From the Archives: Reasoning Outside the Box of Human Reason

Unless you reason outside the box of human reason, you can forget about understanding the Jesus of the Bible. Only those willing and able to break the constraints of common experience and human rationalism can hope to make any sense of Jesus’ life and ministry.

The birth narrative of Jesus demands that we think outside the box. We have no conceptual or experiential category for a woman conceiving a child without sperm from a man. But the biblical authors announce that Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin named Mary by a direct act of God. We are to understand that although fully human, Jesus had no earthly, biological father—a reality Mary found no easier to grasp than we do (Luke 1:31-35).

Another mental box the Jesus of the Bible explodes is our understanding of kingship. Beginning with nursery rhymes and children’s stories and then attaining higher levels of historical awareness, we learn to conceive of kings as people born in palaces, attended by servants, and consumers of every luxury afforded by their culture. Kings rule their realms and lead armies. They conquer and reign, or at least try to.

But once again the Bible bursts the walls of this mental box. King Jesus is born in a cattle stall to a peasant woman. He is a wood worker and itinerant preacher who befriends commoners, carries no sword, and leads no army. And the placard proclaiming him king does not hang from an archway leading into his royal palace. It is not etched on a gold plate fixed to the back of an ivory throne. That placard is nailed to a rugged cross where Jesus is being tortured to death by soldiers and languishes under the curse of God (Matt. 27:35-46).

“Some king!” the critics scoff. Yet Jesus prophesied His crucifixion (Luke 18:31-33) and claimed that He would sit in victory at God’s right hand following His execution (Luke 22:69). Far from dismissing his earthly kingship as an abysmal failure, Jesus and His followers claimed that His ministry on earth secured His reign in heaven and guaranteed His future return to reign on earth (Acts 2:25-36; Rev. 19:11-20:4).

A third mental box Jesus explodes is our understanding of death. Experience teaches us that no one beats death. We have no humanly rational explanation for one vulnerable enough to succumb to a hideous execution, yet powerful enough to stare death in the face, conquer it and ascend to heaven’s throne. But this is precisely what Jesus claimed to do and what His followers proclaimed that He did—despite suffering persecution for their witness (Acts 3:11-4:3; 8:1-3). Unabashed by the seemingly irrational notion of bodily resurrection, Jesus’ followers insisted that Christianity was a farce without it (1 Cor. 15:15-19).

By the strict demands of human reason and experience, the birth, ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ are absurd. We cannot catch these realities in the small boxes of human reason and experience. And this is precisely as God intends!

Both the critics and the modifiers of biblical Christianity need to recognize that God intentionally designed the way of salvation in Jesus to be naturally inconceivable. God ordained that the revelation of Christ prove impossible for human beings to grasp within the strictures of their own cognitive and existential powers.

The apostle Paul ably summarizes this theme: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him. God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:20-21).

In other words, God designed the path of salvation such that no one will ever boast in having found it on his own. God has ordained that no one be willing to believe in the authentic Christ until he or she has been divinely enabled to believe. We cannot see Jesus for who He really is until God opens our eyes to this spiritual reality (Matt. 11:27; 16:15-17; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:4-16; 2 Cor. 4:6-7). God ordained this state of affairs to assure that no one will finally attempt to transfer God’s infinite glory onto finite creatures, but that all who are enabled to see the light of Jesus will revel in the infinite splendor of God’s mercy and grace through all eternity (Eph. 2:4-7).

At the heart of the mind-blowing truths that God opens eyes to see, is the truth that Jesus died to save sinners from God’s wrath. It is mind-boggling to think that God does not accept good people but receives those who are His natural enemies—people who lie, cheat, lust, swear, hate others, love themselves and fail to love God with all their hearts (Rom. 4:4-5; 5:10). It defies human reason that the sinless Jesus would die to pay the penalty of sin, forgive sinners, and defeat death in their place.

That may not seem to make sense, but deep down in your heart, you know this is exactly what you need. Around other sinners, you can get away with lying and cheating, with lust and greed, with gossip and bitterness. But God sees all and His standard is nothing short of absolute moral perfection. We need God to cancel our sin debt, to give us His righteousness and to mercifully embrace us as His own.

The good news is that God does just this for those who trust His saving grace in Christ. This transformation begins when God opens our blind eyes to see what we cannot naturally see; namely, that Jesus alone provides salvation from God’s wrath. Perhaps God is opening your eyes to see that what you so desperately need is precisely what Jesus alone supplies (Acts 4:12). Reach out right now and receive the free gift of salvation by faith and your joy will defy all human reason.

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