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Evangelist, Baptist, Husband, Father, Mid-30's.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Offense of the Cross

Introduction

I am an offensive preacher, I make people mad, I enjoy it when they get mad because it shows they are listening. When I preach, I hope that it is not me personally giving the offense, but the message which I am preaching. One of my heroes in the faith is George Whitefield, he said it best with, “It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.”

The message contained in the Bible is one of violence to souls, it resulted in Christ crucified, the Apostle Paul headless, Stephen stoned, John exiled, Polycarp burned, and a million other such stories. Literally, I am not exaggerating, read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or head over to the Voice of the Martyrs and read some modern stories.

What makes this message so offensive? What makes it so painful to consciences that they would happily partake in murder than let it continue to be preached? I have compiled seven major reasons, this list may or may not be exhaustive, but this is why I believe it is so offensive. It is certainly offensive, for because of this message Christ says, “the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. And you shall be hated of all men for my name's sake…” (Mark 13:12-13)

It makes you think

Probably the leastmost reason the message of the cross is offensive is because it requires thought. It has been said that ignorance is bliss, which is exacerbated in the fact that we’ve insulated ourselves in idolatrous belief. Our culture in America is caught up in false-busyness, extra-loud music, and every manner of distraction, including education, to keep us from thinking. Just by mentioning that there are other beliefs than theirs, the message exposes that someone is wrong. That someone may be them.

It is a true saying that if you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you.

I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you – Luke 12:19

You are a sinner

One of the greatest offenses delivered by the cross is that it says all of mankind has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Proverbs 20:6 says that every person will proclaim their own amazingness, their own gracefulness, their own goodness; but it goes on to ask, “Where can such a person be found?”

The exceedingly heinous execution method of the crucifixion points to a fact that something is not right in the world, both that temporal punishment is necessary for certain men, and also that men would be so cruel as to punish someone in such a long, painful, and drawn out way. The cross says that the world is broken. Christ dying on the cross was paying for sins not his own, but which every person on earth had contributed to. If you had no sin which needed to be paid for, then Christ would not need to pay for those sins.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4-5

Judgment is coming

The cross demonstrates that God is a God of justice, he will by no means clear the guilty. Will not the God of all the earth do right?

The world hopes not, they don’t think a loving God would punish anyone, not realizing that true love hates evil (Romans 12:9). They presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that his kindness is meant to lead them to repentance (Romans 2:4). They look at made-up history and claim that the world has existed for eons without so much as a hick-up and they think that their god of nature will not judge their souls (2 Peter 3:3-7).

But the cross shows that God’s patience will not last forever, that he is a God of righteousness, that he is a God of justice, that sins done in darkness will be brought to the light, and that in his consuming justice no man can stand.

No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. – Hebrews 4:13

You cannot save yourself

Christ hung on a cross is a substitute for all of his saints; past, present, and future. No saint could pay for his own sins, no saint could remotely appease the wrath of an infinite and offended God, no saint could merit enough favor to pay for even a single one of their sins. The wages of sin is death, and that which the sinner has earned is waiting to be paid out.

The fact that a substitute was necessary points to the fact that salvation is available no other way, otherwise that substitute would have died in vain (Galatians 2:21). Psalm 62 puts it more terrifyingly than any other passage, that on the scales of justice the merits of all are of no avail in balancing sin, but rather make the scales go in the opposite direction, “in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.” (Psalm 62:9)

Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. – Psalm 49:7-9

You need a Saviour

The cross tells us both that we are incapable of saving ourselves, and also that someone is able to save us. The pride of life greatly despises any idea of needing an external help, and so the offense of the cross states that a person must humble themselves to accept help from an external source. Not only are they offended at this, but they are offended moreso because of who they must receive help from.

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:12-13

The Saviour must be God

The reason that Hell exists is because an eternal punishment is required to pay for a transgression against an infinite God. We remember that one sinner cannot pay for another sinner, nor can payment be made to alleviate this suffering, since the price is far too high for any creature to pay. What is necessary is someone of immense and immeasurable worth to pay this debt, and truly no creature exists anywhere who can pay for even a single sin.

