A Loss

On May 14th, my wife* lost her mother. Martha Ordway Fletcher was a wonderful mother-in-law, kind, understanding, accepting, a Christian. My wife had an exceptional relationship with her mother; it is no exaggeration that they truly loved each other. Susan has been helping care for her for months now as she has suffered from congestive heart failure. Finally on May 14, she passed away. Since then, I have tried to do what I normally do; one thing I normally try to do is contribute to St. John Studies every Thursday. This week I am going to be late. I thought I would be able to post in advance but my son and his wife are here and there is just too much going on. Today is funeral day and I don’t need to have my head in my computer. I need to be assisting others.

*Susan is my editor. When she works with my posts, they are always better. This week will be late but hopefully when it goes up, the wait will be worth it. I know anyone who reads St. John Studies will understand.

David Carter, St. John Studies…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Crushing the Heel of Evil

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” [Genesis 3: 14-15].

At this point, evil had entered the world. 

Readers of the Bible know that the snake in the Garden of Eden was evil, Satan in snake form.  He convinced Eve and Adam that eating the apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was perfectly ok when God told them they must not do it.  They disregarded God’s command.  Their rebellion told God that their prideful needs were more important than His commands.

When we turn to Genesis 3:14-15, we read that he will crush the head of the serpent but the snake will strike “his” heel.  The big question is who is “he”?

We know the story of Jesus, God in the form of God’s Son who came to Earth to redeem man from sin.  Most of us think Jesus’ primary mission is man’s redemption.  John Stott in Chapter 9 of his book The Cross of Christ devotes a whole chapter to “The Conquest of Evil” and the idea that evil is alive and well in the world today.  Maybe Jesus also came to conquer evil.  He begins with the idea of this “wounded healer,” Christ crushed evil (even though He was wounded by the world as He suffered on the cross).*

It is impossible today to imagine how Christians felt after the death of Jesus.  One would imagine depression and despair.  But Stott writes “there was no defeatism…they spoke rather of victory.”  He cites phrases like “thanks be to God! He gives us the victory.”  “In all things [that is adversities and dangers] we are more than conquerors.”  “God…always leads us in triumphal procession.”  “Victory, conquest, triumph, overcoming—this was the vocabulary of those first followers of the risen Lord.  For if they spoke of victory, they knew they owed it to the victorious Jesus.”  Paul wrote “He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” and “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” and “God leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.”  They knew Jesus suffered a horrible death but in His death, He won. 

What looked like the defeat of goodness was really the defeat of evil.

He was wounded, but He crushed the head of the serpent.

And maybe they knew it.

As we begin discussing Chapter 9, I would like to comment on an experience I have had these past few months.  I always spend a lot of time picking books for my adult Sunday school class to study and several months ago I settled on Dr. David Jeremiah’s book Angels: Who They Are and How They Help—What the Bible Reveals.  I consider my class as I pick books and I thought they would appreciate a good look at angels, a popular subject among many Christians.  Little did I know that so much of the book would be devoted to the evil in this world and I had no idea that so many Christians would struggle with the existence of the darker side of life.  I soon found that Christians can be divided into several groups:  Christians who really do not want to acknowledge evil at all, Christians who do believe that Satan is alive and well and working in the world and Christians who cling to a stylized version of angels with beautiful white wings and chubby baby faces  and they are only here to do good [they are our guardians]. 

Ok, a close study of what many call the “unseen realm” or the supernatural yields a lot of material about “good” angels but the evil in this world is not neglected.  Satan is a fallen angel and he has power to confound the work of the Lord among believers on the earth.  How does he do this?   Some of the things he does are he instills doubt, he encourages pride, he tempts with pleasure in sin, he causes us to fear and feel guilt.  Satan never tells his whole agenda; he wants us to be “in the dark” about what he is trying to do.  Human ignorance helps him do his work. 

To further confound humans and to help him carry out his mission, Satan employs demons.  These are fallen angels who engage in spiritual warfare with humans, corrupting morals, prompting doubt and unbelief.  They possess people in order to do the devil’s work; they don’t exist on their own.  Matthew 8: 28-34 is an excellent example as Jesus encountered two men who were demon-possessed.  He drove the demons out of the men and sent them into a herd of pigs [who rushed down a bank into a lake and died].

Stott writes that the New Testament “affirms, in its own uninhibited way, that the cross of Jesus disarmed and triumphed over the devil and ‘all principalities and powers’ at His command’” [226].  Stott cites H. E. W. Turner who comments on First Century hearers of the Gospel who had no problems accepting evil in their world: “it is perhaps hard for modern man to realize how hag-ridden was the world into which Christ came.”  Of course some people today have what Stott calls an “alarming fascination with the occult” but many “ridicule a belief in the devil” and label such thoughts as “superstitious anachronisms.” 

Many refuse to believe that the devil is behind the evil of this world.  As we begin our discussion of Chapter 9 (“The Conquest of Evil”), we will consider that Jesus was that “offspring” that Moses was referring to in Genesis.  We won’t turn our backs on the evil of this world. 

I told my Sunday school class that believers make a mistake when they become preoccupied with evil, but total denial of Satan’s work is not good either.  We need a balance. 

I reminded them of an old cliché that I found appropriate: “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Too much concern is folly.

We have a Savior with a powerful heel.

