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.

The Tribulation of the Cross, Part 1

Do you ever get so frustrated with the world that you just want to check out?  I certainly do.  For example, as a blogger who posts to both Facebook and on WordPress, for me it is a lot easier to keep up with WordPress, since I can choose to see only what I want to see.  Facebook, on the other hand, exists to sell advertising and sometimes the best advertising is the kind that sparks emotion – even (or especially) bad emotions.

While Facebook is great for keeping up with friends and family, it recently started adding a ton of posts with statements like “The time is coming when good people will have to do bad things to very bad people,” along with other sarcastic, angry, and bitter political posts.  After a few days they must have tweaked their method again, and most of these went away.  Like many, I like to have my comfortable space where I’m in control, and I didn’t want to be on Facebook while knowing they were trying (and, sadly, succeeding) at manipulating my emotions.  I started feeling sarcastic, angry, and bitter, which was by their design.  Sometimes I ask myself why I am even there?

Some surprising advice comes in Philippians 2:6-8, where Paul writes about Jesus that, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  In times when I want to check out from the uncomfortable parts of living in this world, these verses remind me that Jesus, as God, might have taken an attitude of preferring to stay in a comfortable space where He could be in control, but instead He jumped into the mess that is this world we see every day to show the world what love is.

Another verse that calls this to mind is the familiar John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

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.  The world He died for is the one where sex, anger, bitter tribalism, and political partisanship sells.  The one with a lot of sarcastic, angry, and bitter people.  The one with a lot of people who are more like us than we’d usually like to admit.  The one where it’s easy for our love to grow cold if we focus on the problems, and not on the cross, where God took the punishment for all of it.

To be continued tomorrow

The First Orphans: Silent in the Trees

Have you ever wondered what life was like for Adam and Eve during Genesis 3:7?  This verse, which happens between the moment they fell to temptation and the moment they next meet God, says “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”  Since they were able to figure out how to make clothes for the first time, we can guess that the time frame within Genesis 3:7 was more than a few minutes.

The song “Trees” by the band twenty øne piløts may be a contemplation of that time, and if it is, the song imagines that Adam and Eve had some time to think about it.  Songwriter Tyler Joseph crafts lyrics that allow for religious and secular meanings, but also that sometimes also apply to multiple audiences.  In the song’s lyrics, “You” is sometimes capitalized, and sometimes not, and therefore I think the song has two intended audiences, God and the band’s fans.

Reading between the lines a bit, I’ll explain below what I get from this song, in each audience perspective.

You = the Father
The lyrics are relatively compact, with the repeated verse of:

I know where You stand, silent in the trees
And that’s where I am, silent in the trees
Why won’t You speak where I happen to be?
Silent in the trees, standing cowardly

Our first ancestors had lived a perfect life in fellowship with God in the garden of Eden, but the fall into temptation changed that relationship, and the verse imagines how.

  • First, the sense of togetherness was gone.  They were still in the garden, but the sense that God was also there was gone.
  • Second, although “the eyes of both were opened,” the voice of God guiding their activities had gone silent.  They had chosen to determine their own way but had not considered the consequences.  Wherever they were, He used to guide them, but now they were confused.
  • Third, instead of being comfortable in God’s presence, they were terribly afraid of Him.

And a repeated chorus of:

I can feel Your breath
I can feel my death
I want to know You, I want to see
I want to say
Hello, hello
Hello, oh, hello

In the original Hebrew Genesis was written in, the words for “breath” and “spirit” are sometimes the same word.  Therefore, the first two lines of this chorus mean that our ancestors could still feel God’s presence (His breath/spirit), but instead of it being a comfort, they now felt something they never felt before – their mortality.  This is a foreshadowing of their being cast away from access to the tree of life.

Also, instead of the constant conversation with God they had known their whole lives, now they wanted to speak with God and know Him again, but He was not responding.  In the context of the song, maybe it was then that “they knew that they were naked.”  They knew they had done wrong, were exposed, and thought judgement was what they should expect.  Adam and Eve went from perfectly hearing their Father’s and Master’s voice, to feeling like orphans and castaways from His family.

What came next?  Genesis 3:8 says, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

You = The Fans
The “you” in the song is also the band’s fans – and Tyler sings out to them, in the trees.  Tyler says the song is also about a personal experience he had, which he doesn’t publicly explain, but He does publicly display tattoos of both the cross of Christ and of bands around his wrist, which likely represent rubber bands people wear to manage and prevent self-harm.  These tattoos are like permanent memorials – or Ebenezers – from his life, and his ongoing recovery from mental illness.  Many of the band’s fans are going through similar struggles and many feel left behind by the world.

Therefore, the “you” of the song is those who feel alone and silent in the trees, who feel ashamed before God, hiding themselves.  They expect God to show up in judgement, as Adam and Eve expected, and hid their nakedness.  Tyler could be calling out to them: God did not judge me, and neither will He judge you if you call out to Him.  God will speak to them, “where they happen to be.”  After all, Genesis 3:9 says: “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”  It was God who desired and initiated reconciliation with His people.

