Christianity 201

April 17, 2017

The Reality Check of the Cross

It’s Monday and we have a bonus item for you by regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon. These notes are from a message that I got hear in person which was preached three times on Good Friday morning.

by Clarke Dixon

“This teaching of the cross is nuts, pure and simple.” Such is how you could translate Paul’s words in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth in chapter 1, verse 18. Later, in verse 23 he calls it a “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” We can imagine how a conversation would go between a Christ follower and a Jew in New Testament times:

Christian: Good News! The Messiah has come. God has put into place His great rescue!

Jew: Oh? Tell me more!

Christian: His name is Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem, taught with great authority, worked miracles, and was crucified . .

Jew: Hold up! Crucified, as in executed by the Romans? As in dead at the hands of our enemies? Umm, you need a reality check – your so called Messiah is a failure!

In days when the Jewish people were looking for a rescue from the Romans, being executed by them was a sure way to be deleted from the list of potential rescuers.

We can also imagine how a conversations would go between a Christ follower and a non-Jewish person in New Testament times:

Christian: Good News! God, the creator of everything has revealed Himself to us!

Gentile: Oh? Tell me more!

Christian: His name is Jesus. He was born a Jew in Bethlehem, taught with great authority, worked miracles, and was crucified . . .

Gentile: Hold up! Crucified? As in the God of the universe was executed by the Romans? I knew our Roman soldiers were good, but I didn’t know they were that good! You need a reality check. Your so-called God is a failure.

Two millennia later and reactions are often much the same. Consider these lyrics from the metal band Metallica:

Trust you gave
A child to save
Left you cold and him in grave . . .
Broken is the promise, betrayal
The healing hand held back by deepened nail
Follow the god that failed . . .

There is a clear message to Christians here. You need a reality check – a God that dies is a God that fails, and that just doesn’t make sense.

On Good Friday Christians around the world gather to commemorate the death of Jesus. On Good Friday many more people don’t bother, thinking that doing such would be a waste of time. “A good and influential teacher? Sure. Inspirational even. But God Himself dying a death that has anything to do with anything? Nah, that doesn’t make sense.” Many people would say that Christians need a reality check. Christ crucified is nonsense and Christians are deluded.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing . . . 1st Corinthians 1:18

Christ crucified is indeed a reality check, but not in the way that many people assume. Christ crucified is a reality check in the way that a blood test ordered by the doctor is a reality check. When the results come in the doctor never asks “what would you like the results to be?” or “what do you think the results should be?” The doctor says “here is what the results are.” Truth in such things as our health is not a matter of our imagination, but a process of discovery.

People often think that when it comes to spirituality truth is a matter of our imagination, what we like, or what we think it should be. Spirituality is seen as something you can make up or change. However truth itself is not something you can tamper with. We may decide how we express spirituality, but we do not get to decide matters of truth. What people fail to understand is that when it comes to God and our relationship with God, we are talking about matters of truth and not personal preference.

In matters of truth we can do a reality check. Like the doctor, we can check the blood. So let us do that.

Check the blood. The blood spilled through racism. The blood spilled through violence. The blood spilled through war, whether gang wars, drug wars, or world wars. The blood spilled between enemies. The blood spilled between brothers. The blood spilled when an innocent man was nailed to a cross on bogus charges. Check the blood, sin is real and a real problem.

People don’t like the idea of sin being a reality. But not liking it does not mean you can wish it away… You do not get to decide that kind of reality. The cross of Jesus Christ is a big arrow on the map pointing to sin saying “you are here.”

Check the blood spilled at the cross. At the cross we sank to our lowest low in our rebellion against God. We were there, at the cross. Would we have done any different than Pilate, or Herod, or the chief priests, or the disciples, or Peter? As the Bible says “There is no one righteous, no not one.” Think of it; it is really bad when an innocent person suffers. But when God Himself comes to us, and though being innocent, we condemn him to death. Can we sink any lower? If there was ever a moment, that God would lash out and destroy humanity, this is it, at the cross where collectively we sunk to our lowest low. He would have been perfectly just in sending 10,000 angels to destroy the world and not endure the shame and suffering of the cross.

