Christianity 201

March 30, 2018

The Time When Even Jesus Said, “Darkness Reigns”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is today’s reading from the devotional that I read, Daily Encouragement.

When Darkness Reigned

This is your hour–when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).

Today we, who hold to the Christian faith, look back nearly 2,000 years ago to the ultimate Sacrifice. On this Good Friday we solemnly remember that our Savior breathed His last at the hands of wicked men. We also realize this day is good because God showed us the full extent of His love by making restitution for our redemption.

When He was arrested Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, “This is your hour–when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).  This hour of darkness, which we believe included the period of time between His arrest and resurrection, appeared to be a hopeless situation, an excruciating time in the cosmos. Again consider, this was the period when our Lord Himself declared, “darkness reigns”!

Pastor Grant Gunnink observes, “It must have been agonizing for Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – to acknowledge that in what was about to happen – the powers of darkness, which He could have no doubt thrown back with a single word – had been given free reign.”

Although we believe Jesus was primarily speaking of spiritual darkness a physical darkness was demonstrated at His death during His final three hours on the cross when “darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining” (Luke 23:44,45).

However, of vital importance is that although darkness reigned, God ultimately reigns. (It’s so important to also realize this during the seasons in our own life when darkness seems to reign.)

In a much earlier time period evil was also present in the dark deeds inflicted upon Joseph by his eleven brothers when they plotted his death. Consider the merciful perspective expressed in Joseph’s response to his wicked brothers after many years, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

This took on much greater fulfillment, in the person and work of Christ, as Christ poured out His goodness on those who sought to do Him evil. Yes, surely God intended the cross for good. He even used evil hearts to bring about His set purpose. He was not overcome by evil, but He overcame evil with good. God’s plan of salvation was divine in nature, but He also helps us every day to overcome evil with good. We walk in newness of life and in the power of His resurrection.

We were blessed yesterday when we saw the message on the sign … “Only A Living Savior Can Rescue A Dying World”.

This Good Friday let be very intentional in praising God from whom all blessings flow as we remember the greatest Sacrifice of all time. Let us give deep, heartfelt thanks to God for His incomparable love and the demonstration of His love as seen in the One impaled on a bloody cross.

Amazing love, O what sacrifice,
The Son of God, given for me;
My debt He pays and my death He dies,
That I might live, that I might live.

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

August 13, 2017

Mankind Worships That in Which He Sees Glory

This is the second post in our new series, Sunday Worship. In combing the internet looking for suitable material, we discovered the blog Ascents and this 2015 article. The phrase which forms the title of the post here is one that stood out. Truly, if we see the glory of God, we simply must and will worship.

Clicking the original title below will take you to the original article, which is always encouraged.

“Now” He is Glorified!

by Tim Adams

…Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; (John 13:31, NASB95).

Why would Jesus make this statement at the moment Judas leaves to betray Him? Prior to His humiliation; just before being handed over to sinful men and made to stand trial. How is this moment glorifying?

Jesus, Son of Man, is about to become both the means and object of our worship, and the ball is now rolling downhill.  At this moment, events are being set in motion that will not only bring about the completion of Christ’s earthly ministry, and the redemption of man; but in just a short while Jesus will be shown to be exactly what He has claimed to be–what He has always been.  He will be shown to be God incarnate.  Soon Jesus will rend the veil, rise from the dead, and take His place at the right hand of the Father in heaven, becoming our perfect mediator by removing the barrier between us and God, (Heb. 12:2).

Mankind worships that in which he sees glory. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun because in it they saw glory.  Modern man worships his favorite sports figures because he sees glory in the display of dominating athletic prowess. Since the fall man has, as Romans 1 tells us, exchanged the glory of God for other objects of worship. He has chosen to see glory in that which was created, rather than his creator (Romans 1:22-25).

But, God has provided for us another way. It is a way in which we are made able to see God in Christ, the glorified Son of Man; and are made able to worship Him in the manner He is worthy of.  This way is the way of the cross.  Christ’s death on the cross is the single most important event to ever take place. It is the very fulcrum of world history. At the cross, what was a mystery has been made clear to those who have been changed by it.  And, in this cross of suffering–in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the Son of Man is truly glorified.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory, (Ephesians 1:7–12, NASB95).

