Naked Before God, part 2

Last time we came to an important understanding in this study of the metaphor that is nakedness before God and that understanding is that we are always naked before Him, for none of us has or ever will have secrets from Him, for He knows all.

A sobering thought for anyone.

Yet when we voluntarily bare all before God, when we take away our pretense, our pride and our coverings and come into His presence in humble submission, holding nothing back, amazing things happen, and we become “naked and unashamed”.

There is a very fundamental reason for this; actually it is a theological reason that is elegant in its simplicity: we were created for the purpose of intimate relationship with our Creator. What is all the more amazing is the fact that this is true of us both individually and collectively, and it is why marriage between a man and woman is used in Scripture as a metaphor to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His Church: It is the most intimate of all relationships.

Many times over the years, I have had the opportunity to speak with Christian leaders in academia, in well-known ministries and in local churches, and I have often been surprised that these leaders, as amazing as many of them are, focus on all of the wrong things. They focus on doctrinal points, which may or may not be important, or they may focus on traditions of corporate worship or worship style or preaching style… or they may debate the best kind of microphone to use in preaching.

Yet none of these things bring about an intimate relationship.

To be naked before God means that these kinds of things fall into their proper places, that we gain better perspective on what our priorities should be, for the highest priority of any Christian should be their relationship with our Lord, their intimate, bare-all-in-humility relationship with our Lord.

I’ve worked with a fair number of married couples who have marital difficulties, and almost without exception the ones who couldn’t resolve their issues failed for one of two reasons: Either they did not trust one another, or one or both of them lacked humility in some way. Of course this should surprise no one, for marriage is the most intimate of human relationships; it is physically intimate, emotionally intimate and it is mentally intimate. Intimacy of this kind requires complete trust, and complete trust requires a fair degree of humility, for one does not gain the trust of another by setting him or herself above the other. God created humanity for an intimate relationship, and when things went south, He was willing to go to extreme measures to redeem us; there He stands, arms wide open. Do we trust Him enough to run to Him and have a “naked and unashamed” relationship?

When all is said and done in this life, and we are on our deathbeds, the only thing that really counts is our answer to that last question.

Next time, I’d like to expand the scope of this discussion and transition from the abstract into the practical. In the meantime, please share your comments, observations and insight…

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Where the Past and Present Come Together

This past weekend my wife and I traveled to Charleston, Illinois to spend the weekend with family. On Friday evening we drove to Mattoon, Illinois to pick up some others who were arriving by train from Chicago and we found a little treasure trove when we arrived there, the Mattoon Depot.

The depot opened in January of 1918 and is currently in the last phase of restoration. I noticed as we awaited the arrival that they had a small museum that would be open the next day (Saturday) so we made plans to return the next day.

The Friday evening train arrived, and away we drove…

The train schedule on Saturday is a bit light, and as we arrived right after a tain had departed, we basically had the place to ourselves for a while. I’m guessing that there hasn’t been a gift shop behind this door for quite some time…

The Mattoon Depot was and is a stop for the legendary “City of New Orleans” passenger train that was operated by the Illinois Central Railroad between Chicago and New Orleans beginning in 1947, and was the setting for the song by the same name written by Steve Goodman and recorded by many artists, most notably Arlo Guthrie in the ‘70’s.

As I looked around the waiting room, a thought hit me… I wondered how many young men said their goodbyes to family and loved ones in this room and left here to go off to war, never to be seen again. Then on a happier note, how many have been reunited with loved ones in this same room upon their return?

The old ticket counter is quiet now; tickets are purchased on the internet these days…

At one time there was a café here; I took this picture of an old photo in a museum exhibit…

I also noticed an odd thing: They have a poster advertising the New York Central Railroad hanging in here. I rather doubt anything like that went on in the IC days, but I really like those old art deco posters, even if it is the wrong railroad.

I always enjoy visiting places like this, because if you let your mind wander a little more thn usual, if you let your imagination go out on a longer leash than usual, you can see quite a bit more than might meet the eye at first.

That was certainly true at the Mattoon Depot.

Indestructible Life

maine

When Jesus went to the cross to pay the price for our sins, it was the greatest event in all of history, but it was surpassed only a couple of days later when He burst forth from the grave; in shedding His blood on the cross, He paid the price; in bursting forth from the grave, He paved our way!

Because of this, we have the hope that just as He arose from death, so shall we.

It’s really just like the picture.  Can you see the sun bursting forth from the horizon?  Yes, Jesus did just that.  In the Bible, the seas, raging, tossing, churning… represent the world in which we live as it tosses, turns and rolls in its futility.

From this raging and crazy world, we shall burst forth toward the heavenly realm because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and by bursting forth from the tomb by the power of His indestructible life.

A Few Final Thoughts on Mark

I didn’t want our tour through the gospel of Mark to end; I was having too much fun. But alas, there are only 16 chapters. You might have noticed that there are more verses in chapter 16 than I have actually covered, for I haven’t posted on 16:9 ff.

I have decided to leave these alone, for I am really not so sure that they belong; they aren’t included in the older manuscripts, and my best guess (and “guess” is all I have) is that they were added later to complete the story in light of the endings in the other three gospels.  In this, they seem to me to accurately reflect the truth of Scripture and the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but I doubt Mark put them there. With that said, let me reiterate that I could be mistaken on this point.

None of that takes away from the amazing impact of Mark’s gospel. His pithy writing style leaves out a great deal of the detail surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus that is found in the other three, but in doing this, Mark’s is also easier to follow for someone who isn’t well versed in either the Old Testament or in theology generally, and that is a great contribution.

The Kingdom of Heaven is much discussed in Christian circles today. Did Jesus establish that kingdom when He was on the earth, or did something go wrong, and He’ll try again when He returns? This is a question that persists to this day, particularly when we sit down together with our brothers and sisters with fundamentalist or evangelical perspective. Our answer to this question colors the way we perceive Scripture itself, and this has been true for several centuries now.

When I read Mark, I see a vibrant and dynamic Kingdom at work in Jesus’ ministry, and I see it as having been established at His death, burial and resurrection. I see it continuing throughout the centuries that have elapsed since that time, sometimes more and sometimes less actively than others as the Kingdom ebbs and flows on this earth. I believe that God is willing and anxious for it to flow always, just as Jesus Himself was “flowing” all during His ministry, and yet God has given us free will, and we don’t always use it wisely. I see the Adversary challenging Jesus during His ministry in various ways, not wishing to concede an inch of ground, and Jesus pushing him back when it suits Him to do so, and exercising restraint when it does not, and I see that going on for 2,000 years to date.

Yet I remain filled with hope and optimism going forward, for whatever God’s timetable may be, whatever larger issues are going on “behind the scenes” I know how the story will ultimately end, because Mark has set this out so well in his gospel. May each and every one of you retain the same optimistic view of both this life and the next as all of us move forward on our path to forever together as His Body!

The Kingdom Comes

Mark 16:1-8

Parallel Texts: Matthew  28:1-8; Luke 24:1-8, 12; John 20:1-10

When Jesus was born in that manger in Bethlehem nobody would have noticed, but God sent choruses of angels out to the fields and they were seen by the shepherds… and there was this star in the sky. When Jesus rose from the grave, there were no choirs to be seen, no great star lighting the sky, just chirping crickets and the sounds of the night.

Thus came the Kingdom.

John the Baptist prepared the way teaching the people that the Kingdom was at hand. Jesus preached the Kingdom far and wide and demonstrated its power as He went along, but when all of the work was finally completed, nobody knew about it at first. Shortly after sunrise on that fateful day at the very precipice of human history, a group f very faithful women arrive at the tomb to finish the dressing of the body, only to discover that there was no body for them to dress; He had risen!

I can’t help but recall these two verses:

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

Mark 15:29-30

Guess what boys? The temple was destroyed and He has risen it up again, just like He said, for as we know He was referring to the temple of His body.  As for the physical temple building, now obsolete and useless? Well, the clock is ticking on its demise…

God wasn’t quite  ready for the big announcement just yet, or more to the point, Peter and the others who would be the ones announcing the arrival of the Kingdom weren’t quite ready, but in 5 weeks, they would make a splash in Jerusalem.

In spite of the lack of fanfare, the day that Jesus rose from the grave was a glorious day, the most glorious of all days, but God’s glory is not like Man’s glory. There were no bands playing, no trumpets sounding, no parades or banners, no wall-to-wall coverage, no newspaper headlines and no ceremonies. Just an empty tomb and a messenger to tell the women that Jesus had risen: Low-key and reserved. John recalls that Mary saw Him, and thought He was the gardener. Obviously the artists have the scene wrong, no brightly shining white robes; a gardener to all appearances was He.

To this day, the world cannot handle this reality.

Why didn’t God do something far more dramatic to get people’s attention? He could have done that, since He was raising Jesus from the grave, a little fireworks would have been no big deal, and then He would have proven that Jesus returned from the dead. Just think of the sensation if the risen Christ would have entered Jerusalem now; who would oppose Him? Why, He could have walked into Pilate’s quarters and sent him and all of the Romans packing… He could have set up his Kingdom as an earthly one right then and there if that is what He intended, but He didn’t. Don’t forget that Jesus Himself had once remarked that even if someone died and rose again people wouldn’t believe the message. Most people still don’t.

God never wanted His followers to be robots; if He had wanted that, don’t you think He could have made Adam a robot without free will in the first place… and saved Himself a lot of trouble?

He never wanted robots for followers; He wants people who are willing to choose to follow Him, and this tremendous level of restraint is one of the reasons He is worth following!

The Moment They’ve Been Waiting For!

Mark 15:24-32

Parallel Texts: Matthew 27:31-44; Luke 23:26-43; John 19:17-27

All those sleepless nights, the opportunities missed, the embarrassments in public, the plots, the cabals, the treachery… all of it had come to fruition for the loving and righteous men of Israel, for today, at this time, at this hour… RIGHT NOW! Jesus of Nazareth is being executed! Finally they had gotten what they wanted…

Mark’s account of the crucifixion is of course brief. Yet, even in his pithiness, Mark includes one little detail that should jolt us out of the  haze we might feel at reading a text that is so familiar to us. ‘Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”’ (vv. 29-30)

Such impatience! Jesus was destroying the temple by being on the cross, if you want to see it raised again, you need to wait a couple of days!  Of course, they were clueless about these words.

Even the other two being crucified hurl insults at Him, and of course the Jewish leaders have some choice comments to make, showing just how classy they really are. The powers and authorities of this world were having a field-day, thoroughly enjoying their triumph over God.

Then, something wonderful happens…

Mark 15:33-41

Parallel Texts: Matthew 27:45-56; Luke 23:44-49; John 19:28-30

Jesus suddenly cries out, quoting Psalm 22:1, people get excited, maybe Elijah will come… wouldn’t that be something to see? Elijah does not come, and shortly thereafter Jesus dies.

Had God forsaken Him at that moment? Theologians argue about that, but I think that He did, for Jesus had become sin on that cross. No, Jesus didn’t sin, but He became sin for us. Isn’t it something… Jesus had become the sin of those who had placed Him on that cross, and for their very insults they were hurling at that moment.

Then Jesus died.

The curtain in the temple was torn in two; the Old Covenant had seen its final sacrifice and passed into history as the temple of Jesus’ body died; history itself had reached its climax.

Matthew tells us about an earthquake and clouds that darkened the sun, things that usually signify God’s judgment. A Roman centurion has a surprising remark, and the opponents of Jesus head for their homes feeling… what? Relief probably. Sorrow was the dominant emotion of those women who remained there, His last followers. They would see to the arraignments.

The story, however, had only just begun.