Don’t Rush by Good Friday

Pretty gold crosses dangling on shiny chains have a narcotic effect on our thoughts about the Cross. So do two thousand years of time’s passage and five thousand miles of distance. Our sanitized crosses fall far short of the gut-wrenching realities of crucifixion. What the Gospels say in four icy words, “and they crucified Him” (Mark 15:25), would have been emotionally devastating to behold, much less endure.

Of all the big deals in theology, the biggest deal is the Cross of Christ and all it means. So Jesus gathered his ragtag followers and turned a Passover meal into an endless commemoration of that dark day soon to dawn.

Jesus is into commemorating because we are into forgetting. “Never forget,” he said.

As we move from Good Friday, into Easter, it’s crucial we re-calibrate our hearts to this mother of all theological messages.

Scripture contemplates the Cross in five little words: “Christ died for our sins.” Christ died — that’s history; we could have seen it with our eyes had we been there. For our sins — that’s theology. It requires a revelation of God. Let’s open our hearts this season to the brutal realities of these words.

Christ Died (History)

Medical experts have reconstructed the physiological effects of this horrific Roman death by torture. Though they don’t all agree on the various details, they all affirm agonies beyond comprehension.

Scourging. So Pilate too Jesus and scourged him, the Bible simply says (John 19:1). To scourge means to skin alive with a whip. The beating was made worse by bones or weights embedded in the whips tail. Deep bruising, rib fractures, and open lacerations would result.

The Crown of Thorns. Most likely, the crown of thorns would have been shaped more like a cap than a circlet, and would have covered the whole head. Matthew explains that soldiers “took the reed and struck Him on the head” (Matthew 27:30), in effect hammering the spikes into Christ’s scalp. Excruciating pain would have followed.

Never forget the price Jesus paid.

Nails. The spikes were made of iron and about four to five inches long. The force used in driving the nails would have caused searing pain throughout his body. Given what Jesus had already endured, shock was inevitable. As soon as the body’s full weight transferred to the nails through his hands and feet, Christ’s already horrific pain would have been magnified to levels beyond words.

Death. The two little words, “Christ died,” pack enough punch to send the devil tumbling head over heels across the cosmos forever. Christ died because his work was finished. He paid the price. He satisfied justice. He died the death we deserved.

In all this, He was nobody’s victim.

The next time you partake of the Communion cup and bread, stop and take a breath. Bring your mind back to that awful day. Block everything out long enough to remember the Lord’s brutal death.

This is the fountainhead of all grace. This is the Cross. This is what God did for you when Jesus died.

Yet, none of his physical sufferings compared to the pains about to come.

For Our Sins (Theology)

What could be more painful than the tortures, the beatings, the crown of thorns, and the nails through his hands and feet?

Our sins.

When our sins were laid upon him, that’s when Jesus cried out.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? (Matthew 27:46)

For Jesus, no physical suffering compared to being forsaken by God—a black-box mystery, a breach in the eternal fellowship between Christ on the cross and his Father in heaven. This is impenetrable darkness. Bow in wonder and keep silent.

Why did God forsake him?

Because God was judging him for the sin of the world. Damning him. Condemning him. Christ died for our sins. For my sins. For yours.

By the blood of His Cross, you’ve been redeemed (1 Peter 1:18–19), reconciled (Colossians 1:20), forgiven (Ephesians 1:7), brought near to God (Ephesians 2:13), cleansed in conscience (Hebrews 9:14), been made satisfactory to God (by propitiation, Romans 3:25), and declared good enough for God forever (by justification, Romans 5:9).

It was his death—not his life, not his teachings, not his miracles, not his love—that shoved darkness into a bottomless pit and rescued your sorry soul forever. Yes, these wonders of the life of Christ dazzle angels and demons, yet they were nothing if not a prelude to his death.

Let’s not rush through Good Friday. Let’s not forget the Ground Zero of our salvation — the birthplace of grace, and the foundation of the church.

Christ died for our sins.

Hallelujah.

[adapted from Grace Intervention]

 

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Friday: What Does Christ’s Death Mean?

jesuscross

On Friday — the day we call Good Friday — Jesus Christ was nailed to an old, rugged Cross. I can only imagine. The cosmos paused in stunned silence to see the Son of God, bearing our sin, forsaken of God, torn by a whip and hounded by Satan. There he hung, the God-man, winning the ages-old battle for souls. There has never been a moment like that moment — and all the ages of eternity will echo with ceaseless wonder at what happened the day Jesus died.

I thought it would be good to apply our minds and hearts, on this day, to that central day of history when our Savior died for us all.

There has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95. Continue reading

“But God…” A Dozen Reversals of Life’s Heartaches, pt 2

jm_100_OT_-P17.tiff

Fussy grammarians identify the word “BUT” as an adversative conjunction; something like the word “and” with a contrary attitude. When a decent “but” drops into a sentence, it turns the world upside down. How true, especially when the “but” unveils a divine operation — a heaven-sent miracle for life’s darkest hour.

This crabby but beautiful adversative conjunction invites your faith in a God who is the adversary of all that breaks your heart.