 

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.

 

February 22, 2017

Why did the Messiah Die as a Roman Criminal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israelite origins and the meaning of the cross (atonement)

Israelite origins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

June 11, 2014

Without the Shedding of Blood

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Hebrews 9:16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Leviticus 17:11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.

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

John 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

Without the Shedding of BloodYesterday I shared in a conversation with a regular reader here about how “the blood of Christ” is one of several themes in Christian music and preaching that is not heard as often as it once was. So it was suggested we delve into this.

The Reformation Study Bible indicates that while “blood” is synonymous with “life,” it is also the case that the phrase, “blood of Christ” is usually paired with usage of “death of Christ.”

The justification achieved by the blood of Christ (Rom 5:9) is paralleled by the statements which speak of the sinner being reconciled to God “by the death of his Son” and being “saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). Other references to men being redeemed by the blood of Christ clearly indicate atonement through the death of a victim (cf. Acts 20:28; Eph 1:7, etc.). Since the death of Christ is sometimes considered in terms of a sacrifice (cf. Rom 3:25; 1 Pet 1:2), where the “sprinkling of blood” indicates a sacrificial ritual and continues the OT concept of the “blood of the covenant,” the emphasis is still upon the death of the victim that secured atonement for the sinner. The sacrificial blood is associated with the death of the Savior (Heb 9:14), and the author of Hebrews makes it plain that the blood is associated with death rather than life (12:24).  (Notes on Leviticus 17 passage above.)

At the blog LogosWalk:

It stuns my sensibilities when the same Christian parents who allow their children to own over-the-top, violent video games and to go to movies with excessive violence and gore, object to Sunday School lessons and sermons concerning the “gruesome” topic of crucifixion and Christ’s blood. The one is leading the pack down the wide path to hell, the other the narrow path to heaven. What we need are far more discussions concerning the blood. It’s the whole point.

Just as physical bodies cannot exist without blood, neither can spiritual without the blood of Christ. In the course of explaining the true purpose of the Old Testament system of sacrifices, that every offering was a substitute sentence of execution for the offender, God points forward to the substitutional death of Christ for each of us. The value of the life of a sacrifice is measured by its blood as repeatedly taught in the difference between those who can offer the more valuable offerings of oxen and sheep versus the poorer through doves and pigeons. But it is not the blood coursing through the veins of the offering that is of any use, but only when it is poured out in sacrifice on the altar. How incalculable the value of Christ’s blood that was shed in place of our own!

Brother Philip writes:

…The Lord declared that not only is the life in the blood but blood is also the form of “currency” to use in the matter of atonement.  Therefore, when considering what God would require to atone for sins, blood is the only suitable form of currency to make that payment.  Payment is required for atonement since God has been offended by sin and the disgusting nature of man’s depravity.  When considering all the “solutions” that people posit to “get man right with God,” it is always amazing to me how counterfeits are substituted for the only suitable currency payment.

Consider all the ways in which man has been told he can do this or do that to earn God’s favor and blessing to enter heaven’s pure world.  How many of them require blood?  Unless I am mistaken, the overwhelming majority of ideas are bloodless solutions.  Whether the answer given is baptism, belief, repentance, confession, acceptance, etc. they are all bloodless.  How can atonement possibly come without the right currency?  If God has required blood for atonement, He will not change His mind later and accept something else. (Malachi 3:6) Furthermore, only the right kind of blood would suffice to make the transfusion of life acceptable…

The doctrine salvation with respect to Christ’s blood is a thorny issue for Jewish apologists. I thought I would share a few lines from the blog Defending Torah in order for you to see what all this looks like from their perspective:

One cannot apply this verse to Jesus’ blood in any event, because it specifies blood on the altar, and Jesus did not die on any altar, let alone the altar in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem which is clearly the altar Leviticus is referring to…

…In other words, the verse has nothing to do with salvation. It is about the dietary laws — specifically, the comments about the life being in the blood are an explanation for the prohibition against eating blood.

There is no doubt equal objection by Jewish apologists to taking the Passover story and mapping it on to the idea of Christ as our passover lamb; but scripture tells us that in many cases the eyes of people are blinded to this truth. What is plain, simple and obvious to some of us is unacceptable to others.

