I wrote this poem a year ago. It came out of a time of wrestling with sorrow and grief — some of which was tinged with frustration with my own sin. I had been reflecting on Psalm 73 (Brian Habig’s sermon on this from a few years ago has continued to stick with me) and a few verses in particular:
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.Psalm 73:21-22
Here the Psalmist is reflecting on his bitterness toward God and how God had been at work in His life. He loses perspective in His life as a worshiper of God and wrestles to regain it. In the end, he is reminded and comforted by God’s gracious presence with him even still:
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.Psalm 73:23
This similar wrestling comes out in the poem in the desire to “banish the brute” that rages within and the need for God to subdue us all to Himself. Graciously, the Lord does this by reminding us of His “hidden” and “near” presence with us and provision for us, even in the process of “sounding the soul.”
Banish the brute, unconsoled in bondage breaking, And brutish be the unvanquished self undone. In leisure, unrest boisterous, boldly taking Joy unbridled, unfettered, making cares run. Sorrow steals all natural thrills, nowhere now alive. Name what is numb, see and sum, flailing mute, fleeing. Natal calm, the native psalm of Providence spied; Speaks not, spares not, nor assuages grief’s dark dealing. Dark doubles down sounding the soul: a devil’s bind. What dare a wretched rebel devise such deceived? Where fly, dispel, cry, perceive – deliverance find? Divine the Savior be – hidden, near; Soul believe!
Analogies of Grief
Whenever we are going through difficult or perplexing experiences, analogies are helpful. As meaning-makers, pictures and stories are natural ways in which we seek to make sense of what we have experienced (or continue to experience). The pain and stress of these experiences are typically not relieved by this, but the process of naming and defining them can provide some needed closure and clarity on the road to healing. We do this all the time. “You know, it was kind of like…” Or, “The more I think about it, it was a lot like…” We need these analogies to find meaning in our experiences — particularly those of pain, suffering, and loss.
Of particular interest to me at the moment are analogies of grief.
Grief is a broad term for the feeling associated with (or emotional response to) the experience of loss. In terms of the range of human emotional experience, it is in the sadness or sorrow family. It is a response to suffering, pain, and loss. It is the experience and process of mourning — longing for someone or something lost; or that something painful happened. The occasion of grief could be the loss of a loved one to death, a broken relationship, an old or chronic emotional or physical wound, the death of hopes and dreams, unfulfilled expectations, or something else similar. Grieving can be done well or poorly. It can lead to growth and joy, but it also can cripple, hinder, and dehumanize us. We can try to avoid it. But since pain, suffering, and loss are an inescapable part of living in a sinful, fallen world, grief is a fundamental, shared human experience of that world. Because of this, grief is also a place of universal connection.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.Proverbs 15:13
Since grief is big, emotionally overwhelming, often perplexing and long-lasting, and a universal human experience, it is important to be able to understand it for what it is as well as for how we ought to respond to it. Great benefit and personal growth can come through the process of loss and pain grieved well. Meaningful connections can be made interpersonally through the opportunities that grieve provides. Thus, as visual and storied meaning-makers, we need analogies of grief.
Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.Ecclesiastes 7:3
In this post and (hopefully) a few more subsequent posts, I want to share and reflect on several analogies of grief that I have run across. I would love to hear some of yours as well. The first comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy: grief is like a Morgul wound. Full disclosure: I shamelessly stole this analogy from my counselor (he’s not offended).
I shared this analogy in a recent sermon on the book of Job, but I wanted to develop the idea a bit more here. You can watch/listen to the sermon here (the sermon starts at 22:40; the Morgul wound illustration starts at 59:12).
A Morgul Wound
In the first book of Tolkien’s epic tale, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and his hobbit companions are guided by Strider (aka Aragorn, aka King Elessar) on the initial part of their journey out of the Shire. At Weathertop, the group is ambushed by the Nazgul and their leader, the Witch-king of Angmar, corners Frodo in pursuit of the One Ring. As the Witch-king presses in, he stabs Frodo with a short blade called the Morgul knife. Though not a fatal wound, Frodo cries out in agony as Strider intercedes and eventually drives away the Nazgul. You can watch the film adaptation of this scene below:
The Witch-king’s knife is a unique weapon with dark, evil origins that has a poisoning effect on its victims. In Tolkien’s books, the Morgul-knife breaks off in the wound and the shards travel toward the victim’s heart. Eventually, it has the effect of turning the victim into a dark, shadowy wraith like the Nazgul (to read more of the lore behind the Morgul-knife, you can go here). As Aragorn indicates in the film, only elvish medicine can heal this particular type of wound.
