Passion Week: Portrait of the End of the World (eBook)
Apr 28, 2013 2234
Portrait of the End of the World – 1
by Dr Desmond Ford
“Only God is given away.
Only heaven can be had for the asking.”
The most important week of history was the one climaxing in the Cross. It is known as Passion Week (“passion” means suffering here).
Only 42 days of our Lord’s life are referred to in the Gospels—one day out of every 350. Yet, with the last seven days, one-third to one-half of the Gospel record is devoted to Passion Week.
These days are primarily important because they demonstrate that the suffering God is at the heart of Christianity—the God who loved us and gave himself for us.
But, second, the week is important because it prefigures the last events of earth’s history.
Events Surrounding Christ’s Finished Work
Let me remind you of the things that led up to Christ’s finishing of his work on the cross. On the Sunday before Good Friday, there was Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The religious world was polarized. Opposing religions—Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians—prepared a plot to join with the Roman state to get rid of their mutual enemy, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus had challenged and questioned the Jew’s many religious traditions. To avoid answering Christ, the religious leaders decided it was easier to kill him.
Here we have the loud cry, the polarization, the union of church and state, the death decree, the little time of trouble in Gethsemane, and the bigger time of trouble at the cross—all events that will be replayed by the church in the Last Days.
“In” or “Out” of Christ?
Jesus declares his cross to be the judgment of this world. The cross divides the world into the saved and the lost and, thereby, prefigures the world’s last day.
We are not saved by our goodness or lost by our badness. We are saved by our relationship to Christ. Are we in Christ or out of Christ? If our standing is “in Christ,” we are saved. If we are out of Christ, we are lost. That’s the meaning of the cross.
Christ was crucified between two thieves. He also divided the two thieves—-one called on him; one cursed him. We are all thieves. The Bible says, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).
What makes the difference is my attitude towards the Man on the central cross. It is not the sin question, but the son question.
The darkness that engulfed the cross prefigured the last great Day of Judgment. The earthquake at the moment of Christ’s death when many dead were raised (Matthew 27:52) prefigured the final call to judgment. And there, on the cross, was the King-Judge high and lifted up.
Prefiguring End-Time Events
Because the events at the end of the Old Testament era prefigure the events at the end of the New Testament era, our brief outline of Passion Week tells us what is to come in the Last Days.
The gospel is to have its final, triumphant proclamation through the power of the Spirit. The gospel will go to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, as predicted in Matthew 24:14.
The day will come when the church really takes hold of the gospel. Not the false “gospel” of our own subjective feelings, but the genuine, historical, objective gospel of Scripture.
The result will be a polarized world. Some will hate the gospel, and some will love it. But those who present it to the world will be called troublemakers.
Outlaws in a Troubled World
The world is desperately trying to conserve itself. It is perilously balanced, as the fragile globe contracts ever smaller and smaller, becoming a neighborhood, but never a brotherhood. In that tremulous, fearful condition, the governments of earth will be afraid of those who do not conform.
True gospel Christians will be outlawed because they refuse to bow to the King of this world (Revelation 17:14). They have another lord, King Jesus. Christians will be proscribed, outlawed, and threatened with death. They will have a time of trouble such as never was, and many will be killed. Many will be beheaded (Revelation 20:4).
But then will come the great day of resurrection. Then the King of kings and Lord of lords will return. The balances of judgment will be adjusted.
How Passion Week Begins
Let us now consider the events at the very beginning of Passion Week. They are recorded in all four Gospels, if we accept Luke 7:36-50 as the same anointing mentioned in the other three Gospels. This was the view held by the translators of the KJV, John Bunyan, and many others. [It’s important to remember that Luke often wrote topically and not chronologically.]
Very few events in our Lord’s life are mentioned by all four gospels, so this fact underlines the importance of what we are about to consider.
Anointed in the Midst of his Enemies
The anointing by Mary is sandwiched between allusions to the murderous plans of the religious leaders of the day.
We are reminded of the psalmist’s famous words:
“You prepare a table for me in the presence of mine enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over” (Psalm 23:5).
What Happens to the Head Will Happen to the Body
The story is remarkable for many things, but we will mention only a few. The experience of the Head of the church is to be repeated by his body. As Christ was anointed in his last days, so the church is to be anointed by the Pentecostal Spirit when the hour dawns for the final proclamation of the gospel.
