Tag Archives: Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Presente

 

In the 70s and 80s when death squads were operating in countries of South and Central America, a liturgy emerged in the church by which Christians dramatically enacted faith amidst the pervasive fear perpetuated by the imagination of the nation state. Where death squads spread fear by “disappearing” those bodies that stood in their way, the church saw the resurrection of Christ and his own fatally wounded and “disappeared” body as a dramatic counter-narrative of resistance. Thus, at the liturgy, someone would read out the names of those killed or disappeared, and for each name someone would call out from within the congregation, presente, “Here!”

My work brings me face to face with many who would meet this liturgical act with a dismissal of some sort. It might be a hostile dismissal or simply one expressing doubt or dismay. Like words of comfort at a difficult funeral, while the sentiment might be needed, it will not undo what has been done. Here, the objection from a place of cynicism is not unlike the one from sorrow: The death squads were hardly deterred by this communal act of rallying around a consoling word. Bodies were—and are—still disappearing. These names were the names of people actually lost. On this, determined atheists, material humanists, and despairing Christians might agree: In a heartbreakingly real sense, the disappeared were most definitely not presente.

We might think similarly when we consider the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide or Easter church bombings—or any number of stories of the displaced or tragically lost that sadly do not make their way into our attention spans or news feeds. It is not hard to tend to the imagination that tells us that the “disappeared” belong to a group that will never stop growing. It is an imagination that seems sympathetic and human, and in some important ways it is. The nameless lives wasted, violently cut short, are buried and gone. But whether confessed in sorrow or cynicism, the assumption behind this imagination is that the dead can be buried once and for all and forgotten.

What the churches facing the death squads seemed to understand better than most of us is that Easter proclaims something entirely to the contrary. The violence and death that made Jesus “disappear” did not stand. He would not be buried once and for all and forgotten. In the aftermath of another bloody Easter Sunday, I suspect our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters hold the same conviction. The resurrected presence of the once disappeared Jesus proclaims many things to this wounded world, but this is perhaps the most shocking of all. The cultural notion that human value can be extinguished by death and violence was irreversibly shifted by Easter. The pervasive imagination that insists there are some lives that are expendable was upended by the shocking return of the one they tried to silence. The injustice and apathy that perpetuate this imagination stand vehemently convicted. The gospel of the resurrection proclaims that God holds on to the lives of all the departed, that injustice and apathy will not have the last word, and the dead and disappeared are never forgotten.

In my own liturgical tradition, during the season of Lent as the church prepares for the feast of Easter, there is a practice called “burying the hallelujahs.” We refrain from saying hallelujah during Lent, hallelujah being an ultimate expression of rejoicing that means “God be praised.” For the forty days of Lent we are invited instead to remember our deaths, to call to mind our need, our sin, our apathy, our complicit disinterest in the disappearance of others. During Lent, we fast as a means of preparing ourselves for the promise that hunger itself will one day be satisfied. We mourn with the world, with the church far and wide, and we challenge ourselves to sit with those struggling under silencing injustice and violence, with those we forget and treat as if expendable. Last Lent, as we learned of the deadly bombings that targeted Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday, I was thankful for the burying of our hallelujahs and a ready language to lament with brothers and sisters I will never meet but with whom I grieved. Lent reminds us that God was buried and that we, too, will be buried, that death comes before life, and that before there is rejoicing, Jesus grieves with those who grieve. We don’t bury the hallelujahs in cynicism or despair. We bury them because this is precisely where Easter itself begins: in grief and darkness with those easily overlooked, with those disappearing and those disappeared. For Jesus himself was one of them.

When Mary arrived at the tomb on Easter morning only to be told that the body of Jesus body was missing, she was distraught at his disappearance. She at first could not see resurrection; she saw emptiness. I imagine her grief was not unlike the mothers of missing sons during the reign of the death squads or the mothers and fathers of Alexandria and Tanta who lost children in worship on Palm Sunday last year. It was not enough that they violently killed him; they disappeared him.

But then the body of the resurrected Jesus was suddenly standing before her. The one who leaves no human soul in nameless and forgotten oblivion spoke Mary’s name aloud and she realized that he was there. Presente. In the midst of her devastating encounter with darkness, he is there in the midst of it. And his presence undoes the fixtures of fear and violence that continue to say there are some bodies that don’t matter, showing us not only how to die but how to rise and how to live. This darkness shall not overcome. Not in Golgotha. Not in South America. Not in Sri Lanka. Presente.

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Scars of New Creation

One of the most terrifying and deeply troubling news stories for me of the past few years has been one that has escaped broad notice by the Western media. It is the story of extreme and widespread violence against women in Eastern Congo. Raped and tortured by warring factions in their country, women are the victims of the most horrific crimes. As one journalist reported, “Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.”(1) They bear their wounds in their own bodies, permanent scars of violence and oppression.

In this holiest week for Christians around the world, the broken and wounded body of Jesus is commemorated in services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The broken body and spilled blood of Jesus is remembered in the symbols of bread and wine on Maundy Thursday, and in the black draping of curtains and cloths on Good Friday. Jesus suffered violence in his own body, just as many do around the world today.

Even as Christian mourning turns to joy with Easter resurrection celebrations, it is important to note that Jesus bore the wounds of violence and oppression in his body—even after his resurrection. When he appeared to his disciples, according to John’s gospel, Jesus showed them “both his hands and his side” as a means by which to identify himself to them. Indeed, the text tells us that once the disciples took in these visible wounds “they rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20).

The resurrection body of Jesus contained the scars from nail and sword, and these scars identified Jesus to his followers. And yet, the wounds of Jesus took on new significance in light of his resurrection. While still reminders of the violence of crucifixion his wound-marked resurrection body demonstrates God’s power over evil and death.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Struggle of Salvation

For Christians, this week is the holiest of all weeks. And yet, it is holy in a most ironic way. In this week, Christians around the world seek to remember and commemorate the final days and hours of the life of Jesus. Beginning with Maundy Thursday and traversing through the horror of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Christians seek to comprehend and remember the passion of Jesus in his suffering prior to celebrating his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.

