The Cross of Christ Declares that Virtue Does Not Secure Blessing

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Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:3-4

I recently watched a movie which starred Slavoj Zizek entitled “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.” Before you think I have gone of the rails and become a “Christian atheist” and that I think he has the right thinking concerning these things, let me assure you I don’t. However, there is a very profound point he touches on that I want to pick up and examine. Let’s read what he had to say in the film about Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ”:

… I think one can read the Christian gesture in a much more radical way. This is what the sequence of crucifixion in Scorsese’s film shows us. What dies on the cross is precisely this guarantee of the big Other. The message of Christianity is here radically atheist. It’s the death of Christ is not any kind of redemption or commercial affair in the sense of Christ suffers to pay for our sins. Pay to whom? For what? And so on. It’s simply the disintegration of the God which guarantees the meaning of our lives. And that’s the meaning of the famous phrase Eli, Eli Lama Sabachthani. “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Just before Christ’s death we get what in psychoanalytic terms we call subjective destitution, stepping out totally of the domain of symbolic identification, canceling or suspending the entire field of symbolic authority, the entire field of the big Other. Of course, we cannot know what God wants from us because there is no God. … This is why I claim that the only way to really be an atheist is to go through Christianity. Christianity is much more atheist than the usual atheism, which can claim there is no God and so on. But nonetheless it retains a certain trust into the big Other. This big Other can be called natural necessity or evolution or whatever. We humans are nonetheless reduced to a position within a harmonious whole of evolution, whatever. But the difficult thing to accept is, again that there is no big Other, no point of reference which guarantees meaning.

To take the meaning of the crucifixion this way is of course to completely disbelieve in the justificatory power of the cross, the resurrection, the miracles of Jesus, and the existence of the Father, and ultimately to deny the divinity of Christ. Zizek is not even close to being faithful to the true person of Christ as presented in scripture. However, I am not citing this in order to dispute it. His idea here is so crazy and difficult to grasp that I don’t think there is much threat that many people will be influenced by it at all. After I watched this, I began to reflect on what he was saying, and I think there is an important element of truth here. The cross tells us that there truly is no immediate connection between virtue and blessing. Here is the most virtuous man who ever lived and who ever could live, in fact here is a man who is morally perfect. His moral perfection does not lead him to a place of blessing but to the cross. We may want to dispute this in light of the resurrection, but even He, in light of the resurrection which He already had foretold, sweated blood and pleaded in prayer to be spared the unjustified agony of the cross. What we see is that moralistic perfection itself cannot manipulate the favor and protection of God. The Father does not act on this basis.

In general we interpret the idea that we have “died with Christ” and that we have been “raised with Christ” to mean that we have left a place of loose and unsuccessful moral responsibility and have entered a place of greater moral responsibility, and that we have come by one means or another to better adhere to this greater moral framework. Yet, Job’s story and the cross of Christ declare that no great virtue can ensure blessing with God. Psalms and Proverbs remind us that many times the wicked prosper and the righteous struggle. This was why the “Lord Lord didn’t I” people in the sermon on the Mount were turned away. They equated virtue with earning the bestowal of favor. The cross of Christ severs this tie completely. It says, when you do right, you will be rejected and crucified. It says, if you want to be my disciple, you must bear the cross. The Father God will not necessarily step in and help you in the way and at the time that you think He must. We learn the secret of contentment at the point when it becomes evident that our virtue has not secured our blessing (Philippians 4:12-13).

What dies at the cross is this idolatrous notion of a God who can be controlled through our moral success. We have so many idols. Our highest, most dignified, most cherished and sophisticated pictures of deity are shown as graven images at the cross. All we do in our religion without the cross of Christ is name God in vain. The cross shows us that these notions are really God in our own image. I think that to truly die with Christ, we must be able to say from our heart, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” We must functionally become atheists in the sense that we lay down our most cherished notions of who we think God is and what we think He is supposed to do for us. Then the God who is real can by His own initiative raise us from the dead, so to speak, and express favor and love to us because of pure one-way love without the slightest reference to the quality of our virtue. Virtue and blessing have been forever rent asunder by the cross. Truly, the poor in spirit are the inheritors of the kingdom. True virtue is only born once it is a product of this one-way love and is shown through the cross to be no longer a requirement but a gift.

