Posts Tagged ‘Cross’

“To believe in Jesus in the Christian sense means not less than trusting him utterly as the One who has borne our sin in his own body on the tree, as the One whose life and death and resurrection, offered up in our place, has reconciled us to God.”

–DA Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, 29

 

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I happened across the blog of an author tonight whom I had never heard of before. I recognized some of the names associated in one way or another with the author so I hung around for a bit and did some reading. I discovered this author had recently published a new book he calls Rediscovering the God Imagination: Reconstructing a Whole New Christianity.

The author is Jonathan Brink. I have never heard of him before, as I said, but I did recognize the names of his endorsers and his detractors. Having had my own issues in the past with Ken Silva, I can say that to an extent Mr Brink has my sympathies. I suppose one could say that, as a rule, if Ken Silva is one of your detractors then I will give you the benefit of the doubt and welcome to the club.

The problem is that Silva is an equal opportunity judge and jury and Brink set himself up by using the words ‘reconstructing’ and ‘new’ alongside the word ‘christianity.’ I’d like to give a balanced, quick review of the 26 page sample chapter Brink posted at his blog.

I took the time to read Brink’s 26-page sample chapter* that he has graciously posted at his website because, well, that’s what I do. I read. I’m a little on the fence regarding some of what I read (and I was also a little taken aback when I read in the comment section that he hadn’t read The Everlasting Man by GK Chesterton–even though that comment was written, evidently, two years ago) and I’m not able to make a complete judgment about the contents of the book. He begins by reminding us that we live in an age of questions–questions about the very traditions upon which we have nursed as Christians. He opens by writing this:

But what is the inherent nature of the Gospel? What actually happened in the Garden of Eden? In order to follow Jesus, it would seem obvious that we would want to know exactly what Jesus is doing on the cross, what problem he is solving, and what it means to humanity. Yet there is no clear, historical agreement regarding our basic understanding of the Gospel. Scholars and theologians have been wrestling with this tension within the Christian tradition for roughly 1,700 years.

I think people are going to have problems with this. I really do. I strongly disagree there is ‘no clear, historical agreement regarding our basic understanding of the Gospel.’ Yes, indeed, scholars have wrestled (and rightly so) with Scripture and definitions. And yes, indeed, there are a lot of theories about the implications of these beliefs. But the basic suppositions of the Gospel, even at the most basic, creedal level, are not really challenged (and probably shouldn’t be). Christians still believe Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the grave (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-11).

I am not so sure, and even Brink equivocates just a bit, that we need to seriously rethink 1,700 years worth of theological reflection. He has questions about whether or not many of the theological formulas that have been created during this period of time actually address the correct question. Thus he writes:

This book suggests a provocative possibility: much of our historical understanding of the problem is wrong. The basic assumptions we make about what is happening in the Garden of Eden are skewed by the very nature of the problem. We locate the problem in the wrong place and end up trying to resolve a problem, which doesn’t actually exist. (p 6 of the pdf sample chapter)

I suppose that in order for new theories to be put forward, the historical understandings have to be cast in this light. We cannot suggest a better way forward unless we cast aspersion on all that has led to this point. This is a very post-modern way of going about things and it is very popular among many so-called emergent theologians and preachers (although I don’t think Brink categorizes himself as either). Challenging ideas is fine; I do so all the time. Suggesting that they are altogether wrong–well, there are a lot of preachers and theologians who will abandon Brink at this point.

Brink also has to do some re-working of the first three chapters of Genesis–which he does (see p 16-19 of the downloadable pdf). Here I believe Brink asks some important questions, and I am curious as to how he will answer them. I have no problem with questions being asked and, to be sure, I am always thrilled when someone, anyone, actually opens their Bible and wrestles with the story–a chore that many who are firmly ensconced in those 1,700 years of theological strictures refuse to undertake since it is much easier to whip out a quote from Calvin or Spurgeon to bolster one’s position: Calvin said it; I believe it; that settles it.

Yeah, that works.

As I neared the end of Brink’s 26 pages, I came across this paragraph:

And finally the story presents the atonement – how God is actually reconciling humanity to God. To understand the human story means confronting our traditional notions of what is happening on the cross, to ask, “Where is the problem located?” Once we answer this question, a new understanding of the atonement opens up. We are invited to discover the depth of what is happening, to shudder at the sheer magnitude of love it reveals, and embrace it with open arms. The story reveals God’s central concern is not a punitive sense of justice for breaking a law, but an overriding concern for the consequence of death. (p 21 of the downloadable pdf)

There’s more to it than this, and I don’t want to be unfair to Brink, but here I might be disinclined to go all the way with his idea. The problem as I see it is that we don’t necessarily need to confront the traditional understandings of the cross and we do not need a new understanding of the atonement. I have no problems with the idea that there is more than one ‘theory of atonement’. Nor, for that matter, do I mind someone opening our eyes to another aspect of God’s work in Jesus. What I object to is the idea that all those theories that went before need replacing or scuttling. Maybe Brink is not being so drastic, but it’s hard not to think he is. And, to be sure, he will have a lot of work to do in order to convince people that 1,700 years of theological reflection have been wrong and that, aha!, he suddenly has it all figured out.

That’s a tall order for anyone. I’m genuinely interested to see how he pulls it off, and how he resolves it for a new generation of pilgrims.

