“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26-27
What if I was in an interchange with an unbeliever and I said to him, “Unless you want to suffer and die, you shouldn’t become a follower of Jesus”? People would object that I am chasing off unbelievers. They would object that no one is going to want to come to a church with that teaching. Jesus makes the very same statement, yet we rarely hear it discussed. We often hear this verse read, but we often neglect the radical nature of what Jesus says. Somehow, we have perverted American Christianity into some kind of feel-good, milk toast, doctrine of how God wants to confirm us in our worldliness. We seem to believe that Jesus died to sanctify our useless middle class existence and to call us into an even happier pursuit of our own American dream. What happened to the radical call to discipleship? What happened to the belief that following Jesus means death to self? What happened to carrying our cross?
It is my belief that we have turned Christianity into just another religion in which man gropes for a way to make himself better. Jesus has become the Savior of self-help. He has become the gatekeeper to the American dream. We have not counted the cost of Christianity. We might agree that Jesus is a pearl of great price, but we would trade him for enough success in this life. Or, we mistakenly think we can buy the pearl and not sell everything we have (Matt. 13:45-46). In other words, we think we can have Jesus as our treasure and pursue the treasures of this world at the same time. The fact is that we cannot! We cannot serve both God and money.
As believers, we must meditate on three truths if we are going to overcome our tendency to pursue a happy, healthy, wealthy and ultimately useless middle class American life. We must meditate on the suffering and death of Jesus as our example to follow, on the resurrection of the dead as our hope to trust in, and on Jesus as our ultimate reward and treasure. If you are like me, you already feel that you have failed. So, as you read the rest of the article, cry out to God, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
Jesus told his disciples that he was going to suffer and die to bring salvation to his church. He then told them that they also must suffer and die (Matt. 16:24). People often object that the Christian is not called to suffer and die. They believe that is a radical call that just does not make sense in the American context. Some even go so far as to argue that God actually wants us to prosper, not suffer. The problem is that they fail to believe in the clear testimony of Scripture. Jesus promises us we will suffer (John 15:19-20). The apostles celebrated when they were “counted worthy to suffer for the Name” (Acts 5:40-41). Paul tells us we were appointed to suffering (Phil. 1:29). Paul even states that he desires to share in Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10), and calls other Christians to suffer with him for the sake of the Gospel (2 Tim. 1:8). Paul also assumes that those who are children of God will by nature suffer with Jesus (Romans 8:17).
Why must we suffer with Jesus? We must suffer and die with Christ for the same reason he did. He suffered and died to save his body, the church. We suffer and die for the same reason (Col. 1:24). We do not make provision for salvation through our suffering and death. Jesus has already provided all that is needed for the salvation of his church. Instead, we help the Gospel progress. We suffer and die to bring about the progression of the gospel! Our lives are to be poured out to death for the sake of God’s elect!
In order to follow Jesus as our example, we must hope in the resurrection of the dead. If we believe that this life is all there is, then we will live accordingly. The other day I was contemplating how much my life betrayed my lack of faith in the resurrection. In spite of all of the apologetic reasons I can give for the resurrection and all of the theological importance I can provide for it, the bottom line is that I really have very little faith. I am willing to bet that many others struggle with the same lack of faith. There are many in the Christian world that claim the Christian life is worth living even if we find out we were wrong in the end. This is the complete opposite of what Paul says. Paul is clear that without the resurrection we are to be “pitied most among men” (1 Cor. 15:19). Apart from the resurrection, we are really wasting our time and money.
If the resurrection is not true, then our church is useless, your giving is in vain, your personal restraint is often wasted, and my whole life as a pastor is a complete joke. Paul goes on to say that “…if the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” He is not arguing that we should become gluttonous and drunkards. He is arguing that we should enjoy our lives as much as possible. We should choose the path of least resistance and pursue our own happiness. Most people know that holding down a good job, being wise financially, exercising, eating right, remaining in a good marriage, taking nice vacations, planning for a good retirement, seeking good medical care, and supporting your government in building a strong national defense and a good domestic police force are the keys to a long and happy life. In other words, if the dead are not raised, “Let us pursue the American dream, for tomorrow we die.”
Finally, we must meditate on Jesus as our ultimate treasure and reward. If we are seeking our reward on earth, we will live for this life. Where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also (Matt. 6:21). If we ever hope to follow Christ’s example and rejoice in sufferings for the sake of furthering the Gospel, we must believe that Jesus is worth giving up everything on this earth. We must believe he is the great treasure for which we will sell everything. We should no longer seek the material wealth, comforts, and pleasures of this world. We should seek Christ and the glory of his kingdom. He is a far more enduring treasure.
“And I pray…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19
When we think of the Reformation we often give thanks for the recovery of the doctrines of sola scriptura (Scripture alone) and sola fide (Faith alone). We rejoice over these great doctrines because when we returned to Scripture as our sole authority, we also were clearly reminded of the instrument of our salvation--faith alone. We are not justified because of some goodness in ourselves. Believing in Christ and participating in the sacraments do not justify us. We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone!
