The Gospel of Matthew opens with the family tree of Jesus, from Abraham through Joseph and Mary. In typical Hebrew fashion, it lists the men, not the women, who “begat” (KJV) or “fathered” each son. Yet of the 42 generations listed, Matthew inserts references to four women other than Mary, the mother of Jesus: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (who is only called “Uriah’s wife”). Why are these women mentioned?
Matthew is writing to a very religious Jewish audience, and by inserting these names in the genealogy of the Messiah, he is showing us two encouraging truths.
All our welcome. All of the women were foreigners: Tamar was a Canaanite (Genesis 38:6), Rahab was from Jericho (Joshua 2:1-22), Ruth was from Moab (Ruth 1:4), and Bathsheba was a Hittite (2 Samuel 11:3). To a Jewish audience, he was reminding the Chosen People that God welcomes all people to follow Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of the world.
He came to save sinners. Three of the women were notorious for sexual sin. Tamar seduced her father-in-law Judah (Genesis 38), Rahab was a prostitute (Joshua 2:1), and Bathsheba committed adultery with King David (2 Samuel 11-12), which is why she is referred to by Matthew as “Uriah’s wife,” as a reminder of that adultery.
No wonder the angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
I’m so glad Jesus’ genealogy included those four women, because it reminds me that He includes me, a non-Jewish sinner in need of a Messiah and Savior.
Charles Spurgeon said in commenting on Matthew 1:21, “The first link between my soul and Christ is not my goodness but my badness, not my merit but my misery, not my standing but my falling, not my riches but my need. He comes to visit his people– not to admire their beauties but to remove their deformities, not to reward their virtues but to forgive their sins.”
God the Father, who gave us Your Son,
What shall I render You for the gift of gifts?
Here is wonder of wonders:
He came down below to raise me above,
was born, like me that I might become like Him.
Here is love:
when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace, to raise me to Himself.
Here is power:
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart He united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated with the created.
Here is wisdom:
when I was undone, with no will to return to Him, and no intellect to devise recovery,
He came, God in flesh, to save me completely,
as man to die my death.
O God, as the watchful shepherds enlarge my mind,
to hear good news of great joy, and hearing to praise You,
Let me with Simeon clasp the newborn Child to my heart,
embrace Him with undying faith.
In Him You have given me so much that heaven can give no more.
Adapted from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett.
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Many churches are like the two cats, whose tails were tied together, and thrown over a clothesline. They had union, but no unity. Yet in Romans 15, the apostle Paul insists we must have unity in the church. Why is unity so important?
- Because Christ set the example
Sadly, we pastors are put on a pedestal, and then when we fail or fall, members are disappointed and sometimes divided. Even the best ministers are not perfect examples. The great American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who was fat, met the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon. Moody asked Spurgeon when he would give up his awful cigars. Spurgeon pointed at Moody’s belly: “When you get rid of this, I’ll get rid of these.” Even the greatest preachers are not perfect: Jesus is our example. And Christ set an example of unity. Thus Romans 15:2-3 says, “Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.”
- Because scripture teaches it
In Romans 15:4 Paul mentions “the Scriptures.” Then in verse 5, he shows how this helps “you to live in harmony with one another.” Listen to the scriptures: John 13:35 says others will “know you are my disciples” by your love for each other. In John 17:22, Jesus prays “they may be one as we are one.” In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul appeals that “all of you agree.. that there may be no divisions.” In Philippians 4:2, Paul publicly named two women: “I plead with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.”
- Because it glorifies God
In Romans 15:6, Paul says, “so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.” In the next verse, he stresses again how unity glorifies God: “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God.” Thom & Jess Rainer published a study of the 78 million-member generation born between 1980 and 2000: The Millennials. In their book, they said 70% of millennials think that the American church is irrelevant today; the number one reason they gave was that they see religion as divisive and argumentative. But unity glorifies God!
Someone might object, but what if someone is denying the gospel or the inspiration of the Bible? What if someone is immoral? Please do not misunderstand: I am not calling for unity at all costs, but I am calling for unity at great sacrifice! Sadly, many Christians are not willing to swallow their pride and eat humble pie for the sake of unity. We should be willing to make any sacrifice for unity that does not sacrifice truth or morality. It is that important.
