Dying for Rebels

(…continued from To Understand, Stand Under)

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And what does the Bible say?

That the Almighty Creator God, who is love [1], loves us so much that Jesus Christ died for us to take the penalty for our sins [2].

We are by nature rebels, shaking our fists at God, thumbing our noses at Him and declaring that we don’t need Him, and that our standards of right and wrong are better than His. Because of this we do not deserve to be in His presence. The penalty for our rebellion against the very One who created us is death—eternal separation from God. I have discussed this in my post Will Dead Babies Go To Hell?

But God loves us so much that Christ died for us—even while we were still rebels [3]! Even while we had not yet given any indication that we were willing to lay down our arms, to set aside our desire to live separate from Him, in fact even to live in a world where He does not exist—even while we were still sinners, as the Bible says, Christ died for us!

The King of kings dies for the sake of rebels against Him

The King of kings dies for the sake of his rebellious subjects

THIS is the difference between Christianity and other religions or philosophies. If you analyze them closely, other religions are ultimately about what human beings can or should do in order to gain the favor of the god or gods in that religion, or to progress from one level to higher levels of existence. There are rules to follow and specific behaviors or actions that must be performed. This is the common denominator among the other religions. Unfortunately, this common denominator, and the expectation among many people that it is a necessary part of ANY religion—that certain behaviors must be done first before the god(s)’s favor can be earned—has been exploited by various cults which have taken advantage of so many people through the centuries.

But Christianity is different. Where other religions would say that we have to earn a god’s favor, and teach what we should do in order to do that, Christianity says that God, the true God, the One who created us, already loves us—even while we were and are still rebels. His love, His favor, is already on us. We do not have to do anything to earn it. And His love is so great that He actually died for us, in the person of Jesus Christ, in order to pay the penalty for our rebellion, so that we can enjoy a blessed life with Him in eternity.

The other systems talk about what we should do in order to gain heaven (or higher levels of existence, or whatever else they call it in their systems).

Christianity is about what the Almighty Creator God has done so that we can gain heaven.

The other systems are about what human beings should do. The Christian God, the one true God, says, “I have already done what needs to be done. What you have to do, for your part, is to believe that I have indeed done it.”

If we do that, if we believe that Jesus Christ, in dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our rebelliousness, has done what needs to be done in order to reconcile us rebels to God and to make us deserving to live in eternity with Him—if we believe this first, then we will understand the rest.

Then we will be able to obey what needs to be done next—to lay down our arms, give up on our rebellion, and surrender to the One true God.

To be continued…

[1] Read 1 John 4:8
[2] Read John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-10
[3] Read Romans 5:8

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This is Part 4 of a series. Other posts in this series:

Part 1: Judging God

Part 2: Original Sin

Part 3: To Understand, Stand Under

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To Understand, Stand Under

(…continued from Original Sin)

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Don Carson has called this the de-godding of God.

It is putting ourselves above our Creator, judging Him, assessing Him.

Which of course is impossible. How can a created being truly understand its creator? As the apostle Paul says,

Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, “Why did you shape me like this?”

Romans 9:20-21

And as God Himself says, according to the prophet Isaiah,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
….neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
….so are my ways higher than your ways
……..and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

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But the good news is, our Creator, God, is allowing us to have a relationship with Him. But it has to be on HIS terms. He has graciously taken the initiative and revealed Himself to us (and by “grace” I mean “unmerited favor”, meaning we did not do anything at all to deserve what He has granted). He has revealed Himself first through His messengers the prophets (like Isaiah, quoted above), and ultimately through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3). This gracious self-revelation of our Creator is recorded in the Bible, rightly regarded by Christians as THE written Word of God.

And through His written Word, God has not only revealed who He is, but also who human beings really are—the only beings in all of creation who are created in His image, offered the incredible privilege of enjoying eternity with Him—forever!

