Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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.

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Did God the Father Abandon Jesus?

April 3, 2010

My God my God why have you forsaken me?

Reference: Mark 15:34 (NIV) and Matthew 27:46 (NIV)

Question:
Why on the cross did Jesus cry “My God Why Have You Forsaken Me?”  I realize that Jesus was human as well and I’m sure he felt the enormous pain but he knew all along what and how things were to happen in order to do God’s will and fulfill the scriptures but why would he yell out “Why Have you Forsaken/Abandoned Me?” Why would he EVER feel abandoned by the Father?

Answer:
It is important to reaffirm the humanity of Jesus when considering his Passion.  Jesus knew this was God’s will.  He had predicted it himself many times (Matthew 16:21) and each time he also emphasized that there would be resurrection.  He knew the victory that was to come, and even while he was on the cross he acknowledged to the other criminal that before the end of that day they would be together in paradise (Luke 23:43).  So clearly Jesus knew the plan.

But even though Jesus knew the plan, he still prayed to God the night before his death for God to “please take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).  And we shouldn’t be surprised at that.  You can imagine the emotional turmoil that Jesus physical anguish that he was about to endure.  The question remains though, would Jesus have really thought that God would abandon him, and would God truly abandon his own Son.

The answer is… yes.  That is precisely what happened to Jesus on the cross, he was abandoned by God.  After all, isn’t that what death really is?  We like to say brave words like “death is just another part of life” but is it really?

Actually, when God created the world, Death was not a part of his original design.  Instead death became the punishment that was instituted for the world when Sin entered into it, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  It was only after the Fall of humans that God said “from dust you were taken and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).  You may recall in Genesis Chapter 3 when God killed an animal to make clothes for Adam and Eve.  The death of that animal at the hands of God represents the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, and in the very next chapter we see the death of the first human, Adam’s son Abel.

Death is not something to be romanticized or made light of with pat sayings and trite expressions.  Though we often try to comfort each other in those ways.  At funerals you may hear several people saying things like “God just wanted to take her early so that she could be with Him.”  Sounds nice and sweet, but it’s not true.  If that were the case then she would have gotten scooped up while she was still alive like Enoch in Genesis Chapter 5.  Death isn’t God bringing us to be with him.  Death is his a means of separating unholy us from holy God.  It is a clean separation between God and those who have chosen to do their own will instead of his (that’s everyone btw).  So yes, in a very real way, death is God abandoning us.  Therefore when Christ died, he was experiencing the abandonment of God.  You can count on the fact that for Jesus, who was closer to God then anyone else, this was more painful then crucifixion itself.  Fortunately, all of this comes with a very big BUT.

BUT resurrection.  Death may be the punishment for sin BUT resurrection follows death.  God broke the power of death by raising Jesus from the dead (Hebrews 2:14-15).  Jesus is the firstfruits of this resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), that means there are many more resurrections to come.

I think that one of the greatest fears that people have is not death itself, but abandonment and aloneness.  Likewise, one of our greatest longings is for intimacy.  The reality is that death brings with it the fear of ultimate loneliness, ultimate abandonment, ultimate severing of intimacy.  BUT thanks be to God there is resurrection.  This is THE GREAT HOPE of our faith.

But even though Jesus knew God’s plan for resurrection the pain of being abandoned to death by his own heavenly Father must have been excruciating.  Thus he cried out in a loud voice.  “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which  means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ?” (Matthew 27:46).

Not only was this a shear cry of pain and emotion, but it was Jesus being scholarly to the very end.  He spoke the words in Hebrew, not in the common tongue of Greek, or his native tongue of Aramaic.  He spoke in Hebrew from the Hebrew scriptures.  These exact words are from Psalm 22, a Psalm written by King David.  I encourage you to read this psalm, the words powerfully capture what Jesus must have been feeling on the cross.  He knew scripture better than anyone, so he shouted out the first lines of one of the most wretched sounding psalms he knew.  He did this in an effort to convey exactly how he was feeling…  abandoned, alone, forsaken to the point of death…

…BUT resurrection.

