Have you ever heard a politician accuse someone of being, “on the wrong side of history”? It’s a figure of speech, a cliché, that is meant to label an opponent as backward or ignorant in the face of inevitable social change. In other words, the passage of time will vindicate the views of the one and prove that the other was an enemy of progress. Since we recently marked the day in which Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross, and since today is the day we celebrate his resurrection, I thought it would be appropriate to ask the question, “Was Jesus on the wrong side of history?” After all, we’ve had 2,000 years to consider the question.
At the time of his crucifixion, Jesus lost the support of everyone. Jewish religious leaders believed he was a blasphemer for comparing himself to God and threatening their power, so they tried to kill him. The Roman authorities desired to keep their subjects in check, so killing this instigator of the people and enemy of the Jewish authorities made sense. Even Jesus’ closest followers scattered in those dark hours. The one who was meant to be Christ’s rock-solid representative, Peter, verbally declared that he had never known Jesus on three occasions. But far more damning than the loss of his people, had to have been the loss of God, his father.
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus asked God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) The cup he’s referring to is his horrific death. It’s a death that Jesus saw coming because the prophets of old foretold it. Isaiah, who lived 600 years before Christ came, wrote, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God,stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions,he was crushed for our iniquities…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:4-5,7) King David wrote 1,000 years before Jesus was born, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…All who see me mock me;they hurl insults, shaking their heads.“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,“let the Lord rescue him.“…a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22: 1,7,8,16) Jesus understood that these prophecies referred to him. God declared the nature of his son’s death centuries before he ever walked the earth.
According to the Bible, Jesus was on the right side of history even when everyone forsook him as he experienced an excruciating death. In the hour of his death it must have seemed to the world that Jesus had made some tragic mistake, or perhaps he had done something terrible to deserve the judgement of God (like if he had been claiming to be God’s son if it weren’t true). But looking back, and looking through the pages of the Bible, it’s clear that this was all part of God’s plan to save his people. Isaiah the prophet even declares that it was God’s will to crush him. It was God’s will to sacrifice his beloved son to save us out of love. (Why this is so is for another blog post)
His resurrection three days later, his ascension into Heaven, and the subsequent spread of his church all strongly favor the idea that Jesus was on the right side of progress and an unmatched force for social change. But this all hinges on the truth of his resurrection. Anyone can die, but who can rise again?
And 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. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 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. 1 Corinthians 15: 14-19
Paul is saying, essentially, that if Jesus is still dead, he was a pitiful fool, and so are we. Christ would be on the wrong side of history and so would all of his followers.
In the final analysis, the answer to the question of whether Jesus falls on the right or wrong side of history rests entirely on the reality of his resurrection. If he did in fact rise from the dead, we can trust all of his claims about being the son of God and the exclusive savior of mankind. But if he died on the cross and stayed dead, we must dismiss him entirely and judge him as an enemy of progress. The basis of his whole teaching is that he can save people from their sins. If he can’t even save himself, how can he save anyone else? If the crucifixion killed God incarnate, God incarnate rose from the dead in three days. If the crucifixion killed a delusional yet well-intentioned man, a delusional yet well-intentioned man is dust and ashes. It’s one or the other. History knows no neutrality.
Jesus once asked two blind men, “Do you believe that I am able do this?” He asked them if they believed he had the authority and power to restore life to their eyes: if he had power over death and decay.
Today, on Easter Sunday, I join them in saying, “Yes, Lord!”
Andrew Sullivan, blogger from TheDailyBeast.com, recently wrote an article for Newsweek that made the front page. It is called, “Forget the Church: Follow Jesus”, and on his blog it falls under the heading, Christianity in Crisis. I have read it three times through, and some paragraphs more than that, with the intention of discerning his main points of contention with Christianity in America. Anyone who reads my blog knows that this is a topic that I like to focus on. As a Christian living in America, I want to better understand both the culture that I inhabit and the faith that I profess. So, I can’t help but read Sullivan’s article with great interest and scrutiny. In my analysis, his article hits on some major truths about the troubled state of the Christian faith in America, but it also declares something that is completely contrary to historical and biblical Christianity.
