The Why of Suffering

There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 

I started looking at this verse here Strange House Guest.  In that post I wrote about how we most often view suffering as a strange house guest. But here I would like to talk about the why. Why does there have to be suffering at all? 

The answer must lie in that middle part of the verse – the painful trial you are suffering. “Painful trial” is the Greek word purosis (πύρωσις), which means burning or smelting, “a figure drawn from a refiner’s fire.” It comes from the word that means “melted by fire and purged of dross,” refined. 

The word translated “suffering” is peirasmos (πειρασμός), which means adversity, affliction, and trouble, but also testing, trial, and proving. It is a suffering “sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness.”  

Peirasmos is the word used “of the temptation by which the devil sought to divert Jesus the Messiah from his divine errand” (Luke 4:13). It comes from a word that means – I love this! – “to try whether a thing can be done.”  

Although he was a son, he learned obedience (attentive hearkening, compliance, or submission) from what he suffered Hebrews 5:8 

Jesus did not need refining as the perfect Son of God. He did not need to learn obedience or learn to hearken to God’s voice. He did it for us, to show us that it can be done, and how.  

One [Messiah] who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the LORD at their head. Micah 2:13 

“Learning and suffering and death are part of the life experience for all people, and God ensured that His own Son would be no exception. As God, Jesus did not need to learn anything, especially obedience; yet, at His incarnation, Jesus limited Himself to the human experience. He chose the weak position of having to learn and grow (Luke 2:52). Jesus “learned obedience” not in the sense that He was prone to disobedience and had to bring rebelliousness under control, but in the sense that He fully entered the human experience.” — gotquestions.orgi 

Paul called it a “fellowship of suffering.” Elisabeth Elliot called this fellowship a privilege: 

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”   

This is not our usual way of thinking, but it is God’s way, part of that one-track focus of his to save the world. It seems to me that if we are surprised by suffering it is because we are expecting everything to go our way. It is a kind of rebellion really. Looking to make our will be done, our little kingdom come. Rejecting the promise of trouble and suffering. Rejecting the Potter’s forming hands.  

But if we expect suffering and refining as his children – because that is what he promised – we begin to be surprised by joy. We begin looking for the blessings. Looking for the answer to prayer. Looking for the fragile life to poke up through our plowed hearts. Looking for the light shining through the broken places. Looking for the other part of the promise of suffering, because there will always be something beautiful included. There will always be peace and joy in there somewhere. 

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (NASB) 

“Learn the discipline of being surprised not by suffering but by joy. As we grow old . . . there is suffering ahead of us, immense suffering, a suffering that will continue to tempt us to think that we have chosen the wrong road . . . But don’t be surprised by pain. Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.” — Henri Nouwen, Daily Meditation, “Be Surprised by Joy” 

Let us strive to be surprised, not by the suffering, but by joy. Let us pray that we may be the barren desert from which His life can spring up. Let us pour out the life that has been poured out into us. Jesus has gone before us; he has shown us the way. 

“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 

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering … 2 Timothy 4:6 

Photo copyright 2018 Derek Bair

Strange House Guest

It is comforting for me to know that when this strange house guest, suffering, walks in, Jesus walks in with him.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12 

This one of those verses that most of us would rather skip over. But recently I was drawn to look at the meaning of the Greek words closer. Very interesting, and strangely comforting too. 

The words translated “surprised” and “something strange” in the above verse are the Greek words xenizo (ξενίζω) and its root xenos (ξένος). Xenos means a foreigner or a stranger (it’s where we get the “xeno” part of the word xenophobia); it also means a guest. Xenizo means to be shocked, “to surprise or astonish by the strangeness and novelty of a thing.” But it also means to receive as a guest, to entertain, to be host, to lodge. 

It is like Peter is saying, “do not be shocked by the painful trial you are suffering as though a complete stranger had walked into your house looking for lodging.” I guess he is saying that suffering should not, or will not, be a stranger to us. Suffering was not a stranger to our Lord. 

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with (acquainted with, knew) suffering. Isaiah 53:3a 

Jesus was intimately acquainted with suffering and, if we are following Him, we share in that acquaintance. 

