Results tagged “Crucifixion” from Reformation21 Blog

Conflict, Comfort and the Cross


Last week, a gunman entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed 26 people, wounding 20 others. The massacre was brutal and left what will surely be scars on all of those who survived, many of whom were young children. Usually there is some sort of grieving period that decorum allows in the aftermath of such events, but as civilization abandons any pretense at care or compassion that grieving period is quickly disappearing.

One of the nastiest things about the internet is that it allows angry and grieving people to abstract the people they are writing about from reality. People are able to speak freely even when they know what they have to say is cruel or even evil. It should be no secret in the Christian community that the world thinks that we're foolish. We acknowledge it, but sometimes we see it in ugly ways.

Perhaps the most despicable reactions came from Actor Michael McKean, who mocked the dead on Twitter and attacked those who encouraged prayer for the people in the church: "They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else." Wil Wheaton attacked one politician who expressed sympathy and prayers for those who had lost so much: "If prayers did anything, they'd still be alive."

I do not wish to judge these men as human beings. I don't know them in their everyday lives. I don't know what they've been through or what they've seen, but someone who understands the cross would never say these sorts of things. These are the responses of people who do not understand the cross.

The mockery of the unbelieving world assumes a few significant things. It assumes that God would never permit his people to die. It assumes that suffering isn't part of God's plan. It assumes that if prayer "worked" then God's people would just keep on living. And most fundamentally it assumes that God builds his church on power and strength. There's an entire worldview of assumptions that have to be true if their mockery could have any basis, but of course all of these assumptions miss the cross.

The cross was the ultimate and willing display of weakness. When many think of the cross they think, perhaps of an identifying marker, a beautiful piece of jewelry, or some elaborate symbol. But the cross was horrible, ugly, and nonsensical. It was a weapon of death, akin to the rack or the guillotine. At the core of the Christian religion is the conviction that death is the road to life and weakness is the road to strength. That's totally upside down from the rest of the world.

Paul says that "the world did not know God through wisdom" (1 Cor. 1:21). What he means is that if you were trying to dream up a way to rescue people from hell, the conclusion that reason would take you to is a show of power, a demonstration of strength. This is why the religious leaders mocked Jesus as he died: "Let him come down from the cross, and [then] we will believe in him." And in a sense that mockery is echoed in the sentiments of men like Wheaton and McKean. The cross is foolish to these men (1 Cor. 1:18-25). What else would we expect?

You see, the mockers also don't understand that Christians are called by Christ himself to carry the cross, too. If McKean, Wheaton, and their tribe don't understand the cross, then they certainly won't get what Christians are called to carry. What the saints at First Baptist Church were called to carry last week. Jesus spent a huge quantity of his earthly ministry preparing his disciples to suffer and carry the cross.

I do fear, however, that as Christians, we also forget these truths. How often do we prize earthly power, success, cultural authority, and the respect of those outside of the church? Prizing these things is a sign that we've learned to think like the world, too.

Sometimes I fear that as Christians we are far too easily embarrassed by the opinions of the watching world. The base ideas about Christ that the world works with assume the narrative of power and strength. The truth we need to remember is quite the opposite.

The truth that suffering and loss is intrinsic to the Christian religion and to our own lives as believers means that church shootings, religious persecution, and difficulty shouldn't be the exception for Christians. We should understand comfort and ease to be the real exceptions.

Some time in the autumn of 379, Gregory of Nazianzus answered the summons issued by the Synod of Antioch to take up residence in Constantinople. His job description was clear: to promote the Nicene faith in a city given over to Arianism. Gregory soon established the Church of the Resurrection and, within a year, preached a series of sermons we know as his "Five Theological Orations."

Oration 29--the "third" theological oration--is devoted to the identity and action of the Son of God, our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. It is an able and eloquent presentation and defense of orthodox Christology. It also provides ample material for meditation on this Good Friday. 

Near the end of Oration 29, Gregory engages in an extended discourse on the beautiful and paradoxical nature of Christ's suffering and death as the God-man, which I cite below. In order to fully appreciate the beauty and power of this section of Gregory's sermon, it is helpful to note a couple of features that characterize his preaching of Christ. First, his discourse is attentive to the fact that Jesus is "one Lord" and therefore that everything he did and suffered on our behalf was performed by one saving subject. The one who suffered death for us on the cross is the same one who conquered death in his death for us on the cross, etc. Second, his discourse is attentive to the fact that this "one Lord" is at one and the same time fully God and fully man and therefore that everything he did and suffered on our behalf reflects the twofold character of his theanthropic (i.e., divine and human) person. 

Without further comment, I commend to you Gregory of Nazianzus on the crucifixion of the God-man:

He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but he redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the price of his own blood. As a sheep he is led to the slaughter, but he is the shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a lamb he is silent, yet he is the Word, and is proclaimed by the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but he heals every disease and infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the tree, but by the tree of life he restores us; yea, he saves even the robber crucified with him; yea, he wrapped the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is sweetness and altogether desired. He lays down his life, but he has power to take it again; and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but he gives life, and by his death destroys death. 
We have several copies of a new book by Phil Ryken, Bible teacher on Every Last Word radio and internet broadcast.

Salvation by Crucifixion sends a challenge to readers: if the historic facts of the cross are true, and the emphasis the Bible places on the crucifixion is justified, then what difference should that make for our lives? Just as it is the key moment in all world history, it is the key moment in our own personal existence and understanding it better becomes of vital importance.

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Dangerous ideas


A friend drew my attention to an Australian programme called Q&A in which four figures engage in a moderated discussion responding to audience questions (for British readers, think Question Time; not sure what the American equivalent would be, if there is one). The panelists on this occasion were Germaine Greer, Peter Hitchens, Hanna Rosin and Dan Savage. This particular episode can be watched here (with a complete transcript). Please take into account that the language of a couple of participants is sometimes vulgar and a little graphic.

Peter Hitchens, as many will know, is the brother of Christopher Hitchens, and seems (I hope that this is fair to him) as provocatively and intelligently to the right on the political spectrum as his brother was to the left. I watched with interest as Hitchens fought his corner for the duration of the programme. My point here is not on what topics or in what way or to what extent I might agree (or not) with Peter Hitchens, and I do not think his tone always does him many favours, but I appreciated his clarity and courage. I also cannot speak to his personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ as a Saviour and King.

Nevertheless, his answer to the final question of the night (found at 57 minutes and 48 seconds on the video) is illuminating (although the discussion about epiphanies at 00:52:28 is also fascinating). The final question was:

Which so-called dangerous idea do you each think would have the greatest potential to change the world for the better if where [sic] implemented?
Watching and/or reading the various answers alongside and in contrast to one another, and the reactions of the other panelists, is instructive.
TONY JONES: Dan, let's start with you.

HANNA ROSIN: Oh, that's a hard one

DAN SAVAGE: Oh, my [deleted].

HANNA ROSIN: You got to give us a minute to think about that.

DAN SAVAGE: Population control. There's too many [deleted] people on the planet. And I don't know if that's a - you know, I'm pro-choice. I believe that women should have the right to control their bodies. Sometimes in my darker moments I am anti-choice. I think abortion should be mandatory for about 30 years. That's a dangerous idea. She wanted a dangerous idea. So throw a chair at me.

TONY JONES: That is a very dangerous idea.

HANNA ROSIN: I actually have to think about it for a minute. I have to think about it.

TONY JONES: Okay. Let's go to Germaine.

GERMAINE GREER: Well, I'm always in the same place. The most dangerous idea, the one that terrifies us the most, is freedom - to actually be free - is, to most human beings, disorientating, terrifying but it's the essential bottom line. If you want to be a moral individual you must be free to make choices and that includes making mistakes.


PETER HITCHENS: The most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the son [sic] of God and rose from the dead and that is the most dangerous idea you will ever encounter.

DAN SAVAGE: I'd have to agree with that.

TONY JONES: Just quickly, because I think you can't really leave it there, why dangerous?

PETER HITCHENS: I can't really leave it there? Because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject It, it alters us all was well. It is incredibly dangerous. It's why so many people turn against it.

TONY JONES: Hanna Rosin?

HANNA ROSIN: I'm tempted to say something about the Jesus Christ but being the Jewish one on the panel I'll let that one go. Given our conversation today, I think I'm going to go with we should watch our children less. We live in a culture which follows our children around, is obsessed with safety, decides everything for our children, doesn't let them have any freedom. Doesn't let them wander. Doesn't let them go anywhere or do anything by themselves and we should, in fact, do less with our children, not more.
I am currently working on a piece for an upcoming conference about public Christianity, and found this helpful statement from Herman Bavinck: "Christians need not hide from their opponents in embarrassed silence; the Christian faith is the only worldview that fits the reality of life." Whatever your political convictions and affiliations, and whatever Peter Hitchens' true spiritual allegiance, he is right about this: if Christ Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again, everything changes. It is the most dangerous idea. The people who ought to be most clear about this, by what we say and how we live, are true believers.