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Archive for the ‘Jesus Christ’ Category

Many years ago I was riding with a friend through Cleveland. As we were passing a cemetery he said, “That’s where James Garfield is buried.” (Garfield was America’s 20th president and was assassinated in 1881 during his first year in office.) I immediately asked, “Can we go in and see it?” He graciously indulged my love of presidential history.

This past Christmas my brother-in-law gave me Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. It is a fascinating book. Last night as I was reading I came across this quote from Garfield, “I have sometimes thought that we cannot know any man thoroughly well while he is in perfect health. As the ebb-tide discloses the real lines of the shore and the bed of the sea, so feebleness, sickness, and pain bring out the real character of a man.”

Today we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Of course most of my Muslim friends don’t believe he died (though some do and even see it taught in the Qur’an, but we can get to that another time), but his death and resurrection are central to my faith. Honestly, if there is no death and resurrection of the Messiah, I believe there is no hope that we could ever be forgiven and cleansed from our sins.

Garfield’s quote got me thinking about when the Messiah was crucified. The Injeel says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

While he was suffering terrible pain on the cross he was able to look past his pain and prayed for those who were killing him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

His death matters because 1) he was a perfect sacrifice, a man with a clean heart who was full of love as seen in his dying hours and 2) he didn’t stay dead but was raised by God to show the world that his sacrifice for sinners was sufficient.

Happy Resurrection Day.

 

 

 

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The Word of God became flesh (John 1:14) so that he might save humans. There was no other way. The guilt of our sin required death (see Gen 2:17). Either we die and pay this penalty or someone worthy (i.e. one who has no sin) dies in our place. Jesus Christ was the only one worthy. He was a man and thus a suitable substitute, but he was also God and thus a worthy substitute for countless people who would believe. But our problem is bigger than just guilt. We we also bear the shame of our sin and all of its defilement. We must be made clean. God the Son became flesh, not only to die in our place for our sin and guilt, but also to cleanse us from the inside out. He did not shy away from flesh that is so easily defiled. He became flesh and in so doing made flesh clean, even when encountering the defiling forces of this fallen world.

Throughout the law we see that no one could make another clean. Only God makes clean. When Jesus was on earth he was so pure that he could touch those who were unclean and instead of becoming unclean himself, they were cleansed. He made them clean. No priest ever made one clean; priests merely pronounced one was clean after God had made them clean.1 What was different about Jesus? He was and is the God who is clean. He does not pronounce others clean, he makes them clean.

This, in part, is why he became man. He became man to cleanse us. Light drives out darkness simply by entering into a dark place. God drives out defilement of our flesh by taking on flesh himself.

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1. We repeatedly read the phrase, “the priest shall pronounce him clean” in Leviticus 13 (vv. 6, 13, 23, 28, 34, 37 and also 14:7).

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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All of the levitical offerings (the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering,1 the guilt offering, and the peace offering) have been fulfilled in the offering of the Jesus the Messiah on the cross. The good news of the gospel is that “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).2 Typically when we think of the death of Jesus we think of the removal of God’s wrath and the forgiveness of sin. Rarely do we also recognize the beauty of Christ’s cleansing work. By his death we are made clean.

The cleansing that comes from Christ is superior than the cleansing received under the law because it comes, not through the blood of animals, but through the blood of the pure and blameless Messiah—a man. “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

The sacrifice of the Son of God was the one sacrifice worthy and sufficient to truly make people clean. The old sacrifices were insufficient in that they had to be offered continually. There was no end to them because they never truly took away sin (Hebrews 10:4). But now that Christ has come and offered himself as the perfect lamb of God, sins are truly removed. All sins. So the author of Hebrews is able to say, “After making purification for sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Christ’s work was finished.

