Lent VII – Passion and Glory

Holy Week begins tomorrow and, with it, the remembrance of Christ’s passion. What better motivation is there to abandon my rebellions and to embrace with whole-hearted devotion my God—what better motivation than this: to remember the sacrifice of the One who set aside unimaginable glory and honor to endure horrific suffering for my sake and the sake of the whole world—to love him because he has first loved me.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

~ Philippians 2:5-11

But as we know, the grievous road to the cross ultimately brought great glory and honor to God because Jesus conquered the grave by rising again, and the kingdom of God began to show through here on earth, as it is in heaven. Indeed, as Paul says, God has highly exalted Jesus for his humble obedience, and we are compelled to name him as not only our Lord, but the Lord of all things. This is not to say that Christ’s suffering merely pales because it served the greater good; on the contrary, it is to exalt his suffering because it came of true obedience and because it accomplished the healing of the world, which will become evident to all creatures in the end (I also wish to be clear here that there is much more to be said about Christ’s suffering than its end results). We, too, are encouraged to have the mind of Christ by taking on his humility, his obedient spirit, his self-sacrificial love—all to bring glory to God, which is our main purpose.

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious;
    I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

~ Isaiah 50:4-7 (ESV)

The Lord, our God, will not leave us helpless before the powers of darkness. He has already conquered them, and it is by his power, his Spirit, that we continue to proclaim and embody his kingdom until he returns.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

~ Psalm 118:21-29 (ESV)

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Lent VI: Humility for Service

Dirck_van_Baburen_-_Christ_Washing_the_Apostles_Feet_-_WGA1090

~ Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet, Dirck van Baburen (1616)

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

~ Mark 8:34-38

The Lord Jesus Christ traded his glory for humility, his satisfaction for suffering, his majesty for servanthood, his transcendence for earthiness. But he did not make himself low merely for the sake of so doing; he did so for our sake. He likewise calls each of us to deny oneself, to bear our own “cross”–in all that word’s polysemous proliferation. The context in Mark 8 suggests that one significant instance of denying ourselves is choosing Christ over worldly gain when the two are in conflict; the related instance of bearing our crosses is submitting to the consequences of the open proclamation of our allegiance to Christ and God’s kingdom in a culture which does not appreciate that. I don’t know about you, but I find this very difficult sometimes, not least because I am afraid of being that clanging symbol in 1 Corinthians 13.

During Lent, the emphasis on self-denial may have the propensity to turn us inward, as we leave off participating in certain activities that are often good but that may sometimes leach our time and energy away from the pursuit of God and godliness. May I humbly suggest, however, that self-denial is not primarily about me (or you)? While such devotional self-reflection is often helpful, self-denial in the Christian sense is bigger than that. Jesus calls us to self-denial for his sake and for the gospel’s sake, which is ultimately for the good of others and the world. Paul expands on this by describing how he humbles himself by taking on the weaknesses or limitations of each group of people he serves, in order that some in each group may thereby receive the gospel and be saved.

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew… To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law)… 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ)… 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

~ 1 Corinthians 9:19-22

Later in the same chapter, Paul describes disciplining his body to maintain self-control, but once again, this is not for the sake of that control, but for the sake of others: “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (v. 27).

Acknowledging our own sin and setting aside things we desire are wise and worthy practices, but they are best when they turn us away from ourselves by increasing our desire for God and increasing our passion for spreading his kingdom–for preaching the gospel, for loving the lost, for serving the needy, for stewarding the world’s resources, for working as a redemptive force in the surrounding culture. In other words, if we take pride in our self-denial, it is nothing but false humility. True humility will lead us to serve others and to proclaim only the one who has humbled himself for us.

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
    and his mercy is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
    and tell of your power,
to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

~ Psalm 145: 8-13

 

A Brief Reflection on Humility

Sometimes everything goes better than I could have expected or planned, and in such cases I am often struck by the omniscience, the beauty, the graciousness, and the humor of God.

At Rest

At Rest

On the other hand, sometimes nothing goes quite right… and on the other side of it (or perhaps during it), I am struck by the grace and mercy of my Lord and Savior, who knows my pain, having suffered more than I could imagine, who loves me in spite of myself, and who shows his love not least through the body of Christ around me…

After Turner's Tree in a Storm by Helen Nock

After Turner’s Tree in a Storm by Helen Nock

In this way, I am made humble – for I have nothing to claim for myself, nothing to boast about. All that by which I define myself fails me at some time or other… but God never fails. His Word remains true, his Spirit active in me, his Son interceding on my behalf.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

Ephesians 2:4-10