Good Friday – 20 Centuries Ago…

jesus-crucifixion

On Good Friday, while we go through our daily routines, use your imagination and travel back with me twenty centuries to the dusty roads of southern Palestine.

The son is appearing over the horizon. By this time, the rooster has crowed, alerting Simon Peter to the fact that, just as Jesus predicted, he would deny Jesus not once, but three times during the previous night. The other disciples have scattered in fear.

Jesus has spent the entire night facing an illegal, hostile, kangaroo court designed to railroad him into a verdict of execution.

The Jewish leaders have demanded an audience with Pontius Pilate, who, normally in Caesarea, is in Jerusalem because of the crowds associated with Passover. Pilate tolerates the Jewish leaders, hearing them out. But, seeing through their false accusations, Pilate agrees not (yet) to have Jesus executed, but to have him flogged. (death may be less cruel)

Jesus is about to have his back shredded and ripped from his body, producing voluminous blood-loss and hypovolemic shock. This was the type of torture from which prisoners often died. The Roman writer, Cicero, described it as “the cruelest and most hideous punishment possible.”

But, the crowds aren’t satisfied with the flogging.  They want death!  “Crucify him!”, they shout repeatedly.  So the verdict is handed down….the death penalty. For only Rome has the authority to execute a death sentence. And their favorite form of execution? Crucifixion.

Crucifixions are “events” intended to send a message of terror to the onlooking crowds: “Thinking about rebelling again Rome? Behold! This is your fate should you follow through.”

But, this is Good Friday, right? Given Jesus’ condition, how could anyone ever describe it as “good?”

Because, without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection.

I saw a sign once sitting outside a coffee shop on the Friday prior to Easter.  It read:

“Come on in – where every Friday is Good – and no one has to die.”

That’s a nice sentiment, I guess.  But it completely contradicts what God says:

“For all have sinned…. [and] the wages of sin is death.”

Translation:  The verdict is in.  We’re all guilty of sin.  Every last one of us.  And God’s payment to us – the wages we have earned for our sin – is death.  An eternal death sentence.

Today, consider Him who died, so that we wouldn’t have to.

This is the Gospel.

To put it in the words of contemporary culture:

karma

From John MacArthur’s brilliant “God With Us”:

“Think for a moment about how Jesus died. It was not an easy, gentle passing from this world. It was excruciating agony and torture of the worst kind, for it was on a cross. He suffered in His death. He drank the bitter cup at Calvary in its fullness – He drained it to the last drop. He experienced all the pain, all the loneliness, all the torments that have ever been associated with death…..The death He tasted was the penalty of our sin.

The prophet Isaiah, seven centuries before Christ was born, put it this way:

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain,… Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,… He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (53:3-5; emphasis mine)

MacArthur adds,

Jesus Christ received the full force of all that the devil could throw at Him. More than that (far more), He received the full expression of God’s wrath over sin.”

Contrary to the sign outside the coffee shop, according to God – someone did have to die.

So Christ did. For us. Willingly.

Why? Because of his relentless love for us all.

It’s Friday,…but Sunday’s Comin’, Nick

 

The Resurrection’s Impact on a Brilliant (now former) Atheist

Below is an article penned by Oxford professor, Alister McGrath.  McGrath is a brilliant intellectual, holding a doctorate in theology as well as a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics. (Ever heard the myopic lie about the Christian faith being solely for the intellectually weak? It’s actually the intellectually weak who perpetuate this mockery.)

The article was published years ago in Christianity Today Magazine.  For convenience, I have printed the article in its entirety for you here.  Enjoy, nw

The Resurrection: A Bridge Between Two Worlds

How the Resurrection infused my rational faith with a passionate hope.
Alister McGrath

 

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A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.” What would have happened to me, I often wonder, if I had read those words of C. S. Lewis when I was 18 years old and been alerted to the danger of reading? At the time, I was a grumpy and frankly rather arrogant atheist. I was totally convinced that there was no God, and that anyone who thought there was needed to be locked up for her own good. I was majoring in the sciences at high school and had won a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford University, beginning in October 1971. I had every reason to believe that studying the sciences further would confirm my rampant godlessness. While waiting to go up to Oxford, I decided to work my way through a pile of “improving books.” Needless to say, none of them were religious.

Eventually, I came to a classic work of philosophy—Plato’s Republic. I couldn’t make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows—and is meant to know—that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery.

As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that’s the end of the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it?

Had I read Lewis at that stage, I would have known that he once shared my dilemma as the imaginative deficiency of his youthful atheism began to dawn on him: “On the one side, a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other, a glib and shallow rationalism.” Yet even without Lewis, a seed of doubt had been planted within my dogmatic mindset. I could not have known this, but within a year, such doubts would overwhelm me and lead me to rediscover Christianity.