In every city of the globe, Pentecost will be repeated.
Great Love Brings Great Antagonism
But wherever love is displayed to our Lord, the spirit of hatred and antagonism is aroused. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each emphasize in this story that it was this event that finally motivated Judas to betray his Lord.
Judas is a Type of Antichrist
Antichrist is a genus which has had many fulfillments through the ages—for instance, Nimrod, Pharaoh, Goliath, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the union of church and state through the Middle Ages, and so on. But the crowning fulfillment will be at the end. As Judas was an accredited apostle, working miracles and proclaiming the kingdom, so the final Antichrist will spring from professed Christianity. It will work great signs and wonders, and these will fool most of the world (see 2 Thessalonians 2).
A Kiss—Love or Betrayal?
Only two people are ever said to have kissed Christ—Mary and Judas. Mary’s gave him a kiss of loving self-sacrifice, but Judas gave a kiss of betrayal. Judas told the Roman captors they would recognize Jesus because he was “the one I shall kiss.” The kiss Judas gave in Gethsemane becomes a sign of betrayal, which points to the antitype in Revelation 13. Here Antichrist has a sign of false worship, which he will impose on the world. The Greek word for worship springs from a root related to the word “kiss.”
A Harvest of Good and Evil
In harmony with Mark 4:29, which promises a world harvest when the spiritual grain is mature, we see in John 12 the maturing of love in Christ’s children, represented by Mary, and contrasted with the maturing of alienation in the devil’s own, represented by Judas. So it shall be at the end of time when good and evil ripen into maturity.
Before the end of the world the word of love will be made flesh in all who believe the gospel and who receive the final Pentecostal outpouring. They will give the final message to all that God is love—a message that says, “Only God is given away, and only heaven can be had for the asking.”
A Broken Heart
Christ saw in the generosity of Mary an emblem of the heart of God to be wondrously displayed on the cross. The broken alabaster box pointed to his broken body, which would soon fill the universe with its unique fragrance—the fragrance of God’s rich grace in making possible the forgiveness of sins through the Atonement.
It reminds us that unless we are broken we are useless. The unbroken heart contains only sewage.
The Feast, the Funeral, and the Future
This feast, one week before Christ’s funeral, also points to the marriage supper of the Lamb, when all the righteous dead will be raised, like Lazarus; when all who have been cleansed from sin, like Mary Magdalene, will continue to worship and adore; when all who have been healed of the leprosy of sin, like Simon, will gather together in joyous eternal fellowship; and when all will offer the worship of service, like Martha.
It is written that Christ himself shall again wear the attire of a servant in order to minister to us. Mark the infinite condescension of true love!
The Gospel Party
A party is Christ’s favorite symbol of the gospel message—the good, glad and merry tidings, which make the heart to sing and the feet to dance. He began his ministry with a weeklong marriage feast, where non-intoxicating wine yet made glad the heart of man. He ended his ministry with two feasts in the final week, the second being the feast of Passover. The wine’s crushed grapes yield nourishment and tell of God’s love to us in the shedding of Christ’s blood. And so the broken grapes parallel the broken alabaster box.
Unselfish Kindness, the Greatest Act
When Mary prepared Christ for burial by her anointing, the story taught that Christ would not perish in the grave but live forever. In so doing, she also sealed her own act in the memory of saints down the ages. For Christ promised that wherever the gospel would be preached, her loving kindness would always be remembered. Here is evidence that the one about to die held the future of the world in his hands. How else could Christ know his words would last?
In saying this, Christ teaches us that nothing in the world is as important as genuine love, unselfish kindness manifested in look, word, and deed. This is the evidence that convinces the world about Christ and Christianity—not a creed or denominational statement.
Harsh Disapproval, the Antithesis of Love
Simon, the Pharisee, though healed of leprosy, looks with disdain on Mary’s act. His demeanor is frigid, and his countenance disparaging.
Christ lovingly tells him a story about two debtors. One owed much, and the other owed little, but each was freely forgiven. “Which of the two debtors,” Christ asks Simon, “will love the master most?”
Not sensing that he was the focus of the story, the Pharisee affirms that, of course, the one who owed the most would love the most.
Then the Lord, like Nathan of old, thrusts home the point of the parable. He points to the cringing Mary, her hair dishevelled and her hands covering her face.
