Posts tagged ‘Son of God’

Passover and Holiness, Part 3

In Part 2 of this series, I talked about the significance of the matzah, the unleavened bread which is eaten as part of the Passover seder, or meal. This third post will examine the importance of the matzah for what it can tell us about God.

One of the items that is found on the Passover table is called the matzah tosh. This is a pouch, separated into three layers, into which three sheets of matzah are placed. During the seder, the middle layer of matzah is removed from the pouch, and after a blessing is recited it is broken in half. One half is set aside and the other half is given a special name: afikomen. The word is a Greek term which means “that which comes later,” which is an excellent description, since that is exactly what happens. The afikomen doesn’t get eaten at that point; it is kept for later. At that  point in the seder, it is hidden away, or buried.

Much later in the seder — usually after a fantastic meal has been consumed — any children present are sent to search for the afikomen. That which was broken and buried is brought back, and in this customer of the afikomen we can see a picture of Christ. He too was broken, buried, and brought back.

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.” (Mark 16:6)

The matzah itself — being unleavened, and therefore symbolizing a sinless nature — speaks to us of Jesus. Jewish rabbis long ago set forth the regulations by which matzah is acceptable for use at Passover. One of these is that matzah must be pierced. Jesus was pierced. God spoke through the prophet Zechariah, saying:

“And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”  (Zechariah 12:10)

Wondering what any of this has to do with the matzah tosh? Read on!

Judaism has always had a fair bit of disagreement about the meaning of the pouch, and its nature as three in one.  Some rabbis and sages have taught that the matzah tosh symbolizes the three Patriarchs of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is plausible, but fails to account for why the middle matzah is broken, buried, and then brought back.  Other teachers within Judaism have said that the matzah tosh represents three divisions of worship in the ancient kingdom: the priests, the Levites, and the people of Israel.  This too is plausible, but again fails to explain the middle matzah is  broken, buried, and then brought back.  Yet other Jewish sages and scholars have taught that the matzah tosh symobolizes three crowns: the crown of learning, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship.  Once more, this gives no explanation as to why the middle matzah is broken, buried, and then brought back  In contemporary Judaism, there is no recollection of the origin of the traditions of the matzah tosh and the afikomen.  Thus we can see numerous and sometimes competing explanations.

There is, however, an explanation whose roots go back to the 1st century. The matzah tosh contains three layers that form a unity — the matzah tosh is triune.  There is a Hebrew word, echad,  which can be used to describe just such a unity. In Scripture, it is found in some important places, such as the central prayer of Judaism, the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4.

Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai echad

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” 

The word used for “one” in the Shema sentence is “echad” –a unity.  During the Passover celebration, the middle layer of this unity — this echad — is made visible to us, while the other two remain hidden from our view. This should resonate with Christians when we consider the New Testament’s statement of the Godhead:

“In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1,14)

 The  unity of the matzo tosh can bear testimony to the triune nature of the one God who has revealed Himself  to mankind in three persons:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy  Spirit.  The explanation of  the  middle matzah being broken, buried, and then brought back is as  a symbol of Jesus, the Son, who was    broken, buried, and then brought back. We have just memorialized this glorious Resurrection, as we do each  year at Easter.

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The Cost of Following Jesus, Part Three

This is the conclusion of a three-part series.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined cheap grace, he also defined its opposite: costly grace. I’d ask your indulgence as I read once more from Bonhoeffer:

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

“Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? Oh yes indeed, there is. Jesus intentionally put the rich young ruler in a position in which answering the call of God would have made it would be impossible to go back to the ruler’s old life.  He was asking him to sever all ties with his past and make an irrevocable decision to follow Christ.  The rich young ruler, like many today, seemed to want to try out the call and see if the conditions suited his fancy, then decide later whether or not to stay with Jesus.  No. There is no real cost to a decision such as that. You risk nothing. Truly following Jesus means risking everything you have and everything that you are.

I cannot tell you how many times during my years as a missionary to the Jews that I experienced heart wrenching moments of watching those whom I had ministered to count the cost of deciding to follow Jesus – a cost that for some included the rejection of their families, the loss of jobs, and the censure of their entire community! I think particularly of a young Jewish man named Alan whom I ministered to for most of a year. We met weekly to study Scripture, and was I spurred to pray for Alan often as I judged that he had made such progress that I thought he would surely give himself to Christ at any moment. This hope of mine was crushed one day when Alan confessed to me that while he had come to believe that all I had taught him was true, and that Jesus was most likely the Messiah, he could not follow him. “If I follow Jesus, I’ll lose my family and everything else, and I just can’t do that.” Alan was stuck at a terrible place: the crossroads of truth and convenience. In time I got past my disappointment in his choice, and returned to praying that God would move him past that crossroads. Alan made a choice much like that of the young ruler.

The cost that Jesus would have us pay to follow Him is to abandon our focus on ourselves and on earthly things. “Go, sell what you have,” He tells the young ruler, “give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” The cost of following Him and becoming like Him is to fix our gaze on heavenly things. That cost is achieved by allowing God to take away the heart we have and replace it with a new heart. A heart that beats for Him! A heart that yearns not for the things of this world, but that yearns for the same things that the Lord yearns for! It means giving up who we are in our sinfulness, and becoming new creatures who exist to serve His purposes, not our own selfish ambitions and desires.

