Christianity 201

May 6, 2017

The One Who Never Sinned, Became Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21

Six months ago we introduced you to bestselling author and teacher Richard Rohr. His writing is posted at The Center for Action and Contemplation.

Jesus as Scapegoat

Practice: Standing at the Cross

Picture yourself before the crucified Jesus; recognize that he became what you fear: nakedness, exposure, vulnerability, and failure. He became sin to free you from sin. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.) He became what we do to one another in order to free us from the lie of punishing and scapegoating each other. He became the crucified so we would stop crucifying. He refused to transmit his pain onto others.

In your imagination, receive these words as Jesus’ invitation to you from the cross:

My beloved, I am your self. I am your beauty. I am your goodness, which you are destroying. I am what you do to what you should love. I am what you are afraid of: your deepest and best and most naked self—your soul. Your sin largely consists in what you do to harm goodness—your own and others’. You are afraid of the good; you are afraid of me. You kill what you should love; you hate what could transform you. I am Jesus crucified. I am yourself, and I am all of humanity.

And now respond to Jesus on the cross, hanging at the center of human history, turning history around:

Jesus, Crucified, you are my life and you are also my death. You are my beauty, you are my possibility, and you are my full self. You are everything I want, and you are everything I am afraid of. You are everything I desire, and you are everything I deny. You are my outrageously ignored and neglected soul.

Jesus, your love is what I most fear. I can’t let anybody love me for nothing. Intimacy with you or anyone terrifies me.

I am beginning to see that I, in my own body, am an image of what is happening everywhere, and I want it to stop today. I want to stop the violence toward myself, toward the world, toward you. I don’t need ever again to create any victim, even in my mind.

You alone, Jesus, refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified. You never asked for sympathy. You never played the victim or asked for vengeance. You breathed forgiveness.

We humans mistrust, murder, attack. Now I see that it is not you that humanity hates. We hate ourselves, but we mistakenly kill you. I must stop crucifying your blessed flesh on this earth and in my brothers and sisters.

Now I see that you live in me and I live in you. You are inviting me out of this endless cycle of illusion and violence. You are Jesus crucified. You are saving me. In your perfect love, you have chosen to enter into union with me, and I am slowly learning to trust that this could be true.

Gateway to Silence:
Father, forgive them.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Jesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior,” Richard Rohr on Transformation, Collected Talks, Vol. 1, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 1997).

April 18, 2017

The Crucifixion in Street Language

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:5, NKJV and NLT


From The Street Bible by the late Rob Lacey*

The macabre scene moves slowly up Skull Hill. They get there and the Roman Death Squad shove a cocktail made of wine with myrrh into Jesus’ face. He takes a sip but spits it out, flat refusing to drink the stuff.

They pin Jesus to the rough crossbar leaving him to die. Him and the two hardened criminals — one on either side. Jesus says, “Dad! Don’t hold this against these people — wipe their slates clean. They’ve got no idea what’s going on here!”

The Death Squad rip his clothes off and start playing gambling games to see who “inherits” the clothing mementos.

Time check: Friday 9 AM. One of the soldiers grabs the multi-use Offence Placard, writes up Jesus’ “crime” and then pins it just above his head. It reads, “Jesus: King of the Jews”.

The other two victims with him — the terrorists — one on either side of the central focus point, Jesus… bite back their excruciating pain and add their jibes to the mix… “Aren’t you supposed to be The Liberator? Get liberating, won’t you? You need it and we need it!”

But the other guy calls across, “Don’t you have no respect for God? You’re getting what you had coming to you, but this guy’s done nothing wrong. So shut it!”

The second career criminal turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, don’t forget me when you sit on your throne, okay?”

Jesus answers him, “I’ll tell you today — no lie — you and me, we’ll be in paradise together.”

Time check: 12 midday. It goes dark, totally dark, for three full hours right across Judah. Nothing except the chilling sound track of three men inching toward Death. Later, about three in the afternoon, Jesus freaks those still left there by shouting, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Translation: “My God, my God, why’ve you abandoned me?”

Some of those within earshot hear the “Eli, Eli” bit and get the wrong end of the stick, saying, “Listen, he’s trying to connect with Elijah!”

Knee-jerk reaction for one guy was to offer some soured wine to the sufferer, hoisting a soaked sponge of the stuff up to Jesus on a stick. Others are going, “Whoa! Hang on. Wait to see if Elijah’s going to turn up like a one-man SWAT team and rescue him.”

Jesus shouts on out one more time and finally allows his spirit to be torn out of his broken body.

He cries out, “Dad, I trust you with my spirit!”

His last words.

He dies.


Quotations about The Cross:

God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, “I love you.” ~ Billy Graham


All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them. –E. M Bounds


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin. ~ Watchman Nee


Today Jesus Christ is being dispatched as the Figurehead of a Religion, a mere example. He is that, but he is infinitely more; He is salvation itself, He is the Gospel of God. –Oswald Chambers


The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. ~ John Stott


*Note to overseas friends: In the USA and Canada, The Street Bible was published as The Word on the Street.

April 14, 2017

Appeasement or Deliverance?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Mel Wild is senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and as director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin USA. We’re introducing him to readers at C201 today for the first time and I was thrilled to find an article which would be a such a good fit for Good Friday.

As always, click the title below to read at his blog, In My Father’s House.

Christ, the Passover Lamb (Part One)

How is Christ is Lamb of God? Is the emphasis on appeasement, like with the animal sacrifices in the Mosaic Law, or is it about deliverance?

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Jewish Passover, but we’re going to look at the first Passover and see how that might answer the question for us.

First, here’s how Paul made the connection between Christ and the Passover:

Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. (1 Cor.5:7 *)

This passage also brings up another question: in what way does it mean that Christ was sacrificed? I’ll address that question next time.

In my series, “Jesus Christ: Savior of the world,” I made the point that the Cross of Christ delivered us from Satan’s societal construct in alienation from God called “this world.” From what we learned from the series, let’s take a fresh look at how Christ fulfilled the Passover.

What are we being saved from?

We see the Passover instituted in Exodus 12, but the promise is made earlier. I want you to notice the nature of this promise. I’ve highlighted the salient points for our discussion:

And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  (Exod. 6:5-7 *)

Looking at this passage, which the New Testament says Christ fulfills as a type for our salvation, is there any mention of God needing to be paid in order to forgive us? (I’ll come back to this in part two.)

