Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Did Jesus Have To Lose?

Sidney Herald religion column published August 10, 2014

 

Winston Churchill was visiting New York the day after the stock market crash of 1929. The noise of a crowd outside his hotel woke him. “Under my very window a gentleman cast himself down fifteen stories and was dashed to pieces, causing a wild commotion and the arrival of the fire brigade,” he wrote. Over the following weeks, investors committed suicide by shooting and overdose.

 

A loss of riches, if great enough, can make people sorrowful unto death. Jesus experienced this in Gethsemane. He “began to be sorrowful … very sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:37-38).

 

The Greek word translated “sorrowful” is lupeo. This word has various uses. A repeated use in the Bible relates to riches, loss, and poverty causing sorrow. Jesus told the rich young ruler, “Sell all that you have … and come follow me. Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

 

Paul used the word when writing about persecutions and deprivations the apostles suffered. They were “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:10)

 

Jesus was born and lived in poverty. What riches could he lose in Gethsemane? What treasure could be so great that losing it would make him sorrowful to death?

 

His treasure was in the heart of his Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit. He was losing communication with them.

 

The phrase “unto death” meant that Jesus was dying there and then. So “an angel appeared to him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22:43). This was strengthening, but not comforting. The angel only braced up Jesus’ sinking bodily nature so that He would not die too soon, in the wrong place, in the wrong way. By prophesy, He must die as the Passover Lamb, on Golgotha, on a cross, not in Gethsemane.

 

The angel carried no word from the Father. The abandonment that finally caused the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” already had begun.

 

The communion of the Son with the Father and the Holy Spirit was the original treasure, the richest ever. The Trinity is love’s eternal home. Trinitarian love is what makes heaven heavenly.

 

Once we had communion with God. Adam walked and talked with God in the first garden. But sin separated us from God. This is our poverty without Christ. But Jesus suffered the loss of love’s riches unto death so he could give the treasure to us beggars.

 

By his redemption, Jesus took on the sin that separated us from God and overcame it. Jesus restores to us the love of Father, Son, and Spirit. (Ephesians 3:14-19). “If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us. God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him.” (1 John 4:14)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sitting in the Biggest Corner Ever

Sidney Herald religion column published June 8, 2014

 

A mother ordered her naughty son to sit in a corner. After a few minutes, he told his mother, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!” He obeyed, but he didn’t submit. The conflict of wills between two different persons remained.

 

In Gethsemane, the Father told his Son to go and sit in the biggest corner ever, the corner of the sins of the whole world. He was to sit, not for any naughtiness of his own, but for the iniquities of us all. He obeyed. He went to the cross. Is that all, or did He also submit? Did Jesus sit down on the outside while standing up on the inside?

 

Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

 

Suppose there were no Trinity. Suppose “Father” and “Son” were just different titles for the same person. What would it mean to say that Jesus submitted to his Father? Is there any such thing as submission with only one person? If God were a one-person god, Jesus would be talking only to Himself. He would not be giving up His will for the will of His Father.

 

Because the Son and the Father are different persons, one person is speaking to another. Prayer is real. It is not psychological self-talk. When Jesus says to His Father, “Let this cup pass from me,” one person is speaking to another. The Father wants the Son to go to the cross. The Son does not want to go. This is a dreadful temptation to a conflict of wills. Prayer deals with real issues between real persons.

 

The language “not as I will, but as You will” reveals the temptation clearly: “I will” versus “You will.” The I and the You are real. “I” refers to one Person. “You” refers to another. The temptation shows the distinction of the Persons of the Trinity. They are different enough for Jesus to experience temptation to a conflict of wills, sweating blood.

 

The temptation was resolved by submission. The Son submitted to the Father. Through the submission of Christ, the unity of the Trinity was preserved. Because his submission was ready, the temptation did not lead to sin. R.C.H. Lenski says, “From the first word of the prayer to the last Jesus submits to his Father’s will.”

 

In Gethsemane we are not viewing melodrama. Because of the Trinity, both the temptation and the submission are concrete — a sweaty, bloody affair. The innocence of the suffering of Christ goes beyond obedience to submission. He sat down not only on the outside, but on the inside, in our corner, for us, for our sins.

 

The sacrifice for our sins needed to be perfect. It couldn’t be mechanical obedience. It couldn’t be simulated or half-hearted. Because Jesus not only obeyed, but obeyed submissively, He is perfect to the uttermost, and his submission saves us to the uttermost.

 

 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

You're Not Supposed to Hit a Substitute that Hard

Sidney Herald religion column published May 18, 2014

 

When the quarterback sprained his ankle, his substitute came into the game. On the next play, there was no backfield blocking. Both outside line backers came in fast and hit the quarterback hard. His helmet came off. The ball rolled out of his hands. He lay there dazed. Finally being shifted to a stretcher, he said, “You’re not supposed to hit a substitute that hard.”

 

How many real football players would say that? Not many. Being a substitute puts a player into the game fully for the starter.

 

Christ is our substitute. He is in fully for us. In Gethsemane, he had no backfield blocking. He got hit hard by two charging linebackers.

 

There, Jesus “began to be sore amazed” (Mark 14:33) The Greek word is ekthambeo. It means to throw into terror, to alarm thoroughly. He saw something appear suddenly. It already was approaching him when first he saw it. It had the drop on him. It forced itself upon him. It was an assaulting, menacing horror. Jesus saw a killing nightmare.

 

His saying, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34), was not a look forward to the cross. The horror was killing him already in the garden. The nightmare would have killed him on the spot had not an angel strengthened him. (Luke 22:43) He saw the twin causes of death: sin and wrath. Those were the two linebackers that hit him.

 

Jesus’ cries in Gethsemane are not cowardly snivels, as if whining that linebackers should not hit a substitute so hard. They are his heroic substitution for us in facing the wrath of God on our sin. Facing wrath is lethal. It was killing Jesus. Before the foundation of the world, He had agreed bravely to this suffering.

 

Because Jesus was acting as our Mediator to bring us to God, he also had no backfield blocking against being hit by sin in his conscience. The qualification of a mediator is sympathy. To bring alienated parties together, the mediator must understand each party. Without sinning, Jesus suddenly felt what it is to be a sinner. He saw sin in his conscience as a killing nightmare. His holiness and his sympathy for sinners made him feel sin the way we should but can’t.

 

Francis Pieper says, “The transfer of our sin to Him was a purely juridical divine act [but this] penetrated to the very heart and conscience of the suffering Christ. … He felt the sin and guilt of all men in His soul as His own sin and guilt.”

 

Jesus took sin and wrath to give us forgiveness and peace. “Bless the LORD ... who forgives all your iniquity.” (Psalm 103:2) In justification, God gives us Christ’s righteousness and declares us innocent. Christ’s righteousness brings peace and joy. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” (Romans 5:1) Matthew Harrison explains Romans 14:17, “Where Christ’s righteousness is laid hold of [by faith], there is peace of conscience and where there is peace of conscience, there is a profound joy.”

 

 

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Can an Old Cigarette Ad Show Us about Gethsemane?

Sidney Herald religion column published April 13, 2014

 

Some of you remember. Before 1971, television had cigarette advertisements. After that, the ads were banned.

 

The jingle for one brand went, “Over, under, around, and through; Pall Mall travels pleasure to you.” The video showed smoke passing over, under, around, and through tobacco to the smoker. This illustrates something that happened to Jesus in Gethsemane.

 

There, Jesus said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34) The Greek word translated “exceedingly sorrowful” is perilupos. The second part of that word speaks of sorrow. The first part, peri, tells where the sorrow was. It was over, under, around, and through. Grief both surrounded and penetrated Jesus.

 

Jesus became “deeply distressed,” “very heavy,” or “full of heaviness.” (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:33). The Greek here is ademoneo, the strongest word in the New Testament for depression. It means “sated to loathing.”

 

Sate simply means satisfying an appetite or desire to the full. After eating four pieces of cake with ice cream, you don’t feel like having more. If something forced you to eat more, you would go past being sated to loathing cake and ice cream. You would be full of heaviness. This heavy fullness amplifies that sorrow was over, under, around, and through Jesus.

 

Something glutted Jesus into severe depression by overfilling his mind. It was worse than tobacco, more toxic than tar and nicotine. It was our sin. Jesus loathed it and was saving us from it.

 

The atonement was under way in Gethsemane. Our sins were being laid on him as a sacrifice to reconcile us to God. This was a judicial assignment by God of our sin to him so that He, as our substitute, could satisfy God’s judgment for us. This assignment caused him to feel our sins in his conscience as if they were his. This does not mean He sinned. It means substitution, by his sympathy for us, went that far.

