Understanding the Bible

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'For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God'. ... we preach Christ crucified ... for I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.'   1 Cor.1:18,23 and 2:2 

10. THE CROSS OF CHRIST

                     [12 A4 pages when printed]

Seminar (1) Rediscovering the centrality of the Cross. Seminar (2) At the heart of the Cross. Seminar (3) Our life under the Cross. List of useful books. 

With three  accompanying resource studies (1) 'The Cross as Rejection and Sacrifice' - a study in Mark's Gospel. (2) 'Our Saviour King' - a study in John's Gospel (3) 'Priest and Sacrifice' - a study in Hebrews.

These are the notes for a series of seminars given at St Nicholas' Church, Tooting and St John's Church, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, (UK) as Lent Courses. The background text was John Stott's  book 'The Cross of Christ' published by IVP, Leicester, UK, ISBN 0-85110-767-2.Other useful texts are listed at the end of the article.

SEMINAR (1) REDISCOVERING THE CENTRALITY OF THE CROSS

As I set out on this series of studies I feel overwhelmed by the size of my task and by the majesty of the subject - the Cross of Christ, as the hymn puts it 

"towering o'er the wrecks of time, all the light of sacred story, gathered round its head sublime." 

The cross of Christ is not an academic subject; it has consequences for the everyday lives of real people. My prayer is that our hard hearts may be stirred and our wills more persuaded to serve our Redeemer whose cross it was. For this first study I am going to use three headings 1. The issue before us. 2. The significance of the symbol of the Cross 3. The priority of the Cross in Scripture. {Note that out of respect I shall always write Cross with a capital letter.}

1. The issue before us.

There has been a growing conviction around that over the last 20 or even 30 years, the church has neglected the teaching and preaching of the Cross.. .even the evangelical church, which ought to have know better because the Cross stands central to the evangel! George Carey, the recent Archbishop of Canterbury wrote (years before he became archbishop) in his book 'The Gate of Glory' that we have to admit that in the church's thinking, the work of Christ has been replaced by what God is doing, or might do, in our experience in the church. What he is referring to there, is, I believe, the relative-high excitement in the modern church at so-called signs and wonders which have taken the attention of many Christians away from the Cross. What God may be doing IN US has been replaced by what God did FOR US in our affections.

This phenomenon is really quite complex. It may be a  reaction to what is seen as dry orthodoxy. It stems from the conviction of some teachers that signs and wonders enhance both the life of the believer, and the presentation of the Gospel - surely they will believe if they see ---- ! (This is called 'power evangelism'). Admittedly there has been much dry orthodoxy around which has not enthused the believers nor attracted the unbelievers, but we must be careful not to 'throw the baby out with the bathwater' (if you will forgive such a trite phrase applied to such a serious issue?). For surely, it is precisely in the weakness of the Cross that we see the paradoxical work of God? That in such apparent foolishness and weakness God should have been doing such a mighty work of salvation. Is not this the message of 1 Cor.1:18-2:5?  'For the foolishness of God is wiser that man's wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength' (1 Cor.1:25). When we lose this idea of weakness of which the Cross is such a powerful example, then we have missed or misplaced the central idea of the atonement. And yet we can quite legitimately speak of the 'glory of the Cross'!

In His book (cited above) John Stott tells the story of Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones the great free-church preacher, who in his early life, after preaching one night in 1921, in South Wales, was challenged by the minister of the church that the Cross and the work of Christ appeared to have little place in his preaching. Stung by the rebuke, the Dr. bought two books 

(I wonder what they were?), read solidly for a day without meals, and emerged to tell his wife that he had found (in his own words)

'the real heart of the Gospel and the key to the inner meaning of the Christian life'

 'the real heart of the Gospel and the key to the inner meaning of the Christian life.'

Leon Morris an evangelical NT scholar says simply and concisely ' the Cross dominates the New Testament'. I wonder if we see it quite that way? Along the same line of thought, a Congregational theologian has put it this way 'Christ is to us just what his Cross is. You do not understand Christ until you have understood his Cross.' Well said!

2. The significance of the symbol of the Cross.

Of all the symbols the second century Christians could have chosen for the Christian faith the Cross is surely the most extra-ordinary! -  a manger perhaps, for his incarnation; or carpenters tools for his humanity; or a throne for his king-ship --but, no! - a Cross, signifying the most humiliating and degrading sort of death he could have endured. The worst form of public execution known at the time, and reserved for the lowest of the lowest slave or criminal. Cicero called crucifixion 'a most cruel and disgusting punishment.' Yet it was the Cross that was chosen to symbolise the Christian faith - now doesn't that tell us something?

