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Original article by David Mathis at Desiring God Ministries 

 

 Twice Jesus was offered wine while on the cross. He refused the first, but took the second. Why so?

The first time came in verse 23, “they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” William Lane explains,

According to an old tradition, respected women of Jerusalem provided a narcotic drink to those condemned to death in order to decrease their sensitivity to the excruciating pain . . . . When Jesus arrived at Golgotha he was offered . . . wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it, choosing to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him (The Gospel of Mark, p. 564)

This first wine represented an offer to ease the pain, to opt for a small shortcut—albeit, not a major one in view of the terrible pain of the cross, but a little one nonetheless. But this offer Jesus refused, and in doing so, chose “to endure with full consciousness the sufferings appointed for him.”

The second time came in verse 35. After some bystanders thought he was calling for Elijah, “someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’” Lane comments,

A sour wine vinegar is mentioned in the OT as a refreshing drink (Numbers 6:13; Ruth 2:14), and in Greek and Roman literature as well it is a common beverage appreciated by laborers and soldiers because it relieved thirst more effectively than water and was inexpensive . . . . There are no examples of its use as a hostile gesture. The thought, then, is not of a corrosive vinegar offered as a cruel jest, but of a sour wine of the people. While the words “let us see if Elijah will come” express a doubtful expectation, the offer of the sip of wine was intended to keep Jesus conscious for as long as possible” (Ibid., 573-574).

So the first wine (mixed with myrrh) was designed to dull Jesus’ pain, to keep him from having to endure the cross with full consciousness. This wine he refused.

And the second (sour) wine was given to keep him “conscious for as long as possible,” and thus have the effect of prolonging his pain. This is the wine Jesus drank.

Other condemned criminals would have taken the first (to ease their torment) and passed on the second (so as not to prolong their horrific pain). But Jesus would take no shortcuts on the way to our redemption.

At the cross, he drank the wine of his Father’s wrath down to its very dregs, and he did so for us—that we might enjoy the wine of his Father’s love, join him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and live redeemed forever in the glorious presence of the one who took no shortcuts in saving us.

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By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

(From: Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution)

Out of the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day had risen teachers of the law who did not know what the law meant. Jesus found himself saying things like ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?’ ( John 3:10 ESV). Some of the teachers had lost all sense of biblical proportion, ‘straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!’ (Matt 23:24 ESV). And as they lost their bearings, they came under Jesus’ most serious charge: ‘You have made void the word of God’ (Matt 15:6 ESV).

Emotionally, Jesus’ response was a sinless combination of grief and anger. ‘He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart’ (Mark 3:5 ESV). Why both anger and grief?

The anger was because people were being hurt – eternally. These teachers were supposed to know what the word of God meant, but instead Jesus said they were ‘like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing’ it (Luke 11:44 ESV). This made Jesus angry. Their job was to teach what God had said. Instead, they were blind guides and were leading others with them into the ditch. Jesus loved people. Therefore, he was angry with professional teachers who imperiled people with biblical blunders.

But Jesus was not only angry; he was ‘grieved at their hardness of heart’. These were his kinsmen. These were the leaders of his people. These were the representatives of the Jerusalem he loved and wept over. ‘Would that you . . . had known . . . the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’ (Luke 19:42). The condition of their heart and the blindness of their eyes were a grief to Jesus.

This is how I feel today about teachers of Christ’s people who deny and even belittle precious, life-saving, biblical truth. When a person says that God’s ‘punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed’ would be as evil as child abuse, I am angered and grieved. For if God did not punish his Son in my place, I am not saved from my greatest peril, the wrath of God.

In part, I write this foreword to defend my Father’s wrath against me before I was adopted. He does not need my defence. But I believe he would be honoured by it. On behalf of my Father, then, I would like to bear witness to the truth that, before he adopted me, his terrible wrath rested upon me. Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey . . . the wrath of God remains on him’ (John 3:36; italics added). Wrath remains on us as long as there is no faith in Jesus.

