Tolle Lege: Scandalous

Readability:  1

Length:  168 pgs

Author:  D.A. Carson

Praise God for great books on the cross of Christ.  For the ones that not only feed your mind but warm your heart.  D.A. Carson’s Scandalous was such a book for me.  This easily makes my list of top books on the cross.  I listened to these sermons soon after Dr. Carson preached them at Mars Hill.  I remember being overjoyed when I heard they would be turned into a book.  It came, I read it, I was not disappointed.  Here is a taste of what you can expect.

The deeper irony is that, in a way they did not understand, they were speaking the truth. If he had saved himself, he could not have saved others; the only way he could save others was precisely by not saving himself. In the irony behind the irony that the mockers intended, they spoke the truth they themselves did not see. The man who can’t save himself—saves others.

One of the reasons they were so blind is that they thought in terms of merely physical restraints. When they said “he can’t save himself,” they meant that the nails held him there, the soldiers prevented any possibility of rescue, his powerlessness and weakness guaranteed his death. For them, the words “he can’t save himself” expressed a physical impossibility. But those who know who Jesus is are fully aware that nails and soldiers cannot stand in the way of Emmanuel. The truth of the matter is that Jesus could not save himself, not because of any physical constraint, but because of a moral imperative. He came to do his Father’s will, and he would not be deflected from it. The One who cries in anguish in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours be done,” is under such a divine moral imperative from his heavenly Father that disobedience is finally unthinkable. It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will—and, within that framework, it was his love for sinners like me. He really could not save himself.

Dilemma wretched: how shall holiness
Of brilliant light unshaded, tolerate
Rebellion’s fetid slime, and not abate
In its own glory, compromised at best?
Dilemma wretched: how can truth attest
That God is love, and not be shamed by hate
And wills enslaved and bitter death—the freight
Of curse deserved, the human rebels’ mess?
The Cross! The Cross! The sacred meeting-place
Where, knowing neither compromise nor loss,
God’s love and holiness in shattering grace
The great dilemma slays! The Cross! The Cross!
The holy, loving God whose dear Son dies
By this is just—and one who justifies

Genesis 49:1-28 & Blessing, Blessing, Blessing

We only took a few steps on our journey through Genesis before man was cursed.  From that point on you long for the one who will crush the head of the serpent so that “his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”  In Genesis 12 we gain further insight as God reveals that it is through Abraham that all the families of the earth are to be blessed.  Now as Genesis begins to close we see blessings being pronounced three times by Jacob, grandson of Abraham.

In Genesis 47:7-10 Jacob blessed Pharaoh, in 48:15-20 he blesses his grandsons through Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, and finally here he blessed his twelve sons.  So the book that began with a curse now ends with a triad of blessings all coming through Israel.  In case the triple emphasis isn’t enough the narrator caps this pronouncement by emphasizing blessing three times as well (Genesis 49:28).

But let’s focus in some more.   Can we look more specifically within the nation of Israel for where the serpent shattering, curse reversing hope of the nations will come from?  Will he be the child of the donkey Zebulun?  Or Dan the serpent?  Perhaps Naphtali the doe?  Will a king come from the wolf, Benjamin?  No, none of these will suffice.  The pronouncements are too concise.  But there are two sons who receive extended treatment; together they comprise 40% of our text.  Surely the fruitful bough of Jospeh will again bring deliverance and blessing?  No, it is the Lion of the tribe of Judah whom all the brothers shall praise and bow down to.  It is one from Judah who will crush all enemies and restore a paradise better than Eden.

Refuse to bow to God’s King, and you are surely cursed.  Kiss the Son and know the blessedness of taking refuge in Him (Psalm 2), for “He comes to make His blessings flow as far as the curse is found.”  Indeed you are more blessed in Christ than you are cursed in Adam – blessed, blessed, blessed, superlatively blessed.

Genesis 47:28-48:22 & The Terminus of Genesis

From a literary standpoint our book is now coming to resolution.  A plethora of themes that we have followed through our book crop up again in our text.  Blessing, covenant, faith, sojourning, fruitfulness, God’s faithfulness, God’s Providence, and God’s promises are all touched on again here.

But form a theological aspect our book is unresolved.  They are in Egypt not Canaan land, less still are they in that heavenly city that Abraham looked forward to (Hebrews 11:10, 16).  They are only a small group of seventy; multiplying more than they have been, but not yet a nation.  And God is indeed with them (Genesis 48:21), but not in the manifest way He will be when He dwells among them manifestly in the Tabernacle, and that too is yet a shadow of something greater to come.

So where do all the themes of Genesis find their ultimate, full, and final resolution. 

In the second Adam tempted not in a lush garden, but a barren wilderness, who loves the word of God instead of disobeying it, by whose obedience we are blessed instead of cursed.

In that Seed of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent and defeats all of our enemies (Genesis 3:15).

In the Son whose blood does not cry out for our condemnation like Abel, but for our pardon (Hebrews 12:24).

