Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bearing The Mark of Christ (Galatians 6:17)

All scars tell a story. Some people are proud to display them; others want to cover them up. Either way, they tell a story – and it often goes deeper than the skin, and sometimes doesn’t show up on the skin at all. This is more along the lines of relationships, commitments, and ”bearing burdens.”  It's the hidden hardships, wounds, and brokenness that leave very real scars that nobody sees. John Connolly wrote of one character in The Reapers: 
“He was the kind who didn't like to turn away from another's pain, the kind who couldn't put a pillow over his ears to drown out the cries of strangers. Those scars he had were badges of courage, and Willie knew that there were others hidden beneath his clothes, and still more deep inside, right beneath the skin and down to the soul.”
So what do we do with our scars both seen and unseen? Show ‘em off or hide em? Are they symbols of failure or reminders of healing? More importantly, what does Christianity teach about our moral and spiritual scars? Are they shameful reminders of failure or abuse or tragedy? What does God think of them? Is he embarrassed? Does God hate our scars? (Because if he does, He probably hates us).

 When Jesus reappeared to the disciples after his Crucifixion and Resurrection, we read that "he (Jesus) showed them his hands and his feet." (Luke 24:40) Why would Jesus do this? He is in his resurrection body, right? He has been raised from the dead! Why were these particular scars worth showing off?

1) Identity. It proved He was the same Jesus whom they had followed. Jesus was not a new or replacement God. He wasn’t a ghost. He was Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, son of Mary, crucified messiah, and now risen Lord. 

2) Empathy.  There is hardly a more obvious place than our hands on which to carry our scars. We reach out with our hands to help, heal, discipline, and 'high five'. When you have scars on your hand, everyone sees them. Jesus’ scars send a clear message: “I have suffered, too.” 

3) Hope. If Christ has wounds, we should expect to have wounds too. That may not sound hopeful, but if we want to share in the power of His resurrection, we will have to share in the fellowship of his suffering. There are no biblical alternatives.

“We a pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but are never destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4: 8-10

Christ did not leave even his wounds behind him in his resurrected body. We needed to see that He has healed wounds, not running sores. He was the Savior who suffered as well as the God who heals, and he will always be both. A wound that kills does not leave a scar. Dead people do not form scars. Our scars remind us that we are still in the land of the living.

4) Glory. A Savior who does not love enough to suffer does not love enough to care. A Savior who is ashamed of his suffering has something to hide. A Savior who proudly loves us enough to suffer and die and who can by that suffering claim his power of sin and death – that’s a God of power and might. As novelist Dean Koontz has noted: “A scar is not always a flaw. Sometimes a scar may be redemption inscribed in the flesh.”  
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When we get to the end of Galatians, we read an interesting statement from Paul:“ I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” Paul’s scars tell a story.  In Lystra, he was stoned, dragged from the city, and left for dead (Acts 14:19). He received five beatings by the Jews of 39 stripes - 195 stripes from these five beatings alone. Three times he was whipped with “rods,” a Roman punishment, and the Romans didn’t limit the number.

Paul said, “I bear on my body the marks (stigmata) of Jesus.” They clearly told a physical story. But a stigmata meant more than that. A slave could go to the temple of Heracles, take a stigmata, and receive sanctuary. No on could touch him. The god owned him. In the Roman army, new recruits would get a stigmata when they had proven themselves. Soldiers might tattoo on their arm or hand the name of a favorite general or particular god.

By claiming his physical scars as the stigmata of Christ, Paul was declaring both allegiance and spiritual sanctuary. God owned him, not anyone else. He was safe in all the ways that mattered. His suffering marked him as one being brought from death to life by the One who would one day give him the fullness of life eternal. Paul understood the connection between scarring and glory.


So what does God think of our scars?


Our scars of sin can be transformed into a symbols of hope. We read in Isaiah,“He was wounded for our rebellion and crushed for our sins, his punishment brings us peace, and by his strips we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) This isn’t a commentary on sickness; this is a window into how God handles the wounds of our sin. Jesus took physical wounds upon himself that the wounds of our sin could be healed. What do you get when a wound heals? Scars.
  • It’s the wound of addiction that has healed into a scar of “clean and sober.”
  • It’s the wound of prison that has healed into a scar of freedom. Our liberty reminds us that a God of Grace is a God of second chances.
  • It’s the wound of divorce that has healed into a scar made up of repentance, humility and forgiveness.
  • It’s the wound of pornography that has healed into a scar of virtue and genuine love. 
  • It’s the wound of hypocrisy that has healed into a scar of transparency and honesty.
  • It’s the wounds of the many ways we punish, harm and exploit ourselves that has healed into a glorious scar of worth, peace, and identity found only in a God of grace and relentless, beautiful covenantal love.
If this is your wound, give it to Jesus. You will be scarred, but only the living form scars. And the scarred can be beautiful. The scarred have been healed by a God of love. But Paul is talking about scars of commitment, those wounds received when he was persecuted for the cause of Christ. This is not the wages of sin; this is “the fellowship of His suffering.”  This is stepping out for the cause of Christ knowing we will be hurt.
  •      Health and life (depending where you live)
  •       Reputation (when we take a stand for truth and we are insulted or dismissed)
  •      Jobs (when we can’t do things that would compromise our commitment to Christ)
  •      Friends (when we have to put boundaries in place so that our faith can stay pure)
  •      Budget (when the cause of Christ trumps our personal pleasure)
  •      Emotional Life (as we are ‘broken and spilled out” for others)
Do not be afraid to bear the wounds of Christ. Be broken and poured out for the sake of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Love sacrificially. Give sacrificially. Defend your faith boldly even in the middle of opposition.  It will mark you. It will wound you. But you are among the living, and it will only leave a scar. And it will be glorious.

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