Sunday, February 15, 2015

Retouching the Cross


Matt.27: 28 And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
29 And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
30 And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
31 And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.

Jn.19: Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.
And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,
And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!

There have been millions of crucifixions, but no one crucifixion has been so detailed as the crucifixion of Jesus the Christ. We have a detailed narrative which begins at His arrest and follows Him all the way until His death on the cross. And in the natural it is a very gruesome scenario. And just in the natural we are aware that He was innocent of any charges to say nothing of the death penalty. But in order to understand and attempt embrace the totality of what we are witnessing through the written word we must be aware that this was God in the flesh. And this God man was completely holy and without sin so it is an understatement to say He deserved no punishment.
Jesus had washed the disciple’s feet a few days ago, and the night before He was arrested He instituted what we now call the Lord’s Supper or communion. That supper would present a redemptive picture for what He would endure and what He would pay for in His own body.
But now He willingly submitted Himself to the hands of wicked men. And these men spared nothing and showed no mercy. They stripped Him of His clothes and wrapped Him in a purple robe in order to mock Him as a king. They made a ring of very sharp thorns and crushed it down upon His head, and they put a reed in His right hand and bowed down and mocked Him. Now in the natural this was humiliation at is zenith, but to understand that Jesus was the Son of God then this humiliation becomes mind boggling. And to further understand that Jesus would soon give His life for the same men who were mocking Him is beyond anything we can understand.
It is difficult to imagine what a human figure would look like after such a beating and such savagery. The Scriptures declare He did not even resemble a human being. But His sufferings were far from just physical. It is my personal belief that the first slap or punch or mocking is where His redemptive sufferings began. In fact, it was when He sweat great drops of blood in the garden which began His redemptive sufferings. And they lasted until the last breath escaped from His lips. And within each slap and punch, or with the thorns or when they plucked out His beard, or when they lashed His back, within all of the abuse our sins were being placed upon Him. He was the sin bearer, the scapegoat, the bronze serpent, and He was the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.
And then after a world of savage torture He was laid down upon two Roman planks. It is fitting and metaphorical that it was carried out by Roman soldiers. This was an earthly kingdom that was consumed with power and violence and money and was pagan at its core. The Roman religion was practical and their gods in their view helped them and their country. Does it not have a modern day ring to it? Yes, you say, but we believe in one God? Do we? Visit a thousand Christian churches across America and you may well hear several hundred different gods being preached even though they all call them Jesus. And all those churches believe their god helps them achieve their own dreams. You see, we live in a modern day Roman Empire.
So they laid Him down and stretched out his arms. And they drove a nail through each hand or wrist. And they placed one foot on top of the other and drove a spike through them both. He was now impaled on a Roman cross just as many thousands of criminals had been before Him. He was now contemptible…a scourge and an object to be mocked. They raised up the cross which bore the Lamb and they placed it in the hole already dug with a thud! There He is. Earth has rejected Him and He is now temporarily separated from heaven as well. He alone must bear the awful pain and punishment for sins He never committed. And for six hours He would hang there. What a scene! What a spectacle! This is human brutality at its finest. And like hangings of old a crowd would gather and watch a human being bear an agony known only to those who experience it and about which none lived to tell. Beside all the wounds and the awful pain of the nails it was almost impossible to breathe. One would have to press hard on the nail which pierced the feet and lift up one’s body weight in order to gasp a short breath. It was an excruciating process.
But the pain of the flesh can never compare with the pain of sin. The crowd saw a Jew but God saw a Lamb. Who among us can know the pain of sin? We all can testify of the results of sin and how we paid on earth somehow because we had sinned, but to experience the pain of eternal divine judgment we cannot tell. But only the Spirit can illuminate a human understanding as to who this Jew was. Before we are born again we see a good teacher and a kind man and a victim of injustice. But when the Spirit of God reveals to your heart who Jesus is, was, and always will be then the eyes of your understanding are opened for the very first time. And please allow me to say from experience you will never, you can never, be the same again. To the world it is foolishness, but to us who are redeemed it is the power of God.
