Man of sorrows

Its early morning building up to Easter 2018, and we’ve done Easter so many times it’s a familiarity that requires very little conscious thought. A short period of the sacred overlaid on the profane and the mundane.

 

It’s not as easy as you might think to push the regular stuff to the side and consider Holy week and the passion of Christ. Easter deserves our consideration, God deserves our time to think about Him and without a remote control, the world doesn’t pause very long at all. A smart phone with connectivity is merely a metaphor; we can switch off our data and sever the link with the World Wide Web, but our brains cannot disconnect from life and its concerns: dentist visits, school reports, super rugby.

 

In this last month, I read one of these daily verses about Jesus being a man of sorrows:

 

“He was despised and rejected—

a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.

He was despised, and we did not care.

4           Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

it was our sorrows* that weighed him down.

And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,

a punishment for his own sins!

5           But he was pierced for our rebellion,

crushed for our sins.

He was beaten so we could be whole.

He was whipped so we could be healed.

6           All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.

We have left God’s paths to follow our own.

Yet the Lord laid on him

the sins of us all.” (Isaiah 53:3 – 6, NLT)

 

Although Jesus, being fully human, will have laughed and had a sense of humour, Scripture doesn’t dwell on any of that and reveals that he was ‘a man of sorrows’ and ‘acquainted with deepest grief’.

 

This is what makes it a solemn time for us to observe. Our collective sorrows weighed him down. I imagine my own sorrows and my own sins and they are difficult enough to bear, but to have the sins and sorrows of the whole world…from the beginning of the world until now that’s got to be – at a guess – 70 billion* distinct and common sets of moral failure and personal suffering to deal with.

 

https://www.livescience.com/18336-human-population-dead-living-infographic.html

(* I assumed on the lower end of the scale because these demographers speculate human births from 50,000 BC, which is not consistent with Biblical history).

 

That’s a heap of moral failings to have to deal with. It’s too incredible to actually think about, the weight of all that sin.

 

I remember a number of years back, reading a book by an American actor named Bruce Marchiano, who in his audition to play the role of Jesus, decided to be a smiling Jesus, with a heart of joy.

 

http://www1.cbn.com/ChurchWatch/archive/2010/10/15/a-jesus-movie-for-the-next-generation

 

It remains, to my mind, a stunning portrayal of Christ with a humanness seldom seen on the silver screen. However much He was filled with joy, the torment of the cross speaks to the lengths he went to in securing salvation for us:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZjBJuHgXPE

 

The picture you can get is of a man on a mission, a sinless Son of God in a world of evil, with everyone misunderstanding Him, His own disciples slow to grasp what He was doing, and the would-be shepherds of the time (the Rabbis) salivating over the idea of putting him to death, like wolves.

 

Nobody got his mission ahead of time. I like the way this author explores this idea:

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/jesus-understands-loneliness

 

His test is over and yet Scripture says that the scars remain, even in heaven.

 

Like the world in the 1st Century in Palestine, many still don’t understand today what He went through. The fact that he went through sorrow for me is reason to praise. And I can’t but think that Jesus is not scowling or sorrowful now.

It is finished!

Having finished the work of the cross, the many mansions are filling up.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14%3A2&version=NIV

Knowing, or not knowing

Synchronicity is defined as an experience of two or more events that occur in a meaningful manner to the person considering the events, but where those two or more events are causally unrelated to one another.

 

In other words, there was no connection between the passing of British physicist Stephen Hawking and my listening to an address by RC Sproul as far as the world is concerned. However to me, the two events were connected by the question of knowing God, or not knowing him.

 

The passing of the British physicist Stephen Hawking this week was an intellectual loss to the world and a personal loss for his family. On the passing of anyone, I notice that there is no pattern or formula that determines how long a person should live. Sometimes the evil live long lives, and other times the good die young. There is a spread of life expectancy over multiple people-groups, religions, countries and moral actors. What seems random to me though is God’s prerogative. Prerogative is defined by Webster’s dictionary as exclusive or special right, power or privilege.

 

I’m not privy to his thinking and He doesn’t owe me an explanation, but He decided to take Billy Graham home when he did, and He struck Stephen Hawking this week so that he died. The world celebrated Hawking for what he knew, and to a lesser extent Billy Graham for Whom he knew.

 

It struck me that the key is not what you know (although there is value in what), but Who you know. Those old sayings didn’t just pop up randomly, they stand the test of time.

 

RC Sproul takes us to the first chapter of Romans, which can be summarised by the idea that God isn’t coy or hiding himself, and people know He exists, but they want to sin, and so pretend that He doesn’t exist.

 

“19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. “(Romans 1, NLT)

 

As RC Sproul says, the atheist’s problem with God is not intellectual but moral. Woody Allen’s flippant quote about the evidence for God (or lack of evidence as far as the atheist is concerned) offers a window into the thinking of the natural man:

 

“If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.”

