On today’s podcast, Greg received a question about the detailed vision of a temple at the end of Ezekiel (chapters 40–48)—specifically, about the section on offerings introduced by verse 45:22: “On that day the prince shall provide for himself and all the people of the land a bull for a sin offering.”
If this is a reference to the Messiah at the end of the age, then clearly this is a problem for Christianity because Jesus, “having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). He won’t be offering any sacrifices in a future temple.
This is something I’ve looked into in the past, and interpretations of the chapters describing Ezekiel’s vision vary. Here’s a brief summary of a few different positions from the ESV Study Bible:
With regard to the meaning of this passage as a whole:
(1) Some interpreters understand this vision as a prophecy that will be fulfilled literally, with a rebuilt temple and Israel dwelling in the land according to its tribes—a future millennial kingdom on the earth…. Many who hold this position believe that literal animal sacrifices will be offered, but that in the future millennial kingdom they will function as reminders of the complete and sufficient death of Christ, a function different from what they had in the OT.
(2) Other interpreters see this vision of a new temple and a renewal of the land of Israel as an extended, detailed metaphor predicting the presence of God among his people in the new covenant age (that is, his presence in the church).
(3) Another view is that the vision predicts God’s presence among his people in the new heavens and new earth (cf. Isa. 66:17; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1), not as physical details that will be literally fulfilled but as symbolic indications of the great blessings of that future age. In this interpretation, the details about worship and sacrifices are symbols of the centrality of worship of God: the temple represents the orderliness and beauty of God’s heavenly dwelling place; the priests and their sacrifices represent the service and worship of all God’s people; the division of the land represents the allocation of places to live for all God’s people; and the river represents the outward flow of God’s blessings to his people forever.
(4) Finally, it is possible that there are both literal and symbolic elements in this vision, and that, as with the visions in Ezekiel 1, this vision describes future realities that cannot be fully expressed in terms of Ezekiel’s present realities. Almost all interpreters agree that Ezekiel 40–48 is one of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible.
It’s also possible the answer is simply this: Ezekiel’s vision conveys instructions, not predictions. There’s a clear break at the beginning of the vision in chapter 40 from the prophecy in chapter 39, and from this point forward, the chapters read like commands (“You shall do this,” “These are the statutes,” etc.), with warnings for the people to repent and follow these commands (e.g., 45:9), rather than descriptions of the future. Though the instructions for the building and running of a temple are given in a vision, the genre of the passage is more like the tabernacle instructions in Exodus than it is like the prophecy in the previous chapter. There’s no unconditional announcement in chapters 40–48 that this is what will take place. In fact, there’s a conditional element introduced in 43:9–11:
Now let them put away their harlotry and the corpses of their harlotry and the corpses of their kings far from Me; and I will dwell among them forever.
As for you, son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the plan. If they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes and do them.
“If they are ashamed…let them….” “Now let them…and I will....” “Write it…so that they may observe its whole design.” In other words, these last few chapters are instructions God was calling the people to follow, conditional instructions with conditional results. They did not repent and follow them, and so the temple was not built and God did not dwell among them in this way. Instead, Christ came with His unconditional salvation, and the Lord filled His new temple (His people) with His Spirit in a way that far surpassed the way in which Israel failed.
They failed because, as fallen human beings, we’re not morally capable of the kind of obedience required to deserve the dwelling of God among us. This is what God taught all humankind through Israel’s history. We needed to understand that even when given perfect knowledge of all of God’s commands, we could never save ourselves through the Law because the problem lies in us. His Law doesn't have the power to change our morally broken souls, and no merely human prince could perfect us with his sacrifices. We have an undeniable, absolute need for God’s merciful, undeserved redemption and regeneration. The purpose of Israel and all its history was to prepare the world for Jesus and the Gospel.
For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:21–22)
For now, in terms of Israel, we remain in Romans 11:25–32:
[A] partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in…. For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.
And how beautiful that mercy will be!
