This may be one of the least popular posts I have written…

John Stott writes* “Christians are often criticized for harping on it too much.  But it is only because Christians are realists that they do so…it is a fact of human experience” [61].

In my previous post, I got personal.  I wrote about approaches to sin, approaches that I illustrated with people I have actually known, people who really did not deal with the reality of their sin: the “nice” person, the man with the “laundry list” of good deeds and Mr. “Goody Two-Shoes.”

Sometimes illustrations are effective because they make a point and they are easy to understand, but in this post I want to get into the specifics of why human beings sin, why it is a fact of human experience.

This may be one of the least popular posts I have written since I began this blog in December 2014.

“We don’t want to admit that we have a “sin nature.”  This is an extremely harsh statement but it is true:  sinning is “baked into” who we are as human beings.  We are made to be rebellious against God; we have a natural inclination to sin.  God has given us a choice in life:  to do His will or to do our own.  Naturally we choose to do our own” [from “Dirt in the Carpet…”  St. John Studies, September 16, 2021].

To understand why we sin, we have to consider the first man.  God created Adam without sin but it was not long until he fell into sinning.  In Genesis it says “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them” [1: 27].  However by Genesis 3, things had drastically changed.   The first man and the first woman had disobeyed God, choosing to do what they wanted instead of doing God’s will.  By their one action with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they introduced sin into the world.  When God said “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” [Genesis 2: 17], they chose to do the opposite.  They ate of that tree.

Most of us know the story.  Immediately they were stricken with a sense of shame and unfitness and they hid from God [as if anyone can “hide” from God].  God punished them for their sinning but he did not start over with another man and another woman.  Adam and Eve were allowed to have children and their sinful nature was passed on from them.  Adam’s “image and likeness” was passed on to his offspring and their first child Cain became the very first person to commit murder. 

Romans 5: 12 states “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”

That’s why I can write one of the most unpopular statements about Christians, a statement that many do not want to hear: we are all sinners.

Surely people argue that we not born bad.  How could a little baby be a sinner?  The Bible teaches that every one of is affected by Adam’s sin, even babies have a sin nature inherited from Adam.  Proverbs 22:15 states that “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.”  As soon as a child is able to choose between obedience and disobedience, children exhibit selfish behavior and they will invariably choose disobedience.  In Psalm 51: 5 David speaks of his own sinful nature in the words “I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me.” 

There is nothing inherently good in any of us despite what we think.  There is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation, being nice, accomplishing great acts of goodness or adopting a “good” façade will not do the trick.  What do we deserve as human beings? 

Here’s another unpopular statement: what we deserve is God’s wrath.

This is where John Stott makes his fundamental point in his book Basic Christianity: after explaining the deity of Jesus Christ in the first four chapters of his book, he is ready to explain Jesus’ mission: what Jesus came to earth to do.  He came to save us sinners.  Stott writes that the “Lord from heaven” and “Savior of sinners” are two labels that cannot be separated when one describes Jesus.  We need to understand that we are sinners and He is our only hope.  “We must understand who we are as well as who He was.  His work was done for us.  It was the work of a Person for persons by the only Person competent to meet their need.  His competence lies in His deity; our need lies in our sin.  We have tested His competence; we must now expose our need” [Basic, 61].

It is hard to take on the label of sinner? Yes.  Is it something we want to do?  No.  Stott continues “After we have clearly grasped what we are, shall we be in a position to perceive the wonder of what He has done for us and offers to us.  Only when we have had our malady accurately diagnosed shall we be willing to take the medicine prescribed” [Basic, 61].

I have read the Old Testament many times and this part of the Bible is [in my simple view] God trying to communicate to man that certain standards must be met.  This is very inadequate description but I think God is using the carrot and stick method of behavior modification in the Old Testament.  When man does right, God gives him a carrot.  When man does wrong God gives man the stick.  A simple description of what is going on in the Old Testament is that man is just not getting the message.  Serious sins are occurring over and over and man is experiencing God’s wrath but man continues to sin and God continues to punish him.

Until…

The only sinless person in the history of the world enters the picture:  Jesus Christ.  Instead of having a normal birth in which He would have to inherit Adam’s sin nature, Jesus had a virgin birth.  He bypassed the curse the rest of us are born with.  “God made Him who had no sin to be Sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” [2 Corinthians 5:21].  “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot” [1 Peter 1: 18-19].

My wife and I have had this discussion many times over the years.  I have told her that I think that humanity has a thin veneer of civilization that keeps all of us from committing acts we would not be proud of.  Stott takes it further.  He feels that “civilized” society is based on the assumption that humans are sinners.  Legislation is based on the idea that humans cannot be trusted to settle their own disputes without self-interest.  Promising something to someone else is not enough; we have to have contracts.  Doors have to have locks and bolts because humans sin.  Payment of fares is not enough; we have to issue tickets.  “Law and order are not enough; we need the police to enforce them.  All this is due to man’s sin.  We cannot trust each other.  We need protection against one another” [Stott, 62].

It is a sorry state we live in, this world that is full of sin.  It impacts us all.  As I think on this post about why human beings sin, why it is a fact of human experience, it is a depressing post. This may be one of the least popular posts I have written since I began this blog in December 2014, but we have to be real about sin.  Stott says “It is a terrible indictment of human nature.”

But as Stott writes “we must now expose our need. Our need lies in our sin.”

We have need of a Savior, a Savior of sinners…

Jesus Christ.

*This is post number two of a series of posts from John Stott’s Basic Christianity.  This is from part two of his book, Chapter 5, “The Fact and Nature of Sin.”

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Dirt in the Carpet: We Need the Power of Jesus Christ…

John Stott writes* “Christians are often criticized for harping on it too much.  But it is only because Christians are realists that they do so…it is a fact of human experience” [61].

What is it?

We are talking about sin.

