Most mornings I take a long, looping walk–nothing fancy here–a worn, comfortable hoodie and ponytail pulled loosely through my baseball cap. Often, I listen to an Elisabeth Elliot podcast, and as her words correct and exhort my spirit, a quickened pace stirs my limbs for the day’s work ahead.
There is so much abundance to be discovered in God’s creation– hawks and songbirds, deer and squirrels, puffs of clouds, sunshine warming blue skies, rain showers, stately trees, scattered flowers, and wild berries. I simply cannot understand how anyone can fail to worship the Creator of such stunning wonder. He is truly the Ruler of all.
I have a favorite spot on these ambles through partially wooded trails. A slim path by the lake where the waters sparkle, the breeze beckons, and the magnificent trees change color by season. This place has become a treasure trove of delight, now so familiar after nine months of walking these paths. Which is why I was jolted as I rounded the corner a month ago. Three of my favorite trees had been neatly severed by chainsaw.
To give context, I have dozens of photos of this triumvirate, taken during summer, autumn, and winter. One magnificent tree–the tallest of the bunch– was so resplendent that it burned in a blaze of yellow during fall. It was remarkable; truly the loveliest tree that I have ever encountered.
So I stood aghast at the sliced logs that had once been a sturdy beacon of beauty, and I pined for what was. Only three short stumps remained. I longed to observe these beauties in the fullness of springtime–and never will.
The reason they were felled?
They hindered the view of golfers as they moved down the fairway.
I know not what to say.
It is terribly sad.
This is Holy Week, and we remember.
That same Christ who was adored by the masses in the streets on Palm Sunday, was felled on Good Friday. Our gentle King of glory stood in the Pharisees’ way–he certainly was not the sovereign everyone expected to rescue people from Roman rule. Scourged, beaten, whipped, mocked. Our Cruciform King, nailed to wood, and left to suffer the cruelest, most horrific death.
Why do bad things happen to good people? someone once asked theologian R. C. Sproul. His answer? That only happened once, and He volunteered.
God is in charge of absolutely everything: the rising and setting sun, the spinning seasons, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the scattered stars twinkling by pitch of night, the story of our birth, the instant of our death, the rescue of his elect.
As Octavius Winslow once noted:
Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money, not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy, but the Father, for love!
Everything is under God’s rule–to the last iota. He sees what we cannot, and I am steadied by these words of King David:
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. (Psalm 16:5)
He holds our entire lives, our years, our weeks, our days.
1 John 2:17 tells us: And the world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever.
To accept this truth is to fully live. To welcome the will of God, our portion, moment by moment, worshipping through determined obedience, leads to a tranquil state of the soul, come what may.
This morning, upon rounding the path’s curve yet again and encountering those three short stumps, I had a flash of imagery.
Three trees gone. One had been rooted enormous –more grand and stunning and glorious than all.
That one is like Christ, glowing in splendor now, seated at the right hand of the Father. I cannot see with physical eyes but know from the truth of God’s Word that Jesus Christ is fully alive and is interceding on our behalf.
The two other stumps mirror the image of the two criminals hanging alongside Christ at Golgotha. One entered paradise as he acknowledged his guilt and sought Christ for rescue, while the other cursed Jesus and entered an eternity of torture–absent of God. (Luke 23:39-43)
Those three stumps? I now consider them gifts to ponder each morning.
This Holy Week, as I read the gospel accounts, may I reverently honor the terrifying beauty of King Jesus, who was tortured to death in my place.
Please–let’s resist the impulse to clean up the cross with flowers or smooth silken sashes, making the scene palatable; attractive. The genuine, gut-wrenching beauty of the cross–a brutal Roman instrument of torture–lies in its horror: our sinless Savior, our Cruciform King hung bruised and bleeding and virtually unrecognizable, weighted down by the sins of his people, arms stretched wide while nailed to a tree, slowly dying. Asking his Father to forgive us.
His torment for our pardon.
May I grieve over my sins as I ponder the heinous nature of the blood-soaked cross. May I mourn and repent. And then may I give thanks as I sing reverent praise for the beauty, the holiness of the empty tomb. A miracle. Our Risen Savior.
Every single breath of every single day is a cause for Easter celebration. Jesus Christ is fully alive.
Take the time to consider those quiet glories granted in human hardships. We are gifted to join in the fellowship of His sufferings. Those proud, rebellious, stiff-necked people that mock us for our faith? We were once as dead in our trespasses as they are now, but have been made fully alive, gifted by God with faith in Christ. Pray for those that hate and persecute, and then carry on in clarity and in boldness of faith.
Make no mistake–our wounds, those whippings we experience for obeying God, will yield scars. But remember too that such markings will fall earthward, to be replaced with heavenly rewards as we enter eternity and walk with Christ, upon streets of gold.
The only unfading scars in heaven? Those treasures remain on the hands and feet of Christ Jesus–an unending proof of his obedience and perfect love. (Revelation 5:6)
Scars of beauty. Scars of abundant life–giving us an eternal reason to rejoice.
No doctrine is more excellent, or necessary to be preached and studied, than Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
(John Flavel, Puritan 1671)