My tendency, as I embrace the great “sola’s” of the Reformation, is to emphasize the judicial nature of the atonement and our justification. I often think of God’s holiness and His right to have his holiness vindicated through his wrath. I think of God’s grace in justifying an undeserving sinner like myself. He has judicially declared me righteous in Christ. He has imputed my sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to me. What a glorious exchange! However, I often intellectualize my faith and do not think about the love of the Christ who would offer so great a salvation to me.
One of the great recoveries of the reformation, that is so often passes without discussion, is the reaffirmation of the richness and freeness of the love of Christ. Prior to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was teaching a gospel that drove men to try to earn and retain the love of Christ. Men, like Martin Luther, strove with such effort to please God that they often grew in hatred toward him. It was not until Luther understood justification by faith alone that he began to truly love God. He understood that God, out of His great love, makes us alive together with Christ. Salvation is a free gift. It is not predicated on our works. It is a gift motivated by the love of Christ.
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. Rom. 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Eph. 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Eph. 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 1John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
At times, I need to return to the biblical texts of the love of Christ and be reminded of the depth of the love of Christ. I think we often forget how much God loves His creation. Luther remarked that God’s love is the only love powerful enough to create the objects of its affection. We often need to be reminded of the fact that Christ loves us with a richness that we cannot even fathom. The love of man, even at its purest and best, is such a poor example of the love of Christ that comparisons seem empty. Charles Haddon Spurgeon remarked, “None of us loves men as Christ loves them; and if the love of all the tenderhearted in the world could run together, they would make but a drop compared with the ocean of the compassion of Jesus.”
The love of Christ was given to us from eternity. The love of Christ brought us into being. The love of Christ extends all gracious gifts to us. The love of Christ elects us unto salvation. The love of Christ effectually calls us to salvation. The love of Christ lavishes us with grace and mercy. The love of Christ preserves us in salvation. When speaking of the love of Christ, Paul said,
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39
As the great hymn, “The Love of Christ” by William Gadsby, says…
“The love of Christ is rich and free; Fixed on His own eternally; Nor earth, nor hell, can it remove; Long as He lives, His own He’ll love. His loving heart engaged to be Their everlasting Surety; ’ Twas love that took their cause in hand, And love maintains it to the end. Love cannot from its post withdraw; Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law, Can turn the Surety’s heart away; He’ll love His own to endless day. Love has redeemed His sheep with blood; And love will bring them safe to God; Love calls them all from death to life; And love will finish all their strife. He loves through every changing scene, Nor aught from Him can Zion wean; Not all the wanderings of her heart Can make His love for her depart. Love cannot from its post withdraw; Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law, Can turn the Surety’s heart away; He’ll love His own to endless day. At death, beyond the grave, He’ll love; In endless bliss, His own shall prove The blazing glory of that love Which never could from them remove. Which never could from them remove.”
Today Jesus was arrested while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane in the wee hours of the morning. He was tried when day came by Jewish and Roman authorities. He was crucified about 9am and died about 3pm. He was speared and certified as dead. He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. (Matthew 26:47-27:66; Mark 14:43-15:47; Luke 22:47-23-56; John 18:2-19:42).
Jesus paid our penalty on the Cross. When he cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," he cried it in our place. This is the eternal cry we should be giving from Hell, but Jesus cried it on the Cross so we can eternally sing, "Holy is the Lamb who was slain." Jesus paid it all, all to him we owe!
On Sunday, the women disciples visit the tomb and find the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. The tomb is also found empty by Peter and John. Christ has Risen! He appears to Mary, the other women, then to various disciples. He eats with them, allows them to touch him, and enters and leaves rooms without the use of a door. One week later he appears to the disciples and doubting Thomas. Then he appears to over 500 disciples over the ensuing weeks, and eventually to the Apostle Paul. (Matthew 28:9-20; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:13-49; John 20:11-21:25).
This resurrection was not expected! Jesus made allusions to it, but there was nothing in Jewish thought, Roman thought, Ancient Near Eastern Religions, or Greek religion to prepare them for the idea of a personal physical resurrection of the Messiah. They certainly looked forward to a resurrection of the dead, but did not conceive of this event until it happened. Jesus arose and changed all of history, providing spiritual resurrection for our dead souls, and giving us a foretaste of our coming physical resurrection! Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!
Thursday: Today marks the day in which Jesus celebrated the Passover feast. He announced to the disciples that the bread is his body broken for them and the wine is his blood poured out for their sins. This is the inaugural dinner of the New Covenant! He also washed his disciples' feet, identified Judas as his betrayer, predicted Peter's denials, taught extensively about his destination and the Holy Spirit's coming and ministry, and prayed for his people. (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-20; John 13:1-38; John 14:1-17:26).
Source for chronology is Robert Thomas' Charts of the Gospels and the Life of Christ.
Wednesday: Today is often called silent Wednesday because there is little to no recorded activity on the part of Jesus. However, today is the day that the Sanhedrin plotted to arrest and kill Jesus (Matthew 26:1-5; Mark 14:1-2; Luke 21:37-22:2). Today is also the day that Judas agreed to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-6).
Source: Robert Thomas' Charts of the Gospels and the Life of Christ.
Sorry this post is up so late today. Hopefully, you are catching some of this review on 1180AM from about 11:15am-12:00pm.
Tuesday: This is Jesus' biggest teaching day of the Passion week, outside of perhaps Thursday. He teaches on the cursed fig tree, is challenged by the religious authorities, and teaches the famous Olivet Discourse. (Matthew 21b-25:46; Mark 11:19-13:37; Luke 20:1-21:36).
Source for all materials taken from Robert Thomas, Charts of the Gospels and the Life of Christ.
This week I am going to present the events of each day of the passion week. I encourage you to read the passages with your family and discuss Jesus' last week. I want to start with the a review of the weekend:
Friday: In the evening he arrived in Bethany at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Some scholars think this may have occurred on Saturday (John 12:1).
Saturday: In the evening they had dinner in the house of Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3; John 12:2 cf. John 12:12). Mary anointed him with perfume valued approximately at 300 days wages (probably enough to feed about 15,000 adults and their children). (John 12:2-8, Mark 14:3-9, Matt. 26:6-13). Large crowds began to gather because of Jesus and Lazarus (John 12:9)
Sunday: The Triumphal Entry (John 12:12-19; Mark 11:1-11; Matt 21:1-11, 14-17; Luke 19:27-44).
"To be laughed at is no great hardship to me. I can delight in scoffs and jeers; caricatures, lampoons, and slanders are my glory. But that you should turn from your own mercy, this is my sorrow. Spit on me, but oh, repent! Laugh at me, but oh, believe in my Master! Make my body as the dirt of the streets, if you will, but damn not your own souls! Oh, do not despise your own mercies. Put not away from you the gospel of Christ. . . . I charge you, as I shall face you at the judgment bar of the Lord Jesus in the day of judgment -- I charge you, by your own immortal welfare, lay these things to heart."
I know, I know, justiciarchy is not a word, but it will be. As we move down the path of an increasingly activist court, we will continue to see the court move into an increasingly legislative role. According to the Associated Press, Iowa's Supreme Court just declared the ban on gay marriage unconstitutional:
"The court reaffirmed that a statute inconsistent with the Iowa constitution must be declared void even though it may be supported by strong and deep-seated traditional beliefs and popular opinion," said a summary of the ruling issued by the court.
What citizens are not asking is how defining marriage as it has been defined for thousands of years is infringing upon the rights of those who now want it redefined. On what basis are courts suddenly redefining marriage? The larger story here is that judges are moving quite comfortably into the role of unelected legislators and the legislatures, executives, and people across America hardly seem to care. God help us as we happily and lazily slide into tyranny.
As one of those pastors who falls into Collin Hansen's category of "young, restless, and reformed," I was interested to begin a dialogue with Dr. R. Scott Clark who challenged whether I am indeed reformed. He has written a book called "Recovering the Reformed Confession." In his book, he argues that a resurgence of predestinarian theology is not enough. In other words, Christology and soteriology are not enough to define this current resurgence of "Calvinists" as reformed. What is needed is a recovery of reformed theology, piety, and practice as stated in the historic reformed confessions of faith (the 3 forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession of Faith).
I was interested in this book primarily because I am someone who does not come from a reformed church tradition. I am a pastor who has come from a background of arminian, baptistic, and dispensational theology. It has only been over the last several years that I have become "reformed" in my doctrine of salvation. It has only been about 3 years since I moved toward a covenantal understanding of the Bible. I still remain baptistic in profession and practice. However, as one can see from the historical record, I am always game to change my position if convinced by Scripture.
The first chapter of the book was a good overview of where Dr. Clark hopes to take the reader, but it was definitely not a chapter that really commended this reader to continue on. However, the second and third chapter of the book were quite good and very helpful. In fact, I couldn't put down the book as I was reading through chapter 3 because I felt as if he was describing my own frustration as an evangelical Christian. In chapter 2 and 3, Dr. Clark discusses two acronyms, QIRC and QIRE. The acronyms stand for Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty and Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience.
While I found both chapters to be very interesting in mapping the history of where reformed churches have slid off the confessional rails of reformed theology, piety, and practice, I was personally challenged most by chapter 3. Dr. Clark lays out a case for the fact that reformed churches have moved away from a piety based on the "means of grace" and moved into a piety based upon a more mystical approach to experiencing God immedately. He contends, rightly I think, that the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings served to push reformed Christians away from seeking God's mediated presence through Word and sacrament toward a more subjective search for experiencing God immediately.
I want to be clear that Dr. Clark does not attempt to defend his position of biblical piety biblically. His project is not to provide an apologetic for reformed theology, piety, and practice. His project is to define what reformed theology, piety, and practice are, how they have been lost, and to call confessionally reformed churches back to them.
As a pastor who is now dealing with the effects of American revivalism in the lives of people, and who is trying to flush much of its baggage out his own theology, I welcome the discussion of a return to experiencing God through the mediation of Word and sacrament. I certainly look forward to the day when the church finds God's providential gift of his Word a sufficient one, and when we are more interested in the fruit of the Spirit than in the "manifestations" or "experiences" of the Spirit.