Friday, February 17, 2012

Language of Labour

 The Language of Labour

          This week, my thoughts have turned often to the subject of birth. No, I am not expecting... for once;) However, this amazing topic keeps coming up in my daily life. First and foremost, my little sis just gave birth this Wednesday to a lovely baby girl they named "Faith," and secondly, this Sunday, Cameron will be teaching on John 16, which describes the parallel between childbirth and His death on the cross. And this is where my thoughts have gone...

          Jesus told Nicodemus, a man of the Pharisees and a ruler of the Jews, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus, a reasonable man, then asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:3-7) In explaining the truth of new life to this religious, well studied man, Jesus introduces the concept of spiritual birth through the concept of natural birth. Jesus often used well understood concepts of the physical world, like planting or harvesting, to illustrate the spiritual truth He was teaching. Here too, He connects the natural with the spiritual in the subject of birth; and He continues to teach us in this manner by His Spirit.

           During the delivery of my first child, I became very discouraged at one point. Artificially induced, my labour was not progressing rapidly and I had been in great pain for hours already. I recall crying out in my heart to the Lord and questioning His ability to be my “sympathetic High Priest”, (Hebrews 2:10-18 and 4:14-5:11), having never been in labour. Further, I recalled the curse given to women in Genesis 3:16 to have pain in child birth and was feeling hurt and confused at the apparent lack of my Lord’s compassion on me in my greatest hour of need. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Then, before I had finished my cry, He answered me. The "cross." Just one word. But it answered all my cries. He knew. He had been there. He was my faithful and sympathetic high priest. He had experienced the curse in His body and had suffered the pains of child birth. When His body hung on that tree, He bore in His body all the curse of sin that He might deliver me, His child. He suffered the agony of death that I might be born again in new life. I was astounded. Hebrews 12:2 flew into my mind, “...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross...” That same sort of joy was set before me. Suddenly the cross became so much more to me. Not only a place of suffering, it was a place of birth! What else, besides human birth, could so appropriately portray what took place at the cross? Such intense pain and sorrow followed by such deep and pervading joy and peace! “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

          After the delivery, I began to notice that much of the language used to describe salvation in the Bible is birthing language. Words like, “bearing” or “bore”, “deliver” and “bring forth”, “conceive”, “labour”, “birth pangs”, “travail”, “born”, and “birth” itself are all used to describe spiritual concepts throughout scripture. In Psalm 22, verse 6, the Christ cries out, “I am a worm, and no man.” The Hebrew word for “worm” in this scripture is “towla”, and refers to a particular kind of worm that dies in birth. When ready to deliver, it climbs a tree and attaches itself to the trunk. Its’ body dies on the tree, leaving a red stain which in turn crusts white. Out of this “cacoon” of death its’ offspring come forth. (Henry Morris. Biblical Basis for Modern Science, Baker Book House, 1985, p. 73) 
          Dying to give life: A perfect picture of birth. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Mothers know this kind of love. It is a part of the nature of God that He placed in us when He made us in His own image. Motherhood, from conception onward, is a picture of Christ. I recall the day I acquired what my sweet husband affectionately calls “the marks of motherhood” on my belly - a great starburst of stretch marks surrounding my naval. A bright red supernova that, at the time, elicited a groan of despair, “Oh, my vanity is ruined!” But I wear these marks day after day – a visual testimony of a personal sacrifice in bearing children. Christ, too, wears the marks of “motherhood” in His nail scarred hands and feet for all of eternity; a testimony to His sacrifice for us.
          The maternal nature of Christ was an utter epiphany to me. As a mother will bear a child in her womb and endure all the pain of labour, just that she might deliver a new life to the world, so too, my Saviour Jesus, bore in His body the full curse of my sin and endured the pain and curse of the cross that I might have new life in Him! (Galatians 3:13) Philippians 3:10 is what I call my “life goal”; the greatest aspiration I have in this life: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Being a mother has given me the most special opportunity to truly fellowship in Christ’s sufferings and experience the power of His resurrection! The joy of giving birth and suckling a new babe is a blessing we all know as mothers, but I was overjoyed at the realization that even the accompanying “curse” of pain is a blessing from God as well for those who are in Christ!
         I now know Him in His sufferings, having given up my life and my body that another could have life. I now know the joy set before Him and the love that compelled Him, having waited for and given birth to the most precious and valued little lives I know. I now know the resurrection power, having held a newborn babe to my breast moments after the crowning pain of delivery. Each successive birth has brought this truth closer to my heart, and has likewise brought my heart closer to my Saviour’s. I understand so much deeper the pain and the joy of Calvary, and of His great love for me. 
         May you, too, experience the fullness of life that is found in Jesus Christ, the one who died for your sins that you may have eternal life. "Now Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit." (II Peter 3:18)

I am reminded of Amy Carmichael's poignant poem, "Hast Thou No Scar?"

"For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ,
not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."
Philippians 1:29

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

Amy Carmichael

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