The Saddest Grave in the World

View-Lake-Luceren-from-Pilatus

The above picture seems quite serene and beautiful but legend tells a different story. It is a view of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland from the view of “Mount Pilatus.”  The mountain is named for Pontius Pilate, a former first century procurator of the Roman province of Judea (AD 26 – 36), who ended his political career in shame and exile or execution. Two legends persist. The first indicates he was exiled to modern day Switzerland where he ended his days in despair, most likely taking his own life. The second is that he was condemned, executed, and dumped in the Tiber River where his body was eventually washed upstream. In either case, the end of both stories is his remains came to be in the depths of Lake Lucerne. Legend says his ghost rises every Good Friday from the watery grave and washes his hands in the pure blue waters of the lake crying, “I am innocent of the blood of this man; I wash my hands; it is not my fault!” Though this ghost tale is untrue, it is a ghastly reality that sadly haunts the soul of Pontius Pilate in to eternity.

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Overlooking Lake Lucerne is this Lion statue that recalls the 1792 massacre of Swiss soldiers during the French Revolution. Mark Twain once called it “the saddest monument in the world.”  Perhaps that is true. If tradition is true, it certainly overlooks what perhaps is the world’s saddest grave. Even if tradition proved to be false, the truth remains:

The saddest grave in the world is not the grave Pilate had sealed, but the one he himself would fill.

Though he declared himself “innocent of this man’s blood” the opposite is true. Only the blood of “this Man” makes the guilty innocent.

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A Pleasing Aroma to the Lord

GoodfridaycrossRecently I have been reading the book of Leviticus with fresh eyes (maybe “open eyes” in light of Luke 24:32).  I started with my morning reading a little over two weeks ago in Leviticus 1 with a pen and notebook beside my Bible as my mind woke and my hand warmed on my mug of coffee. My heart began to burn as I jotted down words that practically leaped off the page in to my mind and heart. (At this point it would be helpful if you read Leviticus 1 as it is). Now, in re-reading – Allow me to highlight some words:

Offering. Male without blemish. Entrance of the tent of the meeting. Accepted before the Lord. Make atonement. Throw the blood. Flay. Cut to pieces. Wood. Pleasing Aroma to the Lord. Blood thrown. Pleasing Aroma to the Lord. Blood drained beside the altar. Tear but not sever completely. Pleasing aroma to the Lord.

In light of the events of “good Friday” the ultimate “day of Atonement” (see Leviticus  16), these words ring out significantly.

Jesus was a “male without blemish” – He is the “tent of the meeting” (John 1:14). Only He is accepted before the Lord and makes us acceptable. He makes atonement. His blood was thrown, He was flayed, His back cut to pieces. He was suspended from a cross of wood, His blood drained, He was torn but not completely. Pleasing aroma to the Lord? “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him (Isaiah 53:10),” Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).

Take this Christ-fulfilling way of reading Leviticus 1 and couple it with the other major themes of the book: a demand for God’s people to be holy, the seriousness of sin, the love of God and of neighbor. The crucifixion of Jesus brings meaning and purpose to all of this and to our very lives as God’s people dearly loved and set apart.  Meditating on this passage led me to this thought: If Jesus made satisfaction for EVERY sin committed by His people then it isn’t a stretch to say every Old Testament sacrifice points to Him. A caution, however, is this: when studying the Old Testament, the question isn’t, “how may I search for or find Jesus in this text?” but “how’s this text satisfied & fulfilled in Jesus?”

Finally, one repeated phrase throughout Leviticus is, “outside the camp.” Outside the camp is where the unclean go, where carcasses are thrown and burned and where the “Scapegoat” is banished.  In light of the whole book of Leviticus read these words from Hebrews 13:

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Rejoice. Make Merry. Exchange Presents!

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These few words strung together out of context would fit most holiday greeting cards and would dress up and adorn any wreath or ornament hung around the house this December. However, their association in Scripture is not a happy one.

My heart stopped when I read this passage in preparation for our Sunday evening Bible study on Revelation 11. I read them again. Yes. This verse (Revelation 11:10) says exactly what I think it says… “and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents” Without too much detail for this post it suffices to say what the people of the earth are rejoicing over is the gruesome death of martyrs who were witnesses for Jesus Christ who had delivered the very message Christmas brings. That is, that Jesus is God in the flesh who came, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death, and rose from the dead, in order that we might have peace with God through faith. This they proclaimed, for this they died, and the people of the earth rejoiced, made merry, and exchanged presents.