The Jews thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being the Messiah, the Greeks thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being God, people today think that in being crucified Jesus failed at doing anything relevant – but if God can be spoken of as failing at anything when Jesus was crucified – God failed to treat us as our sins deserve. (Psalm 103:10)

Check the blood spilled at the cross. It is a reality check: God’s love is real. Let the Scriptures speak for themselves:

For in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-34

Crucifixion was not a failure for Jesus. Rather, as Paul puts it, “Christ the power and wisdom of God.” (1st Corinthians 1:24)

  • In Christ crucified God’s perfect justice was expressed with judgement against sin. Yet humanity was not wiped out. God’s perfect mercy was also expressed. That is the power and wisdom of God.
  • In Christ crucified, we were at our lowest low in our rebellion against God. Yet Jesus at the cross made possible God’s invitation to be reconciled. That is the power and wisdom of God.
  • In Christ crucified, the powers of evil were working overtime to destroy and bury the work of God, and as Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb, it certainly seems like they’ve won. But Sunday’s coming! That is the power and wisdom of God.
  • In Christ crucified the curtain of the temple separating out the most holy place was torn in two from top to bottom. This was symbolic of God in effect saying, you can not and will not come to me through religion. I am coming to you by the cross. That is the power and wisdom of God.

Check the blood for a reality check.  Crucifixion is not a sign of failure, it is a sign of God’s success in expressing His perfect love, in all His holiness, justice, grace, and mercy. In that way, Jesus is the only way. Every other possibility put forward as a means of dealing with our sin problem is a failure.

We are no strangers to checking blood. Having a Type 1 diabetic in our family, we are used to a reality check with every finger poke. The glucose meter does not care what we want the blood sugar to be, nor what we think it should be. It tells us what it is. And based on what it is, we need to make a decision. Give insulin, sugar, or do nothing. The cross is the ultimate reality check. Check the blood. Sin is real, and a real problem for our relationship with God. God’s love is real, and a real solution to our sin problem. What decision do you need to make? Perhaps your walk with the Lord is solid and flourishing. Then your decision may be to rejoice in your salvation today. Perhaps you know the Lord, but have not been walking close. Your decision may be to reaffirm your commitment to walking in Christ, walking according to God’s Spirit.

But perhaps you are not a believer at this time? Then Christ crucified is a reality check in one more way: Check the blood spilled at the cross. This is an event in history. Christianity is not a religious philosophy or a set of rules for life. Christianity is about God revealing Himself to humanity over many occasions, but supremely though Jesus. His death was an event in history, as was his resurrection. Christianity did not have its beginnings, as many religions do, in a man teaching certain things about God and then trying to persuade people his ideas are correct. Christianity had its beginnings in the historical event of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. Check the blood. Yes, this really happened.

  • Look into it, and investigate it.
  • Look into like journalist Lee Strobel who as an atheist came to trust Jesus as Lord and Saviour having investigated it with all his journalistic skills.
  • Look into it, like J. Warner Wallace, who as an atheist came to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour having investigated it with his skills as a cold case detective.
  • Look into it, like C.S. Lewis who described himself as the most reluctant convert in all of England, but who came to trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord having investigated it with all his intellectual skills.

And there are many stories like these. I hope your story will be similar. Do not become a Christian because you think it might be a good religion to practice. Trust in Jesus because Jesus died and rose again. Reality check. The events of Easter really did happen. Check the blood. You have a decision to make.

(All Scripture references are taken from NRSV)

Connect with Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

March 28, 2016

The Crucifixion of Christ (Part Two)

If you haven’t already, begin with Part One, which appeared yesterday.

•••by Russell Young

(The writer of Hebrews revealed God’s condemnation of the Israelites on the Exodus because they had disobeyed Him and He related that they could not enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief or lack of faith.1 He said that their disobedience showed that they had not combined (obedience to) the message that they had heard with faith. Obedience is faith in practice.)

