The Godhead at Golgotha: The Cross in Trinitarian Perspective

By: Cade Campbell


Introduction and Thesis: The Supreme Mystery

            J.I. Packer writes that the gospel, and particularly the gospel’s central event, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, is the greatest mystery in the entire world. It is, he says, “a reality distinct from us that in our very apprehending of it remains unfathomable to us…which we therefore describe as incomprehensible.”[1] That statement seems correct, and yet it forces one to ask a very basic question: Why is the crucifixion of Christ the greatest mystery in all the world? Surely it is not because the act of crucifixion itself is outside the sphere of human knowledge. The mechanics of Roman crucifixion are fairly well known.[2] How a tortured man expires after being nailed to a stake is within the grasp of human knowledge. How then can Packer’s assertion be granted any merit? Continue reading “The Godhead at Golgotha: The Cross in Trinitarian Perspective”

William Perkins: 3 Reasons the Spirit Drove Christ into the Wilderness to be Tempted

By Obbie T. Todd

While a student at Christ’s College at Cambridge, William Perkins (1558-1602) experienced his conversion after overhearing a woman in the street chiding her disobedient child. Much to his surprise and humiliation, the mother alluded to him as “drunken Perkins.” According to Perkins, this experience then propelled him to reform his ways and to eventually cling to Christ for salvation. The young Perkins went on to meet Laurence Chaderton (1536-1640) who would disciple him and become a lifelong friend. Along with men like Richard Greenham and Richard Rogers, Perkins and Chaderton went on to form a spiritual brotherhood at Cambridge, regarded by many as the Puritan center of the day.

Perkins knew well the guilt and even the public shame of sin. Therefore he was a particularly wise source concerning the issue of temptation. According to J.I. Packer, the Elizabethan theologian became a “pioneer” for Puritan literature on everyday Christian living. (A Quest for Godliness, 41) Perkins defined theology as “the science of living blessedly forever.” (Golden Chaine) Due to the necessity for sanctification and godliness in the Christian life, it was incumbent upon the believer to approach temptation in a biblical manner. The Christian life could be divided into two chief actions: “mortification” and “vivification,” or putting to death the remaining sin of the flesh and living unto Christ by the Spirit. As Perkins demonstrates, temptation is one of the primary means through which Christ achieves this sanctifying process.

In his work The Combat between Christ and the Devil Displayed, taken from his sermons at Cambridge, Perkins scrupulously exegetes the Scriptures while also prescribing a way of righteousness for the sinner. For Perkins, Christ wasn’t simply our penal substitute; He was our perfect life: “But here Christ stood in our room and stead (as He did upon the cross) encountering with Satan for us, as if we in our own persons had been tempted.” (Works of William Perkins, Vol. 1, 97) The Christian looked to Jesus for his justification as well as his sanctification. This was axiomatic for Perkins’ view of Christianity. In his robust presentation of Christ’s desert trials, Perkins seeks to answer why the Spirit drove the Son of God into the wilderness to be tempted. Typical of Perkins’ Ramus logic, the Puritan divine produces three answers…

1. Christ Became a Better Adam by Overcoming Satan’s Assault.
For Perkins, the temptations of Christ in the wilderness should be interpreted against the temptations of Adam in the Garden. Only through biblical typology could Christ’s temptations find fuller meaning. According to Perkins, the Spirit moved Christ to be tempted “that He might foil the devil at his own weapon; for the devil overcame the first Adam in temptation, therefore Christ the second Adam would in temptation overcome him.” Just as Adam is the head of the human race, Christ is the head of a new humanity to be glorified at the resurrection. Without Christ’s conquering of Satan and complete abstinence from sin, this future hope isn’t realized. Our corrupt hearts “like tender do easily suffer corruption to kindle in us; but Christ’s most holy heart did presently like water quench the evil of Satan’s motions.” Jesus threw water on the sweltering darts of Satan’s arsenal. Christ is the guarantor of a better covenant built upon better promises. (Heb. 7:22, 8:6) This new covenant is established upon a sinless Savior who learned obedience and was made perfect through suffering. (5:8-9)

