The Christian faith is based on teachings in the Christian Bible, which are mainly about Jesus Christ. After all, the Greek noun Christianos translated “Christian” (Strongs #5546) means a follower of Christ (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pt. 4:16). The steps to become a follower of Christ include: a preacher is sent by God, they proclaim the good news given in the Bible, a person hears this message, and they believe it (Rom. 10:14-15). Sometimes it is helpful to use experienced preachers to help proclaim the good news to others.
Over the past decade, several courses have been used to help introduce people to Christianity. The following such courses are reviewed below: “Simply Christianity” (2003), “Alpha” (2005), “LifeWorks” (2005), “Christianity Explained” (2006), “Christianity Explored” (2013), and “Introducing God” (2014). Each of these courses has several sessions which are intended to be done on a periodic basis. Some of the courses have extra sessions, which aren’t included in this review. So the review is based on the core sessions. “Towards Belief” (2013), a course which addresses the belief blockers of our time, was also viewed but isn’t discussed below.
All these courses have been developed and delivered by those with the gift of evangelism and with theological training. They are skilled and experienced presenters with appropriate demeanour, body language, and attire. The messages are encouraging and challenging with the major application being that unbelievers would trust in Christ as their Savior. In each session they keep to the subject and have a clear outline, key points, introduction and conclusion. They use appropriate illustrations and visual aids, which are generally better in more recent videos (see “Video age” below). The Scripture passages used are relevant to the message and they are interpreted and applied as in mainstream Christianity, except for in one Alpha message (see “Doctrinal aspects” below).
How can we choose which of these courses is best for us to use? To help make this decision, we will look at several categories.
Because people are often busy, it can be difficult for them to persist through a long course. Also, the time period available may be limited by other factors such as a person’s availability.
Simply Christianity is the shortest course with 5 sessions, but it requires more preparation as it doesn’t have a video version of these sessions. Of those with videos, Christianity Explained is shortest with 6 sessions, while Christianity Explored and Introducing God have 7-8 sessions. On the other hand, Alpha is the longest course with 11 core sessions.
The longer a message, the more difficult it is to maintain the audience’s interest and their recall of the content. If one’s attention span is limited, this can be an important factor.
Christianity Explored has the shortest video messages (about 15 minutes). Most of the other courses are about 30 minutes (Christianity Explained, Introducing God, and LifeWorks). On the other hand, Alpha is the longest at about 45 minutes. It is noted that a shorter version of the Alpha messages is also available (about 25 minutes).
Because of changes in technology and culture, videos tend to represent the year they were made. Generally, recent videos use more appealing graphics and visual aids. Their illustrations are also more current and less historic.
The most modern videos are Introducing God and Christianity Explored (2013-2014). A modern video will also be available for LifeWorks by December 2015. On the other hand, Alpha and Christianity Explained are older videos (2005-2006).
Spoken English can be difficult to understand for those with English as a second language. For example, Chinese students who visit Australia need to do English language courses in order to improve their understanding of the English language and so be able to complete their course of study.
Christianity Explained is probably the easiest course to understand because it uses the Good News Bible, which has simple language. The level of English in the other courses is similar as they use the NIV, ESV and HCSB translations of the Bible. Also, the Alpha course includes some English church terms such as “vicar” and “church warden”, which would need to be explained.
Pre-evangelistic or post-evangelistic
Today some people don’t know much about the Christian God or the terminology used in the Bible. This means that such knowledge shouldn’t be presumed.
The course with the largest proportion of time spent on pre-evangelism is Lifeworks, which is at least 50% pre-evangelistic. On the other hand, the course that assumes the most knowledge of the Bible and church life is Alpha. Alpha also provides the most post-evangelistic content (at least 60%).
Expositional or not
As the Christian message involves the death and resurrection of Jesus, some courses are based on biographies of His life. Christianity Explained and Christianity Explored are based on the book of Mark, which is the shortest biography of Jesus. Simply Christianity is based on the book of Luke. These courses are expositional, while the other courses draw on passages across the Bible.
All of these courses cover the basics of the Christian faith; including the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the good news of salvation through faith in Christ.
However, Alpha deviates from mainstream Christianity in its session on “Does God heal today” where there is questionable exegesis with regard to “Words of knowledge”. It claims that Matthew 28:19 is a command for Christians to heal the sick, and endorses the Pentecostal preacher John Wimber. Also, the extra Alpha sessions on the Holy Spirit assume that the coming of the Holy Spirit to first Jewish, Samaritan and Gentile Christians, and when John the Baptist’s disciples and Paul became Christians, described in Acts 2, 8, 9, 10, 19, are all normative for today. But each of these describes the Holy Spirit coming in a different sequence of events. As today the good news is going out to all nations (Acts 15:10), the pattern for us is that the Holy Spirit indwells someone as soon as they believe in the message (Acts. 10:44). So these sessions on Healing and the Holy Spirit should be omitted if you don’t want to include Pentecostal teaching in your course.
Most of the sessions in these courses are designed to be a presentation followed by a discussion. Discussion questions are provided by Christianity Explored, Introducing God, and LifeWorks. The discussion questions are in the Workbook for Christianity Explored, in the video for Introducing God, and in the Group leader’s toolkit for LifeWorks. Discussion questions for the Alpha Course are available on the internet. In the other courses, the discussion questions need to come from either the audience or those facilitating the discussion.
Sometimes it may not be convenient to use a video, although this is less likely with the advent of tablet computers and smart phones. Also, you may wish to present to message yourself so it can be tailored to the audience. Someone told me they would prefer that the audience read the Bible instead of watching videos.
LifeWorks provides the most information for the presenter, including speaker’s notes and PowerPoint slides. On the other hand, for the other courses this information would need to be derived from the message summary in the Workbook and from the video messages. All the courses have Workbooks or Notes which contain a summary of the messages. The Workbook for Simply Christianity also has “Extra information” for each session.
So, what’s the best course for introducing people to Christianity?
Best of all
Which course is best for you will depend on the relative importance of each of the categories considered above. Like various translations of the Bible, they all tell us what God wants us to know about Jesus Christ and what we should do about this. They are merely tools to help people understand the most important message in the Bible.
If you want to use minimal preparation and contemporary style, the options are Christianity Explored (with shorter messages), Introducing God, and LifeWorks (after December 2015; with a longer course).
Although no course is perfect, they all clearly present the good news of salvation for sinners through Jesus Christ. Let’s all communicate this message, whether we use a course or not.
The 6 Trials of Jesus Christ
According to Amnesty International, the conviction of Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a deeply flawed and politically motivated trial is a travesty of justice. After his arrest in February 2015, he was denied access to a lawyer at the start of his trial, and even when he was allowed legal representation the lawyers were not given enough time to prepare his defence. Two of the three judges assigned to his case were the very ones who had acted as state witnesses against him during the investigation.
In the gospels we see that Jesus also suffered a travesty of justice when He was convicted of false accusations. Although He was innocent, Jesus was condemned to be executed. But because Jesus was executed, Barabbas (a terrorist) was freed from prison.
Jesus Christ was a Jew who lived in Palestine in the first century AD under the rule of the Roman Empire. The gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible are selective biographies of His life. They were compiled by eyewitnesses and their colleagues.
Because large crowds followed Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders were envious and jealous of his popularity. Furthermore, because they thought Jesus threatened their power and authority, the religious leaders planned to kill Him (Mt. 26:3-4). When Judas Iscariot offered to betray Jesus, they gave him a payment that was equivalent to five months wages (Mt. 26:14-15). Jesus was arrested by a detachment of Roman soldiers and Jewish officials when He was betrayed by Judas (Jn. 18:1-13).
Before He was executed in Jerusalem, Jesus was brought before the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman civil authorities in three religious trials and three civil trials. So He was given six trials in a period of about 16 hours. We will now look at these in turn, beginning with the religious trials.
First trial (Jn. 18:13, 19-24)
After His arrest on Thursday evening, Jesus was bound and taken to Annas, the previous high priest. Annas questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching as if these were a threat to the Mosaic Law and the Roman Government. Jesus replied by saying that Annas should have known what He taught because it was done in public and many Jews were present. And what He taught His disciples was consistent with His public messages. Then one of the Jewish officials slapped Him in the face. When Jesus asked the officials who were present to provide evidence of anything that He said which was wrong, they didn’t reply.
So Annas failed to prove any charges against Jesus! He appeared to be innocent. But because they wanted to kill Him, instead of releasing Jesus, Annas sent Him to Caiaphas, the high priest.
Second trial (Mt. 26:57-68; Mk. 14:53-65; Lk. 22:54-64; Jn. 18:24)
The Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) was at Caiaphas’ house on Thursday night (perhaps midnight). Their strategy was to use false evidence to put Jesus to death. But they couldn’t find any, even though many false witnesses came forward (because their evidence was contradictory).
When Caiaphas asked Jesus if He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus agreed with this statement and said He was the Son of Man. Consequently, Caiaphas accused Him of blaspheme (speaking evil against God). After the high priest pronounced that He was guilty, the Council agreed that He deserved to be put to death as under the Law of Moses, the punishment for blaspheme was death (Lev. 24:16). Jesus is then mocked and beaten and kept overnight to appear once again before the Council so they could make the verdict official on the following morning.
Third trial (Mt 27:1-2; Mk. 15:1a; Lk. 22:66-71)
The Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) met early Friday morning (perhaps 5-6am) and made plans to accuse Jesus of treason against the Roman Empire. When Jesus was brought before them they asked Him once again if He was the Jewish Messiah. After Jesus confirmed this, they thought this supported their accusation of treason, so they sent Him to Pontius Pilate the Roman governor over Judea (AD 26 to AD 36) because he was the only one who could impose the death penalty (Jn. 18:31). As Pilate wouldn’t be interested in the religious charge of blaspheme, they changed it into a political charge of treason.
This is the end of the Jewish religious trials and the beginning of the Roman civil ones.
Fourth trial (Mt 27:2, 11-14; Mk. 15:1b-5; Lk. 23:1-5; Jn. 18:28-38)
Early Friday morning (perhaps 6-7am) at the Praetorium, the Jewish leaders made three charges against Jesus: that he subverted the nation, opposed paying taxes to Caesar, and claimed to be a king. They told Pilate that these threatened the Roman Empire. But Jesus didn’t reply to these accusations because they were false. Although large crowds followed Jesus, He wasn’t misleading them or turning them against the Roman Empire. He said “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Lk. 20:25NIV). And although Jesus claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, He wasn’t a political or military king.
When Pilate asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world. Pilate concluded that Jesus was innocent (“I find no basis for a charge against this man” ). So Pilate wanted to set Jesus free. But the Jewish leaders wouldn’t accept this verdict.
When Pilate heard that Jesus was from Galilee, he realized that he could transfer the case to king Herod who ruled over Galilee and was Jewish. Herod was in Jerusalem at the time for the Passover Festival. So Pilate hoped that he wouldn’t need to be involved with this complicated case anymore.
Fifth trial (Lk. 23:6-12)
Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea. When Jesus was taken to Herod’s palace on Friday morning, Herod seems to be more interested in seeing a miracle than in investigating the charges against Jesus. When Jesus doesn’t answer his questions, he ridiculed and mocked Him and sent Him back to Pilate. So Pilate has to face this problem once again!
Herod found no basis for the charges that were made against Jesus (Lk. 23:14-15). He concluded that Jesus was innocent. Through their mocking of an innocent man on Good Friday, Herod and Pilate’s animosity turned in to friendship.
Sixth trial (Mt. 27:15-26; Mk. 15:6-15; Lk. 23:13-25; Jn. 18:39 – 19:16)
Jesus returns to the Praetorium later on Friday morning. Pilate said that as he and Herod agreed that Jesus was innocent, Jesus would be punished and released. But the Jewish religious leaders demanded that Jesus be put to death.
As it was the custom for a prisoner to be released for the Passover Festival, Pilate asked the crowd whether they wanted Jesus Barabbas (a terrorist who was imprisoned because of insurrection and murder) or Jesus Christ to be released for the Festival. Barabbas was probably a Jewish Zealot who rebelled against the Romans (Lk. 23:19; Jn. 18:40). Pilate was attempting to free Jesus (Jn. 19:12). He also did this because he knew that the Jewish leaders were protecting their interests by handing Jesus over to the civil authorities.
At this time, Pilate’s wife advised him that as Jesus was innocent, he should dismiss the case. Both Luke and John record that three times Pilate stated publicly that Jesus was innocent (Lk. 23:4, 14, 22; Jn. 18:38; 19:4, 6). But the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd and they demanded that Jesus be crucified and Barabbas be released. While the Jewish leaders falsely accused Christ of treason against the Romans, they demanded the release Barabbas who was guilty of that crime!
When Pilate asked the crowd, “What crime has He committed?”, they kept shouting “Crucify Him!”. In a moment of weakness and because he wanted to please the people, Pilate let the crowd have their way. He changed his mind and said that Jesus was guilty. So he released the guilty Jesus Barabbas and condemned the innocent Jesus Christ to flogging and crucifixion.
What are the lessons for us today?
Each of these six instances were kangaroo courts and not fair trials. The trials were brief and didn’t follow proper legal procedure. The Jewish leaders persisted until they got the verdict they wanted. Consequently, the innocent One (Jesus) was condemned as guilty, and the guilty one (Barabbas) was released as innocent. An innocent man was executed so a terrorist could be released.
In March 2015, an Afgan woman named Farkhunda was beaten to death, burned and thrown in a river for allegedly burning a copy of the Koran. But she was innocent, being a 27-year old Muslim scholar. Apparently a group of policeman did nothing to stop the attack by an angry mob of men. Hundreds marched in Kabul demanding justice over the vicious killing. 26 men have been arrested in connection to the homicide. Both Farkhunda and Jesus Christ were killed for crimes they didn’t commit.
So who is guilty of having Jesus executed? Was it the Jews or the Romans (who were Gentiles)?
It was both – The Jews brought the charges, while the Romans performed the crucifixion. Although Pilate said “I am innocent of this man’s blood”, he gave the final verdict (Mt. 27:24-25). And the Jews responded, “His blood is on us and on our children!” (Mt. 27:25). Jesus told Pilate “the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (Jn. 19:11). So both sinned, but Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin were more guilty than Pilate. Soon afterwards, Peter told the Jews “you, with the help of wicked men (the Romans), put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). During the crucifixion Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). So if they confessed their sins, they could be forgiven. Likewise, if we confess our sins to God, we can be forgiven as well.
Did you know that we are like Barabbas? As Barabbas was guilty of rebellion against the Roman Empire, we are guilty of rebelling against God (sin). Because Jesus was executed, Barabbas was freed from prison. So Barabbas should have been thankful for Jesus giving up His life for him at Calvary. Likewise, because Jesus died and rose back to life, He paid the penalty for our sin and we can be seen as being innocent. If we accept this sacrifice and confess our sins, we are no longer condemned. Have we accepted Christ’s gift to us? Are we thankful for what He did for us at Calvary?
We have seen that Jesus suffered a travesty of justice when He was convicted of false accusations. Although He was innocent, Jesus was condemned to be executed. But because Jesus was executed, Barabbas was freed from prison and we can be freed from the penalty of our sin.
Written, April 2015
I have been asked whether Jesus Christ used any of His divine power when He was on earth. Or did He not use this power at all during this time and always function as a human being who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit? Also, as a consequence of this were the disciples able to do whatever Christ did? And does this mean that today Christians can also do whatever Christ did?
The Bible teaches that Jesus was unique. “There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Tim. 2:5-6NIV). He was both human and divine (Jn. 1:1, 14, 18; Rom. 9:5). Because He claimed to be equal with God, the religious leaders wanted to kill Him (Jn. 5:17-18). Biologically, He had a human mother but not a human father. He was sinless.
What do the gospels say?
Several examples of Jesus’ actions in the gospels show His divine power:
• He forgave sins so people were no longer guilty before God, and even those who opposed Him knew that only God can forgive sins in this way (Mt. 9:2-3, 6; Mk. 2:5-7, 10). He also gives eternal life (Jn. 10:28).
• Jesus knew what others were thinking (Mk. 2:8; Lk. 11:7). He knew the Samaritan woman had five husbands and knew everything she had done (Jn. 4:18-19, 29). He knew the future (Mt. 16:21) and He knew everything (Jn. 16:29-30; 21:17).
• Jesus saw Nathanael before Philip told him about Jesus (Jn. 1:48-49). This is divine omniscience.
• He is omnipresent (Mt. 28:20).
• Jesus’ power over nature was clearly divine. People were amazed when the winds and the waves obeyed Him (Mt. 8:26-27). After He walked on water and calmed a storm, the disciples said “truly you are the Son of God” (Mt. 14:25-32). Also, they were amazed when Jesus calmed another storm (Mk. 4:39-41). This is divine omnipotence.
• He had the power to raise Himself from the dead (Jn. 2:19-22; 10:17-18).
• He does what God the Father does (Jn. 5:19).
The disciples had none of these divine powers.
Because Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father, His goal was to do God’s will (Jn. 4:34; 14:24). He lived to please Him (Jn. 6:57). So, He always obeyed the Father and never acted independently (Jn. 5:19, 30; 10:18). Jesus often prayed to the Father and received daily instructions from Him (Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:16; 6:12; 11:1). Matthew 26:39-44 and John 17 are examples of Christ’s prayers. They had a close relationship; the Father loved the Son (Jn. 10:15; 14:10; 15:10).
The Holy Spirit is mainly mentioned at Christ’s baptism, His temptation and when He visited His hometown Nazareth. It says “the Holy Spirit descended on Him”, He was “full of the Holy Spirit”, He visited Galilee “in the power of the Holy Spirit” and He drove out demons by the Spirit of God (Mt. 12:28; Lk. 3:22; 4:1, 14, 18). There is no other mention in the gospels of Jesus being empowered by the Holy Spirit. The reason for this is that it seems He did most of His miracles by His own inherent divine power, and not by the power of the Holy Spirit. For example, when two blind men told Jesus “we want our sight”, the Bible says He had compassion on them and touched their eyes and immediately they received their sight (Mt. 20:33-34). The Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned here. Maybe the three members of the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) all worked together in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Of course God the Son and the Holy Spirit are under the authority of God the Father (Jn. 5:19; 16:13). Jesus certainly didn’t always function as a human being who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit, because then He wouldn’t have been unique and He couldn’t reveal Himself or the Father (Jn. 14:9).
Some people “cherry pick” verses to claim that Christ gave up all His divine ability and lived on earth as a person filled with the Holy Spirit so that all He did was done by the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 5:19; 14:10; Acts 10:37-38). However, these verses teach that Jesus was closely united with God the Father and did what He did, which means He was omnipotent!
By the way, the purpose of Christ’s miracles was so people would repent (Mt. 11:20-24; Lk. 10:13) and many believed after they saw them (Jn. 2:23; 4:48). The miracles also revealed His divinity (Jn. 5:36; 9:9; 10:37-38) and glory (Jn. 2:11; 11:4, 40).
What does Philippians 2 say?
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, because of disagreements amongst them he urges them to have unity (Phil. 2:1-11; 4:2-3). In particular, they should “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4). He then gives an example of humility because humility can end arguments and disunity.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:5-8).
This passage says that Jesus Christ was fully God; being “in very nature God” and having “equality with God” (Phil. 2:6). This is confirmed by, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him” (Col. 1:19), “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9) and “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:3).
But Jesus Christ was willing to give up His high position in heaven with all its privileges. This is described as, He “made Himself nothing” (or “emptied Himself” ESV, HCSB, NET). This means Christ laid aside aspects of His equality with God or the form of God (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). The Greek verb here is kenoo (Strongs #2758). Paul used this word figuratively elsewhere in his writings (Rom. 4:14; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:15; 2 Cor. 9:3). It is also used figuratively here – Jesus didn’t literally empty Himself or make Himself nothing with respect to His divinity (Phil. 2:7). Other translations say that He:
• “stripped Himself (of all privileges and rightful dignity)” AMP
• “stripped himself of all privilege” (PHILLIPS)
• “gave up everything” CEV, ERV
• “gave up His place with God and made Himself nothing” EXB, NCV
• “gave this up” WE
• “of His own free will He gave up all He had” (GNT)
• “put aside everything that belonged to Him” NLV
• “made Himself of no reputation” GNV, NKJV
• “lowed (meeked) Himself” WYC
The meaning of kenoo is given by the rest of the words in verses 7-8, which describe the period between His miraculous conception and His death and burial. This passage says, when He came to earth, Jesus:
• Acted like a slave who obeys their master, not like the ruler of the universe (v.7). He came to serve both God and humanity in God’s plan of redemption (Mt. 20:28).
• Appeared physically as a human being, not as God (v.7-8). He looked like other men and was fully human, but was different to them in that He did not have a sinful nature. He gave up the glory He had with God the Father since before the world began (Jn. 17:5, 24).
• Allowed Himself to be crucified, although He was the eternal omnipotent God (v.8).
What a change! Jesus went from a place of power and glory (ruling in heaven) to a place of humiliation (dying on earth like a criminal). He went from a high position to a low one. Paul summarised it, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Then after His death, God restored Jesus to the exalted place (Phil. 2:9). Some of the dazzling splendor of this place was shown at the transfiguration (Mt. 17:2; Mk. 9: 3). The lesson is that Christians are to be humble like Christ and not proud or desiring pre-eminence.
Some examples in the gospels of Jesus’ omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence are given above. So, He didn’t completely stop using these divine attributes. But while He was on earth He used them less often. Instead, He chose to limit the use of these unlimited powers. This is also part of what He gave up when He came to earth to live as a human being.
Because Jesus retained His divine nature and didn’t give it up or stop using it completely, He was able to perform miracles by using His divine nature alone. This means that He didn’t need to do them in the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no Scripture suggesting He solely relied on the Spirit.
Because they were human and not divine, the disciples couldn’t duplicate the examples of His divine power given above. This means that they couldn’t do whatever Christ did. Likewise, because people today are not divine we can’t do whatever Christ did.
But what about verses that have been used to claim that Christians can have unlimited power?
What about not knowing the date of the second advent?
Jesus said that “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” knows the day or the hour of the second advent (Mt. 24:36; Mk. 13:32). This doesn’t mean that Jesus was a human being with limited knowledge like us or that He emptied Himself of all the attributes of deity when He came to earth as a man. Instead He was both fully God and fully human. When the Bible says that Jesus didn’t know the date of His second advent it is referring to him as a finite human being, not as the divine Son of God. He also came as a Servant that was obedient to God the Father and said that “a servant does not know his master’s business” (Jn. 15:15). Although Jesus often spoke of His second advent, as a Servant He wasn’t given its date for the purpose of revealing it to others. But as God, He knows it.
One example is not sufficient to make a rule, but it is sufficient to disprove one. This is a principle of science. Therefore, one example of Christ’s divine power (and several are given above) disproves the claim that Christ emptied Himself of the attributes of deity when He came to earth as a man.
What about other promises?
The phrase “all things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27) was spoken in the context of salvation. It means that everything to do with the miracle of salvation is only possible through God’s power. Salvation comes from God’s grace and mercy alone, and human achievement has no role in it. It doesn’t mean that God can do anything; because He can’t sin and He can’t deny who He is (2 Tim. 2:13). Also it has nothing to do with miracles or prayer requests (except prayers of confession and repentance).
What about God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them? The “mountain” is a figure of speech for the obstacles and difficulties being faced. “You can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move” (Mt. 17:20) means that their prayer will be answered and the obstacles removed if it was in accordance with the conditions for prayer and the commands and promises given in the Bible. It is not an unconditional promise. God’s promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them are not unconditional. They also rely on the Bible’s conditions for answered prayer being satisfied.
What are the “greater works”?
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn. 14:12). The Greek word erga (Strongs #2041) translated “works” is mentioned in the two previous verses as well. It means an act, deed or thing done (Thayer’s Greek Lexion). In this context it means acts of Christ, to rouse people to believe in Him and to accomplish their salvation. It says that Jesus did the Father’s work and His followers will also do the Father’s work (Jn. 14:10-12). This message was spoken to the disciples and we know that their “works” are given in the book of Acts where we see more people coming to trust in God than in the gospels. So in the context of evangelism, their works were greater than Christ’s.
The reason the disciples would be able to do greater evangelistic works than Jesus is “because I am going to the Father” (Jn. 14:12c). After Jesus ascended back to heaven, believers were able to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, and Jesus Himself promised to answer these prayers (Jn. 14:13-14).
Because John 14:12 is not addressing miracles (apart from salvation), the claim that it means we can do “greater miracles” than Jesus is obviously false.
There are many examples in the Bible of Jesus using His divine power when He was on earth. It appears that the three members of the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) all worked together in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. As there is no Scripture suggesting He solely relied on the Spirit, there is no evidence that Jesus always functioned as a human being who is indwelt with the Holy Spirit.
Because they were human and not divine, the disciples couldn’t duplicate these examples of Christ’s divine power. This means that they couldn’t do whatever He did. Likewise, because people today are not divine we can’t do whatever Christ did. In particular, although Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they can’t do whatever Christ did. To claim otherwise destroys the uniqueness and deity of Jesus Christ.
Written, November 2014
Also see: What does all things are possible with God mean?
What about Gods promises to give believers whatever they ask and move mountains for them?
Why didn’t Jesus know the date of His second event?
Did 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.
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
The 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
Straight 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
Moses 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
Next 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
Keep on running – Heb. Ch 10-12
Have 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.
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).
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
Children 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).
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?
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.
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
Politicians 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.
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 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.
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).
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