Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How Jesus Christ provides for our emotional needs - meditations on Jesus' walking on the water

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John 6:15-21 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. 16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum. It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. 19 Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened. 20 But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 So they were willing to receive Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going."

A quote from commentator Warren Wiersbe begins our reflections on Jesus' miracle of walking on the water: 

"Did Jesus know that a storm was coming? Of course. Then why did He deliberately send His friends into danger? Quite the opposite is true: He was rescuing them from greater danger, the danger of being swept along by a fanatical crowd. But there was another reason for that storm: The Lord has to balance our lives; otherwise, we will become proud and then fall. The disciples had experienced great joy in being part of a thrilling miracle. Now they had to face a storm and learn to trust the Lord more. The feeding of the five thousand was the lesson, but the storm was the examination after the lesson."

Whenever we consider Jesus' miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6:1-15, we could deem that a mass miracle in this chapter of John's Gospel. The point of that first miracle in John 6 was to demonstrate that Jesus could gloriously provide for the physical needs of His people. Such provision points to what He truly and ultimately came to offer: namely provision for the impoverished soul. 

Jesus provides not only for physical needs, but emotional needs
In this miracle of walking on the water, which one could deem a majestic miracle, we find the Lord Jesus providing for the psychological needs of His disciples, as well as demonstrating His Divine authority over the created realm.

In John 6:20, we find the disciples frightened and afraid. Jesus' appearance by way of walking on the water delivers to them the provisions they need for the emotional need of the moment. Much like the provision of physical needs, Jesus' provision of psychological and emotional needs points to His ultimate goal of providing for the needs of the soul. 

Commentator Matthew Henry gives us the following insight about Jesus' actions:

"Note, [1.] Our real distresses are often much increased by our imaginary ones, the creatures of our own fancy. [2.] Even the approaches of comfort and deliverance are often so misconstrued as to become the occasions of fear and perplexity. We are often not only worse frightened than hurt, but then most frightened when we are ready to be helped. But, when they were in this fright, how affectionately did Christ silence their fears with that compassionate word (John 6:20), It is I, be not afraid! Nothing is more powerful to convince sinners than that word, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest; nothing more powerful to comfort saints than this, “I am Jesus whom thou lovest; it is I that love thee, and seek thy good; be not afraid of me, nor of the storm.” When trouble is nigh Christ is nigh."

When Jesus stated in John 6:20 "it is I", the underlying Greek of this phrase could just as easily translated: "I am". The statement: "I am" hearkens back to the Divine name revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Jesus here reminds His disciples that in as much as He is truly man, He is Yahweh or truly God at the same time. He is indeed God in human flesh. He is Lord over land, sea, sky, man and angels. As God, the Lord Jesus enters into the storm, into the boat and into the very fears of His disciples. His glorious light of Deity and compassionate expression of humanity dispels their fears. When we open up to Him, He will do the same for us. 

Closing thoughts:
As we close out today's post, the point of this mediation on Jesus' walking on the water, we discovered that one of the main purposes of the miracle was to gain access to His disciples. Jesus brought to them the only source of psychological and emotion comfort they could have to overcome their immense fear: namely Himself. His affirmation to them of "do not be afraid, it is I" is a powerful reminder to us in the storms of life of how He can bring the peace we need to overcome our fears. He is the "I am". He is the Provider of our emotional needs and calmer of all our fears. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Understanding the relationship and order between saving faith and water baptism

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Acts 16:25-30 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Probably one of the oldest questions in the world is: "which came first, the chicken, or the egg"? We won't labor any further to answer that question. In today's post we aim to understand the relationship and order between saving faith and believer's baptism. The main point will be that saving faith comes first, with believer's baptism being the obedient and public testimony of what the Lord already did in the baptismal candidate's prior salvation. 

A clear passage that demonstrates the order of saving faith and baptism
What makes today's opening text so important is the clarity it gives to the order of saving faith and believer's baptism. The question is raised by the Philippian jailer to Paul with respect to what is required for salvation. So many people today assume that baptism grants salvation. The relationship between saving faith and baptism often becomes muddled among Christians. Some will teach that baptism is optional or not even required for the Christian. Others will teach that saving faith is found in the baptism waters. Still others will teach that faith is certainly where one begins, however, baptism is necessary to complete one's salvation experience. Who is right? Are any right? As always, we must go to the scriptures to evaluate any position on such matters, including one's own.  

A clear passage that gives the order and relationship between saving faith and water baptism
Whenever we consider the New Testament's teaching on believer's baptism, all three sections of the New Testament that mention it must be included: the Gospels, Acts and the Epistles. Here in Acts 16 we find Paul's response to the jailer's question in Acts 16:31 - "They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” The Gospel has been and always will be about receiving Christ's salvation by grace alone through faith alone. This simply means that saving faith, by itself, is necessary and sufficient to receive salvation in Jesus Christ. No effort on our part, including baptism, can be included in the equation of defining salvation. Undoubtedly we are saved by grace through faith alone.

Nonetheless, we must hasten to add that following saving faith, one is saved unto a faith that is never alone. This means that true saving faith will be followed by good works. The chiefest of these good works is believer's baptism. One does not get baptized to get saved, nor to complete saving faith initiated by faith nor to find saving faith in the baptismal waters. As we read on down through Acts 16:32-33 "And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household."

Notice the order: faith, then baptism. The jailer became reconciled unto God the moment he responded in saving faith to Paul's preaching and teaching. The change wrought in his heart resulted in a desire to obey God. The jailer was saved by grace through faith alone to a faith that would never be unaccompanied by the desire to do good works. As the jailer cared for Paul, we find him being baptized. The baptism was the jailer's way of testifying to others of the change he had experienced in saving faith in Acts 16:31. 

Does the New Testament support the notion that water baptism is believer's baptism?
As we noted earlier, one must consider the entirety of the Gospels, Acts and Epistles when attaining unto an understanding of the relationship between saving faith and baptism. In other words, water baptism's proper candidates are to be those who have responded in knowing, saving faith in Jesus Christ per the Spirit's calling and work. What do we find in the Gospels, Acts and Epistles?

1. Baptism was prescribed by Jesus in the Gospels for those who have believed the Gospel. Matthew 28:18-20. 
Notice what Jesus commands in Matthew 28:19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." How is one made a disciple? saving faith. What does the disciple then do following their faith commitment to Jesus Christ? get baptized. Such an order of faith, then baptism, lies at the heart of Jesus prescription for the church back then and today. 

2. Baptism was practiced by the apostles and early church upon those who believed the Gospel. Acts 2:41-42; Acts 10:44-48; Acts 16:31
I won't take the time to go through each of these verses, only to note that not one time do we find unconverted, non-believing people getting baptized. In the book of Acts, we find cases where people were baptized as a result of their salvation in saving faith. 

3. Baptism's powerful meanings refer to those who first believed in Christ and then were to be baptized
Whenever we consider key texts on baptism in Paul's and Peter's letters (epistles) to the churches, the imagery which they convey about baptism presuppose saving faith prior to baptism. In Romans 6:4-11 we see baptism likened unto being buried and raised from a watery grave. Such imagery presupposes a genuine work of saving faith in that person's life, a work appealed to by Paul in Romans 3-5. Or again, the imagery of baptism being likened unto exiting from the old way of life presupposes new life having been granted already in saving faith. Yet again, we find Paul comparing baptism to picturing taking off old clothes and putting on new garments. Such symbolism presupposes the reality of saving faith prior to such baptism. 

In Peter's first epistle, we find him comparing baptism to the promise of a good conscience to God in 1 Peter 3:21. Whether we look at Paul's letters or Peter's words, all agree that saving faith necessarily occurs prior to baptism. Without the precursor of a salvation experience, water baptism loses its meaning. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes: "Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead."

In briefly surveying the New Testament evidence, it can be concluded that saving faith does indeed occur prior to and separate from the event of water baptism. 

Closing thoughts
Today's post aimed to clarify the relationship and order of saving faith to believer's baptism. We considered the clearest text on the subject in the book of Acts, noting how, in practice, the Philippian jailer believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and then followed by with believer's baptism. We then surveyed key verses in the Gospels, Acts and Epistles to understand the relationship between saving faith and believer's baptism. The conclusion from this survey is exactly what we found in the Acts 16 text - saving faith comes first and separately from water baptism. Water baptism represents the first major step of Christian obedience. Such truths are fundamental to instructing new converts to the Christian faith and reinforcing to those already saved and baptized what constitutes the Gospel. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Unfolding the meaning of believer's baptism

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Colossians 2:11-12 "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."

Many people do not realize the richness of meaning that lies within the practice of water baptism. The target of today's post is to offer a brief explanation of the richness of believer's baptism in the New Testament.

Unfolding the rich meaning of the New Testament ordinance of water baptism

1. 22 New Testament passages speak of the act of water baptism, whether it was being performed in the early church or was included in the instructions of an apostle or an associate of an apostle.

2. 8 New Testament passages serve to unfold the meaning and richness of this very important practice of Christ's church.

Since baptism is a perennial topic of discussion among Christians, I offer below brief expositions on the top 8 most important texts that refer to believer's baptism...

a. Matthew 28:18-20
Baptism is a command of the Lord Jesus Christ, and points to the meaning of discipleship and the Great Commission. This command of Jesus also includes the notion that baptism is meant for those who have by grace through faith believed on Jesus Christ and thus are disciples. This is why baptism, at least in Baptist circles, is called "believer's baptism".

b. Acts 19:5
Baptism includes the idea of having associated oneself with Jesus Christ, hence the phrase: "baptized in the name of Jesus".

c. Romans 6:3-4
Baptism speaks of having identified oneself with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. The word "baptism" itself comes from a verb and corresponding noun that unless otherwise prohibited by context, speaks of immersion or dipping of the candidate into the water to bring them back up. This text is one we can point out in understanding the proper mode of baptism.

d. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
The baptism here refers to the Holy Spirit connecting the new believer to Jesus Christ. Thus this event, which occurs at salvation, is signified, pictured and illustrated by water baptism.

e. Galatians 3:27
Water baptism also communicates the idea of someone who has been "clothed" with Christ - His life, character and nature.

f. Ephesians 4:5
The Spirit's baptism of the new convert into Christ at conversion and water baptism following conversion have a logical relationship to one another as a sign (water baptism) signifying an already existing reality in the life of the new convert (The Spirit's baptism or "installing" of the believing sinner into Christ at salvation). In experience and scripture they are two distinct events in terms of sequence. Hence when the church is practicing water baptism, it is an act that signifies a prior genuine act of God in bringing the person to saving faith. Thus people do not get water baptized to get saved, rather they get water baptized because they have been born again. 

g. Colossians 2:12
Baptism communicates that the person being baptized has turned their back on the world and former way of life as a result of God's prior working of saving faith in their life through the Gospel. Circumcision was a rite in the Old Testament that pictured a saint's identification with God's Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and New Testament Baptism signifies the New Testament saint's tie of faith with Jesus Christ. Some well meaning and Godly people attempt to build the practice of infant baptism from texts such as these, however we do not see one example of infant baptism being practiced by the church nor apostles in the New Testament.

h. 1 Peter 3:21
Baptism is not something done to get saved, but rather something one does because they were saved. It is the pledging to God of a good conscience and a public profession of one's prior faith to a group of witnesses.

How Southern Baptists understand the act, meaning and mode of Jesus' ordinance of water Baptism
It is so important to derive our understanding of any doctrine or practice from the scriptures - which constitutes our final authority of faith and practice. In looking at the Southern Baptist's understanding of water baptism, one can compare the following statement in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 to the above scriptures:
"Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."

Closing thoughts
The BFM 2000 appears consistent with the Biblical evidence for communicating the rich meaning of water baptism as so given by Jesus to His church. As always, the final court of appeal is the scripture, being that it is where we turn to in understanding how we ought to believe, act and worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Truly then we can say that Baptism in the New Testament is rich in meaning. It pictures and communicates the richness of the Gospel, the scriptures, the Christian life and Christ Himself. May this post be used of the Lord today to bring clarity to the discussion, understanding and practice of believer's baptism. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Celebrating The First Sunday Of Advent - Some Thoughts

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Luke 2:25-32 "And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

Today is the first Sunday of what Christians call the season of "Advent". The term "advent" derives from a Latin word adventus meaning "coming" or "arrival". Advent season developed in the history of the church to focus believers upon remembering Jesus' first coming and anticipating His second coming. In many churches, advent season is inaugurated by the lighting of what is called an "advent wreath", pictured below:

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Different variations on the wreath's design and meanings of the candles will differ from one Christian tradition to the next. In general though, there are four candles: three purple and one pink. The first two candles respectively stand for "hope" and "faith". The third candle is a pink one, symbolizing "joy". The fourth candle signifies "peace", with the final "white candle" picturing Christ Himself as the culmination of advent. In some versions of the wreath, this fifth candle, often deemed the "Christ candle", is usually lit on a Christmas Eve service. 

In all versions of the advent season that this author has read, there is near uniform agreement that the first candle, representing the first Sunday in advent, carries the theme of "hope". In the opening passage of today's post, we find the Christ child brought to the temple for the sake of dedicating Him to the Lord. We mustn't forget of course that the little babe held in Mary and Josephs' arms was the Person of the Son, truly God and, having his humanity conceived by the Spirit in the virgin' womb - truly man. 

John's opening prologue in John 1:9 indicates that the Person of the Son was the "light" that lights every man, meaning that through the general revelation of God's Deity, the Son's glory was made known to all people, in all places and in all times. According to Bible scholar Mark Bailey of Dallas Theological Seminary, there is a manner in which every person has had awareness of the Son of God in a general sense. Mankind in general had rejected the light of God's glory in general revelation. John goes on to indicate that when Jesus Christ came "to his own" (i.e the Jewish people) via the virginal conception of His incarnated humanity, His own people rejected Him. Thankfully, grace was at work in those days, with John reporting these words in John 1:12-13 "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." 

All humanity was plunged into darkness after the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. God had the torchlight of the Gospel dotting history through the communication of the Gospel by way of His prophets. All of those torches pointed the way to "hope", "The Hope", the hope of salvation brought by no less than God Himself. As the Old Testament would progress, God began to give hints in passages such as Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7 and Micah 5:2 that this coming one would not only be God, but God in human flesh. The light of uncreated deity would burn brightly on the frail wick of perfect humanity. 

Hence when Simeon was holding the infant Christ in His arms, He was holding "The Hope", advent's promise, Messiah, Son of God - Jesus Christ. Today as we begin this advent season, let's reflect on how much hope Jesus Christ brings into the lives of those who trust in Him by faith. The wintertime months feature less light, and more darkness. As we journey further into history, times grow darker and shorter. Thankfully, whenever we think of Jesus Christ, the light of hope, His advent some 2,000 years ago provide "hope" in the midst of despair and light amidst the darkness. May His light of hope shine in your life today on this first Sunday of advent. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Glorious Provider - Jesus Christ

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John 6:1-5 "After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). 2 A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, *said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?”

