September 25, 2011
Through Death to Life. Jesus lived it. Jesus taught it. Jesus insisted on it as your only hope of rescue from the powers that enslave you. “Whoever would save his life will lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it.”
Through death to life describes how we come to know God:
a) undergoing the experience completely reshapes how we understand righteousness
b) it redefines the concept of freedom
c) it entirely defines how we now use our bodies and understand our bodies.
When we speak of a “theology of the cross,” we speak of an abstraction. But those who are put to death and raised again as completely renewed creatures, these people speak in stories, telling of the experience. They are theologians of the cross. For these real Christians, the cross of Jesus is anything but abstract. It is real, compelling, terrifying, releasing. These people talk about coming to a complete dead end, coming to the end of your rope, with no imaginable option left—and precisely there—discovering that God needed to bring you to that spot so you could experience his power to save, and to learn from that, that God alone saves. (The Exodus: “Stand still and see the salvation of your God”)
Since our entire American existence– including our educational system, our politics, and our whole world of business– is devoted and committed to the denial of death, and uses that as the absolute foundational premise to start all thinking and understanding about reality, it should not surprise us that most American Christianity is likewise spent detouring around what Jesus says is not only the central, but the unavoidable starting point of our rescue from the enslaving powers.
As a lonely exception, AA understands Jesus’ clear words about rescue and how it happens, in its 12 step program. Step one: “We admitted that we were powerless” (death)
Step two: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us.” (to life) Many in AA try to fake step one. All they get is enhanced misery. Those in AA call these poor souls “dry drunks.”
The cross in the Bible can be seen first, as an intersection, where God meets man. But in Paul’s hymn from Philippians the career of the cross is a “u” shaped curve describes by 5 points:. 1) Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped 2) he was born in human likeness, became a servant 3) died on the cross 4) was exalted 5) every knee shall bow and confess that Jesus is Lord. The cross is thus both an intersection, and a curve which absolutely defines everything, not only for Jesus but for every Christian who would follow Jesus.
In the beginning God spoke and said, “Let us make man in our image.” And God created male and female. Then rescue of our humanity became necessary after we were enslaved by the prince of darkness. Again God spoke and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. That Word cut through the untruthfulness and sinfulness of our enslaved existence. Like a sword, it separates falsehood from truth, and darkness from light. But the penetrating Word had to be shocking, a devastating intervention, which made everything human questionable, because we are related to God by contradiction. The Word has to confronts and kill, so that it can also become a power which liberates us for the first time.
The coming of Jesus created revival, genuine renewal, deliverance from the powers, and brought about the birth and growth of real people, finally restored to image of God. This Pentecost is still going on today, when the Spirit, who indwells the Word melts our heart, refreshing its dryness. Even as we undergo the surgery of a Word sharper than any 2-edged sword, we know we are in the hands of the good physician, bringing us through death to life.
I want to take you through just three examples of how the cross kills and restores: first our knowledge, then our righteousness and finally our bodies.
First our knowledge. The highest philosophy of all history is still rooted the in the beginning point for non-Christians—Plato’s “Idea” and a whole world of “ideals”. Ideals inhabit an imaginary world behind that which we see and experience, except that ideals are the perfections of what is only imperfect in the actual world. The Idea and the ideals are things that men should strive to live up to. Notice that the Idea is an abstraction that can be thought about. But God is not an abstraction. Nor can he be arrived at or discovered via our thought, philosophy, or our very highest rational exercise. As Paul said in I Cor 1, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”. God is hidden, and so only through his revelation to us through Word and Spirit can anything be known about God. He condescends to us—not only to speak a word, or to act within our history, but finally to come to us, himself, as a person. That person, Jesus Christ, is the only way we can know God person to person.
So far so good. But not so fast. The Word, this Word, is not immediately intelligible to us, or recognizable to us as the Word of God. That is why Paul in II Corinthians says that the Jews when they read the whole OT do not understand it because a veil lies over their eyes. Our eyes and our minds need to be enlightened to perceive it as God’s word to us, and to understand it, and to receive from it, the power to believe and do it. But this happens only when the Holy Spirit teaches us about the cross of Jesus.
So what shall we do about all this? Precisely nothing. You can’t. The Word must even reveal to you your impotence. That you are not only blind and deaf, but that you’ re dead. Thank God, that the Word cannot be ineffective!! The Word can create sight, ears, and even raise the dead. So…you are not the pinnacle of God’s creation by virtue of you high IQ, but solely because, among God’s whole creation, He chose to address you by His Word. You hear this address. You are called into question by it. You cannot escape it. That is why you are essentially a conscience creature. That is why every religion on earth somehow deals with sacrifice, to deal with this conscience.
It is why only Christians, who hear that God is gracious through the one-time sacrifice of Jesus, His Son on the cross, can have a quiet conscience, a secure conscience. “Awake, you sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you life.!”
Second, consider our righteousness. For Christians, morality is more dangerous than all blasphemies. The parables of Jesus make this clear. Annoying to anyone concerned for respectability, order, or settled basic values, Jesus’ parables allow the prodigal son, the tax collector, the prostitute,–none of whom can exhibit anything but a lawless life, to be saved. Throughout the Bible, it is precisely the pious who are forever harshly attacked. God is God precisely when he reverses what is felt by us to be just and valid, devout, and necessary. The watchword of the Gospel is “Grace for sinners.” Long habit allows us to agree, but with a small improvement: “Grace also for sinners.” The improvement ruins everything. The God of Jesus does not let grace pass for justice in addition to those who really do not deserve it. Rather, his justice always and only reads, “Grace for those who do not deserve it.” You also, and precisely you, are dependent on grace. Before the Creator and Judge, no one can lay claim. All His creatures are poor and as such dependent on mercy. God justifies the godless, always on the godless.
Finally, consider your body, in light of the cross. You are not a free agent. You must serve somebody—if not God then the demons. To have a Lord always means to be obliged to serve bodily. Under damnation, your service is compelled by violence coercion terror and threat. Under Jesus our service is moved and motivated by the surprise that we are set free by sheer grace and unmerited love. So we seek to love Him back. God, like the demons, wants our body, because he will have us totally. This is the conflict that agitates all of world history. To whom do our bodies belong, both now and in eternity?
Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus…is about how to live bodily in Christ.