The Victory of the Cross

Today marks the second in the series of major Christian holidays celebrating Christ’s life on earth.  The first, of course, is Christmas, when we celebrate the arrival of Jesus on earth, the incarnation of God in human flesh, the second Adam, coming to save his fallen Creation.  Then comes today, Good Friday, marking the substitutionary atonement that Christ made on our behalf, dying in our place, and paying the penalty for our sin.  On Sunday, we will celebrate his Resurrection from the dead, the vindication of his death and his triumph over the grave.  Finally, there was his Ascension 40 days later, his return to his rightful place, the throne room of Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling his Creation, and acting as our mediator.

Every year on Good Friday, I experience a little bit of internal conflict, or to use a couple of bigger words, “cognitive dissonance” when I contemplate this holiday.  Most holidays are days of celebration.  Certainly we can be thankful and we can rejoice for the good things that resulted from the events of this day, but can we really “celebrate” the day that sinful men murdered the Son of God?  Jesus suffered the ultimate humiliation, and it is to our great shame that our sin was responsible for this great injustice.  So do we celebrate Good Friday, or do we just commemorate it, sort of like we do with December 7, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor?  I remember when I saw Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, in the theater.  When the movie was over, there was no applause, no cheering, no one discussing what a good movie it was or recalling particular scenes that they found impactful.  It was silent.  It was somber.  Outside the theater, other people who had come to see other movies were talking, joking, laughing, etc.  But those who had just watched The Passion filed out of the theater in silence and walked to their cars without saying a word.  There was no celebration that day.  

However, without taking anything away from the somber reality of sin that led to this day, and the immense suffering and humiliation that Jesus suffered on this day, I do think that we can rightly celebrate the victory that Christ accomplished on Good Friday.  The cross was not a low point, a temporary defeat, followed by a comeback.  No, the cross was where Jesus won.  It was a grueling victory, and the cost of victory was infinite, but it was victory nonetheless.

I don’t remember if I’ve heard someone say or teach this before, or if I’ve simply thought it myself in the past, but some people might have the idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection can be treated as independent events, with his death paying the penalty for our sin, and his resurrection making it possible for us to have eternal life.  As if, in theory, he could have simply died, and ceased to exist as a man, with his spirit simply returning to his pre-incarnate state; in which case, those who placed their faith in him would not have to suffer eternal damnation, because Jesus paid that debt for us, but that when we die we would just cease to exist if not for his resurrection.  His death keeps us from going to hell; his resurrection allows us to go to heaven.  Two distinct events with two distinct effects.  However, this is not what the Bible teaches.  Hebrews 2:14 says that Jesus “shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death.”  Jesus didn’t die and then later defeat the devil when he rose again.  He defeated the devil when he died.  In reality, we cannot separate Christ’s death and resurrection into two independent events and attempt to describe certain things that his death accomplished, and certain other things that his resurrection accomplished.  Paul says in I Corinthians 15:17 that, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  If Christ was not raised, then his death was ineffectual, and was nothing but a tragedy.  But Christ was raised, which is the proof that his death secured the victory.

One of the things that got me thinking about the victory of the cross was a rabbit trail that I went down when I was studying Psalm 18.  I was considering the Messianic elements of Psalm 18, but anytime you look up information about Messianic Psalms, the one that rises to the top is Psalm 22.  The opening line of Psalm 22 is quoted by Jesus while hanging on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And that question, “why have you forsaken me?” raises other questions.  What really happened in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son?  Was Jesus really abandoned by God, or was he just expressing his anguish by quoting the anguish that David felt?

It’s been my experience that most people take it for granted that God “turned his back” on Jesus at some point when Jesus was hanging on the cross, because God “cannot look on sin.”  I was reminded of a line from the 1985 Carman song, The Champion, which depicts the crucifixion as a boxing match between Jesus and Satan.  (This song from 30+ years ago was very popular during my formative years of the late 80’s and early 90’s.  It surely ranks up there with other timeless classics such as Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.)  In the song, after Satan delivered his “knock-out blow,” the lyrics say, “God the Father turned His head, His tears announcing Christ was dead!”  This captures the typical understanding that Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” because that was the moment at which all our sin was imputed to Jesus, and God turned his head, no longer looking with favor on his beloved Son.

