Monthly Archives: October 2018

I Won’t! Because I Can’t Believe It!

When Jesus says the OT is all about Him He doesn’t have in mind a verse here and a verse there, a prediction here or an event there. He sees the entire corpus (Moses, the Psalms and Prophets–Luke 24:25-27, 44-49) as a single narrative with Himself as the unending climax BUT with Himself as one human of faith along with all humans and particularly with humans of faith & of faith in God.

We can see the way He and Paul and others will quote from the Psalms and apply the experience of the psalmist to Himself. “They hated me without a cause.”   “My familiar friend betrayed me.” “The reproach of them that reproached You fell on Me.” And note Hebrews 11:24-26 that makes Moses’ suffering “the reproach of Christ.” Jesus saw Himself as one with the entire nation of Israel and refuses to distance Himself from His sinful family so we find Him being baptized along with them, By this He confesses He is part of a family that has sinned against God.

When He becomes incarnate, lives and is counted by His contemporaries as a sinner and dies sharing what they all experienced He was teaching them and us all manner of things. But He didn’t HAVE TO DO any of that. He didn’t HAVE TO teach us, suffer WITH us and FROM us and FOR us. He did it simply and solely because He WANTED to.

What brought Him to Incarnation, earthly life and ministry, saving death (and resurrection & glory) was no LAW by which God was bound; it was no internal conflict in the Godself between love and “punitive or retributive justice” which left Him helpless to freely, graciously simply forgive Sin. He came in and as the human called Jesus, the fellow-human of a race that chose and chooses ALIENATION—He came to offer restored life and friendship. His coming in pure free and sovereign grace to “plead” with the beloved rebel, the human family to be friends with Him again ( see 2 Corinthians 5:20 and context). I know it’s astonishing but He did it!
In choosing ALIENATION from God we chose the consequences which include inner self-ruin, pain and loss and anguish and temptation; and we choose all that for those around us! God in coming IN and AS the human, Jesus of Nazareth, was choosing the pain and loss and anguish and death that comes with humanity’s alienation.

Like innocent little babies (with profound differences, of course!) the sinless and holy Jesus in an alienated world freely embraced all that comes with being a human in such a world. It was unadulterated and limitless love of the human family, that God expressed in His coming personally to show it and tell it.
He wasn’t expressing any sick notion that He cannot FORGIVE sin unless He punishes it to the nth degree. And that He must punish the Innocent One,  While we continue in this world, the innocent and/or righteous will suffer along with the impenitent guilty. God does not punish the innocent! Sinners do that! Penal substitution is meant to glorify God but it distorts and cheapens Him. Punishment is NOT the same as suffering!
God joined us here. He joined us here to make it clear that our Sin and sins didn’t destroy His love and longing for us and life with us. That sustained act in Jesus of Nazareth is the fountain of all Christian response and it is still going on in the life of those who have been drawn into union and participation with the life and purpose of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus.
The meaning of the life, death of our Lord & Savior who would not distance Himself from His human family and so shared our suffering is being rehearsed and made visible in His body, the Church. He’s till suffering for the world. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” His body in which by His Holy Spirit He now dwells and makes Himself present in the world, is by its very existence bearing witness to all He meant to be and do in His earth-bound presence here and He does it until He returns to completely fulfill God’s eternal purpose.


It’s humans God created. It’s humans God communicated and continues to communicate with. It’s via humans that the Spirit of God has given us the Holy Scriptures and not by Dictaphones. I’m content to believe with Jesus Christ and His commissioned witnesses that it is GOD who speaks to us in the Scriptures whose origin, transmission and canonization were superintended by His Spirit.

I think I do understand that such a common view generates many questions but I’m not particularly interested (especially at this moment) in theories of inspiration, canonicity debates or current literary/hermeneutical questions. I’m happy to let the scholars or those who think they are scholars or the would-be scholars—I’m happy to let those continue to debate each other about the nature of the Holy Bible.

In the end we’re all going to have to call things as we see them. I’m not dismissive of scholars! It’s probable that no day goes by that I don’t thank God for men and women who have spent years becoming specialists in some area of truth that affects the masses of us. Though I don’t live in the same world as Alasdair MacIntyre I can still sympathize with his low view of philosophical work that doesn’t stay in touch with the actual living of life. The same is true of Clifford Geertz, the cultural anthropologist, who confesses to be weary with those in his own discipline who prove the obvious one more time and then publish their findings.

I think I do recognize the need for fresh thought and critical study and I confess I don’t know what (consistent) balance is or whether it can ever be gained when it comes to determining “how much” and what is “critical study”. How much do we need to know? How much do we need to “know for sure”? “How do we know what we know?” Epistemological certainty is a never ending quest with philosophical types. Where does it stop? And in the end, who knows a lot?

