The Christian religion places a huge emphasis on blood. Specifically, this faith is centered on the blood of One Man (and his sacrificial death) and the temple rituals found in the Old Testament point to this Man.
What happened on the cross has remarkable implications for us today. As Ted Olson wrote in an older piece in Christianity Today, Jesus’ blood “justifies, redeems, reconcile, sanctifies, justifies, cleans, frees, ransoms, brings peace, and unites us.” The New Testament writers connect so many pieces of Christ’s salvific work with his blood.
For those in Christ, we have joy beyond all measure because what Jesus has done.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
I posted the following prayer in a previous post, and wanted to comment on one portion of the passage.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner…
It seems as if I am standing on one side of a huge canyon and see how I should grow toward you, live in your presence and serve you, but cannot reach the other side of the canyon where you are. I can speak and write, preach, and argue about the beauty and goodness of the life I see on the other side, but how, O Lord, can I get there? Sometime I even have the painful feeling that the clearer the vision, the more aware I am of the depth of the canyon…
I can only keep trying to be faithful, even though I feel faithless most of the time. What else can I do but keep praying to you, even when I feel numb; to keep speaking in your name, even when I feel alone. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.
– A Cry for Mercy by Henri Nouwen
Did you catch what Nouwen wrote in the last quoted paragraph? He wrote that he tried to be faithful despite his inclinations of faithlessness.
Have you ever tried to be faithful?
Perhaps you tried to be patient, or kind, or gentle, or pure, or selfless? To be blunt how’d that work out?
I don’t know about you, but I fail. I fail way more than I would like! Even in those times I do succeed, I step away from the situation utterly exhausted. Thanks to the work in books like Willpower, we now know that humans have a limited amount of willpower that becomes depleted throughout the day. While Baumeister and Tierney offer helpful suggestions on the subject of willpower in everyday life, when it comes to the willpower of faith Nouwen is discussing, I am afraid it just cannot be implemented in the same capacity.
When I try faithfulness, I end up with moments of great success and failures. However, the God revealed in the Bible does not measure our lives on an average or curve. He measures it compared to his holiness, and we come up woefully short.
Fortunately, the great message of Jesus the Messiah, is that God himself reconciles the world through Jesus. We are saved through his faithfulness and are justified through his salvific work (see II Timothy 2:13 and II Corinthians 5:19).
Reader, don’t be burnt out through your own strength. Instead, trust in Jesus and his faithfulness. Everything else will be added to you through his Spirit who lives and dwells in you.
There was a Buzzfeed video circulating around last week featuring millennial Christians explaining what makes a Christian. While a lot has been said over the feature, the thing that most struck me was the complete lack of explicit Christian theology. There was no mention of the crucified Christ, the hope in the resurrection, about justification by faith, and our sanctification through the Holy Spirit. No Trinity, grace, repentance, prayer, or historicity of the faith.
What was there? Love.
There was a lot of love talk; however, it was not a costly love. It was cheap grace, to borrow from Bonhoeffer.
What I mean by cheap grace is that it doesn’t cost us anything. It’s an invitation to tolerance, but not to self-sacrificing love as demonstrated by the Messiah. It’s not an invitation for others onto the path of following Jesus, which means we have to put our own self-loving idols in the trash heap. Is it an invitation to perfection? Absolutely not! Christians will screw up time and time again, but we follow the one who did not screw up (to quote from the Greek…) and who restores our broken relationships with God and others.
Jesus calls us to follow him and to carry our cross. He calls us to discipleship, which is incredibly difficult! He calls us to deny our desires at times and to come to terms that some of our desires will be unfulfilled this side of the grave.
But you know what Jesus promises? It will be worth it.
It will be worth it, for he calls us to go into battle—even if the battle will be a long struggle. Paul had a thorn in the flesh that bothered him throughout his ministry and Jesus had an unfulfilled desire to not be crucified. We too might have a thorn in our side that will never go away.
The message of the Buzzfeed video was it is necessary to be loved and accepted, instead of it being necessary to follow Jesus in countercultural ways. Be kind to others, of course! But be rooted in the particular call of the gospel and the call to a discipleship that is shaped by the cross.