Sin is really not a popular topic. Given that, Stott even says that some preachers may use the idea of sin to keep themselves employed.  I have seen numerous pastors over the years threaten their congregations with God’s punishment for sin.  The only way to conquer sin is to “get right with God” and people do that by needing the pastor’s church, filling the pews, following the admonitions of the pastor [of course, his or her messages are directed by God Himself, having nothing to do with an earthly person threatening others in order to stay employed].   I have seen some preachers overdo the sin message.  Some churches do not want to be reminded constantly of their shortcomings.  Pastors can dwell on sin so much that I have seen their approach cost them their jobs.  It seems that some congregations can only stand to be threatened to a certain degree.  One of the largest churches in my community requested a pastoral reassignment due to this very “problem:” too much preaching on sin and damnation.

Ok, maybe Christians are obsessed with sin.

Maybe we don’t talk about it one hundred percent of the time, but it is there, hanging over our heads.  We commit sins or we neglect to do what we know we should do.  Committing sin is sinning by commission.  Neglecting to do something we know we should do is a sin of omission. 

Let me tell you about three friends I have, three friends who represent how Christians deal with our human shortcomings. 

One of my friends refuses to deal directly with the idea of sin.  She has told me repeatedly that she does not have to worry about it.  She admits to not being a regular church attendee.  She admits that she has never really read the Bible.  She seems to be a good person, and her “goodness” (in her mind) is good enough.  She has made up her mind that she is going to get through the ups and downs of life with her stalwart attempt at being nice.  That (for her) is enough.

Another of my friends is a fellow who is very active in his life.  He volunteers all over the community.  Whenever there is a need, he is the first to try to do something about it.  He is not shy about his activity.  He will tell you about what he is doing.  In fact, I have attended an accountability group with this man and he regularly brings out a laundry list of all the things he has done throughout the week [making the rest of us feel “small” by comparison].  He is a Christian and is aware of sin.  He attends church and knows a bit about the Bible.  His approach to sin is different from the woman above.  He is working his way into God’s good graces.

My third friend is an older man who is obsessed with his public image.  He talks in very measured words, carefully watching his display of emotions. He likes to tell everyone that he is constantly in prayer for the downtrodden of the church; he especially has a heart for persecuted Christians in overseas churches.   He won’t admit that he watches any entertainment program that is evil.  He avoids that at all costs and lets everyone know it.  Once, he declared that he would not read a book because he encountered a word in the pages that offended him.   He stopped reading immediately (so his mind would not be polluted).  When I think of him, a descriptive phrase comes to mind:  “goody two shoes.”    That phrase today is used in a pejorative sense for someone who is self-righteous and ostentatiously virtuous.  He has constructed the sin-free façade to perfection.

What do my three friends have to do with sin?

All three need a good dose of reality; the reality that sin is alive and well and living in all of us (including them).

Let’s go back to the opening sentence of this post and focus on key words: “Christians are realists.”  If you profess to be a Christian, you must grapple with the fact that all humans sin.

Stott refers to a liberal movement in the Nineteenth Century that was extremely optimistic. Many people in the world at that time felt that increasing industrialization and improving living conditions could conquer any problem, even sin.  Many believed the only reason sin existed was ignorance, poor housing and lack of education.  If we only practiced social reform, the sins of man would disappear because we will all be given the opportunities we need to live better lives.  There will no longer be any need to commit sinful acts.

Well “educational opportunities have spread rapidly in the western world, and many welfare states have been created.  Yet the atrocities which accompanied both world wars, the subsequent international conflicts, the continuance of political oppression and racial discrimination, and the general increase of violence and crime have forced thoughtful people to acknowledge the existence in every man of a hard core of selfishness [and sin]” [62].

It seems that we indeed have a hard time admitting that we all sin.

Let’s go further.  We don’t want to admit that we have a “sin nature.”  This is extremely harsh but true:  sinning is baked into who we are as human beings.  We are made to be rebellious against God; we have a natural inclination to sin.  God has given us a choice in life:  do His will or do our own.  Naturally we choose to do our own. 

The idea that we are born “good” is not true.  The idea that we can socially engineer sin out of our makeup is false.  My friend who is relying on her “good nature” to get her through life will find herself faced one day with problems that are beyond her ability to control.  Life is not easy.  It is full of wonderful times and awful times. “Goodness” is easy when situations are wonderful but goodness is not easy when situations are extremely challenging.  We need a power that is stronger than our own self-generated goodness to get us through challenging times.  We need the power of Jesus Christ.

My friend who is active in the community should be lauded for his efforts.  Everyone knows that countless people need help in the world today.  He knows the Bible and he seems to have forgotten what is said in Matthew 6:  “Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.  I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  Helping others is commendable but announcing your works in public is not.  Also, working in the community will not guarantee that God will reward you with a pass into heaven.  God does not require that we produce X number of good deeds in order to win His favor.  God asks that we give our lives to Him, to have faith in Him.  Will “good works” flow from that?  They will but there is not enough work that we can do to overpower our nature to sin.  We need the power of Jesus Christ.

My last friend who has mastered his Godly façade needs to be realistic also.  He needs to recognize that it is only a façade and not reality.   It says in First John 1:8 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  It is galling to be around a self-righteous person.  Jesus was terribly irritated by Pharisees who worked hard to keep up appearances: it doesn’t matter so much what you are on the inside, as long as you keep the rules (at least publicly). The Pharisees were hypocrites. What they pretended to be in public was not really what they were like in private. They claimed to be perfect in keeping God’s law, but as humans, they were sinners like everyone else.  What they were very good at is putting on an act.  They did not need their legalistic view of religion.  None of us need that.  We need the power of Jesus.

“Christians are often criticized for harping on it too much.  But it is only because Christians are realists that they do so…it is a fact of human experience”

It is sin. 

Some readers may not like the upcoming posts.  They may make you uncomfortable.  My wife just came downstairs with a vacuum cleaner full of dirt.  She vacuums regularly and yet the canister has an “unbelievable” amount of dirt in it every time.  Should we not turn on the vacuum and play like the dirt is not there or should we run the vacuum and look at the canister and say “I got rid of some of the dirt today,” knowing that in a few days the canister will be full again. 

You get the metaphor.

Sin is like dirt in the carpet.  Let’s vacuum and get some of it out.  We won’t get it all out and it will come right back but let’s be real.

It does exist and it is not going to go away due to our feeble efforts.

We need the power of Jesus Christ.

*This is post number one of a series of posts from John Stott’s Basic Christianity.  This is from part two of his book, Chapter 5, “The Fact and Nature of Sin.”

