Son of Man.

Christianity, Religion

“I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14

“Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.’ And he said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped Him.” John 9:35-38

While he was living with his people in exile in Babylon, the prophet Daniel had a vision in which he saw into heaven. In this vision, Daniel saw two figures, one which he called the “Ancient of Days,” and one which he said was “like a Son of Man.” Both of these figures were in heaven and had very distinct roles. The Ancient of Days is depicted as a wise ruler, taking his seat in his throne, being attended to by his innumerable servants. The Ancient of Days is full of power and wisdom, and it is only he who can bestow power and dominion upon others. The figure of the Ancient of Days in Daniel’s vision is a depiction of God the Father, the eternal Creator and Ruler of the Universe.

Daniel notices something unique in his vision of the throne room of the Ancient of Days; he sees that there is more than one throne (Daniel 7:9). Even after the Ancient of Days has been seated in His throne, there is another seat reserved for someone else; for a co-regent. This other figure is introduced in the figure of the Son of Man, one whom Daniel says was already in heaven with the Ancient of Days, though he has the appearance of a human. Daniel witnesses the Son of Man be presented before the Ancient of Days, and the Ancient of Days gives the Son of Man power and authority over the earth; “to him was given dominion, glory, and a  kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and men of every tongue might serve him.” This bestowal of power and dominion over all the earth upon the Son of Man by the Ancient of Days is eternal; for eternity the Son of Man would be co-ruler of all things with the Ancient of Days.

As the Scriptures were handed down from generation to generation and studied and taught, the figure of the Son of Man was often the subject of much debate. Many believed this enigmatic figure to be a representation of the promised Messiah who would come to Israel and who would make all things right, and who would ultimately rule over Israel as God’s anointed perfect king. By the time of Jesus’ life and ministry in the first century, this was a popular idea, that the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision was the Messiah.

During Jesus’ ministry, He performed many miracles. On more than one occasion, He healed the blind–a deed that Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would do. In one such instance, Christ healed a man who had been born blind, and He did so on the Sabbath, much to the dismay and disgust of the Pharisees. The Pharisees questioned the formerly blind man about the nature of his healing and who did it, and because the healed man would not speak ill of Christ, the Pharisees kicked the man out of the temple. The healed man was cut off from his religious community because he believed that Jesus was from God and doing God’s work. Though this man had once been physically blind, it was the Pharisees who were blind to the great work God was doing.

Jesus heard that the formerly blind man had been kicked out of the temple, so He goes to see the man. Christ asks the man a simple question, one which tied directly back to Daniel’s vision, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Christ was asking this anonymous man if he believed in what Daniel saw; if he believed that there was a messiah who would come and be co-ruler with God. The man asks Jesus who the Son of Man is so that he could believe in him. The previously blind man’s faith had already put him in opposition with the religious establishment in Jerusalem and here he was now needing hope and reassurance in the things that he had been taught. It was in this moment that Christ made one of His most direct revelations of His identity; He told the man that “you have seen him and he [the Son of Man] is the one talking to you.” Christ revealed to the man that He is the Son of Man, therefore, He is the Messiah. The formerly blind man understood the magnitude of what he had just been told, he proclaimed his belief, and he worshipped Jesus.

Throughout the gospels, the Pharisees and the multitudes demanded that Jesus tell them outrightly if He was the Messiah or not, to provide some sort of sign that they might see and believe in who He was. Repeatedly Christ refused to do so because those demanding signs had no faith and were spiritually blind since they couldn’t see the power of God being put on display through Christ. This blind man, however, who had faith in Christ and believed Jesus was a prophet doing God’s work–a belief that resulted in him being kicked out of the temple–to this anonymous blind man was the identity of the Son of Man revealed. This man saw what Daniel saw; he saw what Abraham and Moses and what all the prophets would have given anything to see: He saw the Son of Man–the Messiah, God’s co-ruler–in the flesh. More incredible than that, this man who was once blind saw Immanuel–God with Us–God Incarnate–God Himself face-to-face.

Jesus is the Son Of Man and He is the Messiah. To Him was given all power and authority in heaven and on earth. He rules alongside God the Father–the Ancient of Days–, and of their kingdom, there will be no end. We must have a faith like that of the anonymous blind man who was healed; a faith which recognizes these facts about Jesus. We must not be like the faithless and spiritually blind Pharisees who let their traditions and practice of their religion become an idol which usurped their love for and devotion to God. We must be disciples of Jesus; not of Moses, not of Paul, or of anyone else.  We must be Christ’s disciples, no matter the cost to us, for He saved us from our sins despite what it cost Him.

Artwork: “Jesus Christ,” by Laur Iduc

Nowhere Else To Go.

