Tag Archives: cross

Here is Love – the power-packing classic that got modern

I had no idea that Matt Redman did a ‘refurbed’ version of this amazing hymn I learnt and loved at one of my old student churches. These first two verses of the hymn capture the key elements of the gospel so boldly, and so well. Feast your hearts on this, friends. I hope it blesses you greatly.

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

Words are by Reese Williams (1802-1883), with the melody written by Robert Lowry (1876). Matt Redman’s version came out in 2004 with Kingsway.


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For a Sacramental Non-Conformism

I love Communion. I think we undervalue it – possibly because we often seem to place more emphasis on what it isn’t than on what it is. We try to delineate our definitions more smoothly than (I think) Scripture does itself, lest we trample on a piece of Sacramentology for which our forbears of the English Reformation gave their lives, by appearing too ‘Catholic’. Now please don’t get me wrong: I’m saying this as a conservative evangelical Protestant. A New Calvinist, no less. But I’m not scared of how I might ‘look’ if I speak of my convictions. We Protestants and Catholics share the heritage of the Early Church, if we would claim to be one catholic (universal) body of Christ, and the zeal of the Early Church for the Lord’s Supper is not to be sniffed at. I understand where the theological boundary lines lie. I can’t claim that I have the whole truth as I proceed, but I’m not going to hold back purely for the sake of tribalism.

My thought at Communion this evening was this: what a great sense of assurance that we have, when we are mandated to appropriate the body broken for us and the blood of the covenant poured out for the forgiveness of the sins of many, by taking them into ourselves as bread and wine. There’s little room to doubt whether Christ’s death on the cross can really bring salvation when we stand before the Communion table – Jesus made the promise at the Last Supper and embodied it in a sign, and taught us not only to love that sign as we love the sign of the rainbow, but to take it into ourselves bodily and digest it. There really are few bolder ways to appropriate something as your own, than to incorporate it into a consumable of some sort and to eat it. If ever you needed assurance that Christ’s blood was meant for you, struggling believer, then the Communion table should remove all doubt. There, you don’t just see your covenant membership articulated: you pass it through your lips and taste it and swallow it.

Moreover, when we consume that sign, we’re acknowledging that Jesus’ body broken for us, and his forgiveness-conferring blood, are our spiritual staple food and drink. We keep on consuming Christ’s body and blood, at his Table and in Spirit and in the Word, and we do it to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. Until he comes again, Christ’s body and blood, broken and poured out, will never cease to be our sustenance in this life no matter how advanced we are in our spiritual walk, as we were commanded to drink of the cup until Christ comes again. He pointed to his flesh and called it bread, and he pointed to the bread and called it his flesh; he called his blood “true drink”, and he called the cup of wine, the cup of the New Covenant in his blood. He taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”. Would we tire of this bread, as the Israelites tired of the Manna that rained down on them, and demand ‘meat’ instead? What, pray, could we conceive this ‘meat’ might be but something bound to bring us to ruin? It would seem paramount to tempting God’s wrath if we implied at any moment that his grace, secured for us by what Christ has done (that is, with his body and blood on the tree), were not sufficient for us, as they were sufficient to the Apostle Paul though he had a thorn in his flesh.

Matt Redman puts it beautifully:

“Now that I’m living as a risen child of God, my every road leads to the Cross.”