*Genesis 3:15 “Know by many as protoevangelium, ‘the first good news.’ God tells the serpent that he is going to be on the losing side of the battle between good and evil.  His head will be crushed by the seed of the woman, in this case the reference may be Jesus?”  from The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, ed. Gary Burge and Andrew Hill.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Standards of the World: Immoral, Unworthy and Unjust

John Stott tries to explain why Jesus Christ came to earth in Chapter 7 of his book Basic Christianity.  On April 14* I commented on God’s gift to us, that God had taken the initiative to rescue man from sin by sending us Jesus.  For a new Christian this is a very complex idea.  On April 22**, I commented on Stott’s ideas about the cross being the central idea of the faith.  On April 29*** the topic was the “basic” meaning of the cross for the new believer, with a focus on Jesus Christ as the Christians’ example.

To end Chapter 7, Stott focuses on Jesus as sinbearer.  As I read through these pages, I was struck by a quote by Stott describing the unpopularity of this idea: “This simple and wonderful tale of the sinbearing of the Son of God is strangely unpopular today.  That He should have borne our sins and taken our penalty is said to be immoral or unworthy or unjust” [93].****

Let’s look at those three ideas, incorporating basic ideas about Jesus as sinbearer throughout. 

What would be immoral about Jesus bearing our sins?  Anyone with any sense of morality would say that He did not deserve His fate.  Jesus was God and He was not capable of sin, yet He died a horrible death of a common criminal on a Roman cross.  Some may question my use of the word fate above. Fate is defined as “the development of events beyond a person’s control” and people who say that Jesus suffered a fate He did not deserve, don’t understand the purpose of His life.  This was not some development of events beyond His control.  He was totally in control of what happened to Him.  He did not have to suffer on the cross; He chose to suffer on the cross.  Now in our world today, giving one’s life for someone else is not very common (in fact, that kind of act often elevates one to hero status).  Jesus gave His life for all mankind as a way to relieve us from our burden of sin.  Man was never successful in living a righteous life by the sacrifice of animals even though he tried to do just that.  But when John the Baptist saw Jesus for the first time, he cried out “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  He knew exactly why Jesus was on earth.  Jesus’ death was not some immoral act done on a poor individual.  Maybe misunderstanding the intent of Jesus’ life causes people to think things that make it strangely unpopular.

Unworthiness is a second reason that the idea of Jesus as sinbearer is “strangely unpopular.”  Of course anyone who is without sin would be unworthy of the punishment of death, but maybe worthiness goes much deeper than the innocence of the Victim.  People who don’t understand Jesus’ sacrifice may wonder about their own worthiness; in short, why would this Man give His life for me?  The most common comment I hear from new Christians is “I am not worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Of course, we are not.  I remember when I was a new believer; I thought I “owed”  Jesus my best behavior because of what He did for me.  NOTHING I could do would repay what Jesus did for me.  What did I need to do?  I needed to accept His sacrifice; I needed to accept His gift with grace.  It was free, with no strings attached.   In my mind, I owed God something.  How can I owe when I am incapable of repaying?  As time in the faith went by, I eventually began to realize that I was the unworthy one.

“That He should have borne our sins and taken our penalty is said to be …unjust” [93].   When someone has a crime committed against them, they seek justice from the criminal justice system.  If we file charges, we want the crime investigated, evidence collected and the crime prosecuted.  So many reality crime shows on television today***** are predicated on those very ideas.   People are often interviewed who cry out for justice for the victim.  In the case of Jesus Christ, of course there was no justice in His punishment.  He was not tried by a jury of His peers.  He was punished because He made the religious authorities of His day upset; He questioned their qualification for power.  When He was put before the crowd, mob mentality took over and they called out for His death and in His place, they let a horrible criminal go free.  There was nothing correct about what happened to our Lord and Savior.  From a legal perspective it was all wrong.  In the New Testament First Peter 2 states “He committed no sin; no guile was found on His lips.”  Isaiah 53 predicted this in the Old Testament: “He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.”  For no reason “He was reviled” [1 Peter 2].  It is no surprise that this was predicted in Isaiah 53 “He was despised and rejected by men.”  Jesus was on a mission and death was part of that mission, death on the cross.   We are the ones who benefit from the lack of justice that He experiences.  The people of His day did little to correct their mistake but Jesus knew what they were going to do.  He knew He was going to an unjust end. 

A great many people make fun of Christianity.  They see no great difference between the Christian faith and eastern religions.  When they consider Christianity they claim it is a system of human merit.  “God helps those who help themselves.”  If we are good people, God will reward us; if we are not, we will be punished.  They don’t understand that nothing can equal what Christ did for us and they don’t understand God’s forgiveness as we live sinful lives.   Stott writes “He died to atone for our sins for the simple reason that we cannot atone for them ourselves.  If we could, His atoning death would be redundant.  Indeed, to claim that we can secure God’s favor by our own efforts is an insult to Jesus Christ.”    Maybe what makes the “simple and wonderful tale of the sinbearing” so unpopular is that we owe a debt that we cannot repay so we can’t turn to God and “we can manage without You.” 

I love the way Stott ends Chapter 7 so much that I want to close my comments with his final words “Every Christian can echo these words.  There is healing through His wounds, life through His death, pardon through His pain, salvation through His suffering” [97].

*St. John Studies, “Not Understanding God’s Gift to Us,” April 14, 2022.