In meditating on this my mind and heart flooded with all the times I have participated in these activities with little or no thought to Jesus. It then extended beyond myself to the overt commercialization (which Charlie Brown has been complaining about since the sixties) secularization and democratization of “Christmas” particularly in the United States. We should be stunned as we are left with an unavoidable conclusion: It is entirely possible to celebrate Christmas the way the world celebrates Christmas without Jesus. In fact, it is entirely possible to be “merry, rejoice, and exchange presents” entirely opposed to Jesus. This should at least give us pause in what we are doing. Even better, it should motivate us to share good news of great joy for all of these people that the many will be made children of God as they receive the gift of His Son. Let us be so bold as to not let our relatives drink the egg nog or crumple the paper on the floor without sharing Jesus. When the song comes on over the sound system of the department store don’t miss the opportunity to ask the cashier or customer if they know what “veiled in flesh the Godhead see” or “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” means.

The Best of Thanks in the Worst of Times 


Thanksgiving was proclaimed a national holiday on October 3, 1863. President Abraham Lincoln wrote with the cadence of an Old Testament prophet and the urgency of an Apostle. Elton Trueblood rightly called him a “theologian of American anquish.” His deep brow and frowning eyes tell of deep sorrow. The lines of his face are chisel marks of resilience. His almost grin is a testimony of his quick wit. His words of proclamation setting aside the 4th Thursday in November as a day for giving thanks to our Creator remind us that even in the worst of years (i.e, 1863) we have much to be thankful for. 

His words of proclamation appear in part:

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

And He Gave Thanks

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you,  – Matthew 26:27

Many of us have held the hands of loved ones while the hours they had on this earth were waning fast. Here we see the steady hand of the Son of God holding a cup.

That Same Hand

– That grasped Mary’s finger
– That reached out and touched the man with the withered hand
– That touched his frightened disciples at the mount of transfiguration.

– That calmed the storm and lifted Peter from the depths
– That touched blind eyes and made them see

– That unstopped deaf ears and made them hear

That Same Hand
– That in just a few hours will replace the ear of a temple guard
– That will be bound tightly

– That will be nailed to the cross
– That will be folded in death

That same hand – is holding a cup – full of crimson wine symbolizing the blood now running hot in his veins soon to make wet the dust of Jerusalem and atone for the sins of His church.

And He gave thanks… 

Comfort for Consistent Kingdom Citizens

billybarack2In the wake of the now historical 2016 Presidential election, many have written and will write much more poignant and helpful words than what I share here. These are just a few words of reminder, caution, and encouragement for myself as a pastor and others among whom I minister and serve alongside as we reflect on the changing of the guard in this American experiment of Democracy.  These words will make little sense unless you are coming from a Gospel proclaiming, Christ-centered worldview. If they in any way intrigue you and cause a longing in you then I invite you to know and worship the same King I do.

Comfort in the Sovereignty of God

21 He changes times and seasons;     he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise     and knowledge to those who have understanding; – Daniel 2:21

God knew how this election would turn out before the United States, let alone the world, existed. Really. He knew and He knows. For whatever reason, He has permitted this moment on the stage of the history of the world. There must be comfort in that.

Let us not seek security in the ballot box but in the promises of the Bible. If we feel more peaceful today with Mr. Trump headed for the White House in January more than we felt comforted yesterday in longing for Jesus’ return on the white horse, then we are guilty of idolatry and our hopes are misplaced. On the other hand, if we are more frightened today with his coming to the White House than we are fortified in knowing Christ will return on the white horse, then we are also guilty of the same thing.

Convictional Sensitivity to our Neighbors

We are to love our neighbors. All of our neighbors. Not just the ones we like either. We are even to love the ones who are our enemies. For some, our enemies are strawmen caricatures of individuals from a different background we have never spoken to before. For others of us, it is a stranger with a huge “Make America Great Again” sign next to their “Trespassers will be shot” sign.

The neighbor who is Christ-like must recognize today we have many hurting people in this country with a different point of view on just about everything. We must also recognize that many if not most of our non-white and non-native born neighbors are justifiably leery (if not livid) in wondering how someone who has talked like this candidate can be so overwhelmingly voted for by the people surrounding them.

There are deep divides in this country along racial, cultural, and ideological lines.  Frankly, they will not be healed apart from the peace of Christ that passes all understanding. One day before the throne, we will all be gathered from every tribe, nation, tongue and background. The closest we can come to Heaven now is to reach out and work for that sort of  gospel-driven unity in spite of ourselves and for the glory of God.

Christ-like Submission to Governing Authorities

This is a tough one. Americans are allergic to the term “submit” – it would seem other than when we are telling other Americans to submit. We may also note it could not have been easy for Jesus. He readily admonished the paying of taxes and modeled what it means to literally carry a Cross. However, before we rush too quickly to understand this as meaning we are primarily obedient to any earthly governing authority, note what Jesus says to the Roman Governor responsible for His capital punishment: “Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” – John 19:11.  Jesus was submissive to governing authorities because He was submissive to His Father.

