Saturday, April 14, 2012

Icons of the Christ - Part 3

In 2006, Leisa and I had the privilege of visiting Israel.  Needless to say it was one of the most amazing 10 days of my life.  However, it wasn't without some unexpected disappointments.  What I was really interested in seeing were the places and events I had read about in Scripture.  What I wasn't prepared for was the presence of middle age churches (and some newer) built on the sites of Biblical events.  There is a church where Moses was shown the promised land before his death, another church built over Peter's house, a church where (possibly) the Sermon on the Mount was preached, and the most disappointing of all, a church built on the site (again possibly) in Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

I supposed it shouldn't be surprising, considering our propensity to want to be near 'holy' objects.  Just think of the middle age church's obsession with relics.  But what is so ironic is that the Church of the Nativity as it's called is elaborate, ornate, and imposing, while the actual birth place of Jesus was anything but.  Jesus was born, most likely in a cave where animals would be penned up for the night.  He was laid in a manger; a trough for feeding animals.  That manger has become an icon of the Christ.  And it's meaning is extremely profound.

When I think of that event, I am humbled by the question of 'Why?'  Why would God leave the glories of heaven and come to this earth in such a lowly manner?  How is it possible that the Infinite God would become an infant?  Surely we would imagine God coming in glory; elaborate, ornate, and imposing.  We think that, because that's how we would do it ourselves.

Yet even beyond questioning the manner in which, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us", is the question that Jim McGuiggan raises in his book, The God of the Towel.  Jim writes, "I must confess that the most perplexing part of my faith is the truth that God can be bothered with us."  Why indeed?  That question drives us back to the meaning of every icon of Christ; because he loves us.  God want us to experience his love on a level we can understand.  God doesn't want to overwhelm us, and he could - oh how he could.  But that would leave us intimidated and defenseless against his power and desires.   What if he had come initially as described in Revelation 19:11-19?

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

What a Savior!  How could you deny him?  You couldn't!  And maybe that's the point.  For God to have a truly genuine love relationship with us, he had to let us be able to say, "No!"  So God chose to place in a manger, a 7lb Savior wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Some events like the Cross and Empty Tomb - blow me away, they are so epic in scope and power.  The Manger on the other hand draws me in to that humble and silent moment of profound truth; God would even empty himself to love me.

I'm still amazed that God would be bothered at all with us, but aren't you glad he did.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Icons of the Christ - Part 2

The Crux of the matter is the Cross (even the word 'crux' is Latin for cross).  But there are other notable icons that remind us of what Christ has done in this world.  The second icon is also very familiar to us, and was probably the focus of most Easter messages heard yesterday at Christian churches around the world; The Empty Tomb. 

After the death of Jesus, a man named Joseph went to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus in order to bury him.  Pilate was actually surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead (since crucifixion usually took a lot longer than 6 hours).  After making certain that Jesus was in fact dead, he released the body to Joseph.  Joseph took the body, wrapped Jesus in clean linen with about 100 pounds of spices brought by Nicodemus, then laid him in his own tomb that had been cut out of a rock and rolled a large stone over the opening and then left.  The women close to Jesus; Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus were on hand to witness the burial.  They left with the intention of returning with additional spices to more adequately finish the burial process.

However on the next day the chief priests received a guard from Pilate to secure the tomb, for fear that the disciples would steal Jesus' body and make the claim the Jesus had risen from the dead.  The tomb then remains undisturbed until Sunday morning, when the women close to Jesus are the first on the scene to discover the tomb open and empty.  While they are perplexed about this, it is what happens next that changes everything for them, and for us.

  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.  Mark 16:4-6

While the Cross wins the Victory, it is the empty tomb that declares God has keeps his promises.  God's powerful love cannot be stopped by mere death.  Paul in beginning his letter to the Romans, and the truth about the Gospel, writes this about Christ, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:4).

The empty tomb, like the cross is critical to God's mission of loving us.  It cannot be seen as simply some allegorical picture of new beginnings.  Without the empty tomb; a literal, bodily resurrection, then we have NO hope.  In dealing with the church at Corinth, Paul confronts the teaching that is being circulated that there is no resurrection of the dead.  They hadn't thought through the implications of that.  If there is no resurrection, then Christ hasn't been raised, and they really had not thought through the implications of that.  Without the empty tomb, preaching is empty, faith is empty, hope is empty.  It is the empty tomb that fill our hearts with hope (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

Today is Monday, the day after Easter.  I want to remind you of one thing; The Tomb is still open and empty!  Whatever hope you felt yesterday, feel it today.  Live everyday knowing it was God's love for you that rolled the stone away and raised Jesus from the dead.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Icons of the Christ - Part 1

Icons have become a common presence in our lives today.  The Nike 'Swoosh' and  Apple's 'Apple' are just 2 of the countless icons that we quickly recognize as representing the Identity of the Company behind their products. There are also several icons that Christians recognize as representing  the identity of Christ and His work in the world.  The most powerful icon for Christians, and probably the most recognized in the world, is the Cross.  Today being Good Friday, millions of people around the world are focused on Christ's death on the Cross.  And rightly so, because the point of Christ's presence on earth was to die on the Cross.  William Holman Hunt, the nineteenth-century artist, painted The Shadow of Death.  The picture portrays Christ as a young carpenter inside the doorway of the carpenter's shop.  He stands early in the morning stretching his arms out as the morning sun casts his shadow on the wall behind him.  His mother sees the shadow on the wall as a Cross; it was his destiny.

Paul, as he shared the gospel around the world focused on the Cross.  He wrote to the Church in Corinth, "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).  The good news of the Gospel is that it was on the Cross where Jesus defeated Satan.  Often we want to wait till Easter, where our focus is on the Empty Tomb (an icon we'll discuss in a later post) to think about the victory.  We often think even that the victory was won when Jesus stepped out of the tomb alive.  Yet scripture is clear that the victory wasn't won in the tomb, it was won on the cross.  The Hebrew writer makes that clear in 2:14, Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.  It was on the Cross where Satan thought he was going to win, but in reality, when Jesus breathed his last Satan's head was crushed! (Gen. 3:15)

But it wasn't just about winning against Satan. It was about God showing his limitless love for humanity.  In spite of our rebellion and rejection of Him, God would not, like Pilate, wash His hands of us.  The Cross is the ultimate expression of a love that would go to whatever length necessary to win our hearts. 

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8

Next time you see the Cross, God doesn't want you to focus on the gruesome details of Jesus execution, what God wants you to see is a love that would go to any lengths for you.  That's what this Icon represents.