Why the Resurrection Matters

As the Easter season will soon give way to the season of Pentecost, I thought it appropriate to once again ask the question: why does it matter that Jesus was raised from the dead?

There are many reasons why the resurrection matters. Here are just a few:

The first reason is a simple but obvious one.  The resurrection is very important because if it is not true, then the Bible is not true, and if the testimony of the bible regarding the resurrection is not true, then we might as well go ahead and throw out the rest.

In a courtroom setting, if a lawyer can prove that a witness is a liar, then their credibility goes out the window and the judge and jury are not going to regard their testimony with much weight.  If the bible is not telling the truth about the resurrection, then why should we suppose that it’s telling the truth about Christ’s death? Or about miraculous healings? Or about the fulfillment of prophecy?  Or what it says about the future?  Or anything for that matter?  So the resurrection is an important part of the bible’s teachings.

The second reason is related to the first. The resurrection is vitally important because Jesus himself said he was going to be killed by the chief priests and the scribes of his day and then rise again on the third day. 

For example, Luke records Jesus saying these words in the 18th chapter of his gospel. 

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

-Luke 18:31-33

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, not only is the reliability of the Scriptures called into question but the honesty of the Lord himself is now in question.

The third reason the resurrection is important is because from the very earliest days it has been considered an essential part of the good news about Jesus.

N.T. Wright, a world class New Testament scholar says:

“There is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief”

-N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Easter, p. 14

The Bible says that the resurrection is of “first importance”:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 

-1 Corinthians 15:3-8

The overwhelming majority of scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, believe that this passage is an early creed that was formulated within just a couple of years after the time of Christ’s death and resurrection.

All of that is to say that believing in Christ’s resurrection as a historical fact is an essential part of not only the Christian message but of the very gospel itself.  That makes it very important.

A fourth reason the resurrection is important is because it revealed the validity of the message of Christ. 

Luke wrote another book in the bible tilted Acts.  In chapter two of that book, he records a portion of one of Peter’s sermons.

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 

-Acts 2:22-24

Notice all the supernatural elements here that Peter mentions.  These supernatural elements validate Jesus’ claims. In verse 22, he notes that Jesus was a miracle and wonder worker, “as you yourselves know he said.”  This was well known information that nobody dared dispute.  Even his arch enemies didn’t question the miracles themselves but attempted to write them off by saying that he used Satan’s power to do them somehow (Matthew 12:27).

Luke mentions foreknowledge in verse 23.  Somehow Christ’s death and resurrection was foretold and foreknown.

“This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”

-Luke 2:23

That’s supernatural.

One scholar writes this:

“Jesus’ death was no surprise to God, nor was his suffering.  All the texts that Luke-Acts has cited about Jesus’s suffering point to the idea that God planned or knew that Jesus would suffer.”

-Darrell L. Bock, Acts, BECNC, p. 120.

Now notice the whopper in verse 24.  Who does Peter say raised Jesus from the dead?

“God.”

God raised Jesus from the dead.  In so doing, God gave his personal stamp of approval on the person of Christ and the message of Christ. 

Every other religious figure before and after Jesus, has died.  Somewhere out there is a headstone marking their spot.  But Jesus’ headstone was a massive rock that was rolled away when he rose.

When God raised Jesus from the dead, it was another one of those moments in the life of Christ when God was saying loud and clear, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased”, fully validating his message .

A fifth reason that the resurrection is so very important is because it is a part of our salvation.  In other words, the resurrection is important because without it, we would not in fact be saved.

“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

-Romans 10:9

In another place Paul says that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).  And if we are still in our sins, we are still under the curse and judgment of God.

So it is fair to say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ saves us!

How does it do that?

While the analogy is not a perfect one, think of an airplane.  If you are in an airplane, you are going to go where the airplane goes, correct?  If you are in the airplane and it takes off, you are going with it.  If you are in the airplane and it lands, you are landing with it.  If you are in the airplane and it crashes, you are crashing with it. 

The bible teaches over and over again that those who believe in Jesus are “in Christ.”  Of course, this is not a physical thing like the airplane analogy but the idea is similar.  The bible says:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

-Romans 6:3-5

Because we are in Christ, when Christ died for our sin, we died too, and because believers are in Christ, when Christ was raised from the dead, we too were raised to new life. 

We see this in other places in Scripture too:

“…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

-Ephesians 2:5-6

Somehow, in the spiritual realms we that believe are “in Christ” and because we are “in him” and he was raised, we too are raised along with him.  So if Christ were not raised, then we would not be raised either.

This point was so very important that Paul took time to address it in a letter that he wrote to the church in Corinth.  In that letter he writes these words (this is from 1 Cor. 15):

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Do you hear just how important the resurrection is?

The sixth reason the resurrection is important is because it gives value to our earthly sacrifices and labors that we do for Jesus.

