It was over two years ago. Most remember the situation. It was on the first day of Spring Celebration, March 21st, 2012. Jane was suddenly very sick. Within 10 days she would be paralyzed head to toe, on a ventilator. She could not communicate, could not blink an eye and every system in her body was shut down with only artificial means to function. Physically, she was in a very, very bad condition. And, while we have said lots of things about that during and after her experience with GBS, we always had difficulty trying to express ourselves completely about what our Christian life was like at that exact time.
I was actually listening to a teaching about what happened to Jesus on the cross and some of the words expressed by the teacher triggered, ‘Yes! That’s how it was, that’s exactly how it was!’ The illustration used was how Jesus, by hanging and dying on the cross, symbolically, walked up to the edge of the darkness, looked over the edge and jumped! Free fell into the darkness; could not see the bottom of the pit kind of that darkness. He jumped into it! What happened in that free fall? When Jesus lay down his life he was human, looking at death and the darkness of that death with Faith and Hope, but still seeing it for all of its fear and darkness, an Adam kind of fear. The obvious answer to my question is he met the Father there. We know from Psalm 22 exactly what happened to Jesus, the exact description of the cross of Christ is expressed by David’s psalm. It is too long to repeat here but the rejection, the thoughts and the pain are clearly expressed in Psalm 22 in explicit detail. It, and its continuation in the 23rd Psalm, is exactly what Jesus experienced.
In actuality, Jesus jumped off into that darkness of death and was embraced by the reassuring arms of his Father. Any fear, doubt or angst was just an illusion, an illusion dispelled by that embrace. That’s the kind of words I was looking for about Jane’s and my experience two years ago. When we were free falling into what could have been fear, doubt and darkness, the Father was there. Certainty is a good descriptive word to use, certain that we were in the embrace of the Father and we were present with Him in some real and tangible way. That darkness was not darkness. Any fears at the beginning of the experience were illusions. At the temptations of Jesus he was offered illusions. The One who holds all things together (He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17) was rejected and killed by the very Creation that he created. He was called names, accused of being demon possessed, alienated, betrayed by his brethren, denied by friends, and mocked, beaten and shamed. At his crucifixion, the illusion was that it was all over. His following had dwindled. Jesus was killed with only a few women and one apostle present. The illusion was that the movement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was dying as he was dying. But all that was an illusion, not real, not what was really going on. Actually, the one that thought he had defeated God was actually being defeated.
In Christ, what goes on in our lives in moments of great fear is illusion as well. He does not leave us alone. He is present in our free falls. Many times we have to lean into the darkness to find the hand that is present there. I’m not talking about being happy, content or embracing our hurt, sickness or pain; I am talking about leaning into those experiences with a Faith and Expectation of Him being in that moment with us. That free fall was what I could not articulate about Jane’s experience. Once in it, we leaned further into the things that we could not see to find His hand in the middle of it. The Holy Spirit is there to teach us who we are at those times so that we can find His presence no matter what we are going through. I heard a teacher explain one time that Jesus has been tempted and pressured in every way we are. And, because of all he suffered on earth, when we cry, He tastes the salt. In Chicago we got to experience and see the Father just as Jesus sees Him: compassionate, caring, embracing, always present, and we jumped off into the middle of it.
Let me end with this side note. We are going to experience the sufferings of Christ in this world. Those sufferings are not about being sick, He never was. It does not mean we will suffer wrath at the hand of God; He is love, and has no shadow or turning in Him! He is the same yesterday, today and forever. It does mean, however, we will perhaps suffer the emotions of being alone, we will know the feelings of being rejected, it will sometimes look like we are in hopeless situations, we will be accused of terrible things, sometimes unjustly, sometimes by family and friends, we will be bullied, called all kinds of names and be rejected because of our Hope and Peace we have found in Christ. Those are the sufferings of Christ. The broken-heartedness of that will hurt and be painful, but if we believe the Father loves us, cares about us and won’t give up on us, if we believe that, it will trump those terrible experiences and we can experience Peace in the middle of the storms of this life.
In 2012, we literally made a decision to believe in the Father’s Love no matter the darkness. Our war was a war he had already won. Our relationship was one already prepared for us by the death and resurrection of Christ. I remember sitting in a very small waiting room just down the hall from Jane while the nurses did some routine things to her that I just preferred not to watch. You know- 14 blood draws a day, needle things and other terrible procedures. It was about 6:00 a.m. as our days began about that time every morning. Jane required that the room stay so cold and I found this little room with just one single little window of sunlight to sit in, get warm by. That morning it became ‘perfectly’ clear to me that Jane was His child, was someone He loved more than even a husband could, and that she was His possession, was in His hands and we both were going to be in partnership with the Creator of the Universe. That morning I leaped….guess what I found!
Charlie Peacock has a lyric that runs: ‘you can only possess what you experience; truth to be understood must be lived.’ In this life we will all get chances to have to use what we believe. What are we to do with our Faith in those moments?
