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Sam Reeve

The Crucified Christ – stumbling block, foolishness, or wisdom?

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The death of Jesus is something that demands a response. The event itself was surrounded by all sorts of machinations, political wranglings and power struggles. People on the day responded very differently, even amongst the Jewish leaders. The majority screamed for Jesus’ blood. “Crucify him!” was their shrill cry, over and over again. They manipulated the spineless Pilate to bring it about, in spite of his instinct that it was unjust. But there were a few who thought otherwise. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both leaders of the Jews, were prepared to go public in their support of Jesus. They made sure that he had a proper burial.

The apostle Paul, reflecting on it when writing to the Christians in Corinth, reminds them that the core of our proclamation is Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23). To the Jews it was a stumbling block. Something they tripped over. They couldn’t conceive of a Rescuer/Messiah who would end up dying as a criminal. For the Greeks, it just didn’t make sense – it was foolishness. That is the response of many in our godless age. Why should someone innocent be punished for the sins of the guilty? A good question indeed!

Paul continues in the next verse: but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24). Through the death of Jesus the power of God is displayed in dealing with sin and Satan – overthrowing their hold on those who believe. Also the infinite wisdom of God – it is at the cross that the justice of God is totally satisfied, his holiness supremely displayed as sin is completely paid for. And in equal measure, his infinite love, compassion and grace is perfectly expressed as Jesus dies, the innocent for the guilty, the worthy for the unworthy. How wonderful to be a recipient of that kind of love and mercy.

I trust we all have a week overflowing with thankfulness as we continue to ponder on the sacrifice of our great Saviour, and live out our trust in him.

Walking towards the cross

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When you read the account of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, the one thing that strikes you is his clear-sightedness and determination.

Attempts to shield him from the coming sacrifice are swept aside. He tells those who come to arrest him to let the disciples leave (John 18:8); he tells Peter, who wants to fight off the corrupt people who are after him to put his sword away and rebukes him “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (v11).

In the face of the most obvious lack of any coherent case against him, he makes no protests or defence. The nearest he gets to giving an answer is to say that his kingdom is not of this world. It’s clear that he hasn’t done anything wrong, but the clamour of the crowd is to crucify him.

Jesus knows that it’s the plan and purpose of God to save his people through his sacrifice on the cross, so he keeps walking toward that sacrifice – unswervingly, deliberately, lovingly. And he keeps on doing it, right to his last breath.

How we need to thank Jesus for being so determined to open up the way back to God, the way of forgiveness and rescue from sin. We live every day experiencing the benefits of his extreme obedience. And we bask in the warmth of his unconditional love.

Let’s keep on living out our thankfulness to him in what we do and say and think, and so point others to our great Saviour.

It’s to your advantage that I go away

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This statement (John 16:7) is amongst the parting words of Jesus, as He prepares his disciples for the separation that must soon come. It must have been hard for them to hear that. What possible advantage could there be in Jesus leaving them after three years of sharing his life, preaching the kingdom of God, seeing him do marvellous things, all of which showed them that He was the beginning of something big. How could it possibly be advantageous for him to disappear at this vital point?

The first and biggest advantage is that He is going to open up the way for them (and us) to be forgiven and have all the benefits of his perfect life, sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection. To do that, He has to go away to the cross.

The second is that, after the resurrection, He is going to the Father. There, as the God-man who has been tempted in every way just as we are, He will sympathetically plead our case with the Father. He lives forever to intercede for us. Heb 4:14-16; 7:25)

The third advantage (the one he talks about in John 16) is that when He goes, He and the Father will send the Spirit, the Advocate, Helper, the One who comes alongside, the Counsellor. He will not just be with a limited number of people for a short period in time/space, but will be with all his disciples – always and forever.

We are the fortunate and privileged recipients of these wonderful advantages. Let’s thank our great and generous Lord, and live and witness in the power of the Helper He has given each of us. That’s how we’ll bring him glory in a dark and difficult world.

Without me…

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Jesus makes a remarkable statement to his followers just before he goes to die on the cross. Apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). If this was to come from the lips of anyone else, we would take it as extremely egotistical and self-promoting. On what basis is Jesus making such a massive claim? The answer is in the other things he says when he makes that bold claim.

