(Brokenness, Purification and At the Cross)
- 3. New bowl, sacrifice and salt
Back to Kings and the prophet Elisha, let’s consider the Lord’s remedy if we have eyes to see our present situation and are willing to apply God’s Word in order to receive healing. In 2 Kings 2:20 the prophet says, “Bring me a new bowl and put salt in it.”
Note that the bowl is new. The old bowl will not do. Jesus said in Matthew 9:17, “Neither do men pour new wine into old wine skins.”
If the individual Christian is unproductive, the Church is unproductive in the sense that it is not working at full capacity. Remember the sin of Achan that caused the temporary defeat of the children of Israel, but also in contrast remember the love of the Good Shepherd who went to seek the lost sheep. Our Lord is interested in the condition of His flock as a whole, but also in the condition of His individual sheep.
We need to be cleansed, dedicated to and consecrated by the Lord. We need to present ourselves to the Lord to be cleansed that we may be fit for His service. The new bowl must contain salt. What kind of salt? Jesus in Luke 14:34- 35 declares that “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil, nor for the manure pile; it is to be thrown out.” Look at verse 33 just above what Jesus is saying about the cost of discipleship: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he cannot be my disciple.”
(The disciple talking): “Lord Jesus, surely you do not mean relinquishing the right to nurse my own pain and the suffering from the affliction that I have to endure; to know for a season the bitterness and resentment that I feel because of the hurtful actions and words of others, causing my bones to be a source of agony, my heart to burst because of the pain and my mind to know no peace; do I have to give that up also in order to be your disciple?”
(“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” Proverbs 17:22).
“Yes, answers the understanding and gentle Savior, that too; in front of sinful men, they bruised my flesh, they beat up my face beyond recognition, they jeered at me, the perfect, sinless Son of God, I could not even see their faces because the blood from my forehead was mixed with the tears that I cried for them, but the Father would not allow their anger, their contempt, their envy, their blind ignorance to break my bones.
In the garden when “my soul was overwhelmed to the point of death” and I carried that bitterness for you, the Father did not allow it to break my bones. On the cross even though they mocked me, I drank the bitter cup to the end and finally when they pierced my heart, my Father did not allow them to break my bones.
Yes, my son, my daughter, I want you to lay this on the altar, as well as your personal aspirations, your dreams, your goals, your skills and everything else, just as I did in loving, willing submission to my Father, so that you will know my perfect, good and acceptable will for your life.”
(These things happened so that the scriptures would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36).
In Romans 12:1, Paul exhorts us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, holy and pleasing to God, as our spiritual act of worship.”
Our bodies contain a lot of salt. But you may ask, what does that have to do with plowing, sowing, sacrifice and harvest? In Leviticus 2:13, the LORD told Moses, “Season all your grain offering with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offering; add salt to your offering.”
Salt, so valuable for its preserving and antiseptic qualities, was a symbol of constancy, fidelity and purity, and as such was used to typify the eternal nature of the covenant between God and Israel.
We have seen above that salt fit for the soil is salt that has retained its saltiness. In Israel, salt was used in a mixture with gypsum, a rock with a bitter taste that served to make plaster to cover the house roofs. That may be what Jesus had in mind when Matthew added to the verse about the salt of the earth, “and be trampled of men” in Matthew 5:13 since a great part of the Israelites’ lives were spent on the roof of their houses.
- 4. Cleansing through the fire of affliction
However, salt before it can be used, has to go through the process of being made pure. As soon as salt gets in contact with humidity, its inherent absorbing quality, just like a sponge sucking in water, causes it to be polluted by whatever impurity is in the water.
Talking about salt again, but this time in the context of people causing believers to sin, Jesus clarifies the issue of purity when He says, “For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltiness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:49-50).
How is the Lord going to make the salt in us pure?
Although born-again believers are not priests from the line of Aaron or Levites from the line of Levi, a valid answer might be: through the fire of affliction. Malachi 3:3 states: “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.”
According to 1 Peter 1:6-8, the apostle declares, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in various trials, so that the authenticity of your faith— more precious than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire— may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with an inexpressible and glorious joy…”
Do we have peace with one another?
Peace in the body of Christ does not just happen. Paul in Ephesians exhorts us to make every effort to keep unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. We already have unity if we are in Christ; the hard part is to maintain it.
Isaiah 48:17-18 states: “Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the LORD thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.”
