The Tribulation of the Cross, Part 2

When we read Matthew 24:13 – “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” – what do we think of?  I’m currently reading a book about the life of Queen Elizabeth I of England that focuses on her life before becoming Queen, and there is a lot that reminds me of Matthew 24:9-10, which says, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.  And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”  Elizabeth’s older sister Mary, a Catholic, pursued often violent methods to purge the country of Protestantism[1], as chronicled in the sensational book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs[2], which soon became the 2nd most-read book in England after the Bible.  John Foxe listed story after story of Protestants being tortured, burned alive, and persecuted in other extreme ways that sometimes are what we think of reading Matthew 24:13.

But there is more to the context than that.  Matthew 24:11-12 say, “And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”  This idea of love growing cold is immediately before “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  In a martyrdom scenario, enduring is not the same as living, so enduring means something other than staying alive.  So, what does a Christian endure in order to be saved?

When Jesus was on the cross and said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” in Luke 23:34 I believe He was modeling this endurance.  On the cross, the lawlessness of the world had increased to the point where God Himself was abandoned and killed by a populist mob, fueled by a conspiracy of religious and political leaders.  All of Christ’s followers were scattered like sheep without a shepherd, yet He continued to love.  Yet, instead of calling upon an army of angels and freeing Himself from the cross, He forgave.

Matthew quotes Jesus as saying that while lawlessness is increasing, “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”  Jesus said in Matthew 24:6 that “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”  In opposition to this, false prophets will tell us to be alarmed and they will tell us that there is so much lawlessness that we need to do something other than love God and love our neighbor.  Some of these prophets will claim to be the Christ (Matthew 24:5), but they will insist on a path other than that of the cross.  Perhaps using a Facebook post fed through a heartless algorithm, they will say “The time is coming when good people will have to do bad things to very bad people,” even though Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44)

Repeating yesterday’s post, when I’m struggling to face the world as I see it, I ask about 3:16, “Exactly which world did Jesus love enough to die for?”  The answer is this one.  Not just the part of it I get along with or that I’d pick to be in my Facebook feed if I had full control.  Sometimes bearing our cross is just being willing to love those Christ loved, even when we don’t want to, and even when they hate us as they hated Him.

Praise God that Christ loved me, because I too easily find people I’d really prefer to stay away from, but if Christ had taken that approach, maybe He would have never come down to earth to die for me.

Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we do.  We praise You that You endured to the end for our sake.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32


[1] At other times and places, Protestants have persecuted Catholics, or each group has fought among themselves.  This is only one example among (sadly) many.
[2] I’m planning a history post for next March 20, the first publication date of this book in 1563.

Forgiveness and Its Alternatives: A Quint of Quotes #6

Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

Dear fellow travelers,

Today’s Rewind Wednesday takes a quote I posted last year (do you know which one?), adds four more, and creates another “Quint of Quotes.”  These quints are five quotes somewhat related to each other, but not exactly in agreement.  Hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

“You can have vengeance, or peace, but you can’t have both” – Herbert Hoover, after World War II

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” -Malachy McCourt, Irish-American actor, writer and politician

“Forgiveness is the greatest miracle that Jesus ever performs. It meets the greatest need; it costs the greatest price; and it brings the greatest blessing and the most lasting results.”  – Warren Wiersbe

“In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.” – Francis Bacon

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” – Jesus, in Luke 6:32-33

See previous Quints and other posts on quotes here.

“A New Leaf” – A Poem About Grace

Fellow travelers,

Today, I post a poem I heard years ago, recently remembered and found online eventually. The title is “A New Leaf”, author unknown, and compares a child/teacher relationship to us and Jesus. His mercies are new every morning and every day.

“He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done. ‘Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher? I’ve spoiled this one.’ I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted and gave him a new one all unspotted. And into his tired heart I cried, ‘Do better now, my child.’

I went to the throne with a trembling heart; the day was done. ‘Have you a new day for me, dear Master? I’ve spoiled this one.’ He took my day, all soiled and blotted and gave me a new one all unspotted. And into my tired heart he cried, ‘Do better now, my child.'”

What We Need For Christmas #5: A Prince of Peace

What do we NEED for Christmas?

We may not feel we deserve the gifts in Christ I’ve described this week.  We may know for sure that we don’t, and so we don’t accept them.  As James Boice wrote: “We are also conscious of having done wrong things. We need to be forgiven. We need somebody to deal with our guilt”.  Which is why there needs to be a fourth gift.  Our need for peace and unity is met by the Christ of Christmas, as described in Isaiah 9:6 as our Prince of Peace, who Boice says “highlights the gifts of peace both between ourselves and God and internally.”

What kind of peace?  Most of the New Testament of the Bible was written in Greek, and the word “peace” often comes from a Greek word meaning “to join.”  Peace does not just mean we aren’t fighting; it means that we are joined in a beneficial relationship.  This peace came at a steep cost, but He bore it all.

