Category Archives: Jesus

The Meaning of the Cross

Here are my notes from tonight’s Good Friday service on the meaning of the cross:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Roman Empire these days and their use of the cross.  They used the cross as a weapon of execution to demonstrate their power of their subjects, a way to dominate and instill fear in the hearts of men.  And they used it to great effect.  For a time.

One of the men that the Romans crucified was a rabbi from Nazareth, the son of a carpenter.  Jesus was his name, and though He was the Son of God in the flesh, He wielded His power differently.  Instead of murdering those who opposed His reign, Jesus laid down His life willingly on the cross.  He didn’t use the cross to intimidate others.  He surrendered to the cross for the sake of others.

At the time of His death, the Romans surely looked like they had the stronger kingdom, that their approach to the cross was more effective in building a following.  But 2000 years have a way of providing clarity.  The Great Roman Empire sits in the dust-bin of history while the followers of Jesus only continue to grow.  The way of Love has overcome the way of death.  Jesus’ way remains.

But what exactly did Jesus accomplish in His crucifixion?  The Bible uses four words to describe the impact of Jesus’ death on the cross, and I want us to meditate on them tonight before we take communion.  Each gives us insight into the profound spiritual realities that have changed with the death of our Savior on the cross.  It is important that we meditate on these truths so that we fill up the cross with meaning in our hearts.  If we don’t, the cross will simply become background noise in our busy lives.  It fills our jewelry, our walls, and our clothes, but does it fill our hearts?

The first word is propitiation.  1 John 2:1-2 says “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father —Jesus Christ the Righteous One. 2 He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.”  Propitiation is a temple word, one that describes a sacrifice that satisfies the anger of God against sin.  In Jesus, God has fully satisfied His own wrath against sin.  By the cross, we are no longer objects of God’s wrath, but objects of His love and care.

Do you feel like God is angry with you?  If you are in Christ, He is not – because the cross satisfied God’s wrath.

The second word is redemption.  Mark 10:45 says “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”  What is a ransom?  It is a price paid for the purchase of something or someone.  God has purchased our redemption through the cross of Jesus.  The price of our salvation was infinitely high, costing God the price of His precious Son.  And Jesus willingly paid this price to redeem us from our sins – to set us free from bondage.

Do you feel like you owe God a debt you must pay?  If you are in Christ, you do not – because Jesus paid your debt.

The third word is justification.  Romans 5:18-19 says “ So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for everyone.  For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  Whereas propitiation comes from the religious world and ransom from the business world, the idea of justification comes from the legal world.  To be justified means to be declared righteous before a court of law.  In this way, Jesus has not just paid for our sins, but He has made a way for us to stand righteous before a perfectly holy God.  This is what Romans calls a life-giving justification.  We are not just forgiven, but made righteous by Jesus’ work on the cross.

Do you feel guilty before the Lord?  If you are in Christ, you should not – because Jesus forgave your sin.

The fourth word is reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says “Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”  Jesus accomplished our reconciliation with God the Father on the cross.  He purchased our relationship with Himself.  We are no longer His enemies, but now His children.

Do you feel lonely and separated from God?  If you are in Christ, you are not alone – you have been adopted by God.

This is what the cross means, and why today is called Good Friday.

HT: John Stott, The Cross of Christ

The Yoke of Jesus

During His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This invitation has several parts to it.

First, Jesus’ invitation is to come to Him!  It is not an invitation to an event or philosophy of life or a principle.  It is an invitation to a person – Jesus Himself.  The Christian faith (as a reminder) is about Jesus, not about a religious system.  When we find ourselves tired and weary and burdened by life, Jesus invites us to sit with Him.  Not to figure out a new system or structure or procedure, but to come to Jesus.  The invitation is not to self-dependence, but to dependence on Jesus.

Second, Jesus teaches us that all of us get weary and burdened with life.  Why?  Because life is hard and challenging and overwhelming at times.  Because we are sinful and rebellious and stubborn and hard-headed.  Because we are compassionate and loving and want to help others and carry their burdens as our own burdens.  Because we are human.  We are not God.  We get tired and sick and frustrated and angry.  We are the created, not the Creator.  Because of that, the burdens of this life can crush us.  They do crush us.  This life can brings great heights of joy and deep valleys – sometimes in the same day.

