“Take this in remembrance of me, Christ had said. Participate in the suffering of Christ, Paul had said. And yet Americans turned forgetting into a kind of spiritual badge, refusing to look at suffering for fear they might catch it like a disease. They turned the death of Christ into soft fuzzy Sunday-school pictures and refused to let those pictures get off the page and walk bloody into their minds. They stripped Christ of his dignity by ignoring the brutality of his death. It was no different from turning away from a puffy-faced leper in horror. The epitome of rejection. Some would even close the book here in a huff and return to their knitting. Perhaps they would knit nice soft images of a cross.”
from “When Heaven Weeps: Newly Repackaged Novel from The Martyr’s Song Series (The Heaven Trilogy Book 2)” by Ted Dekker
You know – I get this. I totally get this.
Even when I was young – like preteen and teenager – the book of Acts used to scare me so much.
It was like – what if God wants me to be like Paul!? I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that. No way!!!
And then when things started happening to me – bad things – it was really like “Why are You doing this to me?”
I couldn’t deal with it.
For me, it wasn’t just the blood of Jesus. Not like that’s anything I should even use the word “just” with. But I was young. And it was Paul that scared me to death. I knew I’d never be asked to be Jesus. But Paul – that’s a different story. And it’s not like Paul was the only follower of Jesus that suffered. Heck – they all did. I din’t want that.
It never occurred to me to do what the quote above says – to make it into a “soft fuzzy Sunday-school picture”. Probably because there was already so much fear in my life – and this was just one more thing to be afraid of. But I did get the part about “look(ing) at suffering for fear they might catch it like a disease.” It was a disease I didn’t want to catch. No way. I didn’t need any more suffering. I never did get the “spiritual badge” because I never could forget. I certainly did close the book – more than a few times. But the image of suffering and the fear that went with it – I couldn’t get rid of that.
So what changed?
I think part of the problem was that I’d never really been introduced to God. The “whole God”.
Sure – I knew about the God of the Old Testament – the God of vengeance. But I never really understood just how many chances the people had – and how they had so many opportunities to avoid the wrath of God. But they had chosen not to. I never really understood the concept of true justice. After all – at that age, we still think we can do anything and get out of the consequences – if we even believe there really are actual consequences. Some of us seem to never grow out of that stage.
And yes – I knew about Jesus. How He loved us. And how He talked about how much the Father loved us. And I really wanted that – so much!
So then – why, if I was trying to follow Him and wanted Him so badly – why all the suffering? Should I not be rewarded for what I was doing? Back to “Why are You doing this to me”?
Back then, I was Catholic. At least in those days, the book of Acts was called “The Acts of the Apostles”.
Somewhere along the line – I started to learn about the Holy Spirit.
It’s really amazing it took as long as it did. I mean – His importance is so obvious. And I’d read these lines so many times –
Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
Jn 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
Jn 14:22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jn 14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Jn 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Jn 14:28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30 I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31 but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
“Come now; let us leave.
… and …
The Work of the Holy Spirit
Jn 16:5 “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10 in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
Jn 16:12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
Jn 16:16 “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”
John 14:27 was even one of the most important verses to me back then –
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
– and it was right in the middle of Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit. And yet – while I hung on to that one verse, I never paid the same attention to the verses on either side of that one that was so important.
Maybe that’s why context is so important to me now. Too often, we read an entire passage – hang on to one piece of it – and then proceed to forget everything around it. As if parts of what Jesus said are important – and the rest of His words don’t carry as much weight. The thing is – given that any written document back then, as much as possible, had to fit on one piece of papyrus. If a written document was longer than that – another piece of Papyrus was needed, which made reading more difficult. For one thing – you had to know which piece it was on. And if you were going to read from that document – people were waiting (hopefully patiently) while you found your starting place. It’s not like you could flip through pages to find what you were looking for. There was a long scroll. If you were looking for something on a multi-scroll document – and you had picked up the wrong scroll – you wouldn’t know until you had searched the whole thing! And then you have to pick up another one and start the search all over. I don’t even like flipping through pages – all my stuff is on a computer, where I can either go directly to the verse (if I remember it) or at worst search for some key words and then go right to that.
Anyway – after a bit of historical trivia –
the point of all that was to say each of the Gospels fits on once scroll of Papyrus. Everything Jesus had said and done while He was on this earth had to be condensed to fit on one piece of Papyrus that was in use at that time. There was no such thing as loose leaf notebooks. No such thing as a printing press – where one merely needed to print more pages. No such thing as unlimited data from Microsoft or Google. I don’t know how they did it back then – managed to write something so important in so few words. (Actually – I do know – but that part’s coming.)
On that one piece of Papyrus – they had to get their point across. There was no more room. There was no room for even a single word that wasn’t important. Every word was important. Every word is worth reading, understanding, and living.
So what changed?
Somewhere along the line, I began to discover the missing part of God – missing to me – and missing to so many people.