To the Jew of course the cross was even more loathsome and detestable. In Galatians 3:13 (quoting Deut.21:23) Paul says 'cursed is every one who hangs on a tree'. To a Jew, a crucified (and therefore cursed) messiah is a horrifying blasphemy. But what was publicly so disgusting to others was God's greatest act of salvation. It was not that GOD WAS NOT DISGUSTED TOO! He was! But Christ was not just a third party undergoing what God (unfeelingly) demanded. Christ was God - Col.1:19 'For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him.'

It was God doing for us what we could not do for ourselves - rescuing us from the wrath to come. This transforms an enigma of distant history into a matter of great personal portent in every age.

The issue is very profound. Dick Lucas has said 'Certainly the cross demonstrates God's remarkable love for us. But it also shows that given the chance men would murder God.' This striking antithesis illustrates the enormous gulf which God bridged by the Cross. Alister McGrath (formerly Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) has made another striking comment ' The cross is Christ's pulpit - from it he addresses the world.'

The Cross and its meaning give Christianity its identity over and against other social or religious philosophies....neglect it, exclude it, and we are back to man-centred natural religion, whether in the form of popular folk-religion or liberal churchmanship.

That the Cross is also central to authentic Christian experience is also illustrated by Jesus' own words recorded in Mark 8:34 - 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.' Our Lord's path was one of suffering before he reached his glory. Can we his followers expect therefore to be different? Or are we tempted to jump on the wagon of triumphalism which promises, not suffering, but continuing excitement and physical well-being.

3. The priority of the Cross in Scripture

This is of course an enormous topic; I have only time for a review. We need to ask questions like: How important is the crucifixion account to the witness of the four gospels? How did Jesus approach the Cross? How important is the Cross to the thinking of Peter, Paul, John and the writer to the Hebrews? Is it of prime importance or are other things equally important?

Let's start with the gospels. It may be a new thought to us, but there are serious NT scholars who regard the Gospels as accounts of the crucifixion with introductions! Leon Morris takes this view and adds, 'The Gospels are books about the atonement'. Perhaps we have not exactly seen them in that light before. It is remarkable fact that neither Matthew, Mark, Luke nor John interpret or explain the meaning of the crucifixion as they describe it. None of them explains what is going on theologically as Jesus dies on the Cross: they just relate the event. Now why is this? Could it be that they believe that in the previous chapters of their Gospels they have actually adequately prepared the way? Or are they consciously relying on the epistles to do the explaining? I think it most likely that since Jesus was constantly teaching his disciples and that he taught them enough to understand what was happening, they in their turn thought there was enough for us too. What do you think?

How did Jesus himself regard the Cross?  Well, he had a name he knew the meaning of (Matt.1:21): he knew he was to save his people. Why wasn't Jesus called by another name eg David? 'David the Christ' has all sorts of wonderful undertones arising from the greatest king Israel ever had. But he was to be a suffering messiah not an earthly-conquering messiah. Later at the age of 12, Jesus speaking to the teachers in the Temple showed exceptional understanding and told his parents (Luke 2:43-49) that he was in his 'Father's house'. Jesus knew and understood his Old Testament apparently, so surely the the words of Is. 53 were already casting their shadow across him.

John Stott concludes 'there is no Christianity without the cross. If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Christ.'

In the first three Gospels, the turning point of Peter's confession 'You are the Christ', leads Jesus to openly prepare his disciples for his death - and not just any death, but crucifixion (Matt.20:19). He tells them and us that he must suffer (Mark 8:31): he knew he was subject to what had previously been said about him (John 13:18). On 8 other occasions he spoke about his death. In John 10:18 he says significantly 'No-one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.' The words of Is.53 must have been burned into his mind. ..'despise and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ... smitten by God and afflicted, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.'

What did Jesus say he had come for, in Mark10:45 'to give his life a ransom for many' ('there you are' say Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, 'that's what his death was about!'); and in John 10:15? ...'I lay down my life for the sheep' ... the Cross loomed.

And what about the Apostles -  how important was the cross to them?  Time permits only a cursory review, because the evidence is huge! See Paul in Gal.6:14 'May I never boast except in the cross our Lord Jesus Christ.' - not in his resurrection (yes in that too), not in his ascension (yes in that too), not in his glorious kingship (yes in that too ) - but supremely in his Cross. In 1 Cor.1:17,18 Paul drives home that it is in the (apparently foolish) message of the Cross that we see the power of God. It was the very essence of wisdom and power. Peter said ''.. because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example'. The writer to the Hebrews said 'Let us fix our eyes on Jesus ... who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame...'

Paul, Peter, John and the writer to the Hebrews are unanimous in witnessing to the centrality of the Cross. An analysis of 6 sermons in Acts clearly demonstrates that the key factor in the Apostles preaching was that Jesus had been delivered up, crucified and raised. The apostles couldn't preach Christ without his Cross. And last but not least, the book of Revelation identifies Christ 'the lamb as the one who was slain'. No less than 28 times it refers to Jesus as the lamb.

I wonder if we need to re-balance our thinking about the Christian faith and put the Cross of Christ at the centre where it belongs? What could possibly displace the Cross - and yet we have so often let something occupy this prime position. It is because we do not want to be reminded that there was a cost to Christ ( a terrible cost) and there will be a cost to us as we take up our cross in obedience? Is it because we'd rather be light-hearted and more excited by our own experiences of God. Its strange isn't it, but we'd rather be focussed on our own lives - which are imperfect and inadequate and usually very disappointing because of our weakness - than on the Cross of Christ - which was perfect and completely adequate in every possible way. It just shows why we needed saving.

                                                            

SEMINAR (2)   AT THE HEART OF THE CROSS

Last time we, hopefully, re-established the centrality of the Cross in our thinking. Never again must we let it slide off into the margins of our attention. In this seminar we are going to get closer to the Cross and ask why it was necessary and what did it achieve? If we begin with Rom.3:25a and 5:11 we are soon impressed by the 'size' of what was achieved by Christ's Cross. The footnote to the former reference in the NIV, in connection with v.25 'sacrifice of atonement' points us to turning away God's wrath. In other translations the words 'expiation' and 'propitiation' are used. The latter is not favoured by modern liberal scholars because they think it ascribes unworthy ideas of God - that he should be appeased by a gift; expiation is preferred. But the real problem with these people is that they cannot countenance the wrath of God despite the witness of Scripture eg Ps.7:11 ' God is angry with the wicked every day'. However, 'expiation' is unsatisfactory because it leaves out the righteous and just response of God to our sin. Sin may be expiated but that does not involve the satisfying of God's moral justice. But we cannot escape the message that we are in mortal peril and only Christ's Cross can satisfy God's wrath, on our behalf. The Cross of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, enables the Father to show mercy to us sinners while at the same time meeting the demands of his own universal moral law.

After all this we can understand what Leon Morris means when he says 'The atonement is not simple.' For example, how has the atonement satisfied God's justice without offending his love? Let's ask some further question: Why did Christ die? What then is the problem with forgiveness? What did Christ's death satisfy? Who paid the price for our sin?

Why did Christ die? Who is to blame? Judas? Pilate? The chief priests? The soldiers? Herod? The apostles in Acts 4:27 said (in a usefully succinct phrase) that Herod and Pilate (Jew and Gentile) 'conspired against him'. But we were there too weren't we? Just as the pious Jew considers that he took part in the Exodus and was there to receive the Law; just as Paul speaks of us all sharing Adam's sin as if we were in the Garden of Eden; SO we were there in the crowd screaming 'crucify him'! Its no good us getting on our high horse and protesting that we would have been different. 'Indeed we have done it' says John Stott. He goes on 'We too sacrifice Jesus to our greed like Judas, to our envy like the priests, to our ambition like Pilate.' He continues very strikingly 'Before we can begin to see the Cross as something done FOR US (leading to faith and worship), we have to see it has something done BY US (leading us to repentance).' Unless we are prepared to own our share the guilt of the Cross, we may not gain a share in its grace!

 What then is the problem with forgiveness? Couldn't God have forgiven us without the Cross? As one person has put it 'The good God will forgive me; that's his speciality' and someone else 'if we sin against one another we are required to forgive one another. Why can't God be equally generous and do the same, without the need for the Cross?' This question has to be faced if we are properly to understand the Cross. The answer was given by Archbishop Anslem long ago 'If anyone imagines that God can forgive us as we forgive others then he has not understood the serious of sin.'

As John Stott puts it: 'The real question is therefore NOT why God finds it so difficult to forgive us, but why he finds it possible at all!'

'Forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties; to God it is the profoundest of problems.' Why? because God's love is HOLY love. How can God be true to his own unchangeable character and yet forgive us our rank and wilful disobedience? How would you define what sin is? ('define' it, not describe it - they are different). Sin is not just a regrettable oversight of God's standards. Rom.8:7 says sin is hostility towards God; Rom.5:10 says we are by nature God's enemies; Col.1:21 says we are estranged, alienated from God and enemies; Eph.2:3 says we are 'children (objects) of wrath. What a catalogue! No wonder God must react to our sin. But is it right to go on to speak of God actually judging or punishing evil? Does that sound like love'?