Today’s post is part two from an earlier post which you may find here. I hope you find comfort, strength, peace, and hope in a half dozen more “BUT GODS.”

  1. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NKJV). As the argument goes here, you might help out a friend; you might do something good for a decent human being. We find it far easier to help a person who is decent, thrifty, brave, and clean. BUT GOD is different. He embraces us with a love that knows now bounds when we are at our worst. While we were still sinners — moral train wrecks, fallen, helpless, and still shaking our collective fist in his face — the Son of God paid the ultimate sacrifice by shedding his precious blood on Calvary’s hill. He did not fold his arms and wait till we had our act together. Christ died for us, God proved his love for us, and the invitation to heaven’s banquet was sent to us long before we ever deserved it. But God…
  2. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; (1 Corinthians 1:27, NKJV). The earliest Christian churches weren’t pretty. They attracted society’s lower classes — not many mighty, not many wealthy, not many educated saints sang the praises of God. From all outward appearances, Christianity was a rag-tag assemblage of life’s last in line. The upper-crust occupants of Downton Abbey would look down their patrician noses and scoff. Who are these rabble? Must they be so noisy? What do they matter? BUT GOD delights in choosing life’s B-Team and using us to turn the world upside down. It is not the size of your portfolio, but the quality of your heart, that puts a smile on the face of God. Not your social rank, not your Klout score, not your Amazon ranking, and not an elite pedigree that fits you for service to the kingdom of God. It is your humble receipt of grace and your glorious identity in Christ that chases away the devil’s darkness and makes the angels stand and cheer.
  3. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV). This is one of my favorite verses. No matter what adversities assail you, God is faithful. The night may be dark, the wait may be long, the news may be bad, the hope may unravel, BUT GOD will never let you go. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
  4. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (Galatians 3:18, NKJV). Hi. My name is Bill and I am a recovering legalist. Having spent half my life straining every fiber to measure up to God’s impossible demands, I so love the reversal in this verse. At question is the nature of God’s way of granting heaven’s immeasurably rich inheritance to God’s people: how does this happen? What is the nature of our great salvation? Paul offers only two choices: law or promise. These two choices determine the human response. If God offers salvation based on law, then the response must be obedience, compliance with the laws of God. If that’s the case, bend over backwards and kiss heaven’s inheritance goodbye; you’ve already screwed it up. BUT GOD offers salvation, not as a law to obey, but as a PROMISE. How do you respond when a promise is made? Simply BELIEVE. Your legalistic demons may peck you into bondage and despair, BUT GOD will keep his promise: he will save you freely and forever based on the finished work of Jesus Christ if you will only believe.
  5. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (Ephesians 2:4, NKJV). Spiritual corpses, sinful, seized by diabolical forces beyond our control, slaves to lust and passion, and “children of wrath…” That is our dossier, by nature, before the court of heaven. The slimy pit of human depravity offers no escape. Any right-thinking judge, any decent, self-respecting God, would hurl javelins of judgment our way without batting an eye. Condemnation is our due. BUT GOD, who is rich him mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sin, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… that in the ages to come, He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. It just doesn’t get better than that. Thank God for the shed blood of Christ!
  6. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, NKJV). “Image is everything.” “It’s not the truth that matters, but the perception of truth.” Every day we swim in a sea of philosophical sharks ready to shred our hope, our self-esteem, and the deepest truths about who we are in Christ. Religious pretense. Social climbing. Outward conformity to the peer group. Fit in. Be cool. Dress just right. The world’s philosophies will squeeze you into a mold that can only lead to the death of your dreams and a cold and bitter heart. The world says we must boast in our conformity to its death-dealing system. BUT GOD opens a way of escape, inviting us to glory in the Cross of Christ, to stand secure in the robes of righteousness, to rest in the grip of his hand, and to wait for his glorious appearance. Your search for significance is over — you have found it in the approval of God gained once for all by the matchless grace of the Cross.

Please click the share buttons below for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Thanks. 

How has God reversed your fortunes? Are there any BUT GOD moments, big or small, you can point to? You can encourage us all in the comments below. 

Remember the Cross of Christ

jesuscrossThere has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus Christ in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95.

This gospel ranks highest on our list of biblical truths; it is “of first importance.” There is no truth in Scripture more important for Christians to comprehend, cherish, rest upon, and communicate to a needy world.

The core of the gospel lies in five monosyllables:  Christ died for our sins.

A little bit of history: “Christ died.”

A little bit of theology: “For our sins.”

Our great task is to keep telling that bit of history coupled with that bit of theology for all generations, till the Lord returns.

Let’s chew on this one grammatically…

crossvandyke.jpgThe Subject:  Christ. The subject of a sentence performs the action of a sentence. Any right understanding of the gospel recognizes Jesus as the central actor in a cosmic drama that spans the ages. Christ goes to war against Sin, Satan, and Death. He does this singlehandedly, without aid from me or you. He is the focal point of the gospel’s attention, and to divert attention to anyone else’s performance shatters the gospel’s integrity.

The full name and title of Christ would be Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but each word emphasizes something different about him.

