Thursday, April 29, 2010

Church Life in the Scriptures

We're accustomed to read the Scriptures for all sorts of doctrinal and practical reasons.  But, I strongly suspect that our reading is often individualistic.  What I mean is this:  We concentrate in our Bible reading and studies on how we may individually reform the attitudes of our hearts, and how we may derive the best rules for behavior in our personal lives.  We also find, of course, direction for the official aspects of church organization and worship, and also for how we ought to run our families, raise our children, and otherwise conduct our private lives.

But what about church life -- that is, the corporate activity of the church that takes place outside of worship.  What does the Scripture say about "programs," potlucks, or even simply about Christian friendship and personal communion in fellowship over spiritual things?

I suspect that we don't read the Scripture much exactly from this angle.

This is a project I plan to take up.  Will you join me in it?

This blog does take comments!  Or, send e-mail (see my profile).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Perseverance and Apostasy (v3)

Article v3, because it's hard to exactly rightly say this.

Paul speaks of his own need to persevere previously to Chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians, and he continues his argument as follows, as he quotes the experience of Israel in the wilderness (my underlines and [square brackets]):

1 Corinthians 10:1-14 
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea [analogy to water baptism into Christ], all ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink [analogy to the Lord's Supper]. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ [their sacraments connected them with Christ].  But with most of them [church-members] God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 
They were apostates.  They had professed allegience to God, but proved themselves unreliable, due to their lack of faith.  Considerable material may be accumulated from Scripture to show that the apostates were regarded by the Israelite leadership as not possessing the "circumcision of the heart," that is, true spiritual rebirth.

Now let us see how Paul treats the Corinthians, as he draws the analogy between ancient Israelite apostasy and what can happen in the church (i.e., at Corinth):

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.  And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play."  Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell;  nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents;  nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 
We speak from the true, but hidden perspective of deity when we recognize that the ancient and the modern rebel church-members who give way unreservedly to sin are not regenerate.  But, Paul does not accuse the Corinthians of this.  Rather, he exhorts them to prevent their own apostasy!  In other words, rather than threatening the Corinthians' conversions to be false, Paul appeals to them as church members:

Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 
The principle is enunciated:

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 
This is not just a warning against the consequences of falling into any kind of sin that Christians can commit and be disciplined.  It is best, and makes most sense, to refer this warning to the threat of apostasy.  Let all those who profess faith take heed to avoid falling into sin, because unreserved falling into sin may lead to apostasy.  By taking heed, apostasy will be prevented.


No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 
In other words, God will not allow you to apostatize, because he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to withstand.  This is a promise to those who believe.

Put simply, there are two truths here:

1)  We must take heed not to fall into apostasy through the seductiveness of sin.

2)  God will not permit us to be tempted beyond our capacity to resist falling into apostasy through the seductiveness of sin.

Each of us who truly know the Lord must hold both sides of this exhortation in our minds:  I must take heed not to let the deceitfulness of sin lead me to apostasy; and, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will, by grace, never permit me to fall unreservedly into sin leading to apostasy!

The mystery of the divine sovereignty of grace and human responsibility in grace cannot be resolved by the mind of man.  We have to have both -- confidence always first in the free grace of Christ, because the outcome does not depend on us, but also God-given caution that causes us to flee to God (instead of away from God) when sin threatens, or when we are found in it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Paradoxical Exchange of Glory and The Cross

Here is more on Luther's contrast between the Theology of Glory and the Theology of the Cross (all bracketed text or underlines are mine).

Luther's railing against good works is to be taken as referring to the self-glorifying and self-justifying attitudes about good works that were promoted in the theological environment in 1518:

21)  A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil.
       A theology of the cross calls the thing
       what it actually is.
This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls "enemies of the cross of Christ" (Phil. 3:18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good.
God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good, and works [for glory or justication] are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the "old Adam," who is especially edified by works, is crucified.
It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his "good works" unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil, until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God's.
Luther's definition of the Theology of Glory is a way of defining Legalism.  And how often isn't it the case, even as believers in grace, that we feel good about ourselves when we do well (as we see it), and feel bad about ourselves when we do poorly (we were surprised by it, and hate looking bad in the eyes of other men).

