The Celebration of Community

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

Perhaps this presentation of Christ’s cross is too individualistic. If so, this section should restore the balance. The purpose of Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross was not just to save isolated individuals but to create a new community, whose members would belong to him, love one another and eagerly serve the world. The community of Christ will be nothing less than a renewed and reunited humanity, which Christ, as the second Adam, will head (1 Corinthians 15:45).

From the Day of Pentecost onward (Acts 2), it has been clear that conversion to Christ means also conversion to the community of Christ. These two transfers—of personal allegiance and social membership—cannot be separated. Read 1 Peter 2:4-10, written by the apostle who preached powerfully on that Day of Pentecost.

First Peter 2:4-10 is the basis of the Community study:
Peter describes what is true about Christian believers. He does NOT necessarily describe how we feel all the time. We are living stones in a spiritual house, a holy and royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.

One note specifically about the people of God as “a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5) and “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9): This is the famous priesthood of all believers on which the Reformers laid great emphasis. In consequence of this universal priesthood, the word “priest” (Greek hiereus) is never in the New Testament applied to the ordained minister. The minister shares in offering what the people offer but has no distinctive offering to make that differs from theirs.

The uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross does not mean that we have no sacrifices to offer, but only that their nature and purpose are different. They are not material but spiritual, and their object is not propitiatory (turning away God’s wrath) but eucharistic (thanksgiving), the expression of a responsive gratitude. What would be some examples of “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5)?

You may come up with many different examples from your own experience, but I see eight kinds of spiritual sacrifices mentioned in Scripture:

  1. We are to present our bodies to him for his service, as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1); that sounds like a material offering, but it is termed “spiritual worship,” presumably because it pleases God only if it expresses the worship of the heart.
  2. We offer God our praise, worship and thanksgiving, “the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
  3. We offer prayer, which is said to ascend to God like fragrant incense (Revelation 5:8).
  4. We offer “a broken and contrite heart,” which God accepts and never despises (Psalm 51:17).
  5. We offer faith, which is called a “sacrifice and service” (Philippians 2:17).
  6. We offer our gifts and good deeds, “for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
  7. We offer our life “poured out like a drink offering” in God’s service, even unto death (2 Timothy 4:6).
  8. We may present the special offering of the evangelist, whose preaching of the gospel is called a “priestly duty” because the evangelist’s converts can be presented as “an offering acceptable to God” (Romans 15:16).

First Peter 2:6-8 include three Old Testament quotes that are applied to Christ. Notice how and why the stone affects different people in different ways:

  1. First Peter 2:6 quotes Isaiah 28:16, which is in the context of God’s promise that evil will be found out, judged and swept away. The person who trusts in the Lord will endure and will not be touched by the judgment.
  2. First Peter 2:7 quotes Psalm 118:22; the psalmist’s next words confirm that the Lord is the one who put the stone in place: “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps 118:23).
  3. First Peter 2:8 quotes Isaiah 8:14, which also calls the Lord a sanctuary for those who trust him while promising that unfaithful Israel will “fall and be broken” (Isaiah 8:15).

We have received mercy so that we may “declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Our new intimate relationship to God, which has replaced the old and painful estrangement, is marked by:

  1. Boldness: we are able to approach God is freedom and confidence; humbly (as sinners) yet boldly (as forgiven sinners) we come into God’s presence.
  2. Love: this love has driven out fear; responding to his loving initiative with an answering love of our own.
  3. Joy: we are no longer alienated and humiliated, we are rescued and restored; worshiping him with musical instruments and expressing our joy in songs of praise.

These are not to be thought of as purely private and interior experiences, they are to distinguish our public worship. Consider your public worship with other believers. What aspects of our worship express boldness, love, and joy?

The brief time we spend together on the Lord’s Day must not be separated from the rest of our lives; it is intended to bring our lives into focus.

Singing is a unique feature of Christian worship: I sent a few Journeyman missionaries to the Far East and they developed friendships with young local Buddhist monks. The Christian young men prepared an American style meal, and the evening led toward sharing music and Christian praise songs. The boys ask the monks to share some of their songs from the Buddhist faith. The monks got together and chanted a little and then shyly confessed, that “we really don’t have any songs in our religion.”

