Believing Before Seeing

Eucharistic-Bread“Seeing is believing” is a phrase said by skeptics and cynics alike.  No one wants to be conned out of right reason or resources.  Skepticism at least does serve a purpose for survival.

 

In the wake of Easter with empty plastic egg shells and tummy aches from too much chocolate, there can be Christian faithful that take faith for granted and cynics who over-emphasize reason. Christians could look at the central reason for Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, as a nice historical bump and not see lessons of faith where light has not dawned in suffering or God seems to mysterious. The cynics could err on an extreme called scientism which is that if it is not quantified and measured conventionally then it is not real.

 

So what is a Christian believer to believe, how is one to believe it and yet not abandon reason? We have a lesson on that on the original “doubting Thomas” who is actually named Apostle Thomas.

 

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!”  Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”(John 20:21-29).

 

 

We just saw Jesus christen, literally, the Church.   He breathed the spirit which was an extension of the third person of the Blessed Trinity which is the Holy Spirit.  The Church has a mission because from here it isa mission.  Thomas was not present but neither was his sense of unity to his work which includes the Church.

 

 

There are several misguided presumptions Thomas made that kept him in the cynical side that prevents faith instead of facilitating it.  This was not just a collection of fishermen, teacher, tax collector or revolutionaries.  These were his brothers with whom he has had fellowship and a context of truth and power already demonstrated.  Just for those latter truths alone he could and should have inquired.  Augustine said he would not have believed the gospel had it not been for the Church.

 

Second, Thomas had already believed in an objective truth.  He had even declared willingness to die with Jesus when they were heading back to a dangerous area once (John 11).  It would have been worth it for Thomas to choose to respond from what he already believes than react from what makes sense in the moment.  By choosing the latter he was inherently inattentive to the moral obligation to seek truth at least from what he knows.  And what he knew was that the man he called Messiah had said he would rise from the dead no less than three times.

 

Third, he was making the error of what amounted to a proto-scientism.  “Unless I see in His hands….” is establishing God’s kingdom to meet his mindset for it to really true.  That is presumption and not the faith God wants.

 

My Lord and my God!-– – Thomas touches humanity, connects the meaning of the resurrection unique to Jesus Christ and connects to how he is also divine.  We can appreciate the cross but we must remember it is not fully in context unless we appreciate the resurrection for all that Jesus is and all that he did and does in “how hewas delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification”(Romans 4:25).

 

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed– – Jesus speaks an inconvenient truth for a fallen world to hear.  The fallen world wants things lined up and delivered per a contract for good and services. But in Christ is the New Covenant which is a communion of persons.

 

It is for this perspective I affirm the truth of Christ being all the gospel says.  “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  So each Sunday, when I am in line to receive Jesus in his body, blood, soul and divinity I confess in faith Jesus is my Lord and God.

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A Time Not To Preach

Son of David

There is a common misconception in Christian affairs in the area of persuading someone to come into the fold. One may think it is about his or her self as the point of it all.  Even the means can blur the identity of Jesus and how he is prioritized because later traditions sometimes come up more from the culture than faith.

 

An example is  how my initial conversion to the Christian life I was with my cousin one afternoon when I was 10. She had me pray a semi-canned Sinner’s Prayer.  It has elements that amount to essential Christian doctrine but Jesus is the one who does the saving.  The Christian role in wishing my neighbor to convert or grow to another depth in the faith is as a vessel only.  And we should avoid the allure of evangelistic formulas that are too individualistic.

 

In the balanced presentation of the gospel, it really comes down to the following: the love of God in the cross, the truth of the resurrection of Christ and the objective response in right, communal sacrifice of praise when gathered in his name.  In other words the gospel of Jesus and his kingdom.  And make no mistake as will be shown below: this kingdom is liturgical.

