The Cross—Psalm 22: A Cry of Anguish and a Song of Praise—A Psalm of David Rob
Father, I feel like David in that it seems there is a great distance between my cries for freedom and Your deliverance. I pray day and night and see no answer, yet You are my Father and the Father to all who trust and follow Your Son.
My earthly father did not know You until the end of his days, yet You showed him mercy. He was stunned at the end of his life with Your kindness toward him and trusted You upon his death bed. He cried out to You and You adopted him. Yes, I will praise You for Your faithfulness!
As Your follower, I have been a reproach to my earthly family and an oddity to my fellow man. Behind my back they mocked, “He got religion when he was a loser and is now a religious fanatic.” They may think what they wish. I believe they, too, would follow Jesus if they had seen what I have seen. And I pray that they would see You in my life and in the life of my fellow believers. I pray they might understand the degree to which they are losing out and discover with us just how much You delight in them.
I am persuaded that You have known me before the womb. Your eye was upon me and Your hand protected me in the midst of my profound ignorance and rebellion.
You have been my God from my mother’s womb.
At one level, I know that You are not far from me when the pain in my body is intense, yet my fickle senses tempt me to think otherwise. Thoughts of abandonment try to bully me around. On some days they feel as though they might swallow me whole. Where is this pain leading me? How will I possibly keep it together if this continues? How will I cross the finish line if pain and pain meds reduce me to nothing? And then I recall:
You were poured out like water, and all Your bones were out of joint; Your heart became like wax; it was melted within You. Your strength was all dried up like a potsherd, and Your tongue cleaved to Your jaws; and You were laid in the dust of death. Dogs surrounded You; a band of evildoers encompassed You; they pierced Your hands and Your feet. You could count all Your bones. They stared at You; They divided Your garments among themselves, and for Your clothing they cast lots.
No, Lord, You are not far off; You are my help, hastening to my assistance. I have never experienced any temptation that You did not experience in full. You may deliver me by divine healing or the surgeon’s scalpel. Whatever You choose, save me from any result that would cause my life to detract from Your glory. In these weeks preceding my surgery, intervene as You please.
I aspire to proclaim the excellences of Your name to a skeptical world and church. I see that You and Paul the apostle envisioned a church that lights up the world. I see that we will all eventually stand in awe of You as history proves out that You never abandoned anyone who was afflicted nor desired to hide Your face from anyone.
I profess Your rights to rule in my life and in all creation. We will see the day when, like my father, the afflicted will be more than satisfied by Your kindness and mercy. We who could not keep our hearts alive in our own strength shall see that You will sustain our hearts forever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive. Posterity will serve Him; it will be told of the Lord to the coming generation. They will come and will declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
Father, I love You and thank You that You have never abandoned me. I am in awe of Your patience and kindness toward me. May this world see You through us who believe. May Your kingdom continue to come in increasing measure. Amen.
One of the most common traits about God that lurks in the minds of men is that He is above. How far above? The Bible answers, “As far as the heavens are above the earth.” The prominent theme of the New Testament is; God came down to earth, walked in our shoes and looked us in the eye, revealing God – The Father. The notion of God Incarnate moves my heart as much as any idea I have ever encountered. God in the flesh makes the entirety of Jesus’ life a beautiful and mysterious revelation. This Son-of-Man move separated my God from all other contender gods.
During His 33 year stay, He experienced all the trials and temptations we do. Our passage accounts for one of the most painful – betrayal. We don’t know when Jesus chose Judas – the betrayer. What did that look like? Did Jesus come upon him as he filed out of some political action meeting and think, “Here is one rotten egg. I shall choose him because he will be very handy in betraying me when my time comes?” If Jesus had perfect foresight, He would not have been tempted in every way that we are. Clairvoyance would have cheated Him out of the temptations we would face with the sickening and sudden shock of betrayal.
