Sunday, July 30, 2017

Crystal Spring ON MISSION: Pt. 1 Know Christ

One of the most commercially successful movie franchises is Mission Impossible starring Tom Cruise. In every installment of this franchise a character named Ethan Hunt is presented with a mission either through a pair of super high-tech glasses or some other gadget. After the presentation is complete, a famous line is read, “this is your mission, should you choose to accept it” followed by, “this message will self-destruct in five seconds”…and then BOOM! The move gets underway as Ethan hunt defies all odds in an effort to save the world one more time.

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, you and I as believers are on a mission of a far greater caliber. Our mission is not fantasy or fiction, but a real life struggle against real super-villains that involves the salvation of the people that we come in contact with every day. As time marches on, more and more seems stacked against us on this mission (rendering its success more and more far-fetched in the minds of many). Some might event give in and consider it an impossible mission. However, this mission has been handed to us to complete, that is, should we choose to accept it. I’m speaking of course about the mission of God as presented in His Word. One formulation of this mission is found in Matthew 28:19:20 as Jesus ascends into heaven, having completed his work on the earth. In his instructions to the disciples He says, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…”.  To capture the essence of this mission and aid in memorization of its tenants, our church has adopted this rendering “we exist as a church to help people know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world.”

This new series is going to examine exactly what this mission entails and how we are to accomplish this as a church and as individuals. Hopefully, as a result of what we will learn, all of us will become what Ellis and Coe refer to as “everyday missionaries!” In an effort to help us along this series we are going to take apart the three objectives of this mission and deal with them separately. Thereaafter, we will unveil a strategy that will help us accomplish this God-given mandate! However, first things must be first. We must come to understand something about what it means to KNOW Christ and the stages of the process involved. Nowhere is this more dramatically demonstrated than in the climax of the gospel of John in John 20:24-25.

STAGE #1: Doubt Drives a Wedge-20:24-25

Jesus’ post-resurrection manifestations would have been life-changing for anyone in attendance (namely Mary at the empty tomb and the disciples back at the homestead). His miraculous appearances have to of had a lasting impact on the disciples who witnessed His presence, observed His scars, and felt His breath. However, not everyone was in attendance in John 20:19-23. In fact, at least one disciple was somewhere else, “but Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came” (20:24). Though we are not told where Thomas was when everyone had the benefit of witnessing the risen Christ, his “coming up to speed” episode allows for one of the greatest Christological confessions ever recorded. It just so happens that this episode also details how everyone comes to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Once Thomas is joined together with the other ten disciples, all of them share the great news of Jesus’ resurrection with him, “so the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’…” 
(20:25a). This short testimony lets us know that at least initially, the disciples did share the message Jesus instructed them to publicize (However, as we will soon learn, their obedience only went so far). This news would have proven shocking to Thomas. First, the statement requires that not one, two, or three, but at least TEN of Thomas’ closest confidants claimed to have witnessed the same miracle (that is pretty compelling evidence of the miracle’s legitimacy). Second, that Jesus was risen from the dead means that all of their worries and fears about following a man who had just been crucified had no basis. Their most profound grief would have been remedied into vivacious victory if what they said was true. Third, their reference to Jesus as “Lord” means that these men at least claimed to believe that Jesus had authority and that this authority was confirmed in His resurrection. Quite a learning curve for Thomas to navigate through in order to catch up with His contemporaries.

Remember, Thomas did not have the experience the others enjoyed of seeing Jesus and investigating His scars. Though people traditionally give Thomas a hard time, it is healthy to remember that he is a step behind everyone else. In fact, his response is not very different from how they responded when they first heard the news from Mary Magdalene. Upon hearing her news, the disciples locked themselves in a room out of fear instead of proudly proclaiming Jesus’ victory!  Poor Thomas gets a bad wrap; however, he is just as doubtful as his colleagues were before they saw Jesus alive.

When considering our mission today, it is important to remember what we are up against. People are not predisposed to belief in God. The Bible calls them “dead” in their sins. They have not shared your experience and therefore may not initially react positively to the good news you have to give. They may even make inappropriate demands for certain evidences to be convinced. In fact, this is exactly what Thomas did next.

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (20:25b). Apparently, Thomas thinks the disciples may have seen a ghost (the Middle East during the first century was very superstitious). In fact, this would not have been the first time Jesus was mistaken to be a ghost, nor would it be the last time that people demanded confirmation of Jesus’ identity (see Matt. 14:26; John 21:4, etc.).

Ultimately, Thomas desires the same kind of evidence that his fellow disciples enjoyed in John 20:19-23. If Jesus’ body was truly raised it would have some sort of physical continuity with the Jesus who was crucified (i.e. scars in appropriate areas) (Carson, 656). However, for the time being, Thomas has not yet seen what He needs to make this quantum leap from skepticism to faith from disbelief to knowledge. Because of this, I imagine it drove an incredible wedge between him and his friends. Imagine being the odd one out in this situation. All of your closest buddies are enjoying the victory of hope and life and you are stuck wondering by yourself in a corner if any of this is true. Thomas was an outcast in his doubt and would remain this way for no less than 8 days.

In similar ways, some distance might exist between you and those around you who do not know Jesus in the way that you do. Unbelief places a wedge between those who know and those who don’t know (a far less severe example is witnessed when a group of friends knows something that a member of the posse will not admit). Things might get awkward. However, this wedge is symptomatic of an even greater wedge that exists between the lost and God. Right now, the wedge between Thomas and his friends does not compare to the wedge between Thomas and God because of his unbelief!

STAGE #2: Revelation Creates an Opportunity-20:26-27

A week later Jesus appears to His disciples again, only this time, Thomas is in attendance-- “after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you’…” (20:26). “Eight days” is an idiomatic was of saying “a week later,” putting this episode on the newly crowned “Lord’s Day.” However, instead of celebrating and sharing the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples are hiding out for fear of the Jewish authorities…AGAIN! IN SPITE OF THE EXPERIENCE THEY ALL SHARED OF THE RISEN SAVIOR! You might see why Thomas was unconvinced by the disciple’s message. To Thomas, their fearful behavior may have validated his skepticism.

So far, a lot is working against our completion in the first part of this mission: deep-seated skepticism, predisposition to unbelief, and some level of distance between those who believe and those who don’t. We should not make things even more difficult by failing to live up to the hype that Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection promotes! Otherwise, people will not be convinced.
Regardless of their faithlessness, Jesus, out of sheer grace, appears miraculously again and shares the same message, “Peace be with you” (20:26).

After making His familiar declaration on the whole bunch, Jesus narrows His focus on Thomas and makes an example out of Him, “…Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here you hand and put it into My side;…” (20:27a). Though Jesus did not need to justify Himself in this way, He humbly offers His body to Thomas in this way for Thomas’ benefit, putting obvious revelation on the lowest shelf imaginable.

Here, Thomas is awarded the opportunity he asked for earlier—a thorough examination of Jesus’ wounds. Jesus’ allowance of Thomas’ empirical investigation is His way of reaching into Thomas’ skepticism in an effort to bring Him to a point of faith. In fact, following His invitation to Thomas, He calls for Thomas’ belief. 

 “and do not be unbelieving, but believing” (20:27b). There are several ways to translate this amazing invitation. Some translations render this “do not be unbelieving, but believing” while others render it, “do not be an unbeliever, but a believer.” Either way, by taking up Thomas’ challenge, Jesus proves that he hears His disciples even when he is not physically present, and removes all possible grounds for unbelief (Carson, 657).

Jesus’ presentation of evidence to Thomas is indicative of what He and the Bible has done on a far more general scale. Thousands of corresponding copies of early manuscripts with no doctrinal differences make the Bible one of the most thoroughly vetted and consistent pieces of literature—even in modern day translations. Similarly, secular historical scholars agree that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most exhaustively evidenced events in all of history. These and countless other proofs demonstrate God’s willingness to offer evidence of Himself in manageable bites for even the most juvenile skeptic on the lowest epistemic shelf. The myriad of presentations all cry out the same message, “and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:24-29)

Recognized skepticism (lost-ness) and a presentation of Jesus Christ (accompanied by compelling evidences) provides a framework for the third Stage of knowing God found in this passage.

STAGE #3: Belief brings Salvation-20:28-29

We are not told whether Thomas actually took Jesus up on His offer to insert His fingers into the Savior’s wounds or not. The text seems to suggest that the sight of Jesus and His invitation was enough to bring Thomas out of doubt and into profound reverence. 

The circumstances in Thomas’ life bring him here to a point of belief that Jesus is not just a man, not just a teacher, not just a miracle worker, not just a prophet, not just a good role model—HE IS GOD HIMSELF MADE FLESH and Thomas’ declaration of this is the climax of this gospel, “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’…” (20:28). In a gospel that has done its best to demonstrate that Jesus is God, here is where we see one skeptic’s journey from disbelief to deep conviction in the face of overwhelming evidence.

His statement is important for several reasons. First, it is an explicit declaration of Jesus’ lordship and therefore His equality to God the Father. Because Thomas calls Jesus “Lord” and “God,” he is claiming that Jesus is equal to God—He is God made flesh. Anything other than this conviction falls short of true Christianity. Second, his statement is profoundly personal, “My Lord and my God!” It is one thing to say that Jesus has the authority of God and another thing entirely to subject oneself to that authority. That Thomas claims Jesus as his Lord and God means that he is surrendering his life to Christ and entering into a personal relationship with Him.

Finally, that Thomas calls Jesus “my Lord and my God means that Thomas now knows Christ in a  far more profound way—in a ginwskw kind of way. This kind of knowledge is experiential, personal, and intimate. Before Thomas might have known something about Jesus and his ministry. However, now Thomas believes Him, trusts Him, and is intimately acquainted with Him.

In this statement we see a beautiful example of salvation. Romans 10:9-10 explains salvation this way, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Thomas, after witnessing Jesus’ death personally and coming to grips with His resurrection declares that Jesus is Lord verbally, demonstrating what is already true in his heart. Because of this, Thomas is transformed from a lonely doubter to a faithful follower. Calling him a “doubting Thomas” now is not accurate in the least. Thomas may have doubted before; however, he ended up being a faithful follower. In fact, how is this for “doubting Thomas”—Thomas (Didymus) according to historical accounts traveled further than any other apostle with the news of Jesus Christ, making his way all the way to southern India where he was eventually speared by a pagan priest for refusing worship to an idol. I’d say that Thomas’ life adds to the mound of evidence for the legitimacy of Jesus and the reality of His resurrection. Not many would travel to the end of the world and give up there life for someone they believed was dead, especially if they used to be a skeptic. Thomas’ life demonstrates what it means to KNOW GOD!

Jesus responds to Thomas’ declaration by saying, “…’because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed’…”(20:29). Although many understand the first part of Jesus’ response as a word of rebuke, it is important to point out that Thomas’ faith far exceeded his colleagues at this point. We will discover in the next couple of weeks that the rest of the disciples were not yet where Thomas was. In fact, the one who was lagging behind the others earlier now stood out front! Therefore, it is better to interpret Jesus’ words as a confirmation of Thomas’ saving faith posed as a question in an effort to introduce the main thrust of John’s Gospel (located in the second part of verse 29).

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (20:29). In other words, Jesus says, blessed are those who will come long after I leave the earth and reach the same conclusion Thomas reached—that I am their Lord and their God. With this statement, Jesus breaks the fourth wall and stares down anyone who picks up this book, letting them know how they can have real life. Real life is bestowed on those who in light of the evidence provided in God’s Word, creation, and experiences reach the inevitable conclusion that Jesus is Lord and in response surrender their lives to Him. Blessed are those who come to know Him!

So What?

Jesus is Lord and God! Do you Know this? –really KNOW this to be true? Those who doubt this (believing anything less of Christ) drive a wedge between them and God, leaving them in a stubborn state of disbelief. These know nothing of God, ultimately have no hope, and enjoy a mediocre and altogether meaningless life.  Perhaps it is time that you examine the evidence and see for yourself. The Bible is the most trustworthy document known to man with the most compelling and exhaustively evidenced events (events that carry with them eternal implications). Its characters (like Thomas) were historical people who were really changed in profound ways and in many cases gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus rose from the grave! If this is true and Jesus really did rise as numerous sources support from secular historians of the first century, then everything Jesus said and did is confirmed. When all Jesus said and did is added up, it leads to one conclusion—Jesus is Lord and God! Is it not about time you recognize the futility of your skepticism and faithfully follow Jesus saying along with “faithful” Thomas, “My Lord and my God?”

For those who have voiced this confession, is it not time we live accordingly? Our Savior is alive from the dead! Why should we not lay down our lives spreading this message? Let us take our cue from the one we call a doubter and put our feet and hands where our mouth is! Do not let you inactivity in the kingdom building project and your silence fluff the pillows in the living room of skepticism. This is the first part of your mission—to do what you can, to allow your life and testimony be good evidence of the faith that you affirm with your lips. We must know Christ and be those who help others know Christ as well. This is the first part of the mission (should you choose to accept it). 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Portraits of Salvation: Glorious Grace- Rom. 5:18-21

There are several habits I endorse that I’m certainly not proud of. For instance, I can become distracted in the middle of a conversation and not realize that a topic has changed. After people have moved onto a different discussion, sometimes I interject something that has nothing to do with what is being said. Immediately I’m exposed for not listening well. Another of my less admirable traits is biting my fingernails, especially when I’m nervous. Old habits, especially bad habits, are difficult to break. However, while these are relatively harmless, some bad habits are worth putting in the effort to get rid of.

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One bad habit that many in Paul’s day endorsed was the belief that they could make themselves righteous. How did they go about this? By doing their best to follow the law. Many, especially religious Jews thought that by obeying the law to the letter, they were getting closer to God and earning salvation. However, in the final portrait of salvation of Romans 5, Paul compares this law-following habit with an entirely new system of righteousness and grace. His teaching on this superior system of salvation is provided in Romans 5:18-21 by means of two teachings.

a) Jesus’ Obedience Yields Righteousness -5:18-19

So far, in an effort to describe the intricacies of salvation, Paul has employed the image of a substitute sacrifice (like the one in Isaac and Abraham’s Old Testament situation) and the first man (Adam) to demonstrate that Jesus took the place of sinners on the cross and accomplished something that brings life to anyone who believes. In his final portrait of salvation, Paul is going to show how what Jesus did provided needed righteousness. To do this, Paul is going to continue the juxtaposition between Adam and Christ that he began in verse 12. First, Paul reveals what Adam and his treachery has provided—“So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men” (5:18a).

