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Everything Depends on God's Mercy


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We Preach Christ Crucified

Jesus is a real person documented not just by the authors of the Bible, but also by non-Christians from that time in hisotry. There is no real argument about the existence of Jesus or if he was crucified. Here are two non-Biblical sources of Jesus and His crucifixion.

Jewish historian Josephus in his book Antiquities of the Jews from around 95 AD writes about the execution of Jesus.

Roman historian and senator Tacitus in his book Annals from around 115 AD writes about the execution of Christ by Pilate.

The death of Jesus was a major event recorded by history not because a man was executed and died, but because of the reaction from His followers. Paul writes about the significance of this event to the followers of Christ in his letters.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 ESV

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14 ESV

The death of Christ should have been the end and it was, until Jesus changed history by appearing in bodily form alive to His followers.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29 ESV

After that Christ returned to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit ushering in the Church Age that we currently live in. It is an age of grace and mercy. A time to repent of rebellion and a time to build a relationship with our Creator who is Jesus. That is why we like Peter and Paul preach “Christ crucified” who loved us so much that he willingly died on our behalf.

[King David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses… Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:31-32; 36-39 ESV


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Why a Virgin Birth?

Why is the virgin birth of Christ such an important doctrine for Christianity? The desire to question, ignore, and reject this doctrine as important is primarily due to a lack of understanding to the significance of the claim.

Both Matthew and Luke deal with the traditional birth narrative and they both explicitly tell the reader that Mary is a virgin at the birth and conception. It is clear from the text that the audience, the writer, Mary, and Joseph all understand that a virgin birth is not possible and would bring shame to the Mary and Joseph because people would not believe that Mary conceived by way of a supernatural act of God.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:30-34 ESV

Matthew quotes directly from Isaiah 7:14 about God’s promise of a virgin giving birth.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:22-25 ESV

A virgin birth as odd as that might seem is in the Bible. So why is it included? What is the point and significance from God’s perspective? In order to answer these questions I want to highlight the birth narratives of Mark and John because those two texts do not give the physical birth of a baby boy type of story. These two gospels provide the story of how Jesus is from God our Creator. These two Gospels highlight the other side of the story that God wants humanity to know about Jesus and these two narratives are the key to understanding the significance of the virgin birth.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11 ESV

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV

Jesus in Matthew and Luke is a baby born from Mary. God through the Holy Spirit intervening in the curse of human history. Jesus in Mark and John is the son of God who existed as God from the very beginning. This birth story shows that Jesus is heir to God’s Kingdom and that he does not have a biological birth father in the same way as the descendants of Adam. By not having a biological earthly father Jesus is able to break the curse of the sin nature.

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 ESV

Together these four gospels complete the truth of the origin of Jesus, Immanuel “God with us”, who is fully man and fully God. The virgin birth allows Jesus to be both man and God at the same time and furthers the claim that Jesus is God. Not just God, but also the Creator God.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Hebrews 1:3 ESV


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Keep it in Context

Dinesh D’Souza opens his book What’s So Great About Christianity with a chapter on interpretation of scripture. In this chapter, he lays down the rules of what taking the Bible literally is and is not. He starts with this chapter because it is foundational to any argument supporting the authority of the Bible. The conclusion in this chapter is wonderfully simple advice both to the individual seeking to discredit the Bible and the Christian seeking to wield the word of truth in an accurate manner.

At this point let’s settle on a simple operating principle: whether you regard the Bible as inspired or not, read the text in context for what it is actually trying to say. (D’Souza, xii)

The point is that we can resolve most of the difficult issues surrounding the scripture by understanding the greater narrative, the type of literary device being deployed, and not being so ethno centric that we impose our ideas on top of the actual ideas communicated based on that culture and time.

On that last point, I want to provide an example where I personally have placed my own ideas into the narrative because of culture and time. In Matthew 19:23-26 Jesus tells the disciples that it would be easier for a camel to go through the “eye of a needle” than for a rich man to go to heaven. Quickly my thoughts imagine a tiny stainless steel sowing needle. However, that may not have been what the audience of that culture and time were thinking. Maybe they called the hoop of their sewing needles the eye or maybe they did not. More research is needed. Some scholars have proposed but never proven that there was a smaller gate into Jerusalem and this is what Jesus was talking about. We may never know exactly what the eye of the needle was that Jesus referred to, but the point is that we must not overlay our thoughts onto the original communication. It is also important to remember our lack of knowledge does not invalidate the point that Jesus was trying to communicate within the context of the Gospel.

