The Passion is a code

When Jesus was dying on the cross, he said several things that were direct references to the Psalms.  Those who were nearby would have known the references, having grown up with them just like he did.  Orthodox Jews recite the entirety of the Psalms once a week at a minimum.  These references would have been familiar to his listeners.  He didn’t have time to say the entire Psalm, but he didn’t have to.  One line was sufficient to recall the rest.

In Matthew 27:46 we read

46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni? that is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

This is a reference to Psalm 22:1

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Why are You so far from my deliverance
and from my words of groaning?”

But it is helpful to read the rest, because within it are more prophecies that were fulfilled at that time.  Notice in particular verses 8, 16, and 18, which perfectly mirror what happened at the crucifixion.

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Why are You so far from my deliverance
and from my words of groaning?
My God, I cry by day, but You do not answer,
by night, yet I have no rest.
But You are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
Our fathers trusted in You;
they trusted, and You rescued them.
They cried to You and were set free;
they trusted in You and were not disgraced.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by people.
Everyone who sees me mocks me;
they sneer and shake their heads:
“He relies on the Lord;
let Him rescue him;
let the Lord deliver him,
since He takes pleasure in him.”

You took me from the womb,
making me secure while at my mother’s breast.
10 I was given over to You at birth;
You have been my God from my mother’s womb.

11 Do not be far from me, because distress is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
strong ones of Bashan encircle me.
13 They open their mouths against me—
lions, mauling and roaring.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are disjointed;
my heart is like wax,
melting within me.
15 My strength is dried up like baked clay;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You put me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have surrounded me;
a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones;
people look and stare at me.
18 They divided my garments among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.

19 But You, Lord, don’t be far away.
My strength, come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver my life from the sword,
my only life from the power of these dogs.
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me
from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will proclaim Your name to my brothers;
I will praise You in the congregation.
23 You who fear Yahweh, praise Him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him!
All you descendants of Israel, revere Him!
24 For He has not despised or detested
the torment of the afflicted.
He did not hide His face from him
but listened when he cried to Him for help.

25 I will give praise in the great congregation
because of You;
I will fulfill my vows
before those who fear You.
26 The humble will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise Him.
May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth will remember
and turn to the Lord.
All the families of the nations
will bow down before You,
28 for kingship belongs to the Lord;
He rules over the nations.
29 All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down;
all those who go down to the dust
will kneel before Him—
even the one who cannot preserve his life.
30 Their descendants will serve Him;
the next generation will be told about the Lord.
31 They will come and tell a people yet to be born
about His righteousness—
what He has done.

So even though this utterance of Jesus seems to indicate that he feels God has abandoned him, he knows that this is not true.  He knows the rest of the Psalm by heart. By verse 22 the Psalmist (and Jesus) is praising the Lord.

The last words Jesus said upon the cross as cited in Luke 23:46 –

46 And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.Saying this, He breathed His last.

This too is a reference to a Psalm – in this case the specific verse is Psalm 31:5.

Into Your hand I entrust my spirit;
You redeem me, Lord, God of truth.”

Here too it is worthwhile to read the entire Psalm, because instead of being a sign of resignation, Jesus’ words are a sign of total trust in God.

Lord, I seek refuge in You;
let me never be disgraced.
Save me by Your righteousness.
Listen closely to me; rescue me quickly.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a mountain fortress to save me.
For You are my rock and my fortress;
You lead and guide me
because of Your name.
You will free me from the net
that is secretly set for me,
for You are my refuge.
Into Your hand I entrust my spirit;
You redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

I hate those who are devoted to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad in Your faithful love
because You have seen my affliction.
You have known the troubles of my life
and have not handed me over to the enemy.
You have set my feet in a spacious place.

Be gracious to me, Lord,
because I am in distress;
my eyes are worn out from angry sorrow—
my whole being as well.
10 Indeed, my life is consumed with grief
and my years with groaning;
my strength has failed
because of my sinfulness,
and my bones waste away.
11 I am ridiculed by all my adversaries
and even by my neighbors.
I am dreaded by my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street run from me.
12 I am forgotten: gone from memory
like a dead person—like broken pottery.
13 I have heard the gossip of many;
terror is on every side.
When they conspired against me,
they plotted to take my life.

14 But I trust in You, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 The course of my life is in Your power;
deliver me from the power of my enemies
and from my persecutors.
16 Show Your favor to Your servant;
save me by Your faithful love.
17 Lord, do not let me be disgraced when I call on You.
Let the wicked be disgraced;
let them be silent in Sheol.
18 Let lying lips be quieted;
they speak arrogantly against the righteous
with pride and contempt.

