Gregor Southard. Essays.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
JESUS CHRIST IS LORD
Simply put, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.How incredible are Your works both past and present. I look forward to the mansions among the stars,
The physical reunion of the bride with her heroic groom. In the days past, Lord, the days past, torments came in many forms.In fact, they still do, not unlike the passing of shadows over the silver city called death. A battlefield the earth remains until the final battle where we will see Your return in the sky. Jesus Christ is my Lord,” the most powerful and effectual words written in the hearts of the embattled. The word of God is the sword of the Spirit, Christ will not endure the afflictions of the afflicted forever. Lord return to us, destroy the proud. You are enthroned forever. Amen, let it be so.
You are the most high, triune God, the lovely mystery, the salvation we cling to when the rain of condemnation pours over our hair and skin. You are the one true and only Father and God of creation. With your breath, you spoke the first lines of poetry ever uttered, let there be light. You are the light of the world, the light that we will live in in the halls, walls, and gardens of New Jerusalem as we praise you in peace with redeemed vocal cords. You are the hope living in our bodies, your temples, the one who enables us to confess to Man and demon, that “Jesus Christ is our Lord and our salvation.”
TASTY MUSHROOMS: THE MISUSE OF ROMANS 6:23
By Gregor Southard
*all verses quoted are from the epistle of Paul to the Romans, English Standard Version except where noted
How many church marquees have you passed by in your car (or truck) that read “The Wages Of Sin Is Death” in your lifetime? It seems like hundreds to me. A good message, right? Well, yes but the unfortunate fact is that the verse is being taken out of context. How many of you realize that the marquee is only quoting half the verse? Do you know the rest? Here it is, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I believe these marquees give a very important misrepresentation of what Paul is trying to say. Let me use an (imperfect) analogy to show you what I mean. Let’s say you go into a restaurant and the waiter says something like this, “Our special today is our Tasty Mushrooms.” You think, “wow, I love mushrooms!”, and order them. What the waiter does not tell you, but is written in the menu, is “that if you eat them you will die.” A pretty important second half of a sentence, wouldn’t you say? The first half of Romans 6:23 is a message of death, the second half is a message of life that overrides, or overpowers, death. Now let’s take a moment to study why this is so important and try to understand the point that Paul is trying to make.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the epistles of Paul are a hard read. He often seems to be talking in circles as he tries to explain the nature of the relationship between grace, works, and the law. What is he trying to say? To me, that is the big dilemma. How do we sort out that we “are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:24)” with “He will render to each one according to his works; to those who by patience in well- doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life (2:6,7)?” In the third chapter, verse 28, Paul says “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” This verse is the key that unlocks the mystery hiding behind the door. The works of the law are not the same as the works of a Christian who, in faith, feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, welcomes strangers, clothes the naked, and visits the sick and imprisoned (Matt. 25:35-40). The law convicts us of our sin but it does not make us righteous, only God can do that through the work of Christ (3:20).
So, we are convicted of sin by the knowledge of the law, but not saved by the works of the law. Our salvation is the gift of God through Christ’s redemptive work, and are thus enabled to do the works of compassion God has called us to do for each other. The reward for our good works are the crowns we will receive and in turn give back to God on Judgment Day. Of course, we know all this in our hearts but why is it important? It is important because understanding what God has done and is doing here will affect how we approach life. Either we labor under the shackles of the law or in joy under the embrace of grace.
Focusing on the second half of Romans 6:23 should be our goal. Sin is still sin but as Paul writes, we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. So, let’s live like it and talk like it and maybe the next church marquee will read “Romans 6:23: The Free Gift Of God Is Eternal Life In Christ Jesus Our Lord!” And perhaps more people driving by it will say “now that’s something I want to be a part of!”