If the resurrection didn’t happen and Jesus’ bones are out there somewhere decomposing in some grave, then I’m wasting my time writing this blog entry. As Paul said in the passage I just read a moment ago, not only am I misrepresenting God by saying that He raised Jesus from the dead, when in fact, He did not raise Jesus from the dead, but I’m making sacrifices that have no meaningful reward.  Paul says that if we hoped in Christ only in this life, we are of all men, most to be pitied.

If Jesus was just an ordinary man that died like all men do, then why make the sacrifices in his name that so many have made over the centuries? Why be thrown to the lions?  Why be crucified upside down?  Why move to India and live in a remote village among the sick and the poor for 50 years?  Why live in a remote jungle in Central America and spend the better part of your life in sweltering heat creating an alphabet and translating a book that’s full of errors and lies?

It’s not worth it if Jesus did not rise because one cannot be guaranteed of anything beyond the grave at that point.  Is there life?  Who knows?  If there is life, is there someone there who will bless us or reward us for what we’ve done?  Who knows?  Probably not if we’ve been misrepresenting Him all along.

The resurrections gives us assurance not only of life after we die, but that our efforts to tell others about the way into that life are not in vain.

“For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”

-Mark 9:41

Jesus will be sure that all receive their rewards, because he is raised from the dead.

The seventh reason the resurrection is important is because it gives us hope for the future.

We were watching National Treasure the other night and there’s a scene where they are trying to figure out the meaning of the phrase “the debt that all men pay.”  Eventually they came up with “death.”  Death is the debt that all men will pay.

Everyone will die.  You will die.  I will die. 

But it is because of the resurrection that we can look into the casket of our loved ones and know that this is not the end of the story.

Matthew Barrett, who is professor of the theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary writes:

“If your loved ones believe in Christ then even though they have “fallen asleep” they have fallen asleep “in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:18). And since they are united to this resurrected Christ, they have not perished but their soul has gone to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23), and they await that day when they will receive their resurrected body. As Paul tells the Corinthians, Christ’s resurrection is the first fruits of that great harvest to come. Though death came by the first Adam, in the second Adam “shall all be made alive” (15:22).”

-Matthew Barrett

The resurrection gives us hope beyond the grave and that is priceless. 

I’ve given you seven reasons this morning that the resurrection of Jesus matters.

Only For Those Who Trust Christ

This hope and these blessings are only for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ.  So I invite you now to put your trust in Jesus. 

He died and rose again so that you and I might have eternal life.  But you must receive Him. 

Jesus said:

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

-John 6:39-40

Look to Jesus in faith, today.

Baccalaureate 2019 at Red Door

At significant moment’s in our lives it is appropriate and even expected to take time to reflect upon the past, celebrate the present, and look with hope and anticipation into the future.

On June 9th, at 4:00 p.m. at Red Door Church in South Royalton we will have one of those significant moments as students and their families join local community leaders at our annual Baccalaureate Service to celebrate our first ever graduating class of White River Valley Wildcat’s.  Our goal is to propel them into the next chapter of their lives and to give them a positive vision for their future.

In the past it was customary for schools to put together a religious service to allow spiritual leaders (and students) to address the graduating student body as they prepared to enter the world.  At the university level, because most schools were originally founded for the education of ministers in the propagation of the Christian gospel these services would have been a normal part of the ebb and flow of university life.  Schools like Dartmouth, Lafayette, Wake Forest, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and many others all have Christian roots and their graduation ceremonies in the past would have reflected that.

While I had trouble finding an authoritative source on the subject, it seems that Baccalaureate services began during times when graduating oratory students would deliver sermons in Latin as part of their training.   The services were times to celebrate and worship God for lives dedicated to learning and the pursuit of wisdom.

Today, it is mainly the responsibility of churches and the students themselves to put together these services.  Over the years these services have evolved.  Our service is intended to be a time of celebration, inspiration, motivation and enrichment involving peoples of various backgrounds and traditions. Through video, music, song, prayer, speeches, and gifts we hope to put wind in the sails of graduating students as they embark on a new chapter in life.

We are honored to be working with the students of White River Valley School and other community leaders to put together a service that will be a treasured memory in the lives of the students, their friends, and family for many years to come.

We hope to see you there!

Why Explore Christianity First?

So you’re a non-religious skeptic and you’ve just received a flyer in the mail from a local church about coming to one of their Easter services.  You’re tempted to just throw it in the garbage.

Your mind says that you should explore this religion first before just rejecting it out of hand.  To reject it without having properly investigated its claims or at least going to a few church services, would be intolerant.  

But if you’re going to explore this whole religion thing, why start with Christianity?  Why not start with Islam?  Why not start with something like Confucionism?

Before looking at the other religions, it makes perfect sense to check out Christianity first. In fact there are five reasons why you should consider checking Christianity out first.

It Makes Good Sense to Start with Christianity 

The first reason you should start exploring Christianity before any other religion is it is falsifiable. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, we have a verse that is abnormal in comparison to other religious texts.

and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

-The Apostle Paul

This is the toughest way to start a false religion. If I were going to start my own religion, I would set it up to where the divine knowledge is found in you. After all that would be subjective and there’s no real way to falsify that way of thinking. Many of the world religions have followed a similar line of thinking. Hinduism, Buddhism and especially Mormonism rely on experience. Islam is slightly different because its truth claims actually rely on objective fact, however, Muhammad never gave his followers a way to verify his own claims. The closest thing we have to evidence in the Qur’an is that Muhammad said the Qur’an is so beautiful when read aloud that its beauty is self-authenticating. But even that claim relies on a subjective way of thinking and therefore doesn’t work.

A second reason a sincere seeker after truth should start with Christianity before any other religious tradition is grace. Why not check to see if Christianity is true if the easiest way to heaven is just by grace through faith? In the other religious traditions, you have to work and work and you may not even get into heaven after that. You could spend a lifetime working your way to God and never succeed. While on the Christian view, you receive forgiveness for the sins you have committed against God by turning from those sins and placing your trust in Jesus.

In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey relates a story about C.S. Lewis that I think is relevant. He writes:

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. ‘What’s the rumpus about?’ he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.'[1]

-Philip Yancey

A third reason you should consider the truth claims of Christianity first is that Jesus is the very focus of it. So many of the world’s religious groups have an opinion on Jesus Christ and Jesus even appears in the sacred writings of many faiths. When you look at the early traditions of some of the great world religions, they almost always have an opinion on Jesus (this is true of their modern adherents too). We’ll put aside the theological cults of Christianity that have Jesus in there in some form or another. Ancient Jewish believers described Jesus in the following way: He was the son of Mary;[2] had many disciples;[3] was a miracle worker;[4] claimed to be the Messiah;[5] was crucified on the cross;[6] and his followers reported he rose from the dead.[7] Jesus is even mentioned in the Qur’an more times than Muhammad and Muhammad is supposed to be more important than Jesus according to Muslims. According to the Qur’an, Jesus: was born of a virgin;[8] was to be revered;[9] was a prophet;[10] was a wise teacher;[11] was a miracle worker;[12] ascended to Heaven;[13] and in addition to that, Muslims generally believe Jesus will return in judgment.

But what about the varying views of Jesus within Hinduism? The variations within Hinduism are a product of the complex and divergent set of views within Hinduism itself and so for this reason, there is no one set of beliefs that all Hindus adhere to when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. Hindus may see Jesus in one or more ways: a holy man, a wise teacher and/or a “god”.

Like Hinduism, Buddhism provides no singular unified view of Jesus although a number of Buddhists will describe Jesus in one or more ways: an enlightened man, a wise teacher, and/or a holy man. There are even some Buddhists who will talk about Jesus as if he and Buddha would have been close spiritual brothers had they lived in the same time period. While others will openly claim that the Buddha reincarnated as Jesus. These portraits given by the different world religions are merely shadows of the very center of the Christian faith. Why not just start with Jesus in the search for truth?

 A fourth reason to consider exploring Christianity first is because it has the best worldview fit. Let’s take evil and suffering in the world as an example. While Christianity readily admits that there is evil and suffering in the world, most if not all eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism deny evil exists. Evil is just seen as an illusion in these worldviews. Western New Age adherents have a similar view on evil. Their worldview, provided by their religious beliefs, does not fit with what is actually true in the real world.

A fifth reason to consider Christianity before any other religion flows from the fourth reason. In the Christian worldview, you live a non-compartmentalized life. You’re not a Christian on Sunday and an atheist the rest of the week. It’s because the Christian worldview actually corresponds to reality that you can be a Christian every day and you don’t have to change your worldview when interacting with the real world. Buddhists and Hindus have this problem. While denying evil, Hindus and Buddhists have to live a compartmentalized life; denying evil religiously while interacting and even acknowledging it in everyday life.

Methodologically speaking, this is not a way to determine that Christianity is true but merely a few reasons why a reasonable and sincere truth seeker should consider looking into Christianity first.

End Notes

  1. Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 45.
  2. The Toledot Yeshu
  3. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a
  4. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b; The Toledot Yeshu
  5. The Toledot Yeshu
  6. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; The Toledot Yeshu
  7. The Toledot Yeshu
  8. Qur’an 19:18-22
  9. Qur’an 4:171
  10. Qur’an 6:85; 3:49-51; 5:75
  11. Qur’an 57:27; 61:14
  12. Qur’an 2:87; 3:49; 3:46
  13. Qur’an 3:55; 4:159

Why Do Prayers Go Unanswered?

Matthew 7:7: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

John 14:13: Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

John 15:16: You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.

John 16:23: In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.

Jesus evidently meant business when he said he would answer our prayers, which is really great! The problem arises when we pray for something to happen but it doesn’t happen. Every Christian has faced the dilemma of unanswered prayer at some point in their walk with God. Sadly, some folks who once believed even turn away from God because they pray for something they deem very important but it never happens.

Why would God not answer our prayers even if we pray in Jesus’ name?

Here are a few reasons that apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig gives in his book Hard Questions, Real Answers:

Contradictory prayers. One common sense reason that God cannot answer our prayers is because Christians pray contradictory things. Examples abound. Two guys praying they will marry the same girl. Thousands of people praying their favorite football team will win the game. Millions of people praying they will will the same $60 billion lottery. God couldn’t answer them all because they contradict each other.

Sin in our lives. One of the most basic reasons for unanswered prayer is unconfessed sin in our lives. Jesus’ promise of answered prayer presupposes that the Christian is living in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian who is living in unconfessed sin can have no confidence that his prayers will be answered.

Psalm 66:18: If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear.

1 Peter 3:7: You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

Wrong motive. Many times our prayers go unanswered because of wrong motives. Often times our motives are selfish. Even though Jesus said: Ask and it will be given to you, James, Jesus’ half-brother, elaborates:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James 4:3).

Self-centered prayer does not fall under Jesus’ promise. The correct motive for prayer should be God’s glory. This should be our motive in prayer: to request things of God, not for our selfish desires, but that His name might be glorified (John 12:28).

Lack of faith.* Jesus made clear that only believing prayer can be assured of an answer. He told his disciples: Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). James, speaking of someone’s prayer for wisdom, says:

When he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (James 1:6-8).

It would not be right, however, to suggest that in every case, a person who has doubts in their heart cannot receive the answer they desire to their prayer. Take the man with the son with the unclean spirit in Mark 9. The man acknowledges his lack of faith and yet Christ still is willing to do what the man asked him to do.

Lack of earnestness. Sometimes our prayers are not answered because, quite frankly, we don’t really care whether they are. We casually pray in our prayer meetings for a request but then shortly after we forget about it. In the end we don’t really care. Read the prayers of the many prophets and biblical figures in the Bible. Were they flippant in their prayer requests? What about Jesus? Read Jesus’ prayers in the Gospels and determine for yourself if he cared at all for his prayer requests to God.

Lack of perseverance. Our lack of persistence may be one reason our prayers are not answered. We pray once and then we give up too easily. Some Christians believe that all you have to do is pray once and you’re done. But that is not a teaching of Jesus. Remember the parable Jesus told his disciples about the friend coming at midnight to borrow some bread from his neighbor. The neighbor wouldn’t get up at first but because the friend kept pounding on the door and wouldn’t give up, the neighbor gets up and gives him the bread (Luke 11:5-8).

Or recall the parable of the widow and the judge (Luke 18:1-8). The unrighteous judge did not want to grant the woman’s request but she kept pestering him so much that he would grant his request. The point of the parable is we should always pray and not give up (18:1).

Finally, and most significantly, our request must be in accordance with God’s will if it is to be granted. The apostle John highlights this in 1 John 5:14-15:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.

As much as we may not like this at times, a big reasons our prayers often go unanswered is because God knows better than we do what ought to be done. We may believe we know the best way forward or the best solution to a thorny problem, but we are limited in time, space, knowledge, and insight. But the transcendent God sees the end from the beginning and knows what outcomes and solutions work together best for our good and for His glory. Sometimes it is for our own good for us not to have our prayers answered.**

Notes

*Be careful not to confuse this point with the teaching of some proponents of the Prosperity Gospel which says that blessing comes in proportional measure to your faith. The bible does not teach the Prosperity Gospel. Read this excellent article titled “‘Just Have More Faith’: How Bad Theology Hurts the Suffering” for a balanced perspective regarding the connection between faith and answered prayer.

**I borrowed heavily from the book, Hard Questions, Real Answers by William Lane Craig, Chapter 2 to write this post and I recommend reading that if people want a more in depth look at this issue.

Should Christians Submit to Earthly Authorities?

In the days of the Roman empire, when Christians were arrested and commanded to burn incense to the emperor or go to their death, countless Christians were thrown to the wild beasts. Brave young women like Perpetua and Felicity firmly believed that worship belonged to Jesus Christ alone, the one true living God and King, so they refused to offer sacrifices to the earthly kings of the day and paid the price with their lives.

The testimony of Perpetua (a summary can be read here or her full prison diary can be read here) has strengthened Christians of all stripes for centuries to be strong when facing persecution.

However, this kind of situation is hard for Christian Americans to fathom. America has long been a land where its citizens have enjoyed the freedom to practice their religion and worship as they desire without government intrusion and control.

Over time, these rights have created a sense of total autonomy and self-determination which have crept into many of the houses of worship across our land. We’ve conflated the idea of worshiping God alone and obeying God alone. The result, in the minds of many American believers today, is that if you are a religious person, no one but God has the right to tell you what to do. And with the very same vigor which Perpetua refused to offer sacrifice to the emperor, some believers today refuse to submit to earthly authorities.

But is this right? Is this understanding of authority biblical? Are Christians required to submit to earthly authorities?

There are a handful of places in the Scriptures that I think will help us to answer this question. Let’s start with the Gospels.

Jesus and the Earthly Authorities

Several weeks ago I preached a message on Luke 2:41-52 about the Boy Jesus at the Temple.

