Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Elisha: The life-giver

They were on their donkeys when Gehazi saw them, hurrying towards him on the road. The woman was out front setting the pace and the prophet followed closely behind. He stopped to catch his breath. When they reached him, he was able to share his bad news. "The child did not awaken, " he panted.

The mother and Elisha continued on towards Shunem without a word. He followed, although he knew where they were heading. He could picture their destination clearly in his mind, having left there a short while ago. It was the woman's home. Atop the home sat a room that she and her husband had made just for the prophet. In the room was a chair and a table and a lamp and a bed. These items were there every visit, welcoming and comfortable. But now there was a sad addition: the woman's son. He had died in her arms that morning. Now his lifeless body lay on the prophet's bed.

He had been sent on ahead. He was given Elisha's staff and told to run. He had been told not to speak to anyone. He had been told, once he reached the house, to lay the staff across the boy's face. Gehazi had done everything he had been instructed. The boy's birth had been a miracle and he was expecting to see another as he placed the staff. But nothing had happened.

When the three arrived at the woman's house, Elijah quickly climbed the stairs to the roof. He strode into the room and closed the door behind him before anyone could follow. He considered the woman's son laid out on his bed. He thought back to the time he had prayed to the Lord that the woman and her husband would be given this child. Now he prayed that their son would be returned to them.

He approached the bed and stretched out on top of the boy, aligning himself with him, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, hand on hand. The boy's body was cool, but as he lay there Elijah could feel hints of warmth returning. He rose and stretched. After pacing the room for a few minutes, he lay down on the boy a second time.

The child sneezed. Then again and again, his head jerking forward slightly each time. Sneeze, sneeze, sneeze, sneeze. Still Elisha did not move. The boy opened his eyes to find the prophet Elisha's face just a hand's thickness from his own. His eyes crossed as he tried to focus.

Elisha rose now, wiping the moisture from his beard. "Gehazi," he yelled, "call the Shunammite!"

A servant and a staff were insufficient to raise the Shunammite woman's son. Only when the prophet lay himself down could the dead be raised to life.

The Bible says that we are all dead in trespasses and sins. God sent His servant Moses with the Law, but like Gehazi with the staff, that was never the solution. The Law could not bring life. Thankfully, God himself arrived to do what His servant could not. Christ came to give life —His life— to those in need. We've are made alive together with him by being joined together with Him. His life has become ours.

(2 Kings 4:8-37; Ephesians 2:4-7)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The veil: The torn flesh

He stood there a moment, before the veil, to admire it.

He knew all the facts, the facts that every priest was taught. It was a curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet thread. It was almost a hand-breath thick. It was made in the wilderness at the command of God. It separated the Holy from the Most Holy Place. But it was one thing to know about the veil or have seen it and another to have to lift it and pass behind it.

His father had warned him that it would be even heavier than he was expecting. That was something only his father, of all men living, would have known and experienced. Now he would know it too. "May the weight remind you of the solemnity of your task." He lowered his head, pushed back against these memories, and the focused again on the veil.

As his eyes traced it from top to bottom, he noticed the glimpse of silver. These were the bases that held the four gold posts from which the veil was hung. Except for the five bronze bases on the posts holding the entrance curtain, everything else in the Holy Place shone with gold in the light of the lamp.

Of course, the unavoidable feature of the veil was the cherubim that were embroider onto it. A warning. He tried not to dwell on them now because they reminded him of the cherubim that God had charged to keep Adam and Eve from returning to Eden. They reminded him of flaming swords.

He ran a last inventory. Censer? Check. Coals from the altar? Incense? Blood from the bull sacrifice? Check. Check. Check.

It was time. He placed two handfuls of incense on the burning coals of the censer. As the fragrant cloud grew and enclosed him, he lifted the veil and carefully stepped into the presence of God.

Matthew tells us that, at the moment Jesus gave up his Spirit, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This would have been a terrifying event for any priest standing in the temple at that moment. They would have turned at the sound of ripping fabric to find themselves looking, for the very first time, into the Most Holy Place. This would have been unprecedented. Only the High Priest could enter behind the veil and then only once a year and then only under very a prescribed protocol. Only, only, only.

The tearing of the veil indicates that the status quo has changed. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote that every believer, as a priest, can now come into the presence of God with boldness. The reason for this access is that Christ has created a new and living way: by the blood and through the veil. The Greek word translated "new" in Hebrews 10:20 carried with it the idea of something that is recent, but also of something recently slaughtered. That verse also makes it clear that the veil is a picture of Christ's flesh. Our new access is granted by the sacrifice of Christ, through His shed blood and His pierced flesh. It is on the basis of the sacrifice of our High Priest that we can have approach God. Even better, the way is living. It is powerful, perpetual, efficacious. A way has been opened that will never again be closed.

(Levitcus 16; Matthew 27:50-52; Hebrews 10:19-26)