How and Why Did the Universe Begin?

The Bible makes some huge claims concerning the beginning of the universe:

John 1:3, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

Hebrews 3:4, “Every house is built by someone, and the builder of all things is God.”

Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both the heavens and on earth, visible, and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

Hebrews 1:2, “In these last days he has spoken to us through His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

Hebrews 1:10, “You, LORD in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands” (Psalm 102:25).

Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.”

How is it we can justify these claims? Can they be proven scientifically? There is actually a great amount of philosophical and scientific evidence which proves that God created the Heavens and the earth by his own will out of nothing.

One of the great questions of life is “why?”. Why is there life? Why is there a universe? Why is there something rather than nothing? If there is something, when did it begin?

We may try to fathom an infinite past, but it quickly becomes a nonsensical option. What makes the most sense is that the universe had a beginning. This is what we read in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A Persian philosopher, Al-Ghazali noted: “every being which begins has a cause for its beginning; now the world is a being which begins; therefore it possesses a cause for its beginning”.

Thomas Aquinas said God was the Unmoved Mover or Uncaused first Cause. He is the necessary being—He exists by virtue of his own nature without cause.

Leibnizian cosmological argument

The argument comes from Gottfriend Wilhelm Leibniz. Leibniz wrote, “The first question which should rightly be asked is this: why is there something rather than nothing?”:

1Every existing thing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.

2If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

3The universe is an existing thing.

4Therefore the explanation of the universe is God.

The Thomistic cosmological argument

1What we observe in this universe is contingent (i.e. dependent, or conditional)

2A sequence of causally related contingent things cannot be infinite

3The sequence of causally dependent contingent things must be finite

Conclusion: There must be a first cause in the sequence of contingent causes

William Lane Craig put forth the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

The universe began to exist.

Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This is a very simple syllogism (argument), yet it is very profound.

Examine point number 1. No one really believes that something can come from nothing. If that were possible, it would still occur. Those who claim that something came from nothing do not mean nothing as we mean nothing. They are referring to an indescribable amount of energy compacted into the tiniest space imaginable. It is a vacuum of fluctuating energy governed by physical laws and having physical structure. We must still find where it came from and why it came.

Some would say that premise 1 is true of everything except the universe. That is an absurd claim. What about God? The premise does not say everything has a cause. The premise says that everything which has a beginning has a cause. God does not have a beginning or a cause. This is not special pleading for God. It is exactly what the atheist claims for the universe.

The universe did begin to exist. Things infinite do not exist in physical reality. Although, they may exist in potential, there is no opportunity for infinite series to actually exist. We may be able to speak of an infinite series (0, 1, 2, 3,….). However, that would never actually exist in reality. Many of the arguments against an actual infinity can also be traced back to Aristotle and John Philoponus.

Scientific evidence for the universe having a beginning does exist. The “Big Bang Theory” is often now regarded as an atheistic philosophy. However, when it first was proposed, it was met with approval by theists because it helped to prove what Genesis 1 claimed. This is a quick summary of the events which led up to the theories developments. Albert Einstein assumed the universe was static (unmoving) when he was working on his theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. He actually had to fudge the numbers in order to make his theory work with the static universe he believed existed.

Alexander Friedman and Georges Lemaitre took Einstein’s equations at face value, and they arrived at the conclusion that the universe is expanding. This theory of an expanding universe was confirmed in 1929 when Edwin Hubble discovered that light from distant galaxies appeared to be more red than expected. This “redshift” is the result of galaxies moving away from a center of the universe. It was as if there was a beginning and everything was rushing from it. This Friedman-Lemaitre model eventually became known as the Big Bang Theory. Both time and space had a beginning point—Genesis 1:1. God was the cause of the effect and the source of the material.

The thermodynamics of the universe also point to Biblical creation. Since everything is expanding, it will eventually become a featureless spread in which no life is possible which is referred to as the “heat death” of the universe. Since this is the case, we can know that the universe has not existed forever. If it was infinite, then this heat death, should already have occurred. The laws of thermodynamics fit the Biblical model.

The universe has a personal creator. An actual infinite series of regress to explain the universe is impossible. Only a “being” would be able to arrange and begin and supervise the beginning. Since the cause must be sufficient for the effect, then the cause for the universe must be greater than the effect.

We again must turn again to the Biblical evidence which is in perfect agreement with the scientific evidence. Hopefully, after this study the Biblical claims will be more impressive after a more in depth study of their claims. Note how the beginning of the universe (both time and space) fits with the following Biblical claims.

John 1:3, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

Hebrews 3:4, “Every house is built by someone, and the builder of all things is God.”

Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both the heavens and on earth, visible, and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

Hebrews 1:2, “In these last days he has spoken to us through His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

Hebrews 1:10, “You, LORD in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands” (Psalm 102:25).

Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Psalm 33:6, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.”

Is Jesus the Messiah?

“Who do you say that I am?” This question is just as important now as it was when Jesus asked Peter. A plethora of answers have been put forth to the question, but we must arrive at the truth.

How Can We Know?

There are great reasons for trusting the text of the Bible. Many have lost their confidence in the Scriptures’ accuracy today because some in academia have twisted evidence and discoveries in attempts to devalue the trustworthiness of the Bible. These attempts to discredit the text and trustworthiness of the Biblical record are easily discredited. The attacks against the actual text are easily dismissed. The “other books” put forth giving “new” or “conflicting” information are obviously spurious. Their lack of character is why we are just now finding them.

We can trust the providence of God to protect the Scriptures in their inspiration and transmission to us today. However, we can express more confidence than just simply saying “God sent it to us.” There is evidence to believe this part of our faith. William Lane Craig puts forth the following reasons for trusting the Biblical record.

There was insufficient time for legendary influences to erase the historical truth.

The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary urban legends.

The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable.

There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision.

The gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability.[1]

Luke 1:1-4 gives us a glimpse into the reliability and painstaking accuracy given by the authors. The providence of God gives us further evidence for trusting the Scriptures.

Instead of inaccuracies in the Scriptures, we actually see great evidence to trust the Book. Historicity is generally seen in the following: Historical fit; Independent, early sources; Embarrassment; Dissimilarity; Semitism; and Coherence.[2]

 

The Claims of Christ

Is Jesus who he claims to be? Before we can answer that question, we need to know who he claimed to be. One of the primary pieces of evidences for us to consider is Mark 8:27-30. There you will remember Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus accepted this description. Either he was a lunatic, a liar, or he is the Lord. John the Baptist’s affirmation in John 1:27-29 also describes Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus affirmed his own Messiahship in Luke 7:18-23.

Jesus’ life fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Christ. The majority of these things Jesus had absolutely no control over. However, Jesus mounting a colt and riding into Jerusalem is a deliberate fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy from 9:9. Jesus is deliberately fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy. Zechariah 14:21 says “there shall no longer be traders in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day”. This gives us a deeper understanding of Jesus’ driving out the moneychangers from the temple. Furthermore, Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 foretell the “forerunner” of Christ. In Matthew 11:10 and Luke 7:27 Jesus identifies John the Baptist as his own forerunner. He is therefore, claiming Messiahship for Himself. Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12:1-9 implicitly labels Jesus as the Son of God.

Jesus also explicitly claims to be the God’s Son in Matthew 11:27. In Mark 13:32 Jesus says that he, the Son, does not know when the end will be. When Jesus claimed to be the Christ, he claimed to be the divine one. The Christ is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6.

Jesus’ self-description of “the Son of Man” is also a Messianic claim. We often are told that the phrase “Son of God” described his deity while “Son of Man” described his humanity. This may not be entirely accurate. The most popular book among the 1st century Jews appears to be the book of Daniel. But looking closer we notice that Jesus did not describe himself as a son of man, but the Son of Man. This is a huge difference. Daniel 7:13-14 records a vision of Daniel concerning “one like a son of man.” Jesus understood that he was the fulfillment of that prophecy—he was “the one like a son of man.” We see this self-understanding in Mark 8:38; 13:26-27; and Matt. 10:32-33. The Son of Man receives glory which only God can receive.

Jesus’ preaching concerning the kingdom demonstrated that he understood himself to be the King. The apostles were to help him judge—Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-30. Jesus was describing himself as the Royal Priestly King.

Jesus’ deity and messiahship is also evident in his authority. He would say, “you have heard it has been said….but I say unto you” (Matthew 7:28-29; Matthew 5:31-32). His commonly used “Verily, I say unto you” is understood to express his Divine authority.

Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive sins is also a demonstration of his understanding of his divine messiahship. Mark 2:1-12 records the epic scene of Jesus forgiving sins and healing the paralytic as a demonstration of his deity and being the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. All of Jesus’ miracles declare his deity and Messiahship (Matthew 11:4-6).

Jesus confessed to being the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One in Mark 14:60-64. This claim is undeniable. He affirmed his position and that all humanity must serve him. This is the greatest claim of history. It is also the greatest truth of history.

[1] William Craig. On Guard  (188-189).

[2] 195.

If God is Good, Why Does it Hurt So Much?

The problem of evil is typically stated as follows:

1 If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.

2 If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.

3 If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.

4 If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.

5 Evil exists.

6 If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.

7 Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, “No one can believe in a good God if they’ve sat at the bedside of a dying child”. Hence, in this view, evil is evidence that there is no God, unless one would postulate a God that is not good. The unfortunate reality is that the atheist can take no comfort in such a heart-wrenching situation, for in a godless existence suffering is ultimately meaningless. In Russell’s own words, “Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure dooms falls pitiless and dark”.

There are three alternatives to the problem of evil in the world.

  1. Atheism is the denial of proposition 1, that God exists.
  2. Pantheism is the denial of proposition 2, that God is good and not evil.
  3. Modern naturalism and ancient polytheism both deny proposition 3, that God is all-         

powerful.

Theodicy (Gk. Θεός, ‘God’, and δίκη, ‘justice’), etymologically the justification of God. The word was coined by G. W. *Leibniz, who used it as the title of his Essais de théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu (1710), and since then it has been applied to that part of natural theology which is concerned to defend the goodness and omnipotence of God against objections arising from the existence of evil in the world.

HOW DO WE RESPOND?

If there is no God, then why are we asking questions pertaining to good and evil anyway? If we are simply highly evolved matter, then why are we debating “fair” treatment of one another? None of us have any value greater than dirt if there is no God. These questions only make sense if we assume that there is an objective right and wrong with which all actions are to be judged. Therefore, the “problem of evil” points to there being a God who can tell us what evil is.

GOD CREATED THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS FOR HIS PURPOSES.

GOD CREATED THE BEST OF CREATION WITH FREE WILL.

GOD CREATED THE IDEAL UNIVERSE, BUT SIN HAPPENED.

GOD CREATED A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM OF SUFFERING.

GOD CREATED AN OPPORTUNITY FOR AN EXISTENCE FREE OF SUFFERING

EXAMPLES

It is always helpful to look at examples. We love biography because we like to see how someone went through extraordinary circumstances and did extraordinary things. Thankfully, the Bible is full of examples of righteous people suffering and excelling in their lives. We will never understand “the deep things of God”, but we can get brief glimpses behind the curtain of providence and get clues as to the mind of God.

The book of Job is the earliest written book in the Bible. It is the prime example of someone suffering and why God allows it. God allowed Job to be blessed. God allowed Satan to tempt Job as he was put forth as God’s champion of faith. Job was allowed to suffer. Job marveled at the situation. He challenged God’s goodness. God’s response was, “I am God, I have purposes, Who are you?”.

Joseph gives us the clearest understanding of wise suffering. He suffered horribly for a great part of his life. He was also providentially cared for in his suffering. He came to the wise realization that “you meant it to me for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Jesus is the preeminent sufferer. He was totally innocent. He was unjustly punished. Yet, we also realize that Jesus saw a purpose in this ordeal. Jesus saw purpose in suffering—the glory of God.

Furthermore, when we consider the suffering of Christ, we need to remember the voluntary and vicarious nature of his suffering. Jesus’ suffering maintains his identity as “Immanuel”. Jesus suffered so that he could identify with us experientially. Jesu suffered so that he could save us perfectly.

CONCLUSION

We readily admit that there is a major difference in developing an academic answer to the question of evil and practical answers in the midst of suffering. Theodicy must be developed and polished before the pain comes in order to survive the suffering and grow thereby. With an appropriate preparation for suffering, we can excel in our spiritual growth even through pain.

While most see the problem of evil as the greatest attack against the existence of God, we must also ask another question—“Where could I go but to the Lord?”.

Could It Really be True?

Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Could this really be true? If it is not true, then Christians are of all men most to be pitied. If it is true that Christ rose from the dead, then Christ is the greatest prize. “The bodily resurrection of Christ is the crowning proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be, God manifested in human flesh (see Christ, Deity of). Indeed, the resurrection of Christ in flesh is of such importance to the Christian faith that the New Testament insists that no one can be saved without it (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 15:1–7).”[i]

While we have no video evidence of the resurrection of Christ, there are great reasons for us to believe in the Gospel message. Just look at the claims:

Luke 24:3, “When they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”

Luke 24:5-6, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel which I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you.”

These verses record the greatest and only hope of mankind. Can we prove they are true?