A better approach, I think, is to see all those theories (of atonement) that went before as bits and parts of a comprehensive atonement that God enacted in Christ. None of them is comprehensive, none is exclusive of the others. Together they all help explain what God was doing in Jesus and what he is doing in us. I agree wholeheartedly with Brink that the cross expresses God’s concern for the consequences of death; yes, say it so. But the cross dealt with what caused death (sin); resurrection dealt with death. Or, so says the apostle,

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21, NIV)

I will be interested to see how Brink treats the Resurrection of Jesus since it was only mentioned once in the 26 pages I read and even then it had nothing, necessarily, to do with Jesus’s Resurrection. I hope he has a very large section on Resurrection because in the sort of undertaking he is proposing it will surely be necessary.

I also agree with Brink that we need to be set free from religion. Too many Christians are far too content to live in a scripted religious experience where everything is contained inside neat little compartments that never ever mix together and share ideas or educate or inform one another. Religion is typically what destroys preachers who have been called by Jesus to proclaim the Gospel, who have been called to tell and retell the story.

Frankly, I’m not sure we need a new Christianity–maybe, better, we just need people who are willing to live the story already there (you know, the ‘take up your cross, deny yourself, follow me’ kind of stuff). Frankly, I am not so sure we need to reconstruct a new anything since we are utterly incapable of doing so anyhow (no mention of the Holy Spirit in those 26 pages either; I realize he couldn’t include everything in 26 pages so I am not being overly critical, I’m just saying…)

Brink seems rather intent on redefining some of the terms we use in the church, but I don’t know that such redefining is necessary either. And don’t get me wrong, I understand there is a disconnect between what the Bible says and the way many Christians live. I get it; really I do. I was fired by a church in whom that very disconnect was incarnate in an unimaginable, undeniable, and epic way.

I also understand that suffering and pain and injustice need to be addressed at a much deeper level than preachers have dared to think necessary and possible in the past. The so-called tried and true Sunday school clichés first uttered by John Calvin and perpetuated by the Neo-Reformed scholars of this age no longer work on a people who have questioned and will continue to question everything. One of the great aspects of my generation’s rebelliousness towards authority is the freedom to question, challenge, everything. In other words, you will not control me, you will not tell me what to do or believe; I will figure it out for myself, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, thank you very much.

It may be that I’ll end up agreeing with you or Calvin. It may be that I will reject you and Calvin (especially Calvin). But I will work that out on my own in the company of fellow pilgrims–if only I could find a group of pilgrims willing to live in the turmoil of the doubt that we call faith (see Matthew 28:17).

Brink will have no problem convincing some, will reap the scorn and hatred of others who are already convinced he is a heretic, and will, hopefully, find even more who will read what he says and shout ‘hooray!’ when they read something brilliant, will weep when they read something silly, and will search the Scripture when they come across something that challenges their understanding of Jesus, Christianity, and faith.

Brink claims to have gone back to Scripture in order to write this book. He also claims that much of what he saw in Scripture just didn’t seem to line up with some of the traditional teachings. Therefore I believe it is equally fair and important for those who read this book to go back to Scripture also and see if what Brink has written squares up with what Scripture, the Bible, says. From what I read in 26 sample pages, I think there are going to be some issues.

But we can give him a read and test that for ourselves.

*my reflections concern only the 26 page sample chapter Brink posted at his website.

“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.

Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid. (I’m sorry if you had the unfortunate ‘pleasure’ of reading it. I wish I didn’t have to link to it, but you may need context for my words.)

There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.

I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.

There I said it: The post is stupid.

I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.

Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.

There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*

For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)

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I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of this blog. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at Life Under the Blue Sky, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:

  • It is wrong to steal.
  • It is wrong to have gay sex.
  • It is wrong to lie.
  • It is wrong to cheat.
  • It is wrong to fornicate.
  • It is wrong to commit adultery.
  • It is wrong to be racist.
  • It is wrong to get drunk.
  • It is wrong to be arrogant.
  • It is wrong to be prideful.
  • It is wrong to be gluttonous.
  • It is wrong to murder.
  • It is wrong to get an abortion.
  • It is wrong to lust.
  • It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
  • It is wrong to gossip.
  • It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
  • It is wrong to worship idols.
  • It is wrong kidnap.
  • It is wrong to disobey your parents.
  • It is wrong to swindle.
  • It is wrong to be greedy.
  • It is wrong to rape.

Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.

But it is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.

Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.

None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.

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Friends, we have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…

We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.

We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.

Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)

I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.

Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).

We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?

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Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?

I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?

The author of the SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?

She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.

The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.

So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope. There’s grace. There’s forgiveness of your sins. Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.

You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.

“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.

Friends,

This is part two of my sermon on the Exodus narratives. In this sermon I focus on Pharaoh and the Passover. This is reverse side of the sermon for last week that focused on Prophets (Moses & Aaron) and the Plagues. The exodus, while a real even in history, also becomes a type of what God has done in Christ. Now he is still setting people free from slavery, but his people are not located in one particular nation, nor are his people from one particular nation. Instead, as John wrote in Revelation (Rev. 7:9), he is drawing people from every tribe, nation, people and language–a great multitude. But again, as I point out, this is not about mere liberation. If God is setting people free he is doing so that he may build a nation of those people who will, in Peter’s language, declare the praises of Him who set them free (see 1 Peter 2:9-10; Colossians 1:13-14). So we have no mere liberation theology here, but a powerful declaration of God who makes himself known (see Exodus 5:2 where Pharaoh says he does not know God; and 6:3, 7; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 29; 10:2; 14:4, 8 where God says these plagues were that he might make himself known.) Now God is known through Jesus Christ.

90 Days with Scripture
Week 4: October 19, 2008
Exodus 7-12: Freedom for God’s People, pt b

Introduction

1 Now the LORD had said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt. After that, he will let you go from here, and when he does, he will drive you out completely. 2 Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold.” 3 (The LORD made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh’s officials and by the people.)

4 So Moses said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt-worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.’ Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.

9 The LORD had said to Moses, “Pharaoh will refuse to listen to you-so that my wonders may be multiplied in Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire-head, legs and inner parts. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.
12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn-both men and animals-and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”

As I said last week, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is likely the most significant historical event to ever occur on planet earth. The problem is that often times the Exodus has been reduced to a mere type with the requisite anti-type being neglected. That is, some have spent so much time focusing on the Exodus as mere Exodus that they have neglected the greater theological significance of the narrative itself. Thus, what I have tried to do in last week and this week is describe for you the theological significance of the type and the direction the type is pointing us; namely, Jesus Christ.

This is all to say that the Exodus narratives and the historical events themselves point us beyond the mere story of a nation being brought out of slavery; people being brought out of slavery is nothing new: We have had that happen in our own nation. This is not to denigrate such an accomplishment, but it is to say that what is more important than the exodus of the nation of Israel is the manner in which the events took place and what the author of the narratives told us about the events that took place. The author necessarily interpreted the events through a theological lens and his perspective is meant to shape our understanding of the God who affected the event itself.

So last week, we looked at the first of two points: Prophets and Plagues. This week, we’ll conclude by looking at Pharaoh and Passover.
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First, we’ll look at the Pharaoh who was the king of Egypt at the time. In God’s dealings with Pharaoh we have a demonstration of who runs the earth. Pharaoh thought for certain that it was himself. So he continued time and time again to stand up against the Lord and refused to alter his position.

But you see, Pharaoh was not working alone and he was not only protecting his interests. Pharaoh was working for the enemy doing all he could to snuff out the Lord’s people in order that the enemy might snuff out the Lord’s plans. This is a strange man who sacrificed the lot of his own people because of his stubborn refusal to let Israel go. What we learn is that the gods we set up always betray us in the end. They are only concerned about their own self-interests.

But I wonder: At the outset, we were told that God would make Moses like God to pharaoh and Aaron would be his prophet. So if YHWH was able to make Moses appear this way in Pharaoh’s presence, where did Pharaoh’s strength to resist the Lord come from? Was Pharaoh being played by his ‘gods’? “This is a section that focuses sharply on the conflict between heaven and earth, issuing in the same lesson which, in later years, Nebudchadnezzar had to learn the hard way.” You might recall from my sermon series on Daniel last year:

34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”

Simply put, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. I suspect that even now we have this strange misconception that we are the ones running the earth and putting up the show. Pharaoh learned this lesson in a terribly difficult way.  We see here that God takes back what is his by demolishing all that is not. He said, “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.”

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Finally, we have the Passover. In the Passover event we see that God made a distinction between who belongs to God and who does not. He said, “But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal. Then you will Know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”

It’s not everyone who was saved. The Egyptians suffered. Mightily. But the bottom line is this: It was only those who were under the protection of blood who were saved. If an Israelite did not paint his door with blood and keep everyone inside, he would have suffered loss. If an Egyptian had covered his door with blood and stayed inside, he would have been saved. It wasn’t just being a part of Israel that saved them, it was being under the blood that made them distinct. He didn’t say, “When I notice you are an Israelite I will pass over you.” He said, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” I suppose we might justifiably say that anyone who came under the blood would have been safe.

One writer noted, “Ever since the fourth plague, the people of Israel had been set apart from the Egyptians, but in each case it was the onset of the plague itself that made their distinct status evident.” (Motyer, 126) The Israelites were special people whom God protected. Motyer goes on, “What we can say with certainty is that by the wonder of divine mercy they were the Lord’s people, the subjects of his saving activity, the people destined for deliverance and, in the meantime, in a world under his just and awesome judgment, they were a people set apart, the objects of his loving, protective care.” (123)

God did not allow his people, his special people, his chosen people, his unique people to be washed under the flood or swept under the rug or destroyed by the rebellion of humans. In the Passover God made a distinction and demonstrated in a mighty way that his judgment is just. He made a distinction and demonstrated that he will not allow anyone in heaven or earth or under the earth to destroy his people or the purposes he has planned for them. He demonstrates that he is able to protect those he loves.

It should give us great comfort; great strength; great courage. God demonstrates that he is able to protect his own. The gods of Pharaoh cannot say the same. So I don’t know why people blame God for this episode. We want this contest don’t we? We want to see whose god reigns, whose god is supreme, whose god has the power? I don’t know why people blame god for so much death when people are given every opportunity to come under his protection.

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. 13″I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

God himself provided the protection for his people. Even now, as then.
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We have examined four aspects of the Exodus narratives.

So in the Prophets we have a discovery of who speaks for God.

In the Plagues we have a declaration of who is God.

In the Pharaoh we have a demonstration of who runs the Earth.

And in the Passover we see a distinction between those who belong to God and those who do not.

But it is my contention that we are learning more here than just a mere history of the ancient Israelites and Egyptians. My contention is that we are learning something here about God’s dealings with humans and God’s ability and design to preserve the people he has called into being.

The battle here was that Egypt’s intent was to keep God’s people enslaved and thus prevent God from fulfilling his promise to bring them into the Land.