Paul puts it like this: We ‘were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind’ (Eph. 2:3). My very nature made me worthy of wrath. My destiny was to endure ‘flaming fire’ and ‘vengeance on those . . . who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . [and who] suffer the punishment of eternal destruction’ (2 Thess. 1:8-9 ESV). I was not a son of God. God was not my Father. He was my judge and executioner. I was ‘dead in . . . trespasses and sins’, one of the ‘sons of disobedience’ (Eph. 2:1-2 ESV). And the sentence of my Judge was clear and terrifying: ‘because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience’ (Eph. 5:5 ESV; italics added).

There was only one hope for me – that the infinite wisdom of God might make a way for the love of God to satisfy the wrath of God so that I might become a son of God.

This is exactly what happened, and I will sing of it forever. After saying that I was by nature a child of wrath, Paul says, ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’ (Eph. 2:4-5 ESV). What a grievous blindness when a teacher in the church writes that the term ‘children of wrath’ cannot mean ‘actual objects of God’s wrath . . . [because] in the same breath they are described as at the same time objects of God’s love’. On the contrary. This is the very triumph of the love of God. This is the love of God – the ‘great love with which he loved us’. It rescued me from his wrath and adopted me into sonship.

‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son . . . to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Gal. 4:4 ESV). God sent his Son to rescue me from his wrath and make me his child.

How did he do it? He did it in the way one writer slanderously calls ‘cosmic child abuse’. God’s Son bore God’s curse in my place. ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’ (Gal. 3:13 ESV; italics added). If people in the twenty-first century find this greatest act of love ‘morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith’, it was not different in Paul’s day. ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (I Cor. 1:23 ESV; italics added).

But for those who are called by God and believe in Jesus, this is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (I Cor. 1:24 ESV). This is my life. This is the only way God could become my Father. Now that his wrath no longer rests on me (John 3:36), he has sent the Spirit of sonship flooding into my heart crying Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15). I thank you, heavenly Father, with all my heart, that you saved me from your wrath. I rejoice to measure your love for me by the magnitude of the wrath I deserved and the wonder of your mercy by putting Christ in my place.

Those who try to rescue the love of God by minimizing the wrath of God, undermine not only the love of God, but also his demand that we love our enemies. It is breathtaking to hear one of them say, ‘If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies, and to refuse to repay evil with evil.’ Those are deadly words, which, if they held sway, would take enemy love out of the world.

Why? Because Paul said that counting on the final wrath of God against his enemies is one of the crucial warrants for why we may not return evil for evil. It is precisely because we may trust the wisdom of God to apply his wrath justly that we must leave all vengeance to him and return good for evil. ‘Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him”’ (Rom. 12:19-20 ESV). If God does not show wrath, sooner or later we shall take justice into our own hands. But God says, ‘Don’t. I will see to it.’

Every section of this book yields another reason to thank God for the labours of the authors and for IVP in Britain. I pray that the Lord will give the book success in the defence and honour of God, and that Jesus Christ will be treasured all the more fully when he is seen more clearly to be Pierced for our Transgressions.

 

This book is important not only because it deals so competently with what lies at the heart of Christ’s cross work, but because it responds effectively to a new generation of people who are not listening very carefully to what either Scripture or history says.”
D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

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by Pastor John Samson

 

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23: 39

I have often contemplated the potential scene in my mind as one by one, the proponents of all religions were given the opportunity of talking to the thief on the cross, and what they would say to him. This was a man who was a criminal, a notorious sinner, and definitely one whose so called “bad deeds’ would outweigh the good ones. Being nailed to a cross negates any further opportunity for good works to be done. But it would be an interesting conversation, wouldn’t it, to hear what each religionist might say to him? In every case (apart from perhaps universalism which teaches that all people will be saved regardless of their works) each religion would require the man to somehow come down from the cross to do something.

What would a spokeman for Islam say? How about a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness? What would a Buddhist say? or a New Age guru? How about a Roman Catholic? If each could speak to this man, what religious advice would or could they give to him for the purpose of being saved (however they even define what that means)? Some might say that all he could do would be to hope for mercy, but Christ, the biblical Christ gave him far more than just hope. In contrast to what all man made religious systems could give the man, Christ gave him full assurance of salvation – and not just eventual salvation after countless years in the fires of purgatory, but bliss and paradise that very day!

