Christianity 201

August 26, 2014

The Gospel According to Romans 8

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Because this is Christianity 201 and not 101, sometimes we find material online that we think is going to be too simplistic for readers here. But let me ask you a question, if someone asked you to explain the scriptural concepts of why sin leads to death, or how the law is inadequate to redeem us, or what someone must do to become part of the family spiritually; if someone asked you these types of questions would you be able to articulate an answer clearly?

I know that sometimes the simple aspects of the faith trip me up in situations like that because to me, these are taken as a given or they have become so familiar as to be self-evident. This is why, every so often, I return to the idea of the invisible transaction of salvation; that to explain it fully is to point out the foreshadowing in the book of Numbers, where Moses lifts up the serpent on a pole.

All this to say that today’s post is from The Gideons in Canada. To prepare to read this, you might want to take a minute to read all of Romans 8. To read this at source, click the title below and then look around the rest of the site.

ROMANS EIGHT

Romans 8 was read four times per second on a popular Bible app in 2013, and I’m not surprised.

Romans 8 is the gospel in a nut-shell. It’s the best news anyone on this planet could ever receive.

gidideonlogoIts message crosses every divide the world tries to create–social status, gender, age, culture, job, moral-code… And the message is for everyone.

 The Solution is Life on God’s terms.

This life is not about our performance or ability to go it on our own. It’s about receiving life on God’s terms—and His terms are pretty good. You see, we humans were born with a sinful nature that we cannot cure ourselves. We can’t work ourselves up to perfection; we ourselves cannot reach a point where we will not encounter temptation or sin. We are not the answer. Our efforts are not the solution.

God, seeing that we are incapable of saving ourselves, provided a savior—Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ took on the sins of this world, and paid the price for them on the cross so that we could be forgiven. In that moment in time, we received His clean slate, and He took our messed up one. We were set free.

1) No Condemnation. Escape Death.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you[b] from the power of sin that leads to death. Romans 8:1-2 NLT

Yes. Someone was willing to sacrifice it all on a cross so that we wouldn’t be condemned or punished for our failures, so that we would escape the death sentence we deserve and get to live for an eternity in Heaven.

And it’s not dependent on anything that we do.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8 NLT

Believing & belonging to Jesus = no condemnation, no death.

Our continual inability to measure up and be good enough is overcome by Christ’s ability. In our weakness He is strong.

2) You can’t fulfill the law. Christ did.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

Don’t worry. There isn’t something you are missing, the same struggle you have to keep up with all the do’s and don’ts is the same struggle everyone else on this planet also battles with. It’s not about us trying harder, rather it’s about us embracing what Christ did for us on the cross. He took our terrible record, the punishment for that record, and in return, gave us his perfect record.

God’s terms are… although you are completely undeserving; I am going to give you a clean slate.

God’s terms are… although you sin, I see you as clean, whole, perfect, as my child—because of what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross.

God’s terms are… I love you. God’s terms are… I forgive you. God’s terms are… I am with you.

When you need a fresh reminder of the Good News of the gospel, if you need that weight of law, duty and failure lifted—turn to Romans 8—it’s pretty Good News if you ask me.

In fact, it’s news that is too good not to share.

Order free copies of Scripture at http://www.sendme.ca and trust God for opportunities to share.

April 6, 2014

Devotions from the Hymnbook

But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  (I John 1:7 NLT)

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:22 ESV)

How much worse punishment do you think is deserved by the person who walks all over God’s Son, who acts as if the blood of the covenant that made us holy is just ordinary blood, and who insults the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29 CEB)

As someone who has been responsible for helping to introduce modern worship at two different churches, I am very supportive of what many of today’s worship leaders and modern hymn-writers are doing, and believe very strongly in the “theology of ‘New Song'” as expressed in Isaiah 42:10 and other scriptures.  However, I’m also very appreciative of the richness in many of the old hymns.

The challenge with many of the hymns however is that they were written at a time when the style dictated following a certain format. Many started with a strong thought, but were evangelistic in nature, imploring and pleading with the hearer in successive verses to cross the line of faith before it is too late.  For that reason, some of the first verses of many of these hymns are worth remembering, but successive verses seem out of date, and also don’t conform to the nature of what we now call ‘vertical worship,’ that is songs directed directly to God.

