For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – Romans 3:23 (NIV)
“Vanity,” “vapor,” “foolishness,” “the wink of an eye.” What am I describing? Life. These are a common view of life for many people. What leads them to reach such a conclusion about life? Death.
Humans are the only creatures who are self-aware. When Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” he was making a philosophical statement about the unique nature of humans to think about and comment on their existence. Depending on the conclusions we reach about our existence, the phrase may be modified slightly, for example, “I think about death, therefore I am without hope.” Death is the problem we are all trying to solve.
Why is death so important? For me, it was because death brought focus to life. If all life ends in death, regardless of what I do, then why do anything? If I know I will die, does that affect the way I should live? Death, or more accurately, what happens when we die, is a subject addressed in all the religious and philosophical systems I have studied. I was encouraged to know that I wasn’t the only person thinking about it.
Over the next six weeks, I will be talking about the explanation of life and death that we find in the Bible. It is the view that I have accepted as true. When talking about death, the Bible begins with the assumption we find in today’s verse, everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I talked about the problem we have with the word “sin” a few weeks ago, you can follow this link to read it, so I won’t get back in to that again. Instead, I’d like to set up the discussion we will have over the next month or so.
We begin with the statement that death is the problem. And we ask, why. In the Christian faith, death is a problem because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that will affect what happens when we die. God is perfect and, though He created us to know Him, our sin has separated us from Him. Because there is nothing we can do on our own to fix the problem of sin, God became directly involved in the process of restoring us to Himself by becoming human and living among us as Jesus. Ultimately, He paid the price for our sin that we could not pay ourselves.
For Christians, it all starts and ends with Jesus. We believe that he was a real person who lived in what is now Israel about 2,000 years ago. He was born in a little town called Bethlehem and God told his father to name him Jesus, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Yeshua or Joshua and means God is salvation. The central message of Jesus teaching was our broken relationship with God and how it could be restored.
If we are going to spend the next several weeks talking about Jesus’ solution to the problem of death, we should begin by asking why his opinion should matter. One view is that Jesus’ opinions on life and death are just another voice in a chorus of voices on the subject and we should give it as much or as little weight as we like. But, C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, explains that we don’t have the option of putting Jesus in the same group as all the other philosophers and religious leaders because Jesus’ message was unique in one significant way, Jesus claimed to be God. Therefore, Jesus’ teaching about life and death was not yet another solution added to the pile, but the definitive solution from the creator of the universe.
Many people want to give Jesus the respect they believe he deserves and call him a wise man or good teacher who taught us how to live a good and productive life. They would like to take from his teaching the things that they like and leave the rest behind as his opinion and not right for them. But, Lewis explains that we may not take this “philosophical smorgasbord” approach with Jesus. The choices are Lord, lunatic or liar. The first option is to believe that Jesus is who he said he was, the God of the universe who came to earth in human form. If we believe that, his teaching about life and death take on an authority that defeats every other philosophical or religious view. Believers are often called arrogant for taking that absolute position. But, if Jesus is God, we don’t have another option. If Jesus is not God, Lewis says we have two other options. Jesus was a lunatic or he was a liar. He was a lunatic if he really believed he was God, though he wasn’t, and he was a liar if he knew he wasn’t God but told people that he was. In either case, he does not deserve our respect and his teaching is not credible.
The question this week is “Who do you believe Jesus is?” You may have answered that question already. If not, take the week to read the Gospel of John and think about it for yourself. Send me an e-mail or leave a comment with the questions you are asking. The solution to the problem of death offered by the Christian faith is based on the belief that Jesus is God. The rest follows from that assumption.