Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Day 2: I'm Dreaming of a Large Christmas

On this second day of "The 12 Days of Liberty," we're going to look at one of the most misunderstood aspects of Christmas and Liberty: the meaning of the word "salvation."

When the angel announced the meaning of Christmas to Joseph, the angel said Jesus would save us from something. From what?

Most people give the answer: "From hell."

But this is what the angel said

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins
(Matthew 1:21)

This is actually a very different concept than being saved "from hell."

Imagine a man who needs to be saved from his sins. At one time he was viewed as a success by all who knew him. After college, he earned an MBA and got on the executive fast-track at a Fortune 500 company. He has a nice home, a Lexus and a Hummer. But recently he has developed a compulsion to shoplift. He also can’t control his desire to visit prostitutes. Because of his arrests for shoplifting and prostitution, he has recently lost his job. As a result of the widespread publicity of his compulsions and arrests, he is rapidly losing the respect of his friends, neighbors, and now even his family. His wife is ready to leave him. His children are embarrassed by him, and they have begun “acting out” in school, with grades plummeting and frequent suspensions for discipline problems. He is watching his entire life crumble in front of him. But he can’t stop the shoplifting and the prostitutes. He says “Wal-Mart is a huge multi-billion dollar corporation; what’s a few hundred dollars worth of junk from China?” He also says, “A man has natural desires, and my wife doesn’t respect me anymore.” But in spite of this talk, he’s miserable, and kicks himself whenever he shoplifts, even when he “gets away with it.”

The evangelist on TV tells him that if he accepts Jesus into his heart, he can be saved from hell, and when he dies he will go straight to heaven. “Yeah,” he says to himself, “after living the next 40 years in hell.”

He doesn’t just want to be saved from hell, he wants to be saved from his sins.

How many families experience “hell on earth” because of the drunkenness, infidelity, domestic abuse, and financial anguish caused by “addictions” to drugs, sex, shopping, gambling, and power, while their church pastor drones on about “salvation” and going to heaven?

Must this misery continue till we die?
Why keep on living? Let’s all go to heaven NOW!!

This is wrong. There is an answer to earthly misery. Christmas is the answer.

A previous generation knew these “addictions” were sinful and their painful consequences wrong. Today’s relativist generation is not even sure Adolph Hitler was wrong (“He was acting according to his own standards”), but previous generations knew these things were wrong, and a measure of consolation could be obtained by trusting in God to bring repentance in the life of the adulterer, abuser, or alcoholic, even if repentance never came. Moral standards give hope. But today we have lost touch with God’s standard of holiness, and “dysfunctional” behavior is assumed to be normal, and is sometimes protected by law as an “alternative life style.” Many people today live their entire lives engulfed in a sense of meaninglessness and moral confusion. This weakened state leaves them vulnerable prey for the politically powerful.

The Bible promises more than “heaven.” In fact the Bible says very little about heaven, and far more about being “saved from our sins” in this life. These promises are summed up in the term “sanctification.”

Webster (1828 edition) defined “salvation” as, “The redemption of man from the bondage of sin and liability to eternal death, and the conferring on him everlasting happiness.”

The vast majority of verses in the Bible which talk about "salvation" are talking about a libertarian society, in which people are free from their addictions to sin, and as a result, free from the initiation of force by others -- especially "the government."

When the Angel announced that the Christ (the word means "Messiah") who was to be born on the first Christmas would save us from our sins, and be named JESUS, the angel was being redundant. “Jesus” means “God will save.” The name comes from the Hebrew word yasha. John E. Hartley, in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament Vol 1, pp. 414-15, says this about “yasha,”

Yasha and its derivatives are used 353 times. The root meaning . . . is “make wide” or make sufficient: this root is in contrast to sarar, “narrow,” which means “be restricted” or “cause distress.” To move from distress to safety requires deliverance. [T]he majority of references to salvation speak of Yahweh granting deliverance from real enemies and out of real catastrophes. That which is wide connotes freedom from distress and the ability to pursue one’s own objectives. Thus salvation is not merely a momentary victory on the battlefield; it is also the safety and security necessary to maintain life unafraid of numerous dangers.

We will be studying this definition during "The 12 Days of Liberty." It is most important to get a truly Biblical definition of “salvation” -- and its connection with Liberty -- into our heads.

Let’s begin with the idea that the Hebrew word for “salvation” means “make wide” or “large.” There are many verses that say this, and yet most Christians are completely unaware of the idea that a fundamental meaning of “salvation” means “being put into a wide open space.”

But let’s not take Prof. Hartley’s word for it. Let’s be like the Bereans, who studied the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). You may want to look at some of these passages in their context in your own Bible.