Thankfully, Aragorn is able to get Frodo to Elrond, the great elf lord, at his fortress in Rivendell. Though Elrond is able to treat Frodo’s Morgul wound by removing the blade’s shards, Frodo continues to feel the pain of the wound intensely from time-to-time, particularly on the anniversary of the attack at Weathertop. In the end, a permanent cure for Frodo’s wound is only found in his departure to the West, to Valinor and the Undying Lands (an experience that only a select few non-elves had experienced).
Some wounds “never” heal. In this scene at the end of the film version of The Return of the King, Frodo reflects on his continued pain from the wound:
Our Morgul Wounds
Like our hobbit friend Frodo, we too have our own Morgul wounds. The losses, pain, and sufferings of life — big and small; acute and chronic — ail us and press us into the experience of grief like a wrestler pinned face-first to the mat. Our grief lingers. It reappears with new strength at anniversaries and at the sights, sounds, and smells of that which was lost or the pain that was experienced. Even the best medicine of the Means of Grace, the spiritual disciplines, counseling, healthy habits and personal boundaries, intimate relationships, etc., leave a remaining ache in us — body and soul. Like Frodo, we too have pain and loss that will be to some extent unresolved until we enter the Undying Lands (and praise be to the Lord Jesus who makes the way for us through His Resurrection).
It is in the unresolved nature of Frodo’s Morgul wound that we find a helpful analogy for our grief today. Because, even if we know and believe with all our hearts that Christ will bring us to the Undying Lands in due time, our wounds still throb. The tears still pour from our eyes. We hurt. We grieve and we grieve and we grieve.
Grief is a process. It is a process that is part of being a sinful human being in a fallen world. In it and through the gospel of Christ ministered to us by His Spirit and in the fellowship of the Church, we find substantial, yet not full, healing in this life. And it’s in seeing, understanding, and embracing this unresolved tension in our grief and loss that we are able to make some meaning out of it all and persevere with real hope and joy here and now — on our way to full and complete healing in our own, true Valinor in the New Heavens and New Earth.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”Revelation 21:1-4
Analogies illuminate, but they don’t fix or heal things. Only Jesus can do this. In the meantime, He gives us His grace, His Word, His promises, and His people. Jesus gives us His very self. And though we grieve, He is with us. And though we suffer, it is not the end of the story. All He has promised, He will fulfill.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
I wrote this poem last Spring as an exercise in the art of noticing. It’s happy and short — capturing a brief scene of Spring’s green beauty. There is always much to be noticed and enjoyed all around us in the simple nature of things. This is particularly so when the earth returns to life in Springtime. Notice. Enjoy. Give thanks to the Maker. New life is everywhere.
The sweet gum’s star leaves flap Like birds’ wings alighting Dancing so cheerfully Dappled with sunlight’s rays And the wind whips them ‘round As their waltzing partner
While Easter is a day, it is also a season. Easter Sunday is the beginning of an extended time of reflection and meditation on the events of Christ’s Passion and its implications for our lives. Easter begins on Easter Sunday but extends forty more days until Ascension Day and then continues ten more days until the Day of Pentecost. Just as the disciples had forty days to linger with Christ and then ten more days to await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we too as His followers have the opportunity to continue the celebration, deepen our wonder at His miraculous rising, and, through intimate time with Jesus, learn how to work out how His resurrection life informs and transforms all aspects of our lives.
So Easter is a day. And it’s a season. But, in another sense, Easter is also a new age that we all now inhabit until the return of Christ. Because of the events of that first Easter week and the continued work of Christ by His Spirit, every day becomes Easter for us as we inhabit the age of Easter inaugurated by Jesus those many years ago. Everything is dramatically different now. Death has been but to death. There is hope beyond the grave — a real, sturdy, and living hope found in the resurrected Christ, whom we will all follow and resemble in full at His return. As our pastor Ryan reminded us this past Sunday at Covenant Church, resurrection is now the “new normal.” Easter is a reality to live into each day. There is resurrection life to tap into each moment by the power of Christ’s Spirit, while we await the fullness of our own future resurrection.
