It Had To Be That Way…

Chapter Three of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ* promises a “look below the surface,” in fact that is what he entitles his chapter.  As we leave Basic Christianity and return to The Cross, we recall the previous in-depth discussions of the highly symbolic acts in the upper room [“Remember Him” posted on St. John Studies on February 10, 2021], the Garden of Gethsemane [“What Will Our Acceptance of God’s Will do for Us?” posted on February 17, 2021], and when Jesus cried out on the cross [“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” posted on February 24, 2021].  Stott begins Chapter Four of The Cross of Christ with an apology.  He apologizes for complicating everything with “torturous theologizing;” he apologizes for Chapter Three.

This past Sunday April 4th 2021 was the celebration of Easter, the culmination of the forty day Christian season of Lent.  Of course most Easter services were marked by joy, beautiful music and jubilation.  Christ rose from the dead!  Christ conquered death!  Jesus died on the cross forgiving man’s sin!   Whoa… 

Jesus dying on the cross was the method God utilized for His forgiveness of our sins?  Jesus had to go through all that pain and misery for us?   Could God have taken another route?

Some may wonder why God brought about man’s forgiveness this way?  God has the power to forgive us without all that suffering doesn’t He?  The agony of Christ on the cross seems so incongruent with the joy of the season.  Why didn’t God allow man to forgive other men for sins without all that pain?  Stott writes “Why can’t God practice what He preaches and be equally generous?  Nobody’s death is necessary before we forgive each other.  Why then does God make so much fuss about forgiving us and even declaring it impossible without His Son’s sacrifice for sin?” [Stott, 89].  God expects us to be generous with other people regarding their sin; He expects us to forgive others. Why is our own forgiveness impossible without the sacrifice of His Son?

This is a good point that Stott wants to explore in Chapter  Four, “The Problem of Forgiveness.”  “This insistence that the death of His Son is essential for forgiveness “sounds like a primitive superstition that modern people have long discarded” [89].

But let’s stop and consider God’s attitude toward all this.  Let’s be humble and admit that it is highly unlikely that we will understand “God’s attitude” but Stott is willing to try [is he about to do more “torturous theologizing”?]. 

First of all, we must consider the seriousness of sin.  When a Christian simply states man should forgive other men their sins and leave it at that,  is that enough?  Jesus did teach us to pray “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  But what does that mean?  It is a simple act?  Is it an adequate act?  Is this prayer admonition on par with what God intended when He had His Son go to the cross for our sins?   Is God’s act similar to man forgiving other men their sins or is God doing much more?

Stott thinks God’s forgiveness is much, much more.  Jesus is saying to man that it should not be impossible for us to forgive others; He clearly states: as we have been forgiven, it is essential for us to forgive others.  “He was not drawing a parallel between God and us in relation to the basis of forgiveness” [90].  To do so is to take a very shallow view of sin.  What Stott is essentially saying is that God looks at sin on a much higher plane than we do.  “We are private individuals, and other people’s misdemeanors [against us] are personal injuries.  God is not a private individual however, and sin against God is much more than just a personal injury.   God is the Maker of the laws we break, and sin is rebellion against Him” [Stott, 90].   

Man is fallible but we know that God is perfection.  Every man knows that human forgiveness can be hard in certain circumstances but God’s forgiveness seems almost impossible for us to accept.  This raises a problem because it is a common idea among Christians that God is love, but too often we think of this “God is love” statement in terms of human love and not Divine love.  Maybe God’s love should be referred to as “Holy Love.”  Yes God cares for all of us including those who sin, but God is being asked to forgive sinners and at the same time preserve His holiness. His task is much more complex than human forgiveness.

Stott feels that this is the basic idea that makes the cross necessary.  God is accomplishing at least two purposes when He forgives.  God is choosing to save man and is maintaining His righteousness at the same time.  I don’t know how many times I have heard Christians say that “Christ paid the penalty for our sin.  He took our judgement in order to bring us the forgiveness we did not deserve.”  Are those sentences being said without a thorough analysis of their import?  Do Christians say them because they “sound Christian?”  Have they become meaningless catchphrases? 

Stott thinks they may be…

He intends to carefully consider the careful balancing act that God has to perform.  He knows that sin is a serious rebellion from God’s laws and at the same time a majestic God has chosen to forgive that serious rebellion.  To do so he will examine the gravity of sin, human moral responsibility, true and false guilt and the wrath of God.  In the rest of Chapter Four, Stott says “We will see ourselves successively as sinful, responsible, guilty and lost.”  This will not be an easy discussion.  It will not be a pleasant discussion.  It will test our integrity.

At the end of the chapter, we may again feel we are victims of torturous theologizing but maybe we will have more appreciation of what we just experienced this past Easter Sunday.  Maybe we will have some small inkling of what Easter means from God’s perspective. 

Maybe, just maybe, we will really benefit from trying to understand that perspective…

Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

It had to be that way…

* Addendum:  My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross…   I think readers may find this approach interesting.  For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020.  I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.  Now we return to commenting on The Cross.

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Coming to Believe…

How do we come to believe what we believe?

I spent my teaching career instructing people about how to communicate better.  My favorite class to teach was a course entitled interpersonal communication, which is the study of how humans talk to each other on a one-to-one basis.  That course had a serious consideration about how we build our beliefs about the world, how we come to see the world as we see it.   Our belief system is what we are often trying to communicate to other people because it is a fact that no two people have exactly the same system, no two people see the world the same way.

But how do beliefs come about?  There are many complex answers to that question but one I tried to illustrate in my class was inductive reasoning.  My course was not a philosophy course or a logic course so I tried to come up with examples that were practical and easy to understand.  For inductive reasoning I used the example of coming to the conclusion that you are late to work through the process of induction.  Here is a sampling of how it went: you go to bed at night and in the middle of the night the electricity goes off and your electric alarm clock stops functioning [fact 1].  As you awaken in the morning you notice the alarm is off and that the sun is up higher than it should be for your normal awakening time [fact 2].  As you feel some sense of urgency, you begin to rush to get ready for work and you head to the car [stay with me here in order for this make this example to work].  You have been so rushed that you have ignored your phone and you left it in the house when you left.  Your car clock has been off since you had that battery malfunction last week.  You head down the road wondering if you are late.  On the corner you pass a little market and they have an illuminated clock on the outside; you glance and see that it shows you are very late [fact 3].  You keep driving until you get to a stop light where the video billboard on the right shows the time and it confirms the illuminated clock [fact 4].  You continue driving to work and see the parking lot full of cars; your car is one of the last ones to get there which is not normal [fact 5].  You conclude that you are indeed late for work.

This is a building of facts that occurs until you are ready to make what is called an “inductive lead” or what some people commonly call a conclusion [a belief, not an earthshaking, long-lasting belief, but at least a more comprehensive conclusion]. 

Let’s take this simple belief-building basis and apply it to the dramatized claims of Jesus.  In his book Basic Christianity John Stott tries in chapter two to make the case that Jesus is who He has said He is.    His contention is that if a person feels a need to become a Christian they must accept that Jesus is the Son of God. .  Stott has already argued in chapter two that Jesus claims to be who He is using “self-centered” statements, imputing powers for Himself and connections to God that no other man has tried to claim.  Jesus instructed His Disciples that He was God’s Son using parables [Stott calls these “direct claims”].  Then he writes that Jesus proves His identity by “indirect claims” or statements that He could forgive sins, He was the “bread of life” and He came to judge the world. 