The first truth that I found in Sullivan’s article was the issue of using Christianity as a tool to acquire more political and worldly power. He writes, “What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?” This is an excellent and timely point. In a post I wrote recently, “On Gay Marriage” I identified the problem of Christians treating America like a church and trying to make those outside the body of Christ adopt their values. It is foolish to look to the state of the world in the hope that it will reflect the truth of Jesus Christ. What you get is a highly politicized religion that focuses on particular issues more than on living humans. What you get is greater polarization. Instead of Jesus being the central polarizing figure in the interactions between Christians and unbelievers, you have issues marking the divide. And these issues do much to enrage people. Now, let me wrap up this point by stating that I believe Christians should stand up for the issues that best reflect their values. It’s a hard sell to say that abortion and gay marriage are condoned in the bible, so Christians shouldn’t pretend that they agree with them in the name of political correctness. But, and this is important, Christians cannot alienate themselves from those who are on the wrong side of their politics. If anything, Christians have to swallow their pride and lay down their judgement as an act of love toward one who lives in a way that is contrary to theirs.
The second truth of Sullivan’s article is simple, that Christians must practice what they preach. He writes a great deal about Francis of Assisi, who lived as an “example of humility, service, and sanctity.”
A modern person would see such a man as crazy, and there were many at the time who thought so too. He sang sermons in the streets, sometimes just miming them. He suffered intense bouts of doubt, self-loathing, and depression. He had visions. You could have diagnosed his postwar conversion as an outgrowth of posttraumatic-stress disorder. Or you can simply observe what those around him testified to: something special, unique, mysterious, holy. To reduce one’s life to essentials, to ask merely for daily bread, forgiveness of others, and denial of self is, in many ways, a form of madness. It is also a form of liberation. It lets go of complexity and focuses on simplicity. Francis did not found an order designed to think or control. He insisted on the simplicity of manual labor, prayer, and the sacraments. That was enough for him.
Sullivan believes, as I and most Christians do, that it is essential to live according to what Christ taught. In the Book of James it says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:19-20. It is not enough to just know what is right. You must live according to it. Follow the example of Jesus who didn’t seek worldly power and who didn’t seek revenge against those who hated him. Unfortunately, Christians in America look very similar to the rest of society. For example, the divorce rate is the same as non-Christians, which makes it hard to have authority in the gay marriage debate. Jesus spoke harshly against divorce. We also embrace, in large part, the entertainment, materialism, and quest for health, wealth, and influence. Not to say that there are not many individuals who rise above these things by living more in accordance with Christ’s humility, charity, and righteousness. I mean not to condemn all Christians, including myself, just a large portion of us who are either Christians in name only or living out a lukewarm existence defined by half-hearted commitment to God’s will. It is apparent that it is harder to live a righteous life in the lap of luxury than it is in lowly poverty. But in each case what is required is submission to God’s spirit and the constant renunciation of pride and power.
Christians in America must repent and submit to God, and not put the majority of their energy into fights for more political influence, since the former is the true way to see lives transformed.
Now, I have said a lot of good about Sullivan’s article. But he gets something very wrong. I saw it from the very beginning when he lifted up Thomas Jefferson’s gutting of the Bible as an example of a man who was searching for, “the purest, simplest, apolitical Christianity, purged of the agendas of those who had sought to use Jesus to advance their own power decades and centuries after Jesus’ death.” Jefferson removed anything that didn’t fit his understanding of who Jesus was. That included many of the supernatural claims and large portions of the New Testament. In short, he was choosing which parts of the scriptures he wanted to accept. And Sullivan doesn’t denounce this as heretical. That’s a problem.
This type of radical redefining is something that I have seen before from current Christian leaders like Brian Mclaren and Rob Bell. (I have written on both men and you can find those articles, The Biblical Buffet of Brian Mclaren and What the Hell Bell? by clicking on the links) In response to the pressures of modern society they have attempted to redefine what Christianity has been throughout history. Mclaren throws the God of the Old Testament completely under the bus, and Bell throws out the doctrines of hell and diminishes the truth of God’s righteous wrath against sin. Both shy away from the truth of Christ being the exclusive way to God, and therefore Heaven. It sounds so judgmental and harsh. But just because something in the Bible doesn’t feel right to you, it doesn’t give you the authority to toss it out or redefine it. That is so arrogant and I see it as the result of a radically individualistic society.
Sullivan, as far as I’ve gathered, is a man who believes himself to be the “truer” version of both conservative and Christian. He distances himself from the standard institutions, believing that they have left him, and not the other way around. He believes the Christian church has abandoned the true teachings of Jesus, and that is why he included the “Forget the Church” in his title. But though the church of Jesus Christ is imperfect, it is the body of Christ on Earth. We are meant to live alongside other believers in a community setting. Sullivan isn’t telling Christians to stop working together to spread the good news of Jesus, but I am confident that he is undermining the established church and its doctrines.
In a society that is becoming more and more Bible illiterate, I do not see how undermining the authority of scripture and two-thousand years of church teaching is a positive step forward. If anything, these modern tendencies toward rebelling against longstanding authority and shrinking from any uncomfortable Biblical truths are a sign of a people turned inward. Andrew Sullivan says many good things about what needs to change with Christians living in America, but he has chosen to diminish the sacredness of scripture in the name of shaping Christianity to fit his mold.
“You cannot go on seeing through things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. . . . If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To see through all things is the same as not to see.” – C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.‘ ” Jesus, Mark 4:12
Today is a holy day for both Christians and Jews. For Jews it marks the beginning of Passover, which marks the day that death passed over the ancient Hebrews before their exodus from Egypt. Christians recognize today as Good Friday, which marks the day that Jesus Christ died, nailed to a cross. On the first Passover, the Hebrews marked their doors with lamb’s blood as a sign that they were God’s people, not meant to taste the sting of death. On the day that Jesus was nailed to a cross, his blood poured out for all who would accept him. He is called the Lamb of God, and his blood was willfully shed for God’s people so that they could have his life. Blood is life, and Christians get their life from God. Good Friday, the day Jesus allowed himself to die, is both terrible and wonderful for the ones who see it. But for those who see right through it, there is only the sight of a mythical fool going to his death, never to rise and therefore never to have any importance to them.
It is good to question things. No one wants to be accused of gullibility. It is also good to test things. Why accept anything on blind faith? There is a widespread belief that faith is incompatible with reason and sanity. And there are plenty of religious people out there that only reinforce the stereotype. Just watch a movie like Religulous by Bill Maher. It looks like he had an easy time finding some ignorant people who supported his bias against the sanity of Christians. Once again, they’re out there. If you want to feel better about rejecting Jesus Christ, I can understand honing in on some of his less admirable followers to back up your own beliefs. Even Gandhi did it. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
The real test of one who pursues more truth and understanding comes when you’re willing to accept the full humanity of another who believes something different. If you’re simply “seeing through” the person you’re speaking to, you’re not really seeing them. If all you see is a silly or ignorant person, you dismiss them without much of a thought. I struggle with this, as most of us do, but I also take steps to really see where others are coming from. This is not because I’m looking to find a more appealing thing to believe in. My faith in the actual person of Jesus Christ is firmly implanted in me, and I not only let it grow, but want it to grow. Truthfully, it is this faith, which softens my pride, that even allows me to engage in discussion without popping a blood vessel.
There are many things you can choose to believe in: many philosophies you can choose to accept: many people you can choose to agree with. But I would warn you against the exercise of seeing through everything. That would mean declaring the death of God and truth in the world and looking past anything that might challenge your position. I remember taking a Bible as Literature course and the professor assuring us that we would not be approaching the book with any religious bias. That’s great, but what about the bias that assumes the book isn’t true? How is that really open-minded? And furthermore, how does that take into account the purpose of the book in the first place? To approach the bible as an old book of fairy tales is to not approach the bible at all.
I would encourage you to look at the story of Jesus and a teacher named Nicodemus, from the Book of John. It is at the start of chapter 3. It is one of my favorite parts of the whole bible because it is a one to one discussion between an open-minded religious leader and the man who claims to be God’s son. You see, many religious leaders throughout the story of Jesus are arrogant and close-minded and Jesus doesn’t share this kind of dialogue with them. They simply wouldn’t want it anyway. But this guy, Nicodemus, he is interested by what Jesus has to say and Jesus is more than willing to spend time talking about many things.
So today is the day Christians remember the death of God on a wooden cross. They see more there than an entire lifetime could contain. They see a hard truth about this world, and an even harder truth about their own. The world is ripe with evil and pain and death, and these things come to us too, eventually.
But Sunday is Easter.
