May, 2011

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The Unparalleled Cross

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

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“And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:8

People sometimes read the account of Jesus’ crucifixion as if it is an ancient event that does not pertain to them. Yet the Scriptures make it plain that everyone – Jews and Gentiles – must reckon with the crucified Christ and what His death on the cross means for them personally. One may not remain neutral in Calvary’s shadow. The Lord Jesus’ death on the cross sets Christianity apart from all other belief systems, and reveals the truth about everyone: ancient or modern; rich or poor; educated or illiterate – as well as every other human demographic.

A Unique Event In The Annals Of Human History

No humanly devised philosophy or religion could invent the Lord Jesus’ unparalleled sacrifice on the cross. Numerous belief systems have martyrs like Socrates or Joseph Smith; others have noted prophets and teachers like Gautama Buddha or Muhammed. Yet only biblical Christianity has the propitiatory offering of Christ, taking place on a despised gibbet of shame. As the classic commentator J.C. Ryle notes:

The cross is the grand peculiarity of the Christian religion. Other religions have laws and moral precepts, forms and ceremonies, rewards and punishments. But other religions cannot tell us of a dying Saviour. They cannot show us the cross. This is the crown and glory of the Gospel. This is that special comfort which belongs to it alone. Miserable indeed is that religious teaching which calls itself Christian, and yet contains nothing of the cross. A man who teaches in this way, might as well profess to explain the solar system, and yet tell his hearers nothing about the sun.[i]

A modern writer agrees in these words:

 

The cross is the focal point of all of Christianity. Everything hangs on the cross—everything. In the cross the Christian church has something no other religion or philosophy has…None but Christianity has a salvation plan so strong, so poignant, or so absurd to human thinking. None but Christianity has a point in time where God, evil, and mankind collided so violently that it abolished the sin that separated man from God and changed man forever. Men and religions have long despised and stumbled over the cross. The Jews of Jesus’ day could not fathom their Messiah coming and dying. After all, messiahs don’t die. The Romans saw a dying god as weak and unworthy of their allegiance—gods aren’t slain by mortals. Islam flatly rejects the cross, saying it is inappropriate that God’s prophet would succumb to such an end.[ii]

The cross uniquely demonstrates God’s perfect righteousness. It shows that He hates sin, and yet justly extends mercy and forgiveness to repentant sinners while justifying them – declaring them righteous in His sight (Rom. 3:25-26.)

Who Knows What Lurks In The Hearts Of Men?

The cross exposes the human heart by stripping away the façade of human wisdom, culture, religion, and politics. The best and the brightest from Rome and Judea united to put the Son of God to death. An early Christian prayer describes it thus: “       For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28; boldface mine.) As Paul further explains it: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8; boldface mine.) Human jurisprudence was found wanting due to human pride, envy, and the desire for personal advancement. The exalted ethical and legal system crafted by the Jews over centuries pronounced God the Son to be a blasphemer (Matt. 26:65.) Additionally, the vaunted Roman justice system executed a patently innocent man, whose perfect righteousness was clearly demonstrated by His many acts of kindness (John 18:38; Acts 10:38.)

Why did religious people like the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees reject their Messiah? The answer lies in Christ’s relationship to their carefully-cultivated religious image. As Stott points out:

Ostensibly Jerusalem rejected Christ on theological grounds, and outwardly the Pharisees condemned Jesus for blasphemy.  But beneath these intellectual and doctrinal objections was a hostile will.  Jesus had exposed their hypocrisy and unmasked their sins.  Their pride was wounded.  They felt humiliated.  They hated him for his holiness.  They were jealous of his influence on the common people.  These things were at the root of their repudiation of Christ.  But it was more respectable to find fault with his theology than to admit their moral embarrassment.  Their doubts were a cloak for their sins.  It has often been so.  I do not say it is always so, because of course many people have genuine theological problems.  But frequently a man’s deepest need is not intellectual but moral, and his supposed inability to believe is really an unwillingness to obey.[iii]

Why did a veteran Roman civil servant knowingly condemn an innocent man to death? The Bible says that what finally swayed Pilate to crucify the Lord Jesus was this jibe: “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar” (John 19:12.) So there it was: career and ambition versus truth and justice; advancement in this world or in the next; Caesar or Christ – all people must take a side on this issue. Either one lives for this world or they live for the one to come. If they love this evil age, they will be condemned with it. But if they love the age to come and lose their life here to gain it there, then the risen, eternal Christ will deliver them unto His kingdom and glory (Gal. 1:4-5; Matt. 16:24-27; Rom. 8:17-18.)