If the events that took place leading up to the Exodus, the plagues, the confrontations between Moses and Pharaoh, were designed so that God might show his power and his name be declared in all the earth (9:16), then can their repetition in this book serve any less purpose to us? We too are meant to know God. We are meant to know the God who makes himself known even if today we only read about these events we see God who triumphs over the gods we have erected. He says: Go ahead and trust in your gods. Go ahead and put your faith in the gods your hands manufacture. He doesn’t deny us that much.  But we should not be surprised, either, when the True God wages war against those gods; neither when we suffer casualties and death because we have not chosen wisely.

The same event is happening, I believe, even today. God desires to be known and has made himself known. And he is redeeming his people from slavery all around the world. God’s people, however unknown to us, but known to him, are slaves all around the world and God is in the process of setting them free-overcoming the powers that hold them captive and setting them free by the Son: If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

But it seems that there is also the same result for those who refuse to know God. He still makes himself known, but now through Jesus; and the results are the same: some will be saved, some will not:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

He is gathering his people from among the nations. He is setting them free through Jesus. He is creating, Peter wrote, a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.’

But we only get there through Jesus. Jesus is our message. Jesus we proclaim. When Jesus is lifted up will he draw all people unto himself. We have only one message of hope and deliverence for God’s people: Look to Jesus. Be free in Christ. He is our Exodus.

Friends,

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

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Friends,

Here are my sermons and Powerpoints on the Crucifixion Driven Life. The sermons are based Matthew’s Gospel, and, as I said elsewhere, I have drawn illustrative material from a variety of sources. I have also included two study guides that I wrote for my Bible school class. The study guides contain short bibliographies on the back pages. Sadly, I have lost the print version of the first sermon in this series (“The Crucifixion Driven Life Begins with Birth“), but I have posted the audio version in a skycast (podcast)  elsewhere here. As I did with my sermons on Daniel, I have provided links to box.net where the work can be downloaded. You can also use the box.net widget on the right side of the blog.) If there happens to be any incorrect links, please let me know.

The Crucifixion Driven Life, 2006

Sermon 1 Powerpoint (The sermon itself, now lost, was from Matthew 1:18-25; Audio here.)

Sermon 2 The Crucifixion Driven Life is Victorious in Defeat, Matthew 16:21-28, PPT

Sermon 3 The Crucified Life Hates Sin: The Cross and Holiness, Matthew 17:22-23, PPT

Sermon 4 The Crucifixion Driven Life Does Not Avoid the Cross, Matthew 20:17-28, PPT

Sermon 5 The Crucifixion Driven Life Is an Owned Life, Matthew 21:33-46, PPT

Sermon 6 The Crucifixion Driven Life Is Concerned About Jesus, Matthew 26:1-13, PPT

Sermon 7 The Crucifixion Driven Life Partakes of Jesus’ Death, Matthew 26:20-30, PPT

Sermon 8 The Crucifixion Driven Life is Silent, Matthew, 27:11-31, PPT

Sermon 9 The Crucifixion Driven Life Dies With Jesus, Matthew 27:32-54, PPT

Sermon 10 The Crucifixion Driven Life: Carried to the Next Level, Genesis 22; Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; Matthew’s Gospel; Various Letters, PPT
Study Guide 1: January 2006 (Opens in MS Publisher)

Study Guide 2: February 2006 (Opens in MS Publisher)

That’s all. I hope that you find these sermons helpful to you in your own studies of the Word of God. I know that the study and preparation that went into these sermons radically altered the course of my own discipleship in Jesus. May you be blessed in your efforts to serve our Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

A few years ago, I became weary of the Purpose Driven Life. We had gone through the program at my church, read the book, preached the sermons. When it was all done, I felt no better and our church did not grow. I felt dirty for using someone else’s sermon outlines. (My content stuffed around someone else’s outlines.) About the time we were going through that series, a couple of books were published that had a remarkable effect on my discipleship. One was Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson and the other The Cross and Christian Ministry by DA Carson. I also read The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and several others. I began to see, in book after book, something I had not noticed before and something that seemed terribly absent from PDL: It was the cross. It was painful, to be sure, to see my entire ministry turned upside down, my discipleship in Christ radically altered, and my understanding of Scripture forever changed. I had missed it; I had missed the cross. Thus I began a great quest. I started saving quotes and poems and other items about the cross (One file ended up with 27 single spaced 10-point font pages of notes and quotes from biblical commentaries, authors like Annie Dillard, John Stott, DA Carson, Eugene Peterson, James Montegomery Boice, CS Lewis, Bernard of Clairvaux, Martin Luther, and poets like Bob Dylan, Thomas Merton, Jeremy Camp, and more. And that is not all. ). I started reading with a critical eye. The Father began to change me. Somehow, I had missed the cross. This reading, combined with intense study of Scripture (in particular the book of Matthew) and prayer and the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to Christ all over again for the first time. Thus was born The Crucifixion Driven Life which was my response to my congregation after I led them through PDL. This is the first sermon from that series, January 1, 2006. It runs 35 minutes or so. I have others that I will be posting as time permits and, also, as I did with the series on Daniel, I will be posting links to the manuscripts at box.net. Thank you. jerry

Listen here: The Crucifixion Driven Life Begins at Birth, Matthew 1:18-25

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Always for His glory!

Friends,

For quite a while now I have been reading a book by Mark Labberton called The Dangerous Act of Worship. It has been a hard read because I had a few other projects going at the same time. I am just about finished wit it now and I came across this section that I found particularly insightful.

