LOVE HELD HIM THERE

Christ did not die to remove us from evil by taking us to heaven. Christ died to destroy the power of evil within us. When Christ came to earth he brought the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In the death of Christ the power of evil was defeated. As the Gospel of John explains:  ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:3,4 (ESV) Paul writes similarly in Colossians 1:13; 14: ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’

Jesus did on the cross what Israel of old could not do- be faithful to God and to God’s project of redemption for all creation. Israel had succumbed to evil inclinations and rebellion against God. And so God in Jesus comes to defeat that evil, not Israel but the forces and principalities of darkness. Romans 8:3: ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh’. God wanted a relationship with God’s people. They wanted something more and so they got the LAW through which evil was happy to exert its powers. And then God in Jesus lured evil to its demise and stripped it of its power. Now through Christ the relationship of love has been established for good.

At the cross of Christ all the political and religious forces as well as the power of evil converged upon Jesus to rid the world of God’s saving love. But there on Calvary those forces of evil were led to defeat by God’s love. In the words of theologian N.T. Wright, Jesus bears the taint of evil, taking it away by exhausting its power.

It brings to mind the tactic of a boxer who allows himself to be pummeled by his opponent until his opponent is so exhausted that he is able to be defeated.

Evil tries its best to destroy our relationship with God like it did to Jesus in the Temptation in the Wilderness. God’s love gave Jesus and us a free will to love God or resist God and give room for evil. And the number one tool of evil is PRIDE. It is the living space in which evil thrives. But we need to know that evil cannot ‘take’ power. It can only be given power. Oh, it may whisper in the halls of Congress, on the battlefield, in relationships and in the courts of justice. It may utter a quiet invitation to walk away from God but the real power resides in the weakness of our surrender to Christ, trusting in his faithfulness. And that surrender in this world is necessary every day. It is a surrender to love, a love that never fails.

IT WAS LOVE, NOT THE NAILS THAT HELD JESUS TO THE CROSS. (Anonymous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

God in our Sufferings

Martin Luther once suggested that the deepest revelation of the character of God is in the weakness, suffering and death on the cross.

This is the exact opposite of where humanity expected to find God. Even today some Christians expect to find God in the success of economics or the victory over such enemies as the leaders of North Korea.  Such was the expectation of the people of God in the first century. But it was not to be, at least not with Messiah Jesus.

Two verses stand out to me. One is where Paul tells the early church that most importantly he wants them to know “Christ crucified” 1Corinthians 2:2. And I am thinking of the other place where Paul, in the midst of his own suffering, hears from God, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness” 2Corinthians 12:9.

So it got me to thinking. We are looking in all the wrong places for answers to our own suffering, for making sense of our sufferings and even our weaknesses. Christ on the cross is in the sufferings of the world. Look how the prophet writes it, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah 53:4. Stop there. Christ on the cross is literally carrying within himself the sorrows of the world and not only that but also our sins (in the next verse). That whole chapter is filled with the sufferings of the Christ and it’s in those places of weakness that Christ is in most intimate contact with us and we with him.

The prophet even writes at one point that what was seen was a Messiah being despised and rejected, not a victorious King. Even in the book of Revelation when Christ is referred to as the Lion of Judah, John turns and sees not the King of Beasts but rather “a lamb that appeared as though slain” (Revelation 5). This is the Christ who identifies with this suffering world.

And I believe that the Christ who suffered is the Father, Son, and Spirit all uniting with the world in its suffering, even now during these devastating hurricanes and their aftermath. It’s in the pain of the world that our Lord bears with us. We cannot speak of the ‘glory of the Lord’ without the ‘Christ crucified’. Love, the feeling as well as the knowledge, is most manifest in weakness. It’s what unites Christ with us and we with him. Certainly there is love in joy and happiness, and lots of money (just kidding). But look what happened to Christ on the cross as he died. He surrendered his soul, his spirit to his Father. “Father into thy hands I commit my spirit” Luke 23:46. And the Revolution and Restoration of the world began. God working in the rubble of the tragedy of that day in the most loving way our God chooses to work.

