Monday, April 09, 2007

Life Giving (part 2)

What was the price?
I’ve heard all my life that Jesus paid the price for our sins. It has often been indicated that the price was death on the cross or at least that’s how it comes across. But was Jesus’ physical death the punishment?

Fact: Unless your name is Elijah, there is nearly a 100% chance that you will die a physical death. (ok, I don’t know what happens exactly with those who are alive when Christ returns but there’ll be some physical change.)

Another piece of Sunday school info I learned at some point was that Jesus went to Hell sometime between breathing his last breath on the cross and his resurrection “on the third day.” Oh, and don’t forget that Hell is almost always taught in mainstream Christian churches as a horrible place of punishment. That’s important here. Of course, we are also taught that heaven has streets paved with gold. Honestly, that never impressed me as a kid and still doesn’t today.

Putting those bits of church chatter together, I’ve assumed that when Jesus died on the cross he went to a place of fire and experienced all the gruesome stuff we are taught to picture with the ugly guy in a red suit, weird ears and a funny looking pitch fork. Then, presto, Jesus returned from that terrible place and walked on the earth for 40 days. Interestingly, some people didn’t recognize him – I still don’t understand that one. But after 2,000 years of witnesses descriptions, some people still don’t recognize him.

Now here’s my most recent revelation on this topic – the punishment Jesus took on our behalf had absolutely nothing to do with physical pain.

Look around you. Everything you experience with the five physical senses is created by God and for God. Everything God created is good – right? Says so in scripture (1Ti 4:4)

Is Hell good?
Whatever Hell is, I think everyone agrees that it is most likely not a place that would have a five star AAA rating.

Look at the cross. When did the most dramatic things happen – you know, like the earthquake and total darkness in the middle of the day? Read it in Matthew 27:45-56. It was in the mysterious darkness that Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” That’s huge. Don’t ever forget that Jesus said that to God the Father.

Then what happened when Jesus “gave up his spirit” – died? Oh, go read it. It’s too exciting for me to tell you all of it. Look at Matthew 27:51-53. The curtain in the temple tore in two, yes, but there was more. A door was opened and some holy people came out.

Know what I think? They came out because Jesus walked in – into Hell. The forsaken place where the presence of God is totally void.

Light - good; Darkness – not good
Genesis 1 tells us that darkness was over the surface of the deep in the beginning. Then God spoke light into being. This is not the sun. That comes later. God saw the light was good and he separated the light from the darkness. Yes, it goes on to distinguish day from night but this light was not the sun, moon, and stars. The wording implies to me that this darkness was not good. Nor was it created. It just was. It was there in the beginning and God added light – his own source of light.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, it wasn’t night time but there was darkness. Have you experienced that kind of darkness? Does that give you a clue as to what it means to feel forsaken?

I’ve always wanted to say “no way, Jesus wasn’t forsaken by God. That’s impossible.” But I now believe he was. That was the punishment. That was the price he paid. Jesus left the presence of God so that we would never be forsaken (abandoned); so that he could always be with us even until the end of time. (Matthew 28:20) Now remember, Jesus was in very nature God (Philippians 2:6). Is it possible that at this point, Jesus gave up even the nature of God? Is it possible that Jesus, the Son of God, in his purest sense is the light that appeared in Genesis 1:3? Not human, yet placed into existence from the spoken word of God the Father (as we know him).

Without God’s source of light in us, we are darkness – nothingness, formless, meaningless, chaos. In other words, without God you just exist. That’s it. While you are here on earth you enjoy all the good physical pleasures God has created. But when this physical life is over, you just exist forever and ever and ever in nothingness. No rest by moonlight. No warmth by the sun. No coolness of a breeze. You have an awareness but with nothing to be aware of except maybe memories of what you had. Wouldn’t that be Hell to you?

Have you heard that Jesus set the captives free?
That’s exactly what he did when he died. He left the presence of God to set the holy people free from Hell - those who had died a physical death before his own physical death. He broke the bond between sin and death by taking the power of God – the spoken word of God - into that darkness. Wow! That’s exciting even as I type it! Those who recognized the light responded to him, uh, it. Those who didn’t recognize him, I imagine, turned away in fear and remained in their chosen state of nothingness.

Side note: If Jesus was in human form at this point, I don’t imagine any of those existing beings would have turned away in fear, they would have all jumped on the opportunity to get out of Hell free. As the spoken word of God rather than the compassionate human being, this Light would not have recognized those who blended into the darkness.

Then Christ returned from Hell. Wow! Let’s hear a little excitement out there. He would never need to ever go back there. Why? Because now he was returning to his place in the full presence of God where he would then send the Light in the form of the Holy Spirit to anyone who chooses to open the door to their physical life. Freeing them from the penalty of sin – that penalty being separation from the life-giving God who is always good.

A Living Sacrifice
In my last post I asked, “Did Jesus expect me to follow him in death?” Yes, I believe he did. But not physical death as we understand it. Although it is very physical. Anyone can sacrifice life for death if they believe in something strong enough – even if it isn’t truth. Real sacrifice that is pleasing and acceptable is sacrificing control of your physical life without looking to be rewarded for what you’ve done.

Who gave the Lord something which the Lord must pay back? Everything is from him and by him and for him. Glory belongs to him forever! Amen! Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God's compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Romans 11:35 – 12:1 God’s Word

The only way to be a living sacrifice is to invite the life-giving Spirit of God into the darkness of your nothingness. Jesus took light into the darkness of death. Will you open the door of your life? Will you let him separate the darkness and fill you with that which is good?

Follow the Light
It’s simple really. Hold your hands out, palms up. Oh, come on just do it. This is your spiritual act of worship in the physical existence you have been given.

Now speak these words out loud – yes, out loud. Speaking to God is powerful:

Holy God, you are giver of life. I have attempted to create life in myself. Forgive me for playing God with all that you have provided in me. Please separate the darkness from me. Come into my physical life with your light. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Ps 139:23-24)

Stop and listen. You’ve just asked God to point out something to you. Let him do that.
With each thing revealed, ask his forgiveness. Don’t worry, he is gracious and merciful, he won’t point out everything at once. As you grow in relationship with him, he will continually show you the next step on the path of everlasting life. That’s why daily time with God is so important.

Profess out loud: Thank you Jesus. You were forsaken so that I may never be forsaken. Be the Leader of my life. I’ll be the follower. Not by my power, not by my might but by your Holy Spirit alive in me.

Now go tell a Christian friend what you’ve done. And celebrate your new life in Christ. For you have just offered to be a living sacrifice. If you have no one else to tell, email me, please! I’d love to celebrate with you. I’ve been praying for you already.

If you know someone that might benefit from reading this, edit it to your delight and pass it on as your own. (I don’t always give that copyright permission. But with this post you have it.)

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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the mission:
PROCLAIM the good news; HEAL the sick and oppressed; BRING JUSTICE
~ Luke 4:16-20

Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing (John 14:12)
~ Jesus 

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