Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Extreme Heat"

Our memory verse (Isa. 53:10) raises the profound question of how it could "please" the Father to "bruise" and "put ... to grief" His Son! The only answer possible is to recognize that the Father (the "God [who] so loved the world that He gave [Him]") loved us more than He loved His own Son!

That stretches our poor little hearts outsize to comprehend it!

In our daily lives, to know that someone dear to us actually loves us is what makes life worth living; now try to realize that the great God and Creator of the universe, He who is infinite, cares about you personally and individually. David was greatly comforted by that thought, for he knew that he was "poor and needy" (the sooner we know that, the better for us!) yet in his poverty of soul he remembered, "yet the Lord thinketh on me" (Psalm 40:17, KJV).

Knowing and believing that, David became a great man of God. As a teenage boy, he slew a lion and a bear that tried to get away with one of his lambs he was shepherding; then throwing himself on the ground utterly exhausted, he remembered that the Lord was watching him as though he was the only person on earth. He thinks on me!

Isaiah 53 tells a little known detail about Jesus. "He was cut off from the land of the living;" "and who will declare His generation?" (vs. 8). That's Hebrew thinking: for Jesus to be murdered at the young age of 33, dying unmarried and without being a father, He is pictured as leaving no heirs so that His "generation" is "cut off." It meant that he has no part in Israel to come; it's a fate in their thinking equivalent to dying "the second death."

To heap injury on insult, Isaiah says "they [scribes and Pharisees] made His grave with the wicked" (vs. 9). The prophet says it because that was their intent and purpose. But the Father intervened and wouldn't let it happen!

Crucified victims' bodies were usually thrown on the "Gehenna" of garbage and dead animals' remains—which was the intent of the scribes and Pharisees, yes, also of Pilate (think of what these men will face in the final judgment!). Instead, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a distinguished society leader, boldly went to the Roman governor and asked for the body of Jesus (beholding the cross of Christ transformed that timid man into a bold man!). Thus Isaiah's unlikely prophecy found exact fulfillment: not with the "wicked" but "with the rich at His death" Jesus was buried (vs. 9; compare John 19:38-40).

But now, consider the good news: when we make the cross of Christ our "offering for sin," the resurrected, High Priestly Jesus is so happy that He sees in us "His seed," that is, His real "children" or descendants!

Although it "pleased the [Father] to bruise Him," the Father did not want to make the torture Jesus endured utterly unbearable. As He hung on the cross in the total darkness, having cried out, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" He had a little something bright to think about. He remembered the anointing in Bethany when Mary Magdalene poured the precious perfume on His feet and let it run to waste on the floor—a mirror image of the love expended in His great sacrifice. In remembering her deed before He had to die, Jesus was given a little glimpse ahead of time of the faith of the "144,000" who likewise will come to sacrifice their all for Him.

Abraham's "Extreme Heat"

Why did Abraham have to endure his terrible ordeal of offering his only son Isaac when the "burden of years was heavy ... and he longed for rest"? To prepare him for heaven?

There was a bigger reason. The plan of salvation required that he become the "father of all who believe" (Rom. 4:11-16), but he had failed miserably when he lied to Pharoah about his wife, and then to Abimelech the same mistake (Gen. 12:10-16; 20:2-10). Then he abandoned the New Covenant promises and married a second wife, Hagar, to help God fulfill His promises.

Now Abraham must demonstrate that he is worthy to be called "the father of all those who believe" (Rom. 4:11). He is not paying for his sins, Christ paid for them. But he is learning to appreciate the dimensions of the love of Christ for us, its "width and length and depth and height" (cf. Eph. 3:18). He is acquiring an infinitely precious insight into the character of the heavenly Father. This lets him grow from infant faith to mature faith.

And that is precisely what the worldwide "church of the Laodiceans" so desperately needs.

This is not to give the patriarch the key to enter the New Jerusalem, but to make him supremely happy when he gets there.

Along the way we are being reminded of Hosea's "extreme heat" which experience rivals that of Abraham: Abraham's "heat" was an episode of his life, over with in a short time. Hosea's permeated a lifetime of agony. If a man is enmeshed in genuine love for a woman and she plays him false, the exquisite pain he feels is indescribable.

Again, is it to give him a ticket into heaven? No; it is to acquaint him with the pain that Jesus has experienced. The world church today must not remain infantile; growing up to sense or to appreciate His "beyond-description-disappointment" is very appropriate.

—Robert J. Wieland

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 5 now in MP3 format. Listen as a podcast at Listen as a stream at pluggd.