What is it that We Want in our Relationship with God?
Christian philosophy and apologetics has rightly clarified a key distinction about faith in the existence of God.
Real, dynamic, actionable faith in God does not exist in a world in which the existence of God is an absolute observable fact like the existence of the noonday sun, or an indisputable truth like two plus two equals four.
Over the previous six thousand or more years of human redemptive history, God has skillfully maintained a delicate balance between the evidence for His existence and the ability of humans to exercise unbelief. This keeps in play the critical element of free-will choice, which adds value and meaning to our choice to trust and follow God in faith, in this broken world.
The key point that many Jews in the first-century blindly missed in evaluating Jesus of Nazareth as a candidate for messiah, is that Jesus ruling and reigning on earth in the fullest sense, starting sometime around 30 to 33 A.D., brings to an abrupt end the exercise of free-will choice and the experience of a journey of faith.
They missed this key point because they themselves had not experienced a personal journey of faith with God in their own lives (Jn. 7:17).
God’s ability to compose and orchestrate brilliantly original life-scripts to reveal Himself to people who choose to follow Him through the medium of an adventure of faith, ends abruptly in this current broken world environment… when Jesus permanently assumes His place on the throne as King and Savior according to the second advent half of the messianic prophecies.
Gideon’s experience of an Old Testament challenge of faith, recorded in the book of Judges, would have had no further context to play itself out in Christ’s glorious reign…there will be no Midianites or anyone else attacking the New Jerusalem then or forever after.
The type of brilliantly creative journey of faith of Joseph’s rise in Egypt, recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis, would have no further context to actualize in Christ’s glorious rule and reign upon earth…there will be no more famines in Egypt or anywhere else from that time onward.
If the messianic prophecies of the first and second advent of Jesus Christ are fully combined in the first-century, the powerful conversion and subsequent ministry of Paul has no continuing context…no one, including Paul, would mistakenly be persecuting the early church during Christ’s rule and reign in the first-century.
The fulfillment of the second-advent portions of the messianic prophecies regarding Jesus Christ, and all that they entail, would have been totally premature in the first-century.
The human race was not ready for the fulfillment of these final messianic prophecies. Many of the chosen people of God…the Jews in the first- century…did not at that time understand the concepts of grace, a journey of faith, or the Old Testament verse that “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4) that Paul clarified in his New Testament writings and that Martin Luther rediscovered at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
Even to this day, contemporary Christianity has still not fully recovered an understanding and worldly-free application of the second half of the cross in the lives of individual born-again Christians, which was partially lost during the dark and middle ages of history.
Jesus said that He had more lost sheep, not of this first-century fold, to seek and to save (Jn. 10:16). This meant that God had many more individualized, unconventional life-scripts to compose and orchestrate as only God can do, to personally reveal Himself to the people of faith to come into existence during the centuries of the church age.
First-century Christianity moves out from the purity of doctrine and practice in Judea…into the paganism and classical philosophy of the Greco-Roman world, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., so that mankind can work through the eternally important issues of truth for the next 1900 years or more.
This all-important task is still ongoing.
There were tens of thousands of first-century Jews in Jerusalem, in Israel, and in the Mediterranean world who did accept Jesus as Messiah and believed in Him as Savior (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 21:20).
But there obviously was a large difference in the first-century between the backgrounds, cultures, and expectations of the Jews and the Gentiles.
The Gentiles had no expectations about any messiah whatsoever…world ruler or suffering servant…because a gospel message regarding the fulfillment of age-old biblical messianic prophecies was entirely unknown to them.
The Gentile Christians of the New Testament era therefore had no reason to be offended by a crucified and risen Jesus Christ as Messiah. The Gentiles in the first-century Greco-Roman world, who were moved by the Holy Spirit preaching of Paul, gladly received the gospel message by faith because they recognized their personal sin and their need for a Savior.
The Gentiles in Antioch Pisidia believed the message of Paul, wanted to become new creatures in Christ, and recognized their need to discard their past lives of sin through the cross.
The Gentiles who believed the preaching of Paul were open to the idea of a new adventure of faith following Jesus Christ according to the new covenant model of a personal relationship with God. In this sense they were no different from the Jews in Antioch Pisidia who also believed and accepted this message of salvation through the preaching of Christ crucified and risen, introduced by Paul and Barnabas.
From this moment forward, both Jews and Gentiles entered into the new covenant adventures of faith that God would compose and orchestrate for each one of them. This fulfilled the prophetic promise of God to Abraham, and is described by Paul in Romans 10:12.
The preaching of the cross by Paul in Antioch Pisidia in Acts 13, to begin his lifelong ministry of evangelism to the first-century Mediterranean world, divides and separates forever the difference between the unconventional nature of a God-composed life-script entered through faith in Christ, and the empty and lifeless performance of perfunctory religious practices not having the intimate participation of the living God in the events and circumstances of our lives.
If people are indeed made complete in our new covenant relationship with God, if being “in Christ” is the truest form of rational existence, then the preaching of Paul in Antioch Pisidia is a demonstration of the component of pure, divinely unselfish love intended to seek and to save that which is lost (Mt. 18:11).
This extends down through the centuries as the love-filled component of the high standards of God for the soon coming end-times.
Christians living today in the developed nations of the world are in danger of falling into a subtle variation of the same mistake the Jews made in the first-century in rejecting Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah.
If our vision is worldly horizontal only, if we are looking for a Jesus who will fix our outward world by providing a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car, better vacations, and more economic wealth and prosperity, based solely on performing religious observances and church attendance…then we are once again repeating history and looking for the wrong messiah.