Whenever Christian people come together it is impossible to keep them from singing. The Christian community is a community of celebration. Evaluate the element of joy and thanksgiving in our worship experiences.

The community of Christ is the community of the cross. Having been brought into being by the cross, it continues to live by and under the cross. Our perspective and our behavior are now governed by the cross. All of our relationships have been radically transformed by it.

  1. The cross is not just a badge to identify us
  2. The cross is not just the banner under which we march
  3. The cross is also the compass that gives us our bearings in a disoriented world

Ransomed by God

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

This is about the self-substitution of God. How can the holy love of God come to terms with the unholy lovelessness of sinful man? The problem is not outside of God; it is within his own being. How can he express at the same time his holiness and judgment and his love and pardon? Only by providing a divine substitute for the sinner, so that the substitute would receive the judgment and the sinner would receive the pardon.

Sacrifice in the Old Testament: Paul tells us the Christ gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2), gave himself (Galatians 1:4), or in Hebrews 9:14, Christ offered himself. Jesus died for sins (Romans 8:3, 1 Peter 3:18). In our passage today, we see that sacrifice in the OT was just a shadow of what was to come.

Sacrifices were offered for several reasons: they were associated with penitence, celebration, national need, covenant renewal, family festivity and personal consecration. Regarding sacrifice we find them to signify belonging to God, and also alienation from God because of sin and guilt.

The notion of substitution means that one person takes the place of another, in order to bear his pain and to save him from it. Moses stepped in to save the Hebrews (Exodus 32:32), Paul would have stepped in for his people (Romans 9:1-4), Abraham was going to sacrifice his son but was provided a substitute (Genesis 22:13).

In a sacrifice the worshipper brought the animal, put hands on it and killed it. The priest applied the blood, burnt some of the flesh, and arranged to have the rest eaten. The point was identification and the hands were a symbolic transference of their sin. The shedding and sprinkling of blood was vital for atonement, and eating of blood was prohibited (Leviticus 17:11).

  1. Blood symbolized life (Genesis 9:4, Deuteronomy 12:23)
  2. Blood makes atonement, the reason is the repetition of the word life (life was given for life, the life of the innocent for the life of the guilt).
  3. Blood was given by God for this atoning purpose: the sacrificial system was God-made, not man-made.

Two verses we need to look at: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22) and, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). While Old Testament sacrifices were shadows, the substance was always Christ. For a substitute to be effective, it must prove to be an appropriate equivalent. Animals are not equal with humans, humans are not equal with God (Matthew 12:12, 1 Peter 1:19).

Passover and Sin Bearing: Passover was the beginning of Israel’s national identity, and it was here the New Testament identifies the death of Christ as the fulfillment of the Passover (the new and redeemed community and the new exodus from sin). God provided self-disclosure of himself:

  1. Yahweh revealed himself as the Judge (the background to the final plague).
  2. Yahweh revealed himself as the Redeemer (blood is applied to the door and they must take shelter under it).
  3. Yahweh revealed himself as Israel’s covenant God (he redeemed them to be his own people).

For us, the message is also clear:

  1. The Judge and Savior are the same person (it was God who passed through Egypt to judge the firstborn, who passed over the Israelite homes to protect them).
  2. Salvation was (and is) by substitution (only the firstborn males who were spared were in whose families a firstborn lamb had died instead).
  3. The lamb’s blood had to be sprinkled after it had been shed (there had to be individual appropriation of the divine protection).
  4. Each family rescued by God was thereby purchased for God.

What does it mean to bear sin? Jesus bore our sins (1 Peter 2:4) and was once offered to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28). It means to bear sin’s penalty.

The Scapegoat (Leviticus 16:5-28): One goat gets killed and the blood is sprinkled in the usual way, while the priest lays his hands on the living goat’s head and confesses the sin and rebellion of the people. The living goat is then driven into the desert.

Do not make the mistake of driving a wedge between the two goats because the two together are described as the sin offering (Leviticus 16:5). Each embodied a different aspect of the same sacrifice, one exhibiting the means and the other exhibiting the results of the atonement.

Jesus death and two sin-bearing statements:

  1. He died to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
  2. He died to pour out his blood for many (Mark 14:24, Isaiah 53:12).

