Son of God?

About a year ago we were sitting at dinner with a friend and we got on the topic of Jesus being the Son of God. Our friend is a Muslim and he brought up what he had been taught was meant by the title “Son of God”. He stated that when Christians call Jesus the Son of God they meant that God had a son the way people do; through natural means. Even though we had heard this before it was still a shock to our senses to hear it put like that. Never have the true followers of Jesus thought of him like that. Never. The Bible certainly doesn’t teach that and anyone who has read the Bible, or even knows a Christian, knows that. So, where did this idea come from?

Lost In Translation

There are several passages in the Quran denouncing Jesus as the Son of God (2:116; 5:17, 72; 9:30; 19:35) but we’re going to focus in on 6:101 as it seems to play a key role in the line of thinking of our friend. Here it is from the Sahih International translation:

[He is] Originator of the heavens and the earth. How could He have a son when He does not have a companion and He created all things? And He is, of all things, Knowing.

The word translated “companion” above should be clear from the context but for the sake of prudence we’ll point out that the way this word is written puts it in the category of “wife” or “spouse”. Here’s a nice visual aid from the Corpus Quran website to round out the point.

Now, this passage does not single out Jesus as being a son in this way, but speaks more broadly as a condemnation of the idea of God having a son at all. To be clear though the Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God does fall under this condemnation. As the well known commentator Ibn Kathir wrote:

Allah mentions the misguidance of those who were led astray and claimed a son or offspring for Him, as the Jews did with `Uzayr, the Christians with `Isa and the Arab pagans with the angels whom they claimed were Allah’s daughters. Allah is far holier than what the unjust, polytheist people associate with Him. (see qtafsir.com on this chapter and verse)

And here’s the bigger picture: the underlying belief in the Quran is that if you say that someone is God’s son then what you mean by that is that God has to take a wife and produce that son in a natural way. This is what our friend had been taught to believe about Christianity. Somewhere along the path from what Jesus, the earliest disciples of Jesus, the Church Fathers, and the Ecumenical Councils all taught about what Son of God meant to the meaning (misunderstanding) we find in the Quran something was lost along the way and a serious error found its way into one of the most influential books in history.

Titles From The Gospels

When we encounter this dilemma we like to ask a simple question: What are we supposed to make of the way we see Son of God used in the Gospels? One of the first places Jesus is called Son is at his baptism when a voice from Heaven says to Jesus “you are my beloved son.” (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:22-23) But it’s not only heavenly voices, even the demons call him God’s Son. Mark 5:7 says, “And crying out with a loud voice, he said, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.'” Even pagan Roman soldiers called Jesus the Son of God at his crucifixion (see Mark 15:39). And finally we see that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of God when he says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) So, what are we to do with the fact that the Father called Jesus Son, demons recognized it, faithless pagans recognized it, and Jesus claimed the title for himself? To put it simply, we call Jesus the Son of God like everyone else in the Gospels. But does that mean what our friend was taught it means?

Not Made

Christians believe in the eternal preexistence of Jesus as the Son of God. This means that from all eternity Jesus has existed as God, the second person of the Trinity, and was not created at any point. This is presented most clearly in John’s gospel, so we’ll look at some passages and teachings from Jesus to demonstrate where we got this idea from. We’ll begin in John 1 where John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John started his Gospel with Genesis language “In the beginning” and he did it with the intention of demonstrating the eternally divine nature of Jesus. Where Genesis 1:1 starts off by saying “In the beginning God” John starts off with “In the beginning was the Word”. This is a big deal. Right off the bat we’re supposed to be clued in that Jesus is God. Later John wrote “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” More imagery from the Torah! This time John is drawing our attention back to when the tabernacle was erected in the wilderness after God delivered Israel from Egypt. Exodus 40:34 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” In fact the same word that was used to translate “tabernacle” from Hebrew to Greek is the same root word that John used and English Bibles translate “dwelt”. Just as the divine glory filled the tabernacle on earth in the wilderness, so now in John’s gospel is that same glory filling the tabernacle of flesh in the person of Jesus.

Let’s now consider something Jesus said that is recorded in John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” This is such a rich text and it’s only one sentence in an even more theologically rich passage! First of all, Jesus shared in God’s glory which is one reason why we as Christians say that God is one in his essence and three in his person (more on that another time). Second, Jesus was with the Father before the world existed. This means that before creation, there was Jesus. Why do Christians say Jesus exists eternally? Because Jesus said it. We like it when things are that simple. And that’s part of the point we’re making here. The Christian belief and understanding about Son of God is very straight forward if you’ve read the most popular Gospel writer in history. What’s concerning to us is that the Quran, though it claims divine authorship, seems to misunderstand or misrepresent this clear teaching.

Warning!

Finally, for those who might be reading this having been taught and/or believing the teaching of the Quran we need to share a warning with you from the Apostle John (the same guy as the Gospel writer). Early on in Christianity there was a group of people called the Gnostics (and their sister religion the Docetists). They taught that Jesus did not come in the flesh but that the “Christ” was a spirit who took over the body of Jesus at his baptism but departed from him just before his crucifixion. They even went so far as to say that it only appeared that Jesus died (see St. Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 2). But it was against this group that John was writing in 1 John where he wrote, “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” To deny that Jesus is the Son is to proclaim yourself an antichrist. Our deep concern is that on the day when Jesus sits in judgement over all the earth (see Matthew 25:31-46) he will look upon those who have fallen prey to the ignorance of false teaching about Jesus and call them “antichrist”. So we proclaim to you good news that “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”

We pray this is beneficial for those who may have questions about this topic. Please contact us with any other questions you may have.

Peace

Jesus Contradicts Himself?

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 10:34

At the face of it this saying of Jesus certainly seems to undermine his other words which are the foundation of our ministry:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9

So, what are we to make of this and how does it impact the way we here at 5:9 operate? Well let’s first start with the broader context of Matthew 10. Jesus was giving his disciples instructions on proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. They were to go to villages proclaiming this good news and performing signs to confirm their message such as healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons. But when they did this Jesus warned them that they would be persecuted, that the path ahead would not be easy, and that they would suffer. However, Jesus charged his disciples to fear God more than they feared man. In fact, in Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

So, on the heels of this charge, Jesus spoke plainly that the message and signs he had given to his disciples would be divisive. The remaining words of Jesus that he gave to his disciples during this charge speak of how “a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” but then charges them that “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:36-37).” So no, Jesus is not commanding his followers to violence but is warning them that violence would be perpetrated against them, even from their own family and those who love them most.

Two Types of Peace

When we think about Matthew 5:9 we know we should be applying this to the broader community around us and that, as much as it is in our power and ability, we should be striving to live peaceful lives and making the places we live peaceful places. This is good and is a very important aspect of our ministry. We seek to promote peace through dialogue and gaining understanding. We also know the value of sharing a meal with one another so we do that too!

But there is another kind of peace which Jesus is concerned about in Matthew 10 and that is peace with God. Recall the words of Jesus where he said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).” While it is good to be at peace with our neighbors, it is best to be at peace with God. This is the higher and greater peace, the eternal peace which all who believe in Jesus possess. When sinful and rebellious people see this peace they recoil and attack. They hate the peace which God gives through Jesus and they seek to destroy those who proclaim it.

Not Ashamed

Why write all of this? Because we received news recently from a friend who is working in another country and the message he sent was, “Welcome the newest member of the body.” There in that picture was my friend, his friend, and a young man who had heard the truth about Jesus’ sacrificial death and responded by professing faith in Jesus to save him from eternal death and sin. And we celebrated this like crazy. This young man had just turned away from Islam. But we didn’t celebrate because a Muslim became a Christian. It doesn’t matter to us what a person believed before, so long as they believe the truth now. Our desire is the same for every person we meet – that he or she comes to know Jesus personally. Do we risk blow back from writing about this and celebrating the saving work of God in this man’s life? Maybe. But as much as we love Muslims here at home and want to promote peace with them and genuinely desire for them to live peaceful lives here without fear or hatred we want everyone everywhere to know the peace of God so much more. And so we cannot be ashamed when we hear of someone coming into the Kingdom of God but instead we celebrate, just as Jesus says the angels in heaven do when a sinner turns to Christ.

If you would like to know more about how Jesus forgives our sins and how you can have peace with God through Jesus, please check out our post on Sacrifice and reach out to us with any questions.

Iftar 2019 Recap

We put a short video together recapping our recent group trip we took to break fast for Ramadan. Enjoy!

Is It True? – Jesus Did Not Die

You might be asking yourself, “Is this really a question?” And depending on your background you’d be asking that question for different reasons. Let’s look at why this question matters.

Islam’s Perspective

The Sahih International translation of the Quran translates Surah 4:157 as follows,

“And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”

It doesn’t get much clearer than that; according to the Quran, Jesus himself did not die. The Study Quran’s commentary on this verse provides a good overview of historical perspectives on how this took place.

Although the verse only directly criticizes a Jewish claim to have killed and crucified Jesus, it is widely understood in the Islamic tradition as meaning that Jesus was not crucified or killed at all; it only appeared so unto them, that is, to the Jews as well as to most of Jesus’ followers. Various accounts are given to explain how it appeared so unto them. According to some commentators, when the Jewish authorities came to arrest Jesus, he was among a group of his followers. They did not know who among them was Jesus, because a Divine ruse had made them all appear the same, and one of Jesus’ followers was thus taken and killed in his place (IK, Ṭ, Z). Some accounts indicate that one of Jesus’ followers in particular volunteered to sacrifice himself by assuming Jesus’ likeness (IK, Ṭ, Z). According to one account, this follower was crucified (i.e., publicly exposed) after being killed (IK). This follows the order mentioned in the verse itself: they did not slay him; nor did they crucify him, and in general, Muslims understood crucifixion as a punishment carried out after death in most, though not all, cases.

Christianity’s Perspective

It seems quite limiting to declare this to be Christianity’s perspective only. It is, after all, the majority perspective of Historical Jesus studies regardless of faith background. It has been the overwhelming view of history, including the accounts of first-hand eye witnesses. Nevertheless, at its root this is a Christian issue because of the meaning behind the death of Jesus. For more on this, please see our post on Sacrifice.

To begin, Jesus himself said that he was going to die. Mark 8:31 says, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” John, the disciple of Jesus, was with Jesus when he was arrested, tried, and crucified (John 18-19). Ancient writers such as Josephus and Tacitus recorded that Jesus died. Enemies and friends alike all declared that Jesus died.

Further, the Scriptures (what we now know as the Old Testament) said that Jesus would die. Isaiah 53, which is a prophecy about the Messiah who was to come, says this:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:4-9‬

As an interesting side note here, the Scripture is using past tense language to speak of a future event. The language itself is showing the certainty of God’s plan for the Messiah to come and die.

What’s The Problem?

Let’s start with what the problem is not: it is not a problem of someone in history dying on a cross. Islam affirms that someone died. The issue is a theological issue first and foremost. In Islam’s perspective God deceived people, even the disciples of Jesus (who many Muslims say were Muslim as well). Some have argued that those who crucified Jesus deserved to be deceived. That doesn’t really solve the problem of a deceptive God and overlooks the problem that, according to Islam’s own religious teaching and tradition, God deceived Muslims (ie, the followers of Jesus). There were innocent people affected by this, too. If God deceived his loyal followers, can he really be trusted?

Is It True?

At the core of any person’s search for God should be a pursuit of truth. Our Christian position is that Jesus himself did die. We trust the Scriptures which prophesied of the death of Jesus, the testimony of Jesus himself, the testimony of the eye witnesses, and the testimony of history – both from friend and foe alike. We reject a deceptive God who intentionally misled his own followers who had devoted their lives to him. We find that position untenable, especially considering its source is a man who is six hundred years removed from the actual events. While we can see how Muhammad might have been trying to honor Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) by denying that the Jews gained the upper hand and murdered a prophet, his possible good intentions have led billions of people astray from a plain and simple fact of not only world history, but God’s redemptive history. We pray that all people everywhere, especially Muslims, will come to know this truth.

Lunch & Learn – Justice

We try to have regular gatherings of Christians and Muslims to discuss shared moral values or beliefs as a way to better understand each other and build relationships on common ground. We call these Lunch & Learns and the gathering is what it sounds like. We learn about each other, and then eat lunch! It’s a great time every time! We just recently had one of these Lunch & Learns on the topic of Justice. Here’s a quick recap of what we, as the Christians, had to say.

What is Justice?

Justice is rendering to everyone that which they are due.

So, if you break the law, justice demands that the penalty you are due should be rendered to you. That would be what we might call negative justice. On the other hand if you are a worker and you perform the work you have been hired to do, justice would demand that you be paid according to what was agreed to be rendered. This would be what we might call positive justice.

The nature of justice is relational. Where there is no plurality of parties there can be no such thing as justice. This may seem like common sense but there’s a deeper truth to be learned there.

What is God’s Justice?

God’s justice is when God renders to all that which is due.

God is the one who determines every aspect of what should be rendered, how it should be rendered, and when it will be rendered. In the Bible we read passages such as Deuteronomy 28- 30 which speak of the blessings which God will render to those who obey him and the curses which he will render to those who disobey him (covering both the positive and negative sides of justice). Even Adam, who was told that in the day he ate of the forbidden tree he would die, faced God’s justice when he disobeyed. In fact, just like with Adam, the punishment for even one sin has remained death, per God’s unchanging justice as it was given to Adam in that first command not to eat of the forbidden tree. When we read in Genesis that God allowed for a substitute death of an animal in Adam’s place, this speaks also to the mercy of God who allows his rebellious creation to live and still receive blessing in this life in spite of our sinfulness; until the day we die and are faced with the righteous Judge of all the earth who does not spare the guilty.

God’s justice is part of his very nature. It is uncreated, eternal, and has its being in God. God, being eternally unchanging, has always perfectly executed his justice. But how? Justice is relational in nature. To whom has God eternally rendered that which is due? Is there something outside of God that is co-eternal with him? No, not at all. Instead we, as Christians, know the truth: God is relational in his very being. The one true God is not unitary but triune. A unitary God is incapable of having justice within himself, because he is one in person and one in essence. It is not until he creates something with moral capability that he would be able to have even the capacity for justice. This kind of god (a unitary one) could therefore not be immutable (unchanging) because he would be adding to his character a new trait upon creation; namely, justice. Instead, the triune God who eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (one in essence and three in person) is perfectly capable of rendering justice within himself and thereby remaining unchanging when he creates.

How do Christians see justice?

First of all, we as Christians (as well as all humanity) are charged to render to God that which he is due and to render to others that which they are due. We echo what Jesus said the two greatest commandments are. The first is to love God will all our heart, soul, and mind. The second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Since none of us is capable of doing these things perfectly, we execute, at best, imperfect justice. But to say that we execute imperfect justice is merely a polite way of saying we are unjust. And the penalty due from God to us for this injustice? Death.  Just the same as it was set up in the beginning with Adam.

Because God is perfect in his justice this penalty which is due to us must be rendered to us. But God, in his grace, allows for a substitute to take what is due to us on our behalf. For example, it does not matter who is fouled in a soccer match, the penalty kick is assigned to the best player. That player takes the place of another and is able to perform on behalf of the entire team. Likewise, God allows what is due to us to be taken by a substitute. Historically this was seen in animal sacrifice, as God did the first one in the garden on behalf of Adam, but saw its ultimate and final fulfillment in Jesus. For more on this substitution, please see our post on Sacrifice.

In keeping with the same example above, we as Christians understand that Jesus lived perfectly on our behalf too. Just as the best penalty kicker is used in soccer to represent the entire team, God has given us Jesus – the only perfect one – to represent what is owed to God on our behalf. Jesus is the only one who both loved God and people perfectly, thusly rendering to God that which is his due on behalf of human flesh.

So, Christians still must render to God and neighbor that which is due. We cannot neglect justice in any way. But because of the perfect life of Jesus on our behalf our imperfect justice is made perfect in God’s sight through the substitutionary life of Jesus.  Seeking to render justice in our daily lives here on earth is an outworking of our understanding what Jesus has done for us – he has won our eternal salvation.  This does not let us off the hook for daily actions, but those daily actions will never add to or take away from what Jesus has rendered to God on our behalf – perfect justice.

Was it just for Jesus to die for sins? (Part 3)

This is our final part of a series where we are exploring a question asked to us during one of our Lunch & Learns. A Muslim neighbor who attended asked how it was just for Jesus to die for sins. In the first post we looked at some of the deeper meanings of the justice of God and his gracious giving of propitiation. In our second post we looked at prophecies about the death of Jesus, and now we will consider what Jesus himself had to say about his own death.

Pleased
Jesus was pleased to die for our sins because that is what pleases the Father, as evidenced in the prophetic witness to the death of Jesus. Jesus said, “And he who sent me is with me, He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him (John 8:29).” If, therefore, Jesus always does what is pleasing to the Father, and the death of Jesus on behalf of sinners is pleasing to God, then why would Jesus not have willingly done this? Jesus himself said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father (John 10:17-18).” Much of the sting of the argument of whether it was just for Jesus to die as a sacrifice for sins revolves around some brand of “cosmic child abuse” (whether those words are used exactly or not). But, when we realize that the Son and Father are of the same essence, we realize that they are working in conjunction with one another. Jesus’s own words demonstrate this clearly. Jesus willingly, under no compulsion, died for your sins and mine.


To look at this a different way, consider the type of sacrifice that Muslims around the world make today. They choose a blemish free animal as their sacrifice. But why? Is God not pleased with any kind of animal, or does God want and expect the best? Would God accept a flawed animal as a sacrifice? Could it have three legs? Cancer? A withered feature? Why do we bring the best we can to God? Because we know that is what God requires. God requires something that is blemish free; perfect.

So, if God was going to present a sacrifice, what would it be like? It would be the best, wouldn’t it? It would be without blemish. It would be perfect. Jesus is the best of any flesh in all of creation because he was perfect, sinless. How much more valuable to God is moral purity than physical purity? It wasn’t physical impurity that caused Adam to be cast from the Garden; it was moral impurity. It isn’t physical perfection that will grant us eternal life; it is moral perfection. But that’s just our problem – we’re all sinners and are morally impure. This is why the Scriptures say, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we might be inclined to offer the best of a flock or herd to God, God has offered the best of humanity on humanity’s behalf. And he has done this because he loves you.

Was it just for Jesus to die for sins? (Part 2)

This is the second part of a series where we are exploring a question asked to us during one of our Lunch & Learns. A Muslim neighbor who attended asked how it was just for Jesus to die for sins. In the first post we looked at some of the deeper meanings of the justice of God and his gracious giving of propitiation. Now we will consider that God’s salvation has come by his own eternal decree, as evidenced by the prophets.

Prophets
When Jesus told his disciples that he had to die he wasn’t making up some new thing about himself. This might get lost a bit when we read the (not original to the text) headings in our bibles. Matthew 16, starting in verse 21, has a heading that reads “Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection”. That’s true, he does foretell both his death and resurrection. But let’s examine this text a little bit closer.


“From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Notice something here, and it’s very important, Jesus wasn’t saying this to his disciples, he was showing his disciples that he had to die. What was he showing them from? He was showing them from all the prophets before him, who were prophesying about him, in what we call in our Bibles the Old Testament. Although this will not be an exhaustive list, let’s look at some of these prophecies.


He Must Go To Jerusalem
The prophet Zechariah said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).” Later God said through Zechariah, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn…On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness (Zechariah 12:1-13:1).”


He Must Suffer Many Things from the Elders and Chief Priests and Scribes
The prophet David said, “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’ (Psalm 22:7-8)”
The prophet Isaiah said, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53:3).”


He Must Be Killed
The prophet Isaiah said, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth (Isaiah 53:5-9).”


On The Third Day He Would Be Raised
The prophet David said, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:8-11).” The apostle Peter expounded on this by saying, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up and of that we all are witnesses (Acts 2:29-32).”


