The Necessary yet Horrible Rejection of Jesus

What a deep and heavy paradox is the rejection and death of Jesus Christ. It was the most necessary thing for our salvation, and yet it was the most horrible thing that ever happened. As Jesus said it, "The Son of man goes as it is written, but woe to him by whom he goes!"  (Matt 26:24)

Here is the great paradox in that Jesus should have been accepted by the Israelite nation 2000 years ago in faith and joy, and yet it was simultaneously necessary that he be rejected in order to accomplish salvation! The things written about him in the OT Scripture, that he would die and raise again, must be fulfilled. It was necessary. (Luke 24:44, 46)

Jesus must go to the cross, but woe to the man who volunteers he goes to it! Woe to the man who sends him there, yet Peter is not treated well for preventing him either! Who would ever suggest that Jesus be crucified, and yet, knowing what it was for, who would stop it? 

Let us stand in awe. Let us weep in reverence. Let us cherish this gift of gifts. Let us live lives of sacrifice and service to advance the gospel unto the glory of Christ!




The Cross Road // 十字架的道路

Recently had a retreat here at EBCT entitled "The Cross Road" (十字架的道路). I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope it might benefit you as well.

Cross-Centered Living Is Christian Living 基督徒的生活就是以十字架為中心的生活 

[1 Corinthians 2:2]

His Blood and God’s Love  他的血及神的愛  

(Penal Substitution and the Love of God 贖罪祭和神的愛)
[1 John 4:8-10]

[mp3: http://www.ebct.org.tw/sermon/sunday_worship/2010-09-25(1)_recording.mp3]

His Blood Advocates For You 他的血為你的中保 

(Propitiation and Guilt 挽回祭和罪疚)
[1 John 1:8-2:2]

[mp3: http://www.ebct.org.tw/sermon/sunday_worship/2010-09-25(2)_recording.mp3]

His Blood Secures You 他的血是你的保證  

(Redemption and Perseverance 救贖和堅忍到底)
[John 10:27-28]

[mp3: http://www.ebct.org.tw/sermon/sunday_worship/2010-09-25(3)_recording.mp3]

His Blood Sanctifies You 他的血使你成聖 

(Reconciliation and Holiness 和好和聖潔)
[Colossians 1:19-23]

[mp3: http://www.ebct.org.tw/sermon/sunday_worship/2010-09-26_recording.mp3]




Jesus' Death: Vicarious Atonement and Example

The death of Jesus Christ is simultaneously vicarious atonement and example for us to follow. His life and death was to accomplish something objective: our salvation (he obeyed in our stead, and received our penalty in our stead). For this very reason (it actually saves us), it was love; and thus it serves as the greatest example of sacrificial service. 

Both, not either-or

There is a version of 'Christianity' (which is not really at all) that says God just loves everyone, doesn't care too much about sin and forgiveness, and he definitely does not require blood sacrifice for the sins of humanity! Jesus came to reveal God's love by coming and giving up everything to die for us. That's all Jesus' death is, subjective: a example meant to woo us by showing us what love is. 

Yet...how can that be love? What actually does it show us? Nothing. Except maybe that throwing away a life for no purpose is a good thing?

Of all the places in the Bible where Jesus is presented as an example, one of the strongest ones is probably Philippians 2. Of the places where it mentions the death of Jesus, I think this is the one most believed to refer to Jesus' death as merely an example. (If you're not familiar, read Philippians 2:3-11)

Studying through Philippians these days, I have been encouraged that even here, you cannot separate the meaning of the death of Jesus (i.e. vicarious atonement) from the example that Jesus' set. Yes, the Bible does indeed set up Jesus as an example to follow--but it does not do that apart from what Jesus' did uniquely that we could never do.

Indications that the meaning of Jesus' death is necessarily implied in Philippians 2:

1) The sudden mention of the cross in verse 8

"And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Paul interjects the words "even death on a cross!" to an otherwise complete sentence. The mention of the cross does indicate the depth of Jesus' self-humbling, but at the same time, it cries out the meaning of the cross!

We must not forget that in many other places this phrase "the cross" can stand indeed for the whole gospel message. Philippians 3:18 speaks of "enemies of the cross of Christ." Obviously, not enemies of the kind of death, or of the actual object--but of the gospel of the Savior crucified for our sin. 1 Corinthians 2:2 also speaks of "Jesus Christ and him crucified" as the core element of his preaching. 

I think that, for Paul, the mention of the cross must include at least in part the meaning of his death.