What is the context here? “I will bring you out from under the burdens”…”I will rescue you from their bondage…”

Is this not talking about deliverance from bondage? In Israel’s case, from the Egyptians? In our case, from “Egypt” as a biblical archetype for “this world?”

Let me ask you another question while we’re here. What is the difference between being forgiven and being saved from your sins?

21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt.1:21 *)

Forgiveness speaks of forbearance. The criminal is pardoned. But to be freed from your sins is much more than this!

Israel being delivered from their slavery in Egypt is the best way to see this. But, with us, it’s a slavery of another kind.

First, we see Moses as a type of Israel’s Messiah to come:

So the Lord said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to PharaohAnd the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (Exod.7:1, 5 *)

Notice that it says that God will bring Israel out from among them. It speaks of removal from what’s keeping them in slavery. For us, “Pharaoh” represents the “god of this age” (2 Cor.4:4), and “Egypt” represents the societal structure in alienation from God that he controls called “this world.”  The New Testament writers understood that Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment.

37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ (Acts 7:37 *)

So, Jesus, as a type of Moses, came to free us from our slavery to this world system:

34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:34-38 *)

who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal.1:4 *)

He didn’t come just to forgive us (although we are forgiven), or even to take us out of the physical world. He came to free us from Satan’s construct in this world that has enslaved us. I go into this in much greater detail in my post, “The sin of the world.”

13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col.1:13 *)

We will look at how we might understand Jesus as our ransom and how He purchased our freedom as the Passover Lamb when I conclude tomorrow.

* Unless otherwise noted, New King James Bible translation. All emphasis added.

 

April 12, 2017

Is it Gratitude or Is it Love?

Ronnie Dauber is a Christian author who lives in Canada with her family. She has written several young adult novels and six Inspirational books. We’re introducing here today at C201 for the first time.

When I started reading this article, I thought it was rather elementary, but then I looked at the central question — gratitude vs. love — and I started to really examine my own heart. In what follows she says love isn’t an automatic response, “like sending out Christmas cards where we receive one from somebody and then send one back out of response because it’s the right thing to do.” We have to get past that and know that “we are only able to praise Him and worship Him from our heart—and we can only do that when we truly love Him.”

Click the title below to read at source — it’s more visually interesting that way — and look around the rest of her website.

Gratitude or Love

As Christians, we are supposed to love God, but how many of us actually know why we love God? Sometimes we get confused between the gift and the giver and we tend to value the gifts and the promises more than we value the actual One who gives them to us. So we need to know our own heart and what our response is to God: is it gratitude for the blessings or love because He is our Father?

Many of us have been at a store at some time or another and found ourselves to be slightly short in cash when we’re paying for our purchase. We fret and get embarrassed and then a total stranger will step in and give us that bit of money and not want anything in return. They were being very kind and understanding in our situation and they acted in a totally Christian way. But do we love them for their gift or are we just very grateful for their kindness?

It’s very easy in this materialistic world to confuse gratitude with love, and we need to understand what love is and why we love God. And we need to know the difference because if what we feel for God is not love, then we could be deceiving ourselves.

We love God because He first loved us! But this love is not an auto response—it’s a heartfelt commitment. This isn’t like sending out Christmas cards where we receive one from somebody and then send one back out of response because it’s the right thing to do. And it isn’t like an offering plate where we see others putting bills into the offering and then decide that we really should do the same. Loving God is not an auto-response and it’s not an obligation.

When God says that He loved us first, He means that He really loved us first! He loved us when we were so deep into sin that we mocked Him and cursed Him. He loved us because He created us and He knows that sin has distorted our heart and that there is deathly punishment for that sin. But—because He loves us—He is willing to forgive us for everything we’ve done against Him when we accept His salvation. Jesus actually died that horrific death on the cross because He loves us. He didn’t do it just to be a recognized hero. He wanted us to live! He wanted to take upon Himself all of our sins so that we wouldn’t have to stand in judgment and be punished for them one day.

Salvation is personal; it’s not an automatic pardon for everyone. Jesus died for everyone, but not everyone is saved. To receive His salvation, we need to accept and believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross and then rose again on the third day and now sits on the right hand of God in Heaven. Salvation requires repentance and submission to Christ. It’s not automatic. We must receive it and when we do, we will feel His love for us in our heart and we will want to love Him back.

  • We love him, because He first loved us.—1 John 4:19

Jesus became the atonement for the sins of every single person ever born, which means that He died for everyone’s sins, but not everyone will receive it. The Inclusion religion says that everyone is automatically saved and that God accepts us just as we are, sin and all, but the Bible says that we must repent and accept Jesus as Lord and be born again into the Kingdom of God.

  • For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.—Matthew 26:28

Jesus is the only way for any of us to get to God, our Father. He provided salvation out of love for His Father and out of love for those who the Father loves. That’s you and me! And all we have to do is receive it and accept it and no longer want to belong to this world. We become part of His elect family and we wait for Jesus to return as King. But as we wait, we share the love with others and we treat them with the same love and compassion that God has extended to us.

  • Jesus saith unto him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”—John 14:6

This is God’s amazing love for us! And there is no one more deserving of our praise and worship than God! And we are only able to praise Him and worship Him from our heart—and we can only do that when we truly love Him. And our praise and worship to Him is our heartfelt response to His love for us, and so in our heart we become one with Him and His love lives in us. God did what He promised He would do; He took our sins away at the cross and finished His plan of redemption for us.

Confusion comes when preachers focus on what God will do for us now that we’re saved, rather than on what He did for us so we could be saved. We are grateful for the blessings that God gives us, but we don’t love Him only because of the blessings. Our love for God is true when we can love Him even without the blessings because He is our Heavenly Father and He loves us.

When we get saved we realize in our heart all that God went through to save us from sin, and so we are able to love God because of this love that He has always had for us. We are moved with compassion! Our hearts are filled with gratitude for this gift of life that He has given to us through Jesus. And then we can also realize that He wants to bless us and we can receive the blessings as a child. We read the Bible and know what His promises to His children are, and we can expect and trust that God will take care of us just as He promised He would. All these things are given to us because God loves us and we now belong to Him.

