Archive for June, 2010

Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus

June 30, 2010

Elisha looks on as Elijah is carried into heaven.

Question:

It seems like there are a lot of parallels between Elijah and Jesus.  The miracles, the feeding of many from a small amount of food, the raising back to life of a child, etc.  Miracles were done the same way it seems but with seemingly little impact on the culture. These actions were done by Jesus, with him the whole world got changed.  You don’t hear many people talking about Elisha the Prophet but he seemed to have done many things that Jesus did.

Answer:

There are definitely many similarities between Jesus and the prophets.  In fact Jesus was a prophet himself, or more accurately, Jesus was The Prophet.  In Luke 4:16-30, Jesus launches his ministry by making an outright declaration of his messianic and prophetic role.  “The Spirit is on ME, because he has ANOINTED me to proclaim the good news…” (Luke 4:18).  Even the people observed this about Jesus saying, “They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people” (Luke 7:16).  And Jesus was treated just as poorly as the past prophets of Israel.  In the Gospel of Luke he rebukes the leaders of Israel pointing to the irony of how they always reject the prophets when they are with them, but then glorify them long after they are dead (Luke 11:47-51).  He said this because the leaders of Israel were all trying to reject Jesus, a prophet in their midst.

Elijah and Elisha were special prophets.  God performed some spectacular miracles through Elijah and he is one of the few people in scripture who does not die.  Rather he was whisked away in a chariot to heaven.  Elijah also appears with Jesus and Moses in the account of the transfiguration in Matthew 17:1–13 and Luke 9:28–36.  The prophet Malachi also prophesied that Elijah would return, and Jesus himself confirms that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come (see Matthew 11:14; 17:10–13).  Elisha was also a prophet of the miraculous, a trait that he received from his predecessor Elijah, who blessed him with a “double portion” of his spirit.

The parallels are certainly present between these great prophets and Jesus.  Jesus of course bears the unique privilege of being the Son of God, not a “Man of God” as Elijah was so often called.  Jesus was divine, and that fact alone is enough to set him apart from these other heavyweight prophets.  Furthermore, God did something with Jesus that had never happened before and still has not happened (not yet at least), God raised Jesus from the dead.  Granted, there are other resurrections in the bible, but Jesus died and rose again and is still risen.  All the others died eventually, and we will die as well, though resurrection awaits all who place their faith in Jesus.

This is no small thing.  The prophets brought powerful messages but saw little if any change among the people.  Jesus death and resurrection was the catalyst that would start a movement that would change the world.  Just look at what happens after his resurrection in the book of Acts.

Elijah and Elisha were great men of God, but Jesus is a savior, a messiah, and indeed God himself.

What’s with the strange events of 1 Kings 13?

June 30, 2010

God sent a lion to kill the unknown prophet from Judah

Reference: 1 Kings 13

Question:
What is this story of the two prophets in 1 King 13 all about?  Why does the one betray the other?

Answer:
You’ll want to make sure your read this one first.  It’s definitely not your typical Bible story.

I think that the main thing we need to take away from this story is the certainty of God’s word, and our need to obey it.  The chapter starts off with an unknown prophet bringing a message from God against King Jeroboam.  Jeroboam had desecrated the Temple and the Alter of God by turning it into a place of idol worship.  But when God clearly speaks a word against Jeroboam, Jeroboam doesn’t change.

God also spoke a word that was for the unknown prophet himself.  God told him, ‘You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came’ (vs.9).  Initially the unknown prophet from Judah adheres to this word.  But when approached by another prophet, the ‘old prophet’, the old prophet lied to the unknown prophet from Judah and told him that an angel of God had said it was okay for him to eat with the old prophet.  Upon hearing this the unknown prophet from Judah disobeyed God and ate with the old prophet.  To our horror and surprise God holds the unknown prophet accountable for going against his word, and a few verses later the unknown prophet was killed by a lion.

It’s hard to know why the old prophet lied to the unknown prophet.  He may have been jealous of the unknown prophet, or he may have just been curious about who he was, but that’s not the point of the story.  Again, the point of this story is the certainty of God’s word and our need to obey it.  The unknown prophet delivered God’s word to King Jeroboam, but he also told Jeroboam what God had said to him, that he “must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came”.  The prophet disobeyed this command and he experienced God’s wrath because of it.  Word of this bizarre occurrence must have spread to the King.  Jeroboam should have seen that the prophets words were true and that God’s words were certain.  Yet amazingly enough, this did not sway the evil idolatrous behavior of Jeroboam.  A lot of times this is the same for us.  We can see God actively proving himself again and again, yet we continue doing our will instead of his will.

We may ask, “why was God so harsh with the man since the old prophet lied to him?”  To ask such a question assumes a couple of things that can be slippery slopes.  First of all, that question assumes that the old prophet was a good man and deserved to live, even though he disobeyed God.  Instead we must remind ourselves that “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Just because the guy is a prophet doesn’t mean that he is outside of God’s wrath and judgment.   No one is.  But Christ took on everyone’s sin and received the wrath of God for us all.  So we need to avoid the thoughts that lead us to a place where we think that there are some people who are good or good enough to avoid the ‘nasty’ side of God.  No one is righteous.  That’s why we need the Righteous One, Jesus, to take up residence in our lives.

Secondly, if we ask the question, “why was God so harsh with the unknown prophet since the old prophet lied to him?” then we ultimately we are making excuses for the man’s disobedience.  We do this too often for ourselves as well.  We allow lies to come into our life that lead us to disobey God.  But the lie didn’t make us sin, we choose to sin.  We can always come up with an excuse to sin, but God’s word is clear to us, just as it was to the unknown prophet.  We can’t make excuses for his sin or our own.  The unknown prophet’s disobedience was clear enough, even if he was deceived.  We allow ourselves to be deceived into disobedience all the time.  But the deception does not nullify the disobedience.  God’s word is certain.

Why is Homosexuality a Sin?

June 27, 2010

2010 New York City Gay Pride Parade

Question:
I know that homosexuality is wrong, but I’m not sure why.  Even for me to say that homosexuality is wrong seems wrong to say it.  The feelings that gay/lesbian people have between each other seems like the same type of love between a man and a woman.

Answer:
There’s no way around it, this issue is complicated.  It would be very easy for us to simply embrace homosexuality and say that it’s okay, this is happening more and more among Christians.  But the easy route is rarely the best route.  There is another easy route that some Christians take, the route of rejecting homosexuals, avoiding them, or even hating them.  Too many Christians take this route as well.  The difficult way to go is the way of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t shy away from the issue of sin, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t loving.  On the contrary, he loved greater than any of us could ever know how to love.  Jesus would lovingly look a sinner right in the face and simply say “…go and sin no more” (John 8:1-11).  We need to be able to do the same thing.

Unfortunately we don’t deal with sin as well as Jesus, but we must follow his lead if we are to be his ambassadors on this earth.  The cross of Christ places on us the difficult demand to call sin ‘sin’, but also to love those who commit the sin.  If we don’t call sin ‘sin’, then we belittle God’s grace, and we make a mockery of the cross.  But the same is true if we don’t love the sinner.  If we fail to love those who sin, then we also belittle God’s grace and make a mockery of the cross.

Those who are not Christians don’t know any better concerning the will of God.  So if a homosexual does not know Jesus, then they cannot be held to the same standards.  But Christians must be held to the highest standard of obedience.  “Be Holy as I am Holy”, that is the call for us.  It is an impossible one, but with the Holy Spirit we can do the impossible task of aligning our wills to God’s will.

What Does God Have to Say? – The Biblical Question

There are several places in scripture that specifically address the sin of homosexual practice.  In the Old Testament Law there are several verses that clearly prohibit sexuality (see Leviticus 18:22 or Leviticus 20:13).  Some proponents of homosexuality may argue that many of the laws of the Old Testament were nullified when Jesus died on the cross.  You may hear arguments like “the bible says that eating shellfish is ‘abominable’ but we all eat shellfish, so to say that gay practice is a sin is a double standard”.  These argument don’t really hold up too well for a few reasons.  First of all Jesus himself reminds us that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20).  Secondly, these laws concerning homosexuality in Leviticus are morality laws (ethical direction for behavior) not holiness laws (laws for ritual cleanliness).  Lastly, the practice of homosexuality is condemned in the New Testament as well (Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

But the scripture that is most compelling is not the scripture that condemns homosexuality, but the verses that affirm heterosexuality, specifically within the context of marriage.  The bible affirms sexual relationships within the context of marriage, not outside.  And marriage is clearly defined in scripture as the joining of one man and one woman.  Genesis establishes this and both Jesus and Paul affirm it (Matt 19:4-6Ephesians 5:31-33).   When Paul addresses the church in Corinth, he acknowledges that there were all kinds of sexual immoralities in the city and in the church.  Paul answered this problem by affirming the practice of chastity and the institution of marriage between one man and one woman (1 Corinthians 7:1-2).