I believe Jesus loved Judas and had the highest of aspirations for him, just as He did for the other eleven. I believe Jesus saw into the dark parts of Judas’ heart just as He did with Peter and his other intimates. None of the disciples had righteous motives. James and John wanted to be Jesus’ left and right-hand men. And then there was Peter who had become “The Rock.” Peter probably had no use for the Sons-of-Thunder in the co-rulership of Israel. So, was it being overly zealous as an Israeli nationalist or was it his petty theft that made Judas the scoundrel that he was? It was neither; it was unbelief – the most besetting of all sins.
Jesus exposed Himself to the ultimate of human sufferings; rejection, being misunderstood, torture and assassination. Betrayal though has its own special sting; it is one of the vulnerabilities of love. Someone has said; All sins are sins against Love. I agree and betrayal may be the grandaddy of them all. In betrayal, a heart is, at one moment, basking in the warmth of shared trust and affection when it discovers that it has instead been basking in delusion. The beloved friend or lover had in fact not been reciprocating, they had been plotting to switch sides!
I believe the pain to Jesus’ heart upon realizing what Judas had done was no less excruciating than the lashes of the Roman whip or the piercing of the Roman spikes. Jesus was betrayed by one but He was abandoned by us all. Only the Holy Spirit can facilitate this but, at some point, we have to locate ourselves in this story. We might think (like Peter) that we would have even died with Jesus but we are deceiving ourselves.
We cannot say our sin is less just because we are guilty merely by association (with Adam). In a very real sense (in Adam), we were there; it was our shared nature that facilitated the execution of God’s Son. All of us sinned against Love and fell far short of our call to love Him with all that is within us. That is why we were created and we have all gone astray from this primary call.
There is so much mystery to the heart of God! I cannot get my mind around Him. The longer I live and try, the more insane the proposal appears to me. I will never fully grasp who He is and what He has done. I am with King David on this one; “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.” That is not the same as saying, I do not aspire to it or that I will not lend my heart to the possibility. Love may decide of His own accord to reveal Himself!
Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice. (John 18:37)
I began to say that God executed His plan in spite of Judas’ betrayal and our abandonment. The mystery is actually greater than that. God’s grace utilized betrayal and abandonment to facilitate His plan. God’s heart is in the middle of this mystery. God’s heart is itself the mystery – a heart that accomplishes its objectives with man’s weakness and sin as His servants. Welcome to the Kingdom of God – a place where…
God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? (Romans 8:28-31)
Perhaps, a heart-level “Thank you” is in order.
Father, we do thank You. While we were helpless sinners – slaves to a host of lies, you rescued us. Thank You. In the midst of our filth you made us as clean and innocent as Jesus. Thank You. Even now, when we stumble, Your powerful right arm is there, ready to lift us up. Thank You. Even though our minds may fail in their calculation of Your glory, may our hearts pause and be filled with revelation. May our spirits concur in wonder and awe at the astonishing thing You have done, in Christ. Thank you!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)
Today’s passage reveals what the darkness will ultimately do when it does not comprehend the Light. Mysteriously, it also reveals what the Light permits the darkness to do in its unbelief. Jesus, the Light of the world, had been preaching the gospel of the kingdom, offending the Jewish rulers one sermon after another. The tensions between Him and the religious hierarchy had grown progressively for three years. On this most recent trip to the holy city, things snapped. The darkness could no longer endure the light. It purposed to snuff it out.
Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.” … And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently… they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release for us Barabbas!” … They were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified … They kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!” And their voices began to prevail. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” (Luke 23:1-2, 10, 18, 20, 23, and 35)
Darkness was doing its worst yet the Light responded;
Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.
This is the voice of Love Incarnate, patient and longing that even those under the spell of darkness – those who were persecuting Him, would comprehend and be saved. And yet, while the devil is reveling in his conquest, Light is staging His greatest victory.