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Many Christians can share the Gospel of Christ with verses from the New Testament, but you can also share it using only the Old Testament. Christians commonly think they can only share the Good News of salvation by verses like the “Roman Road” (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9) or other collections of scriptures from the New Testament. However, the Gospel message is to the Bible like the spokes on a wheel, all revolving around that central truth. So below is a collection of the truths of the Gospel, just from the Old Testament:
All have sinned:
1 Kings 8:46a: “There is no one who does not sin…”
Sin separates us from God:
Isaiah 59:2: “Your iniquities are separating you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you…”
We cannot earn our own salvation:
Psalm 49:7: “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice.”
Christ died for our sins:
Isaiah 53:5, speaking of the Messiah: “But He was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.”
“In a single day” (on the cross) God took away guilt of sin:
Zechariah 3:3-4, 8-9 speaks of Joshua the high priest, who represents the people: “Now Joshua was dressed with filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. So the angel of the Lord spoke to those standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes!’ Then he said to him, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you…
Listen, High Priest Joshua… I am about to bring my servant, the Branch… and I will take away the iniquity of this land in a single day.”
What “single day” could possibly fulfill this verse than Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross to take away sin?
Repent, confess sin, and be forgiven:
Psalm 32:5: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You took away the guilt of my sin.”
Hosea 14:2: “Take words of repentance with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Forgive all our sin…”
Article copyright by Bob Rogers, Th.D.
(This is the fourth in a series of five articles about predestination.)
Some people object to the idea of predestination because they think it takes away human responsibility and free will. Yet the Bible says predestination is “according to foreknowledge.” In other words, God can speak of something as destined to happen, because God already knows the future.
Romans 8:29 (ESV) says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined…” Peter said, “To those… chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1 Peter 1:1-2, CSB). This concept is plainly stated in the Gospel of John. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65, ESV). That sounds like predestination, doesn’t it? But read the verse before it: “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe…” (John 6:64, ESV). There it is again—foreknowledge!
Let me illustrate it like this. Once I was a passenger on an airplane coming into the airport in Savannah, Georgia, which is near Interstate 95. As we descended, I could see a wreck on I-95 that was several miles to the north. I knew that the northbound cars immediately below me were going to come upon that wreck, because I could see farther that they could see. In a similar way, since God exists beyond time, and knows the future, he can speak of it as certain to happen (predestined). He already knows what we will do, but we are still free and responsible for what we do.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Five leaders of the Bible come to mind as role models for us: Abraham, Moses, David, Peter and Paul.
Abraham was willing to take risks. He was told to go to a land the Lord would show him. Are you willing to take the risk to go where you’ve never gone before, for the good of those you serve and lead?
Moses was willing to stand alone on his convictions against Pharaoh and later against his own fellow Israelites when they rebelled against the Lord. Are you?
David was willing to face a giant. Are you ready to take on giant tasks?
Peter was willing to admit his mistakes and change, after denying the Lord and after denying fellowship with Gentiles. That’s an important quality in leaders to be willing to admit when we are wrong and change.
Paul was able to get a vision and follow it. When he saw a vision of a man of Macedonia saying, “Come over here and help us,” Paul took the gospel into the continent of Europe for the first time. Do you, like Paul, have a vision for your work, and see the big picture?
As helpful as these five role models are, I have not mentioned the greatest example: Jesus Christ. Jesus was willing to sacrifice Himself for the good of others. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). If you and I will follow the example of Jesus, and be willing to sacrifice our own desires and put others before ourselves, then God will bless our leadership. After all, Jesus knows better than anybody, that life can be as tough as nails.
Recently I taught a Bible study on the story of “Doubting Thomas” to my Bible class at church, and again at a local prison. We read in John 20:24-29 how Thomas said he would not believe Jesus was alive unless he saw the nail prints in His hands and put his hand into His side where He was pierced. Then Jesus appeared to Thomas and encouraged him to do just that! Thomas responded with his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!”
I asked both classes, What lessons do we learn about responding to doubters from how Jesus responded to “Doubting” Thomas?