As is our custom we try and make anything uncomfortable smoother and more palatable. When we say Jesus died for our sins we seem to minimize two features of His sacrifice. We seem to gloss over His sufferings, and we seem to gloss over the depth of our sin. The way and extent of His sufferings are past finding out. He suffered eternal punishment for the sins of the world. Oh how that sounds like hyperbole and yet it is true for all eternity. I cannot fully understand how person can suffer for sins at all much less the sins of the entire world. He bore our pain. He bore our curse. He bore our guilt. He bore our blame. He bore our disgrace. He bore our punishment. He bore the eternal sentence about which we so richly deserved. And the word “bore” means a profound and indescribably suffering.
When a redeemed person looks at the cross he or she is filled with awe and wonder and gratefulness and pain and worship and a hundred other emotions and enlightenments. For forty years I have heard about the cross, I have read about the cross, and I have preached about the cross and yet I still am overwhelmed by its beauty and wonder and the redemption I have found in it. The sufferings were far above what is common to man. They can only be truly understood by the One who endured them, but we are graciously called to embrace and seek them in all their glory.
But is so many ways we say the word “sin” with a layer of safety. It is a catch all word, but let us unpack it a little and reveal the vileness of sin and what our Blessed Savior took upon Himself. Sometimes we like to equate sin with lying or stealing or cursing or even some sexual infidelity, and yes all those fall under that heading. But that is not all of what Jesus took upon Himself. Think about infant rape. Think about child murder. Think about beheading. Think about ripping a child from its mother’s womb. Think about purposely infecting a person with a deadly disease. Think about killing one hundred thousand people with one bomb. These and other more heinous sins were all placed upon the Scapegoat.
But please do not minimize your own sins just because you deem the sin of others greater. Your sins and mine are worthy of eternal punishment. The most commendable unregenerate sinner is vile beyond words when revealed in the light of a Holy God’s glory. Can you now just shake your head in awe and wonder when you think that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”? This event, this cross, is a selfless act of such magnitude that it stands alone not only as the only path to God, but what act of compassion can compare? That which we call the Incarnation represents that God came in the form of a man. That is a divine miracle worthy of our awe and worship.
I have presented all that and I hope you have been edified as I have in writing it. But I want to return to the title of my post. There are many, many, many, and many more preachers and teachers who have retouched the cross to make it more pleasant to the human taste and sensibilities. They wish to remove the blood or at least sanitize it. They will not reveal the gruesomeness of the cross. They much prefer it as jewelry than they do as a bloody vision filled with the smell of pain and sweat and fresh blood mingling with dried blood. That should not be articulated in mixed company. You can speak of success and prosperity and fulfilling your dreams but the cross needs some retouching lest it offends us. Just what kind of manmade religion is that which the church now embraces?
Yes there are heretics which deny that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, but I speak of the modern church which loves it professional praise and worship times but never hears about the viciousness of the cross. And if they do hear some of it then Easter is the “appropriate” time. That way we can spray fake blood on a man and let it entertain us before we leave church and fill our bellies once more. But a steady diet of the cross? Please, we have bigger fish to fry.
The word “cross” can be used as some redemptive talisman but to describe it with some morbid detail does not minister to the flesh. To the natural man it just relives history instead of looking forward to a prosperous earthly life. And that is why the colors need to be pastels, and the sounds need to be muffled, and the darkness needs to lifted, and the sin needs to be theological, and the entire event needs to be stuffed and placed upon the wall of doctrinal taxidermy. That way we can say we are orthodox without any personal introspection and without entering into the fellowship of His sufferings.
But the very worst and most sacrilegious thing the church can ever do is to soften the preaching of the cross. The word is commonplace but the vision is sacred. It is now served on a platter of humanism and theological hubris but without the spiritual pungency which can pierce the spirit and lead men to repentance and worship. The cross when preached in all its glory can set the captive free and bring the prodigal back home. It is our shelter and our refuge. It is where we see Jesus most clearly. It breaks the prideful heart and mends the broken heart. It is not just the symbol of our faith. It is the very center of our faith for if there was no cross there can never be eternal life.
But let us never avert our eyes form the startling reality of His sufferings and death. The wounds and the thorns and the blood and the death are used of the Spirit to make us whole. But if we retouch that sacred cross in order to pacify and buffer and protect us from the visceral realities of true spirituality then all we have left is human reasoning with Jesus pasted on top. And that, my friends, is spiritual death.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Victory at Golgotha


Jn.19:16-18 - Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led Him away. And He bearing His cross went forth into a pace called the place of the skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha. Where they crucified Him, and two other with Him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
I Sam.17:54 - And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem.

God. Jehovah. Jesus. All the attributes of God are interconnected and are inseparable and exist as one. But if there is one central revelation of the nature and fullness of Almighty God that more wholly unveils who God is to man it is the cross. If you could take all sixty-six books of the Holy Scriptures and follow each verse and each sentence like a divine path to its source and intended destination they would all gather at the cross. It is this magnificent act of sacrifice, death, and victory that defies human understanding and without the personal apocalypse of the Holy Spirit it is foolishness. Justice and injustice; death and life; angels and demons; beautiful and grotesque; eternally planned but captured in 360 minutes; lamb and lion; goat and ram; common and royal; Roman and Hebrew; and God and man.

And the Savior Himself told us that the Old Testament Scriptures that the Jews studied, recited, and even wore as jewelry spoke of Him. If you took a verse from Chronicles that only listed three men in a genealogy and as such seemed insignificant and unrevealing, and if you distilled it down by the power and guidance of God’s Spirit using the context in history, and the lives of the men listed, and other interconnections of the Spirit you would still find the cross. And with that understanding, the following story of David and Goliath is an historical and Scriptural alabaster box that when broken fills the heart of the spiritually minded believer with another glorious glimpse of the cross.

Even the little four year old vacation Bible school child has heard the story of how David defeated Goliath with just one God empowered stone to the center of Goliath’s forehead. It is a true story of God’s great and miraculous power over evil that can be revealed through any surrendered vessel and with the weapons of God’s own choosing. God sends His prophet Samuel into the house of Jesse and He instructs Samuel to anoint the future king inside this humble house. Now Jesse brought seven of his sons before Samuel being sure that the king would come from one of these. But Samuel did not have the witness of the Spirit about any of those seven and after inquiring about any other sons Jesse sends for his youngest, David. And David comes into the house stinking of sheep and in a blur he feels oils running down his face and hears Samuel talk of the King of Israel. The Word tells us at that very day the Spirit came upon David.

Not too many days later the Philistines were locked in battle against the children of Israel and they sent out a giant named Goliath to challenge anyone from the Israeli camp to fight him and decide the war. All the Jews were afraid and they did not know what to do so they did nothing. As it happened in God’s providence Jesse sent David with some food for his brothers and when he arrived at the camp he heard Goliath defying the army of the children of God. So David, anointed by God’s Spirit, asks, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the Living God?”.

They eventually let David face Goliath and with one providential stone Goliath is hit in the head, falls to the ground, and dies. So David runs to the corpse of Goliath, picks up Goliath's own sword, and severs his head off of his body, and upon seeing this the Philistines fled and the victory was won. Why did David cut off Goliath’s head? Well it represented a visual display of total victory and was proof that the enemy was completely defeated. But now follow as we go further through this historical account that will lead us to, yes, the cross.

Many times after a battle in Old Testament times the victorious army would behead the vanquished army or its ruler using that bloody act to symbolize how great their victory had been. In those days it was also a common practice for armies to display their victory by placing the heads of the slain rulers or military leaders upon stakes so other would be adversaries would take notice and fear. In Judges chapter seven and II Kings chapter ten and elsewhere are examples of the heads of the defeated being used for emblems of victory.

But I draw your attention to I Samuel 17:54 - And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem; and he put his armor in his tent.
There are at least two things that are peculiar to this verse. Why did David take the head of Goliath to Jerusalem? And also it should be noted that the city of Jerusalem did not as yet exist. It would be founded by David at a later date but it seems that the Holy Spirit was proclaiming it prophetically as "Jerusalem" for a reason. The practice of placing the heads of defeated enemies upon wooden stakes also served to warn travelers of the power that was in the city because many times the heads were staked high outside the city. Of course after many days the weather and the birds would strip the heads of all their flesh and eventually all that was left was a skull attached to the top of a wooden stake.

So when David took the bloody head to the future city of Jerusalem he would have placed it high on a stake to warn others of God’s power and to proclaim this great victory over the Philistines and that this city belonged to the Most High God. Several years later David would take over the city from the Jebusites and name it Jerusalem, the city of peace.

Rom.16:20 - And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet.
Fast forward approximately one thousand years and journey to a place just outside Jerusalem. Look, there is the place of a skull, Golgotha. Close to four thousand years earlier God had prophesied this day by telling Eve that her seed, the Lord Jesus, would bruise the head of the serpent. (Gen.3:15) Oh yes, there was something significant and symbolic about the head of Goliath.

More than any other identification in the New Testament Jesus is referred to as the son of David. In Matt.1:1 it is the first description in the New Testament of the Lord Jesus as “the son of David”. And in the very last chapter of Revelation Jesus refers to Himself as “the offspring of David”. So from the beginning of the New Testament all the way through to the end Jesus is named the son of David. The greatest Patriarch, the greatest king of Israel, the greatest warrior, and the most compassionate and intimate servant of Jehovah was David. And of course he was just a shadow of the coming Son of the Living God. But Jesus, at the place of a skull, annihilated the enemy and won the victory over sin, death, and Satan himself. This was the prophetic fulfillment of the victory David had won over Goliath when he had placed his severed head at Jerusalem as a sign that loudly spoke of a coming victory at Golgotha.