So, we see here that by dying for sins Jesus was fulfilling a purpose that was established and prophesied about long before his incarnation (coming to earth as a human). In fact, the Bible tells us that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1:4). To kick against this is to kick against the plan of God and the words of the prophets.


But, as stated in our previous post, it also speaks to a heart condition. As soon as Jesus began showing his disciples that what was to happen to him had been spoken about by the prophets, something happened which relates well to the heart of this question.
 “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man (Matthew 16:22-23).’”


See, as soon as we begin to think that Jesus dying is unjust or shouldn’t be, we fall into the same error as Peter did in this particular encounter. Yet, Jesus’s rebuke was severe. He said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” It is Satan who does not want Jesus dead. It is Satan who does not want God’s salvation to come. When we throw our lot in with this line of thinking the Bible is clear about where we stand, and it is in opposition to God. Because, as Jesus says, “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Our next post will be the third of three posts where we will consider what Jesus’s attitude was about his own death.

Was it just for Jesus to die for sins? (Part 1)

How Is It Just For Jesus To Die For Sins?

This was a question we were asked at our Lunch & Learn on Sacrifice and it’s a very good question. There are a few things to consider in answering this question: 1) God, in his justice, allows for a propitiation; 2) God sent prophets to tell us that Jesus was going to do this; and 3) Jesus willingly died for our sins. Let’s look deeper into these important points as we attempt to understand the justice of God in the salvation he gives.

Propitiation

That’s a word we don’t use every day, but it’s an important word from the Bible. Propitiation is defined as a means of forgiveness, or atonement. It has to do with sin and how God forgives it.  Here’s one place where we see it used in the Bible:

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:22-26).”

So, propitiation is a means of forgiveness. In this text from the book of Romans, the means of forgiveness is the blood of Jesus – meaning the death that Jesus died. As God said to Moses, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (Leviticus 17:11).” See, it isn’t so much that Jesus shed blood, but that Jesus died. It was the blood of Jesus that made atonement by the giving of his life.

To take this a little further the word that Paul used here that we translate as propitiation is the same word that the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) used as the lid, or mercy seat, of the ark of the covenant (see Exodus 25:17-22). This mercy seat is the place where the priest would take the blood of the sin offering for God’s people and sprinkle it for atonement for sins (see Leviticus 16:15-16). Remember, the punishment for sin is death, as it always has been (see Genesis 2:16-17), but God in his mercy and love for us has allowed for a propitiation – something to take our place and satisfy his justice – in order that we do not have to suffer the just penalty for our sins.

And what was the purpose of God putting forth the life of Jesus as a propitiation? It was to show his own righteousness so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Recall from the post on sacrifice that the foundation of God’s throne and the way of the Lord is righteousness and justice. God’s salvation will be consistent with all of his attributes.  There is no attribute of God that is greater than another as it is impossible for God to be “less” in any way. If, in fact, God is the greatest, then his characteristics will be equal in greatness. Thusly,  his salvation is 100% in keeping with both his righteousness and his justice.

It is useful at this point to broaden the question from  “Was it just for Jesus to die for us” to “Was it just for an innocent animal to die for sins.” The purpose of broadening our scope here is to show that the question actually distracts from the heart issue actually at play.  The heart issue here is a problem with God’s justice.  It does not matter whether we are discussing Jesus’ death, animal’s death, or any other living creature’s death.  Seeing as how God is the one who defines all things and is, in himself, truth, he has revealed the truth that a propitiation is acceptable in his justice. This is why it is said that God is both “just and the justifier” – meaning that God keeps his justice but also justifies (makes righteous) as well.  As men and women created by God, we do not get to question morality that God has put in place.  To ask the question of whether it was just for Jesus to die for us is to place our own sense of morality and justice over and above God’s.  This speaks more toward our rebellion from God rather than the morality or immorality of God’s justice.  At first glance, it sounds like a good question. The truth is, though, that asking the question actually reveals a sinful heart in need of forgiveness.

In our next post we’ll address the prophecies concerning Jesus’s death. Please leave us a comment or question! We’d love to continue this conversation.