Posted tagged ‘Jesus’

Is the Bible Sexist and Racist? Part 5 – Racism

July 7, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 102795786 Copyright: monkeybusiness

This is the last in a series of five blog articles on the question: whether the Bible is sexist and racist? The subject is introduced in Part 1. We tackled sexism by looking at the overarching theme of the Bible on men and women in Part 2 and by looking at how Jesus treated women in Part 4. We tackled racism in Part 3 by looking at the overarching theme of the Bible on diversity. Finally, we view racism and diversity through the life of Jesus and His followers in this part 5.

Jesus doesn’t tackle the issue of racism or diversity directly, but He lived in a complicated time. He was Jewish, living in a tight knit Jewish community, which was governed and ruled by foreigners, the Romans. The Jews had a history of living alongside foreigners and were at various times throughout that history governed by them against their will.

Many of the foreigners were actually very closely related, like the Samaritans, who were of Jewish descent, and the Canaanites before them.

The Jews believed there were only two types of people: Jews and everyone else (Gentiles). They seemed to have forgotten that the very first words God spoke to Abraham, when He chose Abraham and his progeny, was that God chose them to be a blessing to all the nations. (Genesis 12:1-3) God didn’t choose them to bless only them, but to bless all nations through them.

Jesus was that blessing. Jesus is traced back to Abraham. He is from the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the root of Jesse’s seed, father of David. Jesus is the Promised One. Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh, so, how Jesus viewed others is the key to understanding what the Bible says about racism and diversity.

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Without Leaving a Trace

June 1, 2017
people

               Depositphotos Image ID: 15819245 Copyright: Kuzmafoto

via Daily Prompt: Trace

The crowd pushed and heaved to get a better view.

“This man, Jesus, was saying some crazy things, and people were just as crazy to believe it. I just happened to be in the area. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way, but the spectacle caught my attention,” I said to guy next to me.

“I am comfortable with my life,” I told him. “I don’t need the drama. I don’t need to go chasing after every man who claims to have a direct line to God, and God knows there are many of them these days. They’re all crazy! They end up getting carried away with their own rhetoric. They make the Roman authorities nervous, and then they are thrown in jail or killed to make an example of them, and the crowd disperses. It always does.”

The guy next to me didn’t seem to hear what I said. He was listening to Jesus, so I listened for a few seconds.

“This guy Jesus is a good talker, isn’t he,” I said in case the guy might hear me this time. “The people hang on every word. He talks like he really knows what he is talking about, but no different than the last guy I guess. I didn’t really listen to him. Never really had the chance. More like, I wasn’t really interested.”

He looked at me only long enough to signal that he knew I was there, but he went on focusing on Jesus apparently wrapping up his message.

“Not that I’m not spiritual or anything,” I continued. “I am as spiritual as the next guy. I try to be a good person. I don’t hurt anyone. I’m certainly not like those guys this Jesus hangs around. Good for them, though. They need someone like Jesus to straighten them out. Maybe they will get their lives together.”

And, with that, the crowd began to break up and wander off. The guy next to me apparently left also. He was nowhere to be found.

“I guess this Jesus is done talking”, I thought. “Not sure what he was even talking about. I thought I heard someone say something about a miracle. Crazy! I would never get suckered like that.”

And the Son of God moved on without leaving a trace that He had ever been there, that I had ever encountered Him or ever heard anything He might have said.

God’s Purpose is Accomplished – Even When People Reject Him

May 9, 2017

depositphotos Image ID: 1739451 Copyright: tockasso

Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my father.”  (John 15:22-24)

These words convey a stark reality that is not pleasant to consider. We might assume that Jesus was speaking of the Jews when He spoke these words, but we would be wrong. Jesus was speaking of the “world”. Just before Jesus spoke the words quoted above, He said:

“If the world[1] hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

These are curious things coming from Jesus. The import of what Jesus says here is that the world is ordered in opposition to Jesus and God the Father. And even when people reject Jesus, God’s purpose is fulfilled.

In other places, we see Jesus saying very different things. For instance, Jesus said elsewhere, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) So, we might be confused when we see Jesus implying that he came to hold people accountable for their sins.

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Was the Jesus Story a Copycat from Pagan Myth?

April 23, 2017


The answer is pretty decisively, no! Much has been said of this popular Internet opinion by actual historians and biblical scholars of every stripe, Christian, agnostic and atheist. No modern scholars, meaning men and woman who have proven themselves in the world of academia, which usually means have been vetted by peer review, hold to this view today.

