The message of the cross is polarizing and perplexing. Matthew’s account of the crucifixion mentions there were many who derided him as they passed by the scene. The soldiers of the governor stripped him naked and gave him a crown of thorns, irreverently calling him “King of the Jews.” Chief priests, scribes, and elders joined in by mocking him as well. In fact, even those who were hanging next to him were caught up in the action (Matthew 27:27-44). At a glance, the entire region slowed down only to hurl insults at a ridiculous rabbi. Jesus of Nazareth was to be pitied at best, tormented and teased at worst. Surely, this was nothing more than a delusional leader who had been deserted at the point of his greatest need.
Join me in taking a closer look as we study Luke’s and John’s accounts. In Luke, we see that one of the criminals has a different reaction to Jesus. This man traded ridicule for remembrance. His statement has been retold for two thousand years as one of faith and hope as he simply said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). While the criminal was moved to speak, the lone disciple was speechless. John’s account mentions that he was at the scene with Jesus’ mother, Mary, and two other women (John 19:25-27).
I share this in order to paint this snapshot in time with vivid colors, identifying vastly different responses to the most incredible death the world would ever know. For some, this event is more of a punch line than a rescue line. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul notes the clashing interpretations of the crucifixion and helps us to understand the basis for these different perspectives.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Corinthians 1:18-25).
What is the big deal about the cross? Like the Jews and Gentiles of long ago, many of us bring our own bias and expectation to the table. We are looking for the King of our making rather than the King of Kings. The cross is still at the crossroads of faith for each and every one of us. Was Jesus a victim or the victor on that dark day? Was he without sign and wisdom, or was the cross the great sign and wisdom of the Father, anticipated from the beginning of time and orchestrated flawlessly through the Savior? Paul notes that, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Corinthians 1:25). This kind of wisdom puts a sinless Savior on a cross to redeem the sinners writing and reading this book. This kind of strength is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Our plan wouldn’t include grace, but gumption. Our strategy wouldn’t involve mercy, but might. Our plan would be rational and loveless. His plan was and is ridiculous. Don’t you just love it?
This reading can be found in its entirety in the Ridiculous book and study guide.
Trespass is one of those slippery Bible words that often gets misunderstood. It falls into the camp of a number of other words that seek to describe the subtlety of sin. Colossians 2:13-15 uses it twice. The word is inserted some twenty-one times in the New Testament as both a verb and a noun. It paints a picture of making a false step, of blundering our way across a border that is not to be crossed. It is one of those words that attempts to describe sin. In a significant passage, located in Romans 5, Paul draws on the word seven different times as he attempts to describe how death came in Adam’s trespass, and life came in Christ’s obedience (5:15 twice; 5:16 twice; 5:17, 18 & 20). Adam’s trespass brought about condemnation and death. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross ushered in justification, reconciliation, peace, grace, joy, hope, love, forgiveness, righteousness, and so much more. Adam’s trespass was overcome by Christ’s victory. Bible students debate whether “trespass” is a word that describes an intentional or unintentional act. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Sin is still sin regardless of whether it is willful or not. What Paul was wanting to underscore with bold lines is the indisputable fact that Christ took all of our sin, the intentional kind and the unintentional kind, and tabulated all of it, took it with Him, and nailed it to the cross once and for all. Please don’t miss Paul’s colossal point. What Christ’s act of immeasurable love did for us not only forgave all of our sin-filled debt, but freed us from that same debt. Our deliverance was won! Sin was defeated. The blood of Christ wiped away all the many sins listed on our record of debt and lay claim to all of our future rebellion. Genuine spiritual freedom was won on that defining day. Hallelujah! I mean that with all the gusto I can muster. Praise Him for what He did! Christ on the cross completely disarmed and destroyed all the spiritual powers that would lay claim over us. Christ’s triumph is our triumph. Yes, we still succumb to Satan’s tricks and schemes. Yes, sin is still a real part of our journey. However, in Christ, our enemy has been placed in God’s great victory parade as a defeated and ultimately doomed conspirator.