One of the most remarkable statements in that entire section can be found in verse 51:

“And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. “

-Luke 2:51

So right off the bat we see Jesus submitting to an earthly authority, namely, his parents. But why did Jesus submit to his parents?

First of all, it was not because they were perfect people. Not only does that Bible teach that all have sinned and fallen short (Rom. 3:23), but we see evidence of Joseph and Mary’s imperfect parenting in this very chapter of Luke. After discovering that Jesus was not with them after venturing probably a day ‘s journey from Jerusalem, they return to Jerusalem to discover Jesus in the temple conversing with the teachers of the day. Mary and Joseph are astonished at what the teachers in the temple are telling them about their son (v. 48). But Jesus is astonished at something else–that Mary and Joseph did not know that the Temple was where He would be (v. 49).

Yet, despite Mary and Joseph’s flaws, we find Jesus, the perfect Son of God, submitting to them. Jesus does not rebuke them harshly. He does not ignore their concern for his whereabouts. He does not argue with them. He does not use their ignorance or miscalculation as a reason to not submit to them.

Jesus, the perfect Son of God, submitted to them even when their judgment was flawed and limited.

Secondly, we know that Jesus did not submit to the earthly authorities of his time because he had no other recourse.

In another place in the Gospels, when Jesus is being dragged away by the chief priests and the elders of the people at Gethsemane (Matt. 26:47-56), Peter draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus then says to him,

“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

Matthew 26:52-53

Jesus had power to overcome the authorities that day, but he did not. He chose to submit to them, rather than summon down the angels and annihilate the authorities.

Again I ask, why?

All Authority Comes from God

Jesus himself gives us the answer in John 19 when he is on trial before Pontius Pilate:

“Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Then Jesus said, ‘You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.'”

John 19:10-11

In John 19, Jesus is speaking to a civil authority, but his comments can rightly be applied to all human authorities–parental (family), ecclesiastical (church), vocational (work) or otherwise. Authority is given to presidents, governors, parents and elders and the like, by God (see passages like Ephesians 6:2; Colossians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Titus 3:1; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 2:13-18; 5:1-5).

Jesus submitted to earthly authorities, because they were instituted and put in place by God himself–their authority was given to them by God. By being subject to them Jesus brought honor and glory to God. Broadly speaking, not submitting to these authorities was tantamount to not submitting to God (with some exceptions which will be addressed briefly below).

This is why Paul says in Romans 13:1-5

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Romans 13:1-2

But surely we are not required to submit to the authorities in every case, are we?

What happens when an authority that is set up by God commands something that is contrary to what God would command? Jesus’ was able to submit to Joseph and Mary because they were not asking him to sin (at least not in the example mentioned above). Now that we live in the New Testament era we know that Jesus allowed the authorities to take Him away and crucify Him at the end because that was the Father’s plan all along (Acts 4:27-28). But how does this apply to us?

Godly Disobedience

If you take Romans 13:1-2 without looking at the canonical context (all of Scripture), this passage could be used to justify support of Hitler and the Nazi’s in WWII. But when we look at the whole Bible, we find examples of godly people not submitting to authorities when what was being asked of them was sinful.

Daniel 3 and the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image is a good example of godly disobedience. When the Babylonian officials blew the horn and demanded that everyone gathered at the dedication ceremony bow and pay homage to the image, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down and worship. Their response to the king’s demand is worth quoting:

“[B]e it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

Daniel 3:18

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were right not to submit to Nebuchadnezzar’s commands in this instance because what he was asking was sinful–to obey would have been tantamount to sin itself (see Exodus 20:3-5).

Another remarkable biblical instance of disobedience to governing authorities can be found in Exodus 1. At this point in the Bible the Israelites had been living under Egyptian rule for several centuries. Over time they had become very numerous, so in verse 16 the king of Egypt commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all the baby boys born to the Israelites. But verse 17 says, “The midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.” If you read the verses following the decision of the Hebrew midwives, God honored their decision, even though they were not being subject to the civil authorities that God himself had placed over them.

There are New Testament examples of similar disobedience as well (see Acts 4 and 5 for example).

Clearly from these examples (and others), Paul’s remarks in Romans 13 cannot simply mean that Christians should always and in every case submit to the commands of the governing authorities. These stories reveal that there is a time when followers of God are obligated to object and disobey.

Something in Romans 13 needs to be qualified. I do not think that we need to qualify Paul’s statement (or Daniel’s in Daniel 2:21) that all authority is set up by God. Rather, John Piper suggests in a very helpful article tilted “The Limits of Submission to Man“, that Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1-5 has in view a good government in which “doing good deeds will generally find approval and doing evil will generally be punished.” In other words, the government that Paul has in mind in Romans 13:1-5 is one that defines good conduct and bad conduct roughly the same way God does (see verse 3). Paul’s instructions therefore pertain to the case in which a person finds themselves subject to a good government that generally does what is right in the sight of God.

Conclusion

So what are we to make of all of this?

The Christian who says they are subject to no person but God alone is sorely mistaken, but so is the Christian who always submits to authority, even when that authority is asking them to sin.

To put it simply, when your leaders command you to do something that directly goes against the commands of God, you are to disobey them, no matter the consequences, like the Hebrew midwives, Daniel, Perpetua, and thousands of other Christians over the centuries. However, when the commands of your leaders (presidents, governors, parents, pastors, bosses) do not contradict the commands of God, you are to be subject to them because doing so is to be subject to God and brings honor and glory to Him.

Where Stewardship Begins

For the Christian, managing your resources goes deeper than budgets, planning for the future, investing in the right places, and giving to worthy causes.  

Followers of Jesus have an altogether different starting point than the world when it comes to their finances: we believe that everything we have is the Lord’s, to begin with.

This is not a natural way of thinking.  From the earliest days, children learn to say “mine!” It’s instinctive, not taught. Humans are naturally selfish. We have to teach children to be generous and kind and to share because those virtues are contrary to nature.  For children, selfishness lives right on the surface, but as we grow older we learn to disguise it; we grow more sophisticated in the ways we reveal or don’t reveal it to others.

But the Bible says “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deut. 10:14). 

All things–everything that exists–viewed rightly, is God’s.

God Owns All that He Has Created

Let’s think about this in earthly terms. When a car company makes a car, it’s theirs until someone else purchases it.  They own the manufacturing plant that made the car and they own all the materials used to build it and even the labor.  It’s theirs from start to finish.  If the company decides to sell the car, they still own it until a buyer comes along and purchases the car at the price they’ve agreed to.  

Like the car manufacturer, all that God has created, He owns.  He owns the means of production and everything that is produced too.   But God’s ownership goes even deeper than that. God not only owns the raw goods used in production,He also created them! God has never had to approach a landowner to purchase property so that He could mine or drill or make lumber. God created the land, the materials, and even those who own the lands across the world. God created the matter, the light, the heat, the air and water, and all the processes that work together to create the raw goods.

Theologians use the Latin term ex nihilo to describe the way that God creates. It means “out of nothing.”

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

Hebrews 11:3 (ESV)

Humans do not have the ability to create the way God does (out of nothing). We must borrow what God has already made to do our work. All of our creating, even our creative ability, is derivative. Not so with God. God creates and He even creates the ability to create. What this means for us is that everything we “own” is really a gift from God. He made our ownership possible first by creating the world, and then by creating us and endowing us with the ability to synthesize, to manufacture, to work and build, and to buy and sell. We are all indebted to God.

Healthy Christian stewardship understands this point.

The Problem with Mere Tithing

In some Christian circles, tithing is seen as the major (or only!) requirement for Christians when it comes to stewardship. As long as a believer is giving 10% of their income they are fulfilling their obligations to the Lord, so it is said.

One of the problems with this perspective is that it fails to see how stewardship applies to all of life, not just our money.

As we have just seen above, God owns everything and merely allows us to use it. So why do so many Christians believe that only 10% belongs to the Lord? (I am aware that many Christians give significantly less than this and even some give nothing at all.)

Certainly, every believer should set aside some money to be given to the local church. That I do not dispute in any way, though the amount is up for debate (see this helpful article and this one for two opposing perspectives). However, if our idea of honoring God with our resources is limited to writing a check to the church each Sunday, we have failed to grasp the nature of true Christian stewardship.

As believers, all that we have should be used to bring honor to God. Our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). Our words (James 3:9). Our gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11). Our strength (Psalm 127:1). Our tangible wealth (Prov. 3:9). Our eating and drinking and everything we do (1 Cor. 10:31).

Because all of it, right down to the air we breathe, was a given to us by the God who made it.

The Dawkins Delusion

Richard Dawkins is a globally celebrated evolutionary biologist, skeptic, and atheist who most well know for his famous books, The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. In his book, The God Delusion,he summarizes what he calls “the central argument of my book.” The syllogism goes like this:

Premise 1: One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.

Premise 2: The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.

Premise 3: The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.

Premise 4: The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

Premise 5: We don’t have an equivalent explanation for physics.

Premise 6: We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.

Conclusion: Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist.

The argument is surprising, not because its a knock-down argument that disproves God’s existence, but because the conclusion doesn’t come from the premises. William Lane Craig notes that Dawkins’ argument, at best, shows:

“[T]hat we should not infer God’s existence on the basis of the appearance of design in the universe.”

-William Lane Craig

But that conclusion is still compatible with God’s existence and is even compatible with us having justification for believing in God’s existence. What if I believe in God’s existence not based on the appearance of design but on the evidence that the universe had a beginning? The fact that a finite time ago, there was no universe, which means there was no time, space, and matter–that in itself cries out for an explanation and points to some kind of transcendent cause that is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial. Or, to give another example of belief not rooted in the appearance of design, what if I believe in God’s existence based on the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Dawkins’ logic does nothing to dismantle a firm belief in the existence of God.

Not only does Dawkins’ argument fail because the conclusion is not incompatible with the existence of God, but because there are some issues with some of his premises as well. First, take the third premise, which looks at the idea of “Who designed the designer?” This is a very easy question to answer. The answer is God never had a beginning. No argument for God’s existence implies God had a beginning and nowhere in Jewish or Christian scriptures does it implicitly or explicitly say that God had a beginning. If you want to read more on this, I go more in-depth with this premise in another blog post.

A second premise in which we find problems is premise 6. The premise amounts to an appeal to the future fallacy. If I were to say to an atheist that, “We don’t have any arguments outside of scripture that God exists, but we shouldn’t give up hope because we know those arguments are out there and one day we will discover them.” I think most people would see that as a highly inadequate response. In premise 6 Dawkins is essentially doing that very thing, saying, “Don’t give up hope. Just have faith. Soon enough we will come up with an explanation in physics for the apparent design in the universe.” That’s not a good enough explanation when you’re giving an argument for your position.

So this is what Dawkins’ “central argument” in his book The God Delusion amounts to: the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises and there are problems with some of the premises themselves. In the end, his argument does not do what it seeks to do, namely, to show that there are purely natural explanations for the appearance of design and/or disprove the existence of God.

The Gift of Waiting: An Advent Reflection

Our refrigerator died again this week.  We saw the writing on the wall when it started making a clunking sound a couple of weeks ago.  Thankfully, up here in Vermont where it’s really cold in the Fall and Winter this is not a huge problem since we can just put our food out on our enclosed porch and it will stay cool.

Being that we are in a very rural area, probably the biggest pain of the whole ordeal is the waiting.  

You call the warranty people and you wait on the phone.  Then you wait to hear from the repair company to call and schedule an appointment.  The appointment is usually a week or two out and rarely do they fix it the first time.  By the end of the ordeal we are without a fridge sometimes more than four or five weeks.  

For my way-too-impatient self, this is simply unacceptable. 

Today’s western world does not do well with waiting. I do not do well with waiting.

In our era of modern conveniences–smartphones, refrigerators, microwaves, automobiles, email, Netflix and Amazon Prime–speed and efficiency reign.  

Checkout lines give us heartburn.  

Waiting is Good For Us

But God has built waiting into the very nature of things and our loving Father did this because waiting is good for us.

I see the gift of waiting in the coming of Spring in the northeastern United States.  In Vermont, it feels like Spring simply takes forever to arrive.  Some of my friends on Facebook post the number of days until Spring daily, starting in November.  The first time I observed this I was puzzled, but now that I’m in the middle of my sixth long Vermont winter, I understand fully.  Winter is long and cold and dark here.  It’s months on end of shoveling and salting, bundling up and trying not to slip on rock-hard ice every time you take a step.  It’s usually well into May before it finally completely lifts in northern New England.  I savor Spring as never before because I really have to wait for it here.

Waiting draws out the sweetness of things easily taken for granted. 

Gardening is a new hobby that my family has taken up since arriving in Vermont.  Months of back-breaking work and preparation result in a delicious celebration come harvest time.  Simply buying fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, while much easier, cuts out the joy and satisfaction of having raised your own delectables.  Waiting on harvest is work, but it’s a precious gift.

Another blessing of waiting is the time of preparation it affords us.  What if babies were born just moments after they were conceived?  That sounds strange to us but God could have accelerated the gestation period if He so desired.  But He chose to give us 40 weeks of time to prepare and to wait for the miracle of new life to be fully revealed.  

God’s People Have Always Had to Wait

The natural world is not the only place we see the gift of waiting time, when we come to the Bible we find that so many of God’s good blessings come on the heels of waiting. 

So frequent do we find blessing and waiting associated in Scripture, that it would be foolish to write it off as mere coincidence.  Think about Abraham and Sarah.  God’s promise to Abraham that his wife would bear a son and that he would be the father of many nations wasn’t fulfilled until Abraham was 100 years old and his wife was over 90 (see Gen. 21:5 and Gen. 17:17).  Or what of the people of God in Egypt?  They were slaves for centuries before God raised up a deliverer, and even once they were delivered God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promised Land.  Finally, imagine the deafening silence that set in at the end of the book Malachi.  After an excruciating rollercoaster ride through the Old Testament, it’s 460 years before we finally hear the amazing words in Luke 3:2: “The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”  No prophet had spoken to the people for nearly five centuries when Jesus Christ finally arrives on the scene.  

Waiting was built into the blessings.  It gave the people time to prepare, time to grow in trust, and time for their hearts to be emptied of other things to make room for the coming gift.

God was not to be caricatured as a giant Santa-Claus bestowing gifts upon people the moment they asked for them or wanted them. If the people of God were to truly grasp some of the big-ness of what God was doing in their day, waiting was God’s way.  

Advent is About Waiting

Because Christians have always recognized the importance of waiting and preparation, they intentionally built periods of waiting into the Christian calendar. It makes room for this important piece of life that the secular world is so eager to get rid of.  It slows us down, reorients us around God and gives us time to reflect, to prepare, to rest.

Advent is one of those seasons of waiting.  When we come to Advent we remember the promise that Christ has come and will come again, but we also remember that we are not ready to jump headlong into celebration. First, we must prepare.

In the words of Tish Warren, Advent reminds us:

We live in liminal time, in the already and the not yet.  Christ has come, and he will come again.  We dwell in the meantime.  We wait.

Tish Harrison Warren, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, 104.

We wait for God to fulfill His promise again.  In this liminal time, we ask God to enlarge our hearts and allow us to comprehend the tremendous gift that He has given us in Jesus.  Waiting is a gift.  Let us prepare.  Let us be ready for the sweetness that has come and that is coming again.

How Could Jesus Be Tempted?

Could God sin?

If God has the potential to sin, then he would not be essentially or necessarily good. But God is necessarily or essentially good. He cannot be otherwise. This means that it is impossible for God to commit acts of evil and therefore God cannot even be tempted to do wrong just as it says in James 1:13:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”

The skeptic may ask in response: Wasn’t Jesus himself tempted in the wilderness? (Matthew 4:1-11). What about Hebrews 2:18 which says that since Jesus himself “was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Doesn’t this verse imply that Jesus could, in fact, have sinned? If Jesus could not have sinned then wasn’t he pretending to endure temptation?

The Bible certainly portrays the temptations of sin as real.  For some, this realistic portrayal of Christ’s temptations casts into doubt the doctrine of his divinity.  Yet, if we press his perfection (divinity), others suggest that Jesus could not have been fully human since “to err is human”.  This presents a problem since the historic church going back at least as far as the mid-5th Century at Chalcedon (modern day Turkey) has officially taught that Jesus is fully God and fully human.  

So how do we explain this apparent conundrum?

First, the ability to sin does not make a person essentially human. This should seem obvious to Christians because after we die we will go to heaven and heaven is a place without sin. So because of that, having the ability to sin may not be an essential attribute to being human. It is not an attribute that we must have in order to be human. Jesus, therefore, did not need to have the ability to sin to be fully human.

Second, when Jesus came to earth, he voluntarily set aside access to certain things; one item of knowledge he gave up was being aware of his inability to sin. The skeptic will often ask: If Jesus is God, why was he ignorant of certain things? As an example, he was ignorant of his second coming (Matthew 24:36). It appeared that Jesus’ knowledge was limited when he asked for the name of a demon in Mark 5:1-20. It could very well be the case that not only was he ignorant of the timing of his second coming, he was also ignorant that he could not ultimately deviate from the Father’s will.

Was Jesus able to sin? No. Why not? Because Jesus was not merely human. He is also God and therefore could do no wrong. At the same time, Jesus’ struggles and temptations were real. Even though Jesus was not able to carry out a sinful act as a result of temptation, for the temptation to be meaningful, he had to be ignorant of the fact that it was impossible for him to sin. This temporary ignorance was part of Jesus’ earthly mission.

Some Christians and skeptics alike might ask: How could Jesus know he was divine yet not know that he could not sin? However, we could ask the same thing about Jesus not knowing the time of his second coming: How could Jesus know he was divine (which would entail omniscience) yet not know this fact? If we understand it as Christ voluntarily limited access to this knowledge as part of his mission to earth, then we can affirm both that Jesus understood he was standing in the place of God and that he temporarily gave up access to certain truths about his capacities.

Third, since Jesus did not know he could not sin (being God), this made temptation very real for Jesus; although his being God would have prevented him from actually carrying it out, acting on the temptation seemed a possibility for Jesus. Let’s imagine a scenario that might make more sense of this: You enter a room and close the door behind you. You do not realize it, but the door immediately locks with a two-hour time lock. You consider leaving once or twice, but in the end you freely choose to stay in the room for the full two hours. After you read your Facebook feed and watched some Youtube videos, you decide to leave. By this time, the lock has automatically been released by the timer and you freely choose walk out the door only later finding out that you were incapable of leave during those two hours. Why did you stay in the room and not try to leave? Because you freely decided to stay. Would you have been able to leave? No. This is similar to what Christ had to go through when he took a human nature.

Christ freely chose by his human will to resist temptation; that is, his divine will did not overwhelm or impose itself upon his human will. This is the difference between being and knowing: In Jesus’ nature or being, it was impossible for him to sin; yet the temptation was very real to him because he did not know that sinning was impossible for him. Christ in his human awareness voluntarily limited access to his divine knowledge so that he could suffer real temptation; Christ did not know that he could not sin. Christ freely chose by his human will to resist temptation; that is, his divine will did not overwhelm or impose itself upon his human will.

Jesus lived his life in dependency on the empowering of the Spirit and, therefore, is an example for how we too can live victoriously over sin. Just as Jesus was “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1), we too as believers are to be “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14). Just as Jesus needed the Spirit’s empowering to rise above the limitations of human weakness and frailty, so too do we as believers need the Spirit’s empowering. His temptation was not artificial and his victory over it was real.*

*I borrowed heavily from the book, That’s Just Your Interpretation: Responding to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith by Paul Copan to write this post and I highly recommend reading the book for a more in depth response to this specific subject.