Ash Wednesday is following hard on the heels of Groundhog’s Day this year, and while retailers are throwing heart and soul into Valentine’s Day, I find that my heart is more prepared to celebrate Easter if I spend some time during the Lenten season reading about the two historical events that are central to Christianity: the cross and the empty tomb. What happened? What does it all mean?
This year, I have found Scandalous in which D.A.Carson isolates five theologically stunning concepts based on five scriptural passages that integrate the implications of both crucifixion and resurrection:
I. The Ironies of the Cross — Matthew 27:27-51
Irony, using words that normally mean the opposite of what is actually being said, brings situations into sharp focus, and there were four profound and dramatic ironies at work in the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion. Living, as we do, after the resurrection, we are in a rich position to appreciate and to rejoice in the ironies as we read and reflect:
- The Man who was mocked as king (robe, crown of thorns) was – and is – the King of kings.
- The Man who was utterly powerless, holds all the power of heaven and earth. His weakness became the path to power over death and to the provision of a perfect Temple through becoming the perfect Sacrifice for the people of God.
- The Man who “could not” save Himself, saved others. The mocking words of the chief priest, scribes, and elders were truer than they knew.
- The Man who cried out in despair, trusted God. In fact, He was quoting Psalm 22 in His dying agony, and, once again, His persecutors spoke more wisdom than they realized. The torn curtain that opened access to the presence of God for humanity was the result of Jesus’ crushing experience of God’s absence.
II. The Truth of Human Desperation — Romans 3:21-26
In our post-“I’m-O.K.-You’re-O.K” era, this may well be the most inexplicable of all Christian doctrines, for we are a tolerant generation in which “the one wrong thing to say is that somebody else is wrong.” However, the truth is that we are offenders before God and in need of reconciliation which Jesus provided, preserving the justice of God while justifying the ungodly.
III. The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb — Revelation 12
In this apocalyptic reenactment of the Christmas story, the Red Dragon rages over the truth that a deliverer has come forth from the Messianic community, and, therefore, his demise is certain. The past 2,000 years of martyrdom and persecution are the thrashing of the doomed dragon’s tail, while, in the meantime, the gospel advances through believers who are bearing witness to Christ, through the blood of the cross, and through the realization that life in Christ “is a call to die to self-interest,” (Revelation 12:11).
IV. A Miracle Full of Surprises — John 11:1-53
The juxtaposition of death and life in Bethany reveals that God is always full of surprises. Jesus’ dealings with the dead man’s sisters is foreshadowed in His response to the disciples when He receives their summons: “This sickness will not end in death,” (11:4). The purpose of the miracle had nothing to do with death or even with life, but instead, God’s glory was put on display. Of course, this is not clear to anyone at the time, and it only becomes clear to us if we take a minute to realize that Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus put Him in the crosshairs of those who were plotting to remove Him from the scene.
I am constantly in need of reminders that I can trust God’s delays as much as I trust His action, and that the best consolation for my grief is to turn my attention to Christ. Jesus models a perfect response to grief, death and disappointment: tears and outrage. The final surprise in this miracle is the surrender of the Life-giver to death so that life may finally win.
V. Doubting the Resurrection of Jesus — John 20:24-31
After an analysis of six forms of doubt, D.A. Carson enters into the cognitive dissonance that accompanied a crucified messiah. The fallout of that all-important weekend in Jerusalem, at least from the disciples’ viewpoint, was disappointment and despair. Therefore, the second Sunday after the resurrection, Thomas is still determined not to be taken in by rumors of a living Jesus. His utterance of faith, “My Lord and my God!” is part of the “these” that were written so that we who only read of Christ’s resurrection may also believe.
Recalling this scene behind the locked doors of the upper room, poet Edward Shillito underscores the importance of the wounds that testified to Thomas:
“If when the doors are shut, thou drawest near,
Only reveal thy hands, that side of thine.
We know today what wounds are, never fear:
Show us thy wounds: we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak.
They rode, but thou didst stumble to thy throne.
And to our wounds, only God’s wounds can speak —
And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”
May the outcome of all our ponderings during this season of Lent be a stronger belief in the resurrection and a deeper following of our wounded God.
This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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