Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

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Cherrypicking the Bible?

On face value, it can seem that Christians pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to obey, and which parts they want to ignore. The issue has come to the fore because of the current debate over same sex marriage, in which Christians can be accused of hypocrisy in claiming the Bible is God’s inspired Word, but not obeying all of it, including the many ‘obscure’ laws in the Old Testament. We may be told that if we no longer observe food laws, we should also be willing to change on sexuality laws, which are in the same book.

So what is going on? Is it true that Christians choose to conveniently ignore these laws, while only holding to those that serve their own moral agenda? Sadly, that can be true.

However any Christian who does not seek to follow all the laws of the Old Testament needs to have a sound reason for doing so, especially if they are going to not only properly understand the Bible, but also explain their faith to those who question.

A simple answer to question of why Christians are allowed to eat shellfish even though it is prohibited in Leviticus 11:9-12 is the teaching of Jesus:

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)’ He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person. (Mark 7:14-23)

On what basis could Jesus seemingly overturn the Old Testament laws about clean and unclean foods, and turn it instead into an issue of what is going on in a person’t heart? Did he actually overturn them, or is there something else happening?

‘Abrogation’ vs. ‘fulfilment’

Abrogation is the idea that one idea or rule is overturned and replaced by another, newer idea or rule. In religious terms, it means that God says something new that replaces something He said previously, simply because it’s His prerogative as God to change His mind. Or, as some ‘progressives’ would say, our primitive and limited understanding of what God was saying in the past has been replaced by a fuller, more enlightened understanding; so we no longer need to take notice of things in the Bible that are outdated.

Abrogation is not a Biblical idea. The Biblical writers are clear that God does not change His mind like a human being does (Numbers 23:19). Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law or what the prophets had said (Matthew 5:17). Paul says that the Gospel does not ‘nullify’ the law, but rather ‘upholds’ it (Romans 3:31).

So Jesus was not simply saying, ‘Times have changed, and so a new rule applies.’ Nor was he claiming some kind of divine ‘Son of God’ right to take away from or add to the Bible.

Fulfilment is the idea that earlier rules or ideas are given by God not as end in themselves, but in anticipation of something that is to come later. They point to, foreshadow and prepare people for what is textboxto come. (Something like the prompting message, ‘type to enter text’ in a word processing  textbox – it creates the space for the intended text to be entered.)

What that means is when the fulfilment comes, along with the new thing, the fulfilment doesn’t abolish the earlier rules and ideas, but actually affirms, honours and completes them. Fulfilment takes the principle behind the rule or idea, and gives it its fullest expression.

The Bible presents Jesus as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets – the rules and messages of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is full of patterns and structures that point to Jesus. Now that Jesus has come, those patterns and structures are ‘obsolete’ in the sense that anyone whose faith is in Jesus does not need to observe them literally, because their full meaning is found in a relationship with Jesus; however Christians do not remove them from the Bible because they stand there as a way to understand who Jesus is and what He did in a fuller, richer way.

All the laws about clean and unclean foods, practices, and even the seemingly obscures laws about clothing, haircuts and washing were all things that made the Israelites distinctly different to all the nations around them. They were also a constant reminder to them that the creation is not the way it is supposed to be – it has been tainted with sin and death and disease. While many of the laws had a practical use in terms of health and hygiene, they primarily existed to highlight the difference between the way the world (including us) is, and the way it was meant to be before human sin spoiled things.

So, these laws pointed to something beyond themselves: the promise of God that one day the world we live in – and we along with it – will be restored to its original creational design.

How to know what to keep

Why does this mean that Christians continue to uphold Leviticus 18:22 but not Leviticus 11:9-12? It’s because the law about eating shellfish was one of those rules that foreshadowed Jesus, whereas the law about homosexuality was based on a moral principle of sexual and marital purity, that Jesus repeatedly affirmed as still standing (along with the rest of the Ten Commandments – for example, see Matthew 5-7 and 19:18).

