Wednesday, August 30, 2017

By HIS scars we are healed...So what about our scars?

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

Scars. I've got a few. Probably you do as well. I'm not necessarily speaking of physical scars - maybe emotional or mental as well - but we all seem to be a bit diversified on our view of our scars. Most of the time we hide them, regardless of whether they are physical or otherwise...but as I've reflected on this, I can truly say that I hear myself changing my mind when it comes to hiding my scars and learning how to use them. Think about how blessed you are when you see someone who has either a physical or emotional scar that they can't help but show, but are joyful and experiencing a joy like you haven't or aren't. It's such a blessing! I believe it is because they've chosen not to hide but actively use their scars as blessings to the world that they are who they are. I believe this is a lesson that Jesus taught that so few of us have listened to. He didn't hide his scars. In fact, He used them to both confirm Who He was but also to comfort His followers. So...if Jesus didn't hide His scars, then why are we? I believe we are missing out on a whole bunch of healing if we refrain from exposing our scars. 

Jesus knew that His scars would bring healing. I read somewhere that some believe that Jesus, in His physical form, had some sort of physical infirmity - similar to that of a 'hunchback'. They backed it up with the text that reads, '...he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not' (Isaiah 53:2, 3). So I simply ask the question: If Jesus did have a physical infirmity, how does that change how we view Him and the ministry that He had with His disciples? What if the scars that He had weren't only after His resurrection, but also throughout His entire lifetime? How does that alter our understanding of the focus text 'by his wounds we are healed'? He displayed His scars for all to see and we have all benefited from it!

Jesus also knew that Thomas' life (and the rest of the disciples' and ours) would never be the same, in His choosing to show His scars. Again, not just in His resurrected state, but also throughout His whole ministry. It is by His scars that we are healed. And if Jesus' scars healed many (and continue to do so), I believe with all my heart that He is calling each of us to the task of being healers to those around us, just as He had been and is for us today as the Great Healer, by baring our scars to heal the people around us.

I've grown up in the church. I've heard all the sermons. And my life will never be the same again. But when it comes to the 'scar passages' in the Bible, I've heard the 'polite view' predominantly. We don't want to expose what's really there because of fear - fear of what we need to learn or worse, how we'd be changed - so we turn our faith-eyes and exclaim that we just need to believe without really knowing what we believe. We avoid the 'hard passages' because we believe subconsciously (or otherwise) that God couldn't do anything with the scars of peoples' lives - we need to be perfect before He can use us. But I believe there is concrete evidence that the Lord desires to teach us - in faith, for His glory - through His (and our) scars. This philosophy simply is the belief that God doesn't just use scars and pain because they're 'oopses' on His radar, but He knew that they would be there as He'd orchestrated them from the beginning. 

I could talk about David's scars, Abraham's gashes, Rahab's...but I'd like to focus on Jesus' scars. As the text above says, ' [them] we are healed'. In exposing His scars, Jesus has healed many! So, if Jesus was willing to expose His scars because He saw the value in it, why aren't we exposing our scars?

These questions and thoughts are being unearthed in my mind and heart from a variety of circumstances in the last few years that I've experienced, and in a fair number of places and perspectives in Scripture, but the basis is out of Paul's letter to the Corinthians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 ESV) 

How does God the Father comfort us in our affliction? In no where else than through the scars of Jesus. Jesus' scars from the crucifixion (and, perhaps a life-long battle as shared above) literally left their mark on Him but He, in turn, desired to be the Great Healer by bearing the scars instead of hiding them. It is still curious to me that in Jesus' resurrected (aka perfected state) His scars remained. Have you ever thought of this? Instead of what we would call a 'perfect state' (aka no scars or reminders of what He lived through), Jesus' scars remained when He appeared to His followers. Why?

