Fall to the Ground

Originally posted at DashHouse.com

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I attended a conference years ago that changed my life, just not the way that it was supposed to. The conference was on creating a turnaround church. Shortly afterwards, I attended another conference on how to create a successful church. All of this resonated with my heart: I wanted to be the guy who made things happen, and who could teach others to make it happen to.

That's when it hit me. Maybe we don't need a turnaround church. Maybe we need a dying church, one that is heeding Jesus' call to die to itself, to take up its cross, and to follow Him. I started a new blog with that theme (the now defunct dyingchurch.com) and it kept me going for years.

I've been thinking of this lately as I've meditated on John 12:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:24-26)

Want to be a person, a church, that's like Jesus? Fall to the ground and die. Give up your life in service. Want to be with Jesus, and honored by the Father? Die to yourself. Jesus' example in going to the cross is one for us to follow as well.

I love how Tim Keller puts it in his sermon on this passage called "Fall to the Ground":

The cross says the way up is down. The way to get real power is to give your power away and serve. The way to get real riches is to give away your money radically and generously. The way to get tremendous self-esteem, assurance of your beauty and your worth, is to admit you’re such a terribly lost sinner ... The way to power is to give power away. The way to real riches is to give your money away. The way to real influence is not to seek influence.

Want to serve like Jesus? Fall to the ground and die. Want to be a church that follows the way of Jesus? Die to yourself and you will find real life for the first time.

George Müller, a man who cared for over 10,000 orphans in England during his life, was once asked, “What has been the secret of your life?” He replied, “There was a day when I died, utterly died — died to George Müller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends — and since then I have only to show myself approved to God.”

I want to die, and pastor a church that dies this way, and so follow the way of Jesus. I want to live in a dying kind of way.

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This Friday, five churches will be coming together to consider the cross of Jesus Christ. We'll be meeting on Good Friday at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto at 7:00 PM. If you are in or near Toronto, please consider joining us as we think about the One who fell to the ground for us, and who calls us to fall to the ground in service to him.

I hope to see you there.

I Did Not Know I Was in Debt

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
(Colossians 2:13-14 ESV)

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When I was in college a friend approached me the day we were packing up to go home for the summer break. With some embarrassment, he asked if I could pay him back the $50 I owed him. My face flushed with shame. I had completely forgotten about my debt and its payment was long overdue. I was in debt and didn’t know it.

The Bible makes clear that all of us were born in debt. God held an I.O.U. against us, which resulted in making us like dead men walking. In the eyes of the only court that really mattered, there were legal demands and decrees against us. By our sins (our actions that violated God’s instructions) we had effectually signed our own death sentence. But by sending Jesus to the cross, God did two things in our favour.

First, He cancelled the record of our debt. Perhaps you have written a lovely birthday card only to ruin it at the end as your hand smudges the wet ink. When the apostle wrote to the men and women in Colossae who had converted to Christianity, he told them that the ink on God’s I.O.U. against them had not just been smudged, but completely washed off. The record of debt was erased. Gone forever by something Jesus did. There was no more record of it.

In a second metaphor, he told them it was as if God had taken that I.O.U. and nailed it to the cross right along with Jesus. It was a sign that Jesus’ death had paid the debt in full. Imagine a large invoice with every one of your sins written on it and then this word written over top in blood: PAID IN FULL.

This is why Jesus came into the world – to alert us to our debt in the eyes of the Holy God, and to make the payment for it on our behalf. Converting to Christianity is not about doing better or trying harder, it is about having your death sentence lifted. It was more serious than mere moralism.

There is an old Gospel song that captures this thought simply:

He paid a debt He did not owe
I owed a debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing Grace, all day long
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never

Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus for this reason. We know that every person who believes on Christ for their salvation and rejects all their attempts at self-justification will be finally set free from their guilt – whether they felt that guilt or not.

Join Us on Good Friday

Good Friday is coming up in a few weeks. It is the day that we remember how Christ paid the debt that we owed.

If you are in or near the Greater Toronto Area, would you consider joining our church and several other Toronto churches as we celebrate the death of our Savior together?

