Today is the fifth in a series on the 7 Last Words of Christ.
It is finished.
Jesus makes it clear that there is nothing more that needs to be done to achieve salvation. His death on the cross puts the finishing touch on the release from our sins and our introduction into the heavenly realms. He took all our sins upon himself and said, “That’s it.”
We don’t often think about being persecuted for our faith in our modern times, but the truth is that 1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution worldwide and that on average 11 Christians are killed every day for their faith (World Watch List 2019, 5). What can we do with this information? What can be our response? One response, of course, is to pray for those who are being persecuted. Ask that God keep them strong and firm in their faith. Another response is to treasure the freedom we have to worship our Lord and Savior in this country and to recognize that we are blessed to be faithful in our following of Christ unobstructed and unencumbered. Lastly, we can respond by recognizing that following Christ can be a dangerous venture, and one that is not to be taken lightly. We may not experience persecution for our faith right now or as overtly in other countries, but we need to be aware that suffering is part of the Christian walk to one degree or another. We need to stay strong, therefore, in the face of those we may ridicule us for our faith or may question why we follow Christ. This type of “mini-persecution” should never deter us or turn us away from our Lord. This should only make a stronger. Our faith is a matter of life and death. As the Bible says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). For his power is greater than any power that world can throw at us—even death!
Probably one of the most rampant worldviews in conflict with the Church today is secular humanism. This is the belief that there is no God, no spiritual direction, no afterlife. This world and this life is all there is to the secular humanist. There is no room for or need for God. Secular humanists rely solely on human reason.
The prevalence of secular humanism leads to a kind of elevation of humanity and a quest to live life to satisfy your own personal needs to the fullest, since this is all there is.
What can the Church do in the midst of secular humanism? One way is to gently point people to the Bible’s statements of the involvement of God in the world.
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, it is important for us to remember some of the key statements of Martin Luther. One of those statements is on the concept of freedom. Luther said in his most famous treatise On the Freedom of the Christian, in 1520: “The Christian individual is a completely free lord of all, subject to none. The Christian individual is a completely dutiful servant of all, subject to all.“
These two statements may seem to contradict one another, but, in fact, they encapsulate the complete picture of what we as Christians call freedom.
St. Augustine famously said of Jesus on the cross: “Victor quia victima!” which means “victor because victim.” On the cross, Jesus turns the ancient thinking of battle on its head. Usually in war, the defeated is the victim and the executioner is the victor. But as the victim on the cross, Jesus became the victor over the enemies of sin, death and the devil. St. Paul points out this amazing reversal:
Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” —1 Corinthians 15:54-55
Then in Hebrews 2:14-15, St. Paul describes the divine combination of Christ’s being victim and victor this way:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
In Holy Vocabulary: Rescuing the Language of Faith, Michael Kelley compares the Church to a military advance team called the Delta Force. “The Delta Force is an advance team of specially trained agents who act as the precursor for the army. They perform secret missions, do the hard prep work, and engage the enemy before the entire army arrives. They are the ones who announce that the full army is going to invade” (p. 104).
I like the picture that paints of the value and position of the church. We are doing necessary and important work. Our calling is to wake people up to the reality of what is yet to come: the holy invasion of Christ and all his angels to take believers back with him to heaven.
Living in this time between Christ’s resurrection and his return can be difficult for us as Christians. This period is often called the “now and not yet.” It is hard to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel when you are dealing with problems and trials in your present situation.
Ed Stetzer, in his book, Sent: Living the Missional Nature of the Church, helps us to visualize what is going on here. “Think of it like this,” he says. “At the end of World War II, there were two historical dates. The first date is remembered as D-Day—June 6, 1944. The Allied Powers stormed the beach at Normandy and secured the victory, and it was just a matter of time until the war was over. However, the official war continued on until May 7-8, 1945, when the Allied Powers accepted the unconditional and full surrender of Germany. Then the fighting stopped completely” (p. 36).
Look at the same image this way and it says SINNER.
In 2017, we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, so I will be focusing on some of the major themes of that monumental event in Church history throughout the year.
One concept that was highlighted on All Saints Day last year in my congregation was the emphasis that Martin Luther put on the fact that as Christians we are living both as saint and sinner. In the Latin, the term is “simul justus et peculator.”
My church used the images shown above to help us understand that duality. Looking at the image one way, and you see the word saint. Look at the same image upside down and you see the word sinner. But it is still a single image with both words present within it.
Welcome to the first post of the Creative Christian Perspectives blog. Thank you for coming on this journey of faith with me as we dialogue about what it means to be a Christian in our world today. I begin the discussion using my perspective as a senior product developer at a Christian publishing company, Creative Communications for the Parish.
We start this blog very appropriately, I think, on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the season in which we meditate and reflect on the life, suffering and death of our Savior for our salvation. It is a time to look closely at ourselves and our own faith life in light of the overarching message of Lent, which is “Repent and believe!” Continue reading →