Lenten Reflections Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi 2012
Unlike the anticipation of the Advent season where the focus is on new birth and the manger, Lent leads our thoughts inexorably to the cross. The crucifix often becomes invisible to us when we see jewelry and other decorations fashioned in the cruciform shape. We take for granted that it is situated in a prominent place in our sanctuaries and often fail to register its significance as our eyes survey the space on Sunday mornings. A visitor to one of the grand cathedrals of historic Christianity would be confronted the cross adorning everything at every turn but left to wonder, why the cross? Why has the Savior’s death furnishing become symbolic of the faith of hope?
The answer to this question is simple..and complex. The death of Jesus Christ and His subsequent resurrection are the key elements of the gospel; without them one came preaching good news but left us wondering. Escaping the confinement of the tomb on that first Easter morning dismissed all doubt. Sin had extracted a terrible toll but hope brought a new radiance as the living Savior showed himself having overcome the greatest fear of humanity, death.
Reflecting on the empty cross reminds us of both the cost of redemption and the hope brought about by not having to face the debt ourselves. We have about six weeks in which to prepare ourselves spiritually for the celebration of the resurrected Christ. We will keep the cross in front of us and reflect on it in depth so that when the beauty of the draped cross confronts us on Easter morning we will never again be tempted to take it for granted.
Grace and peace from the One who is over all and through all and in all.
This slim collection of essays is rooted in the proposition that the doctrine of atonement is under attack. While I agree that there are a number of views about the nature of atonement and what it accomplished, I dispute the idea that the doctrine itself is under attack. Given the publisher (P & R Publishing) and the group who assembled the project, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, I believe the perceived challenge is to the application of the the Penal Substitution theory. It is not clear as to why this distinction isn’t made clear other than the possible notion that any other theory is so far outside of the range of discussion that it can simply be dismissed.
The essays, assembled by editor Gabriel Fluhrer, come from presentations given at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Bringing the best Reformed minds to bear on a topic of importance to Christ’s Church, this collection of discussions on atonement from the Conference is almost universally excellent. Heavyweight pastors and theologians J.I. Packer, James Boice, R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, Sinclair Ferguson, John R. DeWitt, and Alistair Begg each repeat the truth and application of the atonement brought about on the cross at Calvary from a variety of perspectives.
Packer and Boice are at their usual best offering clarity in defining atonement drawing the important distinction between propitiation and expiation. Boice’s essay on the language of the marketplace and his exposition of the grace in Hosea bridges God’s wrath and His redemptive love and bear repeated reading. Gerstner’s emphasis on centering atonement only within the narrow stem of the TULIP is out of place among the winsomeness of the other authors. Perhaps I misread his intentions but it appears that atonement, in his view, can only be seen in its limited form, something the other authors avoided emphasizing.
Atonement is a fine addition to the literature on this doctrine but it remains to be seen where it fits in the library. It is an excellent introduction to the admittedly narrow definition of the doctrine of Atonement but it doesn’t offer anything new in the way of ideas.
In one week we will be in the first days of Passion week. It will a time of mixed emotions; the joy of Easter is tempered and sometimes shadowed by the horror of the extraordinary cost of the Cross. The one innocent man to have walked the face of the earth must be sacrificed that we might live. Jesus the divine reveals God to us in human form and yet, we still struggle to grasp the necessity of the cross. We work to make the juxtaposition of mercy and sacrifice understood by our hearts but lack the words.
The psalmist knows this duality well, speaking in Psalm 5,
You shall destroy those who speak falsehood; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy;
In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple. (vv 6-7)
How rarely we see ourselves as those who speak falsehood or practice deceit and yet, like Nathan did for David, the Spirit reminds us that we are that man. We are the reason for the Cross, the reason that such an enormous cost must be paid. We continue forward toward Calvary in His mercy alone.
Grace and peace to you
image Leonard Matthews
Do you really walk alone? It can feel like that sometimes. Those we thought were friends have moved on to other pursuits. Loved ones have issues with us, real or imagined. We echo the thought of the psalmist..
You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend. (Psalm 88:18)
The modern church would prefer that this psalm disappear from the Psalter. It doesn’t fit the current paradigm of happy, happy, everything is going to be great all the time forever when I’m a Christian. Believers cannot understand how God would leave His people in the midst of incredibly difficult struggles, perhaps even for the entire span of their lives.
Look to the Cross. Jesus hangs alone. The skies darken like night. No one rises to His defense. The Father alone is in control of a History that we sometimes cannot understand. We must walk toward the Cross despite the darkness, despite the fact that we might walk along. We walk in trust that the Father’s ultimate will is for the good.
Grace and peace to you.
As we considered yesterday, our perspective is more limited than we can even imagine. Not only is our vision limited, but our concept of time is constrained by our imagination as well. Forever for us ends upon our own expiration. We can’t see it any other way. The psalmist, in Psalm 13, cries out to God in this pinched voice:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? (vv 1-2)
The Cross that we are approaching day by day holds the answer to these plaintive questions. God had planned for the Cross before time, knowing that creatures with will posed a risk in their love and devotion. How long has God loved us? Forever. How long has he planned to redeem us? Forever. How long will he continue to love his creations? Forever.
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. (Psalm 95:6-7)
Golgotha is still distant, its horror not yet in view. We feel secure but can’t quite identify why that is. Our pride may tell us that we have created a hedge around ourselves. We can protect ourselves and provide for all of our needs.
Rarely do we recognize how limited our perspective is.
God views us from His unparalleled perspective, seeing everything that approaches us no matter how distant. He sees us as His lambs, innocent and carefree in not knowing all that threatens us. The Good Shepherd scans the horizon without rest to keep the lambs and the good sheep reward him with loyalty.
Kneel down and worship.
image jen chan
“’For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12)
It’s easy to misread the skies and come to a faulty conclusion. Here in Colorado, the mountains can point you in the wrong direction as they hide the truth. Just yesterday a clear sky in the morning would have let you leave the house in a light jacket that would have offered little protection as you scraped the snow and ice from your car in the evening. We can fall into the same error in our spiritual lives, looking at the clouding skies and believe that God has let us go beyond his loving grasp.
The faith built of our ever more intimate relationship with our Father tells us something quite different. Look at the final verse of Psalm 11,
For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice;
upright men will see his face. (v7)
Though it might seem as though we have been lost by him and surrounded by trouble and challenge, His people will see His face. He will seek you out, there is no place you can go from which God will not bring you back. As we walk toward Calvary, faith lights the way. As we near the Cross, the light will lead us on.
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. (v4)
Grace and peace to you.
image m angel herrero
We’ve all spent time in the psalms. They are a source of challenge, comfort, and promise for us today in the same way that they were for the people of Israel. At times pleading and others praising, God and His incredible works remain front and center in this poetry. The Church enters the season of Lent today, a period of pointed reflection on the Lord that moves day by day toward the celebration of Easter. We meditate on the bloody and horrible cost of salvation, how the perfect Seder lamb had to be sacrificed so that you and I might be saved. It is at the same time a sober and celebratory time.
Psalm 85 expresses our need and desire perfectly. The psalmist pleads,
Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Will you not revive us again that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. (vv 4-7)
Begin our walk through the desert toward Calvary by asking yourself, what am I contributing to prolonging God’s anger? What must I shed on this trip through the wilderness? Our goal is to reach the cross rid of the dead weight and dross that interfere with our relationship with the Savior.
Grace and peace to you.
image wolfgang staudt
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)
Any journey gets immeasurably easier when the destination comes into sight. In our lives, our objective is to submit to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit as he leads us to finally become Christlike, but many times, I know that I have trouble seeing how my current state will ever be like the glorious Lord. Sometimes we find our confidence growing as we look toward intermediate markers along the road, things that can be reached in a shorter period. Watching Peter stumble along trying to follow Jesus but stubbing his toes over and over along the way we find a fellow follower more in our image.
Peter brings us hope as we step toward the cross because even though he is flawed like us, he get’s it after learning things the hard way. We get angry, we blurt out inappropriate things, we fail to see what is right before us, and we even fail to see the bigger picture but Peter gives us hope because his messy transformation is our halting, sputtering, tumbling transformation. Not perfect by any stretch, but humbly following close behind our savior.