Drink But Don’t Get Drunk?

Is drinking alcohol a sin?

For the Christian, drunkenness is a sin and not to be pursued in any way. Period. It’s not expected of a man or woman to be under the influence of alcohol and be without self-control. Both the Old and New Testament are crystal clear on the subject matter so the problem isn’t so much as to whether drunkenness is acceptable or not; the issue really is whether or not it’s permissible for Christians to drink in moderation. Is it okay to drink but not get drunk? Well, let’s get on with it.

Nowhere in scripture are we told that drinking alcohol is sinful. However, there’s a lot of admonition on how we handle alcoholic beverages. King Solomon described wine as a “mocker” and a “brawler” because of the havoc it wreaked on people’s marriages, families, friendships etc. He was right. Alcohol is very addictive and can have disastrous effects on us. It has the potential to impair one’s judgment often leading to unrestrained behaviours. Already, it’s a struggle to keep ourselves in check even under perfectly sane conditions. MORE GRACE! *looking up to God*. Throwing alcohol into the mix, to me, is like trying to quench fire with petrol. Many people have suffered serious health problems, relationship troubles and premature deaths due to excessive drinking. In US alone, nearly 88,000 people die every year from alcohol-related incidents (check link). Don’t get me wrong. Alcohol isn’t inherently bad. As a matter of fact, God told the people of Israel that they could exchange their tithes with money and use it to buy whatever they liked INCLUDING wine or other fermented drink (see Deuteronomy 14). The Psalmist said that God brings forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man. As I said earlier, drinking isn’t sin but how we handle it determines whether it’s going to be beneficial or harmful to us.

It’s always been my fear that one may cross the line and do something regrettable in their attempt to drink in moderation. I feel like it’s the same story with the many alcoholics out there. They probably intended to drink only soberly but unfortunately became mastered by their booze. It’s one of the many reasons I for one prefer to stay away from alcohol because it’s very addictive plus I can’t really trust myself on staying within limits. But it’s not just about you or me. It’s not so much about knowing our alcohol intake limits. We need to be very mindful of how our actions affect the people around us. Jesus was really strict with the warning against causing others to sin. He said, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come BUT WOE TO THE PERSON THROUGH WHOM THEY COME!” It means you’re not only responsible for your actions but also how your actions affect and influence others. Apostle Paul also addressed this same issue of causing others to stumble in most of the letters he wrote. In Romans 14, Paul spoke against eating or drinking or doing anything lawful in a manner that might cause another person to stumble. Oh yes! It’s very possible to do lawful things unlawfully. Eating meat was offensive to the new converts then even though meat in itself wasn’t sinful (they perceived meat as something sacrificed to idols). According to Paul, it was wise for the strong Christians to abstain altogether from eating meat if it was going to hurt someone’s conscience and by extension cause that individual to sin. Paul expected the believers who are strong in faith to apply this same wisdom in their dealing with alcohol. It makes a lot of sense considering the fact that we’re examining the lives of people who prior to salvation performed religious acts of worship to gods in a drunken state. It means most of them were probably drunkards and you sure didn’t want to in anyway reintroduce them to what once a heavyweight in their lives. There’s absolutely no greater love than this: that we do nothing to offend or weaken our neighbor’s faith no matter how permissible or lawful that thing in question may be.

It appears to me that there’s a lot of controversy over the subject of Jesus turning water into wine in the New Testament (see John 2). First of all, if you’re wondering whether Jesus drank wine or not, He probably did. In Luke 7, Christ Himself said He came eating and drinking and the religious leaders tried to launch sham attacks at him by calling him a glutton and a drunkard. In addition to that, wine was used during the Last Supper prior to Christ’s crucifixion. In all these occasions, you can say Jesus probably took in some wine. Ok, so you want to use those instances to excuse your drunkenness? Don’t get it twisted! Nothing about what transpired in any of those instances should endorse anyone to indulge in alcoholism. Wine in those times was quite indispensable in their culture. It was often served alongside meals at home and at ceremonial functions. It had a lesser alcoholic content as compared to what we have in modern times (the process of distillation we use today increases the alcohol content). And what amazes me is the fact that there was the strong urge to drink soberly in an era where drunkenness was a hard feat to achieve. Bruh! you had to chug down lots of wine before you could become intoxicated…an unfortunately easy achievable feat in our time. Anyway, it was pretty hard to do away with wine considering the fact that it was the best healthy liquid alternative they had in a community with little or no safe drinking water. Furthermore, wine had its healthful benefits in the past (as it does in modern times too). Do you remember when Paul instructed Timothy to no longer drink water but use a little wine for the sake of his stomach? Exactly! Paul wasn’t trying to contradict the bible’s warning against intoxication. He urged Timothy to use wine to treat the ailment in his stomach. The fact that Jesus made more wine available at a wedding feast or Timothy drank a little wine for the sake of his stomach doesn’t mean it’s license for anyone to be hooked on to alcoholic beverages. Bible frowns on drunkenness that leads to dissipation – uncontrolled speech and actions – and anyone involved in such illicit acts (according to scripture) would have no place in heaven.