The poverty of imagination in the body of Christ causes many to continue suffering in the world. That poverty is not just in others, but also in me.

The aspect of the ‘problem of evil’ that I struggle with most is not the generalized suffering of the innocent, as big as that issue is. Rather, for me it is this conundrum: if God is all-powerful and all-good, why are God’s people so unchanged? This issue is worthy of far longer treatment than I can give it here, but I mention it to express the seriousness and difficulty of the church being God’s agent of justice and mercy in the world when we show need of such transformation ourselves.

Perhaps that is the point. God’s work of re-creating all things, especially the church, is a necessary and difficult work. It’s beyond my imagination. Scripture tells us that God in Christ has done on the cross what is the most decisive action necessary to secure that transformation. However, it is a work that goes on in God’s people–and we see just how virulent, resistant and free we are in rejecting God’s work in our lives. If this is true among those in whom Christ dwells by the power of the Holy Spirit and who now dwell in Christ in God, then let’s abandon any naivete about what it will take to live and do the work of justice in this world.

We are not called to be idealists about the church. That’s fantasy, not sanctified imagination. That’s a false, distorted, immature imagination. Instead we are to practice hope for the church. We cannot say, ‘Look at Christ, not the church,” when Jesus says, “I want people to look at you and see me. The family of God’s people is neither a utopian society nor a negligible witness. Again, this is what makes the church a living school within the heart of God: a place to vigorously, profoundly and slowly grow into the likeness of Jesus as we seek (and don’t seek) God, as we love (and don’t love) each other, as we do (and don’t do) justice in the world. God is in the mess that is the church, and the mess that is the church is in God.” –156-157

This is probably the best four paragraphs I have read in the entire book. I think these paragraphs alone make the price of the book worthwhile. You might not agree with everything Labberton writes, but it is hard to escape the truth of what he is saying here. The church is not place of pristine fairy tales or utopian fantasy. The church is real. And loved. And it is the church that God calls to be His witness in this broken world. Within this witness is evidence of God’s grace: If God can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt church then surely he can love the scarred, egocentric, and corrupt world.

I appreciate these words from Labberton very much.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

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!

Friends, here is the last part of the series on worship. The sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 10-11. It develops the idea that worship is, at its core, saying something about God. In fact, it may say more about God than it says about us; although, to be sure, it says something about what we think of God too! Worship seems to be done entirely too flippantly in some cases. While I am not a proponent or ‘fan’ or so-called high church liturgy, I do think there is something to be said about the idea that Christian worship should be significantly holier than it is. People are watching how Christians worship and the question becomes something like this: What are we telling the unbelieving world about Jesus through our worship? This is why worship must, in my judgment, be planned and practiced in such a way that God is honored first and only. I do not believe that worship should be ‘designed’ with the unbeliever exclusively in mind. Worship is ultimately directed to the only one it can be: God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Worship planned, directed, or designed with any other intention or object is idolatry which is nothing less than devil worship. –jerry

Introduction

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

_____________________

While in the early planning stages of this sermon series I came across this article on the internet. It concerns a popular trend that is taking place around the world: Mystery Shopping. The twist, however, is that these mystery shoppers are not targeting your favorite restaurant, but rather churches. Consider:

LONDON – Singing hymns and clasping hands in prayer, they look like regular church-going Christians. But the worshippers at some Sunday services in Britain definitely are not. Instead they are mostly nonbelievers paid $60 a pop to rate churches in Britain on everything from sermon length to after-service refreshments.

For decades, businesses have used “mystery shoppers,” researchers dispatched to retail stores to pose as consumers, to evaluate customer service and quality control. Now, churches are turning to “mystery worshippers” to visit and rate their performance. The program was launched in November by Christian Research of London and expands this month before reaching nationwide in May.

Religious experts agree that the research could be beneficial for any church seeking to understand how to best draw and keep worshippers in an age of declining attendance. “Any self-respecting organization is, or should be, alert to useful criticism of its modus operandi,” said Sam Berry, an expert on religion at University College London.

“I would regard the mystery-worshipper approach in the same way I would hotels asking people to fill in a form about their experiences at the hotel.”

Attendance at Anglican church services has dropped by 50 percent in 40 years as Britain has grown increasingly secular. (From the Toledo Blade)

Well, I think they might be on to something. The question that comes from this is simple: What are we showing to these mystery shoppers who visit the worship? A popular American preacher recently posted 12 convictions his congregation has about worship. On the one hand the author of the 12 convictions writes:

10. A service geared toward non-believers is meant to supplement personal evangelism, not replace it.

Then, on the other hand he writes:

4. While unbelievers can’t worship, they can watch believers worship.

I’m not sure how the two work together. In other words, why design a worship service that is geared towards non-believers when unbelievers cannot worship? It seems rather self-defeating. Nevertheless, I agree with the second part of the second proposition. I don’t know that unbelievers cannot worship, but I do agree that they can watch believers worship. So, what do we show to those unbelievers who are at least watching what us believers do? What should those mystery worshipers see in our worship time—at least the worship time we participate in on Sunday mornings?

I’d like to develop briefly a couple of ideas from chapter 10 and then show the full expression of what this means from chapters 10-11.

Warnings From Israel’s History: Chapter 10 in context

The apostle scans the history of Israel—mostly wilderness wanderings recorded in the book of Numbers, but also Exodus—and says flat out, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did…These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” We are meant to learn, but what? What did the apostle say: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people would sit down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.’” He then tells how much of the worship during that time was corrupt: pagan revelry, sexual immorality, grumbling.

