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He Gave Him A Stone

Today, while I scooted around town to pick up a few little special gifts for my boys (and my man), I thought about the joy in gift-giving. It is my great delight (too great a delight, if you consult our blown budget) to buy special little things for those I love.

Every time I wonder about the heart of the Father when He seems to be withholding little wants or even what I perceive to be needs, the Spirit brings Matthew 7 to mind.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives,  and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7: 7-11. 

Jesus draws a comparison between the holy and whole heart of God and our broken and battered hearts. If we, tainted and tiny though we are, delight to give good things to our children, to meet their needs and go well beyond to baskets and stockings, how much more does the pure heart of God delight to give His children good things?

Today, as we sit in the silence of Saturday, I realized that the Son was refused the gift-giving heart of God so we could become its recipients.

He asked for another way in the garden, but it was not given to Him. 

He sought the face of the Father, but found only absence. 

He knocked on the door to the Trinity, but found no welcome. 

The Father whose will He always sought gave Him a stone indeed. A heavy stone that sealed the borrowed cave in which His battered body was placed.  

The One who came to fish for men was given over to the whims of the serpent who began the whole saga. 

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Sometimes it may feels like you are asking, seeking and knocking to no avail. If you have asked for provision only to receive what appear to be stones and serpents, remember this: the Father gave the perfect Son a stone so we could have a Savior.

When His hands seems confusing, we know His heart.

He Gave Him a Stone

The obedient Son, 
The favored One
       Begged for some other way.
But after bleeding  
And after pleading,
      Trembling trust won the day.

The heart that never turned
For His Father’s face yearned.
       God did not hear the groan.
The perfect, spotless Son,
For sin became undone.
       God gave  him a stone.

The Father let him lack.
Protection He held back.
       Now adopted are we.
Drinking wrath in our stead,
He who got a stone is our bread.
      A loving Father is He!

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A Disproportionate Delight

If sin is largely about a disproportionate delight in lesser lovers, then redemption follows suit.

The Greek word epithumia is used 38 times in the New Testament. Technically, it is a neutral term that can be used to describe strong feelings and urges stemming from deep-set passions and loves. It quite literally means passionate desire focused on something or someone. While most of the time it is used in a negative context referring to sinful over-desires for something or someone, interestingly enough it is also used to describe the feelings of Christ for his disciples and Paul’s desire to depart and be with Christ and also to see his beloved church plants once again.  As such, we see that sin is less about the strength of the desire and far more about the object upon which it is fixed and the heart from which it originates.

In Luke 22, we find Christ and his disciples, along with the buzzing Jewish crowds in Jerusalem, eagerly preparing for the coming Passover celebration.  After securing the equivalent of an Air B & B for the night, the supper begins.

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. I tell you that I will  not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Luke 22: 14-16 

Here we find Jesus vulnerable and honest about His deep love for His often-erring, yet earnest soul-fishing apprentices. On this, the night before his death, His heart is passionately desiring to be with His dear friends one last time before the harrowing gauntlet He must endure that they might enjoy grace.

A disproportional delight, indeed.

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Because the Son had an appropriate delight and trust in the Father, He attached His unconditional love to undeserving people. Having loved those that God had given them in the world, He loved them to the uttermost limit, all the way to the end (John 13:1).

He did this because the Father had done this from the beginning, and the Son only did what the Father modeled and ordained (John 8:28).

The Scriptures tell us about this seemingly disproportionate delight the Father attached to an undeserving people.

For you are a people holy the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a  people for his treasured possession, out of all the people who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore  to your fathers, that the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery. Deuteronomy 7: 6-8. 

Later, Asaph, one of the psalm-writers, captures a similar sentiment when talking about God’s seemingly disproportionate delight in an undeserving people.

When they were few in number, of little account, and sojourners in it, wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people, he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, “Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm.” Psalm 105: 12-15.

As I read these Scriptures this week, I was blown away at three re-discoveries: God’s disproportionate love for me, my disproportionate love for sin and self, and the One through whom these two irreconcilable realities made peace.

Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father and the One who deserved all His daddy’s delight, submitted Himself to be oppressed on our behalf. The Anointed One, the one who was more than a prophet (the very Word of God), had human hands violently laid on Him and chose to be harmed that we might be healed.

This week, may we fall on our faces in unequaled worship before the God who loves us with a disproportionate love.