The Bible class at church gave six answers:
1. Don’t “blast” them; don’t attack them for their doubt
2. Show them what they need; give them evidence, books to read, etc.
3. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead
4. Be loving, compassionate, not judgmental
5. Pray for them
6. Plant the seeds and be patient
The Bible study group in prison added two more answers:
7. Share my own testimony
8. Live my life in a way that shows Jesus is real.
How about you? What have you found that is helpful to respond to those who doubt the faith? What has helped you in times of doubt?
(This guest blog is written by my daughter, Melissa Rogers Dalton. She and her husband Steven have two sons and live in Virginia, where she is an elementary school teacher, with an endorsement as a Reading Specialist.)
Article copyright by Melissa Rogers Dalton
When I first learned about the idea of Elf on the Shelf a few years ago, I was completely sucked in. I didn’t have any kids yet, but the idea of setting up an elf with all of these great little tricks greatly appealed to the prankster inside of me that has become dormant since my college days.
I mean, how cute are these!
Once Keagan was finally old enough to enjoy it, I brought it up to Steven and he immediately shut it down. He knows that I have a tendency to get overly involved in things like this and could picture me staying up way too late every night trying to concoct the perfect scheme for the next morning. Yeah, he knows me way too well… 😉
But over the past two years, I’ve decided he was right to say no for a completely different reason.
Teaching our children that they have to be good in order to receive gifts is completely opposite of what the gospel preaches and, therefore, goes against everything Christmas stands for.
You see, Jesus was sent to Earth because we couldn’t find our way back to God on our own. He is our Rescuer and Redeemer, and there is NOTHING we can do to earn his gift. Actually, the definition of “gift” says “a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.”
So this whole myth about Santa and his naughty or nice lists really should disappear.
I’m sure some well-meaning parent created it somewhere along the line because kids at this point of the year start going a little crazy, but we have to put an end to it. Even as adults, we struggle with remembering/understanding that our actions are not the path to heaven. Just listen for two seconds, and you’ll hear it all around. I had a coworker tell me just a few days ago that she was going to hell for saying something mean about someone else. Technically, yes you can, but stopping it isn’t going to get you to heaven either.
All we have to do is realize that we are beyond unworthy, but God sent us the perfect gift of His son to come, live, and ultimately pay the penalty for our sins with His life so that we could be reunited with Christ someday. Then we just accept that gift by choosing to follow Christ. That’s it. Our works will never be enough.
If you have an elf and want to continue your fun with it, by all means go ahead. I love seeing what creative schemes you create. But PLEASE stop telling your kids that they won’t receive Christmas this year if they don’t behave. Instead, preach the true gospel to them. If you need any ideas for ways to bring it down to their level without missing the importance, I highly recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible.
The reason I like this particular Bible for kids is because they end every story by bringing it around to Jesus and the gospel. It doesn’t matter if the story is about Leah or the actual birth of Christ. They all talk about the Rescuer coming to save us so that kids can understand that everything in the Bible points to Him. They aren’t just individual cool stories that happen to be in the same book.
There is also a FREE Advent Calendar that goes along with this Bible (it includes the actual scripture references as well if you don’t have/want this Bible). I know it may be too late for this year, but I plan on using it next year.
Merry Christmas, and God Bless!
Copyright by Bob Rogers.
Billy Graham has said, “People in the South have been exposed to so much religion that many of them have been inoculated against getting the real thing!”
In Romans 2:17-3:18, the apostle Paul points out three deceptions of having religion without a relationship with Jesus:
1. The deception of spiritual pride (2:17-24). Muhammad Ali once got on an airplane, and the flight attendant told him to buckle his seat belt. He said, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” She replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane.” It’s easy to be proud of how spiritual we are, and forget that we are nothing without Christ. Paul talks about how the Jewish people were proud of their spirituality, but failed to practice what they preached. Substitute the word “religious” for “Jew” and it can apply to any of us.
2. The deception of depending on ritual (2:25-3:4). Some people think that because they are baptized, go to church, receive communion, etc., that they are right with God. It ain’t necessarily so! The Jews were proud of their circumcision. It was the mark of their identity. But they forgot that God wanted a circumcision of the heart (v. 29; see also Deuteronomy 30:6). While there are advantages to religious faith, like having the Word of God and our church (3:1-4), it can deceive us into thinking it saves us. Only Jesus can save.
3. The deception of presuming on grace (3:5-8). Once the great Reformer, Martin Luther, saw a drunk in the alley. The drunk said, “You’re Martin Luther! I’m one of your disciples!” Luther replied, “You must be one of mine, because you are none of Christ’s.” Luther preached salvation by grace, but he knew that a truly saved person would show it in his life.
Paul was falsely accused of teaching that salvation by grace meant you could live in immorality and it didn’t matter. Paul was not saying that at all. While we preach grace, we must not be deceived into playing games with our religious theology. As 2 Corinthians 6:1 says, Don’t receive God’s grace in vain. A person who truly receives grace by faith will have a new heart’s desire to follow Christ.
Jefferson Bethke puts it this way:
“Religion says do,
Jesus says done.
Religion says slave,
Jesus says son.
Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see.”
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17, NIV
I’m ashamed of many things in my own past and things I see in society– I’m ashamed that crack cocaine is sold in every town in America, I’m ashamed that there are 800,000 abortions a year in our nation, I’m ashamed that we preachers have been in the news more for our sins than our sermons, but I’m not ashamed of the gospel! Why? Let me give you four reasons from Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1:16-17:
1. Because the gospel is powerful (v. 16)
The Roman empire fell, but the gospel endured and grew. Nothing could stop it. It’s not just a nice story about a good man, but a life-changing story about the God-man, Jesus Christ.
2. Because the gospel can save anybody (v. 16)
Every other religion is limited to certain geographical regions of the world, but Christianity has spread to every continent, because it is a message from all people. It’s not just for good, upstanding people, either. God had a plan to work through the “Jew first,” because He called Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets to prepare the way for Jesus to come at just the right time. If God went to that much trouble to get the gospel to all, don’t think it can’t save you!
3. Because the gospel reveals God’s righteousness (v. 17)
The gospel is not about me and my righteousness, but God, and His righteousness. It shows off God’s goodness. I owed a debt I could not pay, so Jesus paid the debt He did not owe, when He died on the cross for my sin.
4. Because the gospel is all about faith (v. 17)
Literally, this verse says the gospel is “out of faith into faith.” In other words, it’s all about faith, from beginning to end. Some 500 years ago, Martin Luther was a frustrated Catholic monk, trying to obtain his righteousness before God. He tried all the good deeds, rituals and sacraments he could, to no avail. Then he discovered freedom in this verse, “The righteous shall live by faith!” Martin Luther began a revolution, called the Protestant Reformation, based on the truth of the gospel, which declares us right with God by faith in Jesus Christ.
No problem, no pressure, no persecution can turn me back from this gospel. I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
It seems like we constantly hear bad news: mass shootings, hurricanes, war, terrorist attacks, racial strife, and on it goes. No wonder it is so encouraging that Paul’s Letter to the Romans starts by letting us know that God has good news for us! In Romans 1:1, Paul says he was called and set apart for “the gospel of God.” The word “gospel” simply means “good news.”
He goes on in the next few verses to explain the content of this gospel, the impact of the gospel, and the urgency of the gospel.
The content of the gospel.
A great tragedy occurred in 1982 in Chicago, Illinois, when people went to the grocery store to buy a bottle of Tylenol. Someone laced some of the capsules with cyanide, and seven people died. They went to the store believing they were buying Tylenol. They had belief, but their belief was not sufficient, because the contents of the bottles had been tampered with. Likewise, if somebody tampers with the contents of the gospel, it is dangerous to our spiritual health.
Paul explains in verse 2 that it was promised in the Old Testament scriptures, then in verses 3-4 he points out that it is fulfilled by Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection as the Son of God, and in verses 5-7 he emphasizes that it is received by grace through faith. This sums up the contents of the gospel: it must be based on prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again for our eternal life, and it must be received by his grace, not be our good deeds, but by our faith.
The impact of the gospel.