Christianity, Religion

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’  “John 6:66-69

There are few chapters in the Bible that are more moving than John 6. In this lengthy and action-packed chapter, Jesus’ deity and humanity are on full display; it is here that we are given accounts of two of His most famous miracles, as well as where we witness a critical moment in which Christ reacts to how people respond to His teachings.

John 6 unfolds in a rather dramatic fashion. At the outset of the chapter, there are huge crowds following Christ around the countryside of Judea waiting and watching to see what great miracle He will perform next. It is because of these large crowds that Christ can perform one of His most famous miracles: the feeding of the 5,000, in which He feeds a multitude with only five loaves of bread and two fish. This miracle helps reveal Christ’s deity and highlights Christ’s identity as God through its parallels to God’s provision for the Israelites in the wilderness during the Exodus. During those forty years, God provided for His people bread and meat each and every day–except for the Sabbath–as they wandered through the wilderness. We see Jesus do the same thing in John 6; the people have followed Him into the middle of nowhere to listen to Him preach, and they are growing hungry. To meet the needs of the people, Jesus did just as God had done during the Exodus– He provided bread and meat. The echoes of the wilderness provision were not lost on the crowd that day; they see the connection to the Exodus and to Moses and identify Jesus as the Prophet that Moses spoke of in Deuteronomy 18.

After the feeding of the 5,000, Christ performs another miracle which identifies Him as God: walking on water. His disciples had left Jesus up on the mountain and sailed across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. Christ was not with them when they left; instead, He walked upon the water to them in the middle of the sea. This miracle also has Old Testament parallels; Christ walking on water mirrors the Genesis 1 account of God’s spirit hovering over the waters before the creation of the world. Furthermore, Christ identifies Himself to His terrified disciples in a manner which has deep Old Testament connections; He says in the Greek text, “ἐγώ εἰμι,” (ego eimi), which is translated as “I am.” To calm the disciples down, Christ revealed Himself to them with the same name that God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush.

It was at this point that the nature of John 6 began to turn. Jesus began to teach the multitudes that were following Him “hard things,” that they didn’t want to hear: that He is the “bread of life,” (John 6:35), and that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to receive eternal life (John 6:54). Christ was referring here to His sacrificial death, not to the literal eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood as the crowds perceived.

 This teaching caused many to stop following Christ. They were eager to see Him perform miracles and incredible feats, but when He began to teach that salvation is only achieved by submitting to Him and being washed in His blood,  people turned away. They chose to put their faith in the blood of the covenant that Moses had sprinkled upon their ancestors, not in the blood that would be shed for them at Calvary. So, they walked away from Christ.

While He watched the crowds leave, Christ turned to the Twelve and asked if they too were going. Here Christ the man was feeling the rejection of His people that the prophets had foretold, and God was once again feeling the rejection that His chosen people had repeated again and again throughout the Old Testament. Just as Israel had turned away from God after they ienetered into and settled the Promised Land after He sustained them for forty years in the wilderness, they again turned away from Him as He provided for them and taught them how they could gain entrance into the Kingdom of God.

Peter, as always, spoke up. He told Christ that there was nowhere else to go that only Christ had the words of eternal life. Peter reaffirmed what he and the other disciples believed—and what all followers of Christ believe—that He is the holy one, the Messiah, of God. Christ is the only pathway to eternal life; there is no alternative.

We must live each and every day with the same commitment and level of conviction of belief that Peter embodied. We cannot be like the crowds who turned away when the excitement wore off, and the teachings got tough. We must remember that only Christ brings eternal life. Without Him, we have nothing; without Him, we are lost. There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. There is no one else to turn to, there is nowhere else to go. 

But God.

Christianity, Religion

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” Ephesians 2:4-5.

After reminding the Ephesian believers that they had once been dead in their sins and transgressions, the Apostle Paul penned what would become two of the most famous verses in all of Scripture. In doing so, Paul presents the entire Gospel in just a few short words, and he highlights the drastic change that was brought about in each believer. What is truly amazing is that Paul’s entire treatise, the whole of his incredible argument and exposition, can be summarized with two words, “but God.”

We were wretched and despicable, and we sought only to please ourselves, but God was rich in mercy. We were enslaved to sin and death, but God loved us. We were fallen and broken, but God chose to restore us. Despite all of our many sins and failures and shortcomings, God loved us; not only did He just love us, but He loved us with much love–with great love. While we were still broken and tarnished–while we were still dead in our sins–God saw in us the creation which He had made and which He had said was good. We deserved eternal separation from Him, but He withheld from us the punishment which we deserved; He showed us grace.

Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden required two things: 1-something had to die to cover Adam their nakedness, and 2- Adam and Eve had to be removed from God’s presence. Due to His incredibly holy nature, God cannot be in the presence of sin; sin–and those containing it–are destroyed by His very presence. God could have required Adam and Eve to die for their sins; He could have made them remain in His presence and be destroyed. God could have done these things, but He did not. Instead, He spared them from what they deserved; He showed them grace. He loved them and did what was best for them. He sent them away from His presence, but with the promise that one day, the broken relationship between Him and mankind would be restored.

Everything that occurs in the Holy Writings after Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden is the story of “but God.” For no other reasons than His great love, mercy, and grace, God continued to pursue a relationship with His creation. Despite the fact that man was enslaved to sin, God still sought him. God pursued mankind with the sole purpose of recreating that unity that had once been enjoyed in Eden. Throughout the Bible, God calls out to man; He pleads for man to return to Him. It is as though God was saying to humanity “You don’t remember how incredible our relationship once was, but I do. I remember that you were good. You can’t remember because of your sin; because you are dead. Come back to me, and I will make you alive. Come back to me, and I will make things even better than before.”

God did just that. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to be the ransom demanded by the sin that was holding us captive. Christ’s death settled our account and broke our chains; His blood purified us of stains of our sins and made us able to enter God’s presence once again. God loved His creation so much that He transferred the punishment that we deserved to His one and only son. We were only able to receive grace–only able to avoid getting what we truly deserved–because Christ took God’s wrath for us. God loved us so much that He allowed someone else–His son–to take our punishment for us; Christ loved us so much that He actually took the punishment for us. God and Christ both did this to free us from sin and restore that Edenic relationship. That is love; that is a great love. That is love which requires our full devotion and thanks and adoration.

Paul–through the inspiration of the Spirit–encapsulated all of this in “but God.”

Remember that you were dead in your sins, but God made you alive.

Artwork: “Exodus,” Marc Chagall, 1952-1966.

Be Salty.

Christianity, Religion

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 14:34-35

Salt seems relatively unimportant to us today; it is nothing more than something added to food to enhance its flavor. For the ancients, however, salt was much more than this; it was a precious commodity. In many cultures, this mineral was worth its weight in gold. In an era before refrigeration and medical advancements like antibacterial medications, salt was a wonder mineral that could do nearly everything.

One characteristic of salt that made it so valuable is that it has the unique ability to preserve meats and foods from spoiling. This is the result of the mineral drawing moisture out of the food to which it is being applied. Additionally, salt also has the ability to purify things to which it is applied, and this also aids in its preservation. The salt kills any bacteria which would cause the food to rot or spoil quickly. Salt removes impurities and preserves that which is worth saving. It removes the bad and preserves the good.

As valuable as salt was to the ancients, though, it was useless once it lost its “saltiness”—those characteristics which enabled it to do the numerous things it did. Once the salt became not “salty,” there was nothing which could make it salty again. It could not be thrown into the fields, because too much salt in the soil would ruin the soil and prohibit and future growth. In this regard, even manure was better than saltless salt, because manure had a use as fertilizer. In Matthew’s gospel, Christ says the only use for salt that has lost its saltiness is to be thrown out upon the roadways and trampled under the feet of people. In other words, it was useless and good for nothing–it had lost the qualities which made it such a precious commodity.

Christ compares those who follow Him—His disciples—to salt. The authentic follower of Christ–one who follows the hard teachings of daily taking up one’s cross, loving Christ more than their family or their lives, seeking to embody the qualities of humility and total reliance upon God depicted in the Beatitudes–acts as salt in this world; they purify and preserve. The true disciple preaches out against sin and seeks to teach others how to be rid of the their sins by submitting to Christ and being washed in His blood. Along with this, the disciple of Christ builds up fellow believers, seeking fellowship and further discipleship. In these ways, the disciple purifies and preserves, just as salt did.

We must recognize that there is nothing in us innately which empowers us to be “salty;” it is only through the indwelling of God’s spirit within us that we can be the salt of the world. Furthermore, we must remember that we must abide in Him to continue being “salty.” When we lose sight of either of these facts–when we begin seeking our glory instead of His, or when we think that it is our talent and strength that is changing people–we lose our saltiness. When we neglect our duty as disciples of Christ–to preach and teach and make new disciples–we lose our saltiness. When we sit back and not speak out against the sin that is so rampant in the world, and we do not build up our brothers and sisters in the faith–when we do not purify and preserve–we lose our saltiness. Remember what salt is good for once it has lost its saltiness–nothing.

Christ made it clear: you can’t be a neutral disciple. You can’t be a nominal follower of His. You are either salt, or you are not. You are either good for something, or you are good for nothing. You are either purifying and preserving, or you are being trampled underfoot by the world. The choice is yours. Be salty.

