Saturday, January 02, 2010

Why Stand Ye Gazing?

This post is very interesting - it occured to me over Christmas. Then last night at work I had a few quiet moments so I got to reading C J Mahaney's blog which he writes standing in the very stead of God although from the cheap seats. Quite how God can speak from the cheap seats ... I don't know. Maybe it's a sports thing I don't get! Mahaney had a take on Christmas that I guess would tie in with his theology of the Cross. He writes;

"The purpose of his birth was his death. Or to put it more personally: Christmas is necessary because I am a sinner. The incarnation reminds us of our desperate condition before a holy God".

And then again;

"Properly understood, the message of Christmas confronts before it comforts, it disturbs before it delights".

This is nothing new - when I was a member of Sovereign Grace Ministries church I got progressively disturbed about the seeming obsession with the Cross (as opposed to the Christ). Sure it sounded plaudible at first. But is it? Is a "gazing" at the Cross - the object on which Jesus Christ died - the right place to fix our focus? Did Jesus really only go through the Incarnation and 33 years purely to die? Or have we stopped short?

I was doing some research on the place of the Cross in the entire Gospel picture and found an amazing sermon by C H Spurgeon (someone Mahaney calls his 'historical hero'). Spurgeon was preaching at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1884 on Acts 1:10, 11 - the disciples were standing watching Jesus go up into heaven at the great ascension and when the clouds hid Him from them. Two angels appeared and in great Biblical irony, two angels appeared in white and said to them;

"Why stand ye gazing?".

I could think of a few answers to that. "Why?! Er .. we've just seen our Master levitate ...". But moving on. Spurgeon took Acts 1:10 and 11 as his text and said the following comments;

"Four great events shine out brightly in our Saviour's story. All Christian minds delight to dwell upon his birth, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. These make four rounds in that ladder of light, the foot of which is upon the earth, but the top whereof reacheth to heaven. We could not afford to dispense with any one of those four events, nor would it be profitable for us to forget, or to under-estimate the value of any one of them".

I think Spurgeon sums up excellently my problem. I DO NOT have an issue with thinking about the Cross at Calvary. Growing up in a reformed charismatic church, we duly celebrated Easter and had services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I didn't really enjoy Good Friday - I always found it quite depressing and sad, but loved Easter Sunday and the thought of Jesus Christ rising gloriously from the dead. I watched "The Passion of the Christ" and found it incredibly painful to watch - but got goosebumps in the final scene when the face of Christ appeared and He stepped forth risen.

My question is - why have two wooden planks been singled out for sole focus of our gaze? Before we get into that - let Spurgeon continue having his say. He made a comment during his sermon about what both the Cross and Christ's death - and the resurrection and Christ's triumph bring us;

"That Jesus once suffered unto the death for our sins, and thereby made a full atonement for us, is the rest and life of our spirits. The manger and the cross together are divine seals of love. That the Lord Jesus rose again from the dead is the warrant of our justification, and also a transcendently delightful assurance of the resurrection of all his people, and of their eternal life in him ... The resurrection of Christ is the morning star of our future glory".

I love that so much. His birth and the Cross are divine seals of love. John Hosier once prayed when we were at CCK; "Love constrained the Son of God to go to Calvary". But the resurrection - the glorious resurrection - where He conquered death is the "warrant of our justification". Without Him rising from the dead - "our faith is in vain". Or as Spurgeon so eloquently put it;

"The resurrection of Christ is the morning star of our future glory".

So we may argue this is just semantics. The fact is Christ isn't in a manager, He isn't hanging bleeding and dying on a Cross - He is risen, ascended and glorified in heaven preparing a place for us and interceding for us at the right hand of the Father! But surely it does matter how we imagine the Lord Jesus Christ - because where we fix our vision will affect our faith and how we live our lives.

After all - why else would the angels appear to move the disciples on from where they stood gazing? If I was one of the disciples I would have built a church right there on the Mount as the place where Jesus Christ was last seen. Maybe framed the plot of land where His feet had last been before they lifted off! But no - the angels appeared and told them to move along. Why? Spurgeon explains;

"The truth is, there was nothing wrong in their looking up into heaven; but they went a little further than looking; they stood "gazing." A little excess in right may be faulty. It may be wise to look, but foolish to gaze. There is a gazing which is not commendable, when the look becomes not that of reverent worship, but of an overweening curiosity; when there mingles with the desire to know what should be known, a prying into that which it is for God's glory to conceal.

