Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Sure Faith, Part 2

(If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.)

The second issue: Did Jesus claim to be God?

Another hypothesis for the origin of Christianity is that Jesus did exist, but that he never claimed to be anything more than a rabbi or a guru. This view claims that the belief that He was divine was a later development added to the historical Jesus at a later date. At the very least, as Dr. Yamauchi already pointed out (see Part 1), even without considering a single New Testament writing, we can be sure that Jesus was worshipped as God by the beginning of the 2nd Century.

It requires time for legends to develop. As stories get passed from generation to generation, the details change over subsequent tellings, and after several generations even the mundane can become something miraculous. And not just with fishing stories ("the fish was this big!").

But, was there enough time for the historical Jesus to develop into the proposed legendary Jesus? The extra-biblical testimony demonstrates that Jesus was being worshipped as a God by the early 2nd century… less than 100 years after his death. It would be difficult for a legend (especially of this magnitude) to develop this quickly, however given the right circumstances it is not impossible. But is there any other evidence that suggests that Jesus was being worshipped as God any earlier than this?

Look at 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.

Please remember that 1 Corinthians was undisputedly written by the historical figure that we know as the Apostle Paul. This letter to the Corinthian church was written sometime between AD 54-55; that is, no more than 25 years after the supposed Resurrection event. In this passage, we have what is widely recognized as the earliest Christian creed. Linguists point out that the presentation of this material is formulaic, and it starts by saying in verse 3: “what I received I passed on to you….” This material does not originate with Paul, but is “pre-Pauline” or before Paul.

What follows are four “that” statements, where the content of what Paul received is recounted with the same formula: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” This creed, which professes belief in the historical Jesus and His physical resurrection from the dead, can be dated within less than 10 years from the supposed events… perhaps being circulated as early as the same year of the events.

Even 25 years would be insufficient time for legendary development of the magnitude that Jesus was God in the flesh and that He was raised from the dead to occur. Think about it: Ray Kroc, the man responsible for the explosion of McDonalds into a worldwide phenomenon died in 1984, just less than 30 years ago. You think we could start a movement that claimed he was resurrected from the dead and that he appeared, in the flesh, to hundreds of people? You think anyone would believe us?

What about Marvin Gaye? Ansel Adams? Muddy Waters? Jack Barry? What about Andy Kauffman… think we could convince the world that he rose from the dead after his death a few years ago? Even if we could convince a few people… there are too many people alive today who were alive then that could refute our ridiculous claims. Yet somehow this Resurrection story of Jesus convinced a great multitude to believe it, and not only to believe, but to be so convinced that by AD 64 (34 years after the supposed event), there were what the greatest historian of Rome, Cornelius Tacitus, referred to as a multitude of Christians in Rome.

Tacitus states in The Annals, book XV, 44:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

These converts were so convinced of the resurrection, within 34 years of the supposed event, that they were willing to admit their faith even when such admission was met with the “most exquisite tortures.” And as the persecution continued and increased, the belief exploded. How could they be so sure?

Romans 1:3-4, also undisputedly a Pauline epistle, written between AD 57-58 contains another “pre-pauline” creed, which was in circulation prior to being written by Paul 28 years after the supposed resurrection event. Romans 1:3-4 says this: regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

For Paul and the earliest believers, Jesus was declared the son of God with power through the Resurrection. They were so sure that he was rightly worshipped as divine because he did what no mortal could do: he came back from the dead. Paul adds to the creed that he received in 1 Corinthians 15:8, saying of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances: and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Paul was so convinced that Jesus was God - that Jesus actually rose from the dead - because Jesus appeared to Paul after he was crucified, died, and was buried. In a later letter to the same church at Corinth, our 2nd Corinthians, Paul describes the lifestyle that he has endured for the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul is using harsh words for those in the church at Corinth who are accepting false apostles. These false apostles come to the church with boasting of their own personal goodness, and then expect to benefit from the generosity of the Christians in Corinth. So, Paul “boasts” to the Corinthians about himself.

Read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. Paul gained nothing but hardship for his belief that he personally witnessed the Resurrected Christ. I don’t have enough faith to believe that Paul did all this for a lie that he was perpetuating himself. It is unreasonable to believe that Paul and all of the other Apostles, who were martyred for their faith that Jesus was God in the flesh, proven by His miraculous Resurrection from the dead, were all dying for something that they were not sure of. It is simply unreasonable to believe that multitudes of individuals, this close to the supposed events themselves, would be so sure that the Resurrection occurred — sure enough to admit their belief even when such admission would result in imprisonment, torture, and death — unless they were certain that this Jesus was who he claimed to be: the promised Messiah and God in the flesh.

After examining the evidence, it seems that it is unreasonable to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. It is also unreasonable to conclude that Jesus never claimed to be divine, or that the resurrection was nothing more than legendary development when we see that belief in these things can be traced to the very beginning of the Christian movement.

The best explanation of the phenomenon of Christianity is also the simplest explanation: the Resurrection actually happened. There is no denying that this conclusion may sound far-fetched at first since people do not come back from the dead, but it is precisely the occurrence of such a unique historical event that best explains how so many people, so quickly after the shameful execution of a Jewish rabbi as a criminal and a blasphemer, could so willingly lay down their lives in order to make sure that the news spread as far as they could take it.

Many try and cast doubt on the Resurrection because of its implications. If Jesus was just a man, then his philosophy and teachings hold no more weight than anybody else’s. But if He was God incarnate? That’s another story.

Scoffers at the resurrection are nothing new. They’ve been around since the beginning. Luke records a sermon made by the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts. Acts 17:30-32 says this: In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject."

Scripture tells us that God has given humans proof that Jesus speaks for God by raising Him from the dead. But the message of coming judgment and the need for all men everywhere to repent and turn to God for salvation is not a popular one. And like those who heard the Apostle Paul preach, people today still scoff at the Resurrection.

Others, like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg simply relegate the Resurrection to a matter of faith. They say it doesn’t matter if it was an historical event or not. But that’s not what Scripture says. Scripture doesn’t relegate the Resurrection to a matter of faith. On the contrary, it uses it as proof of our faith.

I can stand before the entire world and say that I fully trust everything that Jesus and the Bible say about faith, morals, and how to live my life - even when it doesn’t make sense to me - because I can trust Jesus, because He is the only Man to come back from the grave.

I can trust the Bible, because Jesus said Scripture cannot be broken, and He proved that His word is true through the Resurrection.

I can believe that Jesus is the sole means of salvation, and that whosoever trusts in Him will never be forsaken, but will have everlasting life because Jesus said so, and He proved that His word is trustworthy by coming back from the dead.

How about you? Do you see it? The Resurrection is not an article of faith, but the foundation of our faith. If Jesus died and stayed dead, he was just another guy with a philosophy, and as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Instead, we praise God because Christ has been raised. Instead, we praise God because His word is true. Instead we praise God because even when we didn’t deserve it, God sent His Son to take the penalty for our sins, our violations of His commandments, in order to bestow upon us His overwhelming and wonderful grace, and the promise of eternal life with Him. Hallelujah.

Friends, Christianity is not a religion of blind faith, but of sure faith in the One who demonstrated His divinity by triumphing over the grave. It was this same Jesus of Nazareth when asked, “What shall we do to do the works of God?” who answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

What do you believe about Jesus? Do you believe against reason that He is nothing more than a myth? Do you believe that He was a smart guy with a decent philosophy that was elevated to divine status after his death, even though such beliefs arose instantaneously by historical standards? Or do you believe that He was the Savior, come down to earth, in order to reconcile sinners with God? The Bible promises that no impure person will enter heaven. That means that one lie, one impure thought, one careless cuss word is enough to disqualify you from entrance to heaven. But the Bible also says that Jesus will wash away every sin for those who recognize their need of a Savior, and who trust in Him alone for their salvation. So what about you? What are you trusting in?

A Sure Faith, Part 1

In a recent post, we looked at what believers should do since Christ is risen from the dead. But there are many today who claim that the Resurrection never happened. Some, like Earl Doherty, claim that Jesus never even existed, saying that He is nothing more than a myth. Others, acknowledge that Jesus was a historical person but deny either that He claimed to be divine, or that He physically rose from the dead, or both.

Does the historicity of the Resurrection even matter? Are the claims of men like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg acceptable, that the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is unimportant to the Jesus of faith? Is there even a viable faith, without a historical resurrection?

