The Rock and The Hard Place (From The Archives)

He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He. Deut. 32:4

A night of high drama. A brotherly kiss between friends, but not all is at it seems. Eyes meet in a silent moment of raw, agonising truth. Hearts are laid bare. One man weeps hot bitter tears; another discards all hope. A bag of silver coins is thrown in the dust. A verdict, a sentence and an execution.

The various threads of that fateful night intertwine in a series of familiar stories, any of which we may follow and examine more closely. Eternal destinies were decided that night. Events were set in motion that will never be turned back. Before the coming day was over mercy would triumph over judgment and truth and grace would embrace.

Let’s turn our attention to just two of the lives eternally impacted for better or worse on that Passover night: Peter, a Galilean fisherman and Judas Iscariot, presumably named for Kerioth, the town he hailed from. Both had been chosen by Jesus as members of His inner circle, and both had been named as His apostles (Jn. 6:70; Lk. 6:13).

From the gospel accounts we understand that Peter was somewhat impulsive and, like the other disciples, struggled with personal ambition (Jn. 18:10: Mt. 18:1). A man of extremes, he could be defiant one moment and remorseful the next (Lk. 5:4-8; Jn. 13:8,9)

Satan had already asked for Peter. Jesus made no secret of this fact, warning Peter that He had interceded for him (Lk. 22:31,32). Peter was unable to believe that he was capable of denying Jesus. Until he did. He had been openly resistant to Jesus’ return to Jerusalem with all its obvious danger. He opposed Jesus’ disturbing references to crucifixion and martyrdom. Such possibilities offended him (Mat. 16:21-23).

As his eyes met the probing eyes of Jesus the truth about himself confronted Peter head on. Christ is Truth – not one of us can meet His penetrating gaze and remain in deception. To his horror Peter discovered he was not a leader, he was a coward; he was not a follower, he was a denier; he was not a friend, he was a betrayer; he was not worthy to reign with the Christ, he was unworthy to even be His disciple. There was not one thing he could bring to his own salvation. But with truth came grace, for in Jesus Christ grace and truth converge (Jn. 1:14). A hardened heart was softened and restored and a life in the balance changed forever.

Less is revealed in the gospels about the personality of Judas but we do know he had a weakness for money and was stealing from the common purse shared by the disciples (Jn. 12:6; Mt. 26:14-15). Satan did have access to Judas and even more so when Judas made up his mind to carry through his plan of betrayal ( Lk. 22:3,4 ;Jn. 13:27). Judas’ actions that night were deliberate and calculated. He had pre-arranged to receive thirty pieces of silver in exchange for disclosing Jesus’ whereabouts to the authorities when He was away from the crowds.

Judas also had his heart laid bare that night. He wanted nothing to do with any talk of dying. When it became clear that Jesus had no plan to resist arrest, lead an insurrection and unite Israel in rebellion against Rome, he was offended. He obviously had not signed up for this turn of events.

At the crucial moment of betrayal, however, he too was confronted with the naked truth about himself. ‘Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’ The question must have stung to the core and echoed in his conscience thereafter. Had he really thought Jesus was unaware of his secret? He had been deceived into thinking his thieving had gone unnoticed and so would his plans for self-preservation. But none of us can kiss the face of God and not be confronted with our need for redemption.

Suddenly thirty pieces of silver meant absolutely nothing. The money was thrown in the temple, unwanted. In similar fashion the grace on offer was declined. Silver is the Biblical symbol for redemption while thirty represents fullness or maturity. But there would be no bitter tears, repentance, and forgiveness accepted by this offended heart. Rather than surrender to a grace he could not understand Judas chose to go his own way, ending his life (Acts 1:25).

Two men. One night. Both of them offended by the Cross of Christ. Both of them finding themselves between the Rock and a very hard place. Two extremely different outcomes.

Years later Peter acknowledged the One whose penetrating eyes met his that fateful Passover night as ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence’ (1 Peter 2:8). Each of us at some time will stumble over that Rock so that our need for Him can be revealed. For Peter that revelation was stark. Peter stumbled badly, and broken, threw himself on the mercy of the Rock. Judas stumbled badly, refused to believe Christ could redeem him, and was crushed by the weight of his sin.

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust (Lk. 20:18)

There is a reason Jesus Christ is called the Rock of Offence. It offends the carnal human mind that we need a Saviour. It offends us that the Saviour we need died violently, innocently, and brutally on an execution stake fashioned by human hands. It offends us that His innocent Blood is the only means of our redemption.

We are offended intellectually. The thought of a blood-spattered cross being our only means of salvation is just too humbling, and let’s face it, too unreasonable for proud human minds.

We are offended morally, because we each think we understand justice, but we don’t understand THIS justice.

We are offended emotionally. We don’t want to acknowledge that such a gruesome suffering and death was willingly undertaken purely on our behalf.

We stumble. The offending Cross either brings us to our knees or sends us running in search of a more reasonable god. We find that more reasonable god in Christ-less religion that demands we work for our salvation, or in humanism that assures us we are our own gods and we get to decide what is just and what is unjust.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face. (Ps. 89:14)

Righteousness, justice, mercy and truth are chief characteristics of God.

God gave the Law first to teach us about justice and mercy. Without first knowing Law we would not recognise mercy or our need for it. Similarly, without first being introduced to the cold stark truth about ourselves we would not recognise grace, or our need for it. But a tutor is not meant to stay forever (Gal. 3:24,25). After the Law served its purpose, in the fullness of time, came Jesus Christ, the personification of grace and truth together.

