Category Archives: Joy

Familiar, Horrible And Beautiful

Horrible Beautiful CrossSo much has been said about Christ’s death on the cross that many people, even those who passionately love the Lord, can sort of glaze over. A good expose on Beth Moore would be more welcome right now, we secretly think.

A lot of our weariness with Good Friday blog posts, sermons and what have you results from familiarity with the story. We’ve read the accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John  countless times, almost so often that we can recite the details effortlessly (and without much thought). As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”

But perhaps Good Friday also bothers us because it confronts us with the horrible truth that our sin nailed Jesus to the cross.  The more we read about the beatings, mockery and the physical anguish of crucifixion the Lord endured, the more we want to distance ourselves from the whole mess. Surely our sin can’t be that bad!

Surely it is!

Like it or not, ladies, even the Old Testament points to Christ’s crucifixion as the only means of atonement. Over 600 years earlier, the prophet Isaiah predicated that Messiah would suffer for the sins of the people.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. ~~Isaiah 53: 4-6 (ESV)

When we look at the cross, we see our sin. And, since our pride wants to flatter us that we are actually good people who simply make a few mistakes here and there (hey, doesn’t everybody?), we prefer to ignore the implications of Christ’s crucifixion.

But as we acknowledge our sinfulness, the cross becomes beautiful, even in its horror. It reveals a Savior Who loves us enough to bear the wrath of God that we deserve! As Christians, we cherish the cross as Christ’s loving atonement for our transgressions against Him.

The crucifixion story, for all its familiarity, never ceases to fill Christians with both sorrow and joyous wonder. As we await the glories of Resurrection Sunday, we can praise the Lord for taking our sin upon Himself, setting us free from its consequences. As we rejoice in His inexplicable love toward us, the accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John of Good Friday never get old.

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Filling In For His Own

At The CrossHe approached me just minutes before church stated (and therefore a scant 20 minutes before Sunday School) to inform me that he didn’t feel like teaching that day. He and I, along with another lady, rotated teaching the Junior High Sunday School class, each of us teaching every third Sunday. As lead teacher, I also served as the substitute when either of the others couldn’t (or in this instance, wouldn’t) teach.

Dictionary.com defines the word “substitute” this way:

 
noun
1.

a person or thing acting or serving in place of another.
2.

(formerly) a person who, for payment, served in an army or navy in the place of a conscript.
3.

Grammar. a word that functions as a replacement for any member of a class of words or constructions, as do in He doesn’t know but I do.
 
verb (used with object), substituted, substituting.
4.

to put (a person or thing) in the place of another.
5.

to take the place of; replace.
6.

Chemistry. to replace (one or more elements or groups in a compound) by other elements or groups.
 
verb (used without object), substituted, substituting.
7.

to act as a substitute.
adjective
8.

of or pertaining to a substitute or substitutes.

9.

composed of substitutes.
 

The Bible teaches that, in dying for the sin that would rightly condemn you and me, Jesus willingly died in our place! Scholars refer to His act as the “substitutionary atonement” to emphasize that He accepted the punishment for crimes that we (being born sinners) commit against God. This article on the GotQuestions.org website begins with the following summary of the doctrine:

The substitutionary atonement refers to Jesus Christ dying as a substitute for sinners. The Scriptures teach that all men are sinners (Romans 3:9-18, 23). The penalty for our sinfulness is death. Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That verse teaches us several things. Without Christ, we are going to die and spend an eternity in hell as payment for our sins. Death in the Scriptures refers to a “separation.” Everyone will die, but some will live in heaven with the Lord for eternity, while others will live a life in hell for eternity. The death spoken of here refers to the life in hell. However, the second thing this verse teaches us is that eternal life is available through Jesus Christ. This is His substitutionary atonement.

