Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas - The Ultimate Second Chance

This is the article I wrote for our local paper, that was published in the Religion section on Dec. 15.

Many people feel that the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible describe two different Gods. I have heard it said, even from otherwise well-educated, thoughtful people, that the God of the Old Testament is a God of justice and wrath. Conversely, the God of the New Testament is a kind and loving God.

In reality, this is a great misconception. The God of the Bible remains consistent throughout His word – it is people reading that don’t understand the way His character remains true from Genesis to Revelation.

In the Old Testament, the focus is often on the wrath of God: Sodom and Gomorrah, the 10 plagues of Egypt, the exile of the Jews to Babylon are just some of the examples of the Lord showing His anger to people. And if this is how people see Him, then they will get that impression. I would come to that conclusion myself.

However, in reading the Old Testament carefully, a different picture emerges. One begins to see a God who is a passionate lover, chasing after His people, giving them many opportunities to return to Him. The Lord reveals Himself to be the God of Second Chances.

Instead of thinking of fire and brimstone, consider this: when Adam and Eve sin, they are punished for their actions. Their sin cannot stay in the presence of a holy God. But later in the Bible it says that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23). Did God smite them down while in their fig leaf outfits? No, He revealed His plan for redemption right after their first sin.

After the serpent had deceived Adam and Eve, God curses the serpent and says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring (singular tense in Hebrew) and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This offspring was the promised Messiah. Even though God would’ve been justified in stopping the whole human experiment right then, He instead showed the way by which he would redeem people from their sin.

People may say that the Flood was a severe judgment. But God again would have been justified in wiping the slate clean and starting over; that’s how bad humanity had become in a short time. But he saved Noah and his family, so that we again could have a second chance.

The children of Israel rebelled against God over and over. He told Moses He would wipe them out and make him into a mighty nation. But God showed mercy when Moses interceded.

All through Israel’s history, they turn from the Lord who loves them time and time again. He sends prophets to the people and the leaders, encouraging them to turn back before it is too late. The prophets are always viewed as harbingers of woe. Except, this too is a misconception. Yes, they use quite colorful language to try and catch the ears of their audience, but over and over again the heart of the message is “return to Me”. God’s undying love cries out for His children to seek Him, the true source of all that is good, instead of fooling themselves with the things of the world that seem to bring fulfillment, but only end in disaster.

God doesn’t even stop there. The Old Testament is focused on the Jews, but repeatedly He calls out to the other nations, that they might come to Him as well. “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6).

Hopefully you are starting to see a different picture of the Old Testament here. There is no lack of example on this principle: the God of Genesis through Malachi is a God of love. I could go on for a while on His love for His people, and how He promised He would make a way for them.

The fulfillment of this promise, of giving people a second chance to come back to God, took the form of a little babe in a manger 2000 years ago. The ultimate expression of this redemption took on human form. We could not make a way for ourselves, no matter how hard we tried. The Jews tried to keep the law. They sacrificed how many animals at their temple, to what end? The work of man and the blood of animals could not make up our debt.

There was only one way for our debt to be paid. There was only One, whose blood would be pure enough to wipe away all our stains. There was only One, whose perfect sacrifice would make a way for us to return to our Father in heaven, who desired in His great love, mercy, and longsuffering to have His children in His kingdom. It was unavoidable.

Love had to become flesh. Born of a virgin. He did not miraculously appear in that manger. He was birthed. He had to be cleaned off. His parents were so poor, that a stable for animals was their shelter. A feeding trough had clean hay placed inside so the babe could have a place to lie. The Old Testament, with its story of a loving God pursuing His creation finds its culmination in the greatest miracle of all: Jesus Christ is born. The New Testament, in full agreement with the Old, begins.

And the greatest of second chances is given to the peoples of the world.

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