2. Christ Gives Us Insight into the Devil’s Schemes and How to Overcome Them.
According to Perkins, the Spirit cast the Son of God into the wilderness to be tempted “that in His example he might give us direction whereby to know the special temptations wherewith the devil assaults the church, as also how to withstand and repel the same.” Jesus teaches us how to endure temptation and trial, giving us the bigger picture of human suffering. For Perkins, this principle is especially important in deterring the ignorant notion that those who are tempted by the devil are necessarily in sin. Christ Himself was tempted! Perkins exhorts his readers to “behold Christ Jesus the most holy person that ever was, even the ‘holy one of God’ [John 6:69], was tempted of Satan, and that exceeding sore, having the same troubles and vexations thereby arising in His mind that we have, insomuch as the angels came to minister comfort unto Him (v.11).” Christ’s temptation doesn’t compromise his deity; it confirms his suitability, sufficiency, and superiority as our Intercessor and High Priest “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 5:15) This leads naturally to number 3.

3. Jesus Is Now Our Compassionate High Priest.
Jesus walked in our shoes. Just as we are tempted, he was tempted…and then some. Perkins reminds his readers that “Christ was tempted, that He might be ‘a merciful high priest unto them that are tempted’ (Heb. 2:17-18), for Himself knowing the trouble and anguish of temptation, must needs in a more compassionate fellow-feeling of their miseries be ready to help and comfort His members when they are tempted.” As head over the church, Jesus doesn’t lord over us as a tyrant; instead He “comforts His members” as a ruler who understands and empathizes with His people. Our Priest-King came as a servant, and thus He has walked a mile in our shoes. Against the accusations of the Devil, this is a comfort to the sinner. According to Paul R. Schaefer Jr., “The issue of holy living, or sanctification, pervaded the writings of the Elizabethan theologian William Perkins and provides a basis for understanding a primary concern of his theology.” (The Spiritual Brotherhood, 49) With such a conviction for Christian piety, it’s no wonder Perkins marshaled his biblical and intellectual resources in order to guide the sinner through the vicissitudes of human temptation.

Saved by the Bell? Why We Don’t Need Jesus-Origin-Stories

By Cade Campbell

A few weeks ago I shared some thoughts about seeing the movie “Risen.” This week I want to share why I don’t plan to go see “The Young Messiah.”

We genuinely love origin stories. We want to know the background facts before the facts that are famous. We want to try to understand why a character or historical figure became the way they were. My wife Amy and I went to see Batman v. Superman last night (a movie I really enjoyed by the way), and once again we couldn’t avoid having another interpretation of Batman’s origin story paraded out to set up the plot. We’ve seen it over and over and over. His parents are killed in front of him. He’s traumatized. He vows to lash out at the senselessness of injustice by cloaking himself in darkness to traumatize criminals. That’s Batman’s origin. Every time.

But we saw it again, this time setting up some future plot points for the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent (and their alter-egos). The writers reached back into the past to recycle where our hero came from.

That’s not uncommon in the cookie-cutter process of story development for big-screen movies.  And it’s not uncommon for readers of the Bible either.  Since the early centuries of the church inquisitive readers have imagined and invented story scenarios revolving around Christ’s “lost years” of childhood and adolescence. The Bible doesn’t give us much information to go on. We’re told about his birth. We know he spent some time in Egypt, and then we briefly see him living in Nazareth and on one family vacation to Jerusalem (where we get the original basis for Home Alone). That’s it. The gospels fast-forward to Jesus in his early thirties in the years leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.

So believers sometimes find it fun to fill-in the blanks. That’s what the new movie The Young Messiah attempts to do. Based on the novel Out of Egypt by Anne Rice (a novel I enjoyed reading for what it’s worth), the movie tells the story of the seven year old Jesus who moves back with his family from Egypt to Nazareth. What follows is a dramatic, angst-filled narrative of the young Jesus coming to terms with his true identity and power.

As movies go, that’s pretty harmless. If anything it’s pretty formulaic. We know what’s coming, and considering the type of fare that Hollywood typically puts out, a movie that is based on biblical themes and stories is a breath of fresh air. I’d much rather believers watch a movie like Young Messiah rather than some of the movies they have to choose from.

With that said, however, I think movies and novels and stories of this specific genre all fail on a fundamental level, even those that go back to the early church (and probably especially those). In attempting to explore the “lost years” of Jesus, they end up building a narrative of speculation that sacrifices the very nature of the incarnation. In trying to satisfy the curiosity for answers the Bible doesn’t provide, they (unintentionally perhaps) subvert the very truth that the Bible does provide.

This happens not because the storyline is irreverent or explicitly blasphemous. Nor is it a result of developing a biblical storyline into a fictitious historical drama. It happens because these stories always do what the Bible itself doesn’t – focus the lens of the camera on the little boy named Jesus. The glory of the incarnation is the mystery that the God who created the cosmos grew up into adulthood in mundane anonymity in the backwoods of a nowhereville named Nazareth, and he did so amazingly pretty much like everybody else (except without sin).

That’s a problem with a movie that focuses on the childhood of Jesus – It focuses on the childhood of Jesus. In trying to create an exceptional story, it shows Jesus to be exceptional. And he was. And he is. But he wouldn’t have looked like it as a seven year old. In a movie like The Young Messiah, when the camera focuses on a group of kids playing and walking down the road, the viewer knows which one is Jesus. But if we could indeed get in a TARDIS and plop down in the muddy main street of Nazareth, and if we looked out the door at a crowd of school kids we wouldn’t know which one was Jesus. He looked just like the other kids. There’s nothing to indicate that he stood out in primary school.

Every attempt to add to Jesus’ origin story beyond what the gospels give us presents us with a Jesus that is manipulated into being anything but an actual little boy. The Jesus they portray just isn’t ordinary enough. It misses the beauty of the incarnation by inadvertently treating him like one of Charles Xavier’s mutants. In portraying Jesus “struggling to understand his identity” or “coming to terms with his true power” (usually through portraying some fun miraculous shenanigans like raising a bird to life) we are tricked into adding Jesus to the list of the many “meta-humans” in the pantheon or superheroes that we see portrayed in the newest Marvel movie. But that’s not how Jesus is portrayed. His divinity is cloaked in the common. The marvel of his majesty is masked by the mundane.

In the movie Man of Steel we’re given another take on Clark Kent’s origin story from Krypton to the Kansas farmhouse. And it doesn’t disappoint. We see young Clark rescue his schoolmates after a school bus accident. We watch as Clark is terrified by his uncanny ability of x-ray vision. We feel empathy with the young child being weighed down with the responsibility of his powers, and that makes us feel a connection with him later when he swoops in to save earth by defeating Zod.

But Jesus isn’t Superman. He isn’t a superhero. He’s the Son of God. We’re not meant to be entertained by fabricating a pubescent Jesus who learns to tame his supernatural abilities only by taking them out for a joyride. That’s not the nature of his submission to his Father. And that’s why we ultimately don’t need fictional origin stories for Christ. They don’t help us know him better. They can only aid in knowing him wrongly. The Jesus we find in the gospels is the supreme revelation of God. Any attempt to add to the story only detracts from it by making him too much like a comic-book character. The Greek letter “X” (chi) may indeed be the first letter in the word “Christ,” but that doesn’t make Jesus an X-Man.

Cade Campbell is a native of Mississippi, a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div), and serves as the Associate Pastor for Preaching and Discipleship at First Baptist Church Henryville, Indiana. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCadeCampbell.


No Retreat, No Surrender: King Leonidas and King Jesus

By Mathew Gilbert

When soldiers are backed into a corner during a battle they have two options: (1) surrender or (2) stand. They can give up or they can face their enemy. In the movie 300, there are many scenes that demonstrate that tension between surrender and standing ground in a war. But one scene in particular communicates this ever so clearly. After fighting back Xerxes’ army for days, a would-be ally turned traitor reveals to King Leonidas’s enemy a secret path that spells out certain defeat for the Spartan warriors. Leonidas learns of this news from Daxos, the leader of the Arcadian army. Their exchange goes something like this:

Daxos: Leonidas! We are undone. Undone, I tell you. Destroyed!
Leonidas: Daxos, calm yourself.
Daxos: Our hunchback traitor led Xerxes’ Immortals to the hidden goat path behind us. The Phocians you posted there were scattered without a fight. This battle is over, Leonidas.
Leonidas: This battle is over when I say it is over.
Daxos: By morning, the Immortals will surround us. The Hot Gates will fall.
Leonidas: Spartans! Prepare for glory!
Daxos: Glory? Have you gone mad? There is no glory to be had now. Only retreat or surrender. Or death.
Leonidas: Well, that’s an easy choice for us, Arcadian. Spartans never retreat. Spartans never surrender. Go spread the word. Let every Greek assembled know the truth of this. Let each among them search his own soul. And while you’re at it, search your own.

Leonidas reminds his frightened friend that the Spartan way does not comprehend retreat. It cannot fathom surrender. Spartans never give in because Spartans never give up. Their identity defined their actions. Surrounded by the enemy, the warrior-Spartan mentality of Leonidas and his 300 grinned, grabbed a shield, and stood firm. No retreat. No surrender.

To live the Christian life is to live in a spiritual war. In this war, we have an enemy, Satan, who loves to lie and war against us. He loves to steal our joy in God and tempt us to not trust God. He surrounds us with his looming and tactical deceptions. The three-headed monster of sin, Satan, and suffering can slowly walk us to the edge and cause us to stare into the abyss of despair. The question for us in this moment is: “Will we surrender or will we stand?”

Paul has commanded us to stand. Never surrender. He speaks of standing against sin and Satan three times in Ephesians 6. In verse 11 he encourages believers to stand against Satan’s tricky plans. In verse 13 he calls them to stand firm and withstand “the evil day,” which refers to those days that Satan attacks us especially hard. Finally, in verse 14, Paul simply writes, “Stand.” Stand. Stand. Stand. No retreat. No surrender. Paul doesn’t hide how dangerous Satan can be. Our enemy is dangerous. At times he backs us into a corner. But we must never surrender. We must always stand.

So how exactly do we do that? How do we stand against the enemies that lead us away from God? Paul gives us three ways to stand against sin and Satan in Ephesians 6:

1. Be strong in the Lord.

When people think of Christians, they don’t usually think about strength; they think about weakness. Christians are thought to be soft or weak. But Paul says we are to “be strong.” It is so important to be strong as a Christian. In order to love others, you must be strong. In order to share the gospel with others when you may be ignored or laughed at, you must be strong. In order to stand against and fight sin and temptation, you must be strong. In order to face all the bad things that happen in the world, you must be strong. Weak hearts will crumble in a world filled with sin and suffering.

Rely on the mighty strength of Jesus to face a world of sin and suffering. In order to follow Jesus, we must rely on his strength. We must be strong. And we can be strong, because our strength is found in the strongest person in the world. Jesus’ strength is found in his weakness on the cross. He became weak, so you can be strong. When you feel tempted to sin or doubt who you are in Christ, run to Jesus and be strong in him.

2. Put on the whole armor of God.

We depend on the strength of God by putting on the whole armor of God. Soldiers wear protective armor in order to fight well. No soldier would go into battle without his armor. If he did, he wouldn’t live very long. Christians cannot survive in this spiritual war without the armor of God. God is a warrior. He fights for his people. His final blow to sin and Satan was in the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross. There are six pieces of God’s armor that Paul mentions: (1) the belt of truth, (2) the breastplate of righteousness, (3) the shoes of readiness to proclaim the gospel, (4) the shield of faith, (5) the helmet of salvation, and (6) the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

We put on this armor by walking in the new life that is ours in Christ. The most striking thing about the armor of God is that there is no protection for your back. This implies one thing and one thing only: in the Christian way, there is no retreat! We are to always face forward.

3. Watch and pray.
To stand firm and not surrender, we must commit ourselves to diligent prayer. Standing firm against an enemy of Satan’s power and evil magnitude, we must walk in the strength of the Lord. Paul gives us five ways in Ephesians 6:18-20 to pray that will help us stand strong in the spiritual battles we fight.

1) Pray at all times.
2) Pray faithfully.
3) Pray with toughness or perseverance.
4) Pray for other Christians, fellow soldiers.
5) Pray for gospel courage.

For Leonidas and the Spartan 300, the only alternative to retreat or surrender in this final battle against the Persians was defeat and death. Death for the Spartans was better than surrender. The same is true for Christians, but we have greater hope. Daily death to self is far better than surrender to sin. Sin is killed through death, and the source of our power to stand and fight is the death of the King.

While the Spartan way desired death as a form of battlefield glory, Christians can face temptation and sin and death with confidence because of the glory of resurrection life. Christ has gone to battle. He has defeated the enemy. He has won the war. Through his death and resurrection, Satan is undone. Through his death and resurrection, the people of the cross find eternal life and glory worth having. Christian, to surrender to sin is to forsake your identity in Christ. When the battle for your soul rages fiercest, remember because of King Jesus, you can say with King Leonidas, “No retreat. No surrender!”

Mathew Gilbert (B.A., Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, Kentucky with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.