Justified Journal

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Category: Theology of the Cross

Overlooked

‘Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps.

Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”

“I’m a shoe maker.”

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”’ -Tullian Tchividjian

Isn’t it interesting how people want to do something big and extravagant for God?  They put off the small things that they could be doing for the potential of the monument they plan in their mind.  We reason, “I want to demonstrate my love for God in a grand gesture”.  We put off the little things we can do in favor of the greater gesture.

But, sometimes life erodes that grand gesture you were planning.  Other demands and obligations take away what you had been building.

So, when others give more money, or build some fantastic monument (of one type or another) to God, we look at our own meager offerings and feel a bit ashamed.

What is your grand design for God?  Have you been hoping to put in some big offering in the plate?  Maybe you are developing some other grand gesture.

Yet, God is often found in the small things … no, the smallest things that we do.  Making a child’s lunch before school.  Picking up a friend who has a doctor’s appointment.  Calling someone.  Sometimes, we are not even aware that these small things are the very things that God receives the most glory for.

When the Son of God became incarnate, He set aside His glory to do so.  He didn’t come in great pomp and celebration.  He came as a lowly baby born in a stable.  God became man.  Jesus talked to people, He touched people, He ate with people, He traveled with people, and He lived with people.  What’s more to the point, Jesus is one of those people, He’s one of us.

Then, He descended further into the inglorious muck.  He took your sin and mine on to Himself.  “He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf”.  Only to be crucified on a Roman cross and be buried in someone else’s tomb.  He appeared lowly, weak and defeated.  Even any human glory that He may have had was stripped from Him just as His clothes were.  His shame was public.

There was no greater memorial ever built that could match Jesus’ body pierced, bleeding and hanging from the cross, though.

So, when Luther addresses the cobbler, he looks at it through Christ’s lowly work on the cross.  Although the cobbler thought he could glorify God by serving in a higher, ‘holy’ occupation, Luther saw that the man could glorify God in His mundane occupation.  There was no need for a life-altering career change.  He could serve God by … making a good shoe and selling it at a fair price.

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Jesus is the problem

Over the years, I have seen t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., which express a simple thought about Jesus in order to appeal to the un-churched.  One of them goes like this; ‘Jesus is the answer’.

While I don’t disagree with this statement, it doesn’t do too much to connect everyday people with their Savior.  Most people probably read this and then go about their day.

Let me offer an alternative, ‘Jesus is the problem’.

At first blush, this looks blasphemous.  Yet, let’s consider how Jesus was received by the Pharisees of his time:

 10Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9, NASB).

They had a problem with Jesus.  He wasn’t holding to the Law in the way that they were.  They were holding Him to a standard that focused on outward righteousness and adherence to the Law.  They expected Him to be ‘squeaky clean’.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Jesus touched the sick.  This was enough to make a person unclean!  An unclean rabbi?!! Perish the thought!  Jesus was their problem.

The Pharisees were caught up in their own righteousness defined by external law-keeping.  Instead of leading them to Christ, they were offended, no, scandalized by Jesus.  They couldn’t conceive of a God-man who was able to infect the sick with health, infect the blind with sight, infect the dead with life.

Their Law-observance led them away from the God who gave them the Law.  Law observance leads to two main directions: 1. Self-righteousness and unwillingness to become unclean, or 2. Despair and rejection of God’s Law (rebellion).  It lead the Pharisees to condemn Jesus and plot how they might destroy Him.  That’s one way to get rid of the problem!

You would think His disciples were better at understanding who Jesus was.  But, they were constantly jockeying for position:

35James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory” (Mark 10, NASB).

They believed Jesus would enter Jerusalem and fulfill the ascension Psalms (1 and 2).  They were about to have a great king, and they were on the inside!

So, Jesus corrected their thinking with the Servant Songs from the last portion of Isaiah (just read Isaiah 53).  Jesus had to become the scapegoat for human sin before He ascended to the throne.  Jesus was their problem.

Both the Pharisees and the disciples were Theologians of Glory.  The Pharisees were invested in their self-righteousness, position and power to be pleasing to God.  The disciples were invested in their sacrifice and in the ‘big pay off’ from following Jesus.

But, Jesus introduced a new Theology into the world.  Jesus was THE Theology of the Cross.  His death meant the end of the Law because He fulfilled the Law and swallowed the consequences for law-breakers.  The Pharisees who had believed that they were ‘pulling it off’ could now find the consequence to their behavior on the Cross that Jesus hung on.

