Hope of Salvation

When the angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds who were watching their flocks at night, they proclaimed, “glad tidings of great joy.” Angels made an actual appearance and they were couldn’t contain their joy as they told the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” They explained to the shepherds where they would find the Christ child. He was born in a lowly stable. The shepherds worshiped Jesus when they found him.

Worship, adoration, gratitude—those are the appropriate responses in an encounter with Christ. In fact, this is what naturally overflows from our hearts.

John the Baptist introduced Jesus thirty years later, to a crowd, as, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Each of us has to reckon with Christ. We can worship him as the Son of God, whom he claimed to be, or we can reject him.

Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man (or woman) hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him.”

The image is one of intimacy, of enjoyment of fellowship, eating together, sharing life.

Jesus wants to be part of your life. And because he is God, one with God, the Son of God, as he himself proclaimed, he must also be Lord of your life, if you invite him in. Only he knows the purpose for which you were designed. Only he can direct us to live life as we were meant to live.

Jesus came to this earth out of his great love for us. He came to offer us a new way of living. He came to give us a new start. He offered forgiveness of sins of the past and deliverance from evil. He showed his great love to us by enduring death on a cross. He took the punishment for our sins in our place. It is a great mystery, how this was accomplished, but millions have accepted Jesus and experienced the joy of salvation when they opened the door of their heart to him.

Jesus offers us hope in this dark world. All we have to do is invite him in to our hearts and lives, make him a part of everything we do. “Practice the presence of Christ” daily, in every situation, as a Benedictine monk, Brother Lawrence, wrote centuries ago (Practicing the Presence of God). He had discovered the secret of the happy Christian life, which is abiding in Christ, resting in his presence, his goodness, his faithfulness to us. “He who freely gave his Son for us will he not also freely give us all things that pertain to life and godliness?” Of course he will. “There is no fear in love, for fear has torment, but perfect love casts out fear.”

The most cherished possession I own is my Bible. In the New Testament I read about the life of Christ, and about the Christian life. Jesus said that the Old Testament speaks of him, too. He explained to his disciples how the Old Testament related to him and foretold his coming, and his purpose of bringing salvation. At first his disciples did not understand because they thought their Messiah would be a great king, with an earthly kingdom. Even with all their religious training in their synagogues and in the temple, they failed to understand fully what would happen. The message of Jesus challenged them because it was one of humility and faith and service. His kingdom was not of this world. It is a heavenly kingdom. When we invite Christ into our hearts, our outlook changes. We begin to see heaven touching earth.

We 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. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”

“Jesus, come into my heart. Forgive my sins and make me clean. Help me to live this life as you intended, as you designed for me to live it. Help me to acknowledge you in all my ways and to follow you every day. Thank you for your unspeakably great gift of salvation. Now, fill me with your Holy Spirit, as you promised, so that I will be empowered from on high to live for you. Amen.”

This is the good news. Salvation. In fact it is the best news, ever. It is the power of God, delivering us in every situation from evil. It is the power of righteousness in this world. God sets things right, through his Son, Jesus. He also gives us the hope of eternity with him, so we no longer fear death.

Related Scriptures: Luke 2, John 1:29, John 1, Revelation 3:20, John 3:16, John 10, John 15, John 17:11, Romans 8:32, 1 John 4:18, John 5:39, Luke 24:27, Matthew 5, John 18:36, Revelation 11:15, Matthew 6:33, Romans 14:17, Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4, Luke 24:29, Acts 1:4, Ephesians 1, 2.

Imagine there’s no heaven

I am reading Matthew 10 today and I admit I am surprised. Jesus sends out his disciples to declare the message of the kingdom of heaven and instructs them to heal the sick, cleanse the leprous, cast out demons and even raise the dead. This seems to be common around Jesus and his ministry.

What surprises me is that people will hate them for it. Hate them for preaching about the kingdom of heaven. For living it. Why?

I’m of the naive school that believes that if I am kind to others they will be kind to me. It works, sometimes, but not always. And when it doesn’t, I am always surprised. But I shouldn’t be. Because Jesus warns his disciples of this very thing happening to them. In fact, he says parents will turn against their children, and children against their parents and actually have them put to death. Why? It looks to me like this will happen because they hold strongly to different beliefs.

Many wars have been fought over ideologies. Some of my readers will recall the John Lennon song, Imagine. “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today. Aha-ah…. Imagine there’s no countries, it’s easy to do. Nothing to kill or die for, no religion too. Imagine all the people, living life in peace….” Lennon’s dream was that the world would live as one, admittedly a good dream. In the song the enemy appears to be religion, the fact that people hold to different beliefs, ideologies, worldviews.

Religion is pretty diverse. I recently read in a book by Bruce K. Wilborn, entitled Witches’ Craft-A Multidenominational Wicca Bible (2011), that Wiccans consider themselves as part of the oldest religion on earth. I read further that, although they don’t believe in “hell,” in regards to the breaking of one particular law they will condemn the violators to the “Curse of the Goddess” with the result that they are never to be reborn, but to remain, “where they belong, in the Hell of the Christians.” It fascinated me that Wiccans may not not confess to believing in hell, yet are quite willing to utilize it on their enemies.

We can imagine whatever we desire about the life hereafter. It will not make it real or false, although it will create a sort of “reality” for the present life and possibly affect our behavior. I am of the Christian belief that there is both a heaven and a hell and that I can’t wish them away, even if I try. In other words, there is future reward and judgment, or punishment, for behavior. Some would call this justice.

On a personal level, I have family who don’t believe in hell because they cannot reconcile a “God of love” being a God of judgment as well. In their mind evil doers will go unpunished. At least, not sent to hell.

I have a lot of questions about hell. Do only our spirits go there, or do our bodies go there too? Do people go there immediately after they die, or is there a kind of “purgatory,” a holding place, where they wait until the judgment on the last day? The Bible doesn’t give us a clear treatise on hell, just bits and pieces of information here and there and some of them don’t jive. One thing seems to be clear in Jesus’ mind. God, his father, ought to be feared as the one who has the power to cast both body and soul into hell (Matthew 1:29).

I’m very uncomfortable talking about hell. I don’t like the idea of the motivation for serving God being to avoid being sent to hell. I admit that I, too, am culturally influenced. I may even find, down the road, that some of my current beliefs need to be modified. But one thing seems logical. It seems logical to hate someone who believes in hell. It seems logical to hate someone who declares evil will be punished. It seems logical to hate someone who calls you out on your lifestyle, maybe even on your beliefs, and says you will go to hell if you don’t change.

Christians have been called haters (because they believe in hell)…by haters. But we can’t change the score. Nobody can. What will be will be. We may have faith that it will be one thing and find out one day that it turns out differently.

John Lennon’s song has a basic flaw. He believes the world will “live as one” if we do away with religion. The trouble is that religion is just the label we put on a set of beliefs and the practices flowing out of those beliefs. Religion generally involves a deity or deities, and, depending on your definition, it can even have no “god.”

People will always organize themselves around a set of beliefs. That is where the song is flawed. One man may believe that he can have many wives and another that he ought to have only one wife. Because there will always be greed, there will always be unfairness. And for this reason there will always be rules made around distribution and things like how many wives a man can have or how many husbands a woman can have.

The early Christians sold property and had everything in common, we read in the book of Acts, much like Lennon says, “no possessions…no need for greed or hunger.” But later we read that other churches had to make donations to the believers in Jerusalem. Who bought the land that they sold, I ask? Where was the power re-distributed? After they sold their land they no longer had a place to raise their livestock and grow their crops and so they became impoverished and dependent on others for supply. It was a very short-sighted plan.

Jesus saw that religion was not the issue. There was a heart issue. People lacked love, compassion and generosity. When he told one man to, “Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor,” he was not setting him up as an example of a precedent. He was merely pointing out how attached we can become to our possessions. He was encouraging generosity and sharing as opposed to hoarding for ourselves.

The reason Marxism, for example, does not work, is that people actually need leaders and unfortunately leaders will often be corrupted by power. Even in Marxism there will be leaders who will tell people what they should and shouldn’t do and who will feel responsible to police this. Who owns the land? Who distributes resources? Who decides how much a person receives? Who decides what they must do in exchange? This quickly turns into a situation resembling slavery if people do not own land.

We will never all “live as one” as long as not every single person has a perfect heart towards God first, and then towards his neighbor. We need to be answerable to someone, and we need someone to settle our disputes. We need a common compass. This is what religions have sought to give us. They have sought to teach us “what is right” as opposed to “who is right,” so that we all adhere to the same guiding principles.

We need commandments such as “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, not his ox, nor his ass.” Without this, we will covet. It is not because some people have more and some have less that we see corruption, as it is a lack of generosity on one side, and jealousy and resentment on the other. We need exhortations like “Godliness, with contentment is great gain.” We need to aspire to something higher and greater and more righteous and more loving than merely acquiring and hoarding in this life.

We need to believe this world can be better. That people can be better. John Lennon was definitely right about that. We need to believe that we have a significant part to play in making this world a better place, by virtue of the fact that we were born on this earth.

In fact, we need heaven. We need the hope of heaven on earth. We need the prayer, “Thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” John Lennon didn’t know how close he was to saying this.