Our call is to live in the shadow of the cross, in the finished work of Jesus Christ once and for all. We are called to live as a forgiven and freed finished work of Jesus Christ once and for all. We are called to live as a forgiven and freed people. Some of us live as if Christ never went to the cross on our behalf. We live in a loveless way, a way marked by trying and trying and failing and failing. We live in fear, wondering whether we are saved or not saved. Colossians 2:13-15 and other magnificent passages like it are a strong reminder that sin’s penalty and its power has been defeated through Christ at the cross. Trespasses become triumphs.
Now and then, a passage of Scripture will grab ahold of me, draw me in, and whisper to me of the ridiculous love of Christ. Something awakens in me. I desire to want to live as God now sees me through the finished work of His Son. I press on to know Christ and to make Him known. I carry with me His ridiculous love. Praise His name!
This reading in its entirety is available in the Ridiculous book and study guide.
Jesus is essential for life as we navigate the twists and turns of this world. John spelled this teaching out with great potency when he wrote, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (I John 5:11-13)
We need to recognize that John is saying something profound, but nothing new. A quick glance at his other writing reveals a refrain that John has sung before:
• “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will […] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:21,26)
• “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40, quoting Jesus).
• “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28, quoting Jesus).
• “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’” (John 11:25).
• “And this is eternal life, that they know you are the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
In each passage, we hear the resounding principle of this new life. It is found in Christ. This constant message is spoken to both the believer and the unbeliever alike.
For the person who has not trusted Christ unto salvation, this central message compels them to examine the lifeless choice they have made…and to respond to the message of the cross, choosing life. For those who have already trusted in Christ, the message of I John is a welcomed word of assurance. Here we read, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (I John 5:11-13).
Why does John write “these things?” He does so that we “may KNOW that we have eternal life.” It is by His work on the cross that this author, giver, and sustainer of His authenticated message, bringing victory over the grave. It is “in Him” that we are rooted, “by Him” that we love, and “for Him” that we live. “These things” are listed throughout this letter, giving indicators that we are His and becoming more like Him. Examining “these things,” we find ourselves tightly tethered to the “Horn of Salvation.” The road is narrow, long and winding. The way is difficult and demanding. And we are assured that we’ll crash without the “Horn of Salvation.” Our journey home is impossible apart from Him. But with Him comes the promise and confidence that we have life.
This reading in its entirety can be found in the Ridiculous book and study guide.
Exodus 12:1-51, from this week’s video teaching, is a superb reminder of God’s loving nature evident in the death of Christ on the cross as our Passover lamb. Let’s give that some thought on this Tuesday.
The Exodus story is loaded with blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness, incredibly vivid stuff! Three rounds of intense spiritual war precede the Passover narrative. The point today, the one subject to which we want to give considerable thought, is the central requirement of a lamb. God instructed Moses and Aaron to prepare the people. On the tenth day of the first month, every family was to procure a lamb without blemish, a male a year old, and prepare it for the meal that was to take place on the fourteenth day. That gave each family nearly a week to be ready. If a family was small or couldn’t afford the lamb, then neighbors were to join together and to celebrate the meal in unison. From this point on, every household would remember this particular night when the Lord passed over each home and house. Those houses marked with the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels would be spared. The blood was to be a sign (Exodus 12:13). Those not covered in the lamb’s blood would experience the tragic loss and death of the firstborn. That’s exactly what happened. I hope you take the time to reread Exodus 12 entirely. What should not be overlooked in all of this detail is the timing mentioned in Exodus 12:29: “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.”
