Good Friday

Early in the morning of the Day of Preparation for Passover, the religious authorities met in Jerusalem and affirmed their vote convicting Jesus of blasphemy. They intended to take him outside the gates of Jerusalem and stone him to death, but first they needed Roman permission for an execution. Governor Pontius Pilate was hearing other civil cases that morning, so the authorities brought Jesus to Pilate.

Blasphemy is not a crime in Roman law—especially not blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God. The Romans had lots of gods, and many of them had sons. The authorities adjusted their verdict to get the governor’s attention. They said that Jesus claimed to be a king, making him a rebel against Roman rule. After a brief investigation, Pilate realized that Jesus was not guilty of rebellion. Three times he publicly announced that Jesus was innocent. (A few hours earlier, Peter had said three times that he did not know who Jesus was.) Pilate attempted several ways to escape the verdict that the local authorities wanted from him. Finally, in desperation, he offered the authorities and the mob supporting them a choice: to observe the Passover, the governor would release one prisoner. Either he would release Jesus, an innocent man, or he would release Barabbas, a convicted terrorist.

No one had mentioned crucifixion up to this moment, aside from the several times that Jesus had predicted how he would die. Evidently, Barabbas had just been sentenced to this form of execution. Now, the authorities and the mob demanded freedom for Barabbas; when the governor asked what he should do with Jesus, the mob shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Christians know that we are all just like Barabbas. We are guilty of breaking God’s laws. We deserve punishment. The evidence of our wrongdoing is inescapable. Yet we are set free. Jesus takes the punishment we deserve, and we are given our freedom. More than that, we are granted the rewards Jesus deserves for his sinless life.

Jesus was beaten by the Roman soldiers. They mocked him, thinking it laughable that anyone would even want to be “King of the Jews.” They followed orders, having him carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus was crucified outside the gate of Jerusalem between two thieves (possibly partners in crime with Barabbas). Roman soldiers, guarding the place of execution to prevent a rescue, were granted whatever property the condemned men had carried with them. Jesus had only the clothes on his back, but the soldiers gambled to see who would claim that clothing.

Thousands of people were crucified by the Roman government. Some survived the torture up to two days. Many people have suffered other kinds of excruciating pain, and some have endured it for years. Many people have been abandoned by their families and their friends. Physically, nothing is unique or special about the way Jesus died. Yet one thing is different: Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was abandoned by his Father. Always the two Persons had been with each other, loving each other, doing things for each other. Now the Father treated his Son as guilty of all sin. This separation is what sinners deserve—our rebellion against God signals that we do not want to be with him. God’s just judgment against us (“You don’t want to be with me? Fine, then I will abandon you.”) was turned against Jesus. In agony of separation Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus knew the answer to his question. His words are not meant as a philosophical query; they describe the despair Jesus was feeling in his heart. A thousand years before, David had written a Psalm that begins with the words Jesus prayed; Psalm 22 contains vivid descriptions of crucifixion, even the detail of enemies gambling for the victim’s clothing. A possible temporal loop exists here, as Jesus prays the words written a thousand years earlier, words which prophesied his predicament. The beginning, though, is with Jesus. He was forsaken by his Father and endured the cross, and then earlier in time he spoke of his experience to David, who wrote about what Jesus faced.

Judgment Day is coming. Every human who ever lived will stand before the judgment seat of God, and God will express his wrath over every sin that has been committed. The sun will turn to darkness, according to the prophets, and the moon will change to blood. The earth will shake because of the judgment of God. Christians do not need to fear that Day. Jesus has already endured his Father’s wrath in our place. The sun refused to shine for three hours on that Good Friday. The earth did shake. And, if historians are correct that these events took place in Jerusalem on April 3, AD 33, then the prophecy was completed, because the moon that rose at sunset was a “blood moon,” stained by the shadow of the earth.

“It is finished,” Jesus said before he died. He did not merely mean that his life or his suffering was finished. He meant that his mission was finished. The war between God and evil was finished. Evil’s claim on the lives of sinners was finished. The power of death was finished. Jesus had fought and had prevailed; goodness and love and life had won. For those reasons, we call the Friday when Jesus died “Good Friday.” J.