**St. John Studies,  “The Big Picture,”  April 22, 2022.

***St. John Studies, “The ‘Basic’ Meaning of the Cross, April 29, 2022.

****Let me assert that unpopularity of Jesus’ sinbearing is based on worldly standards.  We cannot judge Jesus’ act by evaluating it with the world’s standard of morality, worthiness and justice.

*****e.g. “Dateline,”  “Forth-eight Hours” and “20/20.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Flexibility…

I usually post on Thursdays of every week but this week I have to post on Wednesday. My wife has a mother who is 93 and I have a mother who is 92. They are both in bad health and we are tying to help our brothers and sisters care for them. This causes us to be flexible in our lives and that may include posts. I ask for your understanding.

David Carter, St. John Studies…

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The “Basic” Meaning of the Cross

Rereading is an unusual activity, especially when years have elapsed since the first reading.  I referred to that in my previous post*, that I am commenting on an important book that I read thirty-five years ago, John Stott’s Basic Christianity.

Basic is a “primer” for new believers.  One can read the book cover and see comments that attest to its content.  “Sensible guide,” “brief, well-written clear presentation,” “for those who are seeking a satisfying presentation of the Christian faith”.    I look at my seventy-five cent copy that I bought in a used book store and I see all kinds of evidence that the book meant a lot to me.  When I began reading it in 1985,  I “made it mine,” writing in the margins, underlining and writing paragraphs at the ends of chapters.  That’s how I can tell that a book has meant a lot to me.  Thirty-five years ago, Basic delivered a message that resonated with me, a message that I sorely needed.

Until Chapter Seven…

That was when the writing, underlining and paragraphs ended.  Like many Christians, I guess I struggled with understanding that Christ came to this earth and died for mankind, for you and for me.  It seemed unbelievable, too hard for anyone to do, too good to be true. 

Anyone who has been reading this blog for some time knows that I alternate between commenting on The Cross of Christ (also by Stott) and Basic.  Maybe thirty-five years hence, I should have better answers to why Christ came to this earth.  Maybe The Cross has helped me understand.

Maybe…

Understanding Christ’s purpose for His life is a common Christian dilemma, a problem that Stott addresses on page eight-six of Basic.  “Christians believe that the cross the pivotal event in history.  Small wonder that our puny minds cannot fully take it in!… ‘Now we see in the mirror dimly.’”  Remember that Basic is just what the title says it is; it is a basic explanation of the faith and Stott knows he has written a book for seekers.

Stott does not plunge into a four-hundred page exposition of the meaning of the cross.  Instead he tries to illustrate the importance of the cross by writing about one man, Simon Peter.  He turns to Peter for three reasons.  Peter was part of the “inner circle” of the Apostles.  If anyone could have understood the purpose for Jesus’ death, it should have been Peter.  Secondly, Peter struggled with the idea that Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross.  He was the first to acknowledge the divinity of Christ, but he was the last to come to terms with His death.  When the resurrection occurred however, Peter became a changed man.  He turned into a strong advocate for Christ, addressing crowds of seekers that His death and suffering was foretold, God intended Jesus to die and God’s glory is seen in His death.  It was all part of God’s plan.  Lastly, Peter writes that fellow believers should live life as patient sufferers and look to Christ on the cross as their inspiration.

One may wonder why Stott elaborates so much on the idea of Christ as an inspiration.  Everyone suffers in this life (Christian or non-Christian) but persecution of Christianity was extreme in First Century A.D.  Emperor Nero’s cruelty put fear in many believers’ hearts.  In the midst of this climate, Peter preached the message of suffering for righteousness sake.  Like Jesus, First Century Christians did not deserve the punishment they were receiving and like Jesus, they tried to suffer in silence.  Peter preached that followers must follow in Jesus’ steps, that submission to unjust punishment was “the way.”  Imagine the message this sent to non-believer observers, that these “Christians” took this abuse and did not waver in their faith.  Observers were astounded, “what faith these Christians have, that they are willing to die for their beliefs.”  Persecution led to martyrdom and martyrdom led to increasing numbers of followers.  “The cross bids us to accept injury, love our enemies and leave the outcome to God” [Stott, 88].

Jesus’ death was more than just an example.  Jesus said “I give My life as a ransom for many” and “I shed My blood of the covenant” and “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Even though I found it hard to understand thirty-five years ago, I read Basic now and see that Jesus came to save mankind from our sins.  Sinning is just an inevitable part of human life and we are better off admitting it.  Why did Jesus beg His Father to take the cup of punishment from Him in the Garden of Gethsemane?  He knew He was about to accept the sin burden of the world on His shoulders and He had lived a sinless life.  [Imagine Jesus pondering the darkness that would envelop him in the coming days].  As Jesus died on the cross, there was no more evil place in the world that on that hill at Golgotha.  To that point in human history, nothing seemed to resonate with man about the need to live a righteous life.  God’s communication had not worked.  He had to send His Son to earth to die for us.  This sent the message that belief in God would cleanse us of all our sins.  Stott writes “An example can stir our imagination, kindle our idealism and strengthen our resolve but it cannot cleanse our defilement of our past sins, bring peace to our troubled conscience or reconcile us to God….The death of Jesus is more than an inspiring example” [Stott, 89].

