The Cross Message 3

It isn’t that Jesus didn’t clearly tell people publicly who He was.

Jesus said that He is the source of eternal life (Jn. 5:24), the resurrection (Jn. 5:25-29, 11:25), that He is the one the scriptures testify of (Jn. 5:39), the bread of life (Jn. 6:32-33, 48), the light of the world (Jn. 8:12, 12:46), the liberator from sin (Jn. 8:36), the divine “I am” (Jn. 8:58), the good shepherd (Jn. 10:11), Lord and Master (Jn. 13:13), and “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).

Yet the religious and political elites in Jerusalem rejected Jesus of Nazareth in part on the basis of His low social status.  They rejected Jesus based upon their own biased prejudice for wealth and power according to the norms of worldly conventional thinking…thus condemning this very mindset in not being able to come down to the lower level of humility…as brilliantly and intentionally expressed in Jesus the Son of God and Messiah …presenting Himself to the world in the unexpected low estate of a common carpenter.

Respect is the foundation for every positive human relationship.  In pinning the already beaten and battered body of Jesus Christ to a wooden cross using 7-inch long metal spikes…the religious and political elites in Jerusalem demonstrated the most disrespectful and de-valuing rejection of Jesus imaginable.

This exposed the true violent character of the worldview of “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn. 2:16) at the extreme margin of self-sovereignty living apart from God and “going about to establish their own righteousness” (Rom. 10:3) according to our own thinking and standards (Isa. 53:6).

In one brilliant stroke God simultaneously judged the rebellion aspect of going our own way…against His rightful rulership… expressed violently at the cross…demonstrated through self-sovereign self-autonomy…and unexpectedly in the same cross at Calvary enabling and providing eternal salvation to all those who will put their faith and trust in Him…who will voluntarily come to God in faith.

Spirit-born Christians look upward in admiration to Jesus on the cross…and the blood He shed…for our salvation…and not to our own good works (Eph. 2:8-9).  Christian discipleship is about surrendering and yielding our misguided claim to self-autonomy…to instead follow God’s higher ways for our lives…in faith and in trust in God…going forward from the moment of our salvation conversion.

The injunction of 1Thessalonians 5:18…”In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” is a vital part of a living and vibrant faith that trusts God for everything that comes our way in the Christian life…whether up on the mountaintop, down in the valley, or in-between…and like the apostle Paul…places our trust in God to lead us into all truth and into a personal knowledge of Him…come what may (Phil. 4:11-13).

This is the epitome…the pinnacle…of respect for Jesus Christ and for God the Father (2 Thes. 1:10).

But this actualization of Hebrews 11:1 biblical-quality faith can only become reality within a God-composed journey of faith life-script as patterned for us in the biblical narrative stories of faith…creating the context for personal relationships with God as prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34 for Christian believers…in the new covenant age…from the least to the greatest.

As argued in this book, this reality is simply outside of any conceivable motivation originating from within the worldly conventional normalcy and thinking of self-sovereign self-rulership…the default worldview that produced the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Calvary Hill in Jerusalem nearly two-thousand years ago…and is still the prevalent worldview of modern mankind today.

            Ask anyone on the street today to articulate the difference between self-sovereignty and God-sovereignty…and they will say they have no idea what we are talking about.

The innovative novelty of the living God displacing our ways with His higher ways as described in the life-scripts of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Ruth, David, Esther and Mordecai, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter, John, James, and Paul…to name but a few…is an important part of the gospel message of hope…of the liberation from our own life of sin…lost in our own foibles and shortcomings…now with a God who can bring new, real, positive change into our lives.

If this displacement element is a powerful argument for the divine origin and inspiration of the Bible…then an Abraham-style adventure of faith should be a normal and expected function of our Christian discipleship being lived and preached throughout Christendom.

But oddly and sadly it is not.  The all-important displacement part is left out.

In a church growth, seeker-friendly approach toward bringing in the un-churched, God’s “plans” are reduced to over-simplified 3-point or 5-point plans that often only manage to confirm our own hopes and dreams in conformity to worldly conventional aspirations and expectations…rather than picking up our cross to follow Jesus Christ into a whole new world of faith and trust…following God-scripts unique to the Bible alone.

A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity

The Cross Message 2

One of the compelling arguments for the divine origin of this cross element in the biblical narrative stories of faith…the displacement of our own plans by the plans of God in a tightly scripted, God-composed journey of faith…is this absence of any wiggle-room for alternative self-sovereignty and our own self-ruled contrivance to change the details of the script.

