The Lord Turned

He sees us toddling toward him, not fallen flat on our faces. God is always looking ahead, seeing us at our best, at the end of the road.

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” Judges 6:14 (NIV)

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.” Luke 22:61 (NIV)

I read a One Year Bible for my devotionals, which divides the Bible into 365 readings, one each from the Old and New Testaments, Psalms and Proverbs. Recently, the above two verses were facing each other on opposite pages, and I realized how alike the situations were. (Read Judges 6:11-22 and Luke 22:31-34, 54-62 for the full stories.)

Both Gideon and Peter were at their very lowest points. Feeling physically threatened and hiding – Gideon in a hole in the ground threshing his meager wheat, Peter crouching with the servants around a campfire, pretending he was somebody else. Both had a low opinion of themselves right at that moment. Both were denying the Lord – Peter outright and Gideon by his attitude. But worse, both felt let down and abandoned by their Lord.

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” Judges 6:13 (NIV)

Yet (!), in spite of their failings and weaknesses, both were being called to do great deeds and both needed strengthening. I had always imagined the looks and words of the Lord in the above verses as negative – a rebuke, a reproach, a look of disappointment.

However, all through the Bible the turning of the Face of God toward his people is a picture of favor and grace, encouraging and strengthening.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Numbers 6:23-26 (NIV)

“The picture is of divine favor – the beaming face of a parent for his beloved.” [i]

Turn to (turn toward) me and have mercy (be gracious, show favor, have pity) on me, for I am alone and in deep distress. Psalm 25:16 (NIV)

But the turning away, or hiding, of God’s face is a sign of rejection.

O LORD, why do you reject me? Why do you turn your face away from me? Psalm 88:14 (NLT)

But the Lord turned toward Gideon and Peter. Even in midst of Jesus’ great betrayal and passion, he turned in mercy and love, grace and encouragement toward Peter. “Come on, I know you can do it. Am I not sending you?” How that look of love must have pierced Peter’s soul!

“And the Lord turned Himself … and looked upon Peter; with his bodily eyes, with great earnestness, expressing in his looks concern and pity for him; for it was a look, not of wrath and resentment, but of love and mercy, and power went along with it.”[ii]

God calls us when we are in our holes and hiding places. He calls us out of doubt and despair, when denial and worthless words are spewing from our mouths. He calls us at our worst but calls us anyway. Like a father encouraging his little child to walk, “Come on, I know you can do it!” He sees us toddling toward him, not fallen flat on our faces. God is always looking ahead, seeing us at our best, at the end of the road. The Lord is asking you to turn to him. Gain strength and favor and guidance for your way. Turn and look full in his wonderful face, for he has already turned to you.

 

Image in the Public Domain. By Rembrandt – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15417264

[i] NetBible Translator’s Note on Numbers 6:25

[ii] John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

 

The Angels Bent Down

Of all the things that touch me in this painting, the thing that strikes me the most is the background. Can you see them? Millions of angel-wings crowded into the sky. Is that why the sky grew dark and the sun ceased to shine? Were millions and millions of heavenly beings and gone-before witnesses so crowded around, leaning down to see the completion of the triumph of the Son of God, the it-is-finished-forever salvation of the world that they shut out the sun? Did the rocks split and graves open at their cries of Hallelujah? Did the earth quake at the mighty Amen, as God ripped the veil in two and saluted his Son, “Well done!”?

 

Image in the public domain, The Lamentation of the Virgin, Rohan Master

He Shall Be Praised!

But even as Judas betrayed Jesus he was unwittingly prophesying Jesus’ glorification.

Judas had given them a prearranged signal: “You will know which one to arrest when I go over and give him the kiss of greeting. Then you can take him away under guard.” As soon as they arrived, Judas walked up to Jesus. “Teacher!” he exclaimed, and gave him the kiss. Mark 14:44-45 (NLT)

I guess, because I am a theater person, I see this event a little differently. I see it as staged theater, a kind of street theater, and Judas is directing the play. Judas is telling the guards what the stage blocking will be – I’m going to walk up to Jesus and kiss him, and then you will come and take him away. Then Judas tells them what the lines in this scene are – I’m going to say “Teacher!” His play-acting is the worst hypocrisy, for that is what hypocrite means in the Greek – an actor under an assumed character, or stage-player.

Not being a very good actor, Judas overplays his part. The word for a normal kiss in Greek is phileo, but the word here in this verse is kataphileo – to kiss much, kiss again and again, kiss tenderly and earnestly. This is the same way that Mary kissed Jesus feet, wiping them with her hair (Luke 7:38). This is the same way the father kissed the prodigal son when he returned (Luke 15:20).

Maybe Judas wants to make sure there is no mistake about the identity of Jesus, but in the process commits a most horrible blasphemy. To pretend that kind of passionate love and to do it right in the Face of God, the Presence. Imagine the power of the love that must have shielded Judas from instant destruction right there. Imagine how Judas’ treachery must have broken Jesus’ heart.

