Holy Week gives us an excellent opportunity to simply take time to look beyond ourselves. When I was little kid, lying in bed at night, I would sometimes become terrified and overwhelmed with the idea of death. I was so petrified of the notion that after death I would be snuffed out of existence for eternity. I’d turn on all the lights and desperately try to distract myself from my deepest thoughts. It didn’t help much that the first dream I can remember as a kid was being chased by the devil with a pitchfork. It made me concerned about the destiny of my eternal state. Ultimately, the only thing that cured me from these panic attacks was the Gospel and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I had to look beyond myself.
With the suffering death and resurrection of Christ, no kind of death should trouble a person clinging to Christ. As the angels said, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?” And as Athanasius declared in On the Incarnation, “A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.” Often we look upon the cross and see violence foremost. It is our sin that put Christ there. But Jesus bore the entire weight of the world and it could not contain him. He was beaten, mutilated, and scourged, but the Father glorified Him in death. Hillary of Poiters noted:
The sun, instead of setting, fled, and all the other elements felt that same shock of the death of Christ. The stars in their courses, to avoid complicity in the crime, escaped by self-extinction from beholding the scene. The earth trembled under the weight of our Lord hanging on the cross and testified that it did not have the power to hold within it him who was dying.
For Syria’s Christians, it’s a time of great peril and uncertainty. Over the Holy weekend, one Christian in Syria summed up the situation in The New York Times: “Either everything will be O.K. in one year, or there will be no Christians here.”
In Religion & Liberty, Metropolitan Hilarion gives considerable attention to the plight of Christians in Syria and the Middle East. On ecumenical relations, the Metropolitan also talks about the obstacles of a united front for Christianity because of doctrinal liberalism within some Protestant branches, who incessantly rebel against historic Christian teachings. Metropolitan Hilarion is a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church and chairman of the Department of External Church Relations.
“First Citizen and Antillon” by Samuel Hearne is a timely contribution given the rise of religious persecution in America today. The Charles Carroll of Carrollton and Daniel Dulany debates in 18th century Maryland helped to advance religious freedom in the colonies. Charles Carroll was the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence and the last signer to pass away in November of 1832.
The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Metropolitan Phillip II (1507 – 1569). Phillip was a martyred Russian Orthodox monk. His life and courageous testimony serves as an example for Christians everywhere.
One of the most misunderstood and maligned aspects of businesses throughout history and certainly today are profits. Profitable companies and services still stir considerable misunderstanding and even rage in some. Rev. Robert Sirico offers an excerpt on “The Role of Profits” from his book Defending the Free Market.
You can check out all of the content in the R&L issue here. The next issue features an interview with Peter Schweizer on cronyism. Schweizer is a best-selling author and fellow at the Hoover Institution.
The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:44)
One of the most beautiful aspects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that everything Christ does is for the purpose of raising up humanity. The raising of Lazarus of Bethany in John 11 is of course an obvious prelude to our own resurrection and the power of Christ over death. His power is not just limited to raising the dead but restoring the decayed, literally a corpse that had begun to rot. The spiritual lesson concerning Christ as the chosen one to restore and regenerate humanity is hard to miss. Only the Author of life can resurrect the dead and stand in as the new Adam.
Many today are walking around in their grave clothes. They’re lost and burying themselves in sin, shame, and guilt. In John 11 we have Christ showing up after the funeral where Lazarus’s sisters are mourning his loss. The incarnate Christ, who fully understands the general misery of the whole human race, presents himself as the Messiah with even greater clarity on this day.
When the Word of Life speaks, commanding Lazarus to “come forth,” his voice as Word revives the dead and brings new life. Easter is the seal of the truth and glory of Christ. Amazingly, because of Easter, the Scottish theologian Hugh Mackintosh was able to say, “The heart of man and the heart of God beat in the risen Lord.”
We are now witnessing how some make the tie between human tragedy and federal spending. Just yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shamelessly implied that the accident that killed seven Marines in Nevada is tied to spending cuts from sequester. Hollywood actor Harrison Ford lamented that “accidents are going to happen” in aviation because of sequester. It’s almost if more government spending is needed to appease the wrath of the Divine State. If not appeased, wrath will reign down on humanity and nature if not given due alms. We know from Exodus that the Lord our God is a jealous God, but is the federal government a jealous god too? Slowing the rate of growth of this god stirs up anger.
