I have no explanation as to how it happened, but the next thing I knew, I was outdoors. The fresh air was as welcome as a sea breeze in a heat wave.|
It was a beautiful sunny morning – as far as earth’s mornings go. I seemed to still be in First Century Palestine and Jesus was addressing a crowd. Unlike when I first witnessed such a scene, I was wearing my Twenty-First Century clothes. (Some might say my dress sense belongs in the previous century but that’s another matter.)
In an insane craving for time to travel in what I had devoted a lifetime to regarding as the proper direction, I clawed at the hope that this was still after Jesus’ resurrection. Having finally progressed to that point in history, my mind recoiled from the thought of flipping any further back in time.
I had been stubbornly maintaining a theory that I must have been thrust back to the First Century when first arriving at that endless palace and that ever since I had been moving in the same comforting direction (if not speed) that I had come to expect from birth.
For time to travel in just one direction is measly compensation for someone who was almost two thousand years away from home. Nevertheless, I found myself clinging with irrational desperation to this fragile semblance of normality.
One terrifying leap backwards in time, then zipping from one corner of the cosmos to who knows where, and even losing consciousness for unknown periods, was alarming enough, without lurching back and forth in time willy-nilly like an out of control rollercoaster. Such was my fear, that even if my theory had more holes than Swiss cheese at a shooting range, I think I would have still clung to the brain-frozen hope that any divergences from the theory were but minor aberrations that would disappear if I knew all the facts.
For saner people, that ‘nursery’ experience when I saw the resurrected Lord might have smashed the theory. I guess my mind had so recoiled from the implications of what was virtually other people’s hallucinations that I had dismissed that ‘nursery’ into the ‘does not compute’ category. Then there was repeatedly going back to the palace, but that, too, had a different feel about it. At least one of the revisits seemed more mental than physical and maybe angelic celebrations continue for an outlandishly long time, or perhaps there were several similar gatherings.
As a kid, I discovered old reruns of the original Star Trek. I might have idolized Mr. Spock but my shorter ears have let me down horribly. I had fallen so humiliatingly short of Spock’s cold grasp of logic that I can barely understand myself, let alone expect anyone else to. From the cozy security of a twenty-first century armchair, I myself would have expected me to have handled it better.
All of this was exposing an embarrassing quirk that had never surfaced before these zany events began. Reality has a nasty habit of stripping to shreds one’s arrogant presumptions, until smug assurance turns out to be nothing but delusions of grandeur. It might not be pretty, but I’ve proved first hand that it is one thing to imagine being in a situation far beyond my most off-the-wall experience; it is quite another to actually be there. Whether you could have handled it better, neither of us is likely ever to know.
My hang-up might be as illogical as a fear of confined spaces but, to my consternation, I do not even know how embarrassed I should be about it. You might think I should have been over this by now but none of us has anyone to compare me with. And there are certainly no scientific studies to consult as to how humans cope even with controlled, informed time travel, let alone being uncertain if they really have travelled in time and, if so, to what era, nor (and this is the big one) have the vaguest idea of how to return. My reaction might have been perfectly normal. It might even have fared better than most would. I keep worrying, however, that my reaction was not normal and that it means I’m a wimp.
I was beginning to hear words that sounded a little like those recorded in a gospel as delivered prior to the Messiah’s death but who says our Lord never repeated himself to get his message deeper into people’s memories hearts and for the benefit of those not present earlier?
For a split second I felt strange. It was almost as if there had been some kind of slight jolt (an earth tremor?) but I did not feel it in my body and I heard nothing. It affected only what I saw. It was as if Jesus’ arm and the angle of his head were instantly in a different position. He was seated with his legs crossed but I could not recall them being crossed before. A large bird of prey was flying in the background that I had not noticed a moment ago. I had been focusing on Jesus but in my peripheral vision I imagined I detected vague changes among the crowd.
Everything was now normal. It must have been my imagination. Or had I nodded off to sleep for a second and then suddenly wakened? I was not aware of being tired.