And two-thousand years ago the son of God saw the first sunrise of a new age on this earth.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
By Nate King
Over the holidays most sit down to a prescribed dose of traditional Christmas movie cheer. I, like anyone, have my own list of films that usually wind up getting watched every season. Classics like A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Family Vacation and Elf (Yeah it’s a classic, don’t fight me on this) are watched without fail at least once every November/December.
However I’ve discovered another list of films, films that don’t seem to be recognized quite so often under the average persons category of “Christmas movie”, yet ones which also find their way into my home the same time every year. This is a list of all those movies, and believe it or not they are all Christmas movies.
1. Die Hard 1 and 2
It’s reasonable to assume this list owes it’s entire existence to these first two films. I only noticed this unconventional Christmas habit after discovering just how often Die Hard had been watched in my home each season. It’s also the first out-of-the-ordinary Christmas film I remember watching and it would be foolish to think it hasn’t lead to others. See, my mom apparently has a thing for manly men solving the worlds problems with guns, which must have made John McClane a particular attraction of hers, because every year without fail me and my mom have wound up in front of the TV watching Die Hard together. A Christmas party turned hostage situation laced with one man’s pain and sacrifice for the good of his soon to be ex-wife. What could be more seasonal? And the sequel, sure it’s pretty bad but it only follows naturally, what do you expect us to do; not watch it?
2. Lethal Weapon
Murtough and Riggs: Two cops with only one thing in common, a hate for working in pairs. It’s the story of two of the most dissimilar people on the planet being forced together over the holidays and having to make the best of it. It’s like every family Christmas gathering you’ve ever been to! Throw in a climax leg choke-hold in a jollied up, Christmas lit, suburban neighborhood and you’ve got yourself a Yuletide classic. Bonus points for direction by Richard Donner.
3. Road to Perdition
One of my favorite films of all time. I suppose it’s less a habit of watching this one during the Christmas season than it is watching it all year round, which happens to include the Christmas season. A Christmastime tale of family love, loyalty, and betrayal, all leading up to the greatest use of a Tommy gun in cinema history. Good and evil archetypes are woven into a simple yet seamless story, while every frame remains purposefully shot, and every actor (including my Hombre) chomps away at the chilly set pieces. Set in the winter of 1931 it’s an incredibly moving examination of the powerful relationship between father and son. You know who else was a father and son? God and Jesus.
4. Fellowship of the Ring
The greatest of all three of The Lord of the Rings films. Never let anyone tell you different, and don’t dare refute me. The series holiday release schedule may have sparked its position on this list, but this film’s particular tear-jerking execution of the books greatest promises: themes of friendship, love, sacrifice and death, ensure its survival in the dvd player throughout the cold winter months. You shall not pass through the season without watching this movie at least once.
5. The Proposition
Perhaps the greatest western made in the past decade, it’s not a western at all. Or is it? Well it’s not, but wait – then again – you’re wrong – it is! Get what I mean? Set in the Australian outback it’s far from anywhere that the word “western” might be applicable as a descriptor, just the same it exemplifies the genre keeping all the bells and whistles, style and substance that one would associate with Sergio Leone himself. This tale follows an alienated brother of outlaws as he seeks redemption for himself and his youngest sibling, all the while paralleling the life of an English law enforcement officer struggling to protect and provide for his wife during the Christmas season, in one of the least Christmasy places on earth.
6. In Bruges
One of my new favorites and an instant Christmas classic. Set in Bruges over the holiday, two assassins wrestle over the soul of a young man. A story revolving around judgment and death, it’s themes garner bonus points for intricate reflection upon the concepts of heaven and hell, right and wrong and the true origins of Christmas, Christ and our relation to him.
7.The Bourne Identity
It’s the classic scrooge tale, following a botched mission causing him to lose his memory, a once brainwashed super soldier so deeply enmeshed in the CIA covert ops system only one man knows he’s on our side is forced to come face to face with the reality of just who and what he is, and change his ways in light of the holiday season. It’s a tragic tale concerning lost identity and found purpose, and leads us to one of the greatest questions of our own lives; just who are we really and what is it we’re fighting for? When the Christmas season rolls around are we the person who finds it better to give, or receive?
8. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
A throwback to film noir’s golden days, it’s a detective comedy set in LA narrated by Robert Downy Jr. A crazy Christmas caper with Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas hats and other Christmas doodads filling up scenes from the same writer as Lethal Weapon. And Val Kilmer as “Gay Perry”.
