Monthly Archives: April 2009

Gospel exhaustion

So you’ve heard it all before. Celebrated a bunch of Good Fridays and Easter Sundays. Sang The Wonderful Cross a million times. Maybe even read all 4 gospels 100 times over, and the rest of the New Testament 50 times over. Surely it’s time to move on to more ‘spiritually mature’ topics. Let’s try to understand Jewish culture so we can understand the OT a little more. Let’s try to figure out what current events are referred to in Revelation. Let’s talk about doctrines of the Trinity and election and spiritual gifts and the will of God. Surely the gospel is only for evangelism or worth repeating for new believers.

This sort of thinking permeates the church today. I’m no exemption. I’ve experienced before what might be called ‘gospel exhaustion’ and in truth, often still do. If you wonder whether you suffer the same thing, ask yourself several of the following questions. Do you see the gospel as the central theme of the whole Bible? Do you get all excited when your pastor preaches the gospel as if you’re hearing it all over again for the first time? Is the gospel central to all your prayers? Do you think that the gospel is essential to both the mature Christian and the unbeliever? Do you see the whole of the Christian life as one shaped by the gospel? Does your heart warm and your mind race when you read the gospel? Are you saddened by believers who get so caught up in the so called ‘deeper doctrines’ of the Christian faith that they see the gospel as inconsequential? Does the gospel inform the way you live life and relate with other people? Do you find it difficult to keep from proclaiming the gospel to friends? 

If you answer no to any of them, and these questions are certainly not exhaustive, then I would diagnose you as suffering from gospel exhaustion.

Let me get something clear from the outset. By gospel I mean the good news that Jesus, the Son of God, died for us so that we might live, was raised to life as proof of this, ascended to the Father’s right hand in heaven, and will come again to bring judgment against the wicked and restoration for his people.

Most of the time we see the gospel as the doorway into the kingdom of God. We see it as the gate of salvation and nothing more. What I wish to do over the next few posts is to show that the gospel is not only the gate of salvation, but the road of salvation and the song of the saved. We must dispel this gospel exhaustion that intrudes into the heart of every Christian, learn to see life through the lens of the gospel and see it as the eternal source of our joy. 

We must learn to say from the depths of our soul the words of John Newton:

“I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Saviour!”

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The vantage point of redemptive history

It’s a funny thing to have your birthday on Easter Sunday. Birthdays are a celebration of yet another year of life. Easter Sunday is a celebration of the giver of life being raised to life from the dead, and in so doing gives life to all who believe in him. It’s all too easy to miss the connection. The reason we can celebrate yet another year of life on earth is because the Son of God has been raised to life.

We do not live like people who dread the end of life. We do not live like people who ignore the reality of death. We do not live like people toiling to leave a mark on the world. We live like people who know that Christ is risen, death is defeated, and all that is wrong with the world will be made right. Because Christ has been raised, we too shall be raised. Because Christ has defeated death, we too are conquerors over death.

As a result, there is radical orientation of the way we ought to live. We do not fear death, because death cannot separate us from the true life we have, that is life in God through Christ.  We do not ignore death, but acknowledge the grief it brings and take it as a reminder that our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come. We do not toil in vain, but work heartily for the Lord, knowing that our reward is the inheritance we shall receive in heaven as sons of God, co-heirs of Christ.

And we celebrate birthdays, rejoicing over the life we have on this earth, but always setting our sights on the life that is to come. A life more rich and joyous, so much so that each present moment surpasses the glory of the past moments. The days of death and sorrow will be forgotten, as we are caught up in the neverending celebration of life. This is no ordinary life, but life in the Son, purchased by his blood. This is why the central song of the celebration of life is of the lamb who was slain. Easter is the vantage point of redemptive history, from which we can look upon a blood-stained cross and an empty tomb, and thus look forward to this glorious life that is to come, which we now see in the resurrected Christ, and which will soon be ours.

Suspended intimacy

John 8:29
And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.

Just how forsaken was Jesus?
In my previous post I wrote on how Jesus was forsaken by the Father in his last hours. I came across the verse above in my Bible reading today, and it struck me rather forcefully how truly forsaken Jesus was such that at the cross he would cry “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

He who sent me is with me. The Father was with Jesus throughout his ministry. He has not left me alone. The incarnation did not diminish the intimacy between Father and Son. More so, it increased it, for the incarnation pleased the Father. Jesus’ life on earth, as the second Adam, pleased the Father.

But note the connection. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.

The Father was with the Son because everything the Son did, the Father was pleased with. Everything we do, the Father is not pleased with, because as sinners, we do not honour him as God or give thanks to him. 

