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Sunday, 27 May 2012

A Lesson From Esther

The little book of Esther is the last of the historical section of the Old Testament. It comes after Nehemiah and before Job, which is the first of the poetry section.  It is also the only book in the entire Bible where there is no mention of God. Of the four key characters on which the story is set, this blog focuses on Haman, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Persia, ruled by King Xerxes and his wife Queen Esther, a Jewess who was brought up by her uncle Mordecai.

Haman was the second greatest person in the whole empire, after the King himself, even to the extent that the King commanded that everybody must bow to him. He was fiercely proud, and considered himself worthy to receive the obeisance. There is an instance of his boasting as recorded in Esther 5:11-13:

Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honoured him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. "And that's not all," Haman added. "I'm the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the King to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me with the king tomorrow..."

But Haman also festered a grief in his heart. For he continues:

But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate."

But what was it that made Haman so angry? It was Mordecai's refusal to bow to Haman in obeisance. Mordecai's refusal to bow was not out of spite, nor was it due to disrespect, or not accepting Haman's social superiority. Neither was it to do with social class either. It was to do with his own faith in God. God had instructed through Moses that worship, or even obeisance other than to God was forbidden. But added to this, according to Jewish thinking before the Crucifixion, Haman was a Persian, of the Agagite clan. An uncircumcised Gentile in other words, who was outside of the Covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants.

So because of just one Jewish man refusing to bow to Haman, the Prime Minister made an agreement with King Xerxes to have all Jews in his kingdom annihilated. Haman wanted all Jewish men, women and children killed and the whole nation wiped out.

We could call this the Holocaust. An ancient version of it.

Both Haman and Adolf Hitler had very similar characteristics. Both wanted all the Jews killed. And for the same reason - racial superiority. The only difference is that In Haman's case, all the Jews were spared, thanks to the intercession of Esther herself. With Adolf Hitler, some six million were slaughtered in the Holocaust, but this is most likely a fulfillment, or part-fulfillment of the pledge recorded in Matthew 27:25 where the Jews cried out to Pilate, "let (Jesus') blood be upon us and on our children." But happy to say, not all of Israel was destroyed at Hitler's Holocaust.  Only three years after the defeat of the Nazis by the Allies, Israel became a sovereign nation once again, after some 2,500 years under Gentile domain and without a homeland of their own.

The story of Esther has been dismissed by academics as just a moral tale without historical evidence. But Mordecai's return to Jerusalem is recorded by two witnesses, Ezra (2:2) and Nehemiah (7:7) and also his genealogical record is recorded in Esther (2:5) as being the son of  Jair, the son of  Shimei, the son of Kish, who was one of the captives taken to Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. If the Bible assures us of  the existence of Mordecai, and  together with archaeology also confirming that King Xerxes also existed, then there is no reason to believe Esther and Haman to be fictitious characters. In addition, the Jewish festival of Purim, still celebrated today, marks the occasion of the deliverance of the Jews from Haman's hand. Such traditions don't come from fictitious events. Also worthy of consideration is the boastful conversation Haman had with his wife and friends after returning home from the banquet. How would the chronicler know about this unless the narration was inspired by God?

Haman was a proud, arrogant racist who was also too snobbish just to have Mordecai executed without harming anyone else. That was why he felt that every Jew must die with Mordecai. Anything less was beneath him. His end was what he deserved. When Esther exposed his plot to have even herself killed, Haman was terrified for his own life - as the King pierced his soul with his enraged look before walking out of the dining room to the palace garden. It is as if Mary, the mother of Jesus, was right when she declared that God would send the rich away (from his presence) empty. She was not merely referring to the rich ending up as a street beggar, but being sent to Hell. Just as the two rich men in Luke 12:13-21 and 16:19-31 both died suddenly, so was Haman hanged that same day. The embarrassment he must have felt as he passed Mordecai, sitting at the King's gate, gazing up at him as he was pushed through the streets, with a growing crowd of people following, who, not long before, were bowing to him in obeisance! How many in that crowd were gasping with utter astonishment at the fate of this great man who had somehow fallen out of favour with the King, whose fury was obvious for all to see? All is wealth, riches, his family and friends, his high status, his prestige, his high position, all coming to nothing. At the same time, the terror of death was eating him up.

