Lees Of Virginia
Is thetrue? The Da Vinci Code's "historian" Teabing declares emphatically that it is not. In the book he states, "Because Constantine upgraded Jesus' status almost four centuries after Jesus' death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history. . . . Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned" (p. 234, emphasis his). Remember what we have already noted—that Constantine had nothing to do with a "new Bible."
Teabing's assertions grow even more damaging to orthodox Christianity: "The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book" (p. 231, emphasis his). Later he adds with a chuckle that scholars cannot confirm the authenticity of the Bible (p. 256). What are the facts behind his assertions?
Note what the Bible claims about itself. Jesus said, "the Scripture cannot be broken" (Jn 10.35). The author of Hebrews adds, "The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Heb 4:12). And Paul concludes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16).
But we might expect the Bible to claim to be the trustworthy word of God. Is there objective historical evidence for or against this assertion?Is the Bible True - There's good evidence
Consider first the manuscript evidence (known as the "bibliographic" test by scholars). No original manuscripts exist for any ancient book. Writing materials were too fragile to stand the passage of centuries. This is the case for Aristotle, Plato, Julius Caesar, the writings of Buddha and the Koran just as much as it is for the Old and New Testaments.
However, we possess today some 5,000 ancient Greek copies of the New Testament, and 10,000 copies in other ancient languages. Latin and Coptic copies go back to the second century; fragments of papyrus documents go back to AD 130. Quotations in the writings of early church fathers date to A.D. 100. Complete versions of the Gospels, Acts, Paul's letters and Hebrews date to the early part of the third century; Revelation to the latter half. Complete volumes of the New Testament date to the 4th century. Note that each predates Constantine.
Now compare these manuscripts with other ancient documents. Of Caesar's Gallic Wars, we have today only nine or ten good manuscripts, none copied earlier than 900 years after Caesar. For the Histories of Tacitus, we have only 4 of his 14 original books, none copied earlier than the 10th century A.D. For Aristotle's works, we possess only five manuscripts of any one volume, none copied earlier than A.D. 1100 (14 centuries after the original).
Manuscript evidence for the New Testament is remarkable, far surpassing that which exists for any other ancient book. And those who work with these ancient copies (called "textual critics") are convinced that they have been able to recover a Greek New Testament which is virtually identical to the original. Quoting F.F. Bruce again, "The variant readings about which any doubt remains among textual critics of the New Testament affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice."1
This evidence does not prove that the Bible is the word of God. But it does demonstrate conclusively that the Bible you have is the same which was first written by its authors. When Teabing asserts, "History has never had a definitive version of the book" and claims that scholars cannot confirm the authenticity of the Bible, he's simply wrong.Is the Bible True - There's good archaeology
Let's look next at the evidence of archaeology. Such findings continue to confirm the geographical and historical veracity of the biblical texts. For instance, the pool of Bethesda (Jn 5:2ff) was once dismissed as historical fiction. Now archaeologists locate it in the northeast quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. I've seen it.
Researchers have identified the remains of Caiaphas, the high priest of Jesus' trial and crucifixion. They have discovered the skeleton of Yohanan, a crucifixion victim from AD 70, and note that these remains confirm the details of Jesus' crucifixion as it is described in the gospels. Archaeological evidence strongly supports the trustworthiness of the biblical narratives.Is the Bible True - Consider prophecy
Last, consider the evidence of fulfilled prophecy. At least 48 major Messianic prophecies can be identified in the Old Testament. Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled each one. Endeavoring to determine the odds of such a phenomenon, mathematician Peter Stoner isolated eight of these 48 prophecies. He then calculated the odds that any one person might have fulfilled them all.
Stoner determined those odds to be one in 10 to the 17th power (one followed by 17 zeroes). Visualize the number this way: take this number in silver dollars and lay them across the state of Texas. They will cover the entire state, two feet deep. Now mark one of those silver dollars. Blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he likes, but he must pick up one silver dollar. What are the chances he will pick the one you marked? the same The same odds that the prophets would have had of writing those eight prophecies and having them all fulfilled in one person.2
Is the Bible true? Billions of people across 20 centuries can attest to the fact that the teachings of the Bible have been proven true and authoritative in their personal lives. But even such overwhelming subjective evidence to the side, there is still outstanding evidential reason to believe that the Bible is the trustworthy word of God.