Still, this morning I got to thinking about many of those first verses, especially in songs that could have application either to a communion service or Good Friday. These lines may be foreign to you, or familiar, but I hope they resonate with you.  If you’re under a certain age, I hope you’ll stick with this today.

He The Pearly Gates Will Open

Most of these songs focus intensely on the saving work of Christ on the cross. Many mention the blood of Jesus. Today, some preachers shy away from talking about the blood of Christ and people are uncomfortable singing “Are you washed in the blood.” There are very few contemporary books being written about the blood of Jesus.

Love divine, so great and wondrous
Deep and mighty, pure sublime;
Coming from the heart of Jesus
Just the same through tests of time

He the pearly will gates will enter
So that I may enter in
For he purchased my redemption
And forgave me all my sin.

Love divine, so great and wondrous
All my sins He then forgave
I will sing His praise forever
For His blood; His power to save.

My Savior First of All

This song takes an end-of-life perspective and also introduces the idea that in the age to come, Jesus will still be recognizable by the nail scars in his hands. Certainly when he appeared to Thomas — in what we describe as a ‘glorified body’ — Thomas was invited to see the scars in his side and his hands.

When my life work is ended
And I cross the swelling tide
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see
I shall my redeemer when I reach the other side
And His smile will be the first to welcome me.

I shall know Him, I shall know Him
As redeemed by His side I shall stand
I shall know Him, I shall know Him
By the print of the nails in His hand.

Glory to His Name

This is a rousing song that expresses thankfulness and praise for salvation. It’s a song of personal testimony that ends, “I am so wondrously saved from sin…”

Down at the cross where my Savior died
Down where for cleansing from sin I cried
There to my heart was the blood applied
Glory to His name

Once for All

This song has a strong basis in the book of Romans and is more doctrinal or theological, looking at our position in Christ. The chorus is more evangelistic than what we’re including here — it’s an invitation song, though a bit up-tempo — but two of the verses showcase the writing.

Free from the law, oh happy condition
Jesus has bled and there is remission
Cursed by the law, and bruised by the fall
Grace has redeemed us, once for all

Now we are free, there’s no condemnation
Jesus provides a perfect salvation
“Come unto me,” Oh hear His sweet call
Come and He saves us, once for all

Yes I Know

This one is actually the third verse of a more obscure piece that was revived a few years ago by the Gaither Gospel Series, a series of DVDs and CDs that provided a nostalgic return to hymns and gospel songs for an older generation. (See video below.)

In temptation He is near thee,
Holds the pow’rs of hell at bay;
Guides you to the path of safety,
Gives you grace for every day.

And I know, yes, I know
Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean,
And I know, yes, I know
Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean.

In a few days we’ll return to this theme and look at a single hymn that chronicles the final hours of Jesus leading up to the cross.

Read more scripture verses relating to the blood of Jesus.

May 13, 2013

The Horror of the Cross

Periodically we have different writers who come at this in various ways, and we hear some of this preached at Easter; however I don’t think we can ever contemplate the cost of the atonement too often. It’s interesting that some cloistered monks attend mass every morning but Evangelicals get nervous if you repeat a devotional on the crucifixion two days in a row.

After scheduling this, I noticed that this isn’t the first time we’ve featured the writing of Jeremy Myers here, but it’s almost exactly a year to the date we ran his piece on Following Jesus. You’re encouraged to read this post at source, where it ran at the blog Till He Comes under the title Jesus Became Sin For Us.

2 Corinthians 5:21 New International Version (NIV)

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21 may be the most horrifying verse in Scripture, for it reveals the fact that Jesus, who was holy, righteous, and perfectly sinless, became sin for us. God made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us.

The Horror of the Cross

Can you imagine the horror, the shame, and the guilt that poured upon Jesus while He hung upon the cross?

We, who are born in sin and who are accustomed to sin’s constant presence within us, still feel shame and guilt when we sin. Imagine then how it would feel for God in the flesh, who is perfectly holy and righteous, and for whom sin is the exact antithesis and opposite of everything about His being, to not just take on a few sins, but to actually become sin for the entire world? It is shocking and horrifying to think about.

The Love of the Cross

But it is also incredibly loving, for God, who alone knows the full ramifications and consequences of sin, knew that only in this way could He have the relationship and fellowship with us that He so desires. Only by taking sin upon Himself could He finally, ultimately, and completely defeat sin, death, and the devil. So He did it.

Jesus became sin for us and gave us His righteousness.