Third, Jesus promises to give us rest.  He doesn’t mean a nap.  He means a deeper rest – one of the soul.  One where are hearts are at peace and our souls are at rest in God.  You know what it feels like to be restless in your soul, don’t you?  To not be at peace with God, yourself, others.  Jesus tells us to bring that to Him.  He is gentle and humble in spirit.  His yoke is easy.  His burden is light.  He gives rest.  He promises to give rest.  To who?  To all of us.  To you – to me – today.

How does this actually work?

There is a great story in the Gospel of John, chapter 4, where we see Jesus expose the heavy burdens of this life and bring His freedom and peace.  I want us to study this passage and allow God to speak anew to our hearts about the weariness we feel and burdens we are carrying.  This story (of the woman at the well) is a familiar one to most of us.  But don’t allow its simplicity to lull you to sleep – to miss the powerful insights from our Lord Jesus and the writer John on finding rest in God.

I want us to see three contrasts in this passage, each contrasting one way of life that drains us from another way of life that fills us up.  In this passage, we will see the actual way by which Jesus brings His easy yoke and light burden into our lives.

First, let’s see the difference between stale water and living waterLet’s read John 4:1-14.

Jesus sits down at the well of Jacob in Samaria to talk to a Samaritan woman who was gathering water.  Jesus is immediately crossing two cultural barriers to talk with her.  He is ministering to a woman (not appropriate) who was a Samaritan (not liked by the Jews).  A great reminder that Jesus’ rest is for all people.  He is not a respecter of persons, of titles or bank accounts.  Jesus invites all who are weary and burdened by life.  And He invited this woman to experience His rest.  What did He say?

He told her that if she knew the gift of God and who was speaking to her, she would ask for and receive Living Water.  Let’s explore this teaching in verse 10 – very important to understanding the rest of God. What is the “gift of God?”  In the gospel of John, the gift is the grace of God offered in Jesus Christ.  Grace is God’s unmerited favor – His love poured out on us without anything in us to deserve it.

In other words, what Jesus is saying, “if you understood the grace of God and the coming of the Messiah, you would reach out for Him and He would respond to you.”  You would not just see Living Water, you would receive Living Water.  Why would understanding grace and believing in Jesus as Messiah cause us to reach out to Him?  Because we would know that we don’t have to get our stuff together before we approach Him.  That is grace.  And we would recognize that He is the only One who can give us true meaning and peace.  The Messiah is the One who puts the world right and puts peace in our hearts.

Jesus teaches the woman that this Living Water is different from anything else she has ever tried.  Every other water that she drinks will leave her thirsty again.  Is he talking about H2O?  No.  He is talking about everything else we look to in our lives to sustain us and give us purpose and meaning and value in this life.  Jesus exposes the first source of our weariness – the attempts to gain ultimate fulfillment in things that weren’t designed to ultimately fulfill.  Huge.

We know from the rest of the passage that this woman had been married many times.  Why?  Was she looking for a human relationship to complete her, to make her whole?  Think about your own life.  What stale water do you turn to, looking for peace and rest and security?  Jesus Christ Himself is reminding us in His words.  No person and no pursuit outside of Jesus will ultimately satisfy your soul.  You and I were made to worship.  We were made to be in relationship with our Creator.  Nothing in creation can be that ever-flowing well that springs up for eternal life.  Only Jesus satisfies.  Do you believe that He is enough?  That He is more than enough? Or are you always looking for someone / something else to satisfy your soul?

STOP and think.  Is your soul dry?  Is your heart empty?  Are you weary and overly burdened?  Could it be that you are feeling the effects of drinking from stale water?  Are you putting unrealistic expectations on your job, your family, your hobbies, your friends, your ministry even, hoping that they will make you whole?  They won’t.  They can’t.  Only Jesus is Living Water.

Second, let’s see the difference between confessed and hidden sin.  Let’s read John 4:15-26.

After Jesus teaches the woman at the well about the Living Water that He brings, He exposes what she tries to keep hidden from Him.  He tells her to go get her husband, and then when she refuses, reveals that He already knows about her five marriages, and her current live-in boyfriend.  Jesus confronts her sin in order to restore her, not to condemn her.  He desires to bring spiritual life to her, which is the reason for this conversation in the first place.

She obviously doesn’t want to go there, to talk about her failures and poor choices and sins against God.  Nobody does.  Who can blame her?  We don’t want anyone to know that we have those kinds of thoughts or words or actions.  It is so much easier to pretend that we are perfect and have our stuff together.  This one wanted to perform for Jesus, to act like she wasn’t involved in any kind of immorality.  But Jesus won’t allow us to simply hide our sin from him.

