“The very center of the Christian faith is the Incarnation, in which the Divine Word becomes flesh – the Idea becomes Fact. All other faiths are the word become word, the idea projected as an idea. In Jesus the Idea walked. It spoke in human life and manifested Itself in human relationships. It transformed religion from idealism to realism. Where this faith is sincerely tried, it becomes incarnate as fact. It works in human relationships. And where it is tried, it produces something so exquisitely beautiful that we stand ‘lost in wonder, love, and praise.’”
E. Stanley Jones, Growing Spiritually
“We are not dependent on a Christ who lived and died, we are dependent on a Christ who lived and died and who is alive for evermore. Since he is alive, he is here in such a way that we can draw upon him for power other than our own.
“The work of Christ, therefore, enables us to deal effectively through him with the situations in which sin had rendered us helpless. It enables us to deal with the situation which sin had created between a man and himself. A man remains a split personality, poised between goodness and badness, between right and wrong, between heroism and cowardice, between sainthood and sin, between the ape and the angel, until the power of the Risen Christ takes possession of him, and makes him a personality integrated by this new centre within it. ‘It is no longer I who live,’ said Paul, ‘but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2.20). Through the work of Christ a man ceases to be a battle-ground of opposing forces and reaches mature manhood (Eph. 4.13).”
William Barclay, The Mind of Jesus
* * *
“For everyone who is with Jesus is stronger than death.”
Origen, Commentary on Matthew
"Jeremiah heard God say that he would make a new covenant with the people, not like the covenant that he had once made with their fathers. This would be a covenant, not established by an externally imposed law, but written on their hearts and in their inward parts. It would be a covenant in which all men really and truly knew God. ‘I will forgive their iniquity,’ God said, ‘and I will remember their sin no more’ (Jer. 31.31-35). Two things stand out about this new covenant; it is a covenant based not on law but on the inward devotion of the heart, and there is no mention of sacrifice at all.
"Two things are to be noted in the words of Jesus, as Paul relates them—‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (I Cor. 11.25). Jeremiah also speaks of the new covenant (Jer. 31.31; LXX 38.31). Both in Paul and in the Greek of Jeremiah the word for ‘new’ is kainos. Greek has two words for ‘new.’ There is neos, which is new only in point of time; a thing which is neos may simply be the most recent example or specimen of something which has for long existed and which has for long been produced. But kainos means not only new in point of time, but also new in point of kind or quality. With a thing which is kainos a new quality has entered into life and the world. Since that is so, a new (kainos) covenant is not simply an old covenant which has been renewed or restated; it is a covenant of a new and different kind. Second, Jesus says of this new covenant that it is in his blood. The Greek word for in is en; en can and does translate the Hebrew word be, which means at the price of. It may, therefore, well be that Jesus said that this new and different kind of covenant is made possible only at the cost and at the price of his blood. When we put this together, we see that Jesus said that a new relationship between man and God has become possible through his blood, that is, through his life and death…
"What, then, was Jesus doing in his life and in his death? The answer must be that in his life and in his death Jesus was demonstrating to men the eternal, unchangeable, unconquerable love of God. He was demonstrating to men that God is the Father who loves undefeatably and whose one desire is that the lost son should come home. When Jesus entered the world, when he healed the sick, comforted the sad, fed the hungry, forgave his enemies, he was saying to men: ‘God loves you like that.’ When he died upon the cross, he was saying: ‘Nothing that men can ever do to God will stop God loving them. There is no limit to the love of God. There is no end beyond which that love will not go. God loves you like that.’ That is why nothing less than death on the Cross would do. If Jesus had refused or escaped the Cross, if he had not died, it would have meant that there was some point in suffering and sorrow at which the love of God stopped; there was some point beyond which forgiveness was impossible. But the Cross is God saying in Jesus: ‘There is no limit to which my love will not go and no sin which my love cannot forgive.’"
William Barclay, Crucified and Crowned
"And, while Christ was actually taking upon himself the sins of men, God condemned that sinful nature." Romans 8:3b
Did you know that, from the very beginning of the Church, all the way back to the Early Church days, up till now, there has never been one clear theology of the mechanics of the atonement? There are all kinds of opinions about how it all works - how our sin was covered by His blood, His death - but there has never been one overriding, agreed-upon "THIS IS EXACTLY HOW IT HAPPENED" sort of statement, even all the way back in the writings of the Early Church Fathers.
So I delight in the simplicity of Paul's statement - "Christ was actually taking upon himself the sins of men" - and its corollary - "God condemned that sinful nature." To put it in even simpler terms:
Our sin was put upon Jesus.
He died with it.
It died with Him.
You and I stand on the other side of history from the sinful nature; between us and it is Jesus, there, on the Cross.
I was reading this week (and perhaps you've already heard something like this before) where the writer very clearly made the following point: No matter how people explain their theology of the mechanics of the atonement, the important thing is that we all agree with the definition found within the spelling of that word in English:
What Jesus did on the Cross has forever set us free from sin and has given us opportunity to be "AT ONE" - in union - with God. The Cross re-bridges the divide started in Eden. For us, the Cross begins a new existence: a Union-Eden.
This week, I was reminded of where C.S. Lewis took his book title, Surprised by Joy, from: a particularly mournful poem by William Wordsworth about the loss of his daughter; the way all present and future joys would be tempered by his sadness. In some ways, it is a perfect poem to describe the disciples' anguish on the Friday and Saturday of the Cross and waking to a dead-and-gone Jesus: give it a read:
Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind--
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
But then came that Sunday--Jesus is alive! Then came the neverending realization that the human journey would never again be lived alone; that the life of God would always triumph over life, death, sin and the grave!
So, feeling a little poetical this week, I reimagined Wordsworth's words in the context of our new, never-to-be-forgotten Resurrection-Reality. Let's let this be our posture on this day:
Surprised by joy—inspirited by the Word
We turn again toward the the Living One—Oh! to Him,
To Thee, so briefly swaddled in the burial scrim,
Until your mortal ear heard Heaven's resurrection-word.
Love, faithful Love, recalls me to your heart--
You will never, ever forget me!—In your love,
Never for the least division of any part,
Have you been e'er distracted by your work above
To loose your eye from mine!—That knowledge's knowing
Is the greatest joy my heart forever wears,
My Lord, My God, forever, and ever, sowing,
And knowing my heart’s treasure I may always bear;
That in both present time, and those years unrolling,
Can my reborn sight to your heavenly face repair.
"God, who gave our forefathers many different glimpses of the truth in the words of the prophets, has now, at the end of the present age, given us the truth in the Son. Through the Son God made the whole universe, and to the Son he has ordained that all creation shall ultimately belong. This Son, radiance of the glory of God, flawless expression of the nature of God, himself the upholding principle of all that is, effected in person the reconciliation between God and man and then took his seat at the right hand of the majesty on high..." Hebrews 1:1-3
* * *
"The new relationship between God and man which Jesus brought is summed up in the word Father. That is to say, the new relationship is based on love and not on law. In such a relationship God is no longer thought of as the judge who must condemn; he is thought of as the Father who cannot be happy until the family circle of his children is complete.
"But the almost necessary reaction to any such message is that it is too good to be true. How can I believe that? What possible guarantee have I that that is true? The guarantor of the new relationship is Jesus. He did not come only to tell in words that this is the case; he came in his own person to demonstrate that this is the case. ‘He who has seen me,’ he said, ‘has seen the Father’ (John 14.9). ‘The word became flesh’ (John 1:14), or, as we might paraphrase it: ‘The mind of God became a person.’ Jesus is the exact demonstration of what God is like, of the mind of God, of the attitude of God to man. In Jesus we see one who fed the hungry, healed the sick, comforted the sorrowing, was the friend of outcasts and sinners. And, because Jesus is one with God, he is the guarantee that God is like that. To put it at its very simplest, Jesus is the guarantor of the love of God. It is through him and him alone that we know what God is like; he lived and he died to show us the heart of God; he is the guarantor of the possibility of the new relationship with God, the relationship in which the old fear has become the new love."
William Barclay, Jesus As They Saw Him
If you listen to the Unionists podcast, then you've already heard this particular thought. But, recently, in my reading, I was reminded of the life and death of the Edwardian poet, Rupert Brooke, and of his haunting WWI poem that seemed to foreshadow his approaching death:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Rereading those words, I was struck by multiple parallels between Brooke's imagery and our Kingdom of Heaven-reality; how the spirit of Jesus lingers on in this world through us. So, imagining Jesus, the ultimate selfless Soldier, writing similar lines to us, I took a stab at an echoing sonnet:
When I ascend, remember only this of Me:
That there's a Spirit whispering in your soul
That is for ever Mine. There shall be
In that reborn life a richer life entirely whole:
A life which is My own, true, perfect in My Way,
Given, once, and always again, to point out Heaven;
The Spirit of My Body, breathing Heaven's ways,
Washed by My blood, enlivened with a higher leaven.
