Christianity 201

October 16, 2021

Rescued from a Life Apart from God to a Life With God

Eleven years ago, in 2010, many of us were glued to a live CNN feed from Copiapo, Chile; watching the rescue of the 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. That got me thinking at the time about what it means to be rescued.

In Psalm 18:17 we read:

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

In II Tim 3 10-11 Paul tells Timothy,

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

And Paul again, speaking in a broader sense in Col. 1:13-14 writes;

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The experience of the Chilean miners is similar to our own experience.  Maybe you became a Christ follower at a young age and didn’t experience much in the way of sin and depravity, but positionally, all of us were once captive and now we are numbered among the rescued. We’ve been set free!

But do we truly appreciate it? Instead of focusing on what you were saved out of, think of what you were saved from.  Think of what might have been — the things you were kept from and even today are kept from — were it not for the Holy Spirit working on and working in your life.

Let’s think about someone who knew exactly what she’d been saved out of. Consider this passage from Luke 7 — especially the climax of verse 47 — in the light of the personal rescue that has taken place just for you…

36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

While I believe we have a picture here of a woman who has been transformed, or at the very least is in the process of transformation. But note that her reputation has continued to follow her. It would take time (and an endorsement from the Teacher from Nazareth) before that reputation would start to change.

Additionally, the rest of the people there had every reason to be thankful as well because, by the grace of God, they had not succumbed to a life that would bring societal and community condemnation.

But wait, there’s more!

The dichotomy of what we’ve been saved from versus that what we’ve been saved out of, pales in comparison to what we’ve been saved to.

By this I mean that instead of letting sin set the standard, and focusing on whether we came from a dark background or if we dodged the proverbial bullet (and letting that identify us), we should instead focus on the idea that we’ve been saved to a life in Christ, which includes 24-hour access to his presence.

We’re no longer looking back, but we’re enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

The Chilean miners lived each successive day in the blessing of having been rescued, but I’m sure that this doesn’t define their lives today, eleven years later. Rather they are living in the present and looking forward to the future, and for them, I hope this also includes the life in Christ we’ve discussed.

 

September 24, 2021

New Testament Authors Had Different Approaches

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It’s been five years since we last highlighted the writing of author and college president John Mark Reynolds who appears at Eidos, a Patheos blog. Click the title below to read at source, and then browse the site to see other things he’s written.

Peter and Paul and Difficult Questions

Paul and Peter are often portrayed together: two apostles with contrasting, but not conflicting messages. They were very different, a rabbi and a fisherman. Peter became the Prince of the Apostles, the first amongst apostolic equals. Paul wrote epistles that remain some of the most profound expressions of Christian truth ever written.

The powerful did not want to hear what they were saying. The Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Peter. Before martyrdom, both could see the way things seemed to be going and so both faced mental difficulties: how could Jesus be Lord, but Caesar seem to have all the power? Where was the promise of His coming?

Peter and Paul thought, prayed, and lived within the new Kingdom. They did so the best they could, but both came to see the limits of what they could know.

Despite limits, think we must. 

Life can get tedious. The world is not as the world should be, broken by sin, and so can be hard to understand. In fact, there are, most probably, problems that we will never solve to our own satisfaction. The answers may be beyond the capacity of the human intellect!

We have to accept a reasonable uncertainty, the just live by faith. We have faith seeking understanding continuously. 

The Christian does not have the option of not thinking, of doing the best reasoning possible. The Second Person of the Divine Trinity is called the Logos, the Word, a term strongly related to thinking well in New Testament times. The Bible calls us to study, to love God with our minds, and God allows Job to make his case. If the case fails, that is not God’s fault and God condemns those false friends who would stop Job from pressing his case.

Our reason has limits, but reason we must. Peter and Paul kept the faith and kept seeking understanding. Their contrasting comments on the process give me hope.

Peter and Paul 

Peter had three years with Jesus: a profound experience. We cannot be sure if he was fully literate. Nothing about his job or life would have required much formal education. Paul had, and often displayed, at least some classical and a first-rate Jewish education. He too had a profound experience of the Risen Lord, but not as Peter had. Peter saw Jesus eat and drink. He heard him teach and saw the miracles himself. Peter went to the empty tomb and ate breakfast made by the Risen Lord. Paul was confronted by the ascended Christ in a vision. He experienced healing and heard the testimony of those who had known the Lord. To a great extent, Paul knew Jesus as the rest of us after the first generation of Christian have known Jesus- through the witness of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and the testimony of witnesses.

Peter comments on Paul’s writings:

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

Peter accepts Paul’s wisdom, but also points to the dangers of difficult answers. There is almost nothing so simple people cannot misunderstand it. Look at what has been done with Christ’s command to love enemies! Wrestling with the deeper things of God  provides room for twisting words. Despite this, Peter commends Paul’s writings to the attention of his readers!

Peter could not write like Paul or perhaps think as Paul thought, but he valued the wisdom given him.

Intellectual types might stop there, feeling smug, but Paul stands in the icon with Peter. While Peter, who was no intellectual, merely a saint, affirms the value of intellectually difficult writing. Saint Paul, who was one of history’s great intellectuals, looked at the limits of credentials and reason:

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

People do the best we can, but we often confuse credentials with real wisdom. We become “scribes” in the system of our own age and opine. Our opinions can prevail when all there are only words, but then reality comes. There is no negotiating, no debating, reality. Jesus comes, is crucified, and raised from the dead. He is the power and the wisdom of God and against that reality, the one true Word, Greek words failed.

We keep thinking, reality keeps making us modify what we think. Our words must fail, but the Word endures. This gives us a heavy dose of intellectual humility. Intellectual humility was the beginning of science, philosophy, and true theology.

This much endures:  Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and the gospel that Paul preached. They endure because however we might try to deface that hard won realization and profound teaching, their works were icons to Christ and Christ is immortal truth.

May 29, 2021

Before and After: The Veil and the Big Reveal

This week a friend put me on to a 50-minute YouTube podcast of Mike Winger teaching on the prophetic nature of four verses in Proverbs 30 that ended with the passage in 2 Corinthians 3 which follows. I’ve linked to the podcast at the end of today’s reading for those who want to go deeper.

NIV.2.Cor.3.13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

BibleRef.com sets the stage:

Paul has been comparing the glory of the old covenant between God and Israel and the new covenant of God’s grace for all who come to Him through faith in Christ. The glory of the revelation of God through the old covenant was always fading away and being brought to an end. The glory of God’s revelation of Himself through Christ is eternal. Through faith in Christ, God receives Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for sin and gives credit for Jesus’ sinless, righteous life in return.

The result for him, Paul has written, is boldness and confidence while representing God to others. He has nothing to fear, because his standing before God is not based on his own performance. It is all based on Christ’s righteousness.

Moses, on the other hand, could not be so bold in representing God to the Israelites. Paul is referencing Exodus 34. Moses returned to the people after being with God visibly changed in his appearance. His face reflected God’s glory so powerfully that the people were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:30). The glory of God was painful to them in their sinfulness. Moses covered his face to protect them from God’s glory. He could not boldly reveal it to them as Paul revealed God’s glory in the person of Jesus.

The Bridgeway Bible Commentary suggests that the veil itself is both literal and symbolic:

After Moses had been away from the presence of God for a while, the brightness of his face faded, but the veil over his face prevented Israelites from seeing this fading brightness. To Paul, this fading brightness symbolized the fading away and eventual end of the old covenant. The permanence of the new covenant, by contrast, gives Paul confidence in all that he says and does (12-13).

At Authentic Christianity, Ray Stedman comes closest to the type of approach I heard in the podcast, even going so far as to title his commentary, “Who is This Masked Man?” (He refers to the veil as a mask, which, you gotta admit, is somewhat timely!)

God loves to teach with symbols. His favorite teaching method is to use a visual aid, a kind of symbol of truth which he holds up before us to instruct us. The “mask,” or veil, which Moses wore is a symbol of the old covenant, that is, the Law, the Ten Commandments, with their demand upon us for a certain standard of behavior. Also, it is a symbol of our natural, typical response to the Law — to try to obey it, either to the point of convincing ourselves that we have achieved it, or to the point of giving up and rebelling against it.

Stedman also gets into the possible motivation for Moses’ motivation for wearing the veil. It may not have been because his face was shining with the glory of God, but that the glory was fading. Just stop and think about that for a minute:

Moses, perhaps, did not understand all this when he put the veil over his face. It is somewhat difficult for us to guess what his motive may have been. Some commentators suggest that he felt that if the people saw that the glory was fading away, they would not pay any attention to the Law, they would disregard it and go on living as they wanted. Others have suggested that, perhaps, he was trying to preserve his own status symbol as a special mediator with God. That is the position I have taken in my book, Authentic Christianity, which deals with this passage. I think that Moses, like many of us, was trying to preserve the reputation he had with the people and he did not want them to see that when he came out from God’s presence the glory began to fade — as many of us do not like people to see what is really going on inside of us. We want to preserve an image of being spiritual giants when actually we are not at all. Our family knows it, but we do not want our friends or anyone else to know. That may be what Moses’ motive was.

The Bridgeway Commentary looks at what happens when someone steeped in the old covenant (i.e. the Jews) places themselves under the new covenant:

In a sense there is still a veil that belongs to the old covenant. It is the veil that covers the minds of the Jews, for they read the Old Testament but refuse to see Christ as its fulfilment. Consequently, they cannot properly understand it (14-15). When Moses went in before the Lord he removed the veil. Similarly, when Jews turn to Jesus Christ, the veil is removed. Through the work of the Spirit, Christ sets them free from the bondage of sin and the law (16-17). Christians also must make sure that there is no veil between them and their Lord. The better they know Christ personally, the more they will be changed so that they become increasingly like him (18).

As Stedman continues, we see the challenge of what we’re doing here, going back and forth between two commentaries where the interpretation of what the veil represents, and its practical applications, differs.

Notice what that is saying. The apostle is very clear that the nature of the darkness, the blindness that lay over the minds of the Jews of his day, which he calls a “veil,” is the same veil that Moses put over his face. Now, obviously, the veil on Moses’ face was a material veil; it was made of cloth. Paul is not suggesting that the Jews walk around with cloth veils on their faces.

Stedman sees the fading taking place as “the terrible end of self-effort,”

… They do not see that the end of all their efforts to try to live a righteous life by their own human resources is going to end in death and condemnation and emptiness and a total sense of futility and waste. But yet, that is what happens.

Paul also calls it a “hardening,” by which he means it becomes a continual condition. It is a state of mind that they enter into. Now, the amazing thing is that, in our day, 2000 years after Paul, this is still true. You can see it in the Jews today. In Orthodox Judaism, and much of Reformed Judaism, and certainly in Liberal Judaism, they are still trying to make it before God on the basis of how they behave.

Again, it’s a longer selection, but if you’re going to read one of the links here to better understand the passage, I would choose either taking the 50 minutes to listen to the podcast link, or read Ray Stedman.

BibleRef returns us to the historical context:

Now Paul adds that the minds of the Israelites were hardened by sin. Even as Moses was receiving the commandments from God, Israel built an idol to worship instead of worshipping the Lord. This disobedience and betrayal of God resulted not just in punishment from Him but in a hardening of their minds to see His glory. The glory was revealed in God’s Word to them, but they could not, would not, see it.

Nobody can see God’s glory, Paul adds, because of this veil created by sin. It keeps us from understanding what is true until it is removed through Christ. In other words, only those who come to God through faith in Christ are freed from the veil and given the ability to begin to receive God’s glory. Why? Because in Christ, their sin is forgiven and replaced with Jesus’ righteousness.

On a later page, it adds,

We cannot remove this veil ourselves no matter how sincerely we want to or how diligently we study or how desperately we try to obey.

I held back verse 18 to the end so it might be our final thought:

NLT.2.Cor.3.18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.


Here is the link to the podcast by Mike Winger that got me interested in this text: Jesus is Prophesied in the Book of Proverbs. (The Corinthians passage comes up close to the end.)


Teaching the text — advice to pastors at WorkingPreacher.org from Karl Jacobson:

…[I]t may be necessary to say a quick word about the inter-testamental tension here. There may be a tendency, and perhaps even a temptation, to read this allegory of Paul’s as an outright rejection of the Old Testament. Phrases like “not like Moses,” and “their minds were hardened,” and even simply the “old covenant,” may seem to suggest that Paul is doing exactly this, rejecting “Moses” and his obscured, clouded, veiled word. But for Paul, there is no true disconnect between the Torah and the Testament to Christ. As the second reading from last week showed the gospel (or as 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 has it, the truth) is very much in keeping with the Old Testament, with the scriptures of the tradition.

At stake here are questions of antinomianism, of supersessionism, of simplistic ideas of “Old Testament = Law, bad and New Testament = Gospel, good.” Along with these often goes “Christian believer = good, Jewish believer = bad.” This is not, finally, what Paul is about. Paul does not dismiss the Old Testament.

At the same time the essential claim for Christ is an essential claim, it is particular, and quite uncompromising. While Paul does not reject the Old Testament, the old covenant, he does argue for a particular reading of it, one that is possible only in the Spirit, who brings freedom from blindness, and veiled minds (3:17)…

April 15, 2021

What is the Bible and Can it Be Trusted?

What is First John and Can it Be Trusted?

by Clarke Dixon

What is the Bible, and can it be trusted? Your answer to that may lie somewhere between two extremes.

At one extreme, as I once heard it described, the Bible was dropped into our laps by God one day, already leather bound and including maps and a ribbon. The Bible is purely the work of God, people need not be involved. Therefore, of course it is to be trusted. Don’t question it!

At the other extreme, the Bible is a library of works written by men long after the events they speak about or purely based on their own religious speculations. The Bible is merely the work of humans, no God need be involved. Therefore, of course the Bible is not to be trusted. Don’t question your doubt!

Because we are beginning a series in 1st John, and because thinking of the whole Bible would make for a very long post, we are going to focus in on 1st John; what is it, and can it be trusted as a source of truth? Did God drop 1st John into our laps, or was it written by a mere man? The first four verses will help us sort this out:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched —this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4 (NIV)

We might notice that the words “we” and “our” come up a lot. Who is represented in this “we”? Specifically, this letter is traditionally thought to be written by John, a disciple Jesus called to follow him very early on in his public ministry. By saying “we,” John is including all the disciples who were with Jesus during the events related to us in the Gospels.

Having been followers of Jesus from the beginning, having seen him, heard him, been with him, and having seen him risen from the dead, the disciples were sent out by Jesus to teach people about him, all that he taught, and that he died and rose again, and what that all meant. The disciples, meaning ‘students’, became ‘apostles,’ meaning ‘sent-ones’. They were sent out to tell people what they knew to be true according to all they had witnessed. They were eyewitnesses. They were called to tell people what they had seen:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1:8 (NIV)

We might think of the disciples receiving a call to be “witnesses” in a religious sense, just as I am a Christian “witness” today. But really the were called by Jesus to be eyewitnesses, like in a court of law.

It was important that these apostles were eyewitnesses, able to speak from personal experience. We can consider the qualifications Peter set out in replacing Judas:

So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.

Acts 1:21,22 (NLT)

So what is 1st John? It is a letter written by an eyewitness, John, who was a follower of Jesus based on his personal experience of Jesus, sent to Christians in various communities to encourage them.

As we read 1st John, we can be aware that John, as an eyewitness, was not making stuff up, but living life out of what he had seen and experienced. This is a real letter from a real person speaking from real experience. Therefore, before we even start talking about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in John’s writing, there is already good reason to consider that John knows what he is talking about.

We often think of people like John as being primarily religious leaders, people who just loved to think of philosophy and religion. Let us keep in mind that John was a fisherman, and not someone who was seeking a career in spiritual leadership. He was a fisherman whose life was changed by Jesus. If John were still alive today, he may feel more at home in a witness stand in a court of law, than in a pulpit of a Baptist church.

The apostles were not sharing religious ideas they cooked up, in fact they would not have come up with this stuff anyway. Rather they were simply sharing what they had seen and experienced. Let us again consider the opening words of John, being sure to think of “we,” not as “we representing all humanity,” but as “we who were there with Jesus, who know what we are talking about”:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched —this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

1 John 1:1-3 (NIV emphasis added)

Someone may object, how can we trust John to tell the truth when John is obviously a Christian and therefore biased in what he says. That is like asking if you can admit as evidence in a court of law, the testimony of someone who has seen someone commit a crime. You can accuse a witness of being biased to thinking that a criminal is guilty. But if they saw the criminal commit the crime, you want to hear their testimony and weigh it along with all the other evidence. So of course John is biased. He is a Christian precisely because of what he has seen, heard, and experienced. Of course John is biased, he has spent time with Jesus, before his death and after his resurrection. It would be odd if he were not a follower of Jesus!

Let us recognize that in his letter, John does not just simply report on the fact that Jesus is risen. He unpacks what that means and how it applies to life and faith. We will be looking at that in the weeks ahead, but even in the first four verses we can see how John can speak of the identity of Jesus, as being from God in a significant way, being the source of eternal life, and being the Messiah, the rightful King of the Kingdom of God. In other words, John doesn’t just want to share that Jesus is risen, but that the resurrection of Jesus has meaning, it confirms Who He really is.

We have not yet spoken of the inspiration of Scripture. In what way can we speak of this letter of John as being “God-breathed” or “inspired”? Let us be reminded of what God is like:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)

If God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for it, then it is reasonable that He will make sure the record of that loving act is trustworthy. If God has gone to such extraordinary lengths for us through Jesus, we should expect him to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure we have a valid record of what He has done, and what it means.

When we speak of the inspiration of Scripture we can recognize that God would want to be involved, not just in the writing of Scripture, but any editing that has happened, and also the collecting together of the Scriptures into what we now call the Old and New Testaments. With regard to the New Testament, the early Christians were very intentional in limiting the writings they revered as Scripture to ones they knew were connected with the apostles, the eyewitnesses. Therefore John’s three letters are included.

The events of the Bible cover a long span of history because God had been relating to us in a special way for a long time before Jesus came. It took a long time, and a lot of people involved, to get to the point of being able to say we have “a Bible”. The Bible was not a book dropped in our laps by God. Rather it is a library of writings written by many different people for many different reasons at many different times. They are each a response to God’s real work in our world and in the lives of real people. This makes the Bible a very exciting read!

The Bible was neither dropped into our laps by God, nor written up by religious types who wanted to fool us. The Bible is a collection of writings by real people experiencing God in a real way. They are a real response of real people to God’s very real presence. God showed up. People wrote about it. God was involved in the shaping of the those writings then, so that He can show up in the shaping of our lives today.

(Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. The full sermon can be seen as part of this online worship expression”)

February 3, 2021

Growth Through Conversion Means Welcoming New People

Yes, this article has a similar title to yesterday’s, because after reading about the church welcoming Cornelius yesterday, I found myself thinking similar things after reading a devotional based on a story that takes place earlier in Acts where the church welcomed one of its greatest foes, Saul of Tarsus. (Though this process took some people longer than others!)

But first I need to apologize. We do have a six month rule, and I see it’s only been eight weeks since we last borrowed some material from Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement (and that one followed another by only 3 months) but I felt this was well-written and worth our consideration today. So pleeeeze, click the title below and read this at Daily Encouragement.

The House Of Judas

Message summary: Are you willing to take risks when God leads? I find this a probing question that I’m very uncomfortable with!  I’m really not sure that I always am. (I would stumble over the thought, “Is this REALLY God leading?”)  If you were approached by a former ISIS member, newly converted to Christ, who needed a place to stay, would you open your home to him?

►►Listen to this message on your audio player.

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias’. And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord’. And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying'” (Acts 9:10,11).

Have you ever considered or studied about the “bad” people in the Bible? Brooksyne used to have a book called “Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them”.

Probably near the top of any list of “bad” people in the Bible would be Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord. That may tend to give the name Judas a bad ring. There are many Bible-based names commonly used such as David, Paul, John, Peter and my own, Stephen! But I don’t recall ever meeting anyone named Judas. However there were several men of good character in the Bible named Judas and today we want to consider the most obscure. In fact it wouldn’t be surprising if most of our readers have never even considered this particular Judas.

If we were to ask you to name the first named person Saul met after his dramatic conversion experience you would probably answer, Ananias, who had the special call to pray for Saul.

Well, as you can see from the text, the correct answer is a man by the name of Judas. “The Lord told him,Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying‘”.

Immediately following his conversion it appears that Saul stayed in Judas’ house. This must have been a strange call to Judas to provide hospitality to Saul. We have no idea how Saul got to his house or what depth of faith Judas had.

We are also not told how the message of Christ initially reached Damascus, but clearly God had a people in this city and Saul’s goal, when he journeyed there on the road to Damascus, had been to wipe them out.  Perhaps “the Way”, as Christ’s followers were then called, was a result of returning pilgrims who had been among those saved on the day of Pentecost. Or perhaps it was a result of the scattering of the believers following Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7,8).

Damascus is to this day the capital of Syria and, since the time of the New Testament, there has been a remnant of Christians in Damascus and throughout Syria as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East. Based on my understanding of history; Christians, Jews, Muslims and various other groups such as the Yasidi have lived in relative harmony up to the present time.

But with the rise of militant Islam in the last 50 years this has all changed. In our own day ISIS is attempting to complete the same mission of persecuting and destroying followers of Christ that Saul had abandoned in exchange for preaching Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God (Acts 9:20) to the utter amazement of those who heard him. They responded, Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose that he might bring them bound to the chief priests? (9:21).

However, reports are coming out of situations similar to Saul’s conversion such as an ISIS member BEING converted to Christianity due to having dreams of a man who appeared to him in white who said, “You are killing my people”; remarkably similar to the message that Saul heard!!! (Acts 9:4).

Interestingly, God had a special job for this Judas and, although the Biblical record gives us very little information about him, we can be thankful for his willingness to invite Saul into his home; to partake of his food, to lodge in his sleeping quarters, and to be among his own family members.

Are you willing to take risks when God leads? I find this a probing question that I’m very uncomfortable with! I’m really not sure that I always am. (I would stumble over the thought, “Is this REALLY God leading?”)

The writer of Hebrews reminds us: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). To have some sense of what Judas’ choice was like, what would it be like for you to welcome Saul into your home? If you were approached by a former ISIS member, newly converted to Christ, who needed a place to stay, would you open your home to him?

Daily prayer: Father, You have a work for all of us to do, we, who claim to be Your followers. Sometimes it’s going, sometimes it’s doing, and sometimes it’s just making ourselves available to Your leading. However You choose to use us, it requires our faith and trust to be firmly rooted in who You are, in Your commands, and in our hearing Your voice, most especially in uncharted territory when we are asked to step out of our comfort zone. Help us to be among those with whom You could say to Your Son, Jesus, “This is my child with whom I am very pleased.” Your commendation is our incentive to be listening, obeying and trusting in You as we journey here below. Amen.

The other men named Judas in the New Testament:
Actually there are several other men named Judas in the New Testament:

1) A half brother to Jesus:Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?”  (Matthew 13:55).

2) Another disciple with the same name:Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22) This apparently was Judas, son of James (see Acts 1:13)

3) An early church leader:Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. (Acts 15:2). This may have been the same Judas as referenced in Matthew 13:55.

 

 

 

February 2, 2021

Living New Covenant Means Welcoming New People

The transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant involves the story of a man named Cornelius. If you’re unfamiliar with his story, click the link which appears at the beginning of today’s devotional.

A year ago we introduced you to Paul T. Reynolds who lives in the Cayman Islands, where he oversees Children’s Ministry at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman. You can read more of his writing at his blog, where he’s currently working through the Book of Acts. He is the author of 66 Books, One Story.

Living for God for People

Acts 10:1-23a (AD 42)

Verse two is not a comprehensive statement of what it means to be a good Christian, but neither is it incidental.

The Roman Centurion Cornelius was a “devout and God-fearing” man (not just him, but also his family). Furthermore, he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly (v.2).

God repeated the point for emphasis, two verses later: Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.

James shared similar thoughts from God when decrying moral hypocrisy, stating that Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world(James 1:27).

In both instances, a point of emphasis is a dual perspective on what being a Christian looks like: holy living (involving personal relationship with God and behaviour) and caring for those in need.

Cornelius – a righteous Gentile and a man of authority – was then told by God to send for a nobody; a mere fisherman, a poor man with no-one under his command. Cornelius had no problem with what God said, and did as he was told.

Peter, on the other hand, did not immediately do as he was told. In his vision (v.11-16), God told him what Jesus told him – that the old civil and ritual codes were fulfilled and therefore no longer relevant. He needed to change his understand of right and wrong.

Does that mean that other aspects of God’s teaching might have reached their sell-by date and need to be traded in for more enlightened perspectives?

Well, that depends.

Is the teaching in question, part of the system of civil and ritual law that Jesus said was fulfilled and therefore ended? Or is it part of the moral law, the nature of God himself, reaffirmed by Jesus or the apostles?

Cornelius, with his upbringing surrounded by idol-worship and sexual immorality, knew that his culture didn’t change God’s nature. God’s nature must and did change him.

Peter, with his upbringing dominated by hypocritical leaders, was struggling to understand that his nature wasn’t exactly the same as God’s nature. God’s nature must, and would eventually, over time, change him.

Fight the part of you that doesn’t care about the eternal destiny of people you don’t like.

And hold firm to God’s calling on your life; pursuing your relationship with Him in prayer and holy living, and helping the needy.


What happened next? The continuation of the story in the rest of Acts 10 and Acts 11 is important. Click to read the next blog post in this series: Even to the Gentiles.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Two posts might appear on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives, or from different parts of the world. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

April 16, 2020

When Everything Changed (Easter Reflection)

by Clarke Dixon

We have all experienced incredible change recently, to our routines, our plans, our lives. Our hearts go out to those who have experienced change in the worst ways.

I am reminded of a time I was the instigator of change. My first pastorate was a two-point charge, each of which had regular Bible studies. In the one church we met over lunch and tea was served in some very fancy teacups. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t do fancy. And while my fingers are not large, they are still larger than the pathetic little handles in your average fancy teacup. By the time we left that church five years later, I had them drinking tea out of mugs!

That was pretty much the only change I made in that church. People resist change, especially people who are devout, people who are committed. Very often in smaller churches, people are both devout and committed. Thankfully so!

In New Testament times we see many devout, committed people making very big changes in a very short space of time. They made changes in their expression of faith. For example, they moved away from a focus on the temple, away from the practice of animal sacrifice, and away from a focus on Saturday, the Sabbath, as the highlight of the week, focusing on Sunday instead. They also moved away from an insistence on keeping a distance from anyone who was not Jewish.

How did these big changes come about among people like Paul, who were very devout and very committed to an old and enduring way of expressing faith in God? What made them want to change in matters of great importance? Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had 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. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NRSV)

Paul met the risen Jesus, and that changed everything.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people began to change their religious practices. For example, people began meeting on Sunday to worship in order to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, which happened on a Sunday. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday! They stopped the sacrifice of animals, realizing that Jesus is the best, and truly only, sacrifice for sin. They stopped having a strong focus on the temple, realizing that God was not to be found there, but rather indwells all His people.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people realized that how they related to God had changed. We relate to God through a new covenant, not by our being good enough to “make the cut,” but in Jesus being good to us, taking the consequence of our sin on himself. Our relationship with God is based on his love and grace, his offer of reconciliation.

Since Jesus had risen from the dead, people changed how they related to one another. They related, not so much by law and custom, religious or national, but by a new way of love which touched all relationships. There was a new way of valuing one another, breaking down class divisions, another big change.

Jesus was raised from the dead and that changed everything. Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. It can change everything, for you and for me.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our future. Many are living in fear that COVID-19 will control our future, and rightfully so, it certainly has had, and will continue to have, an impact. However, some day it shall be a matter of history. It will be in the past. Jesus is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

The day will come when COVID-19 will be part of our history. Jesus is our future.

Jesus was raised from the dead in the past. He lives with us now in our present. He will be there for us in our future. Resurrection to eternal life will be a life-changing, life-giving part of our future.

The resurrection of Jesus can change our lives now. We can walk with Jesus now, in faith, hope, and love. Walking with the risen Jesus changes everything. It changes our relationships, as we walk with others in the way of love. It changes our outlook on life and society. It changes us. The word “repentance” literally means “a change of mind.” We change our minds about ourselves, and about God. Among other things, in repentance we change from thinking that God does not matter, to realizing that God does matter, because we matter to God. Easter is the evidence that we matter to God, a lot!

Jesus is risen, and that changes everything. Are you ready for change?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here

October 21, 2018

The Ten Commandments in the New Testament

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

A group of us decided recently to read Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible, which is the focus of some controversy right now. And, yeah, I found it somewhat challenging.

Challenge accepted. If my life is not to be governed by, for example, the Ten Commandments, but I know that they were there for a reason at the time, I needed to find out for myself how those principles and taboos turned up in the teachings of Jesus and in the letters to the early church.

Whether, and if so how, they were taught and exemplified by my brothers and sisters in The Way.

Here’s what I found:

***

You have heard it said:

Do not have other gods besides Me.

And?

  • Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

John 14:6

  •  From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.”

 John 6:66-68

So?

I look only to Jesus, and through Him to the Father.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.

And?

  •  “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Matthew 19:21, 22

  • The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.

Acts 17:24, 25

So?

I’m called to avoid worshipping things I can touch and shape, things that are created by the One who created me. Even when those things are in my bank account.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.

And?

  • Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me, but Him who sent Me.”

Mark 9:37

  • “I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.”

John 15:16

So?

If I am called by His name, I act in His name. And in His name I welcome, embrace, grow and bear fruit.

***

You have heard it said:

 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labour six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work.

And?

  • Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

  • Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

So?

I’m not obliged to sit idle on a particular day, but a day has been carved out for me to be free to rest. And the greatest rest of all is to be found in following the one who calls me.

***

You have heard it said:

Honour your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

And?

  • Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honour.

Romans 10:12

  • Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

So?

The family I find myself in, the family of the Church, is one in which I have the joy and the challenge of stepping back from my own self importance, and learning to serve, to honour, to elevate those around me. Especially the vulnerable.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not murder.

And?

  • “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, ‘Do not murder,and whoever murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Matthew 5:21-22

  • None of you, however, should suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler. But if anyone suffers as a “Christian,” he should not be ashamed but should glorify God in having that name.

1 Peter 4:15

So?

To indulge in the luxury of hatred not only wounds those around us, it wounds us. We carry the name of Christ. And His love is our standard.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not commit adultery.

And?

  •  “But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

Mark 10:6-9

  •  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Matthew 5:27-28

So?

Adultery is a broken covenant. A tearing of flesh. A death of the heart. I have no right to kill a living promise.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not steal.

And?

  • The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.

Ephesians 4:28

  • But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!”

Luke 19:8

So?

Honest work is an opportunity to share my time, my ability and my earnings. A chance to err on the side of relationship and generosity.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not give false testimony against your neighbour.

And?

  • You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:43

  • Since you put away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbour, because we are members of one another.

Ephesians 4:25

So?

I put away dishonesty and speak truth, because my job is, as far as I am able, to love and to live in peace with my ‘neighbour’, which means everybody.

***

You have heard it said:

Do not covet your neighbour’s house…. or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

And?

  • Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.

Mark 11:24

  • I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.

Philippians 4:12

So?

I stop looking around to see what I might be missing out on, and start looking up to the Father for what I actually need.

***

March 30, 2016

How Easter Explodes a Religious Myth

•••by Clarke Dixon

Christianity, and religion itself, is often seen to be something helpful. So, for example, it can provide a crutch for those moments you may feel weak. It can provide a belief system for those moments that you need to know there is more to life than what you can see. It can be something you pay attention to for a few moments in a day for the sake of your spiritual health, kind of like an exercise program for your soul. It can provide a good dose of morality for your day.

All these things are helpful, but they all have something in common: they relegate Christianity to the sidelines of your life. They make Christianity something that you can put on the back burner until the time comes you might have need of it. Worse, they turn Christianity into something optional, so that if your spiritual and religious needs are met some other way, then okay, leave church attendance and Jesus following for those who are into that kind of thing. Easter Sunday explodes the myth that Christianity is a religion that can exist on the sidelines of our lives. How so?

It is often claimed that the early Christians invented a religion that had not too much to do with the actual historical Jesus. However, in our recent sermon series we have been looking at how the writers of the four Gospels were either eyewitnesses themselves (Matthew, John) or were very intimately connected with eyewitnesses of the events and key Person they describe (Mark, Luke). Additionally the Gospels were written not long after the events described, indeed early enough that what was written could be checked against what eyewitnesses were saying. Now let us venture beyond the Gospels to consider something that was written even earlier by Paul. In fact many Biblical scholars conclude that Paul was quoting an oral tradition that went back even earlier, possibly a baptismal affirmation. I have highlighted the possible “confessional”:

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1st Corinthians 15:2-8 emphasis mine)

The earliest traditions about Jesus were not about his being a good teacher, with later traditions adding in the supernatural bits. The earliest traditions point to the supernatural, in fact they speak of the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul points out to the Christians he is writing to in Corinth, most of those who had seen Jesus following his death and resurrection were still alive – so you can still check the story out with them.

It is fascinating also, that Paul does not mention that Jesus first revealed Himself to the women by the empty tomb. The fact that women were the first eyewitnesses is somewhat embarrassing to the still very patriarchal society of that day. In that time and place if you wanted to invent a religion based on a fabricated resurrection, you would not call upon women to be the first witnesses. Nor would you call upon Mark and Luke to write Gospels. These things speak to the genuine nature of the eyewitness testimony.

These eyewitnesses of the Risen Jesus were not going about trying to start a new religion. They were going about telling everyone about all they had seen. They were not fabricating Jesus, they were responding to Him. They responded with repentance. They responded with prayer and lots of it. They responded with reading the scriptures they had at that time, what we call the Old Testament, with their eyes open to seeing Jesus in them. They responded with sharing the Good News of all that had happened and with all that God was doing and had promised to yet do. Christianity from the get go was not a new religion, but a response to the Person of Jesus the Messiah. It was not a thing to practice, but a Person to know. The earliest Christians were not aware of “taking up religion,” but they were very aware of taking up a cross to follow Jesus. They responded to the evidence of God’s love with love. Christianity was not something “helpful” for them, it was something real and true.

On Easter Sunday we celebrated a baptism in our church. In Baptist circles, baptism is a profession of faith. In baptism one is not saying “I am taking up religion,” or “I am joining this church or that denomination.” Neither is one saying “I am perfect.” Baptism shows the desire, not to take up religion, but to take up a cross and follow Jesus who died and rose again in a very real display of God’s love.

Religion is something that can be put on the back burner. Perhaps many should be taking their religion off the back burner and putting it where I put all the meals I have burned over the years, the garbage bin. Jesus is someOne who died and rose again. He cannot be sidelined. He belongs neither on the back burner nor in the bin. Jesus belongs at the center of our lives. Easter Sunday confirms that fact. And as the early Christians showed by moving their worship from the Sabbath, Saturday, to the day Jesus rose from the dead, every Sunday is Easter Sunday.


Read more from Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

November 14, 2015

Is The New Testament About a Different God?

Today we were going to pay a return visit to Mike Leake at the blog Borrowed Light, but while there we discovered this article by Nick Horton which covers a topic that seems to be constantly resurfacing. Click the title below to read at source:

Theology Thursday: God Doesn’t Change

“The God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old Testament.”

Have you heard that idea before from unbelievers? Do you hold to that idea yourself?  The idea asserts God changed somehow between the Old Testament and the New Testament times. They see a difference in God in the 400 years between the testaments. The God of the Old Testament is apparently too harsh, where the God of the New Testament is all about grace.

Here’s the problem. Either they believe there are two different Gods, or they don’t understand that God does not change. The doctrine that God does not change is called divine immutability.

Divine immutability: “By his immutability we mean that it follows from the infinite perfection of God; that he can not be changed by any thing from without himself; and that he will not change from any principle within himself. That as to his essence, his will, and his states of existence, he is the same from eternity to eternity.” Archibald Alexander Hodge, Outlines of Theology: Rewritten and Enlarged (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1878), 143.

How can we say God does not change? Recall last week we discussed God’s aseity. That is, his self-existence. If he is self-existent, then he is not caused by creation, but instead has caused creation to be. He cannot be changed by his creation. Look above to old man Hodge’s further clarification. Not only will he not be changed by anything outside of himself, he will not change from any principle inside himself.

“Hold up,” you might say, “I get that he can’t be changed by creation but why can’t he change himself?”

Good question. This gets at the heart of what it is to be God. God is, among many things, perfect. We polish a mirror and call it perfect. We eat a really good meal and call it perfect. We have perfect games in baseball, perfect frames in bowling, and perfect 10’s in Olympic diving. We use perfect as a relative word. That is, “perfect” can be different things for different folks at the same time. God, however, is absolutely perfect.

He is perfect in: his being, his actions, his will, his goodness, his love, his justice, and his wrath. He cannot get any better than he is because if he changes, he is not perfect. The need to change means there is a deficiency in who he is which cannot fulfill his will. We change and react because we do not have total knowledge or total power. If we were omniscient, we would not react as we would already know what will happen. If we were omnipotent, we would not change to accomplish something as the power to accomplish it would already be in us.

God says in the Old Testament that he does not change: “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

God says in the New Testament that he does not change: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

“Okay. I guess. But! What about the incarnation?”

The incarnation was the plan from eternity past and not a reaction to the unforeseen consequences of sin. Sin did not cause a “holy huddle” where the trinity met in anguish to figure out what they ought to do next. The Son’s incarnation was the plan from the beginning. By beginning, I mean before creation. There is no change in God, and no surprise in him. Why else did he tell Moses his name is, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14) He disclosed to Moses his unchanging eternal nature. He disclosed his deity.

Just the same, Peter tells us God, the Rock of Ages, Eternal One, sent his Son to be our Passover lamb. He did not do this as a reaction to a crisis, but as a plan made before the foundation of the world and manifested visibly and effectually now for the sake of those who are believers in God. God doesn’t change. It may appears that he does as he revealed more and more of himself to us as time went on until we reached the point of it all; Jesus Christ. He progressively revealed himself throughout the Bible. This is not change, this is the ushering in of glory upon glory.

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:17–21)

July 22, 2013

New Insights into Zacchaeus

Encounters With JesusThrough the Willow Creek “Midweek Experience” teaching videos, I’ve gotten to hear a number of messages by Wheaton College professor Gary M. Burge. So I was due to read one of his books, especially when I stumbled over a sale-priced copy of Encounters with Jesus: Uncover the Ancient Culture, Discover Hidden Meanings; published in 2010 by Zondervan. Clocking in at only 128 pages — and filled with pictures — finishing this book on Sunday afternoon was no major feat.

With Gary Burge’s voice audibly sounding in my head as I read the book — an advantage to having watched him teach on video — I thoroughly enjoyed his take on five specific encounters Jesus has with:

  1. The woman who was hemorrhaging
  2. Zacchaeus the tax collector
  3. The centurion with a slave who is ill
  4. The thirsty woman at the Samaritan well
  5. The Gentile woman with a sick daughter

In the case of Zacchaeus, I once again found myself in the position of having to potentially un-learn something I had been taught from infancy in Sunday School. Surely anyone who has an encounter is immediately changed, right? Maybe not so much in this case. If the interpretation here is to be considered, then Zacchaeus doesn’t have so much of a before-and-after transformation; rather, Jesus is affirming the person who Zacchaeus has always been, and the “salvation” that has come to “this house” refers more to the saving of Zacchaeus’ reputation in the wider community.

I always thought that Zacchaeus’ speech is a pledge or promise of something he is about to do to make things right, however…

…This is not what Zacchaeus says. His comment to Jesus is in the present tense. “Look! I give half of my possessions, Lord to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I repay them fourfold.” Greek has what we call the “future use” of the present tense and interpreters sometimes apply it here. But this is not demanded. Generally these uses imply some immediacy or certainty…

…But many scholars refuse to use it here in Luke 19. We have no suggestion that Zacchaeus needs to repent, nor does the story imply any conversion on his part. He even refers to Jesus as “Lord,” a mark of high honor and discipleship in Luke. As Joel Green remarks, “On this reading Zacchaeus does not resolve to undertake new practices but presents for Jesus’ evaluation his current behaviors regarding money.”

This would be a great revelation to the electrified audience standing on the street in Jericho. Zacchaeus is not what everyone has assumed. He has been honest; he is collecting what is demanded without corruption and abuse, and he is generously giving away large portions of his wealth. The law required that if there was financial fraud, the original amount had to be returned plus 20 percent. (Lev. 6:5)  Here Zacchaeus practices fourfold reimbursement…

When word of this emerges outside, the crowd that thought it had seen one shocking scene for the day now witnesses another. Their notorious tax farmer, who has colluded with Romans, is a man of principle. Rumors of his corruption are evaporating like a mist… (pp. 67-68)

This approach is entirely new to me. And the above excerpt is just a small portion of the insights into this story. He then goes on to discuss the implications of both “Salvation has come to this house;” and that Zacchaeus is a “son of Abraham.”

I’m not saying that this interpretation precludes anything else that you’ve been able to derive from the story. The scriptures are rich in depth. I simply offer this to you as a possibility that may be outside how you originally heard and processed this story.

Other books in this series include: The Bible and the Land, Finding the Lost Images of the Desert, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, Jesus the Middle Eastern Storyteller, and Finding the Lost Images of God.

April 14, 2013

Controversy in the New Testament

I ran this yesterday at TOL, but wanted it here as well, even though it doesn’t have a specific scripture reference.  The author is popular Christian counselor and author Jay Adams.  Click here to read at source.

Sometimes it may seem that we spend too much time refuting falsehood. All of us are chagrined at the preponderance of error both within and without the Church. We may write off those who attempt to combat it and set forth the truth in clarity over against it as “heresy hunters.” The term is used pejoratively; but should it be? Take a quick look at the Books of the New Testament, merely scratching the surface, and see what you think.

  • In the Gospels Jesus warns against false teachers, speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing and the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The record of His ministry is one of conflict with those who refused to accept the teaching He set forth.
  • Acts contains the record of the church’s first major controversy over whether or not a person must become a Jew before he could qualify as a Christian. A church council was called to settle the matter. Paul goes to lengths to warn the Ephesian elders about wolves who would devour the flock and schismatically draw away disciples to themselves.
  • Romans is an entire doctrinal treatise about justification by faith alone in contrast to salvation by works, and how sanctification follows thereafter. In it, Paul also takes up the rejection of the Jewish church.
  • I Corinthians is loaded with problems; schism, misuse of gifts, church discipline, marriage and divorce, and on, and on, on.
  • II Corinthians takes on false apostles who had invaded the church and charged him with pretending to be an apostle. The place of apostolic authority is set forth, along with the qualifications of an apostle.
  • Galatians is a sterling defense of Justification by faith alone over against those who taught otherwise, and were upsetting the church by Judaistic legalism.
  • Ephesians is less controversial, being a universal epistle rather than directed to the adverse circumstances of an individual or a congregation
  • Philippians deals with a split in an otherwise good church. But it has to do with self-centeredness and sets forth a key Christological passage.
  • Colossians is consumed with fighting Judaistic Gnosticism.
  • I & II Thessalonians take up false teaching about the Lord’s coming and eschatology.
  • I & II Timothy & Titus teach “healthy” doctrine over against many false ideas. And, in them, Paul doesn’t hesitate to name specific heretical individuals.
  • Philemon is a welcome exception.
  • Hebrews, in its entirety, combats all influences that would cause Jewish Christians to revert to Judaism.
  • James utterly destroys the idea that one can have genuine faith that does not result in good works.
  • I Peter explains how the New Testament church is no longer a physical political entity, but that the church is now the spiritual people of God, the new Israel.
  • II Peter warns against scoffers and libertines unsettling the church and reveals the true picture of final things.
  • I John argues quite effectively throughout the book against Gnosticism of a Cerenthian sort.
  • II John warns against hospitality for heretics.
  • III John deals with church discipline gone so far astray as to virtually destroy a church.
  • Jude throughout its entirety is an exhortation to contend against the libertines who invaded the church that failed to listen to the warnings in II Peter.
  • Revelation speaks of the warfare of God against apostate Judaism, the first persecutor of the church, and Rome, the second persecutor, and predicts the fall. It also mentions cults like the Nicolatians.

Now, in light of the above, if you can, tell me, why we should not be prepared to detect and refute falsehood in the Church?

 

March 10, 2013

Examples of Abudance in the Life of Jesus

This article was a unique find. It comes from FaithMessenger.com, the very detailed Bible study blog of Gregory L. Winfield.  It appeared about a week ago under the title Abundance in the Life of Jesus and the Disciples. As always you’re encouraged to click through to read at source.

Abundance surrounded the life of Jesus everywhere He went. When I became a Christian there were some things that I just knew from common sense had to be true. One of those ideas was that Jesus must have lived a life of abundance while He ministered here on earth.

Most people confuse the words abundance with excess. There is a huge difference in the two. Jesus absolutely DID NOT live a life of excess, but He did live a life of abundance. Jesus was never in a position where he needed man to meet His needs. Rather, He was always in a position to meet the needs of the people wherever He went.

I knew deep down inside that if we have a God who came to earth and was so poor that He needed men to meet His needs materially, we must serve a pretty weak God. I was a babe in Christ, so even though I had these thoughts, I didn’t know how to express them from a scriptural standpoint.

Nowhere in bible do we ever see an instance when Jesus was caught unprepared or in a position where He couldn’t meet the needs of the people.

Now, I can see abundance in the life of Jesus from His very birth in the fact that wise men brought Him gold, frankincense and myrrh. I have no scripture to support it but I believe these acts of benevolence continued throughout the life of Jesus.

Signs of Abundance in the Life of Jesus

  • Case Study #1 – Jesus chose the twelve disciples, some of whom we know from scripture were gainfully employed at the time they were called. He called these men to come and follow Him. By doing so, Jesus made Himself responsible for the food and shelter of 13 men (including Himself) for 3 and half years. We have no record of any of the disciples being employed during the time they traveled with Jesus, so I’m led to believe that Jesus was solely responsible for them.
  • Case Study #2 – Seeing that there was a need for a treasurer, Judas was elected to carry the money bag (John 12:6). A treasurer is only needed if there is an overage.
  • Case Study #3 – The bible says that Judas was stealing out of the money bag (John 12:6) but no one knew it.  Now think about it for a moment. If you have a money bag with $10.00 in it and hypothetically speaking, someone stole 10% ($1.00) out of it. With $9.00 left in the money bag, everyone in the group would know that $1.00 was missing. However, if you have a money bag with $50,000 in it and someone stole 10% ($5000) out of it, it would be much harder to detect that a theft had occurred.
  • Case Study #4 – When there was a tax need, Jesus knew exactly how and where to get the money to pay the taxes for Himself and the disciples (Matthew 17:27).
  • Case Study #5 – The bible said that those who crucified Jesus, cast lots to see who would get His clothes. I’m no fashion guru, but I would have to think that Jesus must have worn some pretty nice clothes in order for the people to compete for ownership of them after He was crucified (Matthew 27:35).

Nowhere in bible do we ever see an instance when Jesus was caught un-prepared or in a position where He couldn’t meet the needs of the people.

I understand that some hold on to the thought that Jesus was poor and had very little in terms of this worlds goods. I can agree with that way of thinking only to the degree that He was involved in a travelling ministry, therefore He didn’t have a need for houses and other items that tend to tie us down instead of liberate us.

But when it comes to abundance in the moment, I’m persuaded that in the life of Jesus and those whom He called to minister with Him, abundance surrounded them at every turn.

September 14, 2012

The Great Axiom of Domestic Pets

NIV Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

NIV Matthew 15:25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

When the conversation is lagging, here’s a bit of trivia that is sure to get a reaction, I call it the great axiom of domestic pets (in the Bible at least):

The cat is the only domestic animal not mentioned in the Bible

Actually, as much as I was told that and passed it on to others, I know that my son kept degus and they and hamsters are not mentioned, at least not by that name. (And my friend Steve would then say, “Did you know you can’t tan through glass?”)

The corollary to the great axiom is something I came up with when my dog loving friends jumped all over it:

But the dog is always cast negatively in scripture.

Well, not anymore.  Keith Brenton at Blog in My Own Eye puts an end to that theory at a blog post he titled:

Jesus, Syro-Phoenicians and Dogs

Click title to read at source

I just got in from walking my dog Roadie, and I’m sure that had some bearing on this topic leaping to my mind.

A few days ago, I made the apparently outrageous suggestion in the comments of a Facebook post that Jesus didn’t call people “dogs” in a prejudicial, insulting way in Matthew 7:6 or 15:25-27; rather that He was quoting a maxim of that era to illustrate the pervasiveness of judging others and how wrong it is.

I was immediately shut down with a chorus of “of-course-He-dids” and didn’t have time to defend my contention right then, and the moment passed. So I will now.

First of all, to call someone a “dog” who is of a different ethnicity is completely foreign to the nature of God, who created all men and all ethnicities. To say differently of Jesus — through Whom and for Whom all things were created (Colossians 1:16) — is to declare that the signers of the Declaration of Independence were less bigoted than the Lord when they declared “all men are created equal.” Preposterous.

Secondly, it is not possible for Jesus to have been prejudicial. He could be judicial, because He knew men’s thoughts (Matthew 9:4; Luke 9:47), but not pre-judicial. He could call certain people “a brood of snakes” (Matthew 23:33) because they were children of the great serpent Satan when they were plotting to kill Him (John 8:39-47). It wasn’t like He didn’t know; He did. We don’t have that knowledge, and we are not equipped to judge. He was. But that wasn’t His purpose in coming (John 12:47); that is His purpose when the day set for it comes (Acts 17:37).

Third: “Dogs” was a term of derision in the first century. See Philippians 3:2 and 2 Peter 2:22 and Revelation 22:15. Don’t miss whom these verses talk about, and what they have done or are doing.

They are not about ethnicity. They are about sin.

“Dog” was an insult. In the centuries before, especially in the books titled “Samuel,” the term “dog” is a term of self-deprecation as well as an insult to others, and I believe it is always used as an insult about peoples outside of Israel. Several translators insist that Jesus even softened the term to “puppies” or “little dogs” when speaking to the Syro-Phoenician woman — perhaps lest she imagine real judgment in His tone.

In speaking to this woman and granting the miracle she desires, He refutes what He has said in Matthew 7: He gives a holy gift to someone He has called a “puppy.” How could this not be an object lesson to His entourage, to help prepare them for the idea of the total giving of Himself for all mankind?

Fourth: In Matthew 7:1-6, when Jesus — I believe — quotes this maxim about giving dogs what is holy and giving pearls to pigs, it immediately follows what He has just said about not judging people. If He is not quoting a common proverb as a bad example, then it follows (immediately!) that He was violating the principle He has just given them — how credible is that?

How can we escape the conclusion that prejudice and judging and insulting other people is not Christ-like, and is never something that His followers should participate in?

Finally: Let’s face it. It’s easy to create God in our own image — and doing the same to Jesus is no exception for us. We sometimes want to justify things we want to do by maintaining that He did them in this flesh, in this world. But that doesn’t mean He did them, or said them because it gets us off the hook for wanting to say or do them. We all judge, and we all should not judge. Using the excuse of being like Jesus is no excuse because we do not have all of the authority or capability of Jesus to do so.

Okay. It’s not a Q.E.D., but it is a simpler explanation to me than Jesus saying one thing and then immediately contradicting Himself, and if you respect Occam’s Razor as a sound principle of logic, then I think you’d agree that William would shave with it.

And it certainly is preferable to the theology of a God who called people dogs based on the ethnicity He gave them.

~Keith Brenton

March 21, 2012

Rewriting the Epistles in the First Person

Here’s a really cool idea I’ve never seen before. You take a chapter of one of Paul’s epistles and rework it verse-by-verse into a first person declaration.  B. J. Stockman guest posted this at Vitamin Z, and I’m going to give you about half of it, but you’ll have to click through for the whole chapter.  He calls it “preaching to yourself.”  This could also be a great exercise for a small group, Sunday School class or youth group.

Galatians Chapter Three
  • I will not be foolish and be cast under the spell of trading the true Gospel of grace for a different one.  My greatest remedy against false gospels is to be infatuated and continually familiar with the true Gospel.  (3:1)
  • I will not be impressed with preachers that do not focus my eyes on Jesus Christ and whom do not consistently paint the picture of the crucified Jesus before me no matter how clever and inspiring and motivating they are in their preaching. (3:1)
  • I receive the Holy Spirit by faith, not by works.  I desire more of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life, and I receive the Spirit by faith in the finished work of Christ not by doing works. (3:2)
  • I will not pursue sanctification by works, but by faith.  I recognize that justification and sanctification are both by faith.  (3:3)
  • When suffering comes I know that it is not in vain, but that the Holy Spirit is still working.  Therefore I trust Jesus for endurance through suffering. (3:4)
  • God generously provides me with the Holy Spirit and works miracles through faith, not works.  I desire God’s gifts of a greater filling of the Holy Spirit and miracles, and I trust Him to provide them. (3:5)
  • I will not despise the preached word, but will believe the preached word that glorifies Jesus and emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit.  I recognize that hearing the word is critical in building my faith. (3:1-2, 5)
  • I know that God counted Abraham righteous because he believed God.  (3:6)
  • I am a son of Abraham because I believe the Gospel.  My brothers and sisters who believe the Gospel are sons of Abraham as well. (3:7)
  • The Old Testament Scriptures foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith.  Abraham had the gospel preached to him, as all nations are blessed in Abraham.  Therefore I will not ignore the Old Testament, but trust God’s word and God’s gospel in all the Scriptures. (3:8)
  • The blessing of Abraham is upon me because I am a believer like Abraham. (3:9)
  • When I work from law I am returning to the curse because I do not do all that is written in the law.  I refuse to live under the curse that the law brings, because I am now in Christ. (3:10)
  • It is evident that no one is justified by law-keeping, because in the Old Testament God has made clear that the righteous live by faith.  God’s righteousness is imputed to me by faith in Jesus not by law-keeping, and I am justified before God by faith not by law-keeping.  (3:11)
  • I will not live with the idea that the Old Testament was about law, while the New Testament is about faith.  God has always, in the Old and New Testament, said that the righteous live by faith not law. (3:10-12)

You’re almost halfway through but the best is ahead…. keep reading (click here)

You’ll also find on the same blog examples of Galatians 1 and Galatians 2.

Update, Saturday March 24th: Later on in the week, B. J. added chapters four and five.  We decided to publish both chapter five in the NIV and B. J.’s first person version at Thinking Out Loud in parallel, so you could compare what he wrote side-by-side with the text.

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