Unless we are utter barbarians, our manners vary greatly, adjusting appropriately to our circumstances. We tend to be quite casual among our peers in informal settings, while in the presence of our superiors, our conduct becomes more formal, more serious. Frivolity is set aside. Our focus is sharpened, and our attention is given to duty. So it should be with our approach to God, and the manner in which we live the lives that he created for his glory. As his servants—indeed, as his slaves and rightful property—we ought never to consider him or our manner of living casually.
Evil words spoken, or blows given, to an ordinary man, bear but a common action at law; but in case they relate to the king, they are treason. The higher the person is with whom we converse, the holier and more exact should our carriage be. If we walk with our equals, we toy and trifle by the way, and possibly, if occasion be, wander from them; but if we wait upon a prince, especially about our own near concernments, we are serious and sedulous, watching his words, and working with the greatest diligence for the performance of his pleasure. A lawyer will mind the countryman's cause when he is at leisure, when greater affairs will give him leave, and then, it may be, do it but coldly and carelessly. But if he have business committed to him by his sovereign, which concerns the prerogative, he will make other causes stay, crowd out of the press to salute this, attend it with all his parts and power, and ability and industry, and never take his leave of it till it be finished. I need not explain my meaning in this; it is obvious to every eye that godliness is the worshipping the infinite and ever-blessed God. Surely his service is neither to be delayed nor dallied with, it is not to be slighted or slubbered over. ‘Cursed is he that doth the work of the Lord negligently.’
When we deal with our equals, with them that stand upon the same level with us, we may deal as men; our affections may be like scales that are evenly poised, in regard of indifferency, but when we have to do with a God so great, that in comparison of him the vast ocean, the broad earth, and the highest heavens are all less than nothing, and so glorious that the great lights of the world, though every star were a sun, yet in respect of him are perfect darkness, we must be like angels, our affections should be all in a flame in regard of fervency and activity. The very Turks, though they build their own houses low and homely, yet they take much pains about their mosques, their temples—they build them high and stately. David considered about a temple for God, ‘The work is great, for the palace is not for man, but for the Lord God.’ Now, saith he, ‘I have prepared with all my might for the house of my God.’ Upon this foundation, that it was God-work, David raiseth this building, to make it his business, to prepare for it with all his might, as if he had said, Had it been for man, the work had been mean, it had wanted exceedingly of that weight which now it hath; but the work is great, for the palace is not for man, but for God; and because it is a work of such infinite weight, therefore I have prepared for it with all my might. I can think no pains great enough for so great a prince.
—George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:55–56.
It’s good to be “cross-centered,” I suppose, but I prefer to think of being Christ-centered. The cross is certainly a central landmark of the gospel (a colossal understatement, to be sure), but by itself, it is of no use. Nor is it enough to add the resurrection. R. C. Sproul writes:
What could be more important than the cross? Without it we have no atonement, no redemption. Paul resolved to preach Christ and Him crucified. Yet without the resurrection, we would be left with a dead Savior. Crucifixion and resurrection go together, each borrowing some of its value from the other. However, the story does not end with the empty tomb. To write finis there is to miss a climactic moment of redemptive history, a moment toward which both Old and New Testaments move with inexorable determination. The ascension is the apex of Christ’s exaltation, the acme of redemptive history to this point. It is the pregnant moment of Christ’s coronation as King. Without it, the resurrection ends in disappointment and Pentecost would not be possible. —R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus? (Reformation Trust, 2009), 99–100.
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. —Ephesians 5:1–2
Hymn LIV. Christ crucified. . John Newton (1725–1806) When on the cross, my Lord I see Bleeding to death, for wretched me; Satan and sin no more can move, For I am all transform’d to love. His thorns, and nails, pierce thro’ my heart, In ev’ry groan I bear a part; I view his wounds with streaming eyes, But see! he bows his head and dies! Come, sinners, view the Lamb of God, Wounded and dead, and bath’d in blood! Behold his side, and venture near, The well of endless life is here. Here I forget my cares and pains; I drink, yet still my thirst remains; Only the fountain–head above, Can satisfy the thirst of love. O, that I thus could always feel! Lord, more and more thy love reveal! Then my glad tongue shall loud proclaim The grace and glory of thy name. Thy name dispels my guilt and fear, Revives my heart, and charms my ear; Affords a balm for ev’ry wound, And Satan trembles at the sound. —Olney Hymns. Book II: On Occasional Subjects.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Holy God, We Praise Thy Name I will bless Your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1 Holy God, we praise Thy Name; Lord of all, we bow before Thee; All on earth Thy scepter claim, All in Heaven above adore Thee: Infinite Thy vast domain, Everlasting is Thy reign. Hark, the glad celestial hymn Angel choirs above are raising; Cherubim and seraphim, In unceasing chorus praising; Fill the heavens with sweet accord: Holy, holy, holy, Lord. Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit: Three we name Thee, Though in essence only one, Undivided God we claim Thee, And adoring, bend the knee While we sing our praise to Thee. —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).