Scripture supports the premise that Jesus died as our Substitute, as you’ll discover if you read the GotQuestions.org article for yourselves. I’d like to highlight just one of the Scriptures involved in this doctrine. I particularly like this two-verse passage because the second verse offers the practical implication of Christ dying the death that you and I deserve.

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. ~~1 Peter 2:24-25 (ESV)

Of course, we balk at the truth that, as born sinners, we actually deserve God’s wrath. For that reason  it’s difficult for us to grasp the fact that Jesus bore the horrible judgment that rightfully belongs to you and me. If you resist the truth that you’re completely incapable of earning God’s acceptance through your own efforts, I beg you to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Bible.  Once He convinces you of your spiritual bankruptcy, you can rejoice that He went to the cross as your substitute!

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A Wrinkle In Theology

Robin Olsen PortraitSocial media definitely gives me a wealth of subject matter! Consider this quotation:

Joy is the infallible proof of the presence of God.  ~~Madeline L’Engle

When that quote showed up on my Twitter feed a few years ago, I vacillated between laughing, crying and throwing up. I have fond childhood memories of Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle In Time, but I rather wish she’d confined her writing to children’s fiction and left theology alone. That quote sounds pretty and poetic, admittedly, but it positively oozes with the sloppy theology that permeates today’s visible church.

L’Engle elevates the subjective emotion of joy as “infallible proof” that God is present. This “reasoning” reminds me of so many professing Christians who validate things like the Gay Christian Movement because they interpret the enthusiasm among “gay Christians” as an indication that He sanctions their misinterpretation of Scripture.

But truth must never be at the mercy of fleeting experience. People often feel great joy in the midst of extremely sinful behavior. Yet God, being holy, neither will nor can grace sinful  behavior with His presence. The joy at a college drinking party may, in some instances (such as celebrating the end of finals), be quite genuine, but any true presence of the Lord would bring the revelers to repentance in short order. Indeed, His presence brought the prophet Isaiah to humility.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” ~~Isaiah 6:1-5 (ESV)
 
Throughout the Bible, actually, God’s presence frequently evoked fear and trembling as people saw the contrast between their sinfulness and His holiness. Sometimes, joy followed. And we definitely will have joy in heaven, where those of us who are born again through His Spirit will be in His presence forever. But humility and repentance serve as much more reliable indicators of His presence for now.
 
Hopefully Madeline L’Engle ironed out her theology before she died.

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Praise: The Irresistible Response

Sometimes, God’s goodness just overwhelms me, and all I want  to do is praise Him! Fanny Crosby, who wrote so many magnificent hymns, must have felt that way when she wrote Praise Him, Praise Him, Jesus Our Blessed Redeemer, for the song explodes with rapid fire examples of the Lord’s wonderful nature and His goodness toward us. Listen to it and see if you can resist rejoicing.

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Let Me Hide Myself In Thee

In and of myself, nothing can commend me to God. He is eternally and perfectly holy, unstained by sin and completely pure. As much as I love Him, I have no ability to live up to His righteous standards. I long to live in that degree of holiness, I assure you, but I have no resources to do so in my own power.

Praise the Lord, Jesus Christ not only bore my sin on the cross, but He exchanged them for His righteousness! He graciously hides me from God’s wrath, promising me eternal life because of His death and resurrection. I hide myself in Him, confident that He will hold me in His righteousness.

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God Himself As Our Christ

1-co-15When we say that Jesus died for our sins, we need to first establish Who Jesus actually is. A “Jesus” of our own making certainly couldn’t provide any real atonement since, essentially, He would be a figment of our imagination. So I must begin this exploration of the Gospel with the doctrine of Jesus, firm in my conviction that everything begins and ends with Him.

Obviously, I can’t fully explain Jesus in a few short blog posts, especially when true scholars have written volumes about Him. It should go without saying that I’d be arrogant to think that I could compose a couple short essays and cover all of Who He is. But I hope that, as I report basic information about Him, my readers will search the Bible to gain a more comprehensive understanding of each point I make.

