Happy New Year 2015!

It’s a new year! Welcome to it … and if you’re a new reader, welcome to my blog! As you might notice, the posts on this site were abruptly discontinued in April of 2014. That’s when wiseblooding officially moved.

My mostly-daily content has transitioned to a self-hosted site:  http://wiseblooding.com/ and I hope you’ll click over to where the posts continue! I look forward to sharing this new year with you. God bless!

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What’s So Good About Good Friday?

Crucifixion Day. People know this day as Good Friday, the day on which Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross. The Good Friday designation may be a better slogan, less jarring to the public perception, I suppose, but it should go without saying, this day was anything but good for its central figure, Jesus Christ.

As a specific point in history, Good Friday was unquestionably a day like none other. It was, in fact, decidedly worse than Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Way more devastating than the damage done by rampaging hordes of the Middle Ages or the raping, pillaging conquerors of Genghis Khan‘s day. (No, my intent is not to make light of Good Friday, but rather to acknowledge, in a world where terrible, horrible, awful things happen every single day, the Crucifixion event belongs in a category all its own.)

The Creator of all mankind didn’t design the world with Death. Adam and Eve were created to enjoy and thrive in a perfect garden. They were given a luxurious pristine world, but the couple chose to reject God’s provision. By rejecting God (believing instead the lies of a serpent), their act of rebellion (sin) brought Death. From that moment, everything on the planet − everything − was forever tainted by Death’s decay.

Yet, even before the two humans were expelled from Eden, God himself provided a way of escape:  blood was shed to clothe the pair. Blood, the only means for reconciling man to God, the proof and promise from God that for a now-broken world, all was not lost.Bible_006

Fast-forward the narrative to Holy Week. Jesus has already demonstrated the power to call a man, Lazarus, out from the grave! Lazarus had been in the grave four days; when Jesus instructed the tomb be opened, Martha balked. She reminded Jesus there’d be a stench after four days of decay.

The Jews in his company recalled an earlier miracle when Jesus healed a blind man, and they were quick to suggest Jesus might have kept Lazarus from dying … if only he’d been there. The multitudes following Jesus had witnessed the earlier healing and were amazed by the miracles. (In fact, many who continued to follow Jesus into Jerusalem were just as interested in seeing Lazarus, knowing he was the man Jesus had raised from the dead!)

Mary echoed the crowd’s lament:  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

But nobody (not Mary, not Martha, not the disciples in his company, not even the multitudes who witnessed other miracles) ever supposed Jesus would do what he did, saying “… with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.'”

Because nobody − NOBODY! − had yet understood Jesus, the one and only son of God, held power over the grave. This was beyond their understanding … this was what C. S. Lewis aptly described as “the deeper magic from before the dawn of time.” (From chapter fifteen, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.)

The blood shed back in Eden foreshadowed the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ at the Crucifixion. Because the sin of Adam (and Eve) was perpetrated by humans, animal sacrifice was never an effective (once-for-all) solution. Human sin called for human amends. Adam couldn’t volunteer to die for Eve’s sins … when he died, it was the just punishment for his sins. Nor could a sacrificial act by Eve cover Adam’s sins … she had her own sins, and the penalty for them was Death.Bible_007

A Human, one sinless (perfect) human, could die for all − which is exactly what happened on the day of the Crucifixion. God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life (being “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin”) and he suffered an ignominious death on the Cross … not because Jesus sinned but rather to pay the penalty of my sin!

When my kids were younger, they’d have exclaimed, That’s not fair! Why should Jesus die for me (or them)? And they’re right … it wasn’t fair, but sin required payment. Jesus paid the penalty in my place.

Consider this though:  it wouldn’t have meant anything at all for Jesus to simply die, just another poor sap in the long line of human history who died an inglorious Death. Three men were crucified that day. All three of them were buried but the bodies of two men remained in their pauper’s graves.

Jesus did not remain in the grave!

Jesus had to go t-h-r-o-u-g-h Death … dying wasn’t enough! Recall that memorable scene from Braveheart when William Wallace says “All men die but not all men really live.” In his humanity, Jesus did what all men do:  he died. In his deity, Jesus did what no man can do:  he defeated Death!

In my earlier post, A Life On Loan, I recounted the ultimate sacrifice of one soldier (Sgt. Daniel Ferguson) to spare the lives of his imperiled associates. The Crucifixion demonstrates the greatest love, Jesus laying down his life for all.

In yesterday’s post, I noted The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was (and continues to be) a transformative event.” Allow me to restate my observation with added emphasis:  The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was (and is) THE singular, most transformative event in human history.

Death has been vanquished, once-for-all! The horrific tragedy of Crucifixion Day made Resurrection Day possible. Why would anyone knowingly choose to die for their own sins when Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, has already paid the penalty in his flesh?

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The Rock

Simon Peter … numbered among the twelve apostles, a prominent figure in the New Testament, an intimate of Jesus Christ. By trade, Peter was a fisherman who left his day job to follow Christ. The Gospel accounts show Peter was a blustery man, given to acting impulsively and speaking his mind.

I tend to identify with Peter. As I’ve aged, I’ve managed better control over my impulses (I have yet to slice off an ear … mostly due to lack of sword accessibility), but speaking my mind is the greater challenge. I identify with Peter’s bluster, his boldness in declaring loyalty that has yet to be tested. When I think of Peter, the face that comes to mind is John Rhys-Davies, the burly British actor whose roles mostly portray a brave adventurer and feisty but loyal friend, someone who will stand by your side … to the death!John Rhys-Davies

Indeed, Peter stood by Jesus, even as the soldiers came to haul Jesus away. What’s not to admire about that daring friend whose sword stands ready in defense?! He had much still to learn from Jesus but Peter’s heart was so solid … so rooted … toward the Savior!

At first, Peter wasn’t an especially detail-oriented individual, but to his credit, he was drawn by a relationship with Jesus. He had (as mentioned in yesterday’s post) “left everything” and on that occasion at least challenged Jesus to explain exactly what Peter would “get out of it.” (Matthew 19:27) I wonder how Peter might have responded if Jesus had enumerated all the things the future actually held for Peter?

But Jesus knew Peter’s heart. He wasn’t yet The Rock Jesus predicted he would become eventually. Still, when Jesus had asked Peter, “Who do people say I am? … Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20), Peter daringly asserted:  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Given subsequent interactions between Jesus and Peter, it seems improbable Peter understood the full scope of his declaration, but with small steps, he was embracing a bold faith to complement his bold pronouncements. Like all of us, Peter was flawed. Within a brief time of swearing he would fight − to the death − for Jesus, he had (as Jesus foretold) denied his friend, denied his friend again, and then with cursing, issued a final agonizing denial.

For National Poetry Month, this poem supposes a modern-day translation of Peter’s staunch claim that he’d never deny Christ.

PromiseToFriend

Like I said earlier, I identify with Peter’s failures. I can’t imagine having the devastating experience of denying − three times − my close personal relationship with Christ and immediately realizing I have demonstrated the depth of my own wickedness!

Jesus already knew. Jesus had already forgiven his friend. Following the Resurrection of Jesus, Peter was transformed, bolder still and wiser, but marvelously tempered by the grace of God at work in his life. He became the Rock, a defender of the faith, just as Jesus had promised he would be.

Don’t take my word for it. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was (and continues to be) a transformative event. There are four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Read just one, take a fresh look, approach the story as if it’s totally new, totally unfamiliar to you. Do you dare?

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Mary’s Lavish Gift

Often, when an event is familiar, people have a tendency to get careless about its essential meaning. We recount the events of Holy Week yearly; and instead of becoming more precious over time, the events of this week lose their significance, receding into dullness.

So today, experiment with me, if you will. Close your eyes and try to imagine some of the scenes retold in the Gospels as if you’d never heard the story before. (Come on, work with me here!)

The week-long Jewish holiday the disciples were preparing to celebrate was all too familiar to them; to some extent, they were going through the motions, entering Jerusalem (as they had done many times before) to participate in Passover.65776_passover_md

No, the festive atmosphere wasn’t lost on them. Like most religious holidays, this one included the requisite triumvirate − food, fun and fellowship. After their recent weeks of travel and managing the crowds that constantly surrounded Jesus, who would blame the disciples for hoping to relax over a tasty meal and a glass of wine?

It wasn’t going to be easy though. With the memory still fresh of those crowds who had vigorously welcomed Jesus at his entry into Jerusalem, an undercurrent of puzzlement gripped many of the disciples. The crowds had worshipped him, throwing palm leaves and their garments onto the ground, crying out Hosanna! Why would they act that way … unless they were ready to make him king? What else could it mean?

Added to this confusion, a growing dissension had cropped up in their midst. Peter was angling for a more prominent role. He’d already confronted Jesus: “We left everything and followed you. What do we get out of it?” (Matthew 19:27, The Message) Others were grumbling as well. James and John’s mother even proposed to Jesus that her sons should be the ones to be seated on both sides of him! (Matthew 20:20-28)

With seven days of feasting and celebration ahead of them, the disciples probably considered the familiarity of the events a welcome distraction from their usual concerns. Partake in a few quiet meals and good wine, renew old friendships with other observant Jews … and the perplexing questions could be postponed until after Passover.

At least, that’s what they might have thought. But of course, the week played out quite differently from what they’d expected.

Contrast the disciples’ mindset to another interesting character. Because she was a woman, her role appears to have been less prominent. Her name isn’t even mentioned in three of the Gospels; she’s just a woman. However, in John 12:3, she’s identified as Mary; yes, the same Mary who chose to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Mary’s presence on the periphery didn’t mean she wasn’t listening. In fact, she paid close attention to everything Jesus said. She’d heard him say: “I’m going to Jerusalem to die.” (Matthew 16:21, 17:22, 26:2) “They’re going to kill me … but on the third day, I’ll rise again.”

When Jesus and his disciples reclined for dinner one feast night, Mary went into action. She quietly entered the dining room and knelt beside Jesus. In the next moment, she pulled an alabaster vial from the folds of her dress and broke it. The pungent aroma of perfume filled the room as she poured liquid from the vial onto Jesus’ head.

A murmur arose around the table as disciples eyed each other quizzically. What’s this? A new twist for Passover?

Oblivious to all others in the room … except for Jesus, Mary continued, silently lavishing her perfume over Jesus’ feet, then wiping them tenderly, worshipfully, with her hair. The fragrance began to permeate the whole residence.

Before she’d finished, several of the disciples objected, indignant by this wasteful act! “That perfume could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor!” Such profligacy! Perhaps Peter’s earlier grumble had begun to resonate with the others. (We left everything to follow you! Where’s the payoff for us?)

Jesus immediately rebuked them. “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.” (Matthew 26:12) Had any of these men listened to him when he was talking about his death?

In serving Jesus Christ, I often find myself thinking cost/benefit ratios when I mean to be pursuing worshipful action. It’s almost impossible to worship extravagantly when I’m seeking to identify what might be the payoff for me. Jesus, on the other hand, was extravagantly resolute; though knowing he would die in Jerusalem, he steadfastly entered the city. (Luke 9:51)

For National Poetry Month, I offer this retelling of Mary’s extravagant gift, a poem reproduced from an 1880 hymnal and written by Charles Lawrence Ford.

Alabaster

 

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Picked Clean … Again

What more can I or do I need to say?

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Greatly To Be Praised

Because I know how the scenario ends, I find it difficult to focus on the events of Holy Week with a somber face and attitude.

In the same vein, I could only view the film The Passion of the Christ a single time. That one viewing brought into full view the significance of Bible passages like Isaiah 53:5 “… he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities … by his scourging we are healed.” Viewing the film once was all that was necessary for my personal clarity.

As I was contemplating today’s post, I viewed a video that gave a moving reminder of how great our God is. With the marvelous setting and stunningly beautiful music, it was (for me) four minutes of worship.

I have posted on this blog more than a few posts relating my love and ecstatic enjoyment of music. For today’s nod to National Poetry Month, the poem below obliquely references two friends of Jesus (Mary and Martha) and speaks to my personal Mary (eager to be at the feet of Jesus) and Martha (distracted by the cares of the world) tendencies. Music reminds me about the One who matters most.

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A Life On Loan

bildeAfter the most recent shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, one of the base soldiers told of his experience being barricaded behind a door with fourteen others as the rampaging shooter attempted to enter this space to continue his violence. In that room, First Lt. Patrick Cook feared for his life and also the lives of others hunkered down with him.

One soldier bravely placed himself at the door to block the shooter’s access; though this soldier was mortally wounded, his effort prevented the shooter from entering. Cook says: This Soldier’s name was Sergeant First Class Daniel Ferguson, and his sacrifice loaned me the rest of my life to tell this story.”

Sergeant Ferguson’s selfless act models the love spoken of in John 15:13:  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

Think about someone dying in your place. How do you think you’d feel?

It’s an act of uncommon courage, laying down one’s life for a friend. I know such an act boggles my mind. I think of myself as the one who would probably cower in a corner (hiding from an assailant), the one who will likely claw my way off my deathbed because I’m ready to die but not today. In theory, I’d like to say I’d lay down my life for a friend, but in actuality? I’m not that bold.

In Romans 5, Paul makes the argument that for a righteous man − and maybe even for an ordinarily good man − one might sacrifice one’s life, but such self-sacrifice is remarkable. Paul contrasts the unusual act of self-sacrifice (in verse 8) to God proving His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

holyweekToday marks the beginning of what many people know as Holy Week, a period recounted in each of the Gospels during which Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem and prepared to die.

Imagine the scene …

The crowds were jubilant as they welcomed Jesus into the city! He rode on a donkey colt and the throng threw down palm branches and their cloaks into the dusty street to honor Jesus. (One of the religious leaders considered this display embarrassing, showy, inappropriate to honor a lowly Nazarene.) Hosanna! Hosanna! they shouted. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Jesus didn’t discourage their celebration. He told the religious leader if the people became silent, even the “stones will cry out.”

The masses had seen and heard about Jesus performing miracles − turning water into wine, raising Lazarus from the dead, healing sick people (a leper, the lame, crippled, blind, mute). A king they wanted and Jesus surely had the dynamism to draw these crowds for what they hoped was a reset from the Roman rule under which they’d suffered. Read the details here. The crowds shouted a different message once they realized Jesus had come not to overthrow the Romans, but to die.

Because Sergeant Ferguson died on his behalf, First Lt. Cook maintains his life is now on loan. Who among us would actually be willing to die for a friend … even a very good one, a person whose character qualities were impeccable and worthy of admiration? Which of us would step forward (as Ferguson did) to take his or her place?

An ancient poem written and translated many times and by many authors is O Sacred Head, Now Wounded. Once attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, some think it’s the work of another writer. One particular verse says: Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain … a Friend dying in another’s place, a life now on loan. The verse reproduced below also references the impact of knowing one’s life is on loan.

OSacredHead

 

First Lt. Cook’s perspective parallels my own; in considering Holy Week, I’ve experienced the sacrifice of a Friend, Jesus, dying in my place. How about you?

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