For good reason.  When we hide sin, refuse to acknowledge or confess our sin, it kills us inside.  We carry a heavy weight, a burden that crushes our spirit.  When Jesus calls out her sin, the woman at the well starts a conversation about the proper geography of worship.  But Jesus again won’t let her get away.  This discussion is not about location, but about the heart.

Jesus tells her that now that the Messiah has come, worship is not about external issues like being in the right geography, but about issues of the heart – spirit and truth.  Connecting with God on a heart level based on the truth of who He is and who we are.  Spirit and Truth.  Not deceit.  Not hiding from God, but coming honestly before Him, because He knows about it already.

One of the most common causes of spiritual dryness and a weary soul is a failure to confess and repent of sin.  Why do we hide from God when we know deep in our hearts that He knows about it anyway?  Because we don’t trust the heart of God.  What do you think is going to happen when you come clean before the Lord?  You think He is going to disown you?  Run from you?  Ignore you?  Punish you?  Let me tell you what happens when you confess you deepest, darkest sins to God?  He forgives you.  He extends grace and mercy.

Confession and repentance brings life.  Hiding sin from others and from God drains life.  It is a heavy burden to carry sin with us, to attempt to ignore the Holy Spirit day after day.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God won’t leave you alone.  He will continue to pursue your heart, day after day.  And you know what you will find when you finally come clean and confess and repent?  LIFE!  You will find that God is more gracious that you knew and that people were more accepting that you could have imagined.  No one rejected you or sent you away.  God wipes you clean and renews your heart.  And there is freedom!

One of the greatest tools of the enemy is to keep us bound in habitual sin, to keep us trapped in the lie that we won’t ever be able to change, that no one will understand, that we can’t tell anyone about what we’ve done.  This creates a heavy burden.  Bring it to Jesus Christ.  Take up His easy yoke.  He is gentle and humble of heart.  He will free you from the sin that has you entangled.

Third, let’s see the difference between taking people to Jesus and leading them to us.
Let’s read John 4:27-30, 39-42.

The woman, after having Jesus reveal Himself to her as the Living Water and expose her lifestyle, realizes that this Man is not just another prophet.  He is the Messiah!  He is not another religious leader or spiritual guru.  Jesus is the One and Only King, the Anointed One of Israel, the suffering servant who takes away the sins of the world.  And when she realizes who she has met, what does she do?  Please take note.  She invites others to meet Him.

She doesn’t invite people to trust in her or follow her example.  She invites them to come and see this One who told her everything she ever did.  She ministers to others by bringing them to Jesus.  And the Bible says that many believed in Jesus because of what the woman said.  God used her testimony.  But notice where John goes in verse 42 – after they encountered Jesus, they believed because of their own experience with Jesus, not her experience with Jesus.  This is VERY important to understand.

So many times, we feel the burden of being responsible for people’s spiritual life.  In one sense, this is good.  We love people and want to see them grow.  We desire for people to honor God above all things in their lives.  In another sense, however, this can be bad.  If we make people dependent on us for their spiritual life rather than Jesus, we will slow down their growth and carry too much weight.

The goal of our ministry is NOT to make our own disciples.  It is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  I know this sounds foundational, but I believe many of us are weary because we are taking on too much personal ownership of other people’s struggles and failures.  It is good to be empathetic and feel deeply for people.  It is not good to carry the weight of other people’s choices in life.  Our job is to point people to Jesus Christ, to teach people what it means to follow Jesus, and to model whole-hearted devotion to Jesus, but we cannot make decisions for people.  They have to meet Jesus on their own and experience Him first hand.

One of the reasons that we can work hard as ministers of Jesus Christ and still sleep well at night is because ultimately people belong to Jesus, not to us.  He is responsible for them, and they are accountable to Him.  They will not give an account to us when they die.  They will give an account to God.  We are witnesses to the Truth.  We are not the Truth.  We are called to lead people to Jesus.  He is the Messiah.  You are not.  You will never save anyone.  Jesus saves.  You can have the joy of introducing people to Jesus, like the woman at the well.  You can have the joy of telling them His story.  But in the end, they must investigate the claims of Christ on their own and make a daily decision on how to live.

Jesus calls us all to come to Him with our weary souls and our heavy burdens.  What heavy burden are you carrying today?

It could be the weariness that comes from looking for fulfillment in the wrong place.

It could be the weariness that comes from carrying sin that needs to be confessed.

It could be the weariness that comes from carrying other people’s concerns and struggles.

