Suffering

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”Ω

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why do we care about Christ’s suffering on the cross?

The Apostle Peter said it best: “By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet 2:24; Rom 5:6)

 The Jewish authorities said that Jesus claimed to be a king, charged Jesus with sedition (Mark 15:2), and sentenced him to crucifixion, the penalty for sedition (John 19:19). In fact, Jesus was a king (messiah) in the Jewish sense, but not a king (political rival) in a Roman sense. For this reason, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate cross examined Jesus publicly and concluded: “I find no guilt in him.” (John 19:4) 

Jesus’ link to Pontius Pilate underscores the credibility of his innocent suffering. Even by Roman standards, Pilate was corrupt and brutal. Pilate had Jesus both flogged and crucified solely to satisfy the blood lust of a crowd (Josephus 2009, 3.1). By contrast, when the Apostle Paul found himself charged with profaning the temple only a few years later, another governor, Porcius Festus, simply kept him locked up for two years (Acts 24:6-27). Interestingly, Pilate links Jesus to a person known by historians outside the biblical text. Not only is Pilate mentioned in Josephus, an inscription bearing the phrase “Pontius Pilate Prefect of Judea” was found in 1961 in the excavation of a theatre in Caesarea (Zondervan 2005, 1714).

Jesus’ death on the cross underscores his extreme suffering. The Romans devised crucifixion as a method of execution by torture—it amplified the suffering inflicted. It was a slow, painful death. Crucifixion was so horrific that Roman law forbade Roman citizens from being crucified.

In Jewish tradition, death on the cross meant that one was cursed by God (Deut 21:22-23). This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us— for it is written, cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” (Gal 3:13)  The implication was that the crime committed was so horrible that the person deserved not only death but also eternal damnation. Jesus’ burial reinforced this point.

Burial behind a stone assured that Jesus was truly dead, as the death of Absalom illustrates. Absalom rebelled against his father, King David, and raised an army to over-throw him. He was captured because his hair got caught in a tree which led to the belief that he was cursed by God. David’s commander, Joab, had Absalom publicly executed, buried in a pit, and covered with stones (2 Sam 18:10-18).

Because Jesus was sinless and remained innocent, even in death, he became the only sinless person to live after Adam (Heb 4:15). Unlike Adam, Jesus, whose sinless life came to an abrupt end, never gave into temptation. In death, he was accordingly a perfect (without defeat or blemish) sin offering (Lev 4:22-24). In dying, Jesus became the Second Adam, reversing the curse of death, as validated by his resurrection (1 Cor 15:21-22).

In the same way that the holy conception confirms Jesus’ divinity and establishes credibility with God, Jesus’ innocent suffering on the cross confirms his humanity and status as God’s chosen sacrifice for our sins.

References

Zondervan. 2005. NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Suffering

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Prayer Day 9

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

God of all wonders.

We praise you for Mary’s faithfulness and Jesus’ miraculous birth.

Bridge the gaps of holiness, time, and space between us.

Open our minds to the miracles that we experience daily but neglect to think about.

Open our hearts to accept your will for our lives.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Prayer Day 9

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Believer’s Prayer

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Holy Conception

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you ever feel isolated from God?

This isolation is not an accident. In the absence of Christ, two gaps exist between God and humanity: a gap in being (infinite versus finite) and a gap in holiness [2]. Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit (Holy Conception) to bridge both gaps (Matt 1:18ff).

The first gap requires that a mediator be both divine and human. In bridging the first gap, the Holy Conception introduces the divinity of Christ before his birth. He is then born by the usual means. Jesus could then serve as a bridge between an infinite God and finite humanity [3]. As the angel told Mary: “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

The second gap requires that any mediator between humanity and God be without sin—holy. Jesus also bridges the second gap by living a sinless life. This work starts when Mary assents to the angel’s request (Luke 1:38) and continues through Jesus’ lifelong work of teaching, healing, and reflecting God. Jesus’ work ended on the cross when he declared: “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Jesus’ birth follows the promise-fulfillment motif in the Old Testament record. The prophecy—“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14)—reminds us of several miraculous pregnancies. The pattern of prophecy and pregnancy (e.g. promise-fulfillment) occurs again in births of Isaac (Gen 17:17), Jacob [4], the prophet Samuel and of John the Baptist [5]. However, in the case of Jesus, the role of prophecy was amplified.

