3. To be Endured

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 3. To be Endured

Heb 12:2 For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

In the first two meditations we considered how twice, as we’ve seen, the apostle Paul declared the vital importance of the crucifixion of Christ as the heart of the Gospel. There is also a sense within this verse from Hebrews of this same importance, but this time it was by Christ himself as perceived by the writer to the Hebrews.

There is within the words, “he endured the Cross” that same sense of its vital importance that we saw in Paul’s understanding and which we sense when we see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as first he says to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” (Mt 26:38) and then goes on to pray, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (v.39)

Clearly everything human in Jesus revolted at the thing that was in front of him, his crucifixion, and if there was a way out, he would have taken it, and yet there wasn’t because ultimately it was his Father’s will, the will of the Godhead agreed before the foundation of the world (e.g. 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 13:8). No, he could not just walk away from it, that was not an option, but it was not a thing to be looked forward to.

Without doubt, for Jesus this experience of being abused, of being rejected, of going through agony, of being separated in awareness from the Father, and of taking into himself the awfulness of our sins, all of this was something utterly horrible, something that militated against everything that he was, something to be endured, suffered, tolerated and put up with. There was nothing romantic about what he was doing, there is nothing romantic about the Cross; it is just a vital necessity for the salvation of mankind.

But the writer to the Hebrews puts the crucifixion in context, for it is part of the divine plan but it is not the end of it, merely a stage of the plan to be endured.   After the cross has got to come the resurrection (implied) and after that the ascension where he returns to heaven and again takes his place at the Father’s right hand. Jesus knows that that is what will follow and that will be a time of great rejoicing as the plan of salvation has moved a stage on and the way is open for the salvation of whoever will come. It is only the wonder of that part of the plan that holds Jesus and helps his resolve as a human being to go through this terrible stage immediately ahead of him. It is a vital necessity if mankind is to be saved, and yet it is terrible, something to be endured, something ghastly to be gone through and it is only what will follow, that helps him through it. Be silent before the Lord.

Walk of Shame

WALKING WITH GOD. No.35

1 Kings 14:27,28 So King Rehoboam made bronze shields to replace them and assigned these to the commanders of the guard on duty at the entrance to the royal palace. Whenever the king went to the LORD ‘s temple, the guards bore the shields, and afterward they returned them to the guardroom”

Perhaps one of the world’s greatest deceptions, being played out on a daily basis, is the deception that says, “I’m all right.” when in fact the individual knows deep down that they are not ‘all right’. The life that is being played out to the surrounding observers, family, friends or workmates, does everything it can to portray someone who is happy and in control. Life really begins when we face the truth, “I’m not all right, and I need help!” Until we come to that point, we are in fact living a life of shame. Something deep in us tells us that what we have is second best, or that we have failed, or that we need to try harder, or whatever else our past demands.

Rehoboam was king of Judah and Benjamin, a reign he had inherited from his father, Solomon. Under Solomon the nation had been great but as the years passed Solomon drifted away from the Lord and, as we’ve seen previously, the Lord took ten of the tribes from his son so that Rehoboam is left with only Judah and Benjamin. And then we read these awful words of indictment of Judah : “Judah did evil in the eyes of the LORD. By the sins they committed they stirred up his jealous anger more than their fathers had done. They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.(1 Kings 14:22-24) and Rehoboam did nothing about it!

What we next read is, In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem. He carried off the treasures of the temple of the LORD and the treasures of the royal palace. He took everything, including all the gold shields Solomon had made.(v.25,26). The king of Egypt was the Lord’s way of disciplining Rehoboam and Judah; it was a humbling process. We see this sort of thing again and again in the life of Judah or Israel. While they remained close to the Lord they were secure and had peace and freedom from attack from their neighbours. When they turned from the Lord, He allowed or sent their neighbours to attack them, as a means of bringing them back to Himself, exactly in accordance with the Law (Deut 28:25)

But Rehoboam is like so many of us. He wants to carry on as normal and pretend everything is all right, so we read, “So King Rehoboam made bronze shields to replace them and assigned these to the commanders of the guard on duty at the entrance to the royal palace.” (v.27) but bronze is not gold. Solomon had made these incredible solid gold shields for ceremonial purposes. They symbolized the wealth and prosperity that his wisdom had brought. Now an enemy was taken them and so Rehoboam, trying to maintain a semblance of normality, replaces them with bronze shields, because bronze is all he has left! Every time Rehoboam goes to the Temple, the guard takes the bronze ceremonial shields to accompany him. This is almost the equivalent of our Queen going to the State Opening of Parliament in a horse and cart because an enemy had taken her state coaches! This trip to the Temple is thus a walk of shame.

These shields are a constant reminder to Rehoboam of what they have lost. They didn’t have to carry shields but if they didn’t that would make it even worse, even more obvious what has happened, and so, to try and make things look normal, they carry these bronze shields. If you didn’t know any better bronze shields probably looked quite good and perhaps the next generation thought they were great – but they were not gold! Oh yes, then next generation may have come to accept them and think they were good, but Rehoboam knew the truth. He knew this was a walk of shame, he remembered the gleam of the wonderful solid gold shields of his father’s reign.

