Christianity 201

July 22, 2017

The Scandal of the Cross

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Think Theology. This time around the author Michael Sterns. This was published originally approaching Good Friday. Click the title below to read at source.

The Wisdom of God

1st Corinthians 1:18-25 (NRSV)

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

img 071216Anyone that I’ve spoken to in the past few months might already know that I’ve taken a special interest in the cross. I have always been fascinated with the cross of Christ, as any good Christian should be, but I’m currently working through different atonement theories. Many have written on Think Theology on the cross, and I’ll agree that there are many different metaphors and images for understanding what exactly happened on the cross. There’s the victory of Christ. There’s the suffering of Christ. There’s the ransom. There’s substitution. There’s moral example. Each of these theories are necessary for understanding what happened on the cross. But how can we really understand what was going on? What makes this Friday such a Good Friday? What’s so good about death on a cross? (I don’t know if I have to say this, but I will anyways. I’m not going to be able to write an exhaustive summary on the doctrine of atonement. I’ve chosen specifically to look at the wisdom of God in the foolishness of the cross.)

Here in 1st Corinthians, Paul lays out one of the most beautiful passages in his corpus. He argues with Old Testament support that what God has done through the cross was beyond any human understanding. This is the wisdom of God: through the crucified Messiah, God has shown his plan for redemption.

The Romans famously put crosses on busy roads or by the entrance to a city to make statements to anyone who saw the person hanging there. People would walk past these terrible scenes of slaves and rebels on crosses, and it would convince them to never join any movement against the Roman government. Crucifixions were humiliating.

It wasn’t something that anyone wanted.

Jesus was probably crucified in AD 33. About thirty years before Jesus’ death, there was a huge rebellion recorded by Josephus after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC. Varus, the Roman general in charge in the province of Syria at that time, did what Romans did best: he destroyed the rebellion by crucifying almost 2000 rebels. Jesus was probably a little boy hearing about these horrible deaths on crosses. And thirty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the Roman general Vespasian and his son Titus closed in on Jerusalem during the great war. They overran the city, and they crucified so many Jews outside the city walls that they almost ran out of wood.

Jesus’ crucifixion happened between these two brutal mass crucifixions, but this is how God showed his plan for redemption. This was his statement. He took the scandalous cross and displayed his love for the world. It was the greatest contradiction (like a Starburst…).

Karl Barth in his commentary on Romans says, “The life of Jesus, on the other hand, is perfect obedience to the will of this faithful God. He gives himself up to sinners as a sinner. He places himself completely under the judgment which rests upon the world. He places himself there, where God can only still be present as the question of God. He takes the form of a servant. He goes to the cross and dies there. At the high point, at the goal of his way, he is a purely negative magnitude; not a genius, not the bearer of manifest or hidden psychic powers, not a hero, a leader, a poet or thinker and precisely in this negation (“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”), precisely in that he sacrifices every brilliant, psychic, heroic, aesthetic, philosophical, every thinkable human possibility whatsoever to an impossible more, to an unintuitable Other, he is the One who fulfills to the uttermost those mounting human possibilities born witness to in the law and the prophets. Therefore, God exalted him, therein is he recognized as the Christ, thereby he becomes the light of the last things which shines forth above everyone and everything. Truly we see in him God’s faithfulness in the depths of hell. The Messiah is the end of the human. There too, precisely there, God is faithful. The new day of the righteousness of God wants to dawn with the day of the ‘sublated’ human.

The cross was the only way for Jesus; there were no other possibilities. This was God’s plan.

Paul has not told us here exactly how the cross is salvific, but the whole story of Jesus makes it plain. In the death of Jesus, God has taken judgment upon himself. He uses the cross as the ultimate declaration to the world of his covenantal (and sacrificial) love. It shows the lengths to which God will go to bring about redemption, even death on a cross. When we look at Jesus on the cross, we see the face of God.

Christians see the cross as the greatest paradox. It absolutely is scandalous. What does it mean that the Son of God died upon the cross? On this Good Friday, let’s not immediately move towards the resurrection, towards the joys of Easter morning. Let us look at the cross. Let us look at our crucified Savior. It might look foolish, but it is the wisdom of God.


For further reading: Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. . William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, MI: 1987.

Wright, N.T. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion. HarperOne. New York, 2016.

 

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 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 26, 2016

Jesus Aims Directly Toward Jerusalem

When the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.
~Luke 9:51

Matthew Henry writes:

1. There was a time fixed for the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus, and he knew well enough when it was, and had a clear and certain foresight of it, and yet was so far from keeping out of the way that then he appeared most publicly of all, and was most busy, knowing that his time was short.

2. When he saw his death and sufferings approaching, he looked through them and beyond them, to the glory that should follow; he looked upon it as the time when he should be received upinto glory (1 Tim. 3:16), received up into the highest heavens, to be enthroned there. Moses and Elias spoke of his death as his departure out of this world, which made it not formidable; but he went further, and looked upon it as his translation to a better world, which made it very desirable. All good Christians may frame to themselves the same notion of death, and may call it their being received up, to be with Christ where he is; and, when the time of their being received up is at hand, let them lift up their heads, knowing that their redemption draws nigh.

