Friday, February 12, 2016


Meditations on the Cross, 2

The Book of Hebrews has much to say regarding the sufferings of Jesus.  Much of it is, as its anonymous author tells us "difficult to interpret" (5:11).

One of its most "difficult to interpret" passages (at least for me) is 5:7-9:
"He in the days of his flesh offered up prayers and pleas with loud crying and tears to the One who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His piety.  Even though He was a son He learned obedience from the things He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became to all who obey Him a source of eternal salvation."

The picture painted here appears to be of Jesus' experience in the Garden of Gethsemane just a few hours before His arrest as He prayed to the Father while His closest disciples were sleeping.  Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us of His agonized prayers as He fell to His face and three times pleaded with the Father, "If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me!"

The passage in Hebrews tells us that He pleaded with "loud crying and tears."    Luke tells us He was "in agony," an agony so great that "His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground."

Within a short time Jesus would be arrested, endure a series of "trials," be scourged and finally crucified.  And yet our passage tells us His prayer "was heard."  How can it say this?  The Father doesn't "hear" as we often do - hear and ignore.  When we're told our prayers are heard, the implication is that they are answered.  Should we understand this to mean that the Father's answer was no?

And we read that "He learned obedience."  Again, we might ask how the omniscient Son of God could learn.  But we know that as a man he did learn.  At the incarnation He had in some way "emptied Himself (Philippians 2:7) of His divine prerogatives.  And we also could note that He learned through experience as we do.

And amazingly He continued in that learning process right to the end.  Even as He was suffering - in the garden, at His trials, during His scourging, and finally, on the cross, He was continuing to learn obedience.

And He was "perfected," through His sufferings.  The Greek word translated "perfected," is teleioo.  It does not mean, as our English word may suggest, flawlessness.  It has the idea rather of the attainment of a telos,  goal or purpose.

Jesus was born to die.  His death on the cross was the Telos - the final goal.  As He hung there, some of his final words were "It is finished!" - tetelesthai, the perfect tense of that same word translated "perfected" in Hebrews.

It is done!  It has been brought to its final goal!  The death of Christ on the cross has brought it to completion!  The task is finished for which the Son came into the world and to which His 30+ years on earth looked forward!  Might we sense the feeling of accomplishment even of relief in those words?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


 Meditations  on  the  Cross

[During the Lenten season - those 40 days preceding Easter - our thoughts turn toward the sufferings of our Savior.  I plan on writing down a few of my thoughts as they become clear in my mind.  There will be no attempt at chronological order.]

When we think of His sufferings we usually have a picture in our minds of Christ on the cross, though we know that they did not begin there.  And also we know that, as horrible as they were, His physical pains were only a small part of His suffering.

Among His words from the cross, perhaps the most moving - and the most troubling are these:  "Eli Eli, lema sabachtani?" which the Gospel writers tell us mean, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?"  These words have troubled saints, scholars and theologians for 2,000 years.  What does Jesus mean by these?  How could the Second Person of the Trinity be "forsaken" by the First Person?

We know of course that Jesus on the cross was quoting from the 22nd Psalm, the words of David.  Perhaps Jesus on the cross was simply reciting Psalms that He had memorized as a child, in order to find comfort in His pain.  Perhaps; but I believe they have a greater meaning than that.

This Psalm was a lament of David's when he himself was apparently going through great suffering.  The first 2 verses tell of David's agony:
          "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
          Why are You so far from saving me
          and from the words of my groaning?
         My God, I cry by day and You do not answer;
          by night, and there is no rest for me."

David continues his agonized pleas in verse after verse.  We have no idea of the context from which David spoke.  Was he expressing his own agony?  Or was he, as many believe, speaking - 1,000 years beforehand - the very thoughts of Christ on the cross?  Whether we accept these words as prophetic or not, they certainly give us a glimpse of the suffering Savior.

But, back to my original questions, how can we understand this "forsaking"?  Can we actually conceive of some sort of schism between the Members of the Trinity?  Just the thought of taking these words literally is frightening.

And yet there they are - words of abandonment coming from the lips of the very human God-man.  And we can't explain them. 

But many of us can in some small way identify with them.  Some of us have suffered physical or emotional pains to - it would seem - their limits.  We may even have come to the conclusion that God has forsaken us.  We have felt, not the comfort of His presence, but the horrible dread of His absence.

Jesus was suffering in ways we have never - could never - experience.  Is it not conceivable that He felt the absence of His Father in proportion to these sufferings?  We can attempt to explain logically and theologically that in some way the Father had to turn away from the Son, that He could not even look on the sin that was borne by the Son. But the picture we're given is not given simply to touch the logical part of our brains, but to hit us in our deepest feelings, to draw us closer to the suffering Savior.

Whatever He was feeling as he uttered those words of despair, there were uttered out of His suffering for us.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

BUT ...

