Category Archives: Tragedy
Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon:
Did you ever hear Mr. Woolf tell the story of Aleppo [a large city in Syria] being swallowed up by an earthquake? Suddenly awakened one morning, he scarcely knew how, he went outside of Aleppo. He turned his head a moment; and where that great city had been there was a vacuum, and Aleppo had all been swallowed up.
Who did that? Who but God!
Have you never heard of the earthquake at Lisbon, and of the population of that great city being sucked down and consumed? Have you never heard of whole islands disappearing, being suddenly submerged with the inhabitants, and not a wreck left behind?
Did you never hear of tornadoes, and of ships with hundreds on board being driven to the bottom of the sea by the force of the wind, by the raging of the storm, or rather, by the resistless voice of him whom winds and waves obey?
Why, such fearful calamities happen so frequently, that we are wont to read almost every day of some heart-rending disaster, now an explosion in a coal-pit, then a collision on the railway, a steamer sinks within sight of shore.
Though some of these tragedies are to be traced to human carelessness, and others are purely accidental, yet there remain those which no prescience of mortals could forestall, and we rightly call them ‘visitations,’ for they are utterly unavoidable.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes will always occur, I suppose, as long as the world continues. Still, ‘the earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein.’ The God of Providence whom we adore baffles our little wisdom by the ills he permits, and the elements he lets loose, but I bow before him with a love that is not diminished by the convulsive shocks of nature, or the sorrows that taint our feeble race on land and ocean, at home and abroad, because I believe him to be good, immensely good, in the roughest tempests as well as in the clearest calm, though I cannot understand the way that he takes.
Source: C. H. Spurgeon’s Sermons Beyond Volume 63: An Authentic Supplement to the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Forty-Five Forgotten Sermons Compiled from the Baptist Messenger (Day One, 2009), 245–246.
The son of Yale theology professor Nicholas Wolterstorff died at the age of 24 in a mountain climbing accident. After the accident Dr. Wolterstorff wrote meditations about the hole left in his life due to the passing of his son. They were originally intended to be private, a place for him to voice his grief, but they were eventually published as a short book, Lament for a Son (Eerdmans, 1987). His meditations provide a penetrating glimpse into the grieving heart of a Christian enduring deep personal suffering. The following excerpt comes from that little book [pp. 34–35]:
What do you say to someone who is suffering?
Some people are gifted with words of wisdom. For such, one is profoundly grateful. There were many such for us. But not all are gifted in that way. Some blurted out strange, inept things. That’s OK too. Your words don’t have to be wise. The heart that speaks is heard more than the words spoken. And if you can’t think of anything at all to say, just say, “I can’t think of anything to say. But I want you to know that we are with you in your grief.” Or even, just embrace. Not even the best of words can take away the pain. What words can do is testify that there is more than pain in our journey on earth to a new day. Of those things that are more, the greatest is love. Express your love. How appallingly grim must be the death of a child in the absence of love.
But please: Don’t say it’s not really so bad. Because it is. Death is awful, demonic. If you think your task as comforter is to tell me that really, all things considered, it’s not so bad, you do not sit with me in my grief but place yourself off in the distance away from me. Over there, you are of no help. What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.
I know: People do sometimes think things are more awful than they really are. Such people need to be corrected—gently, eventually. But no one thinks death is more awful than it is. It’s those who think it’s not so bad that need correcting.
Some say nothing because they find the topic too painful for themselves. They fear they will break down. So they put on a brave face and lid their feelings—never reflecting, I suppose, that this adds new pain to the sorrow of their suffering friends. Your tears are salve on our wound, your silence is salt. And later, when you ask me how I am doing and I respond with a quick, thoughtless “Fine” or “OK,” stop me sometime and ask, “No, I mean really.”
