“A River Flowed” – Good Friday Poem

“A River Flowed”
3/29/13

A river flowed, a crimson tide,
With mercy in its stream,
As Jesus Christ was crucified
By God through human scheme.

The sin he bore was not his own,
For ours he carried to
The wooden cross, the judgment tree,
To pay the wages due.

Hear him cry out “It is finished”
With his final breath,
For with this love he satisfied
God’s wrath and died our death.

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“Joy to the World”: A Christmas Poem

“Joy to the World”
December 25, 2012

Joy to the world,
The dragon has been hurled

To the earth
And trampled by
The holy birth
And sinless life

Of God the Son
Who came and won

A people from
The sting of death
And curse of sin
With his last breath.

O Holy Night,
Darkness trembled at the Light.

The baby born
And laid inside
A manger would
Be crucified

And placed into
A borrowed tomb.

But then the hand
Of God the Father
Raised his Son to
Live forever.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
Jesus is a risen King.

Death By Exile

There’s a scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Jim Gordon, Gotham City’s police commissioner, is being sentenced before a judge who happens to be a recently-freed felon.  The ultimatum is presented to Gordon: would he rather choose death or exile?

The question is made complex because winter has descended upon Gotham, freezing the bodies of water surrounding the city.  The exiled are forced to venture onto thin ice, and they will inevitably fall through.  Gordon knows this, so he tells the judge, “Death.”  He wants no part of an icy grave, no false hope.

The gavel smacks the desk, and the judge pronounces the sentence: “Death” but then adds “by exile.”  The viewer knows what this means: Gordon will be forced out onto the ice, and his exile means his death.

The phrase “death by exile” was applied to Jim Gordon in that movie, but sometimes cinematic phrases can ring true to the way the world works. “Death by exile” is the story of mankind after the events of Genesis 3.

In the true story of the world, God told Adam that eating the forbidden fruit would mean death (Gen 2:17).  Haven’t you noticed, though, that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they didn’t die?  Instead, they had a very awkward conversation with God.  Adam blamed his wife, she blamed the serpent, and nothing seemed to resolve the problem.  Everything had been good and blessed, but now things went wrong and curses were pronounced.

How does the story in the garden end?  With exile. “[T]herefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:23-24).

If we understand the important biblical motif of “death by exile,” we’re able to see that Adam and Eve did die, though not physically that day.  They experienced death by exile.  Physical death was part of the curse God pronounced–from dust man came and to dust he would return (Gen 3:19)–but for now they had to leave the garden sanctuary.

Their spiritual exile/death became a major motif that winds throughout the subsequent stories of Scripture.  No one is born in the garden.  Everyone after Genesis 3 comes into the world already exiled from Eden.  We all open our eyes for the first time in a state of spiritual death.

“Death by exile” is the story of Israel.  After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, Israelites were exiled to a land not their own.  But prophets like Ezekiel intimated that this exile, this national death, would be reversed.  God would speak to Israel as if looking into a valley of dry bones, and he would cause those bones to live again (Ezek 37:5-10).

We learn that the bones were “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek 37:11), which means that the restoration of the nation would be a resurrection from the dead. “Death by exile” preceded a “resurrection by return.”  And, sure enough, when Israelites returned to Jerusalem under the decree of Cyrus the Persian, it was like life from the dead.

The story continues unfolding as Jesus steps onto the scene.  He came to bear the whole gamut of our exile.  The Word Made Flesh would be rejected by his people, die bearing our reproach outside the camp, and be forsaken by his Father as holy wrath came down on an old rugged cross.

In short, Jesus’ mission was death by exile, spiritually and physically, that the way to the Tree of Life might be opened again for those who trust in him.  Jesus conquered death by his resurrection, and death will be the last enemy defeated at his return (1 Cor 15:26).

Death will not even hold our bodies in its grasp forever.  Because of Christ’s death by exile and return by resurrection, we have the hope that dust will not be the final resting place of our bodies.  The curse of death was reversed by Christ and one day will be reversed for all believers.

When our bodies die it is but a sowing.  The reaping will come at the sound of a trumpet, and once-perishable-bodies will be raised imperishable (1 Cor 15:42, 52).  There will be no more death, no more exile, only resurrection glory in the likeness of the Son of Man.

O Wonder of Wonders: The Holy War Won

A silent night?  Maybe in one sense, since mankind went to sleep unaware of what was happening behind the scenes.

The incarnation of God’s Son was a declaration of war against the devil:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14)

This spiritual war was millennia in the making.  Before the first couple even left the Garden of Eden, God promised the serpent hostility between it and Eve’s seed: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

This conflict continued through the ages all the way to the cross.  Through death, said the Hebrews author, Jesus defeated the devil.  The incarnation made it possible to fulfill the promise of Genesis 3:15.

It seems intuitive that a warrior is victorious by avoiding death in order to vanquish his enemy.  But God’s wisdom is higher and deeper and often counterintuitive.  He sent his Son to battle the serpent, and through death the victory was won.

“It is finished,” Jesus said with his last breath.  God’s wrath was satisfied, atonement was accomplished, and the head of the serpent could not bear the crushing weight of the Son’s mighty heel.

O Wonder of Wonders: There Will Be Blood

The manger and Mount Calvary are separated only by the years it took to get from one to the other, for Christ’s mission concerned both places.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death…” (Heb 2:14)

God’s Son was born in order to die.  His mission was not derailed by the cross.  The Place of the Skull was not “plan B” after a failed attempt at securing earthly rule and renown.  The incarnation happened for the purpose of crucifixion.

The cross was always the point because on that tree he died.  And he could only die if he was human.  God’s Son was born outside Jerusalem, and he’d die outside that city too.

His bloody birth was the way to his bloody death.  But there’s power in this blood.  In it sinners are washed white as snow.

The Earliest New Testament Interpretation of the Cross

I have been persuaded for some time that Galatians was Paul’s earliest letter, written approximately AD 49-50.  This is significant because, according to some conservative scholars, Galatians 1:1-5 contains the earliest written interpretation of the death of Jesus in the New Testament.

The four Gospels were written after Galatians, as were the other letters (with the exception of James), Acts, and Revelation.  So although Acts reports some early church history after the ascension of Jesus and before Paul was every converted, the book was still written after Galatians.

Put another way, Galatians 1:1-5 was the earliest New Testament record of what leaders–Paul in particular–were teaching about the cross (the letter of James does not provide any explicit teaching about Jesus’ death).

“Paul, an apostle–not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead….Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:1, 3-4).

Four observations can be made.  According to the earliest New Testament record of the interpretation of the cross,

(1) Jesus’ death was voluntary (“gave himself”)
(2) Jesus’ death was substitutionary (“for our sins”)
(3) Jesus’ death was planned (“according to the will of our God”)
(4) Jesus’ death was vindicated (“who raised him from the dead”)

The earliest New Testament testimony about the cross is worth our reflection.  In summary, the early church taught, proclaimed, and wrote about a risen Lord who had freely borne our sins on the cross in fulfillment of his Father’s plan.