Worship Him :: Jan van Eyck, “The Adoration of the Lamb”

Jan van Eyck, The Adoration of the Lamb (detail of the Ghent altarpiece); oil on panel; between 1425 and 1429.

“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.” (Revelation 5:6)

One of the most striking aspects of the book of Revelation is the imagery that abounds within the heavenly scenes of worship. Jesus, who first appears to John in overwhelming glory (Revelation 1:9-20), now appears in chapter 5 as a Lamb looking as if it had been slain. This is a strange picture unless one is familiar with sacrificial imagery throughout Scripture, and particularly references to Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Gospel writers labor to show the connection between Jesus and the Passover festival, highlighting Jesus as the One who reveals the love of God and brings ultimate salvation and healing between God and humanity through His sacrifice. “The Adoration of the Lamb” serves as a moving centerpiece of the revered Ghent Altarpiece, assembled by Jan van Eyck and his brother, Hubert. Looking at it, our attention is immediately drawn to the Lamb, standing strong yet bleeding, on the heavenly altar at the very center of this panel, which is surrounded by eleven interior panels on the altarpiece. The quotation mentioned above from John 1:29 is written in Latin on the altarpiece itself, while the fountain below the Lamb has written on it in Latin the phrase: “This is the fountain of the water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb” (drawn from Revelation 22:1). All around the Lamb at the center are angels and human figures who gather in worship before Jesus Christ the Lamb of God. When we consider the wonders of what Jesus has done through His life, death, and resurrection, what can we do but worship Him? He is worthy!

The Wonder of the Cross: my 2022 Good Friday message

A few people asked me if I would post my message from yesterday’s Good Friday services at Eastbrook, so here it is. The message was based out of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”


“Oh the cross…what You’ve done…It was more than enough…Oh the cross…what You’ve done…the power of Your blood was more than enough.” Those are the striking words we’ve just sung together.

In a letter to early Christians in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes these striking words: 

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

How can it be that this message – this gospel – can simultaneously be foolishness to one group and simultaneously reflect God’s power to another group? How can it be that on the one hand some people discount the message of the Cross as utter stupidity (the Greek is the same root word from which we derive our word “moron”) while on the other hand other people would describe it as the wisdom of God? 

I believe it is both puzzling and somewhat understandable. Let me lead us today in a reflection on five aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus which could be seen as utter foolishness and yet reveal the power and wisdom of God.

First, in His incarnation, which leads to the crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah took on human flesh so that God might restore broken humanity from the inside out, bringing us back to God.

The insurmountable gap between a holy God and a sinful humanity could not be crossed from the human side. It required God’s initiative. Not only did it require God’s initiative, but God took initiative by doing something that may seem utterly shocking and incomprehensible. God entered human experience and life to bring human life back from the inside. God took on human flesh and bone and, in a sense, lived in our skin. God entered the everyday aspects of flesh-bound human experience. As Eugene Peterson captures it in The Message, “The Word [that’s Jesus] became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Jesus lived a perfect human life within the flesh. He was not an alien being in our midst, but became one of us, to bring our everyday flesh-bound human experience back to God. Our everyday lives are made sacred with God because Jesus lived an everyday life for God, too.

Second, in the crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah died under sin’s power that we might be set free from sin’s power.

Since the time of Adam and Eve, humanity has been caught under the power and influence of sin. It is something we see and experience in the world around us: the violence of one person against another, injustice and prejudice that pit one group against another, the misuse of money that enriches some at the expense of others, the tendency of nations toward war, and so much more. We see and experience that also in ourselves: the way we desire things we shouldn’t have while ignoring the gifts right in front of us, the lies we tell, both big and small, the cycles of addiction we cannot seem to get free from, the hurts some inflict on us that warp our thinking and the hurts we inflict on others that do the same to them. We are, as it were, trapped in a prison of sin. To remove someone from prison, you can send a message that they are free, but eventually someone must come and open the door. Someone must come into the prison to liberate the captives. And this is exactly what Jesus did.