That remarkable man George Bradford Caird (a teacher who had a profound influence of N.T. Wright) wrote a book called The Language & Imagery of the Bible. He begins the book with this statement, “This is a book by an amateur, written for amateurs. Only an amateur could undertake to write on such a subject, since one life-time is too short for anyone to become an expert on more than one of the qualifying disciplines. For language is not the concern of the linguist alone, but of the literary critic, the psychologist, the anthropologist, the lawyer, the philosopher and the theologian as well. A prudent expert cultivates his own garden, not wasting time in looking over the fence at what his neighbors are doing. The amateur accepts cuttings from everyone, hoping that they will take in his own soil. I am content to…”

What is true of linguistics is true of everything else. Everything is linked to something else and the truth about anything is astonishing if someone teaches us to ask the right questions; not only astonishing, but in the end and in its entirety it’s “ungettable”.

So what we all do is this: we fence off a tiny plot of ground and work in that. That makes sense and as Caird says, we take cuttings from others to make our little garden grow with some semblance of order and maybe beauty. But we’re not to nod approvingly at Caird’s point and then ignore it—it’s not ignorable! Everyone is an amateur!

And then, of course, there are “gardeners” and gardeners. Some work at it, gratefully borrowing cuttings from here and there; content to settle for what does well and find pleasure and beauty in it. And there are those who are easily carried away with the latest fashions and die in pursuit of them.

Finally there is this that I can never quite be content: how much do I need to know? And if there is a lot that needs to be known am I the one that needs to know it? And the people I sometimes get the privilege to teach, what is it they need to hear from me?

Reuben Shapcott, a long-time friend of “Mark Rutherford” (a troubled soul of many years ago) thought Rutherford’s central problem was that he got in over his head with issues too great for him. I’m not sure what to make of Shapcott’s advice. See what you make of it.

“There is one observation which I may perhaps be permitted to make on re-reading after some years this autobiography. Rutherford, at any rate in his earlier life, was an example of the danger and the folly of cultivating thoughts and reading books to which he was not equal, and which tend to make a man lonely.

It is all very well that remarkable per sons should occupy themselves with exalted subjects, which are out of the ordinary road which ordinary humanity treads but we who are not remarkable make a very great mistake if we have anything to do with them. If we wish to be happy, and have to live with average men an d women, as most of us have to live, we must learn to take an interest in the topics which concern average men and women. We think too much of ourselves. We ought not to sacrifice a single moment’s pleasure in our attempt to do something which is too big for us, and as a rule, men and women are always attempting what

is too big for them. (To the bulk of us) the wholesome healthy doctrine is, “Don’t bother yourselves with what is beyond you try to lead a sweet, clean, wholesome life, keep yourselves in health above everything, stick to your work, and when your day is done amuse and refresh yourselves. It is not only a duty to ourselves, but it is a duty to others to take this course. Great

men do the world much good, but not without some harm, and we have no business to be troubling ourselves with their dreams if we have duties which lie nearer home amongst persons to whom these dreams are incomprehensible . Many a man goes into his study, shuts himself up with his poetry or his psychology, comes out, half understanding what he has read, is miserable because he cannot find anybody with whom he can talk about it, and misses altogether the far more genuine joy which he could have obtained from a game with his children, or listening to what his wife had to tell him about her neighbors.”



“There are foundational elements…people… that are the brick and mortar of who we are. People that are so deeply embedded that we take their existence for granted until suddenly they’re not there. And we collapse into rubble…..” (Daniel Cerone)

Thank God for people (young or old) who look out for us.

But if we’re very fortunate we recognize early the saving power of these unheralded people and live with the joy and strength they bring to us and we find ourselves better than we would be if they hadn’t been in our lives. And part of that inspiration is there because we treasure them so much that we desire to please them by living in honor and that desire gives us power to keep from sinking into contented mediocrity. But it’s more than that, isn’t it; they enable us, we feel, to rise above where we are into someone worth their trouble.
Thank God for people (young or old) who inspire us.


The noted Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poor health meant he lived, as someone put it (I can’t recall who), “a lifelong crucifixion.” But from childhood he was blessed by a tender and patient care-giver he called “Cummy”.* I enjoy many of his letters but few as much as the one in which, many years later, after he had become famous, he wrote to tell her how good she had been to him, a very sick little boy. He said he had often hoped he would become “someone worth talking about” if for no other reason than that Cummy’s trouble over him would not be wasted. Well it wasn’t wasted (love’s efforts are never wasted because it’s the motivation that makes them worth talking about). They write letters to such people as Cummy and they sing songs and write books and make movies about them. RLS lived a gallant and cheerful life from the cross he always hung on and to a profound degree it was due to his tender old nurse that was looking out for him.
Thank God for people (young or old) who see our need and embrace the trouble that is us and embrace it FOR us.
With his health deteriorating and coming to a close Stevenson wrote:
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I laid me down with a will
This be the verse you grave for me
‘Here he lies where he longed to be
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.’
Thank God for people who help us to earn a fine death.
Praise to a GOD who looks out for us and wants to look out for us
* His care-giver was Alison Cunningham and one of my fine grandchildren is called Allison Cunningham. Someone who cares a lot and gives a lot.


