Osama and Jesus

President Obama evoked some powerful imagery in his announcement last night: images of the empty chair at the dinner table and the children who are growing up with a parent missing. He reminded us that Bin Laden was a mass murderer, who indiscriminately killed men, women, children, Christian and Muslim alike. Only those who have known the pain of losing loved ones to these terrible events can really know what loss they have struggled with and what satisfaction they feel in knowing that the man who caused their loss is now gone. It is safe to say, though, that in the light of these powerful memories the whole world feels a sense of satisfaction this morning that a monster has been slain.

For those of us who are Christian there are additional, powerful images that join our memories of the pain that Bin Laden caused. The image of Jesus saying “love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44.) The image of Jesus dying on the cross and saying “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34.) The image of the Saints and martyrs of the Christian faith refusing to take up arms against their persecutors but speaking together with the Lord, in his Spirit, to say “Father, forgive them” (Acts 7:60.)

What a contrast there is between Osama and Jesus! Osama Bin Laden’s actions show him to have been a man who never believed in forgiving one’s enemies. He believed in crushing his enemies, inflicting as much – or more – pain on his enemies than they had inflicted on him. He believed in revenge, not grace, in everlasting reward for those who kill the enemies of God and in everlasting punishment for those who are God’s enemies. Osama and his followers don’t pray for their enemies they dance joyfully in the street when their enemies die.

I’m glad we Americans aren’t like that. Oh – wait, we are. I remember watching T.V. on 9/11 and thinking to myself “nuke those s.o.b.’s.” A scene flashed onto the screen of crowds of people streaming out of Manhattan and I saw a man in a turban walking in that crowd and blurted out to my wife “there’s one, kill him!” It was about that time that Jesus got a hold of me in the Spirit and started talking to me. If I want to kill the enemy who wants to kill me then how different am I from my enemy?

The contrast between all of us and Jesus is quite striking when you think about it in this way. How could Jesus, even as he was being tortured to death, ask forgiveness for his enemies while our reaction – whether we’re Al-Qaeda on 9/11 or American on 5/1 – is to cheer joyfully in the streets at the death of our enemies? What does Jesus know about God that our darkened, depraved human nature does not know and cannot see?

For one thing, Jesus knows the Father’s heart and the purpose that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit are working toward. The purpose of humanity’s existence is our adoption through Jesus Christ as the Father’s children (Eph. 1:5) and our education in the Holy Spirit about this truth of our adoption (Eph. 1:17.) This means that tools such as justice, reward, punishment, and discipline are not an end to themselves but are a means to an end. God’s primary purpose is not to administer justice and punish the wicked. The Father administers justice and punishes the wicked as a means toward accomplishing his purpose of helping his children grow up in Christ to be the children he created them to be.

The tragedy of Osama Bin Laden is that he did not know his identity in Christ as an adopted, reconciled, and forgiven son of the Father. That tragedy spilled over out of Bin Laden’s life into all of our lives and created tragedy for us. Jesus invites us to join him in his cross to break this cycle of sin, violence, and revenge. He invites us to see that our enemy is also included in the Father’s life just as we are and is therefore our brother. And because he is our brother we can pray for him and seek his redemption.

And this is the hard stuff. This is where the rubber hits the road in the Christian life. We can blather on and on all day long and twice on Sundays about how God is love and God loves everyone but our true colors come out (as they did for me on 9/11) when we see how we think about our enemies. Everything in our flesh cries out for revenge, to hurt those who have hurt us, and to rip out an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The problem with that philosophy is that everyone eventually ends up blind and toothless. And the Father did not create humanity to live forever blind and toothless (Matt. 5:38-39.)

Here are three thoughts that have helped me in this regard. Perhaps they will help you.

1. We are all sinners, forgiven and adopted in Jesus (Rom. 5:18.) The gospel is the good news that everyone has been reconciled to the Father and included in Christ in spite of our hatred for him and for one another. (In case you don’t know what the Bible says on this subject, here are a list of scriptures that you can read: John 1:29; Rom. 5:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:19; Col. 1:19-20; 1 Tim. 4:10.) That means that Osama and I are both sinners and we are both included in Jesus’ work to make us the forgiven children of the Father. Honestly, there is something deep inside me that doesn’t like that. I want Osama to burn while I watch. That’s how different I am from Jesus.

2. Since we are reconciled we need to be reconciled (2 Cor. 5:19-20.) In Jesus we are all reconciled to the Father but we are not always being, living, and thinking as the reconciled people that we are. We all still hurt others and sin in ways that perpetuate the cycle of violence and revenge. So, through the Spirit, in the Son, the Father pleads with us to be who we truly are in Christ: the Father’s reconciled and forgiven children.