Whatever it is, remember the words of Jesus.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  His heart is gentle and His spirit is humble.  He invites you to come.  Not to me, but to Him.

Respond to Him and He will meet you there.

 

The Best Gospel Tract Ever Written

I wish every person in the world would take at least take ten minutes and read these words that were written 750 years before Jesus was born.  They never cease to amaze me.  Read it slowly and in awe.

Isaiah 52:13-53:13

See, My Servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were appalled at You— His appearance was so disfigured that He did not look like a man, and His form did not resemble a human being — so He will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths because of Him, For they will see what had not been told them, and they will understand what they had not heard.

Who has believed what we have heard? And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to? He grew up before Him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.

Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.  We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth. He was taken away because of oppression and judgment; and who considered His fate? For He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of my people’s rebellion.  They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully.

Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely. When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished.  He will see it out of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil, because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.

An EPIC Christmas

How do you answer the question “Why did Jesus come?”

The EPIC story of the Bible helps us understand the reasons that Jesus came to earth.

EPIC #1: God – Jesus came to perfectly reveal the nature and character of God.

EPIC #2: Creation – Jesus came because God took responsibility for His creation, even in their rebellion.

EPIC #3: Fall – Jesus came to reverse the curse, the consequences of our sin.

EPIC #4: Covenant – Jesus came because God kept His promises to Abraham, Moses, & David.

EPIC #5: Law – Jesus came because humanity could not live up to the holy standard of God.

EPIC #6: Kingdom – Jesus came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on the earth.

EPIC #7: Prophecy – Jesus came to fulfill the words of God’s prophets throughout the centuries.

EPIC #8: Incarnation – Jesus came to be with us, to not leave us alone in this world.

EPIC #9: Atonement – Jesus came to satisfy the wrath of God and justify the ungodly.

EPIC #10: Resurrection – Jesus came defeat death and give life to all who believe on Him.

EPIC #11: Church – Jesus came to redeem a people for God from all tribes and nations.

EPIC #12: Judgement – Jesus came to warn the world that a day of judgment is surely coming.

EPIC #13: Restoration – Jesus came to give us hope that God will one day restore all things.

Thank God that Jesus came to this earth so many years ago.

And thank God that He is coming again.  The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

Final Thoughts on The Cross of Christ by Stott

I have posted several thoughts on John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ over the last few months as we have been reading chapter by chapter together as a staff.  We discussed the last chapter and conclusion last Tuesday at staff meeting, and so I thought it would be helpful to post some final thoughts about the value of working through this book together as a team.  While the book can be dense reading in certain places where Stott interacts with contemporary scholarly works and important views in the history of the church, it has been extremely beneficial to me personally and to our team.  I would highly recommend this book for pastors and church staffs to read together.  Our team has benefited in at least the following three ways-

1. This book helps you keep the cross at the center of your theology and ministry. While this may seem like stating the obvious, I would argue that understanding how to keep the cross of Christ at the center of your theology and ministry is harder than it looks.  The Bible says a lot of things about a lot of topics, and Stott helps us to see how the cross is the center of that revelation.  Stott also helps us to see the implications of the cross for our personal lives and our ministry to others.  The last four chapters fall under the heading Living Under the Cross which is a good summary of the whole Christian life.  As church leaders, we can be tempted to make many things the center of our theology and our practice.  In fact, the buzz today in church life is about participating in the mission of God.  But Stott is right to remind us that our understanding of the mission of God is formed in light of the cross.  The cross of Jesus Christ is the center of our faith – the Old Testament looking forward to it and the New Testament looking back to it.  And Stott’s book helps us understand what that actually means.

2. This book helps you understand how the persons of the Trinity interact at the cross. One of the most helpful parts of Stott’s book is his repeated emphasis that we need to talk clearly as Christians about how the members of the Trinity worked together at the cross. Even though I am seminary trained, my understanding of this very important theological paradigm has been lacking.  Without Stott’s clear thinking and discussion on this topic, I think I would have continued to communicate the idea that the gracious, loving Jesus (Son of God) rescues us from the holy, just, wrathful Father.  Stott is right to blow this dichotomy out of the water.  The cross is not the place where one member of the Trinity rescues us from another member of the Trinity, but rather the place where God in Christ substitutes Himself for sinful humanity.  Stott’s main argument is that the heart of the cross is self-satisfaction through self-substitution. Therefore, biblically it is better to talk about the Triune God reconciling the world to Himself through the death and resurrection of the Son than it is to pit one member of the Trinity against another.  I hope that every pastor who preaches God’s Word would gain clearer understanding on this point lest we slander the Father (missing His love) and diminish the Son (dismissing His wrath).