(Psalm 118:5) I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place.

(2 Samuel 22:20) He brought me forth also into a large place: He delivered me, because He delighted in me.

(Genesis 26:22) He moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he called it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

(Hosea 4:16) For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: can now the Lord feed them as a lamb in a large place?

(Psalm 31:8) and hast not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; Thou hast set my feet in a broad place.

(Psalm 18:19) He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.

(Psalm 66:12) Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.

(Psalm 69:35) For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession.

In the Bible, people who truly understand the meaning of Christmas are shown to be concerned about living in a “large” land. Of course, in a more agrarian society, “large” is better, as far as land goes. But when God promises to save us by putting us into a “large land,” it’s clear that more is included than going to heaven after living for decades in a narrow land before we up and die. What is the modern equivalent of a “large land?” It varies from person to person, but it includes some form of economic and political prosperity. “Liberty” and “large” are Biblical concepts we are not familiar enough with. Let’s review them and put them in our brains, so that as we read the Bible we will be more aware of them.

Exodus 3:8 So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.

Leviticus 25:10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family.

Judges 18:10 When you go, you will come to a secure people and a large land. For God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is on the earth.”

1 Chronicles 4:40 And they found rich, good pasture, and the land was broad, quiet, and peaceful; for some Hamites formerly lived there.

Nehemiah 7:4 Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few, and the houses were not rebuilt.

Nehemiah 9:35 For they have not served You in their kingdom, Or in the many good things that You gave them, Or in the large and rich land which You set before them; Nor did they turn from their wicked works.

Psalm 119:45 And I will walk at liberty, For I seek Your precepts.

Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

Jeremiah 34:8 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem to proclaim liberty to them:

Jeremiah 34:15-17 Then you recently turned and did what was right in My sight—every man proclaiming liberty to his neighbor; and you made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name. 16 Then you turned around and profaned My name, and every one of you brought back his male and female slaves, whom you had set at liberty, at their pleasure, and brought them back into subjection, to be your male and female slaves.’
17 “Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and every one to his neighbor. Behold, I proclaim liberty to you,’ says the LORD—’to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine! And I will deliver you to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

James 1:25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

James 2:12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.

For a people to enjoy liberty in a "large place," they must have been "saved from their sins." America's Founding Fathers understood this. In one of the most important addresses in the history of America, George Washington reminded the nation:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of man and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity.

It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government.

In a very important sense, we no longer have to dream of a "large Christmas," a Christmas of liberty. Throughout the Christmas story, a decidedly un-libertarian government looms large, crushing the weak with an iron hand, compelling Joseph and the pregnant Mary to hike to Bethlehem from their home town for the imperial census (Luke 2:1-7;), and killing all the babies (Matthew 2:16-18) in an attempt to kill a rival king (Matthew 2:3). The corruption and violence of a government that claimed to be divine would shock us if we could visit that age. We have become accustomed to living under a government that at least professes the ideal of "Liberty Under God."

Adherents of the religion of Secular Humanism want us to believe that everything good about America came from the minds of the Caesars and their court philosophers. But Greece and Rome gave us little -- except bad examples. These ancient empires were dominated by irrationalism and occultism. Karl Popper devoted the first volume of The Open Society and Its Enemies to an analysis of Plato as a mystic and a totalitarian. As many as a third of the residents of Athens were slaves. Most of the rest, while legally "free," knew nothing of liberty as we know it. War was a way of life.

John Lofton has compiled some telling quotations from scholars in a previous -- more Christian -- century. What follows is from his essay:

And make no mistake about it. Regardless of what you’ve heard regarding the alleged greatness of the ancient, Greco-Roman, pre-Christian world, there was no real, true freedom and/or liberty during this era. None. In his book The Ancient City: A Study On The Religion, Laws And Institutions Of Greece And Rome (1889), Fustel de Coulanges spells out in detail the darkness of this Christless world:

The citizen was subordinate in everything, and without any reserve, to the city; he belonged to it body and soul. The [pagan] religion which produced the State, and the State which supported [this] religion, sustained each other; these two powers formed a power almost superhuman, to which the body and soul were equally enslaved. There was nothing independent in man; his body belonged to the State and was devoted to its defense.

For example, Aristotle and Plato incorporated into their ideal codes the command that a deformed baby son was to be put to death. And in his “Laws,” Plato says (and this sounds very familiar today): “Parents ought not to be free to send or not to send their children to the masters to whom the city has chosen [for their education]; for the children belong less to their parents than to the city.” And in ancient Athens, a man could be put on trial and convicted for something called “incivism,” that is being insufficiently affectionate toward the State! Coulanges says (emphasis mine):

The ancients, therefore, knew neither liberty in private life, liberty in education, nor religious liberty. The human person counted for very little against that holy and almost divine authority called the country or the State…. It is a singular error, among all human errors, to believe that in the ancient cities men enjoyed liberty. They had not even the idea of it.

Commenting on our Lord’s God/Caesar distinction, Coulanges says:

It is the first time that God and the state are so clearly distinguished. For Caesar at that period was still the pontifex maximus, the chief and the principal organ of the Roman religion; he was the guardian and the interpreter of beliefs. He held the worship and the dogmas in his hands. Even his person was sacred and divine, for it was a peculiarity of the policy of the emperors that, wishing to recover the attributes of ancient royalty, they were careful not to forget the divine character which antiquity had attached to the king-pontiffs and to the priest-founders. But now Christ breaks the alliance which paganism and the empire wished to renew. He proclaims that religion is no longer the State, and that to obey Caesar is no longer the same thing as to obey God.

Christianity … separates what all antiquity had confounded…. It was the source whence individual liberty flowed…. The first duty no longer consisted in giving one’s time, one’s strength, one’s life to the State … all the virtues were no longer comprised in patriotism, for the soul no longer had a country. Man felt that he had other obligations besides that of living and dying for the city. Christianity … placed God, the family, the human individual above country, the neighbor above the city.

Because of this hideous tyranny, it is no surprise that self-murder (suicide) was so rampant in the ancient world. As Dr. Gerhard Uhlhorn tells us in his The Conflict Of Christianity With Heathenism (1899):

Heathenism ended in barrenness and sheer despair, and at last the only comfort was that men are free to leave this miserable world by suicide. Patet exitus! The way out of this life stands open! That is the last consolation of expiring heathenism.

And he quotes Seneca, who said that “the aim of all philosophy is to despise life,” as saying, concerning the suicide option:

Seest thou yon steep height? Thence is the descent to freedom. Seest thou yon sea, yon river, yon well? Freedom sits there in the depths. Seest thou yon low, withered tree? There freedom hangs. Seest thou thy neck, thy throat, thy heart? They are ways of escape from bondage.

To which Dr. Uhihorn adds:

Can the bankruptcy of Heathenism be more plainly declared than in these words…? With what power then must have come the preaching of this word: "Christ is risen! The wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

And in a little noticed and seldom quoted passage from Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville says:

The most profound and capacious minds of Rome and Greece ... tried to prove that slavery was in the order of nature and that it would always exist. Nay, more, everything shows that those of the ancients who had been slaves before they became free, many of whom have left us excellent writings, themselves regarded servitude in no other light.

All the great writers of antiquity belonged to the aristocracy of masters, or at least they saw that aristocracy established and expanded before their eyes. Their mind, after it had expanded itself in several directions, was barred from further progress in this one; and the advent of Jesus Christ upon earth was required to teach that all members of the human race are by nature equal and alike.

The historian Arnold Toynbee saw, accurately, the great failing of the ancient Greeks, that they “saw in Man, ‘the Lord of Creation,’ and worshipped him as an idol instead of God.” And this rejection of the true God —- which similarly threatens modern Western civilization —- led to Hellenism’s breakdown and disintegration. Rejecting Gibbon, Toynbee says neither Christians nor barbarians destroyed the Roman Empire; they merely walked over a corpse.

And in his book Religious Origins of the American Revolution (Scholars Press, 1976), Page Smith points out:

The American Revolution might thus be said to have started, in a sense, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg. It received a substantial part its theological and philosophical underpinnings from John Calvin’s Institutes Of The Christian Religion and much of its social history from the Puritan Revolution of 1640- 1660, and, perhaps, less obviously, from the Glorious Revolution of 1689.

Put another way, the American Revolution is inconceivable in the absence of that context of ideas which have constituted radical Christianity. The leaders of the Revolution in every colony were imbued with the precepts of the Reformed faith.

Indeed, he adds, in early America, the Reformation

left its mark on every aspect of the personal and social life of the faithful. In the family, in education, in business activity, in work, in community and, ultimately, in politics, the consequences of the Reformation were determinative for American history.

As remote or repugnant as Puritanism may be to some, Smith says “it is essential that we understand that the Reformation in its full power was one of the great emancipations of history.” He says the passage in the book of Micah about “every man…under his vine and under his fig tree” was “the most potent expression of the colonist’s determination to be independent whatever the cost,…having substantial control over his own affairs. No theme was more constantly reiterated by writers and speakers in the era of the Revolution.”

* * *

Tomorrow we'll begin looking at this idea of salvation-as-liberty in the prophecy of John the Baptist's father Zacharias.

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