But, as we observed earlier, God's love is HOLY love. and God's wrath is inextricably intertwined with his love, majesty and holiness. Leon Morris calls it God's 'personal divine revulsion and vigorous opposition to evil.' John Stott says 'God's anger is a continuous settled antagonism, aroused only by evil; entirely free from animosity or vindictiveness; and sustained simultaneously with undiminished love for the offender.' So we must try to grasp the terrible gravity of sin and the great majesty and the infinite holiness of God, if we are going to fully appreciate the atonement.

Forgiveness of sin is not simple for God. It requires something to happen or provision to be made which satisfies both his wrath and his love ... his implacable opposition to sin and his yearning goodwill to the sinner.

So what did Christ's Cross satisfy? How then did the atonement solve this problem? Whom or what did it satisfy? In the 16th century the great reformers having re-discovered the Gospel began to re-write the commentaries of their day. They correctly emphasised that Christ's personal submission to the Law of God was essential to our deliverance from its condemnation. They showed that his submission took two forms (1) His perfect obedience to it in his life and (2) His bearing of its penalty on the Cross. Both these submissions to the Law by Christ were necessary to the achievement of the atonement. But God was not, as it were, trapped by the demands of his own law. Jesus was not the victim of a 'mechanical' process of law that God could not get out of. God's Law always and continuously expresses his unchanging character. What does 2 Tim.2:13 says about God?  - God cannot disown (deny) himself. Titus 1:2 says God does not lie. Or Heb.6:18 - never prove false. God always acts in accordance with his character. Look at Ezekiel 6:5-9 to see God's righteous demand on Israel requiring that a day of satisfaction or reckoning must come. God will act according to his own character Ez.20:44.

In the Bible we meet the 'compassionate and gracious God' but he cannot leave the guilty unpunished. On the Cross God showed his absolute infinite holiness and his absolute infinite love at one and the same time. Calvin out it cryptically 'in a marvellous and divine way God loved us when he hated us'!

Who paid the price for our sin?  If our sin had to be paid for, who paid for it? The quick answer is, of course, that Christ did but that does not exhaust what Scripture teaches about his issue. Now from the OT the idea of a substitutionary death is not new to us - eg from the lamb's blood on the doorposts in the Passover and the Day of Atonement (Lev.16). Further Lev.17:11 instructs us about the shedding of blood as atonement. From the Passover we learn many things but uppermost we learn that the salvation there is judgement - God is the saviour of Israel and the judge of Egypt; AND we learn that salvation is by substitution. From the Day of Atonement we  see two aspects - the sacrifice for sin, and the bearing them away. But amidst all the Jewish ceremony we must not miss that it was God who was active in extending grace to his people. In Hebrews (2:17, 9:12 and 9:28) Jesus is both the sacrifice and the scapegoat. In Mark 10:45 and 1 Tim.2:6 we cannot escape (not that we want to) the 'for's meaning 'instead of'. Isaiah 53 is rich with substitutionary language.  Christ died instead of us having to die.

He lived a perfect life on our behalf because we could not

He died a sacrificial death on our behalf so that we need not.

But further clarification is needed or we will still not understand the biblical perspective. First, we must not entertain the idea that God the Father compelled Jesus the Son do something he did not want to do - Mark 1:45 'The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many'; John 10;15 '.. I lay down my life for the sheep'; and in case we are in any doubt - John 10:18 'No-one takes it from me , but I lay it down of my own accord'.

The members of the Trinity always work together even if it is the particular work of one of them to complete a certain task. (see the article on the Trinity in the Doctrine for Everyone page). It was certainly the work of the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, to die on the Cross for us, but all three Persons are involved in anything one of them does.

So, we must not think of Christ as a third party who stepped in between us and God to bring us together.. When God gave his only Son (John 3:16) he gave HIMSELF.

So (hold on to your seats) - God satisfied himself by substituting himself !

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SEMINAR (3)  OUR LIFE UNDER THE CROSS

In our previous two seminars we have sought to establish the centrality of the Cross to Christian belief and to examine what it achieved. Now we are going to try to discern the import of it all on the sort of lives we might expect to lead as Christians.

The Cross challenges our way of life and revolutionises our attitude to ourselves and to the world. Here we are not thinking just of ourselves but also of the church as the community of the redeemed. Surely the inescapable place to start has to be Mark 8:34 ''If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.' (Luke inserts the word 'daily') So Jesus lays it on the line that following him will (must) involve self-denial and self-sacrifice. These sound forbidding and destructive to our human ears but  they were the route to glory for Christ and they will be the route for those who claim to follow him. God was not successful in the Gospel (at the Cross) despite the appearing weakness and failure and defeat, but through them.  But at the same time, the fact of the Cross leads us to understand our self-value. "If Christ was prepared to do that for me then, incredibly, I must be worth a great deal to him!". Let's briefly examine these three self's.

The three self's: self-denial, self-sacrifice and self-value

Self-denial: this is renouncing the right we believe we have to our own way in everything. We are naturally so self-centred that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to reverse this trend. Paul's epistles from which we draw so much about the central importance of the Cross are also well stocked with teaching about responding by self-denial. A prime example is Col.3, and vs. 1-5 set the scene and the motive. The first three verses instruct us to fix our gaze on Christ, to be heavenly orientated, to have godly goals - to recognise the Lordship of Christ. So vs 5 and 8 'Put to death, therefore, ...' and 'rid yourselves of all such things..' remind us that Paul is talking about a radical change of lifestyle. What is self-denial here? It is putting away  the old nature in us - denying it its rule over us; and v.12 'cloth yourselves'  (or put on then) Christ-likeness. In the parallel passage in Eph.4:22-24 Paul puts it equally plainly ''put off ....put on'.  This is a constant life-long discipline of striving in the power of the Holy Spirit. The proper attitude is found in Rom.6:11-14. '... count yourselves dead (that's self denial!)..... do not offer yourselves ... but rather offer yourselves..'. We must deny, disown and crucify our old nature.

And it is not only bad things we are to deny ourselves. We may have to lay aside good things in order to attain the best. Godliness is of the greatest value - see 1 Tim.4:7-10.

Self-sacrifice: Christ's graphic call to his followers to take up their cross is unmistakeable. His Cross consistently and insistently calls us the self-sacrifice. The Cross bids us put God, Jesus Christ, and the faith of the Gospel before all else; to serve and worship God in our everyday living  - 'which is our reasonable worship.' (Rom.12:1,2).. and to put the needs of others before ourselves ... at the expense of our own comfort, our own ambition and our own status .. as Jesus did. The way of the Cross is the way of hard work, not sitting back in the ease of God's free grace. It is serving others, not of being served: of humility, not of power over others. Many in history and now in our own day suffer greatly for their obedience to the faith of Christ - loss of family, persecution, imprisonment, harassment and death are not at all rare for Christians today.

In his book 'In God's Underground' Richard Wurmbrand writing about his time in prison in Romania under the communists says " Why did some Christians turn traitor? Perhaps the answer was that they praised Christ for the gifts he gives us - peace, love and salvation. A real disciple does not seek after gifts, but after Christ himself, and so is ready for self- sacrifice to the end." He goes on, speaking figuratively " ..They were not followers of Jesus but customers; when the communists opened a shop next door with goods at lower prices they took their custom there." Telling words!

The Cross was costly. Self-sacrifice challenges our complacency and our assumption that security in this world is our right. 1 Cor.1:8-10.

Self-value:  The call of the Cross to self-denial and self-sacrifice may lead us to think that we and our individual personalities are of no value, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus never despised, dismissed or despaired of any individual who came to him. What happened in Mark 1:41 and John 8:10,11 He loved people with the deepest possible love. He came from the glory of heaven to the dirt and corruption of our world to save us: he must love us very much. William Temple said 'My worth is what I am worth to God; and that is a marvellous great deal, for Christ died for me.' In self-denial and self-sacrifice it is not our destruction that takes place but our re-construction. Matt.10:39. That is why in self-denying and self-sacrificing we can even rejoice - something incomprehensible to the world.

Suffering, rejection and motivation

Jesus in his suffering and rejection identified with the world. There is great need around us. Although there are good things happening in many ways, this world suffers.. Everything in the garden is not lovely.

Rev Don English, a great Methodist preacher-evangelist of recent times (he was also President of the Methodist Conference in the UK) tells the story of being asked to speak to a large rally. There were bright lights, large choir, triumphant singing. But as time went on and the time to speak approached he became increasingly ill at ease. 'This' he said to himself 'is not what the Gospel is about'. He went on 'The Gospel is about Mrs Smith whose son has cancer, the sexually abused child who sees only loneliness and rejection ahead, about the desperate need all around us, of bringing hope and salvation to those who are lost - by preaching the cross with its rejection and suffering!'

We shall never understand suffering but we might expect that the Cross something to say about it for all those who seek God.

John Stott lists 6 ways in which he believes the Cross speaks: the Cross is..

1. a stimulus to patient endurance: Christians have always been comforted and emboldened by the example if their Lord who chose the way of suffering so that we might be reconciled to God -  Heb 12:2,3 and 1 Pet.2:19-23. Isn't it significant that in Col.1:10-12 where Paul prays for the Colossian Christians to have 'all power according to [God's] glorious might' it is in order that they may endure! That's what it takes, apparently, to endure as a Christian.

 2. the path to mature holiness; James 1:2-4, Rom. 5:3-5. The Bible uses three images of how God uses suffering - the father disciplining his children (Heb.12:5-11), the craftsman refining silver and gold (1 Pet.1:6,7), and the gardener pruning the vine (John 15:1-8).

3. the symbol of suffering service; Jesus was not any suffering itinerant teacher, he was the suffering messiah, leading Paul to say (Eph.3:1 and 13) that he was a prisoner of Christ  for the sake of the gentiles and his sufferings were their glory!

4. the hope of final glory; As for Christ, so for us, suffering is the route to glory. The glory that is to come far outweighs our present sufferings (Rom. 8:18).

5. the ground of a reasonable faith; if trials and suffering sorely test our faith then the Cross tells us that God's love and justice will never be defeated either now or on the Last Day. Rom.8:32.

6. the proof of God's solidarity with us in love; the Cross "smashes to smithereens" the idea that God does not care. He laid aside his immunity to pain and endured our world of flesh and blood and tears and pain , to redeem us from it all.

Tension in the Christian life

In this seminar we have already referred several times to the way in which the unbelieving world has no understanding of the convictions and motives to which Christians hold. This means that there is inevitable conflict with the world for the Christian. There is no escaping it. At home, at work, in the community, Christians will have different priorities, goals and ethics from those who do not believe. The Christian will often therefore feel misunderstood and unwanted by the world (as Christ did). Christians will often have to exclude themselves from getting involved in what the world thinks is legitimate. The Christian therefore feels an un-resolvable tension with the world.

But the Christian also feels another tension  - that between the full promises of God in the long-term and what can be experienced now.  There is such glory to come, such wonderful things that God has prepared for us to enjoy but not yet! Oh! how we long to be released from the weariness and suffering of this world . But we must wait until we are to join in the kingdom of God in its fullest possible sense. This tension has led many Christians to misinterpret or distort some of God's promises to make them come true now. A good example is the total health gospel which asserts that Christians need not suffer bad health in this life - and what is much more serious - that we who do not have full health are lacking in faith. This has the effect of creating two levels of Christian. Christ never promised anything other than this life would be tough. Did he not yearn for the glories of heaven?   

The grounds for Christian joy

Earlier we considered our enormous self-value in the light of what God has done on the Cross. We are new creatures; our minds, characters and relationships are all being renewed. We are God's children, Christ's disciples and the temple of the Holy Spirit. We belong to a new community of God's own people. The Holy Spirit enriches us with fruit and gifts. We are God's heirs, looking forward to the glory which will one day be revealed. It is not surprising therefore that the Bible describes our self-denial, self-sacrifice and endurance as being carried along by joy.

sorrow will be turned to joy John 16:20

rejoice in our sufferings Rom.5:3

rejoice at the support of other Christians  2 Cor.7:4,7

experience joy during affliction  2 Cor.8:2

joy in giving sacrificially   Heb.10:34

joy to meet trials James 1:2

rejoicing in persecution  Matt.5:11,12

rejoicing at suffering for Christ's name  Acts 5:41

joy from believing Rom.15:13, Phil.1:25

joy from our hope Rom. 5:2 and 12:12.

joy in fellowship 1 Thess. 3:9

rejoicing in the Lord  Phil.3:1 and 4:4 and Rom.5:11

rejoicing at other's faith  Col. 2:5.

Thus the Christian experience should be one of giving up our rights to our own way and discovering our rights as the children of God; of waging war on our old fallen nature and finding our re-constructed personalities; of sacrificing ourselves and finding ourselves in the process; of enduring through suffering and trials knowing that they are maturing us for the greater enjoyment of heaven; of rejoicing when we could not naturally rejoice, but particularly in the fact that God loves us so much that he sent his Son to the Cross for us.

Useful Books:

'The Cross of Christ' by John Stott

'The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross', and 'The Cross in the New Testament' by Leon Morris

'The Enigma of the Cross' by Alister McGrath

'The Cross' by Martin Lloyd-Jones

'The Empty Cross of Christ' by Michael Green

'The gate of Glory' by George Carey

'In the Shadow of the Cross' by Egil Sjaastad

'The Suffering Saviour' by F.W. Krummacher

'Why the Cross' by H.E. Guillebaud

 

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THREE RESOURCE STUDIES TO ACCOMPANY THE COURSE.