For example, in the case of Isaac, both the timing and means (miraculous pregnancy) were prophesied. For Jesus, the instrumentality (virgin birth—Isa 7:14), his character (Isa 9:6), covenantal role [6], the place of birth (Bethlehem—Mic 5:2), and his lineage (House of David—2 Sam 7:12–16) were all prophesied. The elaborate birth narratives of Matthew and Luke testify to the reality of the humble nature of Jesus’ birth. The prophecies point to his divine nature.

The Holy Conception also reminds us of the absolute and creative sovereignty of God. When God creates the heaven and the earth, he creates them ex nihilo—out of nothing (Gen 1:1) [7]. The idea that Jesus is conceived ex-nihilo (without a biological father) at birth and then resurrected after death expresses God’s absolute and creative sovereignty. It also suggests that, through Jesus Christ, God remains actively present in our lives too. This is very good news!

Footnotes

[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] The need for an intermediary is first articulated by the prophet Job: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)

[3] Heb 2:14, 17.

[4] Gen 21:1–3, 25:21.

[5] 1 Sam 1:20; Luke 1:5–25.

[6] Deut 18:18; Jer 31:33.

[7] For example: Sproul 2003, 111.

References

Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Sproul, R.C. 2003. Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Purchase Book: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

 

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Prayer Day 8

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father,

We praise you for graciously sending your son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We give glory to his name—our perfect priest, prophet, and king.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us also to listen to his voice and obey his commands.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer Day 8

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Believer’s Prayer

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Jesus Christ

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Names often tell a story. The name, Jesus Christ, is no exception.

When we use the name, Jesus, in English, we are transliterating the Greek of the New Testament. Jesus’ given name was actually Joshua which means “he saves” in Hebrew. However, because Greek does not have an “SH” sound, Joshua could not be accurately transliterated in New Testament Greek. Consequently, we borrowed Jesus from the Greek.

Joshua’s role in the Old Testament is instructive. Moses commissioned Joshua to lead the nation of Israel with these words:

And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.” (Deut 31:23) [2]

Jesus’ given name, Joshua, summarizes his commission. However, Jesus’ salvation arises as he brings us, not into the Promised Land, but into Heaven (Heb 4:1–11). This salvation, furthermore, arises not from law, but from grace (Phil 3:2–11).

When we use the name, Jesus Christ, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Christ translates the Hebrew word, Messiah, into Greek and it means anointed one because during the commissioning process oil was poured on your head. Priests, prophets, and kings were anointed. The New Testament pictures Jesus fulfilling the roles of each of these three types of messiahs.

Jesus’ messianic role is highlighted in the Book of Hebrews where we read:

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 5:5–6)

Melchizedek was the king of Salem (later called Jerusalem) and he was also a priest (Gen 14:18) [3]. Saying that Jesus is a priest of the order of Melchizedek expresses the idea that he is also a king. In Matthew 24:1–2 Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which occurred later in AD 70, confirming his prophetic role.

When we confess that Jesus is the only son of God [4], we acknowledge Jesus’ divinity and exclusively as savior (John 3:16–17). God’s infinite nature poses a problem for us because we are finite. Only someone divine can cross the divide between the infinite and the finite. In Jesus Christ, God crosses the divide to initiate the conversation and mediate for us—an act of grace—as high priest (Heb 5:1) [5].

Footnotes

[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] Because of Moses’ sin at Meribah, God forbad Moses from bringing the people of Israel into the Promised Land himself (Num 20:8–12).

[3] In Hebrew Melchizedek means righteous king and some believe it to have been a title given to Shem, the righteous son of Noah (Gen 9:28). Ps 110, which is quoted in Heb 5:6, also associated King David with Melchizedek.

[4] Son of God is also, of course, a kingly title closely related to the title that Jesus preferred to call himself—son of man—which immediately brings to mind the prophesy of Dan 7.

[5] The parable of the tenants highlights the exclusively of Jesus’ role as mediator (Matt 21:33–40). The parable of the wedding feast addresses the problem created when we reject Jesus as mediator (Matt 22:2–14). When we confess Jesus as God’s one and only son, we acknowledge God’s sovereignty in determining the means of our salvation.

References

Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Jesus Christ

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Prayer Day 7

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By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty God. We praise you for creating the heavens and the earth; creating all that is, was, or will ever be; and creating things seen and unseen.

We look on the order and beauty of your creation and break forth singing your praises.

Grant us strength for each new day to reflect your goodness in joyful praise to those around us.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Prayer Day 7

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Believer’s Prayer

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Almighty Creator

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”

God’s humility expressed through the incarnation in Jesus Christ shines a light on His sovereignty (Matt 21:5;2 Cor 12:10). Truly powerful people can be fearlessly humble—they have nothing to prove and no one dares to challenge their authority. Their inherent strength and self-confidence makes them easy to work for. By contrast, the second and third tier managers often compete for more authority and always have their knives out. By analogy, an almighty God is generous and can be approached easily. Why should we be any different?

When King David wrote—“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1), he did not just have creation’s beauty in mind. The order of the universe points to the glory and sovereignty of God. Everywhere that scientists have studied, the same laws of physics apply. Why should there only be one set of physical laws?

As David implies, the order and stability of the created universe testifies to God’s existence and sovereignty. Kurt Gödel, a Czech mathematician, who was born in 1906, educated in Vienna, and taught at Princeton University, is famous for his incompleteness theorem published in 1931. This theorem states that stability in any closed, logical system requires that at least one assumption be taken from outside that system. 

An example of such a system in economics is price theory. The U.S. economy requires one price be set outside the economy (in the world market) to assure stability. In the nineteenth century, that price was gold, and the system was called the gold standard. Every price in the U.S. economy could be expressed in terms of how much gold it was worth. Now, the dollar functions that way.

If creation is a closed, logical system (having only one set of physical laws suggests that it is) and exhibits stability, then it too must contain at least one external assumption. God, himself, fulfills that assumption (Smith 2001, 89).

God’s sovereignty anchors His goodness. Three reasons can be cited. First, because God’s authority flows out of his creative work (not out of coercion, deception, or random events), it is legitimate (Jer 18:4). Legitimate authority is inherently good. Existence is good so the authority that made it happen must be good. Second, God’s authority as law-maker implies that if God says creation is good, then it is—by fiat—good (Gen 1:10). Third, in a practical sense, God’s sovereignty reduces uncertainty and increases stability—absence of conflict. Stability is good.

As sons and daughters of God, we are to take comfort in His sovereignty because, as heirs to His kingdom, His image is also our image (Gen 1:27). Therefore, we can be confident in our ability to deal with life’s challenges because God is for us and with us (Rom 8:28). What greater blessing could there be?

References

Smith, Houston. 2001. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. San Francisco: Harper.

Almighty Creator 

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Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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Prayer Day 6

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Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father.

We praise you for shepherding us and resting with us in lush gardens.

Feed our hungering and thirsting souls as we confront sickness and death.

Shelter us in your strong arms as we shelter the weak among us.

Prosper us in righteousness as we model your love to those around us.

Grant us your mercy through the storms of life until you lead us home (Ps 23).

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Prayer Day 6

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Believer’s Prayer

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Christmas Prayer

Everyday Prayers for Everyday People

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father,

We give thanks for your special presence with us at Christmas

when you came to us, abided with us, suffered with us,

and made us members of your family.

Such a gift! Such a surprise! So underserved!

We confess that we desperately need youthe light of the world.

Lights on a tree, lights in the yard, lights in the mall, all pall against your light.

Let us not forget; leave us not alone; be ever nearer each passing day.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to look around us each and every day and extend your light even further.

Through Jesus’ special name, Amen.

Christmas Prayer

Also See:

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts 

Johnson: Prison Ministry in Brazil

Grams: Outpouring of the Spirit

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What Do You Believe About God?

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:33)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Once as a youth leader, I asked each member of the group to write out a personal statement of faith. This assignment kept us busy all evening. In the end, most kids had statements resembling the Apostle’s Creed. For the Christian faith, this creed is foundational.

The Apostle’s Creed began as a baptismal statement of faith in the fourth century (Rogers 1991, 61–62). It has evolved into a key statement of faith that is often memorized and proclaimed in worship services around the world.

The Apostle’s Creed divides into three parts: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each part helps us to understand and to identify better with each person of the Trinity. The confession about the Father focuses on his role as creator. The confession about the Son recounts the story of Jesus Christ—conception, birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. The confession about the Holy Spirit links the Spirit to the work and key doctrines of the church.

The Apostle’s Creed primarily tells the story of Jesus. Other parts of the creed appear simply to bracket the story of Jesus. This is not an accident. The four Gospel narratives each focus on the story of Jesus. Early church sermons, recorded in the Book of Acts, also often focus on telling Jesus’ life story[1]. In general, the New Testament focuses on telling Jesus’ life story and applying his story to our lives.

When is the last time that you shared Jesus’ life story? How has Jesus’ life become a model for your life?

[1] Sermons by both Peter (Acts 2:14–41; 10:34–43) and Paul (Acts13:16–41) focus on Jesus’ life story.

References

Rogers, Jack. 1991. Presbyterian Creeds: A Guide to the Book of Confessions. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

What Do You Believe About God?

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

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