This element of God’s plans…that removes us off the thrones of our lives in the key critical area of the course and direction of our lives…is as contrary to humanistic thinking and the pride-fueled, worldly expectation of entitlement to conventional normality…as is imaginable.

This is the originally novel concept that is seamlessly integrated into the narrative stories of faith in the Bible…starting with Abraham…that precludes any rational pretense that these stories are human-generated or the product of inventive mythological fiction writing.

The cross element of displacing our ways with God’s higher ways is the most offensive and infuriating part of the biblical gospel message…to worldly conventional thinking…and produces the most agitated and violent pushback from people committed to self-autonomy and worldly self-validation.

As discussed in the previous sections…the entire life-script of Jesus the Son of God and the eternal Word (Jn. 1:1-2) was designed in such a way as to expose the huge gap between self-sovereign self-interest…and God-sovereign unselfish service.

This gap is differentiated using the universally recognizable currency of human-esteemed high social status…as a measurement of worth and value…on the one hand…versus the contrast of a God-engineered, radically self-effacing humility at a divine level on the other hand (1 Jn. 2:15-17)…which was below the resolution level and comprehension as a valued character trait…by worldly standards.

The Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes were never going to follow the preaching of John the Baptist at the river Jordan (Mt. 23:25), never going to follow Jesus the lowly carpenter from Nazareth (Jn. 7:27), and never going to join themselves to the new Christian church in Jerusalem.

The low social status of Jesus Christ was so off-putting to these ruling elites in Jerusalem…so low on the respectability scale regarding their concept of who and what the Messiah should be like…so below the cut-off line of their expectations according to worldly conventional thinking…they did not even bother to ask Jesus…or His mother Mary…the preliminary starting messianic question of the city of His birthplace…Bethlehem…not Nazareth.

The life-script for Jesus the Son of God was brilliantly crafted to create the greatest reaction of violent offense to self-sovereign self-autonomy…to facilitate the appointed place and date of destiny for Jesus the Messiah to be the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin…through His utter and total rejection (Ps. 22; Isa. 53).

Jesus failed to satisfy the requirements for the long-awaited Messiah according to worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.

The people who instigated the crucifixion of Jesus Christ…by doing so demonstrated a complete lack of respect for Jesus…the placing of zero value upon His person and His life in the most emphatic and clear-cut way imaginable.

The worldly disgrace and de-valuing of a human life by execution through Roman crucifixion…actually exposes and condemns as unrighteous, unloving, and devastatingly counter-intuitive…the rebellion component in its worst rendition…in this example of misdirected human self-sovereignty  (Jn. 5:23).

From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity

The Cross Message 1

“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”                                                                    (Mk. 8:34-35)

If the Abraham reality is the starting definition for biblical faith…that places the cross of Christ element into the biblical narrative stories of faith…which is completely outside the realm of humanistic literary conception and inventive creativity….and this concept proves to be a powerful apologetic argument for the divine origin and inspiration of the Bible…this then indicts a large part of the program of contemporary Christianity in economically developed countries around the world.

If too much emphasis is placed in seeker-friendly approaches aimed at expanding church growth by becoming more attractive to the un-churched…rather than preaching a biblical-quality cross message of discipleship that runs contrary to the mass-appeal required to produce mega-church sized congregations…then we have two programs today that have conflicting purposes.

As Abraham initially travels from the city of Haran to the Promised Land of Canaan, with each step he takes God is displacing Abraham’s worldly conventional, normative plans with a divinely conceived plan that is outside of the contemplation and contrivance of Abraham.

This creates a narrative story…a storyline script…that cannot be deviated from and still maintain its full force and effect.

In other words…if remaining in Haran…and faced with the seeming dilemma of producing no child heirs through Sarah his wife…Abraham would then have the available option of easily finding additional wives among the population of Haran…and producing children through his own means according to acceptable contemporary conventions.

But as Abraham walks towards Canaan…his new storyline contains no wiggle-room for a self-sovereign contrivance of his own making in this all-important regard of producing an heir…because Abraham is now walking in a new script inserted into his life by God.

Abraham is not going to accidently “bump” into a chance meeting with beautifully attractive female candidates like Sarah from his hometown of “Ur of the Chaldees”…for a second or third wife in addition to Sarah…because the promise to Abraham is to have children as numerous as the dust of the earth…through Sarah.

