The Quality of the Torture Stake
One poor mother brought out an infant that had the red hair and bloated belly of malnutrition; the child was covered with sores; not long for this world. As the group passed by, one of the girls pled with the group leader, “Can’t we do something for this baby?” The answer was, “No. If you do for one, you have to do for all.”
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Youth for Messiah sponsored a mission trip to Haiti for a church youth group composed of junior and senior high students. Haiti is a black republic. The youth came in from an upper middle class church from an area where there were few African Americans. The church itself is very traditional and old-line. There hadn’t been any praying for the sick there in over a hundred years.
The students visited a rural village in Haiti’s interior, where people live in thatch huts with no electricity, running water or Circle K gas stations. Culture shock immediately set in as the teens sloshed down a narrow, muddy path. The natives were restless – they came out to see what was going on. It wasn’t everyday that rich, healthy, white teenagers paraded through this extremely poor neighborhood. Compared to the native teens, these visitors appeared to be giants.
One poor mother brought out an infant that had the red hair and bloated belly of malnutrition; the child was covered with sores; not long for this world. As the group passed by, one of the girls pled with the group leader, “Can’t we do something for this baby?” The answer was, “No. If you do for one, you have to do for all.” “But surely we can do something? Can’t we take the baby to the hospital?” “There are no hospitals around here. The child will surely die – most of them do.” “But what can I do?” the girl cried. “The only thing you can do is to go back there, lay your hands on that baby and pray.” “But I don’t want to touch it and I don’t know how to pray.” “Then there’s nothing you can do.”
A while later, the girl again pleaded with the leader. “OK. Let’s go back and I’ll do what you say, except you have to tell me what to pray. I’ve never prayed before.” This is what the group leader was waiting for. When they reached the mother’s tiny hut, the leader explained to her what they’d returned for and asked her permission to pray. Then the leader said to the student, “Lay your hands on the baby’s head.” The baby’s head was covered with sores, but she did as she was told. “Now what should I do?” “Just repeat after me, ‘Father in heaven, please heal this little baby through my prayer. Amen.’” The girl did it with sincerity.
The group watched in amazement as the baby’s eyes came open for the first time. He began to move some. The leader asked the girl who did the ministry, “Did you feel anything?” She replied, “Yes, I still feel tingling in my hands.” “Well,” said the group leader, “something certainly happened here.” Before long, the other teens started looking around for sick people to pray for!
The next day they returned with bread for the whole village. Of course, the group went straight for the baby, who, over the course of the night, showed significant signs of improvement. And he was smiling! By week’s end, the open sores had scabbed over, his eyes had cleared and his mother had new hope for the future. The Heavenly Father had used the compassion of one teen to show them all that he answers prayer. This healing prayer was in imitation of the life of Yahshua aka Jesus and it was an act of supreme Devotion . The life of the child manifested through the death of a man on a stake centuries before. The act of Devotion led to the conversion of everyone in the youth group from the ways of the world to the Way of Yahshua.
When they returned to their staid, dead carcass of a church, they brought it back to life.
A very influential book came out a few years ago entitled: The Second Coming of the Church by the Believer pollster George Barna. Here’s a quotation from the book. “Today’s church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis -- it must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid-twenty-first century.” How do you feel about that statement? Knowing Barna, he’s probably referring to the need for more relevant evangelism, appealing to “the world as it has become” in this, the seventh millennium. Indeed, the world today is a far different place than it was only a generation ago. So Barna suggests developing new evangelism strategies to reach those in love with this world and entrapped by its devices or face extinction.
Having tried some of his strategies, I’ve come to believe that the only way the church will ever again be relevant (in the way Yahweh measures relevancy, at least) is for believers to heed the call to return to the original mission of Yahshua aka Jesus , whether that fills the church up or not. Chances are it won’t because His mission was to die on a stake ; how could stake -centered theology and evangelism fill a church building unless there be a miracle. Let’s face it, the stake is too negative, too simple, too radical, too bloody.
In our text, Yahshua aka Jesus speaks of this mission – death on a stake . When Yahshua suggests such a thing – that to be his follower (acolyte), we carry his stake – he’s not primarily referring to our personal burdens. (“Oh, it’s just my stake to bear!”) No, he’s referring to a stake much higher and heavier than most of our troubles. To carry his stake means to conscientiously choose to sacrifice one kind of life for another. It means the daily, hourly, intentional giving up (or crucifixion) of our individual goals and comforts, accounting such as dead weight, in favor of his loftier plan for our lives. To plan for a world we can’t now see and long for riches we can’t now grasp is a radical, counter-cultural concept. The world can’t comprehend it nor can we fully conceptualize it. Yet our entire faith is built around these words: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” No wonder those who take this saying seriously are ridiculed and marginalized.
