Sunday, 29 March 2015

Participating in Suffering - 2 Cor 5:21, Luke 23:42 - 43, Isaiah 53:4 - 6

A big question in our age is the one on suffering. Arguments for atheism often start with 'How can there be a God when there is ...'. Stephen Fry recently articulated this (see here for a good response). It is a valid question, but note how the very question affirms God as all powerful, even as loving. Where the questions fall short is that they assume God remains remote and detached, looking only for God to remotely waive a wand to fix things.

Theologians have wrestled with this, especially in the light of the world wars of the last century. German theologian J├╝rgen Moltmann reflected on Auschwitz and wrote in the 70s 'The Crucified God'. The answer lies in the cross, where God in his perfection becomes the one with all the badness of mankind loaded onto him (2 Cor 5:21). This happens in the reality of Roman torture and execution.

This is God experiencing suffering directly.  In our first instalment we saw how God presented Christ on the cross - like a son willingly carrying out a father's assignment. In fact Moltmann asserts that Father, Son and Holy Spirit all participate and suffer through the episode of the cross: the Father has to watch, as if helpless, while the Son physically suffers. The Spirit is active, preparing and leading the Son to this crucial event in history.

Note the Bible does not directly give us data on the suffering of Father and Spirit, but we know that suffering always extends across relationships: witness the weekly scenes on our TV news of parents' grief over a son/daughter tragically killed or murdered. With God as three persons in relationship, maybe Moltmann was right.

This idea simply does not work in the other great religions, which describe God as all-powerful and therefore never vulnerable. The Muslim's holy book therefore even tries to directly refute the death of Jesus (regarded as a prophet). Yet for the Christian it becomes the only way that actually makes sense.

Christ taking on our human badness, deals with the brokenness of world.

It is as if Jesus on the cross is able to hoover up all that which is bad in the world. Our badness is put on him, and dealt with (see Is 53:4 - 6). It is a cosmic hoover, because it is actually capable of removing everything through all history (both before the actual event and ever since).

The benefits are immediate: in that snippet from Luke where one criminal cries out to Jesus, Jesus replies 'Today you will be with me in paradise'. Jesus on the cross has a transforming effect, enabling people to move on and forward.

If we want to understand God therefore, let us not start with assumed superlatives (e.g. 'all powerful') and then made deductions. Instead let us look to Jesus, and Jesus on the cross. Faced with ill effects blighting lives, let us pray by putting the cross between the person and the issue - looking at the issue through the cross.

The call on us is to follow, to be ever closer to Jesus. Thats the scary bit, since to be close to Him will mean being closer to the cross, following his way of a life laid down. This way does not need great cleverness, nor strength, swords or missiles. It is the way that will change the world, hoovering up the bad so people can be transformed and move forwards.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Freedom in Relationship - Rom 5:6 - 11

In our first look we considered big words that can be understood in legal terms. Using those terms alone risks understanding God only as some keeper of an abstract law, reducing life only to a question of right or wrong.

[UP] How much can you say “I am a friend of God”?

Challenge: Approach God with freedom & confidence (see also Eph 3:12)

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Jesus Replaces the Box

In Romans 3:25 Paul uses some tricky and complicated language, talking of Jesus Christ being presented as a 'sacrifice of atonement' (as translated in the NIV). The actual Greek might also be translated as 'place of atonement'. Furthermore the Greek wording is recognised by scholars to refer to the 'atonement cover' of the 'ark of the covenant'.

The ark of the covenant was the special box created in the Exodus story (see Exodus 25:17 - 22 and 30:6), and possibly looked like this:

The box was carried and kept by the wandering Israelites as their most hallowed and treasured possession. It would be placed at the very centre of the temple, ultimately representing the place where people could meet with God and be made right once again.

So make no mistake, it was an important box!

But now see what Paul is saying: Jesus is that atonement cover. Paul qualifies his statement with 'through the shedding of his blood', so more precisely Paul is saying:


Jesus dying on the cross is the atonement cover!


Yes Jesus-on-the-cross replaces the box. The actual physical box was somehow lost in history anyway, but Jesus being raised to life is very much alive today and so continues to be that ultimate place where people can meet with God and be made right once again.

Big Words

The concepts of some big words explained:

  • Righteousness of God
    - the status God gives us as a free gift, of being right or innocent once again.
    - The ability to live life as we should
  • Justified
    Put on the right side of the right/wrong line.
    Just as if I hadn't done it
  • Redemption
    God buying us back, so nothing bad has a hold on us anymore

Sacrifice for Justice - Rom 3:21 - 26

In this new series we ask how 3 nails, 2 pieces of wood and a man changes the world and achieves God's victory. Looking at the cross from different angles, and considering the various big words the early Christians use. This may provoke questions in you - so feel free to post them as comments on these posts.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

God Victorious - Eph 6:10 - 20

Armies tend to disciplined: when the war is over and the order is given for fighting to stop, then the guns fall silent. Yet that is not the case in the conflict with the forces of evil. The victory was won in Christ's death and resurrection a long time ago ... but its as if the message hasn't got through to the other side! The enemy goes on attacking, prolonging the struggle, even causing casualties.

[OUT] Where are you called to make known the good news?

Challenge: Ask God for the armour … that you may proclaim fearlessly!