Ok, I’ve just about had it! You see, I just think there’s so much anti-Christ spirit in the earth opposing the Love of God. Most of it’s done in a passive-aggressive way that just moves forward so little at a time you don’t notice the changes as much. And, right in the middle of that, even among the ‘brethren’ there’s insecurity and concerns that we might not even have the Gospel, His-story, right. I hear excuses, if you will, about faith. Oh, many people say they believe God, but they struggle with giving Him the dedication and focus in their daily life, not taking much of a risk by depending upon Him. They may even be able to identify there’s a God, but fail to trust in His power to be relevant in the world we all live in each day. With all the turmoil caused by the spirit of Anti-Christ I think in time we will be forced to risk more and more of our lives trusting in God’s Spirit. And, while I’m not looking for any more trouble or heartache in our lives, in a way I look forward to having to lean upon Him more day to day.
A few weeks ago, believers celebrated the resurrection of Christ. Have you ever thought about why the death and resurrection of Christ happened in the fashion that it did? Why such a terrible, hateful death experience to show the reconciliation of the world? It could not have been any more gritty, ugly, horrendous, and profoundly any more public, stripped, pierced, raised and nailed on a cross. The Creator of the Cosmos subjected in every way to the Cosmos He authored for a humiliating and painful death. Yet in the Wisdom of God, it surely had to be just like it was described, just as it occurred. If it was the simple death of Jesus that we needed, why not come up with some sane, humane way to execute? Or, maybe a very serious cold, turning into pneumonia could have done the trick in a rented room somewhere in Jerusalem?
The following statement is found in a book written about 350 AD by an Egyptian named Athanasius. He lived in a time when it seemed the whole civilized world was slipping back into paganism and turning away from the early church’s disciples’ true Christian faith, turning to a religion of deception instead. Having been exiled 5 times, he boldly proclaimed the Gospel in the middle of that falling away. In his book titled On the Incarnation, he sums up the resurrection as follows: ‘…suppose without any illness He had just concealed His body somewhere, and then suddenly re-appeared and said that He had risen from the dead. He would have been regarded merely as a teller of tales, and because there was no witness of His death, nobody would believe His resurrection. Death had to precede resurrection, for there could be no resurrection without it. A secret and un-witnessed death would have left the resurrection without any proof or evidence to support it. Again, why should he die a secret death, when He proclaimed the fact of his rising openly: Why should He drive out evil spirits and heal the man blind from birth and change water into wine, all publicly, in order to convince men that he was the Word, and not also declare publicly that in-corruptibility of His mortal body, so that he might Himself be believed to be the Life? And how could His disciples have had boldness in speaking of the resurrection unless they could state it as a fact that He had first died? Or how could their hearers be expected to believe their assertion, unless they themselves also had witnessed His death? For if the Pharisees at the time refused to believe and forced others to deny also, though the things had happened before their very eyes, how many excuses for unbelief would they have contrived, if it had taken place secretly: Or how could the end of death and the victory over it have been declared, had not the Lord thus challenged it before the sight of all, and by the incorruption of his body proved that henceforward it was annulled and void?…He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those others His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat…it is only on the cross that a man dies with his arms outstretched.’ (in this case to both the Jew and the Gentile) God in His Wisdom had taken the Creator/Author of the world and, in death and resurrection, made that same Word of God the Savior of the world.
Here’s the risk. Believe in Him. Not just with our mouths, not with a symbolic worship, not with a simple ‘I think there is a God’, but take a risk, a huge risk! This is about believing in Someone that created everything (an immeasurable cosmos) and holds everything together. He has made a request to us to be, as He declared to Abraham, a Friend of Abraham and, therefore, because we are the seed of Abraham, your Friend. Guys, this is the Creator of all with an offer we should not refuse. Any divide between you and Him has been torn apart, and now access to this Creator has been established by Jesus Christ. In doing so, He has abolished the sentence of death put on our lives by our disobedience. That should change how we act, what we trust and why we live. Let’s put a pause on all the differences we’ve found in our expressions of the Gospel; let’s just agree on this one thing and get about it: Christ is Lord of all.
This same Athanasius states that ‘a blind man cannot see the sun, but he knows that it is above the earth from the warmth which it affords; similarly, let those who are still in blindness of unbelief recognize the Godhead of Christ and the resurrection which was brought about through His manifested power in others.’ If you’ve ever experienced the radical change take place in a man’s soul, moving from grotesque to beautiful, you’ve felt the warmth of God. Only God is capable of changing the soul! It’s His proof above all proofs.
Ah, got that off my chest. Perhaps there’s more ‘I won’t believe’ in people’s hearts than there is ‘I can’t believe.’ We know men love the darkness, a disease founded in the spirit of Anti-Christ and taking on all forms of manifestation widespread throughout the world. We live in a time very much like Athanasius’s where the spirit of Anti-Christ is slinking its way around the earth mocking and scoffing, but that did not stop Athanasius’s confidence or testimony and the furtherance of the Christ’s Message. The pressure, the humiliation of our time should not stop ours either.
(This from Athanasius also: ‘His second manifestation to us, glorious and divine indeed, when He shall come no longer in humiliation but in majesty, no longer to suffer but to bestow on us all the fruit of His cross-the resurrection and incorruptibility. No longer will He then be judged, but rather will Himself be Judge, judging each and all according to their deeds done in the body, whether good or ill.’)