Please note: As they exist here, these studies are not meant to be used directly with a group: they are too closely packed with material. Please use them for private study and in the preparation of group study outlines.

THE CROSS AS REJECTION AND SACRIFICE - A STUDY IN MARK'S GOSPEL

One of the chief themes in Mark's Gospel is the path Christ had to follow to the Cross. It portrays very vividly the conflict, opposition, misunderstanding, confrontation and rejection that Jesus had to endure. Yet he was victorious! (There is a lot of material here, please select as required without, of course, leaving-out the main issues!) Clues to the answer are given in the [-] brackets.

1. What do you notice about the account of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness in 1:12,13...? [It is very short compared with the versions in Matthew and Luke. There is in Mark no record of the challenge and counter-challenge between Jesus and Satan. Why? It may indicate to us that the same sort of conflict is going to be revealed by Mark as he relates the ministry of Jesus. So we must watch for it.]

2. What particular characteristic of Jesus' teaching do the people in the Capernaum synagogue remark on? And what did they mean? [His authority: they must have detected that Jesus knew what he was talking about in a way that the teachers of the law did not]

3. What begins to happen only 10 verses later in v.23? Trace the events through vs. 30,32,34,40. With what has Jesus become engaged and what does he demonstrate? [The battle with Satan begins already! Jesus encounter with demons and sickness becomes very serious indeed. But he has authority over them.]

4. Chapter 2 is about conflict and authority. Examine the questions in vs.7,16,18,14. What are Jesus' answers and why are they so important? [ The 4 questions all challenge Jesus; on power to forgive, eating with sinners, not fasting, breaking the Sabbath. Again he declares his authority]

5. It continues in chap.3 vs.2,6. (we've only reached chap. 3! the shadow of the cross already do you think?) What continued in vs.10,11? See v.22 and what follows. [Sabbath breaking again. More encounter with demons. Commentators wonder if there was increased demon activity while Jesus was there]

6. Why does Jesus give the teaching in vs. 3:28-30? [Because the scribes v.22 were attributing Christ's work to Satan. Isn't that the unforgivable sin?] 

7. Chap.5 describes 4 encounters for Jesus. What were they and what were they about? What was the real problem for the people who sent Jesus away? [ Jesus's authority over demons, and sickness but his rejection too.  Their problem was spiritual: they actually sent away the man who had healed a demoniac!]

8. In Chap. 6:1-5 why was Jesus' preaching rejected? What was Herod's spiritual problem? What was the spiritual issue in vs.30-44? [Herod loved the world too much to listen to John's advice (v.18) and to protect him (v.26). Jesus not only shows He has power over creation, but also illustrates that has brought spiritual food from heaven - see 8:14-21.]

9. Who comes to see Jesus and for what reasons in 7:5, 8:11, 11:27, 12:13 and 18? What's going on? [Opposition is beginning to mount. Each of the groupings of opponents are turning up to question Him - Pharisees and teachers of the law, the chief priests, the Herodians, and the Sadducees. At first they are just testing Him but it becomes a search for something to accuse Him about] 

10. The verses 8:27-30 and then 31-33 are the turning point of the book. What did Peter not understand and why was Jesus so rough with him? [While Peter had come to recognise Jesus as the Messiah he did not yet understand that He was to be a suffering Messiah. Jesus was strong because this was the heart of His mission - to suffer- maybe humanly he would have wanted to avoid it, but knew he must do it: the Christ must suffer Is.53! See Jesus struggling with in the garden of Gethsemane 14:34,36]

11. Jesus now begins to teach his disciples about His coming death - 8:31, 9:30-32, 10:32-34. Did the disciples understand? What miracles are recorded either side of this group of passages, in 8:22-26 and 10:46-52 and what is their significance? [No the disciples did not understand. The blind were enabled to see. The significance is that sight (or seeing) in Mark signifies understanding and believing. Mark is highlighting the need to understand. In the first blind-healing, sight comes in two stages showing that faith and understanding may not (usually will not) come all at once.

12. Finally we see Jesus suffering at the hands of (1) a supposed friend; who? 14:18 (2) his enemies 14:53ff ... and (3) 15:25-39 - who this time? [It all comes in a rush now: Judas>The chief priests> us, do you think?]

