Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Law of Love: Love Your Neighbor

Mill stone
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:31).

Second only to the responsibility to love God with all you are is the command to love your neighbor. However, again, “love” is a weasel word in our society. So what does it mean to love someone? Jesus helped us out with some statements that will make it clearer.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).

We’ve labeled this the Golden Rule. It’s simple: Knowing nothing about that person, if you were the one in that situation, what would you want people to do for you? Many societies have a version of this, but it’s typically the negative, eg, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.” The negative is easy: If you don’t want to be set on fire, don’t set people on fire.

The positive requires you to do for burning people what you would want someone to do for you — namely, extinguish the flames. The positive is less easy. When you see someone who is hurting, someone who is hungry, someone who is cold, you are to give what you would like to receive were you in their place.

The apostles take this command seriously.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Foundation of Christianity

Empty Tomb
Christianity stands or falls on whether Christ was really raised bodily from the dead. This isn’t an optional doctrine. Those who would demote Christ’s resurrection to being merely “spiritual” give up the whole thing. Christ himself pointed to his resurrection as the proof of his authority to teach and do what he did (John 2:19), and Paul made an extended discussion of the importance of the resurrection in 1Corinthians 15:

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. ... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v14-19).

If Christ has not been raised, preaching is useless, faith is futile, we have lied about God, we’re still guilty of our sins, and the dead are truly gone. “We are of all people most to be pitied.“ If Christ has not been raised, Christianity is a joke, a silly game we play every week. We’re more than ridiculous; we’re pitiful. We should pack this thing up and go home.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Cor 15:20). This turns everything on its head.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Horror of the Cross

I’m sure once you’ve committed to a course of action you stand strong and never waver. I, however, must admit I may have chickened out once or twice.

Since Nicaea, the deity of Christ has more or less been settled doctrine. We believe the Son is “God from God, light from light, very God from very God.” We have a harder time with the humanity of Christ. Though we say he is “God made man”, we struggle with what that really means.

When the scriptures say that Christ ”took the form of a servant” and was “found in human form” (Phil 2:7-8 ESV, NRSV), it means he added a real human nature to his divine nature. That means he added all the weaknesses of our finite nature to his own. He could get tired. He could get hungry. He could get scared.

Which brings us to something often labeled a contradiction in the scriptures. In John 12, Jesus again teaches the disciples that he must die. Then he says, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (v27-28). He is ready to face his fate bravely.

Why then do the synoptic gospels record him in the garden pleading, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt 26:39)?

There’s no contradiction. Quite simply, his fear got to him. On Sunday, he’s ready to face the cross. On Thursday night, he dreads what the morning will bring. It was a very human response.

What was he so afraid of? Crucifixion is a horrible way to die, but was that really what he was scared of? It was only going to be a few hours. Then he would be in paradise. The length of time he was going to be dead could be measured in hours. Then he would, as he had predicted, rise from the dead.

Did Jesus really, as some skeptics have mockingly said, just give up his weekend for our sins?

Why was he so afraid of his death when countless martyrs — Christian and not — have faced their fates stoically?

It wasn’t the death. It was the wrath.

“God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us ...” (2Cor 5:21) “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). God requires justice for our sins. A rebellious sinner who dies in his sin will spend forever experiencing the wrath he is due. A few hours of pain, even a few days of death do not satisfy the wrath our rebellion warrants. In the few hours he was on the cross, Christ somehow experienced all the wrath we all deserve. The LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all (Is 53:6).

What would it be like if you could suffer all the pain from all the burns anyone has ever received at once? Can you imagine that kind of suffering? And if you could feel every lash of a wip or blow with a fist anyone has ever lived through? Every time someone has been stabbed or shot or suffocated or crushed, you got to experience that, too. We don’t know exactly what Christ suffered through in those hours when the sun went dark and his Father forsook him, but know “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31), and Christ Jesus did just that times billions.

It was this wrath that filled Christ with dread such that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). But still he prayed “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He did not call down those legions of angels. He did not, as they taunted, come down off that cross. Instead he bore the wrath of God for me and for you.

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Saviour's blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?1

1 "And Can It Be?" by Charles Wesley

Image via Pixabay

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

10 Commandments for Loving God

10 commandments
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

Loving God is more than feelings; it’s what you do. It’s obeying him, choosing to honor him in how you live. The Decalogue, though often divided into “vertical” and “horizontal” rules (meaning, those pertaining to sins against God and those against other humans), can be viewed from the perspective of how each is a sin against God.

The first few are pretty obvious. You shall have no other gods because that suggests that the Living God is on par with the idols (or possibly demons, cf, 1Cor 10:20) which is an insult. God doesn’t share what’s his. If we love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we’ll have nothing left for another god — be it Ba’al or a modern god like money, success, or social acceptability.

You shall not make an image doesn’t just repeat “no other gods” but mainly forbids trying to “tame” God by misrepresenting him as less than he is. YHWH is not a calf. He is also not a grandfatherly figure who simply wants everyone to be happy. Thou shalt not replace God with a more manageable caricature of himself.