A Kind of Death

Yeshua 

wants me to 

love the brOTHER 

Loving the brOTHER hurts 

it is a kind of death 

Something is dying to truly love 

the bitter things and the fearful 

jealousy 

envy 

resentment 

entitlement 

unforgiveness 

greed 

fear 

bigotry 

prejudice 

suspicion 

arrogance and disdain 

the self-seeking things and the defensive 

For love  

self lies down surrendered 

naked and vulnerable 

In love 

love executes self 

joyfully  

leaves self  

hanging there 

exposed and 

bleeding out  

Only then the brOTHER can be loved 

only then the brOTHER can be 

my brother 

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12

Image shared under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 4.0, Stations of the Cross, William Mitchell – Jesus is nailed to the cross

Burning Bushes

There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up … God called to him from within the bush … Exodus 3:2, 4 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Revelation 22:17 

God got Moses’ attention with the flames that didn’t burn up the bush. Once He got Moses’ attention, He called to him from within the bush. J.D. Walt recently wrote that we are called to be burning bushes too. 

“The only reason the Word of God has been bound into books is so it might become unbounded in our hearts, our minds, our very flesh and blood bodies and unleashed through our lives in the world. We are meant to become living bearers, holy manifestations, burning bushes, Spirit filled fiery pillars of the Living Word of God who is Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah.” — J.D. Walt, The Only Problem with the Bible1   

We are meant to become burning bushes, givers of light that are not consumed, God drawing through us.  

Jesus said,You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:14 

… you shine as lights in the world as you hold forth the word of life … Philippians 2:15-162 

There is another way that we become light in the world. When we become living sacrifices and God’s cleansing fire falls on us. 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1 (ESV) 

And just as people were drawn to the burning bush, they are drawn to the flame of the sacrifice and can turn to the Living God. In the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:16-39) there is a foreshadowing of this drawing when fire from heaven fell and burned up Elijah’s sacrifice, and the adherents of Baal worship confessed that the Lord is God. 

Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” 1 Kings 18:38-39 

Oswald Chambers wrote of the call of God coming out of the flames of yielding. 

“If you abandon everything to Jesus, and come when He says, ‘Come,’ then He will continue to say, “Come,” through you. You will go out into the world reproducing the echo of Christ’s ‘Come.’ That is the result in every soul who has abandoned all and come to Jesus.” Oswald Chambers 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Revelation 22:17 

… for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:29 

But maybe you are wondering, as I did, if God is a consuming fire, why wasn’t the bush consumed, why wasn’t it burned up? Why aren’t we burned up on the altar? I think it is because God is life and light and love, and what He burns up is sin and darkness and anything that is harmful and keeps us from Him. Only the ropes that bound Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were burned in the fire, but they walked with Jesus in the fire unharmed (Daniel 3:22-25). 

If we cling to the things that God’s holiness consumes and refuse to yield, we will get burned – and consumed with them in the end. Or, at the least, we will be left with nothing as the “wood, hay, and stubble” are burned up (1 Cor. 3:12-15).  

But if we put ourselves on the altar as a burnt offering and let His fire fall on us, we are cleansed and purified and set free. We are called to be burning bushes, to be burnt offerings on the consuming fire of His altar, a witness to His transforming power, His glorious majesty, and His unfailing love. And the more we let him burn away the darkness, the purer the flame, the brighter the light. And the needy, hurting, imprisoned people of the world are drawn to the light of the fire and we are able to call out to them from our burning bushes, “Come!” 

… his word is in my heart like a fire … Jeremiah 20:9 

The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Leviticus 6:12 

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit … Acts 2:2-4 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Revelation 22:17 

https://seedbed.com/the-only-problem-with-the-bible/ 

2 Berean Study Bible 

Photo, Flame by Annie Roi https://flic.kr/p/9VB6y7  

All the Parts are Present

Can I do that? Can I give all the shattered pieces of my heart?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” Matthew 22:36-37 

“with all … with all … with all…”  

Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. He said this is the greatest commandment. The Greek word here translated “all” is holos (ὅλος). It is the root of the English term “whole.” It means whole, complete, entire, “properly, wholly, where all the parts are present and working as a whole – i.e. as the total, which is greater than the mere sum of the parts.” 

