The Prince of Passion, Part I
Topical December 5, 2004
Author Jim W. Goll states, “It is my personal strong conviction that we in the Body of Christ are living in the midst of a major battle in these last days. The spirit of this world is continually raging against the Church of Jesus Christ to wear down the saints. It is a clash of passions that we are involved in! --- Consider the word for a moment --- passion. What comes to your mind? Surely images of romance and intimacy are some of the first thoughts that circulate. The word passion can mean, ‘the emotions as distinguished from reason; intense, driving, or overmastering feeling; ardent affection; a strong liking for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept.’ But it is interesting to note that Webster’s Dictionary, when defining the term passion, first describes it in the following manner: ‘the sufferings of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death; an oratorio based on a gospel narrative of the Passion.’ Isn’t that amazing?! Passion relates to our relationship with God and to His relationship with us!”
Goll continues, “Yes, we are in a battle for the restoration of our first love for our great and glorious Messiah – Jesus Christ the Lord! We must call forth passionate Christianity across (our nation and) the earth once again. After all, is He worth anything less? --- Indeed, embracing the passions of the Son of God is the medicine that the Church of this age needs!”
Author Donald L. Milam, Jr., states, “Passion is the fire of life and the energy of the soul! It is the wind that gives loft to the eagle, lifting it above the masses locked in the drudgery of apathetic inactivity. It is the fire that warms the heart in the midst of the coldness of a culture set adrift. --- Without the fire of passion a person will slip back into the slough of mediocrity and be tempted to return to the shelter of anonymity. The absence of passion will leave one isolated in his own fantasy world, always dreaming of the great possibilities of life but never committing himself to their fulfillment.”
The point we must realize is that in today’s world, and at this Christmas season above all others, we must return to a passion for Christ. Let us celebrate his birth with a passion for him! I dare say we all need a greater measure of this passion. It is the message he came to bring us all throughout the ages until his return. We must not lose our passion!
We might remember here the best and possibly most popular film of the year, The Passion of the Christ, that overwhelmingly envisioned this passion of Christ for us and his call for our passionate response to his Person and his message.
But how did Jesus begin his message to the world, calling for a renewed passion for the things of God? His brief life on earth allowed only a window – a three year ministry, in fact – in which to pour out in the briefest terms what we needed to hear.
A number of years ago a couple traveled to the offices of an Adoption Society in England to receive a baby. They had been on the waiting list a long time. They had been interviewed and carefully scrutinized. Now at last their dreams were to be fulfilled. But their day of happiness was another's pain.
Arriving at the offices of the Society they were led up a flight of stairs to a waiting room. After a few minutes they heard someone else climbing the stairs. It was the young student mother whose baby was to be adopted. She was met by the lady responsible for the adoption arrangements and taken into another room. Our friends heard a muffled conversation and a few minutes later footsteps on the stairs as the young mother left. They heard her convulsive sobbing until the front door of the office was closed. Then, there was silence.
The lady in charge then conducted them next door. In a little crib was a six week old baby boy. On a chair beside it was a brown paper bag containing a change of clothes and two letters. One of these, addressed to the new parents, thanked them for providing a home for her baby and acknowledged that under the terms of the adoption each would never know the other's identity. Then the young mother added one request. Would they allow her little son to read the other letter on his eighteenth birthday? She assured them that she had not included any information about her identity. The couple entrusted that letter to a lawyer, and one day the young man would read the message which his mother wrote on that day when, with a breaking heart, she parted with him.
Do you wonder what she wrote? If you had to quickly condense all you feel about life and love into a few precious words, what would you say? You would have no time for trivia. You would not be concerned about economics, politics, the weather, the size of house or the type of car. At such a time you would want to dwell on the important things, on what life was all about, on what things were absolutely essential – an explanation of the passion upon which real life is nourished and sustained.
You can be certain that the words this young mother wrote to her son were filled with passion. She would want him to understand the passion with which he was conceived, the passion with which she loved him, and the passion for his welfare with which she had to let him go. She would pour out her passion of joy for his life and hope for his future. Of course, as a human, she would probably also have passionately repented for the confusion she brought to his young life.
Of what sustainable value is life without passion? You can be sure that Jesus would wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Of course, he would direct us toward a deep and abiding passion for God and the things of God as the only sustainable core of a life of passion. It is the passion for God upon which all other passions of real life must rest. He himself came to raise us from the dead and compared the passion for following God to the alternative of actually being dead – spiritually dead.
“Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."” (Mt 8:21-22 NivUS)
“"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Mt 23:27 NivUS)
He went so far as to say that there was more passionate life for God among the tax collectors and prostitutes than among those of respectable religious stature.
“"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ "‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Mt 21:28-32 NivUS)
But if you think the struggle of such sinners belies their potential passion for God then take a lesson from the “Daily Bread” for December 1st – Dead Ducks Don’t Flutter (illustrate).