His final hours were spent in prayer. Yet the Gospel of Luke tells us that there was nothing unusual about him being in prayer: “And he came out and proceeded as was his custom to the Mount of Olives…and when he arrived at the place…he withdrew from them…and knelt down and began to pray.”(1) As was his custom, he would go to pray. We do not often hear the content of these prayer times, but in this case, in these final hours, we see him gripped with passion. Luke tells us that he was in such agony that his sweat “became like drops of blood.” Jesus had never been in this much distress before—even in his wilderness testing—we have no other portrait of such extreme duress in prayer.

“And being in agony he was praying very fervently,” Luke says. I’ve often wondered about the nature of these agonized prayers. Was Jesus in agony over the physical torture and death he was about to endure? Was he in agony over his disciples; one who would betray him and the others who would all abandon him in his time of need? Certainly, the latter is a real possibility as he exhorts his disciples at least twice to watch and pray that you might not enter into temptation (Luke 22:40; 46). I’m sure he prayed fervently because of both of these reasons.

Whatever the reason for his agony, Jesus’s humanity was on full display in his prayer. He did not want to walk the path that was unfolding before him, and he pleads with God to provide an alternative path, a “plan B” as it were. Matthew’s gospel reveals more of his struggle. He tells his disciples, “I am deeply grieved, to the point of death.” Then he prays to God, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but your will be done” (Matthew 26:38-39). The way of suffering unfolded before him and he would go to his death, despite his anguished prayers for another way.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Decomposition of God

“God is dead,” declares Nietzsche’s madman in his oft-quoted passage from The Gay Science. Though not the first to make the declaration, Nietzsche’s philosophical candor and desperate rhetoric unquestionably attribute to its familiarity. In graphic brushstrokes, the parable describes a crime scene:

“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. ‘Whither is God,’ he cried; ‘I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I! All of us are his murderers…Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?…Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”(1)

Nietzsche’s atheism, unlike many contemporary atheistic mantras, was not simply rhetoric and angry words. He recognized that the death of God, even if only the death of an idol, introduced a significant crisis. He understood the critical role of the Christian story to the very underpinnings of European philosophy, history, and culture, and so understood that God’s death meant that a total—and painful—transformation of reality must occur. If God has died, if God is dead in the sense that God is no longer of use to us, then ours is a world in peril, he reasoned, for everything must change. Our typical means of thought and life no longer make sense; the very structures for evaluating everything have become unhinged. For Nietzsche, a world that considers itself free from God is a world that must suffer the disruptive effects of that iconoclasm.

Herein, Nietzsche’s atheistic tale tells a story beneficial no matter the creed or conviction of those who hear it. Gods, too, decompose. Nietzsche’s bold atheism held the intellectual integrity that refused to make it sound easy to live with a dead God—a conclusion the new atheists are determined to undermine. Moreover, his dogged exposure of idolatrous conceptions of God wherever they exist and honest articulation of the crises that comes in the crashing of such idols is universal in its bearing. Whether atheist or theist, Muslim or Christian, the death of the God we thought we knew is disruptive, excruciating, tragic—and quite often, as Nietzsche attests, necessary.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Goodness Explained vs. Goodness Displayed

 

About twenty years ago, my dad felt a sharp pain in his leg and had to be rushed to the hospital. Dr. Frasco—a top-flight vascular surgeon—found my family in the hospital waiting room and told us that he needed to operate, and that although there wasn’t time to explain, due to the complexity of my dad’s condition, there was a good chance he would have to amputate my dad’s leg.

Despite Dr. Frasco’s qualifications, it was tempting in this situation to question him, to be suspicious of his prognosis and his chosen course of action. My dad looked perfectly healthy from the outside. Maybe this surgeon was taking the easy way out. Maybe he’d rather get an amputation over with now rather than have to battle operation after operation so my dad could keep his leg. These were understandable thoughts, and they were thoughts that my mom, my brother, and I had and that we discussed.

But suppose that Dr. Frasco had come to my family and said that during the operation, my dad was going to need a significant number of blood transfusions, and that they were having trouble finding a suitable donor. And suppose further that Dr. Frasco—out of compassion for my father and for my family—offered to donate his own blood. And suppose even further that Dr. Frasco did this at the risk of his own life, perhaps because such a large quantity of blood was needed.

Now, in this situation, my response to Dr. Frasco would change markedly. Maybe I couldn’t explain to you the reasons why Dr. Frasco might have to amputate my dad’s leg, and maybe initially I had reason to be suspicious of his prognosis. But if Dr. Frasco had offered my dad his own blood, I would have been convinced that he was for us, I would have been convinced that we could trust him, and I would have been rightly convinced of this. Even if Dr. Frasco’s reasoning remained opaque to me, he would have done something so indisputably loving and so inordinately costly that I could only rationally conclude that he was for my family.

There are two ways to defend the goodness of a person when he or she is accused of wrongdoing. The first way is to explain the good reasons the person had for acting as he or she did. This is the more traditional approach to responding to the problem of evil, to respond by telling a story about why God might create and sustain a world that turned out like this one. But there is also a second way to defend the goodness of God against objections from evil and suffering—not by explaining goodness but by displaying goodness.

The Christian claim is that this is precisely what God has done for each of us. When he saw us hurting and in need of healing, he provided his own blood. He chose to join us in our suffering and to take on himself whatever suffering was necessary for us to be healed. He displayed his love in such an extravagant way that we have strong reason to believe that we can trust him, even when we don’t fully understand his ways.

Ironically, the famous atheist and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said it best: “The gods justified human life by living it themselves—the only satisfactory [response to the problem of suffering] ever invented.”(1) Remarkably, Nietzsche was writing of the ancient Greeks here and, in his bias, didn’t make the connection to Christianity. As a Christian, however, I am very pleased to agree with him and then point emphatically to the cross of Jesus Christ.

At the cross of Jesus, we see the absolute uniqueness of the Christian response to suffering. In some religious traditions, the idea of God suffering is unthinkable; it is thought to make God weak. In others, to reach divinity is precisely to move beyond the possibility of suffering, to give up your attachments to other people so that you will never have to suffer for anyone. Only in Christ do we have a God who loves us enough to suffer with us, by us, and—ultimately—for us.

