Monday, April 27, 2015

What is wrong with allegorical interpretation?

When I think of allegory, I think of Tolkien’s use of the word in his introduction to The Lord of the Rings. If I recall his remark about allegory correctly, he said that he “cordially dislike[d] allegory in all its manifestations”. I remember trying to get a handle on the meaning of allegory, and wondering why Tolkien despised it so.

Well, as an adult who has long studied the church, I have come to appreciate why Tolkien despised it so. When it is applied to the Bible, allegory takes the meaning which the interpreter wants to give it, and he can follow his fancy to its furthest borders. I have now read many allegorical interpretations of passages in the Bible, and I can certainly attest to the creative imaginations of the interpreters. The early Christian Fathers were much more careful to distinguish between literal and allegory. It was not until much later in history that allegory began to rear its ugly head. Pentecost, in his epic work on Things to Come, tells us that “Origen was the first to lay down, in connection with the allegorical method of the Jewish Platonist, Philo, a formal theory of interpretation, which he carried out in a long series of exegetical works remarkable for industry and ingenuity, but meager in solid results. He considered the Bible a living organism, consisting of three elements which answer to the body, soul, and spirit of man, after the Platonic psychology. Accordingly, he attributed to the Scriptures a threefold sense: (1) a somatic, literal, or historical sense, furnished immediately by the meaning of the words, but only serving as a veil for a higher idea; (2) a psychic or moral sense, animating the first, and serving for general edification; (3) a pneumatic or mystic and ideal sense, for those who stand on the high ground of philosophical knowledge.” Unfortunately, allegory was to lead many away from the truth of the scriptures until, at the time of the Reformation, the Bible began again to take a central point in developing our creed.

John Walvoord, in his excellent commentary on Revelation points to the many many people who have interpreted Revelation according to the whims of their own personal history (allegory), “The very multiplicity of such interpretations and identifications of the personnel of Revelation with a variety of historical characters is its own refutation. If the historical method is the correct one, it is clear until now that no one has found the key.” That is the huge problem with an allegorical approach to the Bible. Meaning is found in the interpreter rather than in the text, and confusion always results.

Yet for some reason, many otherwise excellent commentators lose it when they come to prophecy. Bewildered by the symbols and metaphors that abound in such works like Revelation, they mistakenly think the correct course is to abandon normal interpretation. Yet how can we possibly hope to understand anything if God did not use language in its native sense, to communicate his message and hope to a world in desperate need of a Savior.
There are some in the church who would substitute the church for Israel, but in order to do that, they are forced to allegorize many of the promises to Israel. A little over a hundred years ago no one looked to the Bible and foretold the regathering of Israel. Yet the scripture is plain, and indeed Revelation focuses heavily on Israel’s plight before the world. The lack of Israel as a nation is the biggest single reason prophecy was allegorized. But the lack of the nation Israel also led to other mistakes by the church, mainly in the “allegorizing” of Israel to mean the church.

Romans Eleven is where much of this confusion originates, and it is to that chapter that we must go to find any resolution. Paul tells us that we have been grafted in where Israel, because of their rejection, were broken off. We have replaced Israel then, in a sense, gaining the salvation which they had sought. At this precise point, many have allegorized the church to have replaced Israel entirely. But this is clearly not what Paul is teaching. He goes on, in an often ignored verse and tells us, (11:25) “that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” The plain meaning of the text is that the blindness which happens to Israel is but to be temporary, and that when God is finished with the Gentiles, his Son will return to Sion. At that time all of Israel will be turned back to the Lord. While we may argue about the precise meaning of all, there is no doubt that God is going to turn the whole of the nation of Israel back to him. Paul explains to us the reasoning and goodness of our God in verse 29, proclaiming that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”

In other words, God is not at all finished with Israel. They did not lose the unconditional promises of God—rather they lost the blessing and presence of God for a time, because they rejected their Savior, but God intends to make every word of his promises to Abraham come true. One day, he will return to Jerusalem and there will become the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Why? Because God is faithful even when Israel is not.

