Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Reason for God ~ Chapter 12 ~ The (True) Story of the Cross

Ni Hao Yall

Here is the summary from Stefanie's blog:

“The primary symbol of Christianity has always been the cross,” begins Chapter Twelve. (p. 193) Keller goes on to say that what we as Christians see as Good News – the Gospel – our society views as difficult at best and horrific at worst. “In the Christian account, Jesus dies so that God can forgive sins. For many, that seems ludicrous or even sinister,” according to Keller. (p. 194) Society is okay with good news but the idea of a good God causing injury and death to his own son is too far from their normative belief of what constitutes good. Apparently some believe the cross even moves from questionable to evil, “While the Christian doctrine of the cross confuses some people, it alarms others.” (p. 194)

So, Keller asks, “Why did Jesus have to die?” (p. 194)

The First Real Reason: Real Forgiveness Is Costly Suffering

Keller runs through an illustration of how someone who damages your property with a car would either have to pay for the damage caused, or you would. In other words, there is a cost when someone has been wronged. Keller says it, “When we are seriously wronged we have an indelible sense that the perpetrators have incurred a debt that must be dealt with.” (p. 195)
When someone has been wronged and a debt has been incurred, there are only two responses — and both require a payment.

The first option is to have the perpetrator(s) pay. “You can withhold relationship and actively initiate or passively wish for some kind of pain in their lives commensurate to what you have experienced,” per Keller. (p. 195) There are multiple ways to accomplish this but it eventually leads to, “Cycles of reaction and retaliation [which] can go on for years. Evil has been done to you — yes. But when you try to get payment through revenge the evil does not disappear. Instead it spreads, and it spreads most tragically of all into you and your own character.” (p. 195)

The second option is to forgive the perpetrator. Keller brings up an excellent point about the results of this choice; “However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering. You not only suffer the original loss of happiness, reputation, and opportunity, but now you forgo the consolation of inflicting the same on them.” (p. 196) The anger may slowly subside, Keller tells of C.S. Lewis realizing, at the moment, he has forgiven someone it took him 30 years to forgive. The cost is emotional but not evil. The decision to forgive, Keller says, “…must be granted before it can be felt, but it does come eventually. It leads to a new peace, a resurrection. It is the only way to stop the spread of the evil.” (p. 196)

But forgiveness is not non-confrontational. It is not taking on a victim mentality nor is it weakness. In fact, it is the only way to truly love the perpetrator. When children do something wrong, it is best to confront them and teach them boundaries out of love. It is the same when you are wronged. “The best way to love them [perpetrator] and the other potential victims around them is to confront them in the hope that they will repent, change, and make things right,” Keller writes. (p. 197)

Keller uses the inspiring example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of the Christian classic The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging in a Nazi concentration camp just weeks before the liberation of the camp and then end World War II for his bold resistance to the Nazi dictatorship. Despite his circumstances during the time, he still forgave those he was confronting. “He did not ignore or excuse sin. He resisted it head on, even though it cost him everything… He passed through the agonizing process required to love our enemies, so his resistance to their evildoing was measured and courageous, not venomous and cruel,” Keller says. (p. 198) Of someone who witnessed the execution it was said, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer.” Bonhoeffer lived and died a life that exemplified Christ.

The Forgiveness of God

Keller posits, “Why did Jesus have to die? Couldn’t God just forgive us?” (p. 199) He has already answered the question earlier when he discussed the cost of forgiveness but continues for the sake of teaching, “Forgiveness means bearing the cost instead of making the wrongdoer do it, so you can reach out in love to seek your enemy’s renewal and change… Forgiveness means absorbing the debt of sin yourself.” (p. 199) Jesus is obviously the ultimate example but Stephen also – as he was being stoned – asked God to forgive his killers. In addition, Bonhoeffer did the same. Sin has a cost, and forgiveness means taking on the cost yourself. As Christians we see Jesus as God, and fundamentally believe that He punished Himself for our sin. He understands the cost because, “..this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us… Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering,” writes Keller. (p. 200) For the Christ follower, Jesus paid the ultimate penalty and absorbed the ultimate cost to remove our guilt and alleviate our indebtedness.

“… the death of Christ was necessary to vindicate the righteousness of God in justifying the ungodly by faith. It would be unrighteous to forgive sinners as though their sin were insignificant, when in fact it is an infinite insult against the value of God’s glory. Therefore Jesus bears the curse, which was due to our sin, so that we can be justified and the righteousness of God can be vindicated.” — John Piper

The Second Reason: Real Love Is a Personal Exchange

So, Keller asks, “Why can’t we just concentrate on teaching about how God is a God of love? The answer is that if you take away the Cross you don’t have a God of love.” (p. 201) Agape love, demonstrated by Jesus, requires sacrifice on our part while western society’s overly marketed romantic love does not. Keller states it thus, “All life-changing love toward people with serious needs is a substitutional sacrifice. If you become personally involved with them, in some way, their weaknesses flow toward you as your strengths flow toward them.” (p. 202) This substitution is the very message of the Cross. Keller quotes John Stott, “The essence of sin we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us. We… put ourselves where only God deserves to be: God… puts himself where we deserve to be.” (p. 202)

The Great Reversal

The message of the Cross – that Jesus died as a substitute for our selfishness and sin – means the outcasts of society have hope in the Cross. And the exalted of this world, without the Cross, have hopelessness. “On the Cross, Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away,” Keller says. (p. 204) Jesus reversed the pattern of the world and created a new paradigm. Keller explains, “Those who are shaped by the great reversal of the Cross no longer need self justification through money, status, career, or pride of race and class. So the Cross creates a counterculture in which sex, money, and power cease to control us and are used in life-giving and community-building rather than destructive ways.” (p. 204)

“On the Cross neither justice nor mercy loses out — both are fulfilled at once… Jesus identified with the oppressed. Yet we should not try to overcome evil with evil.” Keller says. (pp. 204-05)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. — Romans 12:21

The Story of the Cross

Keller writes the meaning of the Cross can be found in the movies that move us emotionally. We are enamored with the story of the innocent who substitutes themselves, at great cost of life, money, power or position, for the wrongdoer. The story isn’t new — Jesus did this on the Cross. Where the difference lies is that the truth of Jesus on the Cross should propel us to actual change while the resolutions we develop when watching fiction or human non-fiction are easily forgotten; they inspire nothing more than a passing thought as we return to life.

According to Keller, “The Gospel… is not just a moving fictional story about someone else. It is a true story about us. We are actually in it.” (p. 208)
Seeing the story of the Cross from the outside can only tickle our thoughts but once you realize you are a part of the story, you are changed. Keller finishes, “The fact that Jesus had to die for me humbled me out of my pride. The fact that Jesus was glad to die for me assured me out of my fear.” (p. 208)

Question: Before reading this chapter, had you fully grasped the weight of your sin? What Jesus did on the Cross to purchase your forgiveness? If so, has that understanding led to a true change in you? If not, do you think reading this chapter might be the impetus for such a change?

*My Response*
Whenever I am reminded of the depth of my sin, I'm brought to my knees.  The very thought that Jesus would suffer and die for ME is both devastating and awesome to me.  I don't think I will ever fully grasp the weight of my own sin or the true cost that Jesus paid.  This I know: the closer I am to Him, the clearer my vision.  The revelation of my pride and selfishness is blinding!  My only hope is in Christ.  Without Him I am hopeless.  And this realization leads me to see others through His eyes.  Changing my character is a s.l.o.w. process, and it begins with coming face to face with who I am without Christ and who He is in me.  I am left humbled, thankful and in awe.

I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  ...but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from the body of death?  Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Romans 7:15-25

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