The second point is the type of literary device. Some written forms like a book of History or a Book of Laws are intended to be taken literally. Exodus tells people that murder is wrong and this is intended to be taken at face value (Exodus 20:13). Other books like the songs in Psalms are imagery and worship to God. In Psalms, David writes “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalms 119:11 ESV) The intent is obviously not literal, but a way of saying that he has memorized, and meditated on the words of God until they become part of who he is and they give direction to his life. Listed here are few of the major types of writing that make up the Bible. When reading and studying these it is important to remember to the context.

1. Laws and Rules (Ten Commandments Exodus 20-1-17)
2. History (the Book of Acts)
3. Poetry (Psalm)
4. Personal Letters (Much of the New Testament like 1 Peter)
5. Apocalyptic (Part of Daniel and the book of Revelations)

Finally, the most amazing thing about the Bible is the overarching narrative of a world cursed because of man’s rebellion and the Creator’s plan to restore that world through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who is God in the flesh. Philip, one of the twelve disciples, communicates that good news after the resurrection in this historical event recorded in the book of Acts.

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. Acts 8:30-35 ESV


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The Very Best Miracles

Miracles are more than just important to Christians, they are foundational to what is believed about the universe, God, and His intervention into the lives of humanity. When people think about miracles, the first thought might be Jesus walking on water or healing the sick, but I want to direct attention to the two most spectacular miracles in the Bible.

The first is the resurrection of Jesus on the third day. We cannot repeat history to see for ourselves exactly what happened so we must rely on the multitude of eyewitnesses who left their accounts recorded for the next generations to read and study. There is no evidence that they lied, or manufactured a legend. One only needs to point to the fact most all of these men died because they claimed Christ resurrected and their witness is consistent from the beginning.

Paul claims hundreds of people witnessed the resurrected Christ:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV

Paul providing his defense to the Romans:

“For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.” Acts 26:26 ESV

Peter making a case for Christ and the Gospel message:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2 Peter 1:16 ESV

So why is the death, burial, and resurrection of “first importance”? Paul answers that question and puts it this way when it comes to the centrality of the miraculous that surrounds Christ…

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 ESV

The resurrection of Christ is the hope of the world because God so loved the world (John 3:16) which leads to the second most spectacular miracle. It is a miracle that happens daily all over the world. It is a miracle that we can see in the changed lives of our friends, coworkers, and family. That miracle is the act of salvation on each individual who calls on Christ. The very gift, the deposit of the Holy Spirit, given to those who believe in Jesus is a miracle because God the creator of the universe gives to His children hope for the now and a promise for eternity.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV


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Archeology Supports the Old Testament

Archeology is a study of the past based on artifacts found in the present. These artifacts are interpreted based on knowledge of the past and decades of research. There will always be disagreement between scholars studying the artifacts because each scholar brings his or her own bias to the discussion. So the question is does archeology support the historical narrative presented in the Old Testament? It is best to answer this question in two parts.

Part One: Archeology can only be used to help answer questions about the past from what has been found. Just because artifacts of antiquity have not survived or have not yet been discovered does not then automatically invalidate the history as presented by the Bible. For example there is no archeological evidence to support the Bible’s history of Moses leading the Israelites to freedom. Does that mean that the Biblical narrative is false because no other artifacts have been discovered to support that part of the history? The absence of collaborating evidence does not invalidate the Biblical claim. In this case the use of archeology only tells us that outside of the Biblical artifacts no other artifacts have been documented to support the Biblical narrative for that historical event.

Part Two: Many artifacts have been found and researched by archeology that support the Biblical history. This list here is of artifacts from non-Biblical sources that when taken as a whole validate what God has already told us about the past by way of the Old Testament.

Discovered

Time in
History

Discovery

Significance

 

3000 BC

Flood stories in many cultures

All men are descendants of Noah and his family so there should be histories in most cultures of the flood event.

1906

2000 BC

Ruins of Hattusas

Hittites are a major people group in Biblical History

1896

1200 BC

The Merneptah Stele

Earliest known reference to “Israel” and it is dated to the time between the Exodus event and King David.

1994

800 BC

Tel Dan Stele

A reference to King David’s linage found outside of the Bible

1879

500 BC

Cyrus Cylinder

Validates the history of Cyrus and his impact on the Jews as documented in the OT prophets.