And know, My heart, all evil scorned fore'er,
My life, eternal, lessened not a mite
Will give you, everywhere, My mind and thoughts:
My wisdom, words; dreams joyous as the wind-fresh air;
And laughter, from My heart; and gentle might
Within peaceful hearts, whom Heaven hath bought.
Most Christians, most "evangelicals," would think they're agreeing with Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, when they say that "the Gospel" reads as such:
Jesus rose again.
Actually, that's not quite correct.
The Gospel Paul was always talking about, the Gospel that actually changes hearts, the Gospel that irrupted with such force into the world of the First Century, is this:
Jesus rose again.
Our emphasis must ever be the Man, not the mechanics: we are following, in the line and Spirit of, Jesus. Let's go follow Him today, and this week.
"What happens now to human pride of achievement? There is no more room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane—believing instead of achieving. We see now that a man is justified before God by the fact of his faith in God’s appointed Saviour and not by what he has managed to achieve under the Law. And God is God of both Jews and Gentiles, let us be quite clear about that! The same God is ready to justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised by faith also. Are we then undermining the Law by this insistence on faith? Not a bit of it! We put the Law in its proper place." (Romans 3:27-31)
And what is the "proper place" for the Old Covenant Law? By faith, where does it most properly, and permanently, live?
In the mind, body, and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth who, daily, perfectly, walked it out, and thus invalidated the power of sin by obeying that Law faultlessly.
In the offered-up life of Jesus, on the Cross, shedding His blood to forever free us from the curse of sin, which was all tangled up in the curses of the Law.
Behind the risen Jesus, left like His burial garments in the abandoned tomb, "finished" in favor of the New Covenant He now offered.
Under the feet of Jesus, as He sits upon the Throne of Heaven, King of Kings of a Kingdom that is founded within all remade hearts.
The Law has been fulfilled forever - in Jesus - and, by following Him, by His Spirit, we too may "put the Law in its proper place." Its proper place is in Him.
By His life, in His death, because of His resurrection, and now, forevermore, as He sits upon the Throne, we are free with the freedom He's earned for us. All life is lived upon "a different plane."
More "Amplification" in Romans 5, this time in vv. 1,2...
Since then it is by faith that we are justified, “since then”: the language of an accomplished fact. And the fact of the matter is that, by faith, aligning our lives with the life and death of Jesus, we have already been justified: made right. We have been reset to our Garden of Eden, first-creation, new-creation factory setting and there’s nothing we can do to lose that. So…
let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I’ll reiterate: “have peace.” Not “had for a minute at the moment of your prayer of salvation,” nor “will have at the moment when you breathe your last earthly breath.” No, by faith, and because of faith, and in faith, we are justified--right now—and at peace with God--right now. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself the Prince of Peace, came to impart eternal peace to all creation with the victory of the Kingdom of Heaven. Every battle of the great cosmic war is over. Peace is declared. We have peace with God now. And:
Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, Everything we’re doing is meant to be new. It is not by works, not with terror and trepidation, not nebulous in its meaning and practice, not old, not joyless, sterile, or bland. It is through Jesus—that wonderful bearded Man from the Galilee—it is meant to be confident, a solid spiritual construct we can live inside, new, and relational in both grace and joy. We are each of us meant to show the world Jesus…by our confidence…as we enter further and further into the newness of this grace. And how will it look?
and here we take our stand, It is solid. Consequential. Even geographical. It is a place (the Kingdom of Heaven) where we (individually and together) may solidly stand (in the security and surety of all that Jesus has done.) Every single inch of the earth’s surface is able to be inhabited with His goodness--in us: we may take this stand anywhere. And it is not a stand of division, mankind against mankind. It is a stand of spiritual flag-planting that claims all mankind—and the earth—for the Kingdom…which has forever, already, arrived.
An amplification of Romans 5:5-8, with the verses in bold and my words in regular text:
Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. The Holy Spirit of God, the atmosphere of Heaven itself, the communion-point of the Father and Son, the animating force of all the greatest deeds of the Old Testament, has been given, without reserve, without end, without any restraint to every believer in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is within you--now. He is the exact point on earth--within you—where the “love of God”—the life of Heaven—is choosing to express itself. Your inward experience of, your union with, this Holy Spirit is the way in which you meet and experience the incarnate life and love of Jesus. And what is that love like?
