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)

One Thing

One thing only is necessary, that I find God, that I am one with Him – to see Him, to hear Him, to experience Him, to know Him.

The number one is very important in the Word. Old and New Testaments proclaim, “Hear … the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4, Mark 12:29). Having a oneness in ourselves, in our hearts – a unity and oneness with God in relationship and love is the theme throughout. David asks God, “Unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11). James warns us not to be double-minded, but fixed, sold out.

Come near (be joined) to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (wavering, uncertain, doubting, divided in interest). James 4:8 (NIV)

 Marriage – the two becoming one – is a picture of this goal of oneness with God. So, idolatry, making anything more important than our relationship with God, is seen as adultery. We were made for this oneness, but our sin and rebellion has divided us from the One who loves us. Jesus came to show us the way back, to provide the way for this to happen. Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy, “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NLT).

Karl Rahner wrote of Jesus’ life and acts as a demonstration this one essential thing.

Therefore Jesus goes into the desert, therefore he fasts; therefore he leaves behind everything else that a man needs even for bare existence, so that for this once not just in the depths of his heart but in the whole range of his being he can do and say what is the first and last duty of humankind – to find God, to see God, to belong to God to the exclusion of everything else that makes up human life. And therefore he fasts. Therefore through this cruelly hard act, this denial of all comfort, this refusal of food and drink, through the solitude and abandonment of the desert, through everything else that involves a rejection, a self-denial of the world and all earthly company, through all these he proclaims this fact: one thing only is necessary, that I be with God, that I find God, and everything else, no matter how great or beautiful, is secondary and subordinate and must be sacrificed, if needs be, to this ultimate movement of heart and spirit.[i] (emphasis mine)

One thing only is necessary, that I find God, that I am one with Him – to see Him, to hear Him, to experience Him, to know Him.

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

To see God
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42

To hear God
One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! John 9:25

To experience God
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

To know God

Everybody I know says they need just one thing
And what they really mean is that they need just one thing more
And everybody seems to think they’ve got it coming
Well I know that I don’t deserve You
Still I want to love and serve You more and more
You’re my one thing

Save me from those things that might distract me
Please take them away and purify my heart
I don’t want to lose the eternal for the things that are passing
‘Cause what will I have when the world is gone
If it isn’t for the love that goes on and on with
My one thing
You’re my one thing

One Thing by Rich Mullins https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aqP-A4tKCA

 

Image in the Public Domain: Mary Magdalene at the Feet of Jesus by James Tissot. In the Brooklyn Museum

[i] The Great Church Year, Karl Rahner.

Uncommon Fragrance of Jesus

I stop trying to be “wonderful” but let Him be the Wonderful One. “Be still and know …” “Seek first the Kingdom.” Stop trying to gain approval, be somehow impressive, be something I am not. But just be what He made me to be – just be. And as that happens His love can flow through me and I will carry the fragrant aroma of his sacrificial love with me wherever I go.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Cor. 2:14-16 NIV)

The word translated equal in this verse is the Greek word hikanos (ἱκανός), which means sufficient, enough, competent, ample in amount or fit in character, worthy. Who indeed is sufficient, competent, or worthy for such a task? What an amazing thing that we could bear, spread, be the fragrance of Christ. Duncan Campbell has written,

“This surely is the ultimate reality and the supreme wonder of human existence, that God can be glorified in us. In other words–we are to be ‘living epistles.’ After all, the greatest contribution you or I can make to the cause of Christ, is the impact of our unconscious influence, and that influence impregnated by the life of Jesus. We will have failed in our object, unless we bring back to our schools, our colleges, our homes and our common task, something of the uncommon fragrance of Jesus. So let us yield to His indwelling that Christ may be able to express His loveliness through us.”—The Price and Power of Revival, Duncan Campbell [emphasis mine]

“[T]he impact of our unconscious influence.” Isn’t it even more amazing, that God could do all this through us – spread the fragrance of Christ’s love and life – and we be unconscious of it! That His Presence, living in me, indwelling me, goes with me and leaves a fragrance of Jesus, inviting, welcoming, attracting – or, sadly, repelling.

Paul says in the above verse that God is spreading this aroma through us. No one is competent or worthy or sufficient in themselves. Jesus is the sufficient, enough, competent, ample in amount, fit in character, worthy One. As Paul says a little later, “Not that we are competent (hikanos) in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God” (2 Cor. 3:5 NIV). But rather it is Christ in me and you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27) as we “yield to His indwelling” and follow Him in the triumphal procession, a willing captive, captivated by His love.

Godliness is the mark of a person whose life is centred in God – a person who has become a vessel of the presence of God. Wherever such a person goes, the atmosphere is permeated by a faint, but unique and pervasive fragrance. There may not be any preaching or other religious activity. Yet people become strangely aware of eternal issues. Teaching Letter No. 24: The Fruit of the Holy Spirit, Derek Prince

It all comes back to the Presence. Abiding in the Presence, the Vine. He in me and I in him. My life centered in Him. My eyes fixed on Jesus, not on myself. I stop trying to be “wonderful” but let Him be the Wonderful One. “Be still and know …” “Seek first the Kingdom.” Stop trying to gain approval, be somehow impressive, be something I am not. But just be what He made me to be – just be. And as that happens His love can flow through me and I will carry the fragrant aroma of his sacrificial love with me wherever I go (Ephesians 5:2).