He talks about them being made clean by the word that he has spoken. His unique role as the one who will make the sacrifice that will bring cleansing from the guilt and power and penalty of our wrongdoing means that without his intervention, we are eternally lost. In a real sense, in terms of becoming pleasing to God, we can do nothing without him. Whatever we do to fix up our present and past shortcomings and rebellion will never deal with the problem. We need him to clean us.

But it’s more than that for those followers who will carry on his work in a hostile world. They need his life and empowering to live for him and to bear the fruit that will last. That is why he urges them so strongly to remain in him. Apart from him they will shrivel up and die and never bear the fruit that he appointed them to bring forth. With his life surging through them by his Spirit, they will bear lots of fruit – their own lives transformed as they abide in him and live for him, and the lives of those that he will reach through them.

This is the reality of following Jesus – we are totally dependent on him. That is why our vision as a church – to know Christ, grow in Christ and proclaim Christ, has him in every part of it – apart from him we can do nothing. Let’s keep him central to all that we do individually and together.

Upside down leadership

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There are so many things in the Bible and in the life of Jesus in particular that challenge us and seem to turn our way of thinking about the way the world works on its head. John 13 is one such incident. The whole idea of people knowing where they fit in the hierarchy of society, workplace, the family, the community, the church, is turned upside down in one act, when Jesus, the God-man, stoops and washes his disciples’ dirty feet.

It was no doubt an awkward moment for them. It was a task that needed to be done, but there was no servant or slave to do the job and no-one wanted to make the first move. The disciples knew from the teaching of Jesus what He thought about how they were to lead – by serving. But like us all, hearing something and translating it into action are two different things. Jesus gives them a powerful illustration that clearly drives home the point.

What is at the bottom of this is what is driving Jesus to the cross. It’s love – living totally for the benefit of the other. Serving, servant leadership, self-sacrifice, whatever name you want to give it. But the essence is a massive shift from living with an inward focus to living with an outward focus. Giving ourselves to live for the glory of God and the good of others.

May God give us the humility and grace to live this way in our homes, workplaces, church, and wherever He sends us, so that we reflect the love that Jesus had towards us, as He took on himself our dirt and died in our place on the cross.

Safe in the arms of the Good Shepherd

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“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

These are amongst the most comforting words a person can hear. Can there be a safer place than the secure arms of Jesus, the strong safe hands of God? Jesus’ promise that He gives his followers, his sheep, life to the full that goes on forever, is only possible because He lays down his life for the sheep. Being in the care and protection of One who has proven his love to that extent is no small thing. There is no other person in the universe who can claim that kind of relationship with his sheep. No one else has, or could, die for our sins, since He is the only one who lived the perfect life we should have lived and died the death we deserve to die. Amazing love! Total sacrifice!

Jesus clear statement that “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” is so comforting when we are tempted to doubt his presence, or his love, or his ability to see us safe ‘home’. God’s power and persistence and endless love guarantees it. He is greater than all, and He will not divert from his mission to rescue his people.

Does this security mean that we can do whatever we like? The characteristics of the sheep that Jesus talks about are that they hear his voice, He knows them, and they follow him. Hearing his voice means more than just listening, it means doing what He says. It’s a kind of hearing that makes a difference – following him. We all do that imperfectly, and long for the day when we see Jesus and are finally freed from our weaknesses and are made like him. In the meantime we keep listening and following, secure in the knowledge that by his power and grace we will be taken safely home to the new creation where we will praise and serve him forever. Jesus and the Father are one – they are both working to bring this about.

What a privilege to be known and held secure by our Father and the Lord Jesus. Let’s keep hearing and following.

Buying without money

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There’s a great invitation in Isaiah 55.

Come everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price. (v1)

It has all the hallmarks of a great free banquet (always an attractive prospect!). Similar words are used by Jesus when he stood up in the temple and called “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7:37). Ultimately it points us forward to the wonderful heavenly banquet when Jesus returns and the new creation is ushered in.

But the notion of buying something without payment is a curious one. Why doesn’t he just say that it’s free? Why retain the concept of buying when there is no price to pay?

It’s because, even though there’s no payment to be made, the banquet doesn’t come free. It’s a very lavish and expensive one. There’s a huge cost involved. The price-tag is way beyond our reach. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. God himself has paid the price, through the perfect life and sacrificial death of his Son in our place. And because of his endless and unconditional generosity and grace, the invitation is given to come and drink, without money, without price (to us).