Only in Christ do mercy, truth, justice and righteousness merge. At the Cross mercy triumphed over judgment and God made just all who believe on Christ (Jas. 23:13; Acts 13:39).

A rock can be a place of safety and refuge, or it can be an agent of disaster. Peter yielded to the Rock and found grace. Judas chose his own way and found law. Law says a life for a life. Grace says His death for my life.

The greatest Offender to the fallen carnal nature of every person is Jesus Christ; the greatest offence humanity has ever experienced is the Cross of Christ.

For those of us who follow Him, falling on the Rock is not a single event, it’s a daily choice. The hard places we find all around us loom darkly, threatening to overwhelm and destroy. But we bear witness that there is a Rock of Offence who is our hope, our healing and our ever present salvation. This good news is the gift we offer to a stumbling world.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Related Post: Silent Encounter

The Marks of Jesus

Walking direction on asphalt

A friend recently shared with me this quote from the sermons of Theodore Austin Sparks:

“Beloved, you and I will never come through to God’s eternally intended place for us in the heavenly Kingdom until everything of this earthly life has been smitten, has been smashed. We have got to be broken men and women on the side of this nature; we have got to know the meaning of the cross as planted right at the centre of this whole life of nature, to bring it to naught, so that we can do no more of ourselves, we cannot speak as out from ourselves, we cannot work as out from ourselves, we can do no more organising as of ourselves, we can run nothing as of ourselves, we are brought to the place where we know nothing as of ourselves — and we know it; and if there is to be anything, and if there is anything at all, it is the Lord only doing it — doing it at the time, and then usually leaving us empty and spent and helpless, until He comes along again. It is so different from this continuous, everlasting go, go, go of the flesh. “

There was a time, it seems like another life now, when I was the most organized person I knew. There was a time when I could manage, delegate, arrange and categorize people and things so that everything lined up in the kind of orderly fashion I needed. There was a time when I could speak knowledgeably on some subjects, and people nodded their heads and listened. There was a time when I, and others I thought knew about such things, considered all this as evidence of spiritual growth.

But the Cross!

If we are to go on any distance with Jesus, if we are sincere in our often voiced claims to ‘follow the Lamb wherever He goes’, the Cross is going to take a toll on us. It cannot be any other way. The Cross redeems, the Cross heals, the Cross deals with our sinful natures, the Cross reconciles us to God: all of these, yes.

But the Cross also separates.

When the Cross is applied to our lives to the measure that Austin-Sparks is referring to here, it will first separate us from the world. But the separation does not finish there.

Next it will separate us from ourselves – that is, our former selves. It will reveal to us the stark futility of everything we do or say that does not flow from ever increasing dependence on the Life of Christ within us. It will bring us to a place where our natural talents, knowledge and even our spiritual giftings become hindrances to us. We will find ourselves dysfunctional apart from that Life that is filling and flowing through us. We are being conveyed by the Spirit of God to a realm where “we can do no more of ourselves, we cannot speak as out from ourselves, we cannot work as out from ourselves, we can do no more organising as of ourselves, we can run nothing as of ourselves, we are brought to the place where we know nothing as of ourselves — and we know it.”

And as the process continues we will find ourselves separated even from those we love – family, friends, colleagues. The Cross will separate us from everything and everyone who is not absolutely intent on the same journey into the depths of Christ as we are.

I’m not speaking here of a separation that looks down on, disdains or fears others. That would not be of Christ. No, I am speaking of a separation that sets us apart in such a way that we no longer find satisfaction in the former conversations, activities, and friendships that we once considered were vital to life. It does not mean we don’t love others; in fact we love them better because we are learning to love through Christ rather than through our own motivation and need.

But still we are separated, set apart. We are tasting glorious and heavenly things, we are partaking of Christ Himself, and the former things no longer have the power to hold our attention or engage us as they did.

I wonder are you finding this to be true also? It is often a solitary life, this Christ journey. Yes, we belong to a corporate entity called ‘the church’, historically and practically, and we have genuine reasons to be with one another, sharing gifts, worship, fellowship and expressing Christ as His Body.

But the Cross!

Even among those who profess to follow Christ, we will be separated in ways we didn’t anticipate. That same Cross that brings together people from all tribes and tongues also leads them onto individual pathways that they may walk a journey with Christ only He and they alone can walk together. If we are to walk without hindrance with our fellow Christ followers, we must first walk with Jesus and His Cross in the ‘aloneness’ of His crucifixion journey. There the old life must, as Sparks puts it, be ‘smitten’ or ‘smashed’ completely. Without this process, we have done nothing more than join a club.

Authentic Christian fellowship is found only among those who are also experiencing crucifixion with Christ.

Nearing the end of his letter to the Christians at Galatia, Paul stated: From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Were these marks, as some claim, literal stigmata – piercings in his hands and feet? Personally, I don’t believe so.

I believe Paul was referring metaphorically to a common practice of his time: slaves and soldiers were often ‘branded’ or ‘marked’ somewhere on their body with the name of their master or their military general. Some voluntarily chose this manner of ‘marking’ as a sign of loyalty. These days we may call such a mark a ‘tattoo’.

