The Subversive Act of Worship

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace.

So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:13-14 (NLT)

For some reason I always read this verse, “let us go out with him,” as in “let us go with him carrying our cross.” And we are supposed to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). But this verse says, “let us go out to him.” And with that little change there is a different message, a different focus. Let us go out to where he is – outside the camp. He has always been outside the camp.

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. Exodus 33:7 (NASB)

“Our permanent home,” mentioned in the above verse, is the place we meno. The Greek word meno means to stay, abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand. It is not this temporary world-camp where we are to abide. Meno is the word used in John 15.

Remain (meno) in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains (meno) in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 (NIV)

This world is not our meno-home. Jesus is our meno-home, and where he is, there we are to be – plugged into the Vine. And Jesus is outside the camp because He chose the cross.

Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. So let’s go out to him … Hebrews 13:11-13 (NLT)

To the people of Jesus’ day death on a cross was worse than a disgrace. Cicero said that it should not even be in the thoughts of a Roman citizen; it should not even be mentioned in connection with a citizen.[i] Yet, this is where Jesus willingly chose to go. Outside the city gates. Outside the temporary camp. Outside the culture of the day. Outside the religious systems. Outside the politics and governments of the day. Outside the traditions and popular beliefs. Outside of all the hopes and dreams for this life. James V. Brownson says it better than I can:

The cross collides with the values and assumptions that shape the world around us. It shocks us out of the status quo, out of the norms and assumptions that surround us, and calls us to an alternative vision … “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The “foolishness” Paul is writing of here is not a certain theological axiom about the cross of Jesus; it is the blatant offensiveness of the cross, both to Jews and to Gentiles. The point of the divine foolishness is simply this: If God has raised from the dead someone who was crucified, if we worship someone who was crucified, we can no longer hold on to the common values of respectability that are characteristic of normal human society. All our assumptions about what constitutes right and wrong, about what is worthwhile, about what really matters – all that has to be revised and reversed, if you engage in the subversive act of worshiping someone who was crucified. In other words, if you are going to worship someone who was crucified, you have to undergo radical conversion.[ii]

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace. He had already chosen to be identified with the lowly and meek, the poor and unclean and diseased and despised. If we engage in the subversive act of worshiping our crucified Lord, we need to identify there too. Let us go out to him. Let us meno there.

 

For more on “meno” see The Art of Remaining Present

Image: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the Cross, by Darren Barefoot https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=jesus%20cross

[i] Hengel, Martin Hengel. Crucifixion. 1977

[ii] Brownson, James V. Holiness and Hermeneutics. 1999.

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.

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

 

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

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)