Were The Books Of The Bible Chosen By Men?

A reason many people choose to disregard the Bible is that they believe that  it was written by man, not inspired by God and assembled by man, not discovered by the Church.  This short article will confront the second charge.

The accusation is not new; it has existed long before Dan Brown popularized it in his novel, “The DaVinci Code”.  The belief follows that the books of the Bible were chosen by attendees of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD under the insidious direction of emperor Constantine.  Officials allegedly picked and discarded writings based on their own judgment with authority given to them by membership on the council. But this isn’t what happened at all.

There is absolutely no evidence that canonicity of the New Testament was decided in THIS council or ANY council or in THIS way, PERIOD.  The agenda of the Council is well-documented and dealt with issues like: on what day to celebrate Easter and construction of the Nicene Creed, and debate over the Divinity of Christ (The Arian Controversy).  

The benefit for the skeptic in using this false narrative is that a man-made Holy Book would bear the limitations of all things man-made.  The content of Scripture could have been decided by prejudice or chosen advantageously by those seeking control of the populace. The latter is a common atheist charge to this day.  Given credibility, a vast inventory of human foibles lay open for modern day deniers of God from which to pick their favorite.  

However, there are answers.

No, the process of gathering our biblical texts was not a simple popularity contest for ancient writings, driven by personal whim and politics.  Instead, the Canon, a word coming from the Greek, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick”, is a list of affirmed books that had served as foundational to our faith up to that point.  In fact, any participation by any council was only involved to the extent that it merely declared the way things had been and not the way they wanted them to be.  This was done using the specific criteria provided below.

Geisler and Nix, in their book “From God To Us”, list five basic criteria for discovering the canonicity of the New Testament books:  

  1. Is the book authoritative—does it claim to be of God?
  2. Is it prophetic—was it written by a servant of God?
  3. Is it authentic—does it tell the truth about God, man, etc.?
  4. Is the book dynamic—does it possess the life-transforming power of God?
  5. Is this book received or accepted by the people of God for whom it was originally written—is it recognized as being from God?

Bible scholar Michael Kruger encourages every Christian to memorize this basic fact (and nine others, linked below) about the forming of the New Testament canon.  To battle these false ideas of skeptics and keep Holy scripture in its proper place, the Church must understand that the New Testament canon was “the result of many years of God’s people reading, using, and responding to these books”.

God Bless.

Sources:

Geisler and Nix. “From God To Us:  How We Got Our Bible”. Page 67.

Notes on Matthew 4:12-25: Questions, Chronology, and Fishers Of Men

Welcome to the GGFApologetics Notes on Matthew blog.  I am determined to work my way through a deep dive in The Gospel of Matthew this year.  Observations may range from pastoral to simple questions or a survey of Bible difficulties.  I will be drawing information from many different commentaries, articles and scholars. Sources noted below.

Let’s continue.

The second half of the fourth chapter in The Gospel of Matthew moves from Satan’s temptation narratives to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Verse eleven left Him in the company of angels with the devil departing as Jesus ordered him away, overcoming the evil one will become a recurring theme throughout the gospel narrative. 

Reading The Bible Like A Novel

We notice when the story picks up again in verse twelve that the Evangelist is concerned with Jesus’ movements.  He lists several geographical locations in a short block of text. Matthew opens with a curious statement: “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee” (v. 12).  

Why?  Why does this prompt Jesus to move His ministry?  

Issues like these remind me of something I remember hearing from Bible scholar Michael Heiser.  He says we should read the Bible like it’s a novel. That is not to say that we assume it’s fiction or that it’s a lower form of writing somehow.  No. The statement acknowledges that we read novels with curiosity. With novels, we are looking to make connections to information given earlier or making note of present material to see if it pops up again later.  Reading novels, we are acutely aware of the work of the author and where he wants to lead the reader.  So, according to Heiser, when we read that Jesus returned to Galilee once He heard about John’s imprisonment, if the answer isn’t obvious, we should ask “Why?”  Why would Matthew include this information? Is it something his audience would understand without explanation?  

In this case, there were a few practical advantages for Jesus moving His ministry along the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, a lakeside fishing village.  Capernaum was a busier, more populated place than Nazareth. There would be more resources, supplies for His ministry. And more people. A more populated mission field.  However, an increasingly dire reason may have been to get beyond the reach of Herod Antipas, who famously imprisoned John.

But Why? 

In my research, I uncovered a couple ways to look at the Why questions.  First, this passage represents another example of “Fulfillment Prophecy”.  Second, it may also offer commentary to Christ followers about recent events happening near the time of the Gospel’s writing in 80-85 AD.

 Fulfillment Prophecy

Matthew’s motivation for mentioning these locations, like Nazareth, Capernaum, and Zebulun and Naphtali, beyond historical detail may have more to do with his habit of reaching back into the Old Testament to bolster the prophetic street credentials of Jesus.  This time, it involves verse 13 of the Gospel:  

“Leaving Nazareth, he went and live in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali– to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:  ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people living in the darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’” ( Matthew 12-16 referring to Isaiah 9:1,2)

Yes.  Matthew reports another fulfillment of prophecy, this time from Isa. 9:1,2.  It’s interesting that the apostle condenses the passage from Isaiah seemingly just to highlight the presence of those city names and make the connection between those locations and the “dawning light” (Jesus).  The full text from Isaiah read:

“[a]Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

2   The people walking in darkness

    have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

    a light has dawned.”

Topical, not Chronological

Here is a good place to make note that Matthew often arranged information topically, not chronologically.  So we must not think that John was locked up immediately after Jesus’ final temptation. So if this historical event is not to be understood as listed chronologically, why include it here?  Again, we should ask why. Scholar Warren Carter believes the text served as a cultural commentary on Post-Resurrection life:

“This Isaiah text functions in Matthew 4:12-16 as an analogy for Rome’s empire. “Galilee owned by or under the Gentiles” now belongs to and is ruled by another Gentile empire. Roman control had been freshly asserted over Galilee in destroying Jerusalem and its temple in 70CE. Matthew’s Gospel, written in the 80s, cites Isaiah 9:1-2 to describe Roman rule as ‘darkness” and ‘death.’ It positions Jesus, at the beginning of his public ministry, as the light or saving presence that shines in the darkness of Rome’s imperial domination. Jesus asserts God’s light or saving rule in Roman Galilee.” (Carter)

So, while not listed in this chapter to represent strict historical record, Matthew references recent tragic events, the Temple destruction ten years or so earlier, to convey to his Jewish audience Jesus’ place in history.  He offers the real hope of Christ to a defeated people.