Let’s apply inductive reasoning to Stott’s last argument for Jesus’ divinity in chapter two.  Let’s examine what Stott calls Jesus’ “dramatized claims,” the miracles He performed while He was living on earth. 

In my totally fictionalized example above, it took five facts for a worker to realize he was going to be late for work.  How many miracles will it take for you to consider that Jesus is indeed God?

A miracle is “an event that involves the direct and powerful action of God, transcending the ordinary laws of nature and defying common expectations of behavior.”*  Jesus performed many miracles to help others, to glorify God and finally, to prove who He said He was—the Son of God.  When He calmed the storm in Matthew 8, the Disciples were amazed and exclaimed “What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and waves obey Him?”

The Gospels list a multitude of miracles dedicated to healing others, feeding people, nature miracles [e.g. calming storms], miracles with fishing etc.  In the book of John, this Disciple admits that Jesus did more miracles than are recorded: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His Disciples, which are not recorded in this book…Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” [John 20:30 and 21:25].

Stott writes that Jesus’ miracles occurred more for their spiritual significance than their supernatural character.  He calls them “acted parables”, “His claims visually” or “works that dramatize His words.”  By far, Jesus’ miracles revolved around healing but even those miracles rarely centered on the simple alleviation of physical suffering.  The miracle of healing for example points to a larger truth, that Jesus is the Son of God who had authority over suffering, disease and death. 

The miracles themselves were “I AM” declarations, essentially saying to the world I am who I say I am.  Even Jesus’s first declaration of divinity came with the miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding reception.  At first glance this may seem inconsequential, a sincere effort to help the wedding host avoid embarrassment, but as we look deeper, it may be interpreted as more than that.  Stott says the stone water pots at the wedding location were full of water that was supposed to be used for Jewish purification rites.  Stott writes “This is the clue we are seeking.”  The water stood for the old religion, water and purification being essential to Old Testament teaching.  The wine that Jesus furnished stood for the religion of Jesus Christ, who came to the earth to supersede the Old Laws.  Even in this initial miracle Jesus was signaling that He has come to establish a new order. 

Another miracle that Stott mentions is the feeding of the five thousand.  On one level Jesus is alleviating hunger in a large crowd of people with a scant supply of food.  On the other hand, He is claiming to satisfy the hunger of the human heart.  The morning after feeding all the people, they were looking for Him and He was not impressed with why they sought Him. “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” [John 6: 26].  Were they looking for another free meal?  I think Jesus suspected as much.  They did not see the intent of the miracle.  Jesus meant for people to see His miracles as dramatic signs that His teachings were true; they were proof that He was indeed who He said He was.  He wanted the people to see beyond the loaves and fishes.  He wanted them to see that He was the Bread of Life, something greater than mere sustenance.

He opened the eyes of the blind man to give him sight but also to illustrate that He was the “light of the world” and all men should open their eyes to see and know God.  He brought Lazarus back from the dead to claim “I am the resurrection and the life.”  Lazarus’ body symbolized more than just a body; his body symbolized the life of the soul. 

How many miracles does one have to read about to accept that Jesus is who He said He was?   It took five facts above for the worker to realize that he was late.  Some eyewitnesses may have only required one, a cleansed leper, a deaf and mute man healed, a demon cast out, or a cut off ear repaired.  Jesus performed His many miracles for as Stott writes “men [who] are spiritually hungry, blind and dead, and [to show that] only Christ can satisfy their hunger, restore their sight and raise them to a new life.” 

It is important to note that Jesus never performed a miracle to show off.  He never performed a miracle too compel submission.   The purpose of miracles was not for His own selfish gain. 

As we bring chapter 2 of Basic Christianity to a close, we are back to where we began.   A basic concern for anyone who wants to be a Christian is dealing with Jesus as real or Jesus as imposter.  Did Jesus attempt to gain authority over men when He did not deserve it?  Was He just mistaken about His identity and suffering from a delusion?  His claims for identity were based on what He said about Himself, His direct connection with God His Father, His indirect claims for divine responsibilities and finally His miracles. 

Skeptical people may always be skeptical.  They may always find explanations that will deny facts.  I don’t need an alarm clock.  I have a natural way of waking up.  The sun in my bedroom is an aberration, maybe I have just never noticed it before.  That clock at the market is wrong; they never have it set accurately.  The video billboard is wrong because it was affected with the power outage also. 

Making an “inductive leap” varies from person to person.  Five facts may do it for someone but someone else may take fifteen.  Some people are so stubborn that nothing will make them believe.  Then we have people like “Doubting Thomas” who observe miracle after miracle and will not declare Jesus’ identity until some irrefutable dramatic moment.  It took Thomas to be in the presence of Jesus after His death.  He had to touch His crucifixion wounds to move him from doubter to believer crying out “My Lord and my God!”  That was when Thomas made his inductive leap.

The dramatized claims of Jesus may make the strongest case for His identity because they “show” His power over this world, a power that is not of this world.

They show that Jesus has…

The power of God.

They show that Jesus…

Is God…

*Miracle facts are from the gotquestions.org website from articles like “What Were the Miracles of Jesus?”

*My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross…   I think readers may find this approach interesting.  For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020.  I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.

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The Knot at the End of My Rope…

Let’s imagine that it seems like everything in your life is falling apart.  You literally embody the phrase “I am at the end of myself,” meaning that you have lost control and you can see no bright future ahead.  At that point you just need answers, or maybe even just one single answer.  You don’t know where to turn.  Pastor Ed Taylor writes “man’s extremities are God’s opportunities.  It’s not a Bible verse but a spiritual truth seen throughout the Bible.  What it means is that until we come to the end of ourselves and our resources and our fleshly attempts to solve the issues in our lives, God is then given a platform to work on our behalf. God will often allow us to get to the very end of ourselves in our current situations.  He will watch us fight and squirm. He will observe us struggle and wrestle until we come to the very end. He wants us at the place where we finally conclude it’s too much, where we just can’t take it anymore. It’s when we finally give up that God is given the opportunity to take over and do His work, showing His solution, revealing His salvation” [from “Ministry”  Ed Taylor  June 24, 2016].  That’s when many are ready to “come to Jesus,” accept the claims that He is their Lord.

Last week I commented on what John Stott calls Jesus’ direct claims for His divinity.  He stated His life was a fulfillment of Scripture.  I wrote about Simon Peter’s declaration of Jesus’ divinity.   Jesus’ parable method of instruction was certainly meant to lead the Disciples to the conclusion that He was Divine. Finally when “doubting” Thomas had his first-hand experience of touching Jesus’ scars after the resurrection, that was Thomas’ defining moment: indeed, he saw Jesus was the Son of God. 

Surely a Divine Savior should be able to provide all the needed answers one has to have to solve life’s problems and direct claims of divinity would surely be enough to sway a seeker.

But maybe direct claims need to be bolstered by indirect claims. Stott writes* that “the implications of His ministry were as eloquent as testimony to His person as His plain statements [direct statements].  On many occasions He exercised functions which belong properly to God” [29].  Stott labels these functions as “indirect claims.”  Don’t let the word “indirect” be misinterpreted.  Indirect does not mean weak.  Many times when Jesus made these types of claims, bystanders declared “Who is this who makes such claims?”  “Who can do this but God alone?” and “What blasphemy is this?”

We have a cliché today that might apply: “it is not what you know as much as who you know.”  In this case, Jesus claimed to know God.

First of all Jesus said that He could forgive sins.  When a paralytic came to Jesus via a pallet lowered from the roof, He saw that the man’s problem was more spiritual than physical.   He just said “My son, your sins are forgiven” and the paralytic was no longer paralyzed.  One would think that this would be met with amazement but many in the crowd had questions; in Luke 5 verses 24 and 25 we see the following:  “‘So that you may know the Son of Man has the right and the power on earth to forgive sins,’ He said to the man who could not move his body, ‘I say to you, get up. Take your bed and go to your home.’  At once the sick man got up in front of them. He took his bed and went to his home thanking God.”  Another instance was the woman known to be immoral.  Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s home when the woman came behind Him.  She washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. She kissed Jesus’ feet and anointed them with oil.  He replied  “Your sins are forgiven.”  In both these examples Jesus was forgiving people as only God could.

Secondly, Jesus made the indirect claim of bestowing life.  He certainly referred to Himself as the “bread of life,” “the life” and “the resurrection and the life.”  He compared his followers’ dependence on Him as “sustenance derived from the vine by its branches.”  He referred to Himself as the “Good Shepherd” who give up His life for His sheep.  He said that He has authority over all flesh and even goes so far as to say in several places in the Gospels “the Son gives life to whom He will.”  Stott admits that it is very unclear about this “life” that Jesus is referring to.  Is it actual physical life or is it spiritual life?  Does it matter?  When He offers a Samaritan woman “living water” is it important if it is literal or spiritual?  I think she gets the implication; look at the verses:  “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.  But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.’   The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I will not get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’” [John 4: 13-15].

Jesus claimed to teach the truth.  Stott writes it is “not so much the truths that He taught as the direct and dogmatic manner in which He taught them which calls for notice” [30].  Teachers of Jesus’ day did not teach without quoting their authorities, but Jesus claimed an authority on His own.  Instead of saying “Thus says the Lord” Jesus said “Truly, truly I say to you.”  Stott admits that Jesus describes His doctrine as His Father’s but He knew He could speak with personal confidence because He had Divine revelation.  “He never hesitated or apologized.  He had no need to contradict, withdraw or modify anything He said.  He spoke the unequivocal words of God” [Stott, 31].  Instead of suggestions, Jesus spoke in commands: “Love your enemies,” “Do not be anxious about tomorrow,” and “Judge not lest you be judged.”  His words were law and they would never pass away. 

Lastly, Jesus claimed to judge the world.  Maybe this was the most audacious claim He made.  Jesus claimed to not only be the Judge but He established the criterion of judgment.  Judgment is based on how people treat His brothers and how they respond to His word.   “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.”  In addition, if you deny Jesus you will be denied.  On a person’s last day, denial of Jesus will be met with Jesus saying “I never knew you.”  Jesus uses several parables to instruct that He will be there at the final day of “reckoning” and He will be there to separate men one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.  Some will be invited to inherit the Kingdom while others will hear the awful words “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire.”

Earlier I wrote “it is not what you know as much as who you know.”  At second glance, I am not sure that this cliché applies.  Jesus claimed to know God?  We know that Jesus was God.  Was it appropriate to claim the right to forgive sins, bestow life, teach the truth and judge the world?  I think so, for He was God.    When we get to the point in life when we are lost, it is good to know that Jesus is there to help us to hang on.  When I looked up the origin of the expression “I am at the end of myself” I found several references to being “at the end of my rope.”  I found one author who said when we are at that point, we need to tie a knot in the rope and hang on. It is a good image; let’s extend it a bit.

Maybe that Knot is Jesus Christ and his “indirect claims.”

Maybe I should add another well-known Christian expression about that Knot at this point…

“Jesus Saves”

*in his book Basic Christianity   

***My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross…   I think readers may find this approach interesting.  For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020.  I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.

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“You can be assured, God will Provide…”

Trying to establish that Jesus Christ was a “self-centered Messiah may be a “stretch” for many Christians  because so much of Jesus’ teaching centers around living a humble life.*  Yet in the previous post entitled “Jesus Christ, the Self-centered Messiah” [March 10, 2021] I try to show that Jesus took that unique approach in His ministry [John Stott’s idea, not mine].  I attempt to argue that Jesus made bold claims that He knew were foretold by Scripture in the Old Testament.  The Pentateuch, The Law of the Prophets and the Psalms and Wisdom Literature have prophetic passages that point to the coming of Jesus.   When He arrived in this world, it was only natural for Him to say “I am the truth; follow Me.”  Maybe instead of “self-centered,” John Stott (in his book Basic Christianity) could have described Jesus as forthright, determined or even courageous.

If there indeed is a problem with the pejorative nature of the words “self-centered” or not, Stott’s initial contention still stands: that if someone is wondering about the value of belief in Jesus Christ, they must make an effort to get to know the Man.  Laying aside his comments about self-centeredness, Stott says “Essentially Christianity is Christ.  The person and work of Christ are the rock upon which the Christian religion is built…Take Christ from Christianity and you disembowel it; there is nothing left.”  For the seeker, who is Jesus Christ?

In “getting to know” Jesus, the biggest faith hurdle that one must accept is that Jesus Christ is divine.  For seekers that is a big hurdle. 

For one to accept this, Stott knows that evidence needs to prove that Jesus was the Son of God.  “Vague divinity” will not suffice.  Believers need to know that Jesus has “an eternal and essential relation to God possessed by no other person.  We regard Him neither as God in human disguise, nor as a man with divine qualities, but as God-man” [Stott, 22].

I am reading the Book of Luke right now and Luke [the learned physician] begins his Gospel with these thoughts: “Since many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a narrative of the surely established deeds which have been accomplished and fulfilled in and among us.  Exactly as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word.”  Focus on the words that Luke uses: “surely established deeds” “fulfilled in and among us” and “from the beginning were eyewitnesses.”   He is telling the reader that he saw the divinity of Jesus first hand, with his own eyes and Jesus’ deeds actually happened.   In other words, he is not making this stuff up.

Jesus began His public ministry with the word “fulfilled.”  He had gone into Galilee where He began to proclaim the good news of God:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel!” [Mark 1: 15].  What is the significance of these words?  Stott comments that this is His acceptance of the title of “Son of God.”  It is from one of Daniel’s visions in the Old Testament.  It is also a title that is taken from Psalm 2:7.  Jesus interpreted His mission on earth in light of the portrayal of “the suffering servant of Jehovah” in the latter part of the book of Isaiah.  Did the Disciples come to believe in His divinity?  Did they understand the idea that Jesus came to fulfill God’s plan for connecting with man?  The first one to come onboard was Simon Peter. 

