Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: hell

The Foot of the Cross

cross redIt seems chaotic. Crowds moving, people hollering. Some are mocking and laughing. Others simply shake their heads as they pass by. For many there, vicious — almost indescribable — anger is thinly veiled beneath jeering and taunting. Never has laughter been so spiteful.

And then there are a few — just a few — who stand still. Silently, mournfully, disbelievingly, gazing upward at a bloodied and broken man, still hoping that any moment now they will awake to find this has been a horrific dream. But it’s not. It won’t go away. Nothing has ever been more real. Nothing has ever seared the eyes of his loved ones and friends like this sight. And nothing will ever look the same.

The crowd itself is diverse. There are young and old, male and female, rich and poor. Some people just happened to be passing by on the way into town, some are there for the show, and others are there to make sure that death truly transpires. There are many Jews, but also Romans. Soldiers and government officials, to be precise.

Everything about the moment seems wrong. A man who had been righteous, merciful, gracious, and kind is now maligned. He who had preached love is hated. The one who had claimed to be a king is strung up as a criminal. The one who was supposed to save the Jews from their oppressors has been handed over by the Jews to their oppressors to be killed. The only human who has ever tasted true innocence or breathed true righteousness is condemned and suffering death for sin.

It is as if nature can’t bear the burden. People who died long ago are raised. The earth quakes. The day becomes dark. The holy place of the temple is exposed as the curtain tears in two from top to bottom.

Here, in this moment, the most bizarre convergence of wills of all time takes place: the will of man for the death of God and the will of God for the life of man. Death approaches for Jesus as life draws near for us.
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‘Good Friday’

Imagine knowing you’re right, but having no one believe you. Imagine having the power to stop something evil from happening, but the wisdom to let it happen.

Imagine knowing that you are about to undergo indescribable pain and eternal torment, but you cannot express it; no one understands. Imagine needing your friends in an hour of great distress and having every single one of the people you have trusted and loved and helped abandon you.

Imagine being utterly alone and misunderstood. Imagine enduring the mocking of people who are blind, but mock you, the only one who can see. Imagine standing trial, accused by liars while embodying truth.

Imagine being rejected by your own people—the very ones you came to help. Imagine being falsely judged guilty by a ruler desperate to keep his authority, all the while realizing that you are the one who gives him his authority.

Imagine being condemned for your claim to kingship when you actually are the King. Imagine being whipped and beaten, crowned with thorns, and mocked by soldiers while the armies of heaven stand, awaiting their orders from you, their Great Commander.

Imagine having the power to uphold the universe, but not the strength to carry a cross because you’ve been wounded so badly by your own creation. Imagine seeing your mother weeping and your ‘believers’ not believing as you approach the hill of your imminent death.

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Oh, the Audacity!

I have found it quite curious over the past few years, the reaction that people get when they speak on the topic of hell and its reality.

Typically people (often ‘Christian’ people) get quite offended and ask things like, ‘Who are you to judge another?’ And, ‘Doesn’t the Bible say more about love and acceptance than it does about hell and judgment?’ Thus disgruntled, these ones typically all find each other in a crowd and get themselves and each other quite worked up about the audacity of the one who would dare to speak on hell.

I find it more than interesting that the one who speaks on hell the most in the Bible is the one who loves us the most.

Ever notice that?

It’s doubly interesting when you consider he’s the one who knew the most of its reality. He’s also the one who would experience the full brunt of it for the sake of his people.

Now, are we to accuse Jesus of being audacious? Of course not.

What we must see is that it is not unloving or proud to speak of the reality of hell–even for people who only committed ‘minor’ sins (see here), or those who ‘have never heard of the real God’ (see here)–if we are truly speaking about it for the same reasons that Christ speaks of them.

What are those reasons?

  1. A knowledge of the reality of hell. Christ spoke about hell as one with authority because he knew it was a real place, where real people remain under the real wrath of a real God.
  2. A desire for people to see their need of salvation. As Christ preached on hell it was with a view to having people avoid it. Preaching on hell must never be used to exalt oneself above others who we think are destined there.
  3. Love. This encompasses both of the above, but needs to be stated. Jesus didn’t end with hell, but having taught of its reality, offered a way of escape. He who taught of eternal condemnation for the rejection of an eternally holy God also taught of eternal reconciliation with that same holy God. He said ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Will preaching on hell bring bad feedback and negative reactions? I’m sure it always will. But if we’re careful to preach the reality of hell for the same reasons as Christ did, in the same way Christ did, offering the same hope that Christ did, we can never be charged with being unbiblical, judgmental, or audacious.

At least not correctly.

Hardening: Pharaoh, Judas, and Peter

I had intended to post on today’s sermon; God’s active hardening of sinners, from Romans 9.17-18… but kerux beat me to it. His new feature is fantastic, and he couldn’t have picked a better week to begin open discussions on his sermons. Instead of posting reflections on the sermon here as well as there, I thought I’d just post this article I wrote a couple of years ago for the school newspaper at my old Bible College, right before our graduation. I hope it helps you to love Christ more.

So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas,
the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel,
Satan entered into him.—John 13:26b-27a
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,
that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed
for you that your faith may not fail.—Luke 22:31-32a

So what will you do with your summer? Or even better, what will you do with the rest of your life? You have put in some time at Bible College and now what? I’ve heard variegated responses from the students and graduates with whom I’ve conversed. Some plan to go right into ministry opportunities, internships, or seminary training, while others of us are off to begin married lives, and find secular employment. We are all at different stages of life with different plans, and yet we are all determined to serve God wherever we go. United we form a veritable troop: A formidable front of young people off to minister to people and glorify God. One wonders if Judas was any different.

Many of us have spent two, three, or even four years here at Bible College training for the tests to come. Judas followed our Lord and God for three and half years: He walked with him, conversed with him, slept by his side and sang praises with him at night. There were seasons of Judas’ life when the Christ would set aside time to invest in his twelve closest followers—and Judas was there. He was part of our Lord’s “in crowd.”

When I picture Judas in my mind, too often I picture him as a kind of shady bloke with shifty eyes and an evil laugh. In my mental images, he is always set apart from the group, and segregated. The other eleven always wondered why he was there and how long till he fell.

This projection is patently untrue. Judas was just as much a follower of Christ (at least as far as the eye could see) as any of the other eleven. When Jesus suggested that one of them would be the betrayer (on the very night he was betrayed), each disciple to a man looked around to make sure he was not the suspect, and perhaps apprehensively asked: “Surely, not I?”

Within each of their hearts there was trepidation and a fear of being exposed. Each of them knew his own heart. Each knew good and well that within his own soul there was the possibility that he could be the one to come up short; he could be the one to blow it. After making the announcement that he would be betrayed by one of them, Christ said to Peter that Satan had demanded to have him, that he might sift him. Peter veiled his fear that he might be like the betrayer behind his impressive, if not brash, claim: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” He was not ready to be exposed to the others as one who would betray his Lord.

That same night every single one of those disciples was exposed. Each one is portrayed in Scripture as the hypocrite that he was. Each one turned his back on Christ. Sure, Peter followed Christ that night, but it was only “at a distance,” and it only led to an even greater betrayal. Of all the betrayals explored in the gospels that night, Peter’s is the most poignant.

One might ask (and perhaps rightly): “What was the difference between Peter and Judas?” They both betrayed our Lord and Saviour when they should have stood strong at his side. Why should one fall away and the other be restored?

There is a good probability that not all of us here at school will hold firm to the faith once for all delivered to the saints; not all of us will persevere. Some of us will fall into grave sin—some of us will deny our Lord outright (though I do pray, even as I write that this might never be so). Though we now profess “Lord, I am ready to follow you to prison and to death,” in our deepest moments of reflection and meditation we realize the weakness of our faith and cry, “Surely Lord, not I?”

So what will be the determining factor? What is essential to keep us safe in the arms of our Saviour? It is the grace of our Saviour and that alone.

Not a single one of us will stand on our own strength. Not a single one of us will stand even by our prayers (for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and whether by sorrow or exhaustion, we all fall asleep).

Like Peter and Judas, we stand or fall by the grace and the will of our Christ. Of Judas it was written, “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” Thus, Jesus handed him the morsel. And Satan, having received the divine acquiescence necessary for him to act did all his will with whom he was given.

Satan, however, was not satisfied. He demanded more. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.” But the morsel was not given. Peter’s Saviour makes the difference between Peter and Judas absolutely clear: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” It is only the grace of Jesus that enables a human to persevere. It is only the grace of Jesus that saves us. It does not therefore depend on man, who wills or who runs, but on Christ.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Who will persevere? Who will break down and fall away? Who will give up? Who will “finish the race”? We must all fall into the arms of Christ, our loving God and Saviour. For in his will, and in his will alone, we find life and grace.

Again, “What is man that you are mindful of him / the son of man that you care for him?” We do not deserve this care of provision. No matter how much we have trained for serving Christ, no matter how much of the Bible we know, no matter how great we think we will be for the church of God, we must depend utterly on Christ and on Christ alone for persevering grace. “Pray that you do not fall into temptation.” Pray with all your heart. But remember always, that Christ alone holds your salvation. May he hold us all and preserve us in his love. For inasmuch as there is no hope outside of him, there is now no condemnation to fear for any who are in him.

Do not assume your preserving grace. Pray for it. Do not presume to be a follower of Christ except you see the fruits evident in your life. Pray for them. Do not presume to be a follower of Christ because you have “followed him” for three years (or 13 years!) at Bible College. Judas followed him too.

Update, 02/18/06: See this article at “the Christian Mind” for some thoughts on the upcoming publication of the Gospel of Judas.

On the Great Irrelevance of the Gospel

Perhaps we’ve missed something. In all of our efforts to “make church relevant”, perhaps we’ve missed that the gospel itself is not relevant. People do not care when we tell them about Jesus. Why should they?

I was listening to an album called Awesome God put out for kids by Sovereign Grace Ministries on the way home in the car tonight. The one song called Have You Heard? has a line that was particularly thought-provoking.

Okay, so a song for kids was “thought-provoking” for me–call me simple, but I think there’s something to it.

Anyway, the song is talking about the gospel and says, “It tells us that Jesus died for us to save us from our sins.” Nothing terribly original yet, I know. The next line, however, says, “This is the best news that we could ever hear.”

Is it? Is it the best news you’ve ever heard? What do you do when you get good news? When you propose and she says “yes” (drug induced or otherwise)? When you find out you got the job? When you find out your wife is pregnant with your first child? When the offer you put in for the house is accepted?

You tell people! You celebrate! You rejoice! It’s a no-brainer. Maybe you even dance a jig (when no one’s looking, of course)!

But how do we react when we hear that Jesus died for us, to save us from our sins? No wonder the world doesn’t find our message relevant. It’s not.

See, the message of the gospel is water. If you’re thirsty, there’s nothing like it. If you’re belly is already full of fluid so that you can hear it jiggle when you move quickly, you’re not interested.

The problem is that we’re trying to force people to drink when they’re just not thirsty. In our world there’s no such thing as sin. If there’s no sin, and I’m not guilty of it, and it really shouldn’t be punished anyway, then why is it good news (the best news!) that Jesus died for my sins? It’s not.

If our message is to be relevant, so that the gospel can be restored to a place where it is the best news people have ever heard, then we need to start by preaching sin. We need to start by showing people that they are thirsty! They have a need! They are hellbound sinners in the hands of an angry God.

A world that is so incredibly “tolerant”, and a philosophical realm where the ultimate ethic is always “justice to the other’s idea” needs to hear that there is right and wrong, sin and righteousness, judgment and forgiveness. No one is interested in drawing these lines anymore, however.

But we need to. We must preach sin if we are to ever preach a relevant saviour. Forgiveness is only the best news ever heard if people have heard that they need it.

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