Who is the substitute? Yes, it was Jesus, but was he just a man? If so, how could a human being stand in for another human being? Was he then simply God appearing to be a man? If so, how could he represent humankind? How could he (God) have died? Neither God alone nor man alone, but the unique and only God-Man was a suitable substitute, uniquely qualified to mediate between holy God and sinful man.

The possibility of a substitute rests upon the identity of the substitute. The essence, nature and identity of the Christ had been the subject of many heresies and controversies.

God was in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19): the righteous loving Father humbled himself to become, in and through his holy Son, flesh, sin and curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. Make this personal.

The doctrine of substitution not only affirms a fact (that God was in Christ substituting himself for us) but it’s necessary (there is no other way by which God’s holy love could be satisfied and rebellious humans could be saved). Therefore, we all stand before the cross, as Adam, embarrassed at our nakedness attempting self-justification, wearing filthy rags. Jesus wore the rags and clothed us with righteousness.

The Events of Passion Week

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

So far, we have looked at some initial facts about the cross:

  1. It’s central importance (to Christ, the apostles and the universal church).
  2. Its deliberate character (the wickedness of man and the purposes of God).

An Initial Construction:

  1. Christ died for us: being necessary and voluntary, for our sake, not his own.
  2. Christ died for us that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18): reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness, deliverance.
  3. Christ died for our sins: the death of Jesus and our sins are related to each other.
  4. Christ died our death: not only the consequences but the penalty of death. Since the wages of sin in death (Romans 3:23). The Bible views death not as a natural event but a penal event. Jesus came voluntarily to this world to go to the cross.

The last three scenes (the last 24 hours) of the Passion Week: Upper Room, Garden and Golgotha. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was not looking back at a mission he had completed, he was looking forward to a mission he was about to fulfill.

Last Supper and Upper Room:
There was no servant in attendance and the disciples were unwilling to humble themselves enough to undertake the menial task of washing feet. Jesus then has the Last Supper with the twelve. He was teaching a couple lessons:

  1. The centrality of his death: the bread and the cup represented his body and blood. It was by his death that he wished to be remembered.
  2. The purpose of his death: the cup referred not only to his blood but to a new covenant associated with his shed blood, securing our promised forgiveness.
  3. The need to appropriate his death personally: it was not enough for the bread to be broken and the cup to be poured out, but they had to eat and drink it. So, it was not enough for him to die, they had to appropriate (or take possession of) the benefits of his death personally.

Which sacrifice did Christ mean?

  1. The Mt. Sinai sacrifice at the Covenant Renewal of Exodus 24?
  2. The Passover in Exodus 12? According to the synoptic gospels, the Last Supper was celebrating the Passover meal which followed the Passover sacrifice.
  3. Jesus spoke of him being the sacrifice, the lamb being slain in the place of the person, blood was sprinkled on the door posts, and the sacrifice was eaten in a fellowship meal.

The Agony of the Garden of Gethsemane:
Prayer was for himself (that he would glorify the Father), then for them (kept in the truth, holiness, mission and unity), and also for subsequent generations to believe them and their message.

  1. Luke mentions a “baptism” to undergo and he felt stressed, even tormented (Matthew 26:36-46), Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-64).
  2. John records that his heart was troubled, or even agitated, even though he does not mention the praying scene about the cup being removed (only the High Priestly prayer in John 17, then right into the betrayal and arrest). Why? Jesus knows the cup will not be taken from him.
  3. Jesus emerges with resolute confidence in the mission.
  4. The agony of the garden opens a window to the greater agony of the cross.

The Cry of Declaration on the Cross:
Isaiah 53:5-6 is the great passage on the suffering of Christ. Further passages on the sacrifice:

  1. The Lamb taking away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
  2. The Son came to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
  3. The sacrifice to take away sins of many people (Hebrews 9:28).
  4. He bore our sins on the cross (1 Peter 2:24).
  5. He died once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
  6. God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  7. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13).

Sayings from the Cross: My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?