Now, I do not intend to untangle the theological intricacies of exactly how the atonement works, and the degree and manner in which the unity of the Holy Trinity may have been temporarily fractured.  That is a topic for another day, or an entire lifetime, which maybe we will understand when we get to heaven.  However, in reading some of the ideas about it, I came across something interesting.

It is said that quoting the first line of a passage was a common means of referring to a complete unit of Scripture.  (Remember that chapter and verse numbers were not added until sometime later.)  So, instead of pointing someone to “Psalm 23,” you would refer them to “The Lord Is My Shepherd.”  It’s possible, then, that in quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, Jesus was actually referring to the entire Psalm, not just the part that he quoted.  If that is the case, it might give a different impression of what he meant when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  He might have been pointing his hearers to that Psalm, not necessarily expressing his personal feeling of being forsaken.  What I found particularly interesting is the link between Jesus’ words in John 19:30, “It is finished,” and the last phrase of Psalm 22.

Psalm 22 begins as a lament.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? …(paraphrasing now)… I cry out to you day and night, but you do not answer … my ancestors trusted you, and you delivered them; they cried out to you and were rescued; they were not put to shame… but I, on the other hand, have been robbed of human dignity; I’m nothing but a worm; scorned, despised, mocked… I lay in the dust of death, surrounded, with no one to help me… I have no strength, no courage, not even words to defend myself.” 

The language of this first section of the psalm is very clearly fulfilled by Christ on the cross.  Compare Psalm 22:7-8 with the account from Matthew’s gospel:

PSALM 22:7-8
“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

MATTHEW 27:39-43
“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads….so also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying…, ‘He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.’”

Other obvious Messianic prophecies in Psalm 22 include verse 16 (“they have pierced my hands and feet”) and verse 18 (“they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots”). These are just a few examples; it is not my goal right now to delve into all the parallels between Psalm 22 and the crucifixion.  The point is, Jesus isn’t just fulfilling an isolated phrase that applies to him.  Psalm 22 is drenched in prophecy about Jesus.

Then about two-thirds of the way through the psalm, there is a sudden shift.  Verse 21 begins with David’s final plea, “Save me from the mouth of the lion!”  And then we suddenly have an abrupt change.  Verse 21 continues, “You have rescued me…” or some translations, “you have answered me.”  And for the remaining ten verses he sings God’s praises.  “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.   You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”  David continues, predicting the glorious reign of God over all the earth: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.  For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”  He says that the renown of the Lord will be passed down from generation to generation, closing with verse 31, “they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”  Those final words, “he has done it,” are remarkably similar to the last words of Christ, “It is finished.” 

Actually both of those phrases are just a single word in the original languages.  Psalm 22:31 ends with the Hebrew word “asah” which can be translated as do or done, make or made, accomplish, cause, appointed, execute, fulfill, etc.

The English translation of John 19:30, where we have the words, “It is finished,” comes from the Greek word “tetelestai,” which is very similar in meaning to the Hebrew word “asah” used in Psalm 22:31.  It does not just mean that something is now over; it contains the sense that something has been completed, fulfilled, accomplished, or satisfied.