The Jewish leaders, the scribes and Pharisees were leading the persecution. (It may have been better had these people not been born.) But what about the people who stood by, looking on, over whom their leader’s voices began to prevail ? Is their guilt any less than their leaders? Is magnitude of guilt even an issue? What is the actual crime (in the ultimate sense) for which anyone will be guilty? It is unbelief – the refusal to accept Jesus as the mediator between man and God; It is the refusal to believe that this sacrifice was made in your behalf; It is the refusal to believe that, in your case, a savior is necessary, as sin is not your problem. These are the ones destined for outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The scales of divine justice (now equipped by grace) hinge, not on magnitude of evil, rather on belief or unbelief.
They were hurling abuse at Him saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.”
While the earth was in insanity’s grip, having pinned it’s Savior, without mercy to a cross beam, Jesus reverses everything. Instead of heeding the taunts, He sacrificed Himself that He might save others.
In Roma Downey and Mark Burnett’s movie, Son of God, the masses in Jerusalem were portrayed as a clueless herd of sheep who stood by, looking on who then fell prey to the coordinated efforts of the Pharisees to condemn Jesus. Even while those He came to save were abandoning Him, the Light of the world was silent, permitting this ultimate evil to play out that ultimate good might be birthed. God Incarnate, had not come to overthrow Rome and establish a Jewish theocracy. He came to overthrow all usurpers and establish a new race of men.
The kingdom message was that Jesus had come to earth, not only to save the lost and get them to heaven (by way of death or rapture) but to heal and redeem everything that had been defiled and deformed by sin. Jesus was planted in the earth as a dead man. He was buried and raised to life along with everyone else who would believe in Him. He was resurrected as the first born of a new race of men. We who believe are His younger brothers and sisters. God rejoices in the harvest that has come and is to come from His Seed. We are now His family.
The Cross made a way for Jesus Christ to become our life. The Life in that Seed is our very life. Unfortunately, the people still stand by, looking on. A legion of voices, indifferent or hostile to Jesus Christ, still prevail. On one day the darkness may cry out, “Give us Barabbus!” On another it may cry out, “Give us Hillary!” Or, “Give us Donald!” While darkness does its creative best to create false hope, the Light of the world still affirms, it is Christ in us, who is the only source of legitimate hope. Jesus is…
the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:26-27)
Dear Lord, may Your Life prevail over this world, our flesh and the devil. Save us from just standing around and looking upon life as it happens to us. Help us to honor and recognize the Life that is in us. May our simple cry become, “Thank You for giving us Jesus. He is everything we need. We are satisfied in Christ.” Amen.
And they all asked, “Are You the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “Yes, I am.” (Luke 22:70)
What would you say if they all asked, “So are you a child of God?” Would you have to pause and take inventory before you answer? Or would you say, without hesitation, “Yes. It is as you say. I am a child of God.” It is mostly with those who paused that I want to share because the uncertainty that necessitated that pause might masquerade as humility in light of the grandiose nature of the claim; “A child of God?!” One might react, “Really now! That’s just a few thousand notches above my pay grade. I wouldn’t dare think of myself so presumptuously!” This particular line of thinking betrays something that needs to be confronted. It is our identity which is foundational to life in Christ. (Note: Please do not confuse identity in Christ with self-image. Identity is something eternally larger.)
So, are you a child of God?
Perhaps our pointed question is provoking these kinds of thoughts: “I’m a pretty good person. I have not hurt others.” Or, “I attend church regularly. I give when the plate is passed.” Or possibly, “I am an elder.” Or, “I lead worship.” All of these responses evade the question and they each reveal a faulty foundation; nothing built upon these notions can stand. I truly hope you are still in pause-mode because I would like to share some really good news while your heart is in attendance.