Vince Vitale is director of the Zacharias Institute and a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Francis Golffing (New York: Doubleday, 1956), 30.

 

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Seeing in the Dark

There is something comforting about the many characters in the Christian story of which we know very little. There was more to the story of the woman who knew that if she could just touch the fringe of Jesus’s robe she would be well. There was more to tell about the woman who anointed Jesus with a jar of perfume, or the thief who hung beside Jesus on the cross. Yet, we are told only that they will be remembered. And they are. However “insignificant” their lives were to society, they have been captured in the pages of history as people worth remembering, people who had a role in the story of the God man on earth, people remembered by God when multitudes actually wished them forgotten. It is to me a kind reminder that our own fleeting lives are remembered by God long before others notice and long after they have stopped noticing.

We know very little about the man named Simeon, but we know he was in the temple when he realized that God had remembered him. Reaching for the baby in the arms of a young girl, Simeon was moved to praise. As his wrinkled hands cradled the infant, Simeon sang to God: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.”(1)

Simeon actually uses the language of a slave who has been freed. There is a sense of immediacy and relief, as if a great iron door has been unlocked and he is now free to go through it. God had remembered his promise even as God remembered the aging Simeon. The Lord had promised Simeon that he would not die before he saw the Lord’s salvation. Now seeing and holding the child named Jesus, Simeon somehow knew that he was dismissed to death in peace.

Marveling at this bold reaction of a stranger, Mary and Joseph stood in awe—and possibly horror. Upon laying eyes on their baby, a man entirely unknown to them pronounced he could now die in peace. They were well aware of God’s hand upon Jesus; yet here they seemed to discover that the arm of God, which is not too short to save, extended far beyond anything they imagined.

Simeon’s subsequent blessing and words to the young mother only furthered this certainty: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”(2) To these words as well, Mary and Joseph stood in awe and possibly horror.

In this Lenten season, followers of Jesus recall the horrific events of the cross, the sword that pierced this mother’s heart, and the passion of the one who continues to be spoken against. An old man in the temple hundreds of years ago, through a fraction of a scene in his life, reminds us still today that to look at Jesus is to see the suffering of the world and the salvation of God. As Father Farrar Capon notes, “[God] will not take our cluttered life, as we hold it, into eternity. He will take only the clean emptiness of our death in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.” Whether peering at the child in the manger or the man on the cross, the human heart is still revealed in its response to him. This is, in fact, our own most memorable feature.

Perhaps the small excerpts of the many fleeting lives we find throughout the Christian story were meant to capture this very sentiment. As the thief peered into the bruised eyes of Jesus on the cross beside him, like Simeon, he saw the salvation of God. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he asked. And it was so.

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) Luke 2:29-30.
(2) Luke 2:34-35.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Difficult Invitation

Perhaps in reaching middle age, one might expect one’s thoughts to turn toward thinking more about the end of life than the beginning. It certainly seems that each year passes by faster and faster, one season racing into another and before you can blink another year is gone. The 1998 film Meet Joe Black offers a poignant glimpse into this phenomenon. On his 65th birthday, William Parrish’s last night on earth, he gives a speech to those gathered to celebrate his life. With hesitation, he shares what will be some of his last words:

“Every face I see is a memory. It may not be a perfect memory. Sometimes we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re all together, and you’re mine for a night. And I’m going to break precedence and tell you my one wish: that you would have a life as lucky as mine, where you can wake up one morning and say, ‘I don’t want anything more.’ Sixty-five years…don’t they go by in a blink?”

The years do go by in a blink. Ancient writers and poets often wrote about the transience of our lives, even invoking the Divine to help them remember the brevity of their days: My days are swifter than a weaver’s… Our days on earth are like a shadow… You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.(1) I was reminded of this during years of service with an aging congregation. There were more funerals than births, baptisms, or weddings. And having to bury those I had just recently befriended would take a great toll.

Despite the many emotional, physical, and spiritual challenges I faced during this time of ministry, I now see that I received incredible gifts. Journeying with someone you love through the dying process reminds you of your own mortality and finitude. The opportunity to deepen emotional reservoirs and to gain an appreciation for the preciousness of life is an invaluable gift.

In his earthly ministry, Jesus said a good deal about this dying journey. Often, he called his followers to self-sacrifice and to single-hearted allegiance by using the language of death. In Luke’s Gospel, he told the great multitudes following him that “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”(2) What is often forgotten in a casual reading of the gospels is that the cross was the instrument of death and disgrace. It was an instrument reserved for the vilest offenders, and as such was an instrument of finality for the lowest of the low. Yet whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. There is no “if” in Jesus’s statement, only whether or not we will accept the invitation to death.

The fact that Jesus issued this kind of invitation to the “multitudes going along with him” should not be lost either. To hear that death is a part of life’s purpose, and that those who would want to follow Jesus should expect nothing less, is a very difficult invitation. Given the choice, most humans wouldn’t sign up for death. We cling to life as tenaciously as a wolf to her prey. I suspect the crowds dissipated after they heard Jesus speak these very difficult statements. Perhaps they were the very ones who later clamored for his death by crucifixion. It was easy to follow Jesus when he focused on the positives.

And yet, as sure as babies are born into this world and new life begins, death is inevitable. Not just physical death, but the “little deaths” we experience every day; the death of dreams, of life’s highest expectations, and the death of wanting more from life than it will offer. Is there any kind of gift given even in these moments of death? Can abundant life be found even as life marches quickly towards decline and decay? Can grace come even as we move towards Calvary with our cross?

In speaking of his own death and the gifts it would yield, Jesus said that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself 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 shall keep it to life eternal.”(3) In the face of a world that shouts to us to grab all we can now, to find self-fulfillment and be happy, Jesus extends to us the ironic invitation to embrace death in order to truly find our lives. This is both a promising and challenging invitation. Can we really find life out of death? And how is it to be experienced as abundant even in the everyday, ordinary living most of us experience? The challenge Jesus sets before those who would follow is the challenge to “die” to what we think makes for life; it is to choose—in this life that goes by as quickly as a vapor—what would make for life indeed.