Jesus accepted our sin into Himself.

He breathed it in, soaked it up, and allowed it to consume Him from within.

Why? Because He loves us, and He knows that if He does not become sin for us, if He does not let sin consume Him, it will destroy and consume us.

Jesus Became Sin

The truth of 2 Corinthians 5:21 is for every single person who has ever lived and who will ever live. It is for every single person who has drawn breath. It is for every single sin that has ever been committed and ever will be. Jesus draws them all into Himself and becomes sin for us!

On the cross, Jesus is both the most beautiful thing the world has ever seen, and the most loathsome. Jesus is the most righteous and the most sinful. The cross of Jesus is full of love and horror.

Love, because of what Jesus did, but horror, because of what Jesus became: He became sin. This is the truth of 2 Corinthians 5:21. Jesus became sin for us. God made Him to be sin. Jesus was despised, rejected, and loathed (Isa 53:2-6). People looked upon Him with revulsion. Even God rejected Him (Matt 27:46).

God Became Sin

All of this helps us understand exactly what was going on in the violent portrayals of God in the Old Testament. If it is on the cross that Jesus most fully reveals God, and it is on the cross that Jesus became sin for the world, then this means that God also was becoming sin for the world.

Just as Jesus became repulsive on the cross by taking on the sin of the world, the proper response to reading about the violence of God in the Old Testament is to be repulsed. We are repulsed by the violence of God in the Old Testament because we are supposed to be repulsed. The violence of God in the Old Testament is God taking on the sin of Israel.

This is a challenge thought, I know, so let us approach it from another perspective, from the perspective of God Himself. To do this, we must remember everything we have seen in this series so far (see the list of posts below).

We must remember that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. It records exactly what God wanted recorded. We must remember that when we read about God in the Old Testament, we read Jesus back into those passages, rather than read those depictions of God forward onto Jesus. We must remember that Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work, and that the primary way Jesus did all this is by taking all the devil’s work into Himself upon the cross by becoming the sin of the world.

God inspired the Old Testament authors to write about Him in a violent way so that He could do the same thing for Israel that Jesus did on the cross: Just as Jesus became sin for us, God became sin for Israel.

November 27, 2012

Why Couldn’t God Simply ‘Declare’ Our Sins Forgiven?

In the spirit of this blog’s official tag line — Digging a Little Deeper — we go to a question I hadn’t considered before. Why couldn’t God in his grace simply make a declaration of forgiveness without involving the cross? Will G. wrote the following nearly a year ago from Melbourne, Australia at Weblog of a Christian Philosophy Student under the title Why can’t God just forgive sin?

People sometimes ask: why can’t God just forgive sin? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross for us?

My answer to this would be that there are two kinds of forgiveness, one of which is a lot more ‘powerful’ than the other, and God needed to use this second, more powerful kind of forgiveness. Moreover, giving this kind of forgiveness required Jesus to die on the cross.

How so?

Imagine a thief who keeps stealing some guy’s stuff – let’s say John’s stuff. John is so nice that whenever the thief steals from him, he forgives the thief. But the thief never changes his behaviour. John can forgive the thief all he wants, but it doesn’t stop the thieve from stealing. Forgiving the thief doesn’t make the thief a better person.

John’s kind of forgiveness could be called the first kind.

The story shows that John’s kind of forgiveness doesn’t do that much. John’s forgiveness won’t make the thief stop stealing, it will only prevent John from seeking justice and might also relieve some emotional tension from his anger. John’s kind of forgiveness won’t change the thief’s behaviour.

If God’s forgiveness is like John’s forgiveness then God’s forgiveness won’t change people’s behaviour. If God’s forgiveness is like John’s forgiveness then we’ll act in heaven the way we do on earth. This could lead to heaven having such things as people really disliking one another, splits between different groups, cliques, and so on. Not really a great picture of heaven.

The Christian idea is that to solve humanity’s problems, God needed a more powerful ‘second’ kind of forgiveness – one that changes behaviour. That’s the kind of forgiveness you need to really deal with humanity’s issues.

See Col 2:13:

“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.”

The Bible says that when God forgave us He managed to change our behaviour as part of the forgiveness. Our sinful nature was ‘cut away’ by God’s forgiveness, although we will still fight against it until Jesus comes (Gal 5:17).

