Translate

Saturday, April 21, 2018

How God's Grace And Wisdom Frame The Book Of Romans

Image result for book of romans
Romans 16:25-27 "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen."

Introduction:

Have you ever turned to the back cover of a book to see how it ended? Paul's letter to the church at Rome is consider his most important. The Epistle to the Romans presents a full treatment on the theological and practical implications of the Gospel. The introductory section to Romans contains themes that mesh well with the closing of the book. Romans 1:1-7 states:

"Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

How God's Grace and Wisdom Frame The Book Of Romans

The introduction, Romans 1:1-7, describes how people are brought to saving faith in Jesus through the Gospel. The closing verses of Romans 16:25-27 focus upon the basis upon which the Gospel rests. 

As a note: the reader is urged to view the underlined portions I have underscored in the texts of today's post, since we will recall them later in this post. 

It is with the beginning and end that we respectively witness the means by which sinners are won to faith and the marvelous foundation upon which faith in the Gospel is rooted. The signature note of Romans 1:1-7 is that of God's grace. The closing melody of Romans 16:25-27 is that of God's wisdom. 

God's grace is God doing and providing for us what we could never provide nor achieve by ourselves. God's wisdom involves God's use of His divinely appointed means (both good and bad) to achieve His most noble ends (which are always good), (see Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Therefore we see two book-ends to the book of Romans: God's grace and God's wisdom. 

What details about God's Grace and Wisdom Bracket the Book of Romans

We have observed how God's grace and wisdom function as book-ends to hold together the Book of Romans. The question is, what details of each of these attributes of grace and wisdom depict God's work in salvation? If we look first at Romans 1:1-7, wherein is expressed God's grace in human salvation, we find a particular chain of avenues by which God ordained to bring forth the Gospel to sinners:

1. "through His prophets", 1:2

2. "through whom we have received", i.e. Christ, 1:5

3. "among whom", i.e. the nations or gentiles, individual sinners are lovingly called by God, 1:6

When Paul speaks of "through the prophets", that is theological shorthand for the Old Covenant or Old Testament scriptures. We mustn't forget the foundation of scripture as the chief instrument by which human salvation derives (see 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). 

This first "instrument" of scripture, that God in His grace uses to call forth sinners, points beyond itself to Christ. Christ is the center and circumference of the prophetic scriptures (see Luke 24:44). Christ is the one by whom grace is channeled and is the source of all salvation by grace through faith (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5; Titus 2:11). 

Then the last instrumental means that God uses to channel His redemptive grace to sinners are the nations themselves. Passages such as Matthew 24:14 and Romans 11 detail how God is calling forth all kinds of people from every nation to respond to His gracious call. Both God's general revelation, or non-saving common grace on all men, as well as His focused saving grace on sinners in each nation, provide the context of genuine responses of faith to the Gospel. None can say they have not somehow benefited from all Christ achieved. For those persons that truly respond to the Gospel, the same shall be redeemed (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:8-9). Anyone saved by grace through faith can only credit God's saving grace for their salvation  (see 2 Corinthians 4:1-6). All others that persist in their refusal of the Gospel or actively reject God's revelation of His power through the general revelation of creation and the conscience perish in their sins as consequent of their choice to refuse God's well-meant offer of grace (John 3:36; Acts 13:46-47). 

Interestingly, when we turn to the closing verses of Paul's masterpiece of Romans 16:25-27, we find three related categories as those found in Romans 1:1-7. The following function as foundations for the Gospel as expressions of God's wisdom:

1. "according to my Gospel", Romans 16:25, i.e. "according to the Gospel as preached by me". Paul is the author of Romans and apostle to the nations. The Gospel he preaches was taught to Him by Christ following his conversion (see Galatians 1-2). This is the message of the Gospel which he states was "handed down to him" as Christ's death, burial, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances according to the scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-10). It is the Gospel which comprises the key theme of Romans itself (see Romans 1:16-17). The Gospel expresses God's wisdom and derives from Him (see Romans 11:33-36). 

2. "according to the revelation", Romans 16:25, i.e. the mystery as hidden from plain sight to the Old Testament prophets but fully disclosed in the New Testament. This mystery is two-fold. Firstly, how God would send forth Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, to incarnate Himself in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. Then secondly, included in the mystery was the commissioning of the church as the main instrument for propagating the Gospel in this present age until Christ's return (see Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20). 

3. "according to the commandment of the eternal God", 16:26. The Gospel is rooted in the "all-wise God". The covenant of redemption agreed upon by the Father, Son and Spirit concerning the Son's incarnation and plan of salvation came before the creation of the world (see Isaiah 43:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21; Ephesians 1:1-14; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Revelation 13:8). God found it best to raise up a chosen nation among the nations, namely Israel, in the Old Testament (see Exodus 19; Deuteronomy 7:1-9; Amos 3:1-4). Once Christ came, God temporarily set-aside Israel so as to call for all sorts of people from every nation and language (including those among the Jews) to compose His church. Romans 11 spells out the two complementary arrangements God has for Israel and the nations. The salvation of the nations will drive Israel to jealousy to pine after the Messiah - Christ. Meanwhile in temporarily setting aside Israel, the nations get the chance to hear the Gospel in this present age. Once Christ returns, Israel as a nation (not necessarily every individual Jew) will be redeemed upon seeing her Messiah (see Romans 11:25-26; Revelation 1:7). This combined arrangement enables sinners responding to the Gospel call to compose the body of Christ - i.e. the church. 

Closing thoughts:

When one takes the time to read the introduction and conclusion to Paul's epistle to the Romans, the discovery is made of God's grace and wisdom framing the letter. The details are extraordinary when we begin to see how God's grace (Romans 1:1-7) and wisdom (Romans 16:25-27) weave their ways like two threads of gold through the tapestry of Romans. May we look today to the God of grace who is all wise in setting forth salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Holiness of God

Image result for holy holy holy stained glass
Isaiah 6:3 “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”

Introduction:

Sometimes there is still an advantage to owning a car with a cassette player. This past week I had the occasion to listen once again to R.C. Sproul's classic teaching series: "The Holiness of God" (I happened to have the original 1988 cassette tapes). Dr. Sproul passed away in December 2017. Through his books and message are now available online, the legacy of his concern for Biblical truth continues. Out of all the things he taught, "the holiness of God" stands as his signature teaching series. I'll never forget the time I read his book by the same name: "The Holiness of God". The truth of God's holiness was never so made clear as it was in R.C. Sproul's book and teaching series. 

Re-listening to the series reminded me of the crucial importance of the holiness of God. In the above opening text of Isaiah 6, we find God's holiness repeated in redounding praise three times. Many commentators have noted that as each angel cried out "holy, holy, holy", another angel would join in antiphonal chorus, then another, and another - resulting in all of Heaven filled with this overwhelming theme of God's holiness. 

I find it interesting that Isaiah, the first of the writing prophets, highlights this quality of God in the escalated degree of what is called in the Hebrew "plural of majesty". Holiness alone, among all the attributes, is thrice mentioned. John the Revelator, the final author of scripture, repeats this same refrain in his vision of God in Revelation 4:8

"And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

Briefly defining "the holiness of God"

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states about God's holiness:

"God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections."

On one level, holiness can and often refers to moral purity. We often refer to the "Bible" as "the Holy Bible" because of the purity and reverence it carries. However, the idea of "moral purity" is but a starting point when thinking of this quality of God. Whenever we apply holiness to objects or other people, it connotes "separation". In scripture, we find the distinction made between "the profane" or "common" and "the holy". Once God has touched a particular object or person, that individual or object is "set-apart" from the surrounding space. Wherever God in His deity intersects with our human experience - such experience is described as "sacred". Space and time itself is made holy or "sacralized" whenever God acts and works within a particular point and time. 

A.W. Tozer writes the following on God's holiness in his landmark book: "Knowledge of the Holy":



"God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine. Only the Spirit of the Holy One can impart to the human spirit the knowledge of the holy. Yet as electric power flows only through a conductor, so the Spirit flows through truth and must find same measure of truth in the mind before He can illuminate the heart. Faith wakes at the voice of truth but responds to no other sound. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

God is intrinsically holy

God alone is "Holy" in the most essential sense. Sometimes theologians and philosophers make the distinction between something having "intrinsic value" versus "extrinsic value". The former refers to the value a person or object has in and of itself apart from considerations of outside related objects or people. Extrinsic value refers to how an object or person is valuable relative to another person or object outside of itself. 

God alone is intrinsically Holy. He was holy before creation. He is holy regardless of whether we exist or do not exist. In fact, we could add a third definition of God's holiness - namely, the uniqueness of God in His being. New Testament scholar D.A. Carson has noted that out of all the adjectives used to describe God's holiness, "uniqueness" gets us the closest. God's intrinsic holiness has led many thinkers to refer to God as "Wholly Other", as well as of course referring to Him by the similar sounding phrase: "Holy Other". We could clarify holiness further by reinforcing it with the definition: "uniquely other".

Some Biblical Texts That Speak Of God's Holiness

Numerous texts could be cited to demonstrate the volume of Biblical teaching on God's holiness. However, for sake of space, we will reserve ourselves to a handful of key texts on this subject. Proverbs 9:10 is the text from whence derives Tozer's book mentioned above: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Psalm 99:1-3 gives us one of the clearest expositions on God's holiness:

"The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! 2 The Lord is great in Zion, And He is exalted above all the peoples. 3 Let them praise Your great and awesome name; Holy is He."

From Psalm 99, we learn how God's holiness informs us of His other attributes. Holiness is what makes God, God. Holiness is all of God's goodness and attributes in concentrated, unapproachable, uncreated light. Other qualities of God, such as His divine necessity (that is, God cannot be other than what He is); Divine aseity (that is, God's self-sufficiency and independence); transcendence (that is, God quality of infinite life unshared by any creature, as well as He alone being the Creator of all things) and sovereignty (that is, God's eternal government and influence over, in and through all things) are all realities because of God's holiness. Holiness is both an attribute of God and His essential quality. Holiness also informs the other attributes of love and govern His character. 

How Christ's Holiness is Truly Divine Holiness

Whenever we come to the New Testament, we discover further truths of holiness. To save on the length of today's post, we will restrict ourselves to the Person of Christ in the Gospels. Holiness describes Christ. In Mark 1:24, the demonic host refers to Christ as "the Holy One of God". Luke 1:35 ascribes this quality of holiness to Christ not only due to His Divine nature as God, but also as a result of His assumption of true humanity in the virginal conception by the Holy Spirit. Peter confesses Jesus to be
the Holy One of God" in John 6:69. This quality of holiness in Christ is not the extrinsic holiness we mentioned earlier that results from people or objects touched by God. Christ as the eternal Son of God came as "intrinsically holy". Furthermore, as a Divine Person becoming incarnate, Christ's humanity meant that in a unique way, the incarnate Son's humanity was "intrinsically holy". Peter's response to Jesus' calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee in Luke 5:8 is much like how people and angels would respond when in the presence of God: 


"But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 

As we look at Christ's ministry in the Gospels, we find both repulsion and intrigue. Christ's uniqueness and unparalleled life and ministry marked Him separate. His touch upon sinners rendered them saints. His commissioning of twelve unlikely men resulted in those men becoming apostles. 

Closing thoughts on God's holiness - Applications

Christ's expression of holiness was unique, pure and "wholly other" due to His being God in the flesh. God's holiness is crucial to Christian identity, mission and purpose for living in this world. Is it no wonder that the Christian is called to holiness (see 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8; 1 Peter 1:16). We are called to "be holy, as God is holy". Only with Christ, by the Holy Spirit (Whom we didn't get to discuss in today's post, however, He as the third Person of the Trinity possess the same eternal property of Divine holiness as the Father and Son) can the Christian live out this command. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Transcendence of God - Meaning, Significance and Applications


Image result for himalaya mountains
Isaiah 55:8-9 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts."

Introduction:

In the last post we began considering two properties of God's being that work together to reveal what kind of God He is and who He is. We began the last post with the following question: "what is God like?" We focused attention on what is called God's immanence and God's transcendence. The last post mentioned both of these traits, with space devoted mainly to defining immanence. We noted that God's immanence has to do with how God is able to make Himself known and felt at every point in the creation. As theologian Wayne Grudem has noted, the term "immanence" literally refers to how God works "in" and "through" creation. 

In today's post we are going to consider the second property of God's being known as "transcendence". 

A way to begin thinking of God's transcendence

A.W. Tozer's book: "Knowledge of the Holy" is an excellent book for exploring the doctrine of God. In his chapter on God's transcendence, Tozer begins with the following thought:

"To think accurately about this, however, we must keep in mind that “far above” does not here refer to physical distance from the earth but to quality of being. We are concerned not with location in space nor with mere altitude, but with life."

In the same chapter, Tozer lays out a very compelling illustration that captures how God's transcendence speaks of the infinite quality of life possessed alone by God:

"It is spirit that gives significance to matter and apart from spirit nothing has any value at last. A little child strays from a party of sightseers and becomes lost on a mountain, and
immediately the whole mental perspective of the members of the party is changed. Rapt admiration for the grandeur of nature gives way to acute distress for the lost child. The group spreads out over the mountainside anxiously calling the child’s name and
searching eagerly into every secluded spot where the little one might chance to be hidden."


Tozer continues:

"What brought about this sudden change? The tree-clad mountain is still there towering into the clouds in breath-taking beauty, but no one notices it now. All attention is 
focused upon the search for a curly-haired little girl not yet two years old and weighing less than thirty pounds. Though so new and so small, she is more precious to parents and friends than all the huge bulk of the vast and ancient mountain they had been 
admiring a few minutes before. And in their judgment the whole civilized world
concurs, for the little girl can love and laugh and speak and pray, and the mountain cannot. It is the child’s quality of being that gives it worth."

Tozer then closes his illustration:

"Yet we must not compare the being of God with any other as we just now compared the mountain with the child. We must not think of God as highest in an ascending order of beings, starting with the single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the
animal to man to angel to cherub to God. This would be to grant God eminence, even pre-eminence, but that is not enough; we must grant Him transcendence in the fullest meaning of that word.


Some Attributes of God that are closely related to His transcendence

God's transcendence is what sets Him apart from His creation. As witnessed in the passage from Isaiah 55:8-9, God's thoughts and ways are unlike our own. Moreover, God is much higher than the heavens. These designations refer to God as qualitatively in a category all to His own. 

Closely related attributes of God point the way to God's transcendence. There is what is termed God's "aseity", which refers to God's self-existence and self-sufficiency (see Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6). 

The first activity of God revealed in the Bible is that of Creator. As the Transcendent cause of the universe, God is both independent of His creation and causally prior to it (see Psalm 33:6 and 1 Corinthians 8:6). 

Since the creation (both the invisible and visible realms) had a beginning in the finite past, this means that the creation as a whole is dependent upon God or what theologians deem "contingent". 

God as the transcendent cause of all things cannot be any other way or thing that what He is. While the universe could had been arranged in a number of ways, and didn't have to exist, such qualities are not ascribable to God. To say God must exist and thus cannot "not-exist" is what we call God's "necessary-being". These attributes of God (namely, God's aseity, creative power and necessity) are just some of the attributes that point the way to this quality of God's transcendence. To neglect God's transcendence would be to neglect God - period!

Some important scriptures that testify to God's transcendence

Some of the most incredible scriptures in God's word expound on this quality of God's being. Psalm 90:2 exclaims:

"Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."

God's transcendence is revealed clearly in Isaiah 40:28 -

"Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable."

Whenever we turn to the New Testament, we find this same property describing the deity of Christ. Colossians 1:16-17 figures prominently in any discussion on Divine Transcendence:

"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."

One more example in the New Testament that highlights Divine transcendence, particular with reference to the Son (and by extension the other two members of the Godhead, since the author is quoting Psalm 102:25-27), is found in Hebrews 1:9-11

But of the Son He says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. 9 “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness above Your companions.” 
10 And, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the works of Your hands; 11 They will perish, but You remain; and they all will become old like a garment."

Applications and significance of God's transcendence

Whenever we consider God's transcendence, we must also consider the counterpart attribute of Divine immanence. The soul of every human being thirsts for completion and thirsts to worship something greater than itself. Fallen human beings attempt to satiate these impulses in the created order. By bearing the image of God, mankind finds itself coming-up short in attaining these twin goals. The Gospel reveals that the soul's longings for completion and worship are not found in the creation - but the Creator. Theologian Michael Horton comments on how transcendence and immanence work together in God's self-disclosure of Himself ("The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology For Pilgrims On The Way, Zondervan 2011, page 224):

"On the one hand, the revelation of God's name is a sign of transcendence, measuring the gulf between God's majesty and the human servant. Misusing God's name required the death penalty under the old covenant (Ex 20:7; Lev 24:16). Nevertheless, this name is also a sign of God's immanence, having been given to His people as a pledge of His personal presence, to be invoked in danger and praised at all times." 

God's transcendence means that God is worthy of worship. God's immanence means I can know this God Whom I worship. God makes Himself known to me in the revealed Word of God and by the living Word - the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Closing thoughts:

Today we considered God's transcendence. We noted that this property of God's being sets Him apart from the creation. Some attributes which point the way to God's transcendence include His aseity, creative power and necessity. We also consider some of the key Biblical texts that shed further light on transcendence. We then considered how this quality of God is essential to our worship and adoration of Him. By noting how God's transcendence and immanence function together in His being, we come to better (not comprehensively) understand the God of revealed scripture. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Immanence Of God - Its Meaning, Significance And Application

Image result for god's immanence
Isaiah 55:6-7 "Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."

Introduction:

What is God like? Whenever we endeavor to answer such a question, we are treading upon the holiest of ground. The prophet Isaiah enables us to behold the God of the Bible with our faces to the ground while at the same time experiencing what it is like in the cradle of His hand (see Isaiah 40:11 and 40:28). Isaiah 55 stands out as one of the premier chapters in the Bible for considering what God is like. God's very being is defined by two properties that appear, on first glance, to contradict one another: namely, God as "immanent" and "transcendent". As one considers more closely the Bible's revelation of God, these two truths function as twin pillars that inform the Biblical view of God.

Briefly defining "immanence" and "transcendence"

When I say "immanence", I refer to the quality of God's being that grants Him access to every point in the created realm. Theologian Wayne Grudem describes immanence as having to do with God working "in" and "through" His creation. Whenever I speak of "transcendence", I mean that quality of God's being that renders Him distinct and "above" His creation. 

Both of these properties of God's being keep in mind that God is the transcendent Creator, distinguished from His creation, that is ever Personally and immanently involved in the affairs of it. Although scripture distinguishes both of these traits in respective clusters of Biblical texts, we must ever keep in mind that God is both at the same time. Jeremiah 23:23-24 teaches that God is both immanent (i.e. near and at every point) and transcendent (i.e. distinct from and far and above His creation):

“Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord, “And not a God far off? 24 “Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?” declares the Lord.
“Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord."

Or again, notice Romans 11:36

"For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." 

Today's post is going to focus on God's immanence, with the next post dealing with the second quality of God's transcendence. 

Further reflections upon God's immanence

Isaiah 55:6-8 reveals the immanence of God. The reader is encouraged to "seek the Lord while He may be found" and "to call upon Him while He is near". As mentioned already, God's immanence refers to His presence that has equal access to every point in creation. God's omnipresence captures what we mean when we talk of God having causal influence at every point in creation. With regards to  the immanence of God, the additional emphasis is the way in which God desires to make Himself known in those points. 

To illustrate, I as a human being have an immaterial soul and a physical body. As I type, my fingers move over the keys by the intention of my mind. There is not one part of my body that is not equally accessed by my immaterial mind (or soul). Furthermore, whenever I direct my fingers to type, I am imposing my desire to express myself through my fingers, even though I could just as equally wiggle my toes or blink my eyes at the same time. 

Analogies break down of course. Certainly, we are not suggesting that the universe and all of creation functions somehow as God's "body" and that He is somehow the "soul" of the universe. Such an error, called "panentheism" or "process-theology", depersonalizes God and subtracts one of His eternal attributes (usually either His omnipotence, omniscience or both). The point of the comparison is to show that, just as my immaterial self can influence any and every point in my physical body, God (in a far more profound way, which is described by what we'll discuss in the next post, namely His "transcendence") is ever making Himself known to every point in creation.

Some Scriptures that speak about God's immanence  

A handful of scriptures can help round out our discussion on God's immanence. Knowing that God desires to know us and to make Himself known fits under the umbrella of what we mean when we say He is "immanent". Deuteronomy 4:7 states: 

"For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?" 

God's immanence emphasizes that in addition to being the Ultimate immaterial reality, God is intensely Personal. As a person (revealed firstly as Father), God possesses intellect, emotion, will, intention and wisdom. Remarkably, as immanent, the Old Testament's implicit hinting of God as a plurality of persons is made explicit and defined by the New Testament's revelation of God as Tri-Personal. 

Another text, Acts 14:17, speaks on God's sustaining of His creation (i.e. "Providence") by this property of His immanence:

"Yet He has not left Himself without testimony to His goodness: He gives you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness."

As another text, Job 12:9-10 reminds us - 

“Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this, 10 In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?"

One final text before we close out today's post on God's immanence is found in Acts 17:24-27 -  

"and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children."

Closing thoughts

Today we began to consider God's immanence and transcendence. We mostly focused our attention on the former of these, suggesting that God's immanence refers to the quality of God's being that grants Him access to every point in the created realm. God's immanence lies at the background of such important doctrines as God being Personal (and henceforth, Tri-Personality or the doctrine of the Trinity) and His governing of the creation (i.e. "providence"). Knowing that God is "near" means He is knowable and desires for us to know Him. Once a person has by grace through faith trusted in Jesus Christ, the immanence of God is most keenly experienced by the indwelling ministry of the third-Person of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit. Such a redemptive indwelling enables the Christian to experience God's immanence on a most personal level. In the next post, we will consider the other property of God's being mentioned at the beginning: namely, God's transcendence. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

What Did Jesus Do Between His Death And Resurrection? A Holy Saturday Meditation

Related image


1 Peter 3:18-20 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

Introduction:

I was asked a rather interesting question the other day regarding what Jesus did between the time He died until He raised from the dead. This post aims to answer this question. The question concerning what Jesus did between His crucifixion and resurrection is relevant to "Holy Saturday", since Christ's alleged proclamation of victory over the powers of Hell and His presentation of His once and for all sacrifice for sin took place in that short interval between His death and resurrection.

The significance of the Saturday the falls between "Good Friday" and "Easter Sunday"

As aforementioned, today is the Saturday that lies between "Good Friday" and "Easter Sunday". This day, simply called "Holy Saturday", considers what all was potentially taking place during the interment of Jesus' body in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. In the book "Preaching through the Christian Year", an ancient practice of the early church is recounted: 

"In the ancient church, the tradition of the Easter Vigil played an important role. Catechumens (young converts to the Christian faith), after remaining awake and watchful throughout Saturday night, were baptized early on Easter morning and then joined the Christian community in Holy communion." 

I'm sure some readers for instance can recall "Easter Sunrise Services" and other Christian traditions that urge the church to recall her central identity in Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. 

Over 2,000 years ago, Christ's physical body laid at "rest" in the tomb whilst He, in His immaterial soul, presented His accomplishment to the Father and proclaimed victory. The Apostle's Creed, an ancient confession of faith still recited by Christians the world-over, includes this phrase: 

"He was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell, on the third day He raised from the dead." 

Christians historically have emphasized this major theme of "rest" for Holy Saturday. Such rest, both spiritually and otherwise, could only be achieved as a result of Christ finished work on the cross and what was (then) His pending resurrection. The work Jesus did inbetween death and resurrection cemented together the victory of the cross and what would be His victory over death. It honestly comforts me to think of how helpless the powers of darkness were in preventing Christ from these decisive action. 

Robert Webber in his book: Ancient Future Time", comments on Holy Saturday in regards to the theme of "rest":

"Saturday is a day of rest and preparation for the great service of resurrection. It is a day to keep silence, to fast, to pray, to identify with Jesus in the tomb, and to prepare for the great resurrection feast."2

So with the twin themes of "rest" and "victory", Holy Saturday gets the Christian ready for the glory of the resurrection that is central to Easter Sunday. What follows from hereon is an attempt to draw together the New Testament testimony of what Jesus did.

Stitching together the New Testament passages that reference Christ's proclamation of victory between that first Good Friday and Easter Sunday

The four Gospels detail the events of Christ's death, burial and resurrection.  The remainder of the New Testament (Acts, 21 Epistles and Revelation) unfold the meaning what He achieved.  The Apostle Peter in his first epistle aims to show how we as Christians ought to stand firm in God's grace (1 Peter 5:12). Peter's letter ties in our ability to stand in such grace to what Jesus Christ accomplished.  1 Peter 3:18-20 will act as our telescope to view the New Testament passages that reference the events of "Holy Saturday. To do this, we will consider the following two main thoughts about Christ's accomplished work:

A. The Purpose of Christ's Accomplished Work - reconciliation.  1 Peter 3:18

B. The Proclamation of Christ's Accomplished Work - Victory.  1 Peter 3:19-20

A. Purpose of Christ’s Victorious Work – Reconciliation 3:18 


i. What did He do? He died 

He died for sins.  As Dr. Danny Akin of South Western Baptist Theological Seminary once noted: "He lived the life I couldn't live and He died the death I should have died."

ii. Whom did He die for? The unjust 

Romans 5:6-8 states - "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." 

Jesus' death on behalf of sinners accomplished two necessary effects required for reconciliation with God. The first necessary effect was expiation or the removal of the cause of God's wrath upon us - our sin (Romans 5:10). The second effect had to do with propitiation - that is to say, the satisfaction of God's wrath (1 John 2:2). Below in the next thought (point "iii"), we see why expiation (taking away of sin) and propitiation (satisfying wrath) are necessary for reconciliation.


iii. Why did he die? To bring us to God (reconciliation) 

Dr. Michael Horton notes: 

"The result of God's wrath being satisfied is reconciliation. Just as we are first of all passive subjects of God's wrath when God propitiates, we are passive subjects of God's reconciliation at the cross.  We do not reconcile ourselves to God; God reconciles Himself to us and us to Him."3

iv. How did He do it? Death and resurrection

Christ's death, burial and resurrection are at the heart of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The New Testament mostly focuses upon Christ's death and resurrection.  However, what went on during the three days He was buried is not explained in near as much detail as the two book-ends of the Gospel: namely Christ's death and resurrection.  

Death and Resurrection serve to explain how Christ accomplished what he accomplished. What He did in His burial (down below) reveals some of the behind (and under) the scenes work He did in insuring our ability to walk as believers in His Victorious work. 

B. Proclamation of Christ’s Victorious Work – Victory 3:19-20 

i. What did He do between His death &    resurrection? Proclaimed victory 3:19 

John MacArthur has perhaps explained this text better than just about everyone I've read or heard: 

"He was announcing, proclaiming (and) heralding a triumph. About what? It must be pretty obvious, about His triumph over sin, about His triumph over death, about His triumph over hell, about His triumph over demons, about His triumph over Satan." 4

ii. To whom did He proclaim His victory? The  demons reserved for judgment. 3:19-20 

If we were to attempt to offer a faint outline of what Jesus did between His death and resurrection, we could maybe understand why He went to proclaim His victory to the demonic realm.  Much activity was done by Christ in this short-span of time. 

First He went immediately into the presence of His Father by way of the Holy Spirit in his human spirit to present His once and for all sacrifice (Hebrew 9:15). 

Next, He went down into those regions of hell where some of the demons (especially those who rebelled in Noah's day) are being reserved for judgment. 

Thirdly, Christ would had released the Old Testament saints from the righteous realm of the dead (i.e. paradise) to lead the captives out to where they could come with Him to where the saints go in this age (Ephesians 4:8-11). Some have connected this particular event to when the saints came out of their tombs in Matthew 27:52-53.

Fourthly, Christ's proclamation of victory insures that hell will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18) as well as fulfilling the fact of His triumph over the demonic realm (Colossians 2:14-15). 

Fifthly, Christ's resurrection from the dead meant He had completed His mission of proclamation and thus He arose as a victorious King, subduing all cosmic powers under Himself (Acts 2:24; 1 Peter 3:22).

iii. Why did he proclaim His victory? To  guarantee Christian victory 3:19-20 

He did this to pave the way for what would be His ascension into Heaven 40 days after His resurrection from the dead (Ephesians 4:7-10). 

iv. What was His victory over? Sin (1 Pet 3:18), hell 1 Pet 3:19-20; Col 2:11-12) grave (3:18,21b)

Revelation 1:4-5 states - "John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood".

Closing thoughts


As we draw this post to a close, let's remember our two main thoughts for today's post:

1. The Purpose of Christ's Accomplished Work - reconciliation. 1 Peter 3:18

2. The Proclamation of Christ's Accomplished Work - Victory. 1 Peter 3:19-20
What Jesus accomplished was proclaimed by Him both in heaven and to the defeated demonic realm. Such activities provided grounds for which future generations of Christian could stand who by grace through faith trusted in Jesus. The cross of Friday and the work of Saturday pointed to what would be the great victory of that early Sunday Morning: He has risen! As Christians, we rest in these works of Jesus.
Endnotes:
1. Fred B. Craddock; John H. Hayes; Carl R. Holladay and Gene M. Tucker. Preaching Through the Christian Year - Part A. Trinity Press International. Harrisburg, PA. 1992. Page 227

2. Robert Webber. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through The Christian Year." Baker Books. 2004.


2. Michael Horton. The Christian Faith - A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Zondervan. 2011. Page 500

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What Happened On That First Easter Morning? The Historical Case For Jesus' Resurrection

Image result for resurrection
Matthew 28:6 "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying."

Introduction:

What Happened on that first Easter morning? This key question will be the focus of today's post. In this particular post, I aim to present the case for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Many people may not realize that in addition to being the central article of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ also occupies a place in the realm of historical investigation. What follows below is a standard way of historically approaching the question about what happened on Easter morning. Think of what follows as more of an outline than a comprehensive treatment. It is hoped that this post aids those wanting to go further in their understanding of the events surrounding Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Some good resources to consider

Before we get underway, let me point the reader to reputable websites that specialize in the subject of Christ's resurrection from the dead. The websites feature key defenders of the Christian faith to whom I'm indebted in gathering together a working outline for presenting the case that presents the proposal: "God raised Jesus from the dead":

1. www.reasonablefaith.org

2. www.garyhabermas.com

3. www.crossexamined.org

In addition to the above websites, some great books are available that can help readers begin their journey in studying this subject. Other topics related to defending the Christian faith are also included in the following resources:

1. “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?”, William L. Craig 

2. “On Guard”, William L. Craig

3. “Case For Easter”, Lee Strobel

Knowing and showing that Jesus raised from the dead. 

a. When I say “knowing”, I mean in the words of the hymn: 

“You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart”. 

This first way of understanding what occurred on that first Easter is reliable and is how all people arrive at a certainty of what took place. This way of “knowing” the risen Christ is obtained with or without “showing” the event to be the case. Most people in the world don’t have time nor access to the resources that one would utilize in historical research. Coming to Jesus Christ by faith is how people arrive at the certainty that Jesus raised from the dead. Whenever we engage in presenting a case like the one outlined below, it can be viewed as a "second-line of defense". The New Testament heartily supports this experiential understanding of the risen Christ for the believer. Phil. 3:10-11 

“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” 

b. When I say “showing”, I mean presenting the historical case that demonstrates that the premise: “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of what happened on Easter Morning. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only an article of faith, but also a historical fact. Thus, what follows in this post will focus mainly on “showing” how Jesus’ resurrection is a genuine event of history. 

How we can show that Christ’s resurrection from the dead was a historical event. 

To do this, we need to:

a. First express the facts surrounding the resurrection. 

b. Secondly, list the criteria used in judging which explanation of the facts best explains “what happened”. 

c. Thirdly, the typical explanations of those facts (naturalistic explanations and the one supernatural proposal: “God raised Jesus from the dead”). 

d. Then lastly, why the proposal: “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of the facts. The Christian can readily affirm that "dead men don't rise naturally from the dead". However, in proposing that God raised Jesus from the dead, we are stating that the only way a resurrection could be brought about is by a supernatural, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God as referenced by Jesus Himself. When skeptics refuse to allow the possibility of the miraculous, the objection raised is not historical, but rather philosophical in nature. Including a supernatural explanation (i.e. "God raised Jesus from the dead") in the survey of explanations for what happened on that first Easter morning is part of the historical investigative process. Once we conclude the historical case, the post will then close with a brief appeal on how one can “know” the risen Christ by faith for themselves. 

What are the facts surrounding the resurrection event?

a. What do we mean by “fact”? An event of the past that is multiply attested in several sources and which is viewed as such by most historians living today. Gary Habermas did a landmark study, surveying over 2,000 publications by scholars of all stripes written from 1975 to present. (Gary Habermas, “Experience of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the early proclamation of the resurrection,” Dialogue 25 (2006): 292.). 

Wherever there were at least 75% agreements, that counted as a “fact”. The facts we will look at today are shared among 90% (per Habermas’ reckoning).

b. What are the primary sources for Easter? When it comes to multiple attestation (i.e. multiple, independent sources), we possess several primary sources for these facts: Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20; the materials particular to Matthew /Luke and 1 Corinthians 15:1-6. 

It must be noted that people must not dismiss these sources due to their being “in the Bible”. Before there was a gathering together of such sources into the bundle we call the “New Testament”, they were independently written. Although it is right for the Christian to rightly see these documents as inerrant scripture, historians approach them as reliable sources for the historical events surrounding the historical Jesus of the 1st century. 

Even non-believing historians regard the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 15 as reliable sources, despite whatever their personal beliefs might be toward these documents. The only people that try to pass off the Gospels and Paul’s letters are internet skeptics or people not familiar with even a general sense of how historical research is done in New Testament studies.

c. Four main facts.  For the resurrection of Jesus, four facts emerge: 

i. honorable burial, 

ii. discovery of the empty tomb by women followers, 

iii. the sudden shift to faith by the disciples 

iv. Jesus’ post-mortem appearances.

What criteria are used when evaluating various explanations for the facts at hand?

a. It is one thing to list the facts, and have most everyone agree that these are the facts at hand. However, whenever it comes to how to explain “what happened”, the disagreements emerge. 

b. Historian C. Behan McCullagh, in his book: “Justifying Historical Descriptions” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), notes several criteria used by historians when investigating the best explanation for any event and its attendant facts. Just as a parent uses criteria to discern how to settle a recent set of events reported to them by their children, historians use standard criteria as well. The following derives from William L. Craig’s booklet: “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?”

i. Explanatory scope: How much of the evidence does the explanation or hypothesis explain better than its rivals.

ii. Explanatory power: Does the given explanation make the evidence more probable as having occurred than rival explanations

iii. Plausibility. How well does the given explanation fit with other known background beliefs of that time period.

iv. Least contrived. Whichever explanation of the facts adopts the fewest new beliefs apart from independent evidence is most likely the correct explanation.

v. Disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs. Whichever explanation can withstand the scrutiny of comparison with other well-established beliefs is the more probable explanation. 

vi. The best explanation meets the first five conditions so much better than its rival explanations, that there is little chance of the other rival explanations being the better candidate for telling “what happened”.

Naturalistic Explanations of Easter morning

When it comes to surveying the pool of naturalistic explanations of what happened on Easter, we can assess what are called: "full-tomb hypotheses" and "empty-tomb hypotheses". Naturalism is a philosophical view point that asserts that physical objects, physical laws or material properties are the only things that exist. For sake of space, I will briefly list the most popular naturalistic hypotheses with a sample of their weaknesses.  

a. Full Tomb Hypotheses: Explaining the events of Easter with a body in the tomb

i. Hallucination hypothesis = the disciples hallucinated the risen Christ. Doesn’t adequately explain post-mortem appearances. People that think they have seen a dead loved-one knows that the person is dead. The disciples' post-mortem visions of Jesus resulted in their message: "He is alive"! Hallucinations are individual experiences. The Gospel accounts and 1 Corinthians 15 record episodes where the post-resurrected Christ physically appeared to multiple people.

ii. Apparent death / mystery twin = Jesus switched with a look alike. Islam, Surah 4:157. Requires contrived beliefs (maybe a twin-brother, maybe they found a look-alike, they tricked guards, and so-forth). Doesn’t explain empty tomb nor post-mortem appearances.

iii. Visionary hypothesis = not a physical Jesus, but a “vision” only. Doesn’t explain how 500 people could see Him. Also, appearances are accompanied by physical phenomena. Doesn’t cover empty tomb.  

b. Empty Tomb Hypotheses: Explaining the events of Easter that include the empty tomb

i. Swoon Hypothesis = Jesus didn’t die, He fainted revived in the cool tomb. Doesn’t take seriously the brutality of crucifixion. Disconfirmed by what we know of crucifixion. 

ii. Conspiracy = disciples stole the body. Jewish leaders stole body. The Christian movement wouldn’t had gotten off the ground, disciples switch to faith is not explained. Jewish leaders could had ended movements by producing a body. They claim disciples stole body. 

iii. Hoax = Disciples lied. No one knowingly dies for a lie. Hoaxes fizzle out within a few years. 

iv. Wrong tomb.  The women followed. Joseph of Arimathea would not had been a Christian invention. The guards were situated at the tomb (Matthew 28:4). Pilate would had known where the tomb was, since he decreed for it to be sealed. These observations demonstrate, on historical grounds, that the location of the tomb was known by both followers and opponents of Jesus.  

Why the hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation of the facts.

i. Explanatory scope: How much of the evidence does the explanation or hypothesis explain better than its rivals. It alone explains four main facts.

ii. Explanatory power: Does the given explanation make the evidence more probable as having occurred than rival explanations. It best handles the facts. Furthermore, all other naturalistic theories break down here.

iii. Plausibility. How well does the given explanation fit with other known background beliefs of that time period. Jewish beliefs of resurrection as physical. Early church’s beginnings.

iv. Least contrived. Whichever explanation of the facts adopts the fewest new beliefs apart from independent evidence is most likely the correct explanation. Only one extra belief is need: God exists.

v. Disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs. Whichever explanation can withstand the scrutiny of comparison with other well-established beliefs is the more probable explanation. Nothing precludes this. To say: “miracles are impossible” is not a historical objection, but a philosophical one.

vi. The best explanation meets the first five conditions so much better than its rival explanations, that there is little chance of the other rival explanations being the better candidate for telling “what happened”. This hypothesis best fulfills the first five criteria. 

Final appeal to place your trust in the risen Jesus, so that you can “know” that He lives.

In this post I have given an outline of how one may "show" that the proposal: "God raised Jesus from the dead" is the best explanation for answering the question: "what happened on that first Easter morning". However, just knowing "about" the resurrection is not enough to reconcile you to God. Christian salvation promises that one can personally know the risen Christ. John 17:3 reminds us: 

"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

As we close out this post, let me briefly make the appeal for any reader that has never trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord to do so. The scriptures below explain how one can know for certain, by faith, that Jesus raised from the dead and how He can become Savior and Lord of their life.

Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace are you saved through faith, this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, lest any man should boast." 

Romans 10:8-10 "But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."

You can know the risen Christ! Not just as having probably raised from the dead (that’s as far as reason will get you), but having certainty of Him having died on the cross and risen for you. As Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the certainty of things not seen."