3. The gates of the New Jerusalem are never closed (Rev. 21:25.) At any time any person can stop rejecting Jesus and believe the truth that he is the adopted, forgiven child of the Father in Christ. American Christianity is deeply infected with the non-Biblical, human tradition that says that if you don’t get right with God before you die that you will never be able to get right with him. This idea fits more with Bin Laden’s view of God than it does with Jesus’ view. If your view of God is that he is a cosmic sheriff dispensing justice then it makes sense to think that there is a statute of limitations on repentance and if you are even one minute late in conforming to this law then you are out of luck. But if you see the Father of Jesus who has poured out his Spirit on all humanity (Acts 2:17) then you know that Fathers never give up on their children. The door is always open for the children to realize who they really are, come in out of the darkness, and join the joyful celebration of the Father’s house (Luke 15:28.) This is the difference between seeing God as a law-keeping super-sheriff and seeing God as the good Father who loves the Son and loves humanity in and through the Son.

In my mind, these three points come together in an interesting way when I read Revelation 3:9. There Jesus speaks to people who have suffered pain and persecution and death. Jesus tells them that he will make those who have persecuted them come and fall down at their feet and acknowledge that he has loved them. I think what Jesus is describing is how we get from the pain of this sinful life to the place of being the reconciled children of the Father that Jesus has made us to be.

I think it might go like this: When Osama has finally worn himself out with weeping and gnashing his teeth in the darkness outside the New Jerusalem he will look up to see the Lamb of God who has taken away his sin and the sin of the world. (What?! Jesus is present in the place of torment? Yes. Rev. 14:10.) He will then, at last, be ready to be the reconciled person that Christ has made him to be. The Lamb will then lead him into the city through the gates that never close. And the first thing Jesus will have Osama do is to go fall down at the feet of those he persecuted and acknowledge that Jesus has loved them. And then those who hurt Osama and played a part in making him into a monster will be led by Jesus before Osama. Those who hurt him when he was just a little toddler, longing to be loved and accepted, and those who hurt him when he was a young man trying to find his place in the world, will come and fall at Osama’s feet and acknowledge that Jesus has loved him too.

I don’t know how long all this takes. And I admit that I’m speculating based on who Jesus is – maybe it will never happen. Maybe there are some people who will gnash their teeth in the darkness forever. But if they stand outside the party forever it won’t be because Jesus isn’t with them in their torment or because he hasn’t loved them and prayed for them. He is with them, he loves them, and he is praying for them.

What I do know is that we are all reconciled in Christ and that it is possible for us to be the reconciled people that we are because all things are possible through Christ and all things have been made new in him. And the knowledge that humanity’s future could be far, far better than humanity’s present is all the motivation I need to join Jesus in loving my enemies and praying for them.

~ Jonathan Stepp

20 comments so far

  1. Jeannine on

    Excellent, timely post, Jonathan. I don’t know the truth about Osama bin Laden here on earth. Was he who we have been led to believe he was? Was he responsible for what we are told he was? It’s very hard to know for sure.

    Regardless, I believe that OBL was brought out of his darkness (darkness we all share as humans to different degrees) at his death and shown the truth about himself as he stood face to face with, and in the all-exposing light of, Jesus. Hopefully he saw that the terrible things he had done were still insignificant (!!!) in light of his identity – unearned as it is for all of us – in Jesus. I believe that at that point he had a choice to return to that darkness where he would again be blind (weeping and gnashing his teeth outside the gates – yet still not alone and unreachable as you pointed out) – or to move on in that instant and live for the first time in the light as an adopted son of God.

    We’ll all have that choice to make. As the darkness is ripped from our eyes and we see the truth about ourselves and about God for the first time – and see others the way Jesus does – I don’t believe too many of us will give what others did to us in their darkness a second thought. We’ll recognise them for the changed, transformed people that they are – just as we are. We will all see Who is the source of it. And that will leave room for only eternal gratitude and joy.

  2. Pastor Jonathan on

    This is really what judgment day is about, isn’t it? We will all stand before Jesus someday and be judged to be the Father’s forgiven children in Jesus and the truth of that light will burn away the darkness of the lies we’ve believed.

    • Jeannine on

      The image is beyond beautiful. Imagine people’s reactions when they see that the Father was always for them, never against them. When people who never knew Jesus see that every kind word or loving act that they received issued from His lips and hands. When all the damage life did to us is stripped away and we are healed, made whole and straight – and revealed as the people we were created to be.

  3. Jane Hinrichs on

    Jonathan, Some wonderful points. I was thinking yesterday about Osama Bin Laden going to hell and how none of us would want anyone to go there if we knew how bad it was.

    But I have a question — do you really think that once someone dies they will have a chance to be redeemed? What about the verse in Hebrews (I think it is Hewbrews 9:27) where it says, after death comes judgment?

    I would very much like your take on this and what you scriptures you use to come to you conclusions. Thank you so much.

    It’s all about Jesus!

    • Pastor Jonathan on

      I believe we have to read the Bible, and place all our thinking, in the light of the Father who loves the Son in the love of the Holy Spirit, and who loves humanity through the Son, in the Spirit, and that would include how we define the word “judgment” in Heb. 9:27. So, I would interpret it to mean “it is appointed unto man once to die and then to be judged by the Father who has adopted and forgiven him in Jesus.” There is no reason that we have to interpret the word “judgment” to mean “an event that forever seals someone’s destiny no matter how sorry that person may be in the future or how much that person may come to believe in Jesus after meeting him face to face and/or experiencing the misery of hell for a while.” Many Christians quote that verse as proof that you can’t repent and believe in your salvation in Christ after death but the verse does not say that, it just says that judgment comes after death – so it all depends on what we think judgment is, doesn’t it? If I think that judgment is the judgment of the loving Father through the Son then it actually only makes sense to believe that people can still repent after death. What kind of Father keeps allowing his kids to be miserable even after they’ve learned their lesson? Can you imagine if I said to my son “son, you messed up and need to be punished so I’m sending you to your room forever, it doesn’t matter how sorry you may be someday or how much you want to be allowed back into the fellowship of our family, you will be confined to your room for all eternity”. That would be child abuse. The only logical purpose for a loving Father to ever discipline anyone is so that the person will change his mind (repent) and believe the truth of who he is in Christ. So, Heb. 9:27 only supports the idea that you can’t repent after death if you assume that the word “judgment” in that verse means “the punishing action of a judge passing sentence on criminals” but Jesus doesn’t reveal “Our Judge in heaven” he reveals “Our Father in heaven” and therefore the word judgment in that verse has to be interpreted in the light of how a good, loving Father judges his children.

      • Jane Hinrichs on

        Thank you! What you wrote makes a lot of sense. I’m going to have to pray about this a bit more. I’ve been taught and believed for years that judgment meant forever, but how you put it shakes that belief up big time. Thank you for responding. God bless you!

      • Jane Hinrichs on

        What about the part in Revelation that says people will be thrown into the lake of fire and when it mentions the “second death.”

        What’s your take on those passages?

  4. Jerome Ellard on

    Here is the Father’s judgement:

    “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23b)

    Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

  5. William E Jones on

    Jane brings up a good point. “people will be thrown into the lake of fire” What do you suppose the lake of fire is referring to?

  6. William E Jones on

    Also, in Revelation 11 it says God will destroy those who destroy the earth. What do you think about that one?

  7. Pastor Jonathan on

    I believe we have to read the Bible, and place all our thinking, in the light of the Father who loves the Son in the love of the Holy Spirit, and who loves humanity through the Son, in the Spirit, and that would include how we define words in the Bible such as “fire” “second death” and “destruction.” All of these terms have to be seen in the light of who Jesus is: he is the one who has reconciled all things to the Father (Col. 1:20) and who has justified everyone (Rom. 5:18) and made all things new (Rev. 21:5.) At the most fundamental level we are talking about the Father who loves the Son and has included all people and all things in the loving relationship he has with that Son. Therefore, everything we say about judgment, fire, destruction, death, life, heaven, hell, and all of existence, has to be seen in the light of the Father/Son relationship that is the heart of God’s nature.
    So, a Father’s discipline can feel like fire and bring about the death of all that is wrong in his children and destroy his children’s lies and darkness. A Father carries out such discipline in order to purify and save his kids from their wrong choices. Here’s a basic question we have to ask ourselves: does Jesus reveal a child-abusing Father or a loving Father who administers discipline in order to bring people to repentance? A child abusing Father will eventually run out of patience and kill his children. A loving Father will allow his kids to experience the consequences of their actions, and even discipline them, but he never gives up on them and never acts out of a desire to take vengeance on them or destroy them for their failures and sins. This is the fundamental lesson of the way the Father interacts with both of his sons in the Parable of the Prodigal (Luke 15.)
    We can go on like this all day,quoting scriptures back and forth and wondering what they mean, but the real issue is not what the Bible says – we all know what it says. The real issue is what does it mean? Do we interpret every verse of the Bible in the light of the Father/Son relationship that is God’s nature or do we interpret every verse based on some other view of God: sheriff, judge, cosmic avenger, etc. The problem that we are all struggling with is that we have been trained to view God primarily through a lens of Greek philosophy (Aristotle’s distant, non-relational unmoved mover) and through a lens of medieval theology (God as a feudal Lord whose honor has been offended and who demands satisfaction through a legal justice system.) We haven’t been trained to read the Bible or view God as he has revealed himself: the loving Father of the Son who loves and embraces his creation in the Son and through the Holy Spirit. So, until we embrace the revelation of the good, loving Father revealed in Jesus Christ we will constantly be finding verses in the Bible that we think undo who Jesus is and invalidate the revelation he gives us of the Father. It is only when we let the revelation of the Father in Jesus stand above the Bible and allow his Spirit to lead our interpretation of it that we can read it correctly for it what it is really saying about God, humanity, and the nature of existence.

  8. William E Jones on

    I really do like what you are saying, and it sounds like…well, heaven. Well, what will happen to death, hades, evil, satan?

    • Pastor Jonathan on

      Once again, I would start with God’s existence as Father, Son, and Spirit. I see the Father reconciling all things in creation to himself in the humanity of his Son, Jesus, and reconciling means putting into correct alignment what has been out of alignment. I think that death, hades, and evil are part of what has put the creation out of alignment, they are not part of the Father’s good creation but, rather, distortions of the good creation. In Christ they have been, and are being, destroyed in order to reconcile the creation and put it into the right relationship with the Father which it was created to have.
      Satan, however, I would classify in a somewhat different way. I see humanity, through our descent from Adam, as standing at the head of creation. Humanity was created last of all the creation as the apex of creation and all things were placed under Adam’s dominion and that includes spiritual powers within the creation, such as angels, who are merely ministering spirits in the Father’s household while human beings are are the Father’s children and heirs (Gal. 4:7, Heb. 1:14)in that household. Someday we will be elevated above above the angels and as heirs we will someday sit in judgment over them (Heb. 2:6-8, 1 Cor. 6:3.) The problem, of course, is that we kings and queens of creation fell into sin in Adam. So, when the Son came in the flesh as Jesus, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45,) he restored humanity, in and through his own person, to its rightful place at the head of creation, including human headship above the spiritual powers. In doing this he reconciled “all things, whether in heaven or on earth” to the Father (Col. 1:20) and filled the whole universe with himself (Eph. 4:10.) I take this to mean that the reconciliation of humanity in Christ means the reconciliation of the whole created order, including spiritual powers such as angels and demons, because the whole created order is subject to Adam’s descendants through both the order of creation and the death and resurrection of the last Adam, Jesus Christ. So, I believe that Satan and the demons are reconciled together with the whole creation, but it also seems clear from scripture that they do not accept, believe in, or celebrate this reconciliation. And passages in Revelation and elsewhere strongly indicate that they will never accept the reconciliation they have through the human nature of the Son, the last Adam, Jesus. But belief in reconciliation does not create reconciliation for angels or for humans. Reconciliation for all of creation, angelic and human alike, has been created by the Father, through the humanity of the representative Man Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We, together with all things in creation, have been reconciled by Christ and now the question – for humans and angels – is whether we will believe that we are reconciled or keep believing the lie that we are not reconciled.

      • William E Jones on

        I gotta say, this is some great stuff. I kind of had the same interpretation but I had those questions and now I believe you have answered them for me. Of course, I must research what you have said, but Thank you!

      • William E Jones on

        Btw, I think I would like to read or hear some of your sermons. Is this site the best way for me to do so?

      • Pastor Jonathan on

        Thanks, William! The best place to listen to my sermons is at The Adopted Life website, http://www.theadoptedlife.org – that is a weekly newsletter that Tim Brassell and I publish together with John Stonecypher, who is the editor. On that site I have audio of a couple of hundred audio files of my sermons. Just go to the website and click “audio” and then click “Jonathan’s Archive.” Or, you can follow this link directly to my archive:

        http://theadoptedlife.org/audio-archive/jonathans-archive/

  9. Jane Hinrichs on

    Thank you Pastor Jonathan. Your words are insightful and I think you nailed it there with looking at beliefs we, and the church-at-large have to question and realize what they are rooted in. Thank you so much for your kindness also. Have a nice evening.

    • Pastor Jonathan on

      Thanks, Jane, I’ve enjoyed our dialogue and I appreciate your comments and questions.

      • Jeannine on

        Just catching up on the comments here – Jonathan, I LOVED your responses. I couldn’t help smiling the entire time I read them – pure joy!

      • Pastor Jonathan on

        Thanks Jeannine!


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