3. On this prospect of the joy set before him, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem the place where he was to suffer and die. He was fully determined to go, and would not be dissuaded; he went directly to Jerusalem, because there now his business lay, and he did not go about to other towns, or fetch a compass, which if he had done, as commonly he did, he might have avoided going through Samaria. He went cheerfully and courageously there, though he knew the things that should happen to him there. He did not fail nor was discouraged, but set his face as a flint, knowing that he should be not only justified, but glorified (Isa. 50:7), not only not run down, but received up. How should this shame us for, and shame us out of, our backwardness to do and suffer for Christ! We draw back, and turn our faces another way from his service who steadfastly set his face against all opposition, to go through with the work of our salvation.

This reminded me of another passage:

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
~Hebrews 12:2

Again, Matthew Henry writes:

What it was that supported the human soul of Christ under these unparalleled sufferings; and that was the joy that was set before him. He had something in view under all his sufferings, which was pleasant to him; he rejoiced to see that by his sufferings he should make satisfaction to the injured justice of God and give security to his honor and government, that he should make peace between God and man, that he should seal the covenant of grace and be the Mediator of it, that he should open a way of salvation to the chief of sinners, and that he should effectually save all those whom the Father had given him, and himself be the first-born among many brethren. This was the joy that was set before him.

While there are so many theological depths in this idea of Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem, I have often found on a very practical level that this concept — and that exact phrase — has helped me when I must face an unpleasant situation.


If you’d like to go deeper today, there is much exposition and application in this 1985 article by Ray Stedman; check out He Endured The Cross.


 

 

March 25, 2016

The Theme of the Day

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

Note: The story in the opening section of this first appeared here at Christianity 201 five years ago.

Three Crosses

In the little town east of Toronto, Canada where we find ourselves, the local churches come together for a Good Friday service that has grown to the point where it’s now held in the ballroom of a local hotel, and even at that we have to split into multiple service times.

I never miss this event.

It’s distracting however that we all come together. The “Christian unity” theme tends to interfere. Sometimes, it’s apparently rather difficult for worship leaders to choose pieces that stay tightly focused on the theme of Good Friday, especially when most of our best worship choruses are based on the resurrection we will celebrate on Sunday.

So although absolutely nobody heard me, as the soloist was singing his second song after the message, I put my head in my hands and internally screamed out loud:

God, what are we supposed to be thinking of today?

And that’s when it hit me: Sin. We’re supposed to be thinking about our sin. Our propensity to sin. Our sin condition. Our individual sins. The sin that necessitated the cross. Yes, we should think about the price that was paid for our redemption, but we should also think in terms of how we must appear in contrast to a holy God; mindful of our sin nature

…Usually our Good Friday services are rather somber. I’ve always felt that was appropriate, but on Thursday, I drove home listening to a Christian radio station where the announcer was proposing that Good Friday can be just as celebratory as Easter Sunday. He said that we can be ecstatic about all that Christ accomplished there that day, and then quoted a hymn lyric:

My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more

For him this was a cause for rejoicing and I certainly sense the triumph and the power of that lyric. But not all callers agreed with him. One woman suggested something to the effect that we need to own our sin. I believe this is the perspective of most Christian writers down through the centuries: We need to remember the pain and suffering that Christ endured because of our trespasses. We recognize that this was the completion of God’s plan; that the crucifixion of Christ is the central element in the incarnation; that this is why Christ came; but we don’t minimize the agony of the cross even if our minds sometimes fast-forward to Resurrection Sunday.

It was our sin and guilt that put Him there.

That’s another song lyric, taken from the previous chapter in Isaiah to our opening verses,

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!

Isaiah 52:7 NASB

and one that is repeated in the New Testament:

14 How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them? 15 And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Romans 10:15 CEV

So also says a line from the classic worship chorus “Our God Reigns” reproduced in full below.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him,
Who brings good news, good news;
Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness.
Our God Reigns! Our God Reigns!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

He had no stately form, He had no majesty
That we should be drawn to Him.
He was despised and we took no account of Him.
Yet now He reigns, with the Most High.

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

It was our sin and guilt that bruised and wounded Him.
It was our sin that brought Him down.
When we like sheep had gone astray our Shepherd came,
And on His shoulders He bore our shame.

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

Meek as a lamb, that’s led out to the slaughterhouse,
Dumb as a sheep, before it’s shearer;
His life ran down upon the ground like pouring rain,
That we might be born-again!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!…

Out from the tomb He came with grace and majesty;
He is alive, He is alive!
God loves us so, see here His hands, His feet, His side;
And yes, we know, He is alive!

Our God reigns! Our God reigns!

I hesitated to post the last verse because again, it takes us into Easter Sunday when I feel we need to spend a few more moments with the women and friends who stayed at the cross. (Luke 23:49)

I do recognize however that the full message of the cross is God’s triumph over sin and death. So I couldn’t post the lyrics to Our God Reigns without posting the alternative set of lyrics from Isaiah which are also available. The first verse of both versions is the same. Here is a song that takes us more to the element of celebration that perhaps my radio announcer on Thursday was envisioning. In the end, both elements are part of the big story.

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him
Who brings good news, good news
Proclaiming peace, announcing news of happiness
Our God reigns, our God reigns

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

You watchmen lift your voices joyfully as one
Shout for your King, your King
See eye to eye the Lord restoring Zion
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Waste places of Jerusalem break forth with joy
We are redeemed, redeemed
The Lord has saved and comforted His people
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…

Ends of the earth, see the salvation of your God
Jesus is Lord, is Lord
Before the nations He has bared His holy arm
Your God reigns, your God reigns!