The other day I was in what might be called ‘existential despair’. In other words, I was feeling crappy about life, things that were happening or not happening. My wife could tell, probably by the way I walked past her with my head hung down and muttering to myself. Well, the next morning upon awakening I prayed fervently just to surrender to God with the sense that my life was in God’s hands. I got up with a sense of connectedness to God and later got a big hug from my wife and life seemed different, better. C.S. Lewis writes that while God whispers to us in our pleasures, God shouts to us in our pain. I guess that means that we are more open to God’s voice in our sufferings although I think it was Elijah who most clearly heard God through a ‘whisper’. (Elijah was in a dark place in those days.)

It was the quietness on Golgotha that captured the attention of the world, when a ‘slain’ lamb changed our relationship with God. God was in ‘that Christ’ reconciling the world to God’s own being. I am pretty sure that God is reconciling the WHOLE WORLD but blessed are those who know it.

I am not a fan of weakness and sorrow nor is God. Perhaps that’s why Christ takes it into himself, not just once but until there is a new heaven and hearth. He is telling us of his love for us. He could not escape the tragic death of the cross because we cannot escape the sorrows of our own lives.

Pascal once wrote that Jesus would be in agony until the end of the world. That is so that every one of us can know that Jesus won’t rest as long as he is bearing in his own soul, the soul of God, our particular sorrows, sin and sufferings. We are ‘in Christ’ in the most organic and intimate sense.

 

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

I can’t help but think that in our overthrowing one particular evil in a region of the world another more monstrous evil was perpetuated.

I am not sure of the exact application of these next words but they are worth considering. “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Jesus tells us ‘not to resist evil’ (Matthew 5:39). I have to wonder why this is so. Perhaps we don’t truly know what real evil is or how it is born. Perhaps only God knows. So Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray to the Father, ‘deliver us from evil.’

It is constructive to notice that Jesus in surrendering to evil was thereby the victor through his resurrection. The early Christians faced their deaths rather than ‘fight’ with worldly weapons against evil.

And then I love this verse, which so strengthens my allegiance to Jesus above any earthly rule. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)

Our weapons are not material. They can’t be bought only believed. Let us continue to trust our God and where there be any evil in this world let us make sure it does not spring from us in the personal or worldly sphere.

Taking it for granted.

So I have been thinking that the reason many folks, including myself, don’t get the whole ‘love of God’ thing is that we take for granted God’s love. That love thing is what God does, doesn’t he? What’s the big deal? But the big deal is that we have little idea of what God’s kind of love really means; that even while we turned our backs on him he still loved us enough to send his only Son, Jesus to die for us. He did that while we were his enemies.

Imagine in war where one soldier is taught to give up his life for his fellow soldier. That’s often the instinct of a soldier or maybe it is from the kindness of his heart that he throws himself on a grenade to protect his friend. That’s all well and good but would this same soldier give his life for his enemy? That’s what God does for you and me. Somehow we bought the idea a long time ago that we weren’t really that bad so it didn’t take much for God to love us. Listen I would break down and cry if a friend saved my life. But if I am somehow held hostage and one of my captors gave up his life so I could escape well I would be daily grateful, more than words can say, for that man. Do we not know that’s what God did for us when he grabbed us from the jaws of hell to rescue us and make us into his friends?

Imagine your spouse leaves you to be with another partner, cashes out your bank account, and pretty much ruins your life. And then down the road a few years later he or she comes back to you to ask for forgiveness. How easy would it be to love him or her? That’s what God did for us. Took us back. Read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. How grateful would that wayward spouse be upon being welcomed back and loved?

Suppose you are walking down the street and some guy comes up behind you and beats you half to death and steals your money. You end up in ICU in some downtown hospital. Later the guy  shows up at the door of your room and asks for forgiveness. You not only forgive him but you ask him to be your best friend and come and live with you. That’s the kind of love God showed his enemies, even the ones who beat his Son to death. I can only imagine the gratitude the aforementioned criminal might have each day for his earthly savior. Read how Isaac Watts, hymn writer and pastor from the 1700’s put it:

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.