In the Gospels this is referred to as Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi. The Disciples had walked with Jesus for about three years, listening to His teachings and witnessing His miracles. They came to know Jesus as a man. However, Thanks to God,  Simon had come to understand that Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.  Caesarea Philippi is on the northern edge of Israel and it had a popular reputation as a center for cult worship [even having a location where infants were sacrificed to appease the gods].  It is interesting that in this very dark place, God revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.

With this background in mind, the words that Jesus spoke on this spot are even more meaningful. Here’s what happened as recorded in the book of Matthew:  “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His Disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’  They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’  Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’  Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’” (Matthew 16:13-19).

The Disciples had walked with Jesus for three years before this had happened.  He had instructed them and He had performed miracles before them.  Finally a Disciple publicly acknowledged the divinity of Jesus.  

Did His instruction make sense and if it did, does this prove His divinity? Turn to Mark 4 10-12 and see what He says about His parable instruction to His disciples.  “When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked Him about the parables. He said to them, ‘The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables.  This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.’”  “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!”  Jesus says to His Disciples.  “Many prophets and kings desired to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” [from the book of Luke]. 

Further instruction came in the fact that Jesus taught His Disciples to address God as Father.  In His mind His Father was God but He also was trying to teach that men needed to have a closer relationship with God.  He also wanted them to accept the idea that to know Him was to know God.  Stott picks out several examples of Jesus trying to instruct the Disciples that He was God and God was also His Father.  “To see Him was to see God; to believe in Him was to believe in God; to receive Him was to receive God; to hate Him was to hate God; to honor Him was to honor God” [from Stott, 27].

At the end of the eighth Chapter of John, Jesus makes another claim about His relationship with God.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, they will never see death.”  Critics of Jesus could not stand this, rebutting this comment with a reference to the Jewish Father Abraham, who had died.  “Abraham died as did the prophets…are you greater than our Father Abraham?”  When Jesus said “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day” they saw that Jesus claimed divinity.  He had seen Abraham: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  They took up stones to stone Him.

For some disciples it took extreme measures to prove that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.  Let’s look at Thomas who did not accept the fact that Jesus was God until Jesus had undergone death and then resurrection.  We know there were eyewitness accounts that Thomas was in the upper room with other Disciples when Jesus appeared.  He still doubted.  Jesus asked him to feel His wounds.  At that point, Thomas went from doubter to believer crying out “My Lord and my God!”  He had finally accepted Jesus’ divinity. 

What does it take for one to accept Jesus as God?  How many times does Jesus have to claim divinity?  How may disciples have to declare it?  Will reading the Gospels make the case?   Maybe none of this is enough.  Maybe the only way for a stubborn person to come to the realization that Jesus was God is to experience their own personal miracle.   Something that has no worldly explanation comes about and the recipient of the miracle knows that it has to be God. 

There are many doubting Thomases in the world.  Thomas heard Jesus’ claims first hand, he sat at the foot of the Teacher, yet he never declared his acceptance of Jesus’ divinity until he touched His wounds.

Some come to Christ easier than others, but others remain skeptics, refusing to believe without direct personal experience.  If that is what it takes…

You can be assured, God will provide.

* My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross…   I think readers may find this approach interesting.  For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020.  I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.  This post is based on comments from Basic Christianity.

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Jesus Christ, the Self-centered Messiah

Self-centered: “concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests.”

In his book Basic Christianity* John Stott attempts to provide evidence that Jesus Christ is God.  His contention is that if someone seeking a foundation for Christianity cannot believe that Christ is who He said He was, then any foundation that one may have is undermined.  To provide evidence, Stott turns to the Bible for Jesus’ claims. The first major point that he attempts to make is that Jesus is self-centered.  Stott writes “The most striking feature of the teaching of Jesus is that He was constantly talking about Himself.”

 “Jesus is self-centered” [23].

How could this be?  This is the Child who was born in a stable, and cradled in a manger.  He was so common that he did not own an acre of land, much less a home.  He rode into Jerusalem in His last days on a donkey.  His told parables of humility, sending a message that a simple work of service can be considered doing the work of God. Jesus told of the Pharisee who prayed in a proud manner when Jesus said that humble prayer is the best way to thank God for the blessings of life.  He told the parable of the guests at the wedding feast “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. “But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”  [Luke 14].  In the upper room Jesus took the time to wash his Disciples’ feet, sending a message that a simple work of service can be considered doing the work of God.  Richard Newton, writing on Christ’s humility says “He did not mean that they should literally make a practice of washing each other’s feet; but that they should show the same humility to others that He had shown to them, by being willing to do anything, however humble it might be, in order to promote their comfort and happiness. It is not the act itself, here spoken of, that Jesus teaches us to do; but the spirit of humility in which the act was performed that He teaches us to cultivate.”

Yet Stott says “Jesus is self-centered.”

There is great evidence of this.  “I am the light of the world.”  “I am the bread of life.”  “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me.” [a sampling of Scripture from John and Matthew].

Truly these seem to be self-centered claims and they are powerful statements.  Stott writes these types of statements are not “self-effacing. He [Jesus] was self-advancing.”  When He could have pointed men away from Himself saying “This is the truth; follow that.” He said “I am the truth; follow Me.”

When it comes to His role as a human being in this world,  He had no doubt.  He was sent on a mission and that allowed Him to be bold about His claims.  Luke 24: 27 is a passage showing His strength for He was rebuking two disciples on the road to Emmaus:  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Him.  A few verses later [44] He says to a group of His followers “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Some Christians feel that Jesus only shows up in the New Testament but what He was saying is no, I have always been.  In Genesis we learn that The Messiah would be descended from Eve, Jewish [from Abraham and the tribe of Judah] and He would crush Satan and rule as King forever.  Moses says in Deuteronomy “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like Me from among your brothers.  You must listen to Him.”  God deals with Israel by choosing them, redeeming them and establishing a covenant with them, making atonement for their sin, but in their experiences, they were redeemed from their bondage to the Egyptians and through our experiences, we have been redeemed of our bondage to sin.  The parallels are there.

In the Law of the Prophets, we encounter many Old Testament kings who tried to rule a nation on their own, a nation that knew it was really ruled by God.  Over and over kingdoms fell as kings ignored God’s laws.  Kingdoms were redeemed as God found a way to forgive His wayward people.  King David vowed to build God a permanent home and even though he was another imperfect ruler, his better qualities began a discussion of what Jesus would eventually be.  Stott writes that the four characteristics were “peace, justice, universality and eternity.”  Isaiah 9: 6-7 prophesizes the coming of Jesus in these words: “For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace…He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom…the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”  These words foretell the glory of Jesus and in Isaiah 53, we see words that foretell His suffering.  “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”

The third division of the Old Testament is called the Writings, the Psalms and wisdom literature.  Several Psalms apply to Jesus in the New Testament making reference to His deity, His humanity, His suffering and His exaltation.   Phrases from the Psalms are repeated often in the New Testament such as the words of God from Psalm 2: 7 which we find repeated at Jesus’ transfiguration “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  References from Psalm 8 to man as “lower than the heavenly beings” are applied to Christ in the New Testament book of Hebrews.  “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me” is a direct quote from Psalm22:1 Wisdom literature references are common in the teachings of Jesus and when we turn to Proverbs 8: 27-31 and note that this Scripture celebrating God’s creation of the earth starts with the words “I was there when He set the heavens in place” the inference is very strong that the One who was there was Jesus. 

