Preparing for Easter by Following the Path to the Cross. Part 4: “He Saved Others, but He Cannot Save Himself.” Mark 15:1-47

Preparing for Easter Part 4

Here is Part 4, the concluding section of “Preparing for Easter by following the Path to the Cross.” Part 4 is entitle “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself” and covers Mark 15:1-47. This part is in two eight-minute videos (Part A and Part B). Please click here for Part A and here for Part B. God bless.

Washington, D(eist) C(ity)

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I grew up in the shadow of Washington, D.C. As long as I can remember, I have loved our nation’s capitol. They tell me that when I was a baby I would point to the U. S. Capitol and say, “Total.” My high-school graduation was in Constitution Hall. My wife Rosa and I went to a concert on the Capitol steps and walked up the Washington Monument on our first date. I love the city’s open green space, its classic buildings, its skyline free of skyscrapers, its dignified memorials, and its excellent museums. So, it was only natural that I took my grandson Patrick to Washington, D.C. for the spring break of his senior year. Before we went, I got several books on the history of D.C. so we would be prepared.

Gradually, as we read those books and as I once again saw the sights, a new perspective began to grow in my mind. The very structure and design of D.C. represented the Deistic beliefs of many of our forefathers. First of all, unlike Western European capitals, there was no national church in the heart of the city. The National Cathedral sits on a hill over five and a half miles northwest of the national Mall, like the Deist God who doesn’t interfere with the world. Pierre L’Enfant, the city’s original designer, certainly would be proud today of the way the Mall at the heart of the city has fulfilled his intention of becoming a center of science and the arts. With the Capitol at one end, the Washington Monument at the other, and the grand Smithsonian in-between, it is an impressive sight. I intentionally took the metro to the Smithsonian exit so that this would be my grandson’s first view of the city.

Thus, God benignly overlooks this secular heart of the city from a hill far away. But then events began to show that his place had been taken by several human “gods.” As we were standing in the crypt of the Capitol, the guide told us that George Washington was to have been buried there, but the Capitol was not ready in time. She told us, however, to look up into the Capitol’s dome, where we would see a painting of the “apotheosis” of George Washington. “Apotheosis” is the process of becoming a god! Look across the mall at the huge obelisk that dominates D.C., the Washington Monument. Eventually we went to the Lincoln Memorial. I don’t know how many times I had been there before, but this time the words across the top struck me—they began with “In this Temple” (italics added, of course!). And indeed, the Memorial looks like an ancient Temple with a huge statue of its god. God is banished to a hill far from the secular heart of this Deist City, but we have three human god’s who are at home here—first and foremost, George Washington, then Abraham Lincoln, and, finally, Thomas Jefferson. I have no intention of demeaning these men or diminishing their accomplishments, but of describing at least one aspect of the ethos of our capitol city.

Then I began to think, perhaps, just perhaps, America became much more of a Christian nation than our Deist forefathers intended. Perhaps it was the First and Second Great Awakenings that made the difference. Perhaps it was the Methodist circuit riders, Baptist preachers, and other evangelists who reached the masses for Christ. Several years ago, the Old Capitol Museum here in Jackson, Mississippi, featured a display entitled “Mississippi in 1811.” You could read a diary from that time. The diary’s author said that he had come to Mississippi from South Carolina. In South Carolina the circuit riders had gotten his wife and daughters interested in religion. When he got to Mississippi, the first person on his doorstep was a circuit rider! On the intellectual front one wouldn’t want to overlook the influence of the Presbyterians at Princeton or, a bit later, that of the Dutch Reformed at Calvin College. Perhaps God worked in ways that our Deist forefathers never anticipated to spread the God’s truth throughout America and to make U.S. a center for the spread of the Gospel in the world.

In Bondage to the Profit Motive

Several weeks ago a friend who works as a nurse in one of our large hospitals said to me: “We don’t have health care in this country any more, we have a health industry.” Here is how she began to explain what she meant—patients who have no means of payment are often sent home early; patients who have good insurance are kept longer than they need to be. Health care has become all about profit. My wife received excellent care during a recent minor surgery—but I couldn’t help noticing how lavish the facilities were. The frills push the price up—but help to compete for paying customers (note the term “customer,” not “patient”).

Education appears to be following the same course. Colleges and Universities dump down their curriculum and develop majors that attract students whether those majors are either academically or professionally profitable. They, too, are in the business of adding frills that increase the price in order to attract “customers”—cable TV in the dorm, cafeterias replete with variety, etc. We have even had the appearance of for-profit colleges. A recent prospective student repeatedly referred to our institution’s “customer service” and described the education we offer as a “commodity.”