First I must share some news that may strike you as bad; we can’t play the piano well or regularly enough to please God. Neither can we be good enough or give enough to please Him. Our titles, no matter how hard we worked for them, our characters no matter how well we have polished them, have zero merit with God. His standards are so infinitely high! Outside of Christ, the purest thought, the most noble deed are defiled. An ancient prophet said it like this…
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment. (Isaiah 64:6)
Initially, it’s not good news to learn that we have been standing on shifting sand. Its even worse (initially) to discover that, as one apostle put it;
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
It is a glorious day though if we are moving from pause to prostrate – that place of humility where authentic God-life can germinate, where we have grasped the nature of our personal bankruptcy before God and find ourselves positioned to receive good news. Even though; We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us having turned to our own way;
the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
This is the greatest news ever announced in the realm of man. All our sins, ranging from deficient good works to the most heinous of crimes were all laid upon the Son of God so that we could become the children of God. And it is not just our deeds – the old nature itself (in-Adam), which we all share, was crucified in Christ! If the idea of being righteous or having any righteousness in ourselves has grasped us as absurd, we have received the first stage of a gift – the gift of repentance. Repentance is a work of grace in the human heart. It is our heart agreeing with God, saying, “I was utterly wrong. I was 180 degrees out of sync with You – thinking I might have been good enough to win your approval and get to heaven.”
If it were not for the conspiracy between the world, the flesh and the devil, it would be simple. But…
The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
It’s simple because the new foundation of identity is a gift and gifts cannot be earned. Even an iota of attempted payment undoes the gift – undermines the foundation. Again the apostle weighs in;
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
For those who believe this in their hearts and are willing to confess it with their mouths, the old foundation is demolished and a new foundational identity is established. A couple of Jesus’ intimate friends put it like this;
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. ( John 1:12-13)
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
Going from having the identity of one alienated and condemned to becoming a child of God is not just merely good news. It is stunning, scandalous, revolutionary news! Some will accuse us of fanaticism and arrogance when they hear us say, “Yes, I am a child of God.” Atheists and agnostics will scoff, “You deluded fool. You have simply played a convenient psychological trick on yourselves, inventing a God to cope with the predictable angst of being nothing more than an evolved piece of cosmic nothingness.” But we know better. Recall;
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
A cross is a fashionable symbol to wear around the neck today but what does it symbolize for the wearer; that, “Jesus (among other gods) is just all right with me — Oh yeah.” (as the song goes)? When the Cross was in use, during the Roman Empire, it was the unmistakable symbol of torture and death. If one failed to submit to Roman authority, the cross served as the reminder of who was in charge. The gift is free to us but it was not cheap. God had to come to earth and take upon Himself the wrath that was due you and I. The wrath of God, expressed in the brutality of the Cross was absorbed by God, in Christ in behalf of all who would believe and confess. This is the basis of our good news. It was supremely costly! The extravagance of the gift betrays the value the Giver places on the anticipated recipients. This is why John says;
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16)
When one first-century group heard this message…
they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)
Father, I pray that your good news might be preached with the same punch it had when it first escaped Peter’s lips. May all those You are calling to Yourself pause to reconcile these eternal matters in the core of their being. May the simplicity and the clarity of your good news pierce the darkness that has been cast over this earth and upon our hearts. Prevail among those of us working to please You. Convey to us the futility of our labors as well as the glory of Your gift. May the Bride of Christ face off with her enemies with bold declaration; “Yes, absolutely, we are the children of God.” Amen.
Here is good news from Mike and Kaylen…
We arrived 9 pm in the dark Monday night after getting up at 3 am and traveling all day. After catching two small planes and getting a rental car in Africa, time does not march on. Time lingers. Driving the roads of one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi, we were constantly feeling the tension in our obvious choices. Not hitting the many walking Africans on the narrow road, or the numerous on old resuscitated bicycles that traffic the streets, or worse, hitting the dreaded pot holes (not a flat tire in this place–p-l-e-a-s-e!). So we swerved to miss either a Malawian or two, or the frequent pot holes. Of course, when it became dark we had another possibility–not colliding with other “old” cars and trucks coming in the opposite direction at us almost always having one headlight out. Omg.