It is really, a shocking story! It is a lesson all of us could learn from. The apostle James was fully aware of the snobbish arrogance amongst Christians in his day, who cossetted up to the rich and at the same time despising the poor. After his introduction, he got down to business and stated the purpose of writing his letter, which was to do with his attitude of the rich. He then wrote this, to push his point home:

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here is a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "sit on the floor at my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James explains his position by referring to the rich as the one who would take the poor to Court, the ones who slander the name of Christ and also the ones who exploit the labourer without paying him an adequate wage. In chapter 5, he continues:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths has eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workman who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter (or as in the day of feasting). You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.
Verses 1-6.

But why was James so harsh against rich people? Could it be because Jesus himself had said that it was very hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God? And having also declared that where a man's treasure is, that is where his heart is also.  Jesus also said that no one can worship both God and money, but will worship either one or the other. But having said this, is a man automatically condemned to Hell simply because he is rich? Paul the apostle has this to say about the rich in his letter to the Romans:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God's kindness leads you towards repentance?
Romans 2:4.

To be rich is an act of God's kindness I think, is twofold. First, the kindness of God is meant to lead one to repentance. Secondly I firmly believe that God does not have any issues with a rich man than any other sinner. Rather, after repentance, God is fully able to change his heart so he will become more compassionate to the worse off, which would lead to generosity. The case of Zacchaeus is a good point (Luke 19:1-10.) After inviting Jesus to his home, his life was changed beyond recognition. He resolved to repay everyone he had cheated four times over as well as give half of his riches to the poor. Jesus replied that today salvation has come to this man, also a son of Abraham.

The gift of eternal life through the indwelling Holy Spirit is fully able to cause a saved person to lose his hold on his riches, and fill his heart with compassion for the less well-off. A Christian with wealth can bring a lot of good to a community, if  he allows the Holy Spirit to dwell richly in his life, together with his assurance of salvation and the true riches stored up for him in Heaven. Such a wonderful grace of God! No wonder Jesus said that what was impossible with man is possible with God. God has the power to change hearts to this day, if we let him.

Jesus says that one either worships God or money. And I believe that wealth also include a high education, social status, a high-flying career as well a a large house or fast car. The person who worships either or all these things do so because he wants to show to every one else how successful, clever, well-educated he is. After all, Haman's wealth and position would mean nothing to him had his palace had been out in the desert, with not a single soul around for many miles, save his family. What had made all these things so important to him? Being seen by others that he spends his working hours with the King, and that his home is in the midst of a large city, Susa, the capital of the entire Empire. It is the same with all of us. You are only middle class if there is a class of people lower than you who mingle in your location, or even simply exist anywhere in the world. Alone and totally unknown in the desert, class would mean nothing. For example, a man may have thirty sheep. Is he rich or poor? Alone, no one can say. But if among a group of neighbours, all of them having just one or two sheep, then the man with thirty may be considered rich. But if his neighbours have several hundred each, then that person would be looked on as poor.

The Bible seem to be clear that those who worships money, social status and wealth are still in their sins and needs to repent, or else God will "send them away empty". My experience of being a "born again" Christian is that acquiring wealth is no longer my aim or long term goal. Sure enough, I panic if my window cleaning business goes through difficult times. But being concerned over inability to pay my creditors is one kettle of fish. Wallowing in wealth with self-satisfaction is something else all together. God can make a rich believer compassionately generous, as with the case of Zacchaeus.

Paul the apostle provides an attitude very much like that of Zacchaeus, having such a striking contrast to that of Haman, that it's worth mentioning here:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I compare everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I will gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness which comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow, to attain the resurrection of the dead (meaning to live as if already resurrected).
Philippians 3:7-11.

Wow! Now isn't that exciting???

If being so Christlike makes everything else on earth seem like faeces (the proper meaning of the Scripture) then let it be so. My riches and treasures are in Heaven. So let me be content with my humble social status as a labourer. Is Jesus Christ your be all and end all? Then rich or poor, you have something to be excited about!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

We ARE Lights Of The World

Following from my last blog Salt and Light of the World -Us??? I came across this statement, written in the 1970s:

If a man who is a Communist was to arrive at your community, you will know about him within a day.
If  he is a Socialist, then you will know after several days, maybe after a couple of weeks.
If a Christian arrives, you may not be aware of his faith for several years.