But I Say…

Christianity, Religion

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Luke 6:27-28, 32-33

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out what it means to be a follower of His. He lists the characteristics that His followers are to embody, and He describes how His followers are to exhibit their commitment to Him in the way that they live. Christ presents a new paradigm, a new model, by which His followers are to base their lives. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is the guidebook for living a Christian life.

Many things make Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount unique, an example being the authority with which He spoke. Usually, when rabbis would teach, they would appeal to the teachings of earlier rabbis to support the claims that they were making. Many of the rabbinic commentaries would have long passages giving various interpretations of the text by different rabbis. These passages would often begin with “Rabbi so-and-so would say,” and then give that rabbi’s commentary. Christ makes no such appeal to the authority of others; He is God, and He wrote the law. As a demonstration of His authority on these matters, He began His teaching with “but I say.” Matthew makes this rejection of the rabbinic interpretations even more clear in his gospel; he quotes Christ as saying “You have heard it was said to the ancient ones…” (Matthew 5:21). He is not referring to what God commanded the ancient Israelites, but to the interpretations and teachings of the rabbis and teachers that had been handed down from generation to generation. In many instances, the interpretation that the teachers came up with was a far cry from how God desired His people to enact His law. Christ, however, gives the authoritative teaching on the law in the Sermon on the Mount.

Christ’s interpretation and application of the law also set him apart from the rabbis of old. Many of the past rabbis, and some of the Pharisees contemporary to Jesus taught that since they were only required to love their neighbor, they were justified in hating their enemies. Christ debunks this flawed teaching, and He calls upon those who wish to follow Him to do the unthinkable–to love their enemies.

This call to love one’s enemies was radical, and Christ did not stop there. He called on His followers to do good, bless, and pray for those who do harm to them and speak poorly of them. Each of these commands goes against everything in one’s human nature; we do not want to do good for those who wish us harm, we do not want to pray for those who abuse us. These commands require that the Christ-follower be filled with a special sort of love–agape–a love which loves unconditionally, regardless of reciprocation. This is a love that only comes from God, and without being filled with this love, we cannot treat our enemies the way that Christ has taught us.

The command to love our enemies is foundational; everything else which we are to do for our enemy is built upon our love for them. It is this ability to love those who do not love us in return that separates the Christian from the sinner; sinners love those who love them back because that doesn’t require anything of them. That doesn’t require submitting to God and being filled with agape. Loving one’s enemies, however, requires humility and meekness and being refilled daily with God’s love. Living this sort of life–one which models meekness and humility, submission to God, and a love for one’s enemies–is what identifies the true believer.  It is in living this sort of life that we demonstrate the change that God has made in our lives and reflect that we are His children.

“But I say, love your enemy. Do good for them, bless them, and pray for them.” This isn’t merely a suggestion; it is the command of God Himself.

Artwork: “Jesus Preaching on the Mount,” Gustave Dore, c. 1860-1870.

Coronation.

Christianity, Religion

“So Pilate asked Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And He answered him and said, ‘It is as you say.’” Luke 23:3

“The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’  They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him.” Mark 15:16-20

“Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And Pilate said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’  So they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’” John 19:14-15.

 “And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink… And above His head they put up the charge against Him [q]which read, “‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’” Matthew 27:33-34, 37.

Coronation: (noun) the act or ceremony of crowning a king, queen, or other sovereign.

The climax of Holy Week, and of the Christian calendar, is Good Friday—“good” in this sense meaning holy. This marks the day on which Christ was crucified and died, offering Himself as the sacrificial atonement to save humanity from sin. It is easy to recognize the holy nature of this day: God’s love is readily on display as He proved He would spare nothing—not even His Son—in His effort to redeem His fallen creation, but the price that had to be paid to achieve that redemption defies any potential grasp of the mind. We know this story, and we see this moment coming, but we are caught off guard—just as the disciples were—when we reach this point in the gospel narratives. Nothing prepares us for the excruciating torment of Good Friday. We see the pain and suffering experienced, the blood and ripped flesh, the jeering and the mocking all contrasted with the humility and obedience of Christ. It is easy to read of Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of what He endured. This day is holy because it is when our Savior died for us, but it is also holy for another reason: this was the day when He came into His glory; the day He was crowned and took His throne. His crucifixion was not only a sacrificial death; it was a coronation ceremony.

The first clue that the crucifixion was Christ’s moment of glory is found in Mark 10. James and John approach Jesus and ask to be with Him, to be on His right and left sides, when He comes into His glory. Christ tells them that they are not ready for such a request, because they are not ready to endure what He will suffer in that moment—death. They do not understand that Christ’s crowning moment will be on a cross.  Christ goes on to tell them that the spots on His right and left are not His to give; they have already been reserved. At the moment when Christ is on the cross, the moment that James and John requested to be with Him, only John is there to witness the event.