Having grown up Lutheran, I am accustomed to the observation of Lent. As far as I can remember, however, I don’t think anyone was fasting or giving anything up. The Roman Catholics in our communities did, of course, but that was them, and I thought it was just another Papist oddity, and enjoyed pulling Slim Jims out of my pockets on Friday when everyone else was eating fish (which, let me remind you, is meat, no matter how you fry it).
In all my years living in predominantly Lutheran and Roman Catholic communities, I never knew why anyone would give anything up for Lent. I only recently learned that it is done in order to identify with the suffering of Christ. Now, having observed or read fairly extensively on liberalism, postmodernism, the charismatic movement, etc., I am not easily shocked by the foolishness concocted by pseudochristian sects and movements; indeed, I am no longer usually shocked by the horrors that exist within nominal evangelicalism (Beth Moore, anyone?). But this really took me aback. How could anyone be so crass as to think that giving up chocolate can in any way identify them with the sacrifice of the cross? How could anyone think that any sacrifice they can contrive could ever, in any way, be compared to the suffering of Christ?
Note well: we have no idea how exquisite was the suffering of Christ. If you saw The Passion of the Christ, you still have no idea how Christ suffered—none at all. All you saw was a brutal execution like thousands of others—all gore, no gospel. What Christ suffered cannot be displayed visually (which is why God gave us a book, not a movie). While we can know what he suffered, because Scripture tells us, we will never fathom the degree of the suffering.
What Christ suffered was the curse of God. He “became sin for us,” and bore the full wrath of God against sin on our behalf. What was that like? I have no idea, but I do know that nothing I have ever suffered, will ever suffer, or could ever suffer—short of hell itself—is worth mentioning in comparison. Even if I was crucified exactly as Christ was, I would still have no way of knowing how he suffered.
Knowing what Christ suffered, and knowing that we can’t fathom the depth his experience, should remove any illusions of identifying with that suffering by a few weeks of pretentious “sacrifice.”
To give up any earthly pleasure on the pretext of identifying with Christ’s suffering is an insult to the Savior. It is to downgrade the enormity of the sin he bore, and to belittle the atonement that he made for his people. It is no act of worship, no matter how sincere the intent. It is no less than blasphemous.
I am taking the day off from blogging and pretty much everything else to watch the Shepherds’ Conference. You should too, if you have the time. John MacArthur is up at 9:00 AM PT.
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With the coming of the Son of God movie it has been observed that, like The Passion of the Christ, Son of God will show crucifixion, not the cross. This will always be the problem with dramas and sermons that focus on the physical brutality of the execution of Jesus. R. C. Sproul writes:
There is a sense in which Christ on the cross was the most filthy and grotesque person in the history of the world. In and of Himself, He was a lamb without blemish—sinless, perfect, and majestic. But by imputation, all of the ugliness of human violence was concentrated on His person. Once sin was concentrated on Jesus, God cursed Him. When the curse of the law was poured out on Jesus, He experienced pain that had never been suffered in the annals of history. I have heard graphic sermons about the excruciating pain of the nails in the hands, of hanging on a cross, and of the torturous dimensions of crucifixion. I am sure that they are all accurate and that it was a dreadful way to be executed, but thousands of people in world history have undergone the excruciating pain of crucifixion. Only one man has ever felt the pain of the fullness of the unmitigated curse of God on Him. When He felt it, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . God certainly did forsake Him. That is the whole point of the atonement. Without forsakenness, there is no curse. God, at that moment in space and time, turned His back on His Son. The intimacy of the pros relationship that Jesus experienced with the Father was ruptured (in His human nature). At that moment God turned out the lights. The Bible tells us that the world was encompassed with darkness, God Himself bearing witness to the trauma of the hour. Jesus was forsaken, He was cursed, and He felt it. The word passion means “feeling.” In the midst of His forsakenness, I doubt He was even aware of the nails in His hands or the thorns in His brow. He was cut off from the Father. It was obscene, yet it was beautiful, because by it we can someday experience the fullness of the benediction of Israel. We will look unveiled into the light of the countenance of God. —R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus? (Reformation Trust, 2009), 88–89.