Certain religions would require baptism, others would require the man go through religious instruction and devotion of some sort, while others would ask him to do more good works before his death hoping that they might outweigh the bad ones. But here’s my point, the man could never find salvation in those religious systems because he was stuck, pinned, nailed to a cross. His chance to help elderly people cross roads, or to give to charity or to live a life of service was gone. Nailed to a cross, works and service were no longer possible. His was a totally hopeless case.. except that crucified next to him was Someone who was able to save him by what He was doing, rather than what the man might do. Only the real biblical Jesus with the real biblical Gospel could announce to a criminal that before the day was over, he would be with Him in Paradise!

This thief’s salvation portrays the Gospel so clearly. Someone embracing anything other than the biblical gospel can only scratch their heads in wonder at the precious words given to this man, for in their system, such words would be impossible to say.

As far as I know, this man was the only person in the Bible that Jesus gave instantaneous assurance of salvation to. Jesus’ words, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” removes all doubt.

Can we know what was going on in the heart of this man? Well, we do not have a perfect understanding, but putting the pieces of the biblical text together, we can get quite a good picture. What is clear from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark is that this man had been amongst the many who had mocked Christ. Yet seemingly, out of nowhere, he turns to the other thief and says, “Don’t you fear God?” Obviously, this thief was now fearing God for him to be asking this question of the other one.

He also knew he was getting exactly what he deserved – “we indeed suffer justly” he said.

He also recognized the innocence of Christ when he said, “he has done nothing wrong.”

When he turned to Jesus and requested, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” though knowing death was inevitable for all three of those crucified, he believed Jesus would triumph over death, and therefore, would be resurrected.

In affirming the fact that Jesus would come into His kingdom, he affirmed the Lordship or even the Deity of Christ. How much he knew of this we do not know, but obviously, he knew that Christ was indeed King.

So, he had an awareness of divine judgment, he knew the availability of forgiveness, he believed Christ was the true King and that in Christ there is hope even for him, he knew of the coming Kingdom and wanted to be a part of it.

As God opens our hearts and mind to the one true biblical Gospel, we will also find in Christ the full assurance of salvation. As we turn away from any attempt at self justification, knowing that it is by grace that we are saved, through faith and all of this is the gift of God, not as a result of works (Eph. 2:8,9), we too will enjoy the sweet saving mercy of God.

What a testimony to the Gospel this thief is. His testimony is exactly the same as mine. God saves sinners through the perfect work of the perfect Savior, plus nothing! Hallelujah!

 

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By Dr. Albert Mohler

The images streaming in from Haiti look like scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The scale of the calamity is unprecedented. In many ways, Haiti has almost ceased to exist.

The earthquake that will forever change that nation came as subterranean plates shifted about six miles under the surface of the earth, along a fault line that had threatened trouble for centuries. But no one saw a quake of this magnitude coming. The 7.0 quake came like a nightmare, with the city of Port-au-Prince crumbling, entire villages collapsing, bodies flying in the air and crushed under mountains of debris. Orphanages, churches, markets, homes, and government buildings all collapsed. Civil government has virtually ceased to function. Without power, communication has been cut off and rescue efforts are seriously hampered. Bodies are piling up, hope is running out, and help, though on the way, will not arrive in time for many victims.

Even as boots are finally hitting the ground and relief efforts are reaching the island, estimates of the death toll range as high as 500,000. Given the mountainous terrain and densely populated villages that had been hanging along the fault line, entire villages may have disappeared. The Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation has experienced a catastrophe that appears almost apocalyptic.

In truth, it is hard not to describe the earthquake as a disaster of biblical proportions. It certainly looks as if the wrath of God has fallen upon the Caribbean nation. Add to this the fact that Haiti is well known for its history of religious syncretism — mixing elements of various faiths, including occult practices. The nation is known for voodoo, sorcery, and a Catholic tradition that has been greatly influenced by the occult.

Haiti’s history is a catalog of political disasters, one after the other. In one account of the nation’s fight for independence from the French in the late 18th century, representatives of the nation are said to have made a pact with the Devil to throw off the French. According to this account, the Haitians considered the French as Catholics and wanted to side with whomever would oppose the French. Thus, some would use that tradition to explain all that has marked the tragedy of Haitian history — including now the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God’s direct and observable judgment.

God does judge the nations — all of them — and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign — as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.

A faithful Christian cannot accept the claim that God is a bystander in world events. The Bible clearly claims the sovereign rule of God over all his creation, all of the time. We have no right to claim that God was surprised by the earthquake in Haiti, or to allow that God could not have prevented it from happening.

