Back in August 2011, The Wall Street Journal carried an article, ‘Reversing the Decay of London Undone’ by Dr. Jonathan Sacks, then chief rabbi in Britain.
Dr. Sacks stated, ‘In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint. All you need, sang the Beatles, is love. The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned. In its place came: whatever works for you…
He further observed, ‘The collapse of families and communities leaves in its wake unsocialized young people, deprived of parental care, who on average—and yes, there are exceptions—do worse than their peers at school, are more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, less likely to find stable employment and more likely to land up in jail…
‘The truth is,’ he commented, ‘it is not their fault. They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement…
‘Much can and must be done by governments, but they cannot of themselves change lives,’ he went on. ‘Governments cannot make marriages or turn feckless individuals into responsible citizens. That needs another kind of change agent. Alexis de Tocqueville saw it then, Robert Putnam is saying it now. It needs religion: not as doctrine but as a shaper of behavior, a tutor in morality, an ongoing seminar in self-restraint and pursuit of the common good…’
Let me, with respect, sharpen the focus of what Dr. Sacks suggested, by saying that, humanly speaking, we need a re-fresh moment of God’s good news. True and lasting changes in society occur when individual lives are transformed from the inside out through God’s mercy alone.
Consider Paul’s words in Colossians 2:13-15: And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.
Paul is writing of the condition of the Jewish and the non-Jewish peoples. The Jewish people cannot keep God’s written law; and the world that knows not God fails to keep the law of their conscience. All men and women are morally bankrupt.
Furthermore, we are captive to spiritual forces we cannot defeat. Satan, holding himself out as a chief prosecutor, holds the catalog of our failures up to God. Being the demanding prosecutor he is, Satan insists that the penalty must be paid – something that God, in his justice, cannot refuse. And because sin is a capital offense we are all en route to a death we cannot avoid.
C.S. Lewis brilliantly captures these elements in his Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Edmund has betrayed Peter, Susan and Lucy, and Aslan himself. The Witch demands Edmunds’ life. “He has broken the laws of the deep,” she insists. “He is mine,” she shrieks. “His life is forfeit.”
On Good Friday this week, we particularly remember Jesus’ crucifixion. It is worth pausing and meditating on Paul’s words. He tells us that God has smashed the bars of the spiritual prison of self-interest – he has canceled the debt through Jesus’ death. That is, the charge sheet against us has been wiped clean. What is more, in the same way that the charge against Jesus was nailed to his cross, he has taken the charges against us and nailed them to his cross as well.
Verse 15 goes on to tell us that Jesus through his death has also disarmed the demonic powers that we could not overcome. Had those powers known the awesome power that Jesus wielded through his voluntary sacrifice, they would have dismissed any thought of putting the Lord of glory to death (1 Corinthians 2:8).
And so it is supremely that Jesus Christ through his own death has abolished death for us. No longer do we fear its inexorable approach: God made you alive with Christ, he says in verse 13.
The cross is where Jesus turned our captivity into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
As Keith Getty and Stuart Townend have written: This the power of the cross: Christ became sin for us. Took the blame, bore the wrath; we stand forgiven at the cross.
Jesus’ death is the means of our transformation from the inside out. This is the news we need to know deep in our own hearts. This is why we pray for opportunities to promote it to our family and friends, our work colleagues and neighbors. God not only exists, but his nature is always to have mercy. And that mercy we see supremely on the first Good Friday.
As FF Bruce comments (Colossians…, p.112): ‘The message proclaimed by Paul to the Colossians remains the one message of hope to men and women in their frustration and despair. Christ crucified and risen is Lord of all.’
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com