And we can see that it was while we were powerless to help ourselves that Christ died for sinful men. The love of Jesus is powerful…for the powerless. It is the perfect help of Heaven, sent to earth, for all the people of earth--everyone!—who are unable to help themselves. In fact, that is the best definition of the love of Jesus: that it is heavenly; that it cost His life; that it’s for the powerless, ie. all of us. The love of Jesus is the greatest universal, all-encompassing force that has ever swept across the face of this earth. Listen:
In human experience it is a rare thing for one man to give his life for another, even if the latter be a good man, though there have been a few who have had the courage to do it. Yet the proof of God’s amazing love is this: that it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us. And, by the way, it was while we were sinners that He also lived His life for us—just ask Matthew the tax-collector. Or the woman caught in adultery and hauled into the Temple. Or, for that matter, any of His disciples. And, maybe most notably, while He was in the midst of giving His life for the sake of sinners, the criminal who met Him in death—and then met Him again in Paradise. “God’s amazing love” is amazing because of how relentless it is—even beyond the bounds of life and death—in pursuing the sinner. All human history before Jesus was a record of the seeming wrath of God; everything after is a catalogue of the immensity of His love.
"The Master Plan which exists beneath the superficial activities of human beings is now becoming intelligible to them. The reconciliation between the holiness and perfection of God and the selfishness and evil of men has been unforgettably demonstrated. Death, the old dark bogey, has been exposed and resoundingly defeated. And as if this were not enough Good News for human beings to accept, they know now, by the acted parable of the Ascension of Christ, that God and man are eternally inseparable. Humanity is assured of its entry into the timeless life of God. A new dignity has been conferred upon the whole human race for God himself has become a man. New exciting possibilities appear as men begin to understand that the purpose of God’s descent to the human level is to enable them to rise and live as sons of God. And what is more, he is prepared to enter human personalities by his own Spirit to make such dreams come true."
J.B. Phillips, God our Contemporary
There once was a mighty mountain—the tallest in the world. Its heights were so high that no eye had ever seen them. Its craggy, granite summit was wreathed around with clouds. Nothing in all the world could compare to this most permanent peak.
On the other side of the world lived a grain of sand. This speck was one of hundreds of billions of other, similar specks. Every day the grain would rise and fall with the tides. It would flow and tumble and toss with the other sand around it.
—the sand-grain heard the voice of the mountain:
“You are no grain of sand, my little one. You are part of me—a fleck of granite—permanent. Let me bring you home…”
And with that, a divine wind—a mighty blast of air from the mountain’s summit—picked up the speck and carried it all the way to the foot of the mountain. It rested now, granite to granite, like to like. It was invited to enjoy its new, permanent home forever. Around it were all the others who’d found their true identity. All was joy and peace and enjoyment now.
But, then, doubts began to rise.
I don’t look the same as all these other kinds of granite.
Is the mountain really the tallest, best, truest in the world?
I miss the tumble and toss—and togetherness—of the seashore.
Perhaps I might just go back…
The voice of the mountain spoke to the speck again:
“I will never move, change or—ever—forget you. I am the life, the truth, the place to live. You have entertained your doubts now, little speck. I am unchangeable towards you. How—where—will you choose to live?”
Do you remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
This is a take on Jesus' life and ministry that is never offered before and never offered again in the whole of the New Testament: that, having always been God, having always been the Ruler on the throne of Heaven, He was incalculably "rich" with riches that are inestimable according to our earthly weights and measures. Think about it. When John later tries to describe the glories of the New Heaven, New Earth, New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation, the best he can generally do to describe all its grandeur and richness is to say, "It's like this" and "like that," where he substitutes in all the finest things human minds can understand.
We cannot understand how glorious Jesus was before!
And He left all that--
He stepped down from the throne of glory, was born into the midst of vicious Roman rule, became a refugee to escape from murderous King Herod, and then lived three decades in a town of, perhaps, a couple hundred peasants.
All - don't forget! - that He might, then, minister for three years, die to set us free, and ascend to bring us - spiritual peasants that we are - into that very throne room in which this whole plan was hatched.
Today, will we remember the generosity of Jesus, the Lord of us all? He was literally rich beyond our literal telling or understanding, yet he actually became poor for our actual sakes so that his literal poverty might make us actually, spiritually rich!
Will you remember?
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jeremiah 32:27 (NASB)
Personally, I can’t recall another question spoken in the Scriptures that holds the same meaning and weight as the question with which this implied promise concludes: “is anything too difficult for Me?” Because if there’s any doubt in our minds as to His ability to encounter, overcome and, even, demolish any difficulty, then--what are we doing? Who do we think we’re going to follow, next, if this One, this God, can’t surmount any challenge, hardship, barrier or impasse?
My friends, I want us to truly know this God, this One: “the Lord, the God of all flesh” who is unstoppable in face of difficulty.. I want you so unshakably resolved upon His power and sheer dynamism that there’s never any more question for you in your day to day.
So, for that reason, I want to take you on a journey of His ability, over the aeons, to overcome every difficulty, every trial, every divide, every impossibility that might’ve seemed insurmountable. And, to do that, I want us to consider, in each era or day, His and our “state of existence”—Who He was and who we were—during that precise period of time (or, even, pre-time).
Before Creation – God was. We weren’t. He existed and we didn’t exist at all. And yet He manifested existence and time and space and being, and made the triune choice to make us “in His image.”
In the Garden of Eden – He was. We were now also. And He overcame any potential boundary lying between the Divine and those Made-in-the-Image-of-the-Divine, and He walked with us “in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8, ESV).
From the Fall until the Incarnation – He was God: perfect and holy. We were fallen: imperfect and broken. And yet, for the remainder of human history until His coming, He continued to manifest His grace and to reveal His voice across the divide. It was only by His grace that “history” didn’t end with the Fall: He might’ve scrapped the whole thing because humanity was no longer perfect.
The Incarnation – He was Himself and yet with us. We were still imperfect and yet with Him. He actually allowed humanity to see the very face of God.
The Cross – He was Himself and yet totally in our place, on our behalf. We were our broken selves, and yet our sin-existence hung suspended-in-time upon that Man on the Cross. And He personally overcame sin, that separating force that had destroyed mankind ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden.
The Resurrection – He was alive again—God and Man—entirely by His own power. We were still imperfect, and yet now offered a new sinless, deathless, human existence. And He had permanently, once for all time, overcome death, “the last enemy” of mankind (1 Cor. 15:26, NIV).
The Ascension – He was Himself—Man and God—on the throne again. We were able, by His blood, to have direct access. And nothing can now separate our confident earth-to-Heaven approach: He has said “It is finished” to all human-to-God separation.
Pentecost until Today – He is with the Father--and with us: within our hearts. We are here on earth, as new Kingdom creations--and yet “raised up with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6, NIV). His and our shared, bi-locational reality means there’s no difficulty unable to be overcome, no provision meant to be unmet, no spiritual deficit He won’t personally invade, overwhelm and conquer. He is there and here; we are here and there.
In every portion of history and pre-history, we have dealt with a God who is unable to be stopped, unable to encounter any natural or supernatural difficulty that has any ounce of power against Him. Let us say to our hearts today: Behold, I am following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing is too difficult for Him!
Lack of seeming substance? He created existence!
Lack of connection? He personally comes to encounter us!
Lack of holiness? He will never stop pursuing His people!
Lack of understanding of God? He has showed us His face!
Fear of the consequences of sin? He ended it!
Fear in the face of death? He has conquered it forever!
Desire to know God? He invites you into the throneroom of Heaven!
Desire for a new life? He invites Himself right into your heart!
Let me type it once again with confidence, from me to you: Behold, you and I are following the Lord, the God of all flesh; nothing in the heavens or the earth is too difficult for Him
"Certain people declared in my hearing, ‘Unless I can find a thing in our ancient records, I refuse to believe it in the Gospel’; and when I assured them that it is indeed in the ancient scriptures, they retorted, ‘That has got to be proved.’ But for my part, my records are Jesus Christ; for me, the sacrosanct records are His cross and death and resurrection, and the faith that comes through Him. And it is by these, and by the help of your prayers, that I am hoping to be justified.
"The priests of old, I admit, were estimable men; but our own High Priest is greater, for He has been entrusted with the Holy of Holies, and to Him alone are the secret things of God committed. He is the doorway to the Father, and it is by Him that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets go in, no less than the Apostles and the whole Church; for all these have their part in God’s unity. Nevertheless, the Gospel has a distinction all its own, in the advent of our Savior Jesus Christ, and His Passion and Resurrection. We are fond of the prophets, and they did indeed point forward to Him in their preaching; yet it is the Gospel that sets the coping-stone on man’s immortality."