Now we can live in the confidence of knowing that resurrection is on the other side of death.  We don’t have to fear abandonment or loneliness because Jesus broke the power of Sin, death, and the devil.  His cry of anguish is our cry of liberation.

If this post raises questions for you about heaven, after life, etc.  just ask.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast. How do I interpret this parable?

February 3, 2010

Reference: Matthew 22:1-14

Original Question:

Could you please explain the end of the parable in Matthew 22:11-13. All the people who were coming to the feast  were wearing wedding clothes, except one. First, how did the guy without the clothes get into the feast? For us the feast means the feast in heaven and the wedding clothes are our new life in Christ. So can I get into heaven without putting on the new clothes?  Or was the reason to throw the man outside not for wearing the wrong clothes but because he couldn’t reply to the King’s question? He calls the man Friend, so he wasn’t mad at the beginning of the conversation.

Modified Question:

How do I interpret this parable (and others)?

A note on interpretation of parables:

The interpretation of parables is not an easy task, and this parable is considered by many to be THE MOST DIFFICULT to interpret.  Unfortunately parable interpretation is a difficult task that scholars have made even more difficult for centuries by ‘over interpreting’ the parables.  The tendency of most people (including historical smarties) is to apply allegory to the parable where it does not belong.  Allegory is a literary device that uses elements of a story to represent elements of real life.  The Wizard of Oz for example, is an allegory.  The Tin Man represents the industrial revolution, the Scarecrow represents the midwest farmer, etc.  Almost every character and setting in the story has some symbolic meaning.  Some parables have allegorical elements, but we must resist the temptation to allegorize the parables.  Usually they are simple stories that have a specific intent.  They are not all-encompassing allegories in which everything has some hidden meaning.  Jesus was not trying to speak in some hidden code.  Thus, in this parable, we should be slow to assign specific allegorical meanings to each element and instead ask the simple question, What is Jesus’ message here?

To do so though there are some things we need to know…

The Parable of the Feast in Matthew (an Explanation)

“Friend, where is your wedding garment” - 14th Century Russian icon of the 'Parable of the Feast'. Note the man on the right being bound and thrown out in the street.

First of all, we need to know WHO Jesus is talking to.  This will help a great deal with our understanding.  Remember, he’s not talking to us, though once we have come to an understanding of Jesus’ intent we can apply it to our lives.  For now though, Jesus is talking to some first century Palestinian audience.  Most likely he is addressing this parable to the religious leaders of Israel.  We can gather this given the context and tone of the previous parable, the immediate transition from the previous parable, and the opening of this parable “Jesus told them”, we can assume that “them” refers the religious leaders that he was already pissing off in chapter 21.

Secondly, we need to understand who this parable is about.  Like the previous parable in chapter 21, it is likely that this parable is also about the priests and Pharisees, though we might be able to apply this to the broader population of Israel.

Lastly, this parable is eschatological (see other posts dealing with eschatology).  It has to do with God’s coming kingdom.  We can gather this from the language of banquet and feast.  These terms would have been synonymous with the end times for first century listeners.  So also is the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” which would have been synonymous with judgment and the end.

Even with this little bit of knowledge we can begin to piece together the intent of this parable.  Essentially what Jesus is communicating to his listeners here is that it is often those who we may not expect who will be invited into the Kingdom.  Imagine what this would have been like for the Pharisees and teachers of the law to hear.  They think that they are a shoe-in for heaven, they think that they have lived there lives perfectly and all their ducks are in a row.  Jesus has other ideas though.  He sees a group of people who think that their merit and their Jewish-birth-status will earn them salvation.  They think that they are already there at the feast, but the reality is that they haven’t even responded to the invitation.

