Exhortation - April 02



Readings: Galatians ch. 2

How often has apostasy trampled on highly significant incidents, idolatry debasing thdr importance and meaning! For example, we think of that brazen serpent set up by Moses in the wilderness. Later this symbol of sin became the object of veneration and superstition. One of the acts of Hezekiah’s reformation was to break in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made. Why? “For unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it.” Hezekiah’s derisive name for the idol, “Nehushtan,” a piece of brass, suns up how ineffectual idol-worship is in religious experience. In fact, as we know from Jesus’ own words, this dramatic episode of deliverance in the wilderness powerfully pointed forward to an even greater deliverance. Jesus explains to Nicodemus: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
What has happened since the Son of man was lifted up on the tree at Golgotha? Well, we know that an apostate church has chosen to develop a complex system of idolatrous worship involving the cross and the sign of the cross. The meaning of the cross has been clouded by false worship, falling down before a piece of wood.
When Nicodemus the Pharisee and ruler of the Jews came at night to talk to Jesus he feared to show publicly interest in the teaching of this rabbi shunned by the Establishment; and so clearly for Nicodemus the crucifixion was the event which convinced him that Jesus was the Son of God. His experience of reaching the threshold of faith and decision in the tenor and the shame of this spectacle of the cross has been repeated often since, just as Jesus predicts: “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.”
Many of his fellow Pharisees stood at a distance from the cross, gloating over a spectacle which for them spelt triumph over an enemy; but Nicodemus left the safety of the crowd to venture forth ‘bravely in an act of great personal cost, to identify with the man lifted up on the cross. We could say that between the crowd and the three crosses was a no-man’s-land, and Nicodemus made the decision to show that he now belonged to his Saviour, Jesus of Nazareth, and him crucified. He bought an hundred pounds weight of myrrh and aloes and helped Joseph of Arimathaea to prepare the bruised and pierced body for burial.
We have read together at the end of ch. 2 of Galatians the personal testimony of another Pharisee who crossed over this divide. He was taught by the revelation of Jesus Christ. A sudden, a dramatic change-round transformed Saul, the persecuting Pharisee, into brother Paul, the apostle, the servant of Jesus Christ, and he was drawn by the same spectacle of the Son of man lifted up, with the added summons of the voice of the resurrected Lord speaking to him as he lay outside Damascus, prostrate, blinded by the light. Listen to Paul’s moving personal testimony to his own relationship to this supreme event of history, how it directly affected his Christian life. Read at v. 19 of this 2nd ch. of Galatians: “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. lam crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
What a humbling experience for Paul, as he realised that even while he wrought havoc among the church Jesus sought him out to show the Pharisee that he loved him, and that he had given his life for him, this Jesus of whom Paul told Timothy that he “came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Only a short time before his meeting with the risen Lord, Saul watched the stones hurled at Stephen, re-living with the approval of a hardened Jew a similar spectacle to the crucifixion of Jesus. He shared the opinion that both Jesus and Stephen were imposters, fully deserving the fury of the intense upholders of the 1_aw. Their blindness to recognise in Jesus the Messiah Paul later acknowledged when with other Christians he preached Christ crucified, “Unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” There came a day when Paul the apostle was to stand before former colleagues on the Jewish Council. He stood firm in his conviction. The crucifixion was the grand climax to the whole scheme of the Law, where every ordinance pointed forward to one perfect offering for sin.
Paul realised that justification came not from works but from faith in a Saviour who proclaimed the wisdom and the power of God. Barriers between Jew and Gentile disappeared as the work of the crucifixion brought both together in the one body of the Christian church. Paul wrote to the Ephesians; “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ... having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” Not that Paul, a self-confessed chief sinner, now boasted in his new freedom, liberated from the restrictions of a law which could never give life. Paul was able to see the focus of God’s love in giving His Son. Paul rejoiced in an inner peace that comes from forgiven sins, and a new life lived by the faith of the Son of God, Paul’s personal Saviour.
Let us read some verses from the last chapter of this Letter to the Galatians, ch. 6.14, Paul’s personal testimony again: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor Uncircumcision, but a new creature.” Again, Paul writes of a new life. The old Saul, the Pharisee, so certain of his own righteousness, so obsessed with tradition and vested interests, the old Saul was crucified with Christ, and he lived a new creature; and v. 17 affirms that he bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. If the preaching of the cross of Christ was to those who perished foolishness, for Paul and others turned round by the spectacle, for them which are saved, the cross of Christ is “the power of God.”
Are we, then, able to identify ourselves with Paul’s description of f, the great reversal that interrupted the course of his life, his new life in 3t Christ, demanding that he be “crucified unto the world,” the world that perishes in ignorance and foolishness? For us, does the cross of Christ exert such a powerful influence for change as it did for Paul? Is ‘“Christ crucified” for us “the power of God, and the wisdom of
God’? How do we translate such expressions as being “crucified with Christ,” “crucifying the world unto ourselves”? How do we translate these ideals into practical, daily living?
We would like to read together the opening verses of the 12th chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Paul turns from his in-depth exposition of the work of Christ, the efficacy of his sacrifice for sin, to draw the practical lessons for believers, and he starts in this 12th chapter with an appeal based on the mercies of God; as he exhorted
Timothy, “being strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” lam sure such an appeal to the mercies of God is not lost upon us sitting here before the emblems. We feel, all of us, I am sure, the draw of God’s mercy. We are enveloped by the love of His Son and we all want to be stronger in our commitment and service. So let us read together Paul’s appeal based on the mercies of God.
Romans 12.1; “1 beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God ,which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Just as there is a paradox in the concept of a new life after being crucified with Christ, so we have a paradox in the phrase “a living sacrifice.” Remembering all the dead animals offered in sacrifice under the Law, how can it be said that our bodies are to be presented a living sacrifice? Surely the sense here is that at our baptism the old man died, buried in the waters, and we rose to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