But how can we be sure that we really love God and are not just seeking the blessings? When we really love God, we crave to study the Bible so we can know Him, and then we obey His instructions for us and we don’t try to change any part of His law to suit ourselves. We are totally sold out to God and follow Him all the way, and we’ll see that our heart becomes filled with the same passion for the lost souls of this world as His heart was for us when we were still lost. We will want to share the gospel with others, and we’ll want to help people, and we’ll want to be part of the ministries of God that go out into the world and preach the gospel of Christ. We will love people with the same passion as God loves us and we’ll know that’s what in our heart is a true love for God!

  • If you love Me, keep My commandments.—John 14:15

 

April 11, 2017

The One Where a Snake Foreshadows Jesus on the Cross

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV Numbers 21:4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[*] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

*Or the Sea of Reeds

Today we return to the writing of pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. This is a passage that we’ve discussed here before as I believe it is pivotal to understanding the ‘invisible transaction’ that takes place when we acknowledge Christ.  Click the title below to link to this one directly:

Why does a serpent represent what Jesus did on the cross?

Q.  In the gospel of John, when Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus, why does he liken Himself to the serpent that was lifted up in the desert in the Old Testament, considering that serpents are usually associated with Satan? Why was a serpent chosen as a type/foreshadowing of what Jesus would do on the cross, especially in light of the Bible always emphasizing the “lamb” that was slain? I’ve thought that perhaps in a sense sin/evil was on the cross since Jesus “became sin” to put an end to it, but other than that it just seems weird to me.

A.  Jesus refers to the way Moses made a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole in order to make one specific point to Nicodemus.  Jesus has just told him that he needs to be “born again” in order to enter the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus has misunderstood this and thinks that Jesus is describing something physical rather than something spiritual.  (This happens often in Jesus’ conversations with people in this gospel, as I explain in my study guide to John.)  “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asks.

Jesus tries to explain that he’s talking about being “born of the Spirit,” but Nicodemus still asks, “How can this be?”  So Jesus uses the episode of the bronze serpent to explain more precisely what he means by being “born again.”

This episode is related in the book of Numbers.  The Israelites are traveling through the wilderness and they start complaining about the very manna that God has been providing miraculously to feed them in the desert.  (They say, “We detest this miserable food!”)  As a punishment for their ingratitude, God sends poisonous snakes among them and many of the Israelites start dying from snake bites.  So they come to Moses and admit, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.”  They ask him to “pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”  God forgives the people and tells Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.”  God promises, “Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

In other words, an admission of sin and a response of hopeful faith, looking to the means God provided for deliverance, was how the Israelites could be rescued from physical death in this instance.  Jesus is telling Nicodemus that the same thing will be true, on a much grander scale in the spiritual realm, when he is “lifted up” onto the cross.  Anyone who is sincerely sorry for the way they’ve disobeyed and offended God, and who looks in hopeful faith to Jesus’ death on the cross for their sake, will be rescued spiritually and given the chance to live anew.  This is what it means to be “born again.”

So that is the single point of comparison:  just as the Israelites needed to look in hopeful faith to God’s provision for their physical deliverance in the wilderness, so Nicodemus (and anyone else, ever since, who hears about Jesus’ conversation with him) needs to look in hopeful faith to God’s provision for their spiritual deliverance in the form of Jesus’ death on the cross.

We should not make any further points of comparison, such as “Jesus must be like a serpent in some way, rather than a lamb, because he said he had to be lifted up just as the serpent was lifted up.”

However, we should keep in mind that in the gospel of John, there are always multiple levels of meaning at work.  Behind physical references there is often spiritual significance.  We’ve already seen that this is true when Jesus speaks about being “born,” and it’s also true when he speaks of himself being “lifted up.”  This can mean simply being raised onto the cross, but as a footnote in the NIV explains each time this phrase occurs in John, “The Greek for lifted up also means exalted.”  We need to recognize that this spiritual meaning is also in view when Jesus says things like, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

March 22, 2017

I Now Live in a New Family

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are again paying a return visit to the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. As I’ve stated before, she is one of the most faithful writers online, now in her 11th year of daily devotional studies.

I am adopted

Before believing in eternal life, I had to believe in eternal condemnation. Who needs salvation if there is no consequence for sin? Yet my condemnation was not ‘in place’ because I believed it, but because of the family line to which I (and everyone else) belongs.

As described in Romans 5, eternal condemnation began when sin began — through Adam. Sin results in death — which is separation from God, and because all humanity comes from Adam, then all are born into sin and separated from God. This is called spiritual death. We still walk around, but are dead to God and ignorant of sin. We needed a measuring stick and the Law of God did that, making us aware that we fall short.

Yet because of God’s great love and grace, He offered redemption — a free gift to sinners. This offer came through the righteousness of another man, Jesus Christ. Just as those in Adam were condemned in sin, those in Jesus Christ are made righteous in Him.

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18–21)

Salvation is about a change in family, about being taken from the line of those descended from Adam and placed in Christ, adopted into the family of God. This is something only God can do and did do because of His great love for us:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)

Living in the family of eternal condemnation is made evident by lifestyle. Sinners sin; it is as simple as that. Law reveals and defines the sin, but sin was there before the Law was given. People murdered people before God said it was not lawful, and people hated God before He told them “No other gods.”

Jesus came to take away that sin and enable sinners to live righteous lives. God actually made a trade; He put our sin on Jesus, and put Jesus’ righteousness on us:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This incredible swap means that I now live in a new family, the family of eternal life. That change is made evident by a lifestyle change. While not perfect in practice, I have a new identity; I’m no longer ‘in Adam’ but ‘in Christ’ and rejoice that God has adopted me.

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:4–10)

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Dear Jesus, God imputed Your righteousness to my account as He imputed my sins to You. You became responsible to the Law of God for my sin, took its penalty and died under His wrath. As my sin was made Yours, and Your righteousness was made mine, so also were the rewards of Your righteousness given to me. This is substitution and astonishing grace. Because of it, the Father sees me in You, not in Adam. I am a new creation and a member of Your eternal family, loving that which once didn’t matter, and hating those things I once loved. The more I hear this incredible Gospel, the deeper it sinks into my heart and flows out into my life. This too is amazing grace, grace that I cannot earn or deserve, only respond to in grateful obedience. grateful obedience.

March 16, 2017

Feeling Condemned? Romans 8:1-4

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Condemnation is in the air. Every day in law courts across this land verdicts are reached and sentences given. Whether fiction or reality, tv is full of stories of condemnation. Then there is the condemnation that shows up in our personal relationships, from friends and enemies alike. There is also the self-condemnation many of us face when we either step in front of a mirror or step onto the weigh scales. All too often we wear false verdicts as life sentences.