 

To illuminate this, Christ, the day he resurrected, took initiative with two disciples who were full of background education but confused that their hope seemed to be just a corpse in a tomb.  Jesus came walking on the road to them and somehow they could not recognize him. He led them through a Bible study about how the Old Testament needed to be fulfilled.  As it got to the end of the day they badly wanted to keep his company though not knowing it was their Lord.  This is what he did. He did a work of the word and then a work of thanksgiving. He “did Church” with them that day in a way to be repeated now for 2,000 years.

 

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was knownto them in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-34).

 

It would be a failure on applying this passage to God revealing himself through scripture alone.  Jesus expressed himself as himself being the core reality.  In humanity there are seeds of truth with corresponding hunger. But this spiritual hunger is meant not for the creation made by God but for God himself.  “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you” (Augustine, Confessions, Chapter 1).  The teaching method I elaborate on below is not just a dry ritual but a communal rich of his will.  Jesus reveals himself in demonstration ofthe gospel of a liturgical kingdom.

 

He was at table with them– – Christians need to be among the world.  We must not be too good to eat with them.  To converse and understand is proper in the forum of life.  But most centrally Jesus condescends to us in the best sense of the word: he descends with.

 

he took the bread-– The gospel approaches the person in their understanding of need.  If it is about wants then the interaction by nature can be superficial. Three days prior he said “Take, this is my body”.

 

blessed,– – This is in part reminiscent of Jesus saying to his disciples when he sent the 70 into towns to speak peace over the households that takes them in.  The holiness of his Real Presence radiates on living matter.

 

and broke it, and gave it to them.- – In a natural way, we could say we are called to be good at sharing.  That is an approach from the historical-critical method skewed by post-modernism.  Keeping Christianity in the context of its ancient and mystical reasons, we must come from this passage with the emphasis on a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior precisely since he was a sacrifice.  Under the appearance of bread, Christ promised himself in the Passover the prior year and said to have life one must eat his flesh and drink his blood.

 

The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  In that I propose Christ makes himself known to this day both best and objectively.

 

they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight-– – This was needed so disciples would be prepared to stop seeing Christ in a worldly point of view as Paul later warned (2 Corinthians 5:16).

 

 

they told what had happened… he was knownto them in the breaking of the bread-– – The word for “known” here is ginoskowhich has a dominant usage of knowing deeply and by assumed familiarity. One can see that their flashpoint of insight about Jesus was in discerning his body correctly like Paul spoke of (1 Corinthians 11).  God is spiritual but manifests in the incarnation to bring redemption to the material world by the merits of his death and suffering on the cross but extended in each mass.

 

It is fitting to interpret this passage liturgically since God’s handiwork in the Jewish people for centuries before were building up to this.  Many rabbis in the centuries leading up to this said that when the Messiah would come all sacrificial ceremonies would be obsolete but the todahsacrifice.  This was Hebrew for thanksgiving.  But the word used by the Greek speaking Jews was something different: eucharistia, from which we get Eucharist.  This is Real Presence of Christ is the fruit of the cross. A sacramental Christian can say Christ is with us “to the end of the age” as we make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20) because he meant it with the mass in the universal Church he founded.  And so we shall do in a living memory of him.

DIVINE LOVE GIVES

Sky Reflection

“I love you”. 

“I love you too”. 

 

This is a beautiful and simple exchange between two persons. Sometimes one or both parties in such an exchange does not live up to that word.  A common undercurrent of selfishness really thinks, “I love you based on what I can get out of you”.

Jesus showed what love is.  He founded a faith full of sinners that fall short of what ideal love is, including me, who yet have a deposit of faith that affirms and projects unselfish love. This deposit of a faith did not come cheap because it was both exemplified and purchased on the cross.

THE SEVENTH WORD

Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Luke 23:46

In his last words on the cross, Jesus said his, “I love you too” to the Father but without the pretense of entitlement fallen humanity is prone towards.  These words of Jesus apply to the self-giving at the heart of Christianity. In this fallen world “love” can be cheapened. But the love of Jesus for the Father and our love for the Father in Jesus can be wrapped in trust and be preserved in value.  The use of the word “love” can be faked to a point but “trust” less so.  Trust is a word always tied to the expectation of immediate choices to that affect which are observable.

