Wednesday, December 31, 2008

They Became Friends

John Lennon wrote in his song Imagine,
"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace"

What a vision! A world where everyone gets along. The end of war. The end of hostility. A world where everyone is supplied for. A world where nothing is worth dying for. A world where their is no god or cause that would divide us. We can be at peace. Just imagine it!

In Luke 23:1-12 Jesus is undergoing a mock trial. He is accused of all sorts of things. He even has to stand before Pilate, who doesn't understand why Jesus is such a problem. However, Pilate tries to be politically expedient. He thinks he can avoid a political fallout by sending Jesus to Herod. "Technically, Jesus does fall under Herod's jurisdiction," Pilate thought.

And they became friends.

Now Herod is at first delighted to see Jesus. He hoped to be entertained by him. But Jesus wasn't having it. This, in turn, changed Herod's attitude. He begins to mock Jesus instead, along with his soldiers, and then sends him back to Pilate. It was on this day that Herod and Pilate became friends.

What is significant about this development is that they were previously enemies. But on this day, after a long period of animosity, they became friends. What a wonderful development! Getting Jesus out of the way actually caused peace to be made between two former rivals. Imagine that!

What's the big deal?

Luke picks up the significance of this in Acts 4:23-31. It says that after Peter and John underwent persecution for their testimony about Jesus, Peter recognized the event as a continuation of what occurred between Herod and Pilate. That when Herod and Pilate became friends, it fulfilled prophecy in Psalms 2:1-2 that nations will come together to take their stand against the Messiah (or the Christ). In other words, peace would come between former enemies and rival powers in order to oppose the Christ of God.

This is no different today. It continues. As John says in 1 John 4:1-6, the spirit of the antichrist is in the world. This spirit denies that Jesus is the Christ — God in human flesh. Those who are of this spirit speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. For them the saying is true, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

On one level, we will never have peace as long as people oppose God and oppose his offer of salvation. On the other hand, peace will come between those whom oppose God. And the world is willing to accept this kind of peace — even some who claim the name of Jesus, if that were possible.

Global peace is achievable, sort of.

Our world wants peace. People want to feel safe and secure. We all want to just get along. Wouldn't it be wonderful if no one had to steal, kill, or fight for limited resources. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just shake hands and live and let live. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)

Well, this peace will come, but not in the way most people expect. Only Jesus will bring true peace. But not the peace the world desires. For he didn't come to bring peace on the earth. He came to bring peace between mankind and God. And those who are at peace with God will be at peace with each other — but not always with the world. In fact, the world will hate those who are at peace with God. (Luke 12:49-53; John 14:27; John 15:18-16:4; John 16:33)

Therefore the real question is, which side are you on?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why Did Jesus Come?

Jesus always existed.

His existence isn't dependent on what we believe. His life isn't owned to anyone. He simply is. He is God. He is God's Son. He is the Word of God. He is the Light of men. There are many things Jesus did when he came. And all these things point to one reason why he was born into the human race.

When Jesus came, he healed people with diseases.
But he didn't come to heal people permanently.

When Jesus came, he set people free from the power of the devil.
But he didn't come to release people from oppression.

When Jesus came, he enlightened mankind.
But he didn't come to provide us with wise counsel.

When Jesus came, he gave sight to the blind.
But he didn't come to end blindness.

When Jesus came, he fed the hungry.
But he didn't come to keep people fed.

When Jesus came, he demonstrated love.
But he didn't come to bring peace to the world.

He came to save mankind from wrath.
He was born to save mankind from their sins, fulfilling his name.

When Jesus came, he came to die.

(Matthew 1:21; 1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10)

Monday, December 15, 2008

When Forgiveness Goes Bad

Many times forgiveness is described as a solution to bitterness. Or it can be seen as the thing to do whenever someone does something wrong or hurtful. It almost has a magic quality in some church circles in creating a pleasant environment for everyone to enjoy.

How is forgiveness usually explained in popular Christianity?

Forgiveness is often described as letting go of the right to punish someone who has wronged you. In some circles it is described as choosing not to force someone to be sorry for a wrong they've done. In either case, Christians are suppose to forgive the guilty party whether that guilty party repents or not.

How is it consistent with Scripture, and how does it differ?

There is some truth to the fact that letting go of an offense is good for oneself. It is also true that Scripture teaches that forgiveness is something a Christian is suppose to practice, regardless of the offending party's perceived sincerity. (Luke 17:1-4) However, it also seems from Scripture that repentance is the primary goal prior to forgiveness, rather than a happy consequence of forgiveness. In other words, the offended party must confront the offending party first to acknowledge the wrong and seek reconciliation. It is expected in Scripture that forgiveness is the natural response of a Christian to genuine repentance, not to self-centered psychological benefits. (Matthew 18:15-17)

But what about those times when the offender doesn't see a need to repent?

From Scripture the offended is suppose to confront the offender with greater pressure, until it is clear to the whole church community that the offender is either reprobate or hostile to their cohesion. The church community is to treat that person in this manner not to condemn them, but to cause them shame in the hope that they would later come to repent, and be reconciled to God, and reaffirm the offending party. (1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

As far as the offended party, she can let the offender go with the knowledge that she tried to reconcile, and that she was at least willing to express forgiveness to them in the event that it would have been possible (Romans 12:17-21). But I wouldn't call that forgiveness per se. It is more accurate to say that she is letting them go, without relieving their guilt. On the other hand, forgiveness relieves the offender of responsibility for their offense. They are relieved of their guilt, as well as let go.

In the case of an unrepentant person, the offended person can be cordial to the unrepentant, treat them with kindness, and even allow them to go free. But she does this knowing full well that they are not free to re-injure her at will, and that she will not ignore the offender's unrepentance. Why? Because it is reality. The offense did happen. The unrepentance did happen. And her love expressed to the unrepentant is happening. This brings shame on the offender and light on the situation.

Ignoring the wrong, or pretending it didn't happen, creates a false relationship and darkness on the situation. In some cases it can cause hidden resentment, which is sin. And in the worse scenario, harm to themselves or others. This takes place when the desire to appear like a forgiving person (or congregation) outweighs the work of reconciliation and transformation.

I am not going to get hung up on the word forgiveness, for many people believe that it is exactly what is happening when you let someone go and treat them with kindness afterward, as if they didn't sin against you. But, forgiveness means letting go of a debt (or forensic guilt), as if it never happened. This can only be effective when the one who owes the debt is aware of the debt, and accepts the offer of grace. Even though grace is offered, it can still be rejected, and that person will be held accountable. That is the gospel, is it not?

So, it is more accurate to say we are to always offer forgiveness to everyone. But we have an obligation to relieve the offender's debt when they repent, not when they don't repent. However, we can offer the gift of freedom and kindness as if we've forgiven them in hopes that they will accept our gift, and thus repent.

What are we to conclude?

There are a lot of opinions about this. And the majority of Christians believe that forgiveness is given no matter what happens. They will use the Scripture in Luke 23:34 as proof that Jesus gave us an example to follow when he forgave those crucifying him.

The only problem with this view (besides the fact some early manuscripts don't have this statement) is that Jesus doesn't address his forgiveness of them as absolute. He asks God to forgive them (since what they are doing is offensive to God). Are they still guilty? Yes. In fact, they are condemned unless they repent (Acts 3:17-20). They are not relieved of their offense because Jesus asked God to forgive them. Rather Jesus expressed kindness to them, and a willingness to forgive even when they do such a heinous thing —killing the Son of God. But they are not relieved of their responsibility.

We have clear teaching about what to do when a brother or sister offends us. We have clear teaching about what to do when someone claiming to be a brother or sister offends and refuses to repent. We even know what to do when offenses are minor or are simple misunderstandings, and we can even let so of them go —yes, there are cases when we can actually overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11); not all offenses are sin, not all require action right away. But, blanket forgiveness is harder to prove with Scripture, despite what psychology says we should believe.

You may disagree, and that's all right. Again, I am not hung up on the word forgiveness as much as practicing it without sound wisdom.