We in the church have not escaped this tendency. We are called to be the people of God who live in covenant relationship with one another centered on the worship of God through word and sacrament. Instead we have often become purveyors of programs that provide various services in an attempt to attract people. The commitment of those attracted by these “ministries” often goes no further than the service they receive. Some years ago a local funeral home bought a church near by. I say “funeral home,” but it became an “event” center. The establishment would provide service for any life event you wanted to hold there. This arrangement may be fine for an “event” center, but it is not good for the church. We are not there simply to get numbers or “make a profit” by giving you whatever you want.

God was not moved by the “profit motive” when he sent His Only Begotten Son—“For God so loved the world, that he gave . . .” Perhaps his people should be more concerned about following his example.  

Praying to “the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:11)

My wife Rosa had a dangerous, life-threatening delivery with our oldest daughter. We were in Sierra Leone. Although I was in the operating room, the attending lady physician, a colleague and close friend, would not look me in the face—her face was pale and her lips were tightly pursed. God told a godly African woman, known as a prayer warrior, to go and pray when she heard Mrs. Cockerill was in labor. God answered that prayer, and we have been thankful ever since. Some mission boards require missionaries to have several hundred prayer partners before they can go to their place of service. God invites us in Scripture to pray for our needs, for the needs of others, and especially for those engaged in his service. We know that God is not limited by our prayers, and yet sometimes we pray and ask others to pray because we feel that the more people who join us in prayer the more likely God is to answer.

When we turn to the eleventh verse of this passage (2 Corinthians 1:3-11), we are astounded: “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:11 ESV). Paul urges the Corinthian believers to pray for his deliverance and the furtherance of the Gospel, not so that God will answer, but so that they will increase the number of those who give thanks when God does answer! Paul is so confident of God’s answer that he is sure it will lead to thanksgiving! God chooses to act through our prayers—and sometimes not to act if we do not pray—because he wants us to know that He is answering! He wants to draw us close to himself through his gracious action and our grateful thanksgiving. What a privilege to pray aright (praying aright may be a topic for another day), to witness God’s answers, and to give thanks.

Finishing Well!

 

Today Rosa and I stood at the graveside of our dear missionary friend Ruth Pierson, with Chuck, her husband of more than 40 years, and her family. It was a  bone-chilling, dreary Michigan day with about a foot of snow on the ground. How good it was to hear Christ’s words pronounced by the minister: “I am the resurrection and the life,” and to know that the chill of death has been removed forever for those who await his coming. By his passion he has melted the cold hopelessness of life without God.

Ruth and Rosa had much in common. Fort starters, both served for three years in Sierra Leone as single missionary nurses, then came home, got married, and took their husbands back with them–Ruth brought Church and Rosa brought me. Rosa always looked forward to the times when we could visit with Chuck and Ruth.

It was a joy to fellowship with our many missionary friends who came to celebrate Ruth’s home going and to  share  our memories of her. Her faithfulness reminds us that the only life worth living is a life of trust in and obedience to Christ. Ruth has finished her course, kept the faith, and heard Christ’s “well done.” Her life beacons us to run the race with perseverance until we finish well! 

Ephesus

Let’s leave mangoes alone for awhile. I’d like to comment about the wonderful trip Rosa and I had to Ephesus last summer. We went with friends who were very familiar with the city. After flying from Istanbul to Izmir, we took the train to Selçuk, the modern town closest to ancient Ephesus. As we walked from the train station, we passed the ruins of a late Roman aqueduct, pictured above. As you can see, storks have taken advantage of some of this aqueduct’s remaining columns to build their nests. For more about our trip, click on the “Ephesus” page given above.

So much for mangoes, what about Melchizedek. Melchizedek is that guy who appears to Abraham in Genesis 14. In Psalm 110:4 God declares to the Messiah, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” The writer of the Book of Hebrews takes up the challenge of explaining who this Melchizedek is. After three years in Africa, Rosa and I moved to Richmond, Virginia, where I did a Th.M. and a Ph.D. in Biblical studies at Union Theological Seminary. I was looking for a thesis topic–or, actually, I was looking for an advisor. I decided that Professor Mathias Rissi would be the best advisor for me. So I asked him to suggest a topic for my Th.M. thesis. He suggested that I compare Melchizedek in Hebrews 7 with 11QMelchizedek, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And so was born an interest in Melchizedek and a love for the book of Hebrews that came to fruition in my doctoral dissertation–“The Melchizedek Christology of Hebrews 7:1-25.”