Jesus said to those who wished to know why he did what he did, “Search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, but they are they which testify of me”. This was a statement that the early interpreters of the Bible took seriously and it is a principle which we would do well to recover.
You see, all too often when we approach a passage of scripture, we do so with what I can only call our post-enlightenment self-centeredness. That is, we don’t look to see Christ as the main topic of what we read, but rather, we are much more concerned to see how we fit into the picture. With a self-assurance born of Voltaire and Rousseau, topped up in more recent times by Ellen, Oprah and The View, we are convinced that our problems, our concerns, and yes, even our spiritual longings, are, somehow, at the center of the created order and, therefore, even in the Bible, must be the main focus of what we read or what we hear. Thus, when we read a parable that tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who sells all that he has to buy one pearl of great price, or a field in which a treasure is buried, we immediately conclude that we are intended to be the main character in the story. It’s about us. We are the merchants who have cleverly discovered the treasure. We can take the action to claim it for ourselves.
Yet, to paraphrase Our Lord, from the beginning it was not so. In the first four hundred years of the Church, the interpretation of scripture was cruciform, that is, each page of the Bible was seen as having been indelibly marked by Christ and his Cross, by the giving of his life for us. It was not our longing for God that was seen in the pages of scripture, but his longing for us. Christ is the one who impoverished himself and paid the price in blood to purchase a single pearl of inestimable worth – the Church… you and me. He is the one who gave all that he possessed on Golgotha to purchase a field, the world, in which we, the Church, lay buried in trespasses and sins. Yet, in the eyes of God’s love, we were a treasure, waiting to be revealed.
So it is with the story of the widow and her offering in the temple. Jesus observes the scene as various people come forward to present gifts. As we read the story, we tend to focus upon the two types of religious people whom Christ describes. The first type includes the scribes, the doctors of the law, who make a pretense of religious practices and the wealthy who make a great show out of giving offerings from their abundance. The second type is a widow, who by the standard of the world seems to have given very little, two copper coins, but in reality she has given more than anyone, for she has sacrificed her entire living – her very life.
Now, we could, very easily, attempt to identify ourselves, or people we know, with the two types of religious persons indicated by Christ. However, I’m going to ask you to do something else. I’m going to ask you, just for a moment, to become an Augustine, an Athanasius, an Origen, a John Chrysostom. I’m going to ask you to forget about yourself, to travel back through the centuries, and to attempt another interpretation of this story. I’m going to ask you to place the shadow of the Cross on this page of your Bibles.
God, who possesses all that is, by right of creation, could have chosen, with great show and fanfare, to have given us some gift out of his abundance. He did not so choose. Instead, he became like the widow, bereft of the love of his spouse, and gave us all that he had. In the person of Christ, without trumpets and without fanfare, on a rough hewn cross, hidden from the sight of the mighty and the powerful, he gave us his very life.
Now in certain theological schemes, what God did makes sense. For some, it makes sense that Jesus would be our sacrifice, because a sacrifice was needed to justify man’s presence before God. For others, it makes sense that God would use this final gift of himself to show us our need for grace. For yet others, it makes sense that the incarnation would lead to this death and that upon the cross Christ would be our Great High Priest. In all these schemes, what God did makes sense. It can be taught, charted and put in books on systematic theology.
However, why God did it, is as absurd as a widow who casts her last two coins into an offering box. When one leaves the action and examines the motive, the carefully stacked blocks of logic and system begin to tumble. This type of love is not logical. It cannot be neatly outlined in a sermon, or explained in a term paper, or held between the covers of a book. It is why all theological systems ultimately fall short, for while we try to explain, God simply gives.
Even after generations of people had rejected his gifts, God still loved them. Even after the people he loved had stripped him naked and torn his flesh, he still died for them. Even today, as countless millions have chosen to bow before the altars of power, of fame, and of wealth, he still waits for them.
It is as inexplicable as the widow’s gift. It doesn’t possess a drop of logic or a thread of rationality.
All given, nothing held back. Assuming all humanity at his incarnation. Bloodstained royalty. A God with tears. A Creator with a heart. God becoming impoverished… a mockery… all to save us, his children.
How absurd to even imagine such a thing… that the God of all creation would go to such lengths of poverty to share such a treasure with such thankless souls…
Yet, this is exactly what he did.
In fact, the only thing more astounding than that gift born of love, is our stubborn unwillingness to receive it.
1. Jackie Alnor felt the need to do an entire podcast on Phil Naessens “apostasy” and the end of our podcast. To my knowledge, she spoke to neither one of us about the matter beforehand.
The first thing I’d like to note is that if she had spoken to me, she would have got some facts straight.
She repeats the old lie that the reason I left Calvary Chapel is because I became a Calvinist.
When I left CC, I did not even know what a Calvinist was.
I left because I was thrown out for questioning the gross immorality and sin that was eating the leadership alive, sin that would take everyone involved into chaos just a few years later.
Second, she says that since my transition to Anglicanism, I’m no longer a Calvinist, as if the two were mutually exclusive. In truth, some of the greatest scholars of Anglicanism were Calvinists, J.I. Packer and John Stott to name two. I no longer choose to identify as a Calvinist, but I certainly have a deep appreciation for what I gleaned from that tradition. To me, Anglicanism is about how we worship, not the broad theological turf we occupy.
Third, I don’t view Phil in a negative light or as an “apostate”. I do miss the podcast and it concerns me when anyone “leaves the faith”. However, I’m fully confident that God can and will leave the 99 to retrieve the one…this story isn’t over yet…I don’t know when our stories actually end…
2. To pretend that stories such as the ones about Job and the Flood are not difficult to parse in light of the love of God is as strange as the stories themselves…
3. I don’t trust anyone who hasn’t thought about leaving the faith at one time or another…sometimes the only reason I stay is that I don’t know where else to go…the disciples had the same problem…
4. Someone who’s never been disappointed with God has probably never hoped in God…I think it’s part of growing up in God…
5. Spare me the nonsense that those hurt in the church are at fault for not keeping their eyes on Jesus…the church is the Body of Christ and His representative on earth…what we do matters and reflects on Him…
6. Protesting a perceived lack of decency by becoming more indecent yourself doesn’t make sense, but is how we interact politically…
7. In Matthew 25 was Jesus preaching a “social gospel”? Asking for a friend…
8. I think Russell Moore has a prophetic ministry…his best work will come after his enemies get him fired…
9. Whenever the Bible speaks of the number of the redeemed, it’s always a “multitude that no one can number”. It makes no such numerical claims about the lost…think about it…
10. A friend sent me an instant message at 1:30 in the morning the other night to tell me that a new book by Charles Bowden had been released. I’d finished reading it by 5:00 that morning…I’m reminded again of the power of words and why I try to write. A well placed word or turn of a phrase is infinitely more powerful than being cruel and profane for the sake of shocking someone with your inability to communicate otherwise…
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”
- Who are these 144,000? The OT view of those sealed seen in the listing of the tribes.
- Who are the unnumbered multitudes? The NT view from Acts – the reversal of the Tower of Babel.
14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
- When John says “Sir, you know – what he is saying is “heck if I know.”
- Note the present tense of those coming out of the great tribulation.
- What creates the great tribulation? Where Christ is preached causes great tribulation. This is a direct attack on Satan and his minions – and they will fight back.
- We see great and puzzling imagery as John states that you make your clothes white by washing them in red blood.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
- Therefore = go back to the previous section.
- The result of being washed in the blood of the lamb.
- Verses 15-17 is a picture of all who are in Christ – the entire church of all time and from all places.
- This is not just those who have died and are in heaven, but also those who have not yet died — all Christians, living and dead.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
- This language makes you think back to the Israelites wandering in the desert – fed with manna – water from the traveling rock – protection from the weather – clothes and shoes that do not wear out.
- The protection is coming from the one who occupies the tabernacle, the one who spreads his tent over them – the one who sits on the throne (v15).
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
- The reason for all we see in v16 is that the Lamb is there – he is the center, the Lamb who is slain. He is not only the good shepherd but he is our shepherd and he gave up his life for the sheep (John 10).
- Now for the paradox – who ever heard of a lamb leading the flock? Who ever heard of the lamb being the shepherd?
