Today in Christian History: May 30


In 1972, Née Shu-Tsu, better known as Watchman Nee, died in a Chinese prison. As the founder of over 400 local churches, Watchman Nee was a threat to the new Communist regime, and so spent the last twenty years of his life in prison, allowed no visitors except his wife. 

When the authorities cleaned out his cell, they found this scrap of paper:

“Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and was resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in Christ. Watchman Nee.”

Information taken from J Stephen Lang’s The Christian History Devotional

Today in Christian History: May 29


G.K. Chesterton was born on this day in 1874.  Chesterton was a larger-than-life personality (literally–6’4 and over 300 pounds). He was a great influence on CS Lewis. His best known work, Orthodoxy, is the source for some of my favorite quotes:

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,

G.K. Chesterton

For more words of wisdom, check out this article from Relevant: 15 Chesterton Quotes That Will Shape Your Faith

Today in Church History: May 27

John Calvin, arguably the greatest post-biblical theologian who’s ever lived, died on this date in 1564, and was buried, according to his wishes, in a plain coffin in an unmarked grave. He didn’t want to have a “Calvin cult” spring up around his personality or teachings. How ironic that Calivinism (or even the accusation of it) has become such a divisive issue for the church today. 

Who Is Jesus, Session 9: Is Jesus the Only Way?

Who Is Jesus S9.1

This is Session 9 of Focus on the Family’s “Who Is Jesus?” study. 

The big question is, “Did Jesus claim to be  God.” The hard question is, “Is Jesus the Only Way?”

Answers to “Quote/Unquote” Section (page 84)

Q1: Is Jesus the only way? You may end up asking this question more than anyone else.

Q2: Reality is our best friend. We live in a very “one-way” world.

Q3: If I’m a follower of Jesus, I’m going to say what He said.

Q4: A lot of people will try to make you the problem; you’re the one who’s arrogant.

Q5: Jesus also declared that any other way was false.

Q6: We struggle with exclusivity because we think too little of Jesus.

Q7: A monolithic god would be the eternal Alone One.

Q8: There is no middle ground with Jesus.


Exlusivity, intolerance, bigotry, arrogance, narrow-mindedness are all words that are associated with the claim that Jesus is the only way. We shouldn’t be surprised to hear things such as:

Who Is Jesus S9.2

How do we deal with the tough question?

  • By realizing that exclusivity makes logical sense. We live in a “one-way” world. There aren’t “many paths” to making a $100 bill, for example, and a gallon of gasoline isn’t a “relative concept.” And if the answers to the question, “How has God revealed Himself to humanity?” or “What does it take to have a relationship with God?” result in contradictory answers, it isn’t logical to say that both of them are right.
  • By acknowledging that humans didn’t make Christianity exclusive… Jesus did. You cannot say you are a follower of Jesus, but that there are many paths to God, when the Jesus you claim to follow said that there is only one path.

Anyone who was merely a man who said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher…

C.S. Lewis

  • Mark 8:38
  • Luke 14:26; 22:29
  • John 5:39; 8:16,28,54,56; 14:6,7,9,21; 15:16,23; 17:15

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
    which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:8-12

“We struggle with exclusivity because we think too little of Jesus and what He did.”

How else might we satisfy the wrath of a holy God?

  • By prayer and asking forgiveness? If so, why did Jesus have to die?

Answering the objections:

Objection: There can’t just be one way to relate to God.

Response: Tell me what you mean by relating to God. For Christians, the key question is, “How do you satisfy the wrath of a holy God?” And if there are multiple answers to that question, then the death of Jesus on the cross was unnecessary and cruel. 

Objection: All religions lead to the same place.

Response: Tell me about that place.

Objection: All religions are basically just different names for the same God.

Response: Tell me about that God.

Objection: Each religion sees part of a spiritual truth, but none of them can see the whole truth.” (The blind men and the elephant story)

6-blind-men-hans

Response: What is that whole truth? Can it be known?

Objection: There can’t only be one absolute way.

Response: Why not? Aren’t there plenty of examples of absolutes in the universe? Why do you have a problem with an absolute spiritual reality?

Who Is Jesus S9.3

The higher your view of Jesus, the more exclusivity makes sense. The lower your view of Jesus, the less it makes sense.

Conclusions…

  • Logic and reality are our allies.
  • You are not the author of the exclusive claims of Jesus.
  • Remember C.S. Lewis’s “liar/lunatic/Lord” argument (and add “legend” to it).
  • If Jesus is not the only way, then the reality of the crucifixion destroys belief in a good God (Why did Jesus have to die if there could be many ways to a right relationship to God?).

On the video, Tackett plays a clip from The Oprah Winfrey Show. Here is the clip he uses. This is poor quality, but it’s the same clip:

Bonus: What about the innocent guy in the jungle of Africa who’s never heard the name of Jesus? Here is David Platt’s response. If you want to skip directly to the “innocent person in Africa” part, go to the 4:10 mark.