To this effect the very King and Creator stepped out of Heaven to become the payment for sin. The God of the universe, infinite in value, abounding in grace, overflowing in goodness, put on flesh, lived a perfect life, and willingly gave up his life to go to the most heinous of execution devices, the cross.

If Christ is not God the Son, then our sins were not paid for, and we are still in our sins. However, because he was vindicated by the Holy Spirit when he was raised from the dead, we see that Christ is precisely who he says he is, that our debt was canceled on the cross, and that our sins are put away and we are washed clean by the washing of water of the word and the blood of our substitute. Any other payment would not have been sufficient, it required an infinite payment to pay our infinite sin-debt.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

Given the option to crucify Christ you would

Some are able to assent to the previous six points, stating that they are indeed sinners, that they do need a saviour, that their sins have made a separation between them and God, that there is a judgment to come, and that Christ the God-man died in their place and lived again, yet in all of this they hold to some innate goodness in themselves and believe they are able to choose God themselves. This sin is usually exposed when they say something to the effect of, “How could they miss that this was the Christ?” or “I wouldn’t have crucified Christ,” or “I would have stood up for him,” or “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets” (Matthew 23:30).

Christ calls these hypocrites for speaking this way (Matthew 23:29), elsewhere it is said that his saints love him because he loved us first (1 John 4:19). This can only mean that we first felt great enmity towards him, an outright hatred of God. Had we recognized Christ as Messiah, and knowing that he needed to die, we would not have sought the most painless and quick propitiation. Rather, in our anger towards God we would have crucified Christ as quickly and as wickedly as did those whom God chose to do so. Shai Linne said it well when he sang, “You miss the point, if you don’t see your face in the crowd.”

Truly, the only way the Bible says we wouldn’t have crucified Christ is if we had realized that God was going to use that crucifixion for such amazing purposes (1 Corinthians 2:7-8). The only reason we would not have crucified Christ was to prevent God from using such evil for good; but in keeping that from the eyes of those who did crucify Christ, he has brought it about that many are saved, that the most evil thing in history was used for infinite good, that the death of the Son of God is looked upon by so many and they are glad for it (Psalm 69:32).

You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. – Psalm 69:26

Conclusion

The cross is offensive, it does infinite damage to our pride, perceived goodness, and soul. It declares that God is God and that we are not. It says that God is love and that his love requires retribution for sin. It says that we would murder God if given the option. It says that we are not able to save ourselves no matter how hard we try. It says that we are great sinners in need of a great Saviour. It says that Christ is infinitely more valuable than we ourselves.

Beloved, I hope that this makes you think. I hope that you do not leave this blog without becoming angry, either with me and the message that is here presented, or with yourself for the pride which has accomplished such wicked things in your heart. I pray that if you have not already, that you would humble yourself at the foot of this blood stained cross, admit to God that everything he has said about your deplorable state is true, and beg for the righteousness of the Son who willingly laid down his life for your soul, and who took that life back up again three days later and is ready to intercede for you in Heaven.

The word of the cross is foolishness to those to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lyrical Bible Teachers

I have been noticing a trend within youth groups which perplexes me at best, concerns me at worst, and all around saddens me. Before I go farther let me say that this post is not directed at any one student, but is a wide reaching problem spanning more than one church and youth group.

The trend which is forming is a student populous who knows Bible concepts without knowing they are derived from the Bible. For example, recently I quoted 1 Thessalonians 5:5, calling Christians “children of the light.” I did not give the scripture reference nor make mention that the concept was scripture derived, and one student, a godly young man, was excited because he thought I was quoting Lecrae. Likewise a while ago a student quoted Chris Tomlin on their facebook, “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us. And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?” The comment that went along with the lyrics lauded Tomlin’s lyrics and the impact they had on the student. I couldn’t help but respond with the fact that the lyrics certainly were impactful, but that I was impacted the most when the Holy Spirit spoke them through Paul in Romans 8:31. The student was unaware of the scriptural basis of the song.

