Friday, March 16, 2012

THORNS & THISTLES

A friend of mine asked what was the emblem on my shirt. “It’s a thistle; Scotland’s national flower!” He made a catty comment about a thistle being a weed in Australia! What makes a weed a weed? Is a weed really just a plant growing in the wrong place? Does this not then make the English rose a weed if, like the Scottish thistle, it grows in Australia?

Regardless of how aesthetically pleasing to the eye roses and blooming thistles are, would an Australian farmer be happier with rosebushes instead of thistles growing in the middle of his cereal crop? Do you see what I’m getting at? Both the rose and the thistle have at least one thing in common; they can cause pain. This tells us something profound.

Thorns and thistles are a sign to us of God’s covenantal curse. When Adam sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, the Lord said to Him: “…Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food…” Genesis 3:17b-19a.

No longer was there a smorgasbord of delightful food laid on for him. Now man needed to toil hard for his bread in the midst of inedible thorns and thistles: weeds (i.e., plants growing in the wrong place!) Adam the ‘gardener’ became ‘Farmer Adam’ when he ate the forbidden fruit.

Out of the garden he was sent with his wife Eve to toil among the weeds in the wilderness. Angels and a flaming sword guarded the way back to the tree of life.

Enter the new Man, Jesus Christ, the replacement, i.e., the last Adam. His ministry began in the wilderness with the devil talking to Him about bread. Later Jesus asked His disciples to consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: neither do they toil nor spin; yet God provides for them. How much more will He provide for His own adopted children who toil and spin by the sweat of their brow?

As Abraham’s substitute sacrifice had its head caught in a thicket, so Jesus went to the cross with His head tangled in thorns. God’s fiery wrath came upon His head for our sins incinerating the curse. Scripture says: “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden” John 19:41a. And after He was raised from the dead Mary Magdalene saw Him “supposing Him to be the gardener…” John 20:15.

We’re back in the garden with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, ultimately the thornless and thistle-less Paradise. So, next time you see a thistle or a rose, consider the profundity of the Saviour.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

OUT OF FOCUS

A light is supposed to come on every time our automatic garage door opens. The manufacturer of the 53 watt energy-saver bulb that is the source of that light makes two claims: 1. The bulb’s 53 watts gives off the equivalent light of the 75 watt light bulbs I grew up with! 2. This 53 watt light bulb lasts 2,000 hours. Now, my analysis may not be scientific, but it seems to me that neither of these claims is true! A dud bulb makes no difference in daylight, but when I come home in the dark even a 53 watt bulb would indeed work to my advantage! 
Jesus likens the eye to a lamp that gives our body light. He says, ‘The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness’ Matthew 6:22-23. An eye that works will enable you to see. But, like a dud light bulb, an eye that doesn’t work keeps you in the dark. Jesus is of course speaking spiritually, just as when He spoke to Nicodemus, ‘If I have told you of earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?’ John 3:11. This, of course, was after Jesus had said to him, ‘Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ John 3:3b.
Why can’t we see the kingdom of God? Because we are spiritually dead and spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Therefore, we need the Holy Spirit to spiritually regenerate us by causing us to be born again. To be born again is to have the light come on and illuminate our darkened mind.
The Gospel is spiritual. ‘But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them’ 2 Corinthians 4:3-4.
The Gospel is about Christ. He is the Light of the world (John 3:19). Jesus, says, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’ John 8:12. He came into the world, ‘To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace’ Luke 1:79. We find out about Jesus and His Gospel in God’s Word. God’s Word is His revelation of who He is and who we are, what is wrong with us, and what He had done to fix what is wrong with us. Bats and beagles show no interest in the Bible. Likewise spiritually dead people. As a dud light bulb their eye is bad. So they sit in darkness – pretending it is light! The Christian? His eye is good. For, with the Psalmist he says, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path’ Psalm 119:105.
I remember enjoying a book a few years before God converted me and then rereading it after I was born again. It might have well been two completely different books! In ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by CS Lewis a senior demon (Screwtape) supposedly writes a series of letters coaching a junior demon (his nephew, Wormwood) on how to secure the damnation of a human being referred to as ‘The Patient’. This book made much more sense to me after I was converted! It was the same with the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs I sang as a youth those infrequent times I attended church. I can now sing them with feeling because I know now what they really mean! ‘Was blind, but now I see!’ Here’s how John Calvin puts it, ‘Just as old or bleary eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.’ (Institutes 1:6:1).
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, as when my garage door opens, a light would come on whenever someone opens up the Bible and reads it? But, alas! Because there is something wrong, the light doesn’t always come on and the Bible remains a closed Book. Thus Its words and message remain out of focus until God renews your mind and you are born again. But once you are born again? ‘For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord’ Ephesians 5:8. I hope that the light will come on/is on for you!