Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Burdens are Lifted at Calvary - Part 2

by John McVay

This article is Part 2 of a two-part series. Part 1 was in the July/August 2008 issue, also available at here. The article was originally presented as a sermon at the Questions on Doctrine 50th Anniversary Conference, held at Andrews University, October 24-27, 2007.


The block and tackle is an amazing machine—an assemblage of pulleys and ropes that enables mere mortals to do wondrous feats. It was invented clear back in the 3rd Century B.C. by that great Scottish scientist-philosopher-engineer, Archimedes (Well, O.K., so he wasn’t Scottish. Few people can be. He was Greek. But he was so brilliant he deserved to be Scottish!) Can you imagine that first day—aboard a Greek trading ship—when Archimedes introduces his newfangled contraption, the block and tackle?

I don’t know just how he did it, but I know how I would have. I would have carefully tested the limits of the machine in advance. And then I would have had the longshoremen stack up a large pile of cargo in the middle of a strong net. Then I would attach a rope to the top of it, sling it across a support and say to ten men, making sure there were a couple of obvious weaklings among them, “Pick it up!” They grunt and heave and are unable to even budge the load. Then, with considerable pomp, I install the block and tackle. Having fussed over it a great deal, I point to one of those weaklings and say, “Now, you, pick it up!” And I would have enjoyed listening to the astonished reactions as he does so.

A heavy burden weighs down our hearts. It is a burden of “animosity, rage, and indignation.” And, unfortunately, we have all too often expressed those powerful, deep-seated emotions through “angry shouting, and abusive speech.”

We see the problem. We feel the massive weight of the burden. It is sinking us. We have put our shoulders to the load. And for days, weeks, years, we have struggled. On occasion, we fantasize that the load budges an inch or two. But it does not.

It remains, burdening our hearts, ruining our lives, sapping our spirits. And then one day—will it be today?—that great Scientist-Philosopher-Engineer of the human spirit, Jesus Christ, steps aboard our little sinking bark.

“My son,” He says, “My daughter.” “Step away from that load. Why you’ve been at it so long, your shoulder is bruised and bleeding.” With some display, He rigs that amazing, cruciform contraption of His—the block and tackle of His grace—above the deck of your life. And that huge and heavy burden—of animosity, rage, indignation, angry shouting, and abusive speech—lifts off your sagging spirit.

The water line drops. Your boat floats high and free. And you are ready to sail the seven seas for Jesus!

Dr. Wilson had another, powerful word for preachers in that evening lecture a while back. He said, “Find the Gospel in the text.” And then he said, “Take the text to the Cross.” I find it interesting that Paul—forgiving the anachronism—follows Dr. Wilson’s good advice here, as he offers up those two positive commands.

Positive Command #1: “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other,[and here Paul takes us to the Cross] just as God forgave all of you in Christ.” Paul does indeed take us to the Cross. But does he take us to the Gospel? I want you to be kind. I want you to be tender-hearted to each other. I want you to forgive each other.

And how will you know when you’ve been kind enough, sufficiently tender-hearted, and offered the right kind of forgiveness? If you wonder whether or not you’ve been kind enough, gracious enough to that theological opponent of yours, Go, stand at the foot of the Cross. That’s the platinum standard. You will not have done enough until you’ve done it just like that.

And having the gracious example of God-in-Christ ever before us as the great standard is a very good thing. Paul means to challenge us with it.

But perhaps we need to kneel there at the foot of that Old Rugged Cross a little longer. Perhaps we need to experience afresh the utter acceptance, the while-I-am-a-sinner forgiveness of God, the unconditional love, the open arms of our redeeming God. There’s no way to measure up to God’s blessed gift in Christ Jesus! It is beyond human comprehension!

And aren’t you glad?

But I can become—by God’s grace—a conduit to others of the very same grace that I have received. I can have the privilege of passing along that which has been bequeathed to me. I can share not my own kindness, for I have none, but I can share a little of the kindness, a little of the tender-heartedness, a little of the forgiveness that has already come my way in Jesus.

Bring that friend of mine—that enemy of mine!—with me to the Cross. I can put my arm around that shoulder. Share the kindness, the tender-heartedness, and the forgiveness of Jesus with that friend, with that enemy.

“Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God forgave all of you in Christ.” Paul invites us to go to the Cross again in the second, positive command (vv. 1, 2): “So be imitators of God in the manner of beloved children (2) and live in love [and here Paul takes us to the Cross] just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

I find it fascinating that just a few verses before, Paul warns us away from mimicking the devil (Eph 4:25, 26): “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Should you be angry, do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”[1] Diabolos, the slanderer. Don’t make room for him, don’t be like him. Instead of slander, speak truth. Don’t mimic the devil. Instead, mimic God. Like beloved children who revere an exemplary parent, imitate God.

It may be argued that “there is no other explicit reference in either Old or New Testament to imitating God.”[2] I find it interesting, though, to compare Matt 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

You will remember that the gospel context invites us to be “perfect” in love, to imitate the One who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (v. 45).

You will forgive this Adventist preacher. When I read this passage, I know that Paul is primarily directing my eyes to Calvary. But I also feel myself invited into the Sanctuary: “So be imitators of God in the manner of beloved children and live in love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

In the battle against those powerful emotions—animosity, rage, indignation—I am invited to kneel, head in hands, at the Cross, to experience afresh the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. And Paul’s language, too, evokes the atoning priesthood of Jesus and reminds me that the very real benefits of that complete sacrifice—offered so long ago—are readily available today.

Olympic Lessons

You can feel the hype in the air. The tension is as palpable as your frosty breath on the wintry, Austrian air. The year? 1964. The Event? The Olympic games at Innsbruck.

The leader board and time-keeping devices look a little different way back then, but the excitement is the same. The two-man Italian bobsled team, led by Eugenio Monti, has just completed its final run, and that Italian team is solidly in the lead. There is only one team—the British one led by Tony Nash—that seems to have any chance of beating the Italians. And just now, that team is getting into place, preparing to sprint and hop and swoosh their way down their final run.

As they position the bobsled, they make the discovery—a critical bolt on their bobsled has snapped. Without it, they dare not make the run. Down at the bottom of the hill, Italian bobsled captain Eugenio Monti gets the news. And he might have celebrated: “Their bobsled is broken! They can’t make the run! We’re the winners!”

But not Eugenio Monti.

You see, Eugenio Monti is a sportsman—the real thing. He knows that the two bobsleds are built the same. He bends down, removes the bolt from his own bobsled and sends it up to the top of the hill.

Nash fixes the British sled and comes hurtling down the course to set a record and win the gold medal. Eugenio Monti’s accomplishment, though, must surely be judged to win the day. A touch of real class. Nobility of spirit. Respect for the opposition.

Monti becomes the very first recipient of what has become in Europe a highly celebrated honor: The Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Trophy. Named for the founder of the modern Olympic Games, it has been awarded annually for more than 40 years to people in sports who have demonstrated nobility of spirit. Eugenio Monti is the first.[3]

What if we offered the “Unruh Prize” annually to the Adventist theologian who most clearly personifies the spirit of fair play, scholarly discourse, and Christian kindness in conversations with opponents of differing opinions? How many nominations would there be? How many runners-up?

What if victory in theological disputes were judged by the Christlike behavior of the disputants rather than the ferocity of the rhetoric?

And who’s to say it isn’t?

[1] Adapted from the New Revised Standard Version.

[2] Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999), 353.

[3] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobsleigh_at_the_1964_Winter_Olympics.

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