Sunday, January 15, 2012

By His Stripes

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 1.21.12

Marilyn Sewell, a Unitarian minister, made the following statement while interviewing Christopher Hitchens, a well known atheist:  
“The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I'm a liberal Christian, and I don't take the stories from the Scripture literally. I don't believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example).”[1]
Wait!  What?  How is that possible?  I mean, either you believe that Jesus died for your sins and you’re a Christian, or you don’t believe it and you’re not.  Right?  That’s what I always thought.

Anyway, Ms Sewell finishes with a question for Mr. Hitchens:  
“Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?”[2]
And then things really get weird!  Why? Because Mr. Hitchens’, the atheist’s answer makes more sense to me than the minister’s question.  Mr. Hitchens says, 
“I would say that if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”[3]
This from a man who wrote a book called, Why Religion Poisons Everything.  Interesting.

Maybe it’s easier, on some level, to believe in a Jesus who doesn’t ruffle any feathers, just a really great Guy, who said some really nice things about loving everybody.  It’s easier to keep everything neat and tidy, I guess.
The problem is, that molded plastic Jesus can’t save you or me.  He wouldn’t take the punishment for my sins.   He’s more like what Max Lucado calls “The Rabbit’s Foot Redeemer. 
“For some, Jesus is a good luck charm. The ‘Rabbit's Foot Redeemer.’ Pocket-sized. Handy. Easily packaged. Easily understood. Easily diagrammed. You can put his picture on your wall or you can stick it in your wallet as insurance. You can frame him. Dangle him from your rear view mirror or glue him to your dashboard.
“His specialty? Getting you out of a jam. Need a parking place? Rub the redeemer. Need help on a quiz? Pull out the rabbit's foot. No need to have a relationship with him. No need to love him. Just keep him in your pocket next to your four-leaf clover.
“For many he's an ‘Aladdin's Lamp Redeemer.’ New jobs. Pink Cadillacs. New and improved spouses. Your wish is his command. And what's more, he conveniently reenters the lamp when you don't want him around.
“For others, Jesus is a ‘Monty Hall Redeemer.’ ‘All right, Jesus, let's make a deal. For 52 Sundays a year, I'll put on a costume coat and tie, hat and hose and I'll endure any sermon you throw at me. In exchange, you give me the grace behind pearly gate number three.’
“The Rabbit's Food Redeemer. The Aladdin's Lamp Redeemer. The Monty Hall Redeemer. Few demands, no challenges. No need for sacrifice. No need for commitment.
“Sightless and heartless redeemers. Redeemers without power. That's not the Redeemer of the New Testament.”[4]
Or anywhere else in the Bible, for that matter.

Isaiah describes a very different Redeemer.  
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Isaiah 53:4-6
There’s nothing tidy or polite about the Jesus that Isaiah describes – a Redeemer who loves me so much that He took my place in Hell so that I could stand with Him in Heaven.
Ellen White says it so beautifully in The Desire of Ages
“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’”[5]
Jesus isn’t a polite, pinky out, only when it’s convenient kind of Redeemer.  He’s a wade in up to His waist, reach down and haul us out of the mud kind of Redeemer.  He’s messy and controversial, and He loves each one of us, personally and individually.
“Jesus does not excuse [our] sins, but shows [our] penitence and faith, and, claiming for [us] forgiveness, He lifts His wounded hands before the Father and the holy angels, saying: I know them by name. I have graven them on the palms of My hands.”[6] 
“Author Henri Nouwen tells the story of a family he knew in Paraguay. The father, a doctor, spoke out against the military regime there and its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge on him by arresting his teenage son and torturing him to death. Enraged townsfolk wanted to turn the boy's funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another means of protest. At the funeral, the father displayed his son's body as he had found it in the jail—naked, scarred from electric shocks and cigarette burns, and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. It was the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display.
“Isn't that what God did at Calvary? … The cross that held Jesus' body, naked and marked with scars, exposed all the violence and injustice of this world. At once, the cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, a God of sacrificial love.”[7]
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.  For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.”  John 3:16,17 (Amplified Bible

[1]Dr. Ray Pritchard, "Christopher Hitchens Gets it Exactly Right," (2-1-10)
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday (W. Publishing, 2004), pp. 89-90
[5] E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, page 25
[6] E.G. White, The Great Controversy, page 484  
[7] Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God (Zondervan, 1997), pp. 185-186

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