Tag Archives: grace

The Death of Death

4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”
5 They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.
6 Now when He said to them, “I am,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
(John 18:4-6)

Jesus had just spent an agonizing night in Gethsemane. It isn’t just that he knows that he is about to be beaten to a bloody pulp and nailed to a cross to die. It isn’t just that he knows that he is despised and rejected of men. It isn’t just that he knows he is about to be numbered among criminals and reduced to a slave.

It is that he knows that he will bear the sins of the world. He knows that it is the Father’s will that he take the infinite blackness and ugliness and hatred of sin upon himself and be forsaken by God. He will experience in his soul the pains and torments of hell, the forsakenness, the pain, the immense suffering of the wrath of God. He who was righteous was made sin for us. And he willingly bore it.

He knows that God’s wrath against sin is infinite, fixed, unchanging. And he is about to bear the full brunt of it. God will consider Jesus to be worst than the worst. Jesus will take the full weight of God’s wrath against idolatry, murder, blasphemy, rape, torture, adultery, cruelty, oppression, slander, wicked speech and wicked actions, and drink the cup to the very bottom.

And the soldiers come to arrest him.

Jesus says, “Whom do you seek?”

They say, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

He says, “I am”. The same answer the God gave Moses when Moses asked his name. The same name that God gave to his covenant people. The name above every name, the name that the Jews considered so holy that they wouldn’t pronounce it. “I am”.

And then the divine majesty of God shines through the form of the servant. This weak, tired man…Jesus of Nazareth…speaks “I am” and the ray of uncreated light breaks through the dark night and the soldiers fall flat on their faces. This is the majesty of God revealed.

This is not what it seems. It seems as if Satan has won. It seems as if Jesus is about to lose control of everything. It seems as if there are events that are taking place that will carry Jesus along like a tidal wave and end up with his death. It seems as if Judas, the soldiers, the Jews, and the Romans are in charge and Jesus is about to be eliminated.

But then Jesus says, “I am” and God’s majesty shines forth. The Word was made flesh, and for a moment that flesh was pulled back and a tiny glimpse of the infinite beauty, majesty and power of almighty God was revealed.

“And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth.”

And with one word, the soldiers could not even stand in His presence.

Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For us and for our salvation he became flesh for this very reason – to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the very bottom – so that we might be called the children of the living God. This is why it is not fitting to pity him. He was not an unwilling victim. Instead, we worship and adore, we bow before him in wonder. We fall to our faces in astonished silence and then cry, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to him forever and ever!”

This is the great exchange – his righteousness is mine. My sin is his. And he bore it away, he drank the cup wrath to the bottom. The majesty of God is seen in the suffering of Gethsemane, the cross of Jesus, the empty tomb.

The majesty of God is revealed in the death of death on the cross of Christ. It was not the soldiers in charge that day. At any moment, Jesus could have put an end to all of it.

The human tendency to flinch at a whip was overridden by the majesty of God and the infinite love of Jesus. He willingly bore every stroke, every nail, every spit, every mocking word. He hung on the cross while the sun refused to give its light and bore God’s wrath. In the darkness, God hid from our eyes his judgment against sin for we could not have borne to even see it. But Jesus bore it.

Every splinter, every thorn, every drop of the wrath of God.

The majesty of God, the infinite beauty of God, the infinite holiness and justice of God, and his infinite love came together that day. Find it there, or not at all.

“Amazing love, how can it be? That thou my God shouldst die for me?”

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Filed under Gospel, Love, Sin and Grace

Worrying about worry

Today I was reminded that worrying is a sin. So I started to worry about whether I worried too much.

And then I started thinking – it is true that worrying is a sin, but how do you overcome the sin of worrying. Do you worry about worrying? Do you work hard trying to overcome worry? But it seems that working to overcome worry simply involved more worry.

At least, I worry that it might.

And then I started thinking about the relationship of good works to the gospel. We know that our only righteousness before God is the righteousness of Jesus put on our account by faith. We know that we cannot ever do even one work that can stand before the judgment throne of God.

We also know that those who continue to live in sin have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. How these two concepts relate is sometimes difficult. The Reformed Creeds (such as the Heidelberg) put good works into the category of thankfulness to God for our redemption. The Bible teaches that good works flow from a thankful and renewed heart. But how does that work?

There are particularly yelly preachers that like to yell at people about everything that they are doing wrong. They like to make sure that you know that worry is a sin, and lusting is a sin, causing people to lust is a sin, They yell about gossip and slander and anger and covetousness. They usually then add a list of other things that aren’t sins  just in case someone is getting away with doing something fun. It’s as if they ran out of sins to yell about so they had to invent a few more. So they yell about alcohol and cigars and dancing and tattoos and movies and boycotting Disney and ABC and what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath. They yell about cakes and piercings and rock ‘n roll (or maybe not that one so much anymore) and haircuts. But there is always something. And when you confront them with the gospel of Jesus, they will say, “yes, but now that you are a Christian you are supposed to be thankful. BE THANKFUL. WORK HARDER AT IT. MORE GRATITUDE, YOU TOTALLY DEPRAVED SCUM!”
You know the type.