My own conversion was intellectual. I didn’t need a quick spiritual fix. Instead, I encountered a compelling and luminous vision of reality so powerful and attractive that it demanded a response. Christianity made more sense of the world I saw around me and experienced within me than anything else—my earlier atheism included. I discovered the sheer intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith—its remarkable, God-given ability to offer us a lens through which we can see things, bringing everything into a sharper focus. It’s a light that illuminates the shadowlands. That’s why I’ve come to love Lewis’s great one-liner: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not just because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Although my journey of faith started with reason, it did not end there. The novelist Evelyn Waugh once wrote of the “delicious process of exploring” that he experienced upon converting to Christianity in 1930. I know just what he meant. Everything is new and exciting. It’s all too much to take in at once. You have to keep coming back, going deeper each time around. That’s what I found with the Resurrection.

Eminently Reasonable

My first reflections on the resurrection of Christ were exactly what you’d expect from a recovering hyper-rationalist. My questions were all about historical factuality. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? What was the evidence for it? At that stage, my concern was really to reassure myself of the trustworthiness of the New Testament. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then the New Testament could not be trusted. If it did, the New Testament was to be trusted. Although I emerged from this period of questioning with my faith intact, I could not help feeling there was rather more to the resurrection of Christ than the validation of the authority of Scripture.

I now began to reflect on how the Resurrection helped me make sense of the identity of Christ. I cut my theological teeth on works like German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus: God and Man, which offered a complex and intriguing defense of the Resurrection as a public event and argued its importance for understanding the true significance of Jesus Christ.

My own conversion was intellectual. I didn’t need a quick spiritual fix. Instead, I encountered a compelling and luminous vision of reality so powerful and attractive that it demanded a response.

My early concern was to get straight what Christians believed, and why they believed it. How does the Resurrection fit into the web of Christian beliefs? How does it fit into the overall scheme of the Christian faith? After several years of wrestling with these issues, I came down firmly on the side of Christian orthodoxy. I became, and remain, a dedicated and convinced defender of traditional Christian theology. Having persuaded myself of its merits, I was more than happy to try to persuade others as well. My early books had titles such as Understanding Jesus and Understanding the Trinity.

Today, I remain convinced that Christianity gives the best “big picture” of reality, one which makes sense of science, history, culture, and personal experience. This is one of its greatest strengths, and it helped me come to faith. Yet I came to realize that it has more strengths than I had initially appreciated. I was like someone holding a diamond up to the light, and realizing it had many facets—each scintillating brilliantly in the light—and rejoicing as I came to appreciate their individual beauty and relevance.

A deeper appreciation of the significance of the Resurrection slowly began to dawn. I had always understood that the significance of the Resurrection went beyond deepening our understandings of the identity of Christ and our own situation. Yet I found it difficult to express this in words, and could not quite grasp its traction on the deeper things of life.

Deeper Dimensions

My appreciation of the deeper dimensions of the gospel grew considerably as I worked as a curate—the Church of England’s term for an assistant pastor—in a parish in England’s East Midlands in the early 1980s, ministering to those who were suffering, dying, and bereaved. Ordinary people, often in the final stages of their life, explained to me how their faith in the Resurrection transformed their lives and brought new hope to their sufferings and losses. As I listened to them, I realized that they were ministering to me as much as I to them.

Those good faithful Christian people taught me that the Resurrection enabled believers to do more than think. It helped them to cope with the sorrows, ambiguity, and pain of life. They hadn’t read Pannenberg. But they had immersed themselves in the New Testament and absorbed its fundamental message of hope. They knew that, even though they walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God was with them. So they kept walking through the wilderness of this world, knowing God was by their side. They knew that Christ’s resurrection was the firm foundation for their hope that all who trusted in him would finally rise with him and be with him in the New Jerusalem. So they faced suffering with dignity and serenity, knowing that those who suffer with Christ will be glorified with him.

To put it simply: Ordinary Christian believers helped me realize that the Resurrection changes not just the way we think but also the way we live. Things that I had understood in a rather dry and detached way now became living realities. What I had once studied, I now inhabited. What I had once understood, I now embraced. My time in a parish helped me to realize that the gospel impacted every aspect of our existence—our reasoning, emotions, imaginations, and values. Looking back on those days, I can now see that they liberated me from an impoverished view of the Christian faith. There’s nothing wrong with a faith that shapes the way we think—as long as we allow it to do its work of transforming every aspect of our lives. The healing balm of the gospel needs to salve the wounds of every faculty that we possess, so that they can all be transformed, enriched, and empowered through the grace of God.

Now many readers will feel—not without good reason—that this is all rather obvious. It is to me now. But it wasn’t when I began my pilgrimage of faith over 40 years ago. It was something I had to discover, and learn the hard way. To use a phrase from Lewis, my imagination was baptized as I realized how much more there was to discover about the gospel.