Imagine John forgiving the thief with such ‘power’ (somehow) that the thief decided never to steal again! That would be similar to the second kind of forgiveness.

So how does it work?

The Bible says that the mechanism for God’s more powerful kind of forgiveness must involve Jesus dying for us (Matt 26:39). I’m not too clear on the details of how it works, but I suspect it involves some kind of exchange between sinners and Jesus. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed”, in Romans 6:6, “our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ”, and in Gal 2:20, “It is no longer [my old sinful self] that lives, but Christ lives in me”.

October 19, 2012

Going Against The Flow; Swimming Against The Tide

Another Canadian blogger, Kim Shay posted this quotation from Martin Luther recently at her blog, The Upward Call. I can’t begin to imagine the conflict Luther would have felt has he formulated beliefs that went totally against everything commonly held. This from the Faith Alone devotional collection:

Trusting Christ Instead of People

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them
for he knew all men
John 2:24


No one understands how difficult it was when I first realized that I had to believe and teach an idea that was contrary to the teaching of the church fathers. This was especially shocking to me when many outstanding, reasonable, and educated people shared their views. The church fathers include many holy people, such as Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine. Despite that, my dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ must be worth more to me than all the holy people on earth – yes, even more than all the angels in heaven. When I read Augustine’s books and discovered that he also had been in error, I was greatly troubled. Whenever this happens, it’s very difficult for me to calm my own hart and differ with people who are so greatly respected.

But I dare not accept something just because a respected person says it. A person can be holy and God-fearing and still be in error. That’s why I don’t want to rely on people. As this passage says, the Lord Christ didn’t rely on people either. Furthermore, in the book of Matthew, Jesus earnestly warns us to beware of false prophets, who will come and not only claim to be Christians, but also “perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible (24:24).

Rather than trusting the church fathers and their writings, we should crawl under the wings of our mother hen, the Lord Christ, and look to him alone. the heavenly Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). God wants us to listen to Christ alone.


Here’s a bonus Faith Alone devotional from Luther that appeared a week prior at Kim’s blog.

The Lamb of God

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him
and said, “Look, the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1:29


God’s laws tell us how we should live. They command us: “Never desire to take your neighbor’s wife. Never murder. Never commit adultery. Give to the poor.” It’s good to follow God’s laws in order to guard against outward sins. Before God, however, it won’t work to try to get rid of sin by obeying God’s laws. What does work is stated in this verse: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Isaiah explains that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6) and “for the transgression of my people he was stricken” (v.8). Everything points to Christ.

As a Christian, you should hold tightly to these words and not let them be taken away from you. Then you will know that godless people and religious people who hope to satisfy God with their pilgrimages and good works are blind. Many boast of the good works and console themselves by thinking they will get a second chance to be saved. The Holy Scripture, in contrast, says that the sins of the world aren’t laid on the world. John’s sins weren’t laid on John, and Peter’s sins weren’t laid on Peter, for no one can bear their own sins. Rather, the sins of the world were laid on Christ. He is the Lamb of God. He stepped forward to become a sinner for us, to become even sin itself, and to act as though he had committed the sins of the entire world from the beginning of its creation (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Lamb’s mission, role, and function were to take away the sins of the world. The Lamb carried them all.

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.

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.

September 4, 2011

4 Things Christ Accomplished on the Cross

From Philadelphia pastor Brian Jones:

Theologians use various words to describe what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished.  Each of these words illuminates a unique aspect of what happened on the cross at Calvary…

Redemption

The term conveys the idea of being “bought back.” If a thief steals an expensive watch, sells it to a pawn shop, and then the original goes and pays a large sum of money to buy it back — that’s an example of redemption. Jesus’ death served as God’s payment to “buy us back from sin, darkness, the devil, and hell.

13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Col 1:(13 added) – 14

Reconciliation

The term conveys the idea of two people whose relationship was damaged, and they they became enemies before later coming back together.  Jesus’ death restores humanity’s broken relationship with God.

  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. -Romans 5: 11

Substitute Atonement

The term conveys the idea of someone stepping up to take upon him or herself the punishment due another person. Jesus, in His death, stepped up to take the punishment we deserved because of our sins.

 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

…Like looking at a diamond from various angles, the death of Jesus has multiple meanings and many layers, but there is one aspect of Jesus’ death that is more central than all others combined, and that’s the idea of propitiation. It’s what theologian J. I. Packer calls “the heart of the gospel.”

