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Unwrapping Jesus, by Philip Yancey

“It is for your good that I am going away,” Jesus told his disciples, who had the same question. “Unless I go away the Counselor will not some to you.” I find it much easier to accept the fact of God incarnating in Jesus of Nazareth than in the people who attend my local church—and in me. Yet that is what we are asked to believe; that is how we are asked to live. Jesus played his part and then left. Now it is up to us, the body of Christ.

dove

 

Catholics Are Better at Calendars Than Protestants

The church I grew up in skipped past the events of Holy Week in a rush to hear the cymbal sounds of Easter. We never held a service on Good Friday. We celebrated the Lord’s Supper only once a quarter. Roman Catholics did not believe in the Resurrection, I was told, which explained why Catholic girls wore crosses “with the little man on them.” They celebrated Mass daily, a symptom of their fixation with death. We Protestants were different. We saved our best clothes, our rousing hymns, and our few sanctuary decorations for Easter.

When I began to study theology and church history, I found that my church was wrong about Catholics, who believed in Easter as strongly as we did. From the Gospels I also learned that, unlike my church, the biblical record slows down rather than speeds up when it gets to Holy Week. The Gospels, said one early Christian commentator, are chronicles of Jesus’ final week with extended introductions.

Jesus gives God a face, and that face is streaked with tears.

The author and teacher Tony Campolo delivers a stirring sermon adapted from an elderly black pastor at his church in Philadelphia. “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Comin’ ” is the title of the sermon, and once you know the title you know the whole sermon. In a cadence that increases in tempo and in volume, Campolo contrasts how the world looked on Friday—when the forces of evil won over the forces of good, when every friend and disciple fled in fear, when the Son of God died on a cross—with how it looked on Easter Sunday. The disciples who lived through both days, Friday and Sunday, learned that when God seems most absent he may be closest of all; when God looks most powerless he may be most powerful; when God looks most dead he may be coming back to life. They learned never to count God out.

Campolo’s sermon skips one day, though. The other two days, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, are perhaps the most significant days on the entire church calendar, and yet, in a real sense, we live our lives on Saturday, the day in between. Can we trust that God can make something holy and beautiful and good out of a world that includes Bosnia and Rwanda and inner-city ghettoes in the richest nation on earth? Human history grinds on, between the time of promise and fulfillment. It’s Saturday on planet Earth; will Sunday ever come?

Perhaps that is why the authors of the Gospels devoted so much more space to Jesus’ last week than to the several weeks he was making resurrection appearances. They knew that the history to follow would often resemble Saturday, the in-between day, more than Sunday, the day of rejoicing. It is a good thing to remember that in the cosmic drama, we live our days on Saturday, the day with no name.

dove

 

Jesus Saves My Faith

“Why am I a Christian?” I sometimes ask myself, and to be perfectly honest, the reasons reduce to two: (1) the lack of good alternatives and (2) Jesus.

Martin Luther encouraged his students to flee the hidden God and run to Christ, and I know why. If I use a magnifying glass to examine a fine painting, the object in the center of the glass stays crisp and clear, while around the edges the view grows increasingly distorted. For me, Jesus has become the focal point. I learned, in the process of writing this book, to keep the magnifying glass of my faith on Jesus.

I tend to spend a lot of time pondering unanswerable questions such as the problem of pain or providence versus free will. When I do so, everything becomes fuzzy. But if I look at Jesus, clarity is restored.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 1998, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Philip Yancey is the award-winning author of over twenty books. You can learn more about him at his website, PhilipYancey.com.

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