Article III-The Son-His Resurrection and Exaltation

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

Empty_Tomb¶104 The Son-His Resurrection and Exaltation

Jesus Christ is risen victorious from the dead. His resurrected body became more glorious, not hindered by ordinary human limitations. Thus He ascended into heaven. There He sits as our exalted Lord at the right hand of God the Father, where He intercedes for us until all His enemies shall be brought into complete subjection. He will return to judge all people. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 25:31-32; Luke 24:1-7; 24:39; John 20:19; Acts 1:9-11; 2:24; Romans 8:33-34; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:1-4.

Free Methodists believe that Jesus Christ bodily rose from the dead. This means that the tomb was truly empty and when he had his encounters with the apostles and disciples for the next forty days, it was with that physical body. This was the same body he had when he was born from Mary, grew, and traveled around Galilee and Judea preaching and teaching. Of course there were some differences–the biggest being that he is no longer dead!

This doctrine of a bodily resurrection has profound implications for us. First of all, we remember that not only did God create us as physical beings (we are not spiritual beings having a physical experience), he cared enough for us in our physicality that he took it on as well. He became a physical being like us. But wait, there’s more! God still valued the physical body enough that he re-created it in a glorified state in the resurrection.

Think about this for a minute. If all we needed was a sacrifice for our sins, then Jesus could have shed his physical body after the crucifixion and just been God once again. He could have been done with the human body and left it to rot in the grave. That is not what happened, though. God is profoundly interested in not only our souls, but also our bodies. The resurrection proves that he is still interested in our physical being. If God is that concerned about our physical bodies, ought we not be as well?

The other point that seems to stand out in this article is the language about enemies and judgment. Read out of context of the entire Christian experience, this could sound like any other call for an us/them outlook on the world that has the potential of becoming justification for holy wars. Yet we have to look at this article more closely. First of all, enemies and people are two different categories. People are not usually enemies of Christ. Why? Because all human beings are created in his image and he wants to have a relationship with them all. The enemies are the intelligent beings in the universe who are in rebellion against him–fallen angels, or demons. Now it is true that people can choose to be in rebellion against Christ and side with the demons in this cosmic war, but human beings are not now, nor are they ever, intrinsically enemies of Jesus.

Because of the reality of sin and fallenness and rebellion in the world, however, there will be a time when there will be an accounting for all that we do. This is actually good news. It means that there will be justice for us. It means that all of the hurt and horrors that people endure in this world will be made right. It means that children who are abused, even if no one ever finds out it happened, will have justice. It means that displaced refugees will find justice. It means that elderly people who are scammed out of their livelihoods will find justice. It means that racism and murder and even revenge will meet justice. Jesus Christ as judge is good news. It means there is a right and a wrong in the world and someone will hold us accountable for it.

When we are in some of our most introspective times, or even our most frustrated times looking at the evil in the world today, the doctrine of the last judgment of Christ is good news because it says that evil will not ultimately triumph and the guilty will not escape justice.

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Revelation 19:7-8 and the Bride of the Lamb

0c4b598464e74cf48cf92730223e6c5aGood guys wear white.  This is true in old westerns where the good guy always had a white hat, and it is true in Revelation.  If someone is wearing white, they are a part of the covenant people of God, an angel, or Christ himself.  Look at these verses towards the end of the book:

Let us rejoice and celebrate, and give him the glory, for the wedding day of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was given fine, pure white linen to wear, for the fine linen is the saints’ acts of justice.

The bride of the Lamb, the bride of Christ, is the Church.  She wears white because she has been redeemed.  Yet there is more to the white clothes than just being redeemed.  The wedding clothes she has were given to her.  By whom?  By God.  This is something called a divine passive voice in writing.  Jewish authors would write in passive voice (as opposed to active voice) if they were talking about something God does so they could communicate the idea without writing God.  This is one of those instances, since John was one of the original apostles, and thus Jewish.

So, the garments were given by God, yet they are white because of the saints’ righteous deeds.  There is a sense of cooperation here.  God gives grace to us, then it is up to us what we do with that grace.  Since grace is really a short-hand way to speak of God’s power and presence in our lives through the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the framework looks something like this:

God gives us his presence in the Holy Spirit, and it is up to us to allow the Spirit to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ.  When we do this, we become more and more holy and accomplish righteous deeds.  If we do not allow the Spirit to transform us, we reject God’s grace because we have turned our backs on the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is another wedding story in the Bible that helps illustrate this point.  In Matthew 22 Jesus tells a parable of a wedding feast.  The guests would not come, so the servants are sent out to invite anyone they can find to come.  When the king is walking through the party, he sees a man without a wedding garment and has him thrown out.