Jesus continued talking, but a few moments later I could no longer focus on what he was saying. I was way too alarmed by noticing that everything had instantly changed. The crowd was completely different. On closer inspection I recognized a small portion of faces from before but even they were in totally different positions to where they had been a moment ago. It had been sunny; now it was overcast. Everyone seemed dressed more warmly, but I felt no temperature change. We were in a totally different location, but I had detected not the slightest movement.
Not long afterwards, everything in front of me dissolved. I was now in a glorious park.
“I would like to thank Gavreel for his excellent editing.”
I looked behind me and it was the Lecturer and a sizable group of angels. Everyone cheered, apparently expressing their appreciation of the “editing” – whatever that was.
“What prompted this was Meurel’s insightful question. Let’s replay it for the benefit of those who have just arrived.”
Sensing a slight moment where I had previously been looking, I turned back to see if anything was happening there. To my astonishment, before me was what seemed to be the Lecturer standing in front of a small group of angels. There were now two Lecturers, one in front of me where Jesus and the crowd had been, and one behind me. I looked back and forth, comparing the Lecturers. One was in the same position as he had previously been but now his eyes were focused on what looked like an identical Lecturer standing many paces in front of him with this new group of angels sitting between them. Among these heavenly beings was Meurel. The massive, golden-skinned nonhuman stood and began to speak. “Why is it that Christian leader after leader after leader in this era is falling into adultery, financial fraud, deception, jealously and so on? Of course, even the Son’s prayerfully selected twelve included Judas Iscariot, and the Apostle Paul wrote that he who stands should take heed lest he fall. But why are things even worse than back then? Is it just an appalling coincidence or is there something fundamentally wrong with the message they are believing and teaching?”
There seemed such a familiar ring to reference to the moral falls of Christian leaders that I wondered if Meurel were referring to the First Century or to the era into which I had been born (and, by the way, hoped sometime to return to).
The new Lecturer and the smaller group of angels dissolved and I was looking at the park again. The Lecturer standing behind me resumed, “So that’s the question we are addressing. One of the greatest challenges any earthling faces is the accepted views and values of the society they have been immersed in since birth. It’s essentially a brainwashing process. Appallingly, even the most devout of them manage only partially to see through the false concepts that the rest of their society has accepted as right. This obviously brings immense shame to them and not only disgraces their Savior but breaks his heart.”
It was if someone had thumped me in my own heart. Being called an earthling vexed me almost to the point of nausea, but I was alarmed by something far more disturbing. He’s saying everyone is guilty of this! I felt gutted. How many things have I considered ‘acceptable’ just because everyone close to me accepts them? In what atrocious ways have I shamed my Savior and broken his heart by doing things that I have regarded as ‘normal’?
The Lecturer continued, “There will always be an enormous difference between those whose hearts are growing increasingly like the Exquisite One and those who merely imagine they are like him. And throughout their lives, those whose minds are being continually renewed by the Spirit become increasingly different from the others. Earthlings keep looking to the external and superficial, supposing that is what distinguishes true Christians from others, but it isn’t. It is always a matter of the heart.
“Human traditions that earthlings regularly exalt above the Timeless One’s heart include church traditions – even ones that years before were associated with revival, spiritual reformation, and so on.”
His words were a meat axe hacking through my complacency. I flooded with shame. I knew I was too much a product of my society not to be guilty of what he was saying. Alarmingly, however, I was unable to see exactly what self-deception I had fallen into. I was too blinded by pride and my own hypocrisy, and too hoodwinked into the false security of the sheer numbers of sincerely mistaken people acting just like me.
Paul’s words to Timothy flew like arrows into my heart. “For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine. Instead, wanting to have their ears tickled, they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires.” At the time, I couldn’t recall the exact words, but my recollection was enough to be appalled by the gist of it.
I panicked. Lord, help me truly repent. Open my eyes to all my foolish arrogance. Part of me was certain that I desperately needed to know all my errors. Disturbingly, however, another part of me seemed equally desperate to cling to the suicidal ‘bliss’ of ignorance.
Suddenly I heard Jesus. I looked where he had previously been and he was teaching a crowd again. He was decrying the love of money. I was lost in his words when an alien exclamation almost made me jump. “Teeeeeoool!” I did not see who had uttered it. My attention had been riveted on Jesus, and now I was even more captivated because something had happened to Jesus and his hearers. It was as if they were frozen in time. They were utterly silent and motionless. The angel who had apparently uttered that sound continued, “They tithed fanatically and yet still were lovers of money! How creepy! Self-deception is scary!”
