Placarding the Crucified!

In the Finals of the very recent Cricket World Cup, when the Legendary Indian Batsman the ‘Master Blaster’ Sachin Tendulkar got-out at a crucial moment, the British writer Andy Zalthman described the response of the crowd in the Stadium as follows.

A stunned hush clamped the Wankhede (stadium), as if the crowd at one of Jesus’ miracles had just seen their hero turn a sickly child into a mahogany bookcase, and mumble “Oops”, before scuttling off saying, “Same time next week?”

Seen as a piece of literary analogy, I think Andy Zalthman shows his class. But, as to the the spin he has given in portraying Jesus as a sort of Street Magician/Showman, I think his idea of who Jesus is, couldn’t be more grossly misconstrued from the Biblical portrayal of Jesus as a ‘reluctant’ miracle worker (Matt 12:39). 

Back in my college in India, I was known as a Christian. As is often the case, there was a hand full who did not like my Faith. One evening, as I was walking into the Hostel, one of the guy in the antagonistic group said aloud to a few of his friends standing by…

“I often wonder about Christians… They have a Cross because Jesus was crucified on the Cross. What if He had been hung to death, would they worship a ‘hanging rope’ instead?”

As insinuating as the statement was, not to mention the giggles I could hear behind my back, I couldn’t help but be happy about the comment. After all, isn’t is awesome that the focus of the latter insinuation was on the Crucified Lord which is central to the Gospel, instead of being on Christ’s misconstrued miracle working show business.

As Paul says in 1 Cor 2:2, proclaiming the Crucified Lord is more important to the cause of the Kingdom than any wise words or strategic planning or even an army of the committed. The evangelizing commission of the Christian is to PLACARD the Crucified Lord. But unfortunately, ‘Popular’ Christianity of the Materialistic 20th and 21st centuries has done a VERY bad job of PLACARDING the Crucified Lord. 

As supernatural as the Birth of Christ is, it is the Death of Christ that simply has no equal. Many religions have some idea of God incarnating in human form. But the idea of God dying  as a criminal in the place of His own Creation is an alien and unpalatable idea. I was speaking with a Muslim friend of mine. He told me that it was blasphemous even to suggest that the Creator can die in the hands of His own Creation, let alone being punished for the sin of the creation. Yet, this sacrilegious death is the fulcrum upon which the Christian Faith rests.

Church needs to PLACARD the Crucified Lord to a society that needs the Gospel. Unfortunately, Christian Tradition of this commercialized century gives more importance to Christmas than to ‘Good Friday’. In doing so the image of Christ we PLACARD to the society around us, is more a Santa Claus or a Benny Hinn styled Miracle Performer than the Crucified Lord. A Christian culture that fails to PLACARD the Crucified Lord will eventually find itself conforming to the patterns of the world around it. 

Lessening the emphasis of Christmas and Celebrating Good Friday with greater zeal and fervor would be a good place to start placarding the Crucified Lord to the society that needs Him badly. The Good Friday service which goes on from Noon to 3:00 PM is my MOST Cherished service of the Year. In India, it is also the one of the most attended services. In the far East communities, Good Friday is a huge event with community processions etc… Fortunately, the Episcopal Church I go to in Houston has the Good Friday mass. It has a decent attendance as well. 

But I am shocked to notice that most Churches in Houston don’t bother to have such a Good Friday service anymore. Some young committed Christians I spoke to seemed ignorant (or just indifferent) of the Noon to 3:00 PM format of the Good Friday service that is celebrated the world over. The popular culture enthralls itself with Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny. At work, people wish each other ‘Have a great Holiday Weekend’. Christians wish each other ‘Happy Easter’. Every one skips ‘Good Friday’ as though it were something unpleasant to be swept under the carpet. I am little shocked to say the least. It seems to me that the Christian Traditions in the US is sort of upside-down. It seems to me that just as the Disciples deserted Christ when he had to hang for 3 hours on the Cross, most Churches are deserted during the commemoration of those 3 sacrilegious hours the Cosmos cringed witnessing. 

‘Good Friday’ getting less importance is perhaps just the ‘symptom’ of a flawed understanding of the centrality of the Crucified Lord to the Gospel. The ‘root cause’ of this problem of the Crucified Lord being sidelined is because our Church sermons seldom focus the Cross or the Crucified Lord. The Church sermons we hear often belie an ‘anxiety’ on the part of the Preacher to make the congregation REMAIN STUCK to the Church either by making them ‘feel good’ and entertained, or by making them ‘feel guilty’ by hitting them with the law, or by making them ‘feel loved’ in the propped-up Church community-life. Different people, depending on what their ‘psyche’ finds ‘attractive’ remain stuck to some variation of the sorts of ‘Crucified Lord-less’ Churches just described. If the Church continues to deal with the Crucified Lord as something to be swept under the carpet, it would no longer be the Corner Stone that causes the wise of the wider society to stumble (Rom 9:30-33).

If the Crucified Lord is the one whom we are supposed to PLACARD to the society around us, I can’t help but wonder why Good Friday has so much less emphasis than Christmas.   PLACARDING of the Crucified Lord would at the least force the likes of the recalcitrant Zalthmans to deal with the Rock the causes the wise to stumble, instead of giving them a straw man Showman-Christ-figure to use for a punching-back in their Cricket commentaries.  