2) Jesus' death was him looking out for the interests of others

This whole section (verses 5-11) on Christ humbling himself is set forth as an example of how we are ourselves to behave. Paul said this in verses 3-4:

"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."

Following the rest of the passage, we find that Jesus (who was forever God) was born as a slave, lowering himself, and that he humbled himself by obedience unto death. There is a progression here. The ultimate aim is Jesus' obedience unto death.

Thus, it is this unto-death-obedience that Paul is setting forward as "looking out for the interests of others." This means there was a need for Jesus to do this. He was doing this to accomplish something. It was because we were in a dangerous predicament, that Jesus, looking out for our needs because he loved us, came to do all necessary to save us from that predicament!

3) Obedience is rendered to Jesus in verses 9-11

At the one moment (verses 5-8) he is an example to be obeyed, and the next moment (verses 9-11) he is the Lord of all creation to whom all knees will bow eventually! 

This is obviously not an example of what will happen to us when we humble ourselves! Jesus' obedience is not merely an example. He is not just a perfect man to follow! He is the God of all the universe! 

This is the meaning of the death of Jesus, and whatever example we learn from Jesus' death flows out of and is grounded upon what he actually did there--even in Philippians 2!

Jesus did indeed come in love. His life is a perfect example of love, and his death is the climax of his love. Yet it is love precisely because it paid the penalty for our sins, such that we can be forgiven by God and belong to him forever, and praise him forever, and enjoy his glory--his magnificent and radiant perfections--forever.

"Jesus paid it all." This is the greatest love imaginable.




The Good News of the Love of God

Started reading Counsel from the Cross this week and wanted to share some quotes.

The gospel of Jesus Christ--that we are all more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe but more loved and welcomed than we ever dared hope...

[Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson, Counsel from the Cross,
 (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 49]

Defining the gospel wasn't even the main point of the sentence. The main point of the sentence was that the gospel is meant to be lived out in relationships. But what a wonderful compact definition! 

In a later chapter, we get another superb definition:

God's love is simply this: a passionate, unwavering, joyous determination to do us good and to bestow upon our souls eternal happiness, no matter what the cost.

(Counsel 60)

One more on what "cost" this love went to to "do us good":

God set his love upon undeserving sinners by turning his back on his deserving Son--all because he loves.

(Counsel 65)

Subtitle of the book: "Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ." Almost half-way through and it has been true to this theme. Strong on the gospel message. Strong on the centrality of grace. Strong on the seriousness of sin. Strong on the love of God, both as the foundation of our acceptance with God, as well as the fountain of transforming grace as a Christian--it is by inward transformation in response to his love that we grow in love. His gracious acceptance of us is the fountain of joy and love that leads to wholeness and obedience.




Who But Jesus Alone?

From whatever angle we look upon his sacrifice we find its uniqueness to be as inviolable as the uniqueness of his person, of his mission, and of his office. Who is God-man but he alone? Who is great high priest to offer such sacrifice but he alone? Who shed such vicarious blood but he alone? Who entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption, but he alone?

[John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 56.]

The death of Jesus was a unique thing never to be repeated either by him or by any one else. It was not just a vague demonstration of sacrifice and love just like a soldier jumping on a grenade for another soldier. It was unique. It accomplished something objectively in history and is complete, final.

Nobody else has done this but Jesus alone. Who has born our sin but Jesus alone? Who was sinless and able to bear the sins of others but Jesus alone? Who took the penalty of divine wrath for others but Jesus alone? Who has provided reconciliation with our Maker and Judge but Jesus alone? Who has redeemed but Jesus alone.

Only he could do it. Only he did it. He did it for us, in our stead, in order that we might be brought to God to be loved by him and to love him forever. 

While other religions offer a law and a list, Jesus Christ offers redemption, divine accomplishment.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace!




The Gospel in All its Forms

"The Gospel in All its Forms". Thought-provoking article by Tim Keller.




A Great Dilemma (pt. 2)

I read an article yesterday by J. I. Packer called "What Did the Cross Achieve?" which seems to echo the same sentiment as my previous post about what the true dilemma is.

Surely the primary issue with which penal substitution is concerned is neither the morality nor the rationality of God's ways, but with the remission of my sins; ...

That is the same point I tried to make in my previous post. He goes on (same sentence):

...and the primary function of the concept is to correlate my knowledge of being guilty before God with my knowledge that, on the other hand, no question of my ever being judged for my sins can now arise, and, on the other hand, that the risen Christ whom I am called to accept as Lord is none other than Jesus, who secured my immunity from judgment by bearing on the cross the penalty that was my due.