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Chapter Six John Stott Quotes from “The Cross of Christ”………

“So much of the explanation that Stott furnishes is superb, superb to the point that it is quotable.” [I wrote that in my previous post.] I could not comment on all the wonderful thoughts in the chapter but the content was too good to ignore so I thought I would share some of his more profound thinking. I promised at the end of the previous post that “I will have a special post with some of the most quotable passages included on this website following this post.” So……

Here are some superb quotes from Chapter Six:

“What we see, then, in the drama of the cross is not three actors but two, ourselves on the one hand and God on the other. Not God as He is in Himself (the Father), but God nevertheless, God-made-man-in-Christ (the Son). Hence the importance of those New Testament passages that speak of the death of Christ as the death of God’s Son: for example, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” (John 3: 16), “He…did not spare His own Son” (Romans 8: 32). and “we were reconciled to God through the death of His son” (Romans 5: 10). For in giving His Son He was giving Himself.” from p. 158.

“For in order to save us in such a way as to satisfy Himself, God through Christ substituted Himself for us. Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self sacrifice. The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy.” from p. 158.

“…the righteous, loving Father humbled Himself to become in and through His only Son flesh, sin and a curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising His own character. The theological words satisfaction and substitution need to be carefully defined and safeguarded, but they cannot in any circumstances be given up. The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying Himself by substituting Himself for us.” from p. 159

“For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices Himself for man and puts Himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties that belong to man alone.” from p. 159

In my next post I will comment on Chapter 5 of John Stott’s book Basic Christianity. It is time to make that transition……

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The Self-Substitution of God

Why does author and theologian John Stott entitle Chapter Six of The Cross of Christ the “Self-Substitution of God?”  As I conclude my comments on Chapter Six, let’s revisit this extremely complicated idea.  What makes it complicated?  God felt wrath toward man because of man’s bent toward sinning.  To “make things right” God [in the form of Jesus] comes to earth to reach out to man and teach man how to live a righteous life.  In the process, God [in the form of Jesus] suffers on the cross, taking the punishment for His own wrath.  This is why Stott calls the sacrifice “self-substitution.”  This is also why Stott loves to call Jesus “God-man”, God in human form. “God-man” is the mediator between God and man [part God and part man].

Complex theology…you bet…

After a series of posts dedicated to the idea that Jesus was destined to be the sacrifice for man’s sins (foretold in the sacrificial foreshadowing of the Old Testament), Stott begins the last part of Chapter Six with questions which seem  surprising: “Who was our substitute?  Who took our place, bore our sin, became our curse, endured our penalty, and died our death?” [149].

Duh…Jesus Christ you might say?

“But who was this Christ?  How are we to think of Him?”

Stott makes a case that some theologians think that Jesus Christ was a man, separate from God and separate from humans, “an independent third party.”  Then he refutes this idea, saying that many might think of Jesus in this manner but “Scripture forbid[s] us to interpret the language of propitiation and advocacy that way.” 

Then he explains that some think that God alone took our place, bore our sins and died our death.  That won’t work either because as Stott explains, “no verse specifically declares that ‘God Himself’ died on the cross.  Scripture bears witness to the deity of the Person who gave Himself for us, but it stops short of the unequivocal affirmation that ‘God died’” [154].

Back to our original questions:  “But who was this Christ?  How are we to think of Him?”

For seven pages, Stott attempts to answer this question.  “Our substitute, then…was neither Christ alone…nor God alone but God in Christ, who was truly and fully God and man who on that account was uniquely qualified to represent both God and man and mediate between them” (my italics, bolding, and underlining) [156].

Why is this God in Christ idea so important?  Why do theologians need to spend so many words discussing the topic?  Do ordinary Christians need to know this?

Well Stott provides a “theological” reason for this knowledge which he calls a “theological inference”.  He feels is it impossible to believe in the historic doctrine of the cross without believing in the historic doctrine of Jesus Christ “as the one and only God-man and Mediator”.  Christ alone as man will not suffice.  The Father alone as God will not suffice.  It takes “God in Christ, God the Father’s one and only Son made man” to take our place.

So much of the explanation that Stott furnishes is superb, superb to the point that it is quotable.*   I can’t paraphrase these thoughts and do them justice.  “The person and work of Christ belong together.  If he did not say who the Apostles say he was, then He could not have done what they say He did.  The incarnation is indispensable to the atonement.  In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical with the love the holiness and the will of the Son.  God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” [Stott, 159].

Stott references Karl Barth who has studied the person, nature, and role of Christ (what theologians call “Christology’).  Barth feels (like Stott) that Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man.  In Jesus, God actively intervenes on behalf of man to reconcile God and man.  In Jesus, Barth feels like we have a true man, but a man who is “altogether man and altogether God.”  Finally Barth comments that Jesus is “very God and very man” and Jesus Christ is one, He is the God–man.

Barth writes “It is the Judge who in this passion takes the place of those who ought to be judged, who in this passion allows Himself to be Judge in their place. The passion of Jesus Christ is the judgement of God, in which the Judge Himself was the judged” [from Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics]. 

I have quickly summarized the “theological inference” but Stott goes further.  He feels there is also a personal inference (ideas that “ordinary Christians should know).   The personal interference focuses on rebellious humans (how personal do you want to get?).   “Therefore, as we stand before the cross, we begin to gain a clear view both of God and ourselves, especially in relation to each other.  Instead of inflicting on us the judgement we deserved, God in Christ endures it in our place.  Hell is the only alternative.  The problem is that our proud hearts rebel against this.  We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin and guilt or our utter indebtedness to the cross.”  I have heard this said so much by people who are seeking a faith and I have also felt it: surely there must be something we can do, or at least contribute, in order to make amends?  It is almost like we want to suffer our own punishment rather than feel the humiliation of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place. 

We don’t want His charity, His gift, His grace.  We insist on paying our own way: this is pure pride.  Instead of acknowledging our need and our powerlessness, we suffer humiliation because we are “bankrupt.”   Stott says “We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves” [161].  The proud human heart is revealed in all of this. 