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A Tale of Two Veils

The gospel truly is a tale of two veils: the veil of death that has shrouded and shadowed humanity since we turned away from trusting our Father and the sheer wedding veil that He has placed on us by sheer grace.

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The book of Isaiah is full of rich images and word pictures that pointed Israel to the new thing that God was going to do and continues to point us to the gospel which was that new thing. In chapter 25, Isaiah artfully depicts the then coming day when the veil of darkness, the thickly woven web of sin that covers all people of all nations would be swallowed up, engulged, ingested and destroyed.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:6-9. 

The Hebrew word translated veil literally means blanket and the verb attached to the veil means woven. Our sin is a thickly woven blanket of heaviness and brokenness that hangs over each of us, whether we can name it and identify it or not. This veil covers all peoples of all nations with no exceptions.

Isaiah declares the promise that One is coming who will, in his words, swallow up this veil of blackness and blindness, this closely-hanging death shroud that is the both the inheritance and choice of every human on this sphere.

“On this mountain,” Isaiah wrote, “On this mountain, death will be swallowed up,” thinking that Mount Sinai would be the place. But God had in mind another mountain, Calvary. On that dreaded death hill, the place of the Skull, the only human who ever walked the earth without veil of darkness closely clinging to him would swallow up our shame.

The holy one, who had never known shame, ingested the shame of His rebellious children, on the Cross.

For those who love Him and look to Him, the sin and shame swallower, the veil of shame of is replaced with the veil donned by a beloved bride.

One day, at the wedding feast hinted at by Isaiah with rich wine and lavish food, Christ will lift forever the gossamer veil of His bride, His people. Thenceforth, they shall see Him face to face.

Two Veils

Binding, blinding, heavy is the veil,
Covering creation as a coat of mail.
Groaning, grasping as the blind,
Humanity hopelessly misaligned.
Straining, slashing at the cover,
The darkness that does smother.
The Lord of Levity made a better way,
Dawning as the sun of the New Day.
The Son of God, free from the first,
Swallowed the veil, taking the worst.
On the Cross into His human frame,
Bravely He ingested our shame.
Wearing our veil, the veil He tore,
Opening the way as never before.
Heavy he hung so light we could be,
He ate up our veil on that tree.
Rising, He broke the weight of death,
Sending the Spirit, He gave us breath.
One veil removed, another now worn,
That of a bride to her groom sworn.
A gossamer cover in leiu of a shroud,
Betrothed Bride of whom He is proud.
The wedding is nigh; the veil He’ll lift,
Bringing a home as His wedding gift.
Unveiled, we shall see face to face,
Forevermore held in His embrace.
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Behind the Basin

Last memories matter.

It should come as no surprise to us that Jesus, who was the most intentional human to ever walk this globe, was very intentional about His lasts with His disciples. Of course Jesus wanted to leave a few specific scenes burned on the brains and seared onto the souls of His disciples and best friends.

What does shock and surprise me, and should scare the flesh in all of us, are the specific last scenes that Jesus intentionally played out for his friends.  The two symbols that Jesus left with His followers that night were a table and a basin, two ordinary objects that conveyed sacrifice and service in community.

He could have given them a scepter as a last group impression, a symbol of power and sovereignty.  Yet, for His last lesson with the band of brothers who had literally followed him in the world’s classroom of highways and byways, He chose to wash nasty feet.

Feet. Jesus dreamed up the tarsals and metatarsals. He spoke and the bones were formed in the foot of the first man.  He did the unthinkable and became a baby who played with His feet. He stubbed His toes and likely got callouses as He logged some serious mileage on those two puppies.

One of the last scenes of his short life involved Him dressing himself like a common household servant and washing the nasty feet of his friends. He slowly went around a room of twelve dear friends, one of whom He knew would betray him in a few short hours, caressing and cleaning their feet.

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He has called us to be people of the basin. Basins imply a lifetime of unsexy, selfless service. Basin living looks different for each of us and changes in different seasons. Basin living may mean changing diapers in the nursery or soiled bed sheets as you care for an aging parent. It may mean investing in the lives of students who have little support outside of the classroom or it may mean folding laundry.

While the spaces and places where we use our basins look widely different, the people behind the basins share one thing in common: behind the basin must be stand someone who is convinced that he or she is the beloved of God.

In his prelude to his series of Last Supper stories which covers the majority of his gospel, John lets us into a few clues of what enabled and empowered the Savior’s service leading up to the ultimate Sacrifice on the Cross.