This tenth and final plague took place at midnight. Darkness, at the stroke of twelve. Inescapable. Think about that. Recall how you feel when the power goes out in your house at night. Most of us will admit that the darkness haunts us. Our immediate action is to find that flashlight, to light all the candles we can locate, and to pray like crazy that the power come back on quickly. Notice with me that each of the previous rounds of plagues had occurred “in the morning” (7:15; 8:20; and 9:13). Exactly 430 years had come and gone since Israel had lived in Egypt. This very night was called a “night of watching” (Exodus 12:42). Fast forward to any of the four Gospel stories. Note how three of the Gospel writers tell us that darkness covered the land as Christ, our lamb, suffered on the cross (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; and Luke 23:44). John is the only one who doesn’t mention this. My conviction is that he didn’t have to remind his readers of darkness. John had been alluding to it all the way through his story of Jesus (1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 12:35; and 12:46). The love of Jesus Christ, like the original Passover lamb, was literally spilled out in and through the blood running down the cross, covered by the sin and shame of all of us, bathed in darkness. I can hardly see the screen on my PC because the thoughts of that image grabs my heart and brings tears to my eyes. More darkness, more blood, sin abounding. Ridiculous love. The perfect Lamb of God given for me and you. This Lamb protected us from the right and righteous judgment of God. I deserve to die, and so do you, forever separated from God, but He, by His love, made a way for our sins to be passed-over. The shed blood of Jesus made it eternally possible for anyone and everyone to lace their trust in the finished work of Christ. The love of God, in our Savior’s heart before the foundation of the world, made and makes all of this possible. It is simply ridiculous.
This reading in its entirety can be found in the Ridiculous book and study guide.
If Christ followers were asked to reduce all of their theology into a single symbol, it would likely be the cross. If a visitor from another planet came to earth (just go with it), he would notice that millions of buildings worldwide (called churches) displayed some version of the cross. Wood crosses, stone crosses, ornate simple crosses, crosses on steeples, and stained glass crosses are used to demarcate churches everywhere. Additionally, this visitor would notice that those who consider themselves Christians adorn their bodies with many representations of the cross. These artistic displays range from jewelry to tattoos and include everything in between.
This important Christian symbol is not only replicated in a variety of ways visually, but is also lyrically dominant in the musical worship of the church. Hymns like, “At the Cross,” “There’s Room at the Cross,” and “The Old Rugged Cross” have been sung by older generations for years. And newer generations sing, “Lead Me to the Cross,” “The Wonderful Cross,” and “All Because of the Cross.” Again, a total stranger would not have to experience many Sundays in a Christian place of worship before encountering the cross musically. Why so much focus on the cross? What is the big deal about the cross, especially in light of our “Ridiculous” study?
It was the night of his betrayal, and Jesus was just hours from hanging on this cruel form of Roman execution. His cross was two splintery pieces of wood, not gold decoration. His cross wasn’t beautiful art; it was cruel torture. His cross was surrounded by mocking, not singing. But it is here, at the cross, where we gain insight into the love of Jesus as He gives some final instructions to his closest followers in John 15:12-17. In fact the first two verses basically explain everything we need to know about the ridiculous love of Christ: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
If Jesus loved me enough to call me friend when I was anything but, then I can befriend those who are not friendly. And if Jesus’ love for me caused Him to die for our one-sided friendship, then I can love others who don’t consider me a friend. Too simple? Perhaps, but think about this. Jesus isn’t asking us to give the greatest love of all (laying down our lives). He’s simply asking us to love with kind words, fair treatment, welcoming posture, and a willingness to see someone beyond our judgment of them. When compared to the cross, it’s relatively painless. But these initial acts of ridiculous love may introduce others to the ridiculous love of Jesus.
This reading in its entirety can be found in the Ridiculous book and study guide.
The list of favorite Christian exercises seldom includes the discipline of fasting. I was a young security policeman stationed at McConnell Air Force Base, Wichita, Kansas back in the early 1970’s. I had recently committed myself to being an apprentice of Jesus, and, with that fresh vow in hand, I had decided to cultivate the holy habit of fasting on my own. The words of Jesus in Matthew 6:16 had caught my attention: “And when you fast…”. My conclusion was simple: Jesus assumed I would fast. That was enough for me. With that assumption squarely planted in my heart, I had been invited by the director of the Navigators’ ministry on the base to join a group of guys in a twenty-four hour fast. I don’t recall receiving much preparation. In defense of the leader, he may have guided us in readiness, but I don’t remember that. What I vividly recollect is starting the fast at 6:00 p.m., skipping supper, doing an 8-hour shift of duty from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., heading off-base to wash and wax my motorcycle that morning, seeing a donut shop, and, well, I broke my fast quicker than someone can dunk a glazed donut in a good cup of coffee. The end result was a pile of guilt, a bad experience, the need to confess it to the ministry leader, and an uncertainty about the value of the Christ discipline of fasting.
