I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
Christ crucified. .
John Newton (1725–1806)
When on the cross, my Lord I see
Bleeding to death, for wretched me;
Satan and sin no more can move,
For I am all transform’d to love.
His thorns, and nails, pierce thro’ my heart,
In ev’ry groan I bear a part;
I view his wounds with streaming eyes,
But see! he bows his head and dies!
Come, sinners, view the Lamb of God,
Wounded and dead, and bath’d in blood!
Behold his side, and venture near,
The well of endless life is here.
Here I forget my cares and pains;
I drink, yet still my thirst remains;
Only the fountain–head above,
Can satisfy the thirst of love.
O, that I thus could always feel!
Lord, more and more thy love reveal!
Then my glad tongue shall loud proclaim
The grace and glory of thy name.
Thy name dispels my guilt and fear,
Revives my heart, and charms my ear;
Affords a balm for ev’ry wound,
And Satan trembles at the sound.
—Olney Hymns. Book II: On Occasional Subjects.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Holy God, We Praise Thy Name I will bless Your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1 Holy God, we praise Thy Name; Lord of all, we bow before Thee; All on earth Thy scepter claim, All in Heaven above adore Thee: Infinite Thy vast domain, Everlasting is Thy reign. Hark, the glad celestial hymn Angel choirs above are raising; Cherubim and seraphim, In unceasing chorus praising; Fill the heavens with sweet accord: Holy, holy, holy, Lord. Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit: Three we name Thee, Though in essence only one, Undivided God we claim Thee, And adoring, bend the knee While we sing our praise to Thee. —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).
Having grown up Lutheran, I am accustomed to the observation of Lent. As far as I can remember, however, I don’t think anyone was fasting or giving anything up. The Roman Catholics in our communities did, of course, but that was them, and I thought it was just another Papist oddity, and enjoyed pulling Slim Jims out of my pockets on Friday when everyone else was eating fish (which, let me remind you, is meat, no matter how you fry it).
In all my years living in predominantly Lutheran and Roman Catholic communities, I never knew why anyone would give anything up for Lent. I only recently learned that it is done in order to identify with the suffering of Christ. Now, having observed or read fairly extensively on liberalism, postmodernism, the charismatic movement, etc., I am not easily shocked by the foolishness concocted by pseudochristian sects and movements; indeed, I am no longer usually shocked by the horrors that exist within nominal evangelicalism (Beth Moore, anyone?). But this really took me aback. How could anyone be so crass as to think that giving up chocolate can in any way identify them with the sacrifice of the cross? How could anyone think that any sacrifice they can contrive could ever, in any way, be compared to the suffering of Christ?
Note well: we have no idea how exquisite was the suffering of Christ. If you saw The Passion of the Christ, you still have no idea how Christ suffered—none at all. All you saw was a brutal execution like thousands of others—all gore, no gospel. What Christ suffered cannot be displayed visually (which is why God gave us a book, not a movie). While we can know what he suffered, because Scripture tells us, we will never fathom the degree of the suffering.
What Christ suffered was the curse of God. He “became sin for us,” and bore the full wrath of God against sin on our behalf. What was that like? I have no idea, but I do know that nothing I have ever suffered, will ever suffer, or could ever suffer—short of hell itself—is worth mentioning in comparison. Even if I was crucified exactly as Christ was, I would still have no way of knowing how he suffered.
Knowing what Christ suffered, and knowing that we can’t fathom the depth his experience, should remove any illusions of identifying with that suffering by a few weeks of pretentious “sacrifice.”
To give up any earthly pleasure on the pretext of identifying with Christ’s suffering is an insult to the Savior. It is to downgrade the enormity of the sin he bore, and to belittle the atonement that he made for his people. It is no act of worship, no matter how sincere the intent. It is no less than blasphemous.
I am taking the day off from blogging and pretty much everything else to watch the Shepherds’ Conference. You should too, if you have the time. John MacArthur is up at 9:00 AM PT.
• Schedule • Live Feed
With the coming of the Son of God movie it has been observed that, like The Passion of the Christ, Son of God will show crucifixion, not the cross. This will always be the problem with dramas and sermons that focus on the physical brutality of the execution of Jesus. R. C. Sproul writes:
There is a sense in which Christ on the cross was the most filthy and grotesque person in the history of the world. In and of Himself, He was a lamb without blemish—sinless, perfect, and majestic. But by imputation, all of the ugliness of human violence was concentrated on His person. Once sin was concentrated on Jesus, God cursed Him. When the curse of the law was poured out on Jesus, He experienced pain that had never been suffered in the annals of history. I have heard graphic sermons about the excruciating pain of the nails in the hands, of hanging on a cross, and of the torturous dimensions of crucifixion. I am sure that they are all accurate and that it was a dreadful way to be executed, but thousands of people in world history have undergone the excruciating pain of crucifixion. Only one man has ever felt the pain of the fullness of the unmitigated curse of God on Him. When He felt it, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . God certainly did forsake Him. That is the whole point of the atonement. Without forsakenness, there is no curse. God, at that moment in space and time, turned His back on His Son. The intimacy of the pros relationship that Jesus experienced with the Father was ruptured (in His human nature). At that moment God turned out the lights. The Bible tells us that the world was encompassed with darkness, God Himself bearing witness to the trauma of the hour. Jesus was forsaken, He was cursed, and He felt it. The word passion means “feeling.” In the midst of His forsakenness, I doubt He was even aware of the nails in His hands or the thorns in His brow. He was cut off from the Father. It was obscene, yet it was beautiful, because by it we can someday experience the fullness of the benediction of Israel. We will look unveiled into the light of the countenance of God. —R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus? (Reformation Trust, 2009), 88–59.
Sproul describes the contrasts between the temptations of Adam and Jesus; in short, the temptation of Jesus was much more severe. Yet the two tests were the same in the one way that matters.
The respective locations of the tests provide a study in contrasts. Jesus’ temptation took place in a desolate section of the remote hills of the Judean wilderness, a dreadful piece of real estate. The only creatures indigenous to the area were spiders, snakes, scorpions, and a few wild birds. It was rocky, barren, and hot, fit for neither man nor beast. Adam’s test took place in a garden of paradise adorned with lush and glorious surroundings. Where Adam beheld a landscape of floral luxury, Jesus stared at a rock pile. Jesus endured temptation in isolation, in what Soren Kierkegaard called the worst situation of human anxiety, existential solitude. Jesus was utterly alone. Adam was tested while enjoying the help and encouragement of a companion whom God had created for him. Adam was tested in the midst of human fellowship, indeed intimacy. However, Jesus was tested in the agony of deprivation of human communion. Adam was tested in the midst of a feast. His locale was a gourmet’s dream. He faced Satan on a full stomach and with a satiated appetite. Yet he succumbed to the temptation to indulge himself with one more morsel of food. Jesus was tested after a forty-day fast, when every fiber of His body was screaming for food. His hunger had reached a crescendo, and it was at the moment of consuming physical desire that Satan came with the temptation to break the fast. It is the similarity, however, between the tests that is most important for us to grasp. The central issue, the point of attack, was the same. In neither case was the ultimate issue a matter of food; the issue was the question of believing God. It was not an issue of believing in God, but believing God. There was no doubt in Adam’s mind that God existed; he had spent time in face-to-face communication with Him. Jesus was equally certain of God’s existence. The trial centered on believing God when it counted. —R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus? (Reformation Trust, 2009), 71–72.
Likewise, each and every one of our temptations presents that same test.
The Lordship of Christ is so central to Christianity that it literally defines the church. R. C. Sproul writes:
The title Lord is so central to the life of the New Testament Christian community that the English word church derives from it. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which is brought over into English in the word ecclesiastical. The English word church is similar in sound and form to other languages’ word for church: kirk in Scotland, kerk in Holland, and kirche in Germany all derive from the same root. That source is the Greek word kuriache, which means “those who belong to the kurios.” Thus, church in its literal origin means “the people who belong to the Lord.” —R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus? (Reformation Trust, 2009), 38–39.