Jesus purchased His people (Jn. 6:36, 39; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). He showed God’s amazing love (Jn. 3:16; 15:13; 1 Jn. 3:16). He brought justification to all who would place their faith in Him (Rom. 5:18) by dying for their sins, in their place (1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; Is. 53). He absorbed the wrath of God (1 Jn. 2:2). He became sin and made all who trust in Him the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). He canceled debt (Col. 2:14). He brought reconciliation (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-22). He defeated Satan, sin, and death and brought victory (Gen. 2:15; 1 Cor. 15; Col. 2:11-15; Heb. 2:14; Is. 53).
Jesus knew no sin, yet He became sin. We see the idea of someone bearing sin in the place of others attested to in both the Old Testament and New Testament (cf. Lev. 10:17; 16:21-22; Is. 53:6, 11-12; Jn. 1:29). Jesus is the Lamb without blemish that takes away our sin by dying in our place but He also rises; priest and lamb are not His only office. Jesus is also the coming King who reigns eternally. Consequently, the salvation that Christ brings through His work on the cross brings not only appeasement from wrath but also entrance back into the true Promised Land, the Garden of Eden. So, “the gospel is the good news of the Kingdom through the cross,” as Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert say. The New City Catechism says, “Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good” (Q. 26).
Christ’s work and resurrection propels on this world new creation (cf. Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18), it is the inevitable avalanche that will eventually encompass the whole earth (Ps. 72:19; Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14) and those in Christ will be swallowed up in the effulgence of its glory, there to bask in eternal joy. Christ’s work on the cross and resurrection is the dawn, the first light, but soon the full splendor of the sun.
Christians often say, “He is the reason for the season,” which is true. Yet, it is easy in the “hustle and bustle” of the holidays for that not to ring true in our homes. So, here are some suggestions I have complied to help you keep Christ central this holiday season…
Give God a Gift
The notion of giving God a gift may sound funny since it is He that is the “giver of every good gift” (James 1:17 cf. 1 Cor. 4:7). Yet the Bible certainly gives us precedence for giving God gifts, from Abel offering gifts to God (Gen. 4:4) to Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12 for us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices in light of all His goodness to us.
So, this holiday season give the LORD a gift. No, He does not need it. But He does deserve it and it is thoroughly biblical. When we give gifts to God it gets our mind on God (Matt. 6:21). Here are a few ideas: Fast. Fast one of the holiday feasts. Not for the purpose of limiting your caloric intake but because you want to focus and intentionally praise the one who is “the reason for the season.” You could also give a financial gift to your church or other good ministry. Use your creativity and give a gift that you believe God would appreciate.
Read the Christmas Story on Christmas Day
Reading the Christmas story on Christmas is a super good thing to do if the whole season is supposed to be about the coming of the Messiah Jesus. I would personally chose Luke 1:5-2:20. I would also suggest singing a hymn and offering a prayer of thanks too.
Set up a Nativity Scene in your Home
This is a helpful visual representation of what the holiday season is really all about. The One who created the world—the One who was in the beginning with God—the One who made all things and holds all things together—He became flesh and dwelt among us. When we see the nativity scene we can rejoice that God waded into this broken world to redeem it.
Jesus and Jihad
I talked to a Muslim friend recently that said Islam and Christianity are ninety-six percent the same. I strongly disagree with him and believe most informed Muslims would as well. There is an irrevocable difference between Christianity and Islam. Some Christian missionaries go and die if need be, whereas some Muslim “missionaries” go and kill if need be. This is because Jesus died and said take up your crosses whereas Muhammad killed and said take up your swords. Jesus promises salvation through justification; Muhammad claims it comes through jihad.
It is important to understand that Jesus (Isa in the Qur’an) is quite prominent in the Qur’an and is held to be a prophet. The Qur’an assumes that its readers will have a working knowledge of Jesus and His teaching (cf. Surah 2:136; 4:29; 5:46). Islam even teaches that Jesus will return and carry out justice and “break the cross.” However, there is a very large contrast between what the Qur’an teaches about religious use of violence and what Jesus teaches on violence. So, let’s look at what Jesus has to say about violence.
In the book of Genesis we read of societal progress. There are advances in technology and the arts. Yet, the problem remains: We have sinful hearts. Thus relationships and truly the world remain fractured. Like humpty dumpty; we can’t put it back together again. The answer to my problem, humanities problem, and the world’s problem is external to us.
One would think that
“Auschwitz destroyed… the idea that European civilization at least was a place where nobility, virtue and humanizing reason could flourish and abound… It seems remarkable that the belief in progress still survives and triumphs… People still continue to this day to suppose that the world is basically a good place and that its problems are more or less soluble by technology, education, ‘development’ in the sense of ‘Westernization.’”[i]
However, today’s problems, like that of all history past, is not solved by advances in technology or even any sort of knowledge or morality. It is solved by a Savior. It is Messiah Jesus that will once and for all eradicate sin and suffering (see e.g. Rom. 11:26-27; Heb. 12:23; 1 Jn. 3:2; Rev. 3:12; 21:1-8, 27; 22:3).
When we control the measures to make a utopian society the way we think it should be, it fails. Whether we control “the stirrings” (e.g. The Giver), emotions (e.g. Equilibrium), everything (e.g. The Lego Movie), or the socioeconomic structure (e.g. The Hunger Games) the result is not paradise; it’s a sort of hell, at least for many. We messed up utopia, we can’t with our fallible minds design a new one. Only our Lord can. He has the only infallible and incorruptible mind. He perfectly balances justice and grace. And He alone can make us and all things new.
So the recent movie and classic The Giver does more than entertain. It teaches us a profound truth, one we would do well to remember: There is no utopian society outside of Christ. We can’t fix it. There have been many botched attempts throughout history. They lay died with their victims.
“Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of a team…” As catchy as The Lego Movie song is, it is not exactly right. Everything is not awesome, not yet. However, it will be. But not from our own doing (Notice I am not saying we shouldn’t work for social justice. We should! Yet, it will not bring the ultimate and forever peace that we long for.).
Heaven comes down (Rev. 21:2). We don’t, nor can we, build it here. I am with you and Miss America in saying I desire world peace, yet it won’t ultimately come until our Lord does. When our Lord comes He will wipe away all evil, pain, and tears, not some charismatic leader or government (Rev. 21:1ff). Jesus will make all things new. Jesus will bring utopia.
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, come!
Sin is not good. But Jesus is. He will bring the shalom we all desire. Live for Him.
[i] N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 22-23.
First, it is important that we spend some time looking at Phariseism because whatever is said about it will affect what we say about Paul. We can see from the NT witness as well as other texts that Pharisees held considerable influence. Inevitably, Paul was shaped greatly by his Pharisaic training.
Before Paul’s conversion (when he was still known as Saul) he thought of Jesus in light of Deuteronomy 13:1-5. He thought that Jesus was a deceiver that was leading people astray (cf. Jn. 7:12, 32, 47; 9:22; 16:2). Jesus claimed to be something He was not thus He deserved to be killed. Paul thought that anyone that followed after Him likewise “shall be put to death” (Deut. 13:5). Jesus’ followers were in Paul’s mind saying, “Let us go after other gods” (v. 2). He took it upon himself to “purge the evil from [the] midst” (v. 5) of God’s people. Paul was convinced that he “ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9) even though it was against his teachers’ advice (5:33ff).
He likely thought that Jesus was a false prophet or dreamer like Theudas (Acts 5:36), the Egyptian (Ant. 20.169-172; J.W. 2.261-263; Acts 21:38), or Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37). When Paul saw Stephen preaching about Jesus “he realized that the new movement was dangerous as well as blasphemously ridiculous.” Paul, in persecuting “the Way” (Acts 16:17; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22;), saw himself as “offering service to God” (Jn. 16:2).
