Tag Archives: forgiveness

Picture Christmas

A picture can speak a thousand words. This picture proclaims the complete meaning of Christmas. It is God’s message through the baby born in a manager. That manager was located in the city of King David, Bethlehem, Israel.

The wise men saw the star prophesied by Balaam. It was an astronomical star within a nearby constellation. This particular constellation and its brightest star represented the coming messiah, who would rule the world. As God revealed it to Balaam:

"I see him, but not now;
 I behold, but not near;
 A star shall forth from Jacob,
 A scepter shall rise from Israel."

Those wise men followed the brilliant star that symbolized God’s new born king who would reign forever. That is why they brought him presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Those were gifts only given by ambassadors of other countries to honor kings and other royalty. According to one scholar, the wise men were well known ambassadors from Rome’s rival empire Parthia, which was east of Israel.

What did they do when they found the baby who had been born in the manger and wrapped in an old wick from Israel’s national menorah. That menorah was so big that when it was lite its light illuminated all of Jerusalem and beyond. Those men with their military entourage bowed down to honor the king-messiah who was the light of the world. In his light all humanity would be blessed with the knowledge of God and with eternal life.

Before this could become reality, the cute baby would have to grow up and live a sinless life. He would have to fulfill God word and will without compromise. And in the end, Jesus would have to suffer consequences of humanity’s breaking God law. Those consequences include pain, injustice, hate, mockery, betrayal, and death. The wages of sin is death. Just consider the world around us. Consider the reason for divorce, abandonment, alienation, isolation, lying, and division … anything but unity, peace and good. And, notice what was not mentioned: sickness and physical death. Death is more than a biological end. It continues beyond the grave.

Furthermore, let’s consider the kind of death new born king would suffer for humanity. Those who committed crimes against the Roman Empire ruled by Caesar were severely punished. Individuals, groups, even village and cities who rebelled against the Roman rule were either killed or enslaved. Leaders of insurrections were usually crucified. Because Jesus was accused of insurrection by Jewish officials and because they demanded the death penalty, Pilate had him crucified. What was his crime according to Rome’s local overlord, Pilate: He was king of the Jews. 

God brought Jesus into the world to be sacrificed for the sins of all people. He suffered every form of punishment for every human being. All have sinned, and deserve punishment. Whether for a little lie or a habit of lying, for stealing a toy or robbing a bank, for immorality of every kind, for lying in wait to seduce someone or lying in wait harm, for killing an animal for fun or murdering a fellow human, Jesus suffered the slow death by execution on a cross for all crimes of all people for all time.

The good news is Jesus conquered death in all of its forms. God raised him from the dead. Just as those who saw the empty tomb, ate with him and received his instructions after rising from the dead, and who saw him ascend into heaven, we can know the son of God who lives forever more. Because he lives, we too can know God, experience His love, His forgiveness, and His life. To have a relationship with God is eternal life. That life begins now.

by Daniel Downs

From Weeping to Laughing : Sermon on the Mount

In the two versions of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples about grief and sorrow. In the version recorded in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (5:4). Luke’s gospel interprets Jesus as saying, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (6:21b). Matthew’s gospel interprets Jesus saying from the internal process of grieving while the gospel of Luke depicts the same as an outward expression.

The question is this: what the heck is Jesus talking about? Is he speaking about grief due to sin? Or is he referring to the loss of a loved through death? Or is he alluding to something else?

The context of both versions seems to point to grief over sin. In both gospels, what Jesus says after the beatitudes contradicts the status quo view of right and wrong. In effect, the practical requirements of righteousness as expressed in the Sermon reveals how most people then and now fail to measure up. It is what Paul meant when he said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Here are a few examples from the gospel of Matthew: Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life-food, shelter, clothing, transportation, money” (6:25-34). How about “do not have a savings account, an IRA, or 401K, or the like” (6:19-21). Here is another commandment: “Love your enemies; pray not for their destruction but rather pray for God to bless them”. (6:43-47). Here the easy one: “Be perfect as God is perfect” (6:48). How are you measuring up?

Another contextual clue precedes Jesus’ saying about mourning and weeping. Blessed are the poor both in spirit and otherwise refers to the lack of a right relationship with God. What does being poor in spirit mean? It means not being full of the Spirit. If a person is not full of the Spirit of God it usually means that person is full of something else. In writings of the Apostle Paul, the Greek word used for the something else is sarkikos. It is usually translated as carnal, natural, fleshly, or worldly. It actually means ungodly or behavior uncharacteristic of Christ. The essence of sin then is living contrary to God’s way, which the way Jesus teaches in the Sermon..

One of the best examples of a person grieving over sin is found in Luke’s gospel. Jesus presents a parable of two different types of people praying in the Temple. One is a Pharisee and the other a wretched tax collector. The Pharisee tells God about his righteous deeds while the tax collector cries out to God for mercy. Ashamed by the realization of his evil ways, “the tax collector was unwilling to lift up his head toward heaven. Instead, he pounds his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner'” (18:9-14).

Another good example is the woman who repented of her sins by washing Jesus feet with tears and wiping his feet with her hair, which took place in the house of a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to his home for dinner. Entering the house of a Pharisee uninvited was pretty risky. Sinners were not allowed but to allow a immoral woman to touch you even more grievous. But, as Jesus pointed out, his host failed to perform the customary purity ritual of feet washing, but the sinful woman did. She washed his feet with tears of sorrow over her own sins. She demonstrated unusually humility when she wiped his feet with her hair. A woman’s hair represented the glory of her beauty. This unnamed woman did all of it as a silent cry for God’s forgiveness. She was not disappointed. (Luke 7:36-50).

The term mourning usually depicts loss of some sort. The loss of wealth or possession certainly is something about which people mourn. From the viewpoint of political economy, poverty more often than not is the result of sin. Often it is the result of an abuse of power and a result of greed. Communist Russia (USSR) impoverished a majority of its people by its empire building efforts around the world. I have heard of people being impoverished in China and Muslim countries only because of their Christian beliefs. United States government is also impoverishing many citizens by means of its ever-increasing debt spending and, to a lesser extent, its sanctioning of corporate globalism. American empire building is the reason for much of the enormous national debt. Poverty may also be the result of an impoverished mentality. The story of the ancient post-Exodus Jews present one example. Many second and third generation Americans who lived by government welfare is another. Sometimes poverty is the result of illness or similar tragedy. That is why the American founders agreed to the idea of a right “to the pursuit of happiness” rather than a guaranteed right to prosperity.

Because the blessed poor have access to the kingdom of God, their wealth in material things and in spirit is supplied by God. And God delights in the prosperity of His people. (1 Corinthians 8:9; 9:6-11; Ex. 30:5-10)

The vagueness of Jesus’ saying about mourning and weeping most likely was meant to encompass all human grief and sorrow. As the prophet Isaiah foresaw it, Jesus bore all our grief, sorrows, and infirmities (Isaiah 53). Not just for our sins, but for our loss of loved one simply through death, the loss of jobs and wealth, the loss of homes due to some disaster, the loss of health resulting in other losses as well. Therefore, God comforts those whose mourning is directed toward Him. Relatives and friends simply being present while grieving the loss of a spouse, parent, or child is a comfort. Being there proves that not all is lost–not all life is lost. In the kingdom of God, the expectant hope is that one day the grieving will one day be together with their loved one who died. That hope is reinforced when God is manifestedly presence during such a time.

Some biblical examples include a Shunammite’s women’s grief over the death of her son and God raising her son from the dead through the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-37); Jesus raises the dead son of widow in Nain because he saw her weeping and empathized with her loss (Luke 7:11-15); a woman who had suffered a hemorrhage 12 year and spent all her wealth attempting to get healed was instantly healed of her terrible affliction (Mark 5:25-34); and ten men who suffered the extremely painful and crippling disease leprosy cried out for Jesus to have mercy on them and Jesus healed them (Luke 17:11-19).

When people in the kingdom lose jobs, health, or wealth, God makes them laugh. Those taught by God learn to laugh at adversity. When God heals through whatever process, God gives people a reason to laugh. When couples who were unable have children give birth to their first child because of answered prayer, they laugh. (Genesis 17:17; 18:13; 21:1-8) When God provides resources during times of loss, God gives people a reason to laugh. When loss happens, people who seek God find a reprieve from the anxiety of uncertainty. A joyful heart (internal) is like medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Laughter (external) proceeds out of such a heart (Matthew 15:18). Because Jesus is the Great Physician, those who weep now will laugh. (Luke 4:23; 5:31; 6:2b).

By Daniel Downs

Who Is God For?