For us the message is simple. “The Kingdom is like a prepared banquet, and to refuse its invitation is to encounter judgment” (Snodgrass, 320).  It is a harsh message to be sure.  We would probably like it better if Jesus was more “nice guy” and just let everyone come without the whole destruction and killing part.  But remember that our God of grace and love is also a God of justice and judgment.

At the end of the parable we still need to deal with another part that can be a bit confusing.  The last 3 verses (Matt. 22:11-13) are thought by some to be part of another parable that was added on to this one.  Whether or not that is true, we still need to deal with the intent of what Jesus was trying to say, when he talks about a man who was at the feast without the proper clothes for the wedding feast.

Fortunately we have already dealt with who Jesus is addressing and to what the parable is referring.  In this apparent addendum to the parable we are dealing with a man who has shown up without proper wedding clothes.  Likely his clothes are his every day dirty clothes.  Some of us may be tempted to equate the wedding clothes of the other guests as “being clothed in the righteousness of Christ” or something similar, but that is the kind of allegorizing that we should avoid.  We need to deal with Jesus’ intent toward a first century Jewish audience, not our own external understanding and Christian imagery.  “What is important is that the man made no preparation to wear something fitting to the feast he chose to attend” (321).  Simply put, this man in his dirty clothes represents those unrighteous people who make no preparation for the coming Judgement of God.  Again, these are harsh themes, but they are important for us as we look toward the return of Christ and consider our own preparation and the pursuit of those who are far from God.

Because of the complexity, length, and two-part nature of this parable it has more than one theme.  It has three…

1. The refusal of Israel’s religious leaders to respond to the invitation to the banquet.

2. The gathering of the kingdom of God

3. The separation that takes place at Judgment.

There is no need to assign specific meaning to the man’s non-response at the end, or the king’s initial reference to him as ‘friend’.  The important thing is that he showed up for the banquet unprepared and he was Judged accordingly.  This is a hard teaching for us but the message for our lives should be very clear.  We need to be ready for the banquet.  Christ promised that he would come “and come quickly” (Revelation 22:12 NASB).  Our task is to ready our lives and the lives of others that we meet. Whether we like to hear about God’s Judgement or not does not make its reality any more or less real.  Fortunately, our salvation is based not on our merit but on Christ’s work on the cross.  Our readiness then, is the product of believing in him.  If we believe in him, our lives will reflect the kind of clothes we are supposed to be wearing to the banquet.

See Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus by Klyne Snodgrass

Does Jesus show a preference to Jews over Gentiles?

February 2, 2010

Reference Verse: Matthew 15:22-28, Mark 7:24-30

Question:

Jesus’ reply is that he doesn’t help gentiles and only helps God’s people.  Why does he wait for her to beg and then reluctantly help her?

Answer:

Was Jesus rude to the Gentile woman?

As much as we would like to, we cannot remove Jesus from his culture.  He was a first century Palestinian man of the Jewish faith.  When we interpret Jesus we must interpret him through that lens.  Thus, we cannot come to scripture with our preconceived notions about how he is supposed to behave.  Ultimately such a thing almost is impossible to do, but as GI Joe says, “knowing is half the battle”.  And when we interpret scripture, we need to know that Jesus doesn’t usually fit our mold, as much as we’d like him to.

Jesus’ response to this Canaanite woman (Syrophoenician in Mark) is a tough one to swallow for obvious reasons.  We usually have a picture in our mind of a warm and loving Jesus who tells stories to little Children.  But here he seems downright rude.  He basically refers to non-Jews, and this woman in particular as ‘dogs’.  Certainly not a term of endearment!  One of the interpretive difficulties that we face here is that we only have the text from which to judge the conversation.  There is no way to discern the tone of what Jesus and the woman are saying.

What if, perhaps, Jesus said this seemingly harsh response with a hint of sarcasm and a twinkle in his eye?  He replied to the woman’s request, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  To which the woman, with keen understanding about the culture, bantered back with Jesus wit for wit by saying “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  If looked at in a different light the conversation can take on a whole new character.

