stop loving them.

Promise two is also appropriate in form, but the intent is incorrect.  The author says that he “won’t pray for them to be made ‘normal,’” nor will he “pray that God will heal or change or fix them.”  He goes on to explain that he will pray that the child be kept from “ignorance and hatred and violence” and ungodly treatment from “His misguided children.”  Every parent I know would seek to prevent bullying, teasing, etc. for his or her child, so that aspect is all well and good, but something is dreadfully wrong.  He does not pray that they might repent from the lifestyle.  That seems a rather odd position to take, but these three promises are built on the fourth, which is the underlying basis for the post: homosexuality is a God-given condition.  If you do not believe my words, consider these from the post:
  • God has already created them and wired them, and placed the seed of who they are within them.  Psalm 139 says that He, “stitched them together in their mother’s womb.”  The incredibly intricate stuff that makes them uniquely them; once-in-History souls, has already been uploaded into their very cells.
  • Because of that, there isn’t a coming deadline on their sexuality that their mother and I are working feverishly toward.  I don’t believe there’s some magical expiration date approaching, by which time she and I need to somehow do, or say, or pray just the right things to get them to “turn straight,” or forever lose them to the other side
  • [Emphasis his]
Do you see the problems?  First, this father has chosen to rationalize the sin of the child by blaming it on the Creator.  We have a problem though.  The very Creator being blamed established the heterosexual union of husband and wife as the only valid place for sexual relations.  Every other form is sin.  There is no valid argument to be made that will lessen the truth.  Second, if anyone disagrees, that person or group is misguided.  The natural parent-child relationship trumps all other law—biblical, natural, or otherwise.

About this time, the usual retort is, “There are people who have same-sex attractions but are celibate.  They‘re still ‘gay.’  What about them?”  Lust is a sin regardless of the object.  Whether I might lust after another woman or man, I am an adulterer; if unmarried, I would be a fornicator.  Men and women deal with lust, whether opposite-sex or same-sex attraction.  As with any other sin, the question remains: are we willing to mortify the flesh as the Apostle Paul says?
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  (Co 3:5)
Western society has a way of grouping individuals of aberrant intent or behavior in special classifications.  While in the past these classifications may have been used to assist the individual toward normalcy, we have chosen, rather, to consider any predilection to be normal for that individual and to change the classification in order to protect the right to engage in any resulting behavior, further enslaving the person in their sin, downplaying or dismissing potential effects on others.  Christians are not to condone this mindset whereby sin is coddled and given a free pass.  No, our call is much higher—to live in a new-found life in God won for us by Jesus:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.  (Ro 6:17-18)

Friday, April 10, 2015

No Take Backs!

Times of great stress cause people to act strangely—even repent of sin.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, should one Hebrew be destitute and sell himself into indentured service to repay a debt, the Law had specified, fixed limits and conditions for that service (Ex 21:1-11).  Later in Israel’s history, the people chose to ignore these limits, most likely to wrest more service than required for repayment.  During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, this practice was in full swing.  King Zedekiah, whether from pity or in hope of currying God’s favor, proclaimed liberty to all Hebrew slaves, and all the people complied “so that they would not be enslaved again. They obeyed and set them free” (Je 34:10).  At face value, we would call this a win.  The people had repented of a national sin—a fact recognized by the Lord Himself:
You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name.  (Je 34:15)
This seemed all well and good with sincerity apparently oozing from every pore.  Perhaps there was a chance for further reform.  Then conditions improved.  Nebuchadnezzar’s army withdrew because Pharaoh’s army was moving up from Egypt (Je 37:5).*  When the pressure relented, the people once again enslaved those they had freed (Je 34:16).  The change of circumstance brought a change of heart so that Zedekiah’s repentance looked like he was negotiating with God much as we see in this clip from The End.

Judah took back its act of repentance.  We review this case and say that the repentance was not “heartfelt,” “genuine,” “intentional,” etc., but we cannot ignore the fact that they had begun with the correct action.  Had the nation adhered to their resolve in the matter, other areas may have been rectified as well—a conjecture based on God’s acceptance of their limited obedience.

By rescinding on their granting of liberty, God pronounced “liberty” to the inhabitants:
I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.  (Je 34:17)
In the same way that Judah had exercised freedom to bind former Hebrew slaves to their obligations, the Lord granted freedom to those who acted duplicitously to reap the fruit of their decision.
And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf.  And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives.  Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.  (Je 34:18-20)
Like the animal that would be cut in half to ratify a covenant, the two-timing penitents would be cut in twain (figuratively, if not literally) as God Himself established the method of judgment and its certainty.  What had been considered a problem averted became the tool of destruction and deportation.
And Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has withdrawn from you.  Behold, I will command, declares the Lord, and will bring them back to this city.  And they will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire.  I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.”  (Jer 34:21-22)
Do Christians fall into the same trap?  Yes, they do.  In the early chapters of Revelation, five churches are given commands to repent: explicitly to Ephesus, Pergamum, Sardis, and Laodicea; implicitly to Thyatira.  By following church history, we can see there was some success to the warnings in Ephesus and Laodicea, yet in both cases the conditions from which both were to spurn returned with a vengeance, and both lamp stands were effectively obliterated: indeed they all were, but these two are notable for being involved in the formation of both canon law and sound doctrine through the first few centuries† but lost sight of the gospel directive and placed their corporate interests above God’s, ultimately losing their places.