Stott makes it perfectly clear that when he writes that “Jesus is self-centered” this is not to be considered a criticism.  He writes that Old Testament Scripture “depicts Him [Jesus] as a greater prophet than Moses, a greater priest than Aaron and a greater king than David.  That is to say, He will perfectly reveal God to man, reconcile man to God and rule over man for God.  In Him, the Old Testament ideals of prophecy, priesthood and kingship will find their final fulfillment.”

Jesus may have been bold in His claims but He knew what He was supposed to do.  He was calling man to Himself when He said “come to Me” and “follow Me.”  In Him He knew that salvation for man was possible, if we could only let go of our earthly concerns and look for a life with Him.  He knew He was our guide.  He was opening the door for us to live a life with Him now and forever.  He was prophesized to do this work and He knew the best approach.

Not “This is the truth; follow that.”

He knew the best way was “I am the truth; follow Me.”**

*My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross…   I think readers may find this approach interesting.  For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020.  I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.

**Supplemental content for this post comes from John Stott  Understanding the Bible.

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“It’s Time To Get Back To Fundamentals!”

Recently I have had some serious questions about my Christian faith.* 

I was “born again” in 1998 in the midst of personal upheaval.  I found God in that upheaval.  I have referenced that many times in this blog so let’s not return to that story.  Before 1998, I had forty-seven years of mostly “regular” church attendance.  In reality, I would say my regular attendance should really be better described as “spotty” but the main point is that I was raised in a home that valued church attendance.  After 1998, I have been on a different pathway in my Christian life.  Like most Christians, I have had my ups and downs over the years, but generally I began to try to learn more about God, support my church, advance my prayer life, serve others and be more disciplined in my life choices. I have had a sincere interest in having a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.**  You might say I have been on a pathway to righteousness.

Recently, I have been interested in focusing on fundamentals.  Athletic coaches sometimes love to preach that sermon.  When gifted athletes begin to have problems they say “It’s time to get back to the fundamentals!”  So I have begun to reread, rethink and meditate on basic books like Rick Warren’s The Purpose- Driven Life.  Another basic book for me has been John Stott’s Basic Christianity.  If  you have been following this blog, you know I have devoted some posts to Basic Christianity.  I have been interweaving them with posts from Stott’s more challenging book The Cross of Christ. 

Stott has already declared in his book “Basics” and I have written on the following ideas: “Jesus is the Son of God,” “Jesus came to earth for a reason and we need to respond with our actions,” “God created the world and He has expectations of us humans.”***

Those ideas are what I would call introductory, but I am not sure they are what most Christians would call “the absolute foundation of Christian faith”.  Stott begins Chapter 2 in Basic with the following statements and questions that get at that foundation.  “We have seen that it is necessary to seek if we are ever to find.  But where shall we begin our search?  The Christian answers that the only place at which to begin is the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth; for if God has spoken and acted, it is fully and finally in Jesus Christ that He has done so.  The crucial issue is this: was the Carpenter of Nazareth the Son of God?” [Stott, 21].

If one does not believe that Christ is who He said He was and if He did not do what He said He had come to do, then the foundation of our faith is undermined. Jesus Christ must be the absolute center of our beliefs.  Who was this God Man?  If one can accept that Jesus Christ was and is real, then God becomes real and God’s character is revealed.  Man begins to have a purpose because man’s purpose is wrapped up in God’s purpose for man.  Rick Warren says “You were born by His purpose and for His purpose.”  Life after death has meaning because Jesus taught us in His words and His actions that life after death is real.  Even the teaching of the Old Testament has more meaning because Jesus taught from the Old Testament and we can see that His life fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.

But for the person who seeks to have Christian faith, the starting point is not the Old Testament but instead, the Gospels.****  The seeker needs to see these books of the Bible as historical even though more advanced believers see them as inspired by God.*****  Their authors were Christian men who were honest, objective observers of Jesus Christ on this earth. Their accounts are the accounts of eye witnesses.  Based on what they say, Stott writes that the seeker should see Jesus portrayed in the Gospels as “neither God in human disguise, nor as man with Divine qualities, but as God-Man…Jesus was a historic person with two distinct and perfect natures,  Godhead and manhood” [Stott, 22].

Where is the evidence?

As I have stated, it is in the Gospels, but when we search the Gospels, what should we be looking for?  One thing is the claims that Jesus made, His teachings.  Stott describes Jesus’ teachings as “self-centered.”  He said “I” am the Messiah, the One who has come to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, the Kingdom that was prophesized in the Old Testament.  Still another is the “indirect claims,” the ideas He advanced as implications of His ministry [e.g. forgiving sins, bestowing life, teaching the truth and judging the world].  He did things that were functions of God.  Finally Jesus had what Stott calls “dramatized claims” which were His signs and wonders or what we would commonly call miracles. 

In the upcoming posts, I will be discussing all these claims as answers for people who are seeking a foundation for Christian faith.  Some would argue that a supposed “God-Man” making claims does not constitute evidence but the claims do demand an explanation.  Stott cites Archbishop William Temple who wrote “It is now recognized that the one Christ for whose existence there is any evidence at all is a miraculous Figure making stupendous claims.”  The claims of Jesus bear explaining and as they are explained, people who are seeking to fulfill their spiritual longing can find hope in the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth.

In helping others with their faith, I may be helping myself to resolve some of the serious questions I have recently been having about my faith.  In 1998, I found purpose for my life in my born-again faith.  Is that purpose still alive?  Is it real in my life?  Famous atheist Bertrand Russell is to have said “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.” 

Here is how I respond:  I know I was born to live for God and I do live for Him. 

I look forward in the next posts to discussing the “self-centered teaching of Jesus” and His claims (direct, indirect and dramatized). 

As I reaffirm my faith maybe I can reaffirm others’ faith.

Let’s get back to the fundamentals!

*Here is my problem:  I have exposed myself to people who love to tell others they are Christian and then do things that don’t quite seem Christian [I will be the first to tell you that I don’t know their heart].  My return to “fundamentals” has helped me a lot, but also I recognize that I need to quit paying so much attention to people in the media who seem so confused about “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

**This “closer relationship with Jesus Christ” is a trite phrase in Christian circles, but it really means a sincere desire to live a better life according to Biblical principles; the more a person lives like Jesus [impossible task] the more they “relate” to Him.

***These ideas are explained in greater detail in posts on St. John Studies on December 7, 2020; December 21, 2020;  January 27, 2021 and February 2, 2021.

****the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

*****more advanced believers also often have knowledge of the Gospels as historical documents with proof texts from the First Century that corroborate the accuracy of the writings.

Addendum:  My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross…   I think readers may find this approach interesting.  For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020.  I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.

