Moving Past Polarization: The American Solidarity Party

If you’ve read my post on Trump from a little while ago, or especially if you’ve followed me on Facebook, you know that I am very unhappy with the state of American politics. The offerings our two major parties are giving us for the Presidency are each quite awful enough, and yet it is even more frightening to realize that this merely reflects the awkward combined state of each party’s establishment and normal voters. There is a direct correspondence between the infantile rhetoric of our candidates and the infantile rhetoric of their supporters. This year more than most, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, hate each other and cannot agree on anything. And, to our shame, too many Christians are simply taking one of these sides and towing their party lines. And, to even greater shame, too many Christians are willing to participate in the same polarization, name-calling, hate, yelling, straw men, and impropriety which characterize normal partisan politics.

This is, of course, an antichrist way to do politics, and it must be rejected. Christians cannot wed themselves to the political philosophies and powers of this age to act and think on only their terms. Christianity is not Republican or Democrat. Jesus is not a modern conservative, a classical liberal, a modern progressive, or anything else along those lines. He never promoted, endorsed, and created any system like capitalism, democracy, communism, authoritarianism, republicanism, libertarianism, or socialism. He is the being, the very nature and existence, of the Church, and the members of the Church are thus not free to bind themselves to any of these things.

None of this is to say that Christians can’t work with or align ourselves with any political party or candidates. We are certainly allowed to do so. But we cannot let them set our agendas, beliefs, or our vision of human freedom and flourishing. We must stand on our own, Christian, Scripture-informed principles and beliefs without giving a single inch of authority to the parties or movements we ally with in this age. They have no authority over us, but only Christ does. We may find them as useful partners in advancing the causes we believe must be advanced, but we must not be misled into advancing their own unique causes under the banner of Christ.

This brings me back to this election. I am (quite strongly) of the opinion that both the Democratic and the Republican parties have proved themselves entirely worthless as allies or partners for Christian political efforts. Democrats have, among other things, made themselves allies and servants of Death by fully adopting the cause of abortion. This is an unforgivable sin. The Republican Party has also nominated Donald Trump as their Presidential candidate, something which I think is (or should be) a major problem for Christians. But even apart from Trump, the party is splitting into useless factions, one very rich part towards social liberalism, another towards authoritarianism, and others still in many directions.

So where do Christians turn? No doubt, many will be willing to compromise with the two awful dominant parties still, some in good conscience and some out of fear or partisan desperation. My suggestion, though, which has caught my eye in the past couple of months, is the American Solidarity Party. If you haven’t heard of them, bear in mind that I have no delusions that they will be winning national elections, at least in anything like the near future. But at the local level, any party can make something of a difference with enough hard work. And even with our national elections, I believe being able to vote consistently with conscience is not only morally preferable but also has, over time, the capacity to influence things.

So what is the American Solidarity Party? I will be doing some more blogging on them to elaborate, but as an introduction, they are a Christian Democratic party. They are socially conservative, taking strong positions in favor of life, marriage, and family. They are also economically distributist, an intentional third way against capitalism and socialism which favors small business, local markets and governments, and private property for the common man. Their motto is “Common good. Common ground. Common sense.” Their policies are very centrist: both ideological leftists and right-wingers will probably chafe at some of their policies and love some others. People who have wedded all of their political thought to the Democrats or the Republicans will not like them at all.

But for those who are willing to keep an open mind, I think the ASP has a great deal of value, and there is a lot that they stand for which I believe is truly Christian. I’m not saying every Christian will or should agree with everything in the ASP platform. Even Spirit-filled believers can disagree on what policies are the best. I’m not sold on a handful of their policies. But I think the ASP is the best option we have at the moment, both in having overall the best policies and having the best goal: a Christian approach to our pressing political problems. In future posts I will elaborate and summarize some thoughts on their platform.

Son of David, King of Justice

I preached yet again last night, and this is my manuscript. Due to the context, I ended up significantly compressing this sermon. What you’re reading here is much longer than what I actually preached.

I thought that, before I begin tonight, I should tell you all a little bit about myself, but not too much, because I’m just a nerdy theology student and my goal tonight is to speak about the God of Jesus Christ. But it doesn’t hurt to know a little about a messenger before you hear his message. As they said, my name is Caleb Smith. I’m 21, married to a very lovely wife over there, have one crazy kid outside the womb and one kid still inside. I go to the Baptist College of Florida like a lot of the other people at Grace Fellowship, and I’m working on a degree in Ministry Studies. I hope, by God’s will, to be able to do mission work for some time after graduation, and then maybe to pastor somewhere and even perhaps pursue further education. But who knows what will actually happen? God rarely works in expected ways.

Anyway, Grace has been a kind enough place to let me do some preaching, and I actually just preached there last night. I only learned I would be preaching here about two weeks ago, so I was originally going to simply preach the same sermon with some modifications. But in truth it didn’t seem like the right one. I felt God leading me elsewhere. What I eventually came to was Isaiah 11:1-10. It seems to speak relevantly to the concerns which had been building up in my heart in relation to preaching here tonight, so I dug in and found the gold of God’s promise. So, without any further ado, I’ll get into the text.

Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
He will delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay.
He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
He will wear righteousness like a belt and truth like an undergarment.
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow.
The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.
Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.
In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.

This is an amazing passage in my opinion, but to understand it we need to go back a bit into its context in Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who was called by God to prophesy to Israel around the time that they would go into Exile, the ultimate punishment God had promised Israel in the Torah, the law given to Moses. His first job was to call Israel out for their sins and tell them to repent, to stop sinning and turn back to God, in order to avoid being judged and exiled.

But what was Israel doing wrong? Why did they deserve to be judged like this? The very first chapter of Isaiah gives God’s case against them. You guys don’t have to turn there if you don’t want to, but I’m not going to read it all, I’m just going to mention some highlights. Isaiah 1 shows us that Israel had gotten messed up. According to verse 17, the orphans, the widows, all of the people who were able to do the least for themselves were being oppressed and taken advantage of. This would be hard enough in our day, but in theirs especially widows and orphans had an awful time of it. In verse 21 God says that what used to be a faithful people had become full of murderers. Violence and killings were everywhere. We know what that’s like today, though it does seem like it was even worse there.

And this corruption filled Israel everywhere. Verse 23 adds that their political leaders, their judges, and their priests were all corrupt. They were more interested in money and power than justice. They took bribes to hurt the innocent and protect the guilty. They got rich for themselves at the expense of everyone else. The leaders hoarded gold, and they stacked up on military power even, according to Isa. 2:7, but the average people and the poor didn’t benefit from it at all. They got nothing, and the leaders got everything.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, 2:8 adds that the people were all idolaters. They all worshipped other gods instead of pledging their allegiance to the true God alone, who had taken them out of Egypt and made them into a nation. They worshipped these gods because all of the false gods represented things like fertility, or power, or wealth, and they craved these things more than they wanted to be faithful to their Redeemer.

So, because of all of this evil, God was getting ready to judge Israel. Right before our text, in Isaiah 10, God says that this will be done through Assyria. Throughout the Old Testament we see God judging through human nations, kind of like they are wild dogs He keeps on a leash until they are needed. Israel needed to be roughed up at this point for their disobedience, so God let the Assyrians conquer them.

But the other problem is that Assyria was just as evil, if not worse, than Israel. In Isaiah 10:16-17, God says:

Therefore, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, will send a plague among Assyria’s proud troops, and a flaming fire will consume its glory. The Lord, the Light of Israel, will be a fire; the Holy One will be a flame. He will devour the thorns and briers with fire, burning up the enemy in a single night.

Assyria had to be judged, too. And once they are judged, God will be ready to restore Israel. He made a promise to Abraham to bless His descendants, and that means He will be faithful and restore Israel. He made a promise to David to put his sons on the throne, and that means Israel will have a throne. That is where our text, Isaiah 11, comes in. God revealed to Isaiah that one da, a “Branch” will come from the old root and stump of David’s family. A new king is coming.

God also promised to fill this king with His Spirit. God’s Spirit, throughout Israel’s history, was given to prophets and kings and leaders to accomplish important tasks for God’s plan. And unlike any of these people before, God says that this His Spirit will “rest on” this king. The Spirit will stay on Him, not just temporarily like everyone before. This Spirit, God’s Spirit, is the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of God. This means the king will be totally wise, he will understand what he needs to understand, he will learn from God how to rule rightly, he will be strong enough to work everything out, he will know what is going on, and he will always submit to God.

All of these great traits, all of this strength and brilliance, will be how God brings justice back to the land. He won’t “judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay.” Now, I don’t know how the justice system actually looked like in ancient Israel, but today that would mean he would be fair, he wouldn’t give in to polarized partisanship, and he wouldn’t let dumb posts on Facebook, trending tweets, bribery, or biased news sources distort his judgment. He will be totally fair and just and right.
Verse 4 tells us that this king will use these qualities to fix the rigged and broken systems. He will give justice to the poor, and he will make fair decisions in his court cases. Under this king’s rule, the innocent won’t be unfairly convicted, and the guilty won’t get away with their crimes. He will take the corrupt and unjust people down from their positions with his power. As the verse says, “one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.”

And he’ll do more than that. He’ll make Israel safe again. Israel had been living in a really dangerous situation. There were murderers within and armies without. But this prophecy talks about a totally different kind of world. Under this new king, Israel will be safe again, so ridiculously safe that even carnivorous animals will be friendly. Verses 7 and 8 say that wolves and lambs and leopards and goats will be friends. Little kids will be able to run around with them, and babies will be able to play in snakeholes. These aren’t supposed to be saying, necessarily, that the king will literally domesticate every dangerous animal. The point is to paint a picture of perfect peace, just as verse 9 says, “Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” Through his promised king, God will bring safety and security to Israel, ending the murders and the constant threat of foreign enemies.

In fact, the threat of foreign enemies brings us to the rest of verses 9-10, in which we find out that this king will change the whole world, not just Israel. It says that the world will be filled with people who know the Lord as much as water fills the seas. The king will be a “banner of salvation to all the world.” Apparently everyone from every nation will be blessed through the king who blesses Israel. Israel will be on top of the world, the king will be on top of Israel, God will be above this king, and everyone else will benefit from it. Israel, and through Israel the world, will be safe, just, and even great again.

So, with everything we’ve seen about the coming king, we’re forced to ask: who is this king and did he ever come? How did God fulfill this promise? Well, for Christians the answer is no surprise. We jump to Matthew 1:1 and find out straightaway that this king is Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah. In fact, the word Christ, which actually means Messiah, literally means “anointed,” and it refers to the anointing with oil that a king would receive. Jesus is the anointed King, anointed by the Spirit of God mentioned before at His baptism, where the Gospels say that the Spirit descended like a dove and remained on Him, just like the verse in Isaiah said.

Jesus fulfills even more of this passage. By the Spirit He was Himself filled with wisdom, and power, and knowledge, and the fear of God. He was always righteous and just. He obeyed God all the way through, even to the point of death. His whole life proved that He was filled with the same Spirit and character that Isaiah prophesied.

He also fulfilled the promises for justice for the poor and oppressed. In Israel, He healed and forgave the least of these, the poor and the marginalized and exploited. He let them back into the Temple by cleansing them from being unclean both inside and out. He gave to those in need, and He helped people who were down on their luck or otherwise messed up, whether it was their fault or not, and got them back on their feet. Actually, it might be better to say He didn’t just get them back on their feet, but He gave them new feet altogether that they could use to live new, redeemed lives. He did this all while challenging and condemning the people in charge of rigged and broken systems and institutions, like the crooked King Herod, the elite Jewish establishment, and even the Roman Emporer in a few ways. He turned the world on its head, putting the last first and the first last, because they already had things in a crooked balance.

In fact, Jesus made this theme major to His ministry. He applied another, closely related prophecy in Isaiah to Himself in Luke 4:18-19. It says:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

But there is a legitimate question in how Jesus fulfilled some of this. After all, Israel doesn’t look like this prophecy says today. They’re not safe, and there’s still injustice, even terrorism. So what did Jesus do?

The key lies in the last bit, that the King will affect all the nations of the world. See, as we see in Ephesians 2:11-15, Israel was recreated around Jesus. Israel in its new, born again form is no longer a nation limited to a certain people or area, with Jews and Gentiles united across the world. Gentiles were once outside the covenant, but now in Christ one new people has been made. He does not rule merely a nation, but all nations. This fulfills Isaiah 11:10’s promise that the King would be a banner for the whole world.

So for this new kind of Israel, Jesus was resurrected from the dead and exalted as the Lord not just of one strip of land in the Middle East, or for one race out of all races, but of the whole world. Philippians 2:9-11 says:

God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This means that Jesus’ kingdom is universal now, so we don’t look to the state of one nation or people to see this prophecy fulfilled. But either way, now it seems worse. The whole world certainly isn’t just and safe, is it? We have poverty. We have injustice. Bad guys still win and good guys still lose. Corrupt systems still exist. The reason for this is that Jesus has temporarily left the earth, putting that mission on pause. He ascended into heaven to give us time. What do we need time for? 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that the reason for this delay is so that people have time to repent. Jesus wants to allow time for millions, maybe billions, of people to hear of His rule and submit to Him. It is not until He returns that He will finish the mission. At that time, as Revelation 21:5 says, He will make everything new.

And this is no empty promise. Jesus’ gave us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, and in fact His own human nature is a guarantee that He will come back to us. And when He does, He will take down all the wicked and unjust people, systems, governments, institutions, and powers. He will stop rigging and institute real, actual justice forever. The corrupt and wicked people who take advantage of others and make the world unjust and rigged will be overthrown, and those who march in behind Christ under His Lordship will inherit the world promised in Isaiah 11, where there is nothing but peace, justice, and unlimited life.

This is wonderful hope, the real hope of the world. Our hope is in the return of Jesus Christ, and there is no other hope for the world at all. And we need this hope, because our world is as broken as Israel was in its day. I know you’ve all seen the news lately. We have shootings and murders, people being killed left and right. We face threats from the outside, too, from foreign enemies. People just don’t feel safe anymore, regardless of their job, race, gender, or religion.

The same goes with the injustice problem. Our systems and institutions are messed up. They all seem rigged for rich and powerful elites instead of everyone else. Justice looks like a joke. Too many criminals get away with their crimes, or get off easy, while innocent people lose out. Everything is out of whack. Just like Israel, our leaders have loads of money and power but somehow none of this helps most people.

So we need this hope from Jesus. He is coming back to undo all of this. He will save us from the mess the world is in and recreate it in line with His own will, in the pattern of His own victorious resurrection. In fact, He has already overthrown all of these powers and problems. He defeated the death which haunts us on our newsfeeds and TVs. Because of His resurrection there will be another resurrection which overturns death around the world. He defeated the corrupt and rigged systems and powers, because those kinds of people condemned Him to death but He rose from the dead in defiance of their unjust ruling. They’ve been thrown down and mean nothing. The powers we see today are already disarmed and are guaranteed to be overthrown when Jesus returns to claim His Lordship. We wait for this day. We have hope that Jesus will return to make all things new, to make the world safe and great and just again for people of all stripes and classes. This is the only hope to live again.

But all of this isn’t to say that there is nothing for us in the present. Jesus hasn’t simply left us to nothing in the meantime while we wait for His final victory. Instead, Jesus has called forth His Church to live as a people of the age to come who still live in this present age. We who believe in Jesus and have been baptized into His Church, we are called to bring the future He has created into the present. We must model His justice and protection in our own communities.

This means we must be a haven for people who have been treated wrongly. If someone has been a victim of a rigged system or an unjust decision, we may or may not be able to fix it, but we can welcome them into a world where all people are treated rightly with the justice of Christ. The world may not be fair, but we should do all we can to make our churches places where there is true fairness.

We also must provide a haven for those who feel unsafe. In our churches, people should be free from every threat of violence or abuse, whether physical, mental, or emotional. We must instead show the kind of protecting, self-giving love that Jesus showed in laying down His life for us.

And we must be charitable. If Jesus promised justice for the poor, then we are called to do everything we can to compensate for the imbalance in an unjust society and share what we have with those who need more. Not only this, but we must help people to learn to earn an honest living for themselves, so that they don’t have to rely on the chance kindness of strangers to make it by anymore. After all, a just system isn’t just one where everyone gets enough, but where everyone gets enough and fulfills their own responsibilities.

But more than this, the Church is also given the task of proclamation. We are required to speak God’s truth and God’s judgments to the world and all of its broken systems, just like John the Baptist preached against King Herod’s wickedness. The world in all of its injustice and violence is under the judgment of God, and it is our job to tell them and to beg them to change their ways. Jesus is the true Lord, who rules over everything. He will come back to judge every nation and leader.

This means the Church ought to call the world to account for its injustice and tell them about the right way to run things. We have to tell them about how to do justice, how to promote peace, and how to best treat all of the people in the world. We may not change much, though by God’s grace we pray that we do, but we will do all that God calls us to and all that He helps us to so that the world can experience even now a taste of the great world that Jesus is going to bring about when He returns as our Lord and King.

Right now, then, it comes down to this. God has sent us a king to make the world brand new again, and His name is Jesus. He will come back, but for now we must love each other, do justice, have mercy, and walk humbly with our God, who rules the world in and as Jesus Christ. He will set all things right, and we are here now to make what we can right in honor, hope, faith, and anticipation of that day.

Jesus the Prophet and the Word

A sermon I preached this morning. I pray it will be of some edification.

So, I am not one to get too political in the pulpit for the sake of simply avoiding unnecessary strife. Christians can and do disagree on political issues, though I do believe that Scripture and Christian preaching can and does have some things to say to politics. I’m also not intending to make political point here or offend anyone. But I wanted to menion a funny story I’ve run across about Donald Trump because it is related to what I’m preaching on this morning.

In an interview a while back, Trump was being asked about his relationship with God. He was asked this question: “You have said you never felt the need to ask for God’s forgiveness, and yet repentance for one’s sins is a precondition to salvation. I ask you the question Jesus asked of Peter: Who do you say He is?”

Trump’s first response originally was mostly irrelevant and ignored the issue to point out how much support he has from Christians. But then he was asked the question again to get back on track, and he said this: “Jesus to me is somebody I can think about for security and confidence. Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage and, because I consider the Christian religion so important, somebody I can totally rely on in my own mind.”

Now, obviously this is a silly answer. It’s nearly a joke. It doesn’t tell you who Jesus is, just how Trump supposedly feels about Him. I bring this up not to Trump-bash, but to make a point. The identity of Jesus is important. Even crazy Presidential candidates are forced to reckon with it. Jesus left the earth 2000 years ago but people still have to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Well, that’s my theme today, and for the next however many times I get to preach here. I want to look at the different Biblical angles for understanding who Jesus of Nazareth, called “Christ” and “Son of God,” is, and I want to see what focusing on these different angles can tell us about our relationship to Him and how we ought to live as His people.
So for today I want to start with something very basic, an aspect of Jesus’ identity that almost anyone could agree on from simple history. This is Jesus as a prophet. It cannot be denied that, whatever else Jesus was, He was a prophet. Everyone is willing to concede that, whether atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, or random people off the street. Some might think He was a false prophet, and some might think His prophecies came from delusions or evil schemes, but it is uncontroversial to say that Jesus lived as a prophet. It is also the first in most orderings of what people like John Calvin have called the “threefold office of Christ” as prophet, priest, and king. So I’d like to look at Jesus’ prophetic role according to Scripture, and then to see what we can learn from that.

But in order to do that, I will actually also have to go deeper, because a prophet cannot be understood apart from his message, his word. In the case of Jesus, He Himself is a word, actually the Word of God the Father. Because of this any attempt at explaining Jesus’ prophetic office apart from His being the divine Word can only be incomplete. But with both of these in mind, Jesus as prophet and as Word, we will be able to see just how knowing who Christ is can change our lives as His followers.

So, with that goal in mind, on to what Scripture says about Jesus as a prophet. The first thing to notice is that, with our order of the Old Testament canon, Jesus in the New Testament comes right after the prophets. I’m not convinced that this is any arbitrary coincidence. I think it matters. Throughout the OT prophets we see Israel struggling with God, sinning and begging for help and almost repenting but still sinning more, and God kept sending them prophets. These prophets brought God’s word to Israel, usually warnings of judgment or promises of restoration, and in fact most of the time both are mixed. Then there is silence for 400 years. The last prophet writes and dies, and no word from God comes to Israel for centuries.

It is at this point that John the Baptist shows up, the first prophet in a very long time. He announces that the Lord is coming and that the people need to get ready and repent. Then Jesus comes to Him and is baptized, and immediately begins His own prophetic ministry. The very first words we here from Jesus in the Bible are in Matthew 4:17, and they are words of prophecy. He starts preaching, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

At this point it would be useful to clarify what the prophetic office is. Essentially, to be a prophet is to hear God’s word and relay it faithfully to men. This is a human task, something which humans do for God and for their listeners. It is a kind of work as a mediator, in this case mediating messages, as opposed to the priest who mediates blessing or cursing, or the king who mediates justice. God elects a man as a prophet, calls him to obedience, and entrusts him with a word for God’s people.

Part of the reason for this need is that God transcends us. He is Creator and we are creature. There is an infinite qualitative distinction between God and man. We quite literally have nothing in common with God by nature. Some people would say that we’re like ants or cockroaches compared to God, but even that makes us seem more like Him than we really are. It takes omnipotent power to bridge this gap. Because of this humans can only hear from God if God first puts His words into a human mouth. Otherwise His word, as pure and holy and omnipotent as it is, would be a poweful terror for us, like when God spoke to Israel from Mt. Sinai and they begged Him to stop and speak only to Moses.
But what makes a prophet able to hear God’s word if others cannot? This is the role of the Holy Spirit. This is why in the Old Testament in the few occasions that people are filled with the Spirit, many of them are prophets. The Spirit fills the prophet with the word of God, and the prophet speaks the word of God using his human words. This means that ordinary people can then hear the word of God and respond to it.

This brings us to Jesus’ baptism, the start of His prophetic ministry. At His baptism, according Matthew, Luke, and John, the Spirit came and dwelt in Jesus. We must remember that Jesus’ humanity was truly and fully human in a normal sense, and so in His human life He also needed the Spirit to empower Him for His prophetic ministry. So once He was baptized, anointed as a prophet, He was filled with the Spirit and began preaching.
This actually now brings us to my main text on Jesus’ prophetic office. What matters most for prophets is the message they preached, so I want to go to Luke 13 to find a summary of basically Jesus’ entire message, beginning in verses 1-5.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

What Jesus says here is actually in His preaching all of the time in all of the Gospels. Roman oppression has killed some Jews. That’s a normal part of the background of the day, and one of the main concerns of the Jewish people who were waiting for their Messiah to rescue them. But of course there was a tendency to view the people who suffered most as the worst sinners, as though the people who Pilate killed were special targets of divine judgment. Jesus corrects them by saying that unless they repent, they will all suffer the same fate. He brings up another example of a tower which fell in Siloam and killed people. Those people weren’t any more guilty either. Unless they repented, they would all likewise perish.

Now, it is important to realize that this isn’t just Jesus saying, “Everyone’s a sinner.” Jesus was a prophet to Israel specifically, just like most the prophets before Him. Israel needed to repent, and Israel was in danger of coming judgment. It’s also important to realize that Jesus isn’t saying, “These people died, and if you don’t repent you will go to Hell.” The word for “likewise” in “likewise perish” means “in the same way.” These people died by Romans violence and falling buildings. Here Jesus prophesies not just any judgment, but the judgment coming on Israel through Rome. This is, again, just like the prophets before Him. They prophesied coming judgments by God through the armies of Babylon, or Assyria, or other nations. Jesus prophesied a coming judgment by Rome. Unless they repent, they will perish under Roman violence and collapsing buildings, a prophecy which was fulfilled when Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70.
This is a constant theme of Jesus, and it is core to His message. It is the point of parables like that of the wicked tenants and the of the talents. We see it pop up again immediately in our chapter, verses 6-9. The fig tree, a figure used in the OT for Israel, has no fruit, and it must be cut down unless it bears fruit very soon. At the end of this chapter, in verses 33-35, Jesus makes the meaning of this message explicit. He says:

It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken.

The message is clear, and it is repeated throughout all of the Gospels over and over again as Jesus battles with the Pharisees, the Saducees, the zealots, and the Herodians. Israel is about to be judged, and God will use Rome, the very nation they expect God to rescue them from, to do it.

There are, though, two major differences between Jesus’ message and the messages of the prophets before Him. First, this is not just one more judgment in an ongoing cycle. This is Israel’s last warning. If they do not repent now, they will not be given another chance. This is most clear in the parable of the wicked tenants. The owner sends messengers and servants, and finally his own son, but the tenants kill the son, so instead of giving more chances the owner destroys them. Israel has been sent many prophets, but Jesus will be the last, and if they reject Him, as Jesus knows they will, then they will be desolated. This exile will be permanent, and Israel will ever be under the curse of the Torah which they disobeyed.

But, despite all of this negativity, there is a strong positive side to Jesus’ message. On the one hand, He preaches coming judgment, but just like the other prophets He preaches with it coming restoration. Unlike the other prophets, He preaches that the restoration is now. This is what we see when we move back to the middle of this chapter. In verses 10-17, Jesus heals a disabled woman and brings glory to God on the Sabbath. He then moves on to talk about the Kingdom of God breaking in small at first but certain to grow into something massive. These are also major themes in His ministry elsewhere. His first prophecy was that the Kingdom of God was coming. These healings are all signs of it. The loose attitude towards Sabbath regulations is also a sign, a sign that the weekly Sabbath law is now being fulfilled in the great Sabbath of the Kingdom of God.
This Kingdom is the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel. Even though there is a coming judgment, there is also a way for forgiveness of sins, healing, and restoration. This way is in following Him, the Messiah. This is what Jesus preached from the beginning, like in Luke 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The year of the Lord’s favor had arrived, and if anyone would repent of their sins, their attempts at establishing their own justification though stricter Torah observance or revolutions against Rome, but instead simply follow God’s Messiah, they would enter into this year, the age to come. This was to be the way out of the judgment. Israel as a whole was ready to reject the Messiah and be judged by God, but those who would instead repent and believe that Jesus is the Messiah would find that they could follow Him into a new way of being God’s people which would survive even the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. This was ultimately the way into the resurrection, the regeneration of the world. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will give you life in the age to come.”

This all, then, comes back to the belief in Israel since they were originally exiled into Babylon that Yahweh their God had departed from them, especially from Jerusalem and the Temple. The glory which used to fill the Holy of Holies had disappeared, and they suffered constant subjection under the pagans. They had been waiting on God to return to them and rescue them again, to bring His glory back into Israel. Jesus preached just this: the return of Yahweh to Zion, a return which would lead to judgment for the wicked and salvation and resurrection for those who embraced Him.

This actually explains some of Jesus’ more odd prophetic actions like whithering the fig tree or cleansing the Temple. He symbolically announced that judgment had arrived, just as the prophets in the OT performed strange actions to illustrate their points.

But, the way Jesus did these things was all even more odd. His healings, His control over nature, His forgiving sins, riding triumphantly into Jerusalem after declaring maternal care, His cleansing the Temple–all of this almost makes it look as though Jesus were Himself acting as Yahweh returning to Zion. You get the impression that these acts are divine acts. Jesus appears to have considered Himself to be not just Yahweh’s prophet, but in some sense an embodiment of this God Himself.

This could, of course, have been passed off as lunacy or maybe something more devious, especially once Jesus was hung on a cross to die. If Beau were to start acting like he’s God, I think we’d all suspect that he’d gone crazy. So it seemed that way for Jesus, too. If He was in any sense God, or an agent of God, the Cross made no sense. God is the judge, not the judged. He is the life-giver, not mortal.

Yet then after three days Jesus rose from the dead. It would seem that this means Jesus was right. In some sense He was truly acting God’s acts. And it is the Gospel of John which helps us understand this, for in John we find that Jesus is not only a prophet, but the divine Word of God Himself.

This brings us to John 1:1-18, the text where we can see most clearly that Jesus is a prophet who reveals Himself as God. John 1:1 tells us that in the beginning the Word was with God and was God. It tells us that Jesus was and is this Word, the Word of creation, of light, and of life. This Word is not merely from God, but is of the very same being, the same essence as God. Verse 14 is key: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” This Word is God as He knows, sees, and proclaims Himself. The Word of God is God speaking God, and this is precisely who Jesus was. This Word became a human being, and as a human being He became a prophet.

The prohetic office and Jesus’ divine person as the Word of God work together in a unique way. This why is Jesus is not merely another prophet, but the last and the greatest prophet whose coming marks the climax of Israel’s story. The word from God which Jesus spoke in His life was not merely any message, but in fact His own person as God’s self-revelation. Basically, Jesus as a prophet preached the Word of God, but unlike every other prophet Jesus was the very same Word of God which He preached. The judgment Jesus warned Israel about was His own judgment, a judgment He made Himself and suffered Himself. The Kingdom of God He said was coming was in fact His very own authority, His own reign over all the earth. And the return of Yahweh to Zion He announced was literally His coming to Jerusalem as the Word of God.

What we understand from this is something which is elsewhere described in John, namely that the word and act of Jesus the prophet from Nazareth are literally and directly the word and deed of God. There is no difference. In John 5:19 Jesus says it simply: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

So Jesus as a human prophet is somehow from within His human life and nature doing the very work of God. The call to repentance was Gods’ last call to Israel. His healings were not just signs of the coming Kingdom but part of the way God was actually calling the new creation into existence. The judgment He proclaimed would be a judgment He Himself would execute and suffer.

All of this, when brought to the Cross, means that Christ’s suffering, being executed as a false prophet and revolutionary, is in fact the act of God. Jesus died for the nation, for the world, which means that God Himself took upon all of this for us. This means we are assured that at His very core, in the depths of His being, God is for us, a God who self-sacrificially loves us. What Jesus did in His whole life and ministry, but especially on the Cross, is what God does. We know God because we know Christ, and knowing God in this way means that His love for us goes all the way down even into Hell. And this is who God really is. The fact that Jesus is both God’s prophet and God’s Word means that, as Scottish theologian T. F. Torrance liked to say, “There is no God behind the back of Jesus.”

This is the ground of all of our assurance. The prophet who said “Neither do I condemn you” is the same God of the universe who will judge the world. There is no division, or even a true distinction, between the mercy we see in Jesus, the gracious promises He offers to those who follow Him, and who God is toward us. This is how we know that there is absolutely no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We do not know everything about God by looking at Christ, simply because of human limitations, but because the prophetic word of Christ comes from His person as the Word of God who is God, what we see in Christ is true all the way down into the depths of who God is. To quote Torrance again, “God is deep but not devious.” We can have confidence to follow Jesus wherever He leads because we know that the words by which He leads us is the Word of God, and whatever He tells us about our destination is exactly where we will end up. If we are in Christ, then we are in God, and if we are in God, we have every reason to hope.

But to mention being in Christ brings us to the question of what a life in Christ looks like. This in turn brings us back to Jesus the prophet. When Jesus left His disciples, He did the same thing for them that the prophet Elijah did for his successor Elisha. He left behind His Spirit. At Pentecost, Jesus poured out His own Spirit on the Church, so now by the Spirit we are called to continue Jesus’ ministry as prophets. It is our job to be prophets like Jesus, continuing to proclaim His message. Jesus told everyone about the Kingdom of God wherever He went and whatever He did, and this is how we are also called to live. This is why we must evangelize: we share in the ministry of Jesus as prophet. We have to spread His message in the power of His Spirit now that He has been taken to heaven. Obviously not all of us are prophets in the common sense of receiving direct, personal messages from God and being called to preach them and perform signs to confirm them. Yet in another sense we are all prophets now. We’ve received a direct message from God in the prophetic Word of Jesus. We are called to share this Word, and if nothing else we are supposed to use our lives as signs to confirm it. In Jesus we all become prophets, and as prophets we must share the Word of God, who is Jesus, with the world around us.

Now, if we’re going to be prophets like Jesus, our message needs to match up with His. But there are differences. Much of what Jesus preached was directly to a unique moment in Israel’s history. They were about to be judged, the Old Covenant would end, and the Kingdom would come through Jesus’ own life, death, and resurrection. In our day, all of that has already happened. So how do we carry on Jesus’ message in our AD world? We have to look back, see Jesus’ message, and how He has fulfilled what He preached, and then apply the new situation created by His fulfillment to our message. What does this look like?

To begin with, the whole world today is in a similar situation to Israel. At Pentecost God began to invite all the nations into His covenant. He called the Gentiles to repent and submit to Jesus. But the world in large part hasn’t repented. They’re still sinning and rejecting God’s purposes and calling. They’ve been doing this all since Jesus came on the scene, cooperating with the Jews to kill Jesus. But God has raised Jesus from the dead. That proves all He said was true, and God has now put Him over all the world as its judge. Unless they repent, they will all perish under Christ’s judgment, just like they killed Him under their own.

But even so, the Kingdom of God has entered the world in Jesus, especially in His resurrection. The risen Christ offers eternal life as the source of salvation, a way of escape from the coming judgment and a path into bliss of the age to come. This marks the beginning of a new creation, which will eventually set all the universe free.

So now Jesus is set to return, and when He does judgment will come, but those who believe in Him will find that He has already suffered judgment for them. The wicked will perish and the righteous, specifically those who find righteousness by trusting in Christ, will be raised just like He was.

This is, at least, one possible way to tell the story, a sample of how we carry on Jesus’ message in view of the world’s changed situation after He fulfilled His work. And this king of message is what we need to proclaim. It is what we need to tell our neighbors and friends and coworkers. We have all been called to be prophets of Jesus, following in His footsteps as a prophet, by our union with Him.

So how can we really, practically do this? That’s a great question, and if any of you know the answer I’d be glad to hear it. But seriously, we need to think about that and do what we can to proclaim the word about the Word. Some of that might be personal evangelism, talking one-on-one to people we know. Some of it might be Bible distribution or street preaching. Personally, I would like to see especially here a way to get involved in more canvassing and survey evangelism. And of course there are actual mission trips, and there is VBS and community outreach. We must do all of this, and anything else we can come up with, to be prophets of Christ, sharing His Word with the world.

Our lives must also match our message, just like Jesus’ did. Jesus preached that the time of God’s favor had come, and He proved it by healing, forgiving, and redeeming broken lives. He also preached that the time of judgment had come, and He acted it out in the Temple, on a fig tree, and in His harsh condemnations of the religious elites who were leading people astray. He lived the life He said that God’s people must live in this new time: a life characterized by love for enemies, trust in God, patience under persecution, and compassion and mercy to those in need.

If we are going to be Jesus’ prophets, we have to live the same way. If we don’t, we make our message look fake or powerless. For Jesus there was no difference between the life He lived as a prophet and the divine Word which He was in His person. In the same way, we can’t let there be any difference between our lives and the Word of Jesus that we preach. Of course we will fail at this over and over again. We sin daily, and we fail to be the prophets we are supposed to be. We don’t share the message of Jesus enough or well enough, and we don’t live the kind of way that backs up even what we do say. But Jesus anticipated that from the start, and our union with Him includes our dying with Him, so that our sins are already dealt with. His “Neither do I condemn you” is assured for us. Confident that Jesus will keep His word, since He is God’s Word, we can try again, repent daily, and continue to press on in our lives as prophets of Jesus.

The goal of all of this, of course, is for us to make Jesus visible in both our words and our deeds. We want to direct people away from us and to the Word of God, who Himself was a prophet of His own Word. We basically just want people to see and hear Jesus when they see and hear us, because whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father. We do and say what Jesus does and says which is what God does and says to reach our final end. We want the world to find life in knowing God. So I encourage all of us, myself more than all of you combined, to take this call to heart and do anything we can to be prophets of Jesus. If we combine our witnesses as the Body of Christ, then one day Isaiah 11:9 can be fulfilled, and “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” This future, the hope of the Kingdom of God, is our call and mission. So let us take up this mission, and follow after our leader, a prophet called Jesus of Nazareth.

Love Is War

I was reading 1 Corinthians 13 the other day and learned something which I did not know. Apparently, all (or most?) of the descriptions of love are verbs in the Greek. Phrases rendered like “Love is kind” could be rendered ultra-literally as “Love kinds” or more dynamically as “Love acts kindly.” Love is active throughout the passage.

Moreover, the actions ascribed to love in this passage are entirely contrary to the flesh, our natural way of living based on our merely animal aspects. We act in one way by default, by instinct, and that way is entirely opposed to the way of love. They cannot abide one another. They are antithetical at their very core. There is one way of acting characterized by love and another way of acting characterized by the self-being of the flesh, and one cannot act in both ways with creating inner conflict.

This brings me to another thought, namely the way that Christianity is often portrayed as a soft, feminine religion with no room for toughness, conflict, strenuous self-discipline, or heroic efforts. It seems unmanly by any of the traditional traits associated with masculinity. Christianity often appears to be an issue of “love, not war.”

But what I would like to point out here is that, in a very important way, love is war. It is strenuous conflict, the fight against natural instincts of self-service in order to do what is right for God and others. It involves determined efforts to kill the old man. We fight and struggle against not humans, but spiritual forces and powers and the corruptions in nature.

This is a Biblical theme. Paul speaks in Romans 9 to us about killing sin, putting it to violent death in our bodies because we have been hung on a bloody cross to die with Christ. We direct strenuous energy and training into fighting the war of love, which means following our Captain Jesus to fight the way He fought, not against humans but against sin, self-love, and the effects of death and Hell. Jesus fought by resisting all of His natural impulses to save or avenge Himself and instead suffering nobly to complete the mission of God. This is our call as well, and it is a hard one which requires an almost military discipline, or even more than that.

Acts is also portrayed as a conquest narrative. It has numerous parallels with Joshua, showing Canaan and then the world being conquered by the preaching of the Gospel through Christ’s elite warriors. These warriors suffer just as other warriors do, more literally than in most of these other parallels as they experienced flogging, beating, and all kinds of torture or harsh conditions.

This is all specific to love, not just a conception of Christianity in general. We do and must do all of these things for  the sake of love, love for God and for people. It is love which must be the force here, and yet it is also through these fights and struggles that we actually love. There is circularity here: love compels us to fight the war that enables us to love.

I also do not say this merely to point out an interesting idea in thinking about love. I’m pointing this out because this realization has two possible benefits. On the one hand, it is a reminder to men that Christianity is serious conflict, that it is not simply sitting around singing mushy songs and feeling fluttery feelings about God and others. Rather, it is a fight. In Christianity we are called to act like heroes who love by taking down sin and self-centeredness like Liam Neeson takes down Eastern European criminals in order to serve the ones we love. We are like the troops who lay down their lives to protect their families and honor their king.

On the other hand, I say this to remind us that love is effort, serious effort in which we will have to suffer. Like in war, we must discipline ourselves and be consciously vigilant against all threats. Love and our loved ones are located in a battle zone, and we must behave in a way that makes sense in such high stakes. It takes diligence, self-control, attention, and obedience to orders if we want our love, our mission to put God and others first, to succeed.

Onward, then, Christian soldiers. Let us march on to the war that is love.

My Stance on the Rapture

I just realized that I haven’t actually written about the Rapture on this blog at all since I began it. Yet the Rapture is a fun and popular debate, and it’s one of the few issues on which Christians can disagree without very many people getting angry or declaring you a heretic (though some still do).

So what do I believe about the Rapture? Before I answer, I’ll quickly survey the popular options. Here they are:

  • Pre-tribulation Rapture: The most common and popular view, mostly popular because of the writers like Tim LeHaye and the Left Behind movies (not counting the Nick Cage one). In this view, immediately before the 7-year tribulation period, Jesus will make something of a partial coming in which He will instantly gather all of His people from around the globe to Himself and take them back to heaven. After this the world will experience severe judgments from God for 7 years until Jesus returns and sets up His millennial kingdom.
  • Post-tribulation Rapture: Probably the second most common view, in post-tribulationalism the Church will have to live through the 7 years of judgment, though protected by God along the way, and after that Jesus will return, take His saints up to heaven, and institute His millennial reign.
  • Mid-tribulation Rapture: In this view (also called pre-wrath), the Rapture takes place halfway through the tribulation, prior to God’s pouring out of His wrath on the world. Mid-trib makes a distinction between the persecutions and sufferings of the first half of the tribulation and the eschatological outpouring of God’s wrath of the second half.

To jump right to it, none of these appeal to me. I don’t think any of them have sufficient Biblical grounding, and I think they all miss the important point of what the Rapture is. That said, I think pre-trib is the least likely of these, and in fact, I would go so far as to say that it has no Biblical evidence whatsoever and is every bit as much a sketchy extra-Biblical tradition as any Catholic innovation (no offense to my papist friends, of course).

So what do I believe about the Rapture? First off, I doubt that Revelation even teaches a distinct 7-year tribulation period. I agree with those who argue that the years, times, and seasons in Revelation are symbolic, and that the sequences of 7 (bowls, wrath, trumpets) are actually different visions which go back and refer to the same thing, much as Pharaoh had two dreams in one night with the same meaning.

This, of course, makes any of the popular views on the Rapture’s timing moot. The terms pre, post, and mid-trib don’t make sense without a specific 7 year tribulation. What does this do to the Rapture itself? In the eschatological timeline I find most convincing, the millennium is a reality for those who have died in Christ now, and it will end when Christ returns. When He returns, He will, as Scripture says, call His people together to meet Him in the air. Exactly what this will look like I do not know (is “in the air” a literal description, even?), but what comes next is the most serious departure from the other Rapture views.

I do not believe that we will be Raptured to heaven. That is where Christ is coming from, and in fact He is bringing heaven with Him to earth. Rather, our Rapture will be the time in which we are transformed by the sight of Him to be like Him, and then we will escort Him to earth. At this time all the dead are raised, the world is judged, and the entire creation will be recreated around Jesus Christ. Then heaven and earth will be one, with Christ ruling at the center.

So, specifically, I take the Rapture to be when we meet Christ in the air to be glorified and raised to resurrection life before escorting Him to His take rule over the kingdom, which now extends over the whole earth. 

Where do I get such an idea? The term parousia, used in the New Testament to refer to Christ’s return, means “appearing” or “presence.” In particular, it was used in the Roman Empire (under which, of course, Israel was ruled and against which Christ was proclaimed as Lord) to refer to the “appearing” of the emperor to a city or colony. When news of his coming came, the citizens of Rome would exit the city to gather around him and give him a royal escort into their city. It is not only possible but quite likely that Paul saw very much the same kind of thing going on when Christ returns for us.

N. T. Wright is the most well-known proponent of this view, so if you want to learn more about it I would recommend that you check out this brief essay he wrote on the topic, and perhaps also check out his excellent book, Surprised by Hope, which covers this and other issues related to heaven, the resurrection, and the new creation.

Apostles’ Creed: I Believe in God

Once upon a time, the Twelve Apostles (including Matthias) came together under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to write the Apostles’ Creed as the core of Christian belief. At least, so the story goes. While historically it’s probably not true, it cannot be denied that the substance of the Apostles’ Creed goes way back. It was the first of the three ecumenical creeds accepted by all Christianity (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox). It summarizes in very brief form the message of the Gospel as found in the New Testament.

So, given its importance, I’m going to so a series on the articles of the Apostles’ Creed. This first post will be on, naturally, the first article, of God the Father Almighty.

The Creed states as follows:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

It sounds simple enough. What do we learn from this?

First, we begin with “I believe.” The content of the Creed, the Gospel of the Triune God who has acted in and as Jesus Christ, is taken by faith. We do not now see Jesus. We do not have any way to verify with our own reasoning or arguments that Jesus truly was and did everything we believe about Him. There are reasons to believe, but not proof, and our mental hands are not forced by any logical necessity. We accept the content of the Creed by faith, the act of submitting our minds to God’s revealing His Son to us by His Spirit through His Word. We confess first that our attempts at proof and verification are, if not worthless, certainly inadequate, and so we have no other grounds that trust in the self-revealing God and His Word communicated in Scripture and the preaching of the Gospel.

Next, we see that God is first defined as “Father.” Unlike many confessions and works of theology or dogmatics, which initially identify God through creation, the Creed begins with His identity as Father. We know God as Father first because we know Him truly through the Son. As Athanasius once remarked, “It is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate.” God is the Father of the Son before and apart from creation, and because He creates and recreates us by and in His Son, He makes Himself to be our Father as well. Because God’s being Father is ultimately first, and His position as Creator second, we know that God’s first and foremost intentions and regard for us are of fatherly love. Before God is anything else to us, He is the loving Father.

We also see that this Father is “almighty.” Note that this almightiness is connected, not to His role as Creator, but to His being the Father. This is essential for us to know: that God is not first merely all-powerful creator deity but that He is all-powerful precisely as our loving Father. In this we know that God’s almighty powers, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, are not against us or even simply neutral toward us, but rather act for us. God is the Almighty, the one who alone holds all power and knowledge and wisdom and immortality, and this almighty God is our Father. In this we can be assured of God’s gracious intention in His rule over all things. Whatever happens to us happens under the care of our almighty Father.

At this point the Creed adds that God is Creator, that He made the heavens and the earth. Only after we know that God is first and foremost Father, and that as Father He has almighty power, is it safe to consider that He is the Creator. Creation is an act of the loving Father out of His almightiness. We exist by His will alone. This puts a claim on us all. If He is Creator, than we depend on Him for every breath, and again this is a dependence in our Father. But we must therefore obey Him. Even our ability to disobey Him is something that exists by His creative power, and thus we are necessarily at His mercy in all we do. In this case it behooves us to live rightly before Him. And we can be assured, since the Creator is Father, that all He demands of us is truly good and that the world is so ordered under His creative will that obeying Him truly does bring us benefit.

Finally, we note that God is the Creator of both heaven and earth. It should strike us that both the earthly and the heavenly realms are creations. Heaven and earth are twin realities created by God, and both had a beginning. Heaven has not always existed, and is not God’s eternal home. Heaven is rather the invisible and spiritual side of the created order where God makes His throne from which to rule the earth. In heaven God’s fatherly will truly does reign and all things are ordered as they should be, and so heaven is the model and destiny of earth. We pray through Christ for the Father who created heaven and earth to make earth more like heaven until the day when the two will be united into one, just as the God of heaven and man of the earth have united in Christ Jesus.

As one final note, we see that all things whatsoever are included in heaven and earth, so that there is nothing outside of God which was not created by God. And since this Creator is Father, we know that everything which exists can only exist in relation to His fatherly care. Nothing could exist apart from the creative will of the God we know as Father. Therefore nothing exists except for our benefit as children. We also know that, as children, we are set to inherit all created things. For if the Son is the heir of the Father, and the Father has created all things, and we have been made sons in the Son, then we are the rightful heirs of creation. In the meantime we may use and enjoy all that is our Father’s in gratitude, and in the end all things belong to us, and we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Abraham’s Choice

Kill the miracle child. That was God’s demand to Abraham. An old man was told to take his young son, whom he had never thought would be conceived and waited patiently for years to see be born, plunge a knife into him, and burn his body. All of this for a God who had already made him leave behind his homeland and family on faith. Why? Why another test, and one of such horror?

Ultimately, Abraham chose to continue in steadfast faith, hoping perhaps desperately for even a resurrection. He seemed willing to believe that the God who brought new life out of his own all-but-dead body could also bring new life out of the ashes of his son’s. This took deep faith and surely serious internal conflict. Such a choice for God few seem truly able to make.

I find it bothersome, then, that there are people even in the Church saying that Abraham didn’t really have to make that choice, or even shouldn’t have made it. Rachel Held Evans, for example, made this argument a couple years ago. According to such arguments it would have been okay or even right for Abraham to defy what he heard as the command of God (or was it?) out of love for his son. Love is the essence of Christian morality, right? Killing a child isn’t love, and why’s a supposedly good God commanding this, anyway?

Now put that thought in hold for a moment to consider a somewhat related argument about martyrdom. Some in the Church argue that it’s not ultimately important what you say or believe about God so long as you live a life of Christ-like love. In this case, there’s no reason to confess Jesus even on pain of death. Instead, you should just trample His name under your feet when threatened and use the life you escape with to show Christ’s love to others through mercy and self-sacrifice, though perhaps without mentioning Him.

To put these two arguments in a room together, then, imagine a situation in which you are on trial for professing Christ in a hostile environment and you are told to deny Christ or your children will be killed. By the logic of both of these arguments above, you should deny Jesus and save your kids. That’s the only way you can honor the essence of Christianity, which is to love others. To follow the examples of the martyrs or Abraham would be at best a mistake.

But what if both of these arguments are wrong? They seem to share the assumption that other people are the soul of Christianity, but what if they aren’t? What if God’s love and purpose for us expressed in Christ and His Resurrection are the center? What if everything else, including love for others, hangs upon this reality?

If Christ and His Resurrection are truly central, then both of the arguments fail. If Christ is at the center, and He is the love of God, and there is no other love of God than the person of Jesus, then to deny Him is to deny the love of God. To deny the love of God is then to deny the very ground on which any love for others firmly stands, for apart from God’s electing love for man, man is nothing. If the Resurrection is truly God’s loving  purpose for us in Christ, then death cannot be regarded as a final evil, but only as a temporary one forced to serve the victory of God in His love toward us. Death ushers in eternal glory rather than being a true obstacle to the welfare of man in Christ.

By this logic, the logic of grace, we would find ourselves once again called to make Abraham’s choice. Do we truly believe in Jesus Christ as the end-all, be-all? Do we trust the promise of God to raise His people from death into the glory of their Lord? Will we doubt that those who lose their lives in Christ will find them in Him? Or are we skeptical of God’s promise to crown His martyrs with His Son?

The idea, of course, of sacrificing our children, or any loved ones, to remain faithful to the God of love is still as confusing and horrifying as ever, to be sure. We may be tempted to ask how a good God could ever expect such a thing out of us. How is there love in this? But as always, we must be pointed to Christ. God may someday ask our sons of us, but He has already given up His Son for us. In doing so He has also revealed in advance what happens to sacrificed sons: resurrection and eternal glory and power. If we can make Abraham’s choice, then we will receive our children back to us in greater form than we gave them up, and we will still have Christ as well. In the resurrection, martyrs and their parents find, to speak colloquially, that they can have their cake and eat it, too. Indeed, when we understand love from a center in God’s love in Christ rather than in ourselves, we find that this was the way to truly love our family all along.

None of this changes the awful terror of any such prospect. Would I be able to give up my children in faith that God would raise them from the dead? As someone planning to spend considerable time on the mission field, I have no guarantee that this question will always be hypothetical. Will I be ready? Will my faith be that deep? I hardly know from the comfort of my air-conditioned home full of food at a Christian educational institution. May God have mercy on myself and my family if the situation ever does arise. But in the meantime, I believe, and pray the Lord to help my unbelief, that for both me and my household to live is Christ and to die is gain.