The events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion are presented with imagery that reflects a king’s coronation, and this is intentional.  For Christ to receive capital punishment, the case against Him had to be presented to the Romans as treason and rebellion. Thus, a case was presented that Christ was claiming to be the King of the Jews. When questioned by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, Christ never denied the allegations. He was, in fact, the King of Israel, descended from David. Hearing these charges against Christ, the Roman soldiers guarding Him mocked Him by dressing Him in purple—the color of royalty—and giving Him a crown made of thorns, along with a large reed to be His scepter. In some of the gospel accounts, the soldiers kneeled before Christ and yelled out “Hail the King of the Jews!” before beating Him and spitting upon Him. The humble King, who rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, took every blow. Though His accusers and captors attempted to discredit Him and humiliate Him, each step they took helped bring Christ one step closer to the moment of His crowning glory.

After being clothed in purple by the Romans, and crowned with thorns, Christ held court with representatives of two different governments. He spoke at length with Pilate, the Roman official, as well as King Herod, the tetrarch who ruled over Galilee. The issues surrounding Jesus ever repaired the state relations between Pilate and Herod.  Christ was paraded through streets packed with people who were mocking and cursing Him—yet they were there to see Him nonetheless.

The coronation ceremony reached its peak when Christ was placed upon His throne—the cross. This was the moment Christ was born for; this was the moment He was exalted—high and lifted up, so that He could draw all men to Himself.  At His right and left were two criminals, guilty of offenses worthy of death, being executed along with the innocent Son of God. These two unnamed criminals were with Christ, in places of prominence, in the moment of His exaltation. They were with Jesus when He was fulfilling what had been building up for millennia as God’s salvific plan unfolded.  Two criminals hung on either side of Jesus, the Son of God, the King of Israel, as He was saving humanity.

One of these criminals realized who Jesus was and asked to be remembered by Christ when He entered His kingdom. Christ promised the criminal something better, “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” (Luke 23:43).  Only a king who has supremacy over his kingdom can speak in such bold assurances. Christ, King of Heaven and Earth, gave this poor man such an assurance. While Christ hung from the cross, the throne of his glorification, a sign was nailed above His head. It was inscribed with the charges against Him, but in the light of what was happening at that moment, it was a sign of proclamation. The sign read ” Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The Son of Man was now raised up for all to see, just as Moses raised the serpent up in the desert.  (John 3:14)

The words that Christ speaks from the cross reflect His kingship, even in his pain and agony. Of the seven last sayings of Christ, four are statements of proclamation ( “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” “I thirst,” “It is finished,” “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,”); and one is a command (“Woman, behold your son; son behold your mother,”). The remaining two are a request (“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,”), and a quote from His poet-king forefather, David (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)(Psalm 22). Though simple, Christ offers a coronation speech fitting of the humble King.

Nature shows its reaction to Christ’s glorification and death as well. From noon until 3 P.M., usually the brightest part of the day, darkness covers the land. The earth quaked, and the graves of the saints are opened, and the righteous dead walked out and appeared to many people.  Creation was both praising her King and mourning for Him. It was as Christ told the Pharisees, that “if these are silent, the stones will cry out,” (Luke 19:40). All of creation was crying out for her creator. All of this proved that Christ was much more than just the King of the Jews, or even the King of Israel; He was the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, God Incarnate, the Son of God. One centurion realized this after witnessing these supernatural events and exclaimed “surely this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).

The world—and many Christians—see Christ on Good Friday and think “how sad.”  We focus solely on the terrible suffering that He endured for our salvation. Yes, we must never forget what Christ suffered to bring redemption and atonement to humanity; the things He endured are incomprehensible.  We cannot, however, allow anything to diminish Christ’s exaltation and glorification. Hanging there from the cross, beaten and bloodied, despised and dejected, hated and reviled was the moment He came into His glory. This was the moment He was exalted and lifted up. This was the moment He bought salvation for all mankind. This was the moment He was crowned the King. This was the moment the Son of Man, the Son of David, was sent to Earth for. This was the moment Christ took His throne, and He rules forever more. Remember that this Good Friday, and kneel before the throne.

artwork: “Man of Sorrows,” James Tissot, c. 1896.

Bread of Affliction.

Christianity, Religion

“‘You shall not eat leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.’” Deuteronomy 16:3

The Passover is the most significant of all the Jewish holidays. During this sacred annual observance, the Jewish people remember the mighty acts that God performed to free their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. At the heart of the Passover celebration is the somber and solemn recognition of the great lengths which God would go to free His people.