The problem continues today.  Disciple-making is no longer be pursued as a vital part of individual or corporate Christian life, giving way to tactics of self-preservation to forestall the dwindling numbers or invoking marketing schemes for self-promotion.  The problem clear.  Both methods are focused on self and are doomed, not being rooted in the purpose and plan of our Lord.  The solution is simple—repent.  But that solution is difficult, because it requires abnegation of our intentions as fickle and fallible, and acknowledging that what good we can do is accomplished only according to God’s precepts and empowerment.

*  Scholars disagree as to whether the Egyptian offensive was the occasion, but the timing fits.
†  Church councils were held at both locations: Laodicea (363-364 ᴀ.ᴅ.) and Ephesus (431 ᴀ.ᴅ.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jesus Christ: First-Born and First-Fruits

But it was not only by word, but also by deed, that the Lord revealed the resurrection of the bodies.  First He raised up Lazarus, even after he had been dead four days, and was stinking.  For He did not raise the soul without the body, but the body along with the soul: and not another body but the very one that was corrupt.  For how could the resurrection of the dead man have been known or believed if it had not been established by his characteristic properties?  But it was in fact to make the divinity of His own nature manifest and to confirm the belief in His own and our resurrection, that He raised up Lazarus who was destined once more to die.  And the Lord became Himself the first-fruits of the perfect resurrection that is no longer subject to death.  Therefore also the divine Apostle Paul said: If the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.  And if Christ be not raised, our faith is vain: we are yet in our sins. And, Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of them that slept, and the first-born from the dead; and again, For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with HimEven so, he said, as Christ rose again.  Moreover, that the resurrection of the Lord was the union of uncorrupted body and soul (for it was these that had been divided) is manifest: for He said, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  And the holy Gospel is a trustworthy witness that He spoke of His own body.  Handle Me and see, the Lord said to His own disciples when they were thinking that they saw a spirit, that it is I Myself, and that I am not changed: for a spirit hath not flesh or bones, as ye see Me have.  And when He had said this He shewed them His hands and His side, and stretched them forward for Thomas to touch.  Is not this sufficient to establish belief in the resurrection of bodies?

John Damascene, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4.27

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dazed and Confused

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”  And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.  And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; he is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you.”  And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  (Mark 16:1-8)

A young rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, had been teaching with authority and working miracles for the past three years.  Many had followed him, believing he was someone special from God, but his ministry came to a screeching halt.  A week prior, Jesus was being heralded with great rejoicing upon his entry into Jerusalem, but it ended a few days later with his whirlwind arrest, trial, and execution as a pernicious, traitorous vigilante—a victim of trumped-up charges.  His followers were left with nothing but dejection and hopelessness from a crushing defeat.  What now?

After the Sabbath, three women—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome—hurriedly purchased spices, then set out the following morning before daybreak to anoint the dead rabbi.  Anoint him?  One does not simply anoint a condemned criminal.  Holy places and holy things are anointed.  Holy people are anointed: kings like Saul, David, or Solomon.  Priests are anointed: Aaron, his sons, and every high priest afterward received it.  Even prophets are anointed—Elisha, anyone?  But a criminal?!  Never a criminal.  Besides, anointing can only happen by a prophet or priest—protocol, people, protocol.

Jesus was worthy of the planned anointing.  He is the Prophet like Moses, proclaiming repentance for the kingdom of God was at hand.  He is a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek giving the last and only abiding sacrifice.  Condemned as a criminal, he bore the punishment of something far greater—your sin and mine—and now ever lives to make intercession for us.  He is the rightful King to sit on David’s throne.  He now waits until all things have been put under His feet when He will reign with righteous judgment and rule the people with equity.

The women had good intentions, but they never got a chance.  He had already been anointed—once in Bethany by Mary, but before that from His Father.  He was Messiah, the Anointed by God Himself.  He did not need an anointing, the women needed it, and Jesus would provide it.  In the Upper Room, Jesus promised that He and the Father would send the Holy Spirit to empower the disciples and point to Himself.  The promised anointing did come—in amazing fashion—on the first believers; and wonderfully, it is now promised to all who believe:
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.… But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you.  But as his anointing teaches you about everything—and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you—abide in him.  (1 Jo 2:20, 27)
Besides the preparations for this last act on their leader, the ladies had another problem: a huge stone prevented the completion of their mission.  While walking toward the tomb, the women kept trying to determine a plan to get the stone rolled away.  This was difficult enough for a group of men to accomplish, but for three women impossible.  Help was needed.  There is no indication that they were aware that a guard had been placed, and even if they did know, that the guards would be willing to help.