Next, Paul explains the impact that the gospel of Jesus has. He says that it spreads everywhere, commenting in verse 8 that the whole world had already heard about their faith in Rome. Then he talks about the encouragement of the gospel in verses 9-12, as he discusses how mutually encouraging it will be to him and them when they meet as brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, he notes in verse 13 how the gospel bears fruit, as he looks to see a harvest of souls among them when he preaches there in Rome. We are seeing that today, as millions of people are turning to faith in Jesus Christ, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, China, South Korea, the Philippines and many other places around the world.
The urgency of the gospel.
Third, Paul explains the urgency of sharing the gospel. He says in verse 14 that he is under obligation to share it with people of every culture and race, “Greek and barbarian.” How dare he not share such good news! But he doesn’t just see it as a duty, but he sees it as an opportunity. In fact, he says in verse 15 that he is eager to share the gospel to them. Are you as excited to talk about the gospel as you are about your favorite ball team or hobby?
Dr. Tony Evans shared the experience of a seasoned chess champion touring an art museum. While passing through the gallery, his attention was drawn to a painting that involved chess. The artist had painted a match between Satan and an outwitted young man. The picture frozen on canvas showed the two engaged in a chess game being played out for the man’s soul. The man was in obvious panic as the adversary’s hand is shown making his final move. The artist’s work is simply titled Checkmate. The chess champion stood and observed the painting for a long time. His scowl of concentration was finally softened by a slight smile. He turned to the curator and said, “I’ve got good news for the man in that picture. He still has a move.” Satan, the father of lies, has convinced far too many people that he has placed them in checkmate, but thanks to the gospel of the grace of God, every person “still has a move,” if we only believe in Christ. That’s good news!
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
A Colorado theater. A Connecticut elementary school. A Texas church. A concert in Las Vegas. A Florida high school. Such diverse places have this in common: they are locations of mass shootings.
When such horrific tragedies happen, we gasp, hug our children, lower our flags, pray, and ask, “Why?”
Soon a number of scapegoats will be brought forth to be sacrificed at the altar of our need to blame someone or something.
Some will blame a lack of gun control. They will say that if we had stricter gun control, the shooter could not have done this. Perhaps if assault rifles and machine guns were off the market, it could reduce the likelihood of such attacks. Those who defend Second Amendment rights disagree, saying criminals will always find illegal ways to get guns, and mass shootings have also happened in nations with strict gun laws.
Some will blame a lack of security. Perhaps improvements in security can be made, but the police and security guards cannot be everywhere.
Some will blame violence in the media, saying that it desensitizes the viewer and can lead to copy-cat actions. However, millions of other people watch TV and movies without having an urge to hurt anybody.
Others will blame the shooter’s upbringing and environment, as many of these shooters have a troubled past. Most people agree that more could be done to detect and treat mental illness, and report “red flags” such as violent threats on social media. But once again, we cannot know what is in the min and heart of every person.
In playing the “blame game,” we often fail to look at the greatest reason for the actions of each shooter and for each of us: the human heart.
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jesus said that evil comes from within, out of the heart (Mark 7:21).
When the Gospel of John describes how Judas Iscariot got up from the Last Supper, left Jesus and the other disciples, and stepped outside to betray Christ, John adds this short sentence: “And it was night.” (John 13:30). John was speaking of the spiritual darkness of that moment, but it reminds me of the Colorado theater shooting in 2012 at the opening of the Batman movie, The Dark Knight. After that dark night of Jesus’s betrayal and death, a light arose, because this Jesus who died on the cross also arose from the dead to defeat evil and give us hope.
The greatest need that mankind has is not gun control, more police, controls over movies, or psychologists. Our greatest need is for a Savior who can change the heart. He alone can change our dark nights into bright mornings.
Article copyright by Bob Rogers.
Many people say that they believe in Jesus but don’t believe in the church. Yet I submit that it is impossible to be a disciple of Christ apart from the church. Why do I say that?
1. We can’t use our spiritual gifts without the church. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all believers, but it is always in the context of the church. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 that every believer is given a spiritual gift for the common good, because we are all part of the body of Christ.
2. We can’t show we are disciples without the church. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). I may know I’m a disciple but I can’t show I’m a disciple if I sit at home alone and don’t show love for fellow believers.
3. We can’t experience God’s greatest presence without the church. Matthew 18:19-20 tells Christians to agree together in prayer, and where two or three are gathered that way, God is there.
4. We can’t take communion without the church. By definition, the Lord’s Supper is meal of Christians gathered together to remember the body and blood of Christ given for us upon the cross. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, the apostle Paul continually uses the phrase “come together” to describe observance of the Lord’s Supper. Since we cannot take communion without expressing unity with the church, it follows that refusal to express communion with the church is a refusal to express communion with Christ.
Christ died for the church. Christ is the builder of the church. Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the shepherd of the church. Christ is the groom for His bride, the church. Christ is coming again for the church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church!
My wife and I saw the sneak preview of the new motion picture, The Shack. I posted a review earlier of the bestselling book (click here to read it) of the same title by William Paul Young, so I wanted to follow up with this review of the movie.
The Shack is a deeply emotional film about a man named Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington, who is angry at God because of the abusive and tragic circumstances he experienced as a child and as an adult. The film tells the story of a deeply personal tragedy that occurs at a shack in the woods, and how Mack gets a letter from God, inviting him to return to the shack and deal with his pain. Mack returns, and there meets God in three persons, who engage him in experiences and conversations that allow him to rediscover the goodness of God. After he resolves these issues and learns to accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, Mack returns to his family a changed man. The plot uses flashbacks to tell about the tragedies in his life. Much of the story is framed as a visionary dream, which is a major departure from the plot of the original book. The plot moves well at the beginning and the end, although it may seem a bit long in the middle, if you are not engaged in the conversations.
Octavia Spencer plays “Papa,” a character representing God the Father, who appears to Mack as an affectionate African-American woman. She explains that since Mack could not relate to God as a father, due to his childhood experiences with an abusive father, Papa has chosen to appear as a mother figure. In fact, all three persons of the Trinity are there. The Son, representing Jesus, is a Middle Eastern man, played by Abraham Aviv Alush, and Sarayu (the Spirit), played by Sumire Matsubara, is represented by a young Asian woman who glows and shines and sometimes just disappears. Although God is represented as three different persons, they act in unison, as one person continues a conversation with Mack that he had earlier with the other person.
The movie deals powerfully with the question of why God allows suffering. Papa, The Son, and Sarayu do not offer easy answers, but they help Mack to get a bigger picture of how God loves, forgives and redeems. For example, when Mack angrily tells Papa that Papa could not be good and allow the Son to suffer on the cross, Papa shows nail scars in her own wrist, and says with tears, “Don’t think that I wasn’t also there when my Son died.” In another scene, Jesus sends Mack on a path to a cave where he meets a female called Wisdom, who lets Mack sit in the judgment seat of God and see what it is like to be a judge, an experience that overwhelms him, reminding him that no human should try to play God, and also hinting at the reason Jesus had to die for our sins. Unfortunately, the emphasis on God’s love is so strong, that a balanced statement about God’s holiness is lacking. God reminds Mack that sin has consequences, but when Mack bluntly asks Papa about God’s wrath, Papa could have said that God is holy and offended by sin, but instead only emphasized God’s goodness and love.
The film quality
This is a quality film production. There are breathtaking nature scenes, scenes filled with color and light, darkness and drama. The music is engaging, but not distracting. The main actors and supporting cast are all convincing in their roles. Octavia Spencer exudes love and kindness as Papa, and Sam Worthington explodes with emotion and pain as Mack. Country singer Tim McGraw does a good job as a supporting actor, playing Mack’s friend, who becomes a narrator of the story.
Comparisons with the book
Fans of the book will probably also like the movie, and some critics of the book may like the movie better than the book. I don’t remember hearing any profanity in the movie, although the book has some profanity. The portrayal of God the Father as a woman is explained sooner and more clearly in the movie than in the book. There were several passages in the book that critics accused of teaching universal salvation (that all people will go to heaven), particularly some conversations Mack had with the persons of the Trinity. Most of those controversial conversations do not occur in the movie, although the movie does repeat the words of Jesus that He is not a “Christian” (which came across as humorous to me both in the book and film.) The movie puts more emphasis on God’s love than on God’s judgment, although it it reminds the viewer that God does make judgments of heaven and hell and that sin does have consequences. After the movie was over, I asked my wife, who has not read the book, if she thought the movie taught universal salvation, and she said, “Not at all.”
Spoiler alert: If you have read the book, you will notice that the movie ends a little differently. It makes the whole encounter at the shack into a visionary dream, and while the book has Mack actually finding his daughter’s body and giving it a proper burial, the movie shows that happening as part of his dream. Then the movie focuses at the end on Mack going to church with his family and having a new faith in God. The movie added the friend as a narrator of the story at the beginning and end, which I thought was a good framing device for the story.
I liked the original book, despite its flaws, but I liked the movie even more. What I like the most is that it deals with the important issues of pain, suffering, the redemption God offers through Jesus Christ. I wept several times as I thought about my own sin and need for forgiveness, and it moved me to want to be more forgiving towards others. My wife commented that the story touches nearly every person at some level in their lives. This film offers a vivid story that can open up discussions with our friends and neighbors about how our hope is found, not in an old rustic shack, but on an old rugged cross.
Are you ticked off? Angry? Has something made you hot under the collar? In John 9, the Bible tells the story of how Jesus healed a man who was born blind, but instead of people celebrating, he got nitpickers, wound lickers, goodness sakers… and finally, an arm waver. Compare your own attitude with theirs:
1. Nitpickers (John 9:14-16)
The Pharisees nitpicked about how Jesus supposedly “worked” on the Sabbath because he made some mud with His saliva, touched a blind man’s eyes, and healed him. The Jewish Mishnah did not allow kneading dough on the Sabbath, and so in their minds, what Jesus did qualified as a violation. Never mind that a blind man could now see! Nitpickers love to burst the balloons of our celebrations, observing at a wedding that the bride needs to lose weight, criticizing a child for not making all A’s on his report card, complaining about the songs we sing at church. Don’t be a nitpicker!
2. Wound lickers (John 9:18-19)
The Pharisees could not leave well enough alone. They summoned the man’s parents to know if he was really born blind and how he received his sight. They wanted to expose some imaginary wrong. Wound lickers refuse to let others or themselves heal. The husband who always brings up his wife’s past mistakes, the woman who says after a divorce that she will never trust a man again, or the church member who says he’ll never go back to the church because nobody called when he was sick, are all examples of wound lickers. Scarred by emotional wounds, we cannot heal if we continue to lick them and gnaw at them. Don’t be a wound licker!
3. Goodness sakers (John 9:28)
Finally, the Pharisees crossed their arms, and looked down their noses, ridiculing Jesus and the man He healed. They said, “We know that God has spoken to Moses. But this man– we don’t know where He’s from!” Ray Stevens had a humorous song, “Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” with a character named Sister Bertha Better-than-You. Unfortunately, there are a lot of sisters and brothers like Bertha in our churches, putting their hands on their hips and declaring, “For goodness sake, who let those people in here?” Being a goodness saker is the greatest temptation of church members, and it is the biggest turnoff to the lost. For goodness sake, don’t be a goodness saker!
4. Arm wavers (John 9:38)
It’s stunning that this story is almost over before somebody finally celebrates. The arm waver is the man who was healed of blindness. It progressively comes to him throughout the chapter, as he realized just who Jesus is. He calls Jesus a “man” (v. 11), then a “prophet” (v. 17), then recognizes Jesus as a life changer (v. 25), then a “man from God” (v. 33), and finally he calls Him “Lord” (v. 38) and does a full body wave, worshiping at Jesus’ feet. He challenges the nitpickers and goodness sakers, reminding them that nobody in history has healed a man born blind. He declared, “Whether or not He’s a sinner, I don’t know. One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!” (v. 25).
How we need arm wavers. These are the people who cheer for their child’s Little League team when they down by ten runs, and praise the grandchildren for their creative coloring (even though they colored on the wall). They are the ones who jump up and shout when someone trusts in Christ and is baptized. In heaven, nobody will be nit picking (“I don’t like my mansion”), wound licking (“I see your husband didn’t make it”), or goodness saking (“I’ve got a better mansion than you”), but all will be arm waving before the throne of God. So if that’s what we’ll do in heaven, why don’t we live like that on earth?