 

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

 

(1) See Psalm 39:4, 1 Chronicles 29:15; James 4:14.
(2) Luke 14:26-27.
(3) John 12:24-25.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Where Forgiveness Is Suffering

 

In four horrific months in 1994, at the urging of the Rwandan government, the poorer Hutu majority took up bayonets and machetes and committed genocide against the wealthier Tutsi minority. In the wake of this unspeakable tragedy, nearly a million people had been murdered.

In August of 2003, driven by overcrowded prisons and backlogged court systems, 50,000 genocide criminals, people who had already confessed to killing their neighbors, were released again into society. Murderers were sent back to their homes, back to neighborhoods literally destroyed at their own hands, to live beside the few surviving relatives of the very men, women, and children they killed.

Now more than twenty years later, with eyes still bloodshot at visions of a genocide it failed to see, the world continues to watch Rwanda with a sense of foreboding, wondering what happens when a killer comes home; what happens when victims, widows, orphans, and murderers look each other in the eyes again; what happens when the neighbor who killed your family asks to be forgiven. For the people of Rwanda, the description of the Hebrew prophet is a reality with which they live: “And if anyone asks them, ‘What are these wounds on your chest?’ the answer will be, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’”(1)

How does a culture bear the wounds of genocide and the agony of forgiveness?

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Where Forgiveness Is Suffering

 

Where Forgiveness Is Suffering

In four horrific months in 1994, at the urging of the Rwandan government, the poorer Hutu majority took up bayonets and machetes and committed genocide against the wealthier Tutsi minority. In the wake of this unspeakable tragedy, nearly a million people had been murdered.

In August of 2003, driven by overcrowded prisons and backlogged court systems, 50,000 genocide criminals, people who had already confessed to killing their neighbors, were released again into society. Murderers were sent back to their homes, back to neighborhoods literally destroyed at their own hands, to live beside the few surviving relatives of the very men, women, and children they killed.

Now more than twenty years later, with eyes still bloodshot at visions of a genocide it failed to see, the world continues to watch Rwanda with a sense of foreboding, wondering what happens when a killer comes home; what happens when victims, widows, orphans, and murderers look each other in the eyes again; what happens when the neighbor who killed your family asks to be forgiven. For the people of Rwanda, the description of the Hebrew prophet is a reality with which they live: “And if anyone asks them, ‘What are these wounds on your chest?’ the answer will be, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.'”(1)

How does a culture bear the wounds of genocide and the agony of forgiveness?

For Steven Gahigi, that question is answered in a valley of dry bones which cannot be forgotten. An Anglican clergyman who lost 142 members of his family in the Rwandan genocide, he thought he had lost the ability to forgive. Though his inability plagued him, he had no idea how to navigate through a forgiveness so costly. “I prayed until one night I saw an image of Jesus Christ on the cross…I thought of how he forgave, and I knew that I and others could also do it.”(2) Inspired by this vision, Gahigi somehow found the words to begin preaching forgiveness. He first did this in the prisons where Hutu perpetrators sat awaiting trial, and today he continues in neighborhoods where the victims of genocide live beside its perpetrators. For Gahigi, wounds received in the house of friends can only be soothed with truth-telling, restitution, interdependence, and reconciliation, all of which he finds accessible only because of Christ.

 

Miroslav Volf, himself familiar with horrendous violence in Croatia and Serbia, describes forgiveness as the exchange of one form of suffering for another, modeled to the world by the crucified Christ. He writes, “[I]n a world of irreversible deeds and partisan judgments redemption from the passive suffering of victimization cannot happen without the active suffering of forgiveness.”(3) For Rwandans, this is a reality well understood.

And for Christ, who extends to the world the possibility of reconciliation by embodying it, this suffering, this willingness to be broken by the very people with whom he is trying to reconcile, is the very road to healing and wholeness and humanity. “More than just the passive suffering of an innocent person,” writes Volf, “the passion of Christ is the agony of a tortured soul and a wrecked body offered as a prayer for the forgiveness of the torturers.”(3) There is no clearer picture of Zechariah’s depiction of wounds received at the house of friends than in a crucifixion ordered by an angry crowd that lauded Christ as king only hours before. And yet, it is this house of both murderous and weeping friends for which Jesus prays on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Far from the suggestion of a moralistic god watching a world of suffering and brokenness from a distance, the costly, unsentimental ministry of reconciliation comes to a world of violence and victims through arms that first bore the weight of the cross. For Steven Gahigi, who facilitates the difficult dialogues now taking place in Rwanda, who helps perpetrators of genocide to build homes for their victims’ families, forgiveness is indeed a active form of suffering, but one through which Christ has paved the hopeful, surprising way of redemption. Today, wherever forgiveness is a form of suffering, Christ accompanies the broken, leading both the guilty and the victimized through valleys of dry bones and signs of a coming resurrection.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Zechariah 13:6.

(2) Johann Christoph Arnold, Why Forgive? (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis books, 2010), 202.

(3) Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 125.

 

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Of Lasting Value

Jesus once said that the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, Jesus added, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

In the first scene, the picture is of a poor farmer who was in for a surprise. He was going about his regular duties, ploughing his field, when he stumbles on this treasure. In his unspeakable joy, he parts with everything that he has to buy that field because of the value of that treasure. In the second scenario, we have a sophisticated seeker. This merchant was looking for fine pearls. And when he found what he was looking for, he sold all he had and bought that priceless pearl.

The two stories remind me of incidents I have encountered. During a conversation with a skeptic, he shared that he once had an out-of-body experience and during those milliseconds, he heard the name Jesus (a name he had never heard before) calling him. In another encounter, a gentleman from another faith came over to discuss apologetics. He was a research scholar on humanities and had read some works of Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He was acquainted with the Bible as well. Although he was not a Christian, he said, “Society needs to be educated on the apologetic of Christ.” He eventually came all the way as he gave his life to Christ and is a joyful believer today.

