The Alchemist

Before yesterday, I had never read “The Alchemist” nor even heard of it. I’m glad my ignorance has been undone. Patricia St. John has crafted something truly beautiful. Outside of biblical poetry and perhaps a few hymns, I can’t name another poem that has stirred my wonder more over the grace of God in Christ.

My Master an elixir hath that turns
All base and worthless substances to gold.
From rubble stones He fashions palaces
Most beautiful and stately to behold.
He garners with a craftsman’s skilful care
All that we break and weeping cast away.
His eyes see uncut opals in the rock
And shapely vessels in our trampled clay.
The sum of life’s lost opportunities,
The broken friendships, and the wasted years,
These are His raw materials;
His hands rest on fragments, weld them with His tears.

A patient Alchemist! He bides His time,
Broods while the south winds breathe, the North winds blow,
And weary self, at enmity with self,
Works out its own destruction, bitter slow.
Our gallant highways petered out in mire,
Our airy castles crumbled into dust,
Leaving us stripped of all save fierce desire,
He comes, with feet deliberate and slow,
Who counts a contrite heart His sacrifice.
(No other bidders rise to stake their claims,
He only on our ruins sets a price.)
And stooping very low engraves with care
His name, indelible, upon our dust;
And from the ashes of our self-despair
Kindles a flame of hope and humble trust.
He seeks no second site on which to build,
But on the old foundation, stone by stone,
Cementing sad experience with grace,
Fashions a stronger temple of His own.

From Patricia St. John Tells Her Own Story (Shoals, IN: Kingsley Press, 1993), 267.

What Do You Do in the Day of Trouble?

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“Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Rembrandt, 1633

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. –Psalm 27:4-5

King David spoke of “the day of trouble.” He should know. His neighbors weren’t the sort who drop by to borrow sugar. No, their intent was a bit more malicious. Philistia and Co. wouldn’t have been happier than to see David’s head impaled on a stick. What did David do when threatened? What do you do in your own day of trouble?

MANY THINGS

Many things are worthless in the day of trouble. But that usually doesn’t stop us from doing them anyway. I’m speaking of fretting, pacing, jittering, sighing. Of biting nails and wringing hands. Of tumbling the problem around and around in our heads like shoes thunking in a dryer. Or, when weary of all that, of distracting ourselves with media and malls and munchies and a million other bromides. Just make it go away!

SOME THINGS

But not everything is worthless in the day of trouble. Some things are good, if they are done in faith. A brisk walk might help you, or hitting the gym, or running the trails at a nearby park. Sleep can put things in perspective too. You don’t need a psychology degree to discern that a lack of sleep frays your emotions. Trust God, and go to bed. Seeking counsel from godly friends also can be helpful.

For King David, add to these good things the drawing up of battle plans, mustering the army, and taking up the sword. You too may choose to pursue justice through means and authorities appropriate to our new covenant era. Whether the day of trouble is mild or severe, some things are good to do.

ONE THING

Yet, despite these good things, Jesus tells us that only “one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42). King David says the same thing. In the day of trouble—and on every other day—our fundamental need is to be close to the Lord, gazing at his beauty and communing with him. No other thing, including those things that are good and necessary, rivals our need for this one thing.

In our day, gazing at God has everything to do with the gospel. The temple was but a shadow; Jesus is the substance. Were David to make his same request after the cross and resurrection, he would no longer ask to enjoy God’s presence in a place but in a person. We behold the beauty of the Lord in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6).

Ask God for the one thing. Ask him, for he loves to give good gifts. Then seek after the one thing by faith, with your Bible open and the word filling your mind. Redirect your gaze from your problem to the Lord. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face.

In beholding the beauty of the Lord, you will find yourself in the safest place you can ever be. You will find that you have power to do every other good thing you may need to do. You will find yourself persevering in the day of trouble. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.