The sacrifice of Christ provided the means by which the whole world might find atonement, provided they are persuaded that His blood can accomplish it. “Eternal” salvation is not achieved by the single act of faith that existed at the time of one’s confession of faith but must be constant over time and must be demonstrated through obedience. “Christ became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.2

The crucifixion of Christ was the price that had to be paid for disobeying God and for failing to achieve His righteous requirements as revealed in the law and by the Prophets. The command and permission for this provision and allowance came from the Father. “The reason the Son of Man appeared was to destroy the devil’s works.3 By taking on the sin of the world, Christ removed the power of the devil, which was the law, to bring separation and death between man and his Creator. The mandate of Christ was very purposeful; it was to defeat not only the power of Satan, but the “work” of Satan. When the Lord is finished He will “hand over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.4

The Father has given His Son the mandate of destroying the devil’s work and has given Him the authority and power to accomplish that mandate. The crucifixion of Christ gave Him victory of death and Hades. It did not give mankind victory apart from through Christ. Some talk as if the victory has been won for them. It is Christ who possesses the keys for death and Hades. “I [Christ] am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades.5 It is Christ who will determine who will be confined to death and Hades. He has the keys and the authority. He will determine through His judgment the final destiny of each man. In the end the Father’s Kingdom will be holy.6He will punish those who do not know (appreciate) God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.7 The crucifixion of Christ gave Him victory over death and Hades and He will identify those who have had sufficient faith to walk in obedience…He has the keys.

The crucifixion of Christ did not provide “victory” for all those who profess faith in Him but does so for all of those who have also demonstrated faith in Christ through the practice of obedience to the one they have called their Lord/lord. “They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony8; they did not love their live so much as to shrink from death.”9 Victory cannot be proclaimed until the end and until the battle has been fought.

The sacrifice of Christ on the cross made available through the Divine Power (the Holy Spirit) of Jesus all that is needed for life and godliness.10 This too, was provided by the crucifixion of Christ and through the redemption11 that He made available to believers. His crucifixion removed the wrath of God ONLY for those who have allowed the “life of Christ” to be lived through them.12

Provision to avoid the wrath of God was made available through the crucifixion and death of Christ and the gift of the Spirit, but victory must still be accomplished as the believer lives in obedience to the Spirit. It is still the obligation of the believer to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling;13 however, he has Christ to accomplish that victory in his own flesh just as the Lord accomplished in the body that the Father had prepared for Him in the womb of Mary.

 


1 Hebrews 3:18-19

2 Hebrews 5:9, NIV

3 1 John 3:8, NIV

4 1 Corinthians 15:24, NIV

5 Revelation 1:18, NIV

6 Hebrews 12:14

7 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9, NIV

8 “The word of their testimony” does not necessarily mean by their words, but the testimony that their life speaks to Christ and others.

9 Revelation 12:11, NIV

10 2 Peter 1:3

11 Galatians 3:13-14

12 Romans 5:9-10. See also Romans 8:3-4: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.(NIV)

13 Philippians 2:12

October 13, 2011

The Last 14 Hours of Christ’s Earthly Mission

Structured somewhat like an episode of the television series 24, Dawson McAllister’s 2009 book A Walk With Christ to the Cross: The Last Fourteen Hours of His Earthly Mission, is probably one of the more explicit books I’ve seen in terms of Christ’s suffering.

I picked up this book and not-so-randomly jumped to chapter three, which deals with Jesus in Gethsemane.  I’ve read some rather detailed descriptions of Christ’s crucifixion — I think Chuck Swindoll has a book that is exceptionally clear on this — but considering that I was reading a chapter consisting of 90-minute window before Jesus was even arrested, nothing at all prepared me for what I read. 

