Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Building Blocks of Faith

December 26, 2010
“To As Many as Believed”

The Building Blocks of Faith


So how important are some of the building blocks … some of the specifics of what we believe about Jesus Christ?

For instance, just how important is this Virgin Birth thing? And if it is important, why is it important?

The problem with our age, according to a recent Barna poll of Christian believers across the US is that we have stopped thinking theologically … probably an outgrowth of the fact that some decades ago we stopped reading … biblically !! Our understanding of the import of individual pieces of doctrine and how it fits together systematically to make the whole of what we call “belief” is, for much of the country, at an all time low.

Now I wouldn’t say that this is true of us at REZ generally, but I am certain that we cannot swim in the water of our culture without being effected by its pollutants !! And I know that we approach our faith in America kind of like a HOBBY! I’ve heard it said that in America “we Worship our work, we Work at our play and we Play at our worship!” And if we do indeed play at our worship then we probably approach belief much like this game of JENGA. Certainly our culture does.

The point of the game is to sit with an opponent and try to remove as much of the foundational structure of the tower until it topples over. Whoever removes the last piece before it topples, loses!! Its fun!

The question before us is 1: What pieces of our faith are foundational? And 2: What happens to us if we do not hold to them or really understand that they are foundational?

The writer to the Hebrews urges his readers to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” (10:23) But we have a tendency to easily set aside tenets within the structure of our hope, without thinking about them too much. And pretty soon we are experiencing a crisis of faith – the toppling effect of removing pieces of the foundation.

So how about this Virgin Birth thing? How important is it and why?

Our gospel reading begins with the classic words of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Most of us accept that Jesus is somehow divine and human together – that is the doctrine of the incarnation and it is central to our understanding of Jesus and is foundational to our understanding of who He was, and is and what He did among us.

Larry King, of CNN fame, was once asked if he could interview anyone from the history of the world, who would he interview. His answer was Jesus Christ. When asked what his interview would consist of he said he would ask one question: “Were you really virgin born?” Because if the answer is Yes, it “explains history for me.”

How important is this little piece of our foundation?

Is the Virgin Birth of Jesus something we can negotiate with? And what real evidence do we have to support our belief in it?

IS IT NEGOTIABLE?

Well, NO, not if you want to have the “faith once delivered to the saints.” (Jude)

If we remove the Virgin Birth of Jesus, we subsequently and necessarily must remove Miracles and Divinity from the equation, as the Virgin Birth speaks to his origins… to the mechanics of his arrival among us … as simply a man or … as a God/Man.

The choices are two: Either Jesus was the illegitimate son of a carpenter and his teen bride (as many in his village likely believed) OR he was the supernatural gift of God through a chosen virgin, as prophecy predicts and as the story recounts in Scripture.

The choice then made sets one on a path of belief or unbelief, based on the assumptions that form this one building block of faith and hope.

The Virgin Birth points at least to a world that is unbound by sheer naturalism. Ravi Zacharias makes this point in his book, “Jesus Among Other Gods”. (p. 38) He points out that such a claim, especially in the time and culture in which it was advanced, would have been subject to scorn and ridicule at the very least – stoning and death at the worst. For a young, betrothed bride to turn up pregnant at the wedding was a scandal of the first order – and for her to be accepted in that condition by the new husband was evidence, in and of itself, that something else – something extraordinary was happening.

But what proofs can be offered except the recounting of dreams or visions by Mary herself or by Joseph her husband, both of whom have the most to lose if this was a fabrication – a lie.
Interestingly the other characters in the story also play an important role as does an understanding of the culture. Zacharias goes on,

“Mary, Joseph, Zacharias, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, and then the disciples risked everything for this truth.”

He explains that the culture was one of “power and position,” and for them to set their son up for his humiliation toward a cousin younger than himself and to maintain that position of “second fiddle” even up to their son’s death at the hands of Herod’s daughter and the guards who brought her his head, was cultural suicide. It was a path toward ostracism and living as outcasts in their own home towns!

And for Mary and Joseph, the claim of a supernatural pregnancy, while they were engaged, would have been laughed at and they would have been ostracized in the harshest ways by those in closest relationships with them. Instead the opposite appears to be the case, as Joseph took Mary in, though pregnant without disgracing her publically, as did Elizabeth, her cousin, during the final trimester of her pregnancy, when the outward evidence of her pregnancy was irrefutable. All these point to the veracity of what they believed about the pregnancy – that they believed what Mary had said about God’s hand in all this.

Do you believe it?

Do you believe what we say each Sunday:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

If you believe it what does this mean?

As Larry King said, “it explains all of history!” It means that Jesus is who he said he was, the very Son of God – God With Us, Emmanuel. The Virgin Birth is set as a diamond in the setting of hundreds of prophecies regarding this coming of Messiah. Matthew spends inordinate amounts of ink on making those connections, and that is why you have Joseph’s genealogy and the Joseph dream story up front in Matthew. Those two stories are the ring setting for the story Luke tells us of the details of the birth, the testimony of Mary (which has little real credibility apart from Joseph’s acceptance of her), and the theological ramifications of such a birth.

Valerie is working today, but she related to me her astonishment this past week at a discovery she made at her work. She works with two muslim women, who celebrate Christmas. Seems like a contradiction, right? But no! It seems that one other religion in the world holds to Jesus’ Virgin Birth: Islam!!

In the Koran (Surah 19:19ff) Jesus, it asserts, was “born of a virgin.” Yet Islam denies the divinity of Jesus, maintaining that he was the last great prophet, before Mohammed. The Koran was written 600 years after Jesus birth, yet affirms this birth story as true, but does not make the connection to Jesus origin then, in God. Just as for many in our modern culture, the connection between the virgin birth and divinity of Jesus is lost. But it is one of the features of this story that is unique among world religions: Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, all born of natural means and died natural deaths.

Jesus stands alone here, and is the unique witness of God’s power and love for humankind the ssssssssssworld over. From the beginning, “communion and the power to give life existed in God himself. God, who is Father, Son and Spirit is in fact, Being-in-relationship. In Christ, the Word became flesh. God created flesh in the act of the creation of man and woman but God was not bound by our requirements of consummation in begetting His One and Only, Unique Son, through whom He was “reconciling the world to himelf.”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

You see, to be born of God, we must follow the way of Jesus, the Virgin Born One, who was born, "not of blood, or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God." It is thus, just as Jesus was, that we are given the power and right to become children of God.

So let us hold fast the hope that we profess and believe and receive Him, once again,
In the stable that is our heart, as he is born in us this day.

Amen.

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