 “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin”— they simply are! Think of the sea, the air, the sun, the stars, and the moon— all of these simply are as well— yet what a ministry and service they render on our behalf! So often we impair God’s designed influence, which He desires to exhibit through us, because of our own conscious efforts to be consistent and useful. Jesus said there is only one way to develop and grow spiritually, and that is through focusing and concentrating on God. In essence, Jesus was saying, “Do not worry about being of use to others; simply believe on Me.” In other words, pay attention to the Source, and out of you “will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). We cannot discover the source of our natural life through common sense and reasoning, and Jesus is teaching here that growth in our spiritual life comes not from focusing directly on it, but from concentrating on our Father in heaven. Our heavenly Father knows our circumstances, and if we will stay focused on Him, instead of our circumstances, we will grow spiritually— just as “the lilies of the field.”

The people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars in the sky and “the lilies of the field”— simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold and shape us.

If you want to be of use to God, maintain the proper relationship with Jesus Christ by staying focused on Him, and He will make use of you every minute you live— yet you will be unaware, on the conscious level of your life, that you are being used of Him. –from My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition, Oswald Chambers

Image public domain, Bureau of Land Management California

Hostile combatants two

Wrestling with the Word implies making an adjustment – changing our thinking and doing to match Jesus’ commandments. It is not a one-time event, but a continual, daily effort.

You must be ready (adjusted, prepared) all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected. (Luke 12:40 NLT)

Wrestling with the Word implies making an adjustment – changing our thinking and doing to match Jesus’ commandments. It is not a one-time event, but a continual, daily effort. David said, “I have set (shavah) the Lord continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8 NASB). Shavah (ָׁש ָׁוה) means to level, to agree with, resemble¹ (I always think of a carpenter’s level, with the bubble in it, between me and the Word). This implies changing myself – by attitudes, thinking, words and deeds – to line up with the Word, and the Psalm says this is a continual, constant, daily effort.

The Parable of the Sower is told in Matthew 13:19-23, Mark 4:14-20, and Luke 8:11-15. In each, Jesus essentially tells the same story – until the last sentence, which describes the fruitful hearer of the Word. In Matthew 13:23 this hearer understands or wrestles with the word he has heard, in Mark 4:20 he accepts (admits, delights in, receives) the word, and in Luke 8:15 he retains (holds fast, keeps from getting away, keeps in memory) the word and by perseverance (hupomone) produces a good crop. The word translated “retains” is the Greek word katechó (κατέχω). It also means to “check a ship’s headway i.e. to hold or head the ship”², to keep it on course. Hebrews says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1 NIV). This retaining the Word, keeping the course, holding the ship from drifting away implies constant effort. It is only possible by “keeping the Lord continually before me” or “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” The key to this perseverance, or hupomone, is hidden in the Greek word itself. But, more on that next time.

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 4:1 NIV)

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.” Tolkien, The Hobbit (chapter 5)

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)

¹ Brown-Driver-Briggs http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7737.htm
² Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary

Hostile combatants

Have you ever felt that you and the Word of God were hostile combatants? Like you didn’t like the truth and you had to wrestle or fight with it until you could agree with it and become one mind with God? I have many times.

      

“When anyone hears (akouo) the message about the kingdom and does not understand (suniemi) it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears (akouo) the word and understands (suniemi) it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matt. 13:19-23 NIV)

In the parable of the sower everyone heard (akouo) the word, but only the last one understood (suniemi). This one was also the only one who bore fruit. Akouo means to hear, consider, and even to understand[i]. But the Greek word suniemi (συνίημι) takes it further – it means to bring together, or join together in the mind. It also has a meaning of bringing together opposing or hostile combatants.

In the Greek world it was used for the bringing together of two hostile combatants and letting them duke it out (Homer, Illiad 1,8; 7,210)[1]. The scripture says that we are naturally hostile to God. “… the sinful mind is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7), but “while we were enemies (hostile ones, opposing) we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). I think this implies that three of the hearers in the sower parable did not make the effort to adjust themselves to God’s word, to wrestle with the word, until it changed them and became part of them. But, they let the worries and temptations and ultimately the enemy of our souls wipe it out, and they went on unchanged and unfruitful. They looked into the mirror of the Word and then walked away (James 1:23-25).

Have you ever felt that you and the Word of God were hostile combatants? Like you didn’t like the truth and you had to wrestle or fight with it until you could agree with it and become one mind with God? I have many times. I know that I can read the Word or hear the Word and understand perfectly well what it means, but until I wrestle with it, until I can agree with God about it, line up my thinking with His, I will not bear fruit. Even worse, I run the risk of losing the truth altogether.

Praise God! He is not offended when we wrestle with Him, but rather He is pleased. Lord help me not to merely hear but to suniemi.

Continued Hostile combatants two

[1] Thayer’s Expanded Greek Definition, Electronic Database https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/4920.html

[i] All definitions are taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible unless otherwise noted.