Easter, Suffering

Christ- the Suffering Servant

Originally published April 14, 2017

Isaiah 53

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

What a beautiful passage describing Christ’s suffering for us. Usually, when we think about suffering, we think about suffering we’ve personally experienced, things loved ones have been through, newsworthy events from around the globe, and natural disasters. And, as normal human beings in a broken, sinful world, that’s what we tend to do- we think of people, topics, and circumstances in light of our experiences with them or how they affect us. But as Christians, it’s imperative that, when we think of suffering, we look first to Christ, the Suffering Servant, and see all other suffering in light of His suffering.

Certainly, Isaiah 53 doesn’t cover every aspect or incident of Christ’s suffering, but let’s take a look at a few of these verses that prophesy – over 700 years before He was ever born – about the suffering of Christ.

Christ suffered physically
Most have read the Bible’s account of the crucifixion. But in the same way a verbal description of abortion doesn’t really capture the horror of the act the way a video can, our English words used in Isaiah 53 can’t adequately express the extreme physical suffering Christ endured on the cross. The cross was such an agonizing experience we had to invent a new word for that kind of suffering: excruciating. Ex– out of, cruciare– the crucifixion. Suffering drawn out of the cross.

So, how did Christ suffer physically?

Verse 5 says He was pierced, crushed, chastised, and wounded. Let’s take a closer look at those words:

Pierced– The Hebrew word means: “to wound (fatally), bore through” We see this with the crown of thorns that “bore through” Jesus’ head and the nails that pierced His hands and feet.

Crushed– The Hebrew means: “to be broken, shattered, beat to pieces” Interestingly, it can also mean “contrite”- He was contrite for our iniquities.

Chastisement– The Hebrew means: “discipline” as you would discipline a naughty child

Wounds/stripes– The Hebrew means: “a welt, blueness, bruise, hurt”

The flogging. The thorns. The pummeling He took from the soldiers. And carrying the cross to Calvary after all of that. Nails through His wrists, nails through His feet, the agony of trying to breathe, and, finally, the spear through His side. Jesus’ physical body took some of the worst abuse that’s ever been doled out by professional torturers.

Christ suffered emotionally
Jesus was a human being, just like you and me. That means he had feelings and emotions just like you and I do, and people and circumstances hurt Him just like they hurt us.

He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Jesus had loved ones die and friends betray Him and turn their backs on Him. He wasn’t immune to the hurts of life.

We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Stricken, smitten, afflicted- those aren’t words we use very often. What do they mean? Stricken is to reach out and touch someone. It’s the same idea as God striking someone down or striking someone with leprosy. Smitten by God– same idea, but with more of a judgment or punishment angle: “smite, chastise, send judgment upon, punish, destroy.” To be afflicted is to be “oppressed, humiliated, be bowed down.”

This phrase in verse 4 carries the idea that people thought Jesus had done something(s) that so displeased God that that God’s punitive hand of judgment was upon His life. Of course, that wasn’t true. Yet, there were people thought of Him that way and treated Him that way- at the cross, certainly, but also, to some extent, during His life.

And yes, that grieved Him as the God who loved and wanted to save these people, but, on the human side, well, we all know how it feels to be misunderstood and misrepresented. Christ felt those slings and arrows of the heart.

Christ suffered spiritually
When I say Christ “suffered spiritually” I want to be clear that I do not mean anything ever happened to Christ that marred His sinless perfection or in any way diminished His deity. What I mean is that He suffered due to fallen man’s sinfulness regarding theological or spiritual issues. For example:

He was despised and rejected by men…he was despised, and we esteemed him not. We see this constantly in the gospels. The Pharisees were always trying to trick Jesus and trap Him with difficult questions. They repeatedly accused Him of “working” on the Sabbath by healing people, picking grain and eating it, and so on. They plotted against Him. They tried to stone Him. Even at the end, when He was on the cross, Scripture says “they hurled insults at Him.”

And why? These aren’t just playground bullies picking on a random kid for no reason. They had a reason. And those insults the chief priests and scribes and elders hurled at Jesus in Matthew 27:42-43 sum up that reason pretty neatly:

He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’

Jesus was God. He was their Messiah. Yet these men didn’t want to humble themselves and admit it and bow the knee to Him. They looked Jesus in the eye – the God who loved them, created them, and breathed the breath of life into them – and said: We will not have this King reign over us! They despised and rejected the core of who Jesus was: Savior, King, Son of God.

But Jesus suffered in other spiritual ways, too…

The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
[He was] stricken for the transgression of my people
His soul makes an offering for guilt
He shall bear their iniquities
He bore the sin of many

Christ carried our sin. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree… (1 Peter 2:24). There’s no way we could begin to fathom what it was like for Christ to carry every single sin of billions of people in His body. But He didn’t just have the weight of that sin on His shoulders, He also propitiated God’s wrath toward every single one of those sins. God poured out the cup of His wrath for our sin and Jesus drank every last drop of it.

Jesus suffered tremendously. How did He respond to all that suffering?

Christ’s Response to Suffering
Hebrews 2:17 tells us: Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect.

One of the ways Jesus was made like us, His brothers, was that He suffered. He suffered physically, He suffered emotionally, and He suffered “spiritually,” just like we do. In fact, He suffered far more in each of these respects than any of us ever have or ever will.