Christ’s purifying work was so complete that he has washed and sanctified us in ways the levitical sacrifices never could. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22). It used to be that only the high priest could enter the holy place, because he alone was consecrated by God to be in the fullness of his presence,3 but now we all have confident access (we do not need to fear that we will be put to death as Aaron did [see Leviticus 16:2, 13]). Our hearts are sprinkled clean. Our bodies are washed with pure water. Not only are we cleansed, but we are sanctified, “. . . we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

One of the flaws of the purification sacrifices in the law is that while they could cleanse us and make us fit to enter God’s presence, they could do nothing to keep us from being defiled the next time we come in contact with something unclean. The death of Jesus Christ, however, not only cleanses us from all past impurities, but actually guards us from all future impurities. By virtue of being in Christ we are impervious to defilement. Just as Jesus, by his touch, made the unclean clean without being defiled himself, so he now makes all who are in him clean at all times because we are always in him. Furthermore, because of his death we are even today being sanctified (see Hebrews 10:14), so that our hearts are actually changed in such a way as to no longer desire the defiling sin we once loved. So Paul was able to write to Titus, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15).

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1 Allen Ross calls this the “sin offering” a “purification offering.” The word here for sin (ḥaṭṭā𐑮t) is derived from the piel, which means “to cleanse or purify.” This also makes better sense of the usage of the offering since it was necessary for one to also be made clean from things that were not sin (like menstruation, child birth, intercourse, etc.). See Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 129-130.

2 Yes, the Bible does call Jesus God’s son. It does not mean that God had sex with Mary and produced a child. To see what it does and does not mean, see my series on The Son of God, especially part 4 (Jesus Christ Is the Son of God) and part 5 (Jesus Christ Is God’s Unique Son)

3 And even when he entered he had to be very careful so as to not be destroyed (Leviticus 16:2), for example, he had to burn incense so that the smoke of the incense would obscure his view of the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat where God’s presence was centered (see Leviticus 16:12-13). This cloud is, in some sense, still present, even as we enter God’s holy presence, but one day the cloud will be removed and we will see clearly (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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Is Islam a religion of war or peace? I get asked this question a lot. I know that people are asking this question again after all of the attacks on US embassies throughout the Middle East. I’ll give you my answer to this question and then I’ll tell you why I am posting about it.

I don’t know. There you have it, that’s my answer. I don’t claim to be an expert in Islam. Even if I was I am not sure how well I could answer this question. Honestly, I see lots of reasons why people conclude that Islam is a religion of war. There are Muslim scholars who confirm this (though they might not state it this way). There are some really hard verses in the Qur’an. There are plenty of violent acts throughout the history of Islam. And of course, we see the violence perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam all around the world.

However, I can also see lots of reasons why people conclude that Islam is a religion of peace. There are Muslims scholars who confirm this. There are good pointers in the Qur’an towards peace. Within the history of Islam there have been times of peace and prosperity. And of course, we see acts of kindness and love perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam all around the world.

So which is it? Again, I honestly don’t know. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really care. That probably doesn’t sound good. Honestly, I am not that concerned about what true Islam is. I am more concerned about what my Muslim friend believes. This is not because I don’t care about the truth or don’t think that objective truth is real. I do. I care very much. It is because I have personally settled the issue of truth. Jesus the Messiah says in the Injil, “I am the truth” (see the Gospel according to John 14:6). He is enough for me. I am not saying Christianity is the truth. I am saying that Jesus is the truth. The truth of God has been embodied in a person.

When I am with my Muslim friend I don’t need to know what true Islam is. I need to know my friend. I want to know what he believes. Does he believe that such acts of violence in the name of Islam are justified? Or does he repudiate them? That’s what matters to me.

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I care deeply for Muslims as a group and for my Muslim friends in particular. I am really grateful to God for the relationships he has given me and the friends I have been blessed by. You also know that I have not been afraid to call anti-Islamic statements evil. I am more than willing to call out the evil from Christians regarding Muslims. I believe this film is offensive and the opposite of love.

However, one thing I really haven’t done is also call out the evil that Muslims have done. I feel angry about the response to this movie. I understand why it is offensive. But I cannot and will not understand the need to destroy property and ultimately kill others because of it, especially those who had absolutely nothing to do with the making of the film. I do not hold the American government responsible for the evil of individual citizens anymore than I hold other governments responsible for the evil of their individual citizens.

I am angry because the destructive and deadly responses are evil. I am angry because these responses make non-Muslims living in the Middle East fearful. I have American friends who live all over the Middle East who are fearful that they may need to flee. I am angry because the radical murderous Muslims are giving all of my Muslim friends a bad name. I am angry because the work that I do in trying to promote understanding and peace between Muslims and Christians can so easily be derailed by the site of angry mobs. I am angry because all people are made in God’s image and we are not treating each other with the respect that this simple truth demands. God made us. And therefore he loves us. How is it that this truth doesn’t change everything about how we live with people different than us?!

I feel for Muslims who are appalled at what is taking place. Surely they bear a greater burden of responsibility over their community than I do, but what can they do? I don’t know. And even if my responsibility is not as great, I still am responsible for my reaction and for the circle of influence I have.

So I will pray. I will pray to the God of peace. I will pray for those who have sinned in making the movie and those who have sinned in their response to the movie. I will continue to show the way of love that Jesus Christ teaches us. His way is the way of the cross. He didn’t kill his enemies. He died for them. He didn’t end their lives. He laid down his own.

The way of the cross is the only way forward because it teaches us to humble ourselves and extend the forgiveness we have received to others. It teaches us to love our enemies and to seek their good. It teaches us to love mercy and not merely insist on justice.

I will pray and I will seek to daily die to myself and my selfish desires so that I can love others, even others who don’t love me.

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The Prophet John (Yaha) objected to Jesus being baptized by him (ritually cleansed in water). Jesus, however, insisted by saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Jesus did not need to repent. He had not sinned. It was a baptism that symbolized cleansing. Jesus did not need to be cleansed. He was not defiled. Jesus did many things he did not need to do. His death was a death for sin. Jesus did not need to die for sin. In it all he was identifying with his people, but even more, he was fulfilling the law’s demands for his people (for they could not) so that they could experience the blessings of cleansing and forgiveness.

Just as his death fulfills the sacrifices for atonement, so his baptism fulfills the washing necessary for purity. “Not only did Jesus fulfil the laws requiring sacrifice for sin but the purity laws requiring washing from defilement and in doing so exemplified the significance of baptism.”1

Peter compared our baptism to Noah’s ark and the way God saved them through the water. Through the flood God cleansed the earth of wickedness, saving the righteous. He purified his creation by destroying all that was defiled. Peter says that baptism corresponds to this, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). At Paul’s conversion, Ananias said to him, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins.

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1L. S., ““Cleansing in Christ.” (Unpublished diss., 2010), 19.

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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Jesus Christ was an amazing healer and a great teacher. He was also a powerful cleanser in ways that would be impossible for an ordinary man. Lepers were required to live outside the camp and shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that no one would touch them and become unclean themselves. People avoided them, but not Jesus.

When lepers came for healing, he healed them—not with medicine or even a word, but by his touch. He did the very thing that would have made him unclean, yet the opposite happened. Rather than being made unclean by the leper, he made the leper clean. Under the law, when the priest examining the leper saw that the leprous disease was gone the man was still unclean. Healing from the disease was not enough to make the man clean. He also needed to sacrifice a bird and have its blood sprinkled on him. Even after that he was still not fully restored. He could go into the camp, but could not live inside his tent for seven days. Then he would shave all the hair off his head, wash his clothes and bathe. Now on the eight day he would bring a sacrifice (a burnt offering and a grain offering) for the Lord to the tent of meeting. The priest would make atonement for him. Only after all of this was he declared clean and thus restored to the community (see Leviticus 14:1-20).

Notice the difference when Jesus healed a man with leprosy. “And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (Mark 1:40-42). No elaborate ritual. No sacrifice. No washing. No waiting a week. The man was both healed and cleansed immediately.

Later in Mark 5 we see again Jesus’ purity, authority and cleansing power over the unclean. First he confronted an unclean spirit in an unclean land (Gentile land). He showed his power by commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the man and then highlighted his quest to destroy what is unclean by permitting the unclean spirits to enter unclean pigs who destroyed themselves by throwing themselves over the cliff (Gospel according to Mark 5:1-20). Next he was touched by an unclean woman who had had a flow of blood for 12 years, which meant she had been perpetually unclean for 12 years. Again, rather than becoming unclean himself he healed her and made her clean (Mark 5:25-34). He then overcame the ultimate source of uncleanness and defilement: death. Jairus, who had asked him to come and heal his daughter, was told that his daughter was dead. Undaunted, Jesus went to his house, took her by the hand (which would have made one unclean, but not Jesus) and raised her from the dead (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43).

Throughout his ministry we see Jesus reversing the effects of sin and defilement. We see him forgiving sin, healing the sick, raising the dead, all of which can be seen as cleansing the defiled. Cleanness was not contagious, but now we find one whose cleanness was contagious, one who could make the unclean clean with a mere touch.

Other posts in this series

Cleansing from Defilement, Part 1: Introduction
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 2: The Danger of Defilement
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 3: Distinguishing between the Clean and Unclean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 4: What Makes One Unclean?
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 5: Uncleanness is Contagious and Defiles the Camp
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 6: Defilement and Purity in the New Testament
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7a: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7b: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Baptism
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 7c: Jesus Christ Makes Us Clean by His Death and Resurrection
Cleansing from Defilement, Part 8: The Incarnation Was Necessary for Our Cleansing

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In the book For the Fame of God’s Name, Ray Ortlund presents a great list of the truths that are taught in the book of Philippians (it is only 4 chapters, which is 3 pages in my Bible). I am reproducing the list below in order to give a taste of what one small part of the New Testament teaches. It contains a lot of theology. I hope that this list can help Christians better understand this book and help Muslims better understand what the Bible teaches about God, Jesus and those who follow him.

  • he who began this good work in them will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (1:6);
  • they are all partakers of grace together (1:7);
  • they are experiencing the affection of Christ Jesus himself through their relationship with Paul (1:8);
  • they will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (1:10);
  • human opposition, far from defeating the gospel, is serving to advance the joyous spread of the gospel (1:12-18);
  • should life be lost, Christ is gained (1:21);
  • temporary survival is gospel opportunity (1:22);
  • to depart and be with Christ is far better than this life (1:23);
  • the further one goes with Christ, the more joy one experiences (1:25);
  • the gospel of Christ is an uplifting power (1:27);
  • opposition to gospel witness presages the doom of the opponents and the glorious destiny of the faithful (1:28);
  • it is a God-given privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ (1:29);
  • union with Christ brings encouragement, comfort form love, participation in the Spirit, affection, and sympathy (2:1);
  • Christ Jesus himself is living proof that the arrogance of this world is doomed and that gospel humility is the path of great reward (2:6-9);
  • Jesus is King, and he will have every rational creature in the universe know it and own it, to the greater glory of God the Father (2:10-11);
  • the Philippians do not need Paul always present to lead them by the hand; God himself is deeply at work in them (2:12-13);
  • knowing Christ Jesus the Lord redefines all trophies of self-exaltation in his death and resurrection; he is so superior to all things in the world that, whatever path one may take into resurrection of the dead, the price to be paid is small in comparison (3:7-11);
  • in conversion, Christ Jesus takes eternal possession of the believer (3:12);
  • the call of God in Christ Jesus offers a prize far beyond this world, worthy of the believer’s all (3:14);
  • to whatever extent any believer struggles to grasp the upward call, God will reveal all that that believer needs revealed (3:15)’
  • to settle for the rewards of this world is to make oneself an enemy of the cross of Christ and to make a god of one’s earthly appetites, which is the path of destruction and the reversal of a truly human life (3:18-19);
  • those who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh also find their citizenship in heaven, from which they await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will raise even their lowly bodies into his immortal glory by his power over all things (3:3, 20-21);
  • their names are written in the book of life (4:3);
  • the Lord is at hand (4:5);
  • God receives the prayers of his people and sends his overruling peace to guard their hearts when the circumstances of life would have them frantic (4:6-7);
  • if believers will follow the apostolic example of lovely heavenly-mindeedness, they will experience the presence of the God of peace (4:8-9);
  • Christ strengthens his people to accept with contentment whatever life may bring (4:11-13);
  • when the Philippians support Paul’s ministry, the fruit increases to their own credit (4:17);
  • God receives their partnership with Paul as a scacrifice pleasing to himself (4:18); God is committed to the Philippians’ own needs with all his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (4:19); in it all, God will get glory for himself forever and ever (4:20);
  • in the meantime, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will steadfastly be with their spirit (4:23)

“The Pastor as Worshipper” by Ray Ortlund in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piperedited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2010), 411-413.

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