The Incredible Message

I admit that I have been wrestling with a big question. Why would God entrust the message of “Salvation” for the entire world to such a small group of followers? Spreading the news to every person on earth, in my view, is an impossible task.

Then I ask another question. Why was the message not there from the beginning? The Old Testament pointed to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In other words, the Old Testament patriarchs and matriarchs had an incomplete message. However, it must have been sufficient.

We read in the New Testament that even the angels are amazed by the message of “Redemption.” Those who benefit from a knowledge of Christ are of all people on earth most blessed and even celestial beings acknowledge this truth.

So why the incomplete message, in the Old Testament? And why the partial knowledge among people groups of the world, historically, and in the present?

What greater message than the possibility that our sins can be forgiven and we can begin a new, guilt-free life? Why withhold or obscure this message? This is a really big question for me, and, as I usually do, I lay it before God and wait for an answer.

Today, as I was reading in the book of Luke, I began to get a glimpse of understanding. I read about Peter leaving his great catch of fish and following Jesus. Earlier Jesus spent some time speaking to the people on the shore from where he was, in Peter’s boat, before he told Peter to cast his net in the water. Peter explained to Jesus that fishing had been futile that day. He still did as he was told. He had nothing to lose. The catch he drew caused Peter to fall down in worship before Christ. This is our response when we encounter the supernatural, unfathomable provision of God.

The provision of God is something we can’t make happen. We can only be open to it.

I have sought God in conventional and unconventional ways. In fact, it has been my mission in life to know God. This has turned out to be the most stimulating and rewarding search. Because of my fabulous journey, I am particularly concerned about the message getting out. I want everyone on earth to have the same opportunity.

As I ponder the message, and the distribution of the message, and the reception of the message, my mind goes to another problem and this is the matter of “predestination.” So much ink has been spilt on this topic, I’m not going to belabour it. But we have to ask, are there some people who will be “saved” because it was “predestined from the beginning”?

In the early chapters of Luke, I saw references to “angels”, the “Holy Spirit”, the “devil”, “sickness”–which Jesus healed, and “demons” he cast out. I say this because I am made aware that we are not just dealing with a message. We are dealing with resistance, too. We are informed of a “spiritual” realm where there are spiritual beings, in opposition to one another. There is a confrontation. Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, God, and the angels, are on one side. The devil, demons, imperfection, oppression, sickness and evil are on the other.

There is opposition, not only to the message, but to the delivery, which makes it even more amazing that the spreading of the message was entrusted to so few.

I have noted that shepherds learned about the birth of Christ through the supernatural message of angels. The wise men who came from the east, followed a star, also a supernatural phenomenon. Herod, the king, was so threatened by the message conveyed to him by the wise men–the possibility of the birth of another king–that he ordered all of the newborns in the district killed. Note that this was foretold, prophetically in the Old Testament: “Rachel” would not be comforted because of the loss of her children. This raises another question, concerning the justice of God. Why did these mothers endure such sorrow, as a consequence of the birth of Christ? This story also reminds us of the birth of another “deliverer”–Moses. The Pharaoh of Egypt sent out an edict to have babies of Israelite mothers killed. Ironically, the “deliverer” was raised in the royal household, right under the Pharaoh’s nose.

From this I learn that, 1) sometimes the message is spread supernaturally, and, 2) the message and the messenger will be interpreted as a threat and fiercely resisted in some corners. The most radical evidence of this resistance is the crucifixion of Christ.

Every healing, every miracle, every true word spoken, by Christ, was a confrontation. I fail to comprehend the need to crucify the most loving, generous and wise person that walked the earth. It is so paradoxical–the need to kill the “Savior.” We can only understand this within the context of true evil. We are told it was because of “envy” that they delivered him up to be crucified. Jesus Christ was going to displace the thing they relied on, weak and faulty as it was. But that is the nature of deception. It does not see what really is.

God is able, and sometimes chooses, to spread the word without the assistance of mere humans. However, it is through the “foolishness of preaching” that we often receive the message, implying that talking about the message is a very imperfect form of communication. It is still essential, however, and we are encouraged to spread the word verbally. The apostle Paul, probably the greatest preacher of the message of Christ, claims he did not come in man’s wisdom, but in humility, recognizing his inadequacy, and total dependence on the “demonstration of power” that would accompany the message. This demonstration, I might add, is sadly lacking in Christian contexts today.

Jesus’ miracles of provision, of casting out demons, and of healing the sick, were demonstrations of the power of God at work. Jesus knew people would struggle with the message, so he pointed them to his ministry–the evidence of the power of God at work.

God at work. That is what we see. That is the message.

God is not willing that any should perish, the Bible tells us. The gift of salvation–the forgiveness of sins— is extended to all.

We tend to make Christianity complicated. The scriptures are profitable for correction and instruction in right living. From the beginning we were intended to live a life free from fear, a life of worship towards God and care for our fellow human beings, a life that is at peace with our God-given conscience.

This begs the question, can we be saved without a knowledge of Christ?

When people do not receive the message of Christ delivered to them, can they still be saved?

Salvation is restoration to a relationship with God, our creator, through forgiveness of sins, and the embarking on a new life. I may be wrong in this, but I think it is possible to believe in God without a knowledge of Christ, as we see in the Old Testament. But when Christ is introduced, the believer will recognize Christ as God.

The Bible says, “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” It also says, “demons also believe, and tremble.” So, it is insufficient to merely acknowledge the message. One must engage with the message, as a believer. The Israelites who looked on the serpent Moses lifted up on a post, were healed from the plague. They accepted the hope and deliverance offered to them. This was a symbol of what was to come, Christ lifted up on the cross, for the healing of many.

In the book of Luke the crowds initially heard Jesus gladly, but then the people turned on him. It happened after he told them about the healing of Naaman and God’s provision for a widow during a time of drought. There were many other lepers, at the time, who were not healed, and many other widows who were not provided for in the same way. When Jesus pointed this out to the people, it incited their rage. I don’t fully understand why, but it could be for the same reason people react negatively towards the message today. They think all should be healed and provided for.

It seems that God is not troubled by the fact that only Naaman was healed and only one widow was helped. And he apparently is not overly disturbed by the fact that only a few will be saved. This is a fascinating thought to consider. We might be tempted to say God is unjust. And by what standard of judgment would we declare this? Only by the one we have derived from our limited understanding of justice and of God, as revealed, primarily, in the Bible. Be angry at God, if you will. Lift your fist in his face. Tell him he is wrong. Tell him he is unjust. He will still choose whom he pleases.

So, when he chooses us, we fall on our face before him, like Peter. Maybe we think to ourselves, at first, this probably won’t work. We’ve already fished all day and caught nothing. But we have nothing left to lose. And then the wonder happens.

Jesus, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Living Water. He is the missing element of sustenance we need in our lives. He will come and abide with us, live in us, by his Holy Spirit. He will guide us–He is light. He will nourish us–He is bread. He will quench our thirst--He is water for our souls.

“To whom shall we go, for you have the words of life,” Peter declared to Christ. He believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus’ response to Peter, as we read in Matthew chapter sixteen, was, “this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” The message, ultimately, is revealed, supernaturally.

We may participate in the distribution of the message, but God ultimately takes responsibility for the revelation.

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!