The answer to the question of whether or not the Resurrection matters is given to us explicitly in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:12-19)

The word in verse 17, translated as "worthless" is translated as “futile” in the NIV, as “mere delusion” in the Amplified Bible, as “useless” in the NLT, and as “vain” in the KJV. There is no way around it: the Apostle Paul makes it very clear that the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the foundation of Christianity. Without it, our faith is worthless. We might as well find something else to do with our lives. Clearly, the answer to the question of whether the Resurrection is fact or fiction is very important!

All of the various hypotheses -- that Jesus was a myth or a legend; that he existed but never claimed to be divine but this was added later to him; or that the resurrection was a historical event -- exist to try and explain the phenomenon that is Christianity. Regardless of its origin, Christianity exists. People today believe that a man named Jesus was raised from the dead sometime between AD 30-33. These same people worship Jesus as God. So, what is the most reasonable thing to believe regarding Jesus, both rationally and historically? On the surface, without examining any details, the Resurrection is the least plausible -- because dead people don't come back to life as a general rule. Certainly, if it happened, it was a very unique event!

So the first issue is this: Did Jesus of Nazareth Really Exist?

There are only two possibilities for the proposition “Jesus existed.” That statement is either true or it is false. Jesus was a historical person, or he was not. There is no middle ground. The question is did Jesus exist, or was he a merely a mythical figure?

The contention that Jesus never existed, that He was a myth, is a relatively new movement. This hypothesis can be traced back to two French philosophers in the 1790’s. The first academic attempt to make a case for this theory was made by Bruno Bauer in the nineteenth century. Perhaps the most well-known current proponent of the so-called “Jesus Myth” hypothesis is Earl Doherty. The first piece of Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle” is this:

The Gospel story, with its figure of Jesus of Nazareth, cannot be found before the Gospels. In Christian writings earlier than Mark, including almost all of the New Testament epistles, as well as in many writings from the second century, the object of Christian faith is never spoken of as a human man who had recently lived, taught, performed miracles, suffered and died at the hands of human authorities, or rose from a tomb outside Jerusalem. There is no sign in the epistles of Mary or Joseph, Judas or John the Baptist, no birth story, teaching or appointment of apostles by Jesus, no mention of holy places or sites of Jesus’ career, not even the hill of Calvary or the empty tomb. This silence is so pervasive and so perplexing that attempted explanations for it have proven inadequate.

This is quite a claim. However, there are two alarming problems with this statement. First, this is nothing more than an argument from silence. That means that Doherty is arguing, not from positive evidence, but from a lack of evidence that he deems appropriate. In his argument from silence, he rejects the testimony of the gospels, which are themselves historical documents, saying that there is nothing before or outside of these sources that acknowledge a historical Jesus. Essentially, he has acknowledged that the sources that do claim a historical Jesus ought to be disqualified from consideration, and then when we consider what is leftover (after eliminating those sources that disagree with his hypothesis), he finds a “pervasive and perplexing silence” from which he concludes that Jesus never existed! This is clearly faulty reasoning.

Secondly, this assertion that Jesus of Nazareth cannot be found either before the Gospels, or outside of them as a historical figure is demonstrably false. It is either poor scholarship or willful dishonesty.

Unlike Jesus, the historicity of the Apostle Paul is not in dispute. Although some aspects of Paul’s life are in dispute, the fact that he lived in the first century and died in Rome sometime between AD 63-65 is accepted as a historical fact. And of the 13 epistles that are traditionally ascribed to Paul, only 7 are undisputedly Pauline; meaning that 6 of the epistles most Christians recognize as being authored by Paul are disputed by some scholars as being written much later. The 7 that are not disputed are: Romans, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, First Thessalonians, and Philemon.

We’ve already seen from the undisputably Pauline letter of 1 Corinthians 15 that Paul thought the physical resurrection of Jesus was essential to the faith, and this epistle was written and circulated prior to the Gospel of Mark, contrary to the assertion of Doherty. In fact, the earliest epistle written by Paul, was Galatians. This short book is dated to have been written in AD 48, which is approximately only 15-18 years after the supposed Resurrection event occurred.

Keep in mind the context of this epistle to the Galatians. If Jesus really lived and was crucified, then this event happened in either AD 30 or 33 (probably AD 30). After the Resurrection event, Jesus’ followers began spreading the good news and Paul began persecuting these believers. Something happened to Paul, and he gave up persecuting Christians and became one of the persecuted himself, dedicating the rest of his life to spreading the gospel that he once persecuted. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul says this: I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

In what follows in Galatians, Paul lays out a timeline of his travels and ministry. He says that immediately after his conversion he went to Arabia and then back to Damascus. After 3 years he went to Jerusalem and got to know Peter and James. Then he traveled again preaching the word. After another 14 years he returned to Jerusalem because the gospel was in dispute (you can read about this council in Acts 15). This puts at least 17 years between Paul’s conversion and the time of writing this epistle. Jesus was likely crucified in AD 30, and this epistle was likely written in AD 48, a time period of 18 years. Paul has been actively preaching the gospel, establishing churches, and now after the first dispute over the gospel, one of the churches that he established is falling for this false gospel. This brings about the historical occasion for the first writing, the first book, of the New Testament to be written — predating the Gospels — and it is being written to people who were contemporaneous (i.e. lived during the time the events supposedly took place) with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

And what does Paul say to these individuals, 18 years after the supposed events, in order to convince them of their mistake? Galatians 3:1: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

If Jesus of Nazareth never existed – if there was no such historical person – how could Paul be so foolish as to think that this would be an effective argument? Can you imagine this being an effective means of persuasion if the Galatians read this letter and say, “Ummm… Paul, what are you talking about? We didn’t see Jesus crucified… in fact, we aren’t even sure if Jesus ever existed!”

Quite frankly, the hypothesis that Jesus never existed can only be reached by suppressing a vast amount of historical evidence, both biblical and extra-biblical. And although we have only considered biblical testimony so far, the conclusion of Edwin Yamauchi, professor of Ancient History at Miami University (of Ohio) is that we have more and better historical documentation for Jesus than for any other founder of a major world religion. Doctor Yamauchi says:

Even if we did not have the New Testament of Christian writings, we would be able to conclude from such non-Christian writings as Josephus, the Talmud, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger that: (1) Jesus was a Jewish teacher; (2) many people believed that he performed healings and exorcisms; (3) he was rejected by the Jewish leaders; (4) he was crucified under Pontias Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; (5) despite this 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; (6) all kinds of people from the cities and countryside—men and women, slave and free—worshipped him as God by the beginning of the second century.(Yamauchi, JUF, 221,222)

The "Jesus as Myth" hypothesis does not stand up to scrutiny, and I just plain do not have enough faith to believe, against all of the evidence, that Jesus never existed. The most reasonable conclusion is that Jesus is a historical person.

In Part 2, we'll examine the second issue: Did Jesus claim to be God?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Call

Thanks be to God, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, 'WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek [Gentile or non-Jew]; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for 'WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.'" (Romans 10:9-13)

Who is it that can be saved from the wrath to come?

The Scripture tells us that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved. And what is it that results in righteousness? Believing in your heart that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. And what results in salvation? Confessing this amazing truth with your mouth. The Word declares that the same Lord is Lord of all, and whoever will call on Him shall not be disappointed. Hallelujah!

But for those of us who have believed... how is it that we have come to know the Truth? Was it by some special revelation? Perhaps for a few, but by far the majority of us came to faith because someone cared enough to tell us! Scripture continues:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, 'HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!'" (Romans 10:14-15)

Jesus has commissioned His followers to go out and tell the world about Him (see Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; and Acts 1:8), so you have been sent. Will you obey this commission and go and preach? If you will preach, they will hear. If they will hear, then they can believe. If they will believe, then they will call on Him. And if they will call on Him, then they will be saved (cf. Romans 10:13).

Lord, I pray that my feet would be called beautiful by You, as I try to be faithful in bringing Your good news of good things to those who are yet far from you. Father, glorify Your Name!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nothing New

Solomon was right when he said:

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
"See, this is new"?
It has been already
in the ages before us.

~Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

So often when speaking with those who are not followers of Christ, they point their fingers at God and blame Him for evil or their own lack of belief, or this or that problem... but this is nothing new. In Genesis we have the first account of God confronting a sinner. Adam's words are telling.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." (Genesis 1:8-12)

So often this account has been used to place the blame on women for sinfulness... but this is a misuse of the text. After all, both Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, so clearly God didn't just blame the woman! But look carefully at what happened. First, after sinning these individuals hid from God. They didn't want to be found by Him! Despite their attempts at hiding, God confronts them anyway, and when God goes to Adam for an answer, Adam deflects blame... not to the woman as is often assumed, but toward God Himself! If Adam were blaming the woman he would have said, "The woman gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." But instead, he adds this little relative clause, "whom YOU gave to be with me" [emphasis added].