Paul understood, taught and daily lived the significance of the Cross. Jesus had called him a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel’ (Acts 9:15). In his journey with Christ Paul was shown many Heavenly mysteries, but He also had the Cross applied to His life in significant measure: ‘For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake’ (Acts 9:16). He experienced being separated because of the Cross, even from other respected apostles of his time.  Paul did literally bear the Name of Jesus in His earthly body as had been foretold.

But the Cross!

If we are truly going to be followers of Christ in this world that hates Him, we will have to be willing to carry the marks, or signature of the Lord Jesus, in our own bodies. Those invisible marks set us apart in heaven and on earth. They separate us from what has gone before in our lives on every level; they continually pull us deeper into Christ and further from all that is not Christ.

To bear the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ is no light thing. It is costly and the cost needs to be counted prior to the journey. If we are truly going to go ‘wherever He goes’, even beyond the clamoring crowds of popular Christianity, we will need to be willing to bear the sense of spiritual separation the Cross will impose on us.

The Crucified One has invited us into the fellowship of the crucified.

And yes my friends, the gate is narrow.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Related Article: And The Bride Wore…Scars?

The Rock And The Hard Place

Rock and Hard PlaceHe is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He. Deut. 32:4


A night of high drama. A brotherly kiss between friends, but not all is at it seems. Eyes meet in a silent moment of raw, agonising truth. Hearts are laid bare. One man weeps hot bitter tears; another discards all hope. A bag of silver coins is thrown in the dust. A verdict, a sentence and an execution.

The various threads of that fateful night intertwine in a series of familiar stories, any of which we may follow and examine more closely. Eternal destinies were decided that night. Events were set in motion that will never be turned back. Before the coming day was over mercy would triumph over judgment and truth and grace would embrace.

Let’s turn our attention to just two of the lives eternally impacted for better or worse on that Passover night: Peter, a Galilean fisherman and Judas Iscariot, presumably named for Kerioth, the town he hailed from. Both had been chosen by Jesus as members of His inner circle, and both had been named as His apostles (Jn. 6:70; Lk. 6:13).

From the gospel accounts we understand that Peter was somewhat impulsive and, like the other disciples, struggled with personal ambition (Jn. 18:10: Mt. 18:1). A man of extremes, he could be defiant one moment and remorseful the next (Lk. 5:4-8; Jn. 13:8,9)

Satan had already asked for Peter. Jesus made no secret of this fact, warning Peter that He had interceded for him (Lk. 22:31,32). Peter was unable to believe that he was capable of denying Jesus. Until he did. He had been openly resistant to Jesus’ return to Jerusalem with all its obvious danger. He opposed Jesus’ disturbing references to crucifixion and martyrdom. Such possibilities offended him (Mat. 16:21-23).

As his eyes met the probing eyes of Jesus the truth about himself confronted Peter head on. Christ is Truth – not one of us can meet His penetrating gaze and remain in deception. To his horror Peter discovered he was not a leader, he was a coward; he was not a follower, he was a denier; he was not a friend, he was a betrayer; he was not worthy to reign with the Christ, he was unworthy to even be His disciple. There was not one thing he could bring to his own salvation. But with truth came grace, for in Jesus Christ grace and truth converge (Jn. 1:14). A hardened heart was softened and restored and a life in the balance changed forever.

Less is revealed in the gospels about the personality of Judas but we do know he had a weakness for money and was stealing from the common purse shared by the disciples (Jn. 12:6; Mt. 26:14-15). Satan did have access to Judas and even more so when Judas made up his mind to carry through his plan of betrayal ( Lk. 22:3,4 ;Jn. 13:27). Judas’ actions that night were deliberate and calculated. He had pre-arranged to receive thirty pieces of silver in exchange for disclosing Jesus’ whereabouts to the authorities when He was away from the crowds.

Judas also had his heart laid bare that night. He wanted nothing to do with any talk of dying. When it became clear that Jesus had no plan to resist arrest, lead an insurrection and unite Israel in rebellion against Rome, he was offended. He obviously had not signed up for this turn of events.

At the crucial moment of betrayal, however, he too was confronted with the naked truth about himself. ‘Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’ The question must have stung to the core and echoed in his conscience thereafter. Had he really thought Jesus was unaware of his secret? He had been deceived into thinking his thieving had gone unnoticed and so would his plans for self-preservation. But none of us can kiss the face of God and not be confronted with our need for redemption.

Suddenly thirty pieces of silver meant absolutely nothing. The money was thrown in the temple, unwanted. In similar fashion the grace on offer was declined. Silver is the Biblical symbol for redemption while thirty represents fullness or maturity. But there would be no bitter tears, repentance, and forgiveness accepted by this offended heart. Rather than surrender to a grace he could not understand Judas chose to go his own way, ending his life (Acts 1:25).

Two men. One night. Both of them offended by the Cross of Christ. Both of them finding themselves between the Rock and a very hard place. Two extremely different outcomes.

Years later Peter acknowledged the One whose penetrating eyes met his that fateful Passover night as ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence’ (1 Peter 2:8). Each of us at some time will stumble over that Rock so that our need for Him can be revealed. For Peter that revelation was stark. Peter stumbled badly, and broken, threw himself on the mercy of the Rock. Judas stumbled badly, refused to believe Christ could redeem him, and was crushed by the weight of his sin.

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust (Lk. 20:18)

There is a reason Jesus Christ is called the Rock of Offence. It offends the carnal human mind that we need a Saviour. It offends us that the Saviour we need died violently, innocently, and brutally on an execution stake fashioned by human hands. It offends us that His innocent Blood is the only means of our redemption.

We are offended intellectually. The thought of a blood-spattered cross being our only means of salvation is just too humbling, and let’s face it, too unreasonable for proud human minds.

We are offended morally, because we each think we understand justice, but we don’t understand THIS justice.

We are offended emotionally. We don’t want to acknowledge that such a gruesome suffering and death was willingly undertaken purely on our behalf.

We stumble. The offending Cross either brings us to our knees or sends us running in search of a more reasonable god. We find that more reasonable god in Christ-less religion that demands we work for our salvation, or in humanism that assures us we are our own gods and we get to decide what is just and what is unjust.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face. (Ps. 89:14)

Righteousness, justice, mercy and truth are chief characteristics of God.

God gave the Law first to teach us about justice and mercy. Without first knowing Law we would not recognise mercy or our need for it. Similarly, without first being introduced to the cold stark truth about ourselves we would not recognise grace, or our need for it. But a tutor is not meant to stay forever (Gal. 3:24,25). After the Law served its purpose, in the fullness of time, came Jesus Christ, the personification of grace and truth together.

Only in Christ do mercy, truth, justice and righteousness merge. At the Cross mercy triumphed over judgment and God made just all who believe on Christ (Jas. 23:13; Acts 13:39).

A rock can be a place of safety and refuge, or it can be an agent of disaster. Peter yielded to the Rock and found grace. Judas chose his own way and found law. Law says a life for a life. Grace says His death for my life.

The greatest Offender to the fallen carnal nature of every person is Jesus Christ; the greatest offence humanity has ever experienced is the Cross of Christ.

For those of us who follow Him, falling on the Rock is not a single event, it’s a daily choice. The hard places we find all around us loom darkly, threatening to overwhelm and destroy. But we bear witness that there is a Rock of Offence who is our hope, our healing and our ever present salvation. This good news is the gift we offer to a stumbling world.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Related Post: Silent Encounter

The Vine And The Grain

vineandgrainSix years have flown by since we moved into our current home. The recent anniversary of our move came with a jolt. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the home we left six years ago: a huge two storey brick and tile on 1.4 acres near the edge of our town. We lived happily there for seven years.

When the time came to leave the hardest thing was saying goodbye to the orchard and the garden. Both the house interior and exterior grounds had been severely neglected and were in a sorry, run down state when we arrived. I am not much of a gardener, but my husband is. Often assisted by our youngest daughter he expended untold hours of hard, sweaty labour on making the grounds both beautiful and productive.

Tiny citrus trees were planted out the back of the house during our first year there. Various varieties of lemon, orange and lime were hunted down and the baby plants lovingly placed into well-prepared ground …… in the middle of a cruel summer in one of the worst droughts our region had seen in many years. Wiser, more experienced heads scoffed at our apparent foolishness for planting in such an unkind season and declared we would lose every one of our little saplings within months.

Whether it was stubbornness or faith I don’t know, but every morning of that summer would see my husband gently hand watering the saplings, tending each one with loving care, willing them to live. Every evening would see me just as determinedly circling our little orchard, blessing, praying and calling forth the hidden life and fruit I knew each one carried.

Gradually a garden arose around us. In place of dry grass, weeds and dead plants, colourful beds of roses, azaleas and gardenias emerged. A verdant, green lawn was nurtured and maintained. And best of all, our citrus orchard flourished, producing sweet, succulent fruit so abundant it was gladly shared with friends and neighbours. Much to the surprise of some, not one of our little saplings succumbed to the drought. The ugly, uninviting grounds that had greeted us a few years earlier had been transformed into a peaceful, lush, life-filled environment, even providing an appropriate venue for our daughter’s wedding.

That lovely transformed garden and the fruitful, healthy orchard we left behind when it became clear God had plans to move us on have been on my mind lately. The developer who bought the old home didn’t dream of juicy orchard fruits or fragrant roses on his dining table. His mind was set instead on dividing the grounds into multiple lots to build profit-producing dwellings for young couples needing their first homes.

The gardens were ripped up by bulldozers, making way for builders’ trucks and materials, and ultimately new houses. The sturdy native trees we planted to border the property were replaced by metal fencing. And our cherished citrus orchard, a waste of good building land, also had to go.   In place of attractive gardens and a prolific orchard brick and mortar homes now stand, where people return each night to rest their weariness before tackling the troubles a new day will bring.

We had known this would happen when we left. And there was not a thing we could do about it. You can’t dream, plant, nurture, and bring forth something beautiful and fruitful without experiencing sorrow, sometimes even deep sorrow, when that which you’ve carried in your soul and built with your own labour becomes seemingly annihilated, as if it had never existed in the first place.

Today when I stand on the verandah of this present home of six years I look out on young, thriving new plants that are growing steadily into a beautiful, established garden. And this year we had our first crop of citrus. Sweet juicy oranges sit alongside newly picked lemons and limes on my kitchen bench. A vegetable garden too has been planted and I hear plans are afoot for apple trees. Life is flourishing around me once more, but it didn’t come without cost. The former had to be relinquished so that something even more fruitful and productive could be birthed.

This principal of death before life is one we must wrestle with in our spiritual walk too. Jesus spoke of Himself as the Vine and we as the branches that are pruned in order to bring forth abundant fruit.

‘I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.’ (Jn. 15:1-2).

At another time He gave the example of a wheat kernel that is buried in the ground and subjected to death for a season, so that it might emerge and multiply into a harvest of grain.

‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.’ (Jn.12:24-25).

We pass through seasons in our spiritual lives. There are seasons of pruning, when that which is unproductive, diseased or simply an impediment to the healthy flow of life in us is revealed and removed.

There is another kind of season also where our dreams, hopes and labour suddenly come to naught. It is a season of obscurity, of burial if you like, where all that we have been building, all that we have identified ourselves with sometimes over many years, is brought to death. In such a season we may even see the hard-earned fruit of our labour placed into the hands of someone who has a different vision or purpose.

To our dismay, the pall of death hangs over all we have expended our lives on. What’s more, there is nothing we can do about it. It is taken out of our hands. Furthermore, we seem to be cocooned in a dark, barren place, stripped of all we thought we knew and left with nothing but raw, naked faith that there is a God, that He is good, and He will not leave us alone in this place of burial. Apart from that, we cannot say we know anything, nor can we say we are anything.

Whether we find ourselves in a season of pruning, or a season of death and burial, God’s purpose in us is always Life.

As branches, we are not sent off to be pruned while He waits indifferently. He will never leave or forsake us, but will sustain us during every season. His grace is sufficient for the pruning season.

Nor will He abandon us to the cold, dark soil of our grain season, for He is Lord of both the light and the darkness (Jn. 1:5; Job 12:22). He will do that which is true to His eternal nature of Love and Life, He will complete the work He has begun in us – He will bring forth Life both in us and from us.

Both the Vine season and the Grain season are integral to our Christ-following journey if we are to be reduced and Christ is to increase (Jn. 3:30). Perhaps you have already discovered this. But these are not the only seasons we will encounter on this journey. The branch is pruned only in preparation for the coming season of Fruitfulness. The grain is buried into death only in preparation for the coming season of Resurrection Life.

God’s purpose is always Life. He cannot be otherwise. Life must bring forth life. His intention and plan for us is always fruitfulness. Where Life is present, fruit must be evident.

This principle of death before life is something Jesus’ first disciples had to experience also. All that they had worked towards, envisaged, talked about, planned for, hoped and dreamt came to a thundering crash at Calvary. It was a shocking, sudden and brutal end to their expectations. It tested their faith to the utmost and nearly broke their spirits. Only a handful of disciples, one male and several female, could even bear to witness the crucifixion (Mark 15:40-41, Matthew 27:55-56, Jn. 19:25-26).

Those first disciples experienced a crushing to their very core, yet, revived by the same Spirit who raised Christ from death, emerged to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Christ-less religion conditions us to call many things ‘life’ that are not Life, to settle for far less than the vibrant, thriving Christ-Life which is the lifeblood of the true Body of Christ.

Religion produces  undernourished, tasteless fruit instead of the abundant, Life-filled fruit that is pleasing to our Father. Religion will attempt to rescue us from the pruning shears and snatch us from the Cross of Christ. Religion is death masquerading as Life. And religion will never allow us to emerge from the grave as overcomers fit to reproduce the resurrection Life of Christ.

Choose Life, even if the way to Life is through the valley of death. You will never be left in the grave.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

Learning The Way Of Otherness

dollargreenothernessThe kingdom of heaven is like a man who owned land. He went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  He agreed to give them the usual pay for a day’s work. Then he sent them into his vineyard.  About nine o’clock in the morning he went out again. He saw others standing in the market doing nothing.  He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard. I’ll pay you what is right.’  So they went.

He went out again about noon and at three o’clock and did the same thing.  About five o’clock he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’  ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.  He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard spoke to the person who was in charge of the workers. He said, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay. Begin with the last ones I hired. Then go on to the first ones.’  The workers who were hired about five o’clock came. Each received the usual day’s pay.  So when those who were hired first came, they expected to receive more. But each of them also received the usual day’s pay.   When they received it, they began to complain about the owner.  ‘These people who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said. ‘You have paid them the same as us. We have done most of the work and have been in the hot sun all day.’

The owner answered one of them. ‘Friend,’ he said, ‘I’m being fair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for the usual day’s pay?   Take your money and go. I want to give the one I hired last the same pay I gave you.   Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Do you feel cheated because I gave so freely to the others?’

So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.  Matthew 20:1-16 NIRV

We have a lot to learn about this Kingdom – this strangely unfamiliar and glorious Kingdom in which we have been appointed citizens.

Have you ever been to a country where your language was unknown, and the culture was so different that the world view you brought with you was turned upside down?  Imagine multiplying that experience a hundredfold and you may just begin to find your bearings in the Kingdom of God. Everything we’ve learned here in the kingdoms of this world is useless to us in the God-Kingdom.  We are like refugees confronted with things we have never seen or heard in our previous lives.

I have had the privilege of working closely with newly arrived refugees here in Australia and have witnessed first-hand the wonder, the fear, the confusion and the sheer bewilderment many experience as they come to terms with their new surroundings.  Did you ever wonder why Jesus spent so many hours patiently telling His disciples stories that started with ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like……’ ?  He knew their deeply entrenched and earth bound ideas about everything from God, to human relationships to wealth and justice, needed to be deeply confronted and challenged  if they were to be His Kingdom bearers in this world.

By the way, His present day Kingdom bearers, (yes, that’s you and me), need the same, if not a deeper, awakening to the reality of His Kingdom and our place in it.  His Kingdom is not of this world, nor are we, its citizens.  I believe it is a great desire in the Lord’s heart to have a people to whom He can point and say ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like……them!’