Abraham is now locked into the storyline script of biblical faith for the highest and best of reasons…being the first to walk in a God-composed adventure of faith life-script.

This will make Abraham the “father of faith” of multitudes as the number of stars of the night sky…of people having similarly patterned walks of faith…walking in the opposite direction away from the conventional normalcy of “Haran”…and into their own God-composed life-scripts in the spiritual equivalent Promised Land of Canaan (Jn. 8:36).

Likewise, Joseph cannot procure his premature release from Pharaoh’s prison through the help of his fellow-prisoners the butler and baker.

Moses cannot persuade God at the burning bush to find someone else to go to Egypt to deliver the Israelites.

David will not become king prematurely through Saul fatally falling off his horse or being killed by a stray arrow or an unlucky sword blow in battle.

Peter may incorrectly think it is his absolute duty to courageously make his stand alongside Jesus at the night trial…in one impetuous show of bravery…but occupying a fourth cross on Calvary Hill the next day is not the detailed and finely calibrated life-script destiny for the full future life of Peter…that fateful night in the courtyard of Caiaphas.

From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity

The Real Prince and the Pauper 2

The life of Jesus Christ is the perfect example of the called-out person…the called-out life.

As we read through the Sermon on the Mount…any elevated worldly status…as a military liberator or political leader…would seem totally out-of-place and out of character for the Son of God Jesus making the fundamental case for people then and now to exchange self-sovereignty for God-sovereignty in their lives.

If we are called-out to be missionaries in the rainforests of the Amazon or in New Guinea…to be evangelists and church-planters in Africa or Western China…or to be the first-century disciples of the early Christian church sent out into the world to spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ…like Peter, Paul, and the other apostles and disciples…we will experience hardship in this life in service to the gospel message (Acts 14:22).

But in the Bible, God also raises people up to worldly prominence and status…according to God’s unselfish purposes for the benefit of mankind.

Abraham is a wealthy man to the point of being able to respond quickly and assemble a small army to go and successfully fight another small army in rescue of his nephew Lot (Gen. 14:14).

Within God’s callings, plans, and guidance…Joseph becomes governor of Egypt, Moses is an equal match to Pharaoh in delivering the Israelites, and David becomes a king.

God raises-up mighty and powerful prophets that deliver the people from oppressors…and to oppose and denounce wayward kings.

Other notable names in the Bible that come to mind are Boaz, Abigail, Daniel, Esther and Mordecai, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathaea, and the “chief of Asia”…friends of Paul (Acts 19:31)…people who all experienced some elevated measure of worldly prominence and status…in service to God and other people.

So whether we are called-out to be pastors or foreign missionaries…or called-out to be federal court judges, state senators, college presidents, Bible college professors, concert pianists, professional athletes, stay-at-home moms, or successful business people…we have no one ultimately to answer to in regard to our individual callings except God our Creator…in the leading and course of our lives (2 Tim. 4:7).

In leaving behind His outwardly appearing heavenly glory…and rejecting all claims to elevated worldly status and acclaim…Jesus Christ the Son of God creates a platform of credibility from which to offer a radically different lifestyle alternative that only the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice-for-sin could plausibly and justifiably make.

What is inexplicable in terms of humanistic literary invention…because it runs so contrary to our notion of self-sovereignty…is that Jesus is offering Himself as the leader of this alternative lifestyle expedition…dethroning us…taking our place.

When Jesus says in John 14:6…”I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me”…He is exemplifying and articulating the second and only other major worldview possible in all of existence.

The radical insertion of a Prince and the Pauper lifestyle journey into the discovery of the knowledge of good and evil…of leaving the palace to go out into the risk and adventure of the outside rough-and-tumble world (Mt. 9:10-13)…can only be actualized into real, empirical human experience by the one Person who invented and literally embodied this concept…Jesus Christ the Son of God.

From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity

The Real Prince and the Pauper 1

“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.”                  (Phil. 2:10)

Jesus Christ cannot live-out and fulfill His unique mission in a human body…and still at the same time retain some portion of His divine, outward appearing glory.

Jesus is now in an “earthen vessel” (2 Cor. 4:7).  Even though Jesus is at all times fully God and fully man…Jesus cannot walk around Israel in the first-century having a low-level exterior glow of light surrounding His body in a sort of low-calorie, sugar-free, “God-Light” aura…and fulfill the destiny that awaits Him at Calvary.