So the dividing lines are drawn. The cross shows man’s wisdom to be foolishness, his religion to be a sham, and his justice a travesty. Jew and Gentile, secular and religious – the crème de la crème of society condemned Jesus to death. Still today people line up for or against the slain Savior. Many invite a fabricated bloodless and cross-less Christianity, vainly pretending to please God by their religious ceremonies and good works. Others – most notably the Muslims – deny that Jesus died at all. Still others think He got what He deserved on the cross. In interpreting the events of the crucifixion thus, they but repeat the folly of their ancient unbelieving predecessors who brutally executed the Lord Jesus. Nevertheless, many willingly come to the cross and say: “Yes. Lord, Your cross reveals how bad I am: a Christ-rejecting, hell-deserving sinner. But Your shed blood also shows that You died for my sins according to the Scriptures and you have risen again to demonstrate Your triumph to give me eternal life as a free gift. Thank you for dying for me and rising again so that I might be raised to sit in the heavenlies with You” (Eph. 2:1-10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 John 1:7; John 3:16.) Thanks be to God, that the cross uniquely demonstrates the Lord’s perfect righteousness and love. It reveals mankind to be sinful and evil, but also reveals God to be holy, merciful, and good; the two are accurately depicted in the historic events at Calvary.

Oh, how our inmost hearts do move
While gazing on that cross!
The death of the Incarnate Love!
What shame, what grief, what joy we prove,
That He should die for us!
Our hearts were broken by that cry,
“Eli, lama sabachthani?”

Worthy of death, O God, we were;
Thy judgment was our due;
In grace Thy spotless Lamb did bear
Himself our sins and guilt and shame;
Justice our surety slew,
With Him our surety we have died,
With Him we there were crucified.[iv]


[i] J.C. Ryle, “The Cross of Christ,” in Old Paths: Being Plain Statements of Some of the Weightier Matters of Christianity. London: Charles J. Thynne, 1898,  p. 256. [Italics original.]

[ii] Timothy L. Sanford, “Cross Purposes: Calvary Reveals The Passionate Heart of God.” in Discipleship Journal, Issue 110 (March/April 1999). NavPress.

[iii] John R.W. Stott, Fundamentalism and Evangelism. London: Crusade Booklets, 1956, p. 29.

[iv] James G. Deck, “Oh, solemn hour, that hour alone” in Spiritual Songs, hymn #215, found here: http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/ss/215 Accessed on 5/18/11.

Timeless Truth From CHM

Monday, May 16th, 2011

To Download in pdf. click here: CHM – Josiah & God’s Word

“In studying the history of Josiah and his times, we learn one special and priceless lesson, namely, the value and authority of the Word of God. It would be utterly impossible for human language to set forth the vast importance of such a lesson — a lesson for every age, for every clime, for every condition — for the individual believer and for the whole Church of God. The supreme authority of Holy Scripture should be deeply impressed on every heart. It is the only safeguard against the many forms of error and evil which abound on every hand. Human writings, no doubt, have their value; they may interest the mind as a reference, but they are perfectly worthless as authority.

We need to remember this. There is a strong tendency in the human mind to lean upon human authority. Hence it has come to pass that millions throughout the professing Church have virtually been deprived altogether of the Word of God, from the fact that they have lived and died under the delusion that they could not know it to be the Word of God apart from human authority. Now this is in reality, throwing the Word of God overboard. If that Word is of no avail without man’s authority, then, we maintain, it is not God’s Word at all. It does not matter, in the smallest degree, what the authority is, the effect is the same. God’s Word is declared to be insufficient without something of man to give the certainty that it is God that is speaking.

This is a most dangerous error, and its root lies far deeper in the heart than many of us are aware. It has often been said to us, when quoting passages of Scripture, ‘How do you know that that is the Word of God?’ What is the point of such a question? Plainly to overthrow the authority of the Word. The heart that could suggest such an inquiry does not want to be governed by Holy Scripture at all. The will is concerned. Here lies the deep secret. There is the consciousness that the Word condemns something that the heart wants to hold and cherish, and hence the effort to set the Word aside altogether.

But how are we to know that the book which we call the Bible is the Word of God? We reply, It carries its own credentials with it. It bears its own evidence upon every page, in every paragraph, in every line. True, it is only by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the divine Author of the book, that the evidence can be weighed and the credentials appreciated. But we do not want man’s voice to accredit God’s book; or, if we do, we are most assuredly on infidel ground as regards divine revelation. If God cannot speak directly to the heart — if He cannot give the assurance that it is He Himself who speaks, then where are we? whither shall we turn? If God cannot make Himself heard and understood, can man do it better? — can he improve upon God? Can man’s voice give us more certainty? Can the authority of the Church, the decrees of general councils, the judgement of the fathers, the opinion of the doctors, give us more certainty than God Himself? If so, we are just as completely at sea — just as thoroughly in the dark as though God had not spoken at all. Of course, if God has not spoken, we are completely in the dark; but if He has spoken, and yet we cannot know His voice without man’s authority to accredit it, where lies the difference? Is it not plain that if God in His great mercy has given us a revelation, it must be sufficient of itself; and on the other hand that any revelation which is not sufficient of itself cannot possibly be divine? And further, is it not equally plain that if we cannot believe what God says because He says it, we have no safer ground to go upon when man presumes to affix his accrediting seal?

Let us not be misunderstood. What we insist upon is this: the all-sufficiency of a divine revelation apart from and above all human writings — ancient, medieval, or modern. We value human writings; we value sound criticism; we value profound and accurate scholarship; we value the light of true science and philosophy; we value the testimony of pious travellers who have sought to throw light upon the sacred text; we value all those books that open up to us the intensely interesting subject of biblical antiquities; in short, we value everything that tends to aid us in the study of the Holy Scriptures: but after all, we return with deeper emphasis to our assertion as to the all-sufficiency and supremacy of the Word of God. That Word must be received on its own divine authority, without any human recommendation, or else it is not the Word of God to us. We believe that God can give us the certainty in our own souls that the Holy Scriptures are, in very deed, His own Word. If He does not give it, no man can; and if He does, no man need. Thus the inspired apostle says to his son Timothy, ‘Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of knowing of whom thou hast learned; and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 3: 14-15).

How did Timothy know that the Holy Scriptures were the Word of God? He knew it by divine teaching. He knew of whom he had learned. Here lay the secret. There was a living link between his soul and God, and he recognized in Scripture the very voice of God. Thus it must ever be. It will not do merely to be convinced in the intellect, by human arguments, human evidences, and human apologies, that the Bible is the Word of God; we must know its power in the heart and on the conscience by divine teaching; and when this is the case, we shall no more need human proofs of the divinity of the book than we need a rushlight at noonday to prove that the sun is shining. We shall then believe what God says because He says it, and not because man accredits it, nor because we feel it. ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.’ He did not want to go to the Chaldeans, or to the Egyptians, in order to find out from them if what he had heard was in reality the Word of God. No; he knew whom he had believed, and this gave him holy stability. He could say, beyond all question, ‘God has established a link between my soul and Himself, by means of His Word, which no power of earth or hell can ever snap.’ This is the true ground for every believer — man, woman, or child, in all ages and under all circumstances. This was the ground for Abraham and Josiah, for Luke and Theophilus, for Paul and Timothy; and it must be the ground for the writer and the reader of these words, else we shall never be able to stand against the rising tide of infidelity, which is sweeping away the very foundations on which thousands of professors are reposing.

However, we may well inquire, can a merely national profession, a hereditary faith, an educational creed, sustain the soul in the presence of an audacious scepticism that reasons about everything and believes nothing? Impossible! We must be able to stand before the sceptic, the rationalist, and the infidel, and say, in all the calmness and dignity of a divinely wrought faith, ‘I know whom I have believed.’ Then we shall be little moved by such books as, ‘The Phases of Faith,’ ‘Essays and Reviews,’ ‘Broken Lights,’ ‘Ecce Homo,’ or ‘Colenso.’ They will be no more to us than gnats in the sunshine. They cannot hide from our souls the heavenly beams of our Father’s revelation. God has spoken, and His voice reaches the heart. It makes itself heard above the din and confusion of this world, and all the strife and controversy of professing Christians. It gives rest and peace, strength and fixedness, to the believing heart and mind. The opinions of men may perplex and confound. We may not be able to thread our way through the labyrinths of human systems of theology; but God’s voice speaks in Holy Scripture — speaks to the heart — speaks to me. This is life and peace. It is all I want. Human writings may now go for what they are worth, seeing I have all I want in the ever-flowing fountain of inspiration — the peerless, precious volume of my God.”

Excerpted from C.H. Mackintosh, The Life & Times of Josiah, found here:  http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/mackintosh/Bk4/JOSIAH.html   Accessed on 5/15/11.

 

Providence, Human Caprice, & The Gospel’s Progress

Friday, May 6th, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: Providence,Human Caprice, & The Progress Of The Gospel

Providence, Human Caprice, & The Gospel’s Progress

But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound. Acts 24:27

The seemingly haphazard and unfair events of the world often puzzle and frustrate human beings. Consider Paul’s plight: he was in prison on spurious charges of trying to incite a riot in the Jerusalem Temple and desecrating his ancestral traditions. Like his Lord, he was erroneously accused of being a threat to the state (cf. Luke 23:2, 5; Acts 21:28.) As the counsel for the plaintiff later put it: “…we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law” (Acts 24:5-6.) Sadly, Paul’s experience was neither unprecedented nor rare among believers. From the first century onwards Christians have often been tagged with baseless accusations of political intrigue, ludicrous immorality (e.g. Cannibalism), and unfettered antinomianism (Rom. 6:1-2.)

Politics As Usual

While suffering this great injustice, Paul could have been freed at several points (most notably, Acts 26:32.) In the text that commences this article the unfairness of the apostle’s position is clearly displayed. His unjust detention was seemingly prolonged because the Roman official Felix wanted to gain political advantage and goodwill from the Jews as he departed for his next post. As I. Howard Marshall explains:

Such an action would have added to the feeling against him and could have led to charges being made against him at Rome. This may well have been the underlying principal reason for his failure to take any action earlier regarding Paul. By a slight injustice to an unpopular individual he hoped to curry favour with the Jews (he certainly needed to in view of his other conduct!); when he left the province, he did in fact avoid being impeached by the Jews (except for one group from Caesarea whose charge was quashed.)[i]

No Innocence Project Available

Imagine Paul’s opinion of this situation: “Here I am, rotting in jail! To what purpose? Merely to gratify the vanity of my enemies and advance the career of a venal politician!” Yet he was made of sterner stuff than this, for he understood that God’s purposes outweigh momentary circumstances that pain us or appear to be major setbacks (2 Cor. 4:17-18.) What is more, he had the divine promise of the greater purpose which the Almighty was working through Paul’s sufferings and incarceration. As God told him: “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11.)

Like Paul, every Christian experiences injustice in this world – some more than others. There is a cost to following Christ in this world, and often it entails persecution (2 Tim. 3:12.) Nevertheless, whatever trials believers endure – even those things that stem from the frailty or cruelty of our fellow humans – ultimately serve the overarching purpose of advancing God’s work in us. Romans 8:28-32 cogently reminds us of this providential purpose:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

As this well-loved passage points out, “all things” have their part to play in God’s good purpose of conforming His redeemed children into His Son’s glorious image. Even things that are seemingly unjust, painfully trivial, and apparently random are employed in the Lord’s sovereign providence to turn our trials into gold.[ii]

Doing Time For The Lord Jesus

When Paul eventually bore witness at Rome, the results were astonishing. The elite Praetorian guard – who divided their time between Secret-Service-like protection of the Caesar and guarding his political prisoners – were evangelized (Phil. 1:12-13.) Some in the royal household even came to faith in Christ (Phil. 4:22.) As he approached the end of his life, he summed up his incarceration and coming execution in this way: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8.) He viewed his pathway as a race to be run for the Lord, and saw his own life as a sacrifice to be offered up to God. He was not fixated upon the sorrows of persecution, but instead, he focused on the coming reward that he would receive from the returning Christ.

As for the human tribunal that he faced, he said this:

At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen! (2 Tim. 4:16-18.)

Thus, he saw his imprisonment and legal trials as a means of advancing the Gospel and reaching the Gentiles with its message of salvation.

So today, believers must view all of life’s events – the good, the bad, and the ugly – through the lens of God’s providence. Instead of getting frustrated or angry with those who mistreat us or whose ignorance adversely affects us, we ought to commit it “…to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23.) In due time at His judgment throne, God will sort the truth from the error and set the record straight. In the end He will be vindicated, and we will share in His glory. Thankfully, He “…works all things according to the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11.)

 

 


[i] I. Howard Marshall, Acts: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 5, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), p. 402.

[ii] “Trials turn to gold” is the title of a song by the late Christian singer Keith Green.