3. This book calls us to preach the offense of the cross. Stott is right to conclude with insights from the book of Galatians, which I am preaching through right now.  In Galatians, the apostle Paul concludes that we cannot preach self-righteousness in the Law of God and the cross of Jesus at the same time.  These two ideas are mutually exclusive – we are either justified by faith in Christ alone and sanctified by the Spirit OR we are justified and sanctified through human effort.  We cannot teach both.  Stott makes a forceful plea that we would should not give in (as pastors) to the desire to be liked by telling people how good they are and how they can get their lives together if they simply work hard enough.  This guts the heart of our faith.  Our message is the cross: God in Christ has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  And so we must preach our inability to save ourselves.  Regularly.  The cross of Jesus is our message because it is our only hope.  Men and women who claim the name of Christ – preach Him crucified.

In the end, may Galatians 6:14 be our theme: But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Satisfaction for Sin

Ch. 5 of John Stott’s book on the Cross of Christ seeks to explore the depths of how Jesus’ death satisfied the punishment required for sin.  The discussion arises because of the church’s attempts throughout history to explain Bible passages that talk about Jesus’ death as a propitiation for sin (satisfying the wrath of God against sin).  Stott writes about three different common views of how Jesus’ death satisfied the requirements for sin.

The first view is that Jesus’ death paid the ransom that Satan required.  In this view, we were under the bondage and control of Satan as the ruler of this world, and the death of Jesus satisfied the price that Satan had put on our heads.  This view was common in the early church, but goes beyond the biblical explanation of how Satan and God relate to each other.  Satan is not presented in the Bible as God’s equal, but rather as God’s servant.  Therefore, it doesn’t make sense biblically that God would need to pay Satan off in order to accomplish what He desires to do.  God is not bound by Satan’s requirements, but only by His own nature.

The second view is that Jesus’ death satisfied the requirements of the law. In this view (which is obviously using language straight from the Bible), Jesus’ death was not required by God, but by God’s law.  In other words, God would not have required the death of His son except that He was bound by the law He had already established.  The idea here is that the King is not above His own law, so that God didn’t want Jesus to die, but was required to send Him because He couldn’t break His own law.  Stott does a good job showing that while the language of fulfilling the requirements of the law is biblical, the idea that somehow God was restricted by His law is not biblical.  God’s law flows from His character – it doesn’t oppose His character.

The third view sees the cross as a satisfaction of God’s offended honor. This was the view made famous by Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century  In his works, Anselm defended the necessity of the cross in terms of satisfying God’s honor and justice.  While affirming Anselm’s exposition of the gravity of sin and the holiness of God, Stott objects to understanding God’s “honor” as something outside of Himself that must be satisfied.  In this way, Stott critiques Anselm’s explanation as being too culturally dependent on the feudal system in which he lived, which makes someone worthy of honor based on their position, not their person.  In Stott’s mind, this makes too little of the biblical idea of the honor of God, which again flows from His person and is not separate from Him.

Finally, Stott argues for a view of the cross as the way in which God satisfied Himself.  Instead of seeing the law or the honor of God as things outside of God, Stott wants us to see them as requirements that flow from the character of God.  Stott summarizes his position:

Satisfaction is an appropriate word, providing we realize that it is He Himself in His inner being who needs to be satisfied, and not something external to Himself.  Talk of law, honor, justice and the moral order is true only in so far as these are seen as expressions of God’s own character.  Atonement is a “necessity” because it “arises from within God Himself.”

Stott goes on to defend this statement from different biblical passages – each showing that God Himself is both completely holy and completely loving.  It is God’s character – His Holy Love – that requires satisfaction because God cannot deny Himself.  He cannot change who He is after sin enters the world.  He must be true to Himself.  The cross is the one place in which the holiness of God and the love of God are perfectly seen.  This is why the cross has always been central to Christian theology.  Stott concludes by reminding us why is it so important that we see the cross as satisfying the character of God:

True, we find it difficult to hold in our minds simultaneously the images of God as the Judge who must punish evil-doers and the Lover who must find a way to forgive them.  Yet He is both, and at the same time.

Amen.