A World of Languages

The 23 languages represented in this infographic include 4.1 billion of the world’s population. Among the remaining 3.1 billion people in the world, there are 7,079 other known languages.

Click here for the article, which includes a high resolution graphic that can be magnified.

Come Close the Heart of Jesus: Read the Old Testament

Jesus knew the details of his death long before he was crucified. Consider the following specifics, which Jesus shared with his disciples before they arrived in Jerusalem:

For he [i.e., the Son of Man] will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. (Luke 18:32-33)

Notice the precision of Jesus’ advance knowledge. He knew there would be mocking and shameful treatment; that someone would spit in his face; that the whip would tear his back to shreds; that he would be crucified. Jesus even knew that he would rise again on the third day.

How? How did Jesus know these details, all of which came to pass? What is the explanation of his prescience?

Some will answer, incredulously, “Well, of course Jesus knew these details! He was God in the flesh! He knew everything!” It’s true that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God, who possessed startling prophetic insight through the Spirit. But that’s not the best answer in this case. Listen to the explanation that Jesus himself gives for his foreknowledge:

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” (Luke 18:31, emphasis mine)

Jesus knew the details of his death because he had read the Bible.

Jesus knew the Bible. He had heard and read and memorized the Scriptures all his life. His self-understanding and God-appointed mission had come into focus through the word of God. The details of Jesus’ death were known to him not solely because he was the second person of the Trinity, but because he had read them in the Bible.

1. Jesus knew he would be crucified.

He had read of the bronze serpent lifted on a pole and knew it was a prophetic type of his own death (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14-15). He knew, as a curse-bearer, that he would be hanged on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23).

2. Jesus knew he would be killed by the Gentiles.

He had read the prophecy of David: “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:16-18; see Matthew 15:22-28 for a clear indication that Jesus understood the metaphor of dogs to include Gentiles).

3. Jesus knew he would be mocked, spit upon, and flogged.

He had read Isaiah’s prophecy: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).

4. Jesus knew he would be raised from the dead.

He had read David’s prophecy: “My flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:9-10; see also 30:3; 49:7-15; 68:20).

He had read Daniel’s prophecy: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

He had read Isaiah’s prophecy: “When his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:10-11; see also 26:19).

5. Jesus knew he would rise on the third day.

He had read of Jonah being three days and nights in the belly of a great fish, and understood this to be a prophetic type of his own death and resurrection (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:40).

He had read Hosea’s prophecy: “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hosea 6:1-2; see also 13:14).

Jesus knew the details of his death because he had read the Bible.

That’s neat, but what does it mean for us? To begin with, it means that we can trust the Bible. All that was written about the Son of Man was indeed accomplished. The prophecies came to pass. We can confidently build our lives and stake our eternal future on every word God has spoken.

Additionally, it means that we must learn to read the Bible the way Jesus did. Jesus understood that the Bible was speaking of him. We go astray in interpretation when our dominant impulse is to understand every verse in light of ourselves. Following Jesus’ own method of interpretation, we must first understand how Scripture finds its fulfillment in him. Only then can we make accurate application to our own lives. In other words, a sound interpretive path isn’t BIBLE VERSE(S) ► US. Rather, it’s BIBLE VERSE(S) ► FULFILLMENT IN JESUS ► US.

Finally, it means that one way of getting close to Jesus is to read the Old Testament. Read the New Testament too, by all means! But don’t minimize the value of the Old Testament in getting to know Jesus. After all, the Hebrew Scriptures were Jesus’ Bible. As Christopher Wright thrillingly puts it, you can be aware of this every time you open the Old Testament:

These are the words [Jesus] read.  These were the stories he knew. These were the songs he sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped his whole view of ‘life, the universe and everything’. This is where he found his insights into the mind of his Father God. Above all, this is where he found the shape of his own identity and the goal of his own mission. In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus.

The Old Testament may be a surprising place to come close to the heart of Jesus, but it is a sure place.