Next Week: Handling the Objections

Today in Church History: May 20

In 325, the Council of Nicea convened on this date.  At issue was the nature of Jesus. Was He “of similar substance” to God the Father, or was He “of the same substance?” 

Why does that matter? J. Stephen Lang, in The Christian History Devotional, seems to be saying it doesn’t. That it was a nitpicky argument over a vowel (“similar substance” to the Father is the Greek word homoiousios;  “same substance” is homoousios):

This sounds to us like useless nitpicking. All Christians agreed that Christ was the divine Son of God and the Savior of man. Why was it important to determine if he was “like” or “same as” God? Had it only been a theological matter, Constantine could have ignored it. But there were actually fights breaking out between the supporters and opponents of Arius’s view. —Lang, Christian History Devotional, May 20 entry

 Lang leads off his entry for today with the admonition from 2 Timothy 2:23: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” The implication is that this argument over the nature of Jesus fits the category of foolish, ignorant controversy. But this verse applies to issues like the color of the carpet, or whether the youth should go to Six Flags or Cedarpoint this year. The Council of Nicea had slightly weightier matters on its agenda.  The Gospel Coalition does a good job getting to the essence (sorry!) of the issue with this infographic:


Does it matter? Absolutely it matters. On this day in Christian history, the lesson for me isn’t that we should “pick our battles,” but that there are matters of faith and doctrine that are worth zealous defense. I’m thankful for how God shaped Christian history through councils, creeds, confessions, and catechism!

Who Is Jesus, Session 8: The God Claim, Part 2

Notes from May 18 Who Is Jesus Bible Study.

6019_trueu_jesus_lgHere are the notes from this week’s session of Focus on the Family’s Who Is Jesus Bible study. To read the notes for previous sessions, click on the links below:

 

 

Who Is Jesus S8.7.PNG

In the last session, we began to look at seven key pieces of evidence that Jesus claimed to be God. To recap:

Who Is Jesus S8.2

So, let’s look at the next three:

5. Jesus claimed a divine relationship with the Father.

  • Matthew 10:32: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
  • Matthew 11:27: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
  • John 6:40: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life,and I will raise them up at the last day.”
  • John 8:16: “But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.”

6. Jesus Manifested God’s Divine Attributes

  • Omniscience (John 18:4): He knew all that was going to happen to Him
  • Eternally Existent (John 8:58): Before Abraham was, I am.”
  • Omnipotence (Matthew 8:23-27): “…Even the wind and waves obey Him!”
  • Omnipresence (Matthew 18:20)
  • Immutability (Hebrews 13:8)
  • Worshiped by men (Mt. 14:31-33) and angels (Hebrews 1:6)
  • Prayed to (Acts 7:59)
  • Forgave Sins (Mark 2:7,10)
  • Called the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:17)
  • Creator (John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-17)
  • Savior (Romans 10:9)
  • God (John 1:1; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8)

7. Jesus claimed divine titles.

  • When John the Baptist was asked who he was, he said, “I am the voice of one crying, “In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” He was referencing Isaiah 40:3; which contains both the names “The Lord” ( YHWH, the unspeakable name of God), and “God” (Elohim)
  • When the woman at the well said to Jesus, “I know the Messiah is coming,” Jesus responded, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4:26)
  • When Peter called Him “The Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16); Jesus didn’t correct him. He affirmed the response.
  • Jesus prayer in John 17:1-3 is perhaps the most powerful statement Jesus made about Himself:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Jesus gives Himself the title of Messiah.

Some Problem Passages…

  1. Why did Jesus Himself warn the disciples to tell no one that He was the Messiah (Matthew 16:20; 17:9)?
    • Notice that the rest of 17:9 says, “Until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
    • After the resurrection, Jesus tells His disciples to tell everybody! (Mt. 28:18-19)
    • In other words, Jesus wasn’t trying to deny the truth, but to reveal the truth at the right time.
  2. When Caiphas asked Jesus, if He was the Messiah, all Jesus said was “You have said so” (Mt. 26:63). Isn’t that a little weak?
    • We hear that in English and think He is saying something like “Those are your words, not mine.” But in Greek, the meaning is more along the lines of “From your own mouth you have testified to the truth.”
    • Note that in the parallel account in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ response is, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds in heaven” (Mark 14:62). This was enough for Caiphas to charge Him with blasphemy.
  3. Jesus called Himself “Son of Man” more often than “Son of God.” Which was He?  
    •  Some skeptics would challenge the God Claim by pointing out that “Son of Man” was used throughout the Old Testament to refer to human beings:
    • Who Is Jesus S8.4
    • However, in the Gospels, Son of God and Son of Man are used interchangeably. As you can see in Luke 22:67-70, the Sanhedrin did not make a distinction between Jesus’ phrase “The Son of Man” and their phrase, “Son of God.”

      This doesn’t mean the New Testament contradicts or is inconsistent with the Old Testament. Daniel, writing hundreds of years before Jesus, establishes the link between “Son of Man” and the Messiah:

      13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

      Greg Koukl notes that this phrase meant something very significant in ancient Israel. When Jesus used the phrase, the Jews picked up stones to stone Him, because “You, a mere man, are making yourself out to be God.”

      Jesus referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” more than any other title. But you can’t use this to argue that Jesus didn’t claim to be God. Look at how Jesus used that title:

      Who Is Jesus S8.5

       

  4. “Son of God” doesn’t necessarily set Jesus apart. Aren’t we all “children of God?”
    • Jesus is not using these terms the way we would talk about human beings as “children of God.” Jesus said this to Nicodemus in John 3:16-18:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

In other words, He is the unique, and and only begotten Son of God!

My Favorite Title For Jesus: “I AM”

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:56-59)

They weren’t stoning Him for bad grammar!

  • John 10:30: I and the Father are One. Not the same person, but the same nature. The same essence.
  • John 18:4-6: When Jesus asked the Roman soldiers, “Whom do you seek,” and they responded “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus didn’t say, “That’s Me.” He said, “I am.” 

These Are Claims… Where’s the Proof?

  1. The proof of miracles: “That you may know the son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–He said to the paralytic–“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (See Mark 2:5-12)
    • See also what Jesus said about doing the works of the Father in John 10:24-26; John 10:37-38.
  2. The Proof of Witnesses (Dt. 19:15) In John 5:31, Jesus said that “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” So he proceeds to list all the witnesses that testify to His claims. And He doesn’t stop with three!
    1. John the Baptist (John 5:33)
    2. The works of Jesus (John 5:36)
    3. God the Father (John 5:37)
    4. Moses (John 5:46)
    5. All Scripture (John 5:39)
    6. The Holy Spirit (John 15:26)
    7. His followers (John 15:27)
  3. The Resurrection (The Greatest Proof) 

Who Is Jesus S8.6


Answers to “Quote/Unquote” section on page 74 of the Study Guide:

  1. He spoke as if God were not only His Father, but… as if He had this relationship with God that was intimate.
  2. He called Himself the Alpha and the Omega.
  3. Jesus calls Himself Son of God. That’s no big deal; we’re all children of God, correct? No.
  4. “Son of Man” became equated to Messiah and Son of God.
  5. Jesus was not saying “I and the Father are the same person.” He is saying, “I and the Father are the same thing. We’re one in essence.”
  6. They picked up stones to stone Him not because He got His grammar wrong.
  7. He says, “I am,” and all the soldiers can do is fall to the ground.
  8. You and I are called to be witnesses to who Jesus is, and the final proof is the greatest proof, and that’s the Resurrection.

Next week: Is Jesus Really the Only Way? 

Here and Now, Not There and Then

Are you depending on what’s next for your happiness?

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stand firmThanks to Stand Firm magazine, a daily devotional for men published by LifeWay Christian Resources, for getting me thinking in this direction during my quiet time this morning. 

Psalm 16:5-11 is a great affirmation of the “immediateness” of satisfaction in the Lord:

Lord, You are my portion[c]
and my cup of blessing;
You hold my future.
The boundary lines have fallen for me
in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I will praise the Lord who counsels me—
even at night my conscience instructs me.
8 I keep the Lord in mind[d] always.
Because He is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad
and my spirit rejoices;
my body also rests securely.
10 For You will not abandon me to Sheol;
You will not allow Your Faithful One to see decay.
11 You reveal the path of life to me;
in Your presence is abundant joy;
in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.

Notice all the present tense verbs in this passage: You are. You hold. I have. I keep. He is. Is glad. Rests. Reveal. Is. Are.

I confess that more often than not, I have a Chicago Cubs approach to happiness and contentment. I am always waiting till next year. The next promotion, the next recognition, the next change, the next phase. Why can’t I be happy in the here and now?

Matt Chandler has said, “No change of job, no increased income, no new electronic device, or no new spouse is going to make things better inside you.”

I still remember the first sermon I ever preached, when I was sixteen years old. The title was “Heaven Ain’t All There Is.” The text was John 10:10, about the abundant life. The opening illustration was about a 19th century immigrant who had saved all his money to buy a ticket to America. He had no money left over to buy food on board the ship during the voyage. Every night he looked through the windows at the passengers in the first class dining room, feasting at the captains table. His stomach growled, hunger gnawed, but he held on, knowing that once he got to America, everything would be better.

But finally, the night before the ship was to dock, his hunger got the best of him. He went to a ship’s steward and begged him for some scraps from the captain’s table. The steward asked to see his ticket, examined it, and said, “Sir, this is a first class ticket. You’ve been able to dine at the Captain’s Table for the entire voyage.”

Why was it easier to believe I could experience abundant life in the here and now at age 16 than it is at age 49? Am I waiting for the next big thing, believing that is what it will take to experience satisfaction in the Lord? I claim to believe that “heaven ain’t all there is.” Do I live this life as though peace and joy and satisfaction are only to be found in the next life?

Lord, let that not be true today. Today, let me claim that “my soul finds rests [there’s that present tense again!] in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)