1 Cor 1
22) Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23) but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… 25) For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength

Wish you all a Solemn Good Friday and a Joyous Easter!!!

Adoring God!

It is natural for people to talk of God using ‘love’ for an adjective. ‘Love’ is the highest ideal that a man can possibly strive for. The famous French Existentialist, Jean Paul Sartre maintained that everything in life was absurd except ‘love’. Unfortunately, Love is also the most misused word. Every time I see the usual ‘dating sequence’ in the movies, Hollywood or Bollywood, where two people go out on a date and then get into the car and the apartment and into the bed all in the name of ‘making love’, it causes me to cringe within.

The problem with such depictions is not just the that the idea of love is being desecrated but that the popular perception of the what makes for ‘cherished companionship’ is twisted. This makes it all the more pertinent that when we talk of God, it does not help to just use the word ‘love’ without giving it the right ‘content’. This is very important because the first of the two great commandments is the commandment to LOVE the Lord with all the Heart, Soul and Mind.

Love is the ability to ‘value’ the person for who the person is. When the person we love is really a Good person, then the manifestation of our ‘valuation’ of that person turns to Adoration of that person. God is the most Good person ever. So any man who has the right value system can’t help but Adore God. The catch here is that no man can have he right value system unless he is indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God, having already been Redeemed by the Righteousness of Christ.

Once a person gets the right value system, he can’t help Adoring God for who He is. He can’t help Adoring the God who commanded King Saul that not even the animals of the Amalekites should be spared. He can’t help Adoring God who allowed the Creation to be cursed at the Fall. This Adoration of God’s Judgement on the Fallen world is not some form of sadism, rather it is an appreciation for the Beautiful unfallen world created by the Holy God. The Holiness of the Lord demands that there be judgement on the ones who attempted to desecrate His Holiness. The Admiration for the Holiness of the Lord is what makes His Judgement coming down upon as palpable. 

Growing Old in Two Days

I saw my friend and Bible Teacher MF at Church on Sunday and it seemed that it had been a long time since I had seen him. Then I remembered, to my utter surprise, that I had spoken to him just three day before on Thursday evening. In fact, I had also listened to  his lecture on the Priestly office of Christ. I think the reason for this anomaly is because between Thursday and Sunday, my mind had aged quite causing it losing track of passage of time.

Interestingly, the cause for my mind losing track of time is a by lecture of Michael Horton at the SJD conference. He introduced a new Truth into my mind. This new Truth disturbed some of the old Truths. Then there were some paradigm shifts, causing much change in my mind and its way of perceiving life. This is what I call ‘ageing’ of the mind. Such ageing happens when one suddenly begins looking a life though a different lens. This quick change in perceptions of life that came over on Saturday, caused an illusion of time moving quickly between Thursday and Sunday.

The Truth that Michael Horton’s lecture, which caused some havoc to some well rooted ideas, is the Truth of  the ALL Sufficiency of the Gospel of Christ to win over the Kingdom of God for the Glory of God. This new Truth usurped an old truth in my mind that believed that the Christian HAD to WORK to build the Kingdom of God for the Glory of God. The new disturbing Truth says that the GOSPEL WILL conquer the world for the Glory of God. In other words, it is Christ’s Gospel that builds the Kingdom of God, not the Christian. Of course, Christ does His work through Christians. But the key point to be noted is that Faith on this  (disturbing) Truth of the ALL sufficiency of the Gospel of Christ makes the Christian look up at the Gospel to accomplish the Kingdom building, instead of looking up to ones own works.

A Christian is not supposed to build the Kingdom of God through his works, because a Christian doing so  ends up building his own little kingdom instead of building the kingdom of God. The problem with the Church of this time is that it focuses so much on ‘programs’ to build the Kingdom of God. Someone may object, what is wrong with the Church focusing on programs? After all, we need programs to care for the poor and oppressed, right? Hmmmm… Yes, but not quite. The Church should focus on the Gospel and the work of Christ through the Gospel in the life of a Christian ‘freeing’ him to fulfill the Law – to love God and love Neighbor. This free Redeemed Christian will go and love his Neighbor and become a reflection of Christ to his neighbor and thus the Neighbor will have a chance to see Christ and be drawn by His Glory. Thus the Kingdom of God is built through the ‘Gospel-created Neighbour-loving Christian’. The Church instead of getting this Gospel right, is focusing on techniques and programs consequently the Christian is Christless and loveless. No wonder popular culture views Evangelical Christians as a bunch detached bigots.

Through all of this my personal take-away was that my focus needed to move away from what I can do for the Kingdom of God towards what Christ can do in me to make me Christ-like and help me fulfill the ‘law of love’. When I saw my friend M on Sunday, my mind did not as it originally did, perceive him through the lens – ‘Oh-if-only-I-was-as-knowledgeable-as-M,-I-could-really-be-a-builder-of-the-Kingdom-of-God’. Instead, my mind just wondered at God, for all that the Gospel of the Crucified Lord is doing through M. And was grateful to God for what the Gospel of Christ was doing in me. Michael Horton’s message helped me see the world through the ‘Gospel-winning-the-Kingdom-through-me’ lens instead of the ‘me-winning-the-kingdom-through-the-Gospel’ lens. Boy, did I grow old in two days!