In our conversation yesterday, I voiced something I have long held as key to understanding this, “Only the one who designs to automobile gets to write the Owner’s Manual.” The one who “created the heavens and the earth” exercised his prerogative to choose this way or this system to bring about atonement. If we challenge this, we are challenging the cross itself, and challenging the entire foundation or underpinnings of our faith. On the other hand, if we accept that this is God’s plan and God’s system, then we see clearly the efficacy of the cross for salvation and the sufficiency of the cross for covering our sin.

 

February 3, 2014

Salvation: Still Free (Last Time I Checked)

Although I don’t use eBooks, I’m always intrigued by the concept that publishers now routinely offer books completely free of charge. There are Christian bloggers who regularly advise their readers where to find the daily and weekly bargain downloads, but sometimes I’m reading an old blog post, so even though I don’t have an eReader, I’ll click through to learn more, only to find the offer is no longer in effect and there is now a price to be paid.

Fortunately, when it comes to salvation, there is currently no closing date on God’s offer. True, a day will come when that will change. Also true, you don’t know long you have to take advantage. But it’s a free offer.

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

For some, this is simply too good to be true. “Surely there is a cost;” they say, and truthfully they are correct. While Salvation itself is a free gift, God offers so much for us for this life, and that is going to involve taking up your cross daily. It might mean sacrifice or it might mean being ostracized by your family, friends and co-workers.

But in our original coming to Jesus, we find the offer to “taste and see” is both easy and simple. The problem we have is putting this idea across to those outside the church, and I believe part of the challenge is that we are living in a culture that is not Biblically literate, and therefore are not, as music and literary people say, “familiar with the literature.”

The story that needs to be kept told for me is the story in Numbers:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV)

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

This Old Testament story foreshadows, as do so many OT stories, what Christ is going to do. As God’s people sojourn, they are given pictures which are somewhat for our benefit. Sometimes we impute this into the text from a New Testament perspective, but sometimes Jesus spells out for us in words unmistakable:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…

Again, some of you are thinking, “this sounds really familiar,” and that’s because we covered this here in August, just a few months ago. But I felt directed that we need to return to this Old Testament picture, and furthermore we need to teach people how to teach people this story. While a testimony of “what God has done for us,” and a rudimentary knowledge of basic salvation scriptures are both helpful, it’s needful to be able to construct the offer of “God’s gift” in terms unrelated to the deeper, doctrinal considerations of Romans or Hebrews which the novice believer can’t fully process.

That’s why, for the fourth time, I’ve returned to this theme today. It can be explored more in each of the blog posts listed below.

But what if salvation is being commodified too much in this approach. As with all things, we need to be careful; we need to strike a balance. Tomorrow, we’re going to explore this in a way we haven’t in any of the preceding articles. Stay tuned.

The Great Exchange from Adam4d

Go deeper, read more:

Graphic: Adam4D (click graphic to source)

August 15, 2013

The Salvation Transaction

…and the transaction so quickly was made, when at the cross I believed…

~lyrics, “Heaven Came Down”

Today’s thoughts appeared here exactly a year ago, but I wanted to repeat this because I believe an understanding of the foundation underpinning salvation — which goes back to the book of Numbers — is often missed, even by seasoned Christ-followers who have been on this journey for a long time.

The moment of salvation is an invisible transaction. For some people there is an inward witness that verifies that step of faith.

John 9:24-25

(NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

But for some people, there is a desire to understand the underpinning of how that invisible transaction takes place. An entire branch of theology is devoted to this:

so·te·ri·ol·o·gy

[suh-teer-ee-ol-uh-jee]

~noun Theology.

— the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.
So while the healing of the blind man in the story above provides its own satisfactory proof if you are, in fact, the blind man or his parents; for everyone else we have the books of Romans and Hebrews to understand the depth of salvation doctrine; how the saving work of Jesus meets all of the criteria necessary for the forgiveness of sin.
But we often miss a basic fact of how salvation works:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up
The verse recalls a story from the book of Numbers often overlooked in times of increasing Biblical illiteracy:

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The concept of the invisible transaction was once entrenched through a hymn written by William Ogden in 1887 that was popular in some circles, the chorus inviting you to…

“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

Youth ministries in the late 1960’s borrowed a phrase from a popular Clairol commercial and suggested that the invisibility of the transaction was such that “only your hairdresser knows for sure.” In other words, there isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation of salvation.

But as with so many things in God’s kingdom, there is a balance to be found on that issue, since the visible manifestation of salvation ought to be the presence of the fruit of the spirit.

Ultimately, the invisibility of the salvation transaction ought to be central if putting our trust in Jesus Christ to both redeem us and then from that point guide us is to be considered part of the realm of faith. You don’t get a certificate, or a wallet card — though sadly, some churches do just that — when you decide to become a Christ follower.

We cross the line of faith to become Christ followers at some point, but the line itself remains seen only in the spiritual world.


Today’s music:
For complete original lyrics to Heaven Came down, click here.
For an abridged version of the original redone in a modern style by David Crowder, click here.
Go Deeper:
To see an index of the main subjects that form a study on soteriology, note the ten sessions covered on this page.
To go extra deep on this topic, check out this teaching page.
Finally, here are links to dozens of other resources on the doctrine of salvation.
~PW

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.

August 16, 2012

Salvation: Invisible Transaction

…and the transaction so quickly was made, when at the cross I believed…

~lyrics, “Heaven Came Down”

The moment of salvation is an invisible transaction.  For some people there is an inward witness that verifies that step of faith.

John 9:24-25

(NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

But for some people, there is a desire to understand the underpinning of how that invisible transaction takes place.  An entire branch of theology is devoted to this:

so·te·ri·ol·o·gy

[suh-teer-ee-ol-uh-jee]

~noun Theology.

   — the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.
So while the healing of the blind man provides its own satisfactory proof if you are, in fact, the blind man or his parents; for everyone else we have the books of Romans and Hebrews to understand the depth of salvation doctrine.
But we often miss a basic fact of how salvation works:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up
The verse recalls a story from the book of Numbers often overlooked in times of increasing Biblical illiteracy:

The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

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

The concept of the invisible transaction was once entrenched through a hymn written by William Ogden in 1887 that was popular in some circles, the chorus inviting you to…

“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

Youth ministries in the late 1960’s borrowed a phrase from a popular Clairol commercial and suggested that the invisibility of the transaction was such that “only your hairdresser knows for sure.” In other words, there isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation of salvation.

But as with so many things in God’s kingdom, there is a balance to be found on that issue, since the visible manifestation of salvation ought to be the presence of the fruit of the spirit.

Ultimately, the invisibility of the salvation transaction ought to be central if putting our trust in Jesus Christ to both redeem us and then from that point guide us is to be considered part of the realm of faith. You don’t get a certificate, or a wallet card — though sadly, some churches do just that — when you decide to become a Christ follower.

We cross the line of faith to become Christ followers at some point, but the line itself remains seen only in the spiritual world.


Today’s music:
For complete original lyrics to Heaven Came down, click here.
For an abridged version of the original redone in a modern style by David Crowder, click here.
Go Deeper:
To see an index of the main subjects that form a study on soteriology, note the ten sessions covered on this page.
To go extra deep on this topic, check out this teaching page.
Finally, here are links to dozens of other resources on the doctrine of salvation.
~PW

September 11, 2011

A Day Set Aside to Remember

September 11, 2011

Seen enough of the TV specials? Tired of hearing of “9/11?” You should know there’s a good reason why we need those programs and magazine features and internet tributes:

People Tend to Forget

Jesus understood this. Scripture tells us that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

But you already know that. Those words from I Cor. 11 are often the most-repeated words in most churches during the course of a church calendar year. “For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you;” is somewhat how I think the KJV renders it. The section from verse 23 to approx. verse 30 forms what is called “The Words of Institution” for the communion service aka Lord’s Supper aka the Eucharist. Even if you attend a church where things are decidedly non-liturgical, these verses probably get read each time your church observes “the breaking of bread;” and even if your pastor leans toward the New Living Translation or The Message, it’s possible that he lapses into King James for this one.

Why did Jesus institute this New Covenant, Second Testament version of the Passover meal?

Because people tend to forget.

Want proof?

Let’s look at the section we almost never read when we gather around the communion table, Luke 22. In verse 19 and 20 he tells them to remember. He tells them his life is about to be poured out for them. What a solemn moment. A holy moment. But unfortunately, a very brief moment.

In verse 24, Luke makes it clear that he’s trying to capture an accurate picture of what happened that night. Even if it makes the disciples look bad. It’s the kind of stuff that you would never include in your report to Theophilus if you were merely trying to make Christianity look good. If you were writing propaganda.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

I don’t want to be disrespectful here, but Luke might as well have written, “At this point, one of the disciples looked out the window of the upper room and announced, ‘Guys, you gotta come here for a minute; there’s a girl out there that is totally hot.'”

I’m serious. It’s that much out of place with what’s just happened. Jesus is telling them — trying to tell them — all that he is about to suffer in order that a plan laid out from before the foundations of the world will be fulfilled. And they’re arguing about who is Disciple of the Month. How could they go from one extreme to the other so quickly? In a matter of seconds?

Easily. People tend to forget.

Whether it’s what happened in New York City, Washington, and that Pennsylvania field ten years ago; or whether it’s what happened in Roman occupied territory in the middle east two thousand years ago; we need to continually rehearse these stories in our hearts and pass them on to our children.

This is a day that is about remembering and like the upper room disciples, we can get so totally distracted. September 12th comes and everyone moves on to the next topic or news story. We must not let ourselves lose focus so easily. We must not forget.

Deuteronomy 4:9
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

June 26, 2011

To See The King of Heaven Fall In Anguish To His Knees

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A seven minute listening experience for you today with one of the UKs top worship composers, Stuart Townend; the song simply titled Gethsemane. 

April 14, 2011

Looking For (God’s) Love in All the Wrong Places

About fourteen months ago, I ran a profile/interview with Kevin Sanders aka Kuya Kevin, a guy from Alabama who finds himself doing youth ministry in The Philippines.  Yesterday, I dropped by his blog and found something I thought would fit in really well at C201.  It appeared at his blog under the title, The Cross:  God’s Revelation of Love.

Easter Sunday is quickly approaching. It’s the time when we think more about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I’d like for all my readers to reflect on the cross as God’s ultimate revelation of love to us.

Let’s think about this whole concept of revelation.  Here’s what it means: we would not know God completely unless He chose to reveal Himself to us.

We can know some things about God by simply observing the universe in which we live.  Paul talks about this in the Book of Romans:

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
-Romans 1:20

But these general observations (called “general revelation” by theologians) can only take us so far.  We need more information to know who God is and what He is like.  This is where the Scriptures come in: they teach us about a holy, loving God whose character is nothing like ours.

The apex (high point) of God’s revelation comes in Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the Cross.  The Bible describes it this way:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
-Romans 5:8

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
-John 15:13


Here is our problem: we often look to the wrong place to “see” God’s love. Sadly, this is true of believers and non-believers alike.

Here’s what I mean–we tend to ask questions like this:

  • “If God loves me, why did this happen to me?”
  • “If God loves me, why am I in so much pain?”
  • “If God loves me, why isn’t my life going the way I want?”

Do you understand the problem?  We will always be disappointed if we simply rely on our life circumstances as “proof” of God’s love. It would go something like this:

  • I had a good day today.  God must love me.
  • I’m heartbroken.  God must not love me.
  • I got a pay raise.  God must love me.
  • I got stuck in traffic.  God must not love me.

It reminds me of the “he loves me, he loves me not” game that children play with flower petals.

Please don’t misunderstand me here–I know that disappointment with God is a very normal human emotion.  God understands these feelings, and even allowed them to be recorded in Holy Scripture (the Psalms, for example).

But disappointments in life do not change what Jesus has done on the Cross. Do you want to know how much God loves you?  Don’t look at your difficulties.  Look instead to the cross!  Jesus has already proven His love through his sacrificial death.

~Kevin Sanders

June 5, 2010

Can One Sin Separate Us From God?

