Christianity 201

August 5, 2013

The Value of a Soul

Tim Challies is a widely read Christian blogger, but many of you might not think of him as a devotional writer. This is however his fourth appearance here at C201. I really liked this piece, which he gave the title, And Also Much Cattle. Many of you are already familiar with the variety of Tim’s blog; for the rest of you, click through to read this one at source.

I love to receive challenges and lessons from unexpected places. Lately God has been teaching me so much through the book of Jonah. Yes, Jonah. Jonah is a book that ends in an unorthodox way. Where most books end with a satisfying conclusion, this one ends with a question mark. Where most books end with people or with God, the final word in Jonah is “cattle.” It’s all very strange. It’s all deeply challenging.

Even the context is odd. Jonah has just witnessed a miraculous city-wide revival with tens of thousands of people turning to the Lord in repentance and faith. Yet despite seeing this great work of God, Jonah’s reaction is one of anger. He is furious with God—so angry that he just wants to die. He would rather die than see these inhabitants of Nineveh call out to the Lord.

And as Jonah sits outside the city mourning the loss of a plant that had shaded him from the sun, God speaks to this rebellious prophet.

The Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

This is one of those classical biblical arguments from the lesser to the greater. God is saying, “You feel compassion for a plant. That’s good. But don’t you see how much greater people are than plants? If you pity the plant, which was here yesterday and gone today, shouldn’t you also pity people? Shouldn’t you pity them even more? And tell you what, even if you can’t bring yourself to pity these pagan people, can’t you at least muster up some sympathy for animals? Surely you don’t want me to destroy all of those animals, do you?”

God calls on Jonah to understand that he is seeing this all wrong. Jonah, the God-fearing prophet, should be rejoicing to see God save sinners. Instead he hates it. He believes that he and his fellow Jews are somehow worthy of God’s grace; he believes that all others—especially those dangerous, pagan Assyrians—are unworthy of grace.

And I think you and I are tempted to come to the end of the book and laugh at Jonah. We can roll our eyes in exasperation. “Jonah, you foolish, ignorant, xenophobic, pathetic man. Don’t you see? People are more important than plants! Only human beings are created in God’s image. Therefore nothing could have more value than people. You are a fool!” And we go our way.

Except for that question mark. We need to answer the question. You and I. Do we really believe that nothing in all the world is more valuable than people? Do we bear this out in our lives?

Jesus said: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” He is saying that one soul is more valuable than all the treasure in the world. You could own the entire universe and you would have nothing compared to the value of a single soul. You could have the wealth of Bill Gates and add to it the treasure of Solomon, and you would be poor compared to the value of a soul.

No wonder, then, that the Bible tells us, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Of course God desires that all people come to the knowledge of the truth! He knows they are lost and he is filled with compassion for them. His great desire is for souls to be saved because nothing is more precious. There is no greater loss than the loss of a soul.

Do we believe this? Do we really believe this? Through his Word, God asked me Jonah’s question: “I have great compassion for the souls of men and women. Do you?” Maybe you need to answer it as well.

Maybe we could sit down and walk through your week together. How did you use your time? What does the way you used your time tell you about how you value souls? Would your time show that souls are precious, more precious than anything else? More precious than your entertainment? More precious than working long hours to have a nice house and nice stuff and lots of comfort?

Maybe you could take a look at your bank statements. What would the way you use your money tell you about what you value? What would it tell about how you really value souls? How much leads directly to mission? How much leads to the healing of the bodies and souls of people created in the image of God?

What if we could listen to your prayers played back? What priorities do your prayers reflect? Are souls your great concern when you are on your knees before God?

Do you have a beautiful lawn and a flourishing garden, yet feel more pity for the grass and plants than you do for people on the other side of the fence?

There is only one thing on this earth that will survive the ages: the souls of men and women. There is nothing more valuable. And through his Word, and especially through the book of Jonah, God has been forcing me to ask, “Am I the one sitting outside the city?”

 

Link to previous C201 re-blogged articles by Tim Challies.

February 9, 2013

The One Who Will Judge is Non-Judgmental

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen

~Apostles Creed  (see also a musical adaptation)

This week we went to an event that featured Steve Geyer, who was billed as a comedian, but really shared his heart for over two hours in a much more pastoral sense.

In one section he spoke about the surprising and unexpected things that take place in the earthly ministry of Jesus; things where the events and people and situations get turned on their heads, including the time Jesus is anointed with perfume by an uninvited guest to a party.

Three gospels carry this story. Mark  (chapter 14) who is usually much more concise gives us more than Matthew

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.

Luke 7 is considered to be a different story that took place at a different time, but is a similar story that includes a parable that Jesus teaches:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

As Steve Geyer referred briefly to this story he said,

“The One who will judge the earth is non-judgmental.”

That phrase really hit me. Here we see another example of the contrast between “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild;” (itself not a fully accurate rendering of the earthly ministry of Jesus) and the one who sits at God’s right hand from where “he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Mercy contrasted with justice. God’s love versus God’s judgment.

John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Jesus pours out love and compassion to so many in the gospel narratives, but just as a parent gently loves a child, so also does a parent not hesitate to bring rebuke, correction and discipline. (See this link for an interesting parallel between that and the work of the scriptures in our lives.) God’s justice must be satisfied, and yet, as I ponder Steve’s statement, I see even there a justice that is tempered by mercy and grace.


Even though today’s story may not be exactly in all four gospels, I did a check to see what teachings/stories are found in all four gospels:

  • Feeding the 5,000
  • Identification of the betrayer at the Last Supper
  • Jesus prays in Gethsemane
  • Peter’s denials
  • various elements of the death and resurrection

Scriptures quoted today are NIV; all underlinings in the creed and Bible verses added.

November 15, 2010

Is The Heart of Jesus The Heart of God?

South Africa native Andre Viljoen’s blog, Amazing Love, was just added to Alltop in the Christianity category.  Although many of his blog posts betray his former calling as a journalist, I thought this recent one would fit the devotional theme here at Christianity 201 quite well.    It poses the often asked question about the relationship we have with God the Father versus that with God the Son.   This is often phrased in terms of whether the God of the Old Covenant is the same as the God of the New Covenant.

He sees some answers in Jesus’ own relationship with the father, and titled it, Jesus and the heart of the Father.

It is not difficult to grasp the amazing loving heart of Jesus, who laid down his life for us while we were still his enemies.

But what about the Heavenly Father? Is he warm and loving? Or is he stern and remote as some suppose?

Jesus set the record straight when he told his followers that “I and the Father are one ” (John 10:20) and “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

And so every time that Jesus demonstrated his amazing love by healing, delivering and reaching out to the lost, he was also demonstrating the true heart of the Father. He wanted us who follow him to know the true nature of the Father so that we would not miss the Father’s purpose for us to live forever as his beloved sons and daughters and not as fearful slaves working hard to earn rare moments of approval.

And when Jesus taught that he obeyed his father in everything, even dying on the cross, he was teaching a profound lesson about the obedience to God that flows naturally out of being in a loving relationship with him. The elder brother of the prodigal son was resentful when his father threw a lavish party for his brother who had returned after squandering his inheritance. He said he had served and obeyed his father all his life and yet his father had never even given him a small goat that he could use to celebrate with his friends. He did not understand that everything the Father had was already his, and so he laboured like a slave in the hope of earning an inheritance (Luke 15: 29-31). How different to Jesus who gladly obeyed his father in everything because he knew, loved and trusted him. Jesus said: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34) and “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8:29).

Jesus’ example of loving obedience to his Father helps us to embrace the following words which Jesus spoke to his disciples — and to us: “No longer do I call you servants…but…friends” (John 15:15), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15), and “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

May you and I rest and trust in the Father’s unfailing love and delight in obeying him as we follow Jesus. And in so doing may we experience the fellowship and the power of the Holy Spirit who the Father sent to dwell with us! And if you don’t yet follow Jesus, know this, the Father is waiting for the moment, so that he can throw a party in heaven with the angels! (Luke 15: 10)

Andre Viljoen