Tag Archives: Christ

No Broken Windows Here (Holiness to the Core)

I begin with an analogy which, I hope, will make a spiritual point, producing helpful conviction. In the 1970s New York City (NYC) had a deserved reputation for being a center of violent crimes. I recall a book which became a film, The Cross & the Switchblade. This was made into a comic book when I was very young. Its drawings and then the movie truly terrified me. To that youngster, NYC was a den of violence, and I never imagined wanting to visit. NYC was full of illegal drugs, gangs, pornographic theaters, and general anarchy. In the 1960s and 1970s, NYC was the living incarnation of Sodom.

But something has changed! Those of you who are blessed to travel know that NYC today is regarded as a wonderful vacation spot ~ not just Broadway and Times Square. Each borough has its unique personality and appeal. Above all, NYC is safe ~ even if busy, noisy, & bustling. So, what happened? A mayor and a police chief collaborated to ‘change the culture.’ The NYC Police Department began writing tickets for what most people would call ‘minor’ violations, well short of what most folks consider to be real crimes (especially as compared to murders, rapes, and violent robberies). Hefty fines were being levied for breaking windows and spraying graffiti! In fact, even if the violator could not be identified, the building owner had to fix the broken windows and paint over the graffiti quickly.

The message? ‘We are now a law-and-order town, & that goes for all the laws on the books.’ This was actually called the “Broken Windows Policy.”   Early critics were certain this was crazy: ‘I mean, in a world of real limitations ~ with murder as the kind of crime which truly impacts dozens of lives ~ you are going to have officers chasing down graffiti artists?!’ NYC’s answer: “Yes!” And it worked … meaning, not only did the city end up with fewer broken windows and less graffiti, but the law-and-order message bubbled up into the more violent crimes, such that criminals moved out, or shifted their energies into behavior less likely to be apprehended.

I give an important caveat here: “The heart of man is desperately wicked.” We cannot really change a spiritual heart through the writing and enforcing of external laws. There are likely as many wicked people in NYC now as in the past. But something happened to shift NYC from being a murder capital to being a fairly safe city (for its vast size), & we Covenanters do thank the Lord whenever civil governments take seriously their God-given duties to enforce order.

My big and little point here (I do have one!): Think of yourself, like a city. You surely are aware of what you would call the big, problematic, long-term, hard-to-get-rid-of, serious sins in your life. Perhaps you have read books about this or that sin or addiction, that form of spiritual bondage. You may have enlisted a good friend as an accountability partner, confessing this or that episode. Sometimes you have enjoyed a stretch of good behavior (Yeah … victory in Jesus)! But then, it comes roaring back, perhaps worse than before … the seven skinny years eating up the seven fat ones. ‘Woe is me, a weak and carnal Christian, at least concerning this dominant sin. I suppose that I simply will have to bear this cross and wait for Heaven to finally enjoy real peace and purity.’ Wrong!

By our NYC analogy, consider if the big, public, and violent sin (like murder) reads the news and figures that, in your city, little problems like broken windows and some spray paint on the brick walls are okay. Now there are written laws against those violations, but with all the big stuff you must worry about, there really are no energy or cops or resources to devote to those. Thus, the world, the flesh, and the devil know that you are not a law-and-order town. May it never be! May you care about all of God’s law, whether you imagine that your transgressions are big or little, major or minor. My specific targets here are what the author Jerry Bridges calls “respectable sins” (like coveting, gossip, worry, envy, anger, and thanklessness). But who can care about these little, minor, inner sins of the super-spiritual people (which should bother Christian giants like Bridges), when I am worried about the really bad crimes?!

I urge those of you who are struggling against long term sins, who at times gain some victory, but then they come roaring back … to consider other sins, the inner ones, those small exceptions you have been allowing, though they are against the clear law of God. May God give you victory over the big and the little, the external and the internal. And may those of you who are not struggling against particular sins … get busy! We are not in Heaven yet, so there is sanctification still to pursue.

All of this matters for the glory of Christ. This progress is according to the promise of Christ. And this is empowered by God’s grace in Christ.