Book Notes: The Cross Centered Life by CJ Mahaney

A few weeks ago a member of my congregation left a small book on my desk called The Cross Centered Life by CJ Mahaney.  At only 90 pages, the book requires little time but departs great wisdom.  Mahaney is the president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a network of churches that is committed to obeying the Great Commission through planting healthy, reproducing churches.  One of the most personally helpful books I’ve read in the last several years was another short work by Mahaney called Humility: True Greatness.  Mahaney’s insights are wise, biblical, pastoral, and extremely helpful.

In The Cross-Centered Life, Mahaney starts by explaining the biblical content of the gospel and illustrating the power of the gospel in his own life.  From there, he explores three enemies of keeping the gospel at the center of our daily lives: legalism, condemnation, and subjectivism. He defines legalism as the result of a process by which the Christian begins to think that his relationship is based on his performance instead of God’s grace.  He writes that we must fight legalism by understanding the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, and not confuse our progress in sanctification with our positional justification.  He defines condemnation as the problem Christians have with living daily with more guilt and shame over their past than joy and delight in the grace of God.  I really appreciated this quote on why living with delight on God’s grace is so important:

God is glorified when we believe with all our hearts that those who trust in Christ can never be condemned.

Finally, Mahaney defines subjectivism as the problem we have of allowing our emotions to define God rather than the truth of Scripture.  He argues strongly that we should not give our emotions authority in our lives, but should preach to ourselves the truths of God’s Word every day.

In the last chapter of this book, he gives us five concrete steps to keep the gospel the main thing in our lives.  1- Memorize the gospel, 2- Pray the gospel, 3- Sing the gospel, 4- Review how the gospel has changed you, and 5-Study the gospel.  He gives good recommendations on each.  The only one I would add would be share the gospel.  As we share it with others, we are reminded of how powerful it is in our own lives.

Not only do I recommend this book for what it says, but I recommend it because of what it is about.  We need more books like this one, calling us back to the biblical gospel as the center of our faith, life, and hope.

 

The Problem of Forgiveness

In chapter four of The Cross of Christ, John Stott explores what he calls “the problem of forgiveness.”  What he means by “problem” is trying to explain why the death of Jesus on the cross was necessary for the forgiveness of our sins.  Why can’t God just forgive our sins in the same way that He commands us to forgive one another?  To answer this question, Stott looks into the depth of our sin problem and the heights of God’s majestic holiness.

First, the depths of our sin.  Though we dislike the word itself in our generation, Stott argues that dismissing sin as a category leads to terrible consequences.  Some have argued that “sin against God” should now be labeled as “crimes against the law” or “evidence of personal sickness” or “communal irresponsibility.”  But the Bible will not let us get away with this obfuscation.  Though our sin has horizontal implications, our sin is primarily disobedience and rebellion against God, not against man.

The admission of our sin leads us to question our responsibility for sin.  If we are born into sin and shaped by our community (both true), then how can we be responsible for our own sin?  This question asks us to explore the age-old debate between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.  Stott does a nice job explaining why we must hold these two truths in equal tension or any sense of responsibility for our sin.  And if we deny human responsibility for sin, it is not sin we are denying but our humanity. To be human is to make real decisions that have real impact for which we are really responsible.

So, if we sin and are responsible for our sin, then we must be guilty before a holy God.  Stott shows how many in the field of counseling have seen the wisdom of helping people to own their wrong-doing and admit their guilt.  He sees similarity in the mission of the church – not to create guilt in people, but to reveal guilt that is already there.  Of course, to expose the guilt without explaining the atonement is to diagnose the illness without prescribing the cure.  If we fail to teach both the full guilt of humanity before a holy God and the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ, then we have missed the significance of the cross.

Second, the heights of God’s holiness. Stott does a great service to the church by using careful exegesis to refute those who deny that God’s wrath is impersonal and unessential.  The Scriptures show us that God is holy and thus is separate from all sin, and that in his holiness, he must oppose sin.  His opposition to evil and sin is His wrath.  Stott argues that “the essential background to the cross is not only the sin, responsibility, and guilt of human beings, but the just action of God to these things – in other words, his holiness and wrath.”  We must hold both to the full biblical teaching on the dignity and depravity of man and the holiness and love of God in order for us to see the cross of Jesus clearly.

If we fail to teach the depths of our sin, we will ultimately deny that human beings are responsible for their own actions.  And if we fail to teach the holiness of God, we will ultimately have to deny His moral integrity and justice.  Only the cross of Christ honors both the true nature of man and the true character of God.