I am a Christian who does not have it all together, who is flawed, and does not have all the answers. But I have hope because of the faithfulness of Jesus. Let’s journey together, looking to the founder and perfecter of our faith.
The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you.
The gospel of Jesus the Messiah is what he has done for humanity. The gospel is not what we should try to do or what we ought to do. That, my dear reader, is simply not Christianity. It might be good morals and good law and good government, but it is not the good news of God.
As Luther would say, “at its briefest, the gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as a Lord over all things.”
I get asked sometimes about why I’m Reformed, and often it is a correction of the false narrative around it. In short, the heart of the Reformed understanding of Scripture is this: We are more sinful than we could ever imagine, and at the same time we are more loved than we could ever hope for (h/t Tim Keller). We are simultaneously justified in Jesus and a sinner. We are flawed, yet redeemed.
You are saved in Jesus, not in your works. So stop doing and trying, and receive Jesus as a gift.
One of the beautiful elements of Christian theology is that injustice and evil do not have a final word. Justice needs to be satisfied and something needs to be done about the genocides, the murders in major cities, and the young girl who died of cancer this morning. These things should not get the final word.
Richard John Neuhaus points out in his breathtakingly poignant devotional work Death on a Friday Afternoon that somebody has to be blamed for the pain and hurt in the world (theodicy). If somebody has to be blamed, then the finger of humanity is pointed directly at God (if there is a God).
God is guilty.
God is to be blamed.
“The word ‘theodicy’ means the judgment of God—not God judging us but our judging God. The philosophical problem of theodicy is that of trying to square God’s ways with our sense of justice. The assumes that we know what justice is, but the entire story the Bible tells begins with the error of the presumption. It is the original error of our wanting to name good and evil. Right from the start Adam tried to put God in the dock, making God responsible for the fall because, after all, God gave him the woman who tempted him to sin. From the beginning we see the argument building up to humanity’s cry, ‘God is guilty!’—building up to the derelict nailed to the cross.”
God accepted the verdict we passed on him. He accepted what had to be done about what we had done.
When we look at the bloody, mess of a man on the cross, we see how far God went for you and me—he abided by a sham of a trial and subsequently gets the final word about injustice.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.”
Jesus gets the final word. He gets the final word and ensures the final word is rooted in both justice and mercy. He said, “It is finished” on the cross and in his last words of the Bible (Revelation 22), he said, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Remember God delivers, when your back is up against the wall or when you are caught in between the violent sea and a malicious army. When you cannot see the way out.
Remember, God will deliver.
When you have rejected the ways of the Lord and have chosen to go off the pathway. When you collected your inheritance and went out on your own, only to find out what happens when you fall flat on your face.
Remember, God will welcome you home.
When you sin. When you consciously reject the wisdom of God and others. When you wander from the goodness of the Lord. When you realize the stupidity of your ways.
Remember, God will run and embrace you as soon as you head back (read: repent) to the house of the Lord.
How easy we are to forget and how hard it is to make that U-turn. As Jesus once said, repent for the kingdom of God is at hand and believe in the good news.
Might we walk in this unbelievable good news.
Since my first encounter with the Anglican stream of Christianity, I have absolutely fallen in love with the Book of Common Prayer. Within this formative text lies the Daily Office—daily Scripture readings for the follower of Jesus. With morning and nightly Psalms, there are also Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel readings for the immersion of the saint. It was only a few years ago, if I can be honest, that I fell in love with the Psalms and the rhythms found within the prayerbook for God’s people throughout the ages.
One of the past set of readings on Holy Saturday stressed the brokenness of humanity, particularly the brokenness of individuals. In the Psalm and the writings of Lamentations, I was confronted with the loneliness that the Son of God must have felt upon the cross. How separated he was from others, from the community he had with the Father and Holy Spirit from the very foundations of eternity.
Then I stumbled into this passage where the writer to the Hebrews penned,
11 Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.
12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
I’m terrified of the notion that everything is under the eyes of God. All of the good things, all of the bad, and everything in between are laid bare before the eyes of Creator of the cosmos.
While I’m aware of my own weaknesses and mistakes, while in the middle of my own rebellion of God, I am reminded of the high priest Hebrews 4 describes for us. This high priest, the one who created the universe so long ago, took on flesh and took on the sins of humanity.
Now we are able to approach God’s gracious throne without fear of being smitten (a certain Bruce Almighty quote comes to mind here) and without the need to constantly offer sacrifices. No, now we receive grace and a restored relationship with God through the sacrifice of this great high priest.
How do you respond to all of our lives being laid open before God?
Passion Week has begun.
In the Church, we move from a time of celebration, hailing the arrival of a Messiah, the one who will right the world and remove the evils that plague it. We move from Palm Sunday and shouts of joy to the moments of darkness on Good Friday.
Crucified naked on a hillside.
I cannot begin to fathom what that must have felt like. To be led through the streets in a victory parade a few short days before being led through the streets beaten, stripped, and exhausted. This Messiah was betrayed by a friend and nearly everyone he loved deserted him as he went through the kangaroo court and was ultimately disposed of in incredible cruelty.
If it is true, why would this man, who claimed to be equal to God, subject himself to brutality? And if the story is true, he was also forgotten by God.
If this didn’t happen, then this whole Christian thing is pleasant morality tales at its best and manipulative in its worst. Yet, if it’s true, then perhaps Jesus knows what it’s like to be misunderstood, lonely, betrayed, and forgotten. Maybe he can sympathize with our weaknesses and baggage. If he rose from the grave, as the initial generation of disciples claimed (to the point of their own deaths), then he might be able to do something about it.
But before we jump to the majesty of Easter, we wait in the dark week when the Son of God was marred beyond recognition.
For now, we wait in darkness.
One of the more awkward metaphors in Scripture for me to comprehend is the metaphor of marriage. Throughout the Bible (both the Old Testament and New Testament) we are given the illustration of God in a covenant/marriage with his people. Specifically in the New Testament, we are described as a bride adorned for Jesus. I don’t know about you, but as a man, that’s a bit of a stretch to get excited about!
However, Luther sees it differently. He sees it in the light that we are indeed united to Christ: what is ours is his, and his is ours. Much like my marriage with Kristen, we bring everything together into a union. But unlike my marriage, this union provides something better; all things are in common, both good and bad.
Think about that image for a moment—all that Christ has can be yours.
Sit with that for a moment.
He is full of grace, life, and salvation. He will take on all that we have in exchange for all these good things, he will take on all the sin, death, and condemnation that plagues us. Through this union, Christ provides us immeasurable benefits for his own good pleasure. He gives us his righteousness, though we don’t deserve it.
To close out this point, hear (or read) what Luther has to say when we take hold of the righteousness of Jesus by faith in him, since his life is more powerful than death:
“Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her form all her evils and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, ‘If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is his, and all his is mine,’ as it is written, ‘My beloved is mine, and I am his.’”
Martin Luther is arguably best known for his argument that the “just shall live by faith.” His creed sola fide captures this biblical principle and he raises it quite about in Concerning Christian Liberty.
For Luther, faith is an inward action: it is an action that is done within the person. Of course, they will outwardly confirm the inward reality through public confession (baptism, their life, and participation in Eucharist) and through a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit living within them (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “For with the heart, one believes and is justified, and the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Out of the new life rooted in the heart of the Christian, they then confirm the inward reality to others. While they ought to live differently, no outer works can ever replace what happened inwardly.
Let me put it another way. Psalm 1 describes the righteous person as a tree planted by streams of living water. This tree, out of a place of health and growth from the living water, will then produce fruit and shade for others. Out of the tree’s health it then demonstrates that health through outer means.
Luther argued that the only work we need as a Christian is to lay aside our works and trust in the work of God in Jesus. As John 6:27, 29 asserts
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’…Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
If you don’t catch anything though, catch this: everything is dependent on faith. If you have faith, then you have everything. If you don’t have it, then you have nothing. Putting faith in Christ will lead to life and to all the blessings God promises his people. They will find rest in seas of turmoil and peace in the darkest valleys, for one day Christ will put this world to rights and will wipe away every tear. As Tullian Tchividjian put it recently in a book: Jesus + Nothing = Everything.