Consider Peter’s admonition:

1 Peter 2 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Simply, there is an end in view to a Christ like submission to authority – and that is that those in authority would know our Father in Heaven.

Consistent Sincerity in Prayerfulness

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” – 1 Timothy 1:1 – 2

If we prayed this morning for President-Elect Donald Trump then I sincerely hope we also petitioned God on behalf of the President of the United States, Barack Obama. If we have only prayed imprecatory prayers for the current President of the United States, then we have been disobedient to the commands of God and should repent.

For many, it will be difficult to pray for President-elect Trump, but if we are followers of Christ then it is our mandate. What any head of state should be able to count on is the fervent prayer of Daniels, John the Baptists, Pauls, William Wilberforces, Frederick Douglasses and countless other common ordinary Christians who sincerely seek the good and welfare of the home which God has given us. John the Baptist prayed for Herod. Paul prayed for Nero. William Tyndale prayed for Henry the VIII. Just think about that.  Let us pray for peace and transition of power and God’s blessing on President Barack Obama. In the same way, inthe words of my brother Max Lucado, let us pray that President-elect Donald Trump would have the “heart of David, the vision of Daniel, and the wisdom of Solomon.”

Confidence in the Singularity of our Mission

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:33

Last, but not least, in the words of Russell Moore, we have “higher priorities.” Our business as citizens of the United States is trumped by our business as Kingdom Citizens. Certainly the two go hand in hand, but inevitably one must outweigh the other. Our business is to be salt and light to a dark and unsavory world, and we must be about our Father’s business of spreading the light and fragrance of Christ everywhere to everyone – urban, suburban, rural, male, female, citizen, immigrant, refugee and countless other categories – that are all one in Christ Jesus.

Spotlight on Race & the Gospel 

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak… James 1:19
Last night I got to take another step in a lifelong journey that started the first time I listened to a John Piper sermon on race and realized I was in the depths of my heart a racist. I would further be confronted by my coming to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where I still remember the first time I saw an “interracial” couple in a Christian setting (I’m from Mississippi…). That moment (not immediately) was the end of racism for me. At least of an active willful kind. Then there was Russell Moore and all the things he said to play my heart strings because he knew where I was coming from. Everything from his theological approach to adoption to his resounding, “Black and White and Red all over” at The Gospel Coalition a few years ago have had me hanging on every word Dr. Moore has been willing to spill ink over on this and other topics.

 
So last night I went to a faith and culture forum led by two African American rappers (not only of course. Propaganda and Sho Baraka are image bearers, artists, faithful teachers, winsome articulate communicators – I’m just painting the picture in contrast to my white nerdiness and my inability to rap). All I knew for certain I had in common with these guys was our understanding of the Gospel. In anticipation, I expected to be uncomfortable, humbled, and wanted to listen and learn. Frankly I was only uncomfortable twice. In the first couple of minutes there was a piece played by a comedian in which white people were the butt of the joke (my being uncomfortable came in that I wasn’t sure where it was going). I finally started laughing. I also needed to relieve myself of a shot of Cuban coffee, which I opted to do during a song so I didn’t miss any dialogue. Other than those moments, I felt as if we were in a family discussion that was graciously and fearlessly pursued (this framework was very well laid out and followed by the artists). The earlier video would be woven in to the tapestry of the night populated by intense and poetic dialogue, humor, poignant and pointed videos, powerful illustrations, and engagement. Topics ranged from partisan politics to Black Lives Matter to family dynamics to the church (just to name a few).

I did not learn anything new necessarily but I did learn nuances that are building blocks of a sure foundation in understanding, namely the articulation of interlocking systems of injustice and of compassion (not power) as the necessary and proper vehicle of a forward moving culture.As to this way forward, Christ permeates this. It’s gospel. It’s gold.

I now want to gush out all sorts of thoughts and review what I think I’ve learned, but that is part of the problem. We really were part of a family discussion last night and that is how these issues and systemic poisons are addressed. Frankly (this is my opinion and wasn’t said last night but possibly inferred) blogs and social media have often done a grave disservice to this conversation that needs to be had face to face.
In conclusion, I’m aware it would be naive to say, “now we’ve got it!” but it would be perilous to say, “we’ll never get it.” Something must be done and the drivers must be listening, compassion, and constructive gospel drenched action.
As a thirty something white southern baptist who is young and restless about many things, I’m certain when it comes to racial reconciliation it is not something that can be accomplished in an annual sermon or a convention vote – it’s something that has to be lived and voiced, as we pick up our crosses daily. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to start walking. I’m grateful for Prop and Sho. Thanks be to God.