One of these ‘Kingdom is like’ stories is recorded in Matthew 20:1-16.  It involves a businessman who hires workers at various intervals during the day, starting early in the morning with the first recruitments and finishing just one hour before knock off time.  Near the end of the story we find the workers hired first complaining loudly of unfair treatment because the laborers hired for only one hour received the same wages as they did.

The workers’ true grievance is not that others have received the same wage as them, which was a normal day’s wage, but that their work has seemingly been devalued.

I don’t know what your response would be in this situation but everything I’ve learned about justice in this world shouts out that those early workers are right – it is unjust they should earn no more than those who worked only one hour in the coolest part of the day.  And it’s likely our modern justice systems would agree with me. No doubt the landowner would be found guilty of breaching labor laws, and ordered to pay the earliest workers more than the late ones.

But in the Kingdom of God my idea of justice would be a totally foreign concept.  It would in fact be injustice towards God, because my attitude denies Him the right to be Who He is.  Do you see it?  Outrageously, what is naturally considered an injustice in the kingdoms of this world is seen as fair and equitable in the God-Kingdom.

The Kingdom is the opposite of the world’s false normality.  It is the otherness the world longs for yet can never quite comprehend. Everything about Kingdom life is inconsistent with life as we have known it.

That’s why the God-Kingdom is such a radical, scandalous, dangerous concept to the citizens of this world.  That’s why the Cross of Christ is hated, ridiculed, slandered and demeaned.   That’s why the people of the Cross are persecuted, killed and mocked.  That’s why the Name of Jesus Christ is blasphemed and reviled by those whose fortunes are intrinsically connected to the vast wall of world systems humanity has spent thousands of years building around itself.

The Kingdom of God is the greatest threat to its ongoing existence that human civilization has ever faced. Let’s be clear: the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world cannot co-exist. A time will come, and is already upon us, when Christ followers will each have to choose where their allegiance lies.

The landowner in the story shows us a major key to the God-Kingdom when he states:  I want to give the one I hired last the same pay I gave you.   Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Do you feel cheated because I gave so freely to the others?’

And therein lies the mystery that is grace.  ‘I want to give…..’ God wants to give the same salvation, the same Heavenly citizenship, the same no-holds-barred love to the prostitute as to the President, to the tramp as to the stateswoman, to the colored person as to the white person, to the mentally unstable as to the neurophycisist, to the welfare recipient as to the billionaire.

And for we who consider ourselves saved, sealed and delivered already into His Kingdom it gets even more confronting.  Because in the God-Kingdom His grace counts for everything and what we’ve done as an expression of our ‘saved’ status counts for nothing.

That means the missionary who spent a lifetime serving on the field gets the same as the businessperson who lived for themselves and believed on Christ five minutes before dying;  it means the elder who rose early for years to ensure the church was ready for services, prayed with the sick and served on the board gets the same as the drug addict who loved Christ but was too ashamed to come to church;  it means the celebrity pastor who planted dozens of churches, preached to the nations and wrote umpteen famous books gets the same as the unknown prayer warrior who labored secretly with tears and groanings unheard by no-one but God.

In the Kingdom the last and the least become the first and the most.

What kind of justice is that?

It’s the justice that was poured out at the Cross, where Innocence was condemned, judged and executed.   And in this world it is unacceptable and offensive.  The Cross is the greatest equalizer humanity will ever behold.  And it’s offensive because it lays naked the inadequacy of all the systems, indeed kingdoms, we have built around ourselves that we call civilization.

‘Do you feel cheated because I gave so generously to the others?’  the landowner asks the complaining laborers who would prefer their own idea of justice to His.  We in the Body of Christ are no different when we choose law over grace.  We are those very same laborers when we consider ourselves more deserving of reward because we ‘aren’t like other people’ (see Luke 18:11).  We are those laborers when we believe God should love us more because of our church attendance, financial giving, charity work or commandment keeping.

God is no-one’s debtor.  Grace is His to give and He chooses to give it.  He chooses to give it to whomever, wherever and whenever it pleases Him.

This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

Totally. Absolutely. Irrevocably. Other.

We have a lot to learn about this Kingdom – this strangely unfamiliar and glorious Kingdom in which we have been appointed citizens.

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016. All rights reserved.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

From The Archives: Thy Kingdom Come?

 First posted in January, 2013: 

Cross radiates light in sky over beautiful landscape

“Thy Kingdom come.” It’s probably the most frequently spoken prayer known in Christendom, uttered all over the world daily by multitudes of Christians since time immemorial. We so desperately want the Kingdom of God to come, don’t we?  Errr….don’t we? Well…..maybe. 

Ever considered what we’re actually asking for as we repeat that well-worn phrase?

I think many of us when we think of the Kingdom, (if we think of the Kingdom at all), assume it will just miraculously appear in our lives one day and we’ll all carry on as usual, just happier and holier.   

Do we understand that the coming of the Kingdom means life as we have known it ceases completely?  Even in our most spiritual moments, can we really imagine the full ramifications of living, loving, worshiping in a realm where God and His mysterious ways rule and humanity is not centre of the universe?  Can we comprehend the coming of the Kingdom in fullness will mean thinking differently, speaking differently, behaving differently, relating differently, learning differently, and seeing everything with a totally new and foreign perspective?   

