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How to Celebrate Easter

March 31st, 2018

The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:3-6 NIV)

Having spent most of my adult life overseas, I am often just a bit taken aback by the casualness which American Christians “celebrate” religious holidays. One worship leader I am familiar with took his family to a fun park yesterday and said that this was the way their family “celebrates Good Friday.” Go almost any place else in the world and you will find that that type of action seems like irreverence, even disrespect to the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. In Asia, especially the Philippines, South America, Africa, and Europe, Good Friday is a day for Christians to be somber, remembering the sacrifice of Christ.

What are we to think of Christians who worship differently from us?

It’s between them and God

“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Good point! The passage above teaches us that we should leave such matters in the hands of the individual Christians and their relationship with God. We can trust God to bring them around to what is right and proper in His eyes, in His timing and in His ways. We will, in our families and in our individual lives, have enough problems to work on ourselves. We need not worry about them in this regard.

Rome in the first century was, like many capital cities, infused with people from different languages, ethnicities, and cultures. They came with different values, heritages, and ways of thinking. Among the Christians there were also many different customs, many of them religious. Some where from Jewish heritages, and some, no doubt, were from what some church somewhere had decided was the proper way to do things. So a thousand and one issues came up in the church in Rome as to what was the right way to live.

Two issues came to the forefront, however: Can a Christian eat food that was sacrificed to idols? and How should a Christian observe special religious days? The principle that Paul laid down had two sides: what we do and how we react to what others do.

In terms of what we think of others, we should not pass judgment on one another. In terms of what we do, we should not put a stumbling block before our brother.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. (Romans 14:13-15)

Don’t put stumbling blocks before others

The instruction is simple enough to grasp, but sometimes hard to live out in our lives. But only by balancing these two  – don’t judge and don’t cause others to stumble – can Christians live and worship in unity and peace. What you do in terms of celebration and styles of worship is between you and God – as a Christian you have the freedom and the responsibility before Him to handle such matters under His Lordship. But our freedom has limitations. Your right to swing your fist in the air ends where my nose begins.

Does my casualness toward Christian holidays (which were supposed to be “holy days”) seem like disrespect? Does my seriousness toward Christian holidays seem like legalism, or worse, like paganism? Those are the issues, and it all depends on who is watching us. And even among non-believers there can be misunderstanding. One non-Christian might think we’re fanatics if we observe holidays seriously, and the next might think we are hypocrites for not taking our faith more seriously if we do not.

Not everyone is going to read Romans 14 or even remember what was said, and our freedom can be misunderstood by others as irreverence or disbelief. So we should have an element in our thinking that asks, “What will others think if I do this?” If that is too strong an element we become psychotic, but if it is not there at all then we are sociopaths – focused only on ourselves, unable to sympathize with others or to take responsibility for our own failures.

The sin of taking ourselves too seriously

But this brings up another dangerous tendency among Christians – that we lose the habit of taking a step back and, in good humor and in good faith in God, have a good laugh at ourselves. We can all, myself especially, “think logically to the wrong conclusion.”

We are quite capable of developing our ideas, and even our deepest devotional thoughts, in a closed system, where no new ideas enter in, and we can create a too narrow view of things. I am not recommending that we infuse Christianity with pagan ideas, or that we pollute the purity of God’s truth with godless ideologies. But I am saying that before we conclude such things as “a man ought to pray for an hour each day” or “a woman’s dress should always be below the knee” or “Good Friday should be a day of fasting and prayer” that we step back and do a broader biblical study about such things.

This was, after all, the error of the Pharisees with regard to healing on the Sabbath, that they had, in their own closed system, reasoned that it was wrong. To which Christ called them hypocrites, because they would certainly feed and water their donkeys on the Sabbath, so why would they not heal their fellow Israelite? (Luke 13:15)

I’m a child of the 1950’s, and grew up in the 60’s and became an adult in the 70’s. Out of those decades came an America that doubted itself, questioned its authorities and its traditions. These ideas came into the church as well, and this laid the ground work for a Christianity that tossed out formalities as irrelevant and legalistic. Suits and ties were replaced with jeans and casual shirts, liturgy was replaced with freedom in worship, hymns with new songs, and solemnity with joyful expressions. The pendulum swung to the other extreme, and we have not fully recovered yet.

Frankly, our lives are too short to figure all of these things out for all generations to live by. We should let the Spirit lead us and always evaluate our conclusions with the Word and the body of Christ. Intensity, even spiritual intensity, tends to make us judgmental and to form legalistic frameworks of devotion. The teaching of Jesus on this matter is still the clearest word:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:1-5 ESV)

 

Authenticity in the Faith, Daily Devotions

The Cost of Our Redemption

March 30th, 2018

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. (Matt. 27:27-31 ESV)

Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Christ died a sacrificial death, His life for ours, as our substitution. In the Old Testament sacrifices the man offering the animal for his sins would lay his hands on the animal, identifying with it, and the action communicated that this animal was taking his place. In a similar way, we must ‘lay hands’ on Jesus to identify with Him for all to know, that we believe He died for us – that He died for me.

The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22). The death of Christ for our sins was necessary for our salvation. “He who knew no sin became sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ was “delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).

Yet, why the cross? Why did God choose such an ignoble, painful, suffering way for Christ to die? The sacrificial animals in the Old Testament had their lives taken, their blood shed, quickly – as close to painlessly as the culture and the time would permit. It would be unthinkable for a sacrificial lamb In the Old Testament to be nailed to a cross and left to hang in the heat of the day for hours until he died – even more unthinkable that it would be scourged, whipped and ridiculed and a crown of thorns crushed down on its brow.

There is no definitive answer given in scripture for this question, except to say that it was done according to the will of God –  “It pleased the LORD to bruise him” (Isa. 53:10), is the only answer we receive. But if I were to pose my own answer, the collection of my own thoughts and experiences and studies, the reason God chose the cross is that it pictures for us, like nothing else could, the cost of our redemption. Christ could have been killed with much less pain and His death would still be the payment for our sins, but the agony of the cross pictures for us the what it took for God to forgive us.

The physical suffering and the heart of holy God

The agony of the Son on the cross pictures the agony of God for sinners. There was physical suffering on the cross, but there was an even greater pain in the Godhead itself. For the one and only time in history God the Son became sin, and God the Father turned His back on Him, when Christ became the sin of the world. The Godhead was split – such a thing seems impossible, as if God was at war with Himself – and, I suppose, it would have been the type of conflict that would have destroyed all of creation were it not for the fact that there was complete agreement between them for the cross to happen.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  (Phil. 2:5-8 ESV)

Other scriptures and symbols

There were purposes in God choosing the cross that we can understand. I recommend an article on God.net: “Why Did God Choose the Cross?” We can see the striking demonstration of God’s love for us. We see also a parallel in scripture to Christ being lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14-15). We see the cross used as an example of discipleship, of complete surrender to Christ – we are to take up our cross daily to follow after Christ (Luke 9:23). The cross also revealed the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of humanity that both Jews and Gentiles were complicit in the public execution of Christ (Acts 2:23). And a public death, even one grotesquely humiliating and painful, was essential to verify Christ’s death, and thereby the miracle of His resurrection.

The cross commends God’s love to us

But I believe the heart of it all, in the mind of God, was to give us an unparalleled picture of His love for us. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The word in the original sunistemi means “commends” and not only “demonstrates.” The cross was a demonstration but more than just that. It was also and especially a recommendation for a God like our God, who loves like He loves.

Is it easy for God to forgive?

A university student Bible study I was leading years ago, when I was working with students, asked the question: “Is it easy for God to forgive sin?” It engendered very interesting discussions. The first response was, “Sure. God can forgive all the time.” But the more thoughtful answers went to the cross, and saw the length to which God went to offer forgiveness. We forgive usually on the basis that we are not perfect either, but God, who is perfect and completely holy, can only forgive on the basis that He Himself has made atonement for the sinner. The answer is that it is incredibly difficult for God to forgive – it took the death of Christ.

Look at the cross afresh and consider the pain that God endured for your sins to be forgiven. See also the great redemption to which this points. God is redeeming the world – not so that we might be better people, but so that we might become perfect in Him. And knowing the cost of His love for us, at least knowing in part, is what God uses to work true repentance into our lives and our hearts. He will only be satisfied when we are fully converted – in heart and mind.

Daily Devotions, Gospel of Matthew