The Death and Resurrection of Jesus XV
The Steadfast Love of the Lord, Blog Post XV
“…And We beheld His Glory I.” John 1:14 KJV
From my earliest years in the ministry, I have been puzzling over a key question in my heart: “What is the difference between the preaching of the first apostles and the preaching of ministers in our world today?”
I believe we should regard this question with the utmost seriousness. We must recognize the corrupting influences of our present culture as a serious threat to the truth of the gospel as it may be preached today. In Blog Post #VIII, I mentioned an example of that problem in the contemporary “Church Growth Movement.” I quoted Dr. C. Peter Wagner, a leader of that movement. Dr. Wagner was a noted Evangelical, but he was advising other Evangelical pastors not to mention in their preaching such culturally sensitive issues as legalized abortion on demand or our government prohibiting prayer in public schools. It should be evident to all of us that this kind of advice is a corrupting influence right inside the Evangelical church. We need to resist all such counsel and pray for the wisdom and courage to stand against the culture in such grievous offenses against God and truth.
Yes, we have this kind of corruption coming from inside the church, and from many other sources, also. Our U.S. government, for instance, has essentially eliminated God and all devout mention of Him in their entire public-school curriculum. TV is clearly another source of corruption. I heard someone refer to TV as “the Devil’s weapon of ‘mass distraction.’” I thought that remark was quite accurate. It seems to me that TV programming is dedicated to making everything else in the world more important than God or the gospel or morality. Our public newspapers, magazines, radio, and social media must be added to this growing list of corrupting influences. It is my fear that Judge Robert Bork (1927-2012) made an accurate judgment when he named his 1996 book about our culture, Slouching Toward Gomorrah. We are on our way, friends.
This is why it is absolutely crucial to restore apostolic preaching to our pulpits today. Having admitted in my first paragraph above that this has been a heart concern since I first entered the ministry, I must confess at this later date, that things do not seem to have improved in our land over the years of my ministry. It seems to me that movements like “Church Growth” and voices like Peter Wagner have multiplied and almost won the day. This is a dangerous moment in the life of Evangelicalism. As I see it, unless we take decisive action soon, there is little hope for the church in the United States. We must pray fervently for pastor-preachers who could rescue us.
At this point, I want to quote a little book which you may at first regard as a bit strange.
The book is entitled simply “Crucifixion,” and it was written in 1977 by a German scholar of our day, Dr. Martin Hengel. In my opinion, Dr. Hengel made an extremely valuable contribution to Christian scholarship by his thorough research on the horrors of crucifixion. Documenting the widespread use of this dreadful form of execution in many ancient cultures, Dr. Hengel also describes the horrendous pain and shame that was inflicted on the victims of crucifixion. He then refers to the preaching of the Apostle Paul in this telling way:
The reason why in his letters he talks about the cross above all in a polemical context is that he deliberately wants to provoke his opponents, who are attempting to water down the offense caused by the cross.1
Hengel sees the offense of the cross as crucial to its saving power. There could be no salvation if there had not been offense, and specifically this kind of offense. Because of our sin, the sin of our whole race, we fully deserved this kind of shameful and excruciatingly painful death. The wonder of God’s grace is that Jesus would represent us in our sin and lovingly take our just punishment upon Himself, atoning for our infinitely grievous offenses against God and setting us free from the guilt of our sin.
This is not strange, my friends, but wonderful! Our God loves us so deeply that He has provided us a Savior from our desperate need, our sin. And we must add: for the need of our whole race, the whole culture, every one of us.
I would like for you to see one more quote from Dr. Hengel. These are the last words in Hengel’s book and they are most appropriate:
The theological reasoning of our time shows very clearly that the particular form of the death of Jesus, the man and the messiah, represents a scandal which people would like to blunt, remove or domesticate in any way possible. We shall have to guarantee the truth of our theological thinking at this point. Reflection on the harsh reality of crucifixion in antiquity may help us to overcome the acute loss of reality which is to be found so often in present theology and preaching.2
I plan to continue this theme in my next post, but I want to conclude this one with a simple application of the text I included at the beginning of this blog:
When the first disciples of Jesus “beheld His glory” on Easter Sunday morning, they did not reject Him because of the offense of the cross. They saw the offense as necessary to their own redemption. This is because they saw the offense of the cross in the light of the Savior’s resurrection from the dead. God had designed from all eternity to fit the cross and resurrection together in this incredibly wonderful way. God destroys our sin by the death of His Son and then restores us to “image of God” glory by the resurrection of His Son. Though these are three days apart in history, they are in effect a simultaneous act of redemption by the Savior. It was God’s purpose that these two wonders, the cross and the resurrection, should stand together as the Savior’s one almighty act of Redemption.
Through their understanding of this magnificent plan of God, this incredibly beautiful design of God, the apostles were enabled to preach both the Cross and the Resurrection as the answer to our desperate need.
PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW!
We will study this further in our next post.
̶Pastor Paul Alexander
1Martin Hengel, page 89, Crucifixion, First American Edition by Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1977.
2Ibid, page 90.