November 20, 2017

The Advent of the Law

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Bread of Life, Holy Spirit, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Moses, Redeemer, Sanctification, Son of God, Suffering Servant, The Eucharist tagged , , at 11:12 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

On Sinai, Moses held the perfect heart of God
Inscribed on two smooth stones to testify abroad
God’s Law, carved by His very finger on the stone,
Front and back, to fill them with His Word alone.
But stony human hearts can never perfect be,
And Adam’s ruined children yearned to be set free.
Who can deliver us from Death’s unyielding bands?
The Perfect Lamb with nail scars in His feet and hands,
Whose heart of flesh, pierced through by soldier’s cruel blade,
Poured forth sweet mercy even though He was betrayed.
His holy blood transforms our stony hearts to flesh,
His bread, His holy body, will our souls refresh.
The Advent of the Son of God new life imparts,
And His Spirit writes His law upon our hearts.

Copyright © 2017 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


So many scriptures are distilled in this poem; here are a few of the references:

Exodus 31:18

Exodus 32:15

1 Samuel 17:40

Ezekiel 36:25-27

Jeremiah 31:33

Hebrews 8:10

Hebrews 10:16

 

August 7, 2016

Selling Doves

Posted in Dove, Holy Spirit, Lamb of God, Sanctification, Son of God, Trinity at 8:21 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Our Lord went to the Temple to the feast;
The Lamb of God would bring a sacrifice.
And entering His courts, the Great High Priest
Found His own Father’s house teeming with vice.
He saw the place where sin was to be purged
Corrupt and reeking with the greed of gain.
So He the Righteous Son prepared a scourge
To cleanse the temple from its awful stain.
Then pouring out the coins He arraigned
The moneychangers for their blasphemy
In profiting from sacraments ordained
To show God’s people He must set them free.
Lord, cleanse the temple of my wayward heart,
So that Your Holy Dove will not depart.

Copyright © 2016 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Reference: John 2:13-17


Last Sunday’s Gospel was the counterpart to the scripture on which this poem is based. Jesus cleansed the temple of moneychangers twice, once at the beginning of His ministry and once shortly before He was crucified. The passage in John refers to the first of those events.

It is sobering to find the One who is the original for the types and shadows of the Temple being mocked through price gouging that took advantage of the people for whom He had come to offer Himself as a free sacrifice. It is even more sobering to note that the religious leaders of his day had never rebuked the greedy merchandisers but rebuked Him for doing so. It is most sobering to realize that three years later, after having the benefit of His teaching and His miracles, not to mention the glory of His presence, the hearts of the scribes and pharisees were even harder than before they met Him.

May He ever guard our hearts from all that is not holy.

 

March 19, 2016

Once for All: A Good Friday Poem

Posted in Atonement, Good Friday, Lamb of God, Liturgical Calendar, Redeemer, Resurrection at 4:25 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

One wretched curse embraced by Him, the spotless Lamb,
One bloody death He faced, the Eternal, Great I AM.
This one death for all time perfected guilty men;
Remitted every crime and purged the stain of sin.
By this one offering life freely was bestowed
On us in darkness dying, who bore sin’s heavy load.
Now perfect, we still grow in grace that sanctifies.
Our burdens gone, we trust that with Him we will rise.
Shadows dispelled, He reigns, seated at God’s right hand.
And loosed from sin’s dread chains, before Him now we stand.
Invited to draw near, we join the covenant feast
And serve Him without fear, our ever-blessed High Priest.

Copyright © 2016 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Inspired by Hebrews 10Ephesians 2:13Matthew 11:28-30, and Luke 1:70-74


The epistle reading at evensong this Wednesday was from Hebrews 10. I have read and heard this passage many times, but it seemed that I was hearing it with new ears. The sorrow that I felt upon being reminded that the old covenant required daily sacrifices for sin, yet never completely dispatched its effects, was overcome by the powerful statement that on the cross Jesus served as both the sacrifice and the High Priest, and as the perfect Son of God who was also fully man, He broke the chains that had held mankind since the time of Adam. His sacrifice being sufficient, He sat down, as none of the old covenant priests had ever been able to do.

The verse that really captivated me was this:

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14 NKJV)

It was a much needed reminder that although I am saved, I am being saved and will be saved. Counted as a member of God’s family, I still fall short from time to time, but by His grace, He is sanctifying me. I have been through a difficult three months or so with health issues, and so I don’t need to be reminded that the flesh is weak. I do, however, always appreciate a reminder that His grace is sufficient.

November 28, 2015

Drink Offering

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Bread of Life, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Suffering Servant, The Eucharist tagged , , , , at 12:30 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

From the fiery altar in the temple door
Twice daily sacrifice was made from which arose
Sweet savour that was pleasing to the Lord
Who meets His people where His mercy flows.
Tried by fire, the altar sanctified the dead,
And through the death of lambs God’s hand was stayed.
But His thankless children mocked their sovereign Head;
Rebellious, in the wilderness they strayed.
Yet in the fullness of God’s time He sent
Another Sacrifice whose death would end
All types and shadows, for in His first advent
He stooped to tabernacle among sinful men.
The perfect Lamb poured out His sinless blood,
As a drink offering flowing from His riven side
To sanctify the earth with its life-giving flood,
And in His body is the bread of life supplied.

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Scriptural context:

Exodus 29

John 6:35


I have had the idea of Christ’s blood as the drink offering on my mind for a while, but as Advent has approached, I felt compelled to complete the thought. The poem needs little explanation, but I do want to call one thing to your attention. I have heard many times that because Jesus is the perfect Son of God, He cannot be defiled by touching sickness or death. To the contrary, anyone who touched Him (like the bleeding woman who touched His garment) or whom He touched (like the son of the widow of Nain) became clean and was restored to abundance of life. Similarly, the earth on which His blood was shed was not defiled as it had been by the blood of Abel but sanctified instead.

But as many times as I had read the book of Exodus, I had never noticed this verse, which is a harbinger of His gracious reversal of the curse of sin:

Seven days thou shalt make an atonement for the altar, and sanctify it; and it shall be an altar most holy: whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy. (Exodus 29:37)

I had never considered why the presence of dead animals did not defile the altar. It was because the altar itself made them holy. Praise God for His eternal Son, who sanctifies the whole earth with His glory!

December 11, 2014

David’s Other Sons

Posted in Advent, Bread of Life, Christmastide, Grace, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Redeemer, Shepherd, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, The Eucharist tagged , , , , at 7:10 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Out in the fields where David penned the psalms
And tended wounded sheep with soothing balms
The shepherds kept their watch with diligence,
Straining their ears for sounds of violence:
For lions who would kill the precious lambs
Or thieves who’d take the finest of the rams.
Then as they watched, the news from heaven fell
Like snow in winter; then the sky did swell
With piercing light from realms of glory bright
And news of One who would dispel their night.
Then heaven rained down songs of praise and peace,
The promised advent of the earth’s release.
In Bethlehem, the lowly house of bread,
Lay the Messiah in a manger bed.
Then going forth with joy, they obeyed
The angel’s word and were no more afraid.
They left the ninety-nine to find the Lamb,
Who is the Son of God and Great I AM.
These words the angel gave they told abroad
To bring all nations to the house of God.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This piece is a deliberate intertwining of Luke 2 and Isaiah 55, with a few other references along the way. As for Isaiah 55, it is one of my all-time favorite passages. Who could resist reading about a time when the mountains and hills will break forth in song?

If you’re wondering what the title means, it’s multifaceted. (This is poetry, after all). Throughout the gospels, our Lord is known as the Son of David, as He is a physical descendant of David. Some of the other sons of David are the shepherds, who are residents of the city of David and who spent their time protecting sheep, as did David in his early years. But even we who are not physical children of David have been made fellow heirs to the covenant that God made with David (Isaiah 55:3). Though the wise men and not the shepherds are usually associated with the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s covenant, the account of the shepherds’ faithfulness and obedience has been recorded for all nations to read.

December 19, 2013

Song of the Christmas Sheep

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Christmastide, Grace, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Sheep, Shepherd at 8:19 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

From the days of shepherd Abel
Our lives were paid as sacrifice:
Savory offerings on the table,
Signifying sin’s dread price.
Cursed by Adam’s sin, we waited
For the coming of the Lamb,
When misery would be abated
By the perfect, spotless Ram.
When the time had been fulfilled,
While we grazed in pastures green
And deeply drank from waters still,
The sky exploded with a scene
Of brilliant light and thunderous sound
As angels chimed the glorious song
Of peace to flood the whole world round
To end all woe and right all wrong.
Then leaving us, our shepherds went
To see their Shepherd, filled with grace,
Who from the heart of heaven was sent
As sacrifice to take our place.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


I attended a sweet Christmas pageant at church last night, and when the actors in sheep’s clothing turned to listen to the “angel,” my heart was pierced with the realization that this glorious news of peace on earth, which we often take as completely man-centric, spoke of the animals’ freedom too. Just as the whole of creation was blighted by Adam’s sin, the coming of Christ to roll back the curse speaks freedom to them, but especially to the gentle sheep that had been slain as sacrifices. As the beloved Christmas hymn tells us, “He comes to make His blessings known far as the curse is found.”

The older I get, the stronger is the longing in my heart to see all things restored to their natural glory and to see death swallowed up completely in the victory of Christ. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The only poetry note I’ll add is that the word our in the last line should be read as referring not just to the sheep but to them and the shepherds, and indeed, to the entire world.

P.S. I just thought of another poetry note. The short, choppy lines are meant to signify the motion of sheep. Somehow all my poems about sheep end up with a short-metered line.

March 22, 2013

Something for the Feast

Posted in Holy Week, Lamb of God, Liturgical Calendar, Maundy Thursday, Redeemer, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, Tempter tagged , , at 6:44 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

With them you walked and closely held the purse,
The cunning one so trusted, yet so cursed.
Grave countenance to cover evil plans,
Imagining the coins in your hands,
You ate the bread, then lifted up your heel
To crush the One who offered you the meal.
Yes, quickly go into the dark of night
To make your deal; betray the One True Light.
For if you change your mind, the world is lost.
No other sacrifice can pay the cost.
Go, sell the perfect Lamb to the chief priest,
Obtaining what is needed for the Feast.
As your companions thought, your deeds secured
Provision for the poor, who had endured
The terrors of the one whose path you chose.
His plans the God of Heaven to oppose
Came to fruition on the bloody cross,
While deeper plans unraveled all his power.
He won and lost it all in that same hour.
There in the presence of our greatest foe
The feast was set and blessings overflow.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


As I get ready to enter Holy Week this year, I am more aware than ever of the spiritual warfare that is captured so poignantly in St. John’s account of our Lord’s final hours. I keep going back to John 13 because one sentence captivates me. It is when our Lord says “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” Before the cross? Before the empty tomb? Before His victorious ascension and re-enthronement? It is astounding to think that the spiritual warfare had already been won in the giving of the Feast. His heart was so set on obedience that He could declare victory before it had happened in time because it had already happened in eternity. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

But Judas’ part in all this is where this poem dwells. It was not easy to write, for there is a sense of dread that I could so easily fall into the same trap that ensnared Judas. May God protect and defend His people from our own dark hearts.

Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:27-30)

December 9, 2012

Renovation

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Lent, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant, Word tagged , , at 8:57 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Lift up the valleys and raze every hill,
Repave the rocky roads and make them straight.
Level the hurdles so that nothing will
Obscure the vision that we all await:
The glory of the Lord shall be
Revealed for all the world to see.

Remove the walls and knock the scaffolds down
Take out the fences and fold up the gates.
Shout from the wilderness to every town,
For God has spoken, and His wrath abates.
The Word made flesh has borne our pains
And now as King forever reigns.

Comfort the people who were once beguiled
By dark desires that war against the soul;
Be kind to them, for though they’ve been reviled,
The Lord has come their sad hearts to console.
Behold the Lamb, who takes our guilt!
In Him all things shall be rebuilt.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Isaiah 40:1-11 is a Sunday reading during Advent in more than one lectionary, and so it seemed to warrant an Advent poem. I’ve purposely rearranged the ideas, because the passage starts with the concept of comforting God’s people, and the message I wanted to convey was better served in moving from the concept of leveling everything to that of lifting us up to Himself, comforting us, and rebuilding, only better. (I suppose that betrays my fondness for ascension theology.)

It occurred to me today in reading this passage that the tearing down of mountains and filling up of valleys seems to have a particular purpose: where there are mountains and valleys, the skyline is obscured, and so whatever is revealed would be hidden from some. The timing of Jesus’ arrival, as well as the location of His birth, supported the greatest opportunity for the message to be spread to all the earth. Also, He preached to rich and poor, outcasts and leaders, politicians and zealots, those who were afar off and those who were near. No haughty heart could withstand His gaze; no humble soul could fail to be comforted.

Finally, it is important to notice that there is no room for the status quo when Jesus breaks onto the scene. Everything that would keep us from loving Him sincerely must be knocked down, destroyed, ground to dust. But when He rebuilds our lives, He makes them strongholds.


I’ve been meditating a lot on the Advent passages for Sundays, and this one in particular is filled with poetic symbols that hold great meaning and great comfort. I began scribbling this during the service this morning and completed it this evening. The first line that came to me, since amended, was “break down the walls.” As I pondered this concept of breaking things and rearranging them, I heard an echo from The Hobbit, a book I read in childhood. When Gandalf finished “chipping the glasses and breaking the plates” in Bilbo’s life, his whole future had been rearranged, but both he and his beloved Shire were better off because he bravely endured many adventures.

November 24, 2012

Moriah’s Song

Posted in Atonement, Holy Week, Lamb of God, Liturgical Calendar, Suffering Servant at 11:12 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Strong, obedient, perfect ram,
Led by the God of Abraham
Up Moriah’s lonely hill
To fulfill His holy will.

Abraham was led here too,
With the wood that he did hew
Carried by his only son,
And other offering there was none.

“Behold the wood, behold the fire,
But where’s the lamb that we require?”
“God will provide, my precious child.”
So on they walked into the wild.

The altar built, the child lay down;
From heaven came a welcome sound.
“Stay your hand, O faithful one
Who did not spare your only son.”

Just then the ram bowed down its head,
Prepared to die in Isaac’s stead.
Lift your eyes, behold the Lamb,
The perfect One, the Great I Am.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


I’ve written about this topic from Genesis 22 before (The Thicket and the Ram), but with a slightly different approach. What drew me back to meditate on it more was the idea that the ram was led up onto the mountain just as Abraham was. The one connection I wasn’t able to make explicitly is that Abraham and the ram came up the mountain by different paths, which would signify the path of righteousness that Jesus walked, in contrast to the sinful walk of man.

Rather than a long discursive explanation this time, I’ll just provide a few bullets, mainly because I’m running out of steam for the day:

  1. Moriah is considered by some to be the sight of the temple in Jerusalem. The song of Moriah (which may mean either “chosen by God” or “God teaches”) would always have to be about the Lamb, and never about the rams, goats, turtledoves, or any assorted animals that were sacrificed there. They were merely placeholders.
  2. Can you imagine what it was like for Abraham to chop the wood that he knew would be used to sacrifice his precious son? And in the line that says “other offering there was none” is intended to show that Abraham did not carry a backup, just-in-case lamb with them. God makes sure we know that by having the Scriptures record that Isaac asked about it.
  3. The ram bowing down his head, caught in the thicket, should bring to mind John 19:30, where we read that Jesus said, “It is finished,” and then bowed down His head to die.
  4. This was the first time I had noticed the connection between Isaac’s question in Genesis 22:7, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” and the answer uttered by John the Baptist (John 1:29): “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
  5. The final verse is a play between those last moments on the cross, when our Lord bowed His head to die for us, and the admonition we hear in Scriptures and in the liturgy to lift up our heads and lift up our hearts. He was bowed down so that we might be lifted up!

Hallelujah! Praise to the Lamb!


These ideas have been simmering for about three weeks, ever since a lectionary reading from Genesis 22. It started out as an address to the ram, but I couldn’t sustain that concept, and it somehow made the ideas seem less serious than they are. As it is, the short lines of the poem are teetering close to childish sing-song, but with the words of Isaac injected in the middle, it somehow seemed acceptable.


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