Author Archives: Jim Fitzgerald

Good Friday?

Copia desde la Crucifixion dibujada hacia 1540...

Copia desde la Crucifixion dibujada hacia 1540 por Miguel Angel Buonarroti para Vittoria Colonna.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV)

Good Friday for us was a bad day for Christ. Not so much because of his physical suffering, but because of his spiritual suffering. He tells us this himself in the garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). His physical suffering is important and should not be minimized or understated in any way. The incarnation and embodiment of Christ is one of the facts that separates Christianity from other religions and belief systems. Christianity is not platonism. But the cup Jesus prayed would be taken from him was not merely the cup of his physical suffering. Rather, it was the cup of the curse that he would drink to the full resulting in his separation from the Father (Matthew 26:39).

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As the Reformer Martin Luther said, when Christ hung on the cross he was the most despicable man who ever lived. Every sin of his people was laid upon.  Or as Paul put it, “…he became sin for us…” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ’s cry of dereliction was prompted by the God-forsakenness of the curse–the Son’s separation from the Father.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As the German prison guard told the Jew in a Nazi death camp during World War II: “Here there is no why.”

The mystery of all mysteries is expressed in a monosyllabic question: “why?” But here there is no why. Only a mystery hidden in the secret counsel of God.

All we know is that because Christ took the curse we experience the blessing. In fact this is the meaning of the benediction in Number 6:24-26:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

His face shines upon us because it frowned on Christ. His countenance is lifted upon us because it had fallen on Christ. We get grace and peace because Christ took the full wrath, judgment, and justice of God. We get Good Friday because he took the worst that Friday had to give–and he took it lovingly. He took the bad so we can have the good.

That, and that alone, is what makes Good Friday, good. And like the benediction of creation–it is very good! (Genesis 1:31)

The Lorica

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! In celebration I thought I would share portions of “The Prayer of St. Patrick”  known as the “Lorica” or “Breastplate.”

The Prayer of St. Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

The Final Temple

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19 ESV).

Destroy this temple? Are you kidding me? The temple was the center of Jewish life. It was the center of religious, social, economic, and national life. Even more, it was the place of God’s special presence with his people. To the Jews in Jesus’ day it was a microcosm of heaven and earth. To speak those words were blasphemous and treasonous in one breath. The consequences would be catastrophic for the Jewish people. The temple was the sole place of sacrificial worship. To say, “destroy this temple” was to suggest the destruction of the only form of forgiveness and atonement known to the Jewish people. Nothing could be more scandalous. Nothing could be more shocking. Nothing he could say could be more outrageous than what he said: “Destroy this temple.”

  • Destroy the center of religious, social, political, and economic life.
  • Destroy the place of God’s presence.
  • Destroy the microcosm of heaven and earth.
  • Destroy our only hope for forgiveness and atonement.

And you wonder why they wanted to kill him? In their minds, he was trying to destroy them.

This is, of course, not what Jesus meant at all. But before we are too hard on the Jewish leaders let’s remember that even Jesus’ family, friends, and closest followers didn’t get it.

And what is it that they didn’t get?

What they didn’t get was that Jesus is the temple. He is the fulfillment of what the Jewish temple pointed to. He is the center of life: religious, social, economic, and political. He is the place of God’s special presence. He is the place where heaven and earth meet like nowhere else. Even more, he is not only the temple, but he is the High Priest, and the sacrifice.

He wasn’t destroying these things. He established them and fulfilled them.

The point of cleansing the temple is that they were destroying the temple and everything it stood for. He is his Father’s house. He is the final temple.

The house he had zeal for was his house.

 

 

 

Reformation

According to the German Reformer Martin Luther, Reformation begins with repentance and ends with tribulation. In his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, commonly known as the 95 Theses, Luther argued  that true Christianity is a life of repentance and tribulation.

Thesis 1: When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

Thesis 95: And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.

The Reformation is, of course, much more than the content of these two theses. But it is never less. Something to think about as we prepare to celebrate our Reformed heritage this Sunday.

A Word for Egypt

Mohammad Hussain Tantawi

It would be nice if the military council of Egypt headed by Mohammad Hussain Tantawi would have taken the same approach with Christians as Darius the king of Persia did with the Jews.

Darius said:

Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site…And whatever is needed…let that be given to them day by day without fail.  (Ezra 6:7-9 ESV)

The modern-day Pharaohs should take a cue from ancient Pharaonic history: God will not sit  idly by watching his people abused and killed.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD…“Let my people go, that they may serve me. (Exodus 9:1 ESV)

Mr. Tantawi has a chance to make all of Egypt free and bring peace prosperity, and security to Egypt. But he should know this: nothing will be able to stay the hand of God against those who abuse his people and keep them oppressed. God will act on behalf of his people.

For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will fall with a very severe plague…  (Exodus 9:2-3 ESV)

God will save his people. He will deliver them.

In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. (Isaiah 19:19-20 ESV)

Tantawi needs to understand that God wants to bless Egypt. But he will bless Egypt through his people.