We will gather at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto, on April 18 at 7:00 p.m. I hope to see you there!

God's Mercy and God's Wrath Meet at the Cross

Adapted with permission from a post at Challies.com

The cross of Jesus Christ is all about God’s holiness. That may seem strange, that a place of blood and suffering and torment would be all about holiness. But the cross answers this question: How can a holy God be reconciled to unholy people? That question demands this one: How can the relationship between a holy God and an unholy people be restored without some gross act of injustice?

At the cross we see just how much God values his holiness. We see that God will not violate his own holiness even in order to save the ones he loves. Here at the cross we see wrath and mercy meet. We see both of them in their glorious fullness—the ultimate display of God’s wrath and the ultimate display of God’s mercy.

When we look to the cross we see Jesus Christ serving the just sentence of a sinner. There on the cross Christ experiences physical death, so his heart stops beating and his body begins to decay. He also faces spiritual death, spiritual destruction. He is punished by facing the fury of the wrath of God. He is punished consciously for sin done in conscious rebellion against God. He faces an eternal measure of wrath for sins against an eternal being. There on the cross, he faces the justice and the torment of hell.

So where is the mercy of the cross? All we see here is Christ experiencing all wrath and no mercy. How can I say that wrath and mercy meet here? 

Let me explain. Christ has never sinned, so, why would a sinless man be suffering God’s wrath? Because he walked into that courtroom, he stood between the judge and the guilty person, and said, “I will serve his sentence.” He took other people’s sin upon himself. He took upon himself sin to such an extent that he became sin. He became vile and detestable in God’s eyes—the most vile and detestable thing that could ever exist—and God poured out the full measure of his wrath upon him. He poured out his wrath upon Christ until that wrath was absorbed and exhausted, until every bit of justice was satisfied. 

Christ served the complete sentence of just wrath that I deserved. This is the mercy of the cross, the sinless one serving the sentence of the sinner. Now we see that God has a purpose in his mercy; there is a purpose in his patience. 2 Peter 3:9-10 says it so well: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God does not wish that any should perish, so he gives time to repent.

And now we see why God has been patient in mercy. God has been patient so that Christ’s work could be accomplished and so we could reach out by faith and become recipients of that work and there receive full forgiveness and full exoneration.

Christ took my sentence upon himself so that I can experience more than patient but temporary mercy. We have seen that mercy is expressed in patience—in wrath delayed—but now we see that mercy may also be expressed in grace, in wrath substituted, wrath transferred to someone else.

No wonder, then, that for all of eternity our minds, our hearts, will be fixated on this Savior, Jesus Christ. In Revelation 15:3-4, we have a glimpse of the great day to come, where a great throng sings before the Lord, rejoicing in the God who is merciful and the God who is just.

Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.

God’s deeds are great and amazing. God is just and true and God’s righteous acts culminate in the cross where Christ satisfies the demands of God’s justice. This is the wonder of the cross, that here we see the fullest measure of wrath and the fullest measure of mercy at the same time in the same place and all because of the same Savior. At the cross, we see wrath and mercy meet.

A chapter later in Revelation we see one of the angels praising God and again extolling God’s justice.

Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was
for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of the saints and prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve.
And I heard the altar saying,
Yes, Lord God the Almighty, 
true and just are your judgments.”

God is worthy of praise for his patient mercy. God is worthy of praise for his just wrath.

Christian, God’s history with you is a history of mercy and patience and love. Do you see God’s patience with you? You may think back to the days before you were saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and remember sins you committed, sins that justly put you under the wrath of God, sins that shame you now, and you can see that he was patient, not wishing that you should perish, but waiting for you to repent. He did not owe you this mercy of patience, yet he extended it to you, and you did repent, and you did receive his forgiveness for that sin, and the punishment of that sin was fully paid by Jesus Christ. Praise God for this patient mercy!