Legalists!  How can we be sanctified, when all our ways of understanding what sanctification really is are wrong!


There is a revolution here which comes from minds and hearts being refreshed by the Theology of the Cross, but this revolution keeps getting lost. We should pray for this vision to be renewed in our generation.  It was at the root of the greatest revival in the church since the Day of Pentecost.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Preterism, Conquest and the Theology of Glory?

Part 1 of this question is found here:

Martin Luther got the ball rolling, as he synthesized the contrasting conceptions of The Theology of Glory and The Theology of the Cross.  His most famous theses about this are numbers 19 and 20 from the record of the Heidelberg Disputation.  They need explaining more than can be done in this post.  But, to start your thinking, late me transcribe them here (follow the links for more information):

19)  That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the »invisible« things of God as though they were clearly »perceptible in those things which have actually happened« (Rom. 1:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:21-25),
20)  He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

The effect of these theses is to turn the usual vision of the world and the flesh upside down. What appears "great" to the world is small to God.  What is great with God is "small" to the world.  For God is determined that the world only know him through the foolishness of what is preached, and not by any wisdom of its own whatsoever.  Therefore, the true divine assessment of greatness is often the inverse of what the world sees.  It is the weak, powerless, unranking, who receive the gospel, not usually the powerful and mighty (in worldly terms).  The meek shall inherit the earth.

In personal terms, the way up (closer to God), is down, through repentance, the cross, and peace with God.  The way down (away from God) is up, through human wisdom, power and greatness.

So, in the relationship between eschatology and church life, or eschatology and personal spirituality, can an undigested "preterism," or a naively actuated vision of cultural conquest, lead toward a "theology of glory," with the consequent negative effects on visions of individual calling and of church life?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Union with Christ
 The Imputation of Sin and Righteousness

2 Corinthians 5:21   For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Christ was made to be sin.  Well, actually he remained righteous.  He was reckoned to be sin.  If he weren't righteous when he was reckoned to be sin, then he could not have been our sacrifice for sin.  Therefore, he must remain perfect all the time he is made sin.  This is the imputation of our sins to Christ.

The reason for this reckoning Christ to be sin is that, as a consequence of being in him, we might become the righteousness of God.  It seems most likely that the intent of the writer is to say that we become righteous in reciprocal manner to the way that Christ became sin.  He remained righteous, while he became sin.  Likewise, we remained sinners while becoming the righteousness of God.  All this happens in Christ, that is, in and because of our union with Christ.


Union with Christ does not mean that he and we are morally mixed, such that he becomes partly a sinner and we become partly righteous.  He is reckoned to be sin, though he is not a sinner at all.  We are consequentially reckoned to be righteous, though we are not righteous at all.  Christ is not made sin, such that he becomes partly sinful.  We are not reckoned to be righteous because we are made partly righteous by our union with Christ.

Therefore, it is right to say that union with Christ does not dispense with the need for imputation.

But, there's more:

Forensic relationships are the necessary foundation for the promotion of actual righteousness.  Christ was reckoned to be a sinner forensically, but he really grasped both the guilt and power of our sin, and confirmed both the judicial basis of our acceptation as sinners, and the basis in divine power for our renovation in righteousness.  Likewise, though we were reckoned forensically to be the righteousness of God, our forensic justification as sinners must ultimately eventuate in real righteousness, because the sacrifice of Christ takes away both the guilt and power of sin.  In the end, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

But, we cannot lose our connection with Christ in the righteousness of our own resurrection, so that the imputation of Christ's righteousness is forgotten.  We never become autonomous from him, but remain eternally dependent on our union.  We will recognize forever that the reward of our final destiny is simply Christ's crowning of his own works in us, which were done by him when we were very imperfect.  Even in the beauty of holiness, we can only attribute our glory to his gift!   

Struggling with Sin

The problem of sanctification faces every Christian.  There is a spiritual war between flesh and Spirit within them.  The serious Christian often cries, "Who will deliver me from this body of death."  So, why does the Lord leave us like this?

One main reason must be this:  to suffer.  Remember that Our Lord was made perfect through suffering (Heb 5:8-9), even though he had no personal sin to contend with.  So, our suffering, even the suffering and discipline we receive which is brought about by our sins, works toward our sanctification.

The spiritual warfare with sin is the instrument of victory over sin!

This is why inspired writers can say:

Romans 5:3-4  3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;  4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Romans 8:16-18   16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  17 and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.  18 ¶ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5  3 ¶ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
James 1:2-4   2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,  3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
The mighty grace of God turns our failures and tribulations into spiritual progress through his discipline, and our spiritual progress leads to reward, and to glorification with Christ.  Rather than our sins and weaknesses bringing us under a curse, they bring trials and tribulations of spiritual warfare, through which we are led to victory!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

God's Decrees: Looking Down and Looking Up

It's interesting to contemplate the difference between looking "down" from heaven, through God's decrees, to their outworking in history -- all of which is foreordained from before the foundation of creation -- versus looking "up" at the promises and offers (and threats) that are made by God into history where we stand, as he calls and motivates us to obey his will.

It's necessary to distinguish these two vantage points, or we cannot understand the whole of Scripture.  It is just as necessary not to separate them.  What looks like (and is) a decree, when looking "down," is precisely an offer, and the free response to that offer, when looking "up."

Consider the decree of election to salvation:

Looking down through history and the operation of God's decree of election, Our Savior prays for those given him by the Father (and no others), that they may be one, that their testimony may succeed in the world, and that they may, in the end, behold his glory where he is.  His people are the sons of God, not the sons of disobedience.

Yet, this same Savior offers the gospel to all.  This same Savior urges his visible people not to fall away (apostatize).  He calls for our own decision to follow him.  He promises rewards. James says, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you," which we are to regard as a promise.

There is no need to explain away either the sovereignty of God, or the responsibility of man (freedom in our own sphere).  Both are true.  When theology is tilted to unscripturally eliminate the proper emphasis on either side of this equation, then the result is distortion.  And, distortion means souls will be hurt.

It's absolutely a fact that no one will come to Jesus Christ without being specially drawn by the Holy Spirit.  It's also absolutely a fact that when Christ said, "Come unto me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," that he meant precisely that.

We can't live without having both sides of this equation.  We have to know that God will accept us in his Son if we want him to.  It's also true that we cannot depend on ourselves for any of this.  We simply must have it both ways!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Are All Church Members Elect?

This controversial question can perhaps be answered like this?  Yes -- and No.

Think of Israel.  The nation is elect, as a body.  Likewise, the church, as the enlarged successor of Israel, is also elect, as a body.  The visible church, according to our Standards, is the "household and family of God."

But, is everyone in the church personally elect?  Well, ask the question about Israel.  Was everyone in Israel personally elect?  No.  Judgment begins at the house of God, and it began there often.  It continues in the time of the New Covenant, and will begin there at the Judgment.

But, the truly serious question pertains to judgment now.  Am I elect?  Well, do I rest in Christ my Lord and Savior?  If so, then yes, I am elect.

Then, what about my neighbor in the church?  Is he elect?  Well, is he resting in Christ his Lord and Savior?  He says he is.  How do I know for sure?  Am I to doubt his profession?  Am I to go around doubting all my fellow church-members, because I cannot read their hearts?  What will this do to our Christian fellowship, which is so necessary for the life of the church?

It's not right to doubt like this.  Unless there are serious reasons to doubt a person's profession of faith, we have to accept it, and therefore regard him as elect!  So, denial of election for professing believers can only be connected with legitimate, scriptural process of personal (private) judgment, and the process of church discipline.

So, are all members of the professing church elect?  No, not from God's standpoint of election and omniscience.  But, from our standpoint down here below, we have to look upon them as being such, and pray for all of them to persevere.

And, we should not look upon our present ignorance of who are God's true elect as some kind of defect in our church life!  God made it to be this way for a reason!  Amazingly enough, this affirmative view of the practical election of all churchmembers in good standing, which is "forced upon us" in our finitude, brings about precisely the mutual care, love and admonition among ourselves that calls the true elect to Christ and holds them in perseverance to himself!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Church Life and Eschatology

It is interesting to ponder the connection between eschatology and church life.

For instance, it is sometimes alleged that standard amillennialists and premillennialists might not be so interested in cultural influence or "Christianization," simply because they don't expect it to happen this side of the Second Coming.  This would supposedly mean that "premills" and "amills" spend most of their time on evangelism, personal spirituality, inward fellowship and separation from the world.

Likewise, all kinds of postmillennialism may be alleged by their opponents to be so interested in the conquest of all the spheres of sovereignty in life that ministry focus is mainly oriented to cultural and personal achievement, and to reputation in the world, to the detriment or redefinition of evangelism, personal holiness, internal Christian fellowship, and "separation" from the world.

Regardless of the ambiguity in these facile characterizations, it remains clear, especially to someone like me who has experienced church life according to all three main eschatologies, that the eschatological persuasion that reigns in the church does make a difference in the nature of church life.  Part of our theological mandate, then, is to ponder this connection, with a view toward the well-being of the church.

Perhaps one way to seek out the correlation is to consider known deficiencies in church life, and then to ask whether the reigning eschatology or world-view may be may be contributory to these deficiencies.  This may not mean that the reigning eschatological persuasion is wrong, but it may mean that its understanding or application needs correction.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book Notice: Mark A. Garcia, Life in Christ (Continued)

(The book notice published at is continued here with a few theological comments on Mr. Garcia's conclusions)

The book's thesis suggests that Calvin's view of union with Christ for justification and sanctification, mediated by the Holy Spirit, is explanatory of his doctrine of the sacramental "presence."  Mr Garcia discerns a thread of consistency between these subjects, based on Calvin's view of the function of the Holy Spirit, who brings things widely separated into intimate communion with one another.  It's my opinion, as expressed in the previous post, that this is a link worth intellectual pursuit, not only for the sake of Calvin Studies, but for the sake of a truer understanding of our own history.  If we don't understand ourselves, how can we continue the Reformation?

One might also express certain theological caveats about the theological balance, however.  In his discussion of the relationship between justification and sanctification, Mr. Garcia tends to somewhat glorify Calvin as supposedly holding a mediating position between Lutheranism and Romanism when it comes to the place of good works in the fruition of our salvation. For Calvin, justification and sanctification are parallel gifts that come at the same time -- when faith comes.  The process of sanctification begins immediately, and is intimately tied to justification, but also distinct.  This tends to not make sanctification an afterthought to justification.  Sanctification as a real process in our lives is part of our salvation, but it is a gift ordained by God through the power of the Spirit, and not a process by which we earn anything.  According to Mr Garcia, this is distinct from the Lutheran view which tends to make sanctification a product of justification, and therefore, potentially unnecessary, or an afterthought to real salvation, rather than part of it.

From my own reading of the Institutes, and some relevant portions of Calvin's commentaries, I would strongly suggest that Calvin sees himself as more of a "Lutheran" than that.  Therefore, I suggest that the distinction that Mr. Garcia draws between Calvin's views on the relationship between justification and sanctification, and the views of Melanchthon on this subject, are overdrawn.   

For my own part, I would mark out the danger of making justification and sanctification absolutely parallel.  This is a danger which has been realized in the subsequent history of the Reformed movement.  It is this:  If justification and sanctification are an absolutely parallel double-gift of the Holy Spirit, then who's to say which evidence is the best source of assurance of salvation:  faith, or good behavior?

There have been segments of the Reformed movement which have emphasized the truth that sanctification does necessarily ensue -- and it does -- but attention is focused on this area more than on assurance through faith.  The consequence is lowered assurance among the faithful, because they still see too much evidence of sin within themselves.

Calvin, however, is quite vehemently different.  Quoting from the vicinity of where I happened to open the Institutes (Book 3, Chap XIII, Sect 4):

"... God's promises are not established unless they are grasped with the full assurance of conscience.  Wherever there is doubt or uncertainty, it pronounces them void. ... Therefore, righteousness must either depart from us or works must not be brought into account, but faith alone must have place, whose nature it is to prick up the ears and close the eyes -- that is, to be intent upon the promise alone and to turn thought away from all worth or merit of man."

Or, from Sect 5:

"Therefore, those who prate that we are justified by faith because, being reborn, we are righteous by living spiritually have never tasted the sweetness of grace, so as to consider that God will be favorable to them.  Hence it also follows that they no more know the right way to pray than do the Turks [Islamics] and other profane nations [outside Christendom]."

Or, speaking of our bold access to Christ through faith:

"This surely does not take place through the gift of regeneration [sanctification], which, as it is always imperfect in this flesh, so contains within itself manifold grounds for doubt.  Therefore, we must come to this remedy:  that believers should be convinced that their only ground of hope for the inheritance of a Heavenly Kingdom lies in the fact that, being engrafted in the body of Christ, they are freely accounted righteous.  For, as regards justification, faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God's favor but receiving from Christ that which we lack."

After all, it's James, the teacher of justification by works, who teaches:

James 2:22-23   Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God.

James quotes Genesis 15:3 -- the same verse Paul quotes in Romans 4, to show that Abraham was entirely justified without works, when he believed the Messianic promise.  James adds that this promise -- which Paul guarantees us resulted in Abraham's justification before he did anything -- reached fulfillment in his justification by works, as his faith worked through love (Gal 5:6).  In other words, it was faith in the promise resulting in justification by faith only, which eventuated in the behavior that resulted in his justification by works.  Put simply, sanctification is produced by justification.

So, even James teaches the Lutheran position on this! 


Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Notice: Mark A. Garcia, Life in Christ (Updated)

The book, Life in Christ, by Mark Garcia is one of the more illuminating books about Calvin's sacramental theology, and well worth reading for this reason.  He is able to grapple more successfully, in a way that is meaningful and clear to me, with the essential issues in Calvin's sacramental controversy with the Lutherans.  For those who want to delve into this question the book is, in my opinion, an essential.

Garcia proposes that Osiander is really the quintessential Lutheran (in spite of Osiander's vehement Lutheran opposition), and that Calvin polemicizes against Osiander so strongly because Osiander's theology illustrates what Calvin sees as basically wrong with the Lutheran Christology and the supposedly ubiquitarian sacramental theology that goes along with it!

After reading this, one will likely understand Calvin much better, and the Christological significance of it all will come into sharper focus.  The subject, as represented by Garcia, does not at all come across as the same old tired repetition of the controversial points, but as a fresh view.

The bottom line:  It all boils down, Garcia says, to understanding Calvin's "take" on the creator/creature distinction.  Garcia comes down strongly on Calvin's side on this historic question.  One doesn't have to agree entirely with this position to be seriously illuminated by this work.  I'm grateful to see it.

Now, for a closer study of Chalcedon, where they first tried to solve this problem...

(This review is continued at:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Boot Camp for Glory

… though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.   (Heb 5:8)
It’s easy to understand that suffering results from disobedience.  This is a most familiar experience.  Perhaps, too, in our spiritual weakness we have some dim perception of the great distress our Lord experienced, suffering for our sins on the cross, when he cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”  But, why must the suffering continue for us after we know the Lord?  Aren’t we forgiven?  Didn’t Christ bear the torment we were due?

The answer lies in our fellowship with Christ!

Jesus Christ was always the perfect man -- from birth.  No sin hung on him at all.  Yet, as a human being he learned obedience through suffering.  Now, we are being conformed to his image.  And so we have fellowship with him in our sufferings!  Just as he was made perfect through suffering, so are we!  Just as his sufferings redound to his glory, so do ours!  Peaceable fruit and maturity of character is the result -- and the Christ-like capacity for ministry to other sufferers!  It is a mystery how and why God permitted evil.  Yet the suffering of the righteous in a fallen world brings the greatest glory! 

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.    (Matt 5:11-12)
It is the same for the struggle within ourselves between flesh and Spirit.  The apostle Paul was given his “thorn in the flesh,” a messenger of Satan, that he might not be proud because of the special revelation that he had received.  The Lord refused to remove this “thorn” in spite of Paul’s prayers.  Instead, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” 

Therefore I [Paul] take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)
Paul's ministry depended on his suffering, and on weakness, for only then was the Lord's power seen in him!  For Paul, no "thorn" would have meant spiritual loss -- even no ministry!  But, as he suffers, he ministers.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. (2 Cor 1:3-5)
Do we enjoy every aspect of this “boot camp” for glory?  No.  But, as excellent soldiers and co-warriors with Christ, we have grace and comfort within it!  Christ persevered in all his tribulations because of the glory set before him.  So should we!  We have suffered with him.  We shall also be glorified with him!  We shall share this fellowship in glory forever and ever!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Why Did Christ Suffer?

... He [Jesus] knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:41-44, NKJV)
Here he is -- the man who taught us not to fear death -- fearing death!   Why?

Oh, yes!  He taught us not to fear mere physical death at the hands of men, but that we ought to fear him who has the power to destroy both body and soul in hell!  That bloody sweat proves he is fearing no ordinary death!    

And, remember his desperate, but pious cry from the cross?  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  He is suffering the torments of hell, and dying under a curse!  The true and righteous judge blames him!  He is condemning him for a world of sins and crimes he never committed!

See!  He wears the crown of thorns -- like Adam, the King of Thorns.  He deserves to die!  God makes him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him!  The one who came to give life, dies to give it!  His prayer to escape the cup -- the most fervent and sincere prayer he ever uttered -- is answered “No!”.  Sweating blood in agony, he takes the cup -- for us.  This great, saving work of God -- this death under the penalty of our sin -- is his greatest work of all!

Now, look!  Jesus rises from the dead!  The divine power of Life is still greater than the divine curse of death!  His Father truly is good!  This righteous man, whose prayer for deliverance was answered “No!”, was dead and now lives!  It is the death of death!  He is given all authority in heaven and on earth!  He is given the name above every name -- the name at which every knee will bow.  And, we are saved!  Since we are baptized into his death, we have borne the full curse for our sins -- in him!  We have been executed, along with him!  The doom of the broken Law has been visited upon us -- in him!  In him, we are raised from the dead to eternal life!    

God was in Christ, reconciling sinners to himself.  Now, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God!  Your salvation is accomplished -- in Christ.  God is at peace with you -- in Christ.  In Christ, you shall be at peace with him!  Dear saved and lost sinners, receive this suffering Savior! 

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

Why Do We Suffer?

Now as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who was blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (John 9:1-3, NKJV)
The Gospel of John Chapter 9 is a remarkable story. In this story, our Lord Jesus turns a blind man into a believer, a prophet, and a teacher of the Jews! But, why was the man born blind?

Christ’s disciples think they are delving into big-time theology when they can converse with the “expert,” God’s Messiah, about the legal niceties of responsibility for sin. But, our Lord will have nothing of it. He simply will not talk about or calculate the consequences of the man’s sin. He even says that the real reason for the man’s blindness isn’t his sin! But, how can he say this? Our Lord can say this because there is something bigger than judgment for sin. There is something so big that it swallows up sin! This is revealed in the “works of God”!

Now we know that the man born blind could not have been born blind if Adam had not sinned. The man is guilty. So are his parents. They are all guiltier than the disciples even imagine. But, God in his inscrutable sovereignty did not permit sin in order to simply bring a curse. He permitted sin in order to show himself the Savior. Jesus portrays the healing of this blind man as a manifestation of the good works of God, reversing and counteracting the evil works of man. God is good, and he is good to sinners. He is the saving God. The “works of God,” which are his glory, are saving works. And, his saving works are greater than all our sin! Christ is so zealous to save and to show forth the works of God that he puts the blind man’s sins out of his mind! He simply refuses to bring them up against him—forever.

So, why is there suffering? Yes, suffering and death come by sin. But, there is a greater glory than the glory of God’s justice in punishing sinners. His greater glory is in saving them!

As we trust in Christ, the mystery behind our tribulations, our sorrows, our sins and sufferings is revealed: They are grounds for the saving works of God to be revealed. Therefore, let him save! Expect him to save! Pray for deliverance and salvation! There is a greater “Yes!” that waits behind every “No!” or “Wait!” that he gives in answer to our prayers. That “Yes!’ will finally come, and we will fulfill our highest destiny glorifying him in it and enjoying him forever!