  • When Scripture writers wish to emphasize his human nature, they call him Jesus.
  • When they wish to emphasize his divine nature, they call him Lord.
  • When they wish to emphasize his unique personhood as the God-man who came forth on a mission from God, they call him Christ, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term, Messiah.

Any accurate communication of the gospel will make Christ central. He is the sun, and all other truths orbit him. I get jittery whenever I hear a “gospel presentation” that makes US central, our works, our response, our efforts, our self-reformation, our act of giving something to God. No!  Christ is and must remain the great subject of salvation, and any gospel that doesn’t preach Christ is no gospel at all.

The Verb: died. The Greek verb is in a tense we don’t have in English: the aorist tense (say AIR-ist).  It’s a simple past tense, with a slight twist. Grammarians might call this a punctiliar aorist, meaning he died once, and he died once for all. HIS WORK IS FINISHED, and it was finished one dark day, two thousand years ago.

The terms of the Crucifixion are brutal, and worth remembering on Good Friday. Here is a medical look at Christ’s scourging:

“The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across the  shoulders, back and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as  the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an  oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial  bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce  large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin is hanging  in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissues.  When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the  beating is finally stopped.” [Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus” Arizona Medicine, March, 1965, p. 185]

On this Good Friday, it’s good to remember the death Jesus died. Please don’t turn away from this, today of all days. Here is a doctor’s description of the medical effects the crucifixion:

Most commonly, the feet were fixed to the front of the stipes by means of an iron spike driven through the first or second inter metatarsal space, just distal to the tarsometatarsal joint. It is likely that the deep peroneal nerve and branches of the medial and lateral plantar nerves would have been injured by the nails. Although scourging may have resulted in considerable blood loss, crucifixion per se was a relatively bloodless procedure, since no major arteries, other than perhaps the deep plantar arch, pass through the favored anatomic sites of transfixion.

The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The weight of the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hinder passive exhalation. Accordingly, exhalation was primarily diaphragmatic, and breathing was shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and that hypercarbia would soon result. The onset of muscle cramps or tetanic contractions, due to fatigue and hypercarbia, would hinder respiration even further.

Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden stipes.  Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort.  As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.

The actual cause of death by crucifixion was multifactorial and varied somewhat with each ease, but the two most prominent causes probably were hypovolemie shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Other possible contributing factors included dehydration, stress-induced arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions. Crucifracture (breaking the legs below the knees), if performed, led to an asphyxic death within minutes.

Death by crucifixion was, in every sense of the word, excruciating (Latin, excruciatus, or “out of the cross”).

cross2It’s easy to emotionally sanitize the Cross. It’s so easy to read, “Christ died…” and forget the awfulness of it. What Scriptures describe in two little words, all the words ever spoken or written could never do justice to. It was a real death, in a real body, of a real person, in real history. This is the heart of the gospel. Christ died…

Why?

The Prepositional Phrase: for our sins. The first two words of the gospel are history. These next three represent theology.  We state this so casually that we can easily overlook its meaning.

The Greek construction here consists of the preposition huper (“for”, say HU-pair) plus the plural noun (sins) spelled  a certain way. This spelling makes it a grammatical form called the genitive case. Huperplus the genitive indicates SUBSTITUTION. We could translate this: Christ died AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR our sins.

This is the biblical emphasis of the message of the Cross. Christ did not die simply as our moral example. He did not die simply to prove his love. He did not die simply to topple Satan. He did not die simply to advance God’s kingdom and cause in the world.

He died SUPREMELY, and above all other reasons, as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. God punished him for our sins instead of punishing us. God laid our sins on him. God executed him.  Whatever condemnation, wrath, punishment, hell, and agony our sins deserved, Christ endured in full measure.

What great love! Who can comprehend such a sacrifice? Who could fathom the agony of the Cross and the love that motivated it?

This is the gospel; it is the only gospel worth the name. It is the only gospel the Bible knows. It is the only gospel that makes the Christian’s heart skip a beat.  It is the only gospel that saves a soul.

Do you believe?

Bible scholars call this the vicarious atonement, or the substitutionary atonement for sin.  Christ died for our sins, as our subsitute, in our place.

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;crossgrunewaldalive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’ eternal throne,and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou, My God, shouldst die for me. 
(Charles Wesley)

Thank God for Good Friday. Thank God for the Cross.  Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for a gospel so rich we can never fathom it, but so simple we can say it in five monosyllables: Christ died for our sins.

For comments today, please only brief expressions of gratitude to God, or favorite brief Scripture verses.

Remember the Cross of Christ

jesuscrossThere has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95.

This gospel ranks highest on our list of biblical truths; it is “of first importance.” There is no truth in Scripture more important for Christians to comprehend, cherish, rest upon, and communicate to a needy world.

The core of the gospel lies in five monosyllables:  Christ died for our sins.

