Christ’s descent into creation and death

Today, what in church tradition is called Holy Saturday, we in part remember our Lord’s finished work in dying on the cross for our salvation and the salvation of the world, the burial on the Sabbath, a Sabbath rest. Christ descended in becoming human and then further in dying the most despicable death: that of the cross.

In becoming human, Christ did what humans do: he died. And in so doing he shared their death. And further, Christ’s death forever changed death through both what his death accomplished, and the full vindication of that in his resurrection from death.

In what is often considered the resurrection passage of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that through the good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, death is no longer the fearsome enemy it once was:

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ became one of us, and then in his death nullifies the sentence placed on humankind because of sin. In so doing he relegated the enemy death to something that for the believer becomes like a passageway into life, and spells death’s ultimate doom. Because of Christ we need no longer fear death:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Paul makes it clear that apart from Christ, all that matters is this life, that death is the end of it all. But because of Christ we know death is not the end. Christ himself in entering death put it on the end road, and even uses death to bring life now and ultimately in the resurrection to come to all who believe and therefore follow.

 

 

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prone to wander and blunder

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:8-11

Yesterday I wrote what for me I hope to be a life changing kind of post. Of course God’s word brings about change, or it’s meant to. I want to mention here that there’s a book I’m interested in reading which put me on this trek, so more on this in God’s will I plan to do later. The author, Bill Gaultiere (mentored by Dallas Willard) said or wrote that the hardest part is to enter and remain in Christ’s easy yoke, in that rest and walk, indeed dynamic with Christ. It’s not easy to enter, and easy to slip out, something I’ve found to be oh so true during my short time endeavoring to be intentional in following through on this. It is wonderful when you’re in it, and you just tend to forget at least the experience before, but the way we humans are wired once you’re back out, being in it as far as the experience is concerned is like a faint dream gone by.

This passage in Hebrews is important to consider in itself (Hebrews 4:1-13). It is about the Sabbath rest God has for his people. And I take it that it’s more than simply believing one’s eternal salvation is settled, that there’s nothing one needs to do to attain that. It’s surely referring to one’s experience, the rest one enjoys right in the midst of life. Ironically the passage refers to disobedience as well as the need to make every effort to enter into that rest. One might well think that to enter rest one needs to simply rest. That’s true except that it takes effort for us to do that since we’re so used to taking the bull by the horn ourselves and getting whatever job we need to do done. So this entire idea can seem so foreign to us.

As we can see from the rest of the book of Hebrews, we are to rest by faith in Christ’s once for all finished work of salvation through his death. I go back now to the passage I referred to in yesterday’s post, part of it, Jesus’s words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus’s invitation is wonderfully to all. It correlates, I think to the Hebrews passage at least in terms of the faith that’s called for. I have found the endeavor to accept this invitation to be helpful in itself. I then know I’m not there, but I’m making every effort to do so. I do this by quoting this passage again and again, hopefully prayerfully, trying to think and meditate on just what this means for me, what I’m to do, how I’m to enter into it by faith. In that I’m attempting to make the full effort.

By the way, it’s a mistake to think that somehow we have to be perfect on our side. We’re not going to be, plain and simple. God looks at the sincerity of our heart, and our dependence on him in the midst of all our weakness.

This is something I want to be committed to. There’s probably a lot more that needs to be said to counter mistaken ideas about this. But I leave it there for now. All of this as always, in and through Jesus.

God’s word keeping us keeping on

Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

Psalm 119:89-96

The entire passage is important of course, and we need to read any part in its context, but I want to focus especially on one part of it:

If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

That is what I do, where I live. In the real world in all its brokenness. And what sees me through is God’s word. When I refer to God’s word, I mean Scripture, the Bible. But I also mean the gospel to which that word points, to the Word himself, Jesus.

The word doesn’t save me in ways I anticipate or come up with myself. In some intellectual sense, I might anticipate such, but when you’re afflicted and feel lost, you’re living in an experience, and what you’re thinking has limited if any effect.

I know there are people who think the Christian faith is mostly all psychological. And let me acknowledge that it’s not like one’s attitude and frame of mind isn’t important. But God’s word goes way beyond that. We are given hope in the midst of utter despair and brokenness. Belief that through God’s word in and through Jesus there’s always salvation.

What God requires is faith. And how we get faith is by hearing or reading about and focusing on the object of faith, God’s promises, and especially God’s promises in Jesus.

I can testify again and again, and actually every day that this make all the difference in the world for me. I get up with God’s word in mind, and begin to look at it immediately ideally. And going to bed in prayer ideally, after being in the word. God’s word is multifaceted, and therefore, our response to it. A response of faith. Through which God sees us through in and through Jesus.

 

when it comes to the Bible, ponder yes, and just keep reading

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

The Christian faith is centered in Jesus and God’s good news in him. And the church, the body of Christ made up of all believers and followers of Christ, made new by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Spirit on what’s essential is also an indispensable part of the faith. So when someone reads the Bible, they don’t do so in a vacuum. It is true that people can read the Bible apart from the church, and come up with all kinds of sectarian views. But the Bible is central in receiving the gospel, the truth in Jesus. And for good reason, evident when you begin to turn its pages. And the church has always regarded it as foundational for understanding the faith. Certainly there are disagreements among various church traditions, but the good news in Jesus remains central to all.