Along these lines, here are three poems that capture this everyday Easter reality. May reflecting on them in the light of Scripture’s grand story of the Resurrection edify you as you seek to live into the season and age of Easter.
Easter by George Herbert (1593 –1633)
RIse heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise Without delayes, Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise With him mayst rise: That, as his death calcined thee to dust, His life may make thee gold, and much more, just. Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part With all thy art. The crosse taught all wood to resound his name, Who bore the same. His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key Is best to celebrate this most high day. Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song Pleasant and long: Or, since all musick is but three parts vied And multiplied, O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part, And make up our defects with his sweet art. I got me flowers to straw thy way; I got me boughs off many a tree: But thou wast up by break of day, And brought’st thy sweets along with thee. The Sunne arising in the East, Though he give light, & th’ East perfume; If they should offer to contest With thy arising, they presume. Can there be any day but this, Though many sunnes to shine endeavour? We count three hundred, but we misse: There is but one, and that one ever.
Herbert begins this poem in a similar manner as many of the Psalmists of Scripture (see Psalms 42-43 for an example) by addressing his own self or soul. He seeks to rouse himself to the reality of Christ’s resurrection and spur himself toward glad rejoicing and celebration. Using varied images Herbert paints a picture of one’s movement out of sorrow and into joy in light of Easter and its tiding. All in all, this a beautiful poem — even though there is some archaic language to overcome.
In the final stanza, Herbert draws our attention to the daily reality of the Easter — the idea that Easter is an age we inhabit until Christ’s return: “Can there be any day but this / Though many sunnes to shine endeavour? / We count three hundred, but we misse: / There is but one, and that one ever.” Because the resurrected and ascended Christ reigns and rules now, each day is infused with the power, life, and grace of that first Easter day through the Spirit’s presence. Reflecting on this ought to help us rouse our own souls to live into the implications of Christ’s Resurrection.
If you would like to dig into this poem further, Malcolm Guite shares his helpful explanation and analysis on his blog in an Easter post from a few years ago.
Easter by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 –1889)
Break the box and shed the nard; Stop not now to count the cost; Hither bring pearl, opal, sard; Reck not what the poor have lost; Upon Christ throw all away: Know ye, this is Easter Day. Build His church and deck His shrine, Empty though it be on earth; Ye have kept your choicest wine— Let it flow for heavenly mirth; Pluck the harp and breathe the horn: Know ye not 'tis Easter morn? Gather gladness from the skies; Take a lesson from the ground; Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes And a Spring-time joy have found; Earth throws Winter's robes away, Decks herself for Easter Day. Beauty now for ashes wear, Perfumes for the garb of woe, Chaplets for dishevelled hair, Dances for sad footsteps slow; Open wide your hearts that they Let in joy this Easter Day. Seek God's house in happy throng; Crowded let His table be; Mingle praises, prayer, and song, Singing to the Trinity. Henceforth let your souls always Make each morn an Easter Day.
Hopkins begins this poem with dramatic language imagining us as Jesus’ would-be grave robbers in a sense: “Break the box and shed the nard” (nard being the perfume Jesus was anointed with at Bethany). Immediately, he has our attention! In the first stanza he goes on to utilize Biblical imagery to emphasize the great worth of Christ — Mary’s perfume (John 12:3) and the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). In light of the events of His Passion, Hopkins impresses upon us that Jesus is worth everything: “Upon Christ throw all away.” This is not meant solely in a negative sense, but also positively — whether the pouring forth of our “wine” or the playing of our own “harp” or “horn” for His benefit and exaltation. I am reminded of Jesus’ own words about this dynamic:
25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?Matthew 16:25-26
Continuing on the the ensuing stanzas, Hopkins gives us several examples of transformation: Winter turning into Spring, grieving turning into rejoicing, funeral rites turning into an exuberant celebration, and more. He urges us as “Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes” (my favorite line) to join them and “Open wide your hearts that they / Let in joy this Easter Day.” All creation worships and adores the Son. And so should we — on Easter Day and each day that follows.
In the final stanza, Hopkins paints the picture of corporate worship — the people of God gathered as a great congregation to worship the Risen Lord. Part of the motive for this reveling, Hopkins intimates, is the daily reality of Easter: “Henceforth let your souls always / Make each morn an Easter Day.” By the Spirit’s power, we have the opportunity each day to make this our meditation — that Easter realities and resurrection light might pour into our hearts and out of us through our worshipful service of our Risen King for the benefit of all our neighbors. What a fantastic encouragement and powerful motive to live moment-by-moment in fellowship with Christ and in dependence on Him! We have these resources at our fingertips daily as we continue to inhabit the age of Easter.