Jesus was born to live the perfect life so that we won’t have to earn His approval, and He was destined to die as payment so we may have peace.  He did not have to rescue His people.  He could have left this world without a Savior, but as Prince of Peace, He instead took the initiative of joining us to Himself and to each other.  Our failures are not ignored, but our Prince of Peace willingly takes these failures upon Himself.  This is what He was born in the famous manger of Christmas to do.

Consider the story of Good Friday: Hours passed while Christ was on the cross.  He was mocked as helpless and unable to save Himself, while knowing that at any moment, He could just save Himself.  In those hours, our Prince of Peace considered all the sins of His people and decided: “Worth it”.  The all-powerful actively chose to embrace powerlessness in the face of hours of torture to save His people.  If God wanted to change His mind about you, He’s had plenty of opportunity before now.  He will not turn His back on you now, or ever, if you have accepted Him.

By bearing the cost for us, our Prince of Peace can accept us into His eternal family.  He can empower us to live lives like His, of love and sacrifice for others, giving meaning to our lives.  He can open our minds to His wisdom, providing the ability to make better decisions.  It won’t happen instantly, but it can begin today.  He was born on Christmas to make sure this all happened.

This Christmas Eve, we have the gift of Jesus as Prince of Peace, who meets one of our deepest needs:
“To be forgiven and at peace! Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He has made peace for us by his death.” (Boice)

He gives us peace with God, within ourselves, and toward others, granting us forgiveness and overcoming our guilt.  He asks us to also take the initiative and bring His peace to others, forgiving them as He forgave us.

This is the fourth gift of Christ in Christmas, and it makes possible all of the other gifts.  Have you accepted it?

Poor in Spirit #5: No Confidence in the Flesh

Finally, here is the last post in a 5-part series on the first Beatitude from Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  If you want to catch up, here are links to the previous posts in the series: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday.


Today’s thought begins with how the Apostle Paul, who met Jesus on the road to Damascus[1], emphasized how being “poor in spirit” is universal across all demographic characteristics:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is call, and in all.” – Colossians 3:11

Paul wrote these verses differently, meaning they are not comprehensive.  He simply couldn’t include every possible example of the ways Christ eliminates barriers, but provided examples of the main point, which is “all.”  Prior to these verses, he writes that “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:27) and that we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10) This “new self” is the new identity, which is the only one that matters, that we are “sons of God”.

What does this have to do with “Blessed are the poor in spirit”?

Paul knows that Jesus provides – in full – the only way for salvation on the cross and through His resurrection.  What we think are accomplishments “in the flesh” do not make us “rich” in spirit, and in fact may make us worse off.  Paul expands on this in Philippians 3:4-7, discarding any confidence he has in the flesh as “loss”:

“Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

Adding some more modern terminology, Paul is saying that his obedience to the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, his genealogy, his denomination, his nationality, and his recognition as a religious expert provided no value, in fact negative value (“loss”), toward his salvation in Christ.  From the earlier verses we can add gender and economic status to the list. His “identity” in earthly terms is a negative whenever it gets in the way of his “identity” in Christ.  When he counted on these things for salvation, they only clouded his view of what was really needed and were in the way of accepting it.  They were a distraction, wasted time.  This applies to anyone: religious pedigree, ethnicity, nationality, or any other accomplishment is at best a zero contribution, and at worst a negative one if it causes someone to refuse His free offer of His righteousness.

It also affects how we present Christ to others.  If our own definition of “poor in spirit” includes a complete lack of faith in our “flesh”, it becomes easier to offer the gospel to “all” others, to approach them in love, and therefore to reflect the kingdom of heaven.  To love our neighbor includes not limiting who our neighbor is.  In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the person beaten and abandoned on the side of the road is only identified as “a man.”[2]  If we know that our identity also did not matter in our salvation, that it may have made us even poorer in spirit, the identity of our neighbor will not matter either.  The unity and outreach of the church depend on the idea that all are equally “poor in spirit.”

Pray, or even beg, for Christ to enable you to embrace your new identity, your new Spirit, and provide new motivation to be a more faithful subject in His kingdom.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:14-15
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3


Post Script
I imagine that every Babel – every attempt at building a system of righteousness other than that provided by God – begins with a small clique of people who think: “If I bring together enough people (like-minded people like me, of course), we can do this better.”  However, one of the ways they “do it better” is by shrinking the definition of neighbor – right at the beginning of the process.  In Philippians 3 above, Paul says that he formerly saw persecution of his enemies as part of righteousness.  When you believe your identity brings you closer to righteousness, the necessity of coercing others to become like you may seem like a rational conclusion.  But “rational” is not the objective.

Also, when anyone thinks “earthly characteristics we have in common” are a shortcut to righteousness, they may end up surrounded with others who in reality are poor in spirit but are less likely to realize it because everyone around them is affirming their earthly identity.  Instead, defining “us” as all of humanity in desperate need of a righteousness beyond what they can accomplish results in a very different dynamic, where both compassion and spiritual growth are easier to come by.  Iron only sharpens iron when there is a bit of healthy diversity and disagreement.


This post continues a series on the Beatitudes. To start at the beginning, click here, and for the next post click here


[1] Acts 9:3-9
[2] Luke 10:30