And before I judge without first judging myself, look at Psalm 73:25-26, I have this passage memorized…sort of…because the version I have memorized is the version by Shai Linne when he says, “Whom have I in Heaven but you? The earth has none I desire but you. My flesh and my heart may fail, however, the Lord is my portion forever.” Beautiful, right? But it’s not an exact quote of the Psalm and leaves out and changes several things. It gets the point across perfectly, but someone could very easily miss the fact that this concept is not unique to Shai Linne, but is derived from the scriptures.

And this is not limited to godly concepts, for example, Tomlin has one of the worst songs in Christendom with “God of this City” which is a quote of 2 Corinthians 4:4 and is a title of the Devil, and the song mingles more than one demonic concept with the True and Living God. But a biblical illiteracy combined with a popular culture medium leads to students and adults who swallow every bit of teaching in these songs.

And this leads me to a scriptural admonition, which I don’t believe any artists have put into song, because doing so would confront them with one of the most terrifying verses in scripture (which I’ll post in a moment). Let me quote a different passage first, this from the New International Version of the Bible, which here is not a perfect translation, but does catch something which most translations miss,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit…
- Colossians 3:16

Teach through songs; the KJV says it similarly that the church should be teaching in songs. If our song writers and singers are teachers, then this leads to that oh-so-terrifying verse,

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
– James 3:1

This passage goes on to say that the teacher leads the whole direction of the body of the church, like a tongue in a mouth or a rudder on a ship. I have long been telling students that when they open their mouth and speak anything pertaining to God, they become a prophet, not in the futurist sense, but in the “Thus saith the Lord...” sense; the words which proceed will determine whether we are true or false prophets. The Israelites in the Babylonian exile went so far as praying that their tongues would fail them in their mouths if they spoke apart from God’s kingdom (Psalm 137:6).

To rein this thought back to my original point, isn’t it amazing that these teachers are presenting deep scriptural truths to students in memorable ways? Indeed it is, every student who went to Summer Camp this year knows, through the teaching of Chris Tomlin and Christy Nockels, that "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Corinthians 3:17). But I have this great fear that these teachers are failing their students in a major point: they are failing to point them at the Word of God. These neat scriptural truths apart from knowing they are scripture are breeding a generation of students who look for revelation about God apart from the scriptures. This is exacerbated by a growing Gnostic trend in Christianity to hear from God apart from his Word.

Correcting these problems are more difficult than just pointing them out. Through a proliferation of bad songs on every manner of Christian radio, the next generation will be raised on scriptural snippets without knowing the greater context or even that there is a greater context. At the risk of offending many, it is to this effect that Todd Friel warns of the “Satan for the Whole Family” music which permeates the entire FM-dial. On any given station you can be privy to the perfect theology of Stuart Townsend one minute, and then be led into Sabellian heresy in Philips, Craig, and Dean the next, and then returned to gorgeous lyrics from the health-wealth-and-prosperity culture of Hillsong United.

It was to this effect that I installed iPod compatible MP3 players in our shuttles so that teachers have control of the teachers teaching their flock. But even this is not enough, and it has come more and more to my attention that music must be exegeted itself in order to ensure students know why the lyrics are good and what their source is.

For example, look at Lecrae’s “Children of the Light”, in there he gives one of the coolest summaries of scripture I’ve ever heard, he states, “I’m…qualified to light up a world of darkness.” Certainly an amazing truth of God’s people, but is it just because Lecrae says so that we know it, or does it come from somewhere else? Teachers should take a moment to examine favorite songs and then explain the truths behind them, or if necessary, to refute them. In Lecrae’s case we see that we are children of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5), we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), we are called to “Awake o sleeper! And arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14), and there is a definite call to the Christian to bring that light throughout the world where the darkness will flee (Isaiah 60:1-3, John 1:5, John 3:19-20).

All of this to say, we must spend more time teaching the Bible, in context, and not just snippets of theology in song. Our teaching should be done, in part but not in whole, in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, ensuring that the audience is pointed towards the absolute truth of God’s Word, and the Christ revealed in those words. Aberrant theology in song will be judged with great strictness, and many musicians ought to flee from the teaching position which they are utterly unqualified to hold. Pastors and teachers must be sure that music is edifying and understandable, and that students are not merely following a trend or theology because it is on Christian radio.