Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews’
Several years ago I became rather obsessed with the book in the New Testament we call 'Hebrews.' I don't remember the exact dates off the top of my head, I just remember catching a glimpse of it one day (I think I may have been reading N.T. Wright's book Following Jesus) and then diving in deeper until I absolutely fell in love with the short letter. Aside from those concerning chapter 11, I have heard very few sermons from Hebrews–which is a shame. It's a beautiful book in every way and, in my opinion, not terribly difficult to interpret.
Well, of course there are some parts that are difficult to understand and which might call for some more nuanced explanations, but I think if a person reads the book slowly and looks for some key clues in context (which are rather easy to find in our English Bibles), then the book begins to make sense in every way. And the truth is, I'd love to share that with you and perhaps someday I will. Tonight though I'd just like to focus for a minute on the particular verse that is kind of my theme verse during this Lenten season.
"And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1b-2)
I kept coming back to this verse today…thinking about Jesus being the author (pioneer; trailblazer) of our faith and why, if this is true, I should 'fix my eyes' on him. Because let's be honest,it's not like I can literally see him no matter how hard I stare and no matter how fixed my eyes become on a particular spot in the sky. It's not that I think Jesus is in the sky, but, well, I guess that's where I have been trained to look for God: up there.
So the questions are something like: How do I fix my eyes on Jesus? and Why do I fix my eyes on Jesus.
I have heard a lot of folks get down on the church or Christianity or even Jesus. They have things to say like, "Oh you are just running away from your problems." Or, "You are just avoiding all the lousy stuff in the world." Stuff like that. But I don't think that's it at all. The book of Hebrews does not say we are running away from anything–but we are running to someone. Just because we are running to someone doesn't mean we are running from anything though. I look at all that went on in the life of Jesus, his apostles, his saints…they were hardly escapists practicing escapism. I think the key is found in the first word of chapter 12: Therefore.
The word 'therefore' follows closely on the heels of everything that was written in the 'great faith chapter', Hebrews 11 which, interestingly enough, begins with a discussion of faith: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for" (11:1-2). Oh, so faith is being certain of things we do not see…therefore…fix your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith. Faith is not about not seeing, it's about seeing the right things. Faith is not about blindness, it's about being perfectly sighted. Faith is not being oblivious to what we see or endure in this world, it's about being fully aware that this world is not all there is.
Faith is about knowing where to look. Faith is about knowing to whom we look. Faith is about being able to discern who gives us hope and who does not. I find it not one bit ironic or strange that the author of Hebrews then points us to the one place where there is absolutely no historical doubt: Jesus was crucified. Of there there is not one shred of doubt–except from the sort of people who would not have faith anyhow. Yet because of this crucifixion we have faith that sees beyond this culture of death we have created–the world walks hand in hand with the devil who comes to 'kill, steal, and destroy.' Don't mistake it; it's all around us. Yet we are among those who do not fear death, even though we fear it, because we fix our eyes on Jesus.
Like when Stephen was being stoned to death in Acts 7: "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." That is faith! Faith that sees.
So look at all of chapter 11 and see the sort of trouble all those saints got into precisely because they refused to look anywhere but Jesus. For example, "By faith, Moses, when he had grown up refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy a season of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible." Amazing…Moses had eyes powerful enough to see someone who is invisible!
Faith isn't about 'blind-leaps'; faith is about being able to see beyond what normal eyes can see. Faith has eyes to see things at a distance and welcome them. Faith has eyes to see a better city, a better land than the one we live in now. Faith has eyes to see beyond the destruction of the flesh. Faith looks forward to a better resurrection. Faith has eyes to see Jesus…even amidst the clutter and culture of death that surround us.
You see, I think what I've been learning is this: it is terribly difficult to go through life with eyes that scatter all around–like Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter books whose crazy eye was constantly zipping this way and that. Life doesn't function so well when that's what we are doing with our eyes. Our eyes need to be fixed on Jesus–the pioneer, trailblazer, architect, author and perfecter of our faith. I think sometimes I work too hard trying to muster up faith and I get discouraged when I fail. I'm always looking around trying to catch a glimpse of what faith looks like, heroic faith, radical faith. And people, some people, make a living telling the rest of us what real faith looks like. And then we try to recreate that faith in ourselves.
We don't need radical faith. We don't need heroic faith. We need Jesus. And if that sounds naive and simple, you're welcome.
I'm tired of tips and techniques for mastering faith. I want simple. I want simply to fix my eyes on Jesus because it seems to me if someone else was able to pioneer and perfect our faith we would have been told to fix our eyes on that person. But the author of Hebrews says we are to fix our eyes on Jesus…who understands the faith he calls us to and will perfect that faith in us…because he too endured the cross. He led the way!! He has blazed the trail he asks us to follow. So even if he calls us to 'take up our cross daily, deny ourselves, and follow him' we know he will not fail…and the faith he creates in us will not either.
It's kind of like taking a business model that works in city A and recreating in city B–which has nothing of the demographic markers that city A has and expecting it to work. Or it's like trying to take a model of church growthism and recreating it in another church in another town and expecting it to work the same wonders. All are doomed to failure. Well, here's the thing: I can neither create nor perfect faith…any faith. I simply cannot be entrusted with such a task. It is, and I am, doomed to failure. And so long as I look to myself or to others or all around that faith is doomed to destruction. Only Jesus can create and perfect the sort of faith that I need in my life…the kind of faith that looks beyond the failures and deaths of this world. This kind of faith, the sort spoken of in chapter 11, is resurrection faith. It's faith in Jesus, who, "shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Faith is not perfected by ignoring what's going on around us, but rather by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus despite all that is going on around us. We fail because we try to create our own faith. We fail because we think we know what faith is and what it looks like. Do we really think self-manufactured faith will be enough to see beyond the deaths of this world? Will our own manufactured faith be enough for us to scorn family like Abraham? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to deny the pleasures of this world like Moses? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to obey God when he asks us to do something ridiculous as he did Noah? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to speak boldly the word of God in the face of death as did the prophets? Will our own manufactured faith be enough to scorn the cross for the joy set before us? Will our own manufactured faith be enough for us to run the race marked out for us?
Do you trust yourself to create and perfect that sort of faith? I don't.
Whatever else this verse teaches me, it teaches me that I absolutely cannot get by a single moment of my life apart from Jesus. And what's more? We fix our eyes on Jesus because…wait for it…because He is our reward…He is the joy set before us….He is the goal of our faith.
And if we fix our eyes on Jesus, then we know exactly where we are going and to whom we are heading. Right? If we are fixed on Jesus, then we have no confusion whatsoever about our path or our destination.
[Feel free to leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.]
I'm kind of stuck in Hebrews 2. I want to move on, but I keep going back to it over and over because I keep seeing something in it that captivates my attention. Today what caught my attention is not so much a 'what' as a 'who.' It's Jesus, of course. Today I noticed something different about the chapter and how the suffering of Jesus stands out boldly, how the suffering of Jesus stands in stark contrast to the work and life of angels.
He said, "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we've heard lest we drift away from it." Now he goes on to give us more details about the contrast between Jesus and angels with a particular focus on the suffering of Jesus.
- 2:9: Jesus was crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death. And in this suffering, he tasted death for everyone. It was by grace, he writes. Jesus took death into himself and spared us.
- 2:10: Jesus was 'made perfect' through suffering. And in this suffering he sanctifies us and calls us brothers.
- 2:14: Jesus partook of death that he might destroy death and the one who holds the power of death, the devil. And in this he delivers those who live in fear of death and in captivity to death.
- 2:17: Jesus was made like us in every way and was a propitiation for our sins. And in this suffering he has become our great high priest before God on our behalf.
- 2:18: Jesus suffered. And in this suffering Jesus is now able to help those of us who also suffer and are tempted.
In chapter 1, we are told Jesus is 'the exact imprint of God…' (1:3). We are told he 'is the radiance of God's glory' (1:3). We are told 'he is superior to angels' (1:4) We are told he is God's last word to the world (1:2). In effect, we are told Jesus is God who created, spoke, made purification for sin, sits at God's right hand, upholds the world, and is the heir of all things. The adjectives and superlatives all point to the supremacy of Jesus and his ultimate greatness. The first four verses of Hebrews are simply grandiose in their exaltation of Jesus, the Son of God.
Then we get to chapter 2 and we see something else. We are told over and over that Jesus suffered. We are told that Jesus is made a little lower than the angels (2:9). This grand figure of 1:1-4, who is far superior to angels in every way (1:5-14) is now a little lower than the angels. In other words, he's like us. And so as one of us, what does Jesus do?
Well, he tastes death. A terrible meal. It's that plate full of green stuff that our parents wanted us to eat as children. Jesus ate it for us. As a man, Jesus tasted death.
Again, he calls us brothers. We have very few friends on earth even if we have many acquaintances. Jesus suffered like us and is not ashamed of us. We sin. We foul up. We make bad choices. Yet Jesus remains steadfast by our side. He will not abandon us.
Then, Jesus shares our flesh in blood and partook of our life. In doing so he destroyed death. He set us free. He helps us. We are without excuse, in a sense. We cannot blame God for not understanding because he does just that: he understands.
Finally, he was made like us in every respect. He is the exact image of God. He is like us in every respect. He gets it. He gets us. And he goes before God and explains us to God. He is a high priest before God explaining to God–as if God doesn't get us–what we need. He is our help precisely because he gets us because he was one of us.
Each time we are told that Jesus is like us, that he shared our flesh, that he represents us, that he suffered and endured all the things we suffer and endure. That thing that Job cried out over and over again, "There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both" (Job 9:33). Jesus is that Arbiter. So what holds us back? What prevents us from trusting him? What stops us from crying out to him?
He eats death like us. He calls us brothers. He sets us free from fear. He suffers like us. He helps us. All because he became like us, we are not alone. He is with us. All the time. All the time. He is with us.
This is the third in a series of preliminary sermons I have preached from the book of Hebrews during Lent. You can download the manuscripts at my box.net (I have provided the links.) I will be preaching through the entire book starting in May 2009.
Sermon one is: Listening to and Thinking about Jesus
Sermon two is: Resting in and Holding Fast to Faith
Sermon three is: Growing in Jesus and our Understanding of His Work
Sunday, March 15, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 3
The Book of Hebrews
This past Wednesday evening we talked for a few minutes about Matthew 24-25 and Jesus’ long answer to the disciples question, ‘when will it happen, what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?’ So the disciples essentially asked three questions.
When will ‘it’ happen is the first question they ask. By this I assume the ‘it’ refers to the statement Jesus made ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’
The other two questions they ask seemingly come out of nowhere and yet, for some reason, the disciples must have associated the ‘it’ with the ‘coming’ and the ‘end.’ And it certainly appears that Jesus was not averse to answering all three questions as if they were related to one another even if we happen to be somewhat confused about why they would associate the ‘coming’ and the ‘end’ with the ‘it.’
Well, I’m revisiting that conversation from Wednesday evening so that I can bring up an article that I also made more than a passing reference to. In his essay The Coming Evangelical Collapse [you can find this by searching at Christian Science Monitor–jerry] blogger Michael Spencer wrote:
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the “Protestant” 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I’m convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.
I have a friend who is skeptical of Mr Spencer’s claims. I think I told you Wednesday that I don’t particularly care one way or another about the collapse of a major, in my opinion defunct and corrupt political institution; I do care about the local church.
Then yesterday I got a couple of books in the mail. I glanced through the first couple pages of one book because the forward is written by my hero Eugene Peterson. When he writes, I read. He wrote, then, in the book Christianity Beyond Belief: Following Jesus for the Sake of Others, words very similar to those of Mr Spencer:
We live in a country that is becoming less and less Christian by the day. People who make a living compiling statistics on these kinds of things tell us that we have an epidemic of people leaving the church. Recently I was told that one of these pollsters has concluded that nonbelievers are the fastest growing ‘faith’ group in America. The alarm has been sounded and panic is widespread. There is considerable finger-pointing at the failure of the church to stanch the hemorrhage of membership. (9)
We can deduce, from these two readings, that there is a significant problem with the church in America. Frankly, I think the damage is done and there is very little that can be done to stop the bleeding on a national level. With some giving us ten years and others suggesting that it has already come upon us, who knows what the next step really is.
Here is where the book of Hebrews, I believe, makes strong inroads into the wound that we have undoubtedly been the cause of. I shudder to think what the church would be like if the Gospel hadn’t been so watered down in a previous generation. But the very thing that the church thought was its measure of success, was actually its very undoing. Thus it seems the church thought it could afford to scale back on the things that the Gospel seems to suggest we most certainly cannot afford to scale back on-such things as, Gospel content, the faith once delivered, core doctrines, and foundational beliefs.
But I submit to you that we have allowed certain aspects to become so watered down and we have paid such close attention to those who would undo the Gospel with skepticism and lies that we have no foundation upon which to stand. This is why I am fond of saying that once Genesis 1:1 is done away with, nothing else really matters. Genesis 1:1 is foundational. You can say, Genesis through Deuteronomy is the Bible and everything else is commentary. But you get my point, once we have reduced the stories to mere local myth, upon what will we stand?
Into this the author of Hebrews has insisted on an allegiance to those very stories ‘we have heard’ in order to prevent the very thing that Spencer and Peterson (among others) warn us of. If we fail to listen, fail to pay attention, fail to hold on to the faith we once confessed, we will drift away; slowly, but surely. Or we will ‘fall short’ of the intended and expected goal. And how, in chapter 6, as we encounter our 5th ‘imperative’, we see that the results might be even more disastrous.
5. The fifth marker found along the way is in chapter 6, verse 1: “Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity…”
Well, the first thing that stands out to me about this passage is that if there are ‘elementary teachings’ there must be elementary teachers. It seems to me that there must have been teachers in the church who were content to continue wrangling over the same foundational teachings over and over again. Well, don’t misunderstand, I think it is terribly important for there to be foundational teachings in the church. I also believe we should revisit those teachings periodically in order that we don’t forget (‘listen to’) what we have been taught. But I also think it incredibly naïve to think we can stay in those places. Why? Because then we never mature.
And so the author here says something like this: You are babes. You are stuck on milk and cereal. You need to be teachers now, but in fact you are still itty-bittys when it comes to the faith. I can’t even begin to teach you about meat, and righteousness, and the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. You haven’t constantly trained yourselves in the Word so as to be able to sufficiently tell the difference between good and evil. Listen to The Message translation of chapter 5:11-6:3:
I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one-baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong.
1-3So come on, let’s leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal judgment. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more. Let’s get on with it!
The gist of what the author of Hebrews is saying is this: We need to grow up in Christ and to do this we must progress in our learning and understanding of the work that He did. What happens if we don’t grow up? Look at verse 6: “…and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.:” Now I’m not going to unpack all that because for now it is enough to say that the person who refuses to grow up will eventually ‘fall away.’ This is no mere ‘drifting away.’ This could mean ‘to commit apostasy.’ It is, at minimum, a radical departure from the faith.
Sunday, March 1, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews
The Book of Hebrews
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.”
“The book of Hebrews offers us, quite simply, Jesus. It offers us the Jesus who is there to help because he’s one of us, and has trodden the path before us. It offers us the Jesus who has inaugurated the new covenant, bringing to its fulfillment the age-old plan of God. And it offers us, above all, Jesus the final sacrifice; the one who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, who has lived our life and died our death, and now ever lives to make intercession for us.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 10)
The book of Hebrews begins by reminding us that God spoke, both in the past in various ways and with various means, and in the present in Christ Jesus. This is not an odd way to begin a book that has so many things to say about the finality of God’s voice in Jesus. In these last days, God has spoken to us. He has raised his voice above the din and clutter of noise that is all the other voices so easily heard, and clamoring to be hear, and He spoke. To us.