If we are going through the motions of attending church solely for the benefits of fitting-in and conforming to the social and cultural expectations of our immediate family and/or our local community, then we are in jeopardy of being left behind as were the Jews in Antioch Pisidia, who were exposed by Paul’s message of a new covenant adventure of faith through Christ (Acts 13:39).
We are in jeopardy of likewise being identified as merely a lukewarm religious person participating in the synagogue for all of the wrong reasons.
If we are looking for a soft and malleable God who will stay safely within the boundary limits of conventional religious normalcy in His participation and impact upon our lives, then we are looking for a God who is not the God of the Bible.
Modern Christians must choose Jesus Christ for the same correct reason the Jews and Gentiles received Paul’s message in Antioch Pisidia in the first-century. Paul preached the cross and the resurrection because it is the power of God to change a person from a life of sin to a life of righteousness, faith, and holiness. Paul could preach with bold conviction the transforming power of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, because Paul stood before the crowd of people in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia…as a living example of this transformation.
The message of the cross leads directly to an unconventional, individually scripted adventure of faith following Jesus Christ, to match the journey of faith that Paul was personally experiencing and preaching about in Antioch Pisidia. The same separation from the worldly conventional in the first- century exists today, with the precise details of our new covenant Christian lives varying to match our own individual God-given talents and modern-day callings.
People who are justified in their own self-estimation, who think they are just fine the way they are, who have no interest in pursuing an adventure of faith in fellowship with the living God, will look for a God who will fix their outer worldly circumstances only.
Adam and Eve had everything in the Garden of Eden. They were in idyllic surroundings of incomparable beauty, and they enjoyed daily fellowship with God Himself.
But when they were tempted with having more…to become “as gods, knowing good and evil,” they disobeyed God and fell into sin. They succumbed to the enticement of having more.
In Mark 14:53-65 and Matthew 26:57-66, during His night trial before Caiaphas the high priest and some of the scribes and Jewish elders, Jesus is asked “are you the messiah, tell us plainly?”
Jesus is the personification of Isaiah 9:6-7, the Son of God in a human body, as He humbly stands on trial before this group of religious leaders in Jerusalem. Yet clearly He is not up to their expectations. They wanted more.
Jesus was not out in battle with an Israeli army defeating the Romans. Jesus was not rallying the populace toward the political and economic reforms that would beneficially change the entire world. Jesus was not in the process of restoring the old glory and splendor of the reigns of David and Solomon, which would beneficially spill over into the power base of these religious rulers. Jesus was not even verbally defending Himself, in fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:7.
Jesus instead had been out in the countryside of Israel amongst the common people, healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching eternal truths, and raising the dead. He was eternally impacting people’s lives. Jesus was doing in the first-century what He is still doing today…beneficially transforming people through deliverance from sin, creating spiritual rebirth, and building growth in character that comes through a journey of faith actively following God.
As Jesus stands before these religious leaders of Israel, Jesus models this unconventional life-script of God perfectly (Isa. 55:8-9).
The life-script of God for Jesus of Nazareth, the Passover Lamb of God slain from the foundation of time for the sins of mankind (Rev. 13:8), is composed and orchestrated by God the Father to perfectly match the uniquely divine capacity of the Son of God.
In rejecting Jesus, these men are not only rejecting the physical manifestation of God Himself standing before them, but they are also emphatically rejecting the God-composed, supernaturally unconventional journey-of-faith exemplified in Jesus that makes Him uniquely the way, the truth, and the life.
These religious leaders did not want the way, the truth, and the life through a God-composed, unconventional adventure of faith that would separate them from the pride of their own self-sovereignty.
These religious leaders wanted a God who would only intervene in the external world according to their partially incomplete interpretation of the messianic prophecies, while leaving in place their ability to operate as the autonomous gods of their lives.
This is one of the powerful motivating forces explaining the reason why these religious leaders went to such extreme lengths to unwittingly, unknowingly, and personally fulfill the messianic prophecies by having Jesus the Messiah crucified.
It is ironically fitting that through their dual rejection of Jesus and a God-composed journey-of-faith, they themselves directly provided the very means by which God opened up the way of salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.
This is why the cross is such a deadly serious issue, surgically dividing truth from error, and demonstrates why God our Father cannot successfully be fooled with, outwitted, or outmaneuvered.
Jesus was indeed offering more, but it was on a higher level incomprehensible to these religious leaders. Jesus was offering to them, to the nation of Israel, and to us today, a life-experience comparable to that of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and what was to be experienced in the very near future in the lives of Peter, Paul, and the early Christian church.
The “more” that Jesus was offering rises above the unsatisfying possession of an abundance of material objects, that will rust and decay here on earth.
The “more” that Jesus was offering surpasses the fickleness of worldly applause and acclaim, which can quickly fade from memory and turn overnight into jeers and rejection.
Jesus was offering no less than the personal working and moving of the Almighty Creator of the universe in our lives to craft us into people who can exhibit and enjoy the benefits of unselfish love, forgiveness of others, the satisfaction of commendable industry and excellence in our work, and the rock-solid confidence of elevated character that nothing and no one on this earth can overturn.
Jesus was offering to these religious leaders and to us, a transformed new life that can be elevated up into the unconventional, supernatural workings of God that can craft Joseph into the governor of Egypt, David into the king of Israel, and can completely change a person like Saul of Tarsus into the Apostle Paul of the book of Acts and Romans chapter 16.