“Simon, do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water to wash my feet; but she has washed my feet with tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
“You gave me no kiss; but this woman, from the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet.
“My head with oil you did not anoint, but this woman has anointed my feet with ointment.
“Therefore I say to you that her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she has loved much.
“But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (Luke 7:44-47).
Love First, Fruit Later
Mary’s love was the consequence, not the condition of her forgiveness. It was the effect not the cause, the fruit not the root. It was after the debtor was forgiven that love sprang up.
But what if one feels, like Simon, that their sins have been few and that their need of forgiveness is slight? Then there is little love and little service.
Only those who see the height and depth, length and breadth of the requirements of God’s holy law can experience a love like Mary’s. Only they know how much they have been forgiven.
The law of God calls for infinite love revealed in thought, word, and deed. All of us fall short by a trillion light years. The worst man on earth knows more about duty than the best man does.
Forgiveness Brings the Harvest
The church constantly demands service from its members. However, the desired result will never be forthcoming until the gospel is truly preached with the forgiveness of sins at its heart.
Then all who believe will give their hearts like Mary. There will be a harvest, which God will reap in this life, but, particularly, in the Day of Judgment.
Appeal for a Committal of the Heart
Judas only thought about the cost of the ointment and the money that could have lined his moneybag.
“To what purpose is this waste? It could have been sold and given to the poor.”
He did not see the precious broken heart of Mary. He did not anticipate the priceless broken body of his Lord. He did not see that it was given to the poor—the one who became poor for our sakes. The unregenerate heart only sees the superficial, the worldly, the outward, and the material and is blind to the supreme value of love.
Do the angels look at our cold hearts and selfish service and say of us: “To what purpose is this waste?” ?[starHor]
Portrait of the End of the World – 2
by Dr Desmond Ford
Early in Passion Week, Christ sets a powder trail
that will lead to the final explosion.
Various Scriptures speak of Christ’s FIRST Advent as the end of the world. See, for example, Hebrews 1:1 and Hebrews 9:26. Calvary, with our Lord lifted up separating the lost from the saved amidst earthquake and darkness, portrays the Last Judgment (see John 12:31). Also, on the third day, He and many others (Matthew 27:52-53) ascended to glory from the grave, as the first fruits of the final resurrection.
The Gospel Like Quicksilver
Why, then, the 2,000 years delay? The only condition the NT gives for the end of the world is the proclamation of the gospel to all people. See Matthew 24:14. But the church has ever found the gospel to be like quicksilver—easy to receive and easy to lose.
There has never been a time when the mass of the church has cherished and promulgated the gospel of the NT—the historic objective message of free grace and dying love.
As Romans 9:28 affirms, the time will come when God himself will finish the work, having demonstrated to the universe the complete impotency of humanity, even religious humanity, unless it leans fully upon him. See 1 Corinthians 4:9; Ephesians 3:9-11; and Revelation 15:3-4.
- The scenario of Passion Week is the scenario for the end of the world. Here are the elements:
- A final triumphant proclamation of the gospel (typified in the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem)
- The polarization of earth’s multitudes for and against that message
- The union of disparate religious groups (such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees) with each other and, then, with the state in order to squelch the nonconformists
- A little time of trouble (like Gethsemane)
- The great trouble (Calvary)
- The climactic Resurrection and Ascension.
Vignettes on the Last Times
- If one searches vigorously the gospel narrative, all sorts of details shed light on the Last Times.
- See Mark 15:7 for the group of political terrorists that image those of the last generation.
- See 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 for allusions to the restraining Holy Spirit who will hold back the forces of evil until the everlasting gospel has brought all to the point of decision. (This is reflected by the fact that Christ and his followers are not interrupted by Herod’s guards or a single Roman soldier during the time when the whole of Jerusalem is being “moved” by the triumphal entry and the subsequent dramatic cleansing of the temple.)
- Judas, the professed follower of Christ but also his betrayer, is a type of the final manifestation of Antichrist. Only he and Mary Magdalene are recorded as kissing Christ, but his kiss in Gethsemane was a sign of hypocrisy and betrayal. The word used for “worship” in the Antichrist chapter of Scripture, Revelation 13, comes from a root meaning “to kiss.”
