This week's Bible Study - December 20, 2015
Saved by God's Son
Quotes of the Week:
"There is nothing more important than your eternal salvation."
I have to wonder what some people think when they hear Christians talk about being saved. If they didn't grow up in church, they may think of saving as being the amount of money that they have set aside for some point the future. There are other people who have a sports background, and a save may be made by a goalie. Others may think of leftovers, which got saved from an earlier meal. Still others may think about playing cards and saving their best cards to be played last. Obviously, the word saved is overloaded and may have different meanings to different people.
Saving can also imply that someone needs to be rescued from present or impending danger. I believe that almost all of us would try to stop a car was traveling down a road towards a bridge that is out, regardless of who was in the car. There are many people today who are barreling down the highway of life with no concern for their destiny, believing as if the bridge will always be there or even if it isn't, everyone is accounted for in heaven. Earlier this week, I saw a car with bumper stickers saying "Smile, there is no Hell" and "I read the Bible - that's why I am an atheist!" Sadly, there are many who seem to think that being religious, or being 'pretty good' or having an affiliation with others who are of a certain mindset is enough, or as the owner of that car with the bumper stickers intimated - it just doesn't matter. Obviously, there is a wide variation of what people believe comes after this life, and what, if anything, is required of us to ensure a 'better place'.
One of the biggest issues why people do not seem to be concerned about their own eternity is that they compare themselves to other people and imagine that whatever comes, it would have to be "fair". I suppose if you could pick the person you were going to be compared to, things might 'seem' okay. This is the most frequent spiritual problem today among many people, in that they vastly overrate themselves in God's sight.
I remember a story from Bill Hybels, speaking at an event several years ago. He said that he was flying and when he flied, he preferred to keep to himself. However, on one flight, the guy next to him kept talking and wanted to know what he did. Hybels said that he was a pastor, and the other guy started talking about how good he was, as if to impress Hybels. As they talked, it became apparent that the guy believed that his goodness was enough to please God. He would compare himself against others who he knew that had committed heinous crimes or led very immoral lifestyles. So, Hybels asked how he would compare himself to the likes of Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, or even a pastor such as himself. The guy began to waffle a bit, so as to not to oversell himself, as he knew that some of these others had lived very committed lives (and he didn't compare very favorably to them). When Hybels told the man that these others considered themselves far from God, and were in need of a Savior, he asked the man if he still thought his goodness was enough. Though I missed other relevant pieces of his story, you get the point. We cannot simply look at the scale of goodness and somehow draw a line at just what we deem as good enough, can we? Where would that line be? It would undoubtedly seem to be different from individual to individual, right? Certainly, most would assume that it would have to be somewhere 'worse' than where they are for them to be confident at all. In truth, there would be no security in a 'goodness' line.
If you have been around church, you likely have heard of the Roman Road, based on passages in the book of Romans. Romans 3:23 tells us that none of us are worthy of meeting God's standards, in saying that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (There is no goodness line that sets us right with God). Romans 5:8 says that God has given us the way to be forgiven of our sins, by saying "that while we were sinners, Christ died for us". Though we can't be good enough on our own, God has given us a way. Romans 6:23 tells us that if we will accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will have eternal life, by saying "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord". In Romans 10:9-10, we are told that if we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, we can be saved. And, Romans 10:13 says that there are no religious formulas or rituals involved - we are simply to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved. Some may argue the modern relevance of this 'Road', as some neglect to believe in the authenticity of the Bible. Although we cannot explain every single part of the Bible, I believe that the authenticity of Scripture is perhaps the most provable point to be made. Those who truly seek the authenticity of Scripture can find overwhelming evidence for the fact that it is not merely the words of man. Even when it cannot all be explained, there is more there that makes any of us realize that it didn't just happen and it wasn't a bunch of guys in a room picking and choosing what is in and what is out.
None of the words from the Roman Road have anything at all with how good we are. In fact, the only mention is that we ALL are sinners. If there were a 'goodness' line, we ALL are below it. People may or may not want to believe those words, but they are entirely true. We all have made deliberate choices to do wrong at one point or another. We all have lied. We all have wronged others. We all have harbored wrong attitudes and have been unwilling to truly forgive others. While some may seem to be 'worse' on the "human" scale than others, truly we see that all of us have sinned. There is no notion in Scripture of being better than anyone else in order to be saved.
We read that 'in the beginning was the Word, and the Word with God, and the Word was God'. The word for "Word" in this usage was Logos, which was common to both Greek and Jew. It was clear that the intent was that this meant God's divine communication. John took the concept of Logos from being a principle and applied it to the person of Jesus Christ. One side note is that there are some translations used by others, such as the New World Translation, used by the Jehovah's Witness that write this verse, ending with the Word was "a" God, implying one of many. This is not in the original text and was added in order to make it say something different, to match to their beliefs. We need to be careful from changing anything in Scripture to make it line up with what we want to say or do. Rather, we should ensure that our lives change to line up with Scripture.
In this passage, we learn that the Word (Jesus Christ) was with God in the beginning. Through Him were all things made, and without Him nothing was made. Jesus Christ did not come into existence at some later point in the future, as have you and I. It is noteworthy to realize that Jesus is like no other. There have been other prophets, teachers and those who have founded religions. Each of them had a start and an end to their lives. Where were they 100, 1000 or 10,000 years ago? Jesus has been present with God from the dawn of time and He is alive today.
We read that in Jesus there is life, and that life is the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. It is interesting that the analogy of light and dark is used, as opposed to powerful and weak, or good guys and bad guys. We see situations where on occasion, the weak can overcome the strong, or the bad guys can defeat the good guys. However, dark never defeats light. We know that light always shines in the darkness. If you have a pitch black room, even the light from a weak nightlight can make things visible. There is no analogy where a well lit room can be made dark by such a thing as a 'day dark'.
Those of us that are believers know that one day the light of Christ will overcome all darkness of evil. Unfortunately, we do not see this at all times in our day. We see the presence of evil in terrorist acts. We see the presence of death in so many situations that seem to be wrong. Within the past few weeks, it seems that there have been an inordinate amount of deaths in families of many our friends, ranging from the deaths of elderly parents, to the death of people's children, long before we were ready to let them go. If we stopped time and said this is the end, I believe we would have a hard time saying that the light of Jesus overcomes all darkness. Truly, we know that the light of Jesus does bring us comfort and relief, even in the midst of tragedy, but we would be hard pressed to say the light has extinguished all darkness in our day. However, we do read of a day that is coming when darkness will be completely defeated.
We read that another man was sent from God, whose name was John (not the writer of the gospel, but the one we refer to as John the Baptist). He was sent as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him, all might believe. It was important to realize that although John was sent by God, he himself was not the light, but only as a witness to the light.
There are many differences between Jesus and John the Baptist. As we read earlier, Jesus always was - He was present at the beginning of time. John, on the other hand, came into being with an expressed purpose. John may have been considered a lamp, but Jesus is the light. John may have been considered as a voice, but Jesus is the Word. John was useful in God's kingdom, but he was not indispensable. John was a witness to the One who was to follow. It was important for those who heard John to realize that, while he too was sent by God, he was not the one that God was sending as the Savior.
It is, was and always has been a temptation to place people on the throne that rightly belongs to Jesus Christ. Throughout time, there have been religious leaders that entire groups of people have followed. A danger emerges when pre-eminence is given to the leaders' words over Scripture, and to the leader over Jesus Christ. In some cases, these religious leaders intended to share Christ, but people chose to follow them, and in other instances, these leaders intentionally drew people to themselves, away from Christ. Even for those who may not be religious, there is a tendency to deify certain people. It may be the leaders of a country, or even other people that are in their lives, as they give more credence to those people than they do Christ (or anything else). Although people do play an important role in our lives, both spiritually and otherwise, we can find no peace with God if we give priority to others. As John the Baptist brought witness, the true light was coming into the world, and that true light was Jesus.
Jesus was in the world as a human. That fact is beyond debate, and there are many different writings and manuscripts that point to the truthfulness of Jesus on this earth. Jesus came to a world that He had made, but the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own (the Jewish people), but they did not receive Him. I think about that "Undercover Boss" program, where the boss ends up working with people in his company and begins to realize the day-to-day problems that they experience, as well as other things about the workings of his company of which he was unaware. If you have watched that show and wondered what must be going through his mind, have you ever stopped to think about what the Creator of all things would think as He dealt with those who would openly reject Him?
Why do you think Jesus wasn't recognized? I believe it was because that He didn't match the image of the Messiah that the Jews were looking for. They read the Old Testament and believed that God would send an earthly king and ruler for the nation of Israel. Jesus was not an earthly king. Even today, Jesus doesn't line up with what many people want, based on whatever thoughts they may have of who He should be. In deciding beforehand what they will allow Jesus to be, they refuse to take Jesus as He is. Perhaps they want to think that God is only about love and nothing else. Jesus spoke of the love of God, but He also spoke of many other aspects, including God's holiness which demands obedience. In short, it doesn't matter who we might want Jesus to be. He is who He is. The Israelites wanted an earthly king. If He had been that, what impact would we have today? How many great leaders have come and gone that we do not even know their names or anything about them, their kingdoms or that point in history?
We read that many did receive Him and became children in the family of God. It was all based on their belief in Christ and by no other means. They didn't come to know Jesus because of their Jewish bloodline or their nationality. Similarly today, we don't come to know Jesus because of a family or relationship with a church or in any other way than personally. We don't come to know Jesus because we are righteous and as such, are drawn to the righteousness of Christ. In Romans 3:10-12, we read that there is none righteous - not even one. It is amazing how we are called, because before we come to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, it is as if we are living with blinders, but after He calls us and we accept Him, we wonder how anyone could miss that calling.
It is interesting to realize that Jesus began His earthly ministry at the age of 30 and His ministry only lasted for three short years. We know very little of what happened in His life prior to that, although there are some non-Biblical manuscripts that speak of Jesus' childhood. We all have questions of what He must have been like as a child to His parents, or as a brother to His siblings. However, it was not until the time at which He was baptized by John the Baptist that He began His ministry. In three short years, He altered the course of all mankind in more ways than anybody has done at any point. It is amazing to me to realize that there are believers all over our world and though there are cultural differences, and even here in the States we may have some differences in specific theology points, Jesus is the same to all who have accepted Him. He truly has impacted the world in a way is beyond imagination.
Truly Jesus was in the world. At this time of the year, as we near Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Certainly, there are many who tend to take the Christ out of Christmas, but we know that the reason behind the season is not simply about goodwill among humans, but about the goodwill that was shown to humanity through Christ. Don't allow that thought to be lost as you celebrate this Christmas.
While it is important for us to realize that Christ should be the focal point of Christmas, it is more important for us to understand that Christ should be the focal point of our lives. It is so easy for us to get distracted with all of the coming and going of this world; with all of the pain and heartache; with all of the successes and failures; yet, forget about what Christ has done for us.
Each of us has a choice to personally accept or reject Christ. Others can't do it for you, although they may want to. Parents fervently pray for their children and friends pray for other friends who do not know Christ. Nobody else can pray 'you in', either while you are living, or as some practice, after you die. There is no such thing as a fence sitter when it comes to accepting or rejecting Christ. It is a dangerous game to play to put off a decision to follow Christ until some point later in your life. You may not reach that point and there is no guarantee that you will choose to do so at some point. People's hearts become hardened towards God over time, and if you reject the call of Christ when you can feel it, you may never feel it again. You can't be born into a relationship with Christ by proxy. It isn't based on your family, your friends or your church. It is a personal decision. Have you decided to follow Jesus?
As stated, Jesus was an historical person. Given that He existed, we each have to make a choice. Are you going to say that He was a lunatic and that the words that He spoke were that of a madman? You would be hard pressed to read the gospels and say that the Jesus was an evil man, intending to lead people away from God. Are you going to say that Jesus was merely a good teacher, but nothing more? If you read the teachings of Jesus, it is clear that through Him, people would come to know God. You cannot read the teachings of Christ and not be moved. When you truly put forth the effort to find out about the authenticity of Scripture and the life of Jesus, you will find that you cannot simply explain it all away. You need to make a choice. It is also important for you to realize that it is not enough to simply add the teachings of Christ to some other belief system. To believe in Christ is to realize that there is only one way. John 14:6, Jesus states "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me." Jesus is not another way, but the only way. Would you say that He is your way today? Are you saved by God's Son?