VIDEO The Stinging Tree

Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree. 1 Peter 2:24

The Gympie Gympie, a stinging tree in Australia, is one of the most dangerous plants in the world. Those who brush against its leaves suffer pain that’s described as someone “being burned by hot acid and electrocuted at the same time.” There is no cure, and it can take years to recover from the unbearable pain. So intense is the suffering that it’s known as the suicide plant. The excruciating pain has driven humans mad.

Pondering that tree might lead us to think about another tree—the cross of Jesus. Peter told those responsible for the torturous death of Christ: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree” (Acts 5:30). And the apostle Paul said, “Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb” (Acts 13:29).

We cannot imagine the intense emotional and physical suffering Christ endured, but we know this—by His stripes we are healed!

Jesus hung on a tree as an object of open shame so it would be clear beyond any doubt that God was allowing the death blow of His curse to fall on His Son. All so that you and I could go free. Tony Evans


Principles for Life from the Death of Christ (1 Peter 2:21-24)

A True Disciple of Jesus

I am the vine; you are the branches. John 15:5

When Christian Mustad showed his Van Gogh landscape to art collector Auguste Pellerin, Pellerin took one look and said it wasn’t authentic. Mustad hid the painting in his attic, where it remained for fifty years. Mustad died, and the painting was evaluated off and on over the next four decades. Each time it was determined to be a fake—until 2012, when an expert used a computer to count the thread separations in the painting’s canvas. He discovered it had been cut from the same canvas as another work of Van Gogh. Mustad had owned a real Van Gogh all along.

Do you feel like a fake? Do you fear that if people examined you, they’d see how little you pray, give, and serve? Are you tempted to hide in the attic, away from prying eyes?

Look deeper, beneath the colors and contours of your life. If you’ve turned from your own ways and put your faith in Jesus, then you and He belong to the same canvas. To use Jesus’ picture, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). Christ and you form a seamless whole.

Resting in Jesus makes you a true disciple of His. It’s also the only way to improve your picture. He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).

By:  Mike Wittmer

Reflect & Pray

What things cause you to wonder if you’re a true disciple of Jesus? How might this fear drive you to Him?

Jesus, I rest in You like a branch clings to its vine.

The Purpose of Trials

God uses trials to condition our heart for holiness and to increase our spiritual maturity.

James 1:2-12

When difficulties come into your life, do you grumble, complain, and resist? Or do you respond the way God desires—with a joyful attitude, a humble and submissive heart, and an understanding of what He wants to accomplish in your life? 

Sometimes people mistakenly think that after their salvation, God is going to make life comfortable and stress-free, but that’s not what Scripture promises. Jesus said we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33). Peter told us not to be surprised at the fiery ordeals that come upon us for our testing (1 Pet. 4:12). And the writer of Hebrews wrote that our heavenly Father disciplines and trains us as His beloved children so we may share in His holiness (Heb. 12:4-11).

James’ command to consider trials as “all joy” (James 1:2) makes no sense unless we see them as opportunities for spiritual growth. Trials are designed by the Lord to test our faith, humility, submission, and values. We can either waste our difficulties by defiantly resisting God or benefit by trusting in and depending on Him. The first way leads only to suffering, but the second option results in spiritual maturity and eternal rewards. 

How Can a Man Be Just Before God?

Then Job answered and said, I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God? (Job 9:1-2)

Job was the most “just” (i.e., “righteous”) man of his age, according to the testimony of God Himself (Job 1:8; 2:3), yet his friends insisted his terrible suffering had been sent by God because of his sins. He knew he was innocent of the sins of which they were accusing him, and he knew he had earnestly tried to be obedient and faithful to God. Yet, he also knew that he, like all men, had come far short of God’s holiness (Romans 3:23). “I have sinned,” he confessed, “what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men?” (Job 7:20). “Cause me to understand wherein I have erred” (Job 6:24). And then comes the plaintive plea in our text: “How should a man be just with God?”

There is, indeed, no way by which a man can make himself righteous before God, for he is even born with a sin nature, inherited from father Adam. “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse” (Job 9:20). Yet God created man for His own glory (Isaiah 43:7) and wants “all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). The great enigma is, how can God justify unrighteousness in men and still be righteous Himself.

The answer, of course, is that God, in Christ, has paid the price to make us righteous by dying for all our sins. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Even Job finally realized that God must somehow become his redeemer. “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and…in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). It is indeed wonderfully true that God can both “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). HMM

Vindication

Let all who hate Zion he driven hack in disgrace. Let them be like grass on the rooftops, which withers before it grows up and can’t even fill the hands of the reaper or the arms of the one who binds sheaves. Then none who pass by will say, “May the Lord’s blessing be on you.” We bless you in the name of the Lord (Psalm 129 vv. 5-8).

Why does it seem as if the nonbelievers in this world get all the breaks and have all the fun? They live fast, hard, and, it appears, free!