Perhaps this is the reason why many people are not bothered with church. “Just another place to face more condemnation.” Perhaps this is the reason why many people do not want to think about their relationship with God. “More condemnation.” Yet if we think one hundred years or so into the future, which verdicts will still matter? Will the condemnation we have faced from others, or even ourselves, matter? One verdict will matter. God’s. One sentence will matter. God’s. His verdict is a just verdict. His sentence is an eternal-life sentence. Given the supreme importance of that verdict, what can be said about it? Let is turn to the book of Romans to find out:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

The ‘therefore’ of Romans 8:1 points us back to consider what has been said earlier in the book of Romans. A thousand sermons could not do the first seven chapters of Romans justice, so let us attempt a quick summary. As we look back we find there is some good news, some really bad news, some really great news, some more really bad news and some more really good news.

So first the good news: God has given us the law as a gift. Without law society, and life along with it, devolves into chaos. God has given two kinds of law. There is the law that is written on the hearts of all people (Romans 2:14,15). That sense of conscience, of the difference between right and wrong. Further, to give a shining and clear example, The law was given to a specific group of people, the Hebrew people, through Moses. This was good news since this law helped people thrive together and was a proper yardstick for measuring up.

Now for the really bad news: As wonderful as it is to have this yardstick, God’s law just confirms that could never measure up.

What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; Romans 3:9-10

Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:19-20

If you think that God has reason to condemn you. You are correct. That is really bad news.

Now for the really great news:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Why?

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26

There is a lot to unpack in those few verses, but suffice it so say here that in the blood of Christ we have forgiveness of sin. The verdict has been arrived at, the sentence has been served by Jesus. This is a gift of God’s grace. Receiving that gift is a matter trust.

But now for some more really bad news: There is a second kind of sentence to deal with; a sinful life. To understand this we can think of a drug addict who has served time for being in the possession of hard drugs. A verdict has been reached, and the sentence has been served in the eyes of society. However, the addict is still that, an addict. Addiction can be a life sentence, and for some that life sentence is worse than jail time. It would be an awful thing if we were given assurance of a positive final verdict before the judgement seat of Christ, yet nothing changed for us in this life. Though looking forward to freedom, we would still be serving a life-sentence to a life in the service of evil in the here and now. Paul speaks about this problem in the very verses that precede Romans 8:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25

And now for some more really good news: we are freed from this sentence also!

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

To say that sin was condemned “in the flesh” is akin to saying that the full sentence of the addict was served, not just the jail term, but the life-sentence of bearing the disease of addiction as well. The addict’s identity would be forever changed, no longer being known as an addict. Likewise, our addiction to sin is broken, our identity changed forever, as we are now “in Christ,” people who walk “according to the Spirit.” Paul has more to say about this in the verses to follow, and so will we next week.

We are guilty sometimes of speaking of salvation as if it is only a matter of what happens at the judgement seat of Christ. It is more than that. Because of the love and grace of God in Jesus there is no condemnation for those who belong to Him, neither a guilty verdict at the judgement seat of Christ leading to an eternal-life sentence, nor a life-sentence to  slavery to sin here and now. God rescues us from both. That is really great news!

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Clarke Dixon is a regular midweek contributor to C201 whose material can also be seen at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

February 22, 2017

Why did the Messiah Die as a Roman Criminal?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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…and Where did the Israelites Come From?

Deut. 29:29
“The secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed  belong to us and our children forever.”

1 Cor. 13:12
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

This is our 5th time visiting the writing of author and theologian Peter Enns. His writing style is always lighthearted but the things he discusses can be quite serious. In the two questions before us today, he doesn’t quite solve either of them, but wants us to embrace the idea that we don’t really have a complete understanding of such things. The Bible just doesn’t tell us. Click the title below to read this at source.

Two Issues in the Bible that are Really Really Important and Really Really Not Clear at All

This is no official word from above (unlike most of my blog posts). Just my opinion.

Here are the two issues that I think are very important for how we think about Christian faith and how the Bible fits into that. Many would like absolute clarity on these issues, but that clarity does not exist.

The two issues, one from each Testament, are (cue dramatic music):

Israelite origins and the meaning of the cross (atonement)

Israelite origins

The question is, historically speaking, Where did the historical group of people called “Israelites” come from?

That question is not answered by biblical scholars and historians with, “Just read the Bible.” The biblical story, which begins with one person Abraham and leads through Egypt to the Promised Land and a monarchy, is fraught with many well-known and often insurmountable historical problems.

It seems that the biblical account of Israelite origins is not so much a history as it is a story, with historical echoes of various sorts, but a story nonetheless.

The further back in time we go in Israel’s history, the more complex and mysterious the matter becomes. Certain events in the Old Testament are ones we can, generally speaking, hang our historical hat on. They include (working backwards):

  • the Babylonian exile and return (586-539 BCE),
  • the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians (701),
  • and the fall of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians (722),
  • the division of the monarchy into north and south (around 930),

Similarly, the existence and reigns of David and Solomon (10th century BCE) can (and I think should) be assumed as generally echoing historical events, even if the details of the biblical accounts raise some significant questions for historians.

But if we continue pressing backward in time, before the monarchy, the historical nature of the biblical accounts is either utterly unclear or in direct tension with the general outline of history that has come to light in the past century or so. Historically speaking, we really don’t know where the Israelites came from, and the exodus and conquest stories, which are so central to the biblical account, are particularly problematic.

And, of course, here’s the real problem and why I am singling out this issue above all others: Israelite origins is sort of a big deal in the Old Testament. You know, Abraham, Moses, Mt. Sinai, and all that.

Engaging the historical study of Israelite origins from a position of faith in the God of Israel is a challenge, and not one that I am going to solve in this post, other than to say, “Welcome to the journey; it’s really no that bad once you get used to it.”

The Cross

If Israelite origins is a core Old Testament issue for Christian faith, the meaning of the cross is überimportant.

“Why did Jesus die? What is the significance of Jesus’s death?” Christian theologians have been discussing these questions for as long as there have been Christian theologians, beginning with the New Testament writers themselves, and I suppose we should take some comfort in that.

Yes, Jesus died on the cross, and yes, that changed everything. But exactly what the cross changed and how it changed it can easily begin barroom fights (assuming that biblical scholars and theologians hang out in bars, which most of them do and if not they probably should).