Easter Dawn by Malcolm Guite (1957– )
He blesses every love which weeps and grieves And now he blesses hers who stood and wept And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s Last touching place, but watched as low light crept Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs A scatter of bright birdsong through the air. She turns, but cannot focus through her tears, Or recognise the Gardener standing there. She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why, Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light That brightens as she chokes out her reply ‘They took my love away, my day is night’ And then she hears her name, she hears Love say The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.
This poem is actually an English sonnet — 14 lines (three quartets and a couplet), iambic pentameter, and an alternating rhyme scheme (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG). In this sonnet, Guite puts us in the place of Mary Magdalene in her grief. This scene is found in the Resurrection account in the Gospel of John:
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.John 20:11-18
Guite captures how Mary was blessed in her grief and tears through the presence of the resurrected Jesus. Going further, he impresses upon us that the same blessing is available to us in our grief, sorrows, and losses: “He blesses every love which weeps and grieves” (emphasis mine). Grief shows the depth of our love most often. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous final lines from his poem “In Memoriam A.H.H.” express this experience well:
I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.
Deep sorrow and grief shows presence of real and true love. We see this in Jesus’ own life in the Jews’ response to His expressive and intense grief over the loss of Lazarus: “See how He loved him!” (John 11:36). However, in our present scene, there is a great reversal. In the depths of Mary’s grief, which mirrors her love, her Love appears, speaks her name, and quiets her soul’s boisterous pain with His comforting presence. Love is not lost. Jesus is alive and draws near. The Resurrection brings resolution to lost love.
Delving further, Guite pictures the gentleness of Jesus beautifully in this sonnet. Christ leads with questions. He presses toward us in our tears. He calls us by name. He impresses upon the reality of the good news of His Resurrection. For Mary and for us as well, Jesus clears out the cloudiness of our tear-filled eyes with the shining glory of His intimate presence. Our vision is clarified seeing the resurrected Jesus and His words of comfort: “The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.” It is no longer night! Our resurrected Lord shines luminously in our lives as He abides with us and us with Him. It is Easter now and always until He returns — even as we continue to grieve losses and feel the ache of our many sorrows. In Christ, let your night be day today, my friends!
You can hear Guite read this sonnet on his blog.
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
Christ’s resurrection is the great victory and pivotal moment around which all reality orbits. And yet, this Easter is tinged with grief for me [originally written in 2020].
If I’m honest, I’m grieved to not be worshiping in person with my church family. I’m grieved by the cycling loop of insecurity involved in live-streaming and recording services. I’m grieved because I see my sin and weakness as a husband and father more starkly in a quarantined life. I feel weak, emotionally strained, and insufficient.
The thing is — I think that’s exactly where Jesus wants me to be this Easter. Dependent. Needy. Hungry for Him. Anticipating a hope bigger than this world.
I’m trying to lean into this today and pray for His grace to do so. For Easter is a day of celebration, a day of joy, a day of feasting, a day of anticipation, and a day of hope. Though grief hovers under the surface in my heart today, I will sing. I will rejoice in my Risen Savior. I will cry out in my need and find the great answer in Jesus Christ who has satisfied every need in His life, death, and resurrection. He reigns now as King and has promised to return for me — and I trust Him.
The first thing I heard this morning when I walked outside was the birds singing. I guess I should join them.
Happy Easter, my friends!
“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”Hebrews 10:36-39
This is another quiet day during Holy Week. It’s quiet in the Scriptural account because it was the Jewish Sabbath day. Jesus is dead. His body rests in the tomb. Everyone is resting at home. Nothing is happening.
And yet, the vanity of mankind is on display. Fearfully and disobediently, the chief priests and Pharisees are staying busy and still “working.” They’re working hard to keep Jesus dead and to make sure His movement is completely stamped out by making several final requests of Pilate. He obliges and the Jewish leaders go to seal the stone of the tomb and set a guard. I imagine they were pretty pleased with themselves at this point. They have covered their bases.