We learn this truth in The Gospel of John, chapter 20. The scene described is in response to when Thomas learns that his friends had seen the resurrected Jesus but he wasn't in the company when Jesus appeared. So he said this classic statement that many of us know, but I believe, few of us have really understood:

Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.
(John 20:25 ESV) 

I believe Thomas sincerely wanted to believe. Note that Jesus does not condemn him once He appears again because of his request (unbelievable that Jesus appears because of Thomas' request; he does teach him patience though as he didn't appear until 8 days later; see Jn. 20:27-29). The aspect of this scene that I would really like to focus on is Jesus' scars, but let's look at a bit of background first.

This scene is after Jesus has risen from the dead. He's appeared to many, but His appearance may seem different to some. I'm a contrast guy so I can imagine the 'resurrected Jesus scene' far different - Him glowing, on a white horse, with a halo over his head, white linen clothing, glitter on the floor, with a sword in His hand with the inscription 'I AM', etc. -  I can picture this because, ever since the actual resurrection, we have been inundated with countless interpretations of Jesus' ministry through the imaginations of artists in mediums such as sculpture and canvas. But may I suggest to you that they have all steered us in the wrong direction? There was glory. Oh boy, there was glory! But not in the way like we can imagine. I believe these artistic interpretations are far too pretty; they've hidden what was really supposed to be revealed. And, as such, we have been prohibited from seeing the real meaning of Jesus' resurrection because it just hits too close to home. We've created a scene in our minds that I believe is far too clean-cut. No scars. No damage. No reminders of what was. We picture a clean-cut Jesus, standing in our midst, without any remembrance of what He lived through. But instead, what we read in Scripture is a man Who literally is bearing the scars of His death and willing to show to the world that He rose again from this brutal death. And He lives to tell about it! So, as a precursor, I hope you see that we need to re-look at this scene with new eyes. We need to risk looking at this scene without our preconceived ideas of what we'd want Jesus to appear like and see what really happened.

In Jesus' 'resurrected state scenes' we read about, in some ways they are all very similar. Generally speaking, in His appearances He chose to reveal Himself so people would know Who He was. Yet please note that Scripture tells us that it was through His scars that He revealed Himself. To prove, comfort and heal His followers that He was Who He said He was, He revealed His scars to them (Jn. 20:20). I'll write more about what I believe the implications for us today in a moment. 

So in steps Thomas. We know him as 'The Doubter'. But I'd like to clear the air on his name and see if we can't see this scene for what it really is instead of clogging it up with our judgements on a man who I believe truly wanted to believe in ways that we don't risk to today. Let's try not focus so much on Thomas. Let's not focus our attention too much on what he does, but what he doesn't do. Yes, some would argue that he limited his faith by asking to see and touch Jesus, but note, once Jesus appears, Thomas doesn't do what he said he would (which renders the above picture unbiblical):

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 
John 20:26-29 ESV

Thomas waited eight days for Jesus to reveal Himself. I'm sure there was a lot of stewing going on in his mind. How would Jesus come? Would He come at all? Would He grant his request or chastise him for asking for something so ludicrous? Would His scars still be bloody? What would they feel like? I believe his request wasn't all that far-fetched as, as I have already mentioned, Jesus revealed His scars to others, so all Thomas was asking was to physically touch the scars that Jesus was already willing to show. I believe Thomas caught something and dared to do something that far too few of us do - Thomas risked because he knew the heart of Jesus; the Saviour who doesn't chastise or condemn. Jesus willingly meets us and willingly reveals Himself to us without condemnation. I would even go as far as to say that even when we're in our most vulnerable or doubting state, He still desires to reveal Himself to us. It doesn't matter our faith-metre. It doesn't matter how little we believe in Him. It doesn't even matter if we're asking Him to do something that others would say is ludicrous. Instead of Thomas the Doubter, I'd like to call him Thomas the Risk(er). And I'd like to learn from him.

I must confess that I would have yearned for this opportunity. Faith is a little too abstract for me these days. I long for tactile. I long to touch what I believe. But for the most part, I feel I've been asked  just to believe without seeing because Jesus clearly says, 'Blessed are those who believe without seeing'. But the reality is there is no condemnation when we truly, with a pure heart, seek out answers and risk asking the questions that few dare to ask. I'm a lot like Thomas. He was given the opportunity to touch Jesus because He thought that was what he needed to believe. But it's very interesting to me that he actually didn't act on his words.