"The Illuminati called their string of markers 'The Path of Illumination,' and anyone who wanted to join the brotherhood had to follow it all the way to the end. A kind of test."
-- Dan Brown, Angels and Demons, 151.
Dan Brown's Angels and Demons postulates that the Illuminati, a secret society, had a secret path, "The Path of Illumination." As the protagonists, Robert Langdon and Vittoria Vetra, follow the path, they find their way to the next step by showing their aptitude for deciphering hints and making clever inferences. They grow in knowledge of Illuminati secrets.
The theme of secrets crops up here and there in human history. Why do people find secrets so attractive? For one thing, we are aware of our limitations and our lack of knowledge. We do not know the innermost secrets of life and of the universe. And some of us keenly wish that we did. Science nowadays seems to be unraveling more and more secrets. But can it give us the most valuable secrets about persons, the secrets of who we are and what it means to be a person?
Secrets also have an attraction precisely because they are secret—not everyone knows. If you possess a secret, you belong to a privileged inner group, and you have power and fellowship within that group that outsiders do not possess.
Because a secret is inaccessible, it is a kind of prize. If you discover it you can also take pride in the discovery. You found it out; others, less worthy, did not. As we follow Dan Brown's story and identify with the protagonists, we can feel a kind of secondary pride over their successes in unraveling the secrets.
In Dan Brown's story the secrets of the Illuminati intersect in fascinating ways with the secrets of religion. Most of the action takes place in the context of Vatican City, which is not only a territory with restricted access, but has its secrets: a secret conclave; a secret space where the antimatter sits; secret archives to which even the expert Robert Langdon has been denied access many times. Religion is naturally associated with secrecy, not only because it may have secret formulas and secret records, but because that which is holy is felt to be inaccessible to human beings. Only people with special qualifications and special rituals may entry holy spaces.
Human religions are largely built on the assumption that the holy exists and that it is secret. We are barred and cannot gain access.
Theclaims to be a holy document, delivered by the God of all holiness. But it is radically different. It announces that all the man-made secretive offerings of access to the holy are counterfeit. Human religion is about man seeking the secrets of God. The biblical message is about God coming to seek out man, in spite of his flight from the true God.
Consequently, the biblical message is not a secret. It is open. "By open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2). What is the message? There are many open summaries of it in the Bible:
... that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, ...
"in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their traspasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:19).
The biblical way is easy, because we do not need special passwords, special cleverness, or special human insight. But for the same reason, it is hard! It is hard because no one can any longer take pride in his achievement or his insight. "No human being might boast in the presence of God" (1 Corinthians 1:29).
At the heart of the invitation in the Bible is the person of Christ. His resurrection from the dead implies that he is alive today. And what he said while on earth is still true: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through me" (John 14:6). Jesus Christ gives us access to God, access to his holiness. And it is not a secret!
It is striking, is it not, that Jesus claims to be both the way and the truth. When he says that he is the way he means that he is the true path leading to the light of God. He is the path of illumination in the true sense. When he says that he is the truth, he implies that illumination, the knowledge of the truth, comes through him. In the Bible he also claims to be "the light of the world" (John 8:12), which corresponds to the metaphor of illumination used by the Illuminati.
Are these similarities mere coincidence? I think not. Dan Brown's book is meant to be light-hearted and fun to read at one level. But it touches on our deeper longings. We want a path in life that will lead us somewhere, hopefully to satisfaction and joy and peace. We want illumination and truth that will satisfy our minds and our sense of being in the dark about what is most important. If we long deeply enough for these things, we are tempted to invent stories and pseudo-truths that will satisfy us. We invent counterfeits of the truth that is found in God himself. Such inventions result in counterfeit religion. The good news of the Bible is that God himself has come to seek us out and to make himself known through his own Son: the Son says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father [God]" (John 14:9).