God cannot split the difference halfway between the unremarkable outward appearance of a normal human being…and the unmistakably divine glory that Jesus enjoyed as the Son of God…the Second Person of the Trinity in heaven.

In terms of outward appearances the incarnation is an all or nothing enterprise.  It is a binary choice of the digits of either zero or one…a yes or no enterprise…not both.  It is a “go or no-go” decision for missile launch.  No fractions are allowed.

Any amount of visible, supernaturally divine light emanating around the exterior person of Jesus the son of Mary and step-son of Joseph the carpenter, growing up in Nazareth, and during His subsequent public ministry…would have tipped the salvation scale completely away from the free-will exercise of commendable faith in Christ as Savior…for all of the good and right reasons…instead of tipping the scale towards the morally bland, unexceptional, merely factual observation of the recognition of the physical phenomenon of a visually glorified Jesus Christ.

Faith in a slightly glowing Jesus Christ would be a physical senses observation only…in the first-century…rather than a selective moral choice…two things that are entirely different in character and substance.

What this tells us about the character of God is that He has the breadth and depth of moral capacity to empty Himself fully of all of the advantages of the outward appearances of His glory…a necessary strategy for our sakes in meeting us where we are at…that enables the ignominious outcome of the cross on Calvary Hill.

God’s love for us is so strong, so purely motivated, so free of the excess baggage of pride and arrogance… that He can enter into the unvarnished status of a normal appearing human being as Jesus Christ from the small and unremarkable town of Nazareth (Phil. 2:5-8; Isa 9:6, 53:5)…to become the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for our sins.

The humility component of the stepping down of the Son of God from heaven into a human body is an essential factor in the eventual rejection of Jesus Christ foretold in Isaiah 53…which leads directly to the cross, the resurrection, and our eternal salvation.

This element of the cross in the life-script of Jesus Christ…and as also applied to our own Christian lives…is at a level of complexity and novelty beyond anything that human creative imagination could invent…barely touched upon in modern literary fiction.

Additionally, it can be said that it would also have been easy for Jesus the Son of God to obtain the outward appearance of worldly success and wealth as an international merchant in the first-century, for example.

And judging by the verbal exchange between the 12-year old Jesus and the rabbis in Jerusalem recorded in Luke 2:41-50, Jesus could also have stayed within the rabbinical tradition and become a world-renowned Jewish scholar.

Any and all such pursuits, however, seem beneath the unique life-script of the divine Son of God entering into a human life on earth.

From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity

The Elevated Quality of Divine Humility 3

The element of divine humility is an inseparable part…and the concept of the divine Son of God on the cross as the perfect sacrifice to enable us to be able to get to know God…meeting us precisely where we are in taking our place on the cross…becoming sin for our sakes who Himself had no sin…is simply above and outside of human literary invention in the first-century, and beyond the scope and reach of the humanistic genius of Mark Twain’s imaginative modern novel.

Stated another way…the prince in his regal clothing, royal carriage, and honor guard of armed soldiers…would never be crucified…but a lowly pauper…a humble carpenter-prophet from Nazareth…could be crucified without a second thought.

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9…”For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

This fundamental biblical truth of salvation by grace through faith…and not self-works…which separates it from all other worldviews…is based four-square on the perfect sacrifice of the blood of the divine Jesus Christ on the cross.

But without the singular brilliance of the divine humility element in the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ…Jesus would never have made it to the cross.

The low road of worldly humility is the narrow gate of Matthew 7:13-14…leading to the cross of Calvary…that Jesus Himself must walk through in order to fulfill His unique life-script as the Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin…to the precise exclusion of all other worldly concerns and expectations.

To borrow the language from the intelligent design debate…the “body-plan” architecture of the life-script of Jesus Christ hones-in on and focuses upon the brilliant outcome of the cross and the resurrection…displaying foresight in its composition and masterful engineering in accomplishing its goal…that is breathtaking in its imaginative creativity.

Philippians 2:5-8 reads: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

The life, message, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are a divine revelation at the top-most peak of the most complex, sublime, creatively innovative information…inserted into the contemplative reality of human thinking and actual lived-experience.

The cross of Jesus Christ (Lk. 22:42)…God displacing our way with His way…can be found ingeniously embedded within every narrative story of faith in the Bible.