- The word translated “moved” in Matthew 21:10 signifies an earthquake upheaval. Such was the impact of that first Palm Sunday. Remember, shortly before, Lazarus had been raised from the dead, and the word of that event spread among the four million or so worshippers present at the capital for the Passover. It was partly because of Lazarus that multitudes streamed out from the metropolis to join the crowds coming from divergent points beyond the city. Thus is symbolized the time when Christ’s true believers at the end of time, being anointed by the Holy Spirit and with power, will give the final proclamation. (As Christ, the head of the church was anointed at the very commencement of Passion Week, Saturday night, so the church, his body, will be anointed in order that Pentecostal power might attend the preaching of the gospel in every city and town of earth.)
First Day of Passion Week
Let us now consider the Triumphal Entry, occupying the first whole day of Passion Week.
As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’
Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’
They replied, ‘The Lord needs it.’
They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’
‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.’ Luke 19:29-44, NIV.
This event has a significance that is both vast and manifold. It is, first of all, a dim foreshadowing of Christ’s return in glory when all of creation, men and animals, will be subject to him (pointed to by the colt, its mother and its owners), and when all sorrow will be swallowed up in joy. The record tells us much about the person of our Lord, his work, his gospel and his experience as the King of grief and the Sovereign of sorrow.
Setting a Powder Trail
This is the first time in his ministry that Christ embraced publicity. This occasion and the subsequent cleansing of the temple act like a match to a barrel of gunpowder. He is setting alight a powder trail that will lead to the ultimate explosion. This is done in order to draw attention to the prophecies regarding his coming atonement.
It is the very day when the Passover lamb for each family had to be selected and set aside for its slaughter later in the week. That slaughter, by law, could only take place at Jerusalem. So Christ the antitypical lamb has come to the place of slaughter where so many prophets had been massacred in earlier times.
The God-Man Paradox
The person of Christ here revealed is shown to be an embodiment of paradoxes. He is omnipotent and omniscient as shown by his forecast about the place where the colt would be found and the willingness of the owners to release it and its mother. The sentence he speaks: “The Lord hath need of him” is itself a study on contrast—He, the Lord God, has need.
So before us is one who is both God and man, who manifests meekness and majesty, who, despite a forty day fast, is the bread of life; who despite his crying on the cross, “I thirst,” is the Creator of the oceans and is the water of life; he is the one who prays and yet hears prayers; he is baptized but he washes away sins; he is often weary but promises rest to all who come to him, he is charged with having a devil but he casts out devils; he is stigmatized as a Samaritan, but tells the story of the Good Samaritan who represented himself; he pays tribute, but is King of kings and Lord of lords; he is sold for thirty pieces of silver, but he ransoms the world at infinite price; he weeps but he wipes away our tears.
Christ Ennobles a Donkey
Fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9-10, he rides—not in a golden chariot led by prancing stallions—but on a colt that has never been broken in. Similarly, he had been born of a virgin mother and will lie at last in a tomb never before used.
Who would wish to approach a powerful warhorse impeding its way? But a donkey, any and all can approach. Here we have a picture of Christ’s present kingdom, which is characterized by meekness and gentleness. He speaks to us by a still small voice.
He invites but never compels. He is the Prince of peace, and the meekness of controlled strength must also accompany all who sound forth his gospel.
Tears Only for Others
Only twice in the Gospels are we told that Jesus wept. During his sufferings there is no record of a groan or a single trickling tear. All his laments are for others—for us. So as the procession reached the brow of the hill and Jerusalem, and its temple came into view, the King, instead of exulting, wept. What a scene!
Possibly, it was the blind he had healed who led the procession. Perhaps it was the dumb to whom he had given voice, who proclaimed the loudest hosannas. Maybe the cleansed lepers laid their unstained garments in his path. It has even been suggested that Lazarus himself led the donkey on which Christ rode.
Trusting a Weeping Saviour
But, right at the time when the carping leaders demand that he silence the cheering crowds, Christ breaks into loud cries of grief and utters incomplete words of sorrow.
Here Christ shows the heart of God and the essence of his gospel—love for the lost. We can trust a weeping Saviour. His tears should banish our fears. Soon his whole body will be enveloped in a bloody sweat because of the weight of our sins upon him. This is the only weeping God known to man. He is the only wounded deity.
He announces his alienation from his bride—Israel. See Jeremiah 3:14. In the persons of Israel’s representatives his gospel of love has been mocked and repudiated. He regards them with pitying tenderness, yet they reject him—the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Rejected Like King David
Observe now scenes from a thousand years before, scenes associated with another one who had been born in Bethlehem to be a good Shepherd and, ultimately the rejected King of his people.
Then the king said to Zadok, ‘Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.’ …
But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. Now David had been told, ‘Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.’ So David prayed, ‘O Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.’ 2 Samuel 15:23-31
A few days after the triumphant entry our Lord, rejected by his own, passed over the brook Kidron to enter Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Part of his burden is the knowledge that his own familiar friend in whom he had trusted had now denied him by betrayal. Like David, he is accompanied by a small, faithful company.
The Daughter of Saul
Even more significant is the record of 2 Samuel 6:12-23.
Now King David was told, ‘The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.’ So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal, daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. Then he gave a loaf of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, ‘How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!’
David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.’
And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
See David’s joy of heart, in the promotion of the true worship of his God. In the lowly garb of a Levite rather than his kingly garments he rejoices with his faithful people. He dances in holy ecstasy and exhorts the people constantly: “Sing unto the Lord, shout his praises.” It is the happiest day of his life.
A spectator would have said, “Here is the happiest and the most honoured of men, monarch of God’s chosen people, flushed with health, intelligence and power and beloved by his people, as he engages in the most holy of all courses—the promotion of divine worship.”
Then tragedy! The day of holy festivity and exultant song is climaxed by the action of the one David loves most on earth—for whom he had been prepared to forgo his crown (2 Samuel 3:12-14).
Scorning and Scolding
It is significant that this woman is not here called David’s wife but the daughter of Saul. She typifies the “daughter of Zion” spoken of in Zechariah 9:9. Her attitude is identical with that of Israel’s leaders a millennium later when they scorn the enthusiasm of Christ’s supporters on the great day of entry into the capital.
Like a bucket of water thrown in his face is the scorn, the scolding and the sarcasm of the one he loves. She has no enthusiasm for true religion. Where David might have expected companionable unity with him in his holy work, instead he finds rejection and even hatred. David, we are told, had come to bless his family after having blessed his people. But his wife will have none of it. She does not care for the Holy Ark he has been bearing to its resting place. She has no reverence for the sacred law within it—one fifth of which warned against careless use of the tongue. David under guidance from God pronounces that henceforth he will have no more physical union with Michal, for the sexual union is but a travesty if there is not a prior union of heart and mind. And Michal is to be childless forever.
Cursing the Fig Tree
We find the antitype in the Gospels, which record how Christ’s first act after the entry into the city was to curse the fruitless fig tree and declare its eternal barrenness. The fig tree symbolized the graceless Jewish nation—see Luke 13:6-9. When the unholy city had first come into view on the Olivet procession, Christ had declared his brokenhearted alienation from the rebel nation.
The judgment of eternal barrenness was only the result of this, as Michal’s barrenness was the result of David’s verdict on his wife.
Give God His Place
How solemn the warning of these sacred records! It is a good and wise principle to be moderate in all things—in all things except the giving of our God his rightful place.
One should not be moderate in running from a burning house, or moderate in seeking a lifebelt if the ship in sinking. Our individual lives hang by the thread of grace, and we can cut that thread by giving our enthusiasm to the things of this world rather than to its Creator and Redeemer. God forbid that the things which belong to our peace should be hidden from our eyes![starHor]
Portrait of the End of the World – 3
By Dr Desmond Ford
We have seen in previous meetings how the events in Palestine during Passion Week prefigure similar events globally at the end of the world. The triumphant preaching of the gospel (Christ’s entrance into the city on what we now call Palm Sunday), the prediction of coming judgment (Luke 19:41-44), the polarization of the populace including the combining of disparate religious groups, the union of religion with the government, the decision to kill Christ and his followers such as Lazarus, a time of trouble in Gethsemane followed by a greater agony on Calvary, and then triumphant resurrection—-including a multitude of the dead who ascended with Christ as the first fruits of the great Resurrection Day.
Seeds of Global Events
Many other elements can be found mirroring what is yet to be on a global scale.
- Judas—the professed follower of Christ, who betrays him—prefigures the final manifestation of Antichrist, who will also come in religious garb.
- Barabbas and his company of political insurgents point to the terrorist element, which will characterize the last times.