Worship Meditation on Holiness … (the Manna Question: What Is It?!)

1 Peter 2:22 ~ ‘He [Jesus Christ] committed no sin.’  Christ’s life is meant to be an example of holiness for us, and Christ committed no sin.  The sinless, holy life of Jesus Christ is our example.  So consider this statement:  ‘I always do what pleases Him …’ (said by Jesus concerning His Father).  Is that to be your personal goal in life?!  A 19th Century Scottish theologian, John Brown, said:  ‘Holiness does not consist in mystic speculations or enthusiastic fervors or uncommanded austerities … but in thinking as God thinks, willing as God wills.’  Nor does it mean adhering to a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ (mostly don’ts).  Jesus Christ said:  ‘I have come to do Your will, O God’ (Hebrews 10:7).  This example we must follow.  In all our thoughts and actions and in every part of our character, the ruling principle to motivate & guide us must be the desire to follow Jesus in doing the Father’s will.”  (abbreviated from Jerry Bridges:  The Pursuit of Holiness)

Holy, holy, holy …”  This famous chant about God reminds us of the power of repetition in the Bible.  Triple holy … and actually doubled again, as the same sequence appears in both testaments (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).  “Be holy, for I am holy.”  “… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Joshua 24:19 ~ “The Lord is a holy God!

Holiness is the primary attribute of God, flavoring and balancing all the others.  Holiness, then, is to be a very high priority for all humans, and there are drastic consequences if it is missing in and for you.  I am sorry to observe, though, that holiness is what humans particularly lack:  We are not holy.  We are positively full of sin (from the inside out).  We are totally depraved.  We suffer under the condition called original sin.  In this world and age, people by nature are not holy … not even close.

But wait, we are going too fast!  Manna:  “What Is It?”  Holiness is a complex concept in the Bible.  It means:  set apart for special use (like Levitic pottery);  pure (cleansed; no sin or stain);  fully & wholly & strangely “other” (as different as is God from man);  devoted or dedicated (think of “holy” matrimony, pointing to exclusive relationship);  chosen and called (with the focus on the Chooser and the Caller).  So holiness can carry all five of these indications at once.  Moreover, due to God’s unmerited favor toward His people, He counts us as already holy in Jesus Christ … even as He charges us to continually strive to be like Christ, in the power of Christ, for the glory of Christ!

So keep in mind that five-fold description, and also keep clear in your thinking that God is all this and has all this, while man by nature does not.  But one way to describe the gospel of our salvation is through the Trinity:  God the Father is holy; He sets the holy standard & He demands perfect holiness if anyone wants to enjoy fellowship with Him.  God the Son offered up Himself, became a real man, and then lived the perfectly holy human life, yet still at the end paid the penalty for the unholy lives of all God’s people. God the Spirit moves into those saved people, to work in and to work out, over time, His holiness on the inside which God already credits via Christ on the judicial record.

So let us put away, and warn against, all aberrations about holiness in the worldly philosophies which are so tempting: * The temptation to define holiness down such that, amazingly, I find myself meeting the standards which I set for myself, all by myself, to the high praise of myself! * The temptation to invent “good works” or new law codes which I must add to the not-quite-good-enough holiness of Jesus Christ offered up on my behalf. * The temptation to emphasize what some call the Pure Grace, love, & mercy of God, such that we forget or ignore His eternal holiness and His justified anger against all sin, and thus we tolerate in ourselves the sins which so offend God, poison ourselves, corrupt our witness, and ultimately deny the holy purpose of the gracious cross.  Let us cooperate, co-labor, and work with (and not against) God in what He has promised to complete in His own:  “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  Let us praise God (our holy Triune God) for this eternal, holy plan which He is working out in His perfect time.

The Sound of Silence … and What It Means

Surely our griefs He Himself bore and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.  The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to his own way.  But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth.  Like a lamb that is led to slaughter and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. … The high priest stood and said to [Jesus]:  “Do You not answer?  What is it that these men are testifying against You?”  But Jesus kept silent. … While He was being accused by the chief priests and the elders, He did not answer.  Then Pilate said to Him:  “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?”  [Jesus] did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so the governor was amazed. … Jesus was saying:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” … [Jesus] said to [the thief]:  “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” … When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother:  “Woman, behold, your son!”  He said to the disciple:  “Behold, your mother!” … About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying:  “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is:  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” … After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill Scripture, said:  “I am thirsty.” … When Jesus had received the sour wine He said:  “It is finished!” … Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said:  “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” … Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, & yielded up His spirit.  Isaiah 53:4-7; Matthew 26:62-63a; 27:12-14; Luke 23:34,43; John 19:26-27; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; John 19:28,30; Luke 23:46; Matthew 27:50

[The preacher pauses for twelve full seconds, then speaks]:  We are not very comfortable with silence!  I wish I had a brain-scan for each of you as you observed my silence … assumptions ranging from:  He is so nervous. … Maybe he’s stupid!He’s lost his voice. … Maybe for a nice change he doesn’t have anything to say (wrong)!  A universal thought must have occurred:  “Too bad those twelve seconds were wasted; we will never get them back.  A lost opportunity for instruction, etc.

Many of the youth with us today gave attention to teachings brought by Pastor Kyle Borg on the seven sayings or words of Jesus on the cross.  Our call-to-worship today (above) included all of those.  Perhaps Jesus said other things not recorded in Scripture, but the words we do have could have been stated in thirty seconds.  As a portion of His six hours on the cross, Jesus’ “quiet-time” represented about 99.9% of all His time on the cross.  That’s a lot of silence (no doubt, more awkward than mine this morning).  The disciples and Jesus’ other followers, even His sworn enemies, likely desired more “last words” from Jesus.

Consider, then, why not more?  Why was Jesus so silent?  Please, do not perceive that Jesus was so quiet because He was unconscious.  He specifically swore off chemicals which would have induced such a numbness, because Jesus desired to be all-present for the ordeal.  So then, why?

  1. Have you ever tried to speak, when hanging on a cross?!  I will not get into the science of it, but if every breath was designed to hurt as a criminal was hanging on a cross, then surely each word would have been very painful.  A “chatty Jesus” would lead many skeptics to doubt that Jesus really was on a cross, or to conjecture a mystical non-human Jesus evidently escaped the pain of it.
  2. With the almost six hours that Jesus had when He was not interacting with humans, is there Anyone else Jesus might have been interested in talking to?!  His Father, of course.  I do not perceive it as selfish to consider that, during Jesus’ “quiet-time” on the cross, He might have been serving already as our Great High Priest before Holy God, listing and accounting by incident and name the specific sins and sinners He was representing, then and there.  More thoroughly than any priest before Him, Jesus Christ’s perfect mind could know each sin that required a covering, and in prayer He could offer up Himself to God for that one, then that one.  Not wasted time!
  3. And I suggest this points to the greatest reason for Jesus’ predominant (99.9%) silence:  If I were up there on the cross, convinced I had been wrongfully convicted … wow, the storms of protest:  “Not fair!  Wrong guy!  Call my attorney!  You blew it.  I am innocent!”  But Jesus, amazingly quiet.  NOT just because Jesus was at peace about this plan of the ages … but because they did in fact get “The Right Guy”!  Wait, am I saying that Jesus was guilty?  Hold off on your answer, to at least hear this hint that my question is more complicated than it appears:  Jesus was not personally guilty of sin and rebellion against God, but in that He was bearing my sin, Jesus did have sin upon Him.  He was guilty-via-substitution.  Jesus Christ became sin for me, so that I can be regarded as the very righteousness of God.  Where my loud cries would indicate an attempt to get out of an unfair fix, Jesus refused to put up a protest, as this was the plan of our Triune God, and Jesus was bearing the just penalty for my rebellion.  Yours?!  In the face of this, we should be in awe … sometimes reflected in a still silence, other times shown by loud, exuberant praise (especially since He is risen).