But if we know Jesus at all, we know that He is a man of surprise who is skilled at kindly, but abruptly exposing our independent pride and rebellion — our fundamental resistance to resting in Him and the insanity of our supposed self-sufficiency.
My friends, in the midst of a pandemic and stay-at-home orders [originally written in 2020], we see the vanity of our self-sufficiency in a fresh way, don’t we? Many of us have been hard at work (even on days of rest) to set a guard and to seal the tomb in order to keep the living Jesus from finding us in our desperation, pain, fear, rage, and grief. And yet, Jesus didn’t stay in the rest of death for long. We can’t keep Him there.
Resurrection life bursting forth interrupted the short pause of His rest in the tomb. And His resurrection life breaks forth in our own lives today!
My friends, who will we be today? Anxious and arrogant fools like the chief priests and Pharisees who in vain sought to bar the resurrected Christ from their lives? Or grieving, humble, and hopeful children of God like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who expectantly look for Jesus to joyfully surprise them once again?
Jesus desires you! Jesus desires to walk alongside you in your journey. He may yet surprise you with His abundant grace.
“Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.”Matthew 28:5
My friend Pablo has said it well (listen to the song here):
It’s ironic we call this good. Behold the man, The crown, the nails, the hands, The blood-stained wood.
Calling a day like this “good” shouldn’t sit well with us.
Though we know the end of the story is “good” — Jesus rises from the grave victoriously defeating sin, death, and Satan — this part of the story isn’t “good.” On Good Friday, we see the great wickedness of evil and human sin. It’s incredibly hard to look at, sit with, and reflect upon. Our temptation is to skip ahead to the happy ending of the great, true fairy story of Easter. But my encouragement to you, my friends, is to slow down and not rush past Good Friday — especially this year.
This year [originally written in 2020], many are fasting and praying fervently on this day for the eradication of COVID-19 and for God’s mercy to be poured out on humanity. This is fitting for us to do. We see the evil and brokenness of the world more vividly this year. We see and feel the desperate rebellion and prideful sinfulness of our own hearts with greater clarity in our constricted, quarantined lives. This is a great gift from God — if we will receive it. The bad news of our sin and rebellion makes the good news even more precious and sweet.
So this Good Friday…
Keep the fast. Feel the ache. Meditate on Jesus’ engaging with evil and death for you. Meditate on Jesus absorbing God’s wrath for you. Confess your sin and turn in repentance. Hunger for God, His Word, and Christ’s return. Pour out your prayers with cries to the Lord. Acknowledge your fears and your grief before Him. Rage against evil, sin, and death before Him. Pray for our leaders and medical workers. Pray for the sick, poor, and needy. Pray for the eradication of COVID-19. Pray for Jesus to come again soon and make all things new. Submit your plans to Him. Give thanks for His mercy, grace, and love.
If God willingly and lovingly intervened on our behalf when it came to sin, death, and evil, we can be fully assured that He will intervene on our behalf now in this horrific pandemic.
“For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden His face from him, but has heard, when he cried to Him.”Psalm 22:24
The phrase “maundy” comes from the Latin “mandatum” or “commandment” referring to Jesus’ words on this day in Holy Week:
“a new commandment I give to you.”John 13:34
Love. This is Jesus’ “new” commandment. Love has always been the commandment of God going back to the Old Testament law: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). So what is new about it? What is “new” about Jesus’ commandment is that His disciples are to love each other “just as I have loved you.” The newness is found in Jesus’ own deepening and transformation of the call to love through His own teaching and example.
How does Jesus love? He washes feet (John 13:1-20). He lays down His life for His friends who were once His enemies (John 15:13). He calls sinners His friends, shows them His Father, and grants them access to the fellowship of the Triune God through the Spirit (John 15:14-15; 16:5-15). He pours Himself out in prayer for His people (John 17).
Friends, Jesus pours out this same love for you and for me (He even prays specifically for us in John 17:20-26). This love is not only exactly what we need, but it transforms us.
Today, receive Jesus’ great love for you. Rest in it. Be transformed by it. Because of Jesus, you are a friend of God — you are His beloved child. Out of that accepted and loved place, serve your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your community out of the Spirit’s power — as He sanctifies you in the truth and empowers you for that very service.
Today, there are many challenges ahead of us and our burdens are heavy. In all of this, Jesus is with you in His love — walking with you as Immanuel “God with us.” He will serve you as you serve Him.