What a reason to rejoice and be thankful to our great God and Saviour!

The sorrow of getting it wrong

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It’s been interesting watching a bit of the World Cup (soccer, that is, in case you’re not a fan, or have been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks!). I like checking out the expressions on the player’s faces (except when it’s obviously one that they have been working on in drama school and they are trying to milk a penalty).

Sometimes the expression is one of absolute elation and joy, as they celebrate having helped their country to fame and glory. Often it’s mixed with unexpected surprise, as they had not hoped in their wildest dreams to be in such a great position. The face lights up, the team lifts and the crowd goes crazy.

Often, unfortunately, what’s written all over the player’s face is pain, shame, sorrow, as they realise that they have just done something that means an early exit from the competition is a lot closer. As the reality of shame and disgrace for them and the nation sinks in, the hands often come up to cover the face. And when the final whistle blows, there are tears and regret at what could have been. If only….

It’s a common human experience – getting it wrong, missing the mark, or sin, as the bible calls it. Even for the person who doesn’t know or believe the bible, the sorrow at having not met our own expectations of ourselves, or the expectations of people we love, is real and painful.

Our passage for today (Isaiah 53), says of God’s suffering servant, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (v4).  Isaiah was pointing forward to the work of Jesus. In his death on the cross, He paid the price to put things right – He bore our sorrows.

The biggest problem with our sin is not the sorrow it causes us, or even those we hurt or let down (serious as this is). It’s the pain and sorrow it causes our Creator, who made us to live in a loving relationship with him. Jesus bearing our sorrows and griefs means that He has fixed this most serious of consequences – that we have upset God. Jesus’ death on the cross put that right, so that God no longer regards us as offenders, but as He regards Jesus – perfectly loving and obedient.

What a joy to be recipients of this kind of undeserved grace and love! Let’s live in the light of it.

What is our focus?

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For almost 149 years CrossCulture has been a Christ-centred Church. Recently we have been working on sharpening that focus and at our AGM adopted as our vision: Know Christ, Grow in Christ, Proclaim Christ.

What we want to pursue ourselves, and what we want to happen to people the Lord connects us with, is to know Christ, to grow in him and to proclaim him. To know Jesus is to know salvation forever. There is no other way to be forgiven and come into a relationship with God than through Christ. His death on the cross opened up the way.

The logical response to what God has done for us in Christ is to live the rest of our lives in gratitude to him for what he has done for us: To grow in Christ – becoming more like him, more passionate in serving and obeying him. Our vision is to be a growing mature body of followers of Jesus who reflect his perfection. We’re not there yet, but that is why we meet together – to encourage and help each other to grow in Him.

Because we believe that Christ is the only hope for the human race and that true fullness and freedom is found in a relationship with him, we are passionate about passing this good news on to others. Proclaim Christ is deep in the DNA of God’s church in every age and particularly for us. We long to see people that Jesus died for and who God connects us with here and around the world (through our Global Partners) come to Know Christ, Grow in Christ, and in turn Proclaim Christ.

There can be no greater privilege than fulfilling God’s purposes for us than giving ourselves to this mission. May God help us to do it well.

The Rock from which we’re cut

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Isaiah uses an unusual expression in his prophecy to God’s people in trying to encourage them. He calls on them to “look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (51:1). The implication is to think about your origins, your identity, and live out your life in the light of that. For the people he was talking to, he pointed them to Abraham (v2). They were worried that God had abandoned them – that their people would die out. But Isaiah reminds them that Abraham and Sarah had the promise of God that a great nation would come from their descendants. But they had no kids, and were very old. Yet they kept trusting God, and eventually that nation came into being. God kept his promises then, and he will keep doing it. That is a great message for people who are losing hope.

What is the Rock from which we are cut, what sort of quarry have we come from, as God’s people in Melbourne in the 21st century? The quarry that we have come from is just as squarely based on the promises of God – only we see the fulfilment of those promises much more clearly than the people in Isaiah’s time. Jesus has come and died for our sins and opened up the way for us to be amongst the redeemed people of God. The New Testament speaks of Jesus as the Rock (Romans 9:33, 1 Cor 10:4, 1 Peter 2:8), and tells us that “whoever believes in him will never be put to shame.” He is the Rock that we look to and trust in. Our identity, our origin as God’s people is totally bound up with him. Let’s keep trusting him and living for him as we let his light shine in the city.