For me, the go to reality day after day is to return to Scripture. I have decided to capitalize Scripture, after years of not doing so, to mark it as distinct from all other religious and faith writings. It is God’s word written. So I return to it again and again. And in so doing, I expect to hear from God, and be changed more and more into the image of Christ. To be shaped by the renewing of my mind through Scripture.

When doing that, I often am weary through life, and most times the words don’t really jump off the pages at me. But I keep pondering. And something important to remember: there may seem to be many dead spots because of our weak reception, but we just keep on reading. We move on to the next point or part. Oftentimes that can shed light on what we didn’t understand. But regardless, we just keep moving on.

Paul’s words to Timothy tell us that Scripture is able to give us wisdom to save us through faith in Jesus. Salvation in Scripture is past, at the cross and when we believe. It’s present in the ongoing process of God’s saving work in our lives by the Spirit. And it’s future in the promise of Christ’s return to make all things new, including the resurrection of all things, not least of which, the resurrection of our bodies.

So I’m much encouraged to keep opening the Book. And keep on reading and reading, yes pondering slowly, prayerfully and thoughtfully. And not stop. In and through Jesus.

the wonderful story of Zacchaeus

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:1-10

It is interesting how Jesus approached different people. There was the rich young man whom Jesus told to sell his possessions and give to the poor and he would have treasure in heaven. Then to follow Jesus. Although this man had taken the initiative by asking Jesus what he must to do inherit eternal life, Jesus’s answer left him despondent. He would not because in his mind evidently he could not. His possessions were so much a part of his life, who he was. He was after all quite wealthy. The Lord knew what was in his heart and what he needed. Just perhaps he repented later, though sadly, as far as I know, and certainly from scripture itself we have no indication of such (Luke 18:18-30; Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30).

Zacchaeus is a different case. A chief tax-collector, wealthy. Curious when he heard Jesus was passing through Jericho, of course we know on Jesus’s way to the cross. He happened to be short in stature, and so he had to maneuver in some way to hopefully see the Master. And what did he do but run ahead and climb up a sycamore fig tree. And as if on cue, the Lord stops and looks up at Zacchaeus in the tree, and calls him by name, telling him that he must come to his house that day.

Zacchaeus received him gladly, and others were present with them that day. But people were taken back, muttering that Jesus was going to be a guest of a sinner. Zacchaeus’s response is so refreshing. He tells the Lord that he’s going to give half of his possessions to the poor, and if he has cheated anyone, he will pay them back four times the amount. Zacchaeus’s heart is made evident by his words and then the actions which backed them up. Jesus affirmed and confirmed that, when he said that salvation had come to that house that day since he was a true son of Abraham. And that this all figured into what Jesus had come to do: to seek and save what was lost.

Such a wonderful story. In line with scripture’s passion, really God’s passion and priority of helping the poor. I am looking forward to meeting Zacchaeus someday, and hearing more of his story. It brings joy to the heart, just what God can do in our hearts and lives in and through Jesus.

the kind of help God gives

Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.

Psalm 66:8-12

For whatever reason, many of us can find ourselves in a pinch, maybe a pickle. Of course no one escapes trouble. It will come regardless. Some of it can be self-inflicted for sure.

The psalms have many instances of people in trouble, even complaining to God about their lot, or about life. I’ve picked up from some that to be worked up emotionally over a matter which affects us is unacceptable. What actually is unacceptable is when we don’t handle such times well. And the psalms over and over again give us examples of people turning to God in the midst of such trouble, emotionally spent (and spending).

The perspective in the passage quoted above is helpful. It’s good to consider it in the context of the entire psalm of course (link above and here). It’s instructive how God is at work for our good even in what in itself is not good. But God isn’t just at work to bring us through it, essentially out of it. But for our good, to make us better human beings, more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). In the end God indeed wants to bless us, and make us a blessing. But a big part of the blessing is the impact for good as a result of our response to the trouble. If we look to God in faith and keep doing so, God will be at work in that way. We have to be willing to go through the trouble in faith, not just escape it.

It may be perturbing at times, but part of the beauty of the above passage is that it’s specific in an instructive kind of way, while being general enough to encompass all kinds of situations and people. It is best to meditate and pray on it, and go from there. Scripture is for life, no less. God will see us through as we look to him. Not just to get past the trouble, solving the problem. But to change us through it. Yet at the same time yes, to help us, to see us through. In and through Jesus.

a story of the Lord’s power over the demonic

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:26-39

This may seem an odd story, especially in our western rationalistic world today, but it’s really quite a beautiful one if one walks slowly and thoughtfully through it. Jesus deals with a profound brokenness of humanity when seized by the demonic realm. Ordinarily Satan works undercover, especially here in the west, where the idea of demons is largely dismissed, yes even true in some Christian circles. Of course in parts of the southern hemisphere the people know only too well the reality of such.

The story goes to show how those demonized can lose control and essentially their humanity. In the story Jesus casts the demon out, which turns out to be a host of demons, and the man who had been uncontrollable either by himself or others was now normal so that at last he could be himself.

The people who lived in the area were overcome with fear given the change and all that had happened. Really it was both a rational and irrational fear. Change and disruption: the large herd of pigs was gone. But good which would go on: the man who had been possessed by the demons would tell the story of how Jesus delivered him.

God never forces his way on us. When asked to, Jesus departed. But the Lord wants to help us, indeed deliver and save us. We should never act on fear. Instead of letting our faith be overcome by fear, we need to let our fear be overcome with faith. That can take time, but we need to settle in and wait because by faith it will come.

A great story. Telling us something of the salvation that has come in and through Jesus.