All the parts present and working as a whole means holding nothing back. Jesus came and showed us how to love with all. 

“… whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:27-28 

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:14 (NLT) 

Jesus gave all, the whole. As Tozer wrote, His very self.  

“That eternal life which was with the Father is now the possession of believing men, and that life is not God’s gift only, but His very self.”  
― A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man 

All. Can I do that? Can I give all the shattered pieces of my heart, scattered, distracted, resisting, all the carefully separated and locked up memories. Or, will I keep holding back in entitlement to rage, unforgiveness; holding back in fear of the complete destruction of the remaining fragile ego; holding back the needed surgery on the bleeding, infected, pus-filled, putrid, putrescent wounds?  

All, the whole, entire, complete. My voluntary will binding it all together, like Abraham binding Isaac and laying him on the altar. The sacrifice total, greater than the mere sum of fragmented, dismembered, mangled, defective parts. Am I loving Him with all my mind, or am I holding back, reserving a little doubt, a little reinterpretation to justify some sin, unforgiveness, some command I don’t want to obey. “Did God really say?” Am I clutching some precious part of my life, unable to lay it on the altar? 

But Jesus said I have to give up everything. 

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. Luke 14:31-33 

“If we shrink from the thought of fighting against God, we had better accept His conditions of peace. The worst folly of all is to enter into the conflict with a wavering will, not caring to know what “the things belonging to our peace” actually are, or to endeavour to stand apart in an impossible neutrality.” — Eliott’s Commentary for English Readers 

“An impossible neutrality.” Yes, being neutral before God is impossible. But that’s what we want – a truce. I will just keep going my own way and God will do His thing and let me be. I will keep back just this one thing and God will blink. But it doesn’t work that way. The King is on His way. He may be still a long way off, but He is on His way. And His terms of peace are all. All is what God wants of us. All or nothing.  

“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-33). Jesus said a lot in those simple illustrations. He quickly put an end to the idea that He offered some kind of welfare program. Although the gift of eternal life is free to anyone who asks (John 3:16), the asking requires a transfer of ownership (Luke 9:23; Galatians 5:24). “Counting the cost” means recognizing and agreeing to some terms first. In following Christ, we cannot simply follow our own inclinations. We cannot follow Him and the world’s way at the same time (Matthew 7:13-14). Following Him may mean we lose relationships, dreams, material things, or even our lives.” — Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/count-the-cost.html 

Give me grace Lord to accept your terms of peace: Everything. 

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Genesis 22:9 

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 

The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! Psalm 118:27 (ESV) 

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 

Photo, “Broken Pot” by Silly Little Man https://flic.kr/p/8PtRAa  

Nothing

Might we dare to become nothing with him to bring his lost loved children home? 

Recently I read a quote by Kierkegaard that took my breath away, until I realized what he really meant: 

“I have only one word to say, but if the power were given me to utter it, that single phrase, so that it would be fixed and unforgettable, then my choice is already made and I know what I would say: ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ was nothing; O Christendom, remember this!’” — Søren Kierkegaard, Papers 

“Our Lord Jesus Christ was nothing!!” This statement was startling, even blasphemous, to me at first. But then I remembered these verses: 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as (think like, direct your mind, seek for, set your mind, have the mind and thoughts of) Christ Jesus:  

Who, being in very nature God (though he was God), did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (grasped, asserted, clung to, exploited),  

rather, he made himself nothing (emptied himself, gave up his divine privileges, made himself of no reputation, without recognition, valueless) by taking the very nature of a servant (slave), being made in human likeness.  

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled (assigned himself a lower rank, abased) himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV) 

Kierkegaard, in Denmark, was reacting, as Wilberforce had done earlier in Englandi, to the prevailing Pharisitic mindset that focused on outward appearances, and believed that all it took to be a Christian was to live in a “Christian” nation, attend the State-approved (acceptable) church, give your tithes, and, even better, have your own noticeable pew dedicated to your family. What you did the rest of the week didn’t matter. Individual responsibility for holiness was unknown or ignored. 

Most of these, especially well-to-do, churchgoers wanted to be “something.” They wanted to be “somebody.” But our worth to God does not come from outward appearances, accomplishments or wealth. In fact, these sorts of “something” may be detestable to God if they become our gods. 