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“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

In John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ, he vows to devote his whole book to an in-depth analysis of the meaning of the cross for Christians.  In “Chapter Three” entitled “Looking Below the Surface,” he has considers the deep meaning of Jesus’ words at The Last Supper,  he analyzes Jesus’ words and acts in the Garden at Gethsemane and to end the chapter, he focuses on the “cry of dereliction” on the cross. 

If you are an experienced Christian, how many times have you wondered why Jesus cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” or “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” [referenced in Matthew and Mark]. 

At this point, Jesus has suffered betrayal, arrest, trial, scourging, spitting, mob hysteria and mocking.  He has been forced to carry His own cross along the via dolorosa out of the city to Golgotha, the place of the skull.  There you know the process, the hammering of the nails into His limbs and the tearing that occurs as the body is lifted up on the cross and dropped into the hole that stands it upright. 

The crowd remained to watch for a while.  Jesus spoke very little, saying “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”   Jesus asked John to care for His mother.  He spoke words of comfort to the criminal who expressed repentance at His side.

Down below, the skeptical and the hateful shouted out “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself!” 

Good point…

Why could He not use his Divine powers to come down from the cross?

He could have…

Why did He not summon an army of Angels to assist Him?

He could have…

Why did He not have God His Father to perform a miracle and actually remove Him from His deadly perch?

He could have…

Christians know the reasons for Jesus not putting these scenarios into play.  He could not save Himself and save the rest of us at the same time.  He chose to sacrifice Himself in order to save the world.

Until “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

Why did He have to say that?  For a man on a mission, that utterance seems to be surprising and it is a major point of discussion for John Stott.

“The cry of dereliction”…

Some theorize that the words are a cry of anger, that Jesus wanted God to rescue Him or that God would give Him some form of comfort that would help Him endure His time on the cross.  But that was not to be.  God had truly deserted His only Son and Jesus felt it.   Some theorize that the words indicate lack of belief, but if they did, Jesus was mistaken.  He imagined that God had forsaken Him but really we know that God had not.   Looking for flaws like anger, lack of belief or even despair deny the “moral perfection of the character of Jesus.”    Really they are accusing Him of failure but believing Christians know that their Savior was not a failure. 

A second interpretation is that the cry was a cry of loneliness.  The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus knew that God never fails His people [see Joshua 1:5, 9 or Isaiah 41: 10].  He knew the permanence of covenant love.  But Jesus was a Man upon that cross, a Man who was in need of His Father.  His human side needed some Fatherly love, Fatherly kindness.  Stott points to the humanity of Jesus and writes He was having what “the saints have called the dark night of the soul” [82].  This explanation does not cast aspersions on the character of Jesus because His feelings were real; this explanation is based in His humanity.

Thirdly, the most popular interpretation is that Jesus was uttering a cry of victory.  Jesus quoted the first verse of Psalm 22 on the cross [“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”] and that means that He meant to represent the whole Psalm which ends with great confidence and triumph.  Stott writes that this idea is “ingenious but (it seems to me)  far-fetched.  Why would Jesus have quoted the Psalm’s beginning if in reality He was alluding to its end.”  If this was the case, no one would have understood His purpose for going to the cross.

Finally, the words of despair could be taken at their face value.    As Jesus spent His time on the cross, a darkness in the sky began to form.  This darkness could represent a true separation from God.  Why the darkness?  It was due to our sins.  Why the separation from His father?  It was due to our sins.  Why does Jesus feel forsaken?  It was due to our sins.  This abandonment was our fault; it was suffered by Jesus because it was the way that God reconciled the world to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus was the bridge between God and man but in order to be the bridge, He had to bear the guilt of man’s sins when He had never sinned.  It was not fair, but it was part of the Divine plan.

After the “cry of dereliction” Jesus said three more things: “I am thirsty,” “It is finished” and “Father into Your hands I commit My spirit.”  Stott writes “Deliberately, freely and in perfect love He has endured the judgement in our place.  He has procured salvation for us, established a new covenant between God and humankind, and made available the chief covenant blessing, the forgiveness of sins” [84].  The curtain of the temple which for centuries symbolized the separation of human sinners from God was torn in two in order for us to have a literal representation that Jesus destroyed that barrier. 

Jesus’ action and words at The Last Supper emphasize the importance that He attached to His death.  His words in Gethsemane certainly explain the agony He knew He was going to face on the cross and the cry of dereliction was appropriate for an innocent man separated from His Father as He bore our sins on the cross.

Stott closes this chapter with three strong statements about “ourselves, about God and about Jesus Christ.”

First, “our sin must be extremely horrible.”  A righteous God had to bear our sins in order for us to have a chance at righteousness.  We needed Jesus as our Savior.  We should put our trust in Him.

Secondly, “God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension.”  God could have abandoned us to our fate.  We deserved to reap the fruit of our own wrongdoing, but He pursued us all the way to the cross.  We toss the word “grace” around a lot as Christians.  That is what God did; He gave us something that we did not deserve: forgiveness. He “graced” us with forgiveness.

Thirdly, our salvation is the greatest free gift that we could ever get.  Jesus purchased it with His own blood.  There is nothing left for us to pay.  Jesus paid it all.  Some feel that the gift of forgiveness is a license to sin.  These folks can always come back to the “fold” because He offers a cleansing, time after time.  But that is not the intention.  God intends for us to live a holy life, not a sin-forgiveness, sin-forgiveness cycle.

That is not the idea of “new life.”

We never achieve the level of righteousness that is “good enough” but God intends us to try anyhow.  God intends us to use His gift for the good of this world.  Produce the fruit of our life with Him and give Him the glory.

It all begins with our trip to the cross…

Our confession of our sinning…

Our thankfulness for His sacrifice…

Then we can receive from Him our full and free forgiveness…

Thank you God…

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What Will Our Acceptance of God’s Will do for Us?

“Jesus Christ died for you!”  This is one of the more common statements one hears in Christian circles; most Christians just accept it as a foundation of our faith.  I have heard countless preachers say that to their congregations.  “Jesus Christ died so that He could bring us to God.”   This is a bit more complex statement than the previous one because it gets into the mission that Jesus was trying to accomplish as He spent time on earth.  He tried to be an intermediary between God and man because man needs God and man needs Jesus’ leadership and His inspiration to get to God.  Man could not understand God without Him becoming incarnate.  “Jesus died for our sins in order for us to receive God’s gifts.”  We all sin; it is just a part of our makeup.  We fail to live perfect lives and when we fail, we are separated from God and His blessings.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross took away the barrier of sin and gave us all a chance for forgiveness and a chance to experience God’s wonderful gifts.  “Jesus died our death.”  That statement means that we are the ones who should suffer on the cross.  We are the sinners; Jesus knew no sin.  He did not deserve to be there for He was guiltless.   He was our substitute.

Unless you are brand new to The Faith, these four statements are not very original.  In fact, you might consider them trite or at best you would describe them as “basic.”  Mature Christians assume that everyone knows what they mean. 

In John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ, he dedicates his whole study to an in-depth analysis of the meaning of the cross, not a “basic” approach to Christ’s sacrifice [note the word “in-depth”].

Look at all four of the statements above.  They all refer to Jesus’ death, His death on the cross and they are considered by many as cornerstone statements of The Faith.