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"Radical" Grace is the Only True Gospel

Helpless guy giving no assistance to his rescuers!
Helpless guy giving no assistance to his rescuers!

In his seminal book “The Cross of Christ”, John R. W. Stott points out that scripture gives us four images of the accomplishment achieved by the cross – propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation. Scripture clearly teaches that the blood of Jesus, which signifies a violent and untimely death, as a substitute for us, is at the root of each of these images:

propitiation by blood
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
Romans 3:22-25 ESV

redemption by blood
knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
I Peter 1:18-19 NKJV

justification by blood
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:3-4 NKJV

reconciliation by blood
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV

Love and its wrath

In other words, these are not alternative ideas to the penal substitutionary death of Jesus on our behalf, they are images of the results of Jesus’ penal substitutionary death.

I’ve noticed that the drive to obviate the need for the wrath of God lies at the root of the resistance to penal substitutionary atonement. The wrath of God is seen as evil because it is seen as mutually exclusive to the love of God. However, the wrath of God is not antithetical to His love, because the love of God is the genesis and source of His wrath. Wrath is not synonymous with hatred. Love and hatred actually are mutually exclusive. If someone I love is threatened or harmed, I have serious feelings to not only protect them, but to see justice executed on the perpetrator. If my loved one is actually the source of their own threat and harm, I have a deeper problem, because I have love and I have wrath towards them. However, I do not have hatred, I have enduring transformative love for them. If I truly hated them, I would have apathy about their self-destructive nature; I would be happy to let them go on their own and destroy themselves. Wrath says that we matter, that there is a very fierce and passionate care towards us. If your child is a meth addict, you don’t love them by celebrating their destructive addiction! You at least express your displeasure at the thing that is destroying them. This is far different than hating them!

In the end, we will see that the most devastating thing about the wrath of God towards our sin will not be how angry it is, or how powerful He is to execute it, or how certain it is. It will be how resoundingly right and true it is. The frightening thing will be how much our heart and mind and conscience genuinely agree with and even celebrate His wrath. We will see how greatly it is born of love. We will see that our sin is not just a violation of arbitrary moral rules, but is a violation of love and dignity and beauty and freedom. No one will gnash their teeth because they are being punished. They will gnash their teeth because in their heart they will know they should be punished. They will agree that it is just.

So even if you affirm the truth of God’s wrath as a point of doctrine, you must come to the place where you celebrate it. You must see that He loves dearly and so He stands passionately and completely against anything that would harm us. You must come to see that His wrath is beautiful and right and lovely. Even when it stands directly against you personally, you must worship Him in His beautiful and loving and holy rightness. He only wants the best, and that is no euphemism. In that you have fallen short of glory, in His love for you He is raging and hot under the collar.

So, where we have cut ourselves off from the very source of life – yes, He is displeased. Where we have become slaves of judgment through sin – yes, He is displeased. Where we have offended the universal good of justice and rightness – yes, He is displeased. Where we have been cut off and isolated and made alone through our assertion of our godhood and selfishness – yes, He is displeased. Where we have remained steadfast and faithful to these destructive beliefs – yes, He is angry! How could He be otherwise than wrathful if He loves us? It is nonsense.

So stop distancing yourself from the wrath of God. Stop downplaying it. Stop pretending to believe that God should have this vapid love that your very conscience knows is wrong. Then you will see how true and right and perfect it is that you are cut off from God’s favor, a slave to guilt and secret shame, on the wrong side of justice, and exiled from the company of the righteous. Admit the truth — you are prayerless, helpless, guilty, and lonely. These are the very things the cross of Christ restores to you! Your favor and prayer with God, your release from your helplessness, your justification, and your fellowship are restored to you through Christ’s blood when His wrath is acknowledged by you to be satisfied by His death.