Although it may seem strange or foolish to say that Jesus must die for our sins, Jesus could not deal with sin partially. He had to take the full effects of our captivity upon Himself. And if we, as human beings, are trapped in an endless imprisonment of sin that is not only a life sentence, but also a death sentence… 
Well, Jesus must take that death sentence for us. And so, He enters the prison of sin, takes the death sentence due us, and through the crucifixion and resurrection sets us free from a prison we could never escape from. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Third, in the crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah was beaten and torn that we might be healed and whole in God.

“How could it be,” some might say, “that God would not only enter our human experience and then be beaten and torn for us? If God was powerful, He would not allow such a thing to happen.” Yes, this seems far-fetched, perhaps even like a form of insanity, but God knows this is the only way. If broken human lives are going to be made whole, it requires more than a surgeon. If broken humanity is going to be made right, it requires more than someone watching from the outside and giving advice. In fact, it takes someone fully living life with God from the inside. Otherwise, human beings might always say, “No, it is not possible for meto be whole. No, it is not possible for me to be healed. No, it is not possible for me to be made right.” 

When a budding athlete wants to know how to excel at their sport, they look to those who have gone before them and have excelled. When a writer wants to know how to do their best at their craft, they look to those who have gone before and have mastered it. So, too, if we want to know how to live whole and healed in God, we need a picture of what that can look like, not in abstraction, but in flesh and bone. Jesus walks within human flesh and bone so that we see what it looks like and know, by God’s power, what is possible “Yes, we can be healed in Christ. Yes, we can be whole in God. Yes, things can be made right through Christ.” As Isaiah the prophet tells us:

“The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5b). 

Fourth, in the crucifixion, Jesus was mocked and vulnerably exposed that we might receive a new identity and restored dignity with God.

One of the most apparently foolish things to claim about Jesus is that He was God, but also that He was vulnerable on earth. In one sense, we know that God is vulnerable all the time. People say all sorts of things about God in the abstract and seem to get away with it. Some people bless God, but others curse Him. Some people say wonderful things about God, while others say terrible things about Him. Amazingly, God seems to handle all that and we don’t think much about it.

But on the Cross Jesus takes on another level of vulnerability. He is terribly mocked by several voices. He is derisively mocked as the Messiah. He is sarcastically mocked as the Son of God. He is mocked in relation to His teaching. He is mocked in relation to His claims to power. 

Beyond the vulnerability of mocking, on the Cross Jesus becomes vulnerable in an even more unimaginable way. I know you may have seen all sorts of artistic renditions of Jesus’ crucifixion, but I hope you don’t mind me telling you that Jesus was stripped absolutely naked to be crucified. Nakedness is the epitome of vulnerability and exposure. And here is Jesus, affixed to a cross in public view, absolutely vulnerable and mocked.

Why would God do this? It may seem foolish. Yet God enters human vulnerability so that no matter what sorts of mocking or exposure we have endured, no matter how vulnerable we have been in our lives, God has been there too. The God of the universe entered that experience to breathe the spiritual breath of His Holy Spirit upon us there. He gives us a new identity as sons and daughters of the most High God, and says that we—mocked, exposed, vulnerable—are worthy of dignity from God. He went to great lengths to show us this. 

Fifth, in the crucifixion and His death, Jesus the Messiah endured pain and separation from God that we might experience the love of belonging with God. 

You may remember that at one point in His crucifixion, Jesus cried aloud, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus experienced real physical pain, but that pain was surpassed by the rending Jesus experienced in relationship with His Father. This is the Father that Jesus had described at one point with this phrase: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). But on the Cross, Jesus experienced a chasm between Himself and the Father as He took our sin, our pains, our wounds, our mocking, our vulnerability, and more on Himself. 

“How can this even happen? What foolishness is this?”, some might way. We respond, “Only God could do such a thing.” We were lost, like the prodigal son, in a far country but Jesus the true Son came in search of us to bring us back to God. He experienced the agonizing pain of separation from God yet did so that we might find belonging and love in God. As we read in one of Paul’s letters, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26).

So, ponder with me the wonder of the crucified Jesus. Some may say such a message at the heart of our faith is foolishness, but we say it is the power of God. Or, as the Apostle Paul continues: 

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:22-25)

Thank God for His grace amidst all our false and failed sacrifices that have led Jesus to this Cross. 

And as we savor the gift of salvation won for us at the Cross, may we thank God for Jesus, the real sacrifice, on this Good Friday.