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
By Gregor Southard
*verses quoted are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
I think it is safe to say everyone has asked this question at least once in their lifetime. Some ask it in jest and then answer with such flippant phrases as “skiing,” “Monday Night Football,” “Kermit The Frog” and so on. However, most of us would like to know the answer. Deep down, we need to know the answer. In the way we know a vacation at a secluded beach will bring us peace. In the way we know we can count on a trustworthy, childhood friend to come through for us when we need them most. For this same reason, I think I am right in suggesting that what we want is a short, plain phrase not open to debate. An answer we can count on when we need it most. Is it possible that what is likely the most important question in the history of Mankind can be answered that way? Well, yes and no. It is a short answer that requires an explanation. As a Christian, it would be easy for me to say “Jesus is the answer” and leave it at that. The problem is that though I can say it, mean it, and believe it just saying it does not automatically prove that I am right or that I will even feel the surety and comfort I need from that answer. The phrase sounds trite and quite frankly too easy. I think most Christians would agree with me. We need more. We need an explanation. To that end, I intend to begin by asking, and answering, another question, “Is Jesus Christ who he says he is?” I will do this first by comparing some of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah with their fulfillment in the New Testament accounts of the crucifixion of Christ. Next, we will turn to the book of Isaiah to examine the prophet’s prophecies that the Jewish Messiah would be accepted by the Gentiles. Finally, we will take a brief look at what the stated mission of Christ was and how that mission helps to put the answer to our original question into context.
We will begin our investigation with a walk through the Messianic prophecies found in Psalm 22 and Isaiah chapters 52,3 concerning the events leading up to and the crucifixion (and resurrection) itself. The gospels of Matthew and Mark record the remarkable and troubling cry of Christ on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (verses 46 and 34 respectively).Why would the Son of God make that statement? He was quoting Psalm 22:1. This is the first of seven references to the crucifixion in this psalm.
The next reference is found in verse seven: “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shakings their heads[.]” We find at least four references in the gospels of men mocking and insulting Christ in the events leading up to and the crucifixion itself. These include Roman soldiers (Matt 27:27-31, Luke 22:63-5), men, chief priests, and teachers (Mark 15:29-32), Herod and his soldiers (Luke 23:11), and the thieves who were crucified on either side of Him (Luke 23:39). In verse 8, we find one predicted insult in particular.
In this verse, the psalmist predicts that his accusers will mock his claim of deity, which by the way, those who say Christ did not assert his divine nature have not read either this prophecy or it’s fulfillment as recorded in all four of the gospels. Critics claim that Christ only asserts his deity in the gospel of John. However, Christ’s assertion of deity can be found in the other gospels. Matthew records the incident this way, “He saved others,” they said. “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (verses 42,3) (see also Mark 15:31,2). Luke records the account this way, “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One” (verse 35). The next few prophecies in this psalm record specific physical aspects of the crucifixion.
Psalm 22 describes three physical events that will happen to the Messiah on the cross, “I am poured out like water” (verse 14) fulfilled in John 19:34, “…pierced my hands and feet” (verse 16) mentioned in John 20:25 and Colossians 2:14, and “I can count all my bones…” (verse 17) related in John 19:33. Isaiah also predicts the type of death the Messiah endures in chapter 53, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed” (verse 5). There are plenty of books, dvds, and essays out there that describe in more detail the prediction of the crucifixion (and the fact that it would be centuries before it was created as a form of capital punishment), so I will not go into greater detail here. The psalmist does make one more prediction in Psalm 22. He talks about the fate of Christ’s clothes.
Some of what makes the prophecies concerning the appearance of the Messiah so interesting to me are the seemingly insignificant details. An example of that if found in verse 18, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” Given the magnitude of what is occurring, the fate of Christ’s clothing seems unimportant. If the Roman soldiers would have just cast them aside or thrown them away it would, in fact, be insignificant-- but they didn’t! They divided his garments between them and cast lots for his clothing! (Matt. 27:35, John 19:23). A pretty remarkable coincidence, wouldn’t you say?
I quoted before the most famous passage in Isaiah, concerning the crucifixion and it’s consequences (53:5). We find in Isaiah an account in much greater detail of the events surrounding the crucifixion of the promised Messiah. It begins in chapter 52 (verse 14) and continues through chapter 53. I would like to walk through just a couple of examples and their fulfillment as recorded in the gospels.
Many people flocked to see Mel Gibson’s brutal depiction of “The Passion Of The Christ.” Never before has a more graphic depiction of the physical abuse Christ endured not only on the cross but also the acts of violence before he was nailed to the cross been portrayed on film. There were many moviegoers who thought Gibson had gone too far, but I’m not so sure he did. Let’s take a quick look at a couple of the prophecies of those events as recorded by the prophet, “…his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness” (52:14) and “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter (53:7b). All four of the gospels describe in detail instances of the physical abuse Christ faced.
