At the height of the Vietnam War masses of young people were protesting in the streets and a consensus existed that ANZAC Day would die a natural death. I was part of that generation who considered they had “moved on” from a militant legacy that belonged to the past. Why is it that whilst ANZAC Day and the Church both proclaim a message of selfless sacrifice for others the former has gone from strength to strength whilst the influence of Christianity in Australia has proportionally declined? My father always told me that he and his mates went to war so that a generation yet to be born, mine, would have a better life. His convictions were unquestionable, but the leadership of successive post WW II generations in the Church have failed to image that empathetic vicarious suffering which creates connectivity with the next generation. Whilst all Australians are now familiar with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorders of veterans from Gallipoli to Afghanistan, little such bonding has been formed within the life of the people of God. The Lord wants to radically change all this and release a younger generation of Christian leaders imbued with a sense of value and dignity imparted to them through models of voluntary suffering.
Jesus and the Generations
With ANZAC Day and Good Friday only a week apart this year it is easy to plunge straight into the drama of the cross. The great cry, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34), is a citation from Psalm 22:1, a psalm which ends not in misery but by proclaiming the triumph of the sufferer in the eyes of posterity. “Future generations shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.” (Ps 22:30-31). The prophetic Spirit communicated a conviction to this psalmist that the sacrifice of Messiah would exercise a compelling influence on those who would succeed him (2 Pet 1:21). The paradoxical power of the cross is that Jesus is anything but a hero.
The man sweating blood in Gethsemane does not image bravery, the derelict personality shrouded with darkness has no nobility, his loud cries for deliverance articulate anything but courage (Mark 15:34; Luke 22:44; Heb 5:7-8). Whilst the Son of God exhibits complete impotence to save others (cf. Mark 15:31), his paralysing inability over the enemies of suffering and death is however the absolute key to how he delivers us. Jesus total experience of the ability of evil to utterly crush his vicarious humanity under the judgement of God (Isaiah 53:5, 10) means he can make no personal contribution to either his own deliverance or ours. Space is left for the action of God alone.
Jesus alone understood that the glory of the Father is to do it all. Unlike all those who died heroically before him Christ’s total absence of personal power and glory means he is “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom 6:4). It is the supreme vulnerability of Jesus in suffering and death that has opened up a connection between humanity and God at the deepest possible level, just as the recognition of the real mental ruination of our war “heroes” has resurrected the ANZAC spirit in our midst. Christ is able to satisfy the Father’s heart in “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10) because he shunned all competency to do this in his own unaided power. This is the mystery of salvation and something which most of the Western Church has almost completely forgotten.
Another Jesus Generation
In saying, “Christ’s love leaves us no choice, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Cor 5:14) Paul shows himself to be a glorious son and a part of the posterity of Christ. The apostle has but one boast, “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14). He repeats this foundational value even more personally, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9). There is no profession of personal competence in the life of a man who knows the sufficiency of grace alone (2 Cor 2:16; 3:5-6; 12:9; Gal 2:8-9). Today we want to teach younger Christian leaders “how to” grow a church, major in spiritual gifting, be persons of influence, become a great preacher/evangelist. The strategy of Paul’s fatherly heart is however manifest; “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4 ESV). The passing of the baton to a successive generation comes through traditioning the message of the cross by a life lived “in weakness and in fear and much trembling,” (1 Cor 2:12), a life of public vulnerability. It is those weakened and broken by God, stripped of all personal competencies and confidences, who will image the mysterious pure power of the love of the cross to capture a following generation.
The way of being a disciple of Christ is neither complex nor difficult, it is simply impossible. This is how Jesus felt in Gethsemane and on Calvary, and it is how those committed to raising up a new Jesus generation in the Australian Church must live today. As the ANZAC tradition has been revived in our land the tradition of the gospel as a living power must be resurrected in our midst (cf. Romans 6:17; 1 Corinthians 11:2; 1 Corinthians 11:23; Luke 1:2). Yet one great difference exists between ANZAC and Easter; or at least it should.
There are thousands of war memorials across Australia dedicated to the sacred memory of those who are no longer with us. Tragically we are witnessing the memorialisation of Christianity in our land today. This is most obvious in the closing down of many churches belonging to the older denominations and the dying feeling in their ageing congregations. It is however just as real in the way Jesus is simply “remembered” in the Lord’s Supper and worship of thousands of progressive and outwardly younger congregations across our nation. Whilst these churches are vitalised and enamoured by the brilliant gifting of their worship leaders and preachers there is amongst them almost no public vulnerability. The increasing worldliness of these churches is inevitable. Unless the churches of our nation, old and young, learn to display the weakness of the cross Christianity cannot be reborn in Australia. I am confident however that by embracing a life of open vulnerability the glory of the Father will bring about an amazing spiritual renewal in our midst. This is the hope of the gospel.
 E.g. Rom 6:9 “death no longer has dominion over him” means that death did have power over him.