We often take Jesus’ tone to be so serious that we have a hard time imagining that he could have wit, or a sense of humor.  But given the woman’s response, and what we know to be true of Jesus love and compassion for the marginalized in society, this scenario is perfectly legitimate, and perhaps most likely.

That said though, we still need to wrestle with the issue of Jesus and his call to serve the Children of Israel first.  Remember, that the nation of Israel was called to be a light to the nations, a blessing to all people (Genesis 12: 2-3; Galatians 3:8).  When Jesus came he was definitely not rejecting the Gentiles, on the contrary, he went out of his way to care for them (John 4) and they went out of their way to seek him for healing (Matthew 8:5-13).  Still though, Jesus was sent as a Jew, to the Jews.  He came urging the Children of Israel, and the leaders of Israel to remember their call to the nations.  In Mark 15 Jesus’ anger toward the teachers of the Law reached its limit when he overturned the tables in the temple.  This was not in response to the practice of selling things in the temple, it was in response to the fact that Gentiles were being excluded from Temple worship, even though the Temple was supposed to be “a house of worship for ALL nations.”  So clearly, Jesus was not exclusive in his teaching or healing, but still, his mission was to the Jews.  This was even reflected in his sending out of the 12 disciples in Matthew 10.  There he gave them explicit instructions only to go to the “lost sheep of Israel”.  Only later after Jesus death and resurrection would the message be sent to the rest of the world.  Jesus ministry was to the Jews, but the Holy Spirit and the Church would be given a mission to the whole world.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus says to his disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” But note that this was after his death and resurrection.  Through his blood, Jesus brought reconciliation to Jews and Gentiles.  So he could say to his disciples in Matthew 28, to “go into ALL the world”.

In the Gospel of John there is another strange interaction between Jesus and some Gentiles (John 12:20-23).  A group of ‘Greeks’ came seeking Jesus, but rather then speaking to them, Jesus speaks to His disciples and says “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory”.  Weird, right?   Something significant occurred when those Greeks showed up to see Jesus.  When these ‘unclean’ gentiles came to Jesus, it signified to him that something was about to happen, namely, his crucifixion.  Gentiles were coming to him, and it was time to make a way for them to receive the full blessing of Abraham.  Ultimately it would be Jesus death on the cross that would break down the barrier between the Jews and the rest of the world (See Galatians 3:26-29).

Jesus was a radical who did radical things.  And through him, dividing walls like those between Jews and Gentiles were torn down.  But we must be careful not to interpret Jesus inside the vacuum of our own limited understanding of culture and the world.

Present suffering in the midst of Jesus’ promises.

January 15, 2010

Question:

Jesus says that God knows what we need and will give us what we need. Why do then so many children, christians suffer from hunger… ?

Answer:

Yikes!!!

I wish there was an easy answer to this one.  Even theologians spend years on trying to figure out the complexities of suffering, especially suffering of the innocent.  There is an answer, but unfortunately it would take volumes to do it justice, so what I’m about to do would probably make my theology professors cringe, but I’ll give it a shot anyways…

Haiti Broken: If God promises provision, than why do so many experience poverty, tragedy, and lack?

The issue of suffering coupled with the (seemingly) contradictory promises of provision that we see throughout scripture have to do with two (for the sake of time) very weighty Theological topics, namely, Sin and eschatology.  I’ll start with the first word since we hear that a lot more often…

Sin:  Sin is missing the mark, a fall from perfection, or more pointedly, a separation from God.  It is something much bigger than the ‘bad things’ we do from day to day.  What we often fail to realize when considering Sin and the Fall of humans in Genesis 3 is that the consequences of that Fall weren’t just personal (having to do with individual lives) they were cosmic (having to do with everything in the universe).  Not only did Sin, deceit, and evil become a part of human nature, but sin crept into nature itself.  As God said in Genesis 3, because of what Adam and Eve did the ground was curses as well.  Nature, creation, the entire cosmos were infected with a brokenness that we all still experience today.  Take for example what we saw this past week in Haiti, the brokenness of our planet, the poverty of our brothers and sisters, the chaos of disaster.  These are not the results of some 200 year-old Haitian deal with the devil as Pat Robertson would suggest.  However, they are the result of the brokenness that exists in this world, a brokenness that is the direct result and consequence of our original separation from God.  The ramifications of sin are Cosmic.  Hence, innocent children are the poorest of the poor; nature seems to turn against us, rather than being a gift to us; and yes, bad things happen to people who do good things.