But even as Judas betrayed Jesus he was unwittingly prophesying Jesus’ glorification. For the name Judas means “he shall be praised.” It comes from the Hebrew name Judah, which means praised. He shall be praised! Maybe, through all the betrayal and heartbreak this was a comfort to Jesus. Like a secret message from the Father. “This is my beloved Son. He shall not return to me empty, but he shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which he was sent.”¹

He shall be praised!

 

¹ Matthew 3:17, Isaiah 55:11

Image in the Public Domain. Jesus and Judas, by Giotto (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua)

The Best Gift

I don’t think Mary’s best gift was the expensive perfume. I think, to Jesus, the most precious gift was something else. As usual, Jesus went straight for the heart.

During supper, a woman came in with a beautiful jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this. “What a waste of money,” they said, “She could have sold it for a fortune and given the money to the poor.” But Jesus replied, “Why berate her for doing such a good thing to me?” Matthew 26:7-10 (NLT)

John 12:3 identifies this woman as Mary, Lazarus’ sister. I can relate to how Mary felt. I have been berated for my gifts too. I have thought for months of what I could give someone that would be the best, most appreciated, gift possible, only to have it rejected. Only to have it repulsed, given back, put aside, shoved in a drawer. And I too have been shamed. This woman brought the very best, most precious, gift she owned, and the disciples berated her for it. I can only imagine that it would have been very intimidating and crushing – these were The Disciples after all, important men, the very ones chosen by Jesus. And they were shaming her for bringing this gift of her very best.

But I don’t think her very best gift was the expensive perfume. I think, to Jesus, the most precious gift was something else. As usual, Jesus went straight for the heart.

Jesus had been warning the disciples for a while what awaited him in Jerusalem. He came right out and said plainly he would be killed several times. He even told them he would rise again (Mark 8:31), and all he got for it was a rebuke from Peter. But Mary believed Jesus when he said he was going to be crucified. She came and offered Jesus her best – her faith and her trust that Jesus had a good plan, and if Jesus said he was going to die and rise again, he would die and rise again. She was the only one who “got it” and she responded in faith, empathy, and love. Like Abraham, who believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19), she proved her faith by her actions. Jesus confirmed, “she did it to prepare me for burial.” That must have been comforting to Jesus.

Jesus highly honored her trust, proclaiming, “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Others had worshipped Jesus. Others had loved him. But only about Mary does he say this. Manford George Gutzke gives a good explanation.

Do you realize that this is the only deed done to the Lord Jesus Christ personally that He ever asked anyone to repeat? Everything He taught, He did Himself. Every illustration He gave, He gave Himself, except this one. This one He presents to us because it is an example of what anyone can do to serve the Lord. When you think about the Gospel being preached you realize there is only one thing that Christ cannot illustrate Himself: that is, how a person should act toward Him. He can illustrate obedience, faithfulness and humility, but He could not illustrate a believer’s response to the Son of God.[i]

Yes! This is something we all can do – give Him our heart, our trust. And we will not be shamed if we do. I have a suspicion that this Mary was one of the women early at the tomb on the third day. It would make sense, because there are promises for people like this woman who put their faith and trust in Jesus.

As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 9:33 (NIV)

As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts (to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence) in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 10:11 (NIV)

And hope (expectation of good, confidence, faith) does not disappoint (dishonor, disgrace, shame) us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5 (NIV)

Our hope in Him does not shame us. The NetBible translators explain that “one is said to be put to shame who suffers a repulse, or whom some hope has deceived.” Jesus looked at this woman’s true gift of her heart, love, empathy, her trust, her hope, and did not put her to shame. He did not repulse her. He did not berate her. Just the opposite.

He will never shame you either. You may be berated by others, but your hope in Him will never deceive. Give Him your best and most precious gift.

[i] Plain Talk on Matthew. Zondervan Publishing House, 1966. p. 216.

Image in the Public Domain

Parched Place

My doctor complains that I don’t drink enough, that I am dehydrated. She tells me that it is a serious condition that can cause damage to my body, can even be deadly. I just don’t feel thirsty most of the time.

“Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the LORD. (Zechariah 2:10 NIV)

Recently, reading my Bible I saw in the notes that the word Zion means “parched place.” That startled me. What? Parched place? Zion which is called the “joy of the whole earth,” “the city of the great King” (Ps. 48:2), the place where God dwells, a parched place? In the New Testament it stands for the Church triumphant. It is the place where God lays the “chosen and precious cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:6). Why would God name it a word that means “parched place,” extremely thirsty, dry, even gasping?