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. Philippians 3:10 

It is comforting for me to know that when this strange house guest, suffering, walks in, Jesus walks in with him.  

The word translated “fellowship” above is koinonia. It also means association, community, communion, joint participation. It comes from the noun koinonos which means partner, associate, comrade, companion (how wonderful to be Jesus’ companion!).  

But what I love is that the very core root of both of these words is the Greek word for “with,” sun (σύν). It means with or together, companionship, beside. He is with us, beside us, our companion in our suffering. And that makes all the difference. That makes the impossible, possible. 

“It is precisely the presence and help of Christ in times of suffering that makes it possible for us to stand up under pressure … The only way to keep putting one foot in front of the other on this dark road is through union with Christ and with the promise of resurrection to light the way.” ― R.C. Sprouli 

Jesus has suffered for us, and he will suffer with us. He will never leave us or forsake us. 

He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.  1 Corinthians 1:8-9 

But rejoice that you participate (come into communion or fellowship with, become a sharer, are made a partner) in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13 

One foot in front of the other, holding on tight to his hand. 

… that I may know Him 

i R.C. Sproul, Surprised by Suffering  https://www.ligonier.org/blog/suffering-well-union-christ/  

Image by Andrés Þór https://flic.kr/p/79jJCz

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.

In the Middle

Maybe we can be meta too, naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

There [at Golgotha] they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. John 19:18

Jesus in the middle. This verse struck me a different way as I read it today. Jesus was suffering there in the middle of fallen humanity at its worst. In Matthew the two men on either side of Jesus are called thieves. The word is lestes and means robbers, plunderers. According to NetBible Study Notes, Josephus used the term lestes for the Zealots who revolted against Roman rule. Barabbas was a lestes (John 18:40).

In Luke the two men crucified on either side of Jesus are called criminals, evildoers malefactors. Here, in John, they are just “others.” I think John is saying it doesn’t matter what they did. What matters is how they responded to Jesus as they hung there dying with Jesus in the middle.

The word translated middle is mesos = in the middle, in the midst, among. Jesus came and lived and died in the middle. He lived with them, ate with them, walked with them. Loved them. He had compassion on them. He wept with them. “This man welcomes sinners.”

Mesos comes from meta, which means “with, accompanying, amid.” Meta-data is the data or information that accompanies something – the name and ingredient list of a product. The “about the author” blurb on a book jacket. The track list accompanying an audio file.

Jesus is mesos, in our midst. Always there. Suffering with us. Jesus is meta. He is with us. He accompanies us all the way. He names us – Child of God. He tells us what we are made of, what is in us. When we respond as the man on the cross beside Jesus did, in repentance and faith, we are a new creation. We have the mind of Christ. We have a spirit given us not of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. We become part of his body. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. The Kingdom of God is within us. His word is in our mouths. His love in our hearts

He lived and died with us, and he wants us to die – be crucified – with him, and with all the thieves and criminals and the others. All the messed up, hopeless, dying ones. And he wants us to be resurrected as a new person and live loving them just as he did – to be mesos alongside Jesus as he is alongside them. Maybe we can be meta too. Naming Him as our testimony – Emmanuel, God With Us, Savior, Redeemer. And naming each other as our mission – beloved, neighbor, brother, sister.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

You know what is very cool? The word translated “crucified” in this verse is a different word from the word translated “crucified” in John 19:18. Jesus was crucified=stauroo. We are crucified=sustauroo. Stauroo means to impale on a cross, to stake, drive down stakes. Sustauroo means to impale in company with, crucify with. In company with Jesus. With Him alongside. Jesus in the middle.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with [meta] me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Image from FreeBibleimages.org

Brokenhearted God

Brokenhearted God
Who comforts the comfortless
Let us comfort you
We whose hearts are broken here on earth
Let your tears fall
And join with ours
Let them form that mighty justice river
Let it water the brokenhearted earth
Along with the blood of the sufferers
The blood of your Son

 

But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40

 

Bible verses from the New American Standard Bible

Image in the Public Domain

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

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)