Let’s chew on this one grammatically…

crossvandyke.jpgThe Subject:  Christ. The subject of a sentence performs the action of a sentence. Any right understanding of the gospel recognizes Jesus as the central actor in a cosmic drama that spans the ages. Christ goes to war against Sin, Satan, and Death. He does this singlehandedly, without aid from me or you. He is the focal point of the gospel’s attention, and to divert attention to anyone else’s performance shatters the gospel.

The full name and title of Christ would be Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but each word emphasizes something different about him.

  • When Scripture writers wish to emphasize his human nature, they call him Jesus.
  • When they wish to emphasize his divine nature, they call him Lord.
  • When they wish to emphasize his unique personhood as the God-man who came forth on a mission from God, they call him Christ, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term, Messiah.

Any accurate communication of the gospel will make Christ central. He is the sun, and all other truths orbit him. I get jittery whenever I hear a “gospel presentation” that makes US central, our works, our response, our efforts, our self-reformation, our act of giving something to God. No way!  Christ is the great subject of salvation, and any gospel that doesn’t preach Christ is no gospel at all.

The Verb: died. The Greek verb is in a tense we don’t have in English: the aorist tense (say AIR-ist).  It’s a simple past tense, with a slight twist. Grammarians might call this a punctiliar aorist, meaning he died one, and he died once for all. HIS WORK IS FINISHED, and it was finished one dark day, two thousand years ago.

The terms of the Crucifixion are brutal, and worth remembering on Good Friday. Here is a medical look at Christ’s scourging:

“The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across the  shoulders, back and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as  the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an  oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial  bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce  large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin is hanging  in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissues.  When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the  beating is finally stopped.” [Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus” Arizona Medicine, March, 1965, p. 185]

On this Good Friday, it’s good to remember the death Jesus died. Please don’t turn away from this, today of all days. Here is a doctor’s description of the medical effects the crucifixion:

Most commonly, the feet were fixed to the front of the stipes by means of an iron spike driven through the first or second inter metatarsal space, just distal to the tarsometatarsal joint. It is likely that the deep peroneal nerve and branches of the medial and lateral plantar nerves would have been injured by the nails. Although scourging may have resulted in considerable blood loss, crucifixion per se was a relatively bloodless procedure, since no major arteries, other than perhaps the deep plantar arch, pass through the favored anatomic sites of transfixion.

The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The weight of the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hinder passive exhalation. Accordingly, exhalation was primarily diaphragmatic, and breathing was shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and that hypercarbia would soon result. The onset of muscle cramps or tetanic contractions, due to fatigue and hypercarbia, would hinder respiration even further.

Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden stipes.  Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort.  As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.

The actual cause of death by crucifixion was multifactorial and varied somewhat with each ease, but the two most prominent causes probably were hypovolemie shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Other possible contributing factors included dehydration, stress-induced arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions. Crucifracture (breaking the legs below the knees), if performed, led to an asphyxic death within minutes.

Death by crucifixion was, in every sense of the word, excruciating (Latin, excruciatus, or “out of the cross”).

cross2It’s easy to emotionally sanitize the Cross. It’s so easy to read, “Christ died…” and forget the awfulness of it. What Scriptures describe in two little words, all the words ever spoken or written could never do justice to. It was a real death, in a real body, of a real person, in real history. This is the heart of the gospel. Christ died…

Why?

The Prepositional Phrase: for our sins. The first two words of the gospel are history. These next three represent theology.  We state this so casually that we can easily overlook its meaning.

The Greek construction here consists of the preposition huper (“for”, say HU-pair) plus the plural noun (sins) spelled  a certain way. This spelling makes it a grammatical form called the genitive case. Huperplus the genitive indicates SUBSTITUTION. We could translate this: Christ died AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR our sins.

This is the biblical emphasis of the message of the Cross. Christ did not die simply as our moral example. He did not die simply to prove his love. He did not die simply to topple Satan. He did not die simply to advance God’s kingdom and cause in the world.

He died SUPREMELY, and above all other reasons, as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. God punished him for our sins instead of punishing us. God laid our sins on him. God executed him.  Whatever condemnation, wrath, punishment, hell, and agony our sins deserved, Christ endured in full measure.

What great love! Who can comprehend such a sacrifice? Who could fathom the agony of the Cross and the love that motivated it?

This is the gospel; it is the only gospel worth the name. It is the only gospel the Bible knows. It is the only gospel that makes the Christian’s heart skip a beat.  It is the only gospel that saves a soul.

Do you believe?

Bible scholars call this the vicarious atonement, or the substitutionary atonement for sin.  Christ died for our sins, as our subsitute, in our place.

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;crossgrunewaldalive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’ eternal throne,and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou, My God, shouldst die for me. 
(Charles Wesley)

Thank God for Good Friday. Thank God for the Cross.  Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for a gospel so rich we can never fathom it, but so simple we can say it in five monosyllables: Christ died for our sins.

For comments today, please only brief expressions of gratitude to God, or favorite brief Scripture verses.

49 Professions of Faith: What I See

Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47, NKJV).

Once every 4-8 weeks, I give an invitation for attenders to receive Jesus as their Savior — to “be saved” as Acts 2:47 terms it.