Eschatology: Enter Jesus, onto the scene of a broken world cosmically torn apart by Sin.  Eschatology is the theological study of the end times.  Bad theology over the years has painted a doomsday picture of the end times, and for some, it is true that the return of Christ, and the end of this age will not be a good day.  But at its core, the return of Jesus, and the end of this age is actually our greatest hope.  Jesus taught us to pray, “your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”  That is an eschatological prayer.  A prayer that looks to the coming of God’s reign and rule when all that is wrong will be set right, all that is broken will be fixed, all that is tainted by Sin will be redeemed.  It is the time when the cosmos (and our individual lives) will be set right, and we will be made whole again.

So why do I mention this in light of Jesus’ promises in Matthew 6 that he knows what we need and will provide for us?  Here’s why…  Jesus was an eschatological preacher.  He came with a message that said the time of renewal is coming, and I am the one who will usher it in.  Matthew’s gospel is a perfect example of this teaching from Jesus.  Note all the times that Jesus talks about the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of heaven” he is referring to the ultimate reign and rule of God that will set all things right.  So you ask, “if Jesus came, than why do things still suck so bad?”  Good question.  The reason is as follows…

Already (but not yet):  The Kingdom of God has ALREADY COME, but it is NOT YET HERE in its fullness.  This element of eschatology is often referred to as “The Already but Not Yet”.  As my seminary professor used to say, we live in the overlap of the ages.  In other words, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in powerful change in the world by his coming, but that change has NOT YET reached its fulfillment.  Jesus has ALREADY freed us from our sin, but NOT YET do we live in a world without sin.  Perhaps most significantly, Jesus has ALREADY conquered death through his resurrection, but NOT YET have we experienced the same freedom from death (though we will).

All that to say, when Jesus says something like he does in Matthew 6:28-34 (below) about God’s care for us and his provision for us, we must understand this within a framework of eschatology.  Even in that passage he urges that even before we think about our physical needs we should “seek first the kingdom”.  In other words, that is where our real hope is.  God will care for us, but for some of us that care may not come until Christ comes again, think of all the children and good christian people who lost their lives this week in Haiti.  Are we to call God a liar because he did not provide for them?  Of course not, for in the last days God’s perfect justice, perfect love, and perfect restoration will set all things right.

That said though, as followers of Jesus, we must avoid at all cost the attitude that everything will be taken care of in the end, so I don’t have to care about the world now.  Wrong!  Before Jesus left he commissioned his Church and sent his Holy Spirit to empower the church to go into the world and start doing the work of the Kingdom right now.  After all, Jesus has ALREADY ushered in the kingdom, so the church has a responsibility to do the business of the kingdom, and that business is restoration.

Haiti is so poor that most Americans who were there were missionaries who felt a call to serve them.

I am amazed as I watch footage of the earthquake victims in Haiti that almost all of the Americans who were there were Christian missionaries.  These are people who know the business of the Kingdom.  They bring Jesus into the homes of the poor and the powerless, and in doing so they bring with them a kind of realized eschatology, or glimpse of end time restoration right now.  That is what we are supposed to be about.  Christians and children will continue to suffer from hunger, so Jesus says to the Church, “go take care of them, be my hands and feet, be the Kingdom come, right now and I’ll do the rest.”  We the church and the Holy Spirit, need to be the ALREADY and Christ will return with a big bang, but NOT quite YET.  That’s why he says in Matt 6:34, “don’t worry about tomorrow” (below) because he’s got it taken care of.