Even with these challenges, along with the annoying mosquitoes flying around us during malaria season, Malawi is beautiful. Especially because of the people in it. My heart is so full after being there and seeing the people responding to Jesus. Seeing Rhoda, Oliver and their team reaching out to the muslims is inspiring.
at rhoda’s house sharing truths about Jesus to motivate…
I must say that when God brought Rhoda and Oliver into our lives in 2008 it has become an incredible gift. When we were told that there are works for us to walk in that Father God has planned from the beginning, this relationship with Oliver and Rhoda is significant.
Rhoda told me four days ago that before she met us in South Africa, that she had been an elder in her church in Malawi. Several years later she told her pastor that she knew “about” Jesus but she did not follow Him. She told her pastor she did not know Jesus in the way that transformed her daily life. Rhoda is a passionate follower who is full of faith, seeing many healings and deliverances, inspiring so many others around her.
Being away from my family is one of the hardest costs of obeying Jesus. I struggle at times, cry, even mope, then repent for aching for family and friends. Then Jesus surprises us by giving me this incredible memory last week of ministering with our son, John, and seeing his stature in the Lord and how he is blessing other nations like Malawi. What a memory of family time together. I was “whats-apping” my daughter, Mary, in Lebanon when we were there. Mary said “tell Rhoda I desire to come with Mom and Dad and see the work in Malawi even more than a beach vacation.” Rhoda laughed at that, but Mary was serious.
Seeing our son, John, rising up and stepping into his destiny, encouraging this movement in Malawi, and imparting wisdom and Jesus culture to this team, was a highlight. He is very close to Olive and Rhoda. He went on a 3 month outreach with them when He was trained in 2011 right in Mangochi, Malawi. He was leading the team and was ministering with Oliver and Rhoda as they discovered the openness of the Yawo tribe.
amazing group here of Muslim men and women healed and delivered in a very poor mountain village. horrible drought this year, no crops, eking by, but loving Jesus.
Sunday April 24, 16 muslims were baptized in Lake Malawi. We were witnesses of this amazing time. We broke bread together afterwards and commissioned the baptized to share with others. Words can not express the joy of the Lord that was there. Oliver and Rhoda and their leaders led this event but asked us to share some words. John took time to share and remind them of what Jesus asks of them, to love God, to love others, worship, pray, forgive, share communion, and go and make disciples. WOW. They were so hungry for Jesus and His word. Some had been healed of a physical sickness. Some had been set free of an evil spirit. Sitting before us, one older Muslim lady turned to us and spoke in the Yawo language. She had only been a believer for one month said and Rhoda translated,” You must not fear, you must never stop sharing. You are bringing something that is changing our lives. Don’t stop.”
the men were baptizing and we told rhoda, “no, the women must baptize their disciples. break the Muslim culture. Rhoda said “ok. watch this” she had women baptize men in Muslim culture.
Another Muslim lady said,” When I was a Muslim all I cared about was cleaning the outside of my body to be able to pray. But now, Jesus has come and i am clean on the inside. He is changing me and my desires.” This lady is named Mary. Mary loves to share the good news to many in various villages. Recently she travelled by bicycle up the mountains (20 plus miles away) into Mozambique and prayed for an 86 year old man who had cancer. He had gone many times to the Sangoma’s ( witch doctor) for healing and spent all his money as they would cut his body and perform rituals. He never recieved healing by doing these things. Mary came and prayed for him and he was HEALED! He was so touched by Jesus that he went and prayed for all the sick in his village and they were healed. Isn’t that just AMAZING? Just like in Acts.
the eighty six year old is standing next to john
Oliver, Rhoda, and Mary arranged for Mike, John, and I to meet with him. He is so hungry for Jesus and wants all the villages in Mozambique to know about Him. When we met him Mike shared with him about Moses and how he was over 80 when God called him to set his people free. Mike spoke over this man that God was calling him to walk in great anointing to share Jesus to his muslim villages. What was so great about meeting was the verse in 2 Tim. 2:2 about discipleship. We initially taught Rhoda and Oliver, who taught Mary, then Mary taught this 86 year old. As in 2 Tim. 2:2, We entrusted faithful men and women who were able to teach other faithful men and women, who will teach other faithful men. Hallelujah, my spirit inside is jumping up and down.
