Archive for the ‘Cross’ Category

In his chapter ‘Refashioning the Clay’ Samuel Wells acknowledges the huge contribution the Big Bang and evolutionary theory have made to science, but cautions against turning them into theology, for “you get a single word answer: survival. The whole dynamic of history mutates into survival; and adaptation that enables survival is called progress. Conflict is at the heart of every encounter, and survival is the reward for those who win the battle.

“But Christianity has a very different answer.

“Christians believe the logic – the logos, or word – at the heart of the universe is not about survival. It’s about death and resurrection. The ultimate future doesn’t belong to those who have fought and prevailed, it belongs to those who have laid down their lives for others.

Samuel Wells, in Learning to Dream Again


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The First Testament Story never talks about God having a plan for the world or a plan of salvation or a plan for people’s individual lives, and the story it tells does not look like one that resulted from a plan. God certainly had an aim, a vision, some goals, and sometimes formulates a plan for a particular context, but works out a purpose in the world in interaction with the human beings who are designed to be key to the fulfilling of those goals. God is not a micromanager who seeks to make every decision for the company, but the wiser kind of executive who formulates clear goals but involves the work force in determining how to implement them, and also recognizes that the failure of members of the work force will require an ongoing flexibility in pursuing these goals. The story does not give the impression that from the beginning God had planned the flood, or the summons of Abraham, or the exodus, or the introduction of the monarchy, or the building of the temple, or the exile, or the sending of a messiah. It portrays these as responses to concrete situations, while all are outworkings of God’s purpose and character. Our security lies not in the world’s actual story being the outworking of God’s plan (that would be scary) but in its unfolding within the control of an executive who will go to any lengths to see that the vision gets fulfilled – even dying for it. In this sense the lamb of God was slain before the world’s foundation. God has always been that kind of God.

John Goldingay, ‘God Began’ in Old Testament Theology, Volume One: Israel’s Gospel (IVP: 2003), p.60

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What are the ‘heavenly things’ of Hebrews 9.23, of which the earthly sanctuary and vessels of worship are merely copies? What are these things that must be purified by a ‘better sacrifice’ (that is the blood of Jesus, the High Priest, himself, not the ineffectual blood of goats and bulls, 10.4)?

On the Day of Atonement, which is being referenced here, the High Priest offered a bull as a sin offering for himself and his household (Lev 16.6,11). He then offered two goats, with one being sacrificed and the other sent away bearing the sins of the people (the ‘scapegoat’).

The first goat is offered to the Lord “as a sin offering” (Lev 16.9) for the people (Lev 16.15) and its blood is sprinkled on and in front of the mercy seat (LXX, ‘hilasterion’, c.f. Rom 3.25). Interestingly, this sacrifice is to make atonement for three specific things: the holy place (16.16), the tent of meeting (16.16) and the altar (16.18). See also the summary in verse 20. The necessity of this atonement is explained in verse 16: “He shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities.

Thus, this goat is offered up to make atonement not for the people directly, but for the sanctuary (and its parts), that is, to reconcile it in some way to God. Clearly, it is this sacrifice, offered year after year, which makes it possible for the sanctuary to be kept holy and acceptable to God. But the question remains, what are the heavenly (‘true’) equivalents requiring purification in Hebrews 9? We know that Christ has entered the “greater and more perfect tabernacle… [that is] not of this creation” (9.11), and it is this tabernacle which he purifies with his blood.

So, where is this perfect tabernacle, this true sanctuary? Can this be God’s heavenly dwelling place – or his future dwelling place with his people? Heb 9.24 says that Christ did not enter a holy place made of hands (a mere copy of the true one) but entered heaven itself. So what does it mean for the heavenly temple itself to be cleansed (9.23) by the blood of Jesus?

It is worth noting that according to Heb 10.19 it is not God who required the blood of Jesus in order to find a way into this ‘greater’ sanctuary, but the people of God (cf. Eph 2.13-18). Both the heavenly things and our own consciences are mentioned as being cleansed by his blood (9.23, 10.22. See also 1 Peter 1.2). Can this mean that the heavenly tabernacle in view is the people of God themselves, the living temple of Eph 2.21 (“a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit”)?

Or is it simply that a way has been made for us into that sanctuary, now cleansed by the blood of Jesus, where, as Paul says, we are able to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12.1)?

Comments and ideas welcome!

