Jesus often used parables (stories/illustrations) to make important points. In this month’s newsletter, we have three illustrations that I believe clearly and poignantly address critical issues concerning contemporary views on the atonement, the gospel, and the person of Christ.
The Atonement—Example or Essential…A man and his wife were walking on the shore of a beautiful ocean one evening. With their hands tightly clasped and the moonlight gleaming on their brows, a sudden and overwhelming sense of romanticism floods the husband. Desiring to manifest his love for his wife, he stops in his tracks, turns to his side and looks her square in the eyes. He shouts out to the top of his lungs, “I want to show you my love in the most special way I know how! I’m going to express my love by giving my life for you!” No sooner than he had uttered that last syllable, he let go of her hand, ran into the ocean, swam as far as he could and as long as he could until finally his strength failed, dreadfully succumbing to the currents and drowning in the depths of the deep. Do you think his wife, or anyone who may have witnessed the event from afar, would stand back in amazement with the thought, “Oh how he loved her!” Or do you think their jaws would drop in wonderment at the stupidity of what they had just seen and the sadness of such a needless waste…Imagine another scene. A man is walking on the seashore by himself. He is at total peace and lacking nothing in any area when suddenly he gazes off in the distance and notices a disturbing sight. At what seems to be both a millisecond and an eternity, the realization comes to him that his wife somehow went swimming in the ocean and is now in danger of drowning. She is far away from the shore, the current is strong that she’s facing, the husband knows there is no way she can even hope to make it to safety on her own. With total disregard for his own wellbeing, he hurls himself into the ocean, goes against the overwhelming tide, reaches the one he loves, carries her to safety, and loses his life in the process. Now, do you think this man’s wife and other witnesses who may have seen what happened could in anyway doubt the love in the man’s heart?!…Atonement is a theologically rich term basically meaning the price that Jesus paid for our sins on the cross to restore our relationship with God. The way some present the atonement (the work of the cross) gives the impression that Christ gave up His life to simply show us what love is like. If we follow in His example of love, then we will experience great blessings, feel good about ourselves, and somehow earn brownie points in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Is Jesus’ life worth emulating? Absolutely! However, if all we needed for salvation was an example, then He died needlessly. If all that was necessary to correct our sinful wanderings was for someone to show us the way (instead of someone to “be the way”—see John 14:6), Christ could have just taught us with words and deeds and stopped short of the cross. If Jesus’ death was merely for the purpose of example, then He threw His life away into the ocean for a bride who was safe on the shore!…On the other hand, if we needed more than an example, if we were hopelessly separated from God because of our sin, if there is a Righteous Almighty Judge who will hold us to account for our transgressions and if a penalty has to be paid that we are unable to meet, then His substitutionary death on the cross to atone for our sins though He himself had never committed any error in thought, word, or deed, is truly the greatest love ever put on display! (Rom. 5:8; 2 Cor. 5:21) He died for a bride that was drowning, not one who was safe on shore. The atonement is essential, not just example!
The Gospel—Life-Enhancing or Life-Saving…A man was waiting at the gate of an airport for his plane to begin boarding. The announcement finally came over the intercom that his seat number could enter the aircraft. He walks down the runway and is met by an attendant who hands him a parachute. He had never received such an item when he got on a plane before so he asked why it was being distributed to him today. The attendant got a huge smile on his face as he begin answering the question in a well rehearsed and pleasant tone. The man was told that the parachute he had just received was the most fashionable accessory in aeronautics today. This parachute would be the envy of everyone else on board the plane. Indeed, the parachute would be the key to being the most successful passenger on board. Those with the parachute would feel better about themselves, their trip would truly be wrought with friendly skies, and the parachute would make the ride more comfortable than any he had ever experienced before. Though the man had never had such an item offered him on any previous flight, he was intrigued by the promises made. He wanted the best, most comfortable, most fashionable, most successful ride possible, so he gladly took the parachute. His proud, hopeful, gleeful smile soon began to fade however when he sat in his seat and noticed that the parachute made the ride less comfortable, not more. His fellow passengers who were supposed to be envious of his parachute and marvel at his wisdom for having it were actually snickering behind his back and pointing fingers at the ignorance of the man wearing the cumbersome, ugly, unnecessary accessory on a perfectly fine plane. The promises of the attendant proved to be untrue, the blue skies quickly turned to gray. The man took off the parachute and held it in contempt, glad to be free of the discomfort and ridicule and