Gold or bronze? What are you living with? The Christian life is supposed to be gold. Gold represents holiness, purity, goodness, all the attributes of the Lord’s presence. That is what is supposed to be in our lives, but in its absence, like we’ve seen previously with Jeroboam, we provide substitutes to try to pretend everything is ‘all right’. Years later Jeremiah brought this accusation from the Lord, “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13). It was an accusation that said you have provided substitutes for Me, substitutes that are not up to the job! That’s the truth. No substitute can ever replace the reality of the Lord’s presence. That is what we need. Accept no substitutes!

3. Poor in Spirit

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 3

Mt 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

We live in a world that extols greatness, strength, power, beauty, cleverness. In various disciplines involving psychology we speak of building self-esteem. Indeed when writing on parenting skills we spend much time on the need to build the self-esteem of our children. We go on courses and build up our CV so that when we go for a new job we can say how good we are. We go through annual assessments that prove how we are not only doing our job but doing it better and better, and thus we seek for promotion. Everything about life in this world is about promoting self.

It is helpful to have this awareness of the world – and we do need reminding of it – particularly when we come to such fundamental teaching as found in our verse today. When I became a Christian I went to my nearest church and attended the Bible Study where, to my surprise, everyone seemed to say that this and the following verses were impossible and therefore weren’t for today! What they failed to realize is that it is impossible to experience this verse while holding on to the world’s values of pride and self-centredness. If this and the following verses come as a shock to us, it is because we have become so rooted in the way of the world, that we have lost true perspective.

These Beatitudes of Jesus are in a purposeful order. There is nothing haphazard about them, and this first one is absolutely foundational to the whole of becoming and being a Christian. It is absolutely critical! But please note that it doesn’t say, “Blessed are the Poor.” It is true that Luke, recording a similar set of teachings, says that (Lk 6:20) but Matthew picks up the emphasis – “in spirit”. There is no glorying in poverty in the Bible. In fact, part of God’s promises of blessings, as we noted yesterday, include the blessings of provision (Deut 28:4,5,11). The absence of such provisions were part of the curses on Israel (Deut 28:17,18,38-40). Oh no, this is not blessedness of material poverty, but blessedness of being poor in spirit.

This being poor in spirit, needs to be distinguished from simple poverty of spirit. Poverty of spirit is what the self-centred, godless person has, the person who says they have no knowledge of the spiritual world, no sense of God’s presence. This person has a poverty of spirit and seems to revel in it. The person who is poor in spirit is like that other person in that there is this absence of spirituality, but the big difference is that they are aware of it! Here is the crucial element – awareness.

The Old Testament gives us many examples: Moses – “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh” (Ex 3:11 ) and “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.(Ex 4:10). This was Moses’ attitude: who am I that I could do your bidding, I’m a nobody! Gideon: “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Jud 6:15 ). Similarly in Gideon – I’m a nobody!

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul rejected the things the world clings to, his pedigree (Phil 3:5), his abilities at work (3:6), all these things he considered rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ (3:8). In his first letter to the Corinthians he spelled out his ‘philosophy’: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.” (1 Cor 1:27,28). No, you don’t get into God’s kingdom by being strong or worldly wise, you get in by realizing, like Paul, that all these things are worthless, they count for nothing before God, He is not impressed.

How do you get into heaven? By trying hard? By working harder? By being pious? By being religious? No, by recognizing your spiritual poverty, recognizing that you are weak and poor and need God’s help, recognizing that without Christ you can do nothing (Jn 15:5), without Christ you are lost. That is the condition for getting to heaven, that you recognize your need and recognize that it is only fulfilled in Christ. Note that it isn’t mere humility which can be a simple recognition of limitedness. This being ‘poor in spirit’ seen in the context of the whole Bible teaching, is a recognition that we need Christ for salvation. I can get into heaven no other way.

Finally note that when I come to God like this, He promises that He will provide a way (and has provided a way) for me to come into His eternal presence – and that starts the moment I come to Him like that. Eternal life starts the moment we come to God recognizing our need, and recognizing that God has provided the means of satisfying that need through Christ, through His death on the Cross and by the life of his Spirit. Here on earth we get glimpses of heaven as Jesus expresses himself. When we die on this earth, our eternal future is in that other dimension, in the presence of God, called heaven.

Not only do we need to realize that to become a Christian, but if we are to go on with God then we need to be reminded of it again and again. Like Moses and Gideon and Paul, I’m not up to the job, I’m not even up to the Christian life on my own, I constantly need Christ’s help day by day. When I recognize this and turn to him, then suddenly there is a new heavenly dimension to my life, suddenly the power and presence of God’s presence through Jesus, through his Spirit, breaks through in me and in my circumstances. That is how important this verse is. It points to the requirement for us both becoming a Christian and living life as a Christian. Our starting point is a point of recognition, of realization, of awareness. May it be so!