For the summer, instead of a Bible study, the women of my church are doing more of a "book club" type thing. We are reading C.J. Mahaney's Living the Cross--Centered Life. This is the first book I've read by Mahaney (although he quotes Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, Jerry Bridges, and R.C. Sproul, so he must be good, right?).
It's a small book, only 156 pages, with short chapters--nice, light summer reading.
Or maybe not.
This book is short, simple, and profound. It cuts to the heart. And it exposes my own sinful pride.
In one chapter, describing the crucifixion, Mahaney asks with whom we most identify. Faithful John, standing by the cross, caring for Jesus' mother? Peter, weeping bitterly because he has failed, both Jesus and himself? The thief on the cross--a great sinner, yet willing to repent and convert? The loyal women, standing nearby?
I am not so arrogant as to compare myself to Mary or John. But I think part of me likes to think I resemble the centurion--a poor ignorant schmuck just minding his own business. Sinful, sure, but mostly because he doesn't know any better. And then he sees the truth and acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God.
Then Mahaney reminds me: we are ALL the people in the crowd. You remember the crowd--that noisy, riotous, rebellious bunch who hated Jesus and were screaming, "Crucify Him!" We are all enemies of God; Calvinism calls it "total depravity." Scripture reminds us that "no one seeks after God, not even one."
Not even me. I am in the crowd, angry and hostile. Mahaney writes, 'Even if you can't recognize yourself among the angry faces, or distinguish your own strident voice...He can." This is the gospel in a nutshell. I, like Paul, can label myself the "chief of sinners." Not ignorant or unaware, but purposefully, rebelliously sinful. There is no hope, and nothing in me that will choose God. I will always choose my own way instead.
In the garden, Jesus prayed for the Father to take the cup from Him. The cup is God's wrath, which we all deserve to drink fully. But even after praying that prayer, Jesus submits to drinking that cup...down to the very last drop. God's wrath is poured out in its entirety...on Jesus. I deserve the cup, but there is nothing left in it for me to drink.
And that is why we have "no condemnation." That is why we can come "boldly before the throne of grace." That is why we have "a future and a hope."
To which we can only say a very heartfelt "Praise the Lord!"