Saturday, May 30, 2015

What does it mean when it says God loves us?

The biggest underlying question to be looked at before we examine God’s love from a Biblical perspective is, if God loves the world so much why does he allow so many to perish? To put it another way, if God sovereignly and only elects, as some would maintain, how is it that God claims to love the world, and yet allows so many to perish? A God of love who allows most people to perish is a God whose love becomes a love that is not understandable. John Wesley, so famously wrong about much doctrine, perceived at least this—a God who puts people into Hell without any chance of redemption is an evil God, and Wesley famously denied that we had such a God.

The logic of the difficulty is irrefutable. To state it briefly, the first premise is that God alone sovereignly chooses to save some. The second premise comes from the first, God deliberately excludes some—most of mankind—and makes it impossible for them to be saved because he sovereignly has excluded them. The difficulty of what is being suggested is obvious—God’s love for the world must include a plan to put or allow, if you will, most people to go to Hell, and that is hardly a good definition of what we understand love to be.
The premises can be stated thus:
1. God is a God of love.
2. God sovereignly chooses to save some.
3. God sovereignly chooses to damn most.
4. Therefore, God’s love is expressed in the damnation of most of the human race.

Yet, stated so starkly, I doubt there are many who would really hold to these glaring contradictions. Indeed, many Christians, upon hearing this strict interpretation, have noted that that if they really believed in that sort of God they would turn away from Christianity. The definition of love becomes so distorted that they cannot understand how God could be a God of love. Some have pointed out that under this belief system God and Satan at least agree on the general aim that both want most people in Hell.

Chafer, no Arminian himself, refers to this difficulty when he points out, “The fact indicated in this text, that the one ground of condemnation is the failure to believe on Christ as Savior, confirms the truth, restated more than one hundred times in the New Testament, that the one and only condition of salvation is faith in Christ as Savior.”1 Thus, the difficulty is overcome when we realize that while all of the above premises may be true, salvation in every case is dependent on faith. It is very true that conviction and calling must come from God, but it is also true that no one gets there apart from faith. Indeed, the lack of faith is what separates us from a loving God, for it says that he is not come to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might be saved.

Thus we have the complete sovereignty of God in each of our salvation, without exception, but we also have a hundred percent response of faith. Sovereignty and the choice of man works together in a way that we cannot, in this lifetime, understand. But we can understand the goodness of a God, who in his mysterious purposes, has elected some to be saved, and still holding everyone to account for not having faith. It is not a complete answer, I am afraid, but it seems to be what the Bible leaves us with, and is the best that I can do.

It is only with man being given responsibility for his faith, or lack thereof, that the love of God becomes evident. First, he loved us enough to send his son to die for us, that as the Scripture says, “whosover will may come.” Jesus, going to the cross, famously laments over Jerusalem over and again, saying, oh Jerusalem, oh Jerusalem. The lament itself only makes sense if we clearly see that when he says how often I would gather you and you would not, that when he says that he was holding Jerusalem responsible for their poor choices. Choices are somehow always folded into the sovereign plan of God.

I always think of the rich young ruler, whom Jesus loved (says the gospel), whom was given the choice of laying aside his riches and following Jesus, or following his riches. He chose wrongly, following his riches, of which he had many. Jesus was saddened by his choice, and uses his choice to remark that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven. At least in this case, we see someone loved of God, invited by God to follow, and refusing to do that which he knew was right. I think that the many of the lost souls can fit into this same category, loved by God, invited to follow, and yet finding some excuse not to follow. I do not know for certain, but I picture God saddened by the choices of so many for whom he died, but who for one reason or another, never have faith. God, fully justified, and yet still loving, is perfectly righteous to judge those who were given every opportunity to escape their judgment. Can there be anything more tragic to the lost to know that they have died and been judged, and yet still are loved by God? I can think of nothing worse to happen to me than to know I have missed the love of God, and because of justice an eternal wall now separates me from his love.