Why Does the Bible Say It’s Wrong? – The Theological Question

‘The bible says so” should be a good enough answer for those of us who follow Jesus.  But knowing the scriptures that say homosexuality is a sin doesn’t always help us understand why homosexuality is a sin.  So I need to shift from the biblical, to the theological.  The reason why homosexuality is a sin is because it is outside of God’s perfect design, and it is not the way that God designed sex.  When God made this world, he made it perfectly and he called it “good”.  That included everything, the plants (good!), the animals (good!), the man and woman (very good!), and yes even human sexuality (good!!).  Sex was God’s perfect idea, he made it perfect and as we see in Genesis 2:24-25, the perfect world he made included a man and a woman cleaving their naked bodies together.

If you know the story though, you know what happens next.   The man and the woman used their God-given free will and they disobeyed their creator by eating from the tree that was forbidden to them.  This disobedience allowed sin to get a foothold in the world, and when that happened everything that God created was cosmically effected by sin.  Nature was broken, humans were broken, and sexuality was broken as well.  Humans exchanged everything that God had made so perfectly, and they twisted it the way they wanted it to be, including sex.  We see the beginning of this in Genesis 4 when Lamech takes two wives instead of one.  By Genesis 6 God shows his anger at the men of the earth who take any wives that they want, by Genesis 19:4-5 the people of Sodom had completely broken from the perfection that God had created sex to be, and before the end of that same chapter Lot’s daughters have incestuous sex with their father.  The rapid decline from God’s perfection is obvious, and it continues throughout scripture.  Sexual sin is sex outside of God’s intent, outside of his perfect design.  Our sexuality has been profoundly broken by the fall of creation.

Sex is not the only thing broken by the fall.  Our feelings, our desires, and our yearnings are broken too.  Nothing was left undamaged by the fall.  So while I cannot deny that the feelings of gays and lesbians may be very real feelings, that is not the point.  The reality is that those very feelings are the result of sin and the broken world we live in.  Homosexuals are not the only ones with broken feelings and yearnings.  Heterosexuals struggle with this as well.  Many married men and women may have strong feelings of love for people who are not their spouses, but that does not make those feelings right.  Many pedophiles have very real feelings of love for children, but that doesn’t not make those feelings right.   We are tempted and we seek our own wills because sin has effected us to the very core.  As much as we might like to, we cannot justify homosexuality by saying that a gay couple is monogamous, or by saying that they are kind and good people, or by saying that they love each other so much.  The very core of that love is a brokenness caused by sin, and acting out on those feelings is willful disobedience to what God established in creation, and what he has revealed to us in his word.

Why Does it Feel Wrong to Say ‘It’s Wrong’? – The Sociological Question

As mentioned above, our feelings, along with everything else, have been corrupted by sin.  So we can’t always trust our feelings about what is right and wrong.  That is why scripture is so valuable to us.  Without scripture our feelings about right and wrong will default to the standards of our culture.  Thus, the reason it feels wrong for you to say “homosexuality is wrong” is sociological at the core.  In other words, culture has successfully taught us to feel bad when we say homosexuality is wrong.

Few of us want to admit that we are products of our own culture, but we cannot avoid it.   50 years ago it would not have felt wrong for you to say that homosexuality is wrong, but with the advent of the 60’s and the sexual revolution, culture changed in a way that we had not seen for hundreds of years.  Today we live in a culture that has thrown out all traditional values, many of which were rooted in scripture, and we have replaced them with our own taboos.  For example, if you say that a certain belief or behavior is “wrong” then you are committing a big taboo in our culture; and it is a taboo has been ingrained our brains subconsciously from the day we learned how to think.  Furthermore, when it comes to sex, all traditional boundaries have been thrown out the window, especially biblically-defined marriage.  The new boundary is simply the boundary of mutual consent.  When it comes to sex in our culture as long as the other person (or persons) say it’s okay, anything goes.

Cultures may change, but God’s word is timeless.  Today we live in a post-Christian culture that has exchanged many of the foundational sexual values of God and replaced them with an “anything goes” ethic.  It feels wrong to say “homosexuality is wrong” because we mistakenly take our ethical cues from culture instead of scripture.  But as followers of Jesus we must apply a different set of ethical standards to our lives.  Even if it goes against the grain of everything around us.

Check out  Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationships Beyond an Age of Individualism by Dale Kuehne