Thursday, September 13, 2012

Religion, Hate, Killing ... What did Jesus do?

Is the world unraveling into one gigantic religious war?  What are Christians to think of the turmoil in the Middle East and the part that Islam plays in what is happening?  How should we respond?  Are we, as Christians, partly to blame?  What about the God of the Old Testament?  Didn't He tell Joshua and some of the kings to wipe out whole cities and peoples - men, women and children??  How do we sort all of this out?

I'm not going to attempt to give complete answers to all of these questions, but I believe Christians need a response, an answer to these and other questions regarding "religion" that are being asked by many in our nation and around the world.  Is our testimony concerning the God of the Bible relevant to our world - even to Muslims?  Can we really expect people to understand the God who reveals Himself as just and holy, and at the same time compassionate and merciful?  Where do we begin?

We need to begin where we should always begin - with God.  The entire Bible is God's revelation of Himself.  We cannot pick and choose which parts we are going to use to "define" a god that we will like.  God is who He reveals Himself to be.  He is the same God in the New Testament as He was in the Old Testament.  His character never changes.  He IS God!!

When God destroyed all those living on the earth by sending the flood in the days of Noah, we tend to think that all the people who died were unbelievers, but the Bible doesn't say that.  The truth is, Noah and his family deserved to die as much as some of those who were swept away by the flood.  So it is today, "ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).  From the beginning God CHOSE some to receive His grace.  God made His covenant with Abraham and established the descendants of Abraham as His chosen people.  For two thousand years they would be the focus of God's attention on the earth and the Savior would come from the line of Judah.

To make sure that happened, God gave His law, established the tabernacle, then the temple, the sacrifices, the ceremonies - all pointing to the One who would come to be the perfect sacrifice.  To protect a godly line, a remnant who would believe in Him, God "isolated" His chosen people by commanding them to destroy their enemies from the land of Canaan, the land God gave to Abraham and his descendants.  Remember, ALL people, including those who believe, deserve God's judgment.  This is what most people miss or simply refuse to believe.  God would be perfectly just if He were to wipe the human race off the face of the earth.  In fact, God's judgment WILL come upon the WHOLE earth.  God has not changed!

BUT, God determined from before the world began to save SOME ... and so He ultimately brought Jesus, the promised Savior, into the world.  God deals with sinners differently during this "time of grace."  Paul writes in II Corinthians 6:2 that "this is the day of salvation."  There will be a time for God's vengeance, but now is a time when God is calling repent, for He has set a day for judgment (Acts 17:30-31).  Jesus Christ, and thus true Christianity, offers life and forgiveness through faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, because of His sacrifice on the cross.  Sadly, the popes and the crusades in the Middle Ages conquered and killed in the sign of the cross.  But this was a perversion of all that Jesus taught.  We live in the age of grace, the time of salvation.  Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us.

Islam is a false religion.  It teaches hate and violence.  While it is Islamic extremists who carry out violent acts, and there are kind and loving Muslims, ultimately, only true Christians, who know and love Jesus and who are filled by His Spirit, offer grace and forgiveness through the cross.  Christians need to be careful how we act and what we say.  Too many fail to show mercy, grace and love to all people, offering the Gospel to all who will hear.  One day God will deal with all who reject His testimony, but until then, may we understand that we have a calling to tell the world about the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God of salvation.  When Jesus returns, may we be found so doing!

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