Translate

Monday, July 5, 2021

P2 - Jesus and the Biblical Worldview Of Justice - True Justice Is Relevant Because Human Beings Are Made In God's Image

Introduction:

       In our last post, we began to consider what Jesus taught on the Biblical worldview of justice, which readers may review here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2021/07/p1-jesus-and-biblical-worldview-of.html 

    We noted that the first foundation for understanding justice is that it is grounded in the character and revelation of God Himself. Moral categories such as "justice" are what we call "objective truths", meaning that they are what they are regardless of what anyone may think, and they are the same across cultures, times and places. Justice is not some abstraction that exists independently of God, but rather is a perfection of which God is by His very nature. To put it another way, God is just because He is God. We not only live in a physical, but moral universe. Moreover, anytime we are dealing with morality, we involve persons. Years ago I learned the following moral argument for God's existence:

Premise one: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Premise two: Objective moral values and duties exist.

Therefore: God exists.

        For there to be some sort of universal law, there is necessarily a Lawgiver and there are moral persons to whom such an objective morality is given as an obligation for them to live by. In today's post, we continue on developing our Biblical worldview of justice by noting the second important foundation for it - that human beings, both men and women, are made in God's image. We shall then close the post with final applications and resources for the reader to further reinforce their understanding.

What is meant by "made in God's image"

    The first time we come across the idea of man "made in God's image" is in Genesis 1:26- 

"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

As theologians over the centuries have wrestled with what is meant by this term, three major ideas have emerged. The first possible meaning of "God's image" in man has to do with "exercising of authority" or "function". Men and women both appear to have the ability to cultivate and bring into order the creation around them and certain levels of the animal kingdom. Undoubtedly, the fall of human beings in Genesis 3 greatly impaired this functional element of the "image of God in man". Nevertheless, we still see this first meaning operative in humanity.

    The second possible meaning to "made in God's image" (Latin "imago dei") is in how human beings are made for relationship with one another and with God - hence, a "relational" meaning. In Genesis 5:3, we read of how Seth, Adam's son - 

"When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth."

    As men and women relate to one another in marriage as God's image bearers, as well as with their children, we see how imperative it is for human beings to have social relationships. Also too, both men and women were created with the fundamental need to have a relationship with God. In the fall, the relationship Adam and Eve had with God was severed - resulting in man's profound spiritual and moral lostness (see Ephesians 2:12). Nevertheless, when Christ came into the world to provide salvation, the promise of salvation is at the moment of saving faith, this capacity to know God and relate to Him is restored to the redeemed man or women (see Colossians 3:10).

    So we see a functional and relational meaning assigned to this idea of "imago dei" or "made in God's image. One more meaning is worth mentioning, and that is that the idea of man made in God's image has to do with each person's inherent "dignity". Genesis 9:6 has God issuing forth this command in his covenant with Noah - 

“Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man."

    Any form of premeditated taking of life in a criminal setting is defined by Scripture as murder, or destroying of a fellow image bearer. As the reader notes what is written below in regards to social issues such as "right-to-life" and "opposing racism", both issues deal with how fellow image bearers (whether unborn or different ethnicities) are to be treated with dignity due to the "imago dei" embedded in the biological and moral/spiritual nature that defines what it means to be "human" in male and females. With these functional, relational and dignity elements briefly defined as constituting what it means when we say "made in God's image" (or imago dei), we can now proceed to see how Jesus treated this issue with respect to a Biblical worldview of justice.

Jesus deals with dignity of human life or "man made in God's image"

        Jesus comes upon a second scene and the Sabbath issue comes up again. Jesus raised the issue on the right to life and value of life in Mark 3:4 “And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent”. 

         The arbitrary, man-made tradition that claimed to “preserve what was right on the Sabbath” would had preferred the injustice of the man with a withered hand remaining unhealed by Jesus. Just as it was in Jesus’ day, true justice demands that all human beings, whether unborn, whatever ethnicity, whatever gender, are inherently valuable because of their being made in God’s image. But now, what happens whenever we reject the revelation of “true justice” for the arbitrary, man-made system of moral relativism in which society defines what is “just”?

The late Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer delivered a historic message in 1982 entitled “The Christian Manifesto”, in which he described what was going in our nation because of justice defined by man-made arbitrary law detached from God’s law: 

“More frightening still, in our country, at our own moment of history, is the fact that any basis of law then becomes arbitrary -- merely certain people making decisions as to what is for the good of society at the given moment. Now this is the real reason for the breakdown in morals in our country. It's the real reason for the breakdown in values in our country, and it is the reason that our Supreme Court now functions so thoroughly upon the fact of arbitrary law. They have no basis for law that is fixed, therefore, like the young person who decides to live hedonistically upon their own chosen arbitrary values, society is now doing the same thing legally. Certain few people come together and decide what they arbitrarily believe is for the good of society at the given moment, and that becomes law.” 

       This dominance of arbitrary law, in its various forms, has operated in our nation for the last 125 years. Let me contrast the Biblical view of true justice with a slice of that timeframe to show the fruits of what arbitrary, moral relativism has done in getting us to where we are at. Let’s consider three major moral issues.

THE SANCTITY OF LIFE. 

        True justice and “God’s image in man” affirms the inherent value of the unborn. Exodus 21:21-23 

“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. 23 But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life”. 

       Passages such as Luke 1:15; Luke 1:35 and Galatians 1:15 respectively assert the personal identities of Jesus, John the Baptist and Paul in the womb. Anything that would had occurred to terminate these lives pre-term would had been understood as injustice or objectively wrong (notwithstanding, the unimaginable difference it would had made on the history itself!). This rightful opposition to abortion was increasingly fought against and overturned in the Roe vs. Wade decision of 1973. Arbitrary, societal law decided that the life of the mother was the priority, coupled with a denial of the personhood of the baby. Consequences? 62.5 million babies gone as of 2021.

MARRIAGE & GENDER. 

       Our Lord repeated the definition of marriage in Matthew 19:4-5 

"And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  

       This understanding of marriage, virtually unchallenged and universally recognized by all people everywhere for all time, increasingly eroded throughout the 2oth century. When our nation passed “no-fault divorce” in the 1960’s along with the rapid increase of “living together” cohabitation through the 1970’s, the rate of traditional marriages declined through the 80’s and 90’s. Sadly, the American church closely mimicked these trends. This opened the door for increasing demands for same-sex marriage (where sadly, increasing numbers of professing Christians are weakening and accommodating to the pressure). 

         In parallel to this, a legal theory, which became “critical theory”, emerged in the mid-twentieth century. Critical theory advocates that society is composed of “oppressors” and “the oppressed”. Critical theory’s view of justice is called “social justice”.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines “social justice” as: 

“justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.”  

        In short, “social justice” is what society says it is in terms of “equal goods and privileges” rather than “objective right and wrong” as defined by true justice. 

        Thus, when Critical theory is applied to marriage, legal leverage is pushed to demand equal access to societal and economic benefits of marriage for same-sex couples, resulting in proponents of traditional marriage being deemed as “oppressors”. Similarly, whenever Critical Theory is applied to matters of gender, we have the LBGTQ movement, which asserts that the Biblical and traditional view of gender is “oppressive”; that gender is a matter of one’s choice as defined by society; and that all public spaces need restructured to accommodate those persons who identify themselves by any gender. Despite the signing of the “Defense of Marriage Act” in 1996, which denied federal recognition of same-sex marriage, two landmark Supreme Court Cases (United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) overturned the act, paving the away for what is now uniform federal endorsement of same-sex marriage.   

FIGHTING RACISM. 

         Scripture uniformly denounces racism. Jesus Himself treated the Samaritan woman at the well with dignity equal to his own (Samaritans were an ethnicity hated by the Jews). The Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 featured the Holy Spirit poured out on 17 different ethnicities, opening the doors for anyone in any nation to hear and believe the Gospel. Galatians 3:28 expressly states: 

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  

         The Bible affirms the beauty and equality of all ethnicities as part of one human race, as captured in the song of Revelation 5:4 “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”

         A Judeo/Christian framework (not meaning that every founding father was a Christian, but rather had a working understanding of a Judeo-Christian ethic) informed our nation’s founding. For instance, the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence: 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  

        Martin Luther King Jr. fought for Civil Rights with this same Judeo/Christian view of true justice as seen in an excerpt from his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:  

“I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all." Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality."

Anytime true Biblical justice is replaced by arbitrary justice, injustice will result. Now I have mentioned already the arbitrary, man-made theory of law called “critical theory”. When critical theory is applied to issues of race, we have “Critical Race Theory” (CRT), which in principle undoes any progress made in past civil rights efforts. How? Such an arbitrary view of justice sows seeds to further alienate people, rather than encourage true listening to one another and working together, since it puts at odds those who are deemed “white” and classified as “systemically and irretrievably racist” from those who are the “oppressed”. We can never expect true dialogue whenever only one group is allowed to speak and the other is forced to remain silent. Furthermore, CRT neither affirms God’s existence (let alone an eternal foundation for justice); nor does it envision human beings as made in His image. This can never work with a Biblical worldview of justice nor provide help in interpreting Scripture. 

These key areas all touch upon the importance of understanding the eternal basis and application of true justice. Furthermore, just as Jesus’ teaching on justice and the inherent dignity of human beings contrasted with the arbitrary laws of the Pharisees; the Bible-believing Christian needs to make sure they understand a Biblical view of justice if they expect to navigate the increasing cultural pressure and indoctrination of our current generation; preserve Biblical marriage as that of one man, one woman; and oppose evils like racism and abortion-on-demand. 

How we can begin to apply Jesus’ Biblical worldview of justice.                                    

        In the recent SBC 2021 convention in Nashville, there were major discussions about so-called “Critical Race Theory” and efforts to express resolutions banning abortion. As I see it, the mettle of our SBC is undergoing a major season of testing. The convention passed the so-called “Resolution 9” in 2019 which affirmed the usefulness of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality as a tool for studying scripture. The key phrase in the controversial resolution is found in its second "resolved" section: 

RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks." 

       I hope readers understand how important I think it is to oppose evils such as racism. If for anything, the reason why I wrote on this topic of articulating a Biblical Worldview of Justice was to lay out how such a worldview aids in combatting such evils, since Scripture itself is sufficient for affirming the equality of value and dignity of every ethnicity. Since we have seen what a Biblical Worldview of Justice looks like, it is for that reason that I can express that the SBC should never had passed resolution 9. Why? Like trying to mix oil and water, critical race theory and a Biblical worldview of justice cannot fit together. 

        Christians must have a Biblical worldview of justice, based upon the sufficiency of scripture, if they expect to fight evils such as racism and defend the rights of the unborn and defend Biblical marriage. Despite the efforts of some this year to get the Convention to rescind that resolution so as to express a clear statement on the sufficiency of Scripture in fighting evils like racism, such efforts failed. Another, more broadly worded resolution was passed, yet, it failed to decry what should had been the taking down of “Resolution 9”. 

        Another resolution was proposed by one pastor that would had overtly had the SBC uniformly call for a ban on abortion. Those present at the Convention felt that affirming another resolution against abortion was unnecessary, since the SBC has historically opposed abortion in principle and at different points throughout its history. I am thankful to the Lord that the SBC still affirms its general pro-life stance, however, in the wake of the persistent march of secularism, a fresh clear statement that lays out the Biblical Worldview of justice, with respect to the unborn, would had served to propel the SBC's pro-life commitments. 

        These are indeed trying times. I pray for our new SBC president (Ed Litton) and leadership, since the next several years could reveal whether or not the SBC will continue to hold the line of commitment to Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency, uphold stances on issues such as I mentioned in today’s post and retain the urgency to win as many souls to Christ as possible.  

        For those of us who are followers of Jesus, how can we begin to develop and apply the sort of Biblical worldview about justice and humanity taught by Jesus in Mark 2-3?

1. Pray for our leaders, in both church-life and the government. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 - "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity."

2. Petition law-makers to not vote for ungodly legislation that could become law. The website of “New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom”, albanyupdate.com, has resources which give the latest news on legislation which impacts major ethical and moral issues of our day.

3. Pursue a Biblical worldview of justice, as Jesus taught. A great resource I would recommend, which I endorse and have signed, is the “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel”, which is linked here: https://statementonsocialjustice.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/SSJG-FINAL.pdf).

Thursday, July 1, 2021

P1 Jesus And The Biblical Worldview Of Justice - True Justice Is A Revelation Of God's Character


 

Introduction:  

         Over the last couple of years all of us have witnessed and heard much about “calls for justice”. In Jesus’ day, there was a major discussion, a debate, that involved what was “just” and “unjust” to do on the Sabbath. Mark 2:24 picks up the discussion: 

“The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”  

       Much like our day, Jesus had to express how true justice contrasted to what had become a man-made, arbitrary system of justice based on human traditions. 

        Our nation and our children are experiencing unprecedented confusion over what defines justice and what it even means to be human. This post will begin to equip you on how you can Biblically navigate the current cultural climate and on how to begin to develop a Biblical worldview which can handle issues such as abortion, Biblical marriage, gender and racism. So, when it comes to understanding what Jesus taught on true justice, let us note first…

True justice is a revelation from God’s character.    Mark 2:23-28

        When we speak of “true justice” or a “Biblical worldview of justice”, the following chart summarizes:


God’s justice or eternal law/revelation of His Word

--------------------------------

Natural law/“law of the conscience”, sense of objective morality 

-------------------------------

Human laws, uphold what is “right”, punish the “wrong”

        Many Christian thinkers over the centuries, including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther King Jr. articulated a very similar sort of "multi-tiered" understanding of how God's perfection of justice is the ground for objective moral standards such as "justice" in our world, our consciences and the basis of government. In Mark 2:24, we find the Pharisees accusing Jesus and His disciples of “doing what was not lawful on the Sabbath”. It is clear in this passage that the topic of “justice” is involved. What is “justice” as it relates to “God’s justice”? God’s justice is that perfection expressing God’s holy goodness as being always right; doing always right and opposing what is not right. Simply put, justice is God being right, because He is right and thus always doing right. 

        This reality of God’s eternal justice, or what theologians call “eternal law”, sets the moral pattern in our world in what is called “natural law”. “Natural law” includes our own sense of “right and wrong” or “dictates of the conscience” are due to what the Bible describes as “made in His image”. This means we are created with a hardwired knowledge about God and to relate ethically to other people.  

Deuteronomy 32:4-5 “For I proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! 4 “The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He.” 

Isaiah 1:17 "Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” 

Jeremiah 9:23-24 "Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord."


James 5:3-4 "your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth."

Revelation 15:3 “And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!” 

        So, we see then that true justice is grounded in God’s justice or “eternal law” and is revealed in creation and ourselves as bearers of His image by way of “natural law”. 

        One more category is necessary when articulating a Biblical worldview of justice, that is, “man-made laws”. What is the basis for them? Romans 13:1-2 

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves." 

        Any human laws that expect to be truly “just laws” must align with the self-evident truths of “natural law”, which in turn is an expression of God’s justice or His “eternal law”.

As Jesus dealt with the Pharisees opposition to him and His disciples, He appealed back to the episode of David and His men, when they went to the high priest of Israel in search of food in 1 Samuel 21. God’s Word was used by Jesus to demonstrate the true intent of the Sabbath - and thus true justice. Jesus Himself stated this intent in Mark 2:27-28 "Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” 

        This contrasts with the Pharisees’ view of justice, which became based upon their arbitrary system of rules which made justice more of what they defined it to be, rather than rooted in God’s character. Their system could be pictured as follows:

Man-made arbitrary law (man, not God, determines what is just) 

----------------------------

Justice based off of the majority-view in society

        Is it no wonder why Jesus pressed like He did? They in practice (even if they did not admit by word of mouth) had cut God and His revealed Word out of the picture. Their view of justice, in practice, became a form of “moral relativism”, which means moral standards that are defined by human beings “relative” to their setting, opinion or culture. So true justice is a revelation of God’s character, the first foundation for our understanding. The next post will continue, considering the second major pillar for a Biblical worldview of justice as taught by Jesus.  

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Whenever You Find Yourself In A P.I.T., Seek Jesus - Reflections On Daniel 3 And The Pressures Faced By Young People Today



Introduction:

    In the third chapter of Daniel we see three young men, 18 or so years of age, who are getting ready to endure the greatest test of faith anyone could experience. Before it is all said and done, the young men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego (their Babylonian names) will have themselves tossed into a fiery furnace by a tyrannical king by the name of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. It is clear from the start that before they were tossed into the fiery pit of the furnace, they already were exposed to a P.I.T of testing. 

    Every Christian, and especially young people who profess faith in Jesus Christ, will undergo a season or time of being in a P.I.T. In this post today, I want us to briefly look at this account in Daniel 3 to understand the importance of seeking Jesus in your P.I.T.

 1. What is meant by a P.I.T?

    Think with me of three elements that are experienced by anyone undergoing the temptation to renounce their faith in Christ or to seriously question it in light of prevailing skepiticism.

Pressure              Daniel 3:1-7

Intimidation        Daniel 3:8-12

Threatened          Daniel 3:13-15

    It is important to note that a "P.I.T" can be a God-designed test that helps you to see whether or your trust in God is real or fake. As the reader can see from the brief outline above, the Hebrew youths were tested from every conceivable angle. It is vital that when in a P.I.T, that the sufferer gets a hold on God's wisdom from His Word. Wisdom is that God-given ability that enables you to relate to God and others in a Godward direction. 

    So many times in young life, a child that makes a profession of faith will initially express eagerness about the Bible and the things of God. Such expressions can be genuine, but they can also derive from what we could call "an illumination of the soul". When a child becomes cognizant of such things as right and wrong at an early age, they are, in their little child-like way, awakening to what they are by God-given design - a moral being. Little children will then, especially when exposed to the Gospel, exhibit sudden insights - albeit passing ones. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:2-5,

"And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me."

He then notes in Matthew 18:10-11 - 

    “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]

    Jesus then says later in Matthew 19:13-15 - 

"Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 After laying His hands on them, He departed from there."

    All of these tell us that there is a special kind of God's common grace that accompanies children before they reach the point where they connect their sense of "right and wrong" to how such relates to God in the realm of "righteousness and unrighteousness". Such a common grace is a working of the Spirit that keeps that child tender and "safe". Such common grace, as indicated by Jesus, includes some level of angelic working wherein the child may have insights into the invisible realm which far exceeds their young, still developing minds. 

    I often will look at how children are in a service as an indicator as to gaining a sense of what God could possible be doing in the service. Sometimes too, the little ones will pick upon spiritual battle way before adults, which is why they may suddenly "act-up" in moments when a pressing point in the sermon is coming forth. I find it no accident that Paul himself places instructions on the family and child-rearing in the same context as that of the admonishments to "put on the full armor of God". 

    As the Gospel is explained to children, we yet may see them respond positively to its message. Of course, it is difficult to tell, at least outwardly, the difference between "a profession of faith under the common grace of illumination in the soul" versus "a profession of faith issuing forth from the saving grace wrought by the Holy Spirit in the heart". 

    Now I point all of this out to drive home how both the person, and occasionally family members or the church, can discern whether a child-hood profession of faith was real or fake - by the P.I.T. 

    Once a young child reaches adolescence and teenage years, the testing ground truly starts. The P.I.T is entered. Physical temptations, ideas, influences, friends, the will and personality all swirl about in the world of a young man and a young woman. Will they stay true to the one they professed as Savior and Lord at a Sunday School, a V.B.S, from a personal prayer they prayed with mom, dad, or grand-parents? Or, will the battle against the soul show them and everyone else that they had not combined their profession of belief with true faith? The chart below (Lifeway study from 2017, see link here: https://lifewayresearch.com/2017/10/17/young-bible-readers-more-likely-to-be-faithful-adults-study-finds/) highlights important disciplines needing exercised by young people if they expect to weather the storms which will rage against them - inside and outside.


    I have seen first-hand a pattern that takes place when a young child grows into older childhood and into the teenage years which involves the Bible, prayer, church, musical influences and service. I have observed, too many times to count, how a young person that drifts away from reading their Bible, will soon find themselves ceasing to pray. Then, before they know it, they won't want to attend church. Once church attendance (or the desire thereof) has went cold, soon the person turns to other influences. Finally, any notion of serving others for Jesus' sake goes out the window, resulting in a self-centered individual. This predictable pattern not only afflicts the teenager, but often afflicts people wel into adulthood.  

2. How can a young person navigate the P.I.T? 

    For this next part of the post, I'll simply lay out five points with appropriate scriptures that provide guidance for anyone who is undergoing the P.I.T as described above.

* Know the God of the book.          Daniel 3:16

Luke 12:11-12 "When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

    I heard a person once say this: “the limit of your spiritual effectiveness among people will only go as far as you are willing to be affected by God in your pray-life.”

* Know to seek wisdom.                 Daniel 3:16

James 1:3-5 "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him." 

    Remember, wisdom is the God-given skill to relate to God and others which leads in a Godward direction.

* Know the Book of God.                Daniel 3:17

Romans 15:4 "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

    I heard the late Adrian Rogers once note: “Two things are true, that no man can part, when dust is on your Bible, drought will result in your heart.” A practical tip here would be to read the Gospel of Mark, three minutes a day for two weeks, and you’ll read the entire book of Mark.

* Know to pray. (the more you pray on your knees, the more you know how to act on your feet).         Daniel 3:18

Romans 8:26-27 "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

* Know that God is in control. Daniel 3:19
(not only over Your P.I.T of despair, but also in your P.I.T of despair). Daniel 3:19-25

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

3. When a P.I.T turns into a permanent testimony.

    As much as a P.I.T can sound very negative and foreboding, understand that its end result can lead to either finding out that one's faith is genuine after-all or finding out that they need to trust in Jesus as Savior, Lord and Treasure. As a survivor of many such "P.I.Ts" (yes, there are numerous P.I.Ts strewn along the journey, small and large, see 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 1 Peter 1:6-8), I can tell you first-hand how such seasons of testing showed me how awesome God is and how much in need of Him I still am. Such P.I.T's are used by God to purify faith; confirm faith; challenge a negligent faith; mobilize to aid others who are weak in faith (see Jude 1:20-23). One thing I learned years ago was this: it is better to walk with Jesus through the “Valley of the shadow of death” than to walk without Him on a mountain top (see Psalm 23; Psalm 73:24-25).  

    If the reader observes the closing part of this episode in Daniel 3:26-30, the three young men were still in a pagan culture. Even when you get through a "P.I.T", understand that greater tests will lie ahead. However, God demonstrates His glory through testing to produce a testimony. As a final thought, seek Jesus walk with Him through your P.I.T, we we are exhorted to do in Hebrews 12:1-3 - 

Hebrews 12:1-3 "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."


Saturday, May 8, 2021

Why Jesus Was Tempted By The Devil



Mark 1:13-14 "Immediately the Spirit *impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. 13 And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him."

Introduction:

    Why is it that when a person becomes a follower of Jesus in saving faith that God does not wisk them away immediately to Heaven? There are many days that I wish that was all there was to the Christian life. However, do you realize that if God did transport a person immediately to Heaven upon their express of trust in Jesus Christ, such an arrangement would not fit the pattern set forth by Jesus. 

    Whenever we look at the life of Jesus, one could ask a somewhat similar question: "why did not God transport Jesus away by simply having Him prick his finger to bleed forth one drop of blood much earlier in His human life?" The answer to this question is that Jesus had to first secure the perfect righteousness required for the Christian life by undergoing every stage of humanity in order to pay for it by going to the cross. Furthermore, crucifixion was required in order for Jesus to become accursed on behalf of the sinner. 

    The first Adam brought into the world curse, sin, and death (Romans 5:12-21). The Second Adam, Jesus, needed to bear the curse by hanging on the cross (see Deuteronomy 21:33; Galatians 3:10-13). 

    Whenever we look at the Christian life, it is, by design, patterned after Jesus' life. He underwent testing, temptation, battles with darkness, so that He could demonstrate how one human life, yielded to the Father's will and the power of the Spirit, would set forth the way for each an everyone of those who would trust in Him by faith (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 3:6). In this post today, I want us to briefly look at why Jesus was tempted by the Devil - since that event marks the near beginning of His public ministry following His baptism.

    As we begin to answer the question of "why Jesus was tempted by the Devil", we must express the following proposition: Jesus provides the pattern and power for fighting the Christian’s enemies. The sooner the Christian realizes that whatever Jesus experienced in His humanity provides the basis for strength of living the Christian life in their own humanity; the sooner the Christian experience will be made that much clearer. Note with me first...

1. The Pattern for defeating the enemy by Jesus.

    The Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:21 

"For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps."

    It is interesting to note how Matthew and Luke each record the temptation of Jesus by Satan. Matthew's version has Satan tempting Jesus to turn stones to bread (Mt 4:3-4); to leap from the pinnacle of the Temple (Mt 4:5); to worship him to receive all the world’s kingdoms (Mt 4:8). This ordering by Matthew suggests that for Jewish readers, since the Temple was central, the enticement was for Jesus, as man, to take up His role of Messiah/King without going to the cross. 

    Luke has Satan entice Jesus to turn stones to bread (Lk 4:3-4); express worship of him to obtain the world’s kingdoms (Lk 4:5); to test God by leaping off the pinnacle of Temple (Lk 4:9). Luke’s ordering suggests that for his primary Gentile audience, with whom world conquest was everything, Satan was tempting Jesus to seize the world, thus, skipping the cross. 

    If we take both Matthew and Luke's records to indicate a string of repeated, intense cycles of temptation near the end of Jesus' experience in His 40-day trek through the Judean wilderness, then we have the full view of how intense this period was. Jesus was tested in both the religious or spiritual sphere and the theater of the world. Mankind craves control. Whether by manipulating people by the misuse of religion or through means of materialism, humankind's propensity to be bound under the yoke of temptation reminds us of what the Fall of Adam produced. This is why the Apostle John records in 1 John 2:15-17 - 

"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever."

    As Jesus stood toe-to-toe with Satan, he handed Satan his first defeated at the hands of a man. Jesus denied His self-will (i.e. “lust of the flesh) in not turning stones into bread, but instead drew strength from God’s words. As to the kingdoms of this world (lust of the eyes), Jesus remained true, rather than giving into self delusion. Finally, with regards to Him not jumping from the pinnacle of the Temple, Jesus denied any right over his own life (i.e. pride in what one has, pride of life), since as man, He drew His sufficiency from the Heavenly Father. 

    What Jesus did, as the "Second" or "New Adam" (see Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45-47), was to set the pattern for how all of those redeemed in saving faith are to "fight the good fight of faith" (see Ephesians 6:11-13; 2 Timothy 4:8-9).  If I, as a Christian, am to better understand why I must go through temptations; testings; disappointments; heart-aches; stretching of personal faith; periods of wondering whether God cares for me; sensations of the Kingdom of darkness; and on-and-on; I must realize that the Christian life is patterned after "the pattern-man", "The New Adam", the Lord Jesus Christ. 

    However, we don't simply have a pattern when it comes to fighting the fight of faith - as important as that is. Praise be to God, as a result of Jesus' resurrection and ascension into Heaven, as well as by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Christian has access to Jesus for the power to "fight the good fight of faith". Hence... 

2. Power for defeating the enemy from Jesus. 

    Whenever you consider how the New Testament is laid out with respect to how the believer draws strength from the Lord Jesus Christ: The Gospels portray Christ; Acts preaches Him; The Epistles explain Him; Revelation exalts Him. What will follow from here are citations of New Testament passages which show how the Christian life is connected to all Jesus experienced by way of His temptations. 

    In as much as His temptation by Satan near the beginning of His ministry was of utmost intensity, yet, throughout His experience here on this earth, Jesus was assaulted and insulted. Thankfully, Jesus never caved into pressure. Note with me the following texts which explain how the Christ-follower has power for defeating the enemy.

Luke 22:28 “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials”. Jesus expresses to His disciples how He experienced "trials" throughout the duration of His ministry leading up to the cross. 

    We next read in  Luke 22:42-44 42 

"saying, 'Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” 43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground." 

    It was in the Garden of Gethsemane (literally, "the Garden of the Olive Press") that Jesus, in His humanity, felt the pending weight of God's wrath on sin. His submission to the Father's will by way of His human will would show how He, yielded to the Holy Spirit, would push through and do what needed to be done. From hereon I'll quote three more passages as we finish out today's post. As the reader will see, the following texts link together Jesus' temptations to how the Christ-follower draws strength for everyday Christian faith.

Hebrews 2:17-18 "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted."

Hebrews 4:15-16 "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

2 Cor 10:3-4 "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."


Friday, May 7, 2021

Why Jesus Got Baptized



Introduction:

    Shortly after I began to seriously study the Bible, I was puzzled as to why Jesus was baptized. Mark 1:9-11 gives us the shortest account of this inaugural event in the life of Jesus' public ministry:

"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

    In my younger days, I had understood from my study of the rest of the New Testament that baptism was administered to those who had believed on Jesus as their Savior and Lord (Acts 2:37-38; Romans 6:4-11; 1 Peter 3:21). Yet, it was plain from passages such as 1 Peter 2:21 that Jesus had no need of salvation, since He came to provide it (see Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10; Romans 10:8-10; Titus 2:11; 1 Peter 1:18). I had also understood that baptism was administered to believers for the express purpose of publicly professing their trust in Him as Savior and Lord (1 Peter 3:21). This particular point of public identification with Christ had opened up a little bit as to why Jesus Himself was baptized, since He had come to publicly identify with the people He came to redeem. 

    Still, the mystery as to why Jesus was baptized remained a puzzle to me until I began to compare the other Gospel accounts of His baptism in Matthew and Luke. Finally, the Lord began to unlock the mystery. In today's post, we want to explore why it was that Jesus got baptized, and why this has relevance to the Christ-follower today. It is evident from a study of all four Gospel accounts that Jesus' baptism provided the foundations needed for the Christian life. Everything Jesus would experience in His humanity would necessarily form the pattern for what the Christian ought to expect in how they live for Him in their humanity. Below, I want to sketch out three foundations which Jesus provided in His act of being baptized by John the Baptist.

1. Credited righteousness of Jesus. 

    We read in Matthew 3:13-15 -

"Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him."

    Matthew included this exchange between John the Baptist and Jesus to express how Jesus' active obedience (that is, His perfect life and ministry from birth to the cross) would provide the basis for the righteousness which is credited to the believer at salvation. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless human life. Whenever He got to the cross, it was as if He brought that entire line of credit. The credit-line of Jesus perfect humanity was infinitely extended by He being also truly God. Thus, for every believer, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited or "imputed" to them at the moment of saving faith. 

    Remarkably, the righteousness imputed to the believer in saving faith was made possible because, on the cross, Jesus had credited to His account the sinner's unrighteousness. Paul speaks about this in 2 Corinthians 5:21 - 

    "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

     Because of what Jesus achieved in His perfect active obedience in the course of His earthly ministry, this made Him fit to be our Savior as He would "passively obey" (that is, His willing submission, as man, to the Father's will, in His death on the cross) the Father. 

    The result of Jesus' active and passive obedience was validated in His resurrection from the dead. The credited righteousness of Jesus Christ could be transferred to any believing sinner, as stated in Romans 4:25 "He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification." 

    Thus, this first foundation of credited righteousness is why Jesus was baptized. R.C Sproul notes in his commentary on Mark's Gospel: 

“So our Redeemer not only needed to die, He had to live a life of perfect obedience. The righteousness He manifested could be transferred to all who put their trust in Him. Just as my sin was transferred to Him on the cross when I put my trust in Him, His righteousness is is transferred to my account in the sight of God. So when I stand before God on judgement day, God is going to see Jesus and His righteousness, which will be my cover. That is the Gospel.”

2. Complete representation by Jesus. 

    The second reason Jesus was baptized was due to providing complete representation. Note what we read in Luke 3:21 - 

"Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened."

    Luke tells us that because the people were baptized by John, Jesus chose to get baptized as a way of "identifying" Himself with them and for them. What I find interesting is the 77-generation genealogy that Luke mentions between Jesus' baptism and temptation in Luke 3:23-38. Why is this worth noting? The genealogy expresses how Jesus came as the New Adam (compare Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45-47). 

    Over 70 mothers were used by God, with the mantle of motherhood placed upon the 77th, the virgin Mary, to bring about the humanity of our Lord (please read Hebrews 10:5-7). Motherhood is the well-spring of life. The point of the virginal conception of Jesus' humanity in Mary's womb was to unite the Person of the eternal Son to a perfect humanity - since Scripture attributes the sin nature as spiritually connected to the side of the human father (see 1 Peter 1:18). Moreover, Mary's genealogy in Luke demonstrated Jesus' biological connection to David's throne; whereas Matthew's genealogy, as so reckoned through Joseph's bloodline, made Jesus the legal heir to David's throne. 

    In order to be the mediator between believers and the Heavenly Father, an "Adam-like" representative was required. The first Adam failed and brought death upon us all (see Romans 5:12-21). As one takes a closer look at the genealogy in Luke 3:23-38, one will find Jesus as the "Second-Adam" on one end of the genealogy, and the original Adam placed on the other end of the genealogy. The parallellism of the genealogy is made complete when one realizes that Adam is called a "son of God" by creation in relationship to His Creator; whereas Jesus is "The Son of God", The Creator, Who came to take unto Himself a created human nature. 

    Jesus came to perfectly represent us. 1 Timothy 2:4-6 states - 

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.   

    I summarize this second reason for why Jesus was baptized by way of a short poem: 

He came to be in our place,

To represent the hell-bound race,

None could achieve salvation’s plan,

Only He who came to be a man.

3. Clear revelation of God because of Jesus.

    So we have witnessed that Jesus was baptized to provide credited righteousness for every sinner that believes on Him as Savior and Lord; as well as to provide complete representation as the Mediator between God and believers. It is worth noting Mark 1:9-11 again, since Mark unique describes the opening up of the heavens as Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters of the Jordon River:

"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” 

    The Greek word rendered “opening” speaks of a ripping of the boundary between Heaven and earth. Isaiah 64:1-4 conveys this similar imagery in reference to a prophecy, which likely was echoed by Mark in His record of Jesus' baptism"

"Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence— 2 As fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil— To make Your name known to Your adversaries, That the nations may tremble at Your presence! 3 When You did awesome things which we did not expect, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence. 4 For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him."

    When Jesus was baptized, He experienced an open Heaven. What followed was a revelatory moment in which we could see the presence of all three Persons of the Trinity: the Father is heard; the Son is seen; the Spirit is experienced. Whenever a Christian is baptized, they are expressing their desire to walk under an open sky with God. Jesus came as "The Way, The Truth and the Life" (John 14:6). Whereas the Holy Spirit brings to the believer insight from the inner-life of God Himself; Jesus the Son is the One who brings the believer into contact with the inner life of God (see 2 Peter 1:3-4). 

    The Holy Spirit is the Ambassador of the Trinity Who brings to the Christian, by the scriptures, that Heavenly sense of purpose to live for God. The Lord Jesus Christ, as "God made flesh", brings the Christian, with his earthly experiences, into contact with the Heavenly realities so often referenced in God's Word (see Ephesians 1:18-20). In short, Jesus was baptized to remind us that He, as truly man, came to bring unto us a clear revelation of God - since He Himself is also truly God (see John 1:18; John 14:6-8; Hebrews 1:1-2). 

Closing thoughts:


So why was Jesus baptized? In today's post, we discovered three reasons:

1. To provide credited righteousness.
2. To provide complete representation.
3. To provide clear revelation of God.



Friday, April 30, 2021

Meet John The Baptist - An Arrow That Pointed To Jesus


 

Introduction:

    In today's post I want to consider the man whom God chose to function as a forerunner to announce the arrival of Jesus on the public scene - John the Baptist. The beautiful picture above artfully depicts John the Baptist, with a small banner containing the phrase, "ecce agnus dei", which translated means: "behold the Lamb of God". John made it his life's mission to point others to Jesus.

    I recall not to long ago an illustration given by a preacher that compared the Christian's relationship to Jesus to that of the moon to the sun. The sun is a light bearer, giving off its own light as a result of thermonuclear fusion in its core. The moon, which we see at night, is a reflector of the sun's light. In like manner, we know that Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, is the "Light of the World" (John 1:9; John 9). The Christian operates as a reflector of His light to others (Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15).

    I'll admit that when it comes to reading the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John), it is easy to rush past John the Baptist to get to Jesus. Yet, unless we grasp the mission and man that was John the Baptist, we could miss out on further insights into Jesus Himself and application for our own lives. Whenever we count up the number of verses devoted to John the Baptist's life and ministry in the New Testament, we arrive at over 90 verses. John the Baptist is what I call "an arrow pointing to Jesus". Let us consider some details about his life and ministry.

1. John the Baptist was predicted in the Old Testament.

    In the opening verses of Mark 1:1-3 we read the following words:

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way; 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight.’”

    The Holy Spirit worked through the pen of Isaiah in Isaiah 40:1-3 to express this prediction. Interestingly enough, Isaiah himself was echoing back to what God said to the people through Moses in Exodus 23:20. Moreover, The Holy Spirit through Malachi, the final author of the Old Testament writing prophets, would take-up the sentiments of Isaiah and re-issue them in his own predictions about the "forerunner", John the Baptist, in Malachi 3:1. This pattern of "preparation" and "proclamation" runs its course in the New Testament accounts of John the Baptist. He functioned as an arrow, pointing to Jesus.

2. John the Baptist was the final prophet in the line of the Old Testament prophets.

    If one reads more of John the Baptist in Mark 1:4-5, we see what may appear as an odd description of his wardrobe and eating habits:


"John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey."

    When the Holy Spirit inspired the original documents of the Old and New Testament, He did not waste space. The point of describing what John the Baptist wore and ate had to do with demonstrating his continuance in the Old Testament prophetic office. According to 2 Kings 1:8, the prophet Elijah himself wore similar garb. Furthermore, references to John's consumption of locusts demonstrated his following the dietary laws concerning "clean" and "unclean" in Leviticus 11:21-22. As to the reference to "honey", a scan of the Old Testament scriptures will yield some sixty mentions of honey. Passages such as Psalm 19:10-14 use honey as a metaphor for scripture itself, describing it in terms of: "sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb".

    These three descriptions of John give us insight into what he was all about in his spiritual walk with the Lord: power of the Spirit (pictured by his garments); purity of life (his diet of locusts) and the preciousness of the Word (the honey he ate). Indeed, the follower of Jesus ought to have these traits operative in their life if they expect to be an "arrow pointing to Jesus".

    John's life and ministry would function to bring a close to the Old Covenant age and announce the arrival of the New Covenant era as inaugurated by the incarnate Christ. Jesus Himself said of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11-13 -

"Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John."

    Luke in his Gospel also records this same speech of Jesus about John the Baptist in Luke 7:24-33.

3. John the Baptist was commended by Jesus

    Another reason it is valuable to study John the Baptist is because of what Jesus had to say about him. Jesus comments on John the Baptist in Matthew 11:8-15 -

"But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! 9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ 11 Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

    That latter phrase spoken by Jesus, "He who has ears, let him hear", urges us to pay attention to what He just said. Jesus defended and validated all John had done. John the Baptist would be arrested, imprisoned and beheaded for confronting Herod's immorality and for articulating the truth of God's Word (see Matthew 4:12; 14:1-12; Mark 6:16-29; 9:13; Luke 3:18-20). John himself became very discouraged while in prison, wondering whether Jesus "was the One" (Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23). Yet, John's faith was not snuffed out. 

    Jesus' vindication of John speaks volumes to how He ever lives to make intercession for every follower of His as He presides as the Eternal High Priest at the Father's right-hand (Hebrews 7:24-25). Jesus wanted to make sure John's ministry (which may had last no longer than a year) would not be forgotten. This ought to remind every Christian who aspires to be an "arrow for Jesus", that the Lord is ever advocating for you and that your efforts are not in vain. Hebrews 6:10 tells us:

"For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints."

4. John the Baptist was an arrow, pointing to Jesus

    As we close out this post today, we can say that John the Baptist was an arrow that pointed to Jesus. Jesus described John as a "burning light" in John 5:35 - 

"He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light." 

    Whenever one reads the accounts of John the Baptist's birth narratives, it is clear that God had already ordained him to point the way to Jesus from the very beginning (Luke 1:11-20, 57-65). John lived in a desert while ministering (Matthew 3:1; Mark 1:4; Luke 1:80; 3:2,3); made his life and mission all about pointing to Jesus (Matthew 17:11; Mark 1:2-8; Luke 1:15-17,76-79; 3:4-6; John 1:7,8,22-28,31-34; 5:32-35). It is amazing to see how even others testified to much God used John the Baptist to point to Jesus (Acts 13:24,25; 19:4). Such observations ought to speak volumes to the Christian today.

    Can it be said of any Christ-follower that others see your life pointing to Jesus? John's motto of his own life is summarized in the statement he made in John 3:30 - "He must increase, but I must decrease." This is what it means to be an "arrow, pointing to Jesus".

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Beginning Of Mark's Gospel - Why Mark Wrote His Gospel



Mark 1:1 "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Introduction:

    In today's post I want to explore the occasion behind the writing of Mark's Gospel. Put another way, we want to discover why Mark wrote his Gospel. In this post, we shall look at two motivations which uncover the occasion for Mark's Gospel.

1. A proclamation purpose: to communicate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the heart of the Gospel.

2. An apologetic purpose: to combat heresy.

    In the last three posts, we have surveyed the life, conversion, ministry and martyrdom of John Mark - the author of the Gospel bearing his name. Interested readers may consult those posts 

here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2021/04/p1-introducing-john-mark-author-of.html, as well as here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2021/04/p2-introducing-john-mark-author-of.html and here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2021/04/p3-introducing-john-mark-author-of.html. So, what were the occasions or motivations behind Mark's Gospel?

Proclamation purpose: to communicate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the heart of the Gospel.

    The Apostles' preaching in the Book of Acts followed a pattern which corresponds quite nicely with the contents of the Four Gospels. In Acts 10:36-43, we read an excerpt of Peter's preaching that bears forth such an established pattern, focused on Jesus:

"The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)— 37 you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. 38 You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. 39 We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. 42 And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. 43 Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”

    The first three Gospels were composed, beginning with Matthew (roughly 50 A.D., or less than 30 years after Jesus' death, burial, resurrection and ascension); Luke (60 A.D.) and then Mark (simultaneous to Luke or shortly thereafter in 62-65 A.D). If we were to take each of those first three Gospels and line them up with Peter's message, we would discover all of their contents structured around that common core of Jesus' life, death, resurrection. John's Gospel (90 A.D.) would mainly, in its core elements, parallel this same format (with the additional idea that John's Gospel tends to supplement material not covered in the first three Gospels).

    Whenever we turn to the opening verse of Mark, we see this template of Jesus' life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension conveyed. In the underlying Greek text, Mark's one-verse introduction contains seven words (which turn into roughly twelve words in many English Bibles). Seven is a perfect number, "God's number", corresponding to the Perfect Savior, the focus of this perfect Gospel. What is there about this Gospel, this "Good News", which by the Spirit's doing, persuades sinners to trust in Christ? It is worth meditating briefly on the opening verses of Mark 1:1. 

    That first word "beginning" ("Ἀρχὴ" or "arche" in the Greek), delivers the promise of "starting-all-over-again", the new birth. Christian spiritual life has a beginning. Just as time and space had a beginning as a result of God's creation of it from nothing (Genesis 1:1), so too is salvation a work of God wrought in the human soul, which of itself can bring forth nothing. The Expositor's Bible Commentary notes this of Mark's use of the word "beginning":

"Another possibility, however, is that by the use of the word archē (“beginning”) Mark is imitating the opening verse of the LXX (en archē, “in the beginning,” Gen 1:1) and wants his readers to realize that his book is a new beginning in which God reveals the Good News of Jesus Christ. Taken in this way, the first verse is not only a title for the entire book but a claim to its divine origin."

    Then we see the second and third words, translated "of the Gospel" ("τοῦ εὐαγγελίου" or "too euanggelioo" in the Greek) in our English Bibles, as conveying "Good News". This is what the Gospel is: Good news! You can have forgiveness of sins - Good news! 

    The fourth and fifth words of Mark's introduction (translated in our English text as "of Jesus Christ", Greek "Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ" or "yaysoo Christoo"), brings us to the goal of our salvation: Jesus Christ Himself! Our own righteousness is but filthy rags. Jesus Christ came to bring everything we need; set us free from our guilt and cloth us in His righteousness - glorious indeed!

    Then we see those sixth and seventh words of Mark 1:1, "the Son of God", ("υἱοῦ θεοῦ" or "hooeeoo theoo"). The name "Jesus" reminds us that He is truly man for us. "Christ" describes the office He occupies as the chosen and only way to the Father, empowered by the Spirit. The phrase "Son of God" reminds us that He is truly God also, granting every believer access to the endless power and life of God. 

    These seven, wonderful words of Mark 1:1 are finite in number while bridging us to the infinite excellence of God Himself through Jesus Christ! Thus, the first and primary reason for Mark writing this Gospel is to communicate about how Jesus Christ is the center of the Gospel. 

Apologetic Purpose: Mark wrote His Gospel to combat heresy

   The infamous "Simon The Magician" is first introduced in Acts 8. In the ministries of Phillip the Deacon and the Apostle Peter, this man Simon appeared to had believed the Gospel, as recounted for us in Acts 8:9-13. It is then later in Acts 8:18-20 that one reads what Simon would do next:

"Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!"

    Peter urged Simon to repent. Sadly, Simon responds in the following manner to Peter in Acts 8:24 "But Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” Simon's profession of Christ resulted in being counterfeit. Simon would sow discord and further false teaching into the early church. I have read in times past of how some surmise that Simon may very well had planted the seeds Gnosticism that would afflict the church in the second century. As to how much we can connect the heresy of Gnosticism to Simon is another post, for another day. What we do know is that history does tell us how Simon's actions would contribute to one of the reasons for the composition of Mark's Gospel.

     Eusebius, the fourth century church father who wrote the first history of the church, notes of the heresy of Simon combatted by the Apostle Peter in his Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, chapter 14, section 1: 

"The evil power, who hates all that is good and plots against the salvation of men, constituted Simon at that time the father and author of such wickedness, as if to make him a mighty antagonist of the great, inspired apostles of our Saviour."

    The reference to "The evil power" by Eusebius refers to the same Simon which I just mentioned. Eusebius then connects the battles between Peter and Simon to the writing of Mark's Gospel in Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, chapter 5, section 1:

"And thus when the divine word had made its home among them, the power of Simon was quenched and immediately destroyed, together with the man himself. And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter's hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark."

    Mark's Gospel (along with the other three Gospels of our New Testament) enable the church today to not only communicate clearly the Gospel of Jesus Christ by centering upon Him, but to also accomplish the Apologetic task of defending the Christian faith against heresies, ideologies and any other man-made system which attempts to undermine the truth. With these thoughts in mind, it is imperative, then, to acquaint ourselves with this marvelous book: The Gospel of Mark.