The chapter for Monday Merton this week is very apropos. We just started a blogger’s collective called the despised ones, based on 1 Corinthians 1:28, “He has chosen the despised ones and those who are not to bring to nothing the things that are.” So here is what Thomas Merton has to say in “The Word of the Cross,” chapter 5 of his No Man Is An Island.
Since my wife is addicted to Scandal, I watched it with her last night while I was reading the last few chapters of my friend Jonathan Martin’s newly released book Prototype, in which he argues that Jesus is the prototype of authentic humanity. The juxtaposition of Jonathan’s beautiful words on the page and the profound human brokenness on the screen was overwhelming. Throughout the Scandal episode, a character named Huck who has been severely traumatized by incredible wickedness is in a trance uttering the number 752 over and over again. Wrapped up in the mystery of that number is the basic pathos of the human condition that I believe the Christian gospel addresses, especially in the way that my brother Jonathan presents it in his book. Continue reading
A basic principle of Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. What exactly this statement means has increasingly come under debate in our time. For most of the modern period, Protestantism has almost exclusively understood Jesus’ death on the cross as a punishment that pays a debt, or “penal substitution.” Added to this has been the assumption that the primary problem resolved by the cross is God’s anger about our sin. These are two separate issues. I believe that penal substitution has Biblical support, but it has been drastically over-weighted; I do not believe that a view of the cross as an appeasement of God’s anger is Biblically faithful. One way of exploring this phenomenon (imperfectly) is to look at all the references to Jesus’ blood in the New Testament to see what the Bible says that the blood actually does.
This spring has been a difficult one for me as a gardener. My peppers have been wiped out multiple times, but their demise has provided me with helpful metaphors to think about the Christian gospel, particularly in relation to the account of 1 John 1:5-10, which provides an excellent summary of God’s nature, human nature, and how we are reconciled with God and each other:
God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. Continue reading
There’s an elephant in the room when we talk about the cross. The cross is indeed solidarity with the crucified, the victory of God’s truth over Caesar’s power, the introduction of nonviolence into the world, a means of reconciling enemies, and a pouring out of sacred life blood that removes the curse of sin from the Earth. Jesus’ crucifixion also pays a price that needs to be paid for my sin. For many Christians, this sixth blessing of the cross is the only blessing it offers; ugly misrepresentations of this blessing have polluted our discourse, causing many other Christians to reject this dimension of the cross altogether. Regardless of that, we need to be justified by the punishment Jesus suffers on our behalf because only people who know that they are unjustifiable and entirely dependent on the mercy of God can enter the kingdom. Otherwise, we are a danger to the communion of all who live in the vulnerable safety of God’s mercy.
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Many Christians today misunderstand the ancient Israelite practice of sacrifice. The ancient Israelites did not think they were “punishing” the sacrificial animals for their community’s sins, nor did they think that they were placating a capricious God as the pagan religions around them understood sacrifice. The purpose of sacrifice was to purify the community of sin with the life in the blood of the animal (Leviticus 17:11). The reason Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice is because He is the source of all life as the Word of God. Thus His blood is the purest life there is, having the power to remove the curse of sin from our world.
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This weekend’s sermon talks about how Jesus’ cross turns ugliness into beauty by reconciling enemies (Ephesians 2:13-16, Romans 5:8-10). We become enemies because we fear, we blame, and we project things that happened to us onto other people. Jesus takes on our fears and blame and projections on His cross. When we realize that we have acted as Jesus’ enemies whom He has forgiven for not knowing what we were doing, then we can forgive those who have mistreated us without knowing what they were doing. Whether or not our enemies are reconciled to us, we can be reconciled to them through the cross.
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The third blessing of the cross is its witness of nonviolence which has provided the basis for an entirely different way of living and pursuing political causes. Nonviolence is not acquiescence, politeness, or passive aggression. It confronts violence; it tests the authenticity of love; it depends upon the truth; and it seeks communion. Here are my sermon slides and audio. If you would like to receive the audio in a form that you can listen to when you go to the gym or commute to work, subscribe to my podcast.
This Sunday, I preached on how Jesus’ call to take up our crosses is not an endorsement of a life of stress and overscheduling but rather a call to join the procession of condemned prisoners out of worldly expectations and into freedom. If we are “crucified to the world” as Paul says in Galatians, then we can be fully human like the son of man who leads us. If you want to know what this has to do with a rave and a banjo, you’ll have to listen to the sermon.
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For the second sermon in our LifeSign series “Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross,” we talked about how Jesus’ cross represents a battle between truth and power. Jesus not only pays the price for the guilty; He also vindicates the truth of those who have been treated unjustly. Jesus’ story has not been passed down to us as the story of a renegade messianic troublemaker who was executed before things could get out of hand. Even though Jesus availed Himself of no earthly power, the fact that we heard the real story of His innocent martyrdom means that truth won over power on His cross, which should give us hope that the truth will ultimately win in our lives as well.
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