What word comes to mind when you think of the life of Job? Trial. Affliction. Suffering. Endurance. Patience. But what about prosperity? The beginning and the conclusion of the book highlight Job’s prosperity. Note the chiastic structure that develops from the book’s introduction and conclusion:
A – Job’s prosperous life (1:1)
B – Job’s prosperous family (1:2)
C – Job’s prosperous wealth (1:3)
D – Job’s priestly mediation for his family (1:4–5)
D’ – Job’s priestly mediation for his friends (42:7–9)
C’ – Job’s abundantly prosperous wealth (42:10–12)
B’ – Job’s abundantly prosperous family (42:13–15)
A’ – Job’s abundantly prosperous life (42:16–17)
And notice the final verse of the book, this sort of epitaph etched on Job’s grave: “Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life” (42:17 NLT). Or as James says, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11 NIV). Trials, affliction, suffering, endurance, and patience are all key themes in the book of Job. But we miss something when we fail to see “what the Lord finally brought about.” Which is the OT’s way of saying that God uses trials for our good. To those who love God, affliction is the pathway to blessing (but of course this is no promise of financial wealth).
The other day I discovered a brief introduction to C.S. Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain. In this video, author Robert Banks provides a brief description of the book’s origin and introduces Lewis’ view that pain is “God’s megaphone to awaken a sleeping world.” If you can stomach the Star Trek-like background and the quick cutaways where that background doesn’t move, you can watch the 8-minute interview here:
Yesterday may family spent the day at the new Civil War museum and driving through various battlefields in Gettysburg. It was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the war and especially the role these rocky battlefields (like Little Round Top) played in the outcome. It was a sobering reminder of the 620,000 young men and boys that died in the war and of haunting sounds that once filled this little town as thousands of men groaned from the pain of battle.
Leaving the battlefields left a sorrow in the heart and a residual question in the mind—what is the eternal purpose of wars like this one?
As we drove from battlefield to battlefield viewing thousands of memorials littered all over what is, in my mind, the worlds largest cemetery, the words of John Piper in his second and final message at the Resolved conference in Palm Springs were ever-present.
In his message on Monday evening—The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth—Dr. Piper said the following:
Every human has died. Animals suffer. Rivers overflow an inundate hundreds of city bocks in Cedar Rapids. Avalanches bury skiers. Tornados suck the life out of little Boy Scouts. Tsunamis kill 250,000 in a night. Philippine ferries capsize killing 800 people in a moment. AIDs, malaria, cancer, and heart disease kill millions. A monster tornado rip through cities. Droughts and famines bring people to the brink, and over the brink, of starvation. Freak accidents happen in ways you would not want to describe. Little babies are born with no eyes, six legs, horrible deformities. That is because of ONE SIN! The universe was subjected to futility and corruption in hope (Romans 8:20).
This is very important for you to answer: Why did God subject the natural order to such horrific realities when nature did nothing wrong? Souls did something wrong. Adam and Eve’s volition did something wrong. The earth didn’t do anything wrong. Why is the earth bursting with volcanoes and earthquakes? Animals didn’t do anything wrong. What’s the deal with this universal subjection to corruption, when one man and one woman sinned one time, and the whole natural order goes wrong? Disorder everywhere in the most horrible ways, a kaleidoscope of suffering in this world, century after century.
Here is my answer—and I don’t know any other possible answer biblically—God put the natural world under a curse so that physical horrors would become vivid pictures of the horror of moral evil.
Cancer, tuberculosis, malformations, floods, and car accidents happen so that we would get some dim idea of the outrage of moral evil flowing from our hearts. Why did he do it that way? Ask yourself an honest question: How intensely outraged are you over your belittling of God compared to the engagement of your emotion when your child is hurt, or your leg is cut off, or you lose your job, or some physical thing happens? Everything in you rises to say, “No!”
How often does your heart say “No!” with the same emotional engagement at your own sin? Not very often. Therefore, what God says, “Alright, I know that about fallen man, therefore I will display the horror of his sin in a way that he can feel.” That’s why Jesus, when the tower fell on the 18, said simply “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” The point of the falling of the tower and killing of 18 people was your moral evil (Luke 13:4). That was the point.
All physical evil has one point—sin is like that morally, we don’t have the wherewithal to feel it appropriately, therefore were going to get some help from the physical order. That’s the point of the world we live in, it’s pointing to the horror of moral evil. O, that we would see and feel how repugnant and offensive and abominable it is to prefer anything to God—and we do it everyday.
Adam and Eve brought the universe into this present horrific condition by preferring their own way and fruit to God. All the physical evil the universe is not as bad as that one act of treason. …
The ultimate reason that there is a new heavens and a new earth is not that there might be new bodies for saints. That’s true. That’s just one of the reasons. The reason there is a new heaven and a new earth is because when God conceived of a universe of material things he conceived of everything: It will be created perfect. It will, by my decree, fall. I will labor patiently for thousands of years with a people recalcitrant showing the depth of human sin and I will at the center and apex of my purpose, send my Son to bear my wrath on my people. And then I will gather a people who believe in him for myself. And then I will return and I will cast all of the unbelievers into hell, which will demonstrate the infinite worth of my glory and the infinite value of my Son’s sacrifice, which they have rejected. And I will renew the earth and I will make my people so beautiful and then tailor this universe for them with this purpose—that when my Son is lifted up with his wounds, they will sing the song of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world in the mind of God who planned it all.
Therefore, be it resolved: We will endure any suffering. We will endure any assault, any slander, any reviling, any disease, precisely because we have a great reward in heaven, namely, Jesus Christ crucified.
-John Piper, sermon transcript, “The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth” taken from the 11:20-19:20 and 44:09-47:00 markers. You can listen to the entire message delivered at the Resolved conference here ( June 16, 2008 ) and you can listen to an earlier version of this message delivered at the Gospel Coalition here ( May 24, 2007 ).
Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar
In his exposition of Psalm 80, Augustine defines idolatry as the inability to break from “earthbound thoughts.” His understanding of idolatry stretches to encompass a communion of idolaters—of “pagans” and “heretics,” of both the polytheistic man clutching an armful of gods, and the man who identifies himself as a Christian yet whose so-called faith does not extend beyond what is seen. For Augustine, the link here between the “pagan” and the “heretic” is a paralleled inability to interpret this world by the eternal hope and promise in Christ. The antithesis of idolatry, for Augustine, is not to gain more “spirituality,” but to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Augustine’s understanding of idolatry must surely have been shocking, especially to the professing Christians who were forced to stop and ask themselves a simple question: Is my religion based upon anything more than “earthbound thoughts”?
The echo of Augustine’s exhortation—delivered almost 1600 years ago—continues to be an important in light of various influences (like theological liberalism) where it’s not uncommon to hear Christianity described in words that carry little more significance than “earthbound thoughts.” Talk of heaven and talk of hell—both used by Christ as motivating factors for decisions in this life—can too easily become unpopular themes in contemporary books and sermons. And too frequently they are not part of our thinking as individual Christians.
Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy
I was reminded of Augustine’s challenge to the “communion of idolaters” when I saw Reformation Heritage Book’s new title, Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Here Bonar models for us how to interpret the difficult circumstances of our life on earth in light of the eternal promises and purposes of God.
Let me briefly outline the content of the book, and provide an “above-minded” excerpt at the end.
Night of Weeping
In the first half of the book, Bonar explains the nature of God’s discipline towards his children. God disciplines his children out of his eternal character—his love, wisdom, faithfulness, and power. This discipline is a training of the mind, will, heart, and conscience. God uses bodily sickness, bereavement, and adversity as he sets to work refining, sifting, pruning, and polishing. During this discipline our comforts come in several forms—Jesus weeps with us as we partake of his suffering, he reassures us in his word that all things work together for our good, he pours out special grace in every trial, he uses our afflictions as an opportunity to glorify God, he makes us useful here on earth, he supplies the means of mortifying sin, and he provides the Holy Spirit to comfort us.
In our age, which sometimes teeters on an overdose of “temporal spirituality,” the eternal spirituality and glory we are being prepared for can be easily forgotten. Life in Christ is preparation for something greater—”the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Bonar calls us to pay attention to the suffering and trials of this life because God is at work in all of the trials and struggles of this life, to prepare us for something greater, more gracious, and more glorious.
Simply stated, our trials are God’s means of purifying our desires and preparing us for the “pleasures forevermore” awaiting those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb!
