Fourth Sunday in Advent ~ Change Comes

image First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:5-10)

The end of Advent brings the beginning of everything else…everything changes because of the single moment in history when Jesus sets aside his crown and comes to walk among us. A single moment…a holy birth…a changed world. God set aside the futility of the old sacrificial system, a set of laws that man could not satisfy in his own power and provided the perfect lamb.

One single moment changed everything…God elected to place the perfect lamb in our midst…He elected to become the perfect sacrifice for those who would believe and obey…the single Christmas moment changes everything.

Has it changed you?

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The Multi-Faceted View of Atonement

We have looked at three of the major views that Christians have adopted to understand atonement, Christus Victor, Healing, and Penal Substitution. At one time or another during the history of the Church, each of these theories has held the majority position among theologians. The Penal Substitution view is the dominant view now, among the American churches at least.image It’s important to recognize the historical shifts in acceptance of the various theories and to question why one would lose favor to another in the minds of Christian thinkers and teachers. Does the Bible change over time? Has the Holy Ghost made contradictory revelations at different moments in time that initiated the shift? What about all of the other atonement views that are subsumed within the larger categories?

Is it possible that the atonement brought about by the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is much too expansive to be understood under the banner of a single, narrow category?

Atonement is Too Large for a Single Theory

Theologians who stand apart from the dominant views of atonement will answer this question by saying yes, there is no model or metaphor that is sufficient to explain the significance of of His sacrifice. The crucifixion and its result are tightly woven into God’s eternal purpose and as spirit-opened eyes continue to pore over the scriptures in the hours remaining until the end of this time, we may never run out of the countless ways of understanding its meaning for our salvation. It should not be alarming to find a number of images that lend themselves to understanding this momentous act. As centuries of eyes search out the truths of God’s word, each with a slightly different perspective on the greatest human need, it is inevitable that a number of categories would arise.

Single Views and the Bible

The New Testament authors generated a number of images in the Gospels and Epistles in order to help readers comprehend the monumental shift in God-Human relationship brought about by crucifixion of Jesus. If the primary rule of hermeneutics is applied—context,context, context—the modern reader places the writing in first century and recognizes the societal influences that are inherent in the texts. Five areas of public life dominate: the court of law (justification), the world of commerce (redemption), personal relationships (reconciliation), worship (sacrifice), and the battleground (triumph over evil).

This plethora of imagery could be differentiated by the loci of the individual authors, their use of language and metaphor and missiological interest. A more effective tool for seeing the wide span of atonement images is to survey the corpus of a single author to see if there is variety or consistency. With his dominant contributions, Paul and his works provides such a platform. The Apostle employs two main themes in discussing the significance of the atonement, the ‘giving up’ of Jesus for human salvation (cf. Rom 8:32, Gal 1:4) and ‘Christ died for our sins’ (cf. 1 Cor 15:3, 1 Thes 5:10). These themes emphasize the saving nature of Jesus’ death but they do so without linking it explicitly to a single methodological theory. With this point established, Paul then utilizes a variety of imagery applicable to particular concerns of his epistle audiences. Reading Paul exposes us to language about substitution, representation, sacrifice, justification, forgiveness, reconciliation, victory over the powers, and redemption.

Conclusion

Rather than being confined within a single theory, the atonement is better viewed as encompassing the fullness of God’s design for the world. The image which finds favor with a theologian will more often than not be a product of his definition of the greatest human need. If people are seen as in bondage to sin, they need liberation. If humanity is spiritually blind, the desperate need is for illumination. If lost, they need to be found. Taking a kaleidoscopic view of atonement provides the freedom necessary to locate all of these needs within a view of the crucifixion.

Lent 2009 – 25 Steps to the Cross

PeterSteps “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:24 – 26)

Ultimately in this chapter, Peter distills the essence of the ministry that the Church down to a single statement, through you ‘all the peoples on earth will be blessed. As we get closer and closer to the cross and the celebration of the risen Christ we can simplify our reflection to the blessing that comes from Christ. We are saved by our faith in Him, not solely for ourselves but in order to bless the rest of the world. With each step this Lenten season, we can further distance ourselves from our salvation in personal terms only and closer to our call to be the same blessing to others.

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Lent 2009 – 26 Steps to the Cross

PeterSteps “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you –even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’ (Acts 3:17-23)

As Peter previously demonstrated, an evangelistic call matches the good news of Christ with the bad news of the sin that separates us from God. The sign of the healed beggar alone should have driven people to their knees right? Would it do so today? The challenge that we face is that people did not and still do not see themselves as in need of salvation. Our modern culture lives by the thought that ‘I’m okay, you’re okay.’ If that were true in the perspective of God’s economy there would never have been a Jesus. But we’re not okay, are we? We are sin driven, sin guided, and we live in a sinful culture. Will pastors preach that this week?

We must be willing to suffer the slings and arrows of pointing out the sad truth to people, even if the consequences of doing so are dire. When Peter voiced these words the people of Israel were in no mood to be confronted with the truth. If the realization of what they had done set in, the meaningless nature of their tiny sacrifices would have fell them like a tree. The cultural facts however, should never prevent us from speaking the truth. Sacrifice is to be a key component of our nature. How’re you doing?

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Lent 2009 – 31 Steps to the Cross

PeterSteps As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” and “ A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for. (1 Peter 2:4-8)

Sacrifice. The focus of our Lent reflections. With Peter as the vehicle, we can see the progression of ‘less of me and more of you’ in response to Christ and the change that it brings. We turn to Peter’s first letter today and ponder his call to Be the Church. Believers are to build themselves into the Church, the body of sacrifice modeled on their Lord’s oblation. The question we meditate upon is whether we can accept being despised in the same way Christ was. Have we given up enough of self to make this possible or are we still concerned with what men think?

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Selfish Ambition

St. Paul reminds us of our appropriate attitude between ourselves and the world.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

Following closely in the shadow of our Lord we see over and over as He attends to others rather than himself, giving us the model for our own life of sacrifice.