This is true whether the scholar happens to be a theist or atheist, believer or nonbeliever. There simply isn’t any credible evidence for it. The only evidence lives in the active imaginations of people who want it to be true, like Bill Maher. In fact, he did a movie about it.

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Emptied of Glory and Obedient to Death

April 14, 2017

Depositphotos: 31617591 Copyright: DesignPicsInc

On Good Friday we remember the ultimate sacrifice God made for us. Not only did He empty Himself of His glory to become like us, taking on human flesh, but He was obedient to the law that He established for us – obedient to death – even death on the cross. We shudder at the thought of hanging on a cross, but it’s hard for us to imagine how utterly shameful crucifixion was in the 1st Century.[1]

This was not just a person, though, this was God who had already shed his glory to become like us and walked in humble obedience to all that He required of us – something that we do not even do ourselves. This man who hung tortuously and shamefully on the cross was also fully God who certainly suffered all the pain and shame that a man and God could possibly feel at the hands of His own creation.

In the article linked at the end of this blog piece, Trevin Wax makes three observations that have stuck with me since I read them: (more…)

Following Jesus

March 16, 2017
Male reading Bible

Depositphotos Image ID: 61118525 Copyright: 4masik

One of the more iconic things Jesus is recorded to have said is, “Come follow me!” We read those words or similar words over and over in the Gospels. According to Wikianswers, Jesus talks about people following him at least 23 times in the Gospels. He is noted to have asked specific people point blank to follow him about a dozen times by my count.

Following Jesus is so much of a primary theme in the Gospels that even today, 2000 years later, we talk about people “following Jesus”. People identify themselves as “followers of Jesus”. The idea of following Jesus, therefore, is central to Christianity and what it means to be a “Christian”. The idea is so ubiquitous in our western society that we might even take that phrase for granted, forgetting the significance of it.

The unique significance of the idea of following Jesus is, perhaps, best noted by looking at people in the non-Christian world. As I was writing this and thinking of the examples of the areas where we see the idea in operation, starting with the Gospels and extending to the way Christians refer to themselves today, it dawned on me that non-Christians don’t seem to use the same phrase in referring to Christians.

What does it mean to a non-Christian to “follow Jesus”? (more…)

The Ultimate Sacrifice

February 20, 2017
depositphotos Image ID: 31619821 Copyright: DesignPicsInc

depositphotos Image ID: 31619821
Copyright: DesignPicsInc

Sacrifice began with Cain and Abel. Able gave an acceptable sacrifice, giving to God from the best of what he had. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and Cain became jealous of Abel’s favor with God and took his life.

The sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel were outward expressions of their hearts toward God. Abel offered to God a sacrifice from among the best that he had; Can did not. Cain’s reaction of taking Abel’s life was also an expression of his heart, being self-absorbed and jealous and unable to countenance the favor Abel obtained from God. This only shows, however, there is more to the offering of a sacrifice than meets the eye.

Christians read the OT through the lens of the interpretation of Jesus. Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”[1] On the road to Emmaus, Jesus came along side two disciples after He had risen from the dead and interpreted the Scriptures for them, showing them “all the things concerning himself”.[2]

Jesus tells us that the OT is a precursor to the NT. The OT laid the groundwork for the NT and prepared the way for the revelation of Jesus. A Christian can’t read the OT divorced from the NT. It makes little sense by itself.

When it comes to sacrifice, the entirety of the OT points to the ultimate sacrifice that was to come – the sacrifice of God who became man and gave Himself up for us. God turned everything on its head in that culminating moment, and we learn (looking back) that this was the plan all along. God intended from the beginning to do this, and He prepared the stage for it through His working with Abraham and Abraham’s descendants, stubborn and rebellious though they were.

They were exactly like us. But that means there is hope for us!

And that is the problem. God can be nothing other than who He is. He is (in Himself) the standard to which all things are compared. If we want to have a relationship with God, it must be on God’s own terms because God is who is He is.[3]

God did create us in His own image[4], but that doesn’t mean that we are exactly like Him. He gave us agency, the ability to choose, including the ability to choose to reject Him and go our own ways.

If God is the standard of goodness, a choice to embrace anything other than the goodness of God is evil. Evil doesn’t exist without good. Good is the benchmark against which anything other than good is measured, and anything other than good is evil.

In giving us this choice, God gave us the gift of love, because love can’t exist without choice. If we have no choice but to reflect God’s character, we would not be able to know and reciprocate love, because love is a choice. Hold that thought.

When we think of the sacrifices in the OT, we think of the animal sacrifices that became the central activity in the Temple. Why did God require them? What was the purpose of the system of ritual sacrifices that God instructed?

The surrounding nations and religious activity from time immemorial to the present day included sacrifices to appease angry gods and gain favor with them. Was this simply more of the same?

Actually, no. This was a paradigm shift. For one thing the surrounding nations engaged in child sacrifice, but God forbid the practice by the Israelites.[5] When the Israelites engaged in the practice anyway, God judged them for it.[6] Instead, God instructed them to sacrifice animals.

In doing this, God began to condition His people for something other than what the rest of their known world did. God began to lead them in a different direction. The switch from child sacrifice to sacrifice of animals was only one step in the process, and it wasn’t the destination, but only part of the journey.

The sacrificial system God gave His people pointed beyond it to something else. When God gave the instruction to Moses in regard to the sacrificial system, He explained, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”[7]

The sacrifices were intended to provide the atonement for the sins of the people. God provided an “out” – a way for a sinful people to be restored to relationship with God. It is a necessary corollary to the ability to choose evil instead of God, but the animal sacrifices weren’t mean to be a permanent fix.

After many generations of failure to walk in the ways that God established for His people, continually returning to the gods of their neighbors and the evils that God warned them to leave behind, God began to send them prophets. At the height of their failings and continual wandering after the evils God warned them against, God spoke these words through the prophet Isaiah:

11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.

12 “When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.

Likewise, God spoke through the prophet Hosea:

For I desire steadfast love[8] and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

It wasn’t the sacrifices that God wanted; it was relationship. The sacrifices God instructed His people to make were not the permanent fix, as stated above. It was only a temporal means to a more permanent end. The permanent fix was not to come from man, but from God.

As stated in Hebrews, the sacrificial system was only an illustration.[9] The sacrificial system was merely a temporal, external regulation pointing to an eternal, internal reality that was to be revealed in Christ.

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”[10]

This is why, when Jesus was dying on the cross, as His death approached, He said, “It is finished!”[11] In that moment Jesus fulfilled the law and all that the law demanded. Just as Jesus told His followers when He was alive, He became the ransom for us all.[12] His sacrifice was once for all; it was the perfect sacrifice; it was the sacrifice that bought us eternal life. It was the ultimate sacrifice that God planned from the beginning.

When God made us in His image, giving us agency, He allowed us the gift of love, which we could not have obtained any other way. But it came with a huge risk – the risk that we could and would reject God. In fact, God knew we would reject Him and go our own way. But he provided a way out.

Just as God provided a way out for Abraham when Abraham dutifully went to sacrifice his so, Isaac, in the tradition all the surrounding nations, God provided a way out for all of us. For Abraham, God provided a goat to be sacrificed instead of his son. For Israel, God provided for animals to be sacrificed instead of their children.

But all of this was only a stop gap, a bridge to a different, new and ultimate reality in which God intended to provide the ultimate sacrifice, one for all. This is was a sacrifice to be made by God Himself, taking on the form of a man, and being found in human form, He proceeded to be obedient to the plan, even to the point of sacrificing Himself in death for our sake.

In doing this, God also showed us the way we should reflect His love:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men.And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name….”[13]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] John 5:39-47 (“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”)

[2] Luke 24:27 (“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”)

[3] God told Moses, “I am who I am”. (Exodus 3:14)

[4] Genesis 1:27

[5] Leviticus 20:2-5

[6] Jeremiah 32:35-36 (“They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom,  to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. ‘Now therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence.’’”)

[7] Leviticus 17:11

[8]The Hebrew word, ese (etymology unknown), means covenant-loyalty. This term is used generally of loyalty to a friendship or agreement. Preeminently, it conveys the idea of God’s perfect loyalty to His own covenant. God desires His covenant to be reflected back by us; He desires His love for us to be reflected back by our love for Him.

[9] Hebrews 9:9

[10] Hebrews 9:11-15

[11] John 19:30

[12] Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 (“the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,and to give his life as a ransom for many.”)

[13] Philippians 2:1-9


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