Archive for the ‘Forsyth’ Category
“The depth is simply the height inverted, as sin is the index of moral grandeur. The cry is not only truly human, but divine as well. God is deeper than the deepest depth in man. He is holier than our deepest sin is deep. There is no depth so deep to us as when God reveals his holiness in dealing with our sin…[And so] think more of the depth of God than the depth of your cry. The worst thing that can happen to a man is to have no God to cry to out of the depths.”—PT Forsyth, The Cure of Souls, as quoted by Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 139
Here’s a lengthy, but necessary quote from my friend PT Forsyth. Every time I read something of his, I am astounded at his prescience (not to mention his depth of thought!) Here he is lamenting the church not only losing focus on the centrality of Christ’s cross and its vital connection to our salvation, but also I believe he is chiding those who purposely misrepresent the work of Christ at Calvary as a mere afterthought or aside. Instead, Forsyth rightly notes that the work of Christ is central, crucial, and second to nothing else he did.
“It has been asked concerning Christ, Was His will to die one with His will to save? Is there any doubt about the answer the Church has given to that question from first to last? The salvation has always been attached to Christ’s death, from New Testament days downward…If Christ’s atoning death is not the central effect of His person, and the central thing to our faith, if that notion of atonement has overlaid Christ’s real gospel, how has the whole Church come totally to misread its creator, and to miss what for Him was central? There has surely been some gigantic bungling on the Church’s part, some almost fatuous misconception of its Lord, a blunder whose long life and immense moral effect is quite unintelligible. An error of that kind is no misprint but a flaw. It is not mistake but heresy. And, as it concerns the centre and nature of faith, it must destroy any belief in the guidance of the Church by the Holy Spirit—which, however, is not a very lively faith among those whose challenge here occupies us….The church has done its Lord many a wrong, but none so grave as this, to have determinedly perverted His legacy, and grieved His spirit in regard to the central object of His mission on earth. It has often travestied His methods, misconstrued points of His teaching, and even compromised His principles; but these things have been done against its best conscience and its holiest spirits. These errors have passed, and been reformed, and renounced. But this perversion I speak of, if perversion it be, is greater than these, less culpable possibly, but even greater as perversion. For it has been the misrepresentation of Christ’s central gospel by the Church’s best and wisest. It has been a more total and venerable perversion than even the papacy. For even had all such passing ills and historic abuses been cured, this travesty of Christ’s central intent would still have gone on, and gone on with all the force lent by a purified Church, and all the spell of saintliness to wing the central lie. If the cross was but little to Christ in comparison with His real work, if it was a mere by-produced of His mission, a mere appendix to it and not its purpose, a mere calamity that befell it and not its consummation; and if His church has yet made it central, seminal, creative, and submersive of all else, then the enemies who swore Christ’s life away did Him no such bad turn as the train of disciples whose stupidity has belied Him over the whole world for all time. And those browbeaters who would let Him say nothing did His cause less harm than those apostles who made Him say what He did not mean.” –PT Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, 94-98
Soli Deo Gloria!
Aaron W Calhoun, MD, has a rather brilliant, if short, essay in the most recent issue of Touchstone titled “Jesus Wept.” In the short essay he touches on some of the objections that atheists and others come up with for why there almost certainly is not a god. This part of the essay has been rehearsed a thousand times by a thousand different authors so I won’t bother again. What makes this essay, in my opinion, brilliant is that he doesn’t let the Christian off the hook. He notes that it is Christians who often have the wrong answer (at the wrong times) for why there is suffering in the world and how we can justify God or God’s existence in light of such suffering. Answers that involve repeated references to ‘God’s plan,’ or ‘his sovereignty,’ while not wrong, are not necessarily the best approach either. I agree.
Instead of a necessarily philosophical answer or a ‘tired’ theological answer, what we need is a Christological answer. “Christological answers deal with natural evil not with a defense of who God is, but with an exposition of what God did. They stress, not logic and argument, but a direct appeal to the power of Christ death and resurrection over evil” (Calhoun, 14-15). Well that is just fantastic writing. It is too often that our apologetic for God in light of a suffering world is to neglect Christ’s work, his entrance into this world, the enfleshing of God in Christ, and his suffering. It’s almost as if Christians are afraid to talk about the cross when we are confronted with the horrors of suffering and evil in this world. Now of course, we cannot leave the cross here. The cross was not merely about God understanding our suffering or participating in it. The cross can never be about mere sympathy and we must carry it on to its ends of atonement, propitiation, and redemption. But Calhoun is surely correct in this assessment that in our quest to understand suffering and God in this world the cross is the place to start. In the cross is the renewal of all things.
The fact is, God did do something about suffering: He dealt the death blow to sin in Christ. This is the testimony of Scripture time and time again. Suffering has at its root sin and if suffering and evil are going to be dealt with then sin has to be confronted and defeated. Only in the total defeat of sin in the cross will the last enemy, death, be destroyed. “When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him” (Colossians 2:15). Here is your victory: Christ Crucified. Here is your answer to suffering in the world: Christ Crucified. Here is the content of the Gospel: Christ Crucified. This means that the preacher has the responsibility to preach: Christ Crucified. It is only in this message that suffering will make any sense at all. Forsyth said it profoundly, “The Cross is at once creation’s final jar and final recovery. And there is no theodicy for the world except in a theology of the Cross. The only final theodicy is that self-justification of God which was fundamental to His justification of man. No reason of man can justify God in a world like this. He must justify Himself, and He did so in the Cross of His Son” (The Justification of God, 122).
Calhoun wrote, “We forget that the ultimate response to evil is not a theory or a doctrine, but a person…And it is in him, the Infinite God who became man and died, bearing our suffering and sin as his own, that we see the truth” (15). An absolutely brilliant essay. I am thankful that Dr Calhoun wrote it and I am hopeful that more of you who have tasted it here will discover it for yourselves. If you are wondering about suffering, about ‘where God is’ in all this mess we call the world, about the massive amount of and proliferation of evil in our culture, then there is only one answer: Jesus Christ crucified.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PT Forsyth died in 1921. Ever since I was introduced to his writings a little over 2 years ago, I have been constantly amazed at how prophetic his words were. He spoke to a generation of Christians that, evidently, were not much different from the current generation even though we are separated by a hundred years or more.
I make no profession to be a Forsyth expert. At this point, I am barely a student. I am a reader of Forsyth for now, but he continues to shape and challenge my ideas of God and Scripture and the Church. Consider this:
The preacher preaches to the divinest purpose only when his lips are touched with the red coal from the altar of the thrice holy in the innermost place. We must rise beyond social righteousness and universal justice to the holiness of an infinite God. What we on earth call righteousness among men, the saints in heaven call holiness in Him.
Have our churches lost that seal? Are we producing reform, social or theological, faster than we are producing faith? Have we become more liberal than sure? Then we are putting all our religious capital into the extension of our business, and carrying nothing to reserve or insurance. We are mortgaging and starving the future. We are not seeking first the Kingdom of God and His holiness, but only carrying on, with very expensive and noisy machinery, a ‘kingdom-of-God-industry.’ We are merely running the kingdom; and we are running it without the cross–with the cross perhaps on our sign, but not in our centre. We have the old trade mark, but what does that matter in a dry and thirsty land where no water is, if the artesian well on our premises is going dry? (The Cruciality of the Cross, 40)
I’ll say this much: There is nothing new under the sun. I wonder if we are reaping what was sown, or if we are sowing now what others will reap. Either way, his words make clear that the Kingdom of God is, in the eyes and hands of man, cheap. We sell it for a pittance, a mere dollar. And where does it start? With Preachers. Until preachers get this into their heads, and get their bodies back to the pulpit to preach the Word of God, the people of God will continue down this dismal, dry, empty road to nothing.