The problem is, essentially, that they did not recognize ‘Christ among them.’ Paul wrote, “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all at the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that Rock was Christ.” His point is that they acted and worshiped as if God were not among them. So they mimicked and aped the culture, participated in the activities of pagans, and in general displeased the Lord among them. There was, and I think this is key here, there was nothing distinctive about what Israel was doing. As the rules were given to them by God through Moses the point of the rules was to set them apart for God’s service; they were to be a kingdom of priests leading the nations in worship of God. That is why they were to be distinct, different. That’s why they had funny rules to follow, and strange rituals to observe.

As silly and strange as they seemed to Israel, and as unique as they were in that culture, they marked those people as God’s people and declared things about the nature of the God to whom they belonged.

Truth be told it is not any different for the Church, the New Israel. We are a distinctive people, a unique people, who follow a strange God so to speak who has called us, Peter wrote, “like living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…[We are] a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness and into his marvelous light.” We are not the culture. We are not just anybody. We are somebody, uniquely belonging to the Father. As such our worship is meant and designed to reflect God’s will, God’s message, and significantly, God’s Messiah. What we do we do for His Glory Alone: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Even outside of this specific context, this verse is applicable. He will apply this specifically to the observation of the Lord’s Supper and demonstrate that it is the Lord’s Supper and we dare not presume that it is our supper.

So Paul tells us all these things and says: Don’t follow their example. He notes that when Israel behaved this way ‘God scattered them in the desert,’ and ‘in one day 23,000 of them died,’ and some ‘were killed by snakes,’ and some were ‘killed by the destroying angel.’ However, he also notes that in the Christian context it is no less dangerous to fall into the hands of the living God: ‘For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement unto himself. That is why many of you are weak and sick, and a number of you have come under judgment. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.’ In short, God deals with His people differently than he does the world in general. And if Israel’s complacency about worship brought judgment, then how much more will judgment fall on the Church and the Christian who is complacent about worship?

Continue Reading »

Friends,

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!

jerry

Friends,

Could be that I have posted this before and forgotten. I repent if I have, but as I prepare for a new series of sermons due to begin in February, I came across this quote and thought it deserved a place of its own:

For too long, many evangelicals have viewed the cross exclusively as the means by which God in Christ Jesus achieved our redemption. Of course, no Christian would want to minimize the centrality of the cross in God’s redemptive purposes. But if we view it as the means of our salvation and nothing more, we shall overlook many of its functions in the New Testament. In particular, so far as this study is concerned, we shall fail to see how the cross stands as the test and standard of all vital Christian ministry. The cross not only establishes what we are to preach, but how we are to preach. It prescribes what Christian leaders must be and how Christians must view leaders. It tells us how to serve and draws us onward in discipleship until we understand what it means to be world Christians.” (The Cross and Christian Ministry, p 9)

Amen.

jerry

Friends,

This story was reported on January 5, 2008 by the Christian Post: Vatican Announces ‘Historic’ Catholic-Muslim Meeting for Spring. I will quote the relevant part of the article:

In the Muslim letter, the 138 scholars focused on the commonality between Islam and Christianity – love for God and love for one’s neighbor. They also highlighted that Christians and Muslims make up about 55 percent of the world population and therefore reconciliation between the two faiths is a must in order to maintain world peace.

Much has been made of this letter. I read the letter that was sent from Christians to Muslims. It was a deplorable letter and beyond reproach. Recently, the signers of this letter were rebuked–and I think rightfully so.

The paragraph above highlights what I believe to be the main problem with this entire situation. Christians are somehow being deluded into thinking that there can be peace with Islam. Islam is not even at peace within itself so how can anyone possibly think there can be some sort of ‘reconciliation’ between it and other faiths?

First of all, I want to say this: There is nothing in common between Islam and Christianity. Nothing. The ‘love for God’ for starters is not a common thread because Islam rejects the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and Jesus made it quite abundantly clear that NO ONE comes to the Father except through Him (see John 6:44, 65; John 8:20; John 14:6). Muslims and Christians do not ‘share’ a ‘love for God’ because Muslims, for all the esteem they heap upon Jesus, reject his efficacious sacrifice for sin. (I have elsewhere rejected the teaching that Christians and Muslim worship the same God for the same reason.)

Second, what does ‘love for neighbors’ have to do with anything? I know atheists who love their neighbors so does this mean that somehow, now, by some strange magic, I have something religiously in common with the atheist? Does this mean now there should be a reconciliation between the two of us, that we are both on equal tracks to godliness? No. It does not. It means that we have a shred of common sense, but it does not mean that we are religiously equal at any level. The church, while inhabiting the world, is also ‘called out’ of the world. That is, we are somehow ontologically separated from the world even while living in it. We are not ‘better’ than the world, but somehow we are strangers, aliens, sojourners (1 Peter 1) who do not quite fit into this place.

Third, note what it says the Muslim letter said, I’ll repeat it for emphasis:

They also highlighted that Christians and Muslims make up about 55 percent of the world population and therefore reconciliation between the two faiths is a must in order to maintain world peace.

I am the only one who sees in this ‘hightlight’ a threat? There must be ‘reconciliation…in order to maintain world peace’?? Really? We can have world peace if Muslims will stop blowing themselves up in crowded malls and stop flying airplanes into buildings and stop sponsoring terrorism around the globe, stop killing Jews, Christians, one another, and anyone else they don’t care for. And peace will also be maintained when Christians stop compromising Faith in Jesus Christ by trying to reconcile with Atheists and Muslims and the American Culture as the last two posts have shown. This is a test for Christians and so far, Christians are failing miserably.