If we say that God is love in a way that is antithetical to wrath, it means that God’s love is ineffectual and out of touch with the real world. The cross says that God not only has an answer for the evil in the world, but that He has an answer for my evil. He loves me even while I am yet a sinner. Evil has been denounced as worthy of great wrath at the cross, and so we have entered into a world where our sin is already judged and we have become the free recipients of the favor of God.

“Hyper-grace” is the Simple Gospel

People accuse believers in “radical” grace or “hyper” grace of being light on sin. On the contrary, I maintain that we fully and deeply embrace the outstanding and passionate wrath of God against sin. It is actually the “Lordship Salvation” or “mixed-grace” believers who water down or downplay the wrath of God. We simply see it more truly — it is beyond our ability to repair. Without a miracle, our cause is hopeless. You can’t “repent” your way out of your sins because you already sinned. When you think your “repentance” has some place in your salvation you make the blood of Jesus useless. It is while we were yet sinners (we were unrepentant) that Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8). Your redemption is of inestimable worth. You think you can pay for or deserve Jesus’ blood with your little promise to stop sinning? You won’t even be able to keep your promise! It is a FREE GIFT (Romans 3:24-25). As “radical” grace believers, we are simply those who actually believe the blood of Jesus is the one and only thing that saves us. We really believe in the gospel. We don’t believe in the gospel with caveats. We don’t downplay the power or scope or scandal of our forgiveness. We only trust Jesus to save us and we despair of our own righteousness. This gives us a platform to love, to walk in community with other redeemed sinners. We believe that our righteousness is all forged by God, and is not the invention or work of ourselves. If that is radical or hyper then call me radical and hyper. I seriously don’t flipping care, because I am my beloved’s. I believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord of my salvation. He is my propitiation, my redeemer, just and the justifier, and my reconciliation to God and to others. I have nothing of my own to offer — nothing but my sin. This isn’t some weird sentimental 18th century flowery hymn, this is fundamental truth. You either believe the radical hyper grace of the gospel and come to your ideas about “sanctification” through that door, or you live under wrath and hell (John 3:18).

Don’t tell me any more that “hyper” grace preachers are soft on sin (2 Corinthians 10:5). Anything but. It is the “mixed-grace” “Lordship” believer who is soft on sin. Your “commitment” and “repentance” and “integrity” are a sham and they won’t work. Because fake-grace believers don’t fully believe in mercy, they can’t go to the true scary places in themselves to confess and be cleansed (1 John 1:8,9). The solution, according to the Bible, is belief in Christ (1 John 1:7). You either believe Christ saves you or you believe you save you. There is no “mix” or “balance” or “middle ground.” Do you believe the blood of Jesus plus nothing saves you? Or do you trust in your works and your flawed holiness? Choose Christ!

Images of Atonement

‘Images’ of salvation (or of the atonement) is a better term than ‘theories’. For theories are usually abstract and speculative concepts, whereas the biblical images of the atoning achievement of Christ are concrete pictures and belong to the data of revelation. They are not alternative explanations of the cross, providing us with a range to choose from, but complementary to one another, each contributing a vital part to the whole. As for the imagery, ‘propitiation’ introduces us to rituals at a shrine, ‘redemption’ to transactions in a market-place, ‘justification’ to proceedings in a lawcourt, and ‘reconciliation’ to experiences in a home or family. My contention is that ‘substitution’ is not a further ‘theory’ or ‘image’ to be set alongside the others, but rather the foundation of them all, without which each lacks cogency. If God in Christ did not die in our place, there could be neither propitiation, nor redemption, nor justification, nor reconciliation. In addition, all the images begin their life in the Old Testament, but are elaborated and enriched in the New, particularly by being directly related to Christ and his cross.