This post was originally published on Good Friday 2016.

 

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Why the cross?

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, an eight-day Christian commemoration of the most important week in the history of the world. On a Sunday nearly two thousand years ago, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. There he cleared the Temple of merchants and money-changers, then taught in the Temple and debated his opponents. On Thursday night Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples and give his church the gift of the Lord’s Supper. Then he went to a garden to pray. In the garden he was arrested, and from there he was taken to trials before Jewish leaders and Roman leaders. Accused first of blasphemy, then of treason against Rome, he was sentenced to die on a cross. When Jesus had died, he was taken from the cross and buried in another garden. There, on Sunday morning, he rose to complete the work that he had finished on the cross.

What did Jesus accomplish on the cross, beyond his own suffering, bleeding, and dying? The Bible provides several analogies of what Jesus accomplished, explaining it from several points of view. When Christians limit themselves to one analogy and treat it as literally true, they miss the fullness of the gospel message. Moreover, mockers are able to take the analogies literally and extend them beyond the Bible’s intended meaning, twisting the beauty of God’s Word in their mockery.

The most common analogy of the cross is financial. By his suffering and death, Jesus paid the price for sins, rescuing sinners from their debts. The beauty of this analogy is that we understand debt and payment. We understand how our sins place us in debt to God, a debt we cannot pay. Jesus paying in our place is a beautiful image of his love for us. But to whom did he pay the debt? Did he buy us from the devil, or pay his Father for our sins, or purchase redemption from a power higher even than God? Each of these explanations has problems when the analogy is treated literally and left as the only explanation of the cross.

A second common analogy of the cross is military. On the cross Jesus fought a battle against all the forces of evil. These forces include the devil, the sinful world, sins committed by people, and death itself—the ultimate result of sin. Becoming a victim of these enemies, Jesus also defeated them. His resurrection on Easter morning is a declaration of victory, and the Church continues to share that news of victory with sinners who have been enslaved by their sins and by the power of evil. We were prisoners of war in the Great War between God and evil, but the victory of Jesus rescues us from prison and puts us on the winning team.

Yet another analogy of the cross is healing. Through his time on earth, Jesus healed many people, often with just a word or a touch. He never seemed to be harmed by any of his miracles of healing. But in those physical healings, Jesus was simply treating the symptoms of evil. To fully heal the damage caused by sin and evil, Jesus had to bear that damage in his own body. What he endured on the cross gives him the power to heal every consequence of sin and evil: leprosy, blindness, paralysis, and even death. His own suffering and death provides the remedy that reverses all the damage caused in this world by sin and evil.

Still another analogy of the cross is rescuing what was lost. This is why Jesus is called a Savior and Christians describe themselves as saved. C.S. Lewis adapted this metaphor by describing Jesus as a diver who descends to the bottom of a muddy pond to unearth a treasure. The diver becomes thoroughly dirty digging in the bottom of the pond, but when he ascends to the surface he carries his treasure with him. So Jesus humbled himself, obedient to death, even death on the cross, to claim us as his treasure. Though we were buried in sin and evil, Jesus takes us out of the mud through his own suffering and death. In his resurrection, Jesus lifts us also to new life in a perfect new creation.

A similar analogy of the cross is fixing what was broken—which can also be described as reconciling or uniting. Like a shepherd going into the wilderness to find a lost sheep, Jesus comes into this sin-stained world looking for his lost people. He rescues us from the mouth of the wolves. Even in the dark valley of the shadow of death, he finds us and brings us home. We were separated from God by our own rebellion, but Jesus has restored us to the family of God through his expedition into suffering and death.

One more analogy of the cross is adoption. In modern society, the process of adoption is difficult and expensive. In our relationship with God, the process of adoption is even more difficult and expensive. We are not God’s children because he made us. Even if that was once true, it is true no longer. By breaking his commandments, we have forfeited our place in God’s family. Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, personally pays to adopt us into his family. He gives himself as the cost of our adoption so we can be children of God and can pray to the Father of the eternal Son as our Father. Baptism is the personal ceremony by which this adoption is made certain, just as in baptism each Christian dies with Christ, is buried with Christ, and rises again with Christ.

Finally, an analogy of the cross is cheating justice. We broke the rules. We rebelled against God. We declared our independence from God and said that we wanted to be separate from him. Justice would have God say yes to our rebellion. Justice would have God abandon us to our sinful choices. But God’s love is greater than his justice. He allows the world to be unfair. He allows evil people to prosper, and he allows good people to suffer. By letting evil be unfair, God makes it possible for good to be unfair. Now Jesus can suffer in our place so we can be rewarded in his place. Now his Father can abandon him instead of us so he can claim us for his kingdom.

Each of these analogies is true. All of them are supported by the writings of the apostles and prophets. All of them are enacted in the history of God’s people. When we cling to one analogy and neglect the others, we weaken the message of God’s grace and allow mockers room for their opposition. When we see all these analogies as pictures of the cross from different points of view, we begin to comprehend (albeit dimly) the true glory that Jesus revealed by his sacrifice on the cross. J.

Doxology

“For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.”

These words are not included in the earliest copies of Matthew’s Gospel, nor does Luther comment upon them. Many Christians pray them, though, as a hymn of praise—a doxology—which matches the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer, in which we ask that God’s name be hallowed.

The kingdom is God’s. He rules over everything that he created; he is Lord of all that exists. The Church in particular is his kingdom, and his will is to increase that kingdom so more people will dwell in his new creation. That new creation is also his kingdom, which he will rule eternally.

The power is God’s. He is almighty; he can do whatever he chooses. God is so powerful that he cannot lie. Whenever he speaks, what he says happens. He says, “Let there be light,” and there is light. He says, “Your sins are forgiven,” and they are forgiven. He says, “Your sins are gone,” and they are gone, removed as far from us as the east is from the west. He says, “You are my child, and you will live with me forever in a new and perfect creation,” and we know that all these things are true.

The glory is God’s. In the presence of his disciples—Peter, James, and John—Jesus once shone with light while visiting with Moses and Elijah. Yet to Jesus, his true glory is not that he can shine with light or be counted with the heroes of God’s people. His glory far transcends those accomplishments. For Jesus, his true glory is expressed in love, making himself vulnerable on behalf of his people, offering himself as a sacrifice to take away the sins of the world.

The kingdom and the power and the glory are his forever—or, as some Christians pray, “forever and ever.” The original Greek expression translates literally as “from the ages into the ages.” God’s kingdom and power and glory never end. They endure into the new creation, and we will experience them fully at the resurrection of the body, when we inherit the fullness of what we already have now: the life everlasting. J.

 

But deliver us from evil

Jesus said, “When you pray, say ‘…But deliver us from evil….’”

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”

Salvageable adds: When we are given daily bread, unconditional forgiveness, and guidance for our lives, we should be safe from all evil. Therefore, Luther describes this petition as a summary of the Lord’s Prayer. God’s fatherly nature is determined to keep us safe from evil. His name is kept holy, his kingdom is preserved, and his will is done when we are protected from evil. Even when God chooses to permit evil—as he did with Job’s afflictions, with Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and with the execution of his own Son—God permits that evil so that a greater good can prevail. When a Christian suffers, that suffering reminds the Christian of Christ’s suffering on the cross and of His victory over all evil. When a Christian dies, the body is buried and the spirit travels to Paradise to wait with Jesus and all the saints for the Day of the Lord and the new creation.

The devil and sinners in the world use the existence of evil as an argument against the existence of God or against his goodness. Sometimes the sinful nature still within a Christian is inclined to agree with the devil and sinners. God permits us to see and experience evil, not because he is too weak to prevent it or not good enough to stop it, but because he wants all people to know the difference between good and evil. When we face evil, we begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and then God can satisfy us. He satisfies us with the perfect goodness of his Son, which he credits to us even though we have been allies of evil and have taken sides against God by breaking his commands. He satisfies us with the suffering and death of his Son, a battle against evil in which the good side won. Being forgiven, we share in Christ’s victory over evil, knowing that God has chosen us for his team so we can be on the winning side.

