Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Foundation of The Faith

The season of the core and foundation of the Christian faith is upon us. Most call it Easter. Others prefer "Resurrection Sunday” for assorted reasons. But either way, without the reality of the events that occurred in the long ago, mankind would be forever lost in trespasses and sin. (Ephesians 2:5)

The origins of the word "Easter" are not really certain. But many believe that its name is probably derived from "Estre," an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. The German word "Ostern" has the same derivation. But most other languages follow the Greek term used by the early Christians: "pascha", from the Hebrew "pesach" that referred to the Passover.

The method for determining the date of Easter is a bit complex and has been a matter of controversy. Western churches (Catholic and Protestant) celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. Unlike with the Incarnation, always occurring on December 25th, the date of Resurrection Sunday falls on differing dates each year either in March or April. In the 20th century, discussions began about a possible worldwide agreement on a consistent date for the celebration of the central event of Christianity. But as is obvious, no resolution has ever been reached.

While the miraculous coming of Christ to earth in human flesh receives far more attention and celebration, it was the death and resurrection of Christ, over three decades later, that completed and sealed the redemption package. On the cross, Jesus accomplished the mission of paying the full price to have human sin forgiven and all humanity given the opportunity to be fully justified before a holy God. This incredible moment is described in John 19:30 when the Savior cried out, "It is finished!"

But as amazing and necessary as this aspect of salvation was, there was a second phase that the Bible reveals as equally crucial - if not more so! It centers on what took place just days later when the crucified Lord arose from the dead, thus proving His deity and His power over sin and death itself. The unfathomable importance of His literal return from the clutches of death and His departure from the tomb is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:13 –19:

“But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up — if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”

This passage intertwines the resurrection with the crucifixion. Together they complete God’s perfect plan of salvation. They provide those in Christ, through saving faith, with the "Blessed Hope” of also someday rising to new life and a heavenly home with Him forever. (1 Corinthians 4:15-18)

But as Christ was suffering for the sins of the world, two opposing voices arose at the location of His prophetic death. One was a hardened unbeliever who unknowingly uttered one of the greatest theological truths in all of Scripture. As Jesus uniquely suffered, and was about to finalize the atonement for sin, one of His detractors said from the foot of cross, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save.” (Mark 15:31-32) This poor lost soul had put his lost finger on the ultimate truth concerning redemption. Jesus could not leave the cross in that horrific moment. He was driven by His great love - something far beyond our human comprehension. This meant that He remained true to His spiritual mission despite suffering the most unthinkable thing imaginable to a holy God in the flesh.

In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul describes it like this: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Yes, the physical aspect of a crucifixion is beyond brutal. But there are no words that suffice to express the holy Son of God becoming the very thing He hated most, and what He specifically came to fully defeat.

Then there was the other voice, among others, that spoke that fateful day. This one was not from the foot of Christ’s cross, but from another cross just adjacent to the Savior’s. This brief but highly significant interaction is shown in Luke 23:42-43. One of the two guilty thieves, also being executed that day, finally recognized Jesus for who He really was and what He was really doing. The Lord’s brief but incredible promise to this dying and lost sinner illustrates what this season is all about. It is the ultimate example for all who come to this dying criminal’s accurate assessment of Christ and who also call upon the name of the Lord in simple faith! (Romans 10:13)

“Then he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.' And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'"

 Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Faulty Prophet Turns Repentant Sinner?

After causing great and long-term harm and confusion to countless Christians, families, churches, and even the kingdom in general, a very prominent Bible teacher and broadcaster has finally admitted he was wrong. It was a long time coming. But after much damage was done, and multiple millions spent, Harold Camping, of Family Radio fame, just recently announced that he was dead wrong and had actually "sinned" in his multiple predictions concerning the Rapture of the Church.

When his former predictions failed to materialize, many followers were devastated - particularly those who had actually quit their jobs or donated portions of their retirement, savings, or college funds to help pronounce his nearing Judgment Day message.

Baptist Press online, out of Nashville, Tennessee stated, "Harold Camping, the radio preacher who wrongly predicted that Jesus would return May 21 of last year has released a remorseful statement calling his prediction 'sinful' and saying his critics were right in stating that no one knows the date of Christ's second coming.” They reported Camping as stating, "We must also openly acknowledge that we have no new evidence pointing to another date for the end of the world. God has humbled us through the events of May 21, 2011 to continue to more fervently search the Scriptures, not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding."

Mr. Camping also said, "We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God's hands and He will end time in His time, not ours!" A Toronto Star headline declared "A U.S. preacher, who spent millions last year to publicize his message of impending global destruction, has for the first time acknowledged his apocalyptic prophecy was wrong. In a letter posted on his independent ministry's site, the 90-year-old Harold Camping told his followers he has no evidence the world will end anytime soon, and he isn't interested in considering future dates.

Finally the famous radio and TV preacher wrote, "We tremble before God as we humbly ask Him for forgiveness for making that sinful statement," the statement reads. "We are so thankful that God is so loving that He will forgive even this sin."

Indeed Harold Camping’s highly hyped predictions cost the Church of Christ a great price. Large sums of money, used for his date setting fantasies, could have been used for real and effective ministry. The dates that came, and uneventfully left, were also used by those already opposed to Christianity to further abuse and poke more fun at those who are believers in God’s faith family.

But with all of that said, just two questions arise. First, will Mr. Camping receive forgiveness by God for his massive and costly theological blunder? And secondly, does the Rapture still remain a great Scriptural truth no matter how Camping, and others like him, may tarnish it with their repeated and high profile mistakes? The answer to both questions is yes!

If Harold Camping is a true believer in Christ, and has asked for God’s forgiveness, it will be granted him. The Savior of mankind forgives His own people’s sins - past, present, and future. Romans 8:1 says it briefly but adequately: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Also, those who tinker with God’s timing cannot themselves change what the Bible teaches on this, or any subject, found there. The term ‘Rapture”, which literally means a ‘super-quick snatching away’, is not actually used in the Bible. But the concept is clearly taught there. The following verses make reference to this very special moment when Christ literally returns at some future time – and perhaps far sooner than most may think.

The following passages reveal the concept of Christ’s literal return to the planet He entered as a sinless babe in a manger and then died on a Roman cross to provide forgiveness of human sin and redemption for those He created. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 2:7-8)

- I Thessalonians 4:16-18: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

- John 14:2-3: "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

- Mark 13:32-34: "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.”

A study of the Scriptures reveals that the Rapture will be a real and blessed event – at least for those who are part of the true church. And it also seems that, although God has given general ‘signs of the times' concerning its near return, that His major concern is not having us predicting its arrival, but rather being spiritually prepared for it. And if we believe this next great event on God’s prophetic calendar is real and could come at any time, we should likewise be attempting to ready those now outside of Christ to be likewise ready according to passages like 2 Corinthians 5:20-21:

“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

 Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Super Close 'Super Tuesday'

In terms of political days, of and especially for a Presidential run, it is called ‘Super Tuesday’. In all, 10 states held primaries or caucuses on Tuesday, making it the most important day of the campaign so far.

The 2012 version is now in the books and the results, although very close, saw Mitt Romney come through as victorious. Rick Santorum came in at a very close second. He achieved 37% of the vote as compared to Romney’s 38%. Newt Gingrich came in third at just 14% but claims he will stay in the race regardless.

 In his victory speech Tuesday night, Romney stayed focused on President Obama, while paying little attention to his own party’s rivals. Meanwhile, Santorum declared to a group of supporters in the small city of Steubenville, Ohio, “The Republican Party has to nominate somebody who can talk about the broad vision of what America is. To beat Obama, we need a fighter, and someone who learned what America was about by growing up in communities just like this.”

But in exactly one month, there will occur the observance of another "super" day. Unlike "Super Tuesday", this one is always on a Sunday and falls on April 8th this year. And unlike yesterday’s big political splash, what this day in April represents cannot be described using words like "super" or really any other term for that matter. This “Super Sunday” represents the greatest day and achievement in all of human history and even eternity. It is commonly known as Easter Sunday. Others prefer to use "Resurrection Sunday” – a term they feel to be more biblically revealing and accurate.

This is the day when Christians, and much of the world, look back some twenty centuries. It focuses upon the day when the Son of God, after shedding His sinless blood on the cross to justify a spiritually lost race, then arose from the dead. He had predicted He would conquer death and He did! In doing so, He proved His deity, provided mankind’s redemption, and succeeded in turning the world upside down in the process. His death and subsequent resurrection on this “Super Sunday” was, again, the single most crucial event in all of human history. It provided sinners the solitary way of gaining forgiveness and justification by accepting His free offer of salvation.

For two thousand years, believers in Christ have looked back to a Sunday that is so "super" that it really has no words than can capture its majesty, importance and eternal consequences. It began a few days earlier with the incredible words that signaled that sin had been fully paid for - once and for all. John 19:30 describes it this way: “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, 'It is finished !' And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”

But it was then a few days later, on Sunday, that the one remaining ingredient was miraculously added. It was then and there that Christ’s stunning resurrection proved who He was, His ability to justify sinners, and allow those who would trust Him to also someday be raised to new life and reside in heaven with Him forever. (John 3:16, Romans 10:9, Acts 16:31, 1 John 5:12) That great "Super Sunday" morning is briefly related in Matthew’s words as follows:

“But the angel answered and said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead.' ” (Matthew 28:5-7)

“Super Tuesday” for 2012 is past history. And yet, even the victor on that day may not ultimately see his dream of occupying the great White House come to fruition. But all that have personally responded by faith to the events of that first "Super Sunday" have won the greatest prize of all. They will someday reside with, and even be like, their Savior, in a place and in a position that makes being the President of the United States pale in contrast. (1 John 3:2) For they alone will enjoy an eternal existence that is also far beyond any imaginable descriptive terminology.

“God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4)

 Bill Breckenridge