He said to them [the Pharisees], “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight. Luke 16:15  

But Jesus chose to be “nothing,” though he, of all humans to ever walk the earth, had the right to be Somebody – King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But he chose to be of no reputation, valueless, and he is our model. The word describing Jesus’ choice to become “nothing” is the Greek verb kenóō, which meansproperly, to empty out, render void; (passive) be emptied – hence, without recognition, perceived as valueless (Phil 2:7).” ii 

This Greek word comes from kenós, which means “empty, void; hence, worthless (“null”), amounting to zero (of no value, profit).”   

Very few of us choose to be a big fat zero. We may feel like one, but we rarely choose it. Most of us crave the approval, the recognition, the respect of the world. You can only choose to be nothing and valueless in the sight of the world if you have a solid-rock certainty that you are of infinite value to God – and that others also have infinite value. 

And Jesus knew his value to God – “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). And he knew our value to God, for it beat passionately, faithfully, unending, unchanging in his heart, the very heart of God. And so, he came to be a nothing and to be “obedient to death— even death on a cross” for us. You are of great value to your Father. 

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

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9 

Might I dare to become nothing with him to bring his lost loved children home? What would that look like? It would mean to trust utterly, even to the last breath. 

But he has demonstrated his own love for us … 

“God creates out of nothing—wonderful, you say: yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.” — Søren Kierkegaard, Journals 

God keeps bringing this theme back to me in different facets. See also Emptied

i A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Middle and Higher Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. William Wilberforce. Fulltext available at Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/25709  

ii Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

Image: Detail from Ford Maddox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet [1852-6], Tate Archive, image  released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

With

This seemingly insignificant Hebrew word – here humbly translated into English as “with” – carries within it the very heart of God.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with (beside, by, among, accompanying) your God. Micah 6:8

“… to walk humbly with your God.” That little word translated into English as “with” is the Hebrew word ‘im (עִם). Within this lowly word lies an amazing hidden treasure. It is related to the Hebrew word ‘am, which means people, nation, clan, tribe, family. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ‘am is “predominantly used to express two basic characteristics of [people] considered as a grouping: 1) relationships sustained within or to the group and 2) the unity of the group.”

Already, ‘im carries this meaning of relationship. The Wordbook goes on to say:

“‘im, the preposition, as ‘am the noun, expresses the concept of inclusiveness, togetherness, company … the basic conception conveyed is that of fellowship, companionship, common experiences of suffering, prosperity etc. … the term, as all other prepositions, may have definite theological implications. All prepositions indicate relationships, and ‘im in particular stresses a close relationship. This type of relationship should be maintained between God and man, man and man since it is essential for any person’s salvation, eternal life and the worship and service of God.”[i]

This little word translated “with” is the first part of the word Immanuel which is the “symbolic and prophetic name of the Messiah, the Christ, prophesying that He would be born of a virgin and would be ‘God with us.’”[ii]

This seemingly insignificant Hebrew word – here humbly translated into English as “with” – carries within it the very heart of God. His heart that we should walk with him in relationship, fellowship and companionship. That we would share in his sufferings here on earth. That we would be part of a people and a family as his children. That we should accomplish, bring about justice. That we should do, and love doing, good deeds of mercy and kindness. That we should grow more and more like him, walking humbly beside and among our brothers and sisters and our Lord, who accompanies us always.  

By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 1 John 2:5-6 (NASB)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:14-15

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

Lord, give us grace to walk humbly with You.

Photo copyright by Jack Bair 2019


[i] Archer, Gleason L., Jr., Harris, Robert, Waltke, Bruce K., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody, 1980.

[ii] Gesenius, H. F. W., Brown, Francis, Robinson, Edward, Driver, S. R., Briggs, Charles A., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.

Who Will Rescue Me?