[J. I. Packer, "What Did the Cross Achieve?" in In My Place Condemned He Stood, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 79.]

The subtitle of the article is "The Logic of Penal Substitution". Its purpose is to explain what is meant by penal substitution, and to argue that this is the primary and fundamental meaning of the death of Christ. It was a death of substitution, and it was to pay the penalty that was our due. Whatever else the cross was, it flows out of this one core.

He labors to show that penal substitution "be evaluated as a model setting forth the meaning of the atonement rather than its mechanics." (Ibid., 78) This is why he calls it a "model" and a "concept". There is an element of mystery with regard to the actual dynamic of what happened there. We are interested not in the mechanics, but the meaning.

I said in the previous post that there is a "real tension" between God's need to punish us and desire to save us. I do not mean that there is a tension in his attributes. I mean simply that "God had to be just in his justification of sinners". While this may have been a mystery to us, there was no dilemma in God's mind. The Bible seems to present God as freely providing exactly what was necessary to save us, not as in some dilemma as to what to do. (thinking of Eph 1:4-6, Eph 2:4-5, Rom 8:32, etc.)

What is concerned in our explanation of the gospel is not primarily to justify God's justification of us, but rather to proclaim that through Christ sinners can be justified, and urge sinners to see their plight outside of Christ. The main idea is not to prove God's morality, but to offer remission of sins.




A Great Dilemma

There is a common pattern of gospel presentations that hinge on a dilemma. You might have heard it or used it. It goes something like this: God is a holy God who must punish sinners (which all men are), but God also is a loving God who wants to bestow blessing and good. On the one hand, God must punish us, and on the other hand God wants to love us.

Here is the hinge: Whatever is God to do?

Here is the answer: God solved this problem through the person of Jesus Christ.

I have shared the gospel this way for a long time. It suddenly hit me just now that while the tension drawn between these two points is real, I wonder if presenting this tension as a dilemma is the most helpful or accurate.

That it is a real tension, look up Romans 3:26 which says Christ came to die for our sins "so that he [God] might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." It is "just justification" or "justified justification". [i.e. We are declared righteous and accepted by God in a way that does not compromise his righteousness / justice.] Thus, there is tension between these two points. The cross is the glorious intersection between the holiness of God and the love of God. The demand of justice is satisfied in executing its punishment, and the demand of love is satisfied in providing life eternal freely to all who receive it.

Here is my problem: While the Bible does say God had to be just in his justification of sinners, it does not present God as being in some kind of dilemma about it. I think this presentation is also not very helpful in that it takes focus away from the real problem: that of the listener.  Rather than presenting God as having a difficult predicament, much more the Bible presents man as being in a difficult, impossible predicament. 

Here is the real dilemma: Whatever am I to do, a desperate sinner under the judgment of God?

The real problem is that we have sinned against God and we are wicked to the core. Not only our actions and words and even thoughts are evil, but they are all flowing out of a wicked disposition. This combined with God's perfect righteousness spells out trouble for us. We stand utterly guilty before the Judge. This is the problem God solved through Christ.

The listener should not come out thinking, "Whew, I'm glad God solved that problem of his!" He should come out thinking, "Wow, God solved my problem by extending mercy to me in Christ!" 

Before we talk about the cross, the listener should be feeling desperate, feeling the weight of his sin, the sureness and seriousness of God's coming wrath, thinking, "Woe is me! I am lost!" It is then and only then, that the news of the cross will be heard as good news! The cross is the solution to our dilemma, much more than it is a solution to God's.




The Goodness of Good Friday

I never used to know why Good Friday was called "good" Friday. It did not seem good at all. From the perspective of the world, "good" Friday was a complete failure, a tragedy, the death of a "great man". It was just another of many examples of the powerful oppressing the innocent and weak. The righteous was put to death, and the guilty went free (Barabbas). Horrible. Tragic.

Yet, when seen through the lens of Sunday when the Lord had risen from the dead, this tragedy became a glorious tragedy. That which appeared horrendous turned out to be beautiful. Jesus was paying the price for sin he had not committed. Jesus stepped in the way to take the punishment that we deserved, so that we could go free and be reconciled to God—or rather, have God reconciled toward us. His rising from the grave on Sunday killed death itself, proving he had completed his work; and thus it also proves the nature of his death: it was a death of substitution, in our place, not because he deserved it, but because we deserved it.