We are being told by lawmakers and citizens that we can’t afford to cut federal spending. Never mind that almost every single American has noticed no change from a paltry and temporary slowing growth rate from sequester. But we are told it’s far too dangerous for our safety and humanity’s future. Never mind that we read absurd stories daily about federal spending initiatives that study why lesbians are fat or why they drink more than the general population.
Washington now has the inability to come together to at least make any responsible strides to curtail our spending crisis. Even throughout American history it has generally been understood by both parties that the federal government can’t or shouldn’t solve all of our problems. Instead, we see lawmakers almost ritualistically dancing on the dead bodies of innocent victims in their call for more spending and government involvement in our lives. It’s becoming a gruesome cult like practice.
In Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver declares, “It is likely that human society cannot exist without some source of sacredness. Those states which have sought openly to remove it have tended in the end to assume divinity themselves.”
We’re witnessing increases in attacks on religious liberty, sin taxes, and massive centralization and debt. We need to ask ourselves going forward if a jealous government god is going to want to continue to compete with the Church?
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary believes that Jesus had an economic plan. She’s written a book, #Occupy the Bible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power, and claims that Jesus came to reverse economic inequality.
When Jesus announced his ministry as “good news to the poor” and to “proclaim the Year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4: 18-19), he meant that he wanted his society to have a year when economic inequality was reversed. That’s the “Year of the Lord’s favor” or the biblical “Jubilee” as I write in the Chapter 6: “The Jubilee, or, Jesus Had an Economic Plan” in #OccupytheBible.
Her recent article in the Huffington Post has some merit. She points out that Americans need to do a much better job at lifting people out of poverty, and that children in our country should not be hungry. However, the idea that Jesus came, not as a Savior for our sins, but as some sort of economic guru who started an Occupy the Roman Empire movement is not only absurd, it’s theological contortion.
Jesus’ economic plan was pretty simple: “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt. 22:21) Putting that Scripture in context, one notes that Jesus was replying to the Pharisees who were trying to trap him into speaking out against the Romans. He quietly turned the tables on them.
Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus condemn wealth in and of itself. He demands the same from both the poor and the wealthy: to store up treasure in Heaven, to love God and others, and to take up our crosses and follow Him. It’s not much of an economic plan, but then Jesus wasn’t an economist. He had bigger things on His mind.
A Reuters article highlights the fact that U.S. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack is praying for rain to help relieve droughts in the Midwest. The drought is having a significant impact on farmers and their crops. The negative affect will of course inevitably lead to higher food prices as the supply is cut. Experts say it could be the most severe dry spell since 1950.
The lack of rain and heat is really a simple reminder of our lack of control over the created order. Even with all of our technological advances and gadgets, we are still dependent on God. Sometimes it seems our culture and society has forgotten the source of life. Secretary Vilsack recognizes the need for prayer, and often times, governors, especially of farm states, will issue declarations for citizens to pray for rain.
God of course uses rain and droughts to get the attention of His people. The Old Testament is full of teaching on God’s use of droughts and rain to teach theology, obedience, judgment, and favor.
On the Ricky Skagg’s album Ancient Tones, there is a song titled “Give Us Rain.” Part of the lyrics to the tune certainly speak to us today,
Grandpa raised a family on a worn out cotton farm
Borrowed money on his word, he never did nobody harm
Sometimes he’d get discouraged when a dry spell came around
He’d go out in the cotton field and he’d kneel down on the ground
Give us rain on this dry old ground today
Give us rain, wash the troubled times away
I believe you’re faithful, I’m not meaning to complain
But Lord we sure could use a little rain
Lord we sure could use a little rain.
We can’t say for certain what the lack of rain means, but we know that God can give us rain. We can use the reminder that we are a world dependent on God and His goodness for our life and sustenance.
2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. For the Winter 2012 Religion & Liberty issue, now available online, we interviewed Reformation scholar Herman Selderhuis. Refo500, under the direction of Selderhuis, wants to help people understand the meaning and lasting significance of the Reformation. Selderhuis and Refo500 are already playing an essential role in promoting the anniversary and Acton is honored to be a part of that endeavor as well.
For myself, Reformation study was critical to my own spiritual formation. Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand is just one book that has had a lasting impact in my life.
The “In the Liberal Tradition” figure is Francis Hutcheson. Hutcheson, of course, would do much to shape the notion of rights in the American colonies.
Let me also say something about the expansion of Rev. Robert Sirico’s column for this issue. We have excerpted a passage from his new bookDefending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy. It will be available from Regnery in May of this year. Anybody who is an admirer or feels they can learn something from Rev. Sirico will cherish this publication. It really serves to remind us all just how much the Acton Institute and its mission makes sense.
There is more in this issue. Check out the editor’s notes for all the details.
A marvellous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat. ~ Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word.
Job in the Old Testament called out to God begging for a mediator or advocate, begging for somebody who could understand the depth of his affliction and agony (Job 9). Such is the beauty of Christ that he came not to teach or merely talk about suffering, but to suffer for us. No longer can we say our Lord doesn’t understand us or that our own suffering is in the shadows. We worship one who has borne the entire agony and sin of humanity and felt the entire weight of separation from the Father. Through his suffering Christ knows us and is familiar with us. He calls us His own. And through his supreme agony he never ceased to call to the Father, providing us an example in our own affliction.
Jesus, who from eternity experienced perfect relationship with the Father, was separated, cursed, and made sin for us. It is certainly far more agonizing than anything we could ever experience. The country singer songwriter Hank Williams stated it well, “Sometimes I get so weary inside, but then I remember how my Jesus died.” Thomas Oden declared in The Word of Life:
No matter how many commentaries we read, it is impossible for us to know – sitting in an armchair – how forsaken he was and what that meant. However deep it was, it was God-incarnate who was experiencing that forsakenness.
His atoning life pardons us from our sin and is literally our lifeblood. In an Easter sermon Martin Luther preached:
For we are called Christians because we may look at the Christ and say: Dear Lord, You took all my sins upon Yourself. You became Martin, Peter, and Paul, and thus You crushed and destroyed my sin. There (on the cross) I must and will seek my sin. You have directed me to find it there. On Good Friday I still clearly see my sin, but on the day of Easter no sin is any longer to be seen.
As we meditate on the cross and its meaning this week, we take full comfort that our Lord is at the right hand of the Father. We remember that perfect innocence was violently slaughtered on our behalf. Advocating for us now, humanity is imprinted with the image and person of Christ. Christ is marked forever by our transgressions. It was Luther who said the angels are envious of humanity, “They worship Christ, who has become our Brother, our flesh and blood.”
It is abundantly clear that the more we study and think about Christ and everything He accomplished, it is impossible to form an Easter processional on earth long and loud enough to pay tribute to the fulness of His glory. But if we truly believe, we should never balk or withdraw from sharing what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ. Charles Wesley put it this way in 1742:
Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands…
Dolphus Weary has a remarkable story to tell and certainly very few can add as much insight on the issue of poverty as he does. When you read the interview, now available online in the Fall 2011 R&L, or especially his book I Ain’t Comin’ Back, you realize leaving Mississippi was his one ambition, but God called him back in order to give his life and training for the “least of these.” One of the things Weary likes to ask is “Are you going into a mission field or are you running away from a mission field?” It’s a great question we should all ask ourselves.
This is the percent of children living with one parent rather than two. These children, victims of what many call ‘family fragmentation,’ start out with tremendous social and educational deficits that are hard to narrow, nevermind close. These are most often the children for whom upward mobility has stalled. Their economic well-being has led to decline in American competitiveness and also the deeper cleavages of inequality that have been so widely noted.
The Russian philosopher and writer Vladimir Solovyov is the “In The Liberal Tradition” figure this issue. Dylan Pahman has already profiled this piece on the PowerBlog so check out his comments here.
There is more content in the issue and the next interview in R&L will be with Reformation scholar and Refo500 director Herman Selderhuis.
Finally, I just want to say learning from Dolphus Weary’s story was a spiritually enlightening experience. I read his book in one night in preparation for the interview and he is truly humble. While Weary offers a lot of insight, I believe his greatest strength is teaching and leading through example. It’s no wonder many ministries have tried to replicate what he has done and now does in Mississippi. There is something to be said for somebody who remains tied to their roots and is proud of where they come from, especially if where they come from may look hopeless by the world’s standards.