Theologian Emil Brunner writes “All other forms of religion…deal with the problem of guilt apart from the intervention of God, and therefore they come to a ‘cheap’ conclusion…man is spared the final humiliation of knowing that the Mediator must bear the punishment instead of him…He is not stripped absolutely naked” [from The Mediator]. 

“We cannot escape the embarrassment of standing stark naked before God.  It is no use for us to try to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden” [Stott, 162].  There is no use trying to justify ourselves.  We need to acknowledge our sin, give thanks for the Divine Substitute who wears our “filthy rags” instead of us.  Yes we need to be thankful for His righteousness which clothes us. 

“But who was this Christ?  How are we to think of Him?”

Theologians may need to expound on these questions over and over again and despite all types of explanations from various people with various opinions, Stott summarizes his answer in three words:  we go back to God in Christ.  Ordinary Christians need to face up to the debt we owe God in Christ as He took what we deserved and left us with a chance at a righteous life.  I found it striking that Stott took the well-known hymn “Rock of Ages” as his closing thought for Chapter Six. 

Just attend to the words, the writer of the hymn knows the debt we owe God-man, the “personal inference” that we should all know.

“Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to your Cross I cling;                                                                                 

Naked, come to you for dress;                                                                                  

Helpless, look to you for grace;                                                                                      

Foul, I to the fountain fly;                                                                                                       

Wash me, Savior, or I die.”

*I will have a special post with some of the most quotable passages included on this website following this post.

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“Help Is On The Way”

I get inklings.

I don’t claim to have the gift of “prophecy”.  I don’t believe I can look into the future and see things that are coming, but sometimes I get inklings, those little hints at what may happen.  Maybe we all do.

This past Sunday I had an inkling.  I prepared for my adult Sunday school class and while I was preparing a phrase came to me unexpectedly, a phrase that I could not shake.  It was the words “help is on the way.”  Strange phrase…

Did I need help? 

I did not make too much of it until it kept repeating in my mind.  I could not shake it.  Several times I found myself thinking “help is on the way”.

I travelled to church only to find the church’s tech person in my classroom informing me that the internet was down in the building.  That means there would be no video to show to the class.  I usually start the class with a short video that sets the tone for the lesson.  This morning it was a twelve minute video by pastor Tony Evans.

“Help is on the way” echoes again in my mind.

Our pastor was on the scene and she apologized and suggested that we move to another building.  My thirty-six years of teaching told me that was just too much trouble so I said no we would stay… “help is on the way.”  Strange thing to say to someone who had no idea what that meant, but I felt strangely confident.  I felt something was going to happen that would compensate adequately for the lack of a video.

Then it happened.  I began the class and people began to respond to my questions.  We were studying Scripture in First John.  I could see that the class did not need a twelve minute video.  They wanted to talk.

Then…

An extremely honest revealing student piped up.

Joe [a name I will use to disguise his identity] stated that he tried to follow God’s ways but he had a boatload of doubt from time to time.  He was not sure of God’s ways and he was not sure he was following them.  Doubt…  Not a word that believers hear very often “in church.”   Many come to church with the intent to display their stalwart, righteous attitude.  The prevailing mood is “I believe and I have got it all together!”  Few want to expose the fact that within those stalwart, righteous people are several who really have doubts.

Then I threw gasoline on the fire.  “I have doubts too; I sometimes think that what Jesus Christ did for me with His sacrifice on the cross is just too good to be true.  I also think if it was real, that I am not worthy of His sacrifice.”

There you have it.

The effect of reading so much about atonement, propitiation and the self-substitution of Jesus Christ.  Too much writing about John Stott’s The Cross of Christ.

Stott has an entire chapter on “The Self-Substitution of God.”  That is his wording for what Jesus did on the cross.  God sent his Son to earth to redeem sinful man.  Jesus is God.  Jesus was a man.  When Jesus had His years on earth He lived the life of a human being, yet He was God (God-man).

His life and His death served as a bridge between humanity and God.  He showed us how to live as He lived His life.  He died so that “sin barrier” between man and God could be removed.

God substituted Himself in the process of atonement.  He took the punishment that we deserved.  He took His own wrath so we would not endure it.  Jesus Christ satisfied God’s law by His perfect obedience in His life and then Jesus Christ satisfied God’s justice because of His perfect sacrifice for sin, bearing its penalty in His death.

Stott recounts numerous theologians who struggle with the penal nature of God’s “sin bearing.”  Why must God suffer a penalty or punishment?  God is perfectly capable of redeeming man without this penalty.

Stott believes Jesus’s sacrifice had to be penal.  It was prophesized in the Old Testament.  “It is clear from Old Testament usage that to ‘bear sin’ means neither to sympathize with sinners, nor to identify with their pain, nor to express their penitence, nor to be persecuted on account of their sinfulness (as others have argued), nor even to suffer the consequences of sin in personal or social terms, but specifically to endure its penal consequences.”

Suffering a penalty was not an uncommon practice in the Old Testament.

Moses told the Israelites that they had to wander in the desert in order to suffer for their unfaithfulness.  Ezekiel was told to lie down and bear the sin of the house of Israel.  The annual Day of Atonement was when the Israelite community took two male goats for a sin offering for the community as a whole.  One goat was to be sacrificed and its blood sprinkled while the living goat bore the sin.  The priest put his hands on the goat’s head and confessed the community’s sins.  Then the “sin-filled” goat was turned away into the desert so it would “carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place” [Leviticus 16: 22].  Both goats were sin offerings; both goats are examples of animals that are “bearing sin.”

Stott writes “more spiritually minded Israelites must have realized that an animal cannot be a satisfactory substitute for a human being” [144].  He claims that the Israelite community began to come to grips with the need for a human to sacrifice for human sins.  One can see this in the words of Isaiah the prophet in Chapter Fifty-three where we see a “servant” suffering and dying.   Many believe Isaiah’s words foretold the coming of Jesus Christ.  Eight verses in particular seem to point to the coming of Jesus Christ.  “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” [1]. “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” [4].  “That we have gone astray like sheep” [6].  “By His wounds we have been healed” [5].  “Nor was any deceit in His mouth” [9].  “He will bear their iniquities” [11].   He would be led “like a sheep to the slaughter” [7].  He would be “deprived of justice and life” [8].  That makes eight verses out of twelve which refer to Jesus.   Stott further asserts that if these are accepted, then “His [Jesus’s] whole public career, from His baptism through His ministry, sufferings and death to His resurrection and ascension, is seen as a fulfillment of the pattern foretold in Isaiah 53”. 