The discerning reader may note that I have avoided the common arguments of election. I think these arguments are argued far too much, and I think that we are not to know the complete picture of God’s election, much less be able to explain it coherently to anyone (something no one has ever done). At every point we see the word of God, we have one obligation, and that is to believe. Therefore when the scripture points to his sovereignty and election, as it does in so many places, our obligation is to believe. When he tells us that we must believe, then it becomes our responsibility before God to believe. Let the theologian work out how God does it; it is my plain duty to believe God, and that I fully aim to do.

Back to the question, what does it mean when it says God loves us? The perfect definition of love is what it always will be: Jesus. If fact, if I may borrow from an old saying: “Know Jesus. Know love.” “No Jesus. No love.” In the end, it will come down exactly to that. God has already judged the sins of the world, being borne on the back of our Savior, and if we persist in not believing that, we place our souls to be judged justly—something that not one of us can ever bear, and condemnation will always result.

God loves us enough to send his own Son to die in our behalf. We may think being old and experienced that we understand what love is all about, but until we meet Love we know nothing about it. Our worldly experiences, both disappointments and victories, will always pale before the love of God. And everything we think we know about worldly love will change irretrievably once we know Jesus. The best love experiences will serve but as preludes to the main act; the worst experiences will dim and be forgotten as we get to know the one true love, Jesus.

I leave with one devotional thought. Is there anything more that a loving God could give to free men other than that which he has freely given? In the cross which Jesus willing endured God literally gave his all. I find it such a wonderful harmony that each of the early Fathers was asked to give his child. Abraham literally was asked to sacrifice his son. Jacob watched his sons fight, and Joseph fled for his life, having stolen his father’s blessing, but his curse was to never see either his mother or his father again. Jacob’s favorite son was lost to him for many years but was at last restored, giving us a picture our Son who will one day be restored to us. In all three cases men were tested, being asked of God to give up their own sons, and giving us a picture of what, one day, God would do for us. Greater love hath no one than this—that Jesus should be freely offered that we might have the forever love of God. It is the ultimate gift of God. It is impossible that God should do more.
1. Chafer, L. (1947). The Convicting Work of the Spirit. In Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, p. 218). Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

What does the Bible mean when it says we should train up a child in the way he should go?

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

Jesus said to suffer the little children to come unto him, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God. I have spent a lifetime working with children, mostly nine and ten year olds, and I am still a bit amazed by the readiness with which a child receives the gospel. I have eight grandchildren, and each of them I found wonderfully open to things which would help them to know God. I believe that this openness, this readiness is what our Lord refers to when he says “for such is the kingdom of God.” Elsewhere, the Lord reminds us, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).

As a society, I think we often recognize this preciousness of the young child, and though the nine and ten year olds that I teach have begun to lose their “very young preciousness”, there is still much to see and appreciate that is just so wonderful. As a teacher in his last weeks, I am grateful to God that he allowed me to spend so many rich years in the company of young children. They have kept me young in so many ways (I learned to solve the Rubik’s Cube this year!). The Bible gives us much direction in raising children, but what specifically does it mean when it says we ought to train up a child in the way he should go?

As a teacher, my heart aches when I deal with children of split custody homes, or worse, homes broken completely, without the benefit of a mom or a dad. The children often are finding an equilibrium in my class, and some wonderful adaptations happen all the time. Still, I look down the road for those children, and my heart aches for the basic fundamental way that they perceive the world. Without regard for finding fault, or attaching blame, children of motherless or fatherless families, or children with an abundance of three fathers or mothers, will never gain a “normal” view of relationships.

Often we in the church teach that we should appreciate our heavenly father as we appreciate our earthly fathers. More than once I have had adults come to me explaining that their earthly fathers were horrible abusers, and asking how to gain a good view of a benevolent Father in heaven. It is not that salvation is not offered to all such people; if I read my Bible correctly salvation is offered to all. But those with a severely distorted image of their mother or their father will have such a more difficult time in coming to Christ, in seeing the goodness of God.

