The Sacrificial Son

Why we can’t find satisfaction anywhere else

We have reflected on the glories of God, the forgiving Father, in this post we are thinking about Jesus the sacrificial Son of God.

“There is a Godshaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ…What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

Blaise Pascal

This quote comes from a defence of the Christian religion published in 1670 and written by Blaise Pascal and I think it raises and answers one of the biggest questions of our day. Where do we find meaning, purpose and value in life?

It is a question that gets to the very heart of societies issues, the aggressive ideologies, the intolerance and hatred of others and the ultimate value of the individual. It is shown by those who are willing to board a flight and be the only one not wearing a mask, it was demonstrated in the killing of George Floyd and it goes on almost constantly on social media.   

We are all looking for an answer to that whole, that longing, that need, the thing that keeps us up at night or makes us unable to focus in the day. We long to be known, loved and accepted, but more than that we long for God. Many people never get to the point of recognising that Jesus is the answer, which is why God sent Jesus.

Jesus didn’t come to tell us the answer, although he did. He didn’t come to show us how to live, although he did demonstrate what it means to be truly human. Jesus came to die. Yes the only way God could repair what was broken was to put himself in our place. For Jesus to take the punishment for our rebellion, our rejection of God, so that we could be forgiven and welcomed back.

Our craving and helplessness as Blaise puts it point us to Jesus. There is nothing that, science, art, technology, relationships, possessions or knowledge can do to meet our deepest longing or help us in our helplessness. It is one of the reasons why the levels of suicide and depression have grown hugely.

Yet there is hope, there is a way to fill that vacuum, to find what we really crave for. Jim Shaw wrote to the Chapel last week about the moments when Jesus was isolated and what is most striking about this is that his isolation was by choice. An isolation that ultimately led to our being united, being welcomed into God’s family.

When Jesus went into the wilderness before he started publicly teaching and healing people he proved he was the faithful and trustworthy one. Israel was called to be God’s beloved people, to be faithful to him and attract the nations to the one true living God. They failed, they spent 40 years grumbling and being disobedient and then once they entered God’s promised land they began to worship other Gods. Yet Jesus went into the wilderness and was faithful, he was the new Israel, the one that would attract people to the living God. The question is how would all of our sin, our rebellion, our idol worship be forgiven? 

Which leads us to Jesus’ ultimate isolation, Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. It begins with his friends fleeing but ends with the greatest abandonment possible. Even his closest friends denying knowing him proved insignificant compared with the ultimate act of isolation. The moment we experience vividly as Jesus took our sin on himself on the cross and was cut off from his heavenly Father. Jesus was cut off from the eternal love of his Father, the intimacy and relationship which gave him the strength to face the cross in the first place. To be separated or lose someone we have known for years, decades or longer is heart wrenching, soul destroying and leaves us grief stricken. Yet imagine multiplying that infinitely and the quality of the relationship beyond our imagining and then we realise that Jesus gave it up for you and me. There is no lockdown, isolation or prison sentence that could ever compare to the loss Jesus must have experienced. Jesus was cut off from his Father, totally isolated, condemned and died.

What is most amazing is that it was Jesus’ purpose and choice to go through it for us. In John 10:11 Jesus said: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-14

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
 Ephesians 5:2

He is the propitiation (the sacrificial self giving to make us right with God) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45 

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross

Hebrews 10:11-18 

Reality is a pretty dark place when we face up to it, as we look out at a hurting world or look within to see our thirsting souls. However where the world offers distractions that fail and only make us feel our need more, Jesus offers the light and hope we have all long for. Jesus is the one we need, precisely because he has defeated the very thing that we are powerless to change. Jesus offers us hope and life, when we are fearful and scared of death. Jesus offers us purpose and meaning now, we don’t have to wait for it. Most of all Jesus offers to bring us out of isolation and into a family that cannot be broken, with a future that cannot be taken away and a hope that will never fail. So let us seek Jesus and in doing so find everything we have been looking for.

Glory, power and imagination

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (New Living Translation)

Power for the powerless
During the last few months it has certainly been easy to feel powerless, as many of us have had to rely on others. We may not even have been able to choose what we ate as others have done the shopping for us. Yet in Ephesians chapter 1 we discover that if we trust in Christ then we have been given much more than we realise.

We’ve been chosen, adopted, loved, blessed with every spiritual blessing, redeemed, forgiven and had the mystery of God revealed to us.

All of this and more in order that we might bring praise and glory to Jesus and so when we read about glory and power we assume it’s all Gods, yet here we discover God’s power at work within us. So next time we feel powerless, hold onto Ephesians 1 or 3:20-21 and remember that it is not our strength we rely on but the might power of God at work within us. We may be weak but God is infinitely powerful and glorious.

Not limited by our imaginations
When we talk about dreaming big or blue sky thinking, we often say the only limit is our imagination, but with God it is different. When we pray it can be difficult, when we meet a new situation or one we cannot work out for ourselves, we can be left not knowing what to pray or do. Yet prayer is more powerful that we realise as God chooses to accomplish even more than we ask for or can conjure up with our imaginations. When we pray and prayer for our community, God can act globally. When we pray for something that seems superficial he can do something deep and profound. When we pray for our immediate situation God can change our futures. Where we are bound by our experience or confidence in prayer, God knows no bounds, and works infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes and dreams when ever we pray.

Glory in the church
Where is all this taking place you may ask? God’s powerful answers to prayer are often forgotten or overlooked, yet they happen everywhere. When God answers our prayers we assume things would have worked out that way anyway. When something seems natural (rather than supernatural) we assume it would have happened despite our prayers. I wonder how often we actually stop to take stock of the things that have happened precisely because of our prayers? I think it is our human nature (corrupted by sin) which means we are more likely to focus on prayers we think remain unanswered, than to remember those which have been answered many times over. And that is one of the reasons we have the local church, it is why we have one another to remind us of those prayers, to thank us for praying and making a difference.

The glorious church
The church, God’s local gathered people, are themselves a reminder of answered prayer. Every believer is a miraculous work of God. Which is precisely why this prayer ends “Glory to (God) in the church”, because the church is a living witness to the world that God answers prayers. Every believer is the answer to someone’s prayer, maybe even a life time of prayers. Our unity is an answer to prayer, when we could so easily be divided, a prayer Jesus’ himself prayed for. God is glorious and in his mercy and grace he has chosen to invest his power and glory in the church, as we live for Christ as a community. We are not to look down on people as it is God’s glory, rather we come alongside others in humility, as Jesus did. We are not called to rule over others, but to serve and love. We are not called to boast in ourselves but to boast of Christ.

So as the Message translation of the Bible put’s it:

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

Confused? It’s simple…

With the relaxation of restrictions, things are getting really confusing. What we are allowed to do and what is wise to do, it is so hard to tell? We’ve finally got used to staying 2 meters apart and businesses have invested thousands of pounds in signage only to be told it is now 1 meter plus. Church can open for private prayer but not for services, however pubs and restaurants can open. Totally confusing!

Church can be confusing too
It isn’t just the current regulations that are confusing, church can be a bewildering place too, especially if you are fairly new. But even if you were brought up in the church, joining or visiting a new church can seem very strange! Although one of the blessings of the crisis is that some people can attend or observe from another chair in the room or on youtube and from the privacy of their home. This may take away some of the fear or confusion but people may still be wondering what it is all about?

Simple, consistent and amazing
The good news is that Christianity is simple, the message of the Bible is consistent and truly amazing. The big picture isn’t complicated, even young children can understand what Jesus did, sometimes better than the rest of us. Although simple, Christianity is far from simplistic, as we are introduced to the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons yet one God. An eternal community of three whose overflowing love led to the creation of the universe.

Christianity is an invitation
to join Jesus and share his joy! 

We are not invited to be observers but to join the family, to be adopted as children of God. How is that possible? Because Jesus paid for the things that separate us from God and destroyed death, the consequence of our sin. Why did Jesus die for you, because he loves you! Jesus is the way to eternal life and relationship with God.

Impossible for us
Simple did you say? Yes it’s simple because Jesus has done the impossible work. He alone can free us from the separation we face because of our sin, our rebellion. Without Jesus our hearts remain directed inward, turned away from our creator and incapable of doing what is right or making up for what is past.

The way is simple
So it is as simple as accepting our helplessness and believing  that Jesus is the only solution. Or as Jesus puts it recognising him as the way, the truth and the life. We simply choose to face God not on our own merit, but to face God with Jesus’ perfection in place of our hopelessness. 

Simple but hard
So it is simple but not simplistic and it is certainly not easy. Making the decision to follow Jesus is tough and it is costly and it changes everything. It is simple, but so in theory is climbing a mountain, you just have to keep going up. When it comes to Jesus, all we have to do is put our trust, our lives and our future in his hands. Simple, yes, but something I’m still practicing everyday.

Whoever you are
Whether you’re a decision maker at church, work or in the community, someone who’s fearful about the changes being too quick or too slow, we are praying that you will know the hope that Jesus brings now and over the coming weeks.