There have been in fact a number of “atonement theories” out there for centuries that try to explain the significance of Jesus’s death on a Roman cross. And the reason why these theories abound isn’t because theologians are looking for attention or have daddy issues they are taking out on God, but the fact that the Bible doesn’t speak with one voice on the matter.

Actually, when reading the New Testament, you get the impression that the writers were actually trying to work it out themselves. “Why did the Messiah die as a Roman criminal?” can’t be answered with a few Old Testament prooftexts—as if, “Oh yeah, duh. Obviously.” The matter of a suffering and executed Messiah was a surprise that posed a deep theological challenge for the early Christians, but one they took up with gusto.

The crucifixion of Jesus is of central importance to the Christian faith, but the nature of its significance is very hard to pin down. What, exactly, did Jesus’s execution do? Did it appease God’s wrath? Was it like a legal transaction to satisfy God’s justice? Was Jesus’s death a ransom of some sort to free captives (see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)? Was it Jesus’s victory over the power of death? Was it a moral exemplar for Christians to follow?

These theories exist because they can be found in (or perhaps inferred from) the New Testament. And so when someone asks you what seems to be that most basic of questions about Christianity, “Why did Jesus die?”, the answer actually isn’t obvious but strikes at the heart of the mystery of faith. And maybe all the atonement theories are right in their own way.

Anyway, this post isn’t about solving Israelite origins or atonement theory. It’s about how untended and even uncooperative the Bible can be if we are looking to it to pave a smooth path for us theologically. The Bible doesn’t work well that way.

But perhaps better, the Bible as is, not as we might like it to be, drives us to work together by faith in thinking through the nature of the Christian story and its implications.


We actually linked to one of Peter’s other articles earlier today at Thinking Out Loud: Why is that in each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus seems to be saying something quite different?

January 6, 2017

Nothing But the Blood

I’ve been wanting to find a way to share with C201 readers this video by David Wesley of a virtual choir representing several different countries singing the classic hymn, Nothing But The Blood of Jesus.

Hymnary.org notes that, “When this hymn was first published in 1876, Hebrews 9:22 was quoted underneath the title: ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.'”

At Hymnal.net a reader comments:

…There is a question about whether the Bible itself ever talks of being ‘washed’ in the blood (in Rev 1:5 the verb is better translated ‘loosed’ or ‘freed’). But my point here is a wistful sadness that the word ‘sin’ is so often used in the first line rather than ‘stain’. There is evidence that the latter was Lowry’s choice. Of course it rhymes better with ‘again’ in the third line. But more to the point, it is such a colourful word. How easily we can picture the ugly stain of sin blackening our lives like a huge ink-spill. What a pity the more common but less pointed word ‘sin’ is so often used.

Of course, both terms are theologically correct. But the charm of poetry is largely that it can create images that make us envision things in a new and vivid way. Language is one great gift God has given us that separates us from the rest of creation. It is important to make full use of its marvelous potential…

At the blog Before the Cross, Chris Howard has a longer discussion of the hymn:

Outside of blood drives, I’m sure it’s not common to hear gratitude and blood thrown together in the same sentence… Jesus Christ, being the very Son of God, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, was crucified on a cross for all the sins of man past, present and future and was raised again to life so that anyone believing in Him would live an eternity with Him. We are thanking Jesus for His blood spilled on our behalf. Every time we sing it, I wonder what a person unfamiliar with the gospel must think as they give church a try. Here are some of my guesses:

  • That’s gross.
  • Did I come to the wrong place?
  • Why are these people singing about blood?
  • Of all things, why are they thankful for blood?

If those are the questions, I hope they don’t leave without getting them answered and I certainly hope they come back.

Let’s face it. The lyrics aren’t exactly “seeker” friendly and some churches might treat this song like any blood-related incident, to keep the lyrics sanitary and removed from the scene, out of mind and out of sight for believer and non-believer alike. Blood evokes a strong mental image and unless you’ve been desensitized by horror movies, it usually isn’t an image someone likes to think about. There are certainly other worship songs we could sing that would bring about more peaceful, calming and relaxing images of God’s saving grace without mentioning blood.

And that’s the very reason why I think we need to sing about it. Without the blood shed by Jesus Christ, there is no cross. If there is no cross, there is no resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there is no resurrection, we are doomed.

The Blood Is Necessary

Since the first sin of man in the Garden of Eden, blood was required. Animals were sacrificed for their skins to cover up the nakedness of Adam and Eve. The sacrifice of animals for atonement of sin was still present in the time of Jesus.

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”Exodus 24:8

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”Hebrews 9:22

The Blood Protects

The Israelites are instructed to place animal blood over the door of their dwellings to avoid God’s plague on Egypt.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”Exodus 12:13

Jesus, before His crucifixion refers to his shed blood as that which would forgive sins.

“for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”Matthew 26:28

The Blood Cleanses 

Redemption, fellowship and cleansing are benefits we as Christians who believe in Jesus Christ get to enjoy as a result of His shed blood.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”Ephesians 1:7-9

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”1 John 1:7

We often see what we prize most in light of what we pay for it. In the case of our salvation, it is we who were purchased with blood that ran through the body of our savior, the same body broken on our behalf to allow God and His creation to have a restored relationship. If you are a Christian, you are in this restored relationship.

We can sing it out unashamed. Thank you Jesus. Thank you for the blood!


 

December 11, 2016

The Incarnation of Christ…For Atonement and More

by Russell Young

The Christmas season is upon us and with it the celebration of God’s gift to humankind–the incarnation of the Son of God– the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, the fullness of God’s gift is seldom recognized.  God became flesh and dwelt among us. The great gift that the Father gave the world was not merely an appropriate propitiation for sin, but a means of destroying “the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) in all his practices and with all of his effect.

