Friday, December 26, 2014
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Monday, December 15, 2014
Geek entertainment presents us with all kinds of deities. The polytheistic families of quarrelling gods in the world of Dragonlance and the slumbering ancient ones of HP Lovecraft are just two of the well-known models of deity in geek fiction. Most fictional concepts of deity are modified versions of beliefs that people currently or at one time have actually believed about the nature of God or the gods of polytheism.
As I play video games with religious themes I sometimes like to entertain and exercise my brain by evaluating the ideas presented and comparing them to what the Bible teaches. I've found that despite the fictional nature of entertainment, evaluating the ideas about God presented there can be useful in preparing to evaluate real-world suggestions regarding the nature of God. The ideas inspiring fictional religions are still very relevant and in regular practice by various world religions today. For example, odds are pretty good that you know a polytheist, whether they subscribe to Wicca, Hindu or Latter Day Saint theologies.
There are a number of things that make the God of the Bible unique from every other god in either fiction or real-world religions. But given the seasonal timing I thought it would be interesting to focus on what theology calls "The Incarnation", and how Jesus, as both 100% human and 100% God, is set apart from any other so-called "god" of fictional or real-world worship. So here's a little bit of "compare and contrast" that comes to mind:
1. Jesus is not Marvel's Thor. He is not simply a powerful being from a race of powerful beings. He is Yahweh. He is God. The ultimate being with no equal.
(John 10:30, ESV) I and the Father are one.
(John 14:9, ESV) Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
(Isaiah 45:5-6, ESV) I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.
2. Jesus is not The Matrix Trilogy's Neo, who is plagued with uncertainty and insists that his followers are responsible for saving themselves. As Neo did, Jesus' apostles and angels always rejected worship. (Acts 10:26, Revelation 19:10). But Jesus knew he was God and accepted the worship of others.
(Matthew 28:9-10, ESV) And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
(John 20:28-29, ESV) Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Our sin is so much darker and more horrible than our numb, desensitized consciences realize.(Isaiah 64:6) We are helpless to "save ourselves" and Jesus knew this. He also knew that he was God's rescue plan, the only plan that could possibly work.
(John 14:6, ESV) Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
He knew we needed him and so he unwaveringly gave himself to his incomparably painful responsibility.
3. Jesus is not Talos (The Elder Scrolls). Tiber Septim, who became the god Talos, was the greatest emperor and hero of mankind in the world of The Elder Scrolls video games. As a result of his great virtues as a man, his status ascended into that of a god. But Jesus did not begin as a human being and later become a god. Jesus has never been less than he is now.
(Hebrews 13:8, ESV) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
(Psalm 90:2, ESV) Before the mountains were brought forth,or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
He has never been morally flawed in any way nor is he becoming better as time passes. Jesus is Yahweh, "I Am", and is completely, eternally constant in his divine essence and character.
4. Jesus is not Cthulhu or another of HP Lovecraft's "Great Old Ones". He is not going to one day awaken from slumber and devour all humanity. He is loving and compassionate toward humanity, and wants people to spend eternity with him, but will also ultimately honor humans and their choice to spend eternity with him or away from him.
(2 Peter 3:9, ESV) The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
(Matthew 23:37, ESV) “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
5. Jesus is not Andraste (Dragon Age). He is not a merely human prophet who God especially likes, and who persuaded God to forgive humanity. His death did not cause God to abandon humanity out of anger and sorrow, as Andraste's death did for The Maker. Instead, Jesus is God's unique Son, in a sense that no other can claim.
(John 3:16, ESV) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The death of Jesus did not make God turn away from humanity. Jesus' death makes it possible for us to have close relationship with God that will last forever.
(Hebrews 2:9, ESV) But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
6. Jesus is not The Sword Of Truth's "Creator". Although Jesus made the universe, he did not retreat from it afterward and remain distant, allowing it to take whatever course it might. Instead, Jesus came as close as he could to the world. Closer than any so-called "god" dreamed up by human imagination. He lived life in a normal human body, with all the limitations and difficulties that come with that. He didn't just visit us for awhile, he lived an entire lifetime as one of us. He set aside his rights to his limitless power and allowed himself to be unrecognized and disrespected.
(Philippians 2:5-7, ESV) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (Greek for "grasped"= "seized and gripped tightly"), but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
His love for us led him to willingly be misunderstood, hated, kicked, punched, cut open, tortured and slowly killed. He lived life as one of us, not because he had to, but because he chose to.
7. Jesus is not Anu, the God of the Diablo games, who fought the ultimate evil and then died, never to return. History consistently points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, who not only returned to life after death but returned to life in a body forever immune to death in any form.
(1 Corinthians 15:22-23, ESV) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
(Revelation 20:6, ESV) Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
(Revelation 21:3-4, ESV) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
A god who is subject to death like any human can't be a source of hope for anyone. But Jesus is alive, and promises that same immunity to death to all who trust in him.
Finally, unlike all of these gods of geek fiction, Jesus is not just an idea or an interesting concept. He is real. As real as your seat, your steering wheel or your keyboard. He really came and really rescued us from an eternity of the day-to-day grind we live in.
When the warm fuzzies of the Christmas season wear out or get put away, Jesus is still there in every moment, offering life that goes far beyond just pumping blood, as well as more purpose than we experienced yesterday. Every Christmas gift, once unwrapped, immediately begins losing its shine until eventually it becomes just more "stuff" in our room. But we still have one more gift to unwrap and enjoy every day. The gift of TRUE life, offered and made possible through Jesus, that begins new again every moment and lasts forever.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Friday, December 12, 2014
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Hebrews 9:11-14 (ESV)
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
In previous verses, the author of Hebrews explains the ultimately ineffective nature of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. While these sacrifices demonstrated the problem of sin, they didn't provide a complete and lasting solution. The author now contrasts the failings of the Old Covenant sacrifices with the absolute effectiveness of Christ's sacrifice.
As we've observed previously by looking at the meaning and purpose of "priests", we're reminded again here that Jesus functions at the perfect "go between" for us and God. His service in this role has secured all of the "good things" promised to believers. This includes:
1. rescue from punishment we deserve for our selfishness and ungrateful rebellion against God,
2. increasing rescue from lives devoid of purpose and crippled by self-destructive sin, and
3. future permanent rescue from all tendency toward and exposure to evil of any kind.
These three forms of rescue (which theologians call Justification, Sanctification and Glorification respectively) summarize the various contextual uses of the Greek word for "Salvation", which the author of Hebrews (and the other New Testament writers) uses to describe what Jesus has done for us as High Priest. (Hebrews 5:5-10, 7:23-8:13)
Jesus accomplished this relational repair between us and God, not through the earthly temple or tabernacle, but through a method or process unique to God, that the tabernacle was only a shadow of.(Hebrews 8:5)
Jesus accomplished this through a "once for all" and "eternal" act of sacrifice. The old system required priests to offer animal sacrifices again and again to deal even with unintentional sin and repair human relationship with God. But Jesus' single sacrifice of his own, perfect life, was enough to repair all relational damage between us and God.
There may be times where, on our side of the conversation, we need to clear the air with God in order to experience closeness to him. But the Bible teaches that if any believer chooses to draw near to God, God will draw near to them. (James 4:8) Because our sin has been dealt with in terms of justice, there is no penalty hanging over our heads as we converse with God. He is ready to be as relationally close with us as we will let him!
Under the Old Covenant, the sacrifice of specific animal types was enough to make someone or something fit for the purpose of serving and relating to God, at least temporarily and in a very limited way. The author argues that it's only reasonable that if animal blood could accomplish that, then the blood of Jesus, the perfect man (who is Yahweh himself in human form), in cooperation with the Holy Spirit and offering himself to God (presumably The Father), could do far more!
So what more did his sacrifice accomplish? For starters we are free from "dead works". When looking at Hebrews 6:1 we found that "dead works" refers to activity intended to earn good standing with God, or activity that contributes to relational separation from God. Engaging in "dead works" only leads to an awareness of our failure and shortcomings. The only way to avoid this awareness is to "lower the bar" for ourselves, and try to convince ourselves that God isn't that concerned with evil. (Boy, wouldn't you love to spend eternity with a God who looks at evil and just kinda shrugs and says, "Oh well"? Yikes!)
Jesus has rescued us from the need to lie to ourselves and from the depression and anxiety of failure and shortcoming! Not only that, but he has done this with a purpose greater than simply giving us pleasure. Jesus has rescued us and given us purpose greater than anything we could assign to ourselves! We are rescued to "serve the living God"! We can now have a role in bringing about his agenda for the universe!
Keep in mind, the sacrifice of Jesus that makes this possible is an "eternal, once for all" sacrifice. Our moments of social significance may come and go or never seem to arrive. That great job or career may not last. But for believers in Jesus, every day is a day we are fit for God's agenda.
Maybe you've felt overlooked or misunderstood. Maybe you've felt like you don't fit in and God probably doesn't have much use for you. But that mindset doesn't make any sense in light of what Jesus has done for us! Each of us is uniquely and strategically gifted by God and positioned where we are at, among the people we know or may soon get to know, to bring about the plans of God.
The entertainment world, through both stories and celebrities, is trying to define significance for you and I, whether they mean to or not. It's my natural tendency to attach my significance to how many people know who I am and what they think of me. But our significance is not so shallow and temporary as what we accomplish or what people think of us. It is found in the fact that God has given us a purpose that will NEVER be taken away, that we can choose to enter into more deeply in every moment of every day.
Friday, December 5, 2014
Thursday, December 4, 2014
In previous verses, the author of Hebrews said that the New Covenant ushered in by Jesus makes the old one obsolete. In the first part of chapter 9 he goes on to describe the elements of this "obsolete covenant".