Besides, what reconciliation can take place between Faith in Jesus Christ and a religion–however ‘moderate’ some may be–that advocates conversion by the sword in their book and death to all infidels (i.e., Christians and Jews)? That Christians and Muslims make up 55% of the world’s population is a meaningless statistic, because while anyone can be Muslim anywhere they want, people cannot be Christians anywhere they want. I defy this notion that Muslims want peace with anyone, let alone with Christians. They want control over every nation on the planet. And I defy this idea that we can sit down at a table and talk about ‘what we have in common’ because we have nothing in common and that mere table talks will achieve anything. Table talks are a way of trying a new tactic to achieve the same goal: Death to all infidels.

This is another attempt by the Muslim community to wrangle more control. It is another attempt by the Muslim community–however ‘moderate’ some may be (I defy the notion that a Muslim, who follows the Qu’ran faithfully can be anything remotely close to moderate)–to get another foothold. Christians are being duped. And Benedict is an idiot for even supposing this is a good idea just as those ‘evangelicals’ who signed a letter to Muslims are idiots for supposing it was a good idea. (I’m sorry. Use of the word ‘idiot’ is strong and unbecoming. Perhaps I should follow my own advice and be more gracious and use a word like ‘dense’.) Does anyone see the devil at work here besides me?

Are the 138 Muslim scholars who signed the letter suggesting that if Islam and Christianity do not reconcile that there will be no peace in the World? (Who holds that power in their hands: Christians? Muslims? Are Christians blowing themselves up in pizza parlors and road-side cafes? Are Christians sending bomb laden children onto busses at midday after prayer? Who holds the power for such peace?) That’s what I hear. And if that is what they are saying, it’s quite a hefty statement. I suppose it is too much for them to simply go on with their lives, work hard at converting people through preaching, say their prayers, and get up each day and go to legitimate jobs where they work hard at providing for their families and allowing Christians to do the same. That would bring some peace to the world. If more Mulsims would stand up and denounce and condemn those radicals of their faith that would be a place to start. Physician, heal thyself!

My criticism, however, is not really of the Muslim community. They are smart. They know what they are doing. Rather it is the Christian community that concerns me. Christians must divest themselves of this silly notion that there is going to be anything remotely close to peace in this world simply because we have ‘reconciled’ with others–what reconciliation can there be? There is only One legitimate way for there to be peace and that is through Jesus Christ and His Cross Work. Apart from the Cross, there will be no peace in this world. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33) “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

I know, we are told to–if possible, and as far as it depends upon us–live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). I don’t see how compromise is going to solve anything: And it will not be the Muslims who compromise to make this world peaceful.

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry

John 19:17-27 (90 Days with Jesus Day 84)

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

“If man’s main problem is ignorance, then we would expect Christ’s main work to be the revelation of saving knowledge. If our problem is some form of spiritual weakness, then Christ’s main work must be to provide us with corresponding spiritual power. Almost all of the world’s religions and philosophies do indeed interpret man’s predicament in one of these two ways…Jesus came to resolve our problems of guilt and depravity through his death and resurrection” (Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once For All, 259)

The cross is the one aspect of the Christian faith that no one can just dismiss. The cross is real; it happened. No one can explain it away. No one can write it off as an insignificant ‘just another day’ event. No one can trivialize its historicity. No one can easily laugh at its history changing nature. The cross changed everything and continues to change history each day it is lived and proclaimed by His people. The cross is what defines the people of God as the people of God. It is the content of our preaching, it is hope we cling to, and under its shadow do we conduct every aspect of our lives in Christ. Without the cross, there is no Christianity. Without the cross, there is no resurrection. Without the cross, we are still quite deluged by our guilt, drowning in our depravity.

I’d like to make three rather obvious observations concerning this chunk of text I have chosen for today and, to be sure, I am necessarily not commenting on every aspect of the text. This is Day 84 in the 90 Days with Jesus series of posts I have been making.

The first observation is this: There were some that day who did not want to live under the banner of a king who was crucified. They said, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” But notice that Pilate was firm in his conviction: “What I have written, I have written.” I sense that what Pilate is saying here is this: “This is the only kind of King you can expect to have.” I know that the traditional understanding of his statement is that he was mocking the Jews and Jesus. I grant that. But I also see in this the more concrete: “This is the only king you will have.” Perhaps he might also be saying something like, “What else do you expect me to say about this man?” Perhaps Pilate had listened to what Jesus said. Remember this exchange:

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. They said ‘we have no king but Caesar.’

Pilate reminded them, however back-handedly, ‘the only king you have is this man.’ Can any of us have any other king besides Jesus Christ crucified? Isn’t that the whole point? Of course Pilate was mocking them, and Jesus, but in his mocking we cannot fail to hear the ironic element of truth that we do indeed have none other than a crucified King. It cannot be any other way.

The second observation I’d like to make is this: Notice that soldiers gambled for the clothing of Jesus, below the foot of the cross, while he suffered. Isn’t that ironic also? You know what I mean, right? There is a simple fact that while there are a lot of people who do not want a crucified King, there are many others who really don’t care one way or another. These men, hardened as they were by the sight of crucifixion, ignored Jesus altogether except for one thing: How can they profit from it! They gambled for his clothing right at the foot of the cross where he suffered.