In my opinion, I wish everyone would go with abstinence. It isn’t because abstaining from drinking wine will draw one closer to God. No. Your abstention or involvement in moderate drinking will not make you less/more righteous before God. I just feel abstinence is a better choice looking at the rate at which drunk driving, homicide, sexual assault, violence and other alcohol-related incidents occur. It may not be you or I engaging in these dangerous activities but is it really worth it to lead someone else astray just so we can enjoy some few glasses of wine? We shouldn’t shrug our shoulders and whisper ‘well that’s their problem’ under our breath. If we’re really concerned about the well-being of others, it shouldn’t be a big deal to relinquish our right to do certain things. Not to spite you dear reader, but it’s not like anyone became deficient in vitamins or mineral salts because they did away with alcohol. All I’m saying is we shouldn’t be too keen on wanting to exercise our freedom to either satisfy our personal convictions or prove that we are at liberty to do lawful things. Paul gave up his rights to do so many things just so he could bring salvation to many. I believe it was very tough for him but he rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the propagation of the Good News of Christ. No matter what, love must always lead.

When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus said that the first was to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. And that we ought to love our neighbours as ourselves. It’s my sincere prayer that whatever choice(s) we make with respect to drinking wine brings peace and mutual edification to the glory of God. May God grace us with the needed wisdom so that the exercise of our freedom doesn’t hinder the gospel of Christ. Let’s do what we do for the sake of the gospel, so that many may share in its blessings.

Jesus is God (#BustingBiblicalMyths)

photo credit: http://www.lightstock.com

First of all let me state this, Jesus never said anywhere in the gospels that he is God. He didn’t. He didn’t have to. Actions they say speak louder than words. The people who often claim that the deity of Jesus is a doctrine Christians later on conferred on Him are of the view that His deity cannot be proven from his own words. They love to call it the ‘red letters of the gospel’: the recorded speeches of Christ in red ink found in the gospels. But is this true? The veracity of the deity of Jesus Christ is the very foundation of Christianity, that is why we even decided to talk about it in this series. Its significance cannot be paralleled by any other reality about Jesus. We will find out shortly whether or not Jesus is God.

The deity of Jesus Christ is a controversial topic especially in inter-religious debates. Mostly because he didn’t state it categorically that he is God but he implied it in so many ways that one cannot help but accept that fact in all honesty. It is even pathetic when some Christians doubt it too. Obviously the reality is a bit absurd. God, became flesh and dwelt amongst men? Well, yes. In Christian doctrine, Jesus is said to be fully man and fully God. Hence people assume that this reality is evident in two of the names used to refer to him in the gospels: Son of man and Son of God. This may appear to be the logical implication of both names, but it isn’t. Anytime Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God, the Jews and Pharisees almost stoned him, because he was making himself equal with God by saying that. People need to get this fact, by calling himself Son of God he wasn’t referring to the same level of sonship to which David, Adam, the angels or we lay claim to. He was expressing equality with God. If it weren’t so, the Pharisees wouldn’t have accused him of being blasphemous. Also, he used to call himself the Son of Man. Don’t get it wrong, he wasn’t referring to his humanity here either. He was simply making reference to the highly exalted Divine personality in Daniel 7. This being that Daniel talks about shares similar attributes with God. Daniel said that He (The Son of Man) has been given an everlasting dominion and that all people, nations and languages should serve him. We see the Son of Man in the very presence of The Ancient of Days in this verse. Ha! This makes a strong case for the trinity too. I dare say this vision Daniel saw is probably one of the pre incarnate appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament. Preincarnate, meaning, he made an appearance before he was birthed into this world finally in the new testament. Guess what, there are so many instances of this in the Old Testament. All I am saying is Son of God and Son of Man both point to the deity of Jesus. He is God.

On several occasions, Jesus used the personal, sacred Old Testament title of God, Yahweh (YHWH), when referring to Himself. Permit me to refer you to the time He incited anger among the Jews after saying ‘Before Abraham, I AM in John 8. YAHWEH, which means ‘I AM’ or ‘He who is’, is the exact name the God of the Old Testament used in His self-revelation to Moses at the burning bush. I want to draw your attention to something really important over here. Jesus wasn’t merely saying He was some god that pre-existed even before Abraham became a clot of blood in his mother’s womb. That would have easily been laughed off. A surge of indignation rushed over the Jews because Jesus actually implied He was The Eternal One, just like the God of the Old Testament they worshiped. According to the Jews, Jesus wasn’t fifty years old yet His statement implied that from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘thy kingdom come’, He is God. As if that isn’t enough, Jesus’ use of YAHWEH (‘I AM’) added more fuel to the fire because it was strongly prohibited to use that name then. The Jews understood the significance of names. They understood it to be something worth more than a random combination of letters. A simple ‘What is your name?’ required information such as the historical background and reputation of the person or thing being queried. This is why the use of God’s sacred name was a big deal to them. According to some Rabbinic teachings, anyone caught using the YAHWEH title was a serious crime offender and had to be put to death. Oh wait, there’s more! While the Jews feared the name of the Lord so strongly, Jesus went ahead and authorized His disciples to cry out Abba Father when praying to God. Abba Father? Who do you think you are to relate to God on such intimate terms? And secondly, what makes you think this kind of relationship is only possible through your permission? I’m pretty sure the Jews were intellectually and emotionally overwhelmed by His remark because they [the Jews] could only go as far as addressing God as ‘The Holy One, blessed he be’. But here is Jesus initiating a new covenantal relationship (a very intimate and personal one)…by His own authority. So for Jesus to press this as far as referring to Himself as YAHWEH or setting new laws on how people could relate to God can only mean one thing: Jesus is equal to God in all nature and essence!

If you think He went too far, wait till you hear Him say that He shares the same glory and honour that is given to God. Code Red Alert! This was purely antagonistic to the Old Testament teachings which emphatically stated that God didn’t franchise His glory. God was the only one to be worshiped according to Jewish culture. Was Jesus increasing the number to two? To them, Jesus was way out of line to not  have considered it robbery to be equal with God by making such an outlandish statement. But the reality of the matter is, Jesus was only corroborating a transcendent truth (John 17:5). Before the mountains were brought forth and the world was formed, Jesus shared (and still shares) a unique glory with His Father that makes Him equally honored with the Father. It then comes as no surprise that Jesus said or did nothing whenever He was worshiped by people. What say do you have when the Father Himself has decreed that His son be worshiped by every creature in Heaven and on Earth? In effect, one’s dealings with Jesus is same as dealing with God: to have knowledge about Jesus is to have knowledge about God, to love/hate Jesus is to love/hate God, to believe/reject Jesus is to believe/reject God etc. In simpler terms, Jesus is claiming to be God just as the Father is God.

What intrigues me is that Jesus never denied, not even once, any of the accusations of He claiming to be God. In a system where equating one’s self to God was punishable by death, we expect Jesus to have said something like ‘Hey folks! Don’t try to get me killed by putting words into my mouth. I never said I’m God!’, if truly He was being misconstrued.  But what do we see every time such allegations were made? He either ignored them or provided proof the more that He is God. Every thinking reader of the Bible cannot escape the fact that scripture confirms without doubt Jesus did make reference to His deity several times. Jesus’ words may not have been as direct as those of us in the 21st century might have expected them to be but Jesus’ original audience got the message very clear. And that is why His opponents were itching so much to end His life for blaspheming under the Jewish legal system–for claiming to be God.

