The Hebrew people were brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand in the Book of Exodus. God was calling them to himself; they would be his people and he would be their God. It was a covenant relationship not offered to any other people on the face of the earth. He made a dwelling place for himself among them and gave them his law. As people of faith living in the age of grace, we may think of the Law as a burden that is too great to bear. At the time it was gift, given only to God’s chosen people. Continue reading
A couple of days ago I published The Challenge to be Christ-Like on the blog Life in Mordor. It’s a group blog that I contribute to. In Luke 23:34, while Jesus is hanging on the cross, he prays “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” How can anyone be that Christ like? Perhaps some have given sacrificially, prayed for our enemies, served on the mission field, maybe even given up their own life to save another. Jesus prayed the prayer of intercession for the very people mocking him while they crucified him. And we are commanded to have the same mind in us (Phil 2).
As I have continued to think about this challenge, I am reminded of a couple of things. One, we are never tempted beyond what we can bear. God knows what we are made of, and he has searched and knows each heart. As we learn from Job, the devil is on a leash. Even when he’s the devil, he’s God’s devil. Secondly, and more importantly, is the promise that God’s grace is sufficient to meet each need. His grace provides our daily bread, as Jesus taught us to pray and history demonstrates in Exodus with the heavenly manna. When Elijah asks the widow to feed him (1 Kings 17) she was just about to make one cake for herself, one for her son, and then they were both going to starve to death. By God’s grace, she makes three cakes and they each have a small meal. The next day, there was enough flour and oil for one more day; and the same the next day, and the next day, and the next day. There was always just enough; the Bible never says one morning the bowl was full of flour, nor the bottle full of oil. God’s grace was sufficient daily.
By the way, the original challenge was about being Christ-like to the extreme. I asked who besides Jesus himself could do what he did on the cross. Read Acts chapter 7. As Stephen is being stoned to death, he prays in verse 60 “Do not hold this sin against them.” It’s one of those “With God all things are possible” moments. When the time comes, his grace is sufficient for whatever he has called us to.
If you type “religion, gospel” into the Google search bar, you get 3.6 million results in about 0.22 seconds. Search on WordPress and the results are even more along the lines of “Religion vs. the Gospel” and such like. Lots of people are aware of the shortcomings of religion compared to the Good News of Jesus Christ. But even for the believer, and certainly for everyone else, the temptation is still there to not fully trust in the concept of grace.
In Mark’s Gospel (Mk. 5:1-20) Jesus and the disciples land on the coast of the Gerasenes. They encounter Legion, a mad man filled with demons. After Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs, the locals are amazed to see the man formerly known as Legion clothed and in his right mind. Rather than allow him to follow, Jesus commands him to go back to his home town and tell them what God has done. In this case, the man does so. Ergo: You don’t have to fix all your problems before coming to Jesus. How many people plan to come to church as soon as they quit drinking, stop smoking, get back with their ex-wife, find a job, etc. etc. We cannot fix our own problems, and if we could then we wouldn’t need Jesus in the first place. Remember what Jesus told the Pharisees; it is the sick who need a physician, not the well.
The rich young man (Mk. 10:17-22) come to Jesus with one simple question; What must I do to be saved. Religion is about what we do. We could substitute Law if we were comparing the Law to the Gospel. Keeping the Law, very religious. This man claims to have keep each of the commandments since his youth. Unlikely. David was a man after God’s own heart, and he failed all kinds of ways to keep the Law. We simply cannot do what is right, just like we cannot in and of ourselves fix what is wrong. Religion is what we do; grace is what God has already done.
We can’t. That’s the story of fallen man. We can’t keep the Law. We can’t be right. We can’t fix what’s wrong. Religion is our attempt to either be right or fix the wrong, and we the human people are epic failures at both. Religion is bad news; the Gospel is Good News. Tell the world.
Hebrews is easy to preach because its form is much more like a sermon than an epistle (letter). At the heart of its message is an impassioned plea not to leave the Christian faith for another, and so in order to be convincing the author of Hebrews makes many comparisons between Christ and all the things of the Old Testament he is superior to. We have already seen that Christ is superior to the angels, and that through suffering he becomes the perfect founder of our faith. Chapter 3 begins this way:
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Hebrews 3:1-6
John chapter 4 tells the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. It just so happens I’ve written on this passage before. This post describes everything “weird” about the conversation Jesus had with her, namely that a religious leader, or any Jewish man for that matter, would not have been talking to such a person.
John chapter 8 recounts the story of the woman caught in adultery. In this situation the woman is clearly guilty of a sin punishable by death. When she is left with no accusers (“Let he that is without sin…”) Jesus tells her that he will not condemn her either. She is told to go, and sin no more. How can he not condemn her, having been caught in the very act of adultery? Continue reading
The invisible sky bully; have you ever heard God referred to that way? Even worse than calling him the “invisible man in the sky” is the notion that God pushes people around because he is bigger than them. A real bully is often a coward, and throws his weight around or intimidates those smaller than himself with words. Those promoting the sky bully myth would have you to believe that God orders people to worship him, and sends to hell anyone that doesn’t. It makes it easier to not believe in a God that could be like that, or helps people to doubt there is such a God. In a way that’s good, because there isn’t a god like that. Continue reading