How can Jesus be both God and man at the same time?

by Got Questions | The Triune God of the Bible has existed and reigned from all eternity, and the second Person of the Trinity, the Son, took on human flesh at a particular point in time (Luke 1:35; Hebrews 1:5). God the Son added a sinless human nature to His eternally existent divine nature. The result was the Incarnation. God the Son became a man John 1:1, 14, (image, YouTube)

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is both God and man. Many Christians are understandably confused when it comes to understanding how Jesus can be God and man at the same time. How could our divine Creator become a human? Could a first-century Jewish man really be God? While a certain amount of mystery will always accompany this issue, both Scripture and, to a lesser extent, church tradition provide for us important distinctions to help us make sense of this matter.

While previous church councils had deliberated over issues pertaining to the nature of Christ and His relationship to the Father, it was the Council of Chalcedon (AD 481) that affirmed that Christ is “the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man.” This statement is not true simply because the council taught it. Rather, the council’s declaration was authoritative only insofar as it aligned with what the Bible teaches on the subject. Scripture is clear that Jesus is God (John 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8), and it is equally clear that He is truly human (Romans 1:2–4; 1 John 4:2–3). Jesus claimed the divine name (John 8:58) and did things that only God can do (Mark 2:1–12; Luke 7:48–50). But Jesus also displayed the weaknesses and vulnerabilities common to humanity (Luke 19:41; John 19:28).

The belief that Jesus is both God and man is of fundamental importance. The apostle Paul wrote that an affirmation of the divinity of Jesus is required to be saved (Romans 10:9), and the apostle John provided a sober warning that those who deny Christ’s true humanity are promoting the doctrine of antichrist (2 John 1:7).

The Triune God of the Bible has existed and reigned from all eternity, and the second Person of the Trinity, the Son, took on human flesh at a particular point in time (Luke 1:35; Hebrews 1:5). God the Son added a sinless human nature to His eternally existent divine nature. The result was the Incarnation. God the Son became a man (John 1:1, 14). Hebrews 2:17 gives the reason that Jesus had to be both God and man: “He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” The Son of God took on human flesh to provide redemption to those under the law (Galatians 4:4–5).

At no time did Jesus ever cease to be God. Although He was made fully human, there was never a point when He abrogated His divine nature (see Luke 6:5, 8). It is equally true that, after becoming incarnate, the Son has never ceased to be human. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5, emphasis added). Jesus is not half-human and half-divine. Rather, He is Theanthropos, the God-man. The Lord Jesus Christ is one eternally divine Person who will forever possess two distinct yet inseparable natures: one divine and one human.



The Life and Teachings Of Jesus Christ

by Bible Scripture | “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Gospel of John 1:14 (Image of Raphael of Urbino, Italy – St. Paul preaching in Athens at the Areopagus before – biblescripture.net)

The point of origin and central figure of the Christian faith is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem (Luke 2), in fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:2. St. Joseph took his wife Mary and the infant Jesus on the Flight to Egypt to avoid Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2). Upon their return, the Holy Family settled in Nazareth, where Jesus grew and spent his childhood and early years as an adult. Hardly anything is known of his life at that time except that he was called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23) and that at age 12 he was found teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:46).  

The life of Jesus is best described in the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while his teachings are presented by all the writers of the New Testament of the Bible. 

Jesus of Nazareth began his public ministry when he was about thirty years old. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus gave us the Eight Beatitudes, affirmed the Ten Commandments of God, and taught us the Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule. He spent much of his ministry by the Sea of Galilee, preaching in such towns as Capernaum (John 6:59), Bethsaida (Mark 8:22), and Magdala (Matthew 15:39), and surrounding places such as Cana (John 2:1-11) and Tyre (Mark 7:24-30). He revealed to us the mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20), known as the Holy Trinity in the Church. When his hour came near, he headed toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).  

Jesus often taught in parables, an ancient Eastern literary genre. A parable is a narrative that presents comparisons to teach an important moral lesson. The Parables are recorded in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some parables are common to all three Synoptic Gospels, such as the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-23, Mark 4:2-20, and Luke 8:4-15). Examples of parables unique to each Gospel are the Weeds Among the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30) and the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16); the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29); the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31), and the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14). 

Jesus performs many miracles, demonstrating his power over nature and spirits, and thus confirming that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15). In a physical miracle, such as making the blind see, or walking on water, or calming a storm, the laws of the universe are suspended through divine intervention. In a moral miracle, such as forgiveness of sins or driving out demons, the blessing of Jesus purifies the spirit. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus performed a physical miracle, healing the paralytic, to demonstrate a moral miracle, the forgiveness of sins. Only three miracles appear in all four Gospels – his own Resurrection, the greatest miracle of them all, the healing of the blind, and the feeding of the 5000 through the multiplication of the loaves.  

His public ministry lasted about three years, prior to his Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. Jesus taught transformation of the inner person. His mission was one of love, mercy, and peace (John 15:12-13). 

Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of salvation history and the mediator and fullness of all revelation. See our home page Jesus Christ for further discussion. 1-10

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.



Jesus Christ- Cause of My Hope

by Deacon Michael Bickerstaff | The transcendentals are really one, as God is one. They cannot be separated. If what we see as beautiful is not good, it is not truly beautiful. If what we see as good is not true, it is not goodness. If what we believe to be true is not good and beautiful, it is neither true nor of God. (images: Pixabay)

Today is the final Sunday on the Church’s annual liturgical calendar.  Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King—King of the Universe.

Not only is Jesus Christ the Messiah and our Savior, not only is he our brother and our friend, Jesus Christ is our Lord and King. To Him we owe our first allegiance and obedience.

This celebration is a recent addition to the liturgical calendar, added in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. In 1969, the celebration was elevated to the highest liturgical rank as a solemnity and moved to the last Sunday of the liturgical year.

Pope Pius XI wrote the encyclical Quas Primas as a response to the growing nationalism and secularism of the time. This was a time that witnessed the collapse of old powers and orders and the spread of a fascism, communism and socialism. This new order rejected the authority of Christ and His Church over the lives of men, women and the States.

He wrote in the opening paragraph of his enclyclical:

“We remember saying that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”

Here, in the twenty-first century, we also live in a time when truth and the virtue of religion is questioned and challenged. In our time, as was the case in 1925, religious liberty and the freedom to exercise one’s conscience is threatened by our secular governments and the culture which we have nurtured. The zeitgeist approach to government  and the public square demands that the practice of one’s faith be left safely within the walls of one’s house of worship.

In our Gospel passage, we heard the exchange between Pilate and Jesus regarding the Lord’s kingship. Here’s the last verse again.

“So Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’” (John 18:37)

In the very next verse, Pilate asks his famous question, “What is truth?” And it is a question that continues to be asked today. The answer was right in front of Pilate. The answer was, is and will always be the Person and nature of Jesus.

Truth is defined by Being. That Being is God. The Word of God—Truth Himself—stood before Pilate. And the word of God says that if we belong to the truth we will listen to His voice.

“God is…” that is the greatest truth. So it is God, not us, who defines truth. And because truth is of God, it is good because God is good. Goodness, being true and of God is therefore beautiful. We call this the ontological order of the Transcendentals.

However, we human creatures follow these in a reverse, psychological order. We are attracted to beauty, which leads us to goodness. In embracing the good, we are led to what is true and therefore to God Himself.

But, in our fallen condition, even while in a state of grace, it is possible for our passions and emotions to mislead us. We might incorrectly perceive something to be beautiful and therefore think of it as good and true when it is none of those things.

The transcendentals are really one, as God is one. They cannot be separated. If what we see as beautiful is not good, it is not truly beautiful. If what we see as good is not true, it is not goodness. If what we believe to be true is not good and beautiful, it is neither true nor of God.

It should be obvious to all that our world today is in great peril and not just from terrorist. Pope Francis speaks of this danger,

“There is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the tyranny of relativism, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.”

So, with all the sin, confusion and error in the world and the consequent violence and lack of peace, where are we to turn to find our way? Again we are to listen to the voice of our King, Jesus Christ.

Pope Pius XI teaches that:

  • Jesus is the lawgiver, to whom obedience is due.
  • His kingdom is not of this world; it is concerned with spiritual things and we enter it through faith and baptism.
  • Jesus purchased us, His Church, at a great price with His blood; He continues to offer Himself as priest on our behalf.

Jesus is not just Lord and King of only Catholics; He is the King of all creation. It would be a mistake to think that His commands do not extend to the public, civil life.

Jesus is unlike earthly kings. His Kingdom and His Kingship will never falter or end. His is a Kingdom where the King serves as well as rules. He is a King who shares His three-fold office of priest, prophet and king with those He calls His brothers and sisters.

We are not a people without hope. There is no need for us to despair or be afraid. Jesus is a King who is faithful to us and present to us.

He is present to us today in this Holy Mass in His once for all sacrifice—on Calvary, before the Father in Heaven—and in His Word and His Blessed Sacrament.

He is the first-born of the dead, whose enthronement as King on the Cross defeated death. As He rose again, so shall we who love Him and keep His commands rise to new life. He has given us the Church as our teacher and mother. He came to the Jews first, but not just them He also came to all the nations. He is King of us all.

“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty.’”

To Him be all glory and honor, amen.

Into the deep…

Deacon Michael Bickerstaff is the Editor in chief and co-founder of the The Integrated Catholic Life.™ A Catholic Deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Deacon Bickerstaff is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization.

He is also the Founder and President of Virtue@Work, where he provides Executive and Personal Coaching, Mentoring and Organizational Consulting. Deacon Mike has 30+ years management consulting experience in senior executive leadership positions providing organizational planning and implementation services with a focus on human resource strategy and tax qualified retirement plan design, administration and compliance.



What did Jesus mean when He instructed us to love our enemies?

by GotQuestions.org | What is impossible for man becomes possible for those who give their lives to Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts (image: Judas Betrays the Master – Icon inside the Church of Panagia Dexia, Thessaloniki Greece).
When Jesus said we are to love our enemies, He was creating a new standard for relationships. He proclaimed to the crowds listening to His Sermon on the Mount that they knew they were to love their neighbor because the command to love our neighbor was a law of God (Leviticus 19:18). That we must therefore hate our enemy was an inference incorrectly drawn from it by the Jews. While no Bible verse explicitly says “hate your enemy,” the Pharisees may have somewhat misapplied some of the Old Testament passages about hatred for God’s enemies (Psalm 139:19-22; 140:9-11). But Jesus replaced this idea with an even higher standard: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). Jesus goes on to explain that loving those who love us is easy and even unbelievers can do that. Then He commands us to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

Jesus explained to His followers that they should adhere to the real meaning of God’s law by loving their enemies as well as their neighbors. A Pharisee once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus then told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Here Jesus taught that His followers must demonstrate love to all kinds of people—no matter what faith, nationality, or personality—enemies included. If you love your enemies and “pray for those who persecute you,” you then truly reveal that Jesus is Lord of your life.

By using an illustration of the sun rising and the rain falling on both the good and the evil, Jesus shows God’s undiscriminating love to all people. His disciples then must reflect His character and exhibit this same undiscriminating love for both friends and enemies. Jesus is teaching us that we must live by a higher standard than what the world expects—a standard that is impossible for us to attain by our own efforts. It’s only through the power of God’s Spirit that His people can truly love and pray for those who intend to do them harm (Romans 12:14-21).

Finally, after giving us the admonition to love our enemies, Jesus then gives us this command: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). As sons of our Father (Matthew 5:45), we are to be perfect, even as He is perfect. This is utterly impossible for sinful man to achieve. This unattainable standard is exactly what the Law itself demanded (James 2:10). So how can Jesus demand the impossible? He later tells us, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). That which God demands, only He can accomplish, including the demand to love our enemies. What is impossible for man becomes possible for those who give their lives to Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts.

Read the original article on GotQuestions.org website.

GotQuestions.org is a ministry of dedicated and trained servants who have a desire to assist others in their understanding of God, Scripture, salvation, and other spiritual topics. We are Christian, Protestant, evangelical, theologically conservative, and non-denominational. We view ourselves as a para-church ministry, coming alongside the church to help people find answers to their spiritually related questions.

 



What Does Jesus Mean When He Says We Should Not Judge?

Judging in the Bible has more to do with what you do after you tell the truth. It’s not whether you tell the truth. It’s what you do next (YouTube).

New Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear clarifies a common misunderstanding regarding Jesus’ famous phrase “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Jesus put more value on relationships and loved us despite of what we did. Many times people interpret judgment as weighing in with an opinion, but if that’s the case, Greear says Jesus did that and commanded us to as well. Rather, he says, “Judging in the Bible has more to do with what you do after you tell the truth. It’s not whether you tell the truth. It’s what you do next.” Check out his video.



10 Real-Life Emotions Jesus Expressed

by Cindi McMenamin | Jesus was absolutely indignant toward the money changers in the temple. Not because “you shouldn’t sell stuff in church.” Not because “the church had become a marketplace” (as you may have heard while growing up in Sunday School). But because the religious leaders were financially oppressing and even cheating those who wished to honor God through a sacrifice in the temple (image: ©Thinkstock/sedmak)

Several years ago, I heard a wise person pray, “Break my heart, God, with what breaks Yours.” I’ve never forgotten that prayer request. And through the years I’ve often wondered if my emotions line up with God’s.

Do I get upset at the same situations that angered the heart of God or do I spend time and energy protesting what Jesus wouldn’t have bothered with? On the other end of the emotional spectrum, do I turn a blind eye at what moved Jesus to tears or fail to notice the people and situations that stirred His compassionate heart and caused Him to take action?

Jesus, God in the flesh, experienced a wide range of emotions during his 33 years on this earth.  Scripture tells us what He felt and experienced, specifically, during his three-year public ministry. And while we might tend to think that being unemotional means being more spiritual or Spirit-controlled, Scripture clearly shows that Jesus exercised a healthy amount of emotion and self-control. Here are 10 emotions Jesus expressed so you can see if your feelings and responses line up with His: 

1. Joy–at pleasing His Father.

While Jesus is often referred to as “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), He was also one who knew joy. In John 15:10-11, Jesus told His followers if they keep His commandments, they will abide in His love just as He has kept His Father’s commandments and abides in His Father’s love. “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full,” Jesus said. What joy was Jesus referring to? The joy that came from complete obedience to His Father. The joy that came from fulfilling His mission here on earth. The joy that came from pleasing His Father in Heaven.

Hebrews 12:2 tells “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” How can the word “joy” exist in the same sentence as the words “enduring the cross” and “scorning its shame”? Because Jesus knew not only the joy of complete obedience to His Father, but the joy of what was to come – the eternal reward, being reunited physically with His Father in Heaven, having secured for eternity the salvation of all who would believe.

Do you find delight in pleasant circumstances or knowing that all is well in your world? Or do you know deep joy by focusing on the eternal rewards of obedience to your Heavenly Father, sensing His smile as you surrender daily, and fixing your minds on what is to come (Colossians 3:2)?

2. Exhaustion–from the demands of ministry.

Do you ever start to think I can’t face any more people or pressures right now? Do you find that to cope you need to slip away and have some quiet time to yourself? If you feel that way after trying to be all things to all people, then you need boundaries in your life and work and a reminder that you are not responsible for everything. But if you’re feeling that exhaustion and overwhelm because of a continual pouring out in ministry, Jesus did too. Even the Son of God had to withdraw by Himself from the crowds after an extended time of ministry in order to refuel and re-energize through rest and quiet communion with His Father (Matthew 14:13, Mark 6:31, Luke 5:16, John 6:15).

When you need to get away from people, is it because you’re tired of them? Or is it because you long to be with Your Father to refuel, refocus, and reprioritize? You can identify with the heart of Jesus when you pull away now and then to rest in and commune quietly with your Heavenly Father.

3. Anger–at the hypocrisy of the religious.

Instead of being angry with sinners and how they lived, Jesus was indignant toward the so-called “religious” who touted a spotless image on the outside, but cultivated critical, hardened hearts on the inside. Jesus used harsh words toward the religious elite of his day saying things like, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33). I’m thinking that might have been the equivalent of cussing today.

Jesus’ anger with how the religious leaders of his day spiritually oppressed others echoes God’s disdain for Israel’s “shepherds” in Ezekiel 34. Jesus even described false prophets as those who come in sheep’s clothing “but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

Do you feel anger toward leaders in the church and religious community who abuse their power, care more about their own comfort and image than that of other believers, and “fleece the flock” in the name of service to God? Are you enraged by anyone who would, in the name of Christ or spirituality, lead other believers astray or interfere with the discipleship and growth of a new believer? Do you loathe legalism to the point of calling it what it is? Jesus did. And He made no apologies for such.

4. Disgust–at greed, racism, and oppression of the poor.

Jesus was absolutely indignant toward the money changers in the temple. Not because “you shouldn’t sell stuff in church.” Not because “the church had become a marketplace” (as you may have heard while growing up in Sunday School). But because the religious leaders were financially oppressing and even cheating those who wished to honor God through a sacrifice in the temple. Their unlawful money-changing and price-fixing tactics in the Court of the Gentiles prevented non-Jews from honoring God with sacrifices. Their actions were downright racist and Jesus was disgusted with it (John 2:13-17).

This exclusion, racism, and profiteering from the good intentions of others enraged Jesus into pulling an Indiana Jones-style cleanup act in the temple, complete with a handmade whip. Sharp words weren’t cutting it anymore. This time He overturned tables, threw chairs across the room, and left the place a decimated mess! Emotional? You bet. Out of control? No. More like unbridled righteous anger and zeal for the house of God that consumed Him (Psalm 69:9).

Does oppression of the poor, exclusivity in worship, unethical handling of the church finances, or an attitude of racism in the church provoke that kind of disgust in you? Perhaps it should.

5. Sorrow–at the ravages of sin and death.

When Jesus’ close friend Lazarus died and his sister Mary said those words wrought with disappointment, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32), Jesus evidently felt sorrow. Certainly, Jesus knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and that is why He let him die and remain in a tomb for four days (John 11:4-7, 14). Yet we read that, “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” and “Jesus wept.” (verses 33-35). For Mary? At the thought that He disappointed her? For the loss of Lazarus?

Jesus saw the ravaging result of sin and He knew better than anyone that death was not a natural part of life, but the most unnatural thing anyone created in the image of God has to experience. It wasn’t God’s perfect plan. And coming face to face with the agony that humans experience from the sting of death moved Him to weep. Shortly thereafter, Jesus fulfilled His purpose for coming to this earth by dying on a cross to eradicate the sting of death and rising from the dead to conquer the grave (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

Does the loss of a loved one, believer or not, move you to tears? Do you hold within you an ache for someone who has been ripped from your life? While we have the hope and assurance that those who are trusting Jesus alone for their salvation will live eternally, the temporary separation caused by death still grieves the heart of God. Psalm 116:15 tells us, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.” If losing someone through death moves you to tears, it moved the Son of God to tears, too.

6. Compassion–for the lost and downtrodden.

I used to be critical of unbelievers who lived an ungodly lifestyle. Those who found themselves living on the streets were there because they had rejected Christ and made a series of bad choices, resulting in burned bridges and a lack of relationships, I concluded. Yet, Jesus had compassion on those who were suffering, whether it was from physical ailments (Matthew 9:20-22) or the direct result of sin (John 8:1-11). Regardless of how they got where they did, Jesus saw people as created in the image of God and showed compassion on them–even the dirty, disfigured, leprous, rebellious, contagious, and forgotten.

When you see someone who is living with the consequences of their sin does it make you cringe or cry? Is your heart moved to pray for that person’s relief, healing, comfort, and salvation? Is your compassion strong enough to cause your hand to extend in action, help, or hope for another? That’s what Jesus would do.

7. Frustration–at slow learners and their lack of faith.

In Matthew 17, when a man brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus, claiming Jesus’ disciples couldn’t cast out the demon, Jesus’ harsh words were evidence of his growing frustration with people who had seen all the signs and should’ve known better than to doubt who He was: “‘You unbelieving and perverse generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.’ Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment” (verses 14-20).

Jesus also expressed frustration at His own disciples who just didn’t get it. After teaching earlier in the day about the Kingdom of God and growing in faith, Jesus was awoken from a sound sleep by his disciples who were accusing Him of not caring if they drowned in a storm that was threatening to overturn their boat. Jesus responded by commanding the wind and waves to “Be still.” He then turned to His followers, in apparent frustration, and asked, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:35-41).

While you are following God’s command to disciple young believers, you can rest assured that Jesus understands your frustration when someone has been taught in the Word of God and given the best instruction available and still can’t apply their faith in a stressful situation.

8. Agony–at impending suffering.

When Jesus sweat blood and tears in the Garden of Gethsemane just before being arrested, it wasn’t out of fear of what was to come. It was more like agony, knowing He would bear the sins of the world on His shoulders, knowing He would endure the temporary separation from His Father’s enabling. And that caused Jesus to pray so intently, and in such agony, that He sweat blood and tears as He prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” In His humanity, He dreaded what was to come. But in His faith and pure obedience to His Father, His agony made for surrender: “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Do you dread an upcoming surgery? A chemotherapy session? A trial or interview in which you must revisit something painful or distressing? Jesus understands. Hebrews 4:15 assures us we have a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, and has not only “been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” but has also endured more suffering than we will ever have to experience ourselves.

9. Empathy–for the pain of others.

We have no record of Jesus feeling sorry for Himself or dwelling on any of His personal suffering. For instance, He didn’t talk for months about that trying time with the devil in the desert (John 4:1-11) or constantly put down the people whom He served who left Him once the handouts stopped. He didn’t rouse up personal support from His disciples after Judas betrayed Him. Instead, Jesus was empathetic toward others and the physical and emotional pain they were experiencing.

As much as Jesus suffered physically through His arrest, torture, and crucifixion, His heart and mind was on the emotional pain His mother was experiencing as she witnessed the torture and death of her firstborn son. Her care and provision, after His death, was paramount on His mind (John 19:25-27). Do you hurt along with others when they hurt physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Jesus never minimized anyone’s pain, compared it to someone else’s, or told someone “don’t cry.” He hurt along with them.

10. Forgiveness–in the face of betrayal.

Prior to being arrested, Jesus told His disciples that all of them would fall away that night because of Him (Matthew 26:31). They essentially deserted Him during His darkest hour even though just hours earlier at dinner they had each claimed they would never leave His side. Yet, Jesus extended grace toward all of them after rising from the dead. He even made sure that he reiterated His love for Peter three times – the same number of times Peter denied His love and even knowledge of Jesus!

Jesus commanded us to be different from the world by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-44). How much more difficult it is to love and forgive someone who at one time confessed their love for us and then betrayed us? Can you extend grace, love, and forgiveness even to those who have wronged you in a very personal way? When you do, you are expressing the same love, grace, and forgiveness that Jesus showed.

Cindi McMenamin is an award-winning writer and national speaker who helps women strengthen their walk with God and their relationships. She is the author of 16 books, including  When Women Walk Alone (more than 125,000 copies sold), When God Sees Your Tears, and Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You. For more on her speaking ministry, books, or free articles to strengthen your soul, marriage, or parenting, see her website www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.



6 things you didn’t know about Jesus in Islam

by Jennifer Williams |  | “Madonna with the Book (Conestabile Madonna)” by Raffaello Sanzio, 1504.Sergio Anelli/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Image

Christmas, as everyone knows, commemorates the birth of Jesus and is a major religious celebration for Christians around the world.

But what many people don’t know is that Jesus is an important figure in Islam, too, even though most Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas (though some, especially some American Muslims, do).

In honor of the holiday, here are six things you may not know about the role of Jesus — and his mother, Mary — in Islam:

  1. Jesus, Mary, and the angel Gabriel are all in the Quran (as are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and a bunch of other Bible characters).
  2. Muslims believe that Jesus (called “Isa” in Arabic) was a prophet of God, was born to a virgin (Mary), and will return to Earth before the Day of Judgment to restore justice and to defeat al-Masih ad-Dajjal (“the false messiah”), also known as the Antichrist. All of which may sound pretty familiar to many Christians.
  3. Mary (called “Maryam” in Arabic) has an entire chapter in the Quran named for her — the only chapter in the Quran named for a female figure. In fact, Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the entire Quran: As noted in the Study Quran, “other female figures are identified only by their relation to others, such as the wife of Adam and the mother of Moses, or by their title, such as the Queen of Sheba.” Mary is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the entire New Testament.
  4. Just as with all the other prophets, including Mohammed, Muslims recite, “Peace be upon him” every time they refer to Jesus.

    The name "Jesus, son of Mary" written in Arabic calligraphy, followed by "peace be upon him." بلال الدويك

    The name “Jesus, son of Mary” written in Arabic calligraphy, followed by “peace be upon him.” بلال الدويك

  5. Muslims believe that Jesus performed miracles: The Quran discusses several of Jesus’s miracles, including giving sight to the blind, healing lepers, raising the dead, and breathing life into clay birds.
  6. The story of Jesus’s birth as told in the Quran is also the story of his first miracle, when he spoke as an infant in the cradle and declared himself to be a prophet of God. Here’s the story:

And remember Mary in the Book, when she withdrew from her family to an eastern place. And she veiled herself from them. Then We [God] sent unto her Our Spirit [the angel Gabriel], and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. She said, “I seek refuge from thee in the Compassionate [i.e., God], if you are reverent!” He said, “I am but a messenger of thy Lord, to bestow upon thee a pure boy.”

She said, “How shall I have a boy when no man has touched me, nor have I been unchaste?” He said, “Thus shall it be. Thy Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me.’” And [it is thus] that We might make him a sign unto mankind, and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter decreed.

So she conceived him and withdrew with him to a place far off. And the pangs of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, “Would that I had died before this and was a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!” So he called out to her from below her, “Grieve not! Thy Lord has placed a rivulet beneath thee. And shake toward thyself the trunk of the date palm; fresh, ripe dates shall fall upon thee. So eat and drink and cool thine eye. And if thou seest any human being, say, ‘Verily I have vowed a fast unto the Compassionate, so I shall not speak this day to any man.’”

Then she came with him [the infant Jesus] unto her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary! Thou hast brought an amazing thing! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not an evil man, nor was thy mother unchaste.” Then she pointed to him [Jesus]. They said, “How shall we speak to one who is yet a child in the cradle?”

He [Jesus] said, “Truly I am a servant of God. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and has enjoined upon me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and [has made me] dutiful toward my mother. And He has not made me domineering, wretched. Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised alive!”

That is Jesus son of Mary— a statement of the truth, which they doubt.

So although Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the son of God — an important distinction between Muslim and Christian views of him — Muslims do revere Jesus as an important prophet.



The Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah

by Dr. Allen Ross | The hand of God was indeed against the sufferer, but the sin was not his, but theirs. It was penal–but he did not deserve it (image: YouTube).

The “Gospel” is a term that is used for a number of things in Christianity; it means “good news” essentially. The word is used for one or more of the four books of the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are the four “gospels.” But the word is also used very precisely for the central doctrines of the Christian faith concerning Jesus, namely his death, burial and resurrection.

Paul clearly states that the Gospel that he preached is that Jesus died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures. Paul says:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he as raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

Paul then goes on to declare that Jesus made many appearances that proved that he did rise from the dead. And so the creed says:

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures.

The point is that the Christian Gospel is not simply the facts of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, but those facts understood in accordance with what the Scriptures say. In other words, the death of Jesus has to be understood in accordance with what Scripture teaches about it–who this Jesus was who died, why his death was so important, what kind of death it was, and what it accomplished. Likewise, the burial and the resurrection have to be understood in the way that Scripture teaches–what exactly it teaches about his resurrection, why it was important, what it proved, and how it relates to his exaltation to glory.

This would mean that we must first be clear on who Jesus is. If he is not God manifest in the flesh, if he is not the divine Son of God, then his death would be at best a martydom, a great act of love and devotion–but it would not have saved anyone, it would not have made atonement.

This would also mean that we would have to be clear on why he suffered and died. Scripture teaches that it was for our sins that he died (he did not deserve to die), the just for the unjust. His death was a vicarious substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the world. And Scripture also teaches that his death was an atonement. In other words, it was not just a physical death. For the divine Son to die was the equivalent of the human race suffering the second death, eternal separation from God. Christ, the eternal one, was separated from the Father spiritually on our behalf when he died on the cross.

This would also mean that there was a complete death, and so he was buried. He did not swoon, or faint, or go into a coma to be revived. He died, and was buried. It was a real death.

And if it was a real death, this would also mean that it was a real resurrection, one who was dead actually coming back to life. The resurrection proved that his death was an atoning sacrifice, that it accomplished what it was accomplish, and that it authenticated all of Christ’s claims.

It would take much longer to explain all the details about the Gospel that are contained in the Scripture. This is the task of the churches in their teaching and preaching ministry in the word of God. And we have our entire lifetime to focus on these truths and discover all that God has done for us. But perhaps it would be most helpful in this brief survey to look at the cardinal Old Testament prophecy about the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah, Isaiah 52:15–53:12. The song is written in the past tense, as if it had alrready happened; but that is normal for the prophets who saw the visions and described what they had seen (called “seers”). We know from the contents of this song that its ultimate meaning is in Jesus the Messiah, for Jesus claimed to be the servant who came into the world to give his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28), and the apostles knew that this song was a vivid picture of the suffering of the Lord Jesus on the cross and so quoted from it in their epistles (see 1 Peter 2:21-25).

A Biblical Exposition

Isaiah 52:15–53:12 is the fourth of the so-called Servant Songs in the book, and the most powerful of them all. The prophet Isaiah does not always identify the servant in the oracles; at times it seems it could be referring to the righteous remnant in Israel, at times to the prophet, at times to other servants that God might use. But in this passage, a song about the suffering servant, the meaning clearly breaks free from any Old Testament application and finds fulfillment in the Messiah, the Christ–Jesus. Much of the song talks about how the innocent suffer for the sins of others, but when it comes to speaking about the LORD placing the sins of others on this one’s back so that he could justify them, the passage can have no other fulfillment but in the saving death of Jesus, the Christ.2 And so this song is about the ideal suffering servant, the one whose suffering goes beyond anything that mere mortals could accomplish in their suffering.

Down through history the sufferer has been the astonishment and stumblingblock of humanity. Ancient barbarians simply removed them from society. More civilized people have dealt more kindly; but sufferers still pose a problem for philosophers and medical doctors, and a test for the faith of religious people. People have a hard time seeing any profit in suffering; rather, it is considered a tragedy, an inconvenience that hinders progress, a fate to be avoided.

But for the Christian the point of suffering should be clearer. In summary, we may say that the Scriptures teach that it is the will of God that believers suffer–not all the time, not all the same, and some very little. That is not to say that God enjoys it, or that people should seek it. But the Bible says that it is inevitable. Jesus said that if the world hated him, it would hate us as well. Paul said all who live Godly lives in this world will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3), and that it was given to us to believe and to suffer (Phil. 1:29). And Peter explains that Christ’s death, revealed so fully in Isaiah, is both our justification and our sample to follow so that we might know how to suffer (1 Pet. 2:19-23). Moreover, our Lord himself learned obedience through the things that he suffered (Heb. 5:8)–and if that is true of the sinless Son of God, how much more is it true of us? All of these teachings simply say that suffering is inevitable in this life, especially if we seek to live a righteous life of spiritual service.

The sample for us to follow in our suffering–if it comes–is the suffering of Jesus Christ our Lord. It is displayed graphically in the prophecy of Isaiah, written centuries before the actual death of Jesus. Isaiah displays the ideal sufferer, but never names him. That identification had to await the fulness of time, when Jesus claimed, and the disciples could see, that Jesus was fulfilling Isaiahs oracles.

The song is divided into five sections or stanzas of three verses each. The first line of each stanza gives a summary of that section. And, the entire first stanza is a summary or an overview of all that the song will say.

I. “My Servant Shall Prosper”
The suffering leads to glory (52:13-15).

A. My servant shall be exalted (52:13).

The grand theme of the entire song is summed up in the first three verses: the servant who endured such suffering will eventually be exalted on high to the amazement of all the world. He will be highly exalted–and the means of this exaltation is that he will “deal wisely” or “wisely prosper.” The verb describes prudent and practical wisdom that finds success doing the will of God. He will live wisely before God and therefore prosper. Jeremiah 23:5 associates this verb with Messiah’s receiving the kingdom.

Since the song will describe his death, the exaltation here assumes a resurrection. This passage does not explain that precisely, but other passages do. There could be no exaltation of one who stayed dead.

B. The exaltation will contrast with the humiliation (14, 15).

The theme of the humiliation is now developed: earlier, many were aghast or astonished at him because his form was so marred (literally ruined, spoiled). His appearance was so changed by affliction that kings were astonished that such a one should be exalted over them (v. 15). He will startle3_ftn2 these kings, for they will see what they never thought could have happened.

The point to be made here is that the suffering servant will ultimately prosper with God because he dealt wisely–he did the will of God. He has insight, and so his suffering is practical. He endures the suffering because he knows it is leading somewhere–to glory. Pain in God’s service will lead to glory (2 Cor. 4); and the pain in the sacrifice of Christ Jesus will lead to the greatest glory, his glory for ever, for he will reign as king of kings and Lord of Lords–to the amazement of all.

II. “Who has believed?”
The suffering is offensive (53:1-3).

A. The report meets with disbelief (1).

If we may paraphrase this verse, we would say, “No one ever imagined this!” For ages, the prophet predicts, people would not believe the word that such a suffering servant could be at the heart of God’s redemptive plan and would eventually be exalted on high. Isaiah uses a series of questions to make this point: the penitent would reflect on this, and eventually realize it–who would have imagined?

B. The suffering is observed (2, 3).

The response to his sufferings is so true to life: they are at first thought to make him insignificant, and then they are considered to be offensive. First, he was considered insignificant. Who would have thought that a carpenter’s son from Nazareth would figure in the eternal plan of God this way? He was just a tender plant out of parched ground, nothing great and glorious. Certainly not kingly. He did not appeal to them in any kingly way so that they might rally to him.

But then the more they observed them his sufferings became offensive: he was despised (v. 3). His life was filled with grief and sorrows, so that people turned away their faces. In short, they did not “esteem” him–they did not think much of him, especially in this condition, so they wrote him off, as it were.

These words point out a habit we all share, the habit of letting the sight of suffering blind us to the meaning. We don’t like to look on anyone who is suffering or even disabled. We forget that such conditions have a purpose and a future and a God. We make snap judgments about sufferers and their value to life in general or to God. The point is that suffering is a part of God’s plan to remind us of the human predicament we share, to bring us out of ourselves in sympathy and patience, and to eventually fit us for glory. It was certainly so in the case of Christ, more so than imagineable.

III. “Surely our griefs”
The suffering is vicarious (53:4-6).

A. The servant’s suffering is punishment (4).

The earliest and most common moral judgment that people make about pain is that which is implied in its name–it is penal. People think that those who suffer do so because God is angry with them and punishing them. That is exactly what Job’s three friends argued relentlessly. Here, the people say in the words of the Isaiah the prophet, ‘we saw the suffering servant and thought that God was striking him severely.

But now they knew they were partially wrong. The hand of God was indeed against the sufferer, but the sin was not his, but theirs. It was penal–but he did not deserve it.

B. The punishment of the servant was vicarious and redemptive (5, 6).

As we read these two verses, we must note the contrast between the “he” expressions and the “our” expressions. In the first set we see that he endured the suffering, we had the sins that deserved the suffering, and so his sufferings were vicarious–for others.

The second set shows that the sufferings were also redemptive: “our peace” and “we are healed.” The pain was the consequence of our sin; and the peace that is ours was the consequence of his suffering. Thus, the suffering was not only vicarious, but now redemptive.

This truth is confessed by Israel in verse 6. The verse begins and ends with the word “all.” So the substitutionary suffering of this servant touches all who have sinned; it benefits all who acknowledge his suffering with these correct words: “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

In every family, in every nation, innocent people often suffer for the guilty. So vicarious suffering is not unique to the Messiah. It is part of human life. Vicarious suffering is not a curse; it is part of the service we have to God and to mankind. People like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah went into the captivity with the sinners and the idolaters–they did not deserve to go. But they were able to use it as an opportunity to proclaim God’s word. Even on a lesser note we know that parents who suffer for their children when they are sick or in need understand the impulse of vicarious suffering. People in a country suffer because of the mistakes of leaders or previous generations. We may suffer because we deserve it; but we may also suffer because of others, or out of love for others in service to other people. That is noble and magnificent: greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15). But it is limited–it cannot save another person.

So then, as great as vicarious suffering can be, it is not redemptive when we do it. What is pictured here is that the suffering of our Lord Jesus also removed sin. When Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he became the sin-bearer for us. No other suffering could have done this. It took the suffering of God incarnate, the holy one who knew no sin, to remove the sins.

IV. “Oppressed he humbled himself”
The suffering was accepted (53:7-9).

A. The suffering servant was silent (7).

What is remarkable is that this suffering servant accepted his affliction in silence. This is almost unheard of. In the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Psalms, the sufferers either confess their sins that brought on the sufferings, or cry out that they are suffering and do not deserve it. They either confess of complain. But not the Messiah: he did not confess sin, for he had none; and he did not even cry out in complaint, for his death was vicarious. How could he remain silent? He knew the truth; he dealt wisely. If anything will enable a person to accept suffering silently it is this–the knowledge that the suffering is a service to God and will help others who are suffering.

B. The suffering servant was innocent (4).

The prophet affirms that this sufferer has done no wrong; there was no guile in him. Yet he was taken to judgment by tyrannical powers. It was a judicial murder. And when they considered that he was lawfully put to death, they gave him a convict’s grave. On this note the stanza ends: he was an innocent man, the only innocent man ever to walk on earth; but he silently submitted to oppression, an oppression that brought him a criminal’s death. From all outward appearances an innocent man’s life ended fruitlessly. But nothing could be further from the truth.

V. “It pleased the LORD”
The suffering was efficacious (10-12).

It appeared to many that the death of this servant was an awful tragedy. Surely here passed into oblivion the fairest life that ever lived. People might see it and say that God forsakes his own–even in his own sufferings that thought crossed the Messiah’s mind. But Isaiah will now declare that the suffering was efficacious–it accomplished God’s will.

A. The suffering was God’s will (10).

“It pleased the LORD to bruise him.” This does not mean that God really enjoyed it! It means that God willed it, and that is satisfied God’s will. This is the one truth that can render any pain tolerable–God willed it. So, anyone that God calls to suffer for him must make it his or her purpose to please God with it. Therein is success with God.

B. The suffering was our justification (10b, 11).

This suffering was powerful to effect its intended results (i.e., it was efficacious)–it justified sinners. God made his innocent sufferer a guilt offering (Lev. 5) for many, so that by the knowledge of him people might be justified. Those who know him, those who come to personal faith in him and acknowledge their sin and his salvation, are justified. Paul explains that the Father made the Son to be sin for us, that we might become righteous in his sight (2 Cor. 5). We, the guilty sinners, have been declared righteous because of his vicarious sufferings.

By the way, the word “many” used throughout this passage is the word that Jesus used in the upper room to apply Isaiah 53 to his death: “This is my blood of the New Covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28).

C. The suffering will lead to the servant’s exaltation (10b-12).

With this note the passage comes full circle. Isaiah says that because he bore the sins of many, that is, because he made “intercession” for sinners in his self-sacrificing love, God appointed him to honor and glory. The rest of the Bible explains that his exaltation involves his resurrection from the dead, his ascension to heaven, and his coming in glory. We shall return to this when we focus on the belief in the resurrection.

Using military figures, Isaiah says that he will divide the spoil, that is, celebrate victory. But there is a hint here to of his coming to conquer evil (see Ps. 110).

So in his suffering the servant was closest to his glory; he may have been despised and rejected by people, but he was pleasing to God, and that assured his exaltation in glory.

Conclusion

Isaiah, then, presents a picture of the ideal sufferer. He does not identify him, but his language parallels so many other prophecies about the coming Messiah that we know it had a future fulfillment in his mind. And then when the Son of God came into the world and fulfilled this passage to the letter (so far), we know that it was a prophecy of Jesus the Messiah. By his suffering we have peace with God; by them we have been justified because our sins have been paid for. Or, to put it another way, apart from his vicarious sufferings there is no remision of sins for sinners, no hope of justification with God. That is why the Church worships and serves Jesus Christ the savior. Worthy is the Lamb!

But there is a practical side to this passage too apart from its great prophetic message. We who believe in Christ are called to follow him, and that usually involves suffering in one way or another. When Peter quoted this chapter in his epistle, he explained that it also left us a sample of how we should suffer. If God calls us to suffer in some way for him, then we need to understand that it is service to God, it is part of the pilgrimage to glory, and that we must use it to glorify him and help others. Knowing that it is part of the will of God and will lead to greater glory, we will be better able to endure it and use it properly.

Allen RossDr Ross joined the faculty of Beeson Divinity School in 2002 as Beeson Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew. He is the author of Introducing Biblical Hebrew and Grammar, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, and Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation. He has contributed numerous articles to scholarly journals. Previously, he taught at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and Dallas Theological Seminary, and served as director of the Christian Leadership Center, Tallahassee, Florida.



Is Jesus Relevant Today?

JesusOnline Ministries | Jesus offers life with real meaning. He said that life is much more than making money, having fun, being successful, and then ending up in a graveyard. Yet, many people still try to find meaning in fame and success, even the greatest superstars.

Many think that Jesus Christ wants us to become religious. They think Jesus came to take all the fun out of life, and give us impossible rules to live by. They are willing to call him a great leader from the past, but say he is not relevant to their lives today.

Josh McDowell was a college student who thought Jesus was just another religious leader who set up impossible rules to live by. He thought Jesus was totally irrelevant to his life.

Then one day at a student union lunch table McDowell sat next to a vibrant young coed with a radiant smile. Intrigued, he asked her why she was so happy. Her immediate reply was“Jesus Christ!” 

Jesus Christ? McDowell bristled, firing back:

“Oh, for God’s sake, don’t give me that garbage. I’m fed up with religion; I’m fed up with the church; I’m fed up with the Bible. Don’t give me that garbage about religion.”

But the unfazed young coed calmly informed him,

“Mister, I didn’t say religion, I said Jesus Christ.”

McDowell was stunned. He had never considered Jesus more than a religious figure, and didn’t want any part of religious hypocrisy. Yet here was this joyful Christian woman talking about Jesus as someone who had brought meaning to her life.

Christ claimed to answer all the deep questions about our existence. At one time or another, we all question what life is all about. Have you ever gazed up at the stars on a pitch-black evening and wondered who put them there? Or have you ever seen a sunset and thought about life’s biggest questions:

  • “Who am I?”
  • “Why am I here?”
  • “Where am I going after I die?”

Although other philosophers and religious leaders have offered their answers to the meaning of life, only Jesus Christ proved his credentials by rising from the dead. Skeptics like McDowell who originally scoffed at Jesus’ resurrection (see http://y-jesus.com/wwrj/6-jesus-rise-dead), have discovered that there is compelling evidence that it really occurred.

Jesus offers life with real meaning. He said that life is much more than making money, having fun, being successful, and then ending up in a graveyard. Yet, many people still try to find meaning in fame and success, even the greatest superstars.

Madonna attempted to answer the question of, “Why am I here?” by becoming a diva, confessing, “There were many years when I thought fame, fortune, and public approval would bring me happiness. But one day you wake up and realize they don’t..I still felt something was missing..I wanted to know the meaning of true and lasting happiness and how I could go about finding it.[1]

Others have given up on finding meaning. Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the Seattle grunge band Nirvana, despaired of life at age 27 and committed suicide. Jazz-age cartoonist Ralph Barton also found life to be meaningless, leaving the following suicide note: “I have had few difficulties, many friends, great successes; I have gone from wife to wife, and from house to house, visited countries of the world, but I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up 24 hours of the day.[2]

Pascal, the great French philosopher believed this inner void we all experience can only be filled by God. He states, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which only Jesus Christ can fill.”[3] If Pascal is right, then we would expect Jesus to not only answer the question of our identity and meaning in this life, but also to give us hope for life after we die.

Can there be meaning, without God? Not according to atheist Bertrand Russell, who wrote, “Unless you assume a god, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.”[4] Russell resigned himself to ultimately “rot” in the grave. In his book, Why I am not a Christian, Russell dismissed everything Jesus said about life’s meaning, including his promise of eternal life.

But if Jesus actually defeated death as eyewitnesses claim, (see http://y-jesus.com/wwrj/6-jesus-rise-dead) then he alone would be able to tell us what life is all about, and answer, “Where am I going?” In order to understand how Jesus’ words, life, and death can establish our identities, give us meaning in life, and provide hope for the future, we need to understand what he said about God, about us, and about himself.

What Did Jesus Say About God?

God Is Relational

Many think of God more as a force than a person who we can know and enjoy. The God of whom Jesus spoke is not like the impersonal Force in Star Wars, whose goodness is measured in voltage. Neither is He some great unsympathetic bogeyman in the sky, delighting in making our lives miserable.

On the contrary, God is relational like us, but even more so. He thinks, He hears. He communicates in language we can understand. Jesus told us and showed us what God is like. According to Jesus, God knows each of us intimately and personally, and thinks about us continually.

God Is Loving

And Jesus told us that God is loving. Jesus demonstrated God’s love wherever he went, as he healed the sick and reached out to the hurting and poor.

God’s love is radically different from ours in that it is not based upon attraction or performance. It is totally sacrificial and unselfish. Jesus compared God’s love with the love of a perfect father. A good father wants the best for his children, sacrifices for them, and provides for them. But in their best interests, he also disciplines them.

Jesus illustrates God’s heart of love with a story about a rebellious son who rejected his father’s advice about life and what is important. Arrogant and self-willed, the son wanted to quit working and “live it up.” Rather than waiting until his father was ready to give him his inheritance, he began insisting that his father give it to him early.

In Jesus’ story, the father granted his son’s request. But things went bad for the son. After squandering his money on self-indulgence, the rebellious son had to go to work on a pig farm. Soon he was so hungry even the pig food looked good. Despondent and not sure his father would accept him back, he packed his bag and headed home.

Jesus tells us that not only did his father welcome him home, but he actually ran out to meet him. And then the father went totally radical with his love and threw a huge party celebrating his son’s return.

It is interesting that even though the father greatly loved his son, he didn’t chase after him. He let the son he loved feel pain and suffer the consequences of his rebellious choice. In a similar way, the Scriptures teach that God’s love will never compromise what is best for us. It will allow us to suffer the consequences of our own wrong choices.

Jesus also taught that God will never compromise His character. Character is who we are down deep. It is our essence from which all our thoughts and actions stem. So what is God like—down deep?

God Is Holy

Throughout the Scriptures (nearly 600 times), God is spoken of as “holy.” Holy means that God’s character is morally pure and perfect in every way. Unblemished. This means that He never entertains a thought that is impure or inconsistent with His moral excellence.

Furthermore, God’s holiness means that He cannot be in the presence of evil. Since evil is the opposite of His nature, He hates it. It’s like pollution to Him.

But if God is holy and abhors evil, why didn’t He make our character like His? Why are there child molesters, murderers, rapists, and perverts? And why do we struggle so with our own moral choices? That brings us to the next part of our quest for meaning. What did Jesus say about us?

What Did Jesus Say About Us?

Made For A Relationship With God

If you were to read through the New Testament you would discover that Jesus continually spoke of our immense value to God, telling us that God created us to be His children.

Irish U2 rock star Bono remarked in an interview, “It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people….”[5] In other words, before the universe was created, God planned to adopt us into His family. Not only that, but He has planned an incredible inheritance that is ours for the taking. Like the father’s heart in Jesus’ story, God wants to lavish on us an inheritance of unimaginable blessing and royal privilege. In His eyes, we are special.

Freedom To Choose

In the movie, Stepford Wives, weak, lying, greedy and murderous men have engineered submissive, obedient robots to replace their liberated wives who they considered threats. Although the men supposedly love their wives, they replaced them with toys in order to force their obedience.

God could have made us like that — robotic people (iPeople) hardwired to love and obey him, programming worship into us like a screensaver. But then our compulsory love would be meaningless. God wanted us to love Him freely. In real relationships, we want someone to love us for who we are, not out of compulsion — we’d prefer a soul mate over a mail-order bride. Søren Kierkegaard summarized the dilemma in this story.

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power … and yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels … she would surely not resist—no one dared resist him. But would she love him? She would say she loved him of course, but would she truly?[6]

You see the problem. Less poetically put: How do you break up with an all-knowing boyfriend? (“It’s just not working out between us, but I guess you already knew that.”) But to make freely exchanged love possible, God created human beings with a unique capacity: free will.

Rebellion Against God’s Moral Laws

C.S. Lewis reasoned that even though we are internally programmed with a desire to know God, we rebel against it from the moment we are born.[7] Lewis also began to examine his own motives, which led him to the discovery that he instinctively knew right from wrong.

Lewis wondered where this sense of right and wrong came from. We all experience this sense of right and wrong when we read of Hitler killing six million Jews, or a hero sacrificing his or her life for someone. We instinctively know it is wrong to lie and cheat. This recognition that we are programmed with an inner moral law led the former atheist to the conclusion there must be a moral “Lawgiver.

Indeed, according to both Jesus and the Scriptures, God has given us a moral law to obey. And not only have we turned our backs on a relationship with Him, we also have broken these moral laws that God established. Most of us know some of The Ten Commandments:

“Don’t lie, steal, murder, commit adultery,” etc. Jesus summarized them by saying we should love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves. Sin, therefore, is not only the wrong that we do in breaking the law, but also our failure to do what is right.

God made the universe with laws that govern everything in it. They are inviolable and unchangeable. When Einstein derived the formula E=MC2 he unlocked the mystery of nuclear energy. Put the right ingredients together under exacting conditions and enormous power is unleashed. The Scriptures tell us that God’s moral law is no less valid since it stems from His very character.

From the very first man and woman, we have disobeyed God’s laws, even though they are for our best. And we have failed to do what is right. We have inherited this condition from the first man, Adam. The Bible calls this disobedience, sin, which means “missing the mark,” like an archer missing his intended target. Thus our sins have broken God’s intended relationship with us. Using the archer’s example, we have missed the mark when it comes to the purpose we were created for.

Sin causes the severing of all relationships: the human race severed from its environment (alienation), individuals severed from themselves (guilt and shame), people severed from other people (war, murder), and people severed from God (spiritual death). Like links on a chain, once the first link between God and humanity was broken, all contingent links became uncoupled.

And we are broken. As Kayne West raps, “And I don’t think there’s nothing I can do to right my wrongs…I wanna talk to God but I’m afraid cause we ain’t spoke in so long … ” West’s lyrics speak of the separation that sin brings to our lives. And according to the Bible, this separation is more than just lyrics in a rap song. It has deadly consequences.

Our Sins Have Separated Us From God’s Love

Our rebellion (sin) has created a wall of separation between God and us (see Isaiah 59:2). In the Scriptures, “separation” means spiritual death. And spiritual death means being completely separated from the light and life of God.

“But wait a minute,” you might say. “Didn’t God know all of that before He made us?

Why didn’t He see that His plan was doomed for failure?” Of course, an all-knowing God would realize that we would rebel and sin. In fact, it is our failure that makes His plan so mind-blowing. This brings us to the reason that God came to Earth in human form. And even more incredible-—the remarkable reason for his death.

What Did Jesus Say About Himself?

God’s Perfect Solution

During his three years of public ministry, Jesus taught us how to live and performed many miracles, even raising the dead. But he stated that his primary mission was to save us from our sins.

Jesus proclaimed that he was the promised Messiah who would take our iniquity upon himself. The prophet Isaiah had written about the Messiah 700 years earlier, giving us several clues regarding his identity. But the clue most difficult to grasp is that the Messiah would be both man and God!

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And his name shall be called…Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is. 9:6)

Author Ray Stedman writes of God’s promised Messiah: “From the very beginning of the Old Testament, there is a sense of hope and expectation, like the sound of approaching footsteps: Someone is coming! … That hope increases throughout the prophetic record as prophet after prophet declares yet another tantalizing hint: Someone is coming!”[9]

The ancient prophets had foretold that the Messiah would become God’s perfect sin offering, satisfying his justice. This perfect man would qualify to die for us. (Is. 53:6)

According to the New Testament authors, the only reason Jesus was qualified to die for the rest of us is because, as God, he lived a morally perfect life and wasn’t subject to sin’s judgment.

It’s difficult to understand how Jesus’ death paid for our sins. Perhaps a judicial analogy might clarify how Jesus solves the dilemma of God’s perfect love and justice.

Imagine entering a courtroom, guilty of murder (you have some serious issues). As you approach the bench, you realize that the judge is your father. Knowing that he loves you, you immediately begin to plead, “Dad, just let me go!”

To which he responds, “I love you, son, but I’m a judge. I can’t simply let you go.”

He is torn. Eventually he bangs the gavel down and declares you guilty. Justice cannot be compromised, at least not by a judge. But because he loves you, he steps down from the bench, takes off the robe, and offers to pay the penalty for you. And in fact, he takes your place in the electric chair.

This is the picture painted by the New Testament. God stepped down into human history, in the person of Jesus Christ, and went to the electric chair (read: cross) instead of us, for us. Jesus is not a third-party whipping boy, taking our sins, but rather he is God himself. Put more bluntly, God had two choices: to judge sin in us or to assume the punishment himself. In Christ, He chose the latter.

Although U2?s Bono doesn’t pretend to be a theologian, he accurately states the reason for Jesus’ death:

“The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled. It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.”[9]

And Jesus made it clear that he is the only one who can bring us to God, stating, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14:6)

But many argue that Jesus’ claim that he is the only way to God is too narrow, saying that there are many ways to God. Those who believe all religions are the same deny we have a sin problem. They refuse to take Christ’s words seriously. They say God’s love will accept all of us, regardless of what we have done.

Perhaps Hitler is deserving of judgment, they reason, but not them or others who live “decent lives”. It’s like saying that God grades on the curve, and everybody who gets a D- or better will get in. But this presents a dilemma.

As we have seen, sin is the absolute opposite of God’s holy character. Thus we have offended the one who created us, and loved us enough to sacrifice His very Son for us. In a sense our rebellion is like spitting in His face. Neither good deeds, religion, meditation, or Karma can pay the debt our sins have incurred.

So, why is Jesus alone able to save us from our sins? Aren’t there others qualified to save us? Although there have been many people and prophets who have lived good lives, the New Testament eyewitnesses of Jesus tell us that he was morally righteous in every way. Theologian R. C. Sproul tells us that since Christ lived a sinless life, he alone qualified to be our savior.[10]

A Gift Undeserved

The biblical term to describe God’s free forgiveness through Christ’s sacrificial death is grace. Whereas mercy saves us from what we deserve, the grace of God gives us what we don’t deserve. Let’s review for a minute how Christ has done for us what we could not do for ourselves:

  • God loves us and created us for a relationship with Himself [11]
  • We have been given the freedom to accept or reject that relationship [12]
  • Our sin and rebellion against God and His laws have created a wall of separation between us and Him[13]
  • Though we are deserving of eternal judgment, God has paid our debt in full by Jesus’ death in our place, making eternal life with Him possible.[14]

Bono gives us his perspective on grace.

“Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff..I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge..It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.[15]

We now have the picture of God’s plan of the ages coming together. But there still is one missing ingredient. According to Jesus and the authors of the New Testament, each of us individually must respond to the free gift Jesus offers us. He won’t force us to take it.

You Choose The Ending

We continually make choices—what to wear, what to eat, our career, marriage partner, etc. It is the same when it comes to a relationship with God. Author Ravi Zacharias writes:

“Jesus’ message reveals that every individual…comes to know God not by virtue of birth, but by a conscious choice to let Him have His rule in his or her individual life.”[16]

Our choices are often influenced by others. But in some instances we are given the wrong advice. On September 11, 2001, 600 innocent people put their trust in the wrong advice, and innocently suffered the consequences.The true story goes like this:

One man who was on the 92nd floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center had just heard a jet crashing into the north tower. Stunned by the explosion, he called the police for instructions on what to do. “We need to know if we need to get out of here, because we know there’s an explosion,” he said urgently on the phone.

The voice on the other end advised him not to evacuate. “I would wait ’til further notice.”

“All right,” the caller said. “Don’t evacuate.” He then hung up.

Shortly after 9:00 A.M., another jet crashed into the 80th floor of the south tower. Nearly all 600 people in the top floors of the south tower perished. The failure to evacuate the building was one of the day’s great tragedies.[17]

Those 600 people perished because they relied on the wrong information, even though it was given by a person who was trying to help. The tragedy would not have occurred had the 600 victims been given the right information.

Our conscious choice about Jesus is infinitely more important than the one facing the ill-informed 9/11 victims. Eternity is at stake. We can choose one of three different responses. We can ignore him. We can reject him. Or, we can accept him.

The reason many people go through life ignoring God is that they are too busy pushing their own agenda. Chuck Colson was like that. At age 39, Colson occupied the office next to the president of the United States. He was the “tough guy” of the Nixon White House, the “hatchet man” who could make the hard decisions. Yet, in 1972, the Watergate scandal ruined his reputation and his world became unglued. Later he writes:

“I had been concerned with myself. I had done this and that, I had achieved, I had succeeded and I had given God none of the credit, never once thanking Him for any of His gifts to me. I had never thought of anything being ‘immeasurably superior’ to myself, or if I had in fleeting moments thought about the infinite power of God, I had not related Him to my life.”[18]

Many can identify with Colson. It’s easy to get caught in the fast pace of life and have little or no time for God. Yet ignoring God’s gracious offer of forgiveness has the same dire consequences as outright rejection. Our sin debt would still remain unpaid.

In criminal cases, few ever turn down a full pardon. In 1915, George Burdick, city editor for the New York Tribune, had refused to reveal sources and broken the law. President Woodrow Wilson declared a full pardon to Burdick for all offenses he had “committed or may have committed.” What made Burdick’s case historic is that he refused the pardon. That brought the case to the Supreme Court, which sided with Burdick, stating that a presidential pardon could not be forced on anyone.

When it comes to rejecting Christ’s full pardon, people give a variety of reasons. Many say there isn’t sufficient evidence, but, like Bertrand Russell and a host of other skeptics, they aren’t interested enough to really investigate. Others refuse to look beyond some hypocritical Christians they know, pointing to unloving or inconsistent behavior as an excuse. And still others reject Christ because they blame God for some sad or tragic experience they have suffered.

However, Zacharias, who has debated with intellectuals on hundreds of college campuses believes that the real reason most people reject God is moral. He writes:

” A man rejects God neither because of intellectual demands nor because of the scarcity of evidence. A man rejects God because of moral resistance that refuses to admit his need for God.”[19]

The desire for moral freedom kept C. S. Lewis from God for most of his college years. After his quest for truth led him to God, Lewis explains how acceptance of Christ involves more than just intellectual agreement with the facts. He writes:

“Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again..is what Christians call repentance.”[20]

Repentance is a word that means a dramatic turn-around in thinking. That’s what happened to Nixon’s former “hatchet man”. After Watergate was exposed, Colson began thinking about life differently. Sensing his own lack of purpose, he began reading Lewis’s Mere Christianity, given to him by a friend. Trained as a lawyer, Colson took out a yellow legal pad and began writing down Lewis’s arguments. Colson recalled:

‘I knew the time had come for me. . Was I to accept without reservations Jesus Christ as Lord of my life? It was like a gate before me. There was no way to walk around it. I would step through, or I would remain outside. A ‘maybe’ or ‘I need more time’ was kidding myself.”

After an inner struggle, this former aide to the president of the United States finally realized that Jesus Christ was deserving of his full allegiance. He writes:

“And so early Friday morning, while I sat alone staring at the sea I love, words I had not been certain I could understand or say fell naturally from my lips: ‘Lord Jesus, I believe You. I accept You. Please come into my life. I commit it to You.’”[21]

Colson discovered that his questions, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” and “Where am I going?” are all answered in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “It is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.” (Ephesians 1:11, The Message)

When we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, he fills our inner void, gives us peace, and satisfies our desire for meaning and hope. And we no longer need to resort to temporary stimuli for our fulfillment. When He enters into us, he also satisfies our deepest longings and needs for true, lasting love and security.

And the staggering thing is that God Himself came as a man to pay our entire debt. Therefore, no longer are we under the penalty of sin. Paul states this clearly to the Colossians when he writes,

“You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends. He has done this through his death on the cross in his own human body. As a result, he has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.” (Colossians 1:21b-22a NLT).

Thus God did what we were unable to do for ourselves. We are set free from our sins by Jesus’ sacrificial death. It is like a mass murderer going before a judge and being granted a full and complete pardon. He doesn’t deserve a pardon, and neither do we. God’s gift of eternal life is absolutely free-—and it is for the taking. But even though the pardon is offered to us, it is up to us to accept it. The choice is yours.

Are you at the point in your life where you would like to accept God’s free offer?

Perhaps like Madonna, Bono, Lewis and Colson, your life has also been empty. Nothing you have tried satisfies the inner void you feel. God can fill that void and change you in a moment. He created you to have life that is flooded with meaning and purpose. Jesus said, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10b)

Or perhaps things are going well for you in life but you are restless and lack peace. You realize that you have broken God’s laws and are separated from his love and forgiveness. You fear God’s judgment. Jesus said, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives.”

So whether you are simply tired of a life of empty pursuits or are troubled by a lack of peace with your Creator, the answer is in Jesus Christ.

When you put your trust in Jesus Christ, God will forgive you of all your sins—past, present, and future and make you His child. And as His loving child, He gives you purpose and meaning in life on Earth and the promise of eternal life with Him.

God’s Word says, “to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Forgiveness of sin, purpose in life, and eternal life are all yours for the asking. You can invite Christ into your life right now by faith through prayer. Prayer is talking with God. God knows your heart and is not as concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. The following is a suggested prayer:

“Dear God, I want to know You personally and live eternally with You. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life and change me, making me the kind of person You want me to be.”

Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? If so, simply pray the above suggested prayer in your own native language.

When you make a commitment to Jesus Christ, he enters your life, becoming your guide, your counselor, your comforter, and your best friend. Furthermore, he gives you strength to overcome trials and temptation, freeing you to experience a new life full of meaning, purpose, and power.

Chuck Colson discovered that new purpose and power. Colson readily admits that before becoming a Christian, he was ambitious, prideful, and self-centered. He had no desire or power to love others in need. But his thoughts and motives radically changed once he committed himself to Christ.

Endnotes

  1. O: The Oprah Magazine, “Oprah talks to Madonna,” (January, 2004), 120.
  2. Quoted in Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publ., 1981), 1.
  3. Quoted in William R. Bright, “Jesus and the Intellectual” (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publ., 1968), 33.
  4. Quoted in Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 17.
  5. Quoted in Michka Assayas, Bono in Conversation (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 203.
  6. Soren Kierkegarrd, Philosophical Fragments, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 26-28.
  7. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 2001), 160.
  8. Ray C. Stedman, God’s Loving Word (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 1993), 50.
  9. Quoted in Assayas, 204.
  10. R. C. Sproul, Reason to Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: Lamplighter, 1982), 44.
  11. New Testament, John 3:16
  12. Ibid., John 1:12
  13. Old Testament, Isaiah 59:2
  14. New Testament, Romans 5:8
  15. Assayas, Ibid.
  16. Ravi Zacharias, Jesus among Other Gods (Nashville: Word, 2000), 158.
  17. Martha T. Moore and Dennis Cauchon, “Delay Meant Death on 9/11,” USA Today, Sept. 3, 2002, 1A.
  18. Charles W. Colson, Born Again (Old Tappan, NJ: Chosen, 1976), 114.
  19. Ravi Zacharias, A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 155.
  20. Lewis, 56.
  21. Colson, 129

 



Looking to Wrong Places for Peace and Happiness: Jesus is The Answer

by Rev. Dr. Daniel ade’ Iselaiye | Chairman, ECWA USA DCC | Jesus Christ assures the world of what he has for all human beings. He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (St. John 10:10). (image, YouTube).

From time immemorial, human beings have sought for ways to find happiness. Philosophers and religious leaders have talked much and written a lot about it.  Jesus came into the world with a mission, that is, to save life and he did it by presenting himself as the one and the only one who could give life in abundance to humanity.  It was critical for him to complete this mission because the more people turned away from God to look for happiness or satisfaction in wrong places the more they perish.  God wanted the world to know the realty of the need to save humanity.  The Scripture says in John in John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.  God gave His Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.” Some today try to go around this simple truth by looking into wrong places for a life of prosperity or happiness. It is sad to know that many church leaders have misled their congregations to believe that money or riches can give happiness or satisfaction.

Wise men and women know that the material things of this world cannot give happiness.  These things cannot guarantee our happiness or satisfaction.  We need a better approach that will show that we understand how real happiness relates to one’s life.  Whether you are a Christian or not, you will indeed believe that life is ontological, that is, it moves towards a particular end which Aristotle (384-322B.C) called “eudamonia, which simply means “happiness,” “satisfaction,” or prosperity.  That will possibly explain why so many modern church leaders erroneously lay undue emphasis on amassing fleeting wealth and riches as if these temporary materials can satisfy restless souls.  There will be no satisfaction until one’s soul finds God who makes man in His own image.  Aristotle believed that happiness is an activity of the soul and to have this life of happiness or satisfaction, one must live one’s life according to reason.  It is this reason that leads us to a life of virtue. What we have become will then determine what we do.  The argument here is not about whether a wise man like Aristotle was a Christian or not.  He certainly lived before Christ appeared in the world. However, he discovered reason as a means of living a life of happiness and Jesus came to show the world that he is the reason, the one and only one that can satisfy our restless souls. When one’s sinful nature is changed he or she begins to live according to the life of Christ.  If that spiritual transformation is real, one will not be looking for happiness or joy that does not come from Christ. The life of virtue does not take place in a vacuum.  The full realization of the good life is guided by reason that is rooted in Christ who is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. No wonder then the prophet calls Jesus the “Wonderful Counselor,” and “Prince of Peace!”

The understanding of what has been written so far is very important to our spirituality. It confirms our belief in the fact that Jesus is the reason for Christmas.  Why then will people look in wrong places for happiness or satisfaction? Look at the world of commerce that celebrates Christmas without Christ.  God is both a spiritual as well as an intellectual Being.  Thus, He wants human beings to reason with Him.  This is stated directly in Isaiah 1:18 where God says, “Come now, let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  Everybody reasons but it is important to know that it is not everybody that reasons aright.  We are therefore invited to reason with God.  When that is done, we will see the futility of looking for happiness or satisfaction in wrong places. When we live fully according to reason, our spiritual life will be nourished.  Looking for happiness in wrong places will be unnecessary, because it is Jesus alone that can satisfy the needs of our souls.  He is the bread of life and the water of life. Know that Jesus wants Christians to rejoice not because of money or the materials of this world but because of their names that are written in the Book of Life (St. Luke 2:20).

The Testimony of King Solomon:  There are valuable things that money cannot buy, such as love, wisdom, and integrity.  Solomon chose wisdom which helped him later in his life to write his last book, Ecclesiastes.  He got all the money, including all the women, and the houses he desired.  He became the richest and wealthiest in the history of the world and it may seem to us that all his desires were fulfilled.  We may judge that he reached the peak but let’s look at his own assessment. Solomon knew that the search for heaven on earth based upon money and other material things is definitely an illusion.  He warns people of the insidious deception of riches.  Solomon reached the top by the grace of God but that top is indeed empty as it has failed to satisfy the continuous thirst and hunger of man’s restless soul. It has been the plan of Satan to make human beings run after vapor and things that do not last.  Humanity is hurt by this satanic deception. What can give peace to the soul has eluded many people in the world. There is a dial need to be led to a higher ground based on the truth behind the following assessment made by King Solomon:

I said to myself, “Let’s go for it-experiment with pleasure, have a good time!” But there was nothing to it, nothing but smoke.  What Do I think of fun-filled life?  Insane!  Insane!  My verdict on the pursuit of happiness?  Who needs it?  With help of a bottle of wine and all the wisdom I could muster, I tried my level best to penetrate the absurdity of life.  I wanted to get a handle on anything useful we mortals might do during the years we spend on this earth (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 MSG).

If nothing in the world cannot heal our sin-sick souls, then the world needs to look at the right person, Jesus the mighty healer. The angel who appeared at his birth knew what the gift of God means to the world.  So, he said, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (St. Luke 2:10-11).

There are many events in our lives that point to the evils of focusing on material things to give us peace and happiness. The love of money, as the Bible puts it, is the root of all evils.  Is very rare today in some churches for leaders to give this warning.  How we wish they could preach more about the beauty of the kingdom of God.  If people know about its power and beauty, it will not be difficult for them to find their ways to it and they will not need much of preaching, neither will they look to wrong places.  False preachers attempt to make their congregations happy through the use of gimmickry. Even though the gospel is not preached, people feel entertained momentarily.  Churches have been invaded by fake ministers through the use of spiritual and psychic sophistry.  They teach in such a way as to offer people false alternatives to the peace that Christ gives.  Beware of the use of modern pseudoscience and the so-called miracle workers who are now using electronic wizardry to deceive innocent people who still have some respect for ordained ministries.  Jesus calls all fake pastors and teachers thieves and robbers. They are used by Satan to steal and destroy souls.

It is a grievous mistake for young people to believe that such things as wine, dangerous drugs, alcohol and the likes can give them happiness.  This is a lie. The danger here is in the fact that when these things are taken in excess, it results into drunkenness which is a powerful spirit by itself.  The Bible makes an interesting comparison between the Holy Spirit and drunkenness. Just as God uses the Holy Spirit in human beings to do His will and conform to the life of a disciple, in the same way, drunkenness controls anyone who is drunk.   A drunkard loses his  or her power or will to control himself or herself because he/she has given his/her own reasoning faculties and all other abilities to alcoholism which does not give anything good to the body except to take away from it before destroying the body.  In order to keep ourselves under the right spirit, the Bible says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).  This is a very powerful analogy.  Don’t be deceived, there is no joy in drunkenness.  Jesus is willing to give us joy and peace.

Jesus Christ assures the world of what he has for all human beings. He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (St. John 10:10).  Let’s beware of the thieves among us.  This includes anyone who teaches and encourages others to look for alternatives to the abundant life that Jesus Christ offers the world.  Let us look only to Jesus and live.  Jesus explained the realty of his claim to Nicodemus.  When God’s people were dying in the wilderness as a result of their disobedience, God asked Moses to raise up a brazen serpent.  Anyone who simply looked up to see the serpent became whole or healed. Jesus came and was lifted up on the cross.  Anyone who looks to him will live (St. John 3:14-15).  Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” {St. John 14:27).

The following song written by William A. Ogden in 1887 is used as the conclusion for this discussion:

I’ve a message from the Lord, hallelujah!
This message unto you I’ll give,
‘Tis is recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

 

Refrain:
“Look and live,” my brother, live;
Look to Jesus now, and live;
‘Tis recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

 

I have a message full of love, hallelujah!
A message, O my friend, for you,
‘Tis a message from above, hallelujah!
Jesus said it, and I know ‘tis true.

 

Life is offered unto you, hallelujah!
Eternal life thy soul shall have,
If you’ll only look to him, hallelujah
Look to Jesus who alone can save.

 

I will tell you how I came, hallelujah!
To Jesus when he made me whole –
‘Twas believing on His name, hallelujah!
I trusted and he saved my soul

May the joy of the Lord be our strength. Amen!

 



Why Jesus’ Parables are Not Just Nice Stories

by Veronica Neffinger | By using parables, Jesus is establishing Himself as a prophet and proclaiming that He is fulfilling the mission of God preached by all previous prophets.

As Christians, we are likely familiar with Jesus’ parables. We hear about them in Sunday school, in sermon illustrations, and we read them in the Bible. These stories reveal important truths about the Kingdom of God, but their purpose is often misunderstood.

Often, Christians seem inclined to view Jesus’ parables as simply nice stories–the same way we might view stories a pastor may use to illustrate a point of his sermon. The parables recorded in the Bible, however, have a much deeper meaning and significance.

In his article for The Gospel Coalition titled “Jesus’s Parables Are Not Heartwarming Sermon Illustrations,” Greg Lanier digs into the purpose of the parables and why it is inaccurate to view them as nice stories.

Lanier points out that after one of the most noteworthy of Jesus’ parables–that of the Sower and the Seed, Jesus makes this baffling statement: “When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,

they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:10-12).

We may ask, Why would Jesus intentionally be vague or less than straightforward in teaching about something so foundationally important?

Lanier directs us to Isaiah 6:9-10 in which God tells the prophet Isaiah, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Like all Old Testament prophets of God, Isaiah pointed to the great Prophet that was to come: Jesus. Like Isaiah, Jesus preached God’s Word to a people many of whose hearts were hardened to His Words.

“Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord and is charged to preach to the nation. His life is spent proclaiming impending judgment for many and restoration for a remnant. God tells him at the outset, however, his preaching will sometimes produce the opposite of what Isaiah may desire: it will make some more dull and unresponsive, not less,” writes Lanier.

Jesus’ statement in the Parable of the Sower, then, is a pronouncement of the state of peoples’ hearts. Those who weren’t receptive to His Words were those who had already been hardening their hearts to the things of God and His Kingdom.

“Almost shockingly, the Lord tells Isaiah his prophetic ministry is designed, in God’s mysterious plan, to produce division in the nation between the repentant and unrepentant. When Jesus, then, takes Isaiah’s commission on his own lips, he’s revealing that his ministry will produce the same result,” writes Lanier.

God’s Words are hard to hear. Writing to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul gets at this same thing: “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15).

Throughout the Bible, says Lanier, “Prophets use parables of all sorts to veil and unveil truth, to bring hearers to the point of recognizing their own self-judgment, and to produce a response to God.”

By using parables, Jesus is establishing Himself as a prophet and proclaiming that He is fulfilling the mission of God preached by all previous prophets. Parables are not heartwarming stories, but instead lessons that communicate deep truths about God and His Kingdom.

Lanier concludes, “The seed of the gospel is freely and lovingly scattered to any and everyone. But the soil is what matters, and God alone can prepare it to receive the seed and yield the manifold crop of repentance and forgiveness. This frees the preacher to sow the seed faithfully, and then watch God work to change sinful hearts according to his sovereign will.”



The righteousness that Jesus expects of His followers

by Dave Doran | The righteousness that Jesus expects of His followers is evidenced by a genuine concern about sin that looks first at ourselves, then outward to help others.

One of the great blessings of my current ministry is that I get to teach seminarians each week and preach in the chapel regularly. I often try to preach from texts of Scripture that I think will help shape the ministry mindset of future pastors and missionaries. Yesterday, I chose to preach from Matthew 7:1-5 and urge the men to guard themselves against the hypocritical mindset which the Lord confronts there.

The first part of verse 1 is perhaps one of the most often quoted and misused texts of Scripture. “Do not judge” is an oft-abused trump card in debates. It seems clear that Jesus is not against judgment, but against a certain kind of judgment. The context makes that clear–just a few verses later He tells them to watch out for false prophets and that they can know them by their fruits, something which obviously requires the exercise of judgment. John 7:24 is helpful in differentiating the two kinds of judgment, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Jesus is confronting a wrong kind of judging in Matthew 7:1-5, not all judgment.

Specifically, the reason that our Lord points out the hypocrisy of the judges in Matthew 7 is because they are not genuinely concerned about sin or about helping other people. If they were concerned about sin, they would deal with their own first. The fact that the person ignores the beam in his own eye while worrying about the speck in his brother’s eye shows that. If he really cared about sin, he wouldn’t ignore his own. If he really was concerned about the other person, he would take care of his own sin so that he could see clearly to help him. By ignoring his vision-impairing beam, he makes it clear that he really isn’t trying to help the speck-afflicted brother, but thinks himself better than him.

The righteousness that Jesus expects of His followers is evidenced by a genuine concern about sin that looks first at ourselves, then outward to help others. Phony, hypocritical concern about sin doesn’t deal with our own first, it focuses on the sins of others. My charge to the future pastors and missionaries was simply to not allow that phony spirit to invade their lives or ministries. If we, as leaders, are going to be genuinely serious about sin, then that starts by looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word.

It is much easier to point out where others are falling short than to admit and address our own errors. As leaders, though, refusing to acknowledge and act to correct our failures not only reveals a flaw in our character, it undermines the credibility of our claims to be concerned about wrong. How can anybody take the claim that we want to do what is right (by dealing with other people’s problems) when it is obvious that we don’t (by not dealing with our own)?

Few things, from my vantage point, undermine the leadership of parents, pastors, or ministries more than this kind of hypocrisy. The parent who quickly and strongly rebukes a child for wrong, while ignoring his or her own failures as a parent eventually loses the trust of the child. A pastor who confronts sin in the lives of church members, but fails to confront it in himself undermines his own spiritual leadership. A ministry or organization, for example, that exists chiefly to point out the disobedience of other people and ministries, but refuses to correct its own failures as aggressively loses its credibility by demonstrating that obedience isn’t really the controlling principle which governs it.

Jesus answer for judgmentalism is not to reject proper judgment, but to exercise it first with regard to ourselves. If we really care about sin, we’ll deal with the beams before we talk about specks. We’ll start in the mirror, not in somebody else’s eye.

David M. Doran, Senior PastorPastor David M. Doran has been the senior pastor at Inter-City Baptist Church since 1989. He leads through sound biblical preaching and teaching both in the church and at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Claudia, have four sons: David (wife, Abi), Daniel (wife, Melissa), Dillon (wife, Emily), and Derek (wife, Jen). Connect via E-mail Pastor Doran

 



Christian Living: Living the Way Jesus Wants

by Mike Bennett | Jesus came to give His followers an abundant life—full of purpose, potential and joy. But Christian living has challenges. How do we live the life Jesus wants (LifeHopeandTruth.com)?

The Christian way of life is the best way of life possible! Jesus said He came so His followers “may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 ). God’s way of living has great benefits for this life and offers “pleasures forevermore” in the next (1 Timothy 4:8 ; Psalm 16:11 ).

That doesn’t mean that Christian living is easy. The challenges and difficulties of this way of life are designed to help us grow to have Jesus Christ’s mind and the character of God. We are to learn to think and act like God because He wants us to be His children forever!

Christian living principles

God gave us the Bible to teach us the best way to live and to give us examples of others to learn from. The good and bad examples in the Bible can make what may seem to be abstract principles come to life.

The articles in this “Christian Living” section will help you find and understand the biblical principles for dealing with the challenges of life. They will help you build strong, supportive, loving relationships. They will help you grow in knowledge of God’s way and in acting on that knowledge.

God’s way is the way of love. It’s the way of peace. Biblical principles will help us at home, at school, on the job, in our time management and decision making, in controlling our emotions and in growing in spiritual maturity. By practicing Christian living, we will demonstrate the values that Christ has and the love He shows.

Start now

This section is a work in progress, so we encourage you to come back often as we add new articles about Christian living. Please let us know if you have suggestions for future articles, and let us know any questions you would like answered.

As a start, we encourage you to read “The Way of Peace” now. It’s a way that this world hasn’t known (Romans 3:17 Romans 3:17), but that God reveals throughout the Bible. It’s the way our loving God wants—and commands—us to live. The benefits are priceless.

 



Searching for Jesus in a Crowd

by Michelle Cox | Maybe some of you are searching for Jesus today, looking for hope and love. As I told my sweet granddaughters, “He’s here. Just keep looking for Him and you’ll find Him (Guideposts).”

When I answered the phone, a sweet little voice said, “Grandmama, can I ask you a question?”

“Well, of course, you can,” I replied. “You can always ask me anything.”

Anna, our seven-year-old granddaughter, had called to see if we would take her to the Saturday night performance of the Easter drama at our church. It’s a big event with extensive and intricate sets, colorful costuming and a huge cast.

We’d already planned to be there for the Sunday morning drama, but as any grandparent knows, when your grandbaby calls to ask for something—especially to go to church—you drop everything and make it happen.

Read More: Lesley Stahl on the Joys of Being Grandparent

Anna was waiting at the door when we got there to pick her up. She chattered the whole way to church. Once there, she was fascinated with all the actors in their costumes—huge Roman soldiers, Pilate, the disciples and many others.

Since 900+ people had made reservations that evening, we’d arrived early to make sure we got our seats. As she watched the drama participants milling through the auditorium before the program started, she kept repeating, “Grandmama, where’s Jesus?” And then a little later, “But Grandmama, where’s Jesus? I don’t see him anywhere.”

When her little cousin, Ava, arrived and came to sit with us, she also asked, “Grandmama, where’s Jesus?” Both of their heads turned from side to side as they searched.

For a moment, I had to fight back tears. The thought on my heart was, “Oh, sweet baby girls, I hope you’ll spend the rest of your lives searching for Jesus!”

Maybe some of you are searching for Jesus today, looking for hope and love. As I told my sweet granddaughters, “He’s here. Just keep looking for Him and you’ll find Him.”

Moments later, I said, “Look girls. There He is!” I love how their faces lit up when they saw that the man who played the role of Jesus in the drama was walking over to speak to us.

Here’s what God says about searching:

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

I love them that love Me; and those that seek Me early shall find Me. (Proverbs 8:17)

Are you searching today? Just do what my little granddaughters did: Look for Him—and you’ll find Him! 

Courtesy of Guideposts | You may read the original article in Guideposts.

 

 

 



How to Truly Reflect Christ

by Doug Stringer – The only unshakable kingdom is the kingdom of the Lord; and we, the church, must still love each other in our disagreements. (image from Troutnut.com)

Nov. 2, 2016, was the day of the seventh game of the World Series, and I was ministering at WoodsEdge Community Church in The Woodlands, Texas, at the request of my friend, Pastor Jeff Wells. Throughout the audience, I could see people expressing their team choice by wearing either Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians shirts.

As I got up to speak, I asked the crowd, "How many of you are Cubs fans?" Many enthusiastically responded in affirmation. I got a similar response when I asked, "How many of you are Indians fans?" Then I said, "Tomorrow, some of you are going to be celebrating because your team won the championship. Some of you will be sad and disappointed that your team did not. But at the end of the day, no matter who wins or who loses, you'll still be Christians. You will still be members of the body of Christ, and you will still be part of the church."

I went on, "In a few days, the presidential election will occur, and many of us may have different political preferences. And at the end of the day, some of us will celebrate, and some will be disappointed. But we must remember that our hope is not in the institutions of man, nor in a candidate or political party. Our hope is in the hope of glory, Christ Jesus. When the election is over, we will still be Christians and, as such, should reflect Christ even in our differences. Will we still be Christlike and love those who may disagree with us?"

A Return to Civility and Character

One of the biggest challenges in our society today is the lack of civility and character we display in our disagreements—even in the church. I've never seen so many people who are so adamant and opinionated—politically and otherwise—that they allow their preferences to divide their families, their friendships and even their churches. It's painful and heartbreaking, especially from those representing Christ, on both sides of the political preference spectrum.

The only unshakable kingdom is the kingdom of the Lord; and we, the church, must still love each other in our disagreements if we are to help others find their place in the kingdom. John 13:35 says, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." How can we lead others to a relationship with God if we can't get past our own differences? 

A Church United for a Nation Divided

In Mark 10:9, we see Jesus teach, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." This passage applies to the context of marriage, but it is clear that God is the one who brings the church together, and woe unto the man or woman who causes dissension and separation in the church. Proverbs 6:19 lists one who sows discord among brethren as one of seven things God despises.

We must walk in Christlikeness, crossing racial, denominational and political barriers to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We need to love with the love of Christ; it's the only way we can help others find hope in Christ. 

Only a church united can bring hope and healing to a nation divided.

A New Season

Around the start of each new year, I always spend time seeking the Lord, away from media and other distractions, to really listen and process what He seems to be saying for the next season. And we have definitely entered into an interesting season.

Last year, I sensed 2016 would be a time of re-energizing, refocusing and re-calibrating, and I believe that season is not over yet. In fact, I believe it is needed now more than ever. 

I believe God continues to say to His church:

1. Stay Low: Keep a posture of humility. 

2. Draw Near: Stay close to His presence. When we're permeated by His presence, the hope of glory, Christ Jesus, becomes a part of us, and the power of God in us can work through us. 

3. Incline Our Ears to Hear: When that moment comes and the Spirit of Lord speaks, we must obey and move quickly.

In Isaiah 43:1 we read this wonderful message, "But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.'"

What more do we need? Every decision, every direction and every circumstance that we may go through—be it difficult or great, challenging or victorious—the Lord Jesus Christ is the hope of glory in us. No matter what, we know He's with us, He's engraved us and inscribed us on His hands. We belong to Him, and His power dwells in us. There's nothing to fear when we recognize His commission and His anointing.

A Deep Work in Our Hearts

We need to be a people seeking consecration, asking and believing in faith for Him to do a work in us and get the rubbish out of our hearts. We must be sure to have proper perspectives; keep proper perceptions; be in proper alignments, agreements and associations; and keep right attitudes.

And after we've allowed Him to do a deep work in our hearts, sowing seeds of faith through simple obedience, He will pour out His rain and water the seed. We need to draw from the well that never runs dry because it comes from a source of water—Living Water—that never ceases.

Let's stay in prayer and fix our eyes on the Lord. As in the days of Esther, God can hear our prayers and expose the works of darkness and the evil intent of Haman. The Lord can turn what has been meant for harm and turn it to our good.

Psalm 61 reminds us that when our hearts are overwhelmed, we should be led to the rock that is higher than we are. From the shoulders of the Lord, we can see with a different perspective. The Lord is still bigger than any disparaging voices or giants in the land. Let us not be discouraged or disillusioned, lest we become distracted from our destination and our primary calling. This calling is to be the good news, bring the good news, and broadcast the good news of the gospel.

Be, Bring and Broadcast the Good News

Be, bring and broadcast the gospel. "Gospel" means "good news." With all the negative news we hear daily, may we be the bearers of good news. If we as the church are going to see lasting impact in our generation, then we must be the tangible expression of the gospel, be willing to bring the gospel of good news to so many who desperately need it and passionately broadcast and proclaim good news in and through our lives. We need good news in a world of bad news. Be it, bring it and broadcast it by the way you reflect and represent the Lord in your life.

I want to give this special note to church shepherds and Christians who are called to be ambassadors for Christ: Rather than fall into the trap of venting our personal divisive opinions, shouldn't we be cognizant of the need to unite the church and help bring healing?

At the end of the day, we are to be Christlike even in our disagreements and our public discourse. Maybe Solomon's wisdom would be helpful. Who are those who really care about the baby (flock) versus those who would rather cut the baby in half just to win the argument? We all need God's grace.

Let's not miss our moments of opportunity to reflect Christ, even when we disagree. The world is watching. Even more, the one is watching who called us into the ministry. Be the gospel.

Lift Jesus higher, lift Jesus higher—for all the world to see. Let our (the church's) light shine, that people may see our good (tangible) works in such a way that it brings glory to our Father in heaven.

May this be a year when we the church find unity in our diversity, so we can be a plumb line of healing and hope within a culture of division.