I am here stuck in the same awe that renowned theologian Karl Barth was stuck in: God spoke to us. Us! He desired that we hear his voice. He desired, and desires, that we engage him in active listening and active speaking. God’s word to us is not mere monologue: we pray, and sing, and worship in any variety of ways. William Willimon notes, “Who is the human being? Someone who is ‘summoned by this Word.’ Our great, God-given dignity is that God wants to talk to us. God speaks to us and what God says is, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’” (166) The essence of our existence is that God took initiative and spoke to us!
But Willimon makes another point too, and perhaps an even more important point about what we hear, what our task is as hearers, and our role as speakers:
“Knowledge of God is always in Barth linked to the call of God, communication and disclosure are always linked to commission and call, and revelation divinely given is linked to obedient human response. Our challenge, as preachers, is not to master God’s word but rather to develop the skills to listen to God without despising God for speaking to us. The God of the Bible who speaks is the God who commands and one wonders if many of our hermeneutical and homiletical strategies are designed to manage that command. For Barth, every single verse of scripture is a potential act of vocation. The question to be put to any of God’s three forms of proclamation is never simply, ‘Do I understand?’ or certainly not, ‘Do I agree?’ but rather, ‘How am I being called to change and commit through this word?’” (165)
So the book of Hebrews, as we call it, begins here with “God spoke.” This is the most radical thing God can do and did. He spoke to us in Jesus, his Son. Everything else flows from here and everything else said in the book only makes sense when we accept that God has spoken, in these last days, through his son. We have to get into our heads first who spoke and and how (in the Son) then we can get into our heads what he spoke and then we can try to understand why he spoke it. I think at some level, though, we hear his commands (‘what he spoke’) merely for what they are. They are words with a certain emphasis placed on them, perhaps an imperative, but as a command we are to act out under his watch they are perhaps nonsensical.
Radical Christianity, radical Scripture, Radical God is not for anyone and everyone. It is for those called together by this Son who is the exact character of God in the flesh. And Hebrews offers no apologies for taking such a radical approach to lived out faith. I’m not suggesting that only a few are invited. I think the invitation is wide open to any and all who hear and obey. What I am suggesting is that as we read through the book of Hebrews we hear the voice of God saying to us: Buckle up. It’s not going to be an easy go of things. You will be challenged at every step to turn back and quit. That is where I would like to break into this letter tonight and show you several major stops along the path that is Hebrews.
This book is filled with some of the most profound theology and Old Testament biblical exegesis in the entire canon. However, along the way, the author periodically stops and looks back in order that he might point forward. The call is radical: radical indeed. He speaks for a moment or two on some important issue, and that issue is always the superiority of Jesus or the better nature of the Jesus work, and then he challenges the reader. He marks off these challenges with the word ‘therefore’. There are eleven of these markers found in Hebrews. Let’s begin.
1. The first marker is found in chapter 2:1: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”
What must we pay attention to? God spoke. We have to pay attention to what we hear from Christ who now speaks to us in these last days. He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Fact is, we cannot afford to not pay attention. There are many, many voices clamoring for our attention. The basis of our listening and paying attention is that Jesus is ‘superior angels’ and has ‘inherited a name that is superior.’ Therefore, we must pay attention. He warns us here that if we do not pay attention we will ‘drift away.’ We will be like a boat that has lost its tether and floats off out into the ocean where it can be tossed about by every wind and wave and storm that comes up.
26Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” 28Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
Moses v. Jesus. The world v. God. That’s what it amounts to doesn’t it? Can it be any other way? No. Sadly it cannot be any other way. These folks that the formerly blind man spoke with that day said: ‘You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses!’ Later on, in this same Gospel, they would say this: ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ There is essentially nothing different in these two statements. This is the point I have been trying to make to one of my friends, an atheist, who has visited here. He says that, I’m paraphrasing here, that he serves no god because he doesn’t believe in God. I have tried to point out to him that he is serving a god he just doesn’t acknowledge that he, himself, is the god he’s serving.
Jesus said, ‘No one can serve two masters. He will hate the one and love the other or love one and hate the other.’ Now Jesus was specifically referring to God and mammon, but there is nothing to say this doesn’t apply to God v. anything else. The Apostle James said in his short letter, ‘You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think the Scripture says without reason that the spirit he cause to live in us envies intensely.’
So what are we to do? Should we seek balance? Should we despise this life? Should we be repulsed by everything we see? Is it really ‘us versus them’? Paul said it to: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. And God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, NIV)
But they also said it in the Old Testament, “Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua (Joshua 24) makes it quite plane that everyone will serve someone. We will either serve the gods we create or the God who created us. But it is impossible for it to be both ways.
Now here’s what I’d like to say about this, if only briefly. Too many churches are trying to serve both. I noted yesterday a church that has bought an amusement park. I know a church that bought a golf course. There are other churches doing all such similar things. When church does such things, what are we teaching Christians to do? What are we saying to the world about the manner in which we want to live? What are we saying to the world about what we think of the Biblical charge to not live like the world? But what I think is this: Christians are too busy setting up shop here on earth. I think the church is far too busy setting up a residence here, getting comfortable here, making this the place where all of our bliss is derived from: Meanwhile, the Son of Man lived the life of a transient, a passer-through, a pilgrim, a stranger, and an alien.