That's right! You read right! Thomas doesn't touch Jesus. Read it again. Verse 28 of John Chapter 20 does not say that Thomas felt Jesus' scars. I'm thankful for the organisers of the Scriptures who chose to highlight Thomas' response so it's the only thing in the verse. But we still miss it. Thomas' request to actively put his finger in the nail marks on Jesus' hands and to reach out and slide his hand in Jesus' side were not done. Though he asked to do these things, he doesn't do them. I believe if he did actually do this, John would have wrote it. But John didn't write it because I believe Thomas didn't do it. All Thomas did was exclaim, 'My Lord and my God!' I believe he was so struck with Jesus' willingness to appear to Thomas in such a vulnerable state, he was cut to the core with his own (mis)belief and mistrust. All he could do was confess that Jesus was his Lord. And in doing so I believe he began to understand something of the mystery that I am attempting to flesh out here - the mystery (and glory) of scars.

So let's turn the corner. For the remainder of this post, I'm going to focus on the Scars of Jesus, their healing properties and what, I believe, Jesus wants us to learn in response to His example of revealing His scars.

There's something very mysterious about scars. I once heard a quote that addresses it well: Scars are reminders of what we've lived through. If this is true, why don't we reveal them more? Why aren't we celebrating what we've been through? Why are they things that we hide? Think of all the healing that we could give to the world (and ourselves) if we risked showing our scars, the things we've lived through and learned from!

From the woman who's had surgery to the model who is fired because she has them to mankind's reaction to scars, I really believe we need to re-shape our philosophy of scars. Scars tell stories. If we continue to hide them, I believe we're dishonouring the true and life-giving hope that they bring to us and those around us. I believe we are missing out on many, many blessings, both for ourselves and our loved-ones. But the sad state is, I think it's mostly our pride. I believe we don't reveal our scars because it's too difficult for us to be reminded of the things that we think are of no value. We don't see these circumstances as something that can bring blessing. And so we hide. Hide from God. Hide from people. Hide from ourselves. 

By contrast, when Jesus revealed His scars, it brought confirmation to His followers. So...track with me now...if Jesus' scars brought confirmation of Who He was, I believe with all my heart that Jesus desires us to show our scars so we can continue to confirm Who He is. If we have welcomed Him into our daily life experiences, He will use us to reveal Himself to many through the scars that we willingly bear - and it will be for His glory. You might have a story in your past that you don't feel you can risk exposing. You might have a physical scar reminding you of a stupid mistake. You might have an emotional scar that is just too difficult to bring back to life.

I don't deny the risky vulnerability. When I've shared my scars with people, I've risked their reactions. I know what the Lord is asking me to do - turn the shoulder so people see Him and not me when I tell my story. I would love to tell you that the reactions are good and hospitable across the board, but they aren't. I wish I could tell you that in revealing my scars it has drawn me closer to people, but instead, it has brought distance; not to everyone, but most. This isn't unlike Jesus. He was vulnerable. He risked. But many disowned Him. In fact His whole core group of friends disowned Him. But I will say, though, that in willingly exposing my scars, it has brought me closer - to a very few people - but I'm not after quantity, I'm after quality. And it has brought me closer to the Lord.

My perspective is people, generally speaking, don't know what to do with me because of the scars that may remind them of their own - and it's hard for us to be in each other's presence. But if we let them, our scars will bring healing, on a level that neither of us have ever experienced. When I think back to the experience with Thomas and Jesus, Thomas was never the same again. And neither were any of the others that Jesus revealed Himself to. We should be the same. Because of Jesus' scars, we are healed. I believe He wasn't just doing an act, but intentionally giving us an example of vulnerability for us to follow.

So...go ahead, show your scars. Risk vulnerability. Erect a purpose for the scars that you have hidden. You'll be glad you did.