Propitiation

…”an offering that turns away wrath.”* Jesus’ death on the cross served as a sacrificial offering which appeased God’s wrath and opened up the possibility for people to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:25 (& 26 added)

~Brian Jones in Hell is Real But I Hate To Admit It (David C. Cook) pp. 141-143

*Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All (College Press)

Scriptures used for this blog post: New Living Translation (NLT)

April 22, 2011

Why I Screamed out Loud at the Good Friday Service

In the little town east of Toronto, Canada where we find ourselves, seven of 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 two service times.  

I never miss this event.

It’s distracting however that we all come together.  The “Christian unity” theme tends to interfere. And 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. It was our sin and guilt that put Him there.   So says a line from the classic worship chorus “Our God Reigns” reproduced 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!

The message of the cross is God’s triumph over sin and death.   That’s my thought for today.  However, 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.

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 12, 2011

Eden and Gethsemane: A Tale of Two Gardens

Back in 2009, I did a week-long series at Thinking out Loud called “Setting our Faces Toward Jersualem.”  I’m going to repeat them here, but spread them out over a wider number of days…

…In this 2007 post from the blog, Kingdom People, Trevin Wax contrasts two gardens, Eden and Gethsemane.

golgotha.jpg

“It is finished!”
Jesus, from the cross (John 19:30)

From one garden to another, Eden’s paradise to Gethsemane’s agony, we see God’s redemptive plan unveiled: Satan, sin and death forever defeated, only through the death and resurrection of God’s only Son. The fulfillment of prophecy, the climax of history, the culmination of God’s eternal plan came crushing down upon Jesus of Nazareth as He hung on the cross that Friday afternoon.

Jesus had lived a sinless life, teaching and preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom – the Kingdom He had come to inaugurate. This Kingdom had arrived with miraculous signs: bread for the hungry, healing for the sick, and sight for the blind. Now, in His death, Jesus was taking the weight of the world’s sin and suffering upon Himself. As He bore the punishment for the sins of the world, He was completing His earthly work.

On the sixth day of creation, God had made man in His image. Behold the man: Adam, the first human, the man whose sinful choice cast all of humanity into the powerful grip of sin and death. Now, on the sixth day, Friday, Pilate stands next to Jesus and declares, “Behold the Man!” Jesus, the “second Adam,” the true human being, the one whose sinless life will undo the curse of sin and death. Behold the Man who will pay for our sins! Behold the Man who is our Messiah and Lord! Behold the Man who is our Savior and God!

Piercing through the dark storm clouds and echoing through the valleys surrounding the hill of Golgotha, Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” announcing that His work was complete. On the sixth day, God had completed his work of creation. Now Jesus finished His work, as the spotless Lamb who died as our sacrifice. “It is finished” – the victory cry from the cross. The sacrifice had been accomplished. And God saw that it was good.

written by Trevin Wax © 2007 Kingdom People blog

I’ve reproduced this  knowing that many of you don’t get around to clicking the links.  If someone asked you to write a mediation about this season, with what themes or thoughts on Christ’s sacrifice would you begin?

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

March 22, 2011

Behind God’s Back

This is from Jerry Bridges Holiness devotional (p. 94) and is also a selection from his book, The Discipline of Grace.

I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake.  Is. 43:25

God uses several metaphors and colorful expressions to assure us that our sins have been literally carried away by our Lord Jesus Christ.  One of them is in Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”  (NIV).  Here was an infinite distance as great as human vocabulary could express.

Jesus not only bore our sins on the cross, He carried them away an infinite distance.  He removed them from the presence of God and from us forever.  They can no longer bar our access to God’s holy presence.  Now “we have confidence” – or “boldness” as the King James Version more strikingly puts it – to enter God’s presence.  (Hebrews 10:19)

Reinforcing this message is Isaiah 38:17, where King Hezekiah said to God, “You have cast all my sins behind your back.”  When something’s behind your back, you can’t see it anymore.  It’s out of sight.  This is how He has completely dealt with our sin and put it away.

There’s an emphatic ring to Hezekiah’s words.  They suggest a deliberate, decisive action on God’s part.  God Himself has cast our sins behind His back and He is not hesitant or reluctant in doing this.  He has taken the initiative and He did so joyfully and gladly.  God takes pleasure in putting our sins behind his back because He takes pleasure in the work of His Son.

