Friday, April 11, 2014

The Three Crosses

image used under Creative Commons license, photo by geralt on pixabay
Romans 6:4 (KJV)  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

We're approaching Easter, when we think about the Cross and the Resurrection. To go along with that, I decided on the image at the right for today's illustration.  As important as the Cross and the Resurrection are, thanks to an unrelated conversation on Google+, I got thinking about the other two crosses.

Maybe the greatest power of the Cross is not that it ensures our salvation, but that it's all encompassing.  Anyone can accept the gift of salvation.  It's available for all, even right up till the moment of physical death.

Luke 23:39-43 (NKJV)  Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."  But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."  Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."  And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

The Greek paradisos comes from the Hebrew pardes.  Both speak of a park, a forest and refer to a place of future happiness.  It was that part of Hades where the blessed went prior to the Resurrection.  The Old Testament saints were said to be there.  But the other two crosses highlight a recent conversation on G+.

I'm one of the moderators of a community of Christian bloggers on Google+.  One of our members posted about some potential problems with pastors "tickling ears" (2 Timothy 4:3-4), mostly speaking of some of the megachurches that seem to do whatever fills seats at the expense of proper doctrine.  I think the blogger had keyed in on pastors of megachurches because the strange doctrines like the prosperity message and the self help gospel seem to be highlighted more by successful megachurch pastors.  The pastor with the small church doesn't have himself to show off as an example of the results of these doctrines.  On the other hand, the rest of the ways we can prove we're sinners can run the gamut of pastors and Body members.

So, how do we tell the tares from the wheat?  Well, think of that passage in Luke.  There are two thieves on crosses, next to Jesus.  One doubting and blaspheming, the other repentant and seeking the Lord's favor.  Or think of Peter.  Jesus told him he'd deny Jesus three times in one night and it came to pass.  What's one of the major things Christ did after His resurrection? Commission Peter to evangelize and disciple.  We're all familiar with the "feed My sheep" dialogue (John 21:15-19). Peter then had his own megachurch of sorts on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), preaching to Jews from all over the world who had returned to Jerusalem, speaking in their own languages.  The result? Three thousand converts saved and baptized.  All because Peter was repentant, seeking the Lord.

Our starting verse was Romans 6:4 (KJV), "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.".  Think of it as another way of stating John 3:30 (KJV), "He must increase, but I must decrease.".  If our priority is Christ instead of our own thoughts, concepts, and desires, we can turn from a muddy past and move forward in the Lord.

Matthew 13:24-30 is the familiar parable of the tares and the wheat.  Unplanted seeds are dry and hard.  They can sit around for quite awhile before the external coat breaks down and the seed is no longer able to grow into a mature plant.  But, as soon as a seed goes into the ground, it starts taking in water (the water of Life, water of the Word) and the nutrients from the ground.  The internal genetics change with the burial with Christ and baptism of Romans 6:4.  Instead of just growing in an earthly cycle, it's capable of retaining nutrition and life and passing that along.  It's raised out of the dirt in a changed form that soaks in Sonlight, more water, and more nutrients, gaining that "newness of life".

The tares look like wheat, but they never process all that in a way that creates nutrition that goes beyond themselves.  Mixed in with growing wheat in the field, they appear so much alike that pulling up the tares would also result in accidentally pulling up some of the wheat.  Once the plants are mature, they get harvested together, then separated in the threshing barn.  But the spiritual reality varies from the farming analogy.  God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  He can discern the differences, which means the parable is addressing someone else -- us.

It's our discernment that's lacking and would end up harming some of the wheat by trying to remove the tares too soon.  We all know the story about the mote in someone else's eye and the beam in ours (Matthew 7:3-5, Luke 6:41-42).  Our sight is going to be distorted by that log damaging our eye.  We can miss a splinter that really needs to be dealt with and we can see another speck as being a worse problem than it really is.

In the case of the tares, we may discern some of the wheat as tares, while leaving some of the tares, thinking it's wheat.  Most of us would have kicked Peter to the curb long before Pentecost. And most of us would never select Saul the Christian killer to become Paul, one of the greatest apostles.  So, what makes us think that our discernment of modern day ministries is going to work any better?

There's a really interesting contrast.  We say God has mysterious ways, then determine we know all of His will.  We say God is in control, but decide we're the ones who need to guide things along and fix things.  When that gets pointed out to us, we're really good at telling everyone that the faults we see are obvious and it's pretty clear that our discernment qualifies us to make those decisions and take those actions.  But that's me.  Everybody else is much better at discernment and not coming to conclusions, and not seeking evidence to support what we've already concluded.

My personal reality, as I grow older, is that I grow more and more aware of my shortcomings.  Not in a way that I'm ready to pack it in, but to the point that I can no longer go to God daily about things. It has to be instantaneously, so my list doesn't get so long that I forget some of it.  Just like some of my electronics that "instant on" makes so immediately usable, I need instant cleansing so I'm readily usable.  If I want to be a David with God's heart (Acts 13:22), a Peter, a Paul, a thief on a cross, or just plain Bill, I find a need to be repentant and seeking God in all I do.  No, I'm not anywhere near perfect in that.  But I get better at it as I focus on my relationship with God instead of becoming a fruit inspector for everyone else's relationship.  How's your focus, today?

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