Taking shelter in the wounds of Jesus
A SUDDEN STORM would make people run for shelter – in a building or wherever they can be shielded from the pouring rain. In a hurricane the same thing happens; people desperately look for shelter and safety within an area where they cannot be injured or killed. What about spiritual shelters – where can people run to?
Two days after his heart-warming Aldersgate experience, John Wesley recorded in his journal that he faced unexpected trials and struggles. When he asked a Moravian friend about it, the answer given was: take shelter in the wounds of Jesus.
The phrase “taking shelter in the wounds of Jesus” was used by the medieval monk Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote much on the wounds of Jesus and our love for Him. Bernard traced his ideas from several church fathers who wrote about the five wounds of Jesus (two hands, two feet, and the side).
The connection between the wounds of Jesus and the help they offer to the believer in his spiritual combat was made in many early spiritual writings. The wounds of Jesus are said to provide a safe refuge from the attacks of the devil and the flesh. Thus Bernard wrote, “Here do I live secure, here have I nought to fear: In this harbour of refuge do I find salvation.”
What does taking shelter in the wounds of Jesus mean for us in actual experience? There are three important truths we can consider.
Firstly, the truth of God’s forgiveness. The wounds of Jesus declare to us that we have been forgiven by God. We can take shelter in the fact that we are saved from the penalty of sin when we turn to the cross of Jesus. This is well expressed in the words of 19th century Irish poet Cecil Francis Alexander’s hymn, “When Wounded Sore the Stricken Soul”.
Lift up thy bleeding hand, O Lord;
Unseal that cleansing tide;
We have no shelter from our sin,
But in thy wounded side.
We remember the reassuring words of the apostle John – that even if a faulty conscience condemns us, we can still find rest in God who is greater than our hearts (1 Jn. 3:19-20). This can happen when we look at the cross and realise that Jesus was wounded for us so that we can experience forgiveness and salvation.
The Wesley brothers kept the tradition of the five wounds of Jesus. Charles wrote his hymn “Arise, My Soul, Arise” in which we find these words:
Five bleeding wounds, he bears,/Received on Calvary;/They pour effectual prayers,/They strongly speak for me;/Forgive him, O forgive! They cry,/Nor let that ransomed sinner die!
Secondly, the truth of God’s protection. The wounds of Jesus not only bring us forgiveness but also protect us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies. Strangely, this protection may not be measured in earthly or temporal terms. Thus Paul who wrote that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:37-39) was also cruelly put to death as a martyr. So were many others who reaffirmed the truth that there is spiritual safety in Jesus. The fiery darts of the evil one cannot ultimately harm God’s children. Cleland McAfee wrote a hymn after two of his nieces died of diphtheria – emphasising this truth.
There is a place of quiet rest,/Near to the heart of God./A place where sin cannot molest,/Near to the heart of God.
Thirdly, the truth of God’s empathy. When we pass by a poor beggar in ragged clothes, sitting at a busy road corner, we may feel sympathy for him – and drop a coin in his cup. But most likely, we would not feel any empathy for him. That is because most of us would not know how it actually feels to be a beggar, for we have never been in that position before. We don’t know what beggars think about every day, or what they worry about, how they take care of their needs or what details fill their minds.
To empathise is to feel with the other person. This is possible when we have learned to identify with the other person and are familiar with that person’s thoughts and feelings. The best way this can happen is to have been in that same position ourselves. A widow can empathise with one who is newly widowed. A former cancer patient can show empathy to another cancer patient.
It is in this sense that taking shelter in the wounds of Jesus brings us to divine empathy. God is not a being who simply sympathises and pities us. No, when we look at the wounds of Jesus and take shelter in them, we take refuge in the limitlessly profound empathy of the God who not only suffered for us, but also suffers with us.
We can take momentary comfort in the well-intentioned words and actions of friends, but when friends are left behind in the lonely journey of personal suffering, the wounded Lord still remains with us. There is no comfort like His wounded and healing presence.
It is ironical that the safest place is not made up of the strongest steel or the most elaborate electronic wizardry or guarded by the best trained army. The safest place in the universe is the place where the greatest wounds have been inflicted – where we also find divine empathy and company. We are safe there, and nothing has power to snatch us from those wounded hands where we can find ultimate safety and understanding (Jn. 10:29).
Those wounds of God have gone through death and risen victoriously and they testify to the love and power of God in which we can find eternal salvation and comfort.
John Wesley heard some good advice that day from his Moravian friend. Soon after, he wrote the hymn (being a translation from four German hymns), “I thirst, Thou wounded Lamb of God” from which we know that he made good use of the advice.
I thirst, Thou wounded Lamb of God,/To wash me in thy cleansing Blood,/To dwell within thy Wounds; then/Pain Is sweet, and Life or Death is Gain.
Taking shelter in the wounds of Jesus – Three important truths:
§ The truth of God’s forgiveness;
§ The truth of God’s protection;
§ The truth of God’s empathy.