The unbeliever too, has experienced God’s patient mercy. He is experiencing it right now. How do I know? Because he is still alive; because God has not yet acted in final judgment toward him. What will happen when God’s mercy comes to an end and all that is left is judgment and wrath? Here is our call to evangelism, to take the good news of the gospel of grace to people who day after day continue to presume upon God’s mercy. God does not wish for any to perish, to face his wrathful justice.

If there is no hell, there is no need for a cross. The cross shows us the depth of our sin and the height of God’s holiness, the purity of God’s wrath and the greatness of God’s mercy. The cross assures us that hell exists. The cross demands that we look to the one hanging there and put all our faith, all our hope, all our trust in him.

Join Us on Good Friday

Good Friday is coming up in a few weeks. It is the day that we remember the cross and all that it means for us.

If you are in or near the Greater Toronto Area, would you consider joining our church and several other Toronto churches as we celebrate the death of our Savior together? Will you come with all your failures and look at the one who passed on your behalf?

We will gather at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto, on April 18 at 7:00 p.m. I hope to see you there!

Tested

The night before he was crucified, Jesus knew that he was about to be betrayed and arrested. It was an intense period of testing for both Jesus and the disciples. In Luke's account, Jesus began and ended by by saying to his disciples, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Luke 22:40, 46). The word "temptation" is a word that's used for testing, for discovering the nature of someone or something. Jesus and the disciples went through a severe period of testing.

This was a watershed moment. This was when we find out what Jesus and the disciples are made of. The consequences are huge. If Jesus didn't pass this test, everything falls apart.

We Fail the Test

What was the test for the disciples?

Jesus gave the disciples one thing to do. He told them to pray that they wouldn't enter into temptation. Jesus recognized that the disciples are not up to what he's about to experience, and he encouraged them to cry out to God to be exempted from this test.

Instead, the disciples slept. Jesus gave them one thing to do — to request an exemption — and they failed at even this. This is the watershed moment, the climatic point in the Gospel of Luke so far, and they fell asleep. The disciples failed the test.

What's true of the disciples is true of us. We don't stand up very well under testing. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that we have a tendency to fail God when it counts. We're incapable of passing the test on our own.

Jesus Passes the Test

What was the test for Jesus? Jesus was abandoned by his closest friends, but that was just the beginning.

Jesus faced a test that nobody else in history has faced. From eternity he had enjoyed perfect communion with the Father, a relationship of absolute intimacy and love. At the cross, Jesus was for the first time cut off from his Father. At the cross, Jesus took on our sin and bore the wrath of God. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he saw what was coming at the cross, and it put him into shock.

New Testament scholar Bill Lane writes, "Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered."

Centuries ago Jonathan Edwards said:

The thing that Christ's mind was so full of at that time was...the dread which his feeble human nature had of that dreadful cup, which was vastly more terrible than Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. He had then a near view of that furnace of wrath, into which he was to be cast; he was brought to the mouth of the furnace that he might look into it, and stand and view its raging flames, and see the glowings of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer. This was the thing that filled his soul with sorrow and darkness, this terrible sight as it were overwhelmed him...None of God's children ever had such a cup set before them, as this first being of every creature had.

In the Garden, Jesus had a foretaste of what it would be like to be abandoned by God. He was abandoned by his closest friends, and also began to experience God's abandonment of him.

Incredibly, Jesus passed the test. The disciples failed, yet Jesus passed the most intense test that anyone has faced in history.

David Sunday notes that the story of Scripture can be presented as a tale of two gardens. In the first garden (the Garden of Eden), and in this garden (the Garden of Gethsemane), humanity failed. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus passed.

Where we failed the test, Jesus passed.

Jesus' Pass Becomes Ours

This is not just a story of how Jesus passed the test that we failed. Incredibly, his pass became ours. On the cross, Jesus bore the weight of our failure. His obedience was credited to our account, so that we passed through Jesus even though we failed. In the garden, and on the cross, Jesus passed the test on our behalf.

Tim Keller says: "The Bible's purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible's purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome." The Bible is not about our need to pass the test. It is about our failure to do so, and how God has overcome our failure through Jesus Christ, who passed on our behalf. It's a call to turn away from our own failed attempts and to rely on what only Jesus could do.

