Sunday, January 15, 2017

Evidence for the Resurrection

“How do you know Jesus rose from the dead?” This is the central question of the truthfulness of Christianity. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, “if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile.” Without the resurrection of Christ, there is no basis for Christianity. However, if Christ is risen, then Christianity is validated as true. Jesus Christ taught that He would rise from the dead, and in so doing would demonstrate that He was the Son of God. The question for us is, how can we know that He really did rise from the dead since we are two-thousand years removed from the event in question?

Our primary historical resources for the resurrection are the accounts we find in the New Testament. We have the eyewitness accounts found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the epistles of Paul and the other apostles. While skeptics may argue that these are biased sources, we must be prepared to accept that these are the earliest accounts, and represent those closest to the events in question. To toss them out merely on the basis that they side with the truthfulness of the resurrection is to show bias in favor of skepticism. If we are to do an honest investigation into the facts, we must investigate these sources, and then see if the accounts demonstrate authenticity.

Though exact dates are uncertain, the consensus of scholars is that the earliest account of the resurrection is given in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which was written by Paul to the church in Corinth within 25 years of the resurrection. Here, Paul quotes an early creed of the Christian Church that was handed down to him, thus suggesting that it had been formulated many years before then. A majority of critics agree that this creed was likely received by Paul from Peter and James in Jerusalem in approximately 35 A.D., just a few years after the event in question. Therefore the details contained within it show that the Christian Church, from its beginning, proclaimed the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The theory that the resurrection was a myth that Christians developed well after the event is shown to be false, which is why even skeptical scholars wholeheartedly reject this explanation.

This raises an important question: if the Church was preaching the resurrection within a few years of Jesus' death by crucifixion, couldn't the claim have been easily refuted? All that would have to be done would be to produce the body, and in so doing, Christianity dies in infancy. This would have been an easy task for the Roman authorities or the Jewish leaders who had brought charges against Him. Instead, we find in Matthew 28:11-15 that they had conspired together to claim that the disciples had stolen the body. Why would they do this if they knew where the body was located, and could produce it? We must then conclude that there was no body to produce. Just as the gospels tell us, the tomb was empty.

Now, is it possible that the disciples did steal the body? They were preaching the resurrection, but could it be that they didn't really believe it, but were involved in a conspiracy? This is an interesting theory, but it fails on a number of counts. First of all, the disciples could not have been prepared to pull off such a remarkable hoax. They had just seen their Messiah crucified, and were no doubt extremely distraught and dejected. It seems unreasonable to imagine that in their time of mourning, they could have regrouped and refocused their energies on starting a new religion based on their leader, who they knew to really be dead. Also, if they were simply trying to start up a new religion, they wouldn't have appealed to the testimony of women, whom the gospels record as being the first witnesses to the empty tomb. Given that women at that time and in that culture were regarded as untrustworthy witnesses, the disciples would have certainly sought credibility by appealing to male witnesses only, unless this is how it really happened. What ultimately demonstrates this theory to be false is the willingness of these eyewitnesses to die for what they claimed to see. Liars do not make martyrs, and all of the disciples, with the exception of John, died as martyrs for their faith. This is why most critics of the resurrection are willing to grant that the disciples believed they had seen the risen Christ.

So now we have established that the gospel accounts of the empty tomb are accurate, and that the disciples of Jesus really did believe they saw Him risen from the dead. This leads us to a couple more potential objections. First, what if Jesus didn't really die on the cross? Either someone else was crucified in His place by mistake or He was taken down and buried before He died. This is an objection that is found in Islamic teaching, but is universally rejected amongst non-Islamic scholars. It is not taken seriously because we have enough knowledge of Roman crucifixion to know that the Romans were efficient in their execution methods. They made sure to get the job done right. Besides, had Jesus survived the crucifixion, He would have been in no shape on day three to rise up from His grave, roll away a giant stone from the entrance of the tomb, overpower the Roman guards waiting outside of it, and then appear to the women and His disciples as someone who was fully revived. If He managed to escape the tomb, He would have been in need of immediate medical attention.

The second, more common objection, is that the eyewitnesses to a risen Jesus hallucinated. Because they all desired to see their Master risen, their subconscious desires produced the image of a risen Christ. Mass hallucinations are extremely rare, but they are possible. However, the appearances of Christ do not fit with what has been seen in any other case. For starters, the sheer number of those reported to have had appearances is extraordinary. Going back to the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul states, “after that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” This is significant because it makes an appeal to a great number of witnesses who are still living at the time of this letter. Had this been claimed many years later, it could not have been challenged, because there would be no witnesses to produce. Yet, there were in the early Church a great number of these witnesses who could still be called upon to give their testimony. It seems most reasonable to believe that Paul would not quote what could easily be refuted, but is making reference to real people who bore witness to the same event. Now, if these witnesses had all shared the same subconscious desire to see a risen Christ, that would still seem to be a possible, though highly unlikely, explanation for a mass hallucination. However, we also have the appearances to James and Paul. James, the half-brother of Jesus, was not a follower at the time of His crucifixion. Meanwhile, Paul was actively persecuting Christians. Neither of these two had any subconscious desire or expectation to see Him risen, and Paul in particular had every reason to desire not to see Him. These exceptions therefore invalidate the remote possibility of mass hallucination. We could go on in some depth to describe why such appearances do not meet the criteria of hallucinations, but at this point, it seems most reasonable to conclude that the reason why the eyewitnesses believed they saw a risen Christ is because they really did.

As we can see, the truth of the resurrection is the only explanation that makes sense of all of the evidence. It is evidenced in the lives of those who bore witness to it. The disciples were transformed from ordinary men like Peter, who denied that he knew Jesus three times, into people who boldly preached the gospel in hostile environments, facing imprisonment, beatings, and death. Paul was transformed from an enemy of the Church to a fearless missionary. As a result, Christianity grew outwardly and exponentially in the first three centuries amidst heavy persecution within the Roman Empire. It was not easy to be a Christian in those days, but for those who had come face-to-face with the truth, nothing else mattered. The emergence of Christianity in such a context would almost be a miracle in itself if it weren't for the miraculous event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It may not be easy to believe in miracles in an age of skepticism, but there are times when we must become equally skeptical of our presuppositions. We must allow the facts to speak for themselves, and the facts surrounding the resurrection of Christ have been speaking for two-thousand years now. No other event in history has so profoundly changed the world. Something significant happened in Jerusalem. I believe that Jesus Christ rose from the grave on the third day, and I believe an honest investigation into the evidence will lead you to the same conclusion.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Importance of Names

Yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that took the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans. As is the case with each anniversary, the names of the victims were read one-by-one. This tradition not only emphasizes the magnitude of the lives lost, as it takes quite a long time to read that many names, but it also drives home the importance of each individual life. There is something powerful in a name. In that, we recognize the uniqueness of each person. As much as we all share in common, we also each bring something to this world that has never been replicated. When one of us is lost, he or she cannot be replaced.

This brings me to the idea of how we value life. About a month ago, a lion was killed in Zimbabwe. This lion had a name, which as I’m sure you are all familiar with by now. His name was Cecil. The world was united in outrage at the death of a lion who had a face, and most importantly, had a name. Had it been just any nameless lion, there would have been a fair amount of disgust at the idea, but somehow the fact that this lion had a name, and thus an individual identity, made his killing more upsetting.

A couple weeks ago, I lost a very special cat named Chloe. It was a terribly difficult decision to have her put to sleep, but she was clearly suffering. I adopted Chloe in the 2nd year of my marriage, and one of the first things we did for her was to give her a name. She was a special cat, and we honored her individuality with a name that not all cats share. Her life was of value to us. When I had to say goodbye, the loss was felt very deeply. Over the years, I’ve seen many dead cats on highways or in alleys, and while I felt some sympathy for them, their death never impacted me like the loss of my own cat. They were anonymous cats, indistinguishable from each other. How could I possibly feel as much pain over their loss as I did for Chloe?

This leads me to think about how much of an uphill battle we face in fighting for the rights of pre-born children. Because of how our natural feelings of empathy work, it is much harder to care about the lives of nameless children who we never met and whose losses most of us have not even indirectly felt in our lives. How much different then would it be if we knew the names of each of the 57 million American children who have died by abortion? How much would our perception change if those names were read aloud one-by-one on a yearly basis? That comes out to an average of over 156,000 for each day of the year, 6,500 per hour, or 108 names per minute. The reading of the names would never end. This is the magnitude of what we have done to our children. God told Cain that “the voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” How much then does the voice of the blood of 57 million children cry out to God?

How did this happen? How did we allow this into a nation founded on the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all? Well, the devil is a deceiver, and he has been playing a long con on our society. It began with the lie, “did He really say?” We began to doubt that God meant what He said in His Word. He slowly embraced Darwin’s naturalism. We exchanged the Truth of God for a lie. We worshiped the creature, not the Creator. It is a good thing that we value animal life, but the funny thing is, we have not so much elevated animals as we have lowered humans to their level. This is what happens in Hinduism, but it is also the result of naturalism. Just as communism seeks to elevate the poor to the level of middle class, but ends up lowering the middle class to the level of the poor, we have done the same with human life. We are now no different from the animals. Therefore, if it is right to euthanize our pets, it is right to euthanize our parents. If it is right to abort the pregnancy of a cat, it is right to abort the pregnancy of a human.

The thing about naturalism is that it only elevates nature itself, not the individual things that compose it. What is happening in our society now as we allow our evolutionary thinking to evolve us, is that we are moving from a valuing of individual life to a valuing of the earth and the universe itself. We still love our animals because we are empathetic to the lives that impact our own, but we are beginning to resent humanity for what it is doing to nature. The life on earth is killing the earth. This is the end result of naturalism, or if you prefer, materialism. Everything ends in the material. And this is how the devil has tricked us into accepting abortion.

There is an especially vulgar word that begins with an F. It is not the one you think. This word is far more offensive because it is the most disgusting misrepresentation of the sanctity of God-given human life. The word I am speaking of is “fetus.” In this very word is the destruction of the individual, and the ultimate devaluing to pure material of our most precious and defenseless sons and daughters. We should not be surprised that the abortion industry is treating the bodies of dead children as material to be salvaged. By embracing the “F-word,” our society has taken a purely materialistic view of human life. It deprives humans of a name, a face, and a life. It is a disgusting-sounding word, and by no accident, is surprisingly similar to “fungus.” It is something we are repulsed by. Who would possibly want a doctor to tell them they have a fetus growing inside of them? It’s no coincidence then that many women, particularly those who fight most strongly for abortion, now view pregnancy as a disease. That which is growing inside of them is an enemy to their survival. It’s kill or be killed in the survival of the fittest. The devil is a master of language, and he has used it brilliantly. The very case for abortion is “pro-choice.” Who could possibly disagree with that? I love having choices. Therefore if I am not pro-choice, I must be anti-choice. What a horrible thing to be! The devil thrives on ignorance, and these terms are denials of reality. It’s not a “fetus,” it is a child. It’s not a “choice,” it is the taking of a human life.

We have lost touch with what is real. We need to recognize the value of all human lives, even those that are nameless. Our nation was founded on a “right to life,” though I’m not sure we’ve ever properly understood it. We tend to think of it as the right that God has given us to our lives. What many don’t realize is that the right to life is not ours. It is God’s. Life is a gift from God, but we don’t have a right to it. That is what makes it a gift. We are not entitled to anything from Him, even our existence. I don’t own my life or anyone else’s, but I am responsible to God for how I live and how I respect the lives of others. Life belongs to the Giver of Life, and this is what makes abortion a truly abominable act. It is not merely a crime of stealing life from a fellow human being, it is stealing life from God Himself. This understanding gives light to the gravity of the sin of murder.

Only God can give us life, and only God can rightfully take it away. We recognize the evil of what happened 14 years ago, and we acknowledge the names of those who died. In Revelation 3:12, God promises that believers will one day be given a new name. I believe that God has names for each of us, including those who have died from abortion. For Him, the names ring out endlessly. They never escape His mind. He loved them, just as the surviving family members loved the ones they lost on that horrible day. We have stolen what was His. How can we ever repay what cannot be replaced?

Monday, July 20, 2015

There’s Room Under The Bus

Have any of you noticed how incredibly uncool it is to be a Christian these days? Of course you have. We are constantly reminded of this by our modern “enlightened” culture. Lately, it seems that it’s become increasingly “cool” for otherwise uncool Christians to point their fingers at other Christians for their uncoolness. I see it quite often on my news feed from a certain unnamed website, as those more enlightened Christians continually throw their fellow Christians under the bus. I was reminded again of this growing hysteria while reading a newspaper clipping at my parents’ house over the weekend in which a pastor apologized for his sins against a certain group of people by lumping in all of the Church with himself in his confession. Where we were once “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” it now seems we are very ashamed… and proud of it!  “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” except from our fellow church-goers.

This Christian shame is just a part of a growing shame industry. We’ve all heard of “white guilt,” since it’s not fair to others that some of us are born with a skin color (or lack of) that gives us advantages. We therefore must hate ourselves for how we are created. Now we have “Church guilt,” where we hate ourselves for who we belong to. First we spit on God’s image and then we spit on His bride. It is cool to hate the Church. Yet, the more cool it is to hate the Church in the eyes of the world, the more cool it really is to be the Church. We all remember the mentality of junior high and high school, where to be cool you did your best to be like the other cool kids. As we grow older, it becomes more apparent that our greatest respect and admiration comes for those who stand apart from the crowd. The imitators offer nothing truly remarkable. It is only those who go against the tide who make any impact. Many people today are under the delusion that to go against the tide is to go with it. That sounds ridiculous and self-contradictory, and it is. The “Christian rebel” who trashes the Church and calls for revolution doesn’t realize that he is being swept up by forces greater than himself. He is becoming one with the world, and is therefore becoming increasingly irrelevant to changing it.

That doesn’t mean that there is no room for counter-cultural voices within the Church. We recognize great figures in our history who made significant changes in the movement, or caused their fellow believers to see things in a different way. What they recognized though, is that the Church is the body of Christ. Jesus gave His life for His Church, so it must be of such importance that it is worth dying for. To be like Christ is to love the Church with your whole life. The great voices of Church history were motivated by a desire to strengthen the Church and restore it to its original purpose, to be the means to reach a dying world with the Gospel of the Kingdom. All I see in these contemporary voices is a desire to become one with the world and join them in their dying quests. Yes, we have our problems, and each of us individually are wretched sinners. Still, we are loved by our God who gives us a grace that sees beyond our many failings and manages to somehow use us to build His Kingdom. To be like Christ is to exhibit grace, yet these “enlightened” believers offer no grace to the less enlightened.

Christianity is counter-cultural, as it always has been. True Christianity has always stood in sharp contrast to its mainstream representation. As we see its influence in American politics and government fade, genuine Christianity will emerge. As it stands, the Christian Church remains against the tide. There are fractions that have been swept away and will continue to be swept away, but the true Church will remain. These times can be a bit frightening, but it is also quite exciting to see what God will do through His Church. As for the sell-outs, I will not condemn them, but I am concerned for them. I hope that they know and experience the grace of God, and that they would learn to reflect that grace to their fellow believers. As for me, when this life is over, I’d rather be the one under the bus than the one who put me there.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Of Spaghetti Monsters and Men

Some of you may be unfamiliar with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or maybe you’ve seen the Jesus-fish-like FSM decal on the back of the car in front of you and wondered what that is all about. I thought I would take this opportunity to explain what it is and to thoroughly debunk it.

The FSM is an invention of atheism/agnosticism that equates the belief in God to the belief in the monster based on the fact that neither can be seen or physically proven, therefore neither can also be disproven. It is a modern version of Russell’s Teapot. In 1952, philosopher Bertrand Russell argued,

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is rooted in the same argument, only instead of a teapot, it is a “god-like” creature with a body of noodles and meatball eyes. The term was invented in 2005 in a letter from a 24-year old Oregon State graduate, Bobby Henderson, protesting the decision to permit the teaching of intelligent design in public schools in Kansas. The key difference between the teapot and the FSM is the level of mockery towards the idea of God. In the case of the teapot, Russell wasn’t arguing that it was God, but rather that it couldn’t be proven or disproven. The FSM is designed to make the idea of God seem ridiculous and stupid. It has become incredibly popular with atheists and agnostics in these past 10 years, and has been promoted by the world’s most famous skeptic, Richard Dawkins. They love to equate their “god” with God, but I’d like to demonstrate why that comparison is as stupid as the very idea of a spaghetti god.

The comparison fails for one big reason: there is absolutely no reason to believe in the FSM. On the other hand, there is very good reason to believe in the Christian God. For starters, God cannot be less than His creation. Spaghetti cannot explain chicken or cats or people. It certainly cannot produce intelligence. Spaghetti can only explain itself. If the universe were entirely spaghetti-like, we may have good reason to believe in a spaghetti god. Perhaps if our bodies or the ground we walked on, and everything that we saw resembled spaghetti, we might have reason to suspect origins of spaghetti. On the other hand, we believe in the God of the Bible because we do see Him in creation. We believe that God is intelligent because we are intelligent. We believe that God is immeasurable, because the universe is immeasurable. We believe that God is personal, because we are personal. Likewise, we believe that God is loving and cares for His children because we humans love and care for our children. The creation cannot be greater than the Creator. The FSM is subject to creation, a mere product, limited by time and space. The God of the Bible created time and space and Himself transcends their limitations. If there is no God, we have a lot of explaining to do, and in fact, are more likely to resort to such idiotic ideas as the FSM to explain the existence of anything. Throughout history, humans have invented countless gods that much more closely resemble the FSM, that merely are gods over something like rain or thunder, and are themselves limited. God, by His definition, is unlimited. He is greater than His creation. If creation is greater than God, than He ceases to be God, and the creation becomes god over Him. These are childish, unsophisticated ideas of what a god is, and therefore wholly irrelevant to comparisons with the Christian God.

The God of the Bible is complex. His triune nature is incomprehensible to the human mind. We are not capable of grasping Him fully, because we are not Him. We are lesser. The only reason we can understand anything specific about Him is because He has revealed it to us through nature, through His Scriptures, and through the visible life of Jesus Christ. To say that belief in God is as unsubstantiated as belief in the FSM is to deny history. We have the revealed Word of God, given to us over thousands of years, put down by roughly 40 human writers that testify to historical events, the rise and fall of kings and empires, as well as the lives of individuals who lived in those times. Most importantly, we have the accounts of the life of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. His life and death and resurrection resulted in the explosion of Christianity, which remains to this day the most influential force in the shaping of the world we live in today. No other religion has impacted the world like Christianity has. Many religions have shaped their surroundings, but none have had the global impact of Christianity. It only makes sense that if there is a God who claims to be personal, and to be interested in the lives of men, that there would be evidence of His existence in the world. He would be effective. There is no evidence of the life of the FSM. He has made no impact on our world. As far as “gods” go, he has done a pretty lousy job at getting his message across, if he has any. He is powerless, and he is dead. He never was, and there was never a reason to believe in him. Our God is alive, and every attempt to destroy Him has ended with Him victorious.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness 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 bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Why We Celebrate Easter

Why do we celebrate Easter? I thought I would take some time to explain why this particular holiday is so important, and why we still have reason to celebrate in 2015. Perhaps you’ve never heard it explained, or maybe you have celebrated Easter your whole life, but never quite grasped why the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was necessary for our salvation.

It all began with the first man, Adam. He had a special relationship with God, who communicated directly with him, and gave him a wife to help him look after the Garden of Eden and tend it. It was a beautiful, peaceful world. However, God gave him one command, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he would, death would follow. When he disobeyed the direct order from God, sin and its natural effect, death, infected Adam and Eve and all the children they would bear. From that point forward, Man continued to sin, and we faced the consequences through suffering, pain, and death. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” All it takes is one sin, and as Romans 3:23 states, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As all men fell short of perfection, there needed to be a way for Man to be made right with God once again. In order to do so, God set up a system of substitutionary atonement through the death of an innocent life. This began immediately after Adam and Eve were banished from the paradise that was the Garden. In Genesis chapter 4, we see that the first children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, were practicing this system of offering, though Cain’s offering of fruit did not meet God’s requirement of innocent blood. Abel, on the other hand, offered the firstborn lamb of his flock. The lamb bore the punishment for Abel’s sins, and he was able to stand reconciled before God. However, any sins Abel would later commit would again require this sacrifice. Of course, Abel did not live much longer, as his brother’s jealousy drove him to murder, the clearest sign of how far Man had fallen in the wake of Adam’s sin. The knowledge of good and evil was leading Man to self-destruction.

As the story of the Old Testament continues, God develops a special relationship with a faithful man named Abraham, whom He promises to bless with children greater than the stars he could number in the sky. He also promises that through his family, all the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 22:17-18). God was going to use this man to accomplish something remarkable for all of humanity, though the specific details were not revealed to him. Abraham’s family would become the nation of Israel, and they would be God’s representatives in a fallen world. Throughout the centuries, they would observe God’s laws and continue to offer blood sacrifices to atone for their sins. As it becomes quickly apparent in reading through the Old Testament, those sins would be many, as His people would repeatedly turn away from God. Still, God used them to ultimately accomplish His plan for the whole world. Through the bloodline of Israel, prophets prophesied that a Messiah would come. He would be the one to save His people.

Then one day, an angel appeared to a young, unmarried girl named Mary, whom he declared would give birth to the Son of God who would rule over Israel, and whose kingdom would have no end (Luke 1:30-33). The Messiah was coming! This Savior was born and He was named Jesus. Shortly before Jesus was born, a man named John (the Baptist) was born to Mary’s cousin, and this man would be the one to “bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe (John 1:7)” In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John the Baptist bore witness to Him, and as Jesus came to John to be baptized, John declared, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)” What God’s people were anticipating was a man who would establish an earthly kingdom and rule for the nation of Israel, but John here declares that His purpose was to make payment for the sin of the world as the Lamb of God. How incredibly contrary! The Son of God would not come to rule, but to be killed. His blood would be shed for the sins of the whole world, just as the lamb sacrificed by Abel was shed for Abel’s sins. He was to be the perfect sacrifice, one that was pleasing to God. He was the only Man worthy to be sacrificed because He was the only Man who was Himself without sin. The One without guilt would pay the price for the guilty.

Jesus would be faithful to His purpose, and after three years of earthly ministry in which He performed countless miracles and spread the word of His kingdom, He would be offered up on a cross and His blood would be shed. The perfect sacrifice would be made, and it would be possible for Man to be made right with God. Romans 5:12-21 tells us how the death of Jesus Christ atones for the sin that entered the world through Adam. Verses 18-19 say, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”

This payment explains how all the sins up to the time of Jesus’ death could be atoned for, but how about the sins that came after? Wouldn’t we still need to have payment for our sins going forward? Hebrews 10 addresses this. Verse 10 says, “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” and continuing in verses 12-14, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” There is no limit to the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus Christ as payment for all sins past and present, because Christ Himself is infinite, and His blood is of infinite value. There is no need for further sacrifice.

Christ offered Himself up as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Does this mean then that all are saved? A clear, honest reading of the Bible, including the words of Jesus reveals that this is clearly not the case (see Matthew 25:31-46). Many will be lost and will die without atonement for their sins. Even many who claim to be believers will be cast away from His presence on the day of judgment (Matthew 7:22-23). How then can we be saved? Well, there is a good analogy that comes from the Old Testament. In Numbers 21:4-9, we find the Israelites wandering through the desert and suffering judgment for their sins by way of snakebites. Verses 8-9 recount, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” It just so happens that this, just as with the animal sacrifices, was foreshadowing something greater. Jesus says in John 3:14-17, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Later, in John 12:32 He says, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself,” again drawing from the same analogy. His being “lifted up” was to be His death on the cross, a symbol for us to look upon to find salvation from death. Those who refuse to look to the cross will not be saved. John 3:18 continues, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” To believe is to trust. Do you trust in Him that His death on the cross will atone for your sins?

The Good News is just that, good news! We don’t have to pay for our sins should we trust in Him to have made that payment for us. We can accept the gift of grace that He offers us. This Easter we celebrate that gift, but not only that, we celebrate that the One who paid the price for our sins is risen from the dead! Jesus’ final words on the cross were “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit (Luke 23:46).’” Just as the Father had put His stamp of approval upon His baptism by John with the words, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” so the Father confirmed His promises to rise from the dead on the third day. The women found His tomb empty. He then appeared to as many as 500 people at once. His disciples died as martyrs preaching these truths and the Church grew like wildfire amidst persecution. This is history and it remains relevant to our story. The resurrection of Jesus confirmed the authority by which He spoke, and therefore confirmed that all that the Son said and did was in agreement with the will of the Father, including the statements that suggest His divinity and unity with the Father (ex. John 8:58). This means that God was not only offering up His son on our behalf, but He was offering Himself. He was willing to die so that we could live with Him forever! His resurrection foreshadows the kingdom of heaven where the saints (those of us who trust in Him) will shed the corruptible for the incorruptible, and we will truly be free from the weight of sin and death. We will walk with our Savior in the light of His glory.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Like Father, Like Son

We had a fascinating discussion at my home fellowship group the other night. The conversation turned from the wrath of God to the fear of God. We talked about how many churches focus so much on the love of God that we forget that God is to be feared, and that all those in the Bible who encountered the presence of the Father were filled with holy fear. This got me thinking: what about Jesus? If Jesus is God, should we then be fearful of Him? If not, why should we be fearful of the Father?

All of us who call ourselves Christians believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, so why weren’t those who encountered Jesus while He walked among us also terrified? I suppose those who didn’t believe in Him wouldn’t have been fearful, but those who did came to Him boldly, often for healing or simply to worship. Matthew 26:6-13 tells of the woman who came to pour expensive oil on His head. Jesus not only tells his disciples that “she has done a good work for Me,” but He also says that “wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” We also have the account earlier in Matthew where Jesus blesses the little children saying, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Clearly it seems that Jesus invites us to come freely to Him. He never advised us that we should approach Him fearfully.

This leads me to question how I view the Father as opposed to how I view the Son. I suspect I am not alone in this, but when I think of meeting Jesus in heaven someday, I imagine myself running into His arms with tears of joy running down my face. Yet, when I think of encountering the Father, I am terrified. I realize that my focus shifts. With Jesus, my focus is on Jesus. With the Father, my focus is on myself, and I feel unworthy to be in His presence. I imagine Him looking at me with eyes full of wrath as I curl up in the fetal position before Him. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe I am forgiven, and that Jesus has paid the penalty for my sins, but it’s still awfully hard to get that belief from the head to the heart. There’s still a part of me that is fearful that somehow I’ve misunderstood His offer of salvation, and that the punishment I deserve awaits me. My faith is still plagued by a measure of doubt about the grace and mercy of God.

I find comfort in the words of Jesus in John 10:30: “I and My Father are one.” If Jesus is one with the Father, then we can know that the Father is compassionate and desiring to forgive, and loves us so much that He’s willing to lay down His own life for our sake. In fact, Christ came to us in the flesh so that we might know what our Father is like. Jesus says in John 8:19, “You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.” Jesus later says in John 18:37, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Jesus being one with God, bore witness to the truth of who God is, so we can know that the Father is like the Son. 

I am stating the obvious here, but we don’t understand the Trinity. Though we believe that God is three persons in one, we can’t possibly grasp that truth, and we don’t understand the relationship between them. How is it that God the Father and the Son have existed from eternity past? How can Jesus be the Son without having been born after the Father? And don’t even get me started on the Holy Spirit! Can anyone even begin to understand it? (The Newsboys gave it a shot back in the day.) This whole idea is so incomprehensible, it’s no wonder that Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible that changed or removed all references to it. It’s also no wonder that Islam rejects the idea as polytheism. Likewise, atheists ridicule the idea as being illogical. Nonetheless, I believe it. Why? For starters, the idea is so strange and intellectually challenging that I don’t think anyone would have devised such an idea if they were looking to sell people on a new religion. For another, I believe the Bible is proven to be reliable in all other areas, and it certainly leads us to believe in a triune God. I also believe that if there is a God, it is likely that He exists in a way that is greater and more mind-bending than we can imagine. Why would He be simple enough that His creation can fully grasp Him? The fact that He came to us in the flesh implies that He needed to step down to our level so we could even begin to know Him.

I think that maybe all of this leaves us a bit confused on how we see our God and how He sees us. Our God is good, and He loves us more than we love ourselves, yet it is so easy to become fearful of Him. Perhaps our fear is a reflection of our inherent guilt. We know we are not worthy to stand before God Almighty. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” None of us love perfectly, so we remain fearful. That could explain our fear of the Father, but it still doesn’t explain why we aren’t so fearful of Jesus. Perhaps it’s because He walked among us and experienced what we experience. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

It seems that our God wants us to put aside our fears and come before His presence, yet at the same time, have a healthy dose of holy fear in the knowledge that He has the power to do with us as He pleases. Jesus warns us in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Many of us do not have a healthy fear of God. We either don’t fear Him enough that we do as we please without regard for Him, or we fear Him so much that we cannot accept the grace He gives us. For some of us, we go back and forth between the two extremes. It’s just so hard to get it right. I want to know God for who He is, and not for who I have made Him out to be. I trust that He is good.

I pray that God would help us to truly honor Him as our Lord and Savior. In these two words we find the balance of a God who is a king and a judge, who has the power to condemn or show mercy, and One who is willing to lay down His life for us in the desire to be with us for all eternity. Our Lord and Savior. Like Father, like Son.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Living in Loneliness

It’s been a few years now since I last wrote about my struggles with loneliness. While much has changed in my life since then, I remain single and lonely. However, much has changed in my perspective on my singleness and loneliness, and thus the motivation for writing this post.

I owe a huge debt to Rich Mullins. As many of you who know me best already know, Rich is undoubtedly the most influential person on my life who I never met and who isn’t also the Son of God. Much of my way of understanding God’s love and grace comes from the example of his life and the authenticity of his music. Even when I went through a period of significant doubt, I would listen to his music and know that there was something real and substantial that couldn’t be dismissed with the same skepticism I held for much of “churchianity.” In the years since, I have continued to be impacted by his life. Perhaps the fact that he was a single man until his death at age 41 plays a role in why I can relate to him so well. Recently, I re-read the book “An Arrow Pointing to Heaven,” which recounts Rich’s perspective on the 10 main themes of his life and music. In the chapter entitled “Bound to come some trouble,” his words on loneliness deeply resonated with me.

“I think that part of being human is being alone. And being lonely. I think one of the stresses on a lot of our friendships is that we require the people we love to take away that loneliness. And they really can’t. And so, when we still feel lonely, even in the company of people we love, we become angry with them because they don’t do what we think they’re supposed to. Which is something that they really can’t do for us.”

Rich recognized that loneliness is a fact of life. There is no escaping it. One of his closest friends is quoted in the book, “I learned from him that there is within us all, if we have the guts to admit it, a terrible void created by our loneliness for God that can never be fully satisfied in this life.” Rich saw the reality of loneliness. It is that which calls us to a relationship with our Creator, and since we only know in part what we will one day know in full, will not be fully satisfied this side of eternity.

I share all of this not to discourage those of you who are struggling with loneliness (I assume all of you). I actually find it quite encouraging. If we can learn to accept loneliness as a part of life and let go of our expectations that any person can fix our loneliness problem, we can begin to find freedom in the struggle. I’ve thought a lot about how this applies to my singleness. For so long, I looked at my singleness as a curse of loneliness, and that if I found just the right person, I could be cured. Many of you likely remember the movie “Jerry Maguire” and the famous line, “you complete me.” This works well in Hollywood romance, but it is far from reality. I’ve come to realize just how unfair it is to put that kind of expectation on someone. I’ve also come to realize that maybe being single isn’t such a bad thing because my loneliness can motivate me to find other avenues to connect with people. While I don’t expect any person or group of people to fill the void, having community is very helpful. Finding groups of people who are in similar places in life has certainly been a blessing to me, as well as being part of groups that are quite different from me. Being single has its advantages because I can join any group or take part in any activity that fits within my schedule. I don’t need the approval of another person to do what I feel like God is calling me to do. I am free to serve or minister in any capacity. Ultimately, this life is not about me and having my needs met, which is impossible, so I might as well let go of that vain pursuit and focus on giving to others.

All of that being said, I don’t make the most of my singleness. In fact, I often waste much of my time on selfish endeavors. This is why I need community. I need people to be around me, and I need to take the initiative to be around other people. I tend to shelter myself from the world, and that’s the beginning of trouble. Absolutely central to the idea of being like Christ is to be in the fellowship of others. Sure, Jesus had His time alone with God, but He modeled community in the fellowship of His disciples. It is also worth noting that our God exists in Himself as a community. Before the foundation of the world He was the model of love within His triune nature. This relationship of the Trinity is how we know that God is love, as visibly demonstrated by the Son in His obedience to the Father, through the selfless act of death on the cross on our behalf. The greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37),” and the second, which Jesus says is like the first, is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” To love God is to love others. You cannot truly do one without the other. There is no going it alone when it comes to being a Christian. It may seem like a contradiction, but we need each other more than we need a person. We cannot put on one person what we need from God, and individual people will always disappoint us. It is a burden too great for one to bear. A friend will always fail, yet we need friends. A wife or a husband will fail, but we need relationships.

The loneliest period of my life was when I was married. I didn’t need my wife to fill a void in my life, and I couldn’t fill the void in her’s. I needed the fellowship of believers. I needed people to provide support, that I could share my struggles openly, who would pray with me and I with them. I needed to experience the love of God as demonstrated through the Body of Christ. If I ever do marry again I know I will do this differently. I will not look at my wife as some kind of Messiah, the one who cures my ills. She will instead be the one who I choose to love and live with because God has spoken clearly to do so. She will be the one who He makes it known that it is better to marry than to remain single. She will be the one who draws me closer to Christ than I would be without her as my wife. It will not be about meeting my need to not be lonely, or satisfying my physical desires, it will be about answering God’s call to serve. It may be that God can use me better if I remain single. I am coming to a place of accepting that possibility. It’s quite freeing. The moment you take the pressure off of yourself that you have to find someone to marry, it is a great burden lifted off your shoulders. I do not need a wife specifically, but I do need other people in general. Whether or not I’m provided the former, I will take the initiative to seek the latter. And I will be lonely. But that’s OK. It just means that I still need God. And that’s a good thing!