The Death of Christ

June 21, 2019

“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23) Physical death is the consequence of sin entering the world. Because of sin we are also spiritually “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) outside of Christ. And if left uncorrected, this leads to eternal separation from God, what Revelation calls “the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Someone may ask, “Why can’t God just forgive us? Why should anyone die on account of sin, including Jesus?”

In explaining the meaning of the death of Christ, Paul states: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26, ESV). God’s own character is at stake in this business of forgiveness.

Suppose a defendant has a trial before a judge. All the evidence points to the defendant being a criminal worthy of punishment, but the judge lets him off. We would not consider such a judge to be just. We would question his character.

In the same way, God’s own justice demanded a substitute, a sacrifice. Paul uses three key terms in his explanation of the death of Christ (Romans 3:21-26): justified, redemption, and propitiation (the NIV’s “sacrifice of atonement”).

Propitiation is a sacrifice that averts wrath. Such a sacrifice satisfies the laws demands. It also involves substitution. The substitute takes our place and receives the wages of sin in our behalf.

Redemption is the payment of a price to set someone free. The debt owed is the wages of sin, which would lead to our eternal punishment. In the death of Christ, he paid our debt.

Justified is a law court term, the rendering of a favorable verdict. The charges are dropped against us in Christ, not because we are innocent, but because the demands of the law have been satisfied by our substitute. The debt we owe has been paid.

Humanity has a sin problem. If uncorrected, it leads to eternal separation from God. It even posed a problem for God: how to remain just and yet forgive. These problems find their solution in the death of Christ.


Striving for the Ideal Father

June 14, 2019

Our society gives mixed messages on fatherhood. The American Psychological Association in an article called “Deconstructing the Essential Father” asserts that fathers do not make a “unique and essential contribution to child development.” Their purpose is to influence public policy by legitimizing a variety of family structures—unmarried parents, gay parents, and single moms.

Yet the empirical evidence supports a conclusion that God’s plan for a family is really best. 70% of juvenile delinquents come from fatherless homes. Sixty percent of rapists and 72% of adolescent murderers come from homes where they have not known or lived with their fathers. Even the mother-child bond is weakened by an absent father.

In the midst of so much brokenness, we need to capture a vision of the ideal father and strive towards it.

God wants fathers to be leaders in their homes. Paul taught “…the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23, NASB). No doubt Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5 was counter cultural to the first century with his emphasis on a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife. Yet it is also counter cultural to feminism and political correctness. The leadership Paul taught is not tyrannical, but the servant leadership that is taught elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 20:25-28). It is a call to sacrificial love and spiritual leadership. Too frequently wives have no spiritual support from their husbands.

God wants fathers to love their wives. Although men often like to point to the words “Wives, be subject to your own husbands” (Eph. 5:22, NASB), Paul wrote more to husbands in this section of Ephesians than to wives. The constant refrain is “love” (the word is used 6 times in Eph. 5:25-33). Love your wives as Christ loves the church—that is sacrificially. Love your wives as you do your own bodies. Love your wives as yourself, which echoes the second greatest commandment “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, NASB). Our culture emphasizes the feelings of love. I suspect that if we followed the New Testament’s emphasis on the deeds of love (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) we would have less trouble maintaining the feelings of love.

God wants fathers to instruct and discipline their children. Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NASB). We will need to know the instruction of the Lord before we can pass it along to the next generation. Teaching and discipline require involvement and time. God has given us a responsibility that we must not shirk.

Few of us would feel like the ideal father, and regrettably, some boys may have to learn to be fathers without ever experiencing as a son what a father should be. But the only answer for the brokenness of our culture is to strive for God’s ideal.


It’s Not About Balance Scales

June 7, 2019

The judgement of the dead in the presence of Osiris

Behind my desk is a framed papyrus depicting a scene from ancient Egyptian religion. My son gave it to me from his trip to Egypt. The scene depicts the judgement of Osiris. Near the center of the picture is a balance scale. The balance scale has two pans or bowls suspended at an equal distance from a fulcrum. Weighing with such a scale might entail putting weights on one pan while the item being weighed on the other. Or two things might be compared. The heavier object’s pan will go down, and the lighter object’s pan will go up. In this judgment scene the deceased soul must weigh lighter than a feather. If it does, this person enters paradise. If not, the soul is eaten by the god Amenti who has a crocodile head. But it is not just ancient Egyptians who have a balance scale in their view of judgment.

I think many Americans think in terms of a balance scale. If my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds, then everything will be good with God, and this good person will enter heaven. Unfortunately, this isn’t the Bible’s teaching.

Paul writes from Romans 1:18 to 3:20 explaining that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, ESV). Paul makes clear that no one can be justified by law keeping since all of us sin. And the standard is not good deeds outweighing bad deeds, but for law keeping to work, it requires perfection before a holy God. It requires sinlessness on our part.

In Romans 4 Paul also makes this clear with the contrast between wages and gift. If we could present sinlessness to God as our wages, we would have something to boast about before God according to Paul. But none of us can claim that. The alternative is gift. It is what Jesus has done for us by dying on the cross that will save us, and that means listening and following Jesus.

The gospel needs to be shared. The person who is thinking in terms of good deeds outweighing bad deeds hasn’t come to terms with the Bible’s message. It’s not about balance scales.


Internet Memes and Logic

May 31, 2019

Internet memes are ideas and concepts that pass from one person to another on the Internet virally. Think Facebook. The meme is frequently a picture with wording. Memes are also used to address social issues. Memes are designed to bring about an emotional response. I think that is one of the problems as we deal with issues, we are often not meeting one another and dealing with reason and evidence.

Here’s a meme I’ve seen recently. It is a picture of two fried eggs, and the caption reads “According to Alabama, I had chicken for breakfast.” The meme encourages us to chuckle at the “stupid” lawmakers in Alabama. But let’s think and reason about this meme. Two initial problems present themselves. Most of us are not eating fertilized chicken eggs. Hens can lay eggs without a rooster. So, let’s specify that we are dealing with two fertilized chicken eggs. Such eggs are edible, and the embryo stops developing once the egg is refrigerated.

The second issue is the word chicken. This word is used of young birds that can be eaten or used for laying eggs. (Farmers don’t have old chickens by the way, although if they did, we would still call them chickens.) It is unlike the word human being which isn’t tied to a particular age. So, let me suggest the scientific name Gallus gallus domesticus for this discussion.

Does Gallus gallus domesticus come from non-Gallus gallus domesticus? Or do chickens come from non-chickens? I see no magical period in which it is non-chicken (if we can use that word more broadly). The fertilized egg is a natural part of the life cycle of Gallus gallus domesticus. Certainly, I wouldn’t claim to serve you chicken when the plate has two fried eggs, but for the comparison to the abortion issue to really work, the fertilized egg has to not be part of the natural life cycle of Gallus gallus domesticus.

The pro-life argument is that from conception to death we are dealing with human life. There may be changes in form and abilities, but it is all part of the human life cycle. Humans do not come from something non-human, but human. The biblical phrase is that all living things including humans produce “after their kind.” Try this thought experiment. A villainous time traveler says that he will travel back in time and force your mother to have an abortion after she has conceived you, so that you would not have existed in this time line. But he consoles you by saying, “Since I know the gestation period and your birthday, I will force your mother to have an abortion when there is just a fertilized egg or zygote. You won’t even be human yet.” Wouldn’t you beg for your life and maybe even cry out, “But that’s me!”


Remembering

May 24, 2019

Memorial Day is a national holiday to honor those who have died in military service. John Logan, a U.S. Congressman and Union General during the Civil War, began the memorial. As commander in chief of a Union veterans’ organization he urged the members to decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers on May 30th. Eventually it became a national holiday and extended to all U.S. war dead. Memorial Day is marked by the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. With the current war on terror, I suspect that we are keenly aware of what soldiers sacrifice.

My memories of Memorial Day growing up are quite vivid. For a small child, it wasn’t fun for the most part, although we did cook out at the end of the day. The day was spent with my parents, my Grandma Holden, and my great-aunt. They would pick peonies from the yard and make bouquets. Then we would spend much of the day driving to cemeteries and placing these bouquets on the graves.

It seems like there were at least four cemeteries that we went to, and they were miles apart from each other. For a child, it was being cooped up in a car on a nice day in May. For the adults, it was a day of remembering and sharing family history. It was a day of honoring those who had died as soldiers. It was as the name of the day implies a day of remembering.

If you count all of the wars the United States has been involved in, we have lost 666,441+ soldiers in combat and another 673,929+ soldiers who died from accidents, privation, disease or as prisoners of war. As a child, I was witnessing adults who had lived through WWI, WWII, or both. I think I understand why they took the meaning of remembering so seriously. Those two wars represent 52% of all US combat deaths.

I wish that I could say I could find all of those cemeteries and graves, but the truth is I only remember the location of one of the cemeteries. Some family history has been lost, but an impression was made on me. As enjoyable as it was to cook on the grill at the end of that day, Memorial Day was important to them for remembering.


Leaven

May 4, 2019

Does God not like leaven? I think we have to answer no. Leaven has its place in life, but it is interesting to look through the Bible at the subject.

The Passover is associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but the reason given in the text for no leaven is their haste in leaving Egypt. They didn’t have time for bread to rise, but in the subsequent celebration of the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread they purposely removed the leaven. Exodus 12:34, 39, Exodus 13:3-10. Deuteronomy 16:1-8 calls the unleavened bread the bread of affliction and again notes their haste in leaving Egypt. But all of this is a reminder of the circumstances of the Exodus.

Leaven was not used with the blood of the sacrifice. Exodus 23:18 and 34:25. The grain also excluded leaven and honey. Leviticus 2:11. Why leaven is excluded is not given in the text. Some speculate that the leaven represents a corrupting influence so that it is especially not used with blood which represents life. Others have suggested that it represents a vital force in the vegetable world while the blood represents the vital force of the animal world. But we don’t have clear guidance on the reasons from the text.

Leaven could be a part of the thanks offering. Leviticus 7:11-14 and 23.17. So, leaven wasn’t always excluded just most of the time.

Jewish people would have eaten bread with leaven as a normal part of their diet.

Leaven becomes a symbol of power and influence which can be either positive or negative.

  • Leaven represents the positive and growing influence of the kingdom in Matt. 13:33; Lk. 13:21

Leaven is a negative image in the following.

  • The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees represents their teaching and hypocrisy. Matt. 16:6, 11-12; cf. Mk. 8:15; Lk. 12:1
  • Leaven is the corrupting influence of immoral behavior that hasn’t been disciplined in the church.1 Cor. 5:6
  • Leaven is the corrupting influence of false teaching in Gal 5:9 with the warning that a little leaven can leaven the whole lump if you are not careful.

We use unleavened bread in the Lord’s Supper because that is what would have been at the Institution of the Lord’s Supper at Passover. But we like the Jews use leavening on a regular basis in our food. As readers, we need to remember that leaven can be a power image for either good or evil.


The Meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection

April 19, 2019

How can we express what the resurrection means? It means vindication. Jesus really is the Messiah, the Anointed One, who fulfills the promise made to David. The chief priests had rejected him. The crowds had cried, “Crucify him!” Peter preached that the resurrection gives us the certainly “that God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).

It means forgiveness. The wages of sin is death. God warns against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17, ESV). The sacrificial system of the Law of Moses was a pointer to what God would someday do on the cross. Life was in the blood. A life was accepted in exchange for the life of a sinner. “He (that is God) made him who did not know sin a sin offering in our behalf, in order that we may become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It means reconciliation. Adam and Eve had walked with God in a way that it is difficult for us to imagine. Our only hint is in Genesis 3 when they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, and they knew what the sound meant, so they hid themselves because of their sin. Paradise was lost. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden. Yet, God has sought to reconcile the world to himself. Because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence. As Christians, we become a temple of the Holy Spirit. We look forward to once more having access to the Tree of Life and walking in God’s glorious presence.
It means transformation. Yes, I need to be forgiven of my sin, but I also need a moral makeover. I need to become a better person. Following Jesus and putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit is the process of that moral transformation. God’s desire is that we be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

It means eternal life. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead anticipates and is the basis of the resurrection at his coming. Death has been conquered. Yes, we may still have to experience physical death, but those who are in Jesus have life and hope of eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24, ESV). “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11, ESV).

How wonderful and marvelous — He is risen!