Monday, November 1, 2010

Tasting Death for all Mankind

As I was reading this morning in Leviticus, it struck me that one of the differences between the animal sacrifices of the Levitical system and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (who was the perfect and final sacrifice) was suffering.
As far as I can gather from reading through the Old Testament Law all animals were killed for the sacrifices in a quick and exact way. The point was not to make the animal suffer-  rather the point was that the price needed to be paid; and it seems that God was merciful in the way that He instructed the priests to slay the animals.
But, when we think of Christ and how He suffered for hours it causes me to pause and consider this difference. Why did Christ suffer? Wouldn't it have been more humane for God to arrange a quick death for His Son? Wouldn't the price have still been paid and sins atoned for? Wasn't it most agonizing for the Father to see His Son suffer as He did?
We certainly can not plummet the depths of why God arranged redemption as He did, but we do know a couple things from Scripture-

  • Old Testament prophecy demanded that Christ suffer.

Acts 3:18
"18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled."

Hebrews 2 gives the following reasons:

  • That Christ might be crowned with glory and honor

  • That Christ might taste death for everyone

  • Christ's obedience was perfected through suffering

  • So that Christ might be a merciful and faithful High Priest

  • So that Christ might help us when we suffer temptation

Hebrews 2:9-18
"But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

13 And again,“I will put my trust in him.” And again,“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

  • Christ suffered as an example so that we might know how to endure suffering in this life

1 Peter 2:20-23

20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."

I believe that the wretched nature of our sin required that Christ suffer, and I am filled with joy this morning that my Savior took that upon Himself so that I will never have to taste the death that should result from my sin.

Praise God for the glorious gospel!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

White Noise

While listening to a sermon by Josh Harris this morning I heard him say:
"The gospel does not create a desperation that leaves us hopeless, but a desperation that drives us to salvation in Jesus."
This caused me to think about the desperation that most people live in who have not yet embraced the gospel. Henry David Thoreau said it well with this statement-

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them."

How sad; but how true this is. Most people that you and I rub shoulders with, go to school with, work side-by-side with will never realize the true song of their life-  for all mankind is created for the purpose of bringing glory to His Maker. That is the joyful song of our life. But so many spend their days stripped of that music and instead quietly pre-occupied with the white noise of life. This is desperation-  the sort that leaves us hopeless.
But what if we shared with others that the desperation they feel is a result of their alienation from God? What if our unbelieving friends could recognize this desperation, but then be driven to the remedy which is Jesus? That is the purpose of the gospel.
Yes, we are desperate. But we don't have to remain in quiet desperation. Instead, let us sing the song of the redeemed! And may we share that song with those who are without music.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Moving Past Recovery

They say the first step to recovery is admitting that there is a problem.

Well, I feel that happened for me quite a few years ago (in college actually), and over the next decade God began to grow me to the point where I could make an honest assessment of fundamentalism. I have since come to appreciate the rich heritage that I received - things like a hearty passion for the innerancy of Scripture, a desire to remain holy in this wicked world, and a love for the local church.

And yet, God also allowed me to recognize some of the unhelpful trappings that can distract - things such as an emphasis on outward holiness over an internal one, an unhealthy focus on politics instead of the gospel, and a separatism which often neglects social justice and community care.

I praise God that He brought people into my life who helped me question the structure of fundamentalism and embrace the gospel tighter than ever before. Some of those mentors include Tom Winkels, David Auckland, Paul Auckland, Don Cade, John Buckley, Jack Tomkinson, Mark Farnham, Bill Brown, Ben Peterson, the faculty at Baptist Bible College, my parents, and the teachers I had at Biblical Theological Seminary. Through it all I had great friends who made that journey with me, and while some reacted vehemently to fundamentalism and rocketed to the other end of the spectrum, most have become some of the most charitable, Bible saturated people I know - Dan Harney, Tim Klabe, and Justin Phipps are a few of these dear friends.

All this to say that I have felt in recent months that it is time for the conversation about fundamentalism to come to a close - at least on this blog. That is not to say that there won't be further ramblings at some point if God so leads, but for the topic of fundamentalism to be the thrust of this blog is disproportionate to what God is doing in my heart and life. He is growing me in so many ways, and teaching me so much about the gospel and His church, that I have lost interest in writing about fundamentalism. Instead I would like to have a place to jot down thoughts on the gospel, the church, our culture, etc...

God is so good!! I want to focus a little more on Him and a little less on the particular segment of Christianity that I grew up in.

So, you will notice some changes to the blog in the upcoming weeks - starting with the name. But I plan on continuing to write about what God puts on my heart, and I pray that the conversation might be re-stoked and we all might grow together.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Gospel Elements

We as pastors had a very thought-provoking and edifying conversation the other day about the elements of the gospel - what it includes and what it does not include.

All evangelicals would agree that the gospel is paramount in the life of the church - after all it is central to the name evangelical. Yet I believe a fruitful discussion involves what exactly this gospel constitutes. After all, if it is central to everything we do, and we are supposed to fiercely guard against any tampering of the gospel, we must study and seek a Biblical definition of the gospel.

This post is not designed to define the gospel comprehensively, but instead to initiate discussion about the nature of the gospel, particularly in relation to whether the gospel includes physical redemption or merely spiritual redemption. In other words, does our presentation of the gospel need to be accompanied by a physical display of love and good works, or is the gospel in and of itself a bundle of truths or concepts that address the mind, heart and soul?

We pastors all agreed that the gospel (good news) is in its essence truths that must be communicated to an unbeliever, and unless those truths are communicated (via spoken word or written word) the genuine gospel has not been relayed. We cannot give a cup of cold water to someone and legitimately claim to have shared the complete gospel with them - yes, we served them in the name of Christ, and God's Word even says that act of service was done unto Christ, but there was no truth communication about sin or redemption. We redeemed their pallet, but that was about the extent of it. Yet, can we say that in some valid way (even if seminal in form) the genuine gospel was shared? If Christ brings redemption to every part of creation, was our act of service a gospel work in essence?

Let's tweak the scenario - what if we share the cup of cold water and then preach the good news of Christ with our lips. When did the gospel begin to be presented? The moment we opened our mouth, or even before that when we gave them a compassionate look and handed them some water?

What about Jesus' call to ministry found in Luke 4:18? Jesus says:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Jesus is of course quoting Isaiah here and I believe that He is speaking fundamentally of the spiritual healing and redemption that He imparted. Yet it is surely no accident that Jesus also physically healed multiple blind men and spent most of His time with poor people. Jesus is the gospel, and He embodies for us a holistic presentation of the gospel - redemption of all creation - both spiritually and physically.

All of this discussion led me to consider that perhaps the relationship between physical redemption (gospel acts) and spiritual redemption (gospel words) is similar to the relationship between faith and works in a believer's life. Faith without works is dead (i.e non-viable), and yet Scripture teaches very clearly that it is faith and not works which is the stimulus for salvation. I have also heard it explained with the analogy of a horse and cart. The cart (works) will always accompany the horse (true saving faith), and yet it is only the horse that drives the operation. There is nothing that is energizing in the cart, and yet it completes the process and serves a distinct purpose.
Could it be the same way with the relationship between the works and words of the gospel? Is it possible that it is only the message of the gospel that initiates a heart change in somebody, yet the accompanying gospel action completes it?
We certainly want to present a holistic gospel, and we want to guard from erring to either extreme of the spectrum.
So what do others think? Is the gospel only the message of the good news? Or is it both the message of good news and the redemptive acts that accompany? Or should we keep our definition of the gospel separate from acts of mercy?