At the cross, the Son pleased the Father, possibly more than he had at anytime, if it is ever possible to compare infinite pleasure with greater infinite pleasure, in an ultimate demonstration of obedience, by laying down his life according to the Father’s will. But in this crowning moment of obedience, his Father left him completely alone. He had to. The Father had to pour out his wrath on the sin of the world, which was laid on his Son. The Son pleased the Father, yet experienced the complete opposite. Just how forsaken was Jesus? To the extent that the foundation of the intimacy between Father and Son had to be suspended for those final hours. 

This is the price he had to pay on behalf of all our sin. In order that we might please the Father, the Son was forsaken in our place. So we can now say, “The Father has not left me alone, for the Son always do the things that are pleasing to the Father.” 

I say suspended, because the Son now sits enthroned at the Father’s right hand, in all the glory and splendour he had before the foundation of the world. The Father did not leave him alone forever, for he was pleased with him, and raised him from the dead and exalted him to the highest place. To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!

Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

Matthew 3:16-17
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Matthew 17:5-6
He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.    

The Intimacy between Father and Son
From eternity past to eternity future, the Father’s love for the Son, Jesus Christ, is uniquely intimate. The Son is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18). The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he is doing (John 5:20). He is pleased to honour his Son above all else. He commands the disciples to listen to his Son. We must try to comprehend what we can of the intimacy between the Son and the Father. Only then can we begin to grasp the depth of the love of the Father and Son for sinners like us.

The Sorrowful Son
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38)

Jesus began to be sorrowful and troubled. There is a level of sorrow at Gethsemane that surpasses anything Jesus had felt. He was sorrowful, even to death. Luke’s account states that Jesus prayed till his sweat became tinged with blood. We must labour to comprehend how troubled the soul of the Son of God was.

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (v.39-44)

Jesus was troubled by the cup placed in front of him. He prayed thrice that the Father would remove the cup. The thought of having to drink it troubled him greatly. We must ask, what is the cup Jesus refers to?

This is none other than the cup of the Father’s wrath. The Son of God must drink it all. For God to be just and the justifier of those who believe, His wrath must be spent. It is difficult to begin to fathom the offense of our sin to a holy God. The most precious Being in all of creation, who Himself is uncreated and the Creator of all that exists, has been wronged. He has been dishonoured, ignored, even vilified, by his creation. His anger burns hotter than all the stars in the universe. It must be spent. The Son of God willingly drank it all up. 

The Forsaken Son
I wish to quote an excerpt from Mahaney’s book, Living the Cross-Centered Life. It captures the essence of the depth of the love of God for sinners like us in a way I can’t.

Jesus entered the garden ‘to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found Hell rather than Heaven open before him.’ Knowing the hour for His death is fast approaching, Jesus has come here in need as never before of His Father’s comfort and strength. instead, hell – utter separation from God – is thrust in His face.

We hear Him cry out: Father – is there an alternative? Is there any way to avoid this? If there’s a way this cup could pass from Me, would you please provide that to Me?

Silence. We can see it in His face – Jesus receives no answer to this desperate entreaty.

A second time He pleads for an alternative to that horror of abandonment by His Father. If such an alternative existed, the Father would most surely provide it. But the obedient Son’s plea to His loving Father is met with silence. Why?

Listen to this verse again for the very first time: For God so loved the world…that He is silent to His Son’s agonising appeal.

This is what bearing our sin means to Him – utter distress of soul as He confronts total abandonment and absolute wrath from His father on the cross, a distress and an abandonment and a rejection we cannot begin to grasp.

In this, our Saviour’s darkest hour…do you recognise His love for you?

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is,“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)

In the forsaken cries of the Son, there is infinite mystery. The infinitely intimate and inseparable bond of love between Father and Son, is seemingly broken. The cry ought to chill us to our very bones. For at this hour, the wrath of God towards sinners is poured upon the Son He loves and delights in over everything and everyone else. In this moment, the Father says to us, “I loved you so much that I offered up my only Son as a lamb for you.” In this moment, as the Son cries out for the Father’s comforting presence and only finds His wrath, he looks at us and says, “I drain this cup for you – for you who have lived in defiance of me, who have hated Me, who have opposed Me. I drink it all…for you.” (Mahaney)

What then should we say to all this?
If we gaze upon the cross of Jesus and can’t help but see his love for sinners, we cannot help but say three things. As we see the sorrowful Son facing up to the price he must pay for the sins of the world, it compels us to repentance, to turn away from our old sinful way of life. As we see the Son of God forsaken in our place, we see a King worthy of our allegiance and are drawn to  follow him. And as we see the Son of God on the cross looking down at us and saying, “I drink it all for you,” our hearts dissolve in thankfulness and our eyes melt with tears as we cry “Hallelujah, what a Saviour!”

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!