The Son Rises: On Some Daring Truths and Beliefs about Christianity

The Son Rises: On Some Daring Truths and Beliefs about Christianity

10153360050158716

Christianity is probably the only major religion in the world that makes exclusive and absolute claims about its founder, essence, and distinctives. For many Christians, the major claims of Christianity are absolute, and their absoluteness invites no room for negotiation. As a result, because of the cardinal tenets of Christianity, Christianity is one of the most intolerant and non-inclusive (theologically and doctrinally) major religious traditions in the world.
In this brief essay, I would like to reflect on five basic claims about the Christian faith, which often get Christians in trouble with their non-Christian family members, friends, co-workers, and other individuals in their circle.
1. The Trinity. One of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith is the belief in the Trinitarian nature of God. Paradoxically, Christians confess that God is three in one, and that God exists eternally as Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three divine entities are one God, not three. Each one possesses equal nature, power, and authority. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit.
How could anyone in his or her right mind embrace such a theoretical and seemingly strange concept? Well, Christians believe exactly that there is only one God who has always existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This God, Christians also claim, is the sovereign Creator and sustainer of all things. He created man and woman according to his own image so they could be in spiritual relationship with him and image him in the world. Christians also argue that God also created the galaxies. They also proclaim the universal love of the Triune God who always pursues his creation for relationship and intimacy.
2. Jesus Christ. Christians believe that the poor Palestinian Jewish male named Yeshua (“Jesus” as they say his name in English) who was born and lived in the first century Roman Palestine was God incarnate. Are you serious? Yep!
Christians insist that Yeshua was a historical person, and that God became a man through him—what they famously call the doctrine of the incarnation. By this theological idea, Christians seek to convey that the historical Jesus was “fully God” and “fully man” simultaneously. Doesn’t that seem mythical or legendary to you? Absolutely! However, Christians truly believe that.
My first impression is that all reasonable or logical individuals would love to inquire about which one of the three divine beings—as mentioned above in # 1—has undergone the incarnational experience. Was it the Father, the Holy Spirit, or the Son?
Christians maintain that God the Son has become the brown-skinned Yeshua HaMashiach (“Jesus the Messiah”), whom the Jewish people long-anticipated to come and deliver them from the Roman Empire and exploitation. Correspondingly, for many Jewish people in the first century, the much-anticipated Jesus the Messiah would come to restore the Jewish people to God and reestablish the kingdom of Israel as it were before the imperial invasion and occupation of the Romans.
Furthermore, Christians firmly believe that Jesus is the only authentic way to God, and it is he alone who can provide absolute and direct access to God. If an individual does not believe in Jesus for who he claims (God in the flesh and Savior of the world) to be and for what he has suffered on the Roman cross on behalf of all people—that is his sacrificial death has salvific value for the sins of all people— he or she will not see God. God will not accept anyone apart from Jesus and pardon anyone who willingly rejects Jesus and his atoning sacrifice. By this daring declaration, Christians reject the merits of the works and claims of other prominent religious leaders and founders such as Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, and others. It is from the perspective of Jesus’s meritorious works and what he has accomplished redemptively in his life for all people that Christians have the urgency to tell their non-Christian family members, friends, and co-workers about the lordship of Jesus Christ so that they too can experience his transformative presence and reconcile with God.
3. The Virgin Birth of Yeshua. Perhaps, the strangest thing Christians—both first-century Christians [many of these individuals sacrificially risked their lives to follow this first-century Jewish Rabbi—instead of renouncing him—to the point of excruciating death] and contemporary Christians—believe is the notion that this poor and brown-skinned Palestinian Jewish boy named Yeshua was supernaturally conceived by God the Holy Spirit. They profess that Yeshua’s young mother Mary has not previously engaged in any sexual intercourse with men before she became pregnant with baby Jesus. Therefore, the baby in her womb was originated from God, not from Joseph, Mary’s future husband and Jesus’s adoptive or supposed father.
Isn’t this Christian belief in the Virgin birth of Yeshua archaic and anti-scientific? Christians would say No! While modern science, they insist, would reject the miraculous birth of the historical Jesus, the same God who created the world miraculously out of nothing is sovereign over human biology, global history, and human nature. They maintain that the miracle of the Virgin birth does not violate the laws of physics because it is grounded in reasonable faith.
4. The Bible. Christians profess that the Christian Bible—the 66 books that contain both the Old and New Testaments—is the only authoritative and inspired Word of God. First, the modifier “only” suggests that other religious books such as the Qur’an or the Vedas is not the Word of God. That does not mean that these religious texts have no divine value in them. For Christians, these books do in fact contain partial revelation of God; by contrast, the Bible is the only religious book that contains the “full” revelation of God, in the same way they maintain that Jesus is the final revelation of God and God’s full disclosure to the world.
Secondly, the qualifier “authoritative” connotes that the Bible, not other religious books, has its source in God. It is the concept of “divine inspiration” that makes the Bible authoritative. Nothing more! Nothing less! God has spoken through biblical writers who copied down precisely God’s intended words. With this logic, God’s words are also human words or human words became God’s words because of the divine push or influence. Therefore, the words inspiration and authoritative do not undermine the human aspect of the Biblical text. Nonetheless, the emphasis is on the “divine intent” of Christian Scriptures, an element that makes the Bible distinctive and special to those who read it and believe in what it says. It is from this perspective Christians could claim that the Bible communicates meaningfully the will and plans of God for his people and all people.
5. The Resurrection of Yeshua. Has any individual in human history died and raised from the dead before? Have you ever read in a textbook about such strange incident? Perhaps, you have read in the pages of a novel or creative work that a dead character came back to life triumphantly. But, not in a historical work!
Interestingly, Christians are persuaded that the resurrection of Jesus was a historical event and the watershed moment in human history. It changed the world. It transformed human destiny. In the same vein, Christians proclaim that the resurrection of Yeshua is the most significant event of the Christian faith. If the resurrection of Christ is not the cornerstone of Christianity, there is no Christianity and there is no Christian hope—both in the present and future. Christianity stands on the belief that Jesus was raised valiantly from the dead. Or Christianity fails on the conviction that Jesus did not raise from the dead, but his body decayed in the humble and eroded Roman tomb.
The resurrection of the historical Jesus has become a universal Christian conviction throughout human history that Christians sustain and proclaim it unapologetically both to followers of Jesus—as a remembrance and celebration of their shared faith—and non-followers of Jesus—to persuade them to embrace the salvific aspect of the cross of Christ. Jesus died and resurrected for the sins of the world. The historical Jesus (the Jewish Messiah) of the Roman Palestine was dead, buried, and resurrected in the third day.
What is the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus?
Why is Jesus important?
According to Christian belief, because of our wrongdoings, all people are culpable before God. Not only sin invades our hearts and minds, sin radically transforms our thinking process, and terrifically damages our relationship with God and with people. We suffer because of our own sins. We also suffer because of the sins of other individuals we love and know, and even those we are not acquainted with or know intimately. Even creation and the environment are affected because of our bad choices.
God has created us for relationship and love; He is utterly holy, transcendent, and abhors sin and our wicked actions. None of us can never reach his demand for holiness and perfect standard of purity. Therefore, God intentionally planned our deliverance through the cross and resurrection of Christ. In his love, he graciously delivered up Jesus for us as an offering, a gift, even a substitution for our sins.
In fact, a first-century Christian writer and theologian named Paul pronounced some bold assertions about the meaning of Jesus and the significance of his resurrection to a group of people, both followers and non-followers of Jesus, from whom some were skeptical about the historicity of the resurrection:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, hin which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day pin accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me….
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope2 in this life only, ewe are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 14:1-7, 12-19
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the hope for all who believe and trust him as their Lord and Savior. The resurrection of Yeshua affirms that death does not have the final word.
Jesus is the final word for the world, and he is the sustaining life and everlasting joy that death or any form of human oppression denies to all of us!

Happy Resurrection Day!

Rev. Celucien L. Joseph, PhD

President

Hope for Today Outreach

Advertisements

How Now Shall We Live Together and Gently? A Biblical Perspective

How Now Shall We  Live Together and Gently? A Biblical Perspective

The American Political Constitution is a masterpiece and should be praised for its democratic and cosmopolitan language. It is one of a kind. However, the relationship between Americans of different racial and ethnic background and the attitude they express toward one another and the foreigner among them is disheartening and betrays the American democratic ideals.

How shall we then proceed to heal our national wound?

How shall we then move forward to learn to live together, accept one another, and love another as Americans?

These are the questions we should be asking ourselves and each other in this moment of pain, trial, and seemingly great despair.

If I may appeal to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in the sixth chapter,  please allow me to share a few ideas with you.  Although I make a sharp distinction between Christianity and American Nationalism, I would like to offer a Christian perspective on these national issues I noted above. The Christian identity counters the American identity. Nonetheless, I do believe  and maintain that Christians are called by God to actively engage their culture with the message of Christ and be active citizens who must use the Wisdom of God and biblical principles to transform their neighborhood, community, city, and their country–toward peace, love, justice, truth, equality, etc. for the common good–to the glorious praise of the Triune God. Consequently, toward these goals, in this brief post, I would like to bring your attention to three underlying propositions: listening with care and love, doing good to all, and live gently, which may strengthen human relationship, bring collective peace, national healing, and foster racial reconciliation and ethnic harmony. Ultimately, I’m interested in highlighting some basic biblical principles on how to do life together and live gently in these tragic times in the modern world.

 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?“–Micah 6:8

  1. Listening with care and love

In such a national predicament and collective crisis we’re presently undergoing as a people, it is critical for each one of us to listen to each other and try to understand the other individual’s perspective. You will not understand somebody’s hurt and moments of troubles-both in the past and the present–  until you learn to cultivate an attitude to listen and sympathize with that person. You will ruin the possibility to move  forward toward collective progress, goal, and unity should you undermine one’s suffering and point of view.  Do not interrupt! Listen!!!

Listen with care! Listen with patience! Listen responsibly! Listen with understanding! Listen with love! Moments of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation come at the time when we offer ourselves up to each other for the sake of love and unity. As Paul encourages the Christians at Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2). The imperative for social transformation, communal shalom, national healing,  social justice, and radical spiritual renewal is to be relational to all people and to bear one another’s burden.

2. Doing good to all

Secondly, to work toward the common good and human flourishing in our society, it is crucial that we do good to all–with no exception. Doing good to everyone one meets means to be inclusive in one’s generous outreach efforts and activism; it also means that to deliberately extend acts of kindness, compassion, and love to those who cannot give back or do not have the means to return your favor. The ethical aspect of this biblical command and notion of goodness compels us all to forgive and love even those who refuse to love and forgive in return. Doing good to all is an act of justice and a form of loving activism and participation in the life of people or individuals in crisis. It provides a terrific opportunity to the Christian community to condemn social sins and human oppression–the antithesis of good–and to stand in solidarity with those to whom we have called to perform acts of goodness. According to James, the failure to do good and condemn what is unjust (or “not good”) contradicts the Christian ethic and the Jesus Creed: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).  The Christian community is also called to be exemplary models of goodness: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works” (Titus 2:7-9). For  Prophet Micah, goodness includes both social responsibility and spiritual development. The prophet associates good with justice, kindness, and humility.  Doing good is also interpreted as a divine imperative, that is what God requires of his people and the community of faith. Social justice is integral to the spiritual life of God’s people and the Church in the modern age.  When we dissociate Christian discipleship and (or from) the call to justice, it will ultimately lead to a life of obedience and a life that dishonors God.

 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”–Micah 6:8

Moreover, in Galatians 6, Paul implies that acts of goodness should not be premised on a spirit of  aggressiveness and comparison, but rather should be framed within a  spirit of humility and gratitude. Paul characterizes the Christian life not only as relational living but as a life that pursues the best interest and welfare of others, and the common good. Christian discipleship or the Christian life for Paul is not (and should not be) measured by an attitude of competition and comparison: “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor” (6:4); rather, it is/should be characterized by an attitude of selflessness, sacrificial doing, and  an attitude of  deliberate service and sustaining good : “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (6:9).  Even in the midst of unwarranted criticism, Christians in contemporary society should not be weary of doing and defending what is just, righteous, loving, and good.  Such attitude toward life and other individuals is a pivotal marker  of an exemplary and Christ-like discipleship.

“So then, we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:10).

3. Living Gently

Thirdly, the call to do life together and live  gently in this chaotic world and in this  life of uncertainty is not a free pass  nor is it the absence of weakness.  This is a high calling for the Christian to engage the world and culture meaningfully, relationally,  and graciously.  In other for the Christian to foster such an attitude toward culture, life, and the world, his/her life must radically be refined by the Spirit of God and shaped by the wisdom of the community of faith  in Christ Jesus.  Paul comforts us Christians that we should not be despair nor lose hope in these tragic times; for Apostle Paul, the Christian life that produces genuine spiritual transformation and growth is reciprocal, interconnected, and interdependent upon the community’s active collaboration and sustaining support: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (6:1). The christian life is lived in community and with the community of faith. This life of relations is in active solidarity with the community of Christ’s disciples–what we call ekklesia, “the church.” It is also a life in active solidarity with the oppressed, the disinherited, and underprivileged individuals and families. Genuine Christian discipleship means  the courage to follow Jesus Christ, the courage to love, the courage to forgive, and the courage to take upon oneself the suffering and trials of another individual. The cross of discipleship is not only a call to bear the cross of Christ continually; it is also an imperative to bear the cross of both the weak and the strong among us.

Paul’s articulation of these radical ethical principles of the new  community of grace in Christ and in the Spirit of love has tremendous implications for constructing a life characterized by the ethics and art of listening with care and love, doing good to all, and living gently. It is God’s desire for us to do life together, accept one another, and love another. It is only through the moral vision of the Kingdom of God that Christians and the Christian church in the American society and elsewhere could contribute meaningfully and constructively to a life of optimism, collective participation, a spirit of democratic communitarianism and humanitarianism, and a life of  collective solidarity and racial reconciliation and ethnic harmony.

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (James 6:10).

 

May we become the Gospel we proclaim!

Rev. Dr. Celucien L. Joseph

President

Hope for Today Outreach

Five Biblical Principles about Social Outreach: Hope for Today Outreach

Description:

In this video, Dr. Celucien L. Joseph, President of Hope for Today Outreach, shares five biblical principles about social outreach.

The vision statement of Hope for Today Outreach is based on five biblical principles and mandates that reflect God’s character and active participation in the human drama, and the overarching message of the Bible. God is most glorified in us when we love intentionally, serve and give sacrificially, and share the good news of Christ intentionally.

1) God’s Righteousness and Heart for Justice:

“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” (Ps. 146:7-9).

2) Care for the hungry and afflicted is a public demonstration of living out the justice of God:

“If you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame” (Isaiah 58:10-11).

3) Jesus Calls Us to do Social Outreach:

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”(Matthew 25:35-36).

4) Care for the poor is a fundamental Christian practice and a public demonstration of the love of Christ:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22).

5) The Imperative of Faith in Action:

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:14-17).