As the sun came up, the women arrived at a most unlikely scene.  There before them was the tomb with the stone rolled away.  What’s going on?  Who would desecrate the tomb?  Vandals?  Grave robbers?  Mary Magdalene immediately ran to tell Peter and John the body had been stolen (John 20:1-2).  The other Mary and Salome looked inside the tomb and saw a man in white.  They were dumbstruck, alarmed by the sight.  The man told them, “You’re looking for Jesus, but he’s not here.  Go and tell the disciples and Peter that he will meet up with them in Galilee, as he had said” (Mark 14:28).  What was their immediate reaction?  Did they whoop and holler like a Cinderella team during March Madness?  Did they run to the city proclaiming to one and all that Jesus was alive?  No, they went home and said nothing.  It was all too much to take in.

We might not consider their silence to be conduct befitting a disciple, but it was certainly typical that weekend.  Judas Iscariot had silenced himself permanently.  The eleven disciples were behind closed doors for fear of reprisal.  Mary Magdalene kept the news of the violated tomb to a select few.  None of Jesus’ followers believed that he would rise.  We can’t judge too harshly though.  Let’s face it: we would have done the same.  It was all too incredible.  People do not raise themselves from the dead.  Yet on one magnificent morning outside Jerusalem, Jesus did just that, as He had promised.  Now two millennia later, we can rejoice in joyful chorus with those who have gone before:
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

From Death to Life

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus.  He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.  And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock.  And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’  Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.”  Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.”  So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.  (Matt 27:57-66)

“O sorrow dread, our God is dead,” wrote the hymnist Johann Rist.  The rich man Joseph obtains Jesus’ body. He wraps our dead Lord.  Joseph lays the holy One—the embodiment of Life itself—on a bed of death.  Death is made holy by Jesus’ passion.  The grave is now sanctified for Christians.  Jesus didn’t remain there. His Father’s will was to bring Him through death to life.  Easter is coming.  Jesus proclaims victory in Satan’s face and to those in hell. He is risen.  Joy is near.

O Lord, you have sanctified all of life for me.  By Your death and resurrection, Grant that I may fear the grave as little as I fear my pillow.  Amen.

Around the Word Devotions, Apr 4, 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Bearing Suffering and Sin

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.  And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe.  They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.  Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”  So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.  Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”… So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.  So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.  (John 19:1-5, 16-18)

Ecce Homo, behold the Man! Pilate says.  He hangs whipped, bloodied, and beaten.  His brow drips blood and sweat.  The cruel cross is the glorious throne of your dying King.  He dies for sin, big and little alike.  Consider the weight of that glory, of His holy sufferings for you.  He empties the cup of God’s wrath to the dregs for you.  Love is costly.  But all is paid by this dying King.  “It is finished,” hear Him cry.  Your sin goes with Him.  He wins the world’s salvation.  Trust this Man, this Jesus!  His holy sufferings are your salvation.

O dearest Jesus, grant that in Your holy wounds I find forgiveness of my sin and peace of conscience. Amen.

Around the Word Devotions, Apr 3, 2015

        Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
        In my place condemned He stood;
        Sealed my pardon with His blood.
        Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Forgiveness and Assurance

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.  And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.  Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  (Mark 14:22-25)

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus gave of Himself to the disciples.  From the washing of feet (John 13:1-20) to prayer on their behalf to the Father (John 17:1-26), the entire evening was a time to build up and prepare these men for what would shortly take place.  In the middle of their meal, the disciples received a most unexpected and precious gift—“This is my body…this is my blood.”  Based on conversation and conduct yet that evening, they missed the import of these words.

Our Lord desired that all men be united with Him as He was with the Father.  This could only be accomplished by feeding on Christ, a subject to which Jesus alluded months before (John 6:51-55).  One must partake of Him.  Some disciples understood this was a hard teaching, even offensive (John 6:60-61).  How do we understand this?  Hilary of Poitiers helps when he writes:
As to the truth of the flesh and blood [of Jesus’ body] there is no room left for doubt.  For now both from the declaration of the Lord Himself and our own faith, it is truly flesh and truly blood.  And these when eaten and drunk, bring it to pass that both we are in Christ and Christ in us.  (On the Trinity, 8.14)
Feeding on the body and blood, then, effectively unites us with Him and assures us of forgiveness.  It is to this we return as we take the bread and cup, and continually “taste and see that the Lᴏʀᴅ is good” certain that “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps 34:8).

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Prayer through Suffering

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.  And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  (Luke 22:39-40)

Judas, soldiers, death.  The only preparation for this devilish onslaught is prayer to His heavenly Father.  “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”  He leaves His own desires at the Father’s throne.  The Father’s will has been clear for the ages.  It is to love fallen man.  So Jesus must bear that cup of suffering.  The angel helps Him, though He drops sweat like blood in the face of this agony.  He will win salvation.  He will conquer death.  He will do His Father’s will.  Even in His humble state, He is resolute to win your salvation.

O Lord, help me to deny myself and bear my cross.  Amen.

Around the Word Devotions, Apr 1, 2015