Now, I don’t want to make too much out of a single word, especially since we don’t even know for sure what particular word Jesus actually used.  The gospels of Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 in Aramaic, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani”, and it is doubtful that he suddenly switched to speaking Greek when the Apostle John recorded his final words in John 19:30. Thus, John’s choice of the Greek word tetelestai is probably a translation of what Jesus said, and while it is inspired Scripture, we shouldn’t read too much into the dictionary definitions of the word selection.  However, I would like to give a few examples that will hopefully serve to give a better understanding of how the original readers of John’s gospel likely understood the word tetelestai.  According to what I’ve read, this word might have been used by an artist upon completion of his work; a painter pulling the brush away from his final stroke, or a sculptor having taken hammer to chisel for the last time and brushing the last bit of dust off his completed work; a chef placing the final garnish on his creation: “Perfect!”  It might have been used by a servant reporting back to his master that he had successfully completed his assignment.  A priest might have said it after a sacrifice had been offered.  A judge might have used this word to signify that the sentence for a crime had been completed; justice has been satisfied!  It could have been used in a commercial sense when certifying that a debt or invoice had been paid.  And finally, it could also be used in a military context, as a victorious battle cry: “The foe is vanquished, it’s over, I won!”  We could perhaps read each of these uses into the final words of Jesus, as God was certainly creating a masterpiece with his plan of salvation; Jesus was an obedient servant, who offered a perfect sacrifice, satisfying the requirements of justice, paying a debt that was owed, and defeating the enemy.  All these uses would be true, but that is not to say that Jesus necessarily had all these aspects in mind and was intentionally trying to convey each of these aspects with what he said.  However, the point I want to make is that his final cry of “It is finished” was not a cry of despair or resignation simply to indicate that his life was over.  It was a declaration that his work was completed, he had fulfilled what he had been sent to do.  The best explanation for what Jesus meant is found two verses earlier in John 19:28, “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished…”  Or, depending on the translation, “knowing that all things were now accomplished, or completed.”  The same word tetelestai is used there.  Jesus knows that he has reached the goal, he has finished the race, and satisfied what God sent him to accomplish.

The gospel writers make it abundantly clear that Jesus’ actions on earth were fulfilling scripture.  Jesus himself said on numerous occasions that he had come to do the will of the Father, to accomplish his work.

David ended Psalm 22 with the word, “He has done it.”  He foresees the glorious reign of the Lord over all the earth as being accomplished.  Jesus gives his final breath on the cross with the word, “I have done it.”  The work that needed to be done, the plan that God had laid out, has been completed; it is finished.

Friday is not a day of defeat, leaving Jesus waiting for a day of victory to arrive.  He is not “down for the count” on Friday, waiting for Sunday to make his comeback.  He won on Friday.  The implementation of the plan is complete.  He has done it.  It is finished.  The rest is vindication, proof, waiting for the rest of the dominoes to fall.  To reference The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a “deeper magic from before the dawn of time” that is at work here.  What Satan thought was a victory for him, was actually the promised seed of Genesis 3:15 striking the fatal blow.

And so, I conclude that it is appropriate that we celebrate the victory that was achieved on Good Friday.  And on Sunday, we will celebrate even more, because Christ is risen!

Pity the Fool!

“if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.”  -1 Corinthians 15:19 (NLT)

Why? If Christians are wrong, and this life is all there is, then why should we be pitied? Is it just because we had our hopes set on something, and those hopes were not realized? (Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”) But if we’re hoping for something more after this life, and then we die, and that’s it…how are our hopes dashed? What hopes? We no longer exist.

Or are we to be pitied, because the expectation is that Christians lead a life that is distinctly different from others? Keep reading in 1 Corinthians 15… Paul says in verses 30-32, “why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!”food and drink

If we are not living for eternity, then we might as well find all the enjoyment we can in the pleasures that this world has to offer. But the implication is that we have forsaken these pleasures in the pursuit of something higher and better (Hebrews 11:26 – “[Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.”)

Not that we cannot or should not take pleasure in the enjoyment of food and drink and the material aspects of God’s creation. (Ecclesiastes 8:15 – “I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.) However, our enjoyment of life is to be found in contentment with what God gives us, not the pursuit of these temporal pleasures.

So the question remains, if we were to reach the end of this life, and it were found that there is no resurrection to eternity, would an observer think, “What a pity! They gave up so much in life, and for what?” Or would the observer simply note, “Well, they were wrong about eternity, but at least they got to enjoy all the same worldly benefits as their neighbors.”