Our God reigns, our God reigns…


For more Easter-themed reading, check out Delivered From Death at Thinking Out Loud

April 4, 2015

The Story of Joseph Prefigures The Story of Jesus

I hope some of you have some extra time this weekend to click through and explore the rest of the series from which we’re excerpting a reading today. At ABC Religion and Ethics (Australian Broadcasting Company) throughout Holy Week, renowned theologian Oliver O’Donovan has been exploring Jesus’s “journey into a far country” by reading it alongside the story of Joseph’s search for his brothers. It is both theology of the highest order, and a thrilling modern example of a more ancient Christian interpretative practice. To see earlier and subsequent entries click the title below. For reasons of scheduling, this is the one from Good Friday, but there should be a new one on the site by the time you read this.

In Search of Judgment: Meditations for Holy Week

Good Friday

“And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here. For God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:5)

This week, I have been laying the story of Jesus’s passion alongside the story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis. Each of these two stories culminates with a trial and a judgment. The parties have to reach a decision on what the other is to them, and what they are to be to the other.

We usually think of a judgment as taking the form, “A was in the right, B was in the wrong.” The “A” and the “B” are fixed entities, the parties to the controversy whose identity was determined from the beginning, and all the judgment defines is the moral relation in which this A and this B are to stand to one another.

But when God is on trial, “being in the right” means simply “being known as God.” For God is rightness, goodness, justice, and the manifestation of his rightness and his justice over against our wrongness and injustice is – quite simply – a theophany, the manifestation of himself as God, before whom we fall and worship.

Jesus is man judged by God and God judged by man. God will render his judgment on the Second Adam on Easter morning; but he will not wait till then to elicit the judgment of man. Already, as Jesus commends his soul to his Father, the truth is wrung out of the bystanding soldier: “Surely this was the Son of God!”

Joseph’s judgment, too, takes the simple form of making himself known. “I am your brother, Joseph!” That is the moment to which everything has been building. That is the resolution of the question that they had been asking.

The reason this is a judgment is that without what had happened in the trial, this self-revelation was not possible. Until that climactic moment, it remained in doubt whether the brothers could know Joseph – know him as the brother he really was; whether they could be delivered from that other role that they had played towards him – that of the betraying friend.

The whole drama of the story turned on this: that it was impossible for the brothers first of all to learn who the Egyptian stranger was, and then to make up their minds whether and how greatly they had wronged him. That way they could never have known him at all – not, that is, in fraternity, which is an openness to the truth about oneself. If they are to know him, they must know him as the wronged brother; they must reach a judgment in his favour against themselves.

What has happened in the trial that has made this conclusion possible? First, Joseph has drawn his youngest brother, Benjamin, into the role he had occupied himself, that of an innocent victim, wrongly accused. But then Judah – not the most attractive of the brothers by a long shot, but by that complicated family reckoning, the senior brother and spokesman for them all – has stepped forward to take the responsibility, to assume the role of the wrongly accused himself, freely, rather than let Benjamin bear it. And with this step the whole bar to restored fraternity is lifted, for the brothers are now prepared to go where Joseph has been before them. They are prepared to embrace the role that they once all too readily thrust on him.

Are we to say, then, that Judah reconciled the house of Israel, rather than Joseph? No, for it was Joseph who went before. Judah follows on, like a kind of echo to his younger brother’s cry. Joseph provided the impulse. Never absent from their thoughts, he is alluded to at every twist and turn of the story, even while he standing there, unrecognized. Joseph’s sufferings have made a way for them to embrace suffering for one another. And there is more: for Judah does not need to live through his sacrifice right to the bitter end, for Joseph has lived through it before him. And Joseph is there.

The week before Jesus suffered, we are told, he was at dinner with Mary and Martha and Lazarus. And Mary, in a gesture of extravagant love, poured out the costly ointment which was, in effect, their life’s savings, upon the head and feet of the one who had brought her brother back from the dead. Jesus saw it as a sign that the moment for his sacrifice had come – it was the anointing for his burial. He had prepared those who would take responsibility in sacrificing their own life-resources, whatever they might be, for others, just as he was to take responsibility in sacrificing his life for all.

What is offered to us this Good Friday is to enter into the role that Jesus bore when he died. Nothing can replace that role; it is the role in which he went before, as Joseph went before his brothers. “We may not know, we cannot tell …,” as the hymn goes. We are his fraternity, and part of what he had to bear was bearing it alone, without us.

But we can open ourselves to it we can be formed by it, we can show ourselves ready to bear the burden after him for his brothers and sisters. We can, as St. Paul puts it, “become like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). And that is what following Jesus, bearing the cross, means in daily experience. In that way we can know what it means to say, “With his stripes we are healed.”

Shall we offer ourselves, then, as Judah offered himself as an echo of Joseph’s suffering? Shall we offer ourselves to be a living echo of what Jesus bore, resonating down the centuries. If so, St, Paul says, we shall “know him and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10).

 

 

April 2, 2015

He Learned Obedience

NLT Hebrews 5:7 While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. 10 And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Matthew Henry on verses 7-9 (my wife and I have paraphrased in places):

The Carrying Out of His Priestly Duties

(1.) He put on flesh, and for some days lived among us [tabernacled]; he became a mortal man, and considered his life by days [forcing himself into our chronos (time)] herein setting us an example how we should consider our days…

(2.) Christ, in the days of his flesh, subjected himself to death; he hungered, he was a tempted, bleeding, dying Jesus! He body is now in heaven, but it is a spiritual glorious body.

(3.) God the Father was able to save him from death. He could have prevented his dying, but he would not; for then the great design of his wisdom and grace must have been defeated. What would have become of us if God had saved Christ from dying?…

(4.) Christ, in the days of his flesh, offered up prayers and petitions to his Father, as a type of his intercession in heaven. A great many instances we have of Christ’s praying. This refers to his prayer in his agony (Matt. 26:39; 27:46), and to that before his agony (John 17:1-26) which he put up for his disciples, and all who should believe on his name.

(5.) The prayers and supplications that Christ offered up were joined with strong cries and tears, herein setting us an example not only to pray, but to be fervent and persistent in prayer. How many dry prayers, how few wet ones, do we offer up to God!

(6.) Christ was heard in the middle of what he feared. How? Why he was met* in and under his agonies, and in being carried well through death, and delivered from it by a glorious resurrection: He was heard in that he feared. He had an awful sense of the wrath of God, of the weight of sin. His human nature was ready to sink under the heavy load, and would have sunk, had he been quite forsaken in point of help and comfort from God; but he was heard in this, he was supported under the agonies of death. He was carried through death; and there is no real deliverance from death but to be carried well through it. We may have many recoveries from sickness, but we are never saved from death till we are carried well through it. And those that are saved from death will be fully delivered at last by a glorious resurrection, of which the resurrection of Christ was the earnest and first-fruits.

He Learned Obedience

[1.] The privilege of Christ: He was a Son; the only-begotten of the Father. One would have thought this might have exempted him from suffering, but it did not. None of us who are the children of God by adoption should expect an absolute freedom from suffering. What Son is he whom the Father doesn’t correct or discipline?

[2.] Christ made improvement by his sufferings. By his passive obedience, he learned active obedience; that is, he practiced that great lesson, and made it appear that he was well and perfectly learned in it; though he never was disobedient, yet he never performed such an act of obedience as when he became obedient to death, even to the death of the cross. Here he has left us an example, that we should learn by all our afflictions a humble obedience to the will of God. We need affliction, to teach us submission.

He was made perfect

[1.] Christ by his sufferings was set apart firmly into his role, consecrated by his own blood.

[2.] By his sufferings he completed that part of his role which was to be performed on earth, making reconciliation for iniquity; and in this sense he is said to be made perfect, a perfect propitiation.

[3.] Thus, he has become the author of eternal salvation to men; he has by his sufferings purchased a full deliverance from sin and misery, and a full fruition of holiness and happiness for his people. Of this salvation he has proclaimed in the gospel; he has made an offer of it in the new covenant, and has sent the Spirit to enable men to accept this salvation.

[4.] This salvation is actually given only to those who obey Christ. It is not sufficient that we have some doctrinal knowledge of Christ, or that we make a profession of faith in him, but we must hearken to his word, and obey him. He is exalted to be a prince to rule us, as well as a Savior to deliver us; and he will be a Savior to none but to those whom he is a prince, and who are willing that he should reign over them; the rest he will account his enemies, and treat them accordingly. But to those who obey him, devoting themselves to him, denying themselves, and taking up their cross, and following him, he will be the author, aitios—the grand cause of their salvation, and they shall own him as such for ever.


*I believe M.H. is referring to Matthew 4:11 “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Contrast with Matthew 27:46.)

April 24, 2014

So What is Our Response to the Easter Story?

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John 14 (The Voice)

Philip: Lord, all I am asking is that You show us the Father.

Jesus (to Philip): I have lived with you all this time, and you still don’t know who I am? If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. How can you keep asking to see the Father? 10 Don’t you believe Me when I say I abide in the Father and the Father dwells in Me? I’m not making this up as I go along. The Father has given Me these truths that I have been speaking to you, and He empowers all My actions. 11 Accept these truths: I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. If you have trouble believing based on My words, believe because of the things I have done. 12 I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father. 13 Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory from the Son.

Everyone we meet, and we ourselves, needs to respond to the story that crossed our path last week: The Passion Week narrative.  I love the way this song asks the question — it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve come across — and I was surprised to discover the song has never been featured here.  This appeared many years ago at Thinking Out Loud…

As any worship leader will tell you, Easter offers us music which best captures the essence of our faith; best captures the essence of the gospel. All worship should be ‘Christo-centric,’ but at this time of year the intensity of our worship seems so much focused.

One of my personal favorite pieces this time of year is not a congregational song, but a performance piece called “How Could You Say ‘No?'” written by Mickey Cates and performed by Julie Miller. When my wife had a soundtrack for this, we were repeatedly asked to do it each year at the church we were attending; later on we did it with live music.

christoncross

The song asks the question: How can you see what Christ did for us on the cross and then just walk away, knowing it was your sin that put him there; knowing that he did this for you?

Take the next four minutes just to focus on this song and all that it means.

Thorns on His head, spear in His side
Yet it was a heartache that made Him cry
He gave His life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

If Christ Himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full tears
And he held out His arms and His nail-printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Jesus is here with His arms open wide
You can see with your heart
If you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, He’s done all He can
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Thorns on His head, your life is in His hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

Oh, is there any way you could say no to this Man?

April 12, 2014

Cheapening Spiritual Progress with Gifts

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
  Matthew 7:6

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote about the trend toward feeling obligated to purchase a gift for someone who is being baptized as a teen or adult, an obligation perhaps borrowed from our Catholic (Confirmation) or Jewish (Bar Mitzvah) friends.  In that context, today’s opening scripture verse may seem a little extreme, but I believe the verse applies to anything which might trivialize or reduce someone’s sincere (hopefully) spiritual steps with gift-ware.

I suspect the logic works like this: Family and friends have been invited to the church. They will have everyone over to their house afterwards. Food and beverages will be served. There will be laughter and celebration. That constitutes a party. Therefore, I must take a gift.

I am all for celebrating spiritual occasions. When the prodigal son’s father saw his son returning in the distance his heart was filled with joy:

Luke 15:20“…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

The son begins his well-rehearsed admission of contrition and humility, but the father interrupts:

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Sorrow and sadness
Turn into gladness.

But for many young people, a spiritual step that is marked with gifts — or even worse, cash — sends a mixed message. I know I have a very biased preference for books, but it seems like, if anything, a good time for a Bible handbook, a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, or a copy of the scriptures in a novice-friendly translation.

Of the various youth-friendly, scripture-based things the gift-ware industry has created over the past decade, I’ve always liked the “Whatever” plaque from Abbey Press because it is a Bible quotation that is a good prescription for life for a young person.,

Whatever plaque

The text is based on Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

If a gift is absolutely necessary, that’s a sentiment I would endorse.

How else might we trivialize the things of God?  In looking back, I’ve referred to the “dogs” verse in Matthew twice before here.

One post dealt with several things at once:

  • We can pray repetitiously, reciting memorized prayers without thinking of their meaning
  • We can omit to pay proper reverence to the name of God
  • We can fail to regard as sacred the writings of scripture and the books that contain them
  • We can substitute subjective testimonies for actual Bible teaching
  • We can discount the importance of committing some of the scriptures to memory
  • We can have a rather casual approach to church services, small group meetings, etc.

In another post, I wrote about how as leaders, we can trivialize the importance of special times for The Church, using Good Friday as an example. We can neglect to immerse our congregations in His humility (washing the feet of The Twelve), his pain and sadness (showing how he would be betrayed and using the cup of sorrow in the Passover meal as example), and his anguish and suffering (at his trial, scourging, crucifixion and death.) For more of my thoughts on how might we ‘miss the moment’ on this particular day of all days, read this recent essay on the other blog.  In the two paragraphs that follow, I explain how we get to this conclusion from the opening verse:

Go Deeper: I should also say that there is much more going on in the ‘giving holy things to God’ and ‘giving pearls to pigs’ verse than what I’ve touched on in the three times it has come up here. While the verse seems to speak to all the things we’ve discussed, the context has to do with judging, but even there, this proverbial saying seems somewhat of an interjection and several Bible commentators skip over it altogether. In its most literal reading, the dogs and swine represent Gentiles, or by extension, unbelievers. It could be argued here that this is stating we are to judge within the family of God and not attempt to judge the world at large.

The broader application of this verse to mean “Don’t offer spiritual ‘pearls’ or things of great value to those who lack the understanding to absorb or process the meaning of them” is really being reversed to say, “Don’t take things which possess great meaning and value and expunge or excise (or we could say, diminish, depreciate or pejorate) all or some of that richness.

In the same Prodigal Son story we read in verse 10,

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

By all means celebrate. But don’t reduce someone’s pursuit of God and desire to live a set-apart life by offering something purchased only because you feel you had to.

We’ll close today with our opening verse as taken from The Message Bible, which seems to lean more to the way we’ve applied it here:

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

 

March 29, 2013

Trivializing Good Friday

Matthew 7:6a “Do not give dogs what is sacred…”

Although the passage above normally refers to offering your spiritual gifts, your ministry, your teachings to people who are unreceptive, there is an equally opposite danger that can occur when people are receptive by virtue of being hungry and thirsty for the deeper things of God and those  in leadership fail to provide the spiritual necessities.

In other words, if you can profane your teaching by offering it to people who treat it with contempt and scorn, I believe you can also profane it — and treat it with contempt — by offering less than the best that is appropriate to a particular situation.

One of the ways I think we do this is by failing to really get inside the moment that is Good Friday. If we fail to allow our hearts to capture Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf, then we have nothing to share with others who want that to be the focus of their holy day. We show ourselves to be extremely shallow spiritually.

If you have the responsibility of planning a service for Good Friday — or any part of it — it’s so important to bury yourself in the story and then let the text speak to you as you decide which elements of that story to impart to others. Otherwise, you’re guilty of trivializing the text, trivializing the day, trivializing Christ’s atoning work in suffering and dying for us.

One of the shortest verses in scripture is “Jesus wept.”  We tend to want to reduce the events between His arrest and His resurrection — which we will celebrate on Resurrection Sunday, but in Good Friday, not yet — to a simple text of “Jesus died.” But in reality, it goes on for chapters, in all four gospels, and is the very centerpiece of our faith, and the centerpiece of all of scripture, first and second testaments included.

We dare not trivialize that.

In fact, three years ago I wrote about a familiar passage in I Cor. 11, and noted that really, the betrayal of Jesus what ‘hatching’ in the mind of Judas long before the Passion Week narrative begins. With the religious leaders of the day, Jesus’ death was a work in progress.

“On the night Jesus was betrayed, He took bread and… broke it saying, ‘This is my Body, broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.'”

I didn’t even need to look it up. Here’s what I wrote back then:

As English shifts, modern ears might be getting this as “After Jesus was betrayed he took bread…”

I think a better reading would be, “On the night that Jesus was about to be betrayed…”

Or better yet, “Knowing full well that he was just a couple of hours from being betrayed, he took bread…”

Judas was about to exit the building. His scheming mind hatched the plan needed to locate and identify Jesus with the least interference from the crowd, and bring him before the Romans to mete out the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. There would be profit in this, not to mention a place of honor among both Pharisees and Romans alike.

But before he even left, Jesus says, “This is my Body, broken for you.” He is in control. He is giving Himself.

The Wycliffe Version isn’t the translation on Bible Gateway that most bloggers turn to, but its rendering is unique: “Take ye, and eat ye; this is my body, which shall be betrayed for you; do ye this thing into my mind.” (italics added)

It clears up the verb tense thing as it relates to the order of events, which shall (or will) be broken for you, only it has the surprise element of bringing betrayal in that clause as well: shall be betrayed for you.

Christ’s body was physically broken for us, but his esprit was no doubt broken by the betrayal of someone who He had walked and talked with; someone whom He had taught in the give and take sense of eastern teaching — for three years.

The Amplified Bible is one of the few other translations that addresses the order of events. Note the section I’ve italicized: “For I received from the Lord Himself that which I passed on to you [it was given to me personally], that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was treacherously delivered up and while His betrayal was in progress took bread…”

In a culture that grows less Biblically literate by the day, I think it necessary to sometimes look twice at details of the story that we just assume that people know. Necessary to clarify, to remove confusion.

But sometimes, in the examination, there is discovery, and the familiar narrative continues to take on shades of depth and meaning beyond anything we’d already considered.

Thinking Out Loud, Jan 4, 2010

… To which I add today, that it is in the closer readings, in the rediscoveries, we are drawn deep into those long ago days and less likely to rush through or trivialize the proceedings of a sacred time in our church calendar.

March 28, 2013

Playing With Time

As some of you read this, it’s already Good Friday. This particular blog is set up to post articles between 5:00 and 6:00 PM EST (New York time) but with readers all over the world, I realize that many readers are already “in” a particular day when this gets seen.

But in many respects, we’re all guilty of a greater measure of playing with time when it comes to Good Friday. The reason is simple. We already know how the story ends. It’s entirely impossible for us to approach Good Friday not knowing that Resurrection Sunday is just around the corner. We don’t have to read ahead because we’ve previously read the whole story.

But it wasn’t like that on that overcast day at the foot of the cross. In play-script form, The Voice Bible reads:

John 19:29-30 The Voice

29 A jar of sour wine had been left there, so they took a hyssop branch with a sponge soaked in the vinegar and put it to His mouth. 30 When Jesus drank, He spoke:

Jesus: It is finished!

In that moment, His head fell; and He gave up the spirit.

It’s so easy to miss what those standing around the cross at that moment must have felt.

The second way we play with time — going backwards instead —  is in the way we’re able to trace back all the prophecies Jesus gave concerning himself. The disciples are dejected and grieving His death, and we read this in the 21st century and we want to scream at the pages, “Look, go back to page ___ and read what he says about how The Messiah must suffer and die! It’s all there!”

You get a sense of this in Luke 24; and again, we’re going to defer to The Voice translation:

Luke 24 – The Voice

13 Picture this:

That same day, two other disciples (not of the eleven) are traveling the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. 14 As they walk along, they talk back and forth about all that has transpired during recent days. 15 While they’re talking, discussing, and conversing, Jesus catches up to them and begins walking with them, 16 but for some reason they don’t recognize Him.

Jesus: 17 You two seem deeply engrossed in conversation. What are you talking about as you walk along this road?

They stop walking and just stand there, looking sad. 18 One of them—Cleopas is his name—speaks up.

Cleopas: You must be the only visitor in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about what’s been going on over the last few days.

Jesus: 19 What are you talking about?

Two Disciples: It’s all about the man named Jesus of Nazareth. He was a mighty prophet who did amazing miracles and preached powerful messages in the sight of God and everyone around. 20 Our chief priests and authorities handed Him over to be executed—crucified, in fact.

21 We had been hoping that He was the One—you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises. Anyway, on top of all this, just this morning—the third day after the execution— 22 some women in our group really shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning, 23 but they didn’t see His body anywhere. Then they came back and told us they did see something—a vision of heavenly messengers—and these messengers said that Jesus was alive. 24 Some people in our group went to the tomb to check it out, and just as the women had said, it was empty. But they didn’t see Jesus.

Jesus: 25 Come on, men! Why are you being so foolish? Why are your hearts so sluggish when it comes to believing what the prophets have been saying all along? 26 Didn’t it have to be this way? Didn’t the Anointed One have to experience these sufferings in order to come into His glory?

Clearly, Jesus’ later teachings about his impending sufferings weren’t registering. Or perhaps it was a case of serious denial. Verse 21 is translated more commonly in a form like “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (NIV)  The verse captures most accurately the sadness felt by those two followers.

If you continue reading The Voice, you find at this point an embedded commentary suggesting the writer Luke is doing his own version of playing with time; using this story a set up for something he knows is coming just a little bit past the point where this chapter resolves itself and this book ends: The Book of Acts. Acts is this gospel’s sequel. The commentators seem to feel that Luke is preparing his audience for something which, while it does not in any way diminish the resurrection — which is after all, the centerpiece of the entire Bible — is going to astound them, namely the birth of The Church.

However, it’s Good Friday, and as we place ourselves back in that particular part of the story through this Holy Day and its various church gatherings, we can’t help but know what happens next.  So with a glimpse into Easter Sunday, let’s see how The Voice ends Luke 24:

27 Then He begins with Moses and continues, prophet by prophet, explaining the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures, showing how they were talking about the very things that had happened to Jesus.

28 About this time, they are nearing their destination. Jesus keeps walking ahead as if He has no plans to stop there, 29 but they convince Him to join them.

Two Disciples: Please, be our guest. It’s getting late, and soon it will be too dark to walk.

So He accompanies them to their home. 30 When they sit down at the table for dinner, He takes the bread in His hands, He gives thanks for it, and then He breaks it and hands it to them. 31 At that instant, two things happen simultaneously: their eyes are suddenly opened so they recognize Him, and He instantly vanishes—just disappears before their eyes.

Two Disciples (to each other): 32 Amazing! Weren’t our hearts on fire within us while He was talking to us on the road? Didn’t you feel it all coming clear as He explained the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures?

33 So they get up immediately and rush back to Jerusalem—all seven miles—where they find the eleven gathered together—the eleven plus a number of others.

March 24, 2013

The Power of 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

As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I wanted to include this worship song by Stuart Townend which can be part of your Holy Week service or used as a communion song throughout the year. If you can’t play the video in your region, take some time to read the lyrics.

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

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the power of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath-
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Every bitter thought,
Every evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
“Finished!” the victory cry.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the power of the cross:
Son of God-slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Two other songs also posted here fit well with this theme and have been posted here previously:

Quotes: Tentmaker, Christian Quotes

September 10, 2012

The Wonder of the Cross

Today for the first time, a worship song repeat.  But first, a poem:

The Ironies of the Cross

 o

On that wretched day the soldiers mocked him
Raucous laughter in a barracks room
Hail the king they sneered while spitting on him
Brutal beatings on this day of doom
Though his crown was thorn, he was born a king
Holy brilliance bathed in bleeding loss
All the soldiers blind to this stunning theme
Jesus reigning from a bloody cross

o

Awful weakness marks the battered god-man
Far too broken now to heist the beam
Soldiers strip him bare and pound the nails in
Watch him hanging on the cruel tree
God’s own temple’s down he has been destroyed
Death’s remains are laid in rock and sod
But the temple rises in god’s wise ploy
Our great temple is the Son of God

o

Here’s the one who said he cares for others
One who said he came to save the lost
How can we believe he saves others
When he can’t get off that bloody cross
Let him save himself, let him come down now
Savage jeering at the king’s disgrace
But by hanging there is precisely how
Christ saves others as the king of grace

o

Draped in darkness utterly rejected
Crying why have you forsaken me
Jesus bore God’s wroth alone dejected
Wept the bitterest tears instead of me
And the mockers cried he has lost his trust
He is defeated by hypocrisy
But with faith’s resolve Jesus knows he must
Do God’s will and swallow death for me

o

The preceding poem is a transcript made from a recording of an excellent D.A. Carson sermon called the Ironies of the Cross. (from a D.A. Carson sermon archivesourced at a 2007 post at Homeward Bound.

And now the song, from Robin Mark, The Wonder of Your Cross

Learn more about the song from its first appearance here one year ago.

May 28, 2012

His Own Received Him Not

Back at Easter, C. Baxter Kruger posted two consecutive pieces dealing with the rejection of Jesus.  The first was titled Who Rejected Jesus? (You are encouraged to click the link and read this at source.)

“Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:45). 
 
“For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). 
 
