This gospel wants to entice us to faith, above all else. But no one canaccept this gracious Christ unless he believes that he is a man and adopts the opinion of him that the evangelist gives. He is presented as sheer grace, humility, and goodness…Look at him! He rides no stallion, which is a war animal, and he comes not with fearful pomp and power, but sits on a donkey, which is no war animal but which is ready for burdens of work that will help human beings. Thereby he shows that he does not come to terrify people, to drive or oppress them, but to help them, to carry their burdens and take them on himself.
It’s easy to be religious. All we have to do is count ourselves as better than others and we have it made! Well, we also have to try harder, do things better, smile a little bigger, and see how our neighbors are actually terrible people. That actually sounds pretty exhausting.
You know what’s difficult?
To hear that I am flawed and evil. That I have a heart that can conceive of vile adultery and the cruelest of hatred. It’s difficult to hear that I am remarkably judgmental of other people, but that’s the honest truth.
Tim Keller would say that the good news of the Bible is that we are more sinful, wicked, flawed, and broken than we could ever imagine. At the same time we are more loved, accepted, and desired after than we could ever hope for. I think Keller’s right. The story of Jesus is so counter to our own initial beliefs.
The story of Jesus shows us who God is. As he said in John, if you’ve seen Jesus, then you’ve seen the Father. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews would say that Jesus is the exact same as God (which is contrary to the beliefs of Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims, to name a few)— same essence while also being distinct within the Trinity.
The story of Jesus shows us how he came to bear our burdens and came to remove the pettiness of our hearts and restore life. As Paul wrote to the Romans, we are dead in our sins, and only through the work of the Holy Spirit can we be brought into life.
Jesus does not come to conquer, but he comes to remove the yoke of suffering and religion in order to replace it with something far lighter. His yoke is light and his promise to us his life. Won’t you hear him today?
(for another side to the argument, see my post It’s A Religion, Not Just A Relationship)
Want to know what the Christian faith is in a nutshell? Here it is:
“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” -Tim Keller
Thanks be to God. *Alleluia! Amen.
What other definitions have you heard?
* Literally “Praise the LORD”
I am in the middle of preparing a brief message on the crucifixion scene in the Gospel of Mark and it reminded about the author’s style in the composition of this account. During my preparation, I was reading in a commentary about the questions surrounding when to date this particular gospel. It ultimately comes down to the rebellion of the Jewish people against the Roman forces and the resulting destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Due to the lack of comments about the destruction of the temple and other clues, scholars place the composition of this book during the Jewish rebellion or before. 50s-60s A.D. is a safe bet for the earliest gospel account (Paul gets the earliest writer of the New Testament award).
Placing the context of the gospel is important for the preacher and leaders within the church (lay-leaders, not necessarily those on staff at a church) because questions will come up. There will be questions concerning the Gospel of Thomas or Judas. There are fragments that seem to imply that Jesus had a wife and there will undoubtedly be many more compromising documents surfacing. I am convinced by the likes of NT Wright that we need to know not only God’s Word, but the context surrounding it.
We need to understand the context and dig into that first century so that we can enrich our own faith and defend the faith when National Geographic runs stories on the Gospel of Judas. Knowing what we believe and why we believe it is not just our pastor’s job or the job of a seminary professor. No, it is our job as the Church. It is your job as the faithful member of your local church and as a leader within the community. There are so many tools at our disposal now, I beg you to consider to dig into the depths of the Christian faith.
What has helped you explore the depths of the faith?
I mentioned recently that God is both the embodiment of love and justice. I wanted to take it a step further and convey that we are able to see God’s love for us in his justice. Please hear me out.
In an ancient world marked by child sacrifice and appeasing the gods with human sacrifice, the God revealed through the story set forth in the Bible set himself apart from the other gods. In that day, people could please their respective gods through crass commercialism. Perform X (sacrifice this child or these animals) and you would receive Y. These gods were made in the image of their creators, crafted out of wood, stone, or metal.
Compare the bad tempers and capricious acts of the deities with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who is characterized as slow to anger and quick to forgive. He defends the weak and wants his people to choose justice. Reading through the Minor Prophets (Amos, Micah, etc.) will reveal how much of an issue this is to the character of God.
God physically stepped into history
Keep in mind though, the God revealed to us in Scripture does not send us happy thoughts and a celestial thumbs up. Instead, God invests in his broken creation through the incarnation when God became man. He chose to come down, endured injustice firsthand and was tempted in every way.
The Book of Hebrews would record, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” In light of this reality, we can boldly draw near to the throne of grace, and can find grace in our time of need.
Yes, the Old Testament is full of sacrifices that covered over sins and also gave thanks for God’s provision. The New Testament follows this line when he chose to once and for all cover the sins of humanity.
The love of God is seen in the propitiation for our sins and the absorption of God’s justice. Indeed to make your headspin, God took on God’s wrath through the sacrificial death of Jesus (remember, Jesus is fully God) for our sins. He demonstrated his immense love for us that while we were sinners, he chose to die for us.
