The Mark of Sorrow
Branding is a very, very old concept. It visibly confirms the bearer in all the rights and protection of belonging to the owner of the brand. If you're a cow and you have a brand on your neck, it means you belong to the farmer who owns the brand. You live in his barn, eat his food and are treated as his cow. People since the dawn of time have grouped together under a flag and worn special colors on their bodies to indicate the kingdom they belong to and the king whose leadership they claim in return for the rights and benefits he could hand out (land, food, money, etc.).
There are a few brands God himself mentions as a sign (or seal) of his possession. Like a wedding ring, there are signs we wear when we follow after God. The one Ben and I have been pondering this week is the one God grants us when he finds us weeping and mourning at the wickedness we see around us. It's the opposite of the infamous "666" brand mentioned in Revelation. All who bear that brand are destroyed. The ones who bear God's brand are spared and blessed.
3Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. 4And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” - Ezekiel 9:3
This is a difficult idea. It clashes with the picture we have of a Believer: we are supposed to be at peace. We are supposed to be a Light on a Hill, attracting all men to the glory of God by the Spirit that lives in us and gives us the peace that makes people want to have what we have.
Most people really don't want sighing and groaning and tears. If that's what it takes to receive the brand of God's ownership on our foreheads, it's not an attractive prospect.
Here's the thing, though: I'm pretty sure we don't fully understand peace. We get it confused with happiness. Sometimes Peace is also Sad.
7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. - Hebrews 5:7
I've always had trouble with this passage. It doesn't sound like the Jesus I know. Jesus praying - to me - would be a dignified, quiet conversation. What's with the loud cries and the tears? This does not compute!
37“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” - Matthew 23:37-39
This is Jesus speaking, the one who promised us HIS peace. That means the peace he has to pass on to his followers includes this facet, this great and terrible longing to be able to save those he loved and the grief that comes with being rejected. That is the heartbreak of a parent losing a child. If that isn't weeping and mourning, I don't know what is.
One of the prophesies about Jesus says this:
3He 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.
4Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
- Isaiah 53:3-4
Jesus' peace, the peace the peace he passes to us through his Spirit, is the peace of a Man of Sorrows. It is a sign of being filled with desire for God to weep at certain things. The peace of the Spirit he passes to us will cause us to be despised and not esteemed even as we are filled with sorrow for the very people who despise us.
Because Jesus loved those around him as if they were his children and even he, the Savior, the Messiah, could not save them from the destruction they were bringing on themselves.
No matter how loudly he shouted, how firmly he taught and how earnestly he wanted to gather them away from destruction, he could not. He was filled with the power and authority to rescue and protect them, but he needed his beloved children to want to be saved.
This, then, is how I understand the passage about God branding people with his mark of ownership when they look around, "judge" their neighbors to be committing great abominations, and groan and sigh over it. Because they are filled with love and in the midst of their own peace are also filled with grief and long to make what is wrong right. And they can't, because those they love do not want what they have. Those Jesus loved often did not want what he had, and there couldn't have been a light shining on a hill any brighter than he was.
As confusing as it is, one sign of growth in God's Spirit is also the growth of sorrow at the wrongness we see around us that we cannot fix but we know is completely antithetical to what God created and the good he wants for his creation. It so distresses God's followers that they cannot help but sigh and groan at what they are seeing.
We don't know what generation will be at Ground Zero when the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord comes, but if it comes in our lifetime, we do not want to be found ignoring wickedness or scoffing arrogantly at it while saying, "At least I'M not like those sinners over there!" We want to be so filled with love and Jesus' peace that we are full of sorrow when we see anything that doesn't fit what God meant to be.
And that is how true Peace must sometimes weep.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh." -Luke 6:21b
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Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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