Adam is telling God that it's His fault that Adam sinned, for if God never gave him that woman then he would not have eaten. How funny that still today, the sinner when confronted with their sin deflects blame back to God saying that it's His fault.

There truly is nothing new under the sun.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How Do You See Jesus?

How do you see Jesus?

When you picture Him in your mind... what do you see? Do you see Him as an infant? As a man? The Jesus you picture... are there holes in His hands and feet?

I think that all too often we imagine a Jesus that makes us comfortable... but there is only one Jesus, and if we follow Him then we ought to follow Him as He truly is and not simply how we imagine Him to be.

In Revelation we see a description of the exalted Christ, and when the Apostle John beholds Him, he "fell at his feet like a dead man" (1:17). It is important to remember the relationship that John had with Jesus prior to the Resurrection and exaltation of our Lord.

John, the son of Zebedee, was part of the inner circle of Jesus (Mark 5:37; 14:33). He was the "disciple whom Jesus loved" and was so close with Jesus that he was reclining on Him at the Last Supper. When Jesus told the disciples that one would betray Him, Peter asked John to ask Jesus who it was (John 13:22-25). When Jesus was arrested, most of the disciples scattered; Peter was outside in the courtyard, but John was closest to the events--actually being inside of the court and bringing Peter in (John 18:15-16). When Jesus was dying on the cross, He entrusted the care of His mother to John as well (John 19:26-27). After hearing of the empty tomb, John outran Peter to the tomb (John 20:4). Also, John was present at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1ff, Mark 9:6)--so John had seen a glimpse of the exalted Christ already (and with a similar response!).

It seems that the leader of the Apostles was Peter, but if there was a best-friend of Jesus, surely it was John. Yet when John sees this vision of the exalted Christ he doesn't run up to Him and embrace Him as a friend. Instead, he "falls at His feet as a dead man."

How do you see Jesus? Do you see Him as your buddy whom you will run up to and give Him a high-five when you see Him face-to-face? Or, do you recognize Him as the Almighty and fall down at His holy feet? When John saw Him, his response was appropriate. Do we still see Jesus as a man who lived nearly 2000 years ago, or do we recognize Him as He now is... the living and exalted Lord of all creation?

If we truly understand who He is... if we truly recognize Him... then obedience to His commands will not be optional. If we see Him as He is, then the constant worship and praise that we see throughout Revelation makes perfect sense.

Have you praised Him today? He is worthy.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The God of Revelation

I recently read through the book of Revelation again and this time through my attention was drawn to something that I hadn't picked up on before. It's easy, when reading Revelation, to focus on the amazing imagery, or to focus on the descriptions of The Final Judgment or the New Jerusalem. One can get lost trying to figure out whether or not the descriptions are literal or figurative, whether they are describing events that have already happened (i.e. in the first and second century) or if they are describing things to come--the end times.

But as I was reading Revelation this last time through, this verse stuck out:

And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME." (Revelation 4:8)

The events in chapter 4 clearly take place in heaven (see 4:1-2), and verse 8 describes what these creatures sitting around the throne do without ceasing... they never stop declaring the holiness of God.

What struck me as I was reading this book again, was how often this theme is reiterated.

And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." (4:9-11)

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen" And the elders fell down and worshiped. (5:8-14)

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever Amen." (7:9-12)

And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, "We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. "And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth." (11:16-18)

And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
"Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!
"Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy;
For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU,
FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED."
(15:3-4)

After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER." And a second time they said, "Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER." And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, "Amen Hallelujah!" And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great." Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. (19:1-6)

No matter what else is going on throughout the book of Revelation, there is constant worship and praise for God going on in heaven! It's truly an amazing scene, and we get a glimpse of what heaven is like--not just in the last three chapters (20-22) when the city is described, but throughout the entire Revelation.

I know that in this life it is sometimes difficult to worship the Almighty. It is often difficult to see beyond our own circumstances and to see God as He is: high and exalted, worthy of all honor and praise and glory. But we must see Him this way if we are to worship Him in spirit and in truth (see John 4:24).

The book of Revelation is often neglected because of the difficult material that is contained. However, what can be easily understood is the triumphant nature of our great and glorious God over this fallen world. It is right to give Him thanks and praise. It is right to lift His holy name in praise and worship.

Hallelujah! Praise God for He is worthy!

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Marriage Feast

In Luke 22:1-14 Jesus tells the chief priests and the pharisees the parable of the Marriage Feast. This parable is both difficult and informative, telling the reader/hearer much about the kingdom of heaven.

We know that Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of heaven in this parable because He explicitly says so in v. 2: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son." In keeping with the nature of parables, it is critical to keep in mind the original audience in order to best understand the points of reference in the parable. Although the story being told is fictional, it communicates truth about the kingdom of heaven and should evoke a response in the hearers (much like a joke elicits a laugh ... at least a good one does!). So far, we have two characters in view: The King and his son. These characters can be identified as God the Father and God the Son (Jesus).

Jesus continues: And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Again he sent out other slaves saying, "Tell those who have been invited, 'Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.'" But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them (vv. 3-6).

We see that the king (God the Father) sends his slaves (prophets) to invite guests (the Jews, God's chosen people) to the wedding feast (the kingdom of heaven). However, instead of accepting the invitation these invitees are "unwilling to come." The king sends more messengers declaring that everything is ready for them (the Jews), yet they pay "no attention" and go "their own way." Some even mistreat and kill the messengers who were sent to them (e.g. Jeremiah and Jesus). We must remember that Jesus is telling this parable to the chief priests and pharisees ... the religious leaders of the Jews at the time. This is surely a pointed statement!

Notice the reaction of the king to his invitation being declined/dishonored and his slaves/messengers being mistreated and killed: But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire (v. 7).

Jesus continues: Then he [the king] said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast' (vv.8-9). We see here a clear shift in the invitation to the marriage feast/kingdom of heaven. We see that this is a common thread running through the biblical witness: salvation comes first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles (see Acts 18:6; and Romans 1:16, 2:9-10). Because those who were first invited to the feast have declined the invitation, the king has opened the doors to others. The feast will go on ... someone will partake of the goodness of the king! We see this coming true in v. 10: Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

This verse contains an interesting statement from Jesus, in that the slaves gathered all the people they could find, "both evil and good." For those who are willing to come, God's grace and mercy extends to them all. There is no one, no one, who is beyond forgivable to God. There are two major requirements to being allowed to come to the feast, and we see the first here: we must accept the invitation and come willingly. God does not compel our worship, even though He could. His desire is for the kingdom of heaven to be filled with willing guests, not forced slaves. The second requirement will become apparent in the next few verses.

Jesus continues: But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (vv. 11-13). Not only must the guests come willingly, but they must also come in the proper way. Even though God/the king invited everyone to the marriage feast, the expectation was that those who are willing come in the proper fashion. In these chilling verses we see that one guest decided to come however he pleased, not taking the time to put on the appropriate clothing for the occasion. This guest was invited prior to having the proper clothing on, but was required to change his clothes after accepting the invitation. Instead, he came as he saw fit, ignoring the king's protocol.

Being a parable, this is not teaching that God cares so much about our literal clothing and will cast us "into the outer darkness," where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Hell) simply based on our everyday attire! Modesty is important, but this is not the point. What Jesus is communicating is a very important truth about entry into the kingdom of heaven. Since the original audience of this parable were Jews who were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament), it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that they would understand the clothing necessary to enter heaven is not made of linen, but of righteousness (see Job 29:14; Psalm 132:9; and Isaiah 61:10). This is consistent with Jesus' teaching earlier in this gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 5:20 ~ For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 21:32 ~ For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.

The way of coming to God (the Father) is made very clear elsewhere in the New Testament. In John's Gospel, one of Jesus' disciples asks Him how to get to Heaven. Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). The Apostle Paul also makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 5:21: He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [Jesus]. It is only through faith in Jesus and His completed work on the cross that we may be properly clothed (in righteousness) for entry into the kingdom of heaven.

The parable ends with this statement: For many are called, but few are chosen (v. 14). The invitation is broad, but only a few accept it. Among those who do accept the invitation, there are still some who refuse to "attend" in the proper fashion. Both improper responses to God's invitation are met with disastrous results.

What about you? Have you accepted God's invitation? If you believe in "God," do you also believe that there are many paths that lead to Him, or do you acknowledge that there is only one way to God ... through the Savior, Jesus the Christ? This parable of Jesus is equally clear that both ignoring God and also attempting to enter His kingdom in an improper way both lead to destruction and being cast out into outer darkness. If you've never done so before, today can be the day of your salvation.

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).