John R. W. Stott

The Cross of Christ Declares that We are Greatly Loved (Part 3)

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It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
Proverbs 25:2

Surprise!

betty_bonnieAs I write this, today is my wife’s birthday, and I have been concealing a very big secret. Her sister flew in from North Carolina all the way to Bellingham WA just for her birthday! I also planned a surprise birthday party, but I know that she is way too smart for me to keep the entire thing secret. So although I really wanted it to be a surprise, I really used the party as a decoy surprise to draw all of her suspicions, so that her sister’s arrival would be completely shocking. It worked! When we drove up to the spot where we agreed to pick her sister up, she was not expecting anything to happen, and when her sister suddenly showed up, she screamed, waved her hands in funny little circles, and started crying when she ran out to hug her neck! What a joy!

In a previous post we considered the threefold nature of a good gift: it is sacrificial, it is appropriate to the receiver, and it is surprising. We looked at the sacrificial nature of the cross of Christ, the appropriateness of the cross of Christ to our need and desire, and how that makes it a powerful gift to us. Now we look at how the cross is a surprise.

The idea of surprise is steeped in grace. If a gift is truly a surprise to someone, it means they didn’t plan it or ask for it or even remotely expect it. Yet, unbeknownst even to them, it is something which truly befits them and which they would have badly wanted if they could have thought of it. Since it is a surprise, it is something which is all done on the initiative of the giver. The receiver not only didn’t earn, they didn’t even think to ask for it. It is tremendous blessing that comes at you out of the blue, out of love and a desire to bless. Once Paul has outlined a torrent of amazing things about our identity in Christ in the first three chapters of Ephesians, he ends the section with this:

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NASB)

The Cross as a Surprise Gift

AngelsLongThomasHawkI think it is fair to say that while the Jewish nation at the time of Jesus was on the alert for the coming of the Messiah, they were not expecting what they got. Even the wisest and best of them were expecting a figurehead and a political leader of some kind. They were not expecting God Himself to come in the flesh; in fact whenever you see the subject broached in His dialogs with the religious leaders, they enter directly into a murderous rage. I certainly doubt anyone could have conceived that God would come in the flesh and personally die for our sins. Sometimes as Christians we become numb to how shocking these things are. The exact nature of the coming of Christ was kept secret for millennia:

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.
1 Peter 1:10-12

I think it is safe to say that the nature and power of our redemption ended up being much more far-reaching and amazing than we would have thought. Many of the reasons people balk at grace is that they want to soften the shocking degree of forgiveness and blessing. The degree of love and the cost of it all seems too good to be true. It really does seem foolish and offensive to human nature to say that if you simply believe it and receive it, you have eternal life and you are forgiven everything forever. I think a lot of people would be very surprised to find out that this is what we are saying! I think that a great number of people would be inclined to say, “This is what you meant by all of this preaching? Why didn’t you come out and say so? This is absolutely tremendous! Thank God I know that! I never knew what it felt like to be released from the burden of my very conscience! Thank you!” It is shocking to say that we are so beloved of God that He would incarnate and die for us. We can also know that the surprises aren’t over; there are many glories to follow! Expect God to surprise you over and over and over for the rest of eternity!

The Cross of Christ Declares that We are Greatly Loved (Part 2)

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In the last post we considered the threefold nature of a good gift: it is sacrificial, it is appropriate to the receiver, and it is surprising. We looked at the sacrificial nature of the cross of Christ, and how that makes it a powerful gift to us. In this post we will look at the appropriateness of the gift.

When I say appropriateness, I don’t mean that a good gift is merely inoffensive. I mean that it truly reflects an understanding of the receiver’s wants and needs and personhood. I think a lot of people lack passion in their faith because they have not realized how powerfully the gospel of Christ and Him crucified fulfills this part of the nature of a gift. When Jesus died for us, He gave us a gift that fulfilled our deepest and most urgent needs and desires. How so?