Looking at it from Friday, we might think, "That shouldn't have happened to him." Looking at it from Sunday, we realize, "That should have happened to me!"

That is why it is good. That is why it is a glorious tragedy. Our hands better fly to cover our mouths at the awesome solemnity of the Son of God being punished for us. Yet none of us object, because that is our only hope of escaping the very same sentence of divine wrath, and of being rescued into eternal glory—"so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Eph 2:7)

He lives! Turn to him and be saved, all the ends of the earth!




A Chinese-Sensitive Gospel?

Any effort to share the gospel desires to be relevant. We are convinced that the gospel we believe in is relevant for every single person on the planet, and we want them to see it. We do not change the message to make it relevant, but rather we strive to show them just how relevant the message already is.

Making sure the gospel is in our gospel outline

In preparing to teach Evangelism Training here in Taiwan in the next month or two, I have been thinking a lot about the best way to approach the gospel. (You may be able to tell by the previous few posts.) If a gospel outline is supposed to present the entire biblical message in a short conversation, then it must present the heart of the message, as well as any background context needed to understand it.

J. I. Packer said the gospel is "adoption through propitiation". Where, then, does propitiation stand in the outline? Where does adoption stand? Propitiation, the work of Jesus on the cross dying as our substitute to take away the wrath of God for our sin, must the at the center of the message. Everything before it must be for the purpose of setting propitiation in context--we are accountable to God and are guilty.

If adoption is the main thing attained through the work of Christ, then it must be presented as such also by the outline. Here, Tell the Truth by Will Metzger gets closer with its theme of "Come Home" than the more famous Evangelism Explosion which provides unity along the theme of "Eternal Life". It is pretty much the same thing, the emphasis shifting from the mere fact of living forever "in a good place", to a reconciliation with God and acceptance into his family.

Conviction of sin is key to seeing the gospel's relevance

Back to relevancy, a large hindrance to people's understanding of the relevancy of the gospel is the fact that they do not see the dire situation they are in. They do not see the need for propitiation, nor do they see the wonder of the gift of adoption. They know not what they need to be saved from, nor what amazing things they can be saved to. This dire situation is brought about by sin, our guilt before God that has created alienation between him and us, and on account of which God burns with righteous anger toward us.

Any gospel presentation worth considering must, therefore, pay significant attention to its explanation of sin. Unless this is done, the relevancy will not be felt, and the message will be ignored. Evangelism Explosion talks about sins of omission and commission in a way that assumes the listeners have a sense of duty already towards what God has commanded (written in America in 1960s, assumes many people will mention the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule). Tell the Truth talks about self-centered living as the essence of sin, opposed to God-centered living. Two Ways to Live talks about sin as human rebellion in the form of wanting to live our lives our own way and not submit to God as king.

Relevance to the Chinese [ethnically, not nationally]

As I was thinking about these things with reference to the particular social context I happen to be in (Taipei, Taiwan), a thought popped into my head that I think might be a step forward. 

Arguably the most highly valued virtues to the Chinese is for one to be 孝順 (xiao shun), a.k.a. "filial piety". The family always comes first; it is a loyalty to the death. Even though there is probably not much affection and closeness in most families, there is nonetheless a loyalty that will sacrifice all one has to honor and help one's family.

It very well might strike a nerve with many to hear that they are 不孝 (not obeying / respecting one's elders/parents) by disregarding and rejecting their "Father" in heaven. He is the one to whom belongs ultimate obedience, ultimate reverence. True, it is only those who believe in Jesus who have the right to call God "Father", but the parable in Luke 15 of the two sons seems to be okay painting God as a Father even to the wayward. cf. Metzger's outline, "Come Home".

Thus, not only does this seem to be very culturally relevant, it also has the added bonus of linking back in with the great privilege of gospel: adoption into God's family. It is not a perfect fit, because adoption means you were not part of the family to begin with, but you were adopted in. However, at least it gets them thinking in personal terms rather than abstract ones.

Perhaps if sin was cast in terms of this filial piety, it might strike a chord with many who would otherwise dismiss God as having no relationship to them whatsoever. They might then be more able to see the horror of their rejection of God and see more clearly their need for the propitiating work of Christ on the cross, and the glory of the adoption they can receive through it.

May the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering!

Chinese / Taiwanese friends, thoughts? Am I off base, or is this on target? I'd appreciate feedback. Thanks!

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Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)