He met hatred with love and wickedness with forgiveness but with His death on the cross (taking responsibility for all our sins) He brought mankind close to God.  No longer did we have to depend on a High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies to ask for our forgiveness. No longer did we have to sacrifice animals to appease God.  The bridge between God and man was built from the wood of that cross.  The curtain in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom.  We could approach God with our need for forgiveness directly.  For Christians, the Spotless Lamb of Jesus Christ died on the cross.  What stronger message could be sent to us all than God sending Himself in the form of His only Son to die on the cross for all our sins.  God appeased Himself by dying for us.

Hard to understand?  Yes…

More than an example?  Yes…

Do we need a savior?  Yes…

Thirty-five years hence, I appreciate the message of Chapter Seven of Basic [maybe I understand it better?].   Is it an easy message to comprehend?  Not really, but it is essential for Christians to know what God did for us on Golgotha.  None of us is perfect; God knows that we sin, but He wants us to move on from our sin and live better lives.  Move beyond our weakness and gather strength from Him.  Our weakness is His time to provide the strength we need.  We need to take our sins to Him, ask Him for forgiveness and know that He understands.  Jesus proves that He understands because Jesus was human and Jesus was God

His Son is our Shining Example.

His Son is our Savior.

We need Jesus; we need God.

*The Big Picture, St. John Studies, April 22, 2022

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Big Picture….

When I first read Basic Christianity about thirty-five years ago, I needed information about my new faith.  I had a serious desire for an orientation because I had only bits and pieces of something that older, more experienced Christians seemed to have.  To use a cliché, I did not have the “big picture.” 

Of course, I caught on quite easily to the idea that I am a sinner and I need a Savior.   Without Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, I knew I had no chance for a righteous life.  God’s grace is a wonderful gift [an undeserved gift]  and as a new Christian, I wondered what I needed to do to earn it [a difficult idea for anyone who cannot accept gifts “without strings”].  I remember the weekend I gave my life to Christ, how excited I was to try to live a different life.  I had no way of knowing what would happen as the years unfolded; you might say I was in “love with Jesus” and that was all that mattered.  I had already fallen in love with my wife and I knew what that was like.  I could not get her out of my mind and every waking moment I thought of her and felt happy.  Then I fell in love with Jesus and the same thing happened.

But there was a problem.  Many, many, gaping holes were in my faith.  I was a church-going child and I was baptized at the age of eleven, but going to church was expected [so I went].  I knew about the Bible and I picked it up a few times to read a verse or two, but I never tried to read it for help, for guidance, for an orientation.  When I became “born again” I did read the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation and I was glad I did.  That “love” reading confirmed that I had made a correct choice to give my life to Christ.  I had a new set of rules to follow, I had a source of help in troubled times, but I still did not have the “big picture.”

Then I opened the pages of Basic Christianity by John Stott.   I was not ready to read the Old Testament at this time in my life but I needed to at least know how that part of the Bible fit in with the “New” part. 

Why was Jesus a sacrifice for sin?  How could a man’s sacrifice be a reasonable thing for humanity to be saved?  That idea seemed so foreign to me, but I did not know much about the Old Testament.

From the beginning, sacrifice was the norm in “the Bible world.”  Abel brought lambs from his flock to appease God and eventually all worshippers of Jehovah brought sacrifices to God.  People built altars, animals were killed and blood was shed long before the Laws of Moses.  After Moses, sacrificial offerings were a regular part of daily life.  Stott writes “Every Jew was familiar with the ritual attached to the burnt offering, trespass offering and their appropriate drink offering as well as with the special occasions, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly when they had to be offered.  No Jew would have failed to learn the fundamental lesson of all this” [Stott, 83].   That fundamental lesson is as follows:  “the life of the flesh is in the blood and that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin’” [Leviticus 17: 11 and Hebrews 9: 22]. 

Even though I did not fully comprehend the story of Abraham and Isaac and the lamb in the thicket, that story and many more foretold the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ.*  The suffering Son of Jehovah would be wounded for the transgressions of others:  Jesus Christ would suffer for us all.  When Jesus began His ministry, He felt that He must do His Father’s will and He went about His business with His sacrificial end on His mind.  Stott writes “He kept moving steadily toward what He called His ‘hour’”[84].  The closer He came to His death, the more He hinted to the Disciples that it was coming even though they did not understand His hints or accept the fact that He was going to die. 

His death and resurrection take center stage in the New Testament.  Stott reports two-fifths of Matthew is devoted to Christ’s last week and death.  Three-fifths of Mark is devoted to this topic.  One-third of Luke is devoted to His sacrifice and John spends one-half of His Gospel on Jesus entering Jerusalem and His ascension into heaven. 

Then we turn to the writing of Paul, the Apostle who never tires of reminding  us that Jesus died on the cross for all of us.  “The Son of God…loved me, he could write and and gave Himself for me, and therefore, far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”   Peter writes about the sacrifice of Christ in his writings.   Paul’s Epistle to Hebrews states “Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”  Finally in Revelation, Jesus is seen as the Lion and the Lamb and countless angels sing His praises “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” [Revelation 5, 6 and 12].

When I gave my life to Christ thirty-five years ago, I had no notion about what some theologians call the “scarlet thread” that stretches all the way from Genesis to the final chapter of Revelation.  I knew the cross was significant [even unbelievers know that].  Crosses are all over churches, crosses appear around believers’ necks and they adorn the gravestones that mark our final resting place. 

