the power of the cross in its weakness is not only about salvation

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 has 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.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13:4

The way of the cross in Jesus didn’t stop when Jesus was resurrected, nor after his ascension. It seems too often, at least to me that the cross is viewed only with reference to salvation. And there’s no doubt that it’s central in that. But that salvation is not only through the cross, but into a cruciform, cross-formed life.

Our life in Christ is an in-Christ life. In the power of Christ’s resurrection insofar as it’s grounded and established in his death. That is the power for how we live the life of the cross. Paradoxically the power of Christ’s resurrection enables us to live out the reality and meaning of his death in this life (Philippians 3:10). And we won’t have to look hard in the gospels, or the letters to find directives which comport with that.

This is the one and only way in Jesus, not only for our salvation, but for all of life.

the impracticality of the Sermon on the Mount

On one of the podcasts I’ve been listening to, Stephen Backhouse said something like a government can’t be run if one follows Jesus’s teaching, specifically the Sermon on the Mount, and his example. True. And what if that’s the point for us in Jesus? What if we’re to live an alternative way of life here, not practical in the world’s eyes, but only on God’s agenda given to us in Jesus?

And Stephen Backhouse pointed out that we shouldn’t just consider this with reference to Jesus’s teaching, but that we need to read the rest of the New Testament with Jesus’s teaching in mind. Do Paul’s letters, Peter’s, John’s, and the rest of the New Testament line up with that? I think we’ll find that it clearly does.

What if we’re not to live by our own common sense, or what makes sense to the world, but what Jesus taught and not only exemplified, but pioneered, indeed opened up in the way of the cross, death and resurrection?

Something to prayerfully consider. In and through Jesus.

thinking in the new way (the Jesus way)

It is so easy for us to conflate what we read in the Old Testament about the nation of Israel and battles and whatnot with the United States. What we fall into is the precipice of nationalism from which there’s no escape. I’m finding these podcasts from Stephen Backhouse helpful in grounding us in the way of Jesus and exposing what is not.

We need to get back to basics, the basics of Jesus, what he calls us to as his disciples and church. That’s a far cry from what we’re accustomed to, what we’re caught up in. It involves what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. The fruit of the Spirit marks it.

One can be Spirit-filled, yet sadly mistaken on key points, as history has shown over and over again, and as Scripture, I think indicates. We need a new vision, the vision Jesus gives us. But it’s hard to break the old strongholds, and idols don’t easily let go since there are spiritual and systemic powers behind them.

This is not the idea that we’ll all the sudden get it right while most everyone else gets it wrong. This is an endeavor to question bedrock assumptions which we live by, often taken for granted to be true.

This gets us beyond national, and even international allegiance, to the one allegiance that we Christians are to hold to now and forever: the Lamb Jesus, and the kingdom of God present and to come in him. It’s not like we no longer have concerns about those matters, but that those concerns come from a different world altogether. Yes, meant for this world, but not of it.

But go to the podcasts if you want to learn more. And a hint: keep listening through the episodes to make the most sense of it.

Jesus’s peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

I remember a church in our area which had a sign that said, “Wage Peace.” The church was of the Protestant liberal persuasion which tends to take strong public stands on what is called a progressive, liberal agenda. Then you have on the other hand churches which not only hold to just war theory, but who quite often back American efforts in war. On hindsight, I think we can clearly say that at best there are major problems in military action, and that indeed, war ought to be a last resort.

But was this what Jesus was talking about? While I don’t think Jesus would approve of much of the world’s military action, if indeed there could be any such approval at all, since all is laid bare behind the full scrutiny of the one with eyes like fire, and besides, what affiliation does the kingdom of God have with any nation state? No, Jesus was not referring to that. What he said was surely in a true sense a rebuke to much of that. Wouldn’t it be beneficial and good if the church once again required soldiers returning from war to engage in some kind of time of repentance, even penance, not to earn forgiveness, but to actually be saved from what war effort requires? I say this hesitantly and sadly, while at the same time admiring the service of those who serve honorably and self-sacrificially for their country. And I have no doubt that many do so with character, not wishing to inflict injury on others, but carrying out orders in the confidence that they are on principled grounds. And in a world where evil is often armed, isn’t there a need for police action? I say, clearly yes, as long as it’s restrained, and with the effort to minimize the loss of human life.