Do we believe this?  Do we believe the testimony of Scripture, or do we believe our guilty feelings?  Only to the extent we believe God has indeed put our sins behind His back will we be motivated and enabled to effectively deal with those sins in our daily lives.

October 6, 2010

The Essence of the Gospel

In certain circles it has become, if nothing else, fashionable to discuss the question, “What is the Gospel?” to the point where I am beginning to think that non-believers will simply know it when they hear it.   I just worry that sometimes we over-analyze something we should simply be living.

That dismissiveness aside,Tullian Tchividjian has been busy on Twitter compiling short statements expressing various aspects of the gospel.  Apparently, the gospel can’t be contained in a single statement.   Blogger Barry Simmons assembled a couple of lists at his blog The Journeyman’s Files both here and here.   I linked to it today at Thinking Out Loud, but thought we’d spell out a few of the statements here for C201 readers…

  • The gospel reminds us that we become more mature when we focus less on what we need to do for God and more on all God has already done for us.
  • The gospel tells me my identity and security is in Christ–this frees me to give everything I have because in Christ I have everything I need
  • The gospel tells us we don’t need to spend our lives earning the approval of others because Jesus has already earned God’s approval for us
  • When you understand that your significance and identity is anchored in Christ, you don’t have to win—you’re free to lose
  • Christian growth doesn’t happen by working hard to get something you don’t have. It happens by working hard to live in light of what you do have
  • The world says that the bigger we become, the freer we will be. But the gospel tells us that the smaller we become, the freer we will be.
  • The gospel explains success in terms of giving, not taking; self-sacrifice, not self-indulgence; going to the back, not getting to the front
  • The gospel empowers us to live for what’s timeless, not trendy–to follow Jesus even when it means going against what’s fashionable
  • Because of Christ’s finished work, sinners can have the approval, acceptance, security, freedom, love, righteousness, & rescue they long for
  • The only antidote there has ever been to sin is the gospel—and since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel.
  • Because of Christ’s propitiatory work on my behalf I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, praise or popularity.
  • The vertical indicative (what God’s done for me) always precedes horizontal imperative (how I’m to live in light of what God’s done for me)
  • When you are united to Christ, no amount of good work can earn God’s favor and no amount of bad work can forfeit God’s favor
  • Jesus came not to angrily strip away our freedom but to affectionately strip away our slavery to lesser things so we might become truly free
  • The irony of the gospel is that we truly perform better when we focus less on our performance for Jesus and more on Jesus’ performance for us
  • The gospel tells us that what God has done for us in Christ is infinitely more important than anything we do for him.
  • Isn’t it ironic that while God’s treatment of us depends on Christ’s performance, our treatment of others depends on their performance?
  • We need God’s gospel rescue every day and in every way because we are, in the words of John Calvin, “partly unbelievers until we die.”
  • Daily sin requires a daily distribution of God’s grace
  • The hard work of sanctification is the hard work of constantly reorienting ourselves back to our justification.
  • Grace can be defined as unconditional acceptance granted to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.
  • The law tells us what God demands from us; the gospel tells us what God in Christ has done for us because we could not meet his demands.
  • Paul never uses the law as a way to motivate obedience; He always uses the gospel.
  • When you understand God’s grace, pain leads to freedom because deep suffering leads to deep surrender!
  • When we depend on things smaller than Jesus to provide us with the security and meaning we long for, God will love us enough to take them away.
  • The gospel is the good news that God rescues sinners. And since both non-Christians & Christians are sinners, we both need the gospel.
  • The gospel grants Christians one strength over non-Christians: the strength to admit they’re weak.
  • The gospel isn’t just the power of God to save us, it’s the power of God to grow us once we’re saved.
  • When we transfer trust from ourselves to Christ, we experience the abundant freedoms that come from not having to measure up.
  • The gospel makes wise those who know they’re foolish and makes fools out of those who think they’re wise.
  • It never ceases to amaze me that God’s love to those who are in Christ isn’t conditioned on how we behave but on how Christ behaved for us.
  • In the gospel, God comes after us because we need him not because he needs us. Only the gospel can free us to revel in our insignificance.
  • Mt. Sinai says, “You must do.” Mt. Calvary says, “Because you couldn’t, Jesus did.” Don’t run to the wrong mountain for your hiding place.

Remember these is only about half the list; click on both of the above links to get the full list; and thank-you Barry for compiling this.