 Jesus gives of himself in suffering to the Father in a way that is grotesque if seen in only a conventional perspective.  But this statement cements his mission to die for us out of love. Love is shown here to be giving ones self in the order of ones creation and of free will.  This is the beauty of the cross and why Jesus calls his disciples to carry our crosses to the Father.

The invitation to carry ones cross is born from the beauty of love between the Father and the Son.  Jesus gives us a glimpse of that bond the night before the cross. “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (John 17:5).  When he cries out from the cross he is surrendering in agony a perfect sacrifice of love so that there could be many who would join that holy fellowship (John 17:21).  That cry is like a lighthouse signal to the meaning of the Christian life on earth and ultimately coming together at the end of this age.  Paul laid out a case for this.

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him name which is above every name, that at name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

This is the “I love you too” played out from divinity and humanity fully realized in the perfect priesthood of Jesus Christ.

I would like to address the possible reflex of seeing the message of Jesus as foolish and too good to be true.  There is a reason that the message of the cross in its grittiness rounds out the ultimate self-gift of God.  The driving force of the crucifixion narrative is that the Word becoming flesh better captivates the heart precisely due to its ugliness. It works this way because the other paradox here is that the crucixion is beautiful as an act of love at the same time and beauty a transcendental that intrinsically draws us in (Fr. Julian Carron, Disarmed By Beauty).

Christians can likewise be inspired to offer up ourselves as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). Any trials and tribulations that come in the life of the Christian we can integrate those sufferings in faith to add to that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). We can do this through Christ, who is 100 % divine, gives grace of infinite power.  If he was only 99% divine then atonement would be only 99% effective.

The connection of that self-gift as divine and human may be hard to connect through the ages but Novatian addressed the mystery of Jesus being God and man well.  In his treatise, “On The Trinity,” he sidesteps the appearance of the cross to be foolishness and presents it as glorious, mysterious and applicable.

If Christ had been only man, He would have been spoken of as in “the image” of God, not “in the form” of God. For we know that man was made after the image or likeness, not after the form, of God(On The Trinity, Chapter 22).

Novatian points to Jesus being in nature God like Paul said in sharing the same divine essence as the Father who preceded the Council of Nicea by a century.  This is a unique existence and not a temporary state.  Also what is implied here is like the Nicean Creed in that he is “begotten not made” (Council of Nicea, 325). For Jesus to be Son of God, Son of Man and called Lord and God is a paradox; but is declared true of the Church which by the merits of Christ is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

This mystery does not make sense unless one sees the comment through a lens of divine love and the Trinity as a communion of persons. Christ is shown to live in deference to the Father but not in a way that does injury to his dignity in an eternal context.  He brings a development of articulating the doctrine implied in the above Philippians quote in that there is a hierarchy but not lack of dignity to the Son.

He then, although He was in the form of God, thought it not robbery that He should be equal with God. For although He remembered that He was God from God the Father, He never either compared or associated Himself with God the Father, mindful that He was from His Father, and that He possessed that very thing that He is, because the Father had given it Him. Thence, finally, both before the assumption of the flesh, and moreover after the assumption of the body, besides, after the resurrection itself, He yielded all obedience to the Father, and still yields it as ever (On The Trinity, Chapter 22).

Jesus eternally expresses his deference to the Father and lived on earth with a sense of security about that.  In every transition Jesus was reflecting the will of the Father in self-gift to the world. As risen Lord he is as Son of Man the gift of the world to God in fulfilled worship that the world could not do in its own merit.  In Christ being the apostle and high priest of our confession, he was an apostle to earth in his incarnation.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Yet in his humanity fully realized in grace he could contribute something not by increasing his personal power like a subjective spectrum but empty himself as an objective act and being Truth itself.