I used to sympathise with people who complained about ‘leaving Christ on the cross’, because crucifixes seemed oppressive Catholic things to me, and we preached the Resurrection life. But now I think differently. The empty tomb may well be an apt depiction of the triumphant Christian life, as some like to say who claim that they have ‘moved on’ from a Cross-centred identity, but the tomb is not where Christ is, and it is Christ whom we worship and model. All the same, Christ is risen, they would say: we do not keep him on the Cross, for he is not there. Maybe so. Yes, I will concede that geographically speaking Christ is not on the Cross. But if he’s not on the Cross and not in the tomb, then where in fact is Christ? Christ is at the right hand of the Father in heaven. What is he doing there? Making intercession for sins. By what? By his blood. How? By his death – which happened on the Cross, when he became a curse for us. Ah, they might say, that’s his blood – but that was poured out 2000 years ago! The body that died on the on the Cross isn’t the same one as the one he has now, is it? He left the old broken one behind and got a new one – right?  Indeed he did, it seems. And his Resurrection body, albeit apparently new, was no less than perfect for the fact that it had the same holes in the hands and side as the old one did. You cannot separate Christ from his wounds: even the Resurrected flesh bore the marks of Christ’s affliction for us on the Cross, and surely if it was perfect with the marks, then the marks participated in its perfection, and it would thus have been imperfect without them. This is to say that though Christ was Resurrected, he clearly did not ‘move on’ from the Atonement that he made. He might have ‘sat down’ at the right hand of the Father, but that didn’t mean that he stopped making intercession by his blood. Even at the end of the age, when time ceases, the angels will sing of Jesus, “Worthy is the Lamb” – the name ‘Lamb’ enshrining him for all eternity in his identity as sacrifice.

We can have Christ without depicting him on the Cross, but we can never have Christ without the wounds by which we are healed. What good is an empty tomb – or even an empty cross – if it wasn’t for the sin-bearing body and the wrath-appeasing blood, broken and poured out on the Cross where he died? It was what Christ achieved that we bring to remembrance when we go on taking our Communion elements until Christ returns as commanded; it is this blood which forgives us our sins, and bids us die, and provides the ballast that raises us and keeps us raised. Even as a risen child of God – a child of God living the Resurrection life – I cannot wander from the Cross where that body was broken and that blood was spilled, because the wounds from that breakage and spillage did not disappear from Christ’s body even when he took on a new one in his own Resurrection life and sat at the right hand of the Father in glory. Besides this, if I neglected to sate my heart daily on the Bread of Heaven and quench my thirst on the True Drink, then I fear I’d starve and thirst to death.

In a mystical way, the Lord’s Supper makes Christ’s wounds feel nearer to my heart and my soul in a real way. I think we do the Eucharist a disservice by saying it is “just” a symbol, and has no further significance. For between the body and blood of Christ, and the bread and wine of the Eucharist, there is a textual unity; a poetics of bread and wine, body and blood that is repeated throughout Scripture. Now, when a poetics or a textual unity like this is found in merely human literature, we say that the bread and wine are just ‘metaphorical’, or a ‘figure of speech’ – and if the Bible is merely human literature, we can claim that they are ‘just’ a symbol. But can a unity like that be ‘just metaphorical’ or ‘just a symbol’ and have no function in the realm of the ‘real’, when ‘bread’ and ‘wine’ and ‘body’ and ‘blood’ constitute words uttered by the Mouth that makes concepts into things of real significance just by giving them utterance? The utterance doesn’t need to make them into material things: it is only a naturalistic worldview onto reality that says that a thing cannot be ‘real’ if it is not ‘material’. If the property of the Mouth of God is that its Words create things and bring things about by speaking them, then to my mind, the unique ‘creation-engendering’ power of this Word would necessitate that the symbol and the thing symbolised must be equally ‘real’: for both were spoken into being by this same creator Mouth. ‘Real’ doesn’t need to mean ‘concrete’ or ‘material’. We are Christians, not naturalists. Jesus is a concrete, material man, but his work is spiritual. God the Father is not material, he is Spirit, and we worship him in Spirit and in truth. But for the fact that he is Spirit, he is no less real than the woman sitting at home typing these words to you now.

