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O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
Bernard of Clairvaux

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns Your only crown,
O sacred Head, no glory now from Your face does shine;
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call You mine.

Men mock and taunt and jeer You. They smite Your countenance.
Though mighty worlds shall fear You, and flee before Your glance.
How pale You are with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
Your eyes with pain now languish that once were bright as morn!

My burden in Your passion, Lord, You have borne for me,
For it was my transgression, my shame, on Calvary.

I cast me down before you; wrath is my rightful lot.
Have mercy, I implore You; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank You, dearest Friend,

For this, Your dying sorrow, Your pity without end?
Oh, make me Yours forever, and keep me strong and true;
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for You.

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

Isaiah 12:2

This verse hit me hard this week and I felt that it was appropriate that I mentioned it on Maundy Thursday.  The thing that struck me was that the verse was loaded with Messianic expectation, and I just had to write about it.  Looking back with a New Testament perspective, one can see that this passage looked forward to the revealing of the Messiah Jesus.  Isaiah anticipated that the LORD, the covenant keeping God, would pronounce salvation to His people.  Even in times of trouble, the LORD protected His people.  He brought them out of Egypt and would bring them back from exile.  Indeed He would not stop there with these physical acts, but would take salvation to an even grander scale.

In Genesis, God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendents.  He would deliver on His promise to Abraham of blessing the entire world and provide the pathway to reconciliation among Jew and Gentile.  This reconciliation and uniting of Jew and Gentile came through Jesus.  Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, would literally become our salvation.  He would clothe Himself with flesh and live on this planet.  He was crucified under Pontius Pilate and made to be shameful in order to bring us life.  He removed our guilt and shame through the scandal of the cross.  The Messiah also provided us a Way to eternal life through His death and resurrection.  He became our salvation in His life.

Jesus also said if you trust in God; trust also in Him (Jn 14:1).  It is truly wonderful that Jesus not only took away our sin but He also then offered us life.  It is only in our trusting in Him can we sing the hymn Paul quoted in Colossians about the cosmic Lord.  For it is in Christ that we have life and can live as humans were meant to live, in right relationship with our God.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Colossians 1:15-20

“Christ died for the ungodly”

These words pierced through my heart this past week, especially when it is connected with the metaphor Paul used in II Corinthians 4:7-18 of treasure being placed in jars of clay.  Let me explain this connection.  Paul writes in verse 7,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

The metaphor reminds me that I am a mere pot, a jar that is used to contain just about anything.  A pot could contain oil, garbage, the remains of a person, or something worse.  God instead chose to fill the vessel with treasure.  For those that are in Christ, Paul gives us the assurance that God placed treasure inside of an individual, and that is reason enough to be happy.  Indeed all those who call upon the name of the Lord and put their faith in Christ will obtain this treasure.

Paul told us about the treasure earlier in the chapter.  He found that the treasure is…

…the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Cor 4:4-6

This treasure should not cause anyone to boast in their own worth, for again those who are in Christ are a jar of clay.  These jars have been redeemed out of mire for service to the King.  As I wrote above, Christ died for the ungodly.  He took the punishment that I rightly deserved.  He took it for me that I might be justified before God.  This is reason enough to be excited, but He doesn’t stop there!  He then gives us every spiritual blessing and draws us into what it means to be human again.  Those who are in Christ are given new life with a promise.  We are given the promise that,

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

(2 Cor 4:13-14)

Being united with God again and transformed into the image of Christ.  Indeed, He who raised Jesus from the grave will also raise us up through the power of the Spirit.  How can these incredible things be?  We are assured that we will not be put to shame, for the resurrection of Christ is the firstfruits of new life.  He will be faithful to His word, for that is His very character.  Indeed how fortunate are those who can call themselves the ungodly and jars of clay?  And the great thing is, is that you can call upon Christ and He will make you a jar of clay—an ordinary pot that contains the treasure of God!  How great is that?

The great Christian message of Jesus is not perfect happiness as we usually consider it.  It is not about the personal acquisition of wealth or land.  Instead, the main thread that runs through Christianity is to “give up yourself and you will find your real self.”  CS Lewis wrote this and went on to explore the paradox of submitting oneself to this type of death presently in the hope of life eternally.  This death (not literally “you have died of dysentery” death…), in a manner of speaking, will ultimately bring about the arrival of life, both now and forever.  The new life that we experience, this “real self” as Lewis suggested, will be manifested in this life.  The Spirit brings new life for those who are in Christ.  Paul reminds us,

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:9-11

The perceived loss of one’s present life is really the gaining of a greater life.

The Christian narrative is truly one wrought with seemingly paradoxical statements.  Our life is marked by crucifomity, being made into the image of the crucified Christ which often means suffering.  How painful it is to realize this!  I would much rather be comfortable in my faith and ignore this, but that is simply not so.  My hope and prayer is that those in Christ might realize that we are truly at home when we learn this act of obedience.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  Indeed this is a tough thing, but where else can we go?  For it is only in Christ that the words of eternal life are offered.

Let us believe and hold fast to them throughout the Lenten season and beyond.

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.

Luke 4:1-2a

It is very interesting to me that when Jesus was baptized with the Holy Spirit (which offers an interesting place to ask some Trinitarian questions, but that is for another day) that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness fasting for forty days.  Immediately after this profoundly Trinitarian interplay, Jesus was prompted to withdraw into the wilderness.  He went into battle, in a sense, full of the Holy Spirit.

This battle was not all glory though.  Instead He faced tremendous hurdles and temptations that I would never even dream of facing.  Jesus encountered temptation of pride and desire.  How can I ever think for a second that Jesus does not know what it means to be human?  Jesus (read: God) is our High Priest, as the author of Hebrews reminds us.  This High Priest understands hunger, the oppressive powers, loneliness and despair.  He knows intimately what is needed to get through and how horrible life can be sometimes.  He bore the brunt of it.  Indeed, it was more than what was deserving of Him.

The God of this universe and the essence of beauty descended onto this planet in order to reconcile the world back to Him.  As we are reminded of the promise made to Christ-followers in Col 1:22, “He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him…”  The entire passage is so incredible because it goes from this brilliant God of the cosmos to His intricate action to bring about reconciliation with fallen, rebellious humanity.  He moved from grandeur to self-emptying humility (see Phil 2).

This is the God of Abraham.  The One who makes a covenant and then keeps it despite the failures of those in Abraham’s line.  He acted in order to redeem us.  He kept the covenant and then allowed us to be reconciled through justification by faith in Christ.  That is why we can trust in Christ; we are both heirs of salvation and promise.  The faithful one of Israel (Jesus) has brought us into an abundant life and it’s time to live in that reality.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Lent is a season where many people make promises to do things for a variety of reasons, both secular and sacred. While some abstain for disciplinary purposes in their faith, some abstain for reasons more practical, like getting off of sugar. The latter group would try to link spiritual fitness with their own physical or emotional well-being. Some feel the pressure (as I have at one point in my life) that if other people are doing it then so should I! Good old fashioned Lent peer-pressure! Sad to say, but this point is something that not even well-meaning evangelicals get entirely right.

I do not mean to be overly critical of people who observe Lent. While it is not a biblical mandate or event (then again, neither are summer camps), I view it generally as helpful to one’s faith. The season should be a time used for preparation and spiritual discipline. It is a time of personal reflection between the individual and God. The individual can also come to the sides of other believers and persevere in the time of discipline, as the whole Church anticipates the Passion Week of Christ and his subsequent death on Good Friday. The time should make the triumphant resurrection of Christ on Easter all the sweeter.

While people often give up things, they should also consider adding something on as a discipline. Whatever they choose it should be done with the expressed purpose of conforming their will (through the power of the Holy Spirit) to the will of the Father. This is quite often done in the act of  self denial and taking ones cross to follow in the footsteps of Christ who leads us to the Father. It is also a time of exercising spiritually, training ourselves as an athlete preparing for the Olympics. We should learn discipline and rely upon Christ for strength.

I wholeheartedly endorse Lent as a spiritual practice as long as it is personal, reflective and deeply Christ-centered. This video might help you along this 40 day journey of faith.

The great political philosopher Machiavelli once reveled in the time he spent during his free evenings as a farmer.  He said that he would stay in his room and surround himself with his books.  While reading it would be as if he was conversing with departed intellectual giants.  The same can be applied to working through the writings of the wise men and women who have gone before us in Church History (I would not just limit this principle to theology, but to all disciplines.  It is absurd to discount the wisdom of thinkers from Socrates to Pope John Paul II).  These brothers and sisters (departed saints, of course) can provide clarifications in the Biblical text.  Of course they should never supersede the Bible, but they can also warn you if your interpretation is approaching dangerous grounds theologically.  If I view Jesus as someone who was made, since He is the Son of God, and had a beginning, then Athanasius’ On The Incarnation will help correct this error.  He will force you to go back to the text and reexamine it.  If he says something that is false though then you will have to analyze it deeper.  CS Lewis believed that old books were important to read because, while they might contain errors, those errors have been vetted through history and can be spotted quicker since they are from a different time.  New books have errors in them that we are still steeped in and are more difficult to spot.

The heritage of the Reformation was that all people could read the Bible for themselves.  Indeed while I entirely endorse this idea, we cannot simply be by ourselves.  We must engage with other people in a time-transcending Bible study.  That is why I endorse the reading of Scripture with other solid Christians, both in present and past (read: books) conversations.  Doing so will correct our errors and potentially dangerous, heretical mistakes while also sharpening our minds and deepening our relationships with God who has revealed Himself in Scripture.

I was asked recently by a family member why they should read other writers than the biblical ones.  After all, if I truly affirmed the Reformational idea of Sola Scriptura, what profit would it be to me to also consult with the likes of John Calvin, Augustine or Thomas Aquinas?  Why can’t I sit in the comfort of my own home office and read the Bible by myself?  Why can’t I just interpret it myself?  After all, I am a Protestant who believes in the “Priesthood of all Believers!”  While I certainly do believe in the necessity for every Christian to read the Bible, to do so completely by oneself is potentially hazardous to the individual.

GK Chesterton once noted that tradition was the democracy of the dead.  Chesterton said this about the Nineteen Hundred years of the Church Triumphant (those who have died).  While we have the ability to ask a theologian, pastor or lay-scholar a question in our various congregations and communities, this ability does not stop there.  We have the capability to ask the host of brilliant Christians from the past about their opinions on Biblical concepts and passages.  Influence does not stop at the grave.

We ask other people for help in interpreting passages, so why wouldn’t we ask the brilliant people of the past?  It is helpful to read them because modern day people often read themselves into the text.  Many American Evangelicals (of the more Dispensationalist types in this example) will view the Bible through the prism of current events or political philosophy.*  All events point to the Antichrist and people bring proof-texts to serve their purpose.  Exploring the thoughts of past Church Fathers and Mothers will help root us in our faith with clarity.  While it might not alter a position, at the very least it will challenge the individual to think deeper about their faith.  So those who believe in freewill, get into an argument with Calvin or Charles Hodge.  For those who are Reformed, get into a sparring match with Wesley.  So in short, read widely and broadly in order to read Scripture more deeply.

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* Of course there will be issues with Reformed, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and other denominations.  I use Dispensationalists because the example is very clear.

When people talk about Jesus they often do not correlate the fact that He was not just a man.  The fact that He referred to Himself as the Son of God also lends itself to the confusion.  Jesus must have had a beginning, many people deduce this from the term son. Truly, if Jesus had a beginning and was a son, then He would have been made subordinate to the Father, right?  It was and is asserted by many that Jesus is not equal to the Father, who is eternal, but had a beginning point.

This view above is called Arianism and it is not considered orthodox Christianity.  Jesus was fully God and fully man in one person.  He was two “whats” in one “who.”  Now, why would this be so important to the faith?  It is important because only God could save us and only humanity needed the saving.  He bore our sins and acted as the sacrifice, providing an atonement for our transgressions.  Jesus acted as the bridge between God and humanity.  He became the perfect High Priest as the Book of Hebrews discussed about at great lengths.  I would recommend that you read that book carefully and see what the author argued for in their work.  Jesus was described as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3).  Jesus is the great High Priest who intercedes for us before the throne of God, able to save and redeem His people, those people who are eagerly waiting for Him (Heb 9:28).

As a side note– God is not a Christian.  A Christian is a Christ follower, a little Christ.  God revealed Himself to us through the Bible and definitively in the person of Jesus the Messiah.  Those who follow Christ are to be considered Christians (and certainly God does not do that…).  Jesus referred to Himself in the Gospel according to John that He was “I AM.”  He directly equated Himself to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.   We have to take Jesus at His own word here, for this is a very bold statement.  To echo CS Lewis,  he was either a liar, lunatic or the very person He claimed to be– God.  Quite frankly I see no other option.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the seemingly illiterate masses when it comes to religious and biblical matters.  These people are not just those who do not call Christianity their own or those people who do call themselves Christian but do not actively engage it (an excellent article on this issue can be found here).  These are the evangelicals, the conservative wing of Protestant Christianity.  Many who would want the 10 Commandments posted in the halls of courts cannot cite them .  A recent Pew poll confirmed this and another poll by The White Horse Inn at a Christian bookseller fair demonstrated this.  Interestingly enough, atheists are very literate when it comes to religious matters.

I want to periodically explore what it means to be a Christian and clearly delineate the belief system.  This series will touch on issues from the Trinity to Eschatology and it is not my intentions to make the series exhaustive or definitive.  It is my belief that many Christians want to “save” people so badly that we forget what we believe and why we even believe it.  If we recover biblical literacy, we can then accurately preach the good news of Christ.  The good news (the gospel) that Jesus is Lord and Savior– who lived, was crucified  and three days later raised from the grave in glory.

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