 

We have all the signs we need just by looking out the window and observing the mechanics of the sky, the rhythm of the solar system, the incredible mysteries of the human body. The stubborn God-ignorer wants stuff, a genie to cater to whims.

 

Sproul reasons that pagans still have the ability to think, to reason with a syllogism and spot errors in logic but that with a starting point that denies God, no ultimate conclusion can ever be correct. Intellectual bias against God will always take the pagan thinker on a trajectory that cannot escape the gravitational pull of his or her sin and selfishness. Apart from being born-again, Sproul notes, the natural man does not seek God.

 

Does Scripture back him up?

 

“11 No one is truly wise;

no one is seeking God.” (Romans 3, NLT)

 

Does observation? I’m afraid yes, the Mark-I eyeball does a remarkable job of revealing this.

It all starts with thinking

Why the emphasis on thinking? Because thinking is the starting point for faith and for action. Sproul argues, and I agree, that Christianity is reasoned and logical. Many don’t see it that way, however they will be the first to accept those who believe in fairies, UFOs and the Jedi religion. All those ideas are based in credulity, silliness because they are beliefs that are not under-girded by reason.

 

Faith without reason is wishful thinking and the first chapter of Romans unpacks the idea that faith in God is not wishful thinking but that there is serious evidence for it.

 

Earlier I referred to God having a prerogative, and we will never be able to understand God in the ways that He chooses events to unfold, however we have Scripture, and without access to that, we have nature. They are both well designed and God reveals Himself powerfully through them.

 

We – collectively – know God, but we simply don’t want to know because that has implications. For those of us who have been regenerated, who have been awoken by the Holy Spirit, we understand that knowledge is foundational to relationship.

 

To know Him is to love Him.

 

If I forget my wife’s birthday (lack of knowledge), the relationship may take a hit.  However, as I mentioned to my wife before – apart from my study of God – she is the subject of lifelong study and my PhD in knowing her. Knowledge is foundational to relationship.

 

For the unbeliever who eschews knowledge of God, he lets them earn a lesson:

 

“28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done.” (Romans 1, NLT).

 

It’s a strong judgement, to leave someone to their own devices. And yet, there is wonderful hope, because at one time, all us believers were there, one-time unbelievers running away from God.

 

One of those old-time preachers described God as ‘the hound of heaven’. I like that. He pursues us like the fox that doesn’t stand a chance of escape in a hunt the likes of which we’ve never seen.

The Lamb that was slain

I realise its two years out of date, however at the 2016 Passion conference – a gathering for 18 – 25 year olds – Louie Giglio had a number of guest speakers, including the bookish John Piper, who wouldn’t look out of place in a musty school library.

 

Intended primarily as a resource for college age kids in the U.S. it seems to me that a Passion conference could be as useful to any Christian of any age or spiritual maturity. And so it came to pass that the wife and I purchased the DVD.

 

In two months, I have watched 7/8 of two messages, one by Christine Caine (an Australian of Greek heritage which is like all the charm of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ and all the quirkiness of ‘Crocodile Dundee’), and another by John Piper.

 

If I learn anything but watching these two, is that God can use people with voices that are not suited for a good radio show or a toastmaster’s shindig with an ‘A’ level of slick.

 

John Piper’s talent might not be the quiet baritone of George Clooney, but what he does have is an ability to provide perspective on a large canvas.

 

John Piper delivered his homily from Revelations 13, a strange chapter in a strange book. Is the world in 2018 any less strange and bewildering?

 

And right in the first verse, he sidesteps the inherent curiosity of the reader as to who or what the Beast is. Clue: it’s not the rampaging gentle giant Tenda Mtawarira from the Natal Sharks who elicits a BBeeeeeaaaasssst from the crowd whenever he carries the ball up.

The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. (13:1, NIV)

 

As Piper notes, the identity of the beast in Revelations 13 is not the most important point. Being ready to repel evil and simultaneously ready to follow Christ will put the Christian in good stead.

 

It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. (13: 7 – 8, NIV)

 

As in the days of John who wrote down this revelation, Christians are under attack today. In the time of the beast’s appearance on earth, the slaughter of Christian will simply be more pronounced, but history’s arc has consistently been about resistance to His plan. The important part, Piper notes, is those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

 

They are part of the story, the story around which history is actually based.

 

https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/we-will-sing-bloody-songs-forever

 

The slaying of the Lamb of God was the plan before the universe, history or even sin existed. And it is the subject of the Lamb who was slain that will be the content of heaven’s songs.

 

The songwriter clearly got the point of what Piper was saying. Listening to this Phil Wickham song in the car this week, the bridge between choruses, reinforced what Piper was saying:

 

https://genius.com/Phil-wickham-this-is-amazing-grace-lyrics

 

Easter and the Lamb that was slain is the subject of the songs of heaven.

 

This brings me to an aside: a while ago I read the book ‘Heaven is for real’ (Thomas Nelson publishers, 2016) detailing the near-death experience of young Colton Burpo, who while experiencing a vision of heaven, tried to get angels to sing Queen’s ‘we will rock you!’…they politely declined. It seems that secular songs are not germane for the worship environment in heaven.

 

Which does beg the question of whether any songs written on earth that glorify the King of heaven are sung in eternity. It’s not an urgent question that needs answering, just a thought.

 

In eternity, we will be singing about the Lamb who was slain, because His being slain for us – according to the Father’s will – is a pretty big deal.

 

How great is the love of the Father, that we should be called children of God.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+3%3A1&version=NIV

The vineyard

This morning I was awake at before 04h00 and got to hear the birds start their morning chatter. In the serenity of a quite abode, and given the opportunity, I cracked my actual, physical Bible open. A necessity as the Bible app on the smart phone is dependant on data and I had run out in the night.

 

Maybe I’ve gotten too used to using the Bible app.

 

Mark 12 contains Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, which took on new significance for me considering the land expropriation debate in South Africa now, which essentially reduces to the idea that owing to abuses committed tens or hundreds of years ago by Europeans against native Africans, that white farmers owe the poor their farms or a portion thereof. The land belongs to the African; it was stolen and must be taken back.

Vineyard

The parable of the vineyard doesn’t address this issue directly, but here’s what I saw:

 

“1 Then Jesus began teaching them with stories: “A man planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country.”

 

The parable doesn’t begin with an African farmer or a European farmer, but a man who plants a vineyard and leases it to tenant farmers. Just a guy. The parable relates to God’s relationship to Israel, not past racial abuses in Africa.

 

However, if we take the EFF position that Mzansi (South Africa) only ever belonged to blacks and only ever should be and that all land currently owned by white farmers is stolen, then we will never have a rational conversation.

 

In the present, farmers have land. It’s a present fact and they are using it. There are poor people in this country who want land and it is my understanding that there are government programs to assist emerging small scale farmers.

 

According to an article I read (that I can no longer find), over 40% of farm lands in the agricultural powerhouses of Natal and Mpumalanga are owned and managed not by whites, but by blacks.

 

Birds be chirping. Farmers be farming.

 

“2 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. 3 But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 4 The owner then sent another servant, but they insulted him and beat him over the head. 5 The next servant he sent was killed. Others he sent were either beaten or killed, 6 until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’”

 

Its not a tie-in in this parable to equate the white farmer with the owner and farm invaders as the tenants who beat up his servants, but think of it this way: the tenants and the owner are in a symbiotic relationship where there doesn’t need to be acrimony. There are established roles and presumably negotiation, as in any business relationship. As I noted, this parable is about God and Israel, however purely from a relational point of view, those advocating land redistribution without compensation come across as pharisaical.

 

But the tenants hate the owner. Its personal, and that is precisely the vibe I get from the EFF and their many ideological bedfellows who advocate government theft of private land and its redistribution.

 

The EFF – if any of them were Biblically literate and inclined to consult Scripture – might look at the parable and see an interpretation where blacks in history were the owners and the whites were tenants who beat up and killed the black owners and conspired to consign them to eternal poverty.

 

I mean, I accept that if I see things one way, other people can see it another way, not that we should read a current situation into a parable that Jesus didn’t intend for the purpose.

 

Here’s where I think God’s heart is on the matter. Mark 12 continues with the Doctors of the Law (the Pharisees) trying to trick Jesus into incriminating himself and they ask him whether it is appropriate to pay taxes to the heathen government in charge of Israel in those days, the Romans.

 

“Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin,* and I’ll tell you.” 16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

His reply completely amazed them.”

 

Does land belong to the State? Or individual owners? If the land belongs to Caesar, it can take it away. In many socialist countries like Mozambique, all land in State-owned and individuals merely lease it over the long term. In our country, land that is un-owned is purchased from a municipal authority but any land that is owned, or sold is done so by individuals.

 

Drive through any neighbourhood on any given Saturday and look at the ‘For Sale’ signs. People are buying and selling all the time. Those who want Caesar to take land by force or threat probably don’t understand that Caesar is a piece of work that rides roughshod over human beings who will do it to your enemies today, but will trample you tomorrow.

 

I look at the parable and see not Caesar, but God owning the land.

 

Caesar has no business stealing land. When you don’t compensate for an item or service, that’s merely a technical term but it means stealing.

 

Do I have to quote one of the Ten Commandments about not stealing?

 

Later in Mark 12, a religious teacher asks Jesus which is the most important commandment:

 

“29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’* 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’* No other commandment is greater than these.””

 

There are serious issues in our country and a way can be made to redress past injustices, without resorting to State-sponsored theft.

 

In the most basic sense, when we see each other as black or white (with different rights and responsibilities attached to each respective race), are we not refusing to love our neighbour as ourselves?

 

A vineyard evokes for me John 15, where Jesus uses another illustration (he must have seen a lot of vineyards and been around a lot of farms in his time).

 

“1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

 

I want to be a fruitful branch in his vineyard.