The American Idea

I witnessed something truly wonderful and altogether the other night, July 3, 2018, at Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park Fourth of July Laser Show and Fireworks Celebration. The show itself was the best I’ve seen in its thirty-five years history. But the wonderful and encouraging part was the people in attendance. Thousands of people! People of different ethnicity, cultures, colors, creeds – you name it – they were there. They were there for hours pressed close together on a hot, hazy and humid Georgia summer night. And they were there sitting and eating together; standing and singing together; making noise and celebrating together.

I’m very sure that among such a multitude, the opinions, politics, beliefs and preferences were as diverse as the people themselves. Yet there they were, shoulder-to-shoulder, all celebrating the one thing they had in common – the United States of America. More than a country; America is an idea worth celebrating.

America is the idea that we the people of the United States are America.[i] America is not the government or Washington, D.C. Strictly speaking, it is not even its borders or member states. America is her people! We are America! And history demonstrates that when America stands united, the enemies of freedom for humanity are overcome, the blessings of liberty are expanded in the world and secured for future generations.

America is the idea that all men (persons) are created equal.[ii] Human equality is an eternal fact not subject to human evaluation, and our Founders deemed it first among those truths self-evident.  And, although the awareness was not the praxis of all the Declaration’s signers, still they affirmed it unanimously – something quite unique in the history of nations. Also, it should be recognized by Americans today that, though America has its own record of human rights violations, no country in history has exerted greater effort or expended more blood to correct its own injustices. It has long been said, “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.”[iii]

America is the idea that all persons are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Other nations were established on the divine right of kings; some still are. America was and is established on the divine rights of all persons, not just potentates, politicians or those otherwise powerful. The Declaration’s list of rights is not exhaustive but emphasizes three: the right to life, the right to liberty in life, and the right to pursue a happy life.  It states further that the reason we have governments is to secure these rights. Prior to America, the nature and construct of governments was to preserve the governments. But the Declaration of Independence defined the responsibility of government, and the Constitution of the United States proscribed the reach of government – all in favor of the peoples’ rights.

Now we certainly can all agree that the American idea is not yet the American ideal. To parody the Apostle Paul in the New Testament – we have not yet taken hold of all that our Founders envisioned. But united together we press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:13-14).  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it probably best of anyone: ‘“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”[iv] Dr. King spoke those words during what was perhaps the most socially tumultuous and culturally trans-formative decade in American history. Yet never did he advocate the abolition of the American idea, but rather that the American dream, that all men are created equal, be fully apprehended.

Now, in our own tumultuous and trans-formative moment in history, we do well – all of us – to heed the wisdom of the Apostle Paul and remember the dream of Dr. King. Whatever our differences politically and otherwise, let us – the people of the United States – stand together to celebrate the idea that is America and to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”[v] That spirit, that attitude, that idea was on display at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on the eve of America’s 242nd Fourth of July, and I was proud to see it. God bless America!

 

 

[i] The Constitution of the United States, Sept 17, 1787.

[ii] The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

[iii] Justice – Wikiquote.

[iv] “I Have a Dream” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, 1963.

[v] “Gettysburg Address” Abraham Lincoln, Nov 19, 1863.

John’s Gospel – Chapter One – “The Word Became Flesh”

The New Testament gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are vitally important because they are our primary source of information on the person, life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Like four different news journalists, they all report on the same story but each from his own perspective and emphasizing the details most significant to him. Matthew wanted his people, the Jews, to recognize Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) and rightful king of Israel. So, he emphasized Jesus’ fulfillment of the ancient Messianic prophecies, i.e. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” (Mt 1:23; Is 7:14). Mark is essentially the gospel according to Peter and highlights the missional Jesus who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45). Luke carefully studied everything about Jesus and wrote an orderly account of His life so that others, like Theophilus, could be certain of the facts (Lk 1:1-4). Luke’s focus is on the Son of Man who came to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk 1:3; 19:10). John writes plainly and up front that Jesus is both divine and human: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (Jn 1:1,14 NIV). Furthermore, Jesus came into the world to bring us grace from God and to reveal the truth of God: We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14 NIV).

John wrote his gospel last, somewhere between A.D. 80 and 95, from the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) where he spent his final years teaching, preaching and writing. John was the only one of Jesus’ apostles who did not die a martyr’s death, although multiple attempts were made on his life. According to Tertullian, an early Christian author and theologian, Emperor Domitian had John boiled in oil. But God supernaturally delivered him and all witnesses to the miracle in the Colosseum were converted. Unable to kill him, the Romans imprisoned John on the Greek island of Patmos, hoping that way to silence him. It was on Patmos, however, that John received his Revelation from Jesus which became the last book of the New Testament. John’s life and ministry prove – That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5 Holman Christian Standard Bible).

John was the youngest of Jesus’ apostles – perhaps only a teen when he began following him. He was personally close to Jesus and references himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and the “beloved disciple.” John, Peter and James were an inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. They were with Jesus at His transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8) and nearest to Him in Gethsemane the night He was betrayed (Mk 14:33). But only John leaned upon Jesus at the last supper, attended Jesus’ trial before the high priest, and stood at the cross when Jesus was crucified (Jn 18:15-16; 19:26; 21:20). And from the cross, Jesus chose John to take care of Mary, His mother, for the rest of her life (19:26).  God does not respect or love one person above another (Job 34:18-19); however, He is respected and loved by some persons more than others (Mt 15:8). God invites us all to come closer: Come close to God, and he will come close to you. (James 4:8 God’s Word Translation).

Over 90 percent of the information in John is not found in the other Gospels. Only John tells of Jesus’ “Upper Room Discourse” (chapters 14-16) and His Intercessory Prayer in Gethsemane (chapter 17). Six of the eight miracles of Jesus cited by John are exclusive to his Gospel: 1) turning water to wine (2:1-11); 2) healing the official’s son (4:46-54); 3) healing the invalid at the pool of Bethesda (5:1-15); 4) healing the man born blind (9:1-38); 5) raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44); and 6) the great catch of fish after His resurrection (21:1-14). Also, none of Jesus’ parables are mentioned in John. John’s focus is on the Person and purpose of Jesus more than His teaching.

  • Jesus is the Son of God (1:1-3). This is John’s first and most emphatic point. Many say they believe in Jesus, but not as the Son of God. Some claim that Jesus’ divinity is an idea superimposed on Him by fanatical followers years after His life on Earth. But John was with Jesus; he was his closest apostle; and he says about Jesus – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (1:1). It just doesn’t get any plainer than that! “The Word” or Logos (1:1) in the Greek means that Jesus is the full expression of the whole idea of God.[1] A Chinese Christian woman was preaching Christ to the scholar of a market town. He heard her courteously and after a little while said, “Madam, you speak well, but why do you dwell on Jesus Christ? Let Him alone. Instead of Jesus Christ, tell us about God.” Whereupon she replied, “What, sir, should we know about God if it were not for Jesus Christ?” How true, and this is precisely the meaning of the second clause of John 1:18: No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (TEV).[2]
  • Jesus became the Son of Man (1:14). The Son of God has always been, but He became flesh, i.e. the Son of Man (1:14). Matthew and Luke tell the story of His birth. Paul somewhat describes the act of Jesus’ incarnation (becoming flesh) in Philippians 2:5-11. God demonstrated His love for the world by sending His Son into the world to save the world (John 3:16-18; Romans 5:8).
  • Jesus came to FULFILL the GRACE of God (1:14). The Greek term pleres translated “full” comes from a root term which means to accomplish or fulfill. Before sin ever entered the world, God already knew what He would do and how He would do it to save humanity. God’s plan was GRACE – UNMERITED FAVOR.  But the whole plan depended on JESUS CHRIST and His completing all the Father required – and He did!
    • When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30 NIV)
    • And Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven, and not our sins only, but also the sins of everyone. (1 John 2:2 Today’s English Version)
  • Jesus came to TELL the TRUTH (1:14). “To Tell the Truth” was a TV game show in the 1950s. A group of three guests would pose as the same person and the show’s celebrity panelists had to decide which of the three was telling the truth. Very much like the old shell game – all three nuts look alike, but only one contains the prize. There are a lot of “nuts” in the world that claim to tell the truth. But Jesus not only tells the truth HE IS THE TRUTH! He came to tell the truth about God and how you can know Him for yourself: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7 New International Version). “Without the Way there is no going; without the Truth there is no knowing; without the Life there is no living.”[3]

God’s plan of salvation has been summarized this way: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the sons of men could become the sons of God.” This is why the Apostle Paul said the gospel of Christ. . .is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16 New King James Version). The way to life is the truth. Knowing the truth will set you free to live the life God has always wanted you to have. Jesus knows who you are, and He wants you to know who He is; and that’s what the Gospel of John is all about – knowing the truth of Jesus, believing it and having new and everlasting life.

 

 

 

[1] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p.1252.

[2] (from Illustrations of Bible Truths Copyright © 1995, 1998 by AMG International, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.)

[3] From The Biblical Illustrator, Thomas a Kempis, Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006 Ages Software, Inc. and Biblesoft, Inc.

 

“That You May Believe”

The apostle John was there when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).  He heard Peter answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16).  He also heard Jesus’ reply: “Upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18).  And John’s purpose in writing his gospel, he plainly states, is:  “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31 New King James Version)  Believing in Christ is the only way to have life, and John writes his gospel that you may believe and live (John 1:12; Acts 16:31).

John’s gospel is relevant for life:

  • To rescue the perishing – John 3:16.
  • To convince unbelieversthese are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31 NKJV).
  • To instruct new believersTo the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 NIV).  All believers are Christians, but not all Christians are disciples.
  • To answer significant questions – Greeks were philosophers – they thought a lot about life.  To know Jesus is to know LIFE:  John 14:6. Jews were theologians – they thought mostly about God. “The Word” or Logos (1:1) in the Greek means that Jesus is the full expression of the whole idea of God.[1]  A Chinese Christian woman was preaching Christ to the scholar of a market town. He heard her courteously and after a little while said, “Madam, you speak well, but why do you dwell on Jesus Christ? Let Him alone. Instead of Jesus Christ, tell us about God.” Whereupon she replied, “What, sir, should we know about God if it were not for Jesus Christ?” How true, and this is precisely the meaning of the second clause of John 1:18: No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (Today’s English Version).[2]

“Who was John and why should we listen to him?”

  • John was the disciple whom Jesus loved (Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7,20). John leaned a little closer to Jesus than the other disciples (21:20). God does not respect or love one person above another; however, He is respected and loved by some more than others. God invites us all to come closer (Ja 4:8).
  • John, James and Simon Peter formed an inner circle among Jesus’ disciples. They went with Jesus where the others did not (Lk 9:28). Paul later described them as pillars of the Church (Ga 2:9).
  • Only John was with Jesus at the cross, and Jesus committed Mary, his mother, to John’s care (Jn 19:26-27).
  • John also penned the three epistles that bear his name and the book of Revelation which he wrote while a prisoner on the island of Patmos.
  • His final years were spent in Ephesus preaching, teaching and writing. He was the last of the twelve apostles to die and the only one who died a natural death.
  • Strictly from a human perspective, John was probably the most qualified of anyone to write a biography of Jesus. He was closest to Jesus personally, was with Jesus at the most crucial moments of His life, and simply had the most time to reflect upon his time with Jesus and to establish a solid Christology concerning both the humanity and divinity of Jesus (Jn 1:1,14).

The term “life” appears 50 times in John. JESUS is LIFE and He came into the world that we might have it:

  • “I tell you the truth, whoever hears what I say and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life. That person will not be judged guilty but has already left death and entered life.” – John 5:24 New Century Version
  • “I am the bread of life.” – John 6:48
  • He came to give abundant life – John 10:10.
  • Jesus is life itself – John 14:6.

John wants his readers to know WHO Jesus is and WHY they should believe in Him. Peter confessed both the humanity and divinity of Jesus (Mt 16:16).  John explains how the Son of God became the Son of Man – the Word that was God already in the beginning became flesh (incarnated) and dwelt among us (1:1,14). Jesus is not partly human and partly God; He is FULLY HUMAN and FULLY GOD! 

  • Only God could save mankind from sin. Isaiah declared: God is my salvation . . . The LORD, the LORD, . . . he has become my salvation.” (Is 12:2). Jesus means “Jehovah is the Savior.”[3]
  • Only man could shed his blood for mankind’s redemption. Paul wrote: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (Rom 3:23-25 NIV).
  • Any departure from either the divinity or humanity of Jesus is a heresy (untruth): The Word became a human being and . . . We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son. (John 1:14 TEV).  John says in 2 John 7, anyone who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Jesus’ works (miracles) are why we should believe He is God: believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done (John 10:38 NLT). John references eight of Jesus’ miracles which he calls “signs” because they point to His divinity: 1) turning water to wine (2:1-11); 2) healing the official’s son (4:46-54); 3) healing the man at Bethesda (5:1-9); 4) feeding the 5000 (6:1-14); 5) walking on water (6:15-21); 6) restoring a man’s sight (9:1-41); 7) raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44); 8) the catch of fish (21:1-14). The last and greatest of all the signs, of course, was Jesus’ resurrection, which John records in chapters 20 and 21.

Jesus Christ is both the source of life and the light of truth to the worldThe Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to mankind (John 1:4 TEV).  Jesus answers life’s questions and satisfies life’s desires. Faith in Jesus Christ will transform your life: But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (John 1:12-13 NLT) Those who hear His voice (His word) will LIVE! (Jn 5:25-27). The words of Jesus are God’s words to us: These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:24 NIV)

From chapter one to twenty-one, the gospel of John is about the Son of God who became the Son of Man so that the sons of men might become the sons of God. To know God is eternal life and the only way to know God is through His Son, Jesus Christ:  “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3 New King James Version)

[1] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p.1252.

[2] From Illustrations of Bible Truths Copyright © 1995, 1998 by AMG International, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

[3] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Word, p.614.

Living Biblically – A Changing Paradigm

Did you ever wish there was a handbook for life – a HOW TO LIVE LIFE WELL BOOK? Well, there is!  It’s called the BIBLE!  God Himself guarantees that reading and applying the Bible will benefit our lives: Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (Joshua 1:8 New Living Translation)

The Bible is unlike any other book:

  • It took 16 centuries to write by at least 40 different writers in 3 different languages and on 3 separate continents. Yet it has one clear, central and consistent theme – God’s salvation of humankind through His Son, Jesus Christ.
  • It has improved lives, stirred controversy and inspired social change around the world, like nothing else – ever!
  • It is the most translated, most published and bestselling book in history, and it remains so today.
  • It has Jesus’ personal guarantee of blessing to all who read it or hear it and apply its principles in their lives: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 New International Version)

Great persons have said great things about the Bible:

  • Abraham Lincoln said the Bible “is the best gift God has given to men.”
  • President Theodore Roosevelt:A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”
  • English Philosopher John Locke: “The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. It has God for its author; salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture for its matter. It is all pure.”
  • Isaac Newton: “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.”

Just two more but very important quotes:

  • George Washington warned in his 1796 farewell address: “It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, our religion and morality are the indispensable supporters.”
  • Author Victor Hugo attributed the prowess of British culture in the world to the Bible: “England has two books, the Bible and Shakespeare. England made Shakespeare, but the Bible made England.”

So much good in the world and people’s lives is directly attributable to the respect given the Bible in previous generations. Unfortunately for all of us, that is changing.

A paradigm change concerning the Bible is sweeping Western countries and culture:

  • A change in public confidence – In a published study by the Pew Research Center dated May 15, 2017, it states: “From the mid-1970s through 1984, close to 40% of Americans considered the Bible the literal word of God, but this has been declining ever since, along with a shrinking percentage of self-identified Christians in the U.S. Meanwhile, the percentage defining the Bible as mere stories has doubled, with much of that change occurring in the past three years.”[i]
  • A change in cultural significance – A recent study reveals that the Bible’s perceived significance to life and society is diminishing rapidly, especially among the young. 77% of Americans believe that values and morals are declining in our country and 32% attribute that decline to a lack of Bible reading.  Also, while the number of those friendly toward the Bible has declined (45% to 39%), the number of those antagonistic toward it has nearly doubled (10% to 17%).[ii]
  • A change in personal importance – Although most Americans own from 1 to 4 Bibles, only 1 in 4 Christians read the Bible at least 4 times per week and 1 in 4 church goers never read it. Consequently, there is a growing ignorance of what the Bible teaches.  “As a whole, Americans, including many Christians, hold unbiblical views on hell, sin, salvation, Jesus, humanity, and the Bible itself.”[iii]

We are living amidst a societal catastrophe foretold and being fulfilled:

  • For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 New Living Translation)
  • When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. (Proverbs 29:18 NLT)

Endnotes

[i] At News.gallup.com/poll shows “Record few Americans believe the Bible is the literal Word of God”.

[ii] At Churchexecutive.com in article titled “What do Americans really think about the Bible?”

[iii] In article by Ed Stetzer titled “The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches”.

Why Jesus’ Resurrection Matters

One of the first things we learn of in life is death. I was still very young, a preschooler, when a family member died – Uncle Clark, my dad’s brother. I remember him as a gentle, kind and friendly sort. He never seemed grouchy or perturbed by little kids, like others certainly were; and I enjoyed being around him. Then he was gone. I wasn’t allowed to sit up with the dead (like folks used to do) or attend his funeral, but I clearly remember the feeling of loss knowing that I would not see Clark again. And, in as much as my family attended a Holiness, Pentecostal, Bible believing, Jesus loving, salvation preaching, soul saving church (we really did), I heard it said multiple times: “It is appointed unto men once to die,” (Hebrews 9:27 King James Version).

To be sure – everyone dies. But inquiring minds want to know – is there anything beyond? Is there life after death? Now likely is that you do; but just let me prove it to you!

The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture in a 2014 article entitled “Do people still believe in life after death” reported that most Americans do. Specifically, 72% of Americans still believe in an afterlife. By religious affiliation – “Mormons reported the highest rate of belief in a conscious afterlife (98 percent), followed by evangelicals, Pentecostals, and fundamentalist Protestants (94 percent) …, those without a religious affiliation (or who called themselves atheists or agnostics) were least confident in life after death, at 32 percent.” On belief in heaven and hell, the figures are lower. “Among afterlife believers, 68 percent said, “Yes, I think both heaven and hell are real places.” If we presume that Americans who do not believe in an afterlife also do not believe in heaven or hell, (stands to reason) then belief that heaven and hell are real places can be said to be characteristic of 51 percent of American adults. An additional 8 percent believe in heaven only, but not hell.” (I wonder why that is?) And what about a bodily resurrection – “Overall, 37 percent of Americans believe there will be a bodily resurrection of the dead.” [http://relationshipsinamerica.com/religion/do-people-still-believe-in-life-after-death]

Dinesh D’Souza, American philosopher, author and film maker says: “If there is no life after death, then we are like passengers on the Titanic. We can rearrange the deck chairs and turn up the music a little bit, but ultimately, we are doomed. . .If there is an afterlife, then we are in a better position to face death. We have to face death in any case, but now we can face it in the expectation that it is not a final defeat, . . .” [Dinesh D’Souza in an interview on life after death with Paul Kengor, 12/9/09]

The night before He was crucified, Jesus was preparing His disciples (followers) for His impending death. After having supper with them, He said: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” He went on to say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:19,27 NIV)

Jesus’ resurrection matters to you, me and everyone because:

  1. It DEMONSTRATES death is not the end. Craig D. Lounsbrough writes, “Easter is a time when God turned the inevitability of death into the invincibility of life.” Jesus’ death was inevitable, but His life is invincible! In John 11:25-26 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (NIV)
  2. It LIBERATES believers from the fear of death. Following His crucifixion and death, the unbelieving world would not see Him again. But His disciples, those who believed in Him, loved and followed Him, did see Him again. Multiple times over a period of forty days following His resurrection. Paul said as many as 500 saw Him at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6).
  3. It SUBSTANTIATES our hope in Jesus. Had He not risen, then everything His death means to us (our sins forgiven, peace with God, eternity with Him in heaven, and more) would be a hoax. 1 Corinthians 15:14 says, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (NIV)
  4. It VALIDATES the Christian view of afterlife as correct. All the major religions of the world teach there is an afterlife. Only Christianity claims its founder died and rose again. Again, Dinesh D’Souza says: “the vast majority of historians would accept—the fact that Christ lived and preached, that he made enemies, that his enemies killed him, that he was buried in a tomb, that his disciples claim to have found the tomb empty, that they said Jesus appeared before them several times after his crucifixion, and that this event filled them with conviction and propelled a movement of conversion that was sustained even in the face of Roman persecution and resistance. So, these are the facts, and how do we account for them? If the resurrection stands up to historical scrutiny, if it is an historical event by the standards of historical verification, then the Christian view of the afterlife rises above the pack. It is the one to take seriously.” [Dinesh D’Souza in an interview on life after death with Paul Kengor, 12/9/09]
  5. It AUTHENTICATES Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Romans 1:4-5 says, “he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.” (NLT)

Hebrews 9:27-28 says, “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.” (New Living Translation) We are destined to die. We are also destined to face judgment after death. God is the eternal judge and both the verdict and sentence are already determined against us. Our one and only hope of pardon is in Jesus Christ who died to take away our sins. “Confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

 

What Did Jesus Do for Me on the Cross?

“I am wholly deserving of all the consequences that I will in fact never receive simply because God unashamedly stepped in front of me on the cross, unflinchingly spread His arms so as to completely shield me from the retribution that was mine to bear, and repeatedly took the blows. And I stand entirely unwounded, utterly lost in the fact that while His body was pummeled and bloodied to death by that which was meant for me and me alone, I have not a scratch.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

In 2 Corinthians 5:21, the Apostle Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (New International Version of the Bible)

The sin was mine and the punishment should have been mine, but Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, took my place and yours and the place of everyone ever born or yet to be (1 John 2:2). Vicarious, substitutionary, propitiatory are all terms used to describe what exactly it was Jesus did for us by dying on the cross.

The Gospel (Good News) in a nutshell is this:

  • Perfect God created a perfect world and put the perfect couple in charge of running things which He required be done perfectly.
  • Everything got royally messed up though when the couple sinned (disobeyed God).
  • The consequences of their sin (disobedience to God) included pain, suffering, hardship, conflict with each other, separation from God, physical deterioration and ultimately death. Left alone, the entire human race was destined to perish.
  • But, “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 New Living Translation)
  • The sinless Son of God took on human form so that He might take our perishing (the penalty of our sin) upon Himself (Philippians 2:6-8). With Jesus’ death on the cross, justice was served, and God’s forgiveness was extended to everyone who will believe and receive it.
  • “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Acts 16:31

It really is as simple as A, B, C:

  • Acknowledge that you are a sinner (you have disobeyed God).
  • Believe that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died for you (He satisfied the penalty for your sin).
  • Confess Him (Jesus Christ) as your Savior (from perishing) and Lord (Whom you will obey).

If all this seems or sounds foolish, crazy, unbelievable to you; think about this quote from over nineteen centuries ago by a man who hated the Christian movement so much he hunted its members down, imprisoned and even executed them:

“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

“So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So, when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended, and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.”

“But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25 New Living Translation)

What changed Saul of Tarsus from being the chief enemy of Christians to the Apostle Paul, chief Christian missionary to the world? Well, that’s the story of Easter which we celebrate this Sunday.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Seat Belt Light is On”

If you’ve ever flown aboard a passenger aircraft, then you’ve heard that announcement. It’s usually preceded by a little bell; you look above your seat and the seat belt indicator is indeed aglow. And, if you are inclined toward following directions, and you know what’s good for you, you grab the clasp of the belt with one hand and the buckle with the other and “click” – you’re done. The dynamics are really very simple. When in motion, the vehicle and passenger are traveling at the same speed in the same direction. If the vehicle suddenly stops or makes a course change, the unrestrained passenger continues at the former speed and previous direction, and you have a catastrophe. But thanks to the inventive mind of English engineer George Cayley in the mid-19th century and several evolutions of the seat belt or safety belt, such catastrophes have been substantially reduced. Many lives have been saved and injuries minimized by a simple restraint that most of us anymore just take for granted. Except when you’re on an airplane and hear that announcement.

 
In so many ways, life is like an airplane ride. You’ve taken off, and made the climb and now you’re cruising at 35,000 feet – everything smooth as silk. Suddenly, you hear the “ding,” the light goes on, and then the directive – “Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts.” Oftentimes an explanation will follow, i.e. – “There is some turbulence ahead. You might feel some bumpiness in your ride; but don’t be alarmed. Please keep your seat belts fastened until instructed to do otherwise.” Then it hits – or the plane hits it, and your seat leaves the plane seat; and were it not for that belt holding onto you, there could have been a genuine catastrophe.

 
Just a week prior to the date of this blog, the nation, the whole world was enjoying a wonderful, silky smooth ride to new heights in the international stock markets. For most of a year we saw one financial growth record after another broken. Then the course changed, and the rapid speed of incline was greatly surpassed by a more rapid decline. And, at this moment, the plummet continues. Just a little more than a week ago a very good man, traveling a route he had taken many times, lost control of his vehicle and perished. His wife and two young sons are left to live their lives without husband and father. Some weeks ago, a grandfather like me, lost his only grandchild suddenly and unexpectedly. The course and speed of life changes; abruptly and sometimes tragically. Seat belts were made and are used with an awareness, even an expectation, that such changes will happen.

 
“Ding;” “Ladies and Gentlemen – do you have your seat belts on?” Not the one invented by George Cayley, but the One who gave you life and knows everything there is to know about your life – every speed up and slow down; every twist and turn; every high and low. God is so aware of your life that nothing, absolutely nothing that happens in your life or anyone’s life takes Him by surprise. David, the great psalm writer said in Psalm 139:16 that God knows how many days you’ll live before you’ve lived the first one. And He knows not only the number of days in your life and mine; He knows the content. He literally is watching you and me and everyone else with a keen interest in everything we do: “From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth – he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.” (Psalm 33:13-15 New International Version) God has His eye on you; but He wants to be more than an observer. The seat belt light is on; is yours buckled?

 
The safety in a seat belt comes not from your holding onto it, but from it holding onto you. And there is no safety at all unless you buckle-up. We all live our lives under God’s awareness; but only those who choose to click-it (trust the Divine Safety Belt) can rest assured of His care: “When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared.” (Proverbs 3:24-26 New International Version) Many choose not to put their seat belts on – even though the evidence is they save lives. They argue that they are too confining; or they know people who actually were injured by them; or if this plane goes down, it really won’t make any difference. But, while all those arguments are to some degree true, doesn’t it just make sense to entrust yourself to something designed to cope with the sudden and ruinous turns in life. Wearing seat belts doesn’t mean you’ll never be involved in an accident; but it does increase your chances of surviving it. Trusting God with your life doesn’t mean you won’t have hardships or experience tragedies; it does mean He will personally see you through them and, in the end, bring you to a higher place. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Seat Belt light is on. If you haven’t already; it’s time to buckle up!”

 
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” (Acts 16:31 NIV)

 
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;” (Isaiah 43:2-3 NIV)

“Who Was That Child in a Manger?” – The Profile Evidence

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17)

The Apostle Peter’s testimony of Jesus reveals two very important things about who He was/is:  (1) Jesus was the long prophesied Messiah/Christ (anointed of the LORD to deliver God’s people), and (2) Jesus is the Son of (same in nature as) God.  But what evidence do we have to corroborate what Jesus’ lead spokesperson confessed?  Jesus said Peter had the revelation from the Father (God) in heaven.  What do we have?

We have the sure and very certain word of the prophets which has been given to us as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).  The word of the prophets is the Holy Scriptures and the Morning Star is Jesus Christ (Revelation 22:16).  Jesus said about the Scriptures, “They testify about me” (John 5:39).  The Bible is our final authority on the subject of Jesus, and when we read it, the same revelatory light from God that shined into Peter’s dark mind shines into ours.  And the more we read it, the more that Morning Star (Jesus) rises (becomes clearer and brighter) in our hearts.  The Bible gives to us profiles of both God and the Messiah that were uniquely satisfied in the one person, Jesus Christ.

Jesus uniquely fits the profile of “Immanuel”, which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:22-23). Colossians 1:15 says:  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.   But how can one person be both God and man?  The Bible says God is eternal (without beginning or ending); Jesus was born – He had a birthday which we still celebrate every year (Matthew 1:18).  The Bible says  God is immutable (never changing); Jesus grew and developed – He changed (Luke 2:52).  God is omniscient (all knowing); but Jesus confessed His ignorance about some things (Matthew 24:36).  God is omnipresent (everywhere at the same time); Jesus walked from place to place and even got tired (John 4:6).  God is omnipotent (all powerful); yet Jesus was taken, beaten and crucified (John 19:16).  Inquiring minds want to know – “If Jesus was God, why did He have human limitations?  And if He was human, why did He claim equality with God?

The more we read the Word of God (the Bible), the more we are able to understand the mystery of Jesus as both God and man:  The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130 NIV).  The biblical profile of Jesus is fully divine:

  • He is eternal: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2 NIV)
  • He is immutable: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)
  • He is omniscient (all knowing): Now we can see that you know all things (John 16:30 NIV)
  • He is omnipresent (all present): “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NIV)
  • He is omnipotent (all powerful): “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18 NIV)

The biblical profile of Jesus is also completely human.  The incarnation (God made flesh) has been called the most profound mystery in history.  But again the Bible shines the light of understanding into our simple minds:

  • Always and forever the Son of God (John 1:1; 8:58) – Jesus became the Son of Man (John 1:14 – His birthday).
  • At times He demonstrated all the limitations of humanity right down to being tired and thirsty (John 4:6; 19:28).  At other times He displayed the limitless power of His divinity (Matthew 14:18-21; John 11:43).
  • When He became human, the Son of God somehow gave up, set aside, emptied Himself of His divine privileges (either selectively or entirely) while He dwelt on Earth (Philippians 2:5-8).
  • In the Person of Jesus, the divine and human are forever One – and can never be separated (Acts 1:11).

We do not comprehend the whole mystery of incarnation, but Jesus certainly fits the profile of that one Peter confessed to be the Son of the living God.

 Jesus also fits the profile of the prophesied and long awaited Messiah/Christ?  “There are several things that the Jewish people who anticipated the Messiah expected Him to be, based on Old Testament prophecies. The Messiah would be a Hebrew man (Isaiah 9:6) born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), a prophet akin to Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18), a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4), a king (Isaiah 11:1–4), and the Son of David (Matthew 22:42) who suffered before entering His glory (Isaiah 53). Jesus met each of these messianic requirements.”

“Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Messiah in that He was a Hebrew of the tribe of Judah (Luke 3:30), and He was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4–7) to a virgin (Luke 1:26–27).”

“Another proof that Jesus was the Messiah is the fact that He was a prophet like Moses. Both Moses and Jesus were prophets “whom the LORD knew face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10; cf. John 8:38). But Jesus is an even greater prophet than Moses in that, while Moses delivered Israel from slavery, Jesus frees us from the bondage of death and sin. Unlike Moses, Jesus didn’t just represent God—He is God (John 10:30). Jesus doesn’t just lead us to the Promised Land; He takes us up to heaven for eternity (John 14:1–3). For these and many more reasons, Jesus is a prophet greater than Moses.”[2]

Perhaps the clearest and most profound of all Old Testament Messianic prophecies is that in Isaiah 53 – the Suffering Servant.  To read Isaiah’s words written seven centuries before Christ and compare them with the biography of Jesus in the gospels, leaves no doubt that He was indeed the Messiah: 

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.  He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.  And who can speak of his descendants?  For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:1-12 New International Version)

Both as Christ and the Son of God – Jesus fits the profile!  Hallelujah!

[1] Taken from The Case for Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger by Lee Strobel [Zondervan, 2005].

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/is-Jesus-the-Messiah.html

“WHO WAS THAT CHILD IN A MANGER – The Evidence from Science and History?”

A Savior Who is Christ the Lord . . . A Babe Wrapped in Swaddling Cloths, Lying in a Manger (Luke 2:11-12)

Bible critics and unbelieving skeptics would convince us that the Bible is wrong and that Jesus Christ is a myth because if the Bible is right and Jesus is the Son of God, then He is our rightful Lord to whom we owe our allegiance, our worship, and our very lives.  Jesus said this:  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:19-20 New King James Version)

Jesus said people hate Him because He exposes the sin they love; they hate God altogether; and their hatred is contrary to the evidence and against good reason:  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (John 15:22-25 NIV)

Also, those who hate Jesus and God actually hate us (Christians) because His light that shines through us, through our message and lifestyle, exposes their sins:

  • Those who hate God without a cause do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land (Psalm 35:20 NIV). They tell lies about those who desire peace and quiet in the land.
  • The first murder occurred between brothers because the one’s righteous works provoked the other whose works were evil (1 John 3:12). Abel’s only crime was living a godly life; but Cain felt convicted by it and so killed his brother.
  • This is why everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12 New Living Translation). The truth hurts those intent on living contrary to it; and they will stop at nothing to suppress that truth  (Romans 1:18).

Critics charge that science and the Bible don’t mix; or, science is for thinking people and the Bible is for the superstitious; or, science contradicts the Bible.  But true science actually confirms the Bible and who Jesus Christ is.  “Science is defined as ‘the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.’ Science is a method that mankind can use to gain a greater understanding of the natural universe.”[2]  True science does not contradict the Bible; rather it has confirmed the Scriptures’ integrity again and again.

Geology (the science of the earth’s physical structure) agrees with the biblical chronology of Earth’s development:[3]

  1. Earth began in a confused/chaotic condition which gave way to a more developed state (Genesis 1:2)
  2. A life sustaining atmosphere was formed (Genesis 1:6-8)
  3. Dry land appeared (Genesis 1:9-10)
  4. Plant life appeared (Genesis 1:11-13)
  5. Sea life appeared (Genesis 1:20-23)
  6. Animal life appeared (Genesis 1:24-25)
  7. Human life appeared last (Genesis 1:26-28)

The evidence is exactly the same, but creationists and naturalists (believers in evolution) interpret it differently. You have to wonder though – how did a fifteenth century B.C. nomadic shepherd named Moses know the order of Earth’s geologic development so well that he got it sequentially spot-on in writing his creation epic in Genesis chapter one?

Archaeology (the science of human history and prehistory by studying artifacts and remains) corroborates much of what we know about Jesus from the Bible.  Dr. Edwin Yamauchi (The Scriptures and Archaeology and the World of the First Christians) says that even without the Bible we know a lot about Jesus from other ancient sources:

“We . . . know that first, Jesus was a Jewish teacher; second, many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; third, some people believed he was the Messiah; fourth, he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; fifth, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; sixth, despite his shameful death, his followers, who believed that he was still alive, spread beyond Palestine so that there were multitudes of them in Rome by AD 64; and seventh, all kinds of people from the cities and countryside – men and women, slave and free – worshiped him as God.”[4]

Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, wrote about Jesus: 

“At this time Jesus, a wise man (if it is appropriate to call him a man), appeared.  For he was a worker of incredible deeds, a teacher of men who happily receive the truth, and he drew to himself many Jews – and many Greeks, too.  This man was the Christ.  And when Pilate had executed him at the instigation of the leading men among us, those who had first loved him did not give up.  For he appeared to them on the third day alive again (the divine prophets had spoken concerning him of these and countless other wonders).  And to this day the tribe of “Christians” (named after him) has not vanished.[5]

And Tacitus, great Roman historian writing approximately in AD 115 about Christians said they were wrongly accused by Nero for starting the fire that destroyed much of Rome in AD 64.  Also, of the term “Christian” he stated – “The author of this name, Christ, suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate during the imperium of Tiberius.”[6]

Jesus did miracles as evidence of who He is – a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  On one occasion He posed the question whether it was easier to forgive someone’s sins or heal them from a disease.  He then said:  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .Get up, take your mat and go home.”  (Matthew 9:6-7 New International Version)  Jesus’ did miracles as evidence that He could save people from their sins – His purpose for coming into the world.  Modern skeptics say it is unreasonable to believe in miracles; but Jesus said to the skeptics in His day that it was unreasonable to witness miracles (which He did in abundance) and not believe.

A Miracle on 34th Street is an all-time favorite Christmas movie classic at our house.  You may recall the ending how all those watching Santa on trial were encouraged by his supporters to just BELIEVE!  Jesus encourages us to believe in Him, not just because He wants us to, but because of the miracles He did which were observed by many witnesses (Matthew 13:53-56).    The Apostle John wrote in concluding his gospel:  Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31 New International Version).  Based on the evidence, believing really is the most reasonable thing you can do!

[1] From The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel [Zondervan, 2005].

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/science-God.html

[3] Gleason L. Archer, Jr. in A Survey of Old Testament Introduction p.193.

[4] In The Case for Christmas, p.57.

[5] Josephus in Antiquities 18.63-64.

[6] Tacitus in Annals 15:44

WHO WAS THAT CHILD IN A MANGER? – The Evidence from Eyewitnesses

(Based on information in The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel)

We live in a time when people, many people are intent on removing Christ and the Christian faith from the public discourse.  By any means possible, they seek to discredit, demean and dissuade persons from believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners.  In his book The Case for Christmas journalist, author and pastor, Lee Strobel carefully elucidates some very compelling evidences that the child born in a manger in Bethlehem in the first century was real and that He was the prophesied and long anticipated Messiah/Christ – Savior of mankind.  Furthermore, He truly was Emmanuel – God with us.

This Jesus, for whom Christmas is named, was the most significant Person who ever lived or ever will live.  He changed the world forever.  To know Him is LIFE; to reject Him, disavow or deny Him is DEATH for a person as well as a people.  But how do we KNOW that child in a manger was who and what He claimed to be and the Christian faith has ever since proclaimed Him to be?  What is the evidence?

EYEWITNESSES TESTIFIED that the child, Jesus, born in Bethlehem was the Christ who died for our sins, was buried and rose again according to the Scriptures.  So said the Apostle Paul, himself an eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus.

I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4  that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 5  that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7 Good News Translation)

Paul says he passed on what he had received.  This describes very succinctly how the gospel, the story of Jesus, and the entire Christian faith has come down to us – what the first Christians received they passed on to others.  At first it was transmitted orally, then very soon in written form.  Indeed the whole Bible was communicated this way from generation to generation.  It was both accurately received and faithfully passed on so we can be sure that what we have today is the TRUE Word of God:  His truth endures to all generations (Psalm 100:5 New King James Version).

The grammar of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is such that Bible scholars believe it reflects a CREED already formulated in the early Church, RECEIVED by the apostle and PASSED ON in his letter to the Corinthians.  This is important to note because many try to convince us that Jesus’ life was “mythologized” in the centuries following his death.  They say the real Jesus of history was merely a mortal man teaching some very radical ideas.  But Paul was converted WITHIN TWO YEARS of Jesus’ death (c. A.D. 35) and already there existed a clear THEOLOGY OF JESUS that he received and passed on to those he discipled.  If we are to believe Paul, the author of thirteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books (and I think we should), then we must believe that Jesus is the Christ who died for our sins was buried and rose again the third day – all according to the SCRIPTURES!

Now most of what we know about Jesus comes from the four gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  And Bible critics would have us doubt everything about them from authorship to accuracy to authenticity.  But, we can be sure the gospels tell it right because the authors were all eyewitnesses or closely associated with eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus, that child born in Bethlehem.

Written statements by early Church fathers (first and second century Church leaders) confirm the gospels’ authorship.  Irenaeus (c.125-202 A.D.), a student of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote:  “Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there.  After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching.  Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher.  Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.”[1]

Similarities between the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) substantiate the gospels’ accuracy because we would expect EYEWITNESSES to agree on things they saw firsthand.  Skeptics say that similar and sometimes identical passages in the first three gospels mean they must have all copied in part from a common but undisclosed document. They refer to that undisclosed document as Q.  But there is NO EVIDENCE at all that such a document ever existed.  However, as one of Jesus’ apostles, Matthew was an EYEWITNESS to Jesus’ life and ministry.  And John Mark’s knowledge of Jesus came from Peter – also an EYEWITNESS.  And Luke said his gospel was the result of his carefully investigating everything from the beginning, including EYEWITNESSES to what Jesus said and did (Luke 1:1-3).  Furthermore, as Paul’s associate, Luke was acquainted with the gospel Paul said he received by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12 NIV).  It only makes sense then that these different biographers of Jesus’ life, all basing their accounts on either their own witness of Jesus or that of His apostles , would tell a similar story, at times even identical.

Differences between the four gospels give us a BIGGER PICTURE of Jesus. Panoramic is a feature on many digital cameras.  By moving your aperture slowly across the photo target while depressing the take button, you wind up with a much bigger picture than what you get from a single angle.  Now imagine each of the gospel writers standing on a different side of Jesus – front, back, left side, right side.  They each saw Jesus, the very same Jesus, but from a slightly different viewpoint (angle).  Each author chronicled the life of Jesus from his own viewpoint and highlighted  those things about Jesus’ most likely to touch the minds and hearts of his specific audience.  And, when you put the different pictures together, you get a bigger (panoramic) picture of Jesus:

  • Matthew wrote to the Hebrews/Jews and focused on Jesus the long expected Messiah and rightful King of Israel.  After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2 NIV)
  • Mark wrote to Christians struggling under Roman oppression concerning the Son of God who came to serve, not be served: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIV)
  • Luke was a historian and wrote his gospel in a very detailed and orderly way for folks with inquiring and perhaps skeptical minds, like his friend:  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 NIV)
  • John wrote his gospel last (c. A.D. 85) to an international and growing Church of both Jews and Gentiles about a Jesus who is bigger than time and space:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1 NIV).  And John was very straight forward about the evangelical purpose for writing his gospel:  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 NIV)

Differences between the gospels also serve to confirm their authenticity. Simon Greenleaf, a well-known and accepted authority on what constitutes reliable evidence in a court of law, examined the four Gospels from a legal perspective. He noted . . . Had the Gospels contained exactly the same information with the same details written from the same perspective, it would indicate collusion, i.e., of their having been a time when the writers got together beforehand to “get their stories straight” in order to make their writings seem credible. The differences between the Gospels, even the apparent contradictions of details upon first examination, speak to the independent nature of the writings. Thus, the independent nature of the four Gospel accounts, agreeing in their information but differing in perspective, amount of detail, and which events were recorded, indicate that the record that we have of Christ’s life and ministry as presented in the Gospels is factual and reliable.[2]

More than a century ago, seminarian Samuel Valentine Crow, wrote concerning the endless attempts by men to discredit and/or destroy the Holy Scriptures:

“Hammer away, ye hostile hands, Your hammers break, God’s anvil stands.”[3]

We can be sure about who that child in the manger was and is because the Scriptures are true and trustworthy and they leave nothing to doubt:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NIV)

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23 NIV)

 

[1] In Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christmas, p.19.

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/four-Gospels.html

[3] “Hammer and Anvil” by Samuel Valentine Cole.