Morning of Joy
The second half of the book details these eternally glorious promises of God. God disciplines us now, to prepare us eternally. This connection is important as we fend of the encroaching idolatry in our own hearts. Throughout the book, Bonar encourages us to look beyond the circumstances in life and to the eternal weight of glory. Here is a lengthy excerpt from chapter 12, “The Glory.”
In those vast blocks of unquarried rock what various forms are lying concealed! What shapes of statuary or architecture are there! Yet they have no history. They can have none. They are but parts of a hideous block, in which not one line or curve of beauty is visible. But the noise of hammers is heard. Man lifts up his tool. A single block is severed. Again he lifts up his tool, and it begins to assume a form; till, as stroke after stroke falls on it, and touch after touch smooths and shapes it, the perfect image of the human form is seen, and it seems as if the hand of the artist had only been employed in unwrapping the stony folds from that fair form, and awakening it from the slumber of its marble tomb. From the moment that the chisel touched that piece of rock its history began.
Such is the case of a saint. From the moment that the hand of the Spirit is laid on him to begin the process of separation, from that moment his history begins. He then receives a conscious, outstanding personality, that fits him for having a history—a history entirely marvelous; a history whose pages are both written and read in heaven; a history which in its divine brightness spreads over eternity. His true dignity now commences. He is fit to take a place in history. Each event in his life becomes worthy of a record. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” …
“The wise shall inherit glory” (Prov. 3:35). “The saints shall be joyful in glory” (Ps. 149:5). They are “vessels of mercy, afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23). That to which we are called is “eternal glory” (1 Peter 5:10). That which we obtain is “salvation in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). It is to glory that God is “bringing many sons” (Heb. 2:10); so that as He, through whom we are brought to it, is “crowned with glory and honour,” so shall we be (Heb. 2:9). We are “to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). We are not only “witnesses of the sufferings of Christ, but partakers of the glory that shall be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). So that the word of exhortation runs thus: “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13). And the promise is not only, “if we suffer we shall also reign with him;” but, “if we suffer with him, we shall be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). …
Glory, then, is our inheritance. The best, the richest, the brightest, the most beautiful of all that is in God, of good, and rich, and bright, and beautiful, shall be ours. The glory that fills heaven above, the glory that spreads over the earth beneath, shall be ours. But while “the glory of the terrestrial” shall be ours, yet in a truer sense “the glory of the celestial shall be ours.” Already by faith we have taken our place amid things celestial, “being quickened together with Christ, and raised up with him, and made to sit with him in heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). Thus we have already claimed the celestial as, our own; and having risen with Christ, we “set our affection upon things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). Far-ranging dominion shall be ours; with all varying shades and kinds of glory shall we be encompassed, circle beyond circle stretching over the universe; but it is the celestial glory that is so truly ours, as the redeemed and the risen; and in the midst of that celestial glory shall be the family mansion, the church’s dwelling-place and palace—our true home for eternity. …
All that awaits us is glorious. There is an inheritance in reversion; and it is “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 1:4). There is a rest, a sabbath-keeping in store for us (Heb. 4:9); and this “rest shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10). The kingdom which we claim is a glorious kingdom. The crown which we are to wear is a glorious crown. The city of our habitation is a glorious city. The garments which shall clothe us are garments “for glory and for beauty.” Our bodies shall be glorious bodies, fashioned after the likeness of Christ’s “glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Our society shall be that of the glorified. Our songs shall be songs of glory. And of the region which we are to inhabit it is said, that “the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21:23).
The hope of this glory cheers us. From under a canopy of night we look out upon these promised scenes of blessedness, and we are comforted. Our dark thoughts are softened down, even when they are not wholly brightened. For day is near, and joy is near, and the warfare is ending, and the tear shall be dried up, and the shame be lost in the glory, and “we shall be presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”
-Horatius Bonar, Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy (Reformation Heritage, 2008), pp. 227-232.
On the evening of Wednesday, December 8th, 1742, John Lyman’s Northampton home burned to the ground. Tragically, his two young daughters perished in the fire.
So far as I can tell, John Lyman was a normal citizen of the town and his story would have long been forgotten except for a man silhouetted in background of the smoldering remains. Looking intently into the scene was a local pastor, Jonathan Edwards.
And he was not alone.
Edwards had walked to the consumed home after gathering his children and a number of local children. His purpose was pastoral, to bring these young souls close to the voice of God.
That same day (Thursday) Edwards preached on Micah 6:9. His sermon had two main points: “I. God’s voice sometimes cries to a city or town in the awful rebukes of his providence. II. The men of wisdom shall see God’s name.” In the rising embers of tragedy, Edwards was encouraging his children to listen for God’s voice. The wise will see, the wise will hear.
Surveying the 35W bridge collapsed here in Minnesota was a similar experience. All the victims have been removed from the scene. The cars are gone and work is well under way to remove the concrete and steel. The once carefully-guarded scene is now open for the public, and Saturday I took my wife and kids downtown to walk over a parallel bridge and look 60-feet down into the valley of destruction.
Personally, it was an opportunity for my son (Jonathan Edwards) to see the extent of the damage and be freshly reminded of frailty. Thirteen people died here including a pregnant mother, her unborn child, and two-year-old daughter. No one, not even the youngest, are exempt from the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23).
Some will see the tragedy and close their ears. Some will flatly deny God is here. But He is here, He has acted, His is working and continues speaking. My prayer is that God was actively speaking to my son and into the lives of the children overlooking the scene.
Edwards reminds us to use tragedy to love young souls. God is speaking and the wise shall hear His voice.
Does He speak to you?
“Some verses upon the burning of our house”
a poem by Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)
The Puritans wrote beautiful poetry and Anne Bradstreet, a faithful Puritan wife and mother of several children, wrote some of the most compelling.
Several recent events — a garage and vehicle destroyed in the fire of close family members, Baylor University’s Roger Olson and his now infamous comments, the recent collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis, flooding here in Minnesota and a personal reading through Job – have brought this poem to mind.
On July 18, 1666, at the age of 54, Bradstreet’s home burned to the ground. She recounts the horrors and her godly, humble, Calvinistic response.
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow neer I did not look,
I waken’d was with thundring noise
And Piteous shreiks of dreadfull voice.
That fearfull sound of fire and fire,
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spye,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my Distresse
And not to leave me succourlesse [helpless].
Then coming out beheld a space,
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And, when I could no longer look,
I blest his Name that gave and took,
That layd my goods now in the dust:
Yea so it was, and so ’twas just.
It was his own: it was not mine;
Far be it that I should repine [complain].
He might of All justly bereft,
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruines oft I past,
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spye
Where oft I sate, and long did lye.
Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest;
There lay that store I counted best:
My pleasant things in ashes lye,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sitt,
Nor at thy Table eat a bitt.
No pleasant tale shall ‘ere be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle ‘ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom’s voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lye;
Adeiu, Adeiu; All’s vanity.
Then streight I gin my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.
Thou hast an house on high erect,
Fram’d by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though: this bee fled.
It’s purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.
A Prise so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther’s wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf [money], farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above.
The poem originates from The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings edited by Perry Miller (pp. 577-579).
Christians suffer. So does God cause His children to suffer as punitive judgment for their personal sin? Walter Kaiser today at CT explains why Job’s friends were wrong in saying ‘yes.’ On a similar note, Derek Thomas’ book, Calvin’s Teaching on Job (Christian Focus, 2004) is excellent here, too. As one of Job’s friends (Elihu) realized, suffering is God’s means of instructing (not judging) His children.
“… affliction serves several ends: it is ‘the true schoolmistresse to bring men to repentance'; it weans us from dependence on the things of this world; it provokes us to prayer. Significantly, afflictions are the voice of God and a sign of his providence. They are by God’s appointment; they are God’s ‘archers,’ his artillery. Afflictions are a part of God’s ‘double means’ whereby he humbles us (the other being his Word). Yet, at the same time, they are ‘stirred up’ by Satan. … afflictions show us our sins and cause us to flee in repentance. … Afflictions also drive us to desire more of God’s help, provoking us to return to him, by drawing us to him, taming us, and teaching us to pray” (Calvin’s Teaching on Job, 227-228).
The way I see it, the most delicate balance of the Christian life is in maintaining a Cross-centered perspective and pursuing personal obedience. Push a little too hard on the one side, I fall into self-righteousness and legalism, thinking God’s acceptance of me is rooted in personal obedience. This is spiritual suicide. Or I fall on the other side in thinking the Cross demotes personal obedience to the status of “minor importance.” This too is wrong.
In John 15:1-17 Christ gives us a radical alternative. Here He teaches us that the high calling of personal obedience presses us into the Cross-centered life. Let me explain.
Obedience and comfort
I’ll begin with a hypothetical. What if you somehow discovered that your friend was going to endure, over the next week, the most horrible experience of their life? They will learn another close and beloved friend has experienced a ghastly and painful death. What words today would you leave with your friend to prepare them for the coming pain?
My guess is that we would speak only words of comfort. We would weep with those about to weep. God is faithful, we would say. He will be with you. He will not leave you even in the darkest times.
I think we would agree that – on this brink of tragedy – it would be odd and out of place to call our friend to pursue personal obedience.
Yet on the brink of the crucifixion this is exactly what Christ does. As the disciples are about to forsake the Son and see Him crucified, Christ prepares them by calling them to pursue obedience and fruitfulness (John 15:1-17).
‘Abide in my love’
“Abide in my love” Jesus tells the remaining 11 disciples (v. 9). The Cross will forever exhibit the greatest expression of love ever displayed (v. 13). It’s here, on the Cross, that Christ gives His Body to be murdered to bear the wrath of God’s judgement as the Substitute. He will bear our guilt. He will bear our sins. The wrath we deserve will be redirected into the perfect Son. This is the greatest love. So rest, delight, dwell, find your life, “abide” in this love.
This is to say the spiritual life of the Christian is sustained by the Cross. “Abide in my love” is Jesus’ call to live and breathe and find all nourishment and life in the Cross. Paul says it well, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). The Christian life is now sustained “by faith” in the Cross of Christ!
All my righteousness before God and all my spiritual vibrancy derive from this love, this Cross!
Fruit for the Father
In light of the Cross I think it is natural (though not accurate) to de-value personal obedience. Quite the opposite! By giving us the spiritual life necessary, the Cross actually strengthens the call of Christian obedience.
For the Christian (those with “new life”) only abiding in the life-giving Cross makes fruitfulness possible! Previously, the sinner outside the Christ was nothing more than a dead branch seeking to bear fruit but dehydrated from all spiritual life. Christ is our life.
Tucked in verse 8 we glimpse at the very heart of the Trinitarian motivations behind the Cross. Jesus says His Father is glorified when we bear fruit. The fruitfulness of the saint is a direct growth from the life and nourishment of the Cross. Think of it this way: We bear fruit by abiding in the Cross, the fruit of the branches is plucked by the Son and then carried to the Father in a bushel basket as an offering of glorification from the Son to the Father. Here we see the profound motives of Christ to glorify the Father.
In this cycle of the saints feeding off the Cross and bearing fruit, of the Son plucking the fruit and offering His Father the glory, we see Cross-centered thinking and diligent obedience come together. It’s important that we fight the tendency to emphasize works over the Cross and the tendency to think the Cross makes obedience an optional or secondary pursuit.
The calling to pursue diligent obedience and bear fruit came packaged with a stern warning that fruitless branches are thrown into the fire (v. 6). So why the hard demands of Jesus to bear fruit? How can He get away with such strong words? Here’s why: His Cross can sustain the weight of these high demands.
Here is what I’m getting at. In light of the coming tragedy, Christ raises the bar of obedience and fruit-bearing expectations for His disciples. This is how Jesus saw fit to comfort His disciples in the coming storm! He knew the higher the bar was raised in personal obedience the deeper He would drive the disciples into Himself.
We cannot miss this: The high calling to pursue personal obedience will (graciously) press the saint into Christ and into the Cross. And this means, at a profound level, the Cross-centered life is compromised by laziness in the pursuit of personal obedience.