Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First Things First

It's really neat when God shows me something new, something I never saw before or never realized the depth He's just revealed of something I already knew. At such times, I can tend to go on a "high" and talk of little else, and then start opening my mind to new possibilities. 

That's all well and good, but there is a danger. 

Put another way, there's a lot about the church that is used bath water. It's served its purpose in the past, perhaps gotten rid of some sludge that hung on from years gone by or previous eras. 

But in throwing it out, I need to take care and be sure not to throw out the Baby too. 

The Gospel is the Good News because and only because we are absolutely incapable of getting to Heaven on our own. If it were up to us, we would all - repeat ALL - go to The Other Place. God is holy, perfect and just, and the Bible tells us many times that nothing and no one sinful can be in His presence. In one place, it even says that God is angry with the wicked every day. Make no mistake, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The wrath of God is ... unspeakably white-hot and will one day destroy the world. If there is no room in your or my theology for that, then we have forgotten just how hopeless was our case before Jesus came.

The whole reason why Jesus came and died was to be our wrath-taker. That's what the word "propitiation" means! (See 1 John 2:2 - "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, but not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.") 

The substitutionary death of Jesus for us is all throughout the Bible - Old and New Testaments. It's been there ever since before Genesis 3:15. (Don't believe me? God said to Adam in Genesis 2:17, "In the day you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die.") It also is alluded to in Revelation 21:5 when there is a new heaven and a new earth without the stain of sin. 

There's a verse we kind of gloss over when we read the Old Testament prophecy about Jesus the suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). It's verse 10: "Yet, it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand." Basically this is saying that it was God's will to sacrifice Jesus, to pour out all His wrath on the only One whose soul would survive it. It talks about the purpose for all of that - the offering for sin was on our behalf because it made us part of His family again, "His seed."

It's the only way Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection makes sense. If not for us, if not for our total depravity and our total inability to meet His standard of perfection (which we lost in the Garden) then why did Jesus have to die? Again, check out Hebrews 12:2 ... "...looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising [its] shame, and who is now seated at the right hand [the place of favour] of God." 

Jesus didn't die for some esoteric principle. He died for PEOPLE. He died so that PEOPLE would have an opportunity to say YES to God through Him, to enter a family relationship. THIS was "the joy that was set before Him." 

Yes, God is loving, passionately so! Yes, His grace abounds to us - saving us to the uttermost! (Heb. 7:25) What glorious truths! 

But let us remember that this love and grace was only able to be released toward us through the death of Jesus for us. It was the only way, God's plan from the beginning. You want verses? There are many. Here is a sampling: "In Him we have redemption [we are bought back] through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us..." (Eph. 1:7,8) "But God commended (demonstrated) His love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) "For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God..." (1 Pet. 3:18). "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Cor. 2:7-9)

Photo "Lightning" courtesy of
Suvro Datta at
I included the last passage because it speaks of the fact that had the demonic forces and the rulers they controlled known what God's plan was, they would not have put the wheels in motion to get rid of Jesus. The last thing that they wanted was for their stronghold over mankind to be broken! 

So yes, the bathwater of the rituals and religious mindsets that have pervaded the church need to be washed away. But the Baby - !  

Let's never forget to keep the Main Thing the main thing. Jesus and His sacrificial death for us on the cross is the hingepin of the Gospel message. And it was necessary - SO necessary for us! Without it we would be lost, lost, LOST for all eternity! 

Can we grasp the horror of that? Can we understand even a fraction of what Gehenna is? Can we not remember how hopeless life without Jesus was? How futile? Can we begin to comprehend how deep the pit from which we were dug? the greatness of His wonderful grace that would do whatever it took to save us? even if it meant His own life? Can we realize the reality of what Jesus meant when He said, "You shall know the Truth [I am the way, the truth, and the life...] and the Truth shall make [not set, but completely create] you free.."?

Oh dear Church, "Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!" (Ps. 95:6). Let us put First things first, and respond in joy and gratitude to the One who made this great, ultimate sacrifice to redeem us.

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