Francis Chan calls Him “The Forgotten God”. That would be The Holy Spirit. If you haven’t read this book yet – I highly encourage you to get it – read it – and really learn just how important the Holy Spirit is.
I said earlier – as a Catholic – I knew the book of Acts as the “Acts of the Apostles”.
In at least the Protestant Bibles I’ve read – it’s merely called “Acts”.
I came to believe that both names are not really “correct”.
Now, I can’t imagine why it’s not called the “Acts of The Holy Spirit”.
Maybe because back then it would have been called “Acts of The Holy Ghost”?
The whole naming thing – it’s weird.
The Father – we sometimes we just call Him God. Other times – the Father. But we always know He’s not an “it”.
The Son – sometimes we call Him the Son of God. Usually Jesus, or Christ, or both. But we always know He’s not an “it”.
The Holy Spirit – too often we ignore Him – and too often when we talk about the Holy Spirit – we use the word “it”. It’s not very personal. And it is very wrong. He’s not an “it” either.
Acts of The Holy Spirit
For me – I feel that it’s the Holy Spirit who is the key to so many things in our lives.
What the Apostles did in those days – recorded in Acts and in the rest of the letters in the New Testament – those weren’t “just” the acts of people. And it wasn’t just the Apostles. It was all the believers.
But again – it wasn’t just the people. It was the people – filled with the Holy Spirit.
As Christians, we are also supposed to have the Holy Spirit in us.
I should rephrase that.
As Christians, we are also
supposed to have the Holy Spirit in us.
But do we “act” like it? (yes – pun very much intended)
Do we even acknowledge His presence in us?
Look what Paul wrote about the Holy Spirit in his first letter to the Corinthians –
Wisdom From the Spirit
1Co 2:6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 However, as it is written:
“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
1Co 2:16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
Yeah – we have the mind of Christ!
So why don’t we use the mind of Christ that’s in us?
We read things like this –
Jn 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
And we remember this line –
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
And we think about how great the people are who do this.
But would we do it?
Do we actually believe that Jesus means this to be for each and every one of us?
Do we even know what it means?
To learn something about this, let’s look at another thing Jesus said. This is from when He raised Lazarus from the dead. It’s a long story – and I don’t want to include it here. If you need a refresher on what happened, it’s in John 11:1 to John 11:43.
In the middle of all that, Jesus says this while comforting Martha and Mary – Lazarus’ sisters –
Jn 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Let’s look at some words in there:
- life – from when Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life”.
1 life. 1A the state of one who is possessed of vitality or is animate. 1B every living soul. 2 life. 2A of the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God, and through him both to the hypostatic “logos” and to Christ in whom the “logos” put on human nature. 2B life real and genuine, a life active and vigorous, devoted to God, blessed, in the portion even in this world of those who put their trust in Christ, but after the resurrection to be consummated by new accessions (among them a more perfect body), and to last for ever. 1)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
We see here a distinction between “life” before and after the resurrection – after the resurrection to be consummated by new accessions (among them a more perfect body), and to last for ever.
Given the context of Jesus’ statement, it’s reasonable to believe He was talking about post-resurrection life.
- live – from “He who believes in me will live”.
1 to live, breathe, be among the living (not lifeless, not dead). 2 to enjoy real life. 2A to have true life and worthy of the name. 2B active, blessed, endless in the kingdom of God. 3 to live i.e. pass life, in the manner of the living and acting. 3A of mortals or character. 4 living water, having vital power in itself and exerting the same upon the soul. 5 metaph. to be in full vigour. 5A to be fresh, strong, efficient,. 5B as adj. active, powerful, efficacious. 2)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Again, we see this word point to life after our resurrection. There are concepts such as “to have true life and worthy of the name” and “to have true life and worthy of the name”. These are clearly pointing to Jesus and eternal life with Him.
- die – from “even though he dies”.
1 to die. 1A of the natural death of man. 1B of the violent death of man or animals. 1C to perish by means of something. 1D of trees which dry up, of seeds which rot when planted. 1E of eternal death, to be subject to eternal misery in hell. 3)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
The first part obviously is talking about the death of the physical body.
We do need to pay attention to the “1E” definition, which talks about eternal death. Note – eternal death is for those who don’t believe in Jesus. And since Jesus has clearly said He is talking only about someone who does believe in Him – this particular sub-definition does not apply here.
- lives – from “whoever lives and believes in me”.
This is the same word as “live” in item 2. It’s pointing to life after our resurrection.
- die – from “believes in me will never die”.
This is the same word as in “die” from item 3. It’s pointing to physical death, as in the heart is no longer beating.
So – Jesus is clearly talking about physical death here – and how when we believing in Him, we will still go through physical death, but will also have eternal (true) life with Him after we’re resurrected.
Now – let’s get back to
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
What does Jesus mean for this word “life” – as in laying down our life?
Let’s start with the definition of the word, from the original Greek –
1 breath. 1A the breath of life. 1A1 the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing. 1A1A of animals. 1A12 of men. 1B life. 1C that in which there is life. 1C1 a living being, a living soul. 2 the soul. 2A the seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions (our heart, soul etc.). 2B the (human) soul in so far as it is constituted that by the right use of the aids offered it by God it can attain its highest end and secure eternal blessedness, the soul regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life. 2C the soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death (distinguished from other parts of the body). 4)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Interesting. With the first definitions – it appears Jesus is talking about what we’ve referred to as “physical life”- as in tradition death.
But keep going. By the time we get to definition 2C – that meaning of “physical life” and traditional death is pretty much gone. Now we’re into eternal life – and physical death isn’t even in the picture. How can this be?
Are you willing to die?
You may have noticed the source of the quote at the top of the page. It’s from one of the books in a series called “The Martyr’s Song”, by Ted Dekker. I’ve picked out a few quotes from the books and written about them. More are coming. This is a series of books that – if we allow it – really forces us to think about ourselves. Some people don’t like his books because of the violence. But life is violent. After reading the part about fuzzy Sunday-school pictures, I can’t help but wonder if we don’t do that to a lot of life. And miss so many things because of it.
One question that keeps coming up in this series is when people are asked – by the Holy Spirit – “are you willing to die?” – or some variation of it.
That part about being “willing” to die is important.
Remember when we looked at Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. I gave the definition. And it wasn’t completely clear.
Let’s look a but deeper into what that phrase about laying down our lives really means.
(an idiom, literally ‘to lay down one’s life’) to die, with the implication of voluntary or willing action—‘to die voluntarily, to die willingly.’ τὴν ψυχήν σου ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ θήσεις; ‘are you ready to die for me?’ Jn 13:38. Though in English the phrases ‘to lay down one’s life’ or ‘to give one’s life’ do suggest a voluntary dying, a literal rendering of such expressions in other languages would not necessarily imply the same. It may therefore be necessary to use such expressions as ‘to die willingly’ or ‘to die without resisting.’ In some languages ‘willingly’ is expressed primarily as a negation of objecting, for example, ‘I will not object to dying.’ 5)Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 265). New York: United Bible Societies.
When I saw this – I wasn’t surprised. Actually – I was expecting it – and would have been disappointed if it hadn’t been there.
Laying down our life wasn’t really meant to mean that we will suffer physical death.
Greater love can be shown without physically dying.
However – this greater love cannot be shown without being willing to die.
Willing to die for Jesus.
Willing to die for someone else as well.
Willing to die so that another person can some to know what we already know – that Jesus is the way.
Jesus told us this –
The Great Commission
Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We cannot really fulfill that commission unless we are willing to die in order to deliver the message.
Maybe that means physical death.
Maybe that means the death or our current lifestyle –
because we aren’t living what we teach –
because don’t want to live what we teach –
and that’s not going to work.
Maybe that means some of our friendships die.
Maybe that means we die a death of embarrassment –
because people will attack us for what we believe.
Jesus told us that would happen.
Maybe it’s another kind of death I haven’t put here.
Whatever “death” means in the context of our lives –
if we aren’t even willing to die that death –
then we cannot really deliver the message.
Don’t believe it?
The Wise and Foolish Builders
7:24-27 pp — Lk 6:47-49
Mt 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Mt 7:28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Did you catch the last part?
the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
It wasn’t just Jesus’ words.
It was the authority with which He said the words.
He was willing to die for what He was teaching. (And for so much more.)
In fact – He knew He was going to die because of what He was teaching.
If we aren’t even willing to maybe die in the process of what we’re teaching –
then we are certainly not going to deliver our message with authority.
At least not with His authority.
Not with the authority of the Holy Spirit within us.
And if we deliver the message with a false sense of authority,
one of two things are most likely to happen –
the message will be ignored, because people see through us,
or we will lead people down the wrong path –
delivering them not to eternal life, but to the second death.
Jesus said of the bread and the wine at the Last Supper –
Lk 22:17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
Lk 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Lk 22:20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
He wants us to remember this.
He wants us to remember that He died. For us. For the message He brought to us.
And – for better or for worse – He wants us to deliver His message to others.
When you receive Communion (hopefully you actually do, on a regular basis) – do you remember all of these things?
When you receive Communion do you remember not only that Jesus died for us,
but that Jesus wants us to remember to deliver His message to the ends of the earth –
and that Jesus is reminding us that, unlike Him, we won’t necessarily die (although we might) in the process –
but we absolutely must be at least willing to die for this?
Am I willing to die?
Some of the “deaths” I’ve written about – yes – I have already “died” them.
Even the “death” of giving up my job because He wanted me to do that.
Physical death? I pray that if it’s asked of me – I’d say I’m ready.
Are you willing to die?
References [ + ]
|1, 2, 3, 4.||↑||Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.|
|5.||↑||Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 265). New York: United Bible Societies.|