If Christ said “this is my body”, then textually, spiritually, it is, as it has been declared so, by the voice that brings about what it utters. He gave the declaration utterance, so in every sense that matters spiritually in accordance with his purpose and aims, the broken bread was his body. Again, it is not that I would want to go into an essentialist description of precisely what it is chemically: I don’t think this is required. Again, I say that ‘real’ doesn’t need to mean ‘concrete’ or ‘material’ if it can yet mean ‘spiritual’, whatever we understand ‘spiritual’ to mean. As a ramification of this thought, I don’t think we even need to decide whether to define the bread and wine as either a symbol of the real thing, or the real thing thing itself, to determine whether it is ‘real’ or not. Whether the bread and wine are chemically and physically the body and blood of Christ, or whether they merely represent it, is immaterial (no pun intended): it is declared to be what it is declared to be, and the word that declares it is more powerful to create, and engender, and set in motion than any living creature that walks on the earth besides the Son of Man himself, and is capable of doing so in many more ways and modalities than the industry of any human being alone. Whatever the act of ‘being’ of these Communion elements looks like, if the Word binds that act of ‘being’ into existence, then so it must be, even if its ‘being’ is of a different order than the sort of ‘being’ that most things perform. Between the conventional mode of ‘being’, and the conventional mode of ‘non-being’, I believe that there is fillable space. If quantum physics has shown that even material objects can be and not be something at the same time, and that they can be in two places at the same time, then it’s not too far a stretch to propose that spiritual things can be when they don’t appear to be in a material sense. It is a question of there being different modes of ‘being’; different levels of reality. At what did Balaam’s donkey baulk before it showed itself?

As well as being and non-being, we may also perceive there is an alternative to the binary distinction between ‘symbol’ and ‘thing symbolized’. It might be helpful to think about it in the way we think about states of righteousness. There is an alternative to the binary distinction between righteous and unrighteous. For besides these two things, righteous and unrighteous, there is ‘counted righteous’. That is, legally, textually, and on a level higher than the surface appearance of things, we are ‘counted’ righteous through faith, even though we ourselves are not personally righteous. Now, legally, textually, and on a level higher than the surface appearance of things, can the bread and wine not also be ‘counted’ as the body and blood of Christ, even though they remain bread and wine? Can they not be statutory tokens of the things they represent, acting as and on behalf of them in substitute for them, and having the efficacy of the same in what they are appointed to do?

I’m not claiming to have the truth here. I’m not outlining a new theology, and God forbid that anyone should pick this up and base their practical belief system on it without any further study or consideration. I don’t want to make trouble for anyone; it’s just an idea that has been rolling around inside my messy, over-populated head. In truth, it’s one that I’d like to discuss. Until then, I would feel privileged just to be heard.

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A lesson about repentance

Something the Lord taught me today…

You know when you feel bad about something and want to repent and get it off your shoulders, but you feel like the shame is too much and that repenting isn’t enough?  That happened to me today.  My temper had got the better of me and I had made a hurtful comment.  But then a thought about the nature of repentance flashed across my mind, and I found myself praying, “Lord, put my shame for that on Jesus”.  Immediately, I was utterly disgusted that I had even dreamt of praying that.  I envisaged Jesus carrying his cross, stumbling along in agony, covered in blood from tip to toe.  How could I dare to pray such a thing against my Lord and Saviour who died for me, when I had no right to walk away Scot-free for saying such a horrid thing?  I should be the one feeling ashamed here, not the sinless Saviour who died for me!
Then I realised.  That’s precisely what Jesus came to do.  The scars, the blood, the agony, Jesus went through it all so that I wouldn’t have to be held responsible for that horrid comment I made today.  In fact, you could say that it was because of that horrible comment that he had to go through it.  Let’s forget ‘churchy’ language and niceties here. “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow” is all very well.  But what it means is that I can pray “Lord, put the blame for that horrible comment I made today on your blameless son Jesus whom I killed” and walk away knowing that I’ve been made innocent.  It’s scandalous.  It makes my stomach churn just thinking about it.
And it’s made me never want to sin ever, ever again.

I know that I will sin, and that Christ’s blood will cover it.  But just as the scandalous nature of God’s love prompted me to  cry out, “No! I don’t want Jesus to take my shame!” before remembering that the reality of Jesus’ suffering is God’s overwhelming love for a guilty humanity that doesn’t deserve to have its sentence waived, in the same way I hope that it will make sin seem ever-repugnant in times of temptation.

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A Kingdom Divided… how God used evil and suffering against itself. An attempt at exegesis.

From John Piper’s The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die, Chapter 50, page 118 (you can download the whole book from his website – how generous!)

