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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Jesus’s crucifixion and death

On this Good Friday we remember our Lord’s crucifixion and death. We bow at the mystery while accepting the truth from Scripture that by his death he broke the power of death. That he died for us in our place taking on himself our just condemnation. That the worst evil we heap on God and others he then received to bring us into God’s best for us: participation in God’s life and love. That God was reconciling the world to himself in the death of his Son, that all might receive forgiveness of sins and new life in Jesus.

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the Jews.

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

Mark 15:21-41

 

law or grace?

No matter how you shake it, and it’s not an easy passage to interpret or understand, Romans 7 makes it clear that there’s a strong human tendency to buck law, especially when it’s in your face, or one’s well aware of it. Law in Scripture is given for the good of people to show them how they ought to live in a flourishing free way, but it also serves to show people their sin and therefore their need of God’s grace. Grace here I refer to as both forgiveness and new life as in ability to keep the law. And by keeping the law, I’m referring to keeping the requirements of the law not by law keeping, but by a life which in a way is above the law in that it transcends mere law keeping, the life naturally doing what God requires.

One of the most memorable portions of Philip Yancey’s classic book, What’s So Amazing About Grace is the story about the man who sought to escape the evil of western society to what he saw as a society in which law and therefore righteousness could flourish. The only problem was that he got entangled and overcome by his own sin in stark, dark and troubling ways. His Christianity fell by the wayside because it was not formed by grace, but simply informed by law.

Law is important in its place, and in societies good laws are needed, for example against the taking of life, or practices which might endanger life such as driving when intoxicated. Law as mentioned in Scripture serves to convict one of sin, though the Spirit is needed to make that conviction more than condemnation and instead a life changing repentance.

I remember Christian schools that made a lot out of rules to the point of more or less micromanaging the students’ lives with the presupposition that such would keep them out of harm’s ways, curb their sinful tendencies, and even form them into godly people. The only problem is that it is grace which changes us, not law. Though it should be noted that God’s grace changes us through the law. God’s grace does the changing apart from law, but uses the law to help us see our guilt, need, and utter helplessness.

Grace and law in Scripture are not easy subjects. But having lived through some sad scenarios in the Christian world, I would say that one has to be aware of the place of both. And how our lives are truly transformed only by grace, God’s gift to us of forgiveness and new life. And how this is both in terms of a point of conversion and ongoing conversion in a process by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

the Christian relation to the state within the politics of Jesus (now in the era of Obama/Trump)

[Jesus] replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

Luke 13:32

I am amazed at how Christians where I live, in the United States line up with political parties and candidates. I’m not referring at all here to how one votes one way or another. Only how easily enamored or at enmity Christians can be toward political figures. We live in the era of Obama/Trump, and the polarization in the United States is probably greater than any time since the Civil War.

Sadly, I think we Christians are contributing to this mess. We ought to be those who speak truth to power. I personally liked Obama, but didn’t like all his policies, such as the use of drones. And I think what’s to be expected in a nation state is not at all the same as what is required in the church. Too often people conflate that, thinking somehow that America should be Christian through and through. But that’s never really been the case. While there’s been a strong Christian influence present, many other factors figure into the United States right from its outset, not the least of which is the Modernist Enlightenment.

I think white nationalism awakened when Obama was elected, and continues to grow in influence during the time of Trump. Just judged on Trump’s words alone, he is narcissist to a strong degree. It always seems all about him and loyalty to him. If you’re concerned for the good of the United States and what it’s supposed to stand for, you ought to go back and study George Washington, then compare that to Donald Trump. I can understand why Christians vote for Trump based on policy while disliking much that is evident in his character. After all, it’s not like other politicians haven’t had serious faults. But it’s another matter when Christians defend Trump and his character, seeing him as a great champion who they defend, glossing over his faults with excuses, or simply seemingly ignoring them altogether. I like Roger Olson’s point (see link later) that since he’s a “fallibilist,” he may be altogether mistaken, that his similar view of Trump (along with many others) may be mistaken, though he doesn’t think so. I will add that we need to pray for Trump and all in positions of government authority, and hope for the better.

As Christians we should not be in lock step with any politician or political party. We are of one Lord: Jesus, and thus to be committed to one political party only: that of God’s kingdom come and now present in Jesus. That politics should impact how we see the politics of the world. And when it does, Christians should be wary of any party, and never defend everything any one politician says or thinks.