The Kingdom Of Heaven

“From that time on Jesus began to preach . . .” (v.17) There are a couple times where Matthew uses a phrase like this to mark our entrance into a different section of the Matthew’s Gospel. The other similar verse is Matthew 16:21 which announces that: 

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

So verse 17 separates this proclaiming of the kingdom from the first part of the gospel, the introduction (Matt 1-4), and Matthew 16 begins Jesus’ journey to the Cross (Matt 16-28).  These markers divide the book, again, by topic. Four chapters within the Introduction. Twelve chapters in each of the final two sections.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (v.17 continued)  This may sound familiar to those following along in this Matthew study because it is the identical message of John The Baptist.  Or is it? Scholar and commentator FF Bruce explains these words have different meaning when said by Jesus:

“Jesus’ message is summed up in the same words as John’s preaching but ‘the kingdom of heaven’ on his lips had not the same connotation as it did on John’s.  Jesus’ call to repentance was a call to men to re-access all personal and social values in the light of the approach of the divine kingdom in His ministry. . .” (Bruce, “UTNT”. P 15.)

Interestingly, because Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience, we have this much repeated phrase “Kingdom of Heaven”.  In Warren Wiersbe’s “Be Loyal” commentary on Matthew, he explains that, out of reverence for our Good Good Father, the Jewish people would not use the phrase “Kingdom of God”.  So they would use the word Heaven in its place. Kingdom of Heaven is mentioned thirty-two times in Matthew’s Gospel, while mentioning Kingdom of God only five times.  In parallel stories, in Mark and Luke, Kingdom of God has the majority of use.  Both those gospels were written to a non-Jewish audience, the Romans.

Wiersbe goes on to explain that:

“In the New Testament, the word kingdom means ‘rule, reign, authority’ rather than a place or a specific realm.  The phrase “kingdom of heaven” refers to the rule of God. The Jewish leaders wanted a political leader who would deliver them from Rome, but Jesus came to bring spiritual rule to the hearts of people.” (p42,43)

When Wiersbe mentions that Jewish leaders expected, in Jesus, a political leader, not a spiritual one, it makes me think about how we often observe uninformed criticism from skeptics.  These unbelievers scoff at examples of prophecy fulfillment inferring that New Testament writers simply invented the actions of Jesus in order to coincide with what was reported or prophesied in the Old Testament. But this accusation, in many cases, ignores the fact that the ancient Jewish people misunderstood so much about the coming of Jesus, who He would be, and how God’s Will would be accomplished.  The true events of the New Testament, in effect, would represent poorly told lies, in that the truth would be more difficult to believe because it so violently diverted from common Jewish thought.  

Fishers of Men

If one were to have The Gospel of Matthew as their only source for knowledge of the story of Jesus, they would have to believe that, seemingly out of the blue, Jesus commanded Peter and Andrew to “follow” Him in verse 19.  And they immediately dropped their nets and left their father Zebedee to follow this stranger. Remember, that before this, though, the events of John 1:19-3:36 had already unfolded. Jesus wasn’t a stranger at all. Jesus had spent a day with Peter, Andrew, James, and an unnamed disciple (possibly John) before calling them into service.  

The fishermen knew Him as the “Messiah” and John The Baptist had testified to them about Jesus before they were called into service.  The men did not follow Him blindly or as entranced sheep.

Note, this section of scripture also features the famous “fishers of men” line, for me, remembered so well from a children’s church song from Sunday school.  Well, interestingly, a similar phrase can be found in Jeremiah 16:16. But there, it’s fishers for men, meaning men catching people in judgment.  Jesus, on the other hand, ordained men to save people from judgement.  Another example of how Jesus turned the Jewish world on its head when he came here to be with us.

In closing, did Jesus turn your world on its head?  How differently would you be living if not for Jesus?  How has hope in Him changed you? Changed your relationships?  How would you describe this experience to an unbeliever?

God helping us, may we be true “Fishers of Men”.

Sources:

Carter, Warren. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3138

Bruce, FF.  “Understanding the New Testament:  Matthew”. Page 15.

Wiersbe, Warren.  “Be Loyal: Following The King Of Kings”. Pages 42,43.

Notes on Matthew 3

Each new year many believers vow to read the Bible cover to cover within the next 12 months. I have tried and failed this objective many times.  This year I want to try something different. I will study just a few books (starting with the Gospel of Matthew) of the Word instead of the whole book.  And I will STUDY instead just monotonously churn through words as I have done in years past. I will read commentaries, blog posts, opinions, histories, and textual criticism.  Pretty much anything about Matthew that I can get my hands on. So suggestions for study material would be appreciated.

I hope to periodically post notes and things I have learned from this endeavor.  I imagine some of it will be apologetics, some may be pastoral, and some maybe just asking questions for further study.  My hope in sharing is that someone else may be inspired to dig deeper into our Good Good Father’s Word. I have already benefited even in this short time.

So let’s begin.

In Those Days . . .

Thirty years goes by between Matthew Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.  If a modern day biographer did something like that, many the eyebrows would indeed raise.  But doubtful that ancient readers of the ancients texts cried, “What happened to adolescent Jesus?  The teenage Jesus? You missed stuff about young adult Jesus!” No Matthew skipped over a lot of ground to get us to the meat of the story.  It’s interesting that nine of Matthew’s 28 chapters are spent on the events of Jesus’ last days. So one third of the gospel. Writings of antiquity,unlike, say, modern biographies, often take this sort of lop-sided form.  

So, it’s clear, dilly dallying isn’t on the menu.  Matthew desperately wants to get his readers, the Jews, to the point where they learn who Jesus is and what He has done for them and how they should live with this knowledge.  So doesn’t it seem odd that we open chapter three by introducing another man? Not putting Jesus front and center? This new character is John The Baptist. (JTB going forward)

The Historical John

As someone very interested in arguments for the Historical Jesus, that is, arguments that make the case for Him as an actual historical figure, I am thrilled to see John come preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Why? Well, because JTB is an undisputed, to my knowledge, historical person. From Luke 1, he is also a distant relative of Jesus. His ministry was even mentioned by noted ancient Jewish historian Josephus. So people who are mentioned in genealogies and who have relationships with multiply-attested real historic persons are widely understood to also be ones of history as well, not myth.

Here’s what Josephus wrote about The Baptist in his work of ancient history, “Antiquities” (xviii. 116-119):

“Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the baptist  [the dipper]. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. For  immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions. And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt — for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise — believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret.

And so John, out of Herod’s suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod.”

The Poorly Told Lie

In current Jesus conversations with skeptics these days, all you need to do in mention Josephus to hear someone shout “Interpolation! The writings of Josephus were corrupted by Christian copyists or translators!” And yes, there is a very real possibility that one of the sections mentioning Jesus was tampered with (by whom, nobody knows).  So some skeptics might reflexively imagine that the passage on John the Baptist was interpolated at the same time as the passage on Jesus. Yet, as John P. Meier states (“John the Baptist in Josephus,” p. 227):

“The account Josephus gives of the Baptist is literarily and theologically unconnected with the account of Jesus, which occurs earlier in book 18 and correspondingly lacks any reference to the Baptist. The passage about the Baptist, which is more than twice as long as the passage about Jesus, is also notably more laudatory. It also differs from (but does not formally contradict) the four Gospels in its presentation both of John’s ministry and of his death. Hence it is hard to imagine a Christian scribe inserting into book 18 of the Antiquities two passages about Jesus and the Baptist in which the Baptist appears on the scene after Jesus died, has no connection with Jesus, receives more extensive treatment than Jesus, and is praised more highly than Jesus.”

So as Meier believes, the injection of new Christian material into the JTB passage in Josephus in this way would amount to the telling of a poorly told lie.  There would be many other bits of information more beneficially added to the passage that would further a Christian agenda or promote Christianity more fully.  One of which would be to directly mention Jesus and form a strong connection between the two. As written, it is too well disguised as an independent report to have any purposeful evangelistic use due to those nefarious Christian interpolators!

Now! Introducing . . .

I think the best way to describe the function of JTB in the Gospels is that his job is that of a herald.  Historically, a herald was an officer in medieval Europe who carried messages to and from different military commands.  We also often think of heralds as announcers who inform us that an important person is about to enter the room. So to respond to my own comment above about it being odd that Matthew starts chapter three by shifting the focus to another character,  he really isn’t doing that at all. John only points us and his audience TO Jesus Christ. He is the prophesied “voice of one calling in the desert.  ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3).

The first chapter of the Gospel of John describes JTB this way:  

“6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”

“Great in the Sight of the Lord”

The Gospel of Luke describes JTB’s early family history.  The book describes the miracle of his birth to a barren woman, Elizabeth.  His father Zechariah, a Jewish priest who served in the Temple, received a message from the angel Gabriel about his son’s future arrival.

First of all, I wonder what it was like to know from a young age that you will be “great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15).  If not for the next detail of being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (same verse), I imagine one could abuse such a situation. And many of us are told by our parents that God has a plan for us, but I imagine few of them have this knowledge corroborated by an angel.

The detail of Zechariah’s position as one in a division of temple priests also helps to shed some light onto JTB’s pre-Gospel history.  John Meier, a scholar who has issues with the Infancy Narratives in Luke, makes this observation:

“. . . I think that if anything can be salvaged from Luke’s narrative, it is the idea that John was the only son of a priest who functioned in the Jerusalem temple.  This would be a most significant nugget of information, for the only son of a Jerusalem priest would have the solemn duty to follow his father in his function and to make sure that the priestly line was continued by marriage and children.  If this was in fact the historical situation, John at some point must have consciously turned his back on and—in Jewish eyes—scandalously rejected his obligation to be a priest in his father’s footsteps and to supply priestly descendents after him.  Forsaking family duty as well as his priestly duty to the Jerusalem temple—therefore, forsaking all that was the most sacred to Judaism—he went into the wilderness of Judea to announce imminent judgment and the dire need for moral cleansing on the part of all the Jews.” (AMJV2 pp24.)

So John may have turned away from the norms and obligations of his culture in order to wait on his calling from the Lord.  Dressed similarly to the prophet Elijah, coming out of the desert, possibly in a Qumran settlement, John did not seek to exchange niceties with approaching Pharisees and Sadducees.  “Brood of vipers!” served as his opening greeting to the religious elites of the time.  Then he flatly informed them that their reliance on their heritage as being people in the line of Abraham will not save them from the impending “unquenchable fire” (3:12).  They must “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” to avoid the “coming wrath” (3:8).  Gangster.

Fulfilling All Righteousness

So we now see how John’s story simply sets the stage for Jesus to re-enter to story.  After establishing the workings of John’s introductory movement, Matthew set up the meeting between the “herald” and the most important person in history.

First, however, JTB needed to make clear that his baptism is different from that of the One coming.  After all, he was sent to preach a message of repentance and deeds, clearing a path for the Savior from sin.  John says in Matthew 3:11:

“11 “I baptize you with[a] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire.”

New Testament scholar Oscar Cullman explains that:  

“This is then the new element in Christian Baptism according to the preaching of the Baptist.  This new baptismal gift of the Holy Spirit is imparted neither by Jewish proselyte baptism nor by Johannine baptism.  It is bound up with the person and the work of Christ.” (BINTNT p.10)

In chapter 3, verse 13, it is told that “then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  Maybe it’s a small detail, but one might read this as all occurring in one scene: John chastising religious leaders and preaching his message of repentance, then Jesus shows up.  It very well could have happened this way I suppose, but I see this more as a compressed narrative where Matthew is stacking separate stories one on top of the other. Apart from careful reading, these connections almost appear seamless. However, the idea that the sinless Messiah needed to receive John’s baptism of repentance when he had nothing for which to repent is a difficult one to fathom.  I am not embarrassed to say that I struggled with this one. Even John seemed shocked by the idea and suggested that it was he who needed the Messiah’s baptism, not the other way around.  To this Jesus said, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”(v.15)

Let’s look closer at this response. One thing to note, this is the first time Jesus speaks in the entire New Testament, considering the traditional book order of the Gospels in your bible and excluding instances chronologically earlier.  Next, when I read “Let it be so now. . . “ I read the now with emphasis, as if it is a command.  Jesus here takes the role of someone lesser while simultaneously possessing the role of King.  So when He says, “it is proper for us to do this . . .” he means this is okay, acceptable, the right thing to do.  It is not that this needs to happen. And he convinces John that there’s no problem with doing this.  This is what Jesus wants to do in order to “fulfill all righteousness”.  I believe His baptism became a symbol of his joining fallen humanity because by joining us, he is fulfilling all righteousness by sharing our baptism of repentance.

The following is what happened next:

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

It is unclear who heard the voice from heaven or saw the Spirit of God descend, but anyone who witnessed this happen could only be awe-struck. Were they surrounded by disciples of John or was this a more personal and private meeting? The text isn’t clear. What we do know is that this event kicked off Jesus’ ministry and started His journey to the Cross. Him be praised!

Here are some words taken from the Matthew Henry Commentary on Matthew that may sort this out a little more:

“At Christ’s baptism there was a manifestation of the three Persons in the sacred Trinity. The Father confirming the Son to be Mediator; the Son solemnly entering upon the work; the Holy Spirit descending on him, to be through his mediation communicated to his people. . . Out of Christ, God is a consuming fire, but in Christ, a reconciled Father. This is the sum of the gospel, which we must by faith cheerfully embrace.” (Henry)

May we all continue to cheerfully embrace faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Thank you for reading this installment. May God bless you and keep you.

Sources:

http://peterkirby.com/john-the-baptist-authentic.html quoting “John The Baptist in Josephus” by John P. Meier. Pp 227.

Meier, John P. “A Marginal Jew Volume Two:  Mentor, Message, and Miracles”. P.24.

Cullman, Oscar.  “Baptism in the New Testament”. P.10.

Henry, Matthew. “Commentary on Matthew”.

All Scripture from NIV.

Notes on Matthew – Chapters 1 & 2

Each new year many believers vow to read the Bible cover to cover within the next 12 months. I have tried and failed this objective many times.  This year I want to try something different. I will study just a few books (starting with the Gospel of Matthew) of the Word instead of the whole book.  And I will STUDY instead just monotonously churn through words as I have done in years past. I will read commentaries, blog posts, opinions, histories, and textual criticism.  Pretty much anything about Matthew that I can get my hands on. So suggestions for study material would be appreciated.

I hope to periodically post notes and things I have learned from this endeavor.  I imagine some of it will be apologetics, some may be pastoral, and some maybe just asking questions for further study.  My hope in sharing is that someone else may be inspired to dig deeper into God’s Word. I have already benefited even in this short time.

So let’s begin.

Apologetics for the Jewish People

From the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, it is clear that the writer is forming a work of apologetics for the Jewish people, beginning with a genealogy that connects Abraham to Jesus Christ and then consistently noting where the happenings of Christ’s life reveal fulfillment of prophecy in the Jewish Scriptures.  

In just the first two chapters alone, we have five references to Jesus’ movements and presence fulfilling the words of the prophets.  In Matt 1:22-23, we have noted the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 with the instance of the virgin birth. Then Matt 2:5-6 shows that a ruler will come out of Judah, a reference to Micah 5:2.  Then in the span of the last eight verses of chapter two, we have three examples of completed prophecy with mentions of Hosea 11:1, Jeremiah 31:15, and a prophecy that is strangely unrecorded by the Old Testament Scriptures but listed internally as prophecy fulfillment in Matt 2:23.

There are many critics of Matthew’s habit of citing often vague and seemingly unrelated Old Testament scripture as fulfillment of prophecy.  The references do not come across as obvious or convincing in many instances. I invite you to Google the discussions for more detail. Scholar R.T. France, in his commentary “Matthew”, says the apostle applies these texts in subtle, seemingly forced and artificial ways.  But then he goes on to explain C. F. D. Moule’s observation that argues that “this ‘vehicular’ use of Scripture ‘is a symptom of discovery that, in a deeply organic way, Jesus was indeed a fulfiller of something which is basic in the whole of Scripture.’” France then goes on to say that:

 “what may seem to us an embarrassingly obscure and even irresponsible way of handling Scripture is in fact the outworking of a careful tracing of scriptural themes, which in different ways point to Jesus as the fulfiller not only of specific predictions, but also of the broader pattern of God’s Old Testament revelation.” (pp39-40)

So this topic is heading way beyond the scope of one of my blog posts.  A good item to shelve for further in depth study. There is tons more there.  I invite you to dig in.

Joseph’s POV?

More interesting to me is that much of the story here in the first two chapters seems to be from Jesus’ adopted father Joseph’s point of view.  Some scholars believe that Joseph may be an actual source for Matthew. But this just leads to more questions for me. When would Matthew have gotten Joseph’s testimony?  Would it have been from another source who knew him or is this direct testimony? The reason I ask is that it is my opinion that Joseph is no longer living by the time of the Crucifixion because of John’s Gospel observing mother Mary at the Cross in chapter 19, verse 25-27:

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[a] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (NIV)

So, in John, Mary is there with her sister, another Mary, wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdelene.  No Joseph. Now, we might think it is possible that Joseph was there but not mentioned until we see how the passage unfolds.  In the passage, Jesus notices his mother and arranges for the beloved disciple, John, to become her new son and she would be his new mother!  John is then to take her into his home “from that time on” (v.27). So many believe, including me, Joseph may have passed on by then. Nonetheless, it would seem odd if Jesus were to give his mother to the beloved disciple if His father, her husband, were still in the picture.

“Family” Matters

Note that Mary’s children are not by her side either in the passage from John.  Many believe that could be due to the family’s skepticism as reported in Mark 3:21-22: 

21 When his family[a] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (NIV)

It’s interesting that in a parallel story later in Matthew (12:46-50) the writer doesn’t mention any worries by Jesus’ family of mental illness as it does in Mark.  This may be inline with Matthew’s attempt to minister to the Jews about fulfilled prophecy and the deity of Christ so this doesn’t fit neatly into his apologetic purposes.

It should be noted however that the word “family” there in Mark 3 probably does not include Mary and Joseph and his brothers.  We think this, in part, because later in verse 31 it describes these family members (Mary and Jesus’ brothers) arriving onto the scene and calling for him. In the NASB translation, the word “family” (from the NIV) is replaced with “his own people” and the RSV called them “friends”.  

Other explanations for the source of Joseph’s testimony, if not him directly, could be that this came to Matthew secondhand, maybe from James or Jude as told to them by Joseph or maybe from other brothers and sisters or family members post-Resurrection. My guess is it would have to be from someone with a personal familial connection to protect this information for so long.

“How long?” you may ask.  Well, the common dating of Matthew is around AD 80 (I personally think it’s earlier). If that were true, and Joseph died before AD 30 (to keep the numbers round), and it was true that Matthew 1-2 records his testimony of parts of the nativity story, Joseph’s side of things could have been kept by this relative or relatives for 50 years or more.  

Herod The Great?

Bible skeptics often bring up Matthew 2:13-18, “The Slaughter of the Innocents”, as a narrative invention of the Apostle Matthew, mostly due to the fact that contemporary historians, like Flavius Josephus, do not corroborate the story of the murder of all infant boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.  To answer this challenge, I found an interview with ancient history expert Dr. Paul Maier, Russell Seibert Professor at Western Michigan University. Below, Dr. Maier first provides some insight into the notorious character of Herod The “Great” and then he answers the difficulty.

Interviewer:  Explain the paranoid side of Herod that begins to emerge later in his life.

Maier:  “Josephus gives us just a hideous tale of what was going on in the family, attempted poisonings, one brother against another. It so rattled Herod that he actually put to death three of his own sons on suspicion of treason. He put to death his favorite wife out of 10 of them. Mariamne was his favorite. She was a Hasmonean Macabean princess and he put her to death and then he killed his mother-in-law — I should say, one of his many mothers-in-law. He invited the high priest down to Jericho for a swim. They played a very rough game of water polo and they drowned him. He killed several uncles and a couple of cousins. Some have said he is a real family man, you know, in that negative respect.”

 (Continuing to document the cruel exploits of Herod . . .)

Maier:  “Well, Josephus has a very grisly thing to report about Herod in his last months. He was paranoid, though he did have some grasp of reality. For instance, he was worried that nobody would mourn his own death. Of course that shows how deadly accurate he was. They were preparing a general celebration. And nobody likes to die knowing that they are going to dance on your grave. And so he was going to give the people something to cry about.

In 4 BC he is in his winter palace in Jericho. It’s the only place in the holy land that doesn’t snow or get cold in the winter. It’s 1,200 feet below sea level. And Herod is dying. He tries every remedy in the world to stop the gang of diseases that were creeping up on him. He went to the hot springs on the northeastern corner of the Dead Sea. And that didn’t cure him.

So he goes back to his winter palace and he invites his sister Salome in and he says, “I want you to arrest all the Jewish leaders in the land and imprison them in the hippodrome just below the palace here.” And the hippodrome has been discovered archaeologically, by the way. And so she does so and then she says, “Brother, why am I doing this?” And Herod says, “Well, I know that when I die the Jews are going to rejoice. So I want to give them something to cry about.” And so he wants these leaders all executed in that hippodrome so that there will be thousands of households weeping at the time Herod the Great dies.”

Interviewer:  Speaking of Matthew 2, the Bible records this scene from Herod’s paranoia late in his life. The wise men alert him to the birth of a new king in Bethlehem. He wants to know where, so he can eradicate this new rival. The wise men wisely don’t return. Herod then responds by slaughtering all boys two-years-old and under in Bethlehem and in “all the region.” For all that Josephus writes about Herod, he makes no mention of this — in fact, there’s no extra-biblical evidence that this slaughter ever happened. How do you respond?

Maier:  “No, it is interesting. Josephus does not mention it. And therefore a lot of biblical critics will pounce on that aspect of the nativity account and say therefore it didn’t happen. Now please understand this is an argument from silence and that is the weakest form of argumentation you can use. As we say in the profession, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

In this case one or two things could have happened. Josephus may have heard about it and not used it because you don’t have hundreds of babies killed or you have only about 12, as a matter of fact, 12 or 15. The infant mortality in the ancient world was so huge anyway that this is really not going to impress the reader too much, believe it or not. And I think if Josephus is choosing between the two stories about how Herod died right before his death, I think I would take the one where he is going to slaughter hundreds of Jewish leaders.

Or he may not have heard about it. Again, simply because in little Bethlehem it doesn’t amount to much — a village of about 1,500 residents. In my actuarial study, Bethlehem at the time wouldn’t have had more than about two dozen babies two years old and under — half of them female. And so this is not a big deal, and I think that is why Josephus either never heard about it or didn’t feel it important enough to record. So this does not militate against Matthew’s version by any means.”

This concludes are my study so far. Continuing to chapters 3 & 4 next time.  God Bless.

Sources:

https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/truth-or-fiction-did-herod-really-slaughter-baby-boys-in-bethlehem

“Matthew”.  R.T. France.  TTNTC. pp39-40, 81-85.

Earthly Authorities

close up court courthouse hammer

1 Peter 2:13-17 New International Version (NIV)

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

I often wondered why God tells us so much to obey the local authorities. I can find at least four more instances, in addition to 1 Peter above, in Scripture, where we are instructed to respect those in authority over us or those who treat us harshly. Two times from Paul in Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-25. And a couple times by Jesus in Matthew 5:46 and Luke 6:32-36. To be clear, God never asks us to violate our consciences.

In Acts 5:29, we are implored that “we must obey God rather than men”. But legal authorities and other people in powerful positions, He wants us to love and treat kindly despite persecution.
But how are we doing this “for the Lord’s sake” (v. 13):

  1. He benefits somehow from our obedience?
  2. Or do we benefit?
  3. Does the church?

Does God benefit from our obedience to earthly laws?

Well, God doesn’t benefit from any of our actions because He is immutable, unchanging. Nothing can be added or subtracted to or from Him. We can find Old Testament and New Testament passages to support this:

“They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:26-27).
“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6).
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
“He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end’” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

So the first option is quickly out.

Does our response to earthly laws benefit us?

I think that it can be found throughout the Bible that our obedience benefits us. In the sense that such actions help us mature spiritually. It calibrates our objectives, our goals. We become more godly as we do as Christ did, carrying our respective crosses imperfectly, but carrying them nonetheless. In this exposure to people who treat us harshly or immorally, without provocation, grace and forgiveness must become a habit.
If we consistently render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, or become more heavenly-minded, this is a good thing. A tremendous thing. The more we act on the truth that this world is not our home, the better. But this cannot be something we do “for the Lord’s sake”.

Does our response to earthly authorities benefit the Church?

Yes. I believe it benefits the Church (capital C) by moving along our Good Good Father’s plan for His followers to be Christ-like and attractive to those who do not believe. Our behavior “controls the narrative”, to use modern political phrasing. If we are obedient to the government, like Nero, in the time of Paul and Peter, obedient to rulers, bosses, authorities of man, what can be negatively said of us by unbelievers? Certainly nothing about our behavior, right?

They must deal with our beliefs if we do not give them more reason or justification to silence us for something else. In verse 15 of 1 Peter 2, it says “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” So controlling the narrative within our culture. In other words, if we are to be persecuted, let it be for our behavior in Christ, not deeds done in anger or fear or sin. One verse later, verse 16 challenges us to “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
To cite a recent hot button topic, the media or political commentators will bring up attacks on abortion providers, like bombings. These horrible events, committed by extremists, only served to move the narrative from the issue, the dismantling of life within the womb, and place it firmly on the terribly misguided beliefs of the perpetrators, which were then painted as mainstream Christian beliefs. Pro-Life protesters, going forward, could not “silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”

So the movement suffers and children, sadly, continue to die at the hands of people who know better. The truth was hurt by folks, sympathetic to the cause, acting in evil.

Be Obedient, Like Christ

So obeying the authorities puts the believer on Christ’s path. He committed no crimes. Not against Roman law nor the Law of the Torah. Anything bad said about Him were lies. And His executioners knew it. The goodness of Jesus convicted the world. So must our goodness shine a light on a better way. The only Lord that saves.
May this, increasingly, become our calling.
God bless.
Sources:
https://www.allaboutgod.com/god-is-immutable-faq.htm

Are Christians Atheists Too?

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Are Christians Atheists Too?
Wandering the raucous hallways of a facebook apologetics forum the other day and ran across an unbeliever who loved the “I just believe in one less God than you” argument. I mean really loved it. Moving up and down the threads, I saw him employ it numerous times in seemingly one sitting. But what’s the appeal really?
I suppose people may think it’s a winning argument because it attempts to convict the believer of the same irrationality of which we accuse the unbeliever: Certain gods do not exist. And if we, indeed, make the claim that these other gods do not exist, we are then guilty of doing the same thing as atheists do, though not really atheism. In such a case, we would be making a positive knowledge claim [the non-existence of god(s)] that we cannot support observationally. So I would like to advise that we cease doing so, if this is the case, but I’ll get to that later.
The atheist argument follows that the believer denies the existence of all other gods except the God of their own personal choice, presumably the God of the Bible. So we, as believers, assume our own atheism [non-existence of god(s)] or their silly “lack of belief” stance on atheism, regarding Thor and Zeus and Krishna and the like. The popular statement of this position is worded as such by atheist Stephen F. Roberts:

“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace has a tidy answer prepared for those who hold this position:

In every criminal trial, a jury is asked to evaluate the actions of one defendant related to a particular crime. While there are millions of other people in the world who could have committed the crime under consideration (and indeed, millions of these people were actually available to commit the crime), only one has been charged. If the jury becomes convinced this defendant is the perpetrator, they will convict him based on their beliefs. They will convict the accused even though they haven’t examined the actions (or nature) of millions of other potential suspects. They’ll render a verdict based on the evidence related to this defendant, in spite of the fact they may be ignorant of the history or actions of several million alternatives. If the evidence is persuasive, the jurors will become true believers in the guilt of this man or woman, even as they reject millions of other options . . .At the end of a trial, juries are “unbelievers” when it comes to every other potential suspect, because the evidence confirming the guilt of their particular defendant was sufficient. In a similar way, we can be confident “unbelievers” when it comes to every other potential god because the evidence for Christianity is more than sufficient.”

Wallace’s response deals with our ability to judge rationally which gods exist evidentially through argument and reason. The existence of alternative “gods” do not logically hinder our ability to find one true One or render the existence of one true God irrational. That’s Wallace’s argument. But I want to deal with the first part of Roberts’ claim.

I CONTEND THAT WE ARE BOTH ATHEISTS . . .
Atheist Stephen F. Roberts’ argument, well, maybe more of an assertion, is that atheists and theists, if they do reject other gods, do so for the same reasons. This is untrue. Theists reject other gods because of what they know. Atheists, reportedly, reject other gods because of what they don’t know (lack of belief).
See, not too long ago, unbelievers adopted a new definition for atheism. Most of them categorically reject the definition of atheism found in the “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” which calls atheism:

“Atheism” is typically defined in terms of “theism”. Theism, in turn, is best understood as a proposition—something that is either true or false. It is often defined as “the belief that God exists”, but here “belief” means “something believed”. It refers to the propositional content of belief, not to the attitude or psychological state of believing. This is why it makes sense to say that theism is true or false and to argue for or against theism. If, however, “atheism” is defined in terms of theism and theism is the proposition that God exists and not the psychological condition of believing that there is a God, then it follows that atheism is not the absence of the psychological condition of believing that God exists (more on this below). The “a-” in “atheism” must be understood as negation instead of absence, as “not” instead of “without”. Therefore, in philosophy at least, atheism should be construed as the proposition that God does not exist (or, more broadly, the proposition that there are no gods).

They have replaced the definition above with what we will call a “lack of belief”. This position, if they would even agree to call it one, conveniently makes no knowledge claims. This is the upside for the god-denier. No propositions to defend. This “lack of belief” holds that theism must do the heavy lifting to convince them of our claim, since they have made none. The downside of this tactic is that atheism now lacks, among other things, explanatory power. A “lack of belief” only describes a personal deficiency and not reality. Atheism, as such, ceases to have cultural relevance as defined here, since non-beliefs cannot motivate or comment on or improve anything.

ANATOMY OF A TRAP
So Roberts’ argument now becomes a trap, volleying the adherent between two definitions. The unbeliever must admit that they reject gods because of a personal deficiency, rendering the position impotent, or they must make a positive claim that NO gods exist, a knowledge claim that they cannot support with evidence. They can’t really do both, can they?
While theism, Christianity in particular, continually seeks to explain the universe through reason, science, history, and philosophy, atheism reverts to “feels” and spiraling nihilism.

BUT ARE WE ATHEISTS TOO?
But are we atheists too? Well, God never makes these claims. In fact, He acknowledges other “gods” quite boldly in scripture:

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” Deut 10:17.
“Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 136:2.
“For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” Psalm 95:3.
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on *all the gods of Egypt* I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.” Exodus 12:12.
“God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:” Psalm 82:1.
“For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” 1 Cor 8:5-6.

And an article by Elizabeth Sloane from www.haaretz.com, an online edition of the Haaretz Newspaper in Israel reasons:

Early Judaism did not deny the existence of other gods. The Biblical story of Exodus categorically acknowledges and affirms the existence of other gods. It paints the plagues of Egypt not just as war on the pharaoh, but as a war on the gods of Egypt: “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments” (Ex. 12.12).”

Some may counter with examples of many other passages in scripture that seem to directly contradict the verses above. But what are they saying when they use the word “god” or “gods”. These are man-made idols. These are creations of creation, not of our Good Good Father. None of these stand in opposition to the God of the Bible on their own. They exist but not as the One True God who is worthy of worship, but as idols. False gods. Unholy machinations of our fallen nature.
So, no. We are not “both atheists”. We do not fall into contradiction claiming things we cannot determine through reason and evidence, like the non-existence of false deities. We continue to be able to explain reality by appealing to what best fits the evidence and not revert to a weak position of “lack of belief”.
God Bless.
https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/do-atheists-believe-in-just-one-less-god-than-christians/
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/#DefiAthe
https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium.MAGAZINE-what-if-god-didn-t-really-care-if-we-worship-other-gods-1.5459638

Comforting The Sufferers

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 New International Version (NIV):

3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

 

Does the Bible verse above describe how you usually respond to suffering?  I bet not. At best, my response to suffering results in my pulling away quietly from reality, hedging myself in with sports or books or movies, so I don’t have to deal.  Denial. At worst, I lash out at people who are not the cause of my trial.

The verse above probably best describes how I respond to other people’s suffering.  “Don’t worry about it.  It’ll pass. You’ll be stronger for this.”  As I type I notice that what I say isn’t false, it’s true, but most often I tend to refer to truth when I don’t need to be the one to live it.

Opportunity for Unbelievers

So often we hear atheists snicker about the existence of a loving God who has a suffering people.  To them, this is incoherent. If God is all-powerful and He loves you, why do you suffer, they ask.  They use these instances to play on our propensity to avoid the problem. That we may act on the call of our hearts to lash out, instead of reach out.

But when you consider atheism, you should know that this is, in fact, the incoherent worldview.  Atheism does not provide answers to the problem of evil; it just eliminates it as a problem.

If this is a God-less existence, what is suffering?  See, suffering can only be seen as bad or wrong or something that ought not happen if we have an understanding of what ought to be.  Atheism, if true, eliminates oughts.  

An ought-less world is one in which what happens just happens.  It’s a world of chocolate or vanilla choices and chocolate or vanilla results.  Nothing is good or bad. Things are just different, but equal in value, like the choice between chocolate or vanilla ice cream.  After all, who’s to say that one flavor is better than the other? What proof can we submit to decide? (Hint: It’s chocolate. Or is it?)  An existence without a standard of what ought to happen reduces life to these kind of choices.

Thus, every complaint or displeasure can only describe the condition of the complainer and says nothing truthful of the deed done or object of the complaint.  So, as such, the unbeliever lacks the ability to describe or explain reality. Truth exists within only their personal whims and not as something that exists apart from them.  For example, displeasure of being punched in the nose only describes the way the punched individual feels about the event and not the potential wrongness of the act itself against them.  But nobody really lives this way. That’s the incoherence of atheism.

So when unbelievers try to play us against God because of our sufferings, they entirely miss the point.

God’s Plan for Suffering

The point of suffering according to the text above is to establish God as the “Father of compassion” and the “God of comfort”.  Notice 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7 doesn’t tell us that troubles won’t occur. People of God were never promised a trouble-free life. These are the heretical rantings of false prophets and prosperity gospel preachers.  It says we will be comforted in our troubles. (v.4) This comfort is found in the Cross.

When reading this verse, it is important to understand that this letter is written by Paul on behalf of himself and his traveling companion Timothy to the church in Corinth.  So when he uses the words “we” and “our”, in some cases, he is referring to himself and Timothy. “You” and “your” is referencing the church in Corinth. In other cases, these words refer to Paul, Timothy, and the church all together as believers.

So not only does God comfort us (everyone) in our troubles through the saving work of Christ, we are to use this truth to comfort others.  Paul achieves this by acknowledgement God’s well-known sustaining acts within Paul’s life. The afflictions of persecution, imprisonment, threats of death, anxieties and impoverishment, for those, God has provided a peace for Paul and in turn, he passes on comfort to those also in trouble.  “If we (Paul and Timothy) are distressed, it is for your (Corinth) comfort and salvation; if we (Paul and Timothy) are comforted, it is for your (Corinth) comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we (Paul and Timothy) suffer.” (v.6)

So it is easy enough to understand the afflictions for which Paul has received comfort.  But what form did this comfort take for Paul? Bible commentator Colin G. Kruse describes Paul’s deliverance from his affliction, like deadly peril, as one of the ways that God provided comfort for him.  He also details relief from anxieties that Paul experienced when Titus joined him in Macedonia. It, however, is clear that he was never exempt from persecution and trial because of God providing comfort.  Kruse also offers that “up to the time of writing God has delivered Paul out of all his afflictions in the sense that none of them had proved fatal” (p.61, TTNTC)

Now, why should troubles occur in the first place?  Again, what is the point?

The answer has much to do with our sin.  Clay Jones, in his terrific book “Why Does God Allow Evil”, gives a short answer:

“God could not simply excuse Adam and Eve’s sin because the lesson to free beings would then be ‘Sin is okay, God will overlook it.’ But to demonstrate His love for us and to atone for the grave seriousness of sin, God sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for rebellious humans.  Now, we humans who trust God and accept Jesus’ death on the cross of our sins learn the horror of rebellion through experiencing rebellion’s devastating results. We are also learning to overcome evil with good. This knowledge prepares us to be fit inheritors of God’s kingdom, where– because we are learning the horror and stupidity of sin here on earth– we will be able to use our free will rightly as we reign with Jesus forever and ever.” (p.208)

Know that much of the quote above deserves further explanation and that is what Jones’ informative book provides.

So according to Jones, God has a reason for our suffering.  He has a plan the eventually leads us to being in His presence “forever and ever”.  We play a part in this as believers. We comfort those who suffer because we have found comfort in the finished work of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

May you personally find this kind of comfort in your life.

God Bless.

 

Source:  The Tyndale New Testament Commentary of 2 Corinthians by Colin G. Kruse (p. 61, TTNTC)

Standing On Our Christian Convictions

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Came across this quote today on facebook.  I had seen it before. But something was different about it today.  Now, likely nothing was actually different about it. More likely, something was different about me.  Ever have that? You see things day in, day out but you never really notice them. Or you notice them differently now than you did then?  That’s the way this quote worked on me today.

The person who posted this wondered aloud if Penn Jillette was softening is views on the existence of God.  Penn, a vocal atheist, hasn’t, to my knowledge, announced or renounced anything. And my thoughts about this quote do not really deal with his non-belief, but, in fact, our belief.

See, he seems to understand our purpose as Christians better than we do (sometimes).  And I have never said that about an atheist before now. Normally, atheists and agnostics get just about everything regarding our faith wrong.  Most of the time, they even get the definition of Christian faith wrong from the start. But here, he asks, “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?”  He sees that the believer’s act of delivering the Good News as an urgent God-directed mission of love, as we should. But do we really?

Penn offers that we may fear an awkwardness in our relationship with others if our actions are somehow rebuffed.  From his perspective, he just doesn’t believe that it’s real. His personal conviction is that God isn’t real, so this isn’t something of value.

But to believers, it must be real.  After all, this is our worldview. Our conviction is that God stepped down from His throne, into time, in the human form of His Son, Jesus Christ.  This God-Man then, in order to rescue those who love Him, sacrificed Himself to pay for their sins, while they were still sinners. He atoned for their (our) rotten deeds in a way that the Old Testament sacrifices could not.  With the blood of a perfect sacrifice. Our conviction is that Grace prevailed over our depraved nature and those who love God are now new creations. And our Lord has entrusted with us this message to the world.

So if these are our convictions, “How much do you have to hate somebody not to proselytize?”  Maybe it’s not hate, maybe it’s fear.  Or worse, maybe, we simply lack conviction. Because if we believe that the Cross that took the life of our Savior is the only way that the world can gain eternal life, for what reasons are we keeping this to ourselves?

Friends, if it is a lack of conviction, there are ways to know that what we believe is true.  There is information that we can attain that answers our reasonable doubts. We have the goods.  We can be bold in our actions. We need not be defensive or harsh. We need not shrink from challenges to our faith.  You can also pray for help with your unbelief or for God to continue His work in you, a maturing of your spirit.

Or maybe it is that we aren’t sure of our own salvation?  Could that be? But, as believers, we know that the greatest commandment tells us to love God and love each other.  So when we evangelize, when we share the Gospel, in doing so, we assure ourselves of the genuineness of our faith every time because, how much must we have to love somebody (God) to trust His Word and put it into action despite relentless chirping of a contrary culture that worships idols of comfort and greed? In addition, how much must we have to love somebody (others) to risk our relationship with them and tell them the truth that:  God is real, the Cross is real, and the Resurrection is true.

May we show love that changes lives.  And if for some reason we don’t, may we seek to change that about ourselves, God helping us.

God bless.

You Are More?

 

10th avenue

Attending a Christian music concert the other night, I became inspired by the lyrics of the Tenth Avenue North song “You Are More”.  This is a song that I have long admired and believe it’s message is true. Here is a sample of the chorus:

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

The song, written to the believer, makes a value judgement regarding a person’s relationship to the choices, mistakes, and problems attributed to them.  It places a person’s identity above their undesirable actions or consequences. Now I would think that believers and unbelievers, the same, would agree with most of these words, apart from the last line, “You’ve been remade”.  Aside from this reference to the regeneration of the human soul, surely there are folks who deny the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus who surely believe in their own personal value and, thus, feel enabled to enthusiastically belt out those lyrics right beside me.

The unbeliever’s testimony to the value, or “moreness” of humanity can be witnessed in instances like their moral indignation to the plight of the poor.  The fight for civil, moral, or “reproductive” rights also calls to attention a belief in inherent attributes of each individual that would not be relevant to beings whose existence stem from strictly material forces.

But how can they so rightfully agree?  On what rational basis can they place themselves, their worth, their identity, above the accumulation of their actions if not for the presence of an ultimate provider of value?

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

The unbeliever may think that the answer lay in his ability to create value within himself.  In other words, much like they claim meaning and purpose for their lives, the God-denier himself needs to be the source of his own value.  But if that were true, where does one attain this value, if they do not possess it from the start? And is this self-given value real? For instance, if I call myself a king, but am not actual descendant of certain royal heritage, am I a true king?  I may feel as though I am a king. I may self-identify as one, but if I were honest, I have no authority to change the objective state of who I am, or have been from the start, no matter how many people I ask to “bow” to it.

Conversely, Christians account for this inherent worth of humanity from a source outside themselves.  Value, worth, meaning, and purpose are things that are given to us, not things true by virtue of human declaration.

Believers rely on the authority of the divine inspiration of scripture.  From Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.”  As image-bearers of God, humans are set apart from the rest of creation and given dominion over “the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (v.28)  Not only does God demonstrate our value to Him through creation, He does so by the sacrifice of His son on the cross for those who love Him. We know this because Romans 5:8 tells us that “ . . . God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

This “remaking” we hear about in the last verse of the song’s chorus informs us of a regeneration of the believer’s spirit accomplished by Christ succumbing to death on the cross, paying for the redemption of His people with His life.  An undeserved act of God alone to bestow righteousness upon those who love Him. Something He as sovereign Lord alone has the authority to do.

So humanity can only be more because of our status as image-bearers of the Good Good Father.  Because of grace, believers are not only more, but are righteous because of Christ’s finished work for our redemption.

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

May we sing that last verse as loudly and surely as we are able to sing the three before it.

God Bless.

Church, Where Is Your Joy?

Joy

Today in church, we were awarded a special treat. We witnessed a profession of faith and two baptisms and a testimony. While professions of faith and baptisms are an absolute blessing to the church, this post will focus exclusively on the testimony. Allow me to paraphrase the joyful message we heard below:

After being challenged to confess her sins to God by her unchurched mother, she feels guilt for avoiding church and putting it off, so, alone with her child, she finally gives in and confesses. When she does this, she did so completely with an open mind and an open heart. To her amazement, she heard words, though not with her ears, that she had not used before this moment. The words were not hers, but they were spoken into her heart. And then, she confessed.

After her confession, since she had missed church, she found a church service streamed online. The sermon mentioned Isaiah 43:18-19.

She quickly looked up this verse in the pages of a used teen study bible someone had given to her. Within the Word of God, she read the verse, noting not only God’s answer to her confession, but that out of every verse in her used study bible, this verse was the only one marked with a highlighter. The only one. Through His Word God told her:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:18-19

While it occurred to me and many others that a wonderful thing had happened to her, later, I thought of something else. Much of what happened to this young lady we can see fits into a portion of our church order of worship.

http://network.crcna.org/worship/historic-order-worship

Some churches have a different order and may have slimmed it down to just a few headings, but in this order, we have Gathering/Praise, Confession, Proclamation, Response to the Word, Lord’s Supper, and Sending. I am, of course, paying close attention to the Confession section of worship here. Within that section we have sub-headings: Call to Confession, Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, Passing the Peace, and Response to Thanksgiving.

It occurred to me that God had lead her through part of this order of worship without the presence of a pastor, worship leader, choir, or congregation. Our Good Good Father came down to meet her in her own living room and, with Him and her baby son, she had church there. She experienced the Holy Spirit Calling her to confession through her mother. God lead her through her Prayer of Confession. God, then, Assured her of His plans for her in Isaiah 43:18-19. She received Peace from the Lord over the condition of her heart and along with that, a desire to joyfully tell others what He has done for her in Thanksgiving.

My telling of this event in this way is not to say that these things (pastor, worship leader, etc,) are unimportant, but to show that we as believers in Christ and church-goers get to follow this order of worship every week and some of us can still remain unmoved by it.  Why is that?

Unless you were there, it is hard to adequately describe the energy and joyfulness by which she had told us what God had done for her.  The room was electrified.  And why shouldn’t it be?  God performed a miracle on this woman’s heart just as He has for you and me.  I find the joyful manner by which she delivered her message to be almost as important as the Word she shared with us.  My hope, going forward, is that those blessed to be in attendance will not let this detail fade from their memories.  It is for this reason I humbly ask: Church, where is your joy?

Please pray with me: Lord, if we haven’t felt this way in a while, may this be us again.

God Bless.