The sound of other angels murmuring in agreement reached my ears. I, however, continued to stare dumbfounded at the sight of Jesus and those around him. They did not so much as blink.
“Yes,” responded the Lecturer. I looked back at him again and, unlike Jesus, his lips were moving as normally as ever even if, as usual, they did not match the words I was hearing. “We’ve seen in Gavreel’s montage of the Eternal’s earthly teaching that no one can serve two masters. Everyone attempting to do so will end up loving one, and despising the other. The Lord of Glory immediately applied this to loving money. Upon hearing this, the Pharisees, who loved money and tithed assiduously, sneered at their would-be Savior. The glorious Son retorted that they are the ones who justify themselves in the eyes of humanity, but the All-Seeing Lord knows their hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in the sight their holy Judge.”
“Let me make it clear,” continued the Lecturer, “that I am so glad I am not humanity’s Judge. No earthling is wrong about absolutely everything and no earthling is right about everything.”
“What a mess!” commented one of the angels.
“Exactly!” He pointed with his finger.
With my eyes following his finger, I saw Jesus sitting on a log in an olive grove, chatting intimately with a small group that I recognized as his disciples. He was just completing a parable, “ ‘ . . . And throw that unprofitable servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”
The scene changed but Jesus was again addressing his disciples. “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, should say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we’ve only done our duty.’ ”
The scene froze and the Lecturer took over. “Of course, only those of us who had earth missions to that era and country have been appropriately equipped linguistically. For the rest of us who are hearing a translation of Jesus’ discourse, let me point out that Jesus was using the same word to describe both classes of servants – both those who will be cast into hell and those who will enter heaven. To the One we worship, every earthling is an unworthy, unprofitable servant.”
My heart sank. If the highest status any of us can achieve is that of “unprofitable servant,” what right have I to be critical of anyone?
The Lecturer kept talking. “Of course, their defilement renders every earthling atrociously unworthy of serving the Holy One in any capacity. Their inadequacy, however, extends even further. Even after being totally cleansed by the glorious Son doing infinitely more for them than they deserve, they remain disqualified. Not even the best of them obeys perfectly for long. So none of them meets the minimum requirement for an adequate servant. Nevertheless, there are varying rewards and punishments,” continued the Lecturer.
I felt numb.
Jesus appeared again, saying, “The servant who knew what his master wanted and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten. But the one who did not know and did what deserved punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.”
The scene changed. This time, Jesus was saying, “ ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you gave me five talents. See, I’ve earned five more talents.’ His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, . . . [I detected a jump] . . . ‘I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ ”
There was another jump. “ . . . ‘You evil, lazy servant! . . . Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.’ ”
The scene faded and one of the angelic audience spoke. “Teeeeeoool! He rewards them, even though the highest achievers are unprofitable?”
“Yes,” replied the Lecturer, “There are earthlings who fervently try, but none of them actually helps the All-Sufficient One. Everything they do, would have been done better had the Perfect One done it himself. Their mistakes continually blacken his name. They are always an unprofitable investment to the Most High. Even earthlings can plant a seed and at harvest time reap more seed than they had sown but the Almighty can never receive back from any earthling nearly as much as he has sown into that person’s life. There are so many things that the Lord of all can make a profit from, but not earthlings. He always makes a loss with every one of them.”
“Teeeeeoool!” interrupted another of the listeners. The voice sounded familiar. “Why does the Wise One allow it?”
“Oh, Kokbiel!” responded the Lecturer, “The Exalted Lord is not a capitalist!”
At that, they all erupted into prolonged laughter. As they kept rolling in laughter, I puzzled over why it was such a joke.
Eventually they settled and the Lecturer resumed, “Love keeps no track of the cost. Love gives not to get but simply to bless the receiver. And, of course, our Glorious Lord is love. Despite knowing that they will all mess up to varying degrees, he keeps granting them the privilege of engaging in assignments of divine and eternal significance, solely because of his unfathomable love for them. Their failures break his heart, but because of his boundless love, it brings him stupendous joy to honor them with challenges of stupendous significance. Interacting with them thrills him so much that he considers it worth the costliest imaginable sacrifice. He keeps giving them opportunity after opportunity to grow more like his perfect Son and, despite falling short, many of them actually progress a little in that direction.”
Whew! What a rollercoaster! It was exhilarating hearing of God’s love for us all but to be stripped of my illusions and have my inadequacies exposed was appalling. I at last had an inkling of how much I had been living in denial; vainly trying to prop up my ego with self-deception, when my only genuine hope of joy and fulfillment is to take my eyes off myself and focus solely on the perfection of my Lord. He and I are one and, through that mystical union, his perfection and achievements are mine. Without him, I am nothing, but I am not without him. I can delight in him and boast in him, and such boasting will withstand the most rigorous scrutiny.
In what I presume was still part of “Gavreel’s montage,” I saw several instances of Jesus casting out demons. Each time he silenced them just as they were about to publicly proclaim who he was (e.g. Mark 1:34; Mark 3:11-12).
Next, I saw with my own eyes several distinct and quite moving instances of Jesus healing people. Each time, he ordered them to tell no one. There was the girl he raised from the dead, a leper, a deaf man, a blind man and, on yet another occasion, two blind men. So touching was Jesus’ tenderness and compassion during the healing process that in each instance I was taken aback by his intensity when strongly insisting that they keep secret that it was he who had healed them. He truly meant it.
(I had previously, of course, known that Jesus had told certain people to remain silent. Only after recently hunting through the Gospels, however, have I confirmed just how often he had done this.)
Then I saw the disciples walking up a mountain and finding Jesus. I think he had been praying. “Everyone is looking for you!” they told him. He replied, “Let us go somewhere else.”
In another scene I saw a huge crowd wanting to make Jesus king and he withdrew from them.
I think I might have caught the tail end of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mount, like the last rays of what must have been a glorious sunset. My glimpse was as overwhelming as an intolerable surge of electricity through my entire being. Despite part of me feeling the need to instinctively recoil for sheer survival, another part of me yearned to see more. Nevertheless, I had no say in the matter. It seemed that everything was for the benefit of the celestials and that I was languishing somewhere between the status of a peeping Tom and an invisible intruder. I sensed that seeing his glory was normal for the angelic observers. Instead, the editing focused on Jesus stressing that the disciples must tell no one about it until after his resurrection.
Then came several other instances when the disciples began to realize that Jesus truly was the Messiah, and he insisted that they tell no one (e.g. Mark 8:30; Mark 9:9).
This was followed by the uproar Jesus created by telling a crowd they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. By the time it was over, even previously devoted followers had turned their back on Jesus and only the twelve remained. Like never before, it struck me how Jesus made no effort to keep them onside. Surely he could have rephrased his statement or explained it to make it more understandable or palatable, but instead, he let them walk away in disgust.
In another scene one of his disciples asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” Jesus replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted.”
I saw Roman soldiers in a large hall. Jesus, his hands tied, was standing between some of them, facing some type of official. (It later dawned that he must have been Pontius Pilate.)
Jesus said, “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my Kingdom is not from here.”
Everything froze. No one in front of me uttered a sound or even blinked.
“We’ll pause here.” It was the Lecturer. I looked behind and the angels were obviously not frozen.
“For Jesus, it’s never about popularity or self-promotion; it’s all about the Father. And, of course, his message faithfully reflected this. More than perhaps any other era, however, the Twenty-First Century is an ‘all-about-me’ society.”
Wow! He mentioned the Twenty-First Century! You have no idea how comforting that felt. I was so excited, I almost missed the reference to an all-about-me society. Since returning to earth, however, those words have stalked me.
The montage came alive again. I’m disinclined to think of it just as an astonishingly sophisticated hologram. It seemed that if I were to touch the people in it they would feel flesh-and-blood real. Whatever it was, however, it continued; this time at almost dizzying speed, as it kept flitting from one of Jesus’ statements to another and another, some of which were uttered in different settings.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. . . . Be careful not to perform your righteousness acts before people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness . . . When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt about sin and righteousness and judgment.”