God’s rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.

The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger. We can trace the effects of a drunk driver to a car accident, but we cannot trace the effects of voodoo to an earthquake — at least not so directly. Will God judge Haiti for its spiritual darkness? Of course. Is the judgment of God something we can claim to understand in this sense — in the present? No, we are not given that knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples against this kind of presumption.

Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young?

Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope.

The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe. The entire cosmos awaits the revelation of the glory of the coming Lord. Creation cries out for the hope of the New Creation.

In other words, the earthquake reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real message of hope. The cross of Christ declares that Jesus loves Haiti — and the Haitian people are the objects of his love. Christ would have us show the Haitian nation his love, and share his Gospel. In the midst of this unspeakable tragedy, Christ would have us rush to aid the suffering people of Haiti, and rush to tell the Haitian people of his love, his cross, and salvation in his name alone.

Everything about the tragedy in Haiti points to our need for redemption. This tragedy may lead to a new openness to the Gospel among the Haitian people. That will be to the glory of God. In the meantime, Christ’s people must do everything we can to alleviate the suffering, bind up the wounded, and comfort the grieving. If Christ’s people are called to do this, how can we say that God hates Haiti?

If you have any doubts about this, take your Bible and turn to John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That is God’s message to Haiti.

 

 

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Foreword This article was originally posted in Modern Reformation’s issue entitled The Pilgrims’s Progress – The Life of A Justified Sinner – Nov./Dec. Vol. 5 No. 6 1996. This issue is now out of print and one of the best volumes that rolled out of the press. It can be accessed electronically at Modern Reformation’s website but only if you are a current subscriber to the magazine itself. A few more articles from that issue will be uploaded on this weblog in the future.  In the meantime, be blessed as you read on.

EmmausTrekker

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By Harold L. Senkbeil

The biblical terms “sanctify” and “sanctification” are from the same word family as “holy” and “holiness.” The rich tapestry of the biblical language of holiness contains but one single golden strand woven throughout: the absolute sinlessness and transcendent purity of God the Holy Trinity. God alone is holy in himself, and therefore from God himself all holiness must proceed; apart from him nothing is holy. Therefore God sends forth his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we believe his holy Word. That Word (also in its sacramental forms) is the means the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify us–to make us holy–within the fellowship of the Holy Christian Church, which is the communion of saints,or holy people.

As long as sanctification is seen as primarily in the arena of human morality, the heart of sanctification is lost. True, sanctification does effect a change in morality, but sanctification in itself is not a question of human morality, but divine purity. Once sinners are purified by God’s divine grace, they live lives which reflect God’s own holiness.

Borrowed Holiness – This is absolutely vital. If you and I as sinners are to spend eternity in the presence of a holy God, we must share in his holiness: “Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). The truth is, since the fall of Adam every human being is excluded from the presence of God except one: God’s own sinless and holy Son. We have no holiness in this world apart from Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God. Believers borrow their holiness from him by faith. Sanctification therefore comes as good news; it is gift language, for it means our cleansing and purification through the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus’ sake. All who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ by faith, together with the holiness that belongs to him; “that we may share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). Sanctification is therefore just as much a gift as is justification.

There is a link between faith and life, between justification and sanctification, between salvation and holy living. And that link is Christ. He “. . . has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). We have no life to live as Christians that is not given by God the Father, earned by God the Son, and bestowed by God the Holy Spirit. Therefore our focus is always on Jesus Christ, God incarnate in human flesh. Because he is our redemption,or atoning sacrifice for sin, he is also our righteousness, or perfection before God. And because he is our righteousness/redemption, he is also our holiness,or sanctification. With St. Paul, we have one Christ-centered confession: “For me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). In this way the bondage to our private emotions is broken, and we live holy lives in perfect freedom “outside of ourselves.”

Our Part? – One of the most ancient and persistent Christian heresies (viz. Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism) is that human beings have a role to play in their own salvation. In its most blatant form this heresy claims that Christ’s sacrifice is not sufficient to save, but that we must place our own good works into the balance to give us favorable standing before God. Its subtle form seems more attractive: God does all the work in justification, but we finish this work by our sanctification. We may be declared right by God’s gracious judicial decree through faith in Christ alone, but then it is up to us to perform the works of love and obedience which true holiness requires. This error makes justification merely the first stage of sanctification. God gets us going on the path of holiness, and we continue. God starts and we finish. God has his part and we have ours, so the thinking goes.