This has been our heart since we were called to South Africa. To experience it so powerfully together last week is indeed one of the greatest blessings.
There is not just healing and deliverances happening in Malawi among the Yawo. Our Father is pouring out wisdom on His children there. A few weeks ago Rhoda sadly lost her oldest daughter in childbirth. She was telling me when she showed up to bury her daughter, that people began to describe to Rhoda the terrible things the mother-in-law did to her daughter during the actual childbirth. The in-laws and husband had apparently mistreated Rhoda’s daughter for some time. When the labor became critical, they refused to go to the hospital. And interfered with the birth. Basically by what she did to Rhoda’s daughter it caused her to die.
The village people from Rhoda’s side of the family all rose up in anger and they were coming to retaliate against the mother-in-law and even the husband of Rhoda’s daughter. Rhoda stood up and said, ” I am in more grief than all of you. For she is my daughter. You will not lift a hand against this family.” She stood between them, and they could not continue their violence.
In the middle of the grieving time at the funeral, Rhoda felt like she wanted to pray for her daughter to be resurrected. But someone came up and begged Rhoda to pray for a woman who was almost dead. The family was wailing and they came and got her. Rhoda told me, “Here I am in grief over my own daughter, but they asked me to pray for this one that almost dead. I prayed for her and I knew for this one it was demons.” She prayed for her and the women rose up healed. She went back to her own daughter and cried out to God that she would be resurrected. She felt God had asked her to pray this. Her daughter was not healed. But Rhoda said, “I am a changed women because of that prayer. I feel God gave me a greater gift of faith. I am full of faith. As I rose up after praying for her, I was changed.”
in oliver and rhoda’s back yard with them. they love to grow food.
I thank God for these times in Malawi and the times we are living in right now. We are not to live in fear. The Muslim lady said to Mike, John, and I , “Do not fear. GO, because we are being changed.” These are the days of the Harvest! Praise His Name. I could not wait to tell you of this amazing time. God is faithful, He is Good, He is powerful, He is the Deliverer, He is the Healer, He is our life and Salvation. I am so Full of the Lord.
Much love to you,
Kalyn and Mike
I met Rhoda and Oliver a few years ago and they were the most unlikely of people (by human appraisal) for God to use as His emissaries. How could he? Their marriage had exploded and the pieces were laying all over Masi, South Africa.
His ways are so different than ours! Instead of writing them off or just patching them up, God said, “I’ll set these captives free and heal their marriage; then I will send them out among their own Malawi people and just let them glow.”
What a global missions strategy! May we catch this vision for ourselves and our native people.
At one level, there is a lot we think we know. These things are our creed—the things we say we believe. However, if we can be honest, we know there is a danger that those stated beliefs could go without expression. Let’s call that danger sleep. Work with me.
In Gethsemane, as Jesus enters into the first stages of the agony of His cross, the disciples were nodding off. Mark says that Jesus went “a little ahead, falling to the ground praying for a way out: “Father, you can—can’t you—get me out of this? Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want.” (Mark 14:35-36 MSG) While He was going into shock, sweating blood, the disciples were going into REM sleep.
He came back and found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me? Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naive. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” (Need I say this was from The Message 14:37-38)
Surely, you would think, a direct word from God would have enough effect on one to keep him awake a bit longer. But no…
Jesus then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse. (Mark 14:39-40 MSG)
The disciples know, on one level, that Jesus is going to be betrayed. (He just told them in the Upper Room.) At one level, they know He is the Messiah. At some level, they honor Him as such and know that He loves them. They were all unified (less Judas) in their creed and declared that they were prepared even to die with Him if it came to that. We know that as the cock crowed, their beliefs had gone without expression. They had entered the danger zone without even knowing it.