One can surely say that the cross is the symbol of Christianity.**

Stott writes “the Christian faith is the ‘faith of Christ crucified’….There is no conquest without the cross.  There is no Christianity without the cross.”

Want an orientation to the Christian faith?  New to the faith and needing some guidance, some basic information about your newfound beliefs?  Turn to the cross.  Recognize that it is central to the whole faith.  On that cross of wood, Jesus gave His life for you and for me.

That is the “big picture.”

*Zechariah, 13: 7;  Mark 14: 27;  Daniel 9: 25;  Isaiah 53;  Luke 24: 46.

**Just read any of  the posts for Stott’s The Cross of Christ beginning November 1, 2020.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Not Understanding God’s Gift to Us…

 Basic Christianity:  Part Three: Christ’s Work…

Since I have finished commenting on Chapter 8 of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, it is now time to swing back to his book Basic Christianity.

The timing could not have been any better for I intend to post on April 14th, three days before Christians celebrate Easter.  When we were discussing Chapter 6 in Basic, the whole chapter revolved around the idea of sin.  When we sin, we alienate ourselves from God, we become enslaved to sin and we become so selfish that we find ourselves in conflict with others and also God.

I love the way Stott begins Chapter 7: “Christianity is a rescue religion.” 

Is that not what Christ does when He goes to His death on the cross?  He rescues us from our sinful nature.  He gives us a chance for the best life we can have on this earth.

“You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1: 21].  “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” [Luke 19: 10].  “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” [1 Timothy 1: 15] and “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the world” [1 John 4: 14].

Does that sound like a rescue religion?  It does to me.

Stott discusses the first goal of rescuing humanity, the one we celebrate this Sunday.  We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.   Just as Jesus is resurrected from His undeserved death, we can also be born again from our sin burdens if we have faith in God.  We can become new people in Christ because He bore our sins.  He took our punishment.

We have all heard these words so much.

It is fundamental, basic…

But when I was a “new” Christian I was not sure about the significance of this act.  I just lived my life but I knew I was doing things that were not the best.  I put career over God, career over my spouse and career over my son.  That’s how I operated.  I had fallen into some bad habits.  I had weaknesses in my moral life; I had mastered the art of presenting a public persona to the world but behind that public persona was a very different person, someone who had serious character flaws.

Whereas The Cross of Christ is an extremely dense look at the centrality of the cross for Christian theology, Basic simplifies, Basic helps the new Christian get oriented to his or her new religion,  Basic takes what theologians have debated about for centuries and makes it understandable.

There is nothing more basic than the idea that Jesus came to save us from our sins, to show us how to live a better life.

Another basic idea is the fact that Jesus is the reconciliation between sinful man and a Holy God.

Jesus serves as the bridge.

Jesus is the lifeline that God throws to all of us.

Stott writes about what the Apostle Paul says about this “It is quite clear where this reconciliation comes from.  God is its author he [Paul] says and God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” [Basic, 81-82].  Most beginning Christians are not ready to wrap their minds around the idea that God gave Himself to propitiate Himself,  but that is what happened.  God needed to be appeased and He sent His own Son [a part and parcel of His own being] to do the work.   “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life” [John 3: 16].

Propitiation does not seem “basic” and for many it can seem insane, so many  new Christians dwell on John 3: 16 because it is easier to understand.

Another word that Christians hear a lot is atonement.  Stott writes that atonement “denotes either an action by which two conflicting parts are made ‘at one’ or the state in which their oneness is enjoyed and expressed” [82].  This is not made by our effort; God makes atonement for us through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul says “We have received this gift.”  As I commented on alienation, enslavement and selfishness leading to conflict in Chapter 6, atonement cancels out those problems.  “Sin caused an estrangement; the cross, the crucifixion of Christ, has accomplished an atonement.  Sin bred enmity; the cross brought peace.  Sin created the gulf between man and God; the cross bridged it.  Sin broke the fellowship; the cross has restored it” [Stott, 82].  Many give their lives to Christ and take a worker attitude into their new religion; that is ludicrous because the gift is too great.  None of can ever do enough to say we earned the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.   We can never repay the debt.

This Sunday is a special day, a day preceded by horrors too great for any human being to bear, but instead of focusing on the horrors, we should focus on the victory.  “Jesus’ resurrection proclaims His victory over sin and death.  Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. Then He rose back to life, proving He is who He says He is and that He accomplished what He came to earth to accomplish.  Jesus Christ is fully God, fully human, and our only Savior. It is because He is risen that we can trust in His sacrifice for our sins and receive new life in Him. His resurrection also demonstrates that His promise to resurrect us one day will come true.*”

It is spring, a time of new life as trees begin to leaf out, flowers begin to pop through the soil and yards turn from brown to green.  Easter is a time when we celebrate the new life that Jesus has given to us. As you read Paul’s letter to the  Ephesians [2: 1-10] he describes God’s great gift “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.   For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The timing for this post could not have been any better, a “Basic” explanation of the significance of Easter right before Easter.

The death of Christ and His resurrection. 

He begins anew.

And we can too…

*Why Do We Celebrate Easter?”  Gotquestions.org website accessed 4/13/2022

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”

When someone tells you that they hate you, tell them you hate them too.  When someone assaults you, assault them back.  When you experience dishonesty, tell a lie to match the lie that you hear or go even bigger…tell a more outrageous lie.