 

As sinners, we are dull or numb to sin. It takes a holy person to feel sin, to loath it, to be weighed down by sin into depression. Because Jesus is the only holy man, He is the only man who really felt sin.

 

These truths may weigh our hearts down, as they should. But take heart. God has brought joy from sorrow. The resurrection of Jesus shows that, though He suffered the sentence of death for our sins, He triumphed over sin and death. He can assign to us his holiness and life the way our sin and death were assigned to him.

 

As the assignment of our sins to him had an effect in his conscience, the assignment of his righteousness to us has an effect in our conscience. While the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not perfect the consciences of the worshipers (Hebrews 9:9), they pointed to Christ. Christ’s sacrifice cleanses and purifies our consciences by his blood (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22), and by his resurrection (1 Peter 3:21). Christ absolves us and gives us peace.

 

 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Left Alone, Entangled in Ourselves

President Ronald Reagan had good reason to say, "Trust, but verify." Is this a good approach to living by faith in God, however?

 

Faith trusts the promise of God. What happens when we mix trusting God's promise of justifying us, declaring us righteous in his sight, with verifying his word? What happens when we seek to monitor ourselves in the growth of faith and love, in the new obedience, following our justification. It returns us where we were before faith: left alone, and entangled in ourselves. Oswald Bayer explains:

 

What are our lives directed toward? This is the decisive point. It is decisive in the controversy of Luther's theology with Roman Catholicism and with Pietism about that which has been called -- differing from Luther's own theology -- the question of relating justification and sanctification. To what do we look? May we and can we look away from ourselves and solely at Christ? Or do we look back at ourselves as made anew, seeking to monitor ourselves in the growth of faith and love, in the new obedience, in the progress we make, even in the sanctification that is said to follow after justification? When we are blessed by God and born anew, do we seek to feel the pulse of our own faith? Doing this is a dangerous displacement that leads us away from the Reformation understanding of faith. The moment we turn aside and look back at ourselves and our own doings instead of at God and God's promise, at that moment we are again left alone with ourselves and with our own judgment about ourselves. We will then be inevitably entangled in ourselves. We will fall back into all the uncertainty of the defiant and despairing heart that looks only to self and not to the promise of God. That is why it is so important to take note of the means and medium by which justifying faith comes.

 

Oswald Bayer, trans. Geoffrey w. Bromiley, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 2003), pp. 43-44.

 

 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

No CEO of Holy Spirit, Incorporated

Sidney Herald religion column published January 19, 2014

 

George Carlin said, “One nice thing about egotists: they don't talk about other people.” The Holy Spirit is not an egotist. He does not talk about himself. He talks about the Son.

 

Tom Peters wrote: “Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. Here's what it takes to be the CEO of Me Inc.” He tells how to promote SELF™.

 

Such is the world. The Holy Spirit is not of the world. The Spirit is not of this Age of the Individual. He is not the CEO of Me Inc. or Holy Spirit Incorporated. He promotes a brand, so to speak, but not his own. The Spirit promotes the brand of Jesus.

 

John says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” (1 John 4:2-3)

 

We recognize the Spirit’s work by seeing where the brand of Jesus is recognized. Here is Jesus’ brand: the man Jesus is God come in the flesh. Wherever we see Jesus recognized as God incarnate, there is the Spirit.

 

“When the Helper comes …the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26) “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14)

 

The humility of the Spirit becomes clearer when we realize his magnificence in the Trinity. The Athanasian Creed summarizes from Scripture that the Spirit is uncreated, infinite, eternal, almighty, God, and Lord. It says, “In this Trinity none is before the other or after another; none is greater or less than another.” The Nicene Creed says the Spirit “with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”

 

The Spirit is glorious, but He makes little of himself. With the Father, He gives the Kingdom to the Son. At the end of the age, the Spirit, with the Son, will return the Kingdom to the Father. At different times, the Father and the Son have the Kingdom, but the Spirit never does. The Spirit always is building a Kingdom for Others.

 

The great promoter, P. T. Barnum, said, “Without promotion, something terrible happens: nothing.” Without the Holy Spirit, nothing happens. Paul said, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”(1 Corinthians 12:3)

 

So Martin Luther says in his Small Catechism: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called my by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”