What is antimatter? It is part of the plot in Dan Brown's book Angels and Demons--that's what. Dan Brown writes an engaging story. It is fiction, of course. But antimatter itself is real.
The first particle of antimatter ever to be discovered was the positron. In 1932 Carl Anderson found its tracks while investigating cosmic rays. A positron is the antimatter opposite of an electron. It has the same mass as an electron, generates the same amount of magnetic field, and has the same amount of charge. But its charge is positive, while the electron's is negative. The two are exact opposites. If a positron and an electron meet, they can annihilate each other, leaving only energy in the form of light (gamma rays) in their wake.
Since 1932, physicists have postulated that every normal particle of matter has an antimatter counterpart. For protons there are antiprotons; for neutrons there are antineutrons; for neutrinos there are antineutrinos; and so on. In many cases, these antiparticles have been actually observed when high energy particles smash into one another at particle accelerator facilities like CERN. (But don't worry. Significant amounts of antimatter cannot be accumulated, because no vacuum trap for antimatter could permanently protect against every stray particle from cosmic rays and other sources. It takes only a one such particle to put energy into the system and seriously disrupt its stability.)
The discovery of the positron in 1932 has a remarkable story that goes with it. 1925 and 1926 saw the appearance of fundamental advances in the field of quantum mechanics, which described the behavior of electrons and other small particles. But the quantum mechanics of 1926 did not agree with the special theory of relativity developed by Einstein in 1905. Both theories seemed to work at least fairly well in their own sphere. But they were incompatible when taken together.
So in 1928 Paul A.M. Dirac tried to tinker with quantum mechanics, searching for an alteration that would make it compatible with the special theory of relativity. Dirac came up with an equation that combined the two theories and that accurately described the behavior of electrons.
But close examination of the mathematics showed that it represented an electron with not only one state, but four states. This result was totally unexpected, and at first it puzzled Dirac himself. Two of these states correspond to electrons with up and down spin, respectively. The other two correspond to positrons with up and down spin. But no one knew that positrons existed! Anderson's discovery of the positron was to come four years later.
The mathematics had predicted a new particle beforehand. It is in fact one of the most impressive predictions in the whole history of science. Scientists were not even looking for antimatter. And mathematics seemingly of its own accord told them it was there.
How in the world could it do that? Up to a point, we can understand the reverse process, where a scientist travels from physical observations toward mathematical formulations. A carefully crafted equation in mathematics can approximate experimental data that a physicist already has in hand. But the process with Dirac went in the other direction. Make up some mathematics that melds together two incompatible theories. And in order to work, the mathematics requires the existence of antimatter.
Twentieth century physics has uncovered not one but a whole host of striking illustrations of connections between mathematics and the physical world. Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner was so struck by it that he wrote an article, "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences," Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics 13 (1960) 1-14:
The first point is that the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it. (p. 2)
It is not at all natural that "laws of nature" exist, much less that man is able to discover them. (p. 5)
Eugene Wigner finds no rational explanation. But theoffers one:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
The Word of God, the second Person of the the harmony of God's mind, and the harmony between the persons of the Trinity., expresses the rationality and wisdom of God. The world that God made has deep harmonies because it was made by him and expresses him. In the Word, the wisdom of God, physical order (the positron) and mathematics hold together in harmony. Antimatter exists because it reflects within nature
"Vetra was on the cutting edge of particle physics," Kohler said. "He was starting to fuse science and religion ... showing that they complement each other in most unanticipated ways."
-- Dan Brown, Angels and Demons, 38-39.
In Dan Brown's thriller, Angels and Demons, the hero Robert Langdon observes the title of one of the books in Leonardo Vetra's library: The God Particle. The book actually exists and is in print. It was written by Leon Lederman, a Nobel laureate and particle physicist.
