Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Where was God today?  How many people have asked that question through the ages?  From young parents losing a child, to victims of the horrors of war, to young teenagers having their hearts broken for the first time, almost all of us have wondered where God was when the pain came.  When Jesus hung on the cross, His detractors asked similar questions, “He saved others, let Him save Himself,” they said, “If you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross.”  Jesus’ only response, if it can be considered a response, came as He quoted psalm 22 before His death, “Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani!”  Translated “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me!”  The crowds who heard him misheard his words and thought he was calling for Elijah (Eloi and Elijah being pronounced similarly enough in Aramaic that when a crucified man screamed them they could be confused).  Thinking that he was calling for Elijah they gave Jesus one last chance, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take Him down.”  While they may have misheard Jesus’ words, they misinterpreted what was happening on the cross.  They thought the only evidence of God’s action in the crucifixion would have been if Jesus was taken down from the cross.

Likewise we only see God’s hand when he takes us down from our little crosses.  When He spares our child, gives us the grade, provides for our budget, or heals our disease.  In 2 Cor 5:19, Paul says “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them.”  What Paul is saying is that God was not less present in Jesus’ abandonment on the cross, but by leaving Jesus on the cross to the death, He was more present and more active than at any time in history.  God was there, in the abandoned Christ, working redemption and forgiveness.  Where was God on Good Friday?  He was in not only in heaven, judging our sins in the man Christ Jesus, but He was in Christ, atoning for us through His sinless life and death.  He was there at the cross glorifying Himself more than He has in any healing, military victory, or miraculous delivery.  The God we worship is not only present when we are delivered and relieved, but He is ever so much more present through our suffering and pain, working a redemption better than we ever could have hoped for.  

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Below is a painting from the Victorian period by William Bell Scott.  Based off of the following passage found in Matt 27.45-51:

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink.  But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

The veil in the Temple was meant to separate God who dwelt in the Most Holy Place  from the people.  Only the high priest would come behind the veil, only once a year and not without blood (Heb 9.2-7).  Jesus sacrifice on the cross is a sacrifice that permanently removes the barrier between God and the people forever.  The significance of the veil being torn testifies to this fact.  As you can see from the painting, Scott is keen to stress this as a mighty wind appears to be rushing out from the Most Holy Place into the world much to the surprise and terror of the priests.  Note the sacrificial lamb on the altar as well as the crucifixion taking place just above the walls on the upper right hand side of the painting.  For an extended treatment of this topic in scripture see Heb 9.11-10.22.   How could you even begin to preach on this?  The sheer weight of the ancient plan of God unfolding in the seconds after Jesus’ death is too staggering for words.  This painting, for me, is the best attempt I’ve seen outside of Scripture to give the proper weight to that fearful, glorious, and joyful moment. 

William Bell Scott's "The Rending of the Veil"

William Bell Scott's "The Rending of the Veil"

The Apostles also plainly declare that he paid a price to ransom us from death: “Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption 457that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,” (Rom. 3:24, 25). Paul commends the grace of God, in that he gave the price of redemption in the death of Christ; and he exhorts us to flee to his blood, that having obtained righteousness, we may appear boldly before the judgment-seat of God. To the same effect are the words of Peter: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold,” “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot,” (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). The antithesis would be incongruous if he had not by this price made satisfaction for sins. For which reason, Paul says, “Ye are bought with a price.” Nor could it be elsewhere said, there is “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all,” (1 Tim. 2:5, 6), had not the punishment which we deserved been laid upon him. Accordingly, the same Apostle declares, that “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins,” (Col. 1:14); as if he had said, that we are justified or acquitted before God, because that blood serves the purpose of satisfaction. With this another passage agrees—viz. that he blotted out “the handwriting of ordinances which was against us, which was contrary to us,” (Col. 2:14). These words denote the payment or compensation which acquits us from guilt. There is great weight also in these words of Paul: “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain,” (Gal. 2:21). For we hence infer, that it is from Christ we must seek what the Law would confer on any one who fulfilled it; or, which is the same thing, that by the grace of Christ we obtain what God promised in the Law to our works: “If a man do, he shall live in them,” (Lev. 18:5). This is no less clearly taught in the discourse at Antioch, when Paul declares, “That through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” (Acts 13:38, 39). For if the observance of the Law is righteousness, who can deny that Christ, by taking this burden upon himself, and reconciling us to God, as if we were the observers of the Law, merited favour for us? Of the same nature is what he afterwards says to the Galatians: “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,” (Gal. 4:4, 5). For to what end that subjection, unless that he obtained justification for us by undertaking to perform what we were unable to pay? Hence that imputation of righteousness without works, of which Paul treats (Rom. 4:5), the righteousness found in Christ alone being accepted as if it were ours. And certainly the only reason why Christ is called our “meat,” (John 6:55), is because we find in him the substance of life. And the source of this efficacy is just that the Son of God was crucified as the price of our justification; as Paul says, Christ “has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a 458sweet-smelling savour,” (Eph. 5:2); and elsewhere, he “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” (Rom. 4:25). Hence it is proved not only that salvation was given us by Christ, but that on account of him the Father is now propitious to us. For it cannot be doubted that in him is completely fulfilled what God declares by Isaiah under a figure, “I will defend this city to save it for mine own sakes and for my servant David’s sake,” (Isaiah 37:35). Of this the Apostle is the best witness when he says “Your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake,” (1 John 2:12). For although the name of Christ is not expressed, John, in his usual manner, designates him by the pronoun “He,” (aujtov”). In the same sense also our Lord declares, “As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me,” (John 6:57). To this corresponds the passage of Paul, “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake,” (Phil. 1:29).

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (2.17.6)

Christ’s letter to the church in Philadelphia can be found in Rev 3.7-13. My study of that letter indicates that as in much of the early Christian world, the Christians at Philadephia were worshipping in a Jewish synagogue. The context of Rev 3.7-13 clearly indicates that the Christians are suffering severe hardship under the leaders of the synagogue and have most likely been put out of the synagogue. By the time Ignatius writes his letter to Philadelphia, they seem to still be struggling with the same issues (see ch. VI). The letter is historically of great interest (not least because Ignatius clearly defines the heresy of the mysterious Nicolatains) but more importantly it is spiritually edifying. I have excerpted a quote below that did my soul well. In it, Ignatius talks about how the Gospel transcends all the other revelations of God, whether they be in the O.T. or New. God’s supreme and transcendent grace, is for Ignatius, contained in the appearing of Jesus, his death and resurrection. I hope you enjoy it.

The priests indeed and the ministers of the word are good; but the High Priest is better, to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been entrusted with the secrets of God. The ministering powers of God are good. The Comforter is holy, and the Word is holy, the Son of the Father, by whom He made all things, and exercises a providence over them all, This is the Way which leads to the Father, the Rock, the Defence, the Key, the Shepherd, the Sacrifice, the Door o fknowledge, through which have entered Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and all the company of the prophets, and these pillars of the world, the apostles, and the spouse of Christ, on whose account He poured out his own blood, as her marriage portion, that He might redeem her. All these things tend towards the unity of the one and true God. But the Gospel possesses soemthign transcendent [above the former dispensation], viz., the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, His passion, and the ressurction itself. For those things which the prophets announced, saying, “Until He come for whom it is reserved, and He shall be the expectation of the Gentiles,” have been fulfilled in teh Gospel, [our Lord saying], “Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

-Ignatius, “Letter to the Philadelphians” ch. IX excerpted from The Apostolic Fathers: with Justin Martyr American Edition, vol I pg 84-85

I’m really starting to dig this guy…

We are Christians because we hold Christianity to be true. But other men hold Christianity to be false. Who is right? That question can be settled only by an examination and comparison of the reasons adduced on both sides. It is true, one of the grounds for our belief is an inward experience that we cannot share—the great experience begun by conviction of sin and conversion and continued by communion with God—an experience which other men do not possess, and upon which, therefore, we cannot directly base an argument. But if our position is correct, we ought at least to be able to show the other man that his reasons may be inconclusive. And that involves careful study of both sides of the question. Furthermore, the field of Christianity is the world. The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought. The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel. It must be studied either in order to be demonstrated as false, or else in order to be made useful in advancing the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom must be advanced not merely extensively, but also intensively. The Church must seek to conquer not merely every man for Christ, but also the whole of man. We are accustomed to encourage ourselves in our discouragements by the thought of the time when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. No less inspiring is the other aspect of that same great consummation. That will also be a time when doubts have disappeared, when every contradiction has been removed, when all of science converges to one great conviction, when all of art is devoted to one great end, when all of human thinking is permeated by the refining, ennobling influence of Jesus, when every thought has been brought into subjection to the obedience of Christ.

read it all here

It’s worth taking the time to real the whole chapter carefully.  Below is one of the most influential minds of Western civilization recounting his conversion to Christianity.  All of Augustine’s powerful intellect is mustered alongside some equally powerful emotions rendered by the Grace of God.  As Augustine recounted his conversion I repeatedly felt tears well up at the glorious mercies of our Lord Jesus. 

A quick breakdown of the characters involved: Augustine (narrarator and Bishop of Hippo), Simplicianus (Father of renowned Bishop Ambrose), Ambrose (Bishop of Milan), Victorinus (Famous rhetorician who shocked the Roman world by his conversion to Christianity), Nebridius and Alypius (friends and roommates of Augustine), Pontitianus (a Christian well placed in Roman government), Antony (famous Christian ascetic whose lifestyle appealed to Augustine), Mani (spawned the Manichaean heresy that posited a dark force just as powerful as God), Monica (a faithful Christian and Augustine’s mother). I hope you enjoy this excerpt as much as much as I did…

He finally describes the thirty-second year of his age, the most memorable of his whole life, in which, being instructed by Simplicianus concerning the conversion of others, and the manner of acting, he is, after a severe struggle, renewed in his whole mind, and is converted unto God.

Chapter 1. He, Now Given to Divine Things, and Yet Entangled by the Lusts of Love, Consults Simplicianus in Reference to the Renewing of His Mind.
1. O My God, let me with gratitude remember and confess unto You Your mercies bestowed upon me. Let my bones be steeped in Your love, and let them say, Who is like You, O Lord? You have loosed my bonds, I will offer unto You the sacrifice of thanksgiving. And how You have loosed them I will declare; and all who worship You when they hear these things shall say: Blessed be the Lord in heaven and earth, great and wonderful is His name. Your words had stuck fast into my breast, and I was hedged round about by You on every side. Job 1:10 Of Your eternal life I was now certain, although I had seen it through a glass darkly. 1 Corinthians 13:12 Yet I no longer doubted that there was an incorruptible substance, from which was derived all other substance; nor did I now desire to be more certain of You, but more steadfast in You. As for my temporal life, all things were uncertain, and my heart had to be purged from the old leaven. 1 Corinthians 5:7 The Way, John 14:6 the Saviour Himself, was pleasant unto me, but as yet I disliked to pass through its straightness. And Thou put into my mind, and it seemed good in my eyes, to go unto Simplicianus, who appeared to me a faithful servant of Yours, and Your grace shone in him. I had also heard that from his very youth he had lived most devoted to You. Now he had grown into years, and by reason of so great age, passed in such zealous following of Your ways, he appeared to me likely to have gained much experience; and so in truth he had. Out of which experience I desired him to tell me (setting before him my griefs) which would be the most fitting way for one afflicted as I was to walk in Your way.

2. For the Church I saw to be full, and one went this way, and another that. But it was displeasing to me that I led a secular life; yea, now that my passions had ceased to excite me as of old with hopes of honour and wealth, a very grievous burden it was to undergo so great a servitude. For, compared with Your sweetness, and the beauty of Your house, which I loved, those things delighted me no longer. But still very tenaciously was I held by the love of women; nor did the apostle forbid me to marry, although he exhorted me to something better, especially wishing that all men were as he himself was. 1 Corinthians 7:7 But I, being weak, made choice of the more agreeable place, and because of this alone was tossed up and down in all beside, faint and languishing with withering cares, because in other matters I was compelled, though unwilling, to agree to a married life, to which I was given up and enthralled. I had heard from the mouth of truth that there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but, says He, he that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Matthew 19:12 Vain, assuredly, are all men in whom the knowledge of God is not, and who could not, out of the good things which are seen, find out Him who is good. Wisdom 13:1 But I was no longer in that vanity; I had surmounted it, and by the united testimony of Your whole creation had found You, our Creator, and Your Word, God with You, and together with You and the Holy Ghost one God, by whom You created all things. There is yet another kind of impious men, who when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful. Romans 1:21 Into this also had I fallen; but Your right hand held me up, and bore me away, and You placed me where I might recover. For You have said unto man, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; Job 28:28 and desire not to seem wise, Proverbs 3:7 because, Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:22 But I had now found the goodly pearl, which, selling all that I had, Matthew 13:46 I ought to have bought; and I hesitated. (more…)

crossFor anyone looking for a devotion to read during Lent, I would steer them towards this little work by Thomas A’ Kempis.  You can buy it here.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Author of our salvation and most gracious Dispenser of pardon, and most patient in tolerating man’s wickedness, I bless and thank you for the great pain, the many stripes, and the bloody wounds inflicted on your tender and noble body. From the soles of your feet to the crown of your head there was no area without its injury or lesion- either swellings or smarting wounds- with warm red blood flowing over your body.

“I praise and glorify you with the greatest reverence of which I am capable and with full interior humility, for the abundant shedding of your precious blood from your five sacred wounds as well as the other wounds, both great and small. In bleeding they give forth the most effective medicine for our sins, more precious than balm.

“Most gentle Jesus, you were so mistreated and manhandled by cruel men that you had no bodily strength left in you. Your veins were opened wide- not even the last drop of blood remained in you, and whatever of that sacred fluid has been in you in life has now in death been poured out for soul’s benefit as the price of our salvation.

“O five precious wounds, supreme signs of incomparable love, abounding with divine sweetness, it is from you that the sinner learns abiding trust- otherwise his guilty conscience would cause him to despair. In these wounds we find the medicine for life, abundant grace, full forgiveness, unstinting mercy, and the gateway to promised glory. Whatever defilement I incur or whatever sins of the flesh I commit, it is in these five fountains that I wash myself clean, am purified, and again made new.

“I praise and honor you, christ, only beloved Spouse of the Holy Church, for your uncommon charity, by which you chose, through this covenant in your blood, to redeem my soul from the effects of Adam’s transgression, to cleanse it of all sin, to enrich and adorn it with the merits of your holiness. Sanctified by your grace, may I be found worthy of being united to you and later of being blessed in your glorious kingdom of light.

Thomas A’ Kempis On the Passion of Christ: according to the four evangelists (Ignatius Press: San Francisco 2004) pg 79-80