The apostle Paul spoke to this idea when writing to the church in Philippi, stating,

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  Philippians 2:12-13

When Paul says to “work out your salvation,” please understand that he is not suggesting that anyone through some effort on their part can earn God’s salvation. The key to what he means is contained in verse 13, “for it is God who works in you.” Paul was admonishing the Philippians to live lives that made their salvation in Christ obvious – and he wanted them to remember that this could only happen if they allowed God to be at work in their lives, causing their will to conform to His will, causing them to desire that their actions would directed towards God’s purposes.

God will not take up residence within you, His Holy Spirit cannot tabernacle within you, if sin remains in you. If you have withheld a part of yourself from Him and sin therefore remains, how can you possibly expect that Jesus will take up residence within you and transform you from the inside? If you have professed yourself a Christian, and yet are still holding onto something from your past, please understand that by keeping your whole heart from Him you are grieving the Lord by blocking the work of His Spirit in your life. The things you hide from other people, the secret sins you’ve never confessed to another person, that patch of darkness you’ve harbored in your heart … they are all seen and understood by the Lord. He is able to cleanse you of them. It is His desire that you turn them over to Him so that he might heal you and cause you to grow to Christian maturity.

If you have never truly given lordship of your life over to Jesus, you can have no idea of what it means to have Him cleanse your sin, to heal you of all the brokenness in you. In 1997, at the time I first came to know Jesus, there is no other way to describe what I was other than an unqualified mess. I had come through alcohol. I had come through drugs. I had come through one failed relationship after another. I had come to grips with the fact that I just wasn’t any good at my chosen career. I was just plain miserable. But on the day I met Jesus, I gave all of that pain and misery over to Him, and He opened wide His arms and simply said to me, “Welcome home.” From that moment on, although I have had trials and tribulations in life, none of them have ever been more than momentary clouds on the horizon because in dying to the life I led and allowing Christ to live within me, for the first time I experienced God’s  shalom, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Even as the young ruler trudged away in sorrow, Peter looked at the Lord and said, “We have left everything and followed you.” There’s a question in this statement, and the question is, “Did we make the sacrifice that this rich young ruler wouldn’t?” Jesus’ response recognizes that Peter and the other disciples did make a sacrifice of their lives – a sacrifice Jesus measures in houses, in brothers or sisters or mothers or fathers, in children and lands – for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Not only does he affirm that they have made the right choice, but Jesus goes on to indicate that those who are faithful to Him, even amidst persecutions, will be rewarded. Rewarded with what?

“that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NRSV

Is there a cost to following Jesus? As I wrap up, I don’t want to keep beating the same drum.  But if you say you are following Jesus, and your life hasn’t changed, I want to challenge you to ask yourself why. If you call yourself a follower of Christ and yet your life doesn’t reflect Him, it begs the question of whether you’ve truly turned your back on your own sin and thrown yourself entirely on the mercy of God. Maybe you’re thinking that there are things in your life you’ve done that God can’t forgive. Maybe there places of darkness you’ve wandered into where you think His light can’t reach. People, understand that the cost to follow Jesus is not about following rules. It’s not about managing your sin. It’s about saying to God, “Here I am, you can have all of me.” That’s the cost of following Jesus. That’s what it takes.

Have you paid that cost? Are you willing to pay it? Who are you living for? Are you living for Jesus, or are you living for yourself? Do you find yourself in possession of a cheap grace or a costly grace? When God calls, will you cast down your nets – as some of the disciples did – and follow Him, or will you walk away downhearted as the rich young ruler, unwilling to give all of your heart to Him so that he can give you a new one?

* All quotes or information regarding Dietrich Bonhoeffer were drawn from The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  1959, Simon & Schuster

** All quotes or information regarding Richard Wurmbrand were drawn from Jesus Freaks, dc Talk & Voice of The Martyrs, 1999, Albury Publishing

Flett and Newbigin on a Trinitarian lifestyle

“Christ did not himself work to develop culture, nor was he “active only in the sense of pious contemplation.” His own work was that of doing the work of the Father, proclaiming the kingdom in word and deed. It is the proper work of the Son to witness to the Father (John 5:32), the proper work of the Spirit to witness to the Son (John 15:26; 14:26), while the Father witnesses to its truth (John 1:18; 5:36; 8:18;17:26). Therefore witness is internal to the life of God. Fellowship with Jesus Christ requires that the Christian act in correspondence to the nature of his own acting. As Christ exhibits no breach between his being and his act, neither can his community. Christian existence cannot be “an end itself. As fellowship with Christ, it is in principle and a nature a service. It is witness.”  — John Flett, The Witness of God, p. 179

I wonder how many churches — Nazarene or otherwise — are really embracing the idea that Flett expresses: that being in fellowship with Christ requires acting as Christ would act. The idea of service and witness don’t seem to sit easily with many today, when it seems like many come to be served rather than to serve others. Rather,  many of our churches seem full to the brim of what Barth described as “deeply suspect pious egocentricity.”

I am convinced at this point that for the Church to have an effective witness to the world, it needs to rediscover and reprioritize the Doctrine of the Trinity. Lesslie Newbigin has pointed out that it is significant that, “when one goes outside the ‘Christendom’ situation to bring the Gospel to non-Christians, one soon discovers that the doctrine of the Trinity is not something that can be kept out of sight; on the contrary, it is the necessary starting point of preaching.” (Trinitarian Doctrine for Today’s Mission, p. 35)

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