William Bell Scott: “The Rending of the Veil”

19 12 2011

Below is a painting from the Victorian period by William Bell Scott.  Based off of the following passage found in Matt 27.45-51:

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.  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?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.  But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

The veil in the Temple was meant to separate God who dwelt in the Most Holy Place  from the people.  Only the high priest would come behind the veil, only once a year and not without blood (Heb 9.2-7).  Jesus sacrifice on the cross is a sacrifice that permanently removes the barrier between God and the people forever.  The significance of the veil being torn testifies to this fact.  As you can see from the painting, Scott is keen to stress this as a mighty wind appears to be rushing out from the Most Holy Place into the world much to the surprise and terror of the priests.  Note the sacrificial lamb on the altar as well as the crucifixion taking place just above the walls on the upper right hand side of the painting.  For an extended treatment of this topic in scripture see Heb 9.11-10.22.   How could you even begin to preach on this?  The sheer weight of the ancient plan of God unfolding in the seconds after Jesus’ death is too staggering for words.  This painting, for me, is the best attempt I’ve seen outside of Scripture to give the proper weight to that fearful, glorious, and joyful moment.

Why did the pre-conversion Paul persecute the church?

19 12 2011

“It may be observed, however, that the preaching of Jesus crucified as the Messiah would have been intolerable to Paul’s orthodoxy (as a Jew) and it seems probable that in addition to, or at least in conjuction with, his devotion to the law the early Christians’ preaching of a crucified Messiah also contributed to Paul’s persecuting frenzy.  For when Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘Jews demand a sign and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ curcified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles’ (1 Cor 1.22), we may recognize the voice of one who ‘had stumbled over it himself.’…To Paul as to every other Jew, a crucified Messiah was not only an insult to his national-political messianic hopes, it was also ‘incomprehensible absurdity,’ since the Messiah was, almost by definition, one uniquely favored by God (Isa 11:2), whereas a hanged man was, according to the law, cursed by God (Dt 21:23).  That Paul must have seen in the cross the decisive refutation of the claim that Jesus was the Messiah may be inferred from passages such as Mt. 27:42; Lk 24:20; Jn 12:34 and does not depend on whether Gal 3:10-14 can be appealed to as providing evidence of how Paul once thought.

The crucifixion at once rendered it unnecessary to give any serious consideration to the question of Jesus’ messiahship:  Jesus had been condemned not only by the court of Judaism, but by the high court of heaven itself; hence, his disciples’ claim that he was the Messiah could only be blasphemy worthy of death (Lev 24:16), and their further claim that he was risen could not be treated as anything but criminal deception.  Thus the plain sentence of the law led Paul to dismiss the claims of the Nazarenes as blasphemous and culpably false, and this, coupled with his clear grasp of the fundamental incompatibility between Judaism and the Christian faith, impelled him to give himself wholeheartedly to what he considered the unmistakable and sacred duty of uprooting the pernicious sect of Jesus’ followers.

It may safely be assumed, therefore, that Paul’s persecution of the Church was in fact caused by the offense of the cross as much as by his devotion to the law, although the offensiveness of the cross was undoubtedly rendered the more repugnant by his zeal for the law.  That he should mention his devotion to the law rather than the offense of the cross as the reason for his hostility to Christian faith is understandable in a context where he is concerned to emphasize the fervor of his early attachment to Judaism.  His purpose in Gal 1.13 is to justify his contention that the gospel came to him without human mediation (Gal 1.11):  the fact that he was an ardent persecutor of the Church shows that both his inward orientation and his conduct were incompatible with the basic principles of Christianity, so that there can be no question of his having received, even unconsciously, the gospel from the hands of the apostles of Christ.”

From Fung,’s NICNT commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, selected paragraphs from pgs 58-62

How did Jesus pray?

19 12 2011

From the “Tefillah” (“the prayer”; that is the prayer of all prayers) or “Shemoneh Esre” (Eighteen Benedictions) recited by the Jewish people since before the time of Jesus during synagogue worship.  I have excerpted the second benediction, which Jesus would have prayed throughout his life.  Perhaps as you read it, picture Jesus reciting it on the eve of his betrayal, or carrying the cross on the long road to Golgotha. 

“You are mighty, humbling the proud; strong, judging the ruthless; you live for evermore, and raise the dead; you make the wind to return and the dew to fall; you nourish the living, and bring the dead to life; you bring forth salvation for us in the blinking of an eye.  Blessed are you, O Lord, who bring the dead to life.”

to see the Tefillah in its entirety, click here

The Death of King Henry VIII

19 12 2011

Anglicans have and should be reasonably embarrassed that one of the main protagonists of the English Reformation was the scoundrel, Henry VIII, King of England.  Nevertheless, one should always remember that what you and I intend for evil God can and often does intend for good.  Below is an excerpt from Diarmaid MacCulloch’s magisterial biography of Thomas Cranmer.  In the excerpt below is a touching account of the last act of the King of England, which was a public profession of faith in Christ alone.  Those familiar with Henry’s religious struggles are well aware that Henry rejected “sola fide” but held steadfast that faith must be joined with the “works” of the church, i.e. sacraments, penance, service etc.  Of particular interest would be one last “work” to accomplish on one’s deathbed, namely the last rites.  Henry, ministered to by his friend the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, deferred last rites and contented himself with a profession of faith in the finished work of Christ.  Like the the thief on the cross, even the worst of men may find hope and grace in the mercies of Jesus.

The first definite trace of him (Cranmer) back in London is at the reopening of Parliament on 14 January 1547, a meeting whose main purpose was to seal the fate of the Howards , and while dutifully voting through their attainder with his fellow peers, he also remained in regular attendance at the Council.  This meant that he was readily on hand to do his last duty for his old master as the King lay dying on 28 January.  It was Denny who persuaded Henry that he must face death, and the King asked specifically for the Archbishop to be with him.  By the time that Cranmer reached him in the small hours of that morning, Henry was already incapable of speech, but reached out to his old friend.

Then the archbishop, exhorting him to put his trust in Christ, and to call upon his mercy, desired him, though he could not speak, yet to give some token with his eyes or with his hand, that he trusted in the Lord.  Then the King holding him in his hand, did wring his hand as hard as he could.

Quietly playing out his calling as royal chaplain, Cranmer had won a final victory over years of argument with the King on justification.  No last rites for Henry, no extreme unction:  just an evangelical statement of faith in a grip of the hand.  Thus ended the most long-lasting relationship of love that either man had ever known.

MacCulloch, D. Thomas Cranmer (Yale University Press: 1996 pg 360)