My initial thoughts on this parable were always confused.  People don’t usually walk around carrying their best clothes in case they might be invited to a wedding that very hour!  But knowing how weddings worked at that time and in that culture makes perfect sense of the parable.  It was the duty of the groom’s father to provide the clothes to all the guests of a wedding.  When the servants invited people and brought them to the party, they gave them the clothes from the king to wear.  This man refused to wear the clothes provided.  In essence he was saying to the king, “I’ll accept your invitation and I’ll feast at your banquet receiving from you all the wonderful aspects of being at the party, but I’ll do it on my own terms.  Don’t expect me to conform to your desires.  I’m just here for what I can get out of it.”

God gives the garments.  God gives his Spirit, his grace.  It is our responsibility to put the garments on, to allow the Spirit to transform us.  It is not enough to be invited to the wedding feast; we must fully accept all that God has for us, which includes working with him to change and renew us in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and New Creation

end-is-nearMany different people are talking about the End of Days and New Creation right now. Some of these conversations are coming from some of the most unlikely sources (just watch this video of a secular Jewish boy who had a vision during a near-death experience). It seems that there is a general feeling among many that the time is right for the end to come.

This may be true, but it is also true that the New Creation began quite some time ago. Look at what Paul writes here:

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There will come a time when Christ will return, the Messiah will reign completely, but the New Creation already began when Christ showed up originally. As long as there are Christians in the world, the New Creation will be here. It is already present, if not fully realized.

Christians, members of this New Creation, are given a role in it as well. We are to be ambassadors to the Old Creation for the New Creation. We are to offer people the opportunity to be reconciled with God so they can become part of the New Creation as well. Notice explicitly that this ministry of reconciliation is not about judging people’s sins. Dealing with sin is the Holy Spirit’s job in this world. Our job is to offer reconciliation to people. This is a very important point. Sometimes I think the Church has grown weak in the West precisely because we have tried to take the Holy Spirit’s job of condemning non-Christians’ sins and wanting the Holy Spirit to do our job of offering reconciliation to those people after we have condemned them.

The days may be getting shorter. The time may be drawing near for the End of Days. But until Christ returns, as Christians we have a job to do–a ministry of reconciliation–so that the most people can be a part of the New Creation as is possible when Christ returns.

One other thing about this passage that sometimes gets overlooked is the last verse. Part of being in the New Creation is that we are given the ability by the Holy Spirit to become the righteousness of God. Salvation is not forgiveness for our sins and the ability to continue living life exactly as we did before we were saved, only now knowing that we are always forgiven because we prayed a prayer. That is invocational magic, saying the right incantation and forcing a being on the other side to act as you desire. Christianity is about being forgiven, yes, but so we can become a part of the New Creation and be transformed by God’s grace into the very righteousness of God. Christianity is about becoming holy. Forgiveness of sins is one step along the way of becoming holy. Seek Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your lives to become the righteousness of God. In this way, we will be more faithful ambassadors offering a ministry of reconciliation to the world.

This is how the New Creation begins.

Matthew 24:36-44 and The Rapture

Left_Behind (1)The doctrine of the rapture is a relatively recent one in the life of the Church, only having been around for almost 200 years. My general opinion on new doctrines is to receive them with a healthy dose of skepticism until they have stood the test of time. Some may argue with me that 200 years is the test of time, but we are talking about God’s special revelation in this world, which began 4000 years ago with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and culminated 2000 years ago with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the writing of the New Testament. Two hundred years in light of those numbers is just a drop in the bucket.

Nevertheless, one way to investigate new doctrine is to look at some of the Scripture used to prove it. One major passage comes from this section of the Gospel according to Matthew:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready,because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Here is the argument: two will be there; one will be taken and one will be left. This is used as proof positive that the living saints, the true Christians, will be taken out of this world before the end will come.

But that is not what this passage says at all, quite the contrary. Verses 36-39 give the background for how to understand the rest of the verses. In the days of Noah, after the ark was completed, Noah and his family entered the ark. Then the floods came and took them all away. Took who away? The people eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, all of the people who were not Noah or his family were taken away by the floods. These are the evil people of the world who are taken away by God’s judgment.

Now look at the rest of the passage. Two are in a field where one is taken and one is left. Two are grinding and one is taken while the other is left. In this teaching of Jesus, being taken is not a good thing! The ones being taken are equated by Jesus with the ones who were taken away by the flood. They were not the righteous. The righteous were spared being taken.

Whether the rapture is true or is not true will be a long debate over the next several decades, I am sure. One thing is certain, though. Supporters of the doctrine of the rapture cannot use these verses from Matthew as support for the doctrine without taking them out of context and giving them the exact opposite meaning that Jesus gave to them. That is not something I would ever want to do with Scripture.

Amos 8:9-12 and Difficulty with Prophecy

thecrucifixionPeople can have a difficult time interpreting prophecy. This ought to be an established fact. After all, there are very faithful Jewish people who do not see that many prophecies in the Old Testament were about Jesus Christ, and there are almost as many different interpretations of Revelation among different groups of Christians as there are grains of sand on the seashore.