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to the New Testament and foundational for the theology of the Church. These events have been acknowledged as paramount from the early church to the present. For example, Paul argues that if Jesus did not bodily rise from the dead as the first fruit of believers, biblical faith is fallacious and ineffective, preaching is useless, apostolic witnesses were false, sin remains unforgiven, and believers have died without hope (1 Cor 15:12–19). He also asserts that Christians are misguided without this distinctive doctrine (1 Cor 15:32).[ii]

Peter Kreeft notes that there are five possible theories which account for the resurrection stories:

1          Jesus died        Jesus rose —Christianity                                                   

2          Jesus died        Jesus didn’t rise—apostles deceived                     Hallucination

3          Jesus died        Jesus didn’t rise—apostles myth-makers           Myth

4          Jesus died        Jesus didn’t rise—apostles deceivers                    Conspiracy

5          Jesus didn’t die                                                                                Swoon

Theories 2 and 4 constitute a dilemma: if Jesus didn’t rise, then the apostles, who taught that he did, were either deceived (if they thought he did) or deceivers (if they knew he didn’t). The Modernists could not escape this dilemma until they came up with a middle category, myth. It is the most popular alternative today.[iii]

Thankfully, we have great reasons to believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. “The fact of Christ’s resurrection is exceedingly well attested. It was needful that it should be beyond dispute, since it lies at the very basis of our holy faith; it is consoling to think that it is so; for thus our foundation standeth most secure. Our Lord was careful to show himself after his resurrection to those who, having known him before his decease would be able to answer for the identity of his person.”[iv]

 

Agreement between Friends and Enemies

When two groups who are in direct opposition agree on certain areas of an event, those things are very likely factual. When we examine the Gospel records we can find some things upon which the disciples of Christ and the enemies of Christ agree. This agreement helps us to see the factual nature of these events. All parties agree upon the following:

Jesus was buried in Joseph’s new tomb.

A huge stone was rolled up to seal the tomb.

A Roman guard was given the responsibility of guarding the tomb—Matthew 27:62-66.

The body was missing three days later—Luke 24:3.

Individuals believed they had seen the risen Lord—1 Corinthians 15:1-24.

These events are confirmed by both the friends and enemies of Christ. They are essential elements of the Gospel.

 

The Disciples’ Faith Demanded Evidence

The disciples themselves found it difficult to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Peter rebuked Christ for teaching he would be crucified and rise again—Matthew 16:20-23.

Even when the good news was first announced to them, they did not believe—Mark 16:14; Luke 24:20-25.

The women expected to find the body and were troubled about moving the stone away in order to get inside the tomb—Mark 16:3.

The disciples had lost hope saying, “We trusted that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel”—Luke 24:21.

Thomas would not believe until after he had seen the evidence—John 20:24-25.

When the evidence is examined, it leads to faith in Christ. Even among the skeptics examination often leads to faith.

Charles Spurgeon gave the following account: So clear is the evidence of Christ’s resurrection, that when Gilbert West—a celebrated infidel—selected this subject as the point of attack, sitting down to weigh the evidence and to digest the whole matter, although filled with prejudice, he was so startled with the abundant witness to the truth of this fact, that he expressed himself a convert, and has left as a heritage for coming generations a most valuable treatise, entitled “Observations on the Resurrection of Christ.”[v] John Singleton Copley, one of the great legal minds in British history and three times High Chancellor of England, wrote, “I know pretty well what evidence is, and I tell you, such evidence as that for the resurrection has never broken down yet.”[vi]

Witnesses of the Resurrection

Being buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is evidence not only to his death but also to the resurrection of Jesus. Joseph was a leading member of the Sanhedrin Council. The place of burial was now well known among the Jews and well-guarded by the Roman guards. If anything other than the resurrection noted in the Bible occurred, someone would have surely reported it. However, there is no true alternative to the Gospel message.

One of the greatest proofs of the narrative is that Jesus’ first appearance is to women. “In the first-century Jewish culture, a writer inventing a resurrection account would never have taken this approach. A woman’s testimony was not even accepted in court. Anyone faking the record would have Jesus appear first to one or more of his twelve disciples, probably a prominent one such as Peter.”[vii] Matthew 28 records how the women saw the Lord, touched his physical body, spoke with him, and saw the empty tomb.

Peter, of course saw the empty tomb and the grave clothes just before this appearance (John 20:6–7). So Peter experienced at least three evidences of the physical resurrection; he saw and heard Jesus, and he observed the empty tomb and grave clothes. These are definite pieces of evidence that the body that rose is the same, visible, tangible, material body he had before the resurrection.[viii]

In John 20, Thomas is given the opportunity to examine the physical body of Christ. Thomas is usually seen as skeptical, but he gives us further verification. When given the opportunity to see the body, Thomas exclaimed “My Lord, and my God” (John 20:28).

The appearance of Jesus to James (the Lord’s brother) mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 is highly significant. Surely Jesus would be recognized by his own brother.  Luke does report that James had become a leading member of the apostolic group in Acts 15:13-2. Since Jesus’ brothers had rejected Jesus before his death (John 7:5), Paul’s reference to Christ appearing to James is certainly based on fact and is incredible evidence for the resurrection.

There were other witnesses to the resurrection (such as on the road to Emmaus, and those recorded in 1 Corinthians 15). The eyewitness testimonies involve individuals who doubted the resurrection of Jesus seeing the Lord, speaking with him, touching him, eating with him, and believing in him. They had no reason to falsify their testimony. They had every reason to deny the truth. However, they stood firm in their testimony.

Converting Power of the Resurrection

In addition to all the direct evidence for the bodily resurrection of Christ, there are lines of corroboration. These include the immediate transformation of the men who became the apostles, the reaction of those who rejected Christ, the existence of the early church, and the immediate, amazingly rapid spread of Christianity.

After Jesus’ death his apostles were scared, scattered, and skeptical. Only one, John, was at the crucifixion (John 19:26–27). The rest fled (Matt. 27:58). They also were skeptical. Mary, the first one to whom Jesus appeared, doubted, thinking she had seen a gardener (John 20:15). The disciples doubted the reports of the women (Luke 24:11). Some doubted until they saw Christ for themselves (John 20:25). One would not even believe when all the other apostles told them Christ had appeared to them. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus even doubted as they talked with Jesus, thinking he was a stranger (Luke 24:18).

A few weeks these very same men and women who had huddled in secret (John 20:19) were fearlessly and openly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ—even before the Sanhedrin that was responsible for Christ’s death (Acts 4–5). The only thing that can account for this immediate and miraculous change is that they were absolutely convinced they had encountered the bodily resurrected Christ.[ix]

The Disciples’ Unwavering Faith

Stephen would not recant his faith, but demanded repentance—Acts 7.

The disciples continued preaching in persecution—Acts 8:1-4; 26:9-12; 1 Timothy 1:13, 15.

Saul never went back to comfort after being confronted with the resurrected Lord—2 Corinthians 11:21-28.

Early Christians rejoiced when persecuted—Acts 5:41-42; Acts 16:25-34.

The Disciple’s Preaching

Of all the wonderful things Jesus taught the disciples about love (Matt. 22:36–37), non-retaliation (Matthew 5), and the kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 13), the dominant theme of apostolic preaching was none of these themes. Above all else, they proclaimed the resurrection of Christ. It was the subject of Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:22–40) and his next sermon at the temple (Acts 3:14, 26). It was the content of his message before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:10). Indeed, everywhere and “with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33; cf. 4:2). Being a witness to the resurrection was a condition for being an apostle (Acts 1:22; cf. 1 Cor. 9:1). The best explanation of why this theme was their immediate preoccupation within weeks of his death was that they had, as the Gospels tell us, repeatedly encountered him alive in the days after his crucifixion.[x]

The Power of the Resurrection

The resurrection of Christ is the single most powerful event in all of human history. No other moment in time has so powerfully shaped the remainder of human history. No other event has become the foundation of so much good in society and in individuals.

The power of the resurrection was great enough to convert 3000 in just a few days—Acts 2:41.

The power of the resurrection was so great that within a little over 30 years the gospel had been preached to “every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23; Roman 10:18-21).

The power of the resurrection remains great for us. Let us meditate on this great reality recorded in the Gospels and serve God faithfully until he shall come again and raise us up by the same power by which he was raised—Philippians 3:20-21.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26) “The historical evidence is massive enough to convince the open-minded inquirer. By analogy with any other historical event, the resurrection has eminently credible evidence behind it. To disbelieve it, you must deliberately make an exception to the rules you use everywhere else in history. Now, why would someone want to do that?”[xi]

 

 

 

[i] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Reference Library; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 651.

[ii] J. Lanier Burns, “Resurrection,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015).

[iii] http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/resurrection-evidence.htm

[iv] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (vol. 8; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1862), 217.

[v] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (vol. 8; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1862), 218.

[vi] Michael P. Green, 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 304.

[vii] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Reference Library; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 651.

[viii] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Reference Library; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 652.

[ix] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Reference Library; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 655–656.

[x] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Baker Reference Library; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 656.

[xi] http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/resurrection-evidence.htm

The Sinful World and the Saving God

God created the world and said it was very good. The creation that was formed was corrupted by sin’s presence—Genesis 3; Romans 8:18-25. It was not what God intended for it to be. Mankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation. It is also mankind that, perhaps, had fallen the furthest from its original intent. But God wasn’t finished with mankind. He still loved his creation. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 22 we see God’s plan to offer the abundant life to people (John 10:10). This abundant life which can be experienced on earth is superseded by the abundance of life which will be experienced in Heaven.

Jesus preached and empowered the message of salvation for all people. In Luke 19:10 he said,  “the Son of Man is come to seek and save that which is lost.” John 12:47 records his ambition, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” The word “salvation” is “related to the idea of deliverance, victory, and safety. The nouns expressing this concept, including the Hebrew יְשׁוּעָה (yĕšûʿâ, “salvation”) and Greek σωτηρία (sōtēria, “salvation”), generally signify deliverance, safety, and wholeness, and, in the Hebrew Bible, victory.”

OUR NEED FOR THE GOSPEL

The word “Gospel” encompasses all that God has done to save mankind through Christ. This powerful thought demands we recognize that the world is lost. This is abhorrent to postmodern ears, but it is true. 1 John 5:19 tells us “the whole world lies in wickedness.” We see this reality played out every day everywhere around us. Some have blamed religion for the great atrocities of the world. This claim has been cut down by the atrocities performed by atheistic world powers. The problem is not God’s religion. The problem has always been people who choose to follow godlessness rather than godliness. Far too often we choose to live after the lust of the flesh as animals. Just as Paul said in Romans 8:13, “If you live according to the flesh you will die.” Romans 1:28 tells us the consequences of godlessness—“Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”

We still continue to struggle with godless behavior. We have not been brought up in the way we should go—Proverbs 22:6; Eph. 6:4. We love evil instead of good—Amos 5:15. We, therefore, are feeling the consequences of sin. Proverbs 13:15, “The way of the treacherous is their ruin.” We now remember that “Sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23), and that we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:17).

However, there is hope. “sin is a reproach to any people”, but “righteousness exalts a nation” (Proverbs 14:34). “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12). Godless cultures leave mankind to do whatever their desires push them toward. The increasing size and power of our “nanny state” government is evidence of this. If we do not govern ourselves by the Scriptures, then government must care for us. This system will not last long. As George Washington said, “it is impossible to govern without God and the Bible.” Especially in our democratic free society, we cannot function without God and his laws.

THE GOSPEL HOPE

The good news of the Bible is “the power of God that leads to salvation” (Romans 1:16). We need more than the “social Gospel”. We need the Gospel that concerns itself with both temporal and eternal. The focus of God’s Gospel is to make us fit for eternity with Him. Those who live in sin are dead while they live (1 Timothy 5:6). But, the Great Physician heals—“He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction” (Psalm 107:20).  God’s Gospel is the “lamp unto our feet and light unto our path” (Psalm 119:105, 130). The Gospel is God’s heavenly lifeline thrown out to a dying world (1 Corinthians 15:52; James 1:21).

The Gospel is the chief of worthy causes. It is a great challenge to all to be sanctified and to live as saintly people. The Gospel is “heavenly seed for earthly soil” The field is the world (Matt. 13:38). The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11). When the seed is sown in human hearts and minds and is allowed to take root, that individual can become God’s ideal. The Gospel has a wonderful influence on individuals when it takes root in their hearts and minds. “As   a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Since “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:6), we have the opportunity to not only think of Christ but to think in a Christian way! The Gospel seed produces after its own kind. In Bible times, the Gospel made Christians (Acts 11:26), and it will make nothing less now. We must therefore submit to the Word, utilize the Word, and evangelize with the Word (Ephesians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?

The word “gospel” is used to describe much. We colloquially use the word to describe “truth” as in “the gospel truth.” The Gospel is:

The central content of the Christian revelation, the glad tidings of redemption. It is St Paul’s epistles that have given to this Greek noun such an important position in Christian vocabulary, but the way he uses it without explanation in writing to believers in Rome whom he did not know suggests that the Christian sense was already current. St Mark follows Paul’s usage but can also on occasion extend it to refer to the contents of Christ’s own preaching (1:14 f.). The cognate verb εὐαγγελίζομαι, to bring glad tidings, is found in religious contexts in the Septuagint. Is. 52:7 is quoted at Rom. 10:15, with reference to the Christian message, and Is. 61:1 at Mt. 11:5 (par. Lk. 7:22) on the lips of Christ, with reference to His own preaching.

The Gospel is God’s message of hope for the world lost in suffering and sin.

The Gospel’s primary emphasis is the good news from God to the man that salvation is accessible through Christ’s sacrifice, His church, and His service.

The Gospel is a true lasting spiritual message for a decaying materialistic and hopeless materialistic world.

The Gospel is a straight message for a crooked people—Acts 2:40; Philippians 2:14-16.

The Gospel is  the message of love for the world filled with hate—John 3:16; John 5:42).

The Gospel is a message of grace for a world filled with disgrace—Ephesians 2:8-9.

The Gospel is a message which does not change for the world which does nothing but change.

The Gospel is the message of certain salvation for the world in danger of certain damnation—Matthew 28:19=20.

The Gospel is the invitation to a world isolated from one another and from God—Isaiah 59:1-2; Matthew 11:28. ( Adapted from Gus Nichols’  sermon “The Commission and a Lost World” in Great Preachers of Today page 36)

IS THERE REALLY ONLY ONE WAY?

What if there really is only one way to get where you need to go? When you get your GPS out and put in a destination, it will ask if you want to walk, ride a bus, or drive. It will want to know if you want to avoid toll roads, take the interstates, or take the scenic route. Then it will want to know exactly which path you want to take. It will usually give you three options. We have options as to get where we are going. We get to decide which way we want to go.

But is it that way with getting to Heaven? Can we please God by doing as we please? In Acts 4:12 Peter said, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” This is an exclusive claim. Many will reject it. To accept this claim means that all other options are ultimately wrong and ineffective.

In an age of religious pluralism, this radical claim is rejected outright by some (Hick and Knitter 1987). Others will admit the uniqueness of Christ in the objective accomplishment of salvation, but they say this text does not teach that it is essential to hear the good news about Jesus’ saving work and consciously “name the name” (Sanders 1988). Such a bifurcation of the accomplishment and application of salvation runs counter to the explicit thrust of this verse. Peter makes his universal claim by explicitly asserting that this name has been given to humankind as a means by which we must be saved (compare Lk 24:46; Acts 11:14). Appropriation of the name is an essential part of God’s salvation transaction. To be true to Peter and Luke, we must never water down the fact that apart from Jesus there is no salvation for anyone—neither its accomplishment nor its appropriation.

This truth is difficult for pluralistic societies. This reality is difficult for all of us when we begin to think about those whom we love who have chosen a different path. One of the cruel attributes of truth claims is that when one is correct, all others must necessarily be wrong.

WHAT DOES THE NEW TESTAMENT SAY?

The message of the Gospel is unique. It stands out in all of history as being special, but it is described as unique for another reason. It is unique because it is exclusively true. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Since we believe the message of Jesus and the Bible to be true, we must therefore also believe that all other “religious expressions” are false. Non Christian groups can be very sincere, devout, make great contributions to society, and do great things. However, if Jesus is correct, then only Christianity is true.

The Uniqueness of Jesus

The Gospel is for all. Whosoever will come may come to salvation in Christ. Yet salvation is limited to those who are “in Christ.” Remember what Paul wrote about those outside of Christ in Ephesians 2:12, “you are…having no hope and without God in the world,”

The book of Romans is a presentation of the Gospel which is available to both Jews and Gentiles. There are to be no social, racial, or economic divisions or exclusions among God’s people. There is only one line of demarcation—are you in Christ or outside of Christ. Paul maintains that all are without excuse for not knowing there is a God because of his self-revelation in the world around us—Romans 1:20. The terrible reality is that we most often choose to worship ourselves (the creature) rather than God (the Creator). Therefore, we are all under the power of sin—Romans 3:9-12. This problem extends to all people. The solution must also, therefore, extend to all people.

The only solution to our sin problem is Christ. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). It is Christ who “died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). It was through Christ that “God shows his love for us” (Romans 5:8). It is through Christ death that Christians are “reconciled to God” (Romans 5:10). It is act of the one man Jesus which redeems all people from the penalty of sin (Romans 5:18-19). It is only by being united with him in baptism that anyone can have hope in him before God (Romans 6:3, 5). Therefore, only Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

The Uniqueness of His Church

Furthermore, the saved are described as being one group. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus described one identifiable group of individuals who were saved by grace through his death, lived under his rule, and expected the one home in Heaven.

We see the oneness of his church as we understand that God places all his people into the same group. “We are all the children of God through faith” we read in Galatians 3:26. We are adopted into that family of God when we are “baptized into Christ and put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Paul is able to speak of the uniqueness of the church in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “for by one Spirit, you were all baptized into one body and were all made to drink the same spiritual drink.”

The uniqueness of the church is also demonstrated in its peculiar beliefs. Ephesians 4:1-7 lists some doctrinal markers which Christians are expected to believe. Jude exhorted his audience to “contend earnestly for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Paul tells us all to “hold to the traditions” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Timothy was exhorted to “preach the Word” or the singular message (2 Timothy 4:2). We are to teach the same message that was taught—2 Timothy 2:2. The uniqueness of the message and practice of the church is essential to being the church—Galatians 1:6-10.

The Uniqueness of Evangelism 

We have all seen commercials asking us to buy one product or another. We see political ads suggesting one candidate over another. We have friends to make great suggestions or awful suggestions. In some ways, evangelism is like those pleas. However, there is one major difference. Christians are not just “advertising a product,” we are saying  “this is the only way.”

The uniqueness of the church is seen in the unique nature of the Christian plea. Mark 16:15-16 is a command to spread the opportunity of salvation to all people. It is also an example of Jesus and his message being the only hope of salvation. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, he who does not believe will be condemned”.

Evangelism is important because there is no middle ground. All accountable people are either saved or lost. All people are either in Christ or outside of Christ. All Christians have the responsibility to share the message of hope but also the exclusivity of that message.

The Important Mission

The exclusive hope of the Gospel demands we be devoted to the mission of God. Like Jesus, we must “seek and save the lost.” The Great Commission can no longer be omitted. Rather we must respect the truth of God and his message. We must also respect our responsibility to share the message with the lost world. The world will not be lost because God wants it to be lost. The world will be lost through the apathy of the church or the lost choosing to remain lost.

 

 

 

My God and I:

A Simple Survey of Theology

Donnie L. DeBord, M.Div.

 

  1. ETERNITY (God Exists)
  2. INSPIRATION (Gods Nature Revealed)
  3. TRINITY (God in Three Persons)
  4. ADAM (Nature of Mankind)
  5. FALL (Mankind Rejects God)
  6. RECONCILIATION (God With Us).
  7. ATONEMENT (God Pays for Our Sin)
  8. RESURRECTION (Why We Must Believe)
  9. CONVERSION (Mankind Accepting Atonement)
  10. FAMILY (God’s Relationship with His Church)
  11. EXALTATION (God and His Church at Worship)
  12. PROCLAMATION God Preached in His Church)
  13. VINDICATION (God Comes Back)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eternity—What Was Before the Beginning?

“There is a God. He is alive. In him we live and we survive”

Is there a God?  If there is a God, what is he like? Does he like me?  These are life’s greatest questions that we have all asked and will continue to ask. I can’t I shine any questions more foundational to ones life, self-image, worldview, or decision making than these questions.

THE EXISTENCE AND DESIGN IN THE UNIVERSE

We are here. The universe exists. These things demand explanation. Existence is not a happy cosmic accident.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,  and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” Psalm 19:1-6

The Psalmist reminds us of what we know. In order for us to exist, there must be an adequate explanation. “Every house is built by someone, and the builder of all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4). God is the efficient cause to speak the cosmos into existence (Genesis 1:1).

The cosmological argument for the existence of God says that everything which has a beginning must have a cause. We know that nothingness produces more nothing. Yet the Bible tells us that nothing material existed until God spoke the universe into existence (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16). The Hebrew word translated “created” in Genesis 1:1 is bārā˒. In this particular form, “it is employed to denote divine products, new and not previously existing in the sphere of nature and history…. it never denotes human productions and is never used with the accusative of the material.”[1]

Furthermore, we know from scientific studies that the universe is winding down. The second law of thermodynamics also teaches us that the universe is slowly running out of usable energy. Everything that is around us is the effect of some cause. This all points to a beginning.

So we should appreciate God’s evidence of his own existence in the things which are around us. “Spurgeon told of a godly person who, when sailing down the Rhine, closed his eyes, lest the beauty of the scene should divert his mind from spiritual themes. The Puritan turned away from the moss-rose, saying that he would count nothing on earth lovely. But this is to despise God’s works. J. H. Barrows: ‘The Himalayas are the raised letters upon which we blind children put our fingers to spell out the name of God.’ To despise the works of God is to despise God himself. God is present in nature, and is now speaking.”[2]

When we examine the creation that is here, we see that it is incredibly intricate. The intricate interworking of the universe imply a designer. This is called the teleological argument for the existence of God. If we found a smartphone in the parking lot, we would understand that someone designed it, built it, purchased it, and left it. No one would suppose that the smartphone just appeared. No one would try to teach that a car had been traveling down the interstate and picked up various materials on its tires until finally it pulled into the parking lot and sharply turned right which caused the materials to form a smartphone. There is no accidental way to get a usable device which is so well designed. We would know that the device was designed and built by someone capable. A sufficient cause must exist for whatever exists.

Agnostic astronomer, Carl Sagan, unwittingly provided an even greater example. He notes that the genetic information in the human brain expressed in bits is probably comparable to the total number of connections among neurons—about 100 trillion, 1014 bits. If written out in English, say, that information would fill some 20 million volumes, as many as are stored in the world’s largest libraries. The equivalent of 20 million books is inside the heads of every one of us. “The brain is a very big place in a very small space,” Sagan said. He went on to note “the neurochemistry of the brain is astonishingly busy, the circuitry of a machine more wonderful than any devised by humans.” But if this is so, then why does the human brain not need an intelligent Creator, as does even the simplest computer?

The same principle is true when we look at the great universe or the microscopic parts of a cell. There must be a designer and builder who is the sufficient cause of the physical and spiritual reality that we experience. That sufficient cause is God.  Paul wrote: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). The agnostic Robert Jastrow, founder-director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, said, “A sound explanation may exist for the explosive birth of our Universe; but if it does, science cannot find out what the explanation is. The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation.” But if the universe was created, then it is reasonable to conclude there was a Creator. For everything that has a beginning needs a Beginner.[3]

With the Psalmist we say:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,

you have established strength because of your foes,

to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:1–4.

 

THE CHARACTER OF THE WORD

Along with the evidence in nature, we also see evidence for God in the Bible itself. We may only gain a limited amount of knowledge of God from examining nature. Ultimately, we must turn to the Scriptures, God’s special revelation, in order to understand spiritual truths more fully. “The Scriptures plainly declare that the revelation of God in nature does not supply all the knowledge which a sinner needs (Acts 17:23; Eph. 3:9). This revelation is therefore supplemented by another, in which divine attributes and merciful provisions only dimly shadowed forth in nature are made known to men. This latter revelation consists of a series of supernatural events and communications, the record of which is presented in the Scriptures”.[4]

The Bible has characteristics which are beyond human production. Therefore, the Bible must be of Divine origin. The Psalmist acknowledged the greatness of God’s Book in Psalm 19:7-11.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

The Bible has characteristics which set it apart from all other books and demand Divine origin.

One of the greatest and most popular of these characteristics is fulfilled prophecy. Psalm 22 records precise predictions concerning the events of Jesus’ crucifixion. Note the specific nature of the prophecies.

  • Messiah would be mocked by people shaking their head (Psalm 22:7; Matthew 27:39);
  • Mockers would say of the Messiah, “he trusted God, let him deliver him” (Psalm 22:8, Matthew 27:41-43);
  • The Messiah would be abandoned by the disciples (Psalm 22:11, Mark 14:50);
  • the Messiah would be surrounded (Psalm 22:16a, Luke 23:36, Matthew 27:41-43);
  • the Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16, Matthew 27:38);
  • none of the Messiah’s bones would be broken (Psalm 22:17, John 19:32-33);
  • the Messiah’s garments would be divided (Psalm 22:18,John 19:23-24); and
  • lots would be cast for the Messiah’s clothes (Psalm 22:18, John 19:23-24).

These prophecies alone are too much to be coincidental. They demand explanation. How can these exact prophecies be made hundreds of years before Jesus’ crucifixion? How could Jesus have purposely fulfilled these prophecies? Surely, one must acknowledge the hand of God in pointing us to Jesus through this prophetic Psalm and many others.

 

THE TESTIMONY OF MORAL STANDARDS

There is a right and there is a wrong. Everyone has some set of moral standards. But how can these moral standards be judged? If there is no objective moral standard, then everyone is able to live as he or she chooses without regard to others around them. The same principle would be true of governments and entire cultures. If there is no objective moral standard higher than a government, how could we judge the Nazi’s as committing war crimes? How could we ever judge moral progress or moral regress in a culture, government, or individual without there being and external standard of morality?

While we may not always agree on what right and wrong is, we all acknowledge that such a thing exists. But where do we get this concept? Is morality just an evolutionary blessing? Morality can’t be evolutionary in design. Why? Our most prized moral actions are those which sacrifice the good of the strong the benefit of the weak and the many sacrificing for the few in need. Evolution just doesn’t work that way. “The moral argument acknowledges that man has an awareness of right and wrong, a sense of morality. Where did this sense of moral justice come from? If man is only a biological creature why does he have a sense of moral obligation? Recognition of moral standards and concepts cannot be attributed to any evolutionary process. The biblicist recognizes that God has placed a sense of moral justice within the human race in contradistinction to all other creation. Romans 2:14–15 indicates that Gentiles who have had no revelation of the law have an inner, moral witness placed there by God.”[5]

Morality is a reflection of God’s existence. Being made in the image of God, we have an innate sense of fairness, justices, rightness, and wrongness. Psalm 19:12-14 speaks to this reality: “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” David acknowledged that there was a standard which he had missed in his own life. He also acknowledged the righteousness of God in offering pardon to the penitent.

Norman Geisler offers a good summary of the moral argument for the existence of God.

The roots of the moral argument for God are found in Romans 2:12–15, in which humankind is said to stand unexcused since there is “a law written on their hearts.” Since the time of Kant this argument has been stated in various ways. The most popular form emanates from C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. The heart of the argument follows this basic structure:

  1. Moral laws imply a Moral Law Giver.
  2. There is an objective moral law.
  3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver.

The first premise is self-evident. Moral laws are different from natural laws. Moral laws don’t describe what is, they prescribe what ought to be. They can’t be known by observing what people do. They are what all persons should do, whether or not they actually do.[6]

The closing prayer in the 19th Psalm is one which we all have felt because of the real phenomenon of guilt. If there is no moral authority above ourselves, how could we explain such moral feeling?

 

APPLICATIONS

  1. How does the existence of God makes us look at the Bible differently?
  2. How does examining the existence of God and his inspired Word change your view of the Bible’s authority?
  3. How does knowing the God of Heaven cares for you change your life?
  4. How does the existence of God change your outlook for the future?

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration—The Sacred Text Message

John Locke said, “The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. It has God for its author; salvation for its end; and truth without any mixture for its matter. It is all pure.” The importance of the inspired text is seen in Moses’ words “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). The Bible was to be central for their lives, worship, and the foundation of their hope.

In order for mankind to have the Bible today, men cooperated with God’s sovereign control. Every word of the Bible is the product of divine “out-breathing.” Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NASBU). Our English word “inspiration” which we are accustomed to seeing is translated “God breathed” by the ESV.

The inspired Word differs from what we call general revelation. In “general revelation” God speaks through his created world to mankind. The Psalmist described it this way, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). From creation we can reason that there must be a God (Hebrews 3:4), but there are some things we can only learn about God from his inspired Word. Paul described the necessity of special revelation in the Scriptures when he wrote:  

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (2 Corinthians 2:10-12).

Our need for the inspired Scriptures to know and understand the ways of God should help us appreciate the value of the sacred Text.

We understand that the Bible is both divine and human in its production. 2 Peter 1:21 tells us “men spoke from God.” This human agency is seen in passages such as Jeremiah 1:9, “The Lord said to me, behold I have put my words in your mouth.” Acts 4:25, “God said through the mouth of our father David.” Hebrews 3:7, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says.” Luke 1:1-4 describes the writing of the Gospel according to Luke, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,  just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

When we understand that God utilized human authors in the writing of his words, we are better able to understand some things present in the Scriptures. We understand the stylistic differences in writing between various authors. We better understand the use of secular sources recorded in the Scriptures. We are better able to understand Luke’s use of research confirmed in Luke 1:1-4. We also are able to better grapple with the inspired record of Paul’s own self described “lack of memory.”

While the Bible does have a human side, the Bible is ultimately a divine work. How are we to understand the cooperation between men and God in the Bible? This synergy between God and man is best described as God exercising total, absolute, sovereignty in conjunction with human freedom. This system is described as verbal plenary inspiration. Perhaps we can best learn about the process of revelation and inspiration from 2 Peter 1:20-21. Peter wrote, “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The Bible tells us that Scripture does not originate with man—“no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” Scripture does originate with God—“men spoke from God.” How is it that God utilized mankind in this endeavor? “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” What does it mean to be “carried along”?

The word translated “carried along” (φερόμενοι) is defined as “to cause to follow a certain course in direction or conduct.”[7]  Another said the word means “to so influence others as to cause them to follow a recommended course of action—‘to guide, to direct, to lead.”[8] The same concept is seen in Acts 27:15, 17 describing the ship which was “driven along” by the wind.  Simon of Cyrene “carried” the cross as he followed Jesus (Luke 23:26). Peter used the word to describe the writer who was “driven along” by the Holy Spirit. “They were but men; prophets they became only by the (Spirit of God) πνεῦμα Θεοῦ”.[9]

God is the ultimate source of the Scriptures. This is the way the Bible describes itself. In Acts 4:25 we see it the “Sovereign Lord…who through the mouth of our father David your servant, said by the Holy Spirit” the quotation from Psalm 2. The Bible is God’s Book. The Bible is God’s will for mankind and self-revelation. We can understand it. We can trust it. We can follow it.

As we look at the Bible, we must also understand that it is God’s final message to mankind. Jude spoke of “the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jd. 3). “Once for all” denotes that there is not another message or will mankind should look for in this world. Rather the system of Christianity is the final system for this world. In Hebrews 1:1-2 we see this confirmed yet again as the Bible tells us: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (NASBU).

Therefore, we know that we should not expect further revelation from God. Neither should we accept alleged prophecies or messages from people after the completion of the New Testament. Miraculous abilities were given to the apostles at Pentecost in Acts 2. For a time only the apostles were able to perform miraculous abilities (Acts 2:4, 14, 37, 43; 3:6; and 5:12). In order for others to receive miraculous gifts, apostles physically had to lay hands on the individuals to receive gifts (Acts 8:17; 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6).

In Acts 10 Cornelius and his household received a baptism of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to speak in languages they had not previous studies as a sign to Peter and the others that Gentiles were to be accepted into the church. The baptism of the Holy Spirit only occurred in Acts 2 and in Acts 10. So it is a rare occurrence. Ephesians 4:5 tells us there is only one baptism (the baptism in water for the forgiveness of sins). Therefore, we should not expect any baptism of the Spirit today

Since we know that there are no apostles to pass on miraculous gifts (no one can meet the qualifications of an apostle—Acts 1:21-22) and we have only the baptism in water for the forgiveness of sins, we know that there is no way miraculous gifts could be available today. Miraculous abilities are not needed today. Miracles were given in order to confirm the message (Acts 14:3). Hebrews 2:4 says, “God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (NASBU).

Miraculous gifts were beneficial for a time and for a purpose. Signs were given to bring faith (John 10:25, 27, 38; 14:11; Acts 2:22; John 20:30-31). These signs have fulfilled their purpose. The New Testament has been confirmed (Heb. 2:4; Jude 3). Therefore the miraculous gifts are not needed. So Paul told us that “if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10).  Surely, “the perfect,” is the completed New Testament (James 1:25).

These miracles were used to confirm which books belonged in the Bible. There were many other ancient documents and many other religious documents. How would one know if a book was from God and belonged in the Biblical “canon”? The miracles confirmed the 27 books of our New Testament and the 39 books of the Old Testament. However, the “other books” were not confirmed. So again the miracles helped the ancient Christians to know which books belonged in the Bible and which did not. We also see there the purpose of miracles and the fulfillment of that purpose.  Since the purpose of miracles has been fulfilled, we do not need miracles. We have something far greater—the inspired Bible.

Since this is God’s Book, we must treat it as God’s Book. We should love it. We should know it. We should share it. We should obey it. We should serve it. As the apostles did so we should “devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4).

APPLICATIONS:

  1. How does the doctrine of inspiration affect your daily Bible reading habits?
  2. How does the doctrine of inspiration affect your submission to the Bible’s             teaching?
  3. How does the doctrine of inspiration affect your desire to know the Bible?
  4. How does the doctrine of inspiration affect your worldview and decision making?
  5. How does the doctrine of inspiration affect your future?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TRIUNE GOD

In the second century, Polycarp prayed, “I glorify you, though the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom to you, with the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and for the ages to come.”[10] We should not expect to understand the nature of the triune God perfectly. We are creation not the Creator. We are human not divine. However, that limited availability of understanding does not nullify our responsibility and opportunity to try to know God. As we study the nature of God, we force ourselves to grow and better appreciate the indescribable gift of salvation.

Although understanding the nature of God is a life-long pursuit, we must pursue it. God said, “without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing to unto him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him” (Hebrews 11:6 ASV). Jesus said, “Except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Developing and understanding of the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit will aid in our understanding of the unity God expects among his people.  Understanding the unity God enjoys will help marriages to enjoy being united together as one. The unity of God is reflected in the unity of the church. If we better understand the nature of God’s unity, perhaps we can better understand and practice better unity in our own congregations.

Perhaps we should begin with evidence for facts of the Father, Son, and Spirit being three instead of one. Matthew 3:13-17 records the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River. It also presents the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in three separate locations. First we see Jesus in the water, the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the Father speaking from Heaven. There are three. In Matthew 4 we see Jesus distinguished from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is said to have led Jesus out into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1). Furthermore, in John 16:5 Jesus said, “I am going to the one who sent me.” Naturally, the disciples were saddened by this news, but they were encouraged of a better future to come. Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-8). Again we have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit featured as distinct beings. Jesus is described as being he eternal “Word” distinct from the Father in John 1:1-3, 14.  Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:1.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share in the divine nature. The Holy Spirt is described as God in Acts 5:3-5. The Jews sought to kill Jesus because “not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). So the three share in divinity. We also see the three joined as one in authority. The Great Commission is to be carried out based upon the name or authority of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).

We also see all three joined in the carrying out the work of salvation. Peter wrote how salvation occurs “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1 :2). Titus 3:4-5 says, “When the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.” It is the Father’s great mercy which “has caused us to be born again to al giving hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

Now that we have seen that the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct, how can we understand that they are one? Deuteronomy 6:4, which is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 22:34-48, says, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Isaiah 45:5 records “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” If he is “one” how do we reconcile the other evidence? How do we understand that the one eternal God exists in three distinct and perfectly equal persons?

Perhaps is it best to begin by understanding God as one against the backdrop of paganism.  The ancient peoples were surrounded by a plethora of supposed deities. This pagan deities were always imagined as fighting against one another, giving birth to one another, and killing one another. Their disunity helps to highlight the perfect unity of the true God.

We should also understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share in perfect equality. They are perfectly equal in every facet of the divine nature. This truth is represented in passages, such as the Great Commission, which mentions the three together on the same level. Hence we are told to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). If there was not a divine equality, this would not be possible. We are not baptized into the name of Paul or any other man (1 Corinthians 1:13) because they are not the same quality as the triune God.

The Bible continues to equate the members of the Trinity in various ways. Frequently, passages group the members of Deity together. In Revelation 1:4-5 – “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you, and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before the throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” 2 Corinthians 13:14 says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”

So how do we understand the triunity of the Godhead? Augustine described it as the psychological unity of one’s memory, affections, and will. Perhaps we could look at the Trinity in terms of a tree having a root, a trunk, and branches while yet being one tree. However, that description divides too much the unity of the Trinity. All our illustrations will ultimately break down because our physical minds are inadequate in understanding the full nature of God. This should be expected since we are the creature rather than the Creator.

Perhaps it would be helpful to understand what the Trinity is not. Arianism is the belief that Jesus emanated from the Father. He, therefore, is regarded as being between God and man in nature or essence. Arianism teaches that Jesus is not consubstantial with the Father. In the early church Jesus was described as being homoousios (of the same nature or essence) as the Father. Arianism teaches that Jesus is a lesser deity.

The battle over Arianism is one of the main issues discussed in the famed Council of Nicea in 325 AD. In 325 the men decided on the following description of Jesus:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ , the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homoousion) with the Father; by whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

However, this was updated in the 381 “Constantinopolitan Creed” to say:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ , the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

These are given only for descriptive purposes. It helps us to see the discussion which has been before us so that we may better understand the Sacred Text in our hands.

The doctrine of the Trinity is one most difficult to understand. Perhaps it is best to accept it and continue striving for understanding. Roger Olson rightly said,

“While it is true that no passage of Scripture spells out the doctrine of the Trinity, it is also true that the whole of Scripture’s witness to who God is and who Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are makes no sense at all without the model of the Trinity and that all alternative concepts end up doing violence to some essential aspect of revelation, Christian experience and possibly even reason itself,” ( The Mosaic of Christian Belief, p. 139).

When studying the nature of the Trinity, we should exercise caution and great humility while refusing to dishonor any member of the Godhead by lessening their inherent essence.

While it is difficult, the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be avoided.

“To illustrate the significance of the Trinity of our faith, consider just briefly the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to the Christian understanding of salvation. In order for us sinners to be saved, one must see God at one and the same time as the one judging our sin (the Father), the one making payment of infinite value for our sin (the divine Son), and the one empowering and directing the incarnate—human—Son so that he lives and obeys the Father, going to the cross as a substitute for us (the Holy Spirit). The Christian God, to be savior, must then be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is, our salvation comes as the Father judges our sin in his Son, who became incarnate and lived his life in the power of the Spirit as the perfect and sinless God-man, and accomplished his perfect obedience to the Father through the power of the Spirit. Disregard the Trinity and you necessarily undermine salvation.”[11]

If the doctrine of the Triune God is neglected, then one will never appreciate the great work of salvation accomplished by the cooperative efforts of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The doctrine of the Triune God also helps to drive the church (local and universal) to unity. The nature of the Triune God also helps us to understand the importance of marriage as we are to model the same unity enjoyed by the Godhead in our marriages.

APPLICATIONS:

  1. Why is important to study and know what can be known about the Trinity?
  2. What are some false doctrines concerning the nature of Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
  3. How does the unity of the Godhead compel us to be unified with Christians?
  4. How does the unity of the Godhead shape your marriage?

ADAM—The Nature of Mankind

“What is man that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). What is mankind? The science of anthropology studies the physical, social, and economic aspects of humanity. However, we must also study the spiritual aspects of human kind. After all, are the spiritual questions not far more important than the physical? Isn’t the after life far more important than the current life? Isn’t the nature of our immortal soul far more important than the nature of our frail body?

In studying humanity we are studying ourselves. However, we are not studying what we think of ourselves or what the natural sciences teach about ourselves. We are studying how God, our Creator, views us, and what purpose God would have us to fulfill. In this way we can better understand ourselves, our relationships with others, and our relationship to God.

Mankind is created by God.

“Where did that come from?” That’s the question we may exclaim when we encounter something amazing. If we can understand the origin of something, perhaps we can better understand the thing itself. If we understand our origin, we can better understand who we are and our purposes.

Genesis 1 and 2 record the creation of mankind. In Genesis 1 we see the a summary of mankind’s creation. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, ovate the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that crept on the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:26-27 ASV).  In Genesis 2 we find a more detailed description of God creating Adam and Eve.

From the creation accounts we can learn much about the nature of mankind. First we see that mankind is created by God. This places and inherent value on human existence, just as there is value in all of God’s creation. We also see that mankind is created, as God said, “in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). To be made in the image of God has to do with “resemblance.” Humanity has a resemblance to God that the other created beings do not have. This “image of God” characteristic elevates mankind over the rest of God’s creation.

As a part of humanity’s resemblance to God, we are given “dominion” over all the earth and told to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion… over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28). Notice that all these actions are things that God does. In Colossians 1:15 Jesus is described as “the image of the invisible God.” The Greek word for “image” (εἰκὼν) means “that which has the same form as something else (not a crafted object…), living image.”[12] It is the same word used by the translators of the Septuagint in Genesis 1:26 to translate (כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ) the “image” of God.

Ultimately, God is the one who has dominion—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). It is God who produces and replenishes the earth— “all things were created through I’m and for him…and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV). Furthermore, mankind is to exercise dominion over all the earth just as God does through the Gospel—“that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).

Comparing Colossians 1:15-28 can help us to understand Genesis 1:26-27. Just as Jesus was perfect “the image of God,” we are to be the best “image of God” we can be. This involves being God’s ambassador—a reflection of God’s glory. This also means that we are to function as God’s fellow workers. We are to be on God’s mission just as Jesus was.

Man is Created to Choose

Moral freedom is necessary for God’s purposes for mankind. Aside from the lower creatures (animal kind) God expects his higher creation (angels and mankind) to choose him. The concept of “free-will” is a highly debated subject in theological and philosophical circles. However, a survey of the Bible demonstrates that God sovereign providence includes and works with a degree of human freedom.

From the very beginning moral freedom is evident. The words “choose,” “chose,” and “chosen” describe the decisions of both mankind and God in the Bible and appear 208 times in the ASV. Some choices are quite weighty. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and gave them choice (Genesis 2:16-17). The “sons of God” (whoever they are) took wives of all that they chose (Genesis 6:2)    Other choices seem inconsequential, but are part of the grand narrative of Scripture. Lot “chose” to dwell in the Plain of the Jordan in Genesis 13:11.

One of the most revered Scriptures in all the Bible has to do with mankind’s decision in serving God or self. Joshua challenged his people, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah” (Joshua 24:15).

At the same time, there are many verses which seem to say that God has made the choice and is in complete control of all things. This debate has led to doctrinal extremes by many. Some would place salvation entirely as a work of man with no influence from God. Others claim that those who are saved are saved apart from any decision of their own and completely by God’s sovereign initiative. While we can never escape the influence of God, we are still yet responsible for our own moral decisions.

Some say that God’s foreknowledge is equal to the Calvinist or Reformed doctrine of predestination. Foreknowledge does not necessitate predestination of individuals to either salvation or damnation. The definition of the word itself simply declares that God knows beforehand who will be saved and who will not be saved. It does not say that God has eternally determined some to salvation and others to condemnation.

As the sovereignty of God and the free will of men are held together we see they are compatible.  God knows what free moral agents will do in any given situation. However, that does not mean that God necessarily chooses what will happen in every situation. If God chose every action then: 1) God would be responsible for sin; 2) God would have no right to punish sinners; 3) personal evangelism would become irrelevant; and 4) the possible relationship between God and mankind would be robbed of any real value.

Another challenge to free-will is the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin states that since Adam sinned as the representative of all mankind then all mankind are lost and totally depraved by their heredity. This doctrine teaches that no one can choose to do “the right thing” until God regenerates their soul. Not only is this doctrine seen to be false in the “good actions” of non-Christians, but if true it would make civilizations impossible since everyone would be doing his neighbor the most harm possible since they all suffer from total hereditary depravity.

There are several Scriptural objections to total depravity. In Exodus 32:31-33, God lets Moses know that it is the ones who sin, not the ones born in sin, whose names are removed from the book of life.

In Deuteronomy 1:34-39 the Israelites were refused entrance into the promised land because of sin but their children were welcomed into the land. Ecclesiastes 7:29 tells us that God made man upright. Isaiah 59:1-8 tells us that it is our sins and iniquities, not someone else’s, which separate you from God.

Ezekiel 18:5-20 tells us the individual is responsible for his or her own actions—“The soul who sins shall die.” Romans 7:9-11 tells us that the apostle Paul was born spiritually alive, but he experienced spiritual death through his own sin. 1 John 3:4 teaches that one becomes a sinner because he commits sin rather than being born that way.

Man is Created to Glorify God

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14). Why are we here? We are created for God’s glory. Paul wrote, “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Isaiah 43:7 speaks of “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” 1 Peter 4:11 describes the desire “hat God in all things may be glorified.”l Corinthians 10:31describes every Christian’s ultimate ambition:  “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

Will God be glorified in my life? In a sense God will be glorified in every life. The sinner will glorify God as God pours out his wrath on the ungodly. God’s justice will be seen and God will be glorified. However, that is not how we want to glorify God and that is not how God would have us to glorify him.

Christians have the unique privilege of honoring God through their lives and by being rewarded by God. In order to positively glorify God, mankind must first be “born again” (John 3:3-5). Isaiah 53:11-12 describes how accepting the gift of salvation is the initial step in glorifying God:

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,  make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

As a saved person, we are able then to honor God by giving thanks to him and worshiping him. Turn away from God involves neglecting worship and giving thanks to him—Romans 1:21. Furthermore, we are to continue in bringing creation in subjection to him. Paul recognized his duty toward God and said his life was devoted to God “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5).

Applications:

  1. How does recognizing God as our Creator change our self esteem or self worth?
  2. How does nature of mankind affect our treatment of others?
  3. How does the nature of free-will affect our degree of devotion toward God?
  4. How does being an “image bearer” of God shape your life’s purpose?
  5. How does being an “image bearer” of God shape decisions in your day?

The Nature of Sin

Only two books and four chapters  of the Bible do not mention sin. This arrangement helps us to understand God’s desire for mankind—an existence without sin. However, the center of the Book focuses upon mankind’s struggle with sin and God’s ultimate path to victory over sin. Satan and sin are the protagonist in our great story of the relationship between God and mankind.

Mankind was created in the image of God. Sin is that which distorts that image in mankind. Of all the powerful things in this world, sin is among the most powerful. Its destructive force is demonstrated in broken homes, broken lives, broken dreams, and forfeited potential. The only thing more powerful than sin is the power of the God exercised in the Gospel. When we study the destructive power of sin, we are better able to understand God’s purposes for mankind, the power of the Gospel, and the love of God.

At the culmination of God’s creation, God created mankind and said his work was very good. Sadly, sin entered the world and things became bad. The glory of the Garden was lost and mankind began its struggle sharing the world with sin. The nature of sin, the effects of sin, and the solution to sin are fundamental storylines in the Bibles grand narrative. Sin is the enemy and Jesus is the hero. In order for us to understand Jesus, we must also increase our understanding of sin.

What is Sin?

Sin is defined as “a departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness”.[13] Sin is anything which is against God’s own nature. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Sin can occur in our private lives, our relationships, our thinking, our words, our actions, and our worship. In biblical usage, sin may be expressed in the negative, indicating a lack of conformity to divine standards (e.g., 1 John 3:4), or in the positive, referring to a condition or act which explicitly opposes divine standards (e.g., Rom 8:7). Sin may also refer to a habitual state, specific act, or an evil force in and of itself (e.g., Rom 7:8).[14]

The first sin is recorded in Genesis 3. As Eve and then Adam fell to the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The Bible records for us what happened. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).

It was sin which drove Adam and Eve from the immediate fellowship with God inside the Garden. Sin also drives each individual away from the safe fellowship with God. Isaiah said, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;

but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins

have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

Since God is the source of all life, being separated from God results in death. So Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The original punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin was both physical death (being separated from the tree of life) and spiritual death (being separated from God himself). The Son of God was sent to remove the stain of sin and restore mankind to a proper relationship with God—2 Corinthians 5:21.

What are the Effects of Sin?

No one can dispute that sin has very real consequences. In order to highlight the greatness of the saving Gospel, Paul described the condemning nature of sin.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23).

In order to understand what sin is, we must understand the reach of sin’s effects. In order to grasp this deep subject, we must first understand the nature of personal responsibility and representation in the Scriptures. These two concepts must be balanced in order of us to have an appropriate understanding of sin and salvation.

One of the popular and enduring hymns of the church is “Rock of Ages.” We are accustomed to singing “Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.” The original version of the song says, “Be of sin the double cure: save from wrath and make me pure.” Christ’s atonement does offer a “double cure” from sin. Christ offers freedom from the physical and spiritual consequences of sin. This is seen in the concepts of federal representation and personal responsibility.

Representation

Genesis 14 records the how Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek after returning from battle. In Hebrews we see that Jesus stands in the royal priesthood of Melchizedek. However, we also learn that the entirety of the Levitical priesthood, which was not in existence in Genesis 14, was “represented” by Abraham’s actions. Hebrews 7:9-10 says, “One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”

Adam stands as the representative of all the human race. In his sin he brought consequences upon all who would follow him. The consequences of Adam’s sin are expulsion from the Edenic existence, exclusion from the tree of life (hence the judicial penalty of death), increased travail in life, and the knowledge (experience) of sin. What is not passed down from Adam is the guilt of sin or the spiritual responsibility for his sin. God spoke through Ezekiel and said, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4). The remainder of this oracle goes on to demonstrate personal responsibility of individuals. One must choose. This is a privilege and responsibility of being free moral agents.

This concept of representation is crucial to understanding several New Testament passages. Paul wrote, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). The concept of representation is vital to understanding Paul’s statements in Romans 5:12-21.

Paul wrote:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned….Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we are under the representation of Adam, we are lost. However, as we choose to be in the representation of Christ, we are saved.

Responsibilities

            Representation does not void the personal responsibility of free moral agents. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Christians are to choose God over the pleasures of the world. John wrote: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15–17).

The book of Acts if full of evangelistic appeals asking individuals to choose Christ rather than sin. In the evangelist appeals of the New Testament we see those who have sinned are given the opportunity to choose representation in Christ through baptism (Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6:3) as they have determined to repent (Acts 2:38). The personal responsibility of the individual continues. John wrote, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6–7).

Just as the crowd heard the word and recognized their need for Jesus in Acts 2:36-37, today we must recognize our need for Christ. Today, sinners must choose to become Christians by obeying the Gospel of Christ (Acts 2:38). Those who become Christians in this way must choose to live out their lives as Christians. Hebrews 2:1-3 reminds the Christian, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,  how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”.

What Happens to those Who Refuse Forgiveness?

Sadly, many will choose to live their lives without God and will enter eternity without God’s blessings. To them, God will say, “Let thy will be done.” God will not dwell in the presence of sin. Isaiah recognized his horrifying situation of being in God’s presence and being a sinner (Isaiah 6:4-7).

One’s actions have very real consequences in this life and in the next. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:45-46). Paul wrote, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).

Applications

  1. How does understanding the nature of sin affect your appreciation of Christ?
  2. How can we avoid sin?
  3. Since sin is anything which is against God’s nature, how can we become more godly?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INCARNATION—The Nature of the Savior

John Newton penned a great tribute to the doctrine of the incarnation in his “Praise for the Incarnation. Newton wrote:

 Sweeter sounds than music knows, Charm me in Emmanuel’s Name; All her hopes my spirit owes To His birth, and Cross, and shame. When He came the angels sung, “Glory be to God on high:” Lord, unloose my stammering tongue; Who shall louder sing than I? Did the Lord a man become, That He might the law fulfil, Bleed and suffer in my room, And canst thou, my tongue, be still? No; I must my praises bring, Though they worthless are, and weak; For, should I refuse to sing, Sure the very stones would speak. O my Saviour, Shield, and Sun, Shepherd, Brother, Lord, and Friend— Every precious name in one! I will love Thee without end.”

Surely one could not meditate on the incarnation of our Lord and not be overwhelmed with God’s grace. As another hymn says, “And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.” (“How Great Thou Art”).

The incarnation is one of the most beautiful studies of theological inquiry. Why would God clothe himself with humanity in order to save his own rebellious creation?

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THE INCARNATION?

Micah wrote, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,  whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). This prophecy describes the time in which the second member of the Godhead took on humanity in order to be the Redeemer. The prophecy also outlines the theology of the incarnation. First we see that the one who came is eternal—he is “from ancient days.” He is also described as being King—the ruler in Israel. He is also to be known by the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah—he was born in Bethlehem.

The initial promise to Jesus’s physical parents was made to Mary. Luke 1:31-33 describes the incarnation of Jesus to be the King of Israel. Gabriel said to Mary, “And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (ASV).

An angel of the Lord also comforted Joseph about the coming birth of Jesus. The message to him was: “‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 1:20–22).

The incarnation is there described as a source of comfort—“do not fear.” The incarnation is a miracle worked by God—“that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The child is described as a son. This gives specificity to the prophecy and helps to establish the certainty that Jesus is in fact the Messiah. The purpose of the incarnation is also given—“he will save his people from their sins.” The incarnation is also described as the fulfillment of prophecy. The specific prophecy here is from Isaiah 7:14.

The Apostle John looks back on the incarnation and describes the coming of Jesus from before time. The book of the Gospel opens beautifully describing the pre-incarnate state of Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Then the actual event of the incarnation is described in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Paul recorded an ancient Christian hymn describing the incarnation in Philippians 2:6-11:

He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 

These words focus on the humility of Christ in accepting the limitations of humanity while also highlighting the corresponding exaltation of Christ because of his incarnate ministry.

Prominent in this section is how exactly Christ “emptied himself” when he took on humanity. The footnote of the NASBU says, “he laid aside his privileges.” The Greek word translated “emptied himself” is defined this way “of divestiture of position or prestige: of Christ, who gave up the appearance of his divinity and took on the form of a slave.”[15] The phrase “emptied himself” describes the “self-giving humility and self-denying impoverishment of the divine manner of being.”[16]

“What is meant is that the heavenly Christ did not selfishly exploit His divine form and mode of being, but by His own decision emptied Himself of it or laid it by, taking the form of a servant by becoming man. The subject of ἐκένωσεν is not the incarnate but the pre-existent Lord. There is a strong sense of the unity of His person. The essence remains, the mode of being changes—a genuine sacrifice.[17]

Perhaps the simplest commentary on the meaning of this phrase is found in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” In this emptying of himself, Christ was truly Divine and truly human.

Why did the Son of God come take on humanity? This question strikes at the heart of God’s character. God saw mankind’s sinful state and, being compassionate, sought to redeem his creation from their just judgment. Being moved by the highest motives, God acted in the highest possible way as the Word is sent to put on humanity in order to redeem humanity. Romans 8:3 described it this way: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

By the incarnation of the Word, Christians “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). The book of Hebrews describes this most excellent sacrifice this way in Hebrews 2:9-11 (NASBU):

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”

 

Again, God has demonstrated his love for his creation. The greatness of that love is seen in the depths that God was willing to reach in order to salvage the willing.

 

 

Atonement

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13, ESV All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version 2016 ed. unless otherwise noted). The greatest love imaginable was displayed in the mesmerizing and multifaceted crown jewel of theology called the atonement.

THE NEED FOR ATONEMENT

            Until we recognize the depths of sin, we cannot appreciate the greatness of the atonement. Looking back to the Garden, we see what this world could be if not for sin. But sin’s entrance into the world brought harsh consequences (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21). Isaiah said, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you sow that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

The sacrificial system was initiated, in part, to highlight the severity of sin’s consequences and the great cost of redemption (Hebrews 9:22). Mankind’s sin problem was no surprise to God, but rather God has used the existence of sin to highlight his own perfect attributes of mercy, righteousness, judgment, and mercy. This is part of the eternal plan of God. In summary of God’s eternal plan John MacArthur wrote:

“The second member of the Trinity would take on all the weakness and infirmity  (yet not sin) of human nature and would secure for his people and the righteousness, forgiveness, and cleansing that they could never obtain for themselves. He would live as a man in perfect obedience to the Father, die on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice to atone for the sins of those whom the Father had chosen, and rise again in victory over sin and death, all in the power of the Holy Spirit. Redemption would be accomplished by the miraculous incarnation, vicarious life, penal-substitutionary death, and death defeating resurrection of the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Biblical Doctrine, 512).

We stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, who made forgiveness available through his atonement. “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord!”

The atonement encapsulates the work of Christ as the ransom (Mark 10:45); sacrifice (Hebrews 10:11-14); reconciliation (Ephesians 2:16); victory (Colossians 2:13-15); and the regaining of what was lost by Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Christ is our High Priest who offers atonement for our sins (Hebrews 2:17). He is also the atoning sacrifice (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2). He is the Savior.

THE WORD GROUP OF ATONEMENT

Exodus 29:33 contains the first time the word “atonement” is found in the English Standard Version. The Hebrew word translated “atonement” is כִּפֶּר meaning “cover over…pacify, make propitiation.”[18] The New Testament refers to this concept by the word ἱλαστήριον. Which refers to “that which serves as an instrument for regaining the goodwill of a deity…means of propitiation or expiation, gift to procure expiation.”[19] So we learn that Christians are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25).

THE ACT OF ATONEMENT

Both Testaments point to Jesus as the sacrifice by which sins are forgiven and mankind is able to be restored to the Father. Isaiah looked forward with anticipation to Jesus’ atoning work saying, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). The inspired preacher of Hebrews looked back in awe of Christ’s work and said, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

THE AFFECT OF THE ATONEMENT

There are several paradigms for understanding the nature of the atonement. Many see the atonement as a ransom of sinners by Christ. This is often referred to as “Christus Victor” (Victorious Christ). This paradigm says Jesus “bought mankind” back having paid the price for sin. This would be seen in passages such as Mark 10:45 as Jesus said he came to “give his life a ransom for many.” In the middle ages Anselm popularized the paradigm of satisfaction. Briefly, this position says that sin dishonors God by denying him what is inherently his. Man renders an infinite offense to God’s majesty and satisfaction is required by him. This satisfaction is met in Christ’s atoning work. Finally, others focus on the penal nature of atonement. This paradigm focuses on Christ suffering for the sins of the world and thereby appeasing the wrath of God.

The penal nature of the atonement is unavoidable in the Scriptures. Christ died for us (Romans 8:32; 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; Galatians 2:20). Christ died for our sins (Romans 5:6, 8; Galatians 1:3-4). It was impossible for animal sacrifices to take away sins, but the blood of the spotless Lamb of God was able to take away sins once and for all (Hebrews 10:4). Jesus likewise spoke of himself as the ultimate and foundational sacrifice. The words of Jesus, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24), at the institution of the Lord’s Supper allude to the sacrifice of Exodus 24:8, “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

However, the nature of the atonement inherently demands punishment of sin.  We must behold both the kindness and the severity of God. Isaiah 53:10-12 presents both the suffering and the reward of the Savior:

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;

he has put him to grief;

when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

  1. I. Packer eloquently described the atoning work of Christ when he wrote:

“If the true measure of love is how low it stoops to help, and how much in its humility it is ready to do and bear then it may be fairly claimed that the penal substitution model embodies a richer witness to divine love than any other model of atonement, for it sees the Son at the Father’s will going lower than the other views suggest (In My Place Condemned He Stood, 94).

The penal nature of the atonement is not for a lack of God’s love. Rather, it is the greatest demonstration of love God could manifest.

It seems best to this student not to exclude all the paradigms of atonement and focus on one, but rather to appreciate the different facets of the atonement displayed in the amazing work of Christ. God has redeemed his people. God has paid the price for sin and pardon (Acts 20:28). The atonement is a remarkable event and multifaceted doctrine. It would be foolish not to appreciate the multiple truths presented and needs met in this great work of God.

THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT

            Many have said that Jesus died only for the elect (those allegedly chosen before time to be saved). However, 1 John 2:2 reads, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” So how is it that Jesus died for the whole world yet not every soul is to be saved (Matthew 7:21)? We must here make the distinction of pardon available and pardon applied. God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Yet, not all have obeyed the Gospel (Romans 10:16). Salvation is therefore, available to all but each one must make the decision to be covered in the blood of the Lamb.

MAN’S RECEPTION OF ATONEMENT

When? That great question must be answered when we examine the atonement. If atonement is available to all but not all are atoned, at what moment in time does one become covered by the blood of the Lamb? The New Testament continually places baptism as the moment in time when an individual becomes covered in Christ.

“By Baptism the Christian mystically shares in Christ’s death and His victory over it (that is the resurrection), and acquires, by God’s free gift, a new status of sonship or justification; and peace was made between God and man ‘through the blood of His cross’ (Col. 1:20). Hence the death of Christ was an expiation (ἱλαστήριον, Rom. 3:25). Elsewhere in the NT, the believer is said to be redeemed ‘with precious blood’ (1 Pet. 1:18 f.), and the author of Hebrews makes constant use of sacrificial language in the same connection (cf. esp. ch. 9).”[20]

An individual’s baptism should therefore be regarded as the special moment in time at which sin is paid for and the transaction has been made in one’s own life. Christians should look back at their baptism and remember that at that time in their lives Christ was satisfied and he bore their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11).

 

 

 

RESURRECTION—Why We Must Believe

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised” (1 Corinthians 15:14-15). Consider life without God, without ultimate purpose, without ultimate meaning, without hope beyond the grave, without a promise of justice, and without hope of comfort. That would be a miserable life to live. Now consider life with evidence for God, with ultimate purpose, with meaning, with hope beyond this life, with a promise of justice, and with a hope of comfort. That is life lived in view of the resurrection of Christ.

Even among those critics who do not accept the inspiration of the Scriptures, there is a consensus that much of the resurrection narrative is historical.  Most will confirm that Jesus of Nazareth was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. This is important because a great number of people would have been aware of the location of Jesus’s body. Furthermore, Joseph of Arimethea was a member of the Sanhedrin which was opposed to Jesus.  It is important to note that there is no other competing burial narrative. Most agree that the disciples could never have proclaimed Jesus as raised from the dead if the tomb was not empty. So the only historical quest is to find the best possible explanation of the evidence.

It is very likely that one of the oldest summaries of the death, burial, and resurrection is recorded for us in 1 Corinthians 15. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 records for us:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:

.that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,

and that he was buried,

and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

The text is noted for recording an ancient saying which is older than the letter of 1 Corinthians. The typical rabbinical terms “received” and “delivered” are used by Paul in describing the  information. Verses 3-5 are a formal four-line formula characteristics with an atypical style for Paul. This has convinced most scholars that Paul is quoting from an old saying which predates the Corinthian correspondence. There was not enough time for a legend to develop around the resurrection. The most reasonable explanation for early statements, such as this one, is that the resurrection is true.

Looking further to the inspired record of Jesus’ resurrection provides convincing evidence to hold to belief in Christ as raised from the dead. Luke began the record with the first piece of evidence—stone which had been rolled Away—Luke 24:2. This stone weighed hundreds of pounds, it was sealed with the seal of Rome, and it was guarded by Roman soldiers who would have been under penalty of death if one of them went to sleep or if the tomb was disturbed. The stone being taken out of the way demands explanation.

The missing body of Jesus also must be explained—Luke 24:3. The women went into the tomb expecting to find the body. The disciples would not believe the women’s testimony about the missing body. Even when Peter and John ran to the tomb themselves, they doubted. Everyone expected the body of Jesus to still be on that slab in that tomb on Sunday morning. But everyone agreed that the body was not there. Even the cover story issued by the authorities, that the disciples had stolen the body, presupposed that the body was not there.

The disciples stealing the body was highly unlikely if not impossible. The body never resurfacing would be extraordinary. The future leaders of the church doubted the first news stories of the resurrection—Luke 24:10-12. Everyone in and around Jerusalem knew what had happened to Jesus—Luke 24:18.  The disciples had given up—Luke 24:19-21. Since the closest friends of Jesus did not believe he would rise, the missing body is tremendous evidence that Jesus’s resurrection is true.

The fulfilled prophecies are another piece of evidence —Luke 24:6-7. The angels said, “He is not here, he is risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:6-7). Jesus had been repeatedly telling of his death, burial, and resurrection. It would have been easy enough for Jesus to have arranged his own death at the hands of the Romans. However, it was impossible for Jesus to arrange the resurrection.

The Old Testament had also been preparing God’s people for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Psalm 22 is a wonderful passage to see a detailed account of Jesus’s crucifixion before crucifixion was practiced in that way. In Psalm 22:16, the Bible says “they have pierced my hands and my feet.” Psalm 22:17 prophecies that none of the Messiah’s bones would be broken. Psalm 22:18 prophecies that men would cast lots for Jesus clothing. Isaiah 53 is a bit more theological in its account of the crucifixion. It details Jesus’s rejection, beating, scourging, vicarious atonement, death between criminals, and burial with the rich.

The resurrection of Jesus is also prophesied. Jesus himself predicted his resurrection from the dead. Psalm 16:10 says, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” After prophesying that the Suffering Servant of God would suffer for the sins of God’s people, the prophet then said He would be “cut off out of the land of the living.” Isaiah then states that the Christ “will see His offspring” and that God the Father will “prolong His days” (Isaiah 53:5, 8, 10). Isaiah reaffirms resurrection again this way: “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see light and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). After the resurrection Jesus would turn to the Old Testament to demonstrate how it was pointing to him—Luke 24:25-27.

Women’s testimony in the first century was inadmissible to court, but it was the first to affirm the resurrection of Christ—Luke 24:22-23; 24:1. It is important to make this observation because if someone were making up the story this would be one piece of the story which would be left out. Even in 1 Corinthians 15, the text does not mention the original testimony of the women. To base one’s entire world view on the testimony of women would have been laughable in the first century. This would not have been in the story unless this is the way it really happened. The Bible tells the truth.

Resurrection Appearances are another piece of evidence confirming the resurrectionLuke 24:31, 36-43. Jesus appeared to his disciples in various ways for forty days after his resurrection. These events are recorded by the New Testament and display that many future church leaders doubted that Christ had been raised. However, the Bible records the truth. The people really did doubt and Jesus really did appear to them. These were not mass hallucinations. The appearances occur over too long a period of time, they occur to too many people, and they occur over too great a distance for the resurrection to be a hallucination or a hoax.

The continued testimony of the disciples is also very convincing—Luke 24:46-49. Jesus’s final command was for the disciples to be his witnesses (Luke 24:47-48). All the Apostles suffered greatly for their belief in the resurrected Lord. All their lives would have been “better” if they had simply abandoned this message. However, they continued to preach. Even when strictly forbidden by the authorities, they preached Jesus as raised from the dead. Except for John, all the Apostles died a martyr’s death. Why? Men do not live this way because of a lie. Men do not behave his way because of a dream or a hope. These men gave all because they were living in response to the truth—Jesus of Nazareth died and was raised again.

The disciples’ changed lives is also one of the great evidences of the resurrection. The early disciples left their typical occupations in order to devote themselves to the proclamation of the Gospel. The brothers of Jesus, who previously disbelieved, became pillars in the church after seeing the risen Lord. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus is equally incredible. Paul was one of the most well trained scholars and energetic zealots of his day. He was incredibly well connected in the Jewish upper class. He had devoted his life to the pursuit of the Old Testament. Yet it is Paul who was convinced he must change his mind because he had seen Jesus after his execution. Paul’s recorded preaching from the Old Testament Scriptures demonstrated that he was convinced, not only from the vision, but also from the Old Testament itself that Jesus is the risen Lord.

One of the most popular “symbols” of Christianity is the cross. Why not more empty tombs? The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. Because Jesus has been raised, I am a Christian and believe I one day will rise to be with him. The resurrection of Jesus has determined the direction of my life. The resurrection of Jesus gives comfort that no other idea or reality ever could. Thank God for his indescribable gift.

APPLICATIONS:

  1. How does examining the evidence for the resurrection affect your dedication to God?
  2. How does the resurrection of Jesus shape your future?
  3. How can the resurrection of Jesus be comforting?
  4. Since Jesus has been raised, how must we worship and live?

Conversion

Perhaps Titus 3:3-7 provides one of the greatest and most eloquent summaries of the message of salvation. I love the inspired words in Titus 3:3-7:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

The message of salvation for sinners through God’s grace shines here in these sacred words.

Titus 3:3 describes the presence of sin which breaks the relationship between man and God. The message of God’s multifaceted grace is highlighted by resting on the dark backdrop of mankind’s sin. Isaiah described the consequence of sin “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God. And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2, NASBU).  Sin causes separation from God and his blessings.  This separation from God, the source of life, results in spiritual death. God described this spiritual death through Paul in Ephesians 2. Paul wrote, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2, ESV).

Death is the consequence God promised as the result of sin in the Garden. Moses recorded God’s words in Genesis 2:17, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” This dying was both physical and spiritual. The dual nature (physical and spiritual) of death is highlighted by the Apostle Paul’s usage of the word where both physical and spiritual death are intimately related although one may be emphasized over the other in each context.

The consequences of sin began. Adam and Eve were different. This difference is noted as the Bible says in Genesis 3:7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” The original innocence was lost. Furthermore, their actions brought consequences upon all of future mankind recorded in Genesis 3:16-24.

Even though God’s image bearers had rebelled against him, hope was given through the promise of grace. The first mention of the Gospel in Genesis 3:15 came before mankind received the sentence of condemnation. Jesus continues to stand for mankind before sin’s punishment. Back in Titus 3:4 Paul wrote, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared.” The sound of God’s amazing grace is truly sweet. The appearance of Jesus in the incarnation is a display of God’s “goodness and lovingkindness.” God “goodness” (χρηστότης) refers to his “the quality of being helpful or beneficial, goodness, kindness, generosity.”[21] His “lovingkindness” (φιλανθρωπία), refers to God’s “affectionate concern for and interest in humanity.”[22]

This “appearing” describes the incarnation of Jesus. Paul recorded what was likely an ancient hymn in order to describe the entry of Jesus into this world. In Philippians 2:6-11 Paul wrote,

“though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

John wrote the Golden Text of the Bible, John 3:16, to describe this great event. Jesus’ birth was the fulfillment of prophecies, the answer to prayers, and the eternal plan of God (Acts 2:23).

Jesus came into the world so that he might “save us” as Titus 3:5 says. Before Jesus was born, the angel instructed Joseph to “call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus himself said that he came to “seek and save the lost” in Luke 19:10. Salvation was made available by Jesus’s sacrifice. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 describes the death of Jesus as the sacrifice which achieved penal substitutionary atonement.

I personally love what J. I. Packer wrote concerning the atoning work of Christ in his book In My Place Condemned He Stood. “If the true measure of love is how low it stoops to help, and how much in its humility it is ready to do and bear then it may be fairly claimed that the penal substitution model embodies a richer witness to divine love than any other model of atonement, for it sees the Son at the Father’s will going lower than the other views suggest” (94). I am thankful that Jesus loves me. Because of his love for me, I want to praise him and devote my life to helping others bring glory to him.

Following Jesus’s humiliating death, God worked again in the glorious resurrection of Christ. “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). In Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection, the penalties of sin are defeated and removed. Everything which was lost through sin under Adam’s representation was regained in Christ’s perfect representation (Romans 5:12-21). The penalty of sin is replaced by the glory of redemption by God in Christ.

God made the first move. God sent his Son to be the propitiation for the sins of the world—1 John 2:2. This offer of God’s grace must then be received by mankind. As Peter preached, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40). Paul’s missionary life was devoted to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for his namesake” (Romans 1:5). This is vital since “God gives his Holy spirit to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32).

Being called by God through the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14), we must respond appropriately to the Gospel. This salvation is not based upon mankind’s work. God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy, by the washing and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). “For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Mankind can do nothing to bring about his or her own salvation—we are totally dependent upon God.

Paul described this salvation event in Ephesians 2:4-6, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgression, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” This salvation event is described by Paul again in Colossians 2:11-12, “in him you were circumcised with a circumcision not made without hands, in the removal of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God.”

The first time the Gospel was preached in the book of Acts, we see individuals who believed Jesus to be the Christ and that he had been crucified for their sins. “They were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and threats of the apostles, ‘Brethren what shall we do?’Peter said to them, Repent and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). We thank God for this indescribable gift. I am compelled by his gift of salvation to preach the Gospel to the very best of my ability for his glory and the salvation of lost souls.

The moment of salvation occurs when the one convicted of Christ’s position receives the grace of God. That moment occurs when one is baptized into Christ. Notice that it is at the point of baptism that God promises:

  • The obedience of Jesus’s command—Matthew 28:19-20
  • The new birth—John 3:3, 5
  • The remission of sins—Acts 2:38
  • The position of being “in Christ”—Romans 6:3
  • The blessing of spiritual renewal—Romans 6:4
  • The hope of eternal life—Romans 6:5
  • Being “in the body”—1 Corinthians 12:13
  • Being a member of God’s family—Galatians 3:26-27
  • The washing of regeneration—Titus 3:5
  • The appeal to God for a clear conscience—1 Peter 3:21
  • They have right to the tree of life—Revelation 22:14.

Baptism is clearly not an optional matter. Rather it is the pivotal moment in which God transfers one from death to life.

This conversion to new life has great responsibilities for God’s people. In Ephesians 2:10 God tells us “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we should walk therein” (NASB). The expression “for good works” means for the purpose of performing good works.

1 Peter 1:22 reminds us again that a Christian’s conversion serves to promote the glory of God in the church. Peter wrote, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Christians are converted that they may serve God appropriately.

Application

  1. Why have we been saved?
  2. How have we been saved?
  3. At what point in time are individuals saved?
  4. What responsibilities accompany salvation?

 

 

Family

The importance of family is tremendous. The quality and outcome of one’s life is largely determined by the family background. One’s physical, emotional, spiritual, and even economic health is set on its course by the family. It is great to be in the Christian family. The concept of family is special. When we think of family, we should think of the supply of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. God’s family offers the same blessings to its members. God promises to supply the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of his family as the Patriarch of the family.

In John 3 Jesus spoke of conversion as new birth into the kingdom. “Unless one is born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Paul described the transition from the membership in the Old Covenant to the New Covenant Christianity as a new birth. “Therefore, the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:24-27 NASBU).

Being Part of the Family

Added by God

Being part of the family means that we are part of the family business. That partnership is described in Acts 2:41-47. Just as Jesus was “about his Father’s business,” the new Christian family immediately got to God’s business. This is one of the major purposes of being a Christian. While church membership is a privilege and comes with great benefits, membership also entails purpose. Ephesians 2:10 tells us “for we are His workmanship, created for good works which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Notice the purpose in Paul’s words. Christians are God’s “workmanship” and Christians are created for the purpose of “good works” which God has “prepared beforehand.”

These good works began in Acts 2:41 as God added people to his family—the church. These additions came as individuals were born again. God himself added them to the church as they were baptized. Peter wrote, “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Those individuals who receive the word of God are baptized and in that way “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Honoring God

One of the first signs of God’s presence among a people is that they take great interest in divine worship.[23] The ancient world was an honor driven society. This is an excellent way for us to look at the relationship of the church with the Father. Being saved from sin, added to the church, and given continued care, it is the responsibility of the church to honor the Father. The church is to honor God through worship and service.

The Christian’s worship is consistent. The service of devotion is no passing fad. Rather, the early church is to be devoted. The Greek word προσκαρτερέω translated “devoted themselves” has to do with consistent faithfulness.

“It is always a matter of persevering, not letting up, as is seen in the technical use of the verb in the legal vocabulary: the defendant and the complainant are at the disposition of the court until the final settlement of the suit, as in this summons from 104/5: “Let them keep themselves at the disposition of the court of the same governor until my claim against them is satisfied.”5 Thus proskerterēsis has a connotation of waiting without lapse, but with a nuance of stubbornness, like that of the tribe of Ephraim besieging Bethel (Josephus, Ant. 5.130), and finally the verb refers to the exertion of great efforts, especially in military language: “Epaminondas bade his soldiers hold fast” (Xenophon, Hell. 7.5.14); “the soldiers, by persevering (or “with great effort,” proskarterēsantes) dislodged four stone blocks” (Josephus, War 6.27); “the others pursued the operations with all their might” (Polybius 1.55.4; cf. Achilles Tatius 1.10.7: “if she remains obstinate, do not use force,” kan men proskarterē, episches tēn bian).[24]

That is the sort of stubborn persistence that Christians are to manifest in their lives. So the Hebrews writer exhorted his audience “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.[25]

The service of devotion is also intellectual. A great part of the Christian’s life and Christian worship is study. The “teaching” (διδαχῇ) refers to both the action of teaching and the material which is taught. The activity of preaching is a primary part of Christian worship and life. Paul said, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” The primacy of preaching is the result of Jesus command to “make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Therefore, Timothy is given the simple yet profound charge, “preach the word’ (2 Timothy 4:2).

The service of devotion is active. Christians were dedicated to “the apostles’ fellowship” (Acts 2:42). The “fellowship” is not a mere social gathering. Instead the fellowship referred to here is the partnership of Christians with one another and God in his mission. “They were one spiritual body, inwardly one by faith in Christ, inwardly and outwardly one by confessing Christ and by adhering to the one doctrine of Christ that was taught by the apostles. And so they kept together as one body and treated each other accordingly. One faith and one teaching, and thus one body in one fellowship. No parties, schisms, inwardly.”[26]The same word is used in Romans 15:26 to refer to the “contribution for the poor saints.” Paul rejoiced because of the Christian in Philippi “in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (NASBU). “Participation” is the Greek same Greek word translated “fellowship” in Acts 2:42.

The Christian is to be involved in the fellowship. This means that individuals must work together in the larger group in order to bring about God’s purposes. Paul described this concept in 2 Corinthians 5:20 when he said, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” In Ephesians 6:20, Paul described himself as “an ambassador in chains.”

The Christian service of devotion is also marked by memorial. The phrase “breaking of bread” certainly refers to the regular observance of the Lord’s Supper. The Greek text makes a special notation here by saying “the breaking of the bread” (τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου) The addition of the article “the” denotes the distinction of the Lord’s Supper from common meals.

The Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus in Matthew 26:26-28. The Bible gives its lengthiest description of how the meal is to be observed in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. There the Bible presents the necessity of Christians to care for one another as they assembled—1 Corinthians 11:17-22. Their responsibility to proclaim the Lord’s death according to the pattern in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. The Christian also has the responsibility to examine himself during the Lord’s Supper—1 Corinthians 11:27-31. This meal is observed to build up the local body of Christ and the individual Christian. The church also continues to proclaim their faith in the resurrected Lord as they observe the feast.

The service of devotion is also one of communication. Communication involves the mutual sending and receiving of messages. In the service of devotion, Christians are in communication with God. Christians communicate their praise through their worship to the Father. The Father speaks to his church through the proclaimed Word. The church also communicates to the Father through prayer. Prayer is one the Christian’s most valuable tools and should be among the most prized opportunities. However, prayer is also one of the most neglected aspects of the Christian life.

Instead of being a neglected practice, let us make prayer the overarching theme of our lives. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If Christianity could be reduced to one word, perhaps that word would be prayer. How blessed is the Christian who devotes much time to prayer.

Being the Christians We Can Be

Examining the Christians of the first century motivates us to live incredible lives. As we examine the blessings of the Gospel, we are moved to live abundant lives. Christians, do not settle for being average. Live incredible lives. Live abundant lives. Live for Jesus.

As we meditate on the people we want to become, we focus on the Biblical examples of great people of God. The early church was great. The early church was effective. The early church lived their potential. The early church was what they could be.

We should be what we can be. Looking to the Scriptures, we are compelled to live lives of excellence in our personal devotion and our congregational service. This is the Christian’s great honor—to bring glory to God through the church. Every Christian and every congregation has the great responsibility to look to the Scriptures and see how best to live for God in devoted service.

Applications:

  1. How can we communicate with God?
  2. How does God communicate with us?
  3. How should we value these opportunities for worship?
  4. How should we view our dedication to God? Is it passing? A weekly activity? Or is our devotion something more?

 

 

EXALTATION

One cannot imagine being confronted with God and not yielding worship. Worship, praise, and adoration are natural responses to beauty, perfection, greatness, and grandeur. God is the ultimate of beauty, perfection, greatness, and grandeur. How could we not worship him?

As we begin to worship God, we immediately wonder what we are supposed to do. Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 NASB). Christians are blessed to live in this special time of worship.

Throughout the Old Testament God foreshadowed this time of worship. Psalm 86:9 says, “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify your name. For You are great and do wondrous deeds; you alone are God.” Isaiah spoke of the day when all the nations would “go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3).

Hebrews 12:28-29 exhorts us to worship and to worship appropriately. The Bible says, “Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” There are three great worship principles in this exhortation. First, worship must stem from Christian gratitude. Secondly, worship must be acceptable. Finally, we must remember the fearful nature of our God whom we worship and approach him with reverence.

GRATITUDE

Worship is to be reverent and to flow from hearts filled with gratitude. Just as Paul reminded the Philippians to “rejoice” our worship is to be a time of joy. Remember all that Christ has done for you and approach worship with gratitude. It is sad to see saved people who are not thankful to be worshiping their God. Gratitude and joy should be evident in the lives and worship of every believer. The Psalms are a wonderful place for us to see the proper attitude of worship.

The Psalmist said, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Psalm 122:1). The word chosen there by the Holy Spirit and translated as “glad” (שָׂ֭מַחְתִּי) is often used in worship contexts. Hannah prayed, “my heart exults in the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:1). Psalm 32:11 says, “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Psalm 95 says, “Oh come, let us sing unto Jehovah; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with Psalms” (Psalm 95:1-2).

In the New Testament era, Christians are blessed by the Great High Priest, the better covenant, and the better sacrifice. Therefore, Christians have even more reason to rejoice for the grace received. Colossians 3:16 commands Christians to worship “with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” The word “thankfulness” in the ESV or “grace” in the ASV is the Greek word (χάριτι) which is typically translated grace. However here is has to do with “response to generosity or beneficence, thanks, gratitude.[27]

This gratitude in worship is evident in Paul’s life as he said:

 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:12-16).

Every Christian has had a similar experience and should also have similar expressions of devotion and worship.

Acceptable Worship

Gratitude is necessary to worship, but the Christian is also expected to worship appropriately. A survey of Bible history should teach the reader to expect some direction from God in how he wants to be worshiped. God’s covenants always included a plan for worship. So Hebrews 9:1 says, “Now even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service” (ASV) “worship” (ESV).

Therefore, the Christian must concern himself with the proper plan of worship in the New Testament dispensation. Therefore, Jesus commanded to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Hebrews 12:28 demands the Christian to offer “acceptable (εὐαρέστως) worship.” The word “acceptable” tells us that there is both acceptable and unacceptable worship. The same word is used in Romans 12:2 as Paul wrote: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Christian, examine the Scriptures to see acceptable worship for God.

Christians should want to see what God has said and yield to His will. Rather than exerting one’s own will, the Christian should submit to God’s will. The early church has left us examples of worship to follow. Every Sunday (Acts 20:7) the Christians came together in order to observe the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). The Christians are exhorted to pray (1 Timothy 2) and male leadership is prescribed. An offering of funds for God work is to be collected each Lord’s Day as an act of worship (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8). Christians are also expected to worship God in song (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:17).

Nadab and Abihu rejected God’s plan for worship and offered unauthorized fire (Numbers 10:1; 3:4;26:61) Why not offer God worship which we know is acceptable? Why not be safe as we approach God?  Why not have Bible authority for our practices? Why not promote unity among God’s people by submitting to God’s authority? The worship wars can be settled peacefully if all will yield to Father’s plan.

Reverence

“For our God is a consuming fire” is the reason given for worshiping appropriately. When modern worship is surveyed, there is unfortunate lack of reverence displayed among the worshipers. Christian worship is to be accompanied “with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). This reverence is displayed in many ways by God’s people. The preparation for worship, dedication to worship, dress for worship, and style of worship help to promote and display reverence for God.

Even Jesus’s prayers are characterized by reverence. Hebrews 5:6 says Jesus offered up prayers and was “heard because of his reverences.” Polycarp, a second century Christian wrote the following about reverent worship:

Let us therefore so serve Him with fear and all reverence, as He himself gave commandment and the Apostles who preached the Gospel to us and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of our Lord; being zealous as touching that which is good, abstaining from offenses and from the false brethren and from them that bear the name of the Lord in hypocrisy, who lead foolish men astray.[28]

While Christians have the opportunity to draw near to God with boldness and are blessed with a closeness which former covenants have not offered, we must also remember that we are in God’s presence and that deserves a proper decorum.

 

 

 

PROCLAMATION

“Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus great commission for his people is what happens as his image is restored and displayed in his new creation. From the very beginning of Scripture’s story, the spread of God’s reign and reclamation of the sinful world is at the forefront. Jesus’s kingdom, the church, is the instrument by which God has chosen to bring the world under his safety and submission.

In principle this mission is seen in Christ’s training and sending of his first disciples. Jesus expounded upon this concept in Matthew 20:26-28 when he said, But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,  even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Just as Jesus had a mission to complete so now his church has the same mission to complete. It is important to remember that God has a purpose for his church. The church is not a rest home. The church is a working organization preparing for souls for eternity. Glorifying God through personal evangelism is one of the key marks and purposes of the church.

Christians must remember that they are formed for the purpose of service. The Spirit led Paul to write, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk therein” (Ephesians. 2:10). Notice first that Christians are made by God—“his workmanship created in Christ Jesus.” God’s work has purpose. Secondly notice that God has works for his people to do. The Bible says these works are “prepared beforehand, that we should walk therein.” They are not arbitrary or the option of any Christian or congregation. Instead, God has prepared works to which that every Christian and every Christian must be dedicated.

One of the most significant parts of this verse is the small word “for.” When Paul wrote that Christians are created “for good works,” he was saying that Christians are created for the purpose of good works. The word “for” (ἵνα) is defined as a “marker to denote purpose, aim, or goal.”[29] So God is saying that one of the main reasons he made Christians anew in Christ is so that they may do perform good works. This is contrary to the practice of many who choose to be spectators of worship rather than servants of God.

The reason Christians are to be devoted to God’s service is further discussed in Ephesians 4:7-16. Paul begins that section by stating that “grace was given to each one” in verse seven. Paul often uses the word “grace” to refer to ministry rather than the unmerited favor which most usually comes to mind. Then Paul lists different areas in which Christians are to serve in verse eleven. It is important to note that each one of those areas of ministry focus around teaching. Especially in modern times, the focus in upon entertainment or pragmatic church growth. However, in the Bible God has prescribed teaching to be at the forefront in the life of his people.

Some of the reasons teaching is so important are then described in Ephesians 4:12-16. First, teaching is important “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Many want to be active in service but neglect the necessary learning of doctrine. Learning doctrine is essential to performing Christian service. Next the Bible says that learned servants will be able to “build up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). Unlearned servants will not be able to build up the body.

Furthermore, the learned Christian is described as a unifying Christian. False doctrine and practices divide, but truth unites. So Ephesians 4:13 describes the training of Christians as an aid to “the unity of the faith.” This unity will also aid in stability. The learned or trained Christian will not be as apt to be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.” Learning doctrine is the foundation of the Christian’s work, unity, and stability.

Finally, the Bible describes the trained Christian as one who contributes to the growth of the church. Ephesians 4:16 says, “when each part is working properly makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” The power of teaching is seen in Acts 8. The Eunuch was studying his Bible but wasn’t aware of whom the prophet spoke. Philip was able to take the Eunuch from the text in Isaiah 53 to Christ and then to baptism. This is what teaching can do. Let every Christian strive to be well trained for whatever opportunity God presents.

Paul is a great example of being a trained Christian who trained others. He devoted his life to God and God’s Scriptures. Paul understood that he was “under obligation” or “a debtor” to the world (Romans 1:14). The debt he owed was to preach the Gospel to them. But this was not only a debt it was also a joy. Paul said “I am eager to preach the Gospel” and “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” (Romans 1:15-16).

Paul’s great devotion to the proclamation of the Gospel is based upon the nature of the Gospel. The great promise that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13) is based upon the Gospel being available to all so that they have the opportunity. The sacred work of preaching and teaching is needed because it is through preaching (Romans 10:14-17) that saving faith is able to take root in the heart of mankind.

God, in his New Testament, has commanded his people to teach. The text known as “Great” says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, exhorted Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Timothy is told “immerse yourself in them” (1 Timothy 4:15).These may not sound like “exciting” worship services, but they are, by definition, Biblical worship services.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

VINDICATION

Preaching the second coming of Christ often requires a fiery sermon. But for the Christian the second coming of Christ is the single shining ray of hope in this dark world. What a great thing it is to think on Christ’s return! What a blessing for the child of God to anticipate the day of the Lord.

Unfortunately, some have confused the completion of Jesus’s earthly ministry with the completion of all his actions. Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning his church, he has purchased his church with his own blood, he has programmed the church with his own authority, and he promised to return to bring his church home. The idea of realized eschatology, that the present kingdom is all there is for the Christian, is far from the truth. Jesus promised to return to bring the redeemed of all ages home. This future return is certainly within view as Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38)

The angels said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). While it is a danger of being so heavenly minded that we become no earthly good, it is a much greater danger to become so earthly minded that heaven becomes no good to us. While the disciples needed to be reminded to get ready for ministry in Acts 1:11, we need to be reminded to long for Jesus’s return.

Always Prepared

             

Jesus said, “Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—  lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake” (Mark 13:35-37). Contemplating the return of Christ has routinely devolved into discussions and attempts to decipher when the Lord’s return shall be. These discussions have given rise to several religious groups and greatly increased the popularity of the Scofield Reference Bible. But when the Bible is examined, one thing is clear, no one knows when Jesus will return.

Jesus explicitly said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36). In fact, the Bible says the return of Christ will be unexpected rather than decipherable. Paul wrote, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.”

Instead of searching for clues as to when Jesus will come again, let us be diligent to show ourselves approved before God (2 Timothy 2:15). That is the constant plea of God’s Word—prepare to meet your God. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace will all men, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” It is far better be prepared for the moment which will inevitably find you rather than searching in vain for the moment you will never find.

What We Do Know

While we do not know the time of Jesus return, we are briefly told what the return will be like. The descriptions we find in the Bible are not exhaustive but do provide a brief outline of moment Jesus returns to bring his people to Heaven and present them to the Father. While we must embrace these outlines and the hope they provide, we should not be overly determined to outline the specific details of the Day. Instead we should be constantly preparing for the day and anticipating the reward of seeing Jesus. As Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth. After my skin has thus been destroyed yet in my flesh I shall see God whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

Jesus gave the simplest description of his return in Mark 13:24-27. The Lord said, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:26-27). This is the prelude to the great judgment pictured in Revelation 20:11-15.

John’s record of Jesus’s words in John 14 also add to the Lord’s description of that moment. Jesus said he must leave (crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension) so that he may return to bring the saints to where he had gone. Note that Jesus did not say he was returning to establish a kingdom. Rather he returns to deliver the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24). Jesus promised to bring his people to the place he had gone to prepare with the Father (John 14:2-3).

The return of Christ is also presented as a time of judgment. For the righteous, this will be a time of vindication. The life of faith in God will be rewarded by the sight of God. Job’s faith in that vindication is presented in one of the most inspiring texts of Scripture: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27). Christians should long for that day of blessed reward and pray “Come, Lord Jesus.”

However, for those outside of grace it will be the beginning of eternal punishment. Jesus said, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 24:46). Just as the rich man died and lifted up his eyes in Torments (Luke 16:23), many will hear the dreaded words “depart from me I you workers of iniquity. I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). Paul wrote: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12).

After Judgment

Following the judgment of all, the Bible presents two eternal destinations (Matthew 25:46). Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done” (Revelation 22:12). Then God’s people will be vindicated by being in God’s presence. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4).

“Come Lord Jesus.”

[1] William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 367.

[2] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 27.

[3] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 277.

[4] Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907), 27.

[5] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 184.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 278–279.

[7] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1051.

[8] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 464.

[9] Joh. Ed. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the General Epistles of Peter and Jude, trans. D. B. Croom and Paton J. Gloag, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1893), 326.

[10] Martyrdom of Polycarp, 14, in Holmes, 239; ANF, 142.

[11] Bruce Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance (Crossway), p. 17.

[12] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 282.

[13]  William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 50

[14] David J. Sigrist, “Sin,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

[15] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 539.

[16] Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 282.

[17] Albrecht Oepke, “Κενός, Κενόω, Κενόδοξος, Κενοδοξία,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 661.

[18]  Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 497.

[19] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 474.

[20] F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 124.

[21] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1090.

[22] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1055.

[23] C. H. Spurgeon, “A Call to Worship,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 19 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 217.

[24] Ceslas Spicq and James D. Ernest, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 192–193.

[25] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Heb 10:25.

[26] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 116.

[27] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1080.

[28] Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 179.

[29] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 475.

 

 

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