Posts Tagged ‘free will’

Matthew 2:13-18 — When we read this passage, we are often thankful for Jesus being able to escape into Egypt, but we often ignore the hard question. In the beautiful story of Jesus’ birth, there is this ugly episode involving King Herod. There is a fundamentally hard question that often we Christians ignore because it is so hard to answer, particularly in the midst of this story that we tell our children over and over at Christmas time. With all of the “good vibrations” of the Christmas holiday, all the syrupy-sweet warm fuzzies our culture builds into the holiday, and especially here in the church where we celebrate our Savior’s birth and focus on its actual meaning…. Still, it’s kind of shocking, to be faced with such a gruesome story.

In this passage, we learn that Joseph is warned by an angel to flee into Egypt. Because Herod had learned of the Magi left town without re-visiting him he was enraged because they took with them the knowledge of the whereabouts of the would-be king, the Christ. Therefore, to cover his bases to keep a supposed rival king from arising from his midst, he ordered having all children under the age of two that resided in Bethlehem murdered. Although there has been conjecture as to whether this actually happened or not, it is completely consistent with the paranoid defense of his throne that Herod displayed during his reign which is well documented outside the Bible. He killed several of his sons and at least his first wife because of his fears that they were plotting to take his throne among many other such killngs. The fact that Bethlehem was so small at the time there was very few children under the age of two resided in Bethlehem (probably less than 10 in a town of approximately 300 at the time of Jesus’ birth). Therefore, to me, this did indeed happen.

This brings us to a troubling question, we can understand why Jesus was spared. He was God’s own Son, but why were the innocent children (even if it was actually less than 10) not spared from the mania of a diabolical earthly ruler? Did God allow this to happen just to fulfill the prophecies of Hosea 11:1 (out of Egypt I will call my son) and of Jeremiah 31:15 (A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more). Seems like God is either very callous in keeping to his prophecy fulfillment timetable or He is a weak God that cannot prevent such things from happening. We may not speak it out loud but we think it in today’s world when natural disasters happen or especially when senseless acts of violence happen. We certainly must ask this question here when there is this truly evil act of senseless violence.

This is a fundamental question of faith. Many people disdain the Old Testament today because of its violence and all the smiting that went on and the wiping out of entire groups of people. They say they are just going to stick with the New Testament. But here in the New Testament, you have this act of pure evil in which numerous innocents died, simply because of their age. So, this is a question we must deal with at some point or another. It is an ever present one in the Bible and it is an ever present one in our day and age. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did 09/11/01 happen? Why did Columbine happen? Why did the Japanese earthquake and tsunami happen? Why did Emmanuel AME happen here in our state just a few short weeks ago? Just this week, why did two fun-loving energetic young people who were in the midst of advancing their television careers get gunned down for senseless reasons? We avoid this question and it seems that with all the background and examples I am laying down in this blog that I am too. This question brings us into several doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith.

First, we as Christians believe that man is born with a sin nature. As a result, evil exists. Paul says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. With sin comes evil. Since the entrance of sin in the world, we see man unloading unspeakable evils upon one another beginning with Cain and Abel and degenerating from there. Evil is a real thing. Sin is a real thing. As we remember from Genesis, even the ground was cursed. Our planet suffers the effects of sin and evil. And Paul says even the ground groans under the weight of sin and wishes for the day when Jesus will return. Thus we live in a world filled with sin and on a planet groaning from the effects of sin. Because of the evil than can often go unchecked in the hands of someone in power such as a despotic king like Herod, unspeakable atrocities such as this can occur. Look at Hitler in Europe. He was essentially a king with no checks on his power. The holocaust was the result, World War II was the result, evil on a grand scale. Outside the Christian faith, many try to speak of the basic goodness of man. It is just not true. We are evil at our core. Just look at all the attempts at utopian societies. Each one has ultimately failed because of greed caused by the innate evil nature of man. This scene from Matthew is evidence of the fact that man is evil. Because of this evil nature of man, it amply points out our everpresent need for a Savior.

Second, God gave man free will. We have the power to choose our actions on a daily basis. In our free will, we daily choose to disobey God. When we sin, it has ripple effects. Our sins impact other people. Herod’s sins are all on display here and throughout his rein his sins have devastating effects on many, many people. We think of the children murdered here. But think of our own evil actions and the long lasting impacts they have on others. Just think of the disastrous effects of adultery on families. It may feel good to the person enjoying a dangerous liasons where the sex is fun and secretive and you may even be able to justify in your mind why you are doing it, but the ripple effects destroy families. Adultery impacts children deeply and can often ruin their lives. Adultery can have impacts for generations. Evil upon evil is dumped on all of us from the actions of others and our sins are dumped on other people too. Free will, what a dangerous thing that was that God gave us. It has had disastrous effects. It has been God’s grand experiment gone wrong it seems. Like leaving your kids home on the weekend while you and your spouse go on a weekend getaway and the house gets trashed in the process. However, free will with all his resulting troubles is necessary in God’s plan. It is a risk that He is willing to take. If we were robots of God, we would robotically obey God. He wants us to choose Him, not robotically obey Him. With free will, we come to God and seek Him out. With free will, we choose to reject evil and our evil ways and repent. With free will, we understand why we need a Savior. With free will, we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So, free will enables us to choose, but because of the sin of Adam, we choose evil over good and bad things happen to us and everyone around us. In our free will, we sin and we definitely need a Savior.

Third, we find the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. In this scene, we completely do not understand it. We do not understand it when a 16 year old is killed in a car accident. We certainly do not understand it when a mother who has sweet innocent children at hope is murdered. We certainly do not understand it when a young woman is raped and murdered. We certainly do not understand it when planes crash. We certainly do not understand it when a young man walks into a church and murders 9 people for no other reason that the fact that they were there. Sometimes, when the inexplicable happens, we simply have to trust that God has a purpose and plan in it all. We don’t have to understand it sometimes. We may even get angry at God about it at times. But ultimately God is sovereign and He does not have to explain Himself to us. Many times though we can ultimately see what His plan was. Often out of bad things, good things come. Often people’s eyes are opened. Often in our loss for words and explanations for life’s events, we see that we do not have all the answers and that we need God. Often bad things happen cause us to see our sins for what they are. Often bad things happen to force us to see our need for a Savior. I am not saying that this is why God allows what seems as a bad things in our limited nature to us. I don’t know that. Because God ways are higher than my ways I will never truly understand Him fully in this my limited nature in this human life. However, I am just saying that there are often the results of bad things happening is that we are drawn closer to the Almighty, All-Knowing God. It is often true that bad things happening show us the limited nature of our life and it points us to our need for a Savior. Bad things happening often force us to take stock of our mortality and forces us to our knees to see that we definitely need a Savior.

Tomorrow, we will look at this passage one more time from the point of view of the parallel of Jesus’ life and the history of Israel. But for today, we are dealing with this tough question. Sin. Free Will. God’s Sovereignty. Evil in the world. The tough questions of our faith. Right here in the middle of the nativity scene that we make so sweet at Christmas. Our faith forces us to deal with tough questions all the time. When we deal with these tough questions head on, we will, I think, grow in our faith. When we deal with the tough questions of life, we begin to understand why we believe what we believe and it all starts making sense and strengthens our faith and strengthens our belief in our need for a Savior. It demonstrates the wonderful grace that we live under in the name of Jesus Christ, the central character that was spared in this scene from Matthew 2:13-18.

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Luke 24:32-43 — Jesus on the cross. Jesus dying on the cross. We understand from Scripture that this fact is significant. Scripture tells us that Jesus dying on the cross is what reconciles us to God. When I was a non-believer I could grasp that Jesus was a great man. I could grasp that His death on the cross was a travesty of human justice. I could grasp that He was a holy man of God that spoke great truths of the universe. I could grasp that He was so committed to the truth that He risked his life to call out that which claimed to be holy as unholy. I could grasp that He spoke of peace and love and not war and hate in a world built on war and hate. I could grasp that all of these factors, truth, candor, peace made Him a rebel in his day. To me when I was a non-believer, he was the original flower child much like the hippees of the 60’s. To me, I admired Him as an anti-establishment rebel that through his love not war attitude changed the world much like the counterculture of the late 60’s-early 70s changed our nation forever. Much like the racial equality movement of that same time changed the face of our nation forever as well. As a non-believer, I could see Jesus marching in anti-war protests of the 60’s, marching arm in arm with His black friends from Selma to Montgomery. That was the Jesus that I grasped. I grasped a rebel Jesus who was martyred for being different, for fighting for change, and through whose death the world was changed. That was the Jesus I grasped.

However, as a non-believer, I just could not grasp the Christian theology that Jesus’ death on the cross was for me. I just could not grasp that Him hanging on the cross was for the forgiveness of my sins. How does a man dying on the cross reconcile me to God, I asked myself? It all boils down to who do you think Jesus is. If Jesus was just a man…if Jesus was just a rebel fighting against injustice and the status quo who was killed for it…if Jesus was just another prophet who was killed…if Jesus was a cool dude that was super-perceptive about life…if Jesus was just…then it does not make sense. If Jesus was just these things, then this whole Christian thing built on Him dying on the cross does not make any sense at all. Jesus dying on the cross was just the end of a cool dude’s life and then the church fabricated the resurrection thing. It just doesn’t make any sense if Jesus was just…a man.

However, Jesus was not just a man. He was the Son of God. He was God in the flesh. He was part of the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit that has existed since before creation. It was through Him that the universe was made. That’s the part that takes faith. And that faith is what makes sense of the cross. His death on the cross makes senses when you realize that Jesus was the Son of God and that He and the Father were one and were of the same essence. This makes the cross make sense.

Beginning in Egypt we see God pointing us toward the cross. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. During the final plague in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to paint the blood of an innocent pure lamb on their doorway so that the death plague would passover their homes. This points to Jesus on the cross. His blood was spilled so that we might live. The Old Testament sacrificial system instituted at Mt. Sinai taught the Israelites and us about Jesus. Animals were sacrificed as atonement for sin. The animals spilled their blood for forgiveness of sin because that’s God said it was for. The animals took the punishment for sin that the sinner deserved. God was pointing us toward his ultimate act on the cross in Jesus.

We have all done things that are wrong and we have failed to live up to God’s laws – his expectations for holiness from us as He is holy. Sin, just one sin, separates us from God. It does not matter how we justify it or how much good we do, our sin, any sin, taints us and makes us imperfect. Imperfection cannot exist in the presence of God. Once we have sinned there is nothing we can do ourselves to make ourselves clean. It is like squirting flavor additives into clear water. Once you have squirted the colored additive into the water, you cannot make it clear again no matter what you do. Sin is that way for us. Thus, there is a permanent separation for us from God because of this sin imperfection from the first time we think of sinning. We need help. And it is only when we realize that we are helpless that we are ready to understand what Jesus did on the cross that is so important to us. That is so important that its news spread out from the cross around the globe and through the centuries.

Jesus was not only a man. He was also God in the flesh acting as the Son of the Father. OK. Why then still does his death on the cross mean? It all goes back God’s sacrificial system. Jesus is the culmination of that. The animals used in the passover and the sacrifices at the Tabernacle and later the Temple had to be pure and spotless to be used to atone for the sinner’s sin. Jesus was pure and spotless. He never sinned. Thus, this made Him the only sacrifice ever that was truly perfect, spotless, and sinless. Because He lived a sinless life and never disobeyed the Father in any way then his sacrifice of His life was the culminating atonement for sin. It did not have to be repeated anymore like the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. Jesus was the final sacrifice for sin. He is the Passover Lamb of all Passover Lambs. He is the Sin Sacrifice of Sin Sacrifices.

On the cross, He was thus sacrficed for sin. He became all sin of all time, past, present and future. He took on the full wrath of God against the imperfection of sin for all time. Jesus who had existed for eternity with the Holy Spirit and the Father was now separated from that one essence, that unity that He had known for all eternity. That is why when taking on the full wrath of sin for all time, he exclaims in all four gospels, Father why have you abandoned me. He, on the cross, was substituting Himself for man’s sins of all time and He was alone bearing that heavy burden. He was separated from the loving trinity that He had known since before what we know as time begin. It is through His death that the sacrificial system is completed. It is finished at the cross. Jesus bore the punishment for all sin for all time on the cross. Thus, it is finished. The job is complete at the cross. When we have the faith to believe this, that is where we can say that Jesus has already paid the price for our sin on the cross. He paid our debt and we are released from the impurity and imperfection of sin that condemns us to eternal separation from God in hell. We are redeemed from slavery through his payment made at the cross.

That is the only way that the cross makes sense. There is indeed a God who created the universe and created man. He gave man free will to choose to worship God not as robots but as knowledgeable humans making choices. With the risk of free will came the ability to listen to evil in the form of Satan. When the first sin in Adam occurred, it set mankind on a course of self-destruction from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Sin stains us and changed everything. With our sin nature passed down from Adam to us, we cannot help ourselves. We sin. We cannot help ourselves. With that first sin, we permanently taint ourselves and separate ourselves from God. With sin, it is a permanent stain. No matter how much good we try to do, it is like trying to get a wine stain out of white shag carpet. It will never be same. We become imperfect and ineligible for existing in the presence of our Creator with our first sin not to mention the mounds of sins we pile up in our lifetime due to our sin nature. We can’t clean it. We can’t fix it. We are truly screwed. We are up crap creek without a paddle. There is only one thing that can change that. It is Jesus who is the culmination of God’s sacrificial system instituted in the Old Testament. He is the permanent fix to our sin problem. Jesus lived the sinless life and sacrificed himself in our place on the cross. He bore the punishment that you and I deserve for our first and the rest of our sins. When we believe on this fact. We are freed from condemnation to hell that we deserve for our sins. Hell is where we are separated from God and live eternally in flesh eating, teeth gnashing, wailing, burning, nothingness separated from God. That is what we deserve for what we have made of ourselves and the world we live in. When we believe on Jesus, He frees us from our death sentence. In Him, we know that we will be able to join Him in heaven in the presence of the God and know eternal joy. We know in Him that there will be an end to this madness that we live in. We know that in our physical death we will join Him in eternity. We know that in the end that Jesus will redeem His creation and conquer evil once and for all. In Him, there is hope.

That is why the cross makes sense to me now. I grasp who Jesus is. He is my Savior. He is the Son of God. He is God in the flesh who loves you and me enough to break into the history of His creation and offer Himself up as as sacrifice for your and my sins so that we can be redeemed from death in Hell. That’s why the cross makes sense. Do you get it?

Luke 19:41-44 — The journey to Jerusalem is complete. Jesus sees the city before Him. And He weeps for her. Why does Jesus weep? Jesus weeps for her because she will be destroyed completely in about 35-40 years from this moment of His weeping. Jerusalem will ultimately reject and murder Jesus. God will never turn his back on His people but there are always and certainly consequences to sin.

I compare Jesus here to a parent who sees the actions that a child is taking and weeps over knowing what the outcome is going to be. Parents cannot see into the future but they know from their life experiences what a child’s poor decisions are going to give in results. We can tell our children until we are tired of telling them about what their actions will bring but yet the children do not listen. It is upsetting to a parent. You know without a doubt that poor decisions will lead to bad consequences. But you cannot live your children’s lives for them. They have free will. They have minds of their own. They are of our flesh but from the first moment of life, they begin being separate from us. Thinking their own thoughts. Making their own choices. We can guide them but they ultimately make their own choices. This is free will. Sometimes our children make poor choices and those choices have consequences. However, we still love our children even though they have made poor choices. You will accept them into your open arms when they come to you and ask for forgiveness for the mistakes they have made. We accept them into our open arms when they have rejected us in favor of their own desires. We love them always despite their choices.

