Thanksgiving Shapes Us in More than One Way

Today is the day in the United States when we set aside to give thanks and reflect on all the Lord has done in our lives over this past year.

Other countries, like Canada and Ukraine also have national holidays dedicated to giving thanks, but days of thanksgiving have a rich history in Christian groups all over the world, going back before the pilgrims held their famous thanksgiving feast in Plymouth.

In the Old Testament, God instructed his people to hold several days of thanksgiving every year: Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in early Spring, thanking God for delivering them from slavery and for the beginning of the barley harvest; the Feast of Weeks in early Summer, thanking God for the beginning of the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall, thanking God for the end of the harvest season. God told them to “Be joyful at your festival…because the Lord your God will bless you” (Deuteronomy 16:14-15).

For us as Christians, Thanksgiving is not only a day we celebrate, but a way of life. Colossians 2:6-7 says: : “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Thanksgiving Shapes Us

Spending time reflecting on what God has done for us and giving thanks not only honors Him, it also shapes us. The Thanksgiving meal obviously shapes us into certain kinds of people: slightly rounded than we were before! But the practice of giving thanks also shapes us: the more we give thanks, the more our eyes are opened to see the things God is doing and has done – which builds our faith and trust in Him!

Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving!

Do You Have a Theology of Glory, or the Theology of the Cross?

Do you have a theology of glory, or do you follow the theology of the cross? Here’s an easy test: honestly ask yourself the question, “Do you seek God primarily because you consider him useful, or because you find him beautiful?” 

There are many things about God that are useful; He is omnipotent and He is able to answer prayers, do the miraculous, help in time of need. But do you seek Him primarily for what He can do for you, or do you seek Him primarily because of who He is? 

Martin Luther and the Theology of the Cross

A theology of glory, as Martin Luther explained, most famously in his Heidelberg Disputation (1518), views God primarily as useful to you. A theology of glory, as Luther used the term, is really a theology of man’s glory. Rather than focusing on and seeking the glory of God, a theology of glory is focused on seeking your own personal glory — with Jesus as your self-help guru, who gives you a “boost” or a “shot in the arm” to help you achieve your goals and reach your potential. 

The theology of the cross, on the other hand, states that it is ultimately by looking at the cross that we learn who God is and who we are (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). For example, the cross of Christ shows us that, as human beings, we are completely unable to save ourselves — this is why the Jesus’ death on the cross was necessary. Furthermore, it is through the cross that we come to known the depth of God’s love for us. 

The theology of the Cross understands that Jesus is your savior, not your side-kick or personal assistant. The cross causes us, as Paul the Apostle puts it in Philippians 3:3, to “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,” i.e. our own abilities or goodness to justify ourselves or earn God’s blessings.

As we come to see the beauty and depth of God’s love, displayed for us in the most ultimate way on the cross, it compels us to respond by surrendering our lives to Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). This transforms us from being people who seek to use or leverage God for our own power or glory, and who instead take up our crosses and die to ourselves, that Christ might live in us (Galatians 2:20). We do this, remembering that Jesus surrendered himself to the will of the Father, even unto death on a cross, after which God highly exalted Him (Philippians 2:8-9). Therefore, we also know that if we, rather than seeking to exalt ourselves, seek to exalt Jesus and surrender our lives to Him, God will exalt us in the end as well (1 Peter 5:6).

Useful or Beautiful?

Do you seek God primarily because you consider him useful, or because you find him beautiful? How you answer that question will have big implications for how you view God, and how your faith weathers the storms and trials of this life. For example, if you seek the Lord primarily because you find Him useful, what will happen if there is ever a time when you feel that following Jesus isn’t useful? What if God doesn’t answer your prayer in the way, or within the time frame you expected, or hoped?

If, however, by looking at the cross, you become acutely aware of the beauty of God’s heart and the depth of his love, you will have a faith that is able to weather any storm. 

By looking at the cross, we are made aware of who God is and who we are. May we look to the cross, and rather than putting confidence in our flesh, may we glory in Christ Jesus. As we look to the cross and see the beauty and love of God on display, and may it compel our hearts to live not for our own glory, but for Him who died and was raised for us.