Moreover, the Bible reveals not only  who God is, and what human beings really are, but also what is good and what is bad for us. Not just what is morally good and bad, but indeed what is truly good and truly bad for us, as graciously revealed by our Maker—who of course knows infinitely more about us than we ever can find out on our own.

But, just like Adam and Eve in the story, human beings rebel at this. We prefer to retain the idea that we can, in time, understand the whole universe, the whole of creation, including ourselves, without help from the Creator.

And some people, in response to the assertion that the Bible is the Word of God, get sidetracked in endlessly trying to prove that it is historically inaccurate and contains accounts which contradict one another and cannot be reconciled. The reasoning is that if it can be proven that there are errors or inconsistencies in the Bible, then it cannot be the revelation of an infallible God.

But so much precious time is wasted in this. I personally believe that everything in the Bible can indeed be proven to be historically accurate, and that the accounts there do not contradict one another. However, I also believe that concentrating in such efforts to “prove” and “disprove” every little account and detail could be a fatal waste of time.

As John Stott says,

The Bible is essentially a handbook of salvation.  Its overarching purpose is to teach not facts of science (e.g. the nature of moon rock) which men can discover by their own empirical investigation, but facts of salvation, which no space exploration can discover but only God can reveal.  The whole Bible unfolds the divine scheme of salvation—man’s creation in God’s image, his fall through disobedience into sin and under judgment, God’s continuing love for him in spite of his rebellion, God’s eternal plan to save him through his covenant of grace with a chosen people, culminating in Christ; the coming of Christ as the Saviour, who died to bear man’s sin, was raised from death, was exalted to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit; and man’s rescue first from guilt and alienation, then from bondage, and finally from mortality in his progressive experience of the liberty of God’s children. [1]

The pursuit of proofs pro and con the historicity and integrity of biblical accounts is, of course, useful—to a point. It is of course important to be assured that the BIble, in the forms that we have it today, is indeed a reliable transmission of the original documents. It is important to be assured that there are no historical errors nor unexplainable “contradictions” in the biblical accounts [2]. However, it is easy to focus so much on the pursuit of proofs and arguments pro and con these matters that one misses THE point: the need to have a right relationship with our Creator, and how God Himself has provided the means for such a right relationship.

No, created human beings can never fully understand their Creator. They cannot even truly, completely, understand themselves, and what is truly good and bad for them, without help from their Creator.

The only way to truly understand and know God, is to bow before Him in humility and to accept that He is God, and we are not. The only way to understand the Bible is to stand under it, accept it as the Word of the Creator, as indeed it is, and to obey His will as revealed in it [3].

We cannot stand in judgment of God, and say to Him, “Alright, big guy, if you can explain yourself to me, then I’ll do as you say.” No, that won’t work with God. Man’s way is “Let me understand first, then I will obey”. That may  work out fine in relation with other human beings and human authorities. But that is not the way we are to relate with our Creator. God’s way is: “Obey first, THEN you will understand“.

There is only one God, one Creator. We can have a relationship with Him, and we can know Him, and thereby also fully and truly know ourselves. But it has to be on His terms. The good news is, if we come to Him on His terms, He will reveal Himself more and more to us—as we continue to trust and obey Him. If we obey, then we will indeed understand. He will grant us wisdom and understanding—not only for this life, but for eternity.

He will not only guide us into the knowledge of good and evil, but also allow us to enjoy the fruit of the tree of life.

To be continued…

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[1] From “The Message of 2 Timothy” (The Bible Speaks Today series: London and Downers Grove: IVP, 1973), p. 102, as quoted in the May 21 2008 issue of the John Stott Daily Thought e-newsletter. Emphases mine.

[2] See, for example, the posts Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? and Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? What About the Differences in the Manuscripts?, and the comments to them.

[3] In his post Are There Errors in the Bible?, Tim Challies says, rightly:

After all, if something is the ultimate authority, to what else can it appeal? Were the Bible to appeal to our reason to substantiate its authority, it would implicitly show that human reason is a higher authority. 

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This is Part 3 of a series. Other posts in this series:

Part 1: Judging God

Part 2: Original Sin

Part 4: Dying for Rebels

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Original Sin

(…continued from Judging God)

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She is doing what millions of billions of people have done since the serpent deceived Eve and Adam.

“This is the real score: God doesn’t want you to be like him, to know good and evil”, the serpent said.

But Eve and Adam decided that it was indeed desirable to be like God, to know good and evil. They thought that it was unfair of God to keep them from being like him in that way—so they went ahead and ate the forbidden fruit.

This is the original sin: the desire to be like God, able to decide for oneself what is good and what is evil—independent of God!

Man the creation looks at God the Creator and says, “I can be like you, you know. I can decide for myself what is good and what is evil. I can set my own standards. I don’t have to depend on your standards”.

So man sets his own standards for judging what is good and what is evil. Then he compares his standards with God’s—and then evaluates God’s standards according to his own standards.

“Well, OK, I know that you said that is wrong, but, you see, it actually depends. That may be wrong in this situation, but I think you’ll have to agree that it can actually be the right thing to do in this situation…”

Then…
“You know what? I’ve done a lot of thinking. That thing you say is wrong? It’s not just the right thing in some situations, but come to think of it, it’s actually the right thing in all situations!”

Still later…
“There’s no real right and wrong anyway. It all depends. If I may say so, you were a bit off there, God, when you gave us the entire notion of sin, of right and wrong. No such thing, big guy. It all depends.”

“How do I know? I’ve got wisdom, big guy. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. I ate the fruit which—in your selfishness!—you told me not to eat”.

And…
“I don’t need you to tell me what is good and what is evil, what’s right and what’s wrong. I can decide all that for myself, thank you. I don’t need your standards. I don’t need your guidance.”

“In fact, guess what? I don’t even need you at all.”

“You give me no good standards. What you call evil I call good. What you call good, well, me no like.”

“You don’t give me wisdom. You don’t make me happy. In fact, I’ve found other gods who give me more wisdom. They give me more happiness. They deserve my loyalty more. Jealous yet?”

Finally…
“I can be wise all by myself, and if I need it find more wisdom elsewhere. I can be happy without you, and find still more happiness elsewhere.”

“I don’t need you.”

“Remember you said I would die if I ate that fruit? Hah! Newsflash! I’m still alive! And you’re—dead! Bam! Goodbye!”

“You were right about that fruit, though—I AM much wiser now.”

And the serpent laughs.

To be continued

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This is Part 2 of a series. Other posts in this series:

Part 1: Judging God

Part 3: To Understand, Stand Under

Part 4: Dying for Rebels

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American Idols Shout to the Lord

I don’t really watch American Idol, so I missed the two episodes last week where, it turned out, the remaining contestants sang Darlene Zschech’s beautiful song Shout to the Lord.

I was just alerted to this through my favorite blog Parchment and Pen, which asked: What’s up with American Idol and Jesus? and posted a link to this YouTube video:

Maybe the program is just pandering to the strong conservative Christian market base, but that’s OK. Thanks be to God that praises to Jesus Christ are sung on US TV primetime.

(Seems that something happened behind the scenes, though, because the name “Jesus” was replaced by “Shepherd” in the first night’s performance, during the actual Idol Gives Back telecast. But the same song was sung again the following night, with the name “Jesus” placed back!)

Canadian Idol, on the other hand, seems to be already open to Christian songs. Their 2004 winner, the very talented Kalan Porter, performed this awesome number on that show, a moving rendition of MercyMe’s I Can Only Imagine:


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(Bonus clip 🙂 : Porter also sang this powerful song, for which a fan made a video montage on YouTube:)

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(Note: Wikipedia has a note about the performance of Shout to the Lord in last week’s Idol Gives Back show where the name “Jesus” was replaced by “Shepherd”, but was placed back in the following night’s repeat performance of the song. The Parchment and Pen post from which I got the original heads-up has interesting views on this from various commenters.)
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Life After Life After Death

Since I mentioned Easter in my last post, here’s a good “teaser” regarding the concept of resurrection, which I stumbled on just today: N. T. Wright on Resurrection.

Good comments by the readers at the end, too.

Quotable quotes from Bishop Wright (possible answers to the question Where do we go from here? 😉 ):

Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.”

There is life after life after death.”

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I think the writer of the movie Gladiatormeant it in a different way, but the line that he gave for the character of Maximus is true: “What we do in this life will echo in eternity”.

God bless you, and by His grace and mercy grant you resurrection life through Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.
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Judging God

Last March 16, my wife and I were guests on a radio show where we talked about Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday is the first day of what Christians call the Holy Week, which culminates in Easter Sunday. We observe Holy Week every year to commemorate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On Palm Sunday, we celebrate that day when Jesus entered Jerusalem and was hailed by the people as a king. The people took off their robes and laid them on the road for Jesus’ donkey to walk on. They broke off branches of palm trees and likewise laid those on the road.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, the people shouted “Hosanna to the son of David!” They hailed Jesus as the descendant of the great king David, the greatest king the nation of Israel has ever had.

In Mark’s account, the people shouted “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!”

And according to Luke, the people shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Clearly the people saw Jesus as the king-descendant of David, who would re-establish the kingdom of Israel and sit on David’s throne. He was the Messiah who had been proclaimed by the prophets and whom the nation had been waiting for for hundreds of years.

Finally the shame of Israel would be ended! Finally they would be a great kingdom again! Finally they would be able to throw off the shackles of the Roman empire!

This Jesus would be the one to lead them! This Jesus—his teachings and his mighty miracles for the past three years show that HE is the promised deliverer of the nation: the Christ, or Anointed One, Yeshua ha mashiach, Jesus the Messiah! This Jesus is THE Christ!

Less than one week later, they were shouting, “Crucify him!”

“Give us Barabbas! Crucify Jesus!”

What happened?

Expectations.

They had expected a human king who would help them overthrow the Gentile colonizers.

He had come to destroy the powers of Satan, the usurper. He had come to overthrow the ruler of this world [1]. But that wasn’t what they expected, and that wasn’t what they wanted.

That still isn’t what most people want.

Because of His miracles, they thought they could expect Him to feed them forever [2]. They didn’t understand, nor did they care, that He had come to give them more than physical bread and more than physical water. He had come down from heaven as the bread of life [3], and he assured them that whoever came to Him for drink would never thirst again [4]. But that wasn’t what they wanted.

Most people still don’t care for those.

He had come to deliver them from sin and death. They expected to be delivered from the Romans and from poverty.

Then they woke up on Friday to see that this supposed Messiah had been arrested and tortured by the Romans, handed over to the conquerors by their own religious leaders. And he couldn’t say anything in his own defense, couldn’t call on an armed group to try to free him.

What kind of liberator is that? What kind of Messiah is that?

So when their religious authorities told them to ask that the Zealot Barabbas be released instead of this pretender Jesus, well—at least that one had tried to do his part in overthrowing the hated Romans.

“Give us Barabbas! Crucify Jesus!”

They judged and evaluated God, and rejected Him when He didn’t meet their expectations.

Until now—people still stand in judgment of God. The created still evaluates the Creator.

And when He does not meet their expectations, they reject Him. They prefer “saviors” who would save and feed them in ways they expect and understand. They create their own gods, according to their own expectations, according to their own image.

Almighty God has very graciously revealed Himself to us through His prophets, through the Scriptures, and ultimately through His own Son [5], but humans prefer their own imaginations over the divine revelation.

In his post The Gospel According to Oprah?, Pastor Eyriche Cortez cites the story of the “world’s most powerful woman” being turned off by the revelation that God is a jealous God—she then proceeded to look for a god whom she would be more comfortable with.

According to the story [6], she judged God, found that the revelation He gave about Himself in the Bible did not meet her expectations and preferences, and decided that the God of the Bible was not the true God.

She is not alone in this.

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To be continued…

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[1] cf. John 12:31
[2] cf. John 6:1-26
[3] John 6:35
[4] John 4:14; 7:37-38
[5] Hebrews 1:1-4
[6] I found the original version of this Oprah story here. Check it out. Worth reading.

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This is Part 1 of a series. Other posts in this series:

Part 2: Original Sin

Part 3: To Understand, Stand Under

Part 4: Dying for Rebels
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So You Say You’re an Atheist?

Time for a challenge. This one’s courtesy of Rev. Charles Blair, who has granted me permission to post this.

So you say you’re an atheist?
By Charles Blair

Well, I don’t believe you.

No, I’m not angry with you, and I don’t want to debate all the classical arguments for the existence of God; you’ve probably considered them all already and rejected them because of your own personal thoughts.

And no, I’m not going to use the familiar line “God doesn’t believe in atheists” as a premise here.

It’s just that you, as an educated person, should know the virtual impossibility of proving a negative, especially a universal negative. To claim to do so implies omniscience, and frankly, neither of us have that. We haven’t been everywhere in the material universe, nor have we explored the entire world of thought.

It’s as if one were to say, “There is no such thing as a leprechaun, or a unicorn.” To be sure, none of us have seen such creatures, but one documented sighting by an otherwise credible person would be enough to disprove such a sweeping universal negative. And one documented encounter with Deity from an otherwise credible person is sufficient to disprove the universal negative “There is no God.”

But there have been far more than one such encounter; millions of otherwise credible people, many of them the best people in their community in terms of human relations, the founders of hospitals, schools, mercy missions by the hundreds, the kind of good neighbors all of us love to have, all have claimed such “close encounters of the main kind.” Now, a claim to have seen a unicorn from someone on heavy narcotics wouldn’t impress me a great deal, and the fact that the Authorized Version of the Bible uses the word isn’t final evidence; checking the Hebrew results in another term (“wild ox” in some versions, though I still like the song where God tells Noah, “And don’t forget My unicorn.”) And an Irishman heavy into his celebration of St. Pat’s with the “drinkin’ of the green” might not be the most credible witness concerning the “little people.” But when you have multiplied thousands of witnesses, many of whom would be clinchers on the stand in any court case, over all 7 continents, over thousands of years, all with the same testimony, there is surely a presumption in favor of their words.

Which, of course, leads to the relatively small number of self-professed atheists, agnostics, and skeptics (a recent national “Atheist’s Convention” drew some 500, according to the news). More cautious thinkers prefer the terms “free-thinker” or “agnostic” and simply state, “I haven’t been able to find God,” and with Confucius may say, “We do not yet understand man; how then can we understand God? We do not yet understand this life; how then can we understand another?” Interestingly enough, this is precisely what at least three writers of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures also said.

Isaiah, in the last portion of that book (55:8-9) quotes God as saying, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are my ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” The writer of Psalm 139 states (in v. 6) “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.” And Paul, in Romans 11:33, concludes an in-depth discussion of God’s character with the doxology, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Evidently these Bible writers believed that for man to search out God on his own was not to be expected, and that God to be known must choose to reveal Himself.

Thus the agnostic is correct in stating that he has not found God, but the real question may be, are we willing to be found by Him? As Augustine once said, as if it were God speaking: “Fear not, for thou would not seek Me if I had not found thee.”

My reason for writing this brief discussion is not to seek an argument, or to try to win a debate; it is intended to help honest doubters think their way through the most serious issue of life. If God exists, then all else is insignificant in comparison to that truth. If there is no God, then nothing else really matters; life is ultimately, in the poet’s words, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” One thinker wrote that he could not have the atheist’s humility, to consider life insignificant. As a believer in the One Creator and Sustainer of the universe, it is my prayer for you that this brief essay will help create in your mind a desire to enjoy that sense of meaning in life that can come in knowing the One Who is beyond knowledge. Feel free to contact me if you want to talk about these matters.

R. Charles Blair
pr.eprayer@ethixs.com

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