The gospels record at least five different instances of physical abuse in addition to the crucifixion. The Romans plaited a crown of thorns on his head (Matt. 27:29,30), they strike him (Mark 15:19), he is beaten by Jews during the trial (Luke 22:63, John 18:22), and Pilate had him flogged (John 19:1). Christ also faced verbal abuse and was rejected by his own people as recorded in Isaiah 53:3. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.” Again, all four of the gospels recount that Christ was indeed “despised and rejected by men.” See Matthew 27:20-3, Mark 15:9-14, Luke 23:18-23, and John 18:38-40.
The importance of comparing these prophecies from Psalm 22 and Isaiah chapters 52 and 53 with the accounts found in the four gospels is to take a look at how the prophecies come together in one man. As we move closer to answering our original question, we will look briefly at Christ’s mission on Earth as prophesied by Isaiah, how it affected not only the Jewish people but the entire world, as also prophesied by this same prophet.
What did Christ’s life, death, and resurrection accomplish? Were we told beforehand? And, how does it begin to answer the question “What is the meaning of life?” To answer this, I would like walk through a few more prophesies and their fulfillment as told in the gospels.
In Isaiah chapter 53 the prophet tells us not only the aspects of the Messiah’s death but he also mentions its consequences for mankind and the resurrection. First, what does he say was accomplished? In verse 10, he states, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him [the Messiah] and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper his days.” Three things are happening here in this verse, and they are all significant. We know from Old Testament accounts that animal sacrifice was instituted to bring forgiveness of sins committed but not future sins. Since God needed to institute the Law to tell people how to act toward their Creator and his creation there also had to be consequences for breaking that Law. What it created, as explained by Paul in his epistles, was a cycle of sin and repentance that could not be broken. The only way out of this cycle was to have a permanent sacrifice to reconcile God to his creation, which could not be accomplished through the Law. This explains why only God, in the person of the Son, was in a position to be the sacrifice that Isaiah predicted. To be that guilt offering, Christ had to die, and to be God he had to rise. Isaiah states this succinctly in this one verse. See also Chapter 52, verse 15.
So, the Messiah comes down to Earth in human form to be a sacrifice for the sins of his people and then rise to prove his deity. What does that mean for the rest of us? Today, we take for granted that Christ died for all people throughout all time. Yet, the notion that a Jewish Messiah dying for more than just the “chosen people” must have seemed implausible to the first believers (see the book of Acts). After all, it was said time and again that the Messiah would set his people free. I want to touch briefly on the fact that prophecy does indeed indicate that the Messiah would, in fact, die for all people. The first mention of this is in chapter 42 of Isaiah, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles“ (verse 6). He repeats this theme later in chapter 49, verse 6. And, earlier, in chapter 11, verse 10 he writes that the Gentiles will seek the Messiah, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples-- of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.” (ESV) And finally, Isaiah writes plainly that God will call the Gentiles to himself (56:1). Was this more prophecy fulfilled or arrogant presumption?
If we consider the fulfillment of ancient prophecy concerning the Messiah to be fulfilled in Christ, our first question “Is Christ who he says he is?,” is answered. I will let Christ himself explain his mission to us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16,7 ESV). I would like to recall Isaiah chapter 53, verse 10 at this point, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (ESV). (italics added)
It looks like God went to a lot of trouble to preserve justice and even greater trouble to provide a way to salvation. Think about it, what does Christ’s presence on earth mean? If we have a God that cared enough about us to sacrifice himself on our behalf then we have a God who cares. A God who takes an active interest in our lives. I believe this is where we begin to understand why Jesus is the answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” I am not going to leave the answer here, though. I believe the point of what God did through Christ was while that, yes, he wanted us to have a way for salvation in spite of ourselves, he also wanted (and wants) to have a relationship with us. This is where it all comes together, because of Christ’s work on the cross we are reconciled to God and enabled to become his sons and daughters and he, in turn, becomes our father. Can there be anything more important than the growing, loving relationship between a parent and his children? It is in this relationship that we find purpose and meaning in life. Finally, ask yourself “why am I here?” You are here to have an intimate relationship with your Creator and to live a life of increasing love with your brothers and sisters. As a closing thought, I would like to leave you with this verse, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev. 3: 20 ESV).