19 How great is Your goodness
that You have stored up for those who fear You
and accomplished in the sight of everyone
for those who take refuge in You.
20 You hide them in the protection of Your presence;
You conceal them in a shelter
from the schemes of men,
from quarrelsome tongues.
21 May the Lord be praised,
for He has wonderfully shown His faithful love to me
in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I had said,
“I am cut off from Your sight.”
But You heard the sound of my pleading
when I cried to You for help.

23 Love the Lord, all His faithful ones.
The Lord protects the loyal,
but fully repays the arrogant.
24 Be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord.

(All Bible translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)

The dessert

Remember the Pink Floyd song “The Wall”?   There is a lyric in it that is really meaningful for Holy Week: “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding!”

In some Christian denominations, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are just days of the week. Nothing special happens.  In others, they are holy days of deep reflection and fasting.  They are dark days right before the biggest celebration of the Christian year – Easter.  Within those denominations are people who don’t make time to go to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services, and I feel they are shortchanging themselves.

So many people want to skip over the bad and go straight to the good. But if you don’t go through the bad, then the good doesn’t have the same meaning.  They want their pudding, but they don’t want to eat the meat.

The “meat” is Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  They are hard to chew, and even harder to digest.  They are difficult.  They open us up and break us down.  They take us along with Jesus into the pain and despair of that time, that time of loss, of betrayal, of abandonment.  They take us along with the disciples into that time of fear and confusion.

The “pudding” is Easter – it is sweet and easy to eat.  It is a day of joy, of promises fulfilled, of knowing that God is supreme.

But you have to go through the darkness to appreciate the light.

The Garden

I am struck by the parallel of the story of Adam and Eve, and the story of Jesus.
The very first example of disobedience happened in a garden – the Garden of Eden.

garden-of-eden

Adam and Eve went against the will of God and decided to do things their way.  Because of their choice, they were banished from the place of peace and harmony, where their every need was provided for.  Because of their choice, they were subject to pain and death.

The ultimate expression of obedience to God also took place in a garden – the Garden of Gethsemane.

jesus-praying-in-gethsemane-39591-print

Jesus knew what God wanted him to do.  He’d read the words of the prophets and knew that this is what had to happen.  He didn’t want it.  He said “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42, NIV).  He was hoping that there would be a way out, like the ram that appeared when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac due to God’s command. He was hoping that there would be another way, that he would not have to suffer and die.

And yet, he accepted what had to happen. Knowing what was going to occur, yet trusting in his Father, he submitted.  He was fully obedient, knowing that it would cost him his life.  Because of God’s love, he gained his life back.

Because of his example of total obedience to God, we now have a pattern for how to live our lives – trusting, without fear, knowing that even death has no hold over us if we are following God’s commands.  The doors to heaven are open to us if we follow his example.

 

Prophets and priests – not the same

The Jewish priests in the time of the Tabernacle had to use the Urim and Thummim because they could not hear from God themselves. Moses could – all prophets could. Note that Moses was not the high priest – his brother Aaron was. They had separate roles.

They were the “Navi” (the Hebrew word for prophet) – an entirely separate group of people that often lived apart from people, sometimes alone in the wilderness. God could speak at any time, and they had to be ready. It was hard to integrate that task with “real life”. They were not provided for as the priests were. They did not receive the tithe as payment for their services as the priests did.

It is important to note the tithe in the early church was only used to help those in the community who were less fortunate – those who were sick or out of a job, or didn’t have family to help them. It was never intended to pay the salary of a priestly class, as there was not supposed to be such a thing. It was actually forbidden to have priests, as it created a separation in a Body that was meant to be One. We are all meant to be equal like siblings rather than have those who are higher or lower.

Even today, when a prophet hears from God and tells the priest (self-styled, for their authority comes from man and not God) they are ignored along with the message like many prophets in the past were. Of course they are – because the “priests” are incorrectly exercising control over the church. To admit that they are wrong would mean that they must get past their ego and let God be in charge – not them.

Give up sin, not chocolate, for Lent

God has no need for you to give up chocolate, or playing video games, or wine, or meat, or whatever material thing that you’ve picked, for Lent. In fact, Jesus did not create Lent. The whole idea of giving up something for 40 days does not exist in the Gospel at all. Sure, Jesus fasted (unintentionally) for 40 days while he was in the desert being tempted by the devil. But that doesn’t mean you are supposed to.

Sometimes you have to give up something in order to make yourself appreciate what you do have. We need to remember that everything we have comes from God. We need to remember that we do not control our lives, and that we are not the authors of them. God is. But what God really wants is for us to give up our own wants and tend to the needs of others. God wants our sacrifice of time to help other people, instead of money or offerings. You cannot buy your way into heaven.

Psalm 51:16-17
16 You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.

1 Samuel 15:22-23 (the prophet Samuel speaking to Saul)
22 Then Samuel said: Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice,to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,and defiance is like wickedness and idolatry.Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,He has rejected you as king.

