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]

 

Fear Keeps the Faithful Faithful? pt. 2

Today’s post is part 2 of a BONUS CHAPTER from Grace Intervention on Fear. There is a growing supply of free resources for you to do a Grace Intervention with your church, small group, or retreat: Click here.

If you missed it, here’s part one of today’s blog.


 

Breaking Bondage

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

You’re always running on one of two operating systems, legalism or grace. The spirit of bondage or the Spirit of adoption. You need to switch operating systems. Make the change from legalism to grace. And as often as you fall into to legalism – either neo- or traditional – you need to switch back again. The burden of this book’s intervention is to motivate, hasten, enable, persuade, instruct, and celebrate that far-reaching switch.

To use a biblical term, you need to repent.

Biblical repentance is never a legalistic addition to the gospel. It is not the super-imposition of behavioral demands on the Walking Dead who are incapable of doing good. It does not consist of self-effort, self-will, or self-improvement.

Repentance is a radical change of mind – swapping out one worldview for another. Changing operating systems. Repentance is the work of God, by the Spirit of God, applying the Word of God to the child of God.

By it, you undergo a radical transformation of your whole way of looking at God, yourself, and your relationship with him. By it, you change your mind – your perspective on reality. It’s time to swap out your old, tired, self-serving worldview for God’s holy, life-giving worldview.

  • Do you harbor the delusion you are good enough for God? That if you are a sinner, you are only a sinner-lite? Repent.
  • Do you grade yourself on the curve? Do you justify yourself by comparing yourself to someone else – say a serial killer, or a “Bridezilla,” or a serial-killing Bridezilla – and conclude you’re just not that bad? Repent.
  • Have you swallowed “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1), or have you suppressed the truth (Romans 1:18), elevating your own definitions of reality above the revealed declarations of God in the Scriptures? Repent.
  • Do you diminish the value and efficacy of the death of Christ on the Cross as sufficient payment for your sin? Have you pursued the demented fallacy of self-atonement? Or denied you need atonement at all? Repent.
  • Are you chasing the happiness-butterfly through activities the Bible calls sin? Or worldliness? Or foolishness? Or evil? Repent.
  • Do you honestly think you can reach God by climbing a latter of perfection? Do you have a solution for your sins apart from the finished work of Christ? Repent.

You can’t just add the grace app to legalism’s operating system and call it good. The whole thing is going to crash.

You need a whole new system, a grace-centric outlook on everything that matters.

Enter the most beautiful, coherent, logical, generous, all-encompassing Theory of Everything ever revealed in this cosmos or any other, humbly titled the Grace of God. There is nothing like it in the annals of world religion. Take history’s smartest philosophers, the world’s greatest religious leaders, and society’s most noble women and men, throw them in a room together for a thousand years with the directive to concoct a religion, and the smartest people in the room would never come up with a system of grace. They’d come up with yet another variation on the same old theme: humans by human effort seeking to merit the approval of God.

Legalism owns the human instinct. That’s because the Fall hardwired a lie into the soul. So Grace Deficit Disorder spreads like black mold beneath life’s happy exterior.

You need to swap out the old system for the new one. The old covenant for the new covenant. Legalism for grace.

That swap is surgical. It’s transformative. It’s repentance.

Always More To Do

Legalism is “a spirit of bondage” which produces “fear.” Under legalism, you can never be confident. You can never breathe easy. There’s always another law to obey, sin to conquer, good work to perform. Under the Old Testament system of sacrifices, there was no end to the blood flowing from the altar, as sacrifice followed upon sacrifice with no end in sight. You could never just sit down and rest in the abiding love of God. Fear of God. Fear of man. Fear of final judgment. Fear of exposure. Fear of people’s opinions. Fear of the disapproving frown. Fear of outsider status. Fear of death, hell, the devil, and the corruptions ever ready to erupt from your own lunatic heart.

The legalistic operating system is built on this fear. It’s what keeps the faithful faithful.

Thank God for the Cross.

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:11,12)

He sat down because his work was complete. The age of bondage was over. Fear no longer owned mankind’s instinct. A new age had been inaugurated.

The Spirit of adoption. You are no longer a slave, but a son or a daughter in the royal household of God.

Under grace, the cry of your heart is no longer, “I’m scared,” but “Abba, Father.” Dad, I’m home.

Love now keeps the faithful faithful. Gratitude. Grace. The great mystery of Christ in you.

Repentance is that eye-opening moment of realization in which you finally get what a dummy you’ve been, trying to work your way to heaven instead of receiving a gift purchased by the blood of Christ.

It is the epiphany that your happiness lies in the hand of a Father who every day reaches toward you with a compassion that knows no bounds.

It is the discovery life’s anxieties are wasted in the presence of a throne of grace.

It is the stark realization of the stench rising up from your sins, and an urgent turning and returning unto the sufficiency of Christ’s blood to wash you white as snow.

Repentance switches operating systems from legalism to grace.

It’s epic.

Monumental.

By it, you switch from works to faith.

From earning it to receiving it.

From sweating over it to resting in it.

From earning a paycheck to accepting a gift.

From your efforts to Christ’s efforts.

From your dedication to Christ’s dedication.

From your sacrifice to Christ’s sacrifice.

From shadow to substance.

From image to reality.

From religion to relationship.

From despair to hope.

From fear to faith.

From hell to heaven.

And from self to God.

You can’t change your ways until you change your mind, and repentance is that change of mind.

Under grace, God has pre-positioned all your blessings for just-in-time delivery. There’s nothing you face that God hasn’t already seen, and having seen, provided for. If God is for you, who can be against you?

When God delivered me from my fear of judgment, he delivered me into a tremendous sense of peace. Whatever turmoil swirls around my life, whatever storms batter my ship of faith, I know my anchor holds, and one day, I’ll sail into the haven of rest and step into that glorious realm where fears are no more.

Bill Giovannetti, step forward.

I’m here, Father.

Welcome home, Son.

 

Fear Keeps the Faithful Faithful? pt. 1

Today’s post is a BONUS CHAPTER from Grace Intervention on Fear. There is a growing supply of free resources for you to do a Grace Intervention with your church, small group, or retreat. Click here.


Chapter 7

Fear

Even the Christian must fear God. But it is another kind of fear. It is a fear rather of what might have been than of what is; it is a fear of what would come were we not in Christ. Without such fear there can be no true love; for love of the Saviour is proportioned to one’s horror of that from which man has been saved. And how strong are the lives that are suffused with such a love! They are lives brave, not because the realities of life have been ignored, but because they have first been faced – lives that are founded upon the solid foundation of God’s grace. May such lives be ours! ~J. Gresham Machen

Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there. ~Author Unknown

Bill Giovannetti, step forward.

I stood there naked, in plain sight, head hanging down, mortified at the exposure. I faced humiliation as public as any I could imagine.

I am speaking of my fear of Judgment Day.

This fear defined me for decades. It lurked in the shadows of everything I did.

The legalist mantra says, “Fear helps keep the faithful faithful.”

Worked for me. I feared final judgment. I feared loss of salvation. I feared God’s disapproving frown. I feared the loss of status with my spiritual peers. I feared a remarkably unenthusiastic welcome into the heavenly realms. I feared failure. I feared I hadn’t done it right in the first place, and wasn’t really saved.

There was a Bible verse I heard a thousand times as a kid growing up: “What a man does in secret, he will one day shout from the rooftops.” No doubt, this was the Death Star spawning my last-days’ phobia.

It wasn’t till I was much older that I made a startling discovery: there’s no such verse in the Bible. Yes, some come close, but those words simply aren’t biblical, not, at least, when it comes to the believer’s final judgment.

Here’s the closest to it I can find:

Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. (Matthew 10:26,27)

Even if we apply this verse to the last judgment, it’s still debatable whether it applies to believers in Jesus or not. Otherwise, why would Jesus begin this saying with an exhortation not to fear? At any rate, this is certainly a far cry from the frightening prospect that a naked little me would be shouting my secret sins from any rooftops throughout this life or the next. That discovery blew my mind. Like an addict’s intervention, it changed the course of my life.

Here’s how God’s grace intervention took the stinger out of my life’s greatest fears.

The Guilt Trip

God used a book. The setting was my cavernous high school gym. I was a senior at Chicago’s massive Lane Technical High School, student body over 5,000 at the time. My gym coach was absent for the day, so we sat on hard wooden bleachers and used the hour as a study hall.

I’d brought a book with me about Satan.[i] Little did I know that the last quarter of that book shined a spotlight on guilt and the Cross of Christ. Growing up fundamentalist, as I did, I’d heard about the Cross a million times. But this time was different. It was the first time the death of Christ really clicked with me.

I suspect the reason is because the author framed the Cross within the topic of guilt – which happened to be my middle name. He explained how the devil’s favorite tool was guilt. And how the devil screwed guilt into our backs to slam us around every once in a while.

Who told this guy about me?

My little high school heart was pounding. Pick-up basketball games echoed in the background. The smell of old gym shoes, rubber basketballs, and sweat permeated my senses. My world narrowed to a single point – words on a page illuminated by God’s own Spirit. There, the message of the Cross pierced my guilt and shame. I learned how my sins were lifted out of me that they might be transferred to Christ. I discovered how this transfer was comprehensive – encompassing every moral failure, past, present, and future. I read in wonder how the hammer of heaven heaped justice on the head of Christ, punishing him for my sins instead of punishing me.

And then I read about those wonderful words, IT IS FINISHED, the best words ever uttered on planet earth.

What was finished?

Everything that ever had to happen to bring my sorry soul to heaven without the slightest whisper of my secret sin or shame.

Suddenly, the cosmic plasma screen shattered in a million pieces.

Behind it, I saw the smiling face of God, my Father, who approved of me, and delighted in me more than words could tell.

Grace was real.

It was stronger, far more beautiful, and infinitely more effective than I’d ever thought it was before.

That day, God converted a gym into a sanctuary, as he settled a stupendous promise into my dysfunctional soul: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; / And I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).

What an epiphany!

I didn’t need to fear the face of God for even one more nanosecond. He was eternally satisfied with me, just as I was.

I wanted to shout Hallelujah, but it felt weird in that setting.

Legalism’s germs proliferate in the dank cellars of fear. They thrive in the moisture of an implacable deity – a God who simply can’t be satisfied with a worm like me.

And yet, that day, God’s sun shined down into the cellars of my heart, and my fear and shame withered away.

I do not count that day as the day of my salvation; I was saved before that, and I’m convinced it “took” and it “stuck” with me forever. God is that faithful.

I do, however, count that day as the day of my assurance. A major healing of much of my Grace Deficit Disorder. I have never seriously doubted my salvation since then, and I have never again stooped beneath the burdensome anticipation of a humiliating entrance to God’s everlasting kingdom.

My guilt was gone, and with it the fear of judgment that fueled so much dysfunction in my life.


 

[i] Hal Lindsey. Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972).

Thank you for reading. Please share using the buttons below. Thanks.
Part 2 tomorrow.

 

Bible’s Top Ten Grace Interventions, pt 1

Grace is traumatic. Grace is a crisis. It’s a massive reversal of everything you thought about God. I use the word intervention on purpose. An intervention is an “in your face confrontation.” An intervention is a direct challenge to your status quo. In psychology, an intervention is a last ditch effort to persuade a person to deal with a blind spot that’s wrecking their lives.

Do you realize that nobody in the Bible ever understood grace without an intervention? Without a smack upside the head, or a kick in the seat of the pants? Do you realize that, in the Bible, no Pharisee ever thought being a Pharisee was a problem?

By nature, people are blind to grace. We’re natural-born legalists. There’s a grace- blackout in the soul. So God has to come in an knock some grace into us. A Grace Intervention.

Here are my Top Ten Grace Interventions in the Bible.

10. Moses

Grace Deficit Disorder: I am not eloquent enough to persuade Pharaoh to let God’s people go.

Grace Intervention: ““Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”” Exodus 4:12, NKJV.

9. Jonah

Grace Deficit Disorder: I am so ticked off that God saved those nasty people of Nineveh that I wish I could die.

Grace Intervention: You’re more worried about a dying plant than about 120,000 spiritually dying people who don’t know their spiritual right hand from their spiritual left. “But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”” Jonah 4:10, 11, NIV.

8. Mephibosheth

Grace Deficit Disorder: “Then he bowed himself, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?”” 2 Samuel 9:8, NKJV.

Grace Intervention: “As for Mephibosheth,” said the king, “he shall eat at my table like one of the king’s sons.”” 2 Samuel 9:11, NKJV.

7. David

Grace Deficit Disorder: “Hey God, my house is better than your house, so I will build a house for you! Yes!” [The prophet Nathan: “You Go David!”]

Grace Intervention: “Hey David, did I ever ask you to build a house for me? Here’s the basic idea of your whole crazy life: I WILL BUILD A HOUSE FOR YOU.” [The prophet Nathan: “I guess I got the whole thing backwards.”]

“Then King David went in and sat before the LORD; and he said: “Who am I, O LORD God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far?” 1 Chronicles 17:16, NKJV.

6. Naomi

Grace Deficit Disorder: “Woe is me. God is against me. Call me Misery.” “But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Ruth 1:20, NKJV.

Grace Intervention: “And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Ruth 4:15, NKJV.

I’ll save the top five Grace Interventions for tomorrow’s post, part 2.


This post goes along with the Grace Intervention Series at Neighborhood Church. You can watch that message here:

 

Grace Intervention Study Guide

Here’s a study guide for my latest book, GRACE INTERVENTION. This study guide provides questions for group interaction or personal reflection. It’s printable and it’s free. A great resource for your church, small group, youth group, or retreat.

How about a Grace Intervention for yourself, your church, and your friends?

Click the picture to start the free download.

Grace Intervention Discussion