Every day God delivers his people from evil. On the Last Day the fullness of his victory will finally be seen in the resurrection of his saints and the dawn of the new creation. From that Day on we will not have to pray for daily bread, daily forgiveness, daily help to forgive others, daily guidance, and daily deliverance from evil. From that Day on we will hallow God’s name, live in his kingdom, and do his will without distraction or interruption. From that Day on we will experience our relationship with God as his children, knowing the love of our heavenly Father and having no reason to doubt his goodness and his power. J.

 

Busy times

The last couple of weeks have been busy. Most of the busy-ness was unavoidable, but the net effect has felt (at times) overwhelming.

Most important, of course, were Holy Week and Easter. Special services for Good Friday and Easter are to be expected. We observed the anniversary of the Lord’s death in our place, conquering death and granting forgiveness and eternal life. Then we celebrated the anniversary of his resurrection, announcing his victory and establishing the guarantee of our resurrection to live in a new and perfect world.

On the morning of Good Friday, a member of the congregation died. He had been ailing for some time; given his faith, it even seemed appropriate for his to die on such a day. He was seventy-three years old, a lifetime member of the same congregation. One of the other members called him “a pillar of the church.” After the funeral service, one of his sons remarked to me, “Finally Dad got to fill the church.”

On top of that, a historical exhibition that I was assigned to create and assemble opened at my workplace the night of Good Friday. As soon as I realized that the opening date was a holiday, I alerted the other people involved that I would not be present for the opening. For them the date was set—the second Friday of the month is a given for such events, because of other plans involving the place where I work and its neighbors in the community. With help, I put together the elements of the exhibit on Monday afternoon, and a “soft opening” was held Wednesday night prior to the official opening. A “soft opening” is only advertised within the workplace, and there are no refreshments. Four people came into the exhibit during the hour of the “soft opening,” and two of them were casual visitors unaware that there even was a “soft opening.”

I had decided in March that my First Friday Fiction would be a story taken out of a novel which I started writing more than thirty years ago. When I made that decision, I did not realize that I would end up posting the story in six installments, bleeding into Holy Week. Nor did I anticipate that typing and updating the story would inspire me to complete it in two more parts. My draft of the six installments actually ended with discussion questions, intended to gather responses that might shape the rest of the story. Instead, I began answering the questions myself, which led to writing the final parts of the story.

Embedded in these busy times were three landmarks for this Salvageable blog. I passed the second anniversary of the beginning of the blog on April 14. Somewhere in there I published my four hundredth post (one of the story episodes—I haven’t bothered to see which of them was #400). Around the same time, I reached one thousand different visitors who have looked at least once at Salvageable.

That mark of one thousand different visitors might not seem impressive, but I am happy about it. After all, writing anonymously, I have not promoted the blog on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media. In the past two years I have made many good friends, even though we know each other only through WordPress. I am grateful for all my readers, and I also enjoy reading your writings.

Undoubtedly, the best is yet to come! J.

Know your enemy–the devil

Some people interpret the devil as a metaphor, a personification of evil who does not literally exist. Others picture him as a cartoon character, an archaic mythical being with an overlay of medieval and modern imaginings. The Bible describes the devil as a fallen angel, created by God to be good, but in rebellion against God, at war with all that belongs to God. He has no personal interest in the people living on the planet Earth; but, because God loves us, the devil tries to hurt God by bringing harm upon us.

God is purely good, but pure evil does not exist. Everything evil is something good that has been twisted, distorted, and changed from its original form and purpose. Even the devil was a good angel when God made him. The Bible does not say much about his rebellion beyond attributing his fall to sinful pride. I speculate that the devil understands power and authority, but he does not understand love and mercy. He sees God’s love and mercy as weaknesses, which is why the devil believes that he can run the universe better than God is running it. He is very clever, but he is also foolish. He cannot accept the reality that he is not equal to God. He is not all-powerful, all-knowing, or present everywhere. He cannot defeat God, but that reality does not stop him from trying.

