Joy and Bearing Our Sins
The message this morning as I was waking up was 'joy'. Joy was what empowered Jesus to endure the cross. Joy is to be the magnetic power that draws all of us to follow His example. As long as the devil can keep us from becoming addicted to joy he knows he can very likely succeed in keeping us from becoming a threat to his kingdom of fear. More on this to come.
Another message that came soon afterward was on my questions about what it really means to bear sins for someone else. If Jesus is to be my example, how about the part where He is supposed to have born my sins on the cross? We are not expected to do that are we? Or maybe this is another case of mistaken definition again where we have little to no clue as to what the terminology we are using actually means.
What does it really mean to bear someone's sins in the context of my new understanding of a God who is not vengeful, does not hold grudges, forgives instantly and never seeks revenge or retaliation? I have been learning that God's definition of justice is radically different than from how most of us view it, so where does bearing sins for others fit into this?
Jesus is the ultimate priest. So it would be helpful for me to go back and review some of the new and improved insights on what it means to be a priest. We were chosen to be a kingdom of priests so it might be instructive to learn just what that really means from the example of Jesus. I know that part of the work of a priest is to bear the sins of the people before God. Then if Jesus did that and we are priests and He is our example, very likely we must also be designed to participate in His role of priestly ministry in some way if we truly desire to come into closer harmony with Him.
Here is some of my initial thoughts on what may be the direction I am being led here. Given my emerging perceptions of what really happened at the cross, does being a priest and bearing someone else's sin mean demonstrating active and instant forgiveness toward offenders as an attraction to draw them toward repentance by exercising joy? Is this where joy and the cross intersect?
Keep in mind that the essence of joy is the powerful attraction of intensely wanting to be together in love, care and esteem. When two or more people created in the image of God (including God as well) come into harmony with care, love and concern for each other, that is where joy will be the strongest, the most evident, the most powerful. Joy is a reaction of love mutually experienced. Full joy is realized most intensely when the ones involved come into the closest proximity possible both physically, emotionally, spiritually and in every other respect.
In contrast to this, the opposite of joy is the anguish experienced by one who loves, who yearns for joy but is robbed of the intimate fellowship they so deeply crave because the object of their desire rejects their love, disbelieves and mistrusts their motives and refuses their overtures and enticements to enter into harmony with their heart. And the worst form of terror that can occur is when the one who rejected joy and spurned that love comes to realize what they have done but also realizes they have destroyed their own ability to enter into that joy. This is the torture all will experience in the final judgment who are lost because of their choice to reject the salvation so long offered to them.
What struck me this morning for the first time was a little more insight into what happened to Jesus when He came into closer proximity to His children here on earth for the purpose of experiencing joy with them only to be turned on viciously and treated with all the ferocity that sin can produce.
He came to the world that was his own. And his own people did not accept him. But some people did accept him. They believed in him, and he gave them the right to become children of God. They became God's children, but not in the way babies are usually born. It was not because of any human desire or plan. They were born from God himself. (John 1:11-13 ERV)
I like some of the subtle insights better exposed in yet another translation of this passage.
He went to his own people, and his own people didn't accept him. However, he gave the right to become God's children to everyone who believed in him. These people didn't become God's children in a physical way-from a human impulse or from a husband's desire to have a child. They were born from God. (John 1:11-13 GW)
I perceive in this last rendering a contrast between being born as a result of the passion of God and being born physically as a result of the sexual passion of a human male. John seems to be wanting to get across that we exist because of someone else's passion; but our spiritual identity as children of God is far more important than our perceived identity resulting from acted out passions by a human father. God's passion is a pure and holy passion that results in producing children in His image who will reflect His characteristics and will respond to His love for them without resistance. Those who embrace their true identity in Jesus will enter into His joy as they respond to Him increasingly.
I have been learning recently of the fact that Jesus actually initiated a whole new race of beings, an advanced and superior race to humans, a race whose initial father and who's representative before heaven is Jesus Himself, the god/man, something of a cross-breed. Jesus initiated a new species in the universe, a race of beings who reflect Himself. Jesus amalgamated Himself by combining the divine and the human into one being and offers to do the same in anyone who allows Him access to their heart. When they give Him permission to have full access to all of their heart He works within them to transform them into the divine image. Those who reject His offer end up being shaped into the demonic image of Satan.
Because of Adam's sin, the earthly Adam became the father of a deformed gene pool that we are so familiar with and are trapped in. But Jesus through an amazing plan formulated in the minds of the Trinity long before any of this mess ever began, pulled off the greatest salvage act in history and recaptured the whole human race by replacing Adam as our father with Himself. Satan thought he had the position of 'Representative of Earth' locked up after he snatched it from Adam by becoming the de facto prince of this world in place of Adam. But Jesus challenged that claim and legitimately wrested the position away from him at the cross. In the eyes of all the universe Jesus fully earned the right to be the authorized and recognized prince of this world, the very world that He had created to reveal Himself originally.
So I come back to what it means to bear sin. What exactly did Jesus do that can be seen as bearing sin, whether it was our sins or that of the ones directly abusing Him when He lived here on earth?
To be honest, I have felt resentment and resistance all my life whenever someone made the statement that it was each one of us that caused the death of Jesus on the cross. Just yesterday I heard this again from a preacher on TV and it caused the same reaction inside of me. Now don't misunderstand me, I am not trying to deny the basic true theology behind this statement. It is just that the implications usually inferred that are not examined, the inferences that rise up in the minds of most people who hear this statement and too often assumed by many who use such statements, are riddled with false ideas about what God is like and how He feels toward us. That is the part that really concerns and bothers me, along with the fact that the statement itself is almost never unpacked but is just left out there to motivate people with guilt.
Using guilt to get people to move toward God is the way of counterfeit religion in contrast to what I have been learning about God's methods. Jesus explicitly stated to Nicodemus that He did not come to condemn the world but to save (salvage) it. If Jesus is not in the condemning business (seeking to induce feelings of guilt and shame in others), then where do we get the idea we need to do it on His behalf? How can we believe we are representing God rightly before the world by using methods He never employed? His ways are certainly not our ways and His thoughts are far higher than ours. We would do well to challenge all of our religious techniques and tricks and phrases to see if they fit with an updated, more accurate picture of God secured from a more honest reading of His testimony.
If I am supposed to be motivated to come to repentance by hearing that somehow I killed Jesus even though everyone knows I was not physically there and could not have done anything of the kind from a human, logical perspective, then there has to be a much better explanation of this idea before it can have any positive motivation to draw me into harmony with heaven. It is true that Jesus bore my sins on the cross as the Bible says, but our spin on this is so often misleading and causes so many to increase their fear of the Father that I have to challenge its underlying assumptions. So many of our religious assertions and practices and words tend to reinforce dark views of God rather than bringing greater light of His glory into our hearts. I am determined to get much deeper into the real meaning of what it means to see Jesus as my sin-bearer in its true perspective so it can have its intended effect on my own life.
I sense that Peter caught sight of a clearer view of this and shared it in his letters. In fact this is the passage where we get the reference about Christ being our example to follow. I'm afraid that too often we have taken that phrase out of context and then hooked it up with our own assumptions about what it is we are supposed to imitate rather than carefully examining what Peter has to say in the rest of his observations about what he saw in the actions and attitudes of Jesus that so transformed his heart. It is also in this very passage where we get the clearest statement about Jesus bearing our sins on the cross.
It was to this that God called you, for Christ himself suffered for you and left you an example, so that you would follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no one ever heard a lie come from his lips. When he was insulted, he did not answer back with an insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but placed his hopes in God, the righteous Judge. Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24 GNB)
If I view this passage from the typical legal perspective I might arrive at the classic assumption that Jesus came to be punished by the Father for my sins so I could get off the hook and go to heaven. I have long ago rejected that line because it is so totally out of harmony with the clear testimony of Jesus Himself about the Father. So if that is now out the window I must find an explanation that makes more sense and fits in with a more consistent concept of God that has been emerging over the past few years.
What is easy to miss is that Peter is stating as clearly as he can what it means to bear our sins right here in this passage. The way Jesus bore sin was to allow anyone and everyone to treat Him as abusively as they could possible do so without ever retaliating in the slightest or giving them any reason to hurt Him. In stark contrast to their animosity, accusations, hatred, abuse, insults and torture, Jesus demonstrated explicitly how God feels about all of us by fully absorbing everything sinners and demons could do to antagonize Him into responding in kind. What Jesus proved at the cross and in everything that happened leading up to that even was that there is no way in hell that we could get God to be mad at us no matter how hard we tried to antagonize Him or hurt Him in every way possible.
This is the stunning revelation about God that the devil is terrified we will discover. This is reality and a truth that most Christians cannot tolerate to be discussed publicly, for most people demand a God more in harmony with their own character, a God who will at some point run out of patience and resort to vengeance and retaliation against those who mistreat Him and spurn His love. This is more along the line of the teachings that many of us have embraced in our pictures of how God feels toward us and especially toward those who reject His offer of salvation. But our representations of how God relates to sinners are riddled with the subtle deceptions and insinuations of His greatest enemy, the great deceiver himself and they must be challenged constantly in the light of truth from the life of Jesus. This is the only hope we have of embracing the glory of God that will soon flood this planet. This is the revelation of the true glory of God that will precipitate the final events that will bring history as we know it to a final close and usher in the fuller manifestation of the kingdom of God.
It is becoming clearer to me now that there is a direct connection between the subject of joy and the concept of bearing our sins on the cross. I see this in Hebrews where it seems to almost be a direct extension of what Peter was trying to convey.
We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don't become tired and give up. (Hebrews 12:2-3 GW)
Here it is plain that it was the anticipated joy of gathering together to Himself as many as would believe the truth about God that He had come to show us – it was looking forward to the intense experience of joy He knew He would have when everyone finally would 'get it' that gave Him the strength to endure all the abuse and pain heaped on Him at the cross. That pain was not from His Father punishing Him in our place to satisfy some arbitrary legal requirement; it was to demonstrate that it is impossible to push God far enough to react like we act no matter how much we may abuse Him.
God never changes, so when Jesus comes again He will not be mad at us like many have assumed He will be. Remember, those at His coming who claim that Jesus is an angry lamb are not the people with proper credentials to speak the truth about God. They are the lost who have embraced and perpetuated the lies of Satan about how God feels about us. If we continue to buy into those lies ourselves we will also be found among those who are terrified when Jesus shows up with great passion to embrace with joy all who have learned to think like He does and and have allowed His love to flow through them without resistance.
- Joy is a term for the most powerful magnetic force in all the universe.
- Joy is what caused Jesus to come to rescue this planet even though He found very little of it initially upon His arrival. The angels showed it at His birth by demonstrating to terrified shepherds what joy looks like and to give all of us a taste of what was to come.
- Joy is what Jesus came to offer to stern religious people who deeply resented His disruptive and seemingly disrespectful ways of worshiping God joyfully.
- Joy was what Jesus brought into the lives of those who were scorned, shamed and humiliated by the religious and politically elite.
- Jesus brought joy to prostitutes. Now that sounds scandalous and it did to people back then as well.
- Jesus brought joy to cheats, robbers, patriots craving to kill a Roman and the IRS agents who used their advantage to oppress their victims.
- Jesus introduced the radical idea of choosing joy over force, fear or any other false method of motivation as He demonstrated before His disciples how heaven wants us to treat each other. They were totally baffled, amazed, stunned with disbelief and repeatedly startled at how unpredictable this strange man acted in nearly every situation.
- Jesus brought joy to those who were hurting, those who were in deep grief, those who were so full of shame, guilt and fear that they could no longer even lift their eyes to look at anyone in the eye.
The last few hours before walking into the mass of hatred that would culminate in His torture and death, Jesus spent precious minutes speaking and acting in every way possible to intensify His consciousness of the joy set before Him so He could be as full as possible with joy to take Him through the last showdown with the enemy. Without as much anticipation of joy as He had capacity to absorb inside of Him Jesus could not have made it through all that He experienced during those last hours of torture, humiliation and pain.
What does this speak to us of how we might prepare for the coming time of trouble such as this world has never seen? Do we appreciate that it is joy and not fear that is the only effective way to prepare us to endure hardship, persecution and even death similar to what Jesus encountered? Or are we still trying to frighten ourselves into a frenzy of trying ever harder to develop 'perfect' characters, relying on fear of being lost as our fuel to run on? Why do we think fear will keep us going when Jesus rejected that method all throughout His life? It is time we realize that our typical notions of what it takes to get ready for Jesus to come and prepare us for the coming time of trouble may instead be setting us up for spectacular failures just when we thought we finally had it all together.
Our paranoia against allowing joy in our churches and in our lives is an ominous symptom of a deep misunderstanding of how to rightly get ready to meet Jesus. It seems that the more religious a person is the more animosity they often exhibit toward anyone who desires to be expressive in worship or to exhibit symptoms of joyfulness. Too many seem to prefer stern, solemn worship services and somehow think they are honoring God by shutting down the children, forcing everyone to sit in long straight rows and performing rites and ceremonies. But all of these things are empty and worthless in the eyes of heaven if they are devoid of the spirit of Jesus who relied on joy as His main fuel to keep Him going all the way to the bitter end. Satan must gloat in sadistic glee as he sees us glare at each other whenever someone begins to loosen up and start to get happy in church.
Of course there is the other extreme of attempting to substitute heaven's joy with charismatic feelings. But artificial excitement generated through stimulating music or great entertainment only masks over the lack of heaven's kind of joy and leaves many feeling more empty and hungry than when they came. Many become addicted to the feelings they experience when they come together to be entertained by great worship leaders. But the joy that God intends for us to know which is the only fuel that will actually provide the power we need when life falls apart and everything is going to hell, is the genuine joy that comes from constant living in the presence of God and allowing Jesus to live within our heart full-time. He is the one who promised He would never leave or abandon us. And that is the signature of real joy.
Joy is the sensation one experiences when someone else values them, enjoys being close to them and deeply cares about them consistently. Joy is felt particularly when you look into the eyes of someone who insists on wanting to be with you through good times, bad times and tragic times. They never stop loving you no matter how ugly you become or how obnoxious you might treat them. That is why Jesus is the only true originator of joy because only He will continue to love everyone even when some have rejected and turned away from Him permanently. The problem with those who are lost is not that God has withdrawn His forgiveness from them but that they have rejected His joy and love for them and have fully embraced the lies about God that Satan has leveled against Him all throughout history.
The only way that Jesus could bear our sins to the cross was by relying on the joy that fueled His heart and kept Him looking forward to the time we would finally realize what He was trying to show us about God all along.
But what about justice?
Didn't Jesus care about things being dealt with properly like we obsess about so much?
How can it be right that so much injustice, unfairness, abuse and sin seems to go unpunished? We recoil with rage when we see innocent people, especially children and women being victimized and helplessly suffering at the hands of those who exploit them just for sadistic pleasure. How can we be attracted to a God who seems so impotent in the face of so much pain and suffering and unfairness? How can He claim to be a God of justice and yet allow all of this mess to continue? And how does the death of His own Son make any difference in all of this?
I reject the typical explanation of Jesus taking on our punishment vicariously as a legal act of substitution with the implications that assumption creates about a vengeful God. I reject it because it reinforces the distortions of God that the enemy wants us to believe about Him that obscures His true nature. But even more it also tends to excuse the injustice that we perpetuate within our own so-called 'justice systems' that sooner or later become so corrupt that they themselves exploit the innocent for the benefit of the powerful and elite. After all, it was an earthly 'justice' system that condemned Jesus to death. So how can the injustices committed against Jesus somehow offset the injustices we experience? That is illogical and even absurd thinking which is exactly how the devil wants us to view the cross.
The only resolution for me in all of this is to step back and look at all this from a much larger view. It is only by seeing everything in the larger context of the war between God and Satan that any of this begins to make sense and fit together properly. When I find explanations for these things that are based on the premise of God being accused and being put on trial over His own motives and character, then the actions of Jesus suddenly snap into much clearer perspective. Rather than sin and salvation revolving around us primarily and everything seeming to hinge on our perfection; when I view all of this from the perspective of what everyone thinks about God and how they choose to relate to Him in His trial, then the sufferings of Jesus take on a completely different dimension.
The example that Jesus gave for me to follow is brought into sharp focus in the observation of Peter who watched it all transpire first hand. While Jesus absorbed all the shame, pain and torture that humanity and demons could invent to induce Him to retaliate or get even, Jesus responded to the greatest acts of injustice this universe has ever witnessed by placing his hopes in God, the righteous Judge. I find these words both compelling and exposing of our misconceptions about what took place at the cross.
Rather than turning toward desire for revenge like we automatically do whenever we experience or witness injustice and unfairness, Jesus demonstrated the correct way to respond. He chose to put all desires for vindication in the hands of His Father, implicitly trusting in the fairness of God even though everything around Him screamed that God was not acting fairly by failing to intervene on behalf of the innocent. By allowing all the animosity of every human being from Adam and Eve to the very last sinner who will ever live on this planet to be experienced inside the heart of Jesus while He hung on the cross, God allowed Jesus to somehow feel all of that. As a result, all of that hatred and sin at last crushed out the life of the Son of God Himself without ever eliciting the slightest reaction of resentment or anger even in His thoughts.
This is the greatest testimony every produced about the real truth about God's wrath that is still largely misunderstood and misrepresented even today. Far from enforcing the lie that God was so angry that He had to extract blood from His Son in revenge for our sins, Jesus' death actually proved that God cannot be abused enough to act that way toward anyone – ever! And because God never changes, He is not going to resort to using retaliation and revenge on the final day of Judgment any more than He did when His Son died to reveal the truth about Him on the cross.
I am coming to see more clearly that to 'bear' our sins actually means to absorb all of our animosity, hatred and cruelty without resistance. Sin always produces these hostile attitudes in hearts that misunderstand what God is really like. But far from responding in kind to those who abuse Him, God only responds with kindness, patience, love, compassion, and forgiveness to all of our insults, false accusations and attacks. And in the end, it is only the kindness of God that really leads anyone to true repentance as they come to believe in the real truth about God. (Romans 2:4)
This must be what it means to bear our sins. And this is what is likely involved in the role of priestly ministry as we follow the example of our High Priest. And this is what we need joy for to accomplish.
Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him. (Isaiah 30:18)