How do you hold onto the tension of justice and love?
What makes Christianity different from the other great world religions?
Theology and dogma?
Christian author Philip Yancey suggested the major the thing separating Christian faith from the other major world religions was its emphasis on grace. If you think about it, there are moral codes shared with other religious books and there are certainly many helpful proverbs and comforting sayings, but Christianity is different. The central theme of Christianity is something that is strangely other. It is the theme that God restores and renews, even when we do not deserve it.
To borrow from the English poet John Milton, Christianity tells a story of how paradise was once lost and how the creator of all things did not stand idly by as paradise descended into chaos. Instead God went after his creation as a hound follows after the scent of a lost child. Paradise indeed would be recovered and will be restored under the umbrella of grace.
I love being immersed in the stories of the Bible where imperfect people lived imperfectly for God through grace. Even the great heroes and heroines of the faith had prominent flaws for all to see. Moses murdered a man and had a hot temper, David was an adulterous murderer, and Rahab was a prostitute.
These heroes of the faith had issues!
The redemptive narrative found in the Bible is one filled with grace. The stories that are on the pages of Scripture are filled with flawed people who rested in the flawless One, the provider of grace. With the exception of Genesis 1 and 2, the rest of the Bible unpacks the “covenant of grace,” where humanity received the opportunity of reconnecting with God through the completed work of Jesus. This covenant of grace is something that God initiated and God provides, there is simply no way that we could ever earn it.
My friends, God is indeed love. God is also holy and just.
He hung out with hookers, scoundrels, and crooks. While his cousin John the Baptist would be marked as a man who fasted and lived meagerly, Jesus seemed to be characterized as an eater and drinker who liked to hang out with the wrong sorts of people. At first glance, it seems as if Jesus marches to the beat of his own drum.
The funny thing about this description is that Jesus was a good Jew. He kept the Law (loved God and neighbor) and was steeped in the Hebrew Scripture. I remember a class discussion about Jesus and the Law that led me to the realization that he was close to the Pharisees in terms of doctrine. But here’s the thing: Jesus would drop the hammer on this group many times because they burdened people with more laws than could ever be kept. These people ate the bread of law when they should have been drunk on God’s grace.
Years later, the Apostle Paul dealt with many issues as a church planter. While Paul wrote to Corinth repeatedly about so many problems, he never went off on them the way he did on another church. Paul just about flipped out over the choices of another church plant in Galatia. What did they do? Instead of reveling in God’s ineffable grace, they chose to follow rules and laws. They craved the rules that burdened so many people in the past instead of basking in a life rooted in grace and freedom.
The Galatians didn’t realize that the Law of God was given to point out our need for a savior.
Paul would tell them how the Law acted as a teacher, and it stood as a guardian over humanity. Yet Jesus came and he kept the Law, and he led us into glorious grace through faith in him. Now, my friends, if we put our trust in him, we are able to absolutely revel in God’s grace instead of constantly cowering in fear of messing up. Quite simply, we get to be hammered on grace.
Friends, a spiritual to-do list will not help us reach God; it will only lead to exhaustion – I know it utterly exhausts me! Instead, we need to grasp that peace is found only in the completed work of Christ. The truth of God’s sacrifice for us is that we don’t need to “be good” on our own. Heck, we don’t have to follow a to-do list! Instead, we need to get drunk on God’s grace and follow Jesus.
Care to get hammered on grace?
America’s elder evangelist has penned a wonderful book on the hope of salvation. In “The Reason For My Hope,” Billy Graham marvelously uses stories to communicate the gospel to anyone who picks up this book. As would be expected of a longtime evangelist, Graham’s work is easily accessible, as he takes us from why we might need redemption to how we can embrace this free gift. He masterfully confronts ideologies and philosophies that might stop people from embracing Christ in a direct yet winsome manner.
Reading this book, I was amazed at the communication skills of Graham. He weaves story after story into his prose to help illustrate our need for Jesus. You could tell that he has been an evangelist for quite some time, because this talent is quite effective!
However, one of the points that personally made me cautious about this book is his constant use of “soul.” I found that it was not careful enough and that this repetition provides a dualistic view of our soul/body. While I am certain Graham does not embrace the ancient belief of Gnosticism (or Platonism), I fear that readers could easily pick up the dualism that the body is bad and the spirit is good.
Overall, this is a wonderful, easy to digest book. Graham’s storytelling narrative and his ability of capturing the story of redemption make this book well worth the read. While I might have chosen different phrases or wording to describe certain thing, it is nonetheless a worthwhile book to consider. With my caution against an indirect Platonism mentioned above, I would recommend you consider his piercing questions.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
We have seen that to change the corruptible to incorruption was proper to none other than the Savior Himself, Who in the beginning made all things out of nothing; that only the Image of the Father could re-create the likeness of the Image in men, that none save our Lord Jesus Christ could give to mortals immortality, and that only the Word Who orders all things and is alone the Father’s true and sole-begotten Son could teach men about Him and abolish the worship of idols But beyond all this, there was a debt owing which must needs be paid; for, as I said before, all men were due to die. Here, then, is the second reason why the Word dwelt among us, namely that having proved His Godhead by His works, He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression.
In great stories, we discover that things that were once lost were found. In Star Wars we find that a good man was lost inside of Darth Vader. In Lord of the Rings we uncover a long lost ring that needed to be destroyed. In It’s a Wonderful Life we find hope desperately needed to be recovered by one man.
Like all great tales, the story that is communicated to us through Scripture has this lost and found element. In the very beginning scenes of it we are told of a paradise that was lost. However, while paradise was lost, hope itself was still there. After the Fall, God offered the good news found in the protoevangelium (first gospel) of Genesis 3:15.
The Lord God said to the serpent,“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Christian theologians found the hope of Jesus in the tail end of that passage, seeing that Jesus would crush the enemy who caused so much suffering throughout the ages. As Athanasius pointed out above, Jesus paid the debt of our sins and transgressions. The lamp humanity broke was not only forgiven, but the cost was paid for by Jesus.
In the Advent season, we look to the arrival of the One who crushed the head of evil. Not only did he bear the sins of humanity through a brutal, torturous death naked on a cross, but he also will come again to right the world. I find hope in the story that Jesus not only created the cosmos so long ago, but he also loves it enough to settle our account with death. Dear reader, I hope you choose cling to this hope.
Do you find hope in this story?——
 St. Athanasius (2009-08-19). On the Incarnation (Kindle Locations 364-370). Kindle Edition.
Many people who have heard the name Francis of Assisi associates the man with the phrase, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” I heard this phrase many times in my undergrad education and decided to adopt it for a period of time. I thought it was brilliant and that it captured the essence of Jesus’ message.
But you know what? I soon found out a secret. That line was more than likely never uttered by Francis.
And then I came to the conclusion that that line is actually very dangerous. Let me unpack that.
If that above phrase is only used to mean “preach the gospel and back up your words with your actions,” then that is a very helpful phrase. But if we mean that the good news of the Kingdom of God coming through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus will be preached through our actions alone and never communicated through words, then I think we venture into dangerous territory.
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about this good news, saying:
that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Yes, giving a cup of water to a thirsty migrant is very important and powerful, but this summary Paul gave cannot be communicated through that act. Helping people is very huge, but the good news of Jesus comes through a verbal (or written, in this instance) witness.
Let me be clear, our words need to have actions that back it up. If we say we ought to be loving because Christ loved us, then we ought to demonstrate love as well. But if I say we need to live peacefully with my neighbor, but drive in a constant state of road rage, then there is an obvious disconnect (I can neither confirm nor deny that I drive in a state of perpetual road rage. All I’m going to admit is that I listen to the classical radio station for a reason).
If you don’t read anything else though, read this: You are not the gospel. Your actions, as pure as they might be, are not the gospel. The gospel comes to those through the Holy Spirit’s application of the words into the life of the individual. The Spirit applies the message we proclaim, as the good works we do help verify the hope that lives within us. As Pope Francis once said, “if we don’t proclaim Jesus, something is wrong. We would become a compassionate NGO & not a Church which is the bride of Christ.”
Let’s do good, and talk about the Good One.
I took a course in my Undergrad education that was called Historiography. While some of the books might have been rather dull and dry, the main point of the books was about our sense of objectivity. It is widely assumed that we can come to a situation or book and be totally without bias. This is not the case, as the class pointed out. We all come to the table with previous assumptions and biases that might impact our reading of the text.
Even when it comes to reading the Bible, the reader will arrive at the words on the page with ideas and presuppositions. A hard-core fundamentalist Baptist will look at it differently than, say, a more left-leaning Episcopalian. A practicing Roman Catholic will read the Bible differently than an atheistic writer who is doing research for a project. While some might see it is a recording of the Word of God, others might view it as a historical document. In short, we come to the Bible with baggage and will read into the Bible different things.
In my class on The Gospel of Mark, we are reading a book called Mark & Method. One of the chapters is on the literary technique of “Reader-Response Critique.” In it I was struck by a line that went, “People tend to find in the Bible what they been taught to find there.” Sometimes we will look for passages to prove an argument with someone. Sometimes I have read a verse and immediately tied it to some point, whether about the Trinity or Infant Baptism. We will read into the text what might not be there, or perhaps we will draw out of the text an aspect that was previously hidden. For example, a Christian might see certain signs within the Jewish Bible (i.e, the Old Testament) that a Jewish reader might disavow. A Christian might catch glimpses of Jesus in the Old Testament that others might not see.
The point is that we will read the Bible in light of our traditions more often than not. It is only through a conscious attempt to read Scripture and allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate it to us that we can ever overcome biases. It is my understanding and opinion that when the Holy Spirit illuminates and authenticates the Word of God (the Bible) that it truly does become the Word of God to the reader. God will speak through it to the individual, and will (hopefully) knock down their presuppositions. God knows how I need to have my own baggage removed!
Have you been able to spot any baggage you might bring to reading Scripture?