Observations on life; particularly spiritual

God and Jesus

Jesus is greater than …

sergio romero  - Jul 2014

sergio romero  - Jul 2014Did you watch the recent soccer World Cup? One of the close games was the semi-final between the Netherlands and Argentina which went to a penalty shoot-out. There was a great cheer when Sergio Romero stopped the first Dutch shot. Even more when he did it again. He was a hero for the Argentinians.

We all have heroes. We all admire someone and have desires that can influence our behavior. Today we are looking at the highlights of the first 10 chapters of the book of Hebrews where we see that, because Jesus is greater than all our heroes and all our desires, He’s the one to follow and live for.

Context

We don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but we do know that it was written to Jews. That’s why it’s called Hebrews. These Jewish Christians were being persecuted for their faith (Heb. 12:4-13). Other Jews usually persecute those who convert to Christianity. In this instance, Jewish Christians were being tempted to go back to their Jewish customs and maybe force Gentiles to follow them as well (Gal. 2:14). The book answers the question, while the Jews have their heroes and customs, what do Christians have?

Who were the heroes of a devout first century Jew? Their earliest ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (who was also named Israel) and Joseph (Acts 7:2-16; Heb. 11:8-22). Their leaders such as Moses (Acts 7:20-41; Heb. 11:24-28 and Joshua were also heroes. Their kings such as David and Solomon. Their priests, particularly the High Priest. And their prophets who conveyed messages from God.

They also revered the Mosaic Law given at Mt Sinai which governed their life and the temple in Jerusalem because that was where God lived on earth (Acts 7:44-47).

Hebrews shows that Jesus is better than all their heroes. It’s a bit like a song by Rod Boucher that went:

God is better than football
God is better than beer
God is better than cricket
God’s there all the year!

Greater than the prophets

prophetsThe writer of Hebrews jumps straight into his topic: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).

The Old Testament was written by the prophets and the New by the apostles and their associates. The revelation of God’s truth is added progressively as we move from Genesis through to Revelation. What Jesus taught is summarized in the gospels. His teachings supersede those of the Old Testament prophets. While the prophets predicted the Messiah (Acts 10:43), Jesus was the Messiah. So of course He is greater than the prophets.

Seven more reasons are given for Christ being superior to the prophets, including Jesus made the universe and sustains it. He is the divine God. Through His death, our sins can be forgiven. And after His resurrection and ascension, He now sits on a place of honor and privilege at God’s right hand. None of these apply to the prophets.

Who are equivalent to prophets today? I think that scientists could be because they speak with authority. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than the scientists”.

A British geneticist has published a book titled, “The Serpent’s Promise: The Bible Retold as Science”. He claims the Bible is out of date and that science is a better way to understand the universe than through its doctrine. So he gives the scientific version of parts of the Bible.

What do we do when experts and scientists ridicule the Bible? What about when they make statements that conflict with the Bible? Do we always believe them? Or are we skeptical?

Not only is Jesus greater than the prophets and scientists, He is also greater than the angels.

Greater than the angels

ark of covenantStraight after this, Hebrews says that Jesus is superior to the angels (Heb. 1:4). The Mosaic Law was given by angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2). In the Old Testament, angels brought messages from God (Zech. 1:14-17) and protected God’s people (Dan. 6:22). Angels also told Mary and Joseph about Christ’s birth (Mt. 1:20-25; Lk. 2:26-38). That’s why the Jews revered angels.

The Jews thought that Jesus was only a man and therefore He was inferior to the angels (Ps. 8:5; Heb. 2:7). But Hebrews says that Jesus is superior to angels in two ways: as Son of God (Heb. 1:4-14) and as Son of Man (Heb. 2:5-18).

As Son of God, Jesus has a close relationship with God the Father. That’s what this metaphor means. But God never addressed an angel as His Son. The angels praised God at His birth (Lk. 2:13-14) and will worship Christ when He returns to rule over the earth (Heb. 1:6). Another contrast is that Jesus rules while angels serve. Jesus is in a position of honor and power at God’s right hand, while angels serve God’s people (Heb. 11:13-14).

Hebrews stresses “It is not to angels He has subject the world to come” (Heb. 2:5). According to Psalm 8, mankind was to have dominion over the earth, not the angels (Ps. 8:6-8). But this dominion was lost when Adam sinned. Hebrews reminds us “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them” (Heb. 2:8). This is illustrated by the fact that some people are still killed by animals. But there is hope because he writes, “But we do see Jesus … now crowned with glory and honor”. As Son of Man, in a coming day, Jesus will rule over the earth and restore mankind’s dominion over the rest of God’s creation on earth.

Then Hebrews describes how the effects of the fall into sin are reversed. Jesus became a human being and offered His perfect life as a sacrifice for our sin. It notes that Jesus became a man, not an angel and Jesus saved people, not angels (Heb. 2:16-17). So even as a man, Jesus was greater than the angels. He did what they couldn’t do.

Who are equivalent to angels today? I think that those into dreams and visions, meditation and the new age could be because they involve spiritual experiences and the mystical. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than those promoting spiritual experiences”.

How do we respond when someone claims that John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah? Or if they blame demons for all their ailments and misfortunes? What if they always seek to know God’s will through dreams and visions?

Not only is Jesus greater than the angels and those promoting spiritual experiences, He is also greater than Moses and Joshua.

Greater than Moses and Joshua

mosesMoses was one of Israel’s greatest national heroes. He led them out of slavery in Egypt and received their law at Mt Sinai.

Next we are told. “Fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Heb. 3:1). He is our Apostle and High Priest. These are figures of speech. An apostle is sent – Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father. Whereas a high priest entered God’s presence to make atonement for the people of God (Heb. 2:17). So Jesus represents God to us and also represents us before God. He is a mediator or go-between.

Then there is another figure of speech – “God’s house” means God’s people – it is explained later as “we are His house” (Heb. 3:6). Moses was a faithful servant in all God’s house, which means that he served the Israelites (Heb. 3:5). But Jesus Christ was the builder of the house and He was God (Heb. 3:3-4. He was also faithful as the Son over God’s house (Heb. 3:6). Being a Son means that He is equal with God. So Jesus is greater than Moses.

Joshua took over from Moses and led the Israelites into Canaan, which was to be a land of rest for them. But most of them died before they reached Canaan and those that entered didn’t find that rest (Heb. 3:1-19). Instead there was conflict in Canaan, and sin, sickness, sorrow, suffering and death. While Joshua was unable to provide rest, it is available through Jesus Christ – “we who believed enter that rest” (Heb. 4:3). So Jesus is greater than Joshua.

Who are equivalent to Moses and Joshua today? I think that Presidents, Prime Ministers, kings and queens could be because they lead nations. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than the leaders of nations”.

What if someone believes that a certain politician is superhuman and can solve all our problems? If they praise them and put them on a pedestal?

Not only is Jesus greater than Moses and Joshua and the leaders of nations, He is also greater than the Jewish high priests.

Greater than the Jewish high priests

high priest 2Next Jesus is called “a great high priest” (Heb. 4:14). We have already said that He represents us to God like a high priest did for the Jews. His priesthood was greater than the Jewish one because it was like that of Melchizedek in the Old Testament (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:1-3). Melchizedek was king of Salem (now called Jerusalem) in the time of Abraham. His priesthood was similar to Jesus’ priesthood because it didn’t depend on his genealogy (he was not a descendant of Aaron like in the Jewish priesthood) and his priesthood continues forever (it didn’t end when he died like in the Jewish priesthood).

Three reasons are given to show that the priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus is greater than that of Aaron:

  • The first involves tithes and blessings (Heb. 7:4-10). Abraham paid Melchizedek a tithe of 10%. The one who collects a tithe has a greater position than the one who pays it. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The one who blesses has a greater position than the one who is blessed.
  • Second, there has been a change in the priesthood (Heb. 7:11-19). The eternal priesthood of Jesus has replaced the temporary priesthood of Aaron. But the Jewish priesthood was established by the Mosaic Law. This means that the law has also changed. Because of Jesus, both the Jewish priesthood and their law have been replaced. When Jesus died this was signified by the tearing apart from top to bottom of the curtain to the Most Holy Place in the temple. (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45).
  • Third, the priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus is perpetual and permanent (Heb. 7:23-28). Jesus lives forever, whereas the Jewish high priests were replaced when they died. Also Jesus is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens”. He didn’t need to offer sacrifices for His own sins because he was sinless. Also, “He offered Himself”, not an animal.

So the Jewish priesthood was superseded by a divine eternal priesthood.

Who are equivalent to the high priests today? I think that archbishops and popes could be because they are religious leaders. So an updated principle is that “Jesus is greater than the religious leaders”.

What if someone believes that a certain religious leader is always right and can solve all our problems? If they put them on a pedestal?

Not only is Jesus greater than the Jewish high priests and the religious leaders, He also offered a greater sacrifice.

His sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices

We now come to the writer’s main point – “Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 8:1). Here’s his answer to the Jews who say ‘We have the temple, the priests, the offerings, and the ceremonies; but you Christians have nothing like this’. His response is ‘We have such a high priest’ who sits at the right hand of God in heaven! Our high priest is in heaven close to God! He is greater than all your Jewish high priests. We have Jesus Christ. What you have is “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Heb. 8:5). You have the model, we have the full-scale. You have a photo or illustration or copy or shadow or silhouette, we have the real thing (Heb. 8:3; 9:23).

Christ’s ministry as a high priest was superior to that of a Jewish high priest because He worked under a superior covenant (Heb. 8:6). The new covenant, which superseded the old Mosaic covenant has “better promises” because they are unconditional, not conditional on obedience like the old covenant (Heb. 7:22; 8:6b-13). “God found fault with the people” because they were unable to obey the Law of Moses. So it was replaced with the new covenant which depended on God alone. He said:

  • “I will put my laws in their minds”
  • “I will be their God, and they will be my people”
  • “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”

This makes the old covenant and its priests and animal sacrifices obsolete (Heb. 8:13).

Since the writer is going to contrast the offerings of Christ and Judaism, he selects the most important offering – the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur; Lev. 16) (Heb. 9:7). This is the most important day in the Jewish calendar. On this day the high priest sacrificed an animal to pay for his sins and the sins of the people. He entered the Most Holy place of the temple and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat of the ark. But Jesus put away sins, not merely covered them. And He gave believers a clear conscience, not an annual reminder of sins (Heb. 9:14, 26, 28; 10:3). This shows that Christ’s ministry is greater than that of the Jewish high priest on the Day of Atonement.

But Jesus was not only the high priest, He was also the sacrifice. He was a “better sacrifice” (Heb. 9:23) because He offered Himself as a sacrifice, instead of animals (Heb. 9:25-26). One sacrifice was sufficient – it was “once for all” (Heb. 7:27; 10:10), not again and again (Heb. 9:25). It gave “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). Fortunately the Old Testament system of sacrifices has now been superseded by Christ’s sacrifice (Heb. 10:8-10).

The New Covenant is an unconditional agreement of grace which God will make with the Israelites when the Lord Jesus sets up His kingdom on earth (Jer. 31:33-34). Today Christians enjoy some of the blessings of the New Covenant but its complete fulfilment waits until Israel is restored and redeemed nationally.

What is equivalent to Jewish sacrifices today? I think that good works could be because that is how people generally think they will get to heaven. So an updated principle is that “Jesus’ sacrifice is greater that our good works”.

We get requests to support charities and the needy. Some do volunteer community service. How do we rate such good works against spreading the good news about Christ’s sacrifice?

Lessons for us

Are we tempted like the Jewish Christians to go back to our old heroes? To those who occupied us before we changed to follow the Lord. Those which are popular and followed by the majority.

We have seen that Jesus is greater than all the Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses and Joshua, and the priests. He is also greater than all our heroes whoever they may be including scientists, those promoting spiritual experiences, and the leaders of nations and religions. Likewise Jesus’ sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices and our good works.

What about our desires for money and what it can buy? Our desires for recognition, success and popularity? And our desires for recreation, entertainment, leisure and pleasure? Are we placing these temptations above living for Jesus? How do we use our time? How do we spend our money?

Because Jesus is greater than all our heroes and all our desires, He’s the greatest of all. So let’s follow and live for Him.

Written, July 2014


Who are we following?

following

followingHave you noticed how many media commentators ridicule God, Christians and the Bible? Their biased comments stir up controversy and attract attention. They promote atheism and ungodly lifestyles. But we can choose to either accept their views or reject them.

When Jesus was on earth people (the Jews) also had a choice between their religious leaders (who He called thieves) and Jesus. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10NIV). But what is life to the full? After looking at what this verse means we will see that following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one.

Context

The book of John is a selective biography of Jesus Christ. In the previous chapter Jesus heals a man who was born blind. As this miracle was done on the Sabbath day, the Pharisees used it to criticize Jesus saying that He was “not from God” and was a sinner (Jn. 9:16, 31). Jesus replied with a figure of speech saying that they were spiritually blind (Jn. 9:39-41). Chapter 10 is a continuation of this conversation as Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees …” (Jn. 10:1).

In John 10:1-18 Jesus uses metaphors (v.6). He is the Good Shepherd and the gate. The Pharisees are thieves, robbers and hired hands. The Jewish people are sheep. In the Old Testament kings and leaders were often called shepherds (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God is said to be like a shepherd (Ps. 23:1; Is. 40:10-11; Ezek. 34:11-16). As shepherds lead sheep, leaders lead people. So this imagery should have been familiar to the Jews.

The main point is the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees. They are selfish and damaging like thieves and robbers and like hired hands they don’t care about the sheep (people) (v.12-13); whereas He sacrificially lays down His life for people (v.11, 15, 17-18) and saves and sustains them (v.9).

The Jews who heard this conversation were divided (Jn. 10:19-39). Some opposed Jesus saying He was demon-passed, raving mad, guilty of blasphemy and tried to seize Him and to kill Him by stoning (v. 20, 31-33, 39). They didn’t believe His words (v.25-26). Others disagreed (v.21).

Contrast

John 10:10 is an example of contrastive parallelism where the second line contrasts with the first line:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The contrast is between the purpose of the thief and of the Shepherd. One destroys life and the other gives an abundant life. But what does “life” mean, is it physical or spiritual?

The Greek word “zoe” (Strongs #2222) means life, both physical (present) and spiritual (particularly future). It occurs 36 times in the book of John and each time seems to refer to eternal spiritual life. For example:
• Later in the same chapter, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28), where “life” means God’s gift of spiritual life.
• Other examples of spiritual life in John are, “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” (Jn. 3:16).
• And, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (Jn. 14:6).
This life is given by God upon trust in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:39-40; 1 Jn. 5:11-12).

So the contrast in John 10:10 is between the presence and absence of spiritual life.

Steal, kill and destroy

John 10:10 says the thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. These words graphically describe the impact of the lack of spiritual life in the Pharisees. The Greek word “apollumi” (Strongs #622) means permanent destruction or loss. It is translated “perish” in John 10:28 (in the same chapter) and John 3:16. It is eternal death, which is the opposite of eternal life.

If we ignore Jesus, we:
• Are following the thieves, robbers and hired hands of this world that don’t care about people.
• Have an empty spiritual life that leads to eternal punishment.
• Miss out on a bountiful spiritual life that leads to eternal joy.

However, Jesus said with regard to those who follow Him, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28). Note the contrast, they get eternal life and miss perishing.

Life to the full

John 10:10 says that Jesus gives life to the full. The Greek word “perissos” (Strongs #4053) is an adjective that means over and above, more than is necessary, abundant, and greater. This is the only instance of this word in John’s writings, but he uses the verb, “perisseuo” (Strongs #4052) to describe leftover food after people had eaten (Jn. 6:12-13).

If we follow Jesus, we:
• Are following the One who sacrificially laid down His life for people and saves and sustains them.
• Have a bountiful spiritual life that leads to eternal joy.
• Avoid an empty spiritual life that leads to eternal punishment.

So the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees in John 10:10 is:
• They are spiritually dead and influence others to remain in this state.
• Jesus offers people spiritual life that is so abundant that it is more than people need.
The people had a choice to follow either Jesus or the Pharisees.

Lessons for us

In view of humanity’s sinfulness, John 10:10 teaches us that God is gracious, loving and merciful. From the context, we see that there is conflict when some people believe this and some don’t. As Jesus was opposed strongly, we shouldn’t be surprised when there is opposition to God, Christians and the Bible.

Some use John 10:10 to teach that Christians will be blessed abundantly in their physical lives. But we know from Scripture that this is not the case. For example, Stephen was a godly man who witnessed faithfully to the Jewish Sanhedrin, but he was martyred (Acts 6:8 – 7:60).

Jesus is not on earth today, but the Bible contains a record of His teachings. The Pharisees are not opposing Christ today, but others are, including atheistic commentators who don’t believe the words of Scripture. As there was a contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees, so there is a contrast between Christ’s teachings and those who reject Christianity. Who will you follow?

Jesus cares for our eternal welfare and has provided an abundant spiritual life for those who follow Him. Following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one.

Written, May 2014


Who is accountable to God?

What's your excuse illustration design over white

What's your excuse illustration design over whiteChildren grow up from infancy, to childhood, to adolescence and then to adulthood. At the beginning they are totally dependent on their parents and are not held accountable for their behavior. But as they grow up, they are trained to be responsible and accountable. The Bible teaches that everyone is answerable to God (Mt. 12:36-37; Rom. 3:19; Heb. 9:27). But when are children accountable to God?

The Bible says that both Christians and non-Christians are accountable to God. At the end of their lives, Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10NIV) when “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Rom. 14:12). This is used to determine their rewards in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Non-Christians are “judged according to what they had done” at the “great white throne” (Rev. 20:11-15). This is used to determine their punishment in hell.

Is this fair? God has revealed Himself to everyone in at least two ways. First the natural world demands a Creator – complicated things, like animals and plants and people, don’t make themselves (Rom. 1:19-20). Second, we all have a conscience and so can know instinctively what is right and wrong and feel guilty when we do wrong (Rom. 2:14-15). If someone hasn’t heard about how God revealed Himself in history (in the Bible), then they are judged according to their response to these more general revelations of God. So God is fair and “people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

Non-accountable

The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth (Gen. 8:21; Ps. 51:5; 58:3). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So children are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death leads to eternal separation from God (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).

The Bible also teaches that because they do not yet know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil, infants are not accountable for their sin (Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:31; Isa. 7:14-16; Jon. 4:11). They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.

So very young children are not accountable for their sin. Their minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong. But what about when they grow past this stage of life?

Accountable

The Bible makes two types of statements about the sins of parents and children. First, with regard to the commandment given to the Israelites against idolatry, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:5; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Dt. 5:9). As they lived in households that extended to three or four generations, this means that the temporal judgment for their rebellion against God was on themselves and their households. The Bible gives examples of households that experienced the consequence of God’s judgment of the sins of their patriarch (Num. 16:31-35; Josh. 7:24-25). Likewise, today the consequences of a parent’s behaviour can impact others in their household.

When the Jews used this statement to say that they were suffering for their ancestors’ sins, Ezekiel corrected them writing “The one who sins is the one who will die (Ezek. 18:4, 20). This is an example of the second type of statement, which relates to the death penalty. “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin” (Dt. 24:16; 2 Ki. 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4). So in the Israelite legal system, a penalty was to be imposed only on those who committed the crime, and not on those who were innocent. This meant that after children reached the age when they knew the difference between right and wrong, they were accountable for their behavior. Likewise, today when children are old enough to respond to their conscience they are responsible to God for their own behaviour.

Conclusion

So the statement that everyone is accountable to God doesn’t apply to young children or those whose minds are not developed well enough to understand that things don’t make themselves or to feel guilty when they do wrong.

But those who have grown past this stage of life and can understand these things are accountable to God. They have no excuse. That’s why it’s important to know that our sinful ways separate us from God, but Jesus died to take the punishment that we deserve (which is hell) and reconcile us to God. We need to take responsibility for our behavior and confess our sins, because God cannot forgive our sin until it is confessed.

Written, May 2014


Why did Jesus tell the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven”?

forgive 1

forgive 1Politicians often make sweeping statements. But can we trust them? Because of our doubts, the Australian ABC news features a “Fact Check” which determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions. Their verdict often highlights the selective use of statistics.

People often doubt politician’s promises. When Jesus was on earth, many of the Jews doubted God’s promises in the Old Testament. They didn’t live like they were God’s covenant people. We will see that they were challenged by a message from God to consider their spiritual need for the forgiveness of their sins.

The promise

Because He healed many people, crowds of people followed Jesus at Capernaum in Galilee. When He was preaching in a house that was packed full of people, four men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus by lowering him down through a hole in the roof (Mk. 2:1-5)! The preaching was interrupted and “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’”. On another occasion Jesus also announced publicly that a woman’s sins were forgiven (Lk. 7:36-50). Later the man was healed instantly, took up his mat and walked home. This amazed everyone because they had never seen anything like it before.

The man and his companion’s faith may have come from the Old Testament or they may have heard the message of John the Baptist or Jesus of confessing and repenting of sins for forgiveness (Mt. 3:6; Mk 1:14-15; Lk. 3:3).

This happened before a crowd of people comprised of people with faith (like the paralytic and his friends), people with no faith (like the religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat), and people with uncertain and doubtful faith. What did the claim of “your sins are forgiven” mean to each of these groups?

The faithful

The faithful probably knew what the Old Testament says about sin and forgiveness. That is what Jesus would have preached about. For Jews, sin was disobedience of the laws given to Moses (Exodus – Deuteronomy). Sin was serious because it resulted in God’s punishment instead of His blessing. They were given sacrifices to be offered to atone for unintentional sins such as the sin offering, the guilt offering, and the annual day of atonement (Lev. 4:1 – 5:13; 5:14 – 6:7; 16:1-34).

Sin is serious because “you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). Our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:2). Wilful sin was to be punished by execution or banishment (Num. 15:30-31). In the case of unintentional sin, a sacrifice restored their covenant relationship with the Lord.

Sin also has other consequences, for example Moses and Aaron didn’t enter Canaan because of their sin (Num. 20:12). The Old Testament records the sins of the Israelites and their consequences. History teaches that despite their deliverance from Egypt and sustenance in the wilderness journey, “they kept on sinning” (Ps. 78:32). Their sins were listed and Daniel confessed them (Ps. 106:6-46; Dan. 9:4-15). Their persistent sin and rebellion against God resulted in their conquest by the Assyrians and Babylonians (Ps. 79:8).

Like David (Ps. 51:1-10), they were to confess their sins and pray for God’s forgiveness (Ps. 19:12-13; 32:5; Prov. 28:13). When they did this, God promised to forgive them (Ps. 32:5; 99:8; 103:3; 130:3-4). Because the faithful had confessed their sins, when these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they took it as a message of assurance from God that their sins were forgiven. Their faith was affirmed.

The unfaithful

Like many of the religious leaders, the unfaithful Jews may still have followed the Jewish rituals and sacrifices, but they were selfish and didn’t trust in God. As the news of Jesus’ ministry spread the religious leaders became increasingly hostile. On this occasion they “had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem” with the purpose of finding some accusation against Him (Lk. 5:17).

When these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they knew that only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:7). But they didn’t believe that Jesus had this power. Then Jesus said “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Lk. 2:10). His power to heal the man was a visible affirmation of His invisible power to forgive sins. But they continued in unbelief.

When these people heard “your sins are forgiven”, they used it to make accusations against Jesus. While the faithful helped the helpless man, the unfaithful hindered Jesus’ ministry. They remained in their unbelief.

The doubtful and uncertain

What about people between the two previous categories with uncertain and doubtful faith? These would have been impacted by the miraculous healing. Because Jesus linked the physical healing and the spiritual forgiveness, they should have been challenged about their spiritual need and been convicted of their sin and reminded of the Old Testament or the message of John the Baptist or Jesus of confessing and repenting of sins for their forgiveness.

These were the people that Jesus was targeting because they needed to hear this message and respond to it. Because, “everyone who believes in Him (Christ) receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).

Conclusion

Because we have the New Testament, we know much more than these people. They didn’t know that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Mt. 9:8) who would give up His life as a sacrifice so that no more sacrifices would be required for their sins. We have the Scriptural evidence that Jesus was the Son of God and not just another prophet. Because Christ died for our sins (past, present and future), God can forgive us (Mt. 26:28). His judicial forgiveness is eternal.

When we hear or read the words of God from the Bible, is our faith affirmed, our unbelief unchanged, or are we moved do something about it? Are we challenged to consider our spiritual need for the forgiveness of sins? The Bible says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (Jas. 1:22).

Written, March 2014


A change of mind

u turn

u turnWhat does it take to change your mind about something? Did you know that Jesus’ bothers changed their mind about Him? They did a u-turn from opposition to attraction.

Opposition

Jesus had at least four brothers (James, Joseph, Simon and Judas) and at least two sisters (Mt. 13:55-56; Mk. 6:3). They had the same mother, but not the same father. It was a Jewish family, Mary is a shortened form of Miriam, Jesus’ Hebrew name was Joshua, James’ Hebrew name was Jacob, and Judas’ Hebrew name was Judah.

Jesus was popular and many people followed Him, but His brothers thought he was insane and mentally ill (Mk. 3:21-22). This is consistent with others who thought He was demon possessed (Mk. 3:22; Jn. 10:20). After crowds came when he healed many people, His brothers travelled from Nazareth to Capernaum “to take charge of Him” (Mk. 3:21). They may have thought he brought shame and embarrassment to the family. John said that “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5). They didn’t believe He was the promised Messiah. Instead they were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him when He preached (Mt. 13:57; Mk. 6:3-4). So He was rejected in His hometown of Nazareth and in His own home.

