No other New Testament passage addresses race relations in the church as directly as Ephesians 2. In verses 11-22 Paul addresses both Jewish and Gentile Christians urging them to adopt an attitude of humility. Both groups depend upon Christ for their salvation and in that truth both groups should find unity.
The key verse found in this passage is verse 15b-16,
His desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body. (VOICE)
For most of my life I have focused upon the role Jesus’ death on the cross plays in allowing God to forgive our sins. Forgiveness and restored relationship with God epitomise the cross.
So when I read these verses in Ephesians 2 I’m forced to expand my understanding of the cross. We’re told here that Jesus died to break down walls between Jews and Gentiles. To welcome them both in to the kingdom of God.
This is where the Bible gets tough for us. If Jesus died to remove barriers and dividing walls. If Jesus came to preach peace. Then this is an element of the Gospel that we must proclaim also. If God could make one new humanity out of Jews and Gentiles, what can he do with us?
The church doesn’t have the luxury of preaching oneness in Christ and peace with God while having nothing practical to say to our society caught up in racial tension in cities across the country. However, the church has a credibility problem. We want to tell Charlotte, Baton Rouge, Ferguson, San Diego, etc that Jesus brings peace and removes the “dividing wall of hostility”, but in too many cases the church is as segregated, or more so, as our communities.
If Jesus died to remove barriers between people so that people could be reconciled to God, then what are we doing about that?
As a first baby step we challenged the church to make October a “Month of Hospitality”. Over the next 30 days we propose to remove some barriers by having each member enjoy a meal (or coffee, etc) with another member on the other side of a common dividing barrier:
- Racial divisions;
- Age divisions;
- Education divisions;
- Income divisions;
- Political divisions;
- Marital status divisions; and
Why only apply this challenge to members in the church? Because, if we can’t overcome the barriers that exist within the church, we have no credibility to tell the world that we bring a message of God’s peace and reconciliation.
What will you do to live out the Gospel that breaks down barriers?
You can listen to this week’s sermon by clicking HERE.
What does Jesus mean when Jesus screams in anguish from the cross, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
The view that I most often hear goes something like this.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross he “became sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21). The sins of all humanity were placed upon Jesus. Because God is holy and sinless the Father was unable to stand the presence of the, now sinful, Son. As a consequence, the Father turned His face away, or removed His presence from Calvary. Sensing this departure, Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This cry represents a reality not only of Jesus’ despair, but the reality that God abandoned Jesus.
There are several troubling aspects of this view of Jesus words. I’m not the first to raise them and many scholars have defended them. I think it’s important that anyone holding this view at least acknowledges the concerns and thinks them through.
- Did the Trinity only have two members? How could the Father forsake the Son and the two still be One? In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary DA Carson observes, “If we ask in what ontological sense the Father and the Son are here divided, the answer must be that we do not know because we are not told.” I’m not one to try and tell God what he can and cannot do, but it is incomprehensible to me that the Three became Two while the man Jesus hung on the cross.
- Where do we get the idea that God would abandon Jesus because of sin? I understand the holiness and purity of God. I also know that God is present all over this globe where sin prevails. Jesus walked upon the Earth in constant contact with sin and its consequences. Does the concentration of sin upon the person of Christ somehow make it more repulsive to God than when it’s spread throughout time and space?
- Does God abandon us at our weakest moment? If the Father abandoned the Son at the lowest moment of his life, does that impact our ability to have confidence in God’s presence during our trials and sin struggles?
- When did Jesus “become sin for us”? Was it when he died? Was it when he was nailed to the cross? Was it at a random moment prior to his death? Why would the Father forsake the Son at this moment? I don’t think we can really answer this question, but it’s an important one.
- Does Sin have power over God? The danger with this view is that sin becomes more powerful than God. God cannot be present when sin is around. Surely it’s the opposite that is actually true. Sin cannot be in the presence of God. There is no reason for God to flee from sin, even as Christ becomes sin for us.
The other primary view I’ve heard regarding Jesus’ cry ties it to Psalm 22. The approach goes something like this:
When Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He is actually quoting the first line of Psalm 22. Six of the seven statements Jesus uttered on the cross can be linked to that Psalm. This shows that Jesus was thinking about the entire Psalm when he quotes the first line. Since the Psalm moves from despair to victory, Jesus’ words actually point his hearers to triumph rather than abandonment. In fact, v24b specifically says, “he [Father] has not hidden his face from him [Son] but has listened to his cry for help“.
I tend to lean toward this second understanding. However, at least in the versions I’ve heard, it also faces some difficulties that must be addressed.
- Do the words mean anything in themselves? I have difficulty believing that Jesus utters these words as a way of saying, “Hey I’m winning a victory here on the cross. Go read and reflect on Psalm 22:3-31.” Jesus could have started his quote in v3 if he wanted to emphasis victory. Wouldn’t it express a lot more confidence and faith in the Father to cry out, “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One!” Carson notes, “Though OT texts are frequently cited with their full contexts in mind, they are never cited in such a way that the OT context effectively annuls what the text itself affirms.“
- Did Jesus experience despair and abandonment on the cross? It seems to me that some proponents of this view understate the agonies and torture of the cross. The cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” seems a very natural response to the physical and emotional pain Jesus experienced.
- Do we need to defend Jesus faith? I get a sense that proponents of this approach view the face value of Jesus’ words as an expression of doubt or an absence of faith. Of course, that seems incongruous with our understanding of Jesus as the Son of God. I don’t believe this is the case. Oftentimes our feelings don’t match our theological knowledge, and expressing those feelings doesn’t diminish a person’s faith. We can feel abandoned even when we know God is present. Also, the fact that in his cry Jesus addresses the Father and seems to expect Him to hear reflects an intrinsic dissonance within this statement.
The primary point that I want to clarify in my understanding of Jesus cry, is that I believe Jesus did experience forsakeness upon the cross. I’m not saying that God actually did abandon Jesus. I’m suggesting that as Jesus endured his torture and the fingers of death tightened he wasn’t singing, or thinking, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. His cry demonstrates his humanity and his emotions, not his rational theology.
So yes, Jesus had the entirety of Psalm 22 in view, but the words he uttered still expressed a felt reality. And yes, I believe that the Father was present and heard that anguished cry.
A friend of mine has also blogged on this topic HERE.
The basic, jack-of-all-trades sacrifice found in the Old Testament is the Burnt Offering. The unique feature of this sacrifice is that the entire animal (excluding the skin) is to be burned during the sacrifice. The priest can’t take a cut of steak to have for dinner. The whole animal is destroyed in the fire.
The general nature of Burnt Offerings is seen by the number of occasions they’re required. According to Numbers 28:3b-7 burnt offerings started and ended the days work in the tabernacle and temple.
“Each day present two unblemished year-old male lambs as a regular burnt offering.Offer one lamb in the morning and the other lamb at twilight,along with two quarts of fine flour for a grain offering mixed with a quart of olive oil from crushed olives.It is a regular burnt offering established at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a fire offering to the Lord.” (HCSB)
In Leviticus 9:7 we see that the burnt offering accompanies the sin offering. They’re offered together.
“Then Moses said to Aaron, “Approach the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering; make atonement for yourself and the people.”
In his commentary on Leviticus, Rooker notes, “On every one of the Israelite feast days, excluding the Day of Atonement when the sin offering is the central focus, the burnt offering was the most important sacrifice.” (84)
Purpose of the Burnt Offering
Pinning down the purpose of the burnt offering is more difficult. Leviticus 1:3 describes the purpose of presenting the animals to the priests at the entrance of the tabernacle “so that you may be acceptable to the Lord.” Based on this statement, some commentators characterise the burnt offering as one of dedication or consecration. The Tyndale OT Commentary on Leviticus by Harrison contains this summary,
“The burnt offering was a gift intended to win divine favour for the worshipper, as indicated by the phrase that he may be accepted. By contrast, the sin offering (4:1-5:13) was meant to secure divine pardon for the donor.” (44)
However, as we keep reading this nice neat division of purpose fails to hold up.