Through all those centuries the skull itself was now gone but because the event was so significant people had referred to this place as the place of a skull. It was at this very place that King Jesus, still wearing human appearance, slew the giant and forever severed his head and held it up openly throughout the world and for all eternity. And just as the skull was placed upon a wooden stake to display the victory, the Lord Jesus, Moses’ serpent, was placed high upon a wooden beam just outside of the city of Jerusalem to warn and woo the whole world to the everlasting victory.

And everyone who looks and believes in true faith that this sacrifice is the complete and only way into the Celestial City of Peace, the heavenly Jerusalem, will be allowed into the Great City and more importantly the very presence of the Risen Christ, the Son of David. And the Scriptures declare that one day the Lord Jesus will actually rule and reign for one thousand years sitting upon the throne of his father, King David.

Remember, this magnificent and everlasting victory was once pictured in the story of a little shepherd boy who defeated the enemy with one stone and the anointing of God. Every Word that God has spoken is intertwined with all His Words and they are sewn together with one scarlet thread that winds around and through the victory that was won at Golgotha, the place of a skull.

Bethlehem, David, the valley of Elah, a stone, victory, a head, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jesus, Nazareth, Passover, Jerusalem, Gethsemane, Ciaphas, Pilate, Herod, thirty-nine stripes, a robe, thorns, mocking, a sentence, a street, a walk, a skull, two thieves, soldiers, Mary, John, nails, a spear,
blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood,
blood, blood, blood, blood, blood, blood,
blood, blood, blood, blood, blood,

Monday, February 09, 2015

What does it Mean to be a Christian?


Lk.14: 12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

Lk.14: 25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

Lk.14: 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

The word “Christian” is a moniker given to early believers. It indicated that certain people reminded the lost community that they were followers of Jesus and their behavior reminded lost people of Jesus. Over the many years the word has become a catch all and has lost any real significance. If a person is not a Muslim and is an American he is considered a Christian in many circles. Even the term “born again” has fallen on hard times and is no longer used within the wider evangelical community.
But let us use the word Christian in the accepted and colloquial sense just for a reference point. No one can be considered a Christian without being born again by God’s Spirit. No amount of theology, and no amount of doctrinal degrees, and no amount of original language credentials can make a person a Christian. No amount of catechism, and no amount of Biblical morality, and no amount of denominational acceptance can make a person a Christian. There is nothing a person can do that can transform his soul and make him a Christian. Only God’s grace empowered by God’s Spirit can lead a sinner to Christ and have that sinner truly believe that life changing gospel. There are many millions who actually believe the gospel with their religious and moral minds who have not really been born again. They are as lost as the heroin dealer and the gay atheist.
So when a sinner truly believes in Jesus and his heart and life is changed and the Spirit comes to live inside his being, now what? What should we expect of that sinner now? What changes should we see being made in his heart and life? It is here that even those who preach and believe the born again experience begin to deviate from the Scriptures they claim to embrace as literal and inerrant. It is here where the church has followed earthly mores rather than the New Testament teachings of Jesus. In the basic sense when you are born again you are a new creature in Christ and you know are commanded and certainly you now desire to follow Jesus. I mean that should be elementary however it has become blurred in these last days until almost all that is left is Jesus the Savior and not Jesus the Lord.
“I don’t have abortions and I do not do drugs and I am not homosexual and therefore Jesus is my Lord.” Really? Jesus actually did not deal with any of those sins. Yes, I said sins. But the church has created its own fig leaf aprons consisting of a few moral leaves and now it claims to be following Jesus. And millions upon millions of people who embrace those kinds of moral issues consider themselves Christians because they have believed and they have been baptized and they are church members and they take stands against a very small set of moral sins. But it goes much deeper than that.
I would like to use a certain Alabama judge who happens to be a Baptist as an example of what I am attempting to communicate. The judge’s name is Roy Moore and he is a Vietnam vet as well as a judge. You can read about him HERE.

He is representative of millions of evangelical Americans who have blended earthly allegiances and conservative morals with Christianity. This is no small issue and in reality it cuts to the very core of what it means to be a Christian. So many people believe a Christian is conservative on moral and financial issues, and he holds to the accepted list of orthodox doctrines that have been spoon fed by a man who knows more Bible than do they. And almost without exception they believe that a Christian is a patriot and supports America. That is regularly reinforced from the pulpit as well as testimonies from men and women of the military who also consider themselves as Christian. And in many cases the allegiance to America trumps the allegiance to Jesus as can be witnessed by the “American Sniper” man who could find humor and glee in killing and use all kinds of profanity and yet is considered a Christian based solely upon his patriotism toward America as well as his hatred for Muslims.
But the standard checklist of moral issues never includes war. Most evangelical will say they do not like war but it is sometimes necessary. There are so many things wrong with that statement the foundational error would be no New Testament support as well as the belief system of the early Christians. But let us assume there is a country in which citizenship was only offered to born again believers. Let us assume that all the usual moral issues seemed to be aligned with Scripture. Then those who would take up arms to defend it might be understandable even though still not Scripturally defensible. But that is not the case here.
We live in a fallen world. And the country known as America is part of this fallen world. It is consumed with money and earthly success and makes its rock stars and Hollywood actors and sports heroes millionaires. And it legalizes abortions and marries same sex partners. It has a history of racism and it was birthed by a war over taxes. To suggest that America is a Christian nation or that is was founded as a Christian nation is both absurd and a damnable lie meant to elevate America into a divine favored status. And yet this lie is not only perpetrated among those who call themselves Christians it is celebrated.
And what has happened is that the faith commonly called “Christian” has become part of an earthly culture and has thereby been compromised, diluted, and morphed into a religious phenomenon which bears little resemblance to the words and teachings of Jesus. Does the judge in the article I linked to believe that posting the Ten Commandments on public walls will have some redemptive effect upon this fallen culture? No, he does not. His belief system is a self righteous and moralistic attempt to preserve an idol he calls America and the “good old” days he longs for.
But is that what it means to be a Christian? Think about that for a moment. How self centered and narcissistic is that? Millions of evangelical are not worried about the earthly state nor the spiritual state of billions around the world. How much money goes to the poor? How many prayers are sent for the poor? How many tears are shed form those who are one heartbeat away from a lost eternity? And yet these same “Christians” would energetically go to war in order to protect “their way of life” which means earthly life. How can you not see the utter paradox in such a position as it pertains to following Jesus and forsaking all? There is no common ground here. None.
Patriotism is a form of apostasy plain and simple. It deceives the mind. It divides the heart. It compromises the faith. And in the end it changes everything about what it truly means to be a Christian. And as I said for this article we will understand the label “Christian” as meaning a born again follower of Jesus. It breeds hatred. It breeds self righteousness. It breeds greed. And there is nothing holy or sacred or humble about any of it. It is in its entirety antithetical to all Jesus lived and taught. So the question is how did we get to such a place?
Of course it all began with taxes and the Revolutionary War and an increasing spirit of American exceptionalism. Even President John Adams disavowed the word “Christian” as it pertained to America when Muslim countries were wary of trading with America. But after the Industrial Revolution that Christian narrative became a part of the curriculum taught to children. And became ingrained and unquestioned in the psyche of each successive generation. But as America prospered greatly and the average man began to lust for money and things, and as America became a world military power, the Christ nation narrative did not have to change, but what it meant to be a Christian had to endure a facelift with the culture as the scalpel.
But when the love of money and wielding violence as a determent became an acceptable part of being a Christian because to suggest otherwise would go against the now established culture, something else must take its place in order to maintain a level of boldness which would soothe the conscience. And so a few moral issues and a few doctrinal issues were called front and center. They became the measuring rod of what it meant to be a Christian. Feeding the poor and loving your enemies and being clothed with humility and being content with food and clothing were residual and parts of a heart warming sermon. They were no longer the absolutes of what it meant to follow Jesus.
And in an incredible display of self righteous duplicity preachers would hold up a Bible and declare they believed it was literal and the orthodox crowd would applaud or say “Amen!” or nod in agreement. And yet all the while this same orthodox crowd ignored what Jesus lived and said. Most of us were caught up in that scenario. It was a great time and many of us would come away from some conference walking on air as we headed for the restaurant and with fresh tapes and books in our cars. And being filled with nationalism and moralism and sense of doctrinal pride we lived to face another day ignorant of the Spirit and of the Master we claimed to follow. And when someone mumbled a repeated prayer we could shower him with all kinds of assurance that heaven was now his home even though a few minutes ago he was a stranger.
But back to the question contained in the title of this post. What does it mean to be a Christian? The short answer is a born again follower of Jesus. But to follow Jesus is to know what He taught and then obey it by the power of the Spirit. I suggest you read the words of Jesus for many moths over and over again. I suggest you pray over them. I suggest you beseech the Spirit to open the eyes of your understanding. I have been on a post journey entitled, The teachings of Jesus” and I suggest you read all of them. This is serious business if indeed we wish to follow our Savior in word and deed. And if we truly desire to be a Christian in the truest sense then we must cast off the old wineskins and drink from the new wineskins filled with His Spirit and His words.