Come Celebrate What Jesus Did

Good Friday is coming up in a few weeks. It is the day that we mark what Jesus has done for us, remembering that he accomplished what we could never do for ourselves. It's a day that honestly recognizes human failure, but that takes us to Jesus' provision for our failure. He passed the test on our behalf.

If you are in or near the Greater Toronto Area, would you consider joining our church and several other Toronto churches as we celebrate the death of our Savior together? Will you come with all your failures and look at the one who passed on your behalf?

We will gather at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto, on April 18 at 7:00 p.m. I hope to see you there!

The Foot of the Cross

It seems chaotic. Crowds moving, people hollering. Some are mocking and laughing. Others simply shake their heads as they pass by. For many there, vicious — almost indescribable — anger is thinly veiled beneath jeering and taunting. Never has laughter been so spiteful.

And then there are a few — just a few — who stand still. Silently, mournfully, disbelievingly, gazing upward at a bloodied and broken man, still hoping that any moment now they will awake to find this has been a horrific dream. But it’s not. It won’t go away. Nothing has ever been more real. Nothing has ever seared the eyes of his loved ones and friends like this sight. And nothing will ever look the same.

The crowd itself is diverse. There are young and old, male and female, rich and poor. Some people just happened to be passing by on the way into town, some are there for the show, and others are there to make sure that death truly transpires. There are many Jews, but also Romans. Soldiers and government officials, to be precise.

Everything about the moment seems wrong. A man who had been righteous, merciful, gracious, and kind is now maligned. He who had preached love is hated. The one who had claimed to be a king is strung up as a criminal. The one who was supposed to save the Jews from their oppressors has been handed over by the Jews to their oppressors to be killed. The only human who has ever tasted true innocence or breathed true righteousness is condemned and suffering death for sin.

It is as if nature can’t bear the burden. People who died long ago are raised. The earth quakes. The day becomes dark. The holy place of the temple is exposed as the curtain tears in two from top to bottom.

Here, in this moment, the most bizarre convergence of wills of all time takes place: the will of man for the death of God and the will of God for the life of man. Death approaches for Jesus as life draws near for us.

He has been betrayed, falsely condemned, beaten, mocked, beaten again, stripped naked, nailed to a cross made of wood that he holds together. He is dying.

And it just won’t end. His breathing grows heavier. Sometimes he cries or gasps. The blood… the blood keeps pouring out from wounds that have now been opened and will never heal over. And yet even now, while mocked, abandoned, rejected, and hated, his words pour out his love as his wounds pour out his life.

To his Father: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

To one who deserved death: ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’

To us: ‘It is finished.’

And his eyes: where does he look? Does he look at you? Is he beholding his Father? Does he look at his mockers? What do his eyes see? What does his face say? How are we to make sense of this moment?

And then, slowly, deliberately, he breathes his last. ‘Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.’ And in a single instant, death wins.

And in that very same instant, death dies.

From the moment Jesus’s public ministry began, many have beheld his power and asked, ‘Who is this?’ They offered many guesses: A prophet, like the prophets of old! Elijah! John the Baptist!

But according to Mark, it is in this moment, watching him die, from the viewpoint of the foot of the cross that the first human — a Roman Centurion of all people — finally sees Jesus for who he is.

‘Surely this man was the Son of God’ (Mark 15.39).

There is no vantage point in all of human history that allows us to see Jesus for who he is like the foot of the cross. Do you want to know him? Behold him here.

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An invitation:

Good Friday is coming up in a few weeks. Precisely because the foot of the cross is where we most clearly see our Saviour, this weekend (Good Friday and Easter Sunday) is the most important weekend of the year.

If you are in or near the Greater Toronto Area, would you consider joining our church and several other Toronto churches as we celebrate the death of our Saviour together? Will you come behold him at the foot of the cross with us? Will you come and worship him there?

We will gather at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto, at 7:00 pm. My friend Darryl Dash will be leading us to the foot of the cross that night where we will see Jesus.

Will you consider coming to see Jesus with me?