At first, I thought about how God desires a relationship with us, how He wants to be desired and to be wanted in return. God yearns for Zion to be a thirsty place, a place of longing, a place of “acute desire” as A.W. Tozer put it, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted.”[i] Jesus said he wished us to be either hot or cold, not lukewarm. He wants us to desire him as much as he desires us. Like so much else in our relationship with God he wants it to be mutual (see The Mutual Gaze)

But then I realized that I was thinking about it all backwards. Yes, God passionately desires us. But he mostly calls us a parched place because we are. Without him we are a dry and arid place.

I reach out for you. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain. Psalm 143:6 (NLT)

O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 (NLT)

We are the Israelites in the desert, dying of thirst (Exodus 17:1-6). Our Rock has been struck for us and the Water of Life pours out, but sometimes we still don’t drink.

My doctor complains that I don’t drink enough, that I am dehydrated. She tells me that it is a serious condition that can cause damage to my body, can even be deadly. I just don’t feel thirsty most of the time. I feel a need, it is just not the need to drink. My Dad tells me that sometimes when we are thirsty, we mistake the feeling for hunger and try to eat to satisfaction. That’s what I do. I stuff in more food, that actually causes worse dehydration, when all I really want and need is a drink of water. I need to put up a sign to remind myself: Drink More Water. Pretty pitiful. In the same way, we want and need him, we are dying of thirst for him. But many times we just don’t connect the thirst of our souls with the Water we crave. We try to fill our lives with other stuff, but it doesn’t work.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 (NIV)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6 (NASB) (see Jeremiah 23:6)

Lord, I am an arid desert. I thirst. I crave. I reach out. Help me know and remember that it is you I’m reaching for, you I desire. Dwell in me. Only you will satisfy my need. When I’m stuffing myself with thorns and briars – anything to fill the need – lead me to the water. Remind me to drink more water.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV)

[i] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

 

Image in the Public Domain

He Will Circle You With Joy

For the LORD your God has arrived to live among you (is in your midst, is with you).

He is a mighty savior (He is strong, brave, valiant to save, deliver, liberate, rescue, give victory).

He will rejoice (exult) over you with great gladness (exceeding joy, rejoicing). With his love, he will calm all your fears (quiet you, rest).

He will exult over you by singing a happy song (He will circle you with joy, spin around with violent emotion, with a ringing cry, singing, shouts of praise, rejoicing, joy, triumph).

Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Jesus wept

I realized that a person can be a Christian their whole life, safe in their little cocoon of church and fellowship and keeping all the rules and trying to please God that way, but never get down and dirty, never touch the lepers, never mourn with those who mourn – and never know His pain, His sufferings, His passion toward us that shakes the earth and rolls away the stone, the power, strength, violence of His resurrection.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11 (NIV)

I have always read about sharing in Christ’s sufferings (the Message translates it as “be a partner in his suffering”) as physical suffering, like persecution, being physically harmed or imprisoned. And it definitely does include that facet. Paul said, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24). But, that word translated “sufferings” – pathema – has a distinct emotional side. Its base is the Greek word pathos, which means “a feeling which the mind suffers” and “subjectively, a passion.” It’s the reason why Christ suffered physically on the cross – “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” For God so loved the world that he gave.

I recently started working in a jail ministry and I know now, because I have felt it, that these sufferings also include carrying the pain of a lost world, people hopeless, afflicted, in horrible pain of regret and guilt. People staring at the next 20 years in prison, missing their kids growing up, knowing the consequences are unending. In fact, I’m thinking that the sufferings of Christ were, and are, mostly heart pain. Mostly, mourning with those who mourn (Romans 12:15), mostly, carrying the afflictions of soul and spirit.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows (anguish, grief, pain, sorrow). Isaiah 53:4 (NIV)

Jesus wept with those who wept. Jesus groaned and sighed with grief over their sufferings. Jesus was angry with those who refused to share this pain (Luke 13:15-16).

When I first visited the jail, the powerful passion of his love for these who most view as the lowest of the low astonished me, I am ashamed to admit. It is a physical heart-pain, almost unbearable. And I realized that a person can be a Christian their whole life, safe in their little cocoon of church and fellowship and keeping all the rules and trying to please God that way, but never get down and dirty, never touch the lepers, never mourn with those who mourn – and never know His pain, His sufferings, His passion toward us that shakes the earth and rolls away the stone, the power, strength, violence of His resurrection. The passion that raises the dead to life, gives hope to the hopeless, transforms lives. I want to know that power. But the only way to truly know it is to know Christ first, for there is no power, there is no life-giving passion, there is no resurrection apart from Him. “I am the resurrection and the life.” I walk in Him, plug into the life-giving sap of the Vine, and He fills me with His love.

Lord help me to know you and the power of your resurrection. Let me be like you in your death, take up my cross daily. Let me be a partner in your sufferings.

Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily (sighed with grief), and commanded, “Ephphatha!–Open up!” Mark 7:34 (MSG)

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)