For some time I have, as a preacher, lived in a church parsonage. There are a lot of advantages, and some disadvantages. My wife and I have given serious consideration to buying a house because, as life advances, the church parsonage is becoming a thing outdated and impractical. Then I got to thinking about it one day. It’s not just the church ‘giving’ me a place to live ‘free of charge’ (there are still social security taxes associated with parsonage living!). Instead, it is a sort of parable to the congregation and the world. It’s a ways of saying, ‘I’m not getting to friendly with this world, I’m not getting too attached.’ It’s a parabolic way of saying to the people of the church, and the community where I live: ‘I’m looking forward to a home not built with human hands.’ It’s a way of living that emulates Abraham, “By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city, with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10, NIV).
And also, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16 NIV).
It’s a way of avoiding the sort of friendship with the world that involves making any permanent connection with the world. When it’s time to go, I have no attachments.
My question is this: Why befriend the world? Why cozy up to it? Is it so that we can gain something that the world has to offer? Is it to prevent ourselves from ‘getting tossed’? Is it to maintain some sort of standing before the world in the hopes that the world might be our friend? At the end of this round of questioning, the man, the same one who had blistered these smart ‘disciples of Moses’ with his quick wit, gets himself thrown out of their presence, and, presumably, the synagogue. His parents had faired much better. But this guy, this one who has still, in the narrative, yet to see Jesus, stood his ground and saw something much better than mere membership in club synagogue. He saw Jesus and he was content to wait on Jesus. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” (John 20:9).
Whose friend are you?
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.
16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” 20″You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?” 21Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? 24Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”
Suffice it to say that I have not written for a while. I feel badly about that. I have been at camp, and on vacation, and working a week prior to camp trying to accomplish two weeks worth of work in one week. I should be back on schedule now, and gladly. I have missed musing over John’s Gospel and sharing with you those musings. So, John 7.
Sometimes people asked Jesus questions and he did not really answer their question (see chapters 13-17) but instead offered some other explanation or monologue on some seemingly unrelated topic. Here, however, things are a bit different. Someone asked Jesus a question (“How did this man get such learning without having studied?”) and Jesus answered directly: “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.” In other words, he didn’t need to study. That is, what man could possibly provide him with what he was saying? His words are not the mere repetitions of what other humans have said, nor are they there mere regurgitation of rules taught by men that have no real authoritative backing—because those who teach them don’t obey them. His teaching comes not even from a ‘higher authority,’ as if God were an authority just above that of man, and his teachings were only slightly elevated.
This teaching is not even some sort of undemanding informational enterprise designed to make us more intelligent, wiser, or more fulfilled. If it were that, well then I suppose it would be the teaching of men. I think what Jesus says here points to this teaching being quite beyond a simple infomercial for God. In fact, this is God’s revelation. Jesus is not simply relating information; he is revealing the heart of God. He is, again, not just passing along useful hash. There is an urgency to his revelation that we ignore to our detriment. What Jesus says, “He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” Take note, he says, of what I am saying because I am not saying this stuff for my sake, but for yours: that you may test and approve God’s will. If Jesus was (and he was!) opening his mouth and God was speaking through it then we need to be paying close(r) attention to what he (God) is saying. What will become of us if we ignore him? “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Don’t ignore the words of Jesus.
The problem with Jesus is this: Many people think he was only a fount of wisdom as if God came down to earth simply to make us smarter people. Did God come down to impart to us a wisdom that could propel us into the higher ranks of academia? Or did God come down to impart to us a wisdom that would make us wise unto salvation, wise to His will, wise to our desperation apart from Him and His intervention? “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us the wisdom of God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Or, “God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). Too many, however, stop at ‘Jesus the wisdom…’ and never get to the point of ‘righteousness, holiness, and redemption.’ But what is wisdom if we remain lost? What good are smarts in hell?
Paul went on in Corinthians to say this: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). This is exactly what John said at the beginning of his Gospel: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” Jesus did not come to merely impart to us wisdom in the sense that we think of wisdom: Stacks of papers, posters mounted on plaques on our study walls, loads of letters behind our names. No. That’s not why Jesus taught; that’s not what he taught. He points out to his audience, his accusers, that he is what they are not: consistent or Right.
They were anxious to kill him because he taught what was in accord with God—nay, he taught the perfect will of God and it was precisely this that offended them! Isn’t that ironic? But these very people would break the Law in order to preserve the Law. Ironic, isn’t it? And these very people, those ones so concerned about Jesus’ academic credentials were ready to kill him because he did on the Sabbath to a whole man what they did on the Sabbath to one part, that is, healed. He calls them on it: “Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?” He tells them in no uncertain terms that they are hypocrites unable to make a correct judgment. Ironic, isn’t it, that the most learned among us have the most trouble grasping the most obvious truths?
I read the following statement at an on-line forum:
After taking 5 organic chemistry courses I could envision the chemical proceses (sic.) needed to make organic life without God’s help. Isn’t the reason a high percentage of scientist are atheist because they have leaned a lot more that the average person? Many scientist still believe in God for emotional reasons, or to fit in a society that considers non-believers immoral. It takes knowledge, intelligence, and a bit of imagination to understand evolution. But to “understand” God all it takes is blind faith. (www.amazon.com, religion forum)
I think this was the problem with those who intellectually accosted Jesus that day. They were interested in information, not transformation. Jesus did not come to this earth to dispense information like a Pez-dispenser dispenses candy. Jesus came to this earth and revealed God both in his person and in his preaching. And thus they were offended at him, at his teaching, and at his credentials. I guess they thought that because he didn’t sit at their feet and study that they had a monopoly on teachers and what could be taught by those teachers. This is yet another of those instances when the brilliance of God simply overwhelms me: It is precisely because it is from God that I cling to it. It is precisely because no man can lay claim to it that it is overpowering. “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” It is the very fact of what Jesus said, the manner he said it, and the ones he said it to that persuades me that He is who He said He is.