This brings the extraordinarily unconventional Prince and the Pauper journey of divine humility into actuality…in some measure…in our own lives through what I call in this book “God-composed journey of faith life-scripts”…totally outside of the realm of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking.

In the fallen context of this world (Lk. 4:5-6)…divine humility is the one character trait that is perfectly immune and resistant to the temptations of the corruption of worldly power, wealth, and glory…and at the same time the one character trait in the perfect person Jesus Christ that will take Him…surprisingly (1 Cor. 2:8)…and us as well (Phil. 2:5)…all the way to and through the cross.

It is inconceivable that human literary insight would or could invent these two very subtle and sublime concepts within the life-script for Jesus Christ…considering that Mark Twain only went as far as the secular story of a prince exchanging places with a pauper as a lesson in worldly political leadership training…with neither the prince or the pauper in this story immune or resistant to worldly power, wealth, and glory…and neither one crucified for the sins of the world as the Passover Lamb of God.

From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity

The Elevated Quality of Divine Humility 2

Another commonsense apologetic argument I want to make in this post for the divine origin of the Bible and its message…that has parallel inspirational value…is that Jesus Christ in a human body meets us precisely at the point where we are…and that this profound concept creates a clear path for the Passover Lamb of God to make it all the way to the cross at Calvary…to make a successful divine atonement for sin…at our human level.

In the story of The Prince and the Pauper…as a matter of practicality…to meet us at the point where we are…simply cannot happen as long as the young prince goes outside the palace dressed in princely clothes, riding in a royal carriage, and surrounded by a retinue of soldiers.

Only by having an absence of the royal accoutrement of clothing and the dignity of his office…surrounding his personage…can the young prince meet and engage with his unknowing subjects at the same place…on the same level…where they are in their lives.

A critical point I want to make here is that Mark Twain published his remarkably brilliant book The Prince and the Pauper in 1881…based on an incredibly perceptive insight…I would say inspired… into the reality of elevated moral leadership…whether as a king…or as a democratically elected president or prime minister…or as the Almighty God and Creator of the universe.

The life of Jesus Christ in the first-century A.D. is anchored in history…not fiction.  His death by Roman crucifixion in Jerusalem during the administration of Pontius Pilate is an undisputed fact of history.

The rapid growth of the Christian church in the first century testifies to the historicity of the events surrounding the life and death of Jesus Christ…and His resurrection.

Is it plausible to the modern thinker…having now the benefit of historical hindsight…to suggest that Matthew, a tax collector…Mark, a younger friend of Peter…Luke, a Greek physician…John, a fisherman from Galilee…Paul, an educated Pharisee and an actual persecutor of the early Christian church…James, the half-brother of Jesus…and Peter, also a common fisherman…could insightfully as a group effort pre-empt Mark Twain by 1,800 years in inventing as fiction or clever added embellishment…this pinnacle concept of the moral leadership quality of Jesus Christ stepping down from His glory in heaven to be able to meet us at the precise point where we are? 

In writing their gospel accounts, the book of Acts, and the New Testament letters to the early churches…in the moment…as the action in live history is all unfolding and openly observable to the Jewish and the Greco-Roman world…all around them in real time during the explosive growth of the early Christian church…these Christians are writing about the recent life and message of the historical person Jesus Christ…and not a literary fictional storyline of the young prince of Mark Twain’s book.

Is it plausible that these New Testament writers could take this real-life story a large step further in innovative imagination…and creatively invent the concept around the divine Son of God…not some ordinary fictional earthly prince…that in order to be able to show up for the divine appointment on Calvary Hill…Jesus the Prince of Peace and the eternal Word of God…would have to be clothed in the divine humility of an undistinguished outward appearance…the carpenter from Galilee…as the God/man Passover sacrifice for our sins?

In this unique scenario at Calvary…the magnitude of the endpoint goal dictates the brilliantly fine-tuned, extremely narrow means to get there.

The blood that Jesus sheds on the cross provides a perfect and complete atoning sacrifice for our sins.  This enables blood-bought and Spirit-born Christians to be able to venture out into risked-filled adventures of faith after the pattern given to us in the Bible…with the full security and assurance of our salvation…so that we can get to know God on His terms…within His life-scripts written for our benefit.

When viewed in this light, the importance of the mission of Jesus and His appointed destiny at Calvary is incalculable.

From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity