Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Who Volunteers for Humiliation?

Sidney Herald religion column published May 26, 2013

At Landsberg, Germany, as the U.S. Army occupies and loots the defeated German town, Capt. Lewis Nixon carries on his quest for Vat 69, a Scotch blended whiskey. He has become a drunk, but will drink only the best. He finds a house that looks rich enough to have some. Inside, the home is well appointed. He sees a framed photograph of a high-ranking officer, looks at it, and drops it. The officer’s wife appears behind him. She looks at the broken glass, then at Nixon. She glares at him defiantly.

Outside Landsberg, the army liberates a concentration camp of wasting survivors and corpses. Local civilians deny knowing anything about it. Gen. Maxwell Taylor orders them, ages 14 to 80, to clean it up and bury the dead.

Nixon sees charred corpses carried one by one. He sees the same woman, finely dressed, doubled over, trying to drag a dead body from a pile. She meets his gaze, still with an air of defiance, the arrogant kind that festers into impotent rage.

When an exalted person is forcibly brought low, that is humiliation, but the person is not necessarily humble. He is humiliated by force, not by his own humility. Nixon saw that in the woman of rank.

Although Jesus came from heaven and ranks with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He was humiliated in five stages: birth in poverty, life of suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial. But Jesus is different from the officer’s wife because his humiliation was voluntary. His own humility brought on his humiliation. No one forced it on him. “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Ephesians 2:8)

Jesus knew He was going to be humiliated. “He began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “They will ... mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him.” (Mark 10:32-34)

When Jesus was arrested, “One of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. … Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled?’” (Matthew 26:51-54)

Laying aside twelve legions, Jesus volunteered. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17-18)

When Jesus spoke that way, “Many of them said, ‘He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?’” (John 10:20) With them, we are tempted to think we are above needing him to humiliate himself for us. The Holy Spirit calls us to contrition and faith. He calls us to see the enormity of sin, and the humble power of Jesus to save.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Who Goes with You into Surgery?

Sidney Herald religion column published May 5, 2013

One of my vain ideas was to reach 60 without being an inpatient of a hospital. Didn’t work. Two Januaries in a row, I was hospitalized. I was a suffering puppy, though still nothing like many around me. My condition meant many trips to Billings this past year for surgeries.

It’s amazing how nurses and doctors, besides providing medical treatment, comfort their patients. As great as they are, I hope none of them will take offense when I say, they can’t hold a candle to Marilyn, my wife. She is my companion in suffering. She goes with me everywhere I hurt. She is there in every emergency room, every surgery room, every hospital room, and in my heart.

Probably more than anything else, suffering causes us to doubt or question God. Why must people suffer, especially those we consider to be good people. We want answers. In my medical sufferings, Marilyn gave me a lively experience of the truth that there is something better than an answer: a companion.

You can’t hold hands with an answer. You can’t share a pillow with an explanation. Reasons don’t shed tears with you.

But Jesus sheds tears with you. Yes, He does. In that He has suffered, He knows you in your suffering. Jesus defines sympathy and companionship. Jesus suffered continually in body, mind, and soul. He said, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)

As bad as most sufferings are, worse is the suffering of temptation. As unfair as sickness is, our being sinners from conception forward seems more unfair. We have inherited sin from Adam. This inherited sin nature, to say nothing of our particular sins, brings defeat, guilt, condemnation, the wrath of God, and his threats to punish sin. Death is no escape, because eternal hell follows. I’ll admit it. I have questions.

But, what is true of other sufferings also is true of the suffering of temptation. Better than an answer is a companion. Jesus suffered from relentless and fierce temptation. In that He suffered temptation, He knows you in your temptations. He is able to save you, and a Savior is better than an explanation.

“We do not have [in Jesus] a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16) “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17-18)

The question of suffering is answered in the sufferings and sympathy of Christ. Jesus goes with us in all sufferings, even into the surgery of temptation.