Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

concrete dome buildings during golden hour

Recently SBC pastor J.D. Greear received some criticism over claims that he said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. 

In all fairness, that’s not exactly what J.D. said. In his book Breaking the Islam Code: Understanding the Soul Questions of Every MuslimJ.D. stated that while the Christian and Muslim conceptions of God are irreconcilably different, there are some shared assumptions about God which can be used in apologetic conversations with Muslims, e.g. monotheism, affirmation of the Old and New Testaments, recognition of Jesus as a prophet, etc.

You can hear, watch and read J.D. Greear speak on this subject in his own words here.

Allah and God

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Israel, and during my time there I met several Israeli Christians, including some Arab-Israeli Christians. Arab-Israeli Christians refer to God by the Arabic word for God: Allah. Just as the English word God is of Germanic origin, and is not itself particularly tied to the God of the Bible, but is a “generic” name for deity, Allah is a similar word in Arabic. As monotheists, who believe there is only one God, we use this word to speak of the one supreme God rather than using a personal name for God to differentiate Him from other deities, since we do not believe any other so-called god is a rival to Him. There is precedent for this in the Bible, in which the ancient Hebrew word, with its Mesopotamian origins is used: אל (“El”), and in the New Testament, the Greek word Θεός (“Theos”).

Islam is different than Christianity in their belief that the Quran cannot be translated to any other language other than Arabic. Muslims are required to pray in Arabic, meaning that non-Arabic speakers are not allowed to pray to God in their mother tongue, but must memorize and recite Arabic prayers. Furthermore, when they read the Quran, they must read it in Arabic. There are “interpretations” of the Quran into other languages, but they are not considered scripture; only the Arabic-language Quran is considered valid and legitimate. It is for this reason, that muslims all over the world refer to their deity as Allah and not God in English, Gott in German, Бог in Russian, and so on.

So, the real issue is not: “What is the difference between Allah and God?”, but rather: “What is the difference between the God of Islam and the God of the Bible?” Even though they are both monotheistic supreme deities, they have different attributes, and therefore, even though they are both called “God”, they are not the same.

Why Islam is Like Mormonism

As the above tweet mentions, when Islam first came on the scene in the 7th Century, Christians did not consider it a different religion per se, they originally considered it a Christological heresy, and they considered Muhammed to be a false prophet.

In the Near East at that time, the majority of the population, particularly in urban areas, was Christian. In the Arabian peninsula, where Muhammed was located, polytheism was still practiced by the majority of the population, many of whom were nomadic. Muhammed led the Arabic people into monotheism, but a new and unique form of monotheism, which built on, but changed, the teachings of Judaism and Christianity.

The reason Islam was considered a Christological heresy was because Islam affirms both the Old Testament and the New Testament, considering them both holy scriptures, upon which Islam seeks to build. However, they claim that both the Old Testament and the New Testament have been severely altered and redacted, and therefore are not trustworthy. They argue that as a result, the Quran, which they claim is a new and trustworthy revelation given to Muhammed, the last and greatest in the long line of prophets, is the only trustworthy revelation available to us, and the Quran “sets the record straight” regarding things which have been altered and redacted in the Old and New Testaments.

For more information on why we can be sure that the Bible has not been altered (neither the Old nor the New Testament), check out this article in which I discuss historicity, attestation, and canonization.

Some of the things Islam claims were changed in the Bible: God’s choosing of Isaac instead of Ishmael (they claim Ishmael was the chosen son, since they trace their ancestry through him – and they claim the Jews changed the Bible to say that God chose Isaac). They also claim that what the New Testament says about Jesus was radically changed by Christians in order to claim that Jesus was God, when in fact (as they say), he was only a prophet. They do however, acknowledge that Jesus was sinless, unlike Muhammed.

Thus, Muslims deny Jesus’ deity, and along with that comes a denial of his identity as Savior. As a result, they teach salvation by works, whereas Christianity teaches salvation by grace, through faith, through the atoning work of Jesus on our behalf. The Christian gospel is that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, which is the basis for our standing before Him, as opposed to Islam, which claims that you must earn your way before God by trying hard enough to keep the 5 Pillars of Islam, so that hopefully your good works with outweigh your bad works, and then God will allow you into Heaven. These are two radically different soteriologies (doctrines of salvation, i.e. how one is saved).

