Monday, July 9, 2012

Why Jesus is All That Matters

The following words have been borrowed from my personal study this morning.  It is too good not to share and better said than anything I could write today.  Many people often wonder how a loving God could condemn some and save others.  This question is a result of a misunderstanding of the holiness and love of God.  Out of God's holiness comes perfect justice.  Out of God's love comes perfect mercy.  A.W. Tozer explains this concept for us today.  I pray this will draw you to Christ the way it has drawn me.  Enjoy.

"Jesus Christ is God, and all I’ve said about God describes Christ. He is unitary. He has taken on Himself the nature of man, but God the Eternal Word, who was before man and who created man, is a unitary being and there is no dividing of His substance. And so that Holy One suffered, and His suffering in His own blood for us was three things. It was infinite, almighty and perfect.

Infinite means without bound and without limit, shoreless, bottomless, topless forever and ever, without any possible measure or limitation. And so the suffering of Jesus and the atonement He made on that cross under that darkening sky was infinite in its power.

It was not only infinite but almighty. It’s possible for good men to “almost” do something or to “almost” be something. That is the fix people get in because they are people. But Almighty God is never “almost” anything. God is always exactly what He is. He is the Almighty One. Isaac Watts said about His dying on the cross, “God the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin.” And when God the Almighty Maker died, all the power there is was in that atonement. You never can over-state the efficaciousness of the atonement. You never can exaggerate the power of the cross.

And God is not only infinite and almighty but perfect. The atonement in Jesus Christ’s blood is perfect; there isn’t anything that can be added to it. It is spotless, impeccable, flawless. It is perfect as God is perfect. So Anselm’s question, “How dost Thou spare the wicked if Thou art just?” is answered from the effect of Christ’s passion. That holy suffering there on the cross and that resurrection from the dead cancels our sins and abrogates our sentence.

Where and how did we get that sentence? We got it by the application of justice to a moral situation. No matter how nice and refined and lovely you think you are, you are a moral situation—you have been, you still are, you will be. And when God confronted you, God’s justice confronted a moral situation and found you unequal, found inequity, found iniquity.

Because He found iniquity there, God sentenced you to die. Everybody has been or is under the sentence of death. I wonder how people can be so jolly under the sentence of death. “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20). When justice confronts a moral situation in a man, woman, young person or anybody morally responsible, then either it justifies or condemns that person. That’s how we got that sentence.

Let me point out that when God in His justice sentences the sinner to die, He does not quarrel with the mercy of God; He does not quarrel with the kindness of God; He does not quarrel with His compassion or pity, for they are all attributes of a unitary God, and they cannot quarrel with each other. All the attributes of God concur in a man’s death sentence. The very angels in heaven cried out and said,

      “You are just in these judgments,
      you who are and who were, the Holy One,
      because you have so judged;…”
      “Yes, Lord God Almighty,
      true and just are your judgments.”
         (Revelation 16:5, 7)

You’ll never find in heaven a group of holy beings finding fault with the way God conducts His foreign policy. God Almighty is conducting His world, and every moral creature says, “True and just are your judgments.… Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Revelation 16:7, Psalm 89:14). When God sends a man to die, mercy and pity and compassion and wisdom and power concur—everything that’s intelligent in God concurs in the sentence.

But oh, the mystery and wonder of the atonement! The soul that avails itself of that atonement, that throws itself out on that atonement, the moral situation has changed. God has not changed! Jesus Christ did not die to change God; Jesus Christ died to change a moral situation. When God’s justice confronts an unprotected sinner that justice sentences him to die. And all of God concurs in the sentence! But when Christ, who is God, went onto the tree and died there in infinite agony, in a plethora of suffering, this great God suffered more than they suffer in hell. He suffered all that they could suffer in hell. He suffered with the agony of God, for everything that God does, He does with all that He is. When God suffered for you, my friend, God suffered to change your moral situation.

The man who throws himself on the mercy of God has had the moral situation changed. God doesn’t say, “Well, we’ll excuse this fellow. He’s made his decision, and we’ll forgive him. He’s gone into the prayer room, so we’ll pardon him. He’s going to join the church; we’ll overlook his sin.” No! When God looks at an atoned-for sinner He doesn’t see the same moral situation that He sees when He looks at a sinner who still loves his sin. When God looks at a sinner who still loves his sin and rejects the mystery of the atonement, justice condemns him to die. When God looks at a sinner who has accepted the blood of the everlasting covenant, justice sentences him to live. And God is just in doing both things.

When God justifies a sinner everything in God is on the sinner’s side. All the attributes of God are on the sinner’s side. It isn’t that mercy is pleading for the sinner and justice is trying to beat him to death, as we preachers sometimes make it sound. All of God does all that God does. When God looks at a sinner and sees him there unatoned for (he won’t accept the atonement; he thinks it doesn’t apply to him), the moral situation is such that justice says he must die. And when God looks at the atoned-for sinner, who in faith knows he’s atoned for and has accepted it, justice says he must live! The unjust sinner can no more go to heaven than the justified sinner can go to hell. Oh friends, why are we so still? Why are we so quiet? We ought to rejoice and thank God with all our might!

I say it again: Justice is on the side of the returning sinner. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Justice is over on our side now because the mystery of the agony of God on the cross has changed our moral situation. So justice looks and sees equality, not inequity, and we are justified. That’s what justification means.

Do I believe in justification by faith? Oh, my brother, do I believe in it! David believed in it and wrote it into Psalm 32. It was later quoted by one of the prophets. It was picked up by Paul and written into Galatians and Romans. It was lost for awhile and relegated to the dust bin and then brought out again to the forefront and taught by Luther and the Moravians and the Wesleys and the Presbyterians. “Justification by faith”—we stand on it today.

When we talk about justification, it isn’t just a text to manipulate. We ought to see who God is and see why these things are true. We’re justified by faith because the agony of God on the cross changed the moral situation. We are that moral situation. It didn’t change God at all. The idea that the cross wiped the angry scowl off the face of God and He began grudgingly to smile is a pagan concept and not Christian.
God is one. Not only is there only one God, but that one God is unitary, one with Himself, indivisible. And the mercy of God is simply God being merciful. And the justice of God is simply God being just. And the love of God is simply God loving. And the compassion of God is simply God being compassionate. It’s not something that runs out of God—it’s something God is!"

Taken from, Tozer, A. W. (2005). The radical cross : Living the passion of Christ (6–10). Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread.

Friday, July 6, 2012

19 Years Gone By

Today I rode my bike 44 miles round trip to pay a visit to my brother Mark's grave in Wilmington, Delaware.  It was hot as hell and not the easiest ride with wind in my face.  But I finally made it.  I sort of just decided to take the trip and figured it might become something I do every July 6th as a tradition.

It was just as hot today as it was in 1993 when we buried my 16 year old younger brother.  As I pulled into Gracelawn Memorial Park some of the memories came flooding back.  I remembered pulling into that same park 19 years ago in a limousine that MBNA Bank had rented for us (Mark and I were both employees annoying people with telemarketing calls).  Our family was stuffed into the limousine and we laughed on the way to the grave site.  I remember pulling up and the car fell silent.  The door opened, the heat came rushing in and it was like I was suffocating.  For some reason I remember the walk to the grave and coffin being so much longer than it actually is.  It seemed like our waiting friends and family were miles and miles away.

Honestly, I don't think I had ever been to a burial before in my life.  Watching my dad struggle through the Psalms, the benediction and a chorus song was my first experience at a grave site.  It was horrible.  It was a tiny piece of hell.  I didn't cry much and I don't remember why.  I was just overwhelmed.  We didn't stay long.  It was fast - very fast.

I have visited my brothers grave several times over the past 19 years.  Every single time I go I come away with the same feeling and thought - there is nothing for me there.  Today, those words were ringing in my ears as I walked the same walk we walked 19 years ago.  I placed my bike up against a tree and walked out to Mark's grave marker.  It looks the same as it has for 19 years only with a bit of aging but there is nothing for me there.  It made me think of the women who went to visit Jesus' grave on the first Easter morning.  What were they looking for?  What did they think they would find?  They were going because tradition and custom demanded that they go.  They expected to find a beaten and bloodied dead man.  They expected to find Mary's son, the itinerant preacher turned failed messiah wrapped in grave clothes.

Instead, they were the first ones to hear the earth shattering, history changing, universe shaping news, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"  I think that is why we go to grave sites.  We go because we want to remember the living.  But why do we look for living among the dead?  But wait, isn't my brother dead?  Aren't I going to visit the dead among the dead?  Yes and no.  Already and not yet.

Mark did die.  There is no mistaking this awful truth.  He was 16 and he should be 35.  He should have been playing music with me tonight.  He should have a little extra weight, a beautiful wife and children.  He should. But he isn't.  He died.  However, because he believed what he believed, because he knew Jesus was Savior, because he knew his sins were forgiven, because he gave his life to Jesus, when he took his last breath in that car, he met Jesus.  He is alive.  He is absent from the body but he is present with Christ.  He is with Jesus and like Jesus.  Why do I look for the living among the dead?

I am not trying to cheapen the sting of death.  But I am trying to live by the promise that death's sting has been crushed.  Jesus has destroyed the grave.  Even so, death is still death, we live in a period of already and not yet and so that is why there have been 19 years of grief.  I miss my brother Mark.  More than that I hate how my mom and dad have to live wondering why and what if?  But they also taught me in the midst of their grief to live in the already and not yet.

Time has gone by very quickly.  I don't hurt the way I used to.  I wonder why and what if but the bigger question now is "When?"  When will God make all of this right?  When will God wipe away the tears, crush the cancers, destroy evil once and for all and reign victorious over a new heaven and new earth?  For me it is not a question of "Will He?"  it is a question of "When Will He?"  That is why I can ride 44 miles to my brothers grave on a hot July afternoon and leave with confidence knowing that there is no reason to look for the living among the dead.  Jesus is coming back.  Bank on it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The God Particle and the Easter Bunny

The news is out that scientists have discovered "the God Particle."  This particle, as theorized by some in the scientific community, has given us some insight into the origins of our world and the universe.  One article from yahoo news says, "Fermilab Staff Scientist Robert Roser says the Higgs boson is a particle that attracts other particles, and explains how matter has mass.  This gives clues to how planets, and ultimately life, is formed.  But he points out his colleagues at CERN were careful to say they found a "Higgs-like" object, but not the Higgs boson itself."  In other words, contrary to public belief, the "God particle" known as the Higgs boson has not been found.  And that is why I am writing today.

Before I get to my main point let me say that I love science.  I love how small science can make humanity feel.  It is humbling to see a picture of space from the eye of the Hubble Telescope.  When we understand that there are trillions of stars and many trillions more that we will never see I am immediately humbled.  Science continues to draw me to the Creator.  Many Christians might be afraid of science but I am not.  I love it and I love what comes from it.  I am however saddened that when humans discover something great they immediately look for ways to disprove the existence of God.  The God Particle, astronomy, physics, biology, and all of the sciences prove that God has done something wonderful - create.

What happens with stories like the God particle is that the general public will not investigate before they propagate.  They will read quick headlines, tweets, facebook statuses and a listen to a few jokes about how stupid God is and how cool science is from the likes of Bill Maher and they will assemble all of this into one giant fact - the God particle means there is no God.  But we will fail to realize that our conclusion that God is dead is based on non-facts.  Right now all that has been proven is that there is no God - particle.  We have looked and we have not yet found it.

All of the sudden scientific rules (which many don't understand or take into consideration) will be forgotten and bloggers and facebook trolls will begin to argue from idiocy rather than intelligent discussion.  For example, the "God particle" is not called the "God particle" by serious scientists.  Second, the particle has not been found and there is only theory rather than real scientific evidence that it actually exists.  Third, even if the particle does exist, and I think it would be cool if they do discover it, it does not disprove the existence of God or His creation of the world.  It only tells us more about how God got things done.  But somehow, we will hold onto catch phrases, comedy routines and what our most intelligent facebook friend said about the God particle rather than what the truth actually is.

When I was younger my parents would hide an Easter Egg basket on Easter Sunday morning and each of my brothers and sister would search for the basket as my mom and dad would chant "colder" or "warmer" depending on how close we were to finding the basket.  Obviously, the closer we got the "hotter" the chant would become.  When we found the basket we hugged our mom and dad and thanked them.  Never did we imagine that an actual Easter bunny came into our house and left a basket full of Reeses Cups.

Science is like an Easter Egg hunt in my humble opinion.  We are looking for answers and we are delighted when we find answers.  However, when we discover something incredible we act like children who believe that an actual Easter bunny left the eggs for us rather than our parents.  Scientists have been looking for this God particle for years and have spent millions of dollars and countless hours hard at work.  You can almost hear God saying, "Warmer, warmer, hot, hot, hot!"  as the scientists came closer and closer to discovery.  But now that we have found something significant we begin to give credit to ourselves, to chance, to fate and to chaos - the Easter bunny - rather than God.

Romans 1 tells us that we are in the sinful habit of giving credit where credit is not due.  Our sinful nature causes us to look at creation and attribute it to something else or someone else other than God.  That is exactly where science has gone wrong.  Science should be about discovering what God has done and how He has done it.  Instead we are out to prove that our parents would never leave us a basket full of candy because the Easter bunny makes more sense.

Tonight I will go home after a long day at work.  I will hang out with my family.  I will play music with our band.  I will lay down in my bed and eventually turn on the Science Channel before falling asleep.  I will go to sleep knowing that I am pretty insignificant but that God has done something wonderful.  I have lived another day on a planet that continues to orbit and rotate around a sun that continues to feed life.  I will give Him thanks that He didn't leave anything up to chance.