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Christian books on pain and suffering shouldn’t give simplistic answers. Yancey is right, “Why?” is a question that doesn’t go away.
I am preparing for a series on Job this fall at the Red Brick Church- – and I’m a pastor – - and a person living in a fallen world – - all of which means I read a great deal on suffering. Today, I’ve been encouraged by reading Philip Yancey’s honest, raw interaction with the Japanese Tsunami, the murder of children at Sandyhook elementary in Newtown, Boston and other awful tragedies.
Did you know?
- The earthquake that struck Japan and caused the Tsunami released 600 million times more energy than the atomic bombs that fell on Japan (Yancey, 45).
- 410,000 automobiles were destroyed in the Tsunami.
- Approximately 19,000 people were killed or are missing.
There are no trite answers to suffering. In fact, simplistic answers are insulting. But there is real comfort in Yancey’s book.
Thankfully, there are a number of thoughtful Christan books on pain and suffering.
I will soon be reading carefully reading Tim Keller’s highly recommended Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.
I have previously recommended Unspeakable: Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil.
Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, is also excellent.
We were blessed with a wonderful community service tonight at the Red Brick Church. We were joined by our brothers and sisters from Valley Evangelical Covenant and Kishwaukee Evangelical Presbyterian. We were blessed to remember the cross together.
I preached and stressed that the goal of our Good Friday Service is not to recreate what Jesus’s followers experienced when our King was crucified.
- They were scattered – - yet we gather together.
- They were conflicted and in turmoil. We have peace.
- They were confused – - but, we have heard our Lord’s words on the road to Emmaus – - and we know the message of the gospel.
Still, we are solemn at our Good Friday service. Solemn because:
- Atonement is expensive. Using Scot McKnight’s umbrella phrase – - Christ identified with us to incorporate us into community – - and it was costly.
- It was our rebellion for which Christ was paying a price. As Luther said, “We carry about in our pockets the “nails” that crucified Christ.”
- Christ left us an awesome example to follow (1 Peter 2:21-25). We were called to follow his example. He did not retaliate. He issued no threats. He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. What have we been petty about this week?
- Untold millions are still untold. Many – - most – - -still don’t know Christ. It is ours to go out into our communities and to proclaim the gospel.
Have you said to anyone – - would you be my guest at church on Easter? I would like to sit with you and celebrate the resurrection.
Stott summarizes three truths enforced by the cross:
- Our sin must be extremely horrible.
- God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension.
- Christ’s salvation must be a free gift.
In conclusion, the cross enforces three truths – about ourselves, about God and about Jesus Christ. First, our sin must be extremely horrible. Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross. For ultimately what sent Christ there was neither the greed of Judas, nor the envy of the priests, nor the vacillating cowardice of Pilate, but our own greed, envy, cowardice and other sins, and Christ’s resolve in love and mercy to bear their judgment and so put them away. It is impossible for us to face Christ’s cross with integrity and not to feel ashamed of ourselves. Apathy, selfishness and complacency blossom everywhere in the world except at the cross. There these noxious weeds shrivel and die. They are seen for the tatty, poisonous things they are. For if there was no way by which the righteous God could righteously forgive our unrighteousness, except that he should bear it himself in Christ, it must be serious indeed. It is only when we see this that, stripped of our self-righteousness and self-satisfaction, we are ready to put our trust in Jesus Christ as the Saviour we urgently need.
Secondly, God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension. God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sin, guilt, judgment and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that. It is more than love. Its proper name is ‘grace’, which is love to the undeserving.
Thirdly, Christ’s salvation must be a free gift. He ‘purchased’ it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Since he claimed that all was now ‘finished’, there is nothing for us to contribute. Not of course that we now have a license to sin and can always count on God’s forgiveness. On the contrary, the same cross of Christ, which is the ground of a free salvation, is also the most powerful incentive to a holy life. But this new life follows. First, we have to humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess that we have sinned and deserve nothing at his hand but judgment, thank him that he loved us and died for us, and receive from him a full and free forgiveness.
Against this self-humbling our ingrained pride rebels. We resent the idea that we cannot earn – or even contribute to – our own salvation. So we stumble, as Paul put it, over the stumbling-block of the cross.
David Platt explains why we shouldn’t spend our money on the many books coming out about heaven, nor the small fortune it costs to go to the movie version.
The bodily resurrection of Christ is the only reasonable explanation for these 11 points summarized by Lewis and Demarest (Vol 2., 482-484):
- Jesus of Nazareth died and was buried. It is beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus died and was buried.
- After the crucifixion a resurrection was unexpected.
- The tomb was open and empty.
- The grave clothes were undisturbed.
- For 40 days Jesus appeared to people prior to his ascension.
- The disciples were transformed from despair to hope, their disbelief to faith, their fear to courage.
- A new movement arose in Jerusalem and quickly advanced through the region. It was based on the belief that Jesus was alive . . . There is nothing but the resurrection to distinguish the first Christians from any other Jews of the day.
- The Christian church still exists today . . .The frailty and fallibility of church leaders has become notorious in literature and the media. Had it not been for its confidence in the One who conquered sin and death, the church would have long ago disappeared.
- Christians generally practice Sunday worship . . . If not for the resurrection, what remarkable first century event can explain that major transformation of a longstanding Sabbath tradition?
- The first century produced the written New Testament, which remains to this day. If Jesus did not rise, what first-century event did motivate the written preservation of the apostles’ teaching?
- The calendar directs attention to what happened before Christ (B.C.) and after the birth of the Lord (A.D.). If Jesus did not rise, what event in history better accounts for the change in the dating of all events that later occurred?