I just returned from a three week ministry trip to India, thus explaining why you have not received one of these thoughts for a few weeks!
It was wonderful, as usual, with many reasons to praise God. Yet it reminded me of one of the things that occurs whenever one ministers cross-culturally, or in a setting where pluralism, syncretism, or relativism are the dominate prevailing philosophy. Therefore I wanted to share this excerpt that a friend posted on his Facebook page recently. It is so true - here in the States and elsewhere.
I know we are coming up on Good Friday and Easter, and on Holy Week I usually post a thought addressing one of those two events. But this year I would like to change that up a bit and post this thought from J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937). He was Professor of New Testament at Princeton University Seminary, between 1906 and 1929. And I share his thoughts this week because it is actually the events of Holy Week -- the cross and the resurrection -- that make what he says here all the more relevant.
Christ's sinless life of obedience, sufferings, sin-atoning death, and resurrection -- when rightly understood in their biblical framework of redemption -- are what gave Jesus, the disciples, and the apostles, the basis for proclaiming that salvation is found in Him alone (John 3:1-8, Acts 2:38-41, Acts 4:12, etc.). The early church humbly proclaimed this because they understood the ultimate purpose behind His substitutionary life of obedience and death for sin. The modern church, if they do understand it, tends to be embarrassed by the exclusivity of such a claim. Machen sheds a bit of light on that, even this piece was written about 100 years ago. Enjoy.
"The early Christian missionaries demanded an absolutely exclusive devotion to Christ. Such exclusiveness ran directly counter to the prevailing syncretism of the Hellenistic age. In that day, many saviours were offered by many religions to the attention of men, but the various pagan religions could live together in perfect harmony; for when a man became a devotee of one god, he did not have to give up the others.
But Christianity would have nothing to do with these “courtly polygamies of the soul." It demanded an absolutely exclusive devotion. All other saviours, it insisted, must be deserted for the one Lord. Salvation, in other words, was not merely through Christ, but it was only through Christ. In that little word “only” lay all the offence. Without that word there would have been no persecutions; the cultured men of the day would probably have been willing to give Jesus a place, and an honorable place, among the saviours of mankind.
Without its exclusiveness, the Christian message would have seemed perfectly inoffensive to the men of that day. So modern liberalism, placing Jesus alongside other benefactors of mankind, is perfectly inoffensive in the modern world. All men speak well of it. It is entirely inoffensive. But it is also entirely futile. The offence of the Cross is taken away, but so is the glory and the power."
He is so right. His comments were accurate then, and they still hit home today. No one really tends to mind if a person looks to Jesus as a moral guide, or spiritual instructor, or life-example. Jesus as a man, prophet, or spiritual guide, tends to be respected in most all places by most all people. It's Jesus as Lord, and Jesus as Savior that stirs up antagonism, opposition and persecution. The cross humbles (shatters) the pride of humanity, while His Lordship assaults the autonomy of humanity.
We like to do what we want without being told that certain choices and options are just plain wrong, and we want to believe our efforts at gaining God's favor can make us acceptable to Him -- the first being nullified by His Lordship, the second by His death of the cross (Gal. 2:21 / I Cor. 1:20-31).
So, as you contemplate the events that took place on that first "Holy Week" so long ago, consider this: The cross proclaims I cannot be saved apart from what happened to Jesus on it. All my best efforts fall far short (Isaiah 64:6). And His resurrection proclaims He is the Lord to whom I owe all due obedience (Romans 1:4-5). If I miss either of those, I have really missed two of the primary messages of Holy Week.
In the Service of Jesus, Pastor Jeff