“[Jesus] having loved His own…He loved them to the end.”John 13:1b
It seems like a much quieter day in Holy Week. But both the Jewish leaders and Jesus are preparing for the same thing: Jesus’ death. They plot deceitful designs in secret. Jesus and His disciples prepare to eat the Passover meal together. The symbolism is rich — Jesus will become our Passover lamb, the once and for all sacrifice for sin. He is the priest and the sacrifice — offered for undeserving sinners who instead deserve death. In all this, Jesus is granting us forgiveness and bringing us back to our Heavenly Father. He is full of intention in His work on our behalf. This is marvelous in our eyes!
Friends, embrace the quiet today. It seems like nothing is happening, but God is at work. Jesus has holy designs for you and freely pours out perfect provision. Be still and receive His forgiveness. Marvel at His grace. Because of Jesus, you are “passed over” and accepted as a child of God — loved perfectly and eternally by the Father. His Spirit indwells you and seals all the benefits of His death to you — sanctifying you in truth. What good news!
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”Hebrews 10:11-14 (ESV)
Yesterday, we saw that Jesus means business. Today, we see that He is busy. The days events take up five chapters in the Gospel of Matthew alone. He engages with the chief priests and elders who challenge Him repeatedly. Understandably, they were threatened and perturbed by Jesus — He was actively undercutting their authority as an uneducated outsider who had the potential to unseat them from the places of privilege and influence. So, they begin their resistance to Jesus on Tuesday with outright, public debate. Question after question they put to Jesus. He answers their seemingly unanswerable questions with profound parables — providing substantial and satisfying answers while at the same time exposing their pride and malice: “they perceived that he was speaking about them” (Matthew 21:45b).
In contrast to the Jewish leaders’ conception of the Kingdom of God and the fruitless fig tree that Israel had become, Jesus vindicates His God-given authority (Matthew 21:23-27), emphasizes the upside-down nature of grace in the true Kingdom (21:28-32), and speaks to the great resistance that this Kingdom will face and overcome (21:33-46). The true Kingdom is for those who will come to the open-invitation wedding feast — those dressed and prepared with humble faith (22:1-14). The true Kingdom has intersecting points with the kingdoms of the earth, but is ultimately greater than them all (22:15-22). The true Kingdom is one of resurrection life, where God abides with His regenerated children into eternity — resuming, restoring, and advancing humanity to new heights (22:23-33). The true Kingdom is founded on love and its citizens embody it holistically (22:34-40). And ultimately this true Kingdom takes the shape of its King: great David’s Greater Son and Lord, Jesus Himself (22:41-46).
The Kingdom of God is coming, but it meets great resistance. This is clear as Jesus spars with the Jewish leaders. Many stand to be lead astray by their false teaching. This grieves and enrages Jesus! And so, He pronounces woes upon these self-serving shepherds and laments their rejection of the true Kingdom and its King (23:1-39). His anger and sadness has undertones of parental love and longing for wayward Israel:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”Matthew 23:37
Jesus is busy! And yet, even after this flurry of teaching and interaction, Jesus continues to revel in the wonders of the true Kingdom while withdrawing with His disciples (24:1-2). He pivots in His perspective from the present to the future. His Kingdom has a scope even beyond His death, resurrection, and ascension. It comes to fruition in His eventual second coming when His Kingdom will be established in full. In dramatic words and apocalyptic images, Jesus paints a picture of not just what He is doing at that moment, but of the even greater things that follow His ascension and lead up to the final day of judgment (24:3-25:46). There is both warning and comfort in this teaching of the end times and judgment. It is certainly perplexing. But paradox ultimately finds harmony, because this Kingdom is like no other. This King is like no other.
My friends, Jesus remains busy! He remains the Coming One — the One who is, and was, and is to come (Revelation 1:8). His Kingdom is advancing even now, even in you, your life, and your community. In response, we can resist Him and oppose His Kingdom being manifest in our hearts and lives — all to our ruin. And yet, the better response is one of faithful repentance and embrace of our gracious inclusion in His Kingdom (at once and again-and-again) — a dynamic that reverberates outward in humility and deeds of love and mercy. We could resist and endure woe upon woe unto judgment. Or, we could lean in as Jesus’ gathers us under His healing wings. The Sun of Righteousness shines brightly. Will we stand in His light? Will we reflect His light so that other might bask in His warmth with us?
1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.”Malachi 4:1-3