But again, back to Jesus and his words here. A peacemaker is someone who makes peace between those who are not peaceful, who often are enemies. Surely peacemaking is in terms of Jesus’s mission which is fulfilled in his death and resurrection. And both before that, and afterward, we find that Christians are to live in the way of Jesus, which means the way of the cross. To understand what Jesus’s words here mean in full, we of course need to go over the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, particularly Acts and the letters. We’re going to find that this peacemaking is always in terms set by Jesus. It is never on the world’s terms, like “might makes right.” And the kind of peace that Roman force enforced. Instead it comes in terms of changed lives, changed societies, indeed, changed priorities. Those alienated from each other, perhaps through past conflict or injustice are made one in Christ. Of course this comes through conversion. Think of Paul’s conversion in which a radical enemy of the faithful, becomes a friend in God.

But let’s not bypass the reality of what often comes between. Those who do the hard work of peacemaking, must themselves, obviously, be peacemakers. You can’t raise Cain, and bring the peace that Christ brings. It must be in the meekness, gentleness, and humility of the Lamb. And it will involve self-sacrifice, even the abnegation of self altogether. But the reward that brings will be well worth the effort. In life, as well as words said, particularly the word of the gospel.

To be a peacemaker then is not to score points and win. We especially need to hear that in this day and age when winning is considered everything, nothing else mattering. No, we take the way of Jesus, and determine from the outset that one of our fundamental goals is peacemaking. A hard task for sure. But more than possible through the Prince of Peace, Jesus, and his sacrificial death for the world, as we walk on the same path, with that same good news, the gospel of peace. Peace with God and with each other. Good news meant even for our enemies. Through the Cross. This is part of what should characterize us, our lives and action. In and through Jesus.

Jesus was not about being nice, or everyone getting along

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53

Seems like a popular view of Jesus is a soft, sentimental kind of like, “Why don’t we all just get along?” Jesus. Not the real Jesus found in the Bible.

That Jesus was about love is no doubt, more than anyone ever. But real love is also about truth. And that’s where the problem lies for the world, for society, for each one of us. We don’t want to face it, indeed on our own, we can’t.

That’s where Jesus’s redemption comes in, the baptism he speaks of, that of the cross. Through that, we can indeed accept the difference he makes with the division that brings. As we seek to follow him in a world in which we’ll no longer fit. But part of the new world now breaking in. In and through Jesus.

Jesus: our example of faithful endurance

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

This Holy Week we think of Jesus having set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem knowing full well what was awaiting him there, just as he had told his disciples three times, doing so either for the joy set before him, or instead of. The Greek word, ἀντὶ (transliterated, anti) can mean “instead of,” or “for.” Either way Jesus endured, scorning the shame of the cross. That was the worst form of Roman execution, reserved for non citizens. And whoever was hung on a tree was said to be under God’s curse in Jewish Scripture, yes indeed, in God’s word.

Instead of the joy set before him might mean something like the idea that Jesus was ready to undergo the Father’s will, even when it went against his own will, evident from his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. I probably prefer the other way it can be translated, for the joy set before him, with the idea of doing something in exchange for something else (see BAGD Greek Lexicon). There surely is mystery in Christ’s sufferings for us. But the intent of this passage is to strengthen us in our suffering. So that we can endure because we know the good that awaits us at the end of what’s set before us. Or persevere against our own wishes. Following the pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus. In and through him.

the way of the cross

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:34-38

When we evangelicals think of the cross, we think of the salvation God provided for us, for humanity through Christ’s death and resurrection. And that’s so vitally important, no doubt. But we don’t often think of it in terms of a way of life for us in Christ. We might possibly write that off as true for his disciples when Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to face death. But we somehow against what we see follows in the New Testament and in history ignore the idea that the cross applies to us now. But in Christ we’re called to a cruciform or cross-shaped life.

The question becomes where do we find life? For many that’s in this world, and being successful in it, as well as enjoying much of its allure in what it has to offer. But for us in Christ there’s no turning back. There’s one way, the way of the cross, the way of Christ. And in that we find the true life.

 

a dissenting voice

The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.

He said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
and thunders from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds dry up,
and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1:1-2

The tradition of the prophets in the Old Testament, echoed by Jesus (example: Matthew 23) seems all but absent in Christian circles, particularly my own tradition, the evangelical one. Of course if you speak out on any controversial issue, you are often assailed from all sides, because you don’t get everything right.

The prophets, Amos a prime example, certainly went against the grain of their times. This was about all of life, but the heart of it was the failure to love God and neighbor, the failure to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

The follower of Christ is called to follow him implicitly. That means back to holy Writ, Scripture, turning the pages, praying, and seeking to live this out in ordinary life, through all its in and outs, ups and downs. When doing so, one inevitably will be barraged with criticism.

The prophets had to live out the message God gave them. Isaiah and Jeremiah are stark examples of that. And followers of Christ are especially to live out the message of Christ and the gospel, the taking up of their cross. That is a huge dissent from the norm, the narrow way as opposed to the broad popular way (Matthew 7:13-14).

The goal is not to live in dissent, but to see God’s work bring change. Change first of all in one’s own life. And then perhaps through that, change in the life of others. Our part might not be necessarily to say much, but to listen and pray, to pray and listen. All God’s working. But not avoiding the difficulty of what the prophets faced. Part of the way of Jesus, in and through him.

“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus”

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—

Romans 1:1

The Greek word δοῦλος, translated “servant” in some English translations, might be better translated “slave,” though slavery in modern times is not exactly equivalent to slavery in biblical times, at least there’s a general difference. Bill Mounce has a helpful definition:

In the NT a person owned as a possession for various lengths of times (Hebrew slaves no more than seven years, Gentile slaves without time limit), of lower social status than free persons or masters; slaves could earn or purchase their freedom

A male slave, or servant, of various degrees, Mt. 8:9, et al. freq.; a servitor, person of mean condition, Phil. 2:7; fem. δούλη, a female slave; a handmaiden, Lk. 1:38, 48; Acts 2:18; δοῦλος, used figuratively, in a bad sense, one involved in moral or spiritual thraldom, Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:17, 20; 1 Cor. 7:23; 2 Pet. 2:19; in a good sense, a devoted servant or minister, Acts 16:17; Rom. 1:1; one pledged or bound to serve, 1 Cor. 7:22; 2 Cor. 4:5

We of course were bought by Christ’s blood on the cross, redeemed from slavery to sin and unrighteousness to be slaves to God and to righteousness. We find freedom in this slavery from what once bound us so that we can live according to God’s will, and not our own. But this is never coercive, which might explain in part why it is often translated “servant.” There is a perfect freedom in this. Either way actually, we’re doing what we want to do. As slaves to sin (Romans 6), we want to sin, but find that it is enslaving and debilitating, indeed self-destructive. But as servants/slaves of Christ, we’re finding our way into what God intended for us in the first place. And in that we find rest, peace and contentment. But on this side, and especially given our tendency to drift back, it often feels difficult and confining. To be a slave of Christ ends up meaning that we do what Christ did, take the way of the cross and follow. In so doing we end up denying ourselves and doing what left to ourselves we would never do, at least not with the same motive and heart attitude. In and through Jesus.

 

the gospel is what we’re to be living out, as well as witnesses to

We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you.

2 Corinthians 10:14-16a

What seems beside the point in Paul’s addressing of his concern in passing, but really is at the heart of the point is what he was all about: not self-aggrandizement or self-glory, but only and always about the gospel of Christ.

Paul is getting after those who were set in opposition to him, claiming apostleship for themselves perhaps because they found themselves in opposition to Paul and somehow thought they could do better, or more likely out of an underlying self-ambition with a professed belief in Christ. But Paul wasn’t about self-ambition in the least, but again- only and always about Christ and Christ’s gospel.

Sometimes we may not feel we have anything to offer to others, or at least not anything they would accept. After all, people look at another according to their status, what they’ve achieved in life, or whether that other is beneficial to them, not to mention whether it all seems relevant or jives with them.

Paul was concerned about none of that, because the gospel is inherently weak and foolish in the world’s eyes, just as he had told them in his first letter to the Corinthian church. God takes the weak and despised and nothing things as his instruments to help others. The gospel is not only to be proclaimed, but lived out by those who proclaim it. Christ’s weakness in his death on the cross is to be embraced by his followers, that they might know God’s resurrection power in Christ. When we are strong in ourselves, then the only help people will get is what help we can give them, not God’s help.

And so we must continue on no matter what we’re facing or going through. Believing and knowing that we are on course only in the weakness of Christ for the good news that will bring others into the power and blessing of God. In and through Jesus.