The Scriptures do not command Christians to fast. The Bible simply acknowledges that God-believers sometimes enter seasons where they hunger more for God and less for food. Fasting is an exercise of self-denial and dependence on God. It is a Christian discipline, if it is centered on Jesus, sustained by Jesus’ power, and seeks to glorify Jesus alone. Allow me to suggest three concrete ways fasting can assist us in not loving the world. First, some believers have found legitimate motivation for fasting when they look at the poor of the world. They identify with the suffering of millions by fasting from a weekly meal in order to remember that there are those who go without food daily. We genuinely cultivate love for the most marginalized when our fast centers on the enormous suffering of so many. We practice not loving the world by not giving into its whims and temptations to think of our stomachs first. So, some of us fast a meal a week or a day a month in order to identify with the world’s hungry. Second, other believers look at the continued slaughter of millions of aborted babies and find in that colossal heartbreak reason to fast once a week faithfully. Forty-plus years have come and gone since this country has legally condoned the mass killings of innocent infants caught in a culture where convenience reigns supreme. The solution to unwanted pregnancy is adoption, not abortion. Any country that elevates abortion diminishes love. Jesus-followers have a concrete way of not loving the world by regularly entering a day of fasting and prayer, asking God to overturn that unjust law. Third and finally, some disciples of Jesus find a legitimate reason for fasting in making a specific space for glorifying God. We fast, in this case, for our Creator and Savior to be honored. We owe our very life to Him, our salvation to Him, and our purpose in life to Him. If we want not to love the world, one of the exercises that can assist us in making him famous is fasting for the supremacy of God. Why not start this Saturday? (See Bill Bright’s 7 Basic Steps to Successful Fasting and Prayer, Orlando, FL: New Life Publications, 1995).
This reading may be found in its entirety in the Ridiculous book and study guide.
If you were to write a note of instruction or encouragement to the church, what things would you want to emphasize? Would you talk about how often your favorite song is played, the color of the carpet, or the occasional typo in the bulletin? My guess is that you’d use the platform to share things of greater significance. But what tops the list? What does the church need to hear? With these questions in mind, turn to the book of I John with me.
It has been said that the book of I John can be summarized by the “3 L’s” of light, life, and love. The light is expressed five times, live (or walk) is used four times, and love is the dominant theme with seventeen different occurrences in this little letter to the church. It is such a powerful little statement about the priority and potency of love that we have referenced it in seven different daily writings throughout the six week study of Ridiculous.
If you are not familiar with how the book ends, please humor me in trying to anticipate how John concludes this masterpiece: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love?” Nope, that is I Corinthians 13:13: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself?” Good guess, but that is Matthew 22:37-39. I think the answer will surprise you, as it did me.
Look carefully at the final two verses of I John: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (I John 5:20). Without too much work, we can see that we are pointed back to the central figure of our faith, hope, and love. We are reminded that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is to be the one who has given us understanding and life itself. In fact, we are reminded twice in verse 20 that He is “true.” This Greek word alethinos (translated as “true” in English) suggests an essence that is authentic or genuine. Jesus is the real deal!
As you work through the discussion guide for this week, pay particular attention to the areas of your life that are sneaking up to the throne and looking for a way to topple the King. Talk with trusted friends. Examine the motives of your heart in those areas that stir your passion and pride. You may find an idol there. You may find that tomorrow’s reading will equip you to remove that idol and return the King to His rightful throne.
For this reading in its entirety, please refer to the Ridiculous book and study guide.