God in his sovereign grace caters to each one of us. One discovers his treasure at the end of a studied search, while the other stumbles onto the joy of serendipitous discovery. Professor Alister McGrath explains: “In one sense, faith can be thought of as saying ‘Yes!’ to God and throwing open the portals of our souls to the refreshing, renewing and transforming presence of the living God.”(1)

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus inquiring about eternal life, Jesus asked him to give up everything he had and follow him. But the man walked away. The very next chapter is about another rich man, who like the characters in parables above, was willing to give away his hard-earned money—legitimately and otherwise—for something of far greater value. He announced, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”(2)

In the insightful words of C.S. Lewis, “When the author walks on to the stage the play is over… something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”(3)

 

The judgments we make today are lasting. We reveal who we are by what we treasure. Let us treasure that of lasting value.

Neil Vimalkumar Boniface is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Chennai, India.

(1) Alister McGrath, Glimpsing the Face of God: The Search for Meaning in the Universe. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.

(2) Luke 19:8.

(3) C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity pp. 64-5.

 

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Triangle or a Cross

Passing from the fourth grade to the fifth grade was not going to be as easy as I calculated. On the first day of fourth grade, our teacher stood at the board writing words most of us could not pronounce: castling, prophylaxis, solus rex, triangulation, and zugzwang, among others. When the board was full, he took a step toward us and pointed at his list. “By the end of the year,” he said resolutely, “you will know every one of these words because you will know the rules, the strategies, and the love of chess.” As if electricity and long division were not enough, learning the game of chess was a requirement for passing the fourth grade.

I don’t know that I learned to love the game, but I did learn how to play and the terminology that goes along with it. Triangulation, for instance, is a tactic used in chess endgames to put one’s opponent in zugzwang, a German word for “compulsion to move.” Triangulation occurs when one king can move between three adjoining squares (in the shape of a triangle) and maintain the position, while the opponent only has two squares on which to move. It is a strategic maneuver that forces one’s opponent to move.

Outside of the game of chess, triangulation still manages to be a maneuver meant to force a desired result. In social or family systems, the tactic is associated with people rather than pawns. In situations where two people are in conflict with one another, one or both often triangulate with a third person (or thing) in an attempt to curtail anxiety and garner support. So in the case of a feuding brother and sister, the sister might run to a sympathetic third sibling, while the brother might preoccupy his frustration with work. In each case, both triangles create a situation where two are on the inside and one is on the outside. But also in each case, while the anxiety may be reduced momentarily, the source of that anxiety is left unresolved.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Healing the Weary

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s play, Jesus Christ Superstar, presents an unorthodox re-telling of the life of Jesus. While there is much in the play to decry, it has nevertheless been a favorite of mine because of its intriguing focus on the humanity of Jesus. One of the most poignant scenes occurs after Jesus drives the moneylenders and vendors from the temple. Perhaps already wearied from this event, new crowds of people emerge from all over the stage begging for Jesus to heal them from their infirmities. As Jesus begins to heal them, we see his weariness and feel his agony at the weight of human suffering. More and more people crowd him:

See my eyes, I can hardly see
See me stand, I can hardly walk
I believe you can make me whole
See my tongue, I can hardly talk
See my skin, I’m a mass of blood
See my legs, I can hardly stand
I believe you can make me well
See my purse, I’m a poor, poor, man
Will you touch, will you mend me, Christ?
Won’t you touch, will you heal me, Christ?

In this scene, Jesus begins to wane under the weight of endless sufferers coming to him for healing. In the staging of the play, they physically overwhelm him and in desperation he cries out:

There’s too many of you; don’t push me
There’s too little of me; don’t crowd me
Heal yourselves!

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Stepping into the Reality of Suffering

I recently sat across from a woman I wanted to adopt as a kind of nonna.(1) Originally from Croatia, she spoke with a soft accent and combination of wisdom and kindness. In observing my 5-year-old son with me, she noted, “He has a high sense of injustice.” I nodded in agreement. My little guy has begun that tortured engagement with life—the wrestling of desire to shield our eyes from sorrow with the opportunity to see our part in the larger broken story around us and participate in facets of restoration.

Years ago it was in a broken place where I met Annie. I was nervous as I walked through the streets of Amsterdam’s famous red light district, so different from anything I had seen before. About four hundred windows line cobblestone streets, a person behind each one. There are women of all ages, transgender and transvestite workers as well. Organized by nationality, it is a market of sorts, where the commodity for sale is the body of another. I was with the director of Scharlaken Koord, a Dutch organization that offers assistance to women working in prostitution.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Resonate Gifts

 

There are a few poetic lines I know by memory simply because my boss is fond of repeating them. Ravi Zacharias often quotes a song titled The Lost Chord, which was penned by Adelaide Proctor and later set to music by Arthur Sullivan. It is a hymn that describes a moment of transcendence, a hint of wonder that appeared momentarily and left the narrator yearning for more. The song tells her story:

Seated one day at the organ
I was weary and ill at ease,
and my fingers wandered idly
over the noisy keys.
I know not what I was playing
or what I was dreaming then,
but I struck one chord of music
like the sound of a great “Amen.”

It flooded the crimson twilight
like the close of an angel’s psalm,
and it lay on my fevered spirit
like the touch of infinite calm.
It quieted pain and sorrow
like love overcoming strife;
it seemed the harmonious echo
of our discordant life.

It linked all perplexed meanings
into one perfect peace,
and it trembled away into silence
as if it were loathe to cease.
I have sought but I seek it vainly—
that one lost chord divine—
that came from the soul of the organ
and entered into mine.

It may be that death’s bright angel
will speak in that chord again;
it may be that only in heaven
I shall hear that grand “Amen.”

The wonder of this world is amplified by the fact that it ends, that it “trembles away into silence.” But what are these fleeting moments, which touch us with an infinite calm, and link perplexed meanings with peace? In our lost chords, something comes and vanishes. But it creates a hunger for more, a longing for something that we can almost taste, a thirst that points us to what we were ultimately made to hold and know and be. God has set eternity in our hearts, Solomon said; in moments such as these, we seem to know it.

Tellingly, Arthur Sullivan actually tried to set Proctor’s words to music for years, but he was unsuc­cessful un­til he faced the death of his brother. Painfully aware of the fragility of life, grieving the untimely death of one he dearly treasured, Sullivan was able to pen the magnificent music to words that were undoubtedly of great comfort. Through tears he looked toward a God preparing many rooms, and it quieted pain and sorrow like love overcoming strife.