[Leviticus 17:11]



4. THE OFFERERS WERE NOT *PUNISHED* HE/SHE/THEY WERE FORGIVEN (Leviticus 4, entire chapter and elsewhere that speaks of “atonement” and “forgiveness”.)



7. THE SINNERS COULD NOT OFFER THEMSELVES SPOTLESS TO GOD BUT IN OFFERING THE SPOTLESS SACRIFICE GOD PROVIDED THEY WERE OFFERING A LIFE THEY WOULD LIKE TO GIVE. (This presumes they offered their hearts as they offered the sacrifice. It was their heart’s commitment in obedience God wanted rather than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6; Psalm 51:16-17; 1 Samuel 15:22).. God didn’t look for sinless obedience since they were already sinners when He chose them—He sought for heartfelt commitment to Him as the one true God. Be sure to read ALL of Deuteronomy 30.


Jesus is talking about the downfall of his nation in 70AD [note Luke 21:32]. In apocalyptic and non-apocalyptic speech He speaks of its ruin. Surely if that were to happen the disciples would think it their worst nightmare come true and it would mean the failure of God’s promises to and through Israel. Jesus assures them otherwise and for the moment all they have to depend on is His word. His assurance to them in that day is assurance to us in ours. Read of the fearful things he speaks of and then hear his startling promise.

Luke 21:28. “When you see these things…” Read the section, please.
When you see these things lift up your heads—redemption draws near.

He doesn’t say: “When you see financial stability return and global financial chaos disappear like a morning mist before the sun.”

He doesn’t say: When you see progress in political talks and national leaders gathering to sign peace treaties and agreements to destroy nuclear weaponry and all the war-mongering ends.”

He doesn’t say: “When you see a tremendous change for the better in the moral climate and towns and cities and countries change for the better and truth and kindness becomes the order of the day.”

He doesn’t say: “When you see medical and scientific advances that truly make a difference to the daily living of the hundreds of millions of the vulnerable and marginalized.”

He doesn’t say: “When you see national and international leaders arise who work effectively for peace with righteousness and prosperity with honor and justice and blessing for all.”

He doesn’t say any of that! And He isn’t happy about what He knows is happening and will happen! He sits on a hill sobbing about those things! See Luke 19:41-44 and parallels.

Who can’t or won’t rejoice at such things that He might have said? These are and would be the work and blessing of God. We’d have to be sour to the core not to rejoice in them and want them. Let me say it again: such things are God’s good gifts [Acts 14:15-17 and 17:24-28] and they are reminders of God’s intention toward His human family.
But we won’t base our hopes on the latest political, social and international headlines. We may rejoice in democracy but when the voting majority becomes one of “the beasts” we are given the opportunity to see with greater vision and to trust only “the Son of Man” [Daniel 7].

God has not created us to labor in vain. He has not purposed that we suffer forever. He created us to love and be loved and not to abuse or be abused. While human sin is rampant in the world there will be hurt and loss as God works to bring us to a glorious finale under Jesus but pain and suffering is no eternal plan of God. We know in our bones that the agony the human family sees and experiences is not the end of the Story. Beyond sin, peace and prosperity and fullness of life is married to righteousness—they are the outcome of and invariable companions of righteousness and God has so ordained it.

When we see peace and prosperity here and there, when we see health and blessing here and there, when we see women and men of integrity in places of power and things looking as in our hearts we know “they should be” we ought to rejoice!

But until the day when the glory and smile of God covers the earth as the waters cover the sea we’ll wait, trusting, all our lifetimes, generation after generation despite the wars and cancers and broken marriages and abusive parents and abusive children and predatory power-brokers and sly, greedy officials who exercise authority against the defenseless simply because they can.

When we see all these things we’ll lift up our heads—redemption draws near.

In Luke 21 [see for yourself] Jesus has just painted a picture of national and international terror and fear and chaos. The foundational structures of their world would totter, uncreation would blaze there before them everywhere they looked, and despair would rush at them like a tsunami. It was in the light of all that that Jesus said, “When you see all these things” lift up your heads—redemption draws near.”

Only fools make light of such terror and only the insensitive look at the crosses others are dying on and call them “a challenge”. Jesus didn’t make light of those terrible days. He thought them real and He wanted them to know they would be real and terrifying.

Nevertheless, Jesus has shown us that God too is real and he calls us to trust! Trust is always good and right—in the good and prosperous times as well as in calamity but its gold is purer in times of heartache and confusion and fear. Trust sees the pain and loss for what it is—

But enabled by God they lift their heads believing that they can either judge God by these events or judge these events by God.

Jesus did not say: “When you see all these terrifying things happen throw in the towel; trash your faith, spit on your dreams, curse your God or live your little life dominated by news headlines and worry.”

That wasn’t what He said!

In lonely bereavement in your little house, in your jobless bewilderment, in your own private agony that no one but God and you know about and about which you can’t speak to anyone—in the middle of anything like that Jesus still has the nerve to say:
Lift up your head—redemption draws near!
He not only said it earlier, He said it later from the cross!

jim mcguiggan: