Is Jesus Really the Messiah?

A pastoral letter by by Rick Booye
So, you ran across an article on the internet in which a Jewish fellow outlined what he believed were reasons that Jesus of Nazareth can’t be Messiah. Interesting. Let me share why literally billions of people over the last 2000 years have believed that Jesus is the Messiah.However, before I do that, I’d like to clarify something.

When Jewish folk (and others as well) deny that Jesus is Lord and Messiah, they seem to expect Christians to “prove” Christ’s identity from the perspective of their own skepticism. In other words, they say, “You must prove Jesus is Christ without any reference to the Christian eye-witness documentation about him, which we don’t accept. You must prove Christ’s identity beyond a shadow of doubt (How many truth claims can be thus proven?) to a determined skeptic, using nothing but the Old Testament and assuming all the skeptical presuppositions.” This is illicitly stacking the deck against the Christian claim, completely discounting the positive evidence laid out by the Jewish disciples of Christ in the first century and in the generations that followed. It’s like the Holocaust Denial groups today that simply refuse to accept the eye-witness testimony to the atrocities of the Third Reich during WWII. They say, “Prove the holocaust happened, but we won’t accept any of the actual research, documentation, testimony, or witness of anybody who was there or believes the people who were there.” It’s a profoundly dishonest way to argue. What the rejection of Jesus as Messiah amounts to in these sorts of articles is basically a statement like, “Jesus of Nazareth can’t be Messiah because he doesn’t meet my/our interpretation of the criteria for Messiah.” This is not a profoundly persuasive refutation of the life and work of Jesus. “He’s not what we expected.” Well…obviously. He didn’t meet the Jews’ expectations at the time they crucified him either. But he did do a lot of other things that indicate that he is who he claimed to be. And don’t forget that all the converts to Jesus Christ in the first generation were Jews, some (like Saul of Tarsus) highly educated and profoundly skeptical prior to their conversion.
With that being said, let me lay out what I believe are three good reasons that a Jewish skeptic should take a second look at Jesus the Messiah. In order of importance, as related in the main Christian documentation, the reasons for trusting Jesus as Messiah are as follows:
1. He came back from the dead. This fact was the cornerstone of Christian witness concerning Jesus’ identity as Messiah and remains so today (Acts 17:31; Rom.1:1-4; 1 Cor.15:1-8). If it is true (and it is) this achievement by itself serves as the primary proof of Christ’s person. We agree with the Jewish perspective, based on the Bible, that God alone has control of life and death. If then a man accepts the testimony of his closest friends that he is truly Messiah, then comes back from the dead, one should be inclined to listen to him (See Matt.16:13-17:13). The resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has very firm eye-witness testimony and solid textual support. This amounts to a small avalanche of historical evidence that has been thoroughly sifted, tested, attacked, and denied, yet still stands. Many books have been written about the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, none of which have been refuted, though they have been summarily denied by skeptics. But remember that simply denying something is not the same as disproving it. I would recommend renowned New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright’s recent and exhaustive work, The Resurrection of the Son of God. But also older books like Josh McDowell’s, Evidence That Demands a Verdict and Frank Morrison’s classic, Who Moved the Stone will provide compelling argumentation in favor of accepting the crystal clear testimony of Jesus’ closest friends and associates that he did indeed come back from the dead and did explain how the Old Testament is about his death, burial and resurrection (see Luke 24:25-27; 44-47)