It makes me wonder how true this statement is. I, for one, would not want to keep my faith a secret. But I must admit that at times I can feel embarrassed to say that I belong to Christ. In my job as a self employed domestic window cleaner in which I work alone, I sometime wonder just what my client thinks of me, my workmanship, my prices and most important of all, my moods and how I feel when communicating. If I feel a little grumpy, perhaps because it's cold and damp (typical British weather), or because a client is never at home to pay his fee, feeling anxious about tax, or simply morning blues, to say I have joy in Jesus Christ would not be well backed up by personal reality, would it? Neither if my client dithers in payment, makes excuses to delay or avoid paying, or the nadir of them all, to be told that it is not worth cleaning his windows - it looks like rain this afternoon. Like the time when one gentleman wearing an England tee-shirt deliberately looking over my shoulder to scan the sky behind me when he answered the door. At least I kept my cool the moment I wanted to say something nasty to him. Then adding loss of customer due to selling up and moving away - with the new occupants disliking door tradesmen as rip-off merchants or a waste of money, time and space. Or the death of a long-standing client who had been loyal and faithful for many years.

Maybe you too find the workplace to be the most challenging area of your life to be a witness for Christ. Maybe after conflict with a colleague at the office, being told off by your boss or criticized by a supervisor, you think that testifying of your holiness in Christ would not go down well in such an environment, or it would seem out of place. In a world of push and shove, you may still feel the need to evangelise, not so much for having a heavy heart over their eternal destiny, but because your church leader, pastor, elder or minister had once said that keeping quiet about Christ is almost on the par with denial. So the feeling is as if you are pushed into a corner.

Looks familiar?

That was my Christian experience for many years. In fact I did, and still have the desire to share Christ in me. But what is hindering me? I believe it's the fear of ridicule, mainly because my lifestyle may not mirror the testimony, therefore in a way, disgracing God. For example, if I was impatient with someone, I would feel embarrassment in telling him how he should become a Christian.

And there are other issues too, modern education is one of the greatest barriers blocking my attempt to share Christ. One of the chief connections with the testimony of Jesus Christ is the conflict between the Bible's revelation of a six-day, young-Earth Creationism with Darwinian Evolution. On this site I have dealt with this issue. I have demonstrated the impossibility for one living cell to have evolved. The cell is such a complex unit that even atheist mathematician Fred Hoyle had calculated that for just the basic enzymes in the cell to have evolved by chance would be one in one, followed by forty thousand zeroes! This means that the entire age of the Universe, up to the present day, would not be able to accommodate the time span needed for evolution of the cell to even have gotten a start. The evidence of the cell, the building block of all living organisms, is crying out for a Creator.

But it is much easier for the one unsaved to believe the testimony of one atheist professor than to examine the facts for himself. I am referring to Professor Richard Dawkins, the author of the book, The God Delusion. In it, Dawkins provides what looks to be the most undeniable proof that the Earth is very old and all life evolved as first declared by Charles Darwin. This undeniable proof is Plate Tectonics, the slow movement of the plates making up the Earth's crust and responsible for the drifting of the continents, often known as Continental Drift. Dawkins insist, for example, that South America is moving away from Africa at the same rate as the growth of a fingernail, which is 3-4 cm each year.  If the rate of movement had remained constant, it was calculated that the Americas would have taken roughly 180,000,000 years for them to have moved from Europe and Africa since the split of the original supercontinent of Pangea. Furthermore, under the Atlantic Ocean, between the Eurasian and the American continents, regular magnetic strips running north/south along the Atlantic seabed indicates the polar magnetic field flipping at regular intervals, so that in one era, the Magnetic North is over Antarctica while at the next interval, the Magnetic North is over the Arctic icecap, as it is today. Information gathered by measuring these lines seems to add further evidence of a very old planet.

Therefore, Dawkins holds out the undeniable proof the our planet is much, much older than what the Bible allows for. This is very appealing to the unregenerate heart, which would go through great lengths to deny the truthfulness of the Bible to the point that the Scriptures are held to the point of fictitious ridicule. The end result is that any Christian who holds on to the belief of a young-Earth Creationism is looked upon as fantasist at best, a quack, or a lunatic at worst. Indeed, education can impede the sharing of Jesus Christ to others, unless the conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit takes place in the recipient's heart in readiness to receive Christ.

Yet true Christians must have some impact on both the intellectual world and the common population. Educated professionals such as who I call the Big Three - Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens have all written books belittling or denying the existance of God and advocating as well as defending Darwinism. Alongside these three, TV presenters such as David Attenborough, Andrew Marr, Brian Cox (all of the BBC) and others have defended Darwinism to the nation. It seems odd to me, if Evolution, supported by Plate Tectonics is so factual, to see these authors convey the idea that such a theory appear to be under threat. And under threat does Darwinism seems to them, despite that here in the UK, the percentage who believes in Evolution is most likely more than 90%. of the whole population. Dawkins has indeed, became a household name, even spoken from the pulpit of churches right across the country.

Richard Dawkins

As for myself, who believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, a revelation of Himself to us, and a believer of a young-Earth, literal six-day creation -  I will admit that Plate Tectonics is a massive embarrassment to my faith. On the outside it does look as if Dawkins and his ilk were right after all. And there is nothing I can do to change their minds, and for that matter neither the minds of the unregenerate who accepts Darwinism as scientific fact.

But my own experience seems to testify that I am a light in the world, without conscious effort on my part. Let me share a couple of examples with you:

I was at a warehouse at a nearby town of Reading back in 1980, having taken up a temporary job there just prior to becoming self employed. One fellow staff worker approached me and asked if I was a Christian. Although I replied in the affirmative, the remarkable thing about this incident was that I never spoken a word about my faith to anyone - I did not like the job at all and I felt depressed much of the time I spent there. Yet, against all odds, the light shone - as it did in 1990 when I was sitting at a bar and engaged in a conversation with a gay fellow and his partner who also called at the venue. I kept my faith hidden, as I believed back then that it was incompatible with my liking of him. His tone of voice was so soft, gentle and uplifting - something many Christians can learn from! He then assured me that he was aware of my "religious faith" and that he too goes to church, and furthermore, gives voluntary assistance to the pastor. No prompting from me, it just happened.

As was more recently, one of my clients whose windows I was cleaning, came out of the house and called up,

Who was the brother of Moses?

Correctly believing that his wife was doing the crossword, I answered,
"Aaron - Double A, R-O-N!"

I was amazed. I cannot recall saying anything to this guy about my faith, yet he knew. Not many would know by heart the name of the brother of Moses for this guy to have asked. Again, the light of Christ shone without the effort of my part.

We who are believers are lights of the world. There is nothing we can do to make the light shine. It just happens.

And I still believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. Even if Plate Tectonics seems a threat to the truthfulness of the Scriptures. While cycling home from church this afternoon, I was pondering on this matter, when I remembered about the testimony of two or three witnesses needed to convict a wrongdoer in Court. Moses wrote that the two or three witnesses must fully agree with each other before a trial can take place. If there is disagreement, then the case is void.

Charles Darwin then came into mind. But not one accused, rather one whose theory was in need of verification. Two witnesses were needed to verify Darwin and his theory of Evolution. Two witnesses did arrive. One was the Cell. The other was Plate Tectonics. Plate Tectonics said Yes, Darwin is genuine. But the Cell denied this, saying that it was mathematically impossible to have evolved.
The case had to be thrown out. The two witnesses disagreed.

But the testimony of Jesus Christ Crucified and Resurrected will always stand the test. No witness is able to stand against Him. Darwin tried, and his followers are still trying. But Darwin lost the case and if so, so will his followers. The testimony of the Bible will stand for ever. So will the Light of Christ shine out of us forever, too.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Salt & Light of the World - Us???

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and be trampled by men.
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they might see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:13-16.

For many years I believed that Jesus here was telling us to work hard at our good deeds so not only would evil in the earth be checked, but men will glorify God in heaven. I no longer believe this.

Read carefully what Jesus is saying here:

You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world.

This indicates who we are in Christ, not something to be achieved by works. When one turns to Jesus for salvation, we become both salt of the earth and a light of the world just as naturally as that I am a man. I did not work to become a man. At conception, a sperm with an Y-chromosome fertilized the ovum in my mother's fallopian tube, as it made its way to the womb.  After that, developing  from a microscopic-sized ball of cells to a fully grown man took no effort on my part, except to eat when necessary. On the same level, a believer is a light to the world and at the same time salt to act as a preservative. It is as natural as being a man or woman.

Salt applied to meat preserved it, as in those days refrigeration did not exist, and meat would go off very quickly under the hot sun in the Middle East. Salt has a disinfectant property which allowed meat to be stored until ready for use (usually within a day). Even today, salt applied to a wound may give a burning sensation, but has healing powers due to the disinfectant properties.

And a flame does not work to radiate light, except to consume the fuel in the wick. It gives light as naturally as it gets. Light allows the occupants in the room to get about their business without the need to grope or to risk knocking furniture over or to feel for the wall.

So what does the Christian need to do to be the salt and light of the world? Nothing, except to be there.  It is presence of a Christian that has an effect on the unbelievers around him.  And this is not restricted to New Testament Christians. It was equally effective during Old Testament times. Consider the conversation that took place between God and Abraham:

The men turned away and went towards Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said:
"Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there is fifty righteous people in the city? Would you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing - to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous with the wicked alike. Far from it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?
The Lord said, If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
Genesis 18:22-26.

Abraham then very cautiously reduced the number of the righteous to 45, then to forty, down to just ten. But even with ten, God promised that he would spare the whole city for their sakes. Indeed, ten righteous souls were enough to be salt and light to the whole city. But even when the corruption of the city reach heights which were beyond the point of no return, God was specific in rescuing Lot and his two daughters from the catastrophe.

So what was it which makes a person righteous? In Hebrews 11:6 the author wrote that without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. So faith is necessary to please God. But faith in itself does not do anything. There must be an object of faith, something to believe in. This object is Christ crucified. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was, and had always been, the object of faith. Right from the time of Adam and Eve, faith in the coming Messiah was that which justified a person, and the righteousness of God was imputed to him.

Abraham provides a classic example. In Genesis 15:6 the narrator states that Abraham believed the Lord and he was credited to him as righteous. Paul used this incident in his letters to Rome and to Galatia to press the point home that faith in Christ crucified justified a person without works. But in the 15th chapter of Genesis, nothing was said about a future Messiah slain on his behalf. Instead, God was revealing to him that despite his age, he will father a son. And righteousness was imputed for believing in that specific revelation.

But in John 8:56, Jesus himself, while in a hot debate with the Jews, declared that their father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing his day, he saw it and was glad. When did Abraham see Jesus during his lifetime, I can't be dogmatic. But in chapter 12 of Genesis, we read that God revealed himself to Abraham for the first time with the command to leave his homeland for Canaan, to which God will give to his descendants. When he arrived at Canaan, God revealed that through his offspring, or seed, he will give this land - verse 7.

After rescuing his nephew Lot from enemy kings, Abraham was met by Melchizedek, King of Salem, who offered a meal of bread and wine, which today we see as symbols of the body and the blood of Jesus Christ, which he himself consumed with his disciples on the night of his betrayal. It was soon after this that God appeared yet again to announce that from his loins that a son shall come.

Then it at this point was the likelihood of the coming Messiah was realised, when he matched the revelation given to him by God with the one from Genesis 3:15, when God spoke to the snake in the presence of Adam and Eve that the snake will bruise his heel, but he will bruise the snake's head. It is interesting that the narration was most likely recorded by Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, for the benefit of their descendants, as hinted in Genesis 10:1, and Shem recorded his own line of descent from 11:10 onwards, down to Abraham. If true, then this may add proof to the Jewish tradition that this mysterious Melchizedec, who served bread and wine to Abraham, was actually Shem himself. Putting all these things together gave Abraham the faith in the future Messiah who would bruise the snake's head, coming from his own loins. Thus God imputed righteousness to his account, as he does to all believers today. If these things are true, then the object of faith - that of the future Messiah promised from the dawn of history, was well known among early mankind, even before Moses permanently consolidated the account while writing the Pentateuch.

In Luke 1:6 the writer describes the elderly couple Zechariah and Elizabeth as upright in the sight of God, observing all the commandments and regulations blamelessly. Does that mean that one can be accepted by God by one's own works? Now if Hebrews 11:6 says that its is impossible to please God without faith, and Paul in his letters to the Romans and to the Galatians were insistent that no one is saved by keeping the Law, or else Christ died for no purpose, then why was Zechariah and Elizabeth righteous? A clue may be found in Luke 2:25-32 that Simon,who was also described as righteous and devout, was waiting for the consolation of Israel, that is, the future Messiah. Then the elderly widow, Anna spoke about the child to "all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem," that is again, faith in the coming Messiah.

So we can see here, that everyone who looked to the coming Messiah before the crucifixion were counted as righteous by God. Everyone who looks back to the crucifixion are also counted righteous by God. We see then, that it is Jesus Christ crucified which takes centre stage in all of history, and not our good works.

Just as we have the righteousness of God imputed into our accounts through faith in Jesus, we are both salt and light to the unbelieving world. But didn't Jesus say that our good deeds will bring men to praise God? Yes he did. But let us put this in perspective. What is it that glorifies God? Sinners turning to Christ for salvation. Our good works are for the benefit of men, not God. Unbelievers are not able to see our faith in God without good works flowing from our faith. These good works, first of all, keeps evil under restraint. Thus they could be likened to salt preserving the meat while in storage until used. Our works are also likened to light from a lamp or candle to direct unbelievers to Christ. But none of our works can add a single layer to our salvation. We are the salt and we are the lights. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make ourselves into salt and light.

To be called salt and light by Jesus Christ himself is a wonderful act of grace, and a demonstration of God's love to us and to the unbelieving world.