He even was contented to take on Him the form of a servant — that is, to become man; and the substance of flesh and body which, as it came to Him from the bondage of His forefathers’ sins according to His manhood, He undertook by being born, at which time moreover He emptied Himself, in that He did not refuse to take upon Him the frailty incident to humanity. Because if He had been born man only, He would not have been emptied in respect of this; for man, being born, is increased, not emptied(On The Trinity, Chapter 22).

In this, Novatian points to Jesus yielding his spirit as the beautiful death because of complete trust in the Father the exchange of death for life demonstrated in power.  In Christ’s death done in love, there is no waste.  This is how things worked for Jesus to be the “apostle and high priest of our good confession”.  This is glorious.  Paul reflected on this in saying “to live is Christ and to die is gain”.

Christ is said to be in the form of God, and since it is shown that for His nativity according to the flesh He emptied Himself; and since it is declared that He received from the Father that name which is above every name; and since it is shown that in His name “every knee of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, bend and bow” themselves; and this very thing is asserted to be a furtherance of the glory of God the Father; consequently He is not man only, from the fact that He became obedient to the Father, even to death, yea, the death of the cross; but, moreover, from the proclamation by these higher matters of the divinity of Christ, Christ Jesus is shown to be Lord and God, which the heretics will not have.

In Christ God is with us, for us and victorious in us.  This love between the God the Father and God the Son was played out on the cross so we can be beneficiaries of it.  This is the mystery in the cross.

And on Christ’s terms there is a normative way are best able benefit.  It was what Peter wrote as partaking of his divine nature (2 Peter 1: 4).  This is to receive Christ in body, blood, soul and divinity.  We do that by communion in the way Christ intended as we will see next.

LOVE FULFILLS

Jesus Holding The Bread

Ceremony and religion are not supposed to be dirty words. Sometimes they are interpreted that way because they are interpreted as making God distant.

What at first glance was done by Jesus as an example, a further look shows a substantive act is fulfilled done on the cross and echoing through the ages.  This echo of the cross of Christ in the work of thanksgiving as communion also called the Eucharist.  Christ had no patience for empty rituals but was pleased to connect with people based on Sacred Tradition with divine things that do matter.  Jesus wanted the fulfillment of God’s plan because he wanted the door open to the world for the ultimate connections. And this connection would be an exodus from the slavery of sin as the Israelites escaped the slavery of Egypt shown in part through the Passover meal.

Jesus reaffirmed he was the Lamb of God (John 1:19,29) when he said at Passover it was his body and blood.  But in that Passover Jesus did something unexpected for the Jewish tradition by ending it before the customary fourth and final cup.  That final cup was the Hillel one which in Hebrew means praise. Jesus was descended from Judah which in Hebrew also meant praise.

But the greatest cup of praise offering would be tied in his last breaths on the cross.  A short time after leaving the meal before the lamb was even consumed, Jesus in his own way addressed the cup not taken.  Instead of it being a cup of praise, it would be a bitter cup.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed about this.  He said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus repeated this 3 times and sealed a sense of resolution that he would go forward to the cross.  Later when he is on the cross he is offered a cup and he took it.

THE SIXTH WORD

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished;”
and he bowed his head and handed over the spirit.
John 19:30

 This saying is a powerful one. In receiving the wine Jesus was saying the Passover was finished since for him it was his fourth cup.  Jesus said this in Aramaic, but it is interesting to note that the Greek in the text is an idiomatic expression for “paid in full”.  Both are true.  One meaning is an internalizing of the family’s sacrifice and the other is a legal declaration.  Christianity is supposed to be an experience of both in Christ.  Christ said repeatedly that he had come not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.  The lambs sacrificed for over a thousand years by this time were the shadow of things to come.  Christ is the living reality.

Both meanings are essential for conversion and discipleship of the believer and should not be left unsaid. Both elements speak to the interior change that makes the spiritual formation happen. Christ being our Passover Lamb is an answer to why a Christian can have a life in grace as the ongoing fruit of the cross.  “And it is by God’s will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

The inspired author goes on to point to how Christ is to continue to be known through an altar outside of the old covenant and old theocratic government into the kingdom he started.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent[c] have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing abuse for him.[d] For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come (Hebrews 13:10-14).

This is application is not only at initial conversion. It is initial justification andsanctification (also called ongoing justification).  James described an organic wording in how the word of God transforms us in “the engrafted word, which cansave your soul” (James 1:21) when he was writing to Christians.  There is something in our “being crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:19) that keeps on going.

Paul built on this and not that of dry religion or mindless obedience to rules but in relationship to Jesus that accomplishes something in Christian communion as a family at the new altar/table (same word in Hebrew).  “Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthinans 5:7).

Another thing we should communicate is that in becoming Christians, one is not to be stuck in a shame mentality but to be mindful of guilt and assured that Jesus wants to forgive us and cleans of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).  We can be convicted of our sin with guilt in the right context but stuck as slaves of sin if shame is our only lens.  Shame keeps us in our spiritual Egypt.  Christ as our Passover Lamb changes the conversation with God himself when we acknowledge any recurring slavery to sin in our lives.

The author of Hebrews built on this.

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Thus to preach Jesus as the Passover Lamb fully, is to preach the gospel of grace for the new and ongoing Christian life. Yes, the convert is called to holiness but by way of regular forgiveness in healthy guilt and not shame.  For shame forgets what is truly finished in the sacrifice of the Lamb, while rightly informed guilt runs to it. It is thus through Christ that we cry with the familiarity of “Abba, Father” for the cup of praise by the merits of Jesus and find our redemption.

LOVE IN THE GAP

animal animal photography big blur

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Counter-transference is a dangerous thing for therapists.  This is where the helping professional gets an emotional effect on themselves when helping the patient.  Sometimes the helper self-discloses their own experiences in the conversation.  Caution is emphasized by ethical codes against things getting out of control and a dual-relationship developing.  If that happens, bad things often follow.  As a counselor I agree with that concern and stay far from that line.

If Christians refer to Jesus as the Divine Physician, how would those details work out for Jesus when he is suffered before Jewish and Roman “patients”?  We know Jesus called out for their forgiveness as Savior of the world but now he has a request of them.  And how is this applied evangelistically?  In his fifth statement, on the cross, Jesus self-discloses his present and personal experience, which I propose, endures to this day. In here we see a fruit of the cross as engagementwith a proposal that holistically regards all of the person including the physical.

THE FIFTH WORD

“I thirst.”
John 19:28

This is simple and profound.  Obviously, Jesus discloses a personal need but not entirely what one may think.  It was not a matter of vinegar but for correct relationship with humanity. Humanity is meant to respond in the affirmative which leads to the great “It is finished” as both a wedding supper and a paschal meal.

At this most difficult time He said, “I thirst.” And people thought He was thirsty in an ordinary way and they gave Him vinegar straight away; but it was not for that thirst; it was for our lives, our affection, that intimate attachment to him, and that sharing of His passion. He used, ‘I thirst,’ instead of ‘Give Me your love’… ‘I thirst.’ Let us hear Him saying it to me and saying it to you (St. Theresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire, 281-282).

While I as a therapist am too avoid at all times a dual-relationship with the client, for such a rule, Jesus was above the fray perched painfully on the cross.  Jesus wants a personal relationship with the unbeliever to become a believing disciple and that disciple to be holy.  Jesus wants to marry us.  For this, Jesus gave himself up in the ultimate self-donation.  Jesus is personable to us in this request for drink as a foundational means to also express himself as a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses.