13.  THE TWO LOUD CRIES

            (1) 15:34 This was a cry of .......... what? and how did the Jews respond? In what way did they completely miss the point? [He wasn't coming down! v.36]

            (2) 15:37 This was a cry of.............what? what was the gentile response? How does Mark tell us the meaning of what is happening? [Recognition: the curtain of the temple was rent 15:38]

 

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OUR SAVIOUR KING - A STUDY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL

Please note: As they exist here, these studies are not meant to be used directly with a group: they are too closely packed with material. Please use them for private study and in the preparation of group study outlines.

You will have read John's Gospel many times before, but here we are trying to get to grips with some of its themes in as they particularly apply to the crucifixion.

1. What according to 20:32 is the purpose of this Gospel?  It is rich in signs, themes and contrasts: look out for them. It is really a passion story with an introduction - a life of Christ preparing for the death of Christ.

2. Look at ch.19. How extensive is the description of the actual crucifixion and how much theological explanation is there of what is going on? Why? [The account is terse and there is no explanation. Surely there must be hints or indications in the previous chapters. Dick Lucas calls them the' indispensable clues'. We must look out for them]

3. How did Jesus regard His coming crucifixion and how did this affect what happened to Him? See 2:4, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23-27, 13:3, 16:32 and 17:1.[ Jesus regarded it as 'His hour'. Many things did not take place because his hour had not yet come. 12:23 it would the hour of His glory!]

4. What aspect of Jesus is emphasised in 1:14, 2:11, and 11.4? [His glory]

5. How does 3:14 apply to the crucifixion and what does Jesus say in 8:28 we will know as a result of the crucifixion? See also 12:32,33. [The snake on the pole in Num.21:8,9 by which believing Israelites were saved from death, pre-figured the Cross. We will know that He is who He claimed to be (!) and that He came from God]

6. Was Jesus forced to go to the Cross for us> See 10:10,11,15,17,18?  So how does 19:30 explain 19:33? [No, He went willingly. He laid down His life. Even the moment of His death was under his control]

7. In 12:27 Jesus speaks of a 'purpose'. What is that purpose according to the section up to v.36? What is the connection between vs. 31 and 32b? see also 16:8-11. [To glorify God. His crucifixion will be the dividing line - salvation for those who believe but judgement for those who do not.]  

8. What is Jesus accused of in 19:7? Is it true, see 10:33?

9. What important confession do we find in 1:49 that John is at pains to report? Now turn to 18:28 and read right through to 19:22. John records the remarkable interchange between Pilate and Jesus and the Jews with great care, including material not found in the other Gospels. How significant is the dispute over Jesus' Kingship (a) to Pilate (b) to the Jews and (c) to Jesus? 

10. Finally perhaps we ought to re-assess our response to the the fact that it was the Son of God, the King, whose crucifixion was His finest hour, His glory, and His free-will offering of Himself, in fulfilment of Scripture! What a saviour!

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PRIEST AND SACRIFICE - A STUDY IN HEBREWS

Please note: As they exist here, these studies are not meant to be used directly with a group: they are too closely packed with material. Please use them for private study and in the preparation of group study outlines.

A. The General Themes

1. This book is about Christ's ministry. What aspects of His ministry, for example, are referred to in 3:1, 8:1,2 and 8:6?

2. Christ's ministry is of WORD and WORK: the final and sufficient WORD from God to men, and the final and sufficient WAY to God for menIdentify the 'work' that Christ did as given in the following verses 1:3b, 2:9, 2:14,15, 4:14,15, 6:20, 8:1, 9:14, 10:12. 

3. Christ's ministry has an end purpose. What is it according to 10:19-25 and 13:1-17? 

4. There are grim warnings about turning back to the world and its religious forms. To what does the writer refer in 3:7-19 and how is this  a warning to us? 

5. How is God's judgement described in 3:11, 4:12, 9:27, 12:23 and 10:30,31?

B. The Centrality, Superiority and Finality of the Cross.

1. Centrality:  What is the whole purpose of the High Priest's  existence? Trace the high priesthood of Christ through 5:1-10, 6:19,20, 7:15-25, 8:1-6, 9:11-14. How is Christ the mediator of the new covenant? See 8:12, 9:15a,18,20,22 (and Matt:26:28).

2. Superiority: Look at the following four passages and discern the pictures the writer conjures up in his Hebrew readers' minds to show the cross is superior: 7:26-28, 9:23-28, 10:1-10 and 10:11-18.

3. Finality: In what ways was the cross final? > See 7:27, 9:12, 9:26,28, 10:10. How mught a Hebrew have respond to this?

C. Consequences for the Christian Life

What do we learn from 2:10,14,18 and 4:15? What difference does it make in view of 13:13,14?

 

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