28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

“I haven’t seen faith like this is all Israel!”

January 12, 2010

Question:

In Matthew 8:10 Jesus said that:”… I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!”  Since Jesus is God he’s been present since the be beginning of all time, does that mean the there’s never been somebody in Israel with faith like this officer?

Answer:

There are two things going on in this question.  One is a question of Jesus’ omnipresence (presence everywhere all the time), and one is a question of the centurion’s faith.  But what is the verse about?  That is the most important thing.

Jesus uses the Centurion as an example of great faith.

There is no doubt from scripture that Jesus was omnipresent God, present from before the very beginning.  In John 8:58 Jesus says, “before Abraham was born, I am”.  This is not only a statement of Jesus’ deity, but of his presence all places at all time.  But Matthew 8:10 is not a moment where Jesus is trying to emphasize his omnipresence, rather it is a moment where he is trying to emphasize the centurion’s great faith.  The response of people hearing Jesus say these words would not have been, “wow, this guy must really be faithful because Jesus is God and he would really know who the most faithful person in history is.”  No, their response would have been, “really?!?! a gentile? a roman centurion has greater faith then a jew?!?”  Jesus statement has shock value because he is not only pointing out that a non-Jew can have real faith, but he is also indicting the Jew’s around him who have not seen him for who he really is.  Instead, the least likely of people has correctly identified Jesus as the God and Lord that he is.


Why is it so important for us to understand that God was fully human and fully God?

January 7, 2010

Question: Why is it so important for us to understand that God was fully human and fully God?   It seems like there is a lot of confusion by other religions on this one.  Isn’t the Bible clear on this one?

Answer: Scripture is very clear that Jesus was fully God and fully human, and this is one of the foundational pieces of our faith.  But that’s not the question here, the question is “why is that important?”  Like the doctrine of the Trinity it is very difficult to understand, but very important to our faith.  Below are some reasons why.

Heresies about Jesus’ nature, and their problems…

1) Jesus is not human because the physical world is evil:  This heresy has existed since the first century.  It suggests that the physical world, including our flesh, is evil but the spiritual world is good.  This is a common view among ancient Greeks.  Thus how could Jesus be a part of the physical world if he is God?  This view goes directly against the fact that God created us and said that we were “very good.”  Jesus came to redeem creation not reinforce the idea that it is evil.

2) Jesus only appeared to be human:  Another danger of the belief that Jesus was not human is that it suggests that Jesus likely would not have experienced the pain and anguish of human life and death.  This could lead to the belief that Jesus only faked or acted out the pain and suffering of his death on the cross which goes directly agains one of the core elements of our faith.  Jesus suffered and died, he lived and experienced our pain, and took on the pain of crucifixion for the sake of those he loved.  Not to mention that if he only appeared to die they what need is there for a resurection, and if there is no resurrection there is no hope for all of us who are under condemnation.

3) Jesus was a human adopted by God: This heresy (called adoptionism) is the idea that Jesus was not God but was a human adopted by God.  In other words, he was a very special human.  These people often hold to the idea that Jesus was a good example for us because he was such a good man.  This view is very dangerous though because it robs the Gospel of all its power.   The Gospel says that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, it is a gift from God through His Son Jesus.  This view reduces the ‘gospel’ to self-salvation which is no gospel at all.  It’s the idea that by following the example of a good man we can be saved, but this is completely contradictory to our faith.

Those only represent a few of the problems/heresies that have threatened the true understanding of Jesus Christ.  It is important that we not make Jesus anything less then God neither can we make him anything less than human.

“If Jesus Christ was not God there would be no particular reason to suppose he cannot be surpassed.  People who settle for a merely functional [theology of Christ] will inevitably begin looking for another Christ or at least allowing for a the possibility of many Christs…at the same time, we must remember that he was and is not only truly human, but also the true human.  From Jesus Chrsit we learn not only the will and Character of God but also our own humanity” (Olson, 242).

That is precisely the reason why Matthew starts off his Gospel with a geneology from Adam to Jesus.  It points to his humanity.  It starts with the first, yet corrupted, human and ends with the perfected human in Jesus.

Reference from The Mosaic of Christian Belief, Roger E. Olson

Why did God previously require animal sacrifices?

January 5, 2010

This question could require a lot more, but I will give the bare minimum for basic understanding.

When Adam and Eve committed the original sin (Genesis 3) the consequence was death.  The first time we see this consequence is when God kills the animal to clothe them in animal skin.  Thus, blood was shed as a result of their sin.  Death remains the consequence of Sin, and like all people we will one day die, because our entire world has been contaminated with Sin.  God however, allowed men and women to live on this earth in spite of their sin, and he began to set in place ways for people to “atone” for their sin.  Animal sacrifice was a practice of atoning for their sin.  Instead of receiving the penalty of death, God would transfer the penalty to an animal, thus the penalty of death was still carried out for Sin.  This is a root part of the meaning of atonement (at-one-ment), because it allowed the people to be one with God even though the deserved death and eternal separation.

The crucifixion of Jesus and the sacrifice of animals in the Old Testament are intimately related.

Unfortunately this was only a temporary fix for the situation because sin was so great.  The reason that we do not continue this practice today is because Jesus received the penalty once and for all.  No longer would a sheep, a cow, or a goat need to be sacrificed, and no longer do we need to live under the consequence of our sin, because Jesus took the penalty that we deserved and satisfied the wrath that God had for our disobedience.  This is called substitutionary atonement.  There are many different good analogies that describe Christ’s atonement for our sins, but this is the most common and it is one of the fundamental beliefs of Christian faith.

Remember that God is both perfectly just and perfectly loving.  Sometimes it seems like the two cannot coexist, because if justice is to be done perfectly then everyone God loves deserves death, but if God is to love perfectly how can he bring death to those he loves.  It is a huge conundrum and that is why Jesus was the only way to redeem, or fix, the situation.  God could bring his perfect justice on Jesus.  Paul says that on the cross “he became sin for us” even though he was perfect in every way.  This substitution of Christ in our place satisfied God’s nature as one who is perfectly just, and allowed him to continue loving us by opening the door for eternal life.

Who is “us” in the first few chapters of Genesis?

January 5, 2010

Question:

Who else is God referring to when he mentions ‘us’?  Gen 1:26 ‘ let us make human beings’.  Gen 3:22 ‘look humans have become like us’?

Answer:

There is no doubt in my mind that these are the first references to the fact that our creator God exists in a community called the Trinity.  This is a foundational doctrine of the Christian faith, it is not the belief in 3 gods, or the belief that God takes on 3 different shapes or ‘modes’ (a heresy called modalism).  Rather, this is the simple yet ineffable idea that God is One AND God is 3, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In the Gospel of John Chapter 1, we see that Jesus (described as logos or ‘the Word’) was there at creation:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Thus, God can have a conversation with himself, because he dwells eternally in the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In Genesis 1:22 and Genesis 3:22 we get a glimpse of what that conversation looked like.

Was Herod the king jealous that baby Jesus was born? Why?

January 1, 2010

Question: Was Herod the king jealous that baby Jesus was born?  Why?

Yes.  Herod was a puppet king, placed in power by the Roman Empire.  But he was a king non-the-less, and like most kings he wanted more power not less power.  Then out of the east come some wise men on pimped out camels and fancy gifts, and these guys didn’t come to see king Harod, they came to see some other king.  Can you imagine what he was thinking?  Another king?!? Here?!?!

Jesus represented a new Kingdom, and his coming (though misunderstood) represented a threat to other powers, be they kings like Herrod, or spiritual authorities like the Pharisees and teachers of the law later in the gospel.  It was more than just jealousy that Harod felt as he ordered the massacre of hundreds of babies in Jerusalem, it was fear.  Fear of losing what was most important to him, his power.