I’m sure that you have been in a situation in which you suffered because of the failure of someone else. Whether in the classroom or on the practice field, there are times in which one individual will make a mistake or mouth off to the coach and the whole team or class is made to run laps or write lines. In that moment, the culprit acts as a representative for the class and, because of his/her failure, the whole class is condemned. The same was true in Adam’s case. His transgression resulted in the entire human race being consigned to condemnation.

Adam’s sin not only consigned the world to condemnation by association, it planted the seed of sin that germinates in the lives of all people everywhere without fail.

What Adam bestows to the human race (condemnation) is not like what Christ provides. In fact, what Christ provides is exactly the opposite. Paul frames his comment on Christ’s work in exactly the same way as he framed Adam’s work when he says “even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men” (5:18b). Both men are highlighted by means of one activity—Adam sinned in the garden; Christ was obedient to the point of death on the cross. Adam’s sin resulted in condemnation; Christ’s righteousness resulted in justification. The condemnation that Adam’s actions produced spells death for the human race. The justification Christ’s righteousness produced provides potential life for all who believe.

Paul continues by drawing another comparison between the work of Adam and the Work of Christ. First, he explains how disobedience leads to sin—“for as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners,…” (5:19a). This is where the analogy mentioned earlier breaks apart.
There is a difference between my illustration of a team/class suffering because of the sin of one pupil/player and Adam’s relationship with the human race. In the analogy the class/team is condemned though they were not guilty. As far as humanity is concerned, we are condemned because of Adam’s sin and because all, given enough time and opportunity, will also fail themselves. This renders us personally culpable.

Adam didn’t just represent the human race poorly, his failure spoiled the family tree. An obvious mutation of sin was introduced in that moment that has been passed down to all who came after him—no exceptions.

Because all are guilty by association with Adam AND because of personal acts of sin that betray a personal problem with the condition, all are rendered incapable of relationship with God, condemned, and deserving of death.

What Christ offers is not the same—“even so through the obedience of the One, the many will be made righteous” (5:19c). This is great news! Christ’s obedience paved the way for many to be made righteous. The salvation Jesus provides successfully reverses the mutation of sin and allows righteousness to manifest from the lives of those who were formerly far from God. This is significant inasmuch as righteousness is required in order to enter into relationship with God. When believers are made righteous, they are allowed entrance into God’s presence and welcomed into His family. No longer are they a plague to be avoided; they are a son/daughter of God!

The question becomes, “how is righteousness applied to believers?” Put another way, “how does one become righteous?” So far Paul has defined how righteousness is sourced—in the person and work of Jesus. How is this made available to those who need it?

b) Grace Activates Righteousness where sin abounds-5:20-21

To answer this important question, Paul draws up yet another comparison—this time between the law and grace. First, Paul says, “the Law came in so that the transgression would increase” (5:20a). This certainly does not sound like the kind of program that would bring about righteousness!
You are probably familiar with the worldly adage: “Rules were meant to be broken.” Such a statement betrays exactly what Paul is referring to here. As soon as lines are drawn, there will be someone who wants to cross it.  People, especially in today’s world, are looking for the edge so that they can push the proverbial envelope beyond it. Even little children challenge rules and seek to extend well-defined boundaries as far as they can and then some. Laws/rules/ordinances do not seem to help much by way of changing people for the better. Instead, all rules do is attempt to manage chaos and point out when people have done wrong.

In other words, the law does not bring about righteousness, it identifies sin, and, when given to fallen human beings, makes it easier for people to fail. This was an important reminder for much of Paul’s audience. Many in Paul’s day mistakenly looked at the law as their saving grace. They believed that as long as they followed it to the letter, they were close to God. This could not be further from the truth. Why? Because none can keep the law, no matter how hard they try! Remember, “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). Something else, something better than the law must be used to make people righteous. 

Enter grace—“but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20b). Grace—the unmerited favor of God—bestows righteousness upon those who place their faith in Jesus. Once applied, to the degree that sin was present in the life of a believer, grace abounds all the more! It actively overwhelms sin in the lives of the redeemed, rendering them righteous and in good standing before God.

I’m sure that everyone has noticed an uptick in their electric bill recently due to the hot weather and the subsequent running of air conditioning units. The usage of electricity varies and this leads to a fluctuation of the debt owed to the electric company. Those who want to remain in good standing with the current providers must satisfy that debt on a consistent basis. This is similar to how grace works in the lives of believers. Every believer was a sinner with a corresponding debt owed. However, God’s grace renders payment for past, present, and future sins in a way that leaves the believer in good standing before God. Whatever payment is required is satisfied by the grace of Jesus Christ!

Paul ends chapter five with a summary note—“so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21). In his comment on this passage Mounce states “Grace ‘superabounded’ in that as the reign of sin brought death, the reign of grace brings a righteousness that issues in life eternal. Death is the fate of all who follow sin as master. Eternal life is the destiny of those whose allegiance is to Christ. A right standing before God is a gift offered freely by God to all who will respond in faith” (145-46).

So What?

The program under Adam was as follows: Adam sinned—condemnation resulted—death spread to all. Thankfully, Jesus Christ provides a better program: Jesus was obedient, even to the point of death—justification is made available as a result—righteousness and eternal life is applied to lost sinners. How can we be sure that what Jesus has made available is applied to us? The salvation that Jesus provides is given to repentant sinners by God’s incredible grace!

As wonderful as God’s grace is, many people in Paul’s day and in today’s world either can’t accept it (thinking that it is too good to be true) or believe that they have to earn it. Many first century Jews believed that following orders was the only way to salvation. Though many in today’s world may not be as concerned about following a formal law, some fall into the same trap that the Jews did in Paul’s day of believing that it is up to them to do and say enough good to earn God’s favor. However, as Paul makes very clear, rules only identify sin and make it easier for our fallen nature to succumb to its allure. Only grace covers a multitude of sins and this is given by God, not earned by man. Repent from your striving and accept what Jesus has made available. Seeking to earn one’s salvation is an old habit worth breaking!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Portraits of Salvation: The Greatest Spiritual Health Care Program- Rom. 5:12-17

Last week we looked at Romans 5:6-11 and appreciated one of Paul’s portraits of salvation. In it Paul explained how Jesus served as the substitutionary atonement for believers. To this end, Paul employed typology, or an interpretative device in which an Old Testament image/person/institution/etc. prefigures something in the New Testament. In Romans 5:6-11, the Old Testament image of the ram that served as Isaac’s substitute on Mt. Moriah, prefigured an even greater substitute—Jesus Christ who died for the sin of the ungodly.

In Paul’s next portrait of salvation he is going to make use of another Old Testament type—Adam, the father of the human race. In Romans 5:12-17, Adam’s relationship with the human race and its implications is going to be placed alongside Christ’s relationship with the redeemed and its many implications. The result is an incredible statement about salvation’s life-giving power for the believer. Therefore, without any hesitation, let’s look at two available spiritual health-care programs that people can choose from in Romans 5:12-17.

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a) A Program of Death-5:12-14

As Paul moves into verse 12, he is going to showcase how salvation allows the believer to move from death to life. The type that Paul wants the reader to remember in this passage involves the first man—Adam—and the program he led. He begins by saying, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (5:12).

One important element to highlight about the statement Paul makes here is that the word “man” in Hebrew (‘adam) is also the name “Adam.” The very name of Adam therefore suggests that he serves as a representative of the human race (Moo, ZIBBC 3, 31). When Adam sinned in the garden (Gen. 3), sin not only entered his life, but the world and all of humanity within it.

Though many believe that most diseases are picky about hosts and limited to particular species, there are a whole host of infections called zoonoses that can cross between the human world and the animal kingdom. In fact, many disease-carrying parasites are not picky about hosts at all and certain human diseases have been known to decimate animal populations. One such disease includes the Black Death (also called Bubonic Plague). This plague brought civilization to its knees. Corpses piled in the streets from Europe to Egypt and across Asia. Some 75 million died — at a time when there were only about 360 million to start with. Death came in a matter of days, and it was excruciatingly painful. Bubonic plague was a bacterial disease that was carried by rodents and even cats. However, it became most deadly to humans when transmitted between people as became the case in the 1300s. Another example is Ebola. This widespread threat to gorillas and chimps in Central Africa may have spread to humans from people who ate infected animals. It is now transmittable human-to-human, by contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person. It has killed a few hundred people in each of several outbreaks going back to the mid-1970s. (disease facts taken from

However, as Paul reveals in 5:12, there is a disease that is even worse that the Black Death or Ebola in both scale and acuity—sin. It began with Adam, spread instantly to the whole world—humanity, creation, animal kingdom, etc.—and results in death.

Every person reveals that he/she is infected with this pathogen because “all sinned.”

Romans 3:10-“there is none righteous, not even one”

Romans 3:23-“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”

However, though sin and death spread to all people, not everyone knew that they were infected—“for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (5:13). Though sin existed before the law, the emergence of the Mosaic Law provided God with an opportunity to record sin as a violation of specific commands and prohibitions (Moo, ZIBBC 3, 33).

With the advancement of medicine, doctors and scientists have become far more aware of what afflicts people and more understanding of what is responsible for someone’s death. However, various cancers, neurological diseases, and other maladies certainly existed before they were discovered or before they had a name. It is not as though we didn’t have these problems before their discovery. The same is true with sin. Sin doesn’t require a written law to exist or to take effect, but it does require a written law to be recognized, understood, and analyzed.   

In fact, as Paul continues he says “nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come,…” (5:14). Sin did not lie dormant until Moses wrote the law. Instead sin and death “reigned” in the period before the law. This verb means to “rule completely.” It’s root comes from the same word as “kingdom” and it envisions a monarch with total control over his/her domain and those who inhabit it.

For sin to rule someone’s life, one does not/did not have to sin as Adam did in the garden. They just have to transgress the law of God in some way shape or form. Everyone has done this and as such, everyone has enlisted in a program of death in a world that continues to be ruled by sin.

Many diseases have the potential of controlling an individual’s life. Diabetes can control what a person eats/should eat. Neuroses can inhibit a person’s ability to relate to others and the world around them in an appropriate way. Muscular disorders and/or neurological disorders can even control the way a person moves. However, no disease is as debilitating and controlling as sin which infects all of a person’s faculties and inclinations and distorts an individual’s relationship with God and others.
This program of death that has infected the entire world was brought on when the first man and head of the human race--Adam—sinned. This makes Adam a type that foreshadows one who would come after him. This is what Paul means when he says “Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come,…” (5:14). Thankfully, Adam’s antitype leads and antithetical program—a program of life. However, it is “only by grasping the seriousness of the first (Adam) that one is able to appreciate the remarkable magnanimity of the second (Christ)” (Mounce, Romans, 140).

b) A Program of Life-5:15-17

Paul begins his presentation of Adam’s antitype and his corresponding antithetical program with this comment “BUT (in contrast to the program Adam ushered in as head of the human race earlier) the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many,” (5:15). Much unlike the program of death that Adam instigated because of sin, the program of life that Christ offers is given by God’s grace. Paul believes that the grace of God is “much more” than the death that comes with sin inasmuch as “God’s grace is infinitely greater for good than Adam’s sin is for evil” (NIVSB). Here, he employs a style of argumentation that employs the following model—“If A, how much more B.” If Adam’s sin led to pervasive wickedness and suffering, how much more will Christ bring grace and life!

Diseases are compelling and to be taken seriously. However, how much more compelling and serious is the cure/antidote!

As sin and death finds its root ultimately in the sin of the first man, grace and life find its root ultimately in the ministry of Jesus—“and the gift of grace by the one Man, Jesus Christ” (5:15). In this way, Christ serves as Adam’s antitype. Adam’s actions led to a program of global sin and death. Jesus’ actions highlight a program that transforms for eternity the life and destiny of all who are in him—“the many.”

As Paul continues to explain the program of life that is found in Jesus he employs yet another pattern of argumentation. Not only “if A, how much more B” but “A is not B”—“the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification,…” (5:16). Everything is covered in this program—any and all sin is covered by the grace of God offered by God and resulting in justification!

This is a good thing, for, a bad infection, if allowed to progress too far, will overwhelm the body. At a certain point, when an infection/disease metastasizes to a certain extent, doctors are forced to say something to the effect of “there is nothing more we can do.” In the same way, sin, if undealt with, leads inevitably to condemnation. This is how the program of death unfolds. However, the program of life is not like this. The free gift of God’s grace inoculates those infected by “many transgressions” thereby curing the recipient’s sin problem, saving them from certain death. These are justified before God—rendered clean—and able to live in meaningful relationship with God and man!

Paul concludes this portrait of salvation with a final argument—(another example of if A, how much more B)—“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (5:17). Adam’s sin left the world under the rule and domain of sin. Jesus’ grace might be framed as a kind of coup d’├ętat in which righteousness usurps the reign of sin in the lives of those who believe. When righteousness reigns in a person, life abundant follows. This is a far cry from the sin and death found in Adam’s program earlier.

 “Beginning at v. 12 we enter Paul’s extended contrast between Adam (the first man) and the result of his sin and Jesus Christ (the ‘second man’) and the gracious provisions of his atoning life and death…Adam typifies the sinful condition of all humans (1:18-3:20). Jesus stands for the justification received by faith (3:21-5:11). Redemption is the story of two men. The first man disobeyed God and led the entire human race in the wrong direction. The second man obeyed God and provides justification for all who will turn to him in faith. No matter how devastating the sin of the first, the redemptive work of the second reverses the consequences of that sin and restores people to the favor of God” (Mounce, Romans, 139-40).

So What?

There are two kinds of people in the world—those who follow a program of death as evidenced by their earthly father Adam, and those who endorse a program of life as evidenced by a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus, acting as a second Adam, inverted what was distorted at the fall and provided a way to life and justification before God! Jesus is the cure for mankind’s problem of sin and death! However, what makes the good news of this cure so amazing is that it is available to everyone as a gift of grace. It is not only for those who can afford it, those with a particular insurance plan, those who look a certain way, or those who belong to a particular ethnic group. It is a “free gift” offered to you, your family, your friends, your neighbors, this community, your enemies, etc.
Who do you know that is still afflicted by sin and running the risk of condemnation? Who do you know is still without the antidote to death and advancing through the stages of iniquity?

May this passage remind those who know the cure to share it with those still infected. I know many who are willing to give health advice and who are quick to recommend doctors for the physically ailing. How many of us can say that we are as eager to share Jesus—the great physician and cure for mankind’s most existential threat? He alone can bring people out of death and into life. May He be forever praised! 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Portraits of Salvation: The Substitute Sacrifice -Rom. 5:6-11

Typology is a literary phenomenon that is defined as “a method of biblical interpretation whereby an element/image/theme/figure found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament.” What is seen in the Old Testament is called a “type” and what appears to fulfill or parallel it in the New Testament is called the “antitype.” One example of this phenomenon is witnessed in the relationship between Adam and Christ. Adam, the father of the human race, is understood to prefigure Christ who is the father of the reborn citizens of the Kingdom of God. While Adam’s actions led to the fall of humanity, Christ’s actions led to the salvation of all who believe. Types like these and their corresponding antitypes come in all shapes and sizes.

Pertinent to the next passage we find ourselves in as we continue our Romans series is a type that is introduced in Genesis—a substitutionary sacrifice/atonement. In Genesis 22 Abraham finds himself on top of Mt. Moriah about to sacrifice his son on an altar. However, at the very last second, an angel interrupts Abraham’s radical act of obedience, and a ram caught in a thicket emerges as a substitute sacrifice. Isaac is spared and lives to a ripe old age. This famous Old Testament story is a type that foreshadows an even greater substitutionary act that is connected to salvation itself. Therefore, let us take a close look at the ram’s antitype in Rom. 5:6-11 and appreciate one of many renderings of salvation that Paul provides.

1) The Revelation-5:6

In Paul’s first rendering of the beauty of salvation he is going to capitalize on the idea of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement—a concept that had been solidified in the Jewish mind ever since God spared Abraham’s son Isaac from the alter. In his presentation Paul highlights an even more amazing spectacle that possesses some of the same qualities of this Old Testament story. The summary of what Paul is hoping to explain reads as follows, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6). Few verses encapsulate Jesus’ salvific work more concisely than this important statement.

First, Paul reminds the reader of when salvation was provided—“for while we were still helpless” (5:6a). This is significant as it does not say “when we did enough” or “after having cleaned ourselves off first.” Instead, Jesus showed up right when we needed Him most—when were still desperately lost and “helpless.” Paul describes the timing of Christ’s work as “the right time,” and so it is, for, there is never a time (nor will there ever be a time) in which we or anyone else can bring us closer to God, pay the penalty we owe, or appease the wrath that we have incurred because of our sin. It was precisely when we deserved it the least that God did the unthinkable—He sent Christ to die for the ungodly.

This caption of Christ’s substitutionary atonement calls to mind the first substitute—a ram that appeared in the thicket “at the right time” to take the place of Isaac on Mt. Moriah. Just as the ram took Isaac’s place just in time, so too did Christ take the sinner’s place on the altar before God at the right time—“while we were still helpless.”

After taking the sinner’s place, Paul says that “Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6b). This defines the essence of substitutionary atonement. In the act of being sacrificed on the cross, “Christ died for (in the place of) in the ungodly.” In other words, when believers were lost and deserving of death because of sin, Christ stood in their place. However, the word “for” in “Christ died for” does not only merely mean “in the place of;” it also denotes “for the benefit of.” Ungodly sinners stand to benefit from what Christ did when he stood in their place and offered himself. What grace! What a blessing! Such revelation has served as the inspiration behind Townsend’s hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” In reflecting on what Christ did throughout the son, a repentant sinner, ends his reflections with the following stanza:

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom.

2) The Comparison-5:7-8

Such an act is radically unexpected and otherworldly. As Paul reflects on what he has just disclosed he says “For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare event to die” (5:7).

It would seem that Paul’s world was not unlike our own. Self-preservation is one of the most powerful instincts we have as human beings. It is a prevailing force that in many cases keeps people alive in dangerous and/or risky situations. However, because of this, people are not naturally predisposed to give up their lives for others—even good people. If presented with a choice between someone else’s life and our own, the natural self is, on most occasions, bent toward selfishness. So rare is going against this inclination that even the tagline for the Marines—men and women who lay down their lives for our country—reads “the FEW, the proud, the Marines.”

That said, Paul does concede “though perhaps for the good man someone would dare to even die” (5:7). In certain outstanding circumstances, heroes do give up their lives to save those who are either “innocent” or deserving. Not only that, mothers and fathers might lay down their own lives to save their beloved children, risking their own lives and limbs. However, even these heroic cases do not compare to what God has done for us in Christ’s substitutionary atonement.

Some may dare to die for those that are good. Few might die for their country and those that inhabit it. But “God demonstrated his own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).

In order to fully appreciate this, one must first appreciate the precarious situation in which sinners find themselves, especially as it pertains to their relationship with God. Sinners are not just indifferent to God, they are natural born enemies of God. God’s holiness cannot stand sin and, by proxy, the Lord cannot entertain sinners. “Their righteous deeds are as filthy rags to him” (Isa. 64:6). Psalm 5:4-5 even says “For You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You. The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers.” Add to this the fact that the sinner’s failure necessitated Jesus’ sacrifice in the first place and the notion that God would go out of his way to demonstrate his love to us becomes ever more preposterous. As the Lyric reads:

“Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished…”

However, in spite of our enemy status and God’s hatred for our sin, he demonstrated his love by sending a substitute on our behalf—Christ. This is grace—unmerited, unprecedented, and unconventional.

As mentioned in the summary statement of verse 6, Paul says “Christ died for us” which means both that Christ died in the sinner’s place and for the sinner’s benefit.

“His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished

3) The Application-5:9-11

After introducing the substitutionary atonement of Christ and highlighting the impressive nature of Jesus’ sacrifice, Paul discusses how this all applies to those who will receive it. First, Christ’s substitutionary atonement means salvation from God’s wrath—“much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him…” (5:9).

God has maintained wrath against sin ever since it emerged onto the sin and ruined His perfect creation (see Gen. 3). In the garden, his wrath was appeased when he slaughtered an innocent animal to cover the sin of Adam and Eve. Throughout the Old Testament world, a program of sacrifices was established so that the same anger might be dealt with on a yearly basis (see Leviticus). Sin has always required the death of something—a lamb, goat, bull, dove, etc. Instead of taking out his wrath against the human race, God took his wrath out against these lesser substitutes every time they were offered. In the same way, when Jesus served as the greatest sacrifice and substitute, God’s wrath against believers was forever satisfied. Because Jesus stood in the place of believers, God is no longer enraged against them because of their sin. In essence, God took out the wrath that humans had been building up on his Son. 

Because God is no longer enraged against believers, they can re-enter the relationship God designed for them in the beginning. Jesus’ death paved the road of reconciliation—“for if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his son, much more having been reconciled, shall be saved by His life” (5:10). This verse reflects on both the past and ongoing results of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Christ’s death—“for if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His son” (5:10a)—satisfied God’s wrath against humanity in the past. However, because Jesus did not stay dead, the believer also enjoys a present and ongoing relationship with God—“much more having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (5:10b).

In other words, God is not only no longer angry with believers, he embraces believers in lively relationship.

As a result, Christ’s substitutionary atonement affords the believer another application for believers—joy—“And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (5:11).

If we return to our Old Testament type—Isaac and Abraham—we might discover another connection their story has with what Paul is teaching here about Christ’s own substitutionary atonement. Imagine the relief and joy that both Isaac and Abraham must have felt after God provided the ram in the thicket for the sacrifice. No doubt the presence of the ram galvanized their joyful worship of the great Provider in ways never before experienced.

The same is true for the believer. Paul believed that when believers fully understood and appreciated how Jesus stood in their place, appeased God’s wrath, and paved the way for a relationship with God, they would “exult.” The term—“kauxaomai”—means to express an unusually high degree of confidence in someone or something being exceptionally noteworthy (Louw Nida). Such an attitude of holy confidence and joy ought to characterize every believer—not because of what they’ve accomplished, but for what God has accomplished for them in Christ.

So What?

Does this confidence and joy characterize your life? Unfortunately, confidence and hope are not words that describe many who call themselves believers today.  Perhaps this is because they have forgotten just what it means to have Jesus stand in your place. These need to understand that because Jesus stood in their place, they can stand before God himself in reconciled relationship! If people can stand before God, they can stand before anyone with confidence and joy.

However, perhaps this joy and confidence is missing from your life because Jesus’ substitutionary atonement has not been applied to your account. If this is the case, isn’t it about time you embrace the salvation that Christ came, bled, died, and rose again to provide? To refuse this is to remain on the altar of judgment and experience the full wrath of God. God has provided a ram in the thicket—a substitute to take your place. Jesus stood in your place, and took the whole of God’s wrath and judgment so that you wouldn’t have to. How could someone remain an enemy of such a God?