Did Yahshua Sneeze?
“But you won’t die!” said Kefa to his Master.
I have often wondered if Yahshua had been born in utter poverty, as some scholars tell us, in a place not unlike the muddy backwaters of Haiti. I wonder if the baby got enough to eat, or if he had childhood illnesses, or if he was malnourished like the infant in our story. If Yahshua had been sick or scared or fevered or had ever experienced accidental injuries in the last few years of his life, Kefa had witnessed it. Certainly, if he had seen any human weakness at all, how could he have said, “This shall not be done unto thee,” unless he was just speaking out of selfish hope and personal ambition, having hooked his wagon to a star.
Kefa had given up everything, we’re told. Yahshua has become Kefa ’s meal ticket and claim to fame. Their destinies were totally wrapped up in each other’s. “Yahshua, you won’t die – you just can’t; and you won’t get sick; you won’t lose your job; you won’t get scared – and if you don’t, neither will I.” Kefa ’s words are similar to those spoken to Eve by the viper in the Garden of Eden, “Surely honey, you won’t die! Father is just kiddin’ wit you.” The old viper repeated himself four thousand years later, but in a desert, and in a much more dignified manner.
“Thou art the Son of the Holy One - nothing is too difficult for thee - and all power is thine: cast thyself down, for is it not written, ‘He shall give his angels charge over thee lest he dash his foot against a stone?’”
Did you ever consider that if Yahshua could die, he could also have suffered from malnutrition – or hay fever? That he might’ve had family troubles, or might’ve been an outcast? That the baby Yahshua meek and mild might have been despised by the neighbor lady because she’d heard he never shed a tear? If he was the Son of the Holy One, how could he ever be sick, or have fear, or sneeze – or die? As the Norwegian missionary declared, “No, you’re wrong. Yahshua never even sneezed!” If he didn’t cry as he burst from the womb, if he didn’t sneeze, then how could he die, we wonder? What do you think? Did Yahshua catch cold?
The Modern Variation
A modern variation on this theme is that Yahshua died so we mightn’t suffer anymore. The resulting theology so prevalent today is that, “If you’ll just do this, that will happen.” Like, “If you do the right things, you’ll always get the right results.” Or, “If you pray your brother gets a caddy, you’ll get one too.” Or, “If you’ll just send me a thousand, Father will pay all your bills.” Turn on any TV preacher and see for yourself. It’s a seductive message. After all, didn’t Father promise to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory? No, he didn’t. Read Ephesians 4:19 again and see. However, if we take off our sandals and follow Yahshua up to the top of the hill, then ever after, we’ll be with him wherever. There’s great security in that. And we pick up little, unexpected treasures along the way.
Look again at Kefa aka Peter . Didn’t Yahshua promise to restore all he’d given up? Kefa had a wife and family, a very nice seaside home and a thriving business. He walked away from these things. When he asked what he’d get in return, Yahshua told him he’d receive the same back along the way, only with persecutions. Perhaps Kefa regained his loses later in his life, we don’t know. He may have just lost interest in worldly things. What we do know is that Kefa did indeed gain a Roman stake thirty-five years later.
One Important Condition
So I suppose we can say that what popular preachers are teaching has a ring of truth – we can receive abundant life, health and possessions now because Yahshua died then once and for all, broken and dispossessed. But what’s missing is Yahshua’s conditions: “Let him deny himself, take up his stake , and follow me.” The “stake ” spoken of here is the same one Yahshua died on. If the church is to “reform” for the 21st century and become the source of salt, light and life to the nations, then perhaps the church should start promoting that believers live lives in imitation of the head of the church, Yahshua the Nazorean: we must live in abundance by dying to self daily. How unpopular! How negative! How difficult and out of style! Yet our promise is that those who deny themselves and take up his stake will be left standing in the end, though the whole world pass away.
The Quality of the stake : Devotion aka Holiness
There’s a biblical word for this “stake -centered living” that comprises the narrow way of Yahshua the Nazarean. That word is Devotion . Devotion is the great quality of the stake -centered life; Devotion is the evidence of one’s personal stake and it’s power. A lot of churches have the word “Devotion ” in their names – churches full of primarily poor but devout people; the word Devotion doesn’t garner much favor with prosperous Believer s. But what does this “stake -centered word” Devotion really mean – high hairdos and King James Bibles?
The concept of scriptural Devotion hails back to the law of Yahweh:
(Leviticus 20:7-8 KJV) Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am Yahweh your Yahweh . And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am Yahweh which sanctify you.
In other words, Devotion means keeping the laws of Yahweh, including the Ten Commandments, and Yahweh then promises, “I will set you apart (sanctify you) for myself.” The value of Devotion (i.e. keeping the Law of Yahweh) was never cheapened by Yahshua, his Apostles or the early believers. Every single one of them called on Yahweh by name, regarded the personage of his Son our Savior and kept the seventh-day Sabbath – every one of them! Since we’re talking about Kefa , consider what he writes years later regarding Devotion : it’s very plain -- he quotes the passage from Leviticus I just read:
(1 Kefa 1:15-16 KJV) As he that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written: Be ye holy for I am holy.
Pastor Ryrie defines Devotion as a two-fold “setting apart”: To be holy means “to be set apart from sin”; and “to be set apart unto Father .” If we set ourselves apart in these ways, then the Father in Heaven promises to set us apart for eternity. Let’s face it – it would be extremely difficult for us to learn his 613 laws. But we can set ourselves apart by following the example of the Man who was motivated by his Father’s perfect law and perfect Devotion . He was sent to die for us, that’s certain enough. But he was also sent as an example to us, or as a model for us. Studying his life and imitating it can bring us fully into keeping his Father’s laws in all manner of conversation. (“Conversation” is an old word that means one’s conduct or behavior as well as verbal dialog with others.)
Devotion therefore means to take up Yahshua’s life, including his stake , daily, and to do as he did, not merely for the sake of self-denial – we’re not Buddhist monks – but for the sake of ultimately building a perfect kingdom of peace and security. Devotion is the narrow pathway to truth that Father and Son have chosen; and this is why many turn away and unto the broad way that leads to destruction. There are no side roads into Heaven; there’s only one road, and the name on the signpost is “Devotion .”
The New Temple
In a recent message, we talked about the temple being destroyed in Jerusalem. This temple was thought to be the dwelling place – the physical earthly home – of Yahweh, the Creator. When it was torn down, the old, false religious traditions of Israel were torn down with it. Nineteen hundred and thirty-three years have passed and this stone temple has never been rebuilt. Yahshua himself predicted its downfall, and told the woman at the well Yahweh would be worshipped in spirit and truth. Yet how could Yahweh be worshipped without a temple?
Paul and the other New Testament writers all tell us that though the stone temple was torn down, a new temple was built, but not in Jerusalem. That new temple is that spiritual organism we call the “Body of the Anointed Messiah ” and you are to be a living stone in that great temple. Here’s how Paul explains it:
1 Corinthians 6:19. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from Father ? You are not your own; 20. you were bought with a price. So glorify Father in your body.
Again, the price of the perfect man was laid down on a plank of self-denial to purchase for us, if we choose to accept it, the great honor of being the dwelling-place of the Yahshua’s Glory! What do we do with that? We are to glorify him not only in our spirit, but also in our body, which is also a way of describing our day-to-
day existence. Whatever the human spirit does, the body follows; and vice-versa. You are the new temple, both in body and spirit. And by His grace, you may act accordingly, and by his promise, even when your old body is sneezed to death or crushed in the jaws of lions, your spiritual body, which is every bit as real as the physical, will live on in the abundance of his eternal temple.
The Quantity of the stake
So getting back to this stake , it’s revealing to note who was crushing our Master all the day long – it wasn’t the people of Israel; they thought highly of him. It was the religious authorities. Priests, church elders, bishops and scholars – popular and powerful evangelists – and others – teaching an unscriptural Devotion and self-denial that put a profound yet worthless burden upon those who desired true worship. But these hypocrites never practiced what they preached: not unlike many popular teachers of our day – they won’t lift a pinky to help. Even if these man-made rules were followed to the letter, they still wouldn’t bring scriptural Devotion anyway. Because, to be holy, one must simply be on that pathway that Yahshua forged for you by his blood – follow him and you’ll be not only holy, but perfect.