Hebrews 13:16
16 Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.

Micah 6:6-8
6 What should I bring before the Lord
when I come to bow before God on high?
Should I come before Him with burnt offerings,
with year-old calves?

7 Would the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams
or with ten thousand streams of oil?
Should I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the child of my body for my own sin?

8 Mankind, He has told you what is good
and what it is the Lord requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Isaiah 58:3-11
3 “Why have we fasted, but You have not seen?
We have denied ourselves, but You haven’t noticed!”[b]
“Look, you do as you please on the day of your fast,
and oppress all your workers.

4 You fast with contention and strife
to strike viciously with your fist.
You cannot fast as you do today,
hoping to make your voice heard on high.

5 Will the fast I choose be like this:
A day for a person to deny himself,
to bow his head like a reed,
and to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 Isn’t the fast I choose:
To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
and to tear off every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him,
and not to ignore[c] your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will appear like the dawn,
and your recovery will come quickly.
Your righteousness will go before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.

9 At that time, when you call, the Lord will answer;
when you cry out, He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you get rid of the yoke among you,[d]
the finger-pointing and malicious speaking,

10 and if you offer yourself[e] to the hungry,
and satisfy the afflicted one,
then your light will shine in the darkness,
and your night will be like noonday.

11 The Lord will always lead you,
satisfy you in a parched land,
and strengthen your bones.
You will be like a watered garden
and like a spring whose waters never run dry.

——-
All Bible translations are HCSB

Redeemer

Stephen Gaskin was the founder of The Farm, an intentional community near Summertown, Tennessee. Before the commune was settled, he embarked on a speaking tour of America to talk about peace. His goal was to wake people up to a healthier way to be together as a society, a nation, and a global community.
He regularly allowed people to ask questions as part of the talks. Occasionally, some of the questioners had issue with him referring to Jesus. Most people who are considered countercultural don’t talk about Jesus at all, and Stephen did. He said that the Sermon on the Mount was the finest example of a guideline for how people can live together in harmony.
In his book “The Caravan”, he talks about Jesus as the Redeemer. In the usual Christian sense, this means that Jesus covers your sins for you. He pays that bill, so you don’t have to. But Stephen took it in a different direction. He said that in order to have a Redeemer, you have to have a Deemer. A Deemer is someone who deems – who makes a judgment as to whether something is good or not. Deemers separate and divide.
A Redeemer comes after that and makes things right. Redeemers make things whole again, by showing the value in all people. Redeemers point out that God made everyone, and God made everyone good. Redeemers reset us by seeing us as we were originally designed to be – whole, complete, and pure.
Additionally – not something said by Stephen but an extension of this thought – this is how Jesus was able to heal people instantly. He saw them as they were designed to be, before they were damaged by the world. Instead of seeing people as sinners, he saw them as Children of God. He didn’t heal them through any special power. He healed them by unlocking the power that God had put in them from the very beginning. He unlocked it by reminding them of it when he saw through their mask of sin to the person beneath.
The most radical part of this is that Jesus tells us that we have this same ability. We can heal the world by choosing to see people as Children of God. No longer dividing them into “good” and “bad” – but simply as people. We too can redeem the world, with Jesus’ help.

Keep calm and trust in God

I was reading this passage from James 1:2-6

2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways.

I was really struck by the verse that says the “doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”

It reminded me of these stories from earlier in the New Testament –

Matthew 14:22-33
22 Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. 23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. 24 But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. 25 Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.” 29 “Come!” He said. And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

Note verse 30 in particular. Peter becomes afraid – and THEN he begins to sink. He isn’t afraid because he’s sinking. He’s sinking because he’s afraid. The fear came first.

And there is this, an earlier story. This story is in Matthew 8:23-27, but I like the version in Mark 4:35-41 better.

35 On that day, when evening had come, He told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the sea.” 36 So they left the crowd and took Him along since He was already in the boat. And other boats were with Him. 37 A fierce windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But He was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke Him up and said to Him, “Teacher! Don’t You care that we’re going to die?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Silence! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 Then He said to them, “Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?” 41 And they were terrified and asked one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

Is it possible that the storm came about because of the disciples fear?

Is it possible that if we keep calm, the world around us will keep calm? I feel that the politicians want us to be afraid. When we react in fear or anger or disgust at their actions, they are controlling our behavior. They are calling the shots. They are leading the dance. We are Re-acting, instead of Acting.

Be calm, trusting in the One who is in charge – God. Not a politician. Listen to the still small voice of God to tell you what to do – not the shrill shouts of politicians.

I leave you with these words from the prophet Micah (in Micah 6:8) to know how to act in these difficult times (and every other time)

“Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you:to act justly,to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

If we do these things, we will be fine.

(All Bible verses are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)