Part of the problem with interpreting prophecy is that rarely does the prophet tell us if the image used to describe the future action ought to be taken symbolically or literally. Also, chronological time does not always go in order with a prophecy. Take this passage in Amos for example:

    On that day, says the Lord God,
        I will make the sun go down at noon,
        and I will darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your feasts into sad affairs
        and all your singing into a funeral song;
    I will make people wear mourning clothes
        and shave their heads;
    I will make it like the loss of an only child,
        and the end of it like a bitter day.
11 The days are surely coming, says the Lord God,
        when I will send hunger and thirst on the land;
    neither a hunger for bread, nor a thirst for water,
        but of hearing the Lord ’s words.
12 They will wander from sea to sea,
        and from north to east;
    they will roam all around, seeking the Lord’s word,
        but they won’t find it.

The second half of the prophecy explicitly tells us that the hunger and thirst are for a prophetic word. This is the situation prior to the coming of Christ. There were no prophets for almost 300 years, and the people were hungry for a word from the Lord. This is one of the reasons why everyone expected God to act soon before Christ was born. They saw the fulfillment of this prophecy.

The first half of this prophecy can deal with the crucifixion itself. The sky went dark at noon. God the Father’s only Son died. The apostles and disciples were mourning the loss of Jesus. And this comes in the prophetic record before the discussion of the state of the Jewish people prior to the incarnation, longing for a prophet.

This is why anyone who wants to dig into prophecy needs to do so with a group of people who not only have the same desire, but some knowledge of how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church to understand these things for the last 2000 years (or at least for the first 300 years of the life of the Church before it became entangled with the Roman Imperial government). It is easy to gather around us people or books that agree with what we think we already know about something in the Bible. It is much more faithful to gather around us people or books that are well rounded and very well informed. In this way we will not fall for 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Happen in 1988 or be cautiously optimistic/fearful of Four Blood Moons.

Joel 3:9-16 and It Gets Darkest Before the Dawn

119163Most people who are somewhat familiar with the Bible will at least have heard of the beautiful prophecy in Isaiah 2 that talks about peace in the future:

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
    Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
    and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

This is a wonderful description of what the world will be like when the Messiah, Jesus, truly rules over all.

Not many people are as familiar with this passage in Joel which comes after the prophecy about Pentecost that Peter quotes in Acts 2:1-21 (Joel 2:28-32). Here is what the Lord says through Joel:

Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare war,
    stir up the warriors.
Let all the soldiers draw near,
    let them come up.
10 Beat your ploughshares into swords,
    and your pruning-hooks into spears;
    let the weakling say, ‘I am a warrior.’

11 Come quickly,
    all you nations all around,
    gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations rouse themselves,
    and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
    all the neighbouring nations.

13 Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the wine press is full.
The vats overflow,
    for their wickedness is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth shake.
But the Lord is a refuge for his people,
    a stronghold for the people of Israel.

All the nations of the earth will use whatever means they have to make war on God’s covenant people. The warning for us is to have faith and find refuge in the Lord. Being a follower of Christ does not mean that life will be easy or bountiful. It means that we will have a refuge in times of trouble, and then at the end we will find peace.

Isaiah 16:13-14 and Prophecy

1406930192985It has been ten years since Hurricane Katrina struck the US. I was living in the Florida Keys when it hit. The storm track had it going up into the Atlantic Ocean, so my family and I went to bed that night. When we woke up the next morning, Katrina was passing right over us. That was one of the first unexpected events of that hurricane. I also remember after it had made landfall, and after the world began seeing the aftermath of the storm, I remember so many preachers saying that Katrina was “God’s punishment on New Orleans and the gambling boats in Mississippi.”

I have a problem with this statement. This passage from Isaiah shows why:

This is the word that the Lord had spoken concerning Moab long ago. But now the Lord has said: In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab, with all its great multitude, will dwindle. The small remnant will be few and feeble.

Notice when a prophecy of God’s judgment comes–Before the event. Even with a general prophecy of coming destruction, there was still a very direct statement of when this would take place in the future, namely within three years.

The problem with all of the armchair prophets that saw God’s righteous judgment in Katrina is that they said so after the fact. It is easy to declare something after it has happened, but if God is going to do something and receive credit for it, he will pronounce it before it happens. He will use a chosen vessel, like Isaiah, to let everyone who will be affected know that judgment is coming. In this way people will have time to repent and avert the judgment.

As events continue to happen (because we are still living and life can be adventurous), there will be people who will try to declare that a disaster was God’s judgment after it happened. Do not listen to those people. They are not prophets; they are people who are trying to capitalize on the sadness and terror of others to prove a point. There will be other people who will try to predict events. Just think of all the books in the vein of The Late Great Planet Earth or Eighty-eight Reasons the Rapture Will Be in 1988 or Ninety-nine Reasons the World Will End in 1999 or Four Blood Moons or the like. When these prophecies do not come true, that leaves the self-proclaimed prophet in only one category–false prophet. Do not listen to those people, either.

If God has a prophetic message for people, it will be unambiguous, direct, meaningful, and with enough time for people to repent. This was the pattern here in Isaiah. It will also be the pattern for all of the other prophets. It is still true today.