One More Powerful

He Must Become Greater

Luke 3:15-18

When John began to preach in the wilderness, crowds flocked to see Him. He baptized those who confessed their sins but rebuked the pious religious leaders for their self-reliance (Matthew 3:7-10). After 400 years without a prophet, people rushed to John, wondering if he might be the Christ, the one for whom they as a people had been waiting for centuries. John pointed them to One more powerful than himself who was to come — Jesus. While John baptized with water as a sign of repentance, Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11).

The power Jesus demonstrated in His baptism differed from John’s to an infinite degree. To observers, their physical actions looked similar.

While both used water, Jesus’ baptism pointed to an imminent change, the time when God would take up residence in the lives of believers through the person of the Holy Spirit.

Each of the Gospel writers reference this distinctive element of Jesus’ work (Matthew 3:11Mark 1:8John 1:33), foreshadowing the nature of the Trinity: one God in three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, His disciples experienced power for immediate tasks in Jesus’ name (Luke 10:17-20). While the disciples relished these experiences, Jesus knew they would soon experience a substantively different reality — something that could only happen when He returned to His Father (John 16:7). Before He ascended into Heaven after His resurrection, Jesus commanded His disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the gift His Father had promised, the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). Once the Holy Spirit came in fullness, the Holy Spirit’s filling became the confirmation that God had accepted people by grace through faith in Jesus. This grace extended even to Gentiles who had not kept the Law of Moses (Acts 11:15-17).

Throughout His ministry, John stated firmly that Jesus must become greater while he became less (John 3:30). John understood that he was responsible for preparing the way for Jesus, calling people to repentance. Jesus affirmed this role, stating that John was a great man (Matthew 11:10-11) who had faithfully fulfilled his purpose. During his life, John never confused his role or ministry with that of Jesus. He knew Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world — One who was more powerful than himself and greater in all possible ways (John 1:36).

Excerpted from The Jesus Bible, copyright Zondervan.

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Your Turn

What a blessing for John to be called “a great man who had faithfully fulfilled his purpose” by Jesus! Let’s live our lives on mission for Him so that the same can and will be said of us by Him when we see Jesus face-to-face! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

 

Inkling of Wonder

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I am a Calvinist. No, better to say that I am a rabid Calvinist. I am the son of a Calvinist. My spiritual grandfather was the Calvinist’s Calvinist, John Gerstner. When I consider my own theological education, I divide it into three equal parts. First, I was raised by R.C. Sproul. Calvinism not only runs in our blood, but it gave the savor to our soup. It was the spice in our stew. The ghost of John Calvin haunted my home, and for that I give thanks. Second, I studied theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. There, all my professors were required to affirm their commitment to Calvinism as a prerequisite for their employment. Third, as a boy, with the able aid of my pastor, I studied The Westminster Shorter Catechism for Study Groups, by G. I. Williamson. It was there that the pieces fell into place. 

When I was in high school, while others were souping up their cars or lining up their dates for Saturday night, I was in my room, reading Calvinists. My children are Calvinists, and I pray their children will be Calvinists as well. Yet, if I am honest and consider those men who have most shaped my own thinking, right after my father and John Gerstner, there stands “Jack,” C.S. Lewis. How could such a fervent Calvinist be shaped by someone from the other side?

One might expect that the answer would be Mere Christianity. In that important work from Lewis he lays out the importance of not appending sundry appellations to our Christianity. We ought not be vegetarian-Christians or Libertarian-Christians. We ought instead to be Christians. It’s a sound enough point, as long as we understand the wisdom of Spurgeon, that Calvinism isn’t the icing on the cake of Christianity, but is the substance of it. Still, this isn’t why Lewis, despite not being a Calvinist, has had such a profound influence on me. Truth be told, and while I am loathe to cause this great man to spin in his grave, I love Lewis, despite the painfully obvious truth that he was not a Calvinist, because I am a Calvinist.