Every time Jesus said “The Kingdom of God is like……..” He was about to describe an invasion. The Kingdom is a realm totally foreign to every concept of ‘normality’ we’ve ever known. Jesus was using the every-day language of the common people to try to express characteristics of a realm infinitely removed from their human experience. Still they found the Kingdom almost impossible to grasp, and so do we. 

This Kingdom of God cannot be neatly ‘fitted’ into our earthly lives with a minimum of disruption,  like buying a new car.  The Kingdom invades, totally subdues all other kingdoms, and reigns.  In the Kingdom nothing can be assumed apart from God’s infinite love and goodness.  Take love for instance, what might it look like in the Kingdom?   

I am always deeply moved whenever I read the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Gadarene (Luke 8:26-39). There’s something in that narrative about the dynamic clash of kingdoms and the victory of Light over darkness that makes me want to do a little dance and shout “Go God!”  But more than that, it’s the sense of Jesus’ deep compassion for the Gadarene man that arrests my attention and makes me wish I could ‘time travel’ to witness the scene first hand. 

It’s almost impossible for us even to imagine the torment this man had endured for perhaps many years, for the scriptures are clear he had suffered  “for a long time“, chained like a wild animal, living among the tombs, ostracised from family and community, despised, rejected and tormented. Then came Jesus. 

And when He stepped out on the land, there met Him a certain man from the city who had demons for a long time” (v. 27)  

The demonic forces enslaving this man were waiting for Jesus’ arrival, but were no match for Him.  It’s most likely this demon-possessed Gadarene was a Gentile. The country of the Gadarenes was a Gentile, non-Jewish region, yet Jesus had clearly directed His disciples to this location. Those keeping the nearby herd of swine into which Jesus cast the demons, must certainly have been Gentiles because under Jewish law swine were unclean animals. It seems Jesus deliberately went out of His way that day to make it clear His Lordship extended beyond Israel even to the Gentiles. 

But the part of this story that really speaks so deeply to me is the relationship between Jesus and the Gadarene. Reading between the lines, I get a sense they immediately loved each other deeply. I have a feeling they became instant friends. I can imagine the man, now clothed and “in his right mind”, unashamedly sitting at Jesus’ feet, eyes fixed solely on Him, with the glory of God radiating from his face. He took the physical position of a disciple – one who has committed himself to his Master and will not turn back. His adoration for this Jewish teacher was clear and unmistakable to all who laid eyes on him. 

We’re told the Gadarene begged Jesus to be allowed to stay with Him. He would have followed Jesus anywhere, whatever the cost.  

But Jesus “sent him away, saying ‘Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.’ And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him” (v:39).  

When I read this I am overcome with a sense of joy tinged with sorrow:  joy for the Gadarene who so suddenly was delivered, saved and sent on his mission, and joy for the community to whom this man became the first evangelist. 

And sorrow for Jesus, who loved this man deeply, yet for the good of the Kingdom let him go. By the Spirit I am given to see the painful parting of these two friends – a last tearful hug, a final determined smile and locking of eyes and then a turning as one goes forward into newfound life and the Other towards certain death. How bittersweet was that moment!   

It causes me to think of another Jesus loved, a man who came running to Jesus, kneeling, asking what more could he do to inherit eternal life.  This man was a law abiding, commandment keeping Jew, but still with no sense of salvation.  And then comes the loaded phrase: “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him……”. 

‘One thing you lack”says Jesus,go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me’. But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:17-22) 

Two very different men in desperate need came running to Jesus. One was Gentile, one was Jewish. Both knelt at His feet. One man begged to be allowed to follow to the Cross, but was sent in a different direction. The other was warmly invited to follow to the Cross, but sadly chose to walk away.  

And Jesus loved them both.  

The Gadarene, having already suffered so much, was delivered into resurrection life. Secure in his salvation, the man went forth with joy proclaiming the things of God.  How easy it would have been for Jesus to keep him with Him.  Instead, Jesus made a hard decision He judged best for that man, and best for the Kingdom’s purposes. Loving him, Jesus let him go. This is what love looks like in the Kingdom! 

The wealthy man was invited into the fellowship of the Cross, but was unwilling to pay the price. Given the opportunity to take up his cross and follow, he turned away sorrowfully.  Jesus, loving him, did not go after him. This too is what love looks like in the Kingdom! 

Jesus’ path was never an easy one. Jesus knows well what it is to love and to have to let go, but He chooses to love anyway.  Kingdom love may not look or behave the way we assume it will. 

There are times in Kingdom life when we are confronted with painful decisions, decisions requiring courage, humility and steadfast faith.  The days we are in now are like that.  There are things we love that must be let go for the sake of the Kingdom. I’m not referring to specific sins or questionable life style choices, these should already be on the altar.  I’m talking about seemingly ‘good’ things, ‘comfortable’ things, things that in themselves look harmless, even holy.   They may be relationships, they may be a location, they may be habits we have walked in all our lives, they may be anything however small that distracts us from the pursuit of the fullness of the Kingdom. These will often be costly things, only known between you and God, but whatever He tells you to do, do it.     

Now is the time to both live and die with the courage of those who have no other cause but Christ and no other purpose than to be vessels of His Kingdom as we walk this chaotic planet. Christ will always enable willing hearts.   

 “Thy Kingdom Come on earth as it is in Heaven” must become our corporate and most intense prayer, but the Kingdom comes first within us, so let’s not glibly pray those words without first counting the cost and agreeing to it. 

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2013.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.