Then the Lecturer took over. “More than in many other eras, for so many dwellers on twenty-first century earth, it’s all about feeling good, not being good. They crave not to be morally good but merely to have pleasant feelings. Not just drug addicts but almost everyone would sell their soul for a few nice feelings. In such a corrupt world – and one in which popularity is worshipped as a measure of achievement – many preachers cave in and consciously or unconsciously modify their message.”
My mind again flashed to 2 Timothy: “Preach the word; be urgent in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine. Instead, wanting to have their ears tickled, they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires.”
“Then they start believing their own distorted message,” continued the Lecturer.
As with the previous quote, only now that I have access to the Bible can I cite it accurately but the essence of a passage in 2 Peter hit me: “In their greed, these false teachers will exploit you with deceptive words. . . . For by uttering empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the sensual passions of the flesh, they seduce people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them. For if, having escaped the corruption of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in it and are overcome, their last condition is worse than their former one. It would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy command delivered to them.”
“Instead of dying to self,” added the Lecturer, “they live for self. Instead of crucifying the flesh, they exalt the flesh. Instead of putting off their old self, they deck themselves out in it; proud of what they should be ashamed of, and marketing the Gospel accordingly.”
I was aghast.
The montage resumed with Jesus saying, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are savage wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit.”
Then came a summary of the many times Jesus referred to hell and judgment. For the first time ever, I was alarmed at just how different it is from today’s preaching. If boredom strikes, I’d prefer you to skip it than lose interest. I have even placed it in one long paragraph to make it easier to know what to skip. Besides chilling me, however, this particular compilation of Christ’s teaching was so unlike modern preaching that it sent me reeling at the difference and puzzling over the implications. And even without this disturbing contrast, I had seen such a warmth and tenderness about Jesus that I found it clashing with his emphasis on hell in the most baffling way.
I cannot recall the exact order of the scenes but it went something like this:
“Whoever will say, ‘You fool,’ will be in danger of the fires of hell. . . . If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having your two hands to go into Gehenna, into the fire that never goes out. . . . If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is never put out. . . . For whoever wants to save his life will lose it . . . For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits his very self? . . . But the ones who should have been in the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. . . . They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. . . . Then the king told his servants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ . . . He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. . . . And throw that worthless servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. . . . There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves are thrown out. . . . I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will warn you whom you should fear: Fear the one who, after killing, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! . . . They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life. . . . The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here! The Queen of the South will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here! . . . Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable in the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. . . . But I tell you it will be more bearable for Sodom in the day of judgment than for you. . . . I tell you that on the day of judgment, everyone will have to account for every careless word they have spoken. . . . In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. For I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham said, ‘Remember, my son, that in your lifetime you were given all the good things, while Lazarus got all the bad things. But now he is comforted here, while you are in pain. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ So the rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.’ . . . Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. . . . Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ ”
There was a pause.
Then Jesus continued, “Woe to you, scribes and you Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we wouldn’t have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ . . . You snakes! You brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell? . . . So upon you will fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth . . .”
The scene froze. The Lecturer commented, “They were convinced they honored the prophets and in their arrogance could not so much as imagine ever killing them. Not only would they have done so, however, they accused their Messiah, greater than all prophets, of being demon possessed and had him crucified.”
I heard a sound that I presume was a collective groan from the otherworldly audience.
“Human nature has not improved one iota since,” continued the Lecturer. In subsequent eras, most claiming to be followers of Jesus have just as arrogantly and foolishly said, ‘I’m not like the Bible scholars and Pharisees who crucified our Lord.’ ”
Before I could react, the montage recommenced. “Hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to make one convert, and then you make him twice as fit for hell as you are!”
Immediately Jesus was addressing another crowd: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from me, you evildoers!’ ”
Then I saw another crowd and someone in it said to Jesus, “The only Father we have is God himself.” They all murmured in agreement. The scene jumped. Jesus replied, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth because there is no truth in him.”
Despite my familiarity with these sayings of Jesus, I was struck like never before by the staggering predicament he was describing. How could people so devoted to the true God get it so wrong?