And so I returned to the Resurrection. I was already reassured of its historical truth. I had figured out its enormous implications for a right understanding of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. But now I was ready for more—to engage with the Resurrection at a level and with an enthusiasm I had not known before. So what did I encounter?

Space permits only one reflection: It brought a new dimension to my understanding of worship. The resurrection of Christ creates a bridge between two worlds—the everyday world in which we exist and a better and brighter world of the Christian hope. Sharing in Christ’s resurrection means sharing in the hope that we shall one day inhabit the New Jerusalem, and anticipating being part of its worship and adoration. Though our entry into the courtyards of heaven lies in the future, we can anticipate it now. Worship on earth is a foretaste of the worship of heaven.

The Fragrance of Heaven

I came across an illustration years ago that helped me visualize this. In his 1888 work The Atmosphere, the French astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) reproduced an illustration that he declared to be a medieval woodcut. (This is now thought to be Flammarion’s own invention, by the way.) It shows a man on the threshold of the everyday world, peering beyond it into a deeper and more complex reality.

Ordinary Christian believers helped me realize that the Resurrection changes not just the way we think but also the way we live.

That’s how I see the Resurrection. By his death and resurrection, Christ has built a bridge and opened a door to the New Jerusalem. Not only do we, as citizens of heaven, have a God-given and Christbased right of entry and abode there; we can anticipate our arrival in its courtyards, allowing the worship of heaven to inspire and excite us right now. The fragrance of heaven wafts into the everyday world. By God’s grace, those things we enjoy and love now become signs and pledges of something greater to come. Jonathan Edwards put this rather well in his great sermon of September 1733, “The Christian Pilgrim”:

To go to heaven fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.

The resurrection of Christ is the guarantor that these hopes of heaven are not the pathetic delusions of wistful human hearts. No. These are realities that are secured, disclosed, and illuminated through the gospel declaration of the resurrection of Christ as the firstfruits, with believers to follow in God’s own good time. No wonder the New Testament exults in the Resurrection hope!

When Paul speaks of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8, NIV 1984), he is not forbidding us to explore but rather encouraging us to do so, in the knowledge that there will always be more to discover about Christ, the focus and center of our faith. Paul is right: Knowing Christ is better than anything the world can offer, even though that knowledge is limited by our finitude and sin. But one day, we shall know Christ as he really is, and be with him in his kingdom. Christ’s incarnation evokes our wonder that God once came to us; his resurrection consolidates our hope that one day we shall return home, rejoicing, to that same God.

Alister McGrath is professor of theology at King’s College London, and president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

Drawing Near to God – And What It Cost Him

TempleVeil

Understanding what it means to be able to “draw near to God”…

There are people in important roles whose office I could call today and be told either it will be days or weeks before I can see them, or that I can’t see them at all.

Not so with the God who spoke the Cosmos into existence.

The Old Testament Law was given by God not to make us perfect but rather to show us how utterly imperfect we are in our sin.

An important part of that Law was the role of the Levitical Priests (Old Testament priests were members of the tribe of Levi). The priests were instructed by the Law to intercede for mankind. In other words, outside of God choosing to speak to an individual like Daniel or Gideon, or prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, regular people had no intimate access to God. Only priests had that privilege.

Think about that for a minute.  In Old Testament times you and I couldn’t talk to God. We had to wait our turn and go through a priest.

Additionally, only once a year, the high priest (the highest rank of all Levitical priests) – and only the high priest -had permission to enter the Holy of Holies (a designated inner room in the Old Testament tabernacle) to offer blood from an animal to atone for the sins of mankind. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin,” the author of Hebrews wrote.

This entering of the Holy of Holies was no casual or hurried experience.  Jewish tradition cites if the high priest did not keep every single required step in this process he did so at the risk of immediate death – this is how seriously God has always taken the atonement for the sin of mankind.

Bottom line: the Law kept mankind outside the intimate presence of God.

But God so loved the world…

The author of Hebrews wrote, “the Law made nothing perfect, but on the other hand, a better hope is (now) introduced through which we draw near to God.”

This was revolutionary news to first century people.

God introduced his new covenant. The need for human priests was fulfilled in the perfect life, death and resurrection of our true High Priest, Jesus Christ.

At his death, the veil in the Old Testament tabernacle that separated the designated human high priest from the Holy of Holies – which symbolized God’s intimate presence – was torn in two from top to bottom signifying the immediate arrival of the new covenant of God with man through Christ.

No longer did mankind need a human being to intercede to God on their behalf. “There is (now) one mediator between God and man,” Paul wrote, “the man, Jesus Christ.”

To the Ephesians believers, Paul encouraged them with this life-changing good news: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Now, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, you and I can approach the throne of God boldly. About anything. Anytime. Anywhere. No wait time. No line to see him.

Stop for a moment and visit with God today. He loved us so much he gave his only Son up to Roman execution so that we might have intimacy with him – and he with us.

Love you all, Nick