Today's post features the only other miracle performed by Jesus (other than His resurrection) that we find in all four Gospels of the New Testament - the feeding of the 5,000. John 6 as a whole features the different ways the Lord Jesus Christ provides for His people. As we will see in this particular miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus Christ provides physical needs. Later on in John 6:16-21 we find Jesus performing the majestic miracle of walking on the water and calming His disciples' fears - hence showing Him to provide for emotional needs. Then the remaining bulk of John 6:22-71 details the marvelous revelation of Jesus as the bread of life as the Provider of spiritual life and salvation. 

As we consider the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6:1-14, the event occurs at least 6 months after the close of John 5. Per the other three Gospels, Jesus had commissioned the twelve disciples to go throughout the Galilean country-side to preach the Kingdom of God and perform miracles (see Luke 9:1-11 for example). As the disciples were out performing their first assignment, Jesus Himself continued teaching parables and performing other miracles. It was upon the return of the disciples from their first tour that we find ourselves leading up to this greatest of Jesus' mass miracles: the feeding of the 5,000.

Now one would think that after all the disciples has done and witnessed through the power delegated to them by Jesus, there would be no need for them to be taught a lesson on how He provides. Yet, that lesson was needful. You and I have short memories when it comes to God's provision. The Lord will come through in major way and we will rejoice for a little while, only to come to within a week's time starting to wonder about God's provision. 

The point of this miracle is to set the stage for what will be a major theme in John 6. As is often the case, Jesus begins in the physical realm whenever He desires to bring His disciples to grow in their understanding of a major spiritual truth. His ability to provide not only physical and emotional needs but also spiritual needs will be the ultimate progression to which the feeding of the 5,000 points. 

So as we think on how Jesus Christ is the glorious provider, what can we glean from this miracle in John 6:1-15?

1. Greatness of the need. 6:1-9
The opening verses of today's post sets the stage for this miracle. A great need has arisen. 5,000 men plus possible families have been following the Lord Jesus through the country-side. John 6:5 notes Jesus lifting up His eyes to behold the crowd. Mark 6:34 adds the explanatory comment that Jesus saw the crowds as a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Their bellies were empty. Yet there was the more profound need of the emptiness of their souls that only Jesus could fulfill. 

In John 6:1-9 we see indications of how desperate and great the need was at this time. Philip, one of Jesus' disciples, notes it would take the equivalency of 8 months of wages to feed the crowd. Another disciple, Andrew, points out that the only provisions they have on hand is a small lad's lunch of five barley loaves (likely 5 small flat-bread crackers) and two fish (little pickle fish, a common food). The need in the physical far outstripped whatever money or resources the disciples had. 

John 6:6 tells us that Jesus knew this the whole time. Evidently He was testing them. We often find God testing His people for the sake of the people understanding how much they truly trust Him. The tests are not designed for failure, but to equip for the sake of eventual success. Testing by God aims not to destroy faith, but build it, examine it and improve upon it by the means of strengthening grace which He gives (namely His Word, prayer and time with God's people). In such tests, the question is: will we rely upon God and His word in faith or trust instead in our own opinions, flesh and observations (see for instance 2 Chronicles 32:31)? 

The greatness of the need is pressed in upon these disciples and us as readers. Only when we are made aware of the desperation of the need will we be prompted to seek out a greater provision. Only Jesus can be the Great Provision. 

2. Grandeur of provision. John 6:10-13
John 6:10-11 states - "Jesus said, 'Have the people sit down.' Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted." The word Jesus uses for "sit" in these verses has to do with rest and refreshment.  

Most commentators point out that Jesus' multiplication of the loaves and the fish echoes the miracle done by the Old Testament prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44. In 2 Kings 4:42-44 we read - "Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” 43 His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” 44 So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord." In that Old Testament miracle, God worked through Elisha to save the lives of the people from some poisoned stew. The people were hungry, and so a man brought 20 loaves of bread, Elisha blessed the bread and it was enough to feed 100 of the people. 

If indeed this echo is intended in John 6, then what Jesus is communicating is how He himself can save the crowds not merely from death of physical starvation, but spiritual. Jesus begins in the realm of the physical, however, He does not intend to remain only on the physical appearances of things. The grandeur of the provision exceeds the greatness of the need here in John. This sets up the crowd and the reader to appreciate...

3. The glorious provider. John 6:13-14
John 6:13-14 states - So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” The people perceived that Jesus was perhaps (in their mind "perhaps") the fulfillment of Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:18  "I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him." Indeed, Jesus was the fulfillment of that scripture, however, the people never went beyond that perception. Jesus was the ultimate prophet, but He was so much more. In John 6:15 we come to understand that the people wanted to take Jesus by force and make Him their King. As later verses in John 6 indicate, the people saw a free meal ticket with Jesus and a possible King who could overthrow the Roman tyranny of the time. Jesus of course did not come to bring in that type of a kingdom.

Closing thoughts
Today we considered Jesus Christ our glorious provider in His miracle of the feeding of the five-thousand. We noted the following from this event:

1. Greatness of the need. 6:1-9
2. Grandeur of the provision. 6:10-13
3. Glorious Provider - Jesus Christ. 6:13-14 

Oftentimes what prevents us from seeing the glorious provider, Jesus Christ, are two things: misplaced expectations and too-low of expectations. To say Jesus was "the prophet" was remarkable, however, if that is as far as we ever go, we end up having way too low a view of Jesus. Sometimes we have a little view of Jesus, as well as misplaced expectations. We think He will do one thing, and when it ends up that the Lord provides in a different way than we expected, we accuse God of all sorts of things. Such attitudes prevent us from seeing Jesus for who He really is - the Glorious provider. As commentator R.C Sproul notes in his commentary on John: "He is our King, who gives us all that we need and more."

Friday, November 25, 2016

Exploring the mystery-side of healing

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2 Corinthians 12:8-10 "Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."


Here is a question: “why do some people get healed immediately and others later on?” The quick answer to that is: “I don’t know”. This question is related to what I call "the mystery-side of healing". We’ve got to remember that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). God can immediately heal, but he may also decide to heal later or in some cases heal believers in heaven. 

Such questions are common among those who pray for their loved ones to get healed. When my father was alive, he had battled cancer on at least four occasions. Each time he was told by the doctors that he had a particular cancer, he would call the pastor and the pastor and Deacons would anoint him with oil as prescribed in James 5:13-16. Each cancer was different and yet my father's response was the same. 

In one of those instances, my father had a severe tumor of the brain. He was anointed shortly after receiving the prognosis and a short time later went into surgery to remove the tumor. The doctors were shocked to discover that there was no tumor. However, in the other instances where my dad was anointed, the cancers did not go away apart from conventional methods like chemotherapy and radiation. What explanation, if any, could be given for what appears to be a difference in outcome?

What is the right question to ask when facing the mystery side of healing
One could begin by noting that if people were healed immediately, they may not be ready or they may easily stop relying on God. At times the building of faith and trust in God can enable the person to see God’s glory when the healing comes later. On the flip-side, God can heal immediately and thus get the glory. God’s will to heal is not in question. The mystery mainly has to do with "when" He will heal. All we know is that in either situation – God is aiming to be glorified and He is always good no matter what. As Jesus noted about the man born blind in John 9:1-3 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him." There are no such things as randomness with God. God has morally sufficient reasons for delaying healing. Timing is everything with God. 

What patterns of healing do we see in Jesus ministry?
In the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, there were people who were healed in stages (Mark 8:22-26) and in the case of Lazarus, he purposefully delayed for the sake of God to reveal His glory (John 11:40). Dr. Adrian Rogers once noted that “God’s delays are not God’s denials”. This is the mystery side of healing. Some erroneously blame the lack of faith. Faith cannot do anything to effect healing. All it can do is receive it. 

The ministry and life of the Apostle Paul had contact with this mystery side of healing
The Apostle Paul for example prayed three times for His ailment to be removed, and yet God did not deliver Him of it. Or again, in 2 Timothy 4:20, we read: “Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus”. Are we to blame Paul for lack of faith? Hardly. The only answer we can give in understanding why some people get immediately healed, or later healed or even ultimately healed in heaven, and others don't, is due to the purpose of God. Hence, it is God's purpose that determines when the healing takes place.

How a cell phone can help us grasp this issue of the mystery side of healing
Whenever I travel, my cell phone is ever ready to receive a signal. At times when journeying in a mountainous area, the signal may not be forth coming. However, that does not mean the phone is useless. My phone's operation and readiness to receive does not make the signal travel slower or faster. All it can do is receive the incoming signal whenever it arrives. The signal will come through once I get through the other side. I may not know when the signal may come. I need to be sure to keep the phone on for the sake of receiving the signal. The suggestion is that this is how healing practically works at times. 

Some principles to keep in mind when considering a Biblical view of healing
1. God’s pleasure is to heal.
If this were not the case, the Holy Spirit would not had inspired and moved James to write what he did in James 5:13-16. We can also note on over 20 occasions in the Gospels where people came to Jesus or were brought to Him for healing, not one time does He refuse to heal them. One of the names that God uses in revealing His identity is that of “Jehovah Rapha” – the Lord our healer – in Exodus 15:26. When Jesus came to this world, His mission was: chiefly to provide forgiveness of sins (Luke 19:10); then to defeat the Devil (1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14) and thirdly, to affect healing (see Acts 10:38).

2. God has the power to heal. We must remember that it is the power of Jesus Christ, not faith, that heals (see Luke 5:17 and Acts 3:16).

3. Faith receives the healing (whether God chooses to do it today or later).
Faith does not have any power to heal. All it can do is receive the healing. Faith is the God-given vessel that we have to receive all that He has to offer (John 1:12-13; Eph 2:8-9; James 1:18). We know that faith must be present to receive Jesus immediately in salvation (Romans 10:8-10). In a near parallel way, physical healing operates in a similar fashion. Though there is the mystery-side to healing, asking God to strengthen one's faith, as well as following through with such prescriptions as anointing with oil, and anchor one's rope of faith to the mighty oak of Jesus.  

4. God uses different methods in healing (anointing being but one method). 
The Bible is not against the use of medicine, since the prophet Isaiah used a compound of figs to heal King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:7) and Jesus used mud as a means of healing a man’s blindness (Mark 8:22-26). My mother was a nurse for nearly 40 years and I can testify firsthand as to how God gives medically trained people wisdom to treat the human body. 

At times a simple prayer or saying a word for healing would be used (Luke 7:7). Oftentimes people would be healed by way of someone laying their hands upon them or the sick person simply touching the one in whom God’s power to heal was present (Luke 8:47). These represent some of the major methods used by God in affecting Divine healing.

5. There is a mystery side to healing that we can navigate, even though we do not completely comprehend all its details. 
Although this final principle was the key focus of today's post, it is worth remembering that the Lord knows all about it. We must not grow discouraged nor doubt the goodness and power of God. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

How thanksgiving provides an apologetic for God's existence

Image result for thanksgiving turkey
Psalm 100:4-5 - "Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. 5For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations."  This passage defines for us what it means to be thankful.  To be thankful simply means to express your appreciation for seeing God's goodness.  

Introduction: Thankfulness can only make sense if God exists

Why is it that believers and unbelievers alike have this expression of thankfulness?  Because God has seen fit to make known the goodness of His glory, in varying degrees, in all things. Thankfulness or thanksgiving is a universal human response to that which is good, beautiful or beneficial to the overall betterment of the human condition. In all cultures we see this universal compulsion to express verbal and active gratitude. Thanksgiving is an incredible holiday that gives people the opportunity to gather with family and friends. Today's post offers what one could call a "thanksgiving apologetic" for God's existence and a lead-in to communicating the Gospel to unconverted people.

Arguing for God's existence from the standpoint of thanksgiving

People believe that it is always good in all places and times to express gratitude. The question is, why? When we speak of one's moral duties, this includes the notion of what one "ought" to do, or matters of "what is right and what is wrong". When we speak of moral values, these are principles by which we discern certain features of our world to be "good" or "bad". The following argument expresses how we can know God exists by the reality of universal moral values and duties. If we include thanksgiving as being a universal (or objective) moral value or duty, then we can off the following argument:

1. If God does not exist, then universal moral values and duties do not exist 

2. Thanksgiving or gratitude is found among all cultures and language groups, and thus is a universally-held moral duty

3. Universal or objective moral values and duties do exist

4. Therefore, God exists

Illustrating further instances of thanksgiving as a universal or objective moral feature of human existence and thus our world

What are you experiencing when you see a child born, or a sunset, or a beautiful flower, or a work of art, or the Olympics, or enjoy a good meal, or enjoy time with your spouse or children?  Unbelievers in God are experiencing God's goodness indirectly through relationships and created things, even when they don't put a name to it. To suppress the universal human tendency of gratitude in the face of such experiences would be viewed as unnatural. To show how thankfulness doesn't make sense on an atheistic and materialistic worldview, consider the following thoughts.

Universal gratitude presupposes that there are universal objective standards of what qualifies as "good" and "beautiful". On atheism or naturalism (the belief that our world and universe is made-up of material, physical things, and nothing else), there is no underlying purpose, design, universal morality or goodness. Such moral expressions as thanksgiving would not, on atheism and naturalism, make sense. Giving thanks would be, on such views, an outgrowth of survival instincts developed from blindly guided processes like natural selection and gene-mutation. On atheism and naturalism, there is nothing biologically advantageous to giving thanks. 

As seen in the above argument, God's existence is the only explanation for why universal expressions of thankfulness are found among all human cultures. It would seem then that if anything, thanksgiving provides a potential argument for God's existence.

Putting some Bible underneath this argument for thankfulness

God's goodness is described as displaying His glory in the world around us (see Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20).  Moses prayed for God's glory in Exodus 33:18-19a and was given God's response: "18Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you..."  Therefore we see the link between thankfulness and God's goodness or glory.  So To be thankful simply means to express your appreciation for seeing God's goodness.

How ingratitude leads to a destructive downward spiral

Romans 1:21-31 gives us the downward spiral that mankind experiences when they persist in their rejection of God's General revelation in creation.  Ingratitude means that you have chosen not to be appreciative and that you have concluded that God's goodness is neither desirable nor real.  When cultures, nations or individual human beings adopt a posture of ingratitude, we see a downward, destructive road.

1. Discernment is lost.  Romans 1:21a  "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations." People that choose ingratitude will experience an inability to discern or think clearly.  

2. Direction is lost. Romans 1:21b-22 "and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools"  Thankfulness is the first step towards enjoying God.  Whenever you and I choose not to be thankful, we are in effect saying: "nothing to enjoy here".  With loss of discernment, we see the next step of deterioration - loss of direction.  

3. Decency is lost. Romans 1:24 "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them." As you go down through Romans 1, the downward spiral of judgment escalates.  God operates His moral and physical universe through cause/effect and influence/response.  Whenever mankind has rejected Him, whether through general revelation of nature or the special revelation of the Bible, a corresponding level of darkness is allowed to grip man ever tighter that is fitting to his warped desire.  With loss of discernment and direction comes the next logical step - loss of decency.  Taboos are cast off, and anything goes.  

4. Destructive patterns increase. Romans 1:28 "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper". Paul reiterates the fact that mankind at large, when persisting in its refusal to acknowledge God, will be handed for to a "depraved mind".  Simply put, moral and increased physical harm to one another will occur. 

5. Death of a culture. Romans 1:32 "and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them." With the loss of discernment, direction, decency as well as the increase of destruction, when mankind persists in his rebellion against God, not giving thanks nor honor, the final result is the death of that culture.  

Closing thoughts: respond to the God revealed in creation, in Jesus Christ and the Bible

As we have seen, thankfulness points to the existence of God. However, not just any deity is in view in this apologetic of thanksgiving. In addition to revealing Himself in creation and conscience, God has decisively revealed Himself in the historic Person of Jesus of Nazareth. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 states: "For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." The ministry, life, death and resurrection of Jesus is predicted in the Old Testament. With respect to the New Testament, Jesus is prominently portrayed in the four gospels, preached about in Acts, explained in the New Testament letters and prominently displayed in Revelation. 

We read these words in Romans 2:4"do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"  Such a God is worthy of our worship and thanks (Psalm 100:4-5). Lets therefore be mindful of the fact that not only does thanksgiving reveal such a God to exist, but that such a God can be experienced and known in saving faith in Jesus. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A quick response to those who criticize God and His commands to "wipe-out" the Canaanites in Joshua

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Joshua 11:11 "They struck every person who was in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them; there was no one left who breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire."

One of the most attacked areas of the Bible by critics is in the Book of Joshua and its surrounding context. More specifically, critics will contend that God is a "Moral Monster" who commands genocide. In past posts on this blogsite, I have offered a more extensive treatment in responding to this indictment on God's character and credibility of the Biblical text through a four-part series found in the following links:





Today's post is designed to give a very short summary of the above series so that readers can give a "thumbnail sketch" of the Christian response to critics who continue to accuse Yahweh of injustice and immorality.

1. God's holiness and mercy must be considered.
God gave the Canaanites over four centuries to repent of their ways. When a prostitute named Rahab did repent in Joshua 2, God spared her. God's holiness is never factored into critics' arguments. God as a holy God means he cannot stand the sight of sin nor will he long tolerate injustice. The Canaanite culture were known for such practices as child-sacrifice. God was responding to an evil perpetrated by the culture. Ironically, those who claim God never does anything about evil and suffering end up crying "foul" when in the overall context of Joshua, He actually addresses the issues at hand.

2. Holy-war differs significantly from Genocide
Whenever we consider the details of what constitutes holy war and compare it to genocide, it is comparing apples to oranges. Genocide is a merciless, random act of ethnic purging by another people group for political purposes. Holy war in the Bible was moral purging and included an extended pre-history of God giving space for the culture to turn from their extreme wicked practices. Genocide does not include possible mercy. Holy War can be reversed if the culture repents of its ways. Jeremiah 18:8 states – “if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.”

3. Ask the critic if they have read the book of Joshua and its surrounding Bible books
In addition to considering God's character and the distinctions between holy war and genocide, one may tactfully ask in a non-condescending way where or not the critic has read the Book of Joshua. Often-times it is very easy to criticize something which one has not read but chooses to criticize based upon here-say. Certainly challenging the critic to read the wider context within which Joshua is set may seem like a tall order. However, atheistic criticisms of Christianity are sometimes due to shoddy scholarship or simply not reading the text in question. 

4. Consider much of the language of Joshua as a form of "hyperbole" or over-exaggeration designed to get the point across
Christian apologist Paul Copan specializes in what can be difficult to interpret texts like Joshua (read more of Paul Copan's material at: ( In his research, as well as the observations of others, many of the cases where we find God commanding the Canaanites to be "utterly destroyed" is part of the rhetoric of holy-war. In many cases, not everyone was destroyed. Perhaps a King, representing the entire nation was executed or the army of the opposing nation. Much like in the sports world today, when one team is being interviewed after a game, they may say something to the effect: "we slaughtered everybody tonight". All listening to such rhetoric understand the players to be utilizing a figure of speech called "hyperbole" or "over-exaggeration" to get across the point that their victory was without question. Copan supports his observations by paralleling literature from the same time-period, illustrating that the Book of Joshua was as much a product of its time as it was of the Holy Spirit. This particular response is helpful, however, caution must be exercised in employing this particular observation, since there are those occasions where the Hebrews did indeed wipe out a given city and its inhabitants.

5. The Canaanites were not innocent
Often critics will cite that the Canaanites never saw the judgment of God coming upon them. However, scholar William Lane Craig observes:

"By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice.  The Canaanites are to be destroyed “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20.18).  God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel" (Read more:

6. The issue of Joshua and the Canaanites does not do away with the existence of the Biblical God
In light of the above responses, we can offer one final response: namely, to say that God did something morally wrong is to assert belief in an objective moral laws, which requires God, the objective lawgiver! Again we can quote scholar William Lane Craig on this score:

"I’ve often heard popularizers raise this issue as a refutation of the moral argument for God’s existence.  But that’s plainly incorrect.  The claim that God could not have issued such a command doesn’t falsify or undercut either of the two premises in the moral argument as I have defended it:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

In fact, insofar as the atheist thinks that God did something morally wrong in commanding the extermination of the Canaanites, he affirms premise (2).  So what is the problem supposed to be?"
(Read more:

Closing thoughts:
Today we considered a short explanation and response to critics who convict God of wrong-doing in the book of Joshua. We considered the following five responses one could give:

1. God's holiness and mercy must be considered.

2. Holy-war differs significantly from Genocide

3. Ask the critic if they have read the book of Joshua and its surrounding Bible books

4. Consider much of the language of Joshua as a form of "hyperbole" or over-exaggeration designed to get the point across

5. The Canaanites were not innocent

6. The issue of Joshua and the Canaanites does not do away with the existence of the Biblical God

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

An outline of the Book of Joshua

Image result for book of Joshua
Joshua 24:15 "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

In our last post we considered an overview of the Book of Joshua. Joshua provides invaluable historical information concerning the journeys of the nation of Israel following Moses' death. We saw how in their crossing the Jordan River, they began possessing the land promised by God to their ancestors: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In addition to these considerations, we saw too how the New Testament applies Joshua as an illustration of the Christian life. Canaanland is a concrete picture of the Christian life with its attendant battles, defeats and triumphs. Today we will conclude this brief study with understand how the book of Joshua portrays Jesus Christ, followed by an outline and final applications.

Seeing Jesus in Joshua
Before we offer an outline of Joshua, the most important bridge of application is that of seeing Jesus Christ in Joshua. 

Certainly, Joshua himself could function as a pictorial illustration or "type" of Jesus Christ. Both "Joshua" and "Jesus" are equivalent names, with "Jesus" representing a Greek version of the Hebrew name "Joshua". In the KJV of Hebrews 4:8, translators render it - "For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day." Most modern English translations render "Jesus" as "Joshua", as in the NASB - "For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that." Joshua himself did speak of the people having a "rest" of sorts (see Joshua 22:4). However, since it was the Spirit of Christ speaking through Joshua and in the composition of His book (see 1 Peter 1:11), the writer of Hebrews ties together the actions of Joshua foreshadowing the actions of Jesus. The Holman New Testament Commentary notes on this score:

"Joshua had given rest to Israel in his day (Josh. 23:1), but God had more than political security in mind in the use of the term rest. Joshua gave his followers temporal rest by leading them to defeat their enemies. God has provided spiritual rest for those who approach him through faith in Jesus Christ as is made clear in verses 9–10."

A suggested outline for Joshua
One of the methods to outline the book of Joshua is by noting key cities and events in their picturing of Jesus Christ and the Christian life. Below is an outline of Joshua in ten points:

1. Rest in Jesus typified by the crossing of the Jordan River. Joshua 1:1-4:14

2. Saying goodbye to the old life and putting on the new life: typified at Gilgal. Joshua 4:15-5:15

3. Fight the good fight of faith: typified in the battle of Jericho. Joshua 6

4. Getting a second chance through repentance: the failure and later victory at Ai. Joshua 7-8

5. Walk by faith, not by sight: lessons from the Gibeonites. Joshua 9:1-10:28

6. Progressing in one's Christian growth or sanctification: the Northern and Southern Campaigns. Joshua 10:29-12:22

7. Claiming the promised land of the Christian life: the twelve tribes settle in the land (with Caleb as an example in 14). Joshua 13:1-19:51

8. Refuge and rest in Christ: the cities of refuge set-up for those who committed involuntary manslaughter (especially 21:43-48). Joshua 20-21

9. United around one Lord, one faith: the dispute over the second altar. Joshua 22

10. Trust and obey, for there's no other way: Joshua's final instructions to the Israelites. Joshua 23-24. 

Closing thoughts:
We have considered the contents, connections and outline of the Book of Joshua to the Christian life. Joshua is invaluable for how he gives us the continuing story of the Hebrew people after the days of Moses. We find out that they were to possess the land promised to them by Yahweh. These historical events provide spiritual application for the Christian life in New Testament books like Hebrews. 

Themes such as sanctification, spiritual victory and following Jesus are illustrated in the book of Joshua. No doubt, we have only scratched the surface in these posts. It is hoped that the reader will study the book of Joshua further. It is suggested that the reader lay open Hebrews 3-4 and read the book of Joshua in light of Jesus Christ and the Christian life.