Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
“Good Friday” by Christian Rosetti
To most people in our society, Christianity is religion and moralism. The only alternative to it (besides some other world religion) is pluralistic secularism. But from the beginning it was not so. Christianity was recognized as a tertium quid, something else entirely.
The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders “the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you” (Matthew 21:31).
Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.
Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (pp. 17-19).
To remove from this world to the Father. This phrase is worthy of notice; for it refers to the knowledge of Christ, that he knew that his death was a passage to the heavenly kingdom of God. And if, while he was hastening thither, he did not cease to regard his own with his wonted love, there is no reason why we should now think that his affection is changed. Now, since he is the first-born from the dead, this definition of death applies to the whole body of the Church, that it is an opening or passage to go to God, from whom believers are now absent.
John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, vol. 2, 54.
Side by side with this bright crown [of heaven] behold another. It is the iron crown of hell, for Christ reigneth there supreme. Not only in the dazzling brightness of heaven, but in the black impenetrable darkness of hell is his omnipotence felt, and his sovereignty acknowledged; the chains which bind damned spirits are the chains of his strength; the fires which burn are the fires of his vengeance; the burning rays that scorch through their eyeballs, and melt their very heart, are flashed from his vindictive eye. There is no power in hell besides his. The very devils know his might. He chaineth the great dragon. If he give him a temporary liberty, yet is the chain in his hand, and he can draw him back lest he go beyond his limit. Hell trembles at him. The very howlings of lost spirits are but deep bass notes of his praise. While in heaven the glorious notes shout forth his goodness; in hell the deep growlings resound his justice, and his certain victory over an his foes. Thus his empire is higher than the highest heaven, and deeper than the lowest hell.
Charles Spurgeon, The Savior’s Many Crowns, The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 5: Sermons 225-285.
In other words, we are all engaged in “the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58). We all do our part in helping the vine to grow through prayerfully speaking the word, whenever and however we can. Luther put it with typical sharpness like this:
“The ministry of the Word belongs to all. To bind and to loose clearly is nothing else than to proclaim and to apply the gospel. For what is it to loose, if not to announce the forgiveness of sins before God? What is it to bind, except to withdraw the gospel and to declare the retention of sins? Whether they [that is, the Roman Catholic Church] want to or not, they must concede that the keys are the exercise of the ministry of the Word and belong to all Christians.”
Does this sound too extreme? Or too demanding on the struggling Christians you know? Or just too hard to persuade people of? We need to think further about the nature of the normal Christian life.
Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine (pg. 175).
“The fulfillment of . . . the promise could be testified by thousands of living Christians in the present day. They would say, if their evidence could be collected, that when they came to Christ by faith they found in him more than they expected. They have tasted peace and hope and comfort since they first believed, which, with all their doubts and fears, they would not exchange for anything in this world. They have found grace according to their need and strength according to their days. In themselves and their own hearts they have often been disappointed, but they have never been disappointed in Christ.”
J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (pg, 472).
This is the love of God which was supremely displayed in the cross (5:8; 8:32, 37), which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (5:5), which has drawn out from us our responsive love (8:28), and which in its essential steadfastness will never let us go, since it is committed to bringing us safe home to glory in the end (8:35, 39). Our confidence is not in our love for him, which is frail, fickle and faltering, but in his love for us, which is steadfast, faithful and persevering. The doctrine of ‘the perseverance of the saints’ needs to be re-named. It is the doctrine of the perseverance of God with the saints.
Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail hold of thee;
In this alone rejoice with awe—
Thy mighty grasp of me.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (pgs. 259–260).
Our lives our filled with both joy and sorrow, gain and loss. John wants us to realize, as one writer observed: “Jesus is more than equal to either occasion. He has a place in all circumstances. If we invite him to our time of innocent happiness, he will increase our joy. If we call on him in our times of sorrow, anxiety, or bereavement, he can bring consolation, comfort, and joy that is not of this world.”
Richard Phillips, John: Volume 1 (pg. 281).
A thankful heart is constantly extending grace because it has received grace. Love and grace are uneven. God poured out on his own Son the criticism I deserve. Now he invites me to pour out undeserving grace on someone who has hurt me. Grace begets grace.
Paul Miller, The Praying Life (pg. 134).
Keller suggests twelve categories of people that the text may be speaking to:
- Conscious unbeliever: Is aware he is not a Christian (e.g., immoral pagan, intellectual pagan, imitative pagan, genuine thinker, religious non-Christian).
- Nonchurched nominal Christian: Has belief in the basic Christian doctrines, but with no or remote church connection (e.g., churched nominal Christian, semi-active moralist, active self-righteous).
- Awakened: Is stirred and convicted over his sin but without gospel peace yet (e.g., curious, convicted with false peace, comfortless).
- Apostate: Was once active in the church but has repudiated the faith without regrets.
- New Believer: Is recently converted.
- Doubtful: Has many fears and hesitancies about his new faith (e.g., eager, overzealous).
- Mature/growing: Passes through nearly all the basic conditions named below but progresses through them because he responds quickly to pastoral treatment or knows how to treat himself.
- Afflicted: Lives under a burden or trouble that saps spiritual strength (e.g., physically afflicted, dying, bereaved, lonely, persecuted/abused, poor/economic troubles, desertion).
- Tempted: Is struggling with a sin or sins that are remaining attractive and strong (e.g., overtaken, taken over).
- Immature: Is a spiritual baby who should be growing but is not (e.g., undisciplined, self-satisfied, unbalanced, devotee of eccentric doctrine).
- Depressed: Is not only experiencing negative feelings but also shirking Christian duties and being disobedient (e.g., anxious, weary, angry, introspective, guilty).
- Backslid: Has gone beyond depression to withdrawal from fellowship with God and with the church (e.g., tender, hardening).
Andy Naselli, quoting Tim Keller, in How to Understand and Apply the New Testament (pg. 316-17).