  1. Some suggest a cry of anger, unbelief or despair, only imagining he was forsaken: Seems this explanation make Jesus guilty of unbelief, or accusing him of being a failure.
  2. Others suggest a cry of loneliness: this assumes the feeling of loneliness rather than being alone, like the dark night of the soul.
  3. Perhaps a cry of victory: Psalm 22 turns toward a victory and triumph, so why quote the beginning of the Psalm when he referred to the end?
  4. The reality cry of dereliction: while he was forsaken of men, he was not alone, the Father is with me (John 16:32).
  5. John Calvin said, “if Christ has died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual… Unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the redeemer of bodies alone.”
  6. Where is the Trinity in the midst of this declaration?

Conclusion: the cross enforces three truths.

  1. Our sin must be extremely horrible: we cannot face the cross with integrity and not feel ashamed of ourselves.
  2. God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension: why not let us reap what we have sown?
  3. Christ’s salvation must be a free gift: he purchased our salvation at the high price of his blood.

Characteristics of a NT Church

This is teaching from Rick Warren. As always, how do we see King’s Grant measuring up to this standard?

If you want your church to have the impact of the early church, the book of Acts shows us eight essential characteristics we need in our congregations:

Supernatural power (Acts 2:3-4): We don’t just talk about God; we experience Him. This is what makes the church different from every other organization on the planet. We have the Holy Spirit. God promised His Spirit to help His church.

Use everybody’s language (Acts 2:4): This passage isn’t about speaking in tongues. It’s about the gospel being communicated in real languages. People actually heard the early Christians speak in their own languages — whether that was Farsi, Swahili, German, Greek, or whatever. God says from the very first day of the church that the Good News is for everyone. It’s not just for Jews. It’s amazing grace for every race. But the power of Acts isn’t just about the language of your country of origin. It’s also about languages spoken only in particular subcultures — like mothers of preschoolers or people into hip-hop or accountants or truck drivers. God says in His church, everyone’s language gets used. Are you helping your people use their “language” to reach people with the Good News?

Use everyone’s gifts (Acts 2:14, 16, 19, 21): In New Testament times, there weren’t spectators in the Church. There were only contributors; 100 percent participation. Not everyone is called to be a pastor, but everyone is called to serve God. If you want your church to have the impact of the early Church, get everyone involved in the ministry of your church. Make it clear to everyone in the church that passivity isn’t an option. If they want to just sit around and soak up the service of others, let them find another church.

Offer life-changing truth (Acts 2:22-40): The early Church didn’t offer pop psychology, polite moralisms, or nice-sounding inspiration. We must always offer the truth of the gospel. God’s Word has the power to change lives. No other message changes lives like the Good News. No other message changes a guy from a wife-beater to being a loving, responsible husband. It’s when the truth of God’s Word gets into us that we change.

In Acts 2, Peter gives the very first Christian sermon, quoting the Old Testament book of Joel. Peter shares the Gospel in this message. Acts 2 says that the early church devoted itself to the “apostles’ teaching” – the Bible. God’s Word gave the early church power.

Provide loving support (Acts 2:42): The first church loved and cared for one another. The Bible says in Acts 2:42, “They took part in the fellowship, sharing in the fellowship meals and in praying together.” One translation says, “They were like family to each other.” The church isn’t a business. It’s not an organization. It’s not a social club. It’s a family. For our churches to experience the power of the early Church, we’ve got to become the family that they were.

Enjoy joyful worship (Acts 2:46): When the early Church gathered, they celebrated, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” We must understand and teach that worship is a celebration. It’s a festival, not a funeral. It’s the party for the kingdom of God. When worship is joyful, people want to be there because people are looking for joy. Do you think if our churches were full of glad hearts, joyful words, and hopeful lives, we’d attract other unbelievers? Sure they would.

Make generous sacrifices (Acts 2:44-45): The Bible teaches us to make generous sacrifices for the sake of the gospel. The Christians during the Roman Empire were the most generous people in the empire. In fact, they were famous for their generosity. They literally shared everything, with one another and the poor. The Bible says the early church “shared everything they had … .” That’s a church worth dying for; which is exactly what first-century Christians did. They’d rather die with gladiators and lions in the Coliseum than renounce their faith and their brothers and sisters in God’s family.

Create exponential growth (Acts 2:47): When our churches demonstrate the first seven characteristics of the early Church, growth is automatic. People may have looked at the first Christians as weird, but they liked what they were doing. They saw their love for one another, the miracles that took place in their midst, and the joy that was in their lives, and they wanted what the Christians had.

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