Anointed for Burial
This article is a sort of opinion piece about the, to me, vexed subject of ‘revival’. Although revival is not a word that appears in the Bible, it is nevertheless a Biblical phenomenon; but, as I personally have heard the term used all my Christian life in our western churches, it seems to be a very unhelpful term and almost a badge of despair about the state of the church. “We need revival. God! Send revival.” The meaning being, “things are going from bad to worse; society is a mess; we don’t know what to do; we hope God intervenes!” I believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the idea of revival, one that needs doing away with.
A first point is this: many would say that the worldwide church has been in a state of revival for over a 100 years, and one idea might pin the beginning of this to Azusa Street, the ‘outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ which led to the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Smith Wigglesworth had a nice story to express his convictions. He tells of the early days of steam locomotion; George Stephenson wanted to take his sister on a maiden journey of his steam engine. She looked at it and shook her head, saying, “George, it’ll never go. It’ll never go!” But she got on, the engine started to move and she cried out, “George! George! It’ll never stop! It’ll never stop!” If we have eyes to see, we might not cry out for revival in quite the way that seems prevalent; it’s been running for a hundred years.
A second point would be that the worldwide revival has specific incidences. A wonderful example is events in Lewis, the Outer Hebrides, associated with the preaching of Duncan Campbell. The presence of God was so strong, it is said, that as ships approached the island, there was a particular range at which the ships would pass into that presence and sailors would fall to their knees! All that sounds very good; whatever one might think, the feature to note is that this was not an institutional revival, a change in the way the country operated, in social structure….no, it was a coming and sense of the presence of God. This is the point where so much of popular thought goes so wrong; that the church envisages itself, the church, changing society and thinks of this as revival. That is not an incidence of the worldwide revival.
I believe that as long as the church thinks like this it is fated to fail; in Australia, for example, as long as the church sees itself as part of society, a part of society trying to turn back the tide and return Australia to being a Christian country, whatever that means, it opens itself up to wave upon wave of condemnation and guilt.
Here is author Bob Ekblad on this issue:
“When followers of Jesus see themselves too much “according to the flesh” (as a citizen of their particular nation, member of a religious denomination, ethnic group, sexual orientation, or political party), they can easily fall into either justifying their ethnicity, nation or orientation, or agreeing with accusations against themselves and seeking to right the wrongs. The Accuser, rather than the Defender, ends up setting the agenda for people’s actions, unless we are continually remembering our identity as beloved son or daughter by adoption and living according to the Spirit. Whenever people live in agreement with their natural identity, they give the Accuser permission to harass them with their shortcomings according to their identity in the flesh. When our focus becomes righting the wrongs of our country or ethnic group, we step under the gaze of a judge whose demands for restitution are infinite. Voices of accusation will make sure we know that we are never doing enough. Finally, any headway we do make toward justice will end up serving the powers, magnifying the names of creatures rather than the Creator.
It seems to me that ‘righting the wrongs of our country’ is in fact exactly what we western Christians seem to have in mind when we talk about ‘revival’; we see society in decay, in a parlous state, and we want to see that put right, and the answer we propose is ‘revival’. And so, “we are never doing enough”; the result is part of the institutional despair that permeates church life (so my experience tells me) despite the wonderful things we see happening in the lives of individuals within the church. We reach a few individuals, but in society as a whole, we are simply off target.
Among possible outlooks, here is one which, I believe, can help move us towards being a place where an ‘incidence’ of the worldwide revival can take place – it helps me anyway; it has reference to the gospel passage in which Jesus is ‘anointed for burial’. We remember that he is in a certain house and a woman comes bearing an alabaster flask of perfume, ‘very precious’, and breaks it over him; we are told that ‘the fragrance filled the house’. The woman was of course accused of wastage, but Jesus said that it was a good thing she had done, she had ‘anointed [him] for burial’. (Of course, one also wonders what else can ever be done with perfume; how can it be a waste – it has to be used somewhere; where better than on Jesus?)
Jesus did not come to set up a worldly kingdom. He came to a cross, a burial and a resurrection and a kingdom ‘not of this world’. If we begin to see the Church as similarly bound for death, burial and resurrection, dead to the world, buried away from the world, resurrected into a life not of this world, and act in accordance, that is as ‘anointed for burial’ in our relation to society, then we might find a tremendous release of fragrance that fills the house. This means not agitating in the world’s forums; it means not being hand-wringingly concerned about what we see in the world. It means having an identity in Christ not as eg ‘Australian’ – ‘in Christ there is no Greek or Scythian or…Australian’. It doesn’t mean not being involved in the affairs of this world, but it does mean that if we are involved it is to be as ‘anointed for burial’, the body of Christ covered in perfume. Our place is not to set to rights the things we don’t like. As long as we do that there will be no fragrance, no presence; no, we will insist on selling the perfume on, and engaging in some relatively worthless act of charity. Fighting for justice, yes; seeing perfume being used as perfume on Jesus as a waste, and not being ourselves ‘anointed for burial’, no!
“The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.” As long as churches and church people are fighting against society, trying to pull it back to moral ways, that is merely a moral reform movement, the wrath of man attempting to work the righteousness of God. There is no fragrance.
It is the fragrance that is beautiful; not morality, not safety in the streets, not economic assurance, not ‘Christian’ laws, but fragrance. The world crucified Jesus. Jesus said very plainly that it will do the same to the Church. We have to accept this, the crucified role of the Church in society! It is beautiful! Not being listened to – anointed for burial and then dead on a cross – is the good place to be, a place of freedom; actually void of responsibility! It is very nice not to be responsible! The world and many of the disciples call it a waste, (O, you have to be responsible – we are going to sort the nation out – actually we are going to be in charge), but Jesus says it is good, and the fragrance filled the house!
Frank Bartleman Azusa Street
A brief account by Duncan Campbell of the Lewis awakening may be found under the title of When the mountains flowed down – and a number of books on ‘revival’ tell the story in more detail.
Like a Mighty Wind by Mel Tari tells some of the story of the incidence of revival in West Timor, as does The Gentle Breeze of Jesus.
The following is an excerpt from Richard Wurmbrand 100 Prison Meditations, on our lack of fitness to govern society:
Why did Jesus not allow himself to be made a king?
When Jesus perceived that the Jews would make him a king, he departed (Jn 6.15). Surely he would been a better king than Herod and He must have known it. Why, then, did he not accept?
We can only postulate his motives.
One reason would be that the choice would not be His. Nations are fickle: today they elect a king; tomorrow they overthrow him. Christ does not accept the roles we choose for Him. The choices must be His. His decision was to be a Saviour for eternal life rather than a king in this life.
On the other hand, the fact that He was a good Saviour does not prove that he would have been a good king over Judaea, just as a good Sunday school teacher might not necessarily be a good prime-minister.
As man, He sometimes showed utter indifference toward human suffering, just as he could also show compassion. None of these attitudes dominated Him.
He chose among them. He was told about innocent Galileans killed by Pilate. A kingly person in the earthly sense would have shown indignation and would have organized the tyrant’s overthrow. Jesus said simply: ‘Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’ (Lk 13.2-3).
He is told about a catastrophe, a tower which has collapsed killing eighteen people: Jesus does not give instructions about building more safely in the future, nor does he organize relief for families of the victims. He repeats the above words and makes this another occasion for teaching repentance. He acknowledges only one real motive for grief: that of not being a saint.
This is the correct attitude for a Saviour, but not for an earthly king.
When Jesus heals a man inhabited by demons, He causes a large herd of swine to drown (Lk 8.33). Jesus shows callousness towards this destruction of property. But it was acceptable for a Saviour to destroy a herd and leave someone impoverished in order to heal his fellow man, and therefore Jesus does not justify himself, nor do the evangelists defend his action.
He achieves the objective to be expected from a Saviour. For an earthly king such behaviour would not be right.
Jesus predicts a national tragedy: the destruction of the Jewish state. He does not call upon men to risk their lives in defence of their fatherland as a secular king would have to do. He tells his disciples, ‘At such a time, flee’ (Lk 21.21). The abandonment of their countrymen at such a time forced the final break between Christianity and Judaism.
The Saviour had entrusted the disciples with a deposit of eternal truth which had to be kept intact. This was more important than the defence of the land.
So thinks a Saviour. An earthly king has another calling. These two purposes do not mix.
Jesus could not be an earthly king, and those who try to make Him the Solver of earthly problems are mistaken.