Listening to another great sermon this morning, this question came to mind: who is God for? The pastor’s message was God is for you. A whole lot of issues would be resolved if you settled that in your thoughts. What I do not remember the pastor explaining is why God was for his listeners. That is the pastor did not state or explaining the premise of his argument. His assumptions were not expressed.

What were his assumptions?

The pastor’s premise informing his argument for God being FOR his listeners is comprised of at least the following assumptions:

God loves humanity.

Because the Creator does, he seeks to redeem humanity from the consequences of sin. Those consequences include alienation, sickness, impoverishment, corruption, violence, war, injustice, and the like.

Because sin is a moral crime against the laws of God in human nature, justice is demanded.

For God to forgive humanity’s crimes, means to satisfy divine justice fully must be enacted.

Because the consequence of sin is death, the penalty of death is required.

Good works and moral behavior cannot be the basis of satisfying justice. That is true for all systems of justice of all peoples as well as God’s.

Although the appeasement of divine judgment for sin through sacrificial death of animals has been a universal practice throughout most of human history, and although mammals and human share similar biological nature, animals are not culpable for intentional moral crimes.

Therefore, only the death of a human could possibly fully satisfy divine justice.

Because all humans commit sin, only a human who has never committed sin could be qualified to satisfy the divine demand of justice.

The only human claimed to have fulfilled these qualifications is Jesus of Nazareth. His death has fully satisfied God system of justice thus enabling God to acquit human of their moral crimes and to empower to begin to live sinless lives.

Because the sinless Jew and only-begotten son of God, Jesus, has fulfilled the demands of God’s justice fully, God unmerited love can be forever expressed to those who submit to God by faith with Jesus. This is also called mercy and grace.

Therefore, God is unwavering for and never against those who live under the rule of God’s redemptive justice. All of God’s promises are forever yes. Because temporary lapses in sin cause temporary hindrances to the realization of promises, the hindrance is internal not external. God’s “yes” has not changed because Jesus has already suffered the penalty for all moral crimes and thus completely and forever satisfied all demands of divine justice.

The one contingency to the above is this: Faithfulness to God. That is the underlying problem throughout all of human history. It is why moral reformations resulting in the major religions of the world have occurred. It is why moral reformation will continue to occur, which often called revivals. However, unlike in the past, such reformations without the incorporation of Jesus’ accomplishments on humanity’s behalf as planned by God will not result in the desired future, which is the perpetuation of true justice and eternal life with God.

For those who already are faithful in their practice of righteousness as defined above, implementing the principles of Isaiah 58 can help with the internal resistance.

By Daniel Downs

Harp Huggers Hug Their Last On Cloud Nine

Many people still believe heaven will be like an eternal yoga on cloud nine. That is for those who find peace and relaxation through meditation. Western tradition pictures heaven as reclining on a white fluffy cloud enjoying eternal serenity while hugging a golden harp. While hugging one’s golden harp, people believe that by strumming a lively golden strings to the divine rhythm of heaven they will experience greater joy. All of this bliss is magnified by the soothing radiance of heavenly light.

Yes, it is a boring vision of man as an island–a western view of autonomous man in heaven. Autonomous man is left alone in peace by everyone, even God, to enjoy eternal life without government interference. It is an egalitarian vision because everyone that is worthy of heaven gets to enjoy their own rest and relaxation to the same everlasting degree as every other person on their own cloudy oasis. What could be more fair that that?

I have bad news for all those harp huggers. It ain’t so. Sorry to have to burst another bubble–the current economic one is depressing enough; but turning a blind eye to a false vision would be a great disservice. Exposing the false hopes, false dreams, or blinding darkness–however bright with hope may seem–is supposed to be the duty of writers.

The puffy idea that people who do more good than harm are worthy of own their own cloud doesn’t hold water. The whole concept is merely evaporated hope based on a false premise of justice and fairness. As the gospels teach us, do-gooders are no more worthy of heaven than the scum of the earth. Why? One sin is counted as a bad as all sins. Because we all have or will sin, the stain on our do-goodism can not be removed–no even with White Cloud. The only detergent capable of removing that stain, the shame, or the statutory claim against our moral wrongs is the sinless blood of a lamb or rather of the sinless son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s the gist of the gospel preached by Pastor Jon.

Can preachers like Jon and their gospel be wrong? It is claimed that they are. It is claimed that there are many ways to heaven whatever it really is. It is claimed that the exclusiveness of the gospels is dead wrong, but is it?