But it is clear from the passage we just recited from Matthew that the key to a life of passion for God is repentance. Repentance is necessary because the circumstances of this sinful life and world sucks passion for the things of God right out of us to progressively leave us cold and dead to the things of spiritual life.
So like the young woman who gave up her son for adoption and had to distill the passion of her heart into one message he would one day read, what do you suppose God would say to us if he were to distill the passion of his heart into a one-shot message for each of us to hear in the desperately short time span of our own lives?
Yes – he would tell us to repent. He would tell us with a passion to repent so that our own passion might be either found or resurrected. This is exactly the message that John, the one who was the herald for the Christ, brought to the Jews, the people of God.
John in the desert (Mt. 3:1-12) was in the great tradition of the Hebrew prophets. He was aware that time was running out. In his burning message he had no time for peripheral matters. He was not playing Trivial Pursuit nor was he prepared to splash about in the shallows. Soon the sword of Herod's guard would flash and his tongue would lie silent in the grave. Superficial people came out from Jerusalem to see him. They were intrigued by this strange phenomenon of a wild man preaching repentance. They were fascinated by frivolous things such as his dress, his diet and his fierce declamatory oratory. They wanted to interview him and then tell all their friends about their remarkable experience. "Who are you?" they asked. His answer was curt: "I am not the Christ." "Are you Elijah?" "No!" "Then who are you?" they persisted. They had their doubts about who he was but his message to their ears was clear: Repent!
There comes a moment when the preacher longs for his hearers to lose sight of everything except his message. "Don't listen to my accent. Don't look at my clothes. Don't comment on my style. Don't search my biographical details for my University pedigree. Just listen to what I am saying. Repent! Come back to a passion for God.
And Jesus picked up this same message because it was his message.
“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."” (Mt 4:12-17 NivUS)
Jesus came to incite a renewed, clarified and perfected passion for God in order to deliver us from spiritual death. It begins with repentance.
How shall we describe repentance? Repentance is the opposite of a living death.
The Romans sometimes compelled a captive to be joined face-to-face with a dead body, and to bear it about until the horrible emanating smell destroyed the life of the living victim. Virgil describes this cruel punishment:
'The living and the dead at his command
Were coupled face to face, and hand to hand;
Till choked with stench, in loathed embraces tied,
The lingering wretches pined away and died.
Without Christ, we are shackled to a dead corpse -- our sinfulness. Only repentance frees us from certain death, for life and death cannot coexist indefinitely.
(Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.)
Repentance is toward the light and life of God and will never disappoint us.
When a man undertakes to repent toward his fellowmen, it is repenting straight up a precipice; when he repents toward law, it is repenting into the crocodile's jaws;
when he repents toward public sentiment, it is throwing himself into a thicket of thorns;
but when he repents toward God, he repents toward all love and delicacy.
God receives the soul as the sea the bather, to return it again, purer and whiter than he took it.
(Henry Ward Beecher)
Repentance is the proper response toward the love of God.
True repentance hates the sin, and not merely the penalty; and it hates the sin most of all because it has discovered and felt God's love.
In fact, like we are learning in our devotional sessions on personal revival Wednesday evenings, since God is always calling us back to himself, it is not then our initiative to return. It is instead our proper response.
Repentance cannot be dismissed as theologically unnecessary. It is a work that God continuously requires of us.
One critic said he had gone to many churches and heard preachers say something similar to: "Don't try to impress God with your works" or "Don't attempt to please God with your merits" or "Don't try to keep the rules and regulations and thus win your way." He looked around at nearly slumbering collections of utterly casual Christians and wondered, "So who's trying to do any of that?"
It is a choice that must be made – to return to a passion for God. How far can this go?
I am reminded of the recently formed European Union and the huge debate over whether there should be any mention of God or the Christian religious heritage of Europe in their new constitution. The secular humanists won out since the voice of the Christians have dwindled so much over the ensuing years of diminishing passion in the European church. Ironically, now that consideration is being made to invite Turkey into the EU, an outcry is heard that such an overwhelmingly Muslim country just doesn’t fit with the Christian history of Europe. They say they would be overwhelmed by a populace of differing beliefs.
Is America very far off from this hypocrisy?
A recent news release from Illinois Family Institute, partnering with the Alliance Defense Fund, asks us to report any secular intolerance toward the use of any word with Christ in it during this Christmas season that is increasingly being called a “winter holiday” or “winter break” under the guise of diversity or tolerance. Saying “Merry Christmas” or any references to the Christian calendar are supposedly out as various public institutions react to ACLU threats.
In fact, the diversity advocates are more solicitous of Muslim holy days than Christian ones. The Indian Prairie School District in Naperville even encouraged remembrance of the Muslim Ramadan by sending out a memo to administrators to tolerant of fasting with alternative activities during lunch and P.E. times and to set aside special places of prayer for Muslims. When IFI sent word to them asking if the same respect is being shown toward Christians, no response was given.
Is the church in America very far off from similar hypocrisy?
An article on the front page of Thursday’s Chicago Tribune notes, and rightly so, that CBS and NBC have shut the door on an advertisement by the United Church of Christ that shows a bouncer at a church entrance denying admission to a pair of openly homosexual men, a young black girl, and a Hispanic man in a wheelchair. The scene fades to a message saying, “Jesus didn’t turn people away and neither do we.” The United Church of Christ has dwindling attendance and wants to let all viewers know they are welcome in the pews. Now there is nothing wrong with welcoming all who desire Christ, but what will churches sacrifice to gain attendance? On whose terms will they come? The networks denied the ad because it champions one side of the public debate on gay relationships. This is called “issue advertising”.
What is wrong with this picture? It is just that the black girl can’t help being black. The wheelchair-bound Hispanic can’t help being disabled. But the gay men have made a choice they can change by the power of God. The first two are not sin. The last is sin. Come sinners to church; but come to be changed by God. Come to repent. Change your passion for sin for a passion for Christ – and live.
Indeed a passion for God is a choice that must be made. But can this be reduced down to our genetic makeup to say that some people can and some can’t – like some scientists would have us believe in genes that govern behavioral traits like a “homosexual gene” that predisposes some to a certain desire or lifestyle?
An article in the Nov. 22nd Chgo. Trib. reports the views of Dean Hamer, author of “The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired Into Our Genes.” He says all people have an innate capacity for spirituality at some level (the Bible says that all people know that God exists) but some have it more than others. He claims to have found why that is – he has identified a gene called VMAT2 that controls chemicals to the brain that trigger spiritual consciousness. He says, “Our genes can predispose us to believe, but they don’t tell us what to believe in.” In other words, we have a capacity to believe in something, whatever that is, based upon purely physical connections. We could conclude from this then that whatever we call spiritual really isn’t spiritual at all but just a figment of our chemical makeup.
Indeed, we are physical beings, but the Bible says we have body as well as soul, mind and spirit (1Thes. 5:23, Mt. 22:37). It is God who has given us life – spiritual life that is beyond chemical or physical. That is the truth behind the gospel of our salvation – even the need for our salvation. The body houses the spirit that may return to God by faith. That is why the spirit of believers can be with Jesus in heaven after they die. Can this spiritual life be reduced to a chemical connection? No, it is a heart connection. Passion for God is a choice of the heart.
Billy Graham, who has often played the 20th century role of John the Baptizer, had these comments about the disease running rampant in our world: "We’re suffering from only one disease in the world. Our basic problem is not a race problem. Our basic problem is not a poverty problem. Our basic problem is not a war problem. Our basic problem is a heart problem. We need to get the heart changed, the heart transformed."
(Michael J. Anton, Good News for Now, C.S.S. Publishing, 1976, p. 12)
The way I read the book of Revelation, it holds us all accountable as those who compose the Church. In fact the same message with which Jesus begins his public ministry he renews from heaven – Repent!
The same message he came down to earth to give us he repeats – because it bears repeating.
Of the seven churches in Asia to which he speaks, he tells five of them to repent.
He is eminently qualified to give them this message.
“"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."” (Re 1:8 NivUS)
"--- I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Re 1:17-18 NivUS)
He holds the spirits of the churches in his right hand and spiritually walks among them as his lampstands upon the earth.
“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Re 1:20 NivUS)
What does he tell them to repent from? Rebukes like this that show we have lost our passion.
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Re 2:4-5 NivUS)
“--- unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (Re 2:22-23 NivUS)
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm— neither hot nor cold— (no temperature, no pulse, no heartbeat, no passion) I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” --- “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” (Re 3:15-17, 19 NivUS)
Christ is serious about his call to passion. His invitation stands:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Re 3:20 NivUS)
Part of his invitation has to do with allowing us to observe the difference between the future of those who sought him with passion and those who did not.
“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."” (Re 4:1 NivUS)
To those with passion:
“--- Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father— to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” (Re 1:5-6 NivUS)
And to those without:
“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” (Re 1:7 NivUS)
The time to repent is now because the time will come when it will be too late.
“The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.” (Re 16:8-9 NivUS)
People will know they must repent but they will be unable too – consumed too long by their lack of passion for the things of God.
So, this Christmas season, the latest among many in which we are increasingly tempted to be consumed by the things of this world instead of the things of our Almighty God and his Christ; how does one come to a greater passion for him?
The message Christ came to give begins and ends with Repent!
On this communion Sunday we must remember that it is his passion that ignites ours. It is our passion that responds to his. Let us repent our way to a newfound passion for Christ this Christmas season that we might worship the Christ-child in wisdom and in truth.
How might you carry that out? What things they might you do here in your church, your family, your city, to obtain and exercise passion (like attending prayer meetings and services).
Next: the passion of those in the Christmas story, and the passion of Christ himself.