It is true that Christ came to reveal God to humankind, and that he came as a propitiation for sin, but he also came to return those who would accept his ministry back to the image in which humans had been created…into the likeness of God. (Gen 1:27; Rom 8:29)

Satan’s evil work is not brought to completion by a person’s redemption from his or her past sins, but will be destroyed when he is no longer able to exercise his power or influence in the lives of those who are believing. Redemption from sins committed while under the jurisdiction of the first covenant (Heb 9:15) did not accomplish a person’s deliverance into the kingdom of God; it did not destroy the work of the devil.  Paul wrote, “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Gal 3:14 NIV) The incarnation of our Lord allowed for his perfect sacrifice, redeemed believers from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13), and provided them with the Spirit so that they might gain victory over the practice of sin through his enlightenment, leading and power. The Spirit is the presence of the Lord in the believer (2Cor 3:17, 18; Col 1:27) and it is the Spirit who provides for the believer’s eternal salvation.  “[F]rom the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13 NIV; Titus 3: 5─6)

The Lord had to be incarnated so that he might truly know the human condition.  Knowing the temptations that afflict humankind allows him to mediate for them and to make them acceptable for the kingdom of God. (Rom 15:16)  “[H]e had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a faithful high priest…because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. (Heb 2:17…18 NIV) He not only knew the human condition through experience, he also suffered through it and became victorious over it.  Now as Spirit he can use this understanding to provide victory for those who are undergoing suffering through temptations. This understanding should provide encouragement that each believer can overcome ungodly attractions but it also needs to cause the person undergoing temptation to be sober of thought and of heart knowing that his or her judge will be the very one who had already won victory over the temptations that plague them and he is in them. It is through the knowledge gained as the Lord walked this earth in the flesh that he is able to defeat the devil’s work in the believer. “Christ in you the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27 NIV)

A limited perspective of the need of Christ’s incarnation will result in failure to give him the glory, honour, and love that he deserves. Christ came into the world to end the first covenant and to allow access to the New Covenant (Heb 9:15), the covenant of the Spirit, so that God’s righteous, eternal kingdom could be established through his life in the believer.

The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:40 NIV) The knowledge that the Lord gained through his incarnated life is available to enable believers to refrain from causing sin and from doing evil by succumbing to temptation in their time of need. The Lord will hand over the righteous kingdom—the completed creation–to the Father when Satan’s influence has been removed.

The baby in the manger was not just a baby, but God come in the flesh to redeem a lost world and a helpless people for himself.  In the Christmas child lies all hope for humankind, and all hope for the completion of God’s creation plan.  In him is the source of righteousness, the end of strife and pain and death.  Through him a holy people will be found, made suitable for God’s presence. Through Christ the devil and his lies and deceit will be brought to nought for those who are in him and who are obedient to his calls upon their lives.

The believer should not be content to relish the thought of what Christ did for him or her, but should humbly kneel before him and glorify him for what he is doing each day that he or she draws breath.  Christ is not only the atonement for sin, he is the life that provides eternal hope. The trinkets of Christmas should not be allowed to displace the wonder of God’s mercy and of his priceless gift of the babe whose birth is the hope of the world and should be the true cause of celebration and the true celebration.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


December 4, 2016

Did Christ Have to Be Redeemed?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Russell Young

Did Christ have to be redeemed?  The simple answer to this question is that he did. This might sound absurd since he was God and the Son of God.  However, he was also man and the son of man and he had to meet all the requirements of God’s government to accomplish his own eternal life.

The writer of Hebrews states that “[Christ] entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb 9:12 NIV) His own blood was required for him to enter the Most Holy Place. That is, his blood was applied to his own state or to fit him for entry into the Most Holy Place. The earthly tabernacle, an exact copy of the heavenly sanctuary, was entered “once a year, and never without blood, which [the high priest] offered for himself and for the sins that the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7 NIV) If Christ had been without sin, he would not have had to offer a sacrifice for himself; however, he was numbered with the transgressors. (Lk 22:37; Isa 53:12)

Did Jesus sin? Absolutely not!  The writer of Hebrews states that our high priest (Christ) was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 5:15 NIV) Although Jesus did not sin, he became the most sinful person who ever walked the earth by taking on the sins of humankind.  He had become a transgressor of the law and his own blood was required to cleanse him or to redeem him from the sins that he bore so that he could enter the Most Holy Place. (The reader needs to be mindful that his ministry there is to cover the sins committed “in ignorance” by those in him.)

Why is it important to recognize that Christ needed to be redeemed? The KJV has inserted the words “for us” after “having obtained eternal redemption.” (Heb 9:12) This phrase was not in the original Greek and should not be in the text.  Because of it an understanding has developed that a person’s redemption from the law is eternal, that he has been eternally and securely delivered from the righteous requirements of the law. Christ had obtained eternal redemption for himself only.

There are teachings that reveal that although a person might have been redeemed once from the law, he or she can make themselves subject to it once more.

Paul has written, “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV) This is a conditional statement and if a person is not led by the Spirit, he or she will remain under the law.  Either a person can accomplish the righteous requirements of the law as led by the Spirit or it remains for them to accomplish their righteousness through the law using their own resources as in the manner of the house of Israel as they lived subject to the Old or first Covenant.

Paul admonished the Galatians not to re-engage life under the persuasions of their evil nature because if they became sinners while they were seeking to be justified they will have rebuilt that which they had destroyed and have become lawbreakers. (Gal 2:17─20) By their crucifixion –a pledge of death to self–they had brought to completion life under the law since a deceased person is no longer subject to rule by the law, but through their desire to re-engage their own life they are once more subject to the law.  Escape from the law only comes with obedience to the Spirit and the realization of their own crucifixion.  He also wrote, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature…the righteous requirements of the law [will] be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:2…4 NIV)

Further, the Lord taught that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son [one led by the Spirit, Rom 8: 14] belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:35 NIV) A lack of “permanence” in the family speaks against the concept of having been eternally redeemed.

Those who have confessed Christ’s lordship have been redeemed by his blood.  They have been purchased from the law and from the consequences of sins committed while under it so that they might enjoy the New Covenant. (Heb 9:15) This redemption is not direct.  It came about as Christ took their sins and bore them himself.  His blood then redeemed him from the sins that he bore for them.  The writer of Hebrews states that “if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10: 26─27 NIV) The cleansing and freedom from past sins will only happen once. Redemption for Christ was eternal for those who walk this earth it has been provided once; unfortunately that occasion will not be sufficient for many.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


October 28, 2016

The Cross: Death and Disfigurement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Regular readers here are accustomed to devotions and studies beginning with the words, “Today we return to the blog of ______ …” and know we often catch up with writers we’ve used in the same month, but previous years. Sometimes it’s a rewarding rediscovery. I’m taking the liberty of running two posts, today and tomorrow, from BJ Richardson at The River Walk. Click the titles to see these at source; there is also a daily music video in the Respond section that you only see there. Also, click the “Merch” link to find out about owning copies of his studies in John’s gospel.