But the life we live “in the body” we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. We have no life to live apart from the life which he bestows by faith. And this faith itself is a gift from God, not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:9). We are therefore “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Christian salvation (or justification) and Christian living (or sanctification) are but two aspects of one divine reality: the life bestowed in Jesus Christ. Such life is received by faith. And Holy Scripture declares that faith is God’s work from beginning to end: “[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Of the Making of Many Books . . . – This scriptural teaching is sadly missing in the popular Christian literature of our day. Religious best-sellers focus on the sanctified life, but precious little gospel is contained in these books. What gospel we do find is couched in command language, not motivation language. The books are essentially lists of “how to’s” for the Christian life, what to do and not to do in order to make sense out of the complex world in which we live. The issues of modern life are not examined in light of the good news, but almost exclusively in light of the proscriptions and prescriptions of moral imperatives.

If the modern Christian’s dilemma stems from living in an antagonistic culture, then we can profitably learn from the New Testament. Here the apostles were delineating a “life-style” for Christians who lived in a world completely at odds with everything they stood for. As we look to the letters of the New Testament, we find many statements describing what the new life in Christ means for everyday stresses and strains. Never, however, do these statements of law stand on their own. Always they are undergirded by the life-giving and empowering gospel of Jesus Christ. (italics mine)

Life for the apostles is not viewed merely as a complex chain of obstacles to overcome by practicing a long list of commands God has prescribed for every contingency. The hostility we encounter in this world cannot be chalked up to the quirks of the human mind. Rather, the New Testament recognizes one sinister enemy behind all of the sins and turmoil of life, both internal and external. He is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), the ruler of darkness (Eph. 6:12), the one who accuses God’s people in his presence day and night (Rev. 12:10). God’s perfect creation has been invaded by this evil adversary and he can now be called the prince of this world (John 14:30).

Entering this enemy-occupied world, Jesus Christ has assumed human flesh to deal with Satan on his own turf (Gal. 4:5). In the body of his flesh he has made satisfaction for the sins of the whole world and has defeated the devil by his death and resurrection (Col. 2:14-15). To all who believe in him he promises everlasting life (John 11:26). Those who trust in him are credited with his very holiness (2 Cor. 5:21). Drawing on this faith relationship, there is light and life in this world of darkness and death (John 1:4).

One Focus – No wonder, then, that the apostles were always framing their description of the new life in Christ in the context of Christ’s death and resurrection on their behalf. In everything they had to tell the faithful about living the Christian life, they had one focus and one focus only: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The entire life of Christian service should be viewed as Christ’s action being carried out in the life of the believer: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). (italics mine)

The difference is striking. Most of the evangelical world puts the spotlight on the Christian’s action; the New Testament focuses on Christ’s action.

Contact with God  The central attraction of the evangelical movement is not its doctrine of the renewed life in itself, but rather how that renewed life provides demonstrable proof of the reality of God and his action in the world. Carter Lindberg has described the current American scene very well:

The credibility of the church rests on the changed lives of its people, thus only the praise-filled experience of God’s presence and power is the answer to today’s experience of insecurity and uncertainty. The depersonalization of contemporary life in the midst of materialism and secularism disposes persons to search for a personal experience of reality.1

There is another alternative. Rather than seeking the reality of God in our own experience, the Bible directs us to find assurance in the historic events of God’s intervention in this world in the person and life of his Son. The basis of our knowledge about God and his living, vibrant reality is not in our experience, but in the experience of Jesus on the cross. There he faced the wrath of the Father and made satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. In his triumphant resurrection, there is validation of his entire saving work. In the word of his gospel, we have no mere static facts about events of history, but the actual means by which people of every age may be brought into genuine contact with the saving work of Christ. “It [the gospel] is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

The Power for Sanctification –  Current evangelical literature, with its myriad of principles, warm folksy illustrations, and down-to-earth advice presents the power for the new life as a combination of man’s work and God’s work: Sure, God saves me by grace, but then he expects me to save myself with his help! With his Spirit he gives me the power I need to get started, but then it’s up to me. By following his principles and continuing in close fellowship with him and my fellow believers, I will be inspired to produce the kind of life that is pleasing to him. Spectacular power is available; all I have to do is reach out and grab it!