With its subject, use of Scripture, and majestic soaring choruses, George Ferederic Handel’s Messiah is easily the most recognizable musical piece in Western Civilization. It is also perhaps the most widely performed piece of classical or choral music in the West. After hearing a performance of the Messiah, fellow composer Franz Joseph Haydn simply said of Handel, “This man is the master of us all.” Not to be outdone, Beethoven declared, “Handel is the greatest composer who ever lived. I would bare my head and kneel at his grave.”
The text of the Messiah, compiled from Scripture, was sent to Handel by his friend Charles Jennens and begins with Isaiah 40, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” Part 1 of the Messiah deals with the prophetic pronouncements of the Virgin Birth, and the actual birth account taken from Luke’s Gospel. Part II deals with Christ’s passion and his atoning death, his resurrection and ascension, and sending out of the Gospel. Part III is a celebration of the general resurrection of the dead, the day of judgment, the victorious nature of Christ and his triumphant reign. It is a bounty of Christian doctrine packed into an English oratorio. Amazingly, Handel composed the work in 23 days. Quoting the Apostle Paul, Handel said, “Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows.”
Messiah is so masterful and celebrated it overshadows some of Handel’s other stellar work. Concerning the Messiah in particular, there is quite a bit of information out there about Handel the entrepreneur. Below is an audio story about Handel’s entrepreneurial endeavors and his charitable work tied into the Messiah that aired on PBS in 2009. You can watch the video version of the story here.
The Royal Family, fellow Germans from the same region of Hanover, were staunch supporters of his work, but this did not translate into financial security for Handel, as the Crown only sporadically underwrote his opera seasons. When weddings or other occasions called for it, the Hanovers commissioned music from him, but this was never enough to live on, and, anyway, Handel was no court composer. By temperament he was an entrepreneur. He spent several months of every year striking business deals with theater owners, auditioning and hiring singers, and rehearsing and performing instrumental music, operas, and oratorios. His fortunes rose or fell with the public’s reception of his music, and there were lean times as well as prosperous ones.
Messiah, while popular at the time, was certainly not as beloved as it is today. There was controversy surrounding the performance, specifically that such a sacred piece of music would be played outside of the Church and in secular music halls and venues. And while Messiah was composed for charitable purposes, it showcased more of Handel’s entrepreneurial skills and willingness to take risks.
Handel, a devout Lutheran, loved sacred music and believed every word of what he wrote and composed. As mentioned earlier, Handel took a lot of risks with his music because he liked to perform what he loved most. He was bankrupt at various times in his life and had fallen out of favor with the public. Just a few years before the Messiah was composed, Frederic the Great declared that, “Handel’s great days are over. His inspiration is exhausted.” Handel himself was even close to being sent to debtors prison. Before Messiah, Handel conducted what he thought would be his last performance and retired for a time. When Messiah was first performed in 1742, it raised enough money to free 142 men from debtor’s prison so their sons and daughters would not be orphans.
Many readers have of course seen the Messiah performed and may have attended a performance this year or selections may have been performed in their places of worship. It was originally intended as a Lenten piece, but is now largely played in the Christmas season. What is so remarkable about the Messiah to me is not that it is just such a majestic and beautiful work of music, but that it is impossible to separate Christ from the performance. While many sacred works are embraced by a secular world and secular music performers, the meaning of the Messiah is so plain it cannot be overlooked. In fact, Jennens selected the text of Messiah to counter the rising arguments of the deists and secularists of his day.
Messiah thunderously crushes the secular agenda and goals of today or of any period. Theologian Tom Oden offers some profound words on the Western world and Christ in his systematic theology The Word of Life. “It would be strangely unhistorical if the historians accidentally ignored him [Christ] or decided to study all figures except the one who has affected Western history most,” says Oden. He adds that “Western history would not be Western history without him.” Later on Oden observes, “Deeper even than the mystery of his astonishing historical influence is the simpler, starker question that rings through Christian reflection: Cur Deus Homo? Why did God Become human?” Handel answers that so thoroughly, beautifully, and triumphantly with his Messiah.