Briefly it is worth addressing how Jesus is distinctive as High Priest in light of how Christians evangelize referring to Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Yes, there is the priesthood of all believers.  And from the early church until today there is a ministerial priesthood as well. But what makes Christ exceptional is that he summed up a both/ and connection in his person that is different.  He was high priest and sacrificial victim.  He is fully God and fully man.  He is Bridegroom and servant. With those co-existing truths, in obedience to God, he was sent to die.  Jesus was sent, lived and suffered to accomplish in his priesthood a licit, dual relationship of being the giver of life who “conquers death by death” (Irreneus). Jesus is truly all of the above as he is from above.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).

For this, Christianity is often described as incarnational in the sense that Jesus put on flesh in a unique solidarity with our struggles.  To understand that and express that appropriately is to get into the cross as good news and relatable since he first related to us. John the apostle more than the other gospel writer’s emphasized wording physical experience because there was then (and now under different names) a heresy of Gnosticism which denies or minimizes the flesh as evil. According to Gnostics, such gory details should not have happened to Jesus or at least are not applicable to our lives.  But in his gospel John repeatedly shows how God is indeed in the details including the gory ones.

But there is yet another focus for the Christian to contemplate in applying the message of the cross with this saying and from the above quote from St. Theresa of Calcutta: intercession for souls. This intercession and incarnational reality come together for the Christians to intercede.  One way to sum it up is incrementally and filled with love.

I seem to hear our Lord whispering to me, as He did to the Samaritan woman: “Give me to drink!” It was indeed an exchange of love: upon souls I poured forth the Precious Blood of Jesus, and to Jesus I offered these souls refreshed with the Dew of Calvary. In this way I thought to quench His Thirst; but the more I gave Him to drink, so much the more did the thirst of my own poor soul increase, and I accepted it as the most delightful recompense” (Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul).

Such is the connection to us who would be co-laborers in Christ.  We co- labor because in Christ we learn to co-love.

Suffering Beyond Me

comfortedLove without suffering is meaningless and suffering without love is unendurable.  The message of the gospels is, “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) in the context of suffering. But seeing love and suffering harmonized in Jesus can be missed.  Eyes without faith are veiled to the power and wisdom of God in Christ’s suffering and see only a Roman execution.  But one aspect of the cross that can be applied is how God comforts in suffering and brings suffering together with grace.  Grace in that context can produce a spiritual benefit to the person they is suffering and beyond.  This is a mystery that even witnesses of the crucifixion of Jesus could not always get.

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down’ (Mark 15:34-36).

The scoffers listened only in Aramaic and not Hebrew but their ignorance was more than that.  The bystanders mishearing “Eloi” for Elijah is like a metaphor for the misconceptions bound to happen if we do not see Jesus on the cross in the right perspective.  The right perspective is not seeing Jesus struggling to live but dying so we might live. As Irenneus of Lyon said several times, “he conquered death by death”.

The bystanders had not even rough guesses on this point like is common cynics of today.  It is for this that Paul wrote, “For the messageabout the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).  Taking in Psalm 22 correctly is to appreciate the supreme sacrifice of Jesus bringing all of God’s covenantal promises to be manifest.

What more can happen in being the light of Christ as the spiritual Israel, the Body of Christ, if they walk in the knowledge of this “power of God”?  We can connect the passion of Jesus on the cross with our struggles in life.

Jesus said we will have tribulation “but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Trials are inevitable but our choice to merge suffering with grace is a choice. This would in turn be a truer representation of the gospel than a prosperity emphasis like that of Joel Osteen.  “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  The balance on this is lived in the Christian who is “being saved”.

Paul sums up the truth of the kingdom to include suffering and its benefits but always with hope. He shows beauty in suffering with faith to complete work the Body of Christ.

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:24-1:28).

In misreading this passage one may think we are becoming our own saviors in the “lacking in Christ’s afflictions”.  But this is not the case.  We do not fulfill the atonement of the cross but we appropriate the graces of Christ-centered suffering for his glory.