2. He has replaced the Jerusalem Temple. The Temple is no more. In biblical Judaism the temple, along with the priesthood and the sacrificial system, forms the only way to approach YHWH in covenant. The reason for the temple and its program is that there had to be a sacrifice for sins (Lev.17:11). And Israel always had that temple, from the initial construction of the tabernacle under Moses, to Solomon’s Temple, to the Second Temple built by Zerubbabel and remodeled by Herod the Great. The only time Israel was without its temple was during the Babylonian Captivity, a seventy-year period in the 6th century BC during which the Lord disciplined the nation for its apostasy. But in that case he warned them over a period of several generations through the prophets (see especially Jeremiah). He sent them away to Babylon, but promised that they would return and rebuild the temple, which they did (Jer.29:10-14). The point is that God always used the temple to connect with his covenant people in grace. So, how is it that without any prophetic voice or warning the Lord lets his temple, the center of his personal relationship with Israel, get destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD? That’s a colossal oversight in God’s dealings with his people, unless he provided some message that explains it.
Interestingly, if you for a moment take seriously the material in the gospels, you find an Old Testament prophet (John the Baptist) prophesying judgment on Israel again, and bearing eloquent witness to another man whom he refers to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (Jn.1:29). That man is Jesus of Nazareth, who in the next chapter of John’s gospel refers to his own body as the temple—the meeting place of God and man (Jn.2:18-21). You also find in the gospels a prediction by Jesus regarding the fall of the Jerusalem temple (Matt.12:6; 23:37-39; Lk.21:5-6), a prophecy that came to pass exactly as Jesus predicted. Jesus healed people by the hundreds, raised some of them from the dead, cast out demons left and right, made food out of practically nothing on more than one occasion, walked on water, stilled the storms with a word, and came back from the dead himself after three days in the grave. What do people want?! So, on the one hand you have the destruction of God’s personal Old Covenant temple and system, and on the other hand a prophet who points to Messiah who in turn does all these amazing things. Hello…!! If John was not a true prophet, and Jesus is not Messiah, why did God let the temple go away? How is the Holy God dealing with sin today if not through the man Jesus?
3. He does fit the Messianic bill. The Old Testament describes Messiah in terms that fit Jesus, and only Jesus. The material about this is vast and well documented in books like the ones I just recommended, so I will not review it here. But suffice it to say that the themes of Messiah in the Old Testament, notably in passages like Isaiah 9:6-7 and chapter 53, fit Jesus of Nazareth perfectly if you take seriously what he says about himself, the fact that he was a miracle worker who was resurrected, and that he will return to judge the world. But again, you must come to the texts of the New Testament with some sort of an open mind in order to come to these conclusions. If you refuse to take seriously the actual documentation written by Jesus’ contemporaries and their friends, then of course you can postulate reasons not to see Jesus as Messiah. This is what skeptics like the one who wrote that article rely on. They reject the New Testament out of hand, and then point to the fact that Jesus therefore cannot be Messiah. It’s an inverted kind of circular reasoning.
So, I would not let skepticism of this circular sort shake your faith in Christ or in his friends and family, all of whom bear eloquent witness to his identity. These people sealed their testimony with their own blood. There is every reason to trust what they say—and every reason to trust Christ Jesus as Lord.

Judgment in Favor of the Accused

By Rick Booye

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  2 Cor.5:10

 Question:  How and why does Christ evaluate us after we die?  Does this mean all my thoughts, words, and deeds will be brought back to me in the Lord’s presence? I thought that being saved by grace meant never having any sort of evaluation of how I lived in this age.  Didn’t God “forget my sin”?

 Well … God did not “forget” our sins in quite the way we often take that phrase (He does not have Alzheimer’s.).  The gospel includes news that is actually better than that.  What he means by “not remembering” our sins (which we re-interpret as “forgetting”, see Heb.8:12; 10:17) is that he does not count them against us.  Christ’s personal and sovereign grace saves us by releasing us from the guilt and condemnation of our sin based on his taking the blame for us at the cross (Rom.8:1-2).  On the other hand, that grace is transforming and empowering.  Through it, the Spirit enables us to serve him and his kingdom with a full expectation of reward (1 Cor.3:10-15; 2 Cor.5:21; Eph.2:8-10).  Furthermore, 2 Cor.5:10 tells us that the Lord will evaluate all we have done in this life, both the good and the bad, for the purpose of rewarding us.  This must mean that he will evaluate us within the grace that he has supplied abundantly through the cross (2 Cor.5:11-21; Eph.2:1-11; Rom.5:1-11).  So yes, the Lord will reveal our thoughts, words, and deeds to us (our “exit interview” for this age so to speak) so that we will see how great is the grace of God that has saved us through the cross of Christ. The Lord has the ability to examine a forgiven life for fruit, even after he has removed all the guilt and condemnation from it.  If this were not true, there would be no basis for reward in the next age, which is a concept that he clearly wants us to grasp as we serve him in this age (Matt.5:12; 6:4; 1 Cor.3:14; 9:17; Phil.4:14-17; Col.3:24; Heb.10:35; 11:26; 2 Jn.1:8).

 Remember, the key among Christians is not that they cease to ever have a sinful thought, word, or deed (James 3:2 reminds us that we all stumble in many ways), but that they cease to have unrepentant, unconfessed sins.  Genuine, healthy Christians are very aware of their ongoing battle against sin, a battle that sometimes wounds them badly. Yet, even when it wounds them and they fall, they get back up and re-enter the war because they know that the Lord has defeated the ultimate power and condemnation of sin on their behalf.  They move forward in their lives, doing constant battle against the surrounding culture’s influence toward skepticism and lust (the “world,” 1 Jn.2:15-17), their own internal propensity to sin (the “flesh,” Gal.5:16-25), and the malign influence of the enemy (the devil, 1 Pet.5:8; 1 Jn.5:18-19; Cor.10:3-5).  They take sin seriously, but rest in what Christ has done for them instead of what they themselves have accomplished in their personal victories and defeats (Gal.3:13).  They do all this not with terror or foreboding, but with a serious and sober joy that comes from confidence in the Lord, his cross and resurrection, and his corresponding promise to regenerate the universe (Phil.2:12-13; Rev.20-22).  In other words, they press through this dark age (Gal.1:3) by keeping their eyes on the Lord and his good future (Phil.3:12).

 That same ultimate evaluation will occur for all humans of all time.  However, in the case of the unrepentant and unbelieving they will bear the final judgment for their own evil (Rev.20:11-15).  This is because they never asked for God’s forgiveness. They never repented or admitted they needed grace, either because they thought their own goodness apart from God’s grace was sufficient (moralism and Pharisaism) or because they refused to think of his presence and coming judgment at all and so lived in idolatry and rebellion against him (Rom.1:18-32).  Either way, they stand in judgment at the end. 

 So the gospel, the good news of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, includes a final judgment of the righteous and the unrighteous (Jn.5:25-29).  This is sobering, but not terrifying for Christians.  And sobriety is a good thing in a drunken world, a blessing God has given us to keep us on the right side of the road that leads to life.

The Only Hope: God is a Man

By Rick Booye

 It sounds odd when we state it so blatantly.  God is a Man.  The astounding reality of the gospel is that God has become, and will remain forever, a resurrected human who reigns now and will return to cleanse and heal this broken world (Acts 1:11).  The second person of the Trinity has taken on our nature, including a human soul and body.  He is one of us!  This news is stunning, astonishing, renovating to the soul.  It changes everything and introduces into the creation an entirely new order of life—redeemed and resurrected humanity.

 The incarnation means that the material destiny of the creation has been eternally re-directed.  Honest observers know that material life in this age is basically sad, hard, and terminal.  One depressed but insightful thinker calls it a long battle against gravity that we eventually lose.  The essential mystery behind all philosophical inquiry is the question, Why?  And the answers humanity has hatched without God are not hopeful.  Philosophical naturalism tells us that we are an incredibly unlikely accident that will turn out to be nothing more than a blip on the lifeless materialistic screen of cold and dark space.  Naturalistic philosophies (modern and postmodern) say that we should assume the scientistic analysis (hopelessness), yet somehow bravely infuse it with meaning for daily life, pressing on in love, justice, compassion and beauty, knowing all the while that none of these things actually exist.  The mental process of this alchemy—creating moral hope out of inadvertent and temporary molecules—remains unclear.  Ancient and modern spiritistic worldviews make claims for the continuation and evolution of cosmic consciousness, but present no historical evidence for their hope.  Religion outside the gospel offers a personal or semi-personal God or “Force” that we can only reach by hard religious work, and who stands waiting for us to live up to his law.  It’s all quite bleak. 

 Contrast these views with the gospel of Christ. There is a loving and just Creator God who knows we have made ourselves evil beyond our understanding, yet who loves us more deeply than we can possibly imagine and has personally undertaken the rescue of not only our own lives, but that of the entire universe.  He has personally and permanently entered his own material creation as a completely (though not exclusively) human male, who died and came back from the dead.  The gospel tells us that human history has already been turned around at the cross and resurrection of Christ. The fallen universe is moving now toward a new heaven new earth where goodness and God’s kingdom are the eternal reality.  What we must do is turn, repentantly and radically trust the Lord, and let him make us a part of his gracious, eternal kingdom.  In other words, realize that God has done something amazing, that his kingdom is underway in Christ, and repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

 The good news is that God in the Second Person of the Trinity came to do for us what we could never do for ourselves—live a perfect human life from conception to the grave, in a fallen and violent world of our making, so that he could resurrect the universe we plunged into ruin.  He lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, and came back from the dead as a risen human representing all of humanity in a completely new form.  He single-handedly rescued us from the judgment and slavery of evil, while simultaneously guaranteeing us his own destiny in a renovated material and spiritual universe (Eph 2:1-10).  Words fail!  God is one of us!  He is on our side!  He came to suffer with us and redeem us! No wonder the angels told the shepherds that something fabulous was afoot!

 

Good News: Ascension

By Rick Booye

 The gospel, the good news of the risen Christ, includes his incarnation, his sinless life, his atoning death, his physical resurrection … and his ascension to the right hand of the Father.  Luke recounts how the disciples experienced the Lord’s ascension in Acts 1:9-11:  “After he had said these things, He was lifted up while they watched, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  As they were gazing intently in to the sky, while He was departing, two men in white clothing stood beside them and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?  This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in just the same way as you have watched him go into heaven.” (See also Luke 24:50-51).

 There are at least two things we should glean from the Lord’s action of slowly and decisively rising into the sky.  First, this is a material translation into another tangible and real dimension. Heaven is a real place.  It is the invisible (to us) realm of spirit life that is the ultimate source of all material and spiritual reality.  It is not far off and in the future.  It is right now and in a dimension so close to us we would jump back if we could see it (see 2 Kings 6:17).  And when the Lord returns it will be from the spirit realm back into the material realm, forever joining the two in one ultimate reality.  We in this age must live with an awareness of just how close in time and space the Lord is (Phil. 4:4-5; 1 Thess. 4:16-18).

 Second, the Lord Jesus has taken the seat of supreme authority.  He didn’t just “go to heaven” as we usually think of that phrase.  He ascended the throne of the kingdom of God.  Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father where he currently exercises all the power and authority in both the material and immaterial realms (Matt 28:18; 1 Peter 3:22; Heb 1:1-3).  By virtue of his death and resurrection the Lord Jesus has been given complete authority over all reality in the universe. And he exercises that authority today—on our behalf.  Paul says in Ephesians 1:20-21 that God “raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named.”  Though this raises questions in our minds about why he delays his return and continues to tolerate the evil of our world, it should certainly give us strong encouragement to live boldly.

 So, the ascension of Christ is not about his absence, but about his sovereign and ruling presence in this age.  “And look! I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” he told his astonished friends.  Consider two practical realities that flow from this fact.

 There is a compassionate, brilliant, loving Man overseeing world history right now—and you are related to him.  In Christ you and I share the King’s life, his name and his destiny.  Imagine yourself waiting nervously in a bank for news about your loan application.  You fret and wonder about your documentation, fearful as to whether you’ll get the cash you need to keep your business afloat.  Then imagine finding out that the senior loan officer is your big brother, who is a millionaire and will cosign your loan even if you don’t qualify on your own.  How does that affect your anxiety?  That’s precisely the feeling we should have when we consider our place in eternity.

 His wisdom shapes every detail of your life.  Romans 8:28 says that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.  That’s you, right?  When Jesus told his friends that every hair on their heads was accounted for (Luke 12:7), he wasn’t applying for a position as a barber.  He was making a profoundly important assertion about the smallest aspects of our lives, even the areas we don’t have time to think about (I don’t think about my hair much, I can tell you.).  Nothing happens to a Christian by accident … nothing.  And nothing that happens to a Christian is designed to in any real way harm them … nothing.  This especially refers to the painful things, even when we inadvertently do them to ourselves, or others maliciously do them to us (see Gen 50:20).  We cannot foresee the traumas of this life, but he certainly does and he promises that even though we often experience intense pain here, he has ultimately overcome this age and will use even the horrors of this world to deepen and bless us (see John 16:33; Romans 8:18; Jas 1:1-4). 

 Serving the Ascended Lord is a calling that transforms “churchgoing” into resurrection life.  The Good News just gets better and better.

 

 

 

Good News: Resurrection

By Rick Booye

 If the word gospel means good news, the best part of the good news is in the resurrection—that death itself has died and tangible eternal life is afoot.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the historical event that proves everything else about who Jesus is and what he did.  When Jesus comforted Martha at her brother Lazarus’s memorial service he pointed her grief stricken heart to the fact that the resurrection was not some distant future event, but was materially in front of her in his own person (John chapter 11).  When the apostles preached, it was Jesus’ resurrection they referenced as proof of God’s intention to rescue humanity and judge evil (see Peter’s preaching in Acts chapter 2 and Paul’s in Acts chapter 17).  When Paul rebuked the Corinthian believers for deserting the gospel, it was the resurrection he had in mind (see 1 Corinthians chapter 15).  And in the Revelation, when the Lord appears to the apostle John on Patmos it is his resurrection that he uses to authenticate himself as the true Lord appearing to his aged friend.  He refers to himself as the “… Living One who was dead and is alive forever more and has the keys to death and the grave.”  (Rev. 1:18).

 Nobody disputes that the resurrection is an unprecedented event.  And of course any unprecedented occurrence is hard to believe at first.  The disciples themselves did not believe it until Jesus proved it to them.  But on the other hand, if nothing ever happened for the first time, where did the universe come from?  And when people deny the overwhelming historical evidence for the empty tomb and risen Christ their skepticism boils down to one frayed strand of faulty logic.  They refuse to believe that resurrection can happen because they refuse to believe that there is a God.  If there is a God, especially the God of the Bible and of Christ himself, then resurrection is not only possible, but makes perfect sense if He intends to rescue and heal his suicidal world. 

 Resurrection was something the Jews expected to happen at the end of time.  It was to be the beginning of the next age, the age of eternal life.  And it was supposed to happen to everybody at once with the righteous being rewarded the unrighteous judged (Daniel 12:1-3).  It would signal the final work of God to correct and redeem the fallen world and vindicate his people Israel.  Evil would be judged and righteousness would be vindicated and death and evil would be no more.  Saul of Tarsus understood these ideas in this context, which was why he was pretty certain that whoever Jesus of Nazareth thought he was, resurrection could not be part of his action plan.  Which in turn was why on the road to Damascus, when Jesus appeared to Saul, Saul was so radically disoriented.  Not only had he been dead wrong about Jesus, but his whole understanding of how this age and the next intersect was badly mistaken.  His worldview was reduced to ruins in one shattering moment. Resurrection, vindication, righteousness, judgment for sin—these things all happened in the middle of history to one representative True Vine, Messiah.  Saul expected to be killed rather than forgiven.  He had seen the resurrection and was not a part of it.  He was on the wrong side of the righteousness fence, a thought that had never once occurred to him and now surely terrified him.  If Jesus of Nazareth alone was resurrected, that must mean that all other humans are still under judgment, including the religious ones. 

 True enough, and when the Lord did not end Saul’s life but instead forgave him freely and enlisted him in spreading resurrection life Saul realized something else.  The fact that Christ was resurrected first, representatively (firstfruits), meant that God was holding off the final judgment while news (good news, gospel) of the risen King could spread.  The news of Christ’s resurrection is astounding because it means that the next age has begun before this age has ended.  There is an overlap between the ages in which free forgiveness and next-age life is graciously offered to all humanity.  Membership in God’s coming kingdom of righteousness and shalom is open to all people regardless of what racial background they come from or what sins they have committed.  The King himself offers it personally because of his unfathomable grace and love, based on his atoning death and material resurrection.  Amazing.  Astounding.  Life changing.  If this news is true, it is the best news ever to reach the ears of fallen humanity.

It is true.  Hallelujah.

 

Good News: Christ Died Our Death

By Rick Booye

 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us …

Galatians 3:13

 When we read the Bible correctly we discover that it doesn’t just contain the gospel, it is the gospel—the Good News that God is personally and single-handedly redeeming His fallen creation.  Jesus showed this to His friends on the road to Emmaus the day he came back from the dead (Luke 24:25-27).  The Bible all about the Cross. God Himself has permanently entered His fallen and dying material creation for the purpose of redeeming it from its terminal evil and the judgment to come (Jn.3:16; Col 1:14).  He has started by redeeming the first part to fall—the human soul.

According to Webster’s Dictionary the word ‘redeem’ means “to buy something back; to free from what distresses or harms; to free from captivity by payment of a ransom.”  It is the picture of a person paying a price to purchase something (or someone) that previously belonged to him or her, but has fallen into evil hands.

But what is the nature of this redemption?  What sort of payment does justice require to purchase the cosmos back from its bondage to death?  The Bible tells us that since we owe our life to God who created us in goodness, when we turn from Him we become essentially evil and forfeit the right to life.  That’s why all the people who walk with God in the Old Testament make sacrifices.  God told them to take a living animal and make it give up its life on their behalf so that they may enter His presence.  Leviticus 17:11 explains this: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”  Atonement refers to absorbing the punishment for the crime.  The New Testament word for this is “propitiation.”  It means to absorb (propitiate) God’s wrath by offering a sacrifice.  The sacrificial system in the Old Testament is an elaborate clue to this spiritual reality: when a morally responsible creature does evil, that creature forfeits the right to life.  The soul that sins shall die (Ez.18:4).

The problem with the Old Testament sacrifices was that they were only temporary and provisional.  They were repeated indefinitely because they never really “worked” in the ultimate sense.  The animals that died did not themselves have the sort of perfect human life that we lost when we sinned.  So, they could not permanently remove the guilt or punishment (Heb 10:1-4).  Nor could they bestow new life to replace the old.  In fact, these Old Covenant sacrifices were pointers to a greater reality yet to come.

Back to Resurrection Day.  Jesus chats with His friends on the road, holding back his identity until they begin to connect the dots.  At the right moment he opens the scriptures and explains that the cross is the fulfillment of all the Old Covenant pictures.  Jesus Christ Himself is the greater Sacrifice, the perfect human “lamb” who took the blame and the punishment for the sins and evil of the world.  Suddenly Passover, the priesthood, the sacrificial system and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant come into perspective—the perspective of the Cross.  God has planned this all along!

Consider what this means for us.  First, it clearly shows that apart from His grace we are more evil than we ever thought.  If we could achieve real goodness by acting spiritual, obeying a few more rules, or improving our morals this terrible sacrifice would not have been necessary.  God could simply have advised us rather than diving in and rescuing us.  The grim reality is that evil is so pervasive in our natural character that we are helpless to even consistently desire to stop it.  And it has metastasized to virtually every dimension of our lives.  It has ruined our wills, desires, souls, relationships and bodies.

Secondly, (and stunningly) it means that in spite of our personal and corporate evil, there is hope, because God loves us.  He loves us so much, even in our sinning state, that He initiated the self-sacrifice that would secure our redemption.  If a woman throws herself in front of a moving truck to save her child, what does that show about her love?  What is her child worth to her?  Everything.  To know how bad we are, and yet how much the Lord of the universe loves us, brings an amazing combination of humility and courage into our lives.

And finally, we are supremely confident of our rescue because it does not rest on our efforts, but on his. His death in our place has finished our salvation, securing our eternal life now and into eternity.  The great difference between the gospel and human religion is that in religion our work is what brings security; in the gospel his work does it.  Our obedience flows from gratitude, not from fear, the haunting suspicion that we might not be good enough.

 

Buddhism is one of the most influential human spiritualities in our world.  There is much in it that a Christian might agree with regarding the nature of life (such as the fact that it is hard) and the need to discipline ourselves.  But there is no real salvation in any human system.  Buddha’s last words were, “Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you.  All component things in the world are changeable.  They are not lasting.  Work hard to gain your own salvation.  Do your best.”

 

Compare that with Jesus’ last words – “It Is Finished!”

 

The gospel of Christ, what Paul calls simply “the message of the cross,” is outstandingly good news for us because it means we are free, forgiven, declared good in God’s eyes, and joined to his eternal destiny all by what he did at the cross and in the resurrection of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

Good News: Jesus Christ Lives a Real Human Life

By Rick Booye

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,  and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

 The gospel is astounding.  The God of the universe has become and remains human.  The incarnation is the most earth-shaking event ever to rock our world.  And it is news rather than simply spiritual advice.  It is news of something that God has done in time and space with infinitely far-reaching consequences.  It is not a sentimental myth to help us deal with the harshness of a life we don’t understand.  It really happened.  God has become one of us, entered his own creation and redeemed it.

 Can this be, though?  I mean, really.  Life on earth is so, well, earthy.  It’s one thing to think of God acting human for a while on a Sunday morning when everybody in church has showered and clothed themselves and is presentable for an hour or so.  It is quite another to know that his teenage mother changed his diapers and nursed and bathed him and had him circumcised.  We can well imagine him talking, even as a kid, with the priests in the temple.  But how about needing a rest stop on the long trail to Samaria?  Frankly, we just don’t connect with his total humanity.  Yet it was precisely this that the apostles insisted on.  For instance, in 2 John verse 7 the apostle says, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not believe that Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is a deceiver and the antichrist!”  Evidently there were “spiritual teachers” in the first generation of Christians who were already denying Christ’s real humanity.  John would have none of it.  He knew that the Lord’s humanity enables our life today, right now, to be totally spiritual and totally material at the same time, just like His.

Note for instance that being an embodied soul, a material human, is not in itself sinful.  In our unredeemed state all of us except Christ do have sin.  Don’t miss this.  But sin is not innate to humanity’s creation as humanity.  Sin is a disease of the will found in our minds, hearts, souls and bodies, a condition we have inherited and freely chosen.  It is killing us and we are helpless (apart from God’s grace in Christ) to stop it.  But it is not part of the original creation.  We brought it on ourselves.  This means that if a person were to somehow escape the dominion of sin, they could theoretically completely please God and walk with him, in one of these bodies, here and now.  This is exactly what Jesus did.  And He did it for us.

Remember too that materiality is not itself evil as the Greeks believed.  Enjoying physical life is a virtue.  Jesus was not a monk.  In his first miracle he made wine for a hapless groom who hadn’t planned enough refreshments for his guests.  And the Lord made really good wine according to the reception coordinator.  What’s that about?  Hasn’t God got better things to do than bail out a poorly planned party?  One would think so,  if we discount the material world.  But he doesn’t discount the world—he redeems it.  This miracle is about God entering into a feast of physical joy, promising that some day there would be a bigger and better feast in his kingdom, a feast where he will be the groom and we will all share his wine. It is good to be a human in the New Covenant.  The Lord has redeemed all the stress, mess, pain, joy and experience of life on earth.  If God is not embarrassed to be a human, why should we be?

But what about our sin?  We know how graphic our personal evil is.  Again, the Lord’s earthly life is the answer.  His human life and death, lived in complete purity and obedience in this physical world, was credited to our life-account when we trusted Him.  When you became a Christian, the Holy Spirit entered your soul and joined you with God metaphysically.  This real unity with Christ means that all his experiences are now yours and yours are now his.  In him you died on the cross and came back to life. And his tangible human goodness is now yours, too.  The perfect life he lived is your perfect life before God.  That in turn means that in Christ you are secure, loved, justified and destined to share his glory into eternity.

So we should meditate long on the good news of the Lord’s authentic human life.  It will keep us from the muddy mysticism that rejects the creation, the religious austerity that denies physical enjoyment, and the Pharisaic guilt that relies on our own works to secure our relationship with God.  What a free and good life we can now live!