Just use the last part

“Choose you this day whom ye will serve… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” makes a good slogan. Growing up, we had a plaque with the latter part of Joshua 24:15 on our front door.

Joshua 24:15With no context around the phrase, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” it sounds like Joshua is giving an exhortation to “choose wisely” and “choose to serve the Lord (like me and my house).” However, the full verse indicates that the choice being offered is not a choice as to whether to serve the Lord or not. The choice being offered is a choice between false gods: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell.” Joshua is offering a choice to those who have already decided to reject God; he is saying, “here are your alternatives.” Maybe the first part of Joshua 24:15 doesn’t make such a good slogan for a piece of decorative art work after all!

In the broader context of the whole chapter, Joshua is giving an exhortation to “choose wisely” and to serve the Lord. In the preceding verse (14), he says, “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.” And in the following verse (16), the people reject his alternative choices, saying, “God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods.” Joshua warns the people of the consequences should they fail to uphold their commitment, but they insist (24), “The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.”

So, does the fact that the broader context gives the Israelites a choice between serving the Lord and serving other gods justify using “choose you this day whom ye will serve” from verse 15 in that sense? I think not. Truth is too often twisted and misconstrued, which only gives people more reason to accept the notion that truth is relative. Christians especially must be precise and accurate in our assertions of what is true. We should not use a passage of Scripture in a sense that is not what the passage is actually saying, even if our usage is consistent with a principle that is true. We must allow Scripture to say what it actually says, not use it to say something different.

Cross-Gender Shoe-Filling

Writing on the topic of the Pentagon’s recent decision to allow women in combat, Doug Wilson offers some helpful thoughts, particularly a specific scriptural directive from Deuteronomy 22:5, which reads “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.” (KJV)

Wilson says,

This verse is a prohibition for cross-dressing when it comes to men. But the restriction placed on women here is not simply the reverse of that. When a man is getting kinky in the way described here, it is a straightforward transvesite problem. But going the other way, we should notice a different problem. Notice the odd construction — “that which pertains to a man.” The Hebrew underneath is ‘keli geber,’ and should be read as the “gear of a warrior.” Whether we are talking about a man in fishnet stockings, or a woman decked out in full battle regalia, we need to recognize that God finds it loathsome. So should we.

Another scriptural argument that should be noted is this. “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (Dt. 14:21b). Just as Paul noted that the law about not muzzling oxen was not simply about oxen, so this passage is not just about baby goats. The principle latent in this law is that we must not take that which was intended for the giving of life and transform it into an instrument of death. The milk was intended by God for sustenance, and so it should not be turned into death. Women were created and exquisitely fashioned by God to be life-imparters, and so they must not be transformed into death-dealers.

This was the first time I’ve encountered that particular interpretive slant for Deut. 22:5, so I consulted some other translations and commentaries to see whether Wilson’s contention has merit.

Starting with the lexicon definitions, the Hebrew word k?liy, translated “that which pertaineth” in the KJV, is given the following definitions:

  1. article, vessel, implement, utensil
    1. article, object (general)
    2. utensil, implement, apparatus, vessel
      1. implement (of hunting or war)
      2. implement (of music)
      3. implement, tool (of labour)
      4. equipment, yoke (of oxen)
      5. utensils, furniture
    3. vessel, receptacle (general)
    4. vessels (boats) of paper-reed

Elsewhere in the KJV, the same word is translated “vessel,” “instrument,” “weapon,” and “armour” among a few other words.

The Hebrew word geber, translated “unto a man” in the KJV, is one of a number of Hebrew words for “man.”  This particular word is defined as a “strong man” or a “warrior,” emphasizing his strength or ability to fight.

Commentator Adam Clarke translates keli geber as “the instruments or arms of a man,” and says that “as the word geber is here used, which properly signifies a strong man or man of war, it is very probable that armor is here intended.”

Spence and Exell’s The Pulpit Commentary says of keli geber, “literally, the apparatus of a man, including, not dress merely, but implements, tools, weapons, and utensils.”