9. Batman Returns
I really don’t see the need to explain this one. It’s Christmastime Batman with working Bat-presents. However I will defend its greatness. It’s a film that accepts its established character to such an extent its focus shifts entirely to the villains. A number of movies could learn a thing or two from this film. And it hosts the greatest performance of Michelle Pfeiffer’s life.
10. The Iron Giant
There’s a theory floating around that I created this film myself, and that somewhere in the post development process I simply hit my head so hard I, and every other member of the cast, crew and production just plain forgot. It only stands to reason because it encapsulates everything I love about everything so well. Don’t let my own biases fool you however, it’s an incredibly affecting modern day feature that everyone is sure to enjoy. Despite floundering at the box office upon release, it is one of the most intelligent science fiction movies in recent years, perfectly satirizing the militaristic fear of its 1950’s McCarthyite backdrop. It’s the heart wrenching tale of a boy and his giant weaponized space-invading robot who, with the help of Superman, learns the value of pacifism. Love, fear and sacrifice culminate in this epic story to tell us, We Are Who We Choose To Be.
There is so much snow. So. Much. Snow. It only seemed fitting to end this list with another movie I first experienced with my mother. The overwhelming parka use is enough of a reason to turn this movie on during a brisk winter night, but it’s important to know going in that the comforting images of bundled cast members are the best this movie has to offer in the way of making you feel all warm and tingly inside… well that and Frances McDormand. A wood-chipper? A wood-chipper???
Gremlins. It fell out of the loop a long time ago. It’d be a lie to say I still appreciate it the way you can argue I should. But those things are creepy man.
Super Honorable Mention
Superman The Movie (1978). Please, what list wouldn’t this movie be on? Lets hear it for the greatest portrayal of the person everyone should aspire to be, ever. No not the guy with superpowers who turns back time, the guy who puts everyone else before himself and who always finds time to recognize the partnership with his fellow man. “Don’t thank me warden, we’re all part of the same team.”
Additional Credit to: Nate King
Special Thanks: Nate King
What are we looking for in a good character?
One who has great power, but does not use it for selfish gain.
One who sacrifices much for the sake of others.
One who serves friends, and also rises above the threats and violence of enemies by serving them as well.
One who speaks the truth plainly, without biting sarcasm or fruitless profanity.
One who treats great and small alike, without self-serving favoritism.
One who lives in a way that proves the existence of our highest ideals, virtues, and values.
One who is relatable, and not too important or busy to pay attention to others.
One who gives without expecting to receive.
One who does not fall prey to the influence of popular opinion.
One who does the right thing when no one is looking.
When I watch a movie or read a book I can’t help but look for these qualities. They are the qualities that I’m drawn to because they are the qualities that I aspire to. It is no coincidence that these qualities are also found in the character of Jesus Christ: the one I am always searching for.
When I am talking to people, always am I considering the character of Jesus Christ. Am I exhibiting these qualities, or is the other person? What can I learn about Him through this? I am searching internally and externally. I am skimming all of creation for signs of my God.
When I watch a movie I search for Him. Do the characters I’m watching imitate any of His characteristics? If not, what is their value? If so, what can I learn about my God and myself? I watch hours upon hours of film watching for signs of life. The fiction has only as much value as it proclaims what is true of reality.
How can I help that my heart is hungry for such a good character? When you’ve tasted something that is better than everything else, don’t you want to taste it again and again? When you see something more attractive than anything else, can you stop yourself from looking at it? When you’ve heard something that rings true, how can you then block your ears to it?
I’m always searching for a good character.
“[Jesus] came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has – by what I call ‘good infection’. Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”- C.S. Lewis
Have you been vaccinated?
A vaccine is a dead or weakened form of a pathogen injected into you in order to build up your body’s immunity. When the living virus then enters your body, you should be able to fight it off without much trouble. Because you got used to the dead version, your body hardly responds to the live one. That’s what has happened to many people when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. You’ve been injected so many times over so many years with a dead form of God, how could you ever hope to be affected by the life that comes from the living One?
Every time you sit in a church and listen to a priest, or pastor, or minister speak to you without passion, conviction, or a genuine heart for God, you have just been inoculated.
When you hear on the news that another Christian leader has cheated on his wife, or been exposed in some scandal, you’ve just been given another dose.
When you know someone who calls themselves a Christian, but has no love for God in their heart and lives in no way as Jesus taught, your immunity increases.
When politicians use their “faith” to win votes…
When the name of God is brought low by cursing and tasteless jokes…
When a Christian judges you instead of loving you…
When I do these things, I inoculate you.
The “good infection” is out there.
How sick are you?
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13
Tomorrow is Easter. Easter is the day that Christians remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m still not sure where the bunny and the eggs fit in. I guess it’s for the kids. Rising from the dead isn’t as marketable to children as bunnies and eggs. But what is the whole business of resurrection? Why does it matter? And what does it mean to you, me, and the world if it’s just a myth?
For starters, if Jesus didn’t come back to life the whole Christian religion is complete bull. Catholics, protestants, Baptists, it doesn’t matter; you’re wasting your time and your life if Jesus didn’t rise.
If he died and stayed dead, all of those people who followed him closely while he was alive must have either been completely delusional or partners in a massive conspiracy. Although, I don’t know what they had to gain from being crucified upside down, boiled in oil, skinned to death, and fed to lions. If he didn’t rise, those first followers were simply mad.
If Jesus Christ did not come out of that tomb, he isn’t the savior of mankind. If the man couldn’t even save himself, how can he save us? He made some pretty lofty promises during his time here (“Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never die.” John 11:26 “Whoever believe in him [Jesus] will not die but have eternal life.” John 3:16 ” And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20) so if he’s dead I don’t see how he can fulfill those.
If he didn’t rise, death is more powerful than life. Death comes to us all, and we make flowery claims about loving forever and such, but it’s all just talk if Jesus is still dead. If you’re dead, you can’t love. You can’t give it or receive it. Even if you write something nice and someone finds it a million years later, who cares? You’re dead, and it doesn’t make a difference to you. If someone as incredible as Jesus can’t overcome death, what chance do any of us have?
Finally, if Jesus didn’t rise, my prayers are now falling on deaf ears. My cries are just dull echoes in an endless void. My heart longs for a God that doesn’t exist. I seek a truth that isn’t true. I devote my thoughts, cares, and passion to meaningless dust. The story of my life is based on a lie. My sense of purpose is senseless. And my hope for today, tomorrow, and eternity is groundless.
So tomorrow, if you find yourself in church and you see people singing and lifting their hands to God, think about the resurrection. If it’s true, you’re a fool for not joining in. If it’s false, we’re all fools. We’re all damned fools.
What kind of fool are you?
“We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.”
— N.T. Wright
God is good. If anyone tells you differently, please ignore them. That is not what I’m talking about today. What I want to explain is that God is not a good idea. To put it another way, God is not the manifestation of concepts, ideas, or virtues. God is real and alive. He is many things, but they are merely pieces of a character too incredible and immense to comprehend.
The Bible tells us that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Does this mean that all things we call love are representations of God? Or, does it mean that love is God? When two teeny-boppers are making out in the back of a movie theater, is that God?
We have all of these “good” concepts like truth and honesty and faithfulness and peace and justice and grace. Did people recognize these things over the centuries and then develop the character of God? Did they take the best parts of humanity and construct the Almighty?
If you see God as a mere symbol for what’s good about humanity, you had better stop praying to Him. You’re wasting your time and fooling yourself. If God isn’t real, or alive, or a person (as seen in Jesus Christ), He only exists in your mind. He is only as big as your head.
God is not a good idea, or even many good ideas. God simply IS. He refers to Himself as I AM. (Exodus 3:14) Jesus refers to himself as I AM. (John 8:15) God is not our creation. We are His. Anything we know of His character, He has revealed to us. Anything that is truly good in this world comes from Him.
God is a person, and not a concept.
This should humble you, creature.
How does one get to heaven? You know, in today’s world (at least the part I live in) people don’t usually ask this question straight away because it makes everything sound fluffy and imaginary. If people start talking about heaven with pearly gates and white clouds, I don’t know about you, but I start to feel uneasy. Most of the time, when people are talking about heaven they are talking about the place that “decent” people go when they die. And I think that’s the problem. That heaven is lame. A heaven made up of people who were good enough, or at least not too bad may as well be hazy and full of harps. It’s the heaven of a fake religion. Unfortunately, it’s a religion that many many people halfheartedly believe.
The religion I’m talking about says that as long as you’re basically a good person, God will let you in. It’s a religion that shuns the murderers and the rapists and the Hitlers and the Stalins, but if you’re just a regular person paying your taxes and going to work and trying your best, you’re good enough to make the cut. It’s a religion that puts the focus on you, and the things that you do and have done. It is a self-centered religion that asks very little of you. Just don’t hurt anyone. If your idea of Christianity is anything like what I just described, you are way off. You are so far off the mark that it would be like stabbing yourself in the face in a game a darts. The crazy thing is, many people think they’re right on the bullseye.
Here is the problem with this wishy-washy half-hearted religion of morality; it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. The whole point of Jesus coming to earth and dying on a cross wasn’t so that people could have a place to go on Sunday morning. And it certainly wasn’t so people could feel good about how good they were. He sacrificed his life so that you could have life. And how do you acquire this life? You get it by believing in him, and by allowing God to shape you into his image. It’s a process full of pain and joy and questions and answers and faith and doubt and love and death and every other aspect of life that makes it incredible and real. But the whole point of it all is God. It’s not about you. And the paradox is that you really start to live when you give up your life for his sake.
When it stops being about heaven, and it starts being about how much you love Jesus Christ for who he is and what he did, you’ll find that this kingdom of heaven is already upon you. You’re not trying to get to some place in the clouds, you are walking hand in hand with God.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14: 1-7)
The Christian understands that no one could ever be good enough to deserve heaven. The Christian understands that Jesus Christ is more precious than any vision of heaven, and he is the only reason that anyone could enter in. Jesus asks much of us, and he promises hardships and suffering. But he also promises never to forsake us. It’s a difficult path, this walk with Christ, but it is a good path and a true path and the only way to heaven. This is a heaven worth hoping for. It’s a heaven full of sinners and wretches who found forgiveness and grace and love.
It’s a heaven where Jesus Christ abides.
What is the gospel? What is this good news that Christians are bringing up all of the time? You know, in my short time here in this life I have come to a conclusion regarding this good news in our culture: most people don’t know it.
No way! Everyone knows about Jesus and Christmas and Easter and the cross and the resurrection and all of that “good stuff”. After all, there are movies and books and people talking about it all of the time, and many people are dragged to church at least once in their lives. How could they not know what the gospel is about?
In the Bible, Jesus goes from place to place healing people and casting out demons and teaching these incredible things with an authority that no one had ever seen before. And everyone who witnessed it believed in him, right? Wrong. Many people still didn’t believe in him. He was right there! He was right in front of them, and they still didn’t get it. Jesus said, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:13) The truth of Jesus Christ might be right in your face, but it isn’t sinking in. And the thing is, you probably think you already know it. But you might not.
The precursor to the good news is that you’re a wretched sick self-centered sinner with no hope for life. Are you with me so far? This is important. This is the part that many people today don’t understand. I want you to ask yourself, am I a good person? If you’re a good person and you are well and satisfied, the gospel isn’t for you. Why would it be? If you’re healthy, you don’t go to the doctor. It’s a waste of time and you don’t want to be around sick people. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) If you are fine on your own, why would you want to accept a teaching that calls you a wretched sinner deserving of punishment? I certainly wouldn’t.
If you think you are well, you will not understand the gospel message. You will not find Jesus Christ.
If you don’t want to look inward, I challenge you to look outside of yourself. Look at the world around you, and also the world in general. Is there more evidence that people are good deep down inside, or is there more evidence for what the Bible teaches? Be honest.
Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me! For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! (John 8:43-45) Jesus
The good news comes after the bad. The bad news is that you are wretched. The good news is that God Himself made a way to save you from this living death.
Jesus and God are one. The Bible is very clear on this. “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) Jesus dying on the cross was a way to satisfy God’s wrath and justice regarding our evil natures. Since Jesus forgave those who came to him, and since he is God in the flesh, he removed the punishment for their sins. And since he raised to life again, he can provide life for those who follow him.
The cross is at once a clear illustration of the evil present in our world and the extent to which God loves us. The good news is that, though the world is very evil and full of pain, God loves you to the point of dying for you. He is eager to call you his son or daughter.
The good news is that, though you deserve death, God gave His life to save yours.