Rest.

Christianity, Religion

“And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’” Exodus‬ ‭33:14‬

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and ‘You will find rest for your souls.’” Matthew‬ ‭11:28-29‬ ‭

Rest is a precious commodity. As our daily routines run together into weeks that turn into months, and months that turn into years, and we find ourselves exhausted and worn out. Rest is one of the most necessary items we require in our lives, and yet it is the one thing that we so often fail to get or choose to go without. We run ourselves ragged, never taking time to rest and to enjoy all the many things in our lives that God has blessed us with, and then we wonder why we are so miserable and spiritually drained. We do not rest like God desires us to, or as He modeled for us to do through His own actions. 

God rested from His own creative work, so that He might enjoy it. The Sabbath itself was for man to worship God through resting from the mundane. Rest serves as a positive interruption from the grind of our daily lives. Rest is the small break from the toil that sin chains us to as a result of the Fall. 

The importance of rest is further reinforced by the promise thereof in the two passages we see today. In Exodus 32, the Israelites committed their sin of idolatry with the golden calf. As a result of this, at the outset of Exodus 33, God told Moses to carry on leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. God went on to tell Moses that He would  send an angel before them to clear the way for them, but that He would not accompany the Israelites to the Promised Land. God would not be going any further with them because of their obstinacy and continual desires to test Him and stray from Him. The people heard this news and mourned greatly, and Moses pleaded with God on behalf of the people for Him to remain with them. God then promised Moses that He would go with them, and that He would grant them rest—He would lead them to the place He promised to them, and He would allow them to enjoy it. 

This promise of rest is repeated throughout the Old Testament. God reiterated it to Joshua when he began to lead Israel after the death of Moses. God promised to give Israel rest from their enemies as long as they remained faithful to Him. After the conquest of the Canaanites, it was said that even the land itself had rest. The message of rest was continued by the prophet Jeremiah; he told the Israelites that if they had remained in the ways of those of old who had followed God, then they would have received rest for their souls (Jeremiah 6:16).  Instead, they strayed and became even more enslaved to sin, and thus had to experience God’s judgment. Israel’s infidelity voided their promised rest. 

The reward for faithfully following God was not prosperity in this world, nor was it a promise of being spared from pain and suffering. God’s promise was to give His people rest, so that they might endure whatever they encountered. 

Jesus’ own preaching touched on this same promise of rest. In Matthew 11, after calming the fears of the imprisoned John the Baptist, and preaching in honor of John, Christ turned His attention to the cities in which most of His ministry took place. He denounced Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum for their hardheartedness—or obstinacy—-and said that if Gentile cities had witnessed such miracles, they would have  been immediately repentant. Those who thought they knew how God operated and thought they had God figured out were blind and missing what He was doing, while the infants—those who were untaught and uneducated in the Law or how God worked—were the ones who were witnessing and partaking in the miraculous works of the Messianic Age. 

Christ then called on all who are weary and heavy-laden to come to Him and that He would give them rest. Christ is not a cruel and demanding task master, the yoke He offers is not one which will bear the wearer down; it is not a yoke of oppression like that of sin. Instead, the yoke offered by Christ is one which is easy and light, for He is meek and gentle. Those who come to Him and learn from Him and live like Him will find rest for their souls. Christ here  quoted directly from Jeremiah 6:16, saying that those who yoke themselves to Him and follow Him will walk in the paths that lead to rest. 

Christ will give to His followers the rest that God promised throughout the Old Testament. He will grant them  peace and an interruption from the constant and hectic pace of life. Christ promises to His followers the thing they need most in this life. It is not prosperity, nor is it a lack of trials. His promise is that of rest, so that we might worship Him and enjoy His blessings, and so we might be able to endure this world. 

Go to Christ. Allow Him to break your chains of slavery to sin and bondage to this world. Take the yoke that He offers you, and let Him lead you in the ways which lead to rest.  

Artwork: “Noon Rest From Work After Millet,” Vincent van Gogh, c. 1880. 

Each and Every Day.

Christianity, Religion

“And remember, I am with you each and every day, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20.

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the author presents the reader with the resurrected Jesus, now gloriously victorious over the grave, and bestowed with all authority in heaven and earth, as He gives His final words to his disciples. It is in this final scene that Jesus demonstrates His power by commissioning–entrusting with authority–His disciples to go make more disciples.

While making his ascent back into heaven, Christ also gives His disciples–the Eleven then, and all future ones–a promise of reassurance and hope. Christ promises His followers that “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” How beautiful and sweet that promise is, to know that Christ is always with us, no matter what. What strength we can draw from that assurance.

But there’s so much more to this promise than what meets the eye.

The vast majority of English Bible versions translate Matthew 28:20 just as was discussed above– “with you always.” This is a paraphrase of what is in the Greek texts. According to the Greek manuscripts, what Jesus said was literally, “I am with you all the days until the end of the age.” Consider how much more emphatic this makes His promise. Each and every day, Jesus is with us. He isn’t just with us ‘always,’ in some sort of abstract concept of time, He is with us all day every day. He is there through the good times and the bad; through the trials and sorrow, during the times of feasting and of famine, through joy and mourning. He celebrates with us, He grieves with us, He consoles us, He comforts us, He strengthens us, He encourages us, He carries us. We are not alone; He is in the trenches with us. He never quits, He never leaves, He never forsakes us.

The Old Testament reaffirms this promise made by Jesus. As David wrote to the Choir Director (remember that ‘choir director’ could also be translated as ‘the One Who is Eternal,’ ‘the Conquering One,’ or ‘the One Who Directs All Things’):

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” Even the Darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day Darkness and light are alike to You. (Psalm 139:7-12)

Or as God said to Jeremiah: “Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off? “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?” declares the LORD “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:23-24).

Jesus proved, again, to be literally what Isaiah prophesied He would be–Immanuel– God with us. Here, at the end of Matthew, He promised to be God always with us, every single day.

Do not be disheartened; do not be discouraged. Jesus of Nazareth–The Eternal One, The Conquering One, The Christ, The Alpha and Omega, the One through which all things came into being and apart from whom nothing has been created that was created, the Firstborn of the Living and the Dead, the Son of Man, the One who humbled Himself to death on a cross, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the One who crushed the head of the serpent, the One who defeated sin, death, and the grave, the Son of God–is with you each and every day, until the end of time. He promised you this; He gave you His word–and He never breaks his promises.

Artwork: “Ascension of Jesus,” by Natalya Rusetska.

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.

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.

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