So, although most of the modern translations only refer to clothing, it appears that Wilson is correct.  This verse isn’t just about cross-dressing,  it’s about cross-gender shoe-filling in general.  And the shoes of a warrior are shoes that are intended to be filled by the feet of men.

Opposition to women in combat can be based on pragmatic concerns that stem from the physical, emotional, and psychological differences between men and women.  There are valid arguments to be made from these concerns.  It is also valid to appeal to chivalry and the man’s role as protector.  But who defines chivalry?  Protection from what?  Protection to what end?  What if the woman doesn’t want to be protected?  What if she is capable of protecting herself?  Christians cannot allow gender roles to be defined by the culture around us.  We can appeal to all sorts of arguments, but our first and last appeal must be to Scripture.

Some objects, roles, and behaviors are gender-neutral, freely used/acted/exhibited by both men and women.  But there are certain things that are designed to be used by men for manly purposes.  There are plenty of other passages supporting distinct roles for men and women.  Deuteronomy 22:5 seems to be telling us that the weapons of a warrior are inherently associated with the role of a man.

Creation

A good unifying summary statement about the Creation account in Genesis:

We believe that the Scriptures, and hence Genesis 1-3, are the inerrant word of God.  We affirm that Genesis 1-3 is a coherent account from the hand of Moses.  We believe that history, not myth, is the proper category for describing these chapters; and furthermore that their history is true.  In these chapters we find the record of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth ex nihilo; of the special creation of Adam and Eve as actual human beings, the parents of all humanity (hence they are not the products of evolution from lower forms of life).  We further find the account of an historical fall, that brought all humanity into an estate of sin and misery, and of God’s sure promise of a Redeemer.  Because the Bible is the word of the Creator and Governor of all there is, it is right for us to find it speaking authoritatively to matters studied by historical and scientific research.  We also believe that acceptance of, say, non-geocentric astronomy is consistent with full submission to Biblical authority.  We recognize that a naturalistic worldview and true Christian faith are impossible to reconcile, and gladly take our stand with Biblical supernaturalism.

The Committee has been unable to come to unanimity over the nature and duration of the creation days.  Nevertheless, our goal has been to enhance the unity, integrity, faithfulness and proclamation of the Church.  Therefore we are presenting a unanimous report with the understanding that the members hold to different exegetical viewpoints.  As to the rest we are at one.  It is our hope and prayer that the Church at large can join us in a principled, Biblical recognition of both the unity and diversity we have regarding this doctrine, and that all are seeking properly to understand biblical revelation.  It is our earnest desire not to see our beloved church divide over this issue.

taken from http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html

They go on to provide a brief history and analysis of the varying views that have existed within the Church over time.  For example, here is a summary of their study regarding views that were held from the time of the Early Church up to (and including) the formulation of the Westminster Confession:

  • First, it is apparent that there existed in the church prior to the Reformation two broad tendencies in the interpretation of the Genesis days: one more figurative, the other more literal—the Calendar Day view.
  • Second, the Calendar Day view was advocated in both the eastern and western parts of the church (Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose and Bede), as was the figurative view (Origen, John Scotus Erigena and Augustine).
  • Third, the Calendar Day view appears to be the majority view amongst influential commentators. Certainly, it is the only view held by contemporary Reformed theologians that is explicitly articulated in early Christianity.
  • Fourth, the issue of the length of the creation days was apparently not taken up in any ecclesiastical council and never became a part of any of the early ecumenical creedal statements.
  • Fifth, the Reformers explicitly rejected the Augustinian figurative or allegorical approach to the Genesis days on hermeneutical grounds.
  • Sixth, the Westminster Assembly codified this rejection, following Calvin, Perkins and Ussher, in the Westminster Confession.
  • Seventh, there is no primary evidence of diversity within the Westminster Assembly on the specific issue of whether the creation days are to be interpreted as calendar days or figurative days.  Such primary witnesses as we have either say nothing (the majority) or else specify that the days are calendar days.

A pdf version of the entire report is available here:
http://www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.pdf