Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Command of the Gospel

A verse well-known and repeated often by Christians is Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Considering this, we might conclude it’s all about the gift, and accepting the gift is all about choice. We can take it or leave it.

While an element of truth exists in the “take or leave it” approach, the gift is not a choice. It’s given to the redeemed, who do not consider the offer or ponder refusal. The choice was already made—it was God’s choice to give the redeemed eternal life. The choice of the redeemed is to follow Christ. And yet, even that is really no choice at all.

Scripture doesn't offer a choice. Jesus didn't give permission to determine our own method of salvation. A back-up plan doesn’t exist. Yet the clear command gets turned into something resembling a choice.

What does the Bible tell us about making a choice? Another verse remembered—and revised—by Christians goes something like this: Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Here’s the whole passage from Joshua 24:

14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua gave the tribes of Israel a message from God. And then he told them what to do. If they didn’t want to, Joshua said, then they could choose something different. Something that hadn’t worked in the past. Something that would lead to death. The command was to serve God. The alternative was death.

So it is with the Gospel. The gift of Romans 6:23 is not the Gospel. It is the after-effect of the Gospel. The Gospel is not an offer to be accepted or refused depending on who you are or where you came from. It’s not a choice that will help you get to know God or define your role as a Christian. It is a command to live.

Acts 17:30:
"Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent."

The “times of ignorance” when people chose to stick with their foreign gods are done. Now, at the time of the proclamation of God’s command, all people are called to turn from their old ways and serve the risen King. It’s not a chance to make it up to God for being bad. Not a way to get yourself straightened out. It’s a command to repent or die. Turn from your idols and false gods to the one true God. Or else.

It sounds like a choice, right? It feels like a choice. I can put away what I thought would fix me, cleanse me, and save me. Or I can keep doing it my way and die trying. But if I’m convinced that’s how my efforts will end, is there really any choice but to obey the command? God isn’t asking me to choose. I’m covered by furious waves and He’s telling me to cling to Him or drown. And so I…choose…to cling and not to drown.

It’s one of those sweet mysteries that settles into the hearts of the redeemed. He commands. He offers freely. I choose. I have no choice. In fact, I am unable to choose. Perhaps that’s why He made it a command. An offer implies acceptance, and so gives us the impression that we’ve made a choice. But a command requires the unfailing power of the One who declares it, and demands nothing from my drowning soul except to live.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jesus Laughing

"Did Jesus have a sense of humor?" The question sent me searching for examples that should have come to mind easily. Like most Christians, I typically study the Bible with a solemn mindset, earnest in my quest for the knowledge of God. Of course, I often read a passage that lightens the darkness of this world and makes me smile. I sometimes chuckle in prayer, mostly over my own clumsiness in praying as I ought. But this question led me to search for a proper answer.

I knew right away the answer had to be yes, of course, He did. He does. The first few verses of the book of John teach us that Jesus created all things.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5

Jesus created the world. The weird and wonderful oddities. The funny things. He created the smile and the laugh. We’re made in God’s image. In that representation is joy, and a sense of humor. Because of the Fall, humor was sullied just like all good things made by God. Not all that we find funny is funny to God.

But some of the sayings of Jesus, which we might take as stern, or don’t understand in full, were funny to the people who heard the Creator speak with audible words. Think about a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Consider removing a log from your own eye. These teachings exhort us, but to the people in the Jesus’ circle of listeners, they must have brought a laugh. Then there was the nickname Jesus gave to the brothers, James and John. He called them “sons of thunder.” The name could also mean “sons of commotion.” The two may have been a bit overenthusiastic. So Jesus put sarcasm to use.

Other examples in the gospels indicate Jesus was not opposed to a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor. He heard the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He answered, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Well, maybe we don’t quite get the humor in this, but the Jews there that day understood the sarcastic response. And when the Gentile woman interrupted dinner and asked Jesus to cast a demon from her daughter, He told her it wasn’t right to take food from the children and give it to the dogs.

Was He toying with her, teaching her something? The Israelites called the Gentiles dogs, but Jesus came for the Gentiles, too. He knew the woman would offer a quick comeback. And she did. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table.” Jesus told her to go home—the demon had been cast out. The whole scene seems insulting to the woman, perhaps disrespectful. But the woman understood Jesus’ sense of humor. And the people around the dinner table probably got it too.

That inborn humor is part of the human experience, and Jesus shared our experience. He lived a man’s life, only without sin. His humor never turned ugly. In the modern world, humor certainly has taken a turn. But as Christians, we can follow our Lord’s example and appreciate the humorous moments. We can laugh because He laughed.