feeling better for freeing himself of the naivety he had when he believed the bill of goods the attendant was selling him…Imagine another scene. A man is sitting at the terminal waiting for his plane to board. When his seat number is called he walks down the runway and meets an attendant who hands him a parachute before he enters the aircraft. The man had never had such an item given him before any of his previous flights, so he asked the steward why he was receiving a parachute this time. The attendant looked at him with a serious face and a slightly stern tone and told the man that at some point during the flight, he didn’t know when, in fact no one knew when, but at some time the systems of the plane would fail. There was going to be a great crash; it wasn’t a question of if, just a question of when. The passenger quickly put on his parachute and boarded the plane. The parachute was uncomfortable, those without parachutes (which were many in number), ridiculed him for wearing it. No matter, the man wasn’t about to take it off. His flight might not be enhanced, but his life would be saved…Does becoming a believer in Jesus make your life in this world better? Yes, I believe so. Jesus came to bring us life abundantly, literally life to the full (John 10:10). But that abundant life does not always equal success in terms of the American Dream, or a life free of cares and worries, or the absence of heartache, sorrow and pain, or perpetual clear skies void of pesky storm clouds. The Bible teaches that humanity is sinful to the core, unrighteous to the max, and totally without hope in their standing before God even when they are “at their very best.” (see Isaiah 64:6; Rom. 3:10) The gospel is not a parachute that will always make you popular, successful, or trouble free and anyone who tells you that it will doesn’t truly understand it and is selling you a bill of goods that neither Christ nor His Word promise. If our hope is for this life alone, then we are of all men most miserable (1 Cor. 15:19). Truly, the gospel is the only parachute that will save you when the plane goes down…and it will go down!
Jesus—Life Coach or Lord…A businessman had reached a plateau in his enterprises. He tried everything that he knew to grow his business, but he couldn’t seem to get to the next level. Believing that nothing is more painful for a company than stagnation, he decided to seek help from an outside source. Not knowing exactly where to go for assistance, he asked some of his successful friends if they could recommend someone. The name of one certain person, a life coach they called him, kept coming up in conversation, so the businessman determined to go to this individual for help. The life coach didn’t have experience in the man’s particular arena, but did have some principles that he assured would help any enterprise prosper. The businessman found much value in the life coach’s advice. Many of the coach’s suggestions could be directly applied to the man’s company, others needed to be tweaked slightly to make them relevant. Still, there were some pieces of advice offered by the life coach that the businessman didn’t agree with, or didn’t deem important, that he decided to totally disregard. The man’s company went to the next level of success and he was surely grateful for the help of the life coach his friends had recommended. However, there was a part of him that, at the end of the process, felt that he had outgrown the knowledge of his life coach. When his company reached the next plateau, he would seek out a new, more advanced advisor…Imagine another scene. A businessman hits rock bottom in his company. He has tried to work out deals with creditors, but to no avail. He has attempted to get business loans from every bank imaginable, but still with no positive results. He’s at his wit’s end and doesn’t know what to do. Doom and failure are imminently unavoidable. One day, an old friend tells the man about a rich man that not only can help, but that will help anyone who calls on him. Doubting but desperate, the businessman calls the number of the rich man recommended by his friend. Indeed, it was true, it was truer than true. The wealthy benefactor graciously declared that he would pay off all the debts the man had incurred. However, because the entrepreneur had proven he had no hope of ever running a successful business in his own abilities, the rich man, in addition to paying off the debts, would also take over ownership of the company. The rich man would make the decisions with regard to the company’s future and would have the final say on all matters. The failed entrepreneur accepts the offer of the wealthy benefactor. Far from being disappointed, the man revels in knowing his debts have been paid by another and that he will never be in bondage again. …Is Jesus, the very Word of God, the only true source of eternal wisdom? Absolutely! Does Jesus through His Word give us great insight on how to live a better life, be a better parent, be a better friend, run a better business, and all the other “betters” one could think of? For sure! However, Christ’s most central message is that all are sinners who need saving (no matter how “better” they may be than others) and that He is the only Savior! Without repentance from sin and faith in Christ, there is no eternal “better”, only eternal “bad.” Jesus has no interest in being anyone’s life coach, you can go to Tony Robbins or Dr. Phil for that. A life coach, no matter how good, can at best be instructive, not authoritative. Jesus does not want an advisory role, He wants ownership of our lives, both here and now and in the hereafter!