I am always saying that our greatest injury isn’t the evil that has been done to us, it is the evil we have chosen. If evil is done to me, I may be terribly harmed, and that is really bad. This is no attempt to downplay the wounds and scars we have from the evils we have suffered in life at all. We can be assured that God has tremendous compassion for our plight. However, when we choose evil, we become guilty and ashamed. We hide and lie. A karmic dynamic of belief enters, where we feel that we deserve the harm that we suffer because of our sin. When we sin, we wear the weight of it in our soul; our conscience afflicts us in our secret mind everywhere we are. When we tell people stories about the evil we have suffered, it curries sympathy and compassion. When we confess our guilt and shame, it brings judgment and revulsion and rejection. Suffering from evil done to us threatens our comfort and success and longevity, but suffering because of our sin threatens our acceptability, our ability to have relationship, and our very personhood. It is the difference between being a good person who was wronged, and being a bad person who was wronged. Everyone cheers when a bad person is wronged, because they are getting what should have been coming to them; and this is our great fear as sinners. We can believe that God will love us and comfort us when we have suffered evil at the hands of others or of fate, because in doing so he is upholding justice and displaying compassion and love. We have the feeling that even though we have been right, God is right to have sympathy and kindness towards us. However, it is hard to believe that God will love us and comfort us when we are the source of evil, because if He does it will be against justice and against compassion for those we have harmed. We may articulate other beliefs, but in our conscience we know that if God blesses us He blesses evil, and we know it must never happen. Mercy and grace are our greatest need, and the most difficult to truly believe.

The cross of Christ declares that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8). While He was being murdered He loved and prayed for the forgiveness of His murderers, and this is just an example of His heart and attitude across the board. While we sin against Him, He reaches beyond our uncleanness and beyond our shame and fear and touches us with healing mercy. In fact, in Christ you can stop worrying about whether your problems are your fault or someone else’s fault, because the truth is it is probably a mix of both. He has already died for you, your faults have been absolved. He is just going to comfort you and help you and heal you regardless of your responsibility in your mess. However, a great deal of Christian thought seems utterly determined to make the cross out to be about more than simple forgiveness. The gospel must produce sanctification, or it must show us how to live sacrificially and incarnationally, or it must produce submissive obedience. It cannot really be about simple mercy and forgiveness, because that would be “easy-believism” or “hyper-grace” or whatever pejorative moniker the spirit of antichrist has dreamt up for the gospel this week. Why can’t we rest in the simplicity that the cross offers true and lasting mercy? Mercy is not simple, and there is nothing at all unimportant about the power of the forgiveness we have received in Christ. At the cross Jesus became just and the justifier; He has rolled away the stone of our reproach and shame and opened the door again to genuine intimacy for us with Himself and with others. The removal of our reproach is the big deal; other things grow from that soil, but make no mistake that the simple gospel of pure mercy is the good soil. The cross of Christ declares that we are greatly loved, not by merit, but by gift. Any other emphasis or message is not the message which the cross of Christ declares, but is some other message (John 10:1).

Which is all to say, God has big fluffy wonderful unending unkillable eternal love for you. He died for you and He rose from the dead for you. He is crazy about you and He has the power to back that up. You have been caught up into something much bigger and more wonderful than you know. He who is alone worthy in all of the universe has you in His heart and would rather die than live without you. And that is exactly what is playing out — He did die and He will live with you!

The Cross of Christ Declares that We are Greatly Loved (Part 1 – The Sacrificial Gift)

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For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10

The Nature of a Gift

When you want to show someone a very great love and affection, you give them a very costly gift. This is why wedding rings have gold and diamonds instead of plastic and aluminum. This is why David refused to make an offering to God with free oxen (2 Samuel 24:24). We try to hide when we give gifts at Christmas that were gifts to us the Christmas before – because it means it cost us nothing.

When you want to show someone love, you also want to give a gift that reflects an understanding of who they are and what they really like. In a famous episode of the Simpsons, Homer gave Marge a bowling ball fit perfectly for his own fingers and engraved with his name. Ha ha! This is not the kind of costly and appropriate gift I am talking about. The best gifts are truly selfless, truly costly, and truly reflect an understanding of what the recipient of the gift wants and needs. This selflessness is incomplete if the gift is merely costly. It shows that the gift is born of intimacy if it reflects the receiver’s wants and needs rather than the giver’s wants and needs.

The very best gifts are also a surprise! There is a tension in this idea of a surprising gift, because it is difficult to find a gift which is both what the receiver likes and surprises them. It is only possible if there is a deep reflective affectionate understanding of who the receiver is so that the giver can predict both what they would be surprised at and what they would really like.

So the Father loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. This is a gift which fits all the criteria for being a wonderful gift: it is costly, appropriate, and surprising.

The Costliness of the Gift

The costliness of the gift of our redemption may seem obvious. However, it is not enough to say that the costliness is that Jesus died. Two robbers died on either side of Him, on crosses no less, but no one thinks of their deaths as costly gifts to us. There is something entirely unique about Jesus’ death. When Peter gave his first sermon at Pentecost, the people were cut to the heart:

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 2:36-38

Why were they cut to the heart? They hadn’t just mistakenly sentenced just any random person to death. That alone would have been a very piercing guilt. They had crucified the actual Messiah – the One predicted by Jewish law, practice, and prophecy for millennia. They had crucified the One whom the Old Testament scriptures declared to be even more than a messiah: He was Lord. They realized they had crucified the One man in all of history who was both Messiah and God in the flesh. This was His great great value and it was their very great guilt.

If my son died because he was a drug dealer and a murderer, and had been killed in the midst of his evil, I would grieve very very greatly. But truly, if he was a great artist or doctor or writer or father/husband and was killed for no reason, I would mourn all the more — not just because of his innocence but because of the great worth of his life. And O the great great worth of the life of Jesus Christ! He was much better than the greatest doctor or statesman or philosopher or theologian! All wise, seeking the good of others, completely dedicated to truly doing God’s will, He was constantly going out of His way to do miracles for the good of others. He did not break the bruised reeds, and the forgotten riff-raff and the despised sinners gathered to Him like moths to a flame. This is the One whom the Father gave — the One who always listened to Him and obeyed His will. He sent His only begotten Son, perfect in all His ways, the one and only Messiah, the fulfillment of all Jewish prophecy, and gave Him. He was utterly wonderful and utterly unique and He was killed as if it were nothing.

I have trouble believing that my life is worth His life. I am lazy, unbelieving, selfish, mean, self-indulgent, lustful, and generally sinful. Yet this is the gift I have been given! I am undone!

Of course, the cross of Christ declares a very costly gift. Jesus didn’t just give up His dreams of being a bohemian poet or musician so he could be a farmer to support His family. I suppose that would be a very great sacrifice. He didn’t just give up his excellent and well-paying job. He sacrificed His very life. These words “sent” (1 John 4:10) and “gave” (John 3:16) are gentle ways of saying something very incredible. He gave up everything to the point of being crucified, for the love us.

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8

Here is the stunning thing about all of this: He wanted to do this for us! The Father was pleased to crush Him and put Him to grief, to render Him as a guilt offering (Isaiah 53:10). That is strange but for one thing: as a very great show of love for us, God Himself showed forth a very great and sacrificial gift. The greatness of the sacrifice is part of our assurance that we are very greatly loved.

(Next time – the appropriateness of the gift)

The Cross of Christ Declares that Jesus is Worthy

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5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 5:1-14 (ESV)

What an incredible scene! Why was the apostle weeping? I think we need to capture the weight of this moment. Whatever is in this scroll is very important to the unfolding of eternity, and only a being of proven worthiness would be capable of opening it. Only the most worthy beings in the created universe were allowed as witnesses to this event in the first place. All of them have focused their entire attention and desire upon this scroll and its need to be opened.

No one is found worthy anywhere to open it. No one in heaven is worthy! Not the four living creatures, not the angels or archangels, not the 24 elders, not the cherubim, not the seraphim, not the saints — no one. Surely the four living creatures who surround the throne of God who never cease to say “holy holy holy!” are worthy! Alas, they are not. Surely the twenty-four elders who fall down before the throne of God and worship Him forever and ever are worthy! Not one of them. No one on earth, of all the billions of people, is found worthy. Not one. Jim Elliot, Amy Carmichael, George Muller, Hudson Taylor, Mother Theresa, Peter the Apostle, Paul the Apostle, John the Apostle — all were found wanting. In all of history, none are worthy. No one is righteous enough, or clever enough, or smart enough, or shrewd enough, or rich enough, or strong enough, or famous enough. No one is fit enough or good-looking enough or has good enough singing skills to open the scrolls. No one has invented any technology which is capable of this task. No one has strong enough intercessory power or spiritual gifting or wisdom. All of these kinds of power and ability ridiculously fail to equip anyone to open the scrolls, because the question is not ability. The question is worthiness. What does it mean to be worthy?

I want to pause for a second here and ask a simple question. How hard could it be to open a scroll? It is a scroll. The question isn’t about insufficient force, it is about insufficient morals. If you think about it, a lamb standing as if slain is not exactly a symbol of superior force or even intelligence. Why didn’t anyone think to ask, “Why are we so hung up on worthiness? If this is so important, just OPEN IT. Who cares who opens it?” You know what is strange? Not one being said this. Not even the devil, or the most vile hedonistic sinful human, piped up and said “Worthiness be damned! Let me open it for you!” The entire universe was in unanimous agreement here: the showstopper question was worthiness. It was the judgment of the perfection of the law that held that scroll closed, because the question in every mind was worthiness. Not one being ever created in the history of the universe was willing or able to step up and say that the judgment of the law wasn’t binding. The law had stopped heaven altogether, and judgment had won. No one else had fulfilled the law. The sealed scroll judged all of us as unworthy.

I want to notice that He was not deemed worthy because He was resurrected. He was resurrected because He was worthy. He was worthy because He was slain. He shed His blood in resisting sin. He shed His blood to remain true. He shed His blood to maintain His integrity. He shed His blood to forgive. He died to prove His love and His obedience. He fulfilled the law, all the way to the death. No one else died the way Jesus died — that is what this is saying. If they had, then perhaps they would be found worthy to open this scroll. Jesus alone is worthy, because He died in order to ransom. He alone obeyed the Father’s will all the way to the death. He alone died for pure love.

The cross of Christ declares that He is worthy. He stands forever a lamb as if slain, and He is worthy to receive blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever. The rest of us worship Him, for He is worthy. He has proven it. There is quite literally nothing He wouldn’t do for the love of us. He is love.

In the same way, I am not worthy to open the scroll of my brother’s heart, or of my wife’s heart. I did not die for them. I did not love them the way He loves them. I die to fixing myself, and I die to fixing others by holding a standard of worthiness over their heads. He is worthy because He was slain to ransom them. If we confess, He will forgive us; we are all equally unworthy. It cannot be my agenda to demand worthiness from myself or from anyone else. We can only stand weeping and hoping that One worthy to fix us opens the door to eternity for us. I can only share the bread broken for me with them, and drink the cup with them, and proclaim His death together with them. Apart from His death, we remain unopened, isolated, and judged, condemned by our communal standards of worthiness. No one else meets our standards, which God has forged in us. Every other creature stands judged, but there is only One who bears up under judgement. Together we can worship Him, for He and He alone is worthy.