Even at His death Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary, to His disciple John instead to His half brothers (Jn.19:26-27). It seems as though the brothers still didn’t believe in Him at this time.

Attraction

The next reference in Scripture to Christ’s brothers is after His resurrection when the believers who gathered together to pray included, “Mary the mother of Jesus, and … His brothers” (Acts 1:14). Here we see that the brothers had changed their mind about Jesus and had joined His disciples. What caused the change?

Look at what happened before this time: Christ had died, was buried, resurrected back to life and ascended to heaven. The Lord had appeared to the disciples twice after His resurrection (Jn. 20:19-23, 26-29). The “disciples” present at this time behind locked doors for fear of the Jewish leaders may have included the women and the Lord’s brothers. Also, a special appearance by Jesus to James would have impacted James (1 Cor. 15:7).

After this the Lord’s brothers were preachers like Paul and the apostles (1 Cor.  9:5). James became an elder in the church at Jerusalem and wrote the book of James (Gal. 1:19; Jas. 1:1) and Judas probably wrote the book of Jude (Jude 1).

So Jesus’ brothers changed their mind radically about Him when they understood who He was and what He had done. Have we?

Written, February 2014


Keeping contracts

rainbow 2 resizedWe live in a world of contracts. They regulate our lives and financial transactions. There are employment contracts and marriage contracts. Contracts for the supply of telephone and internet services. Contracts when you buy a car or a property or build a house. Anti-bullying contracts at schools.

This article looks at some of God’s contracts in the Bible. We will see that because God keeps His contracts, we can rely on them.

Context

Adam and Eve lived in utopia. But after they disobeyed God, they were banished from the Garden of Eden. Sinful behaviour increased until it had to be punished when God destroyed the world in a global flood and started again with Noah’s family. Noah lived about 2,500 years BC. We see two aspects of God’s character in His response to humanity’s sin. First there is judgement and punishment. Second there is grace and mercy. God’s covenants in the Old Testament are contracts with great promises.

The first five books of the Bible were written by Moses at about 1,500 years BC. The most important types of contracts, agreements and treaties at this time involved kings. There were two types:

  • Royal land grants – A king’s free gift of land or some other benefit to a loyal servant. The grant was normally perpetual and unconditional, but the servant’s descendants benefited from it only if they continued to be loyal.
  • Suzerain–vassal treaties – A treaty between a great king and the lesser kings that he ruled. Here the one with the political control is called the suzerain (a French word) and the other is called the vassal (a Latin word). The suzerain protected the vassal as long as the vassal was loyal to him. It was a conditional treaty.

We will now look at a series of covenants/contracts that God made with humanity. A contract is a legally binding agreement between two parties.

Promised protection

After the flood, God told Noah’s family, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:11NIV). He called it “a covenant for all generations to come” and an “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 9:12, 16). It was between God and every living creature on earth and was symbolised by the rainbow. It was unconditional, like a royal land grant.

When in Babylon, Ezekiel had the vision of God’s glory, and the radiance was like a rainbow (Ezek. 1:28). When on Patmos, John had the vision of the throne in heaven, which was encircled by a green rainbow (Rev. 4:3). The rainbow symbolises that God keeps His covenants/contracts.

How did people respond to God’s promise never to destroy the world again with a global flood? At this time they were also told to “fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1, 7). But they were disobedient and built the city of Babel instead and resisted being scattered across the earth (Gen. 11:1-4). That’s behaving like a teenager who is given everything by their parents, but rebels and goes their own way.

What about us? The Bible says that Jesus is “sustaining all things by His powerful word” and “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:11). Do we live as though God sustains the universe, or do we ignore Him and go our own way?

So the first covenant/contract was a promise of God’s protection and now we will move to the second.

Promised nation and land

When the people proudly built a tower as a monument to celebrate their achievements, God judged their sin by causing the people to start using different languages (Gen. 11:7-9). Because they couldn’t understand each other, they scattered across the earth into different nations that spoke different languages.

Then God responded with grace and mercy and promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan from the Wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates River (Gen. 15:18-21). This was unconditional like a royal land grant. By the way, this promise has not yet been fulfilled. Although Solomon ruled over it as over vassal states, his people didn’t occupy all of it themselves (1 Ki. 4:21, 24).

How did they respond? Sarah, unable to have any children, persuaded Abraham to father a child by her servant, Hagar (Gen. 16:2). The child was Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabic people. Sarah and Abraham lacked faith and took matters into their own hands.

So God repeated the promise to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan and promised to be their God (Gen. 17:1-22). He promised a son who was to be named Isaac who would have many descendants and Ishmael would also have many descendants. It was an everlasting covenant/contract (Gen. 17:7-8).  They were to undergo male circumcision because it was the sign of this covenant/contract (Gen. 17:11).

How did they respond? Abraham promptly circumcised the males in his household. When they were told that Sarah would have a son, Abraham worshiped and laughed in amazement, while Sarah laughed in disbelief as she was past the childbearing age (Gen. 17:17-18; 18:9-15). In this case Sarah doubted God’s promise and needed to hear, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14).

Politicians make promises before elections. But people often doubt them because afterwards they can get downgraded into core and non-core promises or scrapped because it is alleged that the circumstances have changed.

What about us? In the New Testament, God promises eternal life, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s second coming. Do we treat God like we treat politicians? Do we live as though these are doubtful non-core promises? Are we like Abraham who trusted God or like Sarah who didn’t?

So the second covenant/contract was a promise of a nation and land and now we will move to the third.

Promised relationship

The promises given to Abraham were repeated to Isaac and Jacob; and Jacob’s family followed Joseph to Egypt. After being in Egypt for many years, Jacob’s family grew to a nation of 2 million people and Moses led them out in the exodus to Canaan. At Mt Sinai, God promised the Israelites they would be His special people – “my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5) and He would drive out the Canaanites so they could occupy their land (Ex. 19 – 31). As it was conditional on obeying God’s laws, including the 10 commandments, social laws and religious laws, this covenant/contract was like a Suzerain-vassal agreement. There were blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience (Lev. 26, Dt. 28-29). It was based on works; if people obeyed, God would do His part. The Sabbath day was given to Israel as a sign of this covenant/contract (Ex. 31:13, 17).

How did they respond? The 4th time that Moses went up Mt Sinai to met with God lasted 40 days (Ex. 24:18) and the people got impatient and made a golden idol shaped like a calf (Ex. 32:1-6). It was not a good start! Then after the spies explored Canaan, the people rebelled against God and wanted to go back to Egypt (Num. 14:1-4). Their punishment was to wander in the wilderness for 38 years, while those that rebelled died before they reached Canaan.

After the Israelites occupied Canaan, they were ruled by Judges for about 300 years. Then they became a monarchy. Saul was the first king and David the second. David lived about 1,000 years BC. Later in the monarchy they divided into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. All of Israel’s kings were ungodly; they followed idols instead of keeping the covenant/contract. They were punished in the Assyrian conquest of 722BC. Many of the kings of Judah also followed idols instead of keeping the covenant/contract. They were punished in the Babylonian conquest of 586BC.

If a tenant fails to pay the rent on time or damages the property, they are warned of the danger of being evicted. If they continue failing to comply with the contract then the lease is terminated and they are evicted.

Fortunately, it wasn’t the end for the Jews as some returned to Judah after the exile in Babylon. But we will see later that this covenant/contract is now called the “old covenant”.

Likewise, sin shouldn’t be the end of our fellowship with the Lord. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). If we confess our sins, then we can experience God’s parental forgiveness.

So the third covenant was a promise of a special relationship with God and now we will move to the fourth.

Promised dynasty

When king David planned to build a temple for God, God promised him an everlasting dynasty, a great name, and peace for the nation of Israel (2 Sam. 7:5-16, 28; 1 Chron. 17:11-14; 2 Chron. 6:16; Ps. 89:3-4). His son Solomon would build the temple and experience God’s mercy. This covenant/contract was unconditional like a royal land grant. But it was conditional for Solomon’s descendants (Ps. 132:11-12). It was repeated by Jeremiah and Luke (Jer. 33:17-26; Lk. 1:32-33). The prophets also predicted a Messiah who would bring peace and prosperity.

A descendant of David ruled in Judah until the Babylonian conquest in 586BC when the descendants went into exile and there was no kingdom and no king for about 400 years. Then King Herod ruled but he wasn’t Jewish as he had Edomite (Idumean) ancestry. At this time Jesus was rejected as king, but since His ascension, He is on His throne in heaven. Peter and Paul said that Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of God’s promise to David (Acts 2:29-36; 13:20-24). Jesus is a descendant of David (Lk. 3). His kingdom is everlasting.

Unrest has stopped peace talks in the Ukraine and between Pakistan and the Taliban. There is little progress in Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Peace is illusive in the world’s hot spots.

The Bible says that this world will not have peace until Jesus returns to set up His kingdom. Just as Solomon had a peaceful kingdom, Jesus will bring peace to the world. Do we believe this?

So the fourth covenant/contract was a promise of a dynasty and now we will move to the final one.

Promised revival

We’ve seen that the Israelites couldn’t keep the old covenant/contract. The prophet Jeremiah said that because they had broken the covenant by disobedience and idolatry, God would bring a disaster (Jer. 11). He predicts a Babylonian conquest and 70 year exile (Jer. 12-13; 25; 27). Then he predicts that Israel would be restored after the captivity (Jer. 30-31).

He also promises the Israelites a new covenant/contract, which becomes effective after the 2nd advent of Christ (Jer. 31:31-34). “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:33-34).

The nation is revived and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25, 27); they willingly obey the Word of God; they have a unique relationship with God; everyone will know the Lord; their sins are forgiven and forgotten; and the nation continues forever (Jer. 31:35-37). In fact Paul says that Jews will begin to turn to God after the rapture (Rom. 11:25-26). This was a mystery to people in the first century and many are ignorant of it today.

This is called the “New covenant” (Heb. 8). It’s a promise for the Jews, involving Christ’s millennial reign on earth which will merge into the eternal kingdom. This covenant/contract was instituted at the first Lord’s Supper when Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20). It began at His death when the curtain inside the temple was torn in two. His death makes the new covenant/contract possible. It’s the foundation.

Ancient covenants were validated by the sacrificial death of an animal (Gen. 15:9-21; Heb. 9:19). Christ had to die before the new covenant/contract commenced. He is the mediator of the new covenant/contract (Heb. 12:22).

The blessings of the new covenant/contract for the Jews are both physical and spiritual. Believers enter into it spiritually; they enjoy its spiritual blessings. Our sins are forgiven and we have peace with God if we accept the gospel by believing that Christ paid the penalty for our sin. Gentiles like us have been grafted into the tree of the faithful, but in future believing Jews will be grafted back into the tree (Rom.11:17, 23-24).

The new covenant/contract is different to the one given at Mt Sinai. It is unconditional like a royal land grant. It depends on God alone. The old covenant/contract of the Jewish law is now obsolete (Heb. 8:13). We shouldn’t live by those rules and practices. The old covenant/contract was a shadow of what was to come. Its purpose was to bring a knowledge and conviction of sin (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10). It was temporary, until the time of Christ. God confirmed this by destroying the temple in AD 70 (1 Cor. 3:7, 11). The new covenant/contract is eternal (Heb. 13:20). Since Christ’s death, the Jewish law has been replaced with the Christian faith and the Jews have been replaced by the church as God’s people on earth (Gal. 3:23-25).

With the advent of computers, typewriters are now obsolete. Photocopiers have made carbon paper obsolete. Other things like floppy disks and video tapes are also obsolete. So let’s not be tempted to try to please God by following the Old Testament laws, because they are now obsolete.

The gospel is called the “new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6). Because it depends on God and not humanity, it brings forgiveness of sins, something the old covenant/contract couldn’t do. It’s a “better covenant” with “better promises” (Heb. 7:22; 9:6) as explained in Hebrews chapters 8-10. The law promised blessing for obedience but threatened death for disobedience. It required righteousness but didn’t give the ability to produce it. The gospel imputes righteousness where there is none and empowers believers to live righteously. It’s better, because it relies on God alone. The Old Testament offerings were ceremonial and ritual, they didn’t deal with the guilt of sin (Heb. 9:9-10). Christ’s sacrifice was superior, it was once for all.

The Lord’s Supper is our symbol of the new covenant/contract (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Do we celebrate it regularly and recall our spiritual blessings?

So the final covenant/contract was a promise of Jewish revival and spiritual blessings for believers.

Lessons for us

What can we learn from these five covenants/contracts that God made with humanity?

We have seen that God’s covenants in the Old Testament are contracts with great promises. They illustrate God’s grace and mercy.

The covenant/contract often had a sign or symbol to remind people of it:

  • Rainbow – given to Noah to remind of God’s protection for all
  • Male circumcision – given to Abraham to remind of Jewish nation and land
  • Sabbath day – given to Moses to remind of the Jewish relationship with God (They were His special people)

The other two covenants didn’t include a sign, although the Lord’s supper reminds Christians of the spiritual blessings of the new covenant/contract (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25) and receiving the Holy Spirit could also be viewed as a sign (Eph. 1:13).

They show us that God keeps His covenants/contracts. He is faithful. In particular the rainbow symbolises that God keeps His covenants/contracts. Many of the promises he made in the Old Testament have already been fulfilled. But not all of them.

We have seen that people don’t always accept what God offers to them. Some trust in them like Abraham, while others rebel against them like the Israelites. Do we live as though God is our master, our Suzerain, and we are His servant, His vassal?

Some may say the revival in the new covenant/contract only applies to Christians and that God is finished with the Jews. They are extinct as a separate entity in God’s plans for the future. But when he wrote Romans in AD 57, Paul predicted a Jewish revival and it hasn’t happened yet (Romans 11). Also in AD 55 he divided people into three categories, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). The Greeks are unconverted Gentiles and the church includes believing Jews and Gentiles. Also Jews appear in John’s visions of the future in the book of Revelation (Rev. 7:4-8; 11:1-2; 14:1-5; 15:5-8). It includes 144,000 Jewish believers who are sealed for their protection. Although this was written in AD95, 25 years after the temple was destroyed, it hasn’t happened yet. So according to the Bible, God isn’t finished with the Jews. If He was, why has the Jewish nation returned to Israel of recent times after a gap of about 1,900 years?

Conclusion

We have seen how God’s grace and mercy flows through the Old Testament covenants/contracts into the New Testament and to us another 2,000 years later. In a world that has no time for God, and in the struggles of life, it’s good to know that He controls the big picture.

So let’s be like Abraham trusting that God keeps His covenants/contracts.

Because God keeps His contracts, we can rely on them.

Written, February 2014


Two messages

No excuse

Recently the world received messages from the planet Mars that came in the form of photographs taken by Curiosity, the NASA Mars Rover. Psalm 19 contains two messages from God, about His power and His love.

God’s power

In the first, the songwriter, David, personifies (gives human attributes to) the universe: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4aNIV). When David was a shepherd, he lived outdoors and would have seen God’s creation power in the sun, moon and stars (Ps. 8:3; 19:4b-6).

What message does the universe “declare”, “proclaim”, “reveal” and “voice” to us? That all of it is “the work of His hands” alone. God created the universe. Great knowledge and power would be required to provide the countless stars, the immense distances and the warmth of the sun. By looking at the universe, we see abundant evidence that God is a very powerful Creator.

God’s love

When the songwriter David turns to describe Scripture (which at that time comprised portions of the Old Testament written before 1000BC), he changes the title of God from “El”, which means the powerful One behind creation (Strong’s #410), to “Yahweh”, which means the personal loving One who cares for His chosen people (#3068). Scripture is a written message from God to us: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

David’s Scripture message largely contained God’s dealings with the Jews and their ancestors. He said that His words were “refreshing” and “wise”, “giving joy” and “light” and “great reward” (Ps. 19: 7-11). In particular, God made covenants with the children of Israel in the days of Abraham, Moses and David (Gen. 12:2-3; Ex. 19-24; Lev.; 2 Sam. 7:5-16). In these He showed His love for them. Although they would reject Him, He would not reject them (Lev. 26:43-44). When we read the Old Testament, it becomes evident that God lovingly cares for His people, the descendants of Abraham. When we read the New Testament we discover this same care is ours as Christians.

Lessons for us

Today we still have the visible message of the created universe and the written message of the Bible. We have no excuse for not knowing what God has done for us: “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

In the New Testament Paul quoted Psalm 19:4 when he wrote that people had heard the message of God’s power and love as shown by Jesus: “Did they not hear? Of course they did: ‘Their voice [of the heavens, declaring the glory of God] has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:18; Ps. 19:4).

Seeing God’s power and love in Psalm 19 should bring us to say with the psalmist, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care” (Ps. 95:6-7)?

Written, August 2012


From the Alpha to the Omega

Jesus spans time and history

On January 1 we celebrate the beginning of a new year. One of the titles of God and Jesus Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega”, which reminds me of beginnings and endings (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13NIV). As alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega is the last, this title means “first and last” or “beginning and end” and everything in between. It signifies the whole alphabet, “A to Z”, or completeness. An equivalent analogy in time would be “24/7” with regard to a week or “1 January to 31 December” with regard to a year. So “Alpha and Omega” is a poetic way to say that God and Jesus are eternal.

This interpretation is confirmed by the related titles which Jesus used to refer to Himself–“the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13) and “the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:6; 22:13). This truth is introduced in the Old Testament where God is said to be with the first generation of mankind and with the last and the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Is. 41:4; 48:12-13). In this regard He is unique (Is. 44:6). He exists in the distant past, the present and the distant future as the One “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). He alone knows everything, including the future.

Jesus spans all time and all history. He was there at the very beginning of time and history and He will be there at the end of time and history. When all of God’s purposes on earth are achieved and His salvation is completed, Jesus will say “It is done” (Rev. 21:6). This is consistent with the fact that He created time, He controls history and He is eternal.

When John was afraid, being exiled on the isle of Patmos, Jesus said to him: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18). He was assured that his destiny was controlled by the living God. Later Jesus encouraged John by the prospect of rewards for faithful service: “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:12-13).

Jesus is also described as “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2), which also conveys a sense of beginning and ending. Besides being the founder and originator of the Christian faith, He also finished His work of salvation and is a perfect example of the life a faith.

As we face the end of one year and the beginning of another let’s remember that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. Whatever He says in the Bible about the past, present and the future is trustworthy. Let’s trust Him and allow Him to reign in our lives.

Written, January 2012


What makes the Bible so great?

The Bible is a collection of books which were written over a period of over 1,500 years with unique origin and content.

Unique origin

We will look at three statements about the source of the Bible. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16NIV). When written in ~67AD by Paul, this statement mainly applied to the Old Testament as not all the New Testament books had been written. But when Paul quoted from the book of Luke, he called it Scripture (1 Tim. 5:18) and Peter referred to Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). So today we can apply the statement to the whole Bible. This means that God is the source of every verse in the Bible.

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things (mind). For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). The men who were given the message were called prophets. This passage emphasises that the words of Scripture were given by God via the Holy Spirit; and they didn’t originate from the prophet’s mind.

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13).  Once again, the Bible contains God’s wisdom, not human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-15). It’s “the thoughts of God” and the amazing things that “God has prepared for those who love Him”, which can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit.

As the Bible is the only book with God as the author, it is unique. The Bible is God’s message to us. The supreme God who created the universe and continues to sustain it has communicated with us. This also means that:

  • The Bible has authority – coming from the ruler of the visible and invisible universe.
  • The Bible is infallible. It is “completely reliable” as the source of truth, being absolutely true (2 Pet.1:19). The original text was without error and only minor copyist errors have occurred over the passage of time. When interpreted correctly, it never deceives us, never contradicts itself and can be trusted.
  • The Bible is profitable. God has told us what we need to know. It’s like our instruction manual for life.

Unique content

The Bible tells us the history of the universe from beginning to end. It begins with the creation of the universe and contains a history of mankind from Adam and Eve to the end of history. It describes the global flood that has shaped the earth and gives a detailed history of the Jewish nation, which is confirmed by archaeology. There is also a history of God’s dealing with mankind, a history of human failures, an accurate record of human behaviour and information about heaven and hell.

The Bible answers difficult questions, such as the following. Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? What can we hope for in the future? What is our destiny? Where has humanity come from? Why are we male and female? Where does marriage come from? Why is there suffering?

The Bible deals with our greatest problem (being God’s enemy instead of His friend) and our greatest need (to be reconciled with God) and how that was addressed by Jesus. God’s plan of salvation through Jesus is the theme of Scripture. We learn the way of salvation through the Bible (2 Tim. 3:15). It also provides assurance of salvation.

The Bible tells us what to know about the unseen world, including: God, angels, Satan, and demons. It describes the interaction between the unseen and seen parts of our world. It reveals what is God like; what has God done; God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. It also reveals that humans are comprised of spirit, soul and body.

As the Bible is the only reliable source of this information, it is unique (Eccl. 3:11).

Powerful

The Bible uses the following powerful images to describe itself:

  • A sharp sword that penetrates and judges our thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12-13). It is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17).
  • A light that shines in darkness (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19). It illuminates the way ahead and guides us.
  • A mirror that shows our true condition (Jas. 1:22-25).
  • Food (milk and solid food) that sustains us (1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14).
  • Water that purifies us as we obey Scripture (Eph. 5:25).
  • More precious than gold (Ps. 19:10).
  • Sweeter than honey (Ps. 19:10).

So, the Bible is not just another book, it’s God’s unique powerful message to us. Let’s read it, study it, memorise it and obey it.

Written, September 2011

Also see: Read the Bible in one year


Who invented Christianity?

Divine revelation trumps human ideas

Some people think that religions such as Christianity are comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science. Their reasoning goes like this. Until a couple of hundred years ago, most people thought that a god or gods controlled everything. Why did the wind blow? Why was there lightning and thunder? Why did the sun, moon, and stars apparently go around Earth? Why did someone get sick and die? Why did anything happen? Well, obviously, God did it. If a person didn’t know how something worked or why something happened, they could say, “God did it.” This is known as the “god of the gaps”. But as we understand more and more about the universe, the gap where such a god might function grows smaller and smaller. Every time we learn more, these gods have less room to operate. When we learned what caused the sun to apparently move across the sky, there was no need for the Greek god Helios. When we understood what caused lightning, there was no need for the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, or the Norse god Thor. The same argument has been applied to Christianity.

In this article we address this topic by looking at the origin of Christianity. In order to be objective, I will define “Christianity” according to what is written in the Bible, not what is written or practised elsewhere. So we are not looking at Christian practices or traditions.

Was it Paul?

Paul was a pioneer missionary in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. He spread Christianity to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. He probably spent about 15 years of his life on his main missionary journeys to modern Turkey, to modern Greece, to Rome as a prisoner and possibly to Spain. Most of his letters were written to churches he established on these journeys and there are at least 13 of these in the New Testament, including Romans, which is the most comprehensive description of the Christian faith. His core message was called the gospel:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord ….

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:1-4, 16-17NIV).

Here we see that the God of the Bible is the source of this message, which was promised in the Old Testament. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, there has been a promise that one day people can be released from the consequences of their sin. It is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who was the Savior for sinners. The gospel is God’s power for salvation: the God that raised Jesus from the dead promises to also raise those who trust in the Savior. Also, it is for everyone who believes; Gentiles as well as Jews. There are no national barriers to this salvation. It is obtained by faith alone; by accepting that Jesus took the punishment for our sins when He was crucified. He took our penalty and we receive His righteousness and eternal life.

Paul also said: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). He emphasises the source of the gospel message: it’s “not of human origin”; he “did not receive it from any man”; he wasn’t taught it; it came “by revelation from Jesus Christ”. Therefore, Christianity was not an invention or a discovery, but it was a direct revelation from God. In fact he mentions the whole godhead as the source of the message, God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 2:10; Gal. 1:12).

Furthermore, Paul was a servant of Jesus who was sent to preach the gospel and he followed the example of Christ (Acts 26:16-18; Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 11:1). So although Paul preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead he taught that the gospel was God’s idea.

Was it Peter?

Peter was a pioneer preacher to the Jews and on the day of Pentecost he preached the first gospel message after Christ ascended back to heaven. At Pentecost he quoted from the Old Testament and showed how Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah. Peter witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He urged people to repent to have their sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Did Peter invent his message? When he spoke he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). As the Jewish religious leaders saw his courage and realized that he was an unschooled, ordinary fishermen, they were astonished and noted that he had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). So Peter was given the words to speak by the Holy Spirit and he had been taught by Jesus. Although Peter preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead the sources of His words were the Old Testament, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The same applies to the other apostles.

Was it the Old Testament prophets?

Both Paul and Peter referred to the Old Testament prophets when they preached the gospel. As it was foreshowed, the gospel was not a completely new idea. For example, the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, called Immanuel, meaning God with us, and would die 483 years after the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Isa. 7:14; Dan. 9:25-26; Mic. 5:2). Also, the righteous lived by their faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17).

There are also illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament. The bronze snake that Moses made in the wilderness was used to teach Nicodemus that Christ must be lifted up on a pole (the cross), so that sinners looking to Him by faith might have eternal life (Num. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14-15). The Jewish sacrifices for forgiveness of sin foreshadowed that Jesus was our sacrifice and High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:23-28). These illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament are clearer in hindsight than they would have been for someone living at the time. However, we know that when Jesus was born Simeon and Anna were both prompted by the Holy Spirit to be waiting for the Jewish Messiah (Lk. 2:25-38).

Peter wrote about Old Testament prophecies, “you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own (mind) interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21). Their message was divinely inspired, originating from God, not from humanity. This is consistent with Paul who wrote that: “all Scripture was God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). The writers of the Bible were given their words by the Holy Spirit. They present spiritual truths in spiritual words. Although the Old Testament prophets promised a Messiah, they didn’t know the details of the gospel message. They didn’t invent it, but their information came from the Holy Spirit, who is God.

Was it Jesus Christ?

We have already seen that Paul said that he received the gospel message “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12). Also, it is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:3). So, the Lord Jesus Christ is the core of the gospel, which is the foundation of the Christian faith. In fact, a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.

In one sense, Christ is the source of Christianity. But what did He say?

  • He was sent into the world by God the Father (Jn. 17:3, 18, 23, 25).
  • “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34).
  • “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (Jn 5:30). He always obeyed the Father.
  • “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4).

So everything He said and did was done in obedience to God the Father. Therefore, God the Father is the source of the gospel message. It was His idea.

Was Jesus Christ merely a man? This is an important question. The answer is no, because He claimed to be divine and this is supported by the evidence. First, His miracles, which included calming storms and consistently healing people instantly. He also gave His apostles the power to do miracles. Human beings don’t have these powers. Second, He resurrected from death and ascended into heaven. Human beings can’t do that. He appeared to more than 500 believers at the same time after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). That’s a lot of witnesses. This is consistent with His claim to be equal with God. So, Christ was the divine God in a human body. He was unique.

Christianity is a revelation

We have seen that the gospel was God’s idea, which was revealed progressively to people over time from the brief promises of the Old Testament prophets, to the preaching of Peter to the Jews and then the preaching of Paul to the Gentiles. Because the gospel message seems foolish to people,  it couldn’t have been man-made (1 Cor. 1:18). Instead, God achieves His purposes in ways that seem foolish. It was a divine invention, not a human invention or discovery. That is why Christianity is unique. All other faiths and religions are products of the human mind. The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is emphasised throughout Scripture.

Old Testament

The Children of Israel were told to destroy all the people in Canaan because they were idol worshippers (Deut. 18:9-12; 20:16-18). This was God’s judgment of their sinful ways and to stop the Israelites worshipping their gods (Gen. 15:16). If the Jews worshipped idols, they were told: “The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Deut. 4:27-28). Unfortunately because the Jews were unfaithful and didn’t destroy all the idol worshippers, they followed idols instead of the true God, and the consequence was that they were overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Jerusalem was plundered and destroyed.

While the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, “They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world—the work of human hands” (2 Chron. 32:19). When the Jews were told that the Lord was the only true God, they were also told that idols are worthless and “Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save” (Isa. 44:6, 9; 45:20).

Idols like Zeus, Jupiter and Thor are worthless because they are man-made and they are dead. They are the product of human minds and human technology and have no power to save people from their troubles. What a contrast to the God of the Israelites who was the living Creator: “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (1 Chron. 16:26).

New Testament

The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is also emphasised in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30). It we do this, we should have no time for idolatry.

Unfortunately, most reject God’s revelation in creation and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles … They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:23, 25). This sums it up. Are we worshiping and trusting a creation or the Creator of all? The creation can be something God has made or a human creation or idea. They are both dead and have no power to save people from their sins. On the other hand, John refers to the Creator as “the only true God” (Jn. 17:3). At Lystra, Paul said, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 14:15). He is the living God.

Here we see there are two types of messages or faiths and two destinies. First Christianity, with a divine founder, the true God, the Creator and Redeemer, whose message is the gospel, God’s plan of salvation, which leads to eternal life with God. On the other hand, all other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are products of the human mind, whose message is a different gospel, which only has value in this life and leads to eternal suffering without God.

Of course, the Jewish faith as given in the Old Testament was also God’s idea, but it was superseded when the New Testament was given in the first century AD.

Lessons for us

So are religions such as Christianity comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science? This is not true for Christianity because the gospel is God’s idea, not a myth invented by people such as Paul or Peter or the Old Testament prophets. The “god of the gaps” is wrong because science has not replaced God, it has merely discovered more about God’s creation. Also, it doesn’t address our fundamental problem of sin and guilt before a holy God. Furthermore we should see God working everywhere, and not restrict Him to the areas we don’t understand.

We have seen that the Christian gospel is unique; it came from God and God is the main character. It is a revelation, not an invention or a myth. All other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are false; they are idols.

We need to be wary of modern idols of the human mind and human technology, which can occupy much of our time. They don’t help our deepest need and should be challenged like the prophets challenged pagan idolatry in the Old Testament. Above all, Paul says “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). So, let’s not get involved in the false ideas and religions that are merely the product of the human mind. Instead, let’s worship our living Creator God.

Written, June 2011


Where is God when disaster strikes?

Living under the curse & outside the garden

The 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the north-east coast of Japan, left more than 28,000 people dead or missing and knocked out the Fukushima nuclear plant’s cooling system. The reactor’s sea-wall, designed to withstand a 5.5 metre (18 feet) wave, was breached by a surge estimated to be 14 metre (46 feet) high.

Such devastating natural disasters change people’s lives forever. They are dreadful catastrophes which wreak destruction, and tragedies which overwhelm people with great distress and can cause a high death toll. People ask where is God when innocent people suffer and die? How can He allow such calamities to happen? Doesn’t He love people?

Disasters in the Old Testament

Many natural disasters are mentioned in the Old Testament. Most were God’s instrument of punishment. The Bible says that they were God’s judgment against sin. For example, the global flood was God’s judgement of the great wickedness on the earth and the people who rejected Noah’s preaching and continued in their sinful ways (Gen. 6:3-5). God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness; there were fewer than ten righteous people in Sodom (Gen. 18:32).

God brought disastrous plagues on the Egyptians because they persecuted the Jews (Ex. 7:14 – 11:29). Once they escaped, if the Jews didn’t obey the law, God promised disasters (Deut. 28:61). This would be God’s punishment for their idolatry (Deut. 29:16-29; Jos. 24:20); the prophet Jeremiah confirmed this (Jer. 44:1-23). It was a disaster when the Jews were defeated, scattered and captured by the Babylonians. God also promised disasters on many ungodly nations (Jer. 46:21; 49:8, 32; 51:2, 64). And famines occurred, including the 7-year famine when Joseph was in Egypt (Gen. 41:53-57; 47:13-25).

Disasters in the New Testament

Disasters also occurred in the New Testament. There were earthquakes when Christ died, when He came back to life and when Paul and Silas were in prison.

In ancient times it was believed that disasters fell only on those who were extremely sinful. But Jesus taught otherwise when He mentioned “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish’” (Lk. 13:4-5). The answer was not that they deserved punishment more that the others, as suffering is not directly proportional to sin. Disasters happen to us all. All are sinners who must turn to God or perish in hell. The massacre of the Galileans who had come to Jerusalem to worship and the collapse of the tower weren’t God’s judgement on their sinfulness; they were warnings to all that unless they repented of their sin, they were doomed to eternal punishment in hell. Disasters are not necessarily God’s judgement, but they are warnings of His coming judgement unless we get right with God.

Jesus also said that the weather doesn’t discriminate between good and bad people. When He taught the disciples to love their enemies He said that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45). The lesson was that God shows His love to people without distinction.

Revelation talks about the horrible disasters that will make life on earth miserable during the coming Great Tribulation (Rev. Chapters 6; 8-18). The Bible says that they will be God’s judgement on the sin of humanity.

Disasters follow sin

After God created the universe, the Bible says “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). There were no disasters and no suffering or pain in the original creation. But after Adam and Eve sinned, God told Adam: “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:17-19). A radical change took place: God’s good creation was placed under a curse. Weeds grew, and nature was out of balance. Adam had to work for food. Death was introduced. Animals and people aged and died. Because of this curse we have disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, bushfires, and droughts today. The world is full of natural disasters because sin has polluted our once-perfect world. That’s not what God planned, but it is a consequence of our rebellion and sinfulness.

Paul described it like this: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18-23). Here there are more signs of the curse: all creation is under “bondage to decay” and it is groaning and suffering like a woman in childbirth. The scope is “the whole creation” so it affects Christians and the rest of God’s creation.

When people say, “how could a loving God create such a world?” they show their ignorance of history. God didn’t create it that way! We are reaping what Adam and Eve sowed. Life is a struggle for all creation and there is much suffering because we live in a fallen world. It is not what God intended. Disasters are part of the trouble that is inevitable in the sinful world (Jn. 16:33).

God’s response to disasters

What has God done about disasters? He has done something about the sin, suffering and death in our world. He sent Jesus, so that we can have eternal life without these things (Rom. 6:23).

The big picture is visualized in the diagram. God created a perfect world where there were no disasters because there was no sin. This world was changed and spoiled when humanity sinned. We now live under the curse and outside the Garden where there are all kinds of disasters. We live between the fall and the restoration. But God sent His Son to take the punishment for sin by dying for us. Those who accept His rescue plan become part of His new creation where there will be no disasters because there will be no sin. As long as there is sin, there is the curse and there are disasters.

Why does God allow disasters and suffering, when He has promised a new creation without disasters or suffering? Peter wrote, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:8-9). Why the delay? What seems a long time to us is not a long time to God. Because He desires everyone to repent and enjoy the new creation, God has delayed judgment. He is being patient. During this time, we can avoid God’s judgment by confessing our sins and turning to Him, realizing that Jesus has already taken our punishment.

Meanwhile we Christians wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies and look forward to the Lord’s coming reign over the earth (Rom. 8:19, 23). When He returns to set up His kingdom, creation will be released from the curse and will be “very good” once again. The Garden will be restored, the curse will be abolished and there will be no more suffering and disasters (Acts 3:21; Rev. 22:3).

What about Romans 8:28?

Romans 8:28 is set in the context of things to help us through difficult times, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”. This verse is addressed to believers. God’s purpose, given in the next verse, is to conform us “to the image of His Son”. God wants to make us like Jesus Christ, so we share His character. He wants our lives transformed (2 Cor. 3:18). Everything has this purpose, including disasters, suffering and tragedy. Disasters provide opportunities to grow in our divine nature and become more Christ-like (Eph.4:22-24).

But it can be difficult to balance the physical and spiritual aspects of life. Paul said that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Here we see that the blessings that are promised to believers are spiritual, not physical. Although disasters, suffering and tragedy might destroy our physical possessions, they don’t take away our spiritual blessings. God gives us what we need, not what we want. After all, Jesus died to save our spirit and soul, not our body. Of course, at the resurrection He gives us new bodies. We know God loves us, not because of how our lives go, but because of Christ’s death at Calvary.

Are disasters a sign of the end times?

When Jesus was asked about the supernatural events (or signs) that would precede His second coming to the earth, He described events that will occur in the time of Tribulation after the Rapture. Some of these events “will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Mt. 24:7b-8; Mk. 13:8; Lk. 21:11). They are not precursors to the Tribulation, but evidence of its presence. These earthquakes are also predicted in Revelation, culminating in devastating earthquakes in Jerusalem (Rev. 6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18). As the supernatural events associated with these earthquakes have not yet occurred, these earthquakes are future events.

So, although future earthquakes will be a sign of the end times, I am not aware of a Biblical passage that says that current disasters are a sign of the end times. Of course some people believe that we live in the end times and the Bible says that we need to be expecting the rapture at any moment. Also, we need to realise that no matter when we live, God can call us at a moment’s notice. How do we know that we’ll even be alive tomorrow morning (Lk. 12:16-20)? Our life could end suddenly like the rich fool.

Dealing with disasters

Our response

We all will face disasters of some kind, and death sooner or later. The Bible says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Jesus said, unless we repent and turn to God, we will perish in hell. Like in First Aid, we need to look after ourselves before we can help others. Are we ready to face disasters and death? It is presumptuous for us to refer to any disaster as God’s judgment upon this earth. We can’t say this with certainty because God hasn’t told us. When Peter wrote about the end times, which are characterized by disasters, he advised us to keep praying, help the needy, and use our gifts to serve others (1 Pt. 4:7-11). Disasters provide opportunities to help, bring comfort and relief, and pray.

God is with us in disasters

When the Jews faced disasters in the Old Testament times, God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Is. 43:2). David said, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). David was writing about the valley of the shadow of death–a time of great fear like a disaster, a tragedy, or a crisis. But when he realized that God was with him, he is comforted. Disasters don’t separate believers from God (Rom. 8:35-39). Nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).

The worst is the best

Paul said that “the sting of death is sin” that is unconfessed and unforgiven (1 Cor. 15:56). Because the Lord has forgiven the sins of believers, the sting of death has been removed. That’s how to be ready to face disasters and death. Instead, for the believer, death is the beginning of eternal life. If we know that our sins are forgiven, we can face death with confidence. Like David, we know that God is with us through disasters and “the valley of death”. Death actually ushers us into God’s presence, which is the best thing that can happen! Paul said “to die is gain” because it means we’ll with Jesus (Phil. 1:21). But for unbelievers death is the beginning of eternal punishment and this is terrible. But God is giving plenty of time for people to turn to Him (2 Pt. 3:9).

Lessons for us

We have seen that disasters are a consequence of our sinful world and God is delaying the coming judgement and the perfect world without sin and suffering because He doesn’t want anyone to perish in hell, but everyone to repent so they can go to heaven.

Today disasters are God’s warnings of His coming judgment. They remind us of our need to be right with Him. They remind us that life can be taken away in an instant and there may never be a tomorrow. James warns: “You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (Jas. 4:14). We live in an uncertain world. Disaster and tragedy could strike us at any time. Everything that happens, including disasters, is to bring us to Christ, and make us more like Him. Do we have a right relationship with Him? Live every day as if it will be your last. Those going to sacrifice in Jerusalem didn’t know that would be their last day; those working on the tower of Siloam didn’t know that would be their last day. Likewise, we don’t know if today will be our last. One day that will be true for each of us.

So where is God when disaster strikes? As usual, He is on the throne of the universe, ruling all creation, loving us and caring for us and preparing us for eternity.

Written, April 2011

Also see: Please explain Romans 8:28 in light as such disasters as the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011?


A touch of heaven on earth

What a difference a touch makes!

About two thousand years ago God became a human in the form of Jesus Christ and lived on earth amongst us (Jn. 1:14). Jesus had a body like ours so He could help us (Heb. 2:14-18). His relationships and contacts with humanity may be illustrated by those He touched and what He allowed to touch Him. Touch is one of the five senses we use in our world. It involves physical contact, which can range from comfort to confrontation.

Touched By Jesus: Remembered Forever

A healing touch: Although Jesus could heal with a spoken word, He often touched the person He healed. This was not the investigative touch of the paramedic or the medical practitioner, but a touch of compassion.

When Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was seriously ill with a fever, Jesus took her by the hand and helped her up (Mk. 1:30-31). He also put his hands on and healed a crippled woman (Lk. 13:10-13). When others who were sick were brought to Jesus at Capernaum, He put His hands on each one and healed them (Lk. 4:40).

Jesus had compassion on the blind and touched them and restored their sight (Mt. 9:27-30; 20:30-34; Mk. 8:22-25). He also touched a man who was deaf and dumb and restored his hearing and speech (Mk. 7:32-35). Even when Jesus was arrested, He touched the ear of Malchus and healed it (Lk. 22:50-51; Jn. 18:10).

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched a leper and healed him. After He commanded an evil spirit to come out of a boy, He took the boy by the hand and lifted him to his feet (Mk. 1:40-42; 9:17-27).

In His compassion Jesus even touched the dead. He took Jairus’ daughter by the hand and raised her from the dead and touched the coffin of the son of the widow of Nain and he came back to life (Mk. 5:22-42; Lk. 7:11-15).

A touch of comfort: When Peter, James and John were terrified of a bright cloud and God’s voice, “Jesus came and touched them” and told them to get up and not be afraid (Mt. 17:5-7). This was a touch of comfort and encouragement. Although many people were urged by the religious leaders to reject Jesus, He had compassion for people and longed to protect them like a hen cares for her chickens (Mt. 23:37).

A touch of blessing: Parents brought their little children to Jesus so He could touch them and pray seeking divine protection (Mk. 10:13,16; Lk. 18:15). This was a touch of blessing.

On two occasions Jesus fed multitudes of people. Firstly, five loaves and two fish fed over 5,000 people and secondly, seven loaves and a few fish, fed over 4,000 people (Mt. 14:15-21; 15:32-38). This was done by offering a prayer of thanks and blessing and breaking the loaves before they were used miraculously to feed the crowd.

A touch of authority: In another instance Jesus showed His power when he drove the merchants and money changers from the temple (Mt. 21:12-13). This was a touch of authority from the one “whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42).

What Touched Jesus?

Sinners touched Him: When Jesus sat down to eat dinner with Simon the Pharisee, a sinful woman knelt behind Him at His feet and cried washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. The woman then kissed His feet and poured expensive perfume over them (Lk. 7:36-39). This was an amazing act of admiration and sacrifice from a person who was despised by many.

Although he was “without sin,” Jesus ate with dishonest tax collectors and notorious sinners (Heb. 4:15; Mt. 9:10-11; Mk. 2:15-16). Of course, He always ate with sinners while here on earth, otherwise He would have eaten alone (Rom. 3:23).

A touch of faith: After Jesus had healed many people at Galilee, the other sick people were pushing forward to touch Him (Mk. 3:10). One woman was instantly healed when she touched His clothes; her faith in Christ’s healing power had made her well (Lk. 8:42-48). In fact, all who touched His clothes at Gennesaret were healed (Mt. 14:36). Of course, this healing was not due to the clothes but to the person wearing them. The people correctly realized that it was Jesus who did the miracles.

A submissive touch: As Son of God, Jesus had great power and could ask for the help of thousands of angels (Mt. 26:53). For example, when the crowd wanted to push Him off a cliff, He walked right through them and went on His way (Lk. 4:29-30). Another time they tried to arrest Jesus, but no one laid a hand on Him because His time had not yet come (Jn. 7:30).

Rather than acting like a powerful leader, Jesus often took the role of a humble servant. For example, He washed the disciples’ feet and said they should behave this way to each other (Jn. 13:4-5,14-17). This was a touch of humility and submission.

Later He gave a piece of bread to Judas and allowed Judas to betray Him with a kiss (Jn. 13:21-26; Mt. 26:48-49). So what was usually a touch of hospitality and affection was used by Judas for treachery.

Christ’s greatest act of submission was His cruel death by crucifixion (Phil. 2:8). Jesus allowed men to arrest Him and when questioned by the Jewish religious leaders, He allowed men to spit in His face and strike His face with their fists (Mt. 26:50,67; Jn. 18:22). Later the Roman governor had Him flogged with a lead-tipped whip (Mt. 27:26). At the hands of the Roman soldiers He was touched by thorns on His head, spat on again, struck on the head repeatedly, had nails driven through His hands and His feet to hold Him to the cross between two criminals, and had His side pierced with a spear (Mt. 27:29-30; Lk. 23:33; Jn. 19:34). Finally, He was wrapped in burial clothes and placed in a stony tomb.

What Are You Touching?

A touch of heaven on earth can help you and others. Do you touch the Bible to grow in faith? Do you touch the bread and wine to remember Christ?

Believers are Christ’s hands today. Do you serve others humbly and allow them to serve you (1 Tim. 5:10)? Do you have contact with sinners so you can lead them to the friend of sinners (Mt. 11:19)?

Published, November 2001


God Loves People More Than Anything

The Bible says that God loves the people of this world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who has faith in Him will have eternal life and never really die. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent Him to save them (Jn. 3:16-17).

So, God loves people more than anything else in the world. This is true whether they follow Him or not. It is also true regardless of what their attitude and behavior toward Him may be.

Humanity is seen as the peak of God’s creation in the first two chapters of the Bible, where people are described as being made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). They were also given the privilege and responsibility to care for the rest of the world and name “all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field” (Gen. 2:15,20 NIV).

In The Old Testament

After mankind sinned by disobeying God, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation and be of great benefit to everyone on earth (Gen. 12:1-3). This promise passed on to his son, Isaac, and then to his grandson, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (Gen. 28:13-14; 32:28). Consequently, the children of Israel were God’s special people in the Old Testament times. Through them He showed His great love and concern for humanity.

One of His promises to them was, “I will walk among you and be your God and you will be my people” (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 32:38; Ezek. 37:27). This promise is quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:16 to show that believers are God’s people today.

God said that the Israelites were “my people, who are called by my name” (2 Chr. 7:14). They were also referred to as “my people Israel” and “my people the Israelites” (1 Ki. 8:16; Ex. 7:4).

The term “my people” is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament to express the close relationship between God and the nation of Israel. This was demonstrated through history with the rescue from slavery in Egypt; sustenance during the desert journey; provision of laws for government, social and religious life; the conquest of Canaan; and protection against enemies, even when in exile. Finally, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was born and lived in a Jewish family and His ministry was mainly to Jewish people.

Just as in the story of the tenants, the Jews failed as God’s representatives on earth and even killed His Son (Mt. 21:33-46). So, after this, God turned His attention to other people.

In the New Testament

The announcement of Christ’s coming was “good news of great joy … for all the people” (Lk. 2:10). One reason for this was that the benefits of being part of God’s special people were to be made available to everyone across the globe. This was endorsed by Jesus who instructed his followers to go to the people of all nations and make them His disciples also (Mt. 28:19).

This truth was given to Peter who learned that God “accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). It was also evident to the early believers when they noted that God was taking “a people for Himself” from all nations (Acts 15:14).

Today, all true believers are “the people of God” (Heb. 4:9), “a people that are His very own” (Ti. 2:14) and “God’s people” (Rom. 12:13; 1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 9:12; Eph. 2:19; Heb. 13:24; Rev. 22:21). The Christian’s position as “people of God” is most evident in 1 Peter 2:9-10, where we are told that they are “a chosen people,” “a people belonging to God” and “now you are the people of God.”

His Love Today

Of course such people are from every community, language, nation and race (Rev. 5:9). This means that God’s people are spread all across the earth, with believers following Jesus in every country. For example, even though there was opposition and evil in the city of Corinth, the Lord assured Paul that he was safe “because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10).

This reminds me of a song, written by Russell Fragar (Hillsongs, Australia, 1993), that says,

All over the world
… people just like us
… are calling Your name
… and living in Your love.
All over the world
… people just like us
… are following Jesus.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that God loves people more than anything else in this world! And that today, His people can be found all over the world. And that His work of saving people is still going on today. And that He is using His people to communicate the Good News to those who have not yet heard it.

If you are already one of His people, we hope you will engage in the good work He called you to with these words: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mk. 16:15). We encourage you to begin right now, right where you live.

If you are not yet one of His people, we hope you will get in touch with His people and investigate the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Published, October 1997


Does John 14:21 mean that God loves us more if we love Him?

“Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him” (Jn. 14:21 NIV).

John gives us the longest account of what Jesus told the disciples in the upper room on the night before He was crucified (Jn. 1317). A few verses before John 14:21 the Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit to indwell the disciples on the day of Pentecost. The key word “love” (“agapao” in Greek) appears 31 times in John 13-17. This self-sacrificing, unselfish love has a divine origin.

Two types of people are mentioned in John 14:15-24 – those who loved the Lord and those who did not. The first were believers, who were indwelt forever by the Holy Spirit, and who obeyed His commands. The others were unbelievers, who did not have the Holy Spirit and did not obey the Lord’s commands.

John 14:21 addresses believers, not unbelievers, in two sentences. The first sentence says that obeying the Lord’s command is evidence that one is a believer. For example, the disciples were told to “love one another” and this would show others that they were followers of Christ (Jn. 13:34-35). The second sentence says that the believer is loved by God the Father and God the Son, and they will make Themselves known to him in a special way: “We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn. 14:23-26). Of course unbelievers are also loved by God, but it’s a one-sided relationship as the love is not reciprocal: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8; Jn. 3:16).

John 14:21-26 shows that because believers have a relationship with the Lord and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the Son reveals Himself to them in a way that is not possible for unbelievers. So, increased love for God doesn’t mean that He will love us more, but that we will know Him better.

Published April 2010


The Fringes of God’s power

During a visit to New Zealand I noticed the following message engraved above the entrance to the Canterbury Museum at Christchurch: “Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him” (Job 26:14 KJV). Another version of the same Scripture was quoted on a plaque near Arthur’s Pass National Park, 170 km inland from Christchurch: “These are but the fringes of His power, and how faint the whisper we hear of Him” (Job 26:14). The museum was dated 1870, the plaque 2002.

Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand

The context of this verse is that after Job described God’s power shown in the universe (Job 26:5-13), he exclaimed: “And these are but the outer fringes of His works; how faint the whisper we hear of Him! Who then can understand the thunder of His power?” (Job 26:14 TNIV).

Chapel, Arthurs Pass

Job knew that God is almighty and omnipotent. He created and sustains the universe, and with Him everything is possible (Mt. 19:26; Heb. 11:3; Rev. 4:8). Although His eternal power is shown in creation, Job said that this was only a glimpse (fringes or edges) of God’s power (Rom. 1:20). The full nature of His power is beyond our comprehension.

God has revealed certain things to us in His world and in His Word. But that revelation is a long way from complete understanding! We don’t know everything there is to know about God. Our brains can’t even begin to comprehend who God is, how God does what He does, why God does what He does, where God is, why God is, and all other things about God. But how do we react to glimpses of God’s power when we visit zoos, nature museums, national parks and as we go through life wherever we are.

Do we admire the Creator, His creation or both (Rom. 1:25)? Are we humble or arrogant (Rom. 1:21)? Are we wise or foolish (Rom. 1:21-23)? Solomon, the wisest man, said, “Remember your Creator” before you grow old (Eccl. 12:1).

Shouldn’t our reaction be worship?

Published, January 2011


The Good Shepherd

Sheep And Shepherds In Scripture

As sheep were important in the economy of the Middle East in biblical times, it is the animal mentioned most often in Scripture. In fact, a man’s wealth was judged by the number of livestock he owned – such as sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys, camels and oxen. Job had 14,000 sheep, and the plunder taken from the Midianites included 675,000 sheep (Job 42:12; Num. 31:32).

Shepherds were employed to care for the sheep to see that they had water, pasture for food, and a safe place to sleep. They protected the sheep from predators such as wolves, lions and bears. Old Testament shepherds included Abel, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Moses, Achan, David, Nabal and Amos. Raising sheep was an important occupation, as thousands of them were killed for sacrificial offerings to God. One of Jerusalem’s ten gates was called the Sheep Gate, near the temple where sheep were sacrificed (Neh. 3:1). Interestingly, shepherds were the first ones told of the birth of the Savior (Lk. 2:8-20).

It’s not surprising that God uses images of sheep and shepherds in the Bible. Sheep illustrate people, and shepherds illustrate leaders, such as kings and God Himself. Let’s look at what the Bible teaches in John 10:1-30 about our Divine Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd And The Sheep
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” He likened Himself to a shepherd and people to sheep (Jn. 10:11 NIV). He also said, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me” (10:27). Throughout the Bible, God’s people are seen as sheep (Ps. 79:13; 100:3). Jesus called His disciples a “little flock” (Lk. 12:32).

How are people like sheep? Sheep mindlessly follow others, without thinking of the consequences. While they are trusting, they can also be stubborn. They are dependent on others for protection, food, water and care. They also need special attention when it’s cold, when there’s danger and when they are giving birth.

How is Jesus like a shepherd? In biblical times sheep herding was hard work. The sheep needed constant care and attention, as they were not kept in fenced fields. They could wander anywhere. Every day the shepherd needed to lead the flock to suitable pasture and water, and care for the sick or injured. When they travelled, the shepherd led and the sheep followed behind.

When Jesus saw crowds of people “He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:36; Mk. 6:34). He saw their spiritual needs. He told a parable of a shepherd who searched for a lost sheep. When the sheep was found he carried it home and celebrated (Mt. 18:12-14; Lk. 15:3-7). The shepherd put great value on the lost sheep. The lesson is that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, puts great value on those who don’t know Him or have strayed, and there is great joy in heaven when one is found by Him.

Isaiah wrote, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Because of our sin and selfishness we strayed like lost sheep away from the God who made humanity in the beginning (Ps. 119:176). But Jesus Christ suffered the punishment we deserved. If we confess our sins and trust God’s offer of forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection, our relationship with God is restored. Peter wrote, “You were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25). So conversion is like a lost sheep returning to the care of the shepherd.

Bad Shepherds
In John 10 we see that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is contrasted to three bad shepherds: the “thief and a robber” who came to steal and kill and destroy the sheep (10:1,8,10); the “stranger” – like the Pharisee – who was only interested in the sheep for personal gain (10:5); and the “hired hand” who abandoned the sheep when the wolf came and scattered the flock (10:12-13). Bad shepherds had no relationship with the sheep and didn’t care for them.

The Pharisees didn’t understand this illustration and didn’t believe what Jesus said because they were not His (10:6,26). If they had accepted God’s offer of salvation, they would have recognized the Good Shepherd’s voice and followed Him. They didn’t realize that Jesus was the Messiah, the gate to eternal life. He said “I am the gate for the sheep … whoever enters through Me will be saved” (10:7-9). Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation from the penalty of sin. Salvation can only be received though Christ. Those who follow the Savior receive eternal life; they “have life, and have it to the full” (10:10).

The Good Shepherd Cares For His Sheep
A good shepherd owned, lived with and cared for the sheep. The relatively small flocks in biblical times enabled the shepherd to know and call each sheep by name. A flock of 100 was large (Mt. 18:12). The shepherd knew when one of his sheep was missing. Jesus Christ “calls His own sheep by name” (10:3). He called His disciples by name, and knew them (Jn. 1:43,48). He still calls those who receive Him: “Faith comes from hearing the message … through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The Lord knows His followers personally. He knows all about them.

When He calls, “the sheep listen to His voice” (10:3,16,27). They know their shepherd and respond to His voice (10:4). When Jesus was on earth many Jews recognized that He was the Messiah and followed Him. Today His sheep listen when the gospel is preached and they respond by following Him.

Palestinian shepherds led and their sheep followed because they knew their shepherd’s voice: “He goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him” (10:3-4, 27). The sheep didn’t follow thieves, robbers and strangers because they didn’t recognize their voices (10:5,8). Instead they ran away. David wrote of the good shepherd: “He guides me in paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:3). Likewise, Jesus’ followers desire to go where He leads them.

Where did the shepherds lead their sheep? To pasture for eating and to water for drinking. David wrote, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul” (Ps. 23:1-2). This image is one of God’s providing all our needs. In a drought or famine there are no green pastures and there is little water. Those who follow the Good Shepherd are said to “find pasture”; “I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (10:9). The Christian’s sustenance is the Bible which provides spiritual food to grow to spiritual maturity (1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:2).

A good shepherd would risk his life to protect his sheep, as did David (1 Sam. 17:34-37). Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). The word “good” means “worthy, honorable, excellent.” He’s the best example of a shepherd: “I lay down My life for the sheep” (10:15). In the Old Testament sheep were sacrificed for sins; here we see the Shepherd sacrificed for His sheep. But that was not the end; Jesus said that He had authority to lay down His life and take it up again (10:17-18). This means He’s a living Shepherd who died to pay the penalty we deserved (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Have you accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for you? Do you thank Him for it?

Because they spent a lot of time together, the shepherd knew the distinctive characteristics and needs of each sheep he cared for. Jesus said, “I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father” (10:14-15,27). This shows the close relationship between the Lord and His followers. It’s like His relationship with God the Father. Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (10:30). He also told His disciples, “I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you” (Jn. 14:20). The Holy Spirit lives in each believer and each believer is in Christ, accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s work of salvation. Jesus knows us very well (Lk. 19:5; Jn. 1:47-50; 2:24-25).

The Good Shepherd And His Global Flock
Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (10:16). What does He mean by “other sheep” combining with the sheep He has been talking about to form “one flock”? Christ came as the Messiah of the Jews, but they did not receive Him (Jn. 1:11). In the Old Testament God is described as caring for the Jews like a shepherd cares for his flock (Is. 40:11; Jer. 31:10; Ezek. 34:11-16; Mic. 2:12; Mt. 2:6). The “other sheep” mentioned in John 10:16 are Gentile followers, who, in Acts, began to listen to the Shepherd’s voice after Pentecost.

Paul was the missionary God sent out to the Gentiles around the Mediterranean Sea. Today the “one flock” is known as the Church and is comprised of Jews and Gentiles. Paul described the Church as “one body” comprised of many nationalities: “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13). So the one flock is now global, comprised of those who say, “We are His people, the sheep of His pasture,” (Ps 79:13; 95:7; 100:3). Do we recognize all the “other sheep” that are in the Church?

Shepherds protect their sheep. David killed lions and bears that attacked his sheep (1 Sam. 17:34-37). Jesus said about His sheep, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:28). Eternal life is fellowship with God now and forever. This relationship cannot be broken as God’s power is stronger than any other. The Lord promises that none of His sheep will be lost because He provides safe pastures for them (Ps. 79:13). God protects the weak: “He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).

For example, David could say, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). God’s people do not need to fear death because God is always with them to help in all circumstances. He promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

God sent Jesus to earth on a mission and He has a mission for His people. He prayed to the Father, “As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:18). This was not an easy task; He told His disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16). They were to preach the kingdom to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt. 10:6). Sheep among wolves is a dangerous situation. But sheep are safe as long as they are in the shepherd’s care. Likewise, Christians are safe from the dangers of this world as long as they remain in touch with the Good Shepherd. The inward strength provided by the Shepherd overcomes the outward threat of the wolves. Jesus came to earth as a baby and as a Lamb amongst wolves. His divine strength was triumphant in the end over the wolves.

What Should We Do?
John 10:1-30 is a powerful passage that describes how God has chosen to work in our world. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was motivated by love, not selfish gain. He is our Shepherd and we are His sheep. Are we thriving under His care with an abundant and fruitful life? Is there evidence of eternal life, spiritual light and divine love in our lives? Are we enjoying a close relationship with our Shepherd? Are we regularly feeding on His Word? Do we ruminate over His Word or are we starving spiritually like sheep in a drought? Do we seek His guidance and follow His example or do we follow the Pharisees of our age – legalism and materialism? Do we experience His presence and protection? Are we becoming compassionate shepherds seeking to help lost sheep find the Shepherd?

The Church is Christ’s global flock. His pastoral care is to be consistently expressed within the local church. The word “pastor” is Latin for “shepherd.” As a church flock, we should experience meaningful pastoral care, guidance, and security. The church is also to have compassion and take the message of the Good Shepherd to the lost sheep.

As Christ is no longer on earth physically, He provides shepherd care through the Holy Spirit, the Bible, prayer, pastors and fellowship. The Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep is also the “Great Shepherd” who rose from the dead and the “Chief Shepherd” who’s coming again (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 5:4).

Published, May 2007

Also see:
- Old Testament shepherds
- New Testament shepherds
- The Good Shepherd is always near


Why does God allow pain and disease?

We all experience pain and disease at some time in life. Pain is the response by our nervous system to an abnormal situation; it is like an alarm. If the alarm doesn’t operate, then we can hurt ourselves without knowing it. Disease is a lack of health that is often associated with a depressed immune system. So pain and disease are reactions by our bodies to the circumstances we face.

Pain and disease began when Adam and Eve sinned and they are part of the trouble that is inevitable in the sinful world (Gen. 3:16-19; Jn. 16:33). In fact, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22 NIV).

Job, the most righteous man on earth in his time, was a good example to his wife and to Satan when God allowed him to endure pain and disease (Job 2:6-10). Jesus is the only one with a record of power over pain and disease. He healed people who “were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed” (Mt. 4:24).

God permits pain and disease to shape believers so they become more like Him (Heb. 12:5-11). They should not grumble or be discouraged during these times (1 Cor. 10:10), but rejoice because it develops Christian character (Jas. 1:2-4,12). God is training them through the pain and disease so they might rely on Him and be able to comfort those who are suffering (2 Cor. 1:3-9).

The ultimate solution to pain and disease depends on our relationship with God, because those who trust Him go to heaven where there is no pain or disease (Lk. 16:19-31; Rev. 21:4). The eternal glory of heaven far outweighs the believer’s temporary pain and disease here on earth (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17). However, those who do not accept God’s offer of salvation will suffer for eternity.

Published, July 2006


Why does God, who hates evil, allow evil to exist in the world?

God is all good, holy, wise and powerful, but He permits evil and suffering as they are a result of sinful choices by human beings. We are not programmed like robots or computers. God gives us free will to choose good or evil. Free will cannot exist without the possibility of evil. Creatures free to love God must also be free to ignore Him. Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6). Since then, everyone is a sinner deserving God’s judgment (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). When people act outside God’s will, evil and suffering result, and are common in the world (Gen. 3:16-19).

Satan and his followers will suffer eternal torment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10,15). This will happen when Christ returns to judge evil. In the parable of the weeds, those judged are thrown “into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-42).

God is not limited by time as we are. He can spread out or concentrate His activities. When scoffers doubted God’s judgment, Peter wrote of a coming “day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:3-9).

God promises to judge evil, but not immediately (Rom. 2:5-11; 3:25; 2 Th. 1:5-10; 2 Pet. 3:7). He is patient, giving people time to repent and be rescued from coming judgment: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise … He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). He waited 120 years before He sent the flood (Gen. 6:3). God could judge wickedness immediately, but instead He waits patiently so that people can repent (Rom. 9: 22-23).

God loves people more than anything (Jn. 3:16). That’s why He is patient in not judging them immediately. He is capable of destroying evil – but not without destroying human freedom. To destroy evil, He’d have to destroy us.

Published, February 2006


How can we know that God exists?

God revealed

Does God exist? Some people say yes, others say no, and some just don’t know. Let’s look at some of the evidence that should help all of us.

Creation
We live in an amazingly complex world. The universe is so vast that scientists use light-years to measure distances in space. The distance that light travels in one year is 9.5 trillion kilometers. That’s 9.5 followed by 12 zeros! Starting with us, size increases: the earth, the sun, the solar system, and our galaxy – the Milky Way – which is approximately 100,000 light-years across.

Not only is it very large, but the universe is also made up of very small constituents. Consider us; then consider the ant, the amoeba, the molecule, the atom, the proton, neutron and electron, and subnuclear particles called quarks.

Most digital cameras have a zoom lens that can change the image size by up to three times, and camcorders have 10 times optical zoom. But if we went on a cosmic zoom extending from the galaxy down to quarks, we would change size by 1×1042 times, which is “1” with 42 zeros after it!

This amazingly complex universe is loaded with information and evidence of design. On earth we also have a living world which reproduces itself. The information for living creatures is coded in DNA molecules. But information is the product of intelligence, not chance. We know from the world around us that life always comes from something else which is living. Life does not come from nothing, it comes from something, and that something is always something which is alive. A living God created the world and all life that exists came from Him. God is the origin of life.

According to the law of cause and effect, creation demands a creator and design demands a designer. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a Creator God. Creation shows that God is intelligent and powerful. The Bible’s message to those who reject this knowledge is: “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20 NLT).

Conscience
But there is another kind of information in our world. Every person is born with a conscience. Each of us has an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, commit adultery and murder. The conscience is like a built-in alarm. If we liken our body to computer hardware, then our conscience is like the software program that issues instructions to the hardware. But in this sinful world it is often programmed wrongly.

The Bible gives God’s standards for right and wrong (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But for those who are ignorant of these moral laws it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right” (Rom. 2:15).

Those who have not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. So the Creator made us with a mind that is able to make choices, not one that is driven by instinct. The conscience shows that God is concerned with our decisions and our behavior. Unfortunately, we often choose to disobey our conscience. Then we have a guilty conscience. But the Creator has provided the solution to our sinful ways.

Christ
The Bible is God’s special message for mankind. It tells us all we need to know: about history and mankind; about the moral choices made throughout history from the time of our original parents Adam and Eve; about how we have all rebelled against God and gone our own way; about how we all have a guilty conscience, whether we acknowledge it or not; about how this sinful attitude has led to suffering, disease, decay, death and eternal punishment; about how God’s solution to our problems was to send His Son Jesus Christ to take the punishment that we deserve. Christ was crucified and then resurrected back to life, which is particularly remembered at Easter time. His suffering and death were dramatized last year in the Mel Gibson film, “The Passion of the Christ.”

The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23 NIV). Christ offers each of us the opportunity to be reconciled to God and have our conscience cleansed (Heb. 9:14; 10:22). First, we need to realize our hopeless situation, and then we need to accept God’s gift of forgiveness. Jesus Christ shows that God is compassionate and loving. He is waiting for people to accept His offer to give them a new life and an inheritance with Him in the life to come.

Life Changing Evidence!
God has revealed Himself in three ways: in creation, through our conscience and by His Son, Jesus Christ. Based on this evidence it is foolish to say there is no God (Ps. 14:1; 53:1). Creation and conscience are available to every person, while the clearest revelation is through Jesus Christ, who is made known through the Bible. This is why the Bible is the most important book ever written.

If you come to a different conclusion, then there is a faulty assumption in your reasoning. Have you excluded the correct conclusion before examining the evidence?

Published, January 2006


Always Remembered

Sometimes when I want to remember something I write it on the palm of my left hand. Of course, this message only remains until it is washed off.

When the Jews were being attacked by their enemies they thought God had forgotten them. But they were told, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me” (Isa. 49:15-16 NIV). This was a permanent message, like a tattoo. Jerusalem, was surrounded by walls. Although they were destroyed in the Babylonian conquest, God knew the situation. So, whatever the circumstances, God always remembered them.

David knew that God knows all about us and watches us constantly: “O Lord, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord” (Ps. 139:1-4).

After His death and resurrection, Jesus had the marks of the crucifixion in His hands. Body piercing is a fashion statement today, but these were evidence of cruel mistreatment and great suffering. Thomas would not believe it was Jesus unless he saw the nail marks in His hands and put his finger where the nails were (Jn. 20:25-28). But he believed when he saw the marks. Jesus still bears the marks of crucifixion in His resurrected body – they are permanent. This means He will always remember us as those He suffered for. We will never be forgotten and shouldn’t fear the dangers around us. As His wounds are visible to all who will see Him, His great act of salvation will be remembered for eternity.

Published, October 2005


The Idol Of Evolution: Part 1

Evaluating a common belief

Many different opinions and ideas are held by people in the world. We are bombarded by merchandisers and marketers who will sell anything to make a dollar. The Bible does not say “believe everything,” but instead urges us to: “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Th. 5:21-22 NIV). We need to be able to separate the good from the bad, the true and valuable from the false and worthless (Jer. 15:19). Our culture has lost these distinctions. Unfortunately, we can’t rely on information and guidance from family, friends, schools, universities, newspapers, magazines, books, movies, radio, television, or the Internet.

If we do, we will end up confused like the Roman governor Pontius Pilate who asked Jesus “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:37-38). We will be influenced by all the messages around us, not knowing the truth, or believing the lies that are marketed as being the truth. For example, let’s look at the theory of evolution, a firmly held belief of many. According to the Bible, is it true, or false, or doesn’t it matter?

True Or False

Children are easily deceived; they are gullible. So are those young in the Christian faith. But the mature are not deceived as they “have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” and we should all have this objective (Heb. 5:14).

The Bible is the source of absolute truth that has stood the test of time much longer than any other document or philosophy. Of course, as is the case of any literature, it requires interpretation as to what is historical and what is metaphorical or symbolic. Besides obvious literary techniques, the most reliable method is to use the whole message of the Bible to interpret any particular passage. Otherwise, an interpretation may not be consistent with the rest of the Bible.

The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests that get to the core of Christianity. I call them the Jesus test, the gospel test and the fruit test. They may be summarized as:

  • The Jesus test – What does it say about Jesus Christ? Is it consistent with Christ’s unique birth, sinless life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and second coming? (1 Jn. 4:1-3)
  • The gospel test – What is the core belief or hope? Does it acknowledge our sinfulness? Is it consistent with the creation of the universe, the fall into sin, salvation by faith in Christ alone, and the restoration of all things? (Gal. 1:6-9)
  • The fruit test – What attitudes and behaviors does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident? (Mt. 7:15-20)

Testing Evolution

Evolution has been proposed as a scientific explanation of the origin of the universe and the origin of life on earth. It involves the idea that life develops continually over time from the simple to the more complex as a result of natural processes. The story of evolution has been summarized this way: “The universe exploded into existence about 15 billion years ago and is still expanding outward. About 4.5 billion years ago, the debris from an exploding star condensed into our solar system. Sometime during the next few hundred million years, single-celled microbes bearing an ingenious molecule called DNA emerged on the earth. These microbes diversified, by means of natural selection and Mendelian genetics, into an extraordinary array of more complex creatures including homo-sapiens.” As these events are claimed to have occurred long ago and are not subject to direct observation or experimental tests, evolution is a philosophical belief based on naturalism which assumes that everything that exists can be explained by physical and chemical processes alone. Evolution is the process that is used to support naturalism. Of course, evolution is also viewed as being a process of continual change within the biological world. So, evolution and naturalism are assumed to be true by those who exclude the possibility of a supernatural God.

Now let’s apply the three tests to the concept of the evolution of life on earth.

  • The Jesus test – As evolution assumes that nature is all there is, it is associated with atheism. In fact, according to its adherents, evolution removes the need for God. For example, the American Association of Biology Teachers says this: “The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.” This view of origins has no need for a Creator or the divine, and so is consistent with a belief that Jesus Christ was only a human being and not divine. Secular evolution clearly fails the Jesus test.
  • The gospel test – As evolution assumes there is no God, it is associated with a rejection of absolute standards of right and wrong, and a rejection of the existence of sin in the sense of falling short of God’s standard. If sin does not exist, then neither does punishment for sin, and there is no need of a savior to rescue people from that punishment. The core belief of evolution is that nature has made itself, which means that the Genesis account of origins is not literal truth. In fact, secular evolution fails the gospel test because it rejects all the basic biblical truths, such as divine creation, the existence and source of evil, the need for salvation, and the ultimate destiny of human beings.
  • The fruit test – Because it relies on physical processes alone and denies the possibility of the divine or the unseen spiritual world, evolution supports naturalism and materialism. Also, it views humanity as being self-sufficient and capable of solving all their own difficulties, which is the essence of humanism. Furthermore, evolution can be viewed as a version of pantheism where nature replaces God.The acceptance of the idea of evolution can lead to the following pattern of behavior:Less value on human life – For example, practices such as abortion and euthanasia are more acceptable. Another example from the past is racism; the Australian Aboriginals were considered to be biologically inferior to Europeans. This was justified by biological determinism promoted by evolutionary anthropology.Less value on family life – Marriage is less important and divorce is more acceptable. This is supported by relating human behavior to that of animals.Less value on morals – Truth is now relative and changeable, not absolute. Society replaces Scripture as the guide as to what is right and what is wrong.A “might is right” attitude – This attitude supports the strong, but not the weak. It is the opposite of compassion which involves saving “weak genes.” This comes from the idea of the “survival of the fittest” in a competitive world, which leads to a competitive approach to all aspects of life.As these are opposite to the values of the Bible, it is clear from the above that biological evolution fails all three biblical tests for determining what is true. Therefore, it is false and inconsistent with the overall message of the Bible. It is an idol – the creation story and the religion of many today.

Published: May 2001

See the next article in this series:
- The idol of evolution: Part 2


An Open Heaven

God is accessible to everyone through Christ

Some time ago there was a song on the radio titled “God is watching from a distance.” The second half of the title implies that God is remote and inaccessible. But the Bible says that God lives in heaven and that Jesus opened heaven for us. Let’s look at what this means in a literal and a metaphoric sense.

Before Christ
The Garden of Eden was paradise, heaven on earth so to speak. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 3:8). They enjoyed an “open heaven” with ready access to the creator God. But after disobeying God they were banished from the garden. It was “paradise lost” and all of their descendants also disobeyed God. But we know that some had faith in God and trusted Him. For example, Noah was righteous and “walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). We also read about these in Hebrews 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David and the prophets. They lived like strangers in a foreign country and longed for a better country, a heavenly one (vv. 9-16). None of them received what had been promised, but they will share what was promised with us (vv. 39-40).

In Old Testament times God was not so accessible to everyone. When the Jews traveled in the desert from Egypt to Palestine, He was present as the pillar of smoke and of fire above their meeting tent. There were two rooms in this tent and in the temple: the outer one being The Holy Place and the inner one The Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place was where God dwelt, where He appeared in the cloud (Lev. 16:2), and it was an illustration of heaven (Heb. 8:5; 9:24-25). Only the High Priest was allowed to enter here once a year to make sacrifices for the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:1-34; Heb. 9:7). But Jesus changed all that.

Heaven Opened
When Jesus was baptized the Bible says that “heaven was opened” and the Spirit of God was seen “descending like a dove.” This was a sign to John that Jesus was the Messiah, and God confirmed this verbally: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:13-17). Christ was God living on earth with us.

When Christ died “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mt. 27:50-51). The tearing down of the barrier between God and the people, meant that the once-closed innermost room in the temple was now an open place. The Bible says that Christ’s body is like the curtain (Heb. 10:20). His death was like the sacrifices offered in Old Testament times. Only it was much more effective, resulting in eternal redemption, a clear conscience, holiness and Christ appearing for us in God’s presence (Heb. 9:12,14,24; 10:10).

So, through Christ’s death we can confidently come near to God and heaven is opened to us (Heb. 10:19,22). It is like being in heaven with Him (Eph. 2:6). As a result of this we can receive insight from God through the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the Scriptures (Jn. 17:13; 2 Tim. 2:7). For example, Peter saw “heaven opened” and learned two things: not to think of anyone as impure and that God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:11,28,34). Paul was instructed by a “vision from heaven” to spread the Christian faith (Acts 9:15; 26:19). And we have the record of future events that was revealed to John when he saw “a door standing open in heaven” (Rev. 4:1).

Open Or Closed?
Unfortunately some don’t realize that heaven is open. They may not even think it exists and may rule out the existence of God and an unseen part of our world. Or they may follow different gods, such as the idols of their society or “the god within.” As long as they have a closed mind, then heaven is closed to them – because they have closed it.

Recently I went to a bank at 4 p.m. and found that it had just closed. For Christians, God is not like the bank, as He is available 24 hours a day! Heaven is always open and the Holy Spirit is always with us.

Before Stephen was stoned to death he saw heaven opened and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56). Are you looking forward to the time when all believers will enter an open heaven and be with God?

“For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:16-17).

This event is known as the “rapture” or the coming of Christ for Christians. It involves the resurrection of the dead and a transformation of the living to “be made perfect” (Heb. 11:40). The living will be translated directly to heaven, like Enoch and Elijah were (Gen. 5:24; 2 Ki. 2:11; Heb. 11:5). It will be something like returning to the Garden of Eden – “paradise regained.” It is what those who lived by faith in the Old Testament times looked forward to.

As an open heaven is available to us all today, we should not worry or be afraid. Are you looking forward to being with the Lord forever?

Published: January 2000


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