Do-It-Yourself Christians? – Thus we see that self-assertion raises its ugly head. Pride is deeply ingrained in the human nature. No one likes to be told he can’t do something; in fact, each of us enjoys taking credit for his or her accomplishments. So also when it comes to the Christian faith. There is something deep within us that rebels when Scripture reminds us that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Similarly, we do not like to hear that God himself is the driving power in our life of sanctification: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

True, Scripture does speak of the activity of the Christian in performing works of love: “. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling . . . .” At the same time however, we are reminded that the power for the sanctified life is not our own: “. . . for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12-13).

A Package Deal – Justification (receiving God’s righteousness) and sanctification (sharing in God’s holiness) are to be clearly separated theologically, but not essentially. Like the proverbial horse and cart, they can neither be unhitched nor re-hitched. Putting sanctification before justification is an affront to God’s grace and a stumbling block to faith. Holding to justification without sanctification leads nowhere, for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). No one setting out on a journey in a horse-drawn cart hitches the cart in front of the horse, nor does he shoot the horse. Together they make a unit. Yet clearly the horse has to come first and provide the power if there is to be any forward movement!

As one Lutheran theologian observes:

Sanctification describes the same reality as does justification but describes the justified Christian’s relationship to the world and society. Justification and sanctification are not two separate realities, but the same reality viewed from the different perspectives of God and man. From the perspective of God the reality of the Christian is totally passive and non-contributory as it receives Christ only. From the perspective of the world, the same reality never ceases in its activity and tirelessly performs all good works.2 Thus when speaking about the power for the sanctified life, we dare never stop speaking about Christ. St. Paul put it this way: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The person and work of the crucified Lord is the sum total of our message. He is all in all–“our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). No wonder, then, that Luther could write, “Having been justified by grace, we then do good works, yes, Christ himself does all in us.”3

The Sign of Jonah In the sixteenth chapter of Matthew, we have a remarkable sequence of events that helps us understand how God operates through the cross of his Son in direct opposition to every human expectation.

The Pharisees and Sadducees speak for all of us, asking Jesus to prove his identity (v. 1). We all would like to know where in the world God is, and we would like him to make himself perfectly and unmistakably evident.

Jesus, however, makes it clear that there will be no miraculous evidence given. The only evidence will be the “sign of Jonah” (v. 4). The strange three-day sea journey of the Old Testament prophet in the fish’s stomach was really a picture of the three-day burial of Jesus.

You cannot be any more hidden than Jonah was in a fish belly under the water. Jesus makes the extraordinary claim that he would be no less hidden: people would be able to see who he was when his lifeless body would be placed into a tomb for three days. To ask for any more proof than his death is foolhardy and dangerous; it is following the teachings (“yeast”) of the Pharisees and Sadducees (v. 5-12).

Church Growth – When Peter made his glowing confession that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16), Jesus explained that Peter had not arrived at this conviction by human ingenuity. God the Father had revealed it to him.

Whenever people come to faith, it is always on God’s initiative. Jesus makes it clear that this is the permanent pattern for the growth of his church; he himself will build it as the Father brings people to confess that he is Christ and God (v. 18-19).

The Satanic Pitfall – Immediately after Peter’s confession of faith, Jesus begins to explain what his saving work includes: first torture at the hands of the power structure in Jerusalem, then execution and, only after that, resurrection (v. 21). Peter is horrified. “This shall never happen to you!” he exclaims (v. 22).

What Jesus has to say to Peter at this point stands for all time as a clear condemnation of every effort to find God through human reason and speculation: “Out of my sight, Satan! . . . You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (v. 23). The “things of men” always run directly opposite to the “things of God.” The things of men focus on glory and power; the things of God center in weakness and the cross. Human eyes are always on the heights; God’s eyes are always on the depths.

God chose the foolish things of the 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 Cor. 1:27-28).

Where in the world is God? We want to know. We all want to know. The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees is still with us, prodding us to look for God in the experiences of our mind and heart. But we have to let God be God. We have to let him speak where he has promised to speak to us: from the cross of Jesus, his Son!

The Real Problem – Most people think that the human dilemma is that our lives are out of adjustment; we don’t meet God’s expectations. Salvation then becomes a matter of rearranging our priorities and adjusting our life-style to correspond with God’s will. In its crassest form, this error leads people to think they earn their own salvation. More often in today’s evangelical world, the error has a more subtle disguise: armed with forgiveness through Jesus, people are urged to practice the techniques and principles Christ gave to bring their life-style back into line.

 It is certainly true that sinful lives are out of adjustment. We are all in need of the Spirit’s sanctifying power. But that comes only after our real problem is solved. Sins are just the symptom; our real dilemma is death.

God’s Final Solution – God warned Adam and Eve that the knowledge of evil came with a high price tag: “. . . when you eat of (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Our first parents wanted to be like God and were willing to pay the price. And we are still paying the price: “the wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom. 6:23); “. . . in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22); “. . . You were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

The real problem we all face is death. Physical death, to be sure. But ultimately and most horribly, spiritual death–being cut off from God forever. And everyone must die. You can either die alone or die in Jesus.4

In his death Jesus Christ swallowed up our death, and rose again triumphantly to take all of the teeth out of the grave. In the promise of the resurrection, death loses its power. When we die with Jesus, we really live!

Wanted: Dead and Alive! – There is no sidestepping death. Everyone must die. It is the basic human dilemma; but the cross is God’s great answer to our predicament. We need not die alone. Jesus long ago died in our place, and that means that every baptized Christian dies in Jesus. “Don’t you know,” St. Paul wrote, “that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). Far from being some mere symbol of our dedication to Jesus, holy baptism is the God-appointed means of planting the cross of Jesus Christ squarely in the midst of our lives.

In our baptism Christ takes us in his arms, sins and all, and carries us into his own tomb to die with him. Death is always frightening. But this death is different, for when you die with Jesus, you also live with him. “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom. 6:5).

That means that if we die in Jesus through our baptism, we also live in Jesus; a resurrection takes place. The difference is that we have died and risen along with Christ: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:4).

After our burial with Christ in our baptism we are no longer the same person in God’s sight. Our sins have been left behind in his tomb–the one place in all the universe that the Father will not look. And we have a new life through faith in him; it is the risen life of Jesus Christ!

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him (Rom. 6:6-8).

Through Death to Life – So we see that the cross of Jesus is far more than a nice decoration or a theological concept. In fact, it is the central hinge around which all of faith revolves. At the cross the hidden God has opened up his very heart for all to see. In the death of Jesus, the God-Man, with eyes of faith we see most clearly the Father’s love. Baptized into that death, the cross takes on a whole new dimension. Now we can see that the only route to life is through death. And death is not to be feared, if it is the death of Jesus–for his death brings life!

That is the hardest thing to learn. We are always trying to avoid hardship, pain, and death. Yet the cross of Jesus reveals to us that the only life worth living is a life which is given through death–the death of Jesus. There is no getting around the cross of Christ; the Christian life is always a life under the cross. But the way of the cross is the way to life. Rather than fleeing from suffering and pain, Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow him. The only life we have to lose is counterfeit; the life we gain is the real thing–it is the life he lives through us!

Notes:

1. Carter Lindberg, The Third Reformation?: Charismatic Movements and the Lutheran Tradition (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1983), 180.

2. David Scaer, “Sanctification in Lutheran Theology,” Concordia Theological Quarterly, 49:2, 3, 188.

3. Martin Luther, AE 34, 111.

4. I am indebted to Robert Kolb (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis) for his summary of this and many other aspects of Luther’s “Theology of the Cross.”

 

Rev. Harold L. Senkbeil, STM, is the pastor of Elm Grove Evangelical Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. Portions of this article are taken from one of his books: Sanctification: Christ in Action (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1989).

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In a recent radio program by Chris Rosebrough at Pirate Christian Radio, he referred to an email from a pastor (at 7 minutes from the start of the broadcast) who brings encouragement that a group of contemporary Christians are defying the current spirit of romanticism/semi-erotic mysticism in many of the so-called Christian songs that have crept into the worship services of many churches and the airwaves. There are those today, like Stuart Townsend, who have started to compose hymns using the language of everyday speech.

Like myself, many were not exposed to the hymns of the past centuries which contain rich biblical theology. Instead, we were initiated into praise choruses of the last 20 years at least. Many of these choruses are like chaff that could not really nourish the sheep of the Lord.  Thankfully, with the resurgence of Reformed theology in the past years, this has become the good ground in redirecting many Christians today from a man-centered theology to the biblical God-centered theology. At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, there is now a resurgence of biblically rich hymnody in contemporary language.

Having said this, I would like to introduce some of the readers of this blog to one of the more famous hymns of the past which is still sung today in reformed churches, entitled ‘Rock of Ages’. Appended below are the original lyrics which Toplady wrote, however, some minor variations were done today when this hymn is sang. Clearly we can see a wide chasm of difference from this hymn and the choruses of the current time. I have also appended below links to the piano accompaniment and a YouTube feature so that those who are not familiar with this song may begin to do so.  Until the new contemporary hymns become widely available, we can start now from testing the songs we sing in our churches, and may the Holy Spirit direct us to songs that truly bring out the glory of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 ROCK OF AGES

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,*
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

 

*[originally When my eye-strings break in death]

 Click here for the piano accompaniment. Link to this Youtube feature to hear a variation of this hymn.

 

Augustus M TopladyAugustus Montague Toplady (November 4, 1740 – August 11, 1778), was an Anglican clergyman and hymn-writer, and a major Calvinist. Today, he is best remembered as the author of the hymn “Rock of Ages”. Three of his other hymns – “A Debtor to Mercy Alone”, “Deathless Principle, Arise”, and “Object of My First Desire” – are still occasionally sung today, though all three are far less popular than “Rock of Ages”.

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And behold, I am always with you, to the end of the age – Matthew 28:20

After the Lord declared His authority and commissioned the disciples to spread the good news, teaching those who will believe the Gospel everything that Jesus said and did, it was about the time that He will ascend to His rightful place and be seated at the right hand of God. The disciples would undoubtedly need comfort and these last words of the Lord was the coup de grace of all comforts: “I am always with you…”

Not only were these words of comfort to those who are being left behind for a while but also a source of strength as these disciples will face the world to preach the Gospel. Their account in the book of Acts testify to this fact. But allow me to take this verse to its personal level, not only for myself but for every Christian as well. I will remain in the purpose of the Scriptures: that we may know Him.

Like the early disciples, we face a world that is too pre-occupied with its own business – for various reasons; work, family, friends, leisure.  Every person is at the same time interacting somehow with each other, some for a while, some for long periods of time.  But if there is one thing about this fallen world to realize is that no one is, nor will be a constant companion. People leave, some relocate, some fall away from friendship, some become indifferent, everyone will die sooner or later. And that leaves us alone…but not so for a Christian. By “Christian” I do not mean the nominal kind who attends a local church congregation but rather one who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and who has a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, in love with Scriptures and whatever is righteous according to it, hates sin, loves the believers, preaches the Gospel to whoever may cross his path as God enables him, and by grace is separated from the way of the fallen world – this person may fall into sin, but he runs in repentance towards the Lord for forgiveness and trusts in the security of salvation that Jesus paid for with His life.

Yes, the Christian disciple is also busy, but like everybody else, there comes an occassion that he is left alone with none to interact with…yes, I have known times like this. Times when I had so much to say about the Lord to someone, both believers and unbelievers, but there’s none who simply has the moment to listen because they have other things to do.  At the ebb of this longing, I find my greatest comfort…Jesus Christ.  He is always with me according to His promise. And His last words recorded by Matthew was brought to my remembrance, to which I found my comfort – a joyful comfort.

So to the Christian I share this encouragement and may the Lord bless you with the same desire to get back to His word with which God communicates with us and through prayer, by which we communicate with Him.

To the one who has not repented and believed in Jesus the Son of God, what awaits him is an eternity of being alone in an inexpressible torment in the fiery furnace away forever from the love of God through His Son.  The wrath of God is upon all men and only Jesus has propitiated for this by dying and shedding His blood on the cross at Calvary.  Only in Him can men be forgiven and reconciled to God. And when you have repented of your sin and believed in the grace and forgiveness of God through Jesus, that is just the beginning of the eternal comforts and companionship of Him who is forever praised both now and forever more. Amen.

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