In a way, Islam is quite similar to Mormonism. Consider the similarities:

  • Both claim to build upon the Old and New Testaments, but claim that both have been corrupted and are therefore not trustworthy in the present form in which we have them.
  • Both claim a “new revelation”: the Quran and the Book of Mormon
  • Both claim a new prophet: Muhammed and Joseph Smith
  • Both change the identity and story of Jesus
  • Both teach a works-based soteriology (doctrine of salvation)

Are there bridges of shared assumptions between Christians and Muslims which can be used for apologetic and/or evangelistic purposes?

I believe there are. My wife and I, before we were married, used to serve together in a refugee camp in Hungary which was populated mostly by Muslims from Asia. We provided humanitarian aid to them, and as we built relationships with them, we got the opportunity to share our faith with them as well. We found that they had an affinity for the New Testament and an openness and interest in reading it, so we provided them with copies of the New Testament in their own languages. Many of them, though they had been taught that the New Testament was one of their holy books, had never had the opportunity to read it, assumedly because of the teaching in Islam that the New Testament has been changed and is not trustworthy. However, as these people read the New Testament, many of them were captivated by Jesus, and decided to become Christians. The inbuilt affinity for the Old and New Testaments, for Jesus, and their monotheistic belief, are great starting points for sharing the gospel.

An example of this in the Bible can be seen in how the Apostle John, in the Gospel of John, begins in chapter 1 by identifying Jesus as the divine Λογος (Logos = “the Word”). The concept of the divine Logos was a Greek philosophical concept, which basically meant: “the grand idea” or “the grand force” of the universe. John identified the Logos (translated: the Word) as Jesus. By doing so, John was tapping into an existing belief for apologetic and evangelistic purposes, like Paul did in Acts 17 in Athens, where he appealed to the Athenians on the basis of their altar to “the unknown god.”

Like Paul and like John, may we be uncompromising in our biblical beliefs, and yet wise to use opportunities to share the gospel with people in ways they can grab ahold of, that they might find love, joy, hope, freedom, and salvation in Jesus.

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Reader Questions: People Claiming to Be Christ at the End of the Age

accuracy analogue clock countdown

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received this question:

“Dear Pastor Nick, I am an avid listener to Hope FM in Baltimore, MD, and love when you host the call in show. I have a question: How will we not be fooled by others that pretend they are the Christ in these days ahead. Maybe even trying to deceive us with signs or wonders. Thank you so much.”

The Text: The Olivet Discourse

The text you are referring to comes from what is called the “Olivet Discourse,” a teaching Jesus gave to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, a hill east of Jerusalem, during his “passion week,” the week Jesus spent in Jerusalem leading up to his crucifixion.

In Matthew 24, Mark 13, & Luke 21, Jesus warns his disciples that a time is coming when many will come claiming to be the Christ, but not to be deceived by them.

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. (Matthew 24:3-6)

The disciples ask two questions: (1) when will these things be, and (2) what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?

Jesus’ answer to these questions intertwines prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and his second coming. The nearer event (the destruction of Jerusalem) serves as a symbol and foreshadowing of the more distant event (the second coming).

Jesus warned his disciples from the outset that many people would be deceived as they awaited his return. There have been many times in history in which this has happened, in three main forms:

1. People claiming to be the Messiah

Tragically, those who rejected Jesus when He came to them as Messiah ended up falling after false messiahs who led them into nothing but death and destruction. For example, 100 years after Jesus, a man named Bar Kokhba was considered by many Jews to be the messiah. He led a revolution against the Romans and enjoyed early success, but was soon crushed.

2. People claiming that Jesus has returned, or that they are him

In the First Century, the Christians of Thessalonica had heard a rumor that Jesus had returned, and that they had missed it! Paul the Apostle wrote his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, in part, to dispel this rumor, and assure them that Jesus had not yet returned, and that when he did, they would surely know it.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed that Jesus returned in 1914, invisibly, and began his reign over the Earth from within the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (official name of the Jehovah’s Witness organization). The problem with this, of course, is that the Bible says that when Jesus returns, it will be visible, and will usher in a time of peace, which clearly the world has yet to see.

There is currently a man in Russia who claims to be Jesus returned: Siberian ‘Jesus’ Vissarion, Former Traffic Cop, Leads Patriarchal Russian Cult That Believes In Aliens

3. People wrongly predicting the date of Jesus’ return

William Miller produced publications which convinced hundreds of thousands in the United States that Jesus would return in 1846. When Jesus did not return, there was great disappointment, with some falling away, and some cultic groups spawned from the prophetic fervor.

Here is a fascinating list of false predictions of the return of Jesus: Predictions and claims for the Second Coming of Christ. You’ll notice that one of them just passed: June 8, 2019!

Trying to predict the date of Jesus’ return is a fool’s errand, since Jesus not only told us not to worry about it (Acts 1:7), and that no one knows the date or the hour, and that  it would happen at a time when we do not expect it. In other words, there is no secret code that anyone is going to crack and figure it out.

How will you recognize Jesus’ return?

When Jesus comes, it won’t be a secret coming. Everyone will know.

The Apostle John tells us in Revelation 1:7: Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him

John did not need a special vision to know that every eye will see Him. John heard Jesus this himself: So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:26-27)

So, how can you be sure not to be deceived? Ignore alleged predictions or claims of Jesus’ return. Jesus’ second coming will not happen without you knowing it.

Sources:

Why is Satan Going to Be Released at the End of the Thousand Years?

agriculture air clouds countryside

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received this question:

The end sounds so perfect and beautiful but we still have not seen the last of satan because it says he will be released for a short time. Why? Does he finally repent and come back to God or does he get out and give God the finger and go back to hell?

The Text: Revelation 20

The section of Scripture you are referring to is Revelation 20, which describes, in apocalyptic language, a few things that will happen leading up to the final judgment:

1. Satan will be bound for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-3)

It’s worth noting that it doesn’t say that Satan will be in Hell, only that he will be bound. Currently, we know that Satan’s abode isn’t in Hell, but that he “roams the Earth” (see Job 1:7). As to how or where Satan will be bound, we don’t know the details.

2. Christians, but not non-Christians, are raised from the dead to reign with Christ for this thousand year period. (Revelation 20:4-6)

In 2 Timothy 2:12, Paul encourages the believers that “if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

3. When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations and lead a war against the saints in Jerusalem. (Revelation 20:7-9)

4. Satan will be defeated by God and thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:10)

For more on the difference between Hell (Hades) and the Lake of Fire (AKA “the second death”), check out: Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?

So, to answer one of your questions directly: “Does he finally repent and come back to God or does he get out and give God the finger and go back to hell?” The answer is: No, Satan does not finally repent. He is released from being bound, and then judged by God and cast into the Lake of Fire (so, not exactly back to Hell, since Hades and the Lake of Fire are not the same thing, and the Lake of Fire is the final judgment).

Three Views on the Millennium

There are three main views on the thousand year period of time described in Revelation 20. Here’s a summary of each:

Premillenialism

Believe Christ will return “pre” (before) the millennium (Latin for 1000 years). Premillenialists understands the millennium to be a future time of great peace and justice, a literal 1000-year period which will begin when Christ returns to reign on earth as a physically present King.

Postmillenialism

Believe that Christ will return “post” (after) the millennial period. Postmillenialists think that before Christ returns to earth, the gospel will spread and triumph so powerfully that societies will be transformed and peace and justice will reign on earth for a thousand years (or for a long period of time), after which Christ will return for the final judgment.

Amillenialism

Those who hold an “a” (non-literal) millennial view believe the thousand years described in Revelation 20 is the present church age, and that there will be no future “millennium” before Christ returns for the final judgment.

Related to this is the question of whether the thousand years are to be interpreted literally (most premillennialists hold this view) or symbolically (most postmillennialists and amillennialists, and some premillennialists hold this view).

The nature of the binding of Satan is important to the three millennial views. Premillennialists read this as predicting a complete removal or restriction of Satan from the earth during this golden age of social righteousness, international peace, and physical well-being, with Christ reigning on earth. They argue that the phrases “shut it” and “sealed it over him” picture a removal of Satan from the earth too complete to represent the current age.

Postmillennialists also think this will be a future golden age, but that Christ will not return until the end of that time. Amillennialists believe that the Jesus’ first coming has already bound Satan and brought God’s light to the nations, therefore they argue that this binding of Satan for “a thousand years” refers to the gospel’s spread among all nations during the present age, and to the present restraint of the church’s persecutors until an outbreak of rebellion before Christ’s return.

I would agree with the pre- (and post) millennialists, that it is quite a stretch to say that Satan is currently bound; watching the news for 5 minutes will show you that evil is very present in our current day, and the New Testament speaks about Satan being active, for example: 1 Peter 5:8 says “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him.” If Satan is bound, then why does it say that he prowls around, and he must be resisted?

Each of these views falls within the realm of Christian orthodoxy and are based on different ways of interpreting this text along with other texts in the Bible.

[Source: Adapted from ESV Study Bible]

Why is Satan released at the end of the thousand years?

It seems that the purpose of Satan’s release is one last temptation, to address the question of whether people have been following God because they were not tempted, or because they truly loved God.

The End is Beautiful

You mentioned that the end seems so perfect and beautiful, but we haven’t seen the end of Satan. I guess that depends on what you mean by “the end.” I would say that Revelation 20 doesn’t describe the end, but only the beginning of the end. It is in Revelation 21 that we see the true end, about which we are told:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

This is the hope that we hold onto and look forward to, and we rejoice in the fact that the day is coming very soon (James 4:14 says that this life is but a mist which appears for a moment and then is gone) when Satan will be defeated and all evil and suffering will be no more, forever.

That is the glorious hope that we hold onto, which puts everything in perspective!

The Gospel Comes With a House Key: Hospitality & the Gospel

person handing keys

Home as a Hospital & Incubator

As a member of the lesbian community in Syracuse, New York, Rosaria Butterfield learned what it meant to use her home as a hospital and an incubator, which reflected her values to others. Members of the lesbian community in Syracuse made sure that everyone in their community had keys to each others houses; they looked out for one another and cared for each other. They viewed their homes as oases in a harsh world, and yet they sought to win over their neighbors by being the best neighbors on the block.

These lessons—learned far outside the walls of the church—are instructive for Christians, she says.

It was through the hospitality of a Christian couple in her neighborhood, that Rosaria changed her mind about Christianity. At the time, she was a celebrated professor at Syracuse University. Raised in an atheist home, Rosaria had always assumed Christians to be hateful, judgmental people, who considered people like her enemies. In fact, her interest in spending time with Christians came as a result of her intent to write a book about how Christianity fuels toxic masculinity. As a result, she sought out a Christian couple in her neighborhood, but her interactions with them surprised her and challenged her preconceived notions about Christians, so much so that she began to consider what they had to say about Jesus and the Bible. Ultimately, she embraced the gospel and forsook her lesbian lifestyle. She is now married to a pastor and they have adopted several children. They seek to use their home as a hospital and an incubator for the goal of making disciples of Jesus.

Ground Zero of the Christian Life

In her book, The Gospel Comes with a House KeyRosaria Butterfield describes what she calls “radically ordinary hospitality”, which she argues is “ground zero of the Christian life.”

Rosaria makes a convincing argument for this, pointing to passages like Matthew 25:35–36, in which Jesus talks about hospitality as the litmus test for real faith on judgment day. She also points out Mark 10:28–31, in which Jesus talks about how those who receive the gospel may very well lose a lot in the process of conversion, in order to gain the promises of God’s Kingdom, but that along with eternal life they can also expect to receive a new community. Inclusion in this new community, characterized by radical ordinary hospitality, is what Rosaria equates with receiving a “house key” when one receives the gospel.

Because Christian conversion always comes in exchange for the life you once loved, not in addition to it, people have much to lose in coming to Christ—and some people have more to lose than others.

A Resource for Evangelism

Hospitality, Rosaria explains, is an often under-utilized resource for evangelism as well. Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality, she says, see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom.

The purpose of radically ordinary hospitality is to take the hand of a stranger and put it in the hand of the Savior, to bridge hostile worlds, and to add to the family of God.

She goes on to tell stories of how she and her husband intentionally live below their means, so they will be available and able to use their means to help others on a whim, as needs arise.

God promises to put the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6), and he intends to use your house as living proof.

A Sign to the World

Rosaria describes “radically ordinary hospitality” as: “using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed.”

Radically ordinary hospitality shows this skeptical, post-Christian world what authentic Christianity looks like.

Love and/or Approval?

She points out how important it is to reflect Jesus in our relationships. Jesus wasn’t embarrassed to relate to people who were different than him. He understood the difference between love and approval.

She mentions that Christians often ask her, “How can I love my neighbor without misleading them into thinking I approve of what they do?” She advises that we first remember that no one approves of everything that others do. Parents, for example, love their children even at times when they hate the things their children are doing.

Rosaria responds to a question people sometimes ask: “If my neighbors who identify as _________ are in sin, then why are they the nicest people on the block?” To this she responds: “If our Christian worldview cannot account for that, it can survive only in the echo chamber of imaginary theology.” To answer this question, we must understand a few very basic theological principles: 1) all people are recipients of “common grace” to varying degrees, and 2) our problem as human beings is not a lack of “niceness” but a debt of sin before a just and holy God. To put it in simple terms: “Nice people” need Jesus just as much as “not nice people”, because only through Jesus can anyone be redeemed.

Conclusion

Rosaria encourages Christians to be courageously loving rather than fearfully cautious. I was challenged, encouraged, and inspired by The Gospel Comes with a House Key, and I recommend you check it out.

Compelling Stories & the True Myth

opened bible on wooden surfaca

Have you ever noticed that many of the stories that you love, all have the same core elements?

This is a reality which played a major role in CS Lewis’ conversion from atheism to Christianity, as he discussed it with his friend JRR Tolkien. I told that story in this post, called Addison’s Walk.

Lewis later articulated this concept in Mere Christianity, in which he described how the gospel story of Jesus Christ is the “true myth,” and the fundamental myth, which is written on the human heart, and to which all other myths point.

Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth

It isn’t only Christians who have observed this phenomenon. Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature who researched comparative mythology, wrote a book titled, The Hero with a Thousand Facesin which he showed how there is a common structure in the mythological stories told in all human cultures of an archetypal hero. This structure has come to be known as the “monomyth.”

This podcast episode gives a very engaging description of the monomyth theory and how  Hollywood has now begun to use it as a formula for writing stories that people want to watch: Imaginary Worlds, The Hero’s Journey: Endgame

I first heard about The Hero with a Thousand Faces while recording a podcast episode for the Expositors Collective Podcast at a training weekend in Bradenton, Florida last December. That episode was released this past week, and you can listen to it here: Expositors Collective, Episode 45: Telling a Compelling Story.

The discussion in that episode is based on a talk I gave at that event on the topic of homiletics (the art of preaching), about how to use narrative format in order to craft compelling expository sermons.

Why Do People Like to Read These Kinds of Stories?

Interestingly, when Joseph Campbell was asked why he thought it was stories contain these common elements, which are all present in the biblical narrative, his response was that the reason people write in this way, is because it is what other people like to read. However, in that response he fails to answer the question and get to the root of the issue, which is: Why do people like to read these kinds of stories?

As Christians, we would agree with Tolkien and Lewis, that the reason for this is because we are created by God, and this story is the true story of the world, which we intuitively know because God has placed it in our minds and put it in our hearts.

This same theme was identified by Don Richardson, a missionary to Papua New Guinea who discovered that there are common virtues and mythologies held in all cultures in the world, and that these shared stories create a basis by which the gospel can be shared cross-culturally, even to people who have never been exposed to the gospel before. He documents and explains this in his books Peace Child and Eternity in Their Hearts.

Popular Examples

In our interview, Mike mentions a clip from the Simpsons in which Homer says something profound about the Bible: “Everybody in this book is a sinner… except for THIS GUY!” Here’s the clip:

I recently found out that at the end of the series, J K Rowling revealed that Christianity inspired Harry Potter. In an interview, she stated how she always thought that the influence of the biblical narrative was so obvious that every reader should have noticed it, and that the Bible verses on Harry’s parents’ gravestones “sum up and epitomize the entire story.”

What does all this mean for us?

It means that when you read a story that compels you, when you watch a movie that makes you cry, when you read a news story about heroism that touches your heart, there is a very profound reason for that: that story resonates with and reflects the true story of the world, the gospel story of Jesus Christ – the true story of the ultimate problem, the ultimate peril, the ultimate act of sacrificial love, the ultimate story of good overcoming evil, and the ultimate hero.

If you follow the ladder all the way to the top, it will lead you to Jesus. As you enjoy these stories, don’t fail to recognize that what you truly long for in your heart of hearts is nothing less than Jesus himself and the redemption that is found in him!

Foster Care, Jesus, & Living Out the Gospel

May is National Foster Care Month in the United States, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services.

Our Story

Something you may not know about me and my family is that we foster parented, and ultimately adopted the child we had in foster care. He came to us at age 14 and is now grown, living on his own, and pursuing a career. We’re very proud of him.

A Picture of the Gospel

Foster parenting is something very near to my heart, and I believe it is one of the most profound ways in which we can live out the gospel: choosing to make someone family, placing your love on them and caring for them, not because you have to, but because you choose to. That is what God has done for us in Christ! He took us who were strangers, and in Christ he makes us full-fledged sons and daughters. He adopted us into his family! (Romans 8:15).

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Did you know that Jesus was adopted? Joseph, knowing that Jesus was not his biological son, chose to raise him as his son – to provide for him, teach him, and love him, and be a father to him.

A Profound Need

Foster parenting and adoption are some of the greatest ways in which you can make a real, substantial difference in the life of another person. Does it come with risk? Absolutely! But is it worth it? Most definitely.

Take a look at this infographic from Together We Rise, a non-profit which helps families get into foster care, and foster-to-adopt. It shows the number of children in foster care waiting to be adopted in the United States.

Image result for together we rise children waiting to get adopted
Children in Foster Care Waiting to Get Adopted in the United States

I challenge you to pray about if God might have a role for you to play in this important and life-changing endeavor, of living out the gospel by welcoming a child-in-need into your home.

A Counter-Cultural Approach

Many people think of parenting in terms of what a child will do for them, such as give them a sense of fulfillment, companionship or the promise of posterity and an heir. The gospel causes us to think differently about parenting, however, in light of how God has parented us. Rather than thinking about what parenting can do for me, my focus in parenting becomes what I can do for the child, to give them the love, provision and instruction that they need; pouring out myself for their sake.

Further Reading

Our church is involved in two annual initiatives, one at Christmastime and the other in the summer, when kids are preparing to go back to school. You can read more here about Project Greatest Gift and Project Back to School.

Sri Lanka & the Hope of the Resurrection

Image result for sri lanka jesus statue covered in blood
Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka after the attack on Easter Sunday

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)

Yesterday, as people around the world gathered to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, terrorists attacked three churches in Sri Lanka, killing nearly 300 and injuring over 500. [source]

The irony of the situation is profound: The goal of terrorism is to incite fear by taking lives, but they carried out their attacks on the day when Christians revel in the fact that we can live without fear because of the hope that we have in eternal life.

What Jesus’ resurrection means for Christians, is that not only did Jesus die to forgive our sins, but he rose from the grave to conquer over death forever, so that we can have eternal life.

1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of those who are going to be resurrected to eternal life, and because that is true, death has lost its sting! Death will not have the final word.

As a result of this great truth, we who have this hope of eternal lives are free to live without fear. We are free to be courageous and generous, because we have nothing to lose – and the greatest gain is already ours!

Paul the Apostle put it this way: “If the dead are not raised, then we should just eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32) The idea is that, if this life is all we’ve got, then it would make sense for us to be selfish and short-sighted with the time we’ve got, since this is all we have. However, if Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, and we will too – then “to live is Christ, and to die is gain!” (Philippians 1:21)

If you have the hope of eternal life, then this life isn’t as good as it will ever get for you, rather, this life is as bad as it will ever be for you. If you know that you’ve got a thousand, million, billion years ahead of you, in which you will experience joy, security, adventure and love, then you are truly free to use the little window of time you’ve got here on Earth in the service of others, and in the service of God.

If you have the hope of eternal life, you are free to love sacrificially, and to give without holding back!

In other words: Jesus’ resurrection makes us brave, because it gives us hope.

Jesus’ disciples who saw him after his resurrection were so transformed by it, that they went from being timid and fearful to being bold, to the point where they came out of hiding and publicly proclaimed their faith, unwaveringly – even in the face of violence towards them and their families. As Paul says in Acts 13:31, they became “witnesses to the people”; rather than fearing for their lives, they boldly carried out a mission.

Our hearts break, and our prayers go out for those who are suffering from injuries, as well as for the families who were affected by this horrible act of violence. Our hearts ache as we look around and see the brokenness in the world, manifesting itself in hatred and violence. But as Christians, we must refuse to live in fear.

Instead, we set our hearts and minds all the more on the fact that we are pilgrims in this world, and our purpose here is not comfort or security. The time for comfort and security will come – fully and forever! But our time here on Earth is to be dedicated to courageously doing the will of God and carrying out His mission in the world, to bring to others the love of God and the good news of Jesus: the light of the world, who conquered death, and through whom we can have eternal life.

Joaquin Phoenix is Playing Jesus, but Refused to Reenact One of His Miracles

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Joaquin Phoenix is playing Jesus in the film “Mary Magdalene,” which releases this week on Good Friday, and attempts to look at the story of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene.

Check out: Is Good Friday Actually Good?

The movie takes a few liberties with the story, however. For example, in the case of the healing of the blind man in John 9, the man is replaced by a woman, and Joaquin Phoenix refused to act out how the actual miracle took place: by making mud with saliva and dirt, and rubbing it on the blind man’s eyes.

Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:6-7)

Here’s what Phoenix told CNN about why he wouldn’t reenact this particular miracle:

“I knew about that scene from the Bible, but I guess I had never really considered it. When I got there, I thought, ‘I’m not going to rub dirt in her eyes. Who the f— would do that?’ It doesn’t make any sense. That is a horrible introduction to seeing.”

Instead, Phoenix chose to lick his thumb and rub the woman’s eyes. [source]

However, I think that Joaquin Phoenix, in claiming to know better than Jesus, is actually detracting from a major aspect of what made that miracle significant.

On my recent trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to visit the Pool of Siloam, which is currently being excavated. I even had the chance to teach about this miracle from John 9, right on site to our group.

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Teaching at the Pool of Siloam after having walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel

One of the key features of the parable is that the way Jesus healed this man required the man to respond in faith to what Jesus did and said. Jesus didn’t simply touch this man and he was healed; he did something which would have seemed odd and confusing (applying mud to his eyes) and then told him to do something which also seemed to not make sense: to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam.

The Pool of Siloam was originally used to provide water for the Temple. Water was brought from outside the city, via the Gihon spring, through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, to the pool, where it was collected. In the time of Herod the Great, other pools were created, closer to the Temple, such as the Israel Pool, and those were used in the service of the Temple instead; the Pool of Siloam was then used as a public mikvah, or ritual bath, used for Jewish purification rites.

Here’s why the way Jesus performed this miracle matters:

1. It required the man to respond in faith and obedience

Faith has been defined as “trusting God enough to do what he says.” This man had probably washed his face many times in his life; how would washing mud off his face on this day help him see? It didn’t make sense, and yet that’s kind of the point: it required faith for him to obey rather than cynically refuse to do so, saying “Why would that help?” or “Why would today be any different?”

2. It communicated a theological message

The theological message implicit in Jesus covering this man’s eyes with dirt and telling him to wash in a ritual bath, was that we need to be cleansed.

But beyond that, here is Jesus – God incarnate – the one who created humankind out of the dirt of the Earth, yet we are now broken and fallen as a result of our sins and failures. And so here is the creator, come to us to heal our brokenness, once again putting his hands in the dirt and re-forming that which has become broken.

It’s a powerful picture. What a shame that Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t get it and robs the audience of it.

3. It was public, not private

When this man was healed in this public pool, many people would have seen it, as John 9 tells us they did. This was not a private thing between Jesus and this man; it was done for all to see, to bring glory to God.

Let’s stick with letting Jesus’ words and actions stand on their own!

Here’s the trailer of the Mary Magdalene movie:

Why Should Christians Visit Israel?

I have been in Israel for the past week with a group from White Fields and Calvary Chapel Brighton.

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We spent the beginning of our trip on the coast, visiting Joppa and Caesarea, both important sites in the Book of Acts, and then headed up to the region of Galilee, where Jesus did the majority of his ministry. Then we drove to Jerusalem, following the Jordan River, and passing places such as Gilgal (see Joshua 4) and the site of Jesus’ baptism and the wilderness where he was tempted directly afterwards.

After seeing some important places in Jerusalem, including the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the southern steps of the Temple and the Western Wall, we spent a day at the Dead Sea, visiting the place where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, seeing En Gedi where David hid from Saul in 1 Samuel 24, and going to Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found and where John the Baptist was likely connected.

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Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, looking over the Kidron Valley

We will conclude the trip by visiting the Pool of Bethesda (John 5), following the way of the cross to Golgotha and seeing the garden tomb.

The trip has been incredible. I have particularly enjoyed getting the lay of the land and realizing the distances between places, and what they look like. Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and standing where the church was born on Pentecost have been incredible experiences.

Why Should Christians Visit Israel?

Someone jokingly suggested that the benefit of visiting Jerusalem is that you can get the “before and after effect”: when the New Jerusalem comes (see Revelation 21), you will be able to compare it with the Old Jerusalem and see how much it’s improved! (Personally, I hope they clean up the Muslim Quarter a little bit…)

Interestingly, there is a neighborhood in Jerusalem called “New Jerusalem”. I went there, and it was nice, but not “streets of gold” nice. I’m looking forward to the real thing 🙂

All joking aside, there is one key reason why it is beneficial for Christians to visit Israel: Because, out of all world religions, what makes Christianity unique is that our faith is not based on abstract concepts, but on historical events which either happened or they didn’t.

What you learn from a tour of Israel, is that the New Testament accounts stand up to scrutiny. The New Testament talks about real places and real people and real events which had many witnesses, and which have been verified by archaeologists and historians. As Paul the Apostle said: “These things were not done in a corner!” (Acts 26:26)

In fact, because archaeology is a relatively young science, archaeologists are uncovering new findings all the time, and their findings corroborate rather than contradict New Testament accounts.

A visit to Israel is helpful for Christians, because it builds your faith in the historical events upon which Christian faith is based. This has been my first trip to Israel, but I expect it won’t be my last.

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Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some are over 2000 years old. #eyewitnesses

Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?

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A reader recently sent in this question:

In John 3:13, Jesus says“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven-the Son of Man,”

  • Is this saying that people didn’t go to Heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?
  • Where had everyone who died gone before Jesus died and rose?
  • Did this change after his death and resurrection?
  • What verses can you share with me about this?

Let me answer each of those questions in order:

Is this saying that people didn’t go to Heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?

Yes, I believe so.

Where had everyone who died gone before Jesus died and rose?

The Old Testament talks a lot about “Sheol” which is the dwelling place of the dead. Psalm 139:7-8, for example, says: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

Is this saying that God is present in Hell? No. It’s saying He is present in Sheol. 

It would seem (I’ll give Scriptural justification for this below) that Sheol was divided into two sections: Abraham’s Bosom and Hades.

Abraham’s Bosom was a place of comfort for those who died in faith. Since they had not yet been redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, they could not go to Heaven, so this was a sort of holding place, or waiting room for the souls of the Old Testament believers who died in faith, trusting not in their own works or performance to garner them favor before God, but casting themselves on God’s mercy and grace to save them through the Messiah who was to come.

Hades, on the other hand, was a place of torment for those who died apart from awareness of their shortcomings and apart from faith and trust in God’s mercy and grace. Hades, like Abraham’s Bosom, was/is a holding place or waiting room for the souls of those who have died apart from faith, and though those in Hades suffer torment presently, one day Hades will be emptied into the Lake of Fire, meaning that Hades is not the final destination for those who have died apart from faith.

Did this change after Jesus’ death and resurrection?

It seems that in the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus descended into Sheol and released those from Abraham’s Bosom and led them to Heaven. Those who die now in faith in Jesus go to Heaven, i.e. the presence of God.

Hades, on the other hand, remains in tact, and those who die apart from faith still go there.

What verses can you share with me about this?

Luke 16:19-31: The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31 gives us insight to this through the story of the rich man and Lazarus: Lazarus, a poor man who died in faith, is taken to Abraham’s bosom, whereas the rich man who died apart from faith is taken to Hades. Between the two parts of Sheol, the story tells us, is an uncrossable chasm, and there is no escape.

The rich man desperately wants someone to go and speak to his family members, and plead with them lest they end up in Hades as well, but the man is told that his family members have been given Moses and the Prophets (i.e. the Scriptures), and they should listen to them.

Ephesians 4:8-10: He Led Captives in His Train

In Ephesians 4:8-10 we read this: Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives (in his train), and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

The Apostles Creed, one of the oldest Christian creeds, includes this phrase:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.

Going back to Jesus’ apostles, who spoke with him after his resurrection, there seems to have been an understanding that Jesus descended into Sheol, and did two things:

  1. Released those “captives” from Abraham’s Bosom and led them to the immediate presence of God (Heaven). (Ephesians 4:8)
  2. Preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19-20)

The latter of these was not evangelism, but a pronouncement of judgment upon those spirits in Hades. We know this because of the qualifying text in 1 Peter 3:20.

“Today you will be with me in Paradise”

2 Corinthians 5:8Luke 23:43  & Philippians 1:23 tell us that when a believer dies today, they are taken to the direct presence of God, AKA “paradise”.

Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire

Revelation 20:11-15 describes how, after the judgement of the living and the dead at the end of all things, Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire.

And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  (Revelation 20:13-15)

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Heaven, as it is now experienced, is different than what will be after the final judgment, where Revelation 21 tells us that there will be a new heavens and a new Earth, for the first heaven and the first Earth will have passed away, and will be no more. (Revelation 21:1)

Jesus said in Matthew 24:35 that Heaven and Earth will pass away, but his words never will.

2 Peter 3:7 says, But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 

And 2 Peter 3:10 says, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Thus, after the final judgment, there will be a new heavens and a new Earth, which will be not only the restoration of Eden, but the fulfillment of what Eden would have been had sin not entered in.

In the New Jerusalem, once again, we see humankind together with God, with no sin nor shame, nor any of the destructive effects of sin (i.e. sickness, pain), and that the Tree of Life is there. Whereas Eden was a garden, the New Jerusalem will be a garden city.

Submit Your Questions!

Thanks for these great questions! Keep studying the Word, and feel free to send more questions to me by filling out this form.