(A Good Friday Reading)

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:24-25

The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:2-3

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

We all, like sheep, have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way. Isaiah 53:6a

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:25

When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Isaiah 49:2

He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intercede; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. Isaiah 59:16

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:25

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (NASB)

The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6b

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61:2

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:28

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:25

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. Psalm 22:16-18

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Matthew 27:46

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:24-25

For this is how much God loved the world—he gave his one and only, unique Son as a gift. So now everyone who believes in him will never perish but experience everlasting life. John 3:16 (TPT)

They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! Psalm 22:31

It is finished! (completed, accomplished, paid in full) John 19:30

 

 

All verses from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Image in the Public Domain

Joy

I don’t seem to have much joy in myself right now, but Jesus is saying that I can have his joy – “so my joy may be in you.” And, suddenly, I saw where the joy of Jesus resided.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:9-13 (NIV)

I have been thinking about joy lately, maybe because I have been fighting depression. The Bible talks a lot about the importance of joy. It is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. In other words, it is supposed to be showing up in my life if I say I have the Spirit of God in me, If I say I am a follower of Jesus.

So, I started looking at the verses in the Bible about joy, and I was stopped in my tracks by Jesus’ words in John 15:11 above. I don’t seem to have much joy in myself right now, but he is saying that I can have his joy – “so my joy may be in you.” And, suddenly, I saw where, in the context of those verses, the joy of Jesus resided.

It was in the middle of relationship.

The verses before John 15:11 speak of Jesus’ relationship with the Father – how the Father loves Jesus and how Jesus remains in that love. How that love pours out of Jesus and into us, how Jesus loves us and how we can remain, reside, dwell in that love. Jesus’ passion on the Cross was to make it possible for us to share in that relationship of love with the Father.

The verses after John 15:11 speak of our relationship with others. Jesus’ passion now is for us to pour out the love given us to those around us who don’t know him, to bring them into that loving relationship too.

It’s in the sharing of love that Jesus’ joy happens. That’s where his joy springs up in us and fills us with joy that is “complete.” That word means replete, crammed, jammed, stuffed, imbued, filled to the brim. Jesus commands us to do that, to love each other, so that we – and the ones we love – can have that kind of joy.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NIV)

Notice in the list of fruits where joy is positioned. Love comes first. Relationship comes first. If I love him as he loved me – which was with everything, with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his mind and with all his strength – and if I love others that way too (actually it is his love flowing down through me), all the other things on the list will pour down on me. Just as Jesus loved us first looking forward to the joy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1: 3-4 (NIV)

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:7 (NASB)

 

Photo copyright 2019 Derek Bair, all rights reserved

God is Not Silent

God is speaking to all of us with that still, small voice. Easy to ignore. Easy to deny. Easy to turn away.

God is not silent. It is the nature of God to speak. The second person of the Holy Trinity is called “The Word.” The Bible is the inevitable outcome of God’s continuous speech. It is the infallible declaration of His mind.– A.W. Tozer

God is always speaking to us. It’s just that most of the time we don’t like what he is saying. “Wait” (ugh!), “Hope” (yet!), “Forgive” (I can’t – or won’t), “Love” (but what if they don’t love back? What if I am hurt, mocked, ignored?). What God has said and says is in his Word – the Word written, and the Word made flesh. But even if you have never read the Bible, he is speaking to you. He is speaking to all of us with that still, small voice. Easy to ignore. Easy to deny. Easy to turn away. Frederick Buechner put it this way:

But he also speaks to us about ourselves, about what he wants us to do and what he wants us to become; and this is the area where I believe that we know so much more about him than we admit even to ourselves, where people hear God speak even if they do not believe in him. A face comes toward us down the street. Do we raise our eyes or do we keep them lowered, passing by in silence? Somebody says something about somebody else, and what he says happens to be not only cruel but also funny, and everybody laughs. Do we laugh too, or do we speak the truth? When a friend has hurt us, do we take pleasure in hating him, because hate has its pleasures as well as love, or do we try to build back some flimsy little bridge?  Sometimes when we are alone, thoughts come swarming into our heads like bees—some of them destructive, ugly, self-defeating thoughts, some of them creative and glad. Which thoughts do we choose to think then, as much as we have the choice? Will we be brave today or a coward today? Not in some big way probably but in some little foolish way, yet brave still.  Will we be honest today or a liar? Just some little pint-sized honesty, but honest still. Will we be a friend or cold as ice today? … And the words that he says, to each of us differently, are be brave . . . be merciful . . . feed my lambs . . . press on toward the goal.[i]

In every little choice we make all day long God is speaking. Do we join in the gossip? Do we turn our eyes away and walk by the pain and the need? Do we hide our brokenness and put on a happy mask? Or do we comfort others with the comfort we have been given. Do we surrender to the cleansing fire of his passionate love for us, or cling stubbornly to self-justification?