These are the behaviors that we are taught.  Strike back, leave no challenge unchallenged, respond to fire with some more fire.  Don’t turn the other cheek and offer it to your attacker for them to hit.  Hit them back on their cheek…harder!

I write this and then I think about Jesus, about the lessons He taught and how He behaved in His short life on this earth.  I think about His encounter with Satan in His days of fasting after His baptism, His days in the wilderness.  Satan tempted Him with promises of magnificent power several times but each time Jesus told Satan to go away.  Could Jesus have deployed angelic assistance in ridding Himself of Lucifer, showing He had all of the power He needed.   Of course He could but He did not.  I think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He questioned God about His impending death, asking if this cup [suffering and death] could be avoided.  God offered no reprieve and Jesus accepted His fate with the simple words “Thy will be done.”   He knew His punishment was not deserved.  When Pilate asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, Jesus responded “It is as you say.”  When Pilate asked Jesus if He knew of the things that people were saying about Him, Jesus said nothing.  Again He could have protested; He could have asked God for help.  He knew what He had to do and He quietly did it.

When someone hits you, hit them back…harder!  That rule hardly applied to Jesus.  Turn the other cheek, do not be vengeful, let go of offenses and extend grace to others.  Those were some of His humble, peaceful lessons for righteous living.

Why?

We have considered in recent posts the messages that the cross communicates about God.  I commented on John Stott’s idea that the cross reveals God’s glory.  I wrote about the cross as a revelation of God’s justice and last week I wrote about the cross as a means to communicate God’s love.

Today we wrap up Chapter 8 in The Cross of Christ by discussing how God reveals His wisdom and power in Jesus’s time on the cross and it is very hard to understand how He does this.

The confusion is caused by God’s and Jesus’ rejection of the world’s standard for wisdom and power. 

How is it wise for Almighty God to send His “Son” [Himself] to earth to suffer ignominious suffering and death on the cross?  Would it not make more sense for Jesus to be born of royal parents in some palatial setting?  Would it not make more sense for Jesus to be schooled in the finest schools and grow up to be a powerful leader who clothed Himself in the most expensive and ornate armor, picked up a bejeweled sword, and marched at the head of a huge army.  He would then rid His native land of Roman oppression in a series of magnificent battles.  He would be the mightiest warrior of them all.  He would be idolized by all in His world.

Instead, God’s unusual plan was the opposite of this.  Jesus was born in a stable, lived an ordinary life as a carpenter’s son and learned carpentry as His trade.  He had a divine knowledge of Scripture [no training needed] and surrounded himself with very ordinary men who believed in His improbable mission to save mankind.  He had none of the trappings of power or status.  Today powerful people would have to have the latest designer clothing, several ultra-expensive automobiles and multiple mansions [worth millions and millions of dollars].   Jesus said “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath nowhere to lay His head.”

What is God trying to tell us with this scenario? 

John Stott seems to think that worldly trappings of power are folly; power really does not come from “things” or from flamboyant acts.  Power comes through humility, servanthood and human weakness.  “The gospel of the cross will never be a popular message because it humbles pride of our intellect and character”[221].   We don’t understand this wise approach to God’s plan on this earth: “God deliberately chose what the world regards as foolish and feeble people in order to shame the wise and the strong; He chose even the lowly, the despised and the nonexistent to nullify what exists.  His goal in this was to exclude human boasting” [221].  He was sending the message that God engineered the salvation of mankind; it was not done by mankind alone.  It was God [in the form of Jesus] who united humans to God, bringing justification, holiness and the promise of redemption.  “Therefore, as the Scripture says, if anybody boasts, he must boast neither in himself, or others, but in the Lord alone” [221].   If any Christian bears good fruit, they should not take credit, but give the glory to God.  As I have written in other places*, “It is not me” would be the appropriate response to someone who asks how you did something beyond your normal means, for God has used you to accomplish His tasks.

“The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”**   When Jesus went to the cross He turned earthly conceptions of wisdom and power upside down.  If we cling to human conceptions of wisdom and power we will never understand what wisdom and power mean to God.  We are easily tempted with the earthly promises of fame, power, wealth and the good life but those will not give us the life we really seek, a life of righteousness, a life devoted to God. 

Our Creator has the power and wisdom to satisfy our longing hearts.  “Jesus is the bread that will satisfy our hunger.  He is the living water that makes us thirst no longer” [Pieter Theron***].  Ordinary human existence would tell us to look to things we can see, taste, feel or smell but those “things” will soon enslave us.  Human objects of power will become idols and we can easily become addicted to the outward signs of earthly status.

It is so hard to comprehend but in Jesus’ dying, we have a chance to live.  We know that the Apostle Paul preached that dying daily to our sins leads to a life with Christ.  He knew that if we turn to the power and wisdom of God we have a chance to celebrate a new life that is free of the burden of sin, a new life extended to us by God’s grace alone.  We don’t have the wisdom and power to do this on our own.  He makes us new creatures through His love.

I close this post with words from the Apostle Paul who summarizes the message of the cross [regarding wisdom and power] in First Corinthians 18-25:  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’  Where is the wise person?  Where is the teacher of the law?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.   Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”****

*for example March 18, 2022 in St. John Studies.