Surely a crucified man could not be the Messiah (Deut. 21:22-23 cf. Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). Plus, the expectation was a king in the vein of David. A Yehoshu’a that defeats Israel’s enemies not a Yehoshu’a that will be defeated by dying upon a tree. In Paul’s day “Messianic expectation married social discontent. The result was the offspring of anticipation and action.” Not surprisingly many lacked the interpretive key to understand that the Davidic King would also be the Suffering Servant. That key would not come until the Christ Himself revealed it on the Emmaus road (Luke 24). It was not until after Paul received this interpretive key that he knew that Jesus was the true and better Prophet than Moses (Deut. 18:15-22). Jesus had proved Himself by raising from the dead (v. 22). Paul knew that if he did not obey the LORD it would be required of him (v. 19).
Before Paul understood the Kingdom of God was at hand he sought to bring it in with his own hands. He hunted the Crucified One’s followers like animals (Acts 8:1 note διωγμὸς; 22:4 says “to the death;” v. 19 says he even “beat” people), though he likely thought of them as lower than animals. He did all he could to bring havoc on the church (8:2) despite Gamaliel’s advice against such action (Acts 5:34-39; cf. Aboth 4.11). In this Paul acted more in the Shammaites vein than that which he was reared under Gamaliel in the Hillel brand of Pharisaism.
Pharisaism was very influenced by Nehemiah and the reforms that were sought in that book (cf. esp. chs. Neh. 8-13). For instance, Sabbath keeping was very important for Pharisees, and Nehemiah says that wrath was coming upon Israel because they were profaning the Sabbath (Neh. 13:18) and in general the Law that God had given His people. Thus “the Way’s” (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22 for “the Way”) emphasis on “the Lord’s Day” (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Rev. 1:10) as opposed to the Sabbath would have also been abhorrent to Pharisaism (Matt. 12:2; Lk. 14:3; Jn. 5:10 cf. Neh. 9:14; 10:31; 13:15-22). It appears that the Pharisees wanted to put into practice the principles laid out especially in Ezra-Nehemiah to bring about a lasting kingdom. The Pharisees like those in Ezra-Nehemiah realized that what had happened to them was a result of their evil deeds and great guilt (Ezra 9:13; Neh. 9:26-27 cf. Deut. 28:15-68; 29:16-28; 31:16-21, 27, 29), and so they covenanted and obligated themselves (cf. Ezra 10:3; Neh. 9:38; 10:29, 32, 35) so that they would stop repeating the cycle of entropy that they were so accustomed to (cf. Neh. 9). They needed the circumcision of the heart, the giving of the Holy Spirit, that only Jesus could bring, though they did not know it (cf. Is. 32:14-16; 44:3; Ezek. 36:26:27; 11:19-20; Jer. 31:33; Joel 2:28; Matt. 3:11; Acts 2:17; Gal. 3:14).
A crucified man from Nazareth did not at first fit Paul’s description of the Messiah, let alone his understanding of monotheism. Paul would have related to Peter when he said, “Far be it from me Lord” that you should suffer (Matt. 16:22 cf. 2 Sam. 7:13, 16; 1 Chron. 17:14; 22:10; Ps. 89:4, 29, 36-37 110:4; Is. 9:7; Ezek. 37:25). Paul with Peter and many others were looking for the One that would deliverer them from oppression, not be delivered into oppression (see again the confusion of the time in John 12:32-34 cf. 3:14; 8:28). Even Simeon saw “the consolation of Israel” and it was revealed to him by the Spirit that Jesus was the Christ (Luke 2:25-26), yet he would not have thought that “salvation” (v. 30) and glory to Israel (v. 32) would have came through the Messiah being cut off.
Thus, in light of Paul’s background, it is very significant that Paul’s vision of the Christ was so radically reshaped. A huge paradigm shift had taken place in his life and view of everything. Paul went from persecuting the people of the “the way,” those who follow Jesus, to following alongside them and eventually leading the charge, yet he had to truly “count the cost.” Paul honestly suffered the loss of all things, and counted them a worthless trash, in order that he may gain Christ.
Paul, in space in time, was transformed by his risen Lord and King. He went from persecutor to persecuted. He went from confining those who confessed Jesus as Lord to preaching nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Once Paul was convinced, he reasoned with others that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). So “Jesus Christ’s resurrection,” for Paul, “represents the hinge of history.” In Jewish thought resurrection is the precursor of the age to come. “Hence, Jesus’ resurrection signaled that the new age has come. God’s saving promises are being realized.”
Significance Paul saw the risen Lord Jesus. Paul, a persecutor of the Church, ended up leading various churches. Paul, who would have known if the whole thing was a hoax, died for His Lord Jesus.
The resurrection happened.
It changed everything for Paul.
Has it changed everything for you?
N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God vol. 1 in Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 181.
Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 181.
cf. Ibid., 182. Later Wright says that the Pharisee’s “goals were the honour of Israel’s god, the following of his covenant charter, and the pursuit of the full promised redemption of Israel” (Ibid., 189). We see from the NT that this begins to come to fruition in Jesus’ inauguration of the Kingdom of God yet there is a “not yet” aspect to the Kingdom.
See Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 202.
F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame vol. 1 in The Advance of Christianity Through the Centuries F.F. Bruce gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1958), 83. See Don N. Howell Jr., “Mission in Paul’s Epistles: Genesis, Pattern, and Dynamics” 63-91 in Mission in the New Testament: An Evangelical Approach William J. Larkin, Joel F. Williams eds. (New York: Orbis Books, 1999), 68. Also, N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 327-28.
cf. Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001), 75. Truly, “a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms for the Jews” (Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008], 292). Paul himself was among the rulers that “did not recognize him,” the Messiah, nor what the prophets said regarding Him (Acts 13:27). Yet he later was enlightened to the fact that the Scriptures were fulfilled (v. 27b) when Jesus was condemned, i.e. “cursed,” on a tree (v. 29 see also vv. 30-39). Also, Loren T. Stuckenbruck after examining the relevant apocalyptic and early Judaism literature says, “messianic speculation varied from author to author and even within the documents themselves” (“Messianic Ideas in the Apocalyptic and Related Literature of Early Judaism” 112 in The Messiah in the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 90-13.
David P Seemuth, “Mission in the Early Church” in Mission in the New Testament, 51.
See John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999), 30.
Moses knows that Israel is going to turn away from LORD (Deut. 28:15-68; 29:16-28; 31:16-21, 27, 29), and says that the ultimate curse will be exile however after exile will come covenant renewal and the perfect keeping of the Torah (30:1-10) (Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 261). “Covenantal ideas were therefore fundamental to the different movements and currents of thought within second-temple Judaism” (Ibid.). “It was the covenant that drove some to ‘zeal’ for Torah, others to military action, others to monastic-style piety” (Ibid., 262).
Martin Hengel says, “A crucified messiah, son of God or God must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone, Jew, Greek, Roman or barbarian, asked to believe such a claim, and it will certainly have been thought offensive and foolish” (Crucifixion John Bowden trans. [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977], 10) as Paul himself later would say (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). See also Ibid., 61-62, and esp. 89. Justin Martyr Apology I ch. 13. Also the Alexamenos graffito shows how foolish many thought it was to worship one that had been crucified. The graffiti depicts a Christian worshiping an image of a man on a cross with a donkey head.
 Acts 9:22; 13:16ff; 16:13; 17:3, 17; 18:4-5, 19; 19:8ff; 24:25; 26:6, 22-26; 28:23, 31 cf. 18:28; from the beginning of the church preaching and teaching was integral 2:42. Hengel rightly says Paul considered the “Jewish-Messianic message and its concomitant scriptural evidence… quite important from the very beginning” (Marten Hengel, “Paul in Arabia” Bulletin for Biblical Research 12.1 , 59). Also, in Luke’s “orderly account” that he wrote to Theophilus so that he may have “certainty” (Luke 1:3), he said that Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs” (Acts 1:3). I. Howard Marshall sees the spread of the message of Jesus the Christ as the main story-line that the book of Acts is concerned with (Acts, 26).
 Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 292 see also 853.