Leviticus 1:4 instructs, “[The worshipper] is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” (HCSB) Atonement basically refers to God forgiving our sins. So the burnt offering, like the sin offering, is a means of seeking God’s forgiveness.
Even Harrison in speaking of v4 seems to contradict himself when he says, “This atonement nullifies or removes the effects of sin or uncleanness. (45) Rooker (88) comments that “atonement should be considered as part of the burnt offering’s primary function.”
The quandary we face is that the burnt offering needs to be distinguished from the sin offering discussed in chapter 4. If a burnt offering achieves the same purpose as a sin offering, then a separate “sin offering” appears redundant.
One suggestion I found that may reconcile these two statements (dedication in v3 and atonement in v4) is the possibility that since Leviticus 1 doesn’t connect the burnt offering with specific offenses, while the sin offering does, the burnt offering may provide a more general atonement for one’s state of sinfulness. Rooker cites several scholars and ancient Jewish rabbis who believe the burnt offering covers sins not specifically mentioned in Leviticus 4-5, including sins of omission.
It seems to me that the concepts of dedication and atonement for general sinfulness are close enough in thought that these two purposes can be ascribed to the same sacrifice without conflict. This also leaves space for the sin offering of chapter 4 to have its own specific purpose.
If you’ve made it this far in the article, “Congratulations”. My blog posts aren’t usually that definitional. 🙂
As mentioned above, the distinguishing feature of the Burnt Offering is the fact that the entire animal is burned. When the Hebrew word for burnt offering is translated into Greek (holokautoma) it becomes the basis for the English word “holocaust“. This word only occurs twice in the New Testament (Mark 12:33, Heb. 10:6-8).
In Hebrews 10 the passage makes the point that burnt offerings are inferior to the sacrifice of Christ. I might write later about the relationship between the New Testament and the Israelite sacrificial system. For now, I want to consider the comparison between Christ’s sacrifice and the burnt offering.
The death of Jesus was an atoning sacrifice for us, just as the burnt offering brought atonement for the sins of the Israelites. Unlike the burnt offerings that were offered on behalf of the Israelite nation each morning and evening, Jesus’ sacrifice was “once for all“. But in common with the Israelite burnt offerings Jesus’ sacrifice makes us holy in God’s sight (Heb 10:10,14).
Jesus obviously wasn’t consumed by fire, but I do believe the concept of “holocaust” or burnt offering can be applied to his death. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that on the cross our sins consumed Jesus. His haunting cry echoes throughout history, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) Consumed by our sins, he dies. But in submitting himself to death he makes us holy, acceptable to God. (Rom 12:1)
The simple fact that Jesus was crucified challenges our preconceived ideas of the world and our lives. At this point in the story there’s no happy ending. His execution not only shatters the expected storyline, it intrudes into our lives. The crucifixion prevents us from enjoying the “story of Jesus” as simply wholesome family entertainment promoting good morals. The crucifixion of Jesus challenges our understanding of life.
The primary theme of Matthew’s Gospel to this point has involved the identity of Jesus. Now it challenges MY identity. When we understand that Jesus’ death occurred as part of a mysterious cosmic plan to reconnect humanity with God, we need to consider our side of that connection. When we understand that our sins and guilt can be removed, we have to ask ourselves, “Am I a sinner?” “Do I need forgiveness?” “Am I disconnected from God?” “Am I represented in the crowed baying for Jesus’ death?” “Am I at the foot of the cross taunting Jesus?” “Is that me?” “Am I so valuable that anyone, let alone God himself, would give up that much for me?” “Does he love me that much?” “Am I truly forgiven?” Or is all this just a macbre fairytale?
The second challenge we find in the death of Christ is the challenge to take action. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. Jesus claimed to speak for God. Jesus claimed to love people. Jesus claimed to live by a higher ethic. This was the identity he set for himself. But he lived up to it. His death was an ultimate act of love and service. On the cross, above his head was the mocking accusation, “King of the Jews”. Jesus had claimed this identity throughout his ministry, and now he was dying for it. Rather than re-identify himself, Jesus followed through on his message. He was no hypocrite.