The truth is, there are many who do the same thing today: Jesus’ death is nothing more than a mere money making adventure for them. They are oblivious to his suffering for them. They are oblivious to the pain and humiliation that their sin caused him. I suppose that people who read this in the Scripture overlooked it too: They were clueless that people could be so oblivious to what was going on in the world literally right above their heads. Too many people even today are clueless to the work of Christ. They go on living each day as if there is nothing wrong at all in the world. They go on not paying a minute’s worth of attention to the fact that their sin was paid for, that Christ suffered for them. These words by the band Casting Crowns sums up this point perfectly:

Oh, Bethlehem, what have you missed while you were sleeping/For God became a man/And stepped into your world today/Oh Bethlehem will you go down in history/As a city with no room for its King/While you were sleeping/While you were sleeping

America, what will we miss while we are sleeping/Will Jesus come again/And leave us slumbering where we lay/America will we go down in history/As a nation with no room for its King/ Will we be sleeping/Will we be sleeping? (From the Lifesong CD, words and music by Mark Hall)

Finally, the last observation I would like to make is this: The typical view of the story of Jesus’ mother and the disciple who took her into his home is that Jesus was such a wonderful person that he even thought to take care of his mother while he died. I’m not doubting there is something to be said about this, but I think there is a better view also. Not only did Jesus say to the woman, “Here is your son,” but he also said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” I have a different take on this: In His Cross work, Jesus tore apart one family and created a new one.

Perhaps it sounds like a stretch, a mere allegorizing of the text, but I don’t think so. The cross has done a lot of things in this world and, ironically, tearing apart families is one of the things it has done. But positively, it has also forged new families. The cross is not only a revelation but a revolution: Who would think that God would redeem us from an empty way of life in such an ironic fashion? Who thinks of defeat as the way to victory? Who thinks of dying as the way of defeating death? And if those things are true, then why is it impossible to think that the cross also tore apart one family and created a new one? Why is it impossible to think that in the cross a new family dynamic was forged, and strengthened with bonds that could not be torn apart by anything ever again?

Doesn’t this scene demonstrate that even in the life of the Son of Man life is not going to be simple after the fact of the cross? And if the Son of God had his family torn apart by the cross, will it be any different for those who follow hard after Him? On the other hand, doesn’t this scene demonstrate that in the lives of those whose lives are turned upside down the bond of family love will be rebuilt in the same cross? In this sense, it was Jesus who put this family back together.

So, there are many who don’t want a bloody, crucified King. There are others who are indifferent to God’s visit to the earth and couldn’t care less if he did or did not die so long as their lives go on now without interruption. And there are others whose lives will be turned inside out because of the cross. Jesus looks down on one group and laughs (Psalm 2:6), weeps over another group (Luke 13:34), and puts back together the third group (Psalm 147:3).

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I thought I would take a little space here to update you on some recent additions to the blog. First, I have added two new sermons to the page: Towards a Theology of Suffering. These sermons cover Matthew 14-25. Here’s an excerpt from the first sermon covering Matthew 14-18:

What I am saying to you is this: We cannot solve the problems of this world even if we are called to mount an offensive charge against the gates of hell. I am suggesting that the solution to the problem of evil and suffering is found in the cross of Christ because it was there that Jesus embraced suffering, gave in to evil, and eventually in the Resurrection transformed evil and suffering. But if we are going to grasp this, we must grasp it on God’s terms and not ours. No Lord, not you. Get behind me Satan, you have in mind the things of men, and not God.

If we are going to understand God we are going to have to accept God on the terms that he has established and revealed. Ours is a cross life. Ours is a cross faith. Ours is a faith that begins and ends at the cross. Ours is a faith that understands Jesus’ goal was for the Strong Man not only to be bound, but defeated.

The second sermon is from Matthew 19-25 and deals with the Word of God and suffering. Here’s an excerpt:

Suffering is all around us and we are the cause of all of it. We have trusted in ourselves to solve the world’s problems and we have neglected and ignored the Word of God. He gives us all the answers we need but we refuse to listen. We refuse to hear. We refuse to welcome the prophets who are telling us the truth. And Jesus says that because we are more interested in ourselves than God there is a suffering that will outlast this earth because we want it to. You see all that is necessary for the suffering of this world to end is submission to the Word of Christ: Haven’t you read? But we won’t do it. So many will be cast into the place prepared for the devil and his angels, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Finally, I added a second sermon I recently preached on Grace. I interrupted my series on a Theology of Suffering to preach these two sermons on grace. Here’s an excerpt from sermon #2 which deals with the Limits of Grace:

Do you think that if we are saved originally by grace that after we are saved by grace God all of the sudden changes the plan? That is, after God saves us ‘while we are yet sinners’ does he continue to save us each day on the basis of our meritorious behavior? Or does God continue to save us each day on the basis of his grace?

If I was saved by grace yesterday, am I any less saved by grace today? So the Scripture agrees: If I am saved by grace before I am Christian I am not less saved by that grace after I become a Christian. I’m not saved because I am a Christian, or because I attend the right church, or perform the right rituals, or because I ‘go to church on Sundays.’ I am saved by the grace of God. Period.

I hope you will find the sermons helpful and encouraging. Feel free to leave your comments and let me know what you think. I’ll be finished with the series on Suffering and Evil in about three weeks then, as I said above, I’ll be preaching a short series on grace. I’ll be posting all these sermons here. If you would ever like a CD copy of a sermon you read here, just let me know.

Soli Deo Gloria!

jerry