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Here Comes The Son

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Antarctic sunrise

  The Atlantic magazine’s website recently ran a story on the return of the sun to Antarctica after 90 days of night.[i] Antonio Litterio, a researcher at the Concordia Research Station, eloquently described this event, personifying the sun in this way:

I knew that today you’d come looking for me. Over these past few nights, I’ve looked out of the window, captivated by the beautiful starry sky. But in my mind I was thinking of you and how I would soon see you again. Human beings need light to feel calm and to live: light really is life. Wanting to see you again was not about wanting to feel closer to the end of my time here; it was about recharging my batteries. Over the past few days, even that warm glow has given me so much energy. Seeing you now, entering my bedroom in the morning, is a beautiful awakening…Today, seeing the light after so long, for those few minutes the Sun lingered above the horizon, I felt something that was a mixture of a mother’s caress, the warmth of a hug, and the peace and energy radiating from someone important to you. At the precise moment when the Sun reached the end of its arc, settling on the horizon, we looked at each other and there was nothing left to say. I’ve missed you…[ii]

On the basic level of human emotion these are beautiful and understandable sentiments. If one has been bereft of sunlight for three months, it is bound to depress one’s mood. Conversely, that bright orb’s return would naturally be greeted with joy by any right thinking person. Having said that, Litterio’s comments echoed other famous words that speak of a higher light than the burning mass of hydrogen that naturally illuminates planet earth and the surrounding solar system. As John the beloved apostle wrote: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4.)

Trees, Life, & Light

Under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, John makes frequent use of images from the Pentateuch[iii] – especially the Tabernacle of Exodus (e.g. Rev. 1:12; Rev. 6:9; Rev. 8:3; the symbolism of the table of showbread underlies Jn. 6:32-33, etc.) The lampstand, the only light-source for the Holy place, evokes arboreal imagery. Like a tree it has branches, fruit, buds, and flowers (Ex. 25:31-40.) The imagery hearkens back to the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Eden (Gen. 2:9, 17.) It unites life and light in one object. John draws on this to describe the role of Christ as both life-giver and light-giver. But what do life and light really mean?

The Light Of The World

Life and light are vitally connected. Life in the Bible transcends mere existence. The goal of life is relational. One commentator makes the essential connection in Christ that John 1:4 speaks of:

He was the well-spring of life, from which every form of life—physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, eternal,—flows.…Creation leads on to life, and life leads on to light. Without life creation would be unintelligible; without light all but the lowest forms of life would be impossible…the one true Light, absolute Truth both intellectual and moral, free from ignorance and free from stain. The Source of Life is the Source of Light: He gives the power to know what is morally good.[iv]

The real meaning of life entails knowing one’s creator. As Christ says: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn. 17:3.) Likewise, light connotes both truth and purity in the Bible (Ps. 119:130.) “…In your light we see light,” says the Psalmist (Ps. 36:9.) The true God wants people to know Him; therefore, He has revealed Himself in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:14-18.)

He wants His creatures to walk with Him in pure and true fellowship (1 Jn. 1:5-7.) Elsewhere John writes: “The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 Jn. 1:2-4.) Knowing truth depends upon knowing God and sharing in His life.

Wandering In The Dark

Life is to be lived in the light of God’s truth and holiness. He is the One who reveals how the world actually is, and what mankind ought to live for. Until one knows Christ by faith, spiritual darkness is one’s inevitable lot (Mt. 6:23; Jn. 1:5.) In fact, people love darkness (Jn. 3:19.) Apart from Christ’s saving work, the human mind is darkened (Rom. 1:21) and alienated from the righteous thought patterns of its Maker (Eph. 4:18.) Spurgeon powerfully depicts the lost man’s darkness:

Now, the power of sin is just like that. It hides from the human mind what that mind ought to see. The man is lost, but he does not know it; he cannot see the rocks that are just ahead. The man has soon to stand before the bar of God and receive his sentence, but he does not know it; I mean his heart does not know it. He trifles on, caring for none of these things…No matter how rich may be the mercy, nor how pure the consolation, he knows nothing at all about them, for he is in the dark. It is all dark, dark, dark with him, amid the blaze of noon.[v]

But after trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, the believer is delivered from “the power of darkness and conveyed [them] into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13.) Conder poetically puts it thus:

Brightness of uncreated light;

The heart of God revealed:

Divine, O Son of God, art Thou,

In Thee God’s fulness find we now.[vi]

The Lord directly states it this way: “…I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12, boldface mine.) As McGee explains: “This world today is in spiritual darkness, and the Lord Jesus Christ has brought the only light there is in the world. He is the light.”[vii] Ryle agrees in these words: “There has never been any spiritual life or light enjoyed by men, excepting from Christ.”[viii]

Out Of The Darkness Into The Light

Mr. Litterio was correct in connecting life and light, but he failed to note that this principle works on a higher level as well. The sun was created by the Creator of all life. He providentially uses it for mankind’s good (Mt. 5:45.) Until one knows the Son of God, however, life is unremitting night. It involves unceasingly groping in the darkness, perpetually wondering what is behind the dim unknown.[ix] To die without the Lord is to enter the eternal night of outer darkness (Mt. 25:30.) Thankfully, the Lord Jesus offers Himself as “the light of the world” to whoever will believe. As a classic hymn urges us:

Come to the Light,

‘Tis shining for thee;

Sweetly the Light has dawned upon me.

Once I was blind, but now I can see –

The Light of the world is Jesus.[x]

 


[i] Rebecca J. Rosen, “The Sun rises again over Antarctica,” The Atlantic, published 13 August, 2013; found here: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/08/the-sun-rises-again-over-antarctica/278620/ Accessed on 13 August 2013.

[ii] Antonio Literrio, “Return to sunlight,” blog post, 12 August, 2013; Found here: http://blogs.esa.int/concordia/2013/08/12/return-to-sunlight/ Accessed on 8/13/13. [Boldface mine.]

[iii] The first 5 books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy.

[iv] A. Plummer, The Gospel According to S. John, Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1896), 65-66.

[v] C. H. Spurgeon, “Deliverance from the power of darkness,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. LIX. Originally preached on November 29, 1866. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1913), 376–377.

[vi] Josiah Conder, “Thou art the everlasting word”; located here: http://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn.php/h/59#ixzz2bxfSfR1c Accessed on 8/14/13.

[vii] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, comment on Jn. 1:4, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 373.

[viii] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol. 1. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 12.

[ix]

Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ’twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis,” located here: http://www.bartleby.com/42/805.html Accessed on 8/14/13. [Boldface mine.]

[x] P.P. Bliss, “The Light of the world is Jesus,” located here: http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/l/w/lworldij.htm Accessed on 8/14/13.

*Photo found here: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/u/TvyamNb-BivtNwcoxtkc5xGBuGkIMh_nj4UJHQKupC5SSBpr5b0RJGiewoNVqo45CZ4QLkuljpza/ Accessed on 8/15/13.

The Unparalleled Cross

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: The Unparalleled Cross

“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.