We had better abstain from acts which serve no practical purpose; for in this life we have neither time nor strength to waste in fruitless action. The disciples would be wise to cease gazing, for nobody would be benefitted by it, and they would not themselves be blessed. What is the use of gazing when there is nothing to see?".

And there is my point. Can it be possible to gaze a little too much at the empty Cross where Christ died? While in Sovereign Grace Ministries I heard frequently; "We will never move on from the Cross" and other similar semantic statements. But something occured to me only today - is it necessary to look at the Cross to remember His sacrificial death for us? I don't believe it is. Revelation 5:6 shows us a divine vision;

"And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain".

It just isn't necessary to gaze at the Cross to remember the sacrificial atoning death of Jesus Christ. I don't exactly know what "as if slain" means - because I can't pretend to have seen the risen Christ in a vision. But I suspect He appears with maybe wounds in His hands and feet that are unhealed even in His glorious state. Whatever it may be - gazing at Him in His risen, ascended and glorious state does not mean that we are "moving on from the Cross".

I think C H Spurgeon sums up the issue perfectly for me;

"Again, put another question,—What precept were they obeying when they stood gazing up into heaven? If you have a command from God to do a certain thing, you need not inquire into the reason of the command, it is disobedient to begin to canvas God's will; but when there is no precept whatever, why persevere in an act which evidently does not promise to bring any blessing? Who bade them stand gazing up into heaven? For He had strictly charged them that they should tarry at Jerusalem till they were "endued with power from on high." So what they did was not justifiable".

So ... the question then is, is there anything particular about Calvary's Cross that demands our earnest gazing? Of course Paul said; "We preach Christ crucified". I know that. But Paul did not say; "We preach the crucifiction". He said; "We preach CHRIST ... crucified". The emphasis being (I believe) on why drove Christ to go through what He did for "the joy set before Him".

So there we have my thoughts - I am not saying that we should not fix our gaze on the events of Calvary and what Christ went through. Rather I think we should confess we will NEVER know the true horrors of Calvary - the agony of being seperated from His Father. But I propose that our gaze should be upon the full events of Jesus Christ's life, death and resurrection. As Spurgeon put it;

"Four great events shine out brightly in our Saviour's story. All Christian minds delight to dwell upon his birth, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension".

One of my favourite choruses back in the 1980's as I grew up (and still is) remains this;

"For we see Jesus enthroned on high
Clothed in His righteousness, we worship Him
Glory and honour we give unto You
We see You in Your holiness
And bow before Your throne
You are the Lord
Your name endures forever
Jesus the Name high over all".


Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

why stand you gazing is a great phrase and this is a good post.
I wonder how many right now are trying to ariculate about the proper understanding of the Cross.

Obviously God did not want what has happened too often in history...the over emphasis of the process. All gospel writers write only the bare bones about these hours. And that was deliberate.

To me it's exactly the same as the Catholic mass. To us protestants it's crazy stuff largely. but you know to those who had faith in their hearts like Mother Theresa, the daily mass before hitting the dusty Indian streets was nothing less for her than a Life transfer. Every morning. She was adamant about that. She regularly found God there, just as I do tuning pianos, or Brother Lawrence did washing up.

I'm kind of intrigued by CJ Mahaney, because I remember Larry and CJ from 80s tapes....and their split clearly shows something has changed. If I went to his church would I find "Christ crucified" in the people, or a museum to the crucifixion of Christ?

Dan Bowen said...

Hi Chris, a happy New Year!

I've watched in silence (comparatively) many of the debates involving Steve Chalke, atonement, etc etc and wondered exactly - what is being fought over. Because if the result of the debate doesn't result in a "Christ crucified" people of God - i.e. - a people set free in awe, wonder and worship at the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God freely given for them, demanding nothing from us ...

Then surely it is nothing better than a museum, a dusty wooden cross propped up at the front of the church as a tradition.

I have no interest in a gospel that doesn't change lives with it's truth.

I don't know quite honestly what you would find if you went to C J Mahaney's church Chris. It would be an interesting visit.

jul said...

Dan, this is a great post. I especially liked how you differentiated between preaching the crucifiction and CHRIST crucified.

I wonder if C.J. had a better view of the entire gospel if he would still be 'testifying' that he is ashamed of his sin, even sin he committed many years ago before he was saved. To me that is testifying of a weak and powerless gospel, I would be ashamed to preach a gospel that couldn't cleanse me completely and take away all my guilt, fear, and shame. But thankfully I'm not ashamed to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ whose perfect sacrafice has purified me once and for all, even taking away all consciousness of sin!!!!