This past weekend was one of those weekends, and what a powerful response! We identified 49 people who received Jesus as their Savior. That is awesome! I am so humbled and grateful that God would allow undeserving ME to be part of a great team of people who lead others into his kingdom.  That brings us to over 2,000 professions of faith in the last 5 years!

It was especially cool coming on the heels of 42 baptisms the previous weekend.

I thought it would be good to describe what I see when we do this.

First, I preach. That’s essential, because it’s the message of the Cross of Christ that contains the saving power.

But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, (1 Corinthians 1:23, NKJV).

Then we go to prayer. I invite the audience to bow their heads and close their eyes. I do this to create a quiet space for prayer, and for God’s Spirit to speak. I usually say so.

Next, I give a brief synopsis of the gospel, maybe 4-6 sentences. “Jesus had you personally in mind when he went to the Cross. On that Cross, he paid for every sin, and every obstacle that keeps you from God. Because of Jesus, the gift of life is absolutely free. It is yours for the taking, and yours for the believing.”  I don’t belabor it, because I’ve already preached it.

Then I offer a sample prayer, and invite people to echo that prayer to God in the quietness of their own heart.  That prayer always follows the same pattern: ABC

A stands for ADMIT: God, I admit I need you. I have not lived up to your standards, I haven’t even lived up to my own standards. I fall short, and I can’t get to you by my own power. God, I admit I need you today.

B stands for BELIEVE: God I believe Jesus is my one and only way to you. I believe he is your Son. I believe he died on the Cross, and rose again, for me. I believe he paid for my sins when he died on the Cross. I don’t understand how it works, God, but I’m telling you as best I can that I believe Jesus is my way to you.

[A and B are primarily functions of the mind. This is the objective, analytical part of faith. The next part is an act of the WILL, and this is utterly essential for salvation, however you word it, because faith is an act of the WILL, in response to the gospel truth in the MIND.]


C stands CHOOSE.
So God, right now, I choose to receive Jesus. I embrace him as my only hope for time and eternity. I also choose to turn away from all other confidences. Not my religion, not my good works, not my anything. Just Jesus. I choose Jesus alone. And I’m asking you as best as I can, for Christ’s sake, right now, please save me, God.

After that prayer, I give an assurance that God has never rejected anybody who has come to him through faith in Christ.

Then I mention that there’s a celebration in heaven for every lost sheep who comes back to the Shepherd. And I suggest that we’d like to celebrate too. I promise not to embarrass anyone or single them, out. But I ask them to tell me right then and there in a simple way.

I ask them to lift their head, and look at me.  My friend, Tim Ramsden, taught me how to do this. I was always nervous, and Tim was the Yoda of this kind of invitation. It works for me; I’m comfortable with it.

That’s when the cool stuff, the glory, the power… happens.

I wish you could see what I see.

  • Some people are smiling the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. They light up the room, and they’re eager for me to see them.
  • Others are weeping.  It’s that powerful and real. Salvation is the power of God. People being saved is the sign and wonder that really counts.
  • Sometimes they’re shy… and this is mostly men. They freeze their head so their neighbor doesn’t sense their movement, and they lift their eyes only, and wait for me to notice them. This is awesomely cool, and I understand.
  • A lot of kids get saved, and they’re always excited.
  • I’d say about 75% are males.  This is also highly cool, and against the averages, I think.
  • In come cases, it’s a whole family or a couple or a whole row of seats.  That is so entirely amazing I can’t describe it. Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, AND YOUR HOUSE.” It’s so dang biblical, it’s great to see it happen before my eyes.
  • Pierced, tatooed, shaggy, mostly young, but senior citizens too.  Very cool.
  • This past weekend, in the Classic service, a gentleman fought to open his eyes. I watched him… the internal struggle was that great. Finally, he looked at me, and smiled. I acknolwedged him.  And he got up of his own accord, came to the front, knelt down, and crossed himself. I made sure some of our best prayer team counselors talked w/him.  His name was Emil, and he was totally psyched.

In each case, I say something simple like “Welcome to God’s family” or “He loves you” and move on to the next person.  I try to keep count, because people count.

Then I pray for them and the whole church. We celebrate God’s power in Christ.

Last, we stand, and by applause welcome the new members of God’s family.  We give them a bible, and a card w/the ABC prayer explained and amplified.

I can’t claim that every person who responds is sincere. I can’t see hearts. But I can tell you that what I see is real, and it is powerful, and it just like the book of Acts. This is the power of God, and this is the power we should seek.

Praise God for 49 everlasting souls who stepped across the threshold of faith last weekend. Thank God for Jesus, who keeps on saving. And a huge thank you to the massive team of people who works so hard to make this happen.

Here’s the link to pictures of last weekend’s baptism of 42 people.

It Ain’t Compassion if It’s Someone Else’s Dime

Give me your money, so I can show compassion with it.

Absurd, right? Especially at the point of a gun.

By definition, governments and their agencies, cannot show compassion. That’s because they fund their activities — benevolent or not — through the threat of force. If you don’t pay your taxes, terrible things happen to you, such as having to wait on hold, stand in line, talk to IRS agents, and go to jail.

If I take YOUR money by force, and give it to the next guy, who’s showing compassion?  Answer: NO ONE. Sorry, Robin Hood.

Compassion cannot be coerced.

Compassion cannot be legislated.

Compassion cannot be charged to someone else’s credit card.

Please notice I have NOT said that our government should get out of the business of doing good for people. Of course not. Our federal government exists, in part, “to promote the general welfare…” So, please don’t leave a comment about how I want to throw impoverished children onto the streets. I am simply arguing that NOBODY gets “compassion points” for anything governments  do.

Nor am I suggesting that all individuals employed by our federal government are heartless bureaucrats. Some are. Most aren’t. When I processed the 501(c)3 application (tax-exempt recognition) for my Chicago church at the U.S. Post Office in downtown Chicago, I met with a most wonderful, kind-hearted, compassionate, federal government minion. Yes, they’re out there.

But, as personable and compassionate as she was individually, she still followed the letter of the government’s laws.

The “passion” part of the word refers to emotion, and governance mixes with emotion as well as Kanye West with Taylor Swift. The government does NOT feel your pain, presidential claims to the contrary notwithstanding. In “Men in Black” Tommy Lee Jones deadpans the camera and says, “We’re the federal government, ma’am. We have no sense of humor.” Right. And no compassion either.

Can the current health care debate be about compassion as long as it is about government, too?

Can we delegate compassion to a soulless bureaucracy?

You can’t shift the burden your compassion to the government. Nor can you pat yourself on the back for voting for a candidate because his/her policies are “more compassionate.” THEY’RE SPENDING SOMEONE ELSE’S MONEY ACQUIRED THROUGH TAXATION!  IT’S NOT COMPASSION! Never has been, never will be.

“Compassionate conservatism?” No such thing; not unless compassion is a marketable commodity. “Compassionate liberalism?” No such thing; not unless feelings of mercy can be coerced by government regulation. A “compassionate” government is inevitably dysfunctional; governments run by laws, not feelings, and no amount of legislation can codify compassion. Good governance is dispassionate.

Can institutions weave compassion into their core values?  Yes. They can and should. But that compassion ceases the instant the institution’s funding becomes coercive. Samaritan’s Purse, Bongolo Hospital, most churches, and other eleemosynary organizations… compassionate institutions all. Yes, compassion can be institutionalized, but NOT by government or any other coercive agency.

But mostly, it’s personal.

Compassion is one man taking off his shoes and handing them to a neighbor who has none. Compassion is a woman pounding nails for Habitat for Humanity. Compassion is kids pulling money out of their piggy-banks for medical missions or literacy or to give a Happy Meal to a family on the streets. It is putting your arm around a hurting friend and stumbling through a prayer. It is cooking meals for new moms, and stopping to put on a spare for a senior citizen. It is the tenderness of heart that results in joyful self-sacrifice to meet another’s needs. It is person to person and neighbor to neighbor.

It doesn’t kick the cost down the road to our neighbors or their children.

It isn’t funded by someone else’s dime.

Jesus volunteered for the Cross. He didn’t shift the burden. He didn’t agitate the Roman government to create a compassionate society. He accepted the full weight of God’s love for our needy race. He cared. He came. He gave. He paid.

That’s compassion.

The Truest Motivator

crossceltic.jpg“For the love of Christ compels us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

I sat on a church board as an inexperienced 20-something. It was a big board, with over twenty men. All were older, most were grandfathers.

In one meeting we were discussing the need for more volunteers. One gentleman, a pillar in the church, asserted, “Our people should be serving Christ because it’s their duty!”

This is true. But how far will “duty” get you? Would I rather have my kids clean their rooms out of duty (which is fine if that’s all I’ve got) or out of a higher motive? Can duty really mobilize a church?

Yes. Temporarily. But the motivation fizzles as soon as you face hardship, or as soon as another, competing duty, interferes. That requires leadership to flog the church with more duty…

Doing your duty is a lousy motivation for the people of God.

When that elderly gentlemen spoke up at the board meeting, I was too timid to respond. I know, hard to believe, right? But I was younger… and they were, uh, venerable.

I don’t think I qualify for the venerable label, but I wish I had said, “Yes, but more importantly, we serve God out of love.”

The love of Christ compels us. His love for us. His love in us. His love through us. Do I buy flowers for my wife out of duty or love? Which would SHE prefer?

There is nothing more urgent than that God’s people rest deeply assured in the love of God. But there’s a HUGE problem, and it’s so subtle we don’t recognize it.

Most people today would say, “God loves me.” Even the rookie-est of Christ followers will say, “Jesus loves me.” A child can add, “This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The love of God has been proclaimed so widely, that it’s pretty much the only thing people believe about God these days. And therein lies the fatal flaw.

Divine love, divorced from divine justice, is shaky, wimpy, and meaningless. In fact, it isn’t even love. It’s leniency, and leniency is a weakness that never motivated anybody to behave well longer than a week.

By failing to instruct the church in the dimensions of God’s love… by failing to teach the doctrines of propitiation, justification, expiation, and divine wrath, we have invented a love more worthy of Strawberry Shortcake than of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

If God is merely love, his love is not amazing. He’s just one more of many loving persons in my life. The biggest one perhaps, but his love isn’t special enough to motivate a lifetime of reciprocal service and sacrificial love. When God points to the lever that pries our heart from selfishness to service, that lever is the mercies of God (Rom. 12:1).

Not duty.

God’s love for me had to justify itself in the face of God’s wrath against me. The process by which that happened  required the shed blood of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. We pastors must firmly establish the indispensable link between Christ’s Cross and God’s love. Without that link, love is wimpy. But with that link, God’s love is fierce, mighty, permanent and amazing.

You cannot plumb the depths of God’s love without doctrine, without theology. You cannot explore its dimensions, or appreciate its manifold angles. You cannot be secure in His love without fathoming the mind-boggling lengths God went to to satisfy his holiness. And you won’t serve God faithfully, for a lifetime, without knowing the love of God which passes knowledge.

When the Enemy calls God’s love into question (his favorite tactic), then a thousand arguments from Scripture must rise up from within to shout him down.  We desperately need the meat of the Word.

If God’s love doesn’t compel you, you don’t know God’s love.

The Bible’s Top Ten Worst Verses

masthead_452_100Ship of Fools just released the results of its survey: What is the Bible’s worst verse? They asked readers to contribute verses and then conducted online polling to determine the worst.  Here’s how they phrased it:

We want you to tell us: which sacred text makes you reach for the red pen? Which hallowed verse makes you laugh for all the wrong reasons? Which blessed passage leaves you groaning with embarrassment? Which piece of holy writ troubles you at night, but at least keeps you awake in sermons?

The survey’s results were just reported in the excellent newletter from the Evangelical Alliance, a British organization.  Here are the Top Ten worst Bible verses, according to this online poll.  As I’ll discuss below, THEY MISSED THE WORST BIBLE VERSE OF ALL!!!!!!!! (sorry for shouting and exclaiming).

SHIP OF FOOLS’ WORST VERSES IN THE BIBLE

  1. The ban on women teaching in church (1 Timothy 2:12)
  2. Samuel’s instruction to ‘totally destroy’ the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3)
  3. Moses’ command ‘Do not allow a sorceress to live.’ (Exodus 22:18)
  4. The ending of Psalm 137 ‘Happy are those who seize your infants and dash them against the rocks’
  5. The gang rape and murder of a concubine (Judges 19:25-28)
  6. The condemnation of homosexuality (Romans 1:27)
  7. Jephthah’s vow which led to his daughter being sacrificed (Judges 11)
  8. God’s instruction to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:2)
  9. The instruction that wives submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22)
  10. The instruction that slaves submit to their masters (1 Peter 2:18)

As I said, they missed the TRULY WORST verse in the Bible, which I’ll get to soon. The incentive for this poll seems to be a desire to make the Bible palatable to our larger culture. This, surely, is a good thing… or is it? As the website says,

[The Bible] doesn’t have to be a textbook of infallible information and unbreakable laws to be God’s book. And it doesn’t have to be one big pile of lies and atrocity just because it has its dodgy bits.

Interesting. It doesn’t have to be “infallible” and its laws don’t have to be “unbreakable” to make it God’s book. Uhhhh… meaning the Bible is God’s book of potential errors and optional suggestions?

If the Bible has errors in it, would somebody kindly tell me where they are, because I’m banking my life on this book. Ditto for the “breakable laws.” Which ones? I’d like to know so I can teach my children which of God’s laws are mutable. Same for the “dodgy bits” which, if my dictionary defines British English correctly, means “dishonest or unreliable.”

So, the motive for the poll seems to be as follows: Let’s be good chaps, and ‘fess up to the dishonest and unreliable parts of the Bible, so that our unbelieving friends will know that we’re good chaps and feel better both about us and about the Bible, and perhaps give it another look, now that we’ve abandoned the brittle assumption that God’s Word is infallible and his laws are unbreakable.

God help us!

Yes, let’s VOTE on which parts of the Bible must be uprooted in order to make it palatable for society. Let’s create a Bible for the masses — a Bible edited under the principle of MAJORITY RULES.

Right. All it would say is, “God is love” and even that would be questioned.

I’m not suggesting that these verses and others pose no problems. I’m not suggesting they make me feel good, or seem right by my standards. I’m not suggesting that the poll is inappropriate — it’s important for us to know where the offenses lie so that we might be better equipped to evangelize. In context, most of these verses do not represent God advocating anything, or if they do, he’s just going  with some then-cultural norms.  (Check out the excellent analysis at the Evangelical Alliance).

Regardless of what these difficult verses are saying, the poll has a built-in dishonesty, because it omitted the WORST BIBLE VERSE OF ALL TIME… (you have to click “read the rest…” to get the big reveal).  Here it is… Continue reading

Good Friday

jesuscrossThere has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95.

This gospel ranks highest on our list of biblical truths; it is “of first importance.” There is no truth in Scripture more important for Christians to comprehend, cherish, rest upon, and communicate to a needy world.

The core of the gospel lies in five monosyllables:  Christ died for our sins.

Let’s chew on this one grammatically…

crossvandyke.jpgThe Subject:  Christ. The subject of a sentence performs the action of a sentence. Any right understanding of the gospel recognizes Jesus as the central actor in a cosmic drama that spans the ages. Christ goes to war against Sin, Satan, and Death. He does this singlehandedly, without aid from me or you. He is the focal point of the gospel’s attention, and to divert attention to anyone else’s performance shatters the gospel.

The full name and title of Christ would be Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but each word emphasizes something different about him.

  • When Scripture writers wish to emphasize his human nature, they call him Jesus.
  • When they wish to emphasize his divine nature, they call him Lord.
  • When they wish to emphasize his unique personhood as the God-man who came forth on a mission from God, they call him Christ, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term, Messiah.

Any accurate communication of the gospel will make Christ central. He is the sun, and all other truths orbit him. I get jittery whenever I hear a “gospel presentation” that makes US central, our works, our response, our efforts, our self-reformation, our act of giving something to God. No way!  Christ is the great subject of salvation, and any gospel that doesn’t preach Christ is no gospel at all.

The Verb: died. The Greek verb is in a tense we don’t have in English: the aorist tense (say AIR-ist).  It’s a simple past tense, with a slight twist. Grammarians might call this a punctiliar aorist, meaning he died one, and he died once for all. HIS WORK IS FINISHED, and it was finished one dark day, two thousand years ago.

The terms of the Crucifixion are brutal, and worth remembering on Good Friday. Here is a medical look at Christ’s scourging:

“The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across the  shoulders, back and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as  the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an  oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial  bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce  large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin is hanging  in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissues.  When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the  beating is finally stopped.” [Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus” Arizona Medicine, March, 1965, p. 185]

On this Good Friday, it’s good to remember the death Jesus died. Please don’t turn away from this, today of all days. Here is a doctor’s description of the medical effects the crucifixion:

Most commonly, the feet were fixed to the front of the stipes by means of an iron spike driven through the first or second inter metatarsal space, just distal to the tarsometatarsal joint. It is likely that the deep peroneal nerve and branches of the medial and lateral plantar nerves would have been injured by the nails. Although scourging may have resulted in considerable blood loss, crucifixion per se was a relatively bloodless procedure, since no major arteries, other than perhaps the deep plantar arch, pass through the favored anatomic sites of transfixion.

The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The weight of the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hinder passive exhalation. Accordingly, exhalation was primarily diaphragmatic, and breathing was shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and that hypercarbia would soon result. The onset of muscle cramps or tetanic contractions, due to fatigue and hypercarbia, would hinder respiration even further.

Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden stipes.  Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort.  As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.

The actual cause of death by crucifixion was multifactorial and varied somewhat with each ease, but the two most prominent causes probably were hypovolemie shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Other possible contributing factors included dehydration, stress-induced arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions. Crucifracture (breaking the legs below the knees), if performed, led to an asphyxic death within minutes.

Death by crucifixion was, in every sense of the word, excruciating (Latin, excruciatus, or “out of the cross”).

cross2It’s easy to emotionally sanitize the Cross. It’s so easy to read, “Christ died…” and forget the awfulness of it. What Scriptures describe in two little words, all the words ever spoken or written could never do justice to. It was a real death, in a real body, of a real person, in real history. This is the heart of the gospel. Christ died…

Why?

The Prepositional Phrase: for our sins. The first two words of the gospel are history. These next three represent theology.  We state this so casually that we can easily overlook its meaning.

The Greek construction here consists of the preposition huper (“for”, say HU-pair) plus the plural noun (sins) spelled  a certain way. This spelling makes it a grammatical form called the genitive case. Huper plus the genitive indicates SUBSTITUTION. We could translate this: Christ died AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR our sins.

This is the biblical emphasis of the message of the Cross. Christ did not die simply as our moral example. He did not die simply to prove his love. He did not die simply to topple Satan. He did not die simply to advance God’s kingdom and cause in the world.

He died SUPREMELY, and above all other reasons, as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. God punished him for our sins instead of punishing us. God laid our sins on him. God executed him.  Whatever condemnation, wrath, punishment, hell, and agony our sins deserved, Christ endured in full measure.

What great love! Who can comprehend such a sacrifice? Who could fathom the agony of the Cross and the love that motivated it?

This is the gospel; it is the only gospel worth the name. It is the only gospel the Bible knows. It is the only gospel that makes the Christian’s heart skip a beat.  It is the only gospel that saves a soul.

Do you believe?

Bible scholars call this the vicarious atonement, or the substitutionary atonement for sin.  Christ died for our sins, as our subsitute, in our place.

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.


Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou, My God, shouldst die for me.
(Charles Wesley)

Thank God for Good Friday. Thank God for the Cross.  Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for a gospel so rich we can never fathom it, but so simple we can say it in five monosyllables: Christ died for our sins.

crossgrunewaldFor comments today, please only brief expressions of gratitude to God, or favorite brief Scripture verses.