So I wonder about whether they have the relationship between the gospel and works right. Are good works those things that we do because we feel guilty about causing Jesus to go to the cross to begin with? Are they those things that we do so that we make sure that we really do make it in the end – proving that we are actually thankful enough to earn the free gift of grace? Is God the harsh slave driver just waiting for us to worry about something so that he can zap us and teach us a lesson for our own good?

Think about the Sabbath. The yelly preacher will be happy to give you a whole list of things that you are and are not allowed to do on the Sabbath. In fact, he will probably shout them at you. It’s a day of rest and thankfulness, you scum. Work harder at being thankful. Rest more now or God will get you, you filth of the earth…
Do you see the problem? How do you work hard at resting? Should we worry about whether or not we are resting enough? That doesn’t really seem like rest to me…

And as I think about worry, it occurs to me. Worry is a sin. Jesus made that clear. But that highlights my sinful nature, doesn’t it? The only thing I can do with a command to rest is to work harder at it, defeating the purpose. The only thing I can do with a command to not worry is to worry more about whether I worry too much and try harder to stop it…

And then I see what the writers of the catechism meant when they wrote, “I daily increase my guilt.”

That can’t be the gospel. So let’s think about the sin of worry.

Yes, I worry. And, yes, worry is a sin.

The gospel teaches me that the perfect righteousness of Jesus is put on my account, and that all of my sins – including the sin of worry – is nailed to his cross, put away forever. If I worry about that, that one is nailed there too.

And whether I worry or whether I don’t worry, Jesus has it all covered. He cannot love me more. I cannot be any more righteous that I am right now.

So I have nothing to worry about…

Do you see, now?

I can rest. I can stop worrying, because even my worrying is paid for by the blood of Christ, now and forever. I can give it to him and put it away and rest.

And I move a little closer to understanding what resting in the gospel means and what it means to put off worrying. I won’t get it perfectly in this life, but I don’t have to worry about that anymore, because Jesus already knows, already died, and lives forever making intercession for me, preserving me, guiding me.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.

The gospel is not a Bobby McFerrin song. The gospel is not a yelly preacher screaming at you to quit worrying, work harder, do more, stop being such a horrible sinner, you jerk!

The gospel is the most liberating, freeing, comforting message you can imagine. Jesus is the propitiation of our sins, and not our alone, but the sins of the whole world.

This is the only way we can put off worrying. That’s the only way we can put off any of the other sins as well. By looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We abide in him, for without him, we can do nothing.

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Filed under ethics, Gospel

God’s grace an excuse for cruelty??

A pastor’s primary function is to preach and teach God’s word to the sheep that Jesus has placed in his care.  In order to do this effectively, he must be a lover of language. He must become a master of communication.  Not, indeed, the language of the world wielded by the manipulators of rhetoric, but as a steward of the treasure that God has placed in his care.  The ungodly man uses language to manipulate people, to get people to act in a way that he wishes them to act.  As Christians, however, we must learn how to use language in order to convey truth clearly and effectively.  But unfortunately, pastors frequently become manipulators of people instead of preachers of truth.

To be a God-pleasing preacher of truth, a pastor must understand two things:

First, he must understand what God teaches in His word.  Good seminaries drill this into the heads of their students with original language classes, systematics, apologetics, Old and New Testament survey classes, exegesis classes, and other offerings.

But unfortunately this is not enough.  A man may be an expert in the meaning and theology of the scripture and be completely unable to communicate that effectively, for he has not yet understood the English language.  Through poor choices of words, truth is skewered and equity is fallen in the streets.

So the second thing that a pastor must understand in order to communicate God’s word effectively is how the English language works and how to put the truth of God’s word into accurate language to be understood clearly by his audience.  The goal in communicating truth is to speak in such a way that the ideas in the speaker’s head are transferred to the mind of the hearer with as little loss as possible.  We may think that we are communicating one thing, when in fact our hearers hear something else entirely.  If pastors do not understand this, their work will be ineffective at best and outright harmful to the soul at worst.

A word in any language may have different nuances or even different meanings altogether depending upon the context of the word.

Take the word “love”.  I saw a car with two bumper stickers.  One said, “I love my Golden Retriever.” The other said, “I love Jesus.”    Same car; same bumper.

What the owner of the car was attempting to communicate was lost to me.  Two abstract thoughts, one referring to the affection that a man feels for his dog, and the other a religious affection for our Lord and Savior, were both denotated by the same word: “love”.  Two thoughts.  One word.

At the very least, I would hope that in the mind of the car owner these were two separate ideas.  But perhaps he meant that his love for his dog was exactly identical (univocal) to the love that he has for Jesus, in which case we would have to charge him with polytheism, in the same way that you would charge a man with bestiality for loving his dog and loving his wife univocally.

For those who may think that I am splitting hairs, or using ridiculous examples, I would like to remind you that we are currently inundated with predators and pedophiles who use the same techniques to cover their horrendous and vile actions.  I take great offence at the North American Man/Boy Love
Association for using the word “love” to describe their filthy lusts, hoping that our refusal to analyze language will give them a pass.  But do not be deceived.  What they mean by “love” and what I mean by “love” are two different things entirely.

A recent blog, A Christian Wife’s Marriage Catechism  commits a similar error, with similar deadly consequences for the truth of the Gospel.

You can find some excellent refutations here.

I have much to say.  But I will limit my comments to only one question of this catechism:

Q11.    How good a husband is my husband to me?

A11.    Much better than I deserve, and therefore I will thank God for him every day.

Here the writer makes a deadly error.  Here we see the error of using a word with several different meanings as if it only had one meaning.  Let me illustrate:

What he is saying in effect is this:  Because I deserve eternal punishment in hell for my sins, it follows that I deserve to take whatever injustice and abuse that my husband wishes to dish out to me.

But does this follow, or is it possible that the English word “deserve” has different meanings depending on the context?

In Shakespeare’s great tragedy Hamlet, Hamlet the Prince asks Polonius to take the newly arrived actors to their accommodations and make sure they had what they needed for their comfort.  Polonius replied, “I will treat them according to their desert.”

Hamlet replied, “God’s bodkin, man, much better!  Treat every man according to his desert and who shall ‘scape whipping?”

Hamlet has made the same error.  Polonius was merely speaking of giving them the accommodations and amenities that their station and their labors warranted.  Hamlet then replied, swearing by the bodkin, or dagger, of God, referring to their standing as sinners before the Throne of God. But the desert of the actors at the hands of Polonius and the desert of the actors at the hands of God are two different things!

Are we to believe that since no one has ever earned any favor from God whatsoever, but has received every good thing by grace alone that it would therefore follow that my boss can withhold my paycheck from me, since I deserve far worse?

If the blogger in question would be consistent with his univocal use of the word “deserve”, we would expect the following exchange:  “My employer has robbed me of my wages.  What should I do?”

Answer, “Rejoice that you have received far more than you deserve and continue to work for him with a meek and quiet spirit.  Don’t make a fuss.”

Take it one step further:  “My family was slaughtered by a wicked man.”

Answer: “It was better than they deserved.  Let it go, and don’t make a fuss.  No need to involve the police.”

It is indeed true that God’s mercy can never be earned – or deserved.  We increase our guilt daily before God.  We are fallen sinners.  Unless we are born again, we deserve nothing but eternal wrath and damnation.  This is taught clearly throughout Scripture.

(Eph 2:8-9 KJV)  8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

But this is speaking of our standing before the Judgment Throne of God.  It does not follow that we therefore deserve to be treated with cruelty, hatred and dishonor by wicked men.

If the grace of God can be used to justify injustice and cruelty, then words no longer have any meaning.

From the hand of God we always and continually receive far more that we can ever merit or “deserve”, for even the best works in this life are all polluted by sin.

Does it then follow that we do not deserve kindness, love, respect and honor from our fellow man?  Not according to the Bible.

Consider the following passage:

(Rom 13:7-8 KJV)  7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

God teaches here that there are those who deserve our taxes, our honor, and our tribute.  But then in verse 8, he carries the argument further:  We owe all men love.  Not the love of the world, but love defined by the law of God.

For a husband, we owe our wives the same love with which Christ loved his church.  Does she earn it?  Of course not.  But does she deserve it?  She certainly does.

In another place, Paul teaches that husbands and wives are both owed benevolence – they deserve it because they are husband and wife:

1 Corinthians 7:3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

If it were not possible to treat our wives worse than they deserve, as this blog implies, then it would not be possible to defraud your wife, and Paul’s command would make no sense (1 Cor. 7:5).  Paul’s argument depends upon the Biblical truth that a husband owes his wife benevolence (favor, good-will, sexual intimacy).  To put it passively, she deserves it because she is his wife.  To withhold those things is to defraud her – or to treat her less than she deserves – directly contrary to the statement made by this blogger.

To the beloved daughters of God, do not allow your husband to treat you less than you deserve as his wife.  On the same token, do not treat your husband less than he deserves as your husband.  God requires equity in our dealings, not fuzzy appeals to misunderstood grace.

Equity means that we treat others fairly, or as they deserve.  Fulfill those obligations and remember that you have a right to expect the same in all of your relationships.  This is what a covenant of marriage is.  We are in a covenant and there are covenant obligations.  A husband owes his wife the fulfillment of his vows, and she deserves that fulfillment, because she is his wife.

If I make a contract, the other party deserves for me to fulfill my end.  Why is marriage any different?

Let us exegete scripture correctly, lest we become prey for the devil, and expose ourselves to the abuses of wicked men.

To affirm the covenant of marriage is to affirm the obligations of that covenant.  The husband deserves for the wife to fulfill her vow, and the wife deserves for the husband to fulfill his vow.  Neither party deserves to be treated with abuse, cruelty, violence and hatred.

The Bible also teaches that a husband or a wife can behave in such a monstrous way that they ultimately forfeit the benefits of this covenant, but that is another post for another time.

I have much more to say, but I have wearied the reader enough for the day.

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Filed under Abuse