July 15, 2012

One thing never changes

My family’s first telephone was a large box on the wall with a crank on one side and a receiver on the other. We spoke into a black mouthpiece that protruded out the front. Our phone was on a “party” line, meaning several families shared the same circuit. To phone us, they had to ring “one long and two shorts” or something like that.
Today’s telephones are more like mini-computers. Even my plain-Jane cell phone allows me to text messages around the world and go on the Internet. Times have changed with telephones, all things electronic and in many other ways.

Things have changed when Christians try to talk to others about Jesus Christ, at least in North America. Two thousand years ago, John the Baptist had no problems pointing people to the Lord.
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. (John 1:35–37)
Today, if a follower of Jesus spoke of Him as the Lamb of God, they would get a blank stare at best. In our culture, there is no longer any general knowledge about the Jewish sacrificial system and the significance of calling a man God’s Lamb. 

This is not restricted to our culture. When Christian missionaries go to primitive people groups, their goal is to translate the Scriptures using terminology that makes sense to those groups. The book “Peace Child” is one example of the struggle to find something in a culture that makes sense of Jesus dying for their sins as a substitute, just as the lamb was the substitute for the ancient Hebrew people. If offered in faith, trusting God to forgive their sin, the lamb was sufficient. However, those people looked forward to a permanent sacrifice, one that need not be offered every day, one that would take away the sin of the world.

This concept makes little sense to modern people. It sounds pagan, even silly that God (even if there is a God) would require blood to atone for sin. Even the concept of sin has changed so that many consider that this is merely a guilt trip and that sin does not exist. Just as the telephone has evolved, so has the idea of faith in God, and just as there are many types of telephones, there are many religious beliefs.

Yet there is something about the telephone that has never changed. Its basic function is to provide a way of communicating with someone that is not standing beside me. Whether I use a tin can and a fence line (those once existed as primitive telephones also) or a fancier model with more bells and whistles, the goal is still communication.

This is the same with the purpose of the lamb. Simply put, Holy God created human beings in His image and had a personal relationship with Him. However, they rebelled against His command and became sinners (fell short of the image). God said the soul that sins shall die, creating a huge problem for human beings.
But God loves His creation so He promised to restore that broken relationship. He would send someone to save them from their sin and give them a new, pure life. In the meantime, they needed to sacrifice lambs for their sin. Each lamb was a substitute, dying in their place so they could remain alive, even though there was no change in their character — yet.

Then Jesus came. He was the One who would restore humanity to the relationship for which we were created. First, He had to die for the sin of the world, which He did. Then He rose from the dead and offers that new life to sinners. It is not automatically imposed. In ancient times, just as atonement was only for those who believed God and obeyed by slaying a lamb, so it is with those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. This is for those who believe (and obey Him, in that order). The idea of “salvation by faith” has never changed.

Also, faith and new life go hand in hand, happening at the same time. Our part is to believe. God’s part is to forgive our sin, come into our hearts and give us a new nature. From that new nature we have new life, eternal life, a life that changes who we are and how we live. 

This is the Gospel. God loves us. In sin, we reject Him. He must punish sin (He is holy), but instead of punishing us, He sent His Son as our substitute. Because of Jesus sacrifice and resurrection, God offers forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe. A great plan, one that works for all generations, all people groups, all time.

What about the “many valid religious beliefs”? Upon examination, those other beliefs have changed the gospel from “Jesus did it all” to “I can earn favor with God by…… (fill in the blank). Even some who call themselves Christian base their faith on a “I will do it myself” foundation. Jesus knew that would happen. His timeless response makes sense.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
I love my compact little phone that needs no wires nor a big box on the wall, but I also love the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ. Communicating it to others is a challenge, but it is still God’s plan of forgiveness and a changed life that throughout the centuries has stayed the same. 

Father, when I walk into a telephone store, I’m amazed at the choices and varieties. How does anyone select a new phone? Yet when it comes to reaching You, knowing You, communicating with You, how simple You have made it. Whether we call Jesus the Lamb of God, the Savior, the Lord of Lords, God in human flesh, or all the many ways He is revealed and spoken of, He remains the only way to You.

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