2015: A Year Of Youth Work In Preview

January: I was going to predict that the world would end and this would affect government funding but clearly that hasn’t happened. Sorry.

February: Marvel announce a film starring Mondo, Radioactive Man, and Robbie Baldwin’s cat. Finally your knowledge of comic books dries up and your ignorance is exposed. You realise you can’t live off half-remembered stories and what you googled the morning before youth club. You crack open the original comics and order the Marvel handbooks and vow to teach faithfully once more.

March: Your argument to church leadership that “if the youth department is going to be forced to have a pool table that converts to a table tennis table we may as well have it convert to a communion table and save even more money!” is flawed and shouldn’t be used.

April: More cuts! Your local council ceases to provide universal access youth services and your young people are devastated that they can’t go down the youth club any more as they don’t cross an arbitrary threshold confirming they have higher needs. They ask for a five week training session on “discovering our problems and higher needs”. Alas, you can’t get funding for the course.

May: A dull end of season to the football means you start hyping up the Rugby World Cup early to your young people. You remind them of Johnny Wilkinson and his drop goal to win England the World Cup. One particularly clued up young person reminds you that that was 12 years ago, and he was four at the time. Twelve years! But you watched that with a youth group! You used it to start discussions on fair play and good character! Has it been so long?

June: unseasonal snow storms should lead to a discussion with your youth about climate change and stewardship of God’s creation. Instead you spend five hours talking about how you’d survive in Arendelle if Queen Elsa’s ice curse was never lifted.

July: You get all twelve consent forms back a whole month before the big summer camp. As you scan them you realise you’ve mixed up the forms and the young people’s parents have consented to their son/daughter working as church cleaner. That wouldn’t be so bad but now you’ve got to explain to the applicants for the church cleaner job why going away for a week in a field is a valid job interview technique.

August: Rob Bell releases a new book to accompany his new TV show and the internet responds predictably. You do a 2 hour session explaining the inherent flaws / brilliance of the book and why it’s so dangerous / revolutionary. You ask for questions and a brave thirteen year old asks “who on earth is Rob Bell?” You realise Velvet Elvis came out ten years ago. My word, where did the years go? Have you really aged that much? Must everything pass so quickly?

September: Your series on “the vanity of owning stuff” would have gone better had you not queued up for 37 hours straight to buy an Apple Watch immediately before the youth club. For a start, you wouldn’t fall asleep halfway through.

October: Following on from American Football, parkour, 10km running, Ski-cross, and jujitsu the latest sport your young people are desperate to try out is chess-darts. A thrilling game combining chess and darts. Each turn a young person takes five minutes to decide which square of a dartboard to hurl a chess piece at. When all 32 pieces are hurled the winner is the one who hasn’t given up. To be honest, it’s still more preferable than playing football with them.

November: Playing FIFA 16 with a young person you stare at the screen as they incessantly switch around players and formations. Your eyes drift to the ages of the players. Jack Wilshire: 23. Theo Walcott: 26. Wayne Rooney: 30. Thirty! But it was only yesterday he was scoring for Everton! Are you really so old? Has time moved so quickly? You concede two quick goals while lost in contemplation.

December: Reviewing the year gone by you realise you’ve spent a lot of your time getting your church young people excited about sporting events so they’d come along to your church when you host sporting events and bring their friends not from church to the sporting events which are in your church. After pondering this for a bit, you wonder if you eliminated the sporting events and spent your time getting your young people excited about Jesus and his church they might bring their friends along anyway? Your review is brought to an end as you realise you’ve still got to sort out all the balloons and cake for the Frozen Christmas Party you’ve spent the last two months getting the young people excited about.

A Non-Review Of Moses (and Other Epic Bible Films)

Here’s my non-review of the new Ridley Scott Moses film “Exodus: God and Kings”. It’s a non-review because I haven’t seen it, and don’t have any intention of going to see it unless loads of my young people go and watch it. If you want a real review that talks about the film’s problems you can read one here.

If I was a cheap hack1, then the obvious place to start would be comparing Christian Bale’s Moses to Christian Bale’s Batman. And why not? Moses’ origin story is pretty superhero. A child of the persecuted slave people, rescued by miraculous providence and raised in the house of his enemies. He grows strong and well educated and then when he’s in the peak of his strength he sees his people being abused and chooses to side with them in secret. I think that at this stage of his life Moses has the Batman narrative going through his head. He shall become the secret protector of the people, hidden in the shadows, working to overcome the oppressive corrupt government and liberate the people. Except of course, he immediately fails. He’s seen avenging the Israelites, neither they nor the Egyptians take kindly to his actions. and he runs away to live in the desert as a shepherd for forty years. All of a sudden it’s no longer a superhero film.

Okay, so maybe that’s a false start to his superhero origin. The actual start to his superhero career really happens forty years later, when a lowly shepherd with a mysterious past finds a burning bush in the middle of the desert, a bush that gives him supernatural guidance and power, but at what cost? Oh wait, that’s not what happens either. What happens is God meets him in the desert and Moses attempts to coward his way out of God’s plan. He does go back to Egypt, but it’s not in awe and thundering terror. It’s in timidity and fear. He strides into Pharaoh’s court and booms “Let my people go”. Except with less striding and more fearful approaching. And with less booming and more standing behind his brother Aaron and getting him to speak instead. It’s not very superhero, or even just regular hero, and that’s because Moses isn’t the hero of the story.

You’re never going to tell the story of the Bible right if you make it so the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are the heroes. They’re never the true hero of the story. It’s always God who is the hero. To be more precise, it’s always Christ who is the hero. He is the one who sends the darkness, who strikes down the first born, who parts the waters (Psalm 105:25-45). He’s the one who brings His people up out of Egypt by crushing Pharaoh. Moses is not the hero, Christ is.

This is perhaps, why so many bible films struggle to be any good. God essential to the story, so they put him in, but the god they want in the story inevitably doesn’t look like Christ. And once God doesn’t look like Christ, you’ve left the biblical story far behind. Imagine a race of aliens creating an artificial earth and going “this sun looks pretty important, so let’s put a similarly sized object in the sky” and as their artificial earth orbits this sun-sized lump of rock, they wonder why it can’t sustain life. Make a film of the Bible where you get the triune God right, then you can worry about the rest of the characters motivation.

1 Alright, if I was a cheap hack who was writing a review for an actual publication.

The Illuminati and Jesus Christ

So, apparently secret devil worshipping companies control most of the energy drinks on the market. Having had the misfortune of drinking some of these, I can see why you’d think that but it’s probably not true. The illuminati does not secretly run the soft drink companies. I’ve got good reasons to believe they also didn’t fake September 11th, give the Queen Mother her remarkable long-life, and ensure the end of Britney Spears pop career. But have you ever tried persuading someone who really believes in this stuff that the illuminati don’t exist? You can’t.

I’ve speculated as to why conspiracy theories are so prevalent among young people before, but I’ve not thought too much about how to tackle it. My approach has been to laugh about it and tell them why they’re wrong. Clearly a winning approach to any argument. But I was re-reading “Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods” and came across this quote about idols and spirits;

“…In heathen lands it might still perhaps be the wiser course to preach constantly the supremacy of Christ over all things spiritual and material, than to deny or deride the very notion of these spirits. Some of our missionaries know, and it were well for others if they did know, that it is much easier to make a man hide from us his belief in devils than it is to eradicate the belief from his heart. By denying their existence or by scoffing at those who believe in them we do not help our converts to overcome them, but only to conceal their fears from us. By preaching the supremacy of Christ we give them a real antidote, we take to them a real Saviour who helps them in their dark hours.”

Maybe the illuminati is real. Christ rules over them. What harm can a shady cabal do against those who have Christ as their brother on the throne? Christ is supreme over all governments and rule, whether seen or unseen, physical or spiritual, satanic cult or satanic devils.

Athanasius on Virginity

Here’s a two line comment Athanasius (297ish – 373 AD) makes in On The Incarnation when giving evidence on how Christ’s coming has transformed the world.

Again, who among men, either after his death or while yet living, taught about virginity and did not account this virtue impossible for human beings. But Christ our Saviour and King of all has so prevailed with his teaching on this subject that even children not yet of lawful age promise their virginity which transcends the law.

Athansius’ point is this; no-one else has come into the world, taught that virginity is a good thing, and found their teaching obeyed. In fact, no-one’s really even tried because they know it’s impossible. But Christ comes and teaches that virginity is good and it happens. In fact, even children are going above and beyond the law of no sex outside of marriage, but giving up sex entirely for the rest of their lives. Athanasius himself is one of these people, having given up sex for the sake of the gospel. This is an extraordinary, miraculous thing.