Now if [Israel’s] transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! … For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15)
Now, in regards to Isaiah 65, this chapter speaks about future Prophecies and Promises that GOD Almighty is making for the future of the people of Israel. So, this is not a book that is just giving mere commands. It is rather speaking about the future and the End of Times. Interestingly, we read the following from this chapter (click on the link to read the entire short chapter):
"3They keep making me angry by sneering at me, while offering sacrifices to idols in gardens and burning incense to them on bricks. 4They spend their nights hiding in burial caves; they eat the meat of pigs, cooked in sauces made of stuff unfit to eat. 5And then they say to others, "Don't come near us! We're dedicated to God." Such people are like smoke, irritating my nose all day." (CEV Bible, Isaiah 65:3-5)
Here we see that the pork eaters are so detested by GOD Almighty that He likened them to smoke irritating His Nose all day. This is a very powerful statement regarding eating pork and how detestable it is to GOD Almighty in the Bible.…
So what is it? Is pig's meat allowed today or not?
How would you respond to this argument? Does our eating pork prove we aren’t following the true God? Tell us what you think, and then we’ll hear Alan’s answer on Thursday.
In an interview with Michael Reeves, Piper explains that when he says the Bible is self-attesting, he’s not referring to the Bible’s claims to be true, nor does he mean the Holy Spirit will give an extra revelation from God testifying about its truthfulness to those who read it. Rather, it’s about the content of the Word itself:
MICHAEL REEVES: You talk about Scripture as a window through which we see the glory of God. It’s not that the glory of God comes alongside Scripture in a different way; it’s mediated through Scripture.
JOHN PIPER: No, no. That’s an absolutely crucial distinction. The “alongside” idea of self-attestation is misleading. In other words, when I say that the Holy Spirit testifies…I don’t mean that there’s added information—so I’m reading my Bible, and I’m praying, “Oh God, is this your word? Is this your word?” And a voice comes into your head and says, “THIS IS THE WORD OF GOD.” That’s a dangerous voice! That is not the way it happens. What the Holy Spirit does—another picture besides window is a cloudy day. The sun is shining [above the clouds]. The sun is the Word and the glory of God in the Word. What does the Holy Spirit do? He doesn’t whisper to people down here, “There’s a sun up there. He’s shining. Trust me.” That’s not what He does. He blows the clouds [away], and what convicts us is not the voice of the Holy Spirit, but it is the sight of God in and through the Word.
MICHAEL REEVES: That’s so helpful for a doubting believer because the doubting believer could feel: I’m longing for this secret extra voice to authenticate God’s Word to me, and I’m not hearing it, so I’m going through the Bible, and I’m praying for some extra thing. But you’re not saying there is some extra thing.
Saying the Bible is self-attesting in this way—that when we apprehend the glory of God revealed within its pages, we recognize it to be divine—is quite different from the Mormon method of authentication, which is described in Doctrine and Covenants 9:8:
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
The feelings of Mormons and Christians cannot be compared to each other in order to discover which is true, but texts can be studied to see what they reveal, and argued for and against on that basis. Piper explains more about this in the clip below:
What if you don’t see the glory of God in the Bible? And worse, what if some parts appear to be inglorious? Is this all just subjective? How does this fit in with apologetics? It’s well worth watching the entire interview to hear more, particularly since, sometimes, as apologists, we get caught up defending a system and forget that the whole purpose of everything we do is to point to our God, who is true, and beautiful, and good, and personal. The interview is a good reminder.
Richard Mouw, professor of Faith and Public Life and former president of Fuller Seminary, has written a piece at First Things titled “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy.” It’s a lengthy article and there is much that needs responding to, but it’s too much for a single blog post. So let me just offer a few thoughts on some of his key points.
(1) First, Mouw sets up a false dichotomy when he writes:
At stake in this dispute is a choice between two approaches to Mormon teachings and practice. One is skeptical and presumes that Mormonism is a deeply heretical form of Christianity, so much so that dialogue is impossible. The other is more trusting and is willing to entertain the possibility that Mormonism has the resources for theological self-criticism and self-correction, and that dialogue might help in this process. Recent Mormon history suggests the latter approach is more fitting, and more in keeping with the way Mormons themselves understand their tradition.
These are not our only two choices. Why can’t one presume Mormonism is deeply heretical and that dialogue with Mormons is still possible? This is a third option, and it’s actually the option I personally practice. And with this approach, I’ve had many productive conversations with Mormons through the years.
(2) Second, Mouw gives us no reason to think that "Mormonism has the resources for theological self-criticism and self-correction.” I’m willing to “entertain the possibility,” but Mouw has to provide some good reasons why we should think so. So, what are those resources? The seeming uncertainty of one past LDS president in a couple of interviews is not enough reason to think Mormonism can self-correct. Indeed, Mormon apologists were quick to correct any perceived misunderstandings of Hinckley’s comments. Later, Mouw asks, “Or will we adopt the more optimistic assumption that Mormonism is capable of self-reformation?” I wish I could be optimistic about this. But again, I need some reasons why I should be optimistic. Actually, I think we have good reason to be pessimistic of the LDS capacity for self-correction because of the LDS view of the Bible as corrupted (see the LDS Article of Faith #8). God’s Word is our primary resource for self-reformation, and LDS theology undermines the Bible so as to strip it of its authority.
(3) Third, Mouw puts a lot of stock in LDS president Gordon B. Hinckley’s interview comments regarding the Lorenzo Snow couplet, but why? Why not examine the larger teaching of the church and, in particular, go directly to the founder of Mormonism and its preeminent prophet? Joseph Smith clearly taught God “was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!” (See “Chapter 2: God the Eternal Father” in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith – pages 36–44.) Or just read the Mormon scriptures: “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (Doctrine & Covenants 132:20). Or just consult the teaching found on the official LDS church website: Becoming Like God. Instead, Mouw writes:
The second view, the one that I accept, is that Hinckley was signaling a decision on the part of the Mormon leadership to downplay the Snow couplet within the corpus of Mormon teachings about the deity, not just to outsiders, but within their own community.
Again, Mouw simply asserts this without giving us any justification to accept it. However, he does discuss what, or who, has significantly influenced his own views:
I must confess that my own decision to presume sincere Mormon self-questioning has been strongly influenced by many conversations over the past fifteen years in my role as co-director of the Mormon-Evangelical dialogue with my friend Robert Millet.
Could it be that Mouw takes this naive view because his friendship with Mormons has distorted his views about their doctrine? I certainly think one can have close friendships with Mormons andyet understand LDS views are absolutely heretical.
(4) Fourth, Mouw assures us Mormons want to keep the “becoming gods” theology “on the margins of their historic teachings” by referencing three Millet affirmations:
“One is that the strong emphasis on deification in LDS thought has to be seen in connection with the theosis tradition in traditional Christianity. Patristic writers make frequent appearances in Millet’s writings, as well as C. S. Lewis’s insistence that God ‘will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature.’”
“Millet also argues that the LDS version of theosis, like the traditional Christian formulations, does not entail turning human beings into equals of the Godhead in glory and power, much less rivals. ‘We do not believe,’ says Millet, ‘we will ever, worlds without end, unseat or oust God the Father or His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.... I am unaware of any authoritative statement in LDS literature that suggests that men and women will ever worship any being other than those within the Godhead.’ He specifically appeals to the clarification offered by President Gordon Hinckley, in a 1994 conference address. The LDS teaching about deification, Hinckley asserted, ‘in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He is the greatest of all and will always be so.’ As a loving Father, God wants his human children to ‘approach him in stature and stand beside Him resplendent in godly strength and wisdom.’”
“A third emphasis in Millet’s presentation of the Mormon view is the insistence that the path to deification is possible only ‘through the cleansing and transforming power of the blood of Jesus Christ.’ He cites Joseph Smith’s teaching that our goal of becoming ‘heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ’ is possible only ‘through the love of the Father, the mediation of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
If you’re familiar with Mormon doctrine, you know that any Mormon can you look you in the eyes and sincerely affirm all three affirmations that Millet outlines here, while at the same time affirming that God the Father was once a man and that we will become gods ourselves. Furthermore, what authority does Robert Millet have to influence official LDS teaching? Is there any good reason to think Millet can sway the machine that is the LDS church? Is there any past record of Millet influencing official doctrinal change?
(5) Fifth, Mouw can’t be unaware of the terminology problem between LDS and orthodox Christians, can he? He writes:
Hodge is making an important distinction here. A person’s actual trust in Christ is not the same as his theological account of what goes into a proper trust in Christ. Hodge assumed that the former can be legitimate even when the latter is faulty, and in Schleiermacher’s case, he took seriously the liberal Protestant theologian’s expressions of spirituality and the hymns he chose to sing. Hodge seems to have been convinced that what Schleiermacher “meant” when he was singing about Jesus was a more accurate expression of his personal faith in Jesus than the Christology he outlined in his systematic theology. I’ve drawn a similar conclusion from Mormon hymnody.
Wow. Mouw knows LDS use the same terms but have completely different meanings, right? When Mormons talk about Jesus, they mean the literal firstborn son of the Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, a created being, and our literal older spirit brother. But later, Mouw writes:
And when it is accompanied by a genuine willingness to engage in serious conversation with others, as it is in the Evangelical-Mormon dialogue, it can be a sign of a sincere desire to bring a historically heterodox tradition into greater conformity with the orthodox Christian consensus.
So it seems Mouw thinks that LDS theology is merely heterodox (out of step with orthodoxy but falling short of heresy), not actually heretical. So clearly he misunderstands orthodox LDS doctrine, which is heretical through and through.
(6) Sixth, Mouw suggests our works are a better test for true faith than is our theology:
What did those tears “mean” in relationship to, say, the first half of the Snow couplet? Were the words that the LDS scholar was singing informed by his desire to become his own “god”? Or did his personal experience of what it took for him to be reconciled to God the Father “mean” that he looked forward to the eschatological posture of kneeling in praise and adoration at the “glorified throne,” in gratitude for “hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt”? I choose the latter interpretation with considerable confidence, with the conviction that a person’s piety is often a better test of his faith in God than are his theological formulations.
God gives us a better test for eternal life in John 17:3: knowing the one true God. So yes, according to God our “theological formulations” are vitally important. If Mormons worship a radically different God than Christians, we can’t both have eternal life, no matter how pious a life we live.
Of course, I would love to see Mormons approach orthodoxy. Unfortunately, Richard Mouw does not give us any good reason to think this is actually happening.
These words by Matt Perman apply as much to non-physical resources (like your theological and apologetic knowledge) as they do to any other kind of resource:
It makes no sense for us to live in a society of abundance while half the world lives in great need, and not be diligent and creative and eager to figure out ways to use our abundance to help meet those needs.
When we look around and see our comfort, privilege, and affluence, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of asking “how can I get more of this?” As Kingdom-minded Christians, our first thought should be: “how can I use this technology/money/time to serve—especially those in greatest need?”
I was reading John 13 this morning and thinking about how central being a servant is to Christianity. This utterly amazes me every time I read it:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…. Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
Knowing that all things were His, and that He had come from God and was going back to God—that is, knowing His infinitely high position above all those around Him—Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Let that sink in for a moment. The text actually intimately connects these two facts about Jesus—His high position (and its corresponding abundance) and His humble act of service. His service is, in fact, the way in which He loved them.
From the incarnation to the cross, this was Jesus’ life; He humbled Himself to serve others. He defined love for us as service. To love is to serve. To be great is to be a servant. It’s good to seek to increase your knowledge, but consider Matt Perman’s words: How can you use the abundance you already have to serve those who are in need of it?
I received an email from a college student who was struggling to figure out “if a Christ-centered, monogamous homosexual relationship is just as godly as a heterosexual one.” He had many questions. Is the Old Testament law about homosexuality really a law we still need to follow? Didn’t Jesus fulfill the law? Isn’t the Old Covenant obsolete? He had prayed, read books and blogs, and talked to numerous people on all sides of the issue, but he couldn’t resolve the conflicting messages he was getting from them. He said, “I know that this topic requires faith, but I need proof somehow.”
He closed his email with this: “I’ve tried justifying the combination of acting upon homosexuality and being a follower of Christ, but I’m really not sure anymore that there is sufficient, or any, proof to back it up. This is honestly a cry for help. I’ve lived with having a foot in both worlds at the same time, and it isn’t working.”
I’m posting my response to him below in the hope that it will reach others who are in the same situation.
First, a few questions:
When you say it “would be new” for you to believe Christ died on the cross for your sins, does that mean you don’t yet believe it?
When you say you’re trying to decide whether or not homosexuality is wrong, does that mean you’re trying to determine what you think about the matter, or that you’re trying to determine what the Bible says about it? The next question clarifies this a bit more…
If, hypothetically, you were convinced that the Bible said homosexuality is wrong, would you submit to that, or would you reject it if it didn’t seem right to you?
You need to seriously think through those foundational questions because their answers will affect how you go about answering your primary question. If you do not yet believe that Jesus died for your sins, or you do not trust the Bible enough to submit to it as the Word of God, then you might not ever get anywhere trying to answer your question about homosexuality. Those questions really need to be settled first in your own mind.
If you do believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then discovering whether or not it says homosexuality is wrong doesn’t take faith, it takes a proper study and interpretation of the text. The faith (trust) comes when you submit to what you find there even if, emotionally, you have difficulty understanding why it’s there. Since we’re fallen, we can expect that we will not always easily see what’s right. We’re affected by our sin and our culture, and our understanding is distorted. This is why God has given us a written standard by which we can measure everything.
The struggle you must go through first of all is to be willing to submit to what God says—whatever it turns out to be. You need to settle in your own mind whether or not you’re willing to do this before you figure out what God has said. That is the deeper, more important issue (see “Gay or Straight, We All Must Decide if We Love Jesus above All Else”), and as long as you are holding out on whether or not you’ll trust and obey God until you see if you agree with what He says, you’ll never come to a conclusion on this. Decide whether or not you trust Him first, and then that will take some of the emotion, uncertainty, and fear out of figuring out what He has said on this topic. If He is trustworthy, then obeying Him is the best thing to do, no matter what it turns out to be, no matter how difficult or how disappointing. Suffering is part of the Christian life because we’re in a fallen world, and sometimes we suffer for doing what’s right. Yet that’s still better than the suffering that eventually comes from doing what’s wrong in an effort to grab what God has not given to us.
As for the Law, here’s an article Greg wrote on our relationship to the Old Testament Law: “How Does the Old Testament Law Apply to Christians Today?” Though laws and penalties specific to times and places (such as ancient Israel) may change over time, the very character of God is what determines what is moral throughout time. There are laws everywhere, in every country, that continue to reflect the moral character of God—against murder, stealing, etc.
Many of the laws in the Old Testament were meant to visually represent Jesus and the gospel to the people (such as the temple, the sacrifices, the Passover, etc.). These were just shadows pointing to what would be fulfilled in Jesus. Now that we have Him, the shadows are no longer part of our covenant. And since, unlike ancient Israel, the church is not a physical nation, we don’t need the laws that separated Israel from other cultures—laws put in place by God to protect and build up a culture out of which would come the Bible and the Messiah. The purpose of those laws has been completed.
Sexual morality and immorality, however, has not changed, because it’s grounded in our nature—in the creation order—according to the character of the God who created us for His purpose. Other laws (such as the sacrificial system) are logically subsequent to creation, but our sexuality is part of creation itself. Sexual immorality is referred to in 1 Corinthians 6 as being sin against our own bodies. And what is sexual immorality? It’s anything that goes against the created order of one man and one woman becoming one flesh in the covenant of marriage. This was the understanding of sexual morality at the time, so whenever sexual immorality is spoken against in the New Testament, that includes anything contrary to this—including homosexuality. (This has been the clear understanding of the text throughout the millennia of Judaism and Christianity—until recently, when our culture began to push for the acceptance of homosexuality.)