Ignatius of Antioch
from his letter to the Philadelphian fellowship
ca. Early 2nd Century
"Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on his own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakeable 'scent' of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself" (2 Corinthians 2:14-16a).
Could I paint a little picture for you?
You are in Rome. The streets are full of shouting and celebration. It is the day when the conquering general – whether Pompey, or Caesar, or Octavian – is going to proceed through the streets in his triumph. Everyone is ready. The whole city now waits in a hush.
And now here he comes: through the Porta Triumphalis – the Triumph Gate: with the senators and senior officials at the head of the march; with the trumpeters blowing their horns in glorious unison; then the wagon-trains upon wagon-trains full of the spoils of war; then a white bull, silently being led, who will, at the end of all this, be slaughtered in sacrifice; then, in chains, the conquered princes and kings and generals who have been defeated, who have surrendered; then the bodyguards and priests who spread both the sense and the fragrance of death and life…
And then finally… the general. The victor. The conqueror. He is being pulled in his tall golden chariot by four massive horses. He is wearing a kingly robe and his face is painted with red to remind the crowds of the power of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Over his head is held a laurel wreath by an auriga, a gladiator, whose job it is to whisper in his ear: “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento mori!” – “Look behind you. Remember that you are but a man. Remember that you will die!” so that this conqueror won’t forget that he is still just a servant of Rome.
And then, behind his chariot, his officers, his staff, and then, behind them, the men of the ranks: the ones who have fought and bled and lost their friends to make this triumph a reality. They sing songs with their off-key soldier voices, in order to – in their own words: “ward off the jealousy of the gods…” And their favorite song is “Io Triumphe!” - O Triumph!
Why do I tell you all this?
Because Paul would have you there!
“Thanks be to God, the One always leading us in triumph in Christ...”
He would have you remember the angels and saints who came before the coming of Jesus; those prophets and kings who sounded the trumpet of the One to come. He would have you learn the overwhelming realities of the spoils of war – the infinitudes of bounty – that have been won by the victory of Jesus. He would have you look into the eyes of the once-for-all-time sacrifice who is the Lamb of God; Jesus’ perfect knowledge that His perfect life would end in death for us. And he would have you be a conquered one: a person whose personal surrender to Jesus only serves to spotlight His greatness, His glory.
And then comes this fragrance he mentions here: the “unmistakable scent of Christ,” which is both life and death.
And then Paul would have you turn the fullness of your gaze upon that One who rides in the golden chariot of Heaven. He is robed in kingly purple and His face is crimson with the blood He shed: He is the incarnate reality of the Godhead. And Paul would have you in the chariot, holding the crown above the head of Jesus with your life and worship; he would have you constantly whispering, in life and death, these words: “Jesus, I look unto you. I will never forget that you are man and God. I will never forget that you can never die!”
And Paul would have you there behind Him, a part of the General’s field staff – an officer always attached – and he would also have you in the ranks. And no matter the sound of your song, the timbre or cadence of your particular voice, he would have you never stop singing: “O Triumph! O Jesus!”
“Thanks be to God, the One always leading us in triumph in Christ..."
"For I passed on to you Corinthians first of all the message I had myself received—that Christ died for our sins, as the scriptures said he would; that he was buried and rose again on the third day, again as the scriptures foretold. He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve, and subsequently he was seen simultaneously by over five hundred Christians, of whom the majority are still alive, though some have since died." (1 Corinthians 15:3-6)
Now, even though we don't have a record in the Gospels or Acts of this 500-person encounter with the Resurrected Jesus, I want us to ponder on it just a little. FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE! Presumably, with there being FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE there, these must've been people who had tracked with Him over part, or all, of His three-year ministry.
So, perhaps they'd sat amongst the 5,000 and had a share of the bread and fish. Maybe they'd been there for the Sermon on the Mount. I wonder how many of them had been standing along the street at His triumphal entry, waving the palms, shouting the praises?
For these people, whether with Him for a day or for the whole three years, I can almost guarantee I know the thought that ran through their minds throughout: "What I'm seeing here is historic. This is once-in-a-lifetime stuff..."
