Law and gospel: Law is still a thing

In a previous blog post, I said that both law and gospel are good things. As people, we mostly try to distance ourselves from the law. We generally prefer to see the law as something a person must do or must not do. It’s kind of like when we know the traffic laws like we should not run a red light.

The written law is external (or outside of us) because it’s written in the by-laws of the city or municipality.

The law is good because it shows us when we’ve broken the law. It reminds us that this is something we should not do. They are outside of us, so if we happen to break one of these laws, our attitude might be like, “so what?! It’s just another law, one of many thousands of civil law. We just pay our $100 traffic ticket and start a new day.

For some, it might be so impersonal and distant from our psyche that a person no longer cares very much. A person might just break the law and think to oneself, okay I’ll just pay the fine, especially if it’s just about the same as paying for the parking fee.

In the Old Testament, God’s people broke their covenant with God. As human beings, whether redeemed or unredeemed in Christ, we still break the law.

Martin Luther says we are Simul Justus et Peccator (Simultaneously Saint and Sinner). Even in our sin, God loved us enough to send his one and only Son to this earth to die on the cross for erase our sins. This is good news…that we have nothing to fear but fear itself because we have a greater love in Christ’s love.

How literal was Jesus: “I am the bread of life”

Question: How literal was Jesus when he said, “I am the bread of life”?

In John 6:53, Jesus reiterates in order to make it very clear by expressing this in the negative. He said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Jesus probably knew what they were thinking when he said this. Some would misinterpret what he said and have the idea of cannibalism. Cannibalism existed. Back then, Roman Emperors believed that if they ate the flesh and blood of their enemies, they would be victorious over their enemies. Pharoahs also believed that eating the flesh of gods will allow them to live forever. This type of cannibalism existed in many cultures in many nations. It existed amongst the Greeks, Persians, in South America, Africa, Asia, Pacific Islands. All over the world.

So maybe it wasn’t so off the wall or strange that Jesus carried over this idea as a tool to teach, as an example, that if they were to follow him and gave victory over death, they needed to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood in order to live eternally.

Jesus said in v.40, that the will of his Father was that all who sees Jesus and believes in him may have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day. Jesus came to earth IOT do the will of his heavenly Father. He said “very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” (v47-48).

Jesus’ feeding of 5,000: There’s more where it came from

People followed Jesus wherever he went. Jesus fed 5,000 followers and gave them bread from heaven. It was a real miracle. This gave people a reason to follow him. After the crowd realized that Jesus was no longer there to provide them with food, the crowd follows him to Capernaum. They got a taste of food in the flesh but they thought Jesus could somehow provide more. They were hungry. They had come to satisfy their want for temporal earthly needs. But Jesus knew that they needed more – something deeper than just the physical.

Next day, he began to teach his disciples about himself being the living bread from heaven. Jesus used this miraculous feeding of the bread from heaven and began to teach them that there is something that can feed them permanently.

There is food, a spiritual food, that can feed them in such a way that they would never go hungry again. There’s more where it came from, and they would never thirst again.

He taught them by using an analogy. He takes them back to the Old Testament days when their ancestors were hungry and and were wandering in the wilderness. He taught that God gave us manna from heaven. He reminded the people that Moses and their ancestors had once eaten manna from heaven but they went hungry again (read v.31). There’s a lot more where it came from.

So Jesus compares this to what God can give today. This same bread is Jesus himself. God has sent Jesus from heaven in the form of a man and God. One who is living and breathing; made of flesh and blood. And is yet real live bread. That whoever believes and eats of him spiritually will not perish.

What’s so good about Law and Gospel

On the outset, law seems bad. Gospel seems good. Both ought to go hand-in-hand. Both are good; or the outcome ought to be good.

Example: John says, “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Lk. 3:9). Then he continues talking about how the Messiah will clean up the threshing area, gather the wheat into his barn but burn the chaff with a fire that never ends (Lk. 3:17).

Sounds kind of bad…but it’s actually good. The law is kind of like a mirror. It reveals the bad in our lives, but the gospel is like fire. It burns away the bad.

Together, both law and gospel bring about a change of heart in a person. It changes a person’s heart from the inside out because the law is used to bring conviction to our hearts and our lives. But the gospel is our salvation; it saves us from the wild fire that can burn uncontrollably.

Then the message of the gospel, or good news, brings a renewal and it heals us inside after we see what the power of sin has done to our lives. The law causes us to see ourselves as we really are. The gospel gives us a way out from what we’ve become.

Freedom in the gospel

The Law: demands everything but gives nothing.
The Gospel: demands nothing but gives everything.

The Law: shows us what godliness looks like but it cannot transform the sinner
The Gospel: is alone the power of God to salvation and transforms the sinner.

The Law: accuses and exposes our sins.
The Gospel: acquits and exonerates us of our sins.

The Law: diagnoses sinners.
The Gospel: delivers sinners.

The Law: is for those who think they’re good.
The Gospel: is for those who know they are sinners.

That unsightly zit

We wonder about how people in this world can inflict such pain on others. We wonder about how evil can exist in this world. Think of the most evil person in the world. We point out the evil and call it out and name it. It’s especially horrifying when evil is done to us.

Truth is, we also do harm against our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. The harm done is just more apparent when it’s others doing it to us.

This sickness called ‘original sin’ begins as microscopic viruses–invisible. We don’t know we have it we’ve been infected. Eventually shows up. When others point out our wart or zit, we are embarrassed. When it comes out, it’s rather ugly. We try to cover it up. We might even go as far as turning our face the other way, wearing a ball cap or shades. Anything to hide the unsightly zit.

Sin is like this too. When it comes out, it’s unsightly. It shows in how we mistreat other people. We don’t even know why it happens, but it happens. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

This spiritual sickness in the human race leaves no one untouched. It describes who we are, not only as human beings, but also as redeemed Christian people. It explains why we as Christians still sin. There is no sin we are incapable of committing as human beings. Some call it total depravity. We cannot escape its grip and only Jesus can release us from it.

Jesus, thank you for forgiving me of my sins. Release us from this grip. Help me forgive people in this world who have hurt me. Give me strength to bless them because I cannot do it on my own. I’m incapable of forgiveness but with your help, I can. I want to walk in your paths of righteousness, holiness, and experience your peace, joy and love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The human condition: infection of original sin – Luke 18:9-14

As people, we want to believe that humans are innately good and born pure. We prefer to imagine ourselves far away from the sins that only the worst of sinners commit. The more heinous the sin, the more we distance ourselves from these sins.

We do this all the time. Ever catch yourself outspokenly critical of bad people? You know, those ‘others’ who commit the big crimes. It’s almost like we intentionally and publicly display our hatred of sin in order to prove to others (and even to ourselves) that we are unlike those ‘bad sinners.’

Making contrast-comparisons doesn’t makes us any less of a sinner, nor any better of a Christian. Sometimes, we fall into a mode of being critical of others, and at other times, being judgmental. We hide our self-righteousness behind a veneer of righteousness.

Pharisee and the tax collector

Jesus told a story or parable about a pharisee and a publican:

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: 10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector12 I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ 13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, verses 9-14, Holy Bible (Common English Bible)

Each person, has been impacted by a sickness at birth. This sickness has impacted even our ability to make decisions. The only way out is to depend on God’s grace and mercy.

By placing ourselves in a lower position, we can see ourselves for who we really are–as both a saint and a sinner at the same time. As Christians we are simultaneously redeemed and yet still sinful. Until that final day when the Lord Jesus returns to earth, we will become fully redeemed. In the mean time, we are still bound by original sin.

The cure: God has provided us a cure from this infection of original sin through a spiritual rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit. This is made possible only through faith or believing in Jesus who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. By believing this (through faith alone) we are made holy (or sanctified) and righteous through the washing of God’s word as we repent each day. Though I am weak, it is God who strengthens me each day.

Struggle of Religious Leaders

ravi zacharias
Rev. Ravi Zacharias, RZIM

In the past five to ten years, we’ve seen some explosions in the church world across many denominations: from Evangelical, Protestant to Catholic. For many it was a shock and a let down, especially for those who followed the teachings of these religious/spiritual leaders.

A recent evangelical, Ravi Zacharias, was a well-known Christian apologist. Other ministers in the past were Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart. There are hundreds of pastors and priests who have faced allegations of misconduct of some sort. All these Christian men have had great ministries and have led many people into a deeper understanding of faith and knowledge of Christ.

It is easy to label them as fake, but doing so does not make sense. They got into ministry for all the right reasons. Their calling of God was very real—as real as anyone else’s. Their faith and ministry are real and it would not be fair to dismiss their prior ministry accomplishments.

What is also real is their struggle with sex, money, power. Some might even struggle with all three. This struggle is common to all persons in vocational ministry and people in all stations in life–regardless of spiritual calling.

The temptation that ministers and common people have is to hold up our religious leaders as spotless examples of “good Christians.” It is an impossible expectation to fulfill one-hundred percent.

Actually, the higher a spiritual standing one has in the church, the greater the expectation one has to be that “spotless Christian example.” This is especially true in evangelical and Catholic traditions that follow 1 Tim. 3:2 and 5:8. It’s a bizarre expectation of anyone because we have not truly understood the gospel. The gospel is about forgiveness of sins–not about moral perfection, but yet, we make it about moral perfection. The only expectation we can actually fulfill is to fall upon the grace of God and plead for his daily mercies.

Peace overcomes pain

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Psalm 22:1-2, Bible

This psalm from chapter 22 is often read on Good Friday. Christians have associated this text to the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus on the cross. Jesus quoted this in part while on hung on the cross to die.

The Book of Psalm contains many complaints. For this reason, it wasn’t one of my favorite books of the bible. There are many joyful psalms of praise and celebration which I prefer; and then there are many sad and depressing psalms of lament, which I dislike (especially if I’m not in the mood to read it).

The good bishop, N.T. Wright, recently wrote in Time:

“Yes, these poems often come out into the light by the end, with a fresh sense of God’s presence and hope, not to explain the trouble but to provide reassurance within it.”…. “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.”

https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/

When the psalmist could not see any relief in sight, all he had was pain. He doubted God. If you haven’t read from the bible of the numerous chapters of people feeling sorry for themselves, open up to the book of Psalm. It’s full of it. This is why so many people can relate to the psalms. These writers complained about their pain and they accused God of forgetting and for not caring. Job’s friends came up with invalid reasons for his extreme sufferings (read about it in depressing book of Job). They blamed his sufferings on his past sins. How inconsiderate. If I had friends like Job, I’d tell them where to go.

If one were to contract COVID-19 (or any other sickness for that matter), we might want a spiritual explanation as to why we contracted the disease. There is no good “spiritual” reason why a person contracted COVID-19 or any other disease. No, I’m not talking about a clinical reason, but rather, a spiritual reason. Spiritualizing it doesn’t improve a person’s emotional agony or discomfort. It doesn’t do a person any good.

God wants us to put ourselves in a proper place and be subordinate to the will of God. That is to humble ourselves. It gives room for God to come into our lives and give us peace–a true peace that is beyond all human understanding.

This is the same realization Jesus might have had on the cross as he suffered in pain. He experienced the love and peace of the Holy Spirit while he writhed in pain at Golgotha. I know. Sounds wierd and ironic that peace and pain can go together. Peace and pain can co-exist. This is the irony that so many people find so difficult to understand.

As Christians, and as non-religious folks, we all want answers to our problems, and we want them now. Our natural human desire is to alleviate our pain. We hate pain. We want it to disappear.

One direction people take is to doubt the existence of God. When we witness or hear of so much pain in the world, we begin to rationalize: “How can there be such a cruel God? Who would allow human beings to be put into cruel and painful circumstances? Such an inhumane or merciless God simply cannot exist!”

Another way our mind can wander is to wrongly attribute cruelty toward a loving and merciful God. We begin to doubt God’s goodness, and that God is truly good. We lose faith in a good God. We walk away from the Church. Emotionally and intellectually, it easier to doubt that a loving God can allow injustice and suffering. As a result, we push God out of our lives.

Another way our minds will rationalize a seemingly irrantional God of peace and pain is to find reasons why we might be deserving of pain and suffering.

Examples:

“I have done something very bad and sinful, so now it’s payback time… God is getting even with me now and that’s why I’m suffering.”

“I hurt that rotten person years ago, and that’s why God took away my son or daughter, my father or mother.”

“I’m such an evil person. That’s why God gave me cancer,” or “That’s why God sent the Coronavirus… to wipe out this evil world of evil doers.”

When we demand answers for which there isn’t an answer it’s a vain attempt to spiritualize our pain away. Our human capacity to accept uncertainty is limited, so we prefer to limit God by putting Him in a box. We relentlessly search for a rational answer. We set limits on ourselves as humans beings, and we end up pushing God further away.

Why do we do this? We want to put God where it makes more sense to us. We want to set God in his place. We prefer to think, “that if there truly is a God, then this is who God is. This is what God is like; and so this is how I can be stronger.”

We prefer to own our own problems. By setting God in a place where we want him to be, we think we can garner more control over our lives. We come up with our own solutions to our own problems.

Our goal for a human solution is empty and vain. It is not where God is found. God likely has a totally different solution. God’s knowledge is infinite and All-knowing. If we really knew the mind of God, what God already knows might actually surprise us.

It is not our job to rationalize God. God does not want to be included in our human equation. In God’s mind, there is no such thing as a human equation. Our job is not to put God where we think He ought to be. That is to falsify God and take God’s name in vain.

Our place is to be subordinate to God and become willing vessels of God’s will. When God has His rightful place in your life, it is then that you will have peace. When God feels welcomed in your life, it is then that you will have joy and hope.

What God wants more than anything is to wrap his big arms around you and tell you that He loves you. He desires to be with you. His presence surrounds you and protects you like a mother hen who guards her chicks. The love and mercy of God is greater than what we can imagine.

God wants to come to you in the midst of all your suffering… even in the midst of your chaos, your pain, sadness, sickness and disease. The capacity of the love of God is much greater than our human capacity. God’s love is deeper, wider, and higher.

Our own human capacity to love is extremely limited. We do not have the patience, the courage or the kindness to love like God can. That’s why we prefer to push aside a God who allows suffering. But God is much bigger than our vain human imaginations.

If God the Father absorbed all the pain that Jesus suffered on the cross, God can certainly live in us with all our pain and suffering. How so? God is God, and we are not. God can come into your life, filled with pain and chaos, filled with burdens that you cannot bear, and then fill it with God’s own peace.

Millions of Christians in the world today have experienced the overwhelming love and mercy of God. Christians in the world today currently suffering are experiencing God in the midst of their sickness and pain, in their wars and violence, in their persecutions and personal troubles. Millions more will enter into the Compassionate heart of this Triune God. He is calling out to each individual person, and that person might be you today.

I admit, the idea of a suffering God is not popular in Christian circles. The suffering Christ was once nailed to the cross. The crucified Christ was nailed on Friday. Well, we call it Friday but we really don’t know what day it was. We also like to call it “Good Friday”. It was not a good thing that happened but we call it “good” anyway. Behind this, there is an extremely important truth. It is a “Good Friday” because we already know there is hope coming on the third day. Jesus would soon rise again from the dead. We know the ultimate outcome is renewed life–a resurrection from the dead.

When we invite guests to come over to our house, we want to make sure we have it cleaned up, spotless and all tidy. We do this not for their sake, but we do it for our own sake. We take pride in our own perfection.

In God’s economy, God is not like this at all. God’s way is like this. As we welcome God to enter our lives and live within our pain and suffering, the Holy Spirit will fill us with peace, joy and hope. This is why we can invite God to come into our hearts and homes while we are still a mess. Yes, from our human point-of-view, this sounds unconventional and very different to what we think ought to be normal.

The good news of Christ is not that God came to wave a magic wand to banish away all our pain and problems. The good news of Christ Jesus is that God vanished from the empty tomb and resurrected in bodily form on the Third Day, and rose to live again in the flesh. He conquered and defeated death. If death could not hold Jesus in the tomb, then death will not be able to hold us down in the grave. This is why we celebrate Easter this Sunday.

Death is one of the biggest fears of humankind. If God in Christ Jesus defeated death on Easter, we also have hope of eternal life with God forever. May all praise, honor and glory be to God our Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Powerful oath of the scrotum

As a kid in the schoolyard, I remember making promises to do something, or making an oath to reinforce what I said was absolutely true. One went like this:

Cross my heart, and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” And if we got away with crossing our finger hidden behind our backs, our promise didn’t count as a real oath.

Somehow, these silly antics were supposed to reinforce the truth. As we get older and grow out of our elementary ways and methods of making what we say sound more believable, we’ve changed things up a little: “To be totally honest with you…” Well, as if what we just said was going to be more truthful than usual.

I just ran into a very strange saying in the Old Testament Bible. This one has always stumped me and caused me to ponder upon its meaning and how it originated. It seems that an oath made under a man’s scrotum was somehow more binding.

So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.” (Genesis 24:9)

Really stumps me. Hard to imagine its significance. Anyone get the meaning of this one or how it originated?!