- The miraculous withholding of military opposition against the triumphant Christ, even in his cleansing of the temple, points to the work of the restraining Holy Spirit in the last days. He will withhold political intervention against those participating in the final proclamation of the gospel. (See 2 Thessalonians 2 with its references to the restraining power on the eve of Antichrist’s final manifestation).
- In 2 Samuel 6 we read of the tragic conclusion to the triumphant entry of Israel’s king one thousand years earlier. Michal, daughter of Saul, loved by David (the Good Shepherd who also became Israel’s captain, prophet, and king) failed to share her husband’s enthusiasm on his triumphant entry to the city. The sad account tells what would happen a millennium later as well as what is yet to be. Michal was sentenced to barrenness because of her spiritual emptiness, and so the antitypical David in his cursing of the fig tree proclaimed about national Israel that it would be barren to the end of time. Similarly, popular religion just prior to the second advent of Christ will be bereft of spiritual fruit.
The Cleansing of the Temple
Next in the Passion Week history comes a memorable scene full of significance for us today.
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves.
“It is written,” he said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer. You are making it into a ‘den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:12-13 (NIV)
The cleansing of the temple continues the hand-to-hand struggle with the religious leaders of the day, which characterized the whole of Passion Week. It is not with the heathen but with professed followers of the true God that Christ has most trouble. And so it has ever been in all ages since.
Visible Transience and Permanent Excellence
Many reject religion because of its inevitable linkage with hypocrisy. But such forget that only something very much alive can sustain parasites. There are no counterfeit thirteen-dollar notes—only the genuine are counterfeited.
And so it is in religion. Good religion is the best thing in the world as surely as bad religion is the worst. But the latter is the more common, and Christ’s action of cleansing points to the constant need for church reform.
The very first war in the world was over religion—Cain versus Abel and so will it be with the last war—Armageddon.
Mankind has the capacity to look downwards, sideways, and upwards. We can condescend to the things beneath us and try to keep up with our brethren and sisters alongside us. But only looking up can energize us to strive for what is highest and best.
Nothing beneath us or by our side can fill the heart, only the One who is above. “Our souls are restless until they rest in thee.” Everything visible is transient, only the permanent is excellent, and such is to be found in God alone. But the treasure is vulnerable.
Challenge to the Church
Because of the preciousness of genuine religion, it is the chief object of satanic attack. Similarly, heaven’s best efforts aim at countering such attacks. All this is symbolized by the cleansing of the temple. Observe that Christ quoted Scripture on this occasion to tell people living in all coming centuries that the church must continually be challenged to return to the truths of Holy Writ.
At the outset of every spiritual movement there is a creative minority with a vision. When the idea takes root the movement comes into being rapidly, then comes the dangers. The original ideas may become commonplace, and quantity becomes a major goal. When that happens, standards are lowered. Politicians and financiers take over. The vision is replaced by a creed, sometimes by an absolutist organization. The message goes on paper; faith is defined by clever formulas. The fire dies out. The vision fades away, and reformation becomes imperative. Daniel Walther
Religion Can Be Dangerous
That has been the story of church after church through the centuries. Christ was upset by the exclusiveness of the temple. They had the court of the Gentiles, the court of the women, the court of the men; people were kept out, barrier upon barrier. He was upset by the secularization, the profiteering, the pride, and the worldliness. These are the things that threaten the church in all ages, every church. George Bernard Shaw in the play St Joan has the worldly-wise ecclesiastical leader tap Joan of Arc on the head and say, “My dear, religion can be dangerous.”
And that is true. Religion can be very dangerous. If you mean it wholeheartedly, you’re in for trouble. But if you profess it and you don’t mean it wholeheartedly, you’re in for trouble eternally. Religion is dangerous! And Christ in his love and mercy is always in the work of changing, reforming, and cleansing, as he did the temple.
The 4 Ms
The history of all human movements shows this sequence—man, movement, method, and monument. A man emerges as a dynamic leader to meet the need of the age. He makes disciples and soon you have a movement. But with any new organization—however philanthropical, however religious to start with—by the second generation there is a threat that methods will become so inflexible that the movement becomes a monument. It becomes dead, formalized and secularized.
Christ is telling us that the human heart is prone to wander, prone to leave the Lord it loves, so he comes seeking to cleanse and to change in order to save us for eternity. Won’t we let him in?—into our hearts, our homes, our churches, our nations?
In the account of our Lord’s cleansing the Temple on the Monday of Passion Week, we have a warning to every Christian and to every Christian organization: It takes great effort to go uphill, but it takes no effort whatever to roll downhill, to float with the stream and the current. The tide of worldliness is such that every Christian and every Christian institution is forever imperilled unless it recognizes its weakness and looks to Christ.
Ashes or Flames
A few years ago, Charles E. Hummel wrote a book called The Fire in the Fireplace. In it, he said that, recurringly, the flame in a church fireplace flickers and dies in the very fireplace designed initially to foster the blaze. Accumulations of soot clog the flue and smother the fire, but the custodians of the fireplace often resist the cleansing, the painful remodelling, which now becomes necessary. The custodians have become comfortable in customs and secure in traditions, which have assumed divine authority. Change with its risk is resisted.
And then Dr. Hummel asks the question, what can be done? And he says the kindlers of the flame are tempted or forced to move their fire out into the middle of the floor. And this is dangerous because it can rage out of control, or the isolated coals can die down for lack of a proper hearth.
The best place for the fire is the fireplace, but it should be regularly cleaned and, if necessary, remodelled.
The One for the Many
We speak about all institutions and individuals that profess the ideals of heaven. Reform, continual reform, is the condition of prolonged usefulness and of existence itself. The old conflict between Christ and Caiaphas is forever being repeated in church history.
Think of that scene back there where the tall, regal, ancient leader, Caiaphas, could say, “It’s expedient that one man should die for the people, that the whole nation perish not.”
There was Judaism with its hundreds of years of sacred history divinely elected for special service in the world, but now in antagonism to the King of glory. Every honest man and woman of that day in that generation had to choose between Christ and Caiaphas—between the organization with all its grandeur, its history and its traditions, and the One who was the Truth, the Way, and the Life.
A church that is not alert can become not only like Caiaphas, but also like Barabbas. The multitudes are forced to choose between Christ and Barabbas.
The Grand Inquisitor
Dostoevski tells the following story. In 16th century Spain, at the heart of the Inquisition in the city of Seville, Jesus comes longing for fellowship with his people as of old. It happens the day after the execution of 100 heretics by the Grand Inquisitor. A funeral is in process, and Christ joins the procession. There was a little child in the casket, and Jesus thinks of what happened long ago to the widow of Nain. So he draws near and touches the casket and bids the child arise.
The Grand Inquisitor sees and observes the reaction among the people. He has his soldiers arrest Christ and put him in the bottom of the dungeon. At midnight, he goes down to talk to the Saviour.
“Why have you come?” asks the Grand Inquisitor. “Years ago you came. You offered the people freedom, but people can’t tolerate freedom.”
He continues, “We, the church, made a bargain with the people. ‘Surrender your freedom. In exchange, we will give you happiness and peace. You don’t have to make decisions, just do what we tell you. We will make the decisions for you and take away the battles of the mind. Leave it all to us, the church.’”
The Grand Inquisitor repeats, “Why have you come?”
Christ stands up, comes close to him, and kisses him on the cheek. Then he disappears through the walls of the prison. The kiss burns on the cheek of the Grand Inquisitor. But he does not change. The ideas, the traditions, the customs, the habits of a lifetime so govern, overrule and control him that he becomes worse than ever.
The Daily Bath
This is not a condemnation of any specific church because they are all like the people who compose them—prone to wander, prone to leave the Lord they love. It’s not a good enough reason to leave a church just become of some doctrinal conflict. But it is necessary for a church to forever be reforming itself.
A little boy protests to his mother that he does not need a bath; he had one yesterday. But we do need washing every day, and churches often settle on their lees and never find the time. The church and individuals need spiritual cleansing, which can only happen as they come in contact with the word of God. This brings continual reform.
Renovating the House
Edward Fudge speaks of a religious group as being like a venerable family that has occupied the same house for many generations. The rooms are comfortable, the furnishings are familiar; the attic is full of fascinating memorabilia. When Spring comes, it’s time for a thorough house cleaning. Filled with youthful enthusiasm, ideas drawn from other homes, some of the children now impatiently expect radical renovation. They are ready to throw out everything that is old. They want to ignore the past altogether. They want to forget their family heritage, both good and bad.
So some of the older family members try to restrain them. They suggest each room be examined individually and on its own merit. Only some of the heirlooms are worth saving. But some of the aunts and uncles in their dotage, who have grown dim of sight and hard of hearing, want to know where everything is, love the familiarity of it all, and don’t want anything disturbed. They suggest, “Just a dusting, just a dusting.”
But it won’t do. Every church must come back to Holy Writ to survive. It must measure every tradition, every custom, and every practice by the words of the Son of God. The test will always be Jesus, his person, and his truth.
The Spider Autobite
Neither does it work to become weary of the hypocrisy in the church and separate from Christ. A sermon quoted a fable said to have come from Denmark. A spider once slid down a single filament of web from the lofty rafters of a barn and established himself on a lower level. There he spread his web, caught flies, grew sleek and prospered. One day, wandering about his premises, he saw the thread that stretched up into the unseen above him.
“What is that for?” he said, and snapped it—and his web collapsed. To sunder our connection with heaven can only bring disaster.
Christ never disappoints, but humans almost always will. When we understand that basic human nature doesn’t change, and that history repeats itself, we will not be surprised by the history of the visible church.
We can only look to Christ, not the institutional church, and not faulty individuals.
Spurgeon’s First Words
When Spurgeon became a preacher at the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, these were his first words:
“I propose that the subject of the ministry in this house—as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers—be the person of Jesus Christ.”
“I am never ashamed,” said Spurgeon, “to avow myself a Calvinist. I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist. But, if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.’”
“Christ Jesus … is the sum and substance of the gospel; [he] is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Spurgeon’s Last Words
Just before his death, he said this:
“If you wear the livery of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly that you will find rest unto your soul. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold, he always takes the bleakest side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids you carry a burden, he carries it also.
If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind and tender, lavish and superabundant in love, you will always find it in him. His service is life and peace and joy. I pray that you would enter in at once. God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus Christ.”
The Church, a Christian Organization
Paul says, “We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.” A true, Christian church will make Jesus first, last and best in everything.
But we should begin by criticizing our own lives, our own hearts, and our own customs. This will enable us to recognize that the testimony of history is that men often settle down in comfort. God threw off the Jewish church and threw off the medieval church. The Anglican Church was severed by the rise of Methodism. Many times, God has been forced to bring new light by the anguish of separation.
How much better it would be if men individually and corporately looked to Jesus! Churches must examine their creed in connection with the Holy Word of the Saviour and make the necessary changes. This is the only way to life.
Christ Reaches to the People
Matthew 21:14-16 pictures the scene, which transfixed the returning priests and Pharisees as, warily, they made their way back to the temple. Christ was now healing and teaching the lower eschelons of society. Particularly the children absorbed him. Having healed their maladies, he accepted their kisses, embracing them. As he sat to teach, certain of the children fell asleep on his breast. Such is the picture we can reconstruct from the account in Matthew.
The following chapters give us in essence what Christ would have taught and which he would teach through his true followers until the end of time.
The first of the three assures us that the doors of heaven are open to the penitence of the most fallen.
The second tells of the love of God in sending his only Son, his beloved, to seek fruit from selfish and wicked husbandmen, and of that son submitting to death at their hands.
In the third story we read of a great supper, a marriage for the king’s son and the issuing of invitations. What a supper! It’s not a potluck, for all the expense is borne by the king. Those invited need only bring a good appetite—not food or merit and there is no preparation needed. It is a come-as-you-are party. How strange that foolish men and women should reject the invitation to the greatest party in the history of the world—the gospel feast with its forgiveness of sins, its provision of the indwelling Christ, and its promises for today and every day, including indemnity in the Judgment, and a blessed immortality!
Too Busy to Come
Observe that in the third story the majority is too absorbed in subsidiary affairs to accept the marvelous invitation to love and laughter, fullness and fellowship. That’s how it has always been. Foolish humanity’s chief sin is its respectable preoccupation with the second-best! How amazing that a minority could be angered by the invitation to the feast and end up killing the ones offering them the good news! This, too, is a mirror of all coming centuries, and particularly a sketch of events when the gospel finally goes to all the world. God grant us the wisdom to discern our spiritual poverty, because nothing is withheld from those who know their need. ?