But what’s even more amazing to me than the actual extent of Jesus’ suffering was the fact that He endured all of it, from the moment of His birth to the moment of His death without ever sinning. Not even once. Not even in His thoughts or the attitude of His heart.

That’s huge. Think of the suffering you’ve experienced in your life and how you responded to it. I’ve retaliated against people who have hurt me, or at least harbored bitterness against them. During times of calamity, I’ve yelled at God, I’ve questioned His love for me, I’ve not trusted Him, I’ve been angry at Him.

But Jesus never had a sinful response to suffering. How did He respond?

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23

In some cases, Jesus just didn’t respond at all to the person or situation causing the suffering. He communed with God instead. Jesus knew that He was in God’s hands and God would mete out judgment at the proper time.

But this is the same Jesus who instructed us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give your cloak as well as your tunic. And Jesus certainly embodied these responses to those who caused Him suffering.

Let’s look at Jesus’ response to Pilate in John 18:33-38. But before we do, bear in mind that Jesus has the power to call down any number of angels to destroy Pilate, the courtyard where He’s about to be flogged, Calvary, Jerusalem, the whole world, if He wants to, in order to avoid the suffering He’s about to endure, and Jesus is fully aware of that. But watch how He responds to Pilate:

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.

Jesus took the time to, essentially, share the gospel with this horrid man, whose next move was to have Jesus taken out and beaten to a bloody pulp. Jesus not only refused to retaliate against Pilate, He blessed him with the gospel instead.

When Jesus was on the cross, how did He respond to those who had crucified Him and those who were mocking and insulting Him? Did He yell back? Tell them they were all going to burn in Hell? No, He prayed for them: Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Every time Jesus suffered, He responded to it in exactly the right, godly way. He trusted Himself, the situation, and everyone involved to God, He loved His enemies, and He said or did whatever would best proclaim the gospel or glorify God in that situation.

It’s difficult to wrap our minds around all of the ways Jesus suffered, and more difficult still to comprehend that He never responded sinfully to His suffering. But perhaps the most baffling aspect of Jesus’ suffering is that He willingly chose to endure it all for rebellious, thankless, undeserving sinners like you and me. To serve us. To purchase the salvation we could never earn. To live the life we could not live. To die the death we could not die. And to conquer the grave that, for us, was unconquerable.

All hail King Jesus- the Suffering Servant.

Easter

Throwback Thursday ~ The Daily Wonder of Easter

Originally published April 1, 2014

“What should I preach about on Easter Sunday? Help me out, here.”

That’s the gist of a tweet I saw recently from a pastor. It caught me quite off guard, and it must have had the same effect on many others who punctuated their excellent advice –“preach the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for our sins”- with lots of “duh’s” and other indications that this should be a no-brainer for a Christian pastor.

Traditionally, the prevailing line of thought about Easter (and Christmas) services has always been, “This is one of the two times a year that a lot of lost people go to church. It might be our only chance to reach some of them. Let’s make sure we give them the gospel.” Maybe after so many years of that, some pastors feel that their church members have heard it all before and they need to move on to something else in order to keep people’s attention. Sometimes, as a pastor, it’s tough to know just what to do to best reach people for Christ.

559197_439100116151470_344850853_n-300x225

But, see, the thing is, Christians never move past our need for hearing the gospel again and again. Young or old. Newly saved or seasoned saint.

We need the gospel.

We need it because we forget. We forget that we are great sinners in need of a great Savior. We forget to slow down and pour out our gratitude and worship for the sacrifice of our beautiful Savior. We forget to bask in our wonder, our amazement, at His glorious and triumphant resurrection.

As Christians, every day our sin sick souls need to bow at the cross and be washed afresh in the precious, atoning blood of Christ. What can wash away my sin? Nothing –nothing– but the blood of Jesus. Daily, we must approach the tomb, see the massive stone rolled away and shout with joy over its emptiness. Hallelujah! Death has lost its victory and the grave has been denied! The very reason we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday is the celebration of an empty tomb. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday.

Remember, and rejoice!


Originally published at Satisfaction Through Christ.
Easter

Easter with the King: The Story of Nabal, Abigail and David ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 4-20-14

Since we’re focusing on Resurrection Sunday this week,
I thought we’d take a brief break from our Living Stones study
for an Easter-themed Bible study lesson.
Find the rest of this chronological study here.


Originally published April 20, 2014

sunday school

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 15 ~ Apr. 13-19
1 Samuel 18-31, Psalm 11, 59,7,27,31,34,52,56,120,140-142,17,35,54,63,18
Easter with the King: The Story of Nabal, Abigail and David

 

Since the whole Bible points to Jesus, the whole Bible tells the story of the gospel. Even the Old Testament. Even the story of David, Abigail, and Nabal.

1 Samuel 25:2-42

flock of sheep in israelFilthy Rich (2)
3000 sheep/1000 goats was definitely rich (even today it wouldn’t be too shabby). While cattle are more valued in our culture for their meat, milk, and leather, sheep and goats were more valued in Israel for these, and also for sacrifices. Sheep and goats were Israel’s “pantry on the hoof.”

I Pity the Fool (3)
The name “Nabal” means “fool.” As we have seen throughout the OT, names weren’t just random labels. They told something about the person’s character or life, where he was from, who he was related to, etc. Sometimes names were changed to reflect life circumstances: Ben-oni (son of my sorrow) to Benjamin (son of the right hand- Genesis 35:18), Naomi (pleasant) to Mara (bitter- Ruth 1:20), Simon (God has heard) to Peter (rock- Matthew 16:18).

It seems odd, even by Israel’s standards, to name an infant “fool,” but we have no way of knowing whether this was the case or whether he acquired this name later in life after earning it by his behavior.

“Abigail” means “My father is joy.”

An Offer You Can’t Refuse? (4-13, Deuteronomy 22:1-4, 18:7, 21:11, 15:7-8, Leviticus 19:10, 23:22)
This incident hits our Western ears as odd or inappropriate, even presumptuous or akin to extortion, but Middle Eastern hospitality etiquette and neighborliness, not to mention God’s Law was, and still is, much different from ours in many cases.

Nabal did not ask David to guard his shepherds and flocks. Indeed, he probably didn’t even know David was doing so unless the shepherds told him when they brought the sheep in for shearing. (And since “one cannot speak to him” {17} maybe they didn’t.) David, however, when he met up with the shepherds, took it upon himself, out of his own good will, to look out for them. Maybe he had sympathy for them because he had also been a shepherd.

michael-corleoneDavid and his men likely put their lives on the line numerous times protecting Nabal’s livelihood. And he didn’t do it with an “I scratch your back; you scratch mine” attitude, thinking he would later demand pay from Nabal. He also didn’t take advantage of the shepherds (such as extorting sheep/goats in exchange for protection) while they were with him. David was obeying the spirit of all those “good neighbor laws” we read about (ex: Deuteronomy 22:1-4). The law is not just “don’t harm your neighbor,” but also, “do good to your neighbor.”

Remember, these shepherds were alone out in the wilderness with the flocks. There was no police force or army to protect them from raiding bands of Philistines. If the Philistines saw a thousand goats and 3000 sheep and wanted them, they just took them and captured or killed the shepherds. No legal redress, no sheep insurance. Nabal’s entire portfolio was at stake. You would think once he found out what David had done –for free and out of the goodness of his heart—Nabal would be extremely grateful. But was he? Nope.

David’s men arrived, explained themselves, and asked politely for whatever food Nabal could spare (kind of hard to make groceries when you’re on the run living in caves). They did not demand his best, and they did not demand he provide enough for their entire company of 600 men. They had even come on a feast day when Nabal was celebrating his wealth, should have been in a good mood, and should have had plenty of extra food on hand. And notice this telling little phrase, “they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited.” (9) Now here’s one way Middle Eastern culture is similar to Southern culture. If someone was standing there telling you about all those nice things he had done for you, how long would it take before you gleefully interrupted him and offered him everything under the sun in thanks? Well, Middle Easterners aren’t as shy about interrupting as we are, and furthermore, they would take it as the highest insult if you didn’t take everything they offered.

Not Nabal, though. First, he pretended not to know who David was. Pretty ridiculous, since David’s conquests were well known throughout Israel (18:7, 21:11- even outside Israel), not to mention the fact that he was next in line for the throne. Next, he insulted David’s men by accusing them of lying about working for David. Of course, if he had been interested in finding out whether or not that was true, he could have brought his shepherds in and asked them if these were the guys who had protected them.

David’s men went back and reported what had happened. David’s immediate response was for everyone to “strap on his sword.” It seems like kind of an extreme response to us, but we have to keep a few things in mind. First, the Law. Nabal was breaking both the letter and the spirit of it. While there was no specific law covering a band of mighty men coming to you and asking for food on a feast day, there were laws about taking care of people who were hungry and poor, such as the gleaning laws (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22).

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says: “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”

When we read through Ruth, we saw Boaz doing a great job of fulfilling this law for Ruth and Naomi. Here, Nabal is showing the exact opposite of Boaz’s kindness and generosity.

Second, Nabal’s actions showed disregard and ingratitude for God’s provision and blessing. God blessed Nabal with wealth and protected that wealth (through David) without Nabal even knowing about it. Do we see any evidence that Nabal was humbled that God should do such a thing for him, or thankfulness to God for what He had provided? No. We see only selfishness, stinginess, and a blatant disregard for God as sovereign provider.

Finally, David’s response was likely an answer to Nabal’s accusations. “He wants to know who David is? He wants to know whether or not my men are lying? Well, let’s go show him the answer to his questions and see if he changes his tune.”

The Go-Between (14-31, John 12:14-15)
Abigail was quite a remarkable woman. This was not the first time Nabal had acted this way. He had a long standing history of being harsh and worthless (“son of Belial” is also applied to Satan in 2 Corinthians). And here, Abigail was going behind his back and defying him. This was no small thing for any wife in Israel. But for Abigail, it could have meant a beating or worse when Nabal found out. It’s possible she was even risking her life. And for what? To save him. Without his knowledge that she was saving him. Without his knowledge that he even needed saving.

Why in the world would Abigail want to save someone who was probably making her life a living hell? She could have just let David and his men handle Nabal. Certainly he would have www-St-Takla-org--abigail-entreats-mercygotten what he deserved. But she stepped in because it was the right thing to do. It was right to obey God by providing for David and his men. It was even right to protect her husband from his own foolishness and bringing David’s wrath down upon himself. But even more, she did it because she loved God, and maybe even her husband, too.

She sent the gift on ahead (19) to appease David’s wrath, then presented herself to him on Nabal’s behalf. Notice that she got down off her donkey (23). Kings rode donkeys. Rich people and people of high standing rode donkeys. She left her wealth and position behind and got as low as she could get, bowing down, humbling herself, and submitting herself to David. For Nabal.

Then Abigail did something even more remarkable. She said (24-25), “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he.” She—a completely innocent party to Nabal’s sin (25)—voluntarily takes on the guilt and consequences of his sin. (Is this starting to sound familiar?) In v. 28, she asked David to “Please forgive the trespass of your servant.” It wasn’t her trespass, but Nabal’s. She was asking forgiveness for him.

The King’s Response (32-35)
David blessed Abigail, not just for her prudence and godliness, but also because she had satisfied his wrath and kept him from exercising it on Nabal. Her gift was sufficient, and David granted her petition to extend forgiveness to Nabal.

Happily Ever After (36-42)
Well, except for Nabal. Abigail had to tell Nabal what she had done. She’d been gone for a while and had taken quite a bit of food out of the house. No sense trying to cover it up. Hopefully Nabal would be grateful she saved him from certain death. When she told him, did he repent? Humble himself? The text doesn’t say that he did. It says “his heart died within him.” It’s generally believed this means that Nabal had a stroke (especially since it further says that he “became as stone” and lived for ten more days). Did he become enraged at what Abigail had done, and this physical exertion contributed to a stroke? We can’t know for certain. What seems unlikely is that he genuinely repented, because God “struck Nabal and he died.” As we’ll see later with David, while we usually do suffer the consequences of our sin, God shows mercy and forgiveness to the repentant.

David was thankful he had not taken matters into his own hands and that God had handled the situation. Justice had been served. And for her faithfulness, Abigail—who considered herself the lowliest of servants, only fit to wash the feet of other servants—ascended to the position of Queen. Back on her donkey where she belonged, exalted out of humility to sit at the right hand of the king.

The Backstage Gospel (Psalm 14:1, Philippians 2:6-8, 9-11)
Often, in stories like this, the characters aren’t just playing themselves, they’re playing out the parts of the gospel.

As with Nabal, God blessed His people richly with life, family, provisions, and all kinds of other blessings she wasn’t even aware of. The people didn’t ask God to do these things. God, the Good Shepherd, did these things for them out of the goodness of His own heart, the same way David had done for Nabal. But, as with Nabal the fool, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” (Ps. 14) The same way David presented himself to Nabal and told him what he had done for him, God, over and over, reminded Israel of the way He had protected and provided for them. But just as Nabal rejected David, so, Israel rejected God, and rebelled against Him in favor of their own sin and selfishness. And, like David, God’s wrath was inflamed.

Enter Jesus. Just as Abigail intervened on behalf of Nabal, Jesus intervened on behalf of Israel and all mankind. Just like Abigail, He laid down His life to save us. Before we ever knew Him. Before we ever knew we needed saving. Why? Why would He even want to save us Nabals? He could have let God exercise His wrath on us. We certainly deserve it. But in the same way that Abigail acted in love and in doing what was right, Jesus loved His Father and us enough to fulfill righteousness and to bring God glory by staying His hand of wrath.

In the same way that Abigail got down off her donkey, leaving behind all prestige and humbling herself to the lowest position possible—a servant only worthy of washing other hp-crossshadowservants’ feet— Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant [one who washed other servants’ feet], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6-8) And for whom? Us Nabals. “On me alone, my Lord, be the guilt,” Jesus said, even though, like Abigail, He was completely innocent. He voluntarily took on the guilt and consequences of our sin when He died in our place on the cross, and He did it to win forgiveness for us.

Jesus sent this offering of His life for the atonement of our sin on ahead of Himself to the Father, and God’s wrath was satisfied. Jesus’ offering was sufficient, and God granted His petition to extend forgiveness to the likes of us. And just as David picked Abigail up from her humility and she ascended to the position of queen, Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of the King, and “God has highly exalted him [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

This story didn’t have a happy ending for Nabal, because Nabal didn’t repent and submit himself to God. Nabal ended up taking the guilt and consequences for his sin himself (death) instead of gratefully humbling himself and being thankful for the gift of Abigail’s intervention and David’s forgiveness. But the rest of us Nabals can have a happy ending. Jesus has paid the price for our sin with His death, burial, and the resurrection we celebrate today. He completely satisfied the wrath of God on our behalf. It is finished. Forgiveness has been purchased with His blood. If we will humble ourselves, repent of our sin, and accept the beautiful gift of forgiveness God is extending to us at the request of His Son, we can be reconciled to God now and live happily in the ever after.

Easter, Top 10

Top 10 Best Easter Songs

Originally published April 3, 2015easter songs

There are so many great Easter hymns and worship songs out there. After all, how can a songwriter go wrong proclaiming the glorious truth of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection? It was hard to narrow it down to my ten favorites, but I gave it a shot.

(Please note- I am not familiar with all of these musicians. Their presence here is not an endorsement of any unbiblical theology any of them may hold to. Please thoroughly vet the doctrine of any Christian musician you choose to follow and make sure it matches up with Scripture.)

1. Jesus Paid it All– Nominated by my 11 year old son, who said in the car on the way home from church, “They need to do ‘Jesus Paid it All’ next week, because it is a very appropriate Easter song.”

 

2. Arise My Love– The grave could not hold the King!

 

3. Low in the Grave He Lay– You’re not really a Southern Baptist unless your church does this one every Easter.

 

4. The Old Rugged Cross– What a precious song this is and what a beautiful job this gentleman does on it.

 

5. Sunday’s On the Way– The resurrection is not an allegory for your personal problems coming to an end. Other than that, this is pure 80’s “in your face, Devil!” CCM awesomeness.

 

6. The Wonderful Cross– Who ever thought something so horrific could be so beautiful? But it is.

 

7. Man of Sorrows, What a Name– Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

8. He’s Alive– The resurrection through the eyes of Peter. Oh how sweet it must have been for him to see Jesus alive again.

 

9. I’ve Just Seen Jesus– I love singing this one with my husband.

 

10. Christ the Lord is Risen Today– He is not dead. He is alive. We have this hope in Jesus Christ! This arrangement is such a nice blend of the traditional and the contemporary.

He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Happy Easter everyone!

Entertainment, Mailbag, Movies

The Mailbag: Overview/Review of “The Chosen” (An Online TV Series on the Ministry of Jesus)

 

The “Review” section of this article contains SPOILERS.

 

What do you know about the TV series, The Chosen?

Overview (No spoilers):

From their website: The Chosen is the first multi-season television series about the life of Christ, as witnessed through the eyes of those He impacted. Directed by Dallas Jenkins (The Resurrection of Gavin Stone) and distributed by VidAngel Studios, The Chosen has grown to become the largest crowdfunded TV series of all time. (VidAngel is a Netflix and Amazon-based streaming service that allows you to skip distasteful content regarding profanity, nudity, sexual situations, and violence.)

In other words, if you’re familiar with the original content “TV series” Netflix creates and streams, it’s kind of like that, but it’s on VidAngel. You can also watch all eight episodes of the first season for free on The Chosen’s website, The Chosen app on Google Play or Apple (which you can also stream to your smart TV), and on YouTube. (I’ve posted the YouTube version of each of the eight episodes below in the “Review” section of this article, so you can watch them all right here if you like.)

From the extremely limited amount of information about his theology* available online, The Chosen’s writer/director Dallas Jenkins (son of Jerry B. Jenkins) seems to be fairly doctrinally sound in his beliefs. He is a Christian/inspirational filmmaker, and former Director of Visual Media and member of the Executive Leadership Team at Harvest Bible Chapel (James MacDonald’s former church), which has long had a reputation for adhering to a biblical statement of faith. Dallas was one of the leaders of HBC who attempted to bring about a biblical solution to the MacDonald debacle several years ago (read Dallas’ statement here). I spot-checked for connections between Dallas and several major false teachers and found none.

There is an accompanying devotional to the movie entitled The Chosen: 40 Days with Jesus. I’ve read the sample available at Amazon (the endorsements {Liz Curtis Higgs isn’t someone I’d recommend, I’m not familiar with any of the others}, the foreword, and the first three devotions). It’s not Bible study, so don’t expect it to be. Bible study is reading and studying the text of the Bible. It’s a devotional. It’s like having a Hershey’s Kiss for a mid-afternoon snack. It’s quick and sweet and enjoyable, but it’s not sitting down at the table and eating a substantive, well-balanced meal of Bible study. For a “Hershey’s Kiss” it’s not bad. It uses Scripture and the Bible characters in the show to point the reader to Christ. The first three entries lean heavily on Mary Magdalene, which, I would guess, is because she is one of the first characters introduced in The Chosen.

I watched all eight of the episodes in season 1 of The Chosen, and several of Dallas’ commentaries, interviews with actors, and behind the scenes videos. For the most part, I thought The Chosen was very good, biblically and cinematically. The costumes, sets, scenery, visual effects, sound editing, and acting were all top notch from my perspective. I even like the theme song. It is, overall, true to Scripture when portraying something recorded in Scripture (Although, as in nearly every Bible movie, there are minor details that are changed when it seems like it would be just as easy not to change them. For example- an episode portrays Jesus standing in Peter’s boat to preach when the biblical account clearly says He sat. When it’s right there in black and white, why not follow it?). When “filling in the blanks” (fictionalized character development and events not recorded in Scripture) it was mostly (except for a few notable issues which I’ll describe in the “Review” section below) consistent with biblical principles and practices as well as first century Middle Eastern culture.

Some things I really appreciated about The Chosen:

🎉 The common vernacular. You’ll hear characters using very 21st century American words and phrases like, “I’ve got this,” “lucky guess,” “OK,” “guys,” “No kidding,” etc. It might interrupt your suspension of disbelief for a second, but it’s a good reminder that Jesus and the disciples didn’t walk around speaking stilted King James English. They spoke whatever was the first century Aramaic/Hebrew equivalent to today’s common man’s vocabulary.

🎉 The characters in The Chosen look and sound Middle Eastern, as they should, rather than looking European and sounding British.

🎉 I know this is hard for some Christians to accept, but Jesus, being fully human (in addition to fully God) and being made like us in every respect, probably cracked a smile and kidded around with his friends (in a totally holy and biblical way) every now and then. The disciples most likely did, too. I appreciated the moments of appropriate humor in The Chosen that serve to remind us that Jesus, Peter, James, John, and all the rest were real, normal human beings.

🎉 I’ve watched a lot of Jesus movies, and I really believe that The Chosen is the best overall portrayal of Jesus – His looks, mannerisms, personality, spiritual life, teaching, relating to others, the whole ball of wax – that I’ve ever seen. “Reverently realistic” is the way I’d put it.

Overall, I would give the first season of The Chosen a B or B+.

Caveats:

🎥 I can only comment on what I’ve watched. As of the writing of this article, I have only seen season 1 of The Chosen, because that’s all that has been released.

🎥 *Dallas Jenkins is a filmmaker, not a pastor or Bible teacher. As such, I regard him, his theology, and his work more along the lines of a Christian fiction author than a pastor or teacher.

🎥 As with any Bible movie, you must hold The Chosen at arm’s length with the thought constantly in your mind: this is not the Bible, this is a TV show. Whatever you see in this series might be a reasonable imagining of how a biblical event happened, or how a biblical character acted, or it might have happened in a totally different way. Don’t take what you see in The Chosen as “gospel” (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Something I’ve been very concerned about as I’ve read and heard viewers’ responses to The Chosen is repeated remarks like, “I came to know Jesus better through this show.” Unless the person saying this means that the show inspired her to pick up her Bible and study it, and that’s how she came to know Jesus better, this is a very dangerous statement. The Bible is clear that we come to the knowledge of Christ and His Word through Scripture. The Chosen (as I’m sure Dallas Jenkins would agree) is not Scripture. It is not breathed out by the Holy Spirit, it is neither infallible nor inerrant, and the actor portraying Jesus in the show is not Jesus. You cannot get to know Jesus better through The Chosen because the person you’re seeing on the show isn’t Jesus. We must never derive our doctrine or practices from any source except the Bible.

🎥 The Chosen isn’t for you if you…

…hold to the belief that depictions of Jesus are a Second Commandment violation. (Although, in episodes 1&2, “Jesus” does not make an appearance until the last five minutes or so of the episode, if your conscience allows you to watch up until that point.)

…are offended by anything that is not straight, word for word Scripture.

…are offended by the thought of Jesus kidding around with His friends and doing other normal, non-sinful, things humans do.

…have a difficult time separating fact (the Bible) from fiction (much of The Chosen).

If you fall into any of these categories, please do not watch The Chosen.

Review (Spoilers start here):

As I said, I thought The Chosen was pretty good overall. I’ve made a few brief remarks on each episode below. Some of my remarks showcase a problematic issue in that particular episode, but that doesn’t mean I disliked the entire episode. Generally speaking, if there’s something in an episode I didn’t comment on, I either liked it, could take it or leave it, or it somehow escaped my attention. I thought the content of each episode was biblically consistent or plausible unless otherwise noted.

Every night last week, Dallas Jenkins hosted a livestream of each episode, with his commentary (and interviews and extra video features- all of which you can skip if you like) prior to and following the episode. The videos below are the YouTube videos of those livestreamed episodes.

Episode 1:

This series focuses on Jesus’ ministry years, rather than being a chronological biography of His whole life. Jesus doesn’t appear until the last five minutes of episode 1 (as an adult) when He drives the demons out of Mary Magdalene (who has been living under the assumed name “Lilith”). We meet Simon and his wife Eden, Andrew, Nicodemus and his wife Zohara, Matthew, and assorted Roman soldiers and townspeople. It was nice to see the wives brought into the story, and I enjoyed the interactions between the husbands and their wives. All of the action and dialogue takes place before Jesus arrives on the scene, and no one but Mary interacts with Him in this episode, so nearly everything we see is fictionalized.

Prior to Jesus healing Mary, Nicodemus is called upon to exorcise Mary’s demons. I strenuously doubt that actually happened, but it wasn’t overtly unbiblical.

In a couple of interviews with Dallas Jenkins, he mentioned that they decided to play Matthew as having Asperger’s Syndrome – a choice which doesn’t conflict with Scripture outright, but one I find very strange as there’s no indication anywhere in the Bible that Matthew had any sort of disability. Dallas attributes this creative decision to the fact that Matthew is depicted in Scripture as a “numbers guy,” “meticulous,” and because he chose a job that made him a social outcast. Well…OK, but those things don’t automatically point to the autism spectrum. The majority of people with those traits are not autistic.

If you’re familiar with Asperger’s, you’ll recognize the characteristics. If you’re not, the actor underplays it enough that Matthew just comes off as a high strung, socially awkward germophobe. I could be way off base here, but it feels like the Asperger’s aspect was added to Matthew’s character either for the purpose of manufacturing diversity to appease audience members whose worldly worldview centers around such things, or to be an inspiration to people on the autism spectrum (Dallas mentions in one interview that one of his own children is autistic). Either way, those are spiritually inappropriate motives when it comes to portraying anything biblical, or even just a historical character. We don’t bend the Bible to make it more appealing to a particular audience.