God is love. And love continually speaks. It cannot be silent for it has been sent out into the world to accomplish something and it cannot, and will not, and has not failed. His love spoke from the cross and speaks on through eternity. And what is Love saying? “I love you!” “My love is always with you” “Give my love away.”

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. John 15:12 (NASB)

“… be brave . . . be merciful . . . feed my lambs . . . press on toward the goal.”

 

 

Image of sound waves from clipart-library.com

[i] Frederick Buechner. The Magnificent Defeat. 1985.

The Raven’s Croak

God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out (croak, cry of a raven), “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB)

It makes me smile that the Greek word translated “cry out” here means to croak, like the cry of a raven. We croak like a raven, “Abba! Father!” I feel like I croak a lot.

Jesus told us to consider the ravens, alluding perhaps to Psalm 147.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! Luke 12:24 (NASB)

He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry. Psalms 147:9 (NASB)

Why ravens? Why not something beautiful like a dove? The raven was on the list of “unclean” birds under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:4, Leviticus 11:15). In Leviticus it says they are to be regarded as an abomination, as filth, detestable, disgusting. They eat dead things and maggots.[i] Yet (!) Jesus chooses this bird for his illustration of God’s care for us.

In a sermon called The Raven’s Cry, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following:

I can hardly leave this point without remarking that the mention of a raven should encourage a sinner. As an old author writes, “Among fowls He does not mention the hawk or falcon, which are highly prized and fed by princes. But He chooses that hateful and malicious bird, the croaking raven, whom no man values but as she eats up the carrion which might annoy him. Behold then, and wonder at the Providence and kindness of God, that He should provide food for the raven, a creature of so dismal a hue and of so untuneable a tone–a creature that is so odious to most men, and ominous to some.”[ii]

Encouragement for the sinner. Is this why Jesus chose the raven? To show us that no matter how disgusting, unclean – untuneable – that we think we are, or others think we are, or that we really are – God accepts us, God loves us, God takes care of us. What a picture of grace and mercy!

There is another amazing and curious mention of ravens in the Old Testament. It is in the retelling of Elijah hiding from Ahab. God told Elijah to hide at the Brook Cherith and that ravens would be sent to feed him (1 Kings 17: 3-4). Again, God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that. And when the water ran out there at the brook, God sent Elijah to another sort of unclean raven, the Sidonian widow (1 Kings 17:9).

The Sidonians were idol worshippers. They worshipped “Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians (2 Kings 23:13).” This worship included ritual prostitution (we call it human trafficking today) and child sacrifice. The notorious Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31).

So detestable were the Sidonians to the Jews, that when Jesus reminded them of this incident while speaking in a synagogue, He was almost thrown off a cliff (Luke 4:25-29). Yet(!), God sent Elijah there. And Elijah humbled himself to take food from the widow’s “unclean” hands – a widow, however, who was willing to give all she had for herself and her son to Elijah to obey the Lord God – and he ministered life and salvation to her and to her son.

Consider the ravens. Yes, we are all ravens. We are all Sidonians. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have eaten our share of the maggots of lies and idolatry, and maybe still are. Yet (!!) we are loved. And we have been called (even the ravens were called to feed Elijah at the brook!) and chosen to humble ourselves and minister His life and love to all the other fallen, unclean birds. We are not called to judge and condemn, but to love. And we can stand in the strength and grace that He gives. We can abide, we can rest in the assuredness that we are His and He will care for us. That we are His adopted sons and daughters, and that He hears, and is delighted, when we croak “Abba, Father!”

(Abba! Another good one-word prayer? See A Thousand Defects )

 

[i] Wikipedia, The Common Raven

[ii] Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry, A sermon delivered on Sunday evening, January 14, 1866 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Reprinted in, The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

Image, Raven by Jim Bahn (background color changed) https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcwest/186088713/in/album-72157594158104053/ 

 

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