Was His sin-bearing sacrifice obvious to Jesus?  Did He know that He would have to suffer severe penalty?  It would truly seem so as we look at His words in the Last Supper.  Jesus declared his blood would be “poured out for many” [Mark 14: 24 and Matthew 26: 28 and echo of Isaiah 53: 12].  It would seem that Jesus applied Isaiah 53 to Himself, that He understood His death as a sin-bearing death.  “The Lord would lay on Him the iniquity of us all, that he would thus be numbered with the transgressors, and He would Himself bear their iniquities” [Stott, 147].   The Apostle Paul explains it “The sinless one was made sin for us” which clearly means that Jesus bore the penalty of our sin instead of us and He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming the curse for us.  Elsewhere Paul uses the word “impute.”  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 19 that “God declined to impute our sins to us, or count them against us.  He imputed them to Christ instead”. 

In summary, Stott writes “When we review all this Old Testament material (the shedding and sprinkling of blood, the sin offering, the Passover, the meaning of sin-bearing, the scapegoat and Isaiah 53) and consider its New Testament application to the death of Christ, we are obliged to conclude that the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice” [149].

Where does that leave me and Joe with our doubts?

Stott summarizes his conclusions in Chapter 5 of the Cross of Christ:  Christ died for us, Christ died instead of us.  Jesus died without sin in substitution for our sins.

Sound too good to be true?

Maybe it does to some; sometimes it does to me.

Sometimes I just don’t feel worthy.

Maybe Joe and I should just relax and accept what God did for us.  Man in his sinfulness and separateness cried out for we needed to be reconciled to The Father.

God responded. 

He sent Jesus.

He said to man: “help is on the way.”

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Passover and the Self-substitution of God

My first church experiences were in a Methodist church in a rural area of Kentucky.  It was called Hebron Methodist Church; it was my father’s home church.  However my mother was raised in a Disciples of Christ church and she preferred for the family to attend her church [which was in the town of Marion, Ky.].  Mom prevailed. 

Most of my basic Christian belief was molded by Disciples doctrine so I had many experiences with Holy Communion.  Disciples celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.  When you do something every Sunday, you get very, very good at it so my Disciples church celebrated communion very efficiently.

The down side of this is when you do something so often it can lose its significance.  People can take things for granted [I really don’t know if people did actually take communion for granted].  In the context of John Stott’s discussion of “The Self-Substitution of God” [Chapter 6 of The Cross of Christ], the roots of the practice of communion come center stage.  Why do Christians practice communion?  What is the meaning for Christians?  Why is this act so significant? I have commented on Stott’s ideas that blood sacrifices in the Old Testament foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross [see “Old Testament Sacrifice: The ‘Type’ and ‘Shadow’ of Jesus’ Death on the Cross…” St. John Studies, August 19, 2021], but what about a particular blood sacrifice like the Jewish celebration of Passover?  Does Passover foreshadow the death of Christ?  Some would say of course Passover and Jesus’ death are connected, but Stott does not just say “of course;” he parses out that connection because he wants the reader to know how Passover really relates to the self-substitution of God.

Without a doubt, the Passover celebration is important for the Jewish faith.  It marks the beginning of Israel’s national life.  When God redeemed His people from Egyptian bondage, He renewed the covenant He made with them on Mount Sinai.  Even though this renewal of the covenant is significant for Israelites, it was “before the exodus and the covenant came the Passover” [Stott, 139]. 

As Christians, we are a bit less focused on Passover as the beginning of Israel’s national life and more focused on Passover as it relates to the death of Christ.  That makes it more important for us.  In the Book of John, John the Baptist declares that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world [John 1: 29, 36].  It is also important that when Jesus was on the cross that was the very time when Jews were slaughtering their own Passover lambs.  Stott points out that in the Book of Revelation Jesus is worshipped as the slain lamb that by His death has “purchased” men for God.  The Apostle Paul declares in First Corinthians 5: 7-8 “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us keep the Festival.”

Stott explains that the Passover story reveals a God who fulfills three roles in the life of His people.  First of all, God is Judge.  Moses warned Pharaoh that God would pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn male.  This judgement was not discriminatory; every household was judged.  There was only one way to avoid this tragedy and God designed the way of escape.  Secondly, God is Redeemer.  If a household would choose a lamb on the tenth day of the month [a male lamb with no blemish], they could slay it on the fourteenth day, dip hyssop in its blood and spread its blood on the lintel and side posts of their entrance doorway.  They were not to go out that evening because they needed to shelter under this protection; Yahweh promised He would pass over every blood-marked house.  Thirdly, God revealed Himself to the Israelites as their Covenant God.  He made them once again His people.  He saved them from judgement and they should celebrate His goodness.  They were to feast on the roasted lamb, eat bitter herbs, unleavened bread and do so with their cloak tucked into their belt.   These symbolic acts were meant to remind them of their oppression [bitter herbs] and their future liberation [ready to be rescued, with the cloak tucked, sandals on their feet and staff in hand]. 

Let’s stop and ask who has benefited most from that first Passover?  The answer should be obvious.  The firstborn male children are the greatest beneficiaries for they have been rescued from certain death.  These firstborn male children belong to the Lord, for He has “purchased” them by the means of blood.

For Christians, Passover is the ages old celebration that means so much because Jesus celebrated it with His Disciples in the Upper Room on the eve of His crucifixion.  As we celebrate communion, the Christian story  of Jesus’ sacrifice is told over and over.  Christ broke the bread and passed it to His Disciples saying “this is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me”.  He passed the cup to His Disciples saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you”. In the original Passover, a suitable sacrifice was a “lamb without blemish.”  In the “Christian Passover” Jesus became the lamb without blemish.

For Christians, the New Covenant replacing the Old Covenant means something very different.  The temple veil was torn at Jesus’ death, diminishing the distance between God and man.   Access to God was available as Jesus took away the sin of the world.  Believers did not have to have a priest as an intermediary; they could pray directly to God.      “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (First Corinthians 5:7).   “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to My covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put My laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.  By calling this covenant ‘new,’ He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:8-13). 

With this in place, the sacrificial system was no longer needed and communion is what the Christian community does to remind us of what Christ did for us.  Communion is also a celebration of what we receive as a result of His sacrifice.

My home church is a Methodist church now.*  Methodist churches have communion once a month, the first Sunday of each month.  Our communion is open communion; that is, it should be available to anyone who wishes to receive it.  My hope and prayer is that a communion service is a meaningful service for everyone involved. 

Does the Passover celebration of the Jewish people foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

It does.

Does the service symbolize the special sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us?

It does.

Thank you God, that you love us………….

So much………..

*St. John United Methodist Church Hopkinsville, Ky. [This blog is named after my home church].

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Old Testament Sacrifice: The “Type” and “Shadow” of Jesus’ Death on the Cross…

“An archetype is an emotion, character type, or event that is notably recurrent across the human experience. In the arts, an archetype creates an immediate sense of familiarity, allowing an audience member to relate to an event or character without having to necessarily ponder why they relate. Thanks to our instincts and life experiences, we’re able to recognize archetypes without any need for explanation.”*

In college in the 70’s, I majored in English and I was taught to apply numerous theories to the meaning of literature in order to understand it better.  One of those interpretive theories centered on the use of archetypes.  We studied literary theorists who based their discussions on Carl Jung, the psychologist who advanced the idea that there are images and themes that derive for a “collective unconsciousness.”  Those images and themes were called archetypes.  They have universal meanings across cultures and may show up in dreams, literature, art or religion.  They are deeply felt ideas, so ingrained into human life that everyone knows of them whether they can explain them or not.

How does this relate to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross?

Was it inevitable that Jesus go to the cross because of Old Testament need for sacrifice?  Does the Hebrew peoples’ use of animal sacrifice “predict” the cross?  Theologians like John Stott use words like “type” and “shadow” to connect the Old Testament to the New.  Is Jesus’ sacrifice archetypal in the Old Testament?  Is Jesus’ sacrifice foreshadowed by animal sacrifice in the Old Testament, humanity’s need for someone to take our place so they can be punished for our sinning?

The answers to both questions is yes.

In my previous post [“He Is The ‘Self-substitution’ Of God”*], I tried to reflect Stott’s concern that Christians just don’t understand the significance of a perfect God allowing His perfect Son to experience horrible punishment for sins He did not commit.  He went to the cross for the sins of humanity.  Since the Garden of Eden, humans have been far less than perfect.  Something had to be done to restore man’s relationship with God so He provided “a divine substitute for the sinner so that the substitute would receive the judgement and the sinner the pardon” [Stott, 134].

The question Stott is trying to answer follows: “How are we to understand and justify the notion of His substituting Himself for us?” [Stott, 134].  One way to do that is to look at the Old Testament notion of “sacrifice.”

The idea that there were priests with altars who offered up sacrifices to various gods is nothing new.  The ancient world has plenty of examples of this practice.  Stott says that anthropologists call this practice a “universal phenomenon.”  These sacrifices (other than those done by Hebrews) he refers to as “pagan.”  Hebrew sacrifice was another matter.  The Old Testament tells the story of a people who don’t keep their covenant relationship with God and their sacrifices were a direct response to their breaking of that covenant.  Their sacrifices were for two reasons: the expression that they belonged to God and when they felt the need to repent from sin, they sacrificed to erase their alienation from God due to their sinful acts.    Stott cites theologian B.B. Warfield who describes these sacrifices as human beings “claiming protection” and “sinners craving pardon” [in Stott, 136]. 

This still does not explain how Old Testament sacrificial acts foreshadowed the New Testament sacrifice of Jesus for humanity.  When one looks at Hebrew Old Testament society, they had an elaborate system of offerings which are detailed in the book of Leviticus.  These are characterized as burnt, cereal, peace, sin and guilt.  Besides the cereal offering (which consisted of grain) the rest of the offerings dealt with blood sacrifices of animals.  The worshipper brought the animal offering to the altar, he laid his hands on it and killed it on the altar. 

Stott writes that the laying on of hands is significant.  When a worshipper “laid hands” this symbolized that they were identifying with the animal; in other words, the animal was taking their place.  “The substitute animal was killed in recognition that the penalty for sin was death, its blood (symbolizing that the death had been accomplished) was sprinkled, and the offerer’s life was spared” [Stott, 137].

One can turn to Leviticus 17: 11 and read “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

It is very clear that the Hebrew notion of blood is that blood is the symbol of life.   This is an ancient idea that goes back to the days of Noah when God told him not to eat meat that had “lifeblood” still in it.    It is very clear that the ancient Hebrew culture felt that blood meant atonement:  the life of a creature is in the blood and that blood atones for the sins of the worshipping offerer.  “Life was given for life.”  It is also very clear that blood is given by God for the purpose of atonement.  The Hebrews believed their sacrificial system was given to them by God for them to appease a God who was disappointed in their behavior.  If this is what they believed, maybe it would not be such a mental “stretch” that God would give His Son for them to sacrifice because He wants to rid them of their sin.

Stott makes his Old to New Testament connection stronger with two Scriptures from Hebrews:  Hebrews 9: 22 “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” and Hebrews 10: 4 “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  Animals were just not good enough; humans needed to sacrifice a man and that man was Jesus Christ.

Stott summarizes the situation as the Hebrews grew to see that animal sacrifices could not atone for the sins of human beings because humans are much more valuable than sheep.   Atonement was achieved “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” [from First Peter 1: 19-20].

W.P. Paterson* is quoted in Stott saying “The interpretation of Christ’s death as a sacrifice is embedded in every important type of the New Testament teaching.”  Stott comments “the letter to the Hebrews [referenced above] portrays the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as having perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament “shadows.”  For He sacrificed Himself (not animals), once and for all (not repeatedly), and thus secured for us not only ceremonial cleansing and restoration to favor in the covenant community but the purification of our consciences and restoration of fellowship with the living God” [135].

It is so hard to comprehend the immensity of what Jesus did for us, what God did for us but here goes.  I have been reading a book by Pastor David Platt and in a hyper-exaggerated manner, he tries to picture what Jesus did with His sacrifice.  Read the word picture and just let the imagery affect you:  “You and I were standing a short hundred yards away from a dam of water ten thousand miles high and ten thousand miles wide.  All of a sudden that dam was breached, and a torrential flood of water came crashing toward us.  Right before it reached our feet, the ground in front of us opened up and swallowed it all….The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent His Son, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin on the cross and to show His power over sin in the Resurrection so that all who trust in Him will be reconciled to God forever.”****

The result of the spilling of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

All forecast in Old Testament types and shadows …

*“Writing 101: The Twelve Literary Archtypes” accessed on 8/16/21.

**St. John Studies, August 12, 2021.

***W.P. Paterson in A Dictionary of the Bible, from his article “Sacrifice.”

****David Platt, Radical.

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He Is The “Self-substitution” Of God

Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan monk was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp on the 28th of May, 1941.  Kolbe was subjected to violent harassment, including beatings and lashings. At the end of July 1941, one prisoner escaped from the camp, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick ten men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts.  When one of the selected men cried out, “My wife! My children!”, Kolbe volunteered to take his place.  According to an eyewitness, who was an assistant janitor at that time Kolbe led the prisoners in prayer. Each time the guards checked on him, he was standing or kneeling in the middle of the cell and looking calmly at those who entered. After they had been starved and deprived of water for two weeks, only Kolbe remained alive.  The guards wanted the bunker emptied, so they gave Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Kolbe is said to have raised his left arm and calmly waited for the deadly injection.  He died on August 14, 1941.  The Roman Catholic Church canonized Kolbe as a Saint on October 10, 1982.*

Sacrifice…

Maximilian Kolbe sacrificed himself so someone else could live.

We hear it all the time as Christians.  “Jesus Christ sacrificed for you.”  We hear it and of course we appreciate it, but why did He do it?  Why would God send His only Son to earth to undergo horrible punishment and die on the cross, for us?  It seems so incomprehensible.

Let’s make it even more incomprehensible.

In Chapter Six of The Cross of Christ John Stott tackles the idea that we are humans and we sin.  God is holy and He does not sin [of course His Son did not sin either].  “How can the holy love of God come to terms with the unholy lovelessness of man?” [Stott, 133].   Stott says that surely God and man are bound to have a collision.  How can a holy God find something in common with unholy man?

As human beings, we often do a mental trick called “compartmentalization.”  We act in certain contexts in a particular manner.  In another context we may have a different set of behaviors.  Our behavior can be very inconsistent and even though we may know that, we excuse ourselves in order to function in the many parts of our lives.  We may even try not to let the various compartments of our lives overlap. 

Does God function that way?  No He doesn’t.  His behavior is consistent.  If He is upholding His law, demanding our devotion or meting out justice, He is the same across the board.  He is holy and He loves us.  When He needs to correct us, He is holy and He loves us.  When He forgives us, He is holy and He loves us.  “It is altogether an error… to suppose that God acts at one time according to one of His attributes, and at another time according to another.  He acts in conformity with all of them at all times.”**

Here is the incomprehensible question then: “How then could God express simultaneously His holiness in judgement and His love in pardon?  Is this not inconsistency of behavior?  One can only answer this question by saying that “God provides a divine substitute for the sinner so that the substitute would receive the judgement and the sinner the pardon” [Stott, 133].

This is the part of Christianity that sounds almost too good to be true.

New Christians may complain that “I can’t wrap my head around this.”

More mature Christians may struggle to comprehend this for often you can hear a more mature Christian just say “Jesus came to save me!” and they leave it at that.  What we are talking about here is propitiation, the act of appeasing God, in this case Jesus Christ [God] appeases God.  This is not simply “Jesus came to save me!” as if God and Jesus are two separate entities.

When man sins, we have to suffer, but our suffering may result in personal guilt, some psychological pain from the act of sinning or we may have some social consequences [our friends may shun us].  But Jesus Christ took the penal consequences of our sinning.  He came and put Himself in our place so we would be spared the actual physical suffering for our sins.  Stott references Dr. Charles Cranfield on this subject “God, because in His mercy He willed to forgive sinful men, and, being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, proposed to direct against His own very self in the person of His Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.”***

How can we have a deeper understanding of this substitution?  I have written on this topic before, especially in commenting on the book Knowing God by J.I. Packer.****  Packer refers to this as propitiation, which means the act of appeasing a god, in this case God the Father of Jesus Christ.   Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, our atonement for our sins. 

Stott will approach this difficult subject in a different way, looking to sacrifices in the Old Testament as a way to understand “The Self-Substitution of God.”*****  He considers the Old Testament concept of animal sacrifice as the precursor of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, so he will go into great depth discussing those past practices as foreshadowing the eventual sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. 

Whether we refer to Jesus’ sacrifice as propitiation or “self-substitution” it does not matter.  God cared so much for us that He sent His only Son to make things right between Himself and man.  Earlier I wrote that surely God and man are bound to have a collision.  How can holy God find something in common with unholy man?  The thing that God found in common with man is Jesus Christ, God-man.  He is the bridge between God and us.  He is our Savior.

He is the “self-substitution of God.”

*accessed from Wikipedia on 8/11/2021.

**Thomas Crawford, The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement as quoted in Stott, 133.

***C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans as quoted in Stott, 134.

****for additional discussion in St. John Studies on this topic go to the search feature and type the word propitiation.  ***** “The Self-Substitution of God” is the title of Chapter 6 in The Cro

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Transitioning……

“The work of a lifetime.”

“One of the books every Christian should read.”

“I would never believe in God if it weren’t for the cross.”

“Destined to be a classic work of theology that deals with the symbol that is most central to our faith, the cross.”

“Stott’s work is the product of a uniquely gifted pastor, scholar and Christian statesman. His penetrating insight, charitable scholarship and pastoral warmth are guaranteed to feed both heart and mind.”

These statements are gleaned from various sources that describe John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ.  As I transition from my comments on Basic Christianity back to The Cross, I like to keep readers of St. John Studies clear as to where we are heading.

This Thursday August 12, 2021 I will post comments drawn from Chapter 6 of The Cross.

David Carter,  St. John Studies

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“It Takes a Lot to Change a Person”

It takes a lot to change a person.  Over time, we develop patterns of behavior that are responses to certain situations in life and those patterns become ingrained.  We encounter people who impress us and maybe we adopt some of their behaviors and maybe we like them; new behaviors may seem efficient and they eventually become part of “our routine”.  Sometimes we may encounter new information that confirms or denies our current thinking and that information may cause us to begin to think about the world in a different way [sometimes we stubbornly run from the new information and cling to our “old” ways of thinking].  Most of us cling to our “patterns.”  We take comfort in our habits.  We like our routines.

It takes a lot to change a person.

For three chapters in his book Basic Christianity, John Stott argues that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God.  He tries to get an unbelieving reader to see that God and His Son Jesus Christ are real and the reader needs to believe or he is trying to give the believer some confirmation of basic Christian ideas.  To accomplish this, the first chapter explains the claims that Jesus made.  The second chapter deals with the life that Jesus led; a life of great moral character [some would say “perfect” character].  The third chapter discusses the resurrection.  In the last four posts, I have commented on Stott’s defense for the reality of the resurrection.  How did Jesus get out of the tomb?  How did He get out of His grave clothes?  How do you explain away His post resurrection appearances?

Stott is trying to change us in his little book. 

Maybe all the arguments in the world will not “do the trick.”  Maybe the thing that really matters is evidence that Jesus came to this earth and had a tremendous impact.  Maybe the best evidence is that He changed people.  Have you ever been around someone who has experienced radical transformation as a result of coming to believe that Jesus is God who died and rose for their sin?

I have.  When you see it happen in others or when it happens to you… it is truly a miracle.

Change happened to Jesus’ disciples.  Stott writes “Perhaps the transformation of the disciples of Jesus is the greatest evidence of all for the resurrection, because it is entirely artless.  They do not invite us to look at themselves, as they invite us to look at the empty tomb and the collapsed graveclothes and the Lord whom they have seen.  We can see the change in them without being asked to look.  The men who figure in the pages of the Gospels are new and different men in the Acts….in the Acts they emerge as men who hazard their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and who turn the world upside down” [Stott, Basic, 58].

Let’s examine a couple of the miracles in human behavior that Jesus inspired.

First of all, let’s consider Simon Peter.  When Jesus was alive, he certainly was not “the rock” that He was reputed to be.  During the telling of the Passion story, Simon Peter denied Christ three times in rapid succession.  This crushed him because when Jesus predicted this would happen, he denied it vehemently.   When Jesus died, he joined the other disciples in the upper room, barring the door because he and all the disciples were afraid of the Jews.  Yet Stott comments that two pages later in the Bible we see Peter preaching boldly to a crowd and his words were so effective that three thousand new believers gave their life to Christ.  He was so courageous that the very Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus to death didn’t shake him.  The condemned him and he rejoices to receive their condemnation.  “He is counted worthy to suffer shame in the name of Jesus.”

Then we have James who became a leader in the Jerusalem church. Throughout the Gospels he never professed a belief in Jesus as God.  He was the half-brother of Jesus but it is not good that “even His brothers did not believe in Him.”  When we read of James in Acts something has happened.  He was a believer then.  Stott writes “perhaps we have the clue we are seeking in 1 Corinthian 15: 7 where Paul, cataloguing those who have seen the risen Christ, adds ‘he appeared to James’” [Stott, 59]

If we can point to anything that changed Simon Peter and James it wss the resurrection.  Stott says “the resurrection transformed Peter’s fear into courage and James’ doubt into faith.”   All Jesus’ disciples went through a major alteration from timid and fearful into bold witnesses to what they had seen and heard, even to the point of dying in shame and poverty for their convictions. 

Historian Kenneth Scott Latourette has said: “It was the conviction of the resurrection of Jesus which lifted his followers out of the despair into which His death had cast them and which led to the perpetuation of the movement begun by Him. But for their profound belief that the crucified had risen from the dead and that they had seen Him and talked with Him, the death of Jesus and even Jesus Himself would probably have been all but forgotten.”*

From these simple men who witnessed something miraculous we see the beginnings of the Christian faith.  Some would point not only to the resurrection but also to the Holy Spirit that descended on the disciples; the Holy Spirit was unleashed and gave the disciples a deep conviction to spread the word and spiritual power to inspire nonbelievers.  However the Holy Spirit came after Jesus had risen and ascended.   Jesus said He had to leave for them to experience their Helper and true to His word, that very thing happened. 

Stott writes “it was the resurrection that changed the Sabbath into Sunday and the Jewish remnant into the Christian church.  It was the resurrection which changed Saul the Pharisee into Paul the Apostle, the fanatical persecutor into a preacher of the very faith he previously tried to destroy.” From the resurrection, Christianity exploded on the earth and a few billion people today claim to be Christians.

Some point to the day it all changed…resurrection day.  Pastor Mark Driscoll writes “On the same day, in the same place, and in the same way, two other men died, one on Jesus’ left and one on His right. Despite the similarities, we do not know the names of these men, and billions of people do not worship them as God. Why? Because they remained dead and Jesus alone rose from death and ascended into heaven, leaving the Christian church in His wake.”

Some might scoff at this approach to proving the resurrection.  It is all circumstantial.  It is all based on observations of human behavior.  This method of proving that Christ was resurrected is based on observing changed human behavior.  Rather than denigrate such proof, I consider the power of this evidence.  It is the same power that you feel when a true believer shares their testimony.  I am reminded of that old Christian cliché that sometimes the only Bible a person will ever see is a true believer.  We can watch them and learn by seeing how they conduct their life.  They can inspire.  Good people can cause us to change.

It certainly takes a lot to change a person.

But change can occur.

If only we could ask Simon Peter and James about what changed them.  Let’s add doubting Thomas who finally believed but it took Jesus’ scars to convince. 

After feeling the nail holes, he confessed his changed belief in the simple powerful words “My Lord and My God.”

*Latourette as quoted in Mark Driscoll’s website “Real Faith,” accessed on August 5, 2021.

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