“Buddha is not essential to the teaching of Buddhism, nor Muhammed to Islam. But everything about Christianity is determined by the person and work of JESUS Christ.” (from Paul Little in ‘Know What You Believe’, emphasis added)
JESUS is a tough message because it’s counter-cultural and exclusive. I can talk about God with my neighbor, no problem, but the moment I mention JESUS, or that He is the only way to everlasting life, and all of a sudden I’ve become too religious. They don’t want to hear about it. They don’t want to hear words like incarnation and resurrection, and JESUS.
I get that. These words are weird. They are long, easy to misspell, and don’t mirror everyday language. I don’t just hop into Starbucks, order my latté and sit down to talk about being resurrected. I might order my latté and sit down to talk about love, or forgiveness, or anger, all of which are characteristics of my JESUS – my God, and people would track with that. But resurrection? Eesh.
Simply put, incarnation is God becoming flesh – human. This divine spirit – God, became fully human, and maintained his divine spirit in doing so. This is what makes JESUS CHRIST so unfathomable. How can He be both? It doesn’t fit into our mental categories of life. It just doesn’t. And that’s what makes it spectacular. The God of Christianity, unlike any other religion, walked this Earth, spoke directly to us, and touched our hands, mouths, and feet. He also spoke into our hearts and lit a fire of emotion there where nothing and no one else could. He approached us in ways no other man or experience of nature could. And He had to take on the human body to deliver His message.
His message is one of words and actions, recounted through the words of His disciples and followers in the New Testament. Why is this important? As Paul Little writes, “People will die for what they mistakenly think is true, but they don’t die for what they know is false.” And history is littered with people, including the disciples, who have died defending the life and work of JESUS.
You might ask, what made them willing to die for their beliefs? Well I know for certain that if I saw a dead man brought back to life after I buried Him and held his funeral, I’d be weighing my options on matters of truth and life. Could it be that I hallucinated? Certainly not, as I confirmed what I was seeing when I touched his skin, heard him speak, and watched him walk side by side with me. You see, that’s what resurrection is. If you’re into zombies and the like, you might have heard this word before. But for Christianity, resurrection means more than ‘brought back to life after death.” Resurrection is God’s display of power over death – and the confirmation of all His promises made throughout the course of history. And that, is awesome.
Capable of inspiring awe – is what awesome means. It’s quite overused in today’s common conversations. I can tell you that Pokémon does not inspire awe within me, even if my nephew thinks Pokémon is awesome. What stops me in my tracks is God’s display of power on Earth.
Our enemy is death and Satan, who is the bearer of death. Satan brings about the fall of man by tempting us to acts of disobedience towards God. God asks us to abide by His rules, in and through His love. When our lives go off track through lies, gossip, or hatred toward one another, Satan cheers us on and God’s wrath grows as he demands reparation for such actions towards His creation. God’s not really happy that you’re sleeping with the wife of one of his beloved humans, and breaking his rules of human engagement. Seriously.
JESUS is the only one who quenches God’s wrath. How? Great question. But a little unpacking first.
Sin is any act against God and His will. Sin separates us from God as we take over His throne to decide for ourselves right from wrong, to be judge and jury over our life and those around us. This throne belongs solely to God. I know I didn’t create the Universe, so why do I think I get to rule over it like I own the place? It’s God’s, and it’s His to decide what to do with. And I’m just a part of His creation. I know I’m special to Him, because He told me so, but I’m not Him. And that’s a big deal.
And on top of that, we’re condemned to live in sin. It’s just how we are, going all the way back to the beginning. We are broken people, incapable of doing right 100% of the time. Yes, this absolutely sucks. But try to do 100% right for an entire day and you’ll see just how incapable you are.
The punishment for our wrongdoing, our sin, is death. This is God’s decision, as mentioned before – it’s His world and we are His for Him to decide what to do with. For example, just as I have belongings, if one breaks, I choose whether I want to throw it away or repair it. Sometimes I just don’t feel like a repair is worth it. But God thought otherwise about us. God loved us so much that He choose to repair us, to breathe new life into us and put us back together.
Sin, our brokenness, calls for death. God stood His ground, through His justice, and demanded it. But not just any death. He demanded a death that would right all wrongs, for eternity. And this could not be just any death. It had to be the death of a perfect being. Why? Think about it, if you’re really sorry about something, do you deliver half-dead roses as a way to make amends? Hell no. You buy the best roses money can buy. You apologize with your entire heart, and you fervently attempt to show, in any way possible, your regret and remorse. You attempt to achieve your heart’s desire for forgiveness with the best and perfectly crafted apology you know how to make. For God, that was JESUS.
God sent His Son, JESUS – the perfect sacrifice. By JESUS dying, He absorbed God’s wrath in place of sinners. The death bounty that was placed on each of our heads? The heavy wrath of God? JESUS paid it, each and every bounty, with His life.
You see, JESUS did right 100% of the time. He of all people, was the least deserving of death. But He had a mission. And that mission was to take the sin of the world on His shoulders and carry it into the grave. To bury our wrongdoing forever, so that we might have eternal life with God once again. THAT is how much He loves you.
On the cross, God turned His back on His beloved Son. Why? Because God couldn’t look on at JESUS and the fullness of sin that He embodied. JESUS was brimming with our sin; every lie, every murder, every rape, and every theft. It. was. ugly. JESUS was every one of us, on the cross – our substitute that took our place in death. And that hurt God, as much as it satisfied Him. A finality to the heartache was that God now rejoined His creation through His Son’s death.
Much like repairing the belonging that has broken, putting the pieces back together can be a painstaking, time consuming chore. Yet after the repair has been made, the emphasis shifts from the repairing to the like-new belonging. You are rejoined with your belonging.
And that’s resurrection. God didn’t leave His Son in Hell with the sins of the world and Satan. For three days, He did. Three days in Hell – no thanks. I’m not sure what happened those three days, but I envision one helluva battle between God and Satan. I’m sure the devil didn’t see it coming either. I bet he thought he’d won. But God came to His Son’s rescue – eyes blazing and muscles bulging. Okay I made that up, but maybe so! Through God’s power (whatever that looks like), he defeated Satan and raised His Son from Hell, bringing Him back to life with Him. Holy smokes and glory!! God overcame death and stated to all of creation that death has no power over Him, or us.
Just like God raised JESUS from the grave, He raises us from that same place, under one condition; we must believe and trust in that beautiful resurrection of His Son. We believe in JESUS, who lived a blameless life, who overcame death. That God’s promises are true, and he always responds to our faith.
Sin’s power was broken the day JESUS rose from the grave. The resurrection of JESUS calls us to believe in our own imminent death unless we direct our life to following Him – His ways, and His life leadings. Through a willing Son, both divine and human, and a death He didn’t deserve but willingly endured, JESUS now stands at the right hand of God, and goes before us as our defense, that although we sin, we humbly approach the throne of God for forgiveness, asking for life eternal.
Like a repaired belonging, we enjoy that we have what we once thought was lost. We accept the cracks and chips, because we know what the belonging was meant to be in the beginning. And we love it anyway. We know that the belonging will never be perfect again. It was broken. But we know underneath the cracks and chips that perfection is not far off.
We’re resurrected beings through JESUS. And even though we have weird words to describe it, the message – tough as it may be – is that through our belief in the life and acts of JESUS, we have eternal life. That’s Christianity. That’s powerful. That. is. awesome.