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The Paradox of Death

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

      In Luke 21:12-16 Jesus prepares His disciples for their suffering to come by saying, “…they will lay hands on you and persecute you…You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.” Those are pretty ominous promises, but, before the disciples could begin to have second thoughts regarding their commitment to follow Him, He says one verse later, “But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:18).

     How can both of these statements from our Lord be true? How could his followers be persecuted, suffering for Christ, even to the point of martyrdom, and yet not experience any harm, even the loss of a single hair?  I know many balding Christian men who could either be troubled or reassured by Jesus’ statement, depending upon how they take it!

     Jesus liked to teach by means of paradox – making statements that seemed to contain blatant contradictions – such as, “the first will be last”; “he who loses his life will save it”; “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” The first half of the statement only appears to contradict the second half; as you study, you discover that both halves are true, only in different senses.

     The first statement – that Jesus’ followers can expect to suffer and even die for their faith – is intended to be understood in the literal, earthly, physical sense. Christians can be subject to all the pains, illnesses, diseases, and handicaps that this fallen world can dish out, plus they should expect to suffer in various ways for their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus promised that the lives of His followers would normally be harder than those of unbelievers, not easier.

     But the second statement is the good news – no matter how much we suffer in this life, ultimately, we will suffer no loss whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul said, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). Followers of Christ have this glorious hope – that when our salvation is complete, we will be far better than new, the best version of ourselves that we could possibly be, by God’s grace. Every hair will be in place, every bone and muscle will be renewed and stronger than ever, and every internal organ will be made perfect. Better yet, our souls will be washed clean, filled with purity and holiness, and we will love God and each other with perfect intensity.

     What is the key to understanding Jesus’ paradox? How can we lose and still win? How can we sacrifice and still gain? How can we die and still live? The key is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. That greatest event of all time confirmed that His death had fully paid the price for our sins, and that He had, once for all, defeated death. By His grace, we will share in His resurrection, and be part of the New Heavens and New Earth for all eternity.

     So, along with Paul, we can taunt death and Satan: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?...thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:55,57). Satan’s greatest weapon – the fear of death – has been neutralized.

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

Judging Others the Right Way

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Many years ago, in one very busy week, I became very tired of judging people. That week I spent about 45 hours judging almost 40 different people. That’s not actually a confession – I had to do it. I spent four full days on a panel evaluating the grammar, logic, rhetoric and Biblical worldview of the final speeches of the seniors at a Christian school, and then topped it off later that week by leading a committee that examined the theology, knowledge, training and experience of three men seeking to be ordained as pastors by the presbytery. To adapt a line from the Grinch, I judged and I judged until my judger was sore!

            It’s kind of refreshing to not have to make any apologies for making those kinds of judgments, because there are so many kinds for which I do have to apologize. Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…” (Matthew 7:1-2). This statement has confused many Christians, especially in this culture where the only rule that seems to be absolute for everyone is, “Thou shalt tolerate all beliefs, practices, and ideas of others.” Is Jesus saying the same thing when He commands us not to judge others?

     Well, as we are learning in adult Sunday school, one of the primary rules for interpreting the Bible is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Since it is God’s Word, it can’t contradict itself. So, as the Westminster Confession says, “…when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture…it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” (WCF, chapter 1, paragraph 9). In the very same chapter, Matthew 7, Jesus later says, “Watch out for false prophets…by their fruit you will recognize them…a good tree cannot bear bad fruit; and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” In other words, Jesus expects us to make judgments about the lifestyles of those who presume to teach or lead us, to determine if they are from Him or not. In Ephesians 5, Paul lists sins such as sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking, and then says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” If we abide by our culture’s prime directive and make no evaluations about the lifestyles and beliefs of others, how can we possibly be obedient to our Lord’s commands?

     When Jesus says, “Do not judge…” He clearly doesn’t mean that we should avoid forming opinions about what is good, bad, true, false, beautiful, ugly, right, or wrong in the lives of others around us. What does He mean, then? Again, the immediate context of Jesus’ words is important. He goes on to say, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). He’s addressing our sinful tendency to overlook our own faults and to seek to condemn others for theirs. It’s not the discernment of sin in others that is wrong; it’s the motivation that we have for pointing it out to them or others. Are we, in our self-righteous pride, trying to usurp the place of Christ on the throne of judgment and declare the other person unworthy – seeking to exalt ourselves by condemning others? If so, then we are sinfully judging others, and calling down harsh judgment on ourselves.

     Jesus goes on in Matthew 7 to tell us what we should do when we evaluate the lifestyle, attitudes, and words of others and discern sin. He says, “…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” You need to get on your knees before God, ask Him to show you your own guilt, and acknowledge your absolute dependence upon His grace. Then, in humility, you can go to your brother, motivated by love, and help him to see and repent of his sin, too. That kind of judging is the good kind, the kind that brings life and joy to you and those around you.

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with

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