It is a case of yielding ourselves unto God, “as those that are alive from the dead, and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” We continue to crucify the world and to present our bodies as living sacrifices when we fully surrender to the demands of him who has made this new life possible, giving himself for our sins, that he might “deliver us from this present evil world.” For our spiritual sacrifices, then, to be accepted by God they need to be an expression of a mind renewed in Christ. It is a case of learning Christ, of hearing him, of being taught by him, and this leads us to put to death the self-will, the self-love, the self-assertion of the old man, and instead to let Christ transform our minds and actions.
With simple logic Paul argues the case with the Corinthians. He says: “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thusjudge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” The new creatures in Christ, those who have responded to the appeal to the mercies of God, no longer live unto themselves. Remember those challenging words of Jesus. He said that any man who hates not his own life cannot be his disciple. Of the cost of discipleship he said: “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
“All that he hath.” Everything that a man has and is, must be expendable in the development of the new creature in Christ. Jesus is saying that no sacrifice—and he has in mind particularly sacrifices that hurt us personally—no sacrifice can be too great for us to make if we accept that we no longer have any claims to ourselves as we try to “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Jesus said to the would-be disciple: “Let him deny himself.” How difficult it is to practise self-denial, to be so submissive to Christ as the head of the body that the thoughts that come from within ourselves are not listened to.
Discipleship is all about this struggle of the new man to conquer the old, and then, having denied self, we take up the cross to follow Christ. To take up the cross daily is a deliberate act on our part. We do not sit around waiting for something to happen. We consciously try to follow in the path of the cross, and it is the narrow, the often difficult path of finding fulfilment in sacrifice, in unconditional surrender and identification with the demands of the new life in Christ. We show that we are alive from the dead by “yielding our members as instruments of righteousness” unto God.
But if we remain friends of a world that considers the cross of Christ foolishness, then how can we expect to make the final break dividing old and new lives, so apparent in Paul’s case? The Jewish Roman world failed to perceive the wisdom of God, otherwise “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” That same world of darkness, disinterest, wickedness is with us today, and that is the i world we are commanded to come out from, to keep separate from.
The N.I.V. describes the “living sacrifice” of v. 1 of Rom. 12 as “holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The very act of denying oneself, of taking up the cross, is a form of spiritual worship. Such was the gift taken by Epaphroditus from the Philippians to Paul, “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice, well- pleasing to God.” Or as Paul exhorts at the end of his Letter to the Hebrew’s: “By him (Jesus) therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our 1ips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” And Paul continues: “The God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.”
Although the shedding of the blood of the Lamb of God was the supreme act of sacrifice, his whole dedicated life up to that hour was a living sacrifice. He expressed his worship to his Father in voluntary submission, in acts of denial and service. In this spirit he resisted temptation, he “took on him the form of a servant,” he “humbled himself Despising the shame, he endured the ordeal of being lifted up on the cross. In so doing he “emptied himself’ of self-  indulgence, self-interest, self-love as he came, as it was written of him in the book, “I delight to do thy will, 0 my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” Inevitably this led to the climax of a life of sacrifice and denial: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” So, drawn ourselves by the spectacle of the cross, we are to be “followers of God, as dear children.” We are to “walk in love, as Christ also bath loved us, and hath given himself for an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.”
To present our lives as a sacrifice unto God, Paul says is our “reasonable” service; that is, a service based on reason. There are rational grounds for belief in God and the salvation made possible through the work of Jesus, otherwise we have to ask, What effected the change in the brilliant mind of Saul? There must have been rational reasons for the change that occurred in his life. This is one of the wonderful things about the Truth, that the preaching of Christ crucified, to those who are called, is “the power and the wisdom of God.” It is completely rational. We are able to relate to the evidence of God’s existence. We can relate to the truth of His words, and we can relate to the claims of His Son. It is not against reason to see the need to take up our cross daily and to deny ourselves. Every act prompted by love for Christ is a logical response to the new life which has been given to us.
If we only had emotional, superficial reasons for making our lives a living sacrifice then our re-direction and zeal would be suspect, but to see so clearly God’s plan of redemption focused in His Son, to see the pattern of service established in the life of him who “came to do his Father’s will,” is to be convinced by reason. How compelling is the argument of Paul in Colossians: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above... Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God... seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” Paul says: “itt the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” So as the new man in Christ continues to develop towards maturity, he is continually persuaded by the reasonableness of seeking after those things which are above.
We have seen how for two Pharisees the crucified Christ marked a threshold of decision and change. They could not evade die personal crisis of faith when, like all men, they were drawn unto the sight of Jesus lifted up from the earth, and we cannot evade the spectacle ourselves. Have we made a rational, final response which still works today to quicken that new life lived in the faith of the Son of God? Once again we personally identify, in the simple emblems, with Christ, “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we are healed.”
Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “flee from idolatry,” adding immediately that, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” In other words, this meeting has nothing to do with idolatry. How thankful we should be that we have not been blinded by the Catholic mentality that falls down before a piece of wood, before a relic or before a Turin shroud now established as a fake. The cross of Christ, as we have considered, draws us because it focuses our thoughts on the very centre of God’s purpose, in view since the foundation of the world. “But let a man examine himself’ before these emblems, “and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketli damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”:—D. V. Cooke

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