     It seems that whenever an issue comes up that has ethical and political undertones as well as biblical, there is usually someone who will protest, "But what about ...," or "But if ..."
     Try discussing Jesus' teachings on non-retaliation - Matthew 5:38-42:  "Do not resist the evil, but whoever hits you on your right cheek turn to him the other ..."  Often before these words are out of your mouth, someone will protest.  "But what if someone is breaking into your home?" or "But what if your wife is being raped?"  I actually had someone say to me, "But what would Jesus have done if He saw His mother being raped?"
     Or bring up this one, Matthew 5:44, "But I'm telling you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ..."  If you do you may be immediately confronted with some-thing like, "But it's the government's job to protect us and punish our enemies and we're commanded to support our government!"
     Or the current hot-button issues of the receiving of refugees or undocumented aliens.  The Old Testament is full of commands regarding the acceptance of aliens and strangers.  Leviticus 19:34, "The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."  Or Jesus' words in Matthew 25:35, 40, "I was a stranger and you took me in ... In that you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me."  Try discussing these issues and someone will immediately protest something about protecting America or that we have enough poor in our own county.
     So we discuss care for the poor.  Again the Bible - Old and New Testaments - is full of commands to honor the poor.  Deuteronomy 15:11, "For there will never cease to be poor in the land; therefore I (the LORD) command you, 'You shall open your hand freely to your brother, to the needy and poor in your land.'"  Or James 2:5, "Listen my beloved brothers, didn't God choose the poor in the world, rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom ... ?"  Bring this up and you may be interrupted with protests about welfare fraud or drugs or alcoholism.  "But how do we know how they'll spend it?"
     I'm not speaking here of whether or not these protests are legitimate.  They may or may not be.  I've attempted to deal with many of them elsewhere in this blog.  What concerns me is our tendency to immediately protest these and other biblical teachings as though they were unreasonable demands.  In fact, it seems as though these protests are raised in order to excuse ourselves from being required to obey them.
     Yes, there are legitimate questions.
     Whenever we are confronted with demands in the Scripture, we should ask if these demands are directed at us (not all are) or if they have implications for us.  And once we understand that God is making these demands on us, we need to ask "how" questions.  How can I integrate this command into my life?  How should this affect or change my thinking?  How will my obedience affect my life?  My relationships?  My politics?
     If we call Christ our Lord, then we are responsible to submit to His demands on our lives, even when they may seem to be unreasonable or contrary to our political opinions.

Monday, November 9, 2015


Our Sunday School class has been studying the Book of Acts.  We are moving slowly through the early chapters which relate the beginnings and early history of the church.  These chapters describe the church's early preaching and growth.  We've been discussing the conflicts within the church and the persecutions without.  One of my main goals has been to compare our 21st century church with that of the 1st century.
One of the seeming points of contrast is that of the miraculous:  the early church experienced genuine miracles regularly; our church doesn't.  And yet we hear of miracles and healings occurring in the church elsewhere.  So I invited a member of our church who had recently been on a mission trip to Africa to describe what he had seen and experienced.

As he spoke, (I must confess), I got sidetracked by his comparison of the traditions of the church he had visited, with our own church.  One in particular impressed me.  He told how, while we would think that we should give Bibles to all the church people, the church leaders there did not.  Bibles were kept at the church, where they could be studied.  The people would come, read and study, then leave the Bibles at the meeting place when they returned home.

The reason given for was that every household has a shelf on which sit the various idols of their culture.  The fear was that if a person were given a Bible it would be carried home and placed on the shelf to become just one more idol to be paid lip service to.  (I'm not here attempting to discuss the wisdom of this policy; I'm sure that experience had taught the church leaders a need for this concern.)

While our speaker appeared to think of this as an interesting and quaint contrast between two cultures, my mind focused on the similarities.  These people in Africa who were still burdened with the paganism of their past, were tempted to so something that we educated European Americans are guilty of.

Isn't that what we do?  Don't we take our Bibles home and set them on a shelf along with our other  gods?  And not just the Book, but also the God whom that Book reveals.

Have we placed our Christianity right there along with all the other goals, desires and pleasures we seek?  Is God - is Jesus Christ - merely a supplement to our life?  Is He someone we can go to when needed, but normally left to sit neatly on the shelf to receive an occasional dusting along with the other idols and His Book?

Didn't God tell His Old Covenant people, "You shall have no other gods besides Me."?  (Yes, that Hebrew expression can be translated "besides.")  Didn't He say, "I the LORD your God am a jealous God."?  Yet I fear that we want Him to sit conveniently on the shelf next to our other gods.

What are they?  Well, we each have our own pantheon.  But here in 21st century America, I suspect that Mammon is there in a prominent place, along with Civil Religion and many other minor deities.

I have no easy solution.  I fear that we deal with the problem the same way that that African church does:  we keep God at church where He is convenient when we need Him.

Perhaps we should start by cleaning the idols off the shelf into the (metaphorical) trash can and bringing God home from church and giving Him the prominent position He deserves - and demands.
Romans 12:1-2