He is Risen Indeed

I struggled to fully embrace Christianity. I saw the value in living by the Golden Rule, to love your neighbor as yourself. I appreciated the Ten Commandments as laws for a successful society. I even believed in God, the Creator. But could I accept Jesus as more than a man who did good?

In our pluralistic society there used to be an “everyone to his own” attitude back in the sixties and seventies. But that has changed to everyone conforming to a new set of values which essentially oppose some of the very basic tenets of the Christian faith. In other words, we are facing an anti-Christian mindset.

In view of this it is imperative to be convinced of one’s faith. We not only need to know what we believe, but why we believe, or we will be easily shaken.

Recently I have been challenged by those in Christian circles who are taking issue with several basic tenets of the Christian faith, including the atoning death of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

This brings me back to the time when I chose Christianity above other faiths. Not only was I drawn to the character and life of Christ, I believed in his atoning death and resurrection.

One day during the time when I questioned Christianity it became apparent to me that the validity of the Christian faith rested entirely on whether Christ was indeed resurrected from the dead. I visited a Mosque once where I had a conversation with a Muslim who said, simply, that Jesus never died on the cross. When Jesus prayed for this cup of death to be removed, God answered his prayer.

On another occasion I sat with a Muslim man on a flight and was reading Psalm 32 in my Bible.

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

We had an interesting conversation and he claimed, rightly, to know more about the Christian faith than I did about the Muslim faith. He told me that Muslims believe in the Old Testament. I still intend to do a deeper study on how the Muslim faith is informed by the Old Testament. What we know, however, is that Muslims are descendants of Abraham, as well as Jews, only through the line of Ishmael, not Isaac.

The Jewish and Muslim faith are closest to Christianity but both reject Christ as the Son of God or Savior. They are the two faiths I have been inclined toward, besides Christianity.

In my search I saw that I had to establish for myself, as satisfactorily as possible, whether or not Jesus died and was resurrected. I pondered the evidence over a period time and finally came to the conclusion that indeed, Christ died and was resurrected. No, his disciples did not steal the body out of the tomb and start a new religion. They went and hid, afraid for their own lives. And the Jewish leaders themselves asked Pilot to set a guard before the tomb to prevent theft, already anticipating this possibility. When the stone was rolled away and the grave was found empty, the soldiers were not punished with death. That was remarkable. The Jews, instead spread the rumor that the body of Christ was stollen.

Well, we could say the writers of the gospels made up this complex story. I don’t think the gospels would have gained much momentum if they were known to be a clear fabrication. What finally cemented my faith was the book of Acts. It was seeing how these timid followers of Christ turned their world upside down preaching the gospel of salvation through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ. They could not all have been willing to give their lives for a lie. No, they were completely convinced, and faced extreme opposition.

This opposition continues to this day. And that is another thing that adds credibility to Christianity. Major world governments consider Christianity to be a threat. The beliefs of Christianity are peace loving, living by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. The church, historically, has not always been effective in communicating the essence of the gospel and so we have seen unpardonable atrocities. Even today we see gross misrepresentations. In the words of J. I. Packer (Knowing God), “it is a long time since theology has been so weak and clumsy at its basic task of holding the church to the realities of the gospel.”

The notion that is gaining popularity today is the idea that God would not require atonement. That he would not sacrifice his son. This teaching also casts doubt on the entire Old Testament, reducing it to inspirational stories and myths. The reason behind this is the difficulty people have with reconciling the wrath of God with their view of a God of love. Of course, hell does not fit in either.

For decades now the church has emphasized the love of God in an effort to be seeker friendly and it has largely avoided reference to wrath, judgment and hell. Of course, if none of these are to be considered, then why do we need atonement? They don’t go so far as to say that we don’t need forgiveness, but God can forgive without requiring a human sacrifice, they claim. I happen to agree with them and this may be a surprise to some. I believe God can do as he pleases.

I think God can indeed forgive without a sacrifice. But I believe he chose to sacrifice his son and he had his reasons. For those who don’t believe this, you will have to do your own study, as I did.

The atonement causes the entire Bible to make sense. In fact, for me it causes life to make sense. My faith informs my life and gives it meaning. The atonement means there is justice.

The atonement means there is justice. There is judgement. There is just reward. And there is mercy and grace and forgiveness and newness of life. The old dies and the new is resurrected to life in Christ. Christian baptism is a symbol of this experience.

I don’t claim to fully understand how God became man in the form of his Son. Or how the Son of God could die. How he was able to descend to the depths to preach deliverance to the captives. How he was resurrected. But I know his forgiveness and his power in my life. I have his abiding peace and joy. I experience his indwelling presence. And today I declare, He Is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

 

 

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Why Does Jesus Need to Protect Us?

This question has been on my mind for a few days since I read John 17:12. In this passage Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry and life on earth and is offering a prayer to God for his followers. He prays, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe….None has been lost except the one [Judas who would betray him].” NIV

Jesus goes on to pray, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” John 17:15-17.

In all my reading it never occurred to me that during his ministry Jesus had an obligation to protect his disciples. But I began to think about what it might have been like for twelve men to follow Jesus for three years as he went from place to place teaching and healing people. Where did they sleep? How often did they go home? They gave up their jobs, it appears, at least that’s what we read about the fishermen. Certain women ministered to them out of their resources. Isn’t that interesting? The women are supporting the men in ministry. I’ve never heard a sermon on that one.

But today as I was reading in Ezra I gained a little more clarity. I love how one part of the Bible can shed light on another.

The exiled Hebrews are rebuilding the temple and encountering some severe opposition. This tends to happen when we do the work of the kingdom of God and it could have something to do with not being “of the world.” Look what happens, “Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counsellors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia” Ezra 4:4-5.

Notice that in Jesus’ prayer he prayed for protection from the “evil one.” Here we see what the evil one is up to. When we want to do something for God and for the good of others then we encounter forces that try to discourage us and make us afraid. People will even go as far as to hire opposition to work against a good cause and to frustrate it. Have you seen this happen? I have.

We might as well not be ignorant of the fact that we have adversaries who are not exactly supportive of what Jesus and his followers are doing. It is comforting to know that Jesus recognizes this opposition and sees the need to pray for us and protect us.

I want to add one more thing. Part of the reason that the Hebrews succeeded in building the temple is because they knew that what they were doing was what God wanted them to do and they refused to align themselves with the enemy. Earlier their enemies had asked if they could join them in building. (With what intentions, we might ask?) The Hebrews refused their offer. They saw they were not of the same mind and purpose.

I think we have a clue here as to how we overcome our adversary. We recognize that we are different and not of this world. Jesus calls this process sanctification. When he prayed for the protection of his followers, he also prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth.” It is the truth that dispels lies that can cause fear and discouragement. It is the truth that will align us with God’s purposes and enable us to succeed in that which we set out to do, the things to which God has called us.

What changed after Easter?

We have just celebrated Easter, the resurrection of Christ. What is the significance of the coming of Christ to earth? What changed after Easter?

The answer is found in the Bible. The significance of Christ appears in the Old Testament as well as the New. A great deal of richness is lost if one does not know the “back story.” There are many layers of truth to be uncovered, not unlike an archeological dig. I find the process fascinating.

I had a small insight concerning Christ in my devotional time this morning. My reading was from the book of Ezekiel, portions of chapters 42-44. In these chapters instructions are given for sacrificial purification. One very marked historical difference after Easter is the discontinuation of sacrifices in the Jewish tradition for those who called themselves disciples of Christ, later known as Christians.

Animal sacrifice for cleansing from sin and atonement of guilt were prescribed by God after the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, were delivered by Moses from slavery in Egypt. In chapter 42 of Ezekiel we read of the necessity to make “…a separation between the holy and the common.” Throughout the Bible we are reminded of the holiness and righteousness of God and we see him at work to make a way for an unholy and unrighteous people to approach him. “I will accept you,” he declares in Ezekial 43, when the conditions of sacrifice are met.

This ritual of sacrifice was a considerable burden for the nation of Israel. If the people were straying from God, one of the first signs was the forsaking of sacrifices or the profaning of  sacrifices by disregarding instructions.

Jesus is metaphorically referred to as the “lamb of God,” because he came to put an end to animal sacrifice. He became the final and perfect sacrifice for sin. When Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness there was an occasion when God sent poisonous snakes among them to punish them for their disobedience. Moses, according to God’s instruction, made a serpent of brass and fastened it to a pole and lifted it up for the people to see. Anyone who looked at the snake could be healed (Numbers 21). Just like the snake-bitten Israelites in the wilderness were saved on the day when they looked at the serpent, so anyone today can be forgiven, healed of their sin by looking at Jesus their Saviour. It is so simple.

What stood out for me in my reading was the fact that God’s attitude towards sin has not changed. He still separates the holy and the common. Another translation says, “the holy and the profane.” Forgiveness through Christ is a remedy for sin and disobedience. It is never an excuse to continue in our snake-bitten, and poisoned condition.

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:18-23

Wanting God’s way more than our own

Jesus of the Bible did miracles of healing and even raising people from the dead. He taught about the kingdom of God. In fact, he taught his disciples to pray, “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

In the Old Testament Moses delivered the Israelite people, the descendants of Abraham who had grown into a nation. He delivered them from Egypt, from Pharaoh, who did not want to let them go. Pharoah cruelly abused the Israelites. They were his slaves.

There is a parallel in the New Testament and even today in that we too need to be delivered from bondage. We have a lifestyle and attitude that is detrimental to our well-being. It keeps us in bondage and will make us spiritually sick and cause us to die in the end. It is the sin in our lives that keeps us from the will of God.

Some people want to stay where they are. Some have no desire for the life God has designed, a life that is according to his will.

When we read the Bible, or hear messages about God and Jesus, we can ignore them or refuse them or disbelieve them. We can live life according to our own will.

But to take God’s word and live by it requires courage and persistence. It requires a willingness to change, to accept God’s will as our own, to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”