The Death of Osama Bin Laden

Tonight President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden is dead. Some people deserve to face God’s judgment sooner than others. Osama Bin Laden is such a man.

It is a cautionary lesson to all rebels against God that Bin Laden already knows what a big mistake he made with his life.

However, it is wise to remember Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-4:

1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?
3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

As an American, I rejoice that Osama Bin Laden will now face judgment. But I am also aware that, while life and opportunity remain, many others should face up to the lives they have led. They should bow the knee to Jesus of Nazareth while they still have the chance to do so!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Ross Douthat talks about Hell; Craig Blomberg does too

Seems like the conservative voices on the New York Times op-ed pages are talking theology these days; go figure! This time Ross Douthat briefly and intelligently discusses the reluctance of Americans to believe in Hell.

Not only does Douthat’s analysis give the lie to the claims of atheists and those who believe in universal salvation, but it also exposes the way publishers exploit the preference of Americans to believe in heaven but to discount hell. Worth your time to read his points.

For a deeper look at Hell by a solid New Testament scholar, Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary, check out this link. Blomberg ably discusses the little-known fact that the New Testament teaches different degrees of punishment for those consigned to Hell (Luke 12:46–48). Stalin will not fare quite as well as the school bully. A good article in a valuable blog.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Upside Down (Luke 18:9–14)

Anyone who spent time with Jesus soon found out that he could flip things around in an instant. That did not make him a comfortable companion, especially for those who were self-satisfied.

Once Jesus found himself in the presence of “some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9, NET), so he told them a parable.

Two men ascended the hill to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. What an odd pair! The Pharisees had taken rigorous religious vows and so were considered by the people to be among God’s favorites. On the other hand, the tax collectors made their living by bidding on tax-collection contracts whose terms were secret. A tax collector made his living on the difference between what he collected and the (secret) amount he actually had to pay to the government. They were widely hated for a reason!

As you might imagine, the prayers of these two men were very different too.

The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.”
(Luke 18:12–13).

Well, I would not want to be the second one to pray after that auspicious start! Those standing near waited to hear what the tax collector could possibly say to a holy God.

The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!”
(Luke 18:13)

Remember that those listening to Jesus were confident of their righteousness, and you can guess whose prayer enjoyed their approval. But, in a flash, Jesus declared:

I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Luke 18:14)

With that unexpected bombshell, Jesus not only shattered the self-serving expectations of his listeners, but also humbled them in fulfillment of his words.

A Final Word

At times believers wonder how a person achieved salvation in times before Jesus’ death and resurrection. The answer is that salvation has always been by God’s grace through faith. No one has ever been saved apart from God’s mercy. How ironic it is that the sinful tax collector understood the truth better than the mock-pious Pharisee. The tax collector knew that his works could never save him. Only his repentant admission of sin and cry for God’s mercy stood any chance. He descended Temple Mount a justified man.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

A few words about judging others …

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “You have no right to judge!” Sometimes they quote Jesus as their authority in saying so.

Yet all of us make judgments about people in the common course of life. We do it almost unconsciously when we look for a “good” doctor or want a “dependable” babysitter. In business, friendship, or marriage, people want someone they can trust; that means that some others cannot be trusted. And parents must often decide which of their children is telling the truth. So, what exactly did Jesus say about judging?

Right before Jesus made his famous statement about judging, he said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). So, the context of his statement about judging others was one of showing mercy to others!

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37–38)

In Luke 6:37 we run smack into the main problem: What did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not judge”? That question can be readily solved, if we assume that Jesus knew we would need further elaboration and that he gave it immediately. In other words, when Jesus said, “Do not condemn,” he was explaining what he meant by saying, “Do not judge.” Believers are not to judge in the sense of condemning another person with harshness and finality.

Matthew also describes the Sermon on the Mount and presents what Jesus said about judging others. Right after Jesus spoke about judging, he gave his disciples another command that made it obvious that they would not be able to avoid evaluating other people. He said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matt. 7:6, italics added).

Jesus wasn’t talking about house pets and barnyard animals; he was describing certain kinds of people. To follow this command, his disciples would have to be discerning and make value judgments about people, distinguishing the “dogs” and “pigs” from more receptive people. By using those terms, Jesus was referring to people who treated the Word of God and the miracles of his Son with contempt.

So, Jesus was not saying that we can never evaluate other people or form opinions about them. He knew that his disciples would have to do that. That’s simply part of life. But the spirit in which it is done makes a great difference; the Lord requires that mercy be infused into our judgments.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Excerpted from The Path to the Cross (forthcoming).

Taking Sides: Joining Jesus When It’s Hard

As I was doing my new Bible reading plan this morning, I was reading about the time when Israel was camped below Mount Sinai and Moses returned from meeting God on the mountain. Consider this bracing passage in Exodus 31:19–29:

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” [END]

Clearly, God was not playing games! As believers, we are compelled to acknowledge that life is God-given, and he can also take that life whenever he chooses. Set that issue aside and consider that this story is about taking sides. Who is on the Lord’s side? One answer, based on this story, is that those “running wild” in defiance of God were rejected by him. Another answer is that those who were willing to serve God no matter the cost were blessed.

A more personal question is this: would you have stood with the Levites on that day? Jesus challenged the following crowd in a similar way in Luke 14:25–27:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus challenges all to take a side! Following Jesus may cost a lot. The cross that we carry is a symbol of our death, and death severs all relationships except one.

To deal with a distraction, the word translated “hate” (Luke 14:26) by NIV2011 might better be rendered “disregard” according to the standard Greek lexicon (BDAG-3).

So, the Luke 14 passage ties to Exodus 31 in regard to taking sides. But I think Exodus 31:27 may relate to another enigmatic thing Jesus told his disciples: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36, NIV2011). Both passages feature a sword. The swords in Exodus are literal, but I think the ones in Luke 22 are metaphorical. Jesus is telling his disciples to get ready to take a stand for God; the decisive hour is upon them, and they will be forced to take a side at risk of their lives.

The idea of taking sides may also explain Matthew 10:34, where Jesus  says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” You may have other passages to suggest as well.

When all is done, the message is clear: Stand with Jesus, no matter what!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.