“Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me? But why do you delay? Come, do what you will.”
Polycarp, 69 to 155ish AD, on the occasion of his being burned at the stake.
There is a lot of appropriate talk about manhood, womanhood, and reflections on both given the reality of Christ.
But one thing has always made me… uneasy? queasy? I’m uncertain about the right word. But one thing I’m certain about is that machismo in the name of Christ ought to stop.
I’m a very traditional thinker in regards to gender, masculinity in the life of home and church. But macho cultural accoutrements doesn’t help but rather hinders in that area. Personally, I weight lift, I pound a heavy bag, I like sports, and I might even like MMA if I gave it a chance. But none of those things are what Christ-centred masculinity is about.
So if you trying to link Biblical man-hood with some sort of chest-thumping machismo: Stop it! STAHP!
Here’s some wiser words than mine (both from Matthew Block):
Did you know that even our spirituality or religion can become a form of self-seeking? The idolatry of self, and self-actualization, is prevalent and often shrouded in very spiritual sounding language. Hear about it fro a wiser man than I:
Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture if Canaan is reproduced in America church culture [ed. Canadian, too!] ? Baal religion is about what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh 20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there was ecstasy, there was dance. “We got girls over here, friends. We got statues, girls, and festivals.” This was great stuff. And what did the Hebrews have to offer in response? The Word. What’s the Word? Well, Hebrews had festivals, at least!…
It’s the biggest word we have – salvation, being saved. We are saved from a way of life in which there is no resurrection. And we’re being saved from ourselves. One way to define spiritual life is getting so tired and fed up with yourself you go on to something better, which is following Jesus.
But the minute we start advertising the faith in terms of benefits, we’re just exacerbating the self problem. “With Christ, you’re better, stronger, more likeable, you enjoy some ecstasy.” But it’s just more self. Instead, we want to get people bored with themselves so they can start looking at Jesus.
We’ve all met a certain type of spiritual person. She’s a wonderful person. She loves the Lord. She prays and reads the Bible all the time. But all she thinks about herself. She’s not a selfish person. But she’s always at the center of everything she’s doing. “How can I witness better? How can I do this better? How can I take care of this person’s problem better?” It’s me, me, me disguised in a way that is difficult to see because her spiritual talk disarms us.*
* “Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons” Christianity Today, March 2005, pg 45 (quote found in G K Beale’s We Become What We Worship, pg 295.)
Christ is, in death, victorious over Satan and death itself. At the moment of His greatest (seeming) defeat, He is most victorious. What the Enemy wanted most, the defeat of God’s Son, becomes what damaged his cause the most. In a great Judo move, Jesus leveraged the Enemy’s hatred of God against him to achieve his greatest defeat. Like Jonah, Christ cannot be contained by a tomb that seeks to hold Him. Like the whale, Satan has picked the wrong morsel to swallow.
The devil had, as it were, swallowed up Christ, as the whale did Jonah; but it was deadly poison to him; He gave him a mortal wound in his bowels. He was soon sick of his morsel, and was forced to do by him as the whale did by Jonah. To this day he is heartsick of what he then swallowed as his prey. Jonathan Edwards
Tomorrow we head to the water again. Where one young fellow will go into that water. Certain words will be said, he’ll be dunked, everybody will cheer, then we’ll have a picnic lunch. If visitors from another world were visiting they may think it strange. But what will really be happening? What will it mean? And who is this baptism for?
Here are some brief reflections on the eve of A.’s baptism. On what this event is about.
About You. It is about you, the baptized. It’s about your faith which has grown (and will keep growing) into desire to follow the Lord. Like an Ethiopian form a long time ago, you’re asking for it. It’s your statement to the world, the Church, yourself, and to God, that you’re really in it. That you love Him. That you’ve believed the Gospel. And that you reject the other alternatives for to find meaning in life. It is about your personal faith, commitment, and journey.
About Us. You’ll not be alone in the water. Other people will be there with you. Maybe only one person will speak the words and put you under, but it will be a whole community baptizing you. You’ve already been one of us, but now you’re joining us. Your faith isn’t just about you; it’s about a Faith that is much bigger than you. We can only be baptized once, but we’ll all be watching you. And we’ll be re-living our baptisms as we watch. Christian faith is a communal affair, and not just the community that you can meet with. This community spreads all over the world and is full of dead people from centuries past. It is about the collective faith of us all.
About Him. You’ll not be baptized into your own name but into the Name of God. You’ll be identifying with His death and resurrection. You’ll bear His name (Christian = little Christ). And you’ll be promising to follow your whole life. It will come with cost. But if you remember that it is about Him, you’ll want to bear it. Because He is worth the cost. It is about a faith in Him.
Sometimes a piece of art is more insightful than it first appears. Above is an etching from the Holman Bible of 1890, an edition known for its illustrations. It depicts the ordination of Aaron and his sons, which is the beginning of the priesthood and an all around good event. But in the crowd there looms behind Aaron’s finest moment, a cow. What is he doing there? It’s not accidental or incidental that the artist put it there. It’s a reminder, even at Aaron’s great moment, of his greatest sin.
What did Aaron do? He made a golden calf for God’s people to worship. In Exodus 32 we see the famous story:
…the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us [gods] who shall go before us…”
So Aaron said to them, “Take off your rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf.
Aaron had the responsibility to help the people towards the True God. That’s what makes his act all the more terrible. He was supposed to represent God well to them, lead, and proclaim accurately. But instead, he gave them something lesser. He gave into the temptation to portray a lesser god. In a sense, he gave the people what they wanted instead of what they needed.
What were they asking for? What were they seeking to worship? There is ambiguity as to what Israel was asking Aaron for. Were they wanting brand new, different, pagan gods? Or were they wanting to worship YHWH, the True God of Israel, but just in a way they had been commanded against? (the Hebrew word Elohim is both God and gods, only context tells us which) But what is not ambiguous is what Aaron offers. He does not claim to give them a new god. He even invokes God’s name. Tomorrow shall be feast to the LORD… He is claiming to give them the God they believe they know and already believe in. This is far more subtle than an outright choice of a different religion. They believe they are staying with God. What Aaron does is far more than offer them a new god; he gives them a domesticated idol which he lets them believe is the True God.
Is this still a temptation? As a pastor/preacher I must say that it is perennial. It is often easier to explain, offer, proclaim a far more palatable and (wrongly) appealing god than the Only God. So, when we preach (for those who are preachers) of God, do we proclaim Him as He is? Or when we share about Him with others (which everybody can do), do we tell accurately of Him? Do we shape Him to be most appealing to our audience at the expense of accuracy? Do we lessen His demands? Do we make Him less severe? Do we make Him less wonderful? Less radically gracious? Do we change or hide anything about Him?
Do we give into the Temptation of Aaron?