**from First Corinthians 1: 25.

***Grateful acknowledgment or additional discussion goes to Pieter Theron, “The Cross in the Power and Wisdom of God” accessed on April 4, 2020.    

****First Corinthians 1: 18-25 [bolding, italics and underlining mine].

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One of “Those Words”

Love is one of “those” words. 

What I mean by calling love one of those words is that love is a connotative word.  Our language is full of connotative words, words which have some emotional association.  There will be some literal meaning in connotative words but the meaning goes far beyond the literal; connotative words imply other meanings, suggest other meanings.  Some words are more denotative, which is the opposite of connotative.   For example, “paper” is denotative meaning a material manufactured in thin sheets from wood pulp, used for writing, drawing, printing or as wrapping paper.  Both kinds of words are extremely useful for communication between human beings but when you say love, the response you may have to the word love is very different from the response you may have to the word paper.

As I continue to comment on John Stott’s “Revelations of God” [Chapter 8]*, I will be dealing with God’s revelation of love.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” [John 3: 16].

I don’t know of any piece of Scripture that is quoted more than this one and when one really looks at each word that the Apostle John uses in this Scripture, the whole idea revolves around love and sacrifice.  Stott writes “The value of a love-gift is assessed both by what it costs the giver and by the degree to which the recipient may be held to deserve it” [Stott, 210].   When I have given my girlfriend and eventually my wife a gift [sometimes more than I could afford] I was trying to communicate love for her.  The gift symbolized love.  I believed she deserved it.   She is a wonderful person, someone special in my life.  I cherish her friendship and want her to know how important she is for my life.

Since I am commenting on Stott’s Chapter 8, I am focused on God’s revelation** as He acts in our world.  “Just as human beings disclose their character in their actions, so God has showed Himself to us in the death of His Son” [Stott, 200].   What has God revealed when we really think about John 3: 16?

I have had experiences in my life when I questioned God’s love for man, when I was in the midst of my own personal tragedies, when I see natural disasters, when I see reports of hunger and poverty, when I see man making war against man.  My question has always been the same:  how can a loving God allow this to happen?

There is no easy answer to these type of question.  I have grown enough in my faith to believe that God can take any situation and use it for His glory.  I don’t have to know how He can do it; I have grown to believe that He can do it and He will do it, to bring glory to His Kingdom.

What can we point to as evidence of God’s love for us?

First of all, God gave His Son to die for us.  Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One and when we turn to Roman’s 5: 10, we see that the death of Christ is “the death of His Son.”  Stott writes that God could have sent a man to us as He sent the prophets to Israel.  He could have sent angels to us as He did in several places in the Bible.  Instead He sent His own Son, “eternally begotten from His own Being.”  It gets lost on most of us but He was really giving Himself to us.  What would it have meant if He tried to save us with a third party?  “Since love is in its essence self-giving, then if God’s love was seen in giving His son, He must thereby have been giving Himself” [Stott, 209].

God’s actions speak louder than His words.

Secondly, God gave His son to die for us.  It would have been wonderful enough for God to have given Jesus (and so Himself) to become flesh and to serve for us on earth, but He did much more.  The King of all Kings emptied Himself of all His glory and became a servant.  The King of all Kings went through torture when He did not deserve it and when He could have stopped it.  The King of Kings in the form of Jesus bore the sins of man and felt forsaken from His Father, being separated from God by sin.   The irony of all this is that the “Man” on the cross did not deserve any of that; we are the one who did the sinning and He was the ones who did the dying. “For the Sinless One to be made sin, for the Immortal One to die—we have no means of imagining the terror or the pain involved in such experiences” [Stott, 210].

God’s actions speak louder than His words.

Lastly, God gave His Son to die for us.  Stott refers to Romans 3: 23 where Paul describes humans as sinners, “failures who have missed the target and who invariably ‘fall short of the glory of God’” [Stott, 210].  The criticism continues when he calls humans “ungodly” for we do not give God the glory due to His name and we don’t have fear of God before our eyes [Romans 5:6 and 3:18].  We are God’s enemies due to our rebellion, rebuffing His love and being defiant of His law [Romans 8: 7].  The last word he uses is “powerless.  We have no power to save ourselves, we are helpless creatures.  Someone much more powerful than man must be willing to die for our righteousness.  Die for us Jesus did, God did.  Thanks be to God!

God’s actions speak louder than His words.

Now after examining the idea of “God gave His Son to die for us” we return to the idea of love.  Is His commitment to man, His sacrifice of His Son enough for us to say that He demonstrated His love for us?  What can we say about God’s love?  Is it revealed?  Is it shown?

Often we hear the cliché  I have already used three times: “Actions speak louder than words.”  My field of expertise is human communication and it is a well-known fact among people who study communication that seventy to ninety-three percent of all messages are nonverbal [a word for visible, outward action].  If you want to get someone to think you love them, tell them; if you want to get someone to believe you love them, do something for them that communicates that you love them.  In other words, act out your love in a visible, outward way.  Another cliché is “talk is cheap.”  It is easy to speak your love, but it is much harder when you are called on to demonstrate it. 

What did God do for man?

He acted on His love for man, He did something visible, and He demonstrated His love.

He revealed His true feelings in Jesus’s death on the cross.

Thank you God…

For loving me.

*Chapter 8 is entitled “The Revelation of God

**See “It Was Not Me,” March 18, 2022,  St. John Studies.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Theodicy: A “New” Idea [Not Really]

One of the most uncomfortable feelings I ever have is when I am teaching a Sunday school class and I introduce a new term to Christians and they wonder whether it is “legit” or not.*  The looks of consternation are disconcerting.  The mumbling among the class sounds unsettling as indeed they may be feeling “unsettled;” their response is certainly unsettling to me!  Recently I have been teaching a class on angels and I introduced the term “beatific vision,” actually a theologian on a video used the term and I followed up on his use of the words. 

The idea was new.

They were not sure…

It seems that the more I study my faith, the more I encounter more complex terms that are used in theological circles, not layperson circles.  Another such idea is theodicy.  Theodicy means the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.

A brand new idea?

The term may be new but I bet the simple meaning of the term is not.  Theodicy is the idea that the innocent suffer and the wicked seem to flourish.  My Grandmother Hattie was an avid watcher of her daily “soaps” [a reference to daytime dramas].  I would drop in and visit with her and I got accustomed to some of the characters on her shows; every “soap” had squeaky clean characters and horribly filthy characters.  And yes, it seemed at times as if the wicked people were winning in the game of life.  Grandmother would always say to me about the evil people; “Don’t worry, they will get their ‘comeuppance.’”  She had faith that good would rule in the end and the evil people of the world would be punished.

In Chapter 8 of John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ he explains the way the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is a “word” as well as a work [essentially what does the sacrifice reveal about God?].   We have already commented on Jesus’ sacrifice as “the glory of God”** and now we turn to the sacrifice as a revelation about the justice of God.  In many places in the Old Testament it is difficult to parse out God’s justice.  Stott points to Abraham’s anguish about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; it would seem that he has some serious concerns about The Lord’s justice when he says “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” [Genesis 18: 25].  Of course there is a whole book of the Old Testament devoted to theodicy, the Book of Job.  Why does Job have to suffer so much?

How do we reconcile such instances when good vs. evil seem so out of balance?  Stott writes that some answers come from two ideas: the final judgement of God and the judgement of God that has already taken place at the cross.

The final judgement is like Grandmother Hattie’s “comeuppance.”  Stott writes that it can be very tempting to follow the ways of the evil person if they are prospering.  Turning to Psalm 73, the psalmist admits that being evil may be ok;   that “envying their freedom to sin and their immunity to suffering, he had almost turned away from God…more ‘brute beast’ than godly Isarelite.”  What is not considered is the day of “final judgement” when they must account before God for all the acts that they have committed.  God has the last say.

A more complex notion is the sacrifice of Jesus to assuage all sins, yes, even those of evil people.  “The reason for God’s previous inaction in the face of sin was not moral indifference but personal forbearance until Christ should come and deal with it on the cross” [Stott, 204].  Stott points to the Apostle Paul’s writing in Roman’s 3: 21-26 because it sheds so much light on this idea:  “Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.  God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.  He did this to demonstrate justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the One who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.”

This writing emphasizes the complex notion that for some, maybe God is letting sinners off too easily.  That He should not be so lenient with evil people.  Here one can only say that all humans sin.  Some seem to sin more than others, some on a grand scale.  What happens when a sinner truly repents and comes to dedicate their life to Christ?   Sins are forgiven, small scale and large scale.  It matters not to God.  Jesus talks about the joy He feels when a lost lamb is found.  He tells the story of the son who sins and returns home to a joyous father.  The worker who begins work late in the day makes as much salary as the early worker.  It does not matter to God if souls are saved.

It is also very difficult to understand God sacrificing Himself to save man.  This is another difficult idea for Christians to understand.  The biblical concept of propitiation relates to God’s righteousness being completely satisfied by the death of Christ at Calvary, thereby enabling Him righteously to save sinners who place their faith in Christ.  To appease Himself, God sacrificed Himself, all on behalf of man.** * “By bearing Himself in Christ, the fearful pealty of our sins, God not only propitiated His wrath, ransomed us from slavery [to sin], justified us in His sight and reconciled us to Himself, but thereby also defended and demonstrated His own justice.”

Are evil people punished, people who do not repent of their evil and ask for forgiveness?  Yes they are.  Stott writes “If God does not punish sin, He would be ‘unjust’ to Himself…He would cease to be God and we would cease to be fully human.  He would destroy Himself by contradicting His divine character as righteous Lawgiver and Judge, and He would destroy us by contradicting our human dignity as morally responsible persons created in His image.”

But if man will turn to God, He will experience forgiveness for his sin.  That is what God wanted eventually.  The function of The Law in the Old Testament is to condemn, but when Christ came to earth, the unrighteous have a chance to gain righteousness. 

If we submit to Him.

Receive His forgiveness

Become a member of His kingdom.

Is this human justice?  Not at all.  It’s God’s justice and at times we might not understand it, just like some of my Sunday school class members don’t understand beatific vision or theodicy or propitiation.

But we should all be thankful, for because of God’s loving mercy, we all have a chance…  

*I am not an ordained pastor or hold a Ph.D. in Theology.  I have a Ph.D. in speech communication

** see “It Was Not Me” March 18, 2022.

***Propitiation is discussed numerous times in this blog.  For additional discussion go to the search feature and type in propitiation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment