The friend who I knew since I was in my teens, and about whom I wrote last week that she was terminally ill, died on Monday of this week. The day after I went to see her. I had promised her brother to visit with him on Thursday evening. But this was not to be as another friend, my best friend in life, and who I knew for over fifty years died suddenly that evening. We both entered high school at the same time, got confirmed - in the Anglican church - at the same time, played football and cricket and table tennis and engaged in athletics together, played in a steelband together, got married the same year and then our wives and children all grew up as a "family".
So within a few short days, a lifetime of friendship came to an end. Twice. The first one was not as difficult, as we had grown apart, but the other was painful as we were like brothers. A more self giving person you could not meet. An individual given to extremes, and whose views about life were strongly held and tenaciously defended, but who was always loyal to his many friends. So I am struggling. With death and loss. With thoughts of eternal life. With thoughts of the consequences of disobedience. With concerns for those I love who have not committed themselves to Christ. With my own mortality.
And in the midst of this angst and pathos, the God of Abraham led me back to read, reflect and now to write about " The Cross of Christ". Why? On one level, because we are about to enter into the season of Lent, but at another because in this act of God, and perhaps only in this act, can be found answers to life's most pressing questions. So I have been reading John Stott's famous treatise on " The Cross of Christ", and already two text messages have been spawned. One speaks to many the persons who read this Internet Ministry and who also otherwise, in this " Christian" country, are exposed to the word of God on a daily basis, but who either ignore or are in vigorous opposition to the gospel message.
" Thee was once a nymph named Narcissus,
Who thought himself very delicious;
So he stared like a fool
At his face in a pool,
And his folly is still with us today
The folly that is still with us today, is not only the issue of self love, but more importantly, the issue of the " sinfulness" of all mankind and what the Bible calls " the deceitfulness of the human heart". As until we come to a true understanding of the true nature of all mankind, we will never appreciate what happened on " The Cross of Christ".
The second text message goes to the heart of the Christian faith and and the raison d'etre - the reason for being - of the Christian community, the church of God.
...A buddhist temple never resounds with a cry of praise. Mohammedan worshippers never sing. Their prayers are, at the highest, prayers of submission and request. They seldom reach the gladder note of thanksgiving. They are never jubilant with songs of the forgiven.
By contrast whenever Christian people come together it is impossible to stop them singing....
It is in this context then that John Stott writes that three main things happened on " The Cross of Christ".
1. The sins of all mankind were forgiven by the shed Blood of Christ
2. That God's justice, God's love and God's wisdom and power were revealed
3. That sin, death and evil were conquered
The consequences of these three achievements of God on " The Cross of Christ" are as profound as they are innumerable and therefore beyond the scope of this of this Ministry. Suffice it to say however, that the collective response to, primarily God's love - as the preacher today reminded us in his sermon, that only love endureth to the end - is for us the forgiven to be ;
bold, full of joy and to demonstrate God's love to each other, to the world of unbelievers and to those in need of God's grace and mercy.
I have been reading this book, on and off, for over five years, and I am yet to finish it. So what does it have to do with the death of my friends and my own struggles. Everything. For I know that God loved them equally, as He loves all mankind. Where are they gone to? Only God He knows, as their fate is in His hands, as it has always been. What about those left behind in this life. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to convict them of Sin. What about me? God has conquered sin, death and the evil one, and although the devil still has some power, as we live between the " already and the not yet" - between the events of the Cross and the return of Christ in glory - God has promised that he will never leave nor forget His children who believe in His Son. And only He has the power to protect. What about my country under the grip of crime and violence, corruption, immorality and hopelessness? A people who are largely planning for bachannal, passa passa, and unconcerned about Spiritual issues, but rather going about their daily life in a time of great economic trial. A people for whom sudden death by the gun or on the roadway is a constant reality. A people driven by their own wisdom, their own desires and their pleasures while the church plans to engage in a Holy Lent - a time of repentance, of sacrifice and fasting and sharing with the needy and of deep reflection about " The Cross of Christ".
What about them?
All of these questions are answered on the Cross of Calvary where God ultimately revealed Himself as a God who loves even to death on a Cross. And it is the knowledge of this great love by an Almighty God, in and through Christ Jesus, which makes any sense in the midst of tragedies across the world and personal losses and struggles. So we thank God for Jesus and sing one of the great hymns of thanksgiving as the community of celebration who live under the Cross of Christ and therefore under the Blood of Christ.
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder