Was at the London Men’s Convention today – held in the ‘baroque splendour’ of the ExCeL centre (i’m sure there’s a reason why it has to be capitalised like that, but i couldn’t be bothered to discover it). 3000 men, merrily singing along to Stuart Townend and Phatfish, and listening to some great teaching, as well as some gentle mick-extraction – fun fun fun. Esp jolly was Coekin asking Tim Keller who the fairest of them all was (see right):
But my highlight was Keller on John 19 (on the cross) before lunch and John 20 (on the resurrection) after lunch. He has this wonderful, almost conversational knack of being able to communicate complex truth as if it was the completely obvious (which of course it really is, once he’s done it). A case in point was some crucial points he was making about the substititionary nature of the atonement and in particular, God’s love. I was struck (as were several others, as I discovered later) by his point that love is ALWAYS substititionary in some ways. He gave3 illustrations of this phenomenon:
- If you are trying to show love to an emotionally wounded person, it’s impossible to remain unaffected by them and their pain. What they most need, so often, is someone to listen and to take on/share some of the burdens. But as they feel better and upheld (or, even, uplifted) it is inevitable that the person helping finds themselves drained. So there is a choice – keep yourself free from care, while the stressed person remains down; or invest in them with your time and energy and be burdened with them, and they will go up.
- Imagine an innocent man who is a fugitive from some sort of baddies (whether they be government, Mafia or whatever). He comes to your door, wracked by his insecurity, fear and desperation. He asks for your help. You can turn him away – in which case your security remains unaffected, while he may well die; or you can take him in – in which case he has temporary respite and greater security, while you have dramatically increased the danger to yourself.
- Or take parenting: it’s impossible to ‘have a life’ and be a parent! Yet many parents today have children as accessories who have to fit around their lives. They parent when it’s convenient to them. They run their lives according to their own priorities and agendas, and the children just have to lump it. The result is devastating. A parent who never gives up his/her right to independence and freedom for the children will find that the children grow up physically but never emotionally – they remain needy and dependent, craving for parental recognition, throughout most if not all of their adulthood. They will never know true independence and freedom. BUT, if parents decide to forgo that right, and invest everything in the children, the children will grow up to enjoy independence and freedom. You can’t have it both ways.
In each of these ways, there is a substitution driven by love. And how can it not be.
And then of course, this is even truer of Christ. Keller pointed to a sermon by the great Jonathan Edwards on Christ’s Agony in Gethsemane – where, as Christ faced the horrors of the cross, he is faced with the choice of obedience. Edwards imagined a conversation between the Father and the Son – “it’s them, or you”. And because of his love, he chose to do it himself – ‘not my will, but thy will’ – so that we could escape judgment and be free. A substitution of amazing grace indeed.
On a final, surreal note, the Good Book Co had a bizarre but perhaps effective marketing gimmick, with their very own Stig doing the rounds. And i had the privilege of being able to meet him.