Epiph-a-ny: (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
I ask forgiveness ahead of time if, number one, I don’t make much sense and two, if you’ve already arrived at the conclusions I did this week. The funny thing about epiphanies is they are often very unique to an individual, especially concerning those divine in nature. They speak more to the soul of the one experiencing them and often get lost in translation as we try to share our new insight with others. And yet at the same time, as with any new found knowledge, we are compelled to share our new insight.
Surprised to find myself at 29 Palms this Easter season (3/6 was moved forward rather quickly due to OPTempo), I was unprepared to preach not once, but 4 to 5 times weekly (to companies of Marines at different positions throughout the base), as the role of a battalion chaplain in garrison is more or less a 9-5 job. However finding myself “in the field” I take on the role of pastor as well to those Marines and Sailors not able to attend their local church.
This past week’s service, was one of the moments when God so reveals a sacred truth that it, if allowed to germinate will change the very core of who you are. It was, in short, for me an epiphany. Granted, I’ll not assume for a moment that the words I spoke shook the foundations of anyone’s world, but the words spoken into my heart as I prepared the message dropped me to my knees first in despair, quickly followed by pure joy.
This then is what I learned the best way I know how to convey it:
Isaiah 1 is well known for God’s discourse with the nation of Israel as they go through the motions of a Law set in place by God himself. And yet God says multiple times how much he hates the very actions He himself called into practice. The Law then appears pointless.
Jumping ahead to Romans 7, we find Paul talking about this same problem with the Law and in verse seven reveals the very nature and reason of the Law, to point out sin, to show us the very plague that leaves us under the power of death. Knowing this truth is, so far, a basic Christian doctrine. The law falls short.
Jump again to Hebrews chapter 10 and we find the point of despair as we learn quickly that the Law being merely a shadow of a greater reality can never make perfect. Read that again: even if from birth one could keep the Law perfectly, he still would not be perfect, because the Law does not have the power to make one perfect, it is but a shadow of a greater reality.
There is a story told in Plato’s Republic of a group of men who from birth had been chained in a cave in such a way that all they were able to see was shadows cast on a wall from an opening in the cave behind them out of sight. One shadow, that of tree was their only understanding of the tree, and so as they spoke of a tree, they reasoned, in their ignorance that the shadow of the tree was, in fact, the very tree having no understanding of the third dimension or the texture of the bark, the softness of the leaves or the aroma of the spring blossoms. They perceived in their limited minds that the shadow alone was the reality and not merely a shadow. Chained as they were to the wall they had no power or understanding that the life they knew was merely a glimpse, a shadow of something far sweeter.
The Law is our shadow tree, and through it we begin to understand Isaiah 1 in light of this revelation, that the shadow by itself is nothing. So what then is the reality?
Love is far greater than I believe any of us ever realize. The Law is built in its crude form on duty, a desire to appease, the need to perform based on pure honor. Love on the other hand is, at its purist form, non-quantifiable. It permeates the very core of who we are, it become the why behind every action, every thought, every moment of a life lived in pursuit of Him who first loved.
1 John 5 says loving God is obeying His Law and it not being a burden. When was the last time you thought it was easy to do the right thing all the time? And yet there it is as plain as day, the law becomes easy under love.
I think our problem is we are still under the assumption that the shadow is the reality. Still shackled to a wall in a cave, we see dimly as through a mirror. I Corinthians 13 talks about this greater way. In fact the last statement of chapter 12 says just that, “I will show you a still more excellent way.” Then we move into the famous love chapter assuming that it’s about love of others, love of husbands, love of wives, when in reality, it is the very heartbeat of every act of God. “The greatest of these is love” is not just a catchy saying, it’s the very dimension of God that moves us from the realm of Shadow into the brightness of the day.
When as a child I thought as a child, reasoned as a child and spoke as a child. So when my parents told me not to play in the street I was oblivious to their reasoning even as they spoke to me of the dangers. Instead I obeyed the law of “thou shall not” because I needed to appease my parents so I would not face their wrath, the dreaded spanking or timeout.
When I became a man, I put away childish things, such as the reasoning and logic of a child who understands half-truth, shadow on a wall. I matured in understand in began at last to see the intent of the “thou shall not.” An intent not based on abstract arbitrary rules but one based on love.
And yet still, wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of sin. Who will free me from the shadowlands, living under the power of sin as it crushes my body under the dictates of the law? Praise be to God, Christ died destroying forever the shackles that chained me to the wall of sin, and I see at last the point of it all was love.
The Law then becomes alive, an outward manifestation of an inward reality. The inward reality? My spirit lives and loves because he made me alive. What was dead in sin now lives in love. The cross of Christ instilled me with the very power to conquer: the Love of God. The Law brought to fulfillment through the cross becomes a life lived in love.
So as you click on the next link or move to next moment of your life I would ask this question:
Are you living your life under the law, as to appease a disapproving parent?
Are you living your life under the banner of love, grateful for the watchful eyes of a loving Father?
In His Grips