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Thursday, October 14, 2021

Solus Christus - In Christ Alone: A Biblical, Historical, And Personal Reflection



Introduction: 

    I’m reminded of the fairly recent hymn, “In Christ Alone”, by Keith Getty and Staurt Townsend” (2001), which sets the tone for today's post. The second stanza of that hymn is: 

“In Christ alone, who took on flesh

Fullness of God in helpless babe

This gift of love and righteousness

Scorned by the ones He came to save

'Til on that cross as Jesus died

The wrath of God was satisfied

For every sin on Him was laid

Here in the death of Christ I live, I live.” 

    The reader can note that I highlighted one of the phrases in the stanza. To some, it may seem odd that expressing how Christ's work on the cross had satisfied God's wrath would stir opposition. Yet, the 21st century American church scene is, in many respects, in need of reformation just as much as the European church of the Middle Ages. So how controversial did the song "In Christ Alone" become in the eyes of some? 

    The General Session of the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church in America), in 2013, decided that unless the lyrics “The wrath of God was satisfied”, were changed to “the love of God was magnified”, it could not include it in its hymnals. One PCUSA minister expressed his agreement with this sentiment in his refusal to think of "God killing Jesus", since the cross, to him, was not an instrument of wrath. To their credit, Getty and Townsend refused to change the lyrics, thus, the PCUSA expunged the hymn. Getty and Townsend's refusal to compromise is an expression of why it is the church always needs reformed.

    The church in every age always needs to measure its experience, doctrine, and practice by Scripture and the Lordship, Saviorship and Headship of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:18 "He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything." 

Reformation Day, October 31st

    October 31st will mark the 504th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation was a combined effort on the part of certain leaders in 16th century Germany, France, Switzerland, England and Scotland to get Christianity back to the original truths of the Gospel revealed in the Old Testament; taught by Christ and preached by the Apostles in the New Testament; and nearly lost by Roman Catholicism in the Middle Ages (which I'm defining as spanning from 590-1517). 

    One of the doctrines that was recovered by the Reformation is summarized by the two-word phrase: “Christ Alone”. If we had lived in the 16th century, we would had heard the Reformers, who had studied theology in the Latin language, express "Christ Alone" as "Solus Christus". This truth, along with four others (grace alone, faith alone, the Bible alone, and God's glory alone), is, in terms of the history of Christian doctrine, the root from which the other four follow. In other words, if one affirms the necessity and sufficiency of Jesus Christ to convey the grace necessary for salvation and the Christian life, apart from Mary, appeals to saints, or reliance on human merit; then the four other Biblical truths (grace alone, faith alone, the Bible alone, the glory of God alone) follow. Once "Christ Alone" began to be eclipsed in the Middle Ages, the other "alones" would become altered. Truly, if the Biblical reclamation of the Gospel, which the Reformation of the 16th century sought to achieve, is to be held in the 21st century, the church must assert "Christ Alone".

    In this post, I will briefly explain the Biblical, historical and personal significance of “Christ Alone”. It is important to understand what is meant by this terse phrase: "Christ Alone". James Montgomery Boice in his book, "What Happened to the Gospel of Grace", defines what is meant by this foundational doctrine of the Reformation: 

“Justification because of Christ Alone means that Jesus has done the necessary work of salvation utterly and completely, so that no merit on the part of man, no merit of the saints, no works of ours performed either here or later in purgatory, can add to His completed work.”

    So in defining this phrase, let us first consider the Biblical foundations of this truth by observing how it is featured in an episode of Christ's earthly ministry in Mark 4:33-41.

1. The Biblical significance of “Christ alone”.           Mark 4:33-41

    In this text we find Jesus having finished a series of parables about the Kingdom of God. As He and His disciples prepare to cross the Sea of Galilee, Jesus decides to get some rest. While He is asleep in the boat, a sudden storm blows up, rendering the Sea of Galilee into a tulmult. What follows below is a summary of three sub-themes that characterize this truth reaffirmed by the Reformers: "Christ Alone".

*Christ’s Work Alone Can Save Your Soul.                   Mk 4:33; Mt 13:34

    Mark 4:33 has a parallel in Matthew's Gospel. Matthew writes in Matthew 13:34-35 - 

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open My mouth in parables;I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” 

The reason why Matthew's remark is important is because the fulfillment attributed to Jesus derives from Psalm 78. When we turn to Psalm 78:2-4, we read:

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. 4 We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. 

    Why would Matthew attribute Jesus’ parables to fulfillment of Psalm 78? If we were to read Psalm 78, we would find that it rehearses the history of God’s faithfulness in delivering His people, His wondrous grace, and Sovereign purpose being fulfilled through what He promised to David. It would be Christ Himself, descended from David per His humanity, that would become our Sole Mediator. Amazingly, where Psalm 78 ends (referencing David), Matthew 13:34 picks up with referencing its fulfillment to David's descendant according to the flesh - Jesus! 

    These observations scream out "Solus Christus" (Christ Alone). Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 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. Also, Luke records one of the clearest summaries of the Gospel of salvation as having to do with "Christ Alone" in Acts 16:31, They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

*Christ’s Person Alone can soothe your troubled soul.  Mark 4:35-39

Jesus is asleep. We read Mark’s account of the disciples’ accusations: “Do you not care?” Luke 8:24a grants further detail about the disciples: They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”  God certainly cared for His people, even when they didn’t care about Him. Remember, Matthew is attributing Jesus’ telling of parables to fulfilling what is found in Psalm 78. Let us consider another portion of that Psalm that is relevant to Mark 4:35-38, Psalm 78:24-26 - 

"Yet He commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven; 24 He rained down manna upon them to eat And gave them food from heaven. 25 Man did eat the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance. 26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens And by His power He directed the south wind." 

    Yahweh, Jehovah God, is attributed with complete authority over the wind and storm. Here in Mark, Jesus exercises Divine power over the wind and storm. He shows Himself all-caring, as well as all-able to soothe the soul. 

*Christ’s power alone addresses what can paralyze your soul.    Mark 4:41

What can paralyze the soul? We could name several things: Satan’s accusations, the condemnation of the law against our sin, the cravings of our flesh and intimidation. Romans 8:1 deals with Satan. 2 Corinthians 5:21 shows how God the Father credits to me Christ’s righteousness, thus appeasing the law’s condemnation. Galatians 2:20 and Romans 13:14 enable me to fight the good fight of faith against the flesh. Christ alone grounds me in silencing such things. 

    But what of fear? Intimidation? When the Disciples responded the way they did to Jesus, they were face-to-face with the fear of God. Whenever you and I have a proper fear of God, it means we fear the thought no longer sensing His presence in our lives (see Ephesians 4:30). The fear of God leads to hatred of sin (Proverbs 8:13) and is the heart of true worship, since to fear God means to be in awe of Him (see Isaiah 6). When we fear God, all other things that can bring crippling fear are put in their proper perspective. 

2. Historic significance of Christ alone.

What led to the erosion of “Christ Alone” in the Roman Catholic Church (hereafter "R.C.C") of the Middle Ages? We could cite several causes in the long and involved history of Roman Catholic teaching, yet two major doctrines, which are still held to this day by the R.C.C, can be cited. 

*The first is the rise of Papacy.  

    As to the Pope as head of the church, the belief that the Bishop of Rome was above all other Bishops became certified shortly after the days of Pope Gregory I in 590 A.D. Gregory I never accepted attempts to make him chief among the Bishops of the Western church in his day. Regardless, Gregory's leadership and writing embodied for many what such an authority could look like. The Roman Catholic Church had taught already the doctrine of Apostolic succession, meaning that subsequent Bishops of Rome could trace their office back to Peter. Due to a certain interpretation of Matthew 16, in which Jesus states: "upon this rock I will build my church", many Roman Catholics today assume that Jesus was referencing Peter as "that Rock", hence making him the first "Pope". As one studies Matthew 16:18 in concert with other passages (such as Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:6-9), the "rock" to which Jesus references is not Peter, nor Peter's faith, but Christ Himself. 

    As the office of Pope grew in influence, the much later crowning of the Holy Roman Emperor by Charlemene in 800 A.D. by Pope Leo III at a Christmas Mass would be a second major event. What would follow for the next several centuries would raise the question: "who has more power, the Emperor or the Pope?" Much of the wrangling that would ensue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor and nations of Europe centered on that very question. Truly, whenever Christ is no longer understood as Supreme Authority in all matters of life, confusion can abound, whether in the secular realm or churchly sphere.

    The Middle Ages had cast a trajectory that would lead the R.C.C to reaffirm Papal supremacy in the Counter Reformation church council known as "The Council of Trent". To risk oversimplification, we skip several centuries to developments in the 19th century. The doctrine of papal infallibility became affirmed 1870, meaning that when the Pope spoke "ex cathedra" or "from the chair" of Peter in Rome on matters affecting Roman Catholic faith and practice, he could not err in such instances. As we will see below, most of what has been spoken "ex cathedra" has had to do with the R.C.C view of Mary.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 882, notes of the Pope: 

"For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered." 

    There was good reason why before the Protestant Reformation of 1517, cries for Reform were being heralded all over Europe. John Huss, in 1413, wrote in his major work,“The Church”, the following in chapter 12:  "But Christ is the Roman pontiff, just as he is the head of the universal church and every particular church." Huss would give his life at the stake on July 6, 1415. Ironically, the same Council of Constance that condemned Huss for opposing Papal authority was tasked with trying to resolve a 70 year long dispute as to who was the rightful Pope of the R.C.C. (known by historians as "The Babylonian Captivity of the Church"). 

    Nearly a century later, the Reformer Martin Luther, who posted his 95 Theses, opposing abuses by the R.C.C over a system that distorted grace (called Indulgences), wrote near the end in thesis #94: "Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell."

*The second major source of erosion in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, especially as the sole Mediator between God and sinners, came about through the elevation of Mary.

    In the New Testament we find reference to Jesus' Mary in almost a dozen episodes. Too often, none-Catholics (also known as "Protestants", which was first coined at a government sanctioned meeting called "The Diet of Spyer" in 1529), almost ignore Mary.  Mary was used greatly of God in bring forth the humanity of Jesus in the Spirit's miraculous work of His virginal conception. With that said, the opposite error is to make too much of Mary. Virtually all that the R.C.C. has taught about Mary developed through centuries of tradition, rather than from the New Testament. It may surprise some to note that after only one appearance in the Book of Acts, Mary is never mentioned again in the New Testament. If anything, Christ as the Sole Mediator between Himself and His people for their salvation and subsequent Christian life is asserted (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9; Galatians 3:16; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 3:7-10; Colossians 1:16-20; 1 Peter 2:6-9; 2 Peter 3:9-10, just to name a few).  A couple of examples from the teaching of the R.C.C. will suffice to show how its elevation of Mary departs from the New Testament insistence upon "Solus Christus" (Christ Alone).

    Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Constitution "Ineffabilis Deus" (December 8, 1854) expressed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, asserting the non-Biblical idea of Mary herself having been conceived without having inherited Adam's sin nature through her mother. In 1950, another pope expressed the doctrine of Mary’s assumption into Heaven, thus signifying Mary's authority to intercede for Christians in Heaven alongside Jesus. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 975, states: We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ. 

    Protestant Reformer John Calvin, in a letter to Richard LeFavre, dated January 1551, expresses one of the clearest denialsof the R.C.C doctrine of Mary as a "Co-Redeemer" with Christ: “it is not for us to appoint advocates in paradise, but for God, who has appointed Jesus Christ a single one for all.” 

Why the Reformation must still carry on among our American Protestant Church world, particular evangelicalism.

    As we saw at the beginning of this post, contemporary attacks within our American church scene on the doctrine of “Christ Alone” persists. In the 2020 “State of Theology” poll conducted by Ligonier ministries and Lifeway research, 52% affirmed that Jesus was a great teacher, but not God. Also, less than 50% of American evangelicals agree that Jesus is the only way to the Father. The slide away from Christ as the unique way to the Father and as uniquely revealing the truly Divine nature, which He shares with the Father and the Spirit as the One Triune God, is increasingly eclipsing Gospel preaching in many quarters of the American Church. This is why the effort of Reforming the church is never done. As Erwin W. Lutzer notes in his book, “Rescuing the Gospel”, our task of continual reform is more challenging, since we not only protest unity with R.C.C, but also protest the health and wealth Gospel, pluralism and attacks on Christ’s uniqueness. 

3. Personal application of “Christ Alone”.

We saw today those three Biblical truths of Christ’s uniqueness, or "Christ Alone", Christ alone means He alone can save the soul; Christ alone can soothe the soul and Christ’s power alone can address what paralyzes your soul. Let me close out this post with why this Biblical truth has personal meaning.

In the last few weeks, there have been a number of things I have been praying about, some of which I can honestly say could be paralyzing. The little two word phrase: “Christ alone”, or “Solus Christus”, is what has kept my faith anchored. Applying "Christ Alone" in the realm of prayer is exemplified by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 4:14-15  

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 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."

I have also found in thinking upon “Christ alone”, my soul is soothed in the face of what is going on in our world, as well as waiting Him to answer some major prayer requests. Hebrews 4:16 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.

Lastly, Christ alone can save your soul. Romans 10:9-10, 

"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."


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.