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On 1 Corinthians 1.26-29:

At Corinth – and Paul certainly does not mean only at Corinth – God singled out the poor and the powerless, choosing to begin his work with them, not because God’s love does not extend to the cultural and social elite, but actually for the sake of the wealthy and the powerful as well as for the poor and the humble. God’s love has to reach the strong via the weak, because the strong can receive the love of God only by abandoning their pretensions to status above others. Only when they see in God’s choice of those without status that status counts for nothing in God’s sight can they abandon the arrogance and the vested interests that prevent their right relationship both with God and with others. …

In this passage and its context Paul does something rather remarkable. In the first place, by echoing the Old Testament, he identifies a consistent divine strategy, a characteristic way in which God works, to which the origins of the church at Corinth perform. … This is the God who habitually overturns status, not in order to make the non-elite a new elite, but in order to abolish status, to establish his kingdom in which none can claim privilege over others and all gladly surrender privilege for the good of others. … God raises the lowly and brings down the exalted. God himself not only inhabits the highest heaven, but comes among the humblest of his servants on earth (cf. Isaiah 57.15)

Paul not only sees this as God’s usual strategy in human affairs; he also recognises it paradigmatically in the cross. The claim that God is to be encountered and salvation found in a crucified man – a man stripped of all status and honour, dehumanised, the lowest of the low – is the offence of the cross. This is the real scandal of particularity – not just that God’s universal purpose pivots on one particular human being (though that was stumbling-block enough for the philosophically educated in Paul’s day and the Enlightenment rationalists of our own), but, much worse, that God’s universal purpose pivots on this particular human being, the crucified one

No wonder the rulers of this age did not recognise him. …For those who see God in the image of their own power and status there could be no recognition of God in the cross. And yet the Christ who thus demeaned himself to the depths of human degradation, as Paul says in Philippians 2.6-11, is the one God has exalted to the throne of the universe so that every knee should bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord…  God defined his own kingdom when he exalted the crucified Christ. …

This means that as well  as the outward movement of the church’s mission in geographical extension and numerical increase, there must also be this (in the Bible’s imagery) downward movement of solidarity with the people at the bottom of the social scale of importance and wealth. It is to these – the poorest, those with no power or influence, the wretched, the neglected – to whom God has given priority in the kingdom, not only for their own sake, but also for all the rest of us who can enter the kingdom only alongside them.

Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission, pp.50-54

[Sorry for the long excerpt – I just thought it was excellent stuff]

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This made me laugh!

Facebook Passion
Become a fan of Jesus Christ!
I love the fun details, the in-jokes and the photos! Can you spot the dinosaur…?

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[Fairy-stories] strike deeper truth than other literary forms precisely because of their happy endings – not in spite of them. True fantasies end happily, thus providing consolation for life’s tragedy and sorrow. But their endings are not escapist. Their felicitous outcome is always produced by a dreadful disaster, by a drastic and unexpected turn of events, which issues in surprising deliverance. Tolkien calls this saving mishap a eucatastrophe: a happy calamity that does not deny the awful reality of dycatastrophe – or human wreck and ruin. …

Like C. S. Lewis, Tolkien regards many of the world’s myths and fairy-stories as forerunners and preparations of the Gospel – as fallible human attempts to tell the Story that only the triune God can tell perfectly. The Gospel is the ultimate fairy-story, Tolkien concludes, because it contains ‘the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe.’ …

Here is God’s own Story wherein the Teller of the tale becomes its chief Actor. Rather than canceling all other stories, however, this one is what they have all been stumbling and pointing toward. The Gospel is the fulfillment and completion of all other stories.

Ralph C Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien, 2003

The Gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.

J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

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November Poems

With the season turning to winter I thought it was time for a return visit to November Passion by BJ:

Christ dies on the roadside briars
And his blood is spattered on countless hips and haws.
His heart’s blood hangs in droplets on the guelder rose.
Scourge him and rip at him with bramble stems
And bind the clinging ivy round.
Set a crown of blackthorn savage on his head
And pierce him with blackened shattered spars
Felled in the storm.
The crows are watching mocking
Nodding their heads: ‘Let him save himself-
This spring God, riven now, strung up against the sky
Is all? Come down! let him halt
The season’s fall!’

And so he dies.
Harrowing the sod and clod
Dead and undead buried in the mould.
His life thrust into black earth
Forcing through the Sheol of hidden seed,
Through root and bulb, mycelium and spore.

Give him to me –
I will make a shroud of thistledown and old man’s beard
And cover his face with spiders’ silk.
For his tomb I will find a fallen beech
Hollowed in years. There deep in drifted leaves
Shall he lie out his quiet Sabbath rest.
While we locked in our rooms for fear
And curtains drawn against the dark
Weep for Adonis dead.

The robin is singing alone in the winter wood.
In silence under northern stars
The earth waits.

If you like this, you’ll also enjoy Psalm in Kensington Gardens, Autumn Genesis and more poems by my very talented mother!

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