In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:24-25 ESV)

The latest reports show that  Mr. Tantawi is considering a run for the presidency.  A new political group called “Egypt Above All” has sprung up encouraging him to do so. Most believe this would be a mistake and just perpetuate the policies of the prior regime. Either way, for now, Mr. Tantawi should  be careful how he treats the people of God because God will defend his people and  He will deliver them.

“Blessed be Egypt my people.”

A Declaration of Liberty?

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil

The new interim leader of the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya, Mustafa Abdul Jalil proclaimed freedom for all Libyans Sunday October 23, 2011. This is a historical date for Libya, but perhaps not in the way they think. They are now free from the four decade dictatorship of the Mad Dog of the Middle East (Muammar Gaddafi), but one wonders if this freedom will be short-lived.

Jalil said three things in his speech that ought to give all freedom loving Libyans pause. First, he said that Libya is an Islamic country. Second, that Sharia would be the law of the land. Third, he declared that any laws that are incompatible with Sharia would be discarded.

Ironically, Jalil is said to be representative of the more secular thinkers within the NTC. There will be no real freedom in Libya until the real threat to liberty is overthrown–the Qur’an–and all the so-called sayings of Muhammad.

Unless, the Libyans follow the Turks by inserting a wall of separation between the secular and the sacred there will be no true liberty. The rule of Sharia is a far greater threat to liberty than the Mad Dog of the Middle East or any of the other dictators and Monarchs of the region.

The revolutionaries in North Africa and the Middle East are rebelling against the wrong source of authority. Until they rebel against the authority of religious rule they will never be free.

Jalil would have made a real declaration of liberty had he said Libya is a secular nation. All people will be free to practice their religion according to the dictates of their own conscience. And the government will maintain a distinction between secular and sacred law. Had Jalil made this proclamation he would have made a true declaration of liberty.

Until then, Jalil’s declaration should not be called a declaration of liberty. It should be called what it is–a declaration trading one kind of tyranny for another.

How The Mighty Have Fallen

The mighty have fallen first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, and now finally in Libya. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and  Hosni Mubarak were were first. Followed most recently by Moammar Gadhafi. Ali and Mubarak were not saints but neither were they the personification of evil. That designation belongs to Gadhafi. 

More than a half-a-dozen of the most evil men in history have been deposed, tried, or killed over the past several years. And the citizens who were brutalized at the hands of these despots have rejoiced in their demise. But the future everywhere in the middle east is made more uncertain now.

It is relatively easy to take down a dictator, but it is altogether another thing to build a democracy. As Benjamin Franklin reminded us, it is even harder to keep it once you have it. Democracy is not merely about taking down a despot. It is not simply a more sophisticated form of mob rule which in the end is unsustainable. Democracy is not the automatic result of tearing down autocratic rule.

This is all the more true in the Arabic speaking world. It is not the ruler who is the biggest threat to democracy in North Africa and the Middle East . Rather, it is the rule above all rulers–namely the revelation of the prophet Muhammad known as the Holy Qur’an, and the other teachings of the Prophet in the Hadith and other parts of the Islamic tradition. The

Bismillah, the first verse of the first "...

First Verse of First Surah of Qur'an

idea of democracy in the Arabic speaking world faces a bigger threat from the teachings of Islam than from any dictator that has ever ruled over the Arabic speaking peoples.

Democracy cannot be deduced from the Qur’an. There is no Qurranic wall of separation between religion and state. There is no concept of common grace and common good or separation between God and Caesar.

This means that for democracy to take shape in North Africa and the Middle East the real revolution must be against the Qur’an, or at least against certain interpretations of the Qur’an. The supremacy of the Qur’an was held in check by the dictators who were recently deposed. But now very little if anything stands in the way of the Qur’an as the sole rule of, not only faith and practice, but all of life political and religious.

My only interests are for the minorities in the Arabic speaking world–and specifically the Christian minority. Unless there is a strain of altruism running through all the interim governments in the region (and there is no such strain) we can probably expect something that resembles democracy but without granting equal rights to minorities. The Qur’ran simply does not allow for it. And no leader in either the West or the East has demonstrated that they are willing to stand up for the minorities in these countries.

Western democracies have simply involved themselves in inter-Islamic politics between Sunni and Shia and other smaller sects of Islam. Sadly we have not even demonstrated that we can tell the difference between one sect or another maintaing an unrealistic monolithic view of Islam. Perhaps it is naiveté. Perhaps we are merely pursuing our own self-interests. Maybe it is something even more sinister. No matter, the result will be the same. Christians

A green version of http://commons.wikimedia.or...

will end up oppressed, exiled, or killed. It has already played out in miniature in Egypt just a few weeks ago. There are almost no Christians in Iraq thanks to American foreign policy. No Christians left in Afghanistan. I suspect, if we don’t change our policies we will see that scene replayed over and over again throughout the region. Indeed we have already achieved what Mohammed could only dream of–the continued de-Christianization of the Arabic speaking world.

But I vow to take as many Christians to the region as want to come with me. For every Christian that leaves we should send three to replace them. The church lived and thrived in North Africa and the Middle East for a thousand years before the Islamic invasion. Now they are a struggling but vibrant minority. But if we stand together with them we can help them recover their true heritage and once again become the intellectual and theological capitol of the Christian world.