And finally, is it just me, or does the actor who plays Matthew look exactly like actor David Krumholtz (Bernard in The Santa Clause)? Sorry if you can’t unsee that.

Episode 2:

James (Zebedee), John, James, and Thaddeus make their first appearances in this episode.

When Nicodemus questions Mary Magdalene about the identity of the man who healed her, she tells Nicodemus, “His time for men to know Him has not yet come,” implying that her healing, which was portrayed as private (only Mary and Jesus present) took place before Jesus’ first public miracle at the wedding at Cana. (This is discussed further in episode 5.) This is biblically plausible. The Bible does not indicate when Mary’s healing took place nor whether or not it was done in public. The Bible also does not preclude Jesus having performed (unrecorded) private miracles or healings prior to his first public miracle.

Jesus again shows up in the last few minutes of the episode, inviting Himself to the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner Mary Magdalene – a single woman – is hosting in her home. Also present – James (not Zebedee) and Thaddeus – already disciples (“students”) of Jesus, and Barnaby and Shula, a man and woman who are friends of Mary’s. When they all get to the table, Jesus invites Mary to lead the ceremony prior to the meal. Mary demurs and says, “No, now that you are here, you must do it.” Jesus replies, “Thank you, but this is your home, and I would love for you to do it.” Mary reads Scripture, leads prayer, and offers the blessing. While we need to keep in mind that this is not a portrayal of a Christian woman violating the principles of 1 Timothy 2:12, I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that this would have been consistent with first century Jewish culture and practice. Rabbis (as Jesus is referred to in this scene) were held in high regard, and the household would have considered it an honor and a blessing for a visiting Rabbi to lead the Shabbat ceremony. Furthermore, it would not have been a woman’s place, culturally, to lead men in Scripture reading, prayer, and blessing.

Episode 3:

Jesus camps out alone in the countryside prior to calling His disciples. That’s not really indicated in the Bible, nor is having a band of children coming to visit every day, but…OK. His interactions with the children are charming and realistic.

Jesus as a craftsman/carpenter is completely plausible and consistent with biblical archaeological and anthropological evidence. In fact, it is probably more accurate than the Bible’s rendering of “carpenter” due to the narrow way we define that term. Jesus likely also engaged in stone masonry as lumber wasn’t plentiful in that region, and buildings and homes were usually mudbrick or stone.

Jesus teaches the children the Lord’s prayer, which does not conflict with Scripture, nor is it implausible. We know that as Jesus traveled around and encountered various people He repeated His teachings. We may only have a certain teaching of His recorded once in Scripture, but that doesn’t mean He only taught it once.

Episode 4:

John the Baptist is brought into the conversation, but doesn’t appear until the last few minutes (Early on, The Chosen seems to have a habit of introducing major characters in the last few minutes of an episode.). He has already been arrested and Nicodemus goes to visit him in prison. I doubt that really happened, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility/plausibility.

Jesus calls (consistent with the Luke 5 account) His next disciples: Simon, Andrew, James and John, and we see the miraculous haul of fish (you’ll probably want to watch the behind the scenes footage near the end of the video about how they accomplished this special effect – it’s fascinating). Simon’s plaintive statement, “We’ve been waiting so long for You,” brought me to tears. We’ve been waiting so long for Him too.

Matthew – perpetually recording everything in his journal – witnesses this scene at the seashore, which is not indicated in Scripture but, again, isn’t outside the realm of possibility/plausibility, either.

Episode 5:

love how Eden, Peter’s wife, is portrayed when he tells her he’s going to quit fishing and follow Jesus full time. This is a godly woman who loves and supports her husband and wants nothing more than for him to follow the Messiah.

Mary Magdalene – a single woman unaccompanied by a close male relative – traveling with a bunch of men to the wedding at Cana is unlikely in the extreme. It would have been completely culturally, if not morally, inappropriate and her virtue – and Jesus’ intentions – would have been impugned by others.

One of the objections I had to The Bible miniseries several years ago was that the writers felt the need to appease a feminist American (and, sadly, evangelical) culture by elevating Mary Magdalene to the same position and level of personal and ministerial intimacy with Jesus as the twelve disciples – in essence making her the “13th disciple”. I am concerned that as The Chosen progresses, it may attempt to do the same thing, and this is the major reason I rated this series as low as I did.

See what I mean? This is the banner pic for The Chosen’s social media pages.

Having Mary constantly hovering around with the Twelve is not the way either she or the disciples are presented in the gospels (if she had been as close to Jesus as she is portrayed in The Chosen, we would likely hear more about her in the text of Scripture). There was the “inner circle” of intimacy with Jesus: Peter, James, and John. Then came the next closest circle, the remainder of the Twelve. Finally, there was a larger crowd of men and some women who followed Jesus regularly. This last group is the group Mary and the other women who followed Jesus would have fallen into, not in the circle with the twelve disciples.

Certainly Jesus elevated the general prestige and worth of women, but He did not elevate them to the position of social and cultural equality with men as American culture does. That would have been a stumbling block to nearly anyone observing or interacting with Jesus and would have been a major distraction from His ministry.

All of that being said, The Chosen does depict Mary Magdalene as being soft-spoken, humble, and meek, befitting a woman of her time and culture, not as a brash, raging femi-nazi.