Closing Note: This could be a note of introduction that could be placed anywhere in the Book of Revelation, but my attention was drawn by the last 3 verses of this chapter (15-17).
- The readers need to be awakened to know and understand their Old Testament. Without a clear understanding, the best you can do is guess what Revelation is about. Many who do not take the time to clothe themselves in the OT tend to look in all the wrong places for meaning. This is why it is so easy in the 21st century to run first to Hal Lindsey or the Left Behind books, rather than spending 2 yrs in deep OT study before ever entering the book.
- Sad to say, but this is why it is so easy for these sensational writers to prey on the uninitiated. This is why in the recent past, books on rapture theology filled our bookstores.
- Revelation is filled with if not all OT quotations, but allusions to the OT writings.
- Language of the OT is front and center in Revelation and the one familiar is able to connect the dots.
- The beginning of Revelation states that this is the revelation of Jesus Christ. All of the OT language and imagery we now know is fulfilled in Christ – this is the heavenly life we now have in Christ.
I was very disappointed to see my old podcast partner make this statement on his blog;
“It’s amazing how people believe we should take care of illegal aliens yet don’t seem to care about the LEGAL citizens in our country. Including the homeless.”
Let me preface my response by first saying this. One of the things that struck me again on my latest hospital visit is that someday I’ll go in and won’t come home. It’s just the way life works…it ends in death for all of us. When that happens and my tiny legacy is debated the one thing that I hope is clear is that I tried to live according to what I believe and I didn’t shirk away from issues simply because they were unpopular. If I don’t speak, there’s no sense in being here now…
Back to Phil’s statement…which I regularly see said by others as well.
Phil, I can care about more than one thing.
As a matter of fact, when one cares deeply about any social issue concerning marginalized people it expands the heart to care about all marginalized people.
Thus, I can advocate for immigration reform and a merciful and just solution for undocumented people and have plenty of room in my heart to care about our homeless, our veterans, our mentally ill, our poor, our hungry, and any others who are suffering and need advocacy.
For me, my faith demands I do so as well.
I believe with everything in me that if one is following Jesus that He will always lead us to the places on the fringe of society where the outcasts dwell.
So, please continue to advocate for your homeless friend and others like him who cross your path….but please don’t shoot at people who are advocating for different people who need it as well.
I know your heart is larger than that…
Huge thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…
In the nineteenth century, William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite designer and writer, published a poem entitled ‘Love is Enough’. The literary editor of the London Times is said to have reviewed it succinctly with the following lines: “Mr. Morris of Kelmscott Manor, Hammersmith, has presented us with a popular sentiment in the poem ‘Love is Enough’. It isn’t.”
On the twentieth anniversary of its broadcast, a BBC documentary crew interviewed over thirty people who had been involved with The Beatles world wide telecast in 1969 of the song, ‘All You Need Is Love’. They were asked if they still believed it. Not one of those questioned were willing to respond with a simple “yes”. In fact, the qualifications of the respondents were a remarkable testimony to the process of growing older. It was, “All you need is love… and common sense”; or, love and political power” ; or, “love and environmental consciousness…” The list went on almost ad inifinitum and, certainly ad nauseum. Truly, the years have taken their toll. Maybe Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead summed it up best when he said, “It’s hard to believe it any more… I mean, after all, The Beatles said ‘all you need is love’, then they broke up… and spent the next ten years suing each other.”
Yet, in almost every Anglican Eucharist around the world, one hears the very familiar words of Jesus that seem to tell us that love is enough, that it really is all that we need.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Yet, have we ever considered the fact that what we are commanded to do by Christ is patently impossible?
Permit me to illustrate. Many years ago, as a new and relatively naive believer, I was invited by a friend to attend a church service. Now, this was not a lovely neo-Gothic Anglican church with a choir. Instead, it was an evangelical, charismatic congregation which occupied a small storefront. The pastor of the congregation was attired in a mint green polyester leisure suit. The white patent leather shoes and belt completed the ensemble. I think you get the picture. Half way through the service came the time for the offering. Having spent much time in fervent and ecstatic prayer, the pastor announced to the assembly that God had spoken to him and told him that each person in the congregation was to give all the money which they had on them for the offering. Although a bit skeptical, I was, as I said, somewhat naive. If God had told him, who was I to say no? I emptied the contents of my wallet into the plate as it passed. Then came the sermon. It was actually rather good. At its conclusion, the pastor announced that those who wanted a cassette tape of the sermon could purchase it for five dollars at the rear of the hall after the last hymn. I was confused. If God wanted me to give all my money in the offering, where was I supposed to get the money to buy the tape?