Today, I want to emphasize Christ’s deity, which He claimed using words and idioms that First Century Jews completely understood. As a 17-year-old girl, I found John 8:48-59 riveting. Here’s the passage in the ESV:

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Notice verse 58. When Jesus said, “I AM,” He referred back to God’s words to Moses from  the burning bush:

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” ~~Exodus 3:13-14 (ESV)

The Pharisees, having great knowledge of this passage in Exodus, instantly caught Jesus’ reference, as evidenced by their attempt to stone Him  in verse 59. They had no difficulty recognizing the fact that Jesus had very openly claimed to be God.

His deity should cause us to marvel at the crucifixion. Think about the amazing humility He showed in taking the punishment for sins that His own creatures commit against Him! I feel tremendous awe at the realization that the Creator of heaven and earth would actually come and die as a common criminal in my place. Yet, His sacrifice only had the effect of redeeming those who believe in Him because of His deity.

We like to get caught up in so many “Christian” issues, and several of those issues legitimately deserve attention. But we must take care  never to lose focus on the wonderful fact that our Creator and Lord shed His precious blood to cleanse us from our own sin. What better reason could we have to worship Him?

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Celebrating, Not Merely Stating

Lady Reading BibleThe First Century church at Colossae, because of its location as a major seaport welcoming tradesmen and sailors representing a variety of cultures, struggled against false teachings of various kinds. In response to the multiplicity of errors that made their way into the Colossian church, the apostle Paul wrote a letter meant to correct the doctrinal problems. Before addressing the particulars, however, he reviewed the basic Gospel message.

Paul introduced this review of the Gospel with a powerful explanation of Christ’s deity:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

In describing Christ as  “the image of the invisible God,” Paul equates Him with God. From there, He identifies Christ’s role in creation, insists that He holds the entire universe together, and crowns Him as the Sovereign Ruler. Then he makes his claim even more directly in verse 19: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

Yes, God dwells in every believer through His Holy Spirit, but He doesn’t give us all of His fulness.  Vincent’s Word Studies offers the clearest commentary on verse 19 that I could find.

The word must be taken in its passive sense – that with which a thing is filled, not that which fills. The fullness denotes the sum-total of the divine powers and attributes. In Christ dwelt all the fullness of God as deity. The relation of essential deity to creation and redemption alike, is exhibited by John in the very beginning of his gospel, with which this passage should be compared. In John the order is: 1. The essential nature of Christ; 2. Creation; 3. Redemption. Here it is: 1. Redemption (Colossians 1:13); 2. Essential being of the Son (Colossians 1:15); 3. The Son as Creator (Colossians 1:16); 4. The Church, with Christ as its head (Colossians 1:18). Compare 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:19, Ephesians 1:20, Ephesians 1:23. Paul does not add of the Godhead to the fullness, as in Colossians 2:9 since the word occurs in direct connection with those which describe Christ’s essential nature, and it would seem not to have occurred to the apostle that it could be understood in any other sense than as an expression of the plenitude of the divine attributes and powers.
Thus the phrase in Him should all the fullness dwell gathers into a grand climax the previous statements – image of God, first-born of all creation, Creator, the eternally preexistent, the Head of the Church, the victor over death, first in all things. On this summit we pause, looking, like John, from Christ in His fullness of deity to the exhibition of that divine fullness in redemption consummated in heaven (Colossians 1:20-22).

Again, the passage celebrates (rather than merely stating) Christ’s divine nature, making it inseparable from the Gospel message. Christ, being God Himself, willingly bled and died on the cross to atone for the sins of those who trust in Him. Remember, Paul here identified Christ as both the Creator and the focal point of His own creation, and in the next breath introduced His willingness  to sacrifice Himself for our rebellion against Him. If that amazing fact doesn’t give you a desire to fall on your knees with wonder and adoration, just keep reading about the Gospel. It only gets better.

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