Easter Saturday

We are in a very dark and scary time right now. It is easy to succumb to fear and even despair. By faith, and in hope, let’s sit with him in heavenly places and see the end of this trouble.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (conquered, prevailed, been victorious).” John 16:33 (NIV)

You probably already knew this, but I just realized that Jesus said this to his disciples at the last supper. After Judas had left to betray him.

Yet, Jesus said, “I HAVE overcome,” because from where God sits, there is no time. Jesus had already overcome, in fact he had overcome from the foundation of the world.

He [the Lamb who was slain] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 1 Peter 1:18

Jesus knew what the disciples were going to experience in the next days and he wanted to give them something to cling to. He hoped they would remember his words in that dark day between the despair of the crucifixion, and the blazing light and joy of the resurrection. As Philip Yancey wrote, “It was no accident, I believe, that Jesus spoke his triumphant words, I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD, even as Roman soldiers were buckling on weapons for his arrest.”

We are in a very dark and scary time right now. It is easy to succumb to fear and even despair. Let us rest and abide in the One who promises to always be with us. Let us be still and know that he is God. He has already overcome this dark world, and whether we live or die, our peace is in him, our ultimate home is with him. By faith, and in hope, let’s sit with him in heavenly places and see the end of this trouble.

“It is a good thing to remember, when we encounter dark, disturbing times, that we live out our days on Easter Saturday.”—Philip Yancey[i]

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NASB)

 

[i] Where is God When it Hurts?

 

The Pressing of Grapes

The amazing story of Redemption is hidden in these verses.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

This is a well-known saying of Jesus and I have read it many times. But, this time I decided to take a look at the Greek meanings and roots of the important concepts – narrow, wide, broad. I would like to share with you what I discovered and some related verses that help reveal the amazing story of Redemption hidden in these verses.

Enter through the narrow (stenos) gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small (stenos) is the gate …

The word translated “narrow” in verse 13 and the word translated “small” in verse 14 are the same Greek word, which is stenos. Stenos means narrow or strait, and it comes from the root word histemi, which means to stand, abide, continue, covenant, to be of a steadfast mind which does not hesitate or waiver.

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NASB)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23 (NASB)

But small is the gate and narrow (thlibo) the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

The other word in verse 14 also translated “narrow” (or hard, difficult) is thlibo, which means to press like grapes, press hard upon, be crowded, afflicted, suffer tribulation and trouble. There are two breathtaking roots to this word: tragos = a male goat; and trauma = a wound or wounds.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 15:33 (NIV)

Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins … The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21-22 (NASB)

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:12 (NIV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)

For wide (platus) is the gate and broad (euruchoros) is the road that leads to destruction

The word translated “wide” is platus. Its origin is the root word plasso, which means to form, mold, fabricate, or shape.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Finally, the word translated “broad”, or spacious, is euruchoros. It comes from chora which means and empty expanse or the space lying between two places or limits. Interestingly, the root of both these words is chasma, from which our English word chasm comes.

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2 (NIV)

For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:10 (NIV)

Enter through the narrow gate, where you can abide in me, holding fast your confession without wavering. For wide is the gate where you are formed by the molding of the world, and broad is the road that leads to destruction and separation from God, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road, where you are pressed hard upon like grapes, afflicted, suffer tribulation and trouble for my sake, but that leads to life, and only a few find it.

I [Jesus] am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. John 10:9 (NIV)

I will throw my net over them

… I will throw my net over them … Hosea 7:11 (NLT)

In the book of Hosea the Lord God laments over the sins of his people. In one place he says “Oh Israel and Judah what should I do with you?”[i] As a Mom this sounds very familiar to me. I think I have said that, or something very similar to my kids several times in frustration, “What am I going to do with you?”

Sometimes we look at the God of the Old Testament as different from Jesus. We only see the punishments, the judgments, the prophesies of enemies overtaking and dragging away. And that appears in Hosea. But, as I read chapters six and seven, I saw something else, very heartbreaking, but very wonderful and redeeming.

In the midst of God’s chastisements and listing of all Israel’s sins, he cries out three times from the pain and love of his heart.

I wanted so much to restore …

I wanted to heal …

I wanted to redeem …[ii]

But, they rejected God, they turned away to other gods, they rebelled. God grieves, “… no one cries out to me for help.”[iii] It all sounds so impossible, so despairing, so final.

But there in the middle there is this wonderful phrase. “I will throw my net over them.” This reminded me of Jesus on the shore calling to the disciples, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

Jesus, the Great Fisherman, God in the flesh come to throw his net over us. God’s father-heart of mercy and love, God’s zeal to pursue and save us on full display. So, Jesus came-

To restore

To heal

To redeem

To pursue and catch us in His net of Everlasting Love

Oh Lord God, I cry out to you! I want to turn back to you. I am lost and floundering in the waves. Forgive me of my sins. Throw your loving net over me. And bring me into your Presence.

Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him. So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. Hosea 6:1-3 (NASB)

[i] Hosea 6:4

[ii] Hosea 6:11, 7:1, 7:13

[iii] Hosea 7:7

For more about God’s loving net see Imprisoned

Image, Casting a fishing net, by vakibs, https://www.flickr.com/photos/vakibs/5395469892/

Therefore

The “therefore” at the beginning of the verse said to me, look at the context. And the context is very interesting.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NASB)

At Christmas time we see this verse a lot on memes and Christmas cards and in sermons. But today the “therefore” at the beginning of the verse said to me, look at the context. And the context is very interesting.

Israel is under attack by two kings, and Isaiah is instructed by God to go to King Ahaz with a message. So, Isaiah tells Ahaz, one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history, to “‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood’” (Isaiah 7:4). He assures Ahaz that what these two kings have in mind for Israel will not happen. And then, Isaiah gives Ahaz a blank check to ask anything he wants as a sign that God is telling the truth:

“Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz refuses.

I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” (7:11-12)

I will not – Ahaz continues his rebellion against the will of God. And then he puts on a fake and hypocritical religious posture in order to cover his fear and lack of faith in God, and to make himself look good – I don’t want to put the Lord to the test. After all, he could have added, isn’t that what the law commands? “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).

The word translated “test” in both these verses is the Hebrew word nasah (נָסָה), which means “to put to the proof or test.” In the wilderness God was asking them to trust Him to take care of them, but they refused to trust and demanded that He prove it. Here in Isaiah, God wants Ahaz to put Him to the test. This verse reminds me of Psalm 34:8 (NIV).

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

But Ahaz does not want to taste, he refuses. God is offering Ahaz the world, anything at all, but Ahaz does not want to know the goodness, the power, the authority of this God. He doesn’t want to have his eyes opened to “see.” He wants to stick with his own ideas, his own feeble religion.

Doesn’t this kind of describe the whole human race from the beginning? Rebellion, fear, mistrust, unbelief, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, willful blindness. And yet, what is God’s response to all of this? Yes, Isaiah is more than a little irritated at Ahaz, exclaiming, “Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” But what does God say?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

What is God’s response? Mercy, redemption. God says, you don’t want to know me, you don’t want to see, you refuse all the good I long to give you, but I’m going to give it to you anyway! I will give you the deepest depths and the highest heights, I will give you Wonderful, I will give you Truth! I will give you Life! I will give you the Way out of your mess, the way back. I will give you all my love, all my goodness, all my power and authority! I will give you Myself. Me with you and you with Me – always!

Therefore, let us – all us rebels – take God up on his offer. Let’s put God to the test. Let’s taste and see that the Lord is good. Let’s open our eyes and see and receive how much he loves us. Here is the sign. Here is the miracle. Here is the Gift.

Immanuel!

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

 

Image, photograph taken by ESA/Hubble Telescope, NASA

 

I Testify

The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life. 1 John 1:1 (NLT)

This is what eyewitnesses do. They testify about what they have seen and heard and experienced, with their own eyes and ears and hands

I have been called to be a witness, and I, too, testify that

I have heard His voice calling my name. I have heard Him say to me, “You are mine!”

I have looked, while in the spirit, into His eyes like unending pools of molten love, like perfectly pure liquid gold, purer than anything here on this earth

I have felt His Presence, very near, right beside me, instant in need, comforting, cheering me on, relentlessly offering me this Hope, pointing out the Way

I have experienced His unstoppable power and authority, taking my breath away, healing, redeeming, restoring, bursting bonds, kicking down doors, bringing me out into that spacious place

I have experienced this power in me, in my heart, in my mouth and in my hands, working through me sharing this love, this healing, this redemption, this new-creature, new-way-of being, new Life

I have known the power of His Truth repairing the twisted, mangled parts, the mind-blowing revelation of His Word, changing my thinking, switching the track, crumbling unscalable walls, blowing away the chaff

I testify, with my own ears, with my own eyes, in my own life, with my own hands

He is Jesus Christ, the Word of Life

 

Image in the Public Domain, by Brad Shorr

The Brokenhearted

Jesus’ heart was broken to bring life to the world. We follow in His brokenhearted footsteps.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

I received this verse three times in two days recently. My sister sent it to me as a comforting prayer. A favorite blogger wrote about the verse the next day. The third time I heard it was later that day at the funeral of a young mother, taken too soon. She was only 39. She leaves behind a grieving husband and two small daughters.

Jesus applied these verses to himself in Luke so we can see them as prophetic words of the Messiah. This verse was quoted by Jesus when he got up in the synagogue to read the scroll. But when he read the passage, he left out some parts. For one thing, He stopped at “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” and left out “the day of vengeance of our God.” He came the first time to proclaim favor, the Good News, the freedom of captives and release of prisoners. The day of vengeance would come later when he returns the second time at the last day. I understand that.

But I’ve always wondered why the part about binding up the brokenhearted was left out. We are brokenhearted down here. We need – so many need – binding up. But the passage in Luke leaves out the promise to the brokenhearted. Why?

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:16-19 (NIV)

Commentators and theologians have argued about if this omission was a mistake, added back in by scribes later, or was in the original. Many later manuscripts include the phrase “to heal the brokenhearted” but in the earlier, important ones it is lacking. I don’t think it was a mistake, though I can understand wanting to put it back in. I want to put it back in. But I think Jesus left it out on purpose, just as he left out the “day of vengeance” part. This world that we are in is a place of broken hearts, of too-early deaths, tragedy, a place of tears and trouble. That will not change until Jesus comes back.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33 (NIV)

For some reason we are “filling up the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24). Jesus’ heart was broken to bring life to the world. We follow in His brokenhearted footsteps. Somehow our brokenness is like that broken alabaster jar filling the house with fragrance (Mark 14:3), and like the life-giving springs bubbling up in the dark valley.

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs, where pools of blessing collect after the rains! Psalm 84:6 (NLT)

Those other brokenhearted ones, who come after us, receive life and comfort from our brokenness if we keep walking; if our broken hearts, all our broken hopes and dreams, are squandered on him as fragrant offerings.

Ann Voskamp has conjectured that maybe we are made to be broken. It sure seems like it. “We are made in the image of God. And wasn’t God’s heart made to be broken too? Wounds can be openings to the beauty in us. And our weaknesses can be a container for God’s glory.”[i] A container for the fragrant, precious, glory of God. But it seems that the container must be broken for the glory to be shared.

I think we have to wait for the binding up part, but it will come. Someday, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4 NIV) and he will show us how all of those bottles full of tears that he has been collecting (Psalm 56:8) became pools of blessing.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.   2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV)

Image of tear under a microscope: “Psychic tear: This tear is harvested after an emotional response,” by Maurice Mikkers, https://medium.com/micrograph-stories/imaginarium-of-tears-10263c866ee1

 

[i] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life.

You Shall Love, I Promise

What if I really believed this? How would it change how I live?

The final secret, I think, is this: that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us—loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief. —Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember

This idea has really captivated my mind – that all of those Old Testament laws, all of those “shalls” and “shall nots” could be looked on as promises, not as commands. As even the longing cry of God: Someday you will love me with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength. Someday you will love your neighbor as yourself. I promise!

Jesus said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17 NLT). Jesus made it possible for me to do the “shalls” in him and through him. He did this by making me a new creature, by changing my heart, by making it possible for me to come into the Presence of the Father and know him.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 11:14-17 (NIV)

He has put his law in our hearts. He has given us new hearts, new minds, the mind of Christ. He has given us grace and power to obey his will, to truly know him, to truly love him.

What if I really believed this? How would it change how I live? It would set me free. If I truly believed that God is not a fierce judge, giving me impossible things to accomplish, just waiting for me to trip up, but a loving Father who is by my side, walking through this wilderness with me. A loving Father holding out his arms to this (still) toddler-me, saying, “Come on, you can do it! You shall love!” I would fearlessly go out there and love – not love to be noticed and acclaimed, not love to be accepted and loved back, not love to please people, not love to earn Brownie points, not love to finally “get it right.” But just freely love to please God, to know the joy that it gives Him.

And if I was rejected, taken for granted, ignored, dissed, insulted, criticized, misunderstood, it would not make me stumble as long as my eyes were fixed on his loving face and my ears attuned to his joyful, encouraging voice.

So, you and me, let’s not give up. Don’t despair. Keep going “on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope” through this wilderness. Trust in him. Keep running into his open arms. You shall learn to love the Lord your God. You shall love.

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. Deuteronomy 30:6 (NIV)

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Galatians 2:20 (MSG)

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. John 3:17 (NASB)

 

Photograph by Jack Bair, copyright 2019, all rights reserved.