Reformation Day: Martin Luther, the Bible, & the Gospel

Martin Luther, the Bible, and the Gospel

Originally posted on CalvaryChapel.com

If you own a Bible in your own language, it is a direct result of the Protestant Reformation, and the key figure God used to ignite that worldwide movement of returning to the Bible was Martin Luther: a German monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg.

I grew up attending a Lutheran school until eighth grade. During my time there, I learned a lot about Luther, including studying his catechism. Years later, when I put my faith in Jesus and was born again, I started attending a Calvary Chapel church; and over the years, I have grown in appreciation for Martin Luther and the pivotal role he played in God’s work in the world.

The last day of October is celebrated around the world as Reformation Day, because it was on October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther set into motion the movement now known as the Reformation, by mailing a letter. Yes, you read that right: on the eve of All Saints Day (Halloween = “All Hallows Eve”), Luther mailed, not nailed, a letter.1 2

The letter was addressed to the Archbishop of Mainz,3 and Luther sent it because he wanted to alert the archbishop that plenary indulgences were being sold in the archbishop’s name by a man named John Tetzel. Tetzel had been sent from Rome the year before to sell these certificates promising the release of a soul from purgatory in exchange for their purchase, as a fundraising campaign for the building of St. Peter’s Basilica. Luther assumed the archbishop was unaware that this was going on, and that upon receiving his letter, the archbishop would tell Tetzel to cease and desist. That, however, is not what happened.

As a result of the archbishop’s inaction, Luther, as a professor, decided to organize a scholarly debate on the topic of indulgences: whether they were actually effective in procuring the release of a soul from purgatory. To this end, he wrote up what are now known as the 95 Theses, which he titled: A Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. This paper, which was posted on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, was an invitation to a scholarly debate, but in it Luther challenged both the selling of indulgences and the doctrine of purgatory as unscriptural. By doing this, Luther was challenging the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching and authority, and insisting that the Bible, not the church, should be the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes correct doctrine.

The posting of the 95 Theses is considered the spark which ignited the Protestant Reformation: a movement which sought to reform the church by shedding man-made traditions and returning to the faith which had been handed to us by God in the Holy Scriptures. 

Today, there are nearly 1 billion Protestant Christians in the world.4 In the “majority world,” including Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Muslim world5, Protestant Christianity is growing faster than any other religious movement by conversion.6

Before Luther, there were others who sought to reform the church and bring the Bible to the people. John Wycliffe (1331-1384) published the first English translation of the Bible. Jan Hus (1369-1415) taught the Bible to the common people in Prague. Peter Waldo (1140-1218) commissioned a translation of the New Testament into the local vernacular of southern France. Each of these people were persecuted for trying to put the Scriptures into the hands of the common people.

Over a century before Luther, Hus had protested the sale of plenary indulgences, pointing out that the idea that God’s favor or blessings could be earned in any way, runs contrary to the message of the gospel and the testimony of the Scriptures, and the concept of purgatory is in conflict with the biblical teaching of the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement on the cross.

Martin Luther had long struggled with feelings of condemnation and inadequacy, until his own reading of the Scriptures led him to an epiphany when he read Habakkuk 2:4: “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” This led Luther to the other places in the Bible where this phrase is repeated: Romans 1:17Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38 – where the message is clear: It is not by our own works that we are justified before God, but it is God who justifies us sinners as a gift of His grace, and we receive that justification by faith. After all, the Bible explains, this is how Abraham, the father of our faith, became righteous: he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6Romans 4:322). We receive God’s righteousness, which he has provided for us in Christ, in the same way.

Luther became convinced that everyone needed to be able to read the Scriptures for themselves, and he took it upon himself to translate the Bible into German, a translation that is still in use to this day. Soon the Bible was translated into other languages, including English, as the Reformation spread.

Martin Luther called people back to a belief that the Scriptures are perspicuous (clear), and can be understood by those who read them. He called us back to a belief in the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture: that it is the ultimate rule of faith, by which we are to measure both doctrine and our lives.

In April 1521, Luther was brought before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms, at which Luther was commanded to recant his teachings. Luther refused to do so, famously stating:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason – for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves – I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant.”7

This October, as we celebrate Reformation Day, may we take the opportunity to open the Bible and read it for ourselves, and may we embrace and celebrate the message of the gospel: that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and that we are justified freely by his grace as we trust in him by faith.

NOTES

1 Marshall, Peter. 1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation. OUP Oxford. 2017.

2 Little, Becky. “Martin Luther Might Not Have Nailed His 95 Theses to the Church Door.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 31, 2017. 

3 “Luther’s Letter to the Archbishop of Mainz (1517).” Historyguide.org, 2002. 

4 “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population.” PewResearchCenter. Accessed December 2011. 

5 Miller, Duane A., and Patrick Johnstone. Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census II (2015): 2–19. academia.edu

Melton, J. Gordon (22 October 2005). Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9780816069835 – via Google Books.

7 “Here I Stand: Martin Luther’s Reformation at 500.” Abilene Christian University Special Collections, March 11, 2019.

Bible Translations: Translation Philosophy, Textual Criticism, & Source Documents

Shane Angland (MA Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary), joins the podcast this week to talk about Bible translations and what makes some translations better than others.

Shane is the lead preaching elder at Ennis Evangelical Church in Ennis, Ireland. A native of the west coast of Ireland, Shane served as a missionary in Ukraine with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and later earned a Masters Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, where the focus of his studies was on Textual Criticism.

In this episode, Shane explains what Textual Criticism is (and is not), and explains the important elements involved in Bible translation, such as translation philosophy and source documents. He also dispels some common misconceptions about Bible translations, such as that newer translations remove content from the Bible, or that they are less accurate than older translations.

Shane and I have some common friends in Ireland and Ukraine, and it was great getting to know him and listening to him share his knowledge on this subject.

See also the series of articles on Bible translation I posted here years ago:

  1. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 1
  2. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 2: the King James Bible
  3. Making Sense of Different Bible Translations – Part 3: Gender-Inclusive Language and the NIV

You can listen to this week’s episode by clicking this link, or by listening in the embedded player below: Making Sense of Bible Translations – with Shane Angland

Making Sense of Bible Translations – with Shane Angland Theology for the People

Shane Angland (MA Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary), joins the podcast to talk about Bible translations and what makes some translations better than others. Shane is the lead preaching elder at Ennis Evangelical Church in Ennis, Ireland. A native of the west coast of Ireland, Shane served as a missionary in Ukraine with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and later earned a Masters Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, where the focus of his studies was on Textual Criticism. In this episode, Shane explains what Textual Criticism is (and is not), and explains the important elements involved in Bible translation, such as translation philosophy and source documents. He also dispels some common misconceptions about Bible translations, such as that newer translations remove content from the Bible, or that they are less accurate than older translations. If you’ve benefited from this episode, please share it online, and leave a rating and review for this podcast in the Apple Podcast store. Also, visit the Theology for the People Blog at nickcady.org.

The British Museum, the Louvre, & the Bible

The British Museum in London is one of the greatest museums in the world. It includes the Roseta Stone, which broke the code to reading Egyptian Hieroglyphics, as well as Easter Island statues, and many things of biblical significance. It’s also completely free to the public!

My daughter Hope in front of one of the winged bulls of Assyria at the British Museum

There are so many things of biblical significance in the British Museum that there are entire books dedicated to the subject, such as:

The British Museum: Depiction of the Capture of Lachish from Sennacharib’s Palace in Nineveh

In 2 Kings 18, the Bible tells the story of how Sennacharib, King of Assyria attacked Hezekiah, King of Judah, and that at this time, Sennacharib captured the city of Lachish (2 Kings 18:13) and made it his base of operations in Judah (2 Kings 18:14).

Sennacharib, 2 Kings 19 tells us, tried to intimidate Hezekiah into submission and sent him a threatening letter. The Prophet Isaiah encouraged Hezekiah to defy Sennacharib, and he prophesied Sennacharib’s fall.

In the British Museum, you can see sculptures and base reliefs from Sennacharib’s palace in Nineveh (the capital of Assyria, the same place where Jonah went and against which Nahum prophesied), which depict the Assyrian capture of Lachish.

Interestingly, another item which is held in the British Museum is the annals of Sennacharib, which describe his conquest of much of Judah. These annals mention how he made Jerusalem pay tribute to him (recorded in 2 Kings 18), but while they chronicle the many cities he succeeded in conquering, Jerusalem is left out of the list – which is exactly what the Bible says in 2 Kings 18-19.

The importance of these artifacts, in other words, is that the corroborate the fact that the Bible is historically accurate.

Here are the sermons I preached on 2 Kings 18 & 19 in our “Desiring the Kingdom” series:

The Louvre: The Moabite Stone

In a previous post I showed some of the famous paintings in the Louvre Museum in Paris which wrongly depict Bible stories: Bible Stories Gone Wrong in the Louvre

But the Louvre is more than just an art museum, it is also an archaeology museum, including items of incredible significance, such as Hammurabi’s Code and Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus.

There are also items in the Louvre of biblical relevance, such as the “Moab Stone,” which bears one of the oldest written references to the Kingdom of Israel. It mentions specifically a victory which Moab had in a battle against the Israel, whom it refers to as the House of Omri.

This parallels a story found in 2 Kings 3.

Omri was the sixth king of Israel, and the most famous king to come from the House of Omri was Ahab, who famously tried to convert Israel into a pagan nation, with Baal worship as its official religion. Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, in which God sent fire from heaven upon a sacrifice as a sign that He alone is God.

Another important element of the Moabite Stone is that it refers to Yahweh as the God of Israel.

These and other items in these museums help us to see that the Bible is trustworthy and accurate, and as archaeologists make more discoveries, those discovers validate, rather than contradict, the historicity of the Biblical accounts.

Bible Stories Gone Wrong in the Louvre

After our recent trip to London for my masters graduation, we took the train to Paris, and during our time in Paris we spent a day at the Louvre museum, which (along with the British Museum in London) is full of items of biblical relevance.

However, in the extensive Italian painters section, I came across several famous paintings which depict biblical scenes, albeit incorrectly.

The Wedding at Cana

This famous painting by Paolo Veronese is one of the highlights of the Louvre, and is held in the same room as the Mona Lisa. It depicts the famous scene from John 2 in which Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding in the town of Cana.

The only problem with this painting is that it is set not in a small Jewish village in Galilee, but in a large Greco-Roman city reminiscent of Athens. Cana was a small town, a village even, right north of the border between Samaria and the region of Galilee.

I like this painting though, especially how there’s a ton of interesting stuff going on in it, and Jesus is just chillin’ in the midst of it.

The Pilgrims at Emmaus

This is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels, and a key passage in understanding Christ-Centered hermeneutics, as Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures, showing them how all of the things written in the Books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets (i.e. the entire Old Testament) was about him (see Luke 24:13-49)

However, you might notice the beautiful Alps in the background of this painting – which would make sense if Jesus had been in northern Italy rather than in Jerusalem. Apparently, although Titian was a great painter, he had never been to Israel, because then he would have known that there are no snow-capped mountains visible from the Judean desert near Jerusalem.

This is of course not to mention the anachronism of the servant’s clothes, which were not in style until at least 1000 years after the events recorded in Luke 24.

Saint Stephen Preaching in Jerusalem

This painting by the Italian master Carpaccio, is one of my favorites, because it shows that it’s possible to be good at painting, but bad at history.

It depicts the story found in Acts 7, in which Stephen, a deacon in the early church, preached to a crowd in Jerusalem right before they stoned him to death for his faith in Jesus, making him the first martyr of the Christian faith.

However, you might notice that Carpaccio’s depiction of Jerusalem has it filled with minarets: towers attached to mosques from which the Muslim call to prayer is heralded. Furthermore, notice the many people in turbans, the traditional dress of Muslim men in the Middle East.

At the time of Carpaccio, Jerusalem was indeed full of mosques and muslims. However, Islam wasn’t invented until over 600 years after the events which took place in Acts 7! In the 1st Century A.D. there were no muslims and no mosques in Jerusalem!

Sometimes people criticize Christian pop music and movies as being subpar, but these paintings show us that it is possible to make great art that is quite inaccurate from a biblical perspective.

9/11 – 20 Years

Today marks 20 years since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Those of us who are old enough to remember it can all remember where we were when it happened, but those who are younger have all felt its effects. 

Personally, I remember that it was a Tuesday and I was working for Christy Sports in Golden, Colorado in the snowboard shop, and we had the day off to attend a seminar hosted at the Burton Snowboards Colorado headquarters in Denver, so I was parked behind the shop waiting for a colleague to meet me so we could drive down together. He was over an hour late. This was before most people had cell phones, so I just had to stand and wait for him. When he arrived, he told me what had happened. I remember the confusion of that day; at first, people assumed it was an accident, until it became clear it was an attack. 

We went to Denver and instead of a seminar, we ended up watching the TV reports at the Burton headquarters. Downtown Denver was absolutely empty, as no one knew if there were going to be more attacks. 

I went home, and my dad was there; he worked at the Denver Mint, and since that was a federal building, it was considered a high risk for attack.

At this point in September, I had just returned home from my first trip to Hungary, after which I felt called to move to Hungary, and was making plans to go there in January. I did end up moving to Hungary in January, and one of the ministries I worked in was a refugee camp.

The camp was in an abandoned Soviet military base which had been reopened in 2006 by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) to house refugees from the Bosnian war, and had then been kept open to house refugees from Kosovo. Around the time I came, there were still many refugees from former Yugoslavia, but quickly the camp filled with over 2000 Afghan refugees.  

While working in this camp, I got to know my now wife, Rosemary, and together we saw many people from Afghanistan, Iran, Kosovo, and other muslim-majority countries become Christians. As these people came to Europe to escape the conflicts back home, many of them had the opportunity to read the New Testament and hear the gospel, and meet Christians, and attend a church for the first time in their lives – and God used His Word to change their hearts and their lives.

My heartfelt condolences go out to the grieving families whose lives were changed when over 2,997 people lost their lives on September 11. I pray that the Lord would be their comfort and that they would find in Jesus the hope of the resurrection and life everlasting.

May we also honor and thank the first responders and emergency workers who served that day and in the weeks following. May we pray for our medical workers today as well as they serve the hurting and sick in the midst of this current crisis.

Let us also be in prayer for those who served in the military over the past 20 years, and for the families of those who lost family members in service. And let us pray as well for the Afghan people and the Afghan Christians who are now suffering under Taliban rule today.

Will Suicide Send You to Hell?

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

This text has been used, particularly by the Roman Catholic Church to say that if a person commits suicide, they go directly to Hell – no passing Go, no collecting $200.

“Mortal Sins” and “Venial Sins”

Using these verses as justification, the Roman Catholic Church labels suicide a “mortal sin,” for which no atonement can be made, as opposed to “venial sins” which a person may be cleansed of through paying for them via suffering in purgatory.

First of all, the entire idea of mortal and venial sins goes contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, which states that there is only one unforgivable sin, which is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (click here for an explanation of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit). Furthermore, it is only Jesus who atones for our sins, we cannot atone for any of our sins, and to claim that we can “pay” for our own sins through our sufferings is to negate and minimize the work of Jesus on the cross, and say that Jesus suffered and died in vain.

The key passage used by the Roman Catholic Church to justify this belief in mortal vs. venial sins is 1 John 5:16-17. I have written about those verses and what they mean here: What is the “Sin Unto Death,” and Why Should We Not Pray for It?

“You” and “Y’all”

In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul uses the plural form of “you” – in other words, he is saying: “All y’all (together) are the temple of God.”

What’s important to remember about this passage, is that Paul the Apostle is writing to the Corinthian church about their church. Some in the church were harming and tearing apart the church with their divisive attitudes and actions, and Paul is giving them a stern warning that if anyone destroys the temple of God (the Church which He loves), God will take that personally and not let is slide.

Later in 1 Corinthians, in chapter 6, Paul once again speaks of the Temple of God in relation to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but there he does so in regard to the individual believer. This passage in 1 Corinthians 3, however, is not written to or about the individual believer, but to the church about the church. So the point of the passage is not about suicide at all, but it is a warning to those who would harm and tear apart the church with their words and actions.

When Christians Were Killing Themselves

Until the Edict of Milan, AKA the Edict of Tolleration was issued in 313 AD, Christianity’s status in the Roman Empire was that of religio illicita, an “illicit” or illegal religion (as opposed to Judaism, which held the status of religio licita)During this time, Christians throughout the Roman Empire experienced waves of persecution, usually dependent on the attitudes of local authorities, although there were times when persecution was the official policy of the entire empire – such as during the reigns of Nero and Diocletian. Christians also faced persecution outside the Roman Empire.

During this period, many Christians were martyred, and martyrs were highly regarded and respected as those who had been willing to pay the ultimate price for their faith. In fact, martyrdom was so highly regarded, that people began to seek it out and desire it, as a way of expressing their devotion to Jesus. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, wrote about his desire to die as a martyr.

But some people took it even further. Jerome writes about a young woman named Belsilla who flagellated herself so much that she died from her self-imposed injuries. Another woman, Agathonike, upon witnessing the execution of a bishop by burning, also threw herself onto the fire, declaring “this is the meal that has been prepared for me.” She died in the flames, even though she had not been arrested nor charged. There are other accounts of Christians volunteering to be martyred even though they were not even being sought by the authorities. [1]

The Donatists, who considered themselves particularly hard core and dedicated (and looked down on those they considered less-committed, even to the point of questioning their salvation), greatly desired to show their devotion by being martyred. Some Donatists even went to the point of simply killing themselves to show how spiritual they were, i.e. how much they were not attached to this life and how much they desired to depart this world and be with Christ.

The Response of the Church

Seeking martyrdom and committing suicide became such a big issue with the Donatists in particular that it threatened the credibility, and even the existence of the church in their area of North Africa.

Judaism had always considered suicide to be sinful, whereas in pagan Roman culture it was considered an acceptable way to exit this life, and was practiced mostly by the wealthy, in part because slaves were not allowed to commit suicide since their lives did not belong to them, but rather to their masters.

It was Augustine of Hippo, a native of North Africa himself, who took up the challenge of addressing this issue and clarifying Christian thinking on this subject. In his book ‘The City of God’, Augustine considered what the Bible has to say about suicide and weighed various arguments for and against suicide. His conclusion was that suicide is always wrong as it is a violation of the sixth commandment (“Thou shall not murder”), and is never justified even in extreme circumstances. This became the official position of the church. [2]

And yet…

Just because 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 isn’t talking about suicide, it must be noted that suicide is clearly a sin and is never the answer.

Help is available for those who are struggling. You can contact me directly here, or call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline if you need someone to talk to immediately: 1-800-273-8255.

Video

In this week’s Sermon Extra, Mike and I discussed this topic, as it came up in our current series: 1 Corinthians: Grace & Truth at White Fields Church.

The Offense of the Cross: Cicero, the Early Christians, and Us

Boulder County & the Flatirons

The symbol of the cross is universally recognized today as the symbol of Christianity; for many in the Western world it is familiar and welcome. However, in the ancient world, in the first century AD, when this symbol was first used by early Christians, it was downright scandalous.

Paul the Apostle refers to the message of the cross as foolishness to the Greeks, a stumbling block to the Jews, and an offense to all. (1 Corinthians 1:22-23, Galatians 5:11)

The reason is because, for people in the ancient world, the cross was a terrible instrument of torture and execution. 

The thing that made crucifixion so terrible is that it didn’t kill you right away; it was designed to make a person suffer as much as possible, for as long as possible. And for this reason, crucifixion was reserved for only the very worst kinds of criminals.

Because of how terrible crucifixion was, the Romans did not allow their own citizens to be killed by crucifixion, no matter how dastardly their crimes; only slaves and those without rights were allowed to be crucified, since it was exceedingly inhumane. 

Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher said that crucifixion was so horrible, that the word “cross” should never be mentioned in polite society.

Let the very word ‘cross,’ be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens, but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears.

Cicero, 106-43BC, Pro Rabirio Postump 16

For the Jewish people in particular — to be crucified on a cross was considered a fate worse than death, because according to the Jewish Scriptures, anyone who was killed by being hanged upon a tree was considered “accursed”. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

And so, just imagine if you told someone back then that you were a follower of Jesus — a man who had been crucified… That person would have thought: “Whoa… Even if he was innocent, that’s probably something you should keep to yourself! That’s not something you want to go around advertising, because: that’s humiliating!”

But: here’s what’s interesting: for the early Christians, the fact that Jesus had been killed upon a cross was not something they tried to hide. Instead, the symbol of the cross became the main symbol they used to identify themselves – which is surprising, because the cross was generally consider to be the ultimate symbol of humiliation and defeat.

Furthermore, the message that the early Christians embraced and wanted to share with the world was what they called, “the message of the cross,” and “the good news of Christ, and him crucified.”

Paul the Apostle knew that the message of the cross was difficult for many people to accept. For the Jews, the idea of a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block. For Greeks, the idea that you could be saved through the death of an executed Jew seemed ridiculous. The idea that God would come to Earth and allow himself to be beaten, mocked, rejected and crucified, seemed completely unreasonable. They couldn’t wrap their heads around it. The Greek gods made humans serve them; they didn’t serve people – and they would never sacrifice themselves to save guilty people. 

Just as the message of the cross ran contrary to popular thinking back then, the message of the cross also runs contrary to popular thinking today.

The message of the Cross requires you to admit that you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that you are powerless to save yourself. This is why Paul talks about “the offense of the cross” (Galatians 5:11)

The message of the cross offends our sensibilities and our pride by telling us that we are sinners who need a Savior, and that we cannot save ourselves. In order to receive this salvation, you have to humble yourself before God.

Another part of the offense of the Cross is that the message of the gospel is exceedingly simple. Many people in Corinth seemed to believe that in order to “find God,” you had to be really smart, or exceedingly “good.” And yet, God chose to bring salvation to the world in a way that was so simple that even  even a child could understand it, and in a way that it was available to people who had lived immoral lives. 

Another part of the “offense of the cross” is that God says that His reason for saving you was not because you are better than other people. Salvation is simply an act of God’s grace: completely undeserved and totally unearned. You can’t take credit for it. The message of the cross leaves no room for pride or arrogance.

And when you really embrace the message of the cross, on the one hand it forces you to be incredibly humble, but on the other hand it fills you with an incredible sense of confidence – because the message of the Cross is that God loves you, and He has acted to redeem you, and if you have put your faith in what Jesus did for you, then God has sealed you and made you His own: He has adopted you as His Child, and placed His Spirit inside of you — and therefore you can be incredibly confident, knowing that you have nothing to fear in life or in death because God has promised that He will cause all things to work together for your ultimate good and for His ultimate glory.

For more on the message of the cross, see this sermon titled, “The Message of the Cross & the Power of God”

The Formation of the New Testament Canon: Part 2 – Recognition, Disputes & the Gospel of Thomas

In Part 2 of this two-part series, Mike and I discuss the process through which the New Testament was recognized as Holy Scripture.

At what point were the books of the New Testament recognized as Scripture? Who was involved in that process, or who made that determination? What about the disputed books, and why was the Gospel of Thomas kept out of the Bible?

We answer these questions and more in this episode. (Click here to listen to Part 1.)

Click this link to listen this week’s episode, or listen in the embedded player below: The Formation of the New Testament Canon: Part 2 – Recognition, Disputes & the Gospel of Thomas

The Formation of the New Testament Canon: Part 2 – Recognition, Disputes & the Gospel of Thomas Theology for the People

In Part 2 of this two-part series, Nick and Mike discuss the process through which the New Testament was recognized as Holy Scripture. At what point were the books of the New Testament recognized as Scripture? Who was involved in that process, or who made that determination? What about the disputed books, and why was the Gospel of Thomas kept out of the Bible? We answer these questions and more in this episode. Make sure to check out the Theology for the People blog as well.