And while laws such as the sacrificial system pointed to a gospel that has now been fulfilled by Christ, the one-flesh marriage of a man and a woman points to the marriage of Christ and the church (according to Ephesians), and this has not yet been fulfilled. The union of man and woman is still pointing to this future event. Jesus says there will be no marriage in heaven. This is likely because, at that point, the thing that marriage and the marital union pointed to will have been fulfilled in the marriage of Christ to the church. (See this N.T. Wright quote.) After it’s fulfilled by the real thing, there will be no more shadow—no more marriage. And until then, any other kind of union is a rejection of the purpose of marriage and a rebellion against God.
Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in an individual verse here and there, so as you’re looking at individual verses, don’t lose sight of the big picture of God’s creation of us, our nature, and our purpose. Here are a few more relevant posts for you that touch on aspects of your email:
It’s unclear to me from your email whether you're simply trying to decide your view on this controversial topic, or if this is more personal because you're attracted to men and you desire a relationship. If it’s the latter, consider how your desire to be close to another person could be clouding your ability to understand an issue that may be more clear than you think, and try to adjust for that. Boy, is that easy to say but hard to implement! As a single person in my 40s, I know what it’s like to be alone and assume that I’ll never be married. I’ve always said that the temptation that could bring me down—the one I fear more than any other—is being tempted to a relationship that would not be pleasing to God, for whatever reason. I know well the pull of the desire to love and be loved by a partner. It is incredibly strong. I pray for God to help me desire Him and His will even above this strongest of desires, and I pray often for single Christians—both heterosexual and homosexual—who, like me, struggle with loneliness. One book you might find helpful is Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. There’s an emotional component to your question (beyond the hermeneutical question of what the Bible says) that this might help address for you.
And finally, sometimes people who have same-sex attraction try to ease their burden by deciding it’s less sinful than they previously thought. But that’s not the way to ease the burden. The burden of sin is eased not by making our sins smaller, but by seeing the gospel as bigger. The truth is that we are all desperately sinful, but Christ’s sacrifice covers all of it. All of our wrong actions, and all of our wrong desires. Everything. We rest in that, and we’re free to openly say we’ve sinned because He covers all guilt. He’s bigger than all of it, no matter how big it is. We don’t have to deny the height of our sin, because we rest completely in Him and His righteousness. Neither does this give us a license to sin, because we are new creatures in Christ.
I hope something in here brings you some clarity.
Don’t ever take this subject lightly. It affects real people and involves real pain. But don’t ever take God lightly, sidestepping Him in a misguided attempt to help someone ease that pain. Only the true God, in all of His truth, is big enough to conquer pain.
Last week, I read through a Holy Week devotional from Desiring God titled Your Sorrow Will Turn to Joy (available for free on their website—get it for next year!), and I very much appreciated these words by David Mathis from the end of the book:
Christ has been raised. Day no longer is fading to black, but night is awakening to the brightness. Darkness is not suffocating the sun, but light is chasing away the shadows. Sin is not winning, but death is swallowed up in victory.
Indeed, even agony will turn to glory, but Easter doesn’t suppress our pain. It doesn’t minimize our loss. It bids our burdens stand as they are, in all their weight, with all their threats. And this risen Christ, with the brilliance of indestructible life in his eyes, says, “These too I will claim in the victory. These too will serve your joy. These too, even these, I can make an occasion for rejoicing. I have overcome, and you will more than conquer.”
Easter is not an occasion to repress whatever ails you and put on a happy face. Rather, the joy of Easter speaks tenderly to the pains that plague you. Whatever loss you lament, whatever burden weighs you down, Easter says, “It will not always be this way for you. The new age has begun. Jesus has risen, and the kingdom of the Messiah is here. He has conquered death and sin and hell. He is alive and on his throne. And he is putting your enemies, all your enemies, under his feet.”
Not only will he remedy what’s wrong in your life and bring glorious order to the mess and vanquish your foe, but he will make your pain, your grief, your loss, your burden, through the deep magic of resurrection, to be a real ingredient in your everlasting joy. You will not only conquer this one day soon, but you will be more than a conqueror (Rom. 8:37)….
Easter announces, in the voice of the risen Christ, “Your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20), and “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
With the cross and resurrection at its core, Christianity need never deny the reality of evil and suffering because Jesus has proven Himself to be greater than all of it. He didn’t just overcome it, He overcame through it. The cross was the very means by which He secured joy: “[F]or the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). In this same way, all evil will be swallowed up. We will, in our resurrection, see that what we suffered was the means by which we gained joy, and the “eternal weight of glory” produced by our affliction will turn the suffering we experienced into a drop of dye lost in an ocean.
Sometimes we’re tempted to think evil is stronger than God, but when we understand that every attempt evil makes to harm us is working for our good, we’ll see that all of evil’s weapons have been removed from it; there is nothing left it can use against us.
Kenneth Samples has a post about “the Christian faith’s most dangerous idea” at Reasons to Believe:
“Dangerous ideas” in such disciplines as philosophy, theology, and science often challenge the standard paradigm (accepted model) of the day. These so-called unsafe ideas have radical implications for how people view reality, truth, rationality, goodness, value, and beauty, and can sometimes contravene what many people believe. Not only do such revolutionary ideas threaten accepted beliefs, but they also contain explosive world-and-life view implications for all humanity….
Naturalists (nature is the exclusive reality) believe that death is the final end of one’s life and existence and there is no escape from this inevitable consequence. In other words, the Grim Reaper doesn’t play favorites. Not only does everyone die but everyone also stays dead forever. There are no exceptions to this certain naturalistic fate.
From this perspective, any belief system that affirms life after death is sheer wishful thinking. Death is the great equalizer—it comes for everyone. This life is all there is so make the most of it. There is, then, no meaning to life other than what people can hope to create for themselves. Yet this bleak predicament fills men’s hearts with legitimate angst and dread. Everything that a person builds in this life is broken down completely and permanently by death.
In stark contrast to the naturalistic worldview’s melancholy and hopeless dilemma, historic Christianity’s most dangerous idea is that one man—Jesus Christ—died but didn’t remain dead. Following his public crucifixion, he rose from the dead on the first Easter morning. Therefore at the center of Christianity’s earliest preaching and teaching (kerygma) is the solemn proclamation that Jesus Christ lived on Earth, conquered death, and thus remains the living Savior and Lord.
Several strands of formidable evidence back Jesus’ historic bodily resurrection from the grave. These interwoven elements include the empty tomb, Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances, the transformation of the apostles, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the change in the day of worship from the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day, and finally the emergence of the historic Christian church itself.
The implications of this perilous proposition are staggering and life-changing.
Derek Rishmawy describes “the triune shape of the gospel,” correcting the idea that the Father had to be convinced by the Son to love us:
Many critics have rejected the atonement as the satisfaction of God's justice and wrath because they've gotten the impression that somehow the picture is about a loving Jesus going to the cross in order to satisfy an angry Father who's just out for blood. And even when it's not explicitly taught this way, unless corrected, many people in the pews can get the impression that God somehow has to be convinced he ought to be merciful.
But this is not what we see in Scripture. Instead, we have a portrait of the triune God of holy love who purposes from all eternity to redeem sinners for himself, before it ever entered their minds to repent he looked to embrace us in Christ (Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:20). God revealed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, cursing God with every breath, that the Son came to die for us (Romans 5:8). God doesn't have to be convinced or persuaded to love us, nor does the Father need to be convinced by the Son.
Indeed, Jesus makes it clear that the Father loves the Son precisely because the Son goes willingly to lay down his life for the sheep just as the Father desires because of his great love for us (John 10:14-18). Hebrews makes clear that the Son does so in the power of the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). This is the triune shape of the gospel: Father, Son, and Spirit beautifully and harmoniously accomplishing the salvation of sinners.
In that case, we have to understand that God is not moved from wrath to love because of the death of Christ. He is moved by love to satisfy his wrath (i.e. judicial opposition to sin) against us by removing our guilt and enmity through the blood of his cross. Whatever else our people understand, they must see that mercy and grace are God's idea and accomplishment before it ever enters our minds, because God, by his very nature, is love.