Sunday, December 24, 2017

For God So Loved The World.....

Messiahs false and true

False messiahs

Unfortunately, because repentance and facing our own dark, angry, sinful nature can be painful and requires humility, many people are more inclined to skip the introspection and just appoint an earthly savior to rescue them from their misery. The most notorious example of a false messiah in modern times was Adolf Hitler, although both Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong were responsible for far more deaths. All demanded obedience and worship in return for a glorious kingdom on Earth, but of course it didn’t work out. It never does – but we keep trying

The desire for a messiah – a God-anointed person who will lead us to lasting peace and happiness – is embedded deep in the human soul. The messiah is central not just to Christianity and to Judaism, but also to Islam, which has its own exotic version of a last-days deliverer.
In fact, polls reveal that a large percentage of Muslims currently living in the Middle East believe they will see, in their lifetime, the coming of their messiah – whom they call the Mahdi. But believe it or not, Islam anticipates that the Mahdi will return with a sidekick – Jesus, whom Muslims call “Isa.” The Muslim Jesus is expected to tell the entire world that he is not the son of God, was not crucified and was not resurrected from the dead. Rather, according to Muslim teachings, Jesus’ message upon his return will be that he does indeed exist, but that he is – surprise! – a Muslim, and that all the world must convert to Islam.

Since human beings, as is demonstrated again and again, are prone to disastrously appointing false “messiahs” to absolve their sins and lead them to peace and freedom, one question, which has endured for millennia, looms large: Is the messiah a political (group) savior, or a spiritual (individual) one?

Twenty centuries ago at the time Jesus walked the Earth, the Jewish people, citing the biblical prophets, were awaiting a great leader descended from King David who would rescue and lead them into a time of lasting peace on earth. However, Jesus, when urged to lead a rebellion against the Roman oppressors and occupiers, said he had come to lead a different sort of revolution – an inner one, within each person. Why?

True Messiah
If we’re completely honest, at some point during our lives we realize we are broken in such a deep way that we cannot fix it. Our problem with sin, with deep roots going back to our childhood and beyond, seems to cling to us all of our lives. Even in the best of us, the traumatic memories are so deeply embedded, the strength of sin so powerful, our emotional responses to stresses so deep-seated, that even with our best efforts we remain a shadow of the person we’d like to be. We never seem to be totally healed – not with medications and therapy, not with diet and exercise, not with church attendance and rituals, not with sermons and Bible study, not with righteous behavior and good deeds.
We need something we cannot give ourselves. We need true healing; we need forgiveness; we need a new identity; we need new life.
All this brings us to the coming of the Messiah, as described so poetically in the Gospel of Luke:

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem … To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:4-14)

This, of course, is just the beginning of the story. From Jesus’ ministry and life-changing teachings, to the miracles he performed, to his perfect example of how to live life, to his ultimate crucifixion and resurrection, His life and death – and life again – are truly “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
The simplicity and sincerity of Christ’s essential message is conveyed by one of my very favorite scriptures, courtesy of John the apostle:

Here is the message we heard from him [Jesus] and pass on to you: that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to be sharing in his life while we walk in the dark, our words and our lives are a lie; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, then we share together a common life, and we are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus his Son. (1 John 1:5-7)
John mentions no dogma, no required observances, rituals, special diet and so on. Just an appreciation of God’s forgiveness through His Son, and this glistening instruction: If we “walk in the light, as he himself is in the light” – that is, if we calmly and humbly welcome God’s light of understanding to shine in our minds and souls, by which light we will see our sinful nature – He will grace us with repentance. And “then,” assures John, “we share together a common life, and we are being cleansed from every sin by the blood of Jesus his Son.”

Perhaps the most quoted scripture in Christendom, John 3:16, points to the answer: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

In response to this ultimate expression of God’s love for us, our appreciation and worship of God in return may be the one thing the rest of the universe cannot deliver. Only through the troubled lives we lead and the lessons of humility and faith we ultimately learn can real love of God come into being.

Why did God put such imperfect beings in the space between all that perfect cosmic clockwork large and small? Maybe in the Creator’s mind all that stuff just serves as the ornate setting, and we – we’re the crown jewel of His creation. Not that we’re anything praiseworthy, mind you. It’s just that God wanted children – and all the stars, planets, oceans, rocks, trees and birds just wouldn’t do.
But in leaving a race of prodigal sons and daughters here, untethered in a moral wilderness with the freedom to follow their own folly for a season and thereby learn precious lessons, God knew many would eventually come to their senses and come back home to him. May it be so with you.

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