The outro of the song has Tyler screaming HELLO over and over again, before the song ends with 12 seconds of intentional silence before the track ends.

What will be the answer?

When you find someone alone and silent in the trees, remember James 1:27 – “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

If you find yourself alone and silent in the trees, tell your Heavenly Father you want to say hello.  He wants to know you and He wants to see you.

Coda
For many years, “Trees” has been the last song played at every twenty øne piløts concert.  Why is this?  On the album “Vessel”, “Trees” was the next-to-last song and other parts of the album built to it.  The first song on “Vessel” describes demons and spiritual warfare, the second song is called “Holding On To You,” and the third song, “Migraine,” has the repeated line:

And I will say that we should take a moment and hold it
And keep it frozen and know that life has a hopeful undertone

It seems like from the beginning of the album, that moment to hold on to when you’re battling whatever demons you have was coming.  So, in each concert, the fans know that the moment to hold on to is coming.  The song is a moment you can remember when you’re down and know you’re not alone.  The song an Ebenezer in its own way, and a bold statement that the band is not going to ignore the problems of people left behind, the metaphorical widows and orphans of the world.  Also, if they pay close attention, those fans can find the message of Christ in the lyrics.  God doesn’t wait until our affliction is over and we make ourselves acceptable to come to us. He bridges the divide Himself.

Below is a video I took at last night’s concert in Philadelphia.  Apologies for the video quality, especially when they fired massive amounts of confetti into the air, which fans collect to remember the moment later.  My phone camera just couldn’t keep up, but I offer it as a 5-minute moment you can take and hold and know that life has a hopeful undertone.


And what’s all this about widows and orphans? This post continues a series on James 1:27, which began here. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Jesus Even Makes the Deaf Hear

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

As a child of deaf parents, some details of stories from the life of Jesus especially catch my attention.  This miracle recorded in Mark 7:32-37 is one example:

And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.  And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.  And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.  And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’”

In the second sentence, we see Jesus’ “bedside manner.”  His compassion for this individual led to specific actions, as noted by Warren Wiersbe: “Since the man was deaf, he could not hear our Lord’s words, but he could feel Jesus’ fingers in his ear and the touch on his tongue, and this would encourage the man’s faith.”[1]  Not only did Jesus heal Him, but He did it in a way that would be meaningful to this one man.

Another detail Mark records is that Jesus spoke, but why, if this man couldn’t hear him?  Jesus touched the man as a testimony to him, but these words were a testimony to anyone nearby that the power of Jesus healed this man, not the man’s response to the words, since he couldn’t hear them.  There was to be no question as to the source of the healing.

Third, the word “immediately” appears many times in Mark’s gospel, including at least 5 references to healing miracles (1:42, 2:12, 5:29, 5:42, and 10:52).  A big part of this miracle is that deaf people do not immediately “speak plainly” if they recover their hearing or begin using hearing aids.  It can take years of training.  By saying “he spoke plainly,” Mark makes clear that Jesus did not just put this man on the path to recovery; He gave Him a full recovery “immediately”!

Lastly, when the people said, “He has done all things well,” they were testifying that Jesus was fulfilling a Messianic expectation from Isaiah 35:5-6, which says:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
            and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
            and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
            and streams in the desert

In this miracle and others, Jesus showed that He was the fulfillment of all the hopes of the Old Testament, and of all mankind.  His kingdom could overcome any problem, and His kingdom is superior to any other kingdom.  No problem He encountered was beyond His power and He offers a way to a world where all problems are solved for those who believe in Him.

Praise Him!


[1] Wiersbe, Warren.  Be Diligent (Mark) (1987).  P. 95.

Finding Time for God During “RTO”

Photo by Michelen Studios on Unsplash

During the pandemic, most of us found we had extra time on our hands.  In my case, I did not have to commute to work, and many other activities I’d normally do were shut down, so it was easier (not easy) to make time for private time with God in Bible study and prayer.  However, as I’m now in “Return to Office” mode, working 2-3 days a week in the office, I’ve been reminded of Mark 1:35, which says: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

Jesus got up early after a very busy night, which Mark describes in verses 33 and 34: “That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”

I am not naturally a morning person, and finding time has been harder, but as I’ve written: “whether you’re working at a job, at home, retired, a student, a parent, or in any role in this world, as God’s creativity was to be reproduced by Adam and Eve, the character of Jesus is being developed in His people in this world.”  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.[1]  If even Jesus needed daily prayer and time to listen to the Father to get His work done, how much more do we all need that time?

My post-pandemic routine is different than my pre-pandemic routine, and daily time with God is not about the means, but the end.  He has work for each of us to do, and whatever your means of having relationship with the Father, making time to spend with Him is vital for approaching each day as an act of worship and service.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14


[1] Ephesians 2:10