FulfilmentThe Ten Commandments were the moral code upon which the laws of Israel were built. All of the more than 600 laws on the Old Testament can be traced back to its foundation in one or more of the Ten Commandments. Now that structure has been removed by the coming of Jesus, the foundation still remains. So, instructions given to Christians in the New Testament are also built on this same moral code; the key difference being that Christians, through faith in Jesus, have been given a freedom to obey this moral code not from a fear of punishment, but as an expression of a restored relationship with God. So a Christian’s motivation for not practising homosexuality is not primarily because it is forbidden, but because they see that it is a distortion of something with is far better and life-giving. A Christian seeks to obey God’s design with a joyful heart rather than outward conformity.

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This last week at Flinders Uni was Islam Awareness Week. I thought it would be appropriate to be aware of Islam (more that I am normally) by seeking to reflect on what is being communicated by our Muslim friends, and to give some responses and some questions from a Christian perspective. This is the second of a few posts I will be making over the next few days.

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an accomplished Quran scholar, and to be honest, I always find most English translations of the Quran grammatically awkward and difficult to read. So I am willing to recognise that my interpretation of this Sura may not be entirely sound. However, I have been trained – and have taught for many years – the principles of Biblical interpretation, which can mostly be applied to any piece of literature.


Sura 8:11-18, with a depiction of the Battle of Badr

Sura 8:11-18, with a depiction of the Battle of Badr

Sura 8 (suras are the equivalent of books in the Bible) contains a verse often quoted by Islamic ‘extremists’ to justify their terrorist actions:

‘I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.’ (8:12, Yusuf Ali – the version quoted throughout this post)

On the face of it, it seems a pretty clear command for Muslims to terrorise, behead and disfigure non-Muslims. However, it is also claimed by many Muslims that this verse needs to be seen in its textual and historical context.

Fair enough. I say the same thing often to those who quote Bible verses out of context, and it is an important principle in Biblical exegesis – and if fact in understanding any piece of literature. ‘A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext’ (D.A. Carson). So, let’s look at the context.

Firstly, we need to see that what is quoted above is only part of the verse. The full verse reads:

‘Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers…”

The word ‘remember’ should highlight to us that Muhammed is being reminded of something – an experience he has had in the past. If we look earlier in the Sura, we read:

Behold! Allah promised you one of the two (enemy) parties, that it should be yours: Ye wished that the one unarmed should be yours, but Allah willed to justify the Truth according to His words and to cut off the roots of the Unbelievers; (verse 7)

This is a reference to an event that happened early on in Muhammed’s time in Medina. The prophet, having been rejected in Mecca, had gone to Medina, where he had managed to gather a band of followers – at this point it was 313 men, called ‘Muslims’ because they had submitted to Muhammed and his religion. The future of Islam seemed tenuous – many surrounding people opposed them, including the leaders of Mecca, the Quraysh. One day in 624, after a year of conflicts with the Quraysh, news came that a caravan of gold belonging to the Quraysh would be passing by, guarded by 40 unarmed men. News also came that a Quraysh army was on the way from Mecca to defend this caravan, as the Muslims had a history of raiding caravans. Muhammed faced a choice of two options: Raid the caravan and get the 50000 pieces of gold it carried, or ride out against the Quraysh at great risk to his and his men’s lives, trusting that Allah would give victory. He chose the second option, and was successful in this battle, which took place at Badr. This was the key turning point in his battle to conquer Mecca, and it confirmed in the eyes of many that Muhammed was indeed the rightful leader and prophet of Islam.

This puts this verse into context. Muhammed is being reminded of Allah’s promise to him as he rode, outnumbered 3 to 1, to attack his enemies – those who had rejected his religion and so were ‘unbelievers’. It comes after another promise in verse 9:

“I will assist you with a thousand of the angels, ranks on ranks.”

…which Muslims believe actually happened, and was the reason for these first Muslims’ victory.

So, to be fair, it seems I should use the same principles that I myself use when I read about battles in the Old Testament and God’s commands to destroy all the people in a city (eg. Joshua 6:17) I say, ‘This command was given for that battle, in that time and place, and applied to the Israelites as they were conquering the promised land; it is not to be taken as a command for me today as a Christian, nor for any nation today that claims to be Christian.’ This is the approach taken by many Muslim scholars in understanding Sura 8:12

However, there are a few problems that I see with treating this verse in the same way as I do similar Old Testament passages.

Firstly, unlike the Bible, the Quran does not actually provide the historical context of this verse, or in fact the whole of Sura 8. The Quran does not contain lengthy sections of narrative equivalent to the Old Testament narratives; it’s as if the book assumes knowledge of the stories of both the Bible and of the events of Muhammed’s life. So, while the commands to Joshua about Jericho are firmly grounded in the story of the Israelites entering the land, these commands to Muhammed are not set against a backdrop of a Quranic account of the battle; all that extra information has to be gleaned from extra-Quranic sources.

Secondly, the Quran, unlike the Bible, does not have a two-testament structure of promise and fulfilment. The Old Testament dealt with national, ethnic Israel, as the people out of whom would flow His blessing to all nations. With the arrival of the Messiah Jesus, the season for national Israel was ended, as all the promises, types and shadows found their fulfilment in the reality of the Messiah. God now deals with people from every tribe, tongue and nation who relate to Him by faith in Jesus; the commands and principles that applied to national Israel either no longer apply, or are understood in the light of these spiritual realities. (For example, see 1 Peter 2, where Peter applies promises relating to the Temple and to the choosing of Israel directly to Christians who worship and testify to Jesus.)

The Quran does not have this structure, but instead has a uniformity of application across all Suras to all Muslims; one cannot draw an ‘old vs. new’ distinction.

This has meant that many Muslims have taken the sura to contain commands and principles that apply at all times to all Muslims:

‘This surah enunciates general principles of war (one aspect of Jihad) and peace while reviewing the Battle of Badr and uses them for the moral training of the Muslims.’ (Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi – Tafhim al-Qur’an – (The Meaning of the Qur’an) http://englishtafsir.com/Quran/8/index.html accessed Oct 11, 2014)

This interpretation seems, to me, to be supported by the verses that follow:

13 This because they contended against Allah and His Messenger: If any contend against Allah and His Messenger, Allah is strict in punishment.

14 Thus (will it be said): “Taste ye then of the (punishment): for those who resist Allah, is the penalty of the Fire.”

15 O ye who believe! when ye meet the Unbelievers in hostile array, never turn your backs to them.

16 If any do turn his back to them on such a day – unless it be in a stratagem of war, or to retreat to a troop (of his own)- he draws on himself the wrath of Allah, and his abode is Hell,- an evil refuge (indeed)!

17 It is not ye who slew them; it was Allah: when thou threwest (a handful of dust), it was not thy act, but Allah’s: in order that He might test the Believers by a gracious trial from Himself: for Allah is He Who heareth and knoweth (all things).

Verse 13 is a warning to anyone (not just the Quraysh) of the severity of Allah’s punishment for resisting Islam.

Verse 14 seems to use this incident as a precedent for future conflicts with unbelievers: their defeat in battle against the Muslims is a foretaste of the punishment of Hell that is to follow; Allah is using them to punish the unbelievers.

And verse 15-17 appears to be addressing not Muhammed at the battle of Badr, but those whom Muhammed is addressing and teaching in the principles of war: he tells them to never give up when fighting against unbelievers; if they do they themselves will end up in Hell with the unbelievers; and that their slaying of their enemies is ultimately Allah’s actions.

So, if my interpretation of Sura 8 is correct, this leads me to ask some sober, sincere and respectful questions of my Muslim friends; (and in asking I trust that we will be able to remain friends).

  1. Am I mistaken in any way in my interpretation of these verses? Or, am I right in saying that verses 15-17 are to be applied to all Muslim everywhere at all times?
  2. If the Quran truly is the pure, final message of Allah to humanity through Muhammed, why can this Sura only really be understood by accessing extra-Quranic documents? Does that not make this book insufficient and difficult to understand, and obscure to the common reader who has no access to this extra scholarship?
  3. Do the modern Jidadists who take verse 8 as a literal, binding command upon them today, actually have an interpretive case for doing so? And while you may differ in how you interpret this verse, can you at least acknowledge that they are simply seeking to be true to the revelation from Allah they have received through the words of his prophet, and so cannot be called ‘non-Islamic’?
  4. How, in light of this Sura, can we still strive to live alongside one another with peace, respect and friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims? Is this Sura a hindrance, or a help in achieving this goal?

A member of God’s family, the church

God has a magnificent goal for His children:

‘The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ,until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.’ (Ephesians 4:9-16)

The Father wants you to move on into maturity as a Christian. Just as a child starts with a basic knowledge of life, and grows into adulthood through their learning and experiences, so too Christians are to seek to grow up in their faith and become the kind of person the Father wants them to be – ‘the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’, or in other words, just like Jesus.

This is not a challenge for you to accomplish yourself. Notice in the passage above that this is something God is doing, and it is something that He will be successful in. The Father’s aim is that His Son will ultimately be honoured and glorified as we clearly and joyfully display his image; and so all of creation will be filled with those who know and love the glory of God. This is as certain as His own love for his beloved Son. So we can have a wonderful assurance for both ourselves and for our Christian brothers and sisters:

I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

The passage also tells us the means by which the Father makes us more like Jesus: through the ministry of other Christians in the context of the church, and particularly through our Christian leaders. These people are God’s gifts to us. Their ministry is to bring God’s word to us, because the more we hear God’s word the more we will grow.

  • Apostles and Prophets are the ones through whom God has laid the foundation for what we know about Him and his work. The Prophets (someone who speaks God’s word) who wrote the Old Testament and the Apostles (someone sent by Jesus) who wrote the New Testament were enabled by the Holy Spirit to communicate the truth that is centred in Jesus. We benefit from their ministry as we read the Bible today. There are also men and women today who continue this work, not in the sense of receiving new revelations from God, but as they lead and teach God’s people and enable us to better understand the Bible and the church’s mission.
  • Evangelists (from the greek word for Gospel, ‘evangel’) are those who share the good news of Jesus with others. You must have met at least one evangelist, otherwise you would not be a Christian! The person who first told you about Jesus was being an evangelist, as was the person who may have been instrumental in you coming to faith in Jesus. It is because of God’s gift of evangelists that the Gospel is still being spoken around the world. You too will be this gift to someone else whenever you share what you know of Jesus with them.
  • Pastors (literally ‘shepherds’) and teachers (someone who helps us understand and live the truth) are those who particularly lead and care for God’s people in the context of a church community. They help us better understand the Bible, and give wisdom in putting it into practice in out everyday lives. They are available to answer questions, give guidance in life decisions, and are used by the Holy Spirit to equip us to be on about the Father’s business in this world.

The key to growing into a mature Christian is to be a part of a community – a ‘church’ – where all of these people may have input into your life, and where, in time, you may also be used by God to contribute to the lives of others – ‘so that the body builds itself up in love.’

The next studies explore what being a member of a church community looks like.

What follows is not a detailed Bible Study; it contains no Bible references as prooftexts. Rather, it is an attempt at a broad overview of the issue, trying to capture the trajectory of the Biblical story and the unfolding revelation of God’s purpose. It started as a facebook comment, but then got too big for its boots, and so it ended up here instead.

In the Old Testament, God gives Israel specific sexuality laws, including the prohibition of homosexual intercourse/relations. For this, the penalty is death by stoning. This is an outworking of the 7th commandment ‘Do not commit adultery’ (Which Jesus shows us in the sermon on the mount is not kept by a simplistic not having sex with someone else’s spouse, but even includes lustful thoughts and possibly the M word), and this 7th commandment is itself founded on the creation of human beings in God’s image as male & female. We also see now that this commandment is much bigger than ‘That’s the way God designed us’ – in that marriage reflects Christ and the Church and God’s big goal for all of history, something that is also hinted at throughout the Old Testament narrative.

So sexual purity is first and foremost about truly reflecting the glory of God, something about which God is extremely jealous, and will defend above everything else. The personal morality and societal benefit is not an end in itself, but a means to a higher, much more glorious and liberating goal. That’s why those things that defaced true marriage received such a harsh penalty. Break the 7th commandment and you essentially slap God in the face. Slap God in the face, and you will get what you deserve: the penalty of death, and the community will clearly understand that God not only defends HIs honour, but He also so loves His people that He will purge evil and injustice from among them.

Then we come to the New Testament. Jesus repeatedly affirms the principle of the 7th commandment, going to Genesis and the creation of man and woman and in some quite strong teaching about divorce. While he does not specifically refer to homosexuality (neither does he mention incest, bestiality, rape etc.), his affirmation of this command shows he affirms all the other applications of it, including the prohibition of homosexuality. ‘Sexual Immorality’ then is a term that covers all the prohibitions of the Torah, not just our modern way of thinking of it as ‘promiscuity’. He makes it clear that God’s standard has not dropped, by even applying extreme measures like cutting off your hand and gouging out your eye – which are given in the context of sexual sin – not as penalties for breaking it, but as examples of how far we must go if we think that we will be able to overcome temptation and sin ourselves. (If you think that the sermon on the mount is the rulebook for Christians to follow, think again. Apply it literally, and you’ll be one eyed and left-handed).

In doing this, Jesus is demonstrating that this commandment is not fulfilled by him in the sense of being made ‘obsolete’ (such as, for example, food laws), but in the sense of him, as the second Adam, perfectly keeping it on our behalf. It’s like he said, ‘Here’s the standard of the law: I’ll raise it to where it truly sits, at a height that you must realise you will never be able to reach because you are sinful, and then I will both keep it on your behalf, and come under the penalty you deserve for not keeping it yourself.’

The Apostles reflect this in their teaching (the Epistles). Paul in Romans uses homosexuality as what seems like the ‘ultimate’ sin in his discussion of humanity’s sinfulness, implying that same sex relations are virtually the lowest we can sink in defacing God’s good design. This is connected to his presentation in Ephesians of human marriage as a picture of Christ and the Church – deface marriage, and you slap God in the face and trash His purpose in Christ. We are called to sexual purity, and the honouring of marriage and family, and to distance ourselves from the world’s expressions of sexuality that are more about personal pleasure and ritual idol worship than they are about loving God and our neighbour.

A Christian is one who seeks to do all things to the Glory of God; as one who loves God they seek to obey His commands, not simply for pragmatic purposes, but in order to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has redeemed them. Homosexuality is abhorrent for a child of God, not because they fear stoning, or even because it may damage the wellbeing of society, but because it trashes the Gospel of the Son who laid down His life for his beloved bride, and who invites those who live by faith in him to attend the ‘wedding supper of the lamb,’ which will be in the new Heavens and new Earth.

So the 7th commandment has been transformed from a prohibition mandating stoning, to a glorious expression of the goodness and faithfulness of a Husband who will never commit adultery against his Bride, and a Bride who so loves the Husband who laid down his life for her that she desires to honour and respect Him by remaining pure in every way.

sneak preview of the talk I am about to give 2-4 times these two weeks as part of Jesus Week – ‘Meet the Real Jesus’ at Flinders Uni:

Text: Mark 8:27-38

The concept of God judging is not a palatable idea for many people. It’s the reason why some people reject all forms of religious belief altogether, saying, ‘I can’t believe in a God who will send me to Hell simply for not believing in Him,’ or, ‘God would be a moral monster if he demands that we meet such an unreachable standard, and then sends us to hell if we fail.’

Yet regardless of what intellectual conclusions we make, there is an undeniable reality that human beings have sense of justice, fairness, and an innate desire to see evil and wrongness corrected. If this were not the case, I would have no basis for rejecting or refuting the Christian belief in God as Judge. If I reject the idea of God because, in my view, God is unjust, I am betraying my implicit belief in and desire for truth and justice by saying God does not meet my standard of what is good and right and fair.

We all agree that justice is a good thing, especially when it impacts us directly; if we were to witness our own loved ones brutally killed in front of us, we would feel/know it to be a great travesty if the murderer was set free. We agree that it is right to be angry about the human rights abuses that happen in the world, and we feel a sense of satisfaction when dictators are toppled and criminals are captured, or even when we are simply vindicated and shown to be right when we have been falsely accused. Justice is in our bones, and you could argue that it is a foundation of civilised society.

So why do we get upset when we hear the idea that God will bring justice to this world through Jesus Christ? Why are we happy for human beings to carry out justice, but struggle with the idea of God doing so? Who is more qualified to bring about justice – a good and loving, all knowing God, or imperfect human beings with mixed motives and limited knowledge?

Mark 8:27-38 is a passage that can help us understand something of what it means for Jesus to be our judge.

Twice in this passage Jesus refers to himself as ‘The Son of Man’. This term comes from the Old Testament (The first part of the Bible), from a prophecy by the 4th century BC prophet Daniel. In a vision he saw God on his throne just like a judge in a courtroom; before him were all the nations and peoples of the world. A person whom he described as, ‘One like a Son of Man’ was brought directly into the presence of God, who gave him authority over all the nations of the earth, and all people worshipped him. This ‘Son of Man’ is essentially God’s representative; he rules with God’s full authority.

By using this title for himself, Jesus is claiming to be the one whom Daniel saw in his vision. At another time Jesus said that because he is God’s Son, God the Father has entrusted him with the role of judging the whole world; so each one of us will have to stand before Jesus and be assessed at to whether we meet God’s perfect standard.

This is what Jesus is talking about at the end of this passage when he says in verse 38:

‘Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

The word ashamed here does not just mean ‘embarrassed’ in the way that we might use it. It is a word that means being wrongly aligned, a bit like backing the losing football team, or  being loyal to the wrong side in a war. Jesus says that rejecting Him and his words now, will result in him rejecting us when he comes as judge.

So, what is it about Jesus and his words that is so important for us to not reject? We see this in the first section of the passage.

In verses 27-30 Jesus has asked his disciples who people say he is – and who they say he is. Jesus considers it important that people understand who he is and what his mission is. The public have some ideas, but when Peter says, ‘You are the Christ’, we know from other accounts of this event that Jesus commended him – his view was the right view. ‘The Christ’ means ‘God’s appointed King’ – the one who would set up God’s kingdom; he was promised to the Jewish people over 1000 years earlier, and they had been waiting for Him to arrive all this time. They knew that the Christ would be the king not just of their people, but of the whole world; that he would bring peace and justice to the world, and enable people to truly know and worship God.

This description may sound very similar to the description I just gave of the ‘Son of Man’, and that is because the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘Son of Man’ meant the same thing. They are speaking of the same person – and Jesus is this person.

However both the public and the disciples thought – wrongly – that when the Christ came, he would use military strength to set up his kingdom. That is why Jesus told his disciples not to tell people about him – because he knew the people might start a violent revolution.

Jesus goes on in verses 31-33 to explain how he will set up God’s kingdom: He would suffer, be killed, and rise again after 3 days. This does not sound like a great and powerful king, which is why Peter rebuked him. However he did not understand why Jesus had to die and rise again.

Any kingdom need two elements to be a true kingdom: a King, and citizens. A King without citizens is not really a king. So in order to be the King of God’s kingdom, Jesus must gather for himself those who will be citizens of His kingdom. However, there is one problem. There is not one human being who is worthy or qualified to be a citizen of his kingdom. The Bible tells us that all of humanity has rebelled against God – we have become God’s enemies. We have chosen not to live under God’s loving authority, but instead set ourselves up as the rulers of our own lives and of this world. This is what the Bible calls ‘Sin’. Sin is not primarily bad things we do, but an attitude in our hearts that says, ‘No’ to God. It is a rejection of the relationship with God that we have been created for. As a result, our lives are filled with actions and deeds that reflect this – things we call ‘sins’.

God is rightfully angry at this, because He is good and just and loving, and so He will not tolerate Sin. If we reject a relationship with Him and want nothing to do with Him, the fair punishment for this is Him rejecting us in the same way. And because this sin of rejecting God is so serious – it is essentially ‘cosmic treason’, the punishment must also be just as serious – being cut off from God and all his goodness, forever. And so, as we have seen already, those who reject (are ‘ashamed of’) God by rejecting His Son Jesus – will also be rejected.

Because the core problem of sin is a problem of the heart, we cannot fix this simply by trying to do good things or changing our behaviour. We need to be reconciled to God. The attitude of our heart that causes us to be under God’s anger needs to be dealt with; we owe God a massive debt, and it is a debt that we cannot pay or make up for. If a criminal is found guilty in a court of law, he cannot say to the judge, ‘Please let me off, because I feel really sorry for what I did,’ or ‘I shouldn’t go to prison because I promise to do good from now on.’ If a crime has been committed, the penalty must be paid, otherwise there would be no justice.

This is why Jesus said that he had to die. The penalty we deserve for our treason is death, and since we cannot pay it ourselves, Jesus, the Son of God, has paid it for us. All of God’s anger that was rightfully directed against us, was instead directed against Jesus in our place. And by rising from the dead, Jesus demonstrated that this penalty has been fully paid: the fact that Jesus is no longer dead means that the penalty of death has been paid!

What does this then mean for us right now?

God has given us the means by which we may be reconciled to Him, and by being reconciled, we may become citizens of His kingdom. Through trusting in Jesus – and not in ourselves – we may know with certainty that God has brought us back to Himself.

We see this in the next verse – 34.

Jesus tells people that they should ‘deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him’. He is describing here what in other places the Bible calls ‘repentance and faith’ – or ‘turning and trusting’.

To ‘deny ourselves’ means we recognise that there is nothing we can do to fix our broken relationship. The problem is just too big, and so we need to be prepared to call out to Jesus for Him to save us.

To ‘take up one’s cross’ was quite a shocking thing to say – as in that time and place only the worst criminals – murderers and traitors – were crucified. So it means that we recognise that we actually deserve to face the required punishment for our treason against God! It was not coincidence that God allowed Jesus to die in this way, as him being crucified was a picture of our own crime against Him. This is what ‘repentance’ means: to turn from where we are in our sin and rebellion – to say ‘I am wrong, and God is right!’

The third thing Jesus says is ‘follow me’. This is a picture of trusting. We would only follow someone wherever they go if we knew we could trust them – or rather, if we knew they could be trusted fully. To follow Jesus means to completely depend on him to bring us back to God the Father; to accept that His death and resurrection is the only way that we can come into His Kingdom, since it is the only thing that can fix our problem.

What is the result of this? What does all this mean for someone who turns and trusts in Jesus?

It means we will be citizens of God’s kingdom, with Jesus us our good, loving, fair and just ruler – the Judge of all humanity who loved us so much that He came to bear the judgement for us. What a wonderful person to have as our ruler! It means also that we will have hope – hope for ourselves that we will never be rejected or abandoned by a divine Father who loves us so greatly, and calls us to know Him personally; and hope for this whole universe, that Jesus is ruling over it in its entirety, and will one day return to gather us to be with him, and to renew this whole world and remove all that is evil, unjust, painful and sad. This is the kind of promise that Jesus makes for all who trust Him.

So, will you repent and trust in Jesus?