Jesus lived by his convictions. Jesus died for his convictions. Identity must lead to action, or it’s just wishful thinking.
- Does Jesus death continue to confront you and prompt self-examination, or do you find yourself becoming “too familiar” with it.
- Can you share examples where you’ve seen churches seek to identify themselves one way, but really it was just “wishful thinking”.
- Do you agree that “Identity must lead to action”? What does that mean for individual Christians?
- Read Colossians 1:15-23 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon (6 June), you can listen to it here.
- Follow the rest of this discussion here.
I stumbled across an article in the May 2010 Gospel Advocate with the title “Losing Our Distinctiveness” that expressed concern that Churches of Christ are blending in with other churches/denominations and losing our distinctive attitudes, beliefs, and customs. There’s obviously a lot that could be, and has been, said on that topic. I find it more concerning that long-time CoC members can probably defend weekly Lord’s Supper more quickly and thoroughly than they can define “justification”. The Bible contains no biblical teaching on the former topic while numerous times the NT calls Christians “justified” and discusses “justification”. I believe we should worry more about our relationship with Christ than our relationship with other churches in the community.
That little exercise on the soap box brings me to the next thesis our series “The Church OF Christ”. The Church OF Christ should understand the cross of Christ.
At it’s core, the crucifixion of Christ fits into a simple story. Sin separates us from God. We deserve punishment. In death the sinless Jesus was punished on our behalf, allowing God to forgive us and restoring our relationship with him.
But this simple story raises more questions than it answers…
- Why does sin separate us from God?
- Why did Jesus have to die?
- Why did his blood have to be shed?
- What’s the big deal with sacrifices?
- Was Jesus really sinless?
- Was Jesus really God?
- How could Jesus really take on everyone’s sin throughout time? That seems to much for one person.
…and suddenly it’s not such a simple story. Acknowledging the complexity of the cross equips us to study and understand it further.
I’m indebted to Theology for the Community of God by Stanley J. Grenz for prompting me to construct a little chart of Four Perspectives on the Cross. Even in my simple story I use competing imagery. Does sin separate me from God? Does sin make me guilty before God? Yes, and Yes. Separation and guilt may take place at the same time, but they’re not the same thing. They’re two separate threads in the same cord. Yet often we fail to distinguish and understand them.
Recognising these perspectives allows us to present the Gospel in different ways, to connect with people at different points of life.
Relational: Someone feeling alone and isolated may connect best with the message that in the person of Jesus and through the cross, God reached out to establish relationship with us.
Legal: A person living a rebellious lifestyle may need to confront the eternal consequences of their sin, and then respond to the pardon available because of Christ’s sacrifice.
Cosmic: People who feel that their life is out of control, enslaved by Satan, sin, health, habits, relationships, etc. may find hope and courage knowing that Jesus’ death brings freedom for them.
Moral: In a “get mine” culture, people seeking a higher ethic can hopefully understand that the death of Christ imposes a “love others” ethic upon his followers. Without his example Christians have no motivation to pursue goals that differ from broader society.
So now it’s your turn.
- Do you agree that these are different perspectives, or am I splitting hairs?
- Are any of these perspectives more important than another?
- Do you relate to one of these perspectives more than another?
- Are there other ways of viewing the cross that should be included in the discussion?
I’ve spent the last few weeks exploring the implications of calling ourselves “The Church Belonging To [OF] Christ”. This Sunday fell in the middle of a long weekend, so I thought I’d take a break to look a little more closely at our congregational identity. About 18 months ago, a good friend Tammy Matthews, designed a logo for the Lawson Road congregation. We gave him several parameters and he developed the image below.
I believe that when we put something out there saying “this is who we are”, we need to know what it means. So this week I explored some of the Biblical themes captured in this design. However we represent ourselves, we need to ensure that we tell the story of Jesus. And although it’s subjective, I believe this logo does.
1. I love the colours of the image. God designed his church with colourful composition. He filled it with people of all races and languages. Lawson Rd strives to welcome anyone seeking Christ. You can read more about how we do this here, and here.
2. John 1:4 identifies Jesus as “the light of all people”. It’s therefore appropriate to represent the “Son” with the “Sun”. The significance of the “light” imagery is found in the hope Jesus brings all people. John 1 continues in v5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not over come it.” Whatever darkness we find ourselves in, Jesus brings us the hope that it cannot overcome him. His light overwhelms our darkness.
3. The blue streams of water connect with a powerful theme in Scripture of cleansing and renewal. Sometimes the Church of Christ has too quickly drawn the connection between water and baptism while sidestepping the significant issues. We must continue to teach baptism as an appropriate, commanded, response to the sacrifice of Christ, but concentrating on baptism minimises the importance of life transformation.
When Jesus says in John 3:3, 5 that we “must be born again… of water and the Spirit” I believe he references the physical act of immersion in water. But He also makes a more significant point. Jesus wants to cleanse us. He wants to wash away not only our sins, but our very selves. Jesus desires for us to commit to him so strongly that we become a new person, born again. Paul, in 2 Cor. 5:17 describes the Christian as “a new creation”.
You’ll notice that the water in our logo has a ripple to it. In Greek the word for wind, pneuma, also means breath, or spirit, or Spirit. So the ripple may be caused by the wind, but it signifies the presence of the breath of God, His Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is absent from our church, then we can hardly claim to be the Church of Christ. If we’ve been born of the Spirit, then He is present among us, transforming us, and equipping us for service in God’s kingdom. (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Gal. 5:22-26)
4. The cross represents the sacrifice of Christ. Christ gave his life in a divine transaction that gave the opportunity for eternal life to all humanity. (Rom. 5:18-19) Yet the logo contains only the outline of the cross, because his subsequent resurrection overpowered the instrument of death. As important as Christ’s sacrifice is for the cleansing of our sins (Heb. 9:22, 27-28), the resurrection provides the evidence and hope that his sacrifice is effective. (1 Cor. 15:12-20)
5. A couple of other verses tie these themes together. 1 John 1:5-7 describes God as light. “If we walk in the light…the blood of Jesus … purifies us from all sin.” Then Romans 6:3-5 makes the following assertions, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death? …[then] we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” Notice the cluster of key terms: light, baptism, blood, death, sin, purification, and resurrection.
Finally, the letters L and R obviously stand for “Lawson Road”, the location of our particular congregation. However, we can also bestow a deeper meaning upon these letters.
The letter L: Stands for Love. The centre and motivation of Jesus ministry:
- The Greatest Command (Matthew 22:37)
- The Second Command (Matthew 22:39)
- The New Command (John 13:34)
The letter R: Could stand for several themes, I think my favourite is “Reconcile”, but “Redeem” would also be a good alternative. But I decided to go with “Rescue“.
Colossians 1:12-14 is part of a larger context, but it describes the kingomd of God as the “kingdom of light“. Does that sound familiar? Verses 13-14 describe how God used Jesus to rescue us from darkness, redeeming and forgiving us in the process.
If Jesus is by definition “The Light”, then he commissions us to represent him as lights also. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus instructs his followers to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” If Jesus, The Light, uses that light to rescue people, to give them hope, then as his lights we share his rescue mission, point people to God.
I know that this is an extra long post, but I hope you made it this far. I also know that my discussion doesn’t necessarily flow particularly smoothly. But these are the thoughts the Lawson Road logo prompts in me.
- Since art interpretation is a subjective field, what symbolism do you see in our logo? Or what Biblical ideas does it stir in your mind?
- What suggestions do you have for the letter R? [To fit the theme it needs to be an imperative word.]
- What are the pros and cons of Reconcile, Redeem & Rescue? They all mean something similar but with different emphases.
I routinely ponder the question, “What is the core of the Gospel?” Perhaps, if I have to ponder the question it’s not as important as I think it is.
I think I ask this question because I don’t want to spend my time arguing about things that aren’t important. So I try to create boxes. One box for “Core Gospel” issues. Another box for “Important, But Not Core” issues. Another box for “Interesting, But Not Important”. And another box for “I Really Don’t Think It Matters If We Disagree” issues.
Here are some candidates for the “Core Gospel” box, off the top of my head.
- God is love. (Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 4:8, 16)
- The death/sacrifice of Jesus. (Heb. 9:26, Rom 5:9)
- The resurrection of Jesus. (1 Cor. 15:18-20)
- The return of Christ. (1 Thess. 4:16-18)
- Baptism for forgiveness (Acts 2:38, ). (Personally, I see this as a response to the Gospel, not the Gospel itself, but I know not everyone sees it this way.)
- Christian living/obedience (Jms. 2:24)
What else would you add to this list? I know my list isn’t exhaustive, or even accurate. I just listed some of the things I’ve heard expressed as the “Core Gospel”.
One of the few occasions where Paul defines the “Gospel” is 1 Cor. 15:1-11 and he doesn’t restrict it to just one or two components. He covers:
- Christ died for our sins
- He fulfilled prophecy
- The resurrection
- Jesus appeared to many after his resurrection
- Paul’s inadequacy
- God’s grace superseding our works.
Anyway, the Resurrection is a big one for me! I agree with Paul in 1 Cor. 15. If Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, his body just stolen or something, then we are to be pitied for living a fantasy. On the other hand, if Jesus did rise from the dead to live eternally, then we have the most amazing future to look forward to. A future that those who deny the resurrection don’t have.
An interesting verse on this topic is 1 Peter 3:21, which speaking of baptism says, “it saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” I really believe that we seldom associate the resurrection with our salvation. We generally view salvation as occurring on the cross, and the resurrection serving as a kind of promise, or bait, if we buy into the Jesus story and live a good life. So I find that verse interesting.
- Do you have a favorite element of the Gospel?
- How do you understand 1 Peter 3:21? How does the resurrection save us?
It’s very trendy these days to bow to the pressure of postmodernism and avoid discussions of truth, or at least absolute truth. But it seems to me that Jesus was crucified for defending the truth. The truth of his identity.
I thought I’d use this post to highlight the points in the final hours of Jesus’ life where his identity plays a key role.
- Judas (22:3-6): Many writers have suggested that Judas betrayed Jesus because it became clear that he was not the type of Messiah that Judas expected or wanted.
- Peter (22:31-33): Peter didn’t blatantly challenge Jesus, but his contradiction of him indicates that he did not fully accept Jesus’ identity as God in the flesh.
- Sanhedrin (22:66-71): In v71, it was Jesus’ confirmation, or at least lack of denial, that he was “The Son of God” [emphasis mine] that in the mind of the council justified the charge of blasphemy.
- Pilate (23:3): Since the charge the Jews brought against Jesus was “subverting the nation”, Pilate sought to determine if Jesus posed a threat to Caesar. “Are you the king of the Jews?”
- Herod (23:6): Herod wasn’t really interested in Jesus’ claims, but the fact that Jesus was a Galilean was what brought him before Herod.
- Soldiers (23:36): “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
- Sign (23:38): The charge for which Jesus was being executed was nailed above his head, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.“
- Criminal #1 (23:39): “Aren’t you the Messiah?”
- Criminal #2 (23:42): He accepts Jesus claim of kingship and even seems to grasp the nature of the kingdom, which Jesus own disciples struggled to do.
- Centurion (23:47): The final testimony on the life and identity of Jesus, in this scene, comes from a Roman soldier, “Surely this was a righteous man.“
Yes, Jesus died so that the sins of the world could be forgiven, but he died defending the truth that he was/is “THE Son of God” and “King of the Jews”.
- How important is the identity of Jesus to your faith?
- Do you think churches do a good job of teaching and emphasising this point?
- What are the implications of this truth in our attitudes toward other religions?