BUT... then He died. Thereby moving from "historic" to "historical." What yesterday was unprecedented always get crushed under the weight of the Present...
EXCEPT... if death - and time - no longer rule. If a Man should walk back out of the tomb...
For these FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE, imagine assembling, being together, and then - THERE HE IS - ALIVE - JUST LIKE BEFORE. For the entirety of the rest of their human lives, Jesus would never be "historical": He will always be contemporary.
Where is He, for you, on that timeline? Is He "back there" or "right here"? Is His life "historical" or contemporaneously "historic" - happening right now and all the time?
Here's a hint at your answer: The way you live your daily life. It will tell you. It knows.
"Jesus got [His] divine life by depending absolutely upon the Father all His life long, depending upon Him even down into death. Jesus got that life in the full glory of the Spirit to be poured out, by giving Himself up in obedience and surrender to God alone, and leaving God even in the grave to work out His mighty power; and that very Christ will live out His life in you and me. Oh, the mystery! Oh, the glory! And oh, the Divine certainty! Jesus Christ means to live out that life in you and me."
Andrew Murray, The Believer’s Secret of the Master’s Indwelling
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"The writers of the New Testament Epistles never regarded the Christian religion as an ‘ethic,’ still less a performance. To them it was an invasion of their own lives by the living Spirit of God; their response in repentance and faith provided the means by which the divine could penetrate the merely human. They lived lives of super-human quality because they believed quite simply that Christ Himself was alive within them."
J.B. Phillips, Making Men Whole
As we prepare for a national holiday centered around thankfulness, it might be good for us to remember that NO ONE has more grounds for gratitude than ALL followers of Jesus of Nazareth. For, after all, we personally know the One who created and upholds all creation... which is something! And we have had a glimpse of the glories of the Incarnation: His arrival, His life, His words, His sparkling personality. We have been set free - been set free: past tense - by the finished work of the Cross. And we now know that life and death hold nothing daunting for us: we have seen Him walk from the tomb - totally unscathed...
And so, where are we now; who are we now?
The actual, living, flesh-and-blood, personal representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven to this generation of humanity...
...who've been imbued with the selfsame Holy Spirit of God that carried that Man through the 33 years of His human existence...
...and who may always - ALWAYS! - stop on a dime, reorient our attentions, and commune with the Living King who sits upon the throne of Heaven.
I'd say we have some reason to be thankful this week! I hope it's a wonderful one for you!
Some of you know that I did a long fiction-nonfiction writing project, a few years back, to try to bring the Book of Acts into a more first-hand focus. Below is a little bit of it. First, you'll see the passage where some of the disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene decided to go ahead and start preaching to the Gentiles in Antioch, not just the Jews. Then, from there, you'll see my imaginative write-up of, perhaps, what it was like when one of those men suddenly decided that it was time to do so. I tried to bring into focus the potential presence of Simon of Cyrene (who carried the Cross with/for Jesus) among them. Hope it stirs your heart for this Monday!
Now those who had been dispersed by the persecution which arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, giving the message as they went to Jews only. However, among their number were natives of Cyprus and Cyrene, and these men, on their arrival at Antioch, proclaimed their message to the Greeks as well, telling them the good news of the Lord Jesus… (Acts 11:19,20)
A Man of Cyrene on the Road to Antioch
My blood is quickened within and I walk this road and I think on the ways of the Holy Spirit, and, my brothers, I am tempted to throw all constraint on the winds which blow up from the Sea, and past us. Feel them blowing by us, west to east. Smell that scent of adventure that first carried us from the coasts of Africa to there, on Shavuot, and think of all that has happened unto us since! What is man to stand before the whims of our Jesus! Who were we to think this thing could be contained within the Hebrew race! My brothers, as we approach upon Antioch, I’m of a mind to say goodbye to the past; to walk right into the courtyards and marketplaces and, yes, synagogues; to proclaim the name Jesus to any man, woman or child who’s made of flesh and blood like me; to say that it is only in the name of Jesus that anyone finds rest for their souls and a place of heavenly peace for their minds…
Peter has broken the mold – let’s shatter it now, brothers! Let us enter the town with the roving gaze of Jesus and see all mankind as the quarry, the prey, of the whispering will of the Holy Spirit! Let us conquer the hearts of man and woman, Jew or Gentile; have no fear that wrongdoing comes on the voice of the Spirit that gave Jesus life from the dead!