The devil tempts people to sin. When we have sinned, he remembers our sins and stands ready to accuse us of sinning. His name, Satan, comes from a Persian word, a legal term for the prosecuting attorney in a courtroom. Once a person has sinned, Satan considers that person a partner in evil. Every sin is a sign that the sinner belongs to Satan and not to God. Satan is ready to accuse us in God’s presence of all our sins so he can keep us as his property–not because he cares about us, but because he hates God and wants to grieve God.

On one occasion, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and promised to give them to Jesus if Jesus would worship the devil. As laughable as that temptation seems, it was a shrewd offer. Jesus had come into the world to redeem sinners, to reconcile us to God and reclaim us for his Kingdom. His path to our redemption involved suffering and dying on a Roman cross. Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to his goal. Jesus could take charge of all the kingdoms of the world without suffering and without dying. He only had to worship the devil. Had Jesus wanted power and authority, he would have accepted that offer. But Jesus came into the world with love and mercy. It was not enough for him to rule over sinners still unreconciled to God. Jesus refused the devil’s offer and continued his journey toward the cross.

Satan quoted Psalm 91 as he suggested that Jesus jump from the pinnacle of the Temple and be carried by angels. Jesus refused to put God’s promises to the test. Yet Jesus was fulfilling the promise of the Psalm in his refusal–the same Psalm also promises that God’s people will trample the serpent. In the Garden of Eden, Satan had used the form of a serpent to tempt Eve into sinning and joining his rebellion. God responded that Satan was a loser–he would eat dust–and a descendent of Eve would defeat Satan. Jesus would crush the devil’s head, but in the process Satan would bruise his heel. Jesus crushed the devil’s head by his sacrifice on the cross.

Now, when Satan remembers the sins of Christians and accuses us of rebellion, Jesus stands as our defense attorney. He pleads our case before his Father, reminding his Father that our penalty has been paid in full. Satan stamps his little foot and complains, “That’s not fair!” He is correct; God is being unjust by forgetting our sins and receiving us into his Kingdom. In love and mercy, God would rather be unfair to our benefit than give us what we deserve.  Jesus comes like a thief in the night to steal us from the devil. He breaks into the strong man’s house–the world controlled by the devil–and binds Satan so he can take Satan’s property (sinners who have rebelled against God) and bring them home.

When missionaries sent by Jesus rejoiced in the victories they had experienced, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Satan’s fall is not a single event in history; he falls whenever God’s promises are shared and believed. The Word of God binds Satan. His only power is in his words, and when people trust God’s Word, Satan is bound. He is a chained dragon. Satan becomes unbound whenever people set aside the Word of God and fail to believe the promise of redemption. The Bible calls Satan a roaring lion, but he is no more dangerous than the lions in the zoo. So long as we stand where we belong–on the Word of God–Satan cannot get to us. Only when we leave God’s Word and climb into Satan’s territory are we in danger from the devil.

Satan is not God’s equal. Hell is a prison, not a kingdom, and Jesus holds the keys to that prison. The victory Jesus won by his death and resurrection is a victory over Satan, a victory Jesus shares with us. The apostle Paul calls us “more than conquerors” because we participate in the victory without having contributed to the battle. Satan does not have the power to take us out of God’s hands. Nothing, not even the devil, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. J.

 

Know your enemies

Jesus commanded his followers to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Yet the book of Psalms contains many examples of hating enemies, wishing bad things to happen to them, and calling upon God to judge and punish those enemies. Is there a contradiction between the teachings of Jesus and the Psalms?

Viewed in their historic context, the “imprecatory Psalms” at first seem to relate to human enemies. David, the author of many of those Psalms, had many human enemies in his lifetime, including the Philistines, King Saul, and David’s son Absalom. When we read in I & II Samuel about the David’s career, though, he does not seem to glower with hatred against his enemies. Although he exchanged trash talk with Goliath before striking him down with a stone and cutting off his head, on other occasions David was gentle with those who chose to be his enemies. Twice he spared Saul’s life when Saul was vulnerable while pursuing David. He begged his soldiers to be gentle with his rebellious son, Absalom. Before he became king, David even lived among the Philistines and offered to fight with them against Israel. David’s attitude toward those enemies seems more consistent with the teachings of Jesus than with his own poetry.

David seems to have known already what the Apostle Paul would later put into words: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). By tradition, Christians identify our true enemies as an unholy threesome opposed to the will of God: the devil, the world, and our flesh. The devil is Satan, a rebellious angel who tried to take control of the universe away from God and who tempts people to sin, then accuses them of their guilt. The world is the sin that surrounds us during these lifetimes, the many sources of temptation that confront us daily and try to disrupt our Christian walk. The flesh is the sinful nature still within us, ready to cooperate with the devil and with the world by choosing sin over righteousness.

Our problems come from these three enemies. Since they work together, we cannot always say which of them is the source of any particular problem. I know Christians who blame all their troubles on demonic forces. I know others who blame all their troubles on the bad influence of the world. I know still others who blame themselves for every bad thing that happens to them. Most of the time, though, we cannot know the source of our problems. We know only that God has permitted his enemies to bother us, and that he will also never abandon us to their attacks.

Christians need to remember that our enemies have already been defeated. Jesus battled them on the cross and prevailed against them. The devil, the world, and even our sinful natures were beaten when Jesus bore the weight of sin and evil on the cross. When He announced, “It is finished,” one of the things that was finished was the power that our enemies have over us.

Even when we do not feel like winners, we remain more than conquerors through Jesus—more than conquerors because we share a victory we did not fight to achieve. Our enemies are still trying to harm us—not that they care much about us, but because they oppose the God who loves us. During this lifetime we live on a battlefield. We can rejoice with David, though, knowing that our enemies have lost. They are judged and condemned, and God has guaranteed their loss and our victory.

For those other enemies—the members of the other political party, the advocates of social changes of which we cannot approve, the bullies and insensitive neighbors who steal our peace and comfort—we are still expected to pray. We are expected to love them and even to forgive them. Even Muslim terrorists remain missionary opportunities. Our proper prayer for them is that God will show them the error of their ways and lead them to genuine repentance and to faith in Jesus Christ. We rejoice, not in earthly victories over flesh and blood, but in the eternal victory Christ won over the devil, the world, and our flesh. J.

 

“Hello, my name is Joe”

From time to time I dream of winning a grand victory over an evil intelligence, as Captain Kirk so often did in Star Trek. Yesterday, on a small scale, I finally had my chance.

The telephone rang while I was working on my desktop computer at home. I did not recognize the number showing on caller ID, but that did not necessarily mean the call was not from someone I know. I haven’t memorized all the phone numbers of people I might want to speak with on the phone.

I picked up the phone and said hello. A cheerful voice introduced himself as “Joe from Senior Auditory Center and Helping Hands.” He asked how I was doing and I said, “I’m fine, Joe; how are you?”

Instead of the usual, “I’m-fine-thanks-for-asking,” Joe moved immediately into a description of what his company offered. He implied that someone in the household had a need for a hearing aid. “I don’t think I’m interested,” I told him, but Joe then said that someone in the household had contacted his company.

Given the name of the company, I didn’t think that was likely. Instead of saying so, I offered, “Let me write down your name and number and ask my family if any of them have contacted you.”

“I’m not trying to sell you anything,” Joe assured me. “This is a free service.” I thanked him and asked again for a way to contact him if someone in the family indeed had an interest in what he was offering.

Instead of giving me a phone number, Joe said, “I’d just like to ask you a few questions, OK?”

By this time, Joe’s failure to respond to what I was saying made me suspect that Joe was not a human being, but rather a computer-generated voice. His pauses before responding were just a smidgen too long; along with his unfitting responses, our conversation made me picture a 1960s, made for TV, room-sized computer with whirling tapes and flashing lights. I knew that if I said “OK,” Joe would start asking his questions, so I said, “I don’t think I want to answer any questions.”

“OK?” Joe asked again.

“I know what word you want me to say, and I’m not going to say it,” I told him.

“I just want to ask you a few questions, OK?” Joe repeated.

Although I was tempted to tell him that logic is a chirping bird, I instead chose a more fitting line. “Joe, what we have here is failure to communicate,” I said.

“I’m sorry to hear you’re having that problem,” Joe said.

“I don’t think the problem is on my end,” I told him.

“My name is Joe,” he said, more slowly than he had said it the first time. I pictured the face of an android, eyes blank and staring, smoke starting to rise out of both his ears. He continued, slowly and distinctly, “I am from the Senior Auditory Center and Helping Hands.” After that came a silence long enough that I figured it would not be rude to hang up on Joe.

In three different episodes, Captain Kirk was able to save an entire planet and its resident civilization (not to mention his life and the lives of his crew) by talking a computer to death. I’d like to believe that, in a small way, I have now shared in the good captain’s victories. J.

Cubs fans: “We won!”

This is a repost of my very first post on this blog, from April 2015:

Two special days happen every spring. Sometimes they are a couple of weeks apart, sometimes they happen the same week, but only rarely do they fall on the same day. This year, 2015, they fell on the same day.

One of those special days is Easter. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His resurrection provides hope of our resurrection. His resurrection provides hope that our sins are forgiven and that we will live forever in God’s new creation. His resurrection provides hope that all God’s enemies (who also are our enemies) have been defeated.

The other special day is called Opening Day. Specifically, Chicago Cubs Opening Day. After weeks of practice games that don’t count, on Opening Day the games begin to matter. In my lifetime, the Cubs have not played many post-season games. Every spring, though, has had an Opening Day to celebrate. On that day, it is possible to hope that the Cubs will have a good season, one good enough to bring them to the postseason. At the start of Opening Day, all the teams are equal. Every fan of every team can approach Opening Day with hope.

Both these special days in early spring deal with hope, but the hopes are not the same. If I say, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,” I might get my wish, or I might not. If I say, “I hope the Cubs win the game today,” I might get my wish, or I might not. When I say, “Heaven is my hope,” I am talking about a guarantee. Jesus has lived a sinless life. He has suffered and died on a cross to pay for the world’s sins. He has risen from the dead. Our Easter hope does not disappoint us, because Christ has triumphed. Our Easter hope does not disappoint us, because God always keeps his promises.

Baseball is only a game. What Jesus did in Holy Week was no game. That week he fought and won the ultimate battle in the war between God and evil. Jesus took all the sins of history on himself and made them go away. Jesus faced the devil and crushed the devil’s head. Jesus died so he could remove the power of death and provide a resurrection for all his people, for everyone who trusts and believes his promises.

I truly hope that some year soon, some year in my lifetime, the Cubs win it all. I would like to see them celebrate a World Series victory. When the Cubs are champions, their fans all over the world will celebrate. Thousands of fans in the stands will cheer, and millions watching the game on television will cheer. All of us will shout, “We won! We won!” That shout is rather strange, actually, because the fans don’t win anything. Only the players on the team really contribute to the victory. The players who throw the ball, hit the ball, and catch the ball are the ones who won. Yet they don’t mind sharing their victory. They don’t mind that the fans say “we won” instead of “they won.”

Easter is much the same. All over the world Christians gather in churches and celebrate Christ’s victory. Essentially, we say, “We won! We won!” Yet only Jesus lived a sinless life. Only Jesus died on the cross to defeat evil in the world. Only Jesus rose from the dead on Easter to proclaim his victory. Yet Jesus does not mind that his people celebrate Easter and say, “We won.” Jesus wants to share his victory. He wants to make us more than conquerors—winners who did not have to fight to gain a victory. Jesus does not call us fans. He makes us members of his team. Then Jesus goes out and wins. And the win was provided, not by a home run, but by a sacrifice. J.

Know your enemies

I seem to be having a devilish week. First insanitybytes writes a post about the devil called “The voice of the enemy”—I tried to create link to it, but failed . Then, while the oil is being changed in my car, I read a short story written by Vladimir Nabokov in 1926, called “A Nursery Tale,” in which the devil plays a significant part.

One commenter to “The voice of the enemy” reminded IB that the devil is a created being, not omnipresent throughout the universe; the commenter questioned the ability of the devil to put thoughts into the minds of people. From there the conversation went askew, and rather than adding my voice to the din, I chose to visit the topic here.

A long-standing tradition in the Christian Church speaks of three enemies to the Christian: the devil, the world, and the flesh. “The world” does not mean the planet, but it describes all the temptation and opposition to the faith that comes from the people around us. “The flesh” does not refer to the Christian’s physical body, but rather to the evil thoughts and impulses that still exist in the mind or heart of the Christian.

From time to time, small groups of Christians insist that the flesh no longer exists in a saved Christian. Quoting a few verses out of context (particularly some from I John), they claim that a true believer no longer sins and that a sinner is not yet a true believer. They overlook I John 1:8—“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us”—and they distort Paul’s description of the paradox of Christian living in Romans 7. No, the devil does not need to be everywhere to accomplish his evil goals; the devil has a willing accomplice inside each of our minds and hearts.

The world is polluted by sin, causing us to be tempted every day. From Elizabeth Taylor to Taylor Swift, men’s minds are led astray—not because these talented women are part of some massive conspiracy to promote evil, but because the entertainment industry uses attractive and skilled performers to give us what we say we want. The flesh is eager to be tempted. The world is eager to offer temptations. The world would rather drag Christians down to its level than see us rise by God’s power to the level of Jesus Christ.

I picture the devil, not as a mastermind steering all the evil in the world, but as a mafia boss or gang leader sitting in a prison cell. He is “a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8), but he is a caged lion, and we can resist him when we stay out of his cage. He is pictured as a dragon bound in chains and sealed in a pit (Revelation 20:1-3), but because the world is polluted by rebellion and evil, the devil’s schemes continue to succeed.

When did the devil fall from power? When was he chained and caged? When seventy-two missionaries reported to Jesus about their work, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). From this we learn that Satan falls from power and is bound whenever God’s Word is preached and believed. When is the dragon loosed? He is released from bondage whenever people turn away from the Word of God. When they call the Gospel “ancient myths and legends” and deny the cross of Christ and his resurrection, they unchain the devil. This unchaining is not some future event—it has been happening for centuries and continues to happen today.

The devil has several names. He is called Satan, which comes from the Persian name for a prosecuting attorney. Not only does the devil tempt us to sin; he also reminds us of our sins and calls on God to punish us as we deserve. He is called “Beelzebul,” meaning “master of masters,” a title given by Canaanites to their god Baal. The name is often changed to “Beelzebub,” meaning “master of flies,” a reminder that, even though at times he is called the king of this world, he has no real power. He took the form of a serpent to deceive our ancestors and to draw them and all humanity into his rebellion. (Only in the book of Revelation does the Bible explicitly say that the serpent is the devil.) God told Satan that he would “eat dust” and that his head would be crushed by the Christ—this first preaching of the Gospel is the time Satan first began to fall.

Jesus has defeated the devil by dying on a cross and rising again from the dead. The devil continues to be defeated whenever people hear and believe the good news about Jesus. If the devil and the world cause a Christian to suffer, hoping that the Christian will doubt God’s goodness or his power, their attack is defeated when that Christian allows his or her sufferings to be a reminder of the sufferings of Christ.

In his death and resurrection, Jesus has redeemed sinners, and he has redeemed all of creation. The devil took the form of a snake, but a snake became a picture of Jesus (Numbers 21:8-9 and John 3:14-15). The devil is a roaring lion, but Jesus is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The devil is a prosecuting attorney, but Jesus is our defense attorney, pleading his case before his Father and reminding his Father that our penalty has been paid in full.

Yes, in this sin-polluted life we still battle the devil, the world, and our flesh. One cannot sort the struggles to know when a temptation or an attack came from the devil, or from the world, or from our own sinful flesh. They work together, and the source of our problems does not matter. All that matters is the victory that is ours through Jesus Christ. J.