Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Jesus

Who and how to worship

Domitian 3 400pxThe book of Revelation was written during a time when emperor-worship unified the Roman Empire. The emperor was viewed as a divine figure, to whom temples, altars and priesthoods were dedicated. Emperors were worshipped, honored, respected and served at any cost. Because he rejected emperor worship, John was banished to the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9-11). From Patmos John urged first century Christians to worship the true God and not the emperor, and he recorded this message in the book of Revelation.

The Greek verb to worship, proskuneo (Strongs #4352), occurs 60 times in the New Testament and 24 (40%) of these are in the book of Revelation. It’s the main book about worship in the New Testament. In this way, the book of Revelation is like the book of Psalms, which is the main book about worship in the Old Testament. In Revelation, worship describes homage or reverence towards God, or a person or an idol or an angel. This shows that if we don’t worship God, then we will worship someone else or something else. Who will we worship? The true God or Satan who is the power behind all false gods? This is important because it determines our eternal destiny.

The book of Revelation is framed with worship – it’s in the first and last chapters. After John sees a vision of the glorified Christ, he “fell at His feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17NIV). This was an act of worship. After the final vison, John “fell down at the feet of the angel who had been showing” the visions to him (22:8). But the angel tells him to “Worship God” instead (22:9).

In Revelation, worshippers serve (7:15; 22:3), praise (19:5), and offer thanks (4:9; 7:12; 11:17). And they fall down (in worship) before God (4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4) and Christ (1:17; 5:8, 14).

The book of Revelation shows us who to worship and who not to worship.

Don’t worship angels

Angels are messengers from God. On two occasions when John received visions, he bowed down to the angel associated with them (19:10; 22:8). But he was told not to worship the angel. Jesus is superior to angels (Heb. 1-14). And Christians at Colossae were warned not to worship angels (Col. 2:18). So, don’t worship angels.

It is evident in the book of Revelation that there is a cosmic battle for our allegiance and worship. The true God and the victorious Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) continually reign and are being worshipped behind the scenes by angels and the redeemed in heaven, even during times when Satan seems to have his greatest impact. But Satan deceives the world into worshipping false gods and idols (12;9; 13:2-4; 20:2-3). 46% of the instances of The Greek verb to worship proskuneo in the book of Revelation refer to false forms of worship. In the end, Satan and his followers will be judged and cast into eternal punishment (20:1-4, 15). So, don’t worship Satan, who is an angel who rebelled against God.

Don’t worship heroes

Revelation describes political and religious leaders that oppose God’s people and God’s purposes (13:1-18). They are called beasts. And they deceive many people into worshipping them (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 19:20; 20:4). Paul also warned about worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). We are not to worship saints, prophets, political leaders, religious leaders, or Mary, the mother of Jesus. So, don’t worship human heroes, no matter how great they are.

Don’t worship idols

An idol is anything we worship instead of the true God. Anything we want more than God. Anything we rely on more than God. Anything we give a higher priority than God. And anything we look to for greater fulfillment than God. In Revelation idols are described as “the work of their hands” and “idols that cannot see or hear or walk” (9:20). In those days it referred to images and statues, which people were urged to worship. It was like when some of the Jews (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) told the king of Babylonia, “we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up“ (Dan. 3:18).

Idolatry also refers to false gods such as materialism, naturalism, wealth, power, selfish ambition, self-indulgence, self-esteem (pride), recreation, and pleasure. And Paul said that it includes, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (Col. 3:5). Idols can also be “good” things that we’ve elevated in importance. For example, our children, spouse, physical attractiveness, money, job, or friendships. And technology.

Revelation also says that worshipping idols is equivalent to worshipping demons (9:20). This means that Satan is the influence behind idolatry. So, don’t worship idols. Instead let’s turn away from idols “to serve the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:9).

So the book of Revelation says not to worship angels, Satan, heroes or idols. These are false (counterfeit) gods. But what does it say about worshipping the true God?

Worship the true God

In Revelation we learn about what worship is like in heaven. It’s mostly corporate (the redeemed and angels), not individual. Vast numbers of people and angels worship God together (5:11-12; 19:1, 6). And it’s God-centered – directed to God and Jesus Christ. Here’s three examples of this worship.

First, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (4:11). So, let’s praise and worship our God as the great Creator.

Second, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (5:9-10).

And at this time the angels said, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (5:12)!

So, let’s praise and worship Jesus as the great Redeemer/Saviour/Rescuer. His death and resurrection enabled people from around the world to have their sins forgiven so they could be reconciled with God. This is the greatest example of unconditional love.

Third, “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (15:3-4).

The context of this passage is God’s judgement of the ungodly. So, let’s praise and worship God as Judge of all. He is pure, holy and just. He’s the one who will right all the wrongs. He judges rebels and rewards His servants. And He is to be praised for His righteous judgements.

The book of Revelation is full of corporate praise and worship like, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory” (19:6-7)! And, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever” (5:13)!

The redeemed will worship God throughout eternity. They “are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple” (7:14). And they will worship and serve God forever (22:1-5).

Summary

People were made to worship. Bob Dylan sang, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody”. We worship either the true God or we worship a counterfeit. So, let’s worship the true God and not false gods. Let’s worship Him based on the patterns of heavenly worship depicted in Revelation. He’s the great creator, the great redeemer and the great judge.

Written, December 2017

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Marriage equality

Vote no 4a 400pxOn Sunday morning Sydneysiders could not miss “Vote No” sprawled across the sky. A skywriting Cessna plane wrote these words high over the city. The sky message attracted a lot of attention on social media both for and against the No campaign. Who would have thought that the act of saying that you were going to vote NO (and paying a skywriter to write that message in the sky) was so radical, even subversive!

Australian marriage law

This month Australia faces a postal survey on same-sex marriage. The current marriage law says that marriage is between a man and a woman. A typical church marriage rite says, “Marriage is the God ordained covenantal union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. There are three main parts. It’s “God ordained”. God designed marriage for humanity. It’s a “covenantal union”. Malachi criticized the Jews for being unfaithful to “the wife of your marriage covenant” (Mal.2:14NIV). A covenant is a binding agreement. But it’s not merely a human contract, because Jesus says that God joins husband and wife together (Mt. 19:6; Mk. 10:9). In this case it’s a promise to be faithful to one another for life, regardless of what the future may hold. It’s a special relationship between the genders. A one-on-one, male-female, relationship; which was the case with Adam and Eve at the beginning of creation. And it’s for a lifetime (“for life”).

This blogpost differs from many others on this topic because it’s based on the Bible and not on reason. Let’s begin with what Jesus says about marriage.

What Jesus said about marriage

When the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, He told them about God’s plan for marriage, “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them (people) male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together (in marriage), let no one separate (in divorce)” (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9). Jesus goes back to the time before sin came into the world to show God’s original intention for marriage. Then He says that humanity was created in two genders: male and female (Gen. 1:27). That should be obvious to us. When a baby is born, it’s announced as being either a boy or a girl. There’s no gender ambiguity at birth! Our gender is determined by our genome and we can’t change that. But Facebook has at least 50 gender options! How confusing. Then the two genders are given as the reason (“For this reason”) why marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s easy to understand. In this way, marriage is linked to God’s creation. “United” means that there is a strong bond between husband and wife. “One flesh” means sharing all of life together, like a body that doesn’t separate until death. God designed husband and wife to complement each other. Jesus recognizes that the first marriage was between Adam (a man) and Eve (a woman). It wasn’t between Adam and Steve or between Madam and Eve! The pattern of marriage was established in the Garden of Eden, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). So according to the Bible, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Jesus quotes this verse and adds that because God has joined the couple together in marriage, it’s meant to be a lifelong union (“let no one separate”). Jesus showed that God’s original intention for marriage still applied in a sinful world. And it applies everywhere because it was instituted in the Garden of Eden before cultures began. In fact, marriage and gender exist until we go to heaven (Mt. 22:29-30; Mk. 12:24-25; Lk. 20:34-36). So, Jesus answers the question on divorce in the context of marriage being heterosexual, not homosexual.

God’s plan for mankind is that sexual relationships are so important that they are protected by the marriage covenant. God places a boundary around these sexual relationships where any sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are prohibited. This means that sexual intimacy is designed to be between a husband and a wife. According to God, that’s the only “safe sex”! Any other sexual activity (hetero or homo or pornographic) is a corruption of God’s design. It’s “dangerous sex”. And if we ignore God’s design there will be consequences.

This is Jesus’ definition of marriage. And same-sex marriage isn’t included. Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way He defined marriage already excluded it! So, according to Jesus, the term “same-sex marriage” is a contradiction, an oxymoron. The words “same-sex” and “marriage” don’t go together. Biblical marriage combines both genders, and it’s not a single gender relationship.

Notice that the word ”love” isn’t mentioned in this definition of marriage. This means that any loving relationship isn’t necessarily marriage.

Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). One of the important functions of the first marriage was to produce and nurture children. This is the example of marriage that Jesus tells those in the first century AD to follow. Of course, it only makes sense in the case of heterosexual marriage. There was no way to produce children from homosexual relationships.

What Paul said about marriage

Paul’s main instructions for marriage are given in Ephesians 5:22-33. And a short summary of these is given in Colossians 3:19-19, Titus 2:4-5 and 1 Peter 3:1-7. He commands husbands to lead and love their wives, and wives to respect and submit to their husbands. These are commands for heterosexual marriage between a husband and a wife.

Husbands are to care for their wives like Christ cares for the church (v.29). As Christians are like Christ’s body, a wife is like a husband’s body (v.28,30). These are close relationships. Then Paul, like Jesus, connects back to the origin of marriage in Genesis 2:24. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). Marriage is the formation of a new family. The bond between husband and wife should be the closest of all bonds between human beings.

Marriage also reflects the union between Christ (symbolized as the bridegroom) and the church (symbolized as the bride)(v.32). The bond between Christ and the church should be the closest in all human relationships. This union culminates in the wedding of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). So heaven begins with a wedding! The Bible begins in Genesis with a marriage and ends in Revelation with a marriage. At the wedding in heaven, two different types of people are united (Jesus and the church). In the Bible they are likened to husband and wife, man and woman; and not man and man or woman and woman. The illustration only works for heterosexual marriage, and not for homosexual marriage (as there is no “husband” or “wife”, just “partners”).

Lifelong marriage between a man and a woman guarantees children their biological birthright to a mother and a father and has a proven track record of providing them with protection, education, welfare, support and nurture. No other arrangement has improved upon the benefits of biblical marriage.

Trajectory of marriage in the Bible

We have seen that God’s design for marriage involved one man and one woman. On a graph of marriage practice through the ages, this is near the top of the graph. This is the “safe sex” line that represents protection by the marriage covenant. In the Old Testament, Lamech had two wives (Gen. 4:19, 23). He was part of the 7th generation on earth. Polygamy occurs from this time onwards in the Old Testament. This even included Jacob, David and Solomon. So the graph goes downwards. These marriages were not according to God’s design. They are reported and described in the Bible, but they were not prescribed by God. They caused social chaos in families and societies. Solomon’s foreign wives lead him into idolatry. So polygamy wasn’t an example to follow. In the 5th century BC when the Jews returned to Judea after their exile, Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi commanded them to get rid of their foreign wives (Ezra Ch 9-10; Neh. 13:23-27; Mal. 2:10-12). Malachi also denounced them divorcing their wives (Mal. 2:13-17). They had been unfaithful to their wives and breaking their marriage covenants. So the graph moves upwards because the Jews in Judea improved their marriage practice at this time. In the New Testament Jesus restored the original design for marriage of one man and one woman and this continued in the early church. So, the graph moves up to the top once again.Marriage trajectoryHow does the same-sex marriage proposal compare to this trajectory? It’s not on the line! Adding a new category to marriage works against the Bible’s trajectory on marriage. It’s like in the Old Testament when polygamy was added as a new category to marriage and the curve goes down. In the Old Testament, God let people deviate from His marriage design, but there were serious consequences. Likewise, today God will let people deviate from His marriage design, and the curve will go down again, and there will be serious consequences.

What Jesus said about homosexuality

How do we know what Jesus thought of same-sex marriage (or homosexuality) when it’s not mentioned specifically in the gospels? We can find out from the Old Testament because it describes the principles and practices of Judaism. Jesus was a faithful Jew who lived under the Old Testament law. He obeyed the law of Moses (Jn. 8:29,55) and He didn’t sin in any way (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pt. 2:22). So, He would have followed the laws of Moses about unlawful sexual relations, such as: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22). And, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable” (Lev. 20:13). So Jesus would have prohibited any homosexual sexual activity as it was against the laws of Moses for sexual relationships. As this was accepted by the Jews that He came to teach, He didn’t need to discuss this topic.

What Paul said about homosexuality

Paul describes the behavior of those who reject God’s revelation in creation, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another (sexual immorality) … Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations (heterosexual marriage) for unnatural ones (homosexual sexual activity). In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women (heterosexual marriage) and were inflamed with lust for one another (homosexual sexual activity). Men committed shameful acts with other men (homosexual sexual activity), and received in themselves the due penalty for their error…. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Rom. 1:24-27, 32).

Losing a proper view of God (v. 23) leads to sexual immorality (v.24), including homosexuality (v.26-27). In particular, homosexual sexual activity is described as “shameful lusts”, “unnatural” and “shameful acts”. That’s God’s view. But ignoring it leads to a society without shame. It’s an unnatural sexual activity because it’s an abnormal sexual activity. Natural (normal) sexual activity is in heterosexual marriage, which is fruitful (can produce new life). This was God’s order in creation (Adam and Eve were the first husband and wife). If Adam or Eve was homosexual, there would be no humanity!

This passage says that homosexual sexual activity (which was prevalent in the Roman Empire) was one of the characteristics of an ungodly lifestyle. The other characteristics of an ungodly lifestyle were idol worship (v.23, 25), other sexual immorality (v.24) and “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (v. 29-31). This list of sins identifies those who were not Christians.

God’s judgement for these people who reject His revelation is given in v.32 as eternal separation from God (spiritual “death”). What a sad outcome of going one’s own way. So rejecting God’s truth has eternal consequences. The only way for such people to avoid God’s judgment is to repent (stop this behavior) and turn to God.

So what did this passage mean in the 1st century AD? The characteristics of ungodly behavior are given and idolatry and homosexual sexual activity are condemned in particular. It meant that anyone who practiced idolatry was under God’s judgment. And anyone who practiced homosexual sexual activity was under God’s judgment. And the same applied to the other behaviors listed in v.29-31. There are similar lists elsewhere (1 Cor. 6:8-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). Everyone was condemned! All were sinners who deserved eternal punishment in hell. The only way to avoid this punishment was to accept the good news about Jesus.

So homosexual sexual activity was one of the characteristics of the flesh (sinful nature; Gal. 5:19-21). It was a human invention, and not God’s intention. This means that the Bible condemned homosexual sexual activity in the 1st century AD. As there are no qualifications given, any and all homosexual sexual activity was condemned. They were all sinful.

The biblical principles for the church to follow haven’t changed since the1st century AD. And people still reject God’s revelation in creation. So human rebellion against God hasn’t changed. And idolatry, sexual immorality, homosexual sexual activity, wickedness, greed, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, and slander still occur. And people are still God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, promise-breakers, cruel, and ruthless. So human nature hasn’t changed, although history, society and technology have changed. Given these similarities, the application of this passage is like what it was in the first century. Any and all homosexual sexual activity is unnatural and against God’s order of creation.

What about same-sex attraction? This passage is addressing homosexual sexual behavior and not just homosexual attraction. There is a difference between being a practicing homosexual and having a homosexual tendency. Adam and Eve were created with an opposite sex attraction. But same-sex attraction is a result of the fall into sin. The temptation isn’t sinful. It is the sexual practice that the Bible condemns, not the orientation. The Holy Spirit gives believers the power to resist temptation (1 Cor.10:13). There are many who have an attraction to their own gender but refuse to give in to it. By the power of the Spirit, they have disciplined themselves to resist the temptation and to live in purity.

Trajectory of homosexuality in the Bible

We have seen that homosexual sexual activity is condemned by the laws of Moses about unlawful sexual relations. These applied throughout the Old Testament up to the time of Jesus. On a graph of homosexuality through the ages, this is near the bottom of the graph. As Paul also condemned homosexual sexual activity, the graph stays down during the church age. God consistently disapproves it. Every biblical text on this topic is negative. This leaves no scope for homosexual sexual activity to be approved by the church as acceptable behavior.Homosexuality trajectoryThis graph isn’t unique to homosexuality. The same graph applies to adultery, divorce, incest, and any other sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage. It’s the “dangerous sex” line that represents corruption of God’s good design.

Marriage law postal survey

The Australian marriage survey, which is being mailed out now, asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” It’s a simple question with big implications. The idea is to redefine marriage by making gender irrelevant to marriage and by making the procreation of children irrelevant to marriage. This is a massive change in social policy and shouldn’t happen without thorough consideration of the consequences of such a change.

If we plan a new project, under the planning legislation, we are required to undertake an environmental impact assessment. And organizations have risk management procedures to ensure their activities are safe. These include risk assessment. Yet there’s no mention anywhere of the risks of this change in social policy. The possible consequences include loss of freedom of speech, loss of religious freedom, forced acceptance of same-sex marriage, loss of parental rights, children not being raised by their birth parents, children conceived by IVF who won’t know who their biological parents are, and surrogate mothers. If the law changes, Christians who follow the Bible will out of step with the law of the land. Christianity will become a counter-culture.

If the law changes then it will be used to silence dissent. It will impact Christian participation in education, charity and welfare. How will the law treat those disobedient citizens who hold to a Biblical understanding of marriage? It seems as though there will be negative social and religious impacts. And we will move closer to secular society, where people write their own Bible. We should vote “no”, because it’s against the Bible and there has been no disclosure or discussion of the likely impacts. We do a social impact assessment of a new shopping center, but not for a new marriage law!

“Marriage equality” is a catchy slogan for same-sex marriage. How could anyone oppose equality in marriage? It’s very deceptive. Of course, what we should be asking is what the slogan means and how it will be put into practice.

The unmarried

What about those who aren’t married? This is a larger fraction of the population than those having same-sex attraction. Jesus wasn’t married and Paul was unmarried when he wrote his letters to Christians. Paul gives advice to the unmarried in 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, 25-38. His principle was if you are married, don’t get divorced, and if you are unmarried stay that way if you can because you will have more time to serve the Lord and marriage brings extra troubles. Paul is writing to a church where there was immorality and persecution (v2, 26, 28). He says marriage is not God’s will for everyone. Some people have the gift to remain single. It’s good and preferable to remain unmarried if God enables you to control your sexual temptations because you can serve the Lord with less distractions. “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (v.9). So Paul says the only alternative to heterosexual marriage is celibacy (abstaining from sexual relationships). People are free to choose between biblical marriage and celibacy.

Morality

We have looked at what God says in the Bible about marriage and homosexuality. God is our creator and the source of morality. He defines what is right and wrong. People don’t set the standard, God does. We are not autonomous. We need to appreciate the difference between a creator and a created being. God defines gender and marriage. Whatever humanity defines it to be doesn’t matter. We are all accountable to God. Changing the meaning of a term like “marriage” in our culture will not in any way change God’s standards.

God is good and His commands are good. God’s design for marriage is good. And it’s good for everyone. For all of our society. He is our authority on important matters like this. And His words in scripture are our authority.

Our identity in Christ

As Christians, we should find our identity as children of God, not in our achievements or sexuality or any other label. The Holy Spirit lives in us and grows the fruit of the Spirit. We are a new creation. We are citizens of heaven. We are special in God’s sight. We are made in the image of God. And we are God’s handiwork.

Discussion

Paul told the self-righteous, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same (kind of) things” (Rom. 2:1). It’s easy to be a hypocrite. We’re all sinners in one way or another. Paul also challenged the Jews about hypocrisy, “you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law” (Rom. 2:21-23)?

Likewise, do we lapse into idolatry (anything that replaces God), or greed, or deceit, or gossiping, or lying? These are all listed alongside homosexuality in Romans 1:29-31. The Bible says that people who practice any of these (and similar) sins are not true Christians. The solution is to confess our failures and repent (change behavior) and turn to follow God once again (1 Jn. 1:9). So let’s always try to honor God and follow His will, be content and generous, and be honest.

God switch 400pxIdolatry is when the “God switch” in our life is turned off. For many people it’s off permanently – that’s why we are having a marriage survey. But what about us? How often do we switch off God and go our own way?

We are Christ’s representatives on earth who are to be like light and salt in society. Let’s speak up for the truth, but do it in a loving way (Eph.4:15). Are we ready to face persecution after marriage is redefined, because the law of the land will be against God’s definition of marriage? Will we be able to say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34)?

How should we deal with instances of homosexual sexual activity? We can look at how Jesus responded to adultery and how Paul responded to incest (Jn. 8:1-11; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). Jesus didn’t condemn or pardon the adulteress, but He told her to “leave your life of sin” (Jn.8:11). And Paul said that ongoing sexual immorality amongst church members, including homosexual sexual activity, is to be judged by excommunication (1 Cor. 5:9-11). If the offender is sorry and repentant of such a serious sin, they should be lovingly restored to church fellowship (2 Cor. 2:5-11). This means that Christians should not tolerate homosexual sexual activity or same-sex marriage amongst church members.

Also, Paul says that Christians are not to judge the sins of unbelievers because God will judge them at the great white throne (1 Cor. 5:12-13; Rev. 21:11-15). This means that Christians should tolerate homosexual sexual activity and same-sex marriage (if it is legalized) amongst people who aren’t church members. We are not the moral police. Leave it up to God to be the judge. Church should be a safe place for the vulnerable. It should be safe for all kinds of people. Is our church a safe place? Is it a refuge? Are we a welcoming accepting church? Anyone should be free to walk into our church and be welcomed and accepted. After all Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Mt. 9:13; Mk. 2:17; Lk. 5:32).

Conclusion

We have seen that according to Jesus and Paul, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Consequently, the term “same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron.

As the Bible condemns any sexual activity outside marriage as sinful, it condemns any homosexual sexual activity or same-sex marriage as a lifestyle for Christians. But Christians should tolerate unbelievers who follow such a lifestyle. The reason for this is that they are sinners who need to see God’s love. And like the Corinthians, they can turn around to follow Jesus.

Let’s leave the God switch turned “on” and vote “no” in the marriage survey!

Written, September 2017

Also see: Gender and marriage
Same-sex marriage
Jesus and marriage


Jesus and marriage

Thousands rallied at Sydney Town Hall to campaign for same-sex marriage. And there are new laws against hate speech during Australia’s same-sex marriage postal survey. The survey, which is being mailed out now, asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” The current marriage law says that marriage is between a man and a woman. But what did Jesus say about marriage? To investigate this topic, we will look at the books of Matthew to John in the New Testament.

I have previously written a blogpost on what the Bible says about gender and marriage, which shows that the early church taught that marriage is between one man and one woman. We will see that Jesus taught this truth as well.

Husband and wife

The Greek noun translated “man” (aner Strongs #435) means a male human being or a husband or a group of people, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “husband” or “husbands” in 8 verses in Matthew to John.

The Greek noun translated woman (gune #1135) means a female human being or a wife, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “wife” or “wife’s” in 37 verses and “wives” in one verse in Matthew to John.

Is heterosexual marriage a command, a model or a report?

The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not necessarily worth following today. For this post, all the verses in the ESV that included any of the words, “husband”, “wife”, or “marriage” were examined.

Heterosexual marriage commanded

When Jesus was asked about divorce He replied, “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them (people) male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together (in marriage), let no one separate (in divorce)” (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9NIV). Jesus goes back to the time before sin came into the world to show God’s original intention for marriage. Then He says that humanity was created in two genders: male and female (Gen. 1:27). That should be obvious to us. When a baby is born, it’s announced as being either a boy or a girl. There’s no gender ambiguity at birth! Our gender is determined by our genome and we can’t change that. Then the two genders are given as the reason (“For this reason”) why marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s easy to understand. In this way, marriage is linked to God’s creation. “United” means that there is a strong bond between husband and wife. “One flesh” means sharing all of life together, like a body that doesn’t separate until death. God designed husband and wife to complement each other. Jesus recognizes that the first marriage was between Adam (a man) and Eve (a woman). It wasn’t between Adam and Steve or between Madam and Eve! The pattern of marriage was established in the Garden of Eden, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). So according to the Bible, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Jesus quotes this verse and adds that because God has joined the couple together in marriage, it’s meant to be a lifelong union (“let no one separate”). Jesus showed that God’s original intention for marriage still applied in a sinful world. In fact, it applies until we go to heaven (Mt. 22:29-30; Mk. 12:24-25; Lk. 20:34-36). So, Jesus answers the question on divorce in the context of marriage being heterosexual.

This is Jesus’ definition of marriage. And same-sex marriage isn’t included.  Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way he defined marriage already excluded it! So the term “same-sex marriage” is a contradiction, an oxymoron.

Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). This means that one of the important functions of the first marriage was to produce and nurture children. This is the example of marriage that Jesus tells those in the first century AD to follow. Of course, it only makes sense in the case of heterosexual marriage. There was no way to produce children from homosexual relationships.

Whenever Jesus taught about adultery (Lk. 16:18) and divorce (Mt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk. 10:2-12; Lk. 16:18), He assumed that marriage is between a man and a woman.

But what about models of marriage in the gospels that aren’t commands?

Heterosexual marriage modelled

There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the time of Jesus was monogamous and heterosexual and that Jesus approved of this pattern for marriage.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:5-24). And Jesus’ family had a father and mother, Joseph and Mary (Mt. 1:20, 24). One of the woman near the cross was Mary the wife of Clopas (Jn. 19:25). And when Jesus listed a man’s family He included a wife and children (Mt. 19:29; Lk. 14:26; 18:29).

In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus said that the servant had a wife and children (Mt. 18:25). In the parable of the ten virgins, the women were waiting to celebrate a wedding banquet. As a bridegroom is mentioned, the marriage was between a man and a woman (Mt. 25:1-10).

Jesus performed a miracle (turned water into wine) at a wedding feast in Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). As He attended the feast with His mother and disciples, Jesus clearly approved of marriage. Also, because the marriage involved a bridegroom (v.9), it was between a man and a woman. Jesus also used weddings in His parables and metaphors (Mt. 9:15; 22:1-12; 25:1-10; Mk. 2:19-20; Lk. 5:34; 12:36; 14:8). And John the Baptist used a bride, bridegroom and best-man in an illustration (Jn.3:29).

But what about when marriage is reported in the gospels and it isn’t necessarily an example to follow?

Heterosexual marriage reported

The prophetess Anna became a widow after seven years of marriage to her husband (Lk. 2:36). And when Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, they both assumed that a woman like her usually had a husband (Jn. 4:16-18).

When they asked Jesus about divorce, the Jewish religious leaders assumed that marriage was between a man and a woman (Mt. 19:3; Mk. 10:2). And the Sadducees asked Jesus a hypothetical question which involved a woman marrying seven brothers in turn under the levirate marriage law (Mt. 22:23-28; Mk. 12:18-23; Lk. 20:27-33). Although this looked like serial monogamy, in each case the woman was widowed  before she remarried.

John the Baptist denounced the marriage of Herodias to Herod Antipas, after she had been married to Herod Philip (Mt.14:3; Mk. 6:17-18; Lk. 3:19). Pilate was married (Mt. 27:19). And Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household, was married to Joanna (Lk. 8:3).

These verses indicate that the most common pattern of marriage when Jesus was alive was monogamous and heterosexual, where a man was married to a woman.

Other types of marriage?

I am not aware of any other verses between Matthew and John in the Bible that are related to marriage. So, the Bible doesn’t teach any other pattern for marriage besides a man and a woman. This means that homosexual marriage is a human invention, whereas heterosexual marriage is God-ordained.

Discussion

Clearly, all the marriages referred to above involved the union of one man and one woman. It involved both genders (heterosexual marriage), and not only a single gender (homosexual marriage).

How do we know what Jesus thought of same-sex marriage (or homosexuality) when it’s not mentioned specifically in the gospels? We can find out from the Old Testament because it describes the principles and practices of Judaism. Jesus was a faithful Jew who lived under the Old Testament law. He obeyed the law of Moses (Jn. 8:29,55) and He didn’t sin in any way (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pt. 2:22). So, He would have followed the laws of Moses about unlawful sexual relations, such as:
“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22).
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable” (Lev. 20:13).
So Jesus would have prohibited any homosexual sexual activity as it was against the laws of Moses for sexual relationships.

Conclusion

We have seen that according to Jesus, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Consequently, the term “same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron.

Written, September 2017

Also see: Gender and marriage
Same-sex marriage
Marriage equality


Does God have a sense of humor?

According to the Macquarie dictionary a sense of humor is appreciating what’s amusing, funny or comical. A joke is an amusing or ridiculous circumstance. Laughter is usually normal and healthy, but there are times when it is not. For example, it can mask and trivialize sin (Jas. 4:9).

Of all God’s creatures, human beings alone possess a sense of humor. As they are also made in the image and likeness of God, I suggest that God is capable of humor as well (Gen. 1:26). But of course God doesn’t share all our attributes (such as sinfulness).

Solomon said that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4NIV). For example, we laugh at the things that children do. I wonder whether God (as our Father) laughs at some of the things that we do?

Creation

laughing_kookaburra 1 400pxGod created some funny creatures. For example, the distinctive call of the laughing kookaburra. And it looks like God was having fun when he designed the Australian platypus and bilby. The first English scientists to see a specimen of a duck-billed platypus thought it was a hoax because it had a bill and webbed feet like a duck, which is a bird. They thought the bill of a duck had been attached to the body of an otter, beaver or mole! The bilby is called a “rabbit-eared bandicoot” because it has ears like a rabbit. And its back legs look like those of a kangaroo, but it gallops like a horse!

Recently I went to the zoo with a grandson. We saw lots of God’s creatures. I’m sure God had fun designing all the animals in the web of life. From bacteria to whales. Will they walk, fly or swim? Adding a long neck or stripes. Which would be companions, predators and prey? They are so diverse, but integrated.

Funny incidents in the Bible

platypus 1 400pxThere are some funny incidents in the Bible. As “all-Scripture is God-breathed”, it means that God has caused these to be recorded (2 Tim. 3:16). At Babel the builders constructed a tower “that reaches to the heavens”. Ironically God had to “come down” to see the tower they were building (Gen. 11:4-5)! So it wasn’t very high according to God! Such delusions of grandeur would have made God laugh.

Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachael. She was veiled during the wedding and unrecognized in the darkness of the wedding night and the Bible says, “When morning came, there was Leah!” (Gen. 29:25). What a surprise! Did Jacob drink too much wine at the wedding?

God used a talking donkey to warn and rebuke Balaam for planning to curse Israel (Num. 22:21-35)! And he used a fish to get Jonah to Nineveh!

When the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant they added it to their gods by placing it in the temple beside the god Dagon. But next day Dagon was flat on the ground before the ark. So they put Dagon upright once again. But the following day the idol was flat on the ground once again with his head and hands broken off (1 Sam. 5:1-5)! It was obvious who was the stronger God.

When Saul was pursuing David, he went into a cave to relieve himself. It happened that David and his followers were also in the cave and David crept up and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Sam. 24:1-4). Saul looked ridiculously vulnerable!

After being told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathaniel says “Can anything good come from there?”. Then Jesus says that Nathaniel was without deceit! And accepts him as a disciple!

The disciples took a metaphor literally. When Jesus said to them, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”, they said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread” (Mt. 16:5-12)! They were dumb!

Funny sayings in the Old Testament

Bilby 1 400pxWhen describing a stork, the book of Job says “God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense” (Job 39:17). That’s not very flattering!

God used irony and sarcasm when He answered Job. Where were you when I created the earth? Surely you’re old enough to answer my questions about the creation (Job 38:4, 21)? Of course the answer is no! Job wasn’t there in the beginning, but God was.

Jehoram, was an evil king of Judah who lead the nation into idolatry. The Bible says that “He passed away, to no one’s regret”, didn’t have a funeral fire and wasn’t buried in the tombs of the kings (1 Chr. 21:19-20). That’s a colorful way of saying what people thought about Jehoram.

Some of Solomon’s proverbs are funny:
– “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion” (11:22)
– “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (21:9). And “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm” (27:15).
– “The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside!”” (22:13). That sounds like a good excuse to stay home!

God mocks idols. They had mouths, but can’t speak. Eyes, but can’t see. Ears but can’t hear. And mouths, but can’t breathe. They seem to be useless and dead! And then He adds the punch line: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 135:15-18)! Idols are a fraud and worthless (Jer. 10:14-15). They were just a dead stone or block of wood (Isa. 44:9-20; Hab. 2:18-10).

God can use wordplay in serious situations. For example, the Lord showed Jeremiah the branch of an almond tree and said “I am watching” (Jer. 1:11). The Hebrew word for almond (saqed) sounds like the word for watching (soqed).

Funny sayings in the New Testament

Jesus used some funny illustrations:
– He said to the hypocrites, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Mt. 7:3). This hyperbole is hilarious!
– After He spoke with a rich man, Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:24). This is another exaggeration.
– He said the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders were “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Mt.23:27).
– He said to the hypocritical Jewish religious leaders, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Mt. 23:24). They were leading people into danger like blind guides (Lk. 6:39). And by concentrating on minor matters (like gnats), they missed dealing with major matters (like camels). Jesus also used a pun here as the Aramaic word for gnat is galma and for camel is gamla.
– He also mentions lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket, building a house on sand, and a father giving their child stones instead of bread. All of which are ridiculous.
– And He makes a Samaritan behave better than a priest and Levite (Lk. 10:30-35).
The common people would have laughed at these comical images.

Jesus also used puns like saying “on this rock I will build my church” when he was speaking to Peter (whose Greek name meant detached stone) (Mt. 16:18).

When describing Abraham, the writer of Hebrews says, “from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12). That’s a colourful way of saying that he was very old when Isaac was conceived.

There are probably lots of other incidents and sayings in the Bible that would have been shocking or amusing in the culture of the time, but are lost on us today. For example, there is wordplay in the names of people and places in the Old Testament.

God laughs

The Bible says that God laughs when nations rebel against Him (Ps. 2:4; 59:8). He scoffs at them. God also laughs when the wicked plot against the righteous (Ps. 37:12-13). They don’t realize it’s impossible to defeat the omnipotent God. It’s ludicrous because of the great difference in power.

We may say that God has the last laugh. It may be delayed; and evil may appear to have prevailed. But in the end, God will be victorious.

God is happy and joyful

When the Jews are delivered from their enemies in the future, the Bible says that God “will take great delight in you … will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17). This is similar to Paul saying that God is happy (“makariou” is translated as “blessed”) (1 Tim. 1:11; 6:15). This is lasting joy and not just a transient emotion.

Jesus used wordplay

Large crowds of people followed Jesus to hear Him speak and see Him do miracles. Obviously He was a skilled orator. And He would have seen the humor in life – that which is ludicrous or incongruous. He used exaggeration, irony, sarcasm, and satire to help communicate His message. It may have been like street theater with subtle wit and wordplay, but with a serious message.

Jesus also welcomed children and children usually see the funny side of life (Mt. 19:13-14; Mk. 10:13-16; Lk. 18:15-17).

Lessons for us

Humor is cultural and situational and doesn’t always translate into other languages. For this reason, much of the humor in the Bible is probably lost to us today. But we have seen that there is evidence that God has a sense of humor. This is consistent with a God who is personal and who sustains the world.

Coarse jokes are ungodly (Eph. 5:4). And some comedy relates to sinful behavior. This is not part of God’s character. It has been said that:

God is serious because sin is serious. God finds nothing funny about the state of the world. How could a God so holy and righteous be funny in a world where sin is still present? Jesus was a serious person because He was on a serious mission. Our eternal life was a serious issue to Him. Leaving His glory in heaven to come into the world was no fun. The death on the cross was no fun at all. He didn’t come to put people down, but to lift them up.

This is true, but it is clear that God is joyful and Jesus used wordplay. God is serious and He has a sense of humor. He has both attributes, not just one or the other. So, let’s have a balanced view of God.

The joy of the Christian life can be expressed in humor. While worldly humor glorifies sin, puts down others, ridicules righteousness, and hurts the soul – Godly humor encourages others, honors the Lord, and restores the soul. And humor helps us get through life by providing relief from the seriousness of life. So, let’s balance the seriousness and humor of life. And, like Jesus, let’s use appropriate humor to promote our communication with other people.

Summary

Although we are usually unaware of it, God is capable of good humor and there is evidence of this in the Bible and in creation. And the carrying out His plan of salvation and His coming exaltation bring Him much joy. Do we share in this joy?

Written, June 2017


Come and join us

Lisa Pearce from Open Doors says that, “If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they’re unlikely to live to see another day”. The question to ask yourself is, ‘Why join a group experiencing 80% of the religious persecution in the world today? Especially when, in North Africa, the Middle East and many parts of Asia, Christians are vanishing. It seems a lost and futile cause.’

… but not according to Jesus – or His followers. Jesus said to all who’d follow Him, “you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9). Thankfully, He also promised that nothing would overcome His church (Matthew 16:18). So, trusting in these comforting words, Christians await persecution with confidence, praying, that when it comes, they’ll be ready to stand strong and bear witness to their Lord. They know, from the promises of scripture and the lessons of history, that nothing strengthens faith like persecution unto death.

So why does God allow such persecution? Because when a lost world sees Christians preferring to die than dishonor their Lord – they see faith that’s real. And when Christians love their enemies – the world sees a miracle. Esther from Eritrea says, “As Christians we’re required to love our enemies even though it is very difficult to do that when they make you suffer, or when they harm or kill your loved ones!”

Sadly, not all Christians listen to Jesus’s commands. In every age there are people behaving badly in the name of Jesus. Even now, in the Central African Republic, “Christian” militias persecute and murder Muslims. But the unreported truth is that religious persecution is utterly one sided. The vast majority of persecution between the world’s two largest religions is from Muslims towards Christians. So, if the secular media has given you an impression that all religious people just fight and kill each other then please reconsider.

The US Center for the Study of Global Christianity (and other sources) estimates that 100,000 Christians are martyred annually – roughly 11 per hour, or 1 every 5 minutes. You can read or download a moving and tragic article about their methodology at:
https://tinyurl.com/k7822xo

The following articles are exceptions to the media silence:
https://tinyurl.com/n6keu5t                    https://tinyurl.com/mq49qa9
https://tinyurl.com/msa3wma                https://tinyurl.com/qxsg2u4

You can help persecuted Christians by supporting the Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.

Finally, dear friend, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Jesus’s words in Matthew 10:28). Do not be deterred by reports of persecution but come and join us as we worship Jesus

Bible Verse: Matthew 24:9 “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers”.

Prayer: Dear God please give hearts of lions to your people everywhere that they might stand firm for you.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, May 2017


The first Easter hat

April-17_EasterHat_JPG 400pxKids both love and hate the annual Easter Hat parade. Parents likewise. It’s so much fun to wear a funny, self-made hat at Easter – to walk around and laugh at each other’s designs, impressed by the cleverness and humor. But it’s scary wondering if people think your hat is weird or daggy! And the stress zone the night before is really something. Parents with ten thumbs pull gluey fingers apart, trying desperately to make cardboard behave as they hit the craft wall at 1am. But the organized and ambitious parents are serene and un-fussed. For weeks they’ve been sourcing fairy dust and felt. And their finished creations sparkle and dazzle.

Our Father in Heaven really is the most concerned parent of all. He certainly didn’t leave the rescue of humanity till the last minute. The Bible says that, “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Which means the arrival of Jesus was a rescue mission to deal with our rotten, rebellious, bad behavior.

But the mission was a mixture of love and hate. The Bible clearly says that, “God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son” (Jn. 3:16). And Jesus agreed with the mission. He delighted in doing the will of His heavenly Father. But He hated the prospect of the cross. He knew His death would be terrible. He said in prayer to His Father in heaven the night before, ‘Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine’.

As Jesus was led to the cross “soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe” (Jn. 19:1-2). They were mocking His claim to be a King. The crown was really the first Easter hat – intended to humiliate Jesus as He was paraded to His place of execution. At the cross Jesus offered His perfect, sinless life to be punished by God so that we might avoid the anger of God that we rightly deserve.

When a person follows Christ as their King they’re no longer dirty and unwashed before God. In fact, they sparkle and dazzle with freshness and new life and hope for the future. And embarrassment about former behavior is a thing of the past. If this is something you want then it’s not too late to ask God. You can pray to Him now if you’d like to make a fresh start.

Bible Verse: John 19:1-2 “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head and arrayed Him in a purple robe.

Prayer: Dear God. I’m ashamed of many things in my life. Please forgive my sins. Help to me to start life again with you.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2017

Posted, April 2017


Jesus: history or myth?

santa-400pxI don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy. I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny. I don’t believe in Santa Claus. You could say, I’m a skeptic! But what if I don’t believe that Babe Ruth, Mark Twain, and Christopher Columbus were real people? That they were myths as well.

Also, what if I don’t believe that people who lived longer ago like William Shakespeare (AD 1600) and Muhammad (AD 600) were real people? And what if I don’t believe that Jesus (AD 30) existed? That He’s a myth made up by Christians.

According to a survey in 2015, 22% of people in England thought that Jesus was a mythical or fictional character, while another 17% were unsure whether He was real or not. The remaining 61 % said Jesus was a real person who actually lived. It was found that younger people are the most skeptical about Jesus’s existence.

What is a “myth”?

In everyday language, the term “myth” is given to stories, ideas or beliefs that are false and not true. They are unreal or imaginary stories that may be called “legend”, “fiction”, “fairy tale”, “folklore”, or “fable”. But academic scholars use “myth” as a synonym for a story with a symbolic message that used to be believed as true, but now there are no implications on the truthfulness of the story. In this post I’m using the everyday usage of the word “myth”, not the academic one.

Let’s look at two skeptical views about Jesus.

Skeptical views about Jesus

Christ myth theory.

Some people claim that Jesus is a mythical character, and not a historical person. He never existed. He was made up by the early church which wrote the New Testament. They conclude this from the following beliefs:
– Jesus left no writings or other archaeological evidence.
– We don’t have any original manuscripts of the New Testament.
– The genre of the gospels may be legendary fiction instead of ancient biography.
– The Gospels and other early Christian writings cannot be verified as independent sources, and may have all stemmed from a single original fictional account.
– All documents about Jesus came well after the life of the alleged Jesus – so it’s all unreliable hearsay. No eyewitness accounts survive.

Mainstream historical view

Others say that Jesus of Nazareth did exist but He had virtually nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and the accounts in the gospels. They believe that Jesus was an extraordinary man, but He didn’t do miracles. The miracles were made up by Christians afterwards and written in the Bible. The life of Jesus was embellished like St Nicholas became Santa Claus.

We will now evaluate these two skeptical views about Jesus. Do they match the evidence or not?

Historical evidence for the existence of Jesus

Most of what is known of the ancient world comes from written accounts by ancient historians. But these only record a sample of human events and only a few of these documents have survived. Few people could write such histories as illiteracy was widespread in ancient times. And the reliability of the surviving accounts needs to be considered. But the existence of someone in history is often easily established on the basis of small textual samples, sometimes even a single name in a list or sentence. For example, my great grandfather Richard Hawke is in a list of people living on the goldfields at Hill End near Bathurst in New South Wales in 1867. This is listed in a book that was published 109 years later in 1976 (“Valleys of gold” by Brian Hodge).

Jesus was a Jew (a minor race) who lived in Galilee, which was a part of Palestine (not the capital, Jerusalem). And Palestine was an outpost of the Roman Empire (a tiny part of a vast empire). He was a long way away from the local center of power and from Rome (the capital of the empire). So the fact that we can find any written record of Jesus outside the New Testament is significant. Based on this, the best place to look for evidence of Jesus that is independent of the Bible is in ancient Roman and Jewish literature.

Roman literature

About 80 years after Christ’s death, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote (“Annals”, 15, 44, AD 115-117): “They (Christians) got their name from Christ, who was executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. That checked the pernicious superstition (Christianity) for a short time, but it broke out afresh not only in Judea, where the plague first arose, but in Rome itself, where all horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home”.
The Annals is a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero (AD 14–68). The context of this passage is the 6-day fire that burned much of Rome in July AD 64. It indicates the manner and time period of Christ’s death. Emperor Nero (AD 37-68) accused the Christians of starting the fire and he persecuted them.

Jewish literature

Josephus is the best known Jewish historian. He was born in Jerusalem and went to Rome in AD 71 where he wrote his histories under Roman patronage. Jesus Christ is mentioned twice in his “Antiquities of the Jews” (a history of Israel from Genesis to the first century AD) published around AD 93 (about 60 years after the death of Jesus).

A passage in Book 18, 63-64 of the “Antiquities of the Jews” says:
Now, there was about this time (a source of further trouble) Jesus, for he was a doer of surprising works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure (men who welcome strange things). He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him (cease to cause trouble). And the tribe of Christians, so named for him are not extinct to this day”.
The context of this passage is the political disturbances that the Roman rulers dealt with during this period.

A passage in Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the “Antiquities of the Jews” says,
he (Ananus the high priest) assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned”.
This event is dated at AD 62. The Bible also says that James was the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19). This passage assumes you already know about Jesus, which is true because Josephus has already mentioned him two books earlier.

Summary of Roman and Jewish literature

These two non-Christian historians are independent historical sources, one Roman and one Jewish. What do they say about Jesus?
– He was a Jewish man named Jesus and Christ (in Greek) who lived in Judea.
– He had a brother named James.
– He had a reputation for doing unusual works (possibly miracles)
– He won over both Jews and Greeks (but most of this happened after His death).
– He was sentenced by Pilate to be executed by crucifixion during Tiberius’s reign. The Jewish leadership pressured Pilate to condemn Jesus in this way.
– Christianity and Christians came out of Christ’s ministry.
– Both Jewish and Roman leaders were hostile towards Jesus and Christians.

ranking-of-historical-figures-400pxSo, hostile Jewish and Roman witnesses show that Jesus is a historical figure, and not a myth. This means that the first skeptical view that Jesus never existed is debunked. It is a myth itself!

Calendar

In 2013 Time magazine had an article on “the 100 most significant figures in history”. They ranked them like Google ranks web pages. They said that historically significant people leave evidence of their presence behind. The top rank went to Jesus, followed by Napoleon, Muhammad, William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln. So Jesus left an impact in our world. One indication of this is that the years in our calendar are dated from when He was born. Mythical figures don’t leave such an impact. Another indication is the growth of the church despite persecution.

We will now evaluate the second skeptical view that doesn’t believe Jesus did miracles.

Historical evidence for Jesus’ miracles

Now we’ve established that Jesus existed, the question is “did He do miracles?”. Is the only evidence of these in the New Testament that was written by Christians? No! The Christian message was offensive to both the Jews and the Romans. They attacked Christianity by saying that Jesus was a real wonder-worker who made blasphemous claims to divine authority.

Jesus was regarded by the Jews of His day as a person who possessed supernatural powers. According to Justin Martyr, they said that Christ’s miracles “was a display of magic art, for they (Jews) even dared to say that he (Jesus) was a magician and a deceiver of the people” (Justin Martyr, AD 160). They executed Him for sorcery and said His power to do miracles was Satanic.

According to Celsus, an anti-Christian Greek Philosopher, “Jesus performed His miracles by sorcery” (“The true word”, about AD 180). And, “because (Jesus) was poor he hired himself out as a workman in Egypt, and there tried his hand at certain magical powers on which the Egyptians pride themselves; he returned full of conceit because of those powers, and on account of them gave himself the title of God…”.
“These were the actions of one hated by God and a wicked sorcerer…

Celsus treated Jesus as a person who was a dangerous con-artist like a conjuror or illusionist. He considered Jesus to be a magician who made exorbitant claims.

So both hostile Jews and Greeks acknowledged that Jesus had miraculous powers. And they said that these were magical, Satanic and deceptive.

Were the gospels fabricated?

Some skeptics claim that the gospels were fabricated after Christ’s death and aren’t reliable accounts of what actually happened. But you wouldn’t expect the following in the gospels if they were fabricated:
– Mathew was written by a tax collector and Jews hated these.
– A key event, the resurrection of Christ, was revealed first to women who had low status in society at that time. A woman’s testimony was not accepted in court during those days.
– No Jew would invent a story of a crucified Messiah, and Christians wouldn’t invent such a horrific ending for their leader.
– There are multiple accounts of the life of Jesus in the gospels with variations between them.
– The embarrassing parts would probably have been deleted: Jesus’ baptism by John (Mk. 1:4-11), His family believing He was out of His mind (Mk. 3:21), His ignorance of the time of His own return (Mk. 13:32), His not doing miracles in some places (Mt. 13:58), and Jesus calling Peter Satan (Mt. 16:23).
– Why would two of the leaders in the early church reject Jesus when He was on earth? His brother James was a skeptic (Mk. 3:21; 6:2-4; Jn. 7:5) and Paul persecuted Christians (Acts 7:58, 60).
– Why would the apostles invent so many miracle stories, when most Jews expected a political deliverer as Messiah, not a wonder-worker?
– Why would the writers say that some people doubted that Jesus rose from the dead (Mt. 28:17; Mk. 16:11-13; Lk. 24:11, 38; Jn. 20:24-27)?
– Why would the apostles invent a religion that caused them painful humiliating deaths?

Time gaps

The New Testament was written by the apostles and their associates. The apostles were eyewitnesses to the events they described and the associates would have obtained information from eyewitnesses. Scholars think that the “memory gap” between the events described in the gospels and their documentation is about 30-55 years. There are variations between the gospels. This is because there are multiple witnesses and multiple writers. And like in real life, there are variations between the accounts (each records different aspects and details) but they have the same core message and they are consistent with each other. It’s a bit like children recalling events from their childhood for a parent’s eulogy.

Let’s look at the “copy gap” (between the original document and the oldest manuscript available today) for some historical documents. For the works of Josephus in their original language of Greek, the copy gap was about 800 years and for the Annals of Tacitus it was about 1,000 years. On the other hand, for the New Testament, the copy gap was about 300 years – Codex Vaticanus was copied in AD 300-325 and Codex Sinaiticus in AD 330-360. So the gap is significantly shorter for the New Testament. A longer gap means more copies of copies, which means more potential for copy errors to appear in the text. So the version of the New Testament we have today should be a more accurate copy of the original than is the case for these other Roman and Jewish historical documents. In this way, the evidence for the existence of Jesus is stronger than that for most other people of the ancient world.

Do we have an open mind?

I’ve presented some evidence, but whether you believe it depends whether you have an open mind or not. Our presuppositions can override the evidence in order to inevitably conclude what was presupposed from the start. That’s circular reasoning! In such cases our assumptions and beliefs largely determine our findings and interpretation of these. If we have already made up our minds, no evidence will change them.

Let’s look at some people who investigated Jesus with an open mind.

CS Lewis

CS Lewis was Irish and became an atheist in his early teenage years. He graduated from Oxford University with triple First Class Honors in Classics, Philosophy and English. And he wrote many books. His mother died when he was 10 years old, he had been unhappy at school, and he experienced trench warfare during the First World War. But after spending some years with Christian colleagues at Oxford University, at 30 years of age he became a Christian. He realized that atheists don’t have an open mind because they deny the supernatural and therefore the existence of God. They don’t even consider this possibility. But if God exists, then surely the Creator can intervene in His creation. He can alter the natural environment, reverse the progression of disease, or conquer death in ways we consider to be miraculous. He has written many books defending Christianity, including “Mere Christianity”.

Lee Strobel

Lee Strobel trained at Yale Law School and was an avowed atheist. He was a legal journalist for 14 years. After his wife’s conversion, he began investigating the Biblical claims about Christ. After a nearly two-year investigation, he became a Christian at the age of 29 years. He has written many books defending Christianity, including “The case for Christ”.

Jennifer Fulwiler

Jennifer Fulwiler was an atheist blogger. But she came to realize her mind was closed to ideas that didn’t fit into her atheist worldview. At the birth of her first child the only way her atheist mind could explain the love that she had for him was to assume it was the result of nothing more than chemical reactions in her brain. Then she realized that’s not true! She found that the Christian worldview had the best rational explanation for the world in which we live. She writes a blog called “Conversion Diary”.

Warner Wallace

Warner Wallace was a homicide detective. He was an atheist, but reading the gospels changed his life. After he saw that they were accurate eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus, he became a Christian. He stresses that as detectives need to be open minded by avoiding presuppositions, so should we. And the highest standard for prosecution is “beyond a reasonable doubt”, not “beyond every possible doubt”. This is because they are dealing with history, not observational science or mathematics. Wallace writes a blog called “Cold case Christianity”.

This evidence from an author, a journalist, a blogger and a detective shows that when people investigate Jesus with an open mind, they are convinced that He did the things described in the Bible.

Lessons for us

We have seen that Jesus is a historical person and not an imaginary figure. The evidence is overwhelming. And that He wasn’t an ordinary person. He did miracles and founded Christianity that has spread across the world. Also, the gospels are based on eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus and not something fabricated by early Christians. And people with an open mind will agree with this finding.

Do you have an open mind about Jesus? Have you read about Him in the gospels? Do you think He is a great moral teacher, but don’t accept his claim to be God? In that case, Jesus would be a liar. Why would a person willingly die under an accusation they knew wasn’t true? Or do you think He was deluded? That He had a mental illness? Then why would the apostles give up their lives for such a person? The only other option is that He was the person who He claimed to be and who He demonstrated to be by His miracles, the divine Son of God.

And if Jesus existed and did the things that history says He did and He’s alive today as the Son of God, then what must change in our lives today?

Why did Jesus come?

Jesus coming to earth is a bit like us becoming an ant in order to talk to the ants. Or us becoming an amoeba or bacteria to communicate with them. It’s amazing! It’s even more amazing because Jesus made and sustains the world He entered! The Creator and Sustainer became a creature at the same time.

Jesus came to earth so we can have spiritual life. A life connected with God now. A life that is connected with God forever. That’s called eternal life. He did it to solve the problem of our rebellion against God. Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Noah’s generation rebelled against God. The people of Babel rebelled against God. The Israelites rebelled against God. The Jews and Romans killed the Son of God. And we ignore God. He’s not in our calendar! The Bible says that we all rebel against God and that’s what separates us from Him (Rom. 3:23). We’re all guilty of wrong attitudes and wrong behavior. How do we know what’s right and what’s wrong? The Bible gives examples and our conscience can guide us (Rom. 2:15). The consequence of our guilt is to be separated from God.

Jesus solved the problem of our rebellion against God by taking our punishment when He was executed by crucifixion. He substituted for us. No one else could have done this because everyone else is a rebel and is separated from God themselves. Only Jesus could do this because He is the Son of God who is always in contact with God the Father.

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am” (Mt. 16:15-16NLT). Peter answered, “You are the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of the living God”. Can you say that as well? If we recognize that we can’t get right with God ourselves because of our rebellion, and that as the Son of God, Jesus has done all that is needed for us to get right with God, then the Bible says that the barrier between us and God comes down and we are no longer separated from Him. We come near to God. We become spiritually alive. If you want to get right with God, pray to Him about it and speak about it to a Christian today.

Eternal life

Jesus described eternal life as follows: “as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man (Jesus) must be lifted up (be crucified), so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:14-17NLT).
Here we see that Jesus was on a rescue mission. Just as the Israelites could be healed of snakebite by looking at the bronze snake on a pole, which changed their status from dying to being alive, our separation from God can be removed by accepting Christ’s sacrifice for us. We become spiritually alive and our destiny changes from hell to heaven.

Jesus also said, “I have come that they may have (eternal) life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). Jesus came so we can have spiritual life. And following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one. “Life, be in it!” was a program to encourage us to be more physically active. But Jesus says, “Eternal life, be in it!”. Let’s get spiritually active.

Jesus as Lord

But what if you already follow Jesus? This evidence about Jesus and the Bible supports our faith. We are Christians because of historical events, not because of mythical stories.

Peter told Cornelius that Jesus Christ “is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). “Lord” means a person who has authority over others; a master, boss, chief, or ruler. But most people act like Jesus was a liar or a mental case. They live as though Jesus never came to earth. But if we have trusted Him to bring us close to God, the Bible says that we are to live as though He is Lord of our lives (Rom. 10:9). That means giving Him priority. How can we do that? By obeying God’s commands and principles in the New Testament. A disciple follows their leader.

Paul is also a good example to follow (1 Cor. 4:16; Phil. 3:17). He said “You should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Is what we say and what we do consistent with what Paul said and did? Here’s one example from Paul, “dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2). Do we give our bodies to God? Does He influence our calendar? Do we copy the behavior and customs of this world? Or, do we let God transform our lives? Do we let Him change the way we think? Are we different from those that don’t follow Jesus? Is it evident that we are spiritually alive?

Conclusion

We have seen that because Jesus lived on earth almost 2,000 years ago, and did miracles to prove His divinity, and paid the price so we can be reconciled with God, if we turn to follow Him, He turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful spiritual life.

Eternal life, be in it!

Written, February 2017

Also see: Extra-biblical evidence of Jesus