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray his, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments and, taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13: 1-5 (emphasis mine), 

Jesus lived all of his life in an atmosphere of assurance of the love of His Father. He knew that the Father had given and would give Him all He needed to do His will. He knew that the embrace of the Father whom He had willingly left to become a man was waiting for Him upon His return from His quick dash to the earth.

The love of the Father freed Jesus to pick up the basin and put down His own rights, yet again. Assurance of His place as the Beloved of the Father freed Him to take the place of a servant, even a servant who would wash the feet that would flee to betray him moments later.

Through faith in Christ’s life, death and resurrection we are named the beloved of God. We are invited, through faith, into the same atmosphere of beloved-ness that compelled Christ to the basin.

Dirty feet, dashed heart and desperate neighbors abound. May we bask in the undeserved, unearned and unconditional love of God, and thus become people of the basin and towel.

 

 

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I Thirst

Jesus uttered seven phrases from the Cross. “I thirst” is unique to John’s gospel. As I studied this phrase in the context of John’s particular gospel account, it came alive. John’s gospel was written with a clear two-pronged thesis: to show that Jesus Christ was God and to offer the readers eternal life through Him. As such, John’s gospel doesn’t begin with a birth account, but places Jesus as co-eternal with the Father “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1).” Likewise, the powerful “I am” statements are found in the book of John, further proclamations of His Deity.

Jesus often associates Himself with springs of living water throughout John’s gospel, beginning with semi-cryptic conversations with Nicodemus by night and the Samaritan women by day. On the last day of the feast of booths, Jesus declares publicly, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’.” John 7:37-38. 

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With that backdrop in mind, Jesus cry of “I thirst” from the Cross takes on profound meaning. The One who literally had rivers of eternal life gushing and rushing through Him from eternity past became drought and depression and death. He did this unthinkable act to offer to His parched, petulant people rivers of life they had willingly left for broken cisterns.

As Lent wraps up and we approach the Cross of Christ, may we know what it cost Him that we should drink freely from the fountain. May we drink deeply the free love of God through Christ, and as such, may we offer cups of water to a parched world.

I Thirst

Lips that spoke oceans vast,
Cracked, clamoring for a drip.
The fountain of living water,
Desperate for a single sip. 

The mouth that freely offered
An eternally flowing spring,
Being offered sarcastically 
Malt vinegar to cut the sting. 

More thirsty was He to honor
The Father by bringing us home,
Than to have His pain assuaged 
Leaving us in our sin to roam. 

His soul and body’s thirsting
Opened the heavenly stream;
His nightmare on that Cross
Secured for us Abba’s dream.

May we now pant for You,
As deer for fresh waters.
Make us fit to live on earth
As your sons and daughters.

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Fleet Feet

No, it’s not what you think. I am no longer a fast runner, unless I am running  to my morning coffee before carline. While I used to run fast and far, I now prefer to walk my dog in a much smaller loop. Yet, I find that I still have fleet feet.

I have feet quick to want to flee: to run from discomfort and toward comfort, to run from dependence to independence, to run from waiting into action.

I don’t much like sitting, unless it’s with a book. I buzz around the house from task to task. I rest by walking around thrift stores. I pace on the rare occasions that I have to talk on the phone.

Stillness is hard for me. And if outward stillness is a habit hard for me to sustain, then habitual soul stillness is far harder.

Left to myself, I would rather run into plans of my own making than sit in silence, waiting on the Lord’s plans. Yet, the Lord continually calls His people to wait, to return, to trust, to stay.

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God spoke strong words of correction through the prophet Isaiah to His people with fleet feet.

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt.” Isaiah 30: 1-2. 

We should not be quick to tsssskk God’s people’s foolish fleeing, for we do the same regularly. We run to places that seem logical and strong. Sure, we may not fly to Egypt, but we fly to alcohol or shopping or self-enabled success.

Rather than flee in self-enabled, self-fabricated plans, God calls us to sit in His strength, to wait with eyes fixed on Him.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30: 15. 

Oh, how I long to have a heart like Moses. When God’s people were again acting a’fool, so much so that God was tempted to give them the Promised Land but sever from them His presence (Genesis 33: 1-3), Moses’ response is stunning.

And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” Genesis 33: 15. 

Moses had the chance to settle the people in a plush land. He could have avoided all those years of wilderness wandering with whining people. They could have had the land flowing with honey, grapes the size of dinner plates. But Moses knew that without the Lord, even paradise becomes putrid.