What is lacking in Christ’s afflictions- – Christ gave himself as the perfect Sacrifice for our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins.  There is no “lack” in that Sacrifice; Paul referred to our duty to respond to that offer of redemption by cooperating with the grace we are given. Such cooperation means seeking holiness, carrying our crosses, patiently enduring redemptive suffering, and keeping the moral law.  Through redemptive suffering, Christ’s disciples share in his cross and consequently share in his graces for the conversion of themselves and of others as well as make reparations for our sins and the sins of others (Didache Bible).

It is truly in the cross of Christ we behold the ultimate “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Ideally, we can share a bit of the interior life of Jesus while he was hanging on the cross that can bear intercession for others.  This below sums up the truths and benefits of Christ’s quote from Psalm 22 through the lens of the cross and a community that suffers in him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-12).

It is through prayer and meditation that holiness through suffering occurs.  Since God’s power is made perfect through weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), we can suffer knowing and representing Jesus as ourjoy set before us. Jesus knows our pain and it can be from and through our pain we share the gospel most authentically which is what the world needs.  The fruit of that is the believer evangelizing with a love that weeps and gives true hope.  The start of some stories are that we were lost.  In Christ, we tell the world we were found with wounds on us.

LOVE SUFFERS AS MEANT TO BE

seed-heart                        It is a cold dish to be served when the rescue one depends on does not come in an hour of dire need.  One can ponder the ER patient who has been mangled and the lidocaine is delayed.  Or an unwanted divorce with the other spouse not wanting to give it a chance.  The cliche can easily be said that, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure” but comes far short of consoling.

But the message of the cross can give a sense of meaning whether the rescue comes or not. That message is comfort in the context ofmeaning in the atonement of Christ having practical application to our lives.  We see in the cross God is not in the capricious punishing business at the cross or through all of salvation history.  He had grace planned all along.

A strange comment is made by Jesus on the cross. He is supposed to be the best example of faith in God yet he says something that is counter-intuitive to modern, faithful thought.

                                                THE FOURTH WORD

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

But there is more to these words than meets the eye.  One may perceive that agony and sense of being detached from hope in seeing Jesus on the cross especially in light of how he spoke of the love between him and the Father.  This appearance seems to be raised a notch with the words below that counter-intuitively show the fruit of the cross is comfort to the suffering.  If we look further there is a calling inthe suffering.

Jesus is drawing from Psalm 22 and sparing enough breath barely for a shorthand reference to a broader context psalm that was well known then.  This psalm referred to on the cross hits themes of all salvation history.

The crown of this psalm points to praise and thanksgiving that reverberates in the holy congregation. The declaration of the gospel hidden in that psalm is a template for God’s long-term faithfulness, provision to the hungry, universal worship, boldness to worship, resurrection and proclaiming his salvation.  All of this would be clear to a scholar of the scriptures of that day if they listened with an open heart.  And with that heart one would see the sacrifice as a seed and suffering as the ongoing nurturing of the Church that is to cooperate in all of the above.

Those themes are centered on Israel, and show God’s discipline, holiness and covenantal faithfulness to Israel.  The line Jesus uses could sound like God is being called out of touch but the full context of the psalm is saying God initiates and has a plan.

On the responsiveness of God’s love there are highs and lows in the faith narrative of that psalm. There is cited personal brokenness yet personal consolation. In fact, there is faith with petition to God in suffering but prophetic details of the crucifixion.

Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots. (Psalms 22:16-18).

In the gospels we read that none of his bones were broken and in crucifixion his hands and feet were pierced.  The intricate tapestry of God’s fulfillment points to how our initial and ongoing conversion should be understood that suffering is to be expected.  Though we are not called to atone for our sins, there is a suffering natural to the Christian life which compliments what the atonement already gives. Appreciating his suffering is in the gospel of initial conversion, but embracing suffering is part of the ongoing conversion in taking up ones cross.  Paul illustrated this beautifully.

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11).

Finally, it should not be lost that this psalm points to the right worship that comes through suffering while pleading in the hour of ones death.  But the end of that psalm is important: that of thanksgiving.  And how that suffering is for something good as an outflow of the discipleship experience is the next part to be looked at.