Where are our core commitments? I am for the United States, really for all nations, but particularly for the US of which I’m a citizen. But my complete loyalty is only to our Lord Jesus, and God’s kingdom in him. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a good citizen of the United States. It only means that my earthly citizenship is transcended by my heavenly citizenship which therefore impacts how I think about all of life, including the politics down here.

God’s kingdom in Jesus is now present in the church, and awaits it’s full unveiling and rule when heaven and earth become one at Christ’s return. Until then as those in Christ we’re called to be humbly faithful as witnesses to the one good news in Jesus. And seeing everything else in light of that. In and through Jesus.

(A number of theologians have influenced me over the years. Roger Olson’s recent post is probably echoed here more than I might realize. I never write meaning to state something as if it originated from me when it didn’t. And to the extent I’ve ever unwittingly done that in past years I’m genuinely repentant and want to be more careful while at the same time recognizing I only write what I truly believe, my own convictions even if under the direct influence of someone else. David C. Cramer’s recent post as well which is echoed at least in the Scripture passage, another scholar whose work I consider valuable. Add to that the recent talk I heard from Khary Bridgewater which influenced this post.

I’m reluctant to get into politics at all, and I don’t care to get into partisan politics. I believe partisan politics should never become a priority with believers. We can talk about issues and often agree to disagree. What has to remain central to us is our calling to live in and be witnesses to God’s good news in Jesus.)

why we don’t shut up (about our faith)

…we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.

Acts 4:20b

First off I want to say I’m thankful to live in a nation in which I am not persecuted for my faith, and I would say, for the faith. Unfortunately persecution of Christians worldwide today is on a scale perhaps worse than ever. I’m grateful to live in a nation, the United States, which maintains freedom of religion. Of course there may be subtle ways of persecution here, but not the kind in which one’s property or life is at risk. So I’m blessed to live in freedom in that regard. Our persecuted family in the faith are blessed, in the words of our Lord, to face persecution as they continue on in the faith (Matthew 5:10-11). And we need to support them with our love and prayers (see Open Doors, one of the ministries working to help such).

The words of Peter and John quoted above, before the religious authorities who were persecuting them, are instructive, and actually enlightening as to why we Christians persist and won’t let up in our witness. Maybe it’s especially true for those set apart for ministry, but actually all Christians are called by God to be a witness. We are witnesses first of all in the change of our lives and how we live in love for others, and in what we say about our faith and the faith.

The apostles saw the Lord, witnessed his life, his words, deeds, and just who he was. As well as witnesses to his resurrection from the dead, the point in the narrative above after a man over forty years of age and lame from birth was completely healed. The apostles found something that was not just life changing for them, but amounted to good news for the world no less, in God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And we follow in their train.

I am personally not only convinced intellectually, but by what I’ve seen. Changed lives yes; lives for the love of others, including enemies. Rational argument is good, and actually there’s a convincing rationale for Jesus’s resurrection, which has turned one skeptic after another into a believer. I don’t deny others have abandoned the faith. All I can say is there’s one thing that keeps me going on and wanting to be a witness: what I continue to see and hear. I see the difference it makes day after day, or at least over shorter and longer spans of time in my own life. And though I often don’t understand well enough what Scripture is saying, the words are compelling and point me to God’s Word himself: Jesus.

This is personal to me, but it’s more than that, it’s for the world. The gospel, which is the good news of God in Jesus is for the world. It will never be the center of any nation state in this present age, but is always manifest only in the church scattered amidst all the nations. Part of this good news in Jesus is the promise and “hope” of his return, when he will be King of kings and Lord of lords, and God’s kingdom in him will be set up when heaven and earth are made one in him.

So we carry on. Yes, in the midst of difficulty, our own darkness, our stumbling, and so on. But we continue to follow. To show and tell the difference this makes in our own lives, meant for all others as well. In and through Jesus.

 

 

press on

We can become weary and lose heart, indeed think all or most is lost for many reasons. And yes, things are lost along the way. Many of us make some bad decisions which God either protects us from, or not, but often with consequences of one sort or another. Or we lose friends who we once thought were truly friends, but we find out otherwise. And we doubt ourselves, still ringing in our ears voices from the past which put us down in discouraging ways.

It doesn’t matter. We need to press on, period. There’s much for us to live for now. Witnesses to Jesus and God’s good news in him. Prayer for loved ones, friends, all who are in need, even our enemies. Doing what we can to help others. None of this small in God’s eyes.

For me it’s the goal of an interactive relationship with God through ongoing Scripture reading and prayer during the course of a day. With the goal of devotion to God in loving God and others. And wisdom to make my way through all of life in a way that’s honoring to God and helpful to others. 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.