In the singular Offspring of Abraham, through whom all the families of the earth are truly blessed (Galatians 3:16).

In the true Lamb, who like Isaac carried his own wood up the hill, while His Father held the knife and the fire, yet unlike Isaac was not spared, as He was the substitute.

In He who is Jacob’s Ladder, the one meeting place with God where man can meet and be blessed and not cursed (John 1:51).

In the true and better Joseph who though sinned against, is raised up by God as King of Kings using His power not to destroy but to forgive, pardon, and provide for his brothers. 

In our true elder brother who like Judah gives up His life for the innocent because of His love for the Father (Genesis 44:33-34).

All of this and so much more from Genesis finds its terminus in Christ.  He is the fulfillment of all the Scriptures.  In Him all the promises of God to us are “Yes!” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

The Doctor: The Times

Once I was travelling to the West Country to preach.  We arrived at the train at Reading and a young man came into my compartment holding in his right hand a Bible and a copy of The Times and I know immediately what he was going to do that day.  He was going to give an address on prophecy and I turned out to be right.  There was nothing clever about my deduction.  It was the fact that the man had a bible and The Times together and I happened to know the mentality which did that!  The detailed news and information in The Times all foretold in the Bible, in the prophecy of the Bible.  And so people expect to find these details and so on, and thus they have identified Napoleon with the man of sin, and then Hitler and perhaps Stalin after that.  It is a wrong approach to prophecy altogether because prophecy does not give us those details.  The Scriptures themselves say so.  We are not to be concerned about the times and the seasons.  – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans Vol. 11, p. 229

The Incarnation is Preparation

And consider now not only the life that Jesus sacrificed for us, but consider also what the sacrifice involved. To get to the point where he could die, Jesus had to plan for it. He left the glory of heaven and took on human nature so that he could hunger and get weary and in the end suffer and die. The incarnation was the preparation of nerve endings for the nails of the cross. Jesus needed a broad human back for a place to be scourged. He needed a brow and skull as a place for the thorns. He needed cheeks for Judas’ kiss and soldiers’ spit. He needed hands and feet for spikes. He needed a side as a place for the sword to pierce. And he needed a brain and a spinal cord, with no vinegar and no gall, so that he could feel the entire excruciating death—for you.  – John Piper in a sermon entitled The Depth of Christ’s Love: Its Cost

The Doctor: Form and Spirit

I want to quote a sentence to you from a man who was about as far removed from being an Evangelical Christian as anyone could be, but he was a great thinker and an acute observer – the late Dean Inge.  He has produced a little book on Protestantism; it was one of a series.  I will never forget the first sentence in that book, it was so true.  He put it all in one phrase; he said: ‘Every institution tends to produce its opposite’.  Now that is a very profound remark.  It is a very perfect summary of the very thing I am trying to say here.  He was writing on Protestantism, and what he was able to show so cleverly, and which I want to repeat is this: that by today Protestantism has become almost the exact opposite of what it was at its beginning in the sixteenth century.

Why does such a thing happen?  It occurs as a result of the struggle between the spirit and the form.  I do not think there is a greater struggle than this.  The spirit must always have a form and that is why you have such a thing as the Christian church.  An idea must always take form if it is to be of any value.  But there is always a tension between these two.  Certain dangers arise, and the biggest danger of all is that the form tends to cripple the spirit.  I do not think you can begin to understand church history, you cannot understand the Bible, unless you have got clear in your mind this struggle and tension between form and spirit.  – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans Vol. 11, p. 150

Genesis 46:31-47:27 & The Wisdom Above All Wisdoms

We can divide the passage easily into two chunks demonstrating the wisdom of Jacob indifferent spheres.  In 46:31-47:12 we see His wisdom in getting his family settled in Goshen, then in 47:13-27 we see his wisdom in ruling for Jacob.  But this is only a way of dividing up the narrative; it is not the point of the narrative.  Joseph has received a wisdom from above, but his is not the wisdom above all wisdoms.

When at the end of the text we are told how Israel has settled, gained possessions, and multiplied, you are not to be in awe of the wisdom of Joseph, but the wisdom and providence of God.  God promised Jacob that He would make Him a great nation in Egypt (Genesis 46:4), here we see Him doing that.  While the Egyptians struggle through the famine spending all their money then selling their cattle, land, and lives, God provides for His people, multiplies them, and forms them into a nation.

A couple of reflections are in order.

First, don’t adore the gift more than the giver.  Any wisdom Joseph has is only the faintest echo of God’s.  Lightning bugs are amazing creatures, but it’s a fool that celebrates their rear as being as brighter as the sun.

Second. the wisdom of God, like all of His other attributes, is for His covenant people.  All of God is for us.  This means no enemy is so smart that He can thwart His plans, nor are any of His children so foolish that they can clumsily demolish them.

Revel in this wisdom of God for you as Paul when He wrote,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.  – Romans 11:33-36