One of the most outstanding events that consolidates the deity of Jesus Christ is his resurrection from death. This is the final capper of the foundation of the gospel. The empty tomb shall forever point to the deity of Christ. If you say he didn’t die, how come the Roman Soldiers couldn’t ransack the whole city in search of his body? Trust me, the disciples had gone into hiding, except John, so they couldn’t have gone to steal his body. Many people believe in the Swoon Hypothesis: a bunch of ideas that assert that Jesus never died but he survived the cross. That isn’t true. According to historical accounts, not many even survived to carry the cross. The beatings Jesus was subjected to killed many others. The whips tore the flesh on the culprit’s belly. Though the criminal had his back turned against the Roman soldier, yet the weight of the spikes at the tip of the whip made it possible for it to all the way to the tummy. The spikes rip open the criminal’s flesh. Many spill their intestines there and die immediately. They don’t make it to the cross. Jesus did. So imagine the state in which he was in even on the cross. The amount of blood loss. The only human contact he had since being take off the cross was 3 days after. He did die. Some say, it is easier to believe that God saved him from death than to believe he was resurrected. It isn’t about which is easy to believe but which matches with the entire counsel of Scripture. Which of the scenarios makes sense so far as God’s purpose for the incarnation of Jesus is concerned? He died. He rose again and was seen of his disciples. When we read the gospels, we aren’t reading some concocted stories. We are reading a historically reliable account documented within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to the event.

Jesus Christ is God. He is the express image of the father in heaven and in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. The bible is the last book anybody should try to use to debunk the reality of the deity of Christ. It was prophesied in the Old Testament, materialized in the Gospels and revealed in glory in Revelations.

 

Written by: Elvis Sampson and Elikplim Sabblah

 

References: John 10:30-33, Luke 11:20, Exodus 8:19; Exodus 3:14, Matthew 14:27, John 8:58, Luke 11:1-4, John 14:6, Daniel 7:13 – 15, Matthew 9:6, John 10:18, John 5:20-23 Isaiah 42:8, The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel.  Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi.

We Preach Christ Crucified!

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There’s a popular belief that Jesus Christ escaped death following His crucifixion. The swoon hypothesis, as it’s termed, asserts that Jesus didn’t really die but fainted and was later revived by the cool, damp air in the tomb. While Christianity confirms the crucifixion and resurrection story, Islam is totally not supportive of Christ’s death. According to the Qur’an, Jesus only appeared to die on the cross and later ascended into heaven. Some secular scholars even propose that Jesus was given a drug while he hanged on the cross making him unconscious. As a Christian, I strongly believe these truth-claims deserve a much closer examination. We need to ask further questions to test the credibility of these assertions: What really happened during the crucifixion period? What was Christ’s medical condition during the crucifixion period? Are the historical records from distant time or not? What does History, Medicine and other fields of discipline relevant to the topic have to say about this subject?

As a Christian, I take my stance based on what God’s word (the Bible) says: Christ was crucified. All four gospels by virtue of eyewitness testimonies, confirm that Christ died on the cross. How can we possibly tell if the authors are telling the truth or not? Let’s consider the dating of these gospels. One of the major factors to consider when examining eyewitness records is the time span between the occurrence of an event and its documentation. It goes a long way to determine the extent to which a piece of evidence is compelling and convincing. With that established, let’s do some simple math over here.

With respect to what most scholars agree, Jesus Christ died between A.D 30 and 33.

According to standard scholarly dating, Mark’s gospel was written in the 70s, Matthew and Luke’s was in the 80s while John’s was written in the 90s.

By observation, Mark’s Gospel is closest to what really happened (written no less than 40 years after the event).

This implies Mark’s account was documented within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to the event. I daresay it’s almost impossible to have falsified the crucifixion story within a period where most of the witnesses were still alive. I’m not alone in this view. Professor Bart D. Ehrman, a Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and an agnostic scholar said: “one of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate.” There you have it! A non-biblical evidence (not subject to any form of bias) to also support the crucifixion story. Now, it’s very important to note that we are dealing with a story that was spreading like wildfire in Jerusalem. There’s absolutely no way a fabricated story would have been permitted to circulate within that city. It wouldn’t even make sense to say the listeners at that time were cut to the heart by the apostles’ preaching if their message was indeed a false gospel (refer to Acts 2). The early Christians would have surely protested against the spread of such mythical stories and the emergence of the Church wouldn’t have become a reality. Now compare this to another historical account like that of the Qur’an for example. The Qur’an’s record is about seven centuries after the event took place. We are talking about a seven hundred-year period where legend is very possible to distort the truth. So now that you have a 40-year old biography as against a 700-year one, which of these report will be compelling and convincing enough in making truth-claims?

Let’s also take a critical examination of Jesus’ medical condition before, during and after the crucifixion process. Personally, I feel there’s no way Jesus could have survived this brutality. But truth isn’t based on feelings or instincts because both can be easily mistaken. How then do we assess the truth-claims out there? Let’s turn our attention now to a well-known authority—Medicineto see if these ideas of Jesus surviving the cross fit the facts of reality.

Prior to the crucifixion, Bible records that Jesus prayed His heart out till His sweat turned into blood. ‘How can sweat possibly turn into blood?’, I thought to myself. Apparently, the Bible wasn’t making a fanciful statement. Hematidrosis is a medical condition where a person sweats blood. It’s rare though. The main cause is still uncertain but many scientists believe it’s as a result of extreme stress. If a sound mind lives in a healthy body, I can infer then that Jesus was in an unhealthy condition because a distressed mind was living in His body. Now, this was even before the Roman soldiers spat and hit Him in the face. The psychological stress was just the beginning of what was yet to befall Him (the brutal whipping and crucifixion). Concerning the flogging, Roman soldiers were known for their expertise in lashing criminals. 39 strikes to the back was the standard but depending on the mood of the soldier on duty, it could be reduced or increased. The whips used were made of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. This was designed to cut deeply into the skin, exposing the muscles, bones and spine as the whipping intensified. Most of the time, the victims will die from excessive blood loss before the crucifixion itself. We are yet to consider the 5-7 inch nails that were driven through his wrists and feet yet we can already picture the impossibility of Him surviving this great ordeal.

The crucifixion process was incredibly agonizing to the extent that a new word had to be invented to describe the intensity of its pain—excruciating. The word literally means, ‘out of the cross’. Just think about this for a second: there was the need to describe this extraordinary pain with an entirely new word. I’ve even spared you the scientific details of the trauma Jesus went through on that day. But really, do you possibly think the Messiah who had been severely battered and bruised by trained Roman soldiers could have escaped death?

Come to think of it, it sounds really absurd to think the early church would have concocted a story that the all-powerful son of God suffered mercilessly at the hands of mortal men and died. First of all, the Christians weren’t going to benefit in any way from making such an audacious claim. Secondly, you need to explain how Christ managed to remove the tight linen He was wrapped in, roll the huge stone away and slip past the Roman guards to meet up with the disciples in that weakened state. Even if He succeeded in doing that, His followers would have been greatly discouraged at the site of His bruised body. For people whose lives were in danger just for being a disciple of Christ, it was best Jesus was dead and gone. Going around and proclaiming that Christ had died and risen from the grave wasn’t only going to make the Great Commission a lot more difficult; they were putting their very lives in danger! It wouldn’t have made sense for them to do that and I’m sure many will agree to that. But no. That isn’t the case. On the contrary, the disciples were ready to put their lives on the line by communicating nothing but the truth to the world. I have to admit I envy this level of courage and integrity!

I personally feel the ideas that claim Christ escaped death are in a tug of war with scientific and historical evidence. You need a high dose of faith to actually believe they fit the facts of reality.

But most importantly, let’s ask ourselves these intriguing questions: if Jesus knew what was going to happen to Him, why would He still walk into the hands of His oppressors? Was there something in it for Him by allowing Himself to be subjected to the worst form of humiliation? Was there any ulterior motive? Allow me to say that Christ endured the Cross because of you and I. It’s at the center of the Cross that we receive the forgiveness of sin and the fullness of His love and grace. The Cross was designed to portray the worst form of humiliation but Christ took it and made it the best place for victory celebration. This is why we try not to impress you with polished speeches and the latest philosophy when we come to you. We keep it plain and simple: first Jesus and who He is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.