He would rather roam through a drought-stricken land with a stubborn people with the Lord’s presence than sit pretty apart from Him.

Fleet Feet

I’d rather stay in a stuck place 
        with YOU,
Than run in wide open fields
       of my own making. 

Force my fleet feet to stay,
For I am quick to run away.
Force me in YOUR will to lay,
Until that most glorious day. 

I’d rather sit imprisoned
        with  YOU,
Than roam in a freedom 
       of my own taking. 

For paradise without YOUR presence
Would soon become putrid, indeed. 
For YOUR face changes every place,
Even deep pits in whence we plead. 

 

 

 

 

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If Walls Could Talk

If walls could talk, mine might say, “Scrub me!” Perhaps, they might shout out to my three constantly climbing, bare-footed children, “Stop putting your dirty feet on me!”

For some strange reason, I found myself thinking about what the Apostle Peter’s house might share if walls could talk. Imagine the things they had witnessed: miracles, tears, terrifying fear, the grief of a widow. What a testimony those walls might share!

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If Walls Could Talk

If walls could talk,
I’d have much to say. 
Standing all these years,
Silent, staring day by day. 

Peter brought him here,
As Amma’s fever grew.
I saw him take her hand, 
Healing through and through.

I listen to their lively meals,
Fishers of a different catch. 
Talk moved away from nets
To living souls to fetch.

I heard His contagious cheer,
Saw hidden habits of prayer.
For he woke and rose early
Before the crowds did stare.

I wanted to join their weeping
At the notorious news. 
His people slaughtered Him,
Dethroned the King of the Jews.

The door shook with delight
At word of the reversal.
He’d arisen as He’d said,
Told the delighted dispersal.

Peter would come to visit,
With wife and family in tow.
Around the table they’d share
How the Church did grow.

The enemy-turned-emissary,
Paul, came for an unlikely stay.
He and Peter did break bread:
Never thought I’d see that day.

I watched Peter’s widow
Sit in ashes as bereaved.
I watched her fight to trust,
In Christ she still believed.

I hope to stand here until
His shadow darkens my door.
Then I will join the singing
With joy as never before.

If God can make rocks cry out, then maybe, just maybe, walls might testify to Him one day! Even if they could, we ought not need them to do so! For He will train His children to sing His praises!

 

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The Longest 18 Inches

I know, I know. 18 inches is 18 inches. But the 18 inches between the head and the heart… that feels like the longest 18 inches ever.

I wish I could speed up the movement of biblical truth from my head to my heart, from my mind to my experience. But I cannot.

Thankfully, the Lord knows what He is doing. And, unlike me, He is not in a rush. He seems to know exactly how to tee up circumstances that reveal my inability to transform my own heart. Thus, He forces me in the most fatherly way to trust in His shaping hands as they sanctify me and those I love the most.

He will not settle for an enlarged mind with a shrunken or misshapen heart.

We live in San Diego where citrus trees are nearly as common as dandelions. Every day as I walk through our neighborhood,  I am reminded that a healthy citrus harvest requires some parts sun and some parts shade. Otherwise, the fruits are overripe on one side and underripe on the other.

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He will not have a half-ripe heart. Thus, as the gentle gardener, He contorts His fruit friends, like me. He twists me and hides my healthy parts in the shade, exposing my ugly or underdeveloped sides to the blinding light. He does this neither to hurt me nor to harass me. He does this that, one day, He might present me as a heart fully-ripened to His Father as part of the harvest of righteousness He has both secured and sanctified.

He masters that 18 inches and everything else in between.

No Half-Ripe Heart

You’ll not have a half-ripe heart.
For You take pride in your plot.
But this ripening process –
Oh, how it does smart.

Your hand squeezes me tightly,
Hiding the light from my face.
You twist and contort me oddly-
It seems the opposite of grace. 

You poke and prod my skin,
Finding the un-tender side.
You expose my blemishes-
The best parts seem to hide.

It feels unnatural and strange,
As shaded spots see the sun.
Supposedly, this is your care-
But the process is not fun.

Yet, good and gentle gardener,
I submit myself to your hand.
You wisely tend your orchard
For goodness You have planned. 

 

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The Seder & The Savior

A few years ago, when my children were three and two years old, I had the brilliant idea of teaching them the deeper significance of the Passover. I studied the Seder meal, went shopping, printed coloring sheets. The whole shebang. My incredulous husband wondered if this was really age-appropriate, but I pressed on.