Then Jesus appeared, telling another crowd, “You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; teaching as doctrines human commandments.’ ”
Somehow that triggered an avalanche of Scriptures within me. It began with words from one of the Prophets. (I have since located it in Ezekiel 33:30-31.) “. . . Your people are . . . saying . . . ‘Come and hear the message from the Lord.’ My people . . . listen to your words, but they do not do them. With their mouths they express love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.”
Next tumbled the gist of something I thought was also from one of the Prophets. This time, the vagueness of my recollection made locating it for you unusually difficult. It would be just my luck if you don’t want the reference. Nevertheless, my obsessive tendencies kept incessantly nagging until I found Jeremiah 8:8. It poses a question which, for conciseness I will paraphrase: how can you claim that having God’s Word makes you wise when your teachers twist it into lies?
Then Paul’s words crashed around my ears: “For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, [emphasis mine] they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:2-3).
That seemed to dislodge his message to Timothy and this plummeted down: “in the last days people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, . . . unholy, unloving, . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
The Lecturer burst through my thoughts. “Many supposed Christians leaders are not only ungodly but they commit the ultimate blasphemy of using the name of God to justify their own ungodly behavior.”
An enormous stir erupted among the angels. They seemed utterly flabbergasted. I myself was too shocked, however, to analyze anyone else’s reaction.
Seemingly oblivious to the havoc he was inflicting, the Lecturer kept plowing on. “They are anti-Christ and yet preach Christ; twisting his message until they even convince themselves it is Christlike to have hearts that are the exact opposite of Christ’s. And most are so sincere they have no idea this is what they are doing.”
A chilling silence gripped the entire audience. I was so stunned, I think I momentarily stopped breathing.
Then suddenly my Lord was a twisted wreck, sprawled out on the dirt, stripped and bloodied. Underneath him was that grisly cross. Soldiers grabbed blood-splattered spikes that had more in common with crude stakes than modern nails. I shudder at the thought of how often they had been used before. The brutes began savagely pounding through his flesh those blunt, rusty hunks of metal.
I turned away in horror and plugged my ears, but to no avail. His screams seemed to rip through me like those barbaric nails. Between harrowing screams he shouted, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Seized by the latter part of that cry, my mind fled to 1 Corinthians where it says, “None of the leaders of this age understood, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Then my thoughts bolted to a reference to apparent Christians in Hebrews: “They are crucifying the Son of God again and exposing him to public disgrace.”
The Lecturer’s words had been tearing me apart; threating everything dear to me. I’ve ached to hold every ministry in the highest esteem. How could the catastrophe he described ever happen? Was I guilty of it? I was determined to cling to the Lecturer’s every word as if my eternity hung in the balance – and maybe it did.
“I’ll explain the how and the why of this tragedy and then move on to even graver concerns about many who suppose they are following Christ. These matters are the greatest source of grief to the King of Glory. Even now, they keep the Triumphant Lord what Isaiah calls ‘a man of sorrows’.”
Like a blizzard of daggers, grief exceeding anything I thought possible shredded me. Suddenly not just my mind but emotions within me I never knew even existed were screamingly aware of my Lord’s pain. He who for each of us has already suffered unspeakable agony on the cross, is still reeling in grief over people he loves, and not even all of heaven’s joys can temper it.
Never in my life have I yearned to hear anything as much as what the Lecturer was about to reveal. Everything within me strained to absorb the full impact of what was to come from his lips. He opened his mouth and spoke.
To my consternation, the Lecturer kept right on speaking – same voice, same volume – but I could understand nothing. I have never heard such bizarre and yet melodic sounds. My eyes latched on to his lips. Unlike what I had grown accustomed to, his mouth seemed to match the sounds I was hearing. I presumed there was some type of technical glitch in the translation system. I felt like tapping something, like one might do to an old radio if the reception suddenly turned to static, but to my annoyance there was nothing to tap.
Ordinarily, I might have found this glitch intriguing. I might even have been lulled into switching off my hyperactive brain and letting myself enjoy the beauty of the sounds. But this was so such occasion. I had been hanging on to every word and now it was obvious that the importance of what he was saying was about to skyrocket. The timing was more than just disturbing: I felt betrayed.
Then the light and sound began fading. In just moments it was pitch black and total silence. What’s happening?