Is There a Prophecy that Says that Jesus Would Come from Nazareth?

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Matthew chapter 2 tells one of the most overlooked and skipped-over parts of the Christmas story: the mass killing of innocent infants and toddlers by king Herod “the Great.”

When you read the Christmas story to your children, you might likely leave this part out. Chances are that if you attend a school Christmas pageant, the kids will not act out this part of the story.

And yet, it’s an incredibly important part of the Christmas story, because in effect, it tells us what Christmas is really all about: God came to us in order to rescue us from the tyranny of evil, sin, suffering, and death.

This past Sunday we studied this story to kick off our Advent series, “God With Us.” You can listen to the message here: “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years”

One of the most interesting parts of Matthew chapter 2 is that Matthew points out several prophecies which Jesus fulfilled. However, Matthew 2:23 says that Jesus was raised in Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken by the prophets. However, you can look through the Old Testament all you want, but you won’t find a prophecy which mentions Nazareth as a city directly. What then is this verse referring to?

Mike and I sat down for our weekly Sermon Extra video to discuss this topic, and answer that question. Check it out:

Is Abuse Grounds for Divorce According to the Bible?

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In Matthew 19 we read about a time when some Pharisees came to Jesus to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matthew 19:3)

The Pharisees, as usual, were attempting to trap Jesus with a no-win question, so that no matter what answer he gave, it would cause him to lose some of his followers. In the Law of Moses, Moses had allowed divorce for the reason of “uncleanness.” Human nature being what it is, people took advantage of the fact that the term “uncleanness” was open to interpretation, and they used it as a loophole, which afforded them the opportunity to “technically” keep the letter of the Law, while ignoring the heart of the Law. By the time of Jesus, people were in the practice of saying that basically anything could constitute “uncleanness,” for example: if a man saw a woman who was more beautiful than his wife, he could say that his wife was “unclean” in comparison to the other woman, and use that as grounds for divorce. If a man got angry at his wife, he could accuse her of being “unclean,” because her actions had caused him to sin by being angry.

The Big Two

Jesus combatted this flippant attitude towards marriage and divorce by taking people back to the design for marriage shown in creation, adding that divorce is permissible in cases of adultery.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:15, gave another justification for divorce: abandonment.

Historically, Christians have recognized these two reasons as the two biblical grounds for divorce. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 24, Paragraph 6 states that “nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage.”

What About Abuse?

Certainly God hates abuse. Throughout the Old Testament, God shows himself to be a God who is on the side of the abused and opposes abusers. In the prophetic books, such as Amos, when his own people become abusers, God makes it clear to them that because of what they are doing, He is opposed to them, and He calls them to repent and actively work for the welfare of the weak, the vulnerable, and the oppressed.

However, since abuse is not specifically mentioned in the Bible as a grounds for divorce, some Christians have wondered what the protocol should be for those in abusive marriages.

What’s important to note, is that even amongst those who do not believe that abuse is a biblical justification for divorce, almost no one would ever recommend a spouse to stay in an abusive relationship. According to a LifeWay Reseach survey, 96% of pastors recommend at minimum: separation, protection (such as restraining orders), and church discipline (for the abuser) in cases of abuse.

While it is quite alarming that 4% of the pastors polled said that a spouse should stay in an abusive relationship even when violence is present, it is important to note that even amongst those who do not believe that abuse is biblical grounds for divorce, the majority do advocate for separation. Assumedly, those who advocate for separation but not divorce are hopeful that repentance and restoration are possible and are committed to a high view of the authority of Scripture, believing that the Bible only gives the two justifications for divorce listed above.

Wayne Grudem and “in such cases”

Amongst those who have sought to identify a biblical justification for divorce in cases of abuse, most point to 1 Corinthians 7:15, which speaks about one spouse abandoning the marriage. The argument goes that abuse constitutes a form of abandonment. Many people, even those who hate abuse, find this line of thinking to be contrived and unconvincing.

Recently prominent theologian Wayne Grudem, Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, announced at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) that he had changed his position on divorce in cases of abuse based on his study of 1 Corinthians 7:15.

While he is still not persuaded by the “abuse is a kind of desertion” argument, he believes that another phrase in 1 Corinthians 7:15 presents a compelling argument for divorce in cases of abuse, namely the phrase, “in such cases” (ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις).

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not bound. (1 Corinthians 7:15)

The question is, does this phrase refer to: 1) only cases of desertion by an unbeliever, or 2) cases in which a spouse has done something that has similarly destroyed a marriage?

Interestingly, this Greek phrase does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament or the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), but there are several uses of it in Ancient Greek literature, including 52 from the same time period as the New Testament. There are also several uses of the singular version of the word τοιοῦτος (“in this case”) in the New Testament.

Grudem’s analysis of the uses of these words in the Bible and in other Greek writings from the same time period has led him to the conclusion that “in such cases” refers to the cases in which a spouse has done something which, similar to abandonment, has destroyed a marriage, and that in such cases the latter part of 1 Corinthians 7:15 applies: the abused spouse is no longer bound, i.e. may divorce.

Grudem’s analysis has been met with very little criticism. You can read the outline of the presentation here, which includes a look at the different texts which use this phrase “in such cases” and what it means in those contexts, and why these led Grudem to change his position.

Looking for Loopholes or for the Heart of God

At worst, this could be used in the same way people used the idea of “uncleanness” in Jesus’ day: as carte blanche or a loophole big enough to drive a truck through. The same could be said though of the teachings of grace and forgiveness in the Bible, yet we must not reject nor downplay them just because they might be hijacked or misused – and I believe the same applies here.

1 Peter: A Call to Missional Humility

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We are currently studying through 1 Peter at White Fields. You can listen to the studies here: Pilgrim’s Progress: A Study Through 1&2 Peter

I’ve read the letter many times, but it’s my first time preaching through it. Doing so has caused me to see a few things in the letter which I hadn’t noticed before:

Peter Reflects Paul

Many scholars date this letter to 64 AD, the time when the great persecution of Rome began under Caesar Nero in the wake of the great fire of Rome. It was also during this time that Paul the Apostle was put to death.

One theory is that Peter wrote this letter in the wake of Paul’s death, to speak to the church in Asia Minor (see 1 Peter 1:1), the area where Paul did a great deal of his ministry and church planting, and to whom he wrote several letters (Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians). Peter was writing to warn them and prepare them for the flood of persecution that was radiating out from Rome to the rest of the empire, and to fill the gap to some degree since the Apostle Paul was now dead.

Throughout the letter, Peter can be seen reflecting on many of the same topics and themes which were found in Paul’s letters (especially Ephesians) and sometimes uses very similar language, although clearly Peter’s writing follows a different pattern than Paul’s. Interestingly, in 2 Peter, Peter mentions Paul’s writings, even calling them Scripture.

For related topics, check out: When Was the New Testament Recognized as Holy Scripture? & Did the New Testament Writers Know They Were Writing Scripture?

It seems that Peter was intimately familiar with Paul’s letters, and perhaps those letters influenced him in the writing of his own letter.

A Call to Missional Living

A major theme of 1 Peter is that as Christians we are sojourners and pilgrims, strangers in this world. As Christians, our citizenship is in Heaven, which is also where our ultimate hope lies; not on this Earth.

Considering that this letter was written to people who were suffering greatly, this message is not surprising. Indeed, the promise of the gospel is that one day those who are children of God will be brought home by their Father to be with Him in security and fullness of joy, free from the pain and suffering caused by sin.

However, if we see Peter’s letter as primarily being about the hope of escaping this cruel world and going to Heaven, we’ve missed the main thrust of his letter. The main thrust of the letter is actually about missional living.

The hope of Heaven makes us bold and courageous so that we can live this life on mission with God. Peter wants us to think of ourselves as sojourners on a mission.

There are several ways in which you can be a foreigner in a foreign land:

  1. A Tourist – Puts down no roots. They come to a place to take what they can and enjoy what they can, but they don’t invest deeply in that place or worry much about building relationships with the people there, because they are living out of a suitcase in a rented hotel room, as they await their flight out to go home.
  2. A Prisoner of War – Is in that foreign land against their will, and therefore they bide their time until they can get out.
  3. A Missionary – A missionary is intentional about their time and resources, knowing that they are in that place for a purpose; they are on assignment.

Peter, in this letter, focuses more on living in this world than escaping from this world, and encourages us to take the posture not of a tourist, nor of a prisoner of war, but rather that of a missionary.

Missional Humility

In this letter, Peter has a lot to say about humility. Throughout the gospels, it is apparent that Jesus’ disciples had an issue with being competitive. There are John’s comments about beating Peter in a footrace to Jesus’ grave on Easter Sunday, and the multiple times Jesus caught his disciples debating which of them was the greatest.

Peter himself, as a younger man, had pridefully told Jesus that even if everyone else fell away, he would remain faithful to the end. Jesus then informed Peter that before that very night was over, Peter would deny him three times.

Jesus graciously restored him, but Peter was unquestionably humbled by that experience. Furthermore, some 30 years had passed by this time since Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Peter is older, and his word for younger people is: humble yourself, so that God doesn’t have to do it for you – because God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

For Peter, humility is not only a way of relating to God, it’s also an important aspect of what it means to live missionally. Peter talks about living humbly in this world, and treating unbelievers with respect and gentleness (see 1 Peter 3:15). In order to engage in God’s mission effectively in this world, it’s not just what you say that matters, but how you say it, and how you live.

May we be those who hear the message of Peter:

  • May we love the Word of God, so that it sinks into us, and permeates our thoughts and speech.
  • May the promise of Heaven cause us to engage rather than disengage with the world around us in a missional way,
  • and may we take a posture of humility towards others and before God as we do so.

“Preaching” or “Sharing”?

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Dictionary.com defines the word “preachy” as: “tediously or pretentiously didactic.”

Apparently this is what the word “preaching” evokes in the minds of many people. Perhaps for this reason, some people I have encountered have suggested that churches abandon the word “preaching” in favor of the word “sharing.” Rather than someone “preaching a sermon,” they suggest we ought to have someone “share a message.”

Is this just splitting hairs? Does it even matter?

A Matter of Semantics…

Semantics: the branch of linguistics that deals with the meanings of words and sentences

Words do matter. Words not only convey meaning, but the reason we have synonyms, i.e. multiple words for a given thing, is because each of these words relates to a slightly different way of thinking about or portraying that thing, and different words convey different feelings.

At the same time, words are culturally shaped, and the meaning of a word can change over time – even if it refers to an objective reality which does not change. Western society, with its emphasis on equality, tends to be more inclined to a word like “sharing” as opposed to “preaching.”

A Biblical Matter

However, we must also recognize the fact that the Bible uses the word “preach” over 150 times (in the NKJV), and doesn’t use the word “share” at all in the sense of speaking with other people about God.

I remember talking to someone once who claimed that Jesus only “taught”, he didn’t “preach”. Her point was that Jesus wasn’t “preachy”; the only problem with her argument is the fact that there are dozens of verses which tell us that Jesus preached. In fact, not only does it say that Jesus preached, but Jesus himself said that the very reason He came was to preach, and then he trained and commissioned his disciples to preach.

“I must preach the kingdom of God…because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Jesus in Luke 4:43)

A Practical Matter

To preach means to proclaim. It means to announce and declare something.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that what makes preaching unique, is that the one who preaches “is there to ‘declare’ certain things; they are a person under commission and under authority… an ambassador [who] comes to the congregation as a sent messenger.” [1]

To preach, in the biblical sense, therefore, is not to speak on one’s own authority, or to share one’s own thoughts. Preaching, in the biblical sense, is to convey a message from God to people.

For this reason, I believe we should hold onto this biblical term. However, I believe it is important that our preaching should not be preachyi.e. “tediously or pretentiously didactic.” It should not be condescending, and it should come from a person who understands and conveys that they are the equal of their listeners – and yet, they come to them not with their own ideas and musings, but with a message from God which deserves their utmost attention.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Role and Importance of Preaching

Here are some further quotes from Martyn Lloyd-Jones on preaching, from his classic Preaching and Preachers:

The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.

You cannot read the history of the Church, even in a cursory manner, without seeing that preaching has always occupied a central and a predominating position in the life of the Church.

At this point, Lloyd-Jones clarified that ministry to and care for the poor and marginalized is a ministry and a duty of the church, it must happen simultaneous to, not in place of, the proclamation of the Word of God. He points to Acts 6 to make this point, where the apostles appointed deacons, capable people full of the Holy Spirit, to ministry to the needs of the needy in their community, so that they could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word, deeming it improper for them to neglect those things.

Paul’s last word to Timothy was: ‘Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.’

What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching.

Preaching is logic on fire. It is theology coming through a person who is on fire.

The chief end of preaching is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.

Preaching should make such a difference to those who are listening, that they are never the same again.

The preacher cares about the people they are preaching to; that is why they are preaching. The preacher is anxious about them; anxious to help them, anxious to tell them the truth of God. So they do it with energy, with zeal, and with obvious concern for people.

May God use us to preach, teach, and share His truth with others, so that hearts, minds, and lives will be changed for the better.

Suicide, Christianity, & the Meaning of Life

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If – as the Bible teaches – when a believer dies, their soul goes to be with God, where there is no longer any suffering, pain or sickness, then why would we not want to speed up the process a little bit? After all, as Paul the Apostle wrote to the Philippians, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Why not take up smoking, stop using sunscreen, and give up wearing seatbelts? Or, to take it even further, why not just go all the way and end your life now, so you can leave this harsh world behind and go to Heaven?

If that sounds preposterous, keep in mind that this was something that actually happened in early Christian history: there was a time when committing suicide became fashionable among Christians, and the church had to respond and try to end this tragic fad.

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, greatly desired to show their devotion by being martyred, some even going 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]

The Meaning of Life

This whole issue touches on something which is core to Christian belief, and which sets Christianity apart from other worldviews and religions.

Many world religions view the world negatively, as a place of chaos, pain, and suffering – where the goal is to escape. This is the goal of transcendence and Nirvana in Eastern philosophies and religions, for example.

Christianity on the other hand, views this world positively. Rather than seeing the origin of the world as having come about through conflict or chaos, it is described as the thoughtful and good creation of a loving God. It is described as a garden paradise, given to us as a gift by our loving creator.

Although this good creation has been corrupted by sin and world currently “lies under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), the world still retains its fundamental goodness, and God has promised that one day He will redeem His creation.

The purpose of our lives, according to the Bible, is not to escape this world, but to steward this world (Genesis 1:28), as well as our lives and everything we’ve been given, to the glory of God and for the benefit and salvation of others. In other words: the people of God have been given a mission which can only be carried out in this life, and therefore this life matters greatly. Rather than escaping this world, His desire for us is to be about His business as long as we live.

It is an unbiblical an anemic theology of life and the world which leads to the attitude that the most spiritual thing to do is to bide your time as you wait to get out of this world to be with God. True spirituality is rather to value this life and the unique opportunities it affords to do the work of God, and be involved in his saving and redeeming work.

As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

Between now and the end of our lives, there is a whole space that is significant. How you live it matters greatly to God. There are things he wants you to do with that time (cf. Ephesians 2:10). The Christian life, in other words, is not simply waiting to die so you can go to Heaven. God has given you this life for a purpose and He wants to use you to advance His Kingdom and to touch lives. He values our lives, and so should we!

 

When Was the New Testament Recognized as Holy Scripture?

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There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the Bible. Maybe it’s because people often settle for getting their information from dubious sources like social media or somebody they know who told them something.

This past Sunday, in our I Could Never Believe in a God Who… series, we looked at the Bible. The message was titled: I Could Never Believe in a God Who…Gave Us a Faulty Bible (click here to listen).

Some common misnomers about the New Testament:

  • Early Christians didn’t have the New Testament
  • The books of the New Testament were not considered anything special in their time,  and it was only later on that these books came to be thought of as holy scripture.
  • The New Testament only came into existence at the time of Constantine, 300 years after Jesus.
  • The New Testament has been changed and tampered with over time.

As common as these beliefs are, they are actually historically incorrect.

Did First Century Christians View the New Testament Books as Scripture?

In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul wrote these words: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

What Scriptures are being referred to here?

Obviously it is referring to the Old Testament scriptures, but interestingly, this comes from the last letter Paul ever wrote, at the end of his life. By this time, almost all of the books in the New Testament had been written, and they were being distributed amongst the Christian churches, to be read and studied in their gatherings.

There are 27 books in the New Testament. By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, at least 23/27 books of the New Testament (including 2 Timothy) had been written and were in distribution amongst the early Christians, who considered these books Holy Scripture in the same way that the Old Testament was considered Holy Scripture.

So, when Paul says, “All Scripture” — most scholars believe he’s not just talking about the Old Testament, he’s also talking about the New Testament!

In the New Testament, what you find is that the Apostles understood that God was using them in their time to bring about a New Testament of Holy Scriptures, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Here are a few examples:

  • In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to the writings of Paul as “Scriptures”
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul referred to his own message as “the word of God”
  • In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul takes a quotation from the Gospel of Luke – and he calls it “Scripture” (Luke 10:7)
  • In some of his letters, Paul instructs the recipients to distribute his letters and have them read in the churches. (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27)

Paul uses the term “all Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:16, as opposed to the term he used for just the Old Testament in the prior verse: “sacred writings.” In other words, Paul uses a different, and broader term in Vs 16, because he is talking about more than just the Old Testament; he is including the recently written New Testament books, including the gospels and some apostolic letters.

Criteria for Canonization

When I was a kid, I used to love going to the grocery store, because in the checkout line they had tabloid magazines that were full of fake news.

“Aliens landed and took over Washington DC!” “Sasquatch sightings!” “Giant eagle carries off children!”   

We still have fake news today, but back then it was fun; now it’s just disturbing.

As you might imagine, there was a lot of fake news going around about Jesus in the years, decades and centuries following his ascension. So, the early church was forced into a position where they needed to create a “canon” of Scripture, in order to combat the fake news about Jesus, and solidify the accurate accounts of what really happened, and what was really inspired by God.

In the end, they canonized 27 books in the New Testament, using 3 major criteria:

  1. Apostolic authority – Was it written by an apostle or an eye-witness?
  2. Congruency – Was it consistent with what the rest of the Bible taught, and what the early Christians believed?
  3. Acceptance — Was it widely used and accepted in the Early Church?   

The now well-known Gospel of Thomas, which was discovered in Egypt in 1945 immediately fails on 2 of these 3 criteria: it is not congruent with the rest of the Bible, and it was not accepted by the Early Church.

On further examination, it also fails the test of apostolic authority, since – although it bears the name of an apostle, it contains anachronisms, which indicate it was written much later than the time when Thomas actually lived. The reason it bears his name is because, in an attempt to make this Gnostic writing seem credible, they falsely attributed it to an apostle.

The reason the Gospel of Thomas was not included in the canon was not because of fear or suppression from church authorities, but because it had no business being there, since it’s just fake news.

The New Testament is the Most Widely Attested Ancient Document in Existence

Did you know that we have no original copies of any of the books of the New Testament?

It’s true.

But did you also know that we have no original copies of nearly any other ancient work?

Consider this chart:

Ancient Documents Chart.jpg

We actually have fragments of the Gospel of John dating from only a few decades after they were written.

There is nothing that comes close to the New Testament when it comes to historical reliability.

Those 5686 manuscripts also match up, which means that when you read the Bible, you can be sure that what you are reading today is what was actually written.

It hasn’t been changed, it hasn’t been tampered with. It is an accurate account of Jesus’ life, and it has been considered holy Scripture and the very words of God since the earliest days of Christianity.

Isn’t the New Testament Full of Contradictions?

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss that topic:

Here are some helpful links for you to look at as well:

You Never Outgrow the Gospel

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Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells the story of how the church he grew up in began with a great revival, but slowly died over time. When he inquired about what had led to this decline, an older man attributed it to the fact that when the revival had taken place, the gospel was being heralded regularly and powerfully, but over time it became assumed that such gospel proclamation was no longer necessary, since those who attended the church were already Christians.

Lloyd-Jones determined that he would always preach the gospel, no matter who he was preaching to. Not only did he consider it a “fatal assumption” to think that just because someone attends church, they must be a Christian, he also believed that Christians never outgrow the need to hear the gospel. [1]

The gospel is not good advice about what you ought to do for God, it’s the good news about what God has done for you in Christ. Paul says that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to all who believe” (Romans 1:16). Paul told the Ephesians that it was when they heard the gospel of their salvation and believed in Jesus that they were saved (Ephesians 1:13)

Clearly those who do not yet believe need to hear the gospel, so they can know who Jesus is and what he has done for them, so that they can believe and be saved. What about those who already believe; what do they need? Biblical instruction? Absolutely. But do you know what else believers need in order to grow in their faith and relationship with God? They need to hear the gospel.

The Gospel is Not Just the Starting Point of Christianity, It is the Beating Heart of Christianity

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote to a group of Christians who, even though they were committed followers of Jesus, they were still trying to be justified before God by their own works. Paul wrote to these believers to remind them of the gospel and instruct them about the gospel: what Jesus had accomplished for them, and what it meant for their lives.

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3)

Even though they were already believers, they still needed to be hear the gospel.

An Apostolic Pattern

This is not unique to Paul’s letter to the Galatians; it is a pattern that is seen throughout the apostolic letters in the New Testament. When the apostles wrote to the early Christians, they did not merely tell them how they ought to live now that they were followers of Jesus, rather they reminded them of the gospel, and encouraged them to respond to the gospel in every area of their lives.

The apostles’ pattern was to remind believers of the gospel, as the motivation and the pattern for the Christian life.

What this means is that you never outgrow the gospel. No matter how long someone has been a Christian, they will never get to the place where they no longer need to hear the gospel.

It means that the gospel is not just the means by which people become Christians, it is also the means by which we grow as Christians, as we believe, embrace and apply the gospel to every area of our lives.

When Paul instructed the Ephesians about marriage, he didn’t tell husbands and wives to love and respect each other because it is “the right thing to do,” rather he instructed them about marriage on the basis of the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33)

When Paul wrote the Corinthians about generosity, he didn’t tell them that this is what they have to do because they are Christians, rather he appealed to them on the basis of the gospel, saying, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

This is motivation on the basis of the gospel of God’s grace. Whereas laws can control behavior, they do not affect the heart. Conversely, when the heart is changed by the love and grace of God, actions will follow.

The apostolic pattern in the New Testament is to preach the gospel both to unbelievers and believers, and to show how the gospel speaks to every area of life. May we be those who follow this pattern by applying the gospel to all of life, and faithfully proclaiming it whenever we teach or preach, no matter who our audience.

Augustine & Disordered Loves

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At age 19, Augustine Aurelius – later to be known as Augustine of Hippo – read a dialogue by the Roman philosopher Cicero in which Cicero stated that every person sets out to be happy, but the majority are thoroughly wretched. Truly, no one dreams as a child of one day growing up to be miserable, and yet many people’s lives are characterized by conflict, frustration and unfulfilled longings.

Augustine set out to discover why it is that most people are so discontent in life. His conclusion was that for most of us, our lives are “out of order”; we have disordered loves.

Augustine was convinced that what defines a person more than anything is what they love. He said that when we ask if someone is a “good” person, what we are asking is not what they believe or what they hope for, but rather what they love. He stated that what we consider human virtues, e.g. courage, honesty, etc. are essentially forms of love. Courage is loving your neighbor’s well-being more than your own safety. Honesty is loving someone enough to tell them the truth even if it may put you at a disadvantage. [1]

Sin, Augustine said, is ultimately a lack of love, either for God or for your neighbor. He famously stated that “The essence of sin is disordered love.”

Disordered loves means that we often love less-important things more, and more-important things less than we ought to, and this wrong prioritization leads to unhappiness and disorder in our lives.

This is essentially what James says in his epistle:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:1-3)

James is saying that what makes people miserable is not their circumstances, but that they are chasing after the wrong things, for the wrong reasons. The things they love are out of order.

Many times we view people as a means to an end, using them rather than loving them. Oftentimes we seek God primarily because we find him useful, rather than seeking him because we find him beautiful. We relate to him as useful to us, to help us achieve our selfish goals, rather than seeking his agenda for our lives.

The problem, James tells us, is actually even bigger than we might have thought… because not only does this kind of disordered love lead to misery, it actually pits us at odds with God.

Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

Thankfully, James doesn’t just show us the problem, he also points us to the solution. If we proudly seek our own agenda, we will find ourselves in opposition with God. However, if we humble ourselves before God, we will receive grace.

James goes on to tell us that if you humble yourself before the Lord, he will exalt you. (James 4:10)

The way out of misery and into joy begins with humbling ourselves before God and submitting our lives – and our loves – to him.

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 the New Testament Writers Know They Were Writing Scripture?

2 Timothy 3:16 says: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

What Scriptures are being referred to here?

Obviously it is referring to the Old Testament scriptures, but interestingly, this comes from 2 Timothy, the last letter which Paul wrote, at the end of his life. By this time — almost all of the books that we have in our New Testaments had already been written, and were being distributed amongst the Christians, to be read and studied in their churches.

So, when Paul says, “All Scripture” — he’s not just talking about the Old Testament, he’s also talking about the New Testament!

In the New Testament, what you find is that the Apostles understood that God was using them in their time to bring about a New Testament of Holy Scriptures, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Here are a few examples:

  • In 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter refers to the writings of Paul as “Scriptures”
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul referred to his own message as “the word of God”
  • In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul takes a quotation from the Gospel of Luke – and he calls it “Scripture” (Luke 10:7)
  • In some of his letters, Paul instructs the recipients to distribute his letters and have them read in the churches. (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27)

What Paul is telling Timothy in this text is to stick to the Scriptures, because they come from God, not from man.

The Bible is not only inspired in the sense that it is like a great work of art that we might say is “inspired” – but it is inspired in the greater sense, that the words it contains were breathed by God Himself!

What that means is that the Bible is no ordinary book — it is the very word of God to us, and therefore it alone is worthy to be the highest authority in our lives.