Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

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Will The Real God Please Stand Up! (Part 3)

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

I began this series by exploring some of the reasons why beliefs about God cannot all be true. I then asked if there was any way to test the various beliefs that we have about God in order to determine which of those beliefs are more likely to be true.  What followed from that was a summary of the evidence that we find in various areas of philosophy and science that strongly support the idea that God exists.  In addition to that, we found that this same evidence provides clues that can give us some insight as to the nature and character of God.  Using that criteria to test the validity of various beliefs about God, I pointed out that only Judaism, Islam, and Christianity had passed the test thus far.  The only question that remains is this:  Is there any way to determine which of those three is most likely to give us the truth about God?  At this point, it all comes down to a question of authority.

In order to explain what I mean, we need to return to the example that I gave in part one of this series.  (If you haven’t read part one, it would be helpful to do so before reading further).  We imagined a table upon which I had collected papers that you sent in to me that expressed the various and contradictory beliefs that you have about my dad whom you’ve never met.  Now imagine that I write down a detailed description of my dad and add it to the pile.  Out of all of the descriptions, which description carries the most authority in giving us the truth about my dad?  Obviously it would be my description in this particular case.  When it comes to the truth about my dad, I can speak with authority on that topic, only because I have “inside information” about him as a result of having a privileged, unique, personal relationship with him.  The point is, on any given issue, it is always the case that some people are going to be in a better position than others when it comes to having access to the truth about that issue or topic-  it’s unavoidable.  It’s important for us to note that there is nothing “arrogant”, “intolerant”, or “narrow-minded” about someone claiming to have the truth about something, so long as they have the credentials to speak authoritatively on that topic.

Now let’s apply that same principle in our attempt to find the truth about God.  The question that we all need to ask is this:  Is there anyone in history whose life and words were so unique, so extraordinary, so different, and whose credentials are so obvious that if anyone has access to the truth about God, it would have to be that person?  May I suggest that the most likely candidate is Jesus of Nazareth.  Let’s consider his credentials.  He was born of a virgin.  (It’s worth noting that this detail about Jesus is even acknowledged in the Qur’an).  Those who knew him admitted that they could find no fault in him.  He fulfilled the Old Testament Messianic prophecies down to the finest detail. He was seen by eye-witnesses to demonstrate power over nature, to heal the sick and to raise the dead.  Finally, as the ultimate proof of his authority, he raised himself from the dead, as verified by numerous eye-witnesses including his enemies (Saul, for example).  In short, Jesus’ qualifications put him in such a unique category that if anyone has the “inside track” when it comes to the truth about God, if anyone can speak with authority on this topic, it has to be him.  If Jesus doesn’t know, then no one does.  The only way we will ever know the truth about God is to take Jesus’ testimony seriously.

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Did God Forsake His Son At The Cross?

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Today is Palm Sunday, a day celebrated by Christians to mark the day that Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem-  a day that would lead to a chain of events that would result, a week later, in his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.  Each year as we celebrate Easter and as we reflect on the events surrounding his crucifixion, questions are often asked by those who seek to make sense of those events.  A question that is frequently asked has to do with one of the statements made by Jesus while he is hanging on the cross.  Two of the Gospel writers, Matthew and Mark, make mention of the fact that at one point Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  This statement has led some people to ask if God had, in fact, forsaken his Son at that moment and if so, why? 

            The answer given by most pastors and Bible teachers is that God could not look upon his Son as he hung upon the cross because Jesus had taken upon himself every crime, every offense that the human race had committed against God.  Since God is holy and cannot look upon sin, he turned away from his Son in that agonizing moment as he became the sin-bearer of the whole world.

            There is nothing contradictory about that explanation (especially in light of the concept of God’s triune nature, known as the “Trinity”).  Even though I find that explanation to be well within reason, I believe that there is another explanation that is worth noting.  This alternative view was first explained to me by my good friend Brian, who said that it was brought to his attention while he was attending a Bible study led by Bible teacher, Kevin Saunders.  Having spent a great deal of time living in the Holy Land and being immersed in that culture, Saunders’ Bible studies incorporate much of the knowledge and information that he’s gained from that experience.  In fact, Saunders says that the significance of this statement made by Jesus was first revealed to him by one of the rabbis that he met while living in Jerusalem. 

            The general idea that Saunders shares with his students goes something like this:  Suppose that you are attending a special event and the guest speaker opens with the familiar phrase, “I pledge allegiance to the flag….”  Even if he were to stop after the first six words, most people in the audience would begin to follow along and recite the entire pledge because they have committed all of it to memory.  It is deeply ingrained in them and in our culture.  Just the opening line alone is sufficient to elicit this response from those listening.  Now let’s think about how this would apply in much the same way to the Jewish culture living in Jesus’ day.  The Jewish people were diligent in their memorization of Old Testament scripture.  Memorizing the Word of God was taken so seriously that some sources say that boys between the ages of six and ten would memorize the first five books of scripture.  The better students would memorize the rest of the Old Testament by age 14.

            This fact about Jewish culture is extremely significant in understanding Jesus’ statement.  As it turns out, Psalm 22 begins with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Just as with our illustration (the Pledge of Allegiance), when Jesus uttered these words, those standing around the cross would immediately begin to mentally recall the entire 22nd Psalm.  This leads us to the next question.  Why would Jesus want them to recall that particular Psalm?  What was so significant about the 22nd Psalm?   If you read it, you will see that it contains an extraordinarily vivid, detailed description of the events taking place during his crucifixion.  It’s important to keep in mind that this Psalm was written by David about 1,000 years before the events took place!

            To appreciate how powerful this is, imagine yourself as a first century Jew living in Jerusalem.  You hear a commotion out in the city streets and your curiosity compels you to go find out what’s going on. You see the man they call “Jesus” slowly making his way through the city streets, surrounded by a mob of local people and escorted by Roman soldiers.  As you get closer, you can see him stumbling, carrying a wooden cross on his shoulders.  His face is so badly bruised and beaten that he is barely recognizable.  His eyes are so swollen that he can hardly open them.  From head to toe, he is bleeding profusely from multiple, deep lacerations inflicted upon him at the hands of the Roman soldiers who scourged him earlier. 

            Caught up in the moment, you become part of the crowd and eventually follow the assembly up to the top of a hill known as “Golgotha” where Jesus, along with two criminals, is nailed to a cross.  There he is, suspended between heaven and earth, on  display for everyone around to look upon him in all of his agony, pain, and humiliation.  As you stand there in utter silence and bewilderment wondering what this poor, pathetic man ever did to deserve such horrific treatment, you look around and you begin to notice several details as this event continues to unfold in front of you.

            The man hanging on the cross has his arms outstretched, with his hands and feet nailed into place.  His arms look as if they are being pulled right out of the sockets and because he’s been stripped of his outer garment, you can see his ribcage heaving as he gasps for air.  In addition to the excruciating pain of his lacerations and his nail-pierced hands and feet, he is severely dehydrated, which further intensifies his torment.  On the ground near the cross, the religious leaders have gathered around to mock him and to hurl insults at him, challenging him to come down from the cross and save himself.  Off to the side, the Roman soldiers who are there to oversee the execution are now engaged in a cruel game of casting lots to see who will get to keep the dying man’s garments.

            Suddenly and unexpectedly, you hear Jesus cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  His words immediately trigger a response from you as your mind begins to play back, word for word, the entire 22nd Psalm that you memorized as a child:

            “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…..But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me;  they hurl insults, shaking their heads (saying):  ‘He trusts in the Lord;  let the Lord rescue him.  Let him deliver him, since he delights in him’…….”

            “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.   Many bulls surround me;  strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.  Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.  My heart has turned to wax;  it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;  you lay me in the dust of death.  Dogs have surrounded me;  a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.  I can count all my bones;  people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing……”

 

            As we look at the events surrounding the crucifixion from this perspective, is it possible that Jesus intentionally quoted the 22nd Psalm so that those standing nearby would be aware of the fact that David’s prophetic words were being fulfilled right there in front of them?  It’s entirely possible.  Either way, whether you accept that explanation or the view that I mentioned at the start, one thing is for sure, Jesus’ death on the cross is not to be taken lightly.  As someone has said, “Jesus did not go to the cross so that you could ‘have a nice day’.”  Whatever else the cross may tell us, it tells us that God is very serious about our sin and that he is very specific about what he is or isn’t willing to accept as payment for our sin.  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

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Reconciling A Loving God With The Reality Of Hell- (Part 2)

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

In my previous post, I was dealing with a question that is often directed at Christians, “How could a loving God allow anyone to go to hell?”  In the process of thinking through that question, we discovered that even though the question, at a glance, seems to involve a contradiction, there is no contradiction in it at all.  Having established that, I want to look further into this question to examine some of the emotional reasons people often give for objecting to the idea of hell.  There is no doubt that the idea of a literal hell is so emotionally charged that just the mention of it is enough to create controversy.  Of those who object to it, their reasons generally fall into one of two categories.  Either: (a) They personally find the very notion of hell to be extremely offensive, or (b) They believe that it’s nothing more than a “scare tactic”. 