Virginity is not a normal thing for the world. Most try and get out of it as fast as possible. It’s the practice of people all over the world to disdain it. So, when teaching young people about sex outside of marriage and virginity and all the rest of it, don’t treat it as a minor thing. Teach it as the abnormal major thing that is, a thing only possible because Christ has come, died, rose again, and promises a better life eternally. Your young people (and young adults and older people) will get abuse because they hold on to it, where instead they should be given great honour. This abuse though, is part of their witness that Christ Jesus is the risen Lord of the universe.

Why Your Child Protection Policy Should Permit Physical Contact

I touched on this briefly when I linked to the piece about physical contact in the church, but I thought it was worth expanding on. Occasionally you hear about child protection policies that blanket ban all physical contact between leaders and under-18’s. I’m sure there are youth work contexts where this is the correct decision, but I honestly can’t think of any. There are two reasons why allowing physical touch is a good thing.

First; physical touch is a generally welcomed by people for a reason. Humans like contact. I can’t do the job of explaining this than the article than inspired this; so read that if you haven’t and come back. To miss out on this because someone could use touch as an abuse or because we’re afraid of being falsely accused is excessive.

Second; banning physical touch outright is unenforceable. Inevitably you’ll have to touch a child at some point. Maybe you’ll have to pick up a crying child, or a young person will go in for a high-five, or you’ll be playing basketball with them and they’ll push into you. And either you write up every single case and tell off your staff for doing it or your just ignore it as an allowable exception. But then the rules are a bit nebulous. You can’t touch a young person. Ever. Except in some ill-defined situations we give you a pass.

What’s a better solution than an outright banning? Have a sensible policy on physical contact. Ours reads something like this; “All physical contact should be thought through. It should always be in public, appropriate to the young person and setting, and with a clear beneficial purpose.” Here are some examples of how that works;

  • You’re in a youth club setting and a young person comes in, you shake their hand. This is public; presumably there are other youth workers and young people in the youth club and other people can walk in. This is appropriate; welcoming someone with a handshake is a normal thing to do, even at a youth club. This has a clear purpose; by shaking their hand you’re deliberating showing them that they’re welcome and you’re treating them as an equal.
  • You’re helping in a creche and a toddler falls over, bruises their knee, and starts crying. You pick them up and give them a hug. This is public; assuming you have other leaders like you need to. This is appropriate; picking up a crying toddler and physically comforting when they’ve bashed their knee is appropriate. This has a clear purpose; by doing this you’re hoping to calm them down and deal with their pain.
  • You’re playing football with your young people, one of them deliberately tackles you badly so next time they are near you you shove them over. This is public; you’re on a football pitch with other people. This is appropriate; clearly not. This is of benefit to the young person; I know some people reckon giving a taste of your own medicine is a valid pedagogical approach, these people are wrong. So no. It’s not of benefit to the young person. This fails the checks. Don’t do this.

Just to be really clear we have a couple of other lines too, things like “physical contact should never be used while discipling a child”, “physical contact should never be able to be misconstrued as violent or sexual”, and “extra care should always be taken when you are the one to initiate contact”.

More than allowing you on the fly to work out whether physical touch is appropriate, these three categories allow us to look at activities ahead of time and decide what level of physical contact is appropriate. So you’re planning on taking young people swimming and while the pool is obviously public, and it may give the young person great joy to allow them to fight other young people on your shoulders and so give them benefit, you decide it’s not appropriate given the context. So before you go, you’ve established that sitting on shoulder water-wrestling is not going to happen. Or with smaller children they’re changing and while it may be a public changing room with other staff, and it might be appropriate to give them a hand getting dressed, if the children are old enough to do it themselves then there is no benefit to them, so you decide in advance not to do it unless they get stuck in their t-shirt. You can even write this stuff up to give you an extra level of security if something does goes wrong. Yes, it’s more work, but it allows you to work better with your young people and children. And that’s the aim. You want to love and care and work with the children you have as best as you can. That means you’re going to have to use physical contact. And so you should, safely and sensibly.

Fun Ice-Breakers That Require a Baby

Our son is now nine months old. He’s been coming to the boys’ bible study that runs on a Monday night at our flat for eight and a half months of those. When we go on camp next month he’ll be there as well as his two year-old and five year-old friends. And a bunch of 11-15 year olds who are actually going on the camp.

When Paul said “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided.” (1 Corinthians 7:32-33) he was —unsurprisingly for a guy divinely inspired— right. I have to be with my wife and son first, so I just don’t have as much time for repeated long days, excessive residential weekends, and drop everything young person crises. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be involved in my ministry. Rather it means that my ministry is in certain aspects our ministry.

I think that’s great for everyone involved. Our son enjoys playing with other people and the attention he gets. He also gets to grow up seeing how church and ministry operates. He sees it as normal that people read the bible with other people. It’s great for the young people as they get someone little to entertain which is amusing, but also they get to see how Christian parents try and relate to their child. That’s not a “look at how we parent, aren’t we great Christians”, but rather “look at how we screw up and hopefully forgive each other and rely on grace and move on”. And it’s great for my wife and I be cause we get other people involved in helping raise our child, and we get free entertain for him, and we get to show him what Christian community looks like.

The Letters Of Saint Athanasius Concerning The Holy Spirit to Bishop Serapion – CRB Shapland

A long time ago, a guy called Saint Athanasius wrote a bunch of letters to a bishop called Serapion concerning the Holy Spirit. He wrote to defend the divinity of the Spirit against some people who denied He was truly God. These letters were finally translated into English and published in 1951 by a man called CRB Shapland. Alas, a year later Shapland died and though the book had a reasonably large publishing run it never got a second edition. When the publishing company shut down a few years later all rights transferred back to Shapland’s estate. If you wanted to get hold of a copy and you didn’t have access to a theological library, your only hope was a scan of dubious copyright on the internet.

Hooray then that the family of CRB Shapland have very generously decided to give permission to release the book online for free distribution! Below are three (THREE!) different versions of the same text, for all your different compatibility needs (I have the original as a .pages file as well if people have need to edit):

Take, read, enjoy.

A Confusion Of Evangelicals

Without commentating on the Evangelical Alliance kicking Steve Chalke’s Oasis ministries out of the Evangelical Alliance (I’ll link to some stuff later today), I present to you a diagram to help clarify some of the confusion about the word evangelical:


Some people use the word ‘evangelical’ to mean evangelical in doctrine. You know, believe in the creeds, the necessity of evangelism and teaching the bible, the priesthood of all believers, The EA Basis of Faith. Then some use the word to mean evangelical in culture. Singing modern worship songs and putting your hands in the air, having home groups, growing up going to Soul Survivor or Christian summer camps in boarding schools, giggling about how dated Shine Jesus Shine sounds. So, as per the diagram, you can be culturally evangelical without being doctrinally evangelical (i.e. Steve Chalke).

Confusion comes obviously when people are talking cross-purposes, when I’m using evangelical as a marker of doctrine and your using it as a marker of culture. But confusion also comes when people don’t agree on whether something is an issue of doctrine or culture. So, is gay marriage an issue of culture or doctrine? I firmly believe it’s a doctrinal issue; marriage is scripturally defined as between a man and a woman because it reflects Christ and his church. Some people believe it’s cultural. The bible doesn’t speak to us now on who can get married, so why can’t a same-sex couple get married? So some people will look at the gay marriage issue and say “why is the church falling out over a cultural issue?” others will say “how can these people claim to be evangelicals, when they approve something that is so clearly against what the bible teaches”.

A final point. The term evangelical is just that, a term. It’s helpful to define who you are and what you believe. At least, it is helpful till we can’t agree on what it means. So maybe clarify your terms when speaking to others. And don’t hold on to names too tightly. I imagine God cares not one jot whether you call yourself evangelical or not. He cares greatly about what you believe and how you act though.

Why Did Jesus Have To Die In The Manner That He Did?