 

Those last two lines really impact me. I owe not only my praise but also my whole life to this God who loves me so. Actually you could read the whole hymn and discover the amazing reality of God’s love poured out for us and poured into our hearts. Let it stir up our hearts to service and praise for the Lord God who loves us so. Maybe it’s why people have crucifixes to be able to sit and gaze upon the figure of Christ (not an idol) and then contemplate what he did for us.

That’s what love is all about. Not that we loved God but that he loved us first when we were lost, in the abyss of sin and he threw us a lifeline. Every day I want to be amazed at this love and remember how much he loves me. Not just the world but also each and every one of us to the nth degree. Remember how the song goes HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW.

 

A Weak and Watered Down God Just Won’t Do

As followers of Jesus we are all called to enter the fray of life just like our Lord did. We are told to be ‘in’ the world without being ‘of’ the world. Jesus told his disciples they would be like sheep among wolves. We are to be immersed in the life of this world loving those that are closest to us and seeking to make changes in order that the poor, the widow, the oppressed and marginalized are loved and cared for and invited to live now in the Kingdom of God.

But we cannot approach this life with the weak and watered down version of God that some churches are offering. Our God is Almighty, Powerful, and able to do more than we can even think or imagine.  Some folks don’t even want to call God ‘Father’ anymore. They prefer more inclusive terms. I want a Father who is strong, who can defend me, who knows how to love and protect me. I want the same ‘Father’ whom Jesus called upon. I don’t mind other images of God but don’t take away my Father. The world knows little of the majestic and self giving nature of a good Father. Let us proclaim the Fatherhood of God as the model for all us fathers.

I hear folks uncomfortable with the notion of a crucified Christ, ordained for his cross by his heavenly Father. That seems too abusive they say. They don’t want to think of such cruelty, such weakness. But I want a Lord who was sent by his Father on a mission to rescue humanity, save us, redeem us and willing to give his life for us. Remember when General Eisenhower sent the troops into the hell of D-Day? He sent them fully aware that so many would give up their lives to rescue the world from Hitler.

I don’t was a self-help God preached by many today. This God is just hanging out along side of us showing us how to get back on the right track with just a little more money and personal power and right principles in our own lives. No, my God is righteous and knows that I am broken and demands that I come to Him on his terms through confidence in the blood that was shed for you and me. I want to know the God whose will I want to do, not one who wants to know what I think best. I want to enter through the narrow gate. It might even be a tight squeeze but it’s the right gate. I don’t want any old god who says that it doesn’t matter what you believe or whom you trust. That’s an idol and a devil from hell who would dissuade us from the one true heavenly Father.

I don’t want an accommodating god. I want to accommodate my life to the God in whom I live and breathe and who knows absolutely what is best for me. I want a God whose ethic for life and love challenges me. I do not want comfort unless comfort is found in seeking the will of my Heavenly Father.

We as followers of Jesus have a challenge ahead of us, to preach the Gospel and help others to know God’s love and His Kingdom. To care for the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the widow and orphan. To put an end to killing. And above all to learn the art of forgiveness, probably the greatest challenge and the most narrow gate in the Christian experience.

And to do that and more I want to go with an Almighty, All Loving, Father. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus. I fear it may be a great challenge and any less challenge would require a weaker God.

Listen, when those early Christians faced the lions, the gladiators, the stakes of fire and the crosses what God would they desire to know? They wanted a strong powerful loving Father who though may not rescue them from the fire and the sword would sure bust them out of the grave and bring them into his presence while he continues to create the new heavens and new earth within which they (we) will live forever. That’s my God, and my Lord. I think that was said by doubting Thomas when he met the risen Christ who also was busted out of his grave.