The chapter is based on a combination — or harmonization — of all the gospel accounts.  I’d hoped to find some text from the book online, but since that wasn’t an option, and since it’s hard to excerpt bits of this chapter without missing the impact of the whole, I’ll just note a few things in bullet points:

  • His friends didn’t understand His pain
  • …and they were soon to abandon Him.
  • The severity of what He was about to face could mean that physically, He was going in to shock.
  • Jesus began to be sorrowful; emotions absolutely shot.
  • Jesus became deeply distressed; He began to shudder; some believe this was to the point of a mild heart attack.
  • He pressed His face to the ground and prayed, basically, “Abba Father! Is there another way?”
  • He asked himself: Could He do it? Was it right to take all our sin on Him at once? Could he bear the utter hell of being forsaken by The Father?  Was humankind worth the suffering?
  • Nonetheless, He had to make a yes or no decision. 
  • He sweat drops of blood: Hematidrosis is the technical name for this condition; blood passing through the veins into the sweat glands.
  • He would want to do The Father’s will, but His whole system would be shouting, “NO!”
  • All these things considered, He might have died right there, but The Father sent an angel to comfort him; in some way the angel ministered to Jesus; the almighty creator of everything being comforted by a created being.

[…I have no words at this point…]

What we learn from Jesus’ time in the garden:

  • Humility.  If we’d walked by that garden and looked over the wall, we wouldn’t have said, “Oh, I get it…God in human form!  That must be God in the flesh.”  …Our first reaction would have been, “Who is this peasant Jew having a nervous breakdown?”
  • Sin is no small thing to Jesus.  What troubled Him deeply even to the point of death?  What was it He saw in the garden?  Answer: He saw sin in all its fury. 
  • Jesus considered us worth the suffering.  Hebrews 12:2 “…Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.”

Items in all bullet points are edited quotations from the book.

March 23, 2011

“He Sweat Drops of Blood” – Temptation

Elsie Montgomery is a Canadian, blogging daily since 2006 at Practical Faith.  She also teaches people how to write Bible study materials and devotionals. (She became an instant ‘add’ to our blogroll at right!)  This post is actually from today where it appeared under the title, Resisting Temptation.

In my efforts to lose a few pounds, decisions are necessary. I’ve heard of “mouth-hunger” vs. genuine hunger and a real need to eat. Some call “mouth-hunger” an emotional hunger. Food is comforting and tastes good. The body does not need any more, but the mouth (and emotions) crave that comfort and pleasure.

This morning, I had enough to eat and felt full, but my eyes caught the dinner rolls in the pantry. These happen to be particularly tasty and I wanted one. It was a bit of a battle to walk away, but I did, and within a few minutes the temptation was gone.

The Bible has lots to say about temptation. Its source is not what is going on outside of us (like the dinner rolls) but what is happening on the inside.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13–15)

Dinner rolls or anything else would have no appeal if I didn’t want something. My desires are the problem; the food I don’t need is merely the bait. Like a fish seeing a worm on a hook, I have a choice to make. If I keep making the wrong choices, I could sinfully overindulge. In the case of food, that would lead to obesity and even death.

Of course I am supposed to resist temptation. Sometimes I don’t. It seems like the desire is too strong, but how silly my wanting an extra dinner roll or a big piece of chocolate cake is compared to the sin that Jesus resisted.

Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:3–4)

Jesus first endured sin committed against Him. Human hostility toward Him was selfish and hateful (and still is). Unlike us when people hurt us, He did not retaliate. He said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Second, He resisted the sin of disobeying His Father who sent Him to earth to redeem sinners. This required that He bear our penalty for sin by dying on a cross. Not only was that a terribly painful physical death, His emotional and spiritual agony can scarcely be imagined.

In Gethsemane before it happened, Jesus prayed. He was fighting the temptation to say, “No thanks” rather than bear the guilt and awful weight of every sin ever committed by every person whoever lived. He knew what was coming, but again, He resisted.

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

As He sweat blood, Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) He was more willing to do as God wanted rather than take care of His own comfort and give in to the temptation to walk away and leave us to our fate.

*****

Jesus, I’ve read that extreme stress can cause a person to sweat blood. I try to imagine the seriousness of straining against temptation to the point of this happening. My own resistance to something as minor as overeating pales to ridiculousness compared to what You endured in Gethsemane.  What makes my struggle even sillier is that I am doing this mostly for my own good while Your resistance to sin was never about Yourself. You said ‘No’ to the temptations for our sake, for all sinners, for every person whoever lived, for me. At the very least Your sacrifice and Your steadfast resistance to sin ought to motivate greater resolve in me to do the same, not just in the pantry but in every area of my life.

~Elsie Montgomery