Monday, May 23, 2011

Disaster in Joplin

It breaks your heart when you see the devastation in Joplin caused by a tornado. It looks like an atom bomb went off. As we saw recently in the South, tornadoes have done tremendous damage. People have lost loved ones, and often everything they own. You wonder how Joplin, and other towns devastated by tornadoes and floods, will ever come back. Where do you begin to rebuild?

It’s obvious that the things of this world are fleeting. If we don’t lose them when we’re alive, we’ll certainly lose them when we depart this life. As they say, “You can’t take it with you.”

Because of this, we should hold loosely to the things of this life. Don’t become so attached that you no longer own them, but they own you. Give generously to charities, your church, or your synagogue. Spend time reading the Bible and praying, for in doing so you are investing in the future – a future in heaven. Do good works, not only because it feels good to do so, but because you will store up treasure in heaven by doing them in obedience to God’s call for you.

Life on this earth can be hard, unfair, and painful. This beautiful planet can turn deadly in the form of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and volcanoes. We ask “Why?” and there is no good answer. The only real hope we have is faith in a God we only dimly understand, and the expectation of a better future in the afterlife. Although the world didn’t end on May 21, the End Times will come, maybe in your lifetime. Will you be ready? Are you one of God’s own, or is God not an important part of your life? As I read the Bible, you won’t get to heaven because your grandparents were good Christians, or because you are an American, or because you attended religious instruction as a kid, and not because you are a “good person”.

God gave us the one foolproof way to get to heaven, that’s through faith in his Son. You may want to think about that as we see a nearly continuous stream of destruction these days. Who knows? Maybe the End is closer than we think. Will you be ready?

Obama and Israel

Like so many Americans, President Obama is either ignorant of the harsh realities of the Middle East, or is na├»ve (or maybe both). Those who call for Israel to give up land to the Palestinians remind me of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreeing to give land to Hitler so there will be “peace in our time.” Appeasement didn’t work, and the result was World War II.

Obama and other (mostly) liberals seem to have no understanding of several facts:

(1) Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and various Arab terrorist organizations have one aim: to wipe Israel off the map. They believe Israel has no right to exist. No amount of appeasement will change that fact. All appeasement will do is get the Palestinians and Arab terrorist organizations closer to their goal of “pushing Israel into the sea.”

(2) Israel was established by the United Nations and is recognized as a legitimate nation by many countries. The U.S. was either first or one of the first to recognize the newborn nation in 1948.

(3) There was never a “Palestinian people” or Palestinian nation. There is a geographical area of the Middle East called Palestine (named that by the Romans meaning “Land of the Philistines”), but the concept of a Palestinian people is a modern invention. When Jews started settling in Palestine in the 1800s, there were a few Arabs living there. The Jewish settlers purchased what was considered relatively useless land from these Arabs, often at inflated prices, and built farms and cities. The area prospered, and now the Arabs want it.

Under the British mandate (between WWI and WWII), anti-Semitic forces in the British government invited Arabs from neighboring countries to settle in Palestine, and they did. There are Arabs from Iraq, Syria, and other places who have formed what has come to be called the “Palestinian people.”

In 1948 the Jewish nation of Israel was formed, and the Arab nation for Jordan was formed. Palestinian Arabs were to live in Jordan if they cared to move out of the Jewish territory. Without going into the history of how the Arab nations used their Palestinian Arab brethren as tools in their effort to get rid of Israel, these “Palestinians” were moved into settlement camps rather than being allowed to settle in Jordan and live a normal life as was the UN’s plan.

(4) Israel has already made considerable concessions over the years in an effort to bring about peace. They uprooted Israeli settlements and gave land to the Palestinians. And what did Israel get in return? Rockets fired daily into their country by Palestinian terrorists.

To understand this, how long do you think an American president would put up with Mexican terrorists lobbing rockets daily across the border from Tijuana into San Diego? Would the president decide to cede southern California back to Mexico to stop the rocket attacks on U.S. citizens? I don’t think so. Why should we then ask Israel to give more land to those whose sole aim is to eliminate Israel from the map?