I wonder if it is possible to change course, to sow a new crop? I wonder if it is possible for the church to stop trying to manage the Kingdom of God and start pursuing it again? I wonder if the lament will continue, or if we can break out in praise at the harvest? I wonder if we will starve to death because of the famine of the Word, or if we will be baptized in a fresh outpouring of God’s grace because the Word is proclaimed? I wonder if the church will matter when we who preach now look back on the work that we have left behind?
Soli Deo Gloria!
I had a nice conversation with some friends over the past week concerning the Unity of the Body of Christ. It was good fun. I have the following quote posted on my sidebar, but in light of the conversation, I thought I would give it a proper place on the front page.
“The whole history of the church shows that there can be no standing unity of faith, spirit, or fellowship between those to whom Christ’s death is but a great martyrdom and those to whom it is the one atonement of the world and God, the one final treatment of sin, the one compendious work of grace, and the one hinge of human destiny.”–PT Forsyth, The Cruciality of the Cross, 19
I haven’t yet figured out this fella named Dinesh D’Souza. He seems to be all the rage nowadays among certain wings of churchianity. However, I came across this little essay he wrote and published at Townhall.com and I thought it was a rather interesting piece: Are Atheists the New Gays? Mr D’Souza spends the majority of the short essay mocking Richard Dawkins (which is fine as far as it goes) because of his campaign to style the atheists of the world as the ‘new gays’ (as if atheists have to go through all the terrible ordeals that homosexuals have to go through, like getting married, and suchlike. Imagine how tough it must be for a homosexual atheist to get married! Just kidding. Sort of.) Anyhow…Mr D’Souza writes:
Dawkins has also suggested that atheists, like gays, should come out of the closet. Well, what if they don’t want to? I doubt that Dawkins would support “outing” atheists. But can an atheist “rights” group be far behind? Hate crimes laws to protect atheists? Affirmative action for unbelievers? An Atheist Annual Parade, complete with dancers and floats? Atheist History Month?
Honestly, I think the whole atheist-gay analogy is quite absurd. It seems strange for Dawkins to urge atheists to come out of the closet in the style of the all-American boy standing up on the dining table of his public high school and confessing that he is a homosexual? Dawkins, being British, doesn’t seem to recognize that this would not win many popularity contests in America.
He also writes about Dawkins’ ongoing attempts to re-tool the whole atheist movement by giving atheists a new name: Brights. (I like the name the Bible gives them in Psalm 14:1.) Whatever. Does it really matter to most atheists what they are called? Does the change of the moniker really change the identity or belief? Will putting a positive spin on un-belief really change the general conception of atheists in this world? (Uh, no?) I suspect that some atheists would be content to be called Happy, Beer Drinkers, Liberals, or Red Sox Fans.
But here’s the part of the essay I like the best because it addresses some of those assumptions that people make that really irritate me. Mr D’Souza wrote:
Basically Dawkins is saying if you are religious, then science is your enemy. Either you choose God or you choose science. No wonder that so many Americans say they are opposed to evolution. They believe that evolution is atheism masquerading as science, and Dawkins confirms their suspicions. Indeed Dawkins takes the same position as the most ignorant fundamentalist: you can have Darwin or you can have the Bible but you can’t have both.
Oh, but here, ironically, I agree with Dawkins far more than D’Souza. Fact is, you cannot have both Darwin and the Bible. This is a serious issue and for as much as D’Souza seems to be bright, he has missed the mark here. I might suggest there is a difference between what he refers to as an ‘ignorant fundamentalist’ and a ‘by faith we believe that God made what is seen out of what is unseen evangelical Christian’ who accepts Genesis as an accurate reflection of history, and the foundational substance for evangelical theology. In this case, I agree with Dawkins and, in my opinion, D’Souza loses big time precisely because he seems willing to exclude faith (I could be reading him incorrectly.) He evidently misunderstands the troubling tension that exists between these two fundamentally discordant world-views. I haven’t read enough of D’Souza’s work to know if this is what he thinks, but if I take that last sentence at face value, he has lost me as an audience already because I reject out of hand that faith and reason stand opposed to one another as Darwin and the Bible do.
One cannot have both. I agree with Dawkins 100% on this because the entire premise of Darwinism is that it does not need God, god, a god, Zeus, Thor, Mars, or gods to work (unless, of course, natural selection or selfish genes are divine.) Why would the Darwinist concede to theistic evolution when it would defeat the entire premise to Darwinian evolution? I’ll go ahead and say it for the record: You can’t have both. To my knowledge, Darwin made no concessions or room for the ‘theistic’ in theistic evolution. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)
But I understand. There are certain people in the world of churchianity who are terrified to let Genesis stand on its own. They are horrified at the thought of being labeled unthinking rubes who rely on faith in order to believe in fairy-tales. They are terrified to admit to the unbelieving world that they have a simple faith and trust that ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ Here’s what it is: They are so consumed with the idea of silencing the Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ of the world that they have to resort to arguments that lack faith instead of promote it lest they be accused of being little more than those dunderhead, ignorant fundamentalists who actually believe what Scripture says. In their attempts, in other words, to undo the ‘brightness’ of the Brights, they fall into the same error as the Brights by dismissing faith as compatible with reason and relying soley on reason to accomplish their task. It’s not that we (Christians) need Darwin and the Bible to be compatible, that’s not the error because we know they are not, and trying to make them compatible (through things like theistic evolution) does not advance the cause of Christ. (And this is a matter of the Cause of Christ.)
The error he makes, rather, is in assuming there is no compatibility between Faith and Reason, as if they stand in opposition to one another! Nothing could be further from the truth. This is D’Souza’s error. He evidently thinks that those who believe in Genesis do so without Reason, that they rely too much on faith (as if!), and that faith and Reason are incompatible (this was also Stephen Jay Gould’s error in Rocks of Ages.) Christians are not unthinking people, nor are we un-Reasonable people. The very fact that we cling to a book (that contains letters (and numbers), words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books of varying style and genre) is evidence that we are thinking, Reasoning people. We do not serve a God who is unreasonable either. He tells us: Count the Cost of being a disciple. He says, “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1). Frankly, no reasonable person is going to become a disciple without counting the cost.
PT Forsyth wrote,
“If we have any sense of judgment we have much reason to fear. I cannot understand how any one with a sense of judgment can discard the atonement and live without terror. But, if we have the sense of the holy and the faith of judgment, the faith that Christ took God’s judgment on the world, we must be of good cheer. The world is judged for good and all in Christ. The last judgment is by. All our judgments are in its ascending wake” (The Justification of God, 221.)
Thus we come full circle. It is not the Christian who lives in opposition to reason, and it is not faith that stands opposed to reason, it is the atheist: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” Who is opposed to reason but the one who rejects God?
To be sure, I’ll need to read some of D’Souza’s work before I know if this is really how he thinks about us ‘ignorant fundamentalists.’ But for the time being, isn’t it rather ironic that ‘ignorant fundamentalists’ and Richard Dawkins actually agree on something?
UPDATE: I just came across this: Militant Atheism Gives Rise to Christian Apologetics.
“[I]f people look at science, they will find faith and they will find reason; the two cannot be incompatible and they have one author, namely God,” said Midland theologian Norbert Dickman, who was scheduled to present what the Christian response should be to the rise of the atheist voice at an Illinois church on Tuesday.
In the Gospel of John, we read this story:
1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11″No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I have no doubt whatsoever that Jesus loves people. He loves people of all stripes. He loves ‘the church and gave himself up for her’:
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Yes, we acknowledge that Jesus Christ loved sinners and ate with them: tax collectors, ‘sinners’, prostitutes, Pharisees, fishermen, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, Peter and Paul. I fully accept the notion that Jesus accepts us for who we are, but I add this caveat in the form of a question: Does Jesus, in accepting us for who we are, permit us to stay as we are or does he demand change?
It is this question that most struggle with, and many in the evangelical church refuse to answer the question. Instead evangelicals allow their theology to be dictated and determined by cultural phenomenons, icons, or superstars: What Mel Gibson says must be the Gospel! But is this right? Is this true? Are the superstars of myspace, youtube, megachurches, hollywood, washington, D.C. the prophets who determine the boundaries of evangelical biblical theology? When Tila Tequila speaks, should we listen?
This is a significant problem in the evangelical world just now. I don’t happen to think that MTV stars and myspace celebrities are reliable sources for Biblical theology or for ecclesiastical practice. In fact, I’m not even sure why it is news when one of them says something about God or Jesus or the Bible because normally it is absolutely, unequivocally, wrong. Such is the case with the supposed phenom of myspace, Tila Tequila whose story is being partially reported at Christian Post as some sort of eye opening, Jeremiah type prophetic revelation concerning God and His Word. I’ll will note but a couple of the more significant problems with Tila’s theology of ‘Love is just love.’
First, my disclaimer, that I have never met Tila, I’ve only heard of her just today, I don’t watch MTV because I only have basic cable, I’m not one of her ‘friends’ at her myspace (of which it is reported she has 2 million!), and I only visited her myspace (which I won’t link to) twice (reading her blog). Second, it should be stated up front that Tila is a self acknowledged bi-sexual who will begin hosting a show on MTV called ‘A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila’ in which 32 straight men and lesbians will compete for her affections (I guess). OK, here’s some thoughts.
Although acknowledging that the show would raise controversy, she wrote, “I just want to say that I am truly blessed to have had an opportunity to share with the world and teach the world that it is OK to be who you are! Gay or not! So thank you MTV for giving me this opportunity.”
Well, this is patently wrong. It is not OK to be who we are otherwise God would have found no offense, would not have declared his coming wrath against all ungodliness, and there would have been no place for the cross. Fact is, there is no sin apart from sinners and there is no room for sin in this world that belongs to God. This is, then, false doctrine. The story above from John 8 declares: I do not condemn you, but leave your life of sin. We are not free to remain in the stranglehold of sin that Jesus died to set us free from. No doubt we are loved; no doubt it is that we might be set free from sin and set free to serve God in holiness. Part of the reason He gives the Spirit is to sanctify us, that is, make us holy. If God were satisfied with who we are, why would he demand that we change? Strike one against Tila’s theology.
Second, she says:
“Growing up, I felt like I had no one to turn to in times of need, who would be there for me with open arms without judgment when I felt hopeless,” Tequila wrote. “I lived in a lonely shattered world and tried to commit suicide quite a few times from a very young and tender age starting at 11 [years] to 22 years of age.
“That is until I made amends with God,” she added.
Tequila said she didn’t meet God in a church, which she had avoided going to with her “‘gay’ problems.” And she didn’t meet the God worshipped by churches that preached condemnation. Instead, she said she made amends with “the God that I can feel and hear in my own heart.”
Well, I certainly feel for the girl who, according to the story, “built her celebrity status online with racy photos and videos, Tila merchandise and album singles.” OK. I wonder, then, if God accepts those who are interested in pornography, those who flaunt their sexuality in order to turn a profit, those who engage in activities that the Scripture clearly condemns? Still, there is sympathy. I feel for her that she was so lonely that she attempted suicide ‘quite a few times.’ Who wouldn’t? I’m sorry she met churches that only condemned and didn’t attempt to teach about forgiveness in the Name of Jesus. Sadly, I don’t think Tila made amends with the God of the Scripture, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. No, I’m afraid she did not.
Sadly, she says that she ‘didn’t meet God in a church.’ Where else is she going to meet God? God has appointed the church to be a kingdom of priests. So writes Peter:
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Where else is one to meet this God? Who else has such a privilege? Who else has God appointed for such a task of declaring his good news, of having ‘beautiful feet’, of preaching? (Romans 10) No one. That’s the whole point. For better or worse, God had chosen the Church to be the repository of His grace and good news. It is in the Church, which is made up of people, that God has hidden treasures in jars of clay. The Church has its flaws–no one can dispute that. But in spite of its flaws God continues to accomplish his Gospel work through that Church, the Body of Christ. Strike two against Tila’s theology.
Third, she said:
“I stopped feeling bad about myself because I was told that I was a ‘bad’ person for whatever reasons and opinions,” Tequila explained. “That’s when I turned my life around. I accepted me for who I am in all my glory. I accepted the fact that God would love me as long as my heart is good.”
I agree that God judges the heart. There’s another problem though. It is this:
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
10 “I the LORD search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward everyone according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”
There’s another problem: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The problem, clearly, is that we don’t have good hearts. Our intentions are never right. We are like those in the days of Noah whose hearts were only evil all the time. We can’t trust our hearts. Strike three.
Fourth, she said (all of these quotes are in the Christian Post story as written by Tila at her myspace site):
“The church should understand that they have a higher responsibility to teach the youth about unconditional love, and how we can spread the love, not why being gay is a bad thing,” she wrote.
This is simply not true at any level and it is quite presumptuous for a 25 year old soft-core porn star, mtv starlet, and myspace celeb to presume to tell the church what its responsibility is in this world. In fact, the only person who has a right to tell the church what the church should do, what the church should understand, and what the church’s responsibility is in this world is Jesus Christ–and He has in the Scripture. The church has no such responsibility to to teach the youth about unconditional love, spreading love. Nor does the church have a right to teach the youth things that are contrary to Scripture–especially when it comes to homosexuality. Sin is sin and Tila Tequila does not get to dictate the parameters of what is and is not: Scripture does.
The church has a responsibility to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and in that respect love is not necessarily unconditional. Love carries with it responsibilities. One, for example, is to submit to the Lordship of Jesus. It demands repentance. The sort of love God calls us to is a ‘believing’ love, that is, we must believe in Jesus–and all that he teaches. We don’t have a right to leave anything out of the Gospel. The sort of love we are called to is a ‘love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind’ love ‘and your neighbor as yourself.’ It is not a free-for-all-do-whatever-you-want sort of love. Strike four. (See I was kind, I gave her an extra strike!)
Something else that is missing from this report is any mention of Jesus. She said:
“[N]ow that I’ve endured all of that pain, maybe God put me on this path so that I would be able to share with everyone else who may be going through the same things?”
Or, perhaps God ‘put’ her on this path so that others might not go down the same path. Tila Tequila is a porn star (I don’t know if she makes movies or not, but her pictures are certainly on that track). And she is not someone anyone should be signing up to take theology classes from. She is not, and I don’t think she is claiming to be, in any way a Christian: not an evangelical, not a biblical, not a Catholic, Baptist, or anything else. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that CP even did the story. There is no mention of Jesus. A lot of talk about God, a lot of criticism of the church, a lot of criticism of Christians; no mention of Jesus. Strike Five! It is impossible to avoid what Jesus says about the God who sent Him to earth, about the God who loves, about the God who demands our perfection, and about the God who, through His Spirit, makes us perfect. It is impossible to mention God’s love without mentioning the sort of love that God demonstrates for people: sacrificial, holy love.
But this goes to show what can happen to a person’s theology when it is not in any way grounded in the Word of God. Our path, our direction, our theology, must come from Scripture. I feel badly for all those who have heard her mention ‘God’ who will now think it is OK to participate in her television and internet shows. My friend Jason Goroncy posted this from PT Forsyth at his blog the other day. It captures beautifully my point:
‘The great Word of Gospel is not God is love. That is too stationary, too little energetic. It produces a religion unable to cope with crises. But the Word is this—Love is omnipotent for ever because it is holy. That is the voice of Christ-raised from the midst of time, and its chaos, and its convulsions, yet coming from the depths of eternity, where the Son dwells in the bosom of the Father, the Son to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth because He overcame the world in a Cross holier than love itself, more tragic, more solemn, more dynamic than all earth’s wars. The key to history is the historic Christ above history and in command of it, and there is no other’. Peter T. Forsyth, The Justification of God: Lectures for War-Time on a Christian Theodicy (London: Independent Press, 1957), 217
We need to be well aware of the false gospels that are making the rounds. Tila Tequila is another example of someone who talks a lot about God, but knows nothing about theology–or Scripture. We do well to ignore her.
I have no doubt that God accepts sinners because if he didn’t, no one could be saved. However, I do also believe that God does not intend for us to stay that way or else he would not have sent Jesus to earth to die on the Cross. The Cross is proof enough of that. Go now, and leave your life of sin. Love is not ‘just love.’ Love is holy and it is clearly defined in Scripture by pointing us to the cross of Christ. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Love devoid of truth is meaningless. Tia Tequilas love, just from looking at her myspace, is anything but godly, and nothing remotely close to biblical. Again, we do well to avoid her definitions of ‘god’, ‘love’, and ‘church.’
Soli Deo Gloria!
21Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” 22This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?” 23But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” 25″Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied. 26″I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” 27They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” 30Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him.
Let’s take a look at these words of Jesus and read them at face value.
There was a time when the people Jesus taught tried to seize him. They wanted to cling to him—but not for any reasons resembling righteousness. They had other designs on him that precluded accepting him at face value—that he was who he claimed to be. He gave them a lifeline (I wish I had a better metaphor here) and they rejected it. What was the only other option: You will die in your sin, Jesus said. This is the option? Acceptance of Jesus, belief that He is the One God sent, and there will be life outside of our sin. But rejection of Jesus is sheer stupidity because our last resting place will be our sin soaked lives.
Would there be a time when Jesus was gone and they would look for him? Jesus seems to believe so and at that time they would no longer be able to find him. They can’t seize him to arrest him; they won’t seize him to escape sin. Jesus indicates here that sin is a nasty little secret that man is simply unable and unwilling to come to terms with. Perhaps we are content to ignore it or avoid it or revel in it. But he makes it abundantly clear that they would die in their sin and the place where he was going would be inaccessible to those who did. Does there come a point in the time of some folk’s lives when Jesus simply become inaccessible to them any longer? When it is impossible to repent of sin? When their only ambition is to sin? I kind of gather that if they would ‘die in their sin’ that means they persisted in their sin as well. They would be unable to get out of it.
This is a major, major problem we face in the world today. I’ll take Dr. Phil as an example of the problem He invites all sorts of people onto his television program—and, frankly, the only difference between Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer is that Phil doesn’t spend as much time mocking the people as Springer does. I’ll admit, Phil’s arguments and solutions are well reasoned, articulate, and, as far as they go, probably scientifically sound. In some cases, I’ll bet they work. The problem is that we never hear about the root of the problem. We hear people say ‘the problem is that my brother stole my identity and I hate him for it.’ Phil might say, ‘why did you steal his identity? Were you trying to get even? Was it revenge?’ What we don’t hear Phil say is this: At the core of this problem between two brothers is sin, a deeply entrenched, living, breathing, fallen-ness that has not too quietly taken over their lives. He may get confessions and he may do some reconciling, but he has not dealt with the core; he’s killed the weeds and planted flowers, but he’s done so in the same exact soil.
Jesus says it again: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you would die in your sins. If you don’t believe that I am the one claim to be you will indeed die in your sins.” They will look for him and die in their sins. They will refuse to believe in him and die in their sins. Again I say it: We cannot get out of the dilemma we are in by ourselves. I don’t care how many feel good gurus PBS runs across a stage, I don’t care how many people stay in the Dr Phil House, I don’t care how many feel good stories are turned into After School/Hallmark Hall of Fame movies: Sin is in deep and it is not willing to let go just because we ‘get our house in order.’ Sin is relentless, pursuing with baited breath, hunting down the weak and the strong alike, the poor and the rich alike, the sinner and the saint alike. Sin is tireless, fearless and ambitious. It doesn’t care who the victim: Its aim is to devour.
And Jesus says that if we refuse to believe that he is I Am (this is what that nebulous phrase ‘the one I claim to be’ means) we are simply, utterly, beyond hope. There is only one Name given by which men (and women) might be saved: Jesus. If we are not clinging to Him what hope have we? So I do not think the answer is to send people some sentimental story of how someone with a lot of courage overcame the monsters hiding under their bed, or some inspirational story of how someone’s faith helped them get through a particularly nasty bout of splattergoit (a particularly nasty ailment non-muggles can get; certain readers will get it). I don’t think that such inspiration, however inspirational it may be, will get us through sin. It will not erase sin. It will not cure sin. PT Forsyth well makes this point when he writes,
“Even a loving God is really God not because He loves, but because He has the power to subdue all things to the holiness of his love, and even sin itself to His love as redeeming grace. A sympathetic God is really God because He is a holy, saving, redeeming God; because in Him already the great world-transaction is done, and the kingdom of his Holy love already set up on His foregone conquest of all evil. The great and crucial thing is done in God and not before Him, in His will and not in His presence, by Him and not for Him by any servants, not even by a son. It is an act of His own being, a victory in His own immutable and invincible being. And to be saved, in any non-egoistical sense of the word, means that God gains His own victory over again in me, and that I have lost in life’s great issue unless He do. God’s participation in man’s affairs is much more than that of fellow-sufferer on a divine scale, whose love can rise to a painless sympathy with pain. He not only perfectly understands our case and our problem, but He has morally, actively, and finally solved it. The solution is for ever present with Him.” (The Cruciality of the Cross, 60-61).
Forsyth is convinced that this happened at Calvary: “And our faith is not merely that God is with us, nor that one day He will clear all things up and triumph; but that for Him all things are already triumphant, clear, and sure. All things are working together for good, as good is in the cross of Christ and it’s saving effect.” (62)
So when they ask him, “Who are you?” Jesus’ response is understandable: “Just what I have been claiming all along.” What has he been claiming about himself? Well, re-read chapters 1-6 to get the gist. And besides, why should he continue to repeat his answer to the question they ask? They haven’t believed him up to this point, why should one more repetition all of a sudden change their minds? And just like happens with the disciples in chapter 16: They did not understand what he was telling them about his Father (16:17-18). So he nails them one more time: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM I AM (the meaning of that innocuous phrase ‘the one I claim to be’). This is a declaration that He is God, YHWH. This is his open avowal that He is God in the Flesh, God among us, God come down, God tabernacled among us. This is Forsyth’s point, echoing Paul: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the World to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV). Jesus is saying that will fully understand when we see Him crucified. It is in the cross that all of what Jesus said makes sense because it is there that we see how God dealt with the problem of this world. It is in the cross that God makes his open declaration of who Jesus, what His purpose is, and How God means to conquer us. It was not in any other way but the cross.
Jesus says, “…I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me…I always do what pleases him.” Jesus did not even invent this stuff any more than Christians did or Paul in particular. Jesus spoke the Word of God—It was God who ‘told’ him what to say. It was God who sent his message to earth through Christ. It was God who revealed this plan. It was God who said: “Jesus is the I AM I AM.” This is no mere invention or parable of men—and God did not send the Christ here so that he could help us get over all the stuff that the gurus and doctors of this world tell us we need to get over. God sent His Christ to this world to deal with sin.
Another major problem we have in this world is this conception of sin so that even in some of the major denominations in this world right now there is no such thing as sin. Sin is being eradicated as a problem: The church has effectively dealt with sin in this world by declaring sin to no longer be sin. Take homosexuality for example. Many preachers claiming to be Christians have thrown all their eggs into one basket and claimed that they can be practicing, fornicating homosexuals and Christians and still get clear of God’s wrath. And they invite many others to participate with them in their delinquency. But it is not just homosexuals and their apologists.
Well if this is true—that what the Bible calls sin is no longer sin because man has declared it to not be sin—then of what need or use is there for Jesus? If Sin is allowed in then Jesus may as well leave because the two are incompatible. The price of sin cost Christ his life. I don’t see how people can do it. I don’t see how the blood of Christ can be trampled on, I don’t see how Christ can be publicly humiliated all over again, I don’t see how the cross can be turned upside down and sin welcomed with open arms. Truly what the book of Hebrews says is true: There is no sacrifice left. The author of Hebrews wrote in the tenth chapter:
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31).
Thus Jesus says: You will look for me and you will die in your sins. Why? Because there will come a time when he will not be found. Find Him while He may be found.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS–nothing I wrote should be considered a criticism of Dr Phil per se. I’m sure he is excellent in his field. My point is that however well he does his work as a Psychiatrist he still does not deal with the core of the problem. He treats symptoms, and many times resolves them, but he does not treat causes.
53Then each went to his own home. 1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11″No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
You know, as well as I do, that people are mean. People have very little conscience most of the time. It has been seared, corrupted, abused, and conquered by ourselves in complete cooperation with the Enemy. People will use any means at their disposal to attack and vilify Christ—or His church. I have always wondered about the man in this story. I’d like to know how it is that a woman was ‘caught in the act of adultery’ but a man was not. This alone shows that they have no real regard for the law. Sadly, we see a lot of this in our own culture. You might say it is a double-standard. Really, it’s a blatant disregard for the law, a thumbing of the nose at righteousness, an unmitigated scoffing at true justice.
That said, this particular pericope does not revolve around these mean, arrogant scofflaws. If they had read the law they would have seen this: “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death’” (Leviticus 20:10). They also would have read in the 10 Commandments that the command ‘do not commit adultery’ has no particular sexual identity attached to it. In other words, it does not say ‘a man shall not commit adultery’ or ‘a woman shall not commit adultery.’ It says, pardon the archaic KJV language, ‘thou shall not commit adultery.’ They were quite wrong that day to bring only the woman before Jesus. (Sort of makes one wonder if the very man she was caught with was among those wanting to stone her.)
They understood the Law: They were, in fact, required to stone the woman and the man. Jesus doesn’t deny that the woman should have been stoned. On the contrary, he issues the command: Stone her. Jesus was not going to abrogate the Law just because they were trying to trap him. However, neither was he going to allow them to abridge the Law just because they were trying to trap him. The Law is the Law—the Law cannot be done away with. ‘Go ahead. Stone her. Who will be the first? Don’t hesitate.’ Jesus has no qualms about the punishment of the guilty: ‘Go on. Stone her.’
So, why does Jesus do what he does? Why does he say what he says? Why does he allow this woman to escape unscathed by the smooth stones and jagged rocks they were about to hurl in her direction? (Can you imagine this woman laying there in the dirt: ashamed, dishevelled, hair matted and gnarly, tears cutting wadis across her skin, eyes bloodshot, afraid to look up, afraid to take her hands away from her face? Perhaps she had heard of Jesus—there was whispering and rumors of him all around (see chapter 7). Can you imagine how she felt when she heard Jesus say, ‘Go ahead. Stone her.’ I well imagine that a chill went up her spine.) But I think that is not entirely what she heard. Maybe it was more like: thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. One by one. One after another. Then some murmuring. Then some shuffling. Then some rustling of garments. What does forgiveness sound like? How do we hear it? What sound echoes through our ears when that water washes us clean? Annie Dillard wrote that man catches grace like filling a cup under a waterfall. It’s an overwhelming thing. A torrent of mercy. A waterfall of grace. A tsunami of forgiveness. It’s more than we can handle; it’s more than enough.
What does grace sound like? Can we hear it? Can we see it? Can we taste it? Can we feel it? Can we smell it? Thud. Thud. Shuffle. Murmur. Shuffle. Thud. Thud…
Amidst her crying and sniveling, amidst her weeping and whimpering, the sound of rocks and stones was heard. Those boulders hauled on carts to Jesus had miraculously turned to tiny pebbles when they hit the ground and yet their thud was heard—not least by those who had gathered around Jesus that morning to listen to him teach. Those stones carried in their hands and pockets had become giant boulders these men could no longer hold on to under the weight of their own perjury. I don’t suppose for a minute those men who accused her actually forgave her. I don’t suppose they were willing to extend grace because they did not want to experience grace themselves. They walked away because they had no choice: Jesus had vanquished them. Theirs was a grace not given freely but begrudgingly. My point is that they didn’t walk away because they were forgiving her but because the Bird had caught the fowler in his own snare.
If the LORD had not been on our side—let Israel say-
2 if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us,
3 when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive;
4 the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters would have swept us away.
6 Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124)
Man catches grace like filling a cup under a waterfall.
But the story did not end just there either. There’s one more scene that takes place after the accusers had gone and Jesus was left alone with the sinful woman and those who had gathered that morning to listen to him teach. Jesus again acknowledges that this woman was guilty although he does not condemn her. Maybe this goes back to John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Yes. The mistake, however, is in thinking that Jesus did not judge this woman. He did, in fact, judge her. What he didn’t do was act in accordance with the judgment he leveled. He was perfectly ready to allow her to be stoned—on a certain condition. In this act, he also judged those men who wanted to stone her. Jesus did judge, but he did not condemn. This in no way means, however, that he approved her actions or condoned her indiscretion or applauded her sin. No. She was guilty.
Here’s what he did: He showed her grace and forgiveness. Still it did not end there because he also said: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” I take this mean this: Forgiveness and grace sets us free to a new life. Once forgiven, we can no longer remain in our old way of doing things. We can longer continue in the decrepit filth of sin. Once set free, we are no longer slaves. Free to live a new life, free to take on a new character, free to to pursue righteousness and holiness. There is no longer a sin life for the one forgiven. “Release from a life contrary to the will of God is always with a view to life according to the will of God” (Beasley-Murray, John, 147).
PT Forsyth has said this same thing rather beautifully in his book The Cruciality of the Cross.
“The feeble gospel preaches, ‘God is ready to forgive’; the mighty gospel preaches ‘God has redeemed.’ It works not with forgiveness alone, which would be mere futile amnesty, but with forgiveness in a moral way, with holy forgiveness, a forgiveness which not only restores the soul, but restores it in the only final and eternal way, by restoring in the same act the infinite moral order, and reconstructing mankind from the foundation of a moral revolution. God reconciles by making Christ to be sin, and not imputing it (2 Cor. v. 21). The Christian act of forgiveness at once regards the whole wide moral order of things, and goes deep to the springs of the human will for entire repentance and a new order of obedience.” (51-52)
Here is a beautiful thing: Set free. Go and leave your life of sin. If you have been set free by the Son, you have been set free indeed. From what do you need to be set free?
Just what does grace sound like to you?
Soli Deo Gloria!
1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him. 6 Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. 8 You go to the Festival. I am not going up to this Festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” 9 Having said this, he stayed in Galilee.
First, I must apologize that I am now so many days delinquent on my commitment to writing these meditations. For the two or three who actually read them, I am sorry. I had a rather long assignment to accomplish today. I will be at Church camp next week and I had to prepare lesson outlines for my teachers. That’s done. Now I’m prepared to do some writing for you, my loyal readers.
Second, if you are interested, I recently read an article in the June 24, 2007 issue of the Christian Standard about a church having difficulty in their ‘neighborhood’ (“God1, County 0”) http://www.christianstandard.com/articledisplay.asp?id=629. Well, needless to say, the article infuriated me. Sad thing is, I do not normally even read the Standard since it has become a hodge–podge of mega-church mania and money-making. It’s not about what it should be, but I’m not on the board of directors or a shareholder in the corporation that owns them, so I can only resort to writing letters to the editor. After reading the above article, I wrote a letter to the editor of the paper and, shock of all shocks, they actually published it at their website. You can access my letter, ‘Are you Kidding?’ here: http://www.christianstandard.com/letterseditor.asp It’s not a pleasant letter and it has stirred debate at www.christianchurchtoday.com in the forum section. You can access this ongoing debate over the worth of my letter at: http://www.christianchurchtoday.com/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=4783. Thanks for allowing me to advertise a bit. Perhaps later I shall have more to say about the article I responded to and about the nature of the letter I wrote, that is, what my main complaint was.
This is about priorities and about timing and about Jesus. Jesus had firmly decided he was not going to go up and put himself in a position where his life was going to be threatened. Only Jesus could determine the time of his death, not humans. So, since he knew they were plotting against him, he stayed away.
But his brothers persisted. They want him to go up since it was clear to them that ‘he wanted to be a public figure.’ Well, maybe they wanted him to be a public figure. Maybe they were chiding him a bit. They had their reasons. Maybe they really wanted to know who he was and what he was about—they didn’t believe him after all. They wanted him to show himself to the world, since he was ‘doing these things.’ But Jesus again would have none of it. And it is here that I shall make my points for this meditation.
First, he said that it was not his time yet and for us any time will do. He was in control of his time schedule and he was not about to be moved or persuaded to move against that time schedule just because the people around him were anxious for him to do so. He wasn’t interested in making a public show, in a public place, for reasons of mere publicity. That is, becoming a public figure was not his ambition. Romans says he died in the fullness of time. I’m sort a literalist on this matter: I believe he died at precisely the moment in time when he was supposed to, not a minute too soon, not a minute too late. His timing was impeccable and—better—in perfect accord with God’s will.
I think this teaches us about our time too in that maybe our timing still isn’t God’s timing. Perhaps it is true that for us anytime will still do. We are not so picky about when things get done so long as they gone done now, on our time schedule. We’re not long on patience and perseverance and endurance. We’re built for the short run, not the long obedience in the same direction. People have even sung songs about, “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”
Second, he says that the world cannot hate us, but it does hate Him. And why? Because he testifies that what the world does is evil. This is clearly (one aspect of) what sets Jesus apart: He does not side with the ways of this world. He does not applaud the world. He does not go the world’s way. And because of it, the world hates him. You ever wonder why so many people in this world absolutely despise the Christ of God? It is precisely for this reason: Jesus properly preached and lived still testifies against the world and the world’s evil. That’s right. The Jesus of Scripture still has no affection for the sin of this world or the people who perpetuate that sin. There’s very little, if any, love the sinner hate the sin. They are inseparable as far as Scripture is concerned.
Jesus shows us, by not going to the Festival when his brothers asked him to that he is not here to serve our purposes and our time. Our motivations for him are not nearly what his motivations are for himself. He eventually became a public figure, but not because he went up the Festival. He became a public figure, he drew (draws!) all men (people) unto himself in the cross (See John 12). This too is the primary manner in which Jesus testifies against the world. In his cross is not only salvation but judgment. He levels this against the world and testifies against our sin by dying for it.
There seems to be very little offense to Jesus any more. With the exception of Islamists and the Hindus I have mentioned in other posts, the world is in deep love with Jesus. Unfortunately, it is the Jesus of Forbes 500 and not the Jesus of Scripture. The Jesus of Scripture is radically counter-cultural. The Jesus of Scripture is manifestly opposed to the wickedness of this world. The Jesus of Scripture is not moved by our agendas or schedules. The Jesus of Scripture is cross-driven and commands that his disciples be cross-driven too. There is no way to escape this life that Jesus calls us to. Further, why does the world love the church? Is it because the church has refused to testify that what the world does is evil? Is it because the church has become a haven not for the repentant but for the delinquent who are in need of God’s love apart from God’s judgment? PT Forsyth wrote, “If we spoke less about Gods’ love and more about His holiness, more about His judgment, we should say much more when we did speak of His love” (The Cruciality of the Cross, 73).
I mentioned an article above. The article is the story about a church in Colorado. The church is fighting, kicking, screaming in court, in the papers, in their community because the local commissioners will not let the church expand their building to accommodate children who want to ‘dance and groove to contemporary Christian music.’ The gist of the letter I wrote to the Standard is that I don’t fee sorry for the congregation in the least (and that the Standard was profoundly wrong to publish the essay). They (the church) are not being persecuted. They are not martyrs. They are not being told by the commissioners of the county not to speak in the Name of Jesus. They are being told they can’t build a bigger building. Now, if those county commissioners ever decided in the future that this church can’t preach the Gospel, if they ever tried to close the doors because the church was preaching against sin, or announcing God’s judgment on those without Christ, or talking about a Crucified Lord Jesus—well, then I might be concerned for the church. It’s a matter of priorities. Right now that church has, from all outward appearances (and I grant that I am not living there to hear the sermons each week), a messed up set of priorities–this whole building things stinks because it is a diversion. They want us to feel sorry for them, to chastise the commissioners with cries of ‘that’s illegal’ and ‘persecution,’ all sorts of other blah, blah. But I submit to you that if the church (not just Colorado, but in the entire world) actually preached what Scripture says about Jesus, and what Jesus says about this world, the church would be far less liked, far less tolerated, and have far fewer buildings at all. There wouldn’t be fighting over a building expansion; they’d be fighting for their very lives like Christians are doing in the Middle East and elsewhere. Then we would see if we are on the crucified & resurrected Jesus’ side, serving His purposes, in His time, or if we just want to set Him up as some public figure, on our time schedule, for our purpose.
My contention is that it cannot be both ways.
I hope that today, you are blessed.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Friends, these verses are tough. I hope I have done well by them and not obscured the meaning. I have checked my understanding against a couple of commentaries and found that I am not un-orthodox in my interpretation. Nevertheless, I apologize if I have made this more difficult than it needs to be.–Jerry
11″Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” 13Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17″I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” 19″Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
I have read this story a hundred times (that is, a lot). Tonight, for the first time, I noticed something I have never noticed. Jesus said, “Go, call your husband and come back.” Why did Jesus say this to her? Was it a simple social courtesy? What was it for? Was he rude? Was he trying to make her feel bad because he knew the answer to the question? What was he hoping to accomplish with such an in-your-face demand?
She wanted the water, I think. But she also, at the outset, thoroughly misunderstood what Jesus was talking about. When she asks, “Are you greater than our father Jacob,” I wonder if she would have believed the answer. But Jesus was not talking about the sort of water that is comprised of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms. Clearly this sort of water was in no way able to supply this woman with what Jesus was talking about; nevertheless, she was eager to have it. She did want it; at least she seems eager enough for something. Jesus clears matters up for her essentially saying, “I’m not talking about this water which could never satisfy you as completely as the water I am offering.” Everyone who drinks that water will indeed be thirsty again. The water Jesus offers is different in every way, “The water I give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” It satisfies more than the thirst; better than water; beyond this earth.
It is ‘living water’. It is ‘water that springs up to eternal life’. Still she did not quite get it: “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” Translation? “I’m tired of making this daily trip. I’m tired of this work. I’m tired of all the complications of daily, redundant, life. Make it easier on me by filling my jars with water that never run empty.” Sometimes it’s true that this is the approach people take to Jesus. You know those ones who are convinced that Jesus’ goal is to make life easier, to eliminate all the stumbling blocks, to take out all the hurdles, to lower mountains and raise valleys. Well, who doesn’t want that sort of Jesus? “Peace, peace in our time.” That’s a nice, domesticated Jesus—at our beck and call, ready to serve when we ring our little bells. Maybe it’s the sort of Jesus who eliminates all the redundancy of life so that we can spend our time on our pursuits that certainly will not involve the everyday hard work of everyday hard work, and most likely will not include the demands of holiness.
If the woman had no idea what sort of water Jesus was talking about then I suspect that neither did she have any idea the sort of man she was speaking to. “I can see that you are a prophet.” Jesus will tell her that this is not enough that he is a prophet. Forsyth says that Jesus was here as more than a mere prophet, but in fact as the Creative King of the Kingdom. “And Christ went to His death in His function as King, not to become King” (Forsyth, The Justification of God, 176). She did not yet realize that Jesus was unfolding before her the identity of the God of the universe. So when he says to her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back…’ I don’t think Jesus was merely showing off his ability to know things about her that she had not told him—no, Jesus is more than Prophet; Prophet though He may be. I think he is sitting (he had sat down by the well, v 6) there by the well, talking with this woman, as King, Judge. His demand for her husband to be present was his demand that she confess her sin. I think it was his demand for her to acknowledge her un-holiness, an un-holiness that was more important to her than worship. Forsyth again, “We are all standing before the judgment-seat of Christ. And one day we shall know it. We end where we began—in Him” (The Justification of God, 187).
She did not want to talk about this aspect of her life. I agree with the NIV study note here, “His presence exposes sin and makes people squirm…” But squirming is not an end in itself. People can squirm, be very uncomfortable and never actually get to God. Jesus is getter her to God. That is, he has other designs for her confession. Bruce Milne notes, “The deeper point is that Jesus brought to her awareness the relational desert in which she was living” (John, BST, 84-85). And not just with men, but with God.
Yes she changes the subject and starts talking about Jesus’ status as a ‘prophet.’ Then she changes the subject again: “So, you are a prophet. Well, perhaps then you can tell me why you Jews say that the only place where anyone can worship is in Jerusalem.” Remember the garden of Eden? “Uh, it was the serpent. He made me eat it.” “Uh, it was the woman, she gave it to me and I ate it.” “Uh, it’s everyone else’s fault.” “Uh, it’s you Jews that prevent me from worshiping.” Jesus had cut to the heart of the matter: This woman had no relationship with God whatsoever. “She…had been furtive and unwilling to open her heart to God” (Tenney, John, 56). The evidence of her unfaithfulness to God is found in her continued unfaithfulness in marriage (regardless of the reasons why the marriages hadn’t worked). Oh, I’m sure not all those husbands were gems. But five, plus one more?! Was she Liz Taylor? Here was a woman, for all her better qualities, who was simply an unfaithful person (and not merely in an allegorical sense). Jesus brings all this out and then says, “There is no excuse for you not to be worshiping the One True God. There is no reason, certainly not the Jews, for you to be flitting around from place to place, person to person, god to god.” She was blaming someone else’s argument about the place to worship for her pathetic attitude towards worship altogether; toward God. Jesus has opened up the entire history of this woman and confronted her with her real need: It is God she is lacking. It wasn’t water. It wasn’t good marriage. It wasn’t friendship with the other ladies in town (why was she at this well, at that time of day, alone if not because she was somewhat ostracized because of her lifestyle?). Jesus was pointing out to her that her life reflects a surprising lack of God-interestedness. That was her real problem in life.
It is in this context that Jesus makes his most startling announcement yet: “I who speak to you am he.”
This is the great need of our day too. People are flitting about, like bees going from flower to flower. They gofrom person to person, relationship to relationship, god to god trying in vain to find something or someone that satisfies them, trying to find some place to perch. In the process of doing so, they alienate all those around them and they end up alone by a well in the heat of the day. They end up godless, submitted to no god, irreverent towards any god; unfaithful in all cases. They end up blaming everyone on the planet for their problems and accusing everyone else for their lack of worship and reverence for God. You’ve heard them: “Well, I don’t go to church because I can’t stand hypocrite Christians. It’s their fault I don’t worship.” And are they sinless? I think not. (There’s even a new movement going around of churches being planted with this slogan: “A church for people who hate church.” This is a rather impolite way of condemning existing churches and the people who comprise them. And, in my judgment, blaming them for other people’s lack of God-interestedness.) They’ve been hurt, burned, tricked, manipulated and angered and they take it out on God. Jesus comes along, takes all that blame and says, “I am the One who changes all that.” Jesus says, “In me, there are no more excuses. In me, there are no acceptable excuses for not worshiping God.”
But of all these verses teach us I’m settling on this: Jesus does not accept our excuses for not worshiping God. He points out that if this woman blamed Jews for their insistence on the place of worship, she herself is no less guilty of excluding herself because of her sin and flitty, flirty unfaithfulness. In other words, no one has a right to be in God’s presence, and all should be uncomfortable before Him; all are judged in Christ. Slowly, but surely, this awakening is dawning on this unnamed Samaritan woman with whom Jesus spoke that day. So if all are judged in Christ, all are also welcomed in Christ. If freedom to worship is what one looks for we have no excuses; instead, we have Jesus.
I hope this 14th Day is Blessed for you in the Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4Now he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
This is the first of our meditations on John chapter 4. We’ll be here for the next five days reading about Jesus’ encounter with an unnamed Samaritan woman. What strikes me here is that John tells us that Jesus was tired, that he ‘had’ to go through Samaria, and that he asks this woman for a drink—he is thirsty! There is something magnificent about Jesus being tired and thirsty and having to do something that he, according to all the smart people, did not have to do. I suppose all of this might be beside the point, but I have not found John to be one who throws words around for no purpose. He uses words carefully and not necessarily liberally. So later on he will famously tell his readers that the woman ‘left her water jar behind’ as a way of telling us that because she met Jesus she forgot about her worldly problems. It’s sort of the same way the author of the book of Judges tells us, the Samson narrative, that Samson’s hair started to grow back apart from the notice of the Philistines. It’s a narrative clue giving you and me information that the characters in the story may not have. The woman did not know that Jesus had to go through Samaria. She did not know, when she woke up that day, that a tired and thirsty Jewish Male would be at Jacob’s well and ask her for water.
I might also add this: Why did Jesus wait behind by the well when the disciples went into town to buy food? Did it take 12 men to get food? That’s a lot of food! Why didn’t Jesus go with them? Why did he wait? Well, all of this could be just my fanciful desire for there to be something more going on than there actually is. It could just be that Jesus was tired, thirsty, and didn’t feel like going into town to get food. Later on he does say, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Maybe he wasn’t hungry and food was their idea, not his. Who knows?
Ironically, it is Jesus who begins the conversation by asking this unnamed Samaritan woman for a drink. We are told rather pointedly that Jews and Samaritans do not ‘associate’ with one another. The NIV footnote informs us that this could also mean ‘they do not use one another’s dishes’ or something to that effect. Whatever the case is Jews and Samaritans did not get along well at all with, sadly, the Israelites leading the way on hate and dislike. What’s worse is that this woman was, well, a woman. So, here’s Jesus. All alone. A man. A woman. Talking. Preachers don’t do things like this in today’s world. In today’s world that is taboo. Someone might get the wrong idea or spread a rumor or gossip and cause the ruin of reputations or formulate all sorts of sick mind fantasies. Not so with Jesus. Jesus talks to anyone, anywhere, and he really could not care less what people think or say. (Later John says, in verse 27, the thing all of us were thinking: “Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’”)
I think the woman is either offended or surprised at Jesus’ request. I’m not sure which it is. I’d like to think surprised, but something tells me that she did not like Jews any more than Jews liked her. I cannot get into this too much, but there is something to be said about this (and I don’t want to get too far away from the theological point Jesus was making). But how many times in our lives have we come across someone and written it off as mere chance or coincidence? How many times have we purposely refused to talk to someone precisely because we were terrified of what someone else might say about us; what they might say about us? Or how many times do we simply go out of our way to avoid someone because of what we think we know about them? Yet here is Jesus for all intents and purposes going out of his way on purpose to meet with this unnamed, Samaritan woman. That was bad enough. At this point we have yet to read verses 16-18 which, when read and understood, will surely make this situation far worse for Jesus and his reputation probably will not hold up under scrutiny. Interestingly, Jesus was more concerned about this woman than he was about himself. The servant life, the Cross driven life, carries this burden and refuses to be stigmatized or calloused by the world’s peccadilloes. Jesus sat down—he didn’t stand up, back way off, wait for his disciples so that all hint of scandal could be diffused. He sat down, meaning he meant to stay for a while, and he initiated the conversation.
And then it gets fun. Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Jesus cuts to the chase and begins to unveil his identity to this woman.
This is not something for mere admiration. Forsyth wrote how some people, liberals in his day, viewed God. They think ‘God is our helper and no more. He is not a real sense, but only a figurative sense, our Redeemer. He helps us to realise our latent spiritual resources and ends. There is no break with self and the world, only a disengagement from an embarrassing situation” (The Cruciality of the Cross, 65). Jesus did not engage this woman in conversation that day to merely help her through a bad day or to help through her embarrassing marital situation or to help her through all the, undoubted, abuse she had endured at the hands of many men, or even, really, to help her physical thirst be quenched. He unveils to her not the solution to all of life’s woes and inadequacies and injustices and tediums, but he unveils to her himself. And it is only after she realizes who Jesus is that she eventually leaves her water jar behind. Jesus did not stop by Jacob’s well that day merely to engage in polite conversation about water, or merely to rest, or merely to break all sorts of social and racial taboos. Jesus sat down that day to reveal to this woman the Savior of the World: Himself.
Finally, did Jesus ever get his drink of water? He asked, but John never tells us if he got it or not. And the woman who came to draw water? Did she ever get her drink? Oh, I think she did! What happened though is that Jesus diverts attention away from her physical need, thirst, and redirects it to himself. He does the same thing later in chapter 11 when he raises Lazarus: He diverts Martha’s attention away from her grief and redirects it to himself. Essentially he is saying, “I am the solution to your grief, the victory over death (”I am the Resurrection and the Life”)” and here in chapter 4, “I am the solution to your thirst (”I you knew the gift of God…He would have given you living water”).”
Sometimes we think that the only way to be effective evangelists and witnesses for God is to solve the physical problems people have and then introduce God as the purpose or reason behind our good deeds and joy. People politely listen so they can get what they really want from us or Him. I think it should be exactly the opposite. Jesus first introduced himself. I believe we must first confront people with the reality of God, with the presence of Christ–they must hear the Gospel. It is through the Gospel that people will come to faith (Romans 10). Jesus saves; water does not. In other words, what people most need in their lives is Jesus Christ.
I hope this 13th Day of 90 is Blessed for you in the Lord Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Earlier this year Eugene Peterson published his third in a series of books on spiritual theology. The book, The Jesus Way, is a remarkable portrait of the nature of a true disciple of Jesus. It is a way characterized by sacrifice, failure, the margins, and holiness. He wrote, “More often than not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations, and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus” (The Jesus Way, 8).
And he’s right. This is the model people follow today because they are convinced that the only way to win the culture is to become the culture, or the only way to win the people of the culture is to reflect the culture so they will be interested in us–as if we will be thoroughly, completely lost without them. There is something to be said, however, for being willing to simply preach the Whole, Entire, Massive Word of God. There’s something to be said for preaching the hard truths that most people don’t care about or care to listen to.
PT Forsyth wrote, in the early 1900’s, “What is our task today? It is to take the mass of men (and not only the masses)–inert and hopeless some, others indifferent, others hostile to God–and to reconcile them with God’s holy will and righteous kingdom; but to reconcile them less with the ideal of a kingdom of God than with His way of it. They are keen enough about a kingdom which glorifies human ideals, but the trouble is about God’s ideal and God’s way, about Christ and His cross as the way as well as the goal” (The Cruciality of the Cross, 41-42).
The church must recover this cross centered preaching and those disciples of Jesus who claim to be saved must recover this cross-centered, sacrificial way of Jesus. The cross must be returned to the pulpit. The Jesus way, not the man way, must be followed and preached. Imagine these men, writing nearly 100 years apart, saying exactly the same thing to two entirely different generations of Christians. When do you suppose it will change? Will it start with you?
PT Forsyth wrote, in 1908-1909, the following words concerning Church membership in his day:
“The reports that come in are clear about the cooling of that interest as they are about the drop in membership of the churches. The decay in membership of the Church is due to a decay of membership in Christ. Our social preoccupation has entailed real damage to personal and family religion For even among those who remain in active membership of our Churches the type of religion has changed. The sense of sin can hardly be appealed to by the preacher now, and to preach grace is in many (even orthodox) quarters regarded as theological obsession, and the wrong language for the hour, while justification by faith is practically obsolete.”–The Cruciality of the Cross, 33-34 (emphasis mine)
He said this nearly 100 years ago and I cannot believe he is less relevant today. The church needs a good dose of Christ and biblical religion. We need to learn again why Christ died on the cross: It was for our sin. Too much preaching in today’s pulpits simply disregard the issue of sin in favor of preaching about ‘your purpose’ or ‘your best life now’ or the ‘believer’s voice of victory’ or ‘sowing your financial seed’ or some such other nonsense. Notice how it’s all about what is ‘yours’? Why is it there are no preachers, at least at the popular television, megachurch level, reminding people also of ‘your’ sin? But do we make light of God’s grace when we never broach the subject of sin? So many know so much about so much; too few know about the price Christ paid for our sins.