As a Christian, it's weird hearing non-Christians describe Christianity. It's as if they've heard a single Bible verse, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Non-Christians know "Jesus died for our sins" but their understanding of his death is as a poorly planned symbol. Why does somebody have to die? Doesn't God make the rules? And if he does, can't God make the "wages of sin" whatever he wants? Furthermore, how is it that one person can take the punishment for someone else? How do we know salvation isn't an afterthought? Might it be the case that Jesus died and a group of diehard followers invented "salvation" as a means of keeping the up the momentum of the Jesus movement?
From my own experience, it seems the most common, albeit disagreeable, answer has something to do with dismissing Levitical law as "cultural" and "not applicable in today's world." Even if that is true, there is a major flaw in that excuse: it isn't rooted in the Bible. No where in the Bible does it say Levitical law was cultural. If anything, it says the exact opposite. (Matthew 5:17-19) To be clear, the Bible says we are "dead to the law" (Romans 7) and in Acts 10, laws about food and who Jews may associate with are given a back seat in order to spread the gospel to Gentiles, but the Bible does not say the laws are flawed. They are and have always been good and deliberate commands from God. (Romans 7:12-13) When we dismiss parts of the law, we not only misrepresent the Bible, we appear to be cherry picking, waving our hands and manipulating the Bible to suit our purposes.
This question lies at the heart of so many questions. What happens to us after we die? Why did God put a forbidden tree in the garden of Eden? How can God send people to hell? They all boil down to, “Why did God make us?” Since "purpose" is such a broad topic, I am limiting my writing to the purpose of humanity at large and specifically how, in Christianity, our individual purpose is not something that is fulfilled after we die, but begins the moment we are saved.
God doesn’t create inquisitive minds just to disappoint them. Answers are in the Bible if you are willing to think. This series is about how, once I began to think about the Bible, logically and analytically, my faith was made stronger as I became convinced that the Bible is practical, coherent, consistent, and profound. I have ordered this series in such a way that the most common and fundamental questions are first. The focus becomes more and more narrow as you read through the series.
Some prophesies in the Bible are fulfilled twice. The first time is in an immediate but transient way and the second time is in an ultimate and eternal way. For instance, as Isaac follows Abraham up the mountain and asks about the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham answers that God will provide a lamb. On that day, God does provide the sacrifice, but in Jesus Christ, God truly provides the sacrifice. When the Israelites cover their doors with blood at Passover, they are saved by the blood of the lamb, and in Jesus Christ, they are truly saved by the blood of the lamb. Throughout Kings, when God sheds mercy on Judah, he cites his promise to keep the line of David on the throne forever, but then we read about the travesty of the line of kings following David. In Jesus Christ, God truly keeps the line of David on the throne forever.
This pattern can also be observed in the case of a particularly striking prophesy made by Isaiah during the reign of Hezekiah's father, Ahaz. Recall when Judah was invaded by the kings of Israel and Aram. At that time, Ahaz was approached by Isaiah and told not to fear but to trust in God and ask for a sign. Ahaz turned from Isaiah and took matters into his own hands, but Isaiah would not be ignored. As Ahaz turned his back, Isaiah proclaimed that there would be a sign despite Ahaz' disobedience. The sign he gives him is one of the most famous prophesies in the entire Bible and is even quoted in the very first chapter of Matthew.
If I asked you to name a miracle in the Bible, you might say "the ten plagues" or "the parting of the Red Sea" or "the resurrection of Jesus". These miracles are more than just well known miracles, they are moments that shaped history. The ten plagues are remembered every time Passover is celebrated. The parting of the Red Sea was an event that liberated the Israelites and gave birth to a new nation. Easter is the grounds upon which all of Christianity is founded. Even for someone who doesn't believe in miracles, these mysterious and unexplainable events undeniably changed the world.
This story is about a miracle that is no less awesome or deserving, but no one ever thinks of it. Personally, I have never heard it taught in church. It won't be found in an illustrated children's Bible and, while it is printed in every edition of the Bible, most people who read it either skim over it or forget it entirely.
I saw Avengers: Infinity War last night and, because I was working on this study, it gave me pause as I thought about movie trailers. Why are they so enjoyable to watch? When I see a see trailers in the theatre, I often think, "Oh! I have to see that!" If or when I see the film, if it disappoints, I think, "The preview was better." Or, "All of the best parts were in the preview." If I wanted more enjoyment from the movies, I should honestly just stop watching trailers, but I won't. Why is that?
The interesting think about previews is, no matter how good they are or even how much content they contain, they can never stand in for the actual movie. Previews aren't stories, they are just teasers for a story. It's the story we crave. Never have I ever watched a preview and thought, "That was so wonderful, I won't even see the movie." While I know that is literally the job of the people making the preview, I also think the reason it is so effective is because we, the audience, want the details filled in. We want the context for the joke or the story behind the dramatic one-liner. I've seen previews that give away virtually the entire plot, but I still don't think it deters from the craving to see it filled out. Audiences love stories.
First, let me just say Part 2 is about my all time favorite Bible character, Elijah. I could write a series on just Elijah, but the purpose of this series is to focus on the overarching story. I omitted details from Part 1 to achieve this and I intend to treat Part 2 the same way, despite my utter fascination with 1 Kings 17 - 2 Kings 7. If you are interested in anything you read here, I would encourage you to do your own study of these chapters.
The books of Kings tell at least two stories. As the name implies, one of those stories is a chronicle of the kings of Israel and Judah. This story is corroborated by the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. The second story is that of the prophets. If the first story is about what is happening on Earth, the second story is about what is happening in heaven. The first story describes the evil reigns of Jeroboam and Ahab, the second story describes God's response to them.
This is a story from the Tanakh, or what Christians call the "Old Testament". I'm actually growing rather fond of the former of these two names because 'Old' Testament seriously downplays its relevance. For reasons that will be made clear, I would frankly prefer to call it the "Awesome Testament" or maybe just the "Wow, That's Both Terrifying and Amazing" book. Anyway, I've chosen to call this story "An Epic Bible Story You've Never Heard" because it comes from two books of the Tenakh that get very little attention in church, but definitely deserves to be heard. This series is a condensed version of about 35 chapters. I've broken it into six parts: one part per week for six weeks.
Two years ago, I attended a weekly dinner party put on by a church called C3 Brooklyn. A dinner party is not an uncommon thing for me. Some churches call them "connect groups", I've heard "community groups", or even just "Bible study". Most groups that I've attended are conducted according to some sort of written leader's guide. My first C3 Brooklyn dinner party defied that expectation.
That night, the discussion leader opened with, "Since it's near Easter, I feel like asking, 'What does the cross mean to you?'" His question resulted in a lively discussion and formed quite a strong, positive impression upon me. We even ended up attending the church regularly, but that is not why I am writing.
I am writing because, since it is Good Friday, I find myself thinking about that question again and about one of the most powerful illustrations in the Bible. I wanted to share that today.
When Noah was born, it was said he would comfort us concerning our work and toil. (Genesis 5:29) While this can be interpreted literally, (One can imagine Lamech thinking, "This son of mine will grown up and help on the farm. I could use some comfort from the work and toil.") In this case, I think the comfort "concerning our work and toil" means much more. It is relief from the one thousand years that have passed since the fall of man. It is the "toil" resulting from the curse, the "old world." (2 Peter 2:5) Somehow, Noah is about to change all that.
To some people, the Biblical story of creation is loaded with traps and controversy. Was it a literal six-day creation? If Adam and Eve were the only two people, who did their sons marry? Why did God refuse Cain's sacrifice? Some of these questions used to bother me, but I've learned a powerful argument that answers all of these questions satisfactorily and even encourages me to read more carefully.
So what makes a Christian a Christian? If Jesus died for everyone's sins and sinning apparently has no influence on our standing in God's eyes, it should seem like I've defined "Christian" to be the current state of humanity, not a religion you can choose to be a part of. Is there anything you can actually do to become a Christian? This is the central focus in "Part 2" of this study.
As a Christian, I stand behind some hard-to-swallow beliefs. How can I believe in a God that would let someone go to hell? How can I believe in a God that lets bad things happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, what does that say about our free will? And perhaps the worst of all: how can I call myself a Christian when self-proclaiming Christians have been behind such acts of judgement, intolerance, and hate?
I began studying Judges 19 with the goal of better understanding the gospel, or rather, to find a way in which such an objectionable story could underscore the gospel, if that was even possible. I think the parallel act of both Judges 19 and Genesis 19 illustrates that while both Sodom and Benjamin exhibited the same act of immorality, in Sodom we saw the inoccent protected by the intervention of God and the guilty destroyed at the hands of God, while in Israel, the inoccent is given up and the guilty are spared.
I asked a few people to explain this passage. I only ever found an answer that was – to me – expected and too simple: "This story exists to provide evidence of the state of Israel during its darkest times and to point to its need for a Savior." I don't think this answer addresses the question. The question is really, why is this amount of detail is included. There are plenty of passages that have a similar effect but omit the specifics. For example, Judges 12:1-16 (same book, only seven chapters earlier) ends with a civil war in which 42,000 Ephraimites were killed. (You will want to remember that, because it comes up later.) The cause of the civil war was merely that the Ephraimites asked Jepththah why he fought the Ammonites without calling them. Slaying 42,000 Ephraimites seems like a disproportional response, don't you think? It seems like some detail, something political, perhaps, may have been left out. But in Judges 20, when 25,000 Benjamites were slayed, the battle was clearly spurred by the outrage incited by the twelve pieces of the concubine that had been sent across Israel. Ultimately, what my question boils down to is: what is it about this particular event that requires a level of detail that similar stories omit? If I take Luke 24 literally, then it must be that this story of rape somehow points to Christ in a way that is so significant, it cannot be omitted. I need only to figure out why.