I see the fear in your eyes, Simon, my brother of Cyrene. What for? Did not you yourself once fall under the gaze of the darkhearted Gentiles and are you not the very man whose shoulders quaked under the cross with our Savior, our Jesus? Brother! Have we not come too far to ever turn back now? Sometimes I place myself within your flesh and mind, using of my imagination to imagine that day, and here’s what I come to – tell me if any of this reprises anything like any of your memories…
I am standing, that day, along the road watching him pass. The smell of the crowd is thick and pungent with sweat and rage. Suddenly, all eyes turn from him to me – to you, I mean! – and I’m thrust from within my hiding into the hot sun of the Jerusalem day. I feel naked under the gaze of the people, the soldier who calls, and, most of all, him – Jesus, the sufferer under the weight of the cross. I slip under the right side of the horizontal crossbeam – Jesus slides over – his fleshless shoulders shearing against the grain – and he turns his eyes to meet my eyes.
That moment, Simon, what was it like? What came upon your mind? Did you not know that this was the Christ, our Savior, our God?
Together, as yokefellows walking, we trudge up the hill with crowds a-lining both sides of the twisting path and I talk to him of my sin, of their sin, of the whole world’s sin – past, present and for all the futures to come. He listens, walking, and I know he hears. When we finally arrive at the top of Skull Hill, I am shoved aside by that same soldier who first called me, and I disappear from the center of the moment I’d shared with Jesus. I look back down the hill and relive each and every step with him. Coming up and up the path we just trod together, Jesus and I, I see the thick drag-mark of the upright of the cross which has furrowed the dirty of the trail so deeply. His side, the right side of that furrow, is a way marked thick with blood. My side, the left side of that furrow, is clean and spotless…
Brother Simon, look ahead! Look at the town of Antioch! This town is filled with men, women and children who know nothing of the Kingdom of Heaven; who are lost as we once ourselves were; and who hunger and thirst for the taste of life – the taste of that blood – the taste of Jesus of Nazareth! Shall we not go and set them free with the Way you once trod with Him? What have we to fear when you’ve seen him dead and then risen again!
All you, fellow Wayfarers, listen unto me! Where’er and from whence you hail, I renounce all ties to the age-old past! I will descend to this city and preach to Jew and Greek alike!
Who follows? Who walks the way I walk?
I know the One who leads it!
"Your pride in your church is lamentably out of place. Don’t you know how a little yeast can permeate the whole lump? Clear out every bit of the old yeast that you may be new unleavened bread! We Christians have had a Passover lamb sacrificed for us—none other than Christ himself! So let us 'keep the feast' with no trace of the yeast of the old life, nor the yeast of vice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of unadulterated truth!" 1 Corinthians 5:6-8
So, literally and figuratively, Jesus brings to the table, to the "feast," Himself: the perfect Passover Lamb. And what does Paul say that we're invited to bring? The unleavened bread. That combination of salt, water and flour.
The "salt" that is the Good News, the Gospel, the Reality of who Jesus was and is, and all that's He's done and is doing.
The "water" that is His Holy Spirit, the Spring of Life that wells up within us, the inward experience of His very life.
And the "flour," our personal personalities, refined and made ready for His purposes: consecrated for new, beautiful things.
Friends, there is NO NEED for the "yeast of the old life," here: we are a New Ingredient of a New Life in a New Covenant.
All things have been made New on this Monday!
"Christ wants us to show Him to the world. Our argument is not our logic and theology, but our Lord Himself: ‘you will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8). This is all He needs, that we shall tell about Him and make Him real to men. This also is the solution of all the sinner’s difficulties. You cannot save him by preaching theology to him, but show him Christ, his crucified, living, welcoming Savior, and all his doubts will flee. This is the solution to all questions about sanctification. We may seek for blessings and experiences, for states and conditions and find that we have to go over it all again and again; but let us only see Jesus ‘who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30) and we are satisfied, and go forth with the joyful cry, ‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ (Phil. 4:13). This is the solution to all questions about healing. It is not enough to know the theory and doctrine; we must behold the life and receive it from Him."
A.B. Simpson, The Christ of the Forty Days
“...we must not get the impression that the Christian life is one continuous conflict, one unbroken irritating struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. A thousand times no. The heart that learns to die with Christ soon knows the blessed experience of rising with Him, and all the world’s persecutions cannot still the high note of holy joy that springs up in the soul that has become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.”
A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men