I listen to a half-dozen different podcasts. Some of them are daily; most are weekly. I have listened to most of them since the days of AM radio, so I know what they believe. A few, though, are new to me, and I ended up reading their books and their blogs to figure out where they come from, what they’re all about, or what they believe. So, we decided you should know what we believe. So, we are dedicating at least three episodes to deal with eight points of our beliefs.
In part one, we gave an overview of our beliefs. In part two, we proclaimed that we believe in one God in three persons of the Trinity. In part three, we spoke about our belief in the Divine inspiration of Scripture. In part 4, we covered our belief in the fallen nature of man and original sin. Yesterday, we declared that, in spite of popular belief, we still believe in eternal damnation for those who do not trust in Christ. Today, we will proclaim our belief that salvation is available to all who call on the name of the Lord, in an episode titled, Whosoever Will…
We begin with a look at the Sadducees and the Pharisees, two political parties in the 2nd Temple Period of Israel, one conservative and one liberal. The Sadducees were the conservative of the two, and by conservative, I mean that they wanted things the way they were in the days of Moses. They were against change. The Torah was the Law, and it was to be the ultimate authority, even if it no longer made sense. The Pharisees were the liberals. Though they recognized the Law, they also recognized oral tradition, and looked at enforcement of the law from the lens of what made sense in its modern context. At the time of Christ, the Sadducees were the party of the High Priest, and those loyal to Him, while the Pharisees were comprised of scholars, laymen, priests, and scribes (scribes being experts in the law because they had published it by hand for many years. Finally, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, and the Pharisees did. To cast a broad net, both parties challenged the authority of Jesus. A few, though, a very few men of these parties, became disciples of Jesus.
It was while speaking to one of these Pharisees that we learn the most about who Jesus had come to save. We begin in the Gospel of John, chapter 3. A Pharisee named Nicodemus comes to Jesus on the down low, not wanting anyone to see him conversing with the controversial rabbi named Jesus. Like most Bible authors, John adds no insight into the motives or thoughts of the characters whose stories he retells. Instead, he just writes what he knows: the bare facts and the words spoken. What I see when I read the story is a typical politician, who begins by trying to flatter Jesus. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Whatever the motive, Christ seems to have ignored the opening words of Nicodemus. Instead, He says gives the Pharisee a riddle of sorts. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus was puzzled. “How can a man be born when he is old?” I imagine there was a slight chuckle in his voice when he said, “Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Maybe he shouldn’t have sneaked in to see Jesus at night, he thought. The other Pharisees would have laughed at that.
Jesus didn’t. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” Now, Nicodemus rubbed his chin and began to pace. Water and Spirit? Spiritual rebirth? What did that mean? Kingdom of God? This man is as radical as they claim. He plans on overthrowing the Roman government! What had he gotten himself into! He cannot be seen with a revolutionary. I must find a way to bow out gracefully.
As he thought all these things, Jesus kept speaking. Some of it sunk in. It was beginning to make sense to the scholar. Nicodemus paused, and raised a hand as if to pause Jesus. He was going to make the rabbi back up and start over. Jesus, though, didn’t stop.
“We speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how, then, can you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” Jesus turned his back and began to walk away. Nicodemus followed. The rabbi was right. Now, he wanted to hear more.
Jesus stopped and spun on his heal. Nose to nose, they stood. The rabbi’s eyes penetrated to the very soul of the Pharisee. “No one,” he said in a whisper, “has gone up into heaven except he who first descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”
Nicodemus had been told that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. Now he knows it is true; the rabbi implies that he comes from heaven. Jesus said something that captured his attention. Then Jesus mentioned Moses, and an incident of which the Pharisee had rarely heard spoken, lifting up the image of a serpent made of copper. The rabbi understood, he thought. He is as wise as they claim, this Jesus. He knows it is not the snake that healed, but the fact that when Moses lifted it up into the air, one must look towards God.
What Jesus said next made the Pharisee’s heart melt. So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believes in Him may have eternal life.
“Eternal life…” Nicodemus repeated under his breath. He was certain that there must be something more to this life, otherwise why would it be worth the struggle?
Jesus continued: For God so love the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life…
A tear welled in Nicodemus’s left eye.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…”
Jesus said much more, but Nicodemus’s heart paused on the fact that God did not condemn him. He deserved condemnation, that he knew. If God knew the things he had done… If anyone knew the things I have done… I am so sorry.
He wiped tears from his eyes and looked up at the rabbi. “For God so loves the world?” the Pharisee asked. “All the world?”
Jesus nodded. “Yes. He knows. My Father knows the things you have done. And he loves you anyway.”
Jesus reached out and touched the Pharisee’s shoulder. Nicodemus collapsed into His arms. “You are the Son of God?”
“Do you believe it?” asked Jesus.
“Yes, I do,” said Nicodemus. “What do you mean that you must be lifted up?”
“Follow me, and you will learn much.”
Pharisee. Thief on the cross. Prostitute. Woman with many husbands. Rough and tough fishermen. Lepers. Outcasts. Rich. Poor. Even Murderers. The offer of salvation is made to one and all. No one is beyond the grip of God’s grace.
Holiness is, perhaps, the most misunderstood concept in Christianity. Anyone who has striven to follow the life of Christ can likely tell you that it is impossible to do. No one can match His love, His grace, or His compassion. For no one but Jesus is perfect. Once the believer is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, though, he or she is filled to the brim with the love of Christ, and desires nothing more than to please God and follow in Christ’s steps. The love of sin is gone. In its place is a love and passion for others. That is Christian Holiness. This is Christian Holiness Daily.