One of the most iconic pieces of the Passover celebration is matzah or unleavened bread. As the Israelites were preparing to make their exit from Egypt, God gave them specific instructions for the Passover meal. He was going to pass through the land of Egypt striking dead all the firstborns of the land. But the houses which had followed His instructions, and taken the blood of a firstborn lamb and painted it upon the doorframe of the house, these houses would be spared; He would pass over them. This lamb which was slain for its blood to be used as a sign to God was to be eaten with unleavened bread. The Israelites were to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice; there was not even time to allow the bread to rise.  As a result of having no leaven, the bread they ate with the Passover meal was flat, and this flatbread became synonymous with the Passover. Due to its association with their bondage in Egypt, matzah is often referred to, even during Passover services, as “the bread of affliction.”  During Passover celebrations, the matzah is taken, blessed, and broken, and each participant takes a piece to eat as a reminder of the affliction suffered by their ancestors before being freed by God. Matzah is a tangible reminder of the suffering experienced in Egypt; the matzah reminds each new generation that, without God’s intervention, their affliction would be yours too.

On the Thursday after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples gathered to observe the Passover. Christ was obedient in His observation of the mandated holidays, and He and the disciples had—like the generations before did and after them would as well—matzah to remember the affliction of the forefathers in Egypt. During this Passover, Christ would institute a new observance: The Eucharist, or Communion—the Lord’s Supper. He took the matzah and blessed it and broke it and distributed it to the disciples; however, He did not tell them this was the “bread of affliction,” instead, he said, “This is my body, which is given for you,” (Luke 22:19). Elsewhere in the Gospels, we see where Christ refers to Himself as the “Bread of Life,” (John 6:35), and He said that “whoever feeds of my flesh and drinks of my blood has eternal life,” (John 6:54). Christ is changing the paradigm; something new is happening. He is using the observance of the Passover to teach the disciples—and all future generations—of the new Passover which is about to take place, one complete with a new Paschal lamb and new matzah.

The connections between the original Passover and Christ’s sacrifice must not be lost on us. Just as the first Passover proved to the Israelites just how far God would go to save them from Pharaoh’s oppression and bondage, Christ’s Passover shows how much farther God went to save His people from slavery and bondage to an even more powerful and vile oppressor: sin and death. God would offer up His Son—the firstborn of His flock and of all things—to be the Passover sacrifice, and being covered by His blood would free us from death just as the Passover lamb’s blood spared the households it covered from death. In His agony, Jesus—the Bread of Life—would become the ultimate matzah—the bread of affliction. He bore our sins and guilt so that we might be liberated from sin’s shackles. He suffered our affliction so that He might give us life. He provided our exodus from sin and this world.

Just as God instructed the Israelites to remember the Passover and to commemorate it, Christ taught the disciples—and all future generations—to observe the Communion, and to do so “in remembrance of Me,” (Luke 22:19). In taking Communion, we remember that Passover in Jerusalem when Christ became the ultimate Passover sacrifice. We remember how He took our affliction and shame and sin and guilt. We remember how the Bread of Life became the bread of affliction and was broken so that we might be freed from sin and death. Communion is our tangible reminder that, without Christ’s intervention, our sins and afflictions would still enslave us. Each time we partake of Communion, we are reminding ourselves of and celebrating the ultimate Passover. With a somber and solemn heart, we try to comprehend the great lengths to which God went to redeem us and save us, and we pray:

Christ, our Passover Lamb

Christ, our Matzah, our Bread of Affliction

Christ, our Liberator

Christ, our Redeemer

Christ, our Messiah

We do this in remembrance of You.

photo courtesy of http://www.oneforisrael.org https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/the-meaning-of-matzo-unleavened-bread-in-the-bible/

Triumphal Entry.

Christianity, Religion

“Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road. The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,

Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!

 When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’  And the crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.'” Matthew 21:8-11

Today is Palm Sunday, marking the day in which Christ made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Christ rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to acclaim and the cheers of the crowds who were arriving for the approaching Passover celebration. It had been foretold in the prophets that the Messiah—the anointed one of God—would ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The people of Jerusalem knew that their king, the Son of David, the true King of Israel, would approach them in gentleness and humility. Riding in on a donkey is not what a hero does; it is not what a king does. But it is what the Messiah would do, and it is what the Son of God did.

When Christ arrived, a scene erupted. Those who knew the prophets knew what they were seeing; they understood what was happening. The stories of all Christ’s miracles had spread throughout Israel.  The accounts of His standing up to the Pharisees and Sadducees had given hope to those who were oppressed by the religious establishment. Sinners who had been changed forever by Him spoke of His grace and forgiveness. All who heard Him teach would tell of the authority with which He taught. Now this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, who taught and spoke with authority not of this world—greater than that of any of the scribes and Pharisees—He was riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Could He be the King for whom Zion had so long been waiting?