            Regarding the first objection, I certainly understand why many people find the idea of hell offensive.  But, as with anything else in life, it’s not a question of whether we’re offended by it- that is irrelevant.  The question that we must deal with is whether or not it’s really true!   That being said, I think that there are good reasons why we should believe that it’s true.  For one thing, there is no question that Jesus clearly affirmed the reality of hell.  Given Jesus’ credentials (i.e., his miraculous birth, life, death, resurrection, and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy), if there is anyone who would be in a unique position to know the truth about God, heaven, hell, etc., then Jesus is the most qualified person to speak with authority on those topics.  Therefore, we have good, sound reasons to trust what Jesus said about hell and to heed his warnings about it.

            What about the objection which insists that the idea of hell is nothing more than an invention of man-  a mere “scare tactic”?  Common sense demands that there are some things in life that we should be afraid of.  There is a reason why we use “scare tactics” to warn children about strangers and to warn young people about the dangers of driving while under the influence or while texting.  A doctor who holds back from giving you bad news in order to avoid “scaring” you is not a good doctor.  “Scare tactics” are a legitimate means of warning someone as long as the threat to that person is real.  As I said, there are some things in life that we should fear.  Going to hell is not only one of them, Jesus said that it’s the one thing we should fear the most!  “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)

            So, is there a way to reconcile the reality of hell with God’s love?  The answer is yes.  Even though God’s holiness demands justice for our innumerable crimes against him, it was God’s intense love for us that sent his Son into this world.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.“  (Romans 5:8)  Jesus willingly went to the Cross in order to take our punishment upon himself and to provide the only means by which we can be acquitted.  God has done everything necessary so that we can be pardoned of our offenses against him.  What we, as individuals, choose to do with his generous offer is another matter. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”  (John 3:36)

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Reconciling A Loving God With The Reality Of Hell- (Part 1)

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

“How could a loving God allow anyone to go to hell?”  It’s one of those questions that almost every Christian dreads, especially when it’s asked of him or her by a friend, a family member, or a co-worker.  When confronted by it, it seems that most Christians either end up compromising the answer, or else they end up running away from the question altogether.  Why?  I think that there are a couple of reasons, one of which is the fact that it’s an extremely emotional question.  If the person asking this question has already lost someone close to them, the thought of their friend or loved one spending eternity in hell is so overwhelming that one cannot dwell on it for very long.  The second reason that many Christians are afraid to face up to this question is because it seems like a blatant contradiction.  After all, it’s become so popular these days to talk about a loving God, there seems to be something terribly inconsistent about suggesting that this same God will actually allow people to go to a literal hell-  forever.

            As I said, at first glance, this question sounds like a contradiction, but when properly understood, there is no contradiction at all.  When a skeptic or an unbeliever asks me this question, the first thing that I ask them is why do they believe that God is loving?  In other words, what are they basing that on?  How do they know that God is loving?  Is it something that they just arbitrarily made up on their own, or do they have good, sound reasons for believing something like that?  It’s an important question because most people just assume that the idea of a loving God is central to most religions, but that’s not the case at all.  A survey of most of the world’s major religions will reveal that the concept of a loving, personal God is nowhere to be found.  For example, the idea of a loving God cannot be found in Buddhism because Buddhism does not believe in a personal God to begin with, yet love must necessarily come from a person. 

            As it turns out, the only way that anyone can speak about a loving, personal God, and do so with any degree of certainty, is if they are willing to begin with the Bible as a reliable, authoritative source of truth.  However, if they’re going to use the Bible as their starting point, even if only for the sake of discussion (as a skeptic), they forfeit the right to pick and choose which attributes of God they like in the Bible and which ones they don’t like.  The Bible makes it perfectly clear that even though God is loving, he has other attributes as well.  It goes on to tell us that God is also perfectly righteous and holy.  Even the unbeliever can appreciate the fact that if God is so “loving” that he never punishes evil, then God is not a just judge- he is not a good judge.  Even the skeptic would not respect a God who is so careless or irresponsible with his love that he would allow all of the evil in this world to go unpunished.  So, while it may sound like a contradiction to ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell, there is nothing at all contradictory about a God who is also perfectly holy, just, and righteous allowing someone to go to hell.

            This leads me to my closing thought.  While the question of hell and a loving God involves no contradiction on God’s part, it does, however, expose a glaring contradiction on the part of the skeptic who asks this question.  Those who ask how a loving God could allow someone to go to hell are oftentimes the very same people who will later ask how a loving God could allow so much evil in our world.  In other words, according to them, if God is loving, he should not punish evil (in hell), yet at the same time, they believe that if God is loving, he should punish the evil and injustice that we see going on in our world-  a contradiction, for sure. 

            In my next post, I want to continue with this topic as we explore the reasons why so many people object to the idea of hell and why their objections don’t add up.

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.