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The Cross and Our Identity Crisis

AdobeStock_1838222Crown of ThornsIf your Christian experience has been anything like mine you would regularly have heard that Jesus went to the Cross in your place. The wages of sin is death, right? All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory? And you’d agree that faith in Christ’s substitutionary act on our behalf is foundational to the gospel? OK, so far so good. And no, these are not trick questions.

But what if I said to you that’s only half the truth about what took place at the Cross? What if we’ve talked, read and heard so much about one aspect of our salvation story that we’ve neglected another truth……a truth of equal weight and importance? Wouldn’t that mean our revelation of redemption is incomplete?

Imagine you’re an alien newly arrived on planet earth. I explain to you that there is a wonderful thing called the sun which provides light and warmth to the earth every single day. That would be the truth. If, however, I neglect to also tell you only part of the earth receives sunlight at any given time, when night falls you will literally and figuratively be left in the dark. Having not received the whole picture, you will be severely limited in your understanding of how light works on earth and unable to function to your best potential.

I think we’ve done something very similar in the way we preach and teach salvation.

I think we have an identity crisis.

Jesus did indeed take a substitutionary role at Calvary, receiving the just wages of our sin in His sinless Body on a brutal Roman Cross. If we’re following Jesus it’s because we get that. We have heard and understood that by His suffering, death and resurrection, we were redeemed and reconciled to God. We have then determined to follow this Jesus who loves us enough to die for us, and continued on our way thankful for the grace that has been bestowed on us so undeservedly.

But the Cross is more than a place of substitution. It is equally a place of identification.

Jesus died so we may have a way back to God, but that does not mean we didn’t also die. As Son of Man He identified with humanity absolutely and irrevocably. He died still identifying with humanity, holding us to Himself, immersing us into death with Him. The sacrificial Lamb of God took in His own Body the full force of sin’s penalty, sparing us the agony of separation from God the Father. Yet in His death we were joined with Him, executed with Him and just as effectively died with Him.  He not only died for us, He died with us.

That me, that you, that were executed on the Cross are dead and will never rise. Where Jesus tasted death, but could not be held by death, we, His followers, did not merely taste death. We were completely swallowed up by it. We died. Every one of us.

The you that now follows Christ is not the old you renovated, restored or repaired. The you that follows Christ is an entirely newly created being. Why do we wisely nod our heads yet fail to live out this truth? Is it because we are earth bound? Is it because we cling to the dust-born identity of first Adam rather than the Spirit-born identity of last Adam?

The truth is the you and I that were irrevocably alienated from God through sin are as dead as old man Adam is dead. That old Adam we read about in Genesis is never going to rise. We will never run across him in the Kingdom of Heaven to ask him why he and Eve ate from that tree. Dust of the earth he was, and to dust he has returned.

Now, we may get to meet that Genesis Adam as a totally newly created being, but I doubt he’s going to want to discuss trees, except possibly the one he died on in Christ.

This week millions upon millions of Christians of all persuasions will celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ in many diverse ways, some with a conscious, worshipful understanding of the full salvation that took place at Calvary, others simply following ancient form and ritual, and many others somewhere in between those two points.

If we are of those who truly seek to follow Christ in spirit and truth, we can seize this opportunity for deeper communion with Jesus Christ by daring to adjust our perspective during this holy season. Instead of gazing in awe at the beautiful mystery of the Cross from a respectful distance, let us, with believing hearts, see ourselves nailed upon that Cross with Jesus. Let us see Him embracing us there, holding us there, encouraging us there, as we die with Him.

Then let us see ourselves taken down and buried in that cold dark tomb with Him, as the great stone is rolled into place.   Let us embrace Him there too, believing that the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead will also raise us in Him.

And then let us celebrate the resurrection of this One death could not detain, our Heavenly Man, Who raises us up in Himself, newly created, sustained by His endless Life, no longer dust of earth but eternal substance of Heaven. Let us behold ourselves as heavenly, resurrected spiritual beings, not earthbound beings waiting desperately for some future resurrection.

We once bore the image of Adam, who died, was buried and who, apart from Christ, will never live again. We now bear the image of the Resurrected Christ, the sinless Man who tasted death, decisively defeated it, and lives an endless Life.

By His death He did not remove the need for us to die, for we were intricately connected to the sin-bound first Adam. By His death, and ours, He both liberated us from first Adam’s DNA, and provided the endless Life by which we can live in and through Him, the last Adam, as newly created spiritual beings.  He rose as a Life-giving Spirit victorious, unconquered by death, and Firstborn from the dead. We rise as entirely new spiritual creations who can now only live and function in Him, by the Spirit.  The only Life we have is now His Life in us.  Anything we attempt outside of Him originates from our dead, first Adam nature and is wasted effort.

The Cross is two sided. One side is substitution, the other is identification. They cannot be separated without distorting the gospel. May God grant us the full manifestation of both these truths. Only by revelation of the sufficiency of our identification with Christ at Calvary can we begin to live, walk and function in the Spirit.

Even here. Even now. Even us.

Scripture References related to this article: Acts 2:23,24; Romans 5:17-19; Romans 6:1-11; Rom. 8:2; Eph. 4:20-24; 1 Cor. 15:21-22; 1 Cor. 15:45-49; 2 Cor. 4:11; Gal. 2:20; Gal. 5:25; Gal. 6:14; Hebrews 2:9; 1 Peter 3:18;

© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2016 and beyond.   Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included.     To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.