Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What are the 7 Messages of Jesus final discourse?

As I present this final discourse of our Lord, I find it overall to be comforting though he presents many things which, should we ponder them much at all, will cause great distress and should move us to more prayer. I included the words of our Lord here because I felt that the message is the whole point of this question. Please do reflect on his words, and know that, even in these uncertain times, God has planned the end from the beginning, and his sovereignty will reign.

Most of these verses are from Matthew, in what may be regarded as the final discourse of Jesus. John has one entry here, and John is the only apostle to record the many things that Jesus said to his disciples on the last night. Thus, John is the only gospel to tell us that God will not leave his church to suffer this coming wrath. Please note the regular order, and the precise timing or order of all of the events. The last judgments involve first the Jews, and then the Gentiles and will occur at the absolute end of the age—or perhaps, at the very beginning of the new age, when we will reign with Christ on earth.

1. Unseen earthly kingdom
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Matthew 24: 3-8

In this passage the mystery kingdom is revealed. Note that a mystery in the Bible is something that heretofore has not been revealed. During this time the 70 weeks of Daniel are to be suspended, with the Messiah being “cut off” at the 69th week. So all of the previous time, more than 2,000 years now, has been what the Bible refers to as the “time of the Gentiles”, and until the earthly kingdom of the Gentiles is finally at an end, the seventieth week will not begin.

2. The Rapture
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
John 14: 1-3

Note that this passage is the only one not taken from Matthew, and the reason is that it contains information about the Rapture, part of a long personal message to the church given in John to the apostles by Jesus. Please note that Jesus is preparing a place for us, that where he is (heaven) there we may be also. Heaven will be a temporary refuge for us, as this will mark the beginning of the 70th week when judgment is poured out upon the earth. Jude tells us this when Jude quotes from the book of Enoch (Jude 14), saying that the Lord will return with “ten thousands of his saints”. How will his saints return to the earth first, except that they have already gone up to heaven?

3. The Tribulation
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.
Matthew 24: 21, 22

The tribulation is a final seven years of 70 weeks of years determined against Israel. The Bible specifically calls the last 3½ years to be the “great” tribulation, a period of judgment unparalleled in the history of man. This period is the subject of Revelation chapter four through nineteen.

4. The preaching of the gospel kingdom
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
Matthew 24:14

The message of Christ redeeming the earth is to be given to all of the earth. It is to be proclaimed faithfully unto the uttermost parts of the earth.

5. Coming of the Desolator
When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
Matthew 24:15

Note that the Desolator comes not until the last week, the 70th week of Daniel starts. It is very interesting that Jesus points us back to Daniel here, and we should be aware of these famous seventy weeks of Daniel. Many a Christian has wounded himself and the church by attempting to declare who the beast is, and many men throughout history have had this abominable description falsely attributed to them. The world will not know of the Desolator until the final week is started, and thus after the church is raptured out of the world.

6. Judgment of Israel
But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?
Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.
But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming;
And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken;
The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of,
And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 24: 37- Matthew 25:30

Sometimes these verses are misinterpreted to be about the Rapture as different people are taken suddenly. The Rapture, however, is not in view here. Rather the judgment of the people of Israel is here, and the people are taken, not for the delight of the Rapture, but rather to judgment where they are found wanting. Walvoord says: “However, a careful reading of the passage yields exactly the opposite result. At the rapture of the church, those taken are those who are saved, and those who are left are left to go through the awful period, including the great tribulation. Here the situation is just in reverse. Those who are taken are taken in judgment, and those who are left are left to enter the millennial kingdom.”1 Chafer says (nearly of the same passage, Matthew 24:37- Matthew 25:13), “While it is approached from several different angles, the one objective of all this extended section is the exhortation to Israel to be prepared for the coming of their Messiah-King.”2 Chafer goes on to explain why this is written to the church, a mistake many have made. “In the instance of the Church in her rapture, those who are truly saved are without exception taken into heaven and the unsaved who were only professors outwardly are left for the impending judgments which follow on the earth.”3 In other words the saints, i.e. the church, are taken out of the world, and are in the presence of Christ when these judgments are explained. The church is identified by God without mistake, and is raptured up to heaven. There is no separation of believers and unbelievers, for God knows who are his.

1. Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (p. 382). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, L. (1993). The Teachings of Christ Incarnate. In Systematic theology (Vol. 5, p. 129). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
3. Chafer, L. (1993). The Teachings of Christ Incarnate. In Systematic theology (Vol. 5, p. 129). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

7. Judgment of Nations
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Matthew 25:31-46

Walvoord gives a great summation of what these passages say: “
The holocaust and suffering of Jews in Germany in World War II leads to worldwide sympathy for the Jews, resulting in their transition to a homeland.
In 1948, the United Nations recognizes Israel as a nation and allows her to have five thousand square miles of territory, excluding ancient Jerusalem.
Israel, though immediately attacked by those nations surrounding her, achieves increases in territory in subsequent wars.
Though Russia at the beginning is sympathetic to Israel, the United States becomes her principal benefactor and supplier of military aid and money.
Israel makes amazing strides forward in reestablishing her land and its agriculture, industries, and political power.
In the series of military tests, Israel establishes that her army is superior to that of surrounding nations.
Arab power opposing Israel is sufficient to keep Israel from having peaceful coexistence with other nations in the Middle East.
Israel continues in the state of confusion and conflict until the church is raptured.
With the formation of the ten-nation confederacy by a Gentile ruler in the Middle East, Israel is forced to accept a seven-year peace settlement.
The world and the Jewish people celebrate what appears to be a permanent peace settlement in the Middle East.
Israel prospers, and many return to Israel after the peace is settled.
Toward the close of the three and a half years of peace, Russia, accompanied by several other nations, attempts to invade Israel but is destroyed by a series of judgments from God.
After three and a half years of peace, the covenant is broken, and the Middle East ruler becomes a world dictator and a principal persecutor of Israel.
The world dictator desecrates the temple of Israel and sets up an idol of himself to be worshipped.
Worldwide persecution of the Jews begins, and in the land two out of three perish.
A Jewish remnant that puts trust in Christ emerges.
Though the world ruler massacres both Jews and Gentiles who fail to worship him as god, some survive and are rescued by Christ.
The second coming of Christ rescues persecuted Jews and Gentiles and brings judgment upon all wickedness in the world and unbelievers.
The promised kingdom on earth—with Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and David as her regent prince—begins with godly Israel being regathered from all over the world to inhabit her Promised Land.
For one thousand years Israel experiences unusual blessing as the object of Christ’s favor.
With the end of the millennial kingdom and the destruction of the present earth, godly Israel has its place in the eternal state and the new heaven and the new earth.
Those among Israel who are saved are placed in the New Jerusalem in the new earth."

I see much beauty in the final discourse of Jesus. Even though Walvoord may not have the
events exactly correct, for which of us can say with certainty of prophetic events, it should be obvious that God has planned the end from the beginning, and that everything will fall out exactly as God planned. That much is comfort! However, the coming judgment, which we Christians shall evidently escape through the rapture, should nonetheless be causing us much distress and prayer, especially as we see the day drawing closer. Psalm Two says the kings of the earth make their plans against God, but that God sits in his heaven and laughs at those plans. The wrath of God is due to be poured out upon all men and women of the earth in that day, and we certainly see that in the many beheadings and persecutions of Christians in the Middle East. In the final day, there are only two sides to be on. Either we believe in the Messiah, or we reject the Messiah. Ought we not to be reaching the lost for Christ, since we know that the days are short?

1. Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (p. 372). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ringing Reflections

I make an annual pilgrimage through The Lord of the Rings each holiday season, and just completed it yesterday. I have been doing this each year since I first discovered the books at the age of 17, and I turned 63 this year, making a total of about 46. I almost always am most tearful in the last two books (there are 6 books in the series) as the hopeless quest is completed, and the King comes into his own. This last time, I found myself comparing what Tolkien did with the hobbits and what the Lord is doing with us, an apt illustration of the magnificence of God exhibited towards a people of little account. Let me try to share that vision with you.

Frodo has struggled through five books to carry the Ring to the Cracks of Doom, fighting and losing his battles as the Ring seeks to exert its mastery on him. In the final climactic scene, he loses to temptation, standing before the Crack of Doom, and decides to put the Ring on, rather than cast it into the hot depths. As he proclaims his intention, he is struck from evil Gollum who has pursued the return of his Ring throughout the same books. Gollum wrestles with the invisible Frodo until he finds his hand, then his fingers, and finally the Ring. With a violent gnash of his teeth on seemingly invisible air he bites Frodo’s ring finger off. Taken in such a frenzy of ecstasy he dances on the edge of the Crack of Doom, and slips and falls, thus completing the task of Frodo and Sam.

Already the thinking Christian must be getting all sorts of images of themselves trying and failing to do good deeds, only to watch the Spirit of God come in at the last minute and use some hopeless thing (Gollum?) to bring about his purposes. I think of the times that I fail to do that which I am called, and the wonderful grace of God that is able to take in spite of me.

Frodo the Nine-fingered and Sam are taken back to the King, and even the least vestige of enemy clothing that they wore to accomplish their quest is saved. In their ragged and tattered clothes, they are taken before the whole of the kingdom by the King himself, and set in most high honor. In a solemn declaration before the kingdom, the King proclaims to all, “Praise them with great praise!” and when they are done, then he repeats his command yet again, and yet again the kingdom rejoices in their accomplishments.

How like that is for us! Tattered in our clothes of righteousness, we falter and fail at nearly every turn, yet in the end of all things, God has purposed to “praise us with great praise”. Skeptical? Try these verses of Revelation out, near the end of all things: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (19:7,8). Note that she has made herself ready, and that she is clothed in righteousness. NIV says: “Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.”

These are acts that Christians, you and I, are doing, right now. They are, of course, to be done in the power of the Spirit, and not by our power at all, but yet very much with our wills being surrendered to the grace of God. Like Samwise and Frodo, we struggle our way through life’s quest, and too often like Frodo, we find our finger being bitten off to accomplish our heart’s desire. But we are not all the way there yet, for there is more to be had in the reflection.

Has not God declared in these verses that he is honoring that which was done in his name? Is he not lifting up the church for all the kingdom to behold the Bride, and her righteous deeds? Though it is not literal, is he not taking the Bride of Christ, and lifting her up to be praised with great praise? I was talking to Bob Kramer this morning about it, and I saw his doubts fleeting across his face, just as I did when I started contemplation of it. Think about it and surely you will see that I am right. We have all been to weddings—I have been to many, and have never noticed where the wedding guests are focused on the groom. Rather all eyes are upon the beautiful bride, and her exquisite dress, and her happy rejoicing face. The music starts, and every eye turns with respect and wonder at the bride coming down the aisle. All of the kingdom of God, in that moment, will be looking not at the groom, but at the bride, and every piece of clothing that God has wrought in the righteous acts of the saints for that occasion. Like Bob suggested this morning, I might think I am in trouble if I am supposed be dressed in my righteous acts. I would probably end up with a very short dress, woefully incomplete. But we, together as a church, have completed that which we cannot do by ourselves. Together, and with the Spirit of God, he has wrought wonderful works in the likes of small insignificant beings like Frodo and Sam. In union we are complete, and that is the way God sees his church, the way that he will show us off to the kingdom.

I confess that I have always thought of it more through the Bride’s view. But is that not just as it should be? In any wedding that I remember the Bride always has her eyes on the groom, and I do not think it will be any different for me upon that day. The Bride will gaze in rapture upon the face of her lover, the Groom. But it is different for the wedding guests, for they will be interested very much in seeing the wonderful Bride. The marriage supper of the Lamb I always supposed to be one of the most intense rapture I suppose I should ever feel. But how surprised we will be on that day when we find the God of the universe in effect taking the church, holding her before all, and saying, “Praise them with great praise!”

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How can we live properly?

[Many times I open these posts with crediting Chafer with the initial idea, and it is true this time also. He has included many scripture references for this idea, and I am quoting many of them.1 In a delightful read, I am working my way through Chafer’s Systematic Theology, and am nearly finished with volume 4.]

First, I would like to dispel the common notion that since we live under grace and not under the law that we have an easier time—that is, that less is requested in terms of work. It is true that none could succeed in following the law. It is true that many Christians attempt to put themselves back under the law, thinking that somehow the covenant given to Moses and the Jews has somehow translated to them, but it is not so given in the scriptures. Galatians is largely written to dispel this notion, and I shall quote a few passages from that book. First, Paul tells us, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). It is our faith alone that justifies us, and faith alone brings that justification of what Christ has already done for us. Note that Paul tells us specifically that by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

Second, we are told specifically that this covenant, or agreement, came 430 years after the first covenant, namely the covenant with Abraham, and it in no way was meant to supersede that covenant. We are called the spiritual children of Abraham, not related at all to him (unless we be Jewish) by physical descent, but rather we have been adopted into the family, but under the Abrahamic covenant. Paul tells us of the temporariness of this covenant of Moses, “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect” (Galatians 2:21).

That covenant of Moses was meant to be only temporary, and for a specific purpose. Lastly, Paul tells us, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24, 25). Thus it is clear that the law was a temporary schoolmaster, meant to point the way to Christ, and does not apply to Christians. As Paul tells us in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”

“Well, whew!”, you might sigh. “I am glad we are under grace.”

But not so fast. Actually the challenge to live the life Christians are called to live goes way beyond the demands of the law. Let me illustrate with a few verses. We are called to “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Notice every thought—each and every thought we have we are responsible for. John tells us to walk in the light. Paul, in Ephesians tells us to walk in the Spirit. Elsewhere he tells us not to quench the Spirit. The greatest of all commandments Is to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Who can possibly hope to do that?

The calling is nearly to perfection, something that I am as far as the east is from the west in accomplishing. What then? Thanks be to God, we are not called to do it in our own power, but instead we are to take on the very Spirit of God to accomplish a task that we could never accomplish on our own. Notice, finally, the difference between the law and grace. The law is never said to be accomplished through the aid of the Spirit, while the Bible is replete with the passages telling us to take on the Spirit of God that we might stand. The law was not given that men might evangelize, but grace is given that we might know and understand the inner man, and that we might know our own lostness, and appreciate the desperate need to proclaim the gospel. Men cannot possibly succeed under their own power, but divine enablement makes the impossible possible.

There are a number of verses to be shared that teach this concept of what I term being powered toward perfection. These verses, being handy, are taken from Chafer as noted above, but should be readily familiar to any student of scripture.
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
John 7:37-39
Just a quick comment: the Spirit is to “flow” out of each believer, helping the believer do that which he cannot in himself find the strength to do.
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Acts 1:8
Notice that the promise is to “receive power” after the Holy Spirit comes. It is in that power only that we can hope to live the life to which we have been called.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Ephesians 6:10 and 11
This famous verse directly commands us to be strong in the Lord, putting on the full armor of God, that we may indeed be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

I am reading for a second time, No Compromise, by Melody Green. It is such a precious book, and all the more for reminding me of the times we once walked in. When Keith and Melody Green first became Christians, they noticed an awful lot of people who made professions of faith falling away, not following the Christian life. Even as the Vineyard movement caught them, giving them the gospel of life, and winning them to Christ, they noticed what I would call “fluff” going on around them—men and women who had made decisions for Christ who subsequently went back to their old lifestyles of debauchery.

I lived through those times, and because of Melody’s reminder, I remembered the great many who did seem to fall away. Thankfully she gave an illustration of a concert where thousands genuinely rededicated themselves to following Christ, and I also was reminded of the many besides myself who were very serious about what had happened. It was a time of a great awakening—a time when many fell in error, but many also came to a saving knowledge of the truth.

In my study of the revivals and awakenings of America, one characteristic seems to accompany many of the revivals. The people, sometimes by the urging of a preacher, sometimes by the evident troublesome times, and sometimes just by the evident power of God, a group of people, sometimes quite large, are attracted to the gospel within a very short space of time. The call to perfection involves a call to pray for the lost, and to proclaim the gospel, and if we do it in our own power, we will fail, perhaps spectacularly. But if we go out with both the bidding of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit, who knows but what great things will result? Who knows but what God has another Great Awakening lying in wait for us, if we will but ask.

A central key to living properly is that we are showing the person of Jesus Christ to our world. The hymn sings, “Once we were blind, but now we see,” and if we remember that blindness, we will be busy about, telling others about what they cannot hope to see. James tells us that the proper way to show our faith is just by our works, but the problem is that so long as we remain infants in the body of Christ, we can do no works. The works are not of us, but of the Spirit, and the enigma is that the Spirit may use us only as we voluntarily give ourselves to him.

I like to think that I am a pretty good person, as well as the next chap, and perhaps a bit better, if of course you do not count the fact that I misbehave here and there, and of course, I cannot get along with that part of my family, but, really, who can? I find reasoning like that going through my brain constantly, and it is in the caveats that I have learned to focus. Using the excuse that I am really a good person except when I lose my temper doesn’t really work, for the temper lost reveals a nature only partly given to God, and he does indeed ask for everything, and he even asks that we love those deemed “unlovable” by so many. It is precisely for those whom he died—that is, you and me, unlovable and blind in our sin. How then shall we live properly?

There is a constant call on the body to submit to that which we do not want to do. I think I am getting so spiritual and close to my God until something reminds me of a mundane duty that interrupts. It may be as silly as something like having to go to the grocery store, or taking a friend to the doctor, but no matter what it is, it always seems to interrupt. More often, it is something more righteously my duty, to my family or to my grandkids, but I find it still tearing at my soul, interrupting me from that which God would really have me to do.

And that is precisely the problem, not with me only, but I think with Christians in general. We love the closeness with God, and we seek the precious quiet times when we might hear the counsel of God, but God is in those very interruptions that we despise. It is in going to the grocery store, and speaking to my ex-student helping me with my groceries that God wishes to use us. For my eyes seem to be ever on me, and when the interruption happens, my eyes are forced to someone else.

I am aware that many times people misuse what they call the example of Christ, and do not find salvation for they never come to see that Christ is indeed God come in the flesh, but all the same, I think it is safe for Christians to draw on his example of living here. He sought times of prayer and solitude with the Father, but regularly was pulled back by the pressing needs of others. Reading the gospels will show a Jesus who becomes often weary in well-doing, but always persisting. That example we can follow as we learn that our God is indeed, a God of the interruptions.

Some of erred in thinking these interruptions are to be despised, and have sought solicitude, even to the point of isolation (sometimes putting themselves in a monastery, or at least a similar setting), but God has chosen to use us as vessels of hope, offering ourselves in the hope that others might at last see Jesus in us. Paul reminds us, asking, how shall they hear without a preacher, and it is to that duty that we must faithfully come, day after day, interruption after interruption.

As a retired teacher, I met a few men and women like that in my career, and I remember a somewhat older teacher than myself. I dragged myself to meetings with all my fortitude mustered, thinking that they can make me come, but they cannot make me like it. Meeting this older man, a mature Christian, at those same meetings was like a breath of fresh air. He was able to listen, evaluate, and praise the meeting, but also, at the same time, he was able to make the whole table of teachers around him appreciative, and involved them in asking questions or making insightful comments that would ignite our thinking. It is that kind of maturity that we all should be after. In the words of Paul, pressing onward to the high calling of Jesus Christ. Not alone with God, but in the interruptions, learning to seek and share him in our most mundane times.

A final thought. Revelation (19:8) tells us that Christ will receive his bride, the church, dressed in the fine linen, the righteous acts of the saints. So you and I are to be busy doing the things that Christ has appointed for us to do, one day at a time. God is saving those works up to be acknowledged before all, to be shone out to the world. We are made righteous by the blood of our glorious Savior, but we are made righteous that we might show that righteousness to the world around us, if only in his power, and in the midst of all. And that is the task of proper living.

1. Chafer, L. (1993). Systematic theology (Vol. 4, p. 192, 193). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What are the seven greatest divine undertakings?

Chafer notices things in lists of seven, or so I noticed, almost as often as Scofield did. Nevertheless, the list seems to fit the plan of God, and if I were forced to succinctly summarize the great undertakings of God in one sentence, I would be pressed hard to find a better sentence than this, “These undertakings are: (1) the creation of angels; (2) the creation of material things, including man; (3) the incarnation; (4) the death of the Son of God; (5) the resurrection of the Son of God; (6) the return of Christ to reign forever; and (7) the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.”1 I want to briefly summarize each of these undertakings, with a comment on how the world at large has managed to deny all seven of these mighty undertakings.

First, the creation of angels. In some sense that we do not fully understand the angels were the first creatures made to be free—that is, they had the possibility of disobedience and the Bible says that a third of the angels fell with Satan. A difference appears at this point between men and angels. Men are called upon to repent and can indeed do that, but angels do not seem to be able to change. Having chosen to follow Lucifer, the Shining One, they seemed to be doomed forever with their choice. Perhaps they do have the chance to change their minds, which might explain why Satan is set free after being bound in prison, but in any case, there is no evidence or prophecy for a repenting angel. They seem to persist in their choice throughout all of time. Those who have chosen disobedience will end in the lake of fire, which burns forever and ever. It also appears that God, having created eternal creatures in the angels, is unwilling to undo that creation, and the bad angels, referred to as demons, will be in the lake of fire forever. Apparently their punishment is without end.
All of creation is a constant testimony of the living and working God. The Bible declares to us that all of creation declares the glory of God, and it is a mark of the great blindness of man, that he is able to look at creation and not see the Creator. The creation is marred in unexplained manners, and Paul tells us that “all of creation” groans in waiting for redemption. I gaze at the wonders of creation now, and shiver in anticipation of what God might do when at last the curse of sin is lifted. What splendid things lie before us to observe! To us at least, the act of creation is a most wonderful one, truly one of the seven marvelous undertakings of God.

Today we see intricate design in everything. Just take the coloring and shapes of the various butterflies, just as if a Creator took the simple image of a butterfly and multiplied it wonderfully in beautiful diversity. Similarly, everything shows creation round about us, as it reflects a strong divergence from a central figure—just what I would expect from a glorious Creator putting forth his craft in a work that shows himself on every hand.

The incarnation is certainly a wonder of the universe! Today, as I was thinking about it, I asked my grandson if he knew what the incarnation was, and though he did not understand the name, he was familiar with the story. Around the world, the story of the incarnation has gone into every nook and corner. Even men that dismiss it at their own peril, have heard the story of the Christ child, and of God’s extension of mercy to mankind. That God should lay aside his divinity and become flesh is a story beyond fairy-tale imagination, and all the more marvelous because it is true. Of course it violates all known laws of naturalism—Joseph knew that, and had a special appearance from an angel, assuring him that it was indeed such a violation.

Recently I heard Mark Lowry in one of his comedy routines comment on Mary’s perspective. Mark remarks that it was certainly a good thing that the angel appeared to Joseph, but what about Mary’s mother? Mary might well have appreciated the same angelic visit to her mother! Indeed, it seems as if the scandal of the birth of Jesus followed him his entire lifetime (John 8:41).2 What shame Mary must have had to endure her entire lifetime! Certainly the incarnation broke all of the known laws of the day, and every thinking man would look at the claims of the Christ-child with a great deal of skepticism. Except that the promised Messiah was due to come, and the scholars could quote passage after passage showing where the child was to be born, and many details about his background. I become weary of those who suggest that these people were superstitious fools who knew not the rules of the world. It was precisely because Jesus was breaking these physical laws. The Bible presents an able defense of what actually happened because men knew that all the rules were being broken, and only the most careful documentation would show that it was true.

The death of the son of God is the next mighty undertaking of God. Only by glimpsing the triune God that is presented in scripture can we begin to understand his coming. For God (the Father?) so loved the world that he sent his son says the scripture. I lay my own life down and no man takes it from me declares Jesus. That God should come in the flesh and give himself willingly for a lost world is the wonder among all wonders. That Jesus would allow himself to be mocked, beaten, and scourged, and then crucified so that all men might be saved amounts to the highest cost of all. In giving himself, he gave all that he had, and he could simply give no more. Thus, what he did in dying passes, in depth and breadth, all the glorious work that he did in the whole of creation.

But of course the death, if anything, must be eclipsed by the resurrection. As important as it is to us that we have a substitute volunteer to die for our sins, if it stopped there where indeed would it leave us? The resurrection stands as the symbol of God’s having victory over death, and we stand more firmly on our own hope of resurrection because we see the power of Christ victoriously putting death down forever. The mighty hymn, Up From the Grave He Arose, makes the skin of believers tingle with excitement and anticipation because it is here that God meets our need. Being lost and condemned to death is wonderfully matched by being found and made alive in Christ forevermore. Corinthians tells us that the last enemy, death, will one day be destroyed, and I think many Christians sense the truth of that verse when they are first made alive in Christ.
The return of Christ to earth is looked for by many Christians, but sadly not all. Prophecy is all but ignored in some denominations, and in others prophecy is severely allegorized into meanings which make little or no sense, but they have long historical roots which lay intertwined tightly with their original fictions. It is only when the Bible reader comes to the Bible fully expecting that God is plainly trying to communicate with us that we can begin to hope to understand the meaning. Particularly through the centuries The Revelation has had contemporary meanings assigned to it multiple times—the one thing which ought to warn us about such allegorizing—and the plain and full meaning will no doubt be laid bare as those final days do come to pass.

I have long noticed that there is a three-fold division to all of history, being termed the three main events of history. First, there is the creation itself, then there is the incarnation, and thirdly, there is the Second Coming. Multiple passages of the Old Testament cannot be understood plainly (how they must tax the efforts of those who allegorize!), except as we understand our Christ to be returning as the long-awaited King of Israel, indeed King over all kingdoms. Stories are told by the prophets about Israel having peace, long-life, and honor among all the other nations. All of this has not yet come to pass and therefore must be future.
The expectation of the return of Christ has been the proper attitude taught in the Bible, and followed by most Christians in history, though they have not always got the particulars right. His return is to be both expected and looked for, as well as much longed for, by all of his saints. One day, soon it is to be hoped, Christ will usher in that age, long foretold, where the swords will be beaten into plow shears, and we will at last see peace on earth.

Those who have looked scientifically at the earth have long seen its demise, and how much comfort it is to know that God has already planned for that demise with a new heavens and a new earth. As we are going to share eternity with each other in the fellowship of Christ, what a comfort it is to know that God will not cease to provide for us. We will forever be at his feet!

I am still missing part of my answer; in the beginning of this piece I said that I would also comment on how the world has denied each one of these seven incredible undertakings. Certainly we have had nearly a century and a half of denying creation. Men have long denied the creation of angels in spite of the recorded testimony of many in history. Today we have major deniers of angels trying to tell us that we have had visits from aliens who probably helped our evolution along. With the advent of Darwin, the gloves of the atheists were taken off, and our culture since then has sought to abandon religion as something no longer needful. The problem is that it takes a lot more faith to believe in evolution than it does in creation. To believe evolution one postulates that the universe had an accidental explosion, and order came out of chaos, with mutation and chance conspiring with time to give us ever more complicated species, ending in the ascent of man. Is it not just simpler to believe that a creator started the whole thing? For those who might like to think this through, I would recommend I Don’t have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler.

Of course men have long conspired to deny the death of the Son of God, both denying his physical death, with postulates that he merely “swooned” and recovered in the coolness of the tomb, and him being the Son of God, for they realize if they can make Jesus to be a mere man they can avoid man being responsible for putting God on the cross. But when it comes to the resurrection, men have danced most energetically around the truth that if God did indeed die and come to life again, then most of mankind missed the greatest event in history. Indeed, how will it look in recorded history to note that the Son of God came, died, and was raised again and the whole of mankind barely managed a hiccup?

The return of Christ is not looked for by mankind today, and unfortunately even much of the church is not depending on his return. Still, he has proclaimed his return, and prophesied that return will be like lightning flashing from one side of the sky to the other, seen and appreciated by all. As we push closer to the repudiation of God with humanistic salvation accorded to all, even while suffering of masses seems to be growing to unparalleled heights, the climax of history will surely not linger much longer. He will return, but will he find any looking for that return? And as for the last undertaking, that of a new heavens and a new earth, the world has seemed to develop a great case of schizophrenia, believing mankind is self-destructing, and that the world is going to continue on nearly forever.

If the world has managed to turn a blind-eye to these seven great undertakings, is it any wonder that so few see God? Or the need for God? The blindness that has come upon mankind is now nearly complete, coming in the culmination of time, that the blind should remain blind even to the end. Truly it is observed that there are none so blind as those who will not see.

1. Chafer, L. (1993). Systematic theology (Vol. 4, p. 80). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
2. John 8:41, “Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.”

Friday, November 27, 2015

What are the Sabbaths of the Old Testament?

Studying the Sabbaths of the Old Testament might seem like an odd question, but knowing the Sabbaths, and the customs that the Jews had behind them helps to clarify the gospels, which themselves have many references to these special Sabbaths. In the purposes of God, he deemed these Sabbaths important enough to go over several times, and we study them being observed during the Old Testament times, spectacularly so, particularly when Israel was undergoing a period of revival.

Perhaps the average Christian is aware of but one Sabbath, but the Bible presents many more. Several times I have found Chafer referring to the fifteen Sabbaths of the Old Testament, but I have not found him listing those fifteen anywhere, so I am sticking with the ten obvious Sabbaths the Bible presents, and then will follow those up with two more that do not quite fit the formula, but which were both probably treated as Sabbath days by the Israelites.

God presents the list of the original Sabbaths in two places: Leviticus and Numbers. Presenting them he usually gives three descriptions of them. The name Sabbath is often given to each, but not always. Secondly, it is referred to as a “holy convocation”. And third, the command is given that “you shall do no work”. All three go together and show that God was very insistent about the holiness of these Sabbaths. I will list the ten Sabbaths first, and then I have two that do not perfectly fit these definitions, so I will discuss the eleventh and twelfth Sabbath days last.

1. The seventh day of the week
This is the most common Sabbath, and the one Christians sometimes assume to be the only Sabbath. All three characteristics listed above are used to describe it. It commemorates the seventh day of Creation, when God rested.
1). Called Sabbath
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.
Deuteronomy 5:12
2). Told to rest
Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.
Leviticus 23:3
3). Holy convocation
Same verse as above

2. and 3. The Feast of Unleavened Bread
This feast starts the day after Passover and is a week long, with Sabbath days being on the first day and the last day.
1) Not called Sabbath
The name Sabbath is not applied to either the Passover or any of the days of the feast.
2.) Told to rest
In the first day ye shall have an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:7
But ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord seven days: in the seventh day is an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:8
3.) Holy convocation
Same verses as above

4. The Feast of Weeks (also called First Fruits)
This feast is to observe the Lord who provides the harvest.
On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the LORD an offering of new grain during the Feast of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. (Numbers 28:26)
1). Not called Sabbath
2). Told to rest (same verse)
3). Holy convocation is in the words “sacred assembly”. Also holy convocation in:
And ye shall proclaim on the selfsame day, that it may be an holy convocation unto you: ye shall do no servile work therein: it shall be a statute for ever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
Leviticus 23:21

5. and 6. The Feast of Trumpets
This feast may be a commemoration of the return of Christ, and ends with the all-important Day of Atonement. There are two Sabbath days observed, on the first day, and the Day of Atonement.
1). Called Sabbath
(First day)
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.
Leviticus 23:24
(Day of Atonement)
It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.
Leviticus 23:32
2). Told to rest
(First day)
Ye shall do no servile work therein: but ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord.
Leviticus 23:25
(Day of Atonement)
And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God.
Leviticus 23:28
3). Called a holy convocation
Leviticus 23:24 (above)

7. and 8. The Feast of Booths (also referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles)

In this feast, the Israelites were to go outside of their city and were to build booths. There are two Sabbaths associated with this feast, the first and the last day.
1). Called Sabbath
(First day)
Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
Leviticus 23:39
(Last day)
Same verse
2). Told to rest
(First day)
On the first day shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:35
(Last day)
Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein.
Leviticus 23:36
3). Called a holy convocation
(same verses as above)

9. The Sabbath Year
But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the LORD. (Leviticus 25:4)
1). Called a Sabbath
(verse above)
2). Told to give rest to the land
(verse above
3). Not called holy convocation

10. The Year of Jubilee
Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. (Leviticus 25:9, 10)
The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. (Lev. 25:11) (This was to be the year of rest for the land.)
1). Not specifically called a Sabbath
2). Rest to the land
Leviticus 25:11
3). Holy convocation is not used. (Maybe because a year was not to be a convocation?), but holy is used.
For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field.
Leviticus 25:12

Before I comment further on the Sabbaths, there are two more to add to the list. The first is the Passover. Passover is unusual in that it specifically is not called a Sabbath (in the Old Testament), neither is it a day of rest, or a holy convocation. I believe that the day itself, a commemoration of the day that the Israelites began to leave Egypt, did not lend itself to any of these special marks of a Sabbath. The Israelite was told to, “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord's Passover” (Exodus 12:11). The day itself commemorates a time when the Israelites had to flee the Egypt presence, a time when the hand of God has gloriously delivered them, but a time when they had to run. It did not lend itself to being called a day of rest. Neither does it lend itself to being called a holy convocation, since the Lamb was to be eaten in haste, while each family was home. Perhaps it is not called a Sabbath for the same reason, though it is evident from a study of the gospels that this day was so commemorated.

The Passover is a picture of the Paschal Lamb being sacrificed for us, as the very moments, centuries later, that the Israelites were to be killing the Passover Lambs, our Christ was giving himself to be crucified on the cross. Interestingly, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which follows Passover the next day, is not called a Sabbath either, though the gospels again present it as a high and holy Sabbath day. These two days are the only days to occur next to each other, symbolizing I think the days that Christ was to spend buried in the earth.

Besides the Feast of Unleavened Bread, there is one more Sabbath to be considered, The Feast of Purim. Like some of the other feasts, Sabbath is not used to describe it, but it is a time when the Jews were given rest. It is the feast of Esther, a time to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from their enemies, and came much later in the history of the Jewish people. It is described thus, “On the thirteenth day of the month Adar; and on the fourteenth day of the same rested they, and made it a day of feasting and gladness. But the Jews that were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day thereof, and on the fourteenth thereof; and on the fifteenth day of the same they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness” (Esther 9:17,18). Thus it fits the definition of a Sabbath, being a feast, and being told to “rest” all three days of the feast.

During my next post, I will try to discuss more fully the meaning of these feasts and try to make some sense of what they might mean to us as Christians today.

Monday, September 07, 2015

What kind of afterlife can we expect?

Sigh! I guess these sorts of questions are on my mind—I just retired and am looking for a long retirement, yet I am mindful of how fleeting life can be. By the time a man has gotten into his sixties (as I am), he has generally lost his parents, various friends, and perhaps many others of his family. A generation comes and goes, and so the inevitable tide of death and life washes over us, and if we do live to be older we are doomed to see most of our loved ones pass away before our lives. Many of us live and die without any expectations of afterlife, and think the course of these things is just the way it was meant to be. I think it could be called the what-you-see-is-what-you-get philosophy of life. In computer-eze , it is shortened to WYSIWYG.

WYSIWYG refers to the idea that what you see on the computer screen is actually the product that is going to be produced, whether it be a slide show, a document, or something coming out of a printer. For those who are using computers, it is a very useful feature. But not so much when considering afterlife. The Bible says that God banished us from the Garden of Eden, and we can no longer have the visible fellowship with God that we had under Adam and Eve. We have lost sight of what fellowship with God is like and only have the Bible and our vain imaginations to tell us what it might be like. Our vain imaginations do not tell us much and I for one, frequently have had to reteach myself about what heaven might be like when my conceptualization runs counter to the Word of God. I am not the only one with misconceptions and when researching the answers to this question I came across this gem from David Lloyd George: “When I was a boy, the thought of Heaven used to frighten me more than the thought of Hell. I pictured Heaven as a place where time would be perpetual Sundays, with perpetual services from which there would be no escape.”1

I will be using Randy Alcorn’s Heaven to answer many dimensions of this question, and I commend its reading to those of you who want a through and Biblical treatment of the subject. What I like about Alcorn is his carefulness to present what the Bible says, and when he is forced to speculation to make sure that the reader knows it is speculation, even though that speculation may have Biblical roots.

In John 14, Jesus tells us that he goes prepare a place for us, that I will come back and take you with me. The first place that we shall be taken to is the home of God the Son, heaven. Christ will return first for his church and carry his bride back to show off to his Father. I know some do not believe in the Rapture, but for the purpose of this piece, let us leave off of that disagreement, and focus on what the Bible tells us about heaven, no matter when we may get there. What is heaven like? I opened this passage with a reflection on growing older, and I am growing older, in my sixties now. But I am in good health, and hope to be around for a bit longer. Still I cannot help but notice my parents passing, and many others, some indeed in an untimely manner, and it makes me think about the better place that Christ has prepared for us. I have an idea in the back of my head, most likely similar to yours, that the crippled or aged or infirm or blind might at last have a better place to go, but the Biblical concept of heaven goes far beyond that. “No wonder Satan doesn’t want us to learn the truth about Heaven. If we fall in love with the place and look forward to the future that God has for us, we’ll fall more in love with God, and we’ll be emboldened to follow him with greater resolve and perspective.”2

In heaven, likely though not absolutely clear, we will have the marriage supper with the Lamb of God. Conservative Bible scholars are unsure whether the marriage supper is during the tribulation, while we are in heaven, or whether it is just after the tribulation, when Christ returns with his saints to the earth. In either case, we will drink anew with him from the cup, which he promised he would not drink from again until we were together. He will have clothed us, not as I might imagine, with his righteousness, but he will clothe us with white robes, representing the righteous acts of the saints (Rev. 19:8). This does not negate our being made righteous by his sacrifice for us, as that is one of many things that happens to us at the point of conversion. Instead, he uses the righteous acts of the saint to clothe us—meaning I think that everything that we did in the power of God to advance his kingdom will adorn us then. The bride of Christ will be beautiful in God’s sight beyond all of our imaginings.

I am come that you might be free, and you shall be free indeed, proclaims Jesus. Our freedom will be evident on that day, when we are at long last taken from the presence of sin, of our own corruption. We shall become like him, says the scripture, for we shall see him as he is. And it will be complete with new bodies. Scripture says we will have new bodies; Plato did not like the idea of the body “imprisoning” the soul, and so he taught that one day the soul would be free of bodily restraint. However this is foreign to the idea set forth in the Bible; we are to have new bodies, and for a period of time, we will actively reign with Christ on earth. What does that mean? I am not sure, but am willing to be pleasantly surprised. Often people are surprised at the verse in Revelation 22:5, “And they will reign for ever and ever.” Alcorn has met people with this attitude, who say, ““But I don’t want to rule. That’s not my idea of Heaven.” Well, it’s God’s idea of Heaven.”3

I am not sure at all that I should be able to tell you what heaven is like—but I can say this much, you will still be you, be in a completed way. You and I, as long as we are in this life, are unfinished works of God—in that day we will be made complete. I will still have my family—my eight grandchildren will still be my grandchildren, my daughters will still be my daughters. But all of us will belong to God, in a complete sense, made what we were meant to be, and perhaps for the first time completely free.

My wife and I were talking about this very thing once, perhaps because my thinking tends to be rather far-sighted, and looking off ahead to the coming of our Lord I commented to my wife that I couldn’t imagine myself not wanting to be her best friend. I know the teaching of Scripture where Jesus tells us that we neither marry nor are given in marriage, and that I think I can understand. This time is the time for making more people, for building families, and for making marriages. The time to come in heaven will look past that and I believe perhaps that every believer we are caught up with will be exceedingly precious, and that deep relationships will abound. But that does not mean that my daughters will stop being my daughters, nor will my wife stop in being my closest confidant. Everything and everyone will become so much more meaningful to us.

I think for me, anyway, the pull in our world about socialism is putting the wrong ideas about heaven in my head. When I think of that many saints (one billion is a very conservative guess) being altogether, I think of the sameness of socialism. I remember an old episode of Star Trek, where the population is severely overcrowded, and the people are nose-to-nose bumping into each other, and to make it worse, later we learn that all the people come from the same few prototypes. But, if I know anything about heaven, trying to impose that image from Star Trek would border on blasphemy. We have a God who created us all so differently, and we love and worship him acceptably in so many different ways. We all bring so many talents that are so different with us, of course given by the Giver in the first place.

I am quite looking forward to spending time talking deeply with many great people that I just wonder about now. Did you ever want to sit down in a one-to-one with Billy Graham? I certainly have. We will have all of eternity, time without end, to do that. It doesn’t matter that the line to see Rev. Graham is ten miles long. It’s eternity we are talking about! I also have many favorite musicians that I look forward to listening to. (I am trying to refrain from listing them here so you do not find out how hopelessly quaint I am.) Do you think they will all lose their talent in going to heaven? No! They have been given their precious talents from God, and laying them at his feet, will he not allow them to continue? I have quite made up my mind about which concerts I will want to hear. Keith Green concerts will probably head the list. (Oops! I wasn’t going to mention any.) Can you imagine the celebration that we saints will through when we are finally there? I can’t. But in thinking about it, my heart is stirred, and I know that God has more than we can imagine or think.

How then shall we approach our thinking about heaven? First, I would highly recommend Alcorn’s book, Heaven, as it is an honest attempt to bring out all that the Bible tells us about the time to come. In the end, though, you may be like me, and that won’t be enough. Our hunger and thirst for a better place, at the side of our Lord, ought to be a consuming fire within us. For me, the only thing that works when I am wondering about that time to come, is to remember just how precious and personal the love of God is for me. I think being older helps a bit here, because I have walked a long path with him beside me all the way, showing consistently how deep and wide, and how absolutely unfathomable his love is toward me. He tells us that his thoughts about each of us outnumber the sands on the seashore. Do you trust him enough to believe that when Jesus said he goes now to prepare a place for us that it will be better, and indeed more right, than anything we might vainly imagine? Keith Green, in one of his concerts long ago, pointed out that God spent six days and nights making the earth, but when Christ told us that he was going to leave us, but to make us a place, that where he is we may be also, he has now had over two thousand years to make that better place!

Tolkien perhaps has the spirit of it when Sam returns home from the Grey Havens after saying farewell to his best friend: “But Sam turned to Bywater, and so came back up the Hill, as day was ending once more. And he went on, and there was yellow light, and fire within; and the evening meal was ready, and he was expected. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap. He drew a deep breath. ‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”4 When we get there, there will come a moment, sooner rather than later, when we realize that all we have done, all that God did in our busy worlds, everything that happened us, both evil and good, has been bound into that moment when we step into eternity, sit by the warm hearth in the chair made for us, and say, each of us, to our own wonder, “I’m home.”

Perhaps you are as me and think it cannot get better than that. Well, we are wrong. It is just the beginning of a fairy tale, if you will, that was no ending other than that which every small child knows to be true, “And they lived happily ever after.” The wonders of God will not cease to amaze and thrill us. And the real fairy tale we will find has no end. The “ever after” will not ever stop, is without end. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus. I just want to go home.

1. Alcorn, Randy (2011-12-08). Heaven (Alcorn, Randy) (Kindle Locations 1449-1450). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2. Alcorn, Randy (2011-12-08). Heaven (Alcorn, Randy) (Kindle Locations 3122-3123). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
3. Alcorn, Randy (2011-12-08). Heaven (Alcorn, Randy) (Kindle Locations 4105-4107). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
4. Tolkien, J.R.R. (2012-02-15). The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 1032). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Can we trust the Bible?

Wow! Sometimes I sort of regret the questions I get, and this question would be one that I do regret. Not, as you might think, because it is so difficult; rather the opposite is true. It would be difficult for anyone to suggest more evidence for the trustworthiness of the Bible than there is.

I suppose it is true that we do not hear a thunderbolt when we open the Bible, and in that sense it is not verified, but I am not talking about that so much as the reasonable proof that we might expect from history. There are some simple facts to present that within the scope of this short piece should show that the Bible is, indeed, supremely trustworthy. Written by over forty authors in the space of over fifteen hundred years, the Bible has a vibrant unity. The forbidden fruit is eaten in Genesis to the death of mankind, and the fruit of the tree of life is eaten by the redeemed of mankind in Revelation. Thus sin enters in Genesis and is forever taken away in Revelation. Man is separated from God in Genesis, and restored to fellowship in Revelation.

The times of the Gentiles is foretold in Daniel, is continuing, but will be taken away with the restoration of Israel in Revelation. Thus, there is a completeness to the Bible which is amazing when we consider 40 writers were composing the book over 1,500 years. “Even scholars and critics who don’t believe the Bible is historically accurate acknowledge there is a uniqueness to it. There is a similar theme of agreement running through the Bible’s entirety, even though it was written over fifteen hundred years by more than forty authors.”1 And again, “Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder and first president of Dallas Theological Seminary, put it well: ‘Without violating the authors’ personalities, they wrote with their own feelings, literary abilities, and concerns. But in the end, God could say, That’s exactly what I wanted to have written.’”2

But, you may ask, how reliable are the copies of the manuscripts? Total variations of manuscript are less than 1% of the total. In other words, most fights over the texts are involving 1% of the whole manuscript. Most of these variations are simple spelling variations. And in no case, not one, is a major doctrine affected. There are plenty of other places, not disputed, that establish major doctrine beyond reasonable doubt. Just how many manuscripts are we talking about? ”There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions (MSS) and we have more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today.”3 McDowell compares this to Homer, something that most of us would consider to be in concrete as to provable, “No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation. In comparison, the Iliad by Homer is second with only 643 manuscripts that still survive. The first complete preserved text of Homer dates from the 13th century.”4 Homer is the one manuscript that we have so many copies of, but compare it, 643 manuscripts to 24,000. Sometimes when we are talking of famous classical writers, we are basing our knowledge of them on the basis of one manuscript. Hardly comparable to the Bible!

I have skeptical friends who belittle the Bible, saying that they cannot honestly know from the Bible whether Jesus actually said something. In other words, they are assuming that we do not have great reliability when it comes to the scriptures, and as we have seen, that assumption is shaky at best. We have every reason to have supreme confidence that what was written was exactly what was said.

Other people raise the opposite objection, saying that if Jesus himself did not come out against something then God must really be sort of benevolent towards that something. Not true—listen to the words of Jesus, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39 Italics mine). Now, it is true that the New Testament was not yet written when Jesus said these words. He was pointing to the Old Testament, that which we often think was not much about Jesus; instead he tells us that the Old Testament is full of testimony about himself. The gospel of John begins with some of the most famous words of all the Bible, saying, in the beginning was the word, emphasizing the message part of the gospel being in Jesus himself. John goes on to say that the word was made flesh and dwelt among us, testifying further that the word of God was sanctioned by God to do exactly what God intended it to do—to tell us about God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Further, we have the testimony of eyewitnesses, over 500 proclaims the Bible. Jesus did not hide his resurrection from people. It was not done on the sly. Over the years critics have purposed a large variety of explanations, trying to explain away the resurrection. One such theory is sometimes titled “the swoon theory”. It tries to suggest that Jesus recovered while buried in the tomb. There is no coherent explanation as to how he unwrapped himself from the grave clothes, or how he moved the stone on the front of the tomb, or how he got past the guards. In addition, such a theory neglects the Roman spear in the side, and the verification by the guards that Jesus was dead. Another theory suggests that the disciples came in the middle of the night and stole his body. Yet, that explanation does not cover how these disciples got past the Roman guard which Pilate had placed upon the grave. And all those witnesses, 500 and more, are testifiers that Jesus indeed came, did, and said the things written in the gospels.

Conan Doyle, not known for any belief in God, made his character, Sherlock, say to Watson (in my own paraphrase), “First we remove the impossible and then what remains, no matter how unlikely, is the explanation.” That principle should be applied here. I do not suggest that miracles like rising from the dead are highly improbable—they certainly are improbable, but having said that, there is no other conceivable explanation that fits the facts as we know them. His body was highly unlikely to have been stolen, and recovering from ordeals that he faced we know that it is impossible that he should have recovered. The only facts that fit the case must accommodate the miraculous. Why do I say that?

Look at these witnesses. Their every utterance was put on the line, that they should be held accountable to all for what they were saying. Some of them directly told the Sanhedrin that they could not be quiet about these things, but that they had to freely proclaim them. Eventually, most of the apostles came to be martyred for their testimony, giving their lives for what, as witnesses of what happened, we have to conclude they deeply believed.

And then there is the testimony of the millions who have come afterwards. Believing God and believing he sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Men like Saul of Tarsus have consistently converted in almost every generation, testifying to that generation that they ought to pay close attention. Unlikely conversions such as happened in Whittaker Chambers or Charles Colson serve as a powerful suggestion that the claims of Christ presented in the Bible deserve closer attention. But beyond the enigma of such men is the salient testimony of untold millions who testify of changed lives upon meeting Jesus, and all give credit to the truths made evident in the Bible.

It is to be admitted, and I freely confess, that a book which portends the many miracles that it does, is a book designed to raise our eyebrows in questions. But it is the very miracles that are told about that make the Bible more likely to be true. In books which the church has rejected, many miracles are accounted there, but it is obvious from an initial reading that the whole piece is suspect, as the miracles are too convenient, and too easily made up. When we come to Christ and his miracles, we are left with miracles that even the enemies thought were true. Notice the people over and again who were healed on the Sabbath. For the Jew work on the Sabbath was an anathema—something that no good Jew would entertain the idea of. But Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, deliberately did these miracles of healing on the Sabbath as a sign that someone greater than the Sabbath was here, and that they would do well to listen and watch what he was doing. Well did the leaders of the Jews watch, for after his healing on the Sabbath, they sought to kill him. They accepted the fact of his healing—it was demonstrated clearly—to their raised ire, and not at all to their recognition of his Lordship. It is hardly likely that, someone, making up a story would include such miracles in the first place, for miracles performed on the Sabbath would automatically be excluded.

Look at the ones whom he raised from the dead. First, a little girl who had already been pronounced dead, and certified as such by the mourners. Scoffing and laughing and jeering at Jesus, who proclaimed that the little girl was sleeping, they were astounded by the miracle which occurred. Hardly a story which was contrived, for the living witnesses had only to suggest the whole thing was a made up story, and it would collapse under its own weight. The living girl was a proof they could not refute. The silence of hostile witnesses screams of the very validity of the miracles. Lazarus, the one whom John tells us about, is a detailed story, and Lazarus was from a well-known family with many mourners who came to the funeral. Dead four days, and Jesus walks to the tomb and says, “Lazarus, come forth.” The miracle is plain for all to see, and again the silence of the many hostile witnesses screams of the validity of the miracles.

Miracles in themselves cannot be denied on the basis of experience, which many try to do. They say since I have never seen a miracle, therefore miracles must not happen. Even in the Bible, miracles are rare outside of the Son of God, and their very rarity speaks at least of their remarkableness. I have never seen a dark star, yet if I were to deny their existence, no doubt there would be many to correct me. Lewis reminds us, “Those who assume that miracles cannot happen are merely wasting their time by looking into the texts: we know in advance what results they will find for they have begun by begging the question.”5 God spoke audibly about his Son three times during the ministry of Jesus. Some heard an audible voice; others heard thunder; still others heard nothing at all. A great deal of the world that we see about us depends entirely upon our own viewpoint. A favorite quote of mine from the infamous atheist, Bertrand Russell, says that “It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.” I find that I do quite agree with Russell about this, at least. Man is not rational; all the so-called rational arguments that he produces comes from his prior emotional state.

Thus we see, in Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands, he came back with an explanation for what he saw to be godless, while the captain of the ship that went with him, being a believer, came back testifying that the wonders they both saw declared a Creator. Afterward, they famously held debates all over England many times, but my point is this, that they both had made prior decisions which drove their rationality. Man is a very complicated creature, and almost so deep as to be beyond understanding; is this not what the whole scope of modern psychology teaches us? Thus, I think the miracles of Jesus only suffice to convince those of us who would be believers, and seldom not those who assume miracles cannot happen. Thus, I come back to those in our generation, and even prior generations, to the John Newtons, to the Whittaker Chambers, and to the Charles Colsons, all men with prior convictions that God could not be true. And yet they became convinced otherwise, and the skeptics of our generation should pay attention.

Not believing in the miracles of the Bible hardly suffices as a charge against it; any rational person bases his outlook on what he or she sees, and a miracle is supposed to be something that occurs rarely, something that perhaps few of us would ever see in a lifetime. Indeed, an accounting of the miracles of Elijah gets us somewhere in the neighborhood of eight, depending on how we might count them. Eight times over the lifetime of the prophet who performed the most miracles is hardly enough to be seen, even by most in Elijah’s time. The testimony of those who were formerly skeptical is then double the effectiveness of those who were already open to belief.

Remember the naturalist, the one who does not believe in miracles? He is only parroting what he already believes, putting it in the clothes of rationality, but with, if you will, undergarments of emotion. In reality, he only parrots that which he already feels. “What Naturalism cannot accept is the idea of a God who stands outside Nature and made it.”6 That is why I say it is the former naturalist to whom we must look and seriously take his changed testimony, for he is one who has been on both sides.

So perhaps, the question that we are really looking at is not, “Is the Bible really trustworthy?” Instead, the question that we ought to look at is whether our preconceived bias prevents us from seriously looking at the claims of the Bible. Are our preconceptions keeping us from seeing the claims of Jesus? If I know miracles cannot be true, then I will naturally dismiss the rest of what Jesus says as nonsense. Jesus stated this clearly, if somewhat backwards to my illustration, saying, “If you will not believe me, then believe the miracles which I do.” He clearly tells us then to pay attention to what he has said, and then to the miracles which are given to demonstrate the validity of the message.

The Bible does claim to be the only word of God. It claims that we are lost, bereft of all hope, and in a state of rebellion against our Creator. Historically the veracity of the Bible should not be questioned, but as we have seen, men are naturally disposed not to believe it just because of miracles. Thomas Jefferson famously retranslated all of the New Testament, taking out all of the miracles. I think that is our natural tendency—to believe that only which we have seen. But if God really does exist—if he really cares about us individually—if he has chosen to communicate to us through his Son and his Word, then we neglect the message of Jesus at our own peril. Ought we not to at least begin by learning that message, and then, having learned, to let the testimony of miracles convince us that the message is indeed true?

1. McDowell, Josh; Dave Sterrett (2011-01-01). Is the Bible True . . . Really?: A Dialogue on Skepticism, Evidence, and Truth (The Coffee House Chronicles) (Kindle Locations 436-438). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2. McDowell, Josh; Dave Sterrett (2011-01-01). Is the Bible True . . . Really?: A Dialogue on Skepticism, Evidence, and Truth (The Coffee House Chronicles) (Kindle Locations 504-506). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.
3. McDowell, Josh (1992-09-01). Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1: 001 (pp. 39-40). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
4. McDowell, Josh (1992-09-01). Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 1: 001 (p. 39). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
5. Lewis, C. S. (2009-06-03). Miracles (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 4). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
6. Lewis, C. S. (2009-06-03). Miracles (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 11). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Is our faith in God reasonable?

Naturalism as a philosophy pervades our world. What is naturalism, you may ask? Naturalism is the philosophy that what you see is the only thing that is. Naturalism has pervaded our world for many thousands of years, but its focus on our society sharpened considerably after the Reformation. As men learned things like germ theory and watched the star’s march through the universe they came to appreciate that many things heretofore unknown, were actually following regular and definable laws. Some improperly declared that all things must be observable, else they would not be true. People who are a lot smarter than I am have taken that statement: All things must be observable to be true, and asked is that statement observable? Since we cannot see that statement in our world and have no way of testing it, it cannot have the validity of its own words. It collapses totally as a philosophy since we cannot demonstrate its truth using our observations.

Many of our forefathers embraced the idea of strict observation to understand the world around them. Studies of the lives of Franklin, with his many inventions, as well as that of Jefferson, who I understand in his towering intellect, wrote some original calculus that is still admired today, show that we had forefathers who embraced observation of the world around them as a main means of understanding it. Nevertheless, such men, not renowned as Christians themselves, were also men to declare that we have “certain unalienable rights” that are derived directly from our Creator. They were by no means captive to naturalism; instead they boldly stated something never stated before: Man is endowed by rights that come from God, and government has no right to interfere with them. We do not understand the scope of this statement until we realize what it was implying—that justice and liberty come from God, and not from government. It was a statement that implicitly challenged the right of any government to govern apart from due regard to these unalienable rights. For the first time in history, a government was to be built on the premise of God-given rights. Whatever else they may have thought about Christianity becomes eclipsed under these unalienable rights. They were basing the foundations of our very government on the theme of rights coming from God, not rights granted benevolently from our government. Thus, the philosophy of our government was totally against the philosophy of today, that of naturalism.

When we look at many of the things government is trying to do to, and for, the people today, we can see just how far wrong the government has come in commanding what we “ought” to do. But that, as interesting as it is, is not the question I am seeking to answer. Is our faith in God reasonable? The answer to that question might come from naturalism, one of the biggest beliefs of our day. But naturalism has no place at all, properly speaking, since it is illogical and, as we saw above, collapses under its own weight. Life is certainly much more than what we see, and scientists are just beginning to understand how unique we are, in all of the universe. It used to be, in the time of C.S. Lewis, that men thought we were just one of a multitude of worlds, yet now, that idea is being seriously challenged. Our universe cries out for the hand of a designer.

Recently I did some repair work on my driveway, and a new patch of concrete was carefully laid. The name, Dwayne, appeared in a fresh piece of concrete repair to my driveway. When I looked and saw it, I did not assume that accident and mutation and chaos had created the name, “Dwayne” in my concrete. I knew that my grandson Dwayne had scrawled his name in it. I saw a design and correctly presumed a Designer. Similarly, when I was a young man of 17, in my third year of biology, I first observed something which struck me as unique, and perhaps not possible apart from being designed. I did not know it then, but I had been struck by the first cause argument. The first cause argument is one that draws us back to see something that has caused the event to occur. So it was when I was 17, and I first considered the general properties of water. Water, with its freezing point of 32 degrees, and a boiling point of 100 degrees, just fit the world in which we live. Though I did not fully understand the consequences, I could see that a five degree variation in the properties of water would have enormous, if not lethal, consequences on the world. Where would our water cycle be? Rain could become enormously more or less, according to the properties of water. What if water froze at 50 degrees? It would appear mostly as ice in our world, and most likely life as we know it would not be possible. It was the first time, as an adult, that I had looked at something simple in our world, the water molecule, and wondered how it came to be. It was screaming to me that design was in the properties of water—for it was simply incredible to me that it all happened by accident.

I have been reading an excellent book, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”, one of the very best books on Christian apologetics I can remember reading in my lifetime. In it, the authors give an excellent quote from Philip Johnson, “Phillip Johnson serves as the sharp edge of a steel wedge that is now splitting the petrified wood of naturalism in the scientific community. He correctly points out that “Darwinism is based on an a priori [prior] commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses.””1 Materialism, being another synonym for naturalism, is assumed by its believers, and cannot be proved. The evidence, even in the simpler blocks of cell life, screams for a Designer.

It takes much more faith to believe that an accident, with the right chemicals, with just the perfect situation, and with a precise measurement, was what started life on the earth. We have so much in our world, just as I wondered about the properties of water above that screams out that it has been designed. It can therefore be concluded that our faith in a Creator is perfectly reasonable. Notice that I have not got as far as Biblical revelation yet, and so I have not established that the Christian God is indeed reasonable. At this point all that can be concluded is that the evidence of the beginnings of life suggest a complexity that appears impossible for accident and chaos and mutation to work together and randomly create life. At this point, our intelligent scientists are still struggling to create anything like the beginning of life—it appears impossible. But even if it is possible, and they succeed at long last in creating some of the simplest forms of life, all they have done is proven that it takes intelligence to create life.

I have been overly simplistic for the sake of brevity, and again I point you to the book as being well worth your time if you have ever wondered about these basic questions. In my next post, I will try to show that the Bible can be reasonably taken as our sign from this Creator God, and that we can rely totally on its message.

1. Geisler, Norman L.; Turek, Frank (2004-03-12). I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Foreword by David Limbaugh) (Kindle Locations 2352-2354). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

What does the Bible mean when it says you are saved?

Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:4

The word saved is not at all foreign to the New Testament, and is used scores of times, but what does it mean? The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost, says the Scripture. To understand the meaning of lost, we have to go back to the place where man first got lost, the book of Genesis. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent, and both give in to that temptation. It is at that point that the “deed” of mankind is turned over to the tempter. Perhaps the whole of earth is included in the transfer, for we know that Jesus refers to Satan as the “prince of the power of the air”, and we certainly know from Paul that the whole of creation is groaning because of its lostness. Isaiah tells us that one day, when the earth is restored, everything will be so different. He tells us that the child will play next to the snake and not suffer harm, that the wolf and the lamb will lie down together, and that the lion will come to eat straw.

Earth will have to undergo radical changes for these things to happen; and there is a plethora of other things that will happen in the final judgment of mankind, the time when Satan will at last be judged for his folly. If you are at all like me, you have to be wondering why all of this unfolded the way that it did, but we are not exactly told the why. We do have a bit of information on what happened, though. If I may speculate a bit, I would guess that we have been used as an instrument to foil the plan of Satan, that God took us, the least of beings, and made us to be that which brought the folly of Satan to light, that all of heaven may see it plainly. In other words, God is using the least of beings to confound one of the highest of beings, and wants to at the same time, put on a demonstration for all to witness. Certainly, the scripture says that “you shall bruise his heel and he shall bruise your head”. From the beginning of time man has waited for the Redeemer, seeing him come at last and allow himself to be put on a cross, to die for all who should receive him.

Receiving him will lead to being “saved”, for we were under the indictment that had stood from the time of Satan’s Garden temptation, and were to be judged. When we accepted the temptation, we became the mirror image of our new father, but what does it mean to be in the image of our father? In Isaiah, Satan purposes for himself five “I wills” that seem to give us a glimpse of what we became. Let’s look at those five “I wills”:
1. I will ascend into heaven (Is. 14:13).
2. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God (v.13).
3. I will sit on the mount of the congregation (v. 13).
4. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds (v. 14).
5. I will be like the most High (v. 14).

Heaven must have shaken on the day that it heard these five “I wills”, and I am not going to look at each of them and try to figure out what they might mean, but this much is evident. The “I wills” are statements of pride lifted up against the Most High. In transferring our ownership from God to Satan, we transferred our likeness from being like that of God our father to that of Satan our father. I would guess that our biggest folly has to do with imitating the last “I will” which says I will be like the most High. In the case of Lucifer, the shining one, there was at least some reason behind the pride. He held the glory of God and was responsible to make it shine for all to see. In the case of men saying I will be like the most High, it is utterly ridiculous, for compared to God we are nothing.

And yet there is a basis for the claim. Somehow when we were created, God breathed his image into us, and we are forever stamped with something of his nature in us. And that image has become horribly marred with our sin. God chose to judge that sin, our sin, in the body of his own Son. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Thus, we are “saved” from the wrath of God, just as we were all condemned in sin through Adam, so we are all made righteous through believing God. Not everyone is saved; only those who believe. “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6). God has saved us from wrath and judgment through faith in what Jesus, his Son, has done.

So in mankind, God has chosen to rescue those from judgment who will believe. But, what, you may ask, does God do about those who do not believe? “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Thus, the saved are those who believe God. In the instant that you first believe, then the wonderful processes of God are put into motion, sealing you forever to Christ. Chafer says it this way: “Being in Christ, they are one in each other in a mystic union which is both incomparable and incomprehensible—a unity like that within the blessed Trinity (John 17:21-23). They are already constituted citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). These blessings are not only as exalted and spiritual as heaven itself and eternal, but they are secured apart from all human merit at the instant one believes on Christ to the saving of the soul.”1 At the point of belief, the work is all God’s, and none of ours.

In giving the gospel, which means literally “good news”, to all of mankind, men have been cunningly creative in missing the message. There is not any “saving” available to any, except to those who will believe. Men and women famously put off this important decision; others when they hear the claim, consider it well, and then go on with their lives, forgetting all about it. That will simply not do. Men and women have thought over the centuries that somehow God will “fudge” things in their favor, and they think that they will not be condemned, because they know of many who are behaving more wickedly than they are. That will simply not do. We are not in a contest, vying with one another to see who is better. Rather, we are all condemned under Adam with the same death penalty. Unwittingly, we placate ourselves with platitudes, thinking that someday we will work it out, and frequently we go to our graves without ever having worked it out. That, too, will simply not do. The day of choice is here and now, and the claims of Christ are the most important claims you will ever consider. Listen to the very words of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). No one—not one person will ever come to God under his own power, with his own deeds. We are under a blanket condemnation that can only be removed by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus—sometimes referred to shortly as “accepting Christ”. That is what it means to be saved. Simply, it is the only thing that will do.

1. Chafer, L. (1947). Systematic theology (Vol. 4, p. P.16). Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press.