Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 2/22/04
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5, RSV).
We watched Diane Sawyer's interview with Mel Gibson last night on "Primetime." His movie, "The Passion," due to be released on the 29th of this month, has set the church world on fire, and the Jewish Anti-defamation League on its ears as well. This writing is not about the movie, for I haven't seen it and have no plans to see it, no matter how many glowing reviews people e-mail me. It's too violent for me to endure. I couldn't bear to watch the bloody clips of it on the interview last night, nevermind the whole film. They have already pre-sold 8500 tickets in this viewing area alone. The church my Mother attends has reserved 400 seats, and plans to take the entire congregation on the 29th. For the whole church to miss Sunday night service in order to attend an "R" rated movie is astounding, and shows how valuable Christians consider the movie to be. I asked the Lord if I had to go, and He said softly, "The movie has nothing to do with your relationship with me." End of discussion about that.
After watching the "Primetime Interview," I tossed and turned all night long, and every time I roused from sleep, I heard, "Mel Gibson's Passion." It bothered me even more when I finally awoke this morning and realized it was my topic for this writing. I wanted to throw up and considered calling in sick. I also thought about saying, "No, I won't and You can't make me do it," but after a nano second, I recognized the folly of that idea.
Instead, as I was trying to verbalize my angst to Lenny, and my inability to comprehend how God allowed all of us to nail Him to that cross, I burst into tears and wailed, "I can't explain it to anyone." It is obvious why the clergy want their congregations to see the film. So much of Christianity is just ho-hum, same old routine, week in and week out. You go, sing a song, have a prayer, sing three more songs, have communion, hear the sermon, sing the invitation hymn, sing another closing hymn, hear a closing prayer, and go out to lunch. The sameness of the routine numbs the mind and deadens the spirit within. Into that abyss of ritual sameness, comes this brilliantly filmed, superbly acted movie depicting the last 12 hours of Jesus' life in all its brutality and violence. Gibson said the actor who plays Christ dislocated his shoulder in one scene, and suffered from being accidentally flayed in the scourging scene. The bone crunching, bloody reality of man's greatest sin against God is captured by Mel Gibson's considerable talents and daring in cinematography. The dialogue is entirely in Aramaic, which takes it out of the realm of cognitive processing and into the arena of ancient symbols, unmasking feelings and emotions.
One minister in Joplin said in an interview this morning, that he (remember he's the leader of the flock) never knew until he saw the film how much Jesus loves us. He and other ministers are hoping that seeing this film will convey God's love in a way that many have never personally experienced.
If you are born into a Christian home, you become a Christian. Someone wrote recently that when he was three years old, he asked Jesus into his heart. What did that mean to a three year old? Maybe nothing more than it pleased his parents. Many of us grew up in Christian homes, a real blessing, considering the alternative, but as the old saw goes, "Being born in a Christian home doesn't make you a Christian any more than being born in a bakery makes you a bagel."
Born into a Christian home, baptized at 13, I was probably 28 years old before I had a personal experience with Christ. The heavens opened and I saw Jesus on that cross for Jan. Never before was it so intense and so totally real to me. I wept tears of sorrow that my sins had put Him there, and tears of joy, that He had saved me from them. Like a tsunami crashing against the shore, God's love overwhelmed me. My "Baptism into the Holy Spirit" changed my life! I fell in love with Jesus in that moment and he has been the lover of my soul ever since. If the Holy Spirit works that kind of life changing experience into the lives of even some who view the film, I will praise Him and know that indeed, He works all things together for good, revealing Himself to the sons of men in many, sometimes shocking ways.
It is easy to see why people who love Jesus want to experience "The Passion," but my tears this morning were for those who don't know Him, and who cannot know Him by reason of where they live and how they were brought up. Think of the people in Iran, where the mullahs have almost complete control over their religious lives. How can those people ever call on the name of the Lord and be saved? Church doctrine says that if they don't, they will burn forever. I wept for all those who believe this grotesque doctrine to be true.
God brought Harry Fox into my life some 35 years ago to share with me the gospel, the glorious good news that God is ultimately going to save everyone (Link at end to his website). Harry will be 83 years young in April, and he is still sharing this best of all good news with the Churches of Christ, most of whom are vehemently opposed to this revelation of salvation for all. It has to come by revelation, because most Christians have been brainwashed to think that it is up to them to obey God or else spend eternity in hell.
Like the Evangelicals I quoted last week, they lay this bad news on the world with the simple explanation, "That's what the bible says." (Link at end to last week's writing). They believe it's what the bible says, because God has not opened their eyes to see and their ears to hear what the Spirit has been saying since the beginning. Their blindness is for a season only, but right now, it is very real and often difficult for me and others to deal with.
The church world has settled for logic rather than revelation, law rather than grace, and have come to the conclusion that Christ died only for those willing to obey Him. That's NOT what Paul proclaimed, "While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6, RSV). When I ask the Saints at Medicalodge if they think Christ has to go back to the cross every time a person turns to Him. They look at me wide eyed and reply, "Of course not!" And yet, that's the conclusion you would have to come to if you proclaim that it is your repentance, your belief, your baptism, your anything else that gains you salvation. It's a way to keep Christ forever on the cross. I totally understand that sad concept, having grown up in Fundamentalism where everything was about what I did or did not do, what I believed, and how I performed. Yet the tomb is empty; He is not there.
These folks have reduced the gospel to a set of rules. In their view, God created man, who sinned continuously and grievously against Him, until finally, He came up with a way to throw a life line into the sea of despair where mankind was drowning. It is all up to man, they say, as to whether he takes hold of the life line or not. If he does not avail himself of it, goes the reasoning, God is helpless to do anything, because His mercy and justice demand payment for the offenses committed against Him.
Those who believe this line of thinking are aghast to the point of violence against those who have had the revelation that God is going to save everyone. How could He? How can He? One man wrote me a nasty letter a week ago, accusing me of saying that God will reconcile murder, rape, incest, theft, and all other sins to Himself. He has no clue about what He's saying, and no grasp of the plan of the ages, written before the foundation of the world, revealed now in the last time IN Christ.
Paul said about the incomprehensible death of Christ, "Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life" (Rom. 5:7-10, RSV). Christ's death on the cross defies logic and reason. No one, Paul says, will die for an ungodly man, let alone justify the man in the process. Most Christians will not have anything to do with an ungodly person, for fear of being infected with his transgressions, let alone die for him. That Christ died for us when we were still enemies to God, strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in this world, is beyond our ability to comprehend or explain.
When we realize that the Son of God died a cruel, barbaric death to save us personally from our sins, we are never the same in relationship to Him. I cannot explain that better than Harry Fox, who explained it this way, "To say that the kind of love which forgives ENEMIES "intrinsically," brings "crucifixion" upon the one who practices it, is to say that it is not something imposed arbitrarily from without, but is an inherent consequence of such love; it is a revelation of how COSTLY such love is to the one who practices it. Thus, Christ did not die so that God could forgive us, but rather God's forgiving love of us is what brought on the death of Christ. In other words, Christ's death was not the cause of God's forgiveness, but rather its accompaniment." End Quote.
Harry wrote that to answer a man who asked, "If everyone is going to be saved, why did Christ have to die?" (Link at end to three answers to this question). This begs the question of how the death of Christ saves us, any of us, repentant or rebellious alike. But in light of the movie, it is, nevertheless, easier to grasp that salvation is available to us IF we obey, and not possible if we do not. My tears this morning were partly a response to the incredible, inexplicable love of God for all, and also for my inability to translate into words His love so that someone else can understand it. If God has given you the revelation, you get it; you soar in the heavenlies with Him; you fall on your face in worship to the one who loves you unconditionally. As an aside, what I can't get is how anyone can be so blind as to think that they are good enough to qualify for salvation just because they went through some rituals ordained by the church they attend. I don't comprehend at all how anyone can sit in judgment of anyone else about anything when we're all so flawed. It's the spirit of the Pharisee.
Lenny was comforting me in my distress this morning and said, "You are in the best place possible, because you can't explain it. That's your personality, to want to explain, but this time, only God can reveal it." He went on to say how much he appreciates the Prodigal Son, who went off to do his own thing, without counting the cost or reckoning the consequences, and finally, he came to HIMSELF and knew he had to go home to the father. Lenny said, "The person who was acting out was not his real self. He didn't know who that real self was. When he came to himself (his real self), and discovered who he really was, then he went home to the Father." Lenny has a son who is in exactly this place, and Lenny beamed, "And he will come to himself in God's time, and come home." That's our hope; that's our promise; that's our rest.
If you never sinned a "big sin," one which the church denounces (they overlook a lot of things if you hadn't noticed), or if you don't have a loved one who is bound for hell based on church doctrine, you probably don't appreciate salvation the way some of us do. God's saving grace in Christ is oxygen to me. Paul says we are saved BY HIS LIFE. It is mother's milk for all of us who know Him as He is.
Paul said about this transformation, "And you yourselves, who were strangers to God, and, in fact, through the evil things you had done, his spiritual enemies, he has now reconciled" (Col. 1:21, Phillips).
Some Jews are concerned that Gibson's movie will bring on a fresh onslaught of anti-Semitism, remembering that the Catholic Church characterized them for centuries as "Christ killers" and "enemies of God." Thankfully, that has changed, as Mel Gibson was quick to point out on the show. He said that we all killed Christ, and in fact, in the movie, it is his own left hand holding the nail being driven into Christ's hand. I consider that a beautiful expression of personal accountability. Our hands did kill Him, but God was responsible for it all as the Apostle Peter declared, "This man, who was put into your power by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed up and murdered, and you used for your purpose men without the Law!" (Acts 2:23, Phillips). God sovereignly ordained what happened that dreadful day when the sun hid its face and the world went black (Luke 23:44-45). Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8, Phillips). He was God's solution to what He Himself began: "God has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all" (Rom. 11:32, Phillips). God alone is the Author of all things.
This verse also demonstrates that the "fall of man" in the garden was really Act TWO in the play. God, not Adam is the protagonist here, the One who in Act ONE, set the events in motion, and the One who, in the last act, solved the crime, resolved the issues, and burst through triumphantly to the most spectacular denouement, the greatest finish to a story, in the history of the cosmos. God is all and in all (Eph. 4:11). This includes the good, the bad, the ugly, the untouchables: "For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17, RSV).
To our natural minds, it is simply impossible that Christ's death could bring salvation to the whole world, even as it seemed impossible to Mary that she should bear the Son of God, since she knew no man. To her and to us, the angel says, "For with God nothing will be impossible" (Luke 1:37, RSV). The question remains, if Christ paid the price for the sins of the whole world, how can anyone be punished? Impossible.
Father my heart hungers for these pitiful words to convey Your passion for all mankind, heart to heart, spirit to spirit, and glory to glory. We fall on our faces before the magnificence of Your plan and the beauty of Your son who arose in our lives with healing in His wings. He is Your love letter to the world. Open our hearts and minds to the meaning of the cross for the entire creation. We give You all praise, for from You and through You and to You are all things. To You be glory and honor and majesty and power, now and forever. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Burned at the stake, etc."
"Why did Christ have to die," by Harry Fox
"If all men are going to be saved, why did Christ have to die?"
Harry Fox's Home Page
The Glory Road,
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 2/18/04
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/18/08.