The Windy Confidence of Christianity’s Critics

In a book way back in 1992 called ‘Suffering’, Alistair McGrath wrote:

“Some say that nothing could ever be adequate recompense for suffering in this world.  But how do they know?  Have they spoken to anyone who has suffered and subsequently been raised to glory?  Have they been through this experience themselves?

One of the greatest tragedies of much writing about human suffering this century has been its crude use of rhetoric: ‘Nothing can ever compensate for suffering!’ rolls off the tongue with the greatest of ease.  It has a certain oratorical force.  It discourages argument.  It suggests that what has been said represents the distillation of human wisdom on the subject, and is so evidently correct that it does not require justification.  It implies that anyone who disagrees is a fool.  But how do they know nothing can compensate for suffering?

Paul believed passionately that the sufferings of the present life would be outweighed by the glory that is to come (Rom. 8:18).  How do they know that he is wrong, and that they are right?  Have they tasted the glory of the life to come, so that they can make the comparrison?  Have they talked to others who have been through the bitter experience of suffering and death, and have been caught up in the risen and glorious life of Christ, and asked them how they now feel about their past suffering?

No.

Of course they haven’t.

The simple truth is that this confident assertion of the critics of Christianity is just so much whistling in the wind.  Their comments are made from our side of the veil which separates history from eternity.”

p.96-97

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Glimpsing Glory Through Palm Sunday Sentimentalism

Mark 11:1-11

Palm Sunday

In this well known passage read out all over the world this Palm Sunday,

we catch a glimpse of a good and bad glory, a great biblical scene that is too often distorted by sentimentalism and likewise dismissed as a rather nice picture: the baby in the manger has grown up to be a rather good donkey rider!

But does it mean something else?  It does.  Thank God….

So, Jesus is riding on a donkey, into a frenzied religious city,

that is about to begin the most passionate religious festival – The Passover.

What could possibly go wrong?

The sun is shining (as usual).

The people are praising (fundamentalists)!

The disciples are happy (though confused).

The religious leaders are indignant (though worried).

The Roman guards are amused at these crazy Jews (as usual)!

What could possibly go wrong?

 

There are two things (for now), to notice about ‘glory’:

1. This act of Jesus is a fulfilment of prophecy (Zech 9:9)

– a peaceable king riding on a donkey.

– a demonstration of what this King is like.

– this scene is Heaven’s King lighting the fuse that will blow apart how we

understand the very meaning of glory.

2. Then there is the adulation/hysteria of the crowds

– worldly ambition.

– king-making religious nationalism.

– this is a demonstration of what people are like.

– this is earth’s subjects proving that we don’t understand glory all that well.

 

So what do we have?

The glory of fulfilment of prophecy being enacted

V’s            The glory of a religiously excited crowd

that just one week later would swap their ‘Hosannas’ for ‘Crucify’.

 

And the great and terrible and biblical and salvation saturated irony is this:

The fullest and final and most glorious expression

of the glory of God

is seen not in the smiling worshipping crowds (as they thought),

but in the willing surrender, the sacrifice,

of this donkey riding Jesus one week,

and as He hangs on a Cross the next.

This is the supreme manifestation of the Glory of God.

The glory we like, the glory we seek,

the praise and worship, the sunshine, the niceness of a donkey ride,

is blown apart by this new meaning of Glory:

GOD ON A CROSS.

So a church can ride all the donkeys it wants.

It can sing all the Hosannas it wants.

It can clap and cheer and celebrate this humble Jesus.

Unless we follow Jesus and pick up our cross.

Unless we follow the Crucified donkey-riding God-Man,

through suffering – to glory,

through trial and persecution – to glory,

through despair and brokenness – to glory,

through worship – to glory,

and everything else in between, whether you eat or drink,

or whatever you do,

do it all to the glory of God.

A glory defined not by our own imaginations and desires,

but shaped and re-defined by God’s Word

and God’s Son,

and lived out in glorious technicolour by God’s people,

the Church!

 

In this way, in this redefinition of what we thought we understood,

As Eugene Peterson says,

“Jesus takes the brightest word in our vocabulary (glory), and plunges it into the darkest pit of experience, violence and excruciating death. Everything we ever thought about glory has to be re-learned, re-cast. Dictionary definitions won’t help. We have entered a mystery.”

 

It is when we look at Jesus, as we see again and again in the Gospels,

How the Man on the Donkey really was God on a chariot,

How the Cross really was His throne,

How in His death, we live,

And how when we live in Christ,

through our suffering and decaying bodies,

we glorify God.