But we can take great comfort in the promise of this psalm. No matter how it may seem, the wicked are doomed to failure (see Ps. 37:1-2). This psalmist has the big picture, and our confusion stems from our limited and cloudy vision.

Still, my ancient colleague covers all his bases and prays for the vindication of his people. He pictures the Israel-haters as tufts of grass on a Palestinian roof. They wither even before the owner has a chance to pluck them. They’re not worth the time it takes to weed them out! He’ll leave them to the blazing sun of God’s wrath.

The psalm ends with a strong suggestion to fellow Israelites to withhold blessing from passersby on the street. It has always been customary in Israel to greet people by invoking God’s blessing on their lives. In this case the passionate musician/poet holds out for silence: “Then none who pass will say, ‘May the Lord’s blessing be on you’” (v. 8).

When Karen and I visited Israel, the people often greeted us with a friendly “Shalom”— “Peace be unto you,” They’re still looking for the fulfillment of that prophecy. Justice will prevail in the end, and Israel will be utterly and finally vindicated. It also follows that, if I am suffering unjustly, I can expect satisfaction from a just God, In the meantime I need to concentrate on my Savior, whose suffering I will never be able to imagine or comprehend in this life (Rom, 8:18)!

Personal Prayer

I thank you, Lord, that you are the answer to all injustice and inhumanity in this world and that you are still in control. Help me to trust in the fulfillment of that prophecy just as my Israeli neighbors do.

The Language of Music

Opus

A Latin term meaning “work.”

An opus is a musical composition or set of compositions.

Christ—Our Precursor

Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner.—Hebrews 6:20

Out of all the aspects of truth that surround the fact of our Lord’s ascension, one of the greatest is surely this—Christ is our Precursor. A precursor is really a forerunner—an advance runner—and that is precisely the term which our text for today applies to the climactic ministry of our ascended Lord.

The NIV translates the word prodromos (forerunner) thus: “who went before us.” That translation, in my opinion, is not nearly as appealing as that found in other versions, where the word “forerunner” is actually used. “Forerunner” brings to mind a picture of our Lord as a celestial outrider “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10) and reminds us of a petition in the great high priestly prayer: “Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they will see My glory” (Jn 17:24).

Henry Longfellow, in his Golden Legend, put it like this:

When Christ ascended

Triumphantly, from start to star,

He left the gates of heaven ajar!

Much as I like Longfellow, I have to disagree. Our Lord left the gates of heaven not just “ajar” but wide open. One of the creeds expresses it more effectively: “When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” Whatever the future holds for us, we who are Christ’s can be sure of this: our Lord has ascended into heaven. And so, too, shall we.

Prayer

O Father, I see that not only was there an ascension in the life of Your Son, but there is to be one in mine too. According to Your Word, I am to be “caught up in the clouds” and to be with You forever. Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.

Further Study

Jn 17:1-26; 1:12; Gl 4:7; 1Co 15:39-44

What does being sons make us?

What do we enter into through death?

Salvationist Sacramentalism

Hebrews 3:14

The Salvation Army does not practice sacramental rituals. This statement does not automatically lead to the conclusion that Salvationists therefore cannot possibly be sacramentalists. I advocate an understanding of sacramentalism that does not hinge upon any outward form or ceremony.

In 1883 in an article in which he addressed his officers, William Booth wanted to be clear that “No sacrament can rightly be seen as a condition of salvation.” He wanted the Army to be free from “the grave dissensions” that sometimes were associated with the sacraments.

Minnie Carpenter, wife of General George Carpenter, described the transition of the Army from mission to church and mentions the influence of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) upon the Booths as an explanation for the Army’s belief that the deep, inner experience of grace could be, and was, real without any external rituals. William Booth, she wrote, “pointed his people to the privilege and necessity of seeking the substance rather than the shadow.”

Commissioner Paul Rader, before being elected General in 1994, spoke of the strangely ambivalent role of the sacraments in church history. He spelled out the Army’s belief about the immediacy of grace: “We believe that the grace of Christ comes to us not through the act of partaking of small pieces of bread or drinking small cups of grape juice or wine several times a year as it is given to us by certain accredited ministers. We believe the saving, sanctifying, purifying and empowering grace of Christ is available to us here and now as we reach out in faith to Him. We believe that this grace is made real in our hearts by the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit through faith.”

Then came the single most important sentence in his presentation: “When our hearts are made holy, all of life is a sacrament.” Here then is Salvationist sacramentalism.

The authenticity of a sacramental life is not dependent upon ceremony. According to the Book of Common Prayer a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Salvationist sacramentalism carries this to its logical conclusion and says that a person can be such a sign, derivatively from Christ, the one True Sacrament. You can be a sacrament. I can be a sacrament.

Shaw Clifton, Who Are These Salvationists?