Toward the end of the episode, Simon and Jesus kid around about Andrew’s lack of grace when it comes to dancing. (There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. It was brotherly and endearing.) Simon then asks Jesus if He would change Andrew into a better dancer, and the words the writers put into Jesus’ mouth were, “Some things even I cannot do.” Now, in that context, the writers may have meant to convey that Jesus was just making a witty remark and that, in fact, it was not part of His mission to transform Andrew from klutz into Fred Astair. But I think that was a poor choice of wording. It’s contextually untrue (because Jesus was certainly capable of making Andrew graceful), and it’s understandably going to offend Christians to hear “Jesus” say He’s unable to do something.

The wedding at Cana is beautifully, and as far as I can tell, authentically portrayed, and the depiction of Jesus changing the water into wine is consistent with Scripture.

Episode 6:

Again, Mary Magdalene is traveling on an overnight trip with what appears to be about six or eight of the Twelve. As I mentioned in my remarks on episode 5, this would have been completely culturally inappropriate and is not consistent with the way Mary and the disciples are presented in Scripture.

In the portrayal of story of the men who bring the paralytic to Jesus, while men are the ones actually carrying the paralytic on a litter, Tamar, a woman (a self-described friend of the paralytic), leads the way, and it’s made clear this is all her idea. When Simon attempts to stop the entourage from pushing their way through the crowd to Jesus, Tamar is the one who pleads with him, and Mary Magdalene reproves him (which would not have been her place in that culture). Moments later, Tamar is the one who comes up with the idea of going up to the roof, and Mary Magdalene assists her. Once the hole is made in the roof, Tamar calls down to Jesus and asks Him to heal her friend, and Jesus says to her, “Your faith is beautiful.”

As with the insertion of Asperger’s into Matthew’s character, this clunky insertion of women into the biblical narrative where there are none feels like a blatant attempt to play to a 21st century feminist audience. And in this instance it does conflict with Scripture. The Luke 5 account is clear that men (v.18) brought the paralytic to the place Jesus was. Those men (v.18) were the ones “seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus.” When it was impossible to get through the crowd, those same men (v.19) were the ones who decided to go up to the roof and let their friend down through the hole. And when they did, Jesus looked at those men (v.20) and affirmed their faith. The writers have erased a faithful group of men from this story in order to exalt women. That’s not being faithful to Scripture, that’s pushing an agenda- whether their own, or that of the segment of their audience they hope to placate.

Let’s be clear- there’s more than one way to be ashamed of the gospel, and “modernizing” it to fit the world’s sensibilities about diversity and feminism is one of those ways. I dearly hope The Chosen’s writers will recognize that this is what they’re doing and correct their course in future episodes.

Episode 7:

This episode starts off with a scene you might not recognize if you’re not thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament. It’s Moses crafting the bronze serpent, which Jesus later tells Nicodemus was a type and shadow of His redemptive death on the cross. The depiction of Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus is beautifully played with utmost clarity and fidelity to Scripture – much of the dialog drawn verbatim from John 3. I was again brought to tears imagining a faithful servant of God waiting so many years for the Consolation of Israel and finally getting to meet Him face to face. For me, this was the best scene of the entire season.

When Jesus calls Matthew from the tax booth, Gaius reminds Matthew of all he’ll be leaving behind – wealth, position, protection – if he follows Jesus. It was a striking reminder that the disciples gave up everything to follow Jesus, and that we should be willing to do the same.

Episode 8:

Love, love, LOVE the opening scene in which Jacob – digging the famous “woman at the well” well – tells his new Canaanite friend about God, “We didn’t choose Him. He chose us.”. This is exactly right. Dead in our trespasses and sins, we don’t choose God. We can’t choose God. He chooses us and rescues us out of our sin. It’s great that the writers are bringing the Old Testament into this “New Testament” period of time, because, even though we encounter Him on the right side of The Book, Jesus lived His whole life and performed His entire ministry in the Old Testament mindset and milieu. Everybody was basically still living in the Old Testament – their Bible, their history, their culture, their practices, everything was still very much Old Testament.

In the scene between the woman at the well and her husband, and the scene in which the Pharisees arrived at Matthew’s house during dinner, it was helpful that The Chosen fleshed out the Jewish/cultural attitudes toward sin and sinners. I think sometimes when we read the biblical account, we don’t get how horrified and disgusted the Jews were by sin – particularly the sins of others.

Nicodemus bringing in the story about Hagar’s experience with God in the wilderness – “You are a God who sees me” – lays the foundation for Jesus to be that God who sees women (and, indeed everyone) in this episode. Jesus’ interaction with the women in this episode – Peter’s wife Eden, her mother, and the woman at the well – were lovely, consistent with Scripture, and exactly what we would imagine to be characteristic of Jesus. This type of interaction between the Jesus character and women is completely sufficient to demonstrate Jesus’ love for and value of women. There is no need to virtually slap the audience in the face with a culturally inappropriate, stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb woman as the 13th disciple in order to prove that point. It smacks of desperation.

 

Overall, I think The Chosen, season 1, is an enjoyable historical dramatization of Jesus’ early years of ministry. If you choose to watch it, I would encourage you to do so with an open Bible, to make sure that everything you believe comes from the text of Scripture rather than from The Chosen. Happy viewing!


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.