This is why I think Jesus weeps here. He is God. He is the ultimate parent. We are all His children. His weeping shows us a couple of things that we must consider. First, Jesus’ weeping shows us that He is compassionate for us. Second, Jesus’ weeping shows us that there is a risk to God giving us free will. Third, Jesus’ weeping shows us that there are consequences to sin.

Jesus weeps. He cries over the chosen city of His chosen people. When people cry, it is because they have an emotional interest in a situation and the people involved in the situation. What this tells me is that Jesus is not some aloof, far off God. He is truly concerned about you and me. He has known us since we were knitted together in our mother’s womb. He knows each and every hair on our head. God is active in our lives. He is not some lifeless god to whom we have to try to figure out what they want. He is active in our lives. He loves us. He cares. We cry out to God and He responds. He gives us His Word so that we can see who He is. We don’t have to wonder about the character of God. He has revealed it to us in His Word. The fact that the Father sent the Son into our temporal world shows that He cares deeply for his created. The fact that He gave us the Holy Spirit shows that He wants us to know Him intimately. Jesus weeps. Jesus weeps because He cares. He weeps because He is intimately involved in the lives of all creation. He is an active and concerned God. He has compassion for us.

Jesus weeps. He cries over his beautiful holy city. He cries over the fact that in our free will we choose often to reject Him. Why, then, did God give us free will. He did not want us to be worshiping robots. He wants us to choose Him as a mental, cognitive choice. In that, God takes a risk. By giving us free will, we may choose to reject Him. It is just as a child will sometimes make choices that are opposite of what their parents want, so, too, do we make choices that reject the teaching of our Father in heaven. We could keep our children locked in a closet so as to prevent them from making stupid mistakes, but we don’t. We allow our children to develop minds of their own and encourage them to think and to develop. It is the same way between our Ultimate Parent and us as His children. He could zap us into believing in Him. However, in the zapping, He would take away the beauty of coming to know Jesus through our own choice. A child can be told a thousand times not to touch a hot burner on a stove, but until they get burned it is not as real a lesson as the real experience. God wants us to come to Him by our own choice. That takes risk. That takes love. Free will causes our children to reject us as parents sometimes but we never stop loving them. We could make our kids robots by controlling their environment. But how much more special is it when our children realize that our love for them is real and unending on their own. How much more depth is their to our children’s love and respect for us when the come to understand the unending love and the unending sacrifices we have made for them. Free will is a risk but the reward can be awesome.

Jesus weeps. He does because there are consequences to sin. Just as a parent weeps when their child rejects their advice and then runs into a jam as a result of their poor choices. Just as God created the physical laws of the universe that generally involve cause and effect, sin has consequences. Israel throughout the Bible suffered the consequences of disobedience. Ultimately, this final act of disobedience of rejecting the Messiah would ultimately have consequences. Because of continuing rebellions during the years of Roman occupation, Rome finally had enough in 70AD and brought down the full wrath of the Roman army on Jerusalem. No more tolerance. Complete obliteration. Even the temple was torn down stone by stone. Sin has consequences. God allows circumstances that are the result of our sins. Just as parents allow consequences for bad behavior, there are consequences for sin. We see it all around us. Poor choices lead to consequences. We sit around sometimes and shake our fist at God for the situation that we find ourselves in that seems to have no end and no solution. We must follow the sin trail. Our bad results can often be traced back to a sinful decision that we made. We get angry at God for the bad things that we see in our lives and in our world. But it is all of our own making. We live in a sin filled fallen world. It has been this way since the first sin. It is all cause and effect. Sin has consequences. Always. It is an immutable law of the universe that God created.

However because of our weeping Jesus, there is a way out. God cares about us enough to send His Son to redeem us. He loves us despite our poor choices. All we have to do is come to Him and ask Him to forgive our rejection of Him. He cares about us enough not to write us off. He may allow us the consequences of our sins just so that we can see that He is still there. Still loving us. We can see that He weeps over our poor choices. He weeps over our sin and its consequences. He wants what is best for us and that is for us to come to Him and ask Him to be our Savior and our Lord. He is a loving parent waiting for you to come home to Him. He cares enough about you to weep over you. See Him. Come home to Him.