Amazing Things The New Testament Says About Jesus

2 03 2015

15405137033_54e73dfd56_mThe wonder of the crowds when Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee: “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him.” (Matthew 8:27).

The aged Apostle John’s testimony following several decades of reflection after Jesus’ death: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3).

God’s revelation of himself to the world: “In the past, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1).

What the Apostle Paul believed about who Jesus is: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15).

Simon Peter’s declaration after he had seen Jesus at close range under all sorts of circumstances: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

The call of the Gospel to all who hear it preached: This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life. (1 John 5:11,12).


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Re-post: Do Christians Worship One God or Three?

23 02 2015

Muslims charge that Christians worship three gods. Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses make the same accusation. The word, Trinity, offends them.

Even some Christians are vague about what Trinity means because it seems mysterious. Mysterious indeed: God reveals himself first as one God, and, at the same time, as three Persons in one Godhead.

When God addressed Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3) Moses’ world reeked with many gods. He knew that. Yet, Moses did not ask, “Which God is this now?” From the beginning, it was revealed to him that there was only one true God to reckon with.

Listen to the Shema of the Old Testament: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). In that ancient world teeming with gods, the Old Testament holds Jehovah to be “the Sovereign Lord” (Hab. 3:19).

The New Testament continues the claim. During Jesus’ forty-day fast, Satan tried to entice Jesus to worship him. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Lk. 4:8).

At the same time, Scriptures show that this One God manifests himself in three persons, and this reality is set forth repeatedly.

After the resurrection, Thomas worshiped the risen Savior. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” If this declaration had been false but Jesus had accepted it, his acceptance would have been blasphemous. Instead, later the Apostle John reinforces Thomas’s declaration. He testifies of Jesus, “the Word was God” (John 1:1).

But what about the Holy Spirit? In the early church, when a couple named Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive Peter over a money gift, Peter saw through their ruse. He said to Ananias, “… you have lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). Then he added, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). It is not possible to lie to a mere influence. The Holy Spirit is obviously more than a feeling or an influence. He is “personal.” He is God, the Spirit.

So, Jesus, at his baptism “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove” and heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my Son whom I love” (Matt.3:16, 17). In that moment we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in one event of revelation.

During the first four hundred years of the early church, the church fathers wrestled with these affirmations made in both Testaments. To give them order, they formulated this precious truth under the title of the Trinity.

They said, God is one in “essence” and three in “persons.” He must be worshiped without dividing the essence or confusing the persons. God the Father rules over all; God the Son is our Redeemer; God the Spirit is our sanctifier.

He is one God manifesting himself in three persons. The hymn our congregation sang to conclude worship on a recent Sunday morning included the following words:

Laud and honor to the Father,/ Laud and honor to the Son,/

Laud and honor to the Spirit,/ Ever Three and Ever One./

We sing this 700-year-old hymn in praise to our God who is revealed to us as the Three-in-One – the God who creates, redeems and sanctifies us.

If this truth still mystifies you, remember that it is in our worship of the God who is three-in-one that we come closest to grasping the reality of this great mystery of the Christian faith.

When we pray, “Our Father which art in Heaven” we worship the one and only God. When we say of Jesus, “He is Lord and Savior,” we acknowledge the one and only God. When we entreat the Holy Spirit to intercede for us, we entreat the one and only God. Three persons in one Godhead!

Let us worship our God!

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Can Marriage Be Redefined? Part 3

16 02 2015

5118561480_3296f53489_m_PeteEvangelicals almost universally believe that marriage is an institution ordained of God, a covenanted relationship bonding one man and one woman for life. They ground this belief in the Scriptures, and in doing so they are joined by many nominal Christians and also non-believers who nevertheless have a view of life deeply influenced by Judeo-Christian thought.

On this matter, I write with good will toward all, none excepted. My purpose is positive, not negative. I address only the one question: what does the Bible say on this issue?

There are reports that evangelicals in some quarters are deviating from this understanding of marriage in the name of compassion. Does the Bible leave room for such a variance?

The answer begins with the story of creation. The opening chapter of the Bible declares that everything that exists was spoken into being by the word of God. Then it tells the story step by step, moving relentlessly forward to the pinnacle of God’s creative work — the creation of man.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness …’” (Genesis 1:26). Man, this planned, God-formed creature, the peak or exclamation point of creation as the story tells it, is going to be assigned to rule over all.

The fulfillment of this divine intention to bring humankind into being is then announced and nailed down by the threefold repetition of the word “to create.” “So God created man in his own image, / In the image of God he created him; / male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

Then came their united domestic assignment: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Together they are “man” (Genesis 1:26) — that is, humankind — but as “man” they are “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). The implication is that together, through copulation, they will procreate, that is, act in behalf of God to bring human life into being.

Then comes Genesis 2 with its matchless story of Adam and Eve. Here is the ground for marriage as it has been understood for centuries. One man and one woman in a “one flesh” union.

I see Genesis 1 as the big picture of creation, taken with a wide-angle lens. Then the angle narrows and we look in upon the creation of man in greater depth. He is alone at first, and his name is Adam (man). God sees that he is lonely. He solves the problem with a divine surgery. Now there are two. They share a common human identity but there is a bifurcation so that they are attracted to each other by certain differences. They are male and female.

This is how the Bible gives us the first intimation of marriage. Adam and Eve are capable of producing children, which in time they do.

From that point in prehistory there is a string that runs through the Bible featuring marriage as a relationship of one man with one woman. Abraham had one wife, Sarah, though after her death he married Keturah. Earlier when he succumbed to Canaanite practices and took Hagar as a concubine to bear him an heir the Bible makes clear things did not go well. Concubines as second wives, were not in God’s plan.

Jacob wanted to have only one wife but his father-in-law tricked him into having two, and eventually there were four. In that story Bible readers are shown the negative consequences of polygamy: domestic disorder.

Ruth, the Moabitess married an Israelite man while he was living in Moab. He died there. She came to her mother-in-law’s home in Bethlehem and married the Israelite, Boaz. In each case, even for someone from another culture, one man and one woman was the standard.

The Bible favors this Adam and Eve plan. It also contains many examples of deviations from the plan. It appears to prescribe the former, and only to describe the latter.

The Proverbs also have a string of wisdom sayings to favor traditional marriage: “A wife of noble character who can find? / She is worth far more than rubies” (Proverbs 31:10). Notice: “a wife,” not “wives.” “May your fountain be blessed / and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). Again the model is one throughout life.

The New Testament is no less clear that a marriage is a union of one man and one woman. To the Corinthian church planted in a degenerate seaport city the Apostle Paul wrote, “But since there is so much immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). To the Ephesian church likewise he wrote, “However each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

The Bible has much to teach about the evil of deviations from this pattern of one man and one woman. Even the scandalous situation of Solomon with 700 wives and 300 concubines is only reported, not commended. Other reports of deviation are many. Lamech is the first to take a second wife (Genesis 4:19). The Sodomites veer to the course of same-sex intimacy and violence (Genesis 19:1–5). In all such deviations the reports do not condone any immoral practice or plead for the approval of what the Lord does not approve.

Most significant, our Lord spoke clearly to the issue of marriage when he was confronted by the Pharisees on what to them had become a sticky question — the issue of divorce (Matthew 19:3–9). Rather than entering their ongoing debate at that level he reminded them of the timeless account of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19: 4–6). And in doing so, he merged as God’s inspired word the accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, quoting from each together on the subject.

All Christians are called to treat with compassion the troubling issues others wrestle with in the realm of sexuality. But to do so by veering from the clear teachings of the Christian Scriptures will always be a response of unfaithfulness. Our sacred book makes clear that marriage cannot be other than the covenanted relationship of one man with one woman.


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Can Marriage Be Redefined? Part 2

9 02 2015

10218912636_7a62e90771_mTo some social revolutionaries of our day marriage is like play dough. It can be shaped according to whim. A marriage, they agree, may be the covenanted union of a man and woman, but they claim there should be other options, like unions of two males or two females. These too should be labeled marriage.

Consider certain realities that stand against that claim.

Ryan T Anderson Ph.D. of the Heritage Foundation writes, “[Marriage] is based on the anthropological truth that men and women are different and complementary.” Male and female bodies match in ways that same-sex bodies never can. The difference is anatomical.

And only because of this physical complementarity can a male and female together potentially conceive and bear children, giving the children the dual benefits of a mother and father, thus fulfilling a fundamental purpose of marriage.

This difference is not only anatomical, however; it is also neurological. Brain studies show that exceptions aside, in aggregate the male and female brains process the issues of life differently. In reality, this too contributes to their complementarity as husband and wife.

Beyond these anatomical and psycho-neurological differences the definition of marriage as, “one man and one woman for life” is etched into the history of language itself.

Consider the collection of words that gather around this definition and in doing so distinguish it. For examples, because the marriage of one man and one woman is distinctive, if a man has two wives he’s a bigamist, and if many wives he’s a polygamist. A woman with more than one husband is a polyandrist. In each case, the variance requires a name to distinguish it from traditional marriage.

The terms continue to gather. A bachelor is a man who is past the usual age for marrying and has never married. A widow is a woman whose marriage has been terminated by the death of her spouse. An engaged person is someone who is pledged formally to marry. A divorced person is someone, whether male or female, who was the partner of a marriage now dissolved. These words all assume derivation from or relationship to a one man, one woman covenanted relationship.

And to further support the legitimacy of traditional marriage certain words have been lodged deeply in the language through myriads of generations. Some such words exist to describe the violation of the covenanted relationship of marriage and in doing so to protect its integrity and legitimacy. Such words as adultery, fornication, common-law, annulment, etc. come to mind.

Yet even this proliferation of words does not exist to curb the liberty of anyone. In a free country unions can be formed in other ways too — as a legal contract, a business partnership, a shared apartment for economic reasons, etc. These are social partnerships but not marriage. The proliferation exists only to defend the historic nature of marriage as one man and one woman for life.

The reason for protecting marriage from more flexible notions is to follow the practices of centuries in recognizing that both the word and the relationship called “marriage” means a union between one man and one woman.

Some who do not think words should be taken so seriously will disagree; words, they say, can mean whatever we want them to mean, so why not stretch the meaning of the word, marriage to include same-sex unions and later even threesomes, and on and on? To act out that opinion broadly would make communication about domestic matters vague and confusing.

So those who believe words are the carefully planted and broadly accepted units enabling us to think, differentiate, nuance, and communicate, see the danger signs of innovation clearly.

Gather together these many words that assume marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman; add the wide-ranging traditions that cross many religions past and present; include the above anatomical realities known to the modern mind, and what do we have?

We have a strong barrier that would require centuries to breach even for those disinterested in religious belief. We have very high walls indeed against tampering with the boundaries of society’s basic institution — an institution that grounds human life in families established by a union of husband and wife.

(More next week)

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Can Marriage Be Redefined? Part 1

2 02 2015

6397849549_892ef11be1_mIt is what it is. This expression is often used with a shrug in response to some uncorrectable predicament, like a quarterback’s fumbled football; a stolen camera; or a flat tire making one late for a meeting.

But doesn’t the expression also fit situations that have a rock-solid base in reality that can’t be changed by manipulation or novelty, or even legal decree? Like marriage — with finality and without the shrug, we can say it is what it is. It is the covenanted union of one man and woman for life.

This is the understanding of millions on all continents. Even though pockets of disagreement may exist here and there, it can be said that such exceptions only prove the rule.

Therefore, whatever changes might be achieved in language and practice by bullying, or revising laws, or manipulating the media, the bulk of these millions will know in their hearts that marriage is what it is. In their eyes nothing can realistically be added to the above definition.

Most people would also insist that an apple is an apple. It is what it is. For them, even a federal law could not expand the definition of apples to include oranges also — not in reality, not in perception, and not in semantics. Apples and oranges are not the same — never have been, are not now, and never can be.

But certain elements in our society are seeking to force the redefinition of marriage upon our culture. They want to change the definition from its historic reality — one man and one woman in covenant for life. To do so they attempt to use the same word, marriage, to describe the legally bonded union of two men or two women.

But that would be a highly dissimilar union as compared with marriage. It needs a different name — like a contracted domestic agreement.

Recently a politician defended his pro-marriage stance by insisting on this long-accepted definition of marriage: “the union of one man and one woman without exception.” To undergird his point he added: “Marriage is what it is.”

To be sure, ours is a free society and we all have the freedom to relate with one another however we please. Besides, there are other ways people relate with some degree of permanence besides marriage — such as cohabitation or domestic contract. But those ways aren’t marriage.

That is, nature, history and traditions say marriage is an unalterable reality defined by clearly set criteria. The politician referred to above contended that he was advancing the view of marriage that traces as far back as human history can be known, and even governments can’t successfully rewrite deeply grooved history! Marriage is what it is.

There is time for myriads of people to speak up en masse and fight for the reality of marriage as one man and one woman covenanted together for life. For engagement starters there’s the Internet, newspaper columns, family friendly organizations, university courses, and church sponsored seminars. But whether millions do or do not speak up, real marriage is and will continue to be what it is.

(More next week)

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Speaking Up for the Unborn

26 01 2015

3222549279_6973c585ee_mIt happened again, and for the 42nd time.

On January 22 of this year, the mall in Washington DC was filled with representatives from all 50 states to take part in the annual March For Life.

The Park Services made no estimate of the crowd, something it ceased doing several years ago for political reasons when threatened with a lawsuit over its estimates.

This was the 42nd annual event to celebrate life, in response to the anniversary of the Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision handed down on January 22, 1973. That decision ruled that the constitution of the USA gave women the right to abort their pre-born offspring.

Unofficial estimates for this year’s rally varied, from “tens of thousands” to “hundreds of thousands.” depending on the politics of the agencies reporting. Still, it appears that the number this year was modestly higher than 250,000, and, according to one source, possibly one of the biggest political rallies in DC history.

This year’s participants covered the mall. Their placards and banners waving above the crowds appeared as dense as though this were a critical political rally: “Defend Life,” their signs read; “I am a voice for the voiceless;” “Thank God my mom’s pro-life.”

The throngs moved in an orderly fashion from the National Mall to the Supreme Court building, a logical terminal point.

As usual the Catholic presence and participation was clearly evident and the large numbers of young people participating spoke volumes for the depth of their conviction.

At a separate event at the Basilica, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley addressed a capacity crowd of more than 11,000. He outlined and corrected the three major myths on the subject of abortion that are circulated broadly but are not true:

Myth 1: Abortion is a women’s issue. Reality: It is a human issue and men must not shirk their share of responsibility; Myth 2: Most Americans are pro-choice / pro-abortion. Reality: Polls show the opposite; Myth 3: Young people favor abortion rights overwhelmingly. Reality: The facts do not support this.

“We must press on with full assurance we will overcome,” he told his audience, exciting a rise of cheers. The large number of young people in the audience gave strong hope that the battle for the protection of human life will continue unabated.

As has been the case for many years, a March for Life will also be held in Ottawa, Canada, the nation’s capital, this year on May 14. Last year, in Canada with a population of approximately 10 percent of the USA there were an estimated 23,000 people involved in the march.

These marches, despite their numbers and significance, get little coverage from the secular press and all too little from Christian forces.

These events are nevertheless valuable in standing for the sanctity of human life, and keeping alive the real truth about abortion: that it destroys a developing human life — violently.

Each victim is innocent, without advocacy, and largely unprotected. In the last 42 years 56 million have died in the United States and an estimated 5 million in Canada.

An additional result is great numbers of women who must reckon with consciences that will not be silenced, and two nations, many of whose future citizens are destroyed in the name of liberty.

These public demonstrations speak for the unborn most of all. But they also remind the public that legal rulings cannot change moral absolutes.

And for many they proclaim again that human life is a gift from God, formed in his image, and that wanton destruction must eventually be answered for at the Final Judgment.

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Godly People Need Mercy Too!

19 01 2015


Throughout the psalms God favors us with his mercy, for “he knows how we are formed, / he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). This mercy is a companion to his grace.

The thief on the cross received mercy. Jesus said to him, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” In response to the thief’s humble request he was mercifully spared eternal judgment for his sins and was graciously promised a place in heaven.

But not without cost to our Lord. At that very moment, hanging between heaven and earth next to that thief during his crucifixion, our Lord was sacrificially paying the man’s sin debt.

Psalm 130 is also the cry of one who feels the need for God’s mercy: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord” (verse 1). In this case, the psalmist begs for God’s mercy — his goodness and love for those who are guilty or miserable — in a cry that is deeply private: “Let your ears be attentive / to my cry for mercy” (verse 2).

Was this cry the result of a psalmist’s review of his entire life’s failures and disappointments? Or was there some particular sin over which he cried out for the assurance of God’s mercy? It could be either.

And it can be so for us, too. With the psalmist we can also say: “If you O Lord kept a record of sins, / O Lord, who could stand?” (verse 4). But because of Christ’s cross, our confessed sins are not kept on record. They are vicariously paid for, forgiven, and their record is erased.

The psalmist goes further to show the result of forgiveness. When God forgives us in mercy we experience a great surge of “the fear of the Lord” (verse 4). But this fear is not a sense of terror or a dread that paralyzes and creates distance but instead, a profound reverence for God. This makes us fear to displease him, and to desire deeply to do his bidding.

When, we follow the psalmist’s lead, what a sense of composure it awakens in us! “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, / and in his word I put my hope” (verse 5). Now worry is held at bay. We feel childlike trust. Moreover, as with the psalmist, whatever the cause of our darkness, we can be assured that the morning will come.

This psalm is in the Bible because today one ancient worshiper’s experience is also ours. Only refusal to recognize and repent of our sins will shut us out from God’s mercy.

But thanks be to God that he meets our cry for forgiveness and mercy with a great sense that he cares deeply for us in our distress and offers us a sweeping forgiveness.

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