There is a similar theme taught in many Christian circles—that God is faithful even when we are not. Perseverance of the saints is taught almost everywhere, and loudly do we proclaim the faithfulness of God, even in the face of our wayward hearts. How is it that so many make the tragic mistake of proclaiming that God is through with Israel because of the hardness of their hearts? Since the beginning of time God had to foreknow their hardness of heart. Did he make those famous promises to Abraham knowing that they would not be literally kept? A thousand times no! God has always intended to fulfill each and every promise.

It is of course different with the conditional covenant that God made with Moses. Under that covenant, Israel had to promise to keep the law, a forbidding task that they proved never equal to. Thus the scripture proclaims that Christ is the end of the law for everyone that believes. The law was intended to be a tutor to lead them to receive their Messiah, but they did not expect a suffering Savior, except for a remnant that did believe. Some in the church proclaim that the church has now become the recipient of all the promises to Israel, but God says his “gifts and his call are irrevocable.”

Having Israel clearly in sight in the world makes it much easier to literally interpret these passages; I do not know how I would have fared in past centuries without the evidence of Israel to foreshadow God’s faithfulness. But it is not important how I would have fared, for now we have that evidence, and many obscure passages that we felt we had to allegorize away can now be taken literally. Israel stands as a nation in the world today because of the sovereign purpose of God. Should we not believe that he means what he says when he says all of Israel will turn and be saved?

I have a friend who himself grew up with many Jewish friends, and when my friend looks at these passages he remarks that the friends he had would never accept Jesus. He is absolutely correct! It would take a real miracle for Israel to finally recognize her king. But that is exactly what the Bible says we are going to get. A real miracle. In the Old Testament there are even passages that tell us that Jews will be called back out of foreign lands, and will at last have a peaceful home. God will at last live among us—and it does not get more miraculous than that!

I think, as an older man, I have come to appreciate Tolkien’s comment a bit more, and I agree totally with him. I “cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations”.

1. Pentecost, J. Dwight (2010-05-11). Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Kindle Locations 553-559). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
2. Walvoord, John (1989-03-01). The Revelation of Jesus Christ (p. 19). Moody Publishers - A. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

What does the Bible say about diversity?

The Bible is absolutely clear on the subject of diversity, if by diversity we are meaning racial or cultural background. The gospel is to be made available to all, regardless of their background. But it is also absolutely clear that every lifestyle is a sinful one, utterly rejected by God. There is no one, not one anywhere in the world who will be able to clothe himself in acts to please God and gain salvation. So if you will allow me the somewhat painful quip, the meaning of diversity begins to sharply diversify from the meaning given to us in this world.

We are taught in our culture today to accept every lifestyle and culture. Indeed the national mantra seems to have a blind eye in differentiating between lifestyles, and national morality seems to be unable to call any lifestyle good or bad in comparison to others. Not so with the Bible. When we are talking about any lifestyle at all they are all condemned by the righteous God as being utterly worthless to save us. When we dress in our best clothes of righteousness, they are as filthy rags in the sight of God, and we could never hope on that basis to have standing with God.

Indeed then, diversity becomes very different. The African, the American, or the European are at the same disadvantage—all are lost no matter how noble or perverse their lifestyle. It is never a question of bringing ourselves to God in hopes of acceptance, for such hope is always doomed. We stand, as Jonathan Edwards long ago said, as sinners in the hands of an angry God.

But having said that, does God judge us differently? Yes, of course he does. God recognizes that there is a great deal of difference in the way we sin—you might say that some of us are better than others at it—and thus will be subject to a stricter judgment. Actually this judgment is different in two ways. First, Jesus tells us a story where the sheep and the goats are separated, one on the right hand and the other on the left. This judgment might be looked at as the big judgment. Those with faith in Christ are on the one side; those without faith are on the other side. There is no redemption for those without faith, for the provision for sin has been once for all made when God gave his Son on the cross, that whosoever believes might be saved. The “whosoever” includes all sorts of people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds—but they all must have faith in the work of God for salvation.

Those who are sorted into the faith side are still subject to judgment, but their judgment is at the bema seat of Christ. The New Testament refers to this judgment often, but perhaps the one most often recalled is found in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” The peril of one’s salvation is not the question of this judgment; rather the judgment is given to the faithful sons of God, as well as those sons who have not proved faithful, yet still have faith. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that fire will test the quality of each man’s work (1 Cor. 3:14, 15), and that his works might well be burned up, and the man will suffer loss, yet will still remain saved. No matter what our background before Christ might be, we are called to leave that diversity and join the unity of the body, living daily to show the fruits of the Spirit himself, such as love, joy, peace, and patience. In conclusion then, we see clearly that there is a judgment for the saved, and that God will weigh that which we have done.

But there is also another judgment, and this is for those who are goats, separated initially by Christ. They are to appear in what the Bible calls the Great White Throne judgment. Here, John tells us in Revelation 20:13 that God will judge each person “according to what he has done”. Again the Bible teaches us, if you will allow my punning again, that God is going to judge “diversely”, first for those who found Christ, and also for those who are lost. They will be very different judgments, and yet God will reward and punish according to what people have done.

James, the brother of Jesus, tells us in what may be the first epistle of the New Testament, that we are not to judge by appearances, and we are not to make evil decisions based on judgments. When we have the poor enter our church, and tell them to sit down there, while we say to the rich, take this seat of honor, we do evil. We, as a church, are to treat one another with the respect that is due brothers and sisters in the Lord, no matter how diverse the background is. When we so act we are demeaning not just our brothers, but also ourselves, for God has called us to a station that should eagerly show love to those who are in the family of God.

And that thought brings us precisely to the key difference in the way we define diversity. The country insists that all lifestyles are worthy of respect, and that is altogether untrue. The Bible teaches us the exact opposite—all our righteousness is as filthy rags, and there is none righteous, no not one. We are not to accept benignly every lifestyle we see, but rather we are to make judgments about the lifestyles we see, even while loving all of those who are so woefully lost. Paul tells us that we are given a ministry of reconciliation, and that we are to lovingly share the gospel with those who still have the veil over their hearts, if by any means, that veil might be lifted. We are, as Paul says (2 Corinthians 5:15, to present Christ who “died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him.” We are called away from those horrible lifestyles unto the living and true God, whom we behold for the first time.

Jude, another brother of Jesus, says that we “are to snatch others from the fire and save them . . . hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh”. The gospel has been wisely defined as one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread. The challenge for older Christians is to remember that they are but beggars, but beggars with one mission, and that to reconcile other beggars that they might come to see the Bread of Life. We who have been rescued ourselves from our dark way of life, ought to seek, if by any means, that others themselves are rescued from their darkness.

We should not ever forget what God has so plainly told us. Paul reminds us of the words of Moses in Romans 10:19, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” Jesus tells us the same thing when the Jews refused his message, (Luke 14:21) “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” We are chosen, in the profound mysteries and unknowable wisdom of God, but let us never forget that part of the reason for which we were chosen is that we might arouse Israel to jealousy. We have been given that which they have spurned, and we ought always remember that we were chosen, in part, because of their stubborn refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.

So coming around in a full circle, I might suggest that we were chosen for the very reason that God planned, that is, to diversify and enlarge his plan of salvation to extend to all people, and not just Israel. When we get to heaven, we will stand proudly next to all sorts, the proud and the humble, the drunkard and the fool, the wise man and the prudent, the lustful and the gluttons, the martyr and the denier, the Black, the Asian, and the white—and we shall all be in full accord and loving each other, as different as we could possibly be. With one caveat, all of us shall be one in he who called us, saved and rescued from our waywardness by a God who did not want to judge us, but rather sought to bring us pardon and relief in Christ. Diversity? I do not think we will ever see so great a diversity, but at the same time we will see that we were all sinners, rescued and called out from the old unto the new. Bless the Lord, oh my soul!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Part 7-What are the seven cries of the cross?

1. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
2. 6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
3. Woman, behold thy son! , Behold thy mother!
4. 9th hour- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
5. I thirst
6. It is finished
7. Into thy hands I commit my Spirit

Into thy hands I commit my Spirit. What does it mean? The obvious meaning is that God the Son has committed his Spirit into the hands of God the Father. But there is so much going on now that I am afraid it gets rather more complicated. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells us that the work he is doing has been given him from the Father (“For the work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.”—John 5:36) The choice was definitely one which Jesus freely made, but at the same time it was the will of the Father. (“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”—John 6:38) Confused yet? In another place he tells us that He, Jesus, has the power to lay his life down, and power to take it up again. But to confuse the issue, he adds that he receives this commandment from his Father (“I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”—John 10:18). The answer lies in the very personality of the Triune God. The Father and the Son, being one, are always in perfect accord with one another. If the sun were to hit the one, we would see the perfect shadow of the other; they are that close together in nature. Being of one there is no separation of wishes or accord, but they are one, in a fashion which on this side of the world I can never hope to comprehend.

Remember that Jesus remonstrates Peter, who does completely exhibit his willingness to fight for his Lord, and does it by cutting off the ear of one of the servants. Jesus reminds all there, saying that he has only to ask and the Father will send legions of angels (Matt. 26:53). But it was not to be, and Peter, confused and blown away, runs and hides and then denies his Lord. Peter was willing to fight, but he knew nothing about submission to desperately wicked unrighteousness. In everything, Jesus was completely and perfectly submitted to the Father.

It was at this point, culminating in the resurrection, which so much changes for the believer. I think Chafer suggests more than 30 identifiable changes that happen at or near the time of a single person’s salvation. Here, with the last cry, Jesus is giving himself to the Father in his death, and beginning that process which enables you and me to come to Christ. There is probably much more going on here than we can ever give voice to, and I have unanswered questions. Does Christ use this period of death to descend into hell, and as other places in the New Testament seem to indicate, does he preach to those in hell? He clearly tells us that he will spend three days and three nights in the “belly of the earth”. What did he do during those times? How is it that those who were marked by their faith before Christ—how is it that they were saved? Hebrews clearly teaches it is given to man once to die and after this the judgment. I do wonder exactly what happened those days and nights when he was dead—perhaps one day we will find out just what our spectacular Lord did, but now we just do not know. The legalities alone, taking back the ownership of some men from Satan, would be fascinating to know and understand. We do know that what our Lord did those days has forever transferred us to the kingdom which is above.

Colossians 1 at least gives us a glimmer of what Christ did on the cross. It says, (v. 21&22) “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.” When Christ declared it is finished, it was finished in this sense also. We are wicked. We are reconciled to God. And nothing, not our wicked return to wrong behavior, nor anything else shall pluck us out of the Father’s hand, for we are once for all delivered by the sacrifice of Christ, in fulfilling the purpose of the Father. It is God who saves us; and it is his mercy which overcomes.

Though we emphasize properly the grace of God, the Bible knows little of the Christian who is not pressing onward with his calling—there is not much room in the Bible given to Christians who walk away from their God. And the most sober warnings are attached to those who do wander—up to and including questioning the foundation of their calling. So it is in Colossians, the very next verse: “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister” (v. 23). One of the expected signs when we look at every Christian, is that somewhere and somehow they are continuing in the faith, and their hope in the gospel continues.

Having lived a long life already, I have had the misfortune to see many who chose not to walk with God, sometimes for a period of years, though I thought I knew their character well enough to judge that they were Christian. In every case, I have discerned the saint being brought back in some manner into the fold. “No man shall pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” I would guess that even we ourselves, when we find ourselves unfaithful, yet God is always faithful—it is just part of who he is. As Paul says he cannot deny himself. Nevertheless, appreciating the wonderful and matchless free grace of God is not warrant for the person who is outwardly rejecting the clear counsel of his God to assume that grace is there; he should examine himself closely to see whether he is, indeed, in the faith.

Colossians is a great short book that covers some of the fundamentals of the cross. Just as Jesus was able to confidently commit his Spirit to the Father’s hand, so also he was able to take our sins and nail them to the cross, blotting out everything which would separate us from God: (Colossians 2:14) “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” In this gospel we are clearly given freedom, but the supposition is that the saint who truly knows the grace of God, will turn willingly toward the Savior, and surrender that freedom willingly to become, as Paul says, a slave of Jesus Christ.

When we know all that we has done for us, moving us past the keeping of laws and rules which would only condemn us all over again, when we realize the freedom that we have because of Jesus going to the cross, that we might not ever have to, our hearts should be so filled with love and appreciation that giving ourselves to him each day for the rest of our lives ought to be our privilege. “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:9, 10). Or perhaps more powerfully as translated in the NIV version: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been give fullness in Christ.” Think of it—the Scripture is clear. We have been given fullness in Christ—made to be complete, and yet we find ourselves so incomplete. In the sight of God, he looks at us and sees no blemish, but freely loves us because every sin we have committed is covered by the work of his Son. How that ought to motivate us to seek to serve and follow him! Indeed, hadn’t our daily cry ought to be that of our Savior? Should we not be crying out daily, Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit. It is only in him that we can find ourselves made complete, free to be what he has created us to be.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Part 6- What are the Seven cries of the cross?

1. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
2. 6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
3. Woman, behold thy son! , Behold thy mother!
4. 9th hour- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
5. I thirst
6. It is finished
7. Into thy hands I commit my Spirit
In this Easter Season, it is perhaps altogether fitting that I write about the sixth cry from the cross. What exactly is finished? Jesus was referring to the finished work of the cross, where God himself took on the sins of mankind and bore the punishment for those sins, that is, death on the cross. I believe that at the moment that Jesus said “it is finished” the veil of the temple, a veil two inches thick, was rent from top to bottom. It helps if we understand that the veil in the temple separated the holiest place of God so that it remained private. The high priest alone was allowed in this place, and he brought sacrifices that the sins of the Jewish people might be atoned for. No one else was allowed into this place, not even the other priests. The father of John the Baptizer was in this place when he was given the vision from the angel, and if you remember the story, his speech was taken away from him until the baby was born, because he was skeptical of the message. The other priests worried that the high priest might have a heart attack, or otherwise become incapacitated, so they attached a rope around his ankle with a bell. As long as they heard the bell ringing, they could assume all was okay, but if they became concerned they could always haul on the rope and drag him out. What they were not allowed to do at any time was to enter the holy of holies. The significance of the veil being ripped was that God served notice that we no longer had to have the high priest act for us—we have been given direct access to the Father through what the Son had accomplished. It is finished.

But there is so much more that was finished at the same instant! Jesus had given us the pathway to God; now he would be able to give us the very Spirit of God to live and dwell within us. Jesus said, “It is good for you that I go away. Unless I go away, the Comforter will not come to you” (John 16:7). The work was finished, and Jesus could at last send the Comforter to us. We were made righteous, as all are made righteous, if they will but believe God. Soon Jesus breathed on the apostles, giving them the Spirit, and he bade them to await the filling of the Spirit in Jerusalem.

It is finished. God’s plan, in the making from eternity past, was at last revealed to the world. In Genesis, God had foretold that the Serpent would bruise the heel, but the Son would bruise his head. All of creation had been waiting for this point, that God should come in the flesh and give himself as an offering. In so doing, Satan thought he had won a great victory, killing the Son of God, and instead the Son had dealt Satan a lethal blow, rising from the dead, and freeing mankind from the bonds of sin. As long as we are in the bondage of sin, Satan owns us, and it is interesting that Jesus did not dispute that ownership. During the temptations of Jesus, Satan took him up to a very high mountain, and offered to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. They were his to offer, but with this cry, “it is finished” the end of that time had come.

And so the gospel was given to mankind, that “whosoever” believeth might be saved, rescued from the long coming judgment of God.
At that point, Jesus became the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. He took over the ruler ship of the world from Satan and made the possibility of salvation happen for all men. Revelation tells us that we will reign over earth for a thousand years, for he will be the King of the earth, and all nations will bow before him. It is this time that the prophet Isaiah prophesied that the swords shall be turned into plowshears, and the young child who dies at one hundred shall be thought accursed.

In a manner of speaking, all that was accomplished when Jesus finished his work on the cross. We await its happening two thousand years later, but in the purposes of God, it is a finished act, a never-ending salvation for whosoever will come. And we can add absolutely nothing to his act. We cannot do good deeds, acts of contrition, or gain indulgences. We cannot “help” God any in the work of the cross, and until we see all that he did on the cross, we cannot really appreciate the offense we cause to our Father when we pretend to bring our good works before him. I recently read about a rich man doing so many good deeds that he was heard to brag that when he died, he would get a “fastpass” right on through the turnstile to heaven. Poor soul! He is depending on his good works to do what God did perfectly in sending his Son. How God must be insulted with our best works, which the Bible tells us are as filthy rags in his sight. The word for filthy rags is actually a used menstrual cloth—it is that offensive to God when we pretend that our righteous acts can stand before God a single instant.
This is not to say that all was accomplished on behalf of the believer at the cross; it most definitely says that our sins were paid for in full at the cross. For instance, Jesus told the disciples in John 14 that he was going to prepare a place for us, that where he is we may be also. Keith Green aptly points out that God worked on the creation of the world for six days, but he has been working on our place in heaven for over 2,000 years. What a wonder that place must be!

When Jesus said it is finished, what exactly did he mean? He meant at least this—that every sin which a believer brings to the cross has been fully provided for. There is no sin, not one, which is not provided for, with the exception of the sin of unbelief. Moses, in the wilderness, had a poisonous viper lifted up on a stake. Those Israelites who were bitten by a viper were told to go and gaze upon the viper, and that then they would not die. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, John tells us, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish. A month ago I was told that a man with many covered up tattoos came into one of our services, and expressed reluctance in going forward to receive forgiveness because of all of his tattoos. The usher was able to assure him that God did indeed have mercy and forgiveness for all. Why are we so certain that there is mercy and forgiveness? Because at the cross we find that it has all been finished. In giving his all for us and accepting the penalty of sin, he completely made us free. There remains nothing possible left to be done, and God in giving his all, more than he gave at the very creation of the world, can give no more. But there is no need for more. It is finished. Only lift up your eyes on the gift of God, and believe.

Isaac Watts long ago found that wonderful grace at the cross, and penned the words to a lovely hymn, one that I wished we would still occasionally sing in our church. It is called, “When I Survey the Wonderous Cross”:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Part 5- What are the Seven cries of the cross?

1. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
2. 6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
3. Woman, behold thy son! , Behold thy mother!
4. 9th hour- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
5. I thirst
6. It is finished
7. Into thy hands I commit my Spirit

I think it most significant that Jesus cries out, “I thirst” after receiving the sins of the world. I have no doubt that he was thirsty, and perhaps almost on the twilight of consciousness, after his enormous physical abuses, but there, I think is much more to his cry. After all, during all of his enormous suffering, he consistently expresses that which we would expect of a noble Savior. He comforts women he finds on the way to the cross with warnings of a great judgment coming upon Jerusalem, he takes time to assure the thief on the cross that soon he will be in Paradise, and he commits the care of his mother to his best friend. Now are we to believe that he is crying out because he thirsts?

I realize that this cry is a fulfilment of Psalm 69 (v.21, “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”), and that Jesus had just received the sins of the entire world into his very body. Who would not be literally thirsty at this point? But I would suggest that perhaps the thirst is more than that. The spiritual analogy of the Holy Spirit filling us with living water is very powerful. Jesus himself refers to the same comparison when he says, “He that believeth in Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believe in Him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:38, 39). John adds the second verse, telling us that Jesus was indeed speaking of the Holy Spirit.

Elsewhere, Paul tells us that we should not quench the Spirit, and thus we learn that we can, by sin, quench the very gift of God which Jesus’ act on the cross enabled for us. I would suggest that the sins of the world had an enormously “quenching” effect on Jesus, so enormous that at the very moment of taking those sins into his life he found his eternal relationship with the Spirit to be utterly and completely quenched. Hence, those words, “I thirst,” escape from his mouth, as he experiences and tastes of sin, and loses that relationship in the terrible judgment of the Father.

Sometimes those who were crucified lingered and suffered on their cross for two or three days. The Roman Empire seems to me to be rather like our own day, where we seem to choose the most barbaric way of execution. Who would choose electrocution as a method of death? Or the guillotine? The gruesome descriptions of these manners of death serve to remind me of how the cruel nature of man seems to arise again and again. Crucifixion as a method of execution was particularly barbaric. Certainly the cruelty of man in Christ’s death is especially horrific. The Son of God, the Savior of mankind stood before men and silently endured the scorn as guards slapped him and teased him saying, prophecy and tell us, who struck thee? Jesus had already, in his last words to his disciples, reminded them that he had only to pray—just once—and the Father would have sent legions of angels to stop the whole process. Instead, he met the gruesome process head on, and endured the scorn of the cross that I, that you, might be saved. Philippians reminds us that “he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross”. Therefore, says Paul, God hath exalted him to the highest place, putting Jesus as the head of everything.

And that is the precise model for us. Our greatness is not in what we know, or in the way that we preach or teach or speak. Our greatness is measured in the way that we serve one another, and if we are despitefully used and abused, then the measure of greatness is all the more. Jesus tells us that if we would be great, then we should become the servant of all. In the cross, he has modeled the picture of the perfect servant, giving us the stellar example of how we should act. Stephan, our first martyr, gets this lesson well, for even as they are scorning him and stoning him to death, he cries out just as Jesus would teach us, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

And so I should learn, not to lead, but to serve, not to condemn, but to warn, not to reject, but to love. I find that to be a most difficult lesson, one that I need to relearn and relearn as I journey through life. I become inured to doing the same things the same way, and constantly I encounter others who know little of righteousness, and are busy building their own lives on a false foundation. This past year I have tried to make it a practice to pray for the strangers that I see walking on the way to the bus, to pray for the driver next to me. I find that it is not easy to pray for a stranger, for I cannot see into their hearts as Jesus did, and I often find myself groping for the right words that just are not available to me, for I cannot see their needs. But that prayer habit has changed me in an unlooked for way. I am becoming less self-centered and more other-centered, but even more than that, I realize that in the midst of my pleas for strangers, I must be equipped with the very power of the Holy Spirit if I am to make a difference. In other words, I thirst. Not me alone, but the whole of the church with me. We thirst. May God pour out his Spirit bountifully into our lives, that we might become effective witnesses of the joy that is ours because the Son of God gave himself so long ago.

I hunger and thirst for the righteousness and love of God to be poured out into me, that others might see him living in me, and come to know the servant of all servants, Jesus Christ. I have had for more than thirty years, a picture of a lion hanging over my mantel. The lion is a depiction of Christ, coming the second time, angry and ready to judge the world, chasing away the darkness and bringing light. All the world shall gaze and see in that day, and the folly of men will be laid bare, as the Lion of Judah brings light to this dark world. In that day he will come as a lion ready to devour, not as a meek lamb, willing to go to the slaughter, that you and I might find life. Our world is as thirsty as it has ever been, and men do not even recognize the dire drought of their souls, or the peril that is upon them if they linger in choosing to follow the Lamb of God, who has indeed taken away the sin of the world.

It falls to us, waiting upon that coming and ever watching, that we should bear the good news to the lost. I cannot do this in my own power. You cannot do it in your own power. We thirst with a powerful thirst, that we might be filled, that many yet might hear and be saved. God has not forsaken us during this age, but abides faithfully, waiting for us, his own children, that we might turn from our own devices and realize how desperately thirsty the church is. God waits upon his church that they might call upon him in our time of need. Isn’t it about time that we recognized our need, and called upon the only One capable of filling us? It is bad enough that we should go about thirsty, but how shall we ever give the Living Water to others except that we be filled.

Oh God, we are so thirsty and in deep need of the waters of your Holy Spirit. Bring us back to you, that we might be used as instruments to proclaim the deep and abiding joy that your Son gave us upon that cross, so long ago. Lord, we thirst!