The Weekend Wanderer: 11 April 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


116036“Before Christ Rose, He Was Dead: The truth of Holy Saturday is that God is with us, even in our mortality” – There may not be a lot of attention in some Protestant churches to Holy Saturday, but that is the celebration of today. When Kelly and I attended an Anglican Church immediately during our latter years of college and both served on staff there afterwards, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday was a highlight of our year. Here is Travis Ryan Pickell reflecting on the meaning of Holy Saturday, and why it is so powerful for our faith.


merlin_170541216_a781cc8f-885d-4337-83d3-e626a77abebf-superJumbo“I Miss Singing at Church” – The Christian faith is a singing faith. Paul writes in Ephesians that believers should encourage “one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). While our family does sing together, in the midst of COVID-19 one of the things I miss most is singing with other believers around me. Here is Tish Harrison Warren reflecting on the same sort of thing in The New York Times: “I miss the congregation singing at the church where I’ve served as a priest for three years. If I could hear them sing this morning, I wouldn’t mind if the person behind me was off key. I would even take a whole load of my least favorite songs, the ones I find plodding or cheesy or overdramatic, if I could just hear them sing with me.”


singing“People Are Remembering What Music Is Really For” – Speaking of singing, here is Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic highlighting the way people are engaging in good old-fashioned sing-alongs during this time. Perhaps it is a recovery of what music is really for. For those of us in singing churches, we likely already know this, but the implications for the broader culture are significant artistically and socially. “Here is the kind of crowd culture we can, when we’re lucky, enjoy during isolation. Everywhere, the coronavirus has turned empty streets into acoustically rich amphitheaters.”


Every Moment Holy“Every Moment Holy: New Liturgies for Daily Life” – I first became familiar with Every Moment Holy when our friends came over for brunch and we shared in one of these simple liturgies together. These simple liturgies open up aspects of everyday life to God, while simultaneously opening our awareness to God in the midst of everyday things. They have shared some free liturgies during the time of COVID-19 that you may find meaningful, such as “A Liturgy for Those Flooded by Too Much Information” or  “A Liturgy for Medical Providers.” Enjoy.


Priest taping photos in worship“With coronavirus shutdown, priest tapes photos of his parishioners to pews” – The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offered this view into how different ministers are dealing with leading worship and preaching with empty pews during the time of COVID-19. Here is the rector of the Basilica of Saint Josaphat, Rev. Lawrence Zurek, borrowing an idea from creative priests in Italy, taping photos of his parishioners to the pews throughout the worship space.


Francis Collins“How NIH chief Francis Collins is trying to get people of faith to wake up to coronavirus realities” – Some of you may be familiar with Francis Collins through his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. You may not know that Collins is the longest-serving director of the National Institute of Health, which also makes him the supervisor of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has featured so prominently in the press briefings related to COVID-19. Here’s a taste from this interview with Collins at The Washington Post: “There’s a natural instinct for people of faith who are loving and wish to give themselves to others who are hurting to rush in the direction of people who are vulnerable or who are suffering. And over the course of many centuries, people of faith have, to their great credit, put themselves in harm’s way. Right now, they could focus their efforts on trying to supply, nurture and support all of their flock who are struggling right now. This is stressful. This may lead to people having fears, anxiety and other mental-health issues. Pastors ought to be doing everything they can to maintain that connection but not put people at risk.”


Anna Wilson“Anna Wilson: I’m more than a basketball player and more than Russell Wilson’s sister” – A friend shared this ESPN interview with Anna Wilson with me last week, and I found it to be a really interesting read. As the title suggests, there is so much more to her story than her Stanford basketball career and her life as a sibling to football star Russell Wilson. Anna recounts how her faith in Christ has shaped her life in very profound ways, even in the midst of personal suffering.


45005996815_d784be17f1_o-1536x960“2,500 Museums You Can Now Visit Virtually” – In the midst of these terrible circumstances of the pandemic, there are some beautiful things happening. With reference to 2,500 museums that you can now visit virtually, Hakim Bishara provides a sort of top twelve list of museums you can visit while under “safer at home” restrictions.  If you really do not know what to do while stuck at home, don’t miss the chance to visit the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Gallery in DC, the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, or some of these other gems.


 

Music: Matt Maher, “Christ is Risen,” from Alive Again

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]