A few months ago a highly skilled chap called Gary made an oak cross for the church as a leaving present. What follows below is his interpretive explanation of what he has made, and why he made it like that. It is marvellous!!!
Christmas isn’t usually the time to talk about evil, or of Satan’s ultimate destruction, but that is precisely what Christmas, the coming of God in Christ, means. Evil encompases all the chaos and dysfunction in the world, all the rebellion against God; and God’s salvation means an end to all that, and the return to a new heavenly order of holiness.
The coming of Jesus is God meeting His own requirements for not only sin’s penalty, but the whole moral order of the universe. It is, in the end, God working to satisfy His own holy Name; and Jesus is the only One who can do that.
P. T. Forsyth wrote in Work of Christ that “An unsatisfied God, a dissatisfied God, would be no God. He would but reflect the distraction of the world, and so succumb to it.” Yet holiness must be satisfied, and nothing created can possibly do that. Similarly, neither can God’s holiness be satisfied whilst any vestiges of unholiness, namely evil (i.e. hell), remain. The destruction of evil is the fulfilment of God’s unsurpassing reign and joy of His holiness in all the New Creation for all people, everywhere. Isn’t that what 1 Corinthians 15:28 means? That God will be all in all? Thus if evil exists, what else does “all in all” mean?
Evil has no future because God is holy.
That means, as we remember the incarnation of the Son of God into the world, we remember and partake of God’s renewing of the whole cosmos to put an end to evil, but not to put an end to rebels, such as we, the human race, are.
Forsyth wrote in a brilliant sermon entitled The Bible Doctrine of Hell and the Unseen,
“If evil is to be permanent in any part of the universe, then God is there foiled and the Cross of Christ of none effect . . . . .So long as evil lasts there will be Hell. If evil should cease Hell would be burned out. Now if Christ’s Cross means anything it means the destruction of evil everywhere and forever. The work of the Cross is not done while there is a single soul unwon to the mastery of Christ and uninfected by His Spirit. . . . If we believe in the Cross then we believe there will come a time when evil shall everywhere cease and sin no longer be.”
Evil has no future because Jesus has come, and remains by His Spirit.
Evil has no future because Jesus has satisfied God’s own holiness.
Evil has no future because God will be all in all.
“Die sin must or God.” When Jesus was born, sin’s fate was sealed. When Jesus died, sin was defeated forever. When Jesus rose from the dead, sin was left behind in the tomb. When He returns, sin will be erradicated forever. The New Heaven and New Earth will know no sin.
That’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time.
Note: This post was spurred by my reading of the excellent chapter on P. T. Forsyth by Jason Goroncy in ‘All Shall Be Well’ entitled ‘The Final Sanity is Complete Sanctity.’ And also the brilliant collection of Forsyth sermons in Goroncy’s ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’, which has been mentioned on this blog before.
Helmut Thielicke said of the Cross of Jesus Christ, where silence and salvation met:
“There the night of darkness dispatched its last troops against God’s Son; the demons were released and the ugliest instincts since Adam unchained. But God said nothing about it. Only a dying man cried aloud in that silence and asked why – yes, why – God had forsaken him.
God still remained silent, when even dumb nature began to speak by a shuddering gesture and the sun withdrew its light. The constellations cried out but God was silent. Yet it is precisely at this point that the great secret of that silence conceals itself. This very hour, when God gave no word, no syllable of an answer, was the great turning point of world history.
This was the hour when the veil of the temple tore and God’s heart was opened to us with all his surprises. By being silent God was suffering too; by being silent he entered with us into the brotherhood of death and the deep valley, knowing all about it and … doing his loving work behind the dark curtains. The silence of that night on Golgotha is the basis for our life.
What would we be without the cross? What would we be without the knowledge that God sends his Son to us in the silent abysses and dark valleys, that he becomes our companion in death – while his ‘higher thoughts’ are already pressing on mightily toward Easter…. There is no silence of indifference in God (nor in Jesus); there are only those higher thoughts – and not for one minute a silent fate. The woman who comes to Jesus knows that. Therefore she waits out the silence and never draws back her outstretched hands.”
This great quote comes from a brilliant sermon by Jason Goroncy on Matthew 15:21-28 here.
P. T. Forsyth is rousing my theological interest on a number of fronts at the moment. I am desperate to read his Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, but only have a flaky copy on my computer, and that won’t do. Nevertheless, do not feel sorry for me. I found this paradigm changing comment Forsyth made in his book The Work of Christ, which is a more realistic antidote to the terrible Christian fetish in the western world with numbers, growth and success. Ian Stackhouse, a Baptist minister in Guildford, UK, specifically writes about this problem, in his excellent book The Gospel-Driven Church and to a certain extent his recent (and most excellent) Primitive Piety; and part of his response and solution is found in the sheer brilliance of the writings of P. T. Forsyth.
Anyway, below is a snippet that re-paradigms us as Christians who claim not only to ‘be transformed in the renewing of our minds’ but also to have ‘the mind of Christ’, and to consider a little less triumphantly, and a little more soberly, the actual reality of what it means for Christ to rule the human heart…..
“Christ, with the demand for saving obedience, arouses antagonism in the human heart. And so will the Church that is faithful to Him. You hear people saying, If only the Church had been true to Christ’s message it would have done wonders for the world. If only Christ were preached and practised in all His simplicity to the world, how fast Christianity would spread. Would it? Do you really find that the deeper you get into Christ and the meaning of His demands Christianity spreads faster in your heart? Is it not very much the other way?
When it comes to close quarters you have actually to be got down and broken, that the old man may be pulverised and the new man created from the dust. Therefore when we hear people abusing the Church and its history the first thing we have to say is, Yes, there is a great deal too much truth in what you say, but there is also a greater truth which you are not allowing for, and it is this. One reason why the Church has been so slow in its progress in mankind and its effect on human history is because it has been so faithful to Christ, so faithful to His Cross.
You have to subdue the most intractable, difficult, and slow thing in the world — man’s self-will. You cannot expect rapid successes if you truly preach the Cross whereon Christ died, and which He surmounted not simply by leaving it behind but by rising again, and converting the very Cross into a power and glory. Christ arouses antagonism in the human heart and heroism does not. Everybody welcomes a hero. The minority welcome Christ.”
P. T. Forsyth
The Work of Christ (1910)
Wipf & Stock, 1996, pp. 20-21
In this talk, Richard Cunningham considers why Jesus had to die on the cross. He refers to Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, and covers six misconceptions about the Cross while explaining its real significance for our lives.
Six misconceptions about the Cross:
1. The Cross is something sentimental
2. Jesus chose to die to start a new religion
3. The life and teaching of Jesus are separate from his death
4. We don’t see the danger posed by God’s holiness and our sin
5. There must be another way to be forgiven apart from the Cross
6. I’m not bad enough to need the Cross
While clarifying these misconceptions, Richard explains the true significance of the Cross for our lives.
“Nothing but the resurrection can explain the birth of Christianity.”
“It is still the Cross, not the tomb, that the Church had chosen to be the primary symbol of faith.”
The painting is by:
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) Italian 1490-1576
It has nothing to do with Richard Cunningham or the UCCF. He may well have chosen a completely different portrayal of the Crucifixion, and who could blame him? Not me.