Through music, his grief found expression; the possibilities in the words he loved were finally enacted for him. Love overcoming strife. This is the certain and resonating song of God in our lives: one who values creation so much that he joins it, hence, enabling possibilities, signaling signs of the kingdom, embodying new life, cultivating life’s flourishing. In his place, the very particular past in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus meets us very presently. The vicariously human Son meets us as strength and peace for today, hope for what is to come.

The psalmist says of God, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”(1) There are few analogies in language that lend a hand in our comprehending of eternal pleasures and fullness of joy. But there are sounds and glimpses all around us, the resounding gifts of life re-made by the God who comes near even in death.

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) Psalm 16:11.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Cross or the Cookie Jar

 

As a young man growing up in Scotland, like many others, I was exposed to Christianity and the symbol of the cross. It was a point of confusion, a mystery at best, and at worst, an object of scorn and disgust. I did not know what it meant or why religious people thought it important, but I knew I wanted nothing to do with it.

Alister McGrath, Professor of theology, ministry, and education at King’s College, London, writes: “Just as God has humbled himself in making himself known ‘in the humility and shame of the cross,’ we must humble ourselves if we are to encounter him. We must humble ourselves by being prepared to be told where to look to find God, rather than trusting in our own insights and speculative abilities. In effect, we are forced to turn our eyes from contemplation of where we would like to see God revealed, and to turn them instead upon a place which is not of our choosing, but which is given to us.”(1)

In other words, nothing in history, experience, or knowledge can prepare the world for God’s means of drawing near. At the cross, something we are not expecting is revealed, something scandalous unveiled, something we could never have articulated or asked for is given to us. Philip Yancey, the renowned author, offers more on this: “Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who take his cloak, who prays for those who deceitfully use him. The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to Kingdom, nor is it even the way to the Kingdom; it is the Kingdom come.”(2)

Christian or not, I think many of us have significantly distorted ideas about the purpose and meaning of the cross. When many people think of “sin” or the human condition before God, what comes to mind is perhaps something like the image of a child caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Such an image might well be understood as disobedience or maybe even naughtiness, but is it really that important? It is certainly not bad enough to justify extreme reactions. As a result of such a metaphor, our moral reflections on sin tend to foster incredulity or disgust. The response seems totally out of proportion to the offense.

But let us shift the metaphor. Supposing one day you go for a routine medical examination, and they discover you have a deadly virus. You did not do anything. You were not necessarily responsible, but you were exposed, and infected. You feel the injustice of it all, you are afraid, you are angry, but most of all, you are seriously sick. You are dying and you need help.

Whatever the cross and the gospel are about, it is not a slap on the hands for kids refusing to heed the rules of the cookie jar. It is not mere advice to get you to clean up your life and morals. It is not mere ideas to inform you about what it takes to be nice. It is restoration and recreation, a physician’s mediation; it is about human flourishing and discovering life.

The cross may seem an extreme and offensive measure to the problem of sin and death and sickness—but what if it is the very cure that is needed? McGrath describes our options at the cross of Christ. “Either God is not present at all in this situation, or else God is present in a remarkable and paradoxical way. To affirm that God is indeed present in this situation is to close the door to one way of thinking about God and to open the way to another—for the cross marks the end of a particularwayof thinking about God.”(3) Shockingly, thoroughly, scandalously, the cross depicts a God who throws himself upon sin and sickness to bring the hope of rescue miraculously near.

Some find it shocking, some overwhelming, some almost too good to be true. It is, however, for all.

Stuart McAllister is regional director for the Americas at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Alister McGrath, The Mystery of the Cross, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 104.
(2) Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 196.
(3) Alister McGrath, The Mystery of the Cross, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 103.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Redirection

 

A special report on This American Life follows the lives of several people currently living what they unequivocally call “Plan B.” Host Ira Glass expounds his thoughts on an informal poll and a seemingly universal human reality. He asked a room of hundred people to think back to the beginning of adulthood when they were first formulating a plan for their lives. He called it Plan A, “the fate you were sure fate had in store.” He then asked those who were still following this plan to raise their hands. Only one person confessed she was still living Plan A; she was 23 years old.

It seems a trend among us: There is the thing we plan on doing with our lives, and then there’s the thing we end up doing, which becomes our life. Here, Christians often have a nuanced view of Plan A: it is God’s plan they are trying to follow. But there is still very much an initial picture of what this plan, and subsequently our lives, will—or should—look like. God’s best becomes something like a divine Plan A, while any other plan leads the follower to something else.

But akin to the statistics in the room with Mr. Glass, it is likely that the number of Christians who find themselves living the plan they first imagined are also few and far between. For some, this is seen as good news. Many discover along their carefully laid out plans that they are doing far more leading than being led, and God seems to mercifully redirect them. “Many are the plans in a human heart,” the proverb reads, “but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Others find the journey with God from Plan A to B to C to D an interesting part of the pilgrimage itself, maybe even the gift of following an unfathomable creator, a creator who we discover is far more creative than we! Yet there are still many others who walk away from Plan A thoroughly defeated. Regretful turns and drastic detours may now be behind us, but the deviation from the journey is writ large before us. We have failed at Plan A, the plan we believed divinely inspired; God’s best is now merely God’s backup. Wrestling with the guilt or disappointment of such a deviation can be found with or without the Christian spin.

When life turns out to be something you didn’t plan on, when missteps and unplanned detours loom with guilt, a life of alternative routes and broken roads seems certain. It is easy to wonder in despair what it means to have missed God’s best, and to believe that somehow God must now step back into the picture, disappointed, and find a secondary plan for your life. I find it equally despairing to encounter those who maintain they are living God’s Plan A and smugly insist it was their own virtue that accomplished it. How significant, then, are Christ’s words to his despairing disciples after an evening of mistakes, both to those of us who have ever felt the sting of falling off track and to those of us who want a pat on the back for getting it right. To these men who repeatedly failed to follow his instructions, Jesus simply said, “Rise, let us be going.”

Author and humanitarian Naomi Zacharias once told me that following God is something like following the directions on a GPS system. At the beginning of the journey, the plan for arriving at the desired destination is before you. But when you accidentally turn left or are forced to take an unforeseen detour, the computer doesn’t scold you. It doesn’t force you to start over or announce that you can no longer make it to your final destination because you have ruined the route. In fact, it doesn’t even make you feel guilty. The end still in mind, it simply adjusts the plan from that point onward, as if the “wrong” turn was a part of the journey all along. The destination has not changed. Plan A may have switched to Plan B in your mind, but the outcome remains the goal, not self-invented praise for the journey.

Although Blaise Pascal was a mathematician who saw the created world as one of equations and precision, he saw the God who created this world as one who is innately personal, guiding, and accommodating. “[T]he God of the Christians is a God of love and consolation,” Pascal wrote in his Pensees, “a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom he possesses, a God who makes them inwardly aware of their wretchedness and his infinite mercy, who united himself with them in the depths of their soul…who makes them incapable of having any other end but him.“(1)

What if the God you followed is well aware that there are turns in life we can never undo, choices we cannot erase, and detours we were never expecting? Some of these turns God no doubt laments with us. But God is never deterred by our position. Plan B may be a phrase you use to punish yourself or others, but the God of Christianity is not any farther away in what you are calling Plan A than Plan A or C or D. In fact, God sees only one plan: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD to a struggling people, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” In this, God is ever at work redirecting your steps, while the end—God alone—remains the same. Despite broken roads and secondary paths, God is forever showing that the destination is unchanging, and in the end, “God’s best” comes into our lives not because of our own careful steps toward the divine but because of divine steps toward us. The God of the Christian is one whose plans are all-encompassing, whose arm is not too short to save, who goes the extra mile, and who takes every detour without mention, that even one will not remain lost.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) Blaise Pascal, Pensees (London: Peguin Books, 1993), 141-142, emphasis mine.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Bread from Heaven and Water from a Stone

 

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.(1)

The Gospel of Mark begins with this intriguing narrative of the Spirit compelling Jesus into the wilderness to be tested and to make his home among wild beasts. The original Greek language is so forceful as to imply that the Spirit literally expelled Jesus into this land of wild beasts and satanic attack. It is even more striking when compared to Matthew and Luke’s gospels, which both suggest that Jesus was “led by the Spirit” who accompanied him into the wilderness.(2) Despite Matthew and Luke’s gentler version, the point is still the same: the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested and tormented by the devil. It seems natural to ask why the Spirit would compel Jesus into the wilderness.

The history of Israel and particularly the Exodus from Egypt gives some perspective on this question. After four hundred years of oppression and enslavement, God sent Moses to deliver the people and to lead them into the Promised Land. A great drama ensues between the “gods” of the Egyptians and the God of Israel. Ten plagues fall, the sea is parted, and the Egyptian army is swallowed up by the raging waters. And then we read: “Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water…. and the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.”(3) Israel would spend the next forty years, the text tells us, wandering in that wilderness of lament and bitterness with God being put to the test. Would God provide for their needs or would they come out of Egypt only to die in the desert? From the narrative’s perspective, what began as a great deliverance stalls in the wilderness of the Sinai.

Like Israel before him, Jesus’s story, as recorded by Mark, begins with great drama. John the Baptist announces the Deliverer: Israel’s exile was over, for the Messiah had come. The Deliverer is baptized by John and in front of the crowds declared “the beloved Son” of God. What a tremendous beginning to his earthly ministry. And yet, like Israel, Jesus begins that earthly ministry not with healings and miracles, or with fanfare and great teachings, but by being “immediately cast out into the wilderness.”

As many biblical commentators have suggested, Jesus was re-enacting the great history of Israel in his own life and ministry. He was Israel’s Messiah, their deliverer, just as Moses had been. Yet, like Israel, Jesus would be tested and his test had to precede entry into the Promised Land. Jesus would be put to the test—would he provide for his people as their Messiah, their deliverer? Counter to the expectations of the people, this Deliverer would be crucified and offer his life as the means by which salvation was offered.

For Christians, Lent is a season in which the journey through the wilderness precedes Easter morning. Of course, what is enacted in the season is very much a part of lived experience of many in our world. Many dwell in wilderness spaces of suffering, disappointment, doubt, or sin. Promised lands of hope, fulfillment, and healing seem far off and foreign. In these lands, what do we do? Who will we turn to? In what, or in whom, do we place our trust? And, when put to the test, have the ‘gods’ we have chosen to save us prove to be true?

The journey of life is a journey that inevitably runs through the wilderness. We cannot escape it, nor can we go around it. And yet, in the life of Israel God brings bread from heaven and water from a rock in their wilderness sojourn. God was with them in the desert. Moreover, the gospels present a God who in Jesus Christ did not seek to escape the wilderness either, but was compelled into it. In his own testing, Jesus reveals that a new kind of life can be found even in those seemingly deserted places—God provides even there. While we will often wander in the wilderness, with God’s help we can indeed be transformed by it.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Mark 1:12-13.
(2) Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:1.
(3) Exodus 15:22; 16:2.

 

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Indignity of Giving Thanks

The spirit of thanksgiving runs against the temptation we face as human beings to assert our self-sufficiency. Few of us enjoy the feeling of indebtedness; a fact easily demonstrated by our oft-unsolicited readiness to return a favor once someone has expressed kindness to us. I owe you one, I will return the favor, and I am in your debt are some of the ways in which we express this attitude. Such responses, together with the more modest one, please let me know what I can do for you, allow us to express gratitude without acknowledging the chronic shadow of dependence that so rudely dogs our entire threescore and ten.

Not only does this inability to express gratitude without our own autonomy stealing the show sometimes rob of us of the joy of affirming the contribution of others to our wellbeing, it also shrivels up our desire to worship God. An unexamined sense of self-sufficiency instills in us a subtle but false attitude of entitlement, thus making it difficult for us to accept the sense of vulnerability that is part of true gratitude. Ever since the tempter said to Adam and Eve in the Garden, “You will be like God,” human beings have never given up the temptation to either elevate ourselves to the level of God or pull God down to our level, so we can deal with God as equals. We are always looking for a chance to say to God, “I can take it from here.”

Such an attitude of entitlement, I believe, occupies a central role in the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17. While all ten are healed by Jesus, only one of them returns to express gratitude. In his editorial comment, Luke informs us that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan, and Jesus refers to him as a foreigner. Undoubtedly, this implies that the other nine were Jews. Could it be that the Jewish lepers felt entitled to the services of this Jewish prophet and their God? If God were to begin to right wrongs in the world, wouldn’t the most logical place to begin be among his own chosen people? Judging by Jesus’s expression of surprise in the passage, it seems the only words one would have expected from the mouths of the nine lepers would have been, “It’s about time!” Without a clear sense of how little we are entitled to, we cannot really come to terms with the need for gratitude—for an attitude of entitlement is an effective impediment to gratitude.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Through Deeper Darkness

Professor and theologian James Loder was on vacation with his family when they noticed a motorist off to the side of the road waving for help. In his book The Transforming Moment, he describes kneeling at the front fender of this broken-down car, his head bent to examine the flat tire, when he was startled by the abrupt sound of screeching brakes. A motorist who had fallen asleep at the wheel was jarred awake seconds before his vehicle crashed into the disabled car alongside the road—and the man who knelt beside it. Loder was immediately pinned between two vehicles. The car he knelt to repair was now on his chest, his own vehicle underneath him.

Years after both the incident and the rehabilitation it required, Loder was compelled to describe the impact of that moment so marked by pain and tragedy, which was unexpectedly, something much more. Loder describes the incident: “At the hospital, it was not the medical staff, grateful as I was for them, but the crucifixes—in the lobby and in the patients’ rooms—that provided a total account of my condition. In that cruciform image of Christ, the combination of physical pain and the assurance of a life greater than death gave objective expression and meaning to the sense of promise and transcendence that lived within the midst of my suffering.”(1)

For the Christian, the crucifixion is the center of the whole, the event that gives voice to a broken, dark, and dying world, and the paradoxical suggestion of life somehow within it. This is why the church calendar sets apart forty days to prepare or the cross. This is why the church marks steeples and graves in memory of the crucifixion. The death of Christ is the occasion that makes way for the last to be first, the guilty to be pardoned, the creature united again to its creator. The cross of Christ is the mysterious sign that stands in the center of the history of the world and changes everything. “I have been crucified with Christ,” said one of his transformed followers. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

The suffering and death of Christ is indeed an image that gives expression to inexplicable tragedy, unnecessary suffering, and perplexing darkness. But the cross is also the event that jarringly marks that suffering, death, tragedy, and sorrow as qualities to which the vicariously human Son of God willingly submitted himself. It is thus that the broken and bleeding Loder could sense his condition understood in the image of a broken and bleeding Christ. “For surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases.” In the cruciform image of Christ on the cross, our own encounters of tragedy are not only affirmed, but held at God’s own volition. From the glory of heaven, Christ has come into the dark world where we stand.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Behold, the Crucified

Even modern English Bible versions often end up retaining the rather un-modern term “behold” in their translations of the Hebrew word hinneh and the Greek word idou. This is because there is no other equivalent English word that quite does the job that behold does. All the three terms—Hebrew, Greek, and English—have a certain gravitas, and, whenever used, command us to pay careful attention to what follows.

In John’s narrative of the trial and the crucifixion of Jesus, there are five occurrences of the term—three coming from the mouth of the unwitting prophet, Pilate, and twice from the mouth of our Lord Jesus. Each occurrence summons us to a facet of the person and work of Christ.

In John 19:4, “Pilate came out again and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.’” We may render Pilate’s words as: “Behold, the Guiltless One!” Christians have always claimed, and will always claim, that Jesus, the Innocent, bore the sins of a guilty world. When his executioners twisted together a crown of thorns and thrust it upon his head, little did they know that they were enacting a prophetic truth! For in that single image—the crown of thorns on his head—is encapsulated the central Christian claim: that this guiltless-but-crucified one bore upon himself the guilt and curse of the whole of creation. Remember: “Cursed is the ground because of you…. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you.”(1)

The following verse is the second time the word occurs: “Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold, the Man!’” (v.5). Jesus is the window to God; He is also the mirror to man. In him, we see what is wrong with us, and what we are meant to be. The poetic poignancy of the occurrence is also found in the allusion that, just as the first human being, Adam, takes stage on the sixth day of creation, Christ, the New Human Being, takes center stage on the sixth day—Good Friday—of new creation.(2) And we are summoned to pay close attention to him, the man.

We are no longer helplessly and hopelessly fated to take the course of Adam. There is another pattern for being fully and truly human: Behold, the human!

The third time “behold” appears is in verse 14, where “[Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King.’” In his book, Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge, in his inimitable way, says, “The crown of thorns, the purple robe, the ironical title ‘King of the Jews,’ were intended to mock or parody Christ’s pretensions to be the Messiah; in fact, they rather hold up to ridicule and contempt all crowns, all robes, all kings that ever were. It was a sick joke that back-fired.”(3) Muggeridge is perhaps being a touch cynical here, and may be guilty of rendering serious political reflection and engagement impossible and pointless. All the same, the Christian claim that Jesus is the Christ (i.e., the King) is a claim that effectively loosens all other claims, renegotiates all other allegiances, recasts all other power, downsizes all other authorities, domesticates all other principalities, and tempers the Christian resolve to not give beings and things, apart from God and his Christ, an ultimacy that they demand but do not deserve. Christ, in short, dismantles idols and unravels idolatries.

The final two occurrences are found in John 19:26-27: “When Jesus then saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” We may club the two occurrences to mean, “Behold, your new family!” Theologians have also often noted John’s allusion to the Church in his record of Jesus side being speared: as Eve, the bride of Adam, issued forth from Adam’s side, the Church, the bride of Christ, issues forth from the crucified’s side, with the blood and water symbolizing the two foundational sacraments of the Church, Lord’s Supper and Baptism. At the foot of the Cross, there is the creating and forging of a new family, a new community, a new humanity—the Church: a believing that leads to a belonging.

Kethoser (Aniu) Kevichusa is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Nagaland, India.

(1) Genesis 3:17-18.
(2) This basic thought is borrowed from the various writings of N.T. Wright on the passage.
(3) Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered (London: Fontana, 1969), 47

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