Following the way of the stake doesn’t entail constant hardship; there’re many blessings along the way, and this is what Yahshua tried to convey to Kefa . What you give up now you may pick up again along the way to the stake . Yet we’re often denied our rightful gleanings because we’ve been taught some other way rather than the “narrow way” that Yahshua prescribed. His way’s so plainly set out in these four tiny books we call Gospels that anyone could follow the stake closely if they only would.
Believer author Keith Miller really nails down what I’m trying to say in these words:
It has never ceased to amaze me that we Believer s have developed a kind of selective vision which allows us to be deeply and sincerely involved in worship and church activities and yet almost totally pagan in the day in, day out guts of our business lives — and never even realize it.
If you do nothing else today, it’ll be worth your while if you will, in the light of what I’m teaching:
2 Corinthians 13:5. Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Yahshua the Messiah is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test! But we pray Father that you may not do wrong, but that you may do what is right.
Doctor’s prescribe that everyone learn to examine one’s own body for signs of disease. It’s the same for spiritual pursuits – examine yourself! Read one gospel through. Compare your life to the life of Yahshua as portrayed therein. You may never come up to that standard, but it’ll give you a very good idea if you’re on the heavenly highway or off on some side road to Alabama.
Devotion As It Pertains to Healing
Now I want to apply these ideas of Devotion , life and death to the subject of physical healing. I told you a true and miraculous story of a youth group that turned a church upside down. Here’s another miracle with a less than desirable ending.
We were called in to pray for a man who was eaten up with cancer. His wife believed he could be healed, even in this late stage. He’d lost his tongue and gums and now the cancer had gone into his throat and lungs. He could no longer speak and he could no longer stand for long. He was a wretched site to see, let me tell you. But we prayed in faith for his healing, and that man raised his hands into the air and mouthed the word, “Hallelujah.”
After we prayed, we were talking to his wife privately. “How’d he get this way?” I asked her. She replied, “He had a lot of bad habits. He smoked and chewed every kind of tobacco since he was a boy. When he got the cancer real bad, he started going to church.” Then she said something really significant. She said, “He came to the altar rail for prayer and, wouldn’t you know it, he was completely healed. Even the doctors said so and released him. But then he just went right back to it again.” Unbelievers or new believers often get instantaneous healings as a sign that Yahshua is alive, while life-long believers are often not afforded such spectacular signs. This is a necessary contradiction if we are to grow in Devotion .
We know what to do to gain our healing aside from prayer. We’ve been taught what the stake requires, and that it’s quality is Devotion , since we are the temple of the Holy Ghost. I wonder how many times before we approach the altar for communion, which is a participation in Yahshua’s blood, or come forward for prayers for healing, that we consider our own contribution to our affliction – our own propensity to miss the mark of the high calling to which we’ve been called. Have we truly made it our life’s goal to furnish our earthly temple with Devotion , study and prayer, or have we persisted in sin against the temple and lost our way? Doesn’t it just make sense that Father can’t rightly heal somebody who’s already seen the great signs, yet will continue to desecrate the temple? Healing is just one example; the principle applies to all facets of the believer’s life.
Here’s where the going gets rough and unpopular. You may say, “I’m a believer and weak. Yahweh knows I just can’t quit my lifestyle or detrimental habit or lawbreaking attitude or lazy trust of false prophets. He’ll understand; besides, I’m saved by his grace, not by anything I do, lest I boast.” My friend, grace only extends to the berm of Devotion Highway – there are “soft shoulders” signs all the way along this road. And beyond the berm and the grace, there is a morass to avoid. Enough said. If you’re off the Highway, get back on immediately. Confess yourself and take up your stake . Come back into the divine fellowship of faithful pilgrims. Give thanks for what you have, but seek that which is from above.
Officer Pete O’Hanlon was patrolling on the night shift in northern England when he heard a quivering little sob off the side of the road. Turning that way, he saw in the shadows a little boy sitting in the gutter. Tears rolling down his cheeks, the child cried out, “I’m lost. Take me home.” The policeman began naming streets. trying to help the boy remember where he lived. Failing in that, he tried naming shops and hotels, but without success. Then he remembered that in the center of town there was a well-known church with a huge white stake , lit up and towering high above the surrounding landscape. He pointed to that stake , which could clearly be seen, even in the darkness. Officer O’Hanlon asked, “Do you live anywhere near that?” The boy’s face immediately brightened up. “Yes, take me to the stake . I can find my way home from there”
Maybe you need to go looking for that stake today; come into its Devotion , and find the road to home.
Jackson Snyder, August 20, 1998