The people surely thought so. At least, they thought He would be the one to restore the Kingdom to Israel. Surely Christ would come in and free His people from the yoke of Roman oppression. Surely this Son of David would come and restore His the throne of His father, David. He must be the one, they thought. Surely He must be. And so they cheered Hosanna! to Him and spread palm branches and their coats out on the road before Him.

He has come to free us, they thought and prayed.

Christ had come to free them, though not from Roman occupation. When He entered the gates of Jerusalem that week, the clock began ticking on the final hours of His life. Christ would be crowned a king, but not to cheers and adulation. He would be forsaken and scorned. The same people who today were cheering Hosanna and praising Him as the Son of David and the fulfillment of Scripture would be crying out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” in only a few short days. This, too, would be for the fulfillment of Scriptures.

Rome was not the enemy Christ rode in that day to confront; it was sin. His entry into Jerusalem was to free the people there that day—and you and me—from our sin and separation from God. Since the fall of man in Eden, God had been enacting a plan to restore man to a relationship with Him. Sin had long since plagued mankind and prohibited mankind from being able to fellowship with God as we once had. A price would have to be paid; innocent blood would have to be shed to pay the debts that our sins incurred, and so Christ rode into Jerusalem, in humility and gentleness. He rode in to settle our accounts before God; to lay down His life as a ransom for many.

artwork: “Palm Sunday Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem,” James Tissot

Who Is This Man?

Christianity, Religion

“The men were amazed, and said, ‘What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’” Matthew 8:27

Ask anyone familiar with the Bible to name some of the miracles of Christ, and the calming of the storm is sure to be mentioned. This is one of the most well known of Christ’s miracles. Ask people what it means–what the miracle itself represents–and you are sure to get a wealth of responses in return. Though people know about this miracle, they certainly do not understand it. Christ’s calming the storm is the most misunderstood and misapplied of His miracles.

Matthew’s account of the miracle begins with Christ and the disciples in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. Christ had previously been teaching and performing many healing miracles, including those of the leper, the centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law. These healings attracted many people to come and watch Christ, and as was so often the case, Christ decided it was time to leave the crowds and cross the lake.

As the boat sailed across the lake, a great storm came up. The Sea of Galilee is famous for its storms; however, this was no ordinary squall. We know this from two pieces of evidence. First, the disciples were terrified and convinced that they were about to die. Keep in mind that several of the disciples, at least four of the twelve, were fishermen and made their livings on that same lake before following Christ. They surely would have seen bad storms before, and would not be so quickly moved to believe that their deaths were coming.

Secondly, Matthew’s choice of words reflects the unique nature of this storm. When writing his gospel, Matthew used the word ‘seismos’ to describe this storm. This is the same word that we get the word ‘seismic’ from, the same word that describes earthquakes. What Matthew wants the reader to understand is that this was not merely a squall or a tempest, this was a seismic event in which the earth was shaking, and creating huge waves that were swamping the boat. Taking this into consideration, it is easy to see why the disciples, even the experienced fishermen, were terrified.

Christ, however, was not terrified. He was asleep in the boat. Even amid this terrible seismic event, with the waves coming down and crashing over the boat, Christ could sleep soundly because He knew that God was in control of the situation. Christ’s faith was firmly placed in the Father; He knew that the “One who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps,” (Psalm 121:4). This is the faith that Christ wants the disciples to have as well, and why He rebukes them for trusting too little in God. The disciples would have to learn to trust in Christ and God as fully as Christ trusts in the Father. Without that level of trust, the disciples would not be able to carry out the work that is before them, work which will carry all but one of them to their deaths.

It is the next portion of the story that is the source of the most misunderstanding. Christ rebukes the storm and it ceases. The winds die down and the sea settles and the earth stops shaking. The disciples are amazed and ask, “who is this man that even the winds and sea obey him?”

This miracle is a proof Christ’s deity. He exercised control over nature. He spoke a command, and nature obeyed it. He brought peace and order through His mere utterance. We see here parallels to Genesis 1 where God does the very same thing: speaking order out of chaos. Through His control of nature, Christ demonstrates Himself to be the God of Creation. He is the one who controls the winds and the rains and the seas. He is the one who hurled the storm which caught a fleeing Jonah. He is the one who withheld rain from Israel when they chose to worship Baal. He is the one who parted the Red Sea when the Israelites were going to be recaptured by Pharaoh. He is the one who breaks the laws of nature by walking on water, and ultimately by dying and living again. Christ is the God of Creation, and as such, has power and control over it. That is what the miracle proves; that is what the story is about.

The story is not about Christ calming “storms” in our lives. We turn Christ into a glorified good luck charm–a genie in a bottle–when we turn this into being about Him calming the metaphorical storms we experience. We endure trials for a purpose: to be tested and strengthened; to be refined. Those trials must be experienced, or we can not grow. Christ will be with us, and He will sustain us, but the experience is ours to endure and grow from.