The disciples, hopelessly defeated at Jesus’ death would find out that the truth was much deeper and greater than their own ambitions.  Jesus’ resurrection was the demonstration of the power of God.  It also meant that they lived in the reality of a new life; a new creation.  And, as the Spirit was poured on to them, they experienced the beginning of this new creation.  They became self-less, pouring out their lives in true sacrifice, rather than self-serving ambition.

We don’t want to think about this.  Christians don’t want to believe that they have a problem.  They’d rather go to their Christian chiropractor, their Christian dentist, and their Christian plumber and keep clean.  This is much easier than finding our righteousness was never ours from the start.  So, we return to our own vomit.

That’s why Jesus gets in the way of the things we really want to believe.  He gets in the way of what we really want to do.  All of the religious observance meant to earn God’s favor.  All of the brown-nosing ambition.  It’s all rooted in the same beetle-ridden dead tree; the self.

So, Jesus came.  The only way to end our self-idolatry was to die for it.  And in His death, at His cross, He frees us from bondage to law-keeping and selfish ambition.    He did this by becoming sin, being crucified and crushed for your sin and mine by God the Father.  He buries you with Him in Baptism.  And, the coup de grace was that he was justifying you in His resurrection.  He has made you a new creation through this work.

Therefore, there is no reason to return to the Law for righteousness.  Christ, Himself is your righteousness.  Live in the light of the Son of God who gave Himself for you.  The problem has become the answer.

Amen

 

Hide and go seek

I ran across a term that I hadn’t heard before in the book, “Left Behind and Loving It”.  The term was ‘epistemological crisis”.  It is when you learn something that turns your whole world upside-down.  It’s not just a paradigm shift, but it is a moment when your belief system is challenged by a truth discovery.

How do you respond in such an instance?  Perhaps the better question is, “How many time have you changed political positions, religious conceptions or intellectual positions when something challenging has been presented to you?”

The Scriptures can effect such a crisis.  Actually, that is what Scripture should do.  The individual should be confronted by issues, problems and confusing texts.

How do you respond to Scripture which challenge your belief system (even a ‘Christian’ belief system)?  Do you ignore it, shut it down, rely on cultural Christianity to save the day?  Or, do you just say, “That must be wrong”, and forget about it?

Maybe you decide to look for answers from someone else.  You look for someone who is ‘on your side’, and who you can trust.  You reinforce your beliefs to defend yourself against the troubling questions Scripture brings up.

These are simply the efforts of the Old Adam to avoid the onslaught of the challenging propositions in Scripture.  The Old Adam can hide behind ignorance, other people’s knowledge, avoidance, or changing the subject.  This is all rooted in fear.

We are afraid that God will kill the Old Adam.  We identify so closely with him, that we find fig leaves to protect our vulnerability from a God who is trying to expose it.  Ultimately, this means we fear the cross.

You see, the cross is not just for Jesus.  It is for us, too.  We use our strengths, resources or other means to defend us against a God who inspired the authors of Scripture to put some challenging things before our eyes.

However, once the text troubles us to our core, then God is able to make us new; to re-birth us through the process.  If you allow this to happen, it is scary.  You will have to depend on the Holy Spirit to help you understand the Scripture.  He will have to be your guide as you try to distinguish between Law and Gospel.  He will have to guide you to find Christ in the passage that troubles you.  He will have to be the one to hold your hand as you are transformed from arrogant to humble.

Church plays a vital role in this process of ‘letting go’.  You may experience a crisis of faith (this is not necessarily a bad thing).  Without the guidance of your pastor, you can end up in heresy or agnosticism.  The pastor is concerned with your eternal salvation, and can be a support as you struggle to understand, reflect, and ultimately, grow through the reading of Scripture.  Forsaking the assembling together would be foolish and dangerous.

May God keep you in His will,

John

Don’t worry if you don’t have faith in Christ …

When I studied Greek, I learned that the –ou endings meant possession.  For example, we say, “That’s Bart’s Car“.  In Spanish, you would say, “That the car of Bart“.  So, the –ou means ‘of (name)’.

So what?  Why should I care?  Because the New Testament that you’re holding is a testament to the efforts of the Old Adam to resist Grace Alone through Christ alone.

Here are my two examples:

1. Galatians 2:16a:     “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ

Here’s the Greek:

πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ   – “faithfulness of Christ Jesus”

Now, the corrected translation mash-up – yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus.

That’s a shift from man-centered religion (and worrying about the quality of your faith) to Christ centered religion which is what Christianity is.

The same translation choice was made in Philippians 3:9a:

“not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ”

The following is a better translation:

“not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through the faithfulness of Christ.”

His faithfulness trumps yours.  Sorry.

Paul wrote the following: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). 