What Dr. Lederman calls "The God particle" is the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle that is postulated to exist, but (as of March, 2009) has not yet been detected. This particle has been postulated because, according to current physical theory, its interactions with other particles in the subatomic realm would offer some explanation of the masses of these particles. Finding it would be a spectacular confirmation of what has been called "The Standard Model" for explaining the realm of the smallest particles.
Why has the Higgs boson proved so elusive? If it exists, it is probably quite massive as subatomic particles go. The more massive the particle, the more energy it takes to create it, according to Einstein's famous principle of the equivalence of mass and energy. The energy must be concentrated in a very small area. Particle physicists do this by accelerating particles such as protons to nearly the speed of light. The high speed implies high energy. But the higher the energy, the larger must be the equipment used to impart the energy and to hold the accelerated particles.
The two most massive facilities for accelerating particles are Fermilab, near Chicago, Illinois, and CERN, the French acronym for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, with its main campus near Geneva, Switzerland. Both facilities have already searched for the Higgs boson with energies up to 170 GeV, but without success. The Large Hadron Collider, the key instrument at CERN, is slated to be powered up in 2009 with energies high enough to detect the Higgs boson if it exists. Particle physicists are waiting with excitement for the first results. News media have had some discussion, with predictable use of the expression "the God particle."
Part of the CERN site.
Below is a photo of the tunnel (a circular tunnel 27 kilometers in circumference) holding the "Large Hadron Collider," the most massive particle accelerator in existence.
Would the discovery of "the God particle" bring us any closer to the discovery of God? Not really. The God particle is merely a particle, not God. It would be an exciting discovery in the highly specialized field of particle physics. But our ordinary world would go on just as it did before.
Why then has the Higgs boson been singled out and given its exalted name, "the God particle"? Physicists would like to get "to the bottom" in understanding the physical character of the smallest particles, and the Higgs boson would in one sense be a temporary bottom. (I say "temporary" because many physicists think that still more remains to be revealed at even higher energies.) Getting to the bottom gives scientists the feeling that they have achieved a God-like knowledge. So it is not completely arbitrary to have given the Higgs boson its whimsical alternate name.
Albert Einstein is reported to have said that his career in physics was an effort to "know the mind of God." Einstein was not a Christian believer, but his statement is not a facetious statement. If physicists discovered the Higgs boson, they would have confirmed at a deep level the understanding of the world that they call "the Standard Model" for subatomic particles. That understanding would then reflect the very nature of the world as created and sustained by God.
We can go a little further. The consistent patterns of physics extend down to the "bottom" consisting in the smallest constituents of matter. The consistency is a rational, lawful consistency. It shows a mind. (See the discussion of the character of scientific law.) The wisdom of that mind—yes, it is the mind of God—is displayed spectacularly if physicists can predict the existence of a new, yet-to-be-discovered particle that beautifully completes patterns already recognized. (See the discussion of the discovery of antimatter.)
Vern S. Poythress, "Symmetry".
"Science has now provided answers to almost every question man can ask. There are only a few questions left, and they are the esoteric ones. Where do we come from? What are we doing here? What is the meaning of life and the universe?"
Langdon was amazed. "And these are questions CERN is trying to answer?"
"Correction. These are questions we are answering."
--Maximilian Kohler, in Dan Brown, Angels and Demons.
Can science answer the ultimate questions? Dan Brown's Maximilian Kohler promises that it can. But a more searching inspection of the culture and methods of science turns up limitations. Natural science studies matter and energy and forces and interactions in time and space. In biology it studies the complexities of living things, but it stills focuses on understanding these within the framework of forces and matter and energy at the bottom.
Explanation on this level can never rise beyond its starting decision to focus on one level of structure within our world. For the sake of detailed progress and understanding at one level--the physico-material--it restricts its focus to that level. It leaves out consciousness, human personality, moral right and wrong, beauty, worship.
Strict materialists believe that matter and motion are all that is or ever can be. But that is a philosophical postulate, not the inevitable product of scientific reasoning. If science deliberately restricts itself to the material dimension, its conclusions will necessarily speak about the material dimension. The conclusions may be impressive and insightful. But it is a fallacy to think that they establish that the material is all that there is. The fallacy overlooks the human choice of a restricted standpoint at the beginning.