It would seem to me to be a fundamental mistake to talk about this verse without mentioning that it is so important that the essentials be met in the family. My heart aches for the parents who have experienced divorce and are trying desperately to give some sense of normal to a child in that context. It is not uncommon for me to see children who go to two different homes, with one home supporting the school homework model, and the other neglecting it. Often these children have to manage two different backpacks, and made decisions several days in advance anticipating their schedule changes. It is a wonder to me that some do it so efficiently! Yet many struggle. I have had situations with children in more than two custody situations—often with a loving grandmother in the background. Home rotation is an excuse for late homework, or long term assignments are left at the wrong home. When I as a teacher ask the right questions I realize the responsibility of such children is at least double that of the ordinary child. They must find strength from themselves, at an age when most of them have barely mastered the ABCs, or the multiplication tables.

I wonder what the outcome will be for these children, but then I look at forty and fifty year old adults who reflect deep distrust of long term relationships that originates in the decades past problems of their own mothers and fathers. They seem to have problems maintaining long term relationships themselves, and thus the weakness of the parents is endowed to the children. It is because of family decline that many prophecy the complete decline of American society.

How would I advise such parents? All such parents often reach the same conclusion. They must begin with the basics. Find that relationship with God. Make it fundamental—strip all priorities aside and begin living with Christ as the Lord of your whole life. Often I see someone bereft of their spouse with everything already stripped away. They are hurting—hurt bad enough to jettison a lot of the baggage that stops us from following God. But that is just the beginning of perhaps a decade of rebuilding the broken.

The children are understandably broken when families fracture. Often we teachers see children lose a year or more in education. Instead of paying attention to the classroom and the lessons being taught, their little heads are filled with all the confusion and trauma of what has happened to them. They begin to fall behind, and do not take the time to absorb the new steps, and sometimes do not have the reinforcement that is so important coming from home. This is the time for “acting out”, expressing the frustration that is filling their hearts. Parents readily get this without having to be told—I see situation after situation where a compassionate parent is working to shore up the deficiencies showing up in the child. Often well-meaning school counselors intrude at this point and diagnose the child with ADD, when the parent should know it is the frustration of their life which is not unfolding in the way they had expected. Many millions of children have been diagnosed thus, when a central focus on the basics of life is what their little hearts are really crying out for.

Which brings me back to the question: how are we to train up a child in the way he should go? In these cases the answers are varied with the ages of the children. One bit of advice is that if you make a big sudden change over to following Christ do not expect your child to automatically and quickly follow, particularly if it is an older child. One does not usually change overnight—if you stop for a moment and consider, it took years for you to follow Christ. Give your child time to consider what you are doing and thinking. More evangelism takes place by parent’s examples than we might expect, and it is not here the spoken word that wins, but rather the deed. Take pains to let your faith be known, but also take care not to make your child feel uncomfortable and pressured to change. Be prayerful, for it is the Lord who softened your heart, and it is to the Lord that we must go if we expect to see change in our child.

To those who are blessed with a cohesive family the answer is easier. Never stop doing the things that you are doing—Bible classes, church attendance, and all the rest. Along with it, be sure to fill the house with Bible stories that are read often, with prayer and devotions in which the child participates. Over all, bathe the children in prayer. It was my earnest prayer that both my children come to Christ at an early age, and they both did. It was my earnest prayer that they both meet that someone special who was devoted to God, and they both did. We do have a God who is concerned for us, and when we present our own children to him in prayer, we have every confidence that he loves them more than we do.

I cannot leave this topic without reflecting on a special meaning that some have given to this verse. I do not think the meaning is present in the verse, but I agree with the philosophy behind it. Years ago, I seem to remember James Dobson teaching this on the radio—but my memory being on it is, I cannot say for certain. Dobson taught a very useful meaning to the verse. We should look for things that our child finds suitable, and when we find them, then perhaps we have found a characteristic that needs building. In other words, if we find that the child is particularly interested in scientific things, then we should work to awaken that interest. If he is musically inclined, then we ought to do what we can to see those interests enhanced. In short, child-reading then becomes a life-long process where we help the child to find fulfillment. Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.

I think the verse studied is not meant to be that wide in its interpretation—but what a wonderful thing it would be to seek to give to our children. In the busy-ness of life, I think the Bible is remonstrating us to take care of the basic teachings that are so important: knowledge of the gospel, a readiness to take things to God in prayer, to respect their fellow man. If we teach them to fear God and love their fellow man, we have accomplished much.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Who do you say that I am? -Jesus

This one question is the most important question to all of mankind. If Jesus is who the Bible presents him to be, then every man’s fate is dependent on whether he recognizes and accepts that which Jesus has done. It is not too much to say that every man’s eternal fate is wrapped up intrinsically with this one man. Who, you may ask, is Jesus, that he should have so much to do with my eternal destiny?

Today is the age of materialism, and it is often believed that what you see is what you get. Nancy Pearcey tells us about the self- contradiction of materialism: “Indeed, the sheer act of asserting materialism contradicts itself. If I say, “Everything that exists is material,” is that statement itself material? Is it merely a series of sound waves? If I write out the statement, is it nothing but marks on a piece of paper? Of course not. The statement has a linguistic meaning. It has logical properties. It has a social function (communicating to others)— all of which transcend the material dimension. Ironically, materialism cannot even be stated without refuting itself.”1 The Bible proclaims that man is an eternal being, created in the image of God, lost in the throes of sin, and held captive to a blindness that cannot acknowledge their Creator.

There is an empty spot in the soul of man that used to be filled by our knowledge of God, and we have no way of filling it again, but we are continually drawn towards filling that emptiness with anything that we can find; we invent our idols, and sometimes give those idols the very power of a god so that we may fill this empty void. But it is to all no avail. Nothing quite fits the void except the very person whose absence made the void, and man is doomed to an endless chasing after the wind, trying to fill an unfillable hole.

Who is this Jesus that he should act as the winnowing fork for mankind? Investigating what the Bible says about Jesus is a worthy study, and will be the focus of this short piece. But I believe it is very important to recognize the very different Jesus who is presented by the world. Every kind of Jesus is presented from the world, that people might look and receive that which is counterfeit. The lie abounds in the world that Jesus was just a great teacher and a wonderful person, but the Bible sets serious claims for Jesus being God come in the flesh. If we believe in anything less than the picture so clearly drawn in scripture, we are making Jesus out to be less than we ought, and imperil our own souls. Calling Jesus, who claims to be the very Son of God, a great teacher or a good person is the highest of insults. Some teach that Jesus is just an angel come for the mercies of mankind, but even this is insulting to the God, who in his great mercy, came in answer to our critical need.

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9, 10). Across the New Testament is broad agreement that we are to hear the gospel and believe, and that believing we will be saved. How is it that Jesus is able to make such fantastic claims? Those very claims preclude any chatter about Jesus being a good teacher—for if he were not telling the truth, then it is obvious on the face that he could not be good. He did not leave that choice as an option for us. Either he must be lying (and therefore an evil teacher), or he must be mad (delusional people are be held not to be responsible for their beliefs), or he must be who he said he was. If he was mad, he would have been dismissed at once, but then what are we to do with his miracles? What are we to do with the masses who chose to follow him, knowing that they would lose their families and membership in the synagogue? Such people give their uttermost, their all, testifying that who they saw was neither a teacher, nor a delusional deceiver. And that leaves us with only one choice—he was who he said he was—and we need to take the utmost care with those claims. It does no good to suggest that since you have seen no miracles that you will not believe in them, for are we not then making the materialist’s objection that he knows that only what is visible is real? Such a claim itself is more than what we can see, and therefore it is self-refuting.

It will do no good whatever to dismiss the witnesses of history, for they were just as you or I and very probably just as skeptical as we would be. Thomas, skeptical to the end, was shown the holes in the very body of the Lord, and his reply should carry great weight with us, “My Lord and My God.” Skeptical of miracles? That is exactly how you are supposed to be—and I submit, it is exactly how many of the witnesses were. Miracles are not supposed to happen every day. They are supposed to shock us when we see them, they are quite out of the ordinary. When one person tells us they see a miracle, we have every right to offer skepticism, but when multitudes over the course of years tell us the same thing, in many times and in many ways, of course it will shock our sensibilities, but by all means it should cause us to stop and behold.

It is no good for us to dismiss the scriptures out of hand. They have been rigorously studied, copied many thousands of times over, and withstand all the criticism of the centuries. The gospels present a four sided portrait of Jesus that is in great harmony, and the differences are no more than a reasonable person might expect from different witnesses. Contrast the recent unrest in Ferguson, and the wide variety of witnesses. We have some “witnesses” who testified what they saw, and yet were proven beyond a reasonable doubt not to be there at all. There are witnesses in sharp disagreement who were there—what they saw and interpreted widely varied. Should we not expect our four writers of the gospel to give us a somewhat different emphasis on Jesus? That is exactly what we find. Men and women who were present and saw these things agreed with the presentation of the gospel writers. Any who exaggerated or stated things that were not true were not accepted as valid. There are really very few “disputed” passages in the gospels, and one could safely remove those disputed passages and still be left with a multitude of plain claims for Jesus that present him as God come in the flesh. Philip Schaff, an eminent theologian of the 1800’s, summarizes the first three gospels this way: “We conclude, then, that the Synoptists prepared their Gospels independently, during the same period (say between A.D. 60 and 69), in different places, chiefly from the living teaching of Christ and the first disciples, and partly from earlier fragmentary documents. They bear independent testimony to the truth of the gospel. Their agreement and disagreement are not the result of design, but of the unity, richness, and variety of the original story as received, understood, digested, and applied by different minds to different conditions and classes of hearers and readers.”2

But what of the Christ, as he is presented in the gospels? We learn that the Son existed with the Father before all time, and from the gospel of John we learn that “all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3). Indeed, John seems to emphasize Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior of all mankind. Luke, the careful physician, says, “and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:23). Thus Luke records the testimony of those who heard the voice of God; testimony can be no higher. Mark, who spent a great amount of his time with Peter, was most qualified to share Peter’s words about the Messiah, and he did share, saying, “Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Matthew agrees with the other gospels, saying, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:18, 19, italics added). In all the gospels, then, there is a great harmony and agreement. Jesus, the Son of God, has come to redeem a world lost in sin. Schaff concludes this about the claims of the gospels, “He, the humblest and meekest of men, makes these astounding pretensions in the most easy and natural way; he never falters, never apologizes, never explains; he proclaims them as self-evident truths. We read them again and again, and never feel any incongruity nor think of arrogance and presumption.”3

These are the claims of Jesus. The question remains. Who do you say that he is? For if what is recorded is correct, and the historical evidence is very strong that it is, one day each of us will have to answer that question, and we will be held responsible for our reply. God has sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins, but he will not force himself upon us. His Spirit woos us and convicts us, for he does indeed love us, but in the end, we must decide to believe. It is the only way given among men whereby we must be saved. If we dare to offer ourselves on the basis of our own merit, we shall surely fall. Recently a leader in New York made the facetious claim that when he died he would receive a “fast pass” to heaven, and would bypass all others based on his merit. The man who trusts his own merit is trusting a fool; there will be no good end to such trust. God sees us as we are, and chose freely to die in our behalf, that we might not have to die ourselves. But we must receive the gift of God if it is to have efficacy in our lives. What fools we must look like to the God of infinite mercy who has provided salvation to all when we spurn out of hand his free gift, if we will but receive it. “But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become sons of God, even to those who believe on his name.” If you have not seriously looked at the claims of the gospels, perhaps today is the day to start looking.

1. Pearcey, Nancy (2015-03-01). Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes (p. 192). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.
2. Schaff, Philip (2014-01-12). History Of The Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes In One) (Kindle Locations 8600-8604). . Kindle Edition.
3. Schaff, Philip (2014-01-12). History Of The Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes In One) (Kindle Locations 1815-1817). . Kindle Edition.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

How can we read and understand the Bible?

The doctrine is crystal clear on this point. A natural man cannot understand the things of God—neither can he behold the God who is made present in the scriptures. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (2 Cor. 2:14). The fool says in his heart that there is no God—not because he is a fool, though that may indeed be the case, but because natural man cannot know God.

The Bible clearly teaches that man is born in sin; he cannot understand the things of God apart from God’s call. But the Bible is equally clear at this point; Paul declares that to us belongs the ministry, or the word, of reconciliation. “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19). It is to be our aim to reconcile the world to Christ. Is Paul thus saying that the whole of the world is going to receive the word of God? No, a thousand times no! Rather Paul is saying that we should use every tool possible for offering Christ to the lost world, in the knowledge and hope that some will be saved. It was Paul’s aim to lead to Christ every person whom he met, and he used every bit of persuasive speech that he could muster to influence his audience. “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). A worthy goal—that of presenting every man in Christ, and it was something that Paul knew to be impossible, for there has been no time of universal salvation, nor will there be any time where all sinful men find regeneration. Rather Paul was giving to us a lofty goal—that, if by any means, some more might be saved.

Isn’t Paul at this point suggesting the need of the field of apologetics? If by any means, he says, implying that we ought to be ready to defend the faith against all. Indeed, Peter says this very thing, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15). We have to live in a blinded culture, with a blind people who have devised all sorts of evil thoughts and systems to deny God, but we ought not to remain blinded ourselves. Let us seek to do as both Peter and Paul did, to present in every manner that we can possibly conceive the resurrected Christ in the hope that some might have their veil torn down, and that they might see. We can present the word of God as servants who need not to be ashamed. Examine our proofs, test the words, and perhaps find the very power of God.

Nancy Pearcey has some great insights along this line: “At its best, apologetics includes not only the critique of idols but also the creation of life-giving alternatives. Christians often have a habit of defining themselves by what they are against. Yet to oppose what is wrong, it is most effective to offer something better— to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12: 21). If science is often used to bolster arguments for materialism and determinism, then Christians should make it their goal to do better, more accurate science. If literature is used to glamorize sin and brokenness, then Christians should fire up their imaginations to create higher quality, more inspiring works of fiction.”1 Christians from many different perspectives tend to agree on this one main point—that if the Bible says it, then it must be true. Our disagreements tend to come more on interpretation of the Bible, rather than on questioning the foundation of the Bible. In other words, we have great general agreement that the Bible is true, but sometimes we differ on what it is saying. But how can we defend that which we know not?

The knowledge of the Bible is weak among many of our churches. I was a bit shocked at the end of last year when a national movement almost was started to read the Bible through this year, and so many of whom I would term the best of servants admitted to not ever having read the Bible through. According to a recent survey, less than 20 percent of churchgoers read the Bible on a daily basis.2

Believing the Bible to be true, as Jesus did when he reminded us “that the scripture cannot be broken” is a huge asset in our Christian world today. The word of God is the foundation of all wisdom, and that wisdom which is not based on its truths must be error-ridden. It becomes our job, in defending the faith, to proclaim the truth of the scriptures to all, and that includes being able to show where people make their mistakes. But how can we do that unless we know the Bible ourselves, with a knowledge of the vain philosophies that have so successfully captivated so many? The field of apologetics is wide open, and I am so glad to see professors like Nancy Pearcey reminding us to sharpen ourselves to better face the unbelieving world.

Lewis reminds us that when we find ourselves going the wrong way the quickest way back is to turn around and go back the way we came. If you find yourself a believer, but not given to Bible reading, the quickest way to correct that is to begin reading today. Annual Bible reading plans abound, and there is no shortage of devotional reading plans that can be followed. The quickest way to maturity is to begin building the basics in your life, and a daily habit of reading his word will begin to transform your life. I am hoping and praying for a renewed movement for Christians to read their Bible, similar to what I saw starting at the end of last year when many people spoke of beginning Bible reading.

But how are we to read the Bible? First, we need to read it with great respect towards its context. I am reminded of the saint who wanted to know the will of God for his life, and opened his Bible at random, reading, “Judas hanged himself.” Puzzled, he decided to try again, and opening he read, “Go thou and do likewise.” We can all laugh at the old saw, but there is no substitute for knowing the word of God. Many are the Christian fables that abound, and one that I often hear is that there is more than one way of coming to God. I think American Christians may want to believe this because tolerance is considered such a great virtue. Can other religions be correct in any way? Our Lord has said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except by me”? Christianity has closed itself off as the only way to God, and that message rings clearly in the scripture, but how shall we know it if we do not read it?

As to understanding the Bible, that is proving for me to be a lifelong pursuit, and so it ought to be with all of us. We have found the lost treasure, the hidden diamond, and it is both rare and precious. Understanding comes with frequent reading, it is to be hoped, and as we become more aware of the precious treasure we have been given, we should become much more aware of our need to share. Paul tells us that we have a ministry of reconciliation, and I think it is past time that we found out about it. Is it time for your daily Bible reading yet? Our Lord reminds us that blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. How precious it is that we can go to read the Bible for ourselves, and then seek to keep it. There is a great blessing here for all who will find it.

1. Pearcey, Nancy (2015-03-01). Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes (p. 269). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.
2. “However, when asked how often they personally (not as part of a church worship service) read the Bible, a similar number respond "Every Day" (19 percent) as respond "Rarely/Never" (18 percent). A quarter indicate they read the Bible a few times a week. Fourteen percent say they read the Bible "Once a Week" and another 22 percent say "Once a Month" or "A Few Times a Month."”
LifeWay, Rankin, Russ, 2012, retrieved from:

Sunday, May 03, 2015

How are we to compare Elijah and John the Baptist?

Before I can compare these two Biblical figures, I need to present them as the Bible does. Elijah is considered the chief of the prophets. Not only does he have a large portion of 1 Kings given to him, but he also appears with Christ at the Mount of Transfiguration. It is there at the mount that Bible scholars figure his appearing with Christ implies that he is representative head of the prophets, and Moses, who also appeared, represents the head of the priests.

In many ways Elijah’s miracles were to prefigure the Christ who was to come. He raised a child from the dead, in the manner of which Christ was going to do. He fed the widow and her son with food that would not run out, even as Christ was to feed the five thousand. He withstood the soldiers of the enemy and conquered them, first with the priest on the mountain, and then with those set by the wicked king to apprehend him, and that is just as Christ is going to do at his return, where none shall be able to stand against his power and might.

John the Baptist, appearing in the New Testament, was nonetheless the last of the Old Testament prophets. It was his job to announce the coming of the Lord, and to proclaim to the people the need of repentance. He baptized many in the name of repentance, and even baptized the Lord when the Lord appeared before him. It was John who saw the Spirit of God descend like a dove and abide upon Jesus.

John the Baptist was like Elijah in several ways. 2 Kings tells us that Elijah “was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” Matthew tells us that John clothes “were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist.” If we were to see such men in our times dressed this way we would probably seek to have them committed. I have often wondered what Zechariah and Elizabeth thought of their only son, John, and whether they knew God’s hand was upon him, or if they perhaps thought John had lost it. My reflection is unrewarded, for we are simply not told what they thought; we are told that both of them were prepared for God to do something special. Due to their age, they may not have lived themselves to see what God did through John the Baptist.

John was also like Elijah in temperament. They both confronted kings and rulers with their sin. Elijah confronted Ahab and gave him a dire prophecy about the future of his descendants. John confronted Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, and ended being beheaded for it. They both seemed to like living on the edges of their society. Elijah seemed to show up at unexpected times and places, earning the enmity of Ahab. John seemed to delight in the wilderness, and became a big enough figure that many Jews started coming out to where he was. They both worked very hard to turn people back to God, and they both preached the deep need for repentance.
Interestingly, the connection between the two, though hundreds of years apart, is not as remote as you might think. The last words of the last book of the Old Testament say, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

Scholars have long thought that passage meant that either the real Elijah, or one in the spirit of Elijah, would come before the coming of the Lord. Now this is where it gets a bit complicated. John the Baptist was sent as the forerunner of Jesus, and we have clearly seen that he was in the spirit of Elijah. Indeed, had the nation of Israel accepted the coming of their King, John the Baptist would have been considered Elijah. Jesus himself said this (Matthew 11:14), “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.”

But if he was not Elijah since Israel rejected their King, then that leaves the prophecy of Malachi unfulfilled. Interestingly Revelation does tell us of two prophets who both seem to be in the spirit and manner of Elijah. Is one of these two men the Elijah which is to come? Or is Elijah going to be another prominent character, not mentioned in the Revelation? I think the former is true, though there is no way to be certain until it happens. It is definitely the job of the two who are called witnesses to turn the nation of Israel back to repentance. This the Bible declares they will faithfully do until 1,260 days are past. That works out to exactly 3 ½ years.

Revelation 11 says that when their testimony is finished, then the beast will attack and kill them, leaving their bodies unburied in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 ½ days. The whole world will rejoice over the death of these two men because they tormented those who lived on the earth. But at the end of the 3 ½ days, God will cause them to come alive again, and will take them up to heaven, even while their enemies are watching. I can only speculate what will happen to the minds of the Jews who are watching, but it is easy to believe that at that point, with the incredible things they saw these two men do, along with their message, that they will as a nation at last recognize their folly. Zechariah tells us that at this time they will mourn for he whom they pierced, an obvious reference to Jesus. The prophets, coming in the spirit and power of Elijah, will have successfully accomplished that for which they were sent, to turn the hearts of Israel back to their God.

Why two prophets in Revelation, but only one prophet foretold in Malachi? I do not have an answer for that, but some scholars have suggested the identity of the two as Elijah and Moses, since these two were the ones appearing on the Mount of Transfiguration. Others suggest Elijah and Enoch, since these two men, out of all the men who have ever walked the earth were the only two not to have died. Enoch, says Genesis, was not, for God took him. Elijah was separated from Elisha by the chariots of fire, and a whirlwind carried him off to heaven. It would fulfill the Scripture just to have one prophet coming in the name of Elijah, and turning the nation toward God. But how God intends to do it no one is yet sure. We have to but wait and watch.

But the very names of Elijah and Enoch bring to mind that which the Lord has long promised. Both men escaped death, prefiguring the Rapture, the point at which God will pull his children out of the earth, that his judgments might at last be poured out upon the earth. Woe to those who are caught in this time! Think of it! The two witnesses are turning waters into blood, and bringing plagues upon man, and this is a woeful judgment, but at the same time it is evident in Revelation that judgments are being poured out upon the earth in many other ways. Israel will strike a false peace that will end with the death of the witnesses, and then the armies of the Middle East will mass to attack Israel. It is at that time, that great moment, the last possible moment before the little nation of Israel is destroyed, that the Son of Man shall appear, and all of the anger and sin against Israel shall come to exactly nothing.

Jesus tells us that he will come into Jerusalem, and there he shall rule for 1,000 years, bringing the peaceful bliss at last upon the earth, that has so desperately needed it. Zechariah and Isaiah describe this time as a time when men shall put away the instruments of war, beating their swords into plowshears, lifespans of men shall greatly increase, and all men shall honor the Jews as the nation which brought the Savior. Are we now living in the generation which shall see these things unfold? May it be so, and may Jesus return soon, heralded by one like unto Elijah.