 

IN CHRIST ALONE

So within a certain denominational church in these parts a group of ‘experts’ working on a new hymnal have decided NOT TO INCLUDE a particularly beautiful hymn entitled IN CHRIST alone. The reason they give is that line of the lyrics speaks about Christ dying to satisfy the ‘wrath’ of God. They don’t like that kind of theology.

They indicated that there might be ways the wrath of God is satisfied but not by the cross of Christ, not by Christ’s death.

Well, that’s their opinion and they are entitled to it but why not place a hymn in the book that gives an expression that many Christians believe is Biblical.

John Calvin in his Institutes of Christian Religion writes:

“Therefore, [God] loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness. Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness had not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made.”

Can we not understand the wrath of God and the love of God can exist together and that God gave his own Son so that the justice of his wrath would be satisfied in his loving act through the cross?
― H. Richard Niebuhr in his book The Kingdom of God in America commented on liberal Christian theology getting to the point where the result would be:

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

It seems that a significant portion of the aforementioned denomination would rather believe in the Christ who came to show us love by his birth and his teachings and suffering in life for justice but not the Christ who was sent by God (God in the flesh) to satisfy divine justice for the forgiveness of sin. It is a slippery slope the end of which ends in a full humanistic picture of Jesus as a nice guy, who taught good morals and then died. Happens to lots of nice people.

I for one would rather know the God revealed in the Bible say in Romans 5:

8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.9Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.…

Think of yourself for a human example….when you have wrath (severe punishing anger) against someone how do you get justice? If you forgive them it will cost you yourself. You will have to die to yourself. Something of you dies (like your ego) in order to make things right. Try it out. You will see.

No, I am part of the aforementioned denomination and find their grievous error of omission to be so like much of what is wrong with such a liberal ‘enlightened’ theology. Give me a break and let some of us who hold to more evangelical, reformed, traditional theology and reading of the Scripture have some of our views expressed in a hymnal that must have a few other songs that express different views.

Keith Getty and Stuart Townend wrote the hymn. Give it a listen if you haven’t already. Even if it is not in the aforementioned hymnal it will be a classic.

It seems that THE CROSS OF CHRIST IS STILL A STUMBLING BLOCK.

 

 

THE CROSS TODAY

Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him. What precisely is that cross for us in 21st century America? (See Matthew 16:24) Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I have been reading a wonderful book by John Bright entitled THE KINGDOM OF GOD, in which he details from Old Testament through New Testament the meaning of God’s Kingdom. In his book he writes about the cross and what it means to take up that cross today. “This, then, is our cross: that we lay down our unrighteousness, and that easy righteousness which is our deepest sin, that the righteousness of God may rule in us; … it means total surrender in faith to the Kingdom of God. It is also our victory for the cross and the victory are one. (Page 271 of The Kingdom of God).

All that we desire for ourselves must be relinquished in order that we say to God as Jesus did, THY WILL BE DONE. Those words do not come to us with unhindered ease if they are to mean anything at all. And so we in our most humble way let God know that our desire is for his Kingdom and that we are willing to take up the cross to live in that Kingdom. I think of the thief on the cross, next to Jesus, who said, ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’ That is a cry that we can only make from the place of the cross in our lives.

We want peace. We want comfort. We want love. We want life. But Jesus tells us to seek more than anything else God’s rule, God’s governance, which includes the loving providence of God in all things. (See Matthew 6:33) Jesus follows that statement by one of profound significance. And everything you need shall be given to you. 33 Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. (New Century Version) The ‘other needs’ is reference to that about which we are so anxious. Think of a place where you have had to give up your own will, willingly or not and that will be a place of the cross for you. It will mean both death and life. And the only way we will know it is true is to place our confidence in Jesus who has told us that the way to life is through death knowing that the victory has been promised to us.

Remember that Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross. And none but God’s Spirit can truly confirm this in us. And all of this should happen within the context of the fellowship of believers who know God’s word and God’s love. Today such an opportunity may come to you. Pray to receive it in Christ.