We know that Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross (1 John 4:10, Hebrews 2:17). The full depth of why he had to die is something that we will spend forever investigating and rejoicing in. What I’m considering now is why he had to die in the specific way that he did. Why die publically on a cross? Why not another method of death? Why does Jesus say he has to die in this particular way? (Matthew 20:18-19, Mark 8:31, 10:33-34, Luke 18:31-34, 24:25) to limit this to a reasonable length I’m only going to consider the manner of his death, not the events leading up to it (though that was specifically planned) nor the resurrection afterwards (also specifically planned). Obviously this isn’t exhaustive, and suggestions are welcomed via or twitter. Some of these reasons are taken from Athanasius’ On The Incarnation which devotes a chapter to why Christ must die in this manner. Some of them are plain statements from scripture, and some are logical inferences from scripture. I’ve tried to steer clear from too much speculation.

So It Is Not A Natural Death

“The death of men under ordinary circumstances is the result of their natural weakness. They are essentially impermanent, so after a time they fall ill and when worn out they die. But the Lord is not like that. He is not weak, He is the Power of God and Word of God and Very Life Itself. If He had died quietly in His bed like other men it would have looked as if He did so in accordance with His nature, and as though He was indeed no more than other men.” St. Athanasius. On the Incarnation

So It Is A Public Death Done Professionally

Christ had to die publicly so that all could see he had died. It had to be done by professionals so there was no doubt he died.

“A secret and unwitnessed death would have left the resurrection without any proof or evidence to support it… And how could His disciples have had boldness in speaking of the resurrection unless they could state it as a fact that He had first died? Or how could their hearers be expected to believe their assertion, unless they themselves also had witnessed His death? For if the Pharisees at the time refused to believe and forced others to deny also, though the things had happened before their very eyes, how many excuses for unbelief would they have contrived, if it had taken place secretly” St. Athanasius. On the Incarnation

So It Is Done To Him By His Enemies

Christ couldn’t have died a death he had arranged for himself in an honourable manner. He could not have negotiated for one of the disciples to kill him in a certain way;

“This would have given ground for suspicion that His power over death was limited to the particular kind of death which He chose for Himself; and that again would furnish excuse for disbelieving the resurrection. Death came to His body, therefore, not from Himself but from enemy action, in order that the Saviour might utterly abolish death in whatever form they offered it to Him. A generous wrestler, virile and strong, does not himself choose his antagonists, lest it should be thought that of some of them he is afraid. Rather, he lets the spectators choose them, and that all the more if these are hostile, so that he may overthrow whomsoever they match against him and thus vindicate his superior strength. Even so was it with Christ. He, the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. “ St. Athanasius. On the Incarnation

So He Dies Willingly

If the death had been in a manner that surprised him, say an assassination in the crowd, or if one of the stonings the Jewish people tried on him had worked, then it could be argued he didn’t go to his death willingly. But Christ had to choose to obey his Father unto death, so his death had to be one he went to and accepted willingly.

So Both Jews And Gentiles Are Found Responsible

Scripture places mankind into two races, the Jews who are children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or the Gentiles who are not. So that neither Jew nor Gentile could hide from their guilt in killing Jesus, both had to conspire together to kill him.

So He Dies At The Hands Of The Rightful Authorities

There was no trial more a sham than that of Jesus. But it was the high priest of the Jewish people who chose him to die, and ruler of the area who gave permission for his death and the king of the Jewish people who agreed it. By dying at the hands of the rightful authorities appointed by God he showed Godly submission even to death. And if Christ had died at the hands of an unlawful lynch mob, then the authorities of the world could have properly washed their hands of the deed. As it is both the authorities and those under authority stand guilty.

So He Dies At The Hands Of The Religious Rulers

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22)

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11)

Jesus must be rejected by the religious rulers as the Son of God. At the cross they conspire to kill Jesus and in doing so reject him. This is because they sought their righteousness by works not faith (Romans 9:30-33). In rejecting him Jesus has become the cornerstone for all who believe but also a stumbling block for those who seek to justify themselves.

So He Dies In Weakness, Foolishness, and Shame In The Eyes Of The World

Christ’s death must be humiliating and weak in the eyes of the world, because God will use the weakness of God to overcome the wisdom of the world.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

So He Could Bear Scars To Witness To His Work For Us.

If ever the church doubts that Christ has loved them and completed His work to save them, they can look to the scars in his hands and side and feet, and declare like Thomas “My Lord and God” (John 20:28). His death in this manner allows him to bear the scars of his ministry even in the new creation.

So Christ Could Be The True Passover Lamb

He had to die on passover so he could be the true passover lamb promised a long time ago. His blood had to be shed so that judgement could pass over the people of God. And because he is the true passover lamb, he had to be killed by the High Priest.

So Christ Might Be Cursed On A Tree

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13)

At this point though, we could ask why did God ordain it that a man who dies on a tree is cursed? Why not cursed a man who is beheaded? Speculatively, I wonder if it’s so that there might be a second tree. If the curse of death and sin was brought through the good tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then the blessing of life and forgiveness was brought through the evil tree of suffering and punishment.

So He Might Suffer

“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Christ bore the wrath of his heavenly Father on the cross, the wrath we deserved. In this he had to remain obedient to the Father and not step down off the cross. He had to endure for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). As such it’s fitting that he suffered on the cross physically as well. If he had died a painless death then it would be easy for people to declare that he hadn’t suffered for sins, or that he hadn’t had to endure as much as he could. But by suffering in such a horrific manner, he declares not only the wickedness of sin and the depth of God’s anger against it but also how perfect his obedience is.

So He Might Be Lifted Up In The Open

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” (John 3:14)

“So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (John 8:28)

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:27-33)

The Son of Man must be lifted up. He can’t die strapped to a table, or hidden in room. He must die lifted up so that everyone can see His glory in obeying the Father perfectly. So that everyone can look to him to be saved, like they looked to the serpent in the wilderness. So that he can survey all the earth and draw everyone to himself.

So He Might Overthrow The Prince Of the Power Of The Air.

“Again, the air is the sphere of the devil, the enemy of our race who, having fallen from heaven, endeavours with the other evil spirits who shared in his disobedience both to keep souls from the truth and to hinder the progress of those who are trying to follow it. The apostle refers to this when he says, ‘According to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience.’ (Ephesians 2:2) But the Lord came to overthrow the devil and to purify the air and to make ‘a way’ for us up to heaven, as the apostle says, ‘through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.’ (Hebrews 10:20) This had to be done through death, and by what other kind of death could it be done, save by a death in the air, that is, on the cross? St. Athanasius. On the Incarnation

Because the devil (the prince of the power of the air) has his habitat between the heavens and the earth purified, so Christ can make a way into the heavens. Thus it’s fitting He died hanging between the heavens and the earth as a bridge. Calvin supports this view when he writes about Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven:

“It is Christ alone, therefore, who connects heaven and earth: he is the only Mediator who reaches from heaven down to earth: he is the medium through which the fullness of all celestial blessings flows down to us, and through which we, in turn, ascend to God. He it is who, being the head over angels, causes them to minister to his earthly members. Therefore, (as we read in John 1:51) he properly claims for himself this honour, that after he shall have been manifested in the world, angels shall ascend and descend. If, then, we say that the ladder is a figure of Christ, the exposition will not be forced.” Calvin. Commentary on Genesis Chapter 28.

So That He Could Suffer For A Determined Length Of Time.

Christ hung on the cross for three hours, from noon till 3pm. He could not have died nearly instantaneously as with a firing squad or guillotine, because he had to suffer for a period of time and because he had to accomplish things on the cross and fulfil prophecy. Why this length of time? I don’t know. He had to die in the day time as this was a public deed and the sun needed to hide itself and darkness cover the land. He had to stay on the cross for a set period of time, because he had a set amount of sins to pay for and because on the cross he had to speak words and fulfil prophecy.

So He Can Freely Give Up His Spirit When He Has Paid The Price

“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46)

“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit” (Matthew 27:50)

When Christ had paid the perfect sacrifice and knew his death was imminent, he showed that he was trusting and faithful to His Father, but not hanging on to life as long as possible, but by freely giving up His spirit. In what other manner of execution could Christ have freely chosen when to lay down his life?

So He Could Be Taken Down Before The Next Morning

You shall not “let the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover remain until the morning” Exodus 34:25. This was ordained so that Jesus could be taken off the cross when his work was completed. He did not need to remain lifted up when he had finished his work.

So He Could Be Mocked

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’” (Psalm 22:6-8)

“I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads.” (Psalm 109:25)

Christ needed to be mocked, so he must die in public for all to see. I think there may be two reasons for this. The first is that he would suffer as much as he could. Not only the physical torment, or the separation from the Father, or his friends deserting him, but also the emotional insult of people tormenting him. The second is that people must be still be tempting him to step down off the cross until the last minute. The accusations are not just against the Son, but also against his Father. How tempting for Jesus would it have been to step down off the cross and silence their lies?

So He Might Be Pierced For Our Transgressions But Yet Not Be Broken

He has to shed his blood for the forgiveness of sin, because “for the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11). So he needs to be pierced physically and pierced on the side as well (Zechariah 12:10). But his body cannot be broken (Psalm 34:20). So a death of the cross is fitting to fulfil these things.

So He Could Say The Seven Things He Has To Say

By dying on the cross he can still speak to his accusers and followers. His death on a cross permits him to speak to the world and the church about what is happening. Other forms of death would not have let him speak freely and preach to us from the cross. If he had died in the way that had left him with no way of speaking or no time to speak in, how could we have heard him say “It is finished?” And if we had lost those words of such great comfort!

So the Legal Demands of Sin Could Be Nailed To The Cross

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

It was fitting for Christ to be nailed to the cross, because it allows us to declare that all the legal demands of sin were left nailed to the cross.

So He Could Die Between Two Criminals

“Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12)

The manner of his death meant scripture could be fulfilled that he would die alongside sinners, to demonstrate who he would save. The two criminals also gives us a clear illustration. “Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned” (Samuel Beckett – Waiting For Godot who says he took it from Augustine, but no-one seems to know where in Augustine)

So He Could Be Buried As One In The Ground

There are many deaths that prevent someone from being buried. He could have been burnt at the stake, or throw into the sea, but he has to die in a manner that allows him to be buried so he can rise up again out of the earth. It is fitting for him to go down to the depths so that he can be raised up again. And if his body had been separated, if he had been guillotined or quartered, he would not have able to be buried as one single seed that falls to the earth and rises up again.

“Therefore it is also, that He neither endured the death of John, who was beheaded, nor was He sawn asunder, like Isaiah: even in death He preserved His body whole and undivided, so that there should be no excuse hereafter for those who would divide the Church.”[1] St. Athanasius. On the Incarnation

So He Might Die With His Arms Open

“How could He have called us if He had not been crucified, for it is only on the cross that a man dies with arms outstretched? Here, again, we see the fitness of His death and of those outstretched arms: it was that He might draw His ancient people with the one and the Gentiles with the other, and join both together in Himself.” St. Athanasius. On the Incarnation

So He Might Be Able To Call His Followers To Take Up Their Cross

“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23)

A crucifixion is one of the few deaths where you knowingly carry your own instrument of execution to where you’re going to die. As such Jesus sets the model for his followers; to deny their own will and head towards their own death, giving up their life so they will save it.

So He Could Die Outside The City Walls

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (Hebrews 12:13)

“You know that when the High Priest offered the sin-offering, because it typified sin, it was so obnoxious to God that it might not be burned upon the great altar, but it was always burned outside the camp, to show God’s detestation of sin and His determination not only to put it away from Himself, but also to put it away from His Church. Now, when our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to be our Sin-Offering, it suited Him, also, to be put outside the camp—and it is very interesting to note how remarkably Providence provided for the fulfilment of the type. Had our Lord been killed in a tumult, He would most likely have been slain in the city. Unless He had been put to death judicially, He would not have been taken to the usual Mount of Doom. And it is remarkable that the Romans should have chosen a hill on the out- side of the city to be the common place for crucifixion and for punishment by death. We might have imagined that they would have selected some mount in the centre of the city and that they would have placed their gibbet in as conspicuous a spot as our Newgate, so that it might strike the multitude with greater awe. But, in the Providence of God, it was arranged otherwise. Christ must not be slain in a tumult! He might not die in the city and when He was delivered into the hands of the Romans, they had not a place of execution within the city, but one outside the camp, that by dying outside the gate, He might be proved to be the Sin-Offering for His people.” – C.H. Spurgeon Sermon #2660

So It Would Involve Hyssop

“Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.” (Exodus 12:22)

“Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean.” (Numbers 19:18-19)

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7)

“A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.” (John 19:29)

Hyssop was the plant used for spreading blood at the sacrifices, the blood that would wash you and make you clean. Jesus’ death on a cross permitted hyssop to give to him.

1 The tradition is that Isaiah is the person being referenced as sawn in two in Hebrews 11:37 and while it’s a strong tradition, there’s no evidence from scripture he was. He also means John the Baptist not John the Apostle (who tradition has is the only apostle to die of old age).

Building Metaphors

This started out as a response to the Youthwork Magazine article about the guy who pays his young people to come to church, but it soon morphed into something else. So read that then come back here and we can indirectly talk about it.

Let me give you two pictures of youth work from the world of architecture. The first is this; youth work as a buttress. A buttress is something that is built up around a structure to support it and hold it in place. You have a buttress when a building won’t stay up on it’s own. If some internal or external force is going to cause the building to collapse, you shove a buttress on the side to hold the wall in place. This is a lot of youth work in the country. We want young people to stay involved in church but there are lots of forces pulling them out of it. So we provide buttressing structures and activities to hold them in place. A 12 year old is bored in church and wants to leave? Run a group during the boring parts of a church service that’s exciting! A 16 year old wants to go out with the friends drinking on a friday night? Run an entertaining youth evening so they have something else to do! These buttressing events at least temporarily overcome the forces pulling young people out of church. Paying your young people to come to church is highly unusual but a natural outworking of this way of thinking about ministry. It’s a super-effective way of keeping young people in church against other forces that might pull them out.

The problem with the buttressing approach is that it doesn’t work for very long. Almost inevitably for a young person in this day and age1, the forces pushing to leave church will overcome any forces you can put up to keep a young person in church. If a young person finds church boring, and you provide activities to make it more exciting, what happens when they discover something even more exciting elsewhere? Can you really promise to be always more exciting than the way the world does things? Are you going to be able to out-excite going out and getting drunk? Or playing football on a sunday morning? Maybe you can buttress them in long-enough that they get to university or even into work without leaving church, but then what will keep them there? The explosion of organisations working with 18-30 year olds2 in the last decade seems to indicate we’re trying to replicate the same approach with that age range.

So what about another way of looking at youth ministry? Instead of a buttress, youth ministry is scaffolding. Scaffolding doesn’t hold a building up. Instead it’s a temporary structure that exists while something is being built. It exists to allow work to be done to strengthen and repair the building and then it’s taken down again. A youth minister does ministry so that the young people are built up and strengthened and come to know Jesus and consequentially stay in the church. The difference in this approach is that you’re seeking true heart change. You don’t want to hold young people in church, when there heart is not there. You want the young people to come to church because they see it as the family they’ve been called into when they were saved. This approach seeks the true conversion of young people and them growing in Christ so they can securely be part of the church. They don’t need any externally designed buttress to overcome the forces pulling them out of the church; the internal force of the Holy Spirit transforming their hearts means they want to stay in it themselves and be part of it.

Practically, what difference does it make? It won’t be so much in what you do, but in why you do it and therefore how you do it. If you think youth work is like a buttress then you’re always going to be thinking “how can we keep these kids in church” and you’re going to end up burdened with more responsibility than you can carry as you bear the weight of ensuring these kids don’t leave church. Your youth sessions will always have a sense of “if only there were more people here, if only I could make them more committed to coming to things”. If you think youth work is like scaffolding though you’ll be thinking “how can I encourage young people to trust in Jesus more, how can I build them up in Him?” You’ll be looking for heart change in the yong people and them to come to trust in Jesus for themselves. Your youth sessions will have a sense of “is this helping the young people I have know more about Jesus and His gospel? Is this helping young people who don’t know Jesus come to know Him?” In one sense this is much harder; you can’t open someone eyes to see Jesus’ glory, only He can. You can’t change a young person’s heart to rely more on Jesus’ work, only He can. You see how powerless you are. But in another sense it’s much easier, because all the power and weight of responsibility rests on Jesus’ strength and not your own. In the architecture metaphor, he’s the foundation stone that the young people are building on. Strong, and never to fall down. You don’t need a buttress if you’re built on him.

1 Bible-belt Americans and people reading this from the 1800’s, where you are there may be enough cultural force to hold young people in once without much buttressing. If your entire communities culture is built round church-going, then young people might stay because these cultural forces are more powerful than the forces telling them to leave. This doesn’t mean though, that these young people are actually converted and of their own will would remain in church.

2 Threads just celebrated it’s first birthday. Soul Survivor’s Momentum is nine this summer.