If humans are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26), a collective of humans in society is likely to reflect divine justice as least a little. That being the case, do we humans merely forgive breakers of our great moral laws because we are all really nice guys whose love surpasses the need to protect others in society from breakers of those law? Actually, our system of justice forgives no one for doing more good than the last crime committed that has gone unpunished. Of course, I must give credit to the many secularists who have worked very hard to change our inherent sense of justice, but it stubbornly persists as does the persistence of moral evils performed by once upon a time do-gooders. We human do take into account past good behavior or good citizenship in the process of punishing the guilty, which is usually expressed by leniency. Nevertheless, neither God nor we humans forgive do-good lawbreakers until after they have been duly punished–if then.

The problem is God’s only punishment for sin is death. The soul that sins it shall die, declared the priestly prophet Ezekiel. The wages of sin is death, said the Apostle Paul. Because it is, only death can fully satisfy the demand of divine justice. Thus, the only cloud of serenity humans earn by greater good works than bad is a dark cloud of pending judgment. That is except for the fact that God initiated and accepted the willing sacrifice of sinless living souls on behalf of us guilty humans. (Gen 3:21; 4:4; 8:20-21, etc.) Sacrificed animals, however, are not sufficient to satisfy divine justice fully for one important reason: they are not culpable for sin. Only human commit moral crimes against God’s laws. Only the sacrificial death of a willing and sinless human could possibly satisfy divine justice fully, and only God would be qualified to offer such a sacrifice. The gospel of Jesus, his apostles’ epistles, and the testimonies of those who constitute the Church claim that Jesus is that effectual sacrifice we all need,and the evidence is their moral and God-honoring lifestyle.

Thus, the Jesus-oriented lifestyle is the only one that can lead to heaven.

Jesus freaks are weird dudes because they have given up the Western and Eastern illusions of heaven as either a cloudy bliss of liberalism or an antinomian* free ride to heaven’s gate as the Hale-Bopp comet followers proved. Even if the Boppers made it to the gate, they were likely turned away because they had failed to get the right entry tickets. Jesus freaks, on the other hand, live for the day when they will live in a renewed heaven and earth where God evidently dwells among them. Heaven will be like the new beginning that came at the end of the movie Knowing–only better. For some it will be even better than being able to eat of the fruit of the tree of life again. It will be a techie heaven where humans will continue to invent new technologies, according Pastor Jon. I must note here that Pastor Jon used to work for the computer technology giant IBM. In this heaven, we humans will also continue to enjoy music, singing, worshipping God, exploring and learning, eating good food while discussing with friends and loved ones whatever comes to mind, and other things God created us to do. There will be a great new heath care reform plan too. HMOs, Medicare/Medicaid, doctors, drug companies, their lobbyists, and legislative supporters will no longer exist. In this heaven, no pain will be regarded as great gain. Broken bones due to sports injuries or other forms of play will a thing of the past, and so will wild animals eating or otherwise harming us humans. There will be no weight loss programs or the pain of failure. Who knows, a five-day a week job in which we do work totally unrelated to our training or goals may be no more as well.

Yet, the reality of heaven is hell. At the present, we live between heaven and hell. Some of us experience as much of hell as we ever will. Others, however, experience as much of heaven on earth as they ever will, said Pastor Jon. Destiny is a choice given by God. What one chooses is the only fate there is. Eternal life in heaven or hell is the final consequence of our earthly choices. This is a fact backed by the testimonies of many who have died and who came back to life to share with doctors, researches, and us ordinary folk what they experienced on the other side. You may have heard of Don Piper who has discussed his ninety minutes in heaven publicly and who has been written down in a book by the same title. It is worth reading, and so is choosing to follow Jesus to heaven.

Those who will not be there include the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, immoral persons, sorcerers, isolators, and all liars. (Rev. 21:8) I wonder how many people in modern business, sales, education, media, politics, or mainstream religion will make it above the cloudy illusions of success, influence or wealth to heaven?

* Antinomian is the rejection of all moral law and human accountability for it. Those who hold this view are of the illusion that Christ as the end of the law for salvation means grace is the end of all accountability to moral law rather than the means to fulfilling it. As such, grace is the equivalent of lawlessness.

Paraphrased quotes of Senior Pastor Jon Young came from this my own less than perfect memory of his Sunday morning sermon at Dayton Avenue Baptist Church on August 9, 2009