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Archive for the ‘Cross’ Category

Dali CrossContinued from here.

Christ’s Work

“But now in Christ, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

As we speak about intimacy with God we must never forget the way into divine fellowship. Ever since humanity rejected the LORD Christ and trusted Satan instead, the way back to fellowship has been blocked by fiery judgement (Genesis 3:24).  This fallen flesh and blood cannot participate in the life of God (1 Cor 15:50).  Only ‘the Man out of the Heavens’ could ever belong in the inner circle of God’s life (1 Cor 15:15:47-49).

Yet, with infinite grace and condescension, this Man came out of the heavens.  He took the very flesh and blood of our humanity and He redeemed it.  Where we had failed, He succeeded, where we had sinned, He obeyed, where we had fled, He stood tall, where we had hated, He loved, where we had erred, He taught, where we were enslaved, He set free, where we were ashamed, He gave dignity, where we grasped at glory, He gave freely, where we clung to life, He poured it out.

On the cross, God’s Man took on Himself all the sin, guilt and shame of this fallen humanity.  He endured the divine fury at sin, passing through that fiery judgement which bars the way into God.  And now, in His glorious resurrection body, Christ, the True Man, sits at the Father’s right hand.  He is beyond death and judgement.  Our Brother is now in the inner circle of the life of God.  We, in ourselves, would be swept away by God’s righteous anger at sin.  Yet Christ is the Way to the Father and in Him, Who “quenched the wrath of hostile heaven”, we have obtained access.

Why do I recount these gospel truths? A) Because they are glorious!  B) Because sometimes people (and I’m sure I’m guilty of this too), manage to speak of  “union with Christ”  as a warm ‘n’ fuzzy truth. Often the Fatherhood of God, adoption into His family, one-ness with Jesus can be articulated without the blood and fire of the Bible’s presentation.  But we desperately need the grit and grime – the sweat and tears – of Christ’s atonement if we’re going to experience true intimacy with God.  A toothless, bloodless message about a heavenly Father-figure doesn’t connect with people who live in the midst of suffering and sin.  It can’t connect, because the only real point of connection is a Bleeding Sacrifice choking to death on a cross.  But He’s who we really need if we want intimacy with God.  Because He actually meets us in the godforsakeness of life as we know it.

If all our talk of intimacy with God is not dripping in the blood of Christ we’re just holding out “a nice idea” to people who are burdened by shame and guilt and who will never connect with our words of “divine participation” – no matter how warm or inviting we sound.  More than this, if our talk of divine intimacy is not utterly cross-shaped then people will play off “taking up our cross” against enjoying life in God. Which would be absurd – yet it happens all the time!  But no, triune glory is cruciform glory. Therefore participating in God means participating in the cross. The way to God is through Christ and Him crucified.

Christ’s Priesthood

Our Great High Priest, Jesus, does not simply bring God’s life down to us. He also offers our life up to God. He is not just God-for-us, He is also Man-for-God.  Thus, from Christ’s representative humanity (for us) there is a presentation to the Father.  This is Christ’s Priestly work – again a work done for us.

By the Spirit, Christ has made the perfect offering to the Father:

‘Christ, through the eternal Spirit… offered Himself unblemished to God.’ (Hebrews 9:14)

Christ’s worship constitutes the fullness of all acceptable worship to God.  Without participation in His perfect obedience, His perfect sacrifice and His perfect Priesthood, there is no worship worthy of the name.  To offer true sacrifice to the Father we must be in Christ.  Only then do we have a share in acceptable worship.  Yet, in Him, we are pure, spotless and holy – as acceptable as Christ Himself (Colossians 1:22).

What place does our worship have?

If Christ is our Great High Priest, where does my worship fit in?

Worship is the gracious invitation which the LORD makes to us to share in His own worshipping life.  Just as Christ is the Righteous One (for us) and yet invites us to share in His holy life, just as Christ is the Great Sufferer (for us) and yet allows us to share in His sufferings, so we, His people are to share in His worship.

Hebrews 8:2 calls Christ our Leitourgos – ‘the leader of our worship’. Calvin, following Psalm 22:22, called Christ ‘the great choirmaster’, tuning our hearts to sing the Father’s praises.  Worship is the participation in Christ’s perfect worship.  As James Torrance says,

“Whatever else our worship is, it is our liturgical amen to the worship of Christ.” 

Every act of worship or devotion that we perform is grounded in and surrounded by Christ’s prior and perfect offering.  Thus we do not worship as those attempting to gain intimacy with God, but as those who have been gifted it. And the ‘direction’ of the activity is the gracious movement of God coming to us in Christ.  Any ‘upward’ movement is that done by Christ and we participate by faith.  Thus, the focus of all worship must be on the LORD Jesus.  In other words:

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except by me. (John 14:6)

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This is my favourite Gethsemane hymn and perhaps even my favourite hymn of all time.

Pity about the singing (and the finger picking). But I made this one because I couldn’t find another version set to “Kelvingrove”. If you can find one, let me know.

When you prayed beneath the trees, it was for me, O Lord;
When you cried upon your knees, how could it be, O Lord?
When in blood and sweat and tears, you dismissed your final fears,
When you faced the soldier’s spears, you stood for me, O Lord.

When their triumph looked complete, it was for me, O Lord,
When it seemed like your defeat, they could not see, O Lord!
When you faced the mob alone, you were silent as a stone,
And a tree became your throne; you came for me, O Lord.

When you stumbled up the road, you walked for me, O Lord,
When you took your deadly load, that heavy tree, O Lord;
When they lifted you on high, and they nailed you up to die,
And when darkness filled the sky, it was for me, O Lord.

When you spoke with kingly power it was for me O Lord
in that dread and destined hour you made me free O Lord
Earth and heaven heard you shout, death and hell were put to rout
For the grave could not hold out; you are for me O Lord.

Words: Christopher Idle
Music: Scottish Traditional melody (Kelvingrove)

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Luke 22-23 sermon

Dali CrucifixionIt was a privilege to preach at the Crowded House on Sunday where two folks were baptised.

AUDIO

The sermon begins at about 10 minutes. (If you’ve heard me on Christ’s baptism before, you might want to skip to the 19 minute mark).

POWERPOINT

TEXT

Excerpt:

Here we have an artist’s dream. If you’re a film-maker, a writer, a playwright – you would love to depict this scene: Humanity putting its Maker on trial.  What a scenario! All the Gospels tell us about this in some detail – these show trials with trumped up charges. Because the bible makes it clear: the so called judges in these trials are the guilty ones. The one in the dock is the only innocent one. Nonetheless He stoops into the dock, to be tried by His creatures.  This is the Judge of the world, judged.

And what we see in Jesus is the most incredible stillness and poise. He is like a mirror, reflecting back the accusations of His prosecutors. At every stage of His cross-examination, He manages to get confessions out of His prosecutors! Ingenius!

The brilliance of Jesus is to allow their judgements of Him to judge them.  Their accusations only end up accusing them.  This is true any time you try to judge a great one.

If you call Shakespeare hackneyed and cliched, it doesn’t reflect badly on Shakespeare, it reflects badly on you.  If you call the Grand Canyon “a glorified ditch”, or the Great Wall of China “shoddy workmanship”, or Lionel Messi “a Sunday-league amateur” – that tells you nothing about Shakespeare or the Grand Canyon or the Great Wall or Lionel Messi.  It tells you everything about you.  

When we judge the Judge it tells us nothing about Him it tells us everything about ourselves.  Do you want to know what you’re like?  Think about this judgement scene.  The Judge of the world condescends into the dock and submits to these kangaroo courts.  And we – the judges – find Him guilty of a capital offence.  What is His crime?  To be the Son of God.

When our Maker goes on trial we find Him worthy of death?  Why? For being who He is.

In Luke 23 we see everyone making this verdict: the powerful, the weak, the Jews, the non-Jews, the rich, the poor –  everyone deems Him worthy of death.  And what is Jesus’ response?

He goes to the cross.  And as He is hoisted up He prays “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” (v34)

The Judge is judged. He does not protect Himself or justify Himself.  He exposes Himself to every accusation, every insult, every blow – both judicial and physical.  And He retaliates with mercy: “Father, forgive.”  This is the heart of God for you.

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If you wanted to play it in church 5:22 might be a bit long but there’s a very natural break at 2:53.

 

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Perhaps one of these might be helpful to you:

An all age teaching on Gethsemane:

It’s a game of pass the parcel where the parcel is a poisoned cup. There’s a song to go with it:

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Little Fish! (Jesus is bigger than death)

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Seed Song (Jesus is the Seed who dies and rises to bring life)

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cross-as-tree-of-life-2What’s the first promise of the Bible?

You could well make a case for Genesis 2:17: “You will surely die”.

Death is the judgement promised for sin.  And through Christ, death becomes the way of salvation too!  There is just no escaping death.  We live in the Lamb’s world and we will surely die.  We either die apart from the LORD Jesus or we die in the LORD Jesus. But everyone dies.

I emphasize the point because sometimes we forget this when we speak of Christ’s death for us.  We must never tire of proclaiming Christ’s death for us – it is the blazing epicentre of the gospel! (e.g. 1 Cor 15:3). But we misconstrue this truth if we imagine that Christ dies over there so that I remain unaffected over here.  No, Christ hides me in Himself and includes me in His death. In other words, His death is not only substitutionary. It is substitutionary because it is inclusive.

See how Paul teaches this over and over in his letters:

All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  (Romans 6:3-4)

Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with.  (Romans 6:6)

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin… (Romans 6:11)

You died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to Another.  (Romans 7:4)

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live.  (Galatians 2:20)

[I belong to Christ and thusmy flesh has been crucified.  (Galatians 5:24)

I am crucified to the world.  (Galatians 6:14)

 In Christ you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism.  (Colossians 2:11-12)

You died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world (Colossians 2:20)

You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

Christ indeed died for us. He bore the wrathful brunt of the Father’s condemnation.  But He did so in order to carry me with Him through that death sentence and out into His risen life.  Christ died for me but – just as important to say – I died in Him.

If we speak of Christ dying for us without being clear that we died in Him, we can get into trouble. Let me briefly outline two potential problems (there are others, but these will do for now):

Firstly, the Romans 6 problem: We think of grace as licence.  If we just speak of Christ over there paying for my sins over here, it makes no sense for me over here to live in connection with Christ over there.  Basically we imagine that Jesus over there underwrites my sinful existence over here and therefore anyone calling me to live beyond sin, death and judgement sounds absurd.

But Paul’s argument is that we died in Jesus. The old self is crucified and the new self is risen in Christ. The cross was not the underwriter for my sin, it was the undertaker!

Secondly, we might imagine that Christ’s sufferings for us mean that we shouldn’t suffer ourselves.  It’s ironic, but the cross is sometimes used to prop up a theology of glory!

Here’s how it usually happens… Someone prays for healing and invokes Isaiah 53: “By Christ’s wounds Susan IS HEALED, we claim this healing paid for in full by the cross.”  Well there’s great Scriptural precedence for linking Isaiah 53 with healing (Matthew 8:17). I’m all for it.  And I’m all for praying earnestly for healing.  Jesus is kind and He may want to give us a picture of new creation glory even here in the midst of this old dying world.  BUT… Jesus did not die so that we won’t. Jesus died so that we might die in Him.

The path to new creation restoration is through death.  The cross does not eliminate that pathway, it is the pathway to glory.  The cross proves once and for all that Jesus is not committed to prettying up this old world. He is committed to summing it up and plunging it into the fiery death it deserves. Only through that furnace will it be reborn.

Jesus has not promised to prolong this old world of Adam’s, He has promised “You will surely die!”  But through that death comes a new heavens and a new earth.  That’s where we must set our hopes.

Just imagine if Jesus kept on healing our old bodies.  At what point should He let us die? At 90? 100? 150?  When can He say ‘enough is enough’ and bring us through death into resurrection life?  That’s His purpose.

The cross does not mean we will avoid suffering and death.  It means we will go through it – but hidden with Christ. And – yes indeed – by His wounds we are healed.  But that healing is not the prolonging of the old man – it’s the resurrection of the new.

Can you think of other errors we fall into if we speak of Christ’s substitutionary death for us without it being inclusive of us?

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Here’s a reboot of an older post…

Mike Reeves talks about Adam and Christ in these great audios on sin and evil.  Once we frame creation and salvation as the story of two men we see things much clearer.

For one thing we’re able to honour Christ not only as Substitute but also as Representative.  And we need both.

You see Christ drinks the cup so that – in one sense – we don’t have to (Mark 10:38).  But in another sense we do drink the cup He drinks and are baptised with the baptism with which He is baptised (Mark 10:39).  He does die for us so that we do not face that same judging fire – this is His substitution.  But we also die in Him, hidden in our Head and taken through the flames – this is His representation.

We tend to be good at ‘substitution’ talk but not so good at ‘representation’ talk.

I can think of a very prominent preacher who I greatly admire. Ordinarily he’s excellent at preaching Paul.  But I’ve noticed that every time Paul speaks of “us being crucified with Christ”, this preacher translates it as “Christ pays off our sins for us so completely, it’s as if we ourselves died on the cross.”

Do you hear what’s happened?  Paul uses representation language, the preacher translates it into substitution language. Paul says “We died in him”, the preacher doesn’t seem to have a category for that, so he simply re-iterates the substitution motif: “He died for us.”

Those two things are not the same.  And our lack of a category for “representation” thinking is a great loss.

Consider this fairly common way of conceiving salvation and judgement…

salvation-judgement1

Here the key players are the saved and the damned.  Christ is not in the picture.  But of course once we’ve set things up like this, Christ becomes extremely necessary.  Yet He’s necessary in that the cross becomes the accounting tool required to balance the justice books.  Without the cross the system doesn’t work.  So in that sense Christ is central.  But in effect, He’s a peripheral figure only required because other factors are calling the shots.

When things are viewed like this, Christ is very much thought of as ‘substitute’ but not really ‘representative’.  And, when the details are pressed, even His substitution will start to look very unlike the biblical portrait.

We need a better formulation.  We’ll think of 1 Peter 4 and then tie this back to Adam and Christ.

In 1 Peter 4:17 it says that judgement begins with the house of God.  It doesn’t say ‘Judgement avoids the house of God.’  It begins there.  It begins with Christ, the true Temple of God.  It continues with the church, the temple of God in another sense.  But then it flows out to the world – God’s house in yet another sense.

salvation-judgement2

Here humanity is judged.  And this is where Adam and Christ will be so helpful for us.

The LORD pronounces His curse on Adam.  And all humanity is in him.  “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12)  It is a universal judgement.  No exceptions.  The only path to salvation is the path through judgement.

But Adam is a type of the One to come (Rom 5:14).  He was only ever setting the scene for Christ to take centre stage.  And He does so, assuming the very humanity of Adam as substitute and representative.

salvation-judgement31

Here centre stage is not occupied by the two groups of people (the damned and the saved).  What’s driving everything is the two humanities (Adam and Christ).  The former is expressly a type of the Latter.  And the Latter expressly assumes the fate of the former.  So that in all things Christ will have the preeminence! (Col 1:18)

These diagrams were originally used in a blog post on judgement and salvation in Isaiah and for a sermon on Isaiah 2:6-22 (listen here).

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Below I’ve listed 10 verses on union with Christ in His death.  Meditate on these verses – and reckon yourself dead to Adam, to the flesh, to sin, to wrath, to the law, the principalities and powers and to the world.  For the living, those powers exact a terrible penalty.  But you know what a corpse owes these things?  Absolutely jack squat.

#EnjoyYourDay:

All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  (Romans 6:3-4)

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin… (Romans 6:11)

Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with.  (Romans 6:6)

You died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to Another.  (Romans 7:4)

I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live.  (Galatians 2:20)

I belong to Christ and thus my flesh has been crucified.  (Galatians 5:24)

The world has been crucified to me and I to the world.  (Galatians 6:14)

 In Christ you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism.  (Colossians 2:11-12)

You died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world (Colossians 2:20)

You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

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So stimulating.  Read in full here.

Nietzsche claims, humanism won’t plug the gap [left by the “death of God”]. All humanism does is substitute one useless form of transcendence (Man) for another (God). The death of God therefore has to herald the death of Man as well. You can’t just swap one fetish for another. This is why the Übermensch signifies the kind of transformed humanity which would flow from genuinely accepting the death of God. It’s the reckless, exuberant, self-delighting existence of those who are able to celebrate a life without foundations – the cavalier insouciance of those spiritual aristocrats who have the courage to risk a life without guarantees. The Overman or Meta-Man is the one who can peer into the fathomless pit of the nothingness of God without being turned to stone.  He (never a she, for Nietzsche) is the ecstatic creature who sings and dances at the very thought that his existence is every bit as mortal, fragile, ungrounded, arbitrary and contingent as a modernist work of art.

The only problem is that all this sounds rather like Christianity, which isn’t quite what Nietzsche had in mind. For the New Testament, as for Also sprach Zarathustra, the only good God is a dead one. For Christianity as for Nietzsche, the death of God in the figure of a tortured political criminal known as Jesus means not replacing God with humanity, but the advent of a transfigured humanity. For Christianity too, God is an abyss of sheer nothingness, absolutely no kind of entity at all, a groundless ground; and to say that we are created is to say that our existence is absolutely non-essential, that we might perfectly well have never been. Such existence is pure gift, sheer gratuity and contingency, a radical end in itself, a supreme acte gratuite – self-founding, self-grounding and self-delighting. Just as God exists for absolutely no purpose beyond himself, so human beings are fashioned to live in this way too, to be at their best when they are as gloriously pointless as a work of art. A just social order is one which would allow men and women to be in this sense ends in themselves, not means to another’s power or profit. God, as Aquinas sees, is the power that allows us to be autonomous. Thinking that faith in God puts firm foundations beneath your feet, rather than shattering them, is the delusion of fundamentalists…

So Nietzsche and Christianity, those supposedly sworn antagonists, actually agree on an embarrassing amount. (Embarrassing for Nietzsche, anyway). Nietzsche believes that we can’t be free unless we can get out from under the patriarchal Nobodaddy (as William Blake calls him) known as God. But of course the New Testament believes just the same. Seeing God as judge, patriarch and accuser is what is meant in scripture by Satan – the Satanic image of God, the God who will beat the shit out of us. And since we’re all inveterate masochists, cravenly in thrall to the Law, or to what Freud knows as the death drive, this is exactly what we secretly hanker for. We’ll gladly tear ourselves apart as long as there’s enough gratification in it for us. This is the terrible, lethal nexus of law and desire – which is also, as it happens, the chief subjectmatter of psychoanalysis. Those who are eternally trapped in this closed circuit, in which law and desire feed endlessly, fruitlessly off one another, are traditionally said to be in hell. The figure of the tortured and executed Jesus is the overthrowing of the Satanic image of God, for God as friend, lover, victim, counsel for the defence, fellow accused and flayed flesh and blood. It replaces the Satanic God not with humanity at its most triumphant, as rationalist humanism does, but with humanity at its most torn and vulnerable.

And this is what Nietzsche can’t stomach. It’s here, not over the death of God, that he and the Gospel part company most decisively. Because weakness, suffering and mortality for him are simply part of a ghoulish, morbid religious conspiracy to bring low the noble, heroic and life-affirming. He forgets that Jesus never once counsels the sick to reconcile themselves to their afflictions. On the contrary, he seems to regard such suffering as evil, and is out to abolish it. Nietzsche forgets, too, that any power which is not rooted in a solidarity with human creatureliness and fragility, with the raw fact of our bodily finitude, will never prove durable or effective enough. That this is so is one of the lessons of tragedy, an art-form which fascinated Nietzsche himself for quite different reasons.

And so in the end Nietzsche is less revolutionary than the New Testament. Like some demented health-club proprietor, he can’t stop worshipping vigour, robustness and virility, or seeing failure as sickly and shameful. Like those Americans who hate a loser, he doesn’t see that what matters is failure, not success – that Jesus is a sick joke of a Saviour, that in every human sense his mission is an embarrassing, abysmal failure, that the notion of a crucified Messiah would have been a horrendous, unspeakable scandal and blasphemy to the pious Jews of his day. In the end, Nietzsche disowns the deepest insight of tragedy – that, as W.B. Yeats puts it, ‘nothing can be sole or whole that has not been rent’.

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The glory of the triune God is other-centred love.  The Father pours Himself into His Son by the Spirit (John 3:35).  The Son offers Himself up to the Father by the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).  The intra-trinitarian life is a cross-shaped life of self-giving.

Julian of Norwich said: “When I see the cross I see the Trinity”.  This is true for many reasons, chief among them is the fact that life poured out is the essence of both.

If this is so, triune glory cannot be understood via a theology of glory.  Triune glory is understood as a theology of the cross.  When this God acts for His glory it’s not because He or His glory are self-centred.  No He is other-centred and His glory is His grace.  Yet just because this is so, when God acts for the sake of His glorious grace He is simply determining to be Giver.

From eternity the nature of the triune God has been deference and other-centred praise.  When faced by creatures – even creatures who would ignore and spurn such love – this God determines to love with an almighty ‘nevertheless’.

It’s like my friend Craig who opened the door for a feminist.  She scowled, saying “I hope you’re not opening the door because I’m a lady!”  He replied, “No, I’m opening the door because I’m a gentleman.”  He acts not for her sake but for the sake of being the other-centred gentleman he truly is.  He acts for his own glory, but his glory is self-giving service.

Put it another way, it’s like the mother who is faced by a naughty and manipulative child.  She could cave in to the tantrum or she could withdraw and ignore the child altogether.  But she condescends in love, not because the child is good (he’s not) and not because she’s weak (she’s not).  She acts in accordance with her gracious motherliness, to love the child in spite of himself and in this way to lift him from his misbehaviour.

Put it another way, it’s like the man who is struck on the right cheek by an aggressor.  By nature his instincts are fight or flight – strike back or withdraw.  But instead he stands his ground and offers his left cheek also.  He opens himself out in grace and continues the offer of relationship.  This is God-like glory.   (More on cheek turning herehere and here).

Put it another way, it’s like Christ crucified.  He might have remained in heaven or merely sent us to hell.  Instead He acted for the sake of His glory.  He absorbed our blow and rather than retaliate He offered reconciling love.

The cross was the triune love laid bare.  And this is not simply because the Persons demonstrated how much they love each other.  More than this, they demonstrate how the glory of grace encounters what is outside this love.  In costly sacrifice the triune glory suffers what is outside in order to draw it in.

The triune glory is cruciform glory.

Among other things, this means that the mystical and the ethical elements of the New Testament are profoundly related.  Think of verses about participation in the triune God – adoption, union with Christ, filling with the Spirit.  Now think of verses regarding bearing our cross and following Christ’s way of sacrifice.  It’s so common to think of these as very different teachings.  On the one hand we imagine warm fuzzy mystical feelings, on the other it’s about the blood, sweat and tears of discipleship.  But no, essentially it’s the same thing.  Participation in God is participation in this life of self-emptying love.  That’s not the costly draw-back to life with God – that’s the very way of life.  Eternal life has always had a shape to it – arms-wide sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to Himself He can do nothing else but invite us into His life.  Again, this is not an unfortunate counter-balance to the groovy-vibes of life in Christ.  This is life in Christ – it’s the glorious true life of loving service.

The glory of the cross lived out is the glory of the triune God applied.  Because the triune glory is the cruciform glory.

It’s a wonderful thing to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  And its daily application is the privilege of taking up our cross and following Christ (Mark 8:34).  That’s the life. That’s God’s eternal life, and we’re invited.

…Based on an earlier post from 2010…

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Jesus:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:46-48)

The life of God is a life of loving that which is other than God.  Pagans love in a conditional way.  Pagans simply value what is valuable.  God’s perfection is like light shining into darkness – it goes beyond itself to bless that which is other.  Divine perfection is about creating value, by valuing the unworthy.

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Luther:

[The theologian of glory] learns from Aristotle that the object of the will is the good and the good is worthy to be loved, while the evil, on the other hand, is worthy of hate….

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it…

[Yet] rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive… This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person.  (Heidelberg Disputation)

The philosopher’s god is just like pagans – responding to value.  The God of the Cross flows forth, bestowing value.

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Piper:

[God] loves His glory infinitely. This is the same as saying: He loves himself infinitely. Or: He Himself is uppermost in His own affections. A moment’s reflection reveals the inexorable justice of this fact. God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if He valued anything more than what is supremely valuable. But He Himself is supremely valuable. If He did not take infinite delight in the worth of His own glory, He would be unrighteous. For it is right to take delight in a person in proportion to the excellence of that person’s glory…

…If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry. (Desiring God, p42, 47)

Nope.  If He really is a “Source” then turning outside Himself to the other would be the very expression of His deity.

Piper defends the self-absorbed God on the grounds that our rules don’t apply to God.  It’s wrong for us to seek ourselves, it’s only right for God to seek himself.  The trouble is Piper has already applied our rules to God at the decisive point.  He has defined God’s glory the way the pagans do (valuing what is valuable).

But that is the point at which “our rules don’t apply”.  Our love responds to value. His cruciform love (“love to the loveless shown”) creates value.  God differs from us not in displaying a justified self-absorption.  He differs from us in that He alone is truly self-giving!  His grace is His divine glory.

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At which point, surely Piper is on the wrong side of Luther’s “theology of glory / theology of the cross” divide?

 

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I’ve been thinking about suffering recently.

Easter tells you everything you need to know. Meditate on each of these truths for 5 minutes and it will revolutionize your thinking about God, yourself and the world.

1) The Cross shows us God’s perfection…

Therefore suffering can never be incompatible with the all-wise, all-powerful, all-good God (1 Corinthians 1-2)

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2) The Resurrection shows us God’s purpose…

Therefore His plan has never been to pretty up this old creation but to raise it anew (1 Corinthians 15:36-50)

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3) The Son of Man must suffer and be glorified…

If that’s the route for The Man how could man tread any other path.

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4) On the Day of Man (6th day), Jesus puts us to death. On the Day of Rest (7th day), He finishes the old creation. On the Day of New Creation (8th day), He rises into a whole new week, a whole new world.

Christ’s purpose is not simply to restore Paradise but to bring us into a reality greater than anything we’ve seen. 

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Today is definitely the day to dust off Alan Lewis’s wonderful Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Easter Saturday.  As he meditates on Eberhard Jungel’s theology, Lewis writes

[Jungel] in effect identifies Easter Saturday, the day of the burial of God, as theology’s foundational, defining moment.  For it is this occurrence, as recorded in the Christian narrative, which maximizes the dispute between faith and non-faith.  While the flesh of God’s Son lies immured in death, the sharpest controversy divides those who see only that God is gone and finished and those who know that in this palpable absence nonetheless God is yet more present, with life-giving resurrecting power.  Even so, the God who is present in this absence, whose creative power is at work through the powerlessness of this defeat and death, is no more recognizable to the theist than to the atheist.  Faith in God on the day when God is dead is faith of a very different order from the certainties expressed in metaphysics; and it is faith in another God then the distant, immutable, omnipotent deity of theism, that supreme stranger to suffering and death.

Not only, then, is Easter Saturday the day of mutual contradiction between those who believe in God and those who cannot; it is also the day of shared contradiction for those who believe in the absolute God and those who cannot, by the theology of the Crucified One: faith in the life and power of the God who is dead.  To the extent that both of these conflicts are occurring now, with great intensity, at the end of the modern era, means that today is a cultural “Easter Saturday.”  And that is the context, where faith hears and opposes both partners in the disputation between theism and atheism, in which theology must work today, and to which the gospel is to be addressed.

We have much in common with atheists.  We too proclaim the death of God.  We too take a long hard look at the world  and conclude there is no magical hope within the created order, nor any comfort in a power that remains outside it.  There is no help from the god who is shut out of the tomb – the god who is defined in opposition to our suffering and death; some power imprisoned by his own majesty.  Our only hope comes from the God who shuts Himself in the tomb.

Happy Saturday.

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The glory of the bloodied God
His fruitfulness in shame
Stooped lower than all men have trod
In torment in the flame

The writhing worm, disjointed dry
Rejected from His birth
Thrust groaning into Satan’s sky
Accursed by heaven and earth

Hell’s blackest cloak enfolds with death
From Pinnacle to pit
To choke the Source of Living Breath
Extinguish all that’s lit

The Mighty Man at war cries out
It echoes ‘gainst the sky
Resounding as a futile shout
Within a victory cry

Creation torn from Head to toe
His body out of joint
The Rock that splits is split in two
Creation to anoint

Our Jonah hurled as recompense
Into abysmal depths
The beast that swallows Innocence
Is swallowed by His death

Divine appeasing blood poured out
Divinely pleasing scent
While man appraises with his snout
Declares it death’s descent

Then crowned in curse, enthroned on wood
My God nailed to the tree
The reigning blood, that cleansing flood
Is opened up for me.

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Here’s something I did for a school assembly 7 years ago.  I’ve been wheeling it out as an all-age sermon / kids teaching  ever since.  It’s a game and a song that teaches the Garden of Gethsemane.  Feel free to rip it off – that’s why I’m posting it :)

 

Drink up, Drink up, the poisoned cup!
Drink up, Drink up, the poisoned cup!
It’s full of gunk and it’s full of junk,
But without doubt, it must be drunk!

My Lord, my God, what will you do,
My Lord, my God, you jumped in the queue.
Jesus, Man! how can it be,
That you my God, drank the cup for me!?

Now I know, now I’m sure,
You love me so much, you couldn’t love me more.
You took the pain, so I could gain
Eternal life, forever more!

 

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Audio

Powerpoint

Text

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HAILSHAM LENT COURSE – The Outgoing God

Week 3: THE CROSS-SHAPED GOD

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RECAP:

Everyone has a god

Everyone turns to something as a source of meaning, purpose & satisfaction

The question for Christian and non-Christian is always “Which God?”

The Christian responds: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

Jesus is the Image of the invisible God.  (Colossians 1:15)

Jesus is God-sized

God is Jesus-shaped

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BUT WAIT… Is Jesus really THE Image of the invisible God?

Are there alternative routes to knowing God??

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Reason

Proverbs 3:5-7
Romans 8:7
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
2 Corinthians 4:4
Colossians 1:21
Colossians 2:8

The god of philosophy looks nothing like the God of the Cross!

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Religions

Numbers 33:50-53; Deut 7:1-6; 12:1-3; 29:16-18; 32:15-21; 1 Kings 18:21-40; Psalm 96:4-5; 106:35-40; Isaiah 41:21-24; 44:6-26; Jeremiah 16:19-21; Romans 1:23-25; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; 10:20.

The gods of the religions look nothing like the God of the Cross!

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Old Testament

John 1:1
John 1:18
John 8:56-58
John 12:38-41
John 5:37-46

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Jesus has always been the Way to God

Abraham, Moses and Isaiah trusted Christ.

Jesus simply is the Lord God of Israel.

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Creation

Psalm 19:1-6
Romans 1:16-20
Romans 10:17ff
Colossians 1:23
John 12:24
Revelation 5:11-14

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Jesus is Lord – Creation’s Voice Proclaims It!

The creation reveals a very great deal about God

It does so by revealing Christ!

But our eyes must be opened thru the Spirit and by the Word.

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Martin Luther:  Theology of Glory vs Theology of the Cross

The Cross Alone is our Theology
The Cross Judges Everything

The cross reveals God’s glory, lordship, majesty, strength, wisdom and holiness

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Revelation 5; 7:17 – The Lord on the Cross is the Lamb on the Throne

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Next week we’ll study the triune God.  The Trinity is not a maths problem or an ancient riddle.  It’s the good news that God is love.  And we’re invited in!

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Adapted from this older post.

Deconversion is essential to the religious liberty of every man, woman and child.  We must deconvert from every god that man has imagined.   If humanity is to be free from the tyrannical rule of God: God must die.  This is the most basic claim of orthodox Christianity.

Christopher Hitchens often made the following kinds of remarks about religion’s “permanent, unalterable dictatorship”:

An eternal North Korea is, he says, religion’s idea of heaven.  But it’s Hitchens’ idea of hell (probably ours too!).

But which God is he imagining ruling over this kingdom of heaven?  He’s imagining a greedy dictator, a cosmic leech, an almighty sink-hole of need.  Of course, if that were true, eternity would feel like a drain!  Our lives on earth would be bad enough.

This was the tyranny that Dan Barker laboured under – now president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  He speaks of his past in evangelical Christianity here:

I was a “doer of the word and not a hearer only.” I went to a Christian college, majored in Religion/Philosophy, became ordained and served in a pastoral capacity in three California churches. I personally led many people to Jesus Christ, and encouraged many young people to consider full-time Christian service.

But one day he de-converted to find liberation from this Almighty Surveillance System:

“For my whole life there had been this giant eyeball looking at me, this god, this holy spirit, this church history, and this Bible. And not only everything I did but everything I thought was being judged: Was God pleased? I realized that that wasn’t there anymore. It occurred to me, ‘I own these thoughts. Nobody knows what I’m thinking right now. There’s no fear of hell, no fear of judgment, I don’t have to be right or wrong, I can just be me.'” (Source)

Once God was dead, Barker was free.  It was “exhilarating”, he said.  You can imagine it was something of a Hallelujah moment.  The death of God always is!  Mischievously, I wonder whether Barker wishes such exultation could go on forever…

It’s interesting that Barker had this revelation while out in the beauty of nature and looking up at the ‘heavens’.  I mention his location because it’s very similar to John Bunyan’s de-conversion experience, three centuries earlier.

He too was labouring under the feeling that heaven was a spiritual North Korea.  He felt the “giant eyeball” very keenly and it was a heavy oppression.  But one day he also de-converted from his old religion…

“As I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience . . . suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, “Thy righteousness is in heaven”; and, methought withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand, there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday and today for ever (Heb. 13:8).”

“Now did my chains fall from my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations also fled away, so that from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now also went I home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.”

Notice the exhilarating effect of the death of God!  When Bunyan grasps the implications of God the Lamb he finds instant freedom from religious afflictions and even from “those dreadful scriptures of God.”  Even Bunyan’s language mirrors the de-conversion experiences related so often on today’s atheist websites.

I’ve met many an atheists on the internet – especially those from the kinds of religious environments that Bunyan experienced in the 17th century.  Countless times I’ve heard de-conversion stories about finding release from a greedy god, from judgementalism, from hypocrisy, from the guilt, shame and fear of their religious upbringing.  I feel their pain.  I also grew up in church.  I also laboured under the tyranny of an imagined god.  I also felt the eye-ball in the sky.  I also found release in de-conversion.

But there’s two kinds of de-conversion.  There are two kinds of death-of-God experience.

Bunyan de-converts from a God-of-Demand and finds a God-Who-Is-Giver.  The death of God means, for Bunyan, looking to the cross.  There He sees the LORD Jesus giving Himself utterly – pouring out His life for the world.  There He sees that God is not greedy – God is Giver.  This is the vision that changes him.

Barker de-converts from a God-of-Demand and finds, what?  Only other powers.  Selfish powers.  Uncaring powers.  What lies ‘at bottom’ in this universe in the atheist vision?  ‘Blind, pitiless indifference’ if you ask Dawkins.  Barker is de-converted towards powers that will only judge and crush us in the end.

His exhilaration can only be short-lived.  He’s only traded one tyranny for another.  But with Jesus, the death of God is our salvation.  And it might just make you want to sing “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 5:12).  That’s the song of heaven – because heaven is a celebration of the grace, not the greed, of God.

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How do you think of judgement and salvation?

If you ask me – you shouldn’t think like this:

Judgement&Salvation1

Instead think like this:

Judgement&Salvation2

Or to be a bit more nuanced – like this.

Now I could take this observation in many directions.

Perhaps we could explore its significance for an infra versus supra-lapsarian debate.

Perhaps we could discuss the strong link that some make between penal substitutionary atonement and limited atonement.

We could think about how to preach warnings of judgement (for instance warnings of exile in the OT) given that judgement is a-coming.

But I’m going to take the observation in this direction…

I’m becoming convinced that when Jesus says ‘Take up your cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34) He’s saying the same thingas Paul when he says ‘I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live’  (Gal 2:20).

Think of some of Jesus’ words:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (Matt 10:34-39)

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14:33)

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.  (John 12:24-26)

In the context of Jesus’ own judgement and salvation He tells His followers what it means to come after Him.  It means being caught up in that same path – the only path of life.  Seeds must die to live – so it is with The Seed so it is with themany offspring His death produced.  Judgement then salvation.  To be saved is to die with Jesus – to join Him for an early judgement day and pass through to find true life.

Compare this with some words from Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Gal 2:20)

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his, etc, etc  (Rom 6:3-5 and following)

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  (Gal 6:14)

Here Paul describes his history as utterly determined by the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  Judgement and salvationhave happened for Paul because he has died and risen with Jesus to new life on the other side of wrath, death, sin, law, old creation.  And (apart from his Adamic flesh that still clings to him) he is utterly dead to the world around him and utterly brought into ‘newness of life’.

Now.  Think of a sermon you’ve heard on the Jesus verses.  And think of a sermon you’ve heard on the Paul verses.  I imagine the tone of those two sermons was quite different.  I imagine that the Jesus sermons spent a lot of time presenting His words as moralistic exhortations and ‘if-then’ conditions before (perhaps) the preacher retracted the force of them and told you not to forget that you’re ‘saved by grace’ (‘grace’ understood along the lines of diagram 1 not diagram 2).   And I imagine the Paul sermon comforted you with the whole ‘union with Christ’, ‘newness of life’ stuff and encouraged you that ‘hey, you really are saved by grace.’ (again, probably ‘grace’ as understood according to diagram 1)

I wonder if the Jesus sermons should sound more like the best of the Paul sermons.  And the Paul sermons should sound like the best of the Jesus sermons.  In other words, Jesus, the Seed, dies and rises on your behalf.  If you are His rejoice that you are created, shaped and defined by this death and resurrection in which you are crucified to the the whole world, and the whole world is crucified to you.  This is your salvation because there simply is no other way to resurrection than through the cross.  ‘Come and die’ is not a fearful condition of life – maybe you’re up to it, maybe not.  It’s the description of how that life comes, wrapped up in the announcement that Jesus really has crucified the world to raise it up new – come on in.

If you are not dead to the world, this might well be a sign that you are not His.  Or that you have wandered far from Him.  So go to Him and take that easy yoke onto your shoulders (Matt 11:28-30).  Be constrained by the death and resurrection of Jesus, for this is salvation.  Or else be wearied and burdened by your own, much heavier yokes which cannot lead youthrough the judgement to come.

But for those who are yoked to Christ, know that you have begun, even now, to live that newness of life.  Even today as we walk together with Jesus, dying to sin and self and the praises and worries of this world, resurrection life is unleashed.  This mystical union with Christ (the best of the Paul sermons) is earthed in the daily discipleship of living for Jesus (the best of the Jesus sermons).  Let’s have both.

I wonder if that’s why Peter finishes his first letter (which is all about this judgement then salvation dynamic) by saying ‘This is the true grace of God.’ 1 Peter 5:12.

 

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Full Text Session 2B – The God of the Cross

Powerpoint Slides – Session 2

AUDIO


The God Revealed at the Cross

Philippians 2:5-11

1 Corinthians 1:17-25

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Group Discussion:

How do you react to these religious statements?

What do they have in common?

–          Divine beings created humanity in order for us to mine gold and other precious materials for them.

–          God created us to test us, to see if good would triumph over evil.

–          God created us so that we would give him glory.

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What is glory?

John 8:54

John 12:23-24

John 13:31

John 17:1-4,5,24

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The cross redefines…

Lordship

Majesty

Strength

Wisdom

Holiness

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Jesus shows us that God is Giver!

Therefore repent and believe the good news!


Common Objection:  I don’t believe there is a god and I’m not sure I want one!


Recommended Reading:  Colossians

How does Jesus shape:

our view of God

our view of ourselves

our view of ministry

our view of the world around us

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Next Time:  The Surprising God
Jesus is not the God of the pub discussion or the philosophy department.  Exploiting the shock value of Jesus in evangelism!

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