Based on a message given at my mother’s funeral on 3 April 2013
A funeral usually involves memories and reflections of the life of the person who has died. But the funeral of a Christian can also look ahead in anticipation of what lies ahead.
Help from God the Creator
The source of a Christian’s help and protection throughout life is described in Psalm 121NIV.
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
When this song was written about 3,000 years ago, God’s people knew that the only reliable help and protection comes from the God who made the universe – “the Maker of heaven and earth”. In this context the Hebrew word for “heaven” means the atmosphere and the stars and galaxies. A God with the intelligence and power to create the universe and populate it with living plants, animals and people was surely able to help them! The Bible says He was the source of life on earth whereas all other gods and philosophies are the product of the human imagination.
Unfortunately in our modern world we have largely lost this knowledge and this confidence. We have forgotten about God the Creator. Even though we have wonderful technology, science can’t explain how matter was created from nothing or how life originated, and we often replace God the Creator with the idea that things created themselves.
So when we struggle in life where does our help come from? Some people go to counsellors for help who encourage them to get help from outside themselves. Because people usually can’t solve their own problems, they need to get help from someone else. In a similar way, we all need “outside help” to sustain us and God the Creator is the ultimate outside help!
Psalm 121 ends with, “The Lord will watch your coming and going both now and forevermore”. Here those who trusted God the Creator were promised that God would protect them throughout life and into the future. They could live with assurance and confidence that God would continue to help them. Likewise Christians can have the assurance that God will sustain them during their life and afterwards.
A different world
You may ask if God created everything in the beginning, why is there so much suffering in the world? The world today is very different from the one God made originally. We live in a different world. In the beginning it was a perfect world with harmony between God, people and the natural environment. But when people turned against their Maker, it changed and sin, evil, suffering and death came into the world. This change was caused by people like us. We live in a world with consequences – an act has a consequence and an effect has a cause. Because people turned against God our relationships have been ruined. We ignore God and are separated from Him, we can’t get along with other people, and we exploit the natural environment. Another consequence is that the Bible says we are destined to eternal punishment. Because we are the cause of this problem, we need outside help. Because each of us is guilty, we can’t help each other. The only reliable help available outside humanity is God the Creator.
Help from God the Lifesaver
Fortunately, God didn’t only create the universe and the laws of nature in the beginning, but He also continues to sustain it. He is not only incredibly powerful, but He is also incredibly loving. We remember His special act of love at Christmas and Easter when we celebrate the unique birth and death of Jesus Christ. God knew that mankind was doomed to eternal punishment unless He provided them with outside help. He did this about 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ lived on earth and died and came alive again. Jesus was unique; He was God living as a human being. He showed His power over our world by the miracles He did. When He died by crucifixion, He took the eternal punishment that we deserve. If we turn towards God by being sorry for our behaviour and accepting the fact that Jesus has taken the penalty for our sin, then He promises eternal joy instead of eternal punishment. This is called eternal life. So Jesus is like a lifesaver – He can rescue us from the eternal consequence of our selfish behaviour. In this way God is making a new creation and He gives us the choice of being a part of it. Although we spoilt God’s original creation, and there is now sin, evil, pain, suffering and death, these will be absent in God’s new creation. Instead we can be reconciled with God, we can love one another and we can look forward to the restoration of creation like it was in the beginning.
Because a Christian has accepted Jesus as their Savior they can have an inner assurance, joy and peace.
What happens when a person dies? Not only do the lungs stop breathing and the heart stops pumping. The Bible says that at death a person’s invisible soul and spirit is separated from their body. If they trusted in Jesus the Savior, their soul and spirit goes immediately to be with God in heaven. After death they are enjoying a perfect place. That is why Paul could say, “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and that he preferred to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So they are in a better place. Their death is a loss for us, but a gain for them.
But there is more! On Easter Sunday we recall that the body of Jesus was raised back to life after being buried in a grave. The Bible describes a coming day when the bodies of believers, who trusted in Christ the Savior will also be raised back to life:
“What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:50-57NLT).
This is also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. As part of God’s new creation they will have new bodies which won’t wear out and die (1 Cor. 15:42-49; Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2) and they will be transported to be with God in heaven – spirit, soul and new body. This will be a great victory over the sin, suffering and death of our world. That’s why Christians can look forward confidently to the coming resurrection. There’s victory ahead!
The hymn, “How great Thou art”, summarises the greatness of God and the reasons for our Christian faith.
The first verse is about God the great Creator and source of life on earth. It says “Your power throughout the universe displayed”. Do we see God’s power in His creation?
The third verse is about Jesus Christ the great Lifesaver and source of eternal life. It says “On the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin”. When we stand before God, will He be like a lifesaver or like a judge? If we turn towards God by confessing our sins we can be ready to meet Him.
The last verse is about the great resurrection when the bodies of those who have trusted in Christ will be raised and changed to be with Him forever. It says “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home – what joy shall fill my heart”. Are you ready to experience this joy?
Written, April 2013
What did Jesus mean when He said He would not eat the Passover again until it was fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Lk. 22:16)?
This statement is included in a description of how Jesus celebrated the Jewish Passover festival with His disciples just before He was executed.
When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table. And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God”. After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Lk. 22:14-18NIV).
The Lord looked forward to this occasion because it was the last Passover that He would share with His disciples and the last Passover of His first advent on earth. He also looked ahead to the kingdom of God. The previous mention of the “kingdom of God” in the book of Luke is associated with a description of Christ’s second advent (Lk. 21:25-31). This means that the next time He would be on earth to celebrate such a Jewish festival would be during His millennial kingdom, after His second advent on earth (Rev. 20:1-6). Jesus would eat no more Passover meals until this time.
Link to outline of events associated with the second advent.
As He is talking about a physical meal (v.15-16) and a physical drink (v.17-18), the Lord is addressing a future physical kingdom and not a spiritual one. At this time, the temple will be rebuilt, the Jewish priesthood restored and the Israelites will occupy their promised land (Ezek. Ch. 40-48). They will also resume Jewish festivals like the Passover (Ezek. 45:21). So, the future Passover is also physical like it was in the Old Testament (OT) times.
In the New Testament Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” and “our Passover lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (Jn. 1:29, 1 Cor. 5:7). Through His sacrificial death on the cross He paid the penalty for our sin. In this way, Jesus was like the Passover lamb, which died as a substitute (Ex. 12:21-30). Furthermore, He was crucified on Passover day. But the fact that Christ has delivered sinners from hell and been victorious over Satan and the forces of evil will not be evident until He returns in great power to establish His kingdom on earth.
How is the Passover “fulfilled in the kingdom of God”? As the Israelites escape from slavery wasn’t realised until the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea, so Christ’s victory over Satan will not be complete until Satan’s forces are defeated at the triumphant second advent (Rev. 19:11-21). The purpose of the Passover was so the Israelites could settle in Canaan as God’s people, living according to His commands. But because they disobeyed and rebelled against God over many years, God allowed them to be invaded and scattered to foreign countries. After this God predicted the Gentile kingdoms that would rule over the Jews, culminating with a promise to establish His eternal kingdom on earth (Dan. 2:44). So the victory that began with the first Passover in Egypt and was remembered whenever the Jewish Passover festival was celebrated will be ultimately finalised when Christ’s millennial kingdom is established on earth.
Soon after this passage in Luke, Jesus referred to the “kingdom of God” once again when He promised that the disciples would reign over the earth in the coming kingdom (Lk. 22:29-30; Rev. 5:9-10). So at this Passover, Christ looked ahead to the fulfilment of God’s purposes. Likewise, at the Lord’s Supper believers today look back to the Lord’s death and ahead to His coming again (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
At the Passover the OT Jews remembered their rescue from slavery in Egypt, whereas in the coming kingdom Jewish believers will remember that through the death of Christ, they have been rescued from the penalty of their sin.
In summary, Jesus hasn’t eaten the Passover since He ascended into heaven. Only after He returns to the earth as king to establish the kingdom of God on earth will He be able to celebrate the Passover again. The rescue mission that began with the Passover, which was a foretaste of Christ’s death, will be completed and evident to the universe at the second advent of Christ and in His subsequent kingdom.
Written, February 2013
Also see: An outline of future events
Perseverance or backsliding?
The Bible records many of the words spoken and written by people in ancient times. In this article we look at what we can learn from some of the words spoken by six godly men near the end of their lives. The men are: Joseph, Moses and Joshua from the Old Testament and Jesus, Stephen and Paul from the New Testament.
Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob. As Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, Joseph was one of the original children of Israel! Jacob’s descendants were God’s special people in the Old Testament times. Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt and rose to second in command under Pharaoh king of Egypt. God used him to save his family and the Egyptians from a 7-year drought – in this sense he was their savior. During this time his father’s household also moved to Egypt.
Final words. At the age of 110 years, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place’” (Gen. 50:24-25NIV). As he knew that God had promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites and trusted that God would take them from Egypt to Canaan, he made them promise to take his mummy (embalmed body) with them so it could be buried in Canaan.
Lesson for us. Joseph’s faith is an example for us to follow, “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones” (Heb. 11:22). “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 1:1). So up to the end of his life Joseph trusted that God’s promises would be fulfilled. He didn’t backslide from when he trusted God in his youth.
Moses was an Israelite born in Egypt in the third generation after Joseph. God used him to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – in this sense He was their savior. In the exodus about 2 million Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea and travelled towards Canaan. He took Joseph’s mummy with him (Ex. 13:19).
Final words. Before his death at the age of 120 years Moses transferred leadership of the Israelites to Joshua and told him, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged “(Dt. 31:7-8). He encouraged Joshua to continue leading the people by reminding him of God’s continual presence. Then he taught them a new song and gave a farewell message in which he assured them of God’s protection and support, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27).
Lesson for us. Christians should appreciate God’s continual presence, protection and support via the indwelling Holy Spirit. We should be encouraged by this, whatever our role may be. This also helps us to be contented and avoid the love of money or possessions (Heb. 13:5). Also, are we training the next generation in God’s ways like Moses trained Joshua?
As one of the faithful spies, Joshua didn’t die in the desert like the rest of the Israelites who rebelled against God. After the death of Moses he led the Israelites into Canaan.
Final words. In a farewell message before he died at the age of 110 years Joshua said, “Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:14-15). He urged them to worship God instead of idols. At this time they buried Joseph’s mummy in Canaan in accordance with his request (Josh. 24:32). The Israelites followed the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua, but turned to idolatry soon afterwards (Josh. 24:31; Judges 2:7, 10-13).
Lesson for us. Godly people like Joshua can have a great influence on others. They are faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like the others who died before reaching Canaan and so didn’t enjoy their inheritance on earth.
According to Luke’s genealogy, Jesus Christ was in the 52rd generation after Joseph (Lk. 3:23-37). Jesus was unique as He was not only a person like us, but He was also the Son of God who made the universe (Lk. 1:35)! Because He was divine, Jesus lived a perfect life and did no wrong. But He was executed and then came back to life and later returned to heaven. When Jesus died He took all the punishment that we deserve so that we can go to heaven if we trust in Him. In this sense He is a Savior for all humanity.
Final words. At the age of about 33 years, after the three hours of darkness when He was suffering crucifixion, Jesus said “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). This meant that he had finished what He came to do, which was to suffer and die on our behalf. The way had been provided for sinners like us to be saved from eternal punishment and go to heaven instead. Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus told His followers, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). They would tell others living across the known world about Jesus.
Lesson for us. First, we need to accept Christ’s gift of salvation, because we can’t do anything else to deserve heaven. Second, once we follow Jesus we need to share the good news about Him to others.
Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to serve in the first church at Jerusalem. He was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. Because Stephen preached powerfully about Jesus, the Jews made false accusations about him. In a long speech he listed the failures of the Jewish people, which made the Jews so furious that they stoned him to death.
Final words. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” (Acts 7:59-60). Jesus made similar statements before He died (Lk. 23:34, 46).
Lesson for us. The more we focus on Jesus and what he has done for us, the more we become like Him.
Paul was a young Jewish leader who persecuted Christians and was associated with the stoning of Stephen. But God changed his life in a spectacular way and he became a follower of Jesus who spread across the Roman Empire the good news of Jesus had done.
Final words. In his last letter Paul wrote, “… The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8). He continued to trust God even though life had been difficult and the end of his service was near. He had obeyed the doctrines of the Christian faith and passed them on to others such as Timothy. Like the winner of a Greek athletic race was awarded a wreath (1 Cor. 9:25), his faithful service would be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Lesson for us. Godly people like Paul remain faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like Demas who “loved this world” and deserted Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).
Until our final day, let’s imitate these godly men by having:
- The faith of Joseph that God keeps His promises
- The assurance of Moses that God is always with us as His Holy Spirit, who provides security and contentment.
- The godly influence of Joshua who didn’t backslide
- The message of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ
- The Christ-like life of Stephen
- The perseverance of Paul who didn’t backslide
Because of the examples of these final words, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 13:1-3). If we pay careful attention to these examples “we do not drift away” from an active faith in Christ (Heb. 2:1).
Written, December 2012
The Bible is Not a Myth
MythBusters is a TV show on the Discovery Channel that sorts out myths and facts in an entertaining way. Did you know that the Bible is written in a way to show that it is not a myth?
The Bible teaches that the truth of a matter should be established on the testimony of at least two or three eye-witnesses (Dt. 17:6; 19:15; Mt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Ti. 5:19; Heb. 10:28). This is also the case in law courts.
Paul emphasised that the resurrection was a proven fact and not a myth because afterwards Christ “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep (died). Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all He appeared to me also” (1 Cor. 15:6-8NIV). There were many more than two or three eye-witnesses! As most of these were still alive, they could be questioned by anyone who doubted Paul’s account.
The life of Christ
The most comprehensive record of the life of Christ is given in the books of the Bible written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are obviously four accounts of the same events, which satisfy the requirement of at least two or three witnesses. Who were these authors?
Matthew and John were two of the twelve disciples who accompanied Christ during His public ministry (Mt. 4: 21-22; 9:9; 10:2-4; Mk. 1:19-20; 2:14; Lk. 5:10-11; 27-28). They were there and saw the events they recorded. They were part of the twelve apostles who were Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8). When Judas was replaced by Matthias, Peter said that an apostle was a man who had “been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us”, who was “a witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).
As a tax collector, Mathew was skilled in writing and keeping records. John’s testimony is reliable: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (Jn. 21:24). John was one of the three apostles that were closest to Jesus, the others were Peter and James (Mt. 17:1; Mk. 14:33). Also, he may have been a cousin of Jesus (Mt. 27:56; Mk. 15:40).
Mark lived in Jerusalem during Christ’s public ministry and was a cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10). Mark may have been at the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested as he wrote; “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind” (Mk. 14:51-52).
Tradition says that Mark was Peter’s interpreter and wrote down Peter’s account of the life of Jesus. This is supported by the fact that he was with Peter when 1 Peter was written (1 Pt. 5:13). Also, when Peter escaped from prison, he went to Mark’s mother’s house (Acts 12:12-17).
Luke was a historian. His record begins: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Lk. 1:1-5). He interviewed eye-witnesses of the life of Christ, including Mary as he gives the best account of Christ’s early years.
Luke was a Gentile medical doctor who travelled with Paul and was one of his fellow workers (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24). He was well educated and had an outstanding command of the Greek language. He also wrote the book of Acts and witnessed many of the events recorded in Acts.
Confirmed and busted
As documented history always trumps science with regard to past events, we don’t need the MythBusters to test the truth of the Bible. Instead, because of multiple eye-witnesses the resurrection of Christ and the Biblical account of the life of Christ are confirmed to be proven facts and not myths. So the viewpoint that the Bible is myth is busted!
Postscript – The rest of the New Testament
The other New Testament writers were also eye-witnesses of the events they documented.
Peter was a disciple and apostle like Matthew and John. He was present during the public ministry of Christ and the life of the early church. He witnessed everything that Jesus did, including His death and resurrection (Acts 10:39-41; 1 Pt. 5:1). Silas may have helped Peter write his first letter (1 Pt. 5:12).
James and Jude were half-brothers of Jesus: they had the same mother, but different fathers (Mt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3). Although they didn’t follow Jesus at the time, they grew up with Him and were aware of His public ministry. The Lord appeared to James after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). James and Jude became believers after the resurrection and were part of the life of the early church (Jn. 7:5; Acts 1:14; Gal. 1:19).
Paul was different to the other apostles as he became an apostle by special revelation. Instead of living with Christ during His three years of public ministry, Paul saw the Lord in a vision (1 Cor. 9:1; Gal. 1:16). He wrote that in this sense he was inferior to the others, like a premature birth compared to a normal one (1 Cor. 15:8). Nevertheless, he was to be a witness who told others about what he had seen (Acts 22:15; 26:16).
Paul was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:4-5). As he studied under Gamaliel at Jerusalem, he was well educated (Acts 22:3; Gal. 1:14). Paul established churches in Asia Minor and Europe and was part of the life of the early church.
Written, September 2012
Made to be inhabited
A letter in a newspaper stated that Genesis chapter 1-11 is pre-history and is probably best described as a ”saga”, which is a story. They said it was a different genre to the rest of Genesis, which I assume was considered to be real history which had been verified by archaeology. Well, what does the evidence show us?
The history of the universe from the beginning of time according to those who reject the Bible and the God of the Bible is often told as follows:
- About 15 billion years ago – there was a “big bang” and stars like the sun formed from the exploding gases
- Then about 4.6 billion years ago – planets like earth formed around the stars
- 3.5 billion years ago – the first life appeared in deep water when molecules combined to form single-celled organisms
- 1 billion years ago – multi-cellar organisms evolved
- 600 million years ago – invertebrate animals and fish evolved
- 475 million years ago – land plants evolved
- 360 million years ago – amphibians and then the first land animals evolved
- 250 million years ago – reptiles ruled
- 200 million years ago – birds and mammals ruled
- 90 million years ago – flowering plants evolved
- 200 thousand years ago – the first humans evolved
Bill Gates is funding a project to present this information online for high school students. Let’s look at what the Bible says about such “big history”.
According to Jesus
When Jesus was discussing divorce and marriage He went back to Genesis and quoted from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife …” (Mk. 10:6-7NIV). These verses refer to the first people Adam and Eve. Here He links the “beginning of creation” with the beginning of the human race.
When Jesus was condemning the Pharisees, he quoted the range of martyrs in the Old Testament, “the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (Lk. 11:50-51). Abel was in the first family (Genesis 4) and Zechariah was mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24, the last book in the Jewish Old Testament. Here He links the “beginning of the world” with the first family.
Clearly Jesus believed that early Genesis was real history, not just a story.
We can also learn something about the beginning of everything from Jesus. It is instructive to consider how Jesus demonstrated God’s power. He did many miracles; more than is recorded in the Bible (Jn. 20:30). For example:
- A storm was calmed straight away (Mk. 4:39)
- 5,000 men plus women and children were fed from five loaves and two fish (Mk. 6:30-44)
- People were healed immediately: the blind could see (Mt. 20:34); the crippled could walk (Lk. 13:13) and the dead stood up (Mk. 5:42; Jn. 11:43-44).
So Jesus could change the physical world instantly. He didn’t need time to do it in gradual steps. Likewise, God can create physical things instantly. He doesn’t need time to do it in gradual steps from the simple to the complex.
According to Paul
When looking at why people who have not heard the gospel still face God’s judgment, Paul wrote “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. 1:21). God’s attributes have been evident to people “since the creation of the world”, not just since people have been on the earth. The implication is that people have been here since the creation of the world. This is consistent with what Jesus said about Adam, Eve and Abel.
Paul also believed in Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). For example, He contrasted Adam and Jesus in three passages of the New Testament:
- “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:44-45). From Adam we have physical life in a natural body, but from Jesus we can have eternal life now and a redeemed body at the resurrection.
- “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin … through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12-21). So death entered the world because of Adam’s sin, but eternal life is possible through Jesus.
- “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). From Adam we have physical death, but from Jesus people can be resurrected from the dead.
So Paul viewed both Adam and Jesus as true historical characters, not as mythical figures. He saw the creation and fall into sin of early Genesis as historical events that had a significant impact on our world, not as “pre-history” stories.
According to historical records
If there has been a crime or a car accident, the police determine what happened from the evidence and by interviewing witnesses. The Biblical writers witnessed what they wrote about, except for situations such as creation when God was the witness.
History is the study of past events. We don’t use operational science because it’s only reliable for present events – we can’t do experiments on the past or the future unless we make assumptions (then the finding relies on the assumptions made). Documentary evidence is the best form of historical record. Let’s look at what the historical records in the Bible meant for its original readers, the Children of Israel.
When God gave them the ten commandments, He said “in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11). This was a model for their working week. In this context, the heavens are the stars and galaxies. God took 6 days to create the universe, but could have taken 6 hours, 6 minutes or 6 seconds. After all, God is outside the time of our finite world. He is infinite and all powerful.
God didn’t use a long process to create everything. He commanded and it was done immediately (Ps. 33:6-9; Heb. 11:3). I am not aware of any Scriptures which indicate long ages of time were involved in creation.
This is also supported by the resurrection which is described as “we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). So our resurrection bodies will be created instantly. This is consistent with the original creation taking a short period of time and Christ’s miracles happening instantly. God doesn’t need lots of time to create something new.
The creation was finished on day 6, which was when Adam and Eve were created. So we know that people have been on earth since then.
A mature universe
On the day they were created, Adam named the animals and Adam and Eve were married (Gen. 2:19-20, 24). They were created as mature adults. The universe and the earth that God created were mature. Its complex interacting systems functioned properly from the beginning. The animals and plants lived in mature and functioning ecosystems. So the creation was mature and fully functional from the beginning. It didn’t need to develop gradually over time from simple to more complex.
This means that at that time the apparent age of things didn’t match the actual age. Scientists calculate the age of the universe by assuming that all the stars and galaxies have expanded to their positions after a big explosion. It is an assumption that is also based on using the red- shift of light and the Hubble law to calculate the expansion rates and the distances of galaxies. However, the Bible says that God placed them in their positions on day 4 of creation by stretching them out (Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 104:2). So the difference between their apparent age of 15 billion years and the Biblical age of thousands of years represents the miracle that God did on day 4.
When did this happen? Is Genesis 1-11 pre-history? It is followed by Genesis 12-25 which is about Abraham. Do we know much about before this time? Yes we do. In Genesis 5 and 11 we have detailed genealogies from Adam to Abraham (Gen 5:1-32; 11:10-26). These are not just lists of ancestors and descendants. Their ages at the birth of their child in the family tree and their death are also given. Some Biblical genealogies have gaps because their purpose is to show their main ancestors (Ezra 7:1-5; Mt. 1:1-16). But these ones are worded in such a way as to exclude omissions and gaps. They are the most comprehensive genealogies in the Bible. Because they cover 19 generations, we know more about these people than our own ancestors!
Besides this, there are two other genealogies that cover this period in the Bible (1 Chron. 1:1-27; Lk. 3:33-38). There are three genealogies in the Bible covering the period back to Adam that some allege is pre-history! So it’s real history. It seems as though in recent times some people call it pre-history to explain the inconsistency with the recent extra-biblical account.
When you add up that dates given in Scripture you find that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago and the global flood was about 4,500 years ago. That’s a long time, thousands of years, but it’s not millions of years. When compared to the extra-biblical timeline, the historical timeline:
- Is documented historically instead of being calculated
- Is shorter (about 6,000 years compared to about 15 billion years)
- Has people appearing near the beginning (people have been here for 99.9998% of the time); instead of near the end (people have been here for 1.3% of the time). People have been here most of the time. After all, God made the world to be inhabited, “For this is what the LORD says—He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited … I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isa. 45:18-19).
The extra-biblical account is inconsistent with recorded history. As it relies on assumptions of people who were not there when it happened, clearly these assumptions are wrong. What are these incorrect assumptions?
- They rule out a God of miracles. This means they have to rely on current physical processes and forces to explain the past.
- Consequently, they believe that the present is the key to the past, but according to the Bible the past is the key to the present – after all history goes forwards, not backwards!
- They believe that given enough time everything can create itself and organisms always evolve or build up gradually over time from simple to complex. Therefore the biological world has become more complex with time.
- They believe simple organisms are primitive and developed earlier than more complex organisms.
Does it matter if the extra-biblical explanation of the past history of the world is wrong? Yes, because it destroys the gospel message. It destroys the source of sin and death, removes the need for a Saviour, and ruins the possibility of future restoration of the earth when Christ reigns (Acts 3:21). That’s what happens if the first three chapters of Genesis are not historical, but a story that isn’t necessarily true. This means removing creation, the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin as real events in real places.
This explanation moves the source of sin, disease, decay and death from Adam and Eve’s disobedience to making it be a part of our world (which Christians call God’s creation). In this case disease, decay and death have always been a part of our world. They are the normal situation; and not viewed as being abnormal. It takes away the lack of disease and death before the fall. It puts death before sin, not after it. It puts evil before sin, not after it. It means that the created world, which God said was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), was marred by disease and death. It takes away the fact that the original sin affected all of God’s creation (Rom. 8:19-23). It takes away the promise that all creation will be liberated from its “bondage to decay” when Christ returns to rule over it.
Lessons for us
As believers, our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by God, not by the views of those who reject God. This means that our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by the Bible, not by the extra-biblical theories which rule out the possibility of divine intervention in the natural world, such as miracles. The Bible says that God has intervened in our big History and He will intervene again. We ignore that at our peril.
Sin, death and salvation are important aspects of the Bible and Christianity. Let’s be aware of the implications of ideas such as extra-biblical big history which are inconsistent with the Biblical record.
Finally, the Bible is not a science book; but it is a history book. It is the best record of ancient history we have today; a supreme example of ancient history; and a big history book. It contains documentary evidence by eyewitnesses which has been accurately preserved over the years. So we can trust the Bible on big history.
Written, June 2012
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; 23:13NIV). 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, “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: “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). He alone knows the future.
Jesus spans time and history. He was there at the 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 he was reminded “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 a 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
Jesus as ambassador, lifesaver and gift
At this time of the year we remember the incarnation when Jesus Christ was born into the world. Scripture teaches that He was sent into the world by God the Father. Let’s look at why Jesus was sent. What was His mission and purpose?
God sent His Son
In the Old Testament times God spoke to mankind through people such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, the judges and the prophets. They were divinely inspired spokesmen for God. We read in Hebrews, “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. 1:1-2NIV).
It reminds me of the parable of the wicked tenants where a landowner rented his vineyard to some farmers. When he sent his servants to collect the harvest, they were killed. Then he sent his son to them, but they killed him as well (Mt. 21:33-46). In this parable, the landowner is like God, the servants are like the prophets and the son is like Jesus. First God sent the prophets and then He sent His Son.
Paul wrote, “When the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4). Who set the time? God the Father. He is the one who did the sending. It was His idea. At Christmas we remember how, “God sent His son”. Although Mary was His earthly mother, God was His Father. This means that Jesus is the Son of God, which shows that He is divine; a part of the trinity. Jesus is unique in this aspect. Jesus was “born of a woman”, which is the usual way that people enter the world. It shows that Jesus was also a man. What an amazing way for God’s Son to enter the world!
The New Testament gives three reasons why Jesus was sent: to be an ambassador, a lifesaver, and a gift from God.
To be an ambassador
Jesus was sent to be an ambassador. What does an ambassador do? They represent whoever sent them. They are authorised representatives that are usually sent to a foreign country. The prophets were God’s ambassadors, although they represented Him in their own countries. However, their message came from a different country; it was from heaven.
Jesus was God’s ambassador. But He was a different kind of ambassador. How was Jesus’ ambassadorship different? He was sent to be born in a foreign country (earth) as a baby and not as a mature adult. This means that He wasn’t a foreigner. He grew up on earth and didn’t just arrive as an adult. So God sent an ambassador who wasn’t a foreigner. To all appearances He was a normal person like you or I. He lived in Palestine and was not seen as a foreigner. He spoke the same language, wore the same clothes, and had a similar appearance to his fellow countrymen. In this regard, He was like the prophets.
What does the Bible say about Jesus as an ambassador?
Jesus spoke for God
We have already seen in Hebrews that God “has spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:2). John wrote, “the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (Jn. 3:34). Jesus said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me” (Jn. 7:16; 8:26) and “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken … So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (Jn. 12:49-50).
So Jesus was an ambassador whose message came from God the Father. He spoke on God’s behalf.
Jesus acted for God
But Jesus not only spoke for God, He lived for God. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me” (Jn. 6:38-39). Also, “my food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34) and “I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (Jn. 5:30).
The Lord Jesus is the most complete revelation of God to humanity. He has made God known and said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 1:18; 14:9). Jesus reveals God’s character. He said, “the one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me” (Jn. 12:45). After all, one of His names was Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23).
So Jesus was an ambassador who acted in accordance with God’s will.
Jesus showed God’s kindness and love
In living for God, Jesus showed God’s kindness and love in a new way. After describing one’s sinfulness before salvation, Paul wrote “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Ti. 3:4-7). When did “the kindness and love of God our Savior” appear? It was when Christ arrived on earth. At Christmas we remember this event.
John wrote, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world” (1 Jn. 4:9). And the well known verse, “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).
So Jesus was an ambassador who showed God’s kindness and love. We learn more about this in the next illustration.
To be a lifesaver
Jesus was also sent to be a lifesaver. What does a lifesaver do? They rescue those who are drowning. At the beach they watch the surfers and give warnings when there is danger such as sharks, rips or rough waves.
Jesus was God’s lifesaver. God sent Jesus on a rescue mission to save us from the lake of fire. Like a lifesaver rescues those who are drowning, Jesus can rescue us from God’s eternal judgment. His name reflects the fact that He is the most important part of God’s rescue plan. The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua” which means “God saves”. Joseph was told that Mary “will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21).
But He was a different kind of lifesaver. How was Jesus’ lifesaving different? First, His was a rescue of our spirit, soul and body; not just a physical one. Second, He took the place of the victim and died in the process. Third, when it is accepted, Christ’s lifesaving is effective forever. We have heard of people who died when saving someone else, but the person who was rescued could drown later. In fact they will eventually die later unless the Lord comes in the meantime and they are believers.
What does the Bible say about Jesus as a lifesaver?
Jesus paid the penalty for our sin
All the world’s problems come from the sinful nature we inherited from Adam and Eve. Humanity’s sinfulness was the target of God’s rescue plan. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). What is the devil’s work? Sin, because “the devil has been sinning from the beginning”. Satan specialises in sinning.
The Bible says that Jesus “appeared so that He might take away our sins” (1 Jn. 3:5). “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). “The Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:17; 12:47).
God did this by sending Jesus to the earth to die on the cross (Jn. 12:27). God “loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10). Then He was buried and rose from the grave and ascended back to heaven. So the baby born in Bethlehem died at Calvary for our sins.
By confessing our sinfulness and accepting that Jesus died as our substitute there is liberation from sin and its consequences: Jesus was sent to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free (Lk. 4:18-21). Jesus is the answer to the world’s problems. He is the greatest lifesaver.
Jesus enables eternal life in heaven
Not only can we be rescued from eternal punishment, but we can be eternally in God’s presence. “God sent His Son … that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4). The change described in this passage is from being slaves to being sons. The Jews were under the bondage of the law and the Gentiles were under the bondage of idolatry. Through Christ’s sacrifice, both can be changed from slaves to heirs as sons of God.
To be a gift
Jesus was also sent to be a gift. God’s salvation is like a gift: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Besides being God’s ambassador and lifesaver, Jesus is God’s gift to us: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Jn. 4:10; Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 9:15). Paul wrote, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Cor. 9:15). So God is the greatest giver and Jesus is the greatest gift.
Have you accepted His gift of salvation or has it been discarded or forgotten? This is important because the next time Jesus is sent to earth it will not be as an ambassador or a lifesaver or a gift but as a judge.
Here’s how to accept God’s gift. We can’t escape hell and get to heaven by good works. When people asked Jesus “What must we do to do the works God requires?” He answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”’ (Jn. 6:28-29). Instead of good works we need to confess our sins and trust in Christ’s work of salvation on our behalf.
Here’s the result of accepting God’s gift: those who accept God’s rescue plan have a new life in Christ which is a spiritual life. “He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9). Without Jesus in our life we are spiritually dead, with Him in our lives we are spiritually alive. He said, “whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” and “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 5:24; 10:10). Anyone alive has physical life, But Jesus is talking about spiritual life here. Believers have been born into a spiritual life; they have changed from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. Paul calls it a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
The disciples were an example of those who accepted God’s gift. Jesus prayed, “I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them (they accepted that He was God’s ambassador). They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent me (they accepted that He was God’s lifesaver)” (v.8, 25). He also prayed for unity between Christians so “that the world may believe that You have sent me” (Jn. 17:21, 23). Let’s display the character of God and Christ so that others will see Christ in us as the Father is seen in Christ.
God sends us
Jesus continued to pray for the disciples “As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” and “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn. 17:18; 20:21). As God sent His Son to earth, Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the gospel message. Those of us who trust in Christ are also His disciples and are also sent to be God’s ambassadors to proclaim the gospel message in our part of the world. As Paul wrote, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). In this case the message was to be reconciled to God.
As we give gifts to each other at Christmas let’s remember that God the Father sent His Son as an ambassador so we can learn more about God, as a lifesaver who we can trust in for eternal life and as a gift for us to accept and share with others.
Written, December 2011
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses. Is this true?
Based on their interpretation of the Bible, some people believe that the ‘ten commandments’ and the ‘law of Moses’ are two completely separate laws; the latter being no longer applying today as it was temporary, but the former being God’s law that is eternal. One of the passages used to support this belief is part of Daniel’s prayer: “We have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws He gave us through His servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed Your law and turned away, refusing to obey You. Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against You” (Dan. 9:10-11NIV). Daniel says that God gave the Jews laws, including the ten commandments, through prophets such as Moses. Clearly, in this passage, “the laws He gave us through His servants the prophets”, “Your law” and the Law of Moses” are synonymous. The sins that Daniel was confessing included, “We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets” (Dan. 9:5b-6a). I can see no justification in claiming that “Your law” is restricted to the ten commandments and “the Law of Moses” does not include the ten commandments.
Because the people were terrified when God gave them the ten commandments at Mt Sinai, they asked if they could receive future messages via Moses (Dt. 5:23-31). As God granted this request, the other commandments were given to Moses and he taught them to the Israelites. So, all the commandments in the Pentateuch came from God.
Before the Israelites entered Canaan, Moses reminded them to “keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you” (Dt. 4:2). They were especially instructed to remember the giving of the ten commandments (Dt. 4:9-13). Then in between two references to the ten commandments (Dt. 4:10-13; 5:1-22), the Bible says “This is the law Moses set before the Israelites” (Dt. 4:44). So the ten commandments are part of the law of Moses: Moses communicated the ten commandments to the Israelites (Dt. 5:4-5) and he recorded them in the Pentateuch.
When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Mt. 22:37-40). This statement seems to be a summary of the ten commandments as duties towards God (Deut. 6:5 and the first 4 commandments) and towards people (Lev. 19:18 and the other 6 commandments). The ten commandments give the basic principles of Jewish law whereas their application to particular situations is given in the detailed laws in the Pentateuch.
Today the people of God comprise the church, which is made up of all true Christians. As the church commenced on the day of Pentecost, the part of the Bible that is specifically addressed to the church are the books from Acts to Revelation. Prior to this time (Genesis 12 to John); the Jews were God’s people on earth. What does Acts to Revelation of the Bible say about Christians keeping the ten commandments?
Christians are no longer under the Jewish law and are freed from its condemnation because Christ has fulfilled the law by paying the penalty of death (Mt. 5:17; Rom. 6:14-15; 7:1-6; Gal. 3:19, 24-25). The Mosaic Covenant under which the law was given is now obsolete (Heb. 8:13). Instead, God’s commandment to us is “to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another” (1 Jn 3:23). Our love for Christ will result in obeying His commands (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:1-3; 2 Jn. 6)
Christians seek to live holy lives, not by following the ten commandments, but by allowing Christ to live through them (Gal. 2:19-20). They seek to please the Lord Jesus by following His teachings and those of the apostles (1 Cor. 9:21).
Paul doesn’t distinguish between the ten commandments and the other laws that were given to Moses: he says that the ten commandments, “which was engraved in letters on stone”, were transitory like the other laws (2 Cor. 3:7-11). They were not permanent, whereas the gospel is permanent. 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).
Nine of the ten commandments are given between Acts to Revelation as God’s principles for holy living for Christians:
- Don’t worship any other god except the one true God (1 Cor. 8:4-6)
- Don’t worship idols (1 Cor. 10:7,14; 1 Jn. 5:21)
- Don’t misuse God’s name (Jas. 2:7)
- Keep the Sabbath day – This instruction is not mentioned in Acts to Revelation, and Christians shouldn’t be condemned for failing to keep it (Col. 2:16) – see separate post on this topic
- Honor your parents (Eph. 6:1-3)
- Don’t murder (Jas. 2:11)
- Don’t commit adultery (Jas. 2:11)
- Don’t steal (Eph.4:8)
- Don’t give false testimony (Col. 3:10)
- Don’t covet (Eph. 5:3)
The last six commandments have been summarized as “love your neighbour as yourself” (Rom. 13:8-10).
So, because Christians relate to God via Jesus Christ and not via keeping Jewish laws, they are under no obligation to keep the ten commandments. Instead, they seek to please the Lord by obeying the teachings of Christ and the apostles.
Written, October 2011
The Bible is a collection of books which were written over a period of over 1,500 years with unique origin and content.
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.
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).
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
God’s Word is the Key
In Old Testament times the Jews were God’s special people. He promised them many things, but some of these were conditional on their obedience (Ex. 15:25-26; 23:25-26; Dt. 7:12-16). If they 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” (Deut. 4:27NIV). Because the Jews were unfaithful and followed idols instead of the true God, they were overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Jerusalem was plundered and destroyed.
However, after 70 years of captivity in Babylon, some returned to their homeland. This journey of about 1500 km took them 4 months to travel (Ezra 7:8). They returned in three phases: Zerabbabel rebuilt the temple, 80 years later Ezra led a spiritual revival, and 13 years later Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Although there was opposition from the surrounding nations, they persisted and there was a spiritual revival when they turned back to worshipping the only true God. Let’s look at the key steps in their revival.
The main character is Ezra, who was a devoted student and a teacher of the Scriptures (Ezra 7:10). He was instrumental in a spiritual revival after Nehemiah rebuilt the city walls. One day all the Israelite men and women gathered together and Ezra “read it (the books of Moses) aloud from daybreak till noon” (Neh. 8:3). The people listened for 5-6 hours! That’s a long time! Thirteen Levites helped by “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (Neh. 8:8). As Aramaic was the language at the time, they probably translated it from Hebrew into Aramaic. On the next day Ezra taught the leaders, priests and Levites from the Scripture (Neh. 8:13). When they discovered that they had not been celebrating the Festival of Shelters, they celebrated it with joy. On every day of this 7-day festival, Ezra read from the Scripture (Neh. 8:18).
Three days later the people gathered together to confess their sinful ways. They “read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for 3 hours, and spent another 3 hours in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God” (Ezra 9:3). They prayed one of the longest prayers in the Bible, which traces God’s faithfulness across history despite the Jews unfaithfulness (Neh. 9:6-37). After this they wrote a binding agreement that they would obey the Lord and follow the Scriptures (Neh. 9:38 – 10:39). So the sequence of events was: they read the Bible (Neh. 8), they confessed their sins (Neh. 9), and they obeyed the Lord (Neh. 10).
This pattern is similar to the Jewish revival under king Josiah. After he was informed of God’s message in Scripture, “he tore his robes” and wept in anger and sorrow acknowledging their disobedience, and then promised “to follow the LORD and keep His commands” and acted to remove all the idols in the land of Israel (2 Ki. 22:8 – 23:20; 2 Chr. 34:14-33).
Read the Bible
What can we learn from this? Revival begins with God’s word. Did you notice how often they read the Scripture? The Bible showed them how they had failed. The bible is our spiritual food: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16). It helps us learn God’s perspective on our world including what is right and what is wrong (“teaching”); where we are on the wrong track (“rebuking”); how to get back onto the right track (“correcting”); and how to live a godly life (“training in righteousness”).
Confess our sins
After they read the Bible, they felt guilt and shame. This led to confession of sin in prayer to the Lord; they were honest with God. After God speaks to us in Scripture, we need to respond in prayer. This is necessary to keep in touch with God: “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). Although the penalty of our sins has already been paid, they affect our relationships in the family of God. If we confess our sins to the Lord, He promises to forgive them and enable these relationships to be restored. If the sin is against another person, we should confess to them so that they in turn can forgive us (Lk. 17: 3-4; Jas. 5:16).
Follow the Lord
After they confessed their sin, there was repentance and obedience; they acted to get back on track. Signs of being in fellowship with the Lord and with believers in the family of God are that we “keep His commands”, obey “His word”, and “live as Jesus did” (1 Jn. 2:3-6). This means obeying Christ’s teachings, doing what pleases Him, and letting Him live His life through us. Paul said, “I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Christ left an example for us to follow, and said “learn from me” and “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt. 11:29; 16:24; 1 Pt. 2:21).
Lessons for us
So let’s read and meditate on the Bible and apply it to our lives. This is the key to the three steps of spiritual revival: read the Bible, confess our sins, and follow the Lord.
Written, June 2011
Where was Jesus between His death and resurrection? He told them He had “not yet returned to His father in heaven” (Jn. 20:17NIV1984) and He could not have gone to hell, so where was He?
The Bible indicates that Christ’s spirit went to heaven when He died. He told the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43NIV). Paradise (“paradeisos” in Greek; Strong’s reference number 3857) is the same place as the “third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2,4) and means the dwelling place of God (Mt. 6:9). In Biblical times there was a concept of three heavens: the first heaven was the atmosphere (Heb. 4:14) and the second heaven the stars and galaxies. This means that He went to heaven after He died. This is consistent with the fact that just before He died Jesus called out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk. 23:46).
As the Greek word translated “returned” in Jn. 20:17NIV (“anabaino”; Strong’s reference number 305), means “to ascend” (NIV Study Notes); it has been changed to “ascended” in the most recent translation of the NIV Bible (2010). The context of this verse is that Mary Magdalene was probably worried that she would not be blessed when Jesus was no longer with her physically. He responded “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (Jn. 20:17NIV2010). She didn’t need to cling to Him as He would be around for another 40 days before He ascended back to heaven (Lk. 24:50-51; Acts 1:3, 9-11).
The idea that Jesus went to hell between His death and resurrection comes from Article 5 of the so-called “Apostles’ creed”: “… He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead[i] …”. The creed was apparently used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the churches of Rome. Presumably Article 5 was derived from interpretations of Psalm 16:10, Acts 2:27,31, Eph. 4:9 and 1 Peter 3:19. It has been stated that the purpose of Article 5 was to declare that Christ had a human soul that departed from His body when He died[ii]. Also, in the Middle Ages, the words “hell” and “hades” become confused. Consequently, the King James Bible incorrectly used “hell” instead of “hades” in Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:27,31. “Hell” (“genna”; Strong’s reference number 1067) is the place or state of everlasting punishment. “Hades” (“hades”; Strong’s reference number 86) is the place or state of the spirits of unbelievers after death—it is also a place of torment (Lk. 16:23-31).
Before Jesus’ ascension, the spirits of all people went to Hades (“Sheol” in Hebrew) (Ps. 89:48). After His ascension, only the spirits of unbelievers go to Hades, while the spirits of believers go directly to be with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1-8). After the final judgment, those in Hades will be cast into hell, which is also known as the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14).
Ephesians 4:9 states: “What does ‘He ascended’ mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions?”. This means that the Lord’s ascension necessitated a previous descent from heaven to earth, but not to hell. The word “lower” refers to the fact that the earth is beneath the heavens. A similar thought is given in: “Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath” (Is. 44:23).
According to 1 Peter 3:18-20, “He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” This passage is difficult to understand. The interpretation that best fits the context is that by the Holy Spirit, Christ preached through Noah (Gen. 6:3; 1 Pt. 1:10-11; 2 Pt.2:5) to people who were now spirits in hades because they had rejected Noah’s message. The Bible teaches that there is no second chance for salvation after death—“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). So Christ didn’t preach to spirits in hades. Furthermore, there is no evidence in the Bible of “purgatory”: a place or condition of temporal punishment before one goes to heaven. Therefore, there is no benefit of prayer for the dead or baptism of the dead—these are merely human traditions with no Biblical basis.
So Jesus did not go to Hell between His death and resurrection. Instead, His spirit was with the Father in heaven.
Written, August 2006
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
What can we learn from her life?
About 2,000 years ago, a young teenage girl named Mary lived in Nazareth, Israel, a despised town of which people said, “Can anything good come from there?” (Jn. 1:46 NIV).
Mary lived under her father’s authority and had been trained by her mother to protect her father’s honor. In public, she dressed according to their social standing, behaved according to good manners, and spoke to men only when spoken to. Otherwise she would bring shame to her father.
In her day, a Jewish woman’s words didn’t count – everything had to be supported by male witnesses. Every day, the Jewish man thanked God that he had not been born a Gentile, a slave or a woman. Women received little education and were not taught the Law of God. In public, they were veiled; an uncovered head could result in divorce. Their social relationships were confined to other women. They did not eat with male guests, and men were discouraged from talking to women.
Mary’s mother managed the household under her husband’s direction. She managed the budget, prepared the food and saw to the welcoming rituals when her husband entertained. She reared and educated the children, the father taking over the son’s education and discipline at puberty. When she left the house to go shopping, she was usually accompanied by a suitable companion to protect her husband’s name from mistakes she might make.
At puberty, daughters were expected to marry, and suitable husbands were found by the parents. Daughters had no choice in this, otherwise they would bring shame on the family. Marriage age was low – 18-24 years for the man, 13-16 years for the girl. It was a patriarchal society which placed women in the same category as one’s ox, donkey or possessions.
A women’s security in her husband’s family was limited by his legal right to divorce her if she caused an “impediment” to the marriage. A man could divorce his wife without her consent for reasons ranging from unchastity, to burning a meal, or finding a fairer woman. When they went to the synagogue the women sat separate from the men. At social occasions the women were always in the background.
Mary was engaged to Joseph, the contract probably being arranged by their fathers and finalized in a public ceremony in the town square. If the husband-to-be wanted to break the betrothal, he had to get a bill of divorce. Let’s see how Mary responded to the circumstances in her life and what we can learn about that for mothers.
Fear And Confusion
When an angel visited Mary she was afraid and confused. She was “greatly troubled at his words,” but the angel said “Do not be afraid” (Lk. 1:29-30). She knew about angels from the synagogue and an angel had visited Zechariah, the priest in the temple (Lk. 1:11). Angels usually visited men, not women. This was most unusual. What was going on? Why did it visit her, the least important one in the family, and not Joseph or her father? How would she tell Joseph about it; there were no male witnesses? Would he believe her being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35)?
Then there was the fear of rejection. To be pregnant while engaged was scandalous. If suspected of unfaithfulness she could be divorced or even put to death (Dt. 22:23-24). Would she be rejected by Joseph and left to bring up this child alone in a culture hostile to women – and probably remain unmarried for life? If she was also rejected by her father she could be forced into begging or prostitution to survive.
An Illegitimate Child
Although Jesus would have been easy to love, Mary faced many struggles. A child born during engagement was considered illegitimate. There would have been suspicions of adultery. People would have wondered, who was the father? Did the child look like Joseph? Mary would have faced this stigma for years, as the whole community would have known.
A Hated Child
Then she had to face the fact that people hated her child. Joseph and Mary escaped into Egypt when Jesus was a baby because the king wanted to kill Him (Mt. 2:13). Later, the respected religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus. They accused Him of blasphemy – of mocking God by claiming to forgive sins – and of breaking the Law (Lk. 5:21; Mt. 12:2), and planned to kill Him (Mt. 12:14). Mary would have felt this hatred as well, as she identified closely with her special son.
A Missing Child
Then there was the occasion when Jesus was lost for three days at the age of 12. Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem and searched frantically for Him until they found Him among the teachers in the temple courts (Lk. 2:41-51). When His parents saw Him, they were astonished and Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (Lk. 2:48). She didn’t know whether her firstborn was dead or alive. Who was He with? Had He been kidnapped? Where did He spend the night? She was very concerned for His safety.
Mary faced two tragedies that are not often thought about. First, Joseph probably died sometime after Jesus was 12 years old, leaving her to raise the children alone. The fact that Joseph is not named in Matthew 13:55 possibly indicates his death. This means that Mary was a single mother and Jesus, the eldest son, was the head of the household and expected to care for his mother, brothers and sisters. This would have been a difficult time for Mary, bringing up her children without the support of a husband.
The second tragedy was when Jesus gave up His carpenter’s occupation and left home. The eldest son was expected to follow his father’s trade and position in society. In people’s eyes, Jesus dishonored His dead father when He left home on His messianic mission. He brought great shame on the family by giving up His responsibility as head of the household. That’s why Mary tried to get Jesus back into the household (Mk. 3:31-32).
A Rejected Child
His family said Jesus was insane; respected Jewish leaders said He was demon possessed (Mk. 3:21, 22). How would a mother cope with that? When she went to talk with Him, a messenger was sent through the crowd, but instead of replying to her concern, Jesus used the incident to teach the people the importance of putting God’s interests above family interests (Mk. 3:31-35). Mary could have felt rejected at this time. On another occasion we read that “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5). How difficult for Mary, with such disputes between her children.
She Saw Her Child Die
Then Mary had to endure watching Jesus being crucified. Although most of the disciples had fled, she didn’t abandon Him (Jn. 19:25). When Jesus was eight days old, Simeon said that Mary would suffer as though she had been stabbed with a sword (Lk. 2:35). What suffering it would be for a mother to see her firstborn wrongfully accused, humiliated and executed.
How did Mary cope with motherhood that brought fear – the shame of an illegitimate child who was hated by the king and who went missing, being a single mother of a son who brought disgrace on the family and was rejected by society and executed before her eyes?
Followed God’s Will
Although she was afraid when the angel visited her, she accepted God’s will. After being told that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, Mary accepted the situation saying, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (Lk. 1:38). She calls herself a female slave, one who waits on her Master and obeys in complete submission.
She believed that it would be a miraculous conception involving the Holy Spirit and God’s power, because the angel said “nothing is impossible with God.” Unlike Moses, she readily accepted the task. When God told Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses said he was not good enough, and asked God to send someone else (Ex. 4:10, 13).
Mary rejoiced so much in what God was going to do with her life that she wrote a song about it (Lk. 1:46-55). She trusted that God was going to bring much blessing out of her life as mother of the Messiah. She knew that children are a gift from the Lord (Ps. 127:3).
In her song Mary praised God for His salvation (Lk. 1:46-49), for His mighty deeds (50-53), and for His faithfulness to Israel (54-55). Her song is full of Old Testament references. Clearly, Mary trusted God and the Scriptures.
A mother who praises God and knows His word makes a difference in her children and family. For example, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). Timothy’s mother and grandmother passed on their Christian faith to him. Because Mary accepted God’s will for her life and praised Him, she was highly favored by God (Lk. 1:28, 30).
Protected Her Children
From the moment Jesus was born His life was in danger. When King Herod threatened His life, Mary and Joseph took Jesus and escaped to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15). Mary also protected Jesus’ identity. Though she knew He was the promised Messiah, she kept this to herself. At His birth she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” and as he grew up she “treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:19,51).
Showed LoveAnd Devotion
Mary’s love and devotion for Jesus began before He was born and lasted beyond the cross. She stood near the cross when He was crucified (Jn. 19:25-27) and was present with the believers in the upper room after the Ascension (Acts 1:14). Mary’s was an enduring love and devotion.
Mary was rewarded: she was there when Jesus was raised from the dead; she was among the 120 when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost; she saw her other children accept Jesus as Messiah; and today she’s in heaven.
A Supportive Husband
Although Joseph planned to divorce Mary quietly when he found out she was pregnant, so he “wouldn’t expose her to public disgrace,” he changed his mind after an angel appeared to him (Mt. 1:18-25). Joseph obeyed the angel’s message and married Mary. Mary had a supportive husband for at least 12 years. They were partners in raising Jesus to adulthood.
Husbands should love their wives, “just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Specifically we are to love our wives as our own bodies, helping them grow, and making them feel special (Eph. 5:28-29). This means supporting them by expressing confidence in them rather than controlling them, and praising them rather than criticizing them or taking them for granted.
An Understanding Friend
Mary visited Elizabeth, an older relative who was also expecting a child through miraculous circumstances – she was past the age of childbearing. Her child was John the Baptist. Elizabeth encouraged Mary during a difficult time.
Extended families are important and this should include the local church. Look around and you’ll find someone who needs encouragement. Or maybe you could offer to baby-sit so a husband and wife can have a day or evening to themselves. When her children were not present to support Mary in her grief at the cross, John was asked to care for her (Jn. 19:26-27), an example of the extended family.
A Model Mother
Mary was a special mother who had a special child. She lived in a society that was very different from ours, yet she had to deal with fear and a child that was hated, rejected and abused. She endured tragedy and suffering and she didn’t always understand what her child was saying or doing (Lk. 2:50). Yet the characteristics of the mother God chose to nurture His Son are a model for motherhood: she followed God’s will, knew His Word, praised Him enthusiastically, protected her children from danger, and showed them much love and devotion. She also had the support of her husband and friends in the family of God. Mothers play a most important role in our families. They deserve our honor and support.
Published, May 2003
There are a lot of religions for people to follow today. Eastern religions are spreading all over the world. Extreme cults (that lead to tragedies such as the mass suicides of the Branch Davidians in Texas and Heaven’s Gate in California) continue to appear. Other more established cults continue to spread their message by door-to-door canvassing. And then there are numerous spin-offs from established denominations, that over-emphasize one aspect of biblical truth at the expense of all others.
While false teachers seem to characterize these religions, the Bible says, “Beware of false prophets” (Mt. 7:15 NIV), because they can also appear in any church. They are also referred to as “false teachers” and “false apostles.” All of them will be called “false teachers” in this series.
False teachers are mentioned somehow in all except two of the 27 books in the New Testament. For example, Christ warned against the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospels. The Book of Acts tells us of false teachers who promoted idolatry, occult practices and Jewish traditions. In the Epistles, many verses warn of false teachers within the Church, including two whole books, Galatians and Jude. And much of Romans urges believers to turn away from Jewish legalism.
The most common word used to describe false teachers is that they are deceivers, who lead people astray. They distort the truth in order to draw followers after themselves (Acts 20:30), and make them zealous for their cause (Gal. 4:17). False teachers can leave a trail of destruction, like savage wolves among sheep (Acts 20:29). They can also bring teachings from demons (1 Tim. 4:1).
Paul reminded those in Ephesus daily for three years to “be on your guard” against false teachers (Acts 20:31). The Bible indicates that the best defense against false teachers is to become mature in the Christian faith.
A Sign Of Maturity
The immature are “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). They are blown off course like a sail boat in a storm. However, the mature are not deceived or blown off course because they “have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).
The Three Tests
It is important to evaluate those that promote a new or different teaching. In fact, all teachers should be tested “to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). In a more general sense, believers should “test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Th. 5:21-22).
The church at Ephesus must have heeded Paul’s warning, as it was commended: “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (Rev. 2:2).
There are three clear tests for recognizing false teachers: the Jesus Test, the Gospel Test and the Fruit Test.
The Jesus Test
The Jesus Test for distinguishing good from evil states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2,3,6).
Similarly, the Bible also asks, “Who is the liar? It is the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 Jn. 2:22-23). Such people do not agree with what the Bible says about Jesus Christ (2 Jn. 7; Jude 4).
In Matthew 16:13-16, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This conversation occurred after Christ warned the disciples of the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
So, the question to be answered in the Jesus Test is this: Who is Jesus Christ? False teachers deny that Christ is the divine Son of God, believing him to be nothing more than a great teacher. Some of those who fail the Jesus Test are: Animist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian Scientist, Hare Krishna, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witness, Humanist, practicing Jew, Mormon, Muslim, New Ager, occult worshiper and Scientologist. All these groups worship physical things or follow false beliefs (Rom. 1:23,25; Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20). Christians believe that Christ is divine and human (Jn. 1:14; 10:30; Phil. 2:5-8), sinless (Heb. 4:15), eternal (Jn. 17:24), and the Creator (Col.1:16). Jesus is truly unique.
The Gospel Test
Besides believing in a different Jesus, the Bible also states that false teachers promote a different gospel: “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted … such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:4,13).
To the Galatians, Paul writes: “I am astonished that you are … turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). He then states that these false teachers were “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” and should be “eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:7-9). These strong words are repeated to emphasize their importance.
So, the question to be answered in this test is: What is their gospel? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements – resulting in death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). The only means of rescue is salvation by faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8,9). “Different gospels” do not present this truth. They either add to it or take away from it, and Revelation warns against this tampering with aspects of the Gospel (ch. 22:18-19; 1:5; 4:11; 21:1-22:6).
A “different gospel” may also deceive by using words similar to the true gospel, but giving them different meanings. Three examples are the works gospel, the pleasure gospel and the greed gospel.
The works gospel adds extra requirements to the true gospel, such as the rules and regulations of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt. 16:5-12). Simply put, it says there are things you must do to get saved and stay saved.
Followers of the pleasure gospel “never stop sinning” and entice others by “appealing to the lustful desires of the sinful human nature,” while they are “slaves of depravity” (2 Pet. 2:13-22). They “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4).
Those caught up in the greed gospel “think that godliness is a means to financial gain,” despite the warning that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” that causes people to “wander from the faith” and “pierce themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:5,10). Examples of the greed gospel would be the “health” and “wealth” gospels so prevalent today.
The Fruit Test
It is God’s will that we be fruitful. Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing … I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (Jn. 15:5,16).
Jesus warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15,16,20). He also said, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briars. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:44-45).
So, the question of this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident? The former is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The sinful nature may involve idolatry, sexual immorality, selfish ambition, pride and dissension (Gal. 5:19-23).
A related question would be: Is there evidence of spiritual growth? For example, in another book that deals with false teachers, John writes, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us” (2 Jn. 4).
It can be seen that the three tests get at the core of Christianity. If we use them to distinguish good and evil, then there are two possibilities, a pass or a failure. The consequences of these are now considered in turn.
Those That Fail The Tests
False teachers within the Church are a serious issue because they lead to divisions rather than unity (Rom. 16:17; Ti. 3:10; Jude 19). The biblical response is to warn them twice and then “have nothing to do with them” (Ti. 3:10). For example, at Galatia Paul resisted false teachers by not giving in to them for a moment and standing firm against them (Gal. 2:5; 5:1). He also opposed Peter, a fellow-worker, to his face when Peter failed the gospel test (Gal. 2:11-13). The reason for this is that false teachings can spread as yeast works through a batch of dough (1 Cor. 5: 6-7; Gal. 5:9).
False teachers within the Church should be confronted (Ti. 1:13; Rev. 2:2), in order to silence them and stop their influence on other believers (1 Tim. 1:3; Ti. 1:11). If they do not cease, they should be expelled in order to avoid contaminating the local church (Rom. 16:17; Gal. 4:30; 1 Tim. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:21). This also applies to those practicing sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). It is the method to be followed when contending for the faith (Jude 3). Elders are responsible for this – they are to be on their guard and protect the church as a shepherd protects the sheep (Acts 20:28-31). They should not ignore false teachers, hoping they will go away.
We should not welcome or help false teachers from outside the church, as this causes us to share in their wicked work (2 Jn. 10-11). This is consistent with keeping ourselves from idols (1 Cor. 10:14; 1 Jn. 5:21). We should also “have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim. 3:5). In all situations involving false teachers we must remember this warning: “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Those That Pass The Tests
We need to make sure we correctly identify those that pass the Jesus Test, the Gospel Test and the Fruit Test. For example, John told Jesus, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus replied, “Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:38-40). The disciples were rebuked for using the wrong test. Likewise, we should be careful not to use the wrong test when assessing other believers. It would be wrong to treat other believers as false teachers, just because they are “not one of us.”
It is interesting to note that the Lord told Peter in Corinth, “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Likewise, God has people in every town and nation, and we should not be afraid to associate with people who pass the tests, otherwise we become like Peter in Galatians 2. If God accepts them, we should too (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 15:7).
Finally, we should test ourselves: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Do we live as though Jesus is God? Do we add to or take away from the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ? Do we drift into different gospels such as that of works, pleasure or greed? What sort of fruit is evident? Is there spiritual growth?
The Bible contains all the principles we need to live the Christian life. Yet it is possible to over-emphasize minor parts of the Bible and under-emphasize major parts. It is wrong to build a major theology from a Bible passage taken out of context. For example, there are numerous verses in the New Testament about loving one another – a major part of the Christian faith (Jn. 15:17) – while there are only a few about speaking in tongues. It would be wrong to act as though speaking in tongues was a more important issue than loving one another. As has often been said, we should never major in the minors!
Published, July – September 1998
Jesus said we are accountable for every “idle word” we speak
According to Matthew 12:36-37 (NLT) Jesus said this to the Pharisees: “You must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak. The words you say now reflect your fate then; either you will be justified or you will be condemned.” The Greek word argos – here translated as “idle” – means “inactive, unfruitful, barren, lazy, useless or unprofitable.” This word was also used to describe inactive workers (Mt. 20:3,6), young widows who were busybodies and gossips who didn’t care for their children and homes (1 Tim. 5:13), gluttonous Cretans (Ti. 1:12), and unproductive believers (2 Pet. 1:8). Notice that in all these instances argos described people.
There are two instances in the New Testament where argos is used metaphorically to describe a person’s words (Mt. 12:36) and faith unaccompanied by works (Jas. 2:20). So the “idle” words of Matthew 12:36 (NKJV, NLT) are those that are ineffective and worthless. Other translations call them “empty” (TNIV) or “careless” (CEV, NASB, NIV) conversation. Now let’s look at the context of this verse.
After Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, the common people thought He was Israel’s Messiah, but the Pharisees disagreed and said that the miracle had been performed under Satan’s power (Mt. 12:22-32). However, Jesus said that the miraculous power had come from the Holy Spirit. Jesus then told the Pharisees that a tree is recognized by its fruit – a good tree having good fruit and a bad tree having bad fruit (Mt. 12:33-35). Similarly, their unjustified accusations came from their evil lives. Then Jesus said, “I tell you that people will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Mt. 12:36-37 TNIV). Because the words spoken are an accurate indication of a person’s inner life, they are a suitable basis for the judgment of that life.
Regarding “the day of judgment,” in the case of unbelievers, it is at “the great white throne” where the Lord Jesus is the judge. Their destiny is the lake of fire and their degree of punishment is “according to what they have done” (Rev. 20:11,13,15; Jn. 5:22). The words spoken by unbelievers during their life will condemn them.
In the case of believers, their judgment is at “the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). Their destiny is to be with Christ forever, as the penalty for their sin – including careless speech – has been paid through His death on the cross. The Lord will reward them “for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Speech and behavior that is unconfessed and therefore unforgiven will reduce one’s reward at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Jn. 1:9).
So, an idle word is one that is useless for productive communication. Every such empty or careless word will be judged because it reveals the inner self. Believers should speak as those who are going to be judged at the judgment seat of Christ (Jas. 2:12). Paul says Christians should not engage in “foolish talk” like this, and he categorizes it along with obscenity and coarse joking (Eph. 5:4). In many ways one’s conversation is an indicator of that person’s spiritual health (Jas. 3:1-12).
Published, June 2010
Our attitude towards illness and healing
I recently read an article in a Christian magazine that said, “God heals all our sicknesses,” and it referenced Exodus 15:26 and 1 Peter 2:24. Because people have different ideas about the topic of healing, let’s look at what else the Bible says about it.
There are differences between God’s promises in the Old Testament and those in the New Testament. Abraham was promised a great reputation and the land of Canaan for his many descendants (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:8). Obedient Jews were promised a long life, prosperity, and victory over their enemies (Dt. 6:1-2; Ps. 128:1-2; Isa. 38:1-8). Most of the promises given to the Jews in the Old Testament were for physical or material blessings.
On the other hand, in the New Testament, God’s promises to believers in the early Church were eternal life, the Holy Spirit, peace, and the return of Christ (Eph. 1:13; Phil. 4:7; Heb. 10:36-37; 1 Jn. 2:25). All are spiritual blessings, not physical ones (Eph. 1:3). We should be careful not to apply to New Testament Christians promises of physical blessings given to the Old Testament Jews.
HEALING IN OLD TESTAMENT TIMES
The Bible teaches that all genuine healing comes from God (Ps. 103:2-3; 107:17-20; Hos. 11:1-3). The Hebrew word rapa means “to heal” or “to restore to normal.” But because bodily processes diminish due to aging, there is no such thing as perfect health, especially as we get older.
In the Old Testament God gave conditional promises to the Jews that He would protect them from disease and heal them. The condition was that they had to keep God’s commands, do what was right in His eyes and not follow pagan gods. He also promised that there would be no miscarriages, no couples unable to have children, no animals unable to bear young, and their enemies would be inflicted with the diseases that they were protected from (Ex. 15:25-26; 23:25-26; Dt. 7:14-15). We find no such promises in the New Testament.
Exodus 15:26 – which says, “I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you” – was quoted out of context in the magazine article I read. This verse applies specifically to the children of Israel traveling from Egypt to Canaan, but not to us today. Otherwise, we could still claim God’s promise to collect manna for daily food!
There are many instances of miraculous healing in the Old Testament. For example, when King Hezekiah was sick and about to die, he prayed and God allowed him to live for an additional 15 years (2 Ki. 20:5-6).
JESUS, THE HEALER
When He was on earth, the Lord healed all who were brought to Him (Mt. 8:16-17). Jesus said that this had been prophesied by Isaiah (Isa. 53:4). These miracles displayed His divine power (Mt. 11:2-5; Jn. 20:30-31). The Lord still heals all kinds of illnesses, and therefore we should acknowledge God in every case of healing. In the future when He returns to rule over the earth during the Millennium, the Bible tells us that the Lord will heal all diseases (Isa. 33:24; Jer. 30:17). But that is for a future time, not today.
With reference to the Lord, Peter quoted from Isaiah in his first letter: “By His wounds you have been healed” (Isa. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24). This type of healing – described in the next verse as, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25) – is spiritual, between sinful people and God. Also, it is in the past tense, not the present tense. This verse means that Christ suffered on the cross and died as our substitute so that our sins could be forgiven and we could have a restored relationship with God. It has nothing to do with physical healing; it would be wrong to tell a seriously ill Christian that by Christ’s wounds he has been physically healed. First Peter 2:24 was also quoted out of context in the magazine article mentioned earlier. This verse is about spiritual, not physical healing.
Our bodies have been amazingly designed to heal themselves of most injuries and illnesses. Living cells are being replaced continuously. If we cut a finger the wound heals itself. Broken bones grow back together. Doctors know that many complaints are better by morning. Our immune system can automatically fix mild colds and throat infections. One prominent physician wrote, “Most coughs are self-curative usually within 1-3 weeks with or without treatment.” David wrote, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14).
THE BIG PICTURE
In Genesis 1-2 God created a perfect world where there was no sickness, pain or death. It was utopia, but it didn’t last long. When sin came into the world (Gen. 3), our world changed completely. Not only are we spiritually separated from God because of sin, we now live in a decaying world of disease, suffering, injustice and death.
Fortunately that’s not the end of the story. God had a rescue plan for mankind that involved sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to restore our relationship with God. The outcome of this plan will not be finalized until the end of time. Christians are already redeemed or healed spiritually, but not yet physically. Today we live in a world whose suffering Paul described this way: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons 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 glorious freedom 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 first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:18-23).
Paul’s “present sufferings” are contrasted to “the glory that will be revealed in us.” Like Paul, we suffer from sicknesses and these will not be totally healed until our bodies are resurrected, which is the final phase of our salvation – our deliverance from suffering. We look forward to God’s promised deliverance from sin and its effects.
Paul persevered in suffering because he had the hope of the resurrection: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Although the process of physical decay was going on continuously in Paul’s life, his suffering was not the most important thing in his life. Instead he focused on the unseen things like the resurrection body, the splendor of heaven and the triumph of the Lord at the Second Coming. The pattern for Christ was suffering at His first coming, and glory, honor and praise at His second coming. Likewise, the pattern for believers is present suffering and future glory.
LESSONS FOR US
Let’s always be careful when interpreting the Bible, especially in matters of health. It is not a collection of verses to be selected by topic and understood in isolation. Instead, start with what the Bible says and then consider the context by asking who the passage was written to, and what the surrounding verses say. When we do this we find that most of the promises given to the Jews in the Old Testament were physical or material blessings, while those given to Christians in the New Testament were spiritual blessings.
Although believers have been redeemed spiritually, they will experience sickness until death or the redemption of their bodies at the Rapture (1 Cor. 15:35-58). God’s emphasis now in the New Testament is on saving people by healing them spiritually, not physically. And isn’t this what is most important?
Let’s be like Paul and acknowledge that believers will suffer due to illnesses and injuries, and let’s accept these as being insignificant when compared to being liberated from sin and its effects.
Published April 2010
See the other article in this series:
- Does God heal all our sicknesses? Part 2
How are you travelling?
During a visit to the Netherlands I was amazed at the number of boats and bicycles throughout the country. The boats and bicycles are used for transport and recreation. Many of the boats sail along a network canals. Others are house boats. One company combines the two modes of transport by offering bicycle tours with overnight accommodation on a barge.
The word “nether” means “lower”. The Netherlands as the name suggests is a low-lying country. Almost half of the land is below sea level. Elsewhere, the elevation rarely exceeds 50 meters (or 160 feet). Vaalserberg near the border with Belgium and Germany is the nations highest point at 321 meters (or 1053 feet) above sea level. Yet it is only 25 kilometers (or 16 miles) from canals near the Maas river.
Boating is a way of life to the Dutch. There are numerous canals, rivers and lakes and some locks between waterways at different heights. The total length of the navigable canals is approximately 7,000 kilometers (or 4,350 miles). Some canals are elevated to carry boats above the freeway. Two wonderful cruising areas are the Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht region and the lake region of Friesland in the north.
In the New Testament we read that Jesus and His disciples travelled in boats, while Paul travelled in ships. The most dramatic voyages in the bible are Jonah’s towards Tarshish and Paul’s to Rome (Jon. 1:1-2:10; Acts 27:1-14). A violent storm arose on both occasions and the ship threatened to break up. The sailors were afraid and they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship (Jon. 1:5; Acts 27:18). Due to miraculous circumstances no lives were lost.
Jonah and Paul were both sent to the headquarters of an empire; Ninevah, the Assyrian capital, and Rome, the Roman capital. Jonah was running away from God by travelling in the opposite direction to God’s command (Jon. 1:2-3). Paul was obeying God (Acts 23:11). This reminds me we are all travelling in the journey of life. Which direction are you going? If you are going in the wrong direction, are you willing to acknowledge this and turn to God like Jonah?
There are approximately 18 million bicycles in the Netherlands, which is more than one per person. Bicycles can go along narrow alleys and other places where other motor vehicles can’t. They can also be taken on trains and ridden in the city and in the countryside. This reminds me of the parable of the great banquet, which is an illustration of the gospel message being spread across the world (Lk. 14:16-24).
After the original invitations to the banquet were rejected, the invitation went to whoever could be found from the “streets and alleys of the town” and the “roads and country lanes” (vv. 21, 23NIV). This includes all kinds of thoroughfares. It is like the pattern of evangelism, which includes people in all kinds of places—“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “Jerusalem” was the city they were in at the time and the chief city in Judea. “Judea” was the surrounding region that had a large Jewish population. “Samaria” was an adjacent region that had no dealings with the Jews. “The ends of the earth” at that time was the known world around the Mediterranean Sea. This is the pattern of evangelism that was followed by the early church—firstly Jerusalem (Acts 1:1-7:60), then surrounding and adjacent regions (Acts 8:1-9:31), and then more distant lands (Acts 9:32- 28:31). It shows that evangelism should begin in your neighbourhood and extend across the globe. So, let’s take the gospel whenever and wherever we travel, on bike, boat or some other way!
Written, January 2003
About 4,000 years ago Abraham received some special promises when God spoke to him. The bible contains many other promises as well and in this article we look at some key promises given for Christians today. As Abraham had to listen in order to hear God’s promises to him, we should read the Bible to know God’s promises for us.
A survey of the New Testament
The Greek word for promise is “epangalia”. This article is based on a survey of every occurrence of this word and its close derivatives in the New Testament that relate to God’s promises—this was 60 verses, which are all referenced below. I am assuming that these verses indicate God’s key promises for Christians living between the day of Pentecost and the rapture. We will look at the context of these verses to help discover—what message did they convey to those of the early church and what is their message for us?
The topics that relate to the word “promise” in these verses are listed in the table below. It is interesting that half of the verses relate to promises given to Abraham and his descendants—the majority of these being in the books of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. This is not surprising as a majority of the early Christians were Jewish and the Old Testament was the only Scripture that the early church possessed. Therefore, God often used illustrations from the Old Testament. Also, these books deal with topics of those times, such as the fact that justification by faith and not works is taught in the Old Testament, and with the trap of legalistic Judaism.
Key promises mentioned in the New Testament
|Given to Abraham and his descendants||32||53|
|Second coming or end times||6||10|
|Children of God||1||2|
|All God’s promises||2||3|
Old Testament promises mentioned in the New Testament
The greatest occurrence of the word “epangalia” in the New Testament relates to the promises given to Abraham and his descendants (Acts 7:5,17; Rom. 4:20-21; 9:4, 8, 9; Gal. 3:16; Eph. 2:12; Heb. 6:13; 7:6; 11:9,13,17,33). The three main messages in these passages are summarised below:
Firstly, God keeps His promises—Isaac was born “as the result of a promise” (Gal. 4:23NIV). “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised” (Heb. 6:15). This happened because of Abraham’s faith and God’s power (Heb 11:11).
This was an important message for the early church, particularly in times of persecution. They knew that their sins had been forgiven and they had a home in heaven. This gave them hope and security. It is also important for us during difficult and disappointing times—if we can’t trust in God, who can we trust? No-one. In a post-modern world, characterised by change and instability, it can be difficult to trust in God. When our faith is weak we act as though God is a part of creation; but of course God is not like us—He is reliable and always keeps His promises.
Secondly, Jesus was the promised Messiah (Acts 13:23,32; 26:6; Heb. 11:39). Paul wrote, “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (Rom 15:8). The remainder of this sentence says Christ came so that the Gentiles would also praise God. When sinners put their faith in Christ, they share in the promises given to Abraham (Gal. 3:29; 4:28).
As already mentioned a majority of the early Christians were Jewish. When they realised that Jesus was the Messiah, they converted from Judaism to Christianity and this truth about Jesus would have featured in evangelism to the Jews. For example, on the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” and Stephen told the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, “you betrayed and murdered the Messiah”.
The message for us is that all God’s promises are fulfilled through Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). Paul writes that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing because we belong to Christ. The promises in the Old Testament look ahead to Christ and those for the future rely on His great sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Finally, God’s promise of salvation (and eternal life) is a gift to be received by faith, not something to be earnt. In Romans 4 Paul shows how the gospel is in harmony with the Old Testament—God accepted Abraham because Abraham had faith in Him (Rom 4:13-14)—“The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16). The Old Testament law was only a temporary measure until the coming of Christ (Gal. 3:17-19, 21-22). So, eternal life is guaranteed to those who have faith in God like Abraham did (Heb. 11:11).
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the Jews in the times of the early church. They endeavored to live in strict accordance with the Old Testament law as interpreted and amplified by the scribes and their tradition and they believed in salvation by works. Consequently, the message of salvation by faith and not works was a vital distinction between Christianity and Judaism.
This truth is also important for us as it is fundamental to the Christian faith. Salvation is a gift that God promises to those who receive it by faith. There is no way we can earn our salvation. As a result of this salvation all believers are assured of participating in and receiving the remaining promises.
The second most prevalent topic associated with the word “epangalia” in the New Testament is that of eternal life. When we accept Christ as Savior, we receive eternal life which is valuable now and when we get to heaven. Eternal life enables us to live for Christ today and to look forward to life after death (1 Jn. 2:25; 1 Tim. 4:8). Eternal life is one of the “better promises” in the new covenant that came though Christ (Heb. 8:6). It is shared by all believers—there is no distinction based on race or any other difference between believers (Eph. 3:6).
As Paul wrote concerning “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time”, people who followed God in Old Testament times will be included in those who share eternal life (Tit. 1:2).
Heaven, the place of eternal rest is still available to all who believe in Christ (2 Tim 1:1; Heb 4:1; 6:17). It is an “eternal inheritance” for all those who have been freed from the penalty of their sins by Christ’s death (Heb 6:12; 9:15; Jas. 2:5). All believers have eternal life and are looking forward to new bodies, the marriage supper of the Lamb and living with the Lord.
Heaven also includes rewards given at the judgement seat of Christ for service done for the Lord. For example, those who persevere under trials are promised “the crown of life”, which may be a deeper appreciation of eternal life in heaven (Jas. 1:12).
As God promises eternal life as a gift to sinners who receive it by faith it is guaranteed to all believers (Rom 4:16). We can be confident of this based on God’s Word, because we can’t earn salvation by good works.
Some in the early church thought Jews were privileged and so they looked down on Gentiles. But the fact that they both had eternal life and were indwelt by the Holy Spirit illustrated that there should be no barrier between them—Christianity is multinational! The same applies today—we should accept all true Christians as Christ would—regardless of differences in race, in status, or in gender.
The Holy Spirit
The word “epangalia” in the New Testament is also often associated with the topic of the Holy Spirit. Before His ascension, Christ promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come as had been promised in the Old Testament (Is. 44:3; Ezek. 36:27; Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:4). The Holy Spirit is God and He gives believers a divine power. This happened initially on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33). This promise was for all believers, whether they were Jews (“you and your children”) or Gentiles (“all who are far off”) (Acts 2:39).
The Holy Spirit indwells a believer when they trust in the good news of God’s offer of salvation—“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph 1:13). This pattern—hearing the message, believing it, and then receiving the Holy Spirit—was evident when Peter spoke at Cornelius’ house. The gift of the Holy Spirit is part of the blessings that were promised to Abraham (Gal. 3:14).
These verses also teach that the Holy Spirit is a sign that we belong to God and that He will protect us and will keep His promises.
This promise is equally important to the early church and to us. The New Testament is full of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and they are instructed to “be filled with the Spirit”. He is God with us on a continual basis—God speaks to us today through the Holy Spirit. He is a great helper and teacher and will remind us of relevant Scripture.
Second coming or end times
The second coming of Christ and other future events are also often associated with the word “epangalia” in the New Testament. The book of Hebrews was written for those struggling with leaving Judaism for Christianity, who were encouraged to preserver until they received the reward that God had promised (Heb. 10:36). This reward is explained in the next verse as being when Christ returns to take Christians to be with Himself at the rapture. It is important that our present circumstances do not cause us to forget about the wonderful future that God has promised us—“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). God is reliable and will keep His promises.
Scoffers say, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?”—they do not believe that God is coming to judge the world (2 Pt. 3:4). So, why has there been a long delay in the coming of God’s judgement? The reason is that He is patient, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). He is giving people every opportunity to be saved. He waited 120 years before He sent the flood and has waited thousands of years before destroying the world with fire.
God has promised many awesome demonstrations of His power after He takes the believers to be with Himself during the rapture (Heb. 12:26). But, believers are to look forward to “a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pt. 3:13). This is the eternal state after God has triumphed over Satan and evil.
This expectation can help believers through life’s struggles—whether they live in the first century or today. It gives them an eternal perspective.
Children of God
The promises of 2 Corthinians 7:1, mentioned in the previous verses, include that believers are “sons and daughters” of God the Father and that God welcomes those who stand against evil. There are two relationships here: between a child and a parent and between siblings. As a result of this promise, we receive blessings from God and from one another.
A parent has special care for their child who they nurture and encourage from infancy to adolescence and then to adulthood—that’s how God cares for us. Meanwhile a child is to obey their parents—and Christians are to obey and imitate God.
Although siblings can be rivals, they share a common family and the same parents. As a consequence of this relationship, most of us help and care for others in our family. Likewise believers, who follow the same Savior and share the same destiny, should care for one another.
The illustration of being children of God applies to the early church and to today. All believers need to appreciate they serve a loving Father. However the situation regarding relationships between believers has changed in the past 1,900 years. The early church was small and all believers fellowshipped with one another, except when dictators such as Diotrephes had their way. Today there are different Christian denominations and we need to remember we are children in a global family comprising believers from all Christian denominations, not just the one we happen to support. The Bible emphasises that God has no favorites, nor should we.
All God’s promises
The remaining instances of the word “epangalia” in the New Testament are two verses that relate to all of God’s promises. We mentioned earlier that all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).
God has given us everything we need to live for Him including “His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4). It is estimated that there are at least 30,000 promises in the Bible. They are “very great” because they help us do such things as:
- “participate in the divine nature”—as we appreciate what God has promised, we become more like Him, and
- “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires”—God’s promises can help us resist temptation—when temptations come we should claim the promises.
Application to us
These promises can have a strong influence on our lives when we remember:
- We follow a God who keeps His promises—look back at history. Our God is reliable and trustworthy.
- All of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ – Christ has “better promises” than any others in the world because they are given by the God who made the universe and continues to sustain it.
- Salvation is a gift to be received by faith, not something to be earnt—this is a fundamental of the Christian faith.
- The Holy Spirit is God with us on a continual basis—we should be more aware of His presence as all our power to live for Christ comes from the Holy Spirit.
- We are children of God—we have a global family and should welcome fellowship with other believers. The early church was not restricted to a small community—it witnessed in Jerusalem, then Judea the southern section of Palestine, then Samaria in central Palestine and then to the ends of the earth. Like evangelism, our fellowship should spread out across the land. Paul had to be reminded by the Lord when he was in Corinth; “I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city”. We need to be aware of other believers in our community who are also a part of the body of Christ and not avoid them or isolate ourselves from them.
- We should be looking forward to Christ’s return to fulfil His promises concerning the future. This includes eternal life in heaven and seeing Jesus exalted to the highest place and seeing every knee bow before Him and hearing every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and singing together with all creation, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
- God doesn’t reveal His promises to us unless we read them in the Bible—so we need to: read them, understand them, meditate on them, and store them in our memories. If you have trouble sleeping at night, then be like David who wrote, “I lie awake at night thinking of your promises” (Ps. 119:148). Then we can say, “I have hidden your word in my heart” (Ps. 119:11). As a consequence you will realise that they are great promises and they will become precious to you, and The Holy Spirit will recall them when you need refreshment and encouragement—“Your promise revives me; it comforts me in all my troubles” (Ps. 119:50).
Written, March 2003
A special Christmas message
Every December 25, Christians all over the world celebrate an event that occurred about 2,000 years ago – the birth of Jesus Christ. Unlike most boys of that time, Jesus was not named after a human father or given a family name (Lk. 1:59-60). Instead, He was given special names to signify His special mission.
Although born in a Jewish community in a town near Jerusalem, Jesus was to affect the lives of all humanity – past, present and future. This is evident from the names associated with the birth of this unique child.
God with us
It was prophesied centuries before that He would be called “Immanuel”, which means “God with us” (Is. 7:14; Mt. 1:22-23NIV). This shows that Jesus was God living on earth as a human being and is consistent with Joseph being told that Jesus was conceived “from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). How remarkable that the Creator of the universe should be born on earth as a baby boy.
The Bible states that Jesus “shared in our humanity” (Heb. 2:14) and “became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:14). As a result, He is the clearest revelation of God to mankind. The fact that Jesus was both human and divine is fundamental to the Christian faith (1 Jn. 4:2; 2 Jn. 7). His followers recognised that He was “the man from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).
It seems as though God was also physically present on earth at the beginning of history as Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). So why did the Divine return to earth as Jesus?
Joseph was told to give Mary’s son the name Jesus, “because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21NIV). This was His mission.
The name “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua”, which means “the Lord saves”. Joshua helped to spy out the promised land of Canaan (Num. 13). Most of the spies were afraid of the fortified cities, and the people who were strong and powerful and seemed like giants. Despite this Joshua and Caleb believed they could take possession of the land (Num. 13:30).
God used Joshua to destroy the walled city of Jericho and many other kingdoms and cities in Canaan. Under his leadership the Israelites had many victories and were saved from their enemies.
Today we live in a world of sin, suffering and death. As Joshua was used by God to save Israel, Jesus was used by God to save humanity. He came to have victory over sin, death and Satan and to rescue us from eternal judgement (Heb. 2:14-15; Rom. 5:18-21). In fact, “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Christ the Lord
The shepherds were told that the baby was “Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11). The name “Christ” is the Greek form of “Messiah”, which means “the Anointed One”. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests and kings were typically anointed with oil. When this name is applied to Jesus it means that He was divinely appointed – appointed by God.
Peter testified “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).
John said of the Scriptures “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31).
The word “Lord” signifies power and authority and is frequently used of God and Jesus in the Bible. Jesus taught “as one who had authority” (Mk. 1:22) and He demonstrated great power by His miracles, such as healing the sick, driving out demons and multiplying the loaves and fishes.
The wise men used a title of power and authority when they called the baby “the King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). Although King Herod was disturbed about this, Jesus was not recognised as such (Jn. 1:11), and this characteristic was not evident during His life on earth. Although this was the charge at His crucifixion, He said that His kingdom was not of this world (Jn. 18:36).
Jesus is supreme, His name “is above every name”. In the future His awesome power will be evident to everyone and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).
At Christmas we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, whose birth was to be “good news of great joy … for all the people” (Lk. 2:10). Responses to His birth included: obedience to God (Mt. 1:25), gifts and worship (Mt. 2:11), amazement (Lk. 2:18), meditation (Lk. 2:19), praise and thanks to God (Lk. 2:20,38) and worry (Mt. 2:3).
In the incarnation God took on human form to reveal Himself to people in a way they could grasp (Jn. 1:18), to become their Savior by ransoming their sins (Mk. 10:45), and to deal sympathetically with their needs (Heb. 2:17-18). But many rejected this offer of help: “though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him” (Jn. 1:10).
As the birth of Jesus Christ divides history into B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, meaning, in the year of our Lord), so people are divided into those who accept and those who reject Christ’s offer to rescue them from eternal judgement.
I trust that you can say “Jesus, what a beautiful name” and that His name is well known to you as Savior, Christ and Lord (Mk. 6:14).
Published, December 1998
What is a deliverance ministry?
A deliverance ministry is an activity or group that aims to release people from the influence of demons (Mt. 25:41). It is based on the belief that problems are caused by demons influencing the body or soul. These problems include: physical infirmities, emotional problems, abuse, torment, mental illness, recurring sins, addictions, financial problems, fear, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, lust, pornography, and homosexuality.
A deliverance session usually involves a team of people taking authority over Satan and his demons, using the name of Jesus Christ. It often includes prayer: to bind the demons; to loose God’s plans for deliverance; for the blood of Jesus to provide protection; for guidance; to invite the Lord to heal and deliver. It also includes: confessing and renouncing specific sins; taking authority in Christ over demons and commanding them to depart; reading passages from the Scripture that support the believer’s authority over evil; asking the Lord to heal past emotional, spiritual or physical wounds that may be footholds for the current oppression; and prayer for severing sinful connections with other people, demons or objects. Deliverance may also involve the use of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues and a word of knowledge.
Deliverance ministries became more prevalent after the release of the film “The Exorcist” in 1973, as it created interest in casting out demons. Also, interest in casting out demons came with the rise of the charismatic movement.
Is it scriptural?
Jesus and the twelve apostles certainly cast out demons: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk. 9:1-2 niv). Philip, the evangelist, and Paul cast out demons (Acts 8:7; 16:18; 19:11-12). There are no examples in the Bible of Christians being possessed by a demon, although they may be afflicted by Satan and demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor. 12:7). The woman who had been bound by Satan for 18 years was healed, whereas Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7) was not healed. There is no indication in the New Testament that Christians might have to deal with their own sin or the sin of another Christian by casting out a demon and there are no examples in Scripture of Christians casting demons out of other Christians.
Deliverance ministries are usually based on instances of exorcism in the gospels and Acts. Three verses that are commonly used to justify them are as follows:
“Calling the Twelve to Him, He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mk. 6:7).
“These signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons” (Mk 16:17).
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16).
It is not clear that the signs, wonders and miracles described in the gospels and Acts are available to Christians today. Instead, they were God’s confirmation of the ministry of Christ and the early Church (Heb. 2:3-4). Also, in context, the verses above do not support deliverance ministry. For example, Mark 6:7 was addressed to the apostles, who were a distinct group among the early believers (1 Cor. 12:28-29). The statement in Mark 16:17 is followed by, “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (Mk. 16:18). Clearly, this occurred in the early Church, but we should not expect it today. The context of James 5:13-20 is the restoration of a backslider. In this case, physical healing is connected with forgiveness of sins, so presumably this sickness was a result of a sin, not demon influence. The meaning of James 5:16 is that when we sin against someone else, we should be prompt to confess this sin to the person we have wronged.
The idea of needing deliverance from demons goes against the fact that demons have no power other than that given them by God (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). We are commanded to fear God, not demons. God controls the world, demons do not (Mt. 4:8-11). They can’t separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38).
As Christians we should not become obsessed with Satan or demons and blame outside influences for our problems instead of our own sinful nature. This makes it difficult to take responsibility for our behavior and leads to seeking deliverance instead of repentance. It also makes us feel incapable of resisting our spiritual enemy and needing to rely on others for deliverance.
Should I get involved?
If we wish to live victorious lives and overcome Satan, we need to obey the Scriptures and apply their principles with wisdom to our lives (Rom. 16:19-20). Satan is not crushed under our feet by miracles or a deliverance ministry.
In the Old Testament, God prohibited His followers from seeking to make contact with demons (Lev. 19:26,31; 20:6,27; Dt. 18:9-13; Jer. 27:9-10). According to the New Testament, every Christian is capable of resisting Satan through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 6:11; 1 Pet. 5:6-11). “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
Instead of relying on a deliverance ministry to bring wholeness to our lives, we should pray daily that God may “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Mt. 6:13), and stand against the enemy by living in the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 6:10-20).
Published, April 2009
Preparing for the holiday
Christmas is coming! It’s a great time of festivity, celebration, exchanging gifts and expressing love and goodwill toward one another. It’s when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Everyone is friendly at this time of year.
The Christmas story is in the context of a bigger story. We learn about it from the Bible, which is God’s historical message to humanity. Some would ask, “Why bring God into Christmas?” Because He was behind the special Babe born in Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago.
But hasn’t science explained everything without the need to bring God into it? No! It can’t explain the complexity of life. We live in a world of many living things, so complex that science is unable to create it from non-living matter. Scientists can’t even manufacture a single living cell, like an amoeba. Furthermore, living organisms have the unique ability to continually repair and maintain and reproduce themselves – an ability that cannot be replicated by science and technology. Also, the origin of the “software” of the DNA molecule can’t be explained by science. The origin of life is beyond the realm of science, as is the origin of matter, energy and time. Why is there anything at all? These “why” and “origin” questions are beyond the realm of science.
The Big Picture
In the beginning of time God created life on earth. The first people, Adam and Eve, lived in the Garden of Eden. It was utopia, but it didn’t last long. God tested their obedience by telling them not to eat from one of the trees in the garden. But they were tempted to eat from this tree and when they did, they disobeyed God. This brought evil and rebellion into the world, and we have all inherited this sinful nature. The world changed completely when God cursed it; He introduced death and put a barrier between people and God. That’s why we live in a tough, disappointing and decaying world – a world of disease, suffering and injustice. That’s why life is a struggle and our relationships are fractured – with each other, with the physical environment and with God. No one can have utopia today. If that was the end of the story, then there would be nothing lasting to live for and we would be disillusioned, depressed and pessimistic.
Fortunately that’s not the end of the story. God had a rescue plan for mankind; it’s recorded in the Bible by eyewitnesses. Here’s a summary of that plan. God would send His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to fix the relationship between us and God. He entered our world in a personal way. He’s on our side and did everything possible to rescue us. Jesus lived like a human being, except without being sinful since He was the divine Son of God. He lived a perfect, sinless life in obedience to God; something that Adam and Eve didn’t do. Then He was killed to rescue us – to take the punishment for sin that we deserve. Only a perfect person could do that. This plan took about 33 years – from Jesus’ birth until His death. We remember His birth at Christmas and His death at Easter.
These occasions remind us that Jesus had a unique birth and a unique death. To show that He was not an ordinary person, after He was buried He came back to life and then went back to be with God. Only the God who created life has such power. People are given the opportunity to accept or reject God’s rescue plan. This has been happening for almost 2,000 years. Finally, God will return to judge the world and restore it to be like paradise. All who accept the rescue plan will enjoy God’s new creation. When God personally steps into His creation, big things happen. He has done this once and will do it again. The rescue plan gives us Someone and something to live for with purpose, confidence and optimism.
The big picture is visualized in the diagram. God created a perfect world. This world was changed and spoiled when humanity sinned. God sent His Son to take the punishment by dying for us so that those who accept the rescue plan can enter into God’s new creation. That’s the background to the Christmas story.
The First Christmas
All these things are real historical events; we acknowledge Christ’s existence whenever we write the date. The current year is 2008 AD, which means 2008 years since His birth. The word “Jesus” is not just a swear word, but the name given to this baby before He was born. “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua” which means “God saves” – because “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21 NIV). God sent Him to be the Savior of the world (1 Jn. 4:14). Like a lifesaver rescues those who are drowning, Jesus can rescue us from God’s eternal judgment. His name reflects the fact that He is the most important part of God’s rescue plan.
After His birth, an angel told the shepherds, “I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody. The Savior, who is Messiah and Master has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David” (Lk. 2:10-11 MSG). Christ’s birth was announced as good news of great joy for everyone because this baby was the Savior and the promised Messiah. He was God in human form – “God with us” – the Messiah that the Jews were looking for (Mt. 1:23). That’s why His birth, life and death were unique. He’s also called Master and King because He is the leader of God’s new creation.
Angels sang the first Christmas carol: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). They praised God for this Baby who would enable people to have peace with God and be rescued from the coming judgment (Jn. 3:17; Eph. 2:14-17). The most important thing we can do is make peace with God by admitting that we’re less than perfect, deciding to turn away from our sins, asking God to forgive our sins and control our life. When we accept His gift of pardon, forgiveness and reconciliation with God, we gain inner peace and can look forward to the paradise of God’s new creation (Rom. 5:1). It’s like being reborn into a new life. Then we have a real reason to celebrate Christ’s coming to the world.
God doesn’t force any of this on us. It’s like a gift that can be accepted or rejected – Jesus is God’s gift to us (Jn. 4:10-14). We have a choice. God lets us manage our own lives, but we receive the consequences of our choices. We will all face God one day. Will you face a lifesaver, or a judge?
Published, November 2008