Elisha and the 42 Children

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.  From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

2 Kings 2:23-25

Taken at face value, this seems excessive. I mean it was just a bunch of kids just acting like kids, right? And yet Elisha the prophet thought it was appropriate to kill them all just because his feelings were hurt. In fact, in cursing them in the name of the Lord, it was ultimately God who sent the two bears. Most people will see this as unjust killing which further illustrates that God is evil and capricious. But is that in fact the case in this scenario? Was Elisha (and ultimately God) just in his actions against these innocent kids who were just acting like kids? That is the objection I will be dealing with in this blog post.

First, the Hebrew word used for children in this text is also used for young men. The Hebrew word used for “children,” is also used to describe Joseph in Genesis 37:2, who was 17 years old at the time, and refers to army men in 1 Kings 20:14-15. In addition it was used to describe the baby Moses in Exodus 2:6 but that’s the only time it refers to a baby. At other times it refers to a servant of unknown age. Instead of children, it’s more appropriate to say mature adolescents or young men.

Second, The Hebrew word for “little” is the word most critics hang onto in order to justify the view that these are actually children. While the word will frequently refer to size, it also refers to quality of significance. For example: It is used to compare the moon to the sun (Genesis 1:6); it refers to insignificant legal cases (Exodus 18:26); as well as “lesser” weights (Deuteronomy 25:13). It is also used to mean “young” when referring to persons who are obviously old enough to be mature (such as those surrounding Lot’s house and demanding to rape the visitors, Gen. 19:11).

Third, there was over 42 young men taunting Elisha. Does that not seem like an odd scenario? It seems rather odd that a crowd of over 42 young men only banded together for the sole purpose of insulting someone. Could it be that this crowd of young men could actually mean physical harm after their insults? I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly how many young men. We know its over 42 but out of of how many people? 42 out of 50? 42 out of 100? 42 out of 500? There’s no evidence that these young men were innocent and only intended to insult God’s prophet after which they peacefully left. Also there’s no evidence that these young men were intending to rob/beat/kill Elisha after their insults as well. So if the critic is going to just assume that they are innocent young men only intending to insult and then peacefully leave why should I not assume that they were intending to harm Elisha? I don’t know. God knows though. And He thought it was an appropriate to act to protect Elisha.

Fourth, there is not enough biblical evidence to suggests that the crowd of over 42 young men were actually killed. There are two main points I want to make in this area:

Point 1: These were most likely Syrian Brown bears. These bears would typically weigh between 400-500lbs. For a comparison, female American black bears weigh between 150-300 lbs. and female American Grizzly bears weigh 290-440 lbs. The point is that 42 young men being injured or killed from just two of these bears is hard to imagine unless the crowd of men fought back instead of running away, seeking safety.

Point 2: The Hebrew word that was used to describe the action the two bears did to the 42 men does not mean “killed,” “devoured,” or anything similar. It means to “break open” which is used for chopping wood (Genesis 22:3), ripping garments (Joshua 9:13), an egg hatching (Isaiah 34:15), or breaking through an army (2 Kings 3:26). The use in this passage in 2 Kings could possibly be a way of saying that the bears scattered the young men, not that they killed them.

Fifth, it’s important to keep in mind that it wasn’t Elisha who is responsible for the injuries or deaths (if there were any) of the 42 young, aggressive men, it was God who was responsible. God is the creator, designer, and sustainer of the universe. His very nature is the standard of holiness, righteousness, and justice. And He is ultimately the very source of all life. If He wants to take your life, He has the right and authority to do such an action whether directly or indirectly and for whatever reason He deems necessary. It’s important not to think of God as a super-powerful human being but an all-knowing and all-powerful being who keeps the universe in being by his sovereign will. For God, it is not murder or killing when he takes someone from this life. He’s merely moving you from one plane of existence to another plane of existence…and no matter how much we might not like that, God, as the source of life, has the authority to do that and we do not.

Maybe these were not 42 innocent little kids. They were more likely a crowd of over 42 young men who wanted to do more than just insult God’s prophet and then peacefully leave. In showing aggression toward Elisha, God acted to protect his prophet. Even if deaths or injuries occurred, there is nothing evil and unjust in what God or Elisha did in this scenario.

Notes: I owe some of my insights on this tough passage to this article:
http://www.tektonics.org/film/elisha2bears.html

The Creed of Creeds: The Apostles’ Creed

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I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      Maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic* church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places

A Concise Statement of Core Christian Truth

Philip Schaff in his magisterial work Creeds of Christendom calls the Apostles’ Creed, “The Creed of Creeds.” He writes:

“As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds.”

-Philip Schaff

The great reformer, Martin Luther, said of the Creed, “Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement.”

Augustine, one of the early church fathers, said that the Apostles’ Creed was a rule of faith–something worth reciting morning and evening.

Dr. William Shedd writes in his A History of Christian Doctrine, Volume II, that the Apostles’ Creed is:

“…the earliest attempt of the Christian mind to systematize the teachings of the Scripture, and is, consequently, the uninspired foundation upon which the whole after structure of symbolic literature rests.”

-William Shedd (as quoted in Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom)

The apostles creed is not only the oldest creed produced by the Christian Church that was widely accepted by the Church as a whole but it is the basis for many other early creeds that followed, such as the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

It is called the Apostles’ Creed not because it was written by the apostles but because it is an early summary of the core teachings of the apostles. It represents the foundational, most fundamental teachings and doctrines at the heart of Christian faith as taught by Jesus’ earliest followers.

Studying the Apostles’ Creed with the Children

Early on in the Church, the Apostles’ Creed was used as a baptismal confession of faith for believers. Yet, far from relegating the Creed to something only useful in antiquity, the Christian Church still embraces the Creed today as a solid, statement of core Christian truth.

This Fall we are happy to announce that the children of the church will be starting a study of the Creed in children’s church. The creed will run 13 weeks and will look at each of the 12 articles of the Creed.

If you are not familiar with the Apostles’ Creed, I encourage you to take some time reading it and thinking over each of the 12 major points (or articles) found in the Creed (quoted at the top of this brief article). It may help to re-focus on you on the foundational teachings of our faith.

Notes:

For more on the importance of creeds, please see J. Warner Wallace’s excellent article “The Importance (and Early Use) of Creeds.”

Did Jesus Believe Himself to be God?

Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship (proskyneō) the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”

Luke 4:8

Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship (proskyneō) the Lord your God and serve Him only.'”

Matthew 4:10

The idea that there is one God and that He alone should be worshiped is shown throughout the Jewish scriptures (Deuteronomy 4:35, 6:4, 6:13-16, and 32:39, 2 Samuel 7:22, Isaiah 8:13, and Isaiah 43:10-11). The New Testament has provided several examples of people worshipping something or someone other than God and then being immediately corrected to worship God alone (Revelation 22:8-9, Acts 10:25-26 and 14:11-15). This can be clearly seen through the use of the greek word proskyneō, in the examples below:

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship (proskyneō) at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship (proskyneō) God.”

Revelation 22:8-9

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped (proskyneō) him. But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.”

Acts 10:25-26

Jesus’ disciples, like many religious Jews at that time, clearly understood only God is to be worshipped. To worship someone other than God would make that person an idolater and a violator of the first commandment.

What’s most amazing is that Jesus was worshipped at various times throughout his earthly ministry. The fact that he accepted worship and did not condemn it (as in the cases above) gives us strong reason to believe Jesus considered himself God. Below I’ve listed a host of examples:

The wise men worshiped Him from the moment He was born

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped (proskyneō) him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

Matthew 2:10-12

The leper worshiped Him at his healing

And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down (proskyneō) to Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

Matthew 8:2

The synagogue ruler worshiped Him

While He was saying these things to them, behold, there came a synagogue official, and bowed down (proskyneō) before Him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.”

Matthew 9:18-19

The disciples worshiped him in the boat

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped (proskyneō) him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:32-33

The Canaanite woman worshiped Him

But she came and began to bow down (proskyneō) before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

Matthew 15:25-26

The mother of James and John worshipped Him

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Him with her sons, bowing down (proskyneō) , and making a request of Him.

Matthew 20:20-21

The blind man worshiped Him at his healing

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped (proskyneō) him.

John 9:35-38

The women worshiped Him at the empty tomb

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped (proskyneō) him.

Matthew 28:8-10

The disciples worshiped Him at the Ascension

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped (proskyneō) him.

Matthew 28:16-17

End Notes

*Much of the material for this post was taken from Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist (Crossway, 2004) and Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski (Kregal, 2007).

Ordinary Times

The book of Ecclesiastes gives us a clue for understanding the Church’s liturgical year, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.[i] This verse reminds us that God created order and seasons with limits at the very heart of His creation, and that each of these seasons or times has a purpose that manifests and makes present the Kingdom in a particular way.  It may be the annual progression of the seasons of spring to summer to fall and to winter, or it may be seasons of distress or joy, feasting or fasting, remembering or putting into action.  Each and every one season has a purpose; each and every one is important.

In today’s English, the word ordinary makes us think of something that is not special or distinctive, and because of this we may be prone to think that Ordinary Times refer to those parts of the Church year that are not important.  But the fact that this time makes up the majority of the Church year (33 to 34 Sundays of our year) should tell us otherwise.  There are two periods of Ordinary Time, the shorter running from the celebration of Epiphany to Ash Wednesday, and the second longer period from Pentecost Sunday to the First Sunday of Advent.  Because the celebration of Resurrection Sunday varies from year to year, the season after Epiphany varies between 4 and 9 Sundays, and the season after Pentecost varies between 23 and 28 Sundays.

So much for counting Sundays, why are these Sundays placed where they are and what purpose do they play in our congregational life?  To understand Ordinary Times, we must look first at what “bookends” each period.  The book ends in each case are the annual portrayal of the central mysteries of our faith, the incarnation of Jesus, His death, His resurrection and ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit.  The season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany proclaim the truth that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…to redeem”[ii] and that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”[iii]  The Sundays of Ordinary Times after Epiphany are intended to convince us that God’s deliverance has broken into our world through His Son.  It is intended to lay to rest forever in our hearts the question of who Jesus is, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”[iv]  The answer proclaimed to us is a resounding “This is the Chosen Deliverer of God, hear Him, believe Him.”

The Sundays after Epiphany end with Ash Wednesday and the observance of Lent and our journey to the cross, the empty tomb, a mountain in Galilee, and an upper room in Jerusalem.  This is the annual retelling of the story of our redemption, of our adoption as God’s children, of the mystery of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  The season of Lent, Holy Week, Resurrection Sunday, Ascension, and Pentecost echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “Now I would remind you…of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to …the twelve.”[v] 

In these days we celebrate the specific, historic, supernatural acts of God that have brought about the salvation and deliverance of creation.  By contrast, during the Ordinary Time from Pentecost to Advent we celebrate what God has done through the Holy Spirit, empowering us to live out the gospel message day to day in the context of our ordinary lives.  It is during this season that we recognize that Jesus continues to bring grace and deliverance to the world by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the church.  We might consider the church year from Advent to Pentecost as the proclamation of the good news of God’s love, grace, and deliverance; and the church year from Pentecost to Advent as the Acts of the Apostles, wherein God moves through the followers of His Son to bring in the kingdom in all its fullness.  This season is intended to remind us that our calling is to take the witness of who Jesus is and what He has done to the uttermost parts of our world.

We are not created to live on mountaintops where the view is spectacular, the light brilliant, and the air rarified.  We are called to make our dwelling in the valleys and plains where the rest of the world dwells and to work out salvation while seeking theirs.  The “mountain top” holy days provide vision, inspiration, and calling; it is in the ordinary times of the year that the leaven of the gospel is able to act.  Perhaps a quick illustration will help us understand the purpose and use of Ordinary Times.

The extraordinary acts of God to bring deliverance to our world are often likened to a seed that is sown.  Planting times were a time of celebration because the seasons had turned and the prospect of bringing forth new life from the earth was everywhere.  So too, the times of harvest were celebrations as the fruit of the fields were brought into the storehouse in abundance.  But in between planting and harvest, between seed time and fruitfulness, were weeks and weeks of watering, thinning, tending, weeding.  It was in this in-between time that the success and bounty of the seeds sown were actually brought about.  God has sown the precious seed of the gospel in our hearts, Ordinary Times allow us to care for it, nurture it, and see it come to maturity within our hearts achieving not just another cycle of time, but something that reaches into eternity.

End Notes


[i] Ecclesiastes 3:1

[ii] Galatians 4:4-5

[iii] John 1:14

[iv] Matthew 11:3

[v] I Corinthians 15:1-5

Creation Care, Why Care?

God Loves the Cattle

One of the interesting sidelight points to the book of Jonah is God’s care for non-human aspects of his creation.  At the end of this great book where God clearly manifests his love even for the lost, pagan, backwards, Gentile world and where God exposes the pride of one of his prophets, 1 we find a God who loves cattle.

Jonah was bitter because God had mercy on Nineveh when they repented (Jonah 3).  After leaving Nineveh like a child in mid tantrum stomping his feet, Jonah plops down to the east of the city and just watched, maybe hoping that fire would fall from Heaven as it did upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19).  God kindly

“appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort.” (Jonah 4:6)

But then God appoints a worm to destroy the plant.  And Jonah grows even more bitter than before.  Finally, God asks him:

And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11)

After all this business with Jonah, God takes a moment to point out that he loves the cattle.  He wanted Jonah (and us) to know that He spared Nineveh, in part, because of his love for the cattle.  The cattle were the innocent bystanders to Nineveh’s great evil, but God loved them and just like during the great worldwide flood of Noah’s day, God chose to spare some of them (see Genesis 6 and 7).

All of Creation Bears Witness to God

Creation manifests to everyone God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power, and divine nature (Romans 1:20).  Just as the heavens declare God’s glory and the skies proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19:1), so too all of God’s created order.  Over and over throughout Scripture God calls upon the creation to praise him!  In Psalm 148 the sun and moon, stars, and heavens are all called upon to praise their maker (verses 2, 3, 4).  In 1 Chronicles 16:32-33 the sea and the trees of the forest are summoned to sing praises to their king:

“Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD; For He is coming to judge the earth.”

In Isaiah 55:12,

“the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

And in Luke 19:40 Jesus responds to the Pharisees suggesting that he rebuke his disciples for singing praises to him as he enter Jerusalem:

He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

When searching for something to liken the beauty of his wife to, King Solomon cites nature:

1 Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
3 Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil…
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies. (SOS 4:1-3, 5)

God Delights in His Glory Revealed in Nature

And because God delights in his own glory, God delights in all of his creation which reveals that glory. 2  One of the most sobering (and beautiful) passages that reveals God’s love for creation is Job chapters 38 through 41.  Verse after verse, these chapters reveal a God not only in absolute control of nature, but a God that delights in its diversity, complexity, beauty, and power.  In this section God cites creation as evidence in his case against Job, who was too hasty to question God’s providence. 3

In the Bible, all of creation is a part of the symphony of praise to God.  And for that reason, all of us who love God, will also love the creation.

  1. Jonah was a prophet from Gath Hepher according to 2 Kings 23:25.  His attitude may be representative of Israel in general at the time?
  2. Many Scriptures reveal this.  For a helpful list see “Biblical Texts to Show God’s Zeal for His Own Glory” at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/biblical-texts-to-show-gods-zeal-for-his-own-glory.  Accessed on 3/3/2016.
  3. Job finally repents at the end of the book (see Job 42:1-6).

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.