Believers in materialism may nevertheless be devoted to their philosophy. Because of the confusion about where materialistic assumptions are smuggled in, it seems to many people that materialism gains prestige from the triumphs and insights of science. Moreover, materialism can be satisfying after a fashion because it gives answers to big questions, or at least says that some kinds of questions cannot be answered. According to materialism, we ourselves are the chance byproduct of matter and motion. We have come into being by chance, and our destiny for the future is a matter of chance.
Then what is the meaning of life? Most people want an answer in terms of purpose and personal meaning. The materialist claims that there is no such answer, but that all meaning reduces to atoms and motion. It is a grim philosophy. No one can consistently live on that level, because we crave meaning, love, beauty.
Paradoxically, beauty crops up in the very structure of scientific laws, as well as in the world governed by those laws. And the materialist has no explanation for the laws themselves. Why is there something rather than nothing? And why are there laws at all? In fact, the laws reflect the character of an infinite God. We as human beings are in flight from God. So it is spiritually "convenient" to forget the laws and to claim that the matter and motion exhaust reality. It gets us off the hook from confronting our responsibility to God.
Vern S. Poythress, "Scientists Motivated by God."
Vern S. Poythress, "The Quest for Wisdom," in Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in Service of the Church: Essays in Honor of Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Ed. Lane G. Tipton & Jeffrey C. Waddington. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008. Pp. 86-114.
John Byl, The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math, and Meaning. Edinburgh, [Scotland]; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2004.
Dan Brown's book Angels and Demons draws us in by its fast-moving plot. But it also contains fascinating examples of our modern struggles to come to terms with science. Ambivalent attitudes come to the surface as we read.
On the one hand, we admire the progress of science, the almost magical character of some of its great achievements. It offers the power not only to understand the world but to spin off technological products like high-speed jets and retinal pattern identifiers.
On the other hand, we fear science. Will it get out of bounds? Memories of the Frankenstein monster and mad scientists and the atomic bomb rise in our minds. And even if the scientists are decent people, will their pride or their secrecy or their desire for achievement push them? Will they, like father and daughter Vetra, make risky judgments that end up endangering the world?
The most haunting image comes from near the end of Brown's book. Will the son, whose artificial insemination symbolically represents the science spawned in our modern world, be able to come to terms with himself and with science? Or will he destroy the father, who can symbolically represent the Western civilization that spawned him? Will the son destroy himself as well?
Why do we fear? Partly we fear what we do not know. Much of the most advanced science requires advanced training. And science as a whole has become so so vast and so technical that no one can master all of it.
But we also fear what the scientists themselves do not know. On the edge of knowledge they cannot know for certain what are the limits or the dangers within the areas within which they work. Marie Curie made great contributions to the study of radioactivity. But no one knew at the time the biological dangers of long-term exposure to radioactivity. Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia, probably a result of her repeated exposure to radioactivity.
What are the long-term effects of the use of chemical pesticides? No one knew at the time they first came into use.
We also fear that the technological power in modern science will fall into the wrong hands. How long will it be until some terrorist manages to steal or construct a nuclear bomb?
So let us think about the deeper sources for our fears.
For some of us, fear arises because of bad experiences in science education. At a certain point, we did not understand the science we were taught, and we got bad grades. We failed. And failure has left a bitter aftertaste about science as a whole. What can we do about it?
The God of thecomes to pick up those who fall down into failure. "The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down" (Psalm 145:14). "A bruised reed he will not break" (Isaiah 42:3).
If your value depends only on what you can achieve in comparison with others, your value drops low when others excel in science. If, on the other hand, you receive God's love, you come to understand that he values you as a person, not for what you can achieve. You can admire others' achievements without yourself being deflated.
Another source for fear is the awe that we may feel for deep knowledge, knowledge beyond our grasp. Science has a capacity to evoke this kind of fear, partly because it has over the last century grown incredibly rich in its extent. But in addition, the question always remains, "Why this instead of something else?" The answer to one question only leads to another, just as the small child can stump his parent by continuing to ask "Why?" and pushing the trail of explanation further and further back.
The awe we feel, we feel because science confronts us with the outskirts of the mind and the plan of God in his governance of the world. Awe toward science is a reflection of the awe for the infinity of God, who is infinite in knowledge. His "why's" go on forever.
We also fear because scientists themselves, for all their skill, can make ghastly mistakes when they are stretching beyond the limits of our present knowledge. They stretch into the unknown, and the unknown can have unpleasant surprises in the form of radiation damage from radioactivity or cancer from chemical pesticides.
In short, we are finite. We are limited in knowledge. Human finiteness reminds us of our dependence on the infinity of God. We cannot, in and of ourselves, protect ourselves and master our fate in every dimension. Eventually we die, whether it be prematurely from cancer or in ripe old age. And what then? We cannot master life after death.
Not to be masters of our fate points to the One who is. And that One can miraculously or providentially protect us from sad consequences of ignorance or folly, if he so chooses. But the final protection is a life other than this one, an eternal life unthreatened by death or disease:
I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyon who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26)
Finally, we fear because we know that human beings can misuse the power that technology increasingly puts in our hands. We may be progressing technologically, but are we progressing morally? If not, we are progressing not only in the ability to do good but in the ability to do evil. And sometimes it seems that the evil is much easier. It is easier to destroy a whole city with one bomb than to build it through the labors of decades.
What is the remedy for human perversity? Is it just to be good? Some people think so. But I suggest that they have not yet become aware of the deeper shadows of pride and hatred and selfishness that hide deep down beneath our veneer of niceness.
The Bible is realistic. It is realistic about human failure (Matt. 11:28-30). It is realistic about the awe of deep knowledge (Rom. 11:33-36; Ps. 139). It is realistic about the limitations of human finiteness (Job 38:4). It is realistic about human perversity--"sin" is the name for it. All four of these strands come together in what the Bible calls "the fear of the Lord": "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111:10). "Fear" is not just dread, but reverence. It ends in worship. But it cannot end in proper worship with confronting the fourth of our four fears, human sin. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). In the very next line the Bible offers us a remedy for this deepest of fears: "But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
Two millennia ago, Jesus asked his disciples two questions: “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:27-29; Matthew16:13-16) The answers were typical for the times. There was a sense in the air of impending doom. So, some said Jesus was John the Baptist, or Eli, or another prophet. To make this more plausible, there had been an Old Testament prediction about the return of Elijah the prophet to warn of the day of judgment (Malachi 4:5), and John the Baptist, Jesus’ forerunner, was regularly connected with him (Mark 6:14). But this was not the right answer.
For that, Jesus turned to Peter, one of his followers. He answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mark 8:29; Matthew 16:16) Jesus then blessed Peter and affirmed to him and everyone else, that all his followers, present and future, would be grounded in this accurate confession. The expression “Christ” means “anointed one,” and it refers to the one designated by God to carry out his work on the earth. In the Old Testament various leaders were anointed to signify their calling, and the full power of the Holy Spirit (represented by the oil) to carry-out the job. Jesus was God’s specially anointed one, as he would preach, heal, and then die and be raised again, all for the sake of God’s people.
He was no ordinary gifted man, but, as the confession goes on to say, he was the Son of the living God. As thereveals it, God is one, and also in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Called the , this God is both one and three, in a divine mystery, but one that we can know truly, though not exhaustively. We can all believe in this God, the Creator and Redeemer. God came to earth, took on human flesh, adding humanity to his divinity, in an extraordinary move known as the Incarnation. He did this out of love for his people. The Incarnation allowed Jesus not only to teach and heal, but to die on a horrible instrument of torture used by the Romans, known as the cross. By this means, he took our place. His death meant our death was not forever. His resurrection meant we now have eternal life. We who deserve only condemnation because of the mess we have made out of our lives, can now become a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The fellowship of believers came to be known as the Church. These “called-out ones” are joined to one another through Jesus Christ. Not only are they joined together, but as Christ’s followers (“Christians”), they are in an everlasting friendship and union with God. Although the Church has an institutional aspect, it is primarily a great, worldwide fellowship of those who know God personally. Although it is a special privilege to gather for worship (typically on Sundays, often in a building), Christians enjoy their identity and calling wherever they are. They are full-time followers of Christ in every realm of life.
How can we belong to this fellowship of redeemed people? Not by being good. God certainly approves of good people doing good works, but when we are honest with ourselves we realize our good works can never merit our friendship with God. God demands perfection, and we are as far away from that high standard as the earth is from the farthest galaxy. Nor by being religious. Going to church, praying, charitable giving, all are good in themselves. But none of us is so perfectly devoted to God that we can claim his approval. The truth is, we stand in jeopardy before God, because we have offended him, we have committed cosmic treason. By thought, word and deed, we have gone our own way, even though we know in our conscience how we really ought to live.
The only way to enter into his friendship is to trust in him, to lift up the empty hands of faith and receive his free gift (Romans 3:22; 6:23). But in order to believe, you must know this Christ, at least in a fundamental way. To put it another way, you must confess, along with Peter, that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
When we consider Jesus Christ, we have to be careful not to patronize him. We have to realize that he is either a monster, or the very essence of truth. It will not do to call him a great religious leader, or a moral guide. He certainly brought great moral insights to us. But they are always tied to his identity as God’s Son. His declarations are simply outrageous, unless true. “I am the light of the world.” “I am the way the truth and the life.” “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58) He never said, “I can teach you well.” Rather, he said, “I am,” which is a claim to divinity, based on Exodus 3:14, where God says to Moses, “I am that I am.” His audience did not misread him, for they picked up stones in order to put him to death. He narrowly escaped. They eventually succeeded, but that was part of the plan. Who is he? Is he a deluded charismatic leader? Psychologically deranged? He certainly did not act that way. Or is he God? No question, he had to be God in the flesh, come to bring the message of redemption to a badly broken world.
Marvelously, God is a loving Person who made himself human, in order to find us, his lost sheep, and bring us into the safety of his fold. He did this by accomplishing what we failed to accomplish in our lives. Think of it! God is in three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Together, they are One God. And the Second Person became a man in order to do what we failed to do: perfectly obey the Father. Furthermore, he came to submit to the penal requirements we deserved, so that we would not have to be banished from his presence. Thus, his life was a substitute for believers who did not live well; his death was a substitute for believers who would come and trust him; and his resurrection from the dead is his substitute for believers who cannot of themselves be triumphant and victorious over all the forces of evil. By his extraordinary work, Jesus acquired the power to make us just, acquitted before God. And now, God looks at his people through Christ, whose entire accomplishment is credited to us, though we don’t deserve it.
Are you wandering, not sure about truth, lost in your search for identity? Do you know yourself to be guilty of unfaithfulness before the living God? Do you know you need to be saved from your moral compromise and mediocrity? Well then, there is very good news for you. This god has not hidden himself, but made himself known. You can read about him in the Bible, his holy word. God, through his Son Jesus Christ, appeals to you to come to him, to embrace him, and to ask him to forgive you, and make you his child. For you see, anyone who receives him, anyone who believes in his name, has the right to become a child of God. (John 1:12) This Jesus, whom Peter rightly identified, is still building his Church toady. And he wants you in it! Lift up the empty hands of faith and trust him for your salvation. Come to him on your knees and pray this prayer:
O Lord, I am lost without you. My life is empty without your truth and your love. I commit my life to you. Please take me as your own. Forgive me for all my offenses and give me freedom and power to do good. Reconcile me with yourself. Look at me only through the work of Jesus, and enable me to live for him. Thank you that you care for someone like me. Thank you that you welcome me into heaven, because your love knows no bounds. Lord, I now trust you. Help me to grow in grace and guide me in all my ways. In Christ’s name, Amen.