Is it too simplistic to say: You will never know unless and until you taste and see? The gaining of all the wisdom in the world is absolutely meaningless if it doesn’t make us wise unto salvation in Christ. Jesus was not anti-intellectual but neither did he see the point of learning for learning’s sake.
1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4″Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
When I was in college, I took a semester long class on the book of Acts. As part of the semester’s requirements, I had to produce 10 sermon outlines from the book of Acts. Recently, the church secretary was sorting through some of my files and one day, when she wasn’t looking, I snuck a couple of them out of the pile. One of the files I took out contained some old term papers I had written, all 4.0’s I might add, and also those old outlines that I produced for Acts class. My outlines were really bad and I think my professor was being generous when he marked a couple of them with 4’s. One of the 4’s that I received was on Acts 3:1-10. I wrote a pretty good outline, I thought at the time. The points were well made. I followed the flow of the text in the chapter. I thought I had done well until I saw, to the left of the 4.0, my professor’s rather lengthy paragraph written in stunning, glaring, red ink. He wrote:
I’m not sure our asking in prayer is really parallel to the lame man asking for money and receiving something better, but you have done a good job of expanding on a slightly shaky foundation.
Again, a generous 4.0 was given. I didn’t deserve the 4.0. I don’t suppose there are too many college sophomores who ever deserve 4.0’s—especially those sophomores who are learning how to ‘rightly divide the word of God.’ Strange though how after all these years it is the first part of his paragraph that stands out most in my mind. Even without the paper I remembered what he wrote: “I’m not sure our asking in prayer is really parallel to the lame man asking for money and receiving something better…” It’s that ‘something better’ that the author of the book of Hebrews argues, over and over again, that we find in Jesus Christ. It is this ‘something better’ that John illustrates by telling us the story of Jesus turning water into the best wine. It is no accident that Jesus chose six stone water jars that the Jews used for ‘ceremonial washing’ to complete his work. It is no accident that the wine was ‘the best wine’. It was no accident that this wine was ‘saved until after the guests had had too much to drink.’ It was no coincidence that after this sign Jesus errected that pointed to his glory that his disciples ‘put their faith in him.’ “The servants, Jesus’ mother, and his disciples knew, but the text mentions only the disciples as those in whom the sign accomplished its purpose: they ‘believed in him.’”—Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 94
I’d like to take time to say about a million things about this particular episode from the life of Jesus, but I stop short because that ‘something better’ keeps sticking in my head. I cannot get it out of my head, my heart, my eyes, my ears. It’s ringing around in my ears, bouncing on the walls of my skull. Jesus is the ‘something better.’ When that lame man was healed by Peter the ‘something better’ he received was Jesus. That wine that the steward took to the master of the banquet served as a metaphor that something better was at hand, something better than the rules & ceremonial washings of the Jews. It was something generous—filled to the brim! It was something abundant—six jars holding 20 to 30 gallons each! The most prophetic line in the text: “You have saved the best till now,” uttered by some wine steward at a wedding banquet. Ironic. It was something better, not the cold, hard, letter of law; but the warm, human, compassionate Jesus.
The book of Hebrews fills out the picture for us. All you have to do is read through the short letter to see how the author continually points out to the reader that Jesus is the something better that the Scripture hints at over and over again. Here’s the list (complete, I believe) of the something better in Hebrews: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:9); “The former regulation is set side because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God” (Hebrews 7:19); “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22) (See also 8:6, 9:23, 10:34, 11:16, 35, 40, 12:24). The author of Hebrews is convinced that in Jesus everything else takes a distant second seat.
However, I must complain. I think the Christians have, by and large, settled for something far less than the something better. I think Christians have been sold down the river by preachers offering health and riches and cars and televisions and satisfaction with so much of life here on earth instead of preaching, simply, that in Jesus there is something better. Where is the holy dissatisfaction with this earth? Where is the longing and groaning for a better resurrection in Christ? Where is the despising of flesh and the longing for Christ? Where are the fervent prayers for Christ to hasten his return? Where is the conviction that Christ is Better and the living out of such a conviction? And those who have rejected Christ out of hand are missing out too, but I don’t have time to document their misery. It’s bad enough documenting the misery of the church.
Jesus is not just something better. He is Someone Better. I can’t get that out of my head. Of all that there is, Jesus is Better. Why isn’t the church convinced of this?
I hope your 7th Day of 90 with Jesus is blessed by your reading of His Word.
Read this article from WorldNetDaily.com:
Think you got it bad here in America? Think your church stinks? Think you’re not getting anything out of the worship on Sundays? Read this article.