We sat down and strapped our children into their baby chairs, lit candles and began our walk through the Jewish traditions. It was a total disaster. They spit out the herbs, gagged on the horseradish and chugged the sparking grape juice. I have not yet regained the courage to attempt another Seder in the Joseph household.

Funny story aside,  today I imagined what it must have been like for Jesus to sit down with disciples for the Seder meal. I imagined the familiar scents and flavors which Jesus would have known from years of celebrating the Passover with His family, suddenly becoming ominous as He realized they all pointed to His punishment on the Cross as the second and eternal Exodus of both Jew and Gentile alike.

Thinking of the Savior eating the Seder meal that spelled out His certain death moved my soul to a deeper appreciation for his last Passover in that Upper Room.

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The Seder & The Savior

The Upper Room is ready,
The table carefully set,
The disciples eager to celebrate;
They don’t understand as yet.

The Seder plate stares up at me,
Invading all of my senses,
Sights and smells arrest me,
Alluding my human defenses.

The bitter herbs, they bite me.
Meant to point back to captivity,
Yet they press me to tomorrow
When I’ll be nailed to the tree.

The roasted meat, the Zeroa,
Features the bone of a lamb.
They think of sacrifices past,
Yet I know that I am the ram.

The Beitzah points to desire,
The cries of people to be saved.
The path to their deep desire
Through my death is paved.

Karpas, the parsley-reminder
Of slavery’s back-breaking load,
Smells of relief to them, but to me
Does the darkest day bode.

Charoset paste of apples and wine,
Reminds of the mortar and brick,
To release them from their burden,
I the way of the Cross must pick.

Looking up from the plate, my portion,
I see the familiar faces of my friends.
For them, these sin-sick brothers,
I will drink God’s wrath to the end.

Oh, Father, pass over your people,
Let the punishment fall on me.
Through my ultimate slavery,
Finally set your children free.

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Free Solo & the Savior

For movie night this week, we left our typical stereotypical movie genres (StarWars, silly  kid movies, and old school movies that we loved as children and forgot may not be appropriate for children) we watched an incredible documentary about the man who free solo climbed El Capitan in Yosemite. As we watched this eccentric young man process and prepare for an unthinkable feat, about the only climbing we did was up our few stairs to get more mini Oreos.

We all went to bed with white knuckles and heads full of his daring (arguably dumb) feat. The image of a man climbing up a 3,000-foot granite rock face with no ropes, no water and little to no fear was beyond shocking. Even his closest friends and comrades with cameras had to look away often, as fear of watching him take the slightest misstep and plummet to his death overcame them.

I wish I could say watching the National Geographic film inspired me to want to go bouldering, but, alas, it did not.  However, it did leave me with a troop of wall-climbing boys and a different image of the gospel that led me to more awe at the Savior.

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After His baptism at the hands of John in the Jordan River, a heavenly-affirmed Jesus was led by the Spirit into the nearby wilderness where He was sorely tempted by His Father’s former-friend-turned-fiend.

After the Enemy’s initial temptation to provide his own bread after 4o days of intense fasting, Matthew continues to record the second temptation.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and  ‘On their hands, they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”.’ Matthew 4:5-7. 

The temptation He was enticed with would have him prove to the world in a flashy way His Father’s particular favor and care. Yet, Jesus refused. Rather, He would live a mostly obscure, common life and would allow His father to lead Him to a very different hill on which He would die a criminal’s death.

Allowing for some poetic license,  it is as if the Son of God, who created mountains like El Capitan allowed himself to be tossed down, plummeting to His untimely death when He could have had angelic hosts swoop to His saving. He allowed Himself to be crushed, that He might belay us to the heights of heaven where we might enjoy fellowship with the Father.

The Risen Rock

The One who made the mountains
Free soloed Himself to the top. 
He whose fingers pinched the pinnacle
From its heights would willingly drop. 

A host of angels might’ve caught Him,
But He bid them watch in shock,
His Father did not cushion Him,
As the ground obliterated the Rock. 

In a shocked and stunned silence,
The whole world hung its head. 
The Mountain-Making mighty one:
Scattered, slaughtered, and dead.

Until undoing eternal entropy,
The Rock of Ages once again rose,
Carrying with His costly reward,
Friends who had long been foes.  

He would gladly belay His betrayers,
Harness them who caused his harm. 
He holds and anchors His siblings
With His strong and saving arm.