The Shame of the Cross

It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was Passover week). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. (John 19:31-33)

Read: Hosea 10:1-14:9, Jude 1:1-25, Psalm 127:1-5, Proverbs 29:15-17

Relate: The greatest strength of a Roman crucifixion was as a deterrent. There were other forms of execution that were far more efficient. As horrendously painful as the cross was, there were other ways to exact pain just as well if not better. What made the cross such a favorite method was how public it was. When Spartacus lost in his rebellion, six thousand rebel slaves were crucified along the Appian Way between Rome and Capua. This was the most highly trafficked part of the busiest road in Italy if not the entire world. They were sending a very public message: “Don’t try this ever again.” Part of what made it such a great message was how grotesque it would look. I have mentioned earlier how crucifixion would kill someone, but I did not point out there what the cross did to its victim’s arms. Because of the stretching and the unnatural placement of the weight, eventually the shoulders would be pulled out of joint. Then later the elbows. A victim who has managed to live well into the second day would have unnatural looking arms that were more than six inches longer than they had been just three days earlier.

The problem was, this deterrent would not have been much of a deterrent of those three men were still on their crosses once Jews started pouring into the city by the thousands. For the religious Jew, seeing those men still hanging on the cross would simply stir up anger and hatred for the Roman occupiers who deliberately flouted Jewish law and custom that demanded no criminal could remain hanging overnight. (Deut 21:23) If Rome allowed those crosses to stay where they were, they would very soon be needing a whole lot more crosses. Pilate wasn’t so much caving to those Jewish leaders demands as he was pragmatically avoiding a mistake he had already made before in not taking the local religious customs seriously.

React: Honestly, this fact about the arms was not something I knew much about. I came across the information when fact checking what I thought I knew about leg breaking. I had heard about the shoulders sometimes being pulled out of joint but the how and the gruesome details behind it are new information to me. I have done my best to keep it fairly pg rated above but what I was reading made me want to cringe, and vomit, and cry all at once. It brought home in one more way exactly what is referred to with phrases like “the shame of the cross” (Heb 12:2) and “in humiliation His justice was taken away” (Acts 8:33). No one can fully know all that He suffered on the cross but every time I think I have a grip at least on the concept of what it must have been like, it just gets worse.

My only right reaction to this is to cry out, “God I am so sorry.” Every time my mind comes back to this cross, I cannot escape the horror of the truth that it was my sin that held Him there. It was for my rebellion against Him that He suffered the fate of traitors. It brings home once again the truth that no sin is small and His grace, while free, is most certainly not cheap.

Respond:

Dear God,
I am so thankful for the cross. Even as I am revolted by it, that only causes my gratitude to be deeper and richer. There is no measure to the depth of Your love or the riches of Your grace. Thank You. Thank You. A thousand times thank You for taking on Yourself the punishment that should have been mine.
Amen

 

August 13, 2016

The Cross as Christianity’s Icon

Yesterday, we discovered an apologetics site we weren’t aware of… and we’re always interested in apologetics. After reading several posts, we decided to use this one to feature Answering Skeptics, but as always, you’re encouraged to click the link below and read this at source. The author goes by the user name, Saint of Christ. This certainly will make you think.

cross at Grace ChurchThe Cross Does NOT Represent Christianity

22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is ACCURSED of God) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. – Deuteronomy 21:22-23

When you ask people, what does the cross represents? Immediately they’ll tell you, Christianity. But the truth is; the cross represents curse, not Christianity. Blessing, not curse, represents Christianity (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 3:9).

When Jesus was crucified, He wasn’t crucified for Christians because Christians are those who are born of God, without past (2 Corinthians 5:17); born of His sinless Word (1 Peter 1:23; John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:9); He was crucified for the world sins (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

Christianity was born at His resurrection, not His crucifixion. He was crucified for all sinners to pay the price for their sins. So it is wrong to suggest that the cross represents Christianity. It represents the world of sin (curse). Without the resurrection, Christianity wouldn’t exist.

Our theme verse says that he who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God. In other words, the tree [i.e. Cross] represents curse; it’s a symbol of curse. Indeed, everyone, except Jesus, who was crucified, was criminal. Jesus, who was willing to be our sin sacrifice, became curse for us. He was accursed of God on that Cross; that’s why the Holy Spirit left Him (Matthew 27:46). Paul reaffirmed this when he said, Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree(Galatians 3:13). Jesus became sin itself on that cross, For he hath made him TO BE SIN for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.(2 Corinthians 5:21). As Christians, we are not worshiping or serving the Jesus who was hanged on the cross; but the risen Christ.

So what represents Christianity? You may want to ask. The answer is, you. You are the epistle of Christ if you’re born again (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). You are the symbol of Christianity. That’s why He calls you the light of the world just like He is (Matthew 5:14, 16; Philippians 2:15).

The Church needs to grasp this truth and repent. Acts 17:30 says, And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent”. Some even use the cross sign to pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; even though, nowhere does the Bible ever suggest that we should pray this way. Jesus said, “to baptize”; not to pray, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). He told us to pray “to” the Father, “in” His name (John 15:16; 16:26-27); “through” the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26; 15:16).

Just because this has been practiced for ages doesn’t make it right. So repent. Proverbs 9:9 says, Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. So be wise.


At the same blog: Who Made Paul an Apostle? Some people would argue that Paul was self-appointed. This article shows otherwise.

Interestingly enough, there’s also a lengthy article attributed to Kenneth Hagin (a prosperity preacher, I presume) which refutes the idea that Jesus was poor. I have to admit that knowing the writer’s identity and intention somewhat biased my reading of this, but there is no disputing some of the evidence presented.

April 6, 2016

Resurrection Fact: From Sinner to Saint

•••by Clarke Dixon

Do you feel worthy of the title “saint”? You may be thinking of a saint as someone recognized as special within the Roman Catholic tradition. Or you may be thinking of the word as used of someone who is known to be a very good person. We are thinking more of the word as we find it in many English translations of the Bible where it usually translates a word meaning “holy one.” It is used to refer to every Christian. So do you feel worthy of the title? Do you feel like you fit the description of a saint, a “holy one?”