“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering”–Hebrews 13:3 NIV
Forsyth wrote, “The evil world will not win at last, because it failed to win at the only time it every could. It is a vanquished world where men play their devilries. Christ has overcome it. It can make tribulation, but desolation it can never make.” (The Justification of God, 223)
I don’t happen to think this world is all that scary. Well, yes I do. Mostly the people in the world are the ones that I find difficult to fathom. No one wants to listen to me when I say that we should be paying attention to the sort of, kind of, faith we are practicing in these last and evil days. There may be a time upon us soon when all we have is our faith. I wonder if we have made our preparations. Have we stored our treasures in the right place? Have we wisely considered whose side we wish to belong to? There are two sides and only one side can win, only one side will win and that is the side that has already won. There’s no contest. There may be a skirmish, and people may be wounded, but for the already lost side, it is a meaningless gesture, and a gesture only.
I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding me on this point. Jesus said, “You will have troubles in the world, but take heart: I have overcome the World.” Forsyth wisely points out that Jesus said this before He went to Golgotha. He had already conquered: The Lamb slain from the foundations of the earth. So, then, we are not living in a world that is bound for overcoming or that we need to tame. No, we live in a world that is already overcome. Of course, if we are united with Christ, we are more than conquerors. How can we be, if we are united with Him, anything else? But when he says we are more than conquerors, I don’t think he merely means that we are going to overwhelmingly conquer. He can’t be because the conqueroring has already been done on our behalf by the Only One who could conquer. I think what he is saying is that there is so much more too us than perhaps we have imagined.
Of course he says we are ‘hyper-conquerors.’ And, of course, he says that nothing shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. However, I think He also means for us to understand that our identity is not limited to or by this conquering or even defined by it. He speaks of us in that chapter as saved, justified, glorified, predestined, conformed to the likeness of His Son, children, co-heirs with Christ, heirs of God, resurrected, Spirit-filled, Alive, free, Sons, adopted, Redeemed and loved. Well of course we are more than conquerors. And we are a thousand things beside.
We are also bought. This God who saves and redeems did so at his own expense: He did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all. We are not really conquerors. We are along for the ride. I know what Paul is saying, but I also know what he is not saying. If we are saved, if we conquer, it is certainly not because of ourselves. It is because God did not spare His own Son. Jesus is the Overcomer and the world is already condemned. There is no fear for those who know this and believe it by faith.
So then we are living in victory and because of victory and not necessarily for victory. We live from the victory that has already been secured for us by the Son of God. Time it is, then, for Christians to stop acting and living and preaching like we need some other sort of victory, or something more than the victory already gained for us in the Cross. We are not reaching out to take hold of something that we created along the way or some treasure that we have stored up for ourselves. We are reaching out to take hold of that which has been secured and established and promised by Christ Himself in the cross.
Jesus has already dismantled the powers of evil exposing them to public humiliation in the cross. Jesus has already disrupted the world struggle for power. Jesus has already guaranteed the complete desolation of all that this world believes is the goal worth achieving. Jesus has already devastated all those petty kingdoms and fiefdoms that ruler after ruler struggles to control. The redemption of the world has already been secured in Christ Jesus at Golgotha, in the Cross at Calvary. That is the victory that we claim, we cling to, and that we should be clamoring after each moment. This is how we overcome the world: Knowing that Christ has already done so.
I will be working on the above passage for a few hours today. So as I did the other day I will be sharing a few thoughts as I go along. I will begin with a mind-blowing statement from PT Forsyth. He puts into words the nature of the work of Jesus on the Cross–that is, just exactly who it was that went to the cross and suffered our shame and disgrace.
“Christ went to His death in His function as King, not to become King.” (PT Forsyth, The Justification of God, 176)
Here is our King! Here is Our God! (DCB)
Can we fathom this? Can we comprehend the depth and nature of the cross? Can we begin to even approach this? This statement by Forsyth rearranges everything we have understood about Jesus ‘who died for our sins.’ He did so much more that merely die for our sins. “Their belief in Christ is impaired for want of a belief in the Satan that Christ felt it His supreme conflict to counter-work and destroy” (175). This is part of what Hebrews says below.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18).
Vs 15: We are not meant to be slaves of fear or death or slaves of the fear of death. The death of Christ has rendered death a moot point. Death is no longer an option for those who have partaken of Christ. (John also speaks of this in his Gospel.) It’s not just that the Kingdom is something future that we look forward to, and its not just that eternal life is something future that we look forward to. These have begun in earnest with the coronation (v 9) of Jesus on the Cross. Eternity is now. The Future is present. Our hope is not for the future only but for the present.
Vs 18: ‘He is able’ is more like ‘he is powerful’ to help us. Why can he help us? Because in every way he has been like us, and yet without sin. He understands us: Cast all your cares on him for he cares for you. He is able, powerful, to help because he wants to help us. Perhaps there are times when we simply don’t believe he can, but probably more often it is that we don’t think he wants to help us. But these passages go on to say that he was made like us for this very purpose: To Help us. Not only, then, is Jesus the Pathfinder, he is our Helper, our Everpresent Help in times of trouble. What the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 46:
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (NIV)
- He is The Final Authority (v 8—everything is subject to him)
- He is The King (v 9—crowned with glory and honor)
- He is The Destroy (v 9b—He tasted death for everyone)
- He is The Author of Salvation (v 10—see below)
- He is The Perfector of men (v 11—He makes men Holy)
- He is The Conqueror of the devil (v 14)
- He is The Liberator of the Captives (v 15—set free those slaves in fear of death)
- He is The Helper (v 16—He helps Abraham’s seed)
- He is The Merciful and Faithful High Priest (v 17)
- He is the Pathfinder, Trailblazer (v 10—in bringing many sons to glory)
- He is our Helper (v 18—because he was tempted like us)
I began all this by noting that Forsyth says these things are possible not to make Jesus King but because He already is King. None of these things are possible for a mere human being, nor a mere prophet. Jesus Is far more than someone who ‘came along’ that we can ignore. We cannot ignore what Jesus has done. We cannot avoid making a judgment about Him. We cannot go some place he is not and think we can hide from His judgment. No. This King Jesus cannot be silenced. When the King makes His entrance all eyes will be turned to Him, all attention will be confiscated by His Majesty, all ears are tuned to His Majestic Trumpet Voice, all knees bow, all tongues confess That Jesus is King, Lord and Messiah.
I’m working late tonight. I have some exegetical work to do for Bible School on Sunday. As I go along in the work tonight I’m going to drop some notes here sort of as practice. These are all preliminary thoughts and may or may not mean anything in particular at the moment.
2:9: τὸν δὲ βραχύ τι παρ᾿ ἀγγέλους ἠλαττωμένον βλέπομεν ᾿Ιησοῦν διὰ τὸ πάθημα τοῦ θανάτου δόξῃ καὶ τιμῇ ἐστεφανωμένον, ὅπως χάριτι Θεοῦ ὑπὲρ παντὸς γεύσηται θανάτου.
“In putting everything under him, God left nothign that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to Him” (v 8).
PT Forsyth wrote in The Justification of God: “It is not easy to believe that the Kingdom of God is the greatest Empire now in the world—and especially at present it is hard. But faith’s greatest conquest of the world is to believe, on the strength of Christ’s Cross, that the world has been overcome, and that the nations which rage so furiously are still in the leash of the redeeming God…Must we not go on to find and trust in the Cross something more absolute even than universal, something which does not simply promise the final victory, but achieves it, something which is the crucial act of the world’s King, and not simply an act which ought to make Him that King, if right had might. Has he not only value for us but right, nor only right but equal might? Is the last enemy already destroyed in the Cross? Is the last victory won? Are all things already put under the feet of God’s love and grace? Have we in the Cross of Christ the crisis of all spiritual existence? The Christian religion stands or falls with the answer Yes to such questions. In His Cross, Resurrection and Pentecost, Christ is the Son of God’s love with power. God’s love is the principle and power of all being. It is established in Christ everywhere and forever. Love so universal is also absolute and final. The world is His, whether in maelstrom or volcano, whether it sink to Beelzebub’s grossness or rise to Lucifer’s pride and culture. The thing is done, it isnot to do. ‘Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ ‘This is the victory which has overcome the world—your faith.’ The only teleology is a theodicy, and the only theodicy is theological and evangelical.”—158, 166-167
Well, he says more too. But here’s the point he’s making: The fact of evil in the world (his perspective was WW I) does not negate God’s already victory. Hebrews says ‘all things’ have been put under his feet even if we do not see all things yet subject to him. This does not negate the already, final victory of Jesus Messiah—in the Cross. In the cross the world’s kingdoms are complete incapacitated, completely rendered eternally impotent. They cannot last. They cannot stand. They are struck dumb and destroyed. How can anything of this world last if the greatest power, death, has already succumbed to his Victory at the Cross? So when the world seems to be getting the upper hand, when the world seems to be winning, when the world’s kingdoms seem to triumph over Messiah, the One Enthroned in Heaven laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. They don’t even know in their lust for power, in their thirst for acquisition, in their ambitious thrusts of terror that they are already judged, already defeated, already lost. They have nothing more to gain.
Revelation 1:4-5: “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
Concerning the phrase, ‘…should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering…’ Leon Morris who wrote, “…for Christians, as for their Master, there is a perfection in suffering. Little as we may like them, the fires of affliction are the place in which qualities of Christian character are forged. No one wants to suffer. No only looks forward to suffering. But the Christian cannot regard suffering as an unmitigated evil. He can agree that it is an evil, but he knows also that, borne in the right spirit, it is the means of increasing Christlikeness” (quoted in Brown, 62 from The Cross in the New Testament, 281.)
F F Bruce wrote: “The pathway to perfection which his people must tread must first be trodden by the Pathfinder.”
Clearly there is more to these passages that one can imagine. I could parse every verb and split every infinitive. We could diagram the sentences and imagine how much we have still missed. The suffering of Christ is quite remarkable in what it has accomplished not only for those who believe but for the entire cosmos. He tastes death for everyone. He is made perfect in suffering. He is crowned with glory and honor in his death. He destroyed the one who holds the power of death. He freed those who are held captive by their fear of death. He is able to help us because he suffered like us. He made atonement for our sins. He became a merciful high priest. These verses say more about the death of Jesus Messiah than we have time to fully understand in a given lifetime. What an amazing God to send His Son–to understand the ones he desires to save.
I’m ready to enjoy these thoughts for a while. I’ll close with these thoughts from Andrew Murray: “What the suffering and the death effected in Christ personally, in perfecting His character, is the groundwork of what it effected on our behalf. It was needful that God should make Him perfect through suffering; the perfectness that comes through suffering is meekness and gentleness, patience and perfect resignation to God’s will. It was because of the humility and meekness and lowliness of heart, which the Lamb of God showed here upon earth, that He is now the Lamb on the throne. Through suffering He was made perfect, and found worthy to be our High Priest.”
Thanks for stopping by.