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).
“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).
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).
It is highly important, if God is to be honored and the heart of His child established, that we should be quite clear upon this precious truth. God’s love for me and for each of “His own” was entirely unmoved by anything in us. What was there in me to attract the heart of God? Absolutely nothing. But, to the contrary, there was everything to repel Him, everything calculated to make Him loathe me—sinful, depraved, a mass of corruption, with “ no good thing” in me.
A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God (pgs. 100).
The OT storyline that I posit as the basis for the NT storyline is this: The Old Testament is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory.
The NT transformation of the storyline of the OT that I propose is this: Jesus’s life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-not yet new-creational reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgment for the unbelieving, unto the triune God’s glory.
G.K Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology (pg. 16).
There is no point in trying to hide the fact that the Bible has been used by Americans to justify both race-based, demeaning slavery and its abolition. Mark Noll’s book God and Race in American Politics: A Short History clarifies this painful confession. With an eye for concrete (incarnational) stories and meticulous historical detail, Noll is above all a seer of the both-and. Or call it paradox. Or historical conundrum. There are no simple explanations.
The thesis of Noll’s book is: “Together, race and religion make up, not only the nation’s deepest and most enduring moral problem, but also its broadest and most enduring political influence.” That is provocative enough. But his working out of how race and religion are interwoven is where the puzzles come. For example, “Before the Civil War, religion drove abolitionist assaults upon slavery even as it under-girded influential defenses of slavery in both the North and the South.” Agonizingly both-and, not comfortably either-or….
It is fitting that we frankly confess that Christians—we Christians—have often used our Bible to justify sinful attitudes and actions. We have done it in our personal lives, and we have done it in the larger structural dimensions of life.
John Piper, Bloodlines (pg. 228).
Without Jesus willingly living the prayer that he taught all of us to pray, the angels would have had nothing to sing about, those tombs would’ve never opened, sin and death would have never been conquered, and we would be the dead walking. Without Jesus living in the same surrender to which he now calls us, there would be no hope of the defeat of sin and no reality of eternal life for all who believe. It is true and valuable to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that the most wonderful things in life come to us not as the result of demand and control, but through sacrifice and surrender. Blessings that you could never achieve on your own come when you humbly and willing pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, right here, right now as it is in heaven.” Aren’t you glad that Jesus willingly did on earth what he taught us to do in this prayer?
Paul David Tripp, Come Let Us Adore Him (pg. 65).