But the most astonishing thing is that evil and suffering were Christ’s appointed way of victory over evil and suffering. Every act of treachery and brutality against Jesus was sinful and evil.
But God was in it. The Bible says, “Jesus [was] delivered up [to death] according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). The lash on his back, the thorns on his head, the spit on his cheek, the bruises on his face, the nails in his hands, the spear in his side, the scorn of rulers, the betrayal of his friend, the desertion by his disciples—these were all the result of sin, and all designed by God to destroy the power of sin. “Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [did] whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28).  There is no greater sin than to hate and kill the Son of God. There was no greater suffering nor any greater innocence than the suffering and innocence of Christ. Yet God was in it all. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10). His aim, through evil and suffering, was to destroy evil and suffering. “With his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

I thought to myself, “But John, in the Bible Jesus says that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.  That Satan cannot cast out Satan, or else he will fall, and that to rob a strong man of his possessions, one must first tie him up (Matthew 12:22-29).  How does that all work?”  Well, I then thought, of course it works.  If God uses evil and suffering to destroy evil and suffering, it is as Christ said, evil and suffering will cease.  In order to make evil and suffering cease, it is necessary to divide Satan’s kingdom against itself.  Satan would not fight against himself unless God were puppeteering him, or else he would orchestrate the doom of his own kingdom!  Therefore God must use Satan to cast out Satan.  God is the strong man who has tied Satan up.

How then do we apply this when people ask “Why does a loving God allow suffering in the world?”.  Here is a theory based on my understanding of Scripture.

Firstly, God is the source of all good.  God made the world in the beginning and saw that it was good.  Suffering is a result of of sin (or “evil”), which is rebellion against God and his good way of running the world.  Rebellion was born when one of the Intelligences in the heavens caused an uprising against God and preyed upon humanity and wooed it away from God, making it rebellious in turn.  We call this Intelligence a lot of things; Satan is perhaps the most convenient; Beelzebub, or ‘the devil’, are others.  To remove all rebellion from the world, God would have to remove all people who had ever rebelled against him, and God didn’t want to destroy them because he loved them.  So God sent Jesus to die to expiate the rebellion of those who would come back to him, to satisfy his requirements for justice so that he could take them back.  Now when God sent Jesus, that is, his spirit in human flesh, people accused him of being a partisan of Satan when they saw him liberating people from demons (Satan’s spiritual partisans).  Essentially, Jesus was answering to the assertion that God is evil.  Jesus said that if he was casting Satan’s partisans out of people he could not be working on behalf of Satan’s Kingdom, because a Kingdom divided against itself will fall.  Furthermore, he said, to tie up a strong man and steal his possessions one must first tie up the strong man. God uses this tactic to destroy rebellion, and with it, suffering.  He tied up Satan, then used sin, and with it, suffering, against itself to destroy it.

God tied up Satan by laying all sin (or evil, or rebelliousness, which causes suffering) on Jesus, that perfect representation of himself.  In letting Satan destroy Jesus, God let sin destroy sin, so that those people who resolved not to sin anymore could claim the destruction of sin through Jesus as their own, and not be destroyed themselves. God sent his man to face the penalty for human rebellion by his own justice system, and this would satisfy its requirements so that he could save the people he loved from it and live with them forever.  He raised Jesus back to life again and promised his faithful that they would be raised to life to enjoy this eternal life with him.

What God had left to do was to rid the world of the rest of its rebellion and suffering, and through Jesus he could do this by encouraging rebellious people to repent and reconciling them to him thereafter.   My theory is that God now puppeteers sin and with it, suffering, although he hates these things.  They are necessary for now because people, seeing that they are suffering, might regard the joy of God’s true partisans and want it for themselves.  They might see that it came from God and decide to sin no more, accepting Jesus’ penalty as their own.  So in this way, God is using suffering to bring people to himself, so that rebellion which causes suffering can be eradicated without him having to destroy all of mankind.

I stress that this is all based on my current understanding of Scripture It is an answer that I can give, and though it seems to make sense to me, I acknowledge that God’s ways are nothing like our ways, and that his thoughts are not like our thoughts.

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