Paul recognized the danger of sleep as well. Keying off of Isaiah (60:1), he says:
Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall make the day dawn upon you and give you light. (Ephesians 5:14)
Isaiah actually goes a bit further than just saying, “Wake up” …
Arise from the depression and prostration in which circumstances have kept you–rise to a new life! Be radiant with the glory of the Lord, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and dense darkness all peoples, but the Lord shall arise upon you, and His glory shall be seen on you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60″1-3 AMP)
While Isaiah the prophet may be more dramatic, Paul the teacher is more explicit and specific in his wake up call to us. Before I relate the council of this true apostolic heart, please understand the kingdom-inheritance motivation of an apostle’s heart.
Paul knew what the Lord had suffered. In fact he was privileged to even have shares in some of the sufferings of Christ. He was keen that both God and the saints realize their inheritance—not someday, but in everyone’s today. An important backdrop to anything said in scripture is that God’s inheritance is the saints themselves and, if the saints can wake up and grasp it, God Himself is theirs. Paul does not teach a passive, God-will-work-it-out (in spite of us) kind of life. He teaches that it is our job to wake up and live thoughtfuly and intentionally (in active participation) in Christ.
Paul’s specifics include the wisdom that says, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15) No doubt, the Psalmist’s counsel had influenced him: “Teach me to number my days that I may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
Paul was consistently prodding us out of our sleep so that we can actively enjoy our inheritance and God can enjoy His – the fruit of His Spirit (aka His nature), reproduced in our lives. When we hear him say, “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord,” we hear God (via Paul) inviting us into an experiential interaction with His Spirit which will result in a visible, glorious display of God’s life in this earth.
The tides of war will have shifted when the nations begin coming to the Church to see our light, and kings to the brightness of His rising. But perhaps we should not fast forward quite so far. For the sake of an immediate hope and personal application, let’s say we shall see our victory when we have awakened, when we see the light shining on us, when our neighbors (those who live along side us) see that we’ve awakened from our slumber and the light of Christ shines upon us.
Another wake up-word from Paul involves our heart’s orientation to our circumstances: He specifically instructs us to replace our coarse language with the language of gratitude: “There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” (Ephesians 5:4)
Intentionally voicing our gratitude to God and to each other prevents us from having some flimsy creed about God’s goodness and sovereignty that never finds expression. Giving of thanks enables us to begin receiving our kingdom-inheritance. And, when our hearts are made joyful (and therefore strong), God’s will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We must be clear that if we are grumbling verbally or inwardly we are living in creed-only and little (if any) light is being emitted.
The New Testament narrative in its entirety might be said to be the active waking-vision of our salvation, but here is one last specific wake up-word from Paul from Ephesians 5:
Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (vs. 21)
Those next to us are not there by happenstance. They are the appointed and specific recipients of those good works that were prepared beforehand that we should walk in. These very people are holy elements of God’s inheritance (and kingdom strategy) and whether we are awake to the fact or not, we are joined to them for eternal reasons that God wants us to be awakened to. With God, the bottom line is—always love. I can hear Jesus saying even now: “Are you going to sleep all night? No—you’ve slept long enough. Time’s up. Get up. Let’s get going.” I can also hear Paul say (in the present tense):
Be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. (Ephesians 5:1)
Father, expose our flimsy excuses and hollow creeds. Awaken us to the glory round about us. May our spirits fully awaken to who You are and what You are doing in our lives right now. Teach us to stay alert in prayer that we would not enter that arena of tempting slumber. Father, You who never slumber and never sleep, teach us to imitate You, living intentionally with our eyes wide open. Help us to convert our creeds into action, with our wise choices, making investments in that realm where moth and rust do not destroy. In the darkness that deepens, may the contrasting light of Christ be seen and draw many to you. Amen.