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered up to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and will deliver him up to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify him…” (Matthew 20:18).
The inherent legalism of the Western Church trains our eyes to see Jesus’ suffering as the judgment of God upon our sin, and virtually blinds us to the more obvious point that Jesus suffered from the wickedness of humanity. It was the human race, not the Father, who rejected his beloved Son and killed him.  The wrath poured out on Calvary’s hill did not originate in the Father’s heart, but in ours.  The humiliation that Jesus bore, the torment that he suffered, was not divine but human. We mocked him; we detested him; we judged him. We ridiculed him, tortured him, and turned our face from him. It was not the Father or the Holy Spirit who abandoned Jesus and banished him to the abyss of shame; it was the human race. We cursed him.
Either the Father, Son, and Spirit were caught off guard by our corporate rejection of Jesus, or there is a redemptive genius at work here that is too beautiful for words. Was the Jewish and Roman rejection of Jesus not foreseen by the triune God? Was the Father surprised when we killed the solution? Was Jesus bewildered and the Holy Spirit shocked when things went south and the crowds turned against him? No, of course not. The animosity of the human race towards the Father’s Son was anticipated, and indeed counted on, and literally incorporated (See Acts 2:23) as the critical part in bringing about our real relationship. Here is amazing grace. In breathtaking love, the Lord’s way of relationship and reconciliation involves the shocking acceptance of our cruelty. The Incarnation involves the inconceivable submission of the Trinity to our bizarre darkness and its bitter judgment.
And the point of such shocking grace is to find us, to meet us, to relate to us and to embrace us as we really are as broken, deceived, wounded, terror-filled, and rebellious creatures.  Here is the heart of the grace of the blessed Trinity.  Jesus bowed to suffer from our loathsome enmity.  He took a dagger to the heart.  He willfully and astonishingly submitted himself to us in our profound darkness—and we damned him—and in submitting himself to us he embraced us at our very worst.
What does this mean?  It means that Jesus took our treachery, our betrayal, our murder and turned them into the way of his Father’s embrace and into the Holy Spirit’s anointing.  We killed him.  Jesus is saying to us on Good Friday: “I can take your murder, and I can let it happen, and in so doing I am accepting you as you are, and I am bringing my relationship with my Father, and my anointing with the Holy Spirit into your murderous darkness.  I use your murder to be the way I bring you into real relationship with my Father and the Holy Spirit.
Our contribution to our adoption was to pour our wrath out upon Jesus.  And on this day we did.  Jesus took it, and drew us in all our anger and brokenness and sin into his Father’s arms.  Shocking, stunning, beautiful grace. It is not ‘dark’ Friday, but ‘good’ Friday.
The second post was titled The House of His Father. (You are encouraged to click the link and read at source.)
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (2COR 8:9).
In the genius of the blessed Trinity, our cruel rejection of Jesus became the way of our adoption; our bitter abuse became the way of the Father’s embrace and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. For how could our unfaithfulness and contempt and treachery, or the enslaving lie of the evil one, or death itself break the love and oneness and life of the blessed Trinity?  In dying at our hands, Jesus brought his life into our death, his relationship with his Father into our gnarled pathology, his anointing by the Holy Spirit into our twisted darkness. Out of his boundless love “he was dishonored that he might glorify us,” (Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, I.5.) “he endured our insolence that we might inherit immortality”( Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, §54). Suffering our abuse to give us grace, he met our cruelty with his kindness, our rejection with his merciful acceptance, and our dead and despairing religion with his joy.  By accepting us at our very worst, by submitting himself to us in our great darkness, he entered into our world with his, thus transforming the shack of Adam’s horrid fall into the house of his Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In a variation on St. Paul’s great statement we might say, “For you know the stunning grace of the Father’s Son: that though he was rich in the shared life of the blessed Trinity, yet for our sake he became poor, suffering our wrath to meet us, and that now through his suffering we who were so poor have been included in Jesus’ own rich relationship with his Father in the Spirit.”

April 6, 2012

Filled With The Spirit

Christ was not deserted in death and his body was never destroyed. ‘Christ is the man Jesus, whom God raised up—a fact of which all of us are eye-witnesses!’ He has been raised to the right hand of God; he has received from the Father and poured out upon us the promised Holy Spirit—that is what you now see and hear!

~Acts. 2:31-33, J. B. Phillips translation

This verse was one that I learned in a slightly different form from The Living Bible, in fact, it hung as part of poster on the walls of my bedroom:

The Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit, with the results you are seeing and hearing today.

I believe that’s more or less verbatim, as I don’t think anyone has The Living Bible text online.

Christ’s death and resurrection brought about a change in the relationship between The Holy Spirit and man.

  • In the first covenant, God’s Spirit occasionally rested on certain individuals, such as the prophets
  • In the time of Christ, the disciples experienced Emmanuel, God with us. The Spirit indwelt Jesus who in turn was physically present among mankind in ways unknown since the Garden of Eden, but limited by whatever physical location Jesus was present at any single time.
  • After the resurrection, God’s Spirit lived inside those who granted Him full authority, or Lordship over their lives.

Christ came to fulfill a sacrificial mandate, but also to usher us into a time when His Spirit would live through us; where instead of being centered on a single person (and therefore a single place) the Spirit of God would be present in people throughout the entire earth. Though omnipresent in both old covenant and new covenant times, the embodiment of His presence after Acts 2 was much more widespread.

Raised to new life, God pours out His Spirit on all those who believe and follow. 

That’s the progression…

…But we’re not there yet.

This is still Good Friday.  In between incarnation and ascension, we have the suffering and death of Jesus, we hear him cry out, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” 

But even in that anguish, is there hope?  Is there a hint of what is to come?  Just as Christ, in his life, foreshadows his death, does he in his death foreshadow his resurrection?

Today, I want to refer you to a somewhat longer  piece by Al Hsu from InterVaristy Press, posted at Christianity Today.  It’s one of the best I’ve read in a long time, in fact I read it out loud to my family.  It takes about 20 minutes to do it that way, so your reading time should be shorter.

But I promise you will never look at one particular cry from the cross the same way. I strongly encourage you to invest the time this reading takes.

Read all six screens of He’s Calling for Elijah: Why We Still Mishear Jesus (click here).

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