The great thing about Calvinism, rightly understood, is not its emphasis on the sovereignty of God. That instead is but a symptom of a previous commitment. Calvinism, as a system, emphasizes the gap between God and man. It is a system of thought that affirms that God is God and that we are merely men. It is a system that seeks always to awaken as many people as possible to the holiness of God. 

Somehow, some way, Lewis, escaped becoming a Calvinist, while his life’s work was committed to this great, fundamental Calvinist truth, that God is God and that we are not. The center of his theology was not the sovereignty of God. It was instead, perhaps slightly more at the center of reality, the wonder of God.

Lewis builds an entire world around the wonder of God in his Chronicles of Narnia. There we discover that Alsan is not a tame lion, that he has not only consumed little girls but has consumed whole cities of children. There we witness creation as it truly was, not a marvelous feat of modernist engineering, but the fruit of beauty, the result of a song. There we come to discern the relationship of life on earth, as it is in heaven, as the Pevensies move further up and further in, at the “beginning” of the story.

We are taught the transcendence of God in The Abolition of Man. There we learn, long before any of us were even aware of post-modernism, that the great evil at work behind this world view is false — beauty is not in the eye of the beholder; rather, it is the manifestation of the very character of God. In That Hideous Strength, the final chapter of the Space Trilogy, we see the battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman as it really is, a battle between officious pettiness masquerading as world-changing power and humble service as the true linchpin of human history. 

We find the same principle at work in The Great Divorce, an allegorical tale of the intersection of heaven and hell. There we discover the soft reality that reality is more solid, more substantial than the folly of the world around us. We discern, as we do in The Screwtape Letters, the foolishness of folly, and why and how we always seem to fall for it. 

In the end the message is simple enough — God is God, and we are not. We will not enter the kingdom of God until we learn to do so not as theological scientists, but as children. The secret of spiritual maturity, according to Jesus, is learning to be like children. When we come to Narnia, therefore, we do not come as more sophisticated versions of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, but as more jaded versions, who must learn from our spiritual betters — children.

Lewis was not a Calvinist, though by God’s grace he is one now. He was instead a grown child who can lead us into the maturity of childhood. He was gifted by God to gift us in this way — he teaches us to be as children, that we might enter into the kingdom of God. He reminds us that God is God and that we are not. He reminds us that our response to this truth ought not to be mere theological speculation, but mere Christianity — crying out to our Father to have mercy on us, miserable sinners, and rejoicing that He has done so in Christ. He reminds us that this is how we move further up and further in.  

God in the Dock: The Apologetics of C. S. Lewis

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In modern English the words apology and apologize indicate regret because some statement or action was offensive and wrong. This is not the case for “apologetics” in theology, for that discipline is intended to manifest “a point of view is right.” It is intended for those who differ in order to win them over, or for those who agree in order to confirm them in the truth for which the apologist testifies.

It is in this sense that C.S. Lewis is recognized as an “apologist,” for a number of his works are intended to manifest the adequacy of the Christian outlook over against a “naturalist” position, which asserts that the universe is simply a great material mass functioning in terms of its own mechanism or laws without any possible intervention from the outside and specifically without a creative or governing power of a mind. C.S. Lewis was very well prepared for this task because until late in his twenties he was a devotee of atheism without any reference to Jesus Christ and was twenty-nine years old before being converted and embracing a Christian world-and-life view. Thus, he was more knowledgeable than many Christian apologists who know the views that they dispute only from the outside. He also experienced personally the gravity of the problems that the atheist has to face and the way in which such problems may force a person of integrity to look beyond atheism for a suitable philosophical and religious outlook. C.S. Lewis wrote about his own experience in 1933 in an autobiographical volume entitled The Pilgrim’s Regress, in the manner of John Bunyan, and again in Surprised by Joy (1955).

His first contribution to apologetics was entitled The Problem of Pain, published in October 1940 as part of The Christian Challenge Series (it was reprinted ten times by 1943). He dealt there forthrightly with the question: “If God is almighty and supremely loving, why does He permit pain in this universe?” He showed how pain is inevitable for real persons wherever sin exists. Who could imagine what a frightful world it should be if sin could grow without restraint? C.S. Lewis proceeds in his analysis in an orderly and lucid manner, dealing with this difficult subject in a way that a lay person can readily understand. From time to time, he has striking comments that remain unforgettable, like the following: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell” (p. 41). From 1941–44, he delivered a series of thirty-three broadcast talks whose titles describe well their contents:

1941: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe (5 talks)
1942: What Christians Believe (5 talks)
1943: Christian Behaviors (12 talks)
1944: Beyond Personality; or, First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity (11 talks)

First published separately in three volumes, these lectures were gathered together under the title Mere Christianity and often republished. The term mere in this title means “pure,” as it did in old English. The emphasis is to deal with major views largely common to all denominations in Christendom.

In 1943, The Screwtape Letters appeared, and this is probably C.S. Lewis’ most popular writing. Here we have a course by correspondence in which a master demon, Screwtape, instructs Wormwood, a novice in the art of tempting human beings and preventing on their part a true allegiance to God and the Gospel. This gives an opportunity to look on the Christian claims from below, so to speak, not with some artificial adornments provided by self-deceitfulness or charity in considering others, but with a kind of cynical realism that penetrates into the actual motives that people ordinarily attempt to hide. C.S. Lewis can cast a critical evaluation of many moves and motives that are flourishing under the umbrella of genuine Christianity. With sharp discernment and superb control of language, gained perhaps in his scholarly studies in early English literature, his wit and discernment surface on every page as some 
of the following quotations evidence:

We have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is [God’s] invention, not ours. He made the pleasure: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one” (p. 41).

A moderate religion is as good for us as no religion at all — and more amusing” (p. 43).

It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one” (p. 56).

A good many Christian political writers think that Christianity began going wrong and departing from the doctrine of its Founder, at a very early stage. Now, this idea must be used by us to encourage again the conception of a historical Jesus to be found by clearing away later ‘accretions and perversions’ and then be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a ‘historical Jesus’ on liberal and ‘humanitarian’ lines; we are now putting forward a new ‘historical Jesus’ on Marxian, catastrophic, and revolutionary lines. The advantage of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifest. In the first place they all tend to direct man’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each ‘historical Jesus’ is unhistorical” (p. 106).

If these few quotations arouse your appetite, get the book and you will find much more than this sample.

The volume entitled Miracles: A Preliminary Study appeared in 1947, very shortly after Dr. E.W.Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham, published The Rise of Christianity, in which he denied the factuality of all miracles recorded in the New Testament, including those concerning the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The word preliminary in the title should not be mistaken for elementary, for it is a rather technical vindication of supernaturalism versus naturalism defined as a view that nothing exists except nature, that is, the gigantic interlocking of all particles of matter existing from times immemorial. Nature cannot explain the origin of rational thought, and even less provide a basis for morality and conscience.

We are led, therefore, to recognize a powerful and purposive reality beyond the material world, who is the creator and sustainer of all that exists. With this in view, it is not strange that there would be occasions in which interaction between this power and His world might occur where the laws that govern matter might not function as they ordinarily do.

C.S. Lewis then devotes an essential chapter to the “Grand Miracle” of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Then he discusses miracles of the old creation with “the Divine Man focusing for us what the God of Nature has already done on a larger scale” (p. 169). The miracles of the new creation are those in which a “reversal” is manifest, principally the resurrection, which is fundamental for the whole of Christianity.

A brief epilogue and two appendices conclude the book. Throughout we can appreciate the great qualities of C.S. Lewis, his earnestness, his meticulous care not to leave any gaps in his reasoning, his thorough commitment to Holy Scripture, and his marvelous style. Dealing with objections to the virgin birth of Christ, he says that some opponents of it “think they see in this miracle a slur upon sexual intercourse (though they might just as well see in the feeding of the five thousand an insult to bakers)” (p. 115).

That parenthesis is worth the price of the book!