(5) The Arabs claim Jerusalem is a holy city to them, and they want control of it. However, it was the Jews’ primary holy city long before Islam came into existence. Moreover, when the Arabs controlled it, they didn’t allow the Jews access to their holy places. It is ridiculous to claim that Jerusalem should belong to the Arabs just because the Prophet Mohammad had a dream or vision that involved Jerusalem.

(6) Being a large country, we don’t have a concept of how small and vulnerable Israel is. Amman is very close to Jerusalem and Damascus isn’t very far from northern Israel. President Obama’s opinion that Israel should go back to its pre-1967 borders is ludicrous. First, they are indefensible borders given the geography of the region. Second, the Arabs started the 1967 war by attacking Israel, and Israel won some land in pushing the Arab forces back. Asking them to give up that land is like asking the U.S. to return Puerto Rico to Spain.

If they take the time to understand the recent history of the region and the driving goal of the Arabs, President Obama and other government officials will then be able to make more informed decisions. Obviously they haven’t taken the time and so Obama has ended up being a negotiator for the Palestinians and is placing Israel, our only ally in the Middle East, in serious jeopardy.

Let us, both Jews and Christians, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Is The End Near? (Part 3)

This post is a continuation of my response to the prediction that the End Times will begin on May 21.

VI. The Rapture

The first thing to happen as the End Times unfold is what has come to be called “The Rapture”, which is explained in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18:

For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

So the believers who are alive at the time will be lifted bodily into heaven, while the dead will experience their resurrection. Believers at that time will escape the coming persecution, but those who convert after The Rapture will be in for some tough times.

VII. Tribulation and the Antichrist

This period of great trials and persecution of God’s people is called “The Tribulation.” A powerful figure will arise who will cause this time of persecution, and he is known as the Anti-Christ and is called “The Beast” in Revelation. The Anti-Christ is described in both the Old and New Testaments. We read about him and see some warnings in Second Thessalonians 2:1-4:

Now, dear brothers and sisters, let us clarify some things about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him. Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God. NLT

VIII. Final Battle - Armageddon

A great battle in the Middle East is part of the End Times events, as we read in Revelation 16:16:

Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

This refers to a valley in Israel, which the ruins of Megiddo overlook, a large flat plain where many battles were fought in antiquity. Zechariah 12:3 tells us that many nations will come together against Israel: And all the nations of the earth shall come together against [Jerusalem].

With the help of Jesus, Israel will prevail and the nations will be defeated. We read about this defeat of the nations and his return in Zechariah 14:3-4a:

Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east…

IX. Return of Jesus

What we now understand to be the Second Coming of Jesus is described in many places in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, when Jesus returns, it will be at the same place from where he ascended into heaven, the Mount of Olives, as we read in Acts 1:9-12a

After [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives. NIV

X. Judgment

The End Times not only involves the triumphal return of Jesus in glory, but also includes judgment. We are all accountable to God, and so there will be a day of reckoning. If we have made Jesus our Lord and Savior, all our sins have been wiped away and we go to heaven. We skip that part of the judgment, because our names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Christians believe that followers of Christ will be judged, but only on their works to determine what rewards they will receive once they get to heaven. Those believers who didn’t serve God will lose their rewards but will still get to heaven (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

If what [a person] has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. NIV

XI. Final Victory & The Millennium

Ultimately God’s plan will be completed, and there is the final victory, as we read in Revelation 20:2-3:

[The angel] seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.

This thousand year time of peace is called The Millennium, and it may be a literal 1,000 years or it may be more of a symbolic number meaning “many”. It will be a time of peace and harmony on the earth followed by the temporary release of Satan and some bad times. Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress” says this about Satan:

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure.

We read about that “sure doom” in Revelation 20:10:

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. NRSV

There will then be a new heaven and a new earth, and everybody lives happily ever after under the kingship of Jesus.

XII. Conclusion

The book of Revelation and the whole Bible end with these words (Revelation 22:20-21):

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. NRSV

Revelation closes human history as Genesis opened it—in a type of paradise. In Genesis, sin and evil enter the world, but in Revelation, they are removed forever. The Garden of Eden was destroyed by sin; but it is re-created in the new Jerusalem. In a world of trials, persecution, evil, and immorality, Christ calls us to endure in our faith in anticipation of a better future. Jesus alone will re-create the earth and bring lasting peace in which the lion will lay down with the lamb.

I hope this brief overview of the End Times has renewed your faith and given you strength and hope to endure life’s trials. This was a very cursory outline, but I pray you believe that Jesus is coming again, and that if you are a follower of Christ you will have a wonderful future. As Christians, we should always live in anticipation of his imminent return, and conduct ourselves accordingly. Followers of Jesus have nothing to fear from the End Times.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Is The End Near? (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of my response to the prediction that the End Times will begin on May 21.

III. We Are Not to Know the Time

What should we do about predictions such as the one for May 21? We shouldn’t believe any predictions about specific dates because Jesus said even he didn’t know the time, only the Father (in Mark 13:32-33):

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” NRSV

So I feel it is very presumptuous for any human being to predict a date for the End Times if Jesus himself said he didn’t know. Jesus, just before his ascension into heaven, reiterated that it’s not for us to know the time (Acts 1:6-8, NRSV). He said our job is to be his witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus warned his disciples about those who would deceive them (Mark 13:5): “Beware that no one leads you astray.” That’s why I believe we have all these biblical prophecies about the End Times. They are in the Bible to enable us to read the signs, so when events do unfold, we’ll have some idea of what’s going on. In addition, being informed gives us hope for the future and it helps us not to be deceived by false prophets and the Anti-Christ making false claims.

IV. Signs of the Times

There will be many signs in the sky, as Jesus said in Luke 21:25:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus told his disciples and us (Mark 13:6-8):

"Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs." NRSV

Note that Jesus said certain things must happen “but the end is still to come.” So the natural disasters we have been seeing do not necessarily signal the End is here, but can serve as a reminder that the End will come eventually. We are to always be prepared, as Jesus himself told us, because we can’t predict when he will return (Matthew 24:44):

“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” NRSV

V. Establishment of the State of Israel – 1948

I believe we are getting close to the end, because one thing happened in the 20th century that, in my opinion, started the End Times countdown. It is the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Why that? Because most End Times scenarios have Israel existing and the temple rebuilt in Jerusalem if you take many of the prophecies literally. Israel now exists but the temple still needs to be rebuilt – so when you see that temple going up, you’ll know the time is very close!

More on the End Times in a future post.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is The End Near? (Part 1)

I. Introduction

In case you haven’t heard, the end of the world is coming Saturday, May 21. You may want to pencil it in your calendar. I say “pencil it in” because I don’t think it’s going to happen. Harold Camping, President of Family Radio, is making this prediction. He has even put up billboards around the country announcing his prediction, at considerable cost, I would imagine. If you’re interested, his justification for this prediction is displayed on the Family Radio website.

I’m no expert in the End Times, but I do know that a lot of things have to happen before Christ returns and the final judgment takes place. Some have made End of the World predictions, and they’ve all been wrong. William Miller predicted October 22, 1844, and we’re still here. That non-event came to be called “The Great Disappointment” by his followers, the Millerites, which eventually became the 7th Day Adventists.

Despite crackpot predictions, be assured the End Times will occur, and my guess is fairly soon, but I don’t think it will be this Saturday. How can I be so sure about the End Times happening? Because of the many End Times prophecies that are in both the Old and New Testaments, plus Jesus himself talked about it in a number of places. I’d like to give a brief overview of the End Times events and what the Bible has to say about them so we can understand them and not be deceived.

II. Church Doctrine

There is a wide variety of opinions concerning the order of End Times events and how much of what is written is symbolic vs. literal. There are still many questions and opinions about the subject, so I’m going to outline the most commonly believed scenario, using biblical passages. Let me reiterate how important the Second Coming and the End Times are to Christian belief, even if we aren’t sure about certain details.

1. Communion Liturgy

For example, the United Methodist communion liturgy (and I’m sure many others) references the End times:

We affirm: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.
We pray: By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory, and we feast at his heavenly banquet.”

This “heavenly banquet” refers to Revelation 19:9:

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” NRSV

You and I are invited because we are followers of Jesus, and it will be the best wedding reception you’ve ever attended!

2. The Nicene Creed

The words of the Nicene Creed are clear about the End Times:

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end… We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

3. The Apostles’ Creed

Lastly, the Apostles’ Creed says about Jesus: “[He] is seated at the right hand of the Father and will come again to judge the living and the dead.”

More on the End Times in a future post.

Meaning of Good Friday – Part 3

Christians recently commemorated what we call “Good Friday”, the day on which Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross. In these posts I’m explaining why Jesus came to earth specifically to die and why Christians believe it was in God’s plan for him to do so.

John 19:30 says: When he had received the drink, Jesus said,"It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. NIV

These are well-known words of Jesus on the cross, and with good reason. The words “It is finished” have significant meaning. What exactly does the statement “It is finished” mean in the context of the crucifixion? Does it mean that Jesus’ pain and agony would soon be over since he was about to die? It could certainly mean that, but I believe its meaning is much more profound.

When we try to get deep into the meaning of a word or phrase used in the Bible, we have to go back to the original language. In the case of the New Testament, the original language is Greek. Jesus didn’t speak Greek, he spoke Aramaic, but the Gospels were written in Greek, a widely known language in the Roman Empire at the time (especially in the Eastern Mediterranean). Therefore, it is helpful to understand the meaning and nuances of the words the writers of the Gospels carefully chose to tell their story of Jesus.

Jesus followed God’s plan

The Greek word used for “finished” is tetelestai and it has the sense of accomplishment, or of something being completed. As a matter of fact, that same Greek word (tetelestai) is found two verses before this one, in John 19:28, which says: Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” NIV

So the Greek word used has a meaning of completeness or accomplishment of a task. What does that tell us? How do we relate this to the crucifixion? It tells us that Jesus was not just the unfortunate victim of a gross injustice, but that he willingly suffered and died to carry out God’s plan.

Throughout the Gospels it is clear that Jesus knew he was going to be put to death. He spoke several times of his coming death to his disciples, but they were in denial. It didn’t make sense to them. Why would the Messiah have to be put to death? We are all familiar with the scene in which Jesus tells his disciples he must go to Jerusalem to die (in Matthew 16:21-23):

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”


We can see in this passage that Jesus was focused on God’s will and carrying out God’s plan.

Jesus came to die

Jesus spoke of his coming death many times, and several passages in the Old Testament speak of it (such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22). When we look at all this, it becomes obvious that Jesus came to earth to suffer and die on our behalf. That was God’s plan. Now we may not completely grasp the theology behind all of this, but the Bible makes it clear that Jesus came to reconcile us to God and give us eternal life. That’s also why Jesus referred to himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-12): “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Isn’t that what Jesus did? Lay down his life for you and for me, his sheep? That’s why John the Baptist referred to Jesus this way (John 1:29b): “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” NIV

In the Old Testament lambs were sacrificed to obtain God’s forgiveness for the sins of the people. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice, once for all. He voluntarily became “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” In John 10:17-18, Jesus made another clear statement of what was to come, and why we have to understand that Jesus was in control of his own death and resurrection:

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” NIV

“It is finished” means that Jesus willingly suffered and died for us as part of God’s plan.

Conclusion

Archeologists have found ancient debt instruments, promissory notes in Greek. Across some of them was written the same word we are talking about, the word translated as “It is finished” in the Gospel (tetelestai). Of course on the promissory note, the word had the meaning of PAID IN FULL. Christians believe that’s what Jesus did. He paid in full a debt that you and I are unable to pay. When those who have trusted Jesus or their eternal destiny get up to the pearly gates, St. Peter will look up our name in his book. What do you think it will say after the names of those that have chosen to trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior?

TETELESTAI. PAID IN FULL.

St. Peter will then say: “Come on in. We’ve been expecting you. Welcome home. Come to the place that has been prepared for you.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Meaning of Good Friday – Part 2

Christians recently commemorated what we call “Good Friday”, the day on which Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross. In these posts I’m explaining why Jesus came to earth specifically to die and why Christians believe it was in God’s plan for him to do so.

What Happened on the Cross (continued)
2. Forgiveness
The next thing that was accomplished on the cross was forgiveness. Because Jesus redeemed us and satisfied God’s justice, we can now be forgiven by God when we put our faith in Jesus.

3. Justification
Forgiveness then leads to another thing Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, which is what is called “justification.” Looking at the dictionary definition of “justify” we read: To pronounce free from guilt or blame. Because of what Jesus did on that Friday, we have been declared “not guilty” by God – so we’ve been made right with God. The Apostle Paul explained justification in Romans 3:22-25:

God makes people right with himself through their faith in Jesus Christ. This is true for all who believe in Christ, because all people are the same: All have sinned and are not good enough for God’s glory, and all need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ. God gave him as a way to forgive sin through faith in the blood of Jesus’ death. NCV

We are healed, or made free from sin, because of God’s love for us and our faith in what Jesus accomplished for us. Jesus may have done it, but we have to accept it – salvation is not automatic. Choose it or lose it.

4. Reconciliation
Following redemption, forgiveness, and justification, Jesus accomplished reconciliation on the cross. Because we have been redeemed, forgiven, and declared not guilty, we can now be reconciled to God, taking our rightful place in God’s kingdom. You and I were created to be in relationship with the Creator, yet our sinful nature kept us apart from God – we were estranged from God. We read about that estrangement in Colossians 1:21-22, and how we can now be in right relationship with a holy God:

This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. NLT

5. Victory over Sin and Death
Lastly, Jesus achieved victory over sin and death by his own death and resurrection. That may seem strange since we still sin and we still die, so let me briefly explain.

a. Victory over Death
There is victory over death because we no longer have to fear it. We know that when we physically die we don’t go into oblivion, but we have eternal life in the presence of God. What’s there to fear in that? We also will experience our own bodily resurrection in the Last Days. So death for those who trust Christ is a doorway into a new life in heaven with the communion of saints who have gone before us.

b. Victory over Sin
There is victory over sin because we are better able to resist temptation, and so our unhealthy desires no longer control us. The Holy Spirit works in us to help us to become better people, not doing those destructive things that used to have such appeal to us. We are still tempted, of course, and we still might give in to temptation now and then, but we should be growing in the faith and sinning less and less. Moreover, the effects of our sins have been wiped away so that in God’s eyes we are “blameless, without a single fault.”

I hope this has helped you to understand the importance of the cross. While Jesus’ death may not make much sense, my desire is that these posts have helped to explain God’s plan as Christians understand it, and what we believe Jesus accomplished by suffering and dying.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Meaning of Good Friday – Part 1

Christians recently commemorated what we call “Good Friday”, the day on which Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross. In these next few posts I’ll explain the Christian understanding of why Jesus came to earth specifically to die and why Christians believe it was in God’s plan for him to do so.

1. Good Friday Downer

Friday was not a good day for Jesus, his mother, and his followers. Things couldn’t have been any worse for them.
●Jesus had been betrayed by one of his disciples, and was arrested.
●After the arrest, a close disciple denied even knowing him, scared for his own life.
●Most of his followers scattered; like Peter they were terrified that they might also be rounded up, arrested, and probably killed.
●Jesus was tried in a kangaroo court on trumped-up charges, mocked, beaten, and turned over to the Romans for execution.
●After a severe beating, he was forced to carry the heavy timber cross-beam to the place of execution, where he hung on a cross under the hot sun.

It was not a good day for Jesus and those who loved him.

2. Easter Sunday Upper

To his distraught disciples, all seemed hopeless. It seemed that Jesus, who had brought back life to the dead, made the blind see, and healed lepers, couldn’t save himself. But then Sunday came, and everything changed! Death had been swallowed up in victory!

What Happened on the Cross

Although his Friday experience was terrible, Jesus was doing God’s will. Jesus wasn’t being punished for anything he did – he was the Lamb of God without sin or blemish. Instead, he was being punished for what we have done – the whole human race from the beginning of time. Although we might not completely understand it, Jesus accomplished much that benefits us while on the cross.

God himself, in the form of Jesus, suffered and died for us, something that is almost beyond belief if you stop to think about it. How could such a terrible event be in God’s plan, and benefit us as well? Fortunately the Bible has a lot to say about why Jesus came to earth, and specifically why he came to die. From our study of the Scriptures we can identify several things that happened on the cross that spiritually changed the world forever. Let’s take a quick look at some of the things that happened on the cross so we can put the events of Good Friday into proper perspective.

1. Redemption

One thing that was accomplished on the cross is called “Redemption.” That means Jesus paid the full debt we owed for all that we’ve done wrong. Why do we owe a debt to God? It’s because God’s perfect justice demands that a penalty for wrongdoing must be paid. God’s justice was satisfied in that the penalty was paid in full on the cross for all of our transgressions. If we look at the dictionary definition of “redeem” it says:

1. To recover property by discharging an obligation. 2. To ransom, free, or rescue by paying a price.

Jesus himself referred to the redemptive aspect of his crucifixion when he said in Matthew 20:28:

“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” NRSV

Jesus paid the price and bought us, similar to someone purchasing a slave’s freedom from a master, as we read in 1 Corinthians 7:23:

You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. NRSV

That’s why Christians call Jesus our Savior and Redeemer.

More on the topic of Jesus’ crucifixion in a future post.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Future of Islamic Countries

We have been seeing some historic events recently, events that could change Islamic countries in particular and the world in general. The so-called “Islamic Spring” has brought out thousands of demonstrators, at some risk to their lives, to push for new governments. In addition, Osama bin Laden has been eliminated, so it is possible that Islamic terrorism may eventually become less of a factor in the world. Let’s take a look at a few things:

(1) Like most people, the citizens of Islamic countries just want to live their lives in relative peace and security. They are sick of repressive regimes and living in fear and some deprivation. Hence the Islamic Spring. We wish tem success, because if they benefit, we ultimately will benefit.

(2) Notice these demonstrators aren’t chanting “Down with Israel” or “Down with America.” The anti-Israel and anti-American sentiments and the violence that comes with them come from a relatively small group of fanatics and repressive Islamic regimes.

(3) There’s a risk that power vacuums left by collapsing regimes in these countries might be filled by a militant islamist group such as the Muslim Brotherhood. This, of course, would be a disaster for the citizens of the country and would pose problems for the rest of the world having to deal with another Iran-like militant government.

(4) Bin Laden’s successor isn’t very well-liked, so the Al Qaeda organization is likely to further break into smaller, semi-independent cells. Without strong central leadership, coordination of sophisticated terrorist attacks might be hampered. Besides ridding the world of this evil force, the killing of Osama hopefully resulted in a significant weakening of Al Qaeda.

Lastly, for those who might be questioning the attack on, and the killing of, Osama bin Laden, let me say that perhaps thousands of lives might now be saved. If any of the plots to kill Hitler had succeeded, millions of lives would have been saved. The world has been freed from an evil force that has cost many countries dearly in terms of lives and expenditures on security. As far as I’m concerned, bin Laden was as evil as Hitler or Stalin, just on not quite such a grand scale.

I might also mention that governments are not under the same moral rules as individuals. While individuals shouldn’t kill except in the most extreme of circumstances (self-defense when in imminent danger), governments can kill in wars and for capital punishment. We might not approve of capital punishment for various reasons, but I think we have to agree that a major function of government is to keep its citizens safe. Killing is often necessary to keep citizens safe from enemies, foreign and domestic.

For those who are concerned the U.S. broke the Geneva Convention by our actions, let me say that we are not in a conventional war in which countries pretty much play by the rules. We are engaged with trans-national groups who have no rules and are conducting guerilla warfare, attacking innocent civilians in a campaign of terror. While we can’t stoop to their level, we have to fight them in the most effective way given the type of warfare we’re dealing with. Again, government has the duty to keep its citizens safe by any means possible. I believe it would be irresponsible for our government to put its citizens at increased risk because of the Geneva Convention, fear of our reputation being tarnished, or out of concern for Muslim sensitivities. I know this gets dangerously close to “The ends justify the means” but we are dealing with life and death struggles.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rot in Hell?

I saw a person interviewed on TV say this concerning the death of Osama bin Laden, “I hope he rots in hell!” Will he? I think he will, for a number of reasons.

(1) First of all, there is a place of punishment in the afterlife. Although it is only hinted at in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament), it is mentioned more frequently in the New Testament. Although we aren’t sure exactly what it’s like, hell isn’t the kind of place you’d like to spend eternity in.

(2) Second, although human justice is flawed, God’s justice is perfect. Therefore, those who do evil will be punished. Since we all do things wrong (although not on the scale of bin Laden), then don’t we all go to hell when we die? We Christians believe that when we put our faith in Jesus, we don’t have to suffer the punishment rightly due to us. We are saved from hell and go to heaven, not on our own merits, but on Christ’s.

(3) Third, bin Laden didn’t even follow the teachings in his own sacred scriptures, the Qur’an. He was in for a nasty surprise when he stood before his Creator last Sunday. Instead of 72 dark-eyed virgins awaiting him in Paradise, I suspect Satan greeted him with these words: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Now you will spend all of eternity in perpetual misery.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

End of the World Coming Soon?

Harold Camping, President of Family Radio, is predicting the End of the World is coming in 2011. The Rapture is predicted by him to take place on May 21, 2011, with the rest of the End Times events starting on October 21, 2011.

I’m no expert in eschatology (judgment and the end times) but I do know that a lot of things have to happen before Christ returns and the final judgment takes place. I don’t see any of those things on the horizon, so I seriously doubt Camping’s prediction. Many people have made End of the World predictions, and so far they’ve all been wrong. William Miller predicted October 22, 1844, and it didn’t happen. That non-event came to be called The Great Disappointment by the Millerites.

One thing occurred in the 20th century that, in my opinion, started the End Times countdown. It is the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Since that time, we haven’t seen any of the other End Times events come about, so I seriously question the validity of the current prediction. Sadly, such predictions make fools of those who make them and reflect poorly on Christianity. They bring shame to the Name of Jesus Christ. We read in Matthew 24:3-4:

When [Jesus] was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.” NRSV

Jesus said in Mark 13:32-33 that even he didn’t know when the End Times would occur, so isn’t it presumptuous for a mere man to claim to know?

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” NRSV

Let me say that despite fools who make predictions of the time, the Second Coming of Christ is real. We see End Times prophecies in both the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) and in the New Testament. So make no mistake about it, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.” His Second Coming and judgment are fundamental beliefs of Christianity.

We should be ready to meet Christ, either when we die or when he returns, as the hymn “I Know Whom I Have Believed” says:
I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

As we read in the Bible, he will come when we least expect it, so be prepared, as Jesus himself told us in Matthew 24:44: “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” NRSV.

The Rapture: See 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51
Coming of Christ: See Zechariah 14; Revelation 1:7; Matthew 25:31

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Death of Osama Bin Laden

After 10 years of hunting for him, the U.S. finally found and killed Osama bin Laden. Terrorism won’t cease, but his death at the hands of U.S. forces does several things:

-It brings some sort of closure to the relatives of those who died as a result of terrorism.

-It brings justice. He was a mass murderer and he received the death sentence.

-It enhances the U.S.’s image in the world, that we aren’t going to rest until terrorism has been stamped out.

-It will hopefully bring Pakistan and the U.S. even closer together as allies in the fight against terrorism.

-It may result in Al Qaeda being less effective now that their head and source of funding has been eliminated.

We should pray for a number of things:

-That any attempts at revenge for the killing of bin Laden will be unsuccessful.

-That Pakistan especially will be protected and that its leaders will remain strong in the commitment to defeat terrorism.

-That the people’s movements in North Africa and the Middle East will result in moderate democracies, and that any power voids will not be filled by Islamic militants.

-That our troops will be protected and that we will prevail in Afghanistan.

-That the Islamic World will realize terrorism isn’t the way, but is counter-productive and goes against the teachings of the Qur’an.

We are living in historic times. The finding and killing of Osama bin Laden is historic. The people’s rebellions in the Arab World are historic. Sadly, the natural disasters we’ve been experiencing around the world are also historic.