 

Jesus’ View of His Death

In the third chapter of The Cross of Christ, John Stott looks below the surface of the event to find the Savior’s own view of His death.  We know how the NT epistles depict the death of Jesus as being for all sins once for all.  Is that in line with Jesus’ own view of His death?  To get to the meaning below the events, Stott explores the Last Supper, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, and Jesus’ last words on the cross.  What do each of these events reveal to us about the cosmic implications of the death of Jesus?

1- In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus teaches us the centrality of His death and the covenant meaning of His death.  First, the Last Supper shows the centrality of Jesus’ death in His own mind by instituting an ongoing event for the church to remember the cross.  Stott makes this point by showing us that the Lord’s Supper “dramatizes neither the his birth nor his life, neither his words or his works, but only his death.”  Jesus gave us instructions on how to memorialize His death as we meet together in every generation.  The Lord’s Supper ensures that the church of Jesus Christ never strays far from the cross of Christ.  Second, the teaching of Jesus at the last meal shows us that He saw His death in terms of New Covenant fulfillment.  The “new covenant” that Jesus mentions is from Jeremiah 31:31-34, where Jeremiah promised that God would write the law of God on the hearts of His people and forgive their sin.  Jesus understood that His death was why He came and was the only way that God could offer forgiveness of sin.

2- In examining Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane, we learn about God’s purpose in the death of Jesus.  Jesus wrestled with “drinking the cup” that the Father had send Him to drink.  What did Jesus mean when He asked that “the cup pass from Me?”  Stott goes to great length to show that this was not the physical suffering of the cross or the emotional suffering of betrayal by His disciples.  Rather, the “cup” in biblical language signified the judgment of God poured out on sinful people.  Jesus suffered agony in the Garden because when He looked ahead to the cross, he saw “the spiritual agony of bearing the sins of the world – in other words, of enduring the divine judgment that those sins deserved.”  God gives us an insight into the Messiah’s mission by revealing these words to us in the Scriptures – Jesus viewed His death as the place where He would take on the divine punishment for our sins.

3- Finally, in looking at Jesus’ final words on the cross, we come to understand the deepest suffering of the Messiah. Many pages have been written about Jesus’ words from Psalm 22:1 – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Some have even taught that Jesus was demonstrating His ultimate victory because Psalm 22 ends with the Messiah vindicated by God’s power.  However, if that is the case, then why didn’t Jesus quote Psalm 22:22-24?  Why cry out with Psalm 22:1?  Because those words best described the suffering that Jesus endured.  As He took on the wrath of God against sin, he felt the pain of being God-forsaken.  While the eternal Trinity was not broken, Jesus definitely experienced the deepest suffering of the cross as He endured the pain of divine judgment.

Stott’s closing is so good, it is worth quoting in full.  Jesus’ view of His death teaches us three truths:

1- Our sin must be extremely horrible.  “If there was no way by which the righteous God could righteously forgive our unrighteousness, except that He should bear it Himself in Christ, it must be serious indeed.”

2- God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension.  “God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate.  It is what we deserved.  But He did not.  Because He loved us, He came after us in Christ.”

3- Christ’s salvation must by a free gift.  “Since Jesus claimed that all was now “finished,” there is nothing for us to contribute.”

What a great God we serve who has given us His very best, Jesus Christ, so that we can be free and forgiven.  May our heart be full of love and gratitude as we meditate on His truth during this holy week.

Recap of TGC 2011 Days #2&3

We’re now home from Chicago!  Wednesday and Thursday of The Gospel Coalition conference are now behind us.  The speakers were challenging and the time of fellowship with friends and co-laborers in the gospel was encouraging.  I’ll do a quick recap of highlights from days 2 and 3, and then finish with a concluding thought about the significance of this conference.

WEDNESDAY…

1- Wednesday morning started with a message from James MacDonald, the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago.  He preached from Psalm 25 about what it looks like to trust God in the midst of dire circumstances.  I really appreciated his transparency in sharing how he had struggled with life and ministry over the last several years and needed the fellowship of other pastors and friends to help him through.  My big take-away from his message was two-fold: one – do good, detailed Bible exegesis without jumping to Christ too quickly, but two – don’t try to say everything you see and study in a passage.

2- After MacDonald, I attended the break-out panel discussion on raising up qualified leaders in the church.  Al Mohler, D.A. Carson, Mark Driscoll, Ligon Duncan, and David Helm talked about the role of the church and the role of the seminary in training the next generation of pastors and leaders in the local church.  I appreciated Driscoll’s reminder that the pastor must be trained in his mind, heart, and hands in order to lead the local church and while the seminary excels in developing the mind, the local church excels in developing the heart and hands. Overall, it was a helpful discussion in remembering the importance of both parachurch and local church in raising up qualified, competent pastors and leaders.

3- We skipped out on the afternoon breakout sessions on Wednesday to take in a little of Chicago.  We caught a White Sox game at US Cellular field and walked around Millennium Park in downtown Chicago.  Beautiful day, wonderful city, awesome mass-transit system.  We returned to the conference around dinner time to hear the last two main sessions of the day from Conrad Mbewe and Matt Chandler.

4- I really enjoyed the message from Conrad Mbewe, a pastor from Zambia.  He had the most clearly Messianic passage of the conference speakers – Jeremiah 23:1-9 about the Righteous Branch of David – and he handled it extremely well.  He did careful exegesis of the passage, drew out clear moral principles from the text for leaders, and then showed how the prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  My heart was stirred for Christ and His coming by Mbewe’s sermon, and I was also challenged to be a godly leader of my flock through the power of the gospel.  So good.

5- Matt Chandler was the last speaker on Wednesday and had one of the most difficult passages to preach Christ from – Ecclesiastes 11 & 12.  The wisdom literature does not give itself easily to Christian preaching but rather to moralizing (giving people moral imperatives to live by).  Chandler showed from Ecclesiastes how the gospel of Christ helps us remember the work of God so that we can rejoice in the right things in our lives.  Chandler was riveting and inspiring as usual, and he has maximum credibility to share about the gospel driving us to rejoice in the right things as he has personally walked through brain cancer.  I was reminded from Chandler about the importance of not graduating from the gospel, but maturing in it for sanctification and hoping in it for glorification.  Overall, a powerful and timely message for me as a young pastor.

THURSDAY…

1- We slept in Thursday morning (knowing that Thursday night would be a late night of traveling and Friday morning would be early at elder meeting!) and enjoyed a late breakfast at the West Egg in downtown Chicago.  It was great!  Then, Barie and I took the bus to the Navy Pier to see it before heading back to the conference.

2- The post-conference on Christ and the City was kicked-off by Tim Keller talking about how the gospel impacts cities.  I was really encouraged and challenged by his message.  He gave an overview of why cities are important biblically and culturally and demographically.  One key point: people are moving to cities faster than the church.  Second, he talked about what we need to know to reach cities.  He helped me understand how the cultures of cities vary from the cultures of rural and suburban America.  He said that moving from a non-urban to an urban context is as big a move as moving from one country to another country in the degree of enculturation that is required.  Third, he talked about how we reach cities.  I so appreciated his metaphor of saying that all of our efforts are like building an altar before the Lord and then praying that He would set it afire.  He articulated three layers of work that are required to reach a city.  The center of a city-reaching movement must be a common gospel-theology.  The second layer of a city-reaching movement is multiple (he said 5 to 6) church-planting movements (which he defined as a group of churches that are all reproducing at least once every five years).  The third layer of a city-reaching movement is a variety of specialist parachurch organizations that partner with many local churches to address specific issues.

As we are seeing many of things happen in Austin/Round Rock, I was encouraged and hopeful for the future of our city.  I don’t know theologically how the NT gift of apostleship works in the life of the church today, but I believe that guys like Tim Keller and Tim Hawks (pastor HCBC NW) share a similar gift of seeing God’s work for a whole city and are able to clearly communicate vision for a city-reaching movement that goes beyond one denomination or theological tradition.  Very encouraging!

FINAL THOUGHTS…

I have been to many conferences in my life – ones for youth pastors and ones for pastors and ones for leaders.  I generally leave conferences feeling defeated and discouraged by all that I am not doing in leading my church or ministry well.  But my time at The Gospel Coalition was completely different.  As I heard a variety of teachers and preachers shared the good news of Jesus Christ from the whole Bible and apply it to my heart in a variety of ways, I was encouraged!  I was reminded less of the great work I have to do than of the great work that Jesus has done.  My heart was stirred for Christ and my love for Him increased.  I came home more in awe of our God who sent His only Son and more in love with our Savior who bore my sin and shame.

What was God showing me?  How I experience conferences is how believers experience worship week-in and week-out.  If Christ is not lifted high from the whole Bible as God’s sufficient sacrifice for sin and the Spirit is not exalted as the only power for holiness and godliness and the Father is not glorified as the One True God, then our people will be crushed under the weight of sin rather than transformed by the message of grace.  My prayer for our church and every other church is that we will collectively lift up the hope of the gospel every week!