Check the translation against the overarching message of these letters.  Is the author (Paul) concerned with the strength of your believing in a “You just gotta believe bro” way, or is He focused on setting you free from the navel-gazing religion by looking up at a cursed man on a tree who was faithful to the end?

“Please show me your glory”

Moses wanted to see God’s glory (see Exodus 33).  He wanted to experience the “otherness” of God.  It wasn’t enough for him to hear God’s voice, have real conversation with Him, and be lead through the desert by Him.

No, he wanted to have his temporal eyes exposed to the eternal God.

And, God was willing to do this.  He was going to show Moses something that would scare the hair off his head.  He was going to show him His glory.

But God wasn’t going to show what Moses actually wanted, because Moses would have been incinerated by the full vision of God’s glory.  Instead, Yahweh states,

English: Cleft in the rock known as High Place...

English: Cleft in the rock known as High Place High Place lies below Towan Head and is the only land within square Sw8063. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

20 “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

Moses was about to see the posteriora Dei, or God’s backside.

We want to see God’s glory too.  We will do the silliest things to “see” this.  Trans-like states, repetitive chants, eastern style meditation have all crept into the Christian church in an attempt to see the invisible God.

Unsatisfied with the Word in the Word (Christ in the Scriptures), man turns to himself to find an alternate route that is more satisfying to our fleshly nature.  We would rather do this than have to look at God’s backside.  That would be much too insulting.

But, in fact, God does tell Christians to look at His backside.  What else is Jesus on the Cross?  Is that the Glorious God we want, or the ignoble, defeated, bloodied sacrifice that God puts in our face?

Certainly there will come a time when we see His glory (whether we are Christians or not).  And, the work of His death brings a guarantee of resurrection for those who believe and are baptized, which means we will enter into a heaven full of God’s glory.

But we must travel through a veil of tears to get there.  Jesus promises that the servants are not greater than the master, and the suffering He underwent is the path for His children.

That is not to say that God won’t work many wonderful things here.  That is not to say we shouldn’t pray with confidence.  It is to say that God’s glory is hidden in His humiliation before our eyes.  This is crucifying in itself.  It sounds like  a contradiction to our reason.

And that is … exactly the point.

To God be the glory, forever and ever.  Amen

Life in the Middle

Life in the middle

 

Have you ever seen the show, “In the middle”?  It’s about a family who lives in the mid-west and they are middle-classed.  The parents are middle-aged and they struggle through life.  Their appliances are continually breaking down, their kids have quirks and issues and their furniture is run-down.

 

They accept their middle of the road lifestyle.  Yeah, sometimes the mom has aspirations to live a more productive life, but eventually all her best efforts lead her to the same place she began.

 

In the New Testament, Acts stands out as an interesting book.  It is a series of stories, like the Gospels, but it’s not a letter like the epistles.  It’s smack-dab in between the Gospels and the epistles, too.

 

Our passage in Acts today tells us about a time in between two important events in the New Testament.  The first is the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven which we celebrated this past Thursday.  Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of sight.  He ascended to His throne in Heaven.

 

The second important event, which we will celebrate next Sunday is Pentecost, when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.  After this event, began the greatest missionary effort of the Christian church in history.  This wasn’t a lukewarm experience for them.

 

But, the time between these two incredible events was a little … slow.  The disciples went back to Jerusalem and waited at the place they were staying.  They reunited at a central location.

 

We can get into a rut, too.  The Sunday after Easter isn’t as well attended.  The flowers don’t have quite the same glory as before, and everyone seems a little bit run-down.  We gather to pray and hear God’s word, but it just isn’t the same thing.

 

It’s kind of like high school graduation.  You reach the top of the platform to receive a diploma, but by the next week, you’re thinking about the next step in life.  You’re beginning again.

 

Maybe you’ve just lost your job, or are newly retired.  You’re thinking, “now what?”  It’s that sense of being lost, in limbo, but not quite in purgatory.  It’s the doldrums.  At times like this, we “re-assess” and “consider our options”.  We want a new life, a strong and stable identity.  You might pray more, and read the Bible more in order to find “God’s will” in the situation.

 

In our passage, the disciples began to pray.   They were praying together as one body including Jesus’ mother, Mary, and His brothers.  And Jesus was there, too.  Matthew records Jesus saying, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”(18:20).

 

This was the beginning of a community.  And this community wasn’t so small.  In fact, when Peter stood up to talk, there were 120 people present.  He stood in the middle of them and spoke about Judas.

 

He was putting things into perspective.  After Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter realized how the prophecies by King David in the Psalms were fulfilled by Judas.

 

And, who was better to realize this than Peter, who denied Jesus, and may have realized that He was this close (finger gesture) to being counted with Judas.  If it wasn’t for the intervention of Jesus praying for Peter before the Father, we might have had a different story.  Acts might have focused on John, or James, or Andrew instead.

 

But, Jesus did intervene.  He knew Peter would fall.  He knew he would deny Jesus.  Despite this, Jesus steps into the gap and prays for Peter: Luke records in Chapter 22, verses 31-32:

 

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

 Jesus gave him the promise that Peter would turn again, despite his falling.

 

Peter’s sin lead him to weep bitterly for his betrayal.  It’s a sin that repeats over and over again.  If you consider the Old Testament Israelites and how they so readily worshipped the golden calf Aaron made.  God was so angry that He basically told Moses to step aside while he destroyed the entire nation.  Thankfully, Moses intervened and Israel was spared.

 

At other times, God simply struck down those who would betray Him by following other gods.  The sacrifice of animals was not enough to intercede on their behalf.

 

You and I, too, have a tendency to go astray.  Maybe we fall into a form of worship of personalities, politicians or our own position in life.  We get caught up in money, importance and security.  But our God is a jealous God.  He will not share His glory with anyone, including you or me.  In fact, Jesus Christ has stepped into the middle of human history for one purpose; to kill us.  Because, unless He drowns the Old Adam in the waters of baptism, He cannot resurrect us.  If we remain hopeful in one work to make ourselves right before God, then we are making ourselves god.  In a word, we commit idolatry.

 

We are made aware of this idolatry and other sins through the preaching of the Law.  The law, though, is not the sum and total of Christian preaching.  A preacher who only tells you about the Law and what you should be doing is leading you into the bondage of self-righteousness.

 

Jesus has come and fulfilled all righteousness for you.  He has obeyed His Father perfectly for you.  He was the “middle man” who defended you and I before the damning testimony of our sin.  He has set you free from the rule of sin and death.  And He has come to begin the final assault on our greatest enemy; our own sinfulness.

 

The beginning of this assault was at the waters of your baptism.  It continues every time a brother or sister pray for you and with you.  It continues as Christ is present in the communion for the feeding of your faith.  It continues as you hear the word rightly preached.  And, when we go astray, make no mistake about it, the good shepherd is willing to leave 99 other sheep to find you.

 

Jesus is the intervening God who died on a cross in the middle of two criminals to become our eternal intercessor.  And, He didn’t stop there.  Jesus Christ still stands before the Father, praying on our behalf as the great high priest.  The lot has been cast in your favor in Christ. He never ceases, continually working for our salvation.

 

And He has given you a new identity; you are a son or daughter of the living God.  We have been made the children of God through His blood.  Because of this, we can pray with Jesus, saying “Our Father who art in heaven”, all in Jesus’ name.

 

To God be the glory now and forever,

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Shaken, not stirred

I live in earthquake country.  I have been through so many earthquakes that I sometimes act a little too casually when they hit.  Instead of panicking, I walk to the “safe part” of a building to wait it out.

Strong earthquakes are another story, though.

When they hit, I move more quickly and hope that it won’t last much longer.  Then, I try to reach my family to make sure they’re o.k.

The author of Hebrews tells us that God will shake both the earth and the heavens (Hebrews 12, ESV):

26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

In the heart of this terrifying threat is a hopeful promise, there are things that cannot be shaken, but will remain.

Earlier in the chapter, the author writes about the discipline of God’s children.  He doesn’t allow us to be spoiled and arrogant.  He uses physical ailments, sickness, persecution, and other trials to drive us back to His word.

It is His means of purifying the faith of His children.  It is also the evidence of His presence in our lives (along with scripture and the sacraments).

The pain and suffering He sends are like a cross that we must bear.  And some will actually be killed for the very faith they have.

But this isn’t God’s wrath.

That comes later, when He will shake the heavens and the earth.

It is the promise of a “hellish” day which everyone will witness.  It is the fulfillment of the “Mount Sinai” experience of ancient Israel.  God will be seen as a “consuming fire”.

For those who have been put through the trials and suffering meant to drive them to faith, they will remain secure on “Mount Zion”.  That is, of course, if they remain believing in the one who secured their salvation in the first place, Jesus.

Who is Jesus?  “… the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Through Him, we are, ” … the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (12:23).  And, as the author writes at the end of the chapter, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken …” (12:28).

Jesus is our Mount Zion.  He is the temple that will not be shaken.  He is the foundation upon which our faith is both founded and perfected, now and forever.

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