Stott is not content with accepting these rudimentary ideas; he wants to examine three scenes in Jesus’ last twenty-four hours on earth to really understand the meaning of the cross for Him.   He thinks that the Gospel writers who witnessed Jesus’ last days can give us some insight into what He was thinking in those days.   He is trying to “enter into the mind of Christ Himself” [69].  In my previous post, we delved into the deep meaning of The Last Supper.

Now we will turn our attention to the agony that Jesus displayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Is “agony” a hyperbolic word?   Stott references B.B. Warfield who writes on the emotional life of our Lord.  The original word used by Luke is agonia.   Warfield feels this translates as pain, distress and being overwhelmed with deep sorrow.   In Mark’s Gospel, his original word translates as deeply distressed or horror struck.  Matthew’s word for agony translates as loathing aversion, consternation, appalled reluctance and despondency.  Taken together, Jesus was feeling something extra painful in the Garden at Gethsemane, something causing profuse sweating, a sweat so extreme that it was described as drops of blood.

The ordeal that He knew He would face in His immediate future was not going to be easy.  Some point out that His knowledge of His upcoming suffering was the reason for His asking God to alter the course of His life in His prayers in the garden: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” 

But Stott seems to think it was much, much more than Jesus’ anticipation of His upcoming suffering.  He has an extensive listing of Christian martyrs who faced death at the hands of their persecutors, from the Disciples to Ignatius, Polycarp and Alban.  He even mentions Socrates who did not protest when he was given his cup of poison in his prison cell in Athens.  If it was just anguish over His upcoming suffering, Jesus did not handle it as well as many of those who were persecuted for their faith.

Stott writes “the cup from which He shrank was something different.  It symbolized neither the physical pain of being flogged and crucified, nor the mental distress of being despised and rejected by His own people, but rather the spiritual agony of bearing the sins of the world—in other words, of enduring the Divine judgement that those sins deserved” [Stott, 78].  A cup is the symbol of God’s wrath, seen throughout the Old Testament in Ezekiel 23: 32-34, Isaiah 51: 17-22 and Psalm 75: 8.  Jesus recognized that the wine He was being offered would turn His world upside down.  Here was a sinless man being given full contact with human sin.  Here was a sinless man anticipating alienation from His Father.  Here was a sinless man being judged for sins He did not commit. 

Why did He pray that “this cup be taken away?”  Because He knew everything is possible for God.  He knew God could take it away; He had the power.

But let’s examine the whole prayer of Jesus for the whole story…

When Jesus asks for the cup to be taken away, He followed those words with the very courageous words “yet not as I will, but as You will.”  It is almost as if His human side feared the upcoming pain but His Divine side knew to leave His fate in the hands of God and He knew His whole life on earth was a mission to save human sinners.

This mission was impossible without the “sin bearing death of the Savior” [Stott, 79].

When His agony was over, Jesus seemed to feel a resolve to carry out the will of His Father.  When the soldiers came to take him to Pilate, Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus.  Jesus said “Shall I not drink the cup my Father has given Me?” [John 18:11].   At this point Jesus knew that He would experience a wrath that no human would ever want.   His Father had ordained this and He would accept it. 

Was it bitter and painful?

Of course it was, but if it was His Father’s will, He had no choice.

As we look “below the surface” of the agony in the garden, we see a Jesus who grows closer to His death on the cross.  In the Upper Room, he tried to teach about the significance of His death; many feel that is what His last supper was all about.  Communion is all about Jesus teaching the significance of His death.  But in the garden, we saw a man who does not want the pain and agony of the cross, yet he accepted it.  What was he trying to communicate with his actions?  Certainly he was not trying to show fear, dread or anguish.  He was showing resolve.  He was showing reverence.  He was showing acceptance.

“Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

This acceptance of God’s will is one of the most important things we can do as Christians, for in doing this, we bend our will to God’s and we take the humble position of a sheep as we follow our Shepherd.   In the previous post on St. John Studies “Remember Him…,” I centered a lot of my comments around the service of communion which only occurs monthly in my church.  When I go to church every Sunday, I pray the same prayer, the prayer that Jesus gave us as our model and I say the same line  “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

In my opinion, one of the most powerful phrases in the whole prayer comes in the middle of that line: “Your will be done.”

Jesus knew that God’s will would be done when He prayed in the Garden.

That phrase turned His anguish into courageous resolve.

What will our acceptance of God’s will do for us?

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Remember Him…

This past Sunday my church celebrated communion.  Once again, I heard the familiar words about the bread and the cup:  “’This is My body, which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me’…In the same way, after supper had ended, He took a cup of wine, gave thanks for it, passed it around to them and said ‘This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”

These familiar words may just be too familiar, masking their significance, their impact.  In these words we may get some insight on how Jesus viewed his own death.

John Stott* is fascinated by why Jesus chose to go to His death.  He wonders when Jesus went to His mountain-top transfiguration, why did He come back into this world?   Peter, James, and John went to the mountain where they saw Jesus transfigured into a radiant, glorious figure.  Moses was by His side as well as Elijah.   Many think this was a foreshadowing of the risen Christ but maybe Jesus could have chosen to go to His Father right then.  He could have bypassed the cross.  He didn’t; He came down from the mountaintop and faced the human experience of death. 

Most Christians are satisfied with four precepts that characterize what Jesus did:  He died for us, He died for us that He might bring us to God, He died for our sins that we could receive God’s gifts, and He died for our death (our sin should have equaled our death). 

John Stott is not “most Christians.”  He wants a better rationale for Jesus’ behavior.  “Something deeper was happening than mere words and deeds, something below the surface.”  Jesus knew He was going to die:  “On Maundy Thursday Jesus had already seen the sun set for the last time.  Within about fifteen hours His limbs would be stretched out on the cross.  Within twenty-four hours He would be both dead and buried.  And He knew it” [Stott, 69].   Stott feels the extraordinary thing about all this is that at the height of His powers, Jesus was looking at death as the completion of His purpose here on earth. 

When Jesus was in the Upper Room, He uttered the words in the first paragraph of this post.   The words about His body and His blood [the bread and the wine] added drama and significance to the meal, but what did the words really mean? 

Stott writes that there were three lessons that Jesus was trying to teach.

First of all, He was trying to point out that His death was to be celebrated in a memorial service that would occur over and over again.  “Do this is remembrance of Me” and “whenever you drink it” are phrases that point to the idea that the Last Supper will be performed again.  The “bread” did not stand for His living body which was before them in the upper room; the bread stood for His body which would be given for them in death.  The wine did not stand for the literal blood in His veins; it stood for the blood which was to be poured out for them in His death.  Jesus wanted all of His followers to remember His death.  Stott goes so far as to say, “There is then, it is safe to say, no Christianity without the cross.”

Secondly, by His behavior in the Upper Room, Jesus was teaching about the purpose of His death.   Jesus did not just refer to the wine as blood, He referred to the wine as a symbol of the “new covenant” associated with His blood.   Matthew writes that Jesus’ blood was shed “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Jesus knew He was instituting a new “pact” with His people, a pact that promises the forgiveness of our sins.  The “Old Covenant” was established with Abraham, which promised to bless him with good land, abundant prosperity and multitudes of descendants.  This covenant was ratified through the blood of sacrifice, but as the years passed, the Israelites continually broke the covenant and provoked God’s judgement.  The Prophet Jeremiah knew that the New Covenant was coming, not commandments written on stone but law in the minds and hearts of the people, law that will forgive their sins and remember them no more [Jeremiah 31: 31-34]. 