Martinez calls himself “The Seeking Disciple” and blogs here.   This is the second section of a June 3rd post:

…My question is how much sin can a person get away with before they fall away? The carnal Christian teaching of some has created three types of people. Lost, Saved, and Carnal. For example, Charles Swindoll teaches that the truth of the carnal Christian is the one truth that he wishes people in the world could understand. The carnal Christian explains how people who claim to follow Christ can commit adultery, lie, cheat, steal, murder, lust, etc. Others, such as John MacArthur, point out that the carnal Christian teaching is an insult to the cross and to God’s grace that teaches us to deny sin (Titus 2:12).

And yet MacArthur believes that believers do fall into sin and commit horrible acts. He does believe that believers should pursue holiness but he also teaches that the sinful nature still indwells the believer along with the Spirit of God and that often the sinful nature wins the conflicts (Galatians 5:16-17). Many Bible teachers (and not just Calvinists) teach that we do sin (sometimes daily) and that we can sin willfully and grossly.

Can we? Some Arminians such as Daniel Corner teach that one sin can separate us from God. He defines sin as willful and unwillful sins. He points out that the Law of Moses allowed sacrifices for both types of sin (Leviticus 5:14-6:7). Corner asks the question, “How many times must a man sleep with another woman before he officially becomes an adulterer? How many times must a person steal something before they become a thief? How many lies must a person tell before they become a liar?”

I would point out that Jesus said that sin is not just an issue outwardly but inwardly in Matthew 5. Jesus also said that sin begins in the heart (Mark 7:20-23). When a person comitts adultery, it is a heart issue. Calvinist John Piper says that the issue of sin, at its very root, is unbelief in God and His authority (Hebrews 3:12, 14). Piper in fact preached a series of sermons entitled, “The Unbelief of Sin” with titles such as “The Unbelief of Adultery” and “The Unbelief of Lying.”

My answer is that only God knows a person’s heart. We can judge by His Word (John 7:24) and we are called to judge in the Church those living in sin even putting them out of fellowship if necessary (see 1 Corinthians 5). Jesus spoke about brothers sinning against brothers and how to deal with that in Matthew 18:15-20. I do believe that we need to heed 1 Corinthians 10:12 and abide by 2 Corinthians 13:5 and make sure that we are in the faith. We are to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11) by striving for holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16). When we sin, we should confess that sin to the Father (1 John 1:9). If need be, we should confess that sin to a brother or sister in the Lord (James 5:16). If we see a brother or sister in sin, we should warn them that no unrighteous person will inherit the kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:3-10). We should warn them to forsake their sins lest they become ensnared by sin (2 Peter 2:20-22).

May 31, 2010

Discarding Bibles

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I know a lot of people who find it impossible to throw out a Bible.   Given the situation, I’m probably one of them.   There’s something just inherently wrong about tossing a Bible in the recycling box.   I guess it’s because we know how powerful a thing scripture is, and how, in other parts of the world, they would give anything to have access to what is written on those pages.

I’m not tossing out a Bible today, but I feel the need to change the scripture verse that appears on my regular blog.   But I recognize the power of the words, and find I can’t just hit the “delete” button.   I always feel that some individual may land at that blog for some completely random reason and be gripped by the power of the words printed in the sidebar.

So here it is, as it has appeared there for the last six months or so:

…By giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. ~Colossians 1:22-23 (Msg.)

April 6, 2010

Stuart Townend: Behold the Lamb

This is truly one of the most beautiful Communion hymns I’ve ever heard from one of the foremost praise and worship leaders in the UK, Stuart Townend.

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away
Slain for us and we remember
The promise made that all who come in faith
Find forgiveness at the cross
So we share in this bread of life
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of peace
Around the table of the King

The body of our Saviour Jesus Christ
Torn for you eat and remember
The wounds that heal the death that brings us life
Paid the price to make us one
So we share in this bread of life
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of love
Around the table of the King

The blood that cleanses every stain of sin
Shed for you drink and remember
He drained death’s cup that all may enter in
To receive the life of God
So we share in this bread of life
And we drink of His sacrifice
As a sign of our bonds of grace
Around the table of the King

And so with thankfulness and faith
We rise to respond and to remember
Our call to follow in the steps of Christ
As His body here on earth
As we share in His suffering
We proclaim Christ will come again
And we’ll join in the feast of heaven
Around the table of the King

composed by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend