Monday, April 23, 2018

SHOULD I ATTEND A GAY WEDDING?




One Christian woman confessed that she had attended the wedding of two lesbian friends. She explained that she had no choice because not attending would make her appear to be a bigot and would also disqualify her faith in the eyes of her friends. Consequently, they would not be amenable to hearing anything about Christ. Instead, by attending, she was able to demonstrate that she, as a Christian, loved and accepted them.

In the mind of most Christians, this seems to be quite reasonable. Why create an offense where offense can be avoided! Isn’t it the duty of the Christian to show love and not contempt?

I too will confess that this seems quite reasonable. However, what is reasonable from a human point of view might not please God. I explained to her that we cannot celebrate what God clearly refuses to celebrate. Doing so would be a matter of loving the people of this culture more than God:

·       You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:4-5 ESV)

What would make us adulterous? When we violate our primary relationship with our Savior, we become guilty of adultery. How would we do this? By being more concerned about the opinions of the world than the Word of God and His opinions!

The Bible consistently teaches that our first love must be for our Lord. Jesus was very clear about our priorities:

·       “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39; Luke 14:26)

How are we to love God? To love God is to obey God. God had established this principle for Israel:

·       “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)

The test of Israel’s love of their God was whether or not they would keep all of His commandments (Deut. 13:1-5):

·       “You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. (Deuteronomy 11:1 ESV)

The children of God were never given the liberty to set aside any of God’s commands. This same principle also pertains to the NT. Jesus taught:

·       “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

Admittedly, this sounds harsh, inflexible, and not human-centered. However, Scripture argues that following the commands of God is the best way to love others:

·       By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)

To love God by keeping His commands is also to love others. This is also the best way to love ourselves (1 John 2:4; 3:24).

While we feel affirmed when we affirm others, this is not the way to love others. Instead, the best way to love others is to first love God and to be true to our beliefs.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

SOMEONE ASKED: WHO REQUIRED CHRIST’S DEATH ON THE CROSS? WHO HAD TO BE APPEASED??




I ANSWERED THAT HE DIED TO SATISFY GOD’S RIGHTEOUS NATURE:

God’s righteous nature had to be satisfied:

·       [Jesus Christ] whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

Prior to this, the Father could only pass over sins and not eradicate them:

·       In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Who was propitiated (satisfied) through the Cross? It was the Father who required this ultimate sacrifice to satisfy His righteous nature and to reconcile us to Himself:

·       All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

Notice that through this sacrifice, God the Father reconciled us TO HIMSELF. That couldn’t be accomplished prior to the Cross.

In contrast to this, we find many OT examples showing that because of His righteous nature, God the Father couldn’t remain in the presence of Israel without destroying them:

·       Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Exodus 33:3)

Consequently, He sent His Angel to guide them. The Father couldn’t be reconciled with His people until His righteous nature was satisfied by the offering of His Son.

THE TEMPLE: OT/ NT PERSPECTIVES vs. THE RABBIS




The rabbis denounce the New Testament claiming that it misconstrues the Old to support its own doctrines. For instance, in the NT Jesus likens His own body to the Jerusalem Temple, in effect, proclaiming that His body is the actual place to come to meet God and find mercy. In a revealing account, the Jewish leadership demanded that Jesus justify His authority to drive out the money-changers and animal-salesmen from the Temple:

·       Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. (John 2:19-21; John 1:14)

Jesus equated His body with the Temple. He had been hinting about this to a Samaritan woman who thought religion was just a matter of the geographical place of worship, pointing out that the Jews worshipped in the Jerusalem Temple and the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim. However, Jesus corrected her:

·       “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

According to Jesus, worship was, ultimately, not a matter of place but of truth. It is through belief in the truth that we meet God, not necessarily through a building.

The Book of Revelation claims that the New Jerusalem would not contain a physical temple:

·       And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22; 13:6; 21:3)

Has the NT perverted the teachings of the Mosaic revelation? Moses had been given the plan for the Tabernacle (the moveable Temple) while on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25:40; 27:8; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44). However, the NT interpreted this plan as symbolic (a shadow) of a deeper reality:

·       They [the Temple and its services] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things [of Christ]. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5)

Did God simply have a preference for certain physical forms and structures, or did He order these Temple forms, as such, because they also symbolically conveyed heavenly truths? The NT writers understood that the Temple and the prescribed forms of worship were symbolic of a deeper reality. Interestingly, the OT also suggests this. Even before there was a Tabernacle, God had been Israel’s refuge and sanctuary:

·       Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. (Psalm 90:1; 71:3; Isaiah 57:15)

This suggests that the Temple was a shadow of a deeper reality, which God wanted to convey symbolically. The NT claims that God Himself would be our sanctuary (Temple). This is also true of the OT revelation:

·       “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary [“mikdash”] to them for a while in the countries where they have gone.’” (Ezekiel 11:16; Isaiah 8:13:14)

God would be a temple to Israel even in their exile. The physical Temple was therefore unnecessary, suggesting that, instead, it represented a reality beyond itself. Besides, God promised that He Himself would “build” the ultimate Temple in conjunction with a new covenant:

·       “I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary [“mikdash”] in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place [“mishkan”] shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary [“mikdash”] is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28)

Would this be a physical sanctuary? The fact that God would make an “everlasting covenant” with Israel suggests that the Mosaic Covenant was only temporary. In fact, nowhere in the Scriptures is the Mosaic ever described as everlasting.

Of what will “my sanctuary,” which God will create, consist? First of all, it is not only associated with a new and eternal covenant, it is also a Messianic covenant, the work of the mysterious BRANCH:

·       “And say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’ (Zechariah 6:12-13)

It is noteworthy that the physical Temple had already been rebuilt by the Israelite exiles returning from Babylon. Consequently, the Lord must be referring to a different kind of Temple and, consequently, even a different priesthood. This Priest, the Messianic BRANCH, also recognized by the rabbis as the promised Davidic offspring, the Messiah who would create an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6), would also be a King (Psalm 110). A single person fulfilling these two roles had been absolutely forbidden under the Mosaic Covenant (Numbers 18:7). The fact that the Messiah would fulfill both roles suggests a change in the Covenant, the Temple, its rituals and even the end of animal sacrifices:

·       “Before they call [for forgiveness as they sacrifice an animal] I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD. Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations.” (Isaiah 65:24 - 66:1-3)

Since there will be no more “destruction” in the Kingdom of the Messiah, the death of animals could no longer be required. Instead, the promised Messianic sacrifice will put an end to all sacrifices:

·       Surely he [the promised Messiah] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

The Psalms also promise that one offering will put to end all subsequent offerings and the Temple system, which required them:

·       Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” [Psalm 40; LXX] When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first [covenant] in order to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:5-10)

Evidently, the Temple animal sacrifices had been a shadow of the coming reality – the offering of the Messiah Himself for the sins of the world. How else can we explain the fact that God wasn’t truly pleased with the animal sacrifices, although He had ordained and required them? They weren’t pleasing to God because they were only symbols along with the Temple. Besides, the Scriptures inform us that the offerings of Israel were to be those of the mouth and the heart:

·       For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17; Hosea 6:6; 14:2; Malachi 1:10-11)

God also desires the figurative sacrifice of the entire person (Romans 12:2):

·       “For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, declares the Lord GOD, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land. There I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings.  As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered.” (Ezekiel 20:40-41; Isaiah 66:20-21)

The Temple and its prescribed worship were only meant to apply until the Messiah (Hebrew 13:8):

·       “And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days,” declares the LORD, “they shall no more say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. (Jeremiah 3:16-17)

The Ark, which carried the centerpiece of the Mosaic Covenant, the Ten Commandments, would not be remembered or made again because this Covenant would be superseded by the New:

·       “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

The New would replace the Old. How do the rabbis answer this claim? They respond that the New is a mere remodeling of the Mosaic. However, God explicitly declares that the New is “not like the [Mosaic] covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” The rabbis have stumbled over their promised Messiah (Isaiah 8:13-14; 28:16; Psalm 118:22).
Instead, we find that the NT fits the OT like a glove fits the hand, demonstrating the internal consistency of the entire Bible, pointing to the fact that the Bible expresses a single, albeit cryptic, revelation by a single divine Author.












Thursday, April 19, 2018

THE PROPHETS OF GOD AND THEIR PROBLEMS WITH GOD




We tend to regard the Prophets and Apostles as spiritual giants. However, they struggled as we do:

·       Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:17-18)

It also seems that they had issues with God. For a while, Elijah’s presence brought blessing upon a widow of Zeraphath and her son, but her son suddenly died. Elijah, therefore, accused God:

·       “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” (1 Kings 17:20)

Nevertheless, the Lord healed the son through Elijah.

The Prophet Jonah’s issues with God were even more antagonistic. He rejected God’s calling to preach to Nineveh and fled. It even seems that he preferred death rather than service. Nevertheless, after being swallowed by a great fish, Jonah agreed to preach to Nineveh. However, the very thing that Jonah had feared came to pass. They repented and God relented from His promise to destroy Nineveh.

However, instead of rejoicing with the Lord, Jonah became angry (Jonah 4:1) and wanted to die, but God tried to teach him that he was his own worst enemy:

·       “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:3-4)

Of course, Jonah’s anger wasn’t serving him well. However, God didn’t give up on Jonah and continued to provide object lessons to expose his anger and rebellion for what they were. Overnight, He provided Jonah with a plant to shade him from the intense sun. God then destroyed the plant, and Jonah foolishly became angry at it – another teachable moment:

·       When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 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 4:8-11)

God reasoned with Jonah to win his heart through his mind. Without any clear resolution, the Book of Jonah ends abruptly with these verses. Did Jonah learn God’s lessons? Did he repent of his anger, his self-centered worldview, and his rebellion against the Word of God? We are not told. However, we do see the patience and graciousness of God on his behalf. Despite, Jonah’s rebellion, God remained faithful to His Prophet.

To win the mind is also to win the heart. Our faithfulness to our Savior must be secured by reason through our minds. This is the place of real transformation (Romans 12:2). We too have our issues with God, and He also has to instruct and humble us.

However, we tend to think that we are miles away from the example of Elijah, who had raised the dead child. However, it is evident that this child was healed not because of Elijah’s great faith, but because of God’s faithfulness.

We despair of having faith like Elijah who had prayed for a drought, and there was drought, and who prayed for rain, and there was rain. However, we often fail to see that Elijah had accomplished what he did not by virtue of His great faith, but in accordance with the Word, the instructions of God (1 Kings 17:1, 9; 18:1, 36). He merely did what God had told him to do:

·       And at the time of the offering of the oblation [in his confrontation with the priests of Baal], Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. (1 Kings 18:36)

Instead, we wrongly conceive of great faith as a matter of intense effort to rid from our minds any doubts or feelings that might betray a lack of confidence. Instead, servants are required to be faithful to the Word of their master no matter what internal conflicts His Word might provoke. Only in this resolve does our strength rest. To go beyond His will and Word is to proceed alone.