This story is not about us, nor is any other story in the Bible. This story is about Christ and Him demonstrating His great power– a power so great that even the winds and the sea and all of nature obey Him. Who is this man? He is God.

Artwork: “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Ludolf Backhuysen, 1695

Let Me See.

Christianity, Religion

“And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” Mark 10: 47.

This verse comes at a crucial moment in Mark’s Gospel; in the previous chapter, Christ had revealed His glory in the Transfiguration, and He began giving the disciples some of the most important teachings that they would receive from Him; meanwhile, the disciples bickered amongst themselves over who was the greatest between them.  Christ knows His time on earth is approaching an end and He is preparing the disciples to continue the work He would leave for them, but they are preoccupied arguing with one another over which one of them is Jesus’ favorite.

Jesus was on His way up to Jerusalem to celebrate the coming Passover, and His journey up to the City of David took Him through Jericho. Sitting by the side of the road outside of Jericho was a poor blind beggar named Bartimaeus. In Jesus’ day, there were no charitable organizations who looked after those with physical disabilities; there were no safety nets for people who were not able to work and produce for themselves. Bartimaeus, like many people in our own time, had no other option but to sit by the roadside and rely on the kindness of passing strangers to provide him with money with which he could buy meager provisions. Bartimaeus’ entire existence was an exercise in having faith.

As Jesus was passing through Jericho, a large crowd began following after Him. As you can imagine, the noise of this crowd passing by caught the attention of blind Bartimaeus’ ears, and he started asking those around him who it was that was passing by and creating such a stir. It is easy to imagine him sitting there, quite helplessly, asking for anyone to tell him who is passing by; we can almost hear him pleading for information now. Bartimaeus wanted so desperately to know what was happening around him, just to be able to understand what was going on.

When finally someone tells Bartimaeus that it is Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, Bartimaeus does something incredible. Without missing a beat, he began crying out ” Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  This plea is packed with significance; first, it identifies Jesus as the Messiah. The ” Son of David” was a messianic title that alluded to God’s promise to King David that he would have a descendent upon the throne of Israel forever.  Throughout the books of the Old Testament prophets, we see messianic references to David ruling over Israel and God’s restoration of the kingdom. The Son of David would be the perfect King of Israel, anointed by God, to rule over His people. This is the same greeting Christ would receive in Matthew’s account of the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the crowds cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Blind Bartimaeus saw something in Christ that everyone else had yet to see.

Bartimaeus wasn’t just hoping that Christ was the Son of David; he was boldly proclaiming Him to be so. He was sure of this fact. When those in the crowd tried to quiet him, Bartimaeus cried out even louder. He had heard the stories of Christ healing the blind and the lame. He had listened to the stories of the miracles that Christ had performed. Bartimaeus, a person who was used to living a life that relied wholly on faith in God, knew that such actions could only come from the Messiah. Repeatedly in the Old Testament prophets, most notably Isaiah, we find references of the era of the Messiah occurring when “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped,” (Isaiah 35:5).  Bartimaeus trusted that, if Christ truly did all these things, He must be the Son of David—the Messiah.  So he cried out to Jesus, whose name means “God is Salvation,” and begged for mercy.

Christ stopped for Bartimaeus. He was not so busy on His way up to Jerusalem that He could not help this poor, righteous beggar who was being hushed by the crowd. Let’s not forget why Jesus was heading up to Jerusalem in the first place: He was going there to celebrate the Passover, but this year’s Passover would be one that would change the course of history. The very next chapter of Mark’s Gospel is his account of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, the beginning of Holy Week. This time when Christ went to Jerusalem, He would not be leaving alive. Christ was on His way up to Jerusalem to die.  But Christ stopped for Bartimaeus. He did not brush Bartimeaus off, He did not ignore him, He did not say “Bartimaeus, I’m too busy getting ready to die for your sins, your vision is a trivial matter right now.” Christ stopped and asked, “What can I do for you?” and He restored Bartimaeus’ sight. He allowed Bartimaeus to see the Son of David in whom he had faith, and who would soon be dying to atone for his sins.

The text says that after this, Bartimaeus followed Christ on the journey up to Jerusalem.  We can only speculate and imagine at what he witnessed following this encounter, but we do know that everything about Bartimaeus’ life changed, all because the Son of David took the time to stop for him. The blind beggar by the side of the street, pleading for mercy from the Son of David, was important to Christ. Even on His way to the cross, Christ never stopped serving those to whom He came to minister. Likewise, we should never be so busy that we can’t take time to minister to those we encounter, to the Bartimaeus on our path. Have faith like Bartimaeus, and be willing to stop like Christ.