Though “Saint Clarke” has a nice ring to it, I often do not feel the title is fitting for me. This is especially true during renovations. I am not too handy but my wife thinks I am, and so I sometimes get in over my head during renovations. If you are around me when I am you will discover that I can be far from what you might call a saint. So what are we to do when the Bible calls every Christian  a “saint” but we do not feel worthy? We are not alone in being uncomfortable with a title. Watch for the apostle Paul’s discomfort with his calling and title as he describes Jesus’ resurrection appearances:

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:8-9)

So how did the Apostle Paul deal with this title that did not fit comfortably? The first thing Paul does is admit the truth. Indeed, he is not worthy of the title: “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.” Paul does not point to anything about himself that would make him a fine candidate for the job. He points to Jesus: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” This was God’s choice. This was God’s grace. Paul who blew it, knew it:

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

This is far from “I was born this way, so leave me to remain what I am” that we often hear today. This is “by the grace of God I am now something I do not deserve to be and would never be able to become on my own.” When the title of “saint” feels uncomfortable, it is a reminder that  “by the grace of God I am what I am.” Though a sinner from birth, by the grace of God we become saints.

But how is that possible? Paul has already pointed out the answer:

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3,4)

“Christ died for our sins.” That is what enables us to become saints. It is our sin that makes the title of saint uncomfortable, if not impossible to wear. But “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” Which scriptures? They include the prophecies of Isaiah 53. The whole chapter is worth reading, but here is a selection to ponder:

4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. . . .
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people. . .
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; . . .
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities . . . .
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors
(Selected from Isaiah 53)

Just as the apostle Paul could not point to himself for his apostleship, but only point to Jesus, so we can only point to Jesus for our sainthood. He is the One who clears away the sin standing in the way of becoming a holy one.

But since Jesus makes our sainthood possible, does this mean sin does not matter, and that we can therefore go on sinning all the while calling attention to our sainthood? First off, notice how different Paul’s activity was from before meeting Jesus to after. He went from persecuting the saints to trying to convince everyone he met that they should become one. There was a big change in Paul’s life. There was repentance.

Paul is the one we often quote when we speak of salvation being by faith and not works. And yet Paul worked hard:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10)

This is not a work to ensure salvation. This is work to ensure salvation is not in vain. This is work God called and enabled Paul to do. Even our works are a sign of God’s grace.

I have a remarkable watch. It is a Pebble smartwatch which does many things including counting steps and tracking sleep. Mind you I was surprised to find out that according to it I slept through an important meeting one day. I can take no credit for this remarkable watch. I did not think of it. I did not invent it. I did not get involved in the engineering of it. I was not involved in the manufacturing of it. I was not involved in the distribution of it. I did not even pay for it. Well I might have paid for it but I did not buy it for it was a Christmas gift. But what I do is wear it. In fact the watch is not very useful if I don’t. This is what salvation is like. We can take no credit for it. It is purely by the grace of God that we are what we are; saints. But we must wear it. We will want to wear it. And at times the clothes of salvation may seem too big for us, but as we keep going and growing in the Spirit, we will grow into them. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, but we are involved, we must wear it.

So you are a Christian and you don’t feel like a saint today? By the grace of God you are what you are, and what you are as a Christian person is a saint. By the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, you will grow into the title, just like Paul did his.

So you are not a Christian and you don’t think the title “saint” could ever apply to you? God has a history of calling the most unlikely of people to become saints. Perhaps that most unlikely person today is you?

by the grace of God


Check out Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon; today’s article is located at this link

April 3, 2016

The Resurrection of Christ

•••by Russell Young

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most astounding and celebrated events in the history of Christianity. His resurrection not only provides evidence of the reality of one’s eternal hope but it is also the means by which that hope is obtained. Peter wrote that the Lord’s resurrection has given us “new birth into a living hope.” Praise be to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade-kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1: 3-4, NIV)

The Lord’s resurrection has given us “a new birth” and “into a living hope.” Some take this to be “victory over the grave.” The new birth is just that…a birth, the beginning of a new life, a new opportunity, and it is this provision along with “a living hope” that comes through the resurrection of Christ.

Previous to the resurrection of Christ, one’s hope of glory rested in obedience to the law and the Prophets. The law had no life but was etched in stone. Paul said that it kills.” (2 Corinthians 3:6, NIV) The hope that had been revealed through the law was really no hope at all because no one could satisfy it. The “living hope” is the presence of Christ living “in” the believer. As Holy Spirit He enlightens, leads and empowers for victory over the flesh, the Evil One, and the world. Paul wrote to the Colossians that it was Christ in them who was their hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) He is their hope because the righteous requirements of the law must be met for those who will be privileged to dwell with the Lord in His Heavenly Kingdom and they are met through the ministry of the Spirit as the believer allows Him to live through them. (Romans 8:4)

A hope is an expectation, not a surety. As Paul wrote, Who hopes for what he already has.” (Romans 8:24) The believer has not won the victory nor has it been won for him; he has been given all that is necessary to win it through the Divine Power, the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:3) God’s righteous requirements must be satisfied must be achieved for those who will dwell in His kingdom since without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

Justification-sacrifice-resurrectionWhile the sacrificial offering of Christ “justified” the believer concerning his past sins (Hebrews 9:15), His resurrection is also required for one’s justification. (Romans 4:25) The believer should not be confused; he was not justified through the blood offering of Christ at the time of his confession of faith concerning all sins and sinning. He must still work out his salvation (Philippians 2:12). The Holy Spirit provided through the resurrection of Christ is the means by which he can satisfy the law and achieve the righteous requirements of God. One’s immoral interests have to be cleansed from those practices that would bring about his death. How much more then will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences [moral consciousness] from acts that lead to death.” (Hebrews 9:14, NIV)

Justification results when one has satisfied God’s government concerning His laws. The practice of sin must be stopped, otherwise judgment for transgressions is required for one to be fully justified. To avoid the law’s consequence, the believer must be led by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:18) That is, the resurrection of Christ, who is the Spirit, is needed to rescue the believer from the body of death (that brings death) so that he might be justified concerning the laws of God. James affirmed, You see a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24, NIV)

All of this is to say that the resurrection of Christ allows for His Spirit to indwell the believer so that He might become an offering acceptable to God. (Romans 15:16) Peter states that it is through the resurrection of Christ that the believer is able respond to (“answer’) God with a good conscience. (1 Peter 3:21) Luke has recorded that following the Lord’s resurrection He blessed us by turning us from our wicked ways. (Acts 3:26)

The resurrection of Christ should be a time of celebration and a time of hope. He is not in the grave but as Spirit is present in the believer allowing him to gain victory over those things that would otherwise bring about his eternal death. Without His resurrection mankind would remain without hope, having to live the law and subject to death for failure. He is the believer’s living hope.

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