Our Lord Jesus gave us a new commandment “That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
I believe that a great deal of what is hindering the work of God in our communities stems from the lack of the bond of peace in the Christians’ relationships, between spouses, parents and children, Christian brothers and sisters and churches of different or same denomination. (Here I am not talking RCC-style ecumenical unity, but of the unity of the Spirit between true followers of Christ). Is the water of our city brackish? Is the relationship among Christians in our city one of love, peace and unity or are we trying to cover up the lack of reality in our lives, the hurts, discord, bitterness and resentment with our Sunday smiles?
Following the example of the prophet Elisha, how could we make the city water that came from the spring (the inner spiritual flow) sweet and the land (our lives) productive again?
By letting the Lord cleanse us (the bowl or vessel), and purify the salt in us as we gladly accept the purifying fire of affliction and trials without bitterness. The quickest way for salt to penetrate hard, unproductive soil is to be diluted and poured out on it, and that is just what we Christians can do with our tears.
Heavenly Father, according to your Word in Psalm 56:8, your servant David asked you to put his tears in a bottle. May we see your hand in our affliction and accept its purifying purpose for our lives. We, your church, ask you through the power of your Holy Spirit to create in us a pure heart, release our tears that you have collected in these broken vessels and pour them on the dry and hard hearts that they might be softened just as your rain falls on the just and the unjust to soften the earth and causes things to grow.
- 5. The level ground at the cross
Then, the farmer must level the surface of the ground (v.25), so the seeds will all start germinating at the same level to make sure that the final crop will be as even as possible. We all have to start at Ground Zero:
“at the cross where we first saw the light
and the burden of our hearts rolled away
it was there by faith
we received our sight…”
Our Lord Jesus was crucified between the two thieves. But actually, the thief that turned to Jesus and cried out to Him for help was himself in the center of the battleground between two attitudes and choices that were represented at Calvary. The first one of bitterness, cynicism, mockery, empty bravado from the thief who rejected the precious gift of life, and the other one of forgiveness, indomitable courage, total acceptance of His Father’s will from the Lord Jesus who is and has the gift of eternal life.
The ground was most fertile at the foot of the cross where it had been plowed by the soldier’s shovels that dug the hole and was watered by the blood of the sacrificed pure Lamb of God; and the water of His tears mixed with the salt contained in His body. The ground was the same, the tears, the blood, the gift equally available to each one of the thieves, but one chose life in forgiveness and the other one death in bitterness. For us, the choice is still the same today.
“Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34).
After the ground was ready, the farmer planted wheat in its place (there is a particular soil and a different planting pattern that is best for certain seeds): wheat seeds were planted in lined furrows, apart to insure larger and fuller ears (v.25). All this knowledge must come from God, the only one capable of teaching men to properly understand the world which He created and the ways in which His creation must work together to bring about His desired purpose (v.26).
Taken from the Christian perspective, it is our Lord who plants us where He wants us. We must grow (toward God) and die (to ourselves) wherever He plants us to produce in the end a fruitful harvest for His purpose and His glory.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:24-25).
III. THRESHING (The natural self)
Threshing occurs to separate the wheat from the chaff. The grain has already been planted, harvested, and now is being prepared in this separation process for yet another necessary step in the life of the grain of wheat. It must be threshed in order to, later on, be ground into flour so that the baker can use it to bake the loaf of bread. The threshing requires a specific instrument for a specific type of grain. Not all grains are threshed in the same manner. “For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cumin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cumin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised” (KJV).
In the olden days, wheat used to be beaten manually to separate it from the chaff and then tossed up in the air so that the wind would carry it away. Nowadays we use mechanical or electric threshers.
Oswald Chambers’ insightfully perceives that “Individuality is the husk of the personal life… It separates and isolates. The shell of individuality is God’s created natural covering for the protection of the personal life; but individuality must go in order that the personal life may come out and be brought into fellowship with God. The characteristics of individuality are independence and self-assertiveness. The thing in you that will not be reconciled to your brother is your individuality. God wants to bring you into union with Himself, but unless you are willing to give up your right to yourself, He cannot.” (See Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Dec. 11th. On individuality.)
God uses circumstances and people to show us what needs to be taken out of our lives as chaff, so He can blow it off and use the kernel of wheat, the good nutritious part to be food for others. But according to Isaiah 28:28, God who is as gracious as He is practical says that “one does not go on threshing it forever.” Thank God, “his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
However, the next step in the process of being broken is also painful, though different. There is an increase in the intensity of the breaking. As an example, compare the two stages in the sorrow of Abraham, first when he had to let go of his son Ishmael with his mother Hagar, and later on when God asked him to sacrifice the son of the promise, Isaac. Anyway, nothing in this world can compare to the grief the Father felt when He had to abandon His beloved son Jesus as He offered Himself as a sacrifice to take our place on the cross as a ransom for our salvation.
To be continued in part three.