Six centuries passed, years of waiting for a Galilean peasant, carpenter and itinerant rabbi to seal the “New Covenant.”  Jesus knew He was The Messiah, dying to bring His people into a new relationship with God.

Thirdly, through His death, Jesus taught that believers should participate in their faith personally.  How can we do that?  When we take communion, we are taking blessed bread and blessed wine.   We are not spectators at that point; we become participants.   Stott calls the act of communion a “vivid acted parable of receiving Christ as our crucified Savior and of feeding on Him in our hearts by faith” [73].  Jesus had already taught about the “living bread” when He fed the five thousand; note these words from John 6, 53-55: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink.”    Participation in the Lord’s Supper is not intended to be an option for the believer; we are expected to partake of Christ’s body and His blood.

Keep in mind that all of these teachings in the Upper Room occurred in a context.  That context was the Passover.  Jesus knew that His death was going to coincide with the annual commemoration of God’s liberation of Israel from the Egyptians.   Jesus referred to the Last Supper as the Passover meal but Jesus was taking liberty with the celebration.  Passover was supposed to be eaten on Friday evening when Jesus was on the cross.  The real symbolic significance of this “rearrangement” is that when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed, Jesus was dying on the cross.  Truly the Lamb of God was being sacrificed, and the event was right on God’s schedule, not mans.   Stott surmises that Jesus may have been giving instructions to His believers that the annual celebration of Passover should be replaced by His Last Supper.

Jesus understood the purpose of His death and when one looks “below the surface,” the meaning of His death becomes even more important.  What I did on Sunday takes on a more important meaning.  Communion points to the centrality of Jesus’ death in our faith.  Communion was Jesus teaching about the purpose of His death.  Communion becomes our participation in the death of Jesus, a very personal participation.

“This is My body, which is given for you.”

“This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins.”

Whenever you do this, remember Him…

*in his book  The Cross of Christ

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“Our Response” *

“It is important to realize that the basic ideas of Christianity rest upon the idea that God made the first move”  [from St. John Studies, “In the Beginning,” January 27, 2021].  God spoke the world into existence,  God acted in order to reveal Himself to man  (first through the Old Testament prophets and then through Jesus Christ) and finally God made His move to save man by sending His only Son to the cross to bear man’s iniquity.

Obviously we owe God quite a lot but what does He want in return?

Maybe we can see what He wants in the following verse from Matthew 7:7:  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  The major emphasis should be on the word seek.  John Stott, in his book Basic Christianity, writes that for many, the wonderful things God has done for all of us seem to remain in the past.  “So what if God created the world…  How does that relate to me?  Of course if He did create it, that’s great, but I am not sure I owe Him anything for that.  It is nice that God wants me to know Him but my experience is that this knowledge of God matters little to me in today’s world.  I know about Jesus, but I am not sure I need Him, that I need to worship Him.  In fact, if I become a dedicated follower, I may have to give up some of the fun things that I enjoy doing.”

This is the classic response of someone who does not value life with God and His son Jesus Christ…

In Psalm 14: 2, 3 it says:  “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God.  They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no not one.”

The truth is God has sought us in the past and He is still seeking us.

What must we do?  How do we respond?

We must decide to seek Him.

This is the response that God wants from man.   In Matthew 18: 12 He explains that all of us are important.  “”What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?”  In Luke 15: 8-10 “What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’   Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Stott writes “God desires to be found, but only by those who seek Him” [16].  God wants to be found by those who recognize that they benefit by what He has done and their lives will be made better by a relationship with Him.

How do we respond to God?  Stott says we must be diligent in our quest to be with The Father.  The life of the Christian is not a lazy life.  We should strive to learn as much as we can about God in His Word and we should strive to serve others with His love in our hearts.  We should also be humble as we approach our Father.  Pride is a common hindrance to knowing God.  He does not want us to go beyond our capability as we begin our efforts to know Him.  We should be willing to acknowledge that our minds are limited and no human is capable of truly understanding God’s ways.   Stott writes “Jesus loved children.  They are teachable.  They are not proud, self-important and critical.  We need the open, humble and receptive mind of a little child” [17].  We should approach God honestly.  To really know God, it is important to have our preconceptions set aside.  Many people read the Bible with their minds made up with their own personal agenda.  If that is the case, God may not be found in the pages of His Word.  Jeremiah 29: 13 says “You will seek Me and find Me; when you seek Me with all your heart.”   Lastly, as we seek The Father, we should be prepared to be obedient to His message.  God’s message demands our obedience, a moral change in our lives.  If we find God and insist on doing our will, He will not work within us.  It is His will that we should seek to obey rather than our own.  Earlier in my “classic response,” the last line is the key to the person who decides not to follow God’s ways.  When someone says “I may have to give up some of the fun things that I enjoy doing,” they may be saying that they refuse to make a moral change in their life.  A believer in God does not fear living the life that God requires; they realize the value of making a change.  Stott says “Fear is the greatest enemy of the truth.  Fear paralyzes our search [for God].  We know that to find God and to accept Jesus Christ would be a very inconvenient experience.  It would involve the rethinking of our whole manner of life…We do not find because we do not seek.  We do not seek because we do not want to find” [18].

On January 11 of this year I lost a friend, a man I had known for forty-five years.  This man may have known The Lord, but in my experience with him, we never talked of faith.  In his last years he joined my church and he found his way to my Sunday school class.  He interacted with the class and as his teacher, I would ask him questions from time to time.  I would describe him as someone who struggled to let go of his worldly desires and allow Jesus to have more control of his life.  I know that he had some habits that he enjoyed and they controlled him.   The moral choice that God demands was too much and he could not make a change. 

I was not with him in his last days on this earth, but I have a friend who was.  This woman has a strong belief in The Lord and had similar habits that existed until God took them away and she began to follow Him.  She was able to witness to my friend in ways that I could not.  She was so familiar with his path.  In the last hours of his life, my friend found The Lord, professing a peace that he had never known before, a strength to reconcile with God and a desire to be with Him.   Like the landowner in Matthew who paid his workers equal amounts despite the length of time each worked, God accepted my friend to be with Him even though he waited until the end of his life to profess his true faith.  It does not matter, for in God’s kingdom the “last will be first, and the first will be last.”  God is a generous God and God continues to seek us, even unto our last hour on this earth. 

He wants us to give Him a chance in our lives.  He has spoken, acted and saved and He wants us to respond.  Seek Him.  Come to the Bible that “claims to be His revelation. Come particularly to the Gospels which tell the story of Jesus Christ.  Give Him a chance to confront you with Himself and to authenticate Himself to you” [19].

God made the first moves.

He spoke, He acted and He saved…

Won’t you respond?

*My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross. I think readers may find this interesting. For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020. I have never worked on two books at the same time but I feel now is the time to do this.

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