We face the same dilemma with the command of Our Lord. If I love God with everything – with my mind, my soul, my heart and my strength – what is left with which I might love my neighbor as myself? If I give God all that I am, what remains for anyone else? Where do I find the love to do what I have been told to do?
In this, as in so many matters, we are not the first ones to ask the question. In fact, the answer has been written out for our instruction. In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, there is a section simply entitled A Catechism. Some confirmands in the past had to memorize portions of this simple set of questions and answers. In that part of the catechism which deals with this command of Christ we read these words: “My good child, know this; thou are not able to do these things of thyself nor to walk in the commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.” You see, we can’t summon up this extraordinary love within ourselves. It has to come from another source.
The source is God. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us…” To grasp hold of the meaning of this love we must begin not with a mystical experience manufactured from within, or even with our love for God as our creator. We must begin at the real beginning, with love as the essence of the Holy Trinity. St. Augustine realized this when he wrote on the verse “God is love”, for here is God the Father as the Lover, his only begotten Son as the beloved, and the Holy Spirit as the very bond of love itself. This primal Trinitarian love is offered as a gift – THE GIFT.
You see, in God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only an abundance that freely desires to give. The contention of St. Anselm that God was under no necessity to create the universe is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential. Without it we can hardly avoid the idea of what one might call a “managerial God” – a distant being whose function or nature is to run the world, like some celestial Swiss hotelier. Yet, to be the sovereign of all creation is no great matter to God. He is sovereign of greater realms than we might ever imagine. We might keep before our eyes the vision of Dame Julian of Norwich in which God holds in his hand a little object like a hazelnut, and that nut was ‘all that is made”.
God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures for no other reason than that he might love them and bring them to himself. In eternity past, at the dawn of creation, he brings them into being, already seeing the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the hands and feet, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body rises and falls upon the cross bar. He loves us into creation, knowing full well that we will place the object of his greatest love, his beloved Son, upon that crooked tree. As C.S. Lewis has written, “This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.” This is the source and spring of all that we might wish to call love, whether for God or neighbor.
So, perhaps William Morris was right, and the literary editor of the London Times was wrong. Love is enough. Yet, “herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loves us…”
2. I spent a couple of hours waiting in a packed emergency room before being admitted and saw what my community looks like through a different lens.
Half the people were there for emotional or mental health issues and there were a couple elderly folks who I think were there because they were terribly afraid and lonely. One woman laid on the floor yelling “I hurt”!…vocalizing the feelings of most of us inside the hospital and out. It was as if they’d never heard of Jesus….why are so many falling though the cracks?
3. Whatever they pay nurses is not enough…
4. True story…I was supposed to stay another night, but my iPhone was almost dead and I didn’t have a charger…so I convinced them to let me out…
5. When I was in triage I noted to the nurse what a madhouse the waiting area was. He responded by saying “we’ll never turn anyone away”…it was a matter of fact and honor. I may put that over the front door of the church…
6. The staff of an ER knows that everyone they encounter at work is sick, hurt, scared, and broken and they act accordingly. Perhaps we need to do like wise when we’re not in the hospital and see if it helps…
7. Be intentional about blessing people that serve you wherever they work…most folks curse them and a kind word and thanks mean more than you know…
8. You know that you finally have more wisdom than pride when you allow them to use a wheelchair to take you out of the hospital